September 28, 2009

Changing Weather

Suddenly it's fall. The sky is heavy and rain threatens. We're coming back to good old rainy Olympia as we know and love it. Hoards of leaves will blanket the gardens very shortly. But, this year we were blessed with a ton of beautiful days which we rarely see at this time of year. We could bask in the sun at the cafe and take leisure on park benches. It has been good.

In summer at Olympia Zen Center, you cannot see beyond the rim of trees that encircle the temple grounds. Leaves are thick on the big leaf maples and they do not admit much sunshine. They've grown so huge in the ten years we've been here that we get less and less sun on the roof. Inside the house is natural air conditioning. This is good on the few days when we have very hot weather. Otherwise indoors it's a little bit cool for a good feel of summer.

On the other hand, the canopy is excellent for maintaining native plant species since there are fewer invasive weeds where the ground is protected from the sun. The tree seedlings bombard the earth attempting to restore itself to an evergreen forest which was the original condition of this area. A hundred years ago, logging occurred, a logging railroad was built through the area so plant life was disturbed. Big leaf maple and other deciduous trees infiltrated and pushed out the evergreens. What was natural however, will always attempt to restore itself. Thus, billions of evergreen seedlings land in open spaces every year and small cedars or pine make an attempt at maturity. Slowly we see new evergreen trees emerge and slowly we allow them their space. But, the forest is dark and we cannot expect the direct light of sunshine among tall trees. This is the nature of Washington.

Speaking of light, Jitoku, June and I went to the Seattle Art Museum yesterday. Among the exhibitions were seven paintings by Andrew Wyeth presented in tribute to his life. He died earlier this year. I had seen a retrospective of his work many years ago at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but the seven paintings in their presentation were deeply moving. It was morning and there were few people so it was possible to stay with the paintings for as long as you liked. Six of the paintings were of Helga and one landscape. Helga was the German woman he met through friends who became his model, muse, and love. The paintings are infused with sensuality and feeling. Wyeth says that you can't paint if you can't love and he also says, "Finally, if a painting is good it will be mostly memory." There was a jolt of unexpected sentiment that hit the heart in seeing these paintings. I felt mixed in their world of deep abiding feeling as they both stood in the snow for hours in freezing weather while he painted the largest of the watercolor paintings he ever executed. You cannot look at these paintings and not get a glimmer of their depth of love, feeling, respect for one another.

Perhaps all of this is about light and how light plays on objects and what the light points to when an artist highlights a moment on the canvas. There is the brief stroke of the brush that points to a strand of hair, when light makes us feel something and we are taken into the play of life at that very moment. We are in Wyeth's direct experience and we complete the painting when we enter what he points to and feel what we feel that he felt.

Perhaps this is about the play of light on the forest floor and the moment when we see a shaft of sunlight through leaves. Perhaps it is about memory, a primal memory that functions also new in every moment that cannot expect anything but is waiting without waiting for the moment to reveal itself because we know at the great heart of everything who and what we are. A strand of light can say all this if we are vulnerable and open enough to allow experience.

P.S. The pears are a snapshot by my daughter at her open studio in Zurich. You can see her photography at