The horse's pasture to the East...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

VISION : The World As I saw It, part three in a series

     " “When he shall die,
        Take him and cut him out in little stars,
        And he will make the face of heaven so fine
        That all the world will be in love with night
        And pay no worship to the garish sun.” 
Light, dark, vision. It permeates all cultures, all languages. Sight is our most developed sense, followed closely by hearing. The human's ability to see with binocular vision capable of seeing more than a million different colors has taken us from tree tops to the surface of the moon.

The eyes are connected to the brain through the optic nerve. The brain combines the input of our two eyes into a single three-dimensional image. In addition, even though the image on the retina is upside-down because of the focusing action of the lens, the brain compensates and provides the right-side-up perception. Vision is the process of deriving meaning from what is seen. It is a complex, learned and developed set of functions that involve a multitude of skills. 

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.   Plato

I am an artist. It isn't a chosen path. I think I was hard wired for it. I escaped in to a world of imagination, in my earliest memories, while watching clouds. For me they weren't white and puffy. They were every color of the rainbow. I saw an infinite range of blues and purples, reds, oranges, yellows and green. The grass that I lay in, while watching those clouds, had a line of light around the edge of every blade. The dirt was purple, green and blue and the trunk of the tree I leaned against was every shade of red and sienna. I still see the world that way but more because I practice that vision and not because it comes to me as easily as it did as a child. 

Professional artists are highly trained observers. They've spent years learning to observe the world around them in fine detail. They experience the world with the kind of focus that is closer to the ability of a child to see.

All" Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not." Pablo Picasso

Picasso once told a journalist, during an interview, that he had spent his adult life, his career, trying to find his way back to the talent he had as a child, to draw. He was one of the greatest artists of his generation who's work was driven by the need to see as a child. 
A baby is an open book with pages, waiting to be filled. And in the beginning they see everything. They see with infinite detail, with no prejudice. Society has not imposed itself yet. Peer pressure or even the need to survive has not become part of the editing process. When we are very young, everything is fascinating, every detail is perfect. Ants crawling through their hidden world are an endless source for a child's imagination. The bit of fuzz or shiny button that a crawling baby picks up and tastes is as wonderful as the hair growing out of Grandpa's ear. There are no limits to the world when we see as a child.  
If there were one gift I could give to people it would be to revel in the excitement of the world with the clarity that a child sees, with all of the open unfiltered imagination and color that is the gift of vision.

Monday, September 15, 2014

TASTE : Carrots and Ice Cream, second in a series

Being eight had it's perks. It was 1959 and deep in to Summer. My Grandparents house was in the 1700 block of Kentucky street, in Lawrence, Kansas and it was hot. The asphalt on the street was beginning to bubble, would stick to your shoes if you didn't move fast enough. The sky was white with heat and the few clouds stood still in the metal dome of the sky, waiting. All we had to keep cool were metal fans in the windows and the shade under the trees.

Ding...ding...ding. That was the call of nirvana for all of the little kids in the area. It was the ice cream wagon. This one wasn't a truck like it was at home. This was a wagon pulled by two soft eyed draft horses who knew the route so well that the bored teenager driving them wrapped the reins around the brake and read a book between stops.

Grandma always had a dime for the ice cream cone and a bucket of water and carrots or apples for the horses. That was my job, carrying the water and carrots to the horses. It was how I earned my dime for my ice cream. 

The wagon always stopped one street over on Vermont street in the shade. I'd grab my little brother's hand and off we'd go, down the alley and across through the neighbor's drive. There they were, waiting and watching for me. They knew I had water for them, and carrots. I'd give the first one on the left his much needed drink, standing there in awe of his beautiful brown eye so close to mine, his mane tied up in small braids, leathers creaking while he drank.

The other kids were all around at the back of the wagon where the door was open and cold air poured out in a cloud, picking out their ice cold concoctions. But I was at the neighbor's water hose filling the bucket, ready to carry it back to the other horse, a perfect match with quiet, intelligent brown eyes. He waited so patiently, only calling a little while he watched. It was a long hot day for them and there were other kids along the route who carried water to them, but I was the one with carrots. They 

knew me, looked for me.

I'd stand there breaking the carrots in to pieces for them with my teeth, snap..snap! The carrots were grown by my Grandad so they were always fresh and sweet. I'd stand there chewing on the carrots, taking my own bites and pretending that I was tall, had four legs and deep ginger blonde hair and a white blaze down 

my nose. I was horse when I was 
with them. They would crunch their 
carrots up, blowing their lovely 
grassy breath in my face with big sighs and soft calls to me.

Those moments didn't last long but I never noticed. I was lost in their presence, falling in to their kind eyes and away in a magical place where I was with them every day, running with wind in my hair and ice cream cone flowers that gave forth chocolate and vanilla ice cream cones that didn't melt until I had them in my hand.

It was done, my chore and the focus of every Summer day that I was there. I'd stand there watching them walk down the street away from me, ice cream melting in my mouth and running down my 

arms. I'd catch every single creamy, melted drop before it ever hit the ground and watch them walk away, already dreaming about tomorrow when I would see them again.

