Every autumn, my Facebook feed informs me of my essential history: how many tomatoes I harvested the previous season, the colours of the fading garden from five years ago, what last year’s Halloween pumpkin turned into, and what the ranch looked like during my final October visit.
This year, the October sojourn coincided with Halloween (so no jack-o-lantern for the history feed) and with the first snow of the year. I got on the road early so as to miss the major portion of the storm, and arrived to several inches of snow and gently drifting flakes. That called for boots and a walk!
The new “tiny house”, with insulation and a wood stove, makes winter camping mostly comfortable. There are still long minutes in the morning, however, while the fire gets going. I took that time to capture the view from the window:
Saturday night was brilliantly clear, with glittering stars and a jaunty crescent moon. I captured no history-making pictures of that night, however, just lovely memories.
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” ~ The Talmud
Pebble mosaic with selfie shadow. September 2021
Where does one find hope in the midst of apocalyptic times?
I began work on these pebble works in early July, under the “heat dome” that overshadowed much of western North America. At the same time, smoke from forest fires throughout British Columbia began to spread across the skies, and cast shadow across the riverside beach.
I began to question myself–and others–about what hope is, what it feels like, where it is found, when the challenges ahead have no clear fix, no concrete solutions, no end date on the calendar.
This was my state of mind when I began River Triptych, this summer’s pebble installation (see my previous post). The inspiration was simple–I am fascinated by the colour palate presented by the tiny chips of rock on the beach, which served as background to last summer’s mandala. I wondered if I could paint the beach simply by collecting and spreading these tiny stones.
A smoky afternoon on the Highwood River
I cast the pebbles in three sets of three stripes (because I came up with nine sets of colour). The result was somewhat unsatisfactory, so I left it for a few weeks. In the spirit of collaboration, by the time I returned someone had added matching stone “hearts” to the bands of colour. A few tweaks to the composition, the addition of more chips to intensify the hue, and River Triptych was complete.
In late August, as I photographed the images of this series hope, maybe, I envisioned myself in a cave, discovering marks of hope left on the walls by long ago ancestors. An serendipitous introduction to the concept of Eco Grief, time spent pondering the sources of hope in the work of hopeful environmentalists (see below), and a summer finding strength in the bonds of friends, family, and nature have helped me find my footing, even on the rocks.
I began construction of this riverbank mosaic in July 2020. I called it “impermanence”, with the expectation that its stones would shift in the rain, under the hoofs of deer, or under the boots of fly-fishers. My intention was to watch its changes over time; to record “impermanence” in nature as a way of visualising the transitions of my own life during a time of global change. (You can read more about my design rational in my previous post, “impermanence”.)
Over time, however, “impermanence” has demonstrated a surprising resilience.
In late August, I revisited the bank to see what had changed in a month. The answer: nothing! So I added a ring of stones.
Two days later, I returned to add to the coloured gravel backgrounds and take more photos. Only when I was about to leave did I stand back and notice the band of square stones that a visitor had added to one side.
My return journey in September revealed only minute changes; tiny stones shifted perhaps by deer hooves.
Over time, my contemplative exercise on change has led to reflection on resiliance and hope. That these tiny pebbles on a beach would resist and rest secure, that small shifts and jiggles would add to the charm of the image, that visitors would protect and care for the installation–these are, for me, signs of hope.
To mark the hopeful possibility of resilience in impermanence, I planted the mandala, giving it leaves and stem.
Winter will come, the waters will rise, the stones will shift. And spring will return. ~ Jane
This pebble mandala is located on the rocky bank of the river which borders the family land on which I find refuge, spiritual restoration, and inspiration.
In part, the value of the time I spend in this retreat is the impermanence of nature–the shifts and transformations of the land and all that draws sustenance from it.
The land is constant–but ever changing. During the spring and summer, the woods and grasslands are ablaze with a constantly changing array of wildflowers and grasses; abuzz with bees, butterflies and dragonflies (and mosquitoes); a-prowl with deer, bobcats, bear, and the odd cougar.
The river itself is ancient, carved deep into the rock and soil of the hills. Its source is a high mountain pass, then it meanders down and down, out onto the prairies, carrying precious water to farms and towns on its journey. The gentle summer ripples belie the power of the torrents of ice-cold meltwater that every so often pour down from the mountains, and roar out to flood the prairies. The most recent flood carved huge rocks from the cliffs and left them midstream, tore mature trees up from their roots, rearranged the shore line, and devastated nearby towns.
The mandala is “impermanent” both by nature and by location. The pebbles are arranged on the surface of the shingle beach, and are easily moved–by the hoofs of deer or cattle coming to the river to drink, by rain or by rising water. It is also open to boots of passing fishermen, the eager fingers of children, or the creative impulses of those who come to sit by the waters.
A few months ago, I entered my piece “In the Belly of Sheol” in a promotional for the Engage Art Contest. My art was selected for the project! The prize–to have my work included in a set of Art Cards. According to those behind the contest, “These cards provide a fun and educational way to learn more about art and reflect on the Scripture that inspired each piece.”