In the Presence of Flowers

There are flowers opening in the woods this morning

My favorite creek-rock is bare where it used to hold old leaves and the path sports new sprigs of grass along its edge.

It is prickly-cold still but the one pink Salmon Berry blossom in the brambles lets me shed grandiosity like an old, ratty cloak.

Love was never something to earn anyway.

It is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet hopping about in the branches by the trail while birdsong fills the wood to its edge.

It is walking in the company of trees through the exquisite winter chill, each step blooming with the richness of being exactly like this.

The Sound of Water

The trees are back-lit, flaring green-gold around their mossy edges in the morning sun while the silvery fog mutes the dark pines and turns the brown leaves crimson.

The Pacific Wrens are singing again. One perches on the blunt end of a stick by the trail in his brown and ocher body just pumping air from his lungs into sound like it’s a contest to win. He jumps onto the ground and becomes smaller than mice.

My mind has it’s own song, mulling over small conflicts in variations no matter how much I lose interest in them. But then the sound of black wings fills my head as a Pileated Woodpecker sails past to land on a tree and drum.

A raven croaks across the way and suddenly I notice the sound of water dripping out of the spongy moss into the mud all around me.

Down the trail a ways an old man passes wearing a faded raincoat he must have bought 40 years ago and I wonder what he has learned about love during its life. I don’t ask. Instead I stop and admire the marsh and its broad strokes of color in the middle of the green forest.

Above in the branches a robin sits so still I almost don’t notice.

A Great Emptiness

The oaks seem extra lumpy after the rain, their mossy coats catching the cloud light and shimmering green-gold. I climb the ridge stopping here and there to look at the scenery. I’ve been wanting to do this hike for months. Now that I’m finally here I’m so engrossed in mentally rearranging my priorities I’m barely noticing the surrounds.

I’ve been replacing my quest for spiritual truth with the thing I love most—communing with nature. Perhaps today would be a good time to reckon with the fact that not every walk in the woods is going to be a deep experience. That it’s OK to sometimes be distracted while the shadows crisscross the pale bark of the pines and black-tailed deer slip up the slope carrying the silver light back to the top of the ridge on their shiny coats.

To miss the acorn woodpeckers chasing a flicker from the dead oak, full of acorn-size holes that keeps their stash. Or the Bewick’s Wren who lands in a bush off the trail and buzzes. To not notice that two Spotted Towhees scattered from the same place on the trail on my way out and back.

Eventually there will be the moment when I come to—when the sun breaks slowly through the gray and the forest light turns nostalgic and orange, gleaming crimson off the carpet of purple and brown leaves.

I sit on a log to watch and consider what it even means to commune with nature. Empty and wound-tight, I wonder, what do I offer in return?

On the way back three wild turkeys plod down hill through the ferns and sticks, their wattles a striking cadmium against the greens and browns. Another group of black-tailed deer bound downhill and out of sight.

It is such a privilege to be among them, privy to their beauty, wondering over their inner workings.

What can I give back? A chance to scatter? A great emptiness in which to store wonder?

Every Inch

I arrive at the forest on my bike out-of-breath and apprehensive because I didn’t come here just to walk. I came here to look for wisdom. 

Several months ago I sat in these woods on a log by the creek grieving a break-up. On our second date he told me about a platonic friendship with an ex-girlfriend. A few dates later we walked through the neighborhood while I pointed out that they seemed to still be involved. He stopped in the middle of the street, grabbed my hands, looked into me with his fiery eyes and insisted that he was not with her and that he wanted things to work out with us.

I trusted his passion over my own intelligence, but five weeks later he decided to work things out with his ex instead. I blocked his number and came to these woods to be quiet. I felt that if I followed my hurt feelings down to their deepest roots I could free up my attraction to these sorts.

I was the sort of young person you worry about—hunched over in drab clothes two sizes too big, blushing any time words came out of my mouth which they rarely did. I left home with no idea how to make a life for myself and fell into the company of a “natural health” practitioner who believed he was enlightened.

Slight and spry with a head of wavy white hair, he looked the part. He was confident that transcending my emotional issues by eschewing all forms of worldliness was going to be much better for me and my health than actually addressing them.

