Month: June 2018

Questionable Grace

Of course I want to see Bald Eagles. The last time I came to Smith-Bybee I saw about a dozen altogether. At one point we came around a bend and there were five in trees right next to the trail, one on a lower branch that was so close we could see the texture of its feathers. They did not seem bothered by us, just perched in the trees by the water, in no particular hurry with no obvious wants. My friends were embarking on a new business together, I was planning my move back to Portland after losing my father. The three of us caught in uncertainties were suddenly thought-free, star struck in the trail staring at eagles.

The birds themselves offered no recompense for these uncertainties, but this awe-inspiring encounter served as a catalyst to move uncertainties to commitments, grief to breath. We are always caught in the power of elements and wildness. Even in a windowless office the steam from ones coffee rises and swirls in the air just as steam off a lake in the morning sun and each starchly clad coworker houses a mystery of blood and nerves, cycles and synapses. But it usually takes a less common encounter with an undomesticated species like eagles to catapult us out of complacency into the wondrous underpinnings of the universe.

I walk to the same place along the trail knowing the eagles are not obligated to be there again. It’s a different time of day, a different time of year. I would have to visit often to have a chance at predicting when and where I might find them.

No Eagles in sight or by ear but I keep seeing the brilliant white of a Great Egret flying from the other side of the lakes. Great Egrets are another striking bird, leggy, long-necked, brilliant white with an impressive wingspan. The week before my dad died I saw one fly over the house. I had only seen an egret once before in the neighborhood at Jackson-Frazier Wetlands so it was a notable moment. Standing in the driveway gawking straight up at the white body gleaming in the blue, loping across the open sky with the same questionable grace my spirit was traversing my dad’s transition from sickness to death.

A week later the egrets starting hunting in the meadow near the house. My mom once saw eight, I only ever saw three moving slowly across the field looking for frogs and mice. Their presence seemed to fill the void my father left as he took his last breath, the heat of his body leaving in one quick current under my hand. As if the only thing that could fill the shape of his spirit was a delicate looking hunter, its simple plumage in stark contrast to the complex world, elegant and awkward in the same moment.

I know the Egrets themselves are not concerned with my father’s death, with my loss, they are looking for food and would prefer not to be involved with us humans. But this feeling of events connected, this desire to make meaning out of the egrets’ arrival weighted against my father’s departure as a sort of mystical physics feels like an indulgence my heart needs as much as iron and ATP.

I sit on a bench at the end of the trail and watch a Great Blue Heron hunkered down in some brush at the edge of the water just moving his head this way and that. I’m not sure if it is hunting or digesting or just being a bird by the lake but it is fun to watch along with the occasional Great Egret flying over, swallows here and there, a couple Bald Eagles who perch in the pines to the north, a lone duck.

I sketch the lake with no confidence in my ability to paint a scene that is not predominantly arboreal. I notice some white spots in the trees on the far side of the lake that look more like paint blobs than light coming through the leaves. I look through binoculars and see that there are egrets in the trees, all these egrets flying over are coming from this spot and it is probably their rookery where they will all return to at dusk. And so it begins: learning a new place, weighing its rhythms against the rhythm of my pulse to make new meanings where a life and a comforting love once was.

Tender Enough

Sunday morning: my plan is to spend a couple hours at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge before I go to the writing group at Ford Food and Drink but this would involve getting up right at 6 am. Do I get up right at 6 am? No. I get up at 7:18 because day dreams are a necessary substitute for snuggles and I may be a little obsessed with this fellow I met the other day.

It is not normal for me to like someone at first sight. He was standing in a group of people, I caught a glimpse and the cells in my body started clamoring with delight. It felt like they were saying, You like everything about this man, you should try to date him. The message was then routed through synapse loops wired in my brain during middle school and revised to, DO NOT LET HIM FIND OUT!

Later at home, the adult in me admitted it would have been nice to have chatted more, perhaps casually investigated his relationship status. But what is there to be upset about when it is so fun to dwell on this mysterious attraction?

Eventually I get out of bed and make it through my usual routine on schedule to spend forty minutes in the woods. I’ll take it. It’s Sunday morning after all, and a lovely daywindy, rain here and there. The layered chorus of birdsong is full of tunes I don’t know as well as the usual: robins, song sparrows, black-capped chickadees, an Anna’s Hummingbird. The steep trail down into the refuge feels like a cavern under the leafing oaks. The foliage is so dense and shady it feels unfamiliar. When the trail forks at the bottom I know where I am again and saunter along in the spring damp just enjoying that I am there at all.

I sit down on a little cement-block wall along the trail and sketch the trees in front of me, their dark forms elegant against the green. I wanted my new body of work to reincorporate text and bits of poems but I seem to be unable to write anything deep or metaphorical, subtle or even interesting. It’s OK for now just to sketch trees. I finish and head up the trail, just far enough to watch some chickadees chase each other aggressively through the leaves. It is hard to distinguish mating and fighting with birds. I suppose that would be true of humans too if I didn’t know the language. Everyone is always so agreeable in my day dreams, so mutually interestedwhat special skills do birds have that they fight and mate and mate and fight and do not need counseling in the interim? Is this just the advantage of an undivided brain?

