I had to put up a photo of my most recent painting for this blog post, because it pretty much sums up the essence of how living in this part of Scotland makes me feel every day. (The title of the painting is The Peace of Wild Things, and it was inspired in part by the poem of the same name by Wendell Berry). A year ago today we were just finishing off packing for our move from Yorkshire, not quite knowing what lay ahead because we'd only visited the Cowal peninsula once when we came to view the house - and that was because the one we'd originally chosen, in a completely different area, had fallen through! So we hadn't really had chance to soak up the atmosphere of the place.
I didn't know, for instance, that people would be so genuinely friendly here, or that I would find a flourishing artistic community here that I fit right into! I didn't know that we would regularly see red squirrels and deer just up the road from the cottage, or that kayaking on the loch just down the road would be so much fun on a summer afternoon. I just knew, when we drove up past the magnificent setting of Rest and Be Thankful in the Glen Kinglas pass, that I was coming home. It's a really strange feeling if you haven't experienced it before. I've lived in, and visited, some beautiful places over the years; Yorkshire, Berkshire, Devon and Wiltshire have been homes for a while in the UK, and India, the Himalayas, and Australia are probably top on my list of lifetime experiences as a visitor, but as I drove down past Strachur into the green wilderness of lochs and mountains of the Cowal I had the oddest sensation that at last I had found a real resting place for myself and family, and a lasting inspiration for my brush!
So back to the poem I mentioned, and the link with the painting. Here's the poem, (you may be familiar with it already);
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
When I first planned the painting I had intended to make the central figure a more realistic 'human', but then musing on it realised I wanted to keep the entire image free of the human touch in order to draw the viewer in to the magical peace of the scene, so at a second glance you can see the girl's wings and you realise she is one of the Sidhe and so much more at one with the natural elements around her, being a 'wild thing' herself. The pose was important, I wanted to create a sense that the fairy was so immersed in contemplation of her surroundings that her pose invites the viewer to do the same rather than focus on her, so although she is at the centre in the composition the eye is then drawn to flow around the image and access the same peace which she, and I, experience here. The surroundings are inspired by the stunning scenery around the shores of Loch Eck, a freshwater loch just fifteen minutes drive from us here, and although I have 'invented' the landscape and the profiles of the hills in this painting, I do feel I've captured the essence of the place quite well and that was my intent.
If you read the poem carefully, you'll not that line about 'forethought of grief'... and understand why Nature, being so much more in the Now than we are grieves so much less than we as She simply enjoys the present. Yes, the heron and the otter are predators and they hunt across the canvas and perhaps one of them will pounce on the fish the fairy is watching... but that's ok, there will just be ripples for a moment and then the peace will return as the ripples close. And perhaps the fish will live to swim another day, it's all good!
There are so many places like this in this beautiful land, where you too can rest in the grace of the world, and be free. And if not then perhaps begin to build your dreams around doing so; it can happen, as it did for us.
When despair grows ce of the world, and