Sunday, December 23, 2012

Solstice Observations

The Winter Solstice, one of my favorite days, signifies the return of the light from the darkness, since each day will now extend its length leading up to the renewal of life in the spring, though I prefer the idea of life still here, just resting and reflecting. This year, the solstice has brought forth its own version of a Christmas play, one in which confusion and beauty have equal parts on the stage at The Crooked Little House. It's all about timing after all.

The day emerged with strong winds buffeting the house and cold temperatures sending birds to the roosting box, where wee faces of Carolina Chickadees peeked out from the swaying structure in the cherry tree. But two male Red-Winged Blackbirds decided to stick around for much longer than usual to gorge on sunflower seeds. Don't they know it's December and they should be long gone?

Clouds bumbled overhead like a flock of blue-haired women, nudging each other and pointing the way. The Albemarle Sound which is across the street from TCLH was puffed up with whitecaps as far as the mainland, waves crashing onto the pavement, catching the wind and shooting spray upwards of four feet. Even the water level was playing chicken with the street, asking do I or don't I dare to cross?

But the most unusual performances came from the plants. I expected the camellia to have pushed out lots of buds in preparation for an explosion of pink and white blooms in a month or so. But my geranium has decided to join the cast and is now in full bloom with more buds tucked among the ochre tinged leaves. And my lovely quince is flowering way too early instead of in February when I really need the sight of something colorful in the drabness of winter.

Last year I had an ornamental cabbage that I let stay in the ground to see how long it would last. And to my surprise, like the last act in a play, it has encored into a fabulous patch of purple lace.

The Winter Solstice ended in perfection with a blood orange sunset swiped with a streak of crimson.

*I will have a household full of love visiting this coming week so please forgive me for taking next week off from writing a post. All of us at The Crooked Little House, with two legs, four, six or eight, scales and feathers and fur, wish you all a peace filled and joyous holiday season. Please be grateful for those you love and who love you, and keep a soft spot in your heart for everyone else.

"A man should look for what is, and not what he thinks should be."   -  Albert Einstein

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Thoughts on a Cold December Day

While driving down the near vacant beach road this past week I was drawn to the sight of the beach accesses, their parking slots empty of vehicles, looking forlorn with sand creeping up the walkways and steps, nudged along by recent storms. These entry points host a promise of a path leading up and over the dune line, ghostly images of summers past lurking among the spent sea oats. What lies just over that shifting pile of sand is of course the Atlantic Ocean, but I'm never quite sure what else I'll discover. Will the sea be rough and tumble or satin smooth? Are the dolphins cruising past, trying to keep pace with the low flying line of pelicans? Is the wind causing the birds to tuck beak and bill under their wings? Are there treasures of sea glass and shells scattered along the water's edge? But with a strong northeast wind kissing my cheek, I temper my urge to explore and sit in the cocoon of my car, balancing my paints and sketchbook on the dashboard and my lap trying to capture the feeling of uncertainty before me.

December is like that brief moment before crossing over the dune, somewhat predictable yet offering a hint of tingling anticipation, hoping you'll take the bait. You can almost hear, in the gloaming of the day, the earth softly sighing, pausing in this last month of the year to catch its breath and reevaluate what has been learned over the last 11 months and pondering what the next 12 months will teach us. Just as we know the ocean is on the other side of the dunes, we can also be sure next year will bring more of the same; joy and heartache, happiness and woe, excitement as well as boredom and routine, in other words - life.  But the question in our minds is always in what format all this "life" will be presented and what the percentages will be. In this season of hope I dream of more positive than negative, more laughter than tears, all within a new layout to explore.

And finally, at my last stop, I catch a glimmer, a brief glimpse, a fleeting image of what's ahead, and it's sparkling in the December light.

