Saturday, February 08, 2014

"Simple Aliveness"

"Things have changed greatly and still are changing, can they change much more? ...
And yet I wonder sometimes whether we are progressing.  In my childhood days life was different, in many ways, we were slower, still we had a good and happy life, I think, people enjoyed life more in their way, at least they seemed to be happier, they don't take time to be happy nowadays."   
-Grandma Moses from her autobiography, published in 1952 (she was then 92)

Hoosick Falls in Winter, painted in 1944
Phillips Collection

"For all who suffer from what might be called living strain - and many do complain about the malady - a few minutes' exposure to the presence of Grandma Moses is powerful therapy.  On Tuesday this ninety-three-year-old lady made one of her rare trips from her up-state home in Eagle Bridge, NY, to appear at the annual Herald Tribune Forum.  Some said that she stole the show.  Others were impressed with her astonishing vitality, her mental alertness, her humor, simplicity, graciousness, enjoyment of the occasion, and so on.  The plain fact is, everybody felt reinvigorated while in her presence. ...
While many distinguished persons were appearing before the Forum, a little old lady of ninety-three stepped into their midst and endeared herself to all by her simple aliveness ..."
-New York Herald Tribune, October 22, 1953
This part of the country, this area of eastern New York, just near the Vermont border, is sometimes called Grandma Moses Country.   She began painting here when she was in her late 70's.  She lived to be 101.

I've driven these roads over the last four weeks - over the pass from Bennington looking down across snowy hillsides and rolling pastures toward the ice rimmed Hoosick River, passing old farms with their colonial era houses (white, with dark green shutters, very like my own house in North Carolina!) and red barns and weathered out buildings.  I've watched the colors of the sky change with the weather, brilliant azure on clear days with the sun casting long, undulating shadows across the snow, and gunmetal gray on days when the sun barely manages to pierce the overspreading haze of low, snow-laden clouds.  I've listened to the train that follows tracks right along the Hoosick and watched it slow to a crawl through the village, little boys waiting on the sidewalk to cross the tracks, counting the cars as they waved their arms and stamped their feet to keep warm.  I've noticed birches and sugar maples and old, old oaks.

On a beautiful walk in the woods and then over tea with Mary in front of the woodstove, I felt the sweetness of simple aliveness.  I think a few minutes exposure to the presence of my dear friend is pretty powerful therapy.  She doesn't paint, but she walks and knows the woods and trees and especially the birds, and hand feeds the chickadees as they follow her around the yard and down the driveway.  Anybody that comes to visit can hold out a hand with sunflower seeds and it's not long before a chickadee alights to snatch a seed. That's enough to reinvigorate anybody!

Driving home down the mountain late in the afternoon, the beauty caught me and held me. I imagined Grandma Moses looking at scenes so much like the one spread out in front of me.  The low rounded mountains, the foreground dotted with farm houses and fields and woods, and a winding river. I could understood her love of this place.  I'm very glad she picked up her brushes at 78 and started to paint.

I'm also grateful to Alicia Paulson for mentioning this book, a used copy of which I promptly purchased and have just finished reading.

1 comment:

Amber Benton said...

Friend you gave gone away and found your voice!