Eulogy for an Old Friend

April 5th, 2022, 11:00am: We hired a tree service to cut down our old Blue Spruce in a 70 to 80 mph wind storm. Yes. They went up on a rope in that wind to take most of the branches off so the second half of the tree wouldn’t hit the neighbor’s house squarely in the middle.

April 5th, 2022, evening: I am soaking in our bathtub-not-a-shower, just before sunset. Looking out the window above the tub. Sunlight still catches the remaining limbs of this very old and very huge spruce tree that makes up the entirety of my view. They have only cut off the top half of the tree, so the lower branches remain.

April 6th, 2022, all day: the tree crew cut the rest of our tree in huge chunks. The pieces hit the ground audibly and each time, shook the whole house. A dismemberment. I cried a lot that day. And the next, every time I looked at the empty space where our beautiful companion tree had once filled the sky.

Summer of 2018, evening: I took the photo above, from this exact spot – the bathtub, looking through the window. If you look closely you can see the grid pattern of the window screen.

August 1989 to Present Day: This has been the view on the east side of our home since I bought it in ’89. I was a single mother, lucky enough to find — after almost two years of looking for something I could afford — a house that came with the option of creative financing.

And this tree.

The week we moved in, I met our next door neighbor, Sylvia, who had built this house with her husband in the early 1900’s. Sylvia, who had planted this tree. In her elderly-crabby-Patty way, she warned me about the weeds in my (brand new to me) yard (“You better do something about those dandelions”) and declared something about the old spruce with its definite lean toward her house (“If that tree hits my house, I’ll sue ya!)

Our very old tree has been a home for countless magpies, ravens, robins, sparrows, finches, chickadees, pine siskins, even hummingbird families and a pair of kestrels for all these years. 


I say it is “our” spruce tree, though we did not plant it. We made sure to water it every year though nothing would grow under its canopy. It meant more to me than providing a bird home. I have many memories of times with/under/ next-to this ancient being. Times I needed solace. The time we thought our dear old Sam was dying and my sons slept next to him on the ground under this tree that night. Times I looked to this ancient one for wisdom and knowledge about my life. Times I prayed, touching her massive trunk. My best friend Jen married her husband in a simple dawn ceremony led by our teacher, a Huichol shaman.

Old tree, you were a companion on hot summer afternoons when my kids and I lay in the hammock between your trunk and the house. You shaded our home so well that we never needed air conditioning. You made a ceiling in our garden, creating a context for us whenever we were out in the yard.

So, the tree service: a bunch of young guys. They’re all agile and strong. One of them climbed in that wind storm, with ropes and spikes to the wildly swaying top and tied it off to a 3/4 ton truck parked in our alley. Assurance the second half would not fall right onto our neighbors house tonight. Winds strong enough to shake our whole house and keep us up all night.

One half of this beautiful being was severed by the wind from its other half. Conjoined twins (co-dominant leaders in the tree-people lingo.) The largest leader – first born, the dominant sister – came down in the wind yesterday morning less than an hour after I told Tim about my dream of this happening. We had looked at it together as we left for work that morning — I reminded him it would fall to the east if it ever falls (he had dreamt of the tree falling on our house.) Forty five minutes later I get an email: “Your tree just fell into our yard. All are safe.” 

Heart wide open‚Ķ throat tight. Relieved no one was hurt. Relieved their house was only clipped , slightly damaged. Yet, the shock of news that someone I love has died. I can hardly feel.


It will be gone next time I sink in to a hot healing tub of water. There will be only sky next time I look out this window.

We used to see only blueish green branches and a majestic tree filling this view. Today the is a trunk. Tomorrow there will be nothing but the neighbor’s house.

Door Decorations at Berwick-on-the-lake

Wreaths don’t own front doors. And house doors don’t own front door decorations, either. Why not put a bird house or a bird-i-a-box on your front door? My mother recently downsized to a two bedroom apartment in a retirement community, so she has an apartment door in a hallway rather than the outside door she used to have. She has always loved having a wreath or some other wonderful, hand made seasonal decoration on her front door to welcome family, friends and strangers.

So … my sisters and I got together and made Mom four seasonal craftily-decorated yummies for her new apartment door. She loves birds, gardening, traveling and artsy things. So we all brought bits and pieces from our closets, junk drawers and craft rooms and collaborated on these wonderful pieces.

