Short Stories

 

 

Posted on 07/03/2018 at 11:00am

My recent trip to Peru was enlightening in so many ways. My innate fear of such a remote area
of the world was indeed overcome. Could intense sunlight and inherited DNA be what makes these Andean people have such a talent with color? Their abilities are everywhere, even in the poorest villages. Colorful fabrics woven on primitive looms by native women sitting outdoors on the ground and working throughout the highlands expressed so much beauty in such an arid, high desert environment. Skills of intricate designs in weaving by using natural dyes and yarns have been passed down for centuries at this extreme elevation of 12,000 ft.

 

 

The children wear their mother’s colorful handiwork. Woven one-of-kind hats with colorful pompoms attached, bright ponchos, leggings, and sweaters, that are mostly made from the wool of the Alpaca an animal that also makes this high desert their home. They can also sometimes be seen wearing special hats and sweaters made just for them.

When death comes, local people wrap their loved ones for burial in their finest cloth, the culmination of a life of connection with textiles. From an infant’s first breath to her last, beautiful textiles provide not only warmth, love and consolation but also a tangible sacred knowledge that they connect to a strong tradition of proud people stretching back for centuries.

 

 

 

In the smallest villages, round beautiful faces smile easily, and the women wear a variety of strange hats, some tall, some rather flat but highly decorated, and all were very different. I wondered if wearing them was dependent upon the village or life status, Many of the indigenous Andean women wear a very thick layer of skirts, up to 10 at a time. I was told that when the one underneath gets dirty, she removes and cleans it, and puts it on top of the others. They simply squat to urinate, no need looking for a bathroom. I was amazed when native women told me that when babies are born in her village in the Highlands of Peru, they are not allowed to see the sun for the first 5 months of life. She asked me if I would like to see her baby, and she untied the knot at her neck and nestled inside at the bottom of the colorful wrap on her back was her comfortable sleeping infant. She told me the child was almost 5 months old and will be allowed to be exposed to the sunlight in another week or so. The sunlight in the highlands is unbelievably bright. There is very little shade, and although it was the beginning of their winter when we were there, the sun was very hot during the day but the air was low humidity, comfortable and cool, it would warm to about 60 degrees, and at night the temperature was in the 30’s.

The city of Cusco is a bustling village steeped in history that goes back further than the Inca and sadly polluted with old buses spewing toxic gases as they roar up and down the steep, remote mountainous area in this city of about 500,000 residents. Religion is an emotional, deeply sacred thing to them. Although they are Catholic they still hold ancient pagan-like manifestations with idols and rituals from times long before the Spanish arrived. Arriving during one of their most important festivals, I watched as parades of bands, and many types of floats with towering, very heavy decorated religious manikins and dressed-up statues were carried through the streets by rows of men in colorful dress shirts, swaying back in forth in a dancing motion and sweating profusely as they walked in unison for hours around the plaza.

Painting in the highlands was a challenge but I managed to paint two Plein air

“Plein Cusco” Oil on Linen 10″x10″

paintings while there. One day when most of the streets were closed for the festival, I unfolded my stool on a street where not too many people were walking and set up to do a painting. I worked quickly, as I always do, trying to ignore the crowd that began to form around me. It was the most people I have ever had surrounding me while I worked. I glanced around once or twice to smile at them and they would smile wide and nod affirmatively, most of them staying to watch me the entire time I painted. Their kind encouragement kept me going and gave me an incredible rush of excitement.

 

Another plein air painting was completed on the street from the entrance to the hotel I was staying. A native woman was setting up her daily meal to be served to passerby’s in a doorway on a busy Cusco street. I was amazed when a crowd soon formed to purchase and eat her meal while standing near her. Within an hour, her food buckets were empty and she was done for the day. I was lucky to capture her. A moment in time, in a changing world.

