Medicine Women Tend to Grief: original pastel


A pileated woodpecker perches on a pair of lungs while ants in the pleural space hand her tears collected from a crying third eye.

pastel on board, 12 x 16″


Creativity Stirs the Cauldron of Mystery

I started this piece after a sudden and serious illness.

I got the first glimpse of it while I was in the hospital. We are creatures of narrative, and when our bodies fail us, we want to know the story. Sometimes the desire for a story can be satisfied with simple medical knowledge. You caught strep throat from your kid, who got it at the school. You disregarded your diet and developed heart disease. But our bodies are mysterious, wonder-filled cauldrons of life, and sometimes the narrative cannot be grasped in the plain language of science. No one on this earth can tell me why I developed an empyema. It was a lightening bolt out of the blue.

 I could tell you part of the narrative, part of the deeper story, in decidedly non-scientific language. The feeling of what my body held and made me sick. But even I can’t put my finger on this mystery. This image—one day it says one thing to me, and the next day, something else.

I can tell you this, though. The pileated woodpecker is a bird sacred to me, and she appeared in my life before I got sick, as roadkill, still warm and limber and perfect save for the small spot of blood where her neck had clearly broken. I gathered her up and took photograph after photograph—the buttercream down in the creases of her wings, the layered black feathers of her breast, tips dipped in white, her vibrant plume, a red-tinged with orange. And I knew then, in that curious way, as if a spirit had whispered it in my ear:everything changes now. 

As if to affirm her sacred work, when I started drawing this piece while recovering at home, she showed up everywhere. I’d look up from my work, where I was trying to get the curve of her neck just right, and there she would be, for a fleeting moment, claws gripped deep into the soft bark of the sassafras at the edge of my yard. I know it well enough by now––creativity stirs the cauldron of mystery, and the living Earth responds.

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