Early this past April, I was waiting for a clear two days in Montana's all-too-unpredictable spring weather, to transport a painting to a collector in Great Falls. The painting could barely fit in our Tahoe, but I wanted to drive and deliver it myself rather than ship it, as given its weight it would be difficult to pack and ship safely via freight. I was making the trip alone, and had watched for an opening in the spring weather, for a couple of days that would be good ones to enjoy the beautiful drive without finding myself caught in a genuine Montana spring blizzard. The drive from our home to Great Falls covers some of the most scenic, remote, and wild country in this state. There is an endless supply of breathtaking views to fuel my imagination and artistic spirit. I looked forward to that day and a half of travel, and taking a breather from the studio to visit a collector friend and enjoy some of this state's beauty.
I loaded up the car and drove through town towards the highway that would lead me to my destination. Sitting at a traffic light, I noticed a squirrel running across the busy road, a couple of blocks ahead. Given the stream of cars on the road, it was obvious the odds weren't in its favor to make it safely across, and my heart sank as I watched it be struck by a passing car. I am very much an avid animal lover, and...well, you know I was pulling for the squirrel to make it safely across. The light turned green, and I proceeded ahead, coming to the block where it lay in the middle of the road. As I came closer, I saw that the squirrel was very much alive, its' tail waiving wildly in the air. I pulled over to the curb, waited for all oncoming cars to pass and clear, grabbed a towel and walked towards the squirrel. One might think I was crazy at that point, however I really can't stand the thought of an animal lying in the middle of a road with cars passing by within inches, if it has a fighting chance at all. The squirrel was stunned, but did not seem injured. Still no cars were coming, and I ushered it in the towel to the side of the road. The squirrel sat in the grass by the curb, while I paused to answer a cellphone call before climbing in my car. As I finished my phone call, I watched the squirrel stand up, look at me, plump itself, look at me, walk past me, and then it promptly proceeded to leap up into the undercarriage of my suburban.
No....wait...I have a deadline to make and a dinner meeting with a collector and his colleagues...I DON'T have time to extricate a squirrel from somewhere inside the bowels of my car. But you're saying that I signed up for this, aren't you? Yes, I certainly did. I spent the next 45 minutes chasing that red fluffy tail from one end of the car to the other....one minute it was in the back wheel well, and the next it was in the engine compartment....when I opened the hood it would (I'm fairly certain at this point) wink at me, waive its tail, and then dash off through the engine to the hinterlands in the back of the car again. I was running out of time, and would already be very late for my appointment to deliver this painting and meet collector friends for dinner. I had 3 1/2 hours to drive, and I wanted to make it through this remote stretch before dark. I had to leave. It had been some time and I hadn't seen hide nor hair of the squirrel. I wasn't certain if it had decided to stop this little game and leap to the ground and run off, when I had been searching under the hood for it in the engine end of the car. With a heavy heart I climbed inside the car and started the engine. I listened. I turned the engine off. I listened. No sounds. Now over an hour late, I HAD to leave. I drove a few blocks, then stopped and opened the hood. No squirrel. Still making my way towards the highway that would lead me to Great Falls, I stopped 6 more times every few blocks, to give it a final chance to escape. Nothing under the hood. No sounds from the wheel wells. I HAD to get on the highway now. I stopped one more time and opened the hood. No squirrel.
To make a longer story short, I stopped a total of 14 times on my journey to Great Falls, to open the hood, look in the wheel wells, and listen. To give you a brief idea of just how off-kilter I am, I made sure I stopped in areas where there were trees, so that the squirrel (if it was still by some miracle inside the car) would have some kind of place to live. I accept that I am a little extreme when it comes to my love of animals. Now, there are stretches along this particular route that cross through the grasslands and prairies of Montana, and there isn't a single tree in sight. Between Harlowtown and Judith Gap, to the truck stop at Eddie's Corner, well....I might as well have kicked it to the curb on Mars. A trucker pulled alongside me on one of my many stops to ask if I was ok, as he had observed me pulling over to "check under my hood" more than once. Well, no, everything was not ok, but how would you explain to a trucker that you were looking for a lost squirrel in your engine? Any way you say it, that sentence just sounds a little odd. I would have been the topic of hilarious conversation about the crazy lady who kept stopping to check for a squirrel under her hood, at the Eddie's Corner truck stop for years to come. So I thanked the nice trucker for his concern and told him everything was just perfect...I was simply "checking on something".
