Finding Inspiration in the small things.

For some reason, I’ve always been intrigued with drawing the seeds from plants.  I think because we are usually attracted to the showy, flamboyant characteristics of the plant, the seeds are not usually as obvious; its like finding  hidden gems.  When I arrived at the Hermitage two weeks ago, I was amazed at the variety of plants that grow wild here, from the grandest Banyan tree to the tiniest painted flower.  I didn’t know where to start, so I dragged my chair outside and began sketching the seeds of some of these plants.  For my first piece of artwork, I settled on the Sea Grape, a tree I’ve always loved to look at.  The piece is almost complete, so here are some of the photos, sketches and stages of the artwork.  When complete I will repost the finished artwork.

Lizard Boogie-Woogie

There is so much beautiful and intriguing wildlife in Florida, sometimes it is deceptively beautiful. The inspiration for “Lizard Boogie-Woogie” began with an article about the various types of Lizards found in South Florida.  Unfortunately, it has been found that some are not indigenous to the region and have begun to prey on the ones that are.  These predators, often more exotic and intriguing than the local guys, are reaking havoc on the balance of the eco-system.  Most of the invasive species have been introduced to the wild by people who have owned them as pets and then release them into the wild when they can no longer care for them.  As they breed, their populations can sky-rocket out of control. 

 The detail picture of the lower right frame of the artwork is from a diagram of the various lizard species found in South Florida.  Meandering through the piece is a carved print I made of a lizard, moving in and out of the various frames.  The geometric grid pattern of the two frames was used to contrast with the natural habitat of the larger lizard, who meanders in and out of the sea grape leaves.  The title “Lizard Boogie-Woogie” has a double meaning.  The grid pattern and the painted  squares are an homage to Piet Mondrian, famous for his grid paintings such as “Broadway Boogie-Woogie”.  The meaning more relevant to the artwork had more to do with the dance between lizard with lizard, indigenous and invasive, man and nature.

Surfing, shopping and shark teeth

If you’ve ever spent any time “surfing” the internet, looking for something specific, you know how easy it is to get distracted from whatever it was you were doing before.  In your mind, you keep saying …”just one more link… maybe this one will be perfect”….and before you know it… hours have passed.  I find shopping can often be a similar experience…. I spend hours inside a shopping mall seeking the perfect….. whatever, and then realize I missed those hours of creating art, resting, bike riding, or even catching up on necessary chores.  

Arriving on the Gulf Coast, I found a popular activity, especially for tourists, is to comb the beach looking for fossilized shark teeth…. “oh… there’s one beach that you can find hundreds of them”  were among some of the comments I would hear.  There is an abundance of unique shells, many encrusted with barnacles and other great finds from the sea to be gleaned here, without even trying.  But I found that the lure of shark teeth less than seductive to me.  With so much to see, hear, smell and experience, I could not envision my limited time here  sifting through buckets of sand looking for that perfect shiny black triangular object.  Had my head been in a bucket of sand, I might have missed the pod of dolphins two days ago, bobbing up and down like carousel horses, the fish jumping out of the water, the school of small fish swimming around my feet or the osprey flying over, carrying a fish for its next meal.

I’m not suggesting that no one should look for these little gems… it can be fun, adventurous, even meditative… Many tourists will bring these back for their grandkids or neighbors in landlocked towns.  Surely this a souvenier far superior to the obligatory t-shirt.  But for me…. owning these will not enrich my world more than the moments that would be missed had my time been spent on the pursuit of the shark tooth.


Yesterday I walked mindlessly to my studio, a million thoughts racing through my mind.  As I got close to the door, fumbling for my keys, I heard some rustling around in the roots of the Banyan tree.  Before I could even process the sounds, an adult armadillo ran off under a bulilding, nowhere to be found.  I had startled the creature and missed the opportunity to watch it meander… digging for grubs and ants.  I tried to find it, camera now ready, but it eluded my sight. 

