On the shores of Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

On the shores of Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

Early morning moments at Nature Bridge

Early morning moments at Nature Bridge

During my childhood and youth, I never went to summer camp.  I could imagine what it was like though, from reading books.  My week at Nature Bridge finally gave me — in my sixth decade — a personal, first-hand taste of summer camp!  In fact, several youth groups shared the campus with us.  Unlike them, my time was not taken with group outings and pre-planned activities.  My time was pretty much my own.

Sunrise from the dock at Nature Bridge, Lake Crescent

Sunrise from the dock at Nature Bridge, Lake Crescent

I am an early riser, and I truly enjoyed my quiet moments on the dock watching the sun rise.  Little waves lapped and the dock creaked.  Swallows dove and swooped over the water.  I sat with my cup of coffee and marveled at the abstract, undulating colors and reflections on the lake’s surface.

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Wouldn’t these watery images make a great abstract painting?

My attempt at painting the ripples in the lake

My attempt at painting the ripples in the lake

The sky had lightened considerably by the time the sun finally peeked over the surrounding mountains.  As it rose, it highlighted the tips of the trees and rock outcroppings on the opposite shore.

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Tree tops sun lit like candle flames

Shsoreline, Lake Crescent

Shoreline, Lake Crescent

Watercolor sketch of view from the dock

Watercolor sketch of view from the dock

Watercolor and ink sketch of shoreline, Lake Crescent

Watercolor and ink sketch of shoreline, Lake Crescent

Baby swallows alighted on the dock rails.  A rabbit sat still in high alert.  A deer and her twin fawns nibbled the grass by the cottages.  The day was coming alive.  And then it was time for breakfast.

Baby barn swallow on the dock railing

Baby barn swallow on the dock railing

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Rabbit outside the dining hall

Rabbit outside the dining hall

Fawn

Fawn

Watercolor sketch of fawn

Watercolor sketch of fawn

By the second day I found this perfect spot to do my painting.

By the second day, I found this perfect spot for painting in an empty classroom above the dining hall.  I am a bit chagrined to admit that I prefer painting from my photographs rather than in the field.  For one thing, it is always awkward to cart painting supplies in the outdoors.  And I find painting outside overwhelming.  My eyes see too much — in my direct vision, and in my peripheral vision.  I am constantly distracted.  And everything keeps moving!  When I photograph, I frame the view and limit all these competing elements.  So when I paint from one of my photographs, I can narrow my focus to just what is is the frame.

Using my photos as a starting point, I attempted to paint my impressions of the lush forests in the area.

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My first watercolor sketch of tree trunks

My first watercolor sketch of tree trunks

I started my next watercolor painting of tree trunks by coloring in the negative space between the trees.

I started my next watercolor painting of tree trunks by coloring in the negative space between the trees.

Watercolor painting of forest

Watercolor painting of forest

 

 

Near the Lower Elwha River, Olympic Peninsula

Near the Lower Elwha River, Olympic Peninsula

Big-leaf maple

Big-leaf maple

I just returned from five days at the Nature Bridge conference center in Olympic National Park near Lake Crescent where I joined 12 other women on retreat.  As check-in was at 3:00 p.m. on Monday and I left after breakfast on Friday, we had just three full days there — not really long enough for me to completely relax and rejuvenate — but still a true vacation from my city life.

The definition of a retreat is “an act of moving back or withdrawing,” especially from what is difficult, dangerous or disagreeable.  Or it can be a withdrawal for contemplation and meditation.  I found my experience at Nature Bridge way too stimulating for that.  There were all these interesting and wise women to meet and be friendly with.  The immediate surroundings offered walking trails and swimming.  Every day a few of the group took off on day trips to the ocean beaches, longer hiking trails on the other side of the lake, or other destinations on the peninsula.  The choices!

The Nature Bridge campus.  All 13 of us stayed in a larger, multi-room cabin rather than one of these cute cottages.

The Nature Bridge campus. All 13 of us stayed in a larger, multi-room cabin rather than one of these cute cottages.

The main dining room was called the Rosemary Inn.  (I felt at home.)

The main dining room was called the Rosemary Inn. (I felt at home.)

