Life, Imitating Art

The Red Bench, Rockport City Cemetery

Gary Myers, an artist whose work I admire and whose blog I’ve followed for years, lives north of Elmira, New York in the memorably-named town of Horseheads. His paintings have hung in an assortment of galleries, including the West End in Corning, New York; the Kada in Erie, Pennsylvania; and the The Haen in Asheville, North Carolina.

A new solo exhibition of his work, opening June 7, will be his twentieth at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, Virginia. The title Gary chose for the show, Red Tree: New Growth, neatly acknowledges both past interests and emerging directions in his art.

As he’s moved from one theme to another throughout the years, I’ve found his rich, mola-like landscapes and his unique portrayal of the archaeological foundationsof our lives particularly appealing. Still, his iconic Red Tree — together with red-roofed houses, red chairs, and red boats — continue to serve as his most immediately recognizable and evocative symbols.

Mantra ~ G.C. Myers

Reflecting on a painting destined for the June opening in Alexandria, an homage to the Red Tree titled Mantra, Gary linked it to the broader theme of the exhibition:

Over the past twenty years of these shows, the work has always changed in small increments: changes in colors and tones, changes in strokes and textures, additions and subtractions in elements and forms.
Slight differences mean that each repetition is new, and has its own meaning. Each is its own moment, with its own place on the grid of time and space.

Still, art occasionally escapes that grid, as I learned on my recent visit to the Rockport City Cemetery. Wandering among the gravestones, reading their inscriptions and admiring the wildflowers that surrounded them, I hardly expected to find a bright red wicker bench settled in among the bluebonnets and coreopsis. And yet, there it was — seemingly unattached to a particular grave site, but compelling as any monument. Even as I laughed, I couldn’t help thinking: If this Red Bench were a painting, it would have to be one of Gary’s.

Years of exposure to his use of various shades of red made it impossible not to see the bench as a delightful, if unexpected, extension of his artistic vision. It was as though an unseen hand had picked up a brush and added a dash of vibrant color to the landscape: not precisely imitating art, perhaps, but evoking the work of a favorite artist with considerable brio.

Of course, if color alone were at issue, the spicy jatrophas blooming throughout the cemetery might have outdone the Red Bench in terms of visual impact.

Spicy Jatropha, or Peregrina (Jatropha integerrima)

But the bench’s functional similarity to the multitude of Red Chairs in Gary’s paintings evoked memories of other chairs, other cemeteries, and other times: memories as bright and vivid as the Red Chairs themselves.

Prior to his 2012 exhibition at Erie’s Kada Gallery, Gary invited his blog readers to submit titles for a still-unnamed painting destined for the show. Each suggestion would be listed on the back of the painting, becoming a part of its history; the winning title would be featured at the show and earn a prize for its creator.

Shedding Daylight ~ G.C. Myers

After sending off my own entry, I thought no more about it until, to my astonishment, Gary selected my suggestion — Shedding Daylight — as the title for his painting.

I’d come to the title through a chain of circumstances that included a visit to another favorite resting spot: League City’s Fairview Cemetery. Small but filled with historical interest, the first burial there was a nine-year-old girl named Charlotte Natho, who died of diphtheria following the Great Storm of 1900.

Wandering the cemetery late one afternoon, I discovered a sturdy tree with a  less than sturdy chair propped up against it. The chair wasn’t as stable as the concrete benches scattered around the cemetery, and it didn’t come close to having the panache of Rockport’s Red Bench, but it intrigued me. Had it been a favorite of someone buried nearby? Was it meant to allow family members to take their ease while they chatted with the dearly-departed? Or was it simply a gracious reminder of simpler days, when the invitation to ‘set a spell’ rarely was refused?

Whatever the chair’s purpose, it reminded me of a decades-earlier conversation with my mother during our visit to a midwestern cemetery. Reminiscing among the gravestones of long-time friends, she said, “Dylan Thomas was wrong.” I’d been only half listening. “What?” “That poem he wrote. The one they made you memorize in school. The one about being mad about dying. He was wrong about that.”

The poem in question was Thomas’s famous villanelle,Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night.” A beautiful example of the poetic form, and certainly his best-known work, it begins:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Intent on memorizing the words, I learned little of Thomas, his father, or the struggles and frustrations which influenced the poem’s development. Still young and hardly able to conceive the sort of losses that time inevitably brings, I only remember being on the side of the poet. If old age were to bring the loss of the world and its delicious possibilities, rage seemed a perfectly reasonable response.

As I matured, my understanding of life’s seasons changed. However wondrous spring’s delicate beauty, no matter how verdant and rich the bounty of summer, even winter’s exquisite bleakness revealed unexpected treasure. Through days of slowly encroaching darkness and nights of gentle loss, when every bare-branched, autumn tree stood as a memento mori, I found it extraordinary that nature herself refused to rage against the thin and dying light.

In her latter years, my mother became as fragile as those autumn leaves. Her translucent hands trembled as though stirred by some mysterious breeze, and her once-vibrant color began to fade as her connection to the world grew thin.

Tired after seasons of growth, spent from a lifetime of production, ready at last for rest and release, she often would laze in the fading afternoon light, peaceful as a silent wood. “What are you doing?” I’d ask. “Waiting,” she said. “Come here and sit for a while.” Older, able to understand her meaning at last, I sat.

