odd things of summer

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Odd Things

My journal is like a button drawer full of odd things. On the left hand side there is often a zigzag line or S curve shape with beads or barbs and a list of people seen or things accomplished. I started out with landscape drawings but this year's book is square, so I shifted to four freehand squares per page to catch fish and reflections, my morning cup of coffee, an afternoon swim, or an evening moon viewing.

crw-heron island-2017-01.jpgThese images are done quickly with a non-photo blue pencil or some water-soluble color. Then I go back and add more color playing with different rules in my head. For a few days I first drew in yellow, then went back with red and finally finished with blue. I added water and then another round of black lines for definition. Some days I just shade with a black graphite pencil while other days color is used intuitively. I rewrite my captions later, tracing over the first round, making them more legible and voluptuous. Misspellings look fine until they don't. I find a few minutes here and there, perhaps a morning that yawns a bit empty or an evening that hangs back.

crw-heron island-2017-02.jpgOne day we had a delicious lunch where we ran into friends and then on the way back to the island stopped at the salvage store, Liberty Tools, where I found a drawer of aging cloth doll parts next to drill bits. Then there were a set of mysterious drawers with odd labels: left handed kanuter pins,  sharp things, and peyote buttons.

crw-heron island-2017-03.jpgThese images are not "good," my portraits of friends and family are not agreeable, my sketches of reflections are not graceful, but all are a record of my hand and my summer. My book is a little like the drawers at Liberty Tool, full of left handed pins, painting parts, and wild dreams. I laugh as I show friends my book. "This is what I did on my summer vacation," amusingly reminiscent of those terrible essays we had to write in elementary school.

crw-heron island-2017-04.jpgBut I like the concoction of clues and omissions, quotes and patterns, evidence of each of my days for six weeks. I have been good at adding the day of the week and the date. I capture the orange chair on the deck and the view from the so-called island post office. There's Nina with her 18-month old nephew on the rocks at dusk. I have been making little records of boat shapes and angles of the dock at different tides. I take photos and make quick sketches of found sculpture on the shore, the turkeys on my walks, shells that end up at the house, and even the pie that we ate for breakfast.

crw-heron island-2017-05.jpgWhat's In My Journal

Odd things, like a button drawer Mean

thing, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.

But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.

Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous

discards. Space for knickknacks, and for

Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.

Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected

anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind

that takes genius. Chasms in character.

Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above

a new grave. Pages you know exist

but you can't find them. Someone's terribly

inevitable life story, maybe mine.

--William Stafford, "What's in My Journal" from Crossing Unmarked Snow, © Harper Collins, 1981

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#21 summer solstice 2017

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I walked to the top of the driveway after sunset to see the bright color behind the silhouetted trees. The fireflies were bright spots in the wet, dark green of deep shade. The only problem with doing this project is that it makes me acutely aware of the longest day and so now the shortening days.

21 summer 2017.jpgBounding wet dark

and the fields are wet too,

the grass, the questions

we press together to answer.

You are the last candle from the barn

I blow out. Sunday wish,

we are alive

only a short time. What is the purpose

of a field if not to lie in it

--Jacques J. Rancourt, from "Bounding Wet Dark," Novena (Pleiadas Press, 2017)

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#20 summer solstice 2017

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When I make my poem plates I root through the boxes of my mother's archives. She had a poetry group that met periodically and I find xeroxed versions of poems paper-clipped together. There are also hand scribbled versions and revisions. I transcribe her words through sifted ash or clay and print them so they end up reversed in the clay. I take the insubstantial words that came from my mother's mind and press them into the shape of a plate. Her life feeds mine. Her words create shadows of lines, direction, and song in clay.

20 summer 2017.jpgA writer's work
is with the insubstantial word,
the image that can only find
its being in another's mind.
We work with water, with the wind,
we make and hold no thing at all.
All we can ever shape or sing
the tremor of an untouched string,
a shift of shadows on the wall.
--  Ursula K. Le Guin, from "Writers," Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 20012)

#19 summer solstice 2017

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It's my birthday today and instead of doing anything special I have been doing mundane things like going to the dump. I also found a poem about apples that made me think of my mom. Images of her pregnant with my younger brother have been popping into my mind as I clean and organize. I have been thinking about how she makes my birthday possible; how when I was pregnant with Zoë my perspective on birthdays dramatically shifted.