 

“Everyday Plein Cusco” Oil on Linen 10″x10″

 

 


 

Posted on 06/17/2017 at 4:18pm

Milkweed Blooming

A single butterfly with faded, worn-looking wings fluttered in front of me as I took my morning nature walk on a cool, misty-morning early this spring. I watched as it landed on one of the newly emerging 4 inch tall, thick, young shoots of milkweed plants beginning to grow. Looking closely I was shocked to see it was a Monarch Butterfly, but there was no bright, orange-golden glow that glistens in the sun on the velvety surface that I had always noticed on their delicate wings. It had somehow faded to a dull, cloudy, almost colorless shade of grey.

I watched mesmerized for several minutes after I recognized what she was, another creature that is facing undeniable changes in their environment. Shocked at her sad-looking condition, I stood quietly as she ignored my presence and fluttered directly to one of the small newly emerging milkweed plants, lighted upon one of its perfectly formed, blueish-green, thick leaves for a few brief seconds, then continued to another freshly emerging plant just like it, ignoring all the other spring weeds and grasses growing everywhere alongside the path where I was walking. She was going from one to the next of the small, non-blooming young milkweed plants. I was mesmerized.

What was she doing? Why was this faded, old-looking Monarch Butterfly going to each one of these very young plants and just touching each of them? The next day I walked back to the wild garden I have created once again on an acre of land by mowing narrow paths through portions of it, and there she was again, the only butterfly anywhere around doing the exact same thing she was doing the day before. I could only guess what she was doing, but it seemed very necessary to her.

Will she be carrying location information to her species, that there are healthy, wild, milkweed plants growing here? The next day on my return to the garden, she was no longer there, and I have not seen another Monarch Butterfly in the past few months since that early spring day. Summer is already heating up in Tennessee. The milkweed plants growing in my yard that the old Monarch Butterfly carefully touched, are now several feet tall and starting to get their lush fragrant blooms. I wonder if those sturdy young shoots could feel her delicate legs touching each of them as they were beginning to grow. Now, I am here painting these wonderful plants and I can feel their power as they stand tall next to me.

I look forward to seeing all the beautiful, delicate young butterflies as they flutter past me going through my wild garden of native plants later this summer. I realize the wildlife in our world is so threatened by our ignorance. I have heard that milkweed is very important to the life-cycle of Monarch Butterflies. We mow thousands of acres into lawns, to create perfect carpets of green. We spray and pull the weeds that will continue to limit nature’s diversity, and these wonderful living creations have all but disappeared from much of the landscape. I did not plant these milkweed plants. They simply started growing when I stopped mowing part of the yard. I hope she went to tell other Monarch Butterflies that these healthy plants are growing here, and I wish I could tell her, “I will always let the milkweed plants grow for you and your species.”

“Milkweed” 10″x10″ Oil on linen Copyright 2017

 


 

Posted on 09/30/2016 at 12:50pm
Sharon Rusch Shaver

Sharon Rusch Shaver

We talked all summer about taking out our small skiff for an evening ride just before the sunset, but it seems like we always have too much to do these days. Our old ’77 Ford truck, loaded with the little boat called the “Andrea Dory” and all the things we thought we needed, was waiting patiently on the hillside.

Old ’77 Ford Truck and the Andrea Dory

Never caring much for fast, noisy boats on open water, we have always enjoyed a leisurely ride on calm rivers and creeks with nothing but a battery-powered trolling motor to propel us silently along. One day we looked at each other and at that little boat and knew that it was finally a perfect evening to go.

The truck ride to the boat entry is located a short drive down a beautiful, tree-lined road, one of the very few still standing tall in this area of middle Tennessee. Our guiding mascot at the front of the boat watching intently was my sweet little Maltese, Sunshine, who was very alert and excited as we pushed off from the shore. Motoring slowly under a low bridge brought us into the shallow, glistening, calm creek waters where rarely anyone ventures. The trees gently bending over the waters edge created soothing reflections, giving us a welcome embrace. I brought my small paint box and set up quickly once we arrived in the best area where Dan the Man wanted to cast his fishing line. The evening sun was casting a brilliant glow on the rock wall created by eons of storm waters in this shallow creek in Middle Tennessee. Moments passed by, but with the stillness and floating silence, time seemed to slow down.

