Bookish (the Blog)
Above: photo, March 12, 2020
It overrides the 4-lane traffic noise
For — maybe — 30 feet or so.
Escaped from the claws
of a drainage pipe, the stream
glides with effervescent glee
among its Court of Cattails.
For — maybe — 30 feet or so.
Before it’s banished to another drainage pipe
Beneath the highway.
Urban stream, hear me —
I’ve stopped to listen.
March 12, 2020
Other blog posts …
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!
You might like:
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: my sketch of a dairy barn and milk house
Recently (June 2020), for the first time in my life, someone asked me to do a pen and ink drawing for them, a drawing of an old barn. The request came from a young plumber who was at my house installing a sump pump. The barn was on his grandfather’s farm, a family farm now through three generations. The plumber and I were talking about one of my drawings, which I had framed. The sketch was of an eccentric gingerbread Victorian, and he knew the building because he’d done work there. That was when he asked me if I could make a drawing of his grandfather’s barn.
What do you say to such a request? Anybody delving the depths of this website would know that it’s purpose is to document my quest for “meaning in my retirement years.” They would also find that the one set idea I had when I retired in 2003 was “to learn to draw” and that the website chronicles my efforts in that direction, which have not been exactly an easy go!
I’d never drawn a barn… I had drawn quite a few old buildings… so I thought I probably could draw a barn… but… what to say….? As I dithered, I remembered something I’d recently recorded for LibriVox, advice from a stained glass master, Christopher Whall, on being true to yourself, and to art. Whall was a leader of the Arts & Crafts movement in Britain at the turn of the 20th century. What he had to say those many years ago still rang true in my estimation: “Simple things and little things, and many things, are more needed in the arts today than complex things and great and isolated achievements.”
Whall authored a technical manual for “workers in glass,” in 1905, in which he talked frankly about “methods of getting work” for aspiring craftsmen: “Take anything you can get, and be glad, not sorry, if it is small and comes to you but slowly… if you have nothing to do for others, do some little thing for yourself; it is a seed, presently it will send out a shoot of your first “commission,” and that will probably lead to two others, or to a larger one; but pray to be led by small steps; and make sure of firm footing as you go.” I, frankly, wasn’t sure whether I was even seeking an audience for my work, certainly not a paying audience at any rate; but here was a chance given me, out of the blue, to validate the efforts I had been making to learn my “craft” of drawing…
So, what I said to the plumber was I’d like to come see his grandfather’s farm, and although I wasn’t a professional artist, I’d try to make a drawing of the barn.
It was a grand old dairy barn. I had great fun exploring and photographing it and the attached milk house. My drawings turned out–at least the plumber told me they looked “amazing”–and they made a unique father’s day present for his dad. Relatives wanted copies. I told the plumber that if anybody he knew wanted a drawing of their barn to send them my way!
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
You might enjoy these:
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.
You might enjoy:
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 June 2019, it has been viewed on the internet over 257,802 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.”