Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ten years ago today...

Ten years ago today I brought the most wonderful dog home. 
Rowan was such a funny, sweet puppy. We were remembering today what he was like his first few weeks with us.  I remember standing him up (at 12 or 13 weeks) to go outside before I went to bed. He would totter a couple of steps, then fall over sideways and be asleep before he hit the floor. At other times he would race through the kitchen, snatching dish towels off the towel bar and carrying them off with him, obviously laughing as he went. Then he would snuggle in my lap, give me whiskery kisses, and rest his chin on my arm.

Over the years, Rowan has gone all over the place with me as my Medical Alert Service Dog. He is quiet and unobtrusive when out and about with me, but I feel his presence and know he's watching me when awake and even paying attention to where I am when he's asleep.
I am thankful for my Rowan every day I have with him. He watches over me all the time, he gives me quiet company, he is my friend. He understands me and loves me, and I love him more than I can say.

One day when I was feeling down, I turned around from my desk and found Rowan sitting with this pillow just like that. The pillow had been on a chair; I have no idea how it ended up like this.

First day home- September 12, 2003

Monday, August 26, 2013

Painting in the Adirondacks

Last week I spent two soul-refreshing days in the quiet and beauty of the Adirondacks. A friend invited me to her place in the North Woods Club, accessible only by a 10 mile long dirt road that gets progressively narrrower and bumpier the closer one gets to one's destination. Of course there was no cell signal along the road, and I was hoping (at times doubting) that I was on the correct road. Nevertheless, as my car bounced along over stones and rocks, I marveled at the scenery on all sides, from the small scale beauty of a stream gurgling on rocks beside the road to the breathtaking vista of a spruce-lined pond with a backdrop of bluish mountains. I figured that even if I were on the wrong road, it was a fine place to be lost.

Happily I was not lost, and eventually arrived at my friend's house, already awed by the place and eager to pull out sketchbook and paints. Within minutes I was on the deck, sketching the mountains, while sampling a variety of delicious cheeses and chatting with my friend. As evening drew near, we drove to nearby Mink Pond, loaded up a rowboat with provisions, and rowed across the pond to a fire pit on an island, where we cooked steaks and home fries (and, of course, I sketched). Steaks grilled over a campfire taste better than almost anything else, especially after a long day of travel. Only one party at a time is allowed to sign out a rowboat for a given pond or lake, so we had Mink Pond to ourselves. As I watched the reflections on water and the colors of sunset, I marveled that there was no sound of traffic anywhere around-- such a welcome sound of silence.

--Click on photos to see images large enough to read notes--
Polaris Mountain from the deck of the house
West Bay of Mink Pond from Mink Island
Sunset over West Bay of Mink Pond
Sunrise from my bedroom window
Looking toward Mud Pond from Prospect Rock
The second day I was there, we drove along a very long, very, very bumpy road (more like a rock-strewn path through the woods) to a more distant lake-- Split Rock Lake. There we loaded up rowboats and rowed a fairly long way across to a fire pit and lean-to, where we made a fire and prepared to cook burgers, when suddenly storm clouds appeared across the lake. We quickly doused the fire and rowed back through rain, thankfully making it across before there was any thunder and lightning. I love storms, so once back at the house, I happily sketched cloudy skies.
Stormy afternoon view of Beaver Mountain

On my final morning visiting, I again woke early enough to watch the sky turn from dull gray to pink-tinted gray, to a full-blown wash of pink, orange, and purple. Both mornings I was there, I heard loons start calling on the lake just as the first hint of color appeared in the clouds.

I departed reluctantly but well-refreshed, having thoroughly enjoyed good time with friends, the splendor of nature, and the quiet of the deep woods.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Olana Sunset

Olana, the home of Hudson River School painter Frederic Church, is beautiful at any time, and especially at sunset. I was there this week and did a watercolor painting and a quick watercolor sketch.Wednesday was one of those perfect days, with low humidity, warm, but not too hot temps, and a light breeze. As sunset drew near, the breeze picked up, and I had to put on a long-sleeved shirt -- a treat in August, at least for this heat-averse artist. Hints of autumn peering around the corner are always welcome for me.

(Click on photos to view more clearly)

Olana sunset sketch
Olana Sunset Plein Air Watercolor

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Innisfree Garden

I can't believe I've lived here for twenty-six years and haven't been to Innisfree Garden until today. It certainly won't be that long before I go again to enjoy the peaceful grounds, the lily pad bordered lake, the abindant flowers, and the wonderful rock formations. I strolled around the lake with Jonathan, then we each went to whatever spot had caught our eye to spend time thinking, praying, reading, and just being.

I first sat at a picnic table to eat my lunch, then sketched the view looking down the lake.
After that I meandered along the lake until I came to a shady hill with a cool breeze, right by the 60 foot fountain. There were seats on the hilltop, overlooking the lake, where I sat and pondered with pen in hand, thinking about how to add sabbath rest to my week on a regular basis. I think I've decided on Wednesdays. I'll focus on spiritually and physically refreshing activities on those days, and keep internet browsing, email, and phone time to a minimum, in order to help ground myself in the here and now. That will also give me the quiet time for contemplation, prayer, and open-ended musing that I need in order to stay grounded in who God has made me to be.