Looking back now at the Red Bench, vibrant and shining among the wildflowers; remembering the rickety and cobwebbed Fairview chair, empty beneath its tree; thinking once more of the Red Chair I named hanging in a gallery or home, I remember as well that simple chair where my own mother sat, gazing toward the horizon.

However well or poorly spent her life, she felt no need for rage as the end approached, no compulsion to “rave and burn at close of day”. Her way of leave-taking, quiet as a falling leaf and gentle as the day’s last light, required nothing more than a chair — red, or otherwise — and companionship.

Recently, realizing I hadn’t seen the Red Chair in the paintings destined for the upcoming Principle show, I asked Gary about it. He said he’d originally intended a hiatus for that group of works, but reconsidered, deciding to include one of his own favorite Red Chair paintings in the show as a nod to its importance in his oeuvre.

When I saw the painting and learned its title, I couldn’t help being amused. Whatever the virtues of Rockport’s Red Bench, this pair could prompt some interesting speculation. Its title? Familial Bond.

Familial Bond ~ G.C. Myers


Comments always are welcome. You can follow Gary at his blog, Redtree Times.

136 thoughts on “Life, Imitating Art

    1. Thank you so much. There’s a lot of beauty waiting to be recorded, however we choose to do it. When words and images can fit together so well, it’s especially pleasing.

  1. Your mom’s reaction to impending death reminds me of one of my wife’s aunts who reached 100 years and six months. Shortly before her death, having been woken up for some reason at the nursing home where she lived, she looked around and said, “Oh, I’m still here. Wouldn’t you think after a hundred years I could go somewhere else.” And shortly thereafter she did.

    1. Of course I laughed when I read your anecdote about your wife’s aunt. We often remark on the trials of age, but there’s no questioning the wider perspective and wry humor that increasing years can bring. You’ve reminded me of my grandfather, who usually read the newspaper obituaries first thing in the morning. Having scanned the listings,he’d say, “Well, I don’t see my name listed, so I guess I’m not dead yet.” And then he’d get on with the day.

  2. I like your title for the painting and have a much deeper understanding of its origin and meaning. Your mother was a wise woman and your post is a lovely tribute to her.

    1. Thanks, Allan. Of course, the post is as much a tribute to the artist whose work became interwoven with my relationship with my mother — albeit after her death. I suppose that’s the power of art: to reshape our view of people and events, allowing for new interpretations of realities we thought we understood.

  3. “Shedding Daylight” reminds me a little of Grant Woods’ work and I’ve loved him for years. Thanks for a delightful introduction to G.C. Myers. What was the gift the artist gave you for naming his painting?

    Oh, and your photo of the red bench in the field of flowers turns it into a work of art.

    1. That’s an interesting association you made with Grant Woods. Maybe it’s a primal, midwestern association. He was born and died in Iowa, where I was born and grew up. Mom and Dad are buried in Iowa, although I’m still not certain whether I’ll end up there. I ponder it from time to time.

      Gary sent along several lovely gifts: some notecards, a book about his work, and a painting titled Inspiration. It’s still exactly where I put it when it arrived — close to my computer desk, where I can look at it whenever I need some inspiration.

    1. Those are wonderful. As I recall, you and Eve have visited at least one of those locations, and maybe two — have you seen any of the chairs? If so, did you sit in them? I wonder if there’s a line to enjoy them. I can imagine the splendid isolation suggested in the photos might be the result of some staging, but I’d still be willing to seek them out.

  4. I love the red bench photo. It would make a fantastic painting. And your ruminations on death’s door are beautiful. Right down to the familial red chairs this post is provocative and sweetly sad.

    1. Those primary colors always shine, don’t they? Who knows? Maybe my love of the colors goes back to my red, yellow, and blue fingerpaints in childhood, but I always notice them. There is a certain poignancy to the subject matter, but that last painting certainly makes me smile. Who put that chair in the tree? Who has to climb up there to get it? Inquiring minds want to know — or at least to make up a story!

  5. Thanks for the lovely post, Linda. You asked if I wanted anything changed but your words are, as always, well thought through and well placed. I so appreciate you allowing my work to accompany your beautiful words.

    I remember reading about the episode with your mother and, like you, am beginning to understand her acceptance and lack of rage as age took its toll. This past week, my only remaining and soon to be 93 year old aunt discovered that she is suffering from an esophageal melanoma that has produced a large aggressive tumor in her esophagus. Worse than the pain it has started to produce, it has prevented her from eating solid foods and she has lost lots of weight.

    We were afraid of how she might take the news that this might be the thing that ultimately brings an end to her long life. But she was actually relieved in a way, just in knowing now what she faced. With good humor she said she was perfectly satisfied and unafraid. She was grateful for her long life and didn’t feel that she was owed anything beyond those days she was given. I think she would understand when your mother said she was waiting.

    Again, thank you for the kind words as well as the friendship you have offered through the years, Linda. It has been my pleasure.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your aunt. My sole remaining aunt is 93, and Mom was 93 when she died, so I’ve had plenty of opportunitites to both admire and chuckle at some long-lived ladies. No one on my mother’s side had lived longer than 65, for a variety of reasons, so she lived for years with the conviction that 65 would mean her end, too. It made that 70th birthday fairly amusing. By the time we got to 85 and 90, there was open hilarity, on her part and ours. But by 91 and 92, she was clear on her willingness not to fight to 100. Needless to say, I’m hoping I’ve dipped into that part of the gene pool.

