All posts by sigmon-carow

Advent, So Far

We are a third of the way through December and halfway through Advent, and the fall leaf show keeps on coming. On this morning’s walk with Mona, I saw two different Japanese maples, only half denuded; their fallen drapery carpeting the ground underneath with the same scarlet as that remaining on their limbs. Farther down the street, bright yellow adorned a tree I cannot identify. Nor could the lady of the house, out retrieving her morning paper.

Apparently, we are not very social; the holiday busyness others brag/complain of has never afflicted us in past years. This year, however, is an exception, due mostly to music groups that Nancy has joined. Her community band is busy giving concerts in nursing homes, and another group performed two sing-along presentations of “The Messiah” this past weekend. Our Sunday morning ensemble also has new music to learn.

Nancy’s now the proud owner of full-sized concert bells, a beautiful instrument weighing nearly 40 pounds, which is lugged back and forth between home and church or home and band three or more times a week. Adding in the bass drum she also uses in the band, inventing schemes for transporting musical instruments has become a major part of our lives.

As to Christmas decoration, we traditionally tend toward the church calendar more than the secular one. That is, the decorations do not go up on Thanksgiving to be taken down on the 26th. Rather, we wait until closer to Christmas, and leave them up until Epiphany. The big star is the exception. We like to get it up early in Advent. This year, like our holiday busyness, our decorating schedule is topsy-turvy. Nancy was in the attic shortly after Thanksgiving, and dragged out the Christmas stuff while she was at the other task. So the tree, the lighted wreath adorning our dining room picture window (two-sided, so attractive from indoors or out), and the twinkle lights above the door went up early. But rainy weather prevented hanging the star, which still sits on the porch. I willingly procrastinate on that task; I hate ladders.

That star is a convex sheet metal construction, 36 inches point-to-point, mounted several inches in front of a larger plywood background. A light bulb is fixed in the concavity, so what is seen from the street is the white outline of the metal star. It is a fairly large device, hanging in the peak above the second story. Three years ago, a gust of wind lifted it off its hook. I found it the next morning, quivering above the point embedded in our son’s window ledge. Lethal when flying! So I added a safety screw, driven into the siding. Hanging it now requires two trips up the ladder; one with the star, the next with the drill-driver. Did I mention that I hate ladders?

I am writing this while sitting in the waiting room of Nancy’s doctor. Little more than a year ago, I accompanied her on these trips because she was nearly immobilized. Then came bi-lateral hip joint replacement, enabling her to return to gardening and hardscaping and other physical activity. Today, I am here in my role as sherpa for the musical instruments; her band is playing for hospital staff at lunchtime. In Nancy’s return to music, to painting, to health, we have much for which to be grateful.

Ordinary Time

In addition to our travels outlined in that last post, we’ve had separate trips involving our parents. But we’re home for a while now; back in ordinary time. Ordinary time in the conventional sense, and somewhat in the liturgical sense as well.

The calendar of the Christian church is dominated by the two great feasts, Christmas and Easter. Advent (four weeks) precedes—and prepares one for—Christmastide (12 days). Later, Lent (six weeks) precedes—and prepares one for—Eastertide (50 days). [Note that Christmas and Easter are not single days in the church calendar. After spending four—or six—weeks in preparation for a feast, we make that feast last. Only in the secular world do we sweep out the Easter grass and go back to work the next day.]

That still leaves three-fifths of the year. The season between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, and the longer season between Pentecost and Advent, are in some traditions called Ordinary Time.

Liturgical Calendar
Liturgical Calendar

In the children’s program of instruction called The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the church year is simplified as a circle of six segments; two triplets labeled Before the Feast, During the Feast, and After the Feast. Their liturgical colors are purple (before), white (during), and green (after). One triplet represents the Christmas cycle (Advent, Christmastide, and the season after Epiphany); the other, the Easter cycle (Lent, Eastertide, and the season after Pentecost). Ordinary time comes after the feast.

