One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

15 October 2015

The Fall in Our Stars

On Tuesday, I left the easel and headed deep into Yellowstone to see friends as they were traveling through.  Heidi had traveled from Minnesota to shoot in the parks, while Claudia and PJ (aka the Dutch Duo from the Netherlands) were passing through after photographing auroras across the Northwest Territories.  We had planned on enjoying a fall day chasing grizzlies as we had together over so many years.

Heidi and I looked for bears for a little while, then went to meet the Dutch Duo late in the evening to try for a shot of the aurora.  Heidi is a renowned aurora photographer and was going to walk me (an aurora virgin) through the process.  The Dutch Duo are amazing aurora chasers in their own right...so I'd be in good company all around.  We wound our way to the top of the Chittenden Road only to be thwarted by a pummeling wind.  

In the shelter of the PJ and Claudia’s big camper PJ started lobbying for a trip back into Canada to catch another solar event that was predicted (for today, actually).  They pored over maps and searched for cell signals to check the weather.  Heidi excitedly decided to join them in an impromptu convoy 700 miles North.  They would leave in the morning for the border…aurora shooting lessons and bear chasing were called off.

Some people would have been upset that the “plan” had been changed drastically and at losing time with friends that was rare enough already.  Not me, I encouraged and then watched their excitement with bemused admiration...thinking how lucky I am to have such people as my friends. We were going to travel together to the North end of the park to camp so they could leave before dawn.

As we loaded into our respective vehicles, though…I had my own change of heart.  Rather than follow them to the campsite, I passed around “goodbye” hugs and turned my truck back to the South to chase bears as planned.

After our brief meeting, I headed to Hayden, where I stood at an overlook to make my first attempt at photographing the night sky.  Wolves and coyotes lifted their voices to the stars in a wild chorus as I worked.  Then I drove further South, to capture the big dipper reflected in the waters of Parkadise as the water birds flapped their wings and called softly in the night.

In the morning, while photographing a bear that we’d seen together countless times over the years, I got word that they were already in Canada.  They must have decided to drive through much of the night.  I smiled at the thought…and went back to the bear.  Vicariously, they were here…and I was there. 

My friends didn’t have to be with me, physically. They were here in spirit.  They share my love of this wonderful place and the desire to share what we find beautiful about it.  I am deeply grateful that my life is full of friends like these, people like me who follow their own star and try to live their dreams.  Just knowing they are out there makes the world seem a better place. 

Shortly after we had parted the night before, a meteor plummeted toward the planet.  I started to make a wish, then paused:  my home makes my heart sing...I love (and am loved by) family, friends and my quadrupeds…my life inspires the work I love to do…and I am in Yellowstone.  What more could there be to wish for?  So I watched the star fall in its own ephemeral beauty, unburdened by any want of mine.

“Be a spark and glow a while
You'll be dead a long, long time
Be a shooting star
And in one mad moment
Burning bright
Light the night
And make us stand in awe”

Bob Geldof

29 September 2015

And Then There Were Six

As I was driving home from a great Fall Arts Festival in Jackson Hole and a few extraordinary days in Parkadise, I received a call that broke my heart:  one of the most beloved horses here at the ranch, Woodchip, would need to be put down.  

Before heading home, I stopped at the vet’s barn to see him.  In a week there, the horse that had been greeting me every day with a happy nicker looked like a completely different animal.  He looked lonely and lost and heartbroken.  I cried into his neck and started making arrangements to get him home.

Woodchip had been diagnosed with laminitis over a month ago but, despite the best efforts of all, the condition was getting the better of him.  The owner of the ranch was out of the country, but it was his daughter Cassidy’s horse and she hopped the first plane here.  

The vet wanted to put him down right away…but I couldn’t fathom the thought of him dying in a dark stall away from his herd and the wide open spaces of his ranch home.  It would ultimately be up to Cassidy and the vet, but I would fight to bring him “home”.  In my heart, I felt the long trailer ride would be worth it to him if he could see his herd and stand in the sunshine at home before we sent him off on his next journey.

