Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Quickie

Who doesn't love a quickie?!
So I offer you a quick little posting since I'm in the middle of a two day show.

Most of us tend to ignore the backside of our houses, concentrating more on what will appeal to visitors and us as we approach the front of the house. But outside my back door is a wee "meadow" of sorts between my house and the one next door. And each spring it erupts with thousands of honeysuckle blooms, appearing almost overnight as if a fairy waved a magic wand. It forces me to take notice of this wildness that is now carpeted like dotted Swiss and mixed with other wildflowers I still don't know the names of.

The come-hither fragrance of the honeysuckle creeps in through the kitchen window in the middle of the night, squeezing through the screen that is filled with Erb's body where he has wedged himself between the sill and an overhead stained glass panel. He spends his nights here in the warm weather keeping watch over his kingdom. Buddha is way too large to join him.

So the honeysuckle will scent The Crooked Little House for another couple of weeks if I'm lucky, then the ligustrum will take over with its visual delight. The small white blossoms of the bush are now ready to burst forth near my front door and lure every butterfly, bee and bird in the area to its richness forming its own food chain. This performance will continue for another few weeks.

Funny how when one thing ends, another is waiting in the wings to burst forth.

It's amazing how I get anything done at this worktable!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

I have been sick all week, nothing serious but sick enough to keep me indoors. So I have a special offering for you, a guest blogger. And next weekend I have a two day show, so no promises of a new post, but I will do my best. Thanks for understanding. So now, please enjoy this gift from my youngest son, Zach, a talented writer and musician and a fabulous human being.

The Line Between Wilderness and Home

I was raised (by the usual author of this blog) not just to appreciate and respect nature, but to absorb it into every pore. My early childhood in western Massachusetts was spent in the shadows of dark and looming hills, in gray woods beside overgrown railroad tracks, and at the rocky, weedy verge of serpentine rivers. Later, in North Carolina, it was driftwood on salt-blown beaches and herons wading through the muck of depthless marshes. Nature was an inextricable facet of who I became as a person, and now it's as much a part of me as a limb or an eye.

My wife and I live in the city of Burlington, NC near Greensboro. I love Burlington, but to an outsider, it can seem a bleak place, a haunted landscape of boarded-up homes and collapsing textile mills, slowly giving way to endless, logo-drenched sprawl. I am fascinated by the history of this active little city and the delight of my own faded 1910 house looming above the tide of traffic. But nature is not what sprang to mind when I first arrived here. I still pined (pun intended) for the towering mountain passes cloaked in evergreens and the isolated campfire glows in the gloom of my beloved High Country where I attended college. I was spoiled by the proximity to such sweeping natural beauty. Sometimes, you have to look hard to find it later on.

But find it I did in the form of Shallow Ford Natural Area, a humble patch of trails and steep rocky climbs over the Haw River just north of Burlington limits. Chancing on this rather new park on Election Day of last year when I was eager to steer clear of media for fear of bad news, I immediately fell in hopeless love. An outpost within the city but lush and green and alive, dotted with the ruins of old homesteads and grist mills, Shallow Ford's precarious trails climb to a thrilling vista over the placid Haw, the once mighty river that gave Burlington life by powering its industry.

Shallow Ford has very much become "my place" in a way nowhere ever has before. I've walked every trail, and my wife and I recently backpacked to the primitive campground to spend a night away from the hectic bustle of town. How powerful to be entirely alone within a city and to camp so far from any parking lot. We were enchanted by the slugs, snakes and tiny frogs we met on our journey, but most of all, the immense vastness of the quiet forest impressed us with its own subtle force. We may as well have been hundreds of miles from home instead of a mere ten minute drive.

One of my favorite musicians and personal inspirations is Phil Elverum, a Washington State resident who makes woods-enraptured folk music under the name Mount Eerie. In a recent interview, he offered the idea that "nature" itself doesn't exist; that the term is something that's used to separate us from out there, from the wilderness, and to therefore draw an invisible line between the two. In reality, everything is nature, from a Kmart in suburban Cleveland to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro.

