Bookish (the Blog)
Above: The Bridge , March 20, 2019
The graffiti under the bridge comes and goes. Eventually the road crews cover it over and then the graffiti is painted anew. The layers of paint create their own designs. “Drew” has been under the bridge all this past winter (2018-2019). Probably not to the young person who painted the name, but to me, “drew” seemed a pun on the act.
Yesterday, looking at “drew” for the umpteenth time, in a moment of inspiration, I saw a painting of my own in my mind! Could I realize it? I decided to try. And then, well, I was like a naturalist on the hunt for an exotic butterfly–alert, on edge, camera poised, waiting for my prey to appear, the perfect car to complement the graffiti.
Needless to say, this is the first time I have painted graffiti. Believe it or not, it’s the first time I’ve ever painted a car either!
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reflected interior lights; snow outside; December 5, 2016
the same sunset windows, almost forty years on . . .
Wall/ thru wall/ thru sky/ thru me
Transparent layers of color
Transparent layers of reality
The sunset, out there, at the edge of the sky
Colors I can’t describe
Sliding thru spectrums I can’t define.
The colors have no edges
Except where they touch the dark sky above
Or are cut by the black silhouettes of trees.
Me, trying to describe in words what can’t be described
Turned on the light
Creating my reflection in the glass
Hand on chin, pencil, paper, my bookcase behind
And I saw the sunset through the bookcase and through my head
Transparent layers of reality
Fading now into night.
January 5, 1980
Above, Early Morning, October 3, 2017, 6:28 a.m.
“If you make a practice or painting a sky every morning with the regularity you take your bath, you will find at the end of six months that you know something of its variations.” Alfred East, Landscape Painting
My cell-phone paintbrush… These three photos were all taken from near the same spot, on three consecutive days, at about the same time, in the forest preserve. The photo at the top of the page and the one just above were taken on the same morning, eight minutes apart. In those eight minutes, the sun had risen. How different each day is, and how fast the world changes…
Above, Spider Web on Bridge Railing, October 8, 2017
I have been recording books as a hobby since 2008. Rather than familiar topics, I tend to let my curiosity lead me to books which open my mind to new knowledge. Such is the case with the book I read for LibriVox in the fall of 2017: Spiders by Cecil Warburton. As I age, I am of the opinion that remaining curious is a survival necessity!
How I became curious about spiders and their webs begins with walking. For years now (it’s 14 years since I retired), I have taken a long morning walk in our local forest preserve. Most days, my ramble takes me across a pedestrian bridge, which you can see in the photo. This bridge crosses a small creek, and the creek’s flood plain.. The bridge has a wooden floor and heavy iron slab railings, which have rusted into a deep rich red-brown color.
For quite a few years now, I’ve noticed that the bridge railings were covered with spider webs. They glistened with dew in the early morning sun. I would admire the webs in passing, but I never actually examined any of them until I acquired a cell phone with a camera. Then I thought the webs might be interesting subjects for the camera’s close-up abilities, and I stopped to really “look” at a few of them. And, wonder of wonders, they were inhabited! There were handsome yellow and black spiders sitting majestically in the center of net domains, and there were tiny white spiders, not more than a quarter of an inch in size creating webs a foot in diameter! Just amazing!
I began to photograph the webs, trying to capture their artistry and the quality of “abstract, or “graphic” art which they conveyed to me. I included the spiders too, when I could (not, admittedly the easiest creatures to photograph). Then I began to read a little about spiders, starting with a selection called “The Circular Snare” for the 51st volume of the Librivox Nonfiction Collection. On my website page for this reading, you can see a spectacular circular snare.
The pedestrian bridge railings make a home for funnel web spiders. They stretch their webs out along an iron railing and hide their funnel between the railing and an upright post.
You can see a second, circular web in the background, with a small spider in its center!
Here are a few more of my readings prompted by “curiosity.”
Above, a Red Eft, my photo, July 31, 2018
August 12, 2018:
The other day, I called (on my land line) a carpenter who had been recommended to me to repair some woodpecker damage to the cedar siding on my house. I told him I’d lived here for 43 years, which was a sure give-a-way about my age. The carpenter said he could handle the job, and just to text him my name and address and he’d come out and give me an estimate. Then he stopped short and asked me over the phone: “Do you know how to text?”
