Reflections and notes on the relationship of art to nature and of nature to art from along Warwoman Creek, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Katuah Province of Turtle Island, where the light, the dark, the seasons, the time of deep past, deep present and deep future all mix in alchemal mists to reveal and hide and transform these slopes, shaded coves, bright rivers, deep forests and me, and together sustain me and my art.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


I once found myself walking along an ocean beach late at night; no stars, no moon, the dark expansive. In such darkness sound too becomes expansive. The rhythmic roaring of waves collapsing just a few yards from the beach, and there dark ridges one after another bulged out of the murk and then turned a cold white as they broke. Such a moment was transfixing - all the coming and going, each falling, folding, swept up in the other.

We’re walking at night along the street, thinking of the way ahead, perhaps of the way we’ve come, and happening to glance up into the dark, suddenly we see the face of the full moon tangled in the trees. For a moment you realize moon is looking at you too, and something ineffable passes between you.

Surely we all experience such moments that are startling, arresting either in their unexpected clarity or in their affect upon us.

We’re at the bedside of someone dear to us and near death, their breathing slow, shallow, and measured as if willful. Their eyes move away toward something in the corner of the room you can't see, then move back to your face. You watch theirs relax and years seem to slough away, and you know something has passed between you.

Such moments grab you. Irresistible, they take hold of us in an entirely bodily and emotional way. We sometimes speak later of the awe enveloping them.

I once spent nine harrowing days and nights waiting for my wife Lynn to claw her way back from the edge of death in the ICU. I wandered the hospital’s hallways and waiting areas not able to sit still. An antiseptic fluorescent light suspended over all things, events, and people, all coming and going. No dawn or sunset, no daylight or shadows. Time was anesthetized. And place too, every hallway on every floor exactly the same. But as I prowled the halls of this no place and no time I began to notice photographs hung along the walls. Black and white images of people’s faces in laughter, in sadness, anguish, in self reflection. Our eyes met, and something within us met (1).

Such moments take possession of us. We are taken into the thrall of something powerful, sometimes overwhelming. And then the special circle of its presence around us suddenly evaporates, it's gone, and we are returned once more to our everyday humdrum lives.

Some of us can recollect many such moments in our lives, some not so many. In times of tedious stress or hardship, they may not come at all.

It could be said such special moments are lighted times; times in which something around us became illuminated, and something shown forth out of a murk. We can carry these shining moments for a lifetime. You surely have yours. I have mine.

That they were just moments adds to their poignancy - our lives are always hurrying forwards, tumbling, click-clacking onwards. We are taught in our rationalizing mind that the 'arrow of time' and our lives only move one way.

In the Cataloochee Valley one early morning in May, when the sunlight suddenly broke through the cloud banks and streaked a line of cadmium over umber shadows across the valley floor - that was one of those irresistible and possessing moments too.

And again later when I painted that line on canvas, that was another of those moments. One can sometimes, while painting, extend that moment of startling presence, and that can create more of it. My hopeless wish is that you too will come to share something of this moment, be transformed as well. But you will come to it with your very own well of gathered experience. But sometimes, just sometimes, something passes between us.

I have no way of really knowing this; just the hope I have entertained now for most of my years that if the artist, the writer, the singer just focuses on pairing down the words, the brush strokes, the notes, to tightly wind around the unworded felt experience, then the experience is partiially caught in the trembling net of its light. And if one does this, then it is sometimes possible for others to catch the shape of their own experience in the strokes. I know no way to determine this. But sometimes something does pass between us, and a presence comes to visit us outside of time.

(1) if you want to see more of this photographer's work, go to John Zeuli Photography