Saturday, December 7, 2013

Manet's flower paintings, mastery

Edouard Manet's "Roses in a Champagne Glass," 12"x9",  oil/canvas

During the year Manet was dying, he started doing small paintings of flowers. This is one. Though small, still it shows Manet's dashing brushstrokes and Velasquez-like Spanish coloring--blacks and deep greys mixed with bright color punctuations. There is a lovely book of the sixteen flower paintings done before his death in the spring of 1883, The Last Flowers of Manet, text by Andrew Forge.  Mr. Forge points out that the tabletop here is the same one that the barmaid leans upon in "A Bar at the Folies-Gergere," his last major painting, completed a year before his death in the spring of 1883.  In that complicated picture, there are two roses in a champagne glass in front of the barmaid.

I did a small flower painting yesterday, thinking of Manet.  Grey winter is all around us here.  The quick painting obviously nods to the one above, but has more paint and more inter-ference with the space around it, brighter color, less darkness.

Three roses in December, 12"x9," oil and pigment/board

Saturday, November 2, 2013

sky colors

by Katherine Irish

Katherine Irish has a wonderful collection of paintings on exhibit now in  Convergence Gallery  in Santa Fe.  Katherine is a master colorist, and she loves New Mexico.  The colors waft in the sky.  Bravo!

Thursday, October 3, 2013



Soon they will kill the falcons that breed in the quarry,
(it's only a matter of time:  raptors need space
and, in these parts, space equals money):

but now, for a season, they fly low over the fields
and the thin paths that run to the woods
at Gillingshill,

the children calling out on Sunday walks
to stop and look
and all of us
pausing to turn in our tracks while the mortgaged land

falls silent for miles around, the village below us
empty and grey as the vault where its money sleeps,
and the moment so close to sweet, while we stand and wait

for the flicker of sky in our bones
that is almost flight.

The poet is John Burnside.  He lives in Scotland, where he now teaches.  He was born in 1955.
The lovely flutter of co-life in the ending lines is wonderful.  The whole poem, quietly, is wonderful.

Friday, September 13, 2013


wild amid the walk

"The wild" is around us.  We all know this.  We all sense the wild even amid the most banal daily civilized activities.  It is there, maybe there, maybe a ghost, maybe a memory, maybe a hope.
There, here, with us, within us.

Friday, August 30, 2013

mary oliver's backyard

Here's another poem by Mary Oliver, that comes as an Afterword in her book Owls and Other Fantasies:

I had no time to haul out all
the dead stuff so it hung, limp
or dry, wherever the wind swung it

over or down or across.  All summer
it stayed that way, untrimmed, and
thickened.  The paths grew
damp and uncomfortable and mossy until
nobody could get through but a mouse or a

shadow.  Blackberries, ferns, leaves, litter
totally without direction management
supervision.  The birds loved it.

I like to say this poem out loud.  "haul out all":  the words move with difficulty, slowly and each word discreetly.  "shadow" slips into a spot on a new line/ new stanza.  "management supervision" is a mess of language/ meaning!

I have been painting woods that are on the edge of yards and gardens, images a little bit messy, in and out of light and shadow, and I hope suggestive of birds just out of view.

Edge of the woods

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

mary oliver

Here is a poem by Mary Oliver:
White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down
out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel,
or a buddha with wings,
it was beautiful
and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings--
five feet apart--and the grabbing
thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys
of the snow--

and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes,
to lurk there,
like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows--
so I thought:
maybe death
isn't darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us--

as soft as feathers--
that we are instantly weary
of looking, and looking, and shut our eyes,
not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river
that is without the least dapple or shadow--
that is nothing but light--scalding, aortal light--
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

I like Mary Oliver's poems because they give me a wonderful path that I can follow through the wild, and when she writes about the human world I like that she is so matter-of-fact.  This poem is from Owls and Other Fantasies, published by Beacon Press in 2003.

Monday, August 26, 2013

hummingbird launch

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
pigment, charcoal, glue/ paper

The hummingbirds are fattening up, getting ready for their migration south, across the Gulf of Mexico, to some place south of the U.S.-Mexico border.  We have seen them at our feeder and at our flowers--especially the bee balm--for about three weeks now.  Our birds are juveniles; we know this because they do not have the colorful markings yet of adults, notably the ruby throats that are especially bright and iridescent in the males.  So they are getting ready for their first trip!

Information from banding relates amazing fidelity to migration routes.  Banders have encountered the same bird on the same day a year later.  Moreover, the birds' instructions for migration must be inherited because young hummingbirds will winter where their ancestors have wintered and travel the same routes even though the trip is their first ever.  And they do not migrate as a group, according to David Sibley, that wonderful bird painter and researcher.  So these youngsters do not learn their route from a flying partner.

