Rocks. And spiral patterns made out of rocks. A path carved from boulders, with a slow running waterfall gently cascading down more rocks. They’ve built a mini Stonehenge that sits at the edge of the river, in front of a rusting metal railroad bridge. Lined with gravel paths and scrub grasses, I wonder what has been planted and what is here of its own accord? A large flat rock is fashioned into a bench; a very large bench that could easily hold a dozen bottoms, or more if they were children.
The Peterson Wildlife Refuge, at the DuPont Environmental Educational Center, named after one of our former governors and defender of the environment, as I read on the sign, is housed in an abruptly tall building, flat glassed on the one side that faces the marsh. Completely handicap accessible, there are wide wooden curved pathways that reach out into the marsh, making large swoops that mimic the occasional raptor flying above. Guests enter from the second floor back end of the structure, deposited there unceremoniously from the rising path that begins in the parking lot among the rocks and ends at the railing overlooking the marsh. It appears you must take the elevator or the stairs to reach the marshy areas.
As I head back to where the group sits, mostly painters and me, the token writer today, I pass through swirls of natural materials that are sometimes functional and sometimes whimsical as they meander into the grassy areas. Is their placement pure art or do they have utilitarian purpose? Can art be practical? Who is to say what is practical and what is just for art’s sake? Perhaps we only see what we are looking for, what we need in our particular place and time. Our perceptions will influence that which will strike us the deepest. Well, that’s if we are open to it.
Frankly, isn’t that the case with everything?
So where will the muse lead today? I say a quick prayer of thanksgiving to God for this time of fellowship, for shoulder-to-shoulder creativity with these women and the luxury of time set aside to escape into our work.
Creatives. Risk takers. Women who embrace the vulnerable, are open and in touch with parts of the world many never see. How do they do it? Perhaps they need to write or paint or design music regardless of the outcome. The world looks at artists and calls them sensitive. Ha, my foot! These folks are hardened to the world’s objections, the judgment, the complete subjective nature that will value their art, these parts of themselves they offer to the world. Or maybe it is not so much hardened as resigned to the reality. Perhaps they have evolved to the point where the opinions of others do not matter. The work is the important part, the creation is key; not its eventual placement and payment. Get the image down on paper. Capture the light. Frame it out. Correct the mistakes and fill it in.
I drink in their energy, like drafting in a race or saving fuel by following that eighteen-wheeler. I hope that I can ride in their wake, being dragged along like a reluctant child who knows that it will be okay, but needs that bit of a pull.
The wind blows cool this morning after several days of steamy hot. The relief is palpable. The reeds and scrub that make up the natural landscaping look relieved, although a good downpour would suit them nicely as well. Still, anything is an improvement over the heat. Along the river, a family of geese toddles by. What do they make of this place? The rusted skeletons of industrial America juxtaposed with this lovely garden sit in the foreground of the cityscapes. The riverfront project, a collection of shops, restaurants, a AAA baseball stadium, the new Children’s Museum and some living spaces meander along this stretch of the Christina River, its newness intermingling with the tired and broken. This wedge of land, an island really, is surrounded by concrete. I95 to the west, I495 to the east—they’ll converge at a point to the south—the city creates the other boundary to my north. The 11:04 Amtrak Metroliner whistles its departure; it will be in New York before the end of lunch. A bird warbles in the grass. A siren wails in the distance. Some amphibian is making bobbling noises down toward the water; is he calling for his mate or just singing in thanksgiving for the temperate weather?
So I write. I write when my work has no hope of paying my bills or footing the college tuitions. I write when I should be networking, researching, convincing some random person of my worth to the organization.
Risk taking. I used to be quite good at it; I have the scars to prove it. When did I become afraid? A large group at my church is reading the bible cover to cover this summer; we just finished the Torah. They say that the expression, “Do not be afraid” is present 365 times, but I have not been counting.
Why is it so difficult to believe?
My friend Anna says, “Do not pray for courage!” She, another artist, is passionate about it. “Don’t be a fool, stop praying for courage. God will hand you situations where your courage will be required and honed. Pray for a big old foot in your back, forcing you to get out there with your work.” I think she is right.
Cranes, both God made and manmade dot this landscape, all of their heads bobbing occasionally towards the earth.
There is a consistent creaking sound, like, I would imagine since I am no sailor, the mast a tall ship makes in a very stiff breeze. Is it the tall wooden poles that are delivering electricity to the center swaying ever so slightly in the wind? Shouldn’t they be sturdier than that?
Occasionally, a walker or naturalist comes by attracted by us all sitting here: three easels and a laptop. Is it a class? Can I join you? What are you doing?
We create. We capture. We try to clearly see all of the spaces, both negative and positive, all of the colors, all of the images and all of the movement, too. We shift in our seats and settle back into a more comfortable position, Trina, Karen, Betsy and I.
A clatter of children echoes above, heading back to the parking lot. Their voices rise over those made by nature and machine, but I can only see the back of their red backpacks and the tops of their heads as they skip along the boards above. An adult, probably their teacher, exhorts the child in the lead to slow down, stay on the path. How often have we been told to stay on the path, draw inside the lines, not to run with scissors? As a former teacher, I understand her need for safety. But now, I find myself wishing for the opportunity to march up there and grab the lead child and tell him to sprint, to create, and to explore life off of the path!
I did not come here this morning to write this; I came to work on another project where I am at am impasse to its function and structure: is it fiction? Nonfiction? Just a rant? Once here, though, I fell open to the energy that often is often missing when I work at home, cut off by all of the obligations and responsibilities found there. I shared with Betsy my confusion as to today’s purpose, its goal. She reminded me that these decisions were the joy of this time together, that it was completely mine to do with as I saw fit. As I drank in those words of wisdom, she added, but of course, trimming down that much choice is usually a bit scary.
How did she know that I was fearful?
And then I remember.
These are creatives. They are accustomed to the spirit of their work leading them and not the other way around. They do this through and amongst the fear. They are able to slice through the noise, incorporating what is important, trimming out the rest in order to generate new life.
Perhaps I should too.