Month: February 2018

The Power of Butterflies

On the way to Beazell Memorial the sun broke through the grey behind me and cast an eerie golden light on the meadows and trees heightening the adventure of wandering into the woods to sketch. At the park there is only one other car in the lot. I put on my boots and grab my pack, the sound of Plunckett Creek opening me like one of those compact sponges when finally submerged in water.

I head up the trail on the left imaginging it will loop around to the trail on the right. These woods are mossy, full of thin trees, some bowed over in grand arcs along the rushing creek, Pacific Wrens singing their long intricate warbles from every corner.

Sometimes the expectation to gather sketches hinders it’s own goal; as I look around the trees begin to look uniform and disorganized, a little bland.

I focus instead on the satisfying pull of the uphill, the clean, damp air, the cathedral of trees leaning over the trail from either side. When the path leads high above the creek I stop to look out. It reminds me of Balch Creek in Portland and brings a pain to my heart. Not the kind of nostalgic devastation that has some redeeming poignancy, just an ache, unadulterated with any ideas that might distinguish it as grief or longing.

Looking for a job, moving, getting settled in a new routine, these take time and time is the thing I covet: coming home at lunch to paint, shirking off chores to write, staying up to finish an illustration. It took two decades to learn how to make art instead of thinking wishfully about it so I am wary of interruptions.

I keep walking, casually minding this feeling as though we are friends. I come to a large gate with a Private Property sign on it beyond which the woods have been clear-cut and fog has settled in along the ridge line, the morning sun gone. This abrupt end feels like an augury even though it is nothing more than a passable metal gate.

I head back down the hill, stopping to check out possible sketching spots. I am restless and every grouping of trees seems too close together, too similar. The more spots I look at the less potential I see until I almost believe I do not like painting trees.

A few years ago I walked down this same hill with an ex boyfriend. He was trying to get back together without promising that anything would be different. It was not enticing except for the attention. Except that dozens of silvery butterflies fluttered about our feet, their blueish wings flashing here and there so quickly you could never get a good look at the almost iridescent color. The power of butterflies to enchant a soft heart! The draw of things hinted at! We turned back before reaching the end of the trail never learning we were on a dead end.

I stop to have a snack, decide the trees to my left will do; a mediocre sketch is more appealing than not trying. As I draw I see how the group of trees are unique, their lumpy moss coats, the way one has two branches arcing from either side at the same altitude, the little moon shaped piece of creek between them.

When I have enough information to paint from I pack up and head down the last leg of the trail. Suddenly everything around me is an exquisite scene that would be lovely to sketch. The pain in my heart is gone, it’s question unanswered while the creek rushes by reminding me there is another trail to take.

The Silkiest Black

It’s a gray day at Fitton Green. The gravel roads on the way up were slippery as if covered in ice.

I walk down the trail listening-in as I pass a man talking to a group of children,“Always carry a map and pay attention to where you are going, if you talk too much you can lose track of where you are.” This strikes me as profound, possibly even the essence of how to get along as a human.

The hills are foggy, clouds moving across the ground in discreet formations. I pick a spot by some rocks to draw, wrap a blanket around my legs, sit down and make three small sketches of a group of trees. That’s all I’ve got today. I’m cold and the uphill trail calls to me as a source of warmth.

I pack up my things and walk up the hill to watch the fog, focused today after a long spell being distracted with a new love. Sitting in my studio, drawing a few sketches, getting lost in fantasy, realizing I want to be drawing…what can I do but yield and observe the mechanics of this hopeful vigil.

These urges are born from the deepest places in our bodies, the emptiest places in our hearts. Anyone who tells you you should learn to be happy alone instead of pining for love is talking too much.

What good is it to dress out tenderest desires in a sort of dunce cap when they could lead us to the kind of people we could actually share love with?

For now, I am enjoying this quiet mood and the ocher meadows—clouds obscuring the steep hills in varying grays that lift and slide away. It brings a sense of majesty, as if I am nowhere near civilization.

Then something white and brilliant catches my eye moving on the hillside. It is tipped dramatically in the silkiest black. It is the wing of a Northern Harrier. I watch mesmerized as it flies back and forth over the hillside low to the ground, his pale belly stark even in the subtle colors of fog. His wings so long he moves at the farthest edge of grace. A cloud blows in veiling his flight as he drifts to the far pines and disappears.

Once, I sat on the bench at Jackson-Frazier wetlands tearing myself up over whether to leave my boyfriend of the time. I watched a couple Harriers playing in the wind over the meadow. One glided low over me and I wanted to believe this was a message, that the friendliness of the universe had synced my schedule with the Harrier so I might be moved by his grace to have faith in this relationship.

The Harriers became my personal emblem of romantic love until I learned the males will mate with as many as five females at once which, at its essence, was the reason I was considering a break-up.

I decided Harriers would make a better emblem of wildness and peace for the soft way they fly over the wetland meadows and through the forests under the canopy. The boyfriend I left when I got so cold I longed to walk uphill.

This pining for a new man, I cherish as evidence I didn’t stay on the wrong trail just to avoid wearing the dunce cap. I will watch these new dreams build and crash—and every time I slip back into my own skin I will pick up my pack and hike quietly through the fog with sketches to make, a map of where my longings might take me.