A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 324: An Unexpected Thunderbird

Thunderbird Battles the Great Horned Serpent 2017

Start by expecting nothing and you’ll often get the unexpected.

If that sounded profound on your first read, read it again… Still think so?

I felt like drawing with my Conte crayons over the weekend. Conte crayons were a favorite of mine in college. I like the almost sepia-toned result you end up with as Conte crayons are made with natural pigments. It’s a limited palette of colors – rusty reds, browns, black, grey and white. They give whatever you’re drawing a totally different feel from other media.

Having no idea what to draw exactly, I just started scribbling a line across the upper part of the page. As I was drawing, it was reminding me of a bird so I went with that. After I drew in the bird, I thought it seemed to look almost mythical and kind of in combat mode (wings curled in, talons out). I began to think of the legends of the Indigenous people of North America and specifically of the Thunderbird, a common motif in Native totems and art.

With the magic of Google I discovered some themes that predominate around the idea of the Thunderbird, one of those being its role as protector. In Algonquin mythology, the Thunderbird controls the upper world but the underworld is controlled by a great horned serpent.  To the Menominee, the Thunderbird is the enemy of this serpent, who inhabits the Great Lakes and threatens to overrun the earth and devour humankind. When I read that, I realized I had drawn the beginnings of that mythical combat so I inserted a giant snake beneath that attacking bird.

I certainly didn’t expect that kind of drama when I started scribbling on the page. In fact, when I was done I was a bit taken aback by it – Where does this come from? How is it possible? The impulse to create and then what we are capable of creating – Why are we not more blown away by that than we are? This is a simple sketch, done in a few minutes time, but it is something magical. Not magical because I am such a great artist, but magical because it taps into the mystery of creation.

It was fitting that I drew something that comes from the powerful myths of humankind. After all these thousands of years we’re still trying to understand the Divine all around us and in us. After so long a time we’re still battling, still fighting, still striving for something greater than ourselves. We touch it now and again. When we stop and notice it in ourselves, it can be soul-stirring.

That is who we are as humans, isn’t it? We don’t expect much and yet are constantly being surprised by the unexpected, especially through our ability to dream and imagine and create. Maybe that is God. Maybe that is God in us.

Thunderbird Battles Great Horned Serpent



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