It was all wilderness before we arrived. So when I found my spot of beauty in the midst of my busy little city, it wasn't nature so much as home.

"When I reached the summit, I made no camp,
But I unrolled my sleeping bag in the stream,
And let the cold water pour in my ears."

Mount Eerie, Cold Mountain

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Simplicity of Line

As much as I love the arrival of Spring, I also find it an unsettling time, a season of quests, tests and hopes and an effort to reaffirm a belief that all will be well in the end. For those of us making a living in a resort area, we learn to live by the season, earning our income during the peak times and rationing it out through the oh-so-quiet off season. By the time spring arrives with all its gaiety, we are holding our breath while waiting for the return of our patrons and a robust economy that will support the importance of art in our lives. We cannot force the timing or changes we want to occur, yet each year it seems I must relearn that same lesson. So the best way for me to do that is to simplify my life and have faith that all will be well.

One valuable exercise for me is to simplify my work, deciding what's important right now, in this moment. So in an effort to get to that desired state of mind I seek each spring, I spend some time doing what I love most, drawing with a simple pencil and pad of paper, looking for the skeletons and bare bones that lurk beneath the onslaught of nature's spring offerings.

There's such beauty in a simple line, and by focusing on lines, I find it as meditative as my daily Tai Chi, stilling my mind and just letting my hand follow what my eyes see. Sounds simple doesn't it? Believe me, it's not, but it's well worth the effort.

So this week I'm offering three glimpses into a simple Thursday morning spent at Aviation Park swathed in sunshine, spring shadows and faith.

A favorite movie of mine is, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. So I'll leave you with a favorite line from the film. "Everything will be alright in the end. If it's not alright then it's not yet the end."

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Casualties of Spring

T.S. Eliot said, April is the cruelest month. I tend to agree. Amidst all the bloom and greening of the earth, surrounded by the sounds and smells we had forgotten from a year ago, and the brush of a spring breeze on our newly bared skin, there are casualties.

On a bright afternoon, just out of reach of laughter, tea and friendship, a mouse lay dead on the sun dappled walkway of my friend's house. It's hard to know what had caused its demise with no outward signs of injury. Was it just his time or perhaps a wandering cat having a bad day scared it to death.

A few days later, while backing my car out of the garage, I noticed a silvery patch among last year's tattered leaves. It was a tiny body of a chickadee, new feathers poking out and tiny wings spread ready for a flight it would never experience. The two inch long chick was a good distance from the birdhouse that had so recently become occupied, and I have to wonder how it had gotten to the opening and fallen so far from home. The next day, the nesting material was clogging the entrance hole, maybe from an effort to clean out the failed nest.

I have always felt it a waste of a life not to pay homage to a wild thing that has died, so they both made their way to my freezer. I know this isn't a pleasant idea for some of you but it allows me to study and sketch an animal that might not be accessible to me otherwise. With each line I draw, I learn more and honor the beauty before me.

I am hoping there isn't another casualty waiting for me to discover. My faithful friend Silver hasn't been around for days, leaving his supper uneaten for the blackbirds to squabble over the next morning. He's an old fellow and perhaps just too tired to continue making his rounds, but I miss him. He has been a constant in my life for years, a friend I looked forward to visiting with when I couldn't sleep in the wee hours of the morning. But maybe April hasn't been that cruel.

Spring also brings promises, and I know there will be another chickadee family in the birdhouse with babies to listen to and peek at through the entry hole. And mice will continue to race across the driveway, their cheeks stuffed with sunflower seeds to take home to their families. Hopefully there will be another Silver to court a friendship or Silver himself will return with wonderful tales of his adventures to share with me under the stars.

There's something about those two words: hope and spring. Oh yes, I remember, hope springs eternal.

"I dwell in Possibility."    Emily Dickinson