Step Into The Next [on Two Artists Tuesday]

There is a plot of ground in the backyard of my growing-up-home, as Kerri calls it, that for many years served as my father’s garden. He has not tended it nor planted it for quite some time and yet, a few intrepid carrots have pushed their green shoots up through the crusty soil. The impulse to life never ceases to amaze me.

In the back of our refrigerator we found a red onion. It was not ancient and forgotten. We used half of it in a new recipe a month ago and laughed aloud when we pulled it out and found it sprouting. In the dