The story behind my painting “The Christmas Bridge”
A few years ago we had a unexpected snow storm on Christmas Eve.
Two weeks in the making, we had already sent invitations in advance to a host of our closest friends. “Join us for a very special Christmas dinner!” we promised.
The storm as it turned was insurmountable and dangerous and so it became impossible for our friends to reach us.
And so we sat, the two of us, with a king’s ransom of dinner, lights, music, desserts and unopened gifts – feeling, well a bit empty. Our special evening didn’t seem quite so, well, special.
We sat, eggnogs calming, candles burning, the blue twilight casting something magical across the little bridge out the front window.
Nothing had changed really. The bridge into our house stood steadfast, waiting for our guests to arrive, not seeming concerned about the turn of events in the slightest. And it would, it promised, continue waiting each and every day. That was its purpose, its reason for being after all.
“The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.
― Eric Hoffer
That evening we agreed that this small unassuming bridge represented, to us, friendship. Friendship which remains true whatever challenges come along.
I wish for each and every one of you (who have so kindly blessed me with your comments and visits) successful arithmetic this season. That you can find blessings to count. Perhaps even some that at first don’t seem especially so.
“When you stop searching and you calm down and you put your books away, and you confront yourself and see what you are all about, that will bring about bliss faster than anything you can ever imagine or ever do.”
“Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine.”
Alexander Smith, Dreamthorp: Essays written in the Country (1863).-
“The wisteria was especially lovely in my garden this year. As I painted just outside my front door I remembered this wonderful line from the Scottish poet Alexander Smith. It states perfectly how I feel as I meditate in this sun dappled spot.”
One and one-half wandering Jews
Free to wander wherever they choose
Are traveling together
In the Sangre de Christo
The Blood of Christ Mountains
Of New Mexico
On the last leg of a journey
They started a long time ago
The arc of a love affair
Rainbows in the high desert air
Slipping into stone
Hearts and bones
In my New Mexico home the wildflower known as Indian Paintbrush found just the right conditions to take up residence. It’s no easy feat to cultivate the growth of this wild scarlet and orange flower that, in fact, does resemble a free-form paintbrush. Good luck propagating this flower. Seeds are available commercially but it is anything but guaranteed to succeed.
It has very specific requirements and is a true wildflower requiring no human intervention to grow where it wills. Transplanting an Indian Paintbrush does not work as it is a parasitic plant attaching its roots to the roots of other plants and deriving water from them. So it was to my amazement that my specimens spread prolifically all over my land, increasing its range each year. Here is one of several artworks I’ve created on this unique, complex and truly wild botanical wonder!
There are multiple legends about the origins of this remarkable beauty. One such legend is shared in Tomie dePaola’s children’s book the…
…’Legend of the Indian Paintbrush“. This is the story of a young Indian boy who did not fit in his society’s assigned role as warrior. Today I suppose he would be labeled “special needs“. Eventually, he finds his place as an artist. (Hooray for that!) And as you might guess, this eventually leads to the origin of the Indian Paintbrush flower. But I’m not giving away the punchline! Here is a 5 minute version of the story by Tomie dePaola:
This striking perennial is honored by poet A.V. Hudson,
“What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”
“But when fall comes, kicking summer out … it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.”
St. Richards Catholic Church turned 60 last spring. I’ve created a fine art print above to capture how striking this humble Borrego Springs mission style church appears before the looming Santa Rosa mountains.
The background story:
1940s – No road, no telephone, just a name
Borrego Springs, California was barely connected to the outside world in the 1940s. There were dirt roads, no telephones, no outside electricity. The Catholic Church purchased land for the church site naming it the “de Anza Catholic mission,” after Juan Bautista de Anza, the early Spanish explorer who traversed the Borrego Valley in 1774.
1950s – Volunteers, money, new name
Built by volunteers and financed by 16 local Catholic families the church was completed in April, 1954. It’s final name – St. Richard Catholic Church.
1960 – Fire! send for help from Julian!
In 1960 the church survived a fire but was severely damaged. State park rangers and local residents fought the flames with garden hoses for over an hour until State Forestry fire equipment from the mountain community of Julian, California arrived – a 31 mile trip. After repairs the church was reopened.
1970 – 2001 How about some stained glass?
In the 1970s Julian, California glass artist James Hubbell installed windows along the side of the church. In 2001, world-renowned stained glass artist Sarah Hall, using glass from France and Germany, created an 8′ by 8′ foot stained glass window behind the church altar, illuminating the darkest part of the sanctuary.