I went to Bald Hill this morning for a quiet walk before the temperature passes 90 degrees. It’s been a tough couple of weeks, dealing with my aging mother, worrying about world events, and I always find spiritual repair there, always see or hear some natural phenomenon I’ve never witnessed before, and come away uplifted.
Oak Leaf Gall, mixed media by Kerry McFall
Today was different, leaving me with more questions than answers. The pasture seemed quiet and golden as I rounded the first bend and gazed out to Mary’s Peak. The blackberries tumbling over each other beside the trail promised the first fruit of the season, but it was a tease. The few dark berries among the red and green didn’t budge when I pulled on them, Drat.
Then I saw the vultures. Three very big and very busy black bodies flapping and fussing around something small and brown. I was too far away to see what it was, probably a blessing. Maybe a calf, maybe a dog or a fawn. I’m not squeamish, but I just didn’t expect to be faced with death so graphically, not there, not in my cathedral of nature.
I walked on, thinking about National Geographic TV specials where the lions took down the reeboks, hearing that man’s soothing voice talk about the circle of life, using my hiking pole to keep from slipping on the loose gravel here and there. Just a few steps away, as I planted my pole, there was a bit of fur. I bent closer. No, there was half a mouse, the tail half. Death had visited the pasture twice in recent hours. I know it is never far away in any natural setting, yet I have never seen it there before. I resented its intrusion.
I started up the little hill by the farm house and saw a bluebird pair swooping in and out of one of the nest boxes on a fence post. I stopped to listen and was rewarded with the reassuring sounds of baby birds inside. Life goes on. Life is good. Up ahead, the pear tree in the ditch was heavy with small green fruit, and a distant cow called out repeatedly. I continued to the west end of the pasture where the cattle had congregated in the shade – there were several calves in the herd, small and clean and perfect, that hadn’t been there three weeks ago when I came by. A lone black and white and brown dog wandered casually at the edges of the herd. Was he working? Was he lost? I decided today was not my day to fix that, or as a recently-heard quote sums it up so well: not my circus, not my monkey. Throughout the day there would be many people passing by who might be better prepared mentally to deal with him. The cow continued to call for her lost calf. Such a sad sound. The odd thought occurred to me – how long before she realized the calf wasn’t coming back? How long before her milk dried up? Would her udders become infected? How was it that I have lived 62 years and don’t know the answer to that kind of basic agrarian question?
Up at the barn, I sat for awhile and stared at the hazy silhouettes on the eastern horizon, glad I had brought a water bottle, savoring the sweet cool water. Smoke must be drifting in from the fires in Eastern Oregon. Mother Nature’s math: Summer heat + Lightning = Fire. Fire = renewal. Fire = death. Ergo Death = Renewal?
I finished the loop trail, stopping now and then to breathe in the warm sweet scent of grasses and forest, picking up an oak leaf with a puff ball on its back – something to sketch in the afternoon. Just before I reached the parking lot, my cell phone rang. Dang, I meant to turn it off. I almost didn’t answer, but it might be Mom so I fished it out of my pack… it was my son, and I don’t hear from him very often. So I did what I criticize others for doing, I finished the last few yards of my walk with a phone pressed to my head. My calf was calling me. Life is complicated, but life is good… and the Rich Pageant Marches On.
Sharpie fine point pen on NatureSketch 130lb 8.5 x 11
Obviously the leaf needs another couple of layers of green colored pencil at this stage in the photo, and it turned out well, but I’m too hot to take another photo and repost it…I’m pleased with the puffball (gall). The highlight on the ball was preserved by rubbing a white wax pastel over the area early in the process, after just a light yellow wash and preserving some blank white – it resists transparent watercolor. I recently learned from experience though that opaque watercolor just paints right over wax, like acrylic. There’s always something new to learn. I think the lettering is too heavy for the sketch, but oh well, different pen next time.