Pasternak says life creates incidents to divert our attention from it so that it can get on with the work it can only accomplish unobserved.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Crooked Little House Christmas Tree

Here you go Patricia. I am a terrible photographer, and each pic I took of the whole tree turned out terribly. But I managed to get some up close shots for you.
This is my tree topper with Zach's macaroni star.
Here you can see a wasp nest and starfish.

One of many whelk cases that wrap throughout the branches of the tree.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gifts of the Season

As Autumn drops its last leaves, exiting through the back door, winter slyly takes up residence, settling in with brisk winds, cooler temperatures and its own delights. I wake slowly in the morning now with a sense of calmness, realizing I no longer have to jump out of bed and get the day going. With my season over, I have the luxury of time, at least for a few weeks. While the rest of the world is wrapped up in the shine and sparkle of holiday shopping, I dream of my children arriving home and throwing my arms around them, breathing in their essence as I did when they were babies.

All the Christmas crowds and endless advertising to get me to spend money on things I don't want sets my teeth on edge. I'd rather spend my time admiring nature and how she has adorned herself this time of year. Pyracantha bushes host weighty clusters of ribbon-red berries from top to bottom, their gifts for the birds. The mimosa tree drips seed pods that sing their own carols when accompanied by a frisky north wind, and my rosemary bush is bursting with heavenly lavender blossoms. And each evening, the western sky shines brighter than any Christmas lights a store can offer.

When my children were young, we always had a real Christmas tree, trekking into the woods to cut our own or walking down rows and rows of precut trees looking for the perfect shape and size. But secretly, I always yearned for one of those vintage silver trees that are now quite popular and priced crazy high. Their silver branches remind me of icicles escaping from roof lines, the sun glinting off freshly fallen snow and fragile, glass-thin patches of ice along the edge of a pond or the Albemarle Sound.

Last year, I found just such a tree, about five feet high, at a yard sale. The owner stoked his chin and pondered as to whether he really wanted to sell it after all. Perhaps he saw the longing in my eyes, but he ended up letting it go for a very good price. The tree now resides in the far corner of my dining room, laden with glass ornaments from my childhood as well as newer ones in the shapes of owls, fox and birds. Real starfish and crab shells are nestled into the branches and whelk cases wrap around the tree like garlands tossed up by King Neptune. Bird and bee nests can be spotted near the top. And my tree topper is and always will be a macaroni star my youngest son made when he was just a toddler. This year it is surrounded by an assortment of feathers from my collection. At night, the little white lights cause the reflected colors to shift on the branches when the air is disturbed by a passing feline.

I have done some shopping for things I know will be meaningful to my family, and soon I will begin baking and filling the freezer with favorite treats. I don't have visions of sugarplums dancing through my dreams. But as I close my eyes each night, I anticipate the laughter and love that will resound throughout The Crooked Little House as the year comes to a close. I cannot think of a better gift.

"Wisdom comes with winters."   -   Oscar Wilde

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Comfort of Wild Things

There's just something about the night sky that comforts me and helps to put things into perspective. Whether it's the sweep of stars, witness to all that we mortals have done, or the unruffled indigo stretching as far as the eye can see, I'm not sure, but I am constantly drawn to my deck on a clear night. If you stand quietly in the dark and empty your mind of all the unimportant things that clog us up each day, you can almost feel the heavens breathing in and out, full of life and promise that all will be well. And while we dream on our earthly plane, order is kept in the universe.

A new sketchbook for night drawings.
 So at 4:30 on Tuesday morning, before preparing to leave for the hospital, I wandered out to the deck to contemplate the sky and commune with nature before releasing control of my life to others, not an easy thing for me to do. The first thing I noticed was the stillness. Most of the Thanksgiving visitors have departed, full of turkey and good cheer. This left the streets in darkness with little light pollution, allowing for the stars to shine their brightest for those of us that make this island our home. Never have I seen such brilliance, perhaps because of the uncertainty I was feeling.

