About Holycowgirl

Painter, writer in glorious hills and canyons of sweet, raw, dangerous, thrilling Big Sur and environs. Decades in Brooklyn, left for my wilderness experience in the Blue Ridge, then west to coast. Reverence for animals, all growing things, flowers, and humans who've let themselves be touched by the above. CONTACT: THE HAWKS PERCH BARBARA SPARHAWK PO BOX 1695 CARMEL VALLEY, CALIFORNIA 93924 emails: thehawksperch@outlook.com bdsparhawk@gmail.com

Two Cats for Sister Barbara


I was a rescue, an emergency, a shelter from the storm. I had [in Brooklyn] as many as seven dogs at one time, and nearly 100 cats. When I moved to Virginia I had 26 cats, hidden from the landlady, and after three years there were six going across country [to California].

Barbara loved animals.

When she was having a heart attack in 2014 and before she sought out medical help, she quickly wrote a message to her two closest friends, which began: “Dear ones . . .  I love you both so much.  I’m afraid I’m dying.”

In agonizing chest pain for at least 24 hours – (Barbara feared loss of independence so rabidly she would often dangerously postpone medical intervention in the belief she could heal herself) – she nevertheless was concerned enough to mention her cat Tommy twice in her ‘dying letter.’

“Don’t let Tommy die please, with help he can make it, he’s trying to live.”

“Tommy had food around 6 pm but he’s not eating on his own. Tommy’s sleeping in the back of the closet on a pillow.”

Tommy had been sick, was in fact approaching the end, and Barbara was worried. Friends were kind enough to take him to the Vet and watch over him but unfortunately Tommy died while Barbara was still in the hospital. 

Oh do I miss Tommy.  I’ve called to him repeatedly, and finally cried a lot.  He was very well cared for at the end, he did not have a rough departure, and he surely knew how much I loved him and would have been there if not prevented.  Oh, John!

The Cat Who Loved Flowers

Oil on Canvas

Thomas Jefferson II (“Tommy”) Sparhawk is herein posed for his long overdue portrait, and I painted him to reflect his constancy of love for plants. When in the garden on cooler days he gravitates toward sun-warmed tile. On adventuresome days he sits sphinx-posture in front of the lawn’s gopher holes, patience of saint. Well, actually, of a feline

But first out he will walk through groves of lily, iris, nasturtium, lavender and geranium so that the blossoms brush him cheek to tail. I have watched him, head tilted back, rub his considerable whiskers alongside plants and slowly, deeply inhale their richness.

Quite some cat. Thomas is a very large and very agile tree climber, 20 lbs plus, which I say to brag. We’re both pleased with the enormity he has acquired staying fit and beautiful.

On another occasion, when Barbara was undergoing radiation and chemo for a brain tumor, the same devotional concern surfaced regarding the care of her new cat, Elspeth.

[The typo irregularities mimic the decline of Barbara’s mind & eyesight.]

vALERIE IS HAVING A SPECIAL CAGEHOUSE BUILT FOR ELSPETHER.  aND SHE IS PROSPERIING.

Elspeth IS PROSPERING!

Barbara was ecstatic and immensely grateful that her friend Valerie was caring for Elspeth.

Elspeth on Patrol, Meadow

Oil on Canvas

One year ago Elspeth was a cautious DON’T TOUCH ME visitor, totally feral but smart enough to figure the plate and pillow and shelter was laid out on her behalf, should she design to stop over.

She did.

And then some.

She still does patrol, delivers horrific presents to the doormat, spends her days in the garden and meadow organizing and terrifying rodents, loves a cuddle (not too intrusive), a proper pet, and has her own imposed 9 PM bedtime, inside, on a pillow at the top of the bed above my head.

 

Remembering the Joy of Being Alive


If I have been allowed to live these five months more to witness such remarkable beauty I better take note of it and act more responsibly toward the miracle.

[8 days after the previous post from March 2015, in which Barbara’s mood seemed to flirt with rock bottom, the irrepressible in her surfaces again.]

I am working hard (and you add so much to my life!) very hard on pulling myself from the yawning abyss, that lip of the crevasse atop the darkness.  And may I report that finally I am making headway.

Yesterday before sundown I raced up steps, then over hills, drove up the roads for the best view of stunning skies, stunning. It has been raining two days, exciting and turbulent rain.

Clouds bigger than elephant herds storming across a black sky, raising up brilliant white thunderheads crafted by precision draftsmen, light rays of pure metallic light variously sifting down onto crests of rolling, lushly growing green, ochre and soft-sueded landscape. 

