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.
Not sure if it’s the finch or her perch but this tender glancing gesture reminds me of a little poem by Micheal Longley…
after the irish
she is the touch of pink on crab apple blossoms and hawthorn and she melts frost flowers with her finger
“There are no secrets we keep from our shoes.” – 16 x 20
Always willingly, but quite unknowingly, Zoe helped me tell a story which I’d been wanting to tell for many many years…
Shortly after his wife Polly died my pal Ted brought down from the attic tied together with one sturdy twined string a pair of purple suede pumps, saying Polly had wanted me to have these.
Then he told me the story that, when on a trip to San Francisco, they had bought this pair of shoes for a special occasion and Ted, being Ted, had gussied them up with some sparkly silver painted swirls and they, the Meinelts and their shoes had danced the night away.
When it came time to pack for the trip home the shoes wouldn’t fit in their suitcase. So, Polly being Polly, she slapped some shipping labels on the soles tied them together with that twine and dropped them in the closest US Mail box.
In gifting them to me I understood that the torch of a challenge had been passed.
Over the years the sparkle paint has faded but the purple of those pumps has kept on popping that story into my creative consciousness.
Along the way, and true to form, the Muses threw a title down like a gauntlet…
While listening to Alexander McCall Smith’s The #1 Ladies Detective Agency series, a perennial studio favorite, the character Mma Grace Makutsi, she who graduated at 97% in her secretarial class, utters the line.. “There are no secrets we keep from our shoes.”
The context is a bit complicated to explain and if you’ve read this far in these painter’s notes then you probably are already familiar with the conversations Grace has with her shoes, and if you aren’t then you are in for a treat as I believe there are up to 19 books in that series now and no, I cannot remember well enough to credit the exact volume in which this line appears, apologies to Mr. Smith.
What is relevant for our story here is that I stopped the flying brushes and wrote that line down on a scrap of paper which has made the cut on every list in each sketchbook since of what I want to paint next.
So… when Zoe was visiting the studio last summer and she had emptied the drawer of all the aprons and had carefully tied each one of them on one on top of the other, and she asked if I had any shoes to go with her outfit…
well there ya go.
It wasn’t until she took a break from all that cooking and collapsed with a hrrrumph into the comfy easel chair and propped up her exhausted and aching feet and the muses veritably SCREAMED at me that I…finally…had my way in.
I don’t know whether this train will take her all the way to Botswana but I know with all my heart that in her dreams… those shoes are dancing.
While I sit here in the studio, awaiting the plumber, who will help me address the water which is pouring out of a busted pipe in the basement below my feet.
These unexpected pauses, jolting the daily drive train of a creative workflow, still unnerve me… there are decidedly a scarce few things which fill me with more dread than having to go down to the basement.
But, with Pat’s steady backup, I have conquered that stage of the drama and the power has been cut off from the errant water pump and, as I mentioned, the trusty plumber is on the way.
Which gives me that rare moment… the unexpected pause between crisis and resuming of normal play and I am filling this one by paying forward a gift.
Last night, after a long day, a message popped up on my phone from one among you who are followers that I have never met, but whose name I recognize from the occasional gift of a “like” response to a posting here or there.
She wrote that she follows my work and she had read a poem which, for some reason, made her think of me… Pat looked at me from across the sofa and asked why I was crying… I read the poem outloud, and we were both in tears.
So this pause is by way of a thank you to K, for stopping to share the gift of this gracefully moving beauty and her own kind words, and to remind myself to take a deeper breath and let the muses take the wheel today.
We here in the studio are sorting and packing and tweaking and altering as we get ready to roll northward for the Granary Gallery Show Opening on Sunday.
Humble appreciations for your patience as the website is being updated, our tech guru uses the word migrated which just sounds lovely. He has been our hero this week, rock solid and unflappable, as there are always some bumps in the road to progress and he is still answering my emails, even as the early bird catches her worms. ( I’m playing with the “migration” thing there…says the bleary eyed artiste…) Blessings upon you Ross.
Another HUGE, absolutely HUGE shout out of gratitude to pals Matt and Paul for not only offering, but actually showing up within minutes of my request for help. They came toting kayaks, as I had interrupted a float on the nearby lake, and swiftly and oh so carefully loaded the paintings into the trailer for us.
That is always a tricky part of this process, as the work of an entire year gets packed in a tiny aluminum box that needs to transport them safely over land and sea for their big reveal. It was shear bliss, in the hot and humid afternoon, to have two strong young men take on the hardest bits of that job. Their kindness and grace has cemented our friendship.
I’ve been instructed to scroll throughout the website and look for problems. Talk about asking for trouble. There are some glitches which we are addressing, again about the patience, but some unexpected feelings are popping up as well.
