In Death Valley, where the distant patter of rain is long forgotten and must sometimes seem like a dream, a barrel cactus cheerfully blooms amid the cracked mud. As the top layer of earth peels away, it takes on the appearance of smooth shaved chocolate and reveals a deeper and equally impenetrable layer below. We see the signs of rain the thirsty mud that expanded then dried and curled up, the green of the cactus, the lizard but in one of the planets hottest, driest places, rain is an occasional and capricious character. The remarkable quality of life in the desert is its ability to conserve our planets singular and most precious resource: water, and the desert affords us an opportunity to reflect on our own conservation of water in our society. With over 1 billion people lacking access to safe drinking water, perhaps this Barrel Cactus and Great Basin Collared Lizard may have a patient lesson for us. They both have an incredible capacity to tolerate Death Valleys unforgiving environment through water and energy conservation strategies, and yet both live abundantly. Painted during a time when Shute was on sabbatical from the corporate world, the title of this painting, Crackin Up, may be subtly alluding to the fragility of the human state as much as it is about the mud she represents here. There are rhythms in nature and in human lives and societies; we go through times of drought and dormancy, immense growth and bloom. Just as the welcome rains are sure to come again to reinvigorate this diverse, geological desert wonder, Shute shows us that we can experience the seasons of our own lives with grace, by taking times of dormancy to store up energy and then share our gifts when the right season comes along.
November 7th, 2009
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