I ask myself a question as I do my morning chores on my farm, as I grain the pigs, as I put hay out for the cows, my cat at my feet the whole time. As I look around at this life, the one I have made; the life of an artist. At times, it’s a ship running into the rocky coast, battered by a winter storm. I ask at that moment, “will I survive, or will this be the last thing that my eyes see in the darkness of that night?” And in the same way that I was brought against that rocky shore, I am saved and brought to calm waters. My day in the sun. The beautiful warming breeze that smells of spring.
Life experience is what makes my art. And as an artist, I have made my life. I live on the mountain tops and in the deepest hole; my art is what takes me there. But also, in the end, it is my power, what drives me, what pushes me to live life harder, deeper, more loving. It pushes me to the darkest reaches of the forest and also brings me to the light in the meadow. I feel so lucky to be an artist, just as long as it doesn’t kill me in the end. I’m sure it will.
My mind sometimes tells me to live an easier life. Why put yourself through this? But my soul has more power, and pulls me into the dark. It takes me to that place, a place wonderful to tell, one of love and of heartbreak, feelings so beautiful to feel but also so far to fall. I’m so glad I found my art later in life – not that I haven’t been looking, I have. I used to draw all the time, then on to other things, always trying to find myself. I did not find my art until I was 47, but when I did I just knew I was home. The great part of finding it so late in life is my life’s experiences are what make my art so real to me.
I will tell you of one experience that makes me who I am. Do not read on if you don’t want to hear a sad but beautiful story.
I had a draft horse. Her name was Crystal, a beautiful black Percheron. She was the best. I worked with her for 20 years or so. I got her when she was only 7, which is pretty young for a horse. At that point she had already been worked so hard, and she had also foundered. If that happens to a horse it is in most cases the end, there is nothing you can do. So her feet were bad from this, and to add that with the work she was doing, she went lame all the time. Really she was not of any use to anyone. The guy that owned her was going to send her to the slaughterhouse. They make pet food of worn out animals like Crystal.
I remember clearly the day I thought he sent her. I had worked with that horse for a year, we were something together. We had that bond that’s unbreakable even today. In the end the guy just gave her to me. Well, with lots of begging on my part. With lots of love and care and effort, I had her for 20 years after that, and she was able to work with no real problems.
But at 27 she was old. It was winter, and I would get up in the morning and find her down, she could not get up. Many times I had to lift her with a tractor. It can kill a horse to be down, they can bloat or they can keep rolling until the stomach will twist, nothing can pass and the gases build and it will kill, slowly and very painfully.
One night late I went to check on her, and again she was down. I did everything I could to get her up, but you could tell that she wanted it to end. It was the last moments I spent with my friend. Because it was so late, no vet would come out, so I had to do it myself.
I got the gun from the house, and I went and sat for a time with her. I put her head in my lap, stroked her face and remembered our life together. Those last looks into her eye, I could be myself in the reflection. I cried, I said goodbye, I put the gun to her head and I pulled the trigger. She twitched her legs, kicked for a few seconds. The blood ran from the hole in her head, smoke from the gunpowder came out of her nose and mouth. I watched as the main vein in her neck pulsated with the still beating heart, but slowed more and more. I put my hand on it to feel the last bits of life in her slowly but surely come to an end. Crystal was gone. I laid with her and cried. I thought about how once by loving had I saved her from death, now by loving hand I brought her death.
In the end I find even if I had the money or it wasn’t late I still would not want the vet to put my horse down; it was something I needed and had to do. As hard as it was – and to this day it makes me sad – I will live with those last moments forever, but it also helps me remember all those years of good times.
It’s the things in life like these that make me who I am. When I find life almost too hard to bare I make my art: it’s my safety valve. It’s the release for me. But as my art saves me time and time again, my life is also the soil that my art grows from.