Friday, August 24, 2018

Art in the yard: metaphor for loss, love, landscape, family, continuum

High Chaparral in Montana is a family sanctuary, for it is filled with memories of happy times.  It also honors the memory
of family members who have "gone to the next camp." Above, a granite memorial with  names of  the deceased. At right,
 a bronze of Bruce Meyers. Left of that, a U.S. Army memorial for William Jones, Cookie's first and second husbands. 

Let us go then you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky
--From "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Elliot

Flowers, rocks placed by family members and a piece sign placed by
youngsters -- and left as they placed it, upside down. Part of the yard art. 


THE GARDEN and yard at High Chaparral, a mile above sea level in the Northern Rockies, embody our clan's love of nature, the arts and family. The setting represents my belief that love transcends death. When we love people, they remain with us -- in vivid memory and stories, photos, music, deeds.
"Saturn Doll" comes alive each summer at High Chaparral.  She is "dressed" by my 
clever niece,Midori Otokawa, whose  brother and sister are memorialized 
on the nearby granite wall. She is one of the angels in the garden.
We come here -- from thousands of miles away and many states -- to commune with one another, and feel close to our ancestors' spirits, to enjoy bountiful bird life, to revel in family, to soak up Montana's summer splendor.  I'm a devoted fourth generation Montanan.  The next two generations are fifth and sixth-generation Big Sky Country connections. Some were born here, most are Montanans by heart.
IN 1993 when I bought and expanded this 15 acres, I designed and commissioned a memorial for loved ones.  The year before, I'd commissioned a memorial on the campus of Montana State University-Billings, where my first husband, Bruce Kemp Meyers, taught creative writing and English for 25 years.
Befitting the birthday of a Leo (Cookie), this lion batik
stands sentinel in the High Chaparral garden.
I'd toyed with the notion of another memorial, one which would honor my beloved "Irish twin" sister Peny.  I chose her as the "dividing line" -- she passed away in 1986.  Her death would be the first memorialized.  To go back further would have meant many more names, then were to begin?
BECAUSE MY adored sister Peny was the first of our family to choose cremation, her passing seemed a good place to begin the homage. Her ashes rest here, along with the other seven.  Our grandparents, great grandparents and those who passed in centuries before, were buried -- in the tradition of  those times in western culture.
Antlers found on the grounds during walks up the mountain and along the
river make an artful welcome at the  back door.
The memorial also honors my parents, my two late husbands, my  youngest sister Robbie, whom I helped raise, and my tiny niece, Brooke, who died after only a day, borne into the next life in her Atlanta mother's arms. Her beautiful brother, Eric, is also honored. (He helped me set the memorial stones.) Eric was brutally murdered by a drug-crazy person who broke into his home on a sunny weekend morning. There is room for more brass plaques, although I hope not too soon.
THE MEMORIAL took shape quickly.  My dear friend, Corby Skinner, helped me choose the granite -- a hauntingly beautiful, calming grey-green-amber slab.  It came from the hills of South Africa, where I've visited. The artist who helped me build the memorial and plant the surrounding gardens is South African. So San Van Eeden's presence adds another dimension to this sacred spot in the Beartooths.
It is a sanctuary for me and many.
Cookie's music echoes through the canyon during memorials
and celebrations, held in the garden near the spirits.

A quote from T.S. Elliot's "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" is engraved on the granite top.
It captures the spirit this peaceful spot conveys.  Bruce Meyers taught the poem for a quarter-century. He loved "Prufrock" for its rich language, its revealing nature of the narrator's emotional state.  I like it because it sings.
Petunias, a family favorite, grace the
memorial and grounds.
It embodies a sense of mystery, it invites us to "come along" with Prufrock.  It ponders the inexorable nature of time, the brevity of life.
I SIT OFTEN on the bench by the memorial, pondering that elusive meaning of life, listening to the birds, watching the occasional bull snake slither peacefully through the perennials in search of a snack.
Rustic touches, such as a milk can from
the family's Beartooth Ranch of long
ago blend with contemporary art. 
Patrick Cosgriffe, a gifted potter as is his brother Rick Cosgriffe,
this whimsical self-portrait pottery piece, celebrating
 Christmas, his
daughter Christena and the rivers he loves to fish.
The memorial and its art -- all contributed by family and friends -- makes me happy, slows me down, helps me focus. I love it.
High Chap's beauty is enhanced by
construction engineer Bruce Keller. 

Cookie's recent birthday served as a good reason for the family reunion.
Above, part of the group gathered around the memorial for entertainment.

Expert piano tuner Michael Toia took a look at the writer's vintage upright.
He is an acclaimed piano tuner, and does that full-time at Tippet Rise.

UP NEXT:  The magic behind the perfectly tuned pianos at Montana's internationally acclaimed Tippet Rise Art Center is a soft spoken talent from Hawaii.  Michael Toia is a gifted tuner, known for his precision and capabilities.  He keeps the complement of Tippet Rise pianos in perfect harmony for each of the season's varied concerts.  How did he land this gig?  And what does he do in his rare spare time?  We'll share with you.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a novel look at art, travel, nature, music and travel.


  1. Wisconsin WanderersAugust 24, 2018 at 3:48 PM

    So much goodness, so much fun. So much love. Such a brilliant idea. Love the reunion and the yard art. Something to live on and on and on...... good for you!

  2. Bay Area Bicyclists.August 24, 2018 at 4:15 PM

    Far out, as we old hippies say. Love this.

  3. This is a splendid testimony to a bright mind at work on fertile ground. Good genes at work here.

  4. So original .... thank you for the idea, and ideals.

  5. Hoping your sanctuary remains in the family for generations. It is a tremendous legacy, fostering as it does an understanding of the importance of integrating death into our daily lives.