The best laid plans…

Yes, I know. It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything.

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. I know that better than most. You never know when the bus is headed your way. When lightening will strike. Or the rogue cell has started replicating. I’m holding out for this being a mere bump in the road.

Here was my plan about three months back: I was enjoying a busy time at my seasonal job at the garden centre, in the glass house, spending sunny, warm days planting green things while a  bitterly cold and overlong winter raged out of doors. Evenings and days off, I was happily honing the sketches for the next children’s book – an alphabet of the West Coast – which fostered a daily mental stroll through the Pacific rainforest and along coastal beaches. Once the gardening season wound down, I  planned to ramp up to full-time studio hours to finish the illustrations, ending up just in time to jet out to Kelowna for a wedding and then off to Turkey for dig season. And then – who knew? – perhaps on to Europe this year? That was the plan.

Instead? The Zincirli dig season was cancelled due to the current Syrian situation. Disappointing, but that opened up an opportunity to join girlfriends for a week on Prince Edward Island in July. It also meant that I could stay longer in Kelowna once the book was done. I would be home to keep a vegetable garden for the first time in years and finally plant the new perennial bed that I had begun preparing two years ago, repaint the front of the house and stain the back deck…the revised plan kept expanding.

The latest plan, though, has me not going anywhere – not Turkey, not Kelowna, not Europe –  not for a while and that will be after a trip to hospital. I’m scheduled for neurosurgery.

Neurosurgery. I kind of like the sound of it, if not the reality. No, a surgeon is not going to root around in my skull a là Dr. McDreamy in Grey’s Anatomy; he’s going to give my spinal cord a little more room. If you want all the technical details, it’s a posterior cervical decompression with instrumented fusion. Look it up! It’s quite an amazing procedure, really –  if it’s not your spine, that is.

How did all this come about? I started noticing some bothersome symptoms last spring – numbness and tingling in my fingers and a feeling that I might faint when I tipped my head back to look up or reach above my head. It wasn’t constant, so I mostly ignored it. I concluded that I probably needed physiotherapy, that it might be related to previous issues with carpal tunnel syndrome and so I shelved it until I had more time – which was never, of course. The tingling got worse, affecting my arms and, sometimes, legs. My daughter remarked that I was walking funny and truthfully, I was feeling unusually clumsy. So I stopped procrastinating and saw a doctor – who immediately sent me on to a neurologist who then sent me on to a neurosurgeon. Arthritic bone and herniated disks in my neck are pinching my spinal cord – due in part to aging, in part to genetics and in part to some mythical injury that both neurologists are convinced I must have experienced somewhere along the line. The surgery will relieve the pressure and reverse most of the symptoms; I may be left with a bit of numbness in my fingertips.

The current plan? I’ve left the garden centre, the book is on hold and I will have surgery next week and settle in for some recovery time. Kelowna was inside the recovery window, so I had to give that up. Prince Edward Island will be comfortably outside the projected recovery and still on the agenda. The garden hasn’t been planted. The perennials will have to wait and so will the front porch repainting. The back deck hasn’t been stained, but has been fitted up with new patio furniture to create a cosy recovery nest. I’ve loaded up my e-reader and there is still time to round up some interesting plant material to sketch while I laze in healing comfort. Perhaps those of you nearby will drop in during the month of June to laze with me? I may even manage a blog entry or two with all that time for rest and reflection.

That’s the plan.


Painting a morning


Some months back an illustrator friend wrote a post entitled “A confession and resolution.” In a roundabout way, this post of mine began there. Thank you, Kathryn Killackey, for both your challenge and inspiration – this goes out to you.

A donkey brays. A car door slams. A child’s small voice is answered by an older, deeper one. A gunshot cracks and the echo comes back seconds later. A swallow swoops by in the flowing wind, close enough that I hear the zzzzt of wings. Each time I shift, crisp grass crackles under me. My brush chinks against the water container as more shots sound, echoes cascading like far-off thunder.

I sit atop a high mound of earth with a panoramic view of a mountain valley at my feet. Toy houses are scattered across the slopes below me. Between the peaks a city glitters in the haze, unreal in its distance. Later I will learn that the hillock on which I rest once housed a tomb and ancient human remains, amateurishly excavated by the landowners.

As I craft my sketch, I work to understand the shadows; each shape yields a clue to the landscape casting them. This mass is rounded, that one sharper, these two connect with a curve, that one sits in front of this; mentally, I walk the highlands I will never reach by climbing. i study the varying shapes of trees – spheres and cones and cylinders – and note the subtlety coloured fields. The early morning light intensifies while I paint; shadows grow and recede. The sunlight grows warm on my skin.

I am aware of the immense pleasure of the act of drawing, my inner narrative both stirred and stilled by the quiet. This morning will be locked in my brain by this: the sounds, the sights, this feeling. One minute I am delighted at the ease of recording what I see. Later, I’m intensely aware of my inability to capture the enormity of the scene, conscious of my short-comings: too careful with colour, too cautious with shadows and contrast. The page is too small for this panorama. There is not enough time…

Eventually these concerns drop away. Sound, light, wind, brush, busy brain all blend into the solitude of learning this vista, understanding it well enough to command this stroke and then this until the picture I intended is swept up in the picture I have made. If only for me alone, it encompasses this perfect morning –  even the donkey’s bray and a child’s joyful greeting.