Oh sure. I do text, sort of. I’ve concluded that my cell phone takes the letters more accurately if I use the side of my thumb than if I use my forefinger to punch the letters, but physically, and intellectually it’s a struggle to believe in the process. As to using speech input, I simply won’t go down that road. I try to keep up with technology, but much of the changes will never feel natural to me.
One of the most self-defeating aspects of aging is if you come to believe there will never be any more “firsts” in your life, that you’ve seen and experienced all that you can reasonably expect to see and do before you exit this earth. I’m not quite that self-defeating but it is seldom I have a really awesome “first” moment any more, which is where the Red Eft comes into the story. Actually, the Red Eft’s sighting turned out to be both a great “first” and “second!”
On July 31, 2018 at 7:57 a.m, I was taking my usual morning walk in our local forest preserve. I was crossing the parking lot in front of the old red barn, when I happened to look down at the pavement and saw a creature entirely new to me! It looked to be a red salamander, about 3″ long. Wow! This was exciting. I texted a photo of my find to one of the county naturalists and got back the following messages: “Cool! Pretty sure this is an eastern newt. I’m sending it on to our wildlife biologist. Great find!” And a few minutes later: “Just want you to know that this salamander, an eastern newt, is a very special find. Yours is only the second sighting of it here. Our wildlife biologist is thrilled (as am I)!”
A few more firsts: Yesterday (8/11/2018), on a whim, I decided to see how many different insects I could find on a stand of sunflowers along the path. In a minute or two, I’d photographed these
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Another “How many insects can you spot?” photo play. These pics were all taken on a clump of milkweed, August 19, 2018. What caught my attention was the monarch butterfly caterpillar curled on a leaf;
Then I spotted these milkweed bugs “frolicking” on another milkweed leaf.
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When I was a small girl, 7 or 8 years old, I made a list of what I didn’t like about grownups, with the intention of reviewing it in later life, so as not to be like that. Sadly, I lost the list somewhere along the way of growing up. However, I still have another similarly intentioned list, begun in 1997, outlining what I should guard against when I got “really old.” (I was 56 at the time.) “Don’t wear pink!” I admonished myself. To which I added in 1998 “Don’t still be working!” and in 1999 “I don’t want to be dissatisfied with my life because I don’t think I’ve done it all.”
Lists of negatives . . . not the best approach to planning one’s “later years,” but, then, envisioning how life is going to play out in retirement is difficult, probably impossible. Too many hours, days, years, too many unknowns. But without doubt, having some idea of what you’d like to “do” when you don’t have to work and thus “have time” would be helpful.
I did have one fixed idea of what I wanted to accomplish in retirement. I wanted to learn to draw. By this I suppose I meant learn to draw realistically and with linear perspective. What I couched in terms of learning a specific skill set was probably just a wistful yearning for some creative outlet, but in my mind, it was the one definitive project I was going to tackle when I retired. I began retirement in 2003 by buying a drawing kit that came with a pad of paper and a fancy box of pencils. And now here I am, 15 years later with a website celebrating the public domain audio books that I’ve recorded!
The impulse to express oneself through drawing or painting, must run deep in the human psyche, because the most popular book I have recorded for LibriVox is Sir Alfred East’s The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour. As of December, 2018, it has been viewed on the internet over 250,000 times. I picked East’s book to read because of his perceptive chapters on how to draw and paint.
One of the delights of East’s book are his pencil sketches–which, of course, cannot be seen in an audio recording.
East devotes a chapter to “Pencil Drawing from Nature.” He recommends a pencil with a thick lead and then goes on to say “do not attempt to sharpen it to a point. If you wish to get a thin line, use the edge of the lead. Touch lightly, and in the faintest possible manner, the salient features of the subject, the main contours and position of the masses. This should be the merest suggestion of an outline, and when you are satisfied, draw it in with courage, in big lines, with a firm, bold touch. Do not hesitate. Include only those things which are important, characteristic, and essential.”
East’s almost scriptural description of the drawing pencil and it use brought back to me, in sharp relief, childhood memories of my father. By training an engineer, my father was scrupulous about the care of his pencils, which he sharpened with a pocket knife. He too, favored a flat sided tip, good for drawing lines. I was rebuked if I so much as touched his drafting tools, and to keep me out of his pencil supply, he finally resorted to giving me, once a year, a box of a dozen Turquoise brand HB pencils in my Christmas stocking. There was no asking for more!
