Behold

Lake Merritt Fall morning. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Lake Merritt, Oakland. Fall morning. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

 

Lake Merritt Fall evening. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Lake Merritt, Oakland. Fall evening. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

On these short cold days, I walk briskly, but, no matter the time of day, when the sunlight plays upon the lake, leaving reflections in her wake, I linger beholding the sight, grateful for the beautiful light. These paintings – results of my further experiments with oil – attempt to capture the beauty. November leaves us shaken and sad for lives lost in Beirut, ChicagoColorado, Mali, and Paris; we are sobered by the choices ahead. What path do we take? In his book, Nonviolence: Twenty-five lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea, Mark Kurlansky counsels “violence is a virus that infects and takes over.” So, how do we heal ourselves? Sage Buddha teaches “when the world is full of evil, transform all mishaps into the path of enlightenment.” The path will be challenging and we will do well to remember these words: “in a time such as this, when we have been most seriously and most cruelly hurt by those that hate us, and when we must consider ourselves to be gravely threatened by those same people, it is hard to speak of the ways of peace and to remember that Christ enjoined us to love our enemies, but this is no less necessary for being difficult” writes Wendell Berry In the Presence of Fear .

 

Iridescence: trust

Iridescence. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Iridescence. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Before leaving town, I drove over to my friend’s house to say goodbye and thank her again for the paddleboard adventure. My memories duly recorded of a beautiful November afternoon, the sun warm on my face as we glided on Elkhorn Slough off Monterey Bay. The wind picked up in the afternoon, bringing a slight chill. The breeze also brought waves rocking the board, challenging my core. Only my second time out on the board, I was still learning to balance…still learning to trust my ability to dance gracefully on a fluid surface, keeping time with water’s rhythms. Dancing the cha-cha, badly, with the wind and the waves. But when I relaxed, letting my mind and body live in the moment, I walked on the water.

Dogen meditates in his Mountain and Water Sutra “all waters appear at the foot of the eastern mountains. Above all waters are all mountains. Walking beyond and walking within are both done on water. All mountains walk with their toes on all waters and splash there.”

My friend was in the garden, cutting a single white flower, a dietes, a wild iris, from her garden, to place among the blue iris, waiting in the vase on her table. It was a beautiful juxtaposition: backlit, the iris emerged from the darkness, well situated on the tablecloth, a spectrum of colors. The image cried out to be painted in oil, but I am a watercolorist. With limited experience in oil paints, I have no trust in my abilities, in my mind and body to work together, no confidence that I could walk on water.

Gary Snyder writes in his essay Blue Mountains Constantly Walking published in The Practice of the Wild “there’s all sorts of walking – from heading out across the desert in a straight line to a sinuous weaving through the undergrowth. Descending rocky ridges and talus slopes is a specialty in itself. It is an irregular dancing – always shifting – step or walk on slabs and scree. The breath and eye are always following this uneven rhythm…the alert eye looking ahead, picking the footholds to come, while never missing the step of the moment. The body-mind is so at one with this rough world that it makes these moves effortlessly once it has had a bit of practice.”

So, I just said, just dive in, walking on water will come…with practice, and really, the journey is all that really matters. Diving into the deep end starts the learning. So, I painted with oil, the iris emerging from the darkness, well situated on the tablecloth, a spectrum of colors. So, I say, trust your mind and body, and never forget, the darker the night, the brighter the stars.

 

 

snapshot

Search 1. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Search 1. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Search 2. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Search 2. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Search 3. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Search 3. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Search 4. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Search 4. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

They are often found by browsing. We find them in antique shops, or abandoned on that hard-to-reach shelf: forgotten. You can randomly encounter them preserved in an archival collection, displayed on a museum wall, or even in a digital library like Calisphere. The snapshot: a random glimpse of the world capturing someone you’ll never meet and a story you will never know. But yet, it draws us. We search for meaning. Vivian Maier’s street photographs come to mind. The composition, the lines, the color, or lack of, and the emphasis all conspire to spark the imagination and engage us.

Consciously or unconsciously made, art stands on its own authority; the artwork must exist successfully regardless of the creator’s context. The use of light, space, movement, rhythms, and textures must interact so compellingly that we gain insight on the human experience regardless of the work’s origin. The creator’s story can shape and enrich the work, but our engagement, that “snapshot” moment the work captures the viewer’s imagination, is the starting point. We want to understand the human experience. Can we solve the mystery?

The creation of and engagement with art is, among other things, a deep and personal search for knowledge, for certainty. It is a search for meaning. But this thirst for knowledge is a double-edged sword: overexposure can lead to wisdom or paralysis; underexposure to bliss or ignorance. Perhaps we must be both overexposed and underexposed to truly understand the meaning of being human. Understanding is not found in a single snapshot, but awareness is, and consciousness is a good place to start.

In Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World Jane Hirshfield writes about the Heian era Japanese poet Izumi Shikibu stating [his] poem reminds its reader that the moon’s beauty, and also the Buddhist awakening…will come to a person, only if the full range of events and feelings are allowed in as well.

Although the wind

Blows terribly here,

moonlight

also leaks between the roof planks

of this ruined house.

Each breath a renewal

Cow skull. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Cow skull. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

On Hallow’s Eve ghosts and monsters threaten our neighborhood streets and doorsteps. Fortunately, these goblins are easily deterred. Sweet gifts return them to their quest for the redemption required to reach a peaceful eternal sleep. Laughing at my imagery, I believe, perhaps, a change from my diet of gothic novels is well overdue. For in truth, on Halloween, we celebrate darkness’ arrival brought about by our solar system’s seasonal choreography, and we celebrate the promise of renewal, as well as death’s significance.

 

Approaching rain. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Approaching rain. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Recently, I visited my friends at Live Power Community Farm, and the changing season was evident: shorter, warmer days; longer, colder nights; clear skies on Thursday; rain clouds on Friday; and the sky at night graced by Orion the hunter. As I wandered the farm, I was struck by the iconic imagery of death around me: shed snake-skins, cow skulls on the compost pile, and dried cornhusks in the fields. The signs of renewal were equally abundant: spring-like flowers bloomed near rows of pumpkins; the farmer and his horses sowing fields with alfalfa seed to nurture the soil; and the milk cow lumbering to the barn, because she walks for two as her calf will be born in the Spring.

 

Sowing under the rising moon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Sowing under the rising moon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Belief in renewal is essential to living. Daily life brings both sorrow and joy; twenty-four hours a cycle of symbolic deaths and rebirths. The key is keeping confidence in continual change; it is good, it is necessary. The past, present and future tense bleed one to the other; each exhale a symbolic death, each breath a renewal of life.

 

Snake skin. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Snake skin. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

In his poem From the Mercury Fountain, Mahmoud, in his book Thread Michael Palmer wrote:

“…..present, infinite presents threading

now forward, now back. Amidst the

shattered symmetries and scattered fictions,

between actual river and imagined shore,

actual breath of wind through the frayed,

half open curtain…..”