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Posts Tagged ‘art’

On most days, I take my Dog for a short hike at the Mount Tom Reservation in Holyoke, MA, a short distance from my home. There’s a loop that we frequently do that takes us up the slope through the woods and then down and over the brook and finally along the edge of Lake Bray. It’s beautiful in any season.IMG_5172

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As is the case in most of these well maintained, and accessible pseudo-wildernesses (aka State Reservations), one is likely to have the most encounters with other humans somewhere not too far from the parking lot. Indeed, yesterday’s walk included an encounter with a couple who were clearly headed back to their car. It was a week day. It was the first surprisingly warm bright spring day at the tail end of an insultingly long winter. The fellow was in shorts and called out to me “Great day, huh? Can you believe it? There’s NOBODY here!”

Well that was pleasant – people getting out in the sunshine, Dog gets to be wiggly and happy as she makes new friends. And I’m thinking, “I’m here, you’re here, I bet that bear and her cub that I saw last time is still here.”

Our walk takes me south and up the slope under the hemlocks where I spotted the emergence of springtails last winter on a warm day after a late December snow. I will have to remember to point the spot out to P, who knows which mushrooms are edible. Apparently, where there are springtails (snow fleas), there are mushrooms. I know little about foraging, but have the pleasure of knowing a bona fide hunter-gatherer, so I hope to learn something eventually. I have an observant nature. I think that might be an advantage.

Dog and I cross the convergence of seasonal streams that I amuse myself by calling Three Rivers. There is actually a town near here that is called Three Rivers. I am sure that “Shorts Man” would conclude that NOTHING happens in either place. This Three Rivers is simply a point in the landscape where water runs off  the slope in three rivulets as it heads inevitably for Lake Bray. In the fall, one might not even notice it. But this spring, the crossing inspired me to get some waterproof hiking boots. There is a vernal pool as well, and I am curious to see what I may see there as the spring progresses.

I am still having a language moment.”There’s NOBODY here!” Interesting choice of words, that.

Dog and I have passed the place, where, on our last walk, we watched a mama bear and her crying cub descend the slope, left of the trail, toward the lake. I was relieved that young Dog neither bolted nor made chase, but stood apprehensively, breathing deeply against the back of my leg. I have raised a cub of my own, and so I know, that if Baby is that whiny, Mama is not to be in a good mood either.

Past Three Rivers, we flush a Pileated Woodpecker. Mostly, I see the flash of red crest. I see a pair of them now and then, and hear their thrumming regularly. This is a bird that is still so amazing to me that it elicits images of mystical majesty tempered by cartoon celebrity. It’s big, but I assume it’s not an Ivory Billed. That is truly the stuff of fantasy. Off to my right, the landscape ascends through a deciduous forest, where I have spotted deer on a number of occasions. Beyond the crest of the trail, I have seen their foot prints in the snow. The snow is gone by now, but still Dog’s interest is piqued.

At the bottom of the hill, there is a small wooden bridge over water that flows year round into the lake. Dog crosses it every time as if it’s her first time. I have yet to really get inside her brain about this one. We head north again. There is one last hill to climb before the trail gracefully descends toward the lake. Dog stops to contemplate the reptilian chorus of peepers off to our left. Not a bear, probably not a predator. What? This is her third spring, her first spring walking this trail. We are approaching the marsh at the upper end of the lake. It’s still too early for turtles sunning themselves on logs. Too early for copperheads. I’m ok with that.

Another bridge and I am on the last stretch of trail heading for the parking lot. The lake is to the right. I am eagerly awaiting signs that someone is inhabiting the new nesting box at the upper end of the lake. I’ve seen a pair of Mallards but I’m not sure if the box is intended for them. Somehow, I don’t think so. I am humbled by my ignorance.

I’m not sure what “Shorts Man” meant by “nobody”. I suspect it’s relative. I am already making a plan for the rest of my afternoon. I don’t have any clients scheduled, which means I will have some concentrated work time . Dog, no doubt, will be napping.

5213e11ae5228adc62d7d4c5a420bf0b      Credit: Tyler Breton, violinist and photographer extraordinaire

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Most of my friends know I’m not a big talker. If I had two dozen words to spend in a day, I would probably make do without serious hardship.  There are those I know, who would spend that just saying hello. This is not a judgement, just an observation. I have even gone so far as to exclaim in the midst of an emotional argument: “Words are NOT my friends!”  The irony is that I find words, and language, fascinating.

