Perhaps it’s time now to reveal this mysterious figure who keeps appearing in these, my crane paintings.
That figure is my mother.
My mother, who grew up in New England, married my father, who grew up in New Jersey. They met in college and were married in 1954, a year after they graduated. They were married for 53 years, before my mother succumbed to breast cancer in 2007.
Their first few years of marriage though, they lived in New York City while my father attended medical school — just an hour or two drive from the Appalachian Mountains of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — the landscape where my father, in his youth, had become a passionate outdoorsman.
And now in those newlywed years, my father had the supreme joy of sharing his beloved mountains with his best friend.
As I look through my parents’ crumbling photo albums from their early years together, I find pages of black-and-white photos of forest trails and mountain views.
And always there are happy young adults — my youthful parents and a couple of friends or family members, exploring the woods and gathered round rustic campsites. Their gear is almost inconceivable today: wicker leather-strapped packs, canvas tents, metal pots covered in fire soot. Cotton dungarees, flannel shirts, hand-knit wool sweaters and scarves. Leather boots.
An aura of contentedness rises up from these pages, and with that, a tug of yearning in my heart.
I want to transport myself into these photos and hike with them.
I know these forests, for these are the same woods in which I learned to be an outdoorswoman. Where my parents and brothers taught me how to build a fire, pitch a tent. Where I learned the deep, deep satisfaction of a warming beverage after a long day on the trail, and the equally deep comfort of campfire conversations with family and friends.
Yet while all these visions of camaraderie speak to me, there’s one photo that just makes me catch my breath.
What is it about this photo of my mother pausing during a winter hike and being contemplative as she takes in the view before her that moves me so?
In part it’s knowing that my father took the photo. That he looked up from whatever he was doing, and captured this tender, poetic moment of his beloved.
But also because I see myself here.
I am she and she is me.
And I think how often I have stood solitary, staring out into the distance in silent wonder, lost in my thoughts, lost in the view. Reflecting on the past, dreaming of the future… taking a deep breath of gratitude, of presence….
And now I lift her from the stillness of these faded family memories, and bring her to life again among the cranes.
Did I mention she loved birds?
I remember seeing her out in a snowstorm distributing birdseed to all of the feeders around our yard.
I don’t think she ever saw a Sandhill crane.
But you know if she had, she would have been as enraptured of them as is her daughter.
I Am She and She Is Me ~ by Dawn Chandler
mixed media on panel ~ 6″ x 12″
Collection of the artist
But of course in these paintings, my mother’s figure represents each one of us… lost in thought, lost in the view. Reflecting on the past, dreaming of the future… taking a deep breath of gratitude, of presence.
Blessings to you all.
May you have much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.
Thank you for being part of my blog tribe. It means a lot to me.