Merry and Bright

December 23, 2014

Viewing the lights on a walk around the block.  (I think this might be the start of a new project — a walk around the block every month, camera in hand, to capture the seasonal cityscape in my neighborhood.)

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watercolor sketch, holiday greeting

watercolor sketch, holiday greeting

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Most Wonderful Solitudes

October 20, 2013

“Churches in cities are most wonderful solitudes.”
— Thomas Merton

One of the entrances to St. James Cahtedral, Seattle

One of the entrances to St. James Cathedral, Seattle

I’ve decided I want to make day trips to some of Seattle’s churches after looking at the amazing photographs in Inspired:  Churches of Seattle by Rick Grant and Lara Swimmer.  The book included my favorite Seattle church, the Chapel of St. Ignatius on the Seattle U campus, which I have written about before.  I realized it is probably premature to name a favorite when I haven’t set foot in most of Seattle’s other churches.  I made a short list of some other churches that I hope to see inspired by some of the photographs in this book.

Two of the three churches I’d hoped to explore on a recent trip downtown were closed (I will have to plan more carefully), but the doors to the St. James Cathedral were open.  (Why are churches locked mid-day anyway?  I think they should be more welcoming.)  This was my first time in this cathedral of the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, and it is indeed impressive.

I always become aware of light when I am in church, and the altar here in the cathedral is lit by an oculus dei, Eye of God.  And I love the soft colored light of stained glass windows and flickering votive candles, too.  Here is a sense of this holy space:

St. James Cathedral

St. James Cathedral

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Chapel, St. James Cathedral

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The ladies under a tulip tree

The ladies under a tulip tree

This was my second painting en plein air outing with my lady friends from Bow, Washington.  We met under a tulip tree on Bonnie’s little 40-acre farm in the Skagit Valley.  I am still intimidated by landscapes and focused my work on a broken window rather than on the whole barn.  Maybe someday I’ll feel brave enough to paint a whole composition with buildings in a landscape — and even with people!!

The lovely old barn on Bonnie's farm

The lovely old barn on Bonnie’s farm

Barn interior

Barn interior

Old door in horse barn

Old door in horse barn

Weathered windows

Weathered windows

My ink and watercolor sketch of barn window

My ink and watercolor sketch of barn window

 

 

 

 

 

 

The old farmhouse where I grew up

The old farmhouse where I grew up

“I live here in the realm of predictability.  Each day goes by, a mirror of the one before, a rough draft of the one to come.  The passing hours bring variations in the sky’s coloration, the comings and goings of the birds, and a thousand almost imperceptible things.”
— Sylvain Tesson, The Consolations of the Forest:  Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale

My father is rooted to the land where he has lived for over 90 years.  The Minnesota farm was his childhood home, and he has observed the seasons passing predictably year after year.  And now in old age, the call of travel and adventure no longer appeals.  From my perspective, life on the farm seems slow and unchanging, each day a “rough draft of the one to come.”

Still, there is a lot of richness in being so rooted.  As Natalie Goldberg says in The True Secret of Writing:  Connecting Life with Language, “Much can be done by doing little — with regard.”

Sylvain Tesson, quoted in the opening to this post, deliberately experimented with finding his inner life by removing himself to a remote, rustic cabin in Siberia.  He found that “Staying put brought me what I could no longer find on any journey.”  Writer Jim Harrison, writes about these same feelings in Brown Dog:  “Come to think of it, the main good thing out here snowbound in this cabin is that nothing is happening . . . I’ve got this personal feeling things are not supposed to be happening to people all of the time.  At least I’m not designed for it.”

If we live to extreme old age, our bodies will inevitably wear out, slowing us down and making us stay put.  I got a taste of this during the two weeks I stayed with my Dad.  The challenge for all of us, regardless of age, is to stay observant to the things that come across our range of view, and to find the beauty in these still images.

Here is a window to my Dad’s world:

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” . . . everything is always already being lost.”
— Bradley L. Garrett, discussing Walter Benjamin on the nature of ruins, from Explore Everything: Place Hacking in the City

Looking through the living room window at my 94-year-old Dad mowing the lawn

Looking through the living room window at my 94-year-old Dad mowing the lawn

I’ve just returned from two weeks of keeping company with my 94-year-old Dad on the family farm.  I’ve written about my father before, most notably a tribute in honor of his 90th year.  On this recent visit, I was reminded daily of the small, accumulating losses that accompany anyone into extreme old age.  Since my last visit in February 2012, I noticed that my Dad no longer checks his email every day, works on crossword puzzles, goes to mid-week mass, or plans and cooks even simple dinners, much less barbecued chicken.  His short-term memory is going, and it is doubtful that he will be able to continue to live alone in the old farmhouse, even with the considerable day-to-day support that a few of my siblings provide.