  • For spring, she has a little box with a glass-front box containing a bird nest and music … oh. plus a bunny-in-a-box on top. Of course!
  • Summer’s door decoration is a wreath with bird house covered with bird and flower stamps from around the world, 8 carrots for her 8 children, and roof tiles of scrabble bits. Rose buds, reindeer moss and the word, “Home” make it really welcoming.
  • Fall is another wreath, this one with vintage alphabet blocks, tiny child’s shoes, lichens, mosses and feathers … and mom’s name, Pat, so everyone in her new community knows just who lives behind that door!
  • Lastly, her winter door decoration is a tilty-tiny-village of whimsical bird houses in a white, gold and silver theme. We used old hankies and lace to make flowers and an angel that sits on the roof. Dangly crystals and beads and the word, “Peace” complete this sweet “community” welcome.

Annual “Girls Go” Gathering

Every year I get together with my sisters and mom for a long weekend. We hang out, eat chocolate, make art, talk, drink wine talk some more, drink coffee and tea, play games, walk, hike, and cook. Oh, and we eat some other things too. Not just chocolate. ūüėČ

Our Girls Go gatherings have been a wonderful way for me — and I think for all of us — to become closer as adults. I live so far away from the rest of the family and I really appreciate our relaxed sister-bonding yearly retreats. There are 5 of us sisters and two sisters in law who are as much part of the family as any of us. And of course, our mom, Pat.

This year we spent almost 4 whole days on Vancouver Island, near where two sisters and mom live year round. We found a great vacation rental house right on the Saanich Peninsula north of Victoria and Sidney. Right on the ocean. Oh joy!

Mom is moving into a retirement community next month, and she has always loved having a handmade decoration on her front door. As our art project this time, we made some decorations for her new apartment door. We collaborated on four, one for each season. She likes birds so we went with a bird-ish theme. Mom loves them!

We also visited one of my favorite 1+1=1 Gallery artists, Sarah Magar, in her home and studio. Sarah lives with her husband in a sweet little house smack on the open west coast of Vancouver Island — in the teensy town of Sooke. Her ceramic studio is literally about 4 steps from the kitchen door and looks out on the broody moody glorious ocean. Check out a few peeks of Sarah’s home and studio below. When I have time I am planning to write an article about Sarah on our gallery website. She’ll be our next featured artist.

On the way back to Helena, we stayed overnight at a friend’s house, then spent a few hours visiting the Pratt printmaking studio in Seattle. That is like letting me into a candy store! The creativity, diversity, enthusiasm and delight from all of the printmakers working in the studio was thick! I’ll write another post just about the Pratt studio and those amazing artists. Watch for it.

Studio Scraps and Feeling Scrappy

Seems like I write a new post whenever I’m pressed for time in my studio. Maybe it’s avoidance. Maybe it’s just that when I’m struggling or when I’m jumping up and down with joy because I got over my hump is exactly when I feel like sharing that struggle and that joy with you. I’m feelin’ scrappy. That’s it.

Soooo … I’m in the flow and I apologize for my weird sentences and non-grammar.

Today I reflect on the scraps and leftovers, the layers and stashed pieces of beauty that normally stay hidden in boxes until I’m in a creative flow and just need to see what I’ve got. When it’s all out on the studio tables — any flat surface that isn’t covered in ink — I can swim in the colors and textures and gorgeousness and it gets me going. I am simultaneously (well, almost) working on 9 or 10 different images. Some will make it into the upcoming printmakers’ show and others will make it to the “scrap pile” (I rarely throw away a print even if it’s un-good.)¬† I’m experimenting with a short series of four bird nests and two other prints about birds. Plus two of my animal companions and one about home. Just home. Actually, they are all about home, come to think of it. A deep sense of home. Home empty. Home full. Home in a storm. Home when you have someone. Home when you love someone.

I want to share some of my studio scraps. And maybe a couple of prints that are bubbling up from the deep. Not quite done. Not quite ready for framing. Still experiments. Still works-in-progress. I’ll post again when I decide what’s going in the exhibit, PRESS HERE – – and give y’all some sneak peeks.

Thank you for reading. Mwuah!

