The Muse

For the past five or more years, a pair of great horned owls sat each morning at the edge of our pond-like pool in Carmel, California and watched the sun rise. I squinted at their silhouettes, side-by-side and sometimes touching, stronger as reflections in the water than the hazy outline of their bodies against the valley. Occasionally I tried, ever so softly, to open the screen door and take a picture, but each time they spread their wings at the noise, landing separated in the branches of our lace oaks or on the peeks of our modern, oversized ‘cabin’ in the woods, sending me running in the early morning light from window to window in search of another glimpse.

My cousin Timber Wolfe, perhaps influenced by his name, reminded me recently that the great horned owls eat the bunnies, small foxes and birds that also call this place home.

“The owls are predators,” he said.

Yet he failed to lessen my romantic sentiment, even after yesterday’s related incident, as I watched a hawk send a covey of quail from our fountain to safety beneath the bushes, where they stood as still as statues for what seemed like hours.

George, who paints all night and sleeps until noon, missed the owls for years.

“Take a picture!” he said, frustrated with my failure as a nature photographer.

This summer things changed with the owls. In the first weeks none appeared; but it was foggy, and I assumed they chose another spot from which to view the morning light. After some time, however, I heard the hooo-hooo for an hour or more each morning, sometimes waking George, so that we discussed the possible reasons for this sad cry. Yet even as we scanned the water’s edge, the branches, and the roof, we couldn’t spy the source.

(pictured, I’m Looking for Someone Like Me, 1992 by George Rodrigue)

This week we watched a movie about muses and artists and love affairs called Bride of the Wind (2001). It was twenty years ago that a similar movie, Impromptu, reflected, in a way, the impromptu shift in my life’s course. I had returned from Vienna only three years before, and it was there that I contemplated Gustav Klimt’s Adam and Eve, a painting I visited dozens of times over many months while musing about my destiny.

(pictured, Adam and Eve, 1916 by Gustav Klimt; also see the post “Indiscretion: A Nude Addendum”)

Impromptu (1991), based on the real life love affairs and friendships of author George Sand (a woman who posed as a man so that she would be taken seriously as a writer) with composers Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt, poet Alfred De Musset, and artist Eugene Delacroix, inspired the hopeful muse within me, as though I were twelve years old again, imagining that my knight climbed the long locks of my hair to reach my tower prison.

(pictured, Portrait of George Sand, 1838 by Eugene Delacroix)

This was also the year I took a chance and went to work for the Rodrigue Gallery of New Orleans. It was the year I met George Rodrigue, the year my life changed forever.

(pictured, Wendy and Me, 1997 by George Rodrigue)

I spent much of 1991 and 1992 reading the complete works of George Sand, as I listened to Chopin’s preludes and etudes, immersing myself in this real-life fairytale.

Similarly, I have a history with the artists in Bride of the Wind, a movie based on the true story of Alma Mahler and her love affairs with composer Gustav Mahler, architect Walter Gropius, and artist Oskar Kokoschka. She lived in that same inspired world, the one that transported me as a college student (through Adam and Eve) to Fin de Siécle Vienna.

“How was I twisted magically, since from a hazy world, prospecting her, a small white bird summoned me, ALLOS, ALLOS, whom I never came across. Since in an instant swiftly she transformed herself into my being, like a back door. Suffer, ears, Strive, you eyes, to spot her! I into the indigent summer night, which faded and cries from a rift in the earth.”*

In 1988 my Viennese professor teaching Austrian Art and Architecture claimed to have had a long-running affair with Kokoschka. During her classes I struggled to retain the academic lessons while daydreaming about the romantic ones. It was this notion of ‘the lover of a great artist’ that intrigued me. What on earth must it feel like to be a muse, to affect a creative soul in such a way that their personal expression involves you and remains as such forever?

(pictured, The Bride of the Wind, 1914, a self-portrait with Alma Mahler by Oskar Kokoschka)

I leave that question unanswered here, not because I don’t know the answer, but because it confounds me, and I am without the words.

This morning George came into the bedroom from his studio after painting all night. We stood at the window and watched the sunrise.

“There’s only one owl,” I whispered.

“Maybe they split up,” he said.

But we both knew better.


