I was visiting my aunt in her small cottage on the outskirts of Grants Pass recently.
Her once deep-red hair is now gracefully white but her figure remains trim. Her once productive studio now holds mostly those paintings she does to amuse herself rather than to sell in Portland galleries.
Her house sits atop a hill among many trees and is so small that whenever we visit her, my wife and our large black Lab and I sleep on an air mattress on the floor of the studio that once was her garage.
She frequently apologizes for our accommodations, but I think I would choose to sleep in no other place. When nature calls in the middle of the night, my dog Calvin and I go out under the trees, where the air usually is clear and fragrant and the stars dramatically visible. Best of all, while I am in her studio I can wander among the racks of her paintings to see what's new and to renew acquaintances with what is old, without her watching my responses to her art.
There are impressionistic water colors that express her varied moods. Some are dark and turbulent, I suppose from the time of my uncle's illness and death, after which she sold the big house. Others are active and brightly colored, revealing her vibrant and buoyant Irish spirit. Some of her paintings sit as a reminder of her continuous experimentation with light and shape and subject and thought. Others are those she claims she does because they sell the best - natural landscapes that reflect her mountain and river environment and others that come from her once-frequent visits to the seashore.
Who is that man?There is a water color of a man paddling a canoe on the Rogue River with a black dog in the bow, that I fancy is me and Calvin. There is an ornate gold frame which provides at least some boundaries to an oil portrait of Moses at the moment God revealed himself to him, with eyes wide open and hair straight out; she admits she sat as the model for that one by looking into a mirror with her best attempt at appearing both awe-struck and horrified.
But one special painting caught my attention. It was a small, matted watercolor of a peaceful brook flowing by brush in its fall colors. I liked it immediately. But then I saw a second, which was so similar, I thought it must be a duplicate of the first. As I held the two side by side, I saw they were different, as though it were another place on the same stream. Then I saw a third, which was very similar yet different still; this one was at the foot of high, snow-bound mountain peak. I was puzzled.
The next morning after I returned from a hike with Calvin and my aunt's Jack Russell terrier, Tuxedo, I found her feeding dried corn to "her" deer near the watering trough in their expansive yard. I watched quietly as the doe with her two fawns approached my aunt and ate out of her hand. Only when she had finished did I dare to ask her about the three similar paintings I had admired the night before.
She turned toward me with a frown, as though trying to remember which one I was talking about. Her usual broad smile returned as she quietly closed the container of corn outside her studio, knocked on its door and went inside. She came out almost coquettishly, still smiling with her eyes sparkling, carrying one painting that was a combination of all three paintings I had discovered. She handed that one to me, explaining playfully that she entitled the original "The Mountain of Life." All three views formed one continuous stream of water, descending the hill from the foot of the mountain and providing sustenance to all the plant and animal life along its way.
Now it was my turn to smile, this time to myself. How often, I thought, I get so focused on my immediate environment that I lose my perspective on the larger landscape and am unable to identify the source and influences on my life. Perhaps that's one reason I am drawn to high mountains. How frequently I get lost in my own personal and private perspective and allow myself to become cut off from all others! How self-centered I am prone to become, especially when I fail to put the effort into gaining the view from higher ground.
I remembered an incident in Christ's life, when those around him were celebrating the Jewish Feast of Booths - commemorating the time during the wilderness wandering when each traveler found protection in their own scanty shelter. In that context, Jesus reminded those around him, "If you are thirsty, come to me and drink! Have faith in me, and you will have life-giving water flowing from deep inside you, just as the Scriptures say." Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit, who would be given to everyone that had faith in him (John 7:37-39). Once filled with God's Spirit, believers are able to see Jesus in his full glory.
As we left my aunt's house to return home, she gave me the painting with the full perspective. Now I must find a prominent place in which to display it.
Doug Rich is the pastor of Pioneer Presbyterian Church in Clatsop Plains in Warrenton