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2017 Miscellany

‘That packaging of time is a journalistic convenience that they use to trivialize and dismiss important events and important ideas.’ Utah Phillips

Hello, 2018, goodbye, 2017. I don’t always embrace the packaging of time into tidy calendar years — as Utah Phillips said, time is a river and we are in it — but I would like to wrap up and put away 2017. It was not an easy year; that seems to be the general consensus and it was my experience as well. But it wasn’t all bad, there were some good times to look back on. I’ve done these sorts of retrospective posts before, and it seems to be a healthy exercise; I’ve been feeling better as I look back at some of my photos and watercolors from the past year. I especially liked looking at Anita’s watercolors. We painted together pretty consistently throughout the year, and it was one of the main things I’ll remember. It’s been a long time since I posted any of her watercolors on this blog, but I like seeing them mixed in with mine. She’s been working with pattern this year, really nice in my opinion. A very incomplete collection of photos and drawings from the past year is below. (more…)

Why I am Not a Painter

‘I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.’
Frank O’Hara

This poem by Frank O’Hara is my favorite description of the creative process. I love the way the irreverent tone and seemingly arbitrary decision making belie a seriousness of purpose. I’ve also thought that O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, what he called his ‘I do this, I do that poems’, with their casual accumulation of meaning were one of the great antecedents of blogging.

I thought of this poem recently because a project began with an orange-colored wall as the origin for a design, but somehow by the time everything was done the wall was olive green. Probably too literal a connection to the poem, but it gave me all sorts of amusement. I even wanted to include sardines in the design but realized of course it would be too much.

Sinkhole!

The presidential sinkhole wasn’t the only pit to open this year. One of my gardens had a sinkhole too, even huger than his. It happened in a garden I planted a few years ago. A culvert runs along the property line carrying storm runoff from the street out to a creek behind the garden. A lot of water was going into the pipe every time it rained, but it turns out PG&E had accidentally punched a hole in that pipe and so the water was running underneath the pipe instead of inside it, carrying away the soil and forming an underground gully which eventually turned into the sinkhole. No one was hurt when the sinkhole opened, but a large section of fence collapsed and a mature oak tree moved six or eight feet from one side of the property line to the other and had to be removed. Pretty scary to think of an oak tree moving so far, it was tall enough to fall onto the house.

The sinkhole was especially frustrating because we’d noticed the problem a couple of years earlier and submitted an engineer’s report to the town and utilities to try to get someone to address it. But it would have been expensive and a hassle to fix, so, unsurprisingly, no one wanted to take responsibility and nothing happened. Of course, in the end it was even more expensive to fix and an even bigger hassle and we lost the oak tree. Though to be fair, I don’t think anyone was expecting a giant sinkhole.

This is my nearby planting — the two furthest sections of fence in this photo are the rebuilt sections of fence that collapsed, the Loropetalum in the background is about six feet from the edge of the sinkhole — looking relatively unaffected by all the drama beside and below it. The underground gully extended underneath this planting and several tons of concrete were pumped under here to fill it. But it always stayed like the calm surface of the water, not showing the currents below. The plum trees are probably the only ones with roots deep enough to reach the concrete.

A side note, this garden is the home of the basalt pieces I used as a kickboard in the garden show a few years ago. They’re not especially noticeable while the Nepeta is blooming, but they’re pretty unique, two nine foot long sections of basalt to edge the lawn. It might be interesting to do a post showing where all of the garden show materials ended up.

Sharpie Lithography

During the week I’m staying at a house in Richmond that doesn’t have internet or cell reception, which is probably a healthy thing overall but has been a distinct hindrance to my blogging. I still have several stone posts from Oaxaca that I want to do, but spring garden season has swallowed me up and I’m going to shift my focus to that. Stone is timeless; I can do those posts later this year when I’ll probably want to imagine myself back on vacation. In any case, it’s been a busy spring with lots of gardens looking good after all the rain and I photographed a couple of them last week.
Before I get to that, this photo shows a stone that I’ve been carrying around in my truck to weigh down tarps. I left it at a job site over the weekend and came back to find it had been appropriated into the oevre of a six year old artist during my absence. Modern in its conception, I see echoes of Basquiat, maybe a little Cy Twombly or even Jim Dine. Definitely the most charming thing to greet me at a job site in a while.

Yuck

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For the past year, the Clinton campaign has reminded me of Grey Davis (victorious and then recalled). It turns out she is more like John Kerry (loser). Donald Trump reminds me of George W. Bush (the worst terrorist attack in our country’s history, two failed wars, Katrina, the worst financial meltdown since the great depression), but it’s possible he will be more like Schwarzenegger (struggled to pass legislation, rode around in Humvees). Supporters and detractors of them can ignore or interpret that as they choose. Personally, I never liked any of them.

I was getting ready to start posting again and I have a couple of posts half written, but it’s going to take a little while before I am ready to move forward. Leaving my garden after ten years, moving to a cabin in the foothills felt like the end of an era; Tuesday night exacerbated that feeling. My head hasn’t quite embraced the new one.

Instead of stonework and plants and gardens, after Tuesday I feel like posting photos of cowshit. This was a cowshit election with a cowshit result. The place I’m living has two cows, Pedro and Pearl, so I have a good supply to photograph. It starts out dark and gross, but it fades to gray, and in the end it helps the grass grow green. Maybe our politics will be the same.

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Farewell My Garden, Fare thee Well

“It ain’t the leavin’ that’s a-grievin’ me
But my true love who’s bound to stay behind” Bob Dylan

We’ve moved. Our garden is no longer ours. One of the underlying facts of the garden has always been that we were renters, and now our landlord has given us the boot so his daughter can live there. Which is okay. As this year’s Nobel laureate says, don’t think twice it’s alright.

We moved out a couple of months ago. The new place where we’re living is quite different from the old one, and I’ll have some blog posts about it at some point. I also might do a retrospective on the ten years at our former garden, but I’m not quite ready yet. Moving, after ten years in one place, has been a lot of work and I’m still catching up on everything. In the meantime, these are a few photos from the garden as I was doing my final walk-thru. It looks a little sad and barren — a potting area with no pots in it, a veggie garden with no veggies, perennial beds with the perennials lifted out — but maybe the new tenant will fill it with plants and it will bloom again. I had a lot of fun with it, with luck I’ll have as much fun with my next one.

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