Within the Embrace of Entropy and The Arrow of Time

There is a row of spruce trees at the back of the yard. The tallest was struck by lightning. I was two rooms deep into the house and the light that came in was the most incredible thing to see. There was a wash of the coldest white and blue. And though there were no shadows everything was eerily defined. The noise that followed was felt as much as it was heard. The tree still stands but almost four years on it hasn’t healed. The strike left a scar that runs down the length of the trunk to the ground. With every season the crack gets deeper.

I had a lovely thought last week. I was driving in the car and just out of the blue it came to me. It was a wonderful memory – well two sort of but they were connected. The memory was of my youngest nephew, Matthew, when he was small.  We had rented a hockey rink for a birthday party and Matthew was so excited to come and get on the ice. He must have been around 4 maybe…I’m not sure… but I do remember how happy he was. The second part also had to do with an arena. My sister brought her boys to see my stepson play and as he came out of the dressing room he said hello to Matthew. Matthew’s whole face lit up because he’d been acknowledged by this older boy heading out to the ice to play. I honestly don’t think he could have been happier that day. He would have loved to play hockey. I’m sure of it. He never got the chance. He was born with an adorable sideways smile and a progressive neuromuscular disease.

Picture time as a hallway broken up by consecutive doors. Each door represents a unit of time. The doors are sheer enough to look back through but there are layers and layers of them. Each one takes you further away from where you have been and try though you may you can never bridge that space between now and then. No matter how much you may long for the “before”, just thin doors of time away, there is only what comes after. We say things like “I would give anything if I could have just one more day…one more hour” but the truth is one more hour or one more day wouldn’t be enough.

The night that Matthew died always comes back to me in sound bites and still pictures – the phone call – the car ride – standing on the porch as they return from the hospital – my sister opening the car door – her face as she tells me and it’s like that flash of lightning filling everything up with something alien and terrifying as I move in slow motion to take her into my arms. The rest of the night, the weeks, the months, the years, are marked by moments of awful clarity distinct as pale figures caught naked in the stark flickering of a strobe light.

Matthew lived 16 years. The brevity of his life along with much of what he endured and what has come to pass since he left us is beyond difficult to fully grasp. I am grateful for the things that offer a counter balance to the downright unfairness of it all. I need those things; like those days in the arena, or any moment I’m called to mind the good things that were a part of his life and what good things he brought to all of ours.

I like to watch the birds in the garden. I can see them as I gaze out the kitchen window. The blue jays scream and argue. The woodpeckers and nuthatches are a circus of acrobats as they negotiate the expanse of tree trunks. There are different kinds of sparrows, cardinal couples, and flocks of dark-eyed juncos. In the summer there’ll be hummingbirds and orioles. Several times a day the birds will suddenly scatter. I don’t know why. Perhaps there’s a noise, a movement, or a falling shadow that sets them off. Often it’s nothing and they quickly return. Sometimes though, that shadow will be a hunting hawk. Maybe a red tail but more likely a Cooper’s hawk. There will be a flash of darkness and then silence as a few stray feathers float to the ground.

The garden will be silent then, sometimes for hours.  I watch to see if the birds return. And they do but I can never tell if they’re the same ones that were here before.  At dawn and dusk there’s always the call of the mourning doves. A storm might blow in and I’ll watch as a curtain of rain sweeps across the fields before it engulfs the house.

I wonder how long it will be until the spruce tree finally falls.









Music for this post –Noah Gundersen & The Forest Rangers- Day is Gone 



Yesterday I realized I have a sad face.

I’ve been a bit stuck on this large painting I’ve been working on. Mostly I think because it’s part of a series which is a bit of a departure for me but also because I’m trying something different with the technique. Usually there’s an almost textile appearance to larger areas in my compositions that I create through small flat brush strokes. I’ve touched on that in the lower section of this particular painting but not in the dominate feature of the composition which happens to be a stormy sky. I wanted to create a smooth transition from light to dark which worked well for another piece in the series (it’s a triptych) but I’m just not feeling it with this larger piece.

