Moments with My Dogs

This is a personal post, so skip it if you consider that it is irrelevant to you. I’ve just felt the need to share a bit of my life with you, so you get to know a bit better the person behind the crazy paintings like “The girl with the bird feeder hat”.

Four weeks have passed since I had to put my dear Nemo to sleep. It was such a hard decision but I couldn’t stand seeing his suffering any more. He stepped onto the path that lead to the angels’ realm and he didn’t want to leave it no matter how hard I’ve tried to lure him back. The light from the angels’ land was too peaceful and warm bright. And maybe he thought that I could use another angel friend to help me from above. I talk to him from time to time. He’s ok. He met Tara, and Micky, and Cody, and Didi, and Kiki, and Maya, and Rex, and Piciu, and Corsa, and Lady. He has more friends there than he had here. He’s in good company. As for myself, as you can see, I have an army of angels watching over me. I’m in good paws. I miss Nemo’s physical presence a lot, though. But my dear Nasuki (his name is a made up one, a mix I’ve made from Nose and Suki-that means beloved in Japanese), who is now the man of the house or the head of the pack, whatever you want to call it, feels the hole left in my soul by Nemo’s depart and he is so cute in his attempt to filling it. He surrounds me with his love more than ever before. Every night he comes to dream with me. Lately, I call him my “dream buddy”. He often falls asleep on my shoulder or on the pillow near me. The girls, Lala and Nera, keep me company during the day, Nasuki, during the night. It is like they have split their responsibilities. Funny, cute, loving dogs. I would say that I have the best four-legged friends in the world, but I am sure everyone feels the same about his own furry companions. So, I guess I am just another one in the crowd that is blessed with the unconditional love of her best friends.

Ursidora: The Invisible Bear Island

The Story (inspired by the facts):

Somewhere, in the middle of the ocean there is a sanctuary for bears, an invisible bear island, Ursidora on its name, where every bear may come and live a happy humans-free life. No need to run anymore, no need to hide, no need to tremble for their cubs. Many bears came, some stayed, some returned to where they came from as they were home sick. It is not an easy thing to leave your native forest and come living on a distant island surrounded by endless wild water surfaces, no matter how much safety it would provide. But for some bears the absence of humans on the island was more important. So they remained despite their home sickness, despite feeling like they lost their roots. In time, the feeling of “home” will be restored. After several generations of bears, this will be the only home they will know, and the other lands, the old-native ones, will be known only from stories and humanity will be just an old horrible incomprehensible dream.

The bears are, usually, solitary beings, but on Ursidora the whole 8 bear species live together, as a community, cubs and adults, males and females and they are living a peaceful, beautiful life. And they all have to contribute to the welfare of this new land. Every bear has his specific job her, as the island needs proper maintenance.

The sun bears provide warmth and light whenever it is needed. Sometimes, when the sun forgets to show his face on the sky for several days in a row, it gets a little chilly on the island and the berry crops might be compromised if it weren’t for the sun bears. So they have a pretty important job when it comes to food. Also, during the coldest nights of the year, they are summoned by the other bears to warm the island. For the cubs’ sake, of course, as the adults wouldn’t admit that they are cold. So they had found in the little ones the perfect excuse.

There is a special place on the north of the island where the weather is colder and there are even frozen areas. It is where the polar bears live. They are the biggest bears on the island and the only ones that had never tasted blueberries. Not until now, anyway. As the island waters are sparse in seals, they had to eat berries to supplement their diet. And ohhh! how their mouths watered when the first berries touched their palates! But they didn’t say that to the others. They have their pride. They are hunters. They are carnivorous. They don’t eat blueberries. Well…only at night when no one sees them. But don’t tell anyone. The word spreads fast and the other bears might find out and then the polar bear image would be ruined forever. So …shhhh!

The polar bears are in charged with providing chilliness in the hot summer days, so the weather may be bearable. And they make a play out of their job! For example, they make ice puzzle bricks or ice balls for the cubs to play with, and, sometimes, they even build ice slides for who ever feels like ice-sliding, cubs or adults. They have such a joyful spirit and this is seen in everything they do, even in their job! They are a delight to be near to, especially for the little ones. Every time a Polar bear appears, he is instantly surrounded by cubs. They know it is play time.

