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Art, a Language Everyone Speaks, Part 2

I drove to a trailhead different than the last time. The trail runs from Butler (northeastern) to Freeport (southwestern), two small towns in the countryside, north of Pittsburgh. Much of the trail parallels a stream called Little Buffalo Creek. Once upon a time I used to track my mileage to minutes while pedaling. These days I leisurely pedal and stop depending on the need for a butt break. While riding, I took in the colors of the season, verdant tree foliage; down the bank green moss dotted the stones along the creek on this summer day.

During one of my breaks, I found a bench looking down to the creek. Behind me the crunch of crushed limestone on the trail interrupted my thoughts. The call of a bird announced early evening; I hardly noticed, given the blazing sun. After capturing the scene below in a quick watercolor and drinking my bottled water, I repacked my paint supplies and hop back on my bike. I rode a few miles taking in the joys of summer, the sweet scent of wild flowers, sunlight and humidity prickling my skin, my thoughts coming and going much like in sitting meditation. My ride remained solitary except for the others’ greetings and smiles exchanged. Before reaching the end of the trail a surge of warm excitement filled me; wild tiger lilies marked the start of another trailhead. I put my bike to the side and sat in the soft grass.

I took on the challenge and focused on painting flowers which I’d avoided before: the angles, colors and thickness of the stems and focused on the same for the flowers themselves. People rode by starting their ride, later in the day now. Some hurried past me, looking down at what was before them: my beaten up blue backpack next to my stainless steel water bottle, my paint brushes and watercolor pad on the ground. I met quick smiles or hurried glances. Another couple pedaled by the man leading the two and their argument. I felt relief after they passed by, listening to the woman interrupting his loudness as the man with long legs sped by on his bike. Silence returned; evening birds started chattering. The meditation of my surroundings moved my paintbrush. I studied the shape of the orange flowers, black dots peppered on their centers.

“What are you painting?” A man’s voice interrupted my thoughts.

I put the brush down and held it up.

The man resembling a grandpa’s age looked at my watercolor and to his right seeing the flowers growing in the wild next to him. “I paint.” He turned back to face me.

“Really?” I was thrilled. He took the time to inquire. In Rome, people did that all the time. They were curious even if seeing artists painting on the streets was a common sight. “What medium do you paint?”

As he answered my questions and we exchanged ideas about painting and nature, he told me which days a birding group met and another of a local painting group. He told me it was his first time on his bike for several months. He’d had surgery for skin cancer; he pointed at his wrinkled forearm which looked no different than the other. Several years before he’d survived another kind of cancer. He was someone’s father, a cousin, a brother, a son. He spoke about working in Pittsburgh once, living in Point Breeze; did I know where that was.

“You know you’re a survivor.” It felt special that he told me such personal details, the way it’s easy to tell a stranger what you’ve been through.

The man was quiet. “I don’t know exactly… I’ve talked too much. I’m bothering you.”

“Not at all. I appreciated it. I haven’t talked to anyone today.” I was glad for the connection from a stranger who stopped to pique his curiosity.

He positioned himself for pedaling, “I better get going,” he smiled.

“Drink your water,” I reminded.

“Maybe I’ll see you at the birding.” He pedaled off not waiting for an answer.

Already I didn’t remember all the birding and painting details. Mostly I was glad he stopped. It was a needed connection that day through art: a language expressed around the world or just an hour away from home.

Review Amanda’s First Novel, Finding Moksha, One Woman’s Path in Uncertain Times.

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