I painted quickly that last fading bit of sunlight with colors so brilliant.

A strong healthy catfish was caught and released.

A Great Blue Heron flew by looking for its night perch.

Our little mascot fell asleep.

There are only so many moments in our lives that we want to remember and hold on to. This is one of mine. The paintings I do of these creeks in Tennessee are near and dear to me. I will always cherish these gifts of the nature spirits. There is no way to capture all of my favorite experiences on canvas and with my words, but for a reason that I am not so sure about, I will always continue to try.

 

IMG_0059

 

 

 

 


 

Posted on 10/30/2015 at 9:46pm

 

Our Map

Our Map

Searching the long, upward switchback road on this mountain pass to locate an unpronounceable, remote hillside village in the Italian Alps, we had the desire to take a break, pull off the road, leave our rental car and explore for a while on foot. Walking a short distance to a clearing, the crest of the village running along the mountain was now in full view. It looked like a fairy tale, perched and waiting for later discovery amid the tall dense forest. Suddenly we were aware of the only other vehicle we had encountered on our hour-long drive to this location. It was parked a short distance off the road, close to the amazing panoramic view of the tiny Italian village we were heading to called Montefegatesi.

Montefegatesi, Italy

Montefegatesi, Italy

Within moments of our arrival an unusually dressed man was walking briskly down the hillside and out of the deep woods towards us. He had a large basket tied with a long, leather strap, draped across his chest to carry something he was obviously collecting. He was smiling broadly as he walked up to us, excitedly speaking in his Italian language. Wearing a funny little hat, carrying a wooden walking stick, a hand-rolled cigarette was dangling from his lips as he spoke. Although we could not understand a word he said, we could tell by his enthusiasm that there was something he wanted to show us.  As he opened the hatch-back of his miles-worn, very small automobile, there was a bright blue, plastic basket placed inside that was carefully lined with large, fresh, bright green leaves of some type of fern. On top of those he had carefully placed his delicate prizes of the day from his morning of foraging in the quiet, leaf-strewn, forest paths. We gathered around him and were surprised and delighted to see such an interesting variety of delicate mushrooms and various types of fungi resting in his basket!

Fall Bounty!

Fall’s Bounty!

He proudly held high and posed with his largest and most magnificent discovery so that we could take photos.  Although we did not understand the words he spoke to us, we understood clearly that this long, sought after collection from the fall woods was something very important to him. It was an honor to encounter this unique individual that obviously knew these remote alpine woods so well that he was able to find such a special treasure, one that I am sure his friends and family will be enjoying at an upcoming Italian feast!

Mushroom Man

Mushroom Man

 

 

You too can join us to this beautiful region of Italy in 2016. Delicious meals, convenient ground transfers, and wonderful authentic private en-suite accommodations are included in the cost. To read more about this exciting journey for artists and anyone who loves exploring unique places, go to this website: http://adventure-artists.com/italy-2/

 


 

Posted on 08/25/2015 at 8:02pm

AAEAAQAAAAAAAALjAAAAJGMyNTBlMzVhLTIwZTMtNGE1ZC04ZGJiLWY5YzRhODk2NjE0MQ

Morning light filtering through lace curtains on this most recent journey to Ireland, nudged me from deep slumber on this cool and very damp, 50° morning in late May. With wool sweater, hat, scarf, and tall rubber boots, called Wellies, I walked carefully trying to avoid the large puddles on the road of the 12th century castle. A very small, young, red Irish fox with a distinctive round head and pointed ears, walked towards me and then sat in the middle of the gravel road staring right at me. There was a mist hanging, and the cold dampness barely revealed that spring had arrived. I stood silently, hoping he would not run from me. Moss-covered, grey stone walls, as tall as I am, with multitudes of  tiny purple spring flowers, were blooming from every crack along the wall, bordering the glistening path between the two of us. A muffled silence was hanging in the air, and I am sure that time slowed. I consciously tried not to move at first, studying his unique shape and size. Ever so carefully I moved a bit closer to him into the morning mist, and the diminutive, wild-animal hurriedly turned and bounded effortlessly into the tall grass. I saw his proportionally long tail and definitive gait, but only for an agonizingly brief moment. His curiosity with me, strong enough to allow him to pause, sitting and staring directly at me, was now etched into my mind, and the silhouette of an inquisitive young wild animal beaming at me in the Irish morning mist, left me yearning for more.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAK5AAAAJDdmMTM2NDZhLTVmNWEtNDg1Yi1hZGUxLThlNWUyMjJiMWU4Zg


