The Field Where I Died

“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” Leonardo da Vinci

OK, so I didn’t really die in this field. I took the title from an old X-Files episode where Mulder meets a woman he knew in a former life. She remembers how he died and where and it’s a pretty good episode. It’s also a fascinating subject matter. Like most people, I find myself wondering what happens beyond this life. Reincarnation is a little like being immortal, to become someone else and become someone else over and over until the end of time. To be united once again to our senses. To make love again, to breath air, to feel water running over skin, hear whispered moans, see colors. To live again this painful, joyful, journey of physical existence. Maybe we all have this choice after death. It’s an interesting thought.

So I didn’t die in this field but I had planned on killing myself there. At first, the place I died didn’t seem important, just somewhere my boys wouldn’t find my body. Initially, this field was convenient. Later, I found that it became a friend, a warm companion who would embrace me for one last time on earth. I grew fond of this field with its barn and outbuildings all leaning crookedly against one another, the plowed field, the clouds sitting low in the sky. I came to love this field but, as I say, I didn’t die there.

In my 35th year, I entered the dark shadow of my soul, taking on the failings of others as a cloak that blocked out the sun. Asking myself why I wasn’t enough. Asking why he strayed, why he left, why he came back and finding no answers. I looked up at the world from the bottom of a deep pit, my hands reaching towards the light. I wanted someone’s strong arms to lift me out. But no one came.

I heard of people who attempted suicide but didn’t quite make it. The woman who jumped off a bridge and woke up in ICU with a tube down her throat, ribs wired together, fractures to her face, arms, legs, back. She never walked again. There was also a man who overdosed on medication. He passed out, vomited, and was rescued only to discover he had destroyed his liver and needed a transplant. So I knew if I attempted suicide, I didn’t want to come back. It had to be absolute. There was no plan B.

But as it happens, I didn’t need to depart this world. I found my way out of the pit on my own. I don’t remember specifically what changed my mind, what turn of events made me look in a different direction. But I found after time that happiness occupied more moments than misery. I’d like to say that some specific incident occurred so I could offer help to other people in the same position. But I have no wisdom to convey. I only remember feeling better after a while and thinking how lucky I was to have this life, as flawed and glorious as it can be. I remember sitting near that field and being grateful that I didn’t take my last breath there. I looked to it as a gravestone, marking the time when I could have let my sadness destroy me but I didn’t.

And one of the things that helped feed me during the dark days of my soul was my art. I saw things when I drew them that I didn’t see otherwise. Drawing them helped me see. And in that seeing, I found a fundamental truth of our existence. We are all one. We are all the same. We all suffer the same emotions. And it’s in our shared emotions that we belong to one another. I could see the sadness of other people and I realized I was not the only one who had such thoughts. I was not the only one who was stuck, backed into a corner, attacking anyone who came near like a kicked dog. I found, by looking at others, that we are more similar than different and it’s in our similarities that we can find peace.

This drawing can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

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Running Away From Sadness

“The Artist sees what others only catch a glimpse of.” Leodardo Da Vinci

I spent much of my youth wanting a different family. Maybe everyone does, I don’t really know. But I wanted something different. All around me I could see happy families, families with both a mother and a father and smiling children. They’d play games together, and sing songs and help each other with homework. They always had clean clothes and clean homes and every toy they could imagine lined up neatly on their shelves. Not like our house with the mountain of smelly laundry on the concrete basement floor of our subsidized home, our welfare palace, our monument to poverty. Dirty faces, once weekly baths, home grown haircuts and hand me down clothes that had to last through four children. And a mother who was too tired from facing the world to see that our unhappiness was the same as hers.

So I created a dream family. We lived on a farm. And that’s where I wanted to be. A green place where I could listen to the quiet, rather than hearing the bedlam of the inner city. I wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder, to live in the country with animals and great, broad expanses of prairie around me. I should have been born years ago on the rim of the great frontier, a pioneer full of strength and heartiness. Just like Laura Ingalls.

