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)

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.