This week I was blessed to spend two nights and two days at a retreat house north of where I live. In the mountains and the desert this retreat center is a place for silent comtemplation and centering prayer. I have to admit I was not perfect in my silence. My daughter called. My husband….on the cell phone. We only spoke for a moment to check in. It’s not that being silent is difficult for me. It’s not. But for this particular retreat I was unable to leave my life behind.
Even more distracting than the two brief phone calls, the chatter in my head. Some of it has been worked through and I have a clearer picture of where to take all this chatter. So, that’s good.
On my retreat I spent some time drawing. I haven’t put pencil to paper in ages. The first thing I did after I arrived and unpacked was draw two pictures, one with pastels, the other with charcoal. The next morning I took a long walk in the crisp morning air. The center has the stations of the cross built along the hill side and down and around the back half of the center. They over look the valley and mountain range to the east as well as the nearby mountains at the west end of the property. It’s in a place call “Picture Rocks” which is an apt description for the area. At station V I sat and spent a long while drawing the trees, shrubs, and mountains to the west.
I found that the desert is really difficult to draw. It is largely monochromatic, or rather various shades of green, from the bright lime of the Palo Verdes to dull bluegreen of something else, to the gray green of the shrubs. The desert landscape has lots of irratic scraggly brush and trees, sand and rocks, and prickly pear cacti. I haven’t found the medium that I like to use for the desert. Charocal was too dark, using charcoal requires a light hand for drawing the desert. The pastels were better, more range of color. The colored pencils were ok, but not enough range of color. My favorite picture ended up a mixed medium of colored pencil and pastels.
I think I need to practice drawing individual trees or cacti before I try to draw a landscape. I need to study the detail of a Palo Verde (and there are three varieties of PV), the detail of the Mesquite (again, several varieties), and the detail of various cacti. Then I can do a landscape that contains some detail and some blurring of detail to more accurately reflect the essence of the desert. But that is for another retreat.
Aside from the drawing and the walking I read, knitted, ate well, and just sat. I meditated and prayed. I slept soundly even though I could hear the distinctive eery conversations of the coyotes. Coyotes don’t always howl…they talk, in a vocabulary that is not a bark nor a howl, it’s like a high pitched yip and yap but with slightly longer duration than the yip of a dog, and at a different pitch. It has an eery quality, definitely not dog, but something wild and free.
The place, The Desert House of Prayer is not a fancy place. It is very simple. But in this place there is an energy of deep, profound, stillness. An energy of deep profound grace. I am grateful I went there. I will go again.