Monday, June 30, 2008

Don't Come Home

My dearest called me at work today and told me not to come home.

She said they would eat dinner for lunch - too many leftovers were making the freezer frustrating - and I could just get a bite to eat while on my artist's date.

I'm well looked after.

I left work ten minutes early (stolen fruit is sweeter) and I went to the big mall nearby, where I watch people and look at bright displays. They feed my color sweet tooth. I fed my other teeth by drifting through the food court and accepting all the samples handed to me until the right Chinese recipe caught me and I ate with my favorite implements (chopsticks) while gazing at the parade.

Later I bought a big red bath towel, rich as Croesus, and soft as a sunset hillside. The sales rep laughed as I wandered back and forth, dreaming next to different colors until I selected this one. I wandered out into the waning sun and heat, where charbroiling smells blended with passing conversations, the sounds of fountains and children's laughter. I spent time in a big bookstore, looking at a huge photo book of Italy, imagining disassembling it for my board at work, my window in my windowless office. My favorite photos were late in the day, with some things in shadow and others still in the strong hot light. I looked at books on drawing until I felt overwhelmed with a desire to come home and do my own. I strolled back through the crowds, breathless over the beauty of the sun coming over my shoulder and gilding the skin and bright summer clothes of the passersby.

I made one more stop on the way home, to buy two frames. One I used to frame my print by Marissa Lee (this one), so I can finally take it to work. The other is for a photo of our kids.

At home I dove into the drawing for a new painting, the kind of late sun scene I'm always looking for and never finding.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Water Callers

Our oldest son has been keeping track of opportunities to see a local duo, The Water Callers, since we first heard them at Cats Cradle during a benefit concert for Carrboro's FM station, WCOM. I blogged about that evening, where I felt The Water Callers were a standout act. Thursday evening they were playing at Caffe Driade, in Chapel Hill, and he intended to go hear them. I went along.

We sat outside, where the heat was being turned down by a gentle breeze. We drank delicious iced mocha lattes (his first iced coffee - he liked it) and waited for the music. Bart Matthews, one of The Water Callers, came up to talk to our son, calling him by name because he's been to see them more than once. He recalled me, as well - from a previous e-mail exchange. He advised us that next time we should try the coffee shakes, saying they are truly memorable.

Mark Cool played first, an unscheduled opportunity to hear another local singer/songwriter. His song, Foolish Dreams was something I felt I'd been meant to hear, given the way I've let my dreams go lately. I bought his CD at the end of the evening. Then, with some equipment jockeying, and some trouble with mosquitoes, The Water Callers took the small stone stage.

The Water Callers are a pleasure to watch and hear, as they play well written songs with energy, balance, and close harmonies. They write most of their material, and after listening to their set Thursday, I appreciate the way their writing styles blend. Both are good with words, music, and blending them - but they have different approaches. I'd say Bart Matthew's songs are more lyric and rhythm driven, with the words not only telling stories but often part of the percussion. And he is not at a loss for words, either, with well chosen, dense verses and refrains that often have variation as the song progresses. There's no unnecessary repetition in a Bart Matthews song, and they reward attention. Jason Fagg, on the other hand, flies his tunes more with the melody than with the poetic words. Lots of melisma and the kind of harmonic passages that make you think of spirituals, or gospel. The Water Callers blend these two styles and sets of songs into an enjoyable performance, with variety, humor, and balance. Their strength as musicians is in their guitar playing and timing, which are excellent, and in their vocal harmonies, which are close and unique. They also play drums and accordion on some numbers, keeping things changed up throughout the set. They also covered a few numbers, including a little known hymn ("from the back of the hymnal, where no one ever goes - but we went there") and a tune by Radiohead. Our oldest has been to see them three times in the last two months, and said he never knows what he's going to hear. He knows much of their CD by heart.