I should have known that besides all of my well-wishers of the human variety, another being would appear to offer his own version of, "Get well because I love the treats you leave me each night." My friend Silver appeared, climbing onto the picnic table where he can count on finding a pile of sunflower seeds each night. I've told you about this old fellow before. We've been friends for years. I have sketched him over and over again and was lucky to be able to do so on this cold morning. He's getting older and I have no idea how many more years I will have with him. When the time came for me to go inside and prepare for the day ahead, Silver took his leave, ambling over to the trumpet vine where he shimmied down using his gorgeous pink tail to keep a firm grip.

Notice his tail wrapped tightly around the vine.

I am happy to say I am quickly returning to normal and am anticipating enjoying many night skies with Silver by my side.

"I know perfectly well that at this moment the whole universe is listening to us, and that every word we say echoes to the remotest star."                             -   Jean Giraudoux

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Once Upon A Time

The Sky is Falling
Once upon a time there was a lady who loved to draw.

Jack and the Golden Acorn
And with a click of my boot heels, my last show of the season, Once Upon a Time, has come and gone, and I am now able to catch my breath. The reception was truly magical, more than I could have wished for, with strong sales for which I am extremely grateful. But any artist who lives and breathes their work will tell you, the real highlights of a show, the things you will long remember, usually have nothing to do with the money.

Throughout the day, old friends appeared, some I hadn't seen in a very long time. And I got to meet new people, some of which purchased my work in the past and some that found me for the first time. I spoke with a few visitors who had hesitated about coming to the show because they couldn't afford to make a purchase. I told them how happy I was they chose to spend some time with me because it's about sharing your visions and exchanging ideas, perhaps more so than selling a painting.

Red Was Here
I had the pleasure of meeting a young artist by the name of Zachary and his lovely family. How wonderful that they chose to spend part of Black Friday in an art gallery rather than elbowing their way through a chain department store. Hopefully the variety of art Zachary got to see will stick to his bones long after the season of hype wears off.
Grasshopper and the Ants 

But the most poignant moment of the day came when a long time collector arrived, and I learned his lovely wife had passed away this past spring. I was devastated for him and his family. His wife was a wonderful artist in her own right, and he conveyed to me that she had felt inspired by my work. He told me about a trip they had made to Thailand where she had acquired a lovely silver bracelet which he then presented to me as a gift. I will wear that silver band of memories with honor and loving thoughts of both Nancy and Conrad.

 At the end of the day, I drove home along the back road to watch the autumn sunset over the Albemarle Sound. At my front door, I found my moonflower vine ready to give up the last of its magic to me. The paper pods have now yielded 22 milk-white seeds full of next year's enchanted blooms.

Once upon a time, there was a lady who loved to draw. And she believed in magic.

"The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it."   -  J. M. Barrie

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Shelter From the Storms

As I write this entry, the north wind is huffing at the back door and the birds are doing their best to hang onto the feeders on the west side of the house. This past week has been full of unexpected debris to be navigated and swollen creeks to be crossed. I so yearn for normalcy, a quietness to my days, and in another couple of weeks I will have it. This uncertainty has gotten me to thinking about the past hurricane and nor'easter and how those of us on a barrier island survive the storms, those born of nature and the ones that erupt from within.

I've been preparing the yard for the animals that will have to seek shelter from the storms that are already making their presence known. All the feeders have been set out, filled to the brim with sunflower seeds, suets, peanut butter, etc. Water containers are freshly filled and of course Mother Nature provides her own shelters with fallen trees, knotholes and dense shrubbery. But in overdeveloped areas where every wild foot of space now sprouts manicured lawns and palm trees that should not be growing here, the wildlife has more difficulty in finding a hideaway when needed.

At the Crooked Little House, I have left the back of the property in a semi-wild state where I have a large woodpile for shelter. I have also taken logs and made stacks, crisscrossing them so there is space for someone to crawl in between when the north winds howls and slashes rain across the land. I like to reserve some of the trimmed branches from the trees to form a teepee of sorts for the rodents and birds to take shelter.