      Best wishes for your anniversary show. I’m still hoping that I’ll make it to one while I’m still able to travel!

    1. Isn’t that a fine sight? It really did stop me in my tracks: not only because the colors were so striking, but also because it seemed almost incongruous. It’s certainly one of the best additions to the cemetery I’ve ever seen. I can’t help wondering if someone brought it there for a photo shoot.

    1. Thanks, Pete. You could have entertained yourself for days in that cemetery. The profusion of flowers and the variety of pollinators was almost unbelievable.

  6. You leave me smiling with Familial Bond. An unexpected addition to his other red chairs. Your account of your mother’s life near the end is consoling for those of us who have been blessed with long, fruitful, and satisfying years. The Lord cares in our winter years also and makes endings possible without the rage that young people anticipate. Thanks for the article, Linda.

    1. I don’t know if youth is wasted on the young, but there’s no question that youth often is impatient, intolerant of ambiguity, and eager to be in control. Learning patience, accepting that the world isn’t always black-and-white, and accepting loss of control makes aging a lot more pleasant. You’re certainly aging gracefully, Oneta — in every sense of the word.

      The more I look at that Familial Bond, the more I like it. After all, the bonds usually hold, even when someone ends up out on a limb.

  7. You appear to possess homing-pigeon instincts when it comes to finding a truly special photograph and surely your first photo captures the prize. As usual, several serious and evocative threads weaving through your lovely chosen language–acceptance of death and introduction to a fine and colorful artist whose work is different from so much of what permeates the art space. I enjoyed reading this post very much and am taking notes.

    1. It only occurred to me this morning to wonder if that bright red bench had been brought to the cemetery for a photo shoot. Texans love to take photos of their babies and children among the bluebonnets, and more than a few engagement and graduation photos have used the same background. If that bench had been in the cemetery for any amount of time, it would have shown more wear, but it was in really good shape. Perhaps it had been brought for the effect it created, and I simply showed up at the right time.

      In any event, it was perfect for the moment, having “its own place on the grid of time and space.”

      1. I have a beautiful picture of our daughter Sara in the bluebonnets taken on our drive between Big D and San Antonia (as my Texan mother pronounced it…) I’d love to go back and do it again with my Lumix Panasonic. Missing Texas as I think of my mother and her life there.

        1. Wouldn’t we all like to have a do-over or two? Still, some of my favorite photos were taken with a Brownie back in the day when snapshots came in little “albums” with yellow covers, and color photos weren’t yet a thing. Sometimes, all it takes is a glimpse to bring it all back.

  8. Being as I have absolutely no expertise in critiquing art, I must say ‘Manta’ looks like a quilt to me. I much prefer ‘Familial Bond’.

    1. One of the things I appreciate about Gary is his willingness to declare that it’s perfectly acceptable to like what we like — or dislike what we will — in the world of art. He even wrote a short post about that last month that I really enjoyed. In truth, certain directions he’s taken over the years haven’t appealed to me, but the answer to that is simple: I’ll enjoy what I enjoy, and not worry about the rest.

      It never had occurred to me to see Mantra as a quilt, but now that you’ve suggested it, the resemblance is clear. It would make a fine one, actually!

  9. I guess “elegiac” would be the wrong term for this piece, probably better to say, a reflection – – a lovely, reflective glimpse of your thoughts. Coming just after Memorial Day, well-timed, too.

    1. Even though we set aside particular days for formal remembrance, there’s no telling when a sight, or sound, or scent will rouse memories, or lead to interesting associations. Memes, and retweets, and posts that ‘go viral’ are all well and good, but there’s something purely fun about knowing that I almost surely was the only one to walk through the Rockport Cemetery, see that Red Bench, and associate it with the work of an artist in New York. It’s the never knowing what will happen next that makes exploring so much fun.

  10. ‘Familial Bond,’ huh? Hmm, I probably wouldn’t have come up with that title, but it does seem appropriate. And the rickety chair in the cemetery certainly gives me pause to ponder. I’ve seen concrete benches in cemeteries, but there’s something poignant about this slatted resting place. Congrats on finding the winning name for the painting — it’s an excellent choice!

    1. I think anything that’s obviously time-worn and a little rickety takes on a special poignancy in a cemetery. Of course, even a plain concrete bench like this one looked pretty darned good in the midst of all those flowers.

      I enjoy coming up with titles for things, especially photos, so it was a fun exercise to find one for Gary’s painting. I don’t usually ‘think’ my way to titles. I just ponder for a while, and then one comes to me — it often happens with blog posts, too. In fact, I have a small clutch of titles that are wonderful. I just don’t have a post to go with them, yet.

  11. “Each is its own moment, ” Love that line about the red trees – just perfect.
    Red bench, red chair held by branch, seasoned greyed chair – familial bond: insight, humor. Up in the air and perfect.
    (Great post)

    1. Dare I go out on a limb here and suggest which chair belongs to which family member? I could, but I think I won’t!

      Of course, now I’m going to have to add a sequel to this post. We may not have known each other when I learned who that slatted chair belonged to, and then found the angel that the Galveston tree carver fashioned from its tree when it had to be removed. First, of course, I have to make another trip over to Fairview, and see how things are faring.

