September 2010

We all know about the crappy painting I did last time we were together (see: following post).

Well, I painted another version of the Loire Valley September sunset:

I’ve stopped here, even thought the picture is not finished, and even though it looks awfully fairy-tale-ish This is as far as I’m going with this picture for the time being because I’m not sure what to do with this next — getting this far was a fluke of dipping the paint brush in the right amount of water and paint and getting a happy accident.

And, then, I turned my painting up-side-down:

And damned if I don’t kind of like this, too; see some possibilities in working the illustration from this side up.

And as far as I know, examining their work up-side-down for possibilities is something  that writers  don’t have to contend with.

Sometimes, I wish that all I did was write words, but dear lord: what kid of blog would that make?

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That’s my motto for September: Every day, there’s a light or two less. In September it’s the sunsets that matter to me — as if by watching each one I can make the day last a moment or two longer even if I can’t stop the earth from turning away from the sun.

Well, that moment needs an illustration in my Damn France Book. Because that’s the kind of travel book I write: low on the literal, high on the weirdly subjective.

So I started with a photograph I’d taken in aLoire Valley town (see above). Nice, right? (That’s why I took it.)  I studied it, and found that it would do just fine as my reference photo (see below, with  markings so I can tell where the horizon is):

I’m showing you this so you can see what I think: I mentally drew lines to show where I thought the tree line, the horizon, and the darkest reflection in the water would be . The scene needed a distinguishing feature, something that gave it that unmistakable romantic Loire Valley feeling.  So I gave it one (see “castle” cut-out overlaid on photograph below):

That’s the actual chateau in Azay-le-Rideau, with slight perspective improvements on my part, to accentuate the turrets and the spires and all that castle-y stuff.

OK. Now I’m in business. I’m ready to paint me a picture of my Loire Valley September sunset moment.

(There’s a light pencil sketch of the landscape and the chateau, with a dab of watercolor resist fluid to mark where the setting sun is.) Then I did a wash of my setting sun colors:

Whew. Got the yellow, pink, and violet paint to stay put and not blend into a puke taupe mess. Now, all I have to do is not screw up the river and I’m half-way there to a not-putrid illustration:

Not bad. Paintings always look kind of shitty at this stage, so I’m not worried that it’s a lost cause. Yet. Now for the brooding, gothic, romantic landscape features:

Ooooo. I like this (above).

Sure hope I don’t mess it up when I paint the chateau:

Hmmmmm. I’m beginning to have my doubts.

Oh well, too late: I’m committed to seeing this to the bitter end.  (I think it’s mildly entertaining to catch a work-in-progress at the moment when it all went wrong.)

Let’s just cut to the chase:

Oh, Jeeze. This is not what I had in mind. Nope. No way.

I could tell this illustration was a stinker long before I finished it, but I made myself paint the whole thing so I could study the failure in all its completeness. And now I know how not to paint this picture!

And when I do, you’ll see it here.

Now, speaking of A Light Or Two Less, I have some cat news to tell  you.

You’ve met the Lights of my Life, my Hobos, the feral cats who came to me as kittens, and who live in my backyard (until Winter, when they have their own cat entrance into the basement of our house.

They were so little here, two years ago, they could all fit on the same patio chair. That’s baby Taffy, in the shadows, that’s baby Lickity in the black and white ensemble, and that’s baby Butter, sitting upright, catching the rays of sun on his beautiful ginger coat.

Butter was the first of those fierce, wild, feral babies who let me touch him. This is a photo of the first time he let me scratch his little head:

Notice the little drop of milk on his chin. Butter loved his dairy products.

In the Comments of my last post, Carol (with her cat-senses alerted) asked Where’s Butter?

And I meant to tell you all, but I was waiting for the right time, and there really is no right time.

Here’s the deal I make with my feral cats: I will watch over you best I can, and you will be the cat you were born to be, even though I know there’s a high chance that you will break my heart.  I don’t know how else to love these maddening, delightful, wayward, untamed creatures.

We tried to keep Butter in the fenced yard with his more homebody-brothers, but he was the one who had to see what was across the street.

I know that Butter would have been miserable if I’d taken his adventures away from him, made him into a house-bound cat. So I let him live “wild”, as he wanted, even if it did in the end cost him his life. Butter died on September 2, 2010, while crossing the road in front of our house.

