Thursday, July 20, 2023

Swedish Death Cleaning and Plein Air


I recently heard a talk on Swedish death cleaning by a woman who wrote a book on this idea.  Apparently it is an old tradition in Sweden where, as the decades of one's life march along, we prepare progressively more and more for our eventual passing.  This primarily involves lightening our load and cleaning up our act.  It also makes everything a lot easier for those we leave behind.  This sounds like a good and sensible thing to me.

For all of us baby boomers and for all who come after, as we enter our fifth and sixth decades or are even pushing our ninth, it only makes sense to let go of some of the things we enjoyed in our twenties, thirties and forties.  I no longer wish to drive a convertible and I don't keep a horse anymore.  The convertible I drove in high school was an old beat-up jalopy that got me into my twenties and my former wild mustang lived with me, on the skinny, for nearly four decades.  We sure did have some fun.  But, when she put her old tired bones to rest, letting go of that time and lifestyle was appropriate for me too.

The seasons of our lives do change and paring down can be a blessing.  Several of my friends have really embraced this and have significantly downsized: giving away two thirds of their wardrobe, emptying filing cabinets and bookshelves, re-distributing or tossing old photographs and art works, and leading lighter lives.  One friend of mine re-homed her two little dogs.  She loved them enough to realize that they needed more care and she needed more time to rest and heal.  It's all good and we can let go.

This brings me to plein air.  Because, as we come to realize that statistically we may only have five, ten, fifteen, or, if we are lucky, twenty years, of quality living still to go, (which of course can happen to any of us, at any age,) it only makes sense to spend this precious gift of life doing as much of what we love to do as we can. 

I have one older friend who is devoting her life to caring for wild birds.  She is increasing our local bird species populations and supporting others on their migration routes.  When walking past her home, the birdsong is more than noticeable, it's incredible and loud, a veritable symphonic cacophony.  Given how precipitously our bird species numbers have fallen in the last five or six decades, this use of her time and energy is remarkable.  She also loves to paint.  And so do I.  But I love colored pencils, for their simplicity, even more.

Together, she and I enjoy sharing plein air sessions.  En plein air is french for "in the open air," and refers to painting out of doors instead of in an art studio.  During our day to day travels about town, we each keep our eyes open for beautiful views.  And then, as often as we can, carving out a little time, we set a date, deciding on morning or afternoon light and we go!  And then we sit.  We bring our jars of water and pads of paper, pencils, brushes, blankets and colors.  And then, for hours at a time, with little sandwiches packed and a few pieces of fruit, we chatter away about this and that, matching the colors, as busy as those birds, doing what we'd really love to do.  May you be so blessed as to be able to do so, too.





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