Now I try to walk more purposefully, pausing, listening, looking around, allowing my steps to meander from the urgency of the moment. I have learned to differentiate the sounds: a quick brush of leaves is usually a small lizard jumping from a branch;  quick, short movements- a bird hopping from one branch to another; slow, rustling of leaves on the ground- a scavenger such as an armadillo.  This morning I heard some movement in a cluster of sea grape trees… waiting quietly, I realized it was a cardinal.  As I followed it, there were several…. a whole family of cardinals.  Later in the morning, more movement in the same location.  I stopped and waited and out emerged a baby armadillo.  It would submerge itself under a pile of leaves, completely hidden, scrounging for food.  As I stood with my camera lens aimed and ready, my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of movement in the grass.  Shifting my gaze from the rustling leaves, a snake had caught a lizard for lunch and was seeking a shady spot to dine on its feast, almost its entire body length, and twice its width.  I promptly pulled out the books, identifying it as a juvenile black racer… Wheeew!  Glad it was nothing to be concerned about.

Can I take this thought with me?  Can I meander away from my mental “to do” list and listen?  Listen when another has something to say…. Listen to my body when it needs rest or exercise…. Listen to the seasons…when its time to celebrate, discuss, cry or be angry? These opportunities will emerge when listening or run off and hide if I can’t meander from the moment’s agenda.

Sunset and Thunderstorms

In Florida, early evening thunderstorms are expected in Summer.  This was the view from my window last night at sunset.

Partaking in Life

Sunset dinner on the Gulf of Mexico

Beginning my retreat three days after the rest of the artists,  I was anxious to fit everything into my first day. Swimming in the gulf, walking by the river trails, drawing, and figuring out the kitchen were only a few of the activities that quickly filled my day.   Since I would not be present for the Welcome Dinner, I was informed that a second dinner was scheduled when I arrived.  The dinner was to coincide with an impromptu turtle watch.  You see… this is the peak of nesting season for loggerhead sea turtles in Florida.  Many of the nests were due to hatch and it just so happened to be a full moon.  We were going to patrol the beach through the night and call each other if a turtle was spotted laying eggs or baby turtles were emerging from the nest on their journey to the sea.

The evening began with an inspiring performance by the resident music composer, followed by a sunset dinner on the beach.  We laughed, ate, got to know each other,  partaking of a common thread of nurturing the creative spark within each of us ….And we learned about the turtles.  At 11 PM, we began our shifts, and just before midnight we were called that a mother turtle was laying eggs.  Walking briskly through the sand, lit only by the full moon, there she was… as big as my dining room table, methodically flipping sand over the eggs, ignoring the presence of

Baby turtles returning to the sea.

mesmerized humans….And when she was done, we witnessed her journey back to the sea… swept into the surf…the waves engulfing her large body like a familiar blanket. 

Sea turtles do not meander.  They return to the spot where they were hatched many years prior.  They emerge from the depths of the sea, walk a straight path to the nest, propelled by their large flippers, dig a nest and lay their eggs.  When the task is complete, they make a tight U-turn, and walk  a straight path back to the surf.

I returned to my room and slept right through my 5 am shift.  Waking at 7:00, I came downstairs, assuming the turtle watch was over and everyone went to sleep.  Suddenly the door burst open and the “leader” of our adventure was ecstatic with anticipation…. Apparently the nest closest to our house was overdue, and the sound of live hatchlings was detected under the surface.  The volunteers who oversee the turtle nests needed to go in and excavate the nest, allowing those that have hatched to return to the sea, and removing those who did not survive.  We all ran out to witness the advent of the baby turtles, and help usher them to their home in the surf.  As we followed these small creatures, we watched them flow into the surf the same way the mother turtles return to the water.  What a privilege to partake in this amazing cycle of life,  for just a brief moment… to know that as one life may end its journey… many new ones will begin theirs, instinctively continuing the ritual that was determined since time began.

Moving in a New Direction

Toulouse the Gopher Tortoise

After a whirlwind of five days, family, grieving, tying up loose ends…. trying to bring some order to the chaos, it is time to move on.  I spent one more  quiet day at home with loved ones before beginning my creative retreat.  Car packed with art supplies, clothes, dive gear and my red bicycle strapped tightly to the back, the music seemed to lure me forward on my drive  Crossing the bridge over the Myakka River, it began to rain…while Van Morrison sang “And It Stoned Me”….”oh the water….” . I knew I was moving in the right direction… a place to nourish the soul.  

