Sunday, March 17, 2013

Glove Story: Still Together

You can't get through a winter without gloves. And you need one for each hand.
No winter around here is complete without my dearest losing a glove, often as soon as the cold weather arrives. People follow her around in stores, workplaces, and other institutions waving a tiny, dark cloth or leather garment for the hands and calling "Miss? Is this yours? I think you dropped something."
After several winters of multiple instances of losing one member of that exclusive, two-handed club -- always one, as if some fraternal dispute in the world of gloves has set the left-hand to despise the right, or the right to despise the left (the sort of polarization we've become familiar with in other arenas) by some means too devious for humans to follow -- and almost always one of some brand-new pair that its owner had high hopes of carrying through a successful season of hand-warming amid frequent daily journeys between work, home, visiting, entertainment, and missions of economic stimulation...
And given that my dearest rides the mass transit rail lines to work each day, a procedure so fraught with opportunity for losing one's personal possessions that one cannot help but imagine a special pile-up in some dusty corner of the transit line's lost-and-found labeled "Anne's lost gloves"; where these lost children of winter linger, still limber and quick-fingered, in that special place reserved for lonely hands without a matching fellow, fruitlessly hoping for a mate that never comes...
And though I have no idea of what happens to those un-lost, but now mateless singles, those left behind remainders of divorced pairs...
We sometimes find a glove fallen in the snow or left behind somehow in the middle of mostly cleared roadway, not one of our own gloves, of course, and we do as others do. We place them on fence posts or on top of walls, or over pickets with the fingers raised into the air in full view of a passing public, permitting them to signal silently for the possessor of their better half. Just last month my dearest discovered a single mitten in the middle of our street and placed it carefully on top of the waist-high snow bank that had arisen in front of our house through the eager efforts of the snow plows.
When the snow disappeared, the blue mitten reappeared on top of the curbstone in perfect condition like some oversized pioneer blossom of spring, having survived the winter's snows in perfect condition but, sadly, failing to attract the notice of its negligent owner.
These scenarios are sometimes too tragic to contemplate.
...Therefore, to put an end to the epidemic of glove-loss, my dearest came up with the notion of sewing a long string into the wrist ends of both gloves, and threading one of the gloves up one arm of her coat and out the other. Voila! A kindergarten fail-safe.
Transported this way, her gloves spent the winter being caught in car doors or tangled up inside one sleeve or another and therefore unavailable for duty when needed. They also provoked confusion in hostesses or helpful strangers who exclaimed, warningly, "Look out! Your glove is hanging out of your coat!."
To which my dearest would reply, "Thanks, but it's supposed to. It's the latest fashion."
Certainly, in nursery schools.
But then the thread broke. And it was back to coat pockets and hoping.
Spring broke as well, tentatively enough, and my dearest saluted its arrival with a burst of economic stimulus in the world of retail. "Excuse me, Miss, is this yours?"
Back on the homefront, I decide to inaugurate another year of garden management by picking up the broken branches and raking old leaves off new green shoots. Equipment check: Leaf bags? No. Rakes? Falling apart. Gloves?...
Inside the shed I find a pile of ragged remainders. The soft cloth kind, my favorite, finger tips torn to shreds. Rubber gloves; too tight. Big thick rugged-cloth types good for lifting stone or concrete blocks; much too loose for the finer manipulations of the craft.
All singles in this pile. All left-handers. I have a vague memory of destroying or losing the right-handed ones; or, fearing their loss, concealing them somewhere safe.
Wearing a left-hand garden glove and right-hand winter glove, I approach the earth-clearing task, beginning for some unconscious motivation on a piece of flat ground under the oak tree.
And there they are. My last mated pair, exactly where I left them last fall, looking dazed but unharmed after a relaxing off-season beneath winter's sixty inches of snow.
It's a wonder that they're still together.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