Big Sur River Meets Pacific

And I thought (how could I not) that if I have been allowed to live these five months more (and etc?) to witness such remarkable beauty I better take note of it and act more responsibly toward the miracle.

I have not paid attention to what are reasonable repercussions to me after this major assault on body and face (open-heart surgery; no exercise or muscle building for five months; considerable eye surgeries including fragile adjacent tissue) and it has all horrified me to suddenly fall apart and feel aged by twenty years. The depth of horror that a narrow miss and near blindness produced is in a league by itself.  I have had red to purple blotches all over my face for a month, horrifying me, not going away, no doctor knowing what or caring or thinking it’s their medication (emergency dermatologist appointment? Mid-April!).

And lo and behold, as I keep walking, even running a bit, doing Tai Chi, hoping, determined, refusing to dissolve to tears, dig a hole pull the sod o’er me and give up . . . something’s getting better. At long last I see myself getting reorganized, even restored.  Thank you Jesus! Today, accurate or not, I feel beautiful again.  Older yes, but I wasn’t ready for 90 and I’m back to the pace of the days of yore. All the severity of skin damage around my eyes is gone. (Why didn’t I know it was temporary, from the work on my cataracts, and my psychological fears?) The creases around my mouth and neck smoothed out.

I don’t know where I went but I left and now I’m back. I suspect I had been harboring panic.  I don’t know that that’s gone but I’m learning to work within the changes and see that merely being alive each day is not a premonition of being dead. In tune with the magically constant, totally idiotic medical term of PRE-everything, what I currently have is pre-death.

I’m starting to actually enjoy the idea of work, not the breathless challenge it has become, the pain of thinking this is all I could do to keep alive and better keep at it and there is no time left to me at all.

Yesterday I actually sat at my drafting table. It is both covered and surrounded by wonderful supplies of every imaginable tool of the trade and I have ignored all since bringing my things to it from the gallery. It was quite thrilling to sit amongst things I love.

Tools of the Trade

I started to plan out some of my books last night and early this morning, half in a dream. What has heretofore been an hysterical list-making by some hand other than my own with which I could not possibly compete, became once more the steadier lifelong joy and prospect of making pleasure.  Oh my God I have longed for this without the satisfaction of remembering the vocabulary to urge it forth from me.  I am wise enough at this point to feel suspicion that it may also come and go and is not fully the resident, but was it? Was it ever a constant? The answer is ‘no’.

I am, I imagine, most of all, remembering the joy of being alive.  And there are many doorsteps on which to lay that sweet bundle.

I have felt ever since being very young indeed that I was on the way to living multiple lives.  And it’s been born out that I have by choice and decision and happy accident gone to many different directions and horizons and choppy seas, some of it conquered and some of it involved taking on a lot of bilge. Each incarnation so very different from the predecessor.

You’re a fine example of continual re-inventing.  We share a distaste for boredom and sameness, and a love of challenge and adventure. I love seeing your own taking on and surging ahead.  And the street photographer, the most recent you, is a delight and I can see you loving all its parts.

 

The New Normal


I may just be good and depressed.  Every day is painful in some new way, something hard to handle, some pain that frightens me. I feel ungrateful and uncharacteristically whiney and none of it makes sense.  I hurt and I want the hurt stopping.  I have things changing with my body I don’t understand or recognize and can’t fix.  

[Barbara writes this a few days AFTER successful cataract surgery, 5 months AFTER open-heart surgery, and 3 years BEFORE being beset by a brain tumor and, eventually, a broken hip.]

I came home and was so hungry I stuffed myself and made myself sick from it, and since this morning have been trying to recover from what I did to me.

Maybe it just felt like too much, maybe I’m getting too much done at once. [Heart surgery, eye surgery, dental surgery] I’m overwhelmed, maybe that’s reasonable.

It’s funny, peculiar funny, odd.  None of the usual remedies come through . . . a longer sleep, a happy day, a good painting session, a good story written . . . things that buoy my spirits. I still don’t feel as if I’m moving up and out and away from the great low hit in September [open-heart surgery], and so much curing is being done why don’t I feel it inside and outside me?

I may just be good and depressed.  Every day is painful in some new way, something hard to handle, some pain that frightens me.  And new doctors for consulting and visiting. See this one see that one. Now my skin’s broken out terribly in blotches, I’m guessing it’s nerves or the heart medicine, the doctor says no, then what is it and it’s horrifying me and why can’t I make it go away. And gaining weight, exercising more and gaining weight. Makes me feel so wretched.

