I went for a hike along the trails here at The Bishop’s Ranch yesterday morning. The sun was bright and warm, tempered by a brisk spring wind. As I walked through the heirloom apple orchard the nearly century old trees, twisted and bedraggled with dead branches, persisted in blooming, they resist the urge each year to give in to winter and choose instead, with what energy they have, to embrace spring. Thanks to the abundant winter rains this year the trees are surrounded by carpet of green dotted with delicate, bright yellow buttercups. As I bent down to pick a few a sweet memory flooded through – forty-five years or more ago I bent to pick these same buttercups. That day I stood in a meadow with my sister. The meadow had a little creek that ran through it and housed two fat ponies and a burro. While they grazed idly by we picked buttercups. We picked buttercups not by the handful but by the armful. We truly filled buckets with buttercups to bring to the house. We filled every nook and cranny with buttercup bouquets.
Yesterday I brought my bundle of buttercups to my studio. I am preparing for a mixed media nature journaling class I’m teaching in May here at the Ranch (class info). I have been experimenting with printing organic objects. So I inked up my printing plate and placed my buttercups down, laid the paper on and rubbed. When the print is lifted what showed is the negative space around the buttercup. Then I gently peeled up the buttercups and made what is called a ghost print of what was left behind under the buttercups. I found these negative space prints and their ghosts to contain a simple quiet beauty and while I was making them I began to think of my father who passed away last fall. I have been working on a slide show for the celebration of life we are having for him next weekend. While I have done the best to find images of him throughout is life from birth to death, to somehow encapsulate who he was in one slide show, I know is folly. There are gaps of course, missing pieces things he loved not captured in film, people whom he loved and loved him not pictured. The gaps and missing pieces in this slide show are like the negative space buttercup prints- they depict the presence of absence the space around the life. And like the ghost prints it is just a whisper of the vibrant life he led. I am grateful that his memory comes to me in many ways through photos and celebrations, and quiet buttercup prints reminding me to leave space for the presence of absence.
This is the bed my parents put into the dream house they built together when they were in their fifties – like I am now. And this is the bed they slept in, she on the right and he on the left for twenty-eight of their sixty-one years of marriage. This is the bed my dad rose from early every morning to walk the rural road beyond their driveway. He rose from this bed for his walk every day, rain or shine, in sickness and in health to, with few excepts, walk his goal. While that goal got closer and closer to home over the years, he rose from this bed just the same even deep into his journey with the cancer. This is the bed my father lay down on each night to sleep, and dream and hold my mother close. This is the bed I joined my father in during his last week to snuggle and keep him warm while he dozed. This is the bed, on Sunday night, that my husband and I lifted him into for his last earthly sleep. This is the bed my mother curled up beside him and held his hand and stroked his cheek and hummed and sang and sang and sang. This is the bed I sat my chair beside and joined my mother’s song to comfort his journey, to settle his body, to release his soul. This is the bed my husband sat beside to join the vigil, while I spooned my mother’s tired body, as we sang until finally we just hummed. We hummed a like a mother to a restless baby, an ancient tone of comfort, in this bed we hummed my father through the threshold of this life to the next. This is the bed my mother laid beside by fathers body, his spirit released, one last time till they came to take that ravaged, tired body away. This is the bed I wept in, sliding my body into the divot my father, my daddy, left behind still warm from his last corporeal moments on this earth.
My sweet, loving, obstinate, loyal, opinionated, talented, strong, generous, complicated father – Dodd Thorpe – died in the arms of his wife, at 3:23 am, Monday September 26, 2016. May his spirit live on in us!
I’ve been up with my parents since Monday and will be here for the foreseeable future my Dad started on hospice this week. His pain is being managed – His energy is low but he continues to walk and sleep in his own bed with his wife of 61 years, for now he is eating and enjoying a iced mocha or a gin and tonic here and there. His sense of humor is good and his sense of peace at where things are is clear. When he came home from the hospital this last week he was full of tubes and bags, his quality of life has shrunk. He is sanguine, he feels he has had a good life, right now is a struggle and he is ready. The whole family is on board and supportive. We three sibs are rotating staying here to help in this journey to support both my parents and now getting some blessed extra support from hospice.
When asked by the social worker if he had anxiety or fears about what happens when he dies he recalled something a rabbi once told him “when a baby is in the womb he isn’t scared about what is next, there is a powerful commotion and one existence ends and another begins” that is how he feels- he is ready, this life has almost come to term. We are all here to help him and my mom, hospice is the midwife. What is next is unknown
We are all trying to just be present to deal with what is required in the moment, to enjoy, to joke, to cry, to laugh, to hug, to hold….
