The last few days have been grim. The siren calls from hospital workers, the mounting numbers of casualties, the criminally incompetent leadership from the oval office, the crippling anxiety that washes over us… wave after unrelenting wave.
The last few days have been sparkling. The return of the indigo bunting outside my window, flats of winter seedlings getting their first feel of wind, Finnegan laying peacefully in the sunshine, lazy conversations over the morning kitchen table with my love, and the glorious unrelenting waves… of that brilliant new green.
While I admit to finding myself frozen in my easel chair, not able to summon the creative energy to pick up even the tiniest of brushes, I am showing up every day. I know the Muses are here and I’m listening, but it sounds like static now…loudly buzzing and confusing.
And what I know about that is to get up outta that chair and go outside.
The glorious gift of having Herself by our sides during these stay at home days means Finn and I are at our happiest in our happy place… wallowing in the brightening colors of the studio garden…
My organizer using her superpower…
Anyone who needs or wants some of this plastic just holler…
While she sorted…I planted…
Two rows of peas planted in Ruth…which is a bit spicy to read back…
And…at the end of that glorious day…a bit of well earned sky chair rest…
So today’s painting will be a very early work which honors another of my love’s superpowers…
The Folder – 2000
This is quite simply inspired by my friend Rex. He is a poet. Our histories have walked side by side for over forty years. Our paths have criss-crossed over most of them. Our souls have always been as one.
And it is for Pat, my folder.
Folded things speak well of you when you’re out of the room. They hold the near future captive, like children about to go on recess or sexual pleasure at the brim of control. I think of the pressure of your hand smoothing over the cloth napkin, the bedsheet, the piece of clothing that signals the meal to come, the lovemaking, the spent day — and how you stack the bath towels as high as they’ll go, as a driver well keep the fuel tank near full during times of shortage. I step out of the shower looking to the center of my life, where you have folded it. Creases will have nothing to do with edges: It’s no accident that ledges are ledges and valleys, so far removed from any real horizon, where people most often choose to put down roots and grow. I like to imagine that God, who, faced with formlessness, folded the world into manageable corners, sent me you to repeat the gesture. Rex Wilder
Finn and I hauled our groggy souls across the puddles in the lane and up the path to the studio this morning and just like that… we both had smiles on our faces.
Not only was our quarantine delivery box full… but the scents of a friend left behind had both our tails wagging.
Thanks to you Sue, our coffers are full to brimming and the added bonus of saying hi over the sack of flour…priceless.
I’m only back here for a quick dip because it seems I forgot to add some artwork to yesterday’s post.
There is only one painting from the archives which speaks… nay it screams all the colors of green that are burgeoning here in the studio yard…
Fiddlehead Primavera – 2006
From my salad days. After a long day of framing pictures at the Harvard Coop I would make my way home from Cambridge late in the evening. The Red Line bus would stop at the Star market across from the Mt. Auburn cemetery. The overhead electric cable would often slip its grip there so I sometimes had enough time to run in, grab a bag of mussels, the fiddleheads, some butter and a bottle of wine… and make it back on the same bus. All for under ten dollars.
There is no other human on the planet that I would rather be in quarantine with.
Your buddy Finn and I will do our best in this season of lock down to celebrate the wonders of you in our lives. We will lay a golden carpet of forsythia blooms to brighten your step, take you on a treasure hunt to find the purple crocus, and serenade you as you soak up the sunny sky chair breezes.
From the “Nature finds a way” division of the Ledge…
When, way back in January, or was that February, we, meaning Kory… with me directing from without, frantically threw everything in the studio kitchen out onto the studio porch after finding yet another round of rodential invasion…
the bench filled up with things that were destined to live in the garage… but needed to be sorted… so that never happened.
Herself has been wanting to clear it off so guests could have a place to sit.
But we don’t get many guests, and now…well… we have had to implement a staging area for decontamination of deliveries from the big bad world.
You may be able to imagine my surprise when upon reaching for the blue bag our resident wren flew up and at me and, with a powerful shrillness, bade me to step away from her nest.
Twice in the days since I have impulsively reached for that bag. And both times I swore at my forgetfulness… almost as solemnly as she swore at me.