I haven’t felt good for close to a year and I still don’t know what happened to me, how this happened, why.  Or, most of all, how to fix it and finally feel better.

There are a lot of things, critical things that need fixing. Eyes, teeth, restoring muscle, I’m working on a long list.  I’ve been accustomed to feeling strong and hardy and healthy and fit, and now I’m swept away from myself.

Yet here I am having survived by some miracle exactly what kills less fortunate multitudes.  And on the heels of that my eyesight restored [successful cataract surgery], incredible. Think of it! I do think of it.

I was speaking with the recovery room nurse.  Several years ago she got a sudden splitting headache pain in the lower back of her head at her neck.  Her husband said something’s wrong, drove her at once to the hospital, she’d had a brain aneurism that burst!  Flown up to Stanford, operated on, recovered in time, and back at work!  

That seems even more incredible to me, and there we were talking, caring about minutes in a way neither of us had before, yes minutes.  I asked if they’d stayed together through her recovery and return and yes, something which can drive people apart, she said sometimes he looks at her and tears will roll down his cheeks in gladness.  He’s making dinner tonight, they share the dinner duties, she’s in her 60’s and lovely.

Not everything’s perfect she said.  She has some residual paralysis in her face, her throat, scalp. She looks wonderful, her face was mobile as far as I could see, entirely.  She said she can no longer whistle. She can’t gargle.  She said it with feeling because these were things taken from her that she missed and I understood every ounce of that pain. The sense of it, too.

So the trouble I’m in is maybe this desperate lust for perfection, for not being called out for not being 100%, imperfect; vulnerable; some of that wretched history I still need to lose and have not.

I feel confused by the dramatic change I think, and eyesight returned is sure part of it, I mean, my God, the difference is beyond monumental, I may never get over what it is like to see again, and really that it’s been so long since I could. A very long slow process that may have been more than I could stand without knowing it.

Books. It’s an enormous pleasure to be able to read once more.  Oh the printed word!  Page after page of any book. Any time. Any light.

I don’t know John, I feel ungrateful and uncharacteristically whiney and none of it makes sense.  I hurt and I want the hurt stopping.  I have things changing with my body I don’t understand or recognize and can’t fix. I know what small things they are in truth.  I can walk, I can take care of myself. I can still paint and read and write and sing.

And maybe all of it is the new normal.

And maybe fate provided that moment this morning when I got to hear something I needed to hear . . . a survivor of dramatic sudden near-death assault on her good health expressing to me the sadness in her when she said no, she could not whistle any more.

“O Death, where is thy sting?”


There will be newspaper stories about widows in farmhouses outside Paris and south of Duluth who discover a Sparhawk used three decades before to wrap the fish or carry the tulip bulbs through winter, and the auction of the original painting will allow her to buy her house, not face eviction, and put the 16 grandchildren through college.

******

Of all the things that might have caught my attention last September 15 that fateful night, the retained shock was coming home [from open heart surgery] two weeks later and looking around me and realizing that had I never returned (impossibly possible) my things would have been (as they are under such ordinary circumstances) thrown into dumpsters, snatched and concealed, ferried off or tossed.  This would not only be the possessions I care about and personal treasures, but of course and most of all, my life’s work.  All the drawings and writing and paintings unsold . . . it was an incredibly devastating shock to see that so emphatically, so cold and raw. 

******

I had the feeling few hours ago that nothing I thought that mattered, matters.

******

It doesn’t always dawn on me that I’ve been hither and yon and done a thing or two, and should probably work on publicizing it. The editor of the NY Post, Jerry Nachman who was a good friend of mine, once said to me, incredulously, “Don’t you believe in self-promotion?”

Well, uh, I never thought about it. Is it too late?

******

I don’t know how to write out my whole life.  I think the end results, these past two decades maybe started me turning my life around. Which really began with therapy in my early twenties.

It took me such a long time to turn from my very ruthless beginnings. From so many early years of being unfeeling, not quite human really. And KNOWING that, working to fully alter my character, terribly desperate to change.

Maybe it would be useful for people to know that it really is possible.  There’s so much pain. I grew up in such terrifying horror. I don’t know how to go into that, approach that. I can tell you this:  I NEVER expected my life to be as free or interesting or adventuresome as it has been. Though I’m in a constant battle of feeling such contempt for the me I once was, before I really understood my own acting out, and now-me who is trying to hold on to the heroic I’ve gone through to be born anew. I’m Heathcliff and Jekyll and Hyde and St Joan. 

I have been dragons and I have slain them.