I bought a copy of the CD for myself (available at their website, as is access to their mailing list, so you can be informed of their performances) and I've been drawing and painting to it these last few days. Even away from my player the soundtrack in my head has been going back and forth between Mama and Magnolia. You can hear some of the CD on the website and see some video - check them out.
The bottle above contained a dark brew that helped me close the evening at Caffe Driade. The bottle says the following: "Brewed for Dixie Brewing Co. Inc. New Orleans, LA, by Joseph Huber Brewing Co., Monroe, WI." and in another spot (on the neck) it says, "The century-old Dixie Brewery was almost destroyed by hurricane Katrina, but restoration is underway. With the help of our friends, we're working hard to re-beer New Orleans and the rest of the country." It was a good, lush lager, just like I'd expect from Louisiana.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Toad Hall at Grounds for Sculpture

Some of the most beautiful gardening and architecture on the site are contained in Toad Hall. This complex building, with multiple courtyards, wings, and roof lines, just doesn't take a bad picture.

I don't usually feel inspired to create paintings about architecture, but this was an exception, and I took numerous shots for inspiration. The color scheme, the proportions, the playfulness, the light on it...

If you visit (it's in Hamilton, NJ - over 200 sculptures in a 35 acre garden) be sure to bring your receipt with you on your stroll. You must actually leave the gardens to get to Toad Hall, and there is another admissions gate between them.
A friendly guard at the gate, when we told him we had left our receipt in the car, grinned wryly and said, "A lot of people say that. I'll be here for an hour or so - I'll remember you." We thanked him, and after we walked out and back in we thanked him warmly again. I think all of our children did it individually as they passed by - I say that because of the interesting smile I got when I did the same as I brought up the rear.

These two final garden shots are from the restaurant courtyard towards the sculpture of Monet's famous bridge, and from the bridge back at the courtyard and building.

(This post was written before my, "Ive Been Bad" post. I actually spent most of today, what free time I had, preparing two paintings. One is going to be a struggle, but I'm engaged, and it's moving. The other is a big mystery yet (and a canvas).)

Friday, June 27, 2008

I've Been Bad

I've been bad. We've been watching so much Battlestar Galactica (two and three episodes some nights - imagine YOU were three seasons behind and had all of it on DVD so you didn't have to wait for cliff hangers). The Pegasus episodes were all done in one mind boggling emotional cataract of an evening. When there is so much of other people's stories in my mind my own images recede.

And I stopped writing Morning Pages. I stopped when I did the depth journaling back in March (Morning Pages seemed like weak tea compared to the coffee of the depth journaling) and I never started again.

Then work and summer and travel and trips and blogging and... before you know it my painting was all shut down again. The stupid sheep were the last things that showed up, and we already talked about those. Damn ovines.

So no reading, no radio in the car, no movies, absolutely no Battlestar Galactica, no magazines, no Sunday comics... And three mornings ago I started the Morning Pages again (and was immediately whacked like a kid who's played hookie for a month - "You need to gesso that canvas again and GET TO IT. 'Show up at the page.'") And I just slapped paint over two pieces that were going NOWHERE (now they have potential - blank white and blank blue) and wet another WC page.

Playing The Summer Obsession loud (Burning Bridges in my headphones right now - I think I'll repeat) and hammering this out on the keyboard, seven minutes until I go downstairs and staple gun that next wet sheet of Arches 140 pound hotpress to the board... I feel better than I have in months.

When I'm painting I think I can be this civilized ordinary being, that doesn't need this interior jungle life to survive, and I can take a break from painting whenever I like. When I stop painting the animal comes out and I turn into a snarling caricature of myself. Someday I'll learn and just stick with it, one page, one canvas at a time. Leave the quality to God, but the quantity and regularity are MINE, and I can't screw with them or I grow a forehead ridge and hairy knuckles that drag the ground.

So when that acrylic dries I've got a lot of wild ass scribbling to do to see what comes out of the anger and glee. There are people in here waiting to get out, and they jostle the queue if I let them pile up. And it's time to go nail that lovely 500 year old paper recipe to the modern masonite I use as a painting platform. I feel like hollering like Tarzan and swinging off down the stairs to the garage for my staple gun.

(beating his chest and yelling, swinging on the ceiling fan...)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Because Rabbit Would Talk

"But, Pooh," cried Piglet, all excited, "do you know the way?"

"No," said Pooh. "But there are twelve pots of honey in my cupboard, and they've been calling to me for hours. I couldn't hear them properly before, because Rabbit would talk, but if nobody says anything except those twelve pots, I think, Piglet, I shall know where they are calling from. Come on."


We visited the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey. It was a bit hot after the previous days, and we were worn out by the amount there is to see (over 200 sculptures in the 35 acre setting!), but we had a great time and saw many memorable works. I'll write more about others in separate posts.

