Saturday, April 19, 2014

A New Painting, and a Different Kind of Easter Story

5" x 7" Oil on Panel
This is the last of this years "stick season" paintings. It was painted in that time between when the snow melts away and leaves come out on the trees. The rhythms and proportions these trees presented were what got me to paint them.

It was around this time of year a few years ago that the events in the following story took place.

Exhibits, plein air competitions and long painting trips have taken me all over the intermountain west. There's been plenty of long drives to and from places in Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico. To help pass the time while traveling I'll usually listen to CDs or tunes on the radio, but sometimes audiobooks will keep me company as the miles pass. Audiobooks I've listened to have been about a wide variety of subjects. Some of the audiobooks I've listened to the most have been the scriptures.

Daylight hours on these long trips are often filled with painting, scouting out places to paint, or attending shows. Because of that, much of my travel is done after dark. Wild critters of all kinds also travel at night. Many of these wild critters - from mice and weasels, skunks, coyotes, to deer, elk and even moose - have made cameo appearances in the nocturnal tunnel of my headlight beams. Livestock can be a problem, too. I've been pretty good - or lucky - avoiding serious trouble with them. Except one time...

On one trip a few years ago to Southern Utah, I spent some days camping and painting in the spectacular red rock deserts that region is known for. Since I crammed as much painting as I could into the daylight hours, night was falling when time came to leave for home. The drive home includes a couple hours of traveling through really wild country - country full of large wild things that don't seem to understand the concept of what's on the other side of those two bright lights. On that particular night, I was listening to the New Testament as I drove. Most of the trip was behind me and the audio player was in the latter part of the Book of Luke.

And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table.

As I drove, I tried to keep my tired eyes on the lookout for any animal that might run in front of my car. Every boulder or bush near the road was suspect, as on occasion I've seen what looked like a rock or bush transform into a deer as my car approached. When I see deer I slow down or even stop if necessary until the danger of collision is past. As I traveled that night, the audio-Luke continued:

And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow, And said unto them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. And while he yet spake, behold a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them, and drew near unto Jesus to kiss him. But Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?

Just as the audiobook reached that point, a fast moving tawney-gray blur streaked in front of my car from the left. Everything went into slow motion as I slammed on the brakes. Impact was half a second later. I saw the entire front of my SUV bulge momentarily outward and a tangle of hooves and deerhide cartwheeling and tumbling down the highway in a cloud of dust and broken car parts. The deer was still rolling when I pulled to the side of the road.

In a moment of denial, I though that maybe – just maybe – my car wasn't really damaged very much. Then I got out of the car and saw the damage. Denial fled. The hood was dented and buckled. Both fenders were damaged. The bumper looked like some giant had wrung it out. The grill was gone, scattered in pieces along the accident zone. The car horns were smashed and the air conditioning unit was damaged and leaking. I could tell there was more damage inside the engine compartment, but the hood wouldn't open to allow me to see. The headlight mountings were smashed and the headlights were sitting on the mangled bumper. Somehow, the headlights were still on and pointed generally in the right direction.

Surveying the damage to my car, I thought, “Lousy deer!”

Then I turned to look at the deer. It was laying just off the shoulder of the road, illuminated by my somehow-still-working headlights. The deer's hind legs kicked violently in it's death throes. Blood flowed from it's nose and mouth. I watched as the deer's breathing slowed and stopped, and the deer became still.

“Poor deer.” I thought.

Then I looked at my car again.

“Lousy deer!”

I looked back at the deer. Again the thought came to me,

“Poor deer.”

My feelings were different depending on which way I looked. Maybe there's an object lesson there somehow.

Wondering what to do next, I gathered up whatever loose car parts I could, for whatever reason. The lights of the next town were visible in the distance and the car was still functioning. And the headlights still worked! At a half past midnight I pulled into a truck stop where I used their phone to call the state police and report the accident. The dispatcher offered to send an officer out to write up a report if I wanted one, but I declined, thinking to myself that if a cop saw the condition of my car they might not allow me to drive it.

And I wanted to go home. Now.

From there I drove the interstate back to the town I live in, all the time hoping and praying that the hood wouldn't suddenly pop open and fly up into the windshield, or the headlights fall off of the bumper they were sitting loosely on, or some other thing happen that would leave me stranded wherever. I was so happy I had made it when I arrived home in the wee hours of the morning.

The car was at the body shop for around a month before I finally got it back. There was over $4,200.00 in damage that needed repaired. I began to refer to the paintings I did on that painting trip to the desert as my “$500 deductible paintings.” So far, the car continues to get me where I need to go.

Also, I've finished listening to The Book of Luke, and the record of the Savior's trial, crucifixion, and resurrection, without further misfortune to me. I've also finished the rest of the New Testament, and even re-listened to it a couple more times. But now, every time I come to the part in the gospels where Judas Iscariot enters the garden to betray Jesus, I think of...

...something bad happening.

May you and your deer ones have a safe and happy Easter!

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