So yesterday I decided a tactile barricade was needed.
Not for her, but for me.
A quarantine within the quarantine.
It takes a village. Take care of each other out there.
Here’s a very early piece, so early that I was still painting in my old studio… and it was Gulliver by my side.
A Dissembling Breeze – 2002
My studio is on stilts. Telephone polls really. Sixteen feet in the air. We live in a flood zone by this gently flowing creek. During hurricane Agnes in the early 70’s the entire cabin was under water. The single foot of it’s chimney remaining above water gaining mythological proportions. So when they rebuilt the washed away garage it had to be above the highest flood level.
The supporting beams and joists underneath my tree top studio are exposed. For the last two seasons an industrious couple of sparrows have been constructing a condo under there. Massive in scale I suspect them to be former hippies ever redesigning the commune. Celebrating diversity, they have woven in feathers from every visiting species and a generous helping of wool from Pat’s grandmother’s hooked rug which rests on the steps beneath.
The other day, on our fifty foot commute to work, Gully and I found the nest fallen to the pavement below. A treasure for me… at some cost to the dear ones.
For months thereafter we heard them busily knocking about below our painting feet. The subsequent structures lacked some vital element because they lasted only an average of a few days.
It has been a dry hot summer. I don’t expect them back until spring now. In the meantime I am collecting a pile of feathers and pine needles and dog hair at the base of the studio steps. We are not expecting rain.
“Always approach the shrimp bowl as you own it.” Mary McGrory
‘Tis the season…of Shrimp Mousse
In the all kitchens of my adulthood Along the margins of each recipe Tucked and retucked inbetween the pages of all the cookbooks I have written in tiny script some words to mark the making and the maker each time I make my way back to that particular recipe.
A trail of micro journaled jigsaw pieces which periodically get reassembled as I return to refresh the ingredient lists for old and new favorites.
Yesterday, after chatting with dear Peg about birds and pity and beaches and pools, I pulled out the well worn card with her original instructions for her shrimp mousse.
It has been updated and upgraded and tweaked over the years, but the bones remain strong and the sentiment has become crystalized.
The first entry I wrote on the card was…
1 Jan 2000 – The world has celebrated. We made it ! Now for some special treats to start off the new millenium.
What follows are regular entries just about that time almost every year with the exception of the few years interim when I seem to have lost that original card. I do remember the desperate searching but it seems that the Muses returned it a few years ago…
22 December 2016 – Thought I had lost this recipe – but in the wild autumn of home repairs -when both kitchens had to be redone – it was found. Now we are in the dark ages – and need some peace.
And here we are… planning on making a double batch I sat down with all three of the Shrimp Mousse incarnations and when Herself wandered into the studio kitchen I was smiling through tears.
Chronicled on that little slip of paper was celebrating the “first day of full time Artisanship” The last walk with our Gulliver and the first snowy Christmas with Finn and this year’s entry made all the more special to be able to write that we are all still together around that kitchen table a bit gimpier and slower afoot and settled deeply into our seasons of happiness.
It’s beginning to look a lot like fall around here. We have been home a month since our Vineyard visit and Granary Gallery show. A great time and very successful show was surrounded by a warm and positive energy which has been riding in my back pocket ever since.
And we needed that to get through some stressful weeks with a string of those unwelcome but generally benign hiccups that lurch your well laid plans into a different gear…or reverse in this case. Extreme heat kept me out of the garden, silly germs kept us all sick and snotty for Zoe’s camp Gran and Mima, the blue screen of death on the studio computer meant a week of tech gurus replacing one motherboard after another, and then there is…( and here I will allude to, but not elaborate on because I have a strict “NO politics in the studio rule”… the mother of all shit storms that is the current state of the nation and the planet )…but worst of all our dear Finn has been plagued with one infection after another.
None of the usual anti-depressants were working.
Putting all the bags of yarn on the daybed to plan out the coming winter of knitting…didn’t help. Getting out all the spoon carving tools and making pile after pile of shavings on the porch…wasn’t helping. Planting flats of seedlings for the fall garden and weeding out the old for the new…was hampered by the summer’s sauna.
I just couldn’t shake the blues.
