Still Water

Still Water – Oil on paper – 18 x 24 inches.

If we were able to hover, if we could watch from above like angels, we would see a figure walking alone in winter along a river. She, or he, is not lost. At least not lost yet.

Blue open space above the water, sunlight in the west, melting snow, solitude, green mountains in the distance, deep forests close by, close around you, like an embrace, deep, thick, dense pines and fragrant cedars. No sunlight reaches the forest floors here, not now, not even when Spring seems to be so close.

From a space far higher than we can hover, a jetliner disappears. The walker hesitates, looks up to see contrails dissolve and hears the echo of the aircraft’s passing. Thoughts of distance, time, empty space. Thoughts of someone missing, a someone living on the other side of the world, the someone living inside the walker’s own heart.

A chorus of little birds and the croak of ravens rise from the trees. A fresh wind is coming in from the North. Another storm coming? Ears and nose grow colder. Half an hour passes. Snow crunches underfoot. Twilight will be brief. “Where am I?”

Logic says: “Follow the flow of the river. You are not Lost.”

An older voice from memory murmurs:

“Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.”

(“Lost,” by David Wagoner.)

Lost, Again

Lost, Again – Watercolor, pencil, ink – 8.5 x 11 inches.

What if, one morning you find yourself enjoying one of the great pleasures of life: You are visiting a strange city and you deliberately allow yourself to get lost. It’s a cloudy morning in the first days of Autumn. There’s a chill wind with a hint of rain and the scent of October, of oak leaves turning from green into ochre into brown.

You put on a jacket, turn off your cellphone and open the door from your temporary home onto a quiet street, into the freedom of having no map or compass. You walk and wander and find yourself guided towards water, towards a harbor. You meander along canals, with boats on either side, mostly small houseboats, like barges. Puffs of smoke float above chimneys. Blue jeans, underwear, shirts, bras, and diapers hang on clotheslines and on one boat, a little black dog glares at you but doesn’t bark.

You cannot be more lost, more content. On the quay to your left a long passageway, a tunnel, appears. Without hesitation you enter. It opens into a small courtyard. No trees, no grass; brick walls enclose the space. Something marvelous here! Imagine seven sculptures, life-sized figures, black like soot. Gods and goddesses carved from stone? Where did they come from? They all bear scars of powerful saws, as if they had been cut away from the facades of 19th century buildings. But what are they doing here, strapped onto plinths in this deserted courtyard?

You open your book and begin to draw them. It’s not long before you get lost in lines and colors, lost in the sculptures’ numinous presence. Are they sculptures trying to become angels or angels trying to become sculptures? Are they even more lost than you are?

Lines and colors blur as thunder crackles and rain begins to fall.