Friday, May 30, 2008

Birthday in May (but It's Really in December...)

I've turned 47 three times. The first time was in 2007, when I said all year I was 47, when I was actually still 46. No idea why I kept convincing myself I was 47 - I did it when I was 36, as well (insisting all year I was 37). Then I turned 47 in December 2007, as expected. But we ignored that event in this house because I declared last year that I had done enough birthdays the week before Christmas and I was going to move the celebration (though not the actual day) into April or May.

So we cebrated my 47th birthday again on May 9th. I took the day off and had a great time, creating a Flickr page, (finally), and doing some painting, walking with my dearest, and going out with the family for pizza.

Daughter knit me some sushi (photo above). Rice, kelp wrap, rolls and sashimi, shaved ginger and even some green wasabi - it's all here, and it was presented in a sushi tray with the chopsticks.

Oldest son drew me something from Hamjamser. This one is called Trumpets - it's about 6x8 inches, ink and colored pencil (his mediums of choice).

Youngest drew me a card that showed some interesting arithmetic.

Dear wife bought me a replacement for my car stereo. It has been wonderful this week to listen to music again on the way to and from work. And several other odds and ends, including the French Dunny in the post about my workspace.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mountain Gardens - Pisgah National Forest

Earlier I promised to share some photos of the amazing plant life along the trails in the Pisgah National Forest. These photos were taken on a trail off 276 between Brevard and the Blue Ridge Parkway on May 18th. Everything was remarkably lush and composed. Ferns covered the slopes rising around us under hundred foot tall tulip poplars and hemlocks.

There were solitary white violets (see photo above) along the banks at the start of the hike. These gave way gradually to a taller species, with branching habit and leaves like halberd leaved yellow violet, but with white blossoms. The photo here shows them with two magnificent angel hair ferns and wild oxalis, possibly violet wood sorrel.

When we got to the falls at the end of the trail, a long liana of Virginia creeper played counterpoint to the cascade.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Camping - Lesson 6 - Hypnosis

The days are counted in campfires.

Warm hands held to the blaze while cold backs are turned to the darkness made stronger by the light of the flames. A shifting breeze closes the eyes of each of us in turn as the smoke seasons hair and cloth. Cooking sausages on forked sticks gives way to toasting marshmallows and making s'mores. We toy with the fire, and paper plates and cups flare up suddenly, as do twigs and pine needles. The conversation grows softer, as camp sites around us go dark, and more chairs are empty. Finally the last few sit in silence, and the dying embers, the last few flickering tongues, and the rustle of the fire's end, nudge us toward sleep. Leaning over the last of the dull red heat, it's hard to stay awake, hard to hold hands out for warmth when the body is so languid and the mind is so quiet.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Camping - Lesson 5 - Late Evening Light

And yet...

It is the evening light that still makes my heart race, and dazzles me with gold. Late shadows differ from early shadows, and I love their warmth and sharpness.

We climbed Black Balsam Knob in the late afternoon, and were there long enough to see hillside cherry trees glowing above the shadows at their feet.

On the return hike I lagged well behind the others, taking shot after shot of the shadows cast on the trail, and the hills rising around it in the deep yellow of the day.

Above it all shone the western slope of the knob, bald and rock strewn, magic and dreamlike in the last moments of the sun.

This return hike was the best I felt on the whole trip. The waning golden light is my elixir.

Click on images to view larger.

Other posts on light, end of day, shadows, and old roads.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Camping - Lesson 4 - Early Morning Light

The first hours of daylight contain a particular kind of quiet. Exploring a new place while everyone else is still asleep feels like gleeful stealing to me, as delicious as if time stopped for the rest of the world while I alone could still move.

And I forget, in my love of the light at the end of the day, the beauty of the sunlight kissing some things good morning while others are still in shadow, and the mirror of lakes still untouched by the first breeze.

From our campground ran an old road bed, which, I discovered, goes to a neighboring state forest. There I climbed a cutting, taking an almost forty five degree slope to gain more than five hundred feet of altitude.

Yellow star grass (actually an iris relative), mountain laurels, wild geraniums, and one rare (but wilted) bird foot violet greeted me on that slope.