    1. Could we say the chair got treed? And your reflection on the bond is something I hadn’t thought of. That pair of obviously wooden chairs certainly do have something deeper in common with the tree than just their location.

  12. Oh my! What a lovely queue of images, and the opening one gives me a grand smile!

    Will be back soon.. laptop battery almost dead and cyber about to close – and the big creek (up there in your world) is rising!

    1. The big creek’s rising, for sure. They were going to open the Morganza spillway today (Sunday) but it’s been put off until Thursday. They’re opening one gate at a time, in order to judge the effect on the Mississippi, and to give wildlife time to adjust to the rising waters. Cattle and equipment either have been moved out of the Atchafalaya basin or are being staged, and people seemed somewhat optimistic that the 2011 levels won’t be exceeded with this release, or if they are, it won’t be “that” bad.

      I did hear from a charter captain in Venice that three tugs are on every ship from NOLA to Baton Rouge, holding them against the banks. That river is rolling.

      The opening of the Bonnet Carré spillway is a big — no, a huge — problem. The influx of fresh water is leading to turtle and dolphin deaths, and the herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers that are being carried to the Mississippi sound and offshore are creating dead zones. There’s a good article here detailing some of the costs to Mississippi from the efforts to protect Louisiana towns. Mississippi doesn’t get a seat at the decision-making table, but is suffering the adverse effects.

      1. Thank you for the link, which is opening now… Oh, it seems that the Gulf becomes a dumping zone – and out of sight for so many – unless it’s in their back (or front) yards… No one wayyyy upriver is thinking about what’s washing from one end to the other.

        Thank you for both updates!

    1. He’s such a unique artist. I suspect that being self-taught has something to do with that. Despite the difficulties associated with such an independent path, he’s done well. Beyond all that, his daily blog is a good one. I’ve learned more art history from him than I ever did in school.

      1. I will add that now I will appreciate his paintings when I walk down Higuera St in San Luis Obispo.
        His work is in a gallery there. Have you seen the work of Eyvind Earle?
        I would love to own an original of his…

        1. That’s right. Gary’s had at least a couple of exhibitions at the Just Looking Gallery in San Luis Obispo. A recent one was in 2015 — one of my favorite paintings went to that show. I told him I thought the trees flanking the Red Tree looked like madrones — very California!

          You can do a search for Earle on Gary’s blog, too. He’s written about him, and had some really interesting things to say about his work.

  13. I loved the description of you mother’s “way of leave-taking”. I have the feeling that that’s the way to go. I also love the title of the painting “Familial Bond”. I visit the local cemetery many times each year and see those bonds suggested in the inscriptions on the headstones, and think of the lives that are represented there and the families of each. It’s good for the soul.

    1. Wandering historic cemeteries is one thing, but visiting a cemetery where friends, relatives, and associates lie peacefully is a different kind of experience. One of my favorite stories about people making decisions about their final resting places involves my parents’ bridge club. Four couples played together regularly for years; I can remember them around the bridge tables when I was a child, and have photos of them playing when I was in college.

      One night, someone raised the idea of continuing the bridge games forever. They agreed they’d probably all end up in heaven, so it was a done deal. They went down to the cemetery and bought four double plots, right next to each other. They joked for years about being able to continue their games through eternity.

      Eventually, my mother was the only one left. During her last hospital stay, she gave me a sly glance one night and said, “Well, I hope they’ve got the cards shuffled and are ready to have two full tables again.”

  14. Love that title: “Familial Bond.” But the line that stuck out to me the most though was: “Even as I laughed, I couldn’t help thinking: If this Red Bench were a painting, it would have to be one of Gary’s.” Just shows the friendship between you two.

    Lovely post though! Great job!

    1. Just as writers have a certain ‘voice,’ painters often develop a recognizable style that endures through changes in theme or subject matter. They develop, of course, but it’s still possible to spot “one of theirs” in any gallery grouping. That helped to make the Red Bench so recognizable. It wasn’t friendship as much as years of exposure to his style, but the recognition was no less pleasing.

  15. The description of your Mother’s gentle leavetaking… it’s gobsmacked me and given me such a different way to look at things!

    1. It can be fun to have our perception altered, sometimes. It’s not necessarily always pleasant, but it can be. I’m glad you appreciated the post, and glad you found something of value in it.

  16. Your visuals conjure so many stories in my mind. Also, your mother’s request, “Come sit here for awhile” resonates with me — not sure today many are comfortable with, or realize the value of doing so.

    1. When I lived in Liberia, there was a custom that took some time for me to adjust to. A group of women would appear at the door and say, “We have come to spend time.” You were expected to invite them in, provide a place to sit, and some cold water. Everyone pretty much just sat around and looked at each other, with an occasional word or two spoken.

      Then, after a period of time — never too long — one of the visitors would say, “We have spent time.” They’d get up, offer a handshake, and leave. It was the custom — and quite similar to the “spending time’ that my mother desired.

  17. I need to spend time looking at the work of Gary Meyers. It always helps when someone guides me towards an exhibit and offers information or background. That chair in the tree–I might have walked on otherwise.

