Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Gift of Beauty

"Road to the Sky" 18x36, Oil on Canvas
(This is the painting I will be donating to the Park)
Tomorrow morning I leave this place for home. I have been hiking in some of my favorite spots trying to see them, "the last time." It's tough to leave. In just one short month I have found such solace and joy in these agave's and rocks. I have witnessed the changes of weather while I'm here. The same mountains that was clear and red became shrouded in cloud as if in a warm white coat. I've witnessed clear blue skies, mist, rain, storms and strong winds. I've seen the hairy Javelina's that look like a wild boar (but are not a part of the pig family), rabbits, deer, a mountain lion, coyotes and countless birds of every shade and sound. My husband and my youngest girls saw a black bear yesterday. Incredible, teeming life here!
I recently was interviewed by NPR in Marfa, Texas about my experience in the park. You can go HERE if you wish to hear it. I shared about one particular night in which I was sleeping in my little apartment at Panther Junction and I heard the howling in the canyons. It was loud enough to wake me up. In a few minutes I actually heard the coyotes right at my door and window. I could feel their howls in my chest. There is no better feeling for a landscape artist as I was reminded that I was in their home. This was where they roamed and lived. I was getting to catch the glimpse of what that wildness was like.
"Madrone Tree" 6x9, Oil on Canvas
My favorite hike has been up the Pinnacles to the start of  Boot Canyon. I went up on David Elkowitz' (The Chief of Interpretations that has been taking me around to some of the most remarkable spots in the Park) recommendation that the Maples were turning and I wanted to see them. They were glorious and I will paint them in the coming months. What I didn't expect was this graceful tree to captivate me so much. A favorite of the Black Bears for their red berries, the Madrone tree is a ghostly white/blue and twists and turns like a graceful dancer. I went for the Maples but was taken by the Madrone.
"Nugent Mountain" 24x20, Oil on Canvas
When the mist fell through the park for several days I was able to get to some of my favorite mountains and watch the overlapping colors distill and fade. I love that. This is Nugent Mountain. My husband and I camped here on my first night in the park. We watched the Sierra Del Carmen's light up coral and pink in the setting sun and with the sunrise we were able to see this beautiful mountain become a striking red stone. During the mist it had several purple shades mixed with the beautiful reds and browns of the desert.

"Storm King" 9x12, Oil on Canvas
One morning when the mist was over the Chisos Mountains I was able to see Casa Grande in this deep dark blue with a striking blue sky. The mist was just starting to curl over the ridges. I am so enamored with how the mountain profile hits the sky and the mood of the mist. I call it "Storm King" because I thought the mountain looked like a crown.
"Blue Canyon" 9x12, Oil on Canvas

This was part of the Boquillas Canyon Trail. The sky was so blue that day. We were walking right along with the Rio Grande and I loved how the rocks were these flesh tone colors and when they were in shadow they were blue.

I will try to post more when I get back home as the wifi here is so spotty.

There is no possible way to capture this place. It is vast and deep and more than beautiful. It is full of wildness that has an element of fear to it. The word, "sublime," is fitting for such a place. I believe Turner, O'Keeffe and Carr would have loved it here. In the weeks that I was alone I wrestled with the fear. I would find myself scared when I hiked alone or when I was driving in the dark back to my place. The darkness is deep and thick. There are no shadows, only black. I began to talk to God about this as I didn't want it to keep me from experiencing all that He has given me to BE in. What I came to was that I have a false sense of security in my cars and lights and walls. The busyness of life distracts me from the fear of the darkness and what could be in it. When it comes down to it the sense of "being watched" when I was alone on the trails was real. I now believe I WAS being watched by the very presence of God. I touched on what it means to feel "fear" in His presence. We sing about coming into His presence and asking Him to be with us but to really BE with Him is something fearsome and awesome. He is wild and beautiful and so much more real than the rocks I was walking on. I can't describe it only to say that I knew Him in that moment to be there like I've never thought or felt before. He was delighting in this space with me and all I could do was sing, pray and tremble. I asked Him to cover my fear with His love and He did. It did not take away my fear or respect of this space and time but it did help me see through it more clearly. The deeper sky at night filled with thousands of colors that were set in motion by someone good and huge. He is Abba, Father but He is also Creator of the Universe. He set the planet on it's tilt. He made these mountains with life and depth and shades of colors that we cannot even describe in paint. He is Artist and Master. My eyes have drank deeply of the goodness of the Lord. My heart has felt His untamed glory.

I find now that I come to it that I don't want to leave the tension of that space. The fear and the love. It is my space as a human.

