House by the Sea

by Daniel Ambrose on October 22, 2014

Sunlight fell upon the wall; the wall received a borrowed splendor. Why set your heart on a piece of earth, O simple one? Seek out the source which shines forever. – Rumi

House by the Sea, plein air oil, 8 x 10 in.

House by the Sea, plein air oil, 8 x 10 in. Daniel Ambrose.

I hear your voice…talking low. Lavender, the scent of your bath soap. The sheets are soft and warm. I open my eyes, focus on your classic profile discovered by the moonlight slipping through a crack in the curtain. A hint of blue in your oceanic eyes. Your lips are moving. I roll over closer and tenderly trace the contours of your cheek with my fingers.

“Do you want to live on the river or the ocean?”

Naively I reply, “the river.”

My heart whispers the ocean, but my practical head said the river. Salt spray is hard on a house. Stained windows, steel corrodes in the concrete, constant maintenance … you drift off.

I wake up—dreaming again—it’s 2:08 a.m. The moonlight dissolved into harsh sodium vapor.

At 7 a.m I head to the beach for sunrise service. Chairs are assembled facing the sea in the semi-dawn darkness. A guitar player begins strumming and singing a praise song called Beautiful.

The sky is turning fiery pink, teal-blue streaks flail this way and that, the work of an impassioned abstract expressionist. Lavender clouds float serenely in front. The sea, a pale silvery green, a chorus of pelicans glide into view, while a crescent moon gleams like a smile. A regal silence prevails.

The pastor is speaking, something about 1 John and love. Instinctively I reach out to squeeze the knee, forgetting it’s not there in the empty chair beside me. I smile at those around me. Foolish painter, dipping in the turps a bit much – eh?

Words, I hear more words, the sky is turning orange, waves are beginning to form. The unfolding colors gloriously drown out the sermon, saturating the air with their own sublime truth.

I feel like I am 300 feet west of where I need to be, close to the water. Feel like I am an oceans breadth apart from you—away from home. I’m compelled to leave, go down to the shore, raise my brush in honor, or just stand in reverence of the tremendous silence.

Later I head south to New Smyrna, for a vegan meal and then to paint the sea. A yellow house catches my eye. I’ve seen it before. Seagrapes, white trim, metal roof, Adirondack chairs on the porch. A glimpse of the ocean beyond the dunes, all awash under an impossible October blue sky.

Setting up my easel, I want to capture it all, the feeling of a house by the sea.

The ocean, I want to live on the ocean. I’ve been practical long enough.

I want to rise and bow with the sea oats in the golden sunrise. Bathe my soul in sea spray and sing a eulogy to the last dusky seaside sparrow. Shiver in the ionic atmosphere, when purple clouds of summer storms rumble and flash. Leap into the moist light each morning and become baptized—renewed in the awesome wonder of it all.

Back in Ormond in the evening, I take a long, prayerful walk on the beach. The air is balmy and the surf pounds in the darkness guiding my way. Stars appear, and two shoot over the sea. I hear your voice in the message.

A heart can only bear so much.

Solitary, in a house by the sea.

A steadfast heart paints the colors of dreams.

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by Daniel Ambrose on October 15, 2014

gratitude, plein air oil painting by Daniel Ambrose

Gratitude. Private collection.

Maybe it was the winter night alone in Death Valley when I was seventeen and lay shivering under a sky so laced with brilliant stars that it made me surrender my arrogance. Or the solitary moonlight hike in a deep Alaskan night through spruce trimmed trail, powdery with new fallen snow, sparkling, as if a great hand had strewn stardust at my feet to guide my way. Certainly it was not that snowy February night I curled up in a lone sheepherders wagon on a Wyoming plain.

It was never the shiny new things consumed because I thought they would satisfy my unquenchable hunger. With the acquisition complete, I was hungrier than before, still left with the void. It took years of soul searching painting—giving of myself, and listening to others stories, to learn where happiness dwells. It’s living in the house of thankfulness, of attention to what I have instead of what I don’t. As poet-painter William Blake tells, “the road to the palace of wisdom is paved with excess.”

Memories are lovely and financial security is fine, but freedom from fear is divine. Magnificent experiences deepened my appreciation of life, but it’s the minute moments often unnoticed by everyone that gives me gratitude. In times of distress they are especially appealing.

It’s the breath of a doe, made visible in a cool mountain morning, the innocent laughter of my children when they were babies, sunrise reflected in a dewdrop clinging to a flower, a dog blissfully rolling in the grass—the smell of new mown grass—of salty air upon the water. A warm touch upon my shoulder, a friend who sits silently beside you in sorrow, and belly-laughs at your lame jokes. It’s coffee or tea on a sun-dappled porch surrounded in birdsong.

It’s the subtle things that ring true.

It’s a million things, and it is no thing, it’s the unseen movement of precious life—innumerable miracles coursing through our bodies and in the world around us every millisecond that drops me to my knees in humility and gratitude.

I can never repay in full this gift of the grace of life. Still, perhaps, in small ways, in my art and being…

Yeah..I can practice gratitude.


Sailing Lessons

by Daniel Ambrose on October 8, 2014

    Sunday Blue, plein air oil, 8 x 8 in.

Sunday Blue, plein air oil, 8 x 8 in.

When I was a young’un, my family used to camp down at Bahia Honda in the Florida Key’s. We slept in a big, leaky, green canvas tent from Sears. To keep it from blowing away in the afternoon storms, we staked it down in the limestone with railroad spikes that I picked up along the tracks.

Somewhere, I scrounged up a little sailboat made out of a suspicious material, but at least it was water worthy.

I would drag it out into the bay and sail for hours among the seabirds winging in the blue sky. Just me and the birds and a passing turtle or two. Below, the aqua water sparkled by, dancing with jewel colored angelfish and blue striped grunts in the August sun.

Forty-three August’s later, I’m in Maine painting this small blue sailboat in the sunrise. Spending so much time again around water and boats, got me thinking that time is passing. So I made plans for sailing lessons for when I got back to Florida. The night before I left, all my plans eroded in a moment.

We skim along the daily surface of life, talking topically, while often letting our subsurface fears and silent expectations sail the boat, leaving untended the subtle movements of the heart.

Feeling shipwrecked, and with a birthday coming up, being on the water still seems a pleasant thought. I used to kayak on the river, kayaking gave me clarity and perspective on the big picture, on what is true and meaningful in life.

I struggle with religious dogma, my mom is an atheist and my dad was Catholic, which made me an artist. Though I sometimes sail against the wind, I believe that all things come from God—all the joy and pain. Call it the Universe, Higher Power, whatever works for you. Dylan Thomas called this evolutionary force, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” Perhaps pain is a lesson, an opportunity to evolve. A chance to achieve our highest potential far beyond our limiting beliefs. To become creators too.

Ah, and then there is free will. We are given the tools to remain the same or evolve, the choice is ours when an unseen wind dashes our illusions on the reef.

Perhaps, this year for my birthday, I’ll visit the pound and play with the puppies, go sailing, give a donation to Crossnore, paint a seascape, or hike and picnic by the water.

Nothing grand, just grateful. Life is more than the major and minor events.

We live to love and to be loved.