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Noticing Nature

In my elemantary school days, I remember a song taught in music class reminding us to "slow down" and "make the morning last." In the 59th Street Bridge Song, written by Paul Simon, the listener is encouraged to take notice of the world around them. Being an artist is not always about creating objects of interest to hold onto. It is often more concerned with asking questions for inquiry. Among thousands of available choices, oil painting is simply one possible medium among infinite possibilities to solve that inquiry. I have developed a love for the practice, not because it provides a comfortable place as I battle insect bites, intense heat, and gusty winds, but because it provides a complex sensory environment where I can record more than what I see. Landscape painting includes the senses — like feeling the sun on your face, hearing birds chirping, or smelling the fragrance of the natural environment. It can transport me to a place of deep flow, where there is enough of everything, and filling a void in myself or the world is unnecessary. The boundary separation of the self from the rest of the world dissolves. The clock does not stop, but I do not hear it ticking.  At the end of a session, I am often left with nothing more than a pale echo of my experience on canvas. 

One poet who captures this spirit in words is the acclaimed Mary Oliver. One major theme in her writing is the intersection between the human and the natural world and the limits of human consciousness and language in articulating such a meeting. While scrolling through Instagram, I came across a post where she read an excerpt  “From the Book of Time.”  

"I rose this morning early as usual and went to my desk. But it’s spring,
and the thrush is in the woods, somewhere in the twirled branches, and he is singing…
I am touching a few leaves. I am noticing the way the yellow butterflies move together, in a twinkling cloud, over the field.
And I am thinking: maybe just looking and listening is the real work.
Maybe the world, without us, is the real poem.

From The Book of Time (Part 1) by Mary Oliver

Oliver reminds us that staying connected to nature in our daily lives can also be a way to stay connected to hope. Connecting with nature once every day, even if only briefly, is profound.

Finding ground in this distracting world can be difficult. The TV, radio, podcasts, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok channels loom in our heads. The text pings and the doorbell rings. We can generate ideas and images with the click of a hand, yet with all the technology around us, our lives are made easier, but not necessarily better. Einstein’s famous quote goes, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” Einstein was famous for probing the nature of the universe and trying to discern complex physical truths. When he says this, he essentially means there is beauty in not understanding or being curious about something. So often, we strive to understand every little thing that we experience. Still, the mystery and inability to comprehend certain things mean they are more complex and interesting than we can wrap our minds around. 

Painting asks "What if?" questions. "What if... this was light, and that was Dark?” “What if this was the focus instead of that?” “What if we changed our focus in life?” “What if we asked more questions about exploration instead of stating what it is?” It is possible for two opposites to be the “truth” or to be the subject. 

Legacy is not my paintings or words; everything I discover will be lost someday. It is the sun rising and the birds chirping, the tides rising, and the moon waxing. The profundity is in my simple act of noticing. 

He recalled another thing the old woman had said about a world being the sum of many things – the people, the dirt, the growing things, the moons, the tides, the suns – the unknown sum called nature, a vague summation without any sense of the now. And he wondered: What is the now?

Frank Herbert, Dune

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