Nights and Dreams

For a while it was forever, and then things started to fall apart.

– Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

I wake from another night of dreams.

Windows up, my room is cool, the air damp. I roll to my side, fluff a pillow, lay my head down, close my eyes, only to open them a moment later: the gray light of an early overcast morning is everywhere.

I wonder at my life: Here. Now. This.

On the chest of drawers in my room is a photo of my mother from perhaps 50 years ago. I’m struck by just how much she looks like my sister, Kit. At the time the photo was taken (so long ago), Kit had not been born yet (she has daughters of her own now).

I think about all the change my mother has been through in her nearly 85 years.

She: the eldest daughter in a family of five, dad off to work in the city, mom at home, more pet dogs than siblings running about.

She: a newlywed and living in Denmark, tending to her first husband’s doddering dad; one child, and then two.

She: back in New York, second husband (him with a new pair of stepsons), chipping plaster in their new Chelsea home, revealing the old brick beneath.

She: managing teens and toddlers, nannies come and go, friends in and out, business dinners hosted for her husband’s clients (they are a team).

She: widowed yet peripatetic, photography and trips around the world, holidays overflowing with children and grandchildren, presents piled under Christmas trees.

Her life is quieter now.

In my own gray-lit room, my bed cozy and warm, I want to stay here. I want it to be like it was, or stay as it is. Anything but change.

(“For a while it was forever, and then things started to fall apart.”)

When I was a small child, my parents divorced. I have no real memory of it – just a vague notion of once asking when daddy was coming home. I don’t recall how mom answered, just that seeing daddy meant going to his home now. I think about that small child, how harrowing change – any kind of change – became for him.

I am still that small child, dreading change.

But then I think of James Baldwin’s words:

“For the truth, in spite of appearances and all our hopes, is that everything is always changing and the measure of our maturity as nations and as men is how well prepared we are to meet these changes, and further, to use them for our health.”

In recent days, I have become aware of a knot inside – a sticking place where something unresolved from my past is tangling my present. I feel frozen in sadness, stuck in my eddy, unable to move on. I am clinging to something – a change I’ve resisted naming or acknowledging – and it has been haunting my nights and dreams.

Clouds now cleared, out of bed and fully awake in the summer sun among singing birds, listening to Schubert’s Nacht und Träume, I write to name the knot, to release what haunts me:

Me: young and in love, silently eavesdropping from the other room, her liquid voice a whisper, guitar chords soft; I melt.

Me: older now, listening to a friend on guitar, my new love joining in song (an echo from a life ago).

I am overswept by jarring sadness, by the memory of all I have lost, all that changes.

With tear after cleansing tear, the knot loosens.

It’s a new day, and I am okay.

Ed Nadeau

The Recumbent Birch by Ed Nadeau, oil on canvas, 32” x 42”, 2020

Ed Nadeau likes to walk in the woods near his Orono, Maine, home.

“Not every day, but almost every day, I go on long walks,” he says. “Five miles most days. I’m always seeing so many things I could paint.”

A painting inspired by Ed’s habitual walks, The Recumbent Birch is about more than just what one might observe while strolling through the woods. When Ed was 15, his father died; themes of death and rising have infiltrated his work his entire career.

“Ideas of memory and rebirth exist in my paintings as a whole,” notes Ed. “It has taken me these nearly 50 years since my father’s death to finally feel a truly symbiotic relationship with the land of his and my birthplace – to make what I think is my most powerful work.”

A pine cone nested like an egg among needles directly above the fallen birch is no accident: from decay, new life will emerge.

The Recumbent Birch is more than a recumbent birch.

As such, the painting is not a direct copy from nature. “My process is similar to that of a fiction writer in that my paintings are not always authentic depictions of actual people or places, but interpretations of ideas or events that develop over a period of time,” he notes. Ed combines observation (he referred to multiple photographs in making it), memory, and painterly intuition to realize his work.

Freed from fidelity to an actual scene, Ed indulges in the potency of color and texture, line and movement, mass and energy. His work is a feast of orchestration: colors pepper the surface in syncopated rhythm; diagonal lines short and long zing; sharply angled points stand against rounded shapes – his work is as much abstract song as it is a vision of nature.