    But your photograph of the wicker-what in the field of flowers (there must be a word, say in French, to suit it) — I didn’t want to turn away, or leave it. If I were there, I don’t think I would sit in it, nor step among the flowers. In fact it seems more like a painting than a real place. So I went back to your detailed report on the real place where you found the red . . . OK, bench. And now I wonder why I have never wandered in old graveyards. What you showed us seems a place half real, half art, with an overlay of surging life, a mix maybe of human spirit and nature’s bounty. Through your photographs I can sense a presence of something other than what I myself might experience on my own. Or am I just wanting to sense that, and am able to, because you have captured, as they say, certain parts that are somehow greater than the whole — your artistic gift. Whatever the explanation, I’m happy with the result. And I can revisit this mysterious place whenever I wish. Grateful to you.

    1. One of the things I appreciate about Gary’s art is that there’s always something new, and there’s always something to appreciate. Some of his themes aren’t as appealing to me as others, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t enjoy all of Shakespeare’s sonnets, or every song on my favorite albums, either. An image search using his name turns up every sort of unexpected treasure, like this painting.

      It’s interesting that you mentioned not having an impulse to sit on the red bench. I didn’t have that impulse, either. It seemed like a visitor from another world, somehow, even though the blues and yellows of the flowers, combined with the red, evoked every sort of memory associated with the primary colors, including the little wooden chairs in our first grade reading circle. They were red, yellow, and blue as well — like our finger paints.

      I’ve always enjoyed graveyards, as much for the history as anything. The wildflowers fade, after all, and after a few weeks the cemeteries return to their usual grassy selves. But there are places where people nurture the seasons’ changes, and the grasses that blow in the wind are prairie grasses rather than turf grasses: altogether fitting, and much more enjoyable. When you combine nature, personal histories, and a sense of passing time, you do indeed have something that feels greater than the sum of its parts.

      1. I should search out some like that. The ones around here that I’ve been to with mourners are not graveyards; they are manicured lawns with bland, scarcely visible from a distance, uniformed markers. Prairie grasses and wildflowers responding to the seasons, .now that’s fitting. I can picture hanging out there.

    1. That’s certainly how I saw it, Derrick. It might as well have had a frame around it and a little brass plaque below. It’s strange, really, how that red bench seemed completely out of place and perfectly suited for that place, all at the same time. It never occurred to me until after I’d posted this piece that it couldn’t have been sitting there for an extended period. It was wicker, after all, and not even the plastic sort. If it had been out in the weather for any length of time, it would have shown more wear.

      No telling! And that’s part of the fun.

  18. Having just returned from a lengthy period of familial bonding, I appreciate the deliciousness of the artist’s Familial Bond. It also reminds me of a friend’s relationship status on Facebook. She wrote, “It’s complicated.” During my time away, I sat on many different chairs and saw many different chairs. Your post makes me realise how important they all were to the overall enjoyment of my holiday.

    1. I’m glad you’re home safely, and glad to know your time away was enjoyable. Honestly, I didn’t expect anything less, although we all know about the complications of both travel and big events.

      “It’s complicated” has been used on many a Facebook account, I suspect. But here in Texas, we may have the only town that’s put it on a street sign. In the little town of Danbury, an hour or so away from me, there’s this crossroads in the middle of town. Every time I pass it — or even think of it — I laugh.

  19. Yesterday, we drove a couple of hours, crossed the Miss. River at Burlington, and lunched with 6 of my 8 siblings at the small town’s bowling alley cafe. On the way and back we passed several old cemeteries. One in particular is the resting place for my great and great-great grandparents. We didn’t stop this time for a sit. But, in the past, you have to go down a gravel road, park at the side, and walk down a grass lane for a hundred yard. It opens into a hidden spot few know about. I have never seen a chair or a bench.

    1. Are the country cemeteries there marked? I don’t remember. Whenever we visited a cemetery during my Iowa years, we knew where we were going, and I didn’t pay much attention. Here in Texas, it seems as though most cemeteries have signs along the road. Even primary highways will have small signs saying “Hazlett Family Cemetery” or “Mt. Zion Cemetery.” You often have to be willing to tackle a dirt road and no more information than that one sign, but there are some interesting ones tucked away.

      My ancestors are somewhat scattered. I thought you might know the names of some of the Iowa towns where they lie, but then again — probably not! Columbia, Hiteman, Lucas, and Dallas are small even for Iowa.

      1. Some are marked with iron arches or gates. The smallest don’t have signs. You’d have to find a map somewhere to locate them. I have used a service called Find A Grave. It allows users to add photos and info. It can be very useful.

        I have heard of Dallas. Not the others. How about Media, Good Hope, Raritan in IL?

        1. I’ve heard about Raritan, but for some reason I feel like it might have been in your blog. I wonder if people in Media have had to suffer jokes because of their name?

  20. Oh my goodness – that photo of the red bench is GLORIOUS! I want to be sitting on it right now. I remember you talking about Mr. Myers back when he chose the name you gave his painting. Such a wild coincidence that the company I used to work for has an office in Horseheads & that I’ve been there several times. It’s a beautiful location for an artist. I find western New York lovely in any case – partly because it reminds me of where I grew up in the piedmont of NC. It used to make me feel nostalgic, but now that I’m back home it just makes me feel smug. :)

    1. The connections just keep coming. From what he’s said about Horseheads, and the photos I’ve seen of the area, it’s seemed especially beautiful to me, and you just confirmed it. Lucky you, to have been able to visit there, even on business. Of course, even luckier you, to be back in “our” home town, where you can trade nostalgia for enjoyment.

