Tumbleweeds

March 29, 2015

 

Kochia tumbleweed caught on fence, along I-80 in Nebraska

Kochia tumbleweed caught on fence, along I-80 in Nebraska

“[F]rom the point of view of humans, the tumbleweed’s main function is poetic.  They roll and bounce on the wind, they fly through the air like half-filled weather balloons, they pile up in throngs against fences and buildings.”
—  Ian Frazier

Tumbleweeds caught on a fence in Nebraska

Tumbleweeds caught on a fence in Nebraska

Kochia tumbleweed with shadow

Kochia tumbleweed with shadow

Tumbleweed piles up along fence

Tumbleweed piles up along fence

It was very windy in Nebraska, so it was no surprise that we saw tumbleweeds bound across the land as we drove along I-80.    They made me smile, and I soon was silently humming the drifting tumbleweeds song that I must have heard on the radio when I was a child.

“Tumbling Tumbleweeds” lyrics by Marty Robbins

I’m a roaming cowboy riding all day long,
Tumbleweeds around me sing their lonely song.
Nights underneath the prairie moon,
I ride along and sing this tune.

See them tumbling down
Pledging their love to the ground
Lonely but free I’ll be found
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.

Cares of the past are behind
Nowhere to go but I’ll find
Just where the trail will wind
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.

I know when night has gone
That a new world’s born at dawn.

I’ll keep rolling along
Deep in my heart is a song
Here on the range I belong
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.

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Zinnia, J Foss Garden Flowers

Zinnia, J Foss Garden Flowers

I took advantage of the lingering sunny summer weather to take a drive south to J Foss Garden Flowers of Chehalis.  I met Janet a couple of years ago and had dreamed of someday wandering her flower fields with camera in hand.  This has been an unusually dry summer, and that presented challenges this year for flower growers.  But farming is like that.  I saw much beauty in the flower beds on Janet’s farm.  I think you will agree.

Delphiniums in the greenhouse

Delphiniums in the greenhouse

Delphinium shadows

Delphinium shadows

Clear blue delphinium

Clear blue delphinium

Zinnia bed

Zinnia bed

Zinnea

Zinnea

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Limonium latifolium hybrid

Limonium latifolium hybrid

Clematis

Clematis

Clematis

Clematis

Clematis

Clematis

Celosia cristata 'Cockscomb'

Celosia cristata ‘Cockscomb’

Brain-like cockscomb

Brain-like cockscomb

Boltonia 'Lime Dot'

Boltonia ‘Lime Dot’

Foxglove

Foxglove

Foxglove

Foxglove

Cosmos

Cosmos

Achillea millefolium terracotta

Achillea millefolium terracotta

Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums

J Foss Garden Flowers

J Foss Garden Flowers

Van loaded with cut flowers, ready for the market

Van loaded with cut flowers, ready for the market

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Shadows we loved and the patterns they covered the ground with
Tapestries, mystical, faint in the breathless air.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise

Shadows of bleeding hearts

Shadows of bleeding hearts

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” . . . find beauty not only in the thing itself but in the pattern of the shadows, the light and dark which that thing provides.”
— Junichiro Tanizaki

We have reached the end of the bleeding heart blooming season.  The flowers are fading fast, but the dancing shadows make their own mysterious art.

Bleeding hearts

Bleeding hearts

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Watercolor sketch of bleeding hearts

Watercolor sketch of bleeding hearts

Another watercolor sketch of bleeding hearts

Another watercolor sketch of bleeding hearts

 

 

In Praise of Shadows

April 11, 2014

“Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.”
— Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, from In Praise of Shadows, translated by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker

Shadows on snow, the road to Rachel Lake, Minnesota

Shadows on snow, the road to Rachel Lake, Minnesota

” . . . we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.”
— Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, from In Praise of Shadows, translated by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker

The stark bare trees in the Minnesota landscape were strikingly beautiful.  They cast dark shadows on the snow.  At times the shadows looked like the tree roots made visible.

Tree shadows

Tree shadows on snow

Sun through bare trees, my Dad's woods

Sun through bare trees, my Dad’s woods

 

 

“An artist is an ordinary person who can take ordinary things and make them special.”
— Ruth Asawa

One of Ruth Asawa's wire sculptures, de Young Museum

One of Ruth Asawa’s wire sculptures, de Young Museum

Serendipity struck again in my discovery of Ruth Asawa and her sculptures of crocheted wire.  As I was doing my trip planning for California, I read about Asawa for the first time at Improvised Life in a post about the New York Times supplement about remarkable people who died in 2013.  That very same day, when I mentioned my upcoming trip to one of my library patrons, she said I should be sure to check out the Ruth Asawa sculptures at the base of the de Young Museum tower.  Once again it felt like this museum visit was meant to be.

Ruth Asawa was the daughter of truck farmers, and I love how some of her thoughts about making art are seeped in farming metaphors.  She said:

“When you put a seed in the ground, it doesn’t stop growing after eight hours.  It keeps on going every minute that it’s in the earth.  We, too, need to keep growing every moment of every day that we are on this earth. . .”

“Sculpture is like farming.  If you just keep at it, you can get quite a lot done.”

At the de Young Museum, Asawa’s sculptures are suspended from the ceiling.  The light casts interesting shadows on the walls, creating an ethereal dance between the art and its silhouette on the walls.

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“Summer always comes in the person of June, with a bunch of daisies on her breast and clover blossoms in her hands.”
— John Burroughs, Leaf and Tendril

Everything is coming up daisies!

A daisy in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Daisy shadows on the sidewalk

Posterized photo of daisies

“Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection.”
–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

My brother's cords of wood, stockpiled for winter

Shadowplay on a fallen tree

I don’t chop wood, but I’ve looked with pride and affection at jars of blackberry jam that I made from foraged wild blackberries.  Or bags of frozen apples from windfalls that I picked and sliced for future pies.  There is something immensely satisfying about a well-provisioned pantry, especially when it is the work of your own hands.

Thoreau found this kind of satisfaction in gazing at his woodpile, which he loved to have outside of his window to remind him of his “pleasing work.”  As winter approached, he said, “I withdrew yet farther into my shell, and endeavored to keep a bright fire both within my house and within my breast.”  The fire in his fireplace was a great comfort to him — he enjoyed its flickering shadows, which he described as “more agreeable to the fancy and imagination than fresco paintings or the most expensive furniture.”

I love how Thoreau so appreciated the life-giving warmth from his wood fire — something we take so much for granted because heat, for us, is a simple as turning up the thermostat.  He marveled at how, with his fire, he was able to “maintain a kind of summer in the midst of winter, and by means of windows even admit the light, and with a lamp lengthen the day.”  He appreciated cooking so much more for having to forage for his fuel, collecting dead wood from the forest:  “How much more interesting an event is that man’s supper who has just been forth in the snow to hunt, nay, you might say, steal, the fuel to cook with!  His bread and meat are sweet.”

Thoreau acknowledges that something vital is lost when things come too easily and we no longer labor with our own hands for our food and shelter.  Some of the poetry of life goes missing.  Here is what he says about the second winter at Walden’s Pond, when he used a small cooking stove instead of the open fireplace:  “Cooking was then, for the most part, no longer a poetic, but merely a chemic process. . . . it concealed the fire, and I felt as if I had lost a companion.  You can always see a face in the fire.  The laborer, looking into it at evening, purifies his thoughts of the dross and earthiness which they have accumulated during the day.”

I am warmed this dark December by the spirit of Thoreau’s words.  I’ll try to recall them as I flip the light switches on and turn the thermostat up when I return home from work.