That Was Quick: Spring

            Four days after Quincy's 18 to 24 inch snowfall (opinions vary) last Friday all the snow has melted off. Ground was being ground again, bare-faced and brazen with dirt, puddles, lots of old brown dead foliage and (in our yard at least) and a fat scrim of dried, soaked, re-dried brown leaves that I spread as a cover over the perennials. Pretty stuff. But you could smell the change in the air. And you could see the old lines emerging, the age-old design, the composition of spring.
            The landscape is still a big, damp, mostly dirty canvas on which spring and sun and eventually warmth will breathe life and color in its own time and own way through a process too complicated to explain and incomparable in its result. However it works, it's effective. We gardeners do our best, but we're nothing without it.
            For another month at least things will go back and forth, but as of now it's game on. Sometimes we will like the developing picture. We will step outdoors, sniff the air, smile and say "spring!'
            Other days we will shiver on the doorstep, put our hood back up, and say "I can't wait for spring to really begin."
            The temperature was in the fifties today. It will top off in the thirties tomorrow. This will have more effect on me than on the plants, which are sending their first shoots upwards now that the latest late-winter snow accumulation has found its way back into the water cycle. Some plants, the early bloomers, may have been shooting up even when that snow was working its way down to slush and then to mud, but we couldn't see them under all that snow.
            Before last week's unexpectedly big snow I gave a few plants, the best candidates for early show, a close inspection and concluded "nothing doing." Today, two weeks into March, I troop around in the longer light, the higher sun -- the sun's almost on the equator now -- and find my crocus shoots in the front of the house, where things look particularly grimy, and stiff, and leaf-strewn.
            Out back the first perennial buds appear where I saw nothing last week, on the Lenten Rose.
            It's official. It's the starter's gun for the season. Let's go.
            It's likely to be a slow-starting season. It already is. With forecasts calling for a week or so of lower temperatures, human emotions won't be flowering on the exultation meter. But the birds already know it's time for the season of heavy living.
           You can hear their songs are different, lighter, but more sustained. They're not talking about where the next birdfeeder is any more, but setting up their brackets for the mating and nesting tournament about to begin. I saw large gray songbirds in the marsh today. I scared a rabbit into racing into a thicket of low shrubs; then scared him out of again and watched him run a wide semicircle around nothing to dive into some cover far enough away that I could no longer follow his trail.
            The Canada geese were back in the marsh grass today, and the tidal waters swollen by melt water filled the channels to overflowing. Splashing with light from a reflected light-blue sky, they made the scene look like a cool-weather everglade. No alligators, but a man with a dog, an old wide-bellied white lab
            "I've never seen the snow melt so fast," he told me in a tone of astonishment.
            My point exactly.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bird Storm

Even while the snow poured down, exceeding in a couple of hours the predicted accumulations for a three-day blow, I heard birds chirping outdoors.
The forecasts said two to four inches, maybe three to five. Forecasters probably nudged these up during the day, but the snow fell faster than the predictions rose.
This part of the world, eastern Massachusetts, woke to a whiter than expected world last Friday morning. The wind was blowing and it was hard to tell whether snow was drifting against the house or just piling up everywhere. The street was in good shape because the plows had kept ahead of the fall during the night, and with temperatures hovering slightly above thirty-two you would expect more snow at night and more freezing rain in daylight. But a wind change kept the air just cold enough because the love notes from the upper air just kept wafting down.
I was lucky, I could ignore it. I work at home, I had deadlines and plenty to do. Anne takes the train to work, typically blithe in the face of a little snow.
And when I stuck my head out the door to marvel at how the snow was piling up in the surprising near-spring inundation we weren't supposed to get, the birds were mobbing the feeder. And singing.
By late morning all tree branches visible from any of the house's windows were coated in a thick white swaddling: that serious, coastal, wet-snow look. The weeping cherry tree looked like a sprung umbrella, turned upside down and filled with snow. My neighbors' thick line of pines and the solitary deciduous tree whose leafless shape perfectly resembles a candle flame were all transformed into white sculptures, monochrome studies.
The big old rhododendron outside just beyond our porch looked like an enormous basket-shaped container for holding as much snow as possible on each green leaf, as if determined to keep some of the white stuff off the ground.
And the birds sang.
It was the right call, I told myself now, to take the time to fill up the bird feeder the day before when snow was in the air, the wind was already blowing up, a sort of gray nastiness was building in the general atmosphere, both human and natural -- with a heavy mass of anxiety expected to move in that evening -- and on the whole I was looking forward to nothing but a long, stalled, tedious Northeaster, with occasional snowfalls turned quickly to mush by cold rain.
But it would be tough on the birds. So after I had made day's outing, for the sole purpose of treating myself to my favorite coffee-style preparation, I put off the pleasures of consumption long enough to get my fingers cold in the act of standing outdoors aiming an oversized plastic bag of black sunflower seeds into the conical tube of the feeder without spilling so much on the ground that one might as well put up a neon sign blaring "Squirrels Eat Here!" Squirrels find their way to our birdfeeder without any such help.
A day later, when the snow takes a mid-afternoon break, and I can no longer ignore the mounting frenzy just beyond my front door, on the porch, on the brick walk which I cannot even guess where it is, and on the sidewalk that has been transformed into an annex to the snow forts the plows have been building up streetside in front of all our houses, I go out to join the birds.
A fluffy cotton-wool batten of snow of has wrapped itself like an overstuffed comforter over the pole that lifts the feeder and obscured much of that hard, clear glass-like tube that holds the bird seed.
I grab my shovel and stoop to may labor. The birds sing my praises, ignoring the snow, finding their way into the feeder. 
Small birds, mostly, sparrows and finches.
And then the loud, clear, high-volume whistling song of the cardinal, secreted among the snow-clad branches of that candle-flame tree.
It's my reward, I decide, for filling up the feeder.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

