It´s an early Sunday morning in late April here in Barcelona. The day is just beginning to blossom. There are still one or two stars visible in the azure colored sky. One of these starts is Jupiter. And curiously, the color azure is said to represent Jupiter. Azure is a stable, calming colore evoking physical and mental relaxation, stability, calmness, and nature. There is the distant call of birdsong to be heard, nature´s music.
Speaking of nature, I have my painting gear in the corner, packed up and ready to go. I am about to go outdoors to paint for the first time this year. I often paint in my studio, but painting outside, in plein air, provides one with that direct contact with nature which is so nourishing to the spirit.
Lately, I have felt a growing desire to be within her. I spend much of my time in the city. I think that recently the constant, relentless noise and frenetic energy of the city has begun to wear me out. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. We were fortunate to have easy access to nature in the form of a lake, rivers, and Aztalan State Park. I, with friends or alone, spent much time there, playing. Now, looking back on it, I am very grateful for that, and to my parents for having the wisdom to see the value of raising us within a stone´s throw of the wild. And what´s more, for giving us the freedom and the space to run off and be alone in the open fields, or in the woods amongst the trees, to play near and in the river and lake.
As I sit and write this, I am listening to Christina and Michelle Naughton play Aaron Copland´s rendition of the Shaker folk melody “Simple Gifts”, which he wrote for Martha Graham´s ballet, “Appalachian Spring”. Simple Gifts was largely unknown and forgotten outside the Shaker community until it was revived by Copland.
The Naughton Sisters are twins are from Madison, Wisconsin. Listening to them now, this morning, carries me to a higher place. It also carries me back to that place, my native soil.
The Shakers were an exiled community of English Quakers and French Camisard Protestants who migrated to the United States in the 18th century. They were known for their ” ecstatic worship-ceremonies that included trembling, shaking, spiritualism and frenetic dances in their worship. For this reason, they soon became unwelcome in their native lands and were forced to flee religious persecution.
There, they lived communally, embracing pacifism, equality of the sexes, and anti-slavery views decades before these were anywhere near the cultural mainstream. “The celibate Shaker ‘family’ was not one of blood relations; rather, all referred to themselves as brothers and sisters”.
Inside Shaker communities, simplicity and hard work reigned. Labor and craftsmanship were seen as ways to worship God, and Shakers became known for producing high-quality furniture, food and household goods. Despite their celibacy, they had plenty of help. Shakers often raised orphans until adulthood.”
As of today, there are only two Shakers left in the world, both of whom remain active and devoted members of their once thriving, now nearly extinct community. The community stopped accepting new members some time ago. And so, while they don´t have much time left here in human form, their legacy will remain in the form of the elegant austerity of their architecture, furniture, textiles, and art.
I read recently that according to the U.N. Environmental Programme, about 200 species are becoming extinct each day. Some reputable Climatologists and Environmental Scientists now say that we must begin to prepare for the collapse and global devastation that is now inevitable and will probably occur sooner than was first predicted, around 2030. And so, I think that all this combined with an age old human longing to return, to connect with Nature, has drawn me to her. Painting is the highest form of praise I can offer. In a sense, it begins to feel like not only artistic inspiration and personal desire, but also a form of tending to and being with One who is in grave danger, a form of hospice care. It seems that the form of simplicity and freedom the Shakers offered is no longer valued, or at least no longer fashionable in the mainstream and amongst the decison makers of our world. But I will carry on painting, as long as there are the trees which provide reassurance, comfort, shade, and oxygen. And the birds who, in spite of our best efforts to silence them, carry on singing to us.
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.