The last few days I’ve been reading a book called House of Shattering Light: Life as an American Indian Mystic by Joseph Rael. It has been a really great read and I’ve enjoyed Rael’s perspectives on Native spirituality. He is both Pueblo and Ute and grew up learning about both cultures at different times. What I appreciate is his positive stance and belief that Native knowledge should be used to improve the lives of people globally, not just held for a select few. He also really disagrees with form for form’s sake and values intuitive ways of accomplishing tasks. I still have another chapter or two left to finish and then I had also picked up another of his books called Being and Vibration that I’m looking forward to reading.
Given my recent (potentially supernatural) experience with a psychic medium, along with other past experiences when I’ve felt guided by intuition or other forces, I had another interesting happening this week. Nothing overt, and nothing that I would say is definitive proof of anything, but it felt personally significant to me. It does feel connected to my reading this book in some small way. I’ll relate it here since it does involve art.
A close family member who lives in eastern Washington was diagnosed with cancer not too long ago. I had visited her a couple of weeks ago and was planning on another trip this week to offer some support to her and the other household members. Daily life obligations always manage to get in the way, so with a car appointment and my work schedule and everything else, I had considered postponing making the trip this week since I would be there for less than 24 hours and it is about a three hour drive each way. I was on the verge of not going, almost up to the last day, but felt that it was still important for me to go for some reason. And so I got up on Tuesday, packed a few things, and went to get my car serviced before heading over the mountains.
It took longer than I had expected for my car, but eventually I was on the road. I decided that I really needed to stop on the way at a nature trail where I had scattered my mother’s ashes some years ago. I like to visit there occasionally, but haven’t been in a year or two. On my last visit over the mountains, I had wanted to stop but didn’t have the time or else I would have been late for pesky obligations like work. This time, I knew it would make me later to arrive than I had intended, but that I had to make the time.
One thing to note was that I had been reading Rael’s book while my car was being serviced. And right as my car was done, I got a text message out of the blue from someone I had met in California earlier this year who I hadn’t heard from in a couple of months. In terms of timing, it was both random and meaningful. He’s someone who is just so full of kindness and light. There isn’t another way I can think of to describe him. So it was nice to hear from him and when I finally stopped at the nature trail we exchanged well-wishes via text.
And then I went walking on the nature trail, which loops around through old-growth forest near the summit of Snoqualmie Pass. I had brought Robohontas with me on this trip and something made me grab her from the car before I set out, which was good because there were a lot of great photo opportunities for the blog. There were probably about ten other cars parked there, but I didn’t see another person until I returned to my car when I was leaving. They must have been out on longer hikes on the other trail. I got to the place which was somewhere near where I had left my mother’s ashes. I had placed them behind a large tree somewhere near the trail, but no longer remember exactly which tree it was. The same thing happened the last time I was there, I kept coming up to a tree and would think to myself, “Oh, it was this one!” But then a little ways later there would be another tree that looked familiar, and I suddenly wouldn’t be sure of myself. In the end, I have a vague idea which tree it was, but I also know that it doesn’t really matter. She is both there and not there.
It was a wonderful walk in any case, and I got a lot of great Robohontas photos. There was a squirrel who was eating pine nuts on a branch high above that chattered at me for a while before scampering up the trunk even farther. I saw a lot of small birds flitting about and heard their calls. Several times I observed tiny green worms hanging from invisible threads on the path. They would squirm and twirl and dance in the air like tiny trapeze artists. I tried to photograph them with my phone, but they were too tiny and kept swinging too much for the camera to capture them. I gave up and just enjoyed watching these little aerialists.
After the “higher” part of the trail when it looped back and I knew I was returning to my car, I came to a spot with an empty tree trunk. This was a stump where a tree must have been cut down many years before, and the insides of the tree had rotted out so that a ring of wood and bark the height of the stump was all that was left. It was like a tiny primeval cathedral. There were some pieces of a rotting cedar log that I had been compelled to pocket near the beginning of the trail, and a rock I had found not too far away that I was carrying. It seemed like the right place to leave them, so I arranged them in a pattern inside the stump with pieces of wood pointing in four opposite directions. There wasn’t a lot of foliage in this place, the ground mostly was covered with a carpet of evergreen needles and I saw a large and heavy pinecone unlike any I’ve seen before that must have fallen nearby. I also noticed a plant growing on and near this stump and realized it had four leaves that also pointed in opposite directions, like the pieces of wood I had placed.
There was a picture of some sort bouncing around in my head up to this point, the idea that I needed to draw something as a token to help with my family member’s healing. All I had was the idea of a geometric border, but couldn’t see what the middle should be exactly. When I saw that plant, I knew that it was the thing to draw. I snapped a picture to remember it and headed back to my car, and over the mountains, into the drier hills and valleys of eastern Washington.
She was surprised and pleased by my arrival and I visited with her and the other family members there. I hadn’t brought any art supplies with me, so I had figured that I might make my drawing when I came back home and bring it with me on my next visit. At a certain point, everyone left to either rest or do things they already had planned and I had a couple of hours to myself. I picked up the book and was reading it again for a while, maybe an hour when I suddenly realized that I was wasting an opportunity to take action. I put the book down, drove to a nearby craft store and bought a small art set that had color pencils, a sharpener, and a pad of paper housed in a carrying case. I also found a small wood tabletop frame that would hold that size of paper. I went back to their house and as soon as I came in, people were back and I was caught up in my visit again. A little while later, I had an opportunity and went out to the dining table to draw.
I knew I needed to start with a row of triangles at the bottom of the page, so I did that. Then I drew the leaves of the plant and started filling in color from there. I don’t really draw realistic images any longer, so I wasn’t sure how this would turn out. But it didn’t feel like my usual “official” artwork, it felt more ceremonial, so I didn’t think that mattered. It was really a very simple drawing and some of the people came and sat at the table and we visited while I worked. They wanted to take a drive that night to some property nearby that another family member had recently purchased. I wasn’t quite done with my drawing, there was more color and shading that needed to happen although it would probably have been good enough. We left for the drive under the bright full moon and then I ran another errand with someone after we were finished so it was fairly late when I finally was ready to finish the piece. I knew I needed to get up early and drive home to go to work, but I also knew that I needed to finish the drawing. So I did. The adjustments were subtle, and the paper tore a little when I was blending the colors, but it was important. I put it in the frame, took a picture to document it (see above) along with the book that was on my mind and then went to get at least a partial night’s sleep on the couch.
When I woke up, I set the drawing on a shelf next to her desk in the office where it would face her when she worked. I don’t know what effect it will have, if any. It wasn’t a matter of making it look perfect or of using archival materials. I just know that I needed to make it and leave it there. Maybe it was some universal force giving me instructions. Maybe it will help her heal. Or maybe it was just for me. Maybe it is some psychological manifestation brought on by fear of losing someone else I love. Whatever the reason, it was something I had to do. And so I did it, willingly.