This painting could easily be called Grief and Enlightenment. Or Grief and the Opening Heart. This is the second painting in this series as I paint my grief for my mother’s passing. I ponder the nature of death. I wonder, where is she? Busy, engaged, happy? I think so. I do believe in life after death. George Emery always said, “There ain’t no such thing as dead life.”
What has surprised me the most is the mystical nature of these first few weeks of her passing. I have read a lot about grief and loss. I thought I might understand it to some extent. But no, at least not in my own unique experience. One night I woke from a sound sleep and my dark bedroom was pulsating with soft light in small orbs. Quiet, tone on tone color, moving very gently. I thought, how in the world would I ever paint this? It was a visual experience without insights or emotion.
What I sense is an opening of my heart. I can feel the old emotional barriers coming down. I cannot explain this. I am experiencing transformation. Perhaps as my mother was able to drop the severe limitations of her ending of her last months of life, I too am freed up of those limitations.
It is my sensing that it takes nine months for a human to come into form, and it takes nine months for the energetic body to dissipate after a person passes. I suspect their energetic field is what we carry in close memory for that person.
So back to the painting, bright pink or magenta is my mom’s favorite color. I painted the sheerest of veils. When we communicate with those who have crossed to the other side, what connects the two sides is love. Love IS the permeable veil.
Our mother Mickey Brown passed away on June 11, 2021. She was 95. Her transition took from May 23 – June 11. 19 days. On June 6th I sensed that she was struggling. My feeling sensation was that she was trying to swim in heavy waves, swimming toward the light. I saw the light as the sun going down, all but obscured by the horizon of the ocean. Above it a perfect black sky.
I painted her a path of light through the waves, a safe route to be received into that perfect dark sky. The green line along the horizon is iridescent, a permeable line between our world and the next. I had one canvas in my new studio and my acrylics. No brushes so I purchased some craft brushes for $.89. It is amazing what is possible when the desire is great enough.
Leaving Dry Land, Transition was completed on June 6. Mickey mom passed on June 11. Good work Mom, what a swim.
I am currently touring the American West: first, California, then Nevada, Utah, now Arizona. I first noticed that a landscape can have a distinctly unsettling effect on me at Whitney Pocket, Nevada, which is in Gold Butte National Monument.
The mountains there are violently twisted, and no two grotesquely distorted mountains are similar, even within a one mile area. The earth seems like it has been ripped in every direction just yesterday. I know the mountains are old (the red Jurassic sandstones are 180 million years old), but the force required to tear them apart feels very present, as if the dust had yet to settled.
Paleozoic limestones form most of the ridges in the northern portion of the monument. There were deposited on the shallow sea floor during the Paleozoic Era (between 540 and 250 million years ago). Generally speaking, these are the same sedimentary formations that are exposed in the Grand Canyon. The key difference is that in Grand Canyon the layers are horizontal while in Gold Butte they are tilted. This tilting occurred when this region of North America was pulled apart by tectonic forces roughly 10 to 15 million years ago, during the Miocene Epoch.
This fascinating landscape is endlessly interesting. At first, I was transfixed by the range of hues, the extremes of color from vermillion to corals, to dove gray to black. I saw so many opportunities to paint.
After three days, we started to leave camp frequently. Yes, we were exploring the area as there is lots to see. Then I realized that I was psychically uncomfortable. I did not feel threatened by the landforms, but they unsettled me and made me oddly unable to focus. I stopped painting, and it felt like time to move on. My husband also felt restless, and we agreed that we didn’t need an explanation. We broke camp.
I compare the Whitney Pocket location with the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness of the Colorado Plateau, where we camped for a week. The wilderness is composed of broad plateaus, tall escarpments, and deep canyons. The Paria River flows through the wilderness before joining the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry in Arizona.
The landforms in the area we explored are smooth, reflecting white, the blue of the sky, and red orange. I perceived the energy there as ancient, calm and sacred. I wonder at the contrast between the two landscapes and the dynamic ways they affected my eye and mind and spirit.
Neither area has been greatly impacted by human presence. It was something else that moved in me in ways both unsettling (Whitney Pockets) and grandly peaceful (the Paria Breaks). In both areas, I felt these to be energies not to be ignored but to be respected. I see now more than ever that certain natural areas are not, as we might say, vibrationally resonant with humans and others profoundly are. I respectfully let Nature have her space in her own way. I do not have to understand.
Currently, the day after Thanksgiving, we are camped outside Winslow, Arizona, in an area very like my home landscape of eastern Washington. Rolling foothills rise up to become mountains. Our camp is surrounded by juniper trees and creosote bushes, prickly pear and rocky dry washes.
This feels like home to me, and I am painting every day.
I am walking alone down a wash, a dry river bed in Southern Utah. The sun is low enough to cast a vermillion glaze of color over the highest rock formations.
My route takes me along an increasingly rocky dry river bottom. It is late in the day and I walk in the shadow of the canyon walls. My husband and dog are well ahead of me. I can hear only my own breathing and silence.
