Week 38: Holly’s Escape

Our corner of suburbia is perched on a high hill overlooking woods, farmland, grassy expanses, and a distant sliver of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On my daily walk with our dog, Holly, we enjoy this view from the safe confines of our quiet cul-de-sacs and “no-thru” streets. Despite the fact that we are only five minutes away from Target, Wal-Mart, and Lowes, the drive home might leave one with a pleasant, if perhaps fleeting, feeling of a pastoral escape. The half mile section of country road that connects our neighborhood to the main highway may present a deer crossing, a glimpse of the Rivanna River through the woods, or an open field with a pond. I experience these things from inside a moving car, and depending on the day, they may quickly bounce off my consciousness like a commercial on the television, or slowly seep in like a long, beautiful poem.

One day the front door was left ajar as children ran in and out of the house, and Holly escaped. This is normally no cause for alarm. She will sprint a few laps around the adjacent yards, then come running back to me as soon as I can say, “Come get your treat!” But on this day, Holly had bigger plans. Maybe it was the band of six little boys chasing her down the street and over the hill. Or maybe she just kept running and running and it felt so good she didn’t want to stop. She ran past the last house on the cul-de-sac, through their big back yard, all the way down the high hill to the road, crossed a treacherous stretch of traffic, scooted under a fence, and burst onto the open field and out to the pond. Our boy ran home crying to me, “Holly crossed the big road!” In a moment of panic, my husband and I grabbed the leash, jumped into the car, and drove down the hill, crossed the road, and pulled up along the fence in front of the field. There she was, sniffing around the pond, happy and free.  I was so glad to see her alive, I forgot how mad I was. Part of me even envied her a bit… what was it like to run beyond the familiar boundaries of your world, and feel the exhilaration of escape?

Holly’s Escape, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Holly sleeping

Detail, Map of the Suburbs

Detail, Holly’s Escape

Detail, Holly’s Escape

Week 21: Neighborhood Pets

Collage papers and drawings

This week’s collage is a playful exploration of the neighborhood pets and their relationships. As I walk my dog, Holly, around the cul-de-sac and up and down our quiet streets, we often encounter other animals, sometimes from a distance, and sometimes nose to nose.  As short barks or sniffs are exchanged, I wonder about their communications and understanding of one another.  Through many small drawings, I tried to capture the personalities of actual pets in the neighborhood, as well as drawing new characters of my own invention. My approach allowed for simple cartoon-like animals, as well as more realized renderings. I borrowed leftover paper elements from previous collages and combined them with new drawings. The process was fun, light-hearted and maybe a little bit silly at moments. Welcoming this attitude in my work felt great. Here is the final collage, followed by favorite details.

Neighborhood Pets, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Neighborhood Pets- The Nest, Olivia and the Mocking Bird

Detail, Neighborhood Pets- Holly and the Mocking Bird

Detail, Neighborhood Pets- A cat crosses the cul-de-sac

Detail, Neighborhood Pets- This is their neighborhood too!

Pets

A good sniffing spot

Holly walks beside me, the dangling leash a mere formality between us. We make our way along the usual route, occasionally stopping to watch a bird, finding comfort in our synchronized daily habit.  Suddenly the leash goes taut. Holly jerks me out of my daydream. A white-tailed rabbit hip-hops in a zig-zag pattern across the neighbor’s lawn.  An orange cat pounces after it. A little white dog lets out an affirmative yap and joins the parade.  Muffled barks come from the house down the street, as a wet nose presses against the glass pane beside the front door.  Holly and I observe the commotion. She looks at me as if to ask if she can join in the fun. But the leash stays on and we continue our walk. She stops to sniff a patch of grass with great interest. I remember reading once that for dogs, smells are like messages written in invisible ink. They may understand who left the message and how long ago, judging time and distances in way that is alien to us humans. But what does it say? She continues rifling nose first through the grass, inhaling the information, much like the way I approach the New Yorker when it comes in the mail. Wordless smells, tell me all your secrets…

Holly surveys the neighborhood from the hilltop, a galaxy of smells.

Week 3: The Snowy Walk

This weekend brought a wintry surprise to the neighborhood landscape.

Glittering ice coated all the trees and a light snow fell. Just enough to create some winter beauty without the hazardous road conditions.  It made for a chilly but beautiful morning walk with Holly. I was very excited for the opportunity to include snow in this week’s collage. I envisioned the collage as a kind of pictorial map of our walking route. I wanted to include a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood, while also offering a more intimate view of our experience together when we stop at her favorite spot, listen to the birds, allow the world to fall away, and watch the woods come alive in the unfolding present. Here is the completed piece:

I was so enthralled with painting the snowy landscape, that I chose to use fewer collage elements this week.  The trees and landscape are all painted with acrylic paint and gel mediums.  I experimented with thick layers of gel, then scraped into the paint with stiff brushes, creating an engraved “drawing” in paint. The houses were again created by using my son’s Lego piece as a stamp.  I used collage elements to populate the landscape with birds and woodland creatures. Many small drawings of mice, squirrels, deer, birds and owls were tucked in among the trees and branches. I also included Holly and myself in the form of a tiny ink drawing that was cut out with a blade and glued onto our special place on the map. Here is a detail of my favorite part:

Sneak preview of Week 4: A special visitor is coming…!

The Morning Walk

Holly: Zen Labradoodle

The Morning Walk is a daily ritual of My Suburban Life.  It may appear that I am just walking my dog, Holly, but the walk is for my benefit as well as hers. Although she is always with me, it is a time when I feel alone with my thoughts. It is my time to worry, complain, plan, and dream. Sometimes I may mull over a difficulty, other times I will reflect on what is good, or plan for what is possible.  It was during one of these walks that the whole idea for this project kept bumping up against my thoughts.  I resisted it for months, but then decided that I either had to stop walking the dog (not an option) or surrender to the idea.

I usually allow my mind to wander through its habitual patterns of re-playing the past or worrying about the future. Sometimes an idea or solution will rise to the top and I take this little gift home and into my day. But I learned that sometimes it is important to let go of the inner dialog, and just experience the walk for what it is– a sensory delight of fresh air, sights, smells and sounds.  It was Holly who taught me this. On work days, I am in somewhat of a hurry, needing to get the walk over with so I can go on to the day’s tasks. My mind churns ahead to my To Do List, and replays the detailed litany of things not to forget. I walk briskly and with an intention on the finish line.

Then Holly stops. I tug on the leash and she does not move.  She is transfixed, staring silently into a grove of trees. Annoyed, I tug again. Finally, I give up and stop to see what she is looking at. The incessant conversation in my head quiets, and suddenly I hear the birds. They are so loud I can’t believe I didn’t notice them before. I peer into the woods and see the subtle movements of the dry leaves in the wind, the sudden flicker of a squirrel’s tail, the patchwork of dark and light shapes among the branches. I smell the dead leaves and the cold air. I notice my breath and the weight of my limbs and remember that I am alive. We walk home and I am grateful for the walk, for Holly, for my life.