Tag Archives: Mary C Simmons

Living in a Painting…

FirstCut
First Cut

“You live in a painting!”

That’s what my friend Nina said when she saw this photo of the pasture after the first cut of hay.

It’s true. I live in a beautiful landscape of mountains, hay meadows, peach orchards, and small farms on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains.

That’s Lamborn Mountain on the left, behind the tree branch, and Landsend Peak on the right; the two peaks form an iconic backdrop to the North Fork Valley—the North Fork of the Gunnison River.

Lamborn Mountain and LandsEnd
Lamborn Mountain and Lands End

Lamborn Mountain rises 11, 397 feet above sea level, and almost 6,000 feet above the valley. The two peaks are part of a laccolith—where hot magma oozed up and intruded the Mancos Shale, an organic-rich clay layer, and baked it into coal. Erosion over the millennia has removed a lot of the Mancos Shale, revealing the igneous core of Lamborn Mountain.

Nearby and up the road, the geological picture includes three coal mines, though they’re not in this painting. But chances are good I’ll be taking my camera up the road toward the mines in the very near future.

By the way…diamonds are not formed by squeezing the bejesus out of coal. Click here for more…

Freeze
Irrigation Water Ice Cubes

Spring run-off was pretty incredible this year, starting in mid-April with more snow meltwater than anyone has seen in 40 years.

It still freezes around here in mid-April, though not hard enough to freeze the water in the irrigation pipes, it got cold enough to turn it to ice cubes as soon as it spewed out the gates. There’s just a little snow left up in the high country. Now our hopes are on the monsoonal rain.

Mount Lamborn
Mount Lamborn

 

 

Lamborn and Landsend are photogenic at any time of year, or day. And totally paintable, though I have not. Yet.

Lamborn and Landsend at Sunrise
Lamborn and Landsend at Sunrise

 

 

 

En plein air, for sure.

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Vivir Bien: The Wild Law of Mother Earth

BELLO+TRONCO+DE+LA+PACHAMAMA“She is sacred, fertile and the source of life that feeds and cares for all living beings in her womb. She is in permanent balance, harmony and communication with the cosmos. She is comprised of all ecosystems and living beings, and their self-organisation.”

Her human version, as the English translation of the Spanish translation of the original Inca goddess have it, is Pachamama. Earth Mother, Mother Earth, depending on the structure of your language. She rules over crops and all growing things.

Protecting Pachamama

On April 1, 2014, Bolivia passed a new and highly controversial environmental law that in the words of President Evo Morales is about “…how to live in harmony, balance, and complementarity with nature, without which there is no life or humanity.”

The law’s intention is Vivir Bien or ‘Good Living,’ and derives its principles from the world view of indigenous Andean cultures. Vivir Bien aims to reinforce the integral nature of  spiritual, environmental, and cultural realms within the 21st century human economic and societal structures. Which means that our economic and societal structures should be governed by spiritual, environmental and cultural considerations, rather than the other way around as is our current mode.

And if we do not, our own extinction is guaranteed. Pachamama will get over us in less time than the entire panorama of human history. But there is hope, thanks to these South American, forward-thinking politicians. In 2008, Ecuador became the first country in the world to enact a Rights of Nature clause into its Constitution, which views the natural world as an integrated assemblage of living organisms rather than property.

Among its many aspects, Bolivia’s law recognizes the right of all organisms to not have their genes tampered with.

Two thumbs up.

Perhaps the most novel and welcome concept of this new law is the recognition that humans and all other entities on Earth are equal.

Imagine…

 

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Let Them Eat Corn

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The following tale is the fourth in the series of tongue-in-beak stories I made up concerning the ancient relationship our species has had with the corvids-a group of birds whose most familiar members are crows, ravens and magpies. Though I have been accused of anthropomorphizing these birds, I beg to differ. Perhaps they corvo-morphized us.

 

Let Them Eat Corn

As the populations of all three species grew, Raven, Crow and Human strode hand-in-wing into the future. While Humans grew smarter and smarter, Crow and Raven grew wiser and wiser. By and by, humans began to take on an air of superiority over the other animals and looked down upon Crow and Raven because the birds have tiny brains and lacked opposing thumbs.