The road continued along the ridge top, as the newly risen sun shone through the trees on one side and lit the valley far beneath me on the other. It was good to be alone, giving my INFP soul some room to breathe and relax a few notches.

When I got back, the mist was still rising off the pond behind our campsite, and it was still peaceful.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Camping - Lesson 3 - That Too

You may recall a previous post which mentioned That. Here's the photo again, to refresh your memory.

On route 276 between Brevard and the Blue Ridge Parkway are a number of parking areas and hikes to waterfalls. We took one to a lovely falls that drops fifty feet free, with plenty of room for a whole crowd of people to pass behind it. On that trail were a number of beautiful plants. It was like a garden, actually, and I'll post some photos of the plants later.

Along the trail was That. But the closer we got to the falls, and the further into the cove, the more exotic the That became, until by the end it was so lobed and divided of leaf that I barely recognized it. Something about its growth habit, the proportions of the outline, and the arrangement of the veins still made it plain to me that it was the same plant.

Biologists are aware that often there is more variation between individuals in a species than there is between species. I think we saw some individual variation on this trail.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Camping - Lesson 2 - Raccoons

We've done a lot of camping, and we know the routine pretty well. Raccoons do not raid campsites during the day. So we thought it was OK to leave our food on the table while we took a 30 minute walk around the campground.

We returned to find our marshmallow bag on the ground. Inside the brown paper shopping bag holding the non-perishable foods was a bag of hot dog buns that had been mutilated. Nearly every bun was torn, though most were still in the plastic bag. The bag was full of holes. The same was true of the marshmallows. And the bag of taco chips.

Oldest son walked to the camp store to get more hot dog rolls and marshmallows, and I pondered the raid. It seemed obvious it was birds. I had seen a pair of Canada geese heading towards our site while we were exploring the other side of the pond, so I thought it might have been them. I grinned picturing the big birds up on the picnic table, reaching their long necks into the bags.

The following morning I caught the crows actually working over our table. I hadn't left out anything worth their while, but they did peck holes in the plastic bag over our clean dishes, and the holes looked very familiar. I managed to catch two of the five on film.

Later that second day the golf cart used by the camp ground staff had on the dashboard a bag of hot dog rolls that had been pecked to death, like ours. It was a different brand, so it wasn't our bag. On the last morning an empty white bread bag blew into our site. It also bore numerous ragged holes.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Camping - Lesson 1 - Water Bottles

Lesson number one when camping with water bottles. If you use them for dousing the camp fire just before bed (an act best performed in total darkness for effect) don't leave them open and empty on the picnic table.

The following morning I filled one of the bottles and took it and several chocolate chip cookies down to the lake shore early (before my solitary explore and mountain climb while everyone else still slept) and drank several relaxing swallows on the dock before I noticed this.

I gave it a lecture and then lowered a twig to let it climb out. Silly thing.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I-77 SC Welcome Center Cats

I've been driving up and down I-77 from Charlotte to Columbia for more trips than I care to count. One pleasure of this, though, is stopping at the SC Welcome Center between 8:00 AM and 9:00 AM. If I get there early enough it will be just before Miss Kitty's breakfast, and she will be unusually friendly.

She and her snaggle-toothed son (alas, missing for several years now - his teeth stuck out every which way even with his mouth closed) are black and built like bricks, with thick, short fur that feels like a rug. They have sweet dispositions and let everyone pet them, which I find amazing, considering how skittish most cats are around strangers.

The Welcome Center staff paid to have these cats fixed, and provide a little house and food for Miss Kitty. There used to be two dishes outside this house. No one knows what happened to her son.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

More Abstracts - Will They Survive?

Here are two more - contrasts and blends from blue to black terribly oversimplified and sharpened by the camera - the dark zones look nothing like this in real life.

I doubt these will survive in this form. They are likely to be painted over because that's when it gets interesting for me.

I have fun doing these, as well - but I don't see any reason to stop here when more could happen.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Garden 2008

I'm the stones and dirt side of the arrangement, and I garden in the beds, as well. But Dear Wife has done most of the planting and watering and feeding these last few years as my artwork has taken more of my free time. This is possibly the best foxglove specimen she's ever grown. This is in one of the front beds.