Today, for instance, I had occasion to order a specialty product from a small company with the word “University” in its name. So when the person taking my order said something like “sorry, them are on back order, we ain’t gonna have them for a couple of weeks”, I sat up straight. Seriously? She was. Serious.

Sometimes I wonder how anyone ever understands anything anyone else is saying. The truth is, I completed this particular transaction in short order: no problems, no misunderstandings. Absolutely pleasant. Would I do business with them again? You betcha!

It occurs to me that, in the Language Arts, there is nothing even so definitive as a color wheel. As a child, my fifth grade classroom played Mad Libs:

Teacher: “We need an adverb, a word that ends in ‘ly'”!

Student: “Ugly”!

No, I scream inside, that won’t work! But it follows the rule. “Ugly” it is.

I was an early reader, and left to my own devices, I formulated plenty of language “truisms” that haven’t held up over the years. For instance, the word “misled” in my child’s mind was pronounced ‘mīzeld, rather than mis’led. DownloadedFileWell, anyone can be misled, including me. So imagine my delight when I heard this on New England Public Radio recently. It’s worth listening to all the way.

If language is an art, then surely that implies, at the very least, a certain amount of malleability. These days, friend is a verb, and even more recently, I’ve discovered that creative is a noun. Not only that, but I, apparently, am one. A creative, that is.

In my role as a creative, I friend numerous violinmakers and restorers from other countries. I like this about my chosen field. But, as one can imagine, from the difficulties arising from speaking English amongst English speakers, another layer of fascination and delight arises in the attempt to communicate with speakers of other languages.

Once, in Trieste, we had planned  a visit to Gorizia, to see a retrospective exhibit of the work of a famous Italian fashion designer. As we left our twittering Italian comrades, Leslie said, “I think I just said we are going to see an exhibit of cabbages”. Mi dispiace, Signor Capucci!42570721Roberto-Capucc

In England, where I have now three times attended a violin restoration seminar, I once found myself perusing the aisles of a DIY franchise with three German colleagues, one of whom emphatically announced she was going to look for something with which to “clean out her crack”! That was funny enough but even funnier was the moment of enlightenment when her knowledge of English colloquialisms was enhanced just a notch.

For someone somewhat spare on words, I listen a great deal. It is one of my joys. I can only imagine that this is only the first of many posts to explore the grace and foibles of communicating with other humans.  Stay tuned. And please forgive my punctuation.

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Chopping has come up in a couple of conversations with women friends lately. Yes, chopping, not shopping, thank you. Since I am who[sic] I am, sometimes a word or an image repeated, even in completely different contexts, lights up some mysterious part of my brain. I got to thinking.

The friends in question and I are all artists/artisans. One friend mentioned that after working at a computer for an extended period of time, she needs to go into the kitchen and chop vegetables. Another friend had her work with a cutting tool admonished as being “choppy”, not to mention unbecoming her gender. What? I thought about how I enjoy a job that requires getting out my bamboo froe. More about that later.

In my view, the act of chopping means taking an edged tool in hand and inviting a certain blend of speed, momentum, and larger muscle groups to augment an already practiced partnership between the hand and the eye. For instance, tonight’s butternut squash was bisected with one formidable whack. Had I not spent much of  the day fine-fitting a ridiculously little piece of wood, I may have been happy to simply lean into the vegetable with my biggest knife, rocking with it until the blade hit cutting board. That squash got whacked and it felt gooood!

Now this post, begun in all innocence, is about to take a timely turn. Next Tuesday, we here, in the States, exercise our civic duty to stand behind the candidates of our choice. This is a privilege and, in my view, an obligation of the highest order. I have never missed an opportunity to vote. I consider myself a humanist, sometimes even an optimist. That said, I recognize my not-so-inner curmudgeon. People are basically self- interested and short-sighted jerks. I have been closing my ears against the barrage of measured lies and twisted truths. Unfortunately, there’s not a heck of a lot else to listen to. So I find myself trolling the neighborhood for places to be on Tuesday night, where I might  drink with abandon in case this election heads for the crapper.