 

Posted on 11/03/2014 at 9:53pm

Against a brilliant blue sky,

Ancient stone buildings glow golden in the afternoon sun.

Beautiful people are found wallowing in sidewalk cafe’s staring blindly at the ancient beauty that surrounds them.

History is bleeding from every corner, bound up in rags of modern canopy, which calls this American tourist to join the throng.

Baguette? Crepe? Espresso? Fill me, satisfy my hunger with your culture and only then, divulge your dreaded underworld of yesterdays

Open these eyes to what is hidden within the cobblestone streets now baring only languishing frivolity on their worn surfaces

I secreted myself  into the crumbling ruins of the ancient Roman Coliseum and the bustling city Forum because I have always wanted what only they can share.

I now hold so tightly to the very light that I found dancing in their corners.  What I take will become an integral part of this 21st century artists life.

Now I share the city of roman ruins where Van Gogh splattered his paint

With all those who stumble into me.

“Arles” Oil on Linen 36″x48″ 2017

 


 

Posted on 10/20/2011 at 4:31pm

The old woman’s steel grey eyes did not give any clues as to what was wrong. In her tiny, transparent, fragile hands, she clutched a crystal crucifix, attached to a string of tiny white pearls. She gently touched each one as her thin lips quietly whispered the prayers of the Holy Rosary. Forgiveness of oneself is much too difficult. Focus on the beads Caroline, repeat over and over the poetry drills of redemption, from your youth. This always gave her spirit rest. No one will know. No one will ever know.

img_0058

Born at the turn of the century in a large northeast city bordering the Great Lakes, her mother was a controlling, upwardly seeking, jealous, religious, woman and Caroline was her only child. Her kind, loving father worked as a baker and his beautiful, shy daughter was the love of his life. He doted on his only child, spending as much time as he possibly could with her, but his wife’s jealousy of the special relationship the two had, was something she became unable to control. She would do anything to make her daughter unhappy. Creating reasons for her to not see him became her mission. “You will take the lessons Caroline, your piano teacher arrives tomorrow.” How quickly she became accomplished at whatever her mother asked her to do. This made her mother more angry and controlling.  Her mother eyed the local convent for Agnes to aspire to. Her cousin had chosen the path to become a devout Catholic Nun, and with the continual prodding of her mother, Caroline too had thoughts of joining the order. Religious study for Caroline, however, made her realize that there would be so many changes in her life, and she had blossomed into a beautiful, dark-haired, petite young woman of 16.  That year she met, fell in love, and embraced with abandonment a handsome young man, and in an afternoon of youth filled passion, completely forgot herself, along with all the mores of maternal criticism and  fear that had always ruled her life.

No one will ever know. Taken to a remote location outside of the city, Caroline spent the next six months in reflection and prayer. “A woman at the church, with other young children has agreed to take this child, and raise the girl as one of her own. No one, including the child will ever know that you are her mother.” At the time, this seemed a horrible way to continue living, however, she would still be able to watch her child from a distance, as long as she would never speak of it. The domination by her own mother overwhelmed her, and her fears, compounded by the religious teachings of a lifetime, made her accept the one thing that even 93 years of life would not cleanse from her memory. No other children were ever born to her, and the unspoken acceptance of internal guilt, was the only way, with her religious, fear based, upbringing, to keep on living. The hidden secret of a lifetime.