As of today, most of those bumps in the road have been worked out but they wore this artist down and sent some old dragons a’ knocking at the door.
Alas, I caught them on the whisper… and realized that in spite of all the things I was trying to do to pull myself up and out of that negative space…what I really needed to do was to get myself back to my day job.
The second I sat down at the easel I felt better…lighter…centered and safe.
I have come to understand that this work that I do, the art that I create, the focus that is demanded of the process of bringing a painting to life…it is all of me. It has become what I am not just what I do. And it has an intense and powerful connection to something that is much bigger and vitally more important than Mercury going retrograde and blowing up the schedule.
It is no longer quiet listening, but a fierce reckoning with truth, and finding where it lives at the core of my soul, and then looking hard for where it lives in others. The closest I’ve come to labeling it is that “common ground”. I catch glimpses of it now and then, like a pixie winking from behind a garden shed. And more often when I stand behind someone studying one of my paintings and watch as they step closer. The noise in the gallery shuts off, and they are pulled in to a very private place. Sometimes, when they step back and notice me, they will take me where they went. Sometimes there are no words. But the recognition is there, between us, that there is some common ground.
I can think of it as a portal. Through which there is a tapestry of threads, more like live wires, and we, the artist and the patron, have found one or two that we recognize as familiar, that are alive in our own paintings as it were, and we come to see that we are not alone.
Well that is starting to get a bit tingly…like I said…the universe..or is it those muses… is shifting things around here in a most unpredictable and frustrating way…which is when I know to step out of the stream and go to a safe place.
OK I’m back now. This started out as a quick peek at the burgeoning fall garden, which is plugging along all on its own tingly threads in spite of the heat and my profound neglect.
And since, I have already articulated that the best place for me to be right now…with a tiny brush in my hand…and not playing in the dirt…I shall simply throw out these pics of this morning’s garden.
Beginning with a before shot of the Ruth Stout Memorial Arch to compare with the opening photo of today’s vining mess. You will see that the black eyed susan vines are finally thriving but the morning glory (mostly on the right) are insane…with nary a blossom.
Here it is again…before
In general I am very pleased with the RS bed experiment so far. I will elaborate in future posts but here are some random updates…
WE HAVE A LUFFA !!!
Finally. You can see how showy this vine has become. It has smothered the tunnel and begun to invade the lower forty…
looking back it is on the right
Here it frames the now almost cleared potato run…as it waddles on over to make an annex out of the old pea trellis.
Back at the far end of the bed you get a whole lot of rotting tomatoes and a fair supply of peppers showered by Pat’s zinnias…
A row of bags and boxes are mostly cleared of the failed onions with some lingering leeks…
Walking outside and into the raised bed area it’s the sweet potatoes that have taken the lead…
Three bags full, they hold some promise but it will be a month or more before I peek. The second planting of cucumbers are fighting off the squash bugs and going strong…
The beans have only now begun to provide enough for a meal for two…
Underneath that tunnel are some newly planted carrots and broccoli …
And the brussel sprouts and parsnips are roaring in the back bed…
On the backside of this very large array is the sad state of the strawberry beds, I am flummoxed at the heavy invasion of grasses and weeds which have taken over every single bed. I’ve weeded this bed intensely 4 times this summer !!! and look at the mess.
Back in civilization…
the new herb beds are doing well…
and the salad bed is once again producing lettuces and spinach…
After taking this pic I pulled a couple of those radishes, and then I yanked them all because I found cabbage worms on each one and a heavy infestation of baby aphids. They all went to the bucket of death. Now Herself can come and pick her lunch in peace.
And that leaves the best part of the garden for last…
Miss Finnegan is starting to feel better. These cooler mornings are just the ticket for a Bernese Mt. Dog. She lays here on the shaded cement and supervises my ramblings while she waits for her buddy to come over and take her for a ride around the neighborhood. Her favorite thing is to turn left out of that gate and jump into the car.
As I write this she and her buddy are getting ready for the tennis finals. Finn lays in front of the TV and as soon as the ball is hit she follows it. She got bored with all those double faults in the match last night but has a special fondness for Nadal, so she’s looking forward to his forehand.
And there we have it. A winding look into the labyrinth that, for my sins, is my world this month.