After writing for a while, I wandered a bit more, until I found myself enveloped in the fragrance of sun-warmed pines on a dry hillside-- the perfect place to sit and sketch.

Finally, rested and refreshed in body and soul, I made my way slowly around the lake until I met up with Jonathan. We then explored, as we compared notes about our day. I'm looking forward to going back very soon.
Bullfrog on lily pad

Partially done sketch from above Corncrib Crossing
Swift Long-winged Skimmer Dragonfly on Lotus bud
One of many benches in strategic nooks

Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Musings on Freedom

Loud noise and parties aren't my thing, so I stayed home when Steve went to a party today, and I've had a delightfully quiet, meditative day.

I've done laundry and hung it on the line. It came in smelling so fresh and clean.

I picked black raspberries from the canes in our yard and ended up with purple finger stickiness.

I enjoyed the flowers. They make me smile every time I look at them. :)
Marigold, red romaine, calendula, green romaine, lemon thyme

variegated Cuban oregano, curry plant, red romaine, marigold, flat parsley

marigold, red romaine, mosqito releling herb?, red romaine, curled basil

lantana, rosemary, red romaine, Cuban oregano

curled parsley, red romaine, celendula, basil, lime thyme

marigold, tomato, red romaine    lime geranium

Bee balm

I also painted a little, did some writing, and read a bit in the book I started a few days ago, all the while musing on the freedoms that have been won for us by those who fought and died many years ago.

Ironically, the book I happen to be reading is Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup-- a true story of freedom lost, when Solomon, a free black man in New York, was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery in Louisiana. I haven't finished the book, but I know that twelve years later he somehow regained his freedom.

Reading this is making me mull on how precious freedom is, and how deeply disheartening it is to be in bondage. I don't know whether slavery was worse for Solomon, who had known freedom and so was fully aware of how unfree he was, or for those who had lived in slavery all their lives and, although well-aware of their enslavement, didn't have any experiential knowledge of freedom. Both are horrifying to read about and imagine.

That train of thought then leads me to muse on the ways I have become free in my own life-- from destructive thoughts and habits, from brokenness, from fears, from the tyranny of sin-- and also to wonder in what ways I might still be living in bondage to some of those things without even know what I am missing.

In Galatians 5:1, the apostle Paul states, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Solomon Northup didn't have a choice; he was forcibly kidnapped, but I do have a choice to stand firm in the freedom that Christ has won for me by his death and resurrection. This evening, as I listen to nearby fireworks celebrating our freedom as a nation, I am also joyfully (but comparatively quietly) giving thanks for the freedom I have received as a gift from Christ and praying that I live as fully in it as he enables me to.
Mid-Hudson Bridge July 2009

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Kisses from Katie-- Book Review

I don’t think it’s possible to read Kisses from Katie and remain unmoved and unchanged. Nor is it easy to put the book down once you start reading it. Katie’s engaging writing draws you into her life with the thirteen delightful children she’s in the process of adopting and takes you along as she visits and ministers to all sorts of people. People who are struggling with situations most of us couldn't even imagine, but who have the same kinds of fears, hopes, and dreams we all have.

Written by Katie Davis, who went to Uganda at age eighteen for a one-year mission trip and has lived there since, this book opened my eyes to some of the most economically destitute, but often spiritually rich, people there are in this world. I’ve heard all my life of people starving in Africa, but I have never been introduced to them as individuals with faith, fears, and longings I could relate to. Katie puts her arms around them and shows them God’s love with food, medicine, tears, gentle care, and the constant message of Christ’s love for them. She listens to their stories and helps each one experience the dignity of being a valuable person created in God’s image, precious to the Lord and to her. She also learns from them, as she sees their gratitude, faith, and joy, despite the losses and hardships they have experienced.

Young though she is, Katie lives more selflessly and wholeheartedly for Christ than most of us would think possible, and she also experiences deeper communion with Christ and more joy in him than most of us know. Throughout the book, she is honest about her own struggles and doesn’t put herself on a pedestal or even think that what she is doing is extraordinary. She shows by her life how one person, relying on God’s strength and following his leading, can do an extraordinary job of bringing Christ’s love to those who are often least valued in the world. 

I finished reading this book last week, but it is still in my thoughts every day, as reading it has challenged me to rethink my priorities and examine the depth of my faith and how I live it out. I am pondering how to follow Katie’s example in my own life. It is unlikely that I will go to Uganda or possibly anywhere overseas to do missions work, but I know I could live more closely with Jesus, more selflessly following him and loving the people he brings into my life.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Melissa's Nature Notes-- New Blog

I have started a new blog, Melissa's Nature Notes, which will be dedicated to nature observations, sketches, and photos. The idea came to me a couple of weeks ago, when Stephen and I were walking on the Dutchess County Rail Trail. We had stopped to look for a bird we were hearing and couldn't identify by its song alone, when several boys zipped by on skateboards, then stopped and asked what we were doing. We told them, and they thought that was pretty cool and stood and listened quietly for a minute, then went on their way, at least slightly more aware of the fascinating abundance of nature all around them. Shortly after they rolled along, a woman walked by, ears plugged with headphones, listening to some electronic device, oblivious to the variety of song surrounding her. And then a group of loud men came by, drowning out the bird song long before they reached us and for some time after they passed by.