Alone, in an elder facility home. Forgetting who you really are, and what you have experienced is impossible. All life’s secrets come to dwell with you. The child matured, became a young mother herself, and as your friend, shared many of her happiest moments with you. She was always your young friend.  You could never tell her who you really were to her. Could she have known? She visited you almost every year, driving or flying miles to spend a weekend or whole week with you playing your favorite games, taking you for drives and walks. Being a dear friend to you.

I can still remember the day you told me you wished you had your own daughter. To me, you were always my grandmother. When my Grandfather married you, I was only 8 years old. You had taught me to knit, cook, plant roses, and how to enjoy afternoon tea. A late whisper by my Grandfather, told me that there had long ago been a rumor that the woman who was your good friend was really your daughter. I questioned it in my mind, but could never speak of it to you. Once Grandfather had died,  I visited you regularly in the old folks home where you did not want to be. You had reached the end of a life you no longer wanted to live. Somewhere in your life the lies became so real that living seemed much worse than death and forgetting forever. Going through photographs that you had saved one day, with you, I remember my shock at seeing the photograph of your friend that told me the truth, that she indeed was your daughter.  My eyes as an artist saw the photo and I knew, I saw you. The resemblance, as I remembered you at a younger age, was, for me, the answer to why for all the years I had known you,  there had always been a strange pushing away of those who loved you, and an unspoken anguish to your spirit. I suddenly felt such sadness well up inside of me for you both. How could you possibly hide that wonderful truth till death?

Oil on Canvas; Copyright 2011; Sharon Rusch Shaver

When they found Caroline on a cold winter day outside of the facility, and on the ground shaking after a fall, dressed in her good clothes, hat, and holding her empty purse on that very dark night, she told the nurses who found her she was on her way to visit her good friend in the Northeast.

Her wonderful friend.

Her only child.

To say goodbye?

We will never know. She died a few days later, at age 93.

No one will ever know.

Oil on Canvas; Copyright 2011; Sharon Rusch Shaver

They say that at this time of year the spirits of those we have loved come close. I honor you, and wish you well on your continued journey.


 

Posted on 03/22/2011 at 9:55pm

Circa 1925 Copyright 2012

The small stature of the youth, did not belie the fact that this handsome, rugged,  young man with long, dark blonde, curly hair, was as confident in himself as he was. Driven by necessity, this journey had started many years ago. He stopped and breathed a long sigh of relief, when he saw a fire in the distance and then he paused, and thought long and hard before deciding to walk up between the rusted railroad cars along the tracks toward the welcoming glow coming from those flames. Something told him that this could be his very last time. That familiar sound of the train in the distance only made him walk a little slower. No, this time it would not call to him to run as fast as he could as it barely slowed, to jump up on as it had so many times before. Suddenly he saw out of the corner of his eye a man watching him.  The ragged looking middle age man spoke in a raspy voice but loudly to him, “Come over here boy, what are you doing down in here?” As  he turned and walked  towards him he could smell alcohol and rotting food. He was frightened when he saw several others standing around the rusted barrel where the flames and sparks shooting out of it made their faces in the evening light look grotesque. The man who called to him was very dirty and looking strange with one eye askew and the other not quite focusing on him either. He reached out and put a trembling hand on the young man’s  shoulder. “Need something to eat boy?” he then slowly turned and spoke to several other men who were crouched on the ground passing a glowing pipe and hollered toward them, “get this boy something to eat!” One of men who appeared to be much older than all the others began to laugh heartily and pulled a harmonica out of his worn, large overcoat made of animal fur and began to play a lively tune. There was no need to be afraid now, he had come upon scenes like this one countless times over the years.  The sun had set and the darkness made the young traveler weary so he sat down on a stack of railroad ties to rest his tired feet.

