June 12, 2021 Days of hiking in Colorado and New Mexico with an incredible, award winning New England artist, Kat O’Connor, gave me new and improved lenses. How do you "see" nature, each other, and the world around you? Is life in neat, straight, linear strokes? Do you always need to have a destination in mind? Some people seem to have lives that a CPA would admire with everything adding up and all the numbers able to be crunched with predictable outcomes, but my spreadsheet is far from being that model. My life and understanding of all that is around me is more guided by wonder, mystery, and circular living. I rarely go from point A to B without some detours or pauses or rerouting. Living the questions with answers that do not always present themselves is more the painting of my life than exact, certain dogma are easily accessed answers.
In nature, there are certainly predictable patterns. There are wonders to behold that astound me with their patterns and purpose. Think of the monarchs or even the change of seasons and wonder is defined. But there are also infinite possibilities of outcomes influenced by weather, environmental change or damage, human footprints, evolution, the amount of sunlight or shadow and all sorts of things. In recent days, we have hiked many miles in all sorts of terrains. The history in some of these ancient settings like Chaco Canyon is such an allure and fascination for me. To traverse majestic waterfalls and rivers in the Colorado mountains is an entire adventure in and of itself. In all of these experiences is an incredible lure to embrace what is often beyond explanation and a bottom-line kind of thinking. I try to suspend expectation and simply become part of the landscape and hike in order to let nature teach me whatever it is that is offered in every moment of the day.
What a wonder it was to "see" nature through a true artist's eyes. Kat stopped often and took hundreds and hundreds of pictures that made me pause and wonder what it was she was seeing in certain rocks or lichen or waterfalls. I mean, I could see the big picture, right? Like, of course, the majestic Piedra Falls in Colorado can hardly be missed because of their power and beauty. But what about the myriad of other photos she was taking? What was she experiencing? My understanding of art is that to some extent, the artist hopes for her viewers to have their own experience. So many times, people, me included, want to know why the artist creates a certain piece. What does it mean to the artist? Can you tell me exactly what you are thinking or wanting me to understand? The answer is usually no. If pressed, some artists will share their own interpretation or something of interest about their process or technique but by and large they seem to want viewers to have their own experience. Maybe, just maybe, that is the way God is too. We are to have our own experiences of living and creating. Perhaps we can begin to see as God sees by simply becoming aware of what and who is around us and letting life teach us as we embrace it all. I think of God as offering invitations for me to "see" with eyes of possibilities and beauty and love and then calling on me to help create it.
One early morning, I went out on a walk in the cool mountain air. As I walked along, I became an artist. Now, don't get your hopes or worries aroused. I am not planning on taking up a paintbrush anytime soon. It might be possible for you to imagine me as a would-be photographer, but an artist would be a stretch. How did I become an artist in that moment? I was looking, paying attention, and letting nature wash over me with all of its surprises. I was seeing art in nature. There in the dewy grass was a snail. I could have passed it up easily but because I was looking to "see", I saw something of beauty. I left it untouched and simply let it become part of me.
This little friend became my teacher. It was just going about its life with purpose and intent. Maybe it was a moment for the snail that was ordinary or routine, but not for me. While it was drinking the dew and making it's morning run, it blessed me with beauty and meaning. There on its shell is a perfect spiral. I thought, "Aha! That is surely a way to live." It fit for me in a reassuring sort of way. No spreadsheet. No straight line. Rather, there was a beautiful spiral with all sorts of little lines and colors extending from the spiral. Talk about possibilities! Wow! The spiral goes in and out. My eye did not have to travel only one way from start to finish. I could let my gaze focus on the variations and markings extending from the spiral with all it's interesting colors. The shell offered a home for the slimy little beauty. From its home base it could reach out and find what it longed for or simply needed. Spiral living? I am going to bless that possibility in myself and feel good about it. I do not expect that everyone needs or wants spiral living or an art-inspired soul. Some may not even see it as a “God Thing”. But to my mind, I am drinking in what I see as the creativity of God for my life and co-creating an art of living in the spiral. I am giving thanks to those around me both human and all creatures great and small who teach me that I can learn to "see" in much richer ways that help me discover who I am and long to be. Just wait until you read about how the mountains or Chaco Canyon ruins were God to me. Buckle up. It will be some kind of ride.