High Horses

The large and magnificent horses in painter Carole Bolsey’s new show titled ”Levitation/Horsing Around” are never more vividly in the world than when they’re trying to leave it behind.
In her very large canvases at the South Shore Art Center in Cohasset, Mass., nearly life-size horses appear to leave the world as they jump straight up into the air, double-jump face to face, race this way and that, and generally horse around.
The works are not so much “about horses,” Bolsey writes in her artist statement for the show, but “of horses.”
What the paintings are "about" is space, movement, the act of painting and drawing, and some of the central verbs of life -- running, galloping, jumping, standing, gazing, being.
That sense of motion is captured in works such as the exhibit’s title piece “Levitation” (an 8-by-6-foot painting), in which an animal weighing more than half a ton hurls himself straight upward to defy gravity in what appears to be the pure ecstasy of being a powerful living creature.
In another of the show's 7 large oils ("Two-Horse High") two leaping horses face one another in a dynamic abstract space somewhere out of this world. A sharp-edged sold image at the lower edge of the composition appears to be a corner of the earth left behind.  
Another big painting, "This Way and That," suggests the quality of horses in motion, running "this way and that." Superimposed accent lines in the work stress the mingling of forms the viewer sees when he watches a herd running.
In "Small High Horses I," one of the show's smaller mixed media pieces, two figures rise up on their hind legs and appear to embrace one another in the sort of "horsing around" Bolsey saw when she lived with her husband amid horse farms in rural Maryland a decade ago.
The show’s total of 26 small collages on canvas depict cavorting horses in works the artist calls “Riffs.” 
Painting in her studio, Bolsey watched as neighboring horse owners and breeders brought their horses to exercise and kick up their heels on her land. She painted her first horse after a friend rode a horse slowly by her studio, framing the animal’s image in a window as if on a canvas.
“I asked her to bring her horse into the studio,” Bolsey writes in her artist statement. “She walked him across the echoing plywood floor and stood him in profile in front of a canvas (8 feet tall by 6 feet wide), where he fit perfectly.”
From there the painter stood between horse and canvas, running her right hand over his contours and drawing those contours with her left on the canvas. She described the result as looking like a “six-legged moose.” But as a painter, she was off to the races.
Bolsey came back to the subject in recent years after moving back to Kingston, Mass., and found that horses liberated her imagination even more than before.
Now, she says, the work was about "placing the horses in space...To generate a visual experience of levitation, of rising on the canvas, I have to place the objects in space with as much energy in the composition as in the actual pose of the beasts.”
The upward motion of compositions such as "Levitation" and "Two-Horse High" depicts the joy or uplift she finds in her subjects' actions -- their “joie de vivre.”“Something in the content of this body of work, something nutty and exuberant -- the fact that all these huge beasts are in mid-air -- made me feel playful, ‘levitating’ these big critters, visually and formally,” Bolsey said. “You feel they are really, really off the ground, lifted by their own strength and joie de vivre."
There may be a family connection between the appeal of motion in Bolsey’s new show and the pioneer engineering work of her father, Jacques Bolsey, inventor of the Bolex motion picture camera. Bolex cameras proved particularly important for early television news, nature films, documentaries, and avant-garde films, and are still favored by some animation film makers and film schools today.
One critic has described Bolsey's work as “grand painterly abstractions that use recognizable shapes to explore the phantasm of light.”
The joy of placing those "painterly abstractions" in space transfers to the act of creation, Bolsey said. 