At the writer’s group I meet a woman who is a romance author. She actually writes one romance after another and they are different enough that people keep reading them. Have I missed my calling? I must have hundreds of quirky running-into-an-attractive-fellow-I’ve-been-pining-for-and-ending-up-together scenarios rolling about in my noggin. That time I was attracted to my counselor and imagined an elaborate Mardi Gras scenario so we could hook-up without sacrificing anyone’s integrity or mental health. The tryst ended with him waking first, tenderly ascertaining my identity while I slept in his bed, glitter-smeared, mask crushed under a pillow. After reflecting on this disastrous turn of events and his deep feelings for me, he slipped into the kitchen to make me gluten-free pancakes for breakfast.

I think about the Chickadees and the fact that I probably wouldn’t envy their relationships if I knew what all went on. Then I realize that this parody my imagination makes of longing and love is the advantage of having a divided brain. I get to reflect upon my true self while she is fast asleep, glitter-smeared, a shoddy costume in disarray but a heart intact in it’s own illogical integrity, gluten-free pancake mix conveniently stashed wherever she goes. It is just so funny, and tender enough to warrant tip-toeing into the kitchen to make her breakfast.

A Little in Love

Walking outside after my workday at the restaurant was especially gratifying in the warm rain. The big trees, the gravel roads lined with gardens, crows sauntering across from one yard to another as though it’s too much trouble to fly. If I believe humans are as much nature as the landscape then these things shouldn’t be any more fulfilling than the room full of chatty humans acquiring lunch that I just came from, but it is definitely more fulfilling.

Perhaps it is the lack of expectation, how the landscape doesn’t judge. The crows may very well judge but relationships across languages are rife with convenient misunderstanding of who one really is. Mostly they ignore me and I give them their space but crows are curious. I’m sure they have some thoughts about the tall, wingless creatures that make such great habitat for them unwittingly.

In the evening I sit on the couch with the radio on, working on a few sketches between day dreams. Outside a crow sits in the very top of a fir. It’s raining harder now and this crow is still, just adjusting to the wind and occasionally shaking off the water from its head. There are so many other places to go when one has wings, is this crow enjoying itself in the rain? The possibility, however faint, that a crow may love the rain—that we may have this in common—makes me feel sweet, a little giddy, a little in love.

Grey clouds drift past the crow, I sit and watch until it jumps off the tree and swoops out of view.

Myths and Prayers

 I’m getting started on a new body of work, Myths and Prayers in which I will be working intuitively and sensually from my experiences and observations in the landscape as a route to erase the distinction my culture makes between humans and nature.

One question I will explore is about how we relate to our current explanations of life, our myths, if you will. These are now based on methods instead of metaphor. This gives us a much more sophisticated understanding of the world which we have leveraged for incredible development but does it stunt some aspects of our humaness?

Since my goal is to work intuitively I can’t expect that my pieces are going to make any logical sense regarding this question but if I can blur the distinction within myself between humankind and nature I believe I will gain insight into the situation.

I’ll be working in layers on handmade paper, layers always inspire me to post lots of process shots.

Intricate Interiors

I thought I was going to Gabriel Park to make sketches for a painting but apparently I was going there to take a nap in the meadow. I would blame this on the Pedalpalooza Kick-off ride but it was just me waiting until nearly 11pm to look at the bus schedule and then having a 2 hour journey ahead of me. There are reasons older people become set in their ways and do silly stuff like go to bed early and it’s not that they don’t like to have fun. We come to find it’s not fun to spend an entire day sleepwalking just for a little extra nonsense the night before.

All the same, I was excited to be on foot en route to my painting spot. Any time I can shirk off a car ride I feel accomplished, like putting off the laundry an extra day. Multnomah Village is a more active place than it used to be, a hub of urban life with a giant overpriced apartment building on the main street, an old favorite restaurant closing its doors because the rent is too high. I’m glad, at least, that so many people are drawn to live in a woodsy, walkable neighborhood. We have a desperate need to humanize more of our habitat but we need to do it for everyone, not just those who can afford to live in or near luxury apartment buildings.

Anyhow I’m half asleep and it’s hot out because I’m on the slacker schedule of leaving my house at 2 pm. This puts me in a mystical space of being aware of nothing besides being hot and sleepy and loud things like the Dad lecturing his son about his attitude on the baseball diamond sidelines. I personally support the son in not being able to gracefully handle an entire day of sportsball.

Past the ball field, I enter the cathedral of Cedars that make up the mid section of Gabriel Park. There is a crow aggressively dissecting the remains of a family picnic while the humans are off in the grass playing games, a woman sunning herself while reading a book. I stop and sit on a bench, I’m in one of my favorite parks, where do I want to go to sketch? I head into the forest by the creek and admire the cedars who do not grow all the way to the ground like cones when they are so close together; its an intricate interior without a lot of undergrowth. The shapes and shadows are intriguing but someone wants a cozy spot to sit so I walk through these woods to the little meadow where I used to go at dusk in the winter to watch the crows settle into their rook.

I sit on the grass and contemplate sketching, contemplate how long its been since I spent a lazy day laying in the grass with no goals, then lay down watching the birch leaves bob in and out of the light above me. The next thing I know I am confused about what is making so much noise splashing in a tiny creek when I realize there is a car on the gravel road behind me and I have been fast asleep. I watch a couple crows pick around in the grass and fix my eyes on a perfectly round black spot on a log at the edge of the wood which reveals itself as a bunny when it’s ears move. I can’t resist a chance to include wildlife in a painting so I get out my sketchbook and take some notes, draw a bit. Sometimes we have to finish a secret mission before we can get on with our goals.