In the popular conception, Mondays and other post-holidays are depressing days. We dread the end of the weekend, the end of the holiday. We dread going back to work or school, and we apply a pejorative label: back to the rat race, back to the salt mine. The end of the feast is the end of all that is good. I’ve had some of those days.

And yet, a serious post-feast let-down would not be an indictment of post-feast time itself, but a symptom of a pathology in my life. Ordinary Time is not boring time, not drudgery time. Its liturgical color is green, not gray. Ordinary Time is the season in which we engage productively with the world. Ordinary Time is when we live our lives in gratitude for the feast.

How am I spending my Ordinary Time? Here is a sample:

  • A trip to the going-out-of-business sale at the local used bookstore, through which I discovered the fiction of Richard Marius (definitely worth further reading), and picked up the books on which two favorite movies were based (Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate)
  • Fall gardening tasks: digging, dividing, reshaping, mulching, and adding some hardscaping
  • Simple shop tasks for Nancy to support her painting and music
  • Almost daily long walks with the dog
  • Naps

I have been especially attentive to autumn leaves this fall, not through any virtue of mine but because Nancy has been collecting and pressing/preserving them for her art work. In past years, the fall leaf show was mostly observed from a moving car at highway speed. Peak color season lasted just a few days. How different when collecting on daily walks! I am newly aware that the season lasts months, not weeks or days. Even within a species, leaves may turn color weeks apart, depending on sun exposure and other factors. This past weekend, I was treated to views of still brilliant reds and yellows while, in the background, the Black Mountains northeast of Asheville were covered in hoarfrost. Ordinary time indeed!

Our trip to grandkids and to Berkeley Springs was a feast, grace on grace, blessing on blessing. Weeks later, I still savor the feast even while going about my day-to-day. But, frankly, too much feast is too much. I am glad to be home. Yes, some things are not so much fun. There are dishes to wash, floors to mop, toilets to clean. But there are also books to read, gardens to tend, music to make, paintings to paint, autumn leaves in their astonishing variety and glory to enjoy even while raking. And photos of grandchildren to savor.

… and a Crescent Moon for a Mouth

We recently made our second trip to Berkeley Springs, WV. A do-over for the one a month earlier, aborted by a broken pipe in the Ice House. Both rescheduled events, the exhibition’s opening reception and Nancy’s workshop, went off without a hitch this time around.

In fact, for us the water break became a happy accident. The weather and the fall leaf show were perfect all the way from Oak Ridge to Berkeley Springs. It was the weekend of the annual studio tour, and we found time to enjoy several of the open studios. And people we’d met briefly on the first trip became friends. By the time we left, we had begun to feel a part of the community. A warm and welcoming, hospitable, creative community.

This second trip also gave us the occasion to have another day of grandkid child care. They live just far enough away so that visits are not frequent. This opportunity to see them twice in a month was rare and treasured.

Grandson and I carved a jack’o’lantern. First, a trip to the grocery store for a pumpkin. “Which one do you want?” “That one.” No hesitation in the face of too many choices. He’s a decisive child. “That one.”

Triangle eyes ...
Triangle eyes …

Once we are home, more complicated decisions. What should our jack look like? “Triangle eyes, a circle nose, and a crescent moon for a mouth.”

Again, no hesitation. Lines from a story he’s heard in day care perhaps? Nancy takes out a tablet of paper and engages him in sketching. Triangles pointing up or down? Happy or sad face? Where should the nose go? How big? Where the mouth?

When they have the plan right, we proceed to construction. Pumpkin in the sink, grandson safely on the step stool at my side, a brief lesson in knife safety (keep the sharp edge pointed away). We take off the top, scrape out the seeds and pulp with the ice cream scoop. He declines the offer to get his hands into the mess. He’ll just watch.

“First eye here?” “Yes.” Three incisions and the triangle pops out. Nancy documents with photos as we work. “Second eye here?”  Then the nose. The mouth. And we’re done. Triangle eyes, a circle nose, and a crescent moon for a mouth.