******

I would love to have books of my work with good prints, and I’d love seeing it too, my progress and change in style and evolution of moi. Or a slide show, or something. I regret having bad photographs of so many, or even worse, none at all. I never never never never never used to think of taking pictures of my work. Never. Now I’m thinking it’s something I can learn from, as well as the preservation aspects.

I remain certain that I am going to be universally considered an important American artist at some point, hopefully prior to dropping dead. And my work finally collected in museums. I know it’s good, and unique, and original.

Not everything’s worthy of documentation but a good 60-70 percent is. Not bad for a kid from Brooklyn.

******

The only impulse I’ve had is to try and organize and solidify my papers and work, to make it easier on historians to keep alive, and still have some control over what gets selected out. Whoosh. I want some legacy, I think about it.

******

Eventually (nice to think of being alive to see it) someone will be collecting the work I’ve done into professional shots from the actual painting, and setting up museum displays and wings, and making lots of books and making up lots of nonsense about what I must have eaten that day to paint like that and where I stood in what light and the turn of a wrist and grasp of a brush and brand of a pigment and my blue and green and water and sky periods and what I really meant not what’s just obvious.  Secret mystical symbolism. Sigh!

******

I have begun to pose for your documentary. I sashayed through the garden drink in hand cigarette locked in toothy smile, decked out in a fabulous red silk multicolored embroidered robe. Feelin’ good!

Ah, Barbara! You had a sneaky premonition your reach might exceed your grasp.

I have a kind of vague hope to organize all my work and set things in order but I don’t know if I’ll make it, though I have felt more lively and that I just might live to 100.  Most of my relatives made it into their nineties.  I certainly ought to outlive the bastards.

I’m working on it, Barbara. The Hawks Perch is alive & well, garnering new viewers and keeping your memory alive. And the first book of your biographical trilogy is about 50% complete.

It is my mission to help you “outlive the bastards.”

[NOTE: Any pictures anyone might have of Barbara or her artworks and/or any memories of Barbara you would like to share for possible inclusion in the biographical material I am compiling would be most welcome.]

oops.john@gmail.com

 

With Silver Bells & Cockleshells


I’m accidentally on purpose in just the right place. Everything grows here.

In the garden all morning, I admit to realizing that I made this and it’s good!

Especially now that so much is taking shape and filling in blank places. There are new things popping up that haven’t seen the light of day in ages, ancient transplants, accidental seeded soil. A small-headed but tall daisy suddenly made itself known out of weedy looking foliage (which I have learned to leave be and observe because some surprise is always in it). The center of the bud was very dark, almost black, wispy little pointed projectiles out of it. It’s starting to bloom now, one main flower and several new buds, and it is deep purple with lighter near fuscia dots on the inside, I still don’t know what the petals will turn to but WOW.

Birth of the Garden

Oil on Canvas

The gardens, the old cabin of the Jardine Ranch was a miracle to live in. Probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived. The bed was set into a bay window, quite high up, Cecil Bruner pink roses lapping and climbing the cabin redwood, a pond only a dozen feet away with waving grasses and yellow iris and cattails, a river behind me, Pfeiffer Beach five minutes down the road. They had exquisite, roughhewn but spectacular landscaping. My God the color and variety! An orchard with pears and plums and cherries, and all of at the road bordered by the huge famous black green cypress trees. The horses, cats, dogs, pig named Wilbur. I miss so much of it. But the intrusion, the sense of excluding was pervasive. I thought of all that this morning, not a new thought, that I have more privacy here than anywhere in California so far. And I can do whatever I choose to the landscape, not so with the rock and roll legend [Al Jardine of the ‘Beach Boys’] and his family. I’m beginning to see as well that this is probably a very special climate and land for the kind of garden I want. Farther east to the mountains it is dry and hot. You struggle with gardens and the flowering varieties are limited. I love thinking of your video in that field of yellow flowers, way to go!

I’m accidentally on purpose in just the right place. Everything grows here. Wet enough from ocean fogs, the air heated by the big open meadow just beyond my garden and moisture in the air from the Carmel River at that border. Carmel-by-the-sea has exquisite, old established gardens. We’ve the same climate as the Riviera, as South Africa’s coast. Plants grow here that do not in other parts of America. I’d still like a house on the coast and maybe someday will again.

Carmel is a crappy snooty place to live in, but finds can be had. It’s dreadful that some of the most beautiful places are populated with idiots.

 

The Pleasure of Solitude


Lonely is almost entirely absent from my life

Brilliant phrase, yours, “I am only lonely when I’m with other people.” Sounds like a shoo-in title for your autobiography.