 Wandering around, looking at what will be my home and STUDIO!!! for awhile…. I was greeted by Toulouse… the local gopher tortoise….  moving slowly, but moving forward…. being present. 

The “Kum-ba-yah” factor.

Many years ago I attended a memorial service for a co-worker who died unexpectedly in his mid- 20’s.  It was a tragic event and he was survived by a young wife and daughter.  Exiting the chapel, I noticed the rest of the world went on with their daily routines, unaware of the grieving inside.  It reminded me of the old spiritual Kum-ba-yah: ” someone’s crying, Lord….someone’s laughing…. someone’s working….oh Lord… come by here”.  Simultaneously, while some of us mourn, others will be celebrating life, while others will be working hard.

The last few days have been a whirlwind of emotions… remembering my mom’s life, taking care of arrangements, spending time with family and friends, sorting out the pieces of her life. Tomorrow, we will all be going back to the rest of our lives… our work, our play, our celebrations, and somewhere, someone else will be mourning.  It is good to remember that everyone is not in the same place at any given moment and to allow others, neighbors, co-workers, strangers, and friends, to celebrate, mourn, play or work at that given time;  Kum-ba-ya.   I know I can now continue on my journey with greater confidence if I allow others to continue on theirs  at the same time, wherever that journey may take them today.

Life, Death and Vacations

Following a road map for a trip is how most of us embark on a journey… whether a vacation or a new adventure in life.  We attempt to plan a route according to the goals we envision for that journey… the shortest route, the most scenic route, the safest route, etc.  Sometimes we have to be flexible when the road meanders off the plotted course.  occasionally we choose to meander, to explore, to change course.  But when the detour is not of our planning… can we flow with it…. or does it totally tweak our world?

Ever since my father passed away in 1993, my vacations were a source of contention for my mother.  At first, it was a matter of her no longer having her own travelling partner, and wanting to be included.  But as the years passed, and she became more physically limited, I think it was really an unspoken fear that something would happen to her and no one would be there.  There were many trips I took or planned to take, that just a day or two prior, she would take ill and have to go to the hospital… sometimes she didn’t even know that I was leaving… and still her internal alarm went off.  It  would totally tweak my world whenever this happened.  During the last six months, however, my mom’s health took so many unpredictable turns, that had I not learned to let the road meander off-course, I myself would have surely crashed and burned.  The more I tried to plot the course, the more I realized I had little control.

This year, I have been fortunate to be selected for an Artist in Residence program that would have taken me away for a month, including for my mom’s 90th birthday.  With her failing health, I knew the possibility loomed that she may pass while I am away and I would have to turn around and come back.  I carefully planned for others to be here in my absence, made sure everything was well-organized,  plotting the course to be smooth and easy.  I knew, however, deep down inside, that if past adventures were any indication, I should drive slow, and be ready for this road to meander off the course I would follow.  On Saturday, two days prior to the day my Retreat would begin, I received a call from my mom’s caretaker that she wasn’t doing well.  We sat with  her while her breathing became more difficult and we knew she was struggling.  I know that she knew that she didn’t want to leave this world with only a stranger by her side.  She sensed, probably by my take control planning, that I must be going away.  She struggled and then she relaxed.  I was here to send her on her new journey, never to meander off her own path again.  And mine, well it will meander a little more this time,  not beginning my retreat as scheduled, but knowing when I do, that my mom is safe while I’m gone and I can begin in peace.

Colors that sparkle

Although it is already three weeks into summer, today I feel like I first stepped foot into my summer vision.  I ordered silk organza, and some semi-sheer cottons to dye.  Using vinegar as a pre-soak for the silk, I dyed the organza with some beautiful, jewel like colors.  The cottons also came out with some rich, variegated hues…. absolutely delicious…. and I have learned more about process.

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