Happy New Year to all. I hope you were able to enjoy the holidays. If you weren’t able to do that, I hope you’ll find new and wonderful beginnings this year.
Prior to the holidays, I finished this painting I’m introducing to you today. I spent a lot of time in haylofts as a child. I don’t get to do that much anymore. So when a friend in the Artists of Oxford – Kristi Osinga – invited us to her farm for a paint-out a couple of years ago, I took advantage of the photo opportunity which gave me the reference for this piece.
Some of the best times of my youth were spent in the hayloft. It was my job, for several years, to go up there after school in the late fall, winter and early spring, and throw down several bales of hay for our dairy herd to eat. Dad would be down in the barn cleaning out the stable, and I would be up there singing any song I could remember the words to at the top of my lungs. Some of the bales would be dense, and others would be light and fragrant. All of it was scratchy.
If I was lucky, in springtime there would be kittens to find in the hayloft, hidden in a corner or a cave created by stacked bales. First they would be so tiny they were barely distinguishable from one of the mother cat’s paws, then they would grow into little soft blue-eyed waddling balls of fluff. And then later they’d be braver than they should be and scampering everywhere. I always hoped to have them fully tamed by then, but alas, there was the occasional litter I didn’t find in time and then it was a real task to ever get hands on them, let alone tame them.
Less enthusiasm was given on my part for the finding of hen’s nests. We had a large number of free range chickens on the farm, and it was also my job to find the nests and gather the eggs every day. This consisted of a mental battle between me and the sitting hen. Some were less than cooperative about moving off the nest so I could get the eggs (always leaving a nest egg so they would come back). I can still picture some of them giving me the one-eyed “I dare you” look, and feel the fear of having my eyes pecked out deep in my heart.
Every summer I savour the smell of fresh hay being mown if I encounter it. Summer had its own joys in the hay mow – that of hard work, sweat, and camaraderie with the local kids my age who were often hired to help with putting the hay in the loft. And the satisfaction, like piecing together a puzzle, with a well built stack – the efficiency of space usage was appreciable. We often commiserated about the work – the heat, the humidity, the fact we had to wear long sleeves and pants to keep from getting completely scratched, the heaviness of some of the bales (most weren’t bad, but some felt like they were filled with lead), the blisters on our fingers from baling twine (the farmers’ equivalent of duct tape) even though we were wearing gloves… but the fact is, we loved it. Time teaches you a lot of things, and makes you appreciate that which made you who you are.
If I needed some time alone to contemplate life, the loft was a good place to go. It was peaceful, quiet, and soft. You could relax, breathe in the aromas, lift your eyes to the light coming in, and things would become a little clearer. I tried to transport myself to the hayloft of my youth while I painted this one. I can’t actually go there anymore – that was one of the things I lost in 2016 – and even though I could have gone I didn’t, for a number of years. It wasn’t the same anymore once the cows were gone, and the cats were less abundant, and the hay wasn’t put in fresh every year. It just wasn’t. It’s the animals and the work that make a barn a nice place.
It happened that just before I began painting this, a podcast was recommended to me by the social media I find myself unfortunately addicted to. I don’t often pay attention to those types of recommendations, but the title intrigued me. It was called ‘Finding Our Way in the Cosmos’, one of many in a series called Waking Up by Sam Harris. I had never heard of him before but he’s a neuroscientist and an author. He was having a conversation with physicist David Deutsch, who I had also never heard of. I had, however, heard of several of his other podcast guests in the Waking Up series. Near the beginning of the recommended podcast episode, Sam recommends listening to a different episode first – a previous conversation with David Deutsch called Surviving the Cosmos. What better way to stimulate lofty thinking than listening to this while painting a loft? Well, it took me several different podcast episodes to finish the painting and I have to say, there are few people in this world who I find more agreeable to listen to than Sam Harris. I’m now a huge fan. His outlook may not be for everyone but if you listen and find him as intelligent, reasonable, logical, thoughtful and humorous as I did, I am sure we would get along very well.