Alone in the Woods

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“Turn Around,” I heard the voice whisper.

Life for extroverts in the Age of Social Distancing is difficult. They need people to bounce their ideas off of, friends to hear their tales of daily struggles or victories, and most of all, the transfer of energy between the parties to feel alive. For introverts, most of whom need space and quiet to restore their energies, the “stay at home unless absolutely necessary” directives are more welcome than not. A good book, some quiet music, and a calming drink of herbal tea is a balm for the body and the soul.

Of course, if you have children, activity is your middle name, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of extroversion or introversion. Taking walks in the neighborhood of your city is an opportunity to learn about architecture. How is it built, what are the forms called, and how many styles can you identify as you walk about? You can make an art project from this walk about, by building a shoebox city, a collage from magazines or scrap paper, or making a map.

Fantasy Forest

When my daughter was young, we lived in south Texas, so our walks meant we might stumble upon a limestone fossil creature. She was always amazed some animal from the prehistoric times would find its way into our modern age, even if it were a lifeless stone. To find a treasure from 100,000,000 years ago always added excitement to our jaunts about the home place.

If you live in the countryside, you might have access to the woods or a forest, or you can go there. We haven’t decided to lock down everyone in their home yet. However, it’s my “Dr. Cornie” opinion we all should limit our goings and doings to the utmost necessities of grocery, health, and essential services. While I’m not a “real doctor,” those of us who are “Coronavirus Cathys and Chucks” can spread this disease to others, even if we don’t feel sick or have symptoms.

In this Age of Coronavirus, staying put at home means we “flatten the curve” of the spread of the disease. While many will have a mild disease, too many will have a difficult outcome, especially when they face a lack of hospital beds and equipment to treat them. Let’s think of these others, and not just of ourselves alone.

Autumn Sunlight at Poverty Point, Louisiana

With this admonition in mind, I invite you to travel virtually in solitude to the woods. Many of my paintings are of nature, for I feel close to God in nature. My parents may have been getting a vacation from me when I went to summer church camp at the old Works Project Administration site at Caney Lake, but I connected with the God who meets us in nature while I was there.

The Germans have a constructed word Waldeinsamkeit, which roughly translates to “the feeling of being alone in the woods.” The structure of the word says it all: “wald” means woods/forest, and “einsamkeit” means loneliness or solitude. The Grimm Brothers wrote many fairy tales, which were also set in the famed German Black Forest: Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood to name a few.

I don’t know if children read these stories today, since they’re a tad scary, but my parents grew up in the Great Depression and fought the Great War in Europe against the Nazis. They helped us through the imaginary, scary events so we could take on the actual, distressing situations. Practicing the easy operations in a safe space helped us confront our fears in real life.

Creek Side Reflections

Sometimes I’ll walk in the woods and hear a voice calling me to turn around. It’s not an audible voice, as if an outside agent were speaking to me. It’s also not my own inner sense, as “I should turn around.” Instead, I perceive a stillness from beyond, and the word I hear is “Turn around and look.”

If nature speaks to us, it’s because “Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made.” (Romans 1:20). Does this mean all persons see God’s hand in creation? Of course not, for some can’t even see the image of God in their own faces when they look in the mirror as they brush their teeth in the morning. Perhaps this is why the city streets are littered, the country roads are trashed, and violence to humanity is a sad trouble in every zip code. If we are God’s people, we’ll care for one another and for God’s world.

Even in the Age of Coronavirus, when our solid underpinnings have been cut down from under us and we have crashed to the ground with the noise of a giant sequoia tearing through its smaller companions, we don’t lose hope and we don’t lose heart. “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Walk in the woods, in silence, and renew your soul, with Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Waldeinsamkeit
I do not count the hours I spend
In wandering by the sea;
The forest is my loyal friend,
Like God it useth me.

In plains that room for shadows make
Of skirting hills to lie,
Bound in by streams which give and take
Their colors from the sky;

Or on the mountain-crest sublime,
Or down the oaken glade,
O what have I to do with time?
For this the day was made.

Cities of mortals woe-begone
Fantastic care derides,
But in the serious landscape lone
Stern benefit abides.

Sheen will tarnish, honey cloy,
And merry is only a mask of sad,
But, sober on a fund of joy,
The woods at heart are glad.

There the great Planter plants
Of fruitful worlds the grain,
And with a million spells enchants
The souls that walk in pain.

Still on the seeds of all he made
The rose of beauty burns;
Through times that wear and forms that fade,
Immortal youth returns.

The black ducks mounting from the lake,
The pigeon in the pines,
The bittern’s boom, a desert make
Which no false art refines.

Down in yon watery nook,
Where bearded mists divide,
The gray old gods whom Chaos knew,
The sires of Nature, hide.

Aloft, in secret veins of air,
Blows the sweet breath of song,
O, few to scale those uplands dare,
Though they to all belong!

