This morning in my Facebook memories were photos of one of the best days of my life here in Monte Vista. The new Valley Art Co-op (of which I was a member) was about to have its grand opening. I didn’t know any of the people, I liked everybody, was living with my post-teaching resolve just to be nice to people and was in the first blush of love with this place that has turned out to have many sinister little corners. I still love it very much, but it’s not Heaven. The Valley is Heaven, but where people go gets complicated though human complications and nature’s complications are similar — if not the same.
The local window painter had decided against joining the co-op and everyone wanted the windows painted for the Grand Opening. They were mirrored windows and no one could see inside to the shop so this was important. Someone hired the local window painter to paint the windows beside the door, but there were (miles?) of windows and the co-op had no money. I also think, maybe, some of this painter’s friends who were members were a little angry and very disappointed that she hadn’t joined in the experiment of an art coop..
“Can you paint windows?” someone in authority asked me.
“Sure,” I said. I never had but…
I spent a few days sketching and planning the windows. I saw them as the San Luis Valley. People (tourists) driving by the co-op would see the whole valley painted there. We were the VALLEY Art Coop so that made sense and no one complained. I didn’t know the valley well then (I still don’t) but I had a general, global idea. We were going to paint them as PART of the grand opening celebration.
I wanted to use tempera so they’d be easy to wash off, but the local professional window painter said I should use acrylic. I had a lot of craft acrylic so that was all good. The day before, I painted an underpainting of white so the next day all of the painters would have a place to start.
It was glorious.
During the various seasons (Christmas and Crane Festival) we added to the paintings.
The “calumny” began when the professional window painter got jealous and thought I was after her job. The gossip machine started to roll and it was ugly. First she (behind my back) accused me of using the wrong paint. I’d used what she’d told me to use but when I saw how hard it was to get off the window, I switched to tempera for all the seasonal changes. Then she went at me publicly in front of the Post Office and then during the Christmas show of the art guild we were both members of. Calumny was heaped upon my head (which, I understand from 19th century novels, is the usual way of dispensing calumny). She even went and scraped off part of the painting. OH WELL.
Her life would have been so much easier if she’d just 1) joined the co-op in the first place and painted the windows herself, 2) asked me if I wanted to paint windows all over town and compete with her (I didn’t). But strangely how people often don’t do the easy thing.
How does this relate to nature? Ah, geese. At this moment, the two geese families and their babies (almost fully grown) are swimming serenely together in the pond as if the competitive ugliness of spring mating, nest building, egg sitting had never happened. As if they hadn’t gone at each other with the full capacity of killing each other.
And this town “pond” — like that at the Refuge — is small. In the passing years, this woman and I have participated in shows together. Last year, with Covid, the show at the museum still happened, but we artists were pretty much the only people there. She sat down beside me and opened up. I just listened, thinking to myself, “OK, you’re sorry, but you still did that. I forgive you because you thought I was after your bread-and-butter, but you could have saved yourself and me a lot of grief back then and never had to carry around this thing you’ve carried around for 5 years by just TALKING to me.”
Words from Hamlet went through my mind:
“Use every man after his desert and who shall ’scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity. The less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.” Hamlet (2.2)
It was one of those “There but for the grace of God moments.” No one likes calumny heaped upon their head, and I feel about her now the way I feel about rattlesnakes. I don’t seek them out, but I appreciate their role in the ecosystem and see their beauty.