Earth Artist

by Donna McLaughlin Schwender

Just one of the many display ponds and gardensmy husband has lovingly created here on our property.

My husband REALLY wanted me to post my current writing assignment as today’s blog post. Because he is truly my right hand and second pair of eyes for each piece I put together, I’m happy to honor his request. Besides, HE is the “Earth Artist” that made these words possible. (In case it doesn’t become clear, the assignment was to “narrow in” on something within a 1/4 mile radius of our home and to write about it from the perspective of a bird, a snake, and a cloud.)


The earth is his easel. His medium of choice is soil with a splash of water for contrast. The yellow fiberglass shovel is his favorite paintbrush.

For years, he has heard people portray him as someone who lovingly resuscitates the land with skin grafts and face lifts of flower gardens and lavish lily ponds. To him, they are individuals who paint with words – an art form he is not comfortable using to express himself.

He never questions his own motives for creating. It is who he is. It is what he does. There is simply no other option for him than to leave the world better than when he arrived. He doesn’t even know there are options, nor would he care to explore them if he did. He lets others get lost in defining exactly what “better” is. He just focuses on creating.

The Great Blue Heron certainly has his own definition of better, even if he can only vocalize it to this man as a series of guttural croaks and squawks. Prior to the unfeathered artist’s arrival, his long-legged life had been spent wading around the intersection of Catatonk Creek and Sulphur Springs Creek, as well as the hope that one day the beaver would be successful at reclaiming their share of the land from the jealous humans who kept tearing down their island dream homes.

He knows he should be satisfied with the magnificent home makeover he received when the wingless one allowed the big machines marked “United States Fish and Wildlife Service” to come in and carve their masterpieces, but he is a fish-eating feathered being that simply can’t help indulging himself when he sees the large Koi smorgasbord swimming at the surface of the shallow pools that emanate in the human’s habitat. Crystal clear and chemical free, the pickings are swift and sweet.

He is actually honored by the lifeless, look-alike plastic statue the bird wanna-be has erected as a tribute encouraging him to come closer. He is further humbled by the earth-bounder’s attempts to imitate his winged idol as he flap-dances across the yard whenever he sees him so near to his home, a speared fish dangling from his magnificent beak.

The Eastern Garter Snake also senses that she is welcome here. She perceives no need to hide in the shadows, unless the sun or the heron’s shadow chases her there. Instead, she proudly displays her sleek, checkerboard body for the world to see. Whether resting flat out on the miles of warmed rock walls that snake-like-her through the garden, laying low on the soft Mother Lode Juniper, or coiled up chest-high in the spiky Bird’s Nest Spruce, the man and his wife protect her from inquisitive eyes and flailing hands. She merely waves in salutation with her tongue to human visitors as they joyfully sing out in octaves they never knew they could reach. Big burly men seem to be able to hit the highest notes.

She can simultaneously bathe and brunch with a mere slither into the pool of her choice. Fresh frog legs and caviar are almost always on the menu. Barn mice suffice on the days when she has to relinquish her pool-side seat to the man-mower and woman-whacker. Afterwards, she rests amongst the safety of the hay bales. Soon enough, she’ll re-emerge into the snake-friendly tapestry that the humans have woven to cushion her travels.

Even the clouds like to linger over this colorful swatch of land. There is an unfamiliar lushness here that quenches their thirst as they drink from flowing water that seems to lead nowhere and everywhere. They literally swell with joy as they mix their life’s blood with the palette of colors below. Rainbows bloom in silent applause. Here, life blossoms like nowhere else on earth.