Ed loves to paint, and his passion for his craft delivers two layers of pleasure – the whole of the scene itself, and the individual delights of his brushstrokes. Our eye is first mesmerized by the rhythmic pattern of yellows, greens, and blues, and then by the loveliness of the pine branches these colors depict; the dance of white, gray, and black brushstrokes are in themselves a thrill to behold, as is their perfect capture of the peeling birch bark with a fuzz of moss just beginning to take hold. Time and time again, Ed’s painting gives us something to notice and marvel at.

Mainers know the pleasures of a walk in the woods; for many of us, easy access to forest trails is a reason to live here. With The Recumbent Birch, Ed gives us not only a facsimile of what we might discover on a forest walk, but a sharing from his own daily roaming, every touch of brush to canvas a moment of wondrous exclamation: “Look at this!”

The pine needle floor. The moss-covered branch. The Recumbent Birch.

Writer and philosopher John Berger opens his essay Drawn to That Moment by noting that when his father died, he made “several drawings of him in his coffin.” Berger’s father’s death was a point of departure – in drawing his father, Berger believed he was carrying out an act that “refuses the process of disappearance.” Art-making for Berger became a transformative undertaking with spiritual overtones.

So too with Ed.

In a world where fathers die, The Recumbent Birch is as much an ode to life’s continual return as it is a rendering of a moment in Maine’s fecund woods.

Ed Nadeau teaches art at the University of Maine. More of his work can be seen at his website. An earlier version of this piece appeared in Bruun Studios’ Yarrow & Cleat in August 2020.


The act [of making art] includes a sacrifice and a risk. This is the sacrifice: the endless possibility that is offered up on the altar of the form.

– Martin Buber

When I draw or paint in gouache, I put marks down, allow them to sit a while, then ask, “Do you belong?” I am not afraid of taking them out; sometimes, I put them back in. In the end, for each remaining line a multitude are gone, buried beneath a blizzard of white paint, false moves and indecision taken out as best I can manage, the end result a consequence of every move along the way.

I don’t know how to paint what is without what is not: residue is always part of the story.

If vividly hued lines visibly meandering in abstract lyricism can be said to sing of joy and presence, then we must ascribe to the white sorrow and absence: the jetsam of what has been sacrificed to the work’s making. What we surrender.

“The endless possibility that is offered up on the altar of the form” is how philosopher Martin Buber describes the cost involved in making art. He goes on to say more about the hard truth of negation:

“All that but a moment ago floated playfully through one’s perspective has to be exterminated; none of it may penetrate into the work.”


(White, tinged in melancholy, textured as pain – essential foil to effervescent color.)

I love my life in Maine, and I also wake up many mornings feeling sad. Not for my life as it is, but for all I’ve let go along the way – the elimination of other possibilities, the requisite sacrifice and surrender, lifestyles and loved ones declined.

I can only have what I have because of what I have not.

(As with a gouache drawing.)

In Babette’s Feast, through the words of General Löwenhielm, Isak Dinesen writes of grace – the deliverance that comes following hard choice, rendering choice no choice at all:

“Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace, brothers, makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty. See! That which we have chosen is given us, and that which we have refused is, also and at the same time, granted us.”

In making art, I am daily reminded of choosing and grace. Art is hard, and life is hard – it’s why I wake up sad sometimes, here in the dappled sun of early summer. But in making art, in embracing erasure as fully part of what becomes, I am practicing life.

I am practicing acceptance. I am finding grace.

I don’t know how else to paint. Or live.

June 2022

This Can Be Yours

This drawing is from a 2012 series of 9″x9″ watercolors of which we have only a few left. Be the first to email Peter to claim it (see a large version of the drawing here), and it’s yours for just $15. For more art for sale, visit our sales gallery.

Miss an Issue of Out of Place?

All previous issues of Out of Place are now archived at our website, along with other writing Peter has done. Visit Peter’s writing page to learn more.

Connect with Peter

Care to get in touch with Peter – offer a comment about Out of Place, ask a question about his practice, share with him what you are up to creatively? He’s always interested in learning what friends and folks are up to, and happy to receive an email anytime. Feel free to write him by clicking here.