Alfred East is a proselytizer for the theory of practice makes perfect. “Never let anything prevent your drawing a little every day. It is necessary discipline . . . One’s hand grows sensitively obedient to the brain, and answers directly to one’s power of observation, like the touch of a musician’s hand upon the keyboard. . . Draw anything, everything. You may do it badly at first. Never mind. In a week or two you will be surprised at the progress you have made.” I like East’s enthusiasm.
Have I learned to draw? Well, no. But I’m not so much bothered anymore by my “failure” in that regard, because I’ve taken up oil painting . . . How this came about is one of those serendipitous changes of direction that can happen when you let them, I guess. In my case, it happened in 2014. I was 10 years into retirement and still hadn’t accomplished my “one” retirement goal. “Better get moving on it, Sue,” I said to myself, ” before it’s too late.” So I thumbed through our local park district’s newsletter with its cheery listing of self-improvement courses: “Lunch Break Yoga,” “Windows PC Troubleshooting,” and, yes, there was what I needed: “Fundamentals of Drawing.” I signed up.
Anyone can imagine what happened next–a call from the instructor. “They got the description all wrong; it’s not a drawing class; it’s an oil painting class.” I still took the class. This early oil, dated March 7, 2015, is one of my very few attempts at realism. At best, it illustrates my fondness for watermelon!
Sir Winston Churchill was another person who slipped, serendipitously, into oil painting as a pastime. I’ve recorded his enthusiastic story, Painting as a Pastime, for LibriVox. Churchill writes “If you need something to occupy your leisure, to divert your mind from the daily round, to illuminate your holidays, do not be too ready to believe that you cannot find what you want here. . . Buy a paint box and have a try.”
Above: Cattails along the edge of the pond, October 21, 2016
Familiar places can be magical sometimes. For me, yesterday (2/21/2017) the familiar place turned magical was a clump of cattails on the edge of the pond in the forest preserve. The pond itself is a quiet, beautiful spot, where there is always something to see at any season of the year.
In summer, the pond’s edge is alive with frogs that kerplunk into the water as I go past. Although I’ve tried, I’ve never been fast enough with my camera to catch a frog in a photo. I’ve had better luck with herons. (Addendum–see frog photo below!)
In winter, the pond is ice-covered.
A couple of years ago, the cattail clump held a surprise for me. The snake photo dates from May 4, 2015. I’m no wildlife photographer, so you have to use your imagination to see the hidden snake. But I stood entranced watching it from just a few feet away. We didn’t have big snakes like that in Seattle, where I grew up. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has an informative identification website, and looking through the photos there, I’ll guess “my” snake was a northern water snake, but whatever its name, it was a treat to see.
Yesterday (2/21/2017), the same cattail clump was again showing me its magic. As I approached, my impression was that the cattails looked rather “end-of-winter” ratty. The grass several feet out from the bank was trampled revealing dark muddy soil underneath. I thought the damage was caused by people or maybe by the Canadian geese. Then I spotted a muskrat! I’d never seen one up close before. There were actually two muskrats, and they put on quite a show, diving in and out of the cattails, and periodically running out on the bank for a nibble of grass.
A frog in the cattails, May 31, 2017
Tadpoles in the pond, April 28, 2017. I recorded a short piece about tadpoles for the 49th volume of the short nonfiction collection.
Above, Gertrude Reuter’s autograph book 1892-1896
At noon On April 19, 1892, the thunder of a cannon announced to the twenty-five thousand land-hungry “boomers” lined up at Fort Reno, Oklahoma Territory, that the race was on for parcels of free land on the former Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian reservation. My mother’s mother was one of the many Germans there that day. I know this because she had with her an autograph book, inscribed Gertrude Reuter, Fort Reno, Indian Territory, April 5, 1892. Gertrude had just recently arrived from Bremen, Germany, with her sister Emma. It would seem she came with a group of other young people, perhaps led by a pastor. She was unmarried, only 17 years old, and what, exactly, she expected to accomplish out there in Indian Territory, I have no way of knowing. My frustration at this unknowing is shared, I’m sure, by many of us who never talked to our immigrant grandparents about their early experiences in the United States.