The alternate title to this post was “Chopping Therapy 101”, which may help explain why this election digression is not totally a non sequitur. If I were still heating with wood, you can be sure I would be out there with my maul and axe reacquainting myself with my right-side rotator cuff. Instead, I chop vegetables. I use the biggest knife I have. I fit little pieces of wood all day and then split out a bunch of end blocks and bass bars. Whack! Here is the aforementioned bamboo froe: It’s a Japanese tool that is used for splitting bamboo. Someday, perhaps I will understand where it figures in terms of  Japanese craft and construction. It fits nicely in my hand, with a comfortable balance and confidence-inspiring heft. For me, it’s the tool I turn to when I need to be assured that the grain direction in a given piece of wood is appropriate to the purposes to which I am employing it. I use it to split out bass bar stock and also endblocks. I pick up a small hammer, position my froe, and  give it a whack. The split follows the grain line. There is no deception here.

Chopping exposes the nature of a material, the propensity of the tool and perhaps the mindset of the chopper. It’s an activity  that employs a kind of controlled abandon, or calculated wrecklessness. The perfect antidote to a day filled with the questionable minutiae of modern life.

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With only some regret, I’ve pulled the last of the tomatillo plants. And just tonight, while a handful of hot peppers are still turning orange on my windowsill, the last of the kale was consumed. Next year, I plant smarter, tend smarter, hopefully cook smarter and eat smarter. That’s what they all say! No traffic jams in the kitchen! Hah!

In any case, it’s almost time to put the garden to bed, and yet I keep finding the most interesting things out there.

I especially like this time of year for its odd mix of hope and resignation. I am relieved and delighted to see that the dogwood I planted just this year survived the drought and indeed has buds that I hope to witness in full flower next spring. If this baby tree had not survived, I would have been put in the awkward position of having a cosmic discussion with the Golden Retriever-in-a-can that I’d planted with it.

Likewise, the rhododendrons have buds, and the little peach tree, in spite of having lost all its fruit shortly after I planted it, seems to be healthy and willing. Sometimes it is wise to hunker down and focus on setting roots, even if it means passing on the flashy stuff.

As I walk in the woods and tidy the garden these days, I remember that there are things that are beautifully and inextricably entwined with their own decay.

It’s a good time of year to share a meal with friends, to visit children and aging parents. It is a good time of year to contemplate the dying and turn toward the living.

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I was planning to make pickles today, but since my source at the farmer’s market forgot about the request I submitted last week for a pile of cukes and fresh dill, my plan changed around 10 am this morning. I will NOT buy pickling cukes from Stop and Shop. I’ll wait for the next local market. If I’m really smart, I will make a note in my gardening notebook, which I never write in, and make sure that next year, I grow cukes. HOW could I be growing tomatoes, eggplants, greens, beans, peppers, kale, cabbages, brussels sprouts, tomatillos and NO cukes? Frankly, sometime last spring, after digging the second, or was it the third new bed in a relatively uncultivated property – vaguely, I remember flopping in the garden bench and thinking : “That’s it. Screw it!”

Now I’m sorry about the cukes, even though the pass on zucchinis was rather calculated. This time of year, in these parts, it’s almost impossible not to have a run in with a delicious, cheap zucchini that somebody else grew.

So instead of making pickles, which I will hopefully do next weekend, I engaged my tried and true decision making process, which is to seriously ask myself – what’s making me craziest, right now? It was the disarray of jars and varnishes, strewn about my back porch.

Three or four months ago I made fresh retouch varnishes. My own materials were low, but I was also preparing to teach a workshop, and so made up some fresh stuff to share with students. So today I finally  got around to finishing the project, which meant straining and dispensing the remainder in appropriately sized receptacles with labels and everything. The yield: about four times as much as I need. (Thank God I didn’t plant zucchinis).

This stuff is gold. I have about a three year supply, with plenty extra to share or use as leverage. The thing is, successful varnish retouch is largely about knowing your materials, so this is good. A relatively new facebook friend, and member of my community joked “Why 3 years? Is something happening in 2012 I should know about?” Not to worry. This is violin speak. Quintessentially slow art. I have wood in my attic that I bought years ago and may not use for years to come. If I’m smart, I’ll scribble “DO NOT BURN” just in case it outlives me.

