Light Contained

It’s difficult (for me? for everyone?) to paint a portrait of a tree. You think, “There’s a tree. I’ll paint it.” It seems to be completely static, just sitting there, immobile, but when you get into the business of painting that immobility you realize that tree changes every second. If I were prone to looking for spiritual lessons, I think I’d find one there. I have (so far) only one successful tree portrait:


Cottonwood in Snow, 2012, 5 x 7, Oil on panel

“Light takes the tree, but who can tell us how?” wrote Theodore Roethke  in his beautiful poem, “The Waking.” Everything about a tree is tangled up with light. It IS light. Light builds it, light hits it, light calls the tree upward — it is a love relationship between the tree and the sun.

My “church” is a tree in what is now called Palmer Park in Colorado Springs. I found it on a hike with a friend in high school. It’s a gnarled old thing from which, back in 1968, a straight, green and hopeful branch had grown. At the time, my dad was very sick with MS, my mom was a basket case, my brother was a relentless, scary drama and I was about to graduate high school. I wanted some hope. As my friend Kathy and I climbed up a little rock face and hauled ourselves up over the edge, there it was. Hope incarnate in a tree. When my dad died, I put a bit of my tree in his coffin with him. Every trip I made back to Colorado Springs after I moved to California involved a pilgrimage to my tree. That sprout is twice as tall as I, now, and, honestly, not doing great, but it is still there. Perhaps it says the same of me. ❤

16 thoughts on “Light Contained

    • Thank you, Eli! It’s funny but the first thing I tried to paint with my first oils when I was 10 was a tree. It was pretty successful for a 10 year old but I haven’t progressed past that. :p

    • That painting is a scene in my Southern California town! That’s the amazing thing about it. It’s NOT Colorado! It’s Descanso, CA in MARCH! Crazy… Yeah, fall comes early to this altitude and winter stays long. But fall is beautiful — October is enchanting and November light is very dramatic, and you know my dog and I love snow. 🙂

    • I agree — with one added ingredient. I think in art there is something of the artist and I can’t even say what it is, a message about the person who made it, how he saw, and lived life/the world, and what he chose to share. In a way, I guess, art is both an excerpt from a much longer book and an editorial.

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