The cloud lift is stupendous, ever changing, always restlessly moving.I can stand almost anywhere and, depending on the time of year, hear nothing but birds, crickets, sheep, the wind, the crystal breaking of ice in April. The climate is tempered and I dream of the plants I could grow if I had the soil. I have rocks instead… no end of perfect wall building rocks. It is a fascination I have, creating borders and steps and walls which climb and disappear into the landscape.
I live on an island. There is water all around me. The only way to get off the island is by ferry. The main roads circle the island and have names: North Shore Road, South Shore Road.
Stella Forty Foot and Emerald Forty Foot run through the centre.
They are of gravel and dust.
Island cars are always dirty.
I live on the North shore.
Some say that there is only one place to live and that is the South shore where the winds batter the houses and the waves rise up somewhere out on Lake Ontario and smash the rocks into submissions of smooth shelves, stretching out to the unseen shore of New York State. Sumac will not root itself in the wind. Roofs have to be made strong. No one keeps a boat here. Daylilies and lilacs flourish only blooming weeks after those on the other side of the island.
But I prefer the other shore.
The wind blows well here, too, but perhaps not as often.
I am surrounded by water. The windows of my house look north and see only the lake and the trees between. There are farms in the centre of the island, dairy cattle and sheep. Some years the corn grows, often it doesn’t. I love the old farms. I love the fields of mown hay, and the expanses of long grasses turning impossible colours with the seasons.
These are the scenes I continue to paint. These are the reasons I live here.
Bird by Bird
In the last year I have begun drawing birds. Dead birds to be exact. The first was brought to me by Moritz, my small black cat, affectionately known as Meetzie. An indigo bunting it was. I had never seen one before. I grabbed it out or her mouth but it was already dead and a little worse for wear. It was too beautiful to simply throw away, even to bury. Visions of taxidermy danced briefly though by head until I remembered reading something in Gerald Durrell about having to suction out the brain with a straw. I was not going there (though I have learned since that there is type of suction used on newborn babies which allows one to suction out babies noses without it going into anyone’s mouth) That beautiful indigo bunting went into my freezer. That was in 2000. It was followed by a female cardinal which flew into my window and died. Over the next nears my store of dead birds grew to such an extent that my husband began complaining.
Two years ago I thought it was time to do something about it. I still did not want to simply throw them away, so I decided to photograph them first, then give them a burial in my flower beds.
Just about at this time, I was encouraged to do some drawing with friends on the island, something I hadn’t done in a while. Of course I loved it. My first love has always been drawing. This was followed with coloured pencil experiments. The next step was obvious. Out came the birds. One by one I started drawing them, in pencil and coloured leads. (These I am having a hard time finding. I bought my first set in 1982, and am still using the leads but some are becoming impossibly short.)
After I have drawn them, they do go into the garden. In the spring I have sometimes been lucky enough to find their tiny skulls intact.
Now I find birds left on my doorstep by neighbours who have heard what I do. There are many people who too find these birds too difficult to toss. The latest to come to me is an American Kestrel, very beautiful and perhaps the largest bird I have.
Often I can’t identify the birds even with all my books.
So I draw dead birds. They are definitely dead. I don’t try to make them look alive. I love the way their tiny claws curl in. I draw them as they are, torn, eyeless, feathers ruffled and missing.
I hope I honour them in this way and that their death has its own beauty.