On Flight – With or Without Wings

Monarch Reduction Linocut Print Jenn White

Monarch - Reduction Linocut Print

Each month, even each day, can bring mixed blessings and recent times have been no different.  My entry of ‘Monarch’ into the South East Art Society‘s Open Art Awards achieved a Highly Commended, which was certainly a buzz.  In the same awards, Collin Tenney, friend,  Sandford artist and fellow member of the Artists of the Valley, took out the prize of overall winner, an even bigger buzz for the group.  For a small group of Victorian artists, we did well with a collective Overall First, First in Section, and three Highly Commendeds, in a South Australian art award.  The Riddoch Art Gallery in Mount Gambier, South Australia, is hosting the exhibition of all entries until April.

There is always a story behind my art, as is the case for most artists.  There are times, when viewing a piece of art, that appears no more than splotches of paint or ink on canvas or paper, when I cannot decipher the story it depicts.  Even so, I have no doubt it’s there, in the artist’s mind, no matter how ephemeral.

I’ve always had an affinity with eagles, particularly our own Wedge-tailed Eagle.  I doubt there will ever be a more awe-inspiring moment in my life than when I held in my arms Cassie,  the ‘model’ for Monarch, a rescued wedgie.  Her spirit spoke to mine.  No one could ever convince me otherwise.  Ours was a meeting of synchronicity.  Purely by chance, we were both in the right place at the right time.

Rescued from a tree – which she had climbed, to achieve dubious safety – adjacent to a railway line in Central Victoria – by WRES wildlife rescuers, Neil Morgan and Jo Lyall, she was living proof of human cruelty.  With every one of her all-important flight feathers broken off, she had no hope of flying.  It was evident that a person or persons unknown had kept her in a cage not large enough for her to adequately spread her wings – her feathers sheared off by constant efforts to attain her freedom, or at the very least find a measure of comfort.  Raptors like Cassie held in captivity, for whatever reason, need an expert’s care.  Perhaps too much trouble for her captors, she had been let go to fend for herself.

Cassie was in care for almost two years, while she went through the long process of moulting.  She was finally released, back into her beloved environment.  Amongst the small gathering of folk who had watched over and helped care for her, there was not a dry eye when she took to the skies.

I recently had cause to relive that day, after the funeral of a dear friend.  Another synchronistic moment allowed me to say my farewells.  Not having spoken to him since before Christmas, I text messaged him a couple of weeks ago, to see how he was going.  The reply was a shock.  His daughter kindly replied to my message, telling me he had passed away the previous weekend.  The funeral service was the following week.  There was no question of my attendance, despite only ever having met one of his family, and only briefly, once.

I relived our friendship during the service, learning things I had never known and remembering others that had become lost over the years of our leading separate lives.  He had been a bit of a ‘wild child’, had accomplished much, lost a lot, had always yearned for wings, and often acted as if he did.  One of his favourite songs, played during the service, I recalled him playing for me, some years ago.  The chorus said it all:

He’s one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape.

Nearing home after what had been a long and emotional day, I was thinking about my friend.  There were regrets – aren’t there always, when somone we care about suddenly disappears from our lives?  There was anger over a life cut short, and events that kept us apart for long periods.  Eyes filling with tears, I rounded the bend to see a Wedge-tailed Eagle soaring above the paddocks, heading my way.  I pulled over to watch as the eagle approached and flew directly overhead,  low in the sky, markings gloriously clear.

How could I be so selfishly sad?  Like the eagle, my friend, unhindered by the human condition, free from suffering and pain, was now fulfilling his deepest wish – to fly.

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