The walk home was an adventure in well earned home made ice cream on a cookie cone, made by local Mennonites. I can still taste the cold, snappy carrots and smooth raw milk ice cream, see those lovely giants who did their job so willingly every day but Sunday. The smell and taste of carrots, well water and home made ice cream cones is so clear, so real that I can still hear the clop, clopping of their feet echoing down the long quiet lane and see that old, garish wagon, when I eat an ice cream cone and lick the drips off my arms.

The sense of taste is entwined with the sense of smell, the sounds of the seasons and colors of the light falling through the leaves of the ancient Elms that lined the streets, arching over the roads. When I see that late Summer light, hear the rough calls of cicadas and smell the carrots I cut for my own horses it always gives me a taste of ice cream melting on the back of my tongue, sliding down my throat and dripping, almost, from my elbow.

I can still taste the sounds of two ancient horses, carefully groomed and wearing harnesses that had shaped themselves perfectly to their broad shoulders and chests. I feel ice cream and cookies, see great hooves clopping and remember dreams of my eighth Summer and hear the light falling through 

the leaves quietly playing music that only I could hear.

Ice cream and cookie cones are still my favorite dessert. They lead me to the flavors of my childhood when time moved slow and the sun stood still in a white metal sky.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

A SENSE OF SMELL, number one in a series for The Child Within

It stopped me in my tracks. For just a moment it was 1959 and my Mom was there, giving me a hug and kiss and telling me to be good for my Nana. She was wearing a flower print Summer dress with high heels to match. Her hair was naturally curly, a glossy dark brown and the only makeup she wore was a bright red lipstick. Her skin was perfect, that fine grained English skin with a natural blush in her cheeks. Her eyes were clear green and her smile was perfect. I thought she looked like Snow White. And her perfume was Guerlain's Shalimar, a classic scent that always looked like the rich purples you see on the horizon when you look in to a forest. It was perfect for her; sophisticated, clear, clean, and a strange Zen combination of cool and warm.

And then I was back, standing on a corner downtown waiting for the light to change and a woman, who had just passed me leaving a wake of Shalimar as she turned the corner. I never saw her face but, for just a few steps, I did follow her. I wanted that crystal clear memory back, of my beautiful, young Mother dressed and ready to go to a party, excitement bringing up the color in her face and a smile that was only for me.

Our sense of smell, also known as olfaction or olfactics, starts in the nose with cells that are similar to the sensory cells of an invertebrate ( bugs!) antennae . The odorants molecules bind to the olfactory receptors, coming together at the glomerulus, a structure that connects directly to the brain. Each receptor detects a feature of the molecule giving us a " description " of the odor. Input from two nostrils, known as binocular rivalry, allows the brain to create complex maps or scent images. Odor information is stored in long-term memory and has strong connections to emotional memory. This is possibly due to the olfactory system's close anatomical ties to the limbic system and hippocampus, areas of the brain that have long been known to be involved in emotion and place memory, respectively. (Definition from Wikipedia)

In my case, since I have a mild sinesthesia, I sometimes see certain odors as colors or hear musical notes. When I have a memory come to me from a scent as powerful as my Mother's perfume, I remember with all of my faculties. It's like small windows in time, putting me in my child within's shoes and being there, a kind of time travel. I am 8 years old with none of the adult issues or worries. At the same time I am aware of the memory and my present self, here in the twenty first century. When this happens, it
always confuses me for a moment, bringing me
to a full stop while I reorient myself.

Scent is one of our common denominators, connecting everything. When we can not see or hear, we can smell. Our sense of smell can be trained. In experiments comparing the ability to smell between  blind participants and the sighted, the scientists discovered that they were, inadvertently, training all of the participants to detect smaller and smaller amounts of the odorant chemicals . 

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.”  Helen Keller

 As children all of our faculties are an open slate, a blank page, waiting to have our history written. But in experiments done with new born children, when the new mother's breast on one side was washed and the other left alone, 22 of 30 babies turned to the unwashed breast spontaneously. We are genetically prepared to recognize our Mother from our first moments of breath. 

It was also found that young women have a more acutely developed sense of smell and are able to detect the scent of their own children on objects that they have touched when the biological father can not. We are bonded through our sense of smell and the genetic code that allows us to identify our children or parents even when sight and sound are inhibited.

When I bake chocolate chip cookies I see my Mother's kitchen and hear her whistling to one of her favorite Doris Day songs on the radio. And, now, I see my sons as hungry little boys, drawn inside by the smell of cookies, dirty hands and grubby, sweet smiles waiting for their cookies and cold glasses of milk. 

And now, when I bake muffins in my son's kitchen, I see my Mom when she burned her fingers on a muffin tin and flipped the muffins all the way across the kitchen. And I see my oldest son sitting at the breakfast table, telling us he had just enlisted for the Navy. All of this memory overload happens while my Grandson plays with his beloved red fire trucks and comes to me to watch while I spoon the batter in to the muffin cups and I see my daughter in law stop to kiss my son good morning.

Without our sense of smell, our connection to our past, our present and our community and world would be tenuous and dim. Our ability to sense chemicals in complicated combinations is our oldest brush, wielding the power to give us the paint we need to create the canvas of our lives. For just one short moment I traveled in time and was able to tell my Mom, " I love you!" one more time because she favored Shalimar perfume.

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