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To hell and back

I love this quote:  

   “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”  – Winston Churchill

On the subject of being a great artist, Martha Beck has this to say: “Great artists embrace the full catastrophe of our condition and find beyond it an even deeper truth of peace, healing, and redemption.”

What a striking thought this is.  I remember one time I painted a self portrait immediately after an extremely painful experience.  I was hesitant to exhibit this piece, yet over the years this is the one that people will gravitate to.  That’s great…except I don’t want to paint this sort of thing.  What I want to paint, as I’ll bet you’ve guessed, is nature.  What may not be obvious is that the nature I paint has, in fact, gone to hell and back.  I am so fortunate to live here in “Chicago-land”.  Long ago the men who designed the city had the foresight to set aside large tracts of land, even along the lake front.  Over the years we have learned that merely setting it aside is not enough.  Many of our preserves have been downstream of pollution, or been used for dumping, off-roading, and a variety of other destructive practices.  It is with a sense of celebration that I look at these places now.  

Prairies, wetlands, woodlands and savannas still exist here, but not in large enough pieces to be self-sustaining.  This brings me to another treasure to be found here in the Chicago area: many, many well-informed people willing to roll up their sleeves.  Volunteers work with Forest Preserve Ecologists to keep invasive exotic species at bay, to restore water flow, and maintain the balance of systems.  We conduct prescribed burns, cut buckthorn, pull garlic mustard, and collect seed.

Being a part of this for over 20 years has taught me that things can heal.  Bird populations can rebound, prairies can reestablish, even a broken heart can learn to feel joy once more.

When I listen to the news it sure sounds like the whole world is going to hell.  What a relief to know we can come out the other side, bringing with us new understanding that we can use to lift up others.

5 thoughts on “To hell and back

  1. I would have loved to have seen the prairies 300 years ago, with grasses taller than a man and the wetlands where migrating birds could rest and regenerate. We’re so lucky to have people such as yourself who are actively helping to preserve the prairies.

  2. There are green shoots all over the world. Do not be downhearted. See the growth and recovery where it is.

    1. Hi Clare, thanks for stopping by. I agree completely, we should note where the growth and recovery are and cherish it.

  3. A very interesting post. I think there is a lot to be gained from the story of the self portrait after a difficult experience, that is appreciated by those who look at your work, without their knowing all that went into it.

    1. I have been reading biographies of artists and the portraits they create, and it is interesting and sometimes deeply moving. The human face can tell such a story, can’t it?

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