Thursday, November 09, 2017

Pensive Thoughts on Being...

Some days, my desire to immerse myself in creating a new painting is overwhelming. I ride the wave of emotional connection into the realm of meditative space - that place outside time and space wherein dwells creativity and the Creator. Those days pass swiftly, contemplatively, smoothly - no matter if the painting is going well or not! Other days, the very thought of attempting to create something on canvas or paper seems totally out of sync with who I am. Today, the mind is full of thoughts and words, spilling out like water out of an overfilled planter...

Art is an extension of the self and how one sees reality around them. Every one of us sees life through an individual set of circumstances and experiences setting personal perspectives in a way that is comforting, mysterious, and ultimately frightening.

My personal love of nature comes from a lifetime full of experiences in and with nature that have planted themselves deeply in my body/mind/heart/soul/spirit. Back in early childhood, I learned that being outside was a balm to the turmoil within me. I loved the grass, the flowers, the dirt, the sand, the stones, sticks, leaves - well, everything out of doors. As I grew up, I walked further from our own yard seeking peace amid the beauty of nature. Once I had a bicycle, I rode even further out of the neighborhood seeking solace in wooded empty lots that dotted the city blocks of my hometown.

As an adult, we've always tried to select a home that bordered nature one way or another. Outside student housing, there was an empty oasis awaiting the next building boom on campus. Our first home, in Terre Haute, Indian, backed to a multi-blocked field that our kids loved to roam. Gazing out the kitchen window as the sun set behind the field was always calming as I prepared dinner and the kids played in the back yard. Our next home was on the banks (actually the dike) of the Susquehanna River in upstate Pennsylvania. Oh, how I loved watching the river in all of it's many moods! Flood state was terrifying, to be sure, but it never lasted long, and the might, depth and breadth of the river at flood stage was frighteningly awesome. Water continues to move, no matter what. Just as life goes on, no matter what...

The view of the Susquehanna River when we lived in Athens, Pennsylvania...

When we were transferred to New Jersey, we had no idea it would be so hard to find a place with natural surroundings nearby. We hunted for months - telling the realtor we wanted large shade trees in our yard and nature nearby. She looked at us dumbfounded. Most folks she dealt with were afraid of nature, coming from the Bronx or Queens or wherever. We wanted what she called "mature trees" - everyone else seemed to want tidy new subdivisions with infant trees and 27 back yard grills seen from their bedroom windows! I cried after counting all those grills and quickly leaving that new house I couldn't possibly live in.

Our backyard in Freehold, NJ

The realtor then only showed us homes that had "green acres" nearby. And we found one (we really couldn't afford) that we liked, although it was huge, and we settled on that house making it our home. The yard backed to a small park, Lake Topanemus Park, and we loved walking through the young woods with the kids and grandkids. We saw deer regularly, and all manner of small wildlife. We watched baby turtles hatching out of a sandy hillside to make their way down to the lake. We listened to the owls, hawks, geese, ducks, and all varieties of woodland birds singing their mating, territorial, and night songs. While the house may have been too big and too costly, the surroundings were idyllic and saved my sanity for the duration!

Our next home was a town home at the edge of a development that backed the Monmouth Battlefield State Park. I loved sitting out on the back deck listening to the bird songs. One afternoon I counted over two dozen different song birds singing their spring songs as I relaxed happily immersed in nature. Peepers out back were quite vociferous during the springtime nights, of course. And we'd routinely hear some larger animal devouring a smaller one in the dead of night. Feral cats hid beneath the neighbors deck and had their kittens - all black and white little ones, looking just like Mom and Dad. The raccoon visited only in winter months, taking our bird feeders down with their usual dexterity. An occasional opossum would wander up on the deck at night, again searching for bird seeds. All of them were part of living at the edge of a wildlife area - we were the interlopers in their worlds, not the other way around.

Out back of our town home in Manalapan, NJ

The deck at the back of our town home in Manalapan, NJ

Fresh air rejuvenates me. Warm sunshine fills my heart with peace. Water currents remind me of both eternity and the immediate present. Leaves budding, changing colors, falling all remind me of the ever changing reality within which we all live. Birds sing their melodies into my being and embed themselves in my psyche with notes of joyful serenity. Their flight reminds me that I, too, am free to fly when I release my fears...