There was no need to worry, Cassidy was right there with me…Woodchip would come home.  Her flight arrived at 11 pm and we discussed it on the way home…logistics and worries, some tears, the questions: could we have done more, should we? After dropping her off at the main house, a thought hit and I texted her that we should stop on the way to get him and buy LOTS of carrots and apples to give him a farewell feast.  Cassidy agreed wholeheartedly and said that we needed flowers.  That brought a smile…I’d thought about adding flowers to my text, but wondered if she’d think it was too much…should have known better.

On Friday morning we started the long drive to bring Woodchip home.  On the way down, we bought carrots.  I knew we were doing the right thing when we led him out of the dark barn and he paused to soak up the sunshine…his expression immediately brightened.  It was painful for him to get in the trailer, and the trip home would take twice as long as usual because I drove slowly to ease his ride as much as possible.  A different vet would be arriving in the afternoon to euthanize him.  
Armed with a bag of apples and 14 pounds of carrots, Cassidy and I planned to spoil him to death…literally.  We opened the trailer door, took off his halter and he limped out into the beautiful sunshine…and home.  Woodchip immediately dropped his head to chomp the normally forbidden, lush lawn grass.  The rest of the herd lined up to welcome him back and he nickered to them before meandering over to the fence where his buddies could say “Hi” and nuzzle across the fence.  

We showered him with love…and stuffed him with carrots.  I’d wanted to take some tail hair, but as he wasn’t “my” horse, hesitated to ask…then Cassidy said “do you think it would be okay if we cut some of his mane and tail?”  We ended up bobbing his tail…he looked cute and we had several shanks of shiny black horsehair that would become art later on.

We were trying to figure out where to bury him and how to get him there, since it had been suggested that we put him down near the grave to minimize the grim job of moving him.  The ranch foreman, Ben, informed us that he had no sensitivity about such things and told us to drop him wherever we wanted and he’d take care of the rest.  For a guy who claims no sensitivity…he was being pretty damned sensitive.

We’d decided to not let the other horses watch because the vet said it could be upsetting.  I looked over to see Langley and Woodchip nuzzling one another over the fence…Woodchip was getting his feet tangled in some rubber feed pans and I went over to help.  It was Karma who changed my mind…not typically one to love on the geldings, she was reaching out over the fence toward Woodchip and softly “whispering” to him in strange little grunts when he was focused on a treat and oblivious to her.  It hit me hard that they KNEW and they WANTED to be with him.  Cassidy did not hesitate to agree.  
We shooed the herd into the small pen next to the corral and then led Woodchip into the middle of the corral.  Langley, as a great herd boss should, stood next to Ben and calmly watched the entire thing.

Cassidy and I stood at Woodchip’s head, ready to get out of the way if necessary.  The vet had warned that they go down hard and there would be a risk of kicking.  Wood chip stood there calmly…it was as if he knew…and was ready.  Cassidy held his halter, kissed his face and I offered him one last carrot…he took a bite and the needle went in.  As predicted, he went down hard and fast.  He hit the ground on his left side then rolled onto his back with all four legs pointed straight up in the air for a long moment before falling over to rest on his right side.  Cassidy and I looked at one another with, no doubt, matching wide-eyed, gape-mouthed expressions of surprise as we knelt beside his head to love him away from this life.  

When Dad died, and then my beloved dog a few months later, I was with them both at the final moment.  In both cases, i noticed something startling…and thought-provoking.  I felt them “leave” moments before the last “breaths”.  The same with Woodchip…he was down, the vet had said the first injection would prevent pain, and I imagine his mind was gone…but, a few moments before those last shuddering breaths, he “left”.  Cassidy felt the same thing…and it was hauntingly poetic.