      Did the furniture company you worked for ever do publicity shoots like the one of the bench in the bluebonnets? If not, they were missing a great opportunity. There were a couple of those chairs that would have been knockouts with a long-horned steer gazing over the back!

  21. The red bench photo is gloriously vivid, but I like the photo of the Spicy Jatropha even more – what a flower. And I love the way the chairs are cropped in Meyer’s Familial Bond – the cropping, the out-on-a-limb chair, and the title leave the viewer with something to linger over and think about. As your post does.

    1. That jatropha is quite an eye-catcher. They don’t get particularly tall — eight to ten feet — but they’re knock-outs when it comes to color. Apparently there’s a pink variety, but I can’t imagine preferring it to the red.

      It’s odd that I never noticed the cropping of the chairs: at least, I didn’t think of their placement in those terms. Maybe that’s your photographer’s eye. Another reader caught something else I’d missed. The familial bond could be between the chairs, but it also could exist between the chairs — both wooden — and the tree that stands as a source of wood.

  22. So many layers to this beautiful essay, Linda. I wasn’t familiar with Meyers, so thank you for this introduction. Your remembrance of your mother is heartfelt and touching–lump in throat and prickling of eyes. Thank you for this post.

    1. I didn’t realize until I started trying to put this together how many layers there were. I started thinking about how long I’ve been reading Gary’s blog, and when I went back to see if I could pinpoint it , I discovered I’ve been commenting there since at least 2010. That’s amazing in its own right.

      There’s a bit more to the story, actually. After I wrote my first post about naming the painting, and how the name came to be, I was contacted by a woman here in League City who’d found that post. The old wooden chair leaning up against the tree was at her daughter’s grave. Eventually, the tree had to be removed. One thing led to another, and the tree and the chair were transformed. I suppose I really ought to add that chapter, as a sort of postscript about another “bottle” washed up on the shore.

      1. How very fascinating, Linda, that connections can be made in this way. I appreciate that your posts have many layers and opportunities for engagement. Those paragraphs about your mother really touched me.

        1. It is fascinating how many connections are made over time, isn’t it? I attended a conference this week, and one of the speakers was a person whose blog I’ve followed for some time. When I sought him out to introduce myself, I said, “Hi. I’m Shoreacres.” We both got a good laugh out of it — it was a good reminder that there are real people, real experiences, and real relationships underlying these exchanges that we have online.

  23. Yes, there are many layers to this lovely post! From cemetery to art to life to death and back to poetry. I loved the connection you made from your mother to the chair. You pulled and teased us along your trail littered with surprises.

    1. It’s hard to contain years of discrete experiences into one post — let alone rework them so that the old and the new fit. But it was great fun, and as soon as I saw that Red Bench in the Rockport cemetery, I knew it deserved a post of its own. As beautiful as all the flowers there were, there’s no question finding the bench was the highlight of the day.

    1. Not much, unless it’s a bench in the shade with a cold drink to go along with it. If you get a sugar cookie, too, it’s pretty close to heaven.

    1. Thank you, Michelle. A little reminiscing can be good for the soul, and it’s always fun to look back and see how seemingly unconnected events actually have formed a delightful pattern. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about these.

    1. Gary’s one who really has lived out the advice that you offer to us all. He knew what he wanted to do, and he’s done it. That’s as inspiring as his paintings are intriguing. I suspect they aren’t to everyone’s taste, but they don’t have to be. They suit some collectors, and that’s all that’s needed. I’m glad to have been a little part of his story.

    1. I’ll never write a novel, and probably won’t put together any other sort of book, for that matter, but I do get a kick out of coming up with titles. Sometimes I’ll get a title for a blog post months before I figure out what’s supposed to go with it! It was great fun pondering a title for Gary’s painting, and I was surprised beyond words that he chose it. It’s a great memory, for sure.

  24. A good friend and coworker just lost her father, who passed on shortly after the discovery of an advanced cancer that had already metastasized. The speed of his decline left everyone in shock. I think a generous dollop of time is needed to come to terms with the dying of the light. I do love the bright and intense color of that Jatropha, though.

    1. I had the same experience with my father. He was diagnosed with cancer in November, and was gone in only a few weeks. It was terribly hard for my mother, and took years for her to adjust. Eventually, she did come to terms with it, and I think the process of doing so helped her approach her own latter years with a certain equanimity.

      I’ll bet you could find a spot for the Jatropha, if only it were suitable for your area!

      1. Re the Jatropha – if only! My dad had the opposite experience. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which is usually fatal in just a couple of months. He lived almost three years, and I have to say he made good use of the time. Being a caregiver for that period was hard on my mother, though.

  25. The serendipity of that bench must be a welcome sight to all who visit the cemetery, and that Jatropha, so deeply rich and red. With your way with words I am not at all surprised that your suggestion became the title. You always see some deeper vision in my photographs and it seems in the art of others as well. Thanks for sharing Gary’s work with us.