All her paintings, whether the images are boats, barns, or beasts, tend to place the weightier elements near the top half of the composition to express that uplift, she said.

"[It’s] impossible to feel earthbound while making these things happen on canvas and paper," she said. “I feel lucky to get to do what I do,” she said.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

No Ordinary Garden

            We have "an ambiguous relationship with nature," artist Linda Huey says.
            A ceramic artist, who began with pottery and moved on to sculpture, Huey spent years working on an installation called "Dark Garden" currently on view at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Mass.      
            On the one hand, we continually celebrate nature's beauty. Our fundamental images of beauty, perfection, peace of mind, even happiness are derived from backyard nature, vacation playgrounds, and an entire sensory vocabulary of universal symbols for life on earth -- the beauty of the stars, the sunset, the thousand moods of ocean, seashore, flowing streams, and crystal blue lakes against green summer backgrounds. All of these are faces of the natural world. Nature is where we "go" to be happy. We sit on the deck, play in the grass, grow plants on our high-rise balcony, climb a tree if we're still spry enough, pick-it-ourselves when we crave the best strawberries, blueberries, apples, shop at an outdoor market, hike (and hunt and fish) in the forest glades and mountains that have sustained our spirit all our lives. And -- it's worth reminding ourselves of this every once in a while -- when human beings invent a "paradise" we make it a garden.
            We go "indoors" to make our home, at least in temperate climate zones, and for most of us work is indoors as well, but for the goods of the spirit and our ideas of beauty we turn to "capital-N" nature.   
            And then we turn our back, go indoors to get warm and watch TV, and a backhoe comes along and digs the place up.
            The litter in the street, the old tire dumped in a pond, the hell of mountain top removal and what-the-frack environmental destruction are all of a piece for Linda Huey's work.
            "This is no ordinary garden," Huey says of "Dark Garden."
            Her "somber courtyard" style garden installation is made of clay "plant forms" -- tall stems, thorns, heavy seed pods, torn flower petals, stringy leaves bedecked with impressions of insects, computer parts, lost toy cars. The garden's skeletal structure is held together by rusted iron rebar (part of the litter that remains whenever 20th century structures are torn down or fall apart) that support five- to nine-foot plants stems.
            To cite Huey's own inventory of the parts in this "Dark Garden," the visitor to this visionary setting finds "flowers with graffiti, broken antennas, barbed wire, caged birds, skeletons, leaves infested with cars, and actual nails and bolts fired into the clay."
            At their base, the plant forms rise from clay slabs representing pieces of a nasty degraded waste-lot earth made of "fossilized trash and computer parts." She tosses in a few garden gnomes as well. Their vacuously "happy" presence symbolizes, she says, our "denial of environmental concerns."
            Huey sees a continuum between littering and chemical waste, "from plastic cups to carbon emissions." Her painstakingly constructed, esthetically compelling sculptures are intended to express a deep concern about nature's survival. Since "nature" is where we all live and breathe it's a concern we should all have unless we're planning to survive in a bubble somewhere. Where exactly? And how many of us?
            I found Huey's "Dark Garden" installation starkly beautiful, even though it represents a wounded "nature" rather than a thriving one. These plants still rise from the earth, though the earth is littered and polluted, and open their flowers even as pieces of toy cars hang from them.
            I've always been fascinated by those waste lot borderlands where human uses of the landscape have left a mess behind, or where our consumption of resources is still encroaching on little strips of undeveloped land. The interactions of survival and decay in such places, wetlands perhaps, or urban lots in old neighborhoods, have their own moving vibrations.
            Huey's "real" garden in her New York State home blooms with flowering plants and the vegetables she and her husband eat all year. Lots of us cope with our worries about earth's future, at least in part, by fashioning our own little nature retreats.
            But her "Dark Garden" at Fuller Craft -- a "nightmare garden" Anne called it -- is a reminder that private retreats are not enough.