Thank you for your love and friendship out there in virtual community land. I know I am being held by your love and concern,
😢😊😍😞😳😘(range of emotion)
I just wrapped up a great weekend with 16 adventurous creative women, who in two days learned a bunch of new techniques and made a vast array of interesting, personal, playful and insightful art. It is always rewarding to share what I know and then see the different directions that one medium can go. In just 2 days I could see each student find their voice and unique style. I always learn something along the way too, a new twist on something I’ve been doing for ages or in answering a question I never thought to ask before. So I give thanks to these women who trusted me with their creative hearts and dared to go on a creative adventure with me!
I have been wandering and wondering both artistically and spiritually for a long time – probably my whole life. I am always working out a new puzzle trying a new technique and making it my own. In some ways that makes me a nomad in the art world. People ask “What do you do?” – what they want in reply is something they can get their head around like, landscapes, or still life, or abstract, or some medium they can pin me down on, but I never have a good answer. I am always trying new things and by the time my audience gets used to where I’m at I’m usually moving on. I don’t think this has helped my art career much. People here at the Bishop’s Ranch still tell me they miss my landscapes – and sometimes I’ll still paint a landscape for them – but after some 100 plus landscapes of the Ranch surrounds I was itchy to move on. Over the years I’ve explored printmaking, collage, encaustic, watercolor, fabric art and I have enjoyed them all and dug in deep enough to teach a class and share what I’ve learned. Right now I like the loose label Mixed Media artist. I doesn’t really mean much to anyone and that suits me fine – that way I’m never in a box I can’t paint my way out of!
Spiritually my trajectory has been more a meander than a direct path as well. I consider myself a Christian (I got baptized at the age of 23, a young adult wandering and wondering). I am a nodgie, scab-picking Christian – full of doubt and wonder at the same time. Over the years yoga and tai chi have offered me comfort in my times of need and I have come to enjoy what Buddhism has to share though I have barely scratch the surface of it’s depths. So when I stumbled upon Stephen Batchelor in a interview with the amazing On Being host Krista Tippit, his wandering and wondering spoke to me. He has published a number of books including Buddhism Without Beliefs and Faith to Doubt. In this interview (OnBEING interview with Stephen Batchelor) he spoke of the Buddhist core concept of the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path was taught by the Buddha and are as follows: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. While I was listening to the interview I began to doodle a folded roll of cloth, eight folds on top of each other, eight birds, eight growing plants. Later when I googled, eightfold path images they all came up as compasses with 8 crossing strands and ships wheels with 8 spokes. It’s funny how I didn’t see it as 8 crossing concepts but one concept folded in on itself, anyhow that is the origin story of this painting in my new series of work I’m calling Signs & Symbols. Like all the other artistic wanderings I’ve done I don’t know how long I’ll stay here but I feel like I have lots to learn and explore and I am excited to share that exploration with you.
It was my birthday on Sunday and, no surprise, I have been thinking a lot about the passing of time and this metaphor has been rolling around my head for the past five days, so I thought I should share it with you.
On the day I was born the archer pulled the string back on the bow and the arrow that is ME shot forth into the world. The arch of the arrow is unknown, the distance too and wherever that arrow lands, well that is it’s true mark – and not for me to know. I sooth myself by thinking I have control over those two factors – arch and distance – and perhaps I do to a little bit. My efforts can take me higher and perchance farther but there is capriciousness too, that is out of my control. And as I think about it, it is just that fickleness that is the true gift of life. In not knowing the arch and distance of my arrow, in understanding that I can not control all factors I can give over to the goodness and wonder before me – right here, right now. It is all there ever was, is, or will be. I give thanks to the archer for sending my on my path, I give thanks for the past 54 years and I give thanks for today – that will have to do.
If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. – Meister Eckhart
A couple of weekends ago I taught a Mixed Media Art Journaling class at the Mendocino Art Center. The center is located in the quaint artsy coastal town of Mendocino in on the Northern California coast. It’s a beautiful little town and a lovely place to teach. On Saturday, after teaching, I made my way to the local bookstore and as I often do, I found myself thumbing through the poetry section. This poem of Mary Oliver’s spoke to me and I used it as my inspiration for my Sunday demonstration in my workshop the next day.
I Go Down to The Shore
I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in our moving out,
and I say, ok, I am miserable,
what shall –
what should I do? And the sea says
in it’s lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.
–Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings
The poem speaks to where I am right now- “I have work to do”. I had a summer with busy parts and lazy parts, visits, travels and guests. It is wonderful to get out of the routine, get out of the ordinary, to play with the rhythm of the day and the rhythm of the week. But at some point it is time to return to ordinary time. There is comfort in the return – the structure of rising early, exercise, and getting down to the business at hand. This week was that for me, doing Ranch work, making sketches for a commission, meetings, emails, even this blog, all of it. My to-do list has been sitting ignored for some time now and this week it’s boxes were checked, things completed new items added. It is both daunting and invigorating to return. So forgive me if I brush past you in my bustle, like the sea, “I have work to do”.