Our youngsters--there seem to be three of them--can fatten themselves to double their (tiny) weight before they set out for the south.  After they leave, I'll look around to see if I can find a nest.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

sea paintings

 beach at Cape Cod near the Crosby house

For several weeks I've tried to finish this painting, but I stop.  I like the simplicity and the power in the sky.  You can tell from the sketch below, done on site, that the sky indeed was fast-moving, dark, forceful.

Milton Avery often painted beaches and the sea in Maine, and he simplifies.  His paintings are wonderful, and often large (but not huge). Here is one:

Milton Avery painting

You can see other Milton Avery paintings reproduced on a fine-looking blog:  .

Sally Michel Avery also does wonderful paintings.  They both painted during a long lifetime together.  Here is a painting by Sally:

Sally Michel Avery painting

Mark Rothko has credited Milton Avery as being influential to him.  The history and stories and visual conversations of painters and among painters is fun for me.  You too?

Friday, July 5, 2013



Hsin means "sincere," "sincerity."  This Chinese character has two sides.  The left side is "person," and it looks somewhat like a torso with two legs.  The right side is "words," "language," and it looks somewhat like a hand blowing words from the mouth (at bottom).

Hsin is the title of the first chapter in Hunger Mountain, a lovely little book by the longtime translator of Chinese works, David Hinton.  The book is about Chinese words (and language and culture) and Nature and about  David Hinton's philosophical walks in the mountain near his home, Hunger Mountain.  Etienne showed me the book in Boston when we saw him there in May.

Hsin is a notable word in the last chapter of Lao-Tzu's Tao Te Ching ("The Way of Things").
Hsin yen pu mei
Mei yen pu hsin
Sincere words are not pretty
Pretty words are not sincere
-translation by Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo

This is how Chapter 81 begins.  We have brushed this 8-character verse in calligraphy class, and so I was interested that David Hinton had chosen hsin for a title.  And I will always remember that Etienne held the Hinton book and showed it to me.

We got to meet Etienne and, for the first time, Etienne's wife Christien.  They are luminescent together.  How I wish South Africa were closer, so we could see them more often.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fox in our midst

gray fox sketch

A gray fox appeared in the misty evening, near Wellfleet on Cape Cod.  As we drove slowly around --because the mist near the ocean was so beautiful-- we saw two other gray foxes!  Magical, these sights.

A gray fox has a bit of red on its head.  It is said to be less timid than red foxes, that it can climb trees, gosh, because it has strong, hooked claws.  It likes transition areas between habitats.  "Our" foxes were between the ocean, below, and the cliff upon which we were driving, upon which a few houses were situated.

This was a month ago, and the magic stays with me.
Tonight on the news and in the newspapers this week, there is commentary on a new study of the place or diminishing place of the humanities in university life.  No one even comments on the place of magic anymore.  Humanities is a bit more measurable than magic, but not much more.  Measurable studies are gaining in measurability and in demand.  Magic roams between.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

the eagle that James saw

James told us last week about this eagle.  He appeared on the golf course; James was about 15 feet away from him.  The golf course is in Indiana.  In the northern Midwest we have eagles, but we rarely see them close up, very rarely perched on a lawn.  You can see more images of this eagle at  .The photos are by Tenna Merchent.

Monday, April 22, 2013

sparrow, sparrow again


Sparrow again!
This sparrow is the most common bird in our yards; they are everywhere. Still, I think his nut-like colors are handsome.  A common bird can be handsome, yes?
The female house sparrow is below.


Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter 2013

daffodil, forsythia, irises

Easter today, and all around us life is stirring out of the cold dark winter's earth.  Soon Spring will fill us, all around.

M told me about the title of the journal that he edits, Spring.  Norman Friedman, David Forrest, and Richard Kennedy met to discuss the idea of starting a literary journal about the poetry and work of E.E. Cummings on a day in New York City that was very cold.  They met at Sweetwaters Cafe, they decided they would do the journal, they could not find a title, and on the way out of the cafe, back into the sleet-filled streets of New York, Norman cried, "SPRING."

The journal continues today, so many years later.  You can take a look at:    SPRING  .

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Daffodils, oil/canvas

This painting, which is quite large, has become apart from me; I cannot remember my imprints upon it.  Still, exuberant, with joy it is; "It takes my place" here!  

Here is a wonderful poem, a paean of spring, by Tomas Transtromer, Morning Birds .
The translation is by Gunnar Harding and Frederic Will.  Such ordinary-seeming views: this poem takes my breath away.

I wake my car.
Its windshield is covered with pollen.
I put on my sunglasses
and the song of the birds darkens.