J. Seward Johnson has created a number of works there which are inspired by Impressionist paintings, particularly by Monet and Renoir. Perhaps the most complex, philosophically, is his combined works Copyright Violation!, which shows Monet painting Seward Johnson's sculpture If It Were Time (my photo here) which is in turn inspired by Monet's painting Terrace at Sainte-Adresse. There is more information about these two sculptures and others by this artist at the link above (click his name).

The primary difference between painting and sculpture, I was told repeatedly in art school, is that sculpture is "in the round." You can see it from multiple views and it changes as you move around it.

This is sharply driven home by the J. Seward Johnson sculptures, because as you walk around and into them, you see things the paintings can't show you. Like the view from the other side... Here is how the sculptor imagined the other side of the two seated figures in Terrace at Sainte-Adresse. Click on the image for a larger view, paying particular attention to their faces.

Our daughter looked at them, laughed and said, "They're like the chicken and toad at our fountain."

She meant these guys.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Otter Lake

If you follow 501 through Virginia, you get to the Blue Ridge Parkway near Otter Creek. We had a picnic just a few miles south, at Otter Lake. Click to view the panorama larger, so you can scroll back and forth and get the feel of our view.

The light was brilliant but kind and the lily pads were an unexpected shape.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Childhood Reminders

We spent a few days with dear wife's sister and our niece in PA. They live in the beautiful area north of Philadelphia and the weather was perfect - cool, with variable clouds and a few short showers and fireflies for catching in the evenings. We toured several local sites, had a good visit, ate a lot of good food (prepared at their home and eaten out), and headed home very tired but happy. Today is a very quiet day at home, as we recharge our introverted batteries before getting into our hectic schedules on Monday. We might have stayed a day longer in PA, but we know we need this day of transition or we'll explode a few days into the week. There's also just enough culture difference between our home here in the NC South and the Northeast that we need a day to re-orient.

On trips like this to the Mid-Atlantic States, I'm always surprised how simple things remind me of my childhood in Gallatin, NY, about 120 miles north of NYC, in Columbia County. We lived on an old farm, that hadn't been worked in decades, with other farms in various states of use or re-use all around us. Old barns with silos remind me of then. On this trip I was also reminded by the smell of blooming linden trees, and the sight of sweet peas blooming on the way up route 29 into VA.

The bird songs struck me the most this trip. Several of the calls, red winged blackbirds, house wrens, song sparrows, in particular, took me instantly back to childhood. We saw and heard Baltimore orioles once, as well, and I recall what a fuss we would make each spring when a pair returned to make their grassy bag nest in our largest maple tree. My grandmother, who then lived in Highland, NY, but had lived in Maryland for a while as a young bride and mother, loved them dearly and always went outside to look for them when she visited. At the time I was too young to understand why, but the sight of the lovely orange and black birds made me choke up a bit with the combined recollection of my own childhood and the reflected realization of how much these birds might have meant to my Nana.

And I was stopped short in the restrooms at George Washington's Headquarters, in Valley Forge, PA, when we encountered this long serving relic of my past. Nearly every room in our big white elephant of a farm house in NY was heated by one or more of these beasts. The sound of them heating up or cooling off was our lights-out lullaby in the winter months. I recall the huge hot shiny version in the boys' room at elementary school, where boys would smuggle unwrapped Crayola crayons to leave on the top. They melted and created gorgeous colored stripes down the sides. My favorite stripes were aquamarine and vermilion. I can't remember if I had the guts to add my own, or if I just admired the others'.

I was also reminded of a big radiator in our aunt's and uncle's spare bedroom in Poughkeepsie, NY. They had wall-to-wall carpet, which was a novelty to us. Our house had beautiful wide-board floors, sanded and polished to perfection by my parents, with braided rugs in the centers of rooms, or by furniture, for a warm place for feet on cold days. At our aunt's and uncle's house my brother and I would shuffle around the dusky room after sunset, with slippers soled with the right material to build up a big charge, and when we felt our hair getting weird on our heads we would shuffle to the big iron radiator, stick out our tongues (the wet surface made the spark more intense, and it was close to our eyes), and reach slowly forward. I've never heard louder nor seen brighter sparks than those in that darkening room. We would howl with pain and laughter, showing our tongues to each other to see if we'd made a black charred spot on the tip THAT time, and then would repeat the entire operation, trying to build up an even larger spark. The urge for a bigger spark warred with impatience to go try it again.