Now I’m headed to the kitchen for some lunch, and then up for one more cone at Reeser’s, and then back to the easel…
Yours in brilliant blazes of Mexican sunflowers, hovering hummingbirds… and finally flying brushes,
Today was the day. After a couple read throughs of her books,
and heading down a few you tube rabbit holes… and waiting for the weather to thaw…
Today Kory and I created our very own Ruth Stout garden bed.
Complete with a Ruth Stout memorial archway…
With the ground thoroughly frozen at the start of the day, and mother nature shining a record breaking 65 degrees down upon us by mid-afternoon, everyone was in high spirits to be spending a February day in t-shirts.
I laid out some cardboard and newspaper to define a border and the stories in the Vineyard Gazette will be whispering to vegetables for years to come.
Let the deliveries begin…
After an early morning spent bearing witness for an immigration trial at the jail, my human rights hero, joined us to help supervise…
And one of the best parts of the day was watching how much fun Finn had playing in the hay. I didn’t get a good picture but she had such a big smile on her face…as if this fluffy soft bed was just a big gift for her.
Early on Kory could see that the ground was thawing rapidly so he made a lovely path…
By lunchtime we had almost two thirds completed.
Ruth recommended a good 8″ of mulch. She used spoiled hay because it was cheap since the farmers couldn’t feed it to their animals. After trying to find a ready source of that around here I decided, as you will recall from my last post, to use the regular bales available at our local supplier…thank you again Homer.
This chronicle is not meant as a how-to, interested gardeners will get much more pleasure out of reading Ruth’s own words of wisdom. I CAN report that there has already been much eyebrow raising, and not a little “mansplaining” from those who have heard of my plan.
Ruth had much to say about that…
“Naturally the neighboring farmers at first laughed at me; for a few years they doted on stopping in in the spring to ask if I didn’t want some plowing done. But, little by little, they were impressed by my results, and when they finally had to admit that the constantly rotting mulch of leaves and hay was marvelously enriching my soil, they didn’t tease me anymore. On the contrary, they would stop by to “have one more look” before finally deciding to give up plowing and spading and to mulch their own gardens.”
Originally I had planned to use straw bales as a border, which would provide some structure to run wire rabbit fencing all the way around and then available, directly upon disintegrating, to be tossed onto the mulching bed.
But we had much more hay than we needed to start out with so Kory used hay bales along the back edge and Him and Herself fetched another couple truckloads of straw to line the other sides. The straw is cheaper and won’t break down as fast as the hay, but all of it, as I repeat myself, will eventually be tossed onto the bed to provide the continuous mulching required to build the soil.
Fun fact…In the past years, when I was experimenting with strawbale gardening, it was quickly discovered that a fully grown studio rabbit is just the right height to reach up and nibble the tenders growing at the top of a bale. A bit of wire fencing was enough to decide them that there were other delicacies requiring much less work elsewhere in my yard…and several of them have been quite happy enough with that arrangement to pose for me in between noshes…
Some tossing techniques…
It was simply a glorious day to be outside making those January dreams come alive..
Even though our entire yard is on a sloping angle, this section of the studio yard is full of underground springs and is a devil to mow because it’s a swamp on all but the driest days. One of the benefits of this mulching method is that there should no watering needed. Ruth described setting out a small lawn sprinkler only to give seeds a head start.
Time will tell if the mulch will be happy as happy as the rabbits with this arrangement.
By three o’clock we had finished the large bed, hay mulched a nearby flower bed as an experiment, put straw down between all the raised beds to make muddy spring passage a bit easier, in addition to Kory tackling all of the chores Miss Pat had on her to-do list.
The finished bed…
Kory replenished the firewood stack on the log cabin porch, and now we can sit back with our feet up in front of the fire and wait for winter to rain and snow on this creation and for all those lovely earthworms and critters to wiggle their way into Finn’s fluffy bed.
I figure we made a loosely consistent 18″ or so blanket of hay and built a 15 x 50 foot bed.
I also figure there are more of these warm weather breaks ahead, and I have a large pile of leaves which we can chop up a bit with the lawn mower and toss on the RS bed (that pile is frozen now). And from now on all of the garden waste and grass clippings will go on there as well.