We place jack on the patio and he plays with it the rest of the day. Incorporates it into his favorite play with “sticks and trees.” Open the lid, drop some leaves or dirt inside, close the lid. The weather’s great for outdoor play. Watching the leaves fall and commenting on their colors. Granddaughter, who napped during jack’s creation, is anxious to get outdoors, too. She’s almost walking, still needs to clutch Grandnan’s hands. We’ll not be here for her first birthday in a couple of weeks, so she gets her gift early. Her first baby doll.

Hugging Baby
Hugging Baby

Now, several weeks later, back in Tennessee, Nancy’s photos of her hugging her doll recall precious memories, and not just the recent ones. I got to hold her on the day she was born. Could a year have passed so quickly?

Views from Other Ridges

If you are a repeat visitor to this site, you may have noticed that the “header” at the top of the page (the wide photo) changes each time you navigate here or reload. The software randomly serves you one of the images we have designated for this space. And, if you have read our “ABOUT …” page, you know that the “view” of our title is a metaphorical one. We do live in a place of wonders, but we cannot see the ocean from East Tennessee, nor do we have horses in our neighborhood. Those headers are mementos of travels off our ridge.

So it is not cheating that the latest addition to our header images is a famous panoramic view some 400 miles northeast of us. In that view, we are standing in West Virginia. In the valley below, the Potomac River flows toward us and (out of sight below the photo) curves to the right below our overlook. Maryland is on the right side of the river. The distant mountains just visible on the right are in Pennsylvania. The view is famous; the photo is Nancy’s—one of those marvels of digital photography in which you slowly pan from left to right while the camera shoots rapid-fire stills and then stitches them together to form the panoramic image.

Potomac River from Cacapon Mountain, WV
Potomac River from Cacapon Mountain, WV

From that overlook off WV 9, west of Berkeley Springs, on the west slope of Cacapon Mountain, the diligent observer might catch glimpses of history. We are told that colonial partakers of the waters at Berkeley Springs, including George Washington, rode out to this same vista. And in the valley below, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad competed to link the Ohio Valley with the Atlantic ports. (Both began construction on Independence Day of 1828.) While we were standing at the overlook, a train of the B&O’s modern day successor (CSX) ran below us on the near side, on original right-of-way. Remnants of the C&O Canal (in commercial operation until 1924) still exist on the Maryland side of the river.

I knew nothing of this history when we set out that day. Arrested by the visual view, we stopped, read the roadside plaques, and stumbled onto another view—of history and geography and technology—of which I had been barely aware. That happens to me often. I have written earlier about the joy of filling in my terra incognita. But my incognita are not limited to terra. On a good day, and there are many, I am blessed with some new view, some new knowledge, some new insight. Travel is good for opening vistas. As are books.

It has been a good reading year. Favorite authors Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Isabel Allende, and Charles Frazier, through books new to me and others read for the third time, have taken me to Haiti, Chile, Mexico, the Amazon, Napoleonic Spain, Colonial California, Congo, New Orleans, the Cherokee Nation, and the southern Appalachians, to the world of opera and the showmanship of magicians, to transcontinental migrations of species and the tortured home fronts of the American Civil War. Ken Follett took me to medieval Europe and on a breathtaking tour of the Twentieth Century’s follies; Robert Hicks back to the Civil War and New Orleans.

As I think about the vistas that I’ve encountered, I realize that newness is only part of the thrill—in fact, the lesser part. What most excites me and draws me farther in is the interconnectedness, the sense of unity.  What I see anew or afresh is part of a whole I’d perceived, and still perceive, only dimly. Other books, news stories, magazine articles, roadside plaques, random conversations, and other sources connect and re-connect to places and times and themes that are somewhat familiar and yet made more complete by the connection. The blank places on my map get filled in. And yet, in every case, new blanks appear. It turns out that not only is what I don’t know limitless, but what I don’t know about what I don’t know is also limitless. That is strangely exciting. There is still so much more to see!

The Tricybicle Trip

Nancy was to give a workshop this weekend, and attend the opening reception for a show which includes some of her paintings. But a water leak in the Ice House nixed those plans, and the activities will be rescheduled. The rest of the trip, however, was great.