And the sound of our nine year old son playing with his six year old cousin also reminded me of visits to cousins in New Paltz and Highland, NY. We also invented our own games using what we had at hand. We also caught fireflies in the yard after sunset. We also got toys stuck up in trees. We also played as hard as we could until long after bedtime, when we were carried off protesting to the car, and where we barely heard the engine start before we were out cold, waking an instant later in our own driveway, protesting further about the impossible walk on boneless legs to our beds upstairs.

(The painting above is a watercolor dream view of our home in Gallatin, NY. It's called From Turkey Hill and it looks across the stream rapids that colored the sound scape of my childhood. My brother owns this painting.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mount Cammerer Lilies

Hemerocallis fulva is the common roadside tawny day lily that I've loved since my childhood. It was brought here from Europe, and I understand it hardly ever reproduces from seed, so virtually all the plants all over the East are bits of the same plant.

Years ago, on my way back from a business trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, I stopped along the NC/TN border and hiked a bit of the Mount Cammerer trail. At one point the woods seemed different to me, and I was recalled from my daydreams long enough to notice old stone walls, and what was probably the foundations of a cabin, long gone. Along one wall, growing no larger than grass, due to the intense shade, was a run of day lily plants. I carefully nudged a small one from the ground and put it in a coke can I found on the trail. I pictured these brought to that sloping farmstead to brighten a kitchen garden. They had probably survived for decades in the gloom, with no chance of true growth or blooming.

These are the blooms of that plant, and they can also be seen in the photo of the top of our hillside stairs, posted yesterday. Nothing out of the ordinary to look at, but wonderful to remember. Today I wouldn't carry anything plant or soil from one region to another like that - there are too many pests that can be transplanted that way.

Friday, June 20, 2008

My Hillside Stairs

Ever since a visit to the Riviera and Provence, over twenty five years ago, I have wanted to build with stone on hillsides. Ten years ago, when we moved into this house, and when my career was particularly frustrating, I began a terracing project down the hill in our back yard. It kept me sane.

This week I had a day off and I worked a bit too hard in the 90 degree heat. But the result was that I cleaned up the stairs, trimmed the periwinkle that threatened to swallow them and the terraced flower beds at one side, trimmed tree branches, strapped a leaning dogwood to a beech tree to open the way above the stairs, and then took these shots from above and below. Years ago I built the bench in place, with cedar logs and the slats of an old futon.

The cool shade of the stairs and the green terrace lawn I built below them is in strong contrast to the bright June sun of NC in the yard and meadow above and below. My little digital camera had a hard time reconciling such stark differences, and ended up bleaching out everything that was in the sun. I like the effect, though - especially the silhouette of the post oak leaves and gladiolas in the view from below, and the garage side door floating in the whiteness.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Great Spangled

I recall a summer moment in the mountains of NC, walking along an open hilltop waist high grasses, with dozens of great spangled fritillaries flying about me and landing in the golden eyes of hundreds of daisies. They're my favorite butterfly, and this one was visiting my wife's best stand of purple cone flowers.

Monday, June 16, 2008


One way my dearest and I stay close is by talking on weekend morning walks. I sometimes catch neighbors driving by grinning at us, deep in our heated conversation, gesturing with our hands, one six foot tall while the other is just a little more than five, and so obviously "together" even though we're not touching.

Many topics arise during these strolls. One topic last Sunday was players, "game," alpha and beta males, masculinity, etc. My love has been reading a number of posts and comment strings on The Other World, by Alias Clio and several other blogs, and wanted to compare some of what she'd read against my view of these topics. And I'll say at the outset that I'm talking here about heterosexual attraction. I can't speak for any other kind, because I don't feel them at all.

The following items came out of blogs and comments:
1. Alpha males are the ones many females want for a sexual relationship.
2. Beta males are the "nice" guys that can make great friends, but seldom get to go further with attractive women.
3. Alpha males are insulted if a woman wants to be "just friends."
4. Beta males whine a lot about not being able to attract women in a sexual way.
5. Women who are attracted to alpha males often don't know what to do with them once they get them. There's not much shared outside the physical side of things.

