watercolor and ink drawing of hollyhock by emily weil

daily painting | peralta hollyhock

As I left my therapist Lucy’s office on Peralta Ave in Albany the other day I noticed this lovely hollyhock towering in a yard across the street (snapped a photo). There’s something about these flowers — I only see them in the summer, and they seem quite accessible and almost pedestrian but also very gorgeous. They are not sophisticated or aloof, like a perfectly grown rose or an elegant lily. Which is why I think they are magnificent. Lucy is helping me walk through this very difficult chapter in my life (and in my family) — death, dysfunction, addiction, estrangement, cancer and suicide lurk. And death is a natural — even miraculous — part of life. And those of us left behind get out our mops and try to clean up the bloody bits of our beat-up spirits. Lucy advises me to keep my heart open. Which often seems impossible. But when I do, and choose to see the love and magic in the world that surround me, my steps are a bit lighter — I appreciate the red-shouldered hawk that flies overhead when I have conversations on the Mill Valley patio with my brother as we sit under a huge, blooming magnolia tree. Bright scarlet dragonflies zoom around outside my houseboat, skimming the estuary waters. Red tail hawks in a nearby Monterey Pine dodge dive-bombing crows. I get to see golden eagles have kids in the Sunol hills. Finches and sparrows mob the bird feeder on my deck. And, best of all, I absorb the warm hugs and loving affection from my brother. It’s a beautiful world.

OK now I am going to follow the steps a counselor suggested years ago when we experience hard times: Dial 911, step over the body, and do the dishes.

10″ x 7″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

watercolor painting of tennessee valley trail by emily weil

daily painting | tennessee valley trail

After visiting my brother in Mill Valley the other day I headed to the Tennessee Valley trail not far away, a spot I hadn’t visited in several years. The fog was roaring in and I knew my afternoon hike would be breezy and deliciously cool. My walking sticks helped me along the way and at one point I stopped to listen to at least five different species of birds calling, including a Swainson’s Thrush, who sings a lilting, gorgeous song (I’m not so savvy about identifying birds by song, but since I bugged GGRO’s Allen Fish about this mystery birdcall a few years ago I knew this one). A wildlife photographer was trying to spot the bird for a good photo but it was elusive visually; its song, however, filled the valley. That lovely walk soothed my heart. As nature always, always does.

So. Time on my hands? Seriously? What IS that? (I’m adapting, however — now in its ninth week, this brother-brain-cancer crisis has consumed my life). But with Covid roaming the halls of James’s nursing home I’m at home for now (no argument there). So the paints are coming out. And the laundry is done. The dust on my bookshelf is wiped clean (it was practically sprouting seedlings). I’m still tired, but I think that is a fact of life these days. And I am learning that I need to call by name the sadness that sits next to me on my couch every day. To welcome it and not ignore it. To embrace it, even. Loss is a central ingredient of my life for now. I accept it.

7″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

watercolor of grand canyon by emily weil

daily painting | grand canyon

Rain chased me away from this spectacular view of the Grand Canyon with blue/gray storm clouds hovering. Hard to imagine natural beauty with more gob-smacking drama. My road trip with a friend who planned to hike down into the canyon to join a river rafting trip already underway (did you know it can take over 30 years to get a permit to journey through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River?) brought us to this amazing National Park and if you haven’t been there I highly recommend it (and it’s usually crowded). Icy, slick, frozen trails made Nancy’s adventure a bit perilous but her sturdy crampons, well-prepared gear and years of hiking experience got her down to the canyon floor and the waiting river rafts. After she was safely on her way, I roamed around AZ and marveled at the sights around every corner. From snowy and chilly Flagstaff all the way down to warm, arid Phoenix, I took it all in and it was marvelous. This country! So many beautiful pockets of stunning sights. I gratefully absorbed the wonders of the warm desert sun, the brilliant stars, a full moon rising behind rocky cliffs, towering crimson rock castles, fast-moving roadrunners, the best chili verde enchiladas I’ve ever eaten and an amazing wolf-rescue/sanctuary in Rimrock which was a real treat (how many people can say they’ve been cheek-licked by an affectionate wolf?). Probably write more on that later; I hung out with tundra and gray wolves rescued from stupid, abusive humans. I’ve long been obsessed with wolves and had no idea what I was signing up for, so the whole experience was moving and memorable and spiritual. [If my wolf stories pique your interest, look up Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat, a book that upended my views of these incredible canines.]

Before the trip, I said a prayer asking for clarity as I edge into old-womanhood. Where to go from here as an artist? And as an art teacher? I got my answers and I’m deeply grateful though I’d be more comfortable if the wolves told me I was about to win the lottery. Sigh. All is good. Life is an amazing adventure and I’m not done hurling myself into it. Not yet.

7″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

watercolor painting of sunflowers by emily weil

daily painting | sunny flowers in teapot

Obviously my sisters have been on my mind lately since they have both recently left the planet. Younger sister Kay was a force to be reckoned with — focused and determined; when she had her sights on something you stepped back and got out of her way. I admired that strength, and also was frustrated by it (easy to feel bulldozed by her). Similarly, I think of older sister Diana who only a few months ago committed suicide. She was so shackled and hobbled by mental illness (she had a number of diagnoses throughout her life), paralyzed and tortured by panic and daily terrors. I related to her as I also absorbed a lot of fear as a little one, as our dad, a truly miserable guy, often flew into rages. Which makes me think, well, how would my sisters think of me? And did they see things in me to which I am blind? All too likely (this quote comes to mind from Fran Lebowitz: “Being judgmental, to me, just means I have standards.”). But I so aspire to clear-headed self-reflection. I do not want to live an unexamined life, which brings me to these sunflowers. They have such wide-open faces and seem so trusting. So American, too, being native to this country. Home-grown. My reflexive reactions to life when I hurt are to withdraw, to keep myself safe. Which is the illustration of Diana’s life; she was agoraphobic and painfully tormented in her later years. So it feels risky for me to open myself up to all of life’s myriad experiences with trust and faith and hope, which makes for a richer, often bumpier life. I’ll take it though. 

I am somewhat on that wobbly cliff as I ponder retirement and my future. I’m pushing 70, and in light of my sisters’ deaths, want to live to the max in whatever time I have left. What does that mean? Not sure yet, though art certainly is the hub of that wheel. These past 15 months have been ridiculously challenging and painful, for many reasons. As they have for all of us. Yet I feel extraordinarily grateful for the many gifts I enjoy every day, from my health to my life on the water to creating and teaching art to time with loved ones to holding a wild hawk in my hand (see GGRO.org) to… well, too may things to list. I’ve been encouraged lately to celebrate the life I have designed. OK. Will do.

7″ x 7″ watercolor, pen, acrylic ink on paper = $65

 

 

 

daily painting | buzzy bees

Saturday afternoon painting. I was going to head to my studio, but felt happier/safer here in my home, getting out my watercolors and selecting a photo to paint from, taken on a recent hike in Tilden Park, where small squadrons of bumblebees were collecting pollen in the profuse poppies growing alongside the trail. It was beautiful, magical, hopeful and fun to watch these industrious critters, buzzing from flower to flower, their legs laden down with pods of pollen like fat orange water-wings. Today: disappearing into a tray of paints, listening to the finches sing outside on my deck, greeting warm and friendly neighbors as they walk by on the docks, sweeping up bird feeder leftovers of sunflower seed husks that stick to my shoes when I walk inside, making peace with my life as it is in this moment. Can’t expect too many functional neurons today. That’s OK. My hands remember how to hold a paintbrush. I am alive, breathing, accepting.

7″ x 6″ watercolor, pen, acrylic ink on paper = $55