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“The time for it is always with us though we say I do not have that kind of time.  The kind of time I have is not for this but for that.  I wish I had that kind of time.  But if you had that kind of time — would you do it?  Would you give it a try?”
— Lynda Barry, What It Is

This retreat was a chance for me to have the time for “it,” and I decided that my “it” would be devoting myself to painting.  It was hard to stay focused on the goal with so many appealing alternatives.  The lovely thing about these days was that all meals were provided and I did not have to spend one minute thinking about the state of my cupboards, meal planning, or cooking.  We met as a group at breakfast and dinner, but other than that, our time was completely self-directed.

And although I did manage to make a painting each of the five days, I found I did not create as many as I had expected.  The free days were a gift, but somehow the hours disappeared far too quickly.  For me, this was a revealing taste of what life might be like in retirement.  I think I will have to develop a rhythm and structure to my days — with a regular few hours sitting down with my paints — in order to settle my mind and feel some sense of growth and satisfaction.  I never did find this kind of rhythm at Nature Bridge.

Moments in Time trail through old growth forest

Moments in Time trail through old growth forest

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The first afternoon I walked the “Moments in Time” loop trail through a stand of old growth forest.  And I made my first painting there.  This Western Red Cedar was completely burned out at the bottom, but still managed to live, with green on its upper branches.

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Watercolor sketch of Western Red Cedar

Watercolor sketch of Western Red Cedar

I am still transitioning back to city life, but I will share more of my Nature Bridge experience in the next few days.  Stay tuned!

 

“Any work of architecture which does not express serenity is a mistake.”
— Luis Barragan (1902 – 1988), from The Architect Says:  Quotes, Quips and Words of Wisdom, ed. Laura S. Dushkes

St. Malachy's Actor's Chapel

St. Malachy’s Actor’s Chapel

You can find respite from the bustle of New York City in numerous places, for example, by stepping inside any of its churches and places of worship.  They were always an oasis of calm.  We checked out St. Malachy’s Actors’ Chapel while we were waiting for the lottery for Book of Mormon tickets.  The low-lit interior was a refreshing contrast to the glaringly insistent neon of Times Square, just a couple of blocks away.

Interior with angels, St. Malachy's Actors' Chapel

Interior with angels, St. Malachy’s Actors’ Chapel

Another very special retreat in Midtown Manhattan is the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at Saint Peter’s Church.  This space and its wall sculptures and furnishings were designed by sculptor Louise Nevelson.  It brought to mind the chapel Matisse designed in Vence, France — such an all-embracing work of art.  (Thank you, Linda, for the suggestion to see this.)

Chapel of the Good Shepherd

Chapel of the Good Shepherd

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Of course, wherever I travel, I know I can find a contemplative place in its libraries.

“The library is often the place where you can find the spirit of the monk:  in silence, the lustre of old woodwork, the smell of ageing paper, reading, retreat from the world, rules and authorities, tradition, volumes of wisdom, catalogues for contemplation.”
— Thomas Moore, Meditations

I loved the traditional look and quiet rooms of the Morgan Library and Museum.  I regret that we did not take the time to enjoy the Beatrix Potter exhibit there, but you can see an online version of the exhibit, which featured some of her letters with pictures, here.

The Morgan Library

The Morgan Library

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We walked from the Morgan Library to the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.  Even before we got there, I knew this would be a special experience because the street leading up to the front doors is called “Library Walk,” and it is lined with plaques embedded in the sidewalk that feature literary quotes.

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Plaques celebrating reading and good books

An example of a plaque with a bookish quote

An example of a plaque with a bookish quote

This library has a beautiful reading room and grand spaces.

NYPL on Fifth Avenue

NYPL on Fifth Avenue

Busy foyer

Busy foyer

Busy, but quiet, Reading Room

Busy, but quiet, Reading Room

A quiet nook at the main entrance

A quiet nook at the main entrance

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
— Jorge Luis Borges

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This past weekend's Georgetown Garden Walk

Summer gardens are flourishing, and communities often host Garden Walks to showcase their gardens.  I’ve never attended a Garden Walk event, so I made it a point to check out this year’s walk in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle.  Georgetown is perhaps better known as an industrial and warehouse district, but there are a few residential streets and pockets of houses nestled among the businesses in the area.  Armed with a map of the participating gardens, my friend Carol and I set off to explore the neighborhood.  Here are some photos:

A private cafe table and chairs

Lovely arched arbor between a front and back yard

I loved the color of this ground cover plant

Hubcaps edge these borders. These gardeners also used old bowling balls to line the edges of some garden patches.

