Healing Chambers

It’s been almost three weeks since I had my second knee replacement surgery and I’m feeling great… with short controlled bursts of terrific.

Light years ahead of where I was this time after the first go round, last November, my loyal nurse and trusty PT crew are keeping me hopping and, while the energy level has some catching up to do, the spirits are soaring right along with the beautiful September clouds passing over the studio yard.

For the first three or four weeks I have to share a bed with a CPM. For the uninitiated, this is a Continuous Passive Motion gizmo that you prop your leg on while the machine slowly moves the appendage from straight to bent. Depending on the degree of pain you are willing to inflict on your own self, this can be a gentle ride or a torture device but it does eventually lead to better motion and this, I am told, is the holy grail of ortho docs.

In order to accommodate this machine we had to flip flop the pillows so that, after 23 years of facing north to sleep, I must turn and face…well, I’m facing this…

ptg over bed

Chilmark Morning, one of the very first oil paintings I ever did, circa 2000, and one which, though it has watched over our dreams ever since, I have come to overlook as one might a headboard.

You can imagine that the many hours spent resting and reclining over the last three weeks have afforded me, nay compelled me, to re-examine the work. The room itself, a view from the tiny bedroom in that magical Sunrise Camp on the bluff in Chilmark, is the geographical center of my soul. So many nights curled in those sheets drifting to sleep with the ocean waves, listening beyond the dark for the muses. It is especially poignant that circumstances forced me to turn around and see it again, now.

In a few short weeks that cabin will be no more. You have read here about what the corrosive storms have done to the bluff, and the plans are being finalized to relocate the three more stable buildings of the camp, but this old lady can not be saved. All of us who have been sheltered by her over the years will certainly keep the memories alive, until they too, like the sands, fade and blow further out to sea. And there is a solid and still growing body of work that visiting artists over the years have created to chronicle the stalwart presence of this shelter during her time on the edge of the planet.

Am I waxing a tad too nostalgic ? Perhaps but you can’t blame it on narcotics, I ditched those day one. More likely it is the forced hiatus, the medically imposed abrupt halting of the maniacal momentum that had become my life of late. The full stop, look and listen which I am respecting and honoring with no expectations…except that I will return to the second half of my life able to walk my dog again and hopefully keep showing up at the easel to record the next chapter for me…and for Camp Sunrise.

Before I head back for my afternoon nap, here’s a look at the original Painter’s Notes for Chilmark Morning…Now go out and take a walk in this sunshine for me…

chilmark-morning

Spring 2000

A sacred place. On a great measure of bluff overlooking Squibnocket Point there is a century old chicken coop become camp cabin. Outside, the seagulls rise on the warming October air and cry out over the persistent sound of the ocean swells. The rusts and siennas and golds of the late season meadow are accented with tiny red specks of newly opened bittersweet. There are long shadows and down along the stone wall the deer have settled into their beds of bracken and cattails hidden behind the grapevines. I have spent a hundred evenings on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Familiar with the darkening shapes of rabbits coming out to find their supper of greens, beacons from the West Chop light house signaling on the horizon, the milky way preparing for its spectacle, and the magic of sparks arcing into the night wind as the logs are emptied from the too smoky fireplace. Inside on this evening with lobster pots and wine glasses stacked in the porcelain kitchen sink, the dog walked one last time and the candles gently blown out, we retire to our cubby hole of a bed. When the last light of the reading lamp goes out there is an indigo blackness, a ghostly breeze lifting the curtain from the sliding window, and a stillness broken only by the rhythm of the waves.

Camp Sunrise. So named almost a century ago by Grandma Sophie for the spectacular sunrises which grace this edge of the planet. It is humbling to stand on that bluff, with the Atlantic ocean before you, and all of the continent behind and watch the sun break over the horizon. I confess to having witnessed more sunsets than sunrises and I covet the cool crisp sheets of the morning.

It was on one of those island mornings that I awoke in the tiny cabin bedroom to a mysterious light. The center of my waking world was awash in firelight. The door alongside the bed was opened to the bathroom. Herself had placed a small candle in the sink while I slept.

(Now, the interior of this cabin is painted white at the beginning of the season every other year or so. There have been great Nor’easters weathered there when, huddled under the thick wool blankets against the storm, I believed that those thick layers of paint were all that was holding the walls and roof together.)

The orange light of that morning’s candle was alive and dancing across that whitewashed wood. The brilliant blue square of the bathroom window had long been a subject in waiting and I had done sketches and taken photographs for a decade in anticipation of capturing that scene. But it wasn’t until that moment, when the echo of her spirit was reflected in the worn surfaces of the porcelain and wood, that I found the way in to the heart of this painting.

The advice to writers is to write of what you know. I believe that is true for artists. I paint the Vineyard to testify and to claim and to hold tight to that sacred piece of the planet. Because I have been there, and I know what it feels like to drown.

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