Now that I am living in the cloud forest near Mindo Ecuador, I am distanced from urban areas and spend most of my time in blissful solitude. Every so often someone will ask, “Aren’t you scared?” or “Don’t you get bored?” or even “Are you sure you are happy out there?”
Sometimes I smile (smirk?) and reply, “I’m not wired like most…”
Even when very young, I preferred the sky as my roof and a fallen tree as my chosen furniture, and I’d seek out my favorite places in the woods and sit for half an hour or more before moving to another area. I craved the hushed quiet of the wilderness, though the nuances of subtle sounds filled my hours with joy. The wind whispering through the trees provided the most-constant soundtrack as I admired and inspected wildflowers that dotted the landscape. I learned to stomp on the ripened fruit of the ‘Maypop,’ and I sometimes tweaked my attention to a sudden splash in the water, which might have been a fish or a snake or a falling limb. I explored the thickets for Brer Rabbit, though I always failed at sneaking up on prehistoric-looking softshelled turtles basking on sun-drenched banks.
As an adult, I adapted when necessary, but I have always been my best when alone with nature. My senses come alive, and I merge with the subtle rhythms. Years ago when I spent a month in the city, I asked my birding friend, Michael Godfrey, “If I feel starved for connection with nature, what must the Indians feel when they’ve transplanted to the concrete jungles? How do they survive?”
Michael’s reply was a sobering one, “They don’t. They die a little each day from soul rot.”
Here in the cloud forest, I note the colors of the ripening limon mandarinas and match those with leaves of the same colors in other areas. The flaming bromeliads in the treetops suddenly become more obvious, as do the petite wildflowers in orange-red colors.
I note the startling contrast between the sunlight on an anthurium and the dark shadows behind it. A lone fern seems to wave from the footbridge and whispers, “I’m a squatter and hope that you approve!” A petite tody flycatcher flits in the shadows of dense foliage, while the call of a raptor nudges me to look skyward in the strangler fig.
For weeks I searched to identify what species repeated the same sound for hours at a time. Most every day it taunted me. “Is it a frog? A cricket? A bird?” Donning a raincoat I quietly followed the pied piper’s sound late one drizzly afternoon. As I crept closer, the mystery singer hushed. When I returned to the house, the song resumed. How shocked (and excited) I was to finally spot the singer weeks later — it was a magestic toucan! It was so pleased that I enjoyed its song that it brought a friend the next morning to perform a duet!
Sometimes being still is not enough, and the act of pulling weeds or transplanting cuttings – or even cooking (!) – helps my senses awaken. Without that prep, and without the silence, it’s difficult for me to move into even-more inward work – like painting! Like a dog going round and round before settling into sleep posture, I have my own unique rhythms.
The following excerpt gives me comfort, as it shows that even a master like Matisse was ‘not wired like most.’
(by Andre Kostelanetz)
On Easter Sunday, 1945, the last year of the war, my wife and I were in Marseilles. We had just arrived for four days’ rest, after a tour of entertaining the troops in Burma. It was a wonderful morning, sparkling but not too warm. There were no tourists, of course, and we decided to drive along the Riviera to Vence and call on Matisse. We had never met the painter, but we knew well his son Pierre in New York.
We found Matisse living in a small house, with a magnificent, sweeping view beyond his vegetable garden. In one room, there was a cage with a lot of fluttering birds. The place was covered with paintings, most of them obviously new ones. I marveled at his production, and I asked him, “What is your inspiration?”
“I grow artichokes,” he said. His eyes smiled at my surprise and he went on to explain: “Every morning, I go into the garden and watch these plants. I see the play of light and shade on the leaves, and I discover new combinations of colors and fantastic patterns. I study them. They inspire me. Then I go back into the studio and paint.”
This struck me forcefully. Here was perhaps the world’s most celebrated living painter. He was approaching 80, and I would have thought that he had seen every combination of light and shade imaginable. Yet every day he got fresh inspiration from the sunlight on an artichoke; it seemed to charge the delicate dynamo of his genius with an effervescent energy almost inexhaustible.
I wondered what might have happened if Matisse had never taken that morning stroll in the garden. But such a withdrawal is not in his character. Sometimes a man builds a wall around himself, shutting out the light. Not Matisse. He goes out to meet the world, discovers it and seems to soak up the discoveries in his very pores.
In such a process, man inhales the chemicals of inspiration, so to speak.” Andre Kostelanetz (1901 – 1980)
The battery is almost dead in the laptop, so this Timeout wil go out a few days early. Will be back at the end of the week. Thanks for your continued support!
What does it take to bring out your creative best? What are the chemicals of your inspiration?