“We are best,” they boasted. “We are smart too, smarter even than Raven. Look at all the stuff we can make. Whatever the gods did not give us, we can invent. We can out-fly, out-run, out-swim, out-dig, out-build and out-tool-make all the animals on Earth.”

“But look at the mess you’ve made!” Raven scoffed. “Much of the livable places on Earth have been despoiled by your inventions, to say nothing of your greed. You lay waste to everything you touch.”

Humans wasted a great deal, it was true, but there was no real complaint from Crow or Raven. And, there was another plague on, so carrion was everywhere. Life was good.

“I believe we have erred, Cousin.” Raven said after a gluttonous meal at the landfill on the outskirts of a great human settlement..

“How so, Cousin?” Crow opened an eye.

“Haven’t you noticed our human brethren are getting just a bit too big for their britches?” Raven said. “They’re all attitude these days. This tool—making thing you taught them—that was a big mistake. Remember I warned you: ‘No good deed goes unpunished’? But no, you had to be the do-gooder. First you taught them how to make fire.”

Raven had never told Crow that he was the one who brought fire to the humans. Best let bygones be bygones, Raven thought. And why spoil his perfect non-interfering image?

“Then you taught them to cook, and then to make leather,”he railed at Crow. “And then clothing. You taught them how to till the soil and plant seeds, and how to irrigate. You taught them where to find clay, and how to make pottery. You taught them to read and write, and then, then you moved on to architecture. You taught them how to build stable structures that withstand wind and earthquakes and keep raindrops from falling on their heads. And finally,” Raven stopped to inhale. “As I live and breathe I hope this is your final teaching moment: you taught them how to smelt ore. Give it a rest, OK? Give them a rest.”

“Well, excuse me, Cousin!” Crow was offended at the tone in Raven’s voice. “I was just trying to help. Remember how skinny and cold they were in the old days? I just couldn’t stand their misery. I had to do something.”

“Next time try minding your own business.” Raven said.

He and Crow had revisited this argument a million times. Raven thought Crow spent too much time dabbling in human affairs. “It’ll end up kicking you in the butt. And mine.” Raven predicted darkly. “Leave them be, I beg you.”

Crow found Raven’s complete lack of compassion hard to take. “I don’t know how you sleep at night, Cousin, after eating at their table the way we do and then bad-mouthing them as soon as your stomach is full. You refuse to lend a wing to help them when you so easily could. That’s what’s going to come around and kick you in the butt. Taking more than you give back.”

“Bad-mouthing?” Raven said with a great deal of irritation in his voice. “You want to hear bad-mouthing? Try listening to what these ‘poor skinny humans’ are saying.” Raven mocked.

“Here’s a good one for you: ‘Crow is the harbinger of death. Where Crow goes, Death follows. Beware of Crow.’ And they have begun to fear and hate you, and by extension me because they still can’t tell us apart. After thousands and thousands of years, they can’t tell you from me. The dopes.”

 

After a few minutes of silence, Raven said in a low voice that rose with each word: “You want to know what just slays me? We corvids supposedly bring death, yet do we we kill? Maybe an egg now and then, and we could argue for millennia about whether that is really killing…but otherwise—Nope. Not us. We are not killers. Humans, now that’s a whole other story. Humans kill. Just for the heck of it.” They kill us, they kill each other—they freaking kill everything!”

Raven towered over his cousin, glaring angrily. “Yet, you continue to mollycoddle them.”

“Well, disease kills too.” Crow said, still trying to be fair to the turncoat humans. “Look at what West Nile does to us. And humans, they get more diseases than we do. Their plagues, you know, those killed millions. Wiped whole villages off the map. Not once. Not twice, because here we go on plague number three. And that was just the bubonic.”

“Oh yeah!” Raven said sarcastically. “Let’s talk about the Black Plague!” His irritation erupted into outright anger as he spoke. “They cluelessly spread a disease across Europe, letting it wipe out a sizable chunk of their population, and who do they blame? Not the stupid little flea that started all this. Not the cats who the humans foolishly killed, who otherwise would’ve eaten the rats that carried the fleas that bit the humans and made them sick. Oh, no! They never blame themselves for being relentlessly myopic and stupid. But they heap all their guilt and blame on us. Us!“

Raven stomped up and down the branch as he ranted, shaking it so hard, Crow tightened his grip, lest he fall off.