When sorting through 18 years of paintings, you are also reviewing the last 18 years of your life. Wasn’t expecting that, so I find myself swirling in emotional detours. Mostly pleasant, often happy, but with some pop-up grieving and twinges of longing mixed in.
Among many of the “missing” links we are scrambling to fix, I found a few golden oldies that tie in with some of this year’s paintings…
Lighthouse Wake – which shows the channel between Chappy and the Lighthouse.
In this year’s painting, Anchored in Autumn, I tweaked that a bit and moved the lighthouse just a few hundred yards to the left so I could get it in the composition. On the actual panel it was inches.
Then there was the year of the birds… And one of my personal favorites,
The Gutting –
This is a working dockside view of the Edgartown Yacht Club. The Vose Boathouse sits out of this frame but off to the right.
Where we are looking directly at it sitting there all happy to be in the water on a bright sunny day.
To be completely honest, there were many paintings upon my wild reviewing this morning that I had totally forgotten I had ever painted.
I’m sure it’s the stresses over the last few days… as I am equally certain it is the slippage of my aging gears.
But it is interesting to take some measure along the journey from there to here of my life behind the brushes.
Stay frosty out there my friends, our little family is all the better for you being in the world.
“When you look at some faces, you can see the turbulence of the infinite beginning to gather to the surface. This moment can open in a gaze from a stranger, or in a conversation with someone you know well. Suddenly, without their intending it or being conscious of it, their gaze lasts for only a second. In that slightest interim, something more than the person looks out.” John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
My pal Alex, the philosopher fisherman, is a muse of the most mysterious kind.
He arrives unannounced, on silent feet, and rings the bell hanging ourtside my studio door…once. One clear ring. And never when I am listening for it, so it’s always a gift.
He is never empty handed. Most often a fishing pole is leaned against the porch, with a bit of tackle, or a turtle or a golf ball or the bottom shard of an old bottle… and then we talk.
Picking up right where we left off, even if it was a year ago, the conversation flits about according to where his curious eyes land or where my wandering mind does.
It can bounce around all day, or sit solidly on something heavy for a while. All topics are worthy of our examination and his curiosity is contagious.
One day during the summer he was 14 he came bearing a turtle. “I thought you would like to paint this” I wasn’t entirely sure, but brought my camera out, rather than the turtle in, and he held it in the sunshine for me to see.
It was a beautiful creature with patterns and colors that we studied under the tutelage of his vast knowledge of local nature. He and his subject were reverential of each other and I was just there to record.
It was a while before I saw him again, and in the interim I sorted through those photos to see if anything connected with the brushes.
What snapped my heartstrings was his face. The presence and the peace that was a young boy just beginning to tip into adolescence.
I made some notes and put it aside.
The next time I saw Alex, was a hot summer afternoon. He had been fishing after a morning of chores and was shirtless and sunburned with the creek dripping off of his sneaks.
The muses struck… What wasn’t working from that first photo shoot was that he had been wearing very dark eyeglasses. I asked him to pose again as now I could clearly see all of his face.
So we found a turtle sized rock and tried to recreate the scene.
And then another year went by.
I found myself reviewing the two sets of photos, knowing it was time to work on this painting. But what I had before me was a dramatic contrast.
Alex holding the turtle was clearly a young boy. Alex holding the turtle stone was absolutely a young man.
I really labored over this one. In the end I decided to do both, eventually the turtle will surface.
But I had been reading the poetry of John O’Donohue, the brilliant poet from Ireland, and came across his writings On Beauty. Just slayed me.
And centered me squarely on this gentle face. The landscape of this young man written across that brow brimming with confidence pale cheeked innocence fading into those widening sunwashed shoulders.
Here is my handsome Muse only last week taming another wild creature on my studio porch.
Anna Kuerner and her husband Karl immigrated from their home in Germany to Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania.
Together with their growing family, they farmed a hillside which now is filled with buttercups in the spring.
I stood amongst those buttery yellow harbingers on a warm afternoon in May studying the wide stuccoed front porch of their 19th century farmhouse and noticed a break in the solid rectangular lines of the main house.
Around back when you first step into the kitchen this doorway is to your left.
Through it you can see a passageway from the kitchen and then the window and on into the room.
Karl built this woodshed attached to the house so that Anna, who insisted on cooking with a wood fired oven, would not have to go out in inclement weather to fetch her fuel.
On this stormy creek flooding weather heavy day…
I’d say there’s a special kind of love in that gesture.
PS- Pat requested a second blog post today. It’s been a tad stressful here and she says that these posts make her happy. So, here ya go Babe. Love, me.
I was interviewed early this spring by Libby Ellis and the Q and A session has been published for your reading pleasure…click on the painting below, grab a teacup of your choice and get a peek into my studio adventures…