    1. I have wondered whether that bench was permanent. If it’s spent any time at all out in the elements, it seems to me it would have shown more wear. Perhaps it was there for a photo shoot — more formal than just sitting in the flowers. However it came to be there, and whatever its purpose, it was pure delight to find it, and now it’s been memorialized in its own way.

      As for any special gift for seeing something deeper, I don’t know about that. But I do have a refrigerator magnet with some words from Georgia O’Keeffe that I try to take seriously: “Take time to look.”

  26. I loved the vibrant colour, the evocative imagery, and your profound words about ageing and beginning to ‘cast off’ from this life. I hope I get to that tranquil state of just sitting, waiting…as your mother did. My columns of late have been reflecting on where one places oneself in the family line as one grows older, and related topics – to that end I’ve been visiting family graves on the Hebridean island on which I was raised. All of this, of course, fits the current planetary picture…

    1. Our perspective on many things does change as we age, doesn’t it? Personal experience plays a role, of course, but so does a generally broader view of the world. As our horizons broaden, so does our ability to view people and events more fully. It’s interesting how many people I hear expressing my own frustration that I can’t ask certain questions of family members who’ve passed on. When they were here, I wasn’t curious. Now that they’re gone, I realize how much I don’t know — and how much they didn’t share.

  27. Thanks for this. What a beautiful account of the Autumn of your mother, and thank you for introducing me to the work of Gary. His art is so profound in its economy. I loved his idea for finding a painting title. I find titling, both paintings and poems, to be a task so very difficult.

    1. I think titles are fascinating. Sometimes one appears before I’ve written a word; it never changes, and guides the development of the poem or essay. Other times, the title changes as much as a dozen times, as the piece of writing develops. And at least a few times, I’ve had exactly the wrong title, and after I realized it, and changed it, I had to start re-writing. It can be quite an interesting experience.

      Gary has a number of paintings that feature sailboats. This is one of my favorites. You can find others that I think would please you among these images from a search.

      1. Today I had to give a title for a talk in September. So… my title will be my guide, I guess, because it commits me! Thanks for the links. I’ll be sure to check them out.

  28. I’m not familiar with Meyers but I love the paintings that you have shown us, and some that I just now saw while browsing a bit online. And I saw an announcement about a gallery showing starting this week in Alexandria, Virginia, which is exciting to me because I’m going to be close by there for three weeks this summer — maybe I can visit!! Thank you!

    Just a few minutes after reading your lovely description of your mother, “peaceful as a silent wood,” I happened to reread a blog post from the past on this subject of aging, and how getting old is a gift, even the last gift:

    It is certain that none of us gave ourselves being in the first place, and we can’t keep ourselves alive. After we have done a lot of things that we can do for a few or many years, one more thing we have the power to do is embrace our life till the very end, in whatever shape it takes. Thank you for telling us about your mother and her waiting.

    1. You can find Gary’s work much closer to your home, too. He’s a featured artist at the Just Looking Gallery in San Luis Obispo. If you happen to be in that neighborhood, you can see “the real thing” there.

      In a world consumed with the longing to be in control, the great offense of death may be that we can’t control it. It comes as it will, and we’re left to cope as best we can. I’ve often thought that the appeal of sunsets lies in a deeply rooted, if generally unrecognized, sense of them as a daily rehearsal for that final sunset of our lives. Of course, there are times when the sheer relief of a sunrise can be considerable: after a storm, after a night at sea, after a night spent sleepless for any reason. We’re deeply connected to the various cycles of life — the day, the seasons, the year — and recognizing that certainly adds to the richness of life.

    1. That red bench was — and still is — a reminder that you never know what you’re going to find when you look behind, or up, or down. Someone asked if I was going to go back and take more photos of it, but I think not. It might not be there, and the flowers certainly wouldn’t be. It just was one of those moments: fleeting, but captured in memory, like so much of life.

  29. Love this post for the artistry of your words, your photograph, your friend’s paintings, not to mention the words of the poet. The colors of the red bench image amid the flowers looks like a painting in itself. I have loved looking at the red tree images ever since you first brought them to my attention with the Shedding Daylight story. I have only just realized that the red trees in their shape and form must hit some universal appeal even aside from the glorious color. You know one of my favourite coins is the Central American Republic 8 reales with its memorable tree on the reverse. I love that tree and around it reads Libre Cresca Fecundo meaning Grow Free and Fertile symbolizing freedom from Spain in 1821 or so for the short lived republic.

    I have never been exactly sure about raging into that good night. Maybe I just don’t have the vision or personality for it. I am sure there are times when you ought to rage, maybe against a life unfulfilled or unfinished? But, like your mother, my father was accepting of death and felt he had a great life. He loved his life very much. I would never say to let go too easily, but a graceful good bye after a life well lived is as natural as coming into the world in the first place. And, like with my mother, even the waiting has its gifts in the sharing of time with loved ones as you’ve done all you can do and those moments can be a great reward.

    1. I was thinking of you this weekend, as I spent some time east of here rather than south or west, and discovered some plants — like swamp titi— that apparently are common in Florida. Do you see it? The weekend was great fun, and I saw things that will appear one by one: some unusual, some rare, and some just new to me.

      You’re right about the connection so many feel to their trees. I heard this morning about the loss of the Salem Oak. Everything living comes to its end, but in the case of iconic trees, it always seems especially painful. For that matter, even the loss of trees that have graced a front yard can be hard.