Floating four-leaf clover at Oasis Water Gardens

Old-fashioned hollyhocks

The most unusual flower I saw on the Georgetown Garden Walk -- passiflora, or passion flower

Giant Cowboy Hat 'n' Boots, Oxbow Park, Georgetown

My favorite garden: Jon B Dove's garden has a garden house, a perfect retreat!

Dove garden house, Georgetown Garden Walk

Interior of Dove's garden house

Free Time

August 26, 2010

The Seattle Public Libraries are closing for one week starting August 30th in a budget-saving effort, and that means a week of unpaid time off work for me.  I don’t have definite plans this year.  I’d like to take a road trip, but the negatives are weighing in — I hate to be amidst the peak summer crowds and traffic, my husband may not be able to get away from his work commitments, and we’re on a tight budget this year.  I usually like to plan trips far ahead of time, because I enjoy the pre-trip reading, planning, and anticipation almost as much as the actual journey!  If we do get away this week, it will be on the spur of the moment.

Thinking about a road trip

 It’s not like I won’t enjoy my week off if we don’t go on a long road trip.  I’ve got plenty of ideas for spending this time:

  • Take a shorter loop drive on the scenic North Cascades Highway.
  • Take the ferry to Bainbridge Island and have lunch in Winslow.
  • Drive the side roads to Tacoma, staying as close as possible to the Sound; have a picnic at Dash Point State Park, a state park in Seattle’s suburbs, but located right on Puget Sound.  I can’t recall ever spending any time there.
  • Make it a goal to finish my red Bear Paw quilt.  I’ve pieced enough blocks for a wall quilt.  Now I need to sew them together, add a border of Flying Geese blocks, and hand quilt it.  I haven’t done quilting in a long time.  Using this week for a special project like this might help me overcome my inertia.
  • Treat myself to a mini-retreat at home:  sketch and paint every day, and visit museums for inspiration.
  • Clean the basement.
  • Have a reading marathon at home, and then sell the books at a used book store.
  • Edit my archive of online photos

 

What would you do with a week off?

A painting and collage I made during my retreat

The retreat I attended was called “Praying with Imagination” offered at St. John’s University and the Collegeville Institute in Minnesota.  When I first heard about this retreat in 2009, I tickled my calendar so that I would remember to register for it when it was offered again.  I do not consider myself a religious person, but the retreat appealed to me because it centered around using the St. John’s Bible as the focal point for prayer and creating art.

The St. John’s Bible is the first handwritten and illuminated bible to be commissioned in over 500 years.  The project was commissioned by the Benedictine monastery at St. John’s Abbey and the University there, and it’s head artist and calligrapher is Donald Jackson, senior scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Crown Office.  It will be issued in a series of seven volumes over a period of more than a decade.

I love calligraphy, so I have been purchasing the books of the St. John Bible as they have been published.  I own the first five volumes (the sixth will be published later this year), but I have to admit that three of the five are still in their plastic wrappings!  I had hoped that the retreat would inspire me to actually begin to read these spectacular editions of the bible (and now that I am back from the retreat, I know I will begin to read, ponder, and study them — slowly).

My volumes of the first five books of the St. John's Bible

Twelve women attended the retreat with me this year — about two-thirds of them were veterans of this retreat from prior years.  We were gently led by Kathleen, our Prayer Leader and a theology professor at St. John’s University, and Peggy, our Artist-in-Residence.  We formed a very intimate community for the week, and it was wonderful to be included in a group of such supportive, creative, and insightful women.

You can find out more about the retreat at this link: http://www1.csbsju.edu/sot/specialprograms/imagination.htm.

To be continued . . .

Re-entry

July 26, 2010

The Cascade Mountains from my airplane window

I returned home from my retreat yesterday.  I’m so glad I went.  The week away was a cherished gift to myself.  I can’t say that I’ve been transformed or changed into a new person.  But I do feel filled up with beautiful images, words, and bits of wisdom.  I now need to let all this input percolate and slowly incorporate these new insights and practices into my daily routines at home.

I’ll be posting more about my retreat experience in the next few days.  So stay tuned. . .

In the meantime, it’s good to be back home.