While another man buys a newspaper
in the railroad station
near a large freight car
which is entirely red with rust
and stands flickering in the sun.

No emptiness anywhere here.

Straight across the spring warmth a cold corridor
where someone comes hurrying
to say that they are slandering him
all the way up to the Director.

Through a back door in the landscape comes the magpie
black and white, Hel's bird.
And the blackbird moving crisscross
until everything becomes a charcoal drawing,
except for the white sheets on the clothesline:
a Palestrina choir.

No emptiness anywhere here.

Fantastic to feel how my poem grows
while I myself shrink.
It is growing, it takes my place.
It pushes me out of its way.
It throws me out of the nest.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

crest-less cardinal

We have seen a male cardinal in our yard that has no crest feathers, no bright red triangle on top of his head. Sometimes this baldness is due to an unusual molt.  For two reasons, I think our friend has some kind of mite:  because I saw him this way in the autumn, and also because I see some squirrels in the yard with bald fur patches.  This bird could probably preen and catch the mites on his other feathers, but getting them off his head must be difficult.  Or the scratching to get them has caused some feather loss.
Imagine this cardinal with his new crest feathers!
He seemed undiminished in his flight and song, and since he is around again this spring, let us think of him as a resplendent red cardinal going through a minor patch of misfortune.

This photo is by Greg Dodge, from a fine blogsite which you can reach here:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

the white roof

Our friend Gillian sent us this photo of the mountains near her home in Virginia.  And she sent this wonderful poem:

After Snow

to put the world in the same color
the white roof
the blue sky
the still earth
and the trees stand
to a benevolent all
as one. 

--gillian huang-tiller

Friday, February 8, 2013

Who's that bird?

mourning dove
pastel, charcoal, graphite, glue/ paper

Lenn asked today if this bird was up on my site.  I call him Valentine Dove, and he seems to me still, but also somewhat between coming forward and turning backward, and a bit supercool, a bit gentle.  I wondered who this kind of "bird" is, who his valentine could be. (Remember your Valentine next week, the 14th!)  I never really know what kind of bird will come on to the page when I start.

"Valentine" likes it at Lenn's, that is, at Lenn and Michael's shop called Wealthy at Charles..  He is also seen at , but like several birds before him, he prefers flying out into the world from the shop.  Word is that Michael is a terrific cook. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

winter all around


Winter is all around us today.  Everywhere we look, and immediately upon us when we step outside.  We are winter today!

The Outermost House by Henry Beston is a wonderful book.  From Autumn 1927 to Autumn 1928 Beston lived in his two-room cottage on Cape Cod and wrote about Nature around him.  The dunes, beach, the sun and moon and stars, the birds, the movements of the sea:  all are characters, the formers of the drama in his book.  There is very little about humans or about himself.  Here is some of his writing.  Look how carefully he pauses at the end of this passage, in memory and gratitude, and then resumes.  Isn't it Nature here that he has become even as much as he is a man writing about Nature?

Nb."the Hunter" is Orion, in the sky

    My year upon the beach had come full circle; it was time to close my door.  Seeing the great suns, I thought of the last time I marked them in the spring, in the April west above the moors, dying into the light and sinking.  I saw them of old above the iron waves of black December, sparkling afar.  Now, once again, the Hunter rose to drive summer south before him, once again autumn followed on his steps.  I had seen the ritual of the sun; I had shared the elemental world.  Wraiths of memories began to take shape.  I saw the sleet of the great storm slanting down again into the grass under the thin seepage of moon, the blue-white spill of an immense billow on the outer bar, the swans in the high October sky, the sunset madness and splendour of the year's terns over the dunes, the clouds of beach birds arriving, the eagle solitary in the blue.  And because I had known this outer and secret world, and been able to live as I had lived, reverence and gratitude greater and deeper than ever possessed me, sweeping every emotion else aside, and space and silence an instant closed together over life.  Then time gathered again like a cloud, and presently the stars began to pale over an ocean still dark with remembered night.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

for Fran

mare and foal
pastel, charcoal, gouache/ paper

New wobbly legs, this foal has, next to its mother's gracefully curved confirmation.  A new year ahead for both of them.  Of course, a new year for us today, 2013.

I'm thinking of Fran:  that she go into the year as both, the mare and the foal.  Fran, who carries distanced perspectives--from her learning of history and her love of the best of history--and delicious detail with her into every room she goes.  Her details we all enjoy when she cooks, when she weaves, when she (wryly) comments and converses.  I think of her especially because of her health.  We have hope for her foal, her health, in the new year.  If Fran outlives us all and looks back at this  (wobbly) encomium with graceful forbearance,  may this image of a foal and mare, still, have some charm for her!