 

Here’s some info about the printmaking exhibit at 1+1=1 Gallery.¬†

Inspired by the Prayer of St. Francis

St Francis of Assisi by Nancy Goughnour

St Francis of Assisi by Nancy GoughnourAs a child, my favorite saint was St. Francis. I think one of the reasons I was so drawn to his story was his profound connection to all of creation: sun, moon, plants, rivers mountains, animals … somehow that way of living and being has always resonated with me. I continue to gain inspiration from Francis of Assisi. ¬†This is my own version of the Prayer of St. Francis:

Creator, make me a channel of peace,
Where there is hatred, let me plant love;
When I have hurt, let me seek pardon and
Where there is hurt inside me, let me find forgiveness;
Where there is doubt, let me believe;
When I feel despair, let me seek the light;
When the night seems too long, let me remember the morning
Where there is sadness, cultivate joy.

O Loving Creator,
help me open my heart to others before I ask for help;
seek to know the world around me before I expect to be understood;
love with my whole body, heart and spirit
and in doing so, know that I will be loved
help me remember that it is in giving that we receive
it is in forgiving that we are forgiven
and it is in letting go that I am connected forever
to all of Life.

Threads of Continuity

IMG_1259Every time I begin working on a new series, I have mixed feelings. Being held by what I’ve already started mixed with being¬†impelled by what I want to do next.¬†Melancholy mixed with excitement. Curiosity mixed with¬†worry. Delight mixed with feeling vulnerable. ¬†Do you ever feel that way when you start something new?

I haven’t yet exhausted my last series (The Mother Tree work) but I’m ready to keep growing and moving forward. I think to myself “I’ll go back to the Mother Tree or the Salmon Forest or the Ecology of the Unconscious.” Will I? Probably not — right now I’m exploring a new(ish) medium for me. My current¬†mixed media¬†pieces have a new look — still mine, but I think better.¬†I love experimenting with materials, exploring different ways of putting marks on a surface, and new ways to express what wants to come out of me.

So, one of the questions I ask myself as I embark on a new series is, how does this have anything to do with the work I recently completed? Where is the thread of continuity between those other series and this one? ¬†I’ve been playing with printmaking for several¬†years (in the big picture, that’s not long at all) and have barely started incorporating¬†collagraphs, monoprints and relief printing into my mixed media paintings. Here are a couple of pieces that have some of my prints as part of the composition:

Right now, I’m playing with a small tabletop press (wishing it were alot larger.) I’m trying out techniques that are new to me, but fit my style and objectives perfectly. Chine colle¬ī is a way to use some of the¬†paper scraps —¬†prints, studies, watercolors, paintings and collage papers I’ve saved. I’m using the¬†old textbooks and readers that have become familiar in my artwork, incorporating childhood motifs along with fish, birds and the occasional nuclear bomb or tree. My personal¬†vocabulary of marks and shapes continues in my new pieces — spirals, circles, spheres, peculiar cross hatching, jabs, roots, geometric shapes and voluptuous strokes. And of course, I’m always passionate about Nature and that’s prominent in my new work: leaves, branches, grasses and other botanical images; water, waves, currents, raindrops; and animals both large and microscopic.

I’m curious to see where I go. That’s a great motivator. I’ll post more when I get something I like enough to say, “This is what I’m doing for the next show.” In the meantime, it’s just a direction.

Our First Snow Changes my Palette

snow on branches

snow on branches

I woke up this morning to a deep quiet outside my window. The window was open a few inches (I like sleeping with cold air on my face.) Most mornings, even as late as yesterday morning, I awake to the chatter of tiny songbirds in the lilacs just outside. This morning all was silent.

Abstract

I looked up at the sky. Gray-blue. Little humps of snow covered the lilacs. Soft. Bare of leaves. And oh — the branches! The black brush stroke branches against a¬†hundred shades of white snow! ¬†I knew my palette was going to change overnight. Just. Like. That. At least for one or two paintings. Black and white. Simple. Distilled to the essence of pattern. Calligraphic strokes against a pale plain sky.

