This painting springs from my years of being a butterfly monitor. Those were glorious years that I was fortunate enough to be able to share with my children. I couldn’t give them all the freedom and wild nature that I grew up with, as it is largely gone. But thanks to the foresight of the Forest Preserve District I could get them out into what remains.
Here is a small painting fresh off the easel so I can share one of these preserves with you, too. Rollins Savanna is a gorgeous piece of land that was once a farm. Situated between 3 violently growing suburbs, I thought for sure it was doomed. I am so thankful that, instead, it has been set aside as a Forest Preserve. Drainage tiles were broken, bringing back ribbons of ground water which in turn have attracted ground nesting birds and water birds. Grand old oaks spread out their limbs here, reaching first to the sky and then stretching all the way to the ground. Majestic. Life is good.
But it isn’t, for everybody. The gallery that represents me is located in Chicago, so every so often I must drive downtown, through neighborhoods where there aren’t a lot of birds singing. In the newspaper there are frequent articles about the youth self-destructing in the South side of Chicago. I just finished reading a book about the nature of life on Earth, and the author made mention of future discounting. In particular he spoke of the youth in Chicago! He made the point that if a person doesn’t believe in a future, they will act with shocking short-sightedness. Immediate returns become precious: get your girlfriend pregnant (pass on your genes), kill the guy who just insulted you (defend your ego at all costs). Stores have all packed up and fled the violence, schools are being closed, and the people who live there don’t see any other reality beyond poverty, drugs and guns. Can’t you just hear the thoughts running through their minds? How do you have a dream of your own when it’s kill or be killed out there?
Don’t get me wrong. Chicago is a beautiful city with a lot of good going on. My concern is that the good stuff isn’t available to the people who need it so desperately. We don’t see African Americans at restoration workdays. Nature Preserves are pretty far from their world. I don’t know what the solutions might be. I’m a country mouse that doesn’t have much influence in an urban environment. But what strikes me is the parallel with Buddhist teaching, that it is our thoughts that cause suffering. If a person is busy being tormented with thoughts of despair, it will be impossible to, say, come up with a small business plan that does not involve guns or drugs or prostitution. I’m not sure they need a bunch of white folks descending on them to ‘fix’ things. I believe they need a way to think new thoughts, to dream.