I know some alpha males, and even some players. I know some guys who are supposedly betas, and are nice to women, listen, work hard to be a friend, hoping it will grow into something more physical. The latter do sometimes whine about it. Several times in high school I was deeply disappointed when I found I was "just a friend" to a girl with whom I wanted more. I was not athletic or outgoing and I was made fun of as a "fag" and a "sissy" through much of middle school and early high school in New York. Masculinity is a complex subject to a young man in that situation, who has not had the kind of success he wants with girls, and I gave it a lot of thought and effort in my late teens and early twenties. I think one of the principal tasks of youth is finding your own expression of gender.

Hindsight and experience, particularly the rewarding and affirming experience of being in love with a wonderful woman for thirty years, brings clarity. I'm not saying I've mastered all that follows, but there's nothing like having the love and regard of the right woman to give a guy room for calm reflection.

First of all, the whole alpha/beta thing oversimplifies the range of male behavior and responses to females, attraction, dating, sex, etc. It's not even appropriate to refer to this as some sort of spectrum - that's oversimplified, as well. And it's not a simplification that serves anyone well, it seems to me. But for the sake of discussion, let's talk about alphas and betas and masculinity. Here's what I think:

Some beta males are so busy trying to get something with their friendliness that it discredits the entire thing. They're also trying too hard. So are the alpha males, with their virility only as secure as their next conquest. And both are partaking of only a part of what can make a man comfortably and noticably masculine and attractive.

A man who is grounded enough and interested enough to really listen will catch women's notice (the beta males have supposedly worked out that much). If he is also comfortable in his skin, gentle, confident, and carries himself in a still, steady, deep, calm way, if he is passingly aware of his maleness, but doesn't need to act it out at any particular time or in any particular way, if he has some chivalry and a willingness to laugh at himself when this puts him in awkward or silly situations, if he admires and enjoys the beauty of women (all women) and this is something he can project, then he is going to be attractive. He may not be attractive to all women, or to certain personalities, but he will be noticed and on many levels. Not just sexual and not just as a shoulder to cry on. It does help if you have a deep voice and intense eyes, but they're not essential.

Masculinity isn't a code of rules, as some alphas or betas try to make it. It's not something you do, though it is expressed through actions, but rather something you are. And over the years I've found it seems more bound up with stillness, and a fearless willingness to to be open and vulnerable. It's about being large and quiet spiritually and psychologically - like a forest, a great plain, an ocean - with the ability to calmly wait for others. It's expressed best with quiet gestures of strength and sureness, laughter, playfulness, peace, and open admiration of others. You don't achieve compelling masculinity by trying, but you can become quite masculine if you work at other things, instead. That's what's so wrong at a philosophical and logical level with the approaches of supposed alpha or beta males. They're working hard at being male, and the result is a caricature. They're so preoccupied with gender that they come across as faking it. Masculinity is a result, like maturity, of spending your time and effort on the right things, and focusing on people.

Most of these qualities are hard to maintain, and that probably adds to their attraction. The world makes it much easier to be frantic, closed, pushy, offensive, selfish, mean, tough, angry. I never feel less masculine than when I am running on one or more of those styles, and I spend far more time on those treadmills than I want.

Finally, I'll emphatically add that these same qualities can be intoxicatingly feminine and womanly, as well. I think they make us whole human beings, and therefore complete everything, including our gender. In the end, beauty and attraction complete our maleness or femaleness and then transcend them.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Phone Booths on the Interstate

Another trip down I-85 from the Triangle in NC to Alpharetta in GA. This time my attention was drawn to phone booths in the rest areas. Most phone booths, due to cell phone ubiquity, are just empty shells, with the phone equipment removed. The Alamance rest area had a surprise for me, as this huge Polyphemus moth* was resting in the phone booth next to where I parked my car. I shooed him (and he's definitely a male - look at those magnificent antennae for smelling his prospective mate's pheromones up to several miles away) out of the booth, because a large spider web was immediately above him in the space, and I feared he would fly into it before exiting. He flew straight up and I watched until the prevailing Westerlies carried him away. He was as large as a small bird in flight, almost as big as my outstretched hand.