      As for the tree as symbol, along with your coin we can count the sewer covers here in League City. Each is adorned with the great live oak that was a symbol of the city until some committee or other decided to go with a bland and entirely pedestrian waves and sailboat design that I suppose is meant to appeal to tourists — or someone.

      Like you, I think a graceful goodbye is the best possible ending to a life. There are times when anger — even rage — is appropriate, but to cultivate rage? We see how corrosive that is in our society on a daily basis, and it can corrode the end of life just as easily.

    1. Isn’t that bench fun? It was such a surprising sight — one of those that raises questions that seem better without an answer! As for that winding path, sometimes events take time to unfold, and a little wandering while we wait is never bad.

    1. It can take time to understand events — or a life — and to unravel the tangled emotions they evoke. Still, taking that time can be valuable, and even enjoyable: nostalgia and poignancy have their place.

  30. I come to this late as I often do your posts, when I have time to sit and savor them. Savor I did. I love what you shared of Gary’s work — and how wonderful to have had your title chosen for his red chair. But most of all I love the story of the Thomas poem, of your mother. Of the changing of our life’s seasons. And of a red bench and a chair, simply waiting for someone to set a spell for whatever reason. I rather like the idea of chairs at a cemetery. It just seems right.

    1. The twin concepts of death and rest are so deeply intertwined that ‘rest’ even shows up in the names of cemeteries, not to mention the prayers offered there. The number of ‘eternal rest’ cemeteries in Texas is remarkable, and I suppose the same is true across the country. (No doubt Google knows my location, and helpfully offered pages of only Texas cemeteries.)

      Seasons do change, and for the most part I’m glad of it. The repetition of the seasons is comforting in its predictability. When it comes to human seasons, I’ve wondered whether that’s part of the appeal of reincarnation, which offers a chance to live through the cycle again.

      In any event, whether the invitation is to ‘set a spell,’ ‘take a load off,’ or ‘to spend time,’ as they liked to say in Liberia, it’s a human invitation, and needs to be accepted occasionally.

  31. You may have mentioned this artist before but I wasn’t paying attention~I was this time, though. What a delightful body of work he has created! Thank you for bringing him to attention.
    As I’ve gotten older and things begin to ache and falter, I find I quite agree with your mother. That was a moving meditation of her later years.

    1. It’s been fun and interesting to follow Gary over the years, and to watch his work change as his interests and inclinations have changed. Here’s a passing thought that might be of interest to you: through years of following his blog, reading about his processes, the painters who’ve influenced him, and his own view of his work, I became interested in him as an artist. The result has been that even when he moves in a direction I’m not so fond of — as is the case with some pieces in his current show — it doesn’t affect my appreciation of his whole body of work. There’s always something to appreciate, as was the case with the one painting I’ve purchased from him. There’s none of his iconic red, but the tree is there.

      As for my mother, no one in her maternal lineage had lived beyond sixty-five, and she was convinced she’d die by then, too. When she didn’t, she was quite surprised, and somewhere around her eightieth birthday she said, “Well, if I’m going to keep getting older, I’d better adjust.” And she did — all the way to ninety-three.

      1. That is funny about your mom. I’m glad you had her so much longer than she expected.
        Thank you for the feedback about artists. With my new blog I have been trying to tell more of my story, and it is surprisingly hard to do that. I hadn’t thought of talking about who influences me, or specifically my process. I’ll try to do that in my next posts.

        1. Much of what Gary adds in those regards is almost off-handed. It might be interesting for you to take a half hour or an hour and just peek into his archives. Even looking at the topics could be interesting. It’s not all focused on him, and it’s not navel gazing — which is part of what makes it interesting to his readers, I think. It’s personal, but not embarassingly so.

  32. There is so much I love about this post.

    But this paragraph reads like an exquisite poem.

    “…However wondrous spring’s delicate beauty,
    no matter how verdant and rich the bounty of summer,
    even winter’s exquisite bleakness revealed unexpected treasure.
    Through days of slowly encroaching darkness
    and nights of gentle loss,
    when every bare-branched, autumn tree
    stood as a memento mori,
    I found it extraordinary that nature herself
    refused to rage against the thin and dying light.”

    I took liberty in separating the lines…it just read like that for me.

    And then these lines…”In her latter years, my mother became as fragile as those autumn leaves. Her translucent hands trembled as though stirred by some mysterious breeze, and her once-vibrant color began to fade as her connection to the world grew thin.

    Tired after seasons of growth, spent from a lifetime of production, ready at last for rest and release, she often would laze in the fading afternoon light, peaceful as a silent wood. “What are you doing?” I’d ask. “Waiting,” she said. “Come here and sit for a while.” Older, able to understand her meaning at last, I sat.”

    Lovely. Moved me to tears, and you can imagine why.

    1. Indeed I can. And I like the way you rearranged the lines. Those sections are among the best I’ve ever written, and even at the time, they had a poetic feel to me, despite not being formal poetry.

      We never entirely get over it, do we? And really — thank goodness for it, and thank goodness for being able to share such universal experiences.

    1. When I went back to the cemetery this year, the red bench was gone. I was disappointed in a sense, but in truth, it would have been even more disappointing to find it there but ravaged by weather and falling apart. So, there’s the photo, and the memory. Next year, there may be something quite different, and just as striking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.