See thou bring not to field or stone
The fancies found in books;
Leave authors’ eyes, and fetch your own,
To brave the landscape’s looks.

Oblivion here thy wisdom is,
Thy thrift, the sleep of cares;
For a proud idleness like this
Crowns all thy mean affairs.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Project Gutenberg Free PDF
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2591/old/grimm10.pdf

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy https://www.iep.utm.edu/theo-nat/

Work in Progress

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This is a Landscape from Garvan Woodland Gardens, a work in progress, on a recycled woven canvas. I didn’t like the other two paintings I destroyed to make this canvas, and the work I put on the intermediate stage also didn’t satisfy me long term.

Work in Progress

The great joy about art is we can destroy our lower quality efforts and the world is the better for it. In real life, our words and deeds have ramifications which reverberate and intensify from the moment we speak or do them. We may have the freedom to say or do what we wish, but we always need to ask, “Is this the best choice? Will I do harm or good? Will I lift up or tear down?”

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Some folks seem to ask only, “Can I get away with it?” as they push the boundaries of the law, morals, and common decency. Once they were found only underground or in the shadow worlds, but now they feel comfortable walking boldly out in the light of day. Those of us who still believe in beauty and a divine hand in creation, no matter how long the universe has existed, must raise our voices and lend our hands to care for the earth and the oppressed peoples who live upon it

If we speak in one voice, “Care for the only home we all have,” and “Protect the weak of our world from the cruelty visited upon them,” then we truly are the inheritors of the divine image, the ones with whom God once walked in the garden.

Art, Work & Breaking Out of Prison

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This is a strange & dark veil of bamboo and vines that I found in Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Looking into the sun, the image was backlighted, so it seemed to be a fence guarding against my entry.

I thought about the fences that keep me from progressing in my spiritual and artistic life: some of them are barricades of my own making. I seek perfection, but if I were to seek the good first, the perfect would eventually follow. Because I seek the perfect, sometimes I don’t even reach the good! It’s crazy of course, but that is what happens when one tries too hard.

I belong to a Facebook prayer group. One of the members is overwrought because they are exhausted from trying to wrangle, cajole, force, convince or otherwise browbeat  a member of the family into a better behavior that will indeed save their life.  No doubt quitting the alcoholic lifestyle would save that person’s life and maybe someone else’s life. However, no amount of logic or emotion will make an addict change until they are good and ready. When they lose all they have ever trusted in and all their support systems are gone, then they might change. Or maybe not. It’s not up to us. This member is so worn out that she wanted strength to keep going. I wrote, “when sawing gets hard, stop and sharpen saw.”

At some point in our spiritual and creative lives, we need to stop and sharpen our saws. We can’t keep pouring out all things for others and expect to have any creative energies left. We need to be filled up again. The best life is to be constantly filled, spilled, and refilled.

I was reading an article today on http://www.alternet about the 40 hour work week and the 8-8-8 plan (hours for work, sleep, and enjoyment). After 40 hours, workers begin to react as if they are tipsy with alcohol as their reaction time and production begins to lag.  Their production goes down with each additional 10 hours added to the work week. Even more interesting was the fact that the loss of even one hour of sleep each night had the same effect as adding an extra 10 hours of work to the week!  For folks that labored with their minds, it was even worse!

In this world today, folks are so happy to be employed, they are willing to work any amount of hours to keep a job, but they aren’t happy and they aren’t healthy emotionally or physically.  They also aren’t very productive either.  We could probably put a few more folks to work, cut the work week back, decrease the cost of our health care (the cost is claims based, so fewer claims based on illness is a lower premium), and get this country moving again!

But no one listens to me, I’m just an artist with a spiritual heart who has been crying in the wilderness for a long time! I cried in the 60’s for peace and civil rights, I cried in the 70’s for women’s equality, I cried in the 80’s for an opportunity to lead where my heart went, I cried in the 90’s for the liberation of the human soul, and I’m still crying today for the whole person to become wholly human and wholly holy.  At least today I understand that the forces of evil may try to hold us prisoner, but God in Christ has defeated them! These chains cannot hold us, and neither can the chains of sin and death.

Therefore, perfection no longer holds us.  Instead, we work for the good of all (Gal 6:10).  As a creative project, you might want to photograph fences you see on your walks or travels this week. We all travel the same routes to the store, to work, to our favorite haunts. Our cars can drive themselves automatically, or we can sleep on the subway or bus and know when our stop is about to come up.  Seeing our environment anew is always good practice. Take photos with the cell phone or a single use camera. Note the “fences” and “barricades” in your environment.  They may be a keep out sign, a locked gate, a decorative wall, a privacy fence, or a japanese decorative screen between the sleeping and living areas of a small apartment. What fences are around your heart and soul? Give these over to God in prayer. Joy and Peace, Cornelia