GW-Bathtub
George Washington’s Bathtub, Berkeley Springs, WV.

We delivered the paintings early in the week and then played tourist. Berkeley Springs, WV, (originally Town of Bath, VA) has a long history as a tourist destination, due to its warm mineral springs, mountain setting, and proximity to Washington and Baltimore. George Washington spent time there, and one person-sized spring-fed hole in the valley floor is called his bathtub. We did some driving, some hiking, some good eating.

Then we moved on, through Harpers Ferry and the horse country of northern Virginia, to visit the grandkids. We had the opportunity to spend a whole day with them while their parents were at work. The three-year-old has always favored his grandfathers over the grandmothers, so it was a delight for Nancy to be the favorite of the almost-one-year-old, who constantly flashed her smile and her two teeth. Grandson and I spent some time with his “tricybicle” (TRI-si-BI-kul), but he is mostly a sticks-and-stones kind of guy with a great imagination. Sticks become smokestacks, vacuum cleaner extension wands become leaf blowers, and play is accompanied by complex story monologues.

We returned to Berkeley Springs, where we learned of the cancelations and decided to go home early. Travel is fun—seeing new sights and learning new things and eating new foods. But there is no place like home.

Dumpster Diving

“Is that trash?” asks Nancy, pointing to a large barrel on wheels.

“Help yourself,” replies the Home Depot guy.

So Nancy begins pulling lumber pieces out and loading them into our cart. Not fancy lumber, but the rough stuff used to protect the good stuff from the steel bands that hold the bundles together for transport.

“You have a place for that in your studio?” I ask. (Translation: That’s not going in my shop.)

“Yes.” She makes two or three more trips from the trash barrel to our cart.

“I repeat: You have room for that in your studio?” She gives me a look—part smile and part not—and I walk away.

Later, in the car as we chuckle about it, I tell her I read that smile to say, I”m going to keep this up until you get that disapproving look off your face. She does not deny it.

I married a dumpster-diver. Actually, I married into a family of dumpster-divers and hoarders. When I first met him, Nancy’s father still had a coffee can of bent and rusty nails he’d salvaged from his father’s hoard. (That story may be apocryphal; memory is a funny thing.)

I suppose there has never been a shop or studio whose occupant thought it was big enough. But even against that standard, Nancy and I have far too little space in our respective realms relative to the equipment, materials, and projects they contain. (That was true even before our son brought home a 280Z for restoration and began scattering parts and tools everywhere. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

So the struggle over what to keep and what to throw away is intense in our house. Since Nancy grew up in a household of creative reuse and since many of her projects tend toward collage, her predilection is to save. Mine is to toss and reclaim some space. I confess, many’s the time I threw away a lumber scrap only to need it a week later. Many’s the time I have asked Nancy, “Do you have ____?” and she does. And yet, other scraps I have saved for years without finding a use for them, until they’d mildewed beyond salvage.

In the ensuing week after the Home Depot episode, Nancy spent a great deal of time rearranging her studio and moving some little used stuff out as she gears up for some larger projects. Yet the salvaged sticks still reside in a place of honor inside the door. Except for the ones I borrowed today—temporarily—for a project of my own.

The premier dumpster-diving story in our family involves a rescued dolphin, Greek pastry, and a stroller. We were in Florida on vacation, and on our way to see Sunset Sam at the Clearwater Aquarium. Sunset Sam had injuries that prevented his release back into the wild, and had been taught to paint with a brush in his teeth. He was a regular on our vacation agendas until his death a few years later. On this visit, Jay was about two. He fell asleep in the car before we arrived, so we decided to abort the Aquarium stop and let him nap, while we went to Tarpon Springs for Greek pastries. Nancy was driving, and I had just mumbled something about how uncomfortable it would be to carry a sleeping two-year-old around in the heat when she suddenly did a u-turn on a residential street and stopped next to a pile of trash awaiting pickup. A stroller. Rather, a rusty stroller frame, the canvas seat rotted out. Jay’s car seat fit perfectly in the frame. We used that stroller frame for the rest of our trip. When I threw it into a dumpster as we packed up for our return to Tennessee, Jay cried. His mother’s son.