The weather turned from sunny to gale force winds, driving rain, sleet, snow, and bitter cold. I was even later for my painting delivery and dinner meeting. But I still stopped and opened the hood (of course when there were areas with trees). I had no way of knowing if it had climbed or fallen out, at any given point since I had left. My being more than a little OCD, this certainly wasn't good enough for me. I arrived in Great Falls, and my collector had called to (thankfully) say he was running late, so I'd have a few extra minutes to check into my hotel if I wanted. Oh good, I now had more time to stop and search for a squirrel in my car. And yes, I am nuts. I pulled into the parking lot at the Meadowlark Country Club, as I knew it was a beautiful stretch of landscape and trees along the river, where a squirrel who found themselves dumped there might think they'd died and gone to heaven if they had been transplanted there? That was my creative idea, anyway. I got out to open the hood to look again....but then noticed several bald eagles and hawks in the trees lining the river. IF it was still in my car, I would have brought it like a pizza delivery guy to the waiting, watching birds above.
I drove a couple of blocks further to the Heritage Inn, where I was spending the night. On the back side of the hotel there is a nice residential neighborhood and park, with lots and lots of trees. I really hoped the squirrel would by some miracle still be alive, if it was even still in my car. I can now hear what you're thinking about me. I opened the hood and looked around. This time (the 21st time for those of you who are keeping a running total), in the far corner of the engine was a furry red tail....inches from the now-still fan belt. My heart sank again when I only saw the tail, and it wasn't moving. I went around to that side of the car for a closer look. That furry red tail came to life and the squirrel's head popped up inches from my face, bright-eyed and belting out a string of what I guessed were non-stop obscenities directed towards me. It then proceeded in less than 2 seconds to climb through the front of the engine and hop down to the ground, where it stood up, yelled at me again, flicked its tail in my direction, went to a puddle to have a long drink, and ran for the nearest group of trees. Up it climbed, where it turned to voice some additional communications at me that I interpreted as things that I shouldn't write in a family-friendly blog. The squirrel was truly fine. I really don't know how, but it was fine. Because of the cold weather, it had survived the heat of the engine and had wisely stayed clear of that fan belt tornado. If you are an animal lover too, you can imagine how relieved I was. To the residents of Great Falls, I apologize if "my" squirrel is the one that raids your bird feeders....but I am also very happy that this came to such a positive conclusion. True story. I slept better that night.
So, how does sharing my Squirrel Story, in any way whatsoever, have anything to do with my paintings? I woke the other morning thinking about the topics of both Inspiration and Creativity, and how new painting ideas, concepts, and sparks of imagination can't and won't be forced out from under anything. The more I might try to force them, the more they'll play hide and seek in the engine of my thoughts. They wait for the fan belt of my consciousness to shut off. Then, thankfully, they do come forward, their voices oftentimes LOUD, and chattering at me non-stop! I love having the chance to be an artist for a living. I learn as I mature just how precious the gifts of both Inspiration and Creativity are to me, and to my painting process. I am persistent about stopping and letting them emerge, in their own way. They alone define the difference between producing, and creating. It is these times when I stop, listen, and look for them, that they reveal themselves in the most wonderful and extraordinary ways, for me to then interpret with brushes and color. I'm just very thankful that they emerge, intact.
I am excited to share with you, in the coming weeks, what is currently emerging from my creative process in my new paintings for upcoming shows and galleries!
Wishing you and yours a beautiful New Year, filled with many blessings and much happiness!