ON THE RUN

There is a proverb from the Crow Nation that says “One must face fear, or forever run from it”. Of course, many other cultures have their own variation of this same wisdom.

I know a few things about fear, as I have spent a great deal of my life running from it. It is no secret that an artist’s life is anything but easy and mine has certainly been no exception. For me, fear has come in all shapes, sizes and colors  -I will spare you the details, but let’s just say if you name it, I have probably been afraid of it. Fear is an excellent tool for motivation sometimes. It is also quite effective in manipulation; Parents, teachers, religions and governments all have been known to use fear to their benefit. I think it is fair to say that we are taught about fear from a very young age.  

Recently, my fears have manifested themselves around loss. In this chapter of life, my greyhound, Olive, became a senior citizen. Of course, she had been aging all along, but her years never really registered with me before. Her face had become white, eyes cloudy, and the day to day routines were becoming somewhat challenging. Still, Olive remained a happy dog and always did her very best to please. For more than eleven years, Olive was by my side. She was part of every major event in my life, and of course, the small ones too. She was the first consideration in just about every decision my wife and I made together. Few people realize this, but adopting Olive was actually the final deciding factor, in leaving the security of my day job of twelve years (I was a studio artist for an industrial design firm). I had a great deal of fear during this transition, and Olive helped me get through. Whenever I would go shooting in the rail yards, Olive always had my back. She would also keep a close eye on me in the studio, making sure all was in order while I worked away on my canvases. I think I will always find great joy in the thought that, long after I’m gone, my paintings will be authenticated by the greyhound fur stuck to the varnish. In my off hours, Olive always stayed close by, quite literally.  She would even follow me into the bathroom!  In large part, this sort of thing is consistent with typical greyhound behavior. They are known to bond very strongly with their humans. Still, it always felt more personal with Olive somehow. I had very quickly come to rely upon her support in my life. How could I not?  She was absolutely delightful, and her presence felt like a promise of strength. With her help, indeed, I managed to face a lot of my fears.  

When Olive turned 12, it became very apparent to me that the end was near. Some greyhounds live longer, but for the most part, 12 is a pretty good life span. As much as I tried to deny it, Olive’s body was gradually slowing, and starting to fail. I looked for any excuse I could find, to dismiss her symptoms. Ultimately though, there is just no escape from truth or time …really, for any of us.  Still, and no matter what may have been ailing her, Olive knew exactly what I needed and never failed to bring ease to my concerns. Towards the end, I think Olive was more worried about me, than the other way around. I suppose she just sensed my anxiety, and acted accordingly. More than ever, Olive stayed closer to my side, even though getting around wasn’t so easy anymore. During this time, fear weighed very heavy upon me. I was afraid for Olive. I was afraid that she would need me, and I couldn’t be there to help her, as she had always done for me. I found it near impossible to leave our home, since Olive had difficulty maintaining traction on our concrete floors. Just walking around the loft could be treacherous. What if she slipped and needed help getting up? -or worse? Of course, we added rugs, blankets and anything else we could think of doing to make life easier for her. But, I became somewhat of a recluse anyway. I just couldn’t enjoy being out with friends, with all the worry I felt for my girl at home. It didn’t matter to me that she would just be sleeping for the most part. It is only now with hindsight, that I realize how much I was consumed by fear in this chapter. It also never occurred to me that Olive had absolutely no fear whatsoever. Now that I think of it, she was actually very happy-go-lucky! Perhaps, Olive just understood that death is a natural part of life. She knew her time was coming to an end, and she intended to make the most of every moment she had left. Olive so clearly expressed her love for us and appreciated all the love she received in return. She also didn’t hesitate to soak in all the wonderful things in her life that she could still enjoy. In her final moments, Olive seemed to understand exactly what was happening. In the most sweet and gentle manner, Olive let us know that she was happy and at peace. What a gift. It was in this moment, that I realized something for the very first time and will never forget: Time is truly precious and love is forever. 

Suddenly, I was afraid no more.

Pack

There is quiet solitude in the rail yards. I deliberately visit them in the early morning hours or late afternoons when shifts have ended for the day and no one is around. Being alone in the yards is exactly how I prefer to experience them. I am able to take my time, study details and allow myself to be moved by a subject. Occasionally, I stumble upon wildlife. Most often, birds of common species like pigeons or gulls that have perched along the tops of parked train cars and the power lines above. They are at rest and seem to be enjoying the same seclusion that attracted me. In my years of exploring rail yards, I have learned to look for these birds, as they are an indication that no one is present to startle them. Perhaps more accurately stated… No one present to call the cops on me. Far less often, I see feral dogs, coyotes and foxes wandering the yards in search of a meal. Whenever I see them, I pause for a moment with a sense of awe. Rail yards do not afford much consideration for any species of life. Hazards are everywhere. Aside from the obvious peril of a fast moving train, rusty spikes, broken glass and who knows what else could be lurking in the weeds and debris. The risk of danger is always just one misstep away. In all this ugliness though, something truly splendid is revealed: An unyielding will to live despite overwhelming obstacles and odds against survival. I cannot help but feel a certain bond with these creatures.

Visitor

In southeast California lies nearly 800,000 acres of national park known as Joshua Tree. Named after the trees that are native to this region, the area is just slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island. The varying characteristics of this land are determined primarily by elevation: The higher Mojave desert, and the lower Colorado desert. The San Bernardino mountains traverse the southwestern edge of the park. Many of the animal and plant species have evolved with special adaptations to survive the very low water levels inherent to this land.

The earliest known inhabitants date between 8000 and 4000 BC. Later residents include the Serrano, Cahuilla and Chemehuevi peoples. They were mostly hunter gatherers who subsisted largely on plants and small game. In 1772, the Spaniards entered the region to spread Christianity among the natives. Throughout history, many people have visited this land: Explorers, fur trappers, cattle ranchers, miners and countless others.

While some may come to Joshua tree in search of opportunity, others wander through on uncertain paths. This vast and majestic landscape has always compelled visitors to discover its secrets. For many, the desert offers spiritual cleansing, an escape, a way out, or a place to be rescued. Whatever the reason, we are all visitors, passing through time and space. In the end, our purpose can only be to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.

(Based on Aboriginal proverb)