“They act like we killed all those millions,” Raven seethed. “There’s a difference between killing and eating dead things, you know!”

“For truth,” Crow agreed, nodding. He hated when Raven went off like this. But he had learned over the years that sometimes it’s best to shut the beak up.

“‘Harbingers of death’,” Raven mocked. “You like that name, Cousin? After all you’ve done for them? I’ve told you over and over and over again. No good deed goes unpunished, Cousin. One day you will mark my words.”

Crow was depressed. He’d taught humans everything they knew. They were naked,and hungry. Shivering. Without the sense to come in out of the rain.  And now, they are fat. They walk the streets of glittering cities dressed in the finest fashions and they live in fabulous palaces.

“Well, I’ll show them!” Raven raged. “No more human flesh shall cross my beak. Until they start showing a little respect.”

 

For a while, Raven and Crow stopped eating the piles of dead humans resulting from their plagues and wars and the continuous epidemics caused by terrible plumbing. The one thing Crow knew absolutely nothing about.

During the boycott, Crow and Raven took to the cornfields, which provided them with a few of the necessary nutrients.

“It just doesn’t satisfy like meat.” Raven said, turning his beak in disgust. He didn’t care for corn as much as Crow did and he longed for the eight essential amino acids found in meat protein. Nonetheless, he refused to eat human flesh, at least where they could see him.

As it happened, Raven and Crow came upon a human in the cornfield. “Shhh!” Raven hissed, and stuck a wing out. “Wait. Watch.” After many minutes the human had not moved, so Crow and Raven moved closer, walking on the ground through the cornstalks toward the immobile human.

Raven flew up suddenly, right in front of the human’s face. It didn’t even flinch.

“Well, then,” Raven said. “It doesn’t seem to be alive.”

“But is it dead?” Crow asked as Raven leaped to the shoulder of the human. “Can we eat it?”

“That depends,” Raven said as he hopped over the straw hat to the other shoulder, “on your definition of dead, Cousin.”

Crow tilted his head to one side. “I don’t think it’s real human, though it’s wearing human clothing—it’s stuffed with straw.”

“It’s definitely not human, Raven said. “But it is a reasonable facsimile.”

“But what is a fake human doing in a cornfield?” Crow asked.

“Who knows?” Raven said, as he pecked at an ear of corn. “I stopped trying to figure these creatures out about a millennia ago. And you know, I sleep better for it.” He looked at Crow pointedly, a kernel of corn stuck to his beak.

Crow kept up the scrutiny of the fake human. “Wait!” he said, leaping up to stand on the hat. He peered downward over the brim of it’s hat.

“I know what this is!” he cried out, looking down at his cousin. “It’s art! It’s a sculptural piece.”

“In the middle of a cornfield?” Raven asked. “That is odd, don’t you think?”

“Tremendously,” Crow said. “But, on the other wing, it also could be quote unquote an installation. Meaning the cornfield is part of the Great Artpiece. You know, the Great Universal Narrative. Not that I get the association between the stuffed fake human and the cornfield, though.” He shrugged. “But modern art is sometimes like that.”

Crow and Raven polished off a few more ears of corn and took to the skies. While their stomachs hungered for flesh, Raven and Crow refused meat. At least that was the ideal; in practice, well, sometimes the instinct to survive is quite irresistable. Neither Crow nor Raven ever had their priorities so screwed up that eating ever took second place to politics.

“Looky there!” Crow said, his voice rising to the high-pitched squeal that meant only one thing: meat on the ground.

The two swooped down and perched on a rotting corpse of an animal that might’ve been a truffle-hunter once. Today it was food.

“The Food Chain is Always Right,” Raven said and buried his head in the dead flesh.

Crow nodded at the ancient corvid proverb and beaked himself another chunk.

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First Crow, First Raven, First Human…the Way it Might’ve Been

 

Lascaux-BrokenFirst Crow, First Raven, First Human, the stories…

First Campfire   The sound of the humans teeth chattering on the ground below irritated Raven, and he couldn’t sleep…

Tan Me Hide and Teach Me to Sew  …well before the first human took a bite of the first apple from the Tree of Knowledge

The Still  Driven to drink from the Garden of Eden….