Then in Cabarrus I saw that the China Rain trees were blooming around the phone booth, as two weeks before I predicted to myself (aloud - I talk to myself a lot when I travel alone - I expect this to get worse as I age) when I passed through on a similar trip. I recall the first time I encountered the phrase and scent called China Rain - it was in a wonderful little shop in the Market in Charleston - Good Scents.** I have bought a number of her glycerin soap bars in that scent - I love it. But it was years before I discovered it was a tree, when I saw a long run of them in full bloom in the median of the 15-501 bypass, south of Chapel Hill, NC. Today in Cabarrus I took in a long breath under their boughs, and the Good Scents soaps are dead on.

* The Polyphemus moth is one of North America's largest insects. The caterpillar for this species (or one of the cousins in the Saturniid family) was the model for Heimlich, the German accented character from Pixar's A Bug's Life.

** Good Scents does mail-order, and their glycerin soaps are the best I've ever used. Though they are not mentioned on the website, the owner sells a lot more than is mentioned on the site, and I've ordered the soaps before, as well as picking up a year's supply while in Charleston. She custom makes products, too, with the essential oil of your choice (scores of scents to choose from, listed on her site - the quality is exceptional).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sushi Fav

I haven't had a lot of good restaurant experiences in Columbia, SC - a city I travel to often because that's where they develop the software product I manage - but I did have my first and favorite sushi experience there. A good friend guided me through my first sushi about five years ago, and I've been going back ever since. It's a little place in O'neal Court called Inakaya.

We usually sit at the sushi bar (photo above) where we see the chefs produce their beautiful plates and hear them call the orders (in Japanese) into the grill and tempura kitchen behind the curtain. On the other side of this little restaurant is a lovely display of sake casks and Japanese dolls. I've had some deep and complex conversations here, personal and professional. If at some point my job changes, and I stop having reason to visit Columbia, SC again, this is one of the things I will miss.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

NC Interstate Rest Stops

I have been admiring and trying to learn about the designer of several I-85 and I-95 rest stops in NC for some time. I gradually came to realize that there was something special going on, and that they have a common style. They create rest with their subtle architecture - people don't hurry through them as much as the dozens of other rest stops I also visit regularly. These are effective examples of the kind of architecture Ayn Rand rhapsodized about in The Fountainhead.

Here are photos from the NC Welcome Center at the southernmost part of I-95 in NC, on the northbound side (obviously). These day lilies were at their best, and the light made them glow.

This I-95 Robeson NC welcome center site, the I-85 Davidson rest area coming north (connected with the NC Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also a moving design), the I-85 Cabarrus rest area coming north, and two rest stops which both feature large circles on one side of the building (southbound I-85 Davidson, and the Cumberland rest area northbound on I-95 near Fayetteville) all seem to me to have the same hand at the drawing board. Northbound Davidson is my favorite, with the huge beds of day lilies and the steps leading down through the split rail fence to the building and a winding path through tall trees.

I've wanted to blog about these rest areas before - but I can't seem to take the kind of photos I want. No photo I can take will give an impression of the subtle relationships of buildings, roads, trees, flower beds, stonework, walk ways, topography, and open spaces which make these designs so effective.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Stupid Sheep

When I draw or paint without a model or a preconceived subject, I find that three compositions or images recur.

The first is a series of verticals, of differing widths, with their starts and stops at different heights. It's a forest of trees. It's a grove. I see this in many real things, as well - nearly any series of vertical (from my perspective) will end up evoking trees to me. This doesn't surprise me - trees have been at the core of my being for as long as I can remember.* When people use the epithet "tree hugger" I wince, because I have literally hugged trees, particularly some that seemed to have presence. I still do, occasionally, particularly beeches or unusually potent tulip poplars. I have pieces of long lost, important trees embedded in my hiking staff.

I can recall a particular paper birch, at the head of a small grove which may have been entirely her descendants; I had a silent relationship with that birch when I was fifteen. I used to hike to her many afternoons after school, and sit by her. The last year we lived in New York, a road was put through the grove, wiping out eighty percent of it, I was consumed by rage and grief for days. The main tree survived, though. I don't know if this experience forms the grounding for the recurring image - or if both are linked to something earlier and more primal in my life.