How does one approach the grief of giving up on oneself for an entire decade just because one has an unsightly ego? Of living for someone else’s truth?

Grief makes no sense, it’s something to wade into with nothing but Kleenex, a journal maybe, and faith. It touches the raw corners of an empty space that feels like it can’t be filled. It shows us the ways we failed to love someone enough and sometimes how we failed to love ourselves at all.

It’s been years since I parted ways with that guru and his path to transcendence but as I wade into this broken-heartedness I see that under everything I do there remains a lingering need to own an infallible truth, to trust in an intelligence more pure than my own.

That’s no fun.

Who I would be if I could oust this compulsion? How would I live? These are the questions I came to the woods to answer today and as I amble through the gold of old maple leaves stuck in brambles along the creek I feel optimistic that this grief, belated as it is, will help me get on with my own adventure, guided by my own imperfect intelligence.

I stop and sketch an odd growth of mossy branches on the forest floor. My sketchbook has been neglected for months because the better my art gets the better I expect it to be. Today I want to draw all the trees and ferns just to be close to the things I love.  

I sketch several tangled and brushy scenes. Then it starts sprinkling rain so I walk south and notice how much more of the neighborhood is visible from the trail now that the leaves are down. I take a new route that brings me onto the road to loop around to the trail on the other side of the creek. Ideas come to me about new bodies of art-work. I try to flush out all the details and notice I’m getting really uptight. I let it go and listen for wisdom as I came here to do.

It’s ok to have goals, but you are always in such a hurry to meet them you often neglect your other needs. Think of goals as paddles instead of a compass. 

It’s good advice. It occurs to me death is the one place we will end up for sure regardless of what beliefs or goals we live with; it’s our most reliable compass point. It’s feels eerie to align to death as a North Star but strangely comforting. She is like a mythic empress who gives me permission to arrive at her dark question mark having worn out every nook and cranny of life guided by nothing but the intelligence of wanting to love every inch of the way there.

I head back to my bike with sketches and painting ideas, less weight on my shoulders and a sense of how to begin.

Newport

I had a great time at the coast a couple weekends ago, taking my books to the Newport Autumn Fest and Lincoln City’s Artisan Market. I really appreciate all the support from people who purchased my books or just spent time reading them in my booth.

One woman purchased a copy of “Patefacia and the Crickets.” for a teen she knows who is struggling with depression. It was very touching to me that one of my art pieces might provide solace and understanding for someone who’s having trouble stepping fully into life. It’s not as easy as it should be.

I got some beach time in as well as a hike after the shows were over. It was a great weekend.

Since I’ve been back I’ve started work on some final draft pages for my next book, it’s slow going right now but I’m really excited about it!

Remakes

I remade a couple of my books from 2013, The Wind Returns with Autumn. and Patefacia and the Crickets. I didn’t have good photo editing skills back then so the books always printed dark. Also I made a new cover for The Wind Returns. and shortened the title. The old cover was smaller than the print size and I never really like how that turns out. The new cover does not exactly flow with the illustrations but I still like it better.

I was tempted to redo the whole thing since I’ve gained a lot of skills since 2013 but I want to move forward with my new book. Maybe in the future I will get to that. The poem is one of my favorites and one of my more relatable ones so I think it deserves the attention. It’s always challenging as an artist to know when promoting old work detracts from what you are doing now and when it adds to your history and depth.

Both books are in my shop on the front page!

Studio Update

I had a great time at the Belmont Street Fair last month. Since then I’ve started a new book which will be my first attempt to channel my illustrations and writing into a children’s book format. So far I have the pages all sketched out and have been doing some studies to develop my style more intentionally before I start in. I also bought some new boards for stretching paper as I will have a lot more pages going at once than normal!

You can always catch the latest on my Instagram @alexandra.schaefers

I am taking a break from Landscape Diaries, because I feel like doing some experimental writing and not being on (or wishing I was sticking to) a posting schedule.

I just rearranged my web-site a bit. If you have opinions about that sort of thing, let me know what you think!