Let Them Eat Corn
…..humans grew smarter and smarter, while Crow and Raven grew wiser and wiser…

My Mother, My Art

Rita
Self Portrait, ~1950, Rita M. Simmons

Thanks to my very creative mother, Rita M. Simmons (1921-2004), my childhood was steeped in a variety of creative enterprises and the permission to make messes. She faced it, back in the 1950’s: creativity is untidy. She even organized a neighborhood puppet-making project in our garage that engaged the children of the whole neighborhood.

She painted. I opt for the third dimension. Far and away from my childhood steeped in the odors of oil paint and turpentine, my mother’s paintings inspired me from the hidden places of memory and imagination. I put my hands in clay and evoke the landscape, the dancer, the flowers that grace the Earth. As she, my mother, did before me, on the flat canvasses of her vision.

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Abstract Landscape, Acrylic, ~1970, Rita M. Simmons; Ceramic Sculpture Cylinders, 2005, Mary C. Simmons

The paintings and ceramic sculptures herein were part of a recent art show at the Church of Art, in Hotchkiss, Colorado.

In 1999, I received a Master of Science degree in geology, which also has exerted a profound influence on my art, both in design inspiration and technique (seeMaking Paint from the Desert Landscape & Bones of Earth, Bones of Clay…)

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Ceramic Sculpture Cylinders, 2005, Mary C. Simmons

I taught geology for 4 years in Indiana, and spent the summers in dry New Mexico, where the Cylinder Series happened, 22 of them, comprised of high-fired stoneware and porcelain.

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Skeletal Cylinders, 2005, Mary C. Simmons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Platter1
Textured Platter, 2014, Mary C. Simmons

My latest passion in ceramic art: bright, beautiful colors and intricate textures in low-fired earthenware clay.

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Textured Bowls, 2014, Mary C. Simmons

At last, I am painting. Like my mother, who by her example, made my life an open space for art.

Thanks, Mom.

 

 

 

 

In wilderness, we find ourselves…

An excerpt from Corvus RisingCorvusRisingCover2

Alfredo picked up his mic, leaving his partially eaten lunch on the table. “Why do we need wilderness at all?” he said to the crowd. “I would like to answer that with a quote from Edward Abbey, noted author and outspoken defender of wilderness.”

He pulled a small notebook out of his shirt pocket and read: “‘The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the Earth, the Earth which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need, if only we had the eyes to see.’”

A few people clapped. Alfredo smiled as he closed the notebook and put it back in his pocket.

“Too bad most of us will never see it!” a man in the back shouted.

“Somewhere along the way,” Alfredo said, ignoring the heckler, “we gave ourselves dominion over the Earth, which has all but severed our connection to the web of life. We built great cities, where we concentrated power and wealth, while we impoverished our spirits and our wild lands…”

The crowd had grown. A few crows collected in the trees surrounding the bandstand, staring down at Alfredo. Or was it his lunch?

“Cities weigh heavily on the hearts of men and women,” he continued, “and we must be able to escape them, even if it is just in our imaginations. In wilderness, we find ourselves. As we cherish one of our last wild places, let us become aware of our connection to it and impose surrender upon ourselves.”

“Surrender?” the man at the back of the crowd shouted. “Never!”

”Yes,” Alfredo said, “Surrender. The old hermit, Brother Wilder, surrendered to the wilderness we are now trying to preserve. He chose this wild island as a refuge from the world of cities and men, and spent his life in solitary contemplation of the glory of creation.”

“Who has time for that?” the man in the back shouted.

“Some of us have to actually work for a living!” someone yelled.

Anger surged in Alfredo’s chest. “While most people do not desire such lengthy solitude, it is through these pristine and unaltered wild lands that our spirits connect us to the Earth. As we gaze upon our island from across the river, its wilderness lives within us all; let us not now throw it away for a few pieces of silver.”

The crowd cheered and many clapped. A small crow dropped from the sky onto the table, and beaked a noodle from Alfredo’s plate.