So I moved a yellow daylily in my mom's honor. She had bought me various daylily varieties when we first bought our land and I am now slowly shifting a flowerbed. The lily in my mom's memory reminded me of spreading lilies when we spread her ashes. At that time she been losing her memory. She would lose the salad, new potatoes from the farmers' market, names and keys. Making drawings of apples and geraniums was her best connection to the moment. So much better than cleaning for the onset of family visitors. When we were in Maine the place and way we lived reminded her of her childhood memories of camp. She would tell us over and over about going to summer camp. I remember wanting to walk and write about all the stories she told me but that was the year that I realized her memory of recent activity was gone. Her memories of camp were more vibrant than the name of a friend. When we walked I had to let go of who she had been before. My way of relating to her was outdated. She taught me to be in the present moment. She taught me to look at the lilies, the sunset and the lit candles at dinner. She taught me to love children's books and to take time to put flowers in a cup on a table. Reading her poems now almost thirteen years after her death reminds me how outdated my thinking was when she was alive. I didn't understand how much she understood and how much she captured in her poems.

19 summer 2017.jpgSummer Apples

I planted an apple tree in memory
of my mother, who is not gone,
but whose memory has become
so transparent that she remembers
slicing apples with her grandmother
(yellow apples; blue bowl) better than
the fruit that I hand her today. Still,
she polishes the surface with her thumb,
holds it to the light and says with no
hesitation, Oh, Yellow Transparent . . .
they're so fragile, you can almost see
to the core. She no longer remembers how
to roll the crust, sweeten the sauce, but
her desire is clear--it is pie that she wants.
And so, I slice as close as I dare to the core--
to that little cathedral to memory--where
the seeds remember everything they need
to know to become yellow and transparent.
--Cathryn Essinger. Her most recent book is What I Know About Innocence from Main Street Rag Press.  

#18 summer solstice 2017

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I ended the day by digging up my garlic. I remember four years ago standing on the edge of a trip while the kiln cooled. I was undecided, was it too soon to pull my garlic? In the end I decided it was better to be early rather than too late. The planned five day get-away turned into three weeks as I sat with my dad who had had a heart attack. He hung on for a bit and finally passed away. My dad always thought father's day was a corny Hallmark contrivance, but I am happy to honor all the Dads in our orbit. Twas lovely to have a surprise visit from our daughter and her fiance, to linger on the porch and to jump in the pond as if it is full-on summer.

18 summer 2017.jpgWhat matters is precisely this; the unspoken at the edge of the spoken.
--  Virginia Woolf, from a diary entry, 21 July 1912

#17 summer solstice 2017

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Today was the kind of humid Virginia day that makes you feel that you are parting the air when you walk. The day began with rain and wet grass then moved through puffy clouds into great breezes. But when you went to lift something or dig or walk the air moved in to fill the space behind you, a reminder that summer heat was at your back. Late in the day we moseyed to the pond with the intention of a dog walk. Yet the light was so perfect in its reflection and the breezes cooling with our feet in the water there was no reason to go anywhere else. Dinner on the porch with freshly dug new potatoes and a few other tasty bits was perfect punctuation for keeping our lives whole.

17 summer 2017.jpgIn a field

I am the absence

of field.
This is

always the case.

Wherever I am

I am what is missing.

When I walk

I part the air

and always

the air moves in
to fill the spaces

where my body's been.

We all have reasons

for moving.

I move

to keep things whole.

-Mark Strand, "Keeping Things Whole"

#16 summer solstice 2017

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Paulus Berensohn died yesterday. I have been thinking a lot about my own path, cleaning the studio and gallery, seeing cycles of work, habits of thought and the cycle of seasons. I took some time to flip back through his book Finding One's Way with Clay. It reminds me that when I first read it I thought I had to make a choice in what to study, whether it was dance, painting or pottery. Paulus' book and his life experience gave me an inkling that it was possible to let each discipline inform the next. A kinetic understanding of the material thinking involved in making pottery (the dance) is combined with the visual expression of an image (the painting) which in turn is informed by the potter's intimacy with clay. This three part mix is enriching, each vantage point contributing to a dynamic interaction.

