My mom sent me a package in the mail yesterday with a notecard and a soft, cottony navy blue scarf. The billowy scarf was a souvenir from Jackson Hole, and the notecard had a picture of a cowgirl reading a bedtime story to a grizzly bear. My mom sent me a different cowgirl-themed notecard last week, but I really liked this particular painting and the caption below. The artist is Donna Howell Sickles and the captions are written by Peg Streep.
When I was eight or nine, I decided I wanted to be a cowgirl when I grew up. I didn’t want to have kids, and I wanted to live in Wyoming (or somewhere out West) spending my days on the back of a horse rounding up cattle and sleeping under the starry skies at night. I even had a black t-shirt my parents bought me in Jackson Hole with white lettering on the front that read: “I want to be a cowboy.” I did want to be a cowboy – at least for a few years when I was young.
What I like about this artist and these notecards are the captions, and how Donna Howell Sickles and Peg Streep incorporate myth and spirituality from other cultures, in addition to that of the American West. The caption on the back of this card explains the meaning of the artwork.
Stretched out under a starry sky with the fish above her, symbolizing the feminine, the cowgirl reads from the bear’s book of wisdom with its paw print on the cover. The bear is a guardian animal of healing and the maternal but its outstretched claws remind us that it is fierce and wild too. Lying on the checkerboard blanket – an emblem of balance – the cowgirl learns there is a place in life for both strength and softness of heart.
– Peg Streep
At first glance I thought the cowgirl was lying in bed in her room reading a story to the grizzly bear. I thought the fish was a picture hanging on her bedroom wall. Yet Peg Streep’s caption reads: “Stretched out under a starry sky…” When I looked at the card again, I saw how the cowgirl was lying on a blanket under a starry sky with a grizzly bear and a dog, or possibly a wolf, as companions. I had no idea a fish symbolized the feminine.
What struck me the most was the way every element fit together. The cowgirl is reading from the bear’s book of wisdom, and while the grizzly is fierce and wild, it also protects her. “The cowgirl learns there is a place in life for both strength and softness of heart.” This is so true, and not just for cowgirls! It is true for girls and women everywhere. We must be strong enough to fight for justice, have compassion toward those who are suffering, and the wisdom to know good from evil.
I used to think it was important to be ‘nice’ to everyone. I could not have been more wrong. Being nice is not the same as having compassion and it doesn’t help us fight injustice. Just as the checkerboard blanket is “an emblem of balance,” I have had to find a balance between kindness and courage, between strength and softness of heart.