The Giant Panda bears‘ only job is to be cute and through their cuteness to bring love and joy into the others’ hearts. Every time someone is in a bad mood, it is time for Panda to enter the stage and bring a smile or an Awww on the face and in the soul of the moody one. And Panda never fails to lift up one’s spirit. He simply has to show up. That’s it. His innate cuteness does the rest.

The spectacle bears are in charge with the security of the island. Through their magnifying spectacles, they are the first to observe from a great distance any ship or any other human-made machine that is approaching the island. Ursidora is invisible, but not immaterial. So, if a ship, a submarine, or whatever takes its course, its secret existence is in danger to be revealed. And that would be the end of it. So the spectacle bears have a huge responsibility in spotting any potential danger in time and send the wind or the oceanic currents, according to the situation, to deviate the course of any approaching ship and keep the island and its inhabitants safe.

The Asiatic black bears or the moon bears as they are known, regulate the tides every time the moon gets wild. Crazy moon! When she has a bad night (usually after a quarrel with the sun), she can’t control herself anymore or she doesn’t want to. I don’t know. She’s a bit of a …lunatic. In such nights, she would raise the ocean level so much that if it wasn’t for the moon bears, the berry crops would be flooded and, therefore, compromised. Another important job of the moon bears is to light up the cloudy nights or any other nights in which the moon doesn’t feel like showing her face. She is such a moody lady. But precious, nonetheless. And a bit of light is imperative during the night as the spectacle bears cannot see in the dark and they have to do their job day and night.

The sloth bears are in charge with what they do best: relaxing. Their main concern is to make sure that everyone takes enough time for relaxation and doesn’t stress too much with working and with the problems of the island. They are also the ones who provide counseling as they are good psychologists. And, unfortunately, for this generation of bears, home sick might be a problem, from time to time, one that needs to be solved with the help of a specialist.

The American black bear is the painter and the story teller of the island. He narrates through words and images drawn on soil. He is always surrounded by cubs eager to listen to new invented adventures about unknown lands and unimaginable beings. Two days a week, Wednesday and Saturday, usually, are reserved for adults. They need stories, too., as they are good for the spirit. When they don’t tell stories, they paint portraits of the inhabitants. They are in great demand. Everyone wants to be immortalized on the island stones.

The grizzly bears are the wisest. They are the problem and conflict solvers (other than psychological, that are the sloth bears’ area of expertise). And there are many problems, many questions on the island: which way to go to reach the tallest peak, where to bury the cubs’ milk teeth, near whom to stay during the story telling gatherings, to make or not to make friends with the seagulls, how many stories a day are needed to be told and so much more. You see … the bears on this island have problems, too.

This is a glimpse of the bear lives on Ursidora. Of course you might wonder how do I know so many things about it. Well… just as Marco Polo knew so many things about the Invisible cities, so do I know things about the invisible islands. Because there are more. This is only one of them. I’ll tell you about the other ones another time. Probably. Oh! I forgot something of importance. Every New Moon, all the bears gather in the Spirit clearing, sun bears in the middle, looking like a big fire, the others circling them and pray together for the bears left home, on their native lands and for the humanity to awaken. Until the moment of awakening, Ursidora will exist somewhere in the planetary ocean. You will forgive me if I don’t divulge the location. It is only for the bears’ ears.

The Facts (that led to the story):

There are 8 bear species in the world and their future doesn’t look too bright. Nor does the present, actually. They are haunted for trophies, for their paws, for their meat, for their gall bladder, they are used in the circus, they are showcased in Zoos, they are raised in bile-bear farms. Humans would do anything, would use everything and everyone in order to stay healthy, beautiful, entertained, fulfilled in every aspects of their lives (or at least in several, but the more the better) and, above all, to extend their lives to the maximum possible. We are ignorant, we take many things for granted, we like to think we deserve a lot, if not everything. We consider we deserve treats to ease and/or sweeten our lives because being human is hard enough (at least this is one of our pretty-often-used excuses for many unkind things we do) and, of course because we are the “superior” beings (according to our definition of terms).