When he was gone, we opened the gate and let the herd in.  Langley was there first.  He nuzzled Woodchip, was distracted briefly when he noticed a piece of carrot beside him, then went back to quietly nuzzling his friend.  The rest followed and each took a turn saying “goodbye”.  After they spent time with Woodchip, both of my grey horses came straight to me and pressed their faces against my chest.  When they’d all had time with Woodchip, we opened the gate and let them out into the pasture.  Neither of us wanted to see the loading of the “hearse” (aka backhoe)…so, while Ben took care of the burial, Cassidy and I headed to town, where we made dreamcatchers out of Woodchip’s tail hair. 

One of the most poignant moments came the next morning.  There was nothing left but a pile of Woodchip manure.  Woodchip was Jesse’s best bud, and his first friend on the ranch.  Oz and Will like to pick on Jesse and, as I put Jesse’s fly mask over his head, they bit him hard…one on each side.  Jesse bolted, ran over to the spot Woodchip died and dropped his nose to smell his late friend’s final pile of manure.  It was if he were thinking “why aren’t you here to protect me?”.  Some feel the loss a little harder…

Two vets and two farriers tried to save him…I tended to him two to three times a day for a month and a half.  Still, Cassidy and I wondered if we’d done enough and if we were doing the right thing.  The last vet, the kind man who came to give that final injection, confirmed that we could have not done more and gave us a hug before he left.  It eased our worry significantly …but that wasn’t quite enough.

Peace came from spending those last hours with Woodchip and giving him the opportunity to “tell” us himself it was okay.  He happily chomped his carrots, said goodbye to his friends, allowed us to fawn over him, basked in the sunshine of a perfect Montana day and silently let us know that he hurt.  When it was time, he calmly stepped up and stood quietly for it to be over.  There was no fear, no horror…just a moment, forward from which there would be no more pain.  He seemed almost grateful…and we are, too.

I was grateful that Cassidy could be here, that we were of similar mind, humor and philosophy about it all…and that, if we had to do this, we could do it together.  
For all the dread preceding this day and the current of deep sadness that ran through it, the two of us were amazed by how wonderful it all was…and how powerful.  In part, we chose to make it that way…to be of remarkably similar minds willing to take the time and have the soul to fill his last hours with love.

It wasn’t just our doing, though…Woodchip, the rest of the herd and Montana herself gathered together to allow us to grieve with joy.  Our worries about whether we were doing the “right” thing were gone…and we felt like we’d given him a perfect last day.  In return he gave us the “gift”.  His obvious happiness in those last hours and his incredible calm in the last seconds left our hearts filled with love and peace.  The rest of the herd gave us one more gift when they let us witness the horse funeral.  

Tears fall as I type this because death is always sad for those left behind…but a peaceful death is also beautiful beyond measure.  We want so badly to hold on to those we love that we have a tendency to love them to death…when maybe we should just love them through death.

When my time comes, I hope to face it the same way:  giving comfort to my loved ones, soaking up some sunshine, then stepping into the unknown with quiet courage...and I intend to do my best to leave them laughing.

So long, Woodchip...see you on the other side, buddy

22 August 2015

Waxing Nostalgic

Last Spring, after returning home from an art show/gallery/reference trip that lasted over a month and spanned nearly 6000 miles, I started working…on the old wood floors of my house.  For many years, I have cleaned my floors on my knees with a rag (whether wood, tile or even linoleum).
“Oh my gosh, WHY!?” you might ask.
For many reasons…

There is nostalgia, of course…
When I was a kid, my Mom waxed our wood floors on her knees (though she did have an electric buffer to finish them).  She told me recently that she always imagined a scene from Dr. Zhivago when she did the floors.

The thought of my Mom working so hard waxing goes hand in hand with memories of my brothers and I sliding on our socks on the newly polished floors and of Breyer horse feet clacking on that wood as they galloped through my imagination.

A smile cannot be helped at the treasured memory of our old Shih Tzu, after hours of playing with a new squeaker toy, trying her best the dig a hole in that wood floor wherein to bury it, then “covering” it carefully with nose.  Only to have the Lhasa Apso walk over pick it up and promptly rip out the squeaker.  