Alfredo turned off his mic and said, “Well, hello little fella!”

“Don’t you know me, Jayzu?” the crow said, looking up.

“Of course I know you!” Alfredo said in a very low voice. “Grawky, JoEd!” He smiled and put out his hand. JoEd brushed it with his wingtip.

“Grawky, Jayzu!”

Nine more crows dropped down to the table, all talking at once.

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Category: Featured Articles, Mother Nature

Excerpt from Corvus Rising: The Great Corvid Council

angels-among-us-gothic-and-crows-art-photography

Imagine we perch in the trees above a group of crows and ravens engaged in a heated discussion. ‘It’s the Great Corvid Council!” I might say to you. “Look!” you might say, “there’s a human, too!”

A Patua’, in fact—a human who speaks the language of the crows. Known to the corvids as Jayzu, he’s a Jesuit priest named Alfredo Manzi, and he is meeting the Council for the first time.

There are sanctuaries, and then there are Sanctuaries

Alfredo stepped out from behind the trees and walked into the very surprised group of corvids. “I am honored to be among you,” he said quietly to the hushed councilors.

Many of them nodded to one another, mumbling their approval. A few waved a wing at him, and others called out their greetings and comments. “Yo! Jayzu!” “That’s a Patua’?” “He looks just like a regular human!”

Hookbeak, the Aviar of the Council spoke, “And we are honored you came to us, Jayzu. Greetings!”

Alfredo held his hands out as a few of the councilors stepped forward to greet him.

“We were gladdened by the news of a Patua’ on Cadeña-l’jadia,” a raven said cordially. “I am Longshanks. Welcome.” He brushed his wing across Alfredo’s hand.

“Is it true, Jayzu,” a crow spoke out above the muttering, “you are building a birdsanctuary on Cadeña-l’jadia?”

“Not yet,” Alfredo replied, “but someday I—”

“Sanctuary? What kind of sanctuary?” one of the ravens interrupted in mild alarm. He wandered through the councilors on the grass as he spoke. “There are sanctuaries and then there are Sanctuaries, so we wonder exactly what you intend to do in this sanctuary. Some oddball sanctification ritual perhaps? Will you require feathers? Entrails?”

“No,” Alfredo said, “I—”

“Sanctuary?” a few of the councilors said as they looked at one another in apparent confusion.

“What’s a sanctuary?” asked a crow.

“It just means—” Alfredo started to say.

“Sanctuary—the word comes from the root, to sanctify,” another crow replied sanctimoniously. “To mortify and cleanse the flesh.”

Alfredo felt exasperated with some of the councilors, but there was little he could do other than wait politely and grab what chance he could to speak. He glanced at Hookbeak, standing silently next to him on the grass. Will he not intervene and let me talk?

“Ah,” the raven who had asked the original question said. “It is a bathing place then. In this case, for birds. That does not sound so bad.”

“Unless the cleansing of the flesh is done with blood, Restarea,” a raven said. Hoots of denial circulated through the Council. “It has happened,” he continued. “Human use of animals as sacrificial offerings for ritual ceremonies to appease their gods is well known.”

“Will this Patua’, this Jayzu, be experimenting on birds in his sanctuary?” another raven asked. “Perhaps feather plucking for his rituals? Dissection?”

There will be no sacri—” Alfredo said and glanced at Hookbeak standing silently next to him on the grass. Will he not intervene and let me talk?

“A sanctuary is a refuge, Walldrug,” Starfire said, impatiently waving a wing. “Safe haven. Rest stop. Now please, let us remember that Jayzu is Patua’. I daresay he reveres the corvid as much as Bruthamax did.”

“Charlie of the great Hozey Clan,” a crow said, “well, his wife told my wife that he told her that Jayzu knew nothing of Bruthamax.”

Gasps of incredulous dismay pulsed through the councilors, and they looked at one another and Alfredo in disbelief. “Never heard of Bruthamax? How can that be?” someone hissed. “He knows not his own kin!” whispered another. “How can we trust him?”

Bedlam broke out as factions lined up against other factions. “Interventionist!” one side cried out, while the other shouted “Isolationist!”

