“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Søren Kierkegaard
I came across this quote a while ago and stuck it in my “food for thought folder”. Something about it rings so true. When we sit in the fresh days of new spring – living forwards – we experience it in the moment –yes- but we really understand it only by looking back, the blooming narcissus, the bright smiling daffodils, the flittering birds, the dancing young cows– remind us of what is coming– our knowledge of springs past informs our anticipation of the coming warmth and the regreening of our world. The anticipation invites a regreening of our hearts that is particular to spring. The circle of time, the renewal of the seasons year after year allows us to straddle the moving forward and the looking backwards. To experience the tingle up the spine and scalp as the new spring sun warms your back for the first time in months is about that particular moment but also about every spring you have ever known and every time you have felt that first warming, thawing, melting moment and your heart and body knows that spring is coming again- all praise to the universe- the spinning earth around our warming sun- welcome back spring thank you, thank you, thank you.
I painted a new landscape. That doesn’t seem like much of a proclamation but for me it sort of is. Let me give you a bit of background. As a young artist fresh out of art school most of my work was social, emotional, and spiritual commentary mostly figurative and mostly female figures. Then about 15 years ago a friend and benefactor, John Weaver, decided I should go to an artist retreat in the south of France to paint landscapes. I’m not sure why he felt so strongly about it but he just thought it would be good for me so he donated some money to The Bishop’s Ranch for staff education and made sure I was the first one to use it. When I got to France I hadn’t painted a landscape since I was a child water coloring in a Yosemite meadow along side my mother. To be perfectly honest I had a little art school snobbiness about beauty. I liked to wear the angsty artist label as much the next art student and create “meaningful, challenging” art which is code for not pretty and god forbid not cute! But by this time I had lived in the beauty of The Bishop’s Ranch for five years and to be perfectly honest my life was so lovely and charming that there wasn’t much reason to make angsty art. So I surrendered to the beauty of the landscape in France and put what I learned to use at home, churning out painting after painting, for a while painting a landscape a week! My catalog has over a hundred landscapes of the Ranch and surrounds. But suddenly I was bored I had over done it. The landscapes felt like an expectation, and I began to feel trapped. So I took a hiatus, diving into collage, encaustic, digital art, quilting and any other medium that wandered my way. But lately, the last 4 or 5 months, I’ve been thinking longingly of landscapes. Going for hikes taking photos thinking, that would be a good landscape, so when I found my phone full of such photos I thought the universe was trying to tell me something- PAINT A LANDSCAPE – and so I did. And you know what- I loved it. The process of translating a beautiful vista into a beautiful painting, reconnecting with my personal painting style and the comfort of my old friend Golden paints, a lovely number 2 round brush and number 4 flat – well it was like old friends meeting up after years apart and getting along like we’d never been apart. So you my faithful blog followers get the first look –November Fog and Frost. I hope you enjoy seeing it as much as I enjoyed painting it… more to come, but definitely not one a week, I’m going to pace myself this time!
Pleasure is spread through the earth in stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find.
I went for a walk this morning with my old dog Lucky. She sniffed and barked at birds and phantoms, and followed the scent of last night’s fox or bobcat or stray cat with her stout short legged body bolting with such vigor and speed that seems impossible as seen prone on the couch- belly up and snoring. We walked the open pasture that rises up above road and looked out long across the valley of vineyards in full fall color. The hills and paths are just springing green, only an inch or so of rain has fallen in this drought stricken place, but the seeds that have lain dry and waiting were ready, sinking roots into the newly dampen earth to start a fresh green journey through another cycle of seasons. You my dear readers who don’t live in California and are always in the greening life, may not understand what a dramatic switch this is. We Californians like to call our hills golden in the dry hot summer and fall, which they are for a while but then they turn a brown grey like a burro’s back, waiting, waiting for rain. It came last week and this week the green has returned. Visible at first only in the mowed paths now showing more as the weeks advance stretching above the bent brown heads of it’s fallen parents. And today I was here to claim this bright, tenacious gift of exuberant hope.
The teeter-totter ride continued this week with nearly two inches of rain one day and 6o degree weather the next and persistent fog yesterday, glorious sunshine this morning and rain in the forecast for tomorrow. I guess that’s the very definition of spring, a combustible, unpredictable radiant time. Spring just might be my favorite season…but I’ll probably say the same about summer when it approaches and again when we are on the cusp of autumn. It reminds me of being pregnant, at first I was just enjoying being pregnant, the joy of anticipation was wonderful, the excitement splendid, but as the due date came closer and I became more weighted down and uncomfortable I was ready for the change. I think it must be nature’s way of helping you get past the fear of labor, you’re just so fed up being pregnant that you’re ready for anything. The changing of the seasons is like that. Especially for me the transitions from winter to spring, and summer to autumn. Enough already with the sweaters and the layers, I say, enough with the cups of tea and blankets. Oh how fickle, it wasn’t that long ago that I couldn’t stand my sandals another day and broke out my boots just a little too early for either fashion’s fancy or weather’s wisdom. But this week I put on my rain boots and windbreaker in search of the essence of spring.
Those of you who have followed my work over the year know that before I came to live at the Bishop’s Ranch, some 15 years ago, my art work was mostly figurative and social/emotional in nature (and perhaps a bit self involved, as young artist tend to be). When I moved to the Ranch and had a baby my art floated, not floundered, but it wasn’t grounded in who and where I was. A seasonal shift had happened in my life that I hadn’t observed in my art. Miraculously I was gifted a trip by a wonderful man, John Weaver, who seemed to sense I needed a shove into the next season of my life. He arranged for a trip to France to paint in the fields of the Midi Pyrenees, where the Fauvist had reigned, relaxing at an artist colony for a week! I came back with a new appreciation of the simplicity of documenting the beauty around me that set me on a hundred plus painting series of scenes from the area. The practice of landscape painting lead me to observations of time and place that had eluded me before. It also gave a great sense of anticipation for the coming glories, waiting for the daffodils to bloom or the grasses to turn gold or the leaves to change red. After five years of almost exclusive landscape painting I began to feel an itch for something new. Much to the dismay of some of my fans here at The Bishop’s Ranch I stopped painting landscapes. I missed the puzzle and problem solving of my previous work I wanted a challenge.
But this week the landscape called me back with its own challenge, to convey the whole of this place in this moment of time. To show this first week of March, like no other and yet perennial and faithful. I wanted to share not just the surprising snow on the Mountain but the Wild Mustard in its faithful festival of color that has envelopes the spring vineyards every year. I wanted to document the carnival of Bluebirds and Sparrows and Towhees, flitting and flying, mating and mingling, congregating along every fence and branch, a flurry of activity and industry. I tried in this weeks work to share both the whole and it pieces, I’m pleased with how the painting came out and pleased to merge these different urges of observation and art, the pregnant, fecund feeling of spring, that can not last, that always gives birth to summer, ready or not.