I will always cherish the image of the fire reflected in the wood, as the family gathered around to cook hot dogs over the open flame in the fireplace.

Then there were the Christmas mornings where we’d run out to find “Santa” and “elf” prints leading from the hearth to the tree.

A good wood floor holds far more kinds of reflection than a carpet ever could.

Then there is the work itself…honest work that brings a gratifying feeling of accomplishment when finished.  This, too, is tied to memories of family and the work ethic we were raised with.  As kids we certainly complained plenty about the work we had to do.  There were no “allowances” in our house…but there were plenty of chores.  There were also bonus “jobs” we could do for which we might be paid a little... if we kept a good attitude (if not, they might revert to unpaid “chores”).  

Over the years, my parents (with our help) transformed a run-down house with a dangerous falling down shed, no trees and and no fences into a beautiful place with a board and batten barn, a huge garden, huge trees, a brick patio and and beautiful stone walls/walkways.  All built by work that we did ourselves as a family.  After Dad left, Mom continued to finish projects and begin new ones.  With the kids grown, Mom continues to build, repair and reimagine.  The family farm is still a continually evolving work of art in progress..  

In hindsight, I don’t think about the hard work on brutally hot, humid Southern Summer days…what I remember are the things we built and the skills I learned, skills I use to this day.  The most important of those probably being that priceless work ethic.

Talent can only get you so far in this world, but a strong work ethic can carry you on to your dreams.  There are many things that I am grateful to my parents for…not the least of which was teaching us to work (whether we liked it or not).

Perhaps there is a bit of Zen thrown in the mix, as well.  Some genuflection and some introspection.

Floors are the foundation, the ground upon which we stand in our home.  To give respect and attention from our ground up is to build everything we do with care and respect.

Mindfulness is not about lofty thoughts…it is about being entirely present.  There is considerably more “mindfulness” in carefully cleaning and polishing a floor by hand than simply running a broom and mop over it.  Spending a little time on your knees cultivates humility and wielding a rag on wood can clean the soul as much as the floor.

There are many articles floating about the internet about why creative people thrive in clutter…but they don’t apply to me.  Over time, I have learned that I am at my creative best when my space is clean (and pretty).

When the clutter in my world (or my mind) is blocking my creativity, one of my many ways to woo the muse is to clear the decks, wipe down my world and start fresh…heart, mind and house.

It isn’t easy...art is messy and I am easily distracted by anything more interesting than cleaning (which is just about everything).  It doesn’t help matters that I have two house cats, a dog and a wild world outside that seems determined to come inside (often on the bottoms of my boots).

My path to a clean home means practice, failure and more practice.

There is a certain peacefulness that settles in when my world is clean, though....and the work of bringing it back to beautiful is an art form unto itself.

18 August 2015

Bearing Hate...Baring Soul

Last night, I came home to a nasty comment on my FB share of a my last blog post about the recent tragic hiker/bear situation (See previous post: Of Men and Bears- Death in Yellowstone).  

The person, who claimed to “know” bears because of her experience (mostly on a couple of guided tours and an occasional trip to Yellowstone), said “I don’t buy this” and went on to berate me because of her “love” for bears.  The funny part was that it was pretty obvious this person had not even read the blog (or, if she did, completely missed the post's message).  So allow me to elaborate a bit…

First off, I LIVE in bear country.  At my current home, I regularly chase black bears out of my yard and encounter them on hikes and horse rides.  This time of year, I have to step out and check the area for bears before letting my dog outside…especially at night.  This is grizzly country, too…I haven’t seen one in the yard but I know they roam the hills near my house.  That said, I wouldn’t have it any other way, I love living here, in part, BECAUSE of the wildlife…but I also understand that my behavior effects the wildlife that I love.

