McFeely Trailhead (stage 1) by Jacqueline Perry, acrylic on canvas 24″ x 24″

Trailhead a point where a trail begins [].

Last August, another painting buddy and I spent the morning landscape painting near Clyde, Pennsylvania at Buttermilk Falls. The county park was once the summer home of Fred Rogers’ grandfather, Fred McFeely. Thanks to hikers and bloggers, Philip and Kristy, for pictures of the falls. Available at:

I had not painted outdoors for fifteen years. The experience prompted me to explore faith, painting, and nature during my sabbatical time this summer.

“McFeely Trailhead” is on my easle again. Up until now, I was afraid to ‘mess up’ a fine beginning.  I was reluctant to touch it again with a brush fearing that the thing would ‘go down hill’.

Trailheads invite. Trailheads can lead to amazing experiences. I’m ready to explore what this painting trail has to teach me about the ups and downs of faith. Now I am open to what might be around the bend.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for trailheads.

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Tree of Life

“Tree of Life” by Jacqueline Perry, block ink on paper, 2012

Have you ever walked by a tree and thought to yourself, “Tree of Life”. Maybe it was the shape or the gesture it seemed to make with its branches. Perhaps there was something compelling about the location of the tree. As you encounter certain trees on walks or by gazing out the window, which one might represent your life?

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By Design

“Linden Tree Seeds and Wind”, by Jacqueline Perry, linocut print, 2012

From A Field Guide to Nature as Spiritual Practice, Steven Chase invites the reader to find a small object in nature and take it home as a form of prayer. Bring mind, heart, and soul to reflect on how the tiny object reflects “the goodness of God”.

Because of the drought here in Illinois, trees have started to drop their leaves. Walking through the woods this week felt more like September than July. “How can a drought reflect God’s goodness?”, I wondered.

From high above, one twirling dry leaf dropped down in my direction like a tiny helicopter. I held out my hand to catch the winged seeds that looked like small wooden peas. I learned that these are Linden tree seeds.

I  also picked up a dry weed that had grassy spokes.  Tiny seed pods lined each spoke. The wind had blown the slender stalk into a yard.

After I brought the objects home, I placed them on a dresser to think about later. I slipped the grassy weed stalk in a container and layed the Linden leaf at the center of the dresser.

That evening, I turned the ceiling fan on in the bedroom and to my surprise the ‘weeds’ started to dance! The grassy stalk twirled back and forth. The Linden leaf and seeds, had reached the edge of the dresser. They were designed to respond to the wind.

The Hebrew word, ‘ruah’ means wind, and may also refer to God’s breath, life, or spirit. We are designed to respond to the Spirit of Life, and when we do we dance. This is how the tiny objects reflect the goodness of God to me.

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Anna Feeding a Doe

Study for “Anna Feeding a Doe” by Jacqueline Perry. Marker, pen, tape on photocopy 6 1/2″ x 10″. My father took a picture of my grandmother, Anna Hazelton, about 1964 in Greentown, Pennsylvania. I added clouds from cloud studies that I made in Butler, PA this June.

My grandmother, Anna London, made many paintings in her life. She liked to paint local landscapes or copy scenes from cards or calendars. If she sold a painting at the county fair for more than $75,  she would call it her “bread and butter painting”.  She died a few years ago, and I miss her.

The image above, comes from a favorite picture that I have of “Grandma”.  I’ve started work on a linocut from this study. I will post the print when I complete it.

Anna and her father, John Haag, were plugged into nature. John followed bees to the hive, encountered black bears and had also tamed a doe. They each had a spiritual connection with woods and field and wild life–something that went beyond the ordinary for them. Nature amazed them.

Growing up, who shared the awe of nature with you?

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Acts of Creation

"Two Trunks" Blue

© Jacqueline Perry, “Two Trunks”

Thanks to the Arbor Day Foundation at  for connecting children with nature and for sharing a few quotes about trees:

“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.”–John Muir

“The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”–Genesis 1:12

“Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets. To plant a pine, one need only own a shovel.”–Aldo Leopold

In my 30’s I must have planted or transplanted over a dozen trees. We’d buy the biggest trees that we could afford and manage the digging by hand. It was often back breaking to dig the large holes big enough for a large root ball. This practice of planting trees came to me from my mother and grandmother. Now, it is much easier to create the ideal landscape with a paint brush or a pen.

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Five Possible Responses

Queen Anne’s Lace and spray paint on paper by Jacqueline Perry, 2012

Queen  Anne’s Lace appeared early this year. Too embarassed to bolding harvest the weed from the roadside, I’ve been passing it by. Walking by a weedy student rental today, I spotted lacy clusters thriving between the side walk and street. I plucked a few creamy white blossoms and kept walking…still feeling sheepish.

In his book, A Field Guide to Nature as Spiritual Practice by Steven Chase, “the theologian Dorothee Solle identifies five possible responses on seeing a flower”:


Oh, beautiful – I want it, but I will let it be!

Oh, beautiful – I want it, I will take it!

Oh, beautiful – I can sell it!


Have you had one of these responses lately?  To what were you responding?

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Nature and Healing

Study for paintings of trees reflecting off a stream near the stables at Glendorn (Bradford, PA); from Perry photographs on June 19, 2012

Thanks to Marion, a friend, for letting me share this story about the healing power of nature.

In the last year of her life, Marion’s mother came to live with Marion’s family. After Marion opened the window in her mother’s bedroom, Helen remarked, “Listen, Marion! Listen to all those katydids and crickets! I haven’t heard so many since you kids were growing up in Lucerne Mines (PA)”. 

Living alone in town, Helen had learned to keep her windows closed to keep out the constant street noise. “The sound of katydids and crickets reminds me of when I was raising you kids…it was the happiest time of my life.”

Marion asked, “Do you want to sit outside and listen to the katydids and crickets, Mom?” Helen replied, “O, Yes!”

[Helen had come to live with Marion following surgery for colon cancer.]

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Drawing a friend’s cat on a stone retaining wall reminded me to look for the gestures in nature. Sometimes you only have seconds to respond.

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Tree planted by water

Tree planted by water–root study. Jacqueline Perry, 2012

“He will be like a tree planted by water that sends out its roots by the stream and will not fear when the heat comes. But its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yeild fruit.” Jeremiah 17.8

In my wanderings this summer, I’m keeping my eye out for trees planted by water. I’m especially interested in their roots and reflections. I may use these studies for paintings.

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Muddy Places

I was at Swanie Slough early this morning to see if I could capture some pictures of turtles. Yesterday, I noticed the sign posted near the slough telling visitors to be aware of the Turtle Study taking place through June. If you want to learn more about the turtle study going on at the slough, follow these links: Muir/Turtle Research Low-Temp and Hatchlings

Turtles remind me of my childhood growing up near Hockersmith’s Pond. We kids often encountered painted and snapping turtles in the yard or the ditch. As a child, I wanted to make friends with the former and avoid the latter.

I didn’t know what a ‘slough’ was until I moved near the Mississippi. I guess if these muddy places existed in Southern Iowa, we just called them ponds. So this is where I begin my summer diary—in the slough.

According to a slough is “an area of soft, muddy ground; swamp or swamp like region”. Also spelled slew or slue in some places, to describe “a marshy or reedy pool, pond, inlet, backwater, or the like.”

Let’s just say, I begin my summer spiritual journey on soft, muddy ground. I wanted my first pictures to be of  turtles, but they wanted no part of my turtle study. Each turtle dove into the water as soon as I came near. I drew this frog because he seemed to be a willing model.

I thank God for muddy places.

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