“Are you all daft?” Starfire shouted, striding to the middle of the two groups. “Or just deaf? Did you not all just find it remarkable that there was a Patua’ among us? Remember thinking the Patua’ had completely vanished? Shocking as it is, Bruthamax is not known among humans outside of the city surrounding us.”

The councilors quieted down as Starfire spoke. By the time he finished, dignity had been restored. A few seconds of silence reigned, and Alfredo seized the moment.

“That is true.” He paused, momentarily shocked that no one interrupted. “Human knowledge of the Patua’ is significantly less than yours. I am Patua’ yet knew not there were others of my kind.”

Thirteen pairs of eyes, some black, some blue, stared back in silence. “I did not know of Bruthamax until I came to Cadeña-l’jadia,” Alfredo continued, grateful for the opportunity to continue speaking. “Since then, I have learned much, thanks to the corvids for keeping his stories and sharing them with me. I am proud to be counted among Bruthamax’s kin.”

Most of the councilors softened and some even had a few sympathetic words of comfort: “Any kin of Bruthamax is a friend of ours!” “Long live the Patua’!” “Long live Jayzu!”

An explosive sound nearby scattered the councilors, and someone shouted, “Meeting adjourned!”

Alfredo was suddenly alone with Hookbeak and Starfire in the small clearing. He waited for a few minutes for the Aviar to speak, but the old raven kept silent and still as stone, listening. Not a creature stirred. Even the insects had been silenced.

“Thank the Great Orb for that explosion,” Starfire said at last. “Nothing scatters the corvids like the sound of gunfire. Otherwise we would be beaking this to death till sunset.”

“I thought it was just a car backfire,” Alfredo said.

“It was,” Hookbeak said. “But no matter, we accomplished what we wanted today.”

“We did?” Alfredo said.

“Yes,” the Aviar replied and leaped into the sky.

“Indeed, Jayzu,” Starfire said. “Thank you.” He flapped his wings and took off after Hookbeak.

“For what?” Alfredo called out after the ravens as they flew away. “What did we accomplish?”

But the ravens were gone and he was alone, but for several black feathers that lay on the grass, twitching in the breeze.

∞∞∞

Insofar as corvids are very much like us, I imagine their Council might resemble our Congress—a group of bickering factions that peck irrelevant minutiae to death without accomplishing much. Perhaps I corvopomorphise

Perhaps not, given the history of our relationship with these birds…in any case, Corvus Rising is a fantasy….an Ecofantasy of mine that we could all be Patua’…

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 About Corvus Rising, and where to get it

….click here.CorvusRisingCover2

The Judas Crow

The newspaper article below inspired my new short story, The Judas Crow. It’s a rather ghastly account of humans using an animal for sport killing of its own kind.

JudasCrow_copyI imagined what might be like to be inside the mind of the Judas Crow—having no idea about Judas or Jesus or betrayal on a scale it seems only our species is capable.

In The Judas Crow, a ‘small human’—do crows recognize our small ones as our children? do they recognize gender?—nurses an injured crow back to health, brings him food and water, and encourages him to fly again.

The Judas Crow spends many days in a cage, longing for the freedom of the skies and to be re-united with what is left of his family. He wills his broken wing to fly again, never imagining for a moment the act of betrayal he is being tricked and enticed into.

The scoundrel!

Judas was Not a Crow

What exactly would the title “Judas Crow” mean to the crow? Guilt at delivering one’s own kin to their deaths? —a human invention that ought to apply to crows as well as to humans?

It wasn’t easy, this mind-meld with a species not my own. But we know from scientific research that crows perceive, feel, form bonds with one another, and grieve at the death of a loved one, so we have at least this kinship with them.

I wonder what do we look like to them? Do they think we are intelligent? Or sentient? Care about our fellow humans? Do they see the carnage we humans enact upon other humans and yet do not eat them? Moments after death, all animals are meat. Are they astonished at this waste?—what other reason would one kill another animal, if not for its meat?

Who is the scoundrel here? The Judas Crow, or the humans who created him?

It’s in the eye of the beholder, I reckon. But perhaps we should take another lesson from the animal world.  You kill to eat, to go on living.

Not just for the hell of it.