As we continued our walk, stopping to look at a snapping turtle beside the trail and to enjoy the vibrant pattern of a male White Tail Dragonfly (and thank him for eating mosquitoes), I thought I'd like to help even a few people walk with more awareness and enjoyment of God's beautiful creation, the natural world that exists beside and around us, but which we so often ignore.

I still muse and doodle on a broad range of topics, so my artwork, random writings, and other musings and doodlings will be on this blog. Some nature posts will probably show up here, too, as well as on my Nature Notes.

Here is the link to my new blog, Melissa's Nature Notes. Please join me in walking with eyes and ears open to see and experience the wonder and beauty of the world around us.
Male White Tail Dragonfly

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Happy 10th Birthday, Rowan!

Funny, brilliant, silly, sweet, watchful, and so much more. In some ways it's hard to believe my furry boy is ten years old. In other ways, it's hard to believe he hasn't always been with me. Rowan takes his job seriously-- to watch over me and remind me to take care of myself. If I am late for a meal, he comes to me, snorting loudly, to tell me I need to attend to something. If I don't figure out what he's talking about (or I ignore him), he'll bark to let me know it's important. As soon as I "get it" and walk into the kitchen, he lies down and goes to sleep, knowing that he's done his job and communicated successfully with me.

I know Rowan can't read, but one time I came into the room to find him lying with this pillow leaning up against him. It had been on the chair when I left the room, and no one else was home at the time. I don't know how he knew I needed that message that day, but he made sure I couldn't miss it.

Rowan also watches over the other animals in our home and runs to check them if they yelp or start throwing up or suddenly start to limp, and often has then run to me and led me to the animal who needs my attention. When I was visiting a friend a few months ago, he alerted her to her blood sugar being too high. I call him my EMT dog-- he's a first responder here in our family.

Life isn't serious all the time, though. Rowan loves to play, whether with a toy or a an empty flower pot. When I'm gardening he hovers, waiting for me to get the plant out of the pot, then he grabs the flower pot and runs, cavorting like a puppy, sometimes with the flower pot covering his whole face.
Happy Birthday, Rowan, my wonderful boy, and may you have many more! I am blessed to have you in my life.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

PJ-- July 2001 to May 28, 2013

PJ was my friend Sarah's dog, and I got to know her well while I was pet-sitting when Sarah would travel. Later on PJ spent a fair amount of time with me and always fit in as a sweet, happy member of our family.

It was a kind of grace to be PJ's friend. She came to Sarah as an unsocialized, semi-feral puppy, and Sarah slowly, patiently taught her to trust. Over time PJ became more and more social and ended up loving people, but when I first met her as a two-year-old, she was still quite reserved. I immediately felt an affinity for this shy, camouflaged sprite, who so loved being quietly outside by herself, and I always felt it was a gift and a privilege to have her trust. Sarah often said that PJ had the same personality as I, but in a dog's body. Maybe that is why PJ and I connected right away; I felt as though we understood each other without words.

PJ was an observer. She spent much of her days watching and waiting in eager expectation. Hour by hour contentedly watching a tree in which she knew a squirrel sometimes foraged. Waiting patiently for a woodchuck to come out of its hole. Watching and waiting while a squirrel walked within a few yards of her on the deck. Weather rarely deterred PJ, and she would frequently ask to stay outside when the other dogs came in.
Watching the Horse Chestnut tree on a rainy day

Watching the world with her, whether slowly meandering through the woods on leash, investigating every interesting scent, or roaming fields searching for something moving subtly under the grass, or sitting on the deck with her watching her watch a tree for hours, opened my eyes to much that I may otherwise have missed. During times when I might otherwise have been stressed, PJ often helped cultivate a peaceful spirit in me, attentive to easily-overlooked but fascinating aspects of the natural world around my home.
My shadow and PJ, enjoying a winter woods walk
 I miss the gentle tap on my elbow or soft poke behind my knee that were her quiet ways of saying, "Hi, I'm here with you." I would turn to see those bright eyes, that sweet expression or happy grin, and her wagging tail. I miss the thump, thump, thump of her tail on the floor whenever I'd look in her direction. I miss her uniquely beautiful ears that would twitch slightly in my direction to greet me, when she was "watching."

PJ, beloved scruffy girl, I miss your gentle spirit and quiet zest for life. I will watch and wait and remember all you taught me.
A young PJ, in pencil
watercolor sketch done in the field
How to Appreciate a Tree, by PJ
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