I am ignorant in many aspects of life, too, but I am learning, I am trying, I do my best not to let myself drown completely in the sea of ignorance, as I see it as the root of all the suffering in the world, even if it gives one the illusion of happiness. Of the bile bear farms – real houses of horrors – I’ve only heard several weeks ago, even though they exit since 1980, but, knowing human nature, the information didn’t surprise me a lot. A little bit more sadness made its way into my heart, but I am already used to it, so… it’s not a big deal, and it made me realize once more that the shadow of the Middle Ages is still present in today’s world. For the sake of medicine, thousands of bears are imprisoned in tiny little cages, not bigger then coffins and sucked dry of their bile day after day after day for years, in multiple farms in China, Vietnam, Laos, South Korea, Myanmar. The ursodeoxycholic acid, contained by the bear bile, is medically proven to help dissolve gallstones and treat liver disease and even if the scientists have found synthetic alternatives to it, there are some doctors that are still after the “natural thing”. Therefore, bears are still hunted for their bile and, even worse, they are raised in dystopian farms for the same purpose. The farms had become illegal in some of the mentioned countries but people still find methods to elude the law and perpetuate this diabolic practice. The Giant Panda bear is the only one who is exempt from these dreadful farms as his body doesn’t produce the so-much-wanted acid. Lucky Panda!

The caged bear images are horrific, the thought of what they are subjected to is really disturbing. The thousands of medical articles over the internet speaking of the benefits of bear bile products are a disgrace to humanity. The advertising of such products is sickening. The demand of such products around the globe is beyond sad. But there are the others, the ones that make my heart smile, the ones that care for something/someone else but themselves and their own good, the ones that took action and started fighting for the bears, the ones whose souls and thoughts and actions light the planet. And they are winning this hard and long battle. Slowly, but they are winning. We’ll wear the stigma of such horrible actions in our history pages and in our conscience forever but, hopefully, the bears will find the compassion in their hearts and they will be able to forgive us one day.

Sending the caged bears my thoughts infused with love, compassion and good vibes doesn’t help much. So I have joined #TheOnlyCureIsKindness campaign on AnimalAsia.org and decided to help these poor souls trapped in bear bodies in every way I can from distance. It isn’t their fault they are bears. It is their luck. Or the lack of it. I invite all of you, who resonate with the cause, to help a bit. Any little help counts more than one might think.

Thank you for reading!

Note: Money earned by selling this design will be donated to AnimalAsia.org to support them in their fight against bile bear farming.

Amor Fati or Dancing in the Rain

Cosmic Coffee Break

What better excuse for a break from work than a delicious cup of coffee? Usually I enjoy my coffee alone, while reading an article or watching a podcast, but today I felt the need for company, so I invited a good friend: the Cosmic Lady. She comes from time to time for a chat and she always have some interesting mysteries of the universe to unravel or some great pieces of advice to give me that I cannot ignore.

Today she was in the mood for poetry and she quoted William Henry Davies:

What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?

And then nothing. We sat in silence, drinking our coffees and staring: at clouds, at birds, at trees, at everything around us. It was a nice, enlightening coffee break.

PS: Initially, I intended to write a longer post, but I really want to take my time and just stare some more! So…this is it! Enjoy your coffee and stand and stare! 🙂

To My Dear Nemo

I promised myself that every week I’ll post a new design with a story attached. Unfortunately, life showed me, once more, how fragile our resolutions are, how fragile everything is. I didn’t have much time or disposition for any new art these days as I spent all of my time taking care of my dying four-legged friend, watching life slowly leaving his earthly body. We have spent almost 12 years together with many ups and downs. He was my joy and, sometimes, he was my hell, as he was a difficult dog. But he was mine and I was his and I loved him deeply. But it comes a time when life tells us we must follow different paths. For a while, at least. This is the thing with our dog partners: they have a life span that doesn’t fit ours and we have to witness their deaths. He could have stayed a bit longer but, for some reason, he chose to go away now. Maybe it is like the doctors say: in their old age, dogs hardly accept changes. And our lives have drastically changed lately and he didn’t find the energy or will to adapt anymore. Well, it might be that or, maybe, as my father says, Tara, his female dog friend that died an year ago, is calling him. You know, on the other side is not always that fun. If you don’t have your friends or family by your side, it might get a bit dull. So maybe, my Nemo heard Tara’s call and he decided to go entertain her. She is, probably, really bored and wants some good company. And with Nemo life is anything but boring. He goes knowing that he is leaving me in good hands: with my other three younger dogs that will keep me company until they will hear, in their turn, Nemo’s call.

But until then, I am saying good bye to my sweet companion that is leaving now, one of the few beings I have been blessed to walk my life with on this Earth. He’s part of me and he’ll always be. He filled my life with many experiences and all kind of emotions and I am what I am because of him, too. I’ve learned so many things by having him by my side: about dogs, about me, about life! A dog is a special friend. A true one. Maybe the only true one.

It is a difficult thing to witness my furry friend’s last days. Until death will embrace him, and I hope that will happen soon so he can be free of pain, I try to enjoy for the last times the light in his eyes, the warmth of his now frail body, the smell of his fur, the roughness of his paws. I will never see or feel them again. At least not in this form, not in this way. I really hope he felt loved! And until we’ll meet again, we’ll see each others in my dreams and we’ll talk during my sleepless nights, as I do with every dear one that left this realm.

But, sometimes, miracles happens, so…who knows? I don’t dare to hope, though.

Dancing Like No Other

Sun was gaining more and more power, winter was fighting its last battles, spring was spreading slowly but steady and I felt like dancing. With my dogs, with the birds outside, with the delicate spring-flavoured wind.

Everybody should dance. At least twice a day. I do. It gives one such a rejuvenating feeling. Just like spring does.

The joyful energy of dance filled my every cell and I felt the need to paint it. I started searching for protagonists for my painting story. Since I was always in awe with the elegance and the grace of ballerinas, I thought it would be a great idea to paint one.

Ora, the prima-ballerina I had chosen to model me for my painting was not a regular ballet dancer. She was special. A bit eccentric and really spoiled and stubborn, but extremely talented and devoted to her art. She lived for her ballet. And she wouldn’t model for me by dancing with just any partner. She wanted the best one, because she wanted to give a performance to remember and that couldn’t be done with a regular man. So I had traveled far and wide, searching/looking for what she asked for. And just the moment I wanted to quit, he appeared in front of my eyes: the red-crowned crane, Akio, from Japan. His dance was exquisite. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. My presence didn’t seem to bother him. He was so absorbed in his dance that he, probably, hadn’t even noticed me. I felt like my quest was over! There he was: someone who not only danced like no other but who was, also, so passionate about what he was doing that everything disappeared around him while he danced.

The fact that he was a crane, was a bit of a problem at first. But we overcame that. After many discussions (lucky me he was a good English speaker), Akio agreed to be my ballerina’s partner and so I introduced them to one another. They spent some time togheter to get to know each other so they could bond in the spring-celebration dance they would perform for me to paint.

Akio told Ora that his kind has been dancing since the beginning of time and they consider dance a sacred thing. In their society, they dance for sheer joy, celebrating life. Otherwise, they only dance with their mate. Their unison dance is a celebration of their love, a ritual the pair will perform together many times over the years, to strengthen their lifelong bond. Parents teach their babies to dance and young cranes practice dancing for years before they choose a mate. Akio was a young crane who didn’t have a mate, yet, but he had an innate dancing talent.

Ora had also found out that the red-crowned crane was on the brink of extinction in Japan due to hunting and the destruction of their natural marshland habitat for agricultural development. But, happily, the Japanese people took action and, in 1920, a group of farmers started feeding the birds in the wild. The crane population grew and nowadays there are over a thousand birds in Hokkaido region in Japan, but they are totally dependant on humans for food during the winter, therefore their future is still uncertain.

Many other interesting things did Ora find out that day, like the impressive wingspan of Akio, that is 2.5 m, his height that is about 1.58 m, that the red patch on his head is not a feather but bare skin, or that the red-crowned crane is one of the longest-living species of bird, living up to 30-40 years in the wild or up to 70 years in captivity.

