Monday, August 6, 2007

Endless Desire

Yesterday at an art fair in Anacortes I found a print from an artist named Yukie Adams who was married to an Alaskan Tlingit man and paints her own designs based on northwest Native American legends. The piece is called “Endless Desire” and has the image of a stylized raven carrying the sun in its beak and a salmon in its talons. The story goes that Raven kept the sun captive in it’s beak until one day it became hungry and asked a fisherman if he would trade his catch for the sun, secretly planning not to hold up his end of the bargain. The fisherman agreed to the trade, but when the raven opened its beak to eat the fish the sun flew free up into the sky, where it remains to this day. The fisherman, seeing that the raven no longer had anything to trade, took back his fish. So the raven that wanted everything for himself, ended up with nothing but his own humility.
This is a state of mind I can relate to, and because the raven feels like a totem to me, I bought the beautiful print and took it home, where it sits on the mantle and reminds me of my tendency to constantly live in a state of endless desire, instead of, say, gratitude and grace.
Here is what I am grateful for this summer. The way leaves sprouted from the dry twigs of bare trees into a myriad of colors and formations that I am just now starting to recognize. The drooping hemlock tree, the sweet smell of cedar, and a snow of birch seed scattering in the wind. The mother deer and her two newborn fawn that wander by my open garage/studio door and watch in blank curiosity as I paint. The gnarly twisted lichen ridden trees in our back yard that are suddenly sprouting cherries and apples and pears. The little black lambs born to white sheep at the farm down the street that are miraculously growing plumper and lighter by the day. Little miracles. How many different ways a flower can grow, a plant can send its seed into the world. The other day we sat in a dirt path in silence, listening to the seedpods of the scotch broom rattle softly in the breeze, then snap and click as they explode and twisted into perfect twin spirals under the heat of the sun.
We have seen cedar waxwings snap up dragonflies in their beaks just a few feet away from our faces, heard the deep bellowing of bullfrogs in a pond at the Earth Sanctuary. Seen eagles peer down from an enormous nest perched high on top of a telephone pole above the highway. Watched the huge bulge of a freshly caught fish work its way down the throat of a great blue heron as it stands motionless in a pond teaming with life. Dozens of crows wake us each morning with a raucous cawing and squawking and lurk in the trees like clumsy shadows or pluck ripe plums for their endlessly hungry offspring. Bats squeak and fill the night with eerie silent flapping of velvet wings from the bat house above the Bayview store. Barn swallows that perch like a row of commas on the telephone wires, then slice through the air in swooping arcs. Scarlet tanagers. Electric yellow goldfinches. The rambling briar of blackberry bushes that skirt our back yard and house the countless bunnies that feed on our lawn every morning and evening. The blackberries are almost ripe now, and each day we go out to check them, dreaming of pies. No, not yet, but soon.
Then there is the surprising realization that I am no longer just observing all of this, but that I too, am being observed. Every animal I see is acutely aware of my presence, and possibly plants as well. I am a participant in the great miracle of life, changing and growing and ripening with each passing moment.
All of this has been a gift, and I am nothing if not grateful for this oozing abundance of nature on my front doorstep. Who wouldn’t be? But is it enough to quench the Endless Desire? So far I have not been able to make a living in this place, not been able to sell a single painting. After all, even with the sun in my mouth, won’t I still get hungry?
There is also this: The solid experiential knowledge of just how temporary this moment is. Knowing that winter will come again, bringing with it all of my fears and discomfort of the cold and rain and snow and long dark days, lurking just a few precious months away.
We are hoping to spend the winter in Mexico, to find solace in the sun and lively culture. How we are going to manage this logistically remains to be seen, but the desire is there, and we are exercising our faith muscles daily….
In preparation for our trip and because I slipped it onto his bedside table, Mark is reading “Rain of Gold”, by Victor Villasenor, a fictionalized history of modern Mexico. He tells me that during the Mexican revolution when people were starving at the borders trying to cross over to the US and scraping by for their survival, they still managed to find gratitude for what they had: life, family, a sun that rises every morning and a sky of stars to sleep under. The gift of hands to work and pray with. The less you have, it seems, the more you have to believe that there is something to be grateful for.
Sometimes you just have to let go of what you are holding on to, and let it fly free.