In 2004 the 80 acre piece of forested land across the road from our property on Cortes Island went on the market. Although my friends and neighbors joined me in ceremonies to call a buyer who would respect the elemental big forces that lived there, no one answered but the loggers.
When the wreckage subsided, I climbed over the broken forest to a large cedar still standing by a small stream almost gone underground from the silt-covered drifts of branched across its flow. I asked, “What do you need that I can do?” and saw with my inner eye the jumbled remains of tree stumps stretching into the distance, and also a small jar of red paint. I understood to touch every tree, and spent a year climbing over branches and falling through brambles, touching my finger into a jar of red ochre and then touching every tree stump.
At the very beginning of my impossible task, I found a small chip of wood with a beautiful burled patterning on its reverse, and I kept this with the ochre in the pocket of my old coat. Each time I would complete my struggle for the day, I would wipe my finger clean on the cut side of the wood. One year later at the end of my not quite so impossible task I decided to create a shamanic painting of the clear cut to honor all the tiny shoots of green pushing up to soften the haul roads and cat tracks.
When I paint I begin along the upper edge and paint, finished as I go, to the bottom edge. The painting in progress looks like a completed work with a white film over portions of the image that is slowly being peeled off a few inches a day. After I had completed about 1/3 of the portrait of the clear cut, I became bored with where it might be going.
I remembered the little piece of wood still in my old coat, and when I spent time gazing into its ochre-stained surface—this is who I saw. I do not know who she is and what she is holding, but if you take some moments to meet her gaze, she might tell you.