Thoughts from the morning couch, while I watch them climb and trim one of my morning trees. It’s pretty drastic, what they’re doing. I do hope they’re not cutting it down entirely.

Twenty years ago after my third solo show (Sea Hear) I meet the man who would become my husband, on the phone. He is warm and gentle, interested and interesting, from a background that differs from all other partners and lovers I’ve experienced. Over a span of weeks we talk for many hours then meet in person. I recall that when I meet him that evening, against all outward impressions and expectations, I feel a strong sense there is something wrong, dark, buried from view – so strong a feeling that I run home early from our date. But still, I reason, in the following weeks, I am looking for change…

from left to right, on Mom’s old tea towels: Osage, Sequoia, Chestnut, logwood. The red in the back is my old nightie overdyed four times – this last go with brazilwood.

It’s now nine years since I picked up a pillow, a blanket, my purse and laptop, walked out of the house we’d built together, moved into my studio where I lived for ten months, more than slightly feral. My physical exit didn’t end our relationship, though; we continued into four years of settlement negotiations which became steadily more dense and disrespectful – all that darkness barely veiled, all that incredible, carnivorous vehement psychological weaponry, all aimed at me. I learned from people he’d boasted to that he’d had an affair while we were together, that he believed I was stupid, that he and his mother hid money so that my settlement, after legal expenses were paid, covered the cost of a box of kleenex.

To be fair, I’m sure he was in a great deal of pain when he did and shared these things. I do wish him well.

I built a tiny off-grid cabin with the proceeds from a 15-year property negotiation I’d been in with my sister, which resolved around the same time. Stayed there for six months during which, by the grace of the lake and the trees around me, I woke up back into my own life. The sanctuary of that place healed me enough to move to Hamilton, three years ago.

Six trees, clockwise from top left: logwood, osage, buckthorn, chestnut, brazilwood and fustic (mulberry family)

I came here to reclaim my love for painting, to build a solid art practice and career. Finished my masters that first spring. In the second spring the pandemic hit, damnit.

Surprising, though, how those lockdowns provided rich internal gifts. How, despite the ‘vid, I reclaimed my love for painting, developed a strong art practice, built this new website and gallery, and presented two shows in 2021. I have two shows (so far) this year, both in Hamilton – an open studio at The excellent Cotton Factory on May 7, and a joint show at the fabulous Centre3 in November. Feels good.

20% cotton paper dyed for bookwork, since these colours are fugitive in light (which I like – it’s what happens in the forest every fall).
Left to right: logwood, brazilwood, sequoia, buckthorn, fustic.

Both my excellent, inspired and inspiring parents have died since I moved here, Mom this past January. This changes a person; my heart is different in a way I’m still getting used to. It was when I was searching for photos of Fran last week that I found my marriage certificate. Honestly, I’d forgotten all about it.

It’s worth a moment of acknowledgement, this piece of paper with its twenty year story full of lessons, challenges, surprises and well, because I don’t want to carry anything around that I don’t need – also its story of forgiveness. I was looking for change, after all, and that’s what I got.

(If anyone can recommend a good lawyer to me who can dissolve this piece of paper inexpensively and without fuss, please write to me. The Lawyer I used for settlement was terrible.)

Sticks blown from surrounding trees through the winter, that I use to kindle a fire in my woodstove. Stones of the 10,000 year-old glacial shoreline, on which I built my cabin.

I’m glad to be on this side of the last twenty years, alive, healthy, and in peace. There’s no vindictiveness in this place, no toxicity, just growth, death, beauty, growth. Wonderful.

NOTE: Photos are from the natural dyeing and ink-making phase of the latest project I’m working on, called TREE. Seven trees, seven colours, all interwoven with human history and trade for hundreds of years. Wonderful and so exciting, the way this work is developing – more info to come.

POSTSCRIPT: They didn’t cut down the tree.

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Categorised in: Art Hamilton Residency TREE