JudasCrowCover2

Haunted from the Inside

QueenNightAn excerpt from Corvus Rising

Jade’s face broke into a smile. “It’s Queen of the Night, Willow B!” she cried. She set the painting on the arms of the chair above the cat and stood back, savoring the memory of painting it in those early days of her romance with Russ. “I fell in love with him under this flower. God, who wouldn’t have? A gorgeous flower that blooms but once, at night, under a full moon in the desert …”

Pale and luminous, the white flower took the entire canvas. Spear-shaped petals of opalescent white enclosed dozens of delicate, pale yellow stamens swayed that undulated around the solitary pistil. Layer upon layer of sinuous shapes of translucent hues awakened memories of love lost and found.

“I love this painting,” she murmured.

A sudden clap of thunder ended her reverie and she frowned out the window. “Where did that come from?” she said. In reply, big fat raindrops pelted the window and streaked down the slippery glass. Lightning flashed as she reached for another painting.

Frowning at her own handwriting, “12:01” scrawled across the paper wrapper, she tore it open and propped the painting across the arms of Willow B’s chair.

Black birds clung to the brittle branches of bare winter trees against a cold, gray sky. A distant clock tower haunted the scene, its hands frozen at 12:01. “Remember that clock, Mr. B?” Jade said to the cat sleeping on the cushion underneath the painting. “It haunted me for weeks. Always stuck on the same time. One minute after twelve. Pretty well says it all.”

Time runs through your life like water to the sea.

The memory of her apartment when she was in college enveloped her, with the clock centered in the window where she couldn’t miss its reproachful face. Day after day, it had rebuked her, “You’re late! You’re late!” mocking her every moment. She had tried closing the blinds to shut it out, but it haunted her dreams every night, taunting her with the eternally missed deadline. Always running, forever late, never arriving.

Night after the night, the same dream had played over and over again: millions of clocks in many colors, all showing the same time—12:01. The clocks started out randomly and then each slowed or quickened their minute hands until they all ticked and tocked in unison. Tick, the clocks scolded her. Tock, they upbraided her. But the time never changed. 12:01. She buried her head in pillows, but the relentless tick-tock only grew louder.

“You did hear it, didn’t you?” Jade whispered. “It drove me insane, the tick-tock-tick-tock.” Willow B turned an ear sideways. “Remember how I opened the blinds, and the ticking and tocking stopped? And when I closed them, it began again?” She glanced nervously at the window as the tempo and rhythm of the rain changed. Tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock…

“Damn you!” she had screamed as the clock smirked coldly at her across the treetops, its face split in two by the hands stuck at 12:01.

She dragged her easel across the room and positioned it in front of the window. She attached a canvas to it, just large enough to block out that hateful face. “Ha!” she had said and stuck her tongue out at the clock she could no longer see.

But the white canvass tortured her with its blankness and commanded her to pick up a brush. She painted feverishly all day and all night. Exhausted, she flung herself on the couch and slept. When she awoke, the sun had gone down, and she flicked on a light. Winged shadows swirled around the room until one by one, they dove into the painting in front of the window, flying around the clock tower until at last they found places to roost in the gray branches of the winter trees. The clock condemned her with lidless eyes, its hands pointing to her doom. 12:01.

Thunder rumbled across the sky and the rain picked up its tempo as it beat upon the window. She dropped to the floor on her knees and stroked Willow B, asleep in the armchair. “That clock started it all. Like a big eye that never blinked and never stopped staring at me.” She felt a distant purr deep within his sleeping bulk. “I’m sorry I neglected you.”

In a frenzy, she had painted every waking moment and dreamed about painting when she slept. The imaginary boundary frayed between physical reality and the realm from which her paintings sprang. The completed canvasses morphed to life around her, and painted images became companions and critics that paced the room with her, argued with her, cried with her, laughed at her, comforted her.

The entire population of her psyche clamored for immediate voice and she gave in to the irresistible siren song. For days she had done nothing but paint, stopping only to stuff her mouth with crackers and wash them down with honeyed tea. When she slept, the beings that populated her paintings lived again in her dreams. There was no escaping them. Waking or sleeping, the voices owned her life.