I’ll still keep the compost piles going. We had great success last season sifting many wheel barrows of that home grown gold. The existing raised beds were put to bed with that gold in the fall so should welcome rotations of deeper root crops this year, and most of the leafy greens and such.
Our next project is to replace one of the first raised beds I built, the bottom boards are rotting away. So it will be just the place for a keyhole garden. Oh yes, I am. I’ve designed it to use the same galvanized corrugated aluminum which we used to repair the walls of the asparagus bed last year. With some tweaking and design updates I’m hoping to improve on our first attempts and make a more permanent structure that can double as a cold frame for winter greens. Stay tuned for more on that.
Expectations for the RS bed this year are low because of the time it will take to break all that hay down and begin to build a nutrient rich soil. Others who have tried this report it took a year or more to begin to have soil that would support deeper root crops. OK, so I will be planting potatoes. Ruth just pulls back her mulch and throws them directly on the ground and piles the hay back on top. Pretty much the way I’ve been growing them for a couple years so there ya go.
Gonna also try onions and leeks, brussel sprouts and kale, shell peas and edamame, and a big section of squash. I sow all the seeds I can fit in the studio and the greenhouse so I may start most of the RS bed plants by pulling back the mulch and adding a couple of inches of composted manure and peat before planting the seedlings.
And don’t forget that strawbale border can be planted in as well. Maybe with marigolds and nasturtiums with onions and turnips in between. And a cascade of morning glories for the memorial arch.
Ahhh, what an absolute bliss of a gift this day was.
Thank you Kory for all that you do for us. These two old ladies are so grateful.
This year’s challenge was to minimize the effects of the Allium Leaf Miner pest which had completely decimated last year’s crop. I can’t even bring myself to revisit the pictures from that devastation, so google it yourselves if you are scientifically motivated.
The local Ag agents suggested covering the crop in the early spring before the creatures emerge. I tried three versions of that. In the cold frame bed featured below, I had the doors closed until mid-April.
In this back bed I used fleece to cover the plants, which the wind and weather rearranged frequently, so there were gaps in time when there would have been access. Image below shows windblown exposure.
In the third bed, (it’s starting to sound like the three little pigs here…) I used a screened tunnel. See garlic growing tall under that screen.
I harvested scapes from all three beds over the last three weeks or so. The bed shown above was curiously the last to form scapes. Possibly the full time cover slowed growth ?
Some test pulling of the plants showed those gnarly wee beasties had indeed begun their invasion. As was the case last year, the leaves were browning early and the bulbs were not forming, or were becoming deformed.
So, this week I yanked them all.
In bed one, 100% infestation. No bulbs were saveable.
In bed two, 60% infestation.
In bed three, the one with the 24/7 tunnel, almost all of the bulbs were untouched.
Out of about 200 plants, I now have close to 60 curing in the greenhouse. If there are some critters lurking within I may lose some of those, but it’s not a total loss.
On the principle of being given lemons… I decided to make lemonade.
Well…garlic scape butter.
I saved all the scapes, which were untouched by the bugs, and yesterday I got out the cuisinart !
The recipe is quite simple. Grind up the scapes, mix them into softened butter, put that into a ziploc bag and spread it thinly to force air out, then freeze. Then it’s easy to break off what you need as you go. It is especially nice to soften and use as the spread for Garlic Bread.
I had enough leftover minced scapes to add some lemon and olive oil and also freeze for later use in sauces and such.
Bonus tip, which I learned from an old blogger whose name I apologize for forgetting, you take the butter wrappers and stack and bag them up and also put in freezer to use as ready made greasers for pre-baking pans.
So, I started this blog yesterday, only to find that my website was down…again. A long frustrating day of dealing with my server resolved the problem late in the evening. When I sat down to write this entry today…down again.
They tell me it is fixed now, for good.
If you are reading this, then at least for now…it is.
You will be hearing more often from me now as we near the big opening for the Granary Gallery Show…This year that date will be August 5.
I’ve been working full tilt at the easel, almost non-stop since last November, and you’ll see the results very soon.
In the meantime, I hope your gardens are glorious, your souls are finding peace, and there is laughter in the air around you.