And this is going to be a challenge for our family, because Dad will not go willingly to another home no matter how much better a change would be for him — keeping him in physical safety, with good home-cooked meals provided, and lots of other support.  He wants to die at home on the farm.  The loss of his home, a reassuring space, would be heart-breakingly sudden, not like the other losses he has born, some so gradual that he might not even be aware of them.

We cannot stall the passing hours.  There is no promise of preservation.  I see in the slow, inexorable deterioration of the farm house, sheds, and barn — those that will be torn down when my brother builds his family’s retirement home on the land — the reflection of my Dad’s inevitable decline.  In spite of the pain, there is beauty in this collapse of our everyday existence.

Farm house window

Farm house window

East side door

East side door

Linoleum floor with sun and shadow

Linoleum floor with sun and shadow

East side window

East side window

Roof of Uncle Pete's garage

Roof of Uncle Pete’s garage

Interior, garage

Interior, garage

Barn doors and windows

Barn doors and windows

My view upon waking

My view upon waking

Old farmhouse in the morning light

Old farmhouse in the morning light

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
On the scenic Train des Pignes

On the scenic Train des Pignes

After almost two weeks together, my sister and I parted ways.  She returned to the kibbutz in Israel, and I flew to Nice, France for the next leg of my journey, a five-day guided hiking expedition along the trails in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence that featured several land art installations by the artist Andy Goldsworthy.   I had long wanted to see some of Goldsworthy’s work, especially after seeing the movie Rivers and Tides about his unique vision.  When I ran across some newspaper articles (here and here) about the Refuges d’Art and Goldsworthy sculptures along a trail in France, I added this experience to my wish list of things to do before I die.

So I was very much looking forward to the France part of my vacation, although I did not have many details about the hike itself.  I did not know who else might have signed up and I knew little about the area.  My guide, Jean-Pierre Brovelli of etoile-rando.com, was taking care of all meals, lodging, transportation and logistics.  All I had to do was to show up in Digne on the morning of our first hike.

I took the little scenic train, the Train des Pignes, from Nice to Digne, enjoying the warmer Mediterranean weather, the blooming lilacs and wisteria, the green grassy pastures, orchards of white blossoms, and villages (Entrevaux and Puget-Theniers looked especially interesting) from the train windows.  I arrived in Digne in the late afternoon, and had time for a short walk around the town before turning in early.  I wanted to sleep well before the hiking started the next day.

In the morning, I was met at the hotel by Jean-Pierre and then the rest of our group made introductions.  There were five other hikers, all French, four women and one man, and I was heartened to see that they were all roughly my age.  We would be lead by Jean-Pierre and his fellow guide, Eric.  I felt we were in good hands.

Old shuttered buildings, Digne

Old shuttered buildings, Digne

The Boulevard Gassendi in Digne, lined by trees with their branches lopped off

The Boulevard Gassendi in Digne, lined by trees with their branches lopped off

Trees were in bud

Trees were in bud

I loved the rustic, weathered shutters

I loved the rustic, weathered shutters

Weathered blue doors

Weathered blue doors

Wall mural in the breakfast room at my hotel, the Hotel de Provence, Digne

Wall mural in the breakfast room at my hotel, the Hotel de Provence, Digne

Snowbound? Not Quite

January 18, 2012

Red door in snow

“Shut in from all the world without,
We sat the clean-winged hearth about,
Content to let the north-wind roar
In baffled rage at pane and door,
While the red logs before us beat
The frost-line back with tropic heat . . .”
— John Greenleaf Whittier, “Snowbound”

It must be a slow news day if Seattle’s weather is making the headlines around the country.  Yes, we got some snow starting early this morning — about 3 inches at my house.  No wind.  No blizzard conditions.  The snowfall will likely end this afternoon, and by Friday, it will all be washed away in winter rains.  Other parts of the state got more snow and high winds, but Seattle got just a nice blanket of white stuff.

I did go out for a walk with my camera before work today.  I’ll be posting some more snowy images in the next few days.