Body of Work

IMG_9218-imp

For the last few months, I‚Äôve been working in my studio on a new painting series with the working title, “Mother Trees.” And in the last 6 weeks or so, my¬†work has become more and more intense. The exhibit I am preparing for opens November 20th and my work must be¬†completed by the week before that. Ack! ¬†Sometimes it’s just really hard to make the time to paint!¬†

Even though my studio is attached to 1+1=1 Gallery, I have to carve out my¬†studio between running the gallery and mounting two exhibits, doing chores¬†around the house,¬†hanging out with Tim and having somewhat of a social life. I have to make painting a priority and sometimes … it just isn’t. And that’s okay.
I’m enjoying the way the season has turned this week — brilliant sunlight alternates with rainy skies and cold, dark¬†evenings. In my studio the sun¬†is lower through the skylight. On rainy days, I’m forced to use the overhead light. At night, I can see a few stars in the black rectangle above my work table. The colors of the season are turning up on my canvases. Darker colors– blacks, metallics, crimson, blood-red, forest greens. Richer for the changing light.

Some days the studio is quiet and I can hear the sound of rain or ravens on the skylight. Other times I listen to music. Depending on my mood it might be a soul/r&b-funk playlist or soulful cello or 10,000 Maniacs.
I’m a little melancholy. I think that has to do with the shortened days, the gathering dark. But even more — it’s sometimes the way painting makes me feel. It’s hard to explain the contradiction of feeling completely in the flow and soul-filled and satisfied, while also emotionally drained by the act of creating art. I’m working on a body of work that lives in my deep gut. It’s a story that’s part of my own story. I am full of feeling, yet I sometimes struggle to get that feeling out onto my¬†paper or panels. Sometimes I step back and think I’ve just painted a bunch of crap. Like, who’s going to want to look at these? Or who even cares? Or I might finish a brush stroke and be reminded of some dark piece¬†of my past and there it is again — the pull towards self-criticism.¬†
Other times I am delighted. And I know there are people who will come to the exhibit, who will connect with what I’m trying to express, who will find their own beautiful rich stories in the work. And be delighted in turn.
I work in many layers. I work on multiple pieces in the same day because of the drying time between layers. It’s hard to do this with interruptions, so I usually¬†work when¬†the gallery is closed. Yesterday I was so tired in the middle of the afternoon, I took a nap on the floor in the basement, using shipping blankets for pillows and covers.
Charlie slept beside me.¬†So, sleep definitely helps. I went back up to the studio and worked hard. Dancing. Flow. I didn’t want to go home for dinner.¬†
IMG_9214-impNow I’m adding layers to the stories of forests. Of what’s beneath the soil surface, of roots and generations, of mother trees and child trees and grandmother trees. Of what First Nation people have always known that ecologists are just discovering. Of the way we are all connected. Of the way knowledge passes from one tree to another to another and how humans betray that story with our destructive ways.
Today I paint between customers. Beneath my feet Charlie lies ever watchful for me to decide to take him for a walk. 
CharlieAtMyFeet
This afternoon we are listening to Van Morrison sing In the Garden from his album, No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. I paint inside the music. Inside the words, in the garden, I feel the presence of Nature inside my heart. I am trying to say this. I am trying. To. Say. This thing. Ignited in the daylight and the darkness and with all of Creation. In the garden.

The streets are always wet with rain
After a summer shower when I saw you standin’
Standin’ in the garden, in the garden wet with rain

You wiped the teardrops from your eye in sorrow
Yeah we watched the petals fall down to the ground
And as I sat beside you I felt the great sadness that day
In the garden

And then one day you came back home
You were a creature all in rapture
You had the key to your soul and you did open
That day you came back to the garden

The olden summer breeze was blowin’ against your face, alright
The light of God was shinin’ on your countenance divine
And you were a violet colour as you sat beside your father
And your mother in the garden

The summer breeze was blowin’ on your face
Within your violet you treasure your summery words
And as the shiver from my neck down to my spine
Ignited me in daylight and nature in the garden

And you went into a trance, your childlike vision became so fine
And we heard the bells within the church, we loved so much
And felt the presence of the youth of eternal summers in the garden

Alright, and as it touched your cheeks so lightly
Born again you were and blushed
And we touched each other lightly
And we felt the presence of the Christ
Within our hearts in the garden

And I turned to you and I said
“No guru, no method, no teacher
Just you and I and nature
And the Father in the garden”

Listen, no guru, no method, no teacher
Just you and I and nature
And the Father and the Son
And the Holy Ghost in the garden wet with rain

No guru, no method, no teacher
Just you and I and nature
And the Father and the Son
And the Holy Ghost in the garden
In the garden wet with rain

No guru, no method, no teacher
Just you and I and nature
And the Father in the garden.
~Van Morrison

IMG_9216-imp