My greatest wish was to own all of her books. My mother couldn’t buy them for me but at the end of every school year there was a book fair. And if I got good grades, she let me buy one book. So I made it my focus in life to get them all. And through hard work, I got my yearly reward. I had already read them. I spent most of my time in the library. But I wanted a set of books for myself so I could read them whenever I wanted and not have to return them.

I remember playing at a friend’s house and up on a shelf by the door, I noticed a full set of the Laura Ingalls books. They were still in the original plastic. I pointed at them. “Wow, nice.” I said “Oh yeah.” She shrugged. “I got them last Christmas but I don’t really like reading.” And I placed a hand over my heart. How could you get such a wonderful gift and not read it? How could you not love Laura Ingalls? I did eventually achieve my goal. Seven long years and I finally had all the books. By the time I bought the last book in the series, the first book was tattered from so many readings.

Dissatisfaction with life is a difficult habit to break. It followed me into adulthood. So when I got married, I wanted to make things right. I clutched the opportunity to start a new life with my husband. We were going to be the perfect family I had always wanted. I tumbled into the promise of a wonderful future with arms open wide. My children would have all the books and toys they could dream of. We’d eat dinner every night around the table and the house would be clean and there would be enough for everyone so we wouldn’t have to fight over scraps. And when we moved to John D’or Prairie that was when my wonderful new life would begin. I couldn’t believe my luck that we were moving to the country. My life was going to be perfect. At least that’s what I thought in my sweet, optimistic, naive heart.

We moved with our baby son to a place that seemed like the end of the earth. No paved roads, miles from any town, living with strangers in a place flavored with generations of bitterness. And watching eyes wherever we went. No, people, but the feeling of eyes followed us everywhere.

My only solace during that time on the reserve was my art. Artwork puts me into a place of serenity. And that’s where my drawings live. And that’s where I go when I see them. When I make my art, I can feel the bottom. I can touch the source of all that we are, all that makes us the same, all that connects us with each other. I see art and I see infinity. On the reserve, my drawing took my mind away from my loneliness, and made me feel the warm wetness of life all around me.

I had to sketch this John D’or Prairie home. As soon as I saw it, I had to. The satellite dish sat right next to the outhouse. And much like all the other homes on the reserve, it was an interesting mix of modern and ancient.

We didn’t spend much time at John D’or Prairie. Four months or so. Long enough to understand that moving to new surroundings doesn’t change much of anything but our surroundings. If you’re running away from sadness, you don’t leave that sadness behind, you take it with you, the heaviest of baggage.

I’ve come home now, after many years away. Enough time has passed to put lines on my face and streaks in my hair. I’ve returned to the place I wanted to escape as a child, waiting in the starting blocks for the gun to go off so I could run away from it as fast as I could. I returned to this place and the place is the same but I am not. And the thing I discovered is that we are what we love, not what we fear. But here is the unique miracle of our existence. Of all the creatures that have ever risen and fallen on this tiny round stone travelling through nothing-we are able to choose. Imagine an alligator deciding one day to be a vegetarian. It can’t happen. Alligators don’t have the capacity to choose. But we do. We can choose. We can wake up every day and choose. So what do we choose? Some choose anger, some bitterness, some loneliness. But some, far too few, choose peace and happiness and love. And every day we all have the same day, the same now, the same choice. No matter what our outer circumstances, we can choose how we regulate the inner world where we live. And today I choose here. And I choose now. And I choose love.

This drawing and many more can be downloaded at dalegreenearts@bigcartel.com

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

Travelling Like Turtles

“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

Remnants of Memories

“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 lovely scenes sit just waiting for my hand to put them on paper. “Make us immortal,” they whisper to me. I truly love the place. But I’ve never been back since that last visit 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


The Heartbreak of Animals

“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 only 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.

A Special Kind of Love.

“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