When Ora’s time to talk came, she didn’t know what to share. She wanted to tell so many things but she had to choose the most relevant ones. And…she did. In her way. Akio learned that she was the only child and maybe that’s why she was so stubborn and spoiled, that she wasn’t a natural brunette (I don’t know why she considered that an important thing to share, but she did) and that her secret wish was to ride a bear. Her favourite ballet piece was Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”. That was not such a surprise, knowing her, but, even if she would have liked “Swan Lake” the most, she couldn’t have said that to a crane. Akio had also found out that even if the ballet dancers are typically known for their grace, poise, and dedication, they are incredibly strong and probably are the strongest athletes out there, as several studies had found. One mustn’t be fooled by the delicate appearance of a ballerina. They are really tough, both physically and mentally. Ballet is such a complex art sport that many athletes take ballet lessons to improve their performances. To name a few: Eddie George, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barry Sanders. Also, The Chicago Bulls used to train with the Joffrey Ballet troupe in the off-season during the Michael Jordan Era.

I definitely have to google for Arnold, the ballet dancer, to see if she was not making things up because, sometimes, she really seems to live in her own fabricated world.

That was all the sharing Ora did. She wanted to say so much more but she couldn’t decide what, so she stopped.

But the crane was pleased with the things he learned and they started to dance and I started to paint. They totally completed each other: the most graceful dancers from two different worlds dancing like one. A strange but superb duet. At the end of one week, my painting was ready, but the Ora and Akio hadn’t noticed I finished. They kept on dancing like no other couple had ever done. I left leaving them moving gracefully under the blossomed cherry tree. They were a weird pair. But perfect.

Earth’s Dream

Sometimes, when I put my ear against the acacia tree in my garden, Earth speaks to me, so I know for sure that she desperately needs a vacation, but she took a vow a looong time ago and she cares too much about her duty to allow herself to take a break. She promised to carry us, to feed us, to sustain us and she cannot abort her mission. She could, but she chooses to stay and fulfill the things she signed for, eons ago even though she is exhausted. All the pollution, the noises, the garbage, the negative thoughts and energy of people drain her life force away. She needs a holiday like plants need water to grow, like animals need air to breath, like humans need love to flourish, like my dog needs my foot to put his head on in order to fall asleep.

Knowing how desperately Earth needs a break and knowing that she chooses to stay, we might respect her for that decision and make her life a bit easier, her duties a bit lighter. We can do that. It is not that hard. For start, I’ll drive my car less and also, I won’t use the hairdryer anymore. I’ll let the wind do that job. He is so fun: he sometimes puts dandelion seeds in my hair, and, in spring, he leaves my hair perfumed with lily scent, and he always whispers all kind of secrets from around the world in my year. Yup… the wind is a playful one. I love him.

Meanwhile, Earth can, at least, dream of a weekend on a beach, away from everything and everyone, only she, and the stars, and the ocean. Not so far away, in Andromeda Galaxy, there is a cosmic ocean with a delightful cosmic beach where only planets are allowed, but Earth wasn’t there for some time and, as I know her, she won’t go there too soon. She’s too responsible. But she can dream. And while she dreams, we can make her life easier. It’s the least we can do.

I’ve tried to reproduce the Earth’s dream as she whispered it to me. I don’t know if it is totally accurate, but I did my best so other people can find out about it.

The Lady With The Bird Feeder Hat

During the cold season things get harder for the wild birds, food is sparse, weather is cold. Many birds that enter the winter won’t see the spring sun again. Some will die of starvation, some of cold, some of broken heart. [And that is not a joke. It is said that some birds (like parrots, parakeets, cockatiel, to name a few) can die of broken heart.] Being aware of the hardships of winter for the wild life and knowing that we, humans, do many bad things to nature through our actions, I thought I might do something good, for a change. I have formed a new habit and started to feed the birds in my yard every winter. Over the years, they have multiplied so much that now it seems like all the birds in town are feeding in my garden. 🙂 They heard that there’s a lady somewhere in town who doesn’t have any other job than to fill and refill several bird-feeders a day. And birds talk. And they are not selfish. If one finds food, she tells the others, which tell the others and so on. It happened just like that in my case, too. The birds spread the word until my yard was bird-full and I had to buy more bird feeders and, of course, more food. Also, I had to diversify it, as more bird species came and some of them had a different diet. Therefore, besides seeds, I had to start feeding them fruits, and dry worms, and bacon, and what not! And if, God forbid, I forget to refill the bird-feeders, the army of birds send their messengers at my window to notify me about my unforgivable mistake and they chirp and flutter their wings at my window and, sometimes, they knock with their beaks in the glass until I finally understand what is going on and go out and fulfill my duty. At last!

