Friday, July 30, 2010


Summer vacation

Well, as you may have noticed, I haven't been blogging of late. And I've recently decided to take the rest of the summer off. I thought I'd better post a note to that effect, though, in case anyone has been checking in and wondering. Let's get away from our computers and enjoy the rest of the summer, as short as it is. Fall is already in the air, today. I'm looking forward to wearing jeans and sweaters again. And lugging wood. And drinking cup after cup of hot tea to help keep warm. But not just yet! During the recent run of splendid hot weather I've been out painting nearly every day, in much-loved and often-revisited locations, then coming home in the evenings and reading art books for consolation, when my paintings fall short of the beauty of the landscape itself. Which happens every damn time. Luckily, this only makes me want to go out and try again, the next day. I don't get discouraged easily.

Besides art books, I've been doing some desultory summer reading. But believe it or not, most evenings I'm too tired from being out all day, which often involves hiking somewhere with canvases and my heavy pack basket of paint and supplies. This means that the pile of books on my bedside table has only grown higher. In fact, I moved most of it over to the top of the dresser, because I was afraid the weight of the pile would tip the table, which is small and old and a bit rickety. When September approaches, I promise a return to regular posting. Until then, happy summer, dear readers.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Journals and diaries, some personal, some not so much?

I know I've written on this theme before, but I'm still mulling over the differences between journals and diaries. Besides semantics. My latest unprofessional hypothesis: I suppose diaries are the most personal documents of all, written with no one else in mind, written (among other reasons) to unload some of the baggage we carry around with us like so many steamer trunks full of all of our past possessions and experiences - those trunks sure gets heavy sometimes - while journals perhaps are best kept on particular themes or for more specific reasons than merely the unloading of the cumbersome luggage. My diaries are extremely private. My journals however, well, here I am writing one in public. The one that has become my book journal, and now my art journal, for the most part.

So, I keep a personal handwritten diary and a typed book blog. And I know I've mentioned once or twice that I also keep a handwritten garden journal. Almost three years have passed since we bought our house and inherited the gardens and plantings here, and each season we've modestly added to both. I was so excited to get my hands back in the dirt after far too many years of city living without so much as a pocket handkerchief's worth of lawn to tend. So the joy I felt and still feel had to find some kind of an outlet. I've always been this way. Something wonderful happens (or something terrible) and I want to chronicle it and explain to myself how I feel about it. Get it down, somehow. The garden journal took me by surprise - I started out merely wanting to make a few notes about what is planted where, that first spring we were here and were still discovering what was emerging from the ground. Make a few maps of the perennials, note where the bulbs were, that kind of thing. Then I started sketching a few things in, with the same fountain pen I write the text with, then I colored in the sketches with colored pencils. No underdrawing, just a rough sketch and some color and text. I realized quickly that this activity felt very similar to using coloring books when I was little, which I loved. But now I'm creating my own and I must say it's an extremely satisfying activity.

The garden journal has evolved into a chronicle of the seasons here. Maple syrup time, when the berries ripen, when to dig up potatoes, reminders not to be sad when the lilacs are over because something else equally beautiful is happening immediately after they go by. All this activity means when there's something great going on in the garden, I can often be found sitting outside sketching it into the journal. Ryan caught me between rain showers this weekend - one more heavy downpour and the delphiniums were going to break like matchsticks, despite my cobbled-together staking job. I was out there to see what I could see, before it was too late:

Then I looked up and saw Ryan, who brings a goofy smile to my face, no matter what the weather:

The sketching is done, and I'm trying to match the delicate colors of the blue-purple flower petals, which is impossible, but still, I made a valiant attempt. Which is all I ever hope for:

The finished page has more text and color and is a good approximation of what I think I saw:

All this chronicling. Do diarists ever know why they do it, really? Some days I'm not sure and I worry it's all a bit too obsessive. It keeps me busy, I know that, all this writing and drawing. And of course my paintings are also a diary of sorts. Pretty much everything I have to say about everything appears somehow in each one. It's a mystery to me, but it keeps happening. And as long as it does, probably longer, I think I'll be out there looking and trying to get it down somehow, in whatever form I can.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Bookmen's holiday

Three book bloggers in one room, in rural Maine - what are the chances? Apparently good, when two of them (Ian and Malcolm) kindly go out of their way to track down a reclusive third (yours truly) at her home. A fourth should have traveled here with them but circumstances dictated otherwise, and his presence was deeply missed. Yet, what a rare afternoon we managed to have, talking and looking over books, some fine and not-so-fine, some scarce and medium rare, and some quite common yet somehow loved best of all. It was wonderful to express bookish enthusiasms in person, aloud. Usually they reside among the quieter kinds of happiness, the internal ones, unspoken. Sometimes written, but not that often. And certainly not always among people who completely understand. Because they have it as bad as I do, if not worse, that book-love we suffer from so willingly.

