My mother used to lie on the ground in our maple bush and take photos of the sunlight streaming through the tall trees. I remember a curious look on her face the first time she showed me one of the photos. She was clearly enchanted by the image, and she seemed so proud of her creation. She surprised me that day and she knew it.
Growing up, if my father wasn’t home he was in the woods. Even when it was not maple syrup season, he was still there often – felling trees, organizing the shanty, clearing away dead trees, or splitting wood. As a child I thought everyone’s dad lived part time in the woods. My father loved it when mom joined him there, and she often did. Rightly so, she worried about him out there alone bringing thousand-pound trees to their knees. A man of few words, my father wouldn’t say much when he headed out to tend to his community of wooded friends. My mother would practically fly out the door to join him. She didn’t love working in the bush but she absolutely loved him.
Today my pup and I ventured into a part of the forest not unlike the family sugar bush of my childhood. The fall colors were a rainbow of brilliance. With no one else to be found, it felt like a private art gallery on opening day that everyone else had forgotten about. Walking amidst these massive and gentle giants, I felt so protected and quietly cheered on in my quest for nothing in particular. As I looked up at the familiar skyscape with bright sunshine filtering through green and red leaves, a long buried vision returned. It was a memory of my mother the artist.
A typical day in the life of Doris would show a hard-working woman flying around the farm, doing for others everything humanly imaginable in a flurry of smiling love. She was the embodiment of unconditional love, although I often question how much of that love she turned inward. If she did have a soul-ache or a dark day, she felt it was no one’s business but her own; she was too busy shining light on the rest of the world to slow down and feel too much. I had no doubt in the artistry of her heart. Everyone knew she was a special woman, gifted in the ways of sharing and loving. But looking up into the trees, I remembered another aspect of her. I glimpsed her free spirit, her spontaneous and whimsical self.
Envisioning my mother with her camera on the forest floor in a moment of pure amusement, is a deeply satisfying feeling. Somehow this resurrected memory gives me permission to breathe a little deeper into my own life. To pause and smell the fresh air. To be true to myself even when it doesn’t serve anything remotely practical.
Like Doris, we all have artistic parts of ourselves, and we don’t necessarily need a canvas or a musical instrument to explore them. She was an artist of the Spirit, but she was also a fellow lover of tall trees. The fact that she tapped into her creativity while my industrious father tapped maple trees somehow makes our changing world seem a little more sane. A little less noisy, and a little more present.
Twenty years later and she has surprised me yet again; I’m sure she knows it. That, my friends, is my mother the artist. I hope she touched your heart too, because she would want it that way.