Additionally, I have lived on the edge of Yellowstone for 14 years (and visited regularly for a decade before that).  For most of the time I’ve lived here, I’d spend days or weeks at a time living in the park observing, painting and photographing wildlife…grizzlies, in particular.  Like many of the photographers and researchers who spent extensive time with these animals, I have a deep affection and respect for them.  I have spent over a decade observing the very bear that supposedly was just killed.  Anyone who thinks that situation did not break my heart is delusional.  

People are up in arms (some are even making death threats) over the Park’s decision to kill one bear that killed and fed upon a hiker…but why don’t we talk about the large numbers of bears (and other wildlife) killed by speeding cars?   Why don’t we talk about the visitors and residents (in and outside the parks) that do not store food properly…or worse, actually feed the wildlife?  How many bears do you think have been killed because they became habituated or fed either inside or outside of the parks?  Not to mention the “game” animals that are illegally baited out of the park to be killed by hunters…grizzlies killed by hunters who felt threatened when a bear approached the gut pile they left.  
More often than you can imagine, the Park Service is put in the unfortunate position of having to kill bears because of bad behavior on the part of park visitors.  I do not envy them having to make a decision about this much-loved bear and her cubs.  In trying to do what, in their opinion, is best for all concerned they have been inundated with calls, threats, hate mail and virulent abuse.  Why would anyone respond in a positive manner to that?  Their job, is to look out for the wildlife AND the people.  The problem is that, increasingly, it is the sheer numbers of people who are causing most of the problems.  They cannot euthanize the people who behave dangerously, though.  

Over my years in the park, I have witnessed some grossly inappropriate human behavior, some frightening ignorance…and occasionally, outright stupidity.  We have all had moments when we could have acted better and decisions we wish we would (or could) have made differently.  Berating people, name calling and threats do NO good at any level.  You do not have to agree with someone to be kind to them.  People make mistakes, bad judgement calls, are at times ignorant (NOT the same as stupid) and sometimes find themselves in impossible situations….it is our nature.  

Do I think the hiker could have made a better choice?  Possibly (I wasn’t there and I don’t know what he was thinking).  What is done is done though and, sadly, he paid the ultimate price.  I do know that it does not help the bear or the situation to cruelly attack him post-humously in a manner that only adds pain to those who loved him.

Do I wish the Park Service could had made a different decision?  Of course I do!  Unfortunately, they have far more to consider more than a bear.  I have to trust that most of these people are doing their job the best they know how, they aren’t perfect…and I certainly would not want to be in their place.  It does no good to attack, berate and threaten them…if anything it hurts your cause.  

Would the bear have killed again?  Will the park be “safer” without her?  Who knows?  We will NEVER know.  

What I do know is that acrimonious rants and vitriolic attacks do not fix anything.  Be kind to one another.

13 August 2015

Of Men and Bears- Death in Yellowstone

Sad news today, a grizzly sow was euthanized.  It is possible that she was one of the grizzlies that I have watched, photographed and painted for over a decade. It is said that she killed a park employee who was hiking off trail without bear spray.

I cannot imagine the horror and pain that defined the last minutes of this man’s life. My heart goes out to his family and his friends as they deal, not only with his death, but with the horrific manner in which he died.
As if their loss were not painful enough, they are being subjected to a barrage of insensitive barbs and rants by the wildlife lovers who insist on blaming him for the euthanization of the bear.   

There is no point in crucifying him after the fact...he made a decision and paid for it with his life.  That is heartbreaking for all involved...the hiker, those who loved him and a bear, who was just being a bear.

It does not matter if he was off trail, it does not matter if he was without bear spray, it does not even matter if the bear was protecting her cubs. A man is dead.  For those of us who choose to live in bear country, this is the sobering reality: this bear did not just defensively attack and run, she killed, fed, cached and returned to feed again. For that, the Park and bear management felt as if they had no option other than to euthanize her. Like many, I hoped and tried for better options, to no avail. 

