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Cycling Italy and Switzerland

I have a garden again! After two years splitting time between the Bay Area and the foothills, I’m now back in the Bay Area full time. The foothills were nice but ultimately an impractical place for me to live, and I spent way too much time driving. Also the cows rampaged every time we tried to start a garden, which frustrated me after a while. So now I’m back in Berkeley, and my new place has a garden. It’s not terribly interesting at the moment, but it has a lot of potential. There are a half dozen vegetable beds, a shady area with some natives, and a large area that was recently reclaimed from blackberry and now patiently waits for fresh new plantings. At some point I will start posting about it, but for now I am just taking ‘before’ photos and developing ideas.

At the moment I have other things to blog about: I spent the last six weeks riding a bicycle in Italy and Switzerland! It was fantastic, of course. Hotter and sometimes steeper than I might have chosen, but awesome cycling and fantastic landscapes. Lots of stonework of course, plus art, architecture, plenty of gardens. I took about 1500 photos and made a stack of drawings. I’ll probably post my drawings next and then some posts focused on specific places, but first, here’s a rather self-indulgent selection of photos from the road. (more…)

Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf

Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf documentary trailer from Thomas Piper on Vimeo.

The Piet Oudolf movie, Five Seasons, is coming to the Bay Area this week, with showings in Berkeley, San Rafael, and San Francisco. I haven’t seen it yet but I’ve been anticipating it for quite a while now. Oudolf is probably the single biggest figure in the plant world and I’m excited to see his work up on the big screen. It’s not to be missed. There are details about the showings at the movie’s website.

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.

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