Breathing the Night Air

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” Maya Angelou

I remember the day I drew this picture because I fought with my husband. And in our 23 year marriage, it was the only time he hit me. I don’t even remember what we were bickering over. Just the same stupid shit that all couples argue about. He wasn’t paying enough attention to me, or our son. Maybe that was it.

I was pregnant at the time. About seven months. Large enough to be slow an emotional and uncomfortable almost all the time.

I didn’t think he would hit me, so when his hand slapped me across the right side of my face and cut my lip on my teeth, we were both shocked. He stood there looking at me and the thin trail of blood running from my mouth. And I crumpled into a heap on the floor. I sat there for some time, long enough to hear his footsteps leaving the house and hearing the door shut behind him.

I sat on the floor weeping and felt a tiny hand push my hair behind my ear. Our little son, three years old reached up his sweet baby face and kissed me on the exact place where his father had struck me. It was the sweetest kiss I’ve ever had, maybe the sweetest kiss I ever will have. And I felt so badly for him that he should have parents who could be so hateful.

I put him in the car and we drove to the coast, only ten minutes away. We walked along the docks that night. I smelled the green wind and looked up at the darkness and felt soothed by the same stars that were gazed upon by every human from the beginning of time. And my problems seemed less significant. I loved looking at the boats at night. They bobbed up and down in the waves like corks. The wind blew in from the water smelling like death and life at the same time. I could forget how homesick I was living in a foreign country with not one friend.

I drew this picture while sitting cross legged on the dock, my large belly spilling over into my lap, my little son leaning on my leg and watching my hands. I wondered at the time what he would be like as an adult. And now I know that he wears the evidence of his parents discord on the surface of his skin, and he explodes with anger unless medicated. And I see a younger me pursuing an idea I had, an idea of love, when I should have left it alone. And things have changed between my son and I. He no longer puts his head in my lap and smiles up at me. And I wonder how much less pain there would be in the world if there was no love.

This image is available for download at dalegreenearts@bigcartel.com

Fort Macleod

“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.” Marc Chagall

Four years ago, my sister and I started driving, not knowing where we were going. We lived in Edmonton, the most beautiful place in Alberta, probably the country, maybe the world. We drove south using only the secondary highways which took us through charming small towns. We called it our “White Trash” holiday. Our goal was to visit every dollar store and Wal-mart in every town small enough to have a water tower. We made friendship bracelets peppered with clay beads. We read romance novels. We did sudoku and crosswords badly. We drank specialty coffees in the morning with nothing but the sky for company. We ate pop rocks and licorice and listened to music.

Fort Macleod was one of the places we visited. We camped for a night outside the town in a tiny site nestled against the Old Man River. The town used to be an RCMP barracks and the old Fort Museum is still there to tell the story of our early days in this country. The main drag through town has rows of buildings, many still have the false fronts from the pioneer days to make them look bigger.

We had all the things we needed in our car; a small propane stove, air mattresses, sleeping bags, tents. We traveled around like turtles, carrying our home with us. What a glorious existence to be a nomad. We had no idea where we were going at any given time. We woke up in the morning and said “Where do we want to go today?” And that’s where we went.

Fort Macleod sits just west of Lethbridge, riding high on the prairie like a boat on the swells. I imagine any person who ever saw the landscape felt the same awe and love for the expansive green fields, the largeness of the blue sky laced with filmy clouds, warm winds that embrace. The calmness of the small town local who asks for nothing from you but will give you a smile, hold open a door, ask how you’re doing and really mean it.

I started drawing years ago as a way of documenting the things in the world that are the most beautiful. And Alberta is certainly beautiful. I began to make drawings of anything that struck me, usually an interesting composition. I looked back at my drawings after a 20 year hiatus and saw them as stepping stones sprinkled across a river. They became a path for me to find myself, to be reminded of the reason we are here. And that reason is, love. Love is the only thing that makes Art in any form, it’s the key ingredient to any thing in the world that’s worth doing, the essential component to anything with which we might occupy our time.