There are voices telling me that by feeding the birds I interfere with nature and I mess up their habits. While that might be true, at some extent, it is also true that we harm nature and, implicitly the birds, in so many ways and we don’t think about that too much or at all. Polluting the planet, destroying their habitat by cutting the forests, imprisoning the birds by making them our pets and so on are overseen by so many, therefore, feeding my winged friends is the least I can do to counteract the negative impact on the bird populations due to man irresponsible actions. In an ideal world, I’d probably let the nature just be, but in this society, I feel like I had to do something, a little bit, to restore the frail balance of nature.

Besides feeding the birds in my yard, I, also, stuff my bag with bird food every time I go shopping or just for a walk in town, just in case I happen to meet some lost hungry birds that haven’t heard yet about my bird-heaven-yard and they are starving somewhere, in the cold winter.

Being like I am, I often think it would be extremely nice to have a bird-feeder winter hat, so I can easily feed the birds wherever I go, whenever I go and, with this dream-wish in my head, this painting came to life! And who knows, I might build myself the hat someday and wear it during the cold season. I know for sure that the birds would be absolutely delighted; and so would be the people in my city … but for entirely different reasons! 🙂

This is one of the images that inspired my piece: my army of sparrows that I see from my kitchen window while they are eating in my yard.

You Are Safe

This piece is a tribute to all the parrot species that are on the brink of extinction due to humans altering their habitat and due to parrot trafficking.

The inspiration for this piece came after a visit to a pet shop from last week.

A man who was buying a parrot asked the saleswoman if he had any warranty for the bird since it didn’t look that well, at least so it seemed to him and he was concerned for his money (not so much for the poor bird). The woman answered that he had one week warranty and if anything happened to the parrot during that period, he could bring it back (dead or alive) and he would got a refund. All the conversation sounded so insensitive to me. It was like they were talking not about a living soul, but about an electronic device or something. That hit me hard! I’ve realized once more the importance of things in our society. We came so far since the beginning of human kind but we still have a long way ahead! Unfortunately, speciesism is still a fact in today’s society for most of the people. For me, we are all (humans, animals, plants, everything) of the same importance (or no importance, as you like) in the big scheme of things.

After the little incident from the pet shop, having my soul filled with compassion for the innocent little bird, I did some researches about parrots and found out that they are thought to be some of the smartest non-human beings on our planet. They are as smart as a 3-4 year old human child, being able to solve puzzles and understanding the concept of cause and effect.

Unique fact in birds’ kingdom: Parrots are the only birds that can lift food to their beaks using their feet.

But what I like most about parrots is the fact that they are, with few exceptions, monogamous (well…I’m a romantic, what can I say?) and spend their lives with only one mate forming strong bonds and remaining together during the nonbreeding season, too.

One thing led to another and I’d started reading about parrot trafficking and found out many disturbing facts!

Blue Macaw, the parrot that inspired “Rio”, is now officially extinct in the wild due to deforestation and trafficking. And so are many other birds especially in the South America and Brazil.

For my piece I have chosen to paint a Hyacinth Macaw, another wonderful endangered species. He is called “the parrot king” and he is one of the most trafficked birds. Trade in wild hyacinth macaws is strictly prohibited and one can only sells captivity born birds. Breeders do that by selling them with 10000 $ per piece at least. At the same time, as hyacinth macaw fails constantly to reproduce in captivity, breeders encourage egg trafficking. Egg smuggling is a growing crime because eggs are easier to smuggle than live birds—they’re small, don’t make noisy birdcalls, and if a luggage inspection is anticipated, they’re easily destroyed (National Geographic). People adapt fast when it comes to thrive at another species expense. People adapt in many situations, actually. This is how we reach so far in our evolutionary path. But nowadays, it seems like it is imperative to exercise our adaptation capacity in a different way then we did before, to be more careful with every step, every decision we make or it could be the last one.

Let’s start by being more conscious about Hyacinth Macaw and all the beautiful (and ugly) parrots and by being more aware of the fact that when we buy a parrot (or any other bird), we actually, might contribute to its extinction. And a world without parrots would be a less beautiful one!