Tears come as I write those words, for if this is the bear they say, I have watched her for over a decade as she skillfully raised a number of cubs by the roadside. She brought so much awe and joy to the countless people who were fortunate enough to have seen her. I have painted her, laughed at her antics, marveled at her parenting skills, cried for her lost cubs and admired her grown cubs as they go about their life being the bears that she taught them to be. This was NOT how her story should have ended...and there is a hole in my heart just as there is a hole in the ecosystem of the Lake area.

My sympathy extends also to the bear management team. They know this bear and I have no doubt that it also pains them greatly to have to be involved in this decision.

Additional sympathy to everyone involved in the discovery, recovery and investigation.

What has saddened me in addition to the loss of this bear and the hiker, is the blame and hatred being leveled at the hiker, the park service and even anyone that did not post a dozen different petitions to save her.

The reality is that blood of this bear is on all of our hands.  She died not simply for killing and eating an ill-prepared hiker…but for all of us. She died because people, willingly or ignorantly, fail to abide by park rules and recommendations. She died because people love to see bears, get close for a few moments, take photos. Anyone who has ever stood in a bear jam or been closer than 100 yards carries some responsibility in her loss, because we helped her become acclimated to people rather than instinctively running from us. Everyone who visits the park, lives in the area or simply drives a car has to shoulder a little of the weight of her death. Because we want to visit or live in their habitat, consume the products created by destruction of wild places and allow our population to outnumber them by greater numbers every year...we threaten the wild things that we love. 

It is something we ALL need to think about.

I am still holding out hope that it wasn't the bear everyone says it was...there are a lot of bears in that area.  No matter which bear it was, a man was lost, a bear was lost and two cubs face an uncertain future...sad all around.

31 July 2015

Transcontinental Meditation

It is possible that my love of wandering was handed down via my Viking/Scots Norman ancestors.  It is said that the St.Clairs (and I am St.Clair by blood, not marriage) are descended from Vikings that invaded the North of France then fought their way back to the North country with William the Conqueror.  My people (as my grandmother would say), wound up in the Scottish Highlands.  Explorer Jarl Henry St.Clair is said to have led an expedition that “discovered” America in 1398 (nearly 100 years before Columbus)…in recognition of his exploration, he was given Roslyn Castle and the title “Earl of Orkney”. Undoubtably, we are a feisty, adventurous lot and there is no shortage of natural wanderlust coursing through my veins.

If that were not enough, my parents’ love of travel by car nurtured my roaming ways.  Family summer trips had us meandering and camping all over the Southeast to visit historic sites and the various coasts (my favorite being the Outer Banks of NC, aka “Graveyard of the Atlantic” and home to wild ponies).

One epic trip had the five of us packed into the Oldsmobile Delta 88, hauling a pop-up trailer and wandering most of the great sites in the Southwest in less than two weeks.   My Dad led our vacations with a decidedly Type A state of mind.  I remember stopping at the Grand Canyon at dusk…a quick look and a couple of photos then we were off again to the next scheduled waypoint.  The trip ended with an all night drive so my brothers and I could be on time for the first half day of school.

Throughout my youth my Mom showed dogs, so she and I wandered even more.  Shortly after a typical 3 am departure for a show in Indiana, I remember being curled in the passenger seat dozing and hearing the radio announce a “freak snowstorm” in our path.  The words chilled me.  Since then I have driven many the mile, often with trailer in tow, through dozens of blizzards and ice storms.  

It was from Mom that I learned to have a sense of humor and adventure about travel.  Invariably, she and I would wind up in the worst part of town on those dog show journeys.  Mom would make jokes while quietly locking the car doors and trying to find her way safely to our destination.  To this day, I have laughed as I forged my way through countless situations that would paralyze many travelers.

My own solo journeys began when I was nineteen or twenty, traveling to shows marketing my art.  Rather than simply go to local shows, I chose shows in places I’d never been, or just wanted to go.  One of my early “epic” trips (aka: “the trip from hell”…another story), covered four shows and over 10,000 miles in about five weeks.  Among other “adventures” along the way, that trip included a stop/search by seven police vehicles and an ER visit.  I was 24.

