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.



5 September 2014, Port Clyde, Maine

7 November 2006
Words. It all begins with words.

31 August 2014
Sitting on a front porch in Maine on a Sunday afternoon talking with an esteemed psychologist, I’m writing and drawing as we talk. Suddenly, a flash of insight makes me realize why I write and draw abut everything. Why I withdraw and become silent when vital words are needed from my lips. The ones I want to say the most turn into a kaleidoscope of pictures. Words make pictures. I need time to process.

I’ve never been good with spoken words. I circle around, repeating the same ones when I talk, and in listening, I lose most of the important ones in pictures in my head. In the early 1960’s, sitting in school in my small seaside town in Florida, I would lose track of what the teacher was saying and start daydreaming. The room had tobacco brown pine floors and high windows that faced the sea. Air conditioning was rare in those days, the windows were often open and the salty sea air wafted in and wove exotic pictures around the teacher’s words. People have been telling me words all my life and I’ve never understood a thing they were saying.

But I loved to read and inhaled books like I do the sea air. I made notes as I read, and I drew pictures. In those day’s Florida didn’t set high standards on its education system. Reading made me smart enough to marginally pass tests and I graduated at sixteen. I’ve been reading, writing and making pictures ever since. It’s the only way I know how to communicate. It’s only in the past few years of my life that I’ve begun to show what I write. First in painted letters from my heart, torn from my sketchbook, than reflections here on my blog.

Like the words and painting in this post Morning Coffee two years ago that allude to my old life, and the radiant heart that was beside me in my new one. A rocking heart full of grace, adventure, courage, kindness, imagination and intelligence. A lioness with exquisite taste.

It wasn’t until I traveled to Maine, painting and drifting around boats, that I remembered the dreams of my radiant heart in the beginning.  She should be here. We, boldly living; traveling, laughing with friends new and old, a life of exploration and adventure, beauty and treasure hunts. Well, it was a nice dream. Still, it’s fun to dream, isn’t it? It keeps us young and our eyes on a bright future.

Hold my hands—see the cottage—the porches, flowers, outdoor patio, an organic garden, and at the end of the garden, a small studio. Come inside the screen door, see a fireplace surrounded by a collection of beautiful natural things and books. Divine aromas arise from the kitchen from the healthy meals we share. The walls are adorned with paintings I paint just for you, paintings of all the places we’ve been, a visual history of our life. A rose compass inlay on the entry floor reminds us to stay on course together. There is time for adventure, time for reflection, time to create, time laughing with friends and time to nurture and grow our identities separately and as an “us”. Most of all there is time for love in this safe haven called home.

Words. Every word a picture from beginning to end. It’s the ones in the middle that make me smile.

5 September 2014
Standing on that magnificent Maine coast, painting the sunrise, I kept thinking, and I just wanted you to know…

You have always been in the center of my pictures.

I painted you in the sunrise.

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