This photo shows a typical pleasing arrangement of colors, sizes, and textures. Flowers are everywhere, and there are at least two or three species blooming every month of the year. This is part of our longest and most successful bed, down the sunny side of the lot.

Here is a look down the last few steps of my hillside stairs, looking onto the green terrace and on beyond to a drainage easement I keep mowed to control ticks, to preserve the view, to make a shortcut for our neighbors to the playground nearby, and to provide play space for the cul-de-sac's many kids. I built all this during a stressful period of my career, and in fulfillment of dreams I kept since visiting southern France in the early 1980s.

Every year a portion of the front sidewalk looks like a display for a flower seller, as Dear Wife purchases at a slightly faster pace than she can plant them. By summer she catches up, usually just in time for the heat waves and the Japanese beetles (the species we would unanimously choose to banish from our property if we could choose only one).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Art Work Space

This is part of it, anyway - about half.

Latest painting in progress - just the watercolor and ink under-painting so far (it will be all acrylic in the end). I keep getting these sheep with bright light behind them in the upper right hand corner. They never come out right so I have been doomed to repeat this - this is number three...

Headphones to tie up the verbal part of my brain so the rest can paint or draw in peace. Favs at the moment are The Summer Obsession, Fallout Boy, Anberlin, The Weepies, Van Halen, and the Eliza Carthy album Angels and Cigarettes.

Dunnies in evidence. Redmeg got me started on these - I find them addictive to buy, stash, dream about, and finally open. None hoarded presently. My fav so far is the latest, which my wife and youngest son picked up for my birthday - it's from the French set - and it's so obviously a Frenchman, right down to his black beret, batard and bottle of vin de table.

In the upper left, in gloom which the camera exaggerated, is my uglydoll, "Ox." He's a related obsession - you should have seen me deliberating which to buy in a cute comics and toy store on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill where they had about 30 different uglies.

Moravian tiles showing. I love these, from my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, from the Moravian tileworks in Doylestown, PA. They bought me Grapes, Wheel of Castle Acre, and Boston Harbour but mine of the last two are terracotta and green, not blue.

Bactrian camel wooden puzzle was a piece my grandfather never finished. I have several of the finished ones (a lion, an alligator). We grandkids all have some of them, and treasure them.

The mayo jar is for pencil shavings. I like to see the wavy colored edges through the glass as it fills up.

The strip of movie tickets are from the Graham Cinema, an old fashioned movie house where they never take your tickets and we sit in the balcony. These were for National Treasure 2 (which was fun).

Poetry books from two friends; in one case the friend is the poet, in the other the friend is the publisher.

Evidence of my Roman Catholic background is in the upper right (St. Therese, and St Francis).

The green and white raku pinchpot in the little shelves (to the right, under the "bling" dunny) I made in a ceramic class in art school (ECU). They are a set of three pots meant to be kept by loved ones. We have this one, my parents have one, and my brother has the other.

To the right (if the picture were just a little larger) would be the beautiful ceramic piece that I was going to take to work, but I love having it right in the middle of my artwork in progress. It's by Heather DeLisle, one of the artists who (along with 13 others and me) founded the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts.

Monday, May 12, 2008


These photos were taken on the edge of the gravel road in the Beaverdam Waterfowl Impoundment. Moomin Light, who likes to give her own names to wildflowers ("Sun buttons" for slender leaved sneeze weed, "Face Flowers" for spotted wintergreen, etc.) calls these "Fairy Blankets." The leaves feel soft and fleecy, like the leaves of lambs ears (stachys).

It the winter the plant is a rosette, as much as a foot across, like the large one here, with the older, larger leaves curled up to protect the tender, cabbage like center. In the early summer a solitary stalk will shoot up three to six feet, and yellow flowers, reminiscent of hollyhocks, will bloom a few at a time gradually working their way down the stalk. Here are links to a few photos of mullein in bloom. In Europe domesticated varieties have been bred for larger and more colorful flowers (verbascum), but in America we mostly ignore them. Preferring poor soils and little competition, mullein is not a pest for agriculture or gardener - another reason we don't pay it much attention.

