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|The Heron Dancers : Columbia River edition : Saturday, 24 February 2018 17:12 PDT : a service of The Public Press|
Upper Connecticut River Valley
northwestern and central Vermont
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The Heron Dancers
by Stephen Morris
Fifteen years ago things weren't looking so good for Rod MacIver. His marriage had broken up. He was separated from his young children. His unsatisfying careers as a real estate broker and stock broker were behind him, and he was being treated for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. So, he did what any rational person would do in such a situation; he began to paint.
He had always sketched, mostly in charcoal, but now he delved into water colors. He painted the other patients in the cancer ward; he painted from books; he painted from his boyhood memories of encounters with the wilderness in the Canadian north. He painted for hours and hours and concluded that he was just not meant for the world of 9 to 5.
The defining moments of Rod's youth had been spent in the wilderness. At sixteen he hitchhiked as far north as there are roads in Canada. He lived with Indians, experienced poverty, and clawed his way back to civilization. He did all the traditional things–got a job, got married, had kids–but they didn't work. He found himself alone and in a cancer ward.
Shortly, thereafter, he founded Heron Dance, a publication that showcased his love for words and images that capture that specific moment when nature and humans interact. To leaven the load of words--some his own, others borrowed from nature writers, poets, and environmentalists--he inserted his illustrations and watercolors. It was a labor of love and devotion and enabled him to earn a meager living. "Meager," in this case, means that Rod spent most of the time living out of his car or in a tent.
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At least he was now cancer-free. After five years of publishing, Heron Dance had 1500 subscribers, impressive as a personal tour de force but not enough to allow such luxuries as paying bills. One day as Rod was, in his own description, "looking sideways at a stack of bills I could not pay" he opened a letter from one of his subscribers wanting to buy a piece of his art.
Bingo! Selling art could help support the organization.
Heron Dance is now a still-small, but solid non-profit with ten times the number of subscribers as well as a line of books, calendars, and notecards that feature Rod's original art. Their magazine is published quarterly, and they have a free electronic newsletter with a perfect name, "A Pause for Beauty." Although Rod is hardly rolling in dough, he doesn't have to sleep in his car any more, Heron Dance now has a real place of business in a neat farmhouse on Hummingbird Lane in picturesque North Ferrisburgh with employees, computers, and all the trappings of a growing enterprise. Rod even spends several days a week in a cabin in the Adirondacks creating new art.
How were the dots connected, and how did Heron Dance, for so long teetering on the brink of solvency, find its unique seam in the economy? The answer is that when all seemed lost, Rod chose to paint. People cling to their wounds. Our illnesses, the slights of daily life, the dings in our cars become our most prized possessions. Heron Dance, as expressed by Rod's art, gived us permission to enjoy a moment of beauty. The impact can be as dramatic as a breath of fresh air.
Rod MacIver has been cancer-free for almost fifteen years now. That's reason enough to celebrate, but the quiet success of Heron Dance gives yet another. The journey has gone from the Arctic Circle to Wall Street to Hummingbird Way, pausing frequently for beauty.
(Learn more about Heron Dance at HeronDance.org).
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