The old Shaker tune, “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free, ’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,” has been ruminating in my mind for some time now. At times I sing it aloud, at others I hum, but most of the time it is in my head. The tune nudges me to look deeper within, to observe more closely, to listen willingly, and remain receptive to truth. These words and phrases have accompanied a nuanced shift within me. This last little while has been a contemplative time and I have come to a place of ‘right-sizing,’ i.e., to come down where we ought to be.
I am a true solitary. I love people, places, and things, but I cherish my time alone. Those who know me well enough, accept that it is unlikely I will show up at events, parties, and huge gatherings of any kind … most of the time. I have had this penchant for solitude most of my life. I have finally come to accept that I truly enjoy being alone, and that I am not wrong for preferring it for myself. Oh, I am far from reclusive for I have good friends whom I visit, a business life and an artistic calling that requires more than ample human contact on a daily basis. No, my solitude is not about hiding from the world, but it is about what I cherish: huge amounts of time alone … and why.
My day begins at 5:30 a.m. with ordinary, simple acts. I feed my two recently adopted cats, Simon and Ella. And, though our winter has been kind this year, it is still winter after all, so I tend to the wood stove and build a fire. After a brief pause to light a candle and incense as an offering of gratitude for the day, I make a hot mug of freshly brewed loose tea. It is an Assam tea from India, and I cannot imagine a morning without this elegant brew. I relish each step in the process of making the tea, even up to the final moment when I pour the milk into the steaming hot mug. It is usually about 6:30 a.m. when I walk, tea mug in-hand, to my writing table and begin my work for this Chronicle and other musings. I still use a fountain pen dipped in ink, for it keeps me grounded. The sound of the pen’s scratch on the paper is a meditation. It also slows my hand and my thinking to a humanized pace. Yes, I eventually take those notes and ideas to the computer, but I begin at the writing table, with the paper journal, a fountain pen, and a hot mug of Assam tea. Each item is a simple thing, but together they converge into a joyful act of writing and creating.
My companion cats, Simon and Ella, were each about one year old when I adopted them last fall. They are moving works of art. When I write, they play, nestle in my lap, or at my feet, and then take up their favorite positions. Simon’s is at the window and Ella’s is on the soft sofa cushion.
Colette, the French writer, once said, “There are no ordinary cats!” She was right. Simon is huge and dramatic as well as a clown. Ella is small, sleek and elf-like with silken fur and likes to snuggle. Simon, more acrobatic, and all male, presents himself when he wants pets and scratches. They sit on each side of me purring soft sonatas. These are simple acts on their part. Ordinary too. But there is an ephemeral grace to these moments that I hold dear.
I do venture into the world, and on this particularly warm January day, I was presented with what I believe to be visual perfection. I am an avid lover of trees, bare limbs, twigs … anything that in its simplicity expresses perfection. A tree at the end of a hay field amidst a fog about to lift is rather ordinary. This one though was speaking loudly saying, “Look at me! I am so strong, so vital, that you can see me through the fog! I am perfection in this Universe!”
On another occasion, I stopped at a French bistro in Hudson, NY to have a special breakfast, for their crepes are superb and the coffee rich. I was the only one there, and after sitting for a short while taking in the environment, my camera settled on two images. The first: just two chairs, a sign, and mirror.
Ah, but the second image took me back to a story I wrote about my mother and me traveling in Georgia in the late 1950s, a grand old black man with gnarled hands, and a red Coca-Cola ice chest.
Recently, I swung into Columbia County to visit Olana, the home of Frederic Church. The grounds represent Church’s largest canvas in my opinion and what a grand achievement it is! But, rather than taking pictures of the vast landscape and stunning Hudson River views, I chose this small twig bench, tucked away in a wooded area.
These days consisted of ordinary, simple acts and things. I think I was able to see them because for the past few months I created a quiet space within. I no longer attempt to add twenty hours to my day either. My work, both my art and business, are important to me and they do demand much from me at times, each in their own way. However, I remain a solitary, seeking my own truths, trying to keep it simple.
It finally snowed just a few days ago. I was passing from my studio into the dining room, when I saw Ella and Simon at the front window. They held this pose, I would like to think, just for me. I walked softly to grab my camera and when I returned, they were still in rapt attention observing a squirrel scurrying about the tree just outside the window.
Simple acts. Simple things. How perfect.
A SPECIAL THANK YOU TO:
Art Murphy, a wonderful photographer, who inspired me to work with a small Canon PowerShot point and shoot. Thank you Art! It was a blast.