Mullein is said to have arrived in the new world in the dirt and stones that were shoveled into the bottom of wooden ships as ballast. From their foothold on the east coast it was not long before the wind and humans unknowingly carried their seeds to every state in America. Like dandelions (another transplant from the old world), they are now everywhere.

This was written back in the winter - but I'm only getting around to posting it now...

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Flickr Romance

For hundreds of years literature has brought us romances that grew by letter. Actually the tradition goes back thousands of years, with correspondences between lovers of all genders since the glories of Greece, Rome, Persia, China, India...

So modern long-distance romance a la the Internet is not so unusual - the medium is just updated. Or, as Solomon said, "There is nothing new under the sun."

Last night I was looking at photos on Flickr, a place of inspiration for paintings and daydreaming, and found this one. I've seen this one before in my rambles - it's a well fav'd photo on Flickr, and for good reason. As a painter I find this compelling because of the composition and the square format (my favorite in my own work, you may have noticed) but even more because of the painterly quality brought on by the lighting and the soft quality of the photo. The subject matter is also exceptionally beautiful - beautiful woman, affectionate intimate pose, masculine looking man, lovely background and furniture framing the figures and the entire photo.

So I looked into John's photostream more, and principally the set about Tamara. I then got completely lost for an hour or so, following his photos and hers and the comment streams beneath them. Both are photographers and camera crazy (their Flickr areas are organized around their camera models!), working with all sorts of unusual and beautiful old equipment, producing lovely results that look like they are from another world, another time. And in a way they are, as many of the shots are from time spent together in Paris and Moscow - he's from Britain, living most of that time in Paris, she's Russian, living in Moscow. The main reason I got lost, though, was that through the photos, their captions, and the comments beneath them, a romance was painted. I pieced together the way it unfolded over more than 18 months, from learning of each other on Flickr, to a chance opportunity to meet for one day in Paris (no romance - read comments under photo, though), to a photo where it appears the two of them discovered their deeper feelings there in the commenting! (and that they wished they'd said something in Paris) to spending as much time together as possible in trips and vacations after that, lots of playing around with cameras and photographs, to talk, ultimately, of a wedding...

It was not just the story that enchanted me for an hour, but the winding way it presented itself to me as I wandered through their photos, going back and forth between their collections on Flickr. I knew they were in love from the start; I found that he planned to marry her early in exploration, and I found out how they got together only gradually, as if in flashbacks. Like many good novels. That presentation can't be reproduced - I couldn't take that path again or set it up for others - so the whole experience is ephemeral and therefore even more wondrous to me, and I was aware of that the entire time I read and looked last night.

The difference between this medium and letters is not just that it allows visual and emotional content not possible in words alone, but that the romance unfolded, at least in part, in the public eye, amidst a community of on-line photography friends. It was lovely to behold. It was a gift to be able to share it. I wish them great happiness and long life together.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A River Runs Through It

I had heard this was a beautiful book. It's a story of two brothers, their family, the women in their lives, and about fly fishing. It's about how hard it is to help someone. It's not a long book, and it well rewards the time to read it.

While a few spots in this book made me laugh out loud, with joy, with an hysterical turn to a story, with the perfect choice of words, the predominant emotion and expression for this book would be a knowing, private male grin. It's a poetic book, especially about rivers, the fine art of fishing, the beauty of the water, and the simplicity of Montana in the 1930s, but it's a quiet man's story, and it's told in a magnificently masculine, and wholly unguarded way. The whole gamut of male emotions are handled with the same grace that hovers over the family's other religion - fly fishing. These are Montana natives, their ancestors come only recently from Presbyterian Scots in Canada, and they don't say much about the strong emotions that run deeply in all of them. But the story conveys the emotions well, and by the end, you're reading the characters like a trout fisherman reads the water, understanding what lurks beneath, ready to come to the surface in a rush of furious rainbow beauty.

And then I realized that women might read this book and also find the emotions, and the quiet sideways expressions they often have, familiar. Maybe anyone who is quiet, who often finds themself the observer of others who have more charisma, who loves a few souls deeply without knowing precisely how to help them, might find something of themself in its pages.