I do know that Gertrude liked to collect autographs. There are two especially interesting ones from Fort Reno soldiers. “To my Friend Gertrude, I am ever your Friend, Joseph M. Wusthoff, Band 5th U.S. Cav.,” dated April 12, 1892, is one of them. Wusthoff penned, in addition to his signature, a two page, maudlin poem, written in a tight hand:
“Oh the love of that Heart forever
Shines over our life like sun
And makes us forget earthly losses
In the light of a Heaven won.
As grey mists rise up from the meadows
In the dawn of a summer day
In the love of that Heart our sorrows depart
And our trials and cares fade away.”
William Rider, also a member of the band, was more laconic in his entry, dated May 30, 1892:
Gertrude liked singing hymns, evidenced by references in her autograph book. Perhaps the band played concerts that she attended; or perhaps there was some mild flirtation going on.
Gertrude collected some 50 autographs. Almost all of them have the date and place where they were signed, but few give any hint of what was going on in Gertrude’s life. The entries, some in English, others in German, are mostly sentimental and religious. The dates and places, therefore, have to carry my imagination along.
The 1892 land venture must not have worked out, because the last 1892 entry from Fort Reno is dated June 23. By the 14th of July, 1892, Gertrude was in Evanston, Illinois. From Illinois, in a most telling move, she next went to Ocean City, Maryland. Ocean City was then, and still is, a resort town with a long stretch of sandy beach, facing out on the Atlantic Ocean. Here, on July 25, 1892, Gertrude wrote a page in the autograph book herself. Quoting poetry and hymns she must have known by heart, Gertrude unburdened herself:
Oh! Many a shaft at random sent
Finds marks the archer little meant,
And many a word at random spoken
May soothe or wound a heart that’s broken.*
What is Friendship but a name
A charm that lulls to sleep
A shade that follows wealth or fame
But leaves the wretch to weep?**
My heart is like the ocean
With storm and ebb and flow
But many a costly pearl
Lies hidden in the depths below.***
Though Satan should buffet
Though trials should come
Let this blessed assurance control
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And has shed his own blood for my soul.****
When temptations almost win thee
And thy trusted watchers fly
Let this promise ring within thee
I will guide thee with mine eye.*****
Across the lengthwise of the page, Gertrude added “I will never leave thee or forsake thee.” Whether this promise was directed at person, place, or faith, I do not know.
By October 1892, Gertrude had left Ocean City and traveled to Washington D.C. In January, 1893, she was again headed West, stopping in Atchison, Kansas, and going once more on to Fort Reno in April of that year. In 1894-1896, she backtracked to Ottawa, Kansas, where she attended college. Several of the autograph signers there say “your fellow student.” The entries leave off in 1896, while she is still in Ottawa. but by 1898, she was married and living in Washington State. A lot of travels for one so young!
As to the fate of the group of young people with whom Gertrude had originally gone West, there is evidence that they scattered. along the way. This entry in the autograph book tells that story [note, all the towns mentioned are in Kansas].
December 24, 1894:
Ottawa via Wellington [Kansas].
With one dozen we gladly started.
But at Garnett we sadly parted.
We again started on our solemn way
And continued on our most innocent play.
When Darnell left us he looked pale.
While three more left us at Cherryvale.
After we had left Moline,
Another one could not be seen.
And when at Burden two more said goodbye.
Nothing could keep us from wanting to cry.
Then at Winfield when we left Reese.
Our troubles changed to perfect peace.
E. L. Avery.
A note on the poems: Gertrude did not indicate any provenance for the stanzas which she strung together into a single train of thought, but I have tracked them down and list them below.
* “Lord of the Isles,” Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
** “Edwin and Angela, a Ballad,” Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1744)
*** “Homeward Bound,” Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)
**** “It is Well With My Soul,” Horatio Spafford (1828-1888)
***** “I Will Guide Thee with Mine Eye,” Nathaniel Niles (1835-1917)
Books we keep!
Gertrude entrusted me with several of her favorite books when I was a teenager. I have recorded one of them, The Friendly Road, New Adventures in Contentment, which she received as a Christmas present in 1919.