Another, much less positive, image that often emerges when I am just doodling on a large surface (anything larger than eight and half by eleven) is an "x." I hate and curse this image with all my heart, because I dislike it aesthetically, distrust it whenever it appears, and I can't prevent it emerging in many cases. It can show up in any composition, if I'm not careful. Sometimes it's OK, and I can allow it - other times I struggle to remove it or abandon the work altogether.

And finally there are the stupid sheep**. Three times now I have had images come forward, in non-objective (abstract) works, which ended up being a small group of sheep with light coming from behind them, at the upper right corner of the image. The first time I was amused and enjoyed it, though the painting was a failure, and I ultimately cut it up for CD covers (like the piece Grizzlies in Central Park which ended up making three covers). The second time the sheep emerged I refused to participate. I erased them. The third time I just laughed and cussed and figured I was not going to be done with these stupid sheep until they were done. So the painting above (more gray/blue in the photo above than the original, which is more intense) is the result this time.

I say "this time" because I have a feeling this is not the last. I can still feel the sheep needing more. And this image is black-faced sheep, and I sense that there is another breed that wants out. The sheep have also made appearances in the book illustrations I completed last year.

And if you've been paying attention, you may have realized that this painting is also an example of trees... And if you look closely, there is an overall implied "x," as well.

* I have posted about important trees and my relationships or feelings for them before. Here, here, and here.

**If you listen to the lyrics of Insomnia Blues by Carla Sciaky, you'll hear the phrase, "Where's the stupid sheep?" Moomin Light wrote about this piece, here. Another favorite of mine (by Carla Sciaky) is This Deep Love.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Half Missing

This guy is in the hospital in Raleigh for several days. I've often heard my Dad, and said myself, that I can't understand how people can afford to spend so much money on a pet. I have some qualms about spending potentially several thousand on this episode. But when it comes right down to it, what you are buying is more time with someone you know and love. Tamlin has been missing for half a day at this point, and it leaves a big hole in our home and in my heart. Lina seems like only half of herself, though she's not showing any distress that Tamlin's gone. She seems like not enough to me. I "get" her more than I do Tamlin - I can read her better and I relate to her more. Tummy Cat is more like a wild animal that has consented to live with us for a while, but I miss him and his weird ways a lot already.

He's got a urinary obstruction - not uncommon or complicated, but deadly if not treated. He's in for urethral catheterization, 24-48 hours of observation, radiography to see if there are stones to deal with, and analysis of the crystals that caused this so we can change his diet and prevent it in future. There are several kinds of crystals that form in feline bladders - proper understanding and diet usually solve the problem long term. He's in good hands at the rightly famous Vet School at NC State.

(NC State's phone message on Sundays says, "If your medical emergency is with a small animal, press 5," and I'm thinking, "Hamster? Gecko?" "If your medical emergency is equine or involves farm animals, press 6." Sudden scale change - even a great Dane is a small animal compared to a Charolais bull or a Belgian draft horse. My thinking was so suburban. NC State is famous for its work with Holsteins, for instance - the biggest and most beautiful Holsteins I've ever seen anywhere.)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

An Evening in Lavonia

On my way back from Alpharetta, GA, already after 5:00, with a long drive ahead of me (I got home after midnight), I saw a billboard for an authentic Mexican restaurant. I was in the hilly rural area just south of the SC border, on I-85. The thought of Mexican was enticing, and it might be fun to see how authentic it really was. So I pulled off and saw the Mexican place, clean and neat, with a decent number of cars in front of it for the time of day and the place...

...but then I saw the sign for "Historic Downtown Lavonia." With a huge grin on my face I drove past the Mexican place, figuring I could always come back.

I love to find where the locals eat. I've eaten simple, wonderful food, in greasy, smoky places, where a solo diner can unobtrusively listen to neighborly chatter and enjoy interesting perspectives. Having lived in mostly urban or suburban settings for the last thirty years, and hobnobbing almost exclusively with college graduates, I am often enlightened by the political opinions, economic predictions, and thoughts about celebrities and other news of the day that spring from a less cluttered view of the world. I have had epiphanies handed to me in small rural towns. I'm not kidding.

And it's rural settings, here in my adopted Southern home, that still use the genteel conversational arts unique to this region. It is high compliment when friends, born and bred in the rural deep South, say I could almost have been raised here, my manners are so good. I learned much of that uniquely Southern etiquette in small towns and in the countryside.

