“It is a dangerous business going out your front door.”*
This morning I watched from my desk in Carmel Valley, California as a great-horned owl took a bath. It glanced at me, assessed the danger, and then continued, even as I eased open the glass door and stepped into the rain, camera ready.
We all know that the greatest chance for joy and inspiration comes with the greatest risk of pain. It’s the reason we stay in a ‘dangerous’ city, New Orleans; it’s the reason we argue the murder-rate and dismiss dramatic press; it’s the reason we stare dumbfounded at anyone suggesting, following 2005, that we leave or, worse, let it go. (For a related post, see “For New Orleans“)
(This year I’m over-the-moon excited to ride on the giant shoe, Float #1, of the Muses Parade, February 16th; photo by Tabitha Soren)
On the plane last month from New Orleans to the Monterey Peninsula, I thought, as I do on every flight, about artist Georgia O’Keeffe looking down on the clouds, inspired to paint the experience. I thought of my grandmother Helen McClanahan and her hours of 1950s videotaped sky, taken through the airplane window as she puddle-jumped from New Orleans to Lafayette to Houston to Fort Worth. And I checked my superstitions and fear, replacing any form of the word “death” in my book with any form of the word “life,” as I replayed in my head a line I heard years ago on a TV show I can’t recall:
The most important thing holding this machine in the sky is the combined will of the passengers.
O’Keeffe was a brave woman, making art in a man’s world, resettling alone in the New Mexico desert.
(pictured, a photograph from our collection hangs in my Carmel office, Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz by Arnold Newman 1944)
My grandmother (pictured below as Grand Matron of the Order of the Eastern Star) was also a brave woman, traveling alone in the 1950s and 1960s far beyond New Orleans and Fort Worth to Singapore, Thailand, Africa and India.
We choose our dangers and balance risks against rewards. I recall the waiver we signed several years ago, as George and I rafted the Grand Canyon with friends:
You understand that you might die on this trip.
By day two our terror of the ten-rated rapids morphed into elation, as we hooked our arms through the trampoline’s ropes and plunged into the freezing water, pulled off balance by rocks and a raging current. We hiked, climbing straight up in the 110-degree heat, to waterfalls and Anasazi drawings. At one point, four days in and now fearless, I swam (blind, lest I lose my glasses) through a deep pond to a mossy cave, where I scrambled like Gollum from Lord of the Rings to an opening thirty feet above. Standing at the cave’s window, I stared across the water at my fuzzy friends, cheering me on and reminding me to clear the rocks below.
For the first time since my childhood, I held my nose, leaping, falling, sinking, choking, laughing …. and living.
(See photos of the great-horned owl splashing in our pool this morning here-)
What’s the biggest risk you ever took? I asked George Rodrigue, who skipped that Grand Canyon leap.
I assumed his answer involved the train from New Iberia to Los Angeles, calling himself ‘Cajun’ when Cajun wasn’t cool, or painting a Blue Dog when everyone (from the art world to his personal world) questioned his sanity.
Instead he replied, without hesitating,
*“It is a dangerous business going out your front door,” wrote J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)
-for more photos of George Rodrigue this week at his easel, please join me on facebook
-for more by Wendy Rodrigue, visit Gambit Weekly, linked here