Introducing Nancy’s Art

Nancy says, “I’ve spent much of my working career applying visual arts to practical problems—as graphic designer for paying clients and as pro bono designer for children’s advocacy and church organizations. These paintings are the art I do for myself.

“Acrylics are a delightfully diverse medium. Apply them thin as a wash or thick as modeling paste. Apply in layers—for instance, adding complementary colors successively to yield complex color patterns. Blot, wipe, scrunch, splatter.  Acrylic glazes are a versatile way to incorporate the textures, shapes, and colors of found objects into a painting.

“I am fascinated with leaves. As stamps, masks, and appliqués, leaves find their way onto many of my paintings.”

In this post (below) we introduce some of the works Nancy has created using leaves as a theme. (Note also on the menu above, the addition of a gallery page with these same paintings. We will be adding other gallery pages, so keep checking back.)

Some of these paintings will be included in the Morgan Arts Council Ice House “Freedom of Expression” Exhibit, Berkeley Springs, WV, September 25 through November 8.

Nancy will also be teaching some of these techniques in a workshop at the Ice House, September 26.

Observations on the End of Summer

We are blessed, this last week of August, with a foretaste of autumn weather—low temperatures, low humidity, and clear blue skies. Today was a pleasant day for weeding, and Nancy and I pulled three large trash bags full. Also a pleasant day for the dog and I to take a long walk. We have several main loops and many variations, ranging from one to five miles. Today Mona pulled me into the longest one, the one with a stretch of gated-off utility access road on which I can remove her leash and let her roam.

An earlier signal of the end of summer is the return of the goldfinches to the dead seed heads in our coneflowers. From the first of August, walking out of the house or pulling into the driveway triggers flashes of yellow as the finches chitter off into the safety of tall trees. This year they have been especially present, in the flowers and drinking from the cup of water atop Nancy’s hummingbird feeder (the ant-stopping moat) just outside our dining room window. One morning as I ate breakfast, I was treated to repeated yellow flashes, lower right to upper left (coneflower garden to neighbor’s trees) culminating in a twister-like display as two spiraled around each other up into the forest. Fighting over a mate or food source? Or just a dance of delight?

Over the weekend, as I tended the compost bins, I uncovered two small snakes in the leaf pile. With some research, I identified them as juvenile black rat snakes. Apparently, what I have been calling a black snake could be either a black rat snake or a black racer. My weekend sighting gives me hope that the snake who met his/her end entangled in my bird netting (see previous post) left progeny behind who will continue the good fight against field mice and chipmunks and other vermin.

It has been a good summer for gardening. Not too wet, not too dry, not too hot. Some plants have inexplicably died, but others have thrived as never before. The deer have been merciful, the blooms long-lasting. Cosmos and hosta are still spectacular. And Nancy seems to have found a solution to the string algae that plagued her pond last summer. A single water hyacinth has multiplied and totally changed the nature of the pond, from a scum bucket to a prolific frog habitat.

The End of Blacksnake

Blacksnake is dead. I had written earlier about the snake that briefly inhabited our attic and heating duct runs last summer, and his/her determination to be near, if not in, our house this year. Yesterday I found his mortal remains in our garden shed, entangled in a bundle of bird netting we’d had on a shelf.

I am a middle-of-the-roader when it comes to snakes. Not a hoe-wielding chopper of anything long and legless; but also not inclined to catch and play with them. Moderately creeped-out, that’s me. Grateful for their rodent-control efforts, I’d rather not spend time in close proximity. But on the snake scale, this blacksnake was much higher in my affections that the copperhead I found on our street a few years ago, a victim not of any hoe, but of its unfortunate fondness for warm pavement. I viewed blacksnake as my protector from rodents and copperheads, and will miss him or her.

The end must have been violent, to judge from the things knocked off the shelf and the twisted state of the bird netting. I can only hope it was relatively quick, strangulation not starvation. Predator did not succumb to another predator, but to a piece of human detritus. A sad and ignoble end.