Saturday, July 8, 2023

Making Friends with the Unknown

Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, Temecula, California. 1990.

I arrived at the art colony to find there was no director. Apparently, she had quit the week before. I opened an envelope with my name on it that included instructions how how to get to my cabin, how to light the oil lamp. The cabins had no electricity. I learned that there was only one other resident that summer--a young painter from Brooklyn, named Betsy. We agreed that we were in a strange place, not made less strange by the elusive caretaker, the rumors that a ghost occupied one of the main buildings. We did investigate, but this is a story for another day.

Communication with the outside world was accomplished primarily through pumping nickles and dimes into the pay phone in the main cabin. This is where I came upon an impressive collection of insects pinned and displayed in glass cases. While I made my nightly phone call home, I stared at a giant red speckled spider pinned to a board before me—seemingly horrified to find itself frozen in time and place, beside the pay telephone.

Beside to the insects I found a small handwritten sign that read:

                    Attention, Fellows.

                   It's Rattlesnake Season. Please stay on the trails.

Despite ten years in California, I was not used to rattlesnakes. I couldn't help but imagine going for a walk on the trail, and then getting bitten by a rattlesnake. I could see myself writhing on the path calling for Betsy to save me, while my poisonous venom inched up my leg and I went completely numb before dying an excruciatingly painful death.

Even if Betsy heard me and ran up the trail to rescue me--what could she possibly do? She was tiny. So, I doubt she had the upper body strength to drag me down the mountain.

I decided not to walk on any trails. 

I stayed around my cabin. Besides, there was plenty of wildlife jumping on the roof through the night to keep me aware of the fact, that I was surrounded by nature!

Nature. It's terrorizing.

The truth is--as many of you know--nature is wonderful. Beautiful. Artful. I didn't fully realize this until 2015 when my husband and I bought a farm in the Hudson Valley. Nowadays, I am a Nature Girl! I celebrate the raspberry season. I walk the trails and can even name the various birds. I talk to turkeys. (Hello, Big Tom!) When I encounter a bear in our backyard, I do not panic. Okay, that last part isn't really true.

Creative Friends, the unknown world can be scary. This is because art is entering the unknown, facing the possibility that you might encounter a rattlesnake or you might come face to face with some frightening-looking insects next to the pay telephone. And then again, you might discover your own true path.

This is the nature of making art—whenever you make something up out of that maze that is called your imagination it's going to get dark. You're going to get lost. It's going to rain, and you're going to hear strange animal sounds in the night. 

Your assignment for this week is to accept this truth and walk into the darkness anyway. Once you do this, you'll find that you've made the wilderness your own and it will always be available to you.

Oh, and have fun.



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