You and I may be rare birds.  I learned the pleasures of solitude early, though I made no identifying of it as a child and of course children are urged to become social creatures.  I married young and two years later the separation was good in every way but I was frightened. Then it struck me one day what a good time I was having and why on earth had I been so set on going out of my way to have someone to answer to? Particularly someone I didn’t like. 

Then just short of 40 I was in a potent relationship that – whew! nearly led to marriage – to a man who, younger than I and wanting children, thought nothing more important save breathing (and maybe not that) than THE RELATIONSHIP. Which made me an abstraction I didn’t like, though we were very much in something. And I got caught up in the ‘household’ thing, the ‘couple’ thing and ‘sharing’ thing, which caused me to throw up a lot and get bad headaches.

Life is very good especially when it comes without explaining every sigh and thought.  But I know how other people can feel bereft and lonely.

Lonely is almost entirely absent from my life, maybe hit once or twice briefly.

The William F. Buckley Portrait


The Buckley portrait . . . you know I had never met or spoken to him but he was causing a great stir in NY at the time, National Review, then running for mayor.  A reporter asked what he’d do first if he got elected. He said, “Demand a recount!” 

And me being me, in my mid-twenties, I wrote him a letter.  I had decided I wanted to paint portraits of interesting people I admired, he answered and we went from there.  When I went to meet him the first time I was heavily pregnant.  The first sitting included holding Trevor, who was in a bassinet behind me, to keep him from crying. To which Buckley said, ‘That’s got to be a first.’

Buckley himself was actually totally charming, sort of swooningly charming, a lovely man.  The terror that was mine was more along the lines of Oh my God what have I gotten myself into here and can I possibly pull it off and not disappoint.  It’s one thing to chat about working miracles when you’re still a novice, and another to do it. 

I was living on the second floor-through of a cold water flat on Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn; Black Panthers in the store front one floor below.  There was no heat but hot water.  The newly widowed landlady (youngish, Greek, head to toe black clothing) would come by for rents, never filled the boiler, I kept the stove going and literally ran the shower for steam heat. Hot water, on a separate system. Trevor was about six months old. I was waitressing. I had two dogs and maybe thirty cats. And a rooster, living in the one closet with a chicken wire door I’d made. Don’t ask.

There was a big kitchen with a room in the corner I’d built for the cats, and a smaller bedroom for more cats, and Trevor in a crib in the kitchen and my mattress on the floor and easel and paint set up in the front room which had the best light. Holy shit. I did the whole portrait there, then moved.

I wish I’d gotten more feedback at the delivery stage, the end, than I did.  It apparently went to Buckley’s home in Connecticut but I have no idea if it’s still around or how he really felt about the outcome.  

William F. Buckley, Jr 1925 – 2008

Oil on linen, Life-size

[B/W photo of original painting]

******

Artist’s Catalog Description

I painted a portrait of William F. Buckley, Jr. from sittings, many years ago. The man was a phenomenal wit and intellect, used the English language exquisitely, and was a thoroughly charming and towering human being.

I was in my twenties and had the cheek to write him and ask if I might paint his portrait. I said we were both questing for the truth.

His famous & phenomenal secretary, Frances Bronson, wrote back and said WFB asked three questions needing answers:

1. Might he read during sittings

2. May he bring his cocker spaniel

3. How much will it cost . . . IF he likes it

We worked out the particulars and he came to my studio in Greenwich Village, New York for sittings.

He was very famous, doing radio, tv and publishing his magazine The National Review. Buckley was a beacon of conservative thought causing trouble, uproar, and having an enormous amount of fun. The author of over fifty books. He ran for mayor of New York once, and (expecting the outcome in advance) when asked what he’d do first if elected, said, he’d “demand a recount!

He debated everyone with equal intensity and mischief, and had a fabulous time with sailing around the world, writing essays and books filled with his astute observations of American politics. When he turned 50, he decided to learn the harpsichord and ended up giving public performances. At the same half century mark he started writing fiction novels – spy stories reflecting some early work of his own.

He was reviled and adored in equal measure, not a bad outcome for a life fully lived. Meeting him and painting his portrait has always been one of the highlights of my life. Totally gracious, charming, eloquent, brilliant man. I miss him already.

Regrettably, this is the only photo I have of the finished portrait, and it’s black & white.

Addendum: There are so many tributes now appearing about William F. Buckley’s life and wit, and this is typical, and so good, a comment made by Ronald Reagan in 1985: “Once when Bill was asked what job he wanted in the Administration of his friend the President, he replied in his typically retiring and deferential way:Ventriloquist’.”