So I drove into Lavonia with high hopes, and those hopes were not disappointed. It's a real Southern place, with a sense of itself. Banners on the lamp posts, bearing the message "Lavonia - Big Time Small Town," made me grin. The architecture is not remarkable, but most of it has been there a while and shows some history. The town's layout at the center is unusual, with jigs in the main streets and a railroad track and old station (now the Chamber of Commerce) at the heart of it. There is diagonal parking on the main streets, something that has vanished from most American towns. One building had murals painted on the side that gave a glimpse of the progression of the place, from livery stable to car dealership and beyond. The disappearing green of the wagon in the first painting is an accidental metaphor.

I walked around and took pictures. Nearly everything was closed. There was an old hard working diesel engine paused on the tracks at one end of the main plaza. While I ate at the Downtown Cafe, which had an Italian and Greek menu (I had the special - which was pretty good) I watched this old engine roll north alone, and ten minutes later roll south again with a dozen or so empty flat bed cars. I asked the waitress if the train worked only a local set of tracks, and she replied proudly that, "It goes all the way." Map research later shows the line that runs through Lavonia connecting two larger lines that run through Toccoa and Greenwood, so I wonder if the old engine doesn't mostly ferry cars between the two. Greenwood might be all the way if you live in Lavonia. Many rural Southerners only make infrequent trips to other towns or cities.

Later, getting gas again near the highway, I was filling up near an unusual three wheeler, covered with patriotic logos and with flags carefully furled behind. The man, in leathers, looked like a colorful character, and he struck up a conversation. I asked him where he had come from, since he commented he was sore from riding so long. He had started in Houston, driven to California, then north to Washington, then across the country to the east coast, down into the South, and was now returning to Texas, hoping to make home by sometime tomorrow. "I've been on the road 19 days!" I asked if I could photograph him and his unique rig, and he posed for me, tugging his side whiskers into greater order. He said, "God bless you!" as we parted.

A few more miles on the highway and I was in a typical SC welcome center. The unique Georgia town and unusual encounter could have been just a dream. Except for the photos... (Click any image to get a larger view.)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Yard Fountain 2008

Again, the chicken is talking non-stop to the toad. Of course, our oldest son pointed out, she's been doing it all winter under the house, as well. He had positioned them carefully when putting them away last December. Either the toad's smile indicates he doesn't mind, or it's the frozen variety and his mind is elsewhere...

The hippo Debbie (also known as "Spitty!") provides the fountain (she's off in this photo). Globose is barely visible over the Virginia Creeper which has grown up so nicely with some of it's feet in the fountain bowl. He is as round as a ball. While three of the creatures make sense being there, because of the water, the chicken is only there for the captive audience.

I am considering getting a few small fish to keep the mosquito larvae under control. Bleach is a bad idea because frogs keep taking up residence in the fountain, small as it is.

Here is how the fountain looked in 2007. You can see how much larger the VA creeper is this year. It's also now more than twenty feet up a nearby loblolly pine.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


When is it summer?

The first really hazy hot day that builds to local thunder showers, or the sound of cicadas would both qualify, but those aren't early signs. The first Queen Anne's lace (daucus carota) or the first blooms of the brilliant orange Asiatic lilies in our gardens are earlier signs. The sweet evening songs of wood thrushes are a bit too early, arriving actually in late spring, but I think of them as a summer sound.

For me, the light is the most direct indicator. I am sensitive to the quality and intensity of the sunlight, and by late May it's no longer a spring sun.

The second growth on the trees is another message I receive without conscious notice. In the spring there is an exuberant first growth of leaves on the trees and shrubs. This leads to the unique spring blend of different colors and textures as the leaves are in their infancy. After those leaves reach full color and size, though, the trees pause for a few weeks, then put on another seasonal growth spurt, reaching further into the light and filling all the gaps in their foliage. This creates an overstuffed, shaggier appearance overall, and I tune in to this.

And of course there are the signs at the grocery store. The arrival of fresh local strawberries is an early warning sign. Watermelons are an even stronger indication. Then it's time for cooking burgers on the grill (actually, that's an all year thing in this house) and making potato salad, cole slaw, and corn on the cob.