"A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. It was hardly a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Light and Darkness and the gift of Circadian Rhythm

"Morning Light on Panther Peak" 9x12, Oil on Canvas
I am so struck here in Big Bend National Park with the light. It captivates me. It causes me to wake up early so I can watch what it does to the landscape and sky. I find myself chasing it throughout the day. Watching it stretch across vast landscapes of dry ground and grasses, Sotol and Lechuguilla, Prickly Pear and Ocotillo. Each plant finds ways to thrive in this light-filled environment.
I have been enchanted with the birds. In the city I take them for granted. I see through them in a way. But here they seem to have come alive to me. The light is making me see them. And by watching I see they have personalities. A beautiful, bold Mexican Jay wants his picture taken and keeps talking to me until I get to it. Another tiny Rock Wren sings his little heart out as I hike past him letting me know I'm in his home. Some of the hawks here are so big their shadows scare me. I watched one dive and catch a cottontail bunny all in one movement. Incredible power in those wings and claws.
There are two openings in the day for the mystery to pass through us. As if the veil between heaven and earth isn't as heavy and thick and we can see through to something mysterious and sublime. They are sunrise and sunset. At these times the light takes away some of the heavy detail in the rocks to help me really see the rock itself. They are graceful in their wild ways of pushing up through the earth. The verses in the Bible that speak of how God has put, "My foot upon a rock" seem so real and solid to me looking and walking on these rocks. They are the sentinels of this volatile world. pushing up, carving, being carved and falling back into the earth. The light bends over them and crests their lines to see profiles of ancient limestone that are the Sierra Del Carmens.
One night we went down to the Rio Grande Village to hear a talk on the stars given by a Ranger who has worked Big Bend for over 10 years and many other parks for the past 25. He has seen Yosemite, Death Valley and Yellowstone night skies. He shared about light and how we are each given a Circadian Rhythm. A cycle of 24 hours that is designed into our bodies. This clock set by the light and darkness. The animals know it. Some of the predators rest in the day so that they can hunt at twilight and moonlight. The birds start to sing at first light. Certain fish know where to lay their eggs depending on the light (to keep from predators). As the Ranger was sharing he talked about how in each park he has lived and worked in he has seen a dome of light from far way. With Yosemite he sees a light dome from San Francisco. With Death Valley he saw the huge dome light of Las Vegas. This has caused some of the animals to be confused as to whether it's night or day. Their rhythms have been distorted by our need to be up later and later. In the meantime we have a culture that makes billions of dollars for the drug companies so we can take a pill to sleep at night.
One incredible gift we miss is the sense of stars. We literally cannot see them because of our lights. The vast space twinkling above us and we do not even see it. The Milky Way is literally sliding across the sky is beautiful rivers of light. How many wonders are we missing?
It got me thinking about how we use light in the city to seem to make it feel safer. More light. More safety. We pride ourselves on this false sense of security we build. We make walls, have running water, lights on buildings and yet the cities remain the most terrifying places on our planet. We work and then we overwork. We say we're not tired and grab another energy drink to keep our bodies from the natural Circadian Rhythm. Yet we need the light and the darkness. We need both. God made both. 
Just a few things I'm learning while being here:
Slow down and see the day and night - He made time this way.
Watch the birds.
Watch the light.
Watch the stars.
Trust God in the darkness, the real darkness.
We cannot make anything safe, not really.
There is beauty and a deeper beauty.
There is sky and a deeper sky.
The real I see is a glimpse of His real.
Beauty helps me experience God.
God IS beauty.
Making beauty gives another way to see hope.
There is fear in us.
Hope helps to dispel fear.
Light and darkness are a gift of God.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paintings from Big Bend...So Far...

"Majesty" 18x36, Oil on Canvas

I've been quietly working here in the cabin for two weeks. I have about 6 paintings done so far. This is one that I will show you now. I finished it just a few days ago. This is the Dead Horse Mountains as you look out from Panther Junction (where I am staying). One evening as I was walking around the area I saw this incredible turquoise sunset with a reflected rainbow. The subtle layers of the ridges and rocks of the distant mountains make these slight color changes that are exciting to try to get at.

One of the things I've been doing with my time is journaling and just talking with God about this experience. I've noticed my senses seem to be clearer. I hear things I haven't before and notice my own sounds as I move and have my day. I am aware of the light and color shifts as they slide across rock that the day before was a totally different color. I want to share some of my thoughts I wrote out from my journal these past days. It's raw and I'm no writer. I know that. But it gets closer to how I really felt and the things that are churning in me.

11/8 Early

Perhaps one of the ways we've forgotten to be in communion with God is this loss of senses. We live in a culture that seems to want to "wear out" the senses. As if to have "more" of something will make the sense a deeper experience. Maybe that comes from being so numb. Have we forgot how to hear God? This wild place reminds me how our senses used to be heightened by silence and sound. Like the Park Rangers here who know what bird is there by their song. When we finally see them they take great delight in not just the sound but the sight of them. It's not the need for MORE bird it's the trueness of seeing a bird and hearing a bird in it's natural ways. Acknowledging its presence and experiencing the bird through it's own will and freedom. This is the true way of hearing and seeing.