Do you believe that two of the three of us also collect booksellers' tickets? I wonder about the fourth, I've never asked him. (Consider that a leading question, my dear, if you happen to read this.) Even higher odds. I ask you.

Ian has a few photos on his blog, of our visit and the rest of their day. Looking at these, I knew I wasn't the only stop on their bookmen's tour of the downeast coast, but it certainly seems as if I should have politely requested that they stop here first. And then not so politely demanded that they bring me along! Perhaps next time.

Thank you, bookmen. I will treasure the memory of the two of you here. Would that it could have been three of you. Let's make sure it's not the only time such a thing ever happens.

Thursday, July 01, 2010


Books on bedside tables

My working vacation last week was a joy. I painted my heart out and brought it home on canvas. During my last evening on the island I sat in a hammock chair on the big porch of one of the old island houses, atop a cliff facing the sea, and watched the full moon rise over the neighboring islands. No one else was on the island except the caretaker, staying in the house on the opposite side of the island from me. I felt like a ghost. A happy ghost haunting a beautiful place, well satisfied with the week's work, collecting a reward in golden moonlight.

During the week I did some reading in the evenings, by kerosene lantern light. Poetry books by Raymond Carver and Mary Oliver were on the beside table. Charles Hawthorne, too, Hawthorne on Painting. Those are books I've mentioned before, as the ones I take on most trips. They are thin and light and say pretty much everything that needs to be said. Or at least everything I most need to hear.

The morning after the full moon, I packed up and came home - nothing lasts forever, which is as it should be - and here I am again, business as usual, facing the pile of unread and half-read books waiting for me. On the bedside table at the moment:

A biography of Margaret Wise Brown, Awakened by the Moon, by Leonard S. Marcus (Quill 1999)

A History of the English Church and People, Bede (Penguin reprint)

Early Boston Booksellers 1642-1711, George Emery Littlefield (a 1969 Burt Franklin reprint of the 1900 Club of Odd Volumes first edition)

The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth by Roy Andries de Groot (Ecco reprint)

The Bakers' Big Book by Mary and Margaret Baker (Dodd, Mead 1941)

A New York Times book of Sunday crossword puzzles

A nearly-full moleskine journal

That about sums up what I'm most interested in: books, authors, words, food, painting, religion, poetry, stories. Not necessarily in that order.

In The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth, de Groot explores the history and cuisine of a remote valley in the French Alps, La Grande Chartreuse. He tells us that the derivation of this place name word is "...a few huts which the Romans defined as catursiani. The word meant 'a little house where one is alone in an isolated and wild place.' The word has remained. It became chartreuse. The Roman settlement is today the village of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse." (p.9) My copy of this book is secondhand, naturellement, and the person who owned it before I did underlined this passage. Coming as I just have from being alone in a little house in an isolated and wild place, I read this while beaming with pleasure and sympathy. In the introduction de Groot talks of his "deepest sense of relief" upon being able to spend time in this remote and natural landscape (p.viii), and again I smiled with recognition.

Next on the horizon: summer. Painting outside and upstairs, delivering paintings to exhibits, weeding the garden, attempting to sell books, buying at friends-of-the-library book sales, saving pennies ahead for the winter fuel bills. Life seems very full, for such a quiet place. In immediate news, I have a show opening in Blue Hill tomorrow evening, July 2, 5-7 p.m., at Handworks Gallery. Twelve recent paintings. I am just at the stage today, the day before, of worrying if anyone will attend and if I will sell any paintings. (You know, the usual.) Although the latter is not much of a worry, thanks to a dear old friend on the west coast who already called the gallery and purchased two paintings, bless her.

The books on the bedside table help keep these worries at bay, also. They always have. What's on your bedside table, I wonder?

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