Four Toyotas (all bought NEW) have logged only a part of the miles driven over the years: an outgrown ’87 4Runner was sold with 180,000 and a ’92 pickup sold with over 250,000.  With an odometer about to roll over to 300,000, my ’02 Tundra still carries me into bear country and my current art show truck, a ’10 Tundra has over 120,000…not to mention countless miles on several other vehicles.  

Even the Miatas have done their share. 
In 2001, I removed the passenger seat in the first one and built a “bunk” for camping.  It carried me, the dog, painting gear and cameras for about four weeks on a journey that ranged from Vermont to Northern Ontario and back, then on to Arizona and Yellowstone before returning home.  That was yet another 10,000 miler…in a two seater ragtop (okay, one seater).  

Entries in old journals opened, not with a simple date…but with the odometer reading on whatever vehicle I was in at the time.  When asked why I didn’t just fly from place to place, I’ve always said it was because of the animals or the big paintings, but really, it is because I love the places in between.

Over the years I have traveled to art shows, in search of subject matter and just for the sake of wandering.  My wheels have rolled highways, byways and gravel roads across all of the lower 48 and parts of Alaska.  One great project was driving through 48 states in 48 weeks, plein air painting for a charity project.  Despite all the miles logged, there are still places I long to see and re-see.   

Though I have yet to determine exactly how many miles of broken center line it takes to heal a broken heart, I have discovered that time on the road does heal most things.  I’ve always called it my “Peace of the Road”.  There were times when I ran away in a blind “bolt” and it would take, not just miles, but STATES before I relaxed and started to soak in the scenery again.  There were times when I drove to run…and was never sure if it was ‘away’ or ‘to’.  Peace of the Road doesn’t always come easily.  

Along those miles I have lost, loved, dismantled, created, grieved and rejoiced.

A former love used to berate me for my travels to art shows and for research.  “You don’t need to go to Wyoming to paint moose” he’d growl.  He’d also say, perhaps a little sadly, “you always look younger when you come home from a trip”.

Between countless miles of white lines, I’ve colored outside the lines…inventing things, designing paintings and writing songs, stories, poems and lists of painting titles.  

There were miles where I listened or sang along to my bizarrely eclectic music collection, memorizing songs that I would then sing a cappella for many more miles (and years).  Yes, I do have a collection of “road” songs!  There were miles of books on tape/CD and innumerable hours of NPR.  Along untold kilometers, I found myself by being completely lost…in thought.  

Then there are the really quiet miles…no radio, no music, no singing, no sightseeing, no thinking.  Just the rhythm of the highway seams until even that fades into the background to leave the wonderful quiet place of mindless mindfulness…my  “Transcontinental Meditation”.  

In the past, I worried at this deep love of the road that seemed in irreconcilable juxtaposition to my love of “home”.  Despite my enchantment with the road, I sometimes dread leaving home and usually love returning.  Home too long and the little things carry too much weight, away too long and I lose my ground.  It took many years and thousands of miles to learn to embrace this dichotomy of spirit.  My sanctuary is vital…but that space between the leaving and returning is essential, as well. 

We all need “home”.  Home isn’t necessarily a building…it is our refuge, a place to recover, restock and regroup.  For me, home is where the ideas and dreams that fly on the road come to roost and, perhaps, become reality. 

Travel is vital, as well. It is travel that reminds us that the world is big and beautiful and diverse.  It puts us in our place and shows us that we are simultanously insignificant and essential to our world.  Exploring takes us out of the comfort zone and stretches our minds and souls.  Travel teaches that we are vulnerable...and stronger than we ever knew we could be.  Experiencing other places and people enables us to see different ways of living and being in the world.  It is deeply humbling...teaching us toappreciate what we have and to have compassion for those who aren’t as fortunate.  Distance gives perspective.

My gratitude for this place I call “home” is immeasurable.  For now, with 6000 miles of Transcontinental Meditation in my rearview,  I am happy to be here, to be home.  Just outside my door is a road, though…and it could take me anywhere.