While updating my stringbook, I came across this essay I wrote in 2007 for a college class.
It’s a day. Not any special day. The clouds are their usual blue-gray, hanging in their usual place. The sun just barely filters through, most of it’s power wasted on the backside of the clouds. The air is dead and the leaves are too. I meander toward the front door of my parents’ house, casually examining the broken asphalt beneath my feet. I’m a little surprised to see the cement landing is cleared of the clutter of boxes and the old organ mom got at Goodwill for a hundred dollars. It’s funny- I hate clutter, but I guess I’ve gotten used to it. The porch seems kind of empty without it.
The house is empty too. I knew it would be. I’m just here to pick up the last few boxes of mostly unused, but somehow sentimental things out of the storage closet. It has been a month since I have been to this house. I feel a little like I am returning to a devastated and deserted land. I planned to grab the boxes, toss them in the back of the Explorer and get back to my other errands within about twenty minutes.
But, as I should have foreseen, I am sitting on the fuzzy, beige, never-vacuumed carpet in my well-worn blue jeans, looking at old pictures and remembering a time that seemed so vibrant. There is a folder in which I used to keep various collections of papers over the years. Since I was about eleven, the folder has held homework, lists of favorite things, my first poems, prayers, and probably many other things. The monochrome memories are now faded.
The folder has a tear in the bottom of the front cover. I am pretty sure it has been this way for some years. I laugh at myself a bit as I think about how, even now, in my 20s, and somewhat focused on the future, I don’t want to throw away my folder. The thing is, it is not just a folder, and it is not the previous contents alone that make it significant to me. It is the image on the cover that has inspired me to create those things that went in it.
Christian R. Lassen, the painter of the original image was first famous for his athletic accomplishment in swimming, surfing and wind surfing in the 1980’s. He has recorded a music album called Turning the Tide. In all these things there has been the common tie of Lassen’s love for nature, specifically the ocean. Many of his pieces feature dolphins or whales.
The image on my folder bursts with color and activity as do all of Lassen’s pieces. In the center of the image, noble white horses–a pair of them–splash through a stream that was obviously crystal clear and calm just before it was met with the outburst of strength and freedom. The horses’ manes flare with a life of their own, like fire with an endless supply of oxygen.
At times I feel I have this fire in me–that I am so passionate and driven to make splashes and ripples of influence in the world, that no one could stop me. When I was in junior high this folder held printed copies of essays I had written about social and moral issues. I posted them on the internet. I hoped someone would read and act on my opinions and arguments.
I love the feeling of freedom I get from looking at those horses running with no regrets, just looking forward.
When I was a child just learning to ride a bike, I remember feeling the need for freedom from restraints. I had asked my parents to take my training wheels off my bike. They told me I wasn’t ready. Not ready? I was ready to fly on the wind, to race my bike to the end of the long driveway, down the road if I thought I could get away with it.
So, I searched Dad’s Maraschino-cherry red toolbox. I couldn’t find a wrench that would fit the nut, so I used a pair of vice-grips and I took my own training wheels off. Then I rode my powder blue bike as fast as I could to the end of the bumpy gravelly driveway. What freedom! Then I rode it as fast as I could back toward the gray house. As I coasted closer to the back of Dad’s pristine burgundy truck, I realized I wasn’t slowing down as quickly as I had hoped, but I would soon be coming to a complete stop. With a bruise on my face and my bike halfway under the truck, I was embarrassed and hoped no one had seen my crash. Dad reminded me that because my bike didn’t have hand brakes, I had to pedal backward to stop.
He didn’t make me put the training wheels back on.
The horses are beautiful, but my favorite part about this image, titled In Another World, is not any one element but rather the way the artist captures the expanse of a scene from the stars in the blackness of space at the top of the painting down through the blue sky down through the scene of lush plant life wildlife, to the bottom of the image where beautiful colorful fish swim in a serene pool. It’s almost as though they have a bubble of safety around them. Even though there are powerful horses’ hooves crashing through the stream, it seems the fishes lives are not disrupted at all. It is like a cross section of the water, like looking into a fish tank. All these subjects are worthy and beautiful to behold on their own, but look at them together!
Whenever I look at this image, I merge it with another one of Lassen’s pieces called Kahana Falls. I see waterfall with lush greenery in place of the snowy trees and mountains. Probably becasue I prefer to see everything as warm and tropical. What makes Lassen’s images so intriguing is the way he merges multiple “worlds” into one grand subject. Lassen has become known as an “environmental artist” because of the theme of his images and because of the message he preaches. He wants people to see the beauty that he sees in nature, and also the destruction of nature that occurs when the human world and the animal kingdom collide, rather than co-habitate.
I am inspired by the animals in Lassen’s images. They appear strong and certain of their place in life. The horses on the cover of my old beaten folder, still gleam in the painted sunlight that seems to illuminate the 8 1/2 by 11 canvas. The whole scene entices me to join in the fantasy.
I ride on the back of this surefooted stallion as he gallops from this side of dusk to the far side of dawn. We stop only to watch the stars and moon try to outshine each other as they glisten overhead. When the lights of the night lose the battle to the might of the sun, and we are sweaty and ready for refreshment, I climb down from the horses back into the gleaming pool full of tropical fish. I stand under the waterfall and let the weight of the torrent massage my soreness away. A rainbow forms in the mist of stray droplets that billow out from the clashing of the falls and the pool. I hike through the lush greenery to the top of the cliff and look down at the vibrant scene below. But it’s not just below me. It’s all round me so I lean back on a warm rock to take it all in. I drift off into that most restful kind of nap that can only be induced by sunlight and a nearly-absent breeze. My eyes are closed, but I can still feel the presence of color and light surrounding me.
I look at my watch and realize I am way behind schedule. So I hastily toss the remaining trinkets on top of the overflowing box. I will probably throw half of this stuff away in less than a month. Ah, well. I’ll deal with that later, I guess. I fold the flaps as closed as they are going to get, pick up the box, and head toward the stairs. But not before I put the folder in my tote bag next to my wallet and keys. Maybe I will keep the folder. Just a little longer.
“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth…From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—He who forms the hearts of all…” Psalm 33:6,13-15
Don’t forget to look at the brightest moon of the year tonight! The One who breathed it into existence formed our hearts as well. We are fearfully and wonderfully made!