10,000 Hours of Playing Possum
It’s Sunday morning and I just received a text (wrong number): “Please tell Jim I am having coffee with the Duke. Ready to get to the rat killing.” Well, I’m having tea beside Jack and Kosmo and not getting ready for rat killing. Quite the opposite, if you’ve been following this blog. Since last writing I have captured mouse “Theodore” and released him in a field of cut sorghum. It took me several days to get to that, and what with my constant check-ins to see how he was doing, I think we grew rather fond of each other, or at least I like to imagine it that way. But in spite of my attempts at kindness to the local wildlife, there was some violence here last night. The dogs, now lying on the couch pretending to be quite innocent of their recent exploits, captured a possum. After I called them off, I did a not-so-close inspection. There was lots of dog slobber but no blood that I could see. Before moving to the country, I would have been wondering what to do with this limp hunk of wet fur. Was it suffering? If so, would I be able to do what it took to stop the suffering? But I know better now. It was “playing possum” and likely not hurt at all. Sure enough, before going to bed, I checked out the spot where Kosmo had been forced to drop it…..no possum.
I have read that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something, but when did this little guy find that many hours to perfect the art of looking dead? Really, it’s uncanny and something you need to see to believe. Could those 10,000 hours come from the practice of its ancestors? Are the hours stored as cellular memories? I need to research the lineage of possums. Birds come from dinosaurs and maybe that’s why they’re so bright—all those millions of hours of practicing one thing or another. O.K., I admit I’ve recently been rather negative about the intelligence of chickens, but they used to peck at me as a young girl on my grandmother’s farm and I’ve never quite gotten over that. But think about it—-birds can fly! I have had dreams where I am flying and there is nothing better, and birds do it all the time (O.K., forgive me, but not so much with chickens).
If you got to this blog by way of my portfolio page, you will know that my latest artwork is about birds. Birds in trees. Birds on the ground. Single birds. Courting birds. Flying birds. (Yes, even one with chickens.) Before I started all this, I didn’t think about how birds had played a role in my life. But now I do and I explain that in my artist statement:
“So Many Birds….So Much Magic
I went to an encaustic workshop this past summer with a dear friend. At first I didn’t see what the excitement was about, as I found the wax unwieldy and the results often less than attractive. But as the four day workshop continued, I began to see the excitement involved in encaustic and all the many possibilities of using it.
But why a series on birds, a subject I’ve seldom used in previous art? My favorite piece from the workshop was the back cover of a small book, showing several robins in the snow. As I looked at this, I began to think about birds in my life. The little female goldfinch that I believe started my journey into adoption. The poem I wrote about the robin that came to my mother’s door every morning one spring and how she said to me, “I don’t need anything for my birthday….and besides, I have a robin.” The way nothing quite moves me as watching the birds feeding outside my window in winter. The Anne Lamott saying that keeps me going, telling me to accomplish my goals “bird by bird”. And so, bird by bird, the series began.
Perhaps birds are magical because they represent our own humanity: our vulnerability in what can be difficult and cruel conditions, our potential to bring joy and beauty to this world, and our desire to soar to great heights. My hope is that, as you look at this series of bird images, you are reminded that nothing is too small or too commonplace to hold great magic.”
This series is now up at Strecker-Nelson gallery. Each bird comes with a quote under the title card. My favorite is one from Emily Dickinson: “I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.” I love my birds and I don’t mean just the images. I feel connected to them as if they were real. The two bluebirds nestled side by side. The gold bird sitting in a tree with red berries. The robins looking for food under the late spring snow. Especially the robins in the snow. So many birds….so much magic.
Meanwhile, Bobby likes to pose with some flowers that friends gave me at the show opening. This replaces any thoughts of rodent scaring. And I don’t really mind. If there’s another Theodore, we can have a conversation through the metal holes of his little home away from home. And Bobby can watch the birds outside the window, where she can’t reach them, but can only wonder at how they got to be so smart.