This is not the first time a cat has broken my heart; it won’t be the last. But this is the one and only Butter heartbreak, and we will miss the leader of our pack  forever.

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I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, Boy, that Vivian sure can wrap a hutch.

There was rain in the forecast for Sunday ,  a chilly early Fall rain. Panic!  I had to rush out and get the  hutch rain-proofed for my backyard cats!  First, I insulated the walls and floor with down-filled sleeping blankets that I got from the thrift sotre ($5 each! What a bargain! )

The I wrapped three big-ass tarps wrapped around it, giving it eight layers of tarp.

The rain started right on schedule, around 4 o’clock Sunday afternoon. At first, Taffy and Lickety thought that their hutch was just a fancy stationery umbrella.

But then Taffy figured it out (that’s the tip of his tail you see, there, disappearing through the hutch doorway).

And then Lickety got a clue.

After a while, the mama cat Candy wandered by, took a look at her boys up in the hutch, and decided to find her own perch out of the rain.

Yeah. She sat out the rain in the rhododendron tree. Sigh. When I checked up on her later, she’d left the tree and had gone to her cubbie in the garage, so I could stop worrying about her spending the afternoon in the rhododendron tree.

It rained heavily ALL AFTERNOON, and into the night. It was still raining when I woke  up in the middle of the night and heard rain  and began to worry. I hoped that all my little feral cats were all tucked up in a dry, warm, cozy place. So that’s why I was out in the backyard at 3:22 this AM to check up on my herd:

That’s Taffy, Lickety, and Oscar from next door, high and dry.

I really should have made that hutch big enough so I could crawl in and curl up in the middle of all that purring.

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I was in the dumps yesterday.

I had made the mistake of watching the morning news before I’d had my first cup of tea. I should have known better.

Still, I went through my morning routine. It was while I was feeding the backyard cats their breakfast when I remembered to make my usual request of the Great Spirit, even thought it seemed especially futile today:

Please Great Spirit, let me see what you are trying to show me today.

Oh lordy, I know the world is a tragic place . Some many sorrowful stores about the hate, violence, and injustice that takes place every single day. This world can break your heart six times before breakfast. Really, it’s a wonder that the weight of all the misery on this planet doesn’t do us in.

Sometimes, I wonder why we go on, writing books and painting pictures and talking to cats, when it’s all going to end in either a mushroom cloud or a super nova. That is what was on my mind early this morning.

All I hope for, when I talk to the Great Spirit, is to be able to see past the obvious. In this world, in all its pointlessness, all I want to see is a little sign of life.

A little sign that joy is still possible, that happiness matters, that beauty dignifies the cost of having a heart and a soul. Is that too much to ask?

Well, no sooner had my request been sent up to the universe, when I got my answer.

I saw this.

Do you see it?

It’s not far from the paws of my helper/hindrance Lickety, the Fierce Feral Cat (who was hoping we’d see something that would be Friskie’s Ocean Fish flavored.) It was right there, what the Great Spirit wanted to show me today.

Do you see it?

It sparkled!

Now, you, dear readers, know that I collect blue jay feathers like they were sapphires or lapis lazuli because, mineral or vegetable, blue is the rarest color found in nature and so, in my opinion, every shade of blue is holy.  But I’ve never had a shade of blue sparkle at me before.

But, now that I think about it some more, it didn’t so much sparkle as glow.

I didn’t even know they made blue jay feathers this small. It’s the very tiniest blue jay feather I’ve ever seen! Are there hummingbird-sized blue jays that I don’t know about?

Well, I picked this itty-bitty feather up out of the grass and I felt such a rush of appreciation for this teeny tiny answer to my Request of the Great Spirit that for a moment I forgot that I was in a bad, entropy-filled mood.

For a moment I forgot to be afraid of where this nasty, brutal, libertarian-jihad-filled world was headed. OK, it’s not a cure for cancer or a Middle East Peace Treaty; but for one little moment in one little life, things were OK.

This just goes to show you: Nothing is too small to be holy. In fact, in a world such as this, maybe the only things that redeem it day by day are the small shining (or glowing) little bits and pieces of a bigger miracle.

The Great Spirit is very nice about reminding you of this. All you have to do is ask.

And don’t forget to say “Thank You” when She answers.

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