 “And then I crashed,” Jade murmured. Willow B woke up and yawned. She scratched him under his chin. “You were there, Willow B. You saw it all. I lost track of everything—when to eat, when to sleep, when to go to class, my friends, time. I was alone in another world until the real one finally banged its way in.”

God, it was loud.

When they found her in her apartment, she was thin, malnourished and speaking to no one but Willow B and the voices in her paintings. Her foster mother, Chloe, took her home and nursed her back to health. “It’s as important to eat as it is to paint,” Chloe had said as she poked another spoonful of food into Jade’s mouth.

She wanted to paint sometimes but couldn’t bring herself to actually pick up a brush. Fear stopped her; painting had opened the door to a terrifying descent. Just after Thanksgiving had passed that year, she took a brush in her hand and stared at a blank canvas. Nothing. Deader than a doornail, that place inside her that once demanded her to paint. Half dismayed, half relieved, she worried. What if it never comes back … what if it does?

She shook the memory out of her head. “But it did come back, didn’t it, Willow B?”  She stood up and stuffed 12:01 into its quilted pocket.

The late afternoon sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the cat, sleeping in the chair.

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Crows—Inspiring Painters for 15,000 years

I love crows. They inspired me to write a fictional book about them. In doing so, I learned that they are smarter than our species gives them credit for. A lot smarter. They plan dream, love, raise new generations. And they notice us.

But they don’t make art. We do. And we make a lot of it about them.

Though some fear and loathe crows, many of us honor and revere them as intelligent, sentient, creatures; to some of us crows are a source of inspiration. Stroll through my Gallery of Crow Art in its many forms, from famous as well as unknown artists, poets, and writers, living and dead.

Paleolithic Cave Art

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Paleolithic Cave Painting—Lascaux, France
Unknown Artists ~15, 300 B.C.E.

My interpretation of this cave painting: a crow on a perch overlooks a fatal encounter between a human and a big beast. Gored by a spear from this upstart Tool-maker, the beast prepares to impale the naked, hairless human on his horns, while his guts pour out onto the Earth. The crow is waiting for dinner. If it’s not about the Food Chain, it’s just not that important.

Or is it? Many believe the Lascaux cave paintings are star maps of Gemini, Orion, Taurus and Sirius.

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http://www.timothystephany.com/stone.html

Wheatfield with Crows, Vincent van Gogh, July 1890

800px-A_Vincent_Van_GoghArt historians believe Wheatfield with Crows-painted just weeks before his death-was van Gogh’s last work.

 “Crows interest themselves in everything, and observe everything. The ancients, who lived far more completely than ourselves in and with nature, found it no small profit to follow, in a hundred obscure things where human experience as yet affords no light, the directions of so prudent and sage a bird.”—Jules Michelet, a favorite author of Van Gogh

Woman with Crow, Pablo Picasso, 1904

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Picasso painted Woman with Crow during his Blue Period, at about the same time he moved to Paris. The portrait features Marguerite Luc, whom he knew as Margot kissing and caressing a crow. Margot was the step-daughter of a cafe Picasso frequented.

Georgia O’Keeffe, painted crows too. More than once. She painted Canyon with Crows during the time she lived in Texas and depicts Palo Duro Canyon, whose Permian-aged iron-rich ‘red beds’ became the focal point of the painting. Just before your eyes jump to the crows flying in freedom above the red rocks.

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Canyon with Crows, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1917

After O’Keeffe returned to New York, she painted Lake George with Crows.

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Lake George with Crows, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1921

 

Oil paint, real feather. Wish it were mine.

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Crow Painting (Is it Mine?), Jacqueline McIntyre, 2010

The crow is in the painting, the feather is on our side of the canvas. That’s how my imagination works too. Crows step back and forth between it and the world of physical reality. I find their feathers everywhere…
Another unabashed crow-lover:

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Two Crows, Kristin Fouquet, 2010

Kristin Fouquet’s photograph, Two Crows, graces the cover of Full of Crow – “an independent online literary magazine that publishes poetry, fiction, flash, reviews, interviews, articles, art, photography, and more…”

I could go on. And on and on and on….about the ways and means that crows have inspired our species.  But do go ahead and continue looking…Google ‘crow art’ – 62,400,000 hits.