As he watched and listened he thought about his life. His mother and father had been farmers from Nebraska, the house he was raised in, had a dirt floor and walls that were three feet thick, made of mud and straw. His mother would speak of the Olagala Indians who would talk to her when she was in the fields and the children all thought she was surely mad. There are no Indians around here! They would tell her. More brothers and sisters born every year, were making it hard to feed all those children during a few years of crop failure. School was taken to 8th grade and then at the age of 13 young Clement decided it was time to leave home. No need to worry about me, I can take care of myself he thought. He told no one, not knowing where he was heading. Walking for miles on a dirt road one very hot day he was tired and thirsty. Shielding his eyes, he looked far into a field and saw a few cattle standing around a windmill with a water trough beneath it. He ran as fast as he could to it thinking he could quench the incredible thirst he was experiencing, but when he arrived at the well it was completely dry and the cows looked as thirsty as he was. He ran to the closest farmhouse and hollered. An old man and woman come to the door and asked him what was wrong. “Your well is not working! Your cows are going to die!” The old man ran with him back to the well and made the discovery that his pump had broken. “Thank you so much young man, my cows would have never survived if you had not come along, please, stay and eat with us.” After the meal he asked the couple if he could spend the night in their barn to sleep, and they told him that he could. The next morning he took some whole oats from a barrel for the horses and cupped his hands to pour fresh cream from a milk can in the barn, washing them down his throat, as he smiled and thought, what a wonderful breakfast he had enjoyed that day. When the old man came by early that morning, he asked the young man if he wanted to stay on with them. They needed help on their farm and they would make it real nice for him to stay. He told them no. “I have to be going now, thanks anyway.”

The years after that went quickly. He learned how to jump on the rail cars and jump off again, running quickly so no one would see him. The experiences of those endless days of wandering were making him wish for easier times, and he knew that he could not keep running on forever. The thoughts of the old couple wanting him to stay with them haunted him. He wished he had said yes. Why did he have this urge to keep running on?

It was getting much colder now, as he stood close by the warmth of the glowing barrel. The first man who had spotted him came over and handed him a pot with a spoon and filled it with some kind of smelly grub. He ate, because he had not eaten anything much for several days. The man with the harmonica gave him a toothless smile and asked if he could play. “Yes”, he said. “Well lets hear you!” Knowing he could not say no, he grabbed it and started to play a tune he had learned on the rails years before. Suddenly the man looked at him and said, “I know you! Clement! What are you still doing riding the rails?” The young man stopped playing and looked up at him. It was his much older friend, Mike. Years before he had met Mike and rode the rails with him for a spell. He told him, “Nothing else to do I guess.” Mike sounded frustrated and mad when he said, “Well, don’t you let me ever see you out here riding the rails again! Find yourself a wife! A job! Get on with it boy! Life is waiting for you!”

That is exactly what my Grandfather Clement did. He married and got his first job selling insurance with Prudential Insurance Company. Years after the depression went by, he was very successful at convincing people that insurance was what people needed for their future. He moved up quickly in the growing company to become a Vice President before he retired. But that is not the end of this story. Clement traveled a lot as a manager of district sales, to cities all over the country, and on one of his visits to the city of Chicago, he was walking between the tall buildings on Main Street and saw someone on the crowded street that did not belong there. A disheveled old man, with ragged clothes now  looked so familiar to him, standing asking for handouts near the street corner. It had been 20 years or more, “Mike! My grandfather dressed in his fine suit, shouted excitedly. The haggard looking old man in shabby clothes turned around and smiled a toothless smile, but obviously not recognizing him. “Lets go get you a cup of hot coffee and something to eat!” When my Grandfather finally left him off on a that street in Chicago, he handed the old man some money and he turned and walked away, never to see him again.

Circa 1954 Copyright 2012

This story is based on the many stories my Grandfather told me about his life. He is long since gone now, but the memories of his incredible life of discovery, and people remembered, is not forgotten. Oh, and he told me once, that he found out many years later, that there really were Ogalala Indians still in Nebraska when my Great-grandmother was there, and there probably still is! She was not mad after all!



 

Artist, Writer, and Explorers Newsletter