*From the poem, Allos Maker (an anagram from the names Alma and Oskar, meaning “Happiness is otherwise”), by Oskar Kokoschka, 1913

For a related post, see “Nature Girl (The Art of Modeling)”

Coming this weekend: “The Cajun Bride of Oak Alley”

6 thoughts on “The Muse

  1. I love this post. Thought provoking to say the least. I think it's perfect how you tied in the owls. We have a pair too, and have never been able to photograph them. One nearly took my head off last fall in the wee hours of the morning when I was out with Dixie on one of her final days. I think a muse brings out the best in someone— not necessarily in an artistic sense. Timber's head is going to blow up because you mentioned him.

  2. About 5 years ago, I found a "Blue Dog" book on the bookshelf of my Landlady's furnished apartment I was renting when I first moved here to L.A. from North Carolina. I was taking an acting class, and one of our assignments was to find a picture or portrait of someone; famous or not, whom we "resonated" with. It didn't matter whether we looked like them or not. I found a painting in the book of a woman with long dark hair in a blue skirt that I felt an instant connection with. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I love all things Southwestern, and also owned a bright blue skirt similar to hers, but I knew I had found what I was looking for…the search was over.

    For the assignment, we were to dress as similarly as possible to the subject; but, spend the majority of our time invested in"becoming" that person, in that person's particular moment. The next week, we split up into two groups. One group still-posed on the stage of the auditorium, while the other group, along with our acting teacher, walked around, rating the likeness, or authenticity of our selection in comparison to the subject/character we had selected.

    My acting teacher very seldom gave himself away, excepting for the use of extremely short one-liners, such as "Very nice.", or "Very good.", whether he was amazed with your performance or not. If you were really bad, he would have more to say; but he never really let anyone feel extremely sure of themselves. I always listened for the difference between the words "nice", and "good." Because there was one. And it was his only tell-tale sign. Not sure if I was the only one who noticed. But, I noticed.

    When he addressed what he had observed with my effort; he seemed more at a descriptive loss for words than intentional. I remember "hearing" something like "That was….I just….it was as if…you…were…that woman…I could see her spirit in you." At the same time he was talking, I "saw" a part of him I'd never seen before. I think it was his spirit.

    The next day, in a conversation with my friend (and fellow acting class-mate), she told me that she truly felt he was blown away by my portrayal. I can't describe the feelings that followed. But, they resonated in me.

    It's been years since that time; and I'm still in a constant, natural search of "resonation." Since Facebook's come along, I had a memory of that time in my life, and decided to search for Blue Dog there. Found.

    Today, I followed a rambling chain of web-sites as I searched for more info on the word "muse." And, as life would have it; I ended up on this page…your blog. And, naturally, I "resonate" with it, too.

    Athena Pierce

  3. Dear Athena, Thank you for your heartfelt comments and for sharing your personal story. The person you depicted is from a painting of a Traiteur, modeled by an Indian woman named Evergreen Lake. I'm not sure if these links will work here, but it's worth a try. The story of Evergreen Lake is here:

    and of the traiteur (healer) here:

    (you may have to paste them into your browser).

    I look forward to reading your story to George. He will be MOST TOUCHED, as am I- Thank you for writing in.

    And to Laife and bmx Mom, thank you for your enthusiastic support, as always!


  4. And the story continues….What an incredible one, as well as experience this has been for me. So surreal! I had no idea….Your response brought things full circle! It reminds me "It is Written."

    First, thank you so much for your very caring response. That in itself was touching enough. I cannot begin to tell you how many ways this exchange has affected me. It's literally been years since I've had the desire, or allowed myself the freedom to "walk around" the "writer's block" and express myself as I did here in your blog. It's sort of embarrassing; as it appears I'm blogging on your blog! ha!

    At any rate; THANK YOU for the wonderful information. It's such an honor that you, possessing such an eloquent talent for words, found something redeeming in my ramblings. (And, if Mr. Rodrigue doesn't; well, some things are better left unsaid!) 😉

    I am usually a songwriter when I do write; so, I love reading or hearing about "The story behind the song." In this case, I know these are simply a few of many behind the amusing talent of "Blue Dog". This has certainly been the brightest highlight of my life in many years.

    I hope both of you and your family are doing well! Your musings are so very interesting. I have a feeling there's a wonderful song waiting for me somewhere in the midst of this. I am off to seek it's resonation!


  5. Thank you again, Athena! And feel free to 'blog on my blog' anytime! (I do mean that-). As expected, George was as moved by your story as I. He reminded me of the book for young adults called 'Claire by Moonlight' by Lynne Kositsky. You'll be surprised by the cover image… (and can find it on

    The very best to you. Keep writing – Wendy

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