 At first I couldn’t tell what was wrong. I felt …stuck. I sat and looked at the painting and looked some more. I would get up and do some random things around the house. I’d browse Imgur, do a crossword puzzle or read a book. Then I’d tell myself to get my act together and I’d sit in front of the canvas, dab a bit of paint on it and then stand back and look. Another dab and look again. I thought maybe it needed a glaze of colour to create distance in the background. So I tried that. It looked better but it still didn’t feel right. Days passed and became weeks. I thought fine…I’ll leave it for a bit.

I decided to work on some other stuff; pen and ink sketches, a little bit of writing (I’m using that term very loosely) for a local theater group I belong to. I was just trying to keep my momentum up in the hope that it would shake something loose, letting me move forward on the large canvas. Doing other stuff was when I discovered the whole sad face thing. I’d thought of a concept for a self-portrait but I wanted to work from a photo rather than a mirror as my image would only be the starting point of the composition. Yesterday I decided to take some pictures with my phone and a mirror. I basically think I look okay after I’ve done the makeup and style your hair thing. I’m getting older so there are signs of that but for the most part I’d say I’m average though not in a horrible way. Aging, in case you haven’t realized yet, happens to us all. I think it’s best to accept it as gracefully as you can. Unless you have a ton of money, then fight the good fight if you want and go down screaming. I’m getting used to looking a little older each year and I did see that in the pictures I took. The thing that surprised me was how SAD I looked, even when I retook the pictures trying to look a little more cheery. My choir director says we (that is me and the other ladies in our choir) should try to lift our eyebrows when we sing because it makes us look like we’re interested and happy. So I tried the eyebrow lift and I just looked surprised sad and I wondered-Did I always have a sad face and just never notice?

There aren’t a lot of pictures of me as I’m always the one on the other end of the camera. Most of the time when I’m in a picture it’s usually in the background. I had to hunt a bit to find some older examples to compare these new pictures to and you know what? I didn’t always have the sad face. Now I should probably explain that the past couple of years have been particularly rough on a number of fronts. There have been some pretty stressful events for me, my immediate and my extended family. When they talk about those stress scales and major stress events in a person’s life I can honestly say we’ve hit all the markers. When it rains it pours and the weather is still looking pretty cloudy. So…Is that what’s happened to my face?

Looking at my sad pictures of my sad face I suddenly thought of an incident a month before when I had asked a friend to un-tag me in a Facebook picture because I thought I looked sad in it. It was a picture of me at a party and I thought it was just a bad picture because who is sad at a party? Well according to that picture I am and apparently my face says I’m sad at other times as well. It’s strange because I don’t remember being sad at the party and I didn’t feel sad when I was taking those pictures the other day but I sure did look sad. Maybe that’s going to be my face from now on. That’s not a great thought. I tried to remember the last time I had a good hard laugh. It wasn’t too long ago. I’d gone to see a play with some family and friends and things got a little goofy during drinks afterwards but before that night out I think it might have been awhile.

What could I do about my sad face? I decided to smile hard. I felt a bit foolish smiling vacantly at myself in the mirror but I figured if I didn’t want to have a sad face I should maybe try to have a happy one. As a matter of fact for the rest of the day I smiled hard every so often. You know what happened? I hurt my face. I think my smile muscles were so out of practice that I actually made my face sore by smiling through the day. I might have to rethink that strategy. Anyway if anyone had seen me they probably would have thought I was insane, smiling like a maniac as I went about my business. I’m sure my dogs weren’t judging me (they don’t do that sort of thing do they?) but they must have been wondering what the deal was. So what to do about the sad face? I don’t know. Maybe in time it will sort itself out. Right now I hope nobody tells me a joke tomorrow because I wasn’t kidding about my face hurting.

I might be ready to tackle the big canvas again soon. I’m starting to think that maybe a little bit of texture in the sky would be a good way to communicate the power of the storm. I think I’ve known it for a while but have been holding back because I’d gotten attached to how successful the new approach was with the triptych as well as feeling some trepidation as to the sheer volume of work that will be required to address the sky with a small brush. I’ll just have to put those thoughts behind me, move forward putting my trust in the process…and maybe think happy thoughts a bit more.

I think an appropriate song for this post is Sad Eyes by Robert John from way back in the early 70s. The video is grainy, the audio is tinny and it starts off with dancers in flowing dresses- enjoy.