My uncle (through marriage) still lives near the Big Muddy Badlands (Treaty Four), of the southwest. He turned 90 this month and I wouldn’t have missed his birthday celebration for anything. A practical, no-nonsense rancher, I was surprised at how easefully he accepted the gifts, large cake and dozens of good wishes from family and friends. He and I love that land and its beings in similar ways, I’m certain. The area has often been my inspiration over the years, in life and in studio.
My latest series of oil paintings, which focus on the Badlands and the Grasslands, have a lot of bones in them. Their inclusion references the cycle of life one sees in the southwest all the time: growth and decay, wildlife and animal skeletons or skulls, sometimes intact, most often pulled apart by other hungry animals looking for any type of sustenance they can avail themselves of. My painting entitled Padma, (Sanskrit for ‘lotus’) is partially referenced from a stunning photo of a fully intact bison skeleton. It was photographed a few years ago by James Page, the quintessential wildlife photographer friend of mine who literally lives most of his days in Grassland National Park.
My research and my paintings teach me about life and transition… about transformation, and about impermanence. So do my traditional land-based indigenous teachings and Yoga/dharma practices. I’m grateful for them all. This past two years has for me seen a caregiving reversal that most of us experience with our parents. My mother has been doing the dementia slide, as did my aunt and uncle, her siblings. Her sleep is of very poor quality so insomnia dominates her existence and de-stabilizes her otherwise remarkably robust health status. Try as I might to support her with medical appointments, supplemental recommendations and monitoring, she has her own mind about things; what she will try, what adjustments she will sustain (not many), and what life is meant to hold for her. I respect that, her tenacity, and the honest conversations we are starting to have during her lucid days.
Having moved away from my home city ten years ago to heal my own health slide, to paint what I needed to paint, and to create some maternal distance as a last resort to heal our relationship, it has become a true labour of love to travel to see my mother and her 92 year old partner several times per year. They are finally packing to move into a seniors residence and looking to sell her home of 30 years. While providing physical assistance, I am witnessing her grief; the inevitable loss of their semi-private, park like back yard filled with homemade bird houses, dozens of resident birds and other wildlife.
I worry about not being able to replace her experience of the backyard, the daily stories which emerge as she and her partner respond to the interplay of nature before them. I think about my own choice to live remotely, and the likelihood that I will soon enough need to field similar decisions. I grieve my own inability to share with her more effectively some helpful aspects of my meditation/Yoga practice as it has strengthened my mind, reduced my own anxiety and broadened and refocused my attention away from my own insular view of self. It has reduced my suffering immensely and I wish the same for her. Our karmic paths, however, are what they are, and our samskāras, those little grooves we habitually carve into our lives, through our thoughts, actions and speech, tellingly continue to unfold.
If we can relinquish our grasping tendency toward all aspects of life – the bones and the cacti as well as the joyful moments – and understand deeply their impermanence, we might just find that inner equilibrium… a moment or more of reprieve. Cactus & Lotus is a new retreat offering here at Sky Story. If you know of anyone who might need some immersive time in nature with the opportunity to respond creatively, please share the following link: skystory.ca/event/cactus-lotus-wellness-retreat/
May all beings be well. hiy hiy
Header artwork: Padma (Lotus), Diana Chabros. Photo Credit Gary Robins