The canyon walls are gouged and violently ripped by recent flash floods. Ten foot piles of dry mud and piles of sharp shale, ripped off the canyon wall block my way. I navigate crossing with my alpine poles with relative ease. I am careful. A fall on the sharp rocks would not be good.
But… I have a feeling memory for a moment. I recapture the feeling of being twelve years old again and full of unconscious faith in my own body. I feel once again that I am strong, confident and capable.
And I remember that I was raised for this connection, this integration with nature. My family spent every available hour in wilderness. I was born to this. Rare, lucky, visionary parents.
I continue walking the canyon riverbed. The cerulean blue banding in the cliff looks like clay. I touch it and I distinctly feel the presence of a native woman harvesting the clay for body paint. I can see the red earth and the blue clay on her face and on her pony. They prepare for a ceremony.
The canyon opens into an amphitheater, lit vermillion by the ever lower sun.
The air in the canyon begins to chill and I pause to add a sweater. I hear the jingle of Juneau’s tags on his collar. He has come to herd me more quickly toward Tom.
I can see the white rock forms near our truck. There it is. We pile in, comparing the rock collections of the day. Our trailer is only three miles away. The sun is nearly down.
A year or two ago, I returned from a trip to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico with a head full of ancient Native American history and a mysterious sensing that then is still now.
While I was in that wild place of ancient civilization, I saw and photographed the flowers of the Sacred Datura. They were growing in a dry, weedy area in an alley behind a small town restaurant. They didn’t look like much, but I was beyond excited to see them.
However, the ancient ways of controlling datura dosages seems to be a lost art. For 21st century humans, Datura is deadly, and kills hundreds of people a year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Thousands of others, the group says, are treated for Datura poisoning each year. Consuming Datura is something you do not want to try at home…or anywhere else.
And of course, no discussion of Datura, no matter how brief, would be complete without a nod to the great painter of the West, Georgia O’Keeffe.
Sacred Datura blooms at night when it is pollinated by the Hawk Moth.
Today as I began my open-ended journey across the American West with my husband Tom and dog Juneau, I hiked along the American River and spotted large white flowers in full bloom among the bike trail.
I knew what they were right away, but, I wondered to myself, how could it be that the Great Spirit was showing me a night blooming flower in the morning? My guess is the smoky October skies in California reduced the light enough that the flower was running late.
This is my original watercolor done after that now far-away journey to Chaco Canyon, and I feel it only partially expresses my fascination with Sacred Datura and its companion the Hawk Moth.
Now I have begun a new painting to ask myself, “What secret is Sacred Datura still trying to say to me?”
These are some images from my emerging process with a new painting exploring the powerful source image of the Datura flower.
I went out of my way to see and hear popular poet David Whyte. I could read his poetry in his exquisite backpack book, but no, it was his voice I wanted to hear.
I fought rush hour traffic that day to see him and to hear him read his own work. I wanted to understand his internal path to his unique ideas. Perhaps he is informed by his mother’s ancient Irish tradition; I don’t know, but he takes me new places.
David Whyte arrived to a full house, and he read my favorite poems. For over an hour, his hypnotic voice filled the room. People paid rapt attention-writing in tiny journals, falling under his spell.
When he finished, 300 people started to breathe again, looking at each other with amazement in their eyes. After the reading, David signed books, standing to greet people close up, face to face. He had an exchange with each person including me.
I commented that the theme of the evening seemed to be children. He agreed, and I gave him a warm smile of thanks.
“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn
As I stepped away, my hand moved to the collar of my hooded coat. Precisely at the moment I left David, my hand found a long lost silver feather pin under my collar, a precious pin, given to me with love that I thought I had lost.
I thought: a magical intended coincidence!
In the next moment my hand went to my pocket, and there I found a long lost turquoise bracelet.
It might be easy enough to say, “Well Cheryl, you only wear this dressy Pendleton coat a few times a year.”
But I know, during the time with David Whyte, something in me slipped through into a parallel reality. My new year cycle initiated just then. The old year ended, and the new year began with recovering something invisible yet visible and sacred.
Many artists notice that their best work emerges long after a visit or an experience. Two paintings above are a synthesis of my memories. I did not use a photo reference, preferring instead to see what colors, what shapes emerged just from remembering. I did not use just one scene, Junipers is a composite. The landscape shows a repeating pattern of dotted sagebrush, always a good element for a composition. I have many Juniper stories. I remember the Pariah Canyon country; a juniper loaded with opalescent pale blue berries fluoresced in the starlight. I see junipers as sacred trees and possibly sentient in some way.
Cliff Swallows continue to be a persistent image for many years. We call these long term pictures in our minds Source Imagery. I seem to have a thing for repeating dot patterns. I have seen these nests in Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Washington. I am not sure why they hold such appeal for me. Cliff Swallows are free and beautiful birds. Their flight pattern is fascinating and they build nests from permanent materials, and high on the cliffs, far from predators. I resonate with that.