16 summer 2017.jpg"There was no plan. What felt like stumbling as I lived it now appears to have its own logic, its own thread. Dancing took me to an appreciation for the movement of throwing clay. The exposure to clay's life story and it's energy slowed me to the intimacy of pinching, to no selling or exhibiting my work by giving it away or tithing it back to the earth"
--from an oral history interview by Mark Shapiro with Paulus Berensohn, March 20-21, 2009

#15 summer solstice 2017

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On Sunday night we went to a party in Pittsboro, North Carolina at  the potter Mark Hewitt's  house. I had last been there twenty years ago. The intrusion of time made its presence known.  I remember when we last visited Zoë was seven. She spent the night at her baby sitter's house here in Warrenton after school and it was fun for Warren and I to drive south instead of north. It was fun to have a night away from home and child and to imagine what if we had moved to North Carolina instead of Virginia. We made it in time for a late lunch at a long table outside with apprentices and friends. It was situated beautifully by his garden with big pitchers of water and a huge salad with hearty bread. The chairs were of different shapes and sizes. The tablecloth was checkered and soft as if it had been used many times. It seemed casual yet carefully orchestrated. Mark was having a museum opening that night which we attended and then afterwards to a dinner. We stayed the night at a motel.

I had first met Mark when I was twenty and he was the apprentice to a famous potter in England. I had hitchhiked to Devon, England and walked the last few kilometers to Michael Cardew's house. It was down a beautiful country lane and the first thing I encountered was this tall young man with curly brown hair carrying two big pitchers of water back to the house. He invited me in and we had a simple lunch with tea. He let me wander around the pottery while he went back to work. Michael was away and Mark let me know that as an apprentice it was not all potting. There was lots of garden chores and household up-keep. I think he was weeding that day as well as recycling clay. At the end of a lovely afternoon he drove me to a beautiful youth hostel on the coast where the sun was setting. The hostel was full, but they let me pull out my sleeping bag in a shed on an old mattress and use the bathroom to brush my teeth and the kitchen to make some tea to have with my cheese and bread. It was the time in my life when I was traveling with a backpack and a notebook looking for the way to my path in life. I had a dream of becoming an apprentice but after meeting Mark I decided that either your grandfather and the potter's grandfather had to be school chums or you just had to arrive on the day when someone had just quit. And so far neither had happened so I was heading home to NYC to make some money and go back to school.

At this Sunday night party there was a dinner with another beautiful salad, a huge loaf of rough peasant bread, polenta, giant white beans with herbs and garlic and lots of different styles of pickles and cheese. I sat back on a bench in the dark and looked at the silhouette of Mark's barn, the kilns shed and a few giant pots balanced in perfect placement against the mowed fields. The place was flawlessly manicured, the roses trimmed, the boards weathered and dirt floor packed. Not a thing out of place. All the choices we had each made to get to this point in time seemed like a distant yet vibrant memory.

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"Occasionally I lean forward and gaze into the water. The water of a pond is a mirror of roughness and honesty - it gives back not only my own gaze, but the nimbus of the world trailing into the picture on all sides. The swallows, singing a little as they fly back and forth across the pond, are flying therefore over my shoulders, and through my hair. A turtle passes slowly across the muddy bottom, touching my cheekbone. If at this moment I heard a clock ticking, would I remember what it was, what it signified?"
--Mary Oliver from her book of essays, Upstream

#14 summer solstice 2017

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I am catching up in the garden, pulling out the bolted lettuce. It is as if the June heat gave every plant, weed and seed a boost of energy. The scattering of shade created poems of light and shadow in the long June day.

14 summer 2017.jpgWith shadows I draw worlds,
I scatter worlds with shadows.
I hear the light beat on the other side.
--  Octavio Paz, from "This Side," The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz: 1957-1987, trans. Eliot Weinberger (New Directions, 1987)

#13 summer solstice 2017

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After driving beside the Blue Ridge Mountains--through rain, sun and humidity--rehashing the North Carolina woodfire conference, we returned to thirsty plants and piles of peas. I watered the garden in the last light with the company of fireflies.

13 summer 2017.jpg"The cloud is free only to go with the wind. The rain is free only in falling."
― Wendell Berry

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