Leaving the birdhouses out throughout the winter after giving them a thorough cleaning offers up additional shelter as does the chickadee roosting box I put up in the cherry tree. Roosting boxes look like giant birdhouses but provide numerous perches inside for a lot of birds to share. The opening is cut to a specific diameter for a certain bird, just like a birdhouse. Mine is for chickadees since I have so many of them nearby.

Another thing I do is cut openings in the ligustrum bushes, giving easy access to the birds caught in a bad patch of weather. I have seen as many as a dozen assorted birds tucked away inside the big ligustrum by my front door. And hopefully some of these shelters will keep birds safe when my red tailed hawk comes to visit each morning. I struggle with this issue because he too needs nourishment to survive the winter.

And when I've done all I can outside, I remind Buddha and Erb to be grateful they are warm and dry, safe and well fed.

"Inside my empty bottle I was constructing a lighthouse while all the others were making ships."
                                                                                                 - Charles Simic

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sweet November

For me, nothing could be further from the truth. I want to like November, the beginning of the holiday season, a chill in the air, the big feast day. But inevitably, every November I am smacked with an illness right in the middle of my two biggest shows of the year, and I end up struggling through my shows with a smile plastered across my grayed face and ending my season feeling drained instead of pleasantly full.

And this year is no different except that instead of a cold or flu, I ended up in the ER with surgery in a couple of weeks. It doesn't matter what happened, that's my personal life. But the real downside, besides the pain of course, is that I've been laid up for a week, unable to hold a pen or pencil long enough to even capture one little sketch. Those that know me know that I am not one who enjoys sitting around doing nothing!

So regretfully, I've resorted to a few entries from past sketchbooks along with some notations. The most I've been able to do this week is watch the birds, and I'll admit, it's been a glorious parade culminating in the return of my hawk. I have no idea if it's the same bird but I like to think so. This guy is so bold. I could stand right at the window, not three feet away from him and he looked straight at me with those piercing eyes, went back to pruning and eventually did an Arnold impersonation insinuating, "I'll be back!"

The Virginia Creeper is now a dusky red running garlands up and down the neighboring trees, and my pyracantha has put out its lovely Christmas-red berries that will delight the birds throughout the season. I managed to make one brief trip outside for a bit of air and poked under a log in the back of the lot finding slugs huddled together liked sleeping children on Christmas Eve. Creepy how my mind works I guess but I found them enchanting, so vulnerable to what could be. But I replaced their wooden blanket and wished them well.

So if you'll excuse me now, back to the couch for me with Joni Mitchell and a good book for the afternoon.

"The Universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."
            -   Eden Phillpotts

Sunday, November 4, 2012

 Staying Grounded

When my children were young, we would spend many weekends on Cape Cod at a favorite place called Fort Hill where bunnies outnumbered humans, and you could perch on a huge boulder to take in the sights and sounds and taste of salt air and water. The trails were flanked by large, sculptured trees that inched out tangled roots across the path trying to trip up those daring souls entering their realm. I would tell the boys with whispered breath that after nightfall, the tree roots would snare the feet of those wandering the trail, not heeding the wisdom of leaving the trail before dark, pulling them underground. Childhood is best remembered with a little darkness, a little shiver for the spine, making a story all the more interesting. (Before you judge me, the only thing different about my story is that it is lacking a campfire.)

So when tree roots are placid and dozing during the daylight hours, I love to hunker down nearby and sketch them. One of the best places to see fabulous tree roots is on the Discovery Trail in Nags Head Woods. Nestled in between wood and water, these are fairytale roots linked to enchanted trees. It would not surprise me to catch sight of a fairy or ogre or singing frog among them.

Roots provide several vital functions : storing nutrients, transporting water and minerals and anchoring the tree, keeping it stable during tough weather conditions. Most tree roots (not all), are only 6 to 24 inches below the surface, and the whole root system is 2 to 4 times the diameter of the crown of the tree. Soil compression from humans and erosion can expose the roots, causing injury to this valuable system.

We too have roots with our own vital functions. We need them to tie us to the earth and to each other, giving us something to stand on and supporting us when life threatens to knock us over. My roots run deep, entwining with those near and dear, sometimes across many miles, tapping into those weaker or stronger than my own. I have shared so much with close friends it's hard to tell where mine end and their roots begin.

I work hard at strengthening my roots, nurturing them so I can feel secure when the strong winds blow as they inevitably will. I also know the comfort of being wrapped among other roots when I felt mine were giving way to injury, and I was losing my own balance.

Some trees continue to balance on their roots when all hope seems lost. When that snag finally throws its limbs down in surrender, another seedling is just waiting to stand proudly in its place. For all those whose lives have been shattered from the recent storm, may you come back with stronger roots.

"Don't be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upward."
                                                 - Vladimir Nabokov

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Walk a Mile...

Each year, in late fall, I awake to the sounds of gunshot coming from Kitty Hawk Bay, and I feel sick to my stomach. I envision birds dropping out of the sky just as they are seeking refuge and rest from a long flight. The idea of killing anything is repugnant to me. I'm the type of person that will capture a moth or spider in the house and release it outside before Buddha and Erb have their way with it. But recently I have walked, or rather waded in another man's boots, having come to the unpleasant realization that although I value all life I am a hypocrite, dining on a burger as long as I don't have to do the dirty deed myself.

V. and E. have been my friends for as long as I have lived here. Both are incredibly talented artists, able to "pull" birds out of pieces of wood, carving the most wonderful creations, many of which decorate my home. E. in fact, made the sign for The Crooked Little House which hangs over my front door. And in the off season, V. is a hunting guide as was his father before him. When they approached me about working on a project with them based on hunting, my first instinct was to refuse. But I have learned to take some time to think when making any decision. I struggled with this one, weighing my friendship with my principles and the fact that things aren't always black and white. There are more than 50 shades of gray!

So over dinner one evening, I listened to V. talk about his love of the land and his experiences with his dad. He shared with me his extensive knowledge of the marsh and took me out in his boat to see the creeks firsthand. I focused on listening and tried to keep an open mind as he told me about the grueling schedules and upkeep of the blinds. I came to the conclusion that V. is much more honest in his way of obtaining food than I am. I not only treasure his friendship, I respect his way of life as well.

Will these experiences make me a fan of hunting? Never. I couldn't take another life. But they remind me to keep an open mind. So try putting the ego aside and stop talking yourself, and listen to those with different opinions. It helps to view things from a new vantage point that will either reinforce your own beliefs or give you tools to explore new ideas or another way of looking at something. You don't have to change your ideals or opinions but at least acknowledge that everyone has valuable input to share.

And yes, I agreed to work on the project.

finished painting

So this week I'm adding several photos to show how my sketches aid me in creating finished paintings.

finished painting


finished painting


"To be able to listen - without presupposing, classifying, improving, controverting, evaluating, approving or disapproving, without dueling what is being said ... such listening is rare."     - Abraham Maslow

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Pleasure of My (Own) Company

The northeast wind blew attitude, the sky was bloated with abundant sunshine (don't you just love the word abundant?) and the temperature was in the mid-fall range. Fate intervened this past week, giving me a much needed morning out of the studio. I had to make the trip down to Salvo to deliver some work and see a friend I rarely get to visit with, especially during tourist season. The ocean glittered, full of diamonds and pearls as Prince and I let loose at full volume while crossing the Oregon Inlet bridge, one performing much better than the other.

Spending time alone is a necessary activity for me when the world becomes too intrusive. My mind needs to rest from the everyday chatter so I can focus on the beauty around me and be grateful. I like to take my time when I am alone, stopping to do a sketch when something catches my eye, grabbing a bite to eat, walking the beach or a trail at Pea Island, even visiting a local shop hoping to find that special item for a Christmas gift. I keep a cell phone in the car for emergencies but otherwise it's turned off. I'm not that important that I need to be available 24-7, nor do I want to be. Whatever situations arise, they can wait till I return home. I need time to stand still so I can rejuvenate, refresh, rethink. And I do all these things best when I am alone.

Vibrant patches of goldenrod were the first things I noticed on the drive in sharp contrast to the browning sea oats bending in the wind. These clumps of yellow dot the dunes and roadway for miles. This year the grasses were glowing in brilliant shades of green, probably from the recent rains, looking like the seasons can't decide if they are coming or going. Canary yellow machines prowled the road and climbed sand piles, scooping and pushing sand off the roadway and fortifying the dunes for the nor'easters that are sure to punch the coastline over the winter. At the southern end of the ponds at Pea Island I spied small flocks of snow geese, a surprise since it seems too early for them to be here. And the new inlet formed by last year's hurricane briskly rolled in rippled water, flowing steadily under the narrow, temporary bridge. A line of vehicles kissed each other's bumpers, squeezing onto the sandy shoulder, discharging fishermen to try their luck with whatever chances to swim through the inlet.

It was a wonderful morning of "catch up" with my friend Kim at her fabulous gallery. On the way home I parked at the north end of Pea Island and wandered up the trail a bit, stopping to do a little sketch while the wind wrapped its chilly arms around me. As I made my way back towards Bodie Island I could feel the tendrils of daily life reaching out to me, pulling me back home. But it was okay because I knew another adventure lurked on the near horizon which I'll try to remember to write about next time.

In the meantime I'll continue to sing at the top of my lungs, O-bla-di, O-bla-da...

"Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement."
        -   Alice Koller

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Simply Leaves

Remember the fun you had as a kid walking through the freshly fallen leaves, listening to them crunch under your feet, smelling that fragrance of lost summer, eying the array of color, sometimes all in one leaf? Maybe like me you had the pleasure of jumping into the leaf piles your dad had just spent hours raking up, burying your sibling or getting covered yourself, bits of leaves forcing their way down your shirt, tickling your neck. And perhaps you too collected the best and the brightest of those leaves to seal between sheets of wax paper to hang in a sunny window like a piece of stained glass.

I still love strolling through leaves and looking, not only for the most colorful, but for those with sculptural aspects that will challenge my drawing skills. I enjoy trying to get the angles right, twisting and turning and folding into themselves, creating interesting shadows on my drawing table. Then I get to work on capturing the colors, blurring into one another like a bunch of old tie dye shirts. Buddha and Erb wait patiently, noses in the air catching the outside smells clinging to the leaves. When I'm done I'll toss the leaves onto the studio floor for their amusement. So here are some of my studies from this past week. I'm also including a little refresher course on why we are treated to such beauty in the first place.

Leaves don't really change color; the colors are always there, but the large amount of chlorophyll (this is what converts the sun's energy into food for the tree) that gives the leaves their green color through the growing season masks the other colors. When the chlorophyll dissipates in the fall, the other colors show through. The colder weather also causes the trapped glucose in some leaves to produce bright reds and purples. The shades of brown are from trapped waste.

Trees drop their leaves in the fall to keep from dying of thirst because leaves use up huge amounts of water. During most of the year that's not an issue, but in the winter, "psysiological" drought occurs and the tree can't absorb enough water. It mostly survives on stored food and water in its trunk and branches. Without its leaves, the tree can survive for a much longer time making it through until spring arrives, thawing the ground and bringing quenching rains.

So go outside and play in the leaves. Collect some and make a stained glass panel. Smell them, touch their brittleness, maybe even try to draw some!

"Autumn is a second Spring, when every leaf is a flower."    
                                                 -  Albert Camus