A River Runs Through It - by Norman Maclean

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Self Portrait

Why do artists paint self portraits? There are many reasons: Who else will stay still as long as the artist wants? Who else is as available at all hours? Who else can we satisfy as easily regarding the results? It was a combination of all of these - though mostly the last one - that led me to try this. I wanted to tackle a face, and I really was concerned about doing this to anyone else, especially this large (almost 18 inches from top of hair to tip of beard).

I think it's a good likeness, better than I've done before. My drawing skills are better than they were the last time I tried a sketch of my face. That other exercise was done under duress (most of me resisted while my inner artist insisted). This image came more naturally. I think this captures the family nose, the Magyar features, the dominant mono-brow, my salt-and-pepper hair and beard. This is how I see myself - and that's another reason for self-portraiture. We all see people differently. I know this must be true from the time years ago when I shaved off my beard and mustache just before a big company gathering, and people ranged in reaction from not knowing what I'd changed, to not recognizing me at all (one guy sat right next to me, assuming I was a stranger, until I spoke to someone else and my voice made him jump). We tune in to different aspects of faces. When an artist captures a face in paint, it's edited down to the things the artist is tuned to - what you get is not the person, but how the artist sees the person, now made visible for everyone else. This does a pretty good job in my case - this is how I look to me.

I can't say when the idea came to do a self portrait on this piece. I was going somewhere else entirely, then it needed a face, then it became my face, then it became only about my face (the other things that were going to be in this painting no longer worked or needed to be there). I may still go to that other place on another piece - I'd like to. But this isn't it. This is still wrapped up in daydreams of summer, though, and late evening summer skies. So it's not just me, it's also my thoughts.

PS - yep, the family thought it was not the me they see (too severe, too Asian). They had a good time with it, as did I. Not so long ago I could not have joked about my painting - I would have had to do something about every comment. Now I just think the different viewpoints are smart, interesting, funny - but not necessarily compelling me to change the work.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Wave

My latest painting, again emerging from whatever (click on it for a larger view). It was fun to paint the figures in this one; I deliberately did not overwork them. Since The Storm I've been letting paint be paint. As usual, the camera makes this appear more blue than it is, even with adjustments by computer. This is a brighter, more sunny work in person, more yellows and greens, attempting to show my feelings for the beach here in North Carolina.

My new Lukas Aquarell 1862 watercolors have made the last two paintings brighter. The pigments really are as transparent and potent as advertised - I love them. And doing watercolor on top of the acrylics makes them brighter still. Now I understand Hundertwasser's fascination with bright washes on top of rich, opaque colors or brilliant whites. It makes the piece more fragile (water would damage it even faster than it would a normal watercolor), but no less lightfast and permanent behind glass.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Light and Heaven

I have always felt, since I was very small, that heaven would be better lit than anywhere else. And even more than color, which drives me crazy in all the best ways, light fills me completely.

This photo has been my wallpaper on my art bench PC for over a year now. I love it primarily because it captures, with all the minute shadows in the gravel and on every rush, the clarity of the golden light of that day. It was a new place, an ocean place, and one of the best lit afternoons in my memory.
Every stone on the beach was made heart-achingly beautiful and desirable, to me, by the flood of photons poured over everything. I tried repeatedly to capture that clarity, but our camera, and my skills with it, weren't up to the task. The great gorgeous feast of light made my blood sing, made me almost giddy, but I could not really capture that on film. And even as I took a few stones with me, I knew they would not look the same taken out of that light.

And that's how I picture heaven. It will be the place where we can absorb ever more light, without pain or injury, and where everything will be so beautiful that we won't want to go anywhere else. The light will feed us, clothe us, cleanse us, make us whole and young and full of life and energy forever. In that light all will be revealed, and all will be forgiven and made right. And to me the judgment will also be about that light - we will either long for it and move ever into it, or we will fear and shun it. I hope and pray, when our time comes, that we all turn our faces toward that light, and embrace it with all our hearts. That's when we're all going to find out who God is. I think we'll all be surprised in many different ways - and I hope that will be part of the fun.