I feel this way about colors. I see them in the sky and land and yet it takes me wrestling through the hues and connections to get them on canvas. Once I have something right though I can delight in it. My senses got me to that path. It opened my heart and mind to what I was truly feeling and by it I can see better.

11/8 Late Morning

In John 3:7-8 Jesus says to Nicodemus, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it come from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit..."

If the Spirit has a "visual" analogy of the wind, fire and water (fire at Pentecost, water as the baptism of the Holy Spirit) then man is earth. We are shaped by these elements. I see it so clearly here. The water has smoothed rock. Lava has opened up the earth and caused giant forms to push up from the crust and rock. Wind has shaped the trees and rocks to individual shapes. I believe Lord, that you speak through this analogy of nature. It is not simply metaphorical. It is real. Delightfully, wildly real. This earth is to be sensed, traversed upon, to be exhausted by. It is the heavy metaphor of it's Creator. It is also never truly or fully known only for us to experience our small bit. My foot upon a path. My breath taking air. The wholeness is God's. Mine is the shaping.

"Man is so related to all of nature, that he is built of small worlds. When God made man, "of the dust of the earth" He put into the compound fields and forests complete. All the mountain ranges of the world. Suns and moons and all animals and plants and minerals...Man is a bundle of worlds which lie calm until stirred by the appearance of the material symbol. Thus all of nature is found in man." - John Muir

Sunday, November 8, 2015

First Week Here at Big Bend

Looking down towards the Rio Grande
I've been here a week and am slowly finding my way around. With the help of the wonderful Park Rangers, particularly, Chief of Interpretations, David Elkowitz. He's been a plethora of knowledge about the spaces, wildlife and plants that grow here. One hike with him is like taking a class. Bless him! He's worked for the park system for 30 years. I was able to ask him some questions about the National Parks and his opinion on the importance of the parks.
Most of the Rangers I have met are not stuck to their iPhones or technology. They bike and hike in their free time. In fact, I believe they look at nature as a friend. *Believe me when I say I feel the irony of this as I type this blog on my laptop.* I find myself torn between wanting to hear from my family and wanting to be forgotten, lost in the open space of no wifi.
I have been struck here in the desert that it is we, those in the city, who are in the desert. We are dry for the open and wild spaces.
Kendrick left on Wednesday morning to get back to our girls. It was a tough day as I was crying (we haven't been apart this long before nor have I been away from my three girls this long). Just a word on my husband here. He's been such a strength to me these past weeks. He would say just the right thing for me to get my mind around something. He has kept me focused and helped me to let go of tension and fear. When I'm around him I feel safer. After he left I went in the van and just drove down the Maxwell Scenic Drive and pulled off on a shoulder to watch the sunrise. It was amazing to be so quiet. I literally heard flapping for several seconds before I saw the Raven fly over and caw. I've never heard sounds so clear before. I felt alone but not in a lonely way. The light came over the Chisos Mountains in white. It came so clear and bright it hurt to look at it. It poured over the edges in thin lines and fell down on me and the canyon.
I got back to the cabin and started painting. It felt good to finally start. I confess I've been overwhelmed with the landscape. *see above example* I have felt so inadequate. How to capture something so terrifying, beautiful and completely sublime? It took being alone for me to realize it's not about me capturing anything like that. It's just me and Him and the delight of being in a wild place and time. This sliver of goodness touching me and the light. I CANNOT capture such a place. It must be experienced. All I can do is interpret how I felt it. That is enough. That would please Jesus.
Driving down to capture the sunset that evening I saw a Mountain Lion climbing the rocks on the way to the Rio Grande Village. She looked at me. I slowed the van so I could keep looking at her. She blended with the landscape so well that I could hardly find her except for the movement. I was shaking. Probably from fear but I believe it was also from awe.
I notice that when I drive here I grip the steering wheel pretty tight. It's like I'm holding on to a ledge. I laugh whenever I notice it because I have no idea what I'm gripping. Maybe I'm wishing the van to stay moving or hoping to keep on the thin thread that is the road. Six days later I find I'm not as tight and stiff in the seat. I can sing in the van and I easily move onto shoulders to take photos. I still feel like I'm being watched when I get out to take shots or just to stand in the air. I'm getting used to it though.
I've always been amazed by the sublime painters. J.M.W. Turner, O'Keeffe, Carr. They understood this mixture of fear, awe and beauty. I don't think it's wrong for me to be feeling these all at the same time. It's my privilege to do so. Wildness makes us truly see how helpless we are. It's my place as a human. It's a spiritual act submitting to that reality. I feel God has brought me here to get a taste of who He is.