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There’s an interesting thing that happens in the course of a restoration. Today it happened subtly, but in a moment. I recognized it as I shifted my tool and repositioned the violin top that I was working on. zzzzzzt! There it was, a sign of life.

I’ve been working on a lovely old violin that has suffered not only the effects of a couple hundred years, but also some serious misfortune at the hands of unskilled violin “repair” hacks. It was a sickening mess or a titillating challenge, you pick.

An instrument with multiple cracks, broken and deteriorated edges, loose bits of wood and a bad history with a glue pot, doesn’t vibrate. It buzzes, rattles, clacks and gasps or simply lies dead on the workbench. With a change of fortune it could become, yet again, a beautiful, healthy, vibrant and participating member of the performing arts scene. That’s my job.

zzzzzt! It’s not a sound, it’s a feel. Gradually, as the cracks are glued properly, and the loose bits are reinforced or replaced, my patient remembers that it was MADE to vibrate. In my hands, it feels like a nicely tightened drum head. Ready. Excitable. Alive.

More on this fiddle another time – stay tuned!

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Sweet Supplication Rain

We are in the midst of a worrisome drought. And although we, here in Holyoke, MA, are not in imminent danger, as our friends and family elsewhere in the States have been due to forest fire, it’s been dry, dry, dry.

Actually, I take back that part about imminent danger: the other night after 20 minutes of smelling smoke that I attributed to the neighbors up the hill, who have a fondness for their fire pit (not to mention an obsession with fireworks), I discovered my next door neighbor’s garage lit up like a jack o’ lantern. An undetected ember from the previous day’s grilling extravaganza had been deposited in their trash can and neatly stowed in the garage (thankfully NOT near the mower and gas can), awaiting our usual weekly trash pick up. Twenty four hours later it was fully aflame before they (and I) realized it. They hosed it down and everything’s fine, except for the molten wad of plastic rubbish bin. I watched.

Anyway, this was not meant to be (overtly) a cautionary tale. I have been thinking about the weather again. In my own way. I was thinking about a friend I had back c 1980 for a short bit. Her name was Vicky and her mother was a landscape artist. Vicky earned extra cash by offering a typing service (now that’s a thing of the past). I thought she was very clever because she called it Alice’s Typing Service and so whenever anyone called asking for Alice, she knew it was a business call. This was long before email, multiple phone lines and voicemail, and long before I had any reason to think about the pros and cons of separating my own business life from my personal life. No further comment.

Vicky’s mother was working in watercolors and had gained herself a reputation as a painter of  Prairie landscapes. Vicky was from Kansas. Maybe this painting of her mother’s was in her apartment (in Northampton, MA)? or maybe it was a framed print? I don’t remember, although there was certainly NOT an internet search involved, which is how I came up with it just now (I’m sorry it’s not a better rendering, it’s a beautiful painting):

Joan Foth
Storm Lifting, 1980
Cloud Light Series
watercolor on paper, 25 x 35″

I’m a native to the Northeast, USA, so this image got my attention. In the New England landscape that I am familiar with, that kind of horizontal just doesn’t happen unless you are standing on the shore of the Atlantic. Thirty two years later, I’m still thinking about this.

There’s an adage around here: if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. It’s changeable. Maybe even more so lately. But I also wonder: here in New England, with our hills and valleys, maybe we just don’t see it coming.

There was one time, when I stood on the cottage porch in Gloucester, MA, with Marianne, and we watched something happening way out on the surface of the ocean, that we didn’t understand, until it was suddenly evident that we were seeing serious weather headed our way. We had barely enough time to drag the porch chairs in (which would have been on their way to Liverpool) and set our shoulders against the casement windows which were already being beset upon by fierce winds and soaking rain. Is this what it’s like to live on the prairie? Is that what I’m missing here in NE – an ability to read the horizon?

This afternoon, we finally had some rain. Last night’s event was mostly a light show – enough thunder to send the dog panting under the bed, but not a lot of real juice. Today, the clouds rolled in and spewed huge drops of soaking rain along their trajectory through my northwestern sky, while the sun shone from the southwest. Sun, rain, shadows.

I’m afraid to wish for more. The last time I attempted to invoke the rain during a heat wave was about a year ago. It rained alright. And the storm drain out in the street backed up into my basement. Didn’t see that coming.

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