My dog reminds me that love is essential for all beings - Spunky demands my attention, my expressions of love, my company. And petting her grounds me in life - soft, wiggly, demanding, comforting. The fox that swiftly disappears into the woods calls me to adventure beyond what is seen into the unknown with dashing bravado and internal knowledge. Gazing into the eyes of the farm animals calls me deep into the awareness that all life is connected.

Sitting on the dew dampened soil as the sun warms the earth is one of the most grounding experiences I can have. Merging with Mother Earth while maintaining my own separateness is an exercise in being. Watering my houseplants seems trivial on busy days, yet when I am fully present to who I am and to what I am doing, it is an act of comfort and joy.

My conversations and experiences with the plants, animals, water or air can often catch me suddenly aware of the "more." Not that I know what that is or that I can define it. But conversing with and in nature is one of the deepest conversations I have experienced. Being aware of all that surrounds us somehow makes us more aware of just who we are in this great universe. It's not much, that little bit of who-ness, yet for us, it is everything.

When painting plants, animals, birds, scenery or anything else of Mother Nature, I feel more connected to that which I am painting. I've learned that it's really very difficult to paint things that we really do not "know." Oh, I could probably paint a zebra but I have no personal experiences with zebras. I know that my painting would lack something essential because I'd have to work from a photograph of an animal with whom I am unfamiliar. The better the photograph is in capturing the essence of the animal, the better able I might be to capture some of the essence of the zebra. But I would always know that I really never knew that zebra and could only do the best I could given the photograph supplied...

Thus it is that I prefer painting what I know - the birds that I love, the wildlife that attracts me, the creatures that I have watched avidly for years and photographed for as long as I've had a camera.

Some of my older (sold) watercolors of things I love from the 1980's:

Recently, I painted a rusting old truck - after swearing to myself back in the 1980's that I'd never again draw/paint a car or a truck! I had just completed a pen & ink drawing of an antique truck on top of an auto shop that would be used for their advertising. They were happy with the drawing. I, on the other hand, had hated every step of doing that commission. I'm not a "car" person. Cars are just cars to me. Trucks even less so! So doing that commission was an exercise in self-discipline. The customer was happy. I was unfulfilled...

But the truck I just finished painting is another story completely. That lovely old truck sat on our construction site for two years. We walked our dog down the hill where it rested, not just surrounded by undergrowth, but with a truck bed full of wild grasses. Small animals scampered in and around it, plants surrounded it, seasons enhanced it, the different lighting of dawn, storms, bright sunlight, foggy mists, and peachy dusk all lent that truck an ethereal element that simply grew in me.

The day we heard that old truck engine actually start up, I knew it would be driving out of our lives forever. The poor old thing huffed and puffed with tremendous effort after many efforts to get the engine started at all. Watching the truck as it lumbered out of it's several-year-long parking spot reminded me of trying to get my arthritic bones out of a chair after spending hours reading a good book. The old truck wasn't able to drive very quickly either... It continued to lumber slowly as it gracefully departed our little bit of Paradise Hill, belching and complaining much of the way.

Goodbye, Rusty!

It didn't mind going downhill, but when it had to actually leave the development, it was required to climb a big hill. Poor old truck. You served many so well. I hope your new owner will be able to use you one way or another, even if recycling your various parts is the only thing left. Thanks for teaching me the place for old, rusty trucks in my life.

Farewell... "Rusty Truck" - watercolor - (c)Pat Dolan 2017


nancy Redman keser said...

And life is like that.....days are good, productive and days are a ponder.
my life at this time seems liker yours...I am working hard at just being and getting things done. count is now 4 days, well 3 1/2.
need a pet, they calm is still on.
hang in there.

Pat Gangl Dolan said...

Right now, just one day at a time works the best in staying calm amidst the turmoil!
Your pet will come. It's just not ready yet!

Rachel said...

Thank you Pat for a very thoughtful post.