“Yes Sir, 72 degrees year round,” he said. “They excavated a 3 meter by 3 meter section that was a former beach before they dammed the springs. They found 0ver a 150,000 artifacts from spurs and buckles of cowboys, coins from the Spanish explorers, and countless native American treasures. They even found clovis points that they believe predate any other found in the US, but just haven’t radio-carbon dated them yet. These springs have been in use for 10’s of thousands of years,” he continued.

Leslie, Billy, and I were touring the San Marcos headwaters known as the Aquarena Center. We took a glass bottom boat ride to see the vents, fish, flora, and fauna that thrive in and around the waters. The former amusement park is now being returned to its former pristine and wild incarnation. In a word, it is beautiful. I would have given anything to have had a mask and a snorkel.

 

 

Leslie is an old painting buddy. Before there was facebook, there were niche sites devoted to every discipline—including painting. As fledgling artists who desired community, knowledge, and critique there were but a few options. Yet there was one forum that seemed to be free from the “Atta Boy” or the “you suck” mentalities, but offered real ideas, options, and information in a format that seemed to say, “Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself.” And we did. We developed a community of caring artists that really loved each other, and desired nothing more than success for all its members.

We would occasionally gather for retreats in distant locales to paint, talk, and share beers in hotel rooms until the wee hours. Rising early, we would collect again to eat macaroons and drink coffee to bolster our stamina and our brushes for the days painting and learning. We got better as a group and shared the excitement as our members succeeded in painting, life, and business.

As with all good things. It wasn’t meant to last. Egos, tempers, and jealousy got the better of some of the members, and many of the leaders. What was…was lost. But the love, that still remained in all our minds and hearts and was never forgotten for most.

I hadn’t seen Leslie in 5 years, but when her invitation to make the jaunt from Austin to San Marcos arose, I was elated. Leslie was excited too. In fact, she was so excited and impatient to see me, she was waiting in her front yard and ran down the street to meet me. We laughed, and reminisced and loved each other for the next 48 hours. Her husband Billy is a tremendously kind person, and welcomed me with open arms. Leslie has been following my path for some time, and as such we were able to talk about the art of my pilgrimage. I’ve been able to share my art with many people, but I haven’t been able to really speak of it with anyone who “really” understands, who has read all the same books, has all the same materials, and has tried all the same “tricks” I have. And like magic, the community of the forum and the painting retreats returned and lived in a home in Central Texas.

The next day we dedicated ourselves to painting, drawing, and experimenting. I showed Leslie the couple of tricks and pointers I’ve learned regarding gouache, and we both painted a landscape from imagination. (the best work we produced that day, except for the abstract piece we “accidentally” created washing our brush out on a paper towel. We decided to embarrass ourselves by stepping out of our comfort zone as well. I haven’t painted with oils in 7 months, and she never paints portraits. We gave each other an hour to “do your worst” and we both rose to the challenge. We did our worst, and then laughed for hours about the result.

There is a lot I could tell you about Leslie, but it is who she is at the core of her being that is of the greatest interest. What lives there infuses itself in every decision she makes. In addition, it permeates even the very brush strokes of her paintings. If I had to describe Leslie I would use the words Whimsical, Empathetic, and Kind. Her art work in the early part of her career was infused with a tenacious and emphatic need to get it all out. She cared not for rules or techniques, but needed to describe how she felt and saw the world. But, as time progressed she realized the need for a greater mastery in her chosen voice of expression. She found advice, rules, and parameters that limited her and to a certain extent limited her song. At the same time, it also educated, guided, and gave her sound technique.

The pressure to conform to others “ideals” became so great, that she retreated and didn’t paint for nearly a year. She now has returned to working. Her bones have set and her wings have mended, she now possesses the fortitude, desire, and skills to accomplish her mission. But more than that she has learned the important lesson. Namely, that in life, following you inner voice doesn’t mean to be headless of technique but to use it to accomplish that which must be done with passion. Compassion and love, unsurprisingly were the instruments that helped her ford that torrent.

Leslie has a cat that is 19 years old a rescue. She also has nurtured an abused puppy she took in as well. Like her dog and cat, Leslie had to battle for life, a battle that she almost lost. Leslie’s thyroid lost its battle with cancer years ago and cancer set in. Even though it was removed and she began to recoup, family issues, the loss of loved ones, and other problems began to beset her on all sides. Her cat helped her through it all, often climbing up upon her upper chest and laying directly upon her tormented area. The two of them have faced death before and must face it again.

Every artist realizes that at some point the study of anatomy is of importance. But, at the same time, it feels un-artistic or more like homework. That all changed when Leslie’s cat’s kidneys failed. She knew her time left would be limited, and Leslie took to learning cat anatomy with a vengeance. It was a tool to help her accomplish her goal of loving her cat with art, rather than just studying to be “Smart” or “Good”. Miraculously, the cat came through, but it daily must undergo a form of kitty dialysis. This is where Leslie and Billy’s true compassion were made manifest before me. Many people would keep an animal alive even though the animal was in pain. Many selfish owners don’t want to go through the pain of loss. Leslie is ready and willing to do whatever it takes not to provide the best quality of life for the cat, not to make herself feel better.

Every night in their home, a ritual is performed. Billy uses a heating pad to warm up saline solution, Leslie holds the cat whose body is showing the signs of its age, and together they infuse 10cc’s of fluid under the skin. This would be the same as being given a pint or so of fluid intravenously for us. They pet the cat, comb its fur, and make it as pleasant as possible including warming the fluid so it isn’t ice cold under the skin. The cat doesn’t seem to mind, and actually lets them know when he is ready by mounting the special chair used for the procedure. The moment they think that the cat isn’t happy they are prepared to make the hard, but compassionate decision. While I was there, I saw the cat enjoying his last days. I watched him sit and enjoy the weather, the moths, and the butterflies that in his youth would have provided hours of fun.

I’ve noticed as I’ve run around the country that wherever I go, I can find older people meeting in Starbucks, McDonalds, and Denny’s to form community. They rise early in the morning. Without saying as much it seems they have all come to the same conclusion; we don’t have much time left. You never know when you ticket is up. This day maybe your last, use it to love selflessly, and love as many people as you possibly can. Try like Leslie and Billy to decrease the suffering of every animal or person whom you meet. The community that these older people are seeking and that which Leslie, I, and all those whom were part of our online community created is what life is all about. Today is possibly the last day of your life, this is it, are you who you want to be? Have you forgotten and forgiven old pains? What can you do today to love and create beauty?

It all begins with gratitude: Love, Help, Make Art & Peace.

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