When I looked back at the years that have passed and all the many things that have immersed me, I realized that love was often missing from my most important relationships. I had forgotten love. And I can’t go back and live those days again. Those grains of sand have passed me by and I can only learn to forgive myself for my coldness as much as I learn to triumph in my warmth. I see those failings of mine, those days when I was at my lowest and needed a kind word and I decided to put my drawings out for the world. And maybe people might see the same thing about themselves. We’re all human and I know we’re all guilty of the same failings. But we can reach out to each other in our times of need and offer that smile that asks for nothing in return. We can say “How are you doing?” and listen quietly for the answer.

This image is available for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

Athabasca Railway

“Every Artist was first an amateur.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I first saw Athabasca years ago with my husband. He took me there a few months after our wedding to meet his parents. Of course, his parents didn’t live in town. Like most retirees, they lived in a year round cabin outside of the city. But is Athabasca a city? I have no idea. All I know is it isn’t large enough to have a Wal-mart.

The Athabasca Railway building is situated on 50th Ave, the main drag through Athabasca right by the river front park. I don’t actually know if it’s a railway building. The sign outside says Visitor Centre so I’m pretty sure people visit there. But the building looks alike a railway station so that’s what I’m calling it. You can see the sketch for yourself and decide.

Athabasca is a small town settled on the Athabasca river. It was a trading port and the river used to be instrumental in the trade routes. Imagine large wooden boats sitting low in the water and large, unwashed viking sized men rowing on either side. That’s what it used to be like in the early days in Athabasca. Or at least it might have been like that. I just made that all up. But it seems likely.

The river is pretty massive and, in winter, ice creeps over the edges until it meets in the middle and the river is frozen solid. All around, rolling hills covered in shrubs wash over the landscape like an ocean. Hard working people live there, people willing to eek out a subsistence living from the stony earth.

I loved it the moment I saw it with my young husband. He took me on a tour of the town. And whenever we visited there, we took the same route that became familiar to me. Every friendly home and building sat still, frozen in time, as if waiting for me to come back. We drove around all the same places, the rooming house where his mother grew up, the old brick school house, and the Burger Bar before we drove out to Island Lake where his parents lived. And we always passed the house that had the mechanical moose standing out front.

Writing about Athabasca is hard for me because I drove there about a year ago to put some of my husband’s ashes in the lake. We had spent so much time driving around the dirt roads on quads and swimming in the cool water. Fires by the shore, fireworks reflected in the glassy surface on Canada Day. I think the main reason I don’t like to go back there is because I see remnants of those memories everywhere and I’m reminded that they meant more to me than to him. I’m reminded of times when we were loving and times when we were not. I’m reminded of arguments and embraces and despair and anger and passion. But those things are over now. And every time I feel the ghostly fingers pulling me back, my heart is broken all over again. Holding on to them does no good. So I have to let them go and let him go. And now I realize that when I visit a place that holds onto echoes of his short life, it pricks a hole in the bottom of my happiness and washes it away.

I drove there that last time with our son in the car. We walked down to the lake front with a few friends and family in attendance and put pieces of him in the edge of the water. And I had to smile so they didn’t see how the burden of facing his memories weighed me down. I wanted to go on that tour of town again, the one we used to take every visit but I couldn’t. We left Athabasca and my son fell asleep on the way home. I’m happy he fell asleep because I didn’t want him to see me cry. So many places I’d love to draw in Athabasca. I truly love the place. But I’ve never been back since and I’ll never go there again. I have pointed my life elsewhere and this drawing is one of a thousand memories I carry with me.

This drawing can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com


Animals we love

“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” Immanuel Kant

This lovely ginger cat is called George. My son picked him out of a litter after his first cat died. I was a little worried how the dogs would react to such a tiny kitten. I was worried that we’d lose him in our huge house. It turns out I didn’t need to be worried about any of it. The dogs immediately ran over to him and licked him all over. Our female dog followed him everywhere. We always knew where the kitty was because she followed him. If she was looking under the sofa, we knew George was under the sofa. If she went downstairs slowly, then George was going down the stairs slowly. We’ve had him for 6 years and he’s the only cat who allows the dogs near him. He’s fat and happy and we adore him.

This cat is called Bridget. We got her and her brother after my youngest son broke his leg and was stuck on the sofa. My sister and I saw a sign posted at the 7-11 that there were free kitties to give away. So we called and went out to see them. The mother of the kitties was taken in by two kind men who had seen her thrown from a car. They rescued her and took her to the vet who had to amputate her tail because it was badly broken. They think she was thrown away because she was pregnant. She had three of the cutest little babies I’ve ever seen. We took two of them home. She is the only survivor. Her older brother, Dragon, had to be put down because of kidney problems. He’s buried in a grave at my Mum’s house. But Bridget’s still running around. My son’s friends call her Kinja because they say she’s a kitty-ninja. She can jump from the ground to the top of our 7 foot entertainment stand. Our other kitties watched her with jealousy so much that we had to build a ladder for them to climb up so they could enjoy it too. 

This is Cleopatra but we call her Cleo. We got her to be company for our older dog who destroyed the house every time we left. He was lonely and she was good company for him. They were close friends for 8 years until he had to be put down only last year. Now she follows us around, lost. We try to take her places in the car but she still gets so excited. She won’t sit still. You’d think an arthritic 10 year old labrador retriever would sit down as much as possible but she’s still as energetic as when we got her years ago, small enough to fit in a handbag.

This is Stripe. This was his last photo. We got him in Portland, Oregon. My older son picked him out of the litter and he’s our longest lived pet of 16 years. We got two kitties when we got him but the other one, a white one, called Yeti, ran away. He came back one time and we were so excited to see him but in the morning he was gone. We never saw him again. Stripe came to Alberta with us so he’s an international traveler. He was an indoor/outdoor cat for a long time but when he started to get cataracts a couple of years ago, we kept him inside. He became a permanent fixture on my bed which has a heated blanket I turned on to keep him warm. We knew he didn’t have much time left when he started losing weight. And he would meow loudly as if he were lost. I think he was getting Alzheimer’s and just didn’t know where he was. And on the last day, my older son and I both knew he didn’t have much time left. He couldn’t walk anymore. We took him to the emergency vet to be put down. My brother came to my rescue so I could hold him. I didn’t want his last trip to be in an animal carrier. We took him and told him what a good cat he was and let him go. We’ll take him to my Mum’s house to put him in the ground with Dragon.

Animals break our hearts. They creep in through the hard exteriors that grow around us. They love us no matter what we do. I shut Stripe in a closet once and he was there for 3 days. I was thinking he ran away but my younger son heard him meowing at night and let him out of the closet I had shut him in. And he still loved me. They love us even when we don’t deserve to be loved. They love us even when we don’t want to be loved. And we keep looking for that acceptance that we rarely get from humans. We look for love. We put ourselves in a position to be hurt and we get hurt. And still we look for that connection. Just like when we look for love in humans. Only animals are better than humans. And when we take them for their last journey, we can’t explain what we’re doing. They don’t understand what’s going on. We can’t say good bye in words they will understand. And we see in them our own humanity, our own end, our own final journey. Will we see them again? Is there a life beyond this one? These animals of ours will know the answers to these questions before we do. We love them even though we’ll never be good enough to deserve their love. We love them and that’s enough.

Athabasca Wedding

“To be an artist is to believe in life.” Henry Moore

I never had a proper wedding. But years ago, I attended a ceremony that I wish was my own. I didn’t know many of the people there. My husband was a high school friend of the groom but I didn’t really know anyone. I was shy and three months pregnant so I spent most of the wedding watching from the side lines while other people drank alcohol. I sipped on water wishing I could look as classy as the bride in her simple dress. We stuffed ourselves with homemade Ukrainian food but not the cabbage rolls. I still can’t eat cabbage rolls

My husband and I couldn’t afford a wedding gift. He was still a student and I had just graduated from art college which qualified me to do absolutely nothing. But I always said I’d make a painting for them. That was the plan at least. Between raising 2 kids and moving to another country and starting a career in nursing, I forgot about it. Years later, I was reviewing all my old sketches and I found the series I made that special night. Looking at those old sketches, I began making compositions in my head. They were all based on the church and drawings of people at the reception. Even though the image is based on the wedding, I took a great deal of license with the painting. I wanted the surface of the painting to be divided up with shapes of flower petals and it oddly made the church look as if it were made of stone. But really, it was a wooden structure, like most prairie churches. I had fun adding embellishments that weren’t really there, lines and shapes that offered nothing but the joy of playing with different colors next to one another. I allowed myself the pleasure of applying color, not just recording the images, but painting the emotions. There are many different incarnations of this drawing. One sketch has the bride and groom holding hands and flying through the sky like a Marc Chagall painting. But this was my favorite composition.

I brought the the painting to the couple 25 years after it was due. They’re still together and very much in love. The groom teared up when he saw it, obviously still smitten with his bride. I spent an evening with them drinking wine. They told me the story of how they met. Who can resist a romantic story when a man sees the love of his life and does whatever he can to be with her? It’s the plot of almost every romantic comedy. But it’s rarely seen in life.

On the bottom of the canvas I painted the words, “The sky was aflame with roses on the day she said I do.” They have the kind of love everyone wants but not many people get. This painting was for them and for everyone who can find a warm hand to hold at the end of the day and a soft voice to whisper “I love you,” into the shadows of our own loneliness.

This drawing can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

Sunset

“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” Edgar Degas

Alberta is such a beautiful place. I’ve said this to many people and I’ve often been corrected. “You haven’t seen Paris,” they say. And they shake their heads, maybe roll their eyes, firmly believing in my lack of sophistication. But I feel sorry for them. They’ll probably never visit the cities they recommend to me. And they’ll spend their lives hoping to find happiness somewhere else when I can find it right in front of me.

I see beauty everywhere. I see color, and light, and composition. No matter where I am, I can see it. What a sad situation most people are in because they don’t realize they can see it too. Seeing the world in this way is the reason I started painting. My goal is to help people, to remind them of the beauty that surrounds us every day. If they see what I see, maybe they’ll remember it too.

The prairie sky is infinitely charming. From my childhood until today, I’ve watched the sky which is the most magnificent canvas. Morning and evening the horizon is draped with color, like a gift, colorfully wrapped around the edge of the world. Look away and when you look back it’s already changed. Escape is only as far away as casting your eyes upward.

This farm, near Elk Island Park, was a string of ancient buildings, weather worn and broken in places like people. I’m pretty sure they weren’t being used any longer. And chances are, with Edmonton close in proximity, this farm may no longer exist, building gone, holes filled in waiting to become a golf course or hotel. But the painting still hangs on my wall, bringing me back to that moment when I sat quietly watching the sky change on a warm June day in the country.

Find this sketch and the subsequent painting available for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com.

Elk Island Farm

“I dream my painting. And then I paint my dream.” Vincent Van Gogh

Elk Island National Park has always been a part of my life. From the time I was a young child until just a few months ago when I went kayaking on Astotin Lake. 

As an inner city kid living in poverty, my life was anchored in the noise and close quarters of low income housing. But I always had the park with the green smells of the algae, the sounds of the loons calling, the feel of fresh air moving over my skin. Buffalo and elk can be seen close enough to smell their matted fur. Herons and swans gather in flocks. We used to sit on the edges of Astotin Lake and feel the warmth of the sun, the coolness of the water, the grittiness of the sand.

The park is very close to Edmonton but takes on the cloak of a very different world. As a child, and as an adult, I would feel the stressors of life fall away as I left the city. During one of these trips, I saw this little farm, ducks swimming in the water, every building a different shape, trees losing their leaves, sky as blue as a robin’s egg. So this sketch and eventually it became a painting. 

This painting has my favorite tree I’ve ever drawn. It’s perky and happy and energetic, and I’ve used it in three other paintings, like I’ve plagiarized myself.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I’m a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan and that I love farms and that the world of country living was something I craved. Such a different life than I had, clinging to the fringes of society, feeling picked on, pointed at, teased, barely tolerated. The poor kid. The welfare kid. 

It was no wonder I saw a farm as paradise. I could be someone else. I could make a new identity. I could be valued for who I was instead of being trapped in the role of leach on society. I used to fantasize about living on a farm. A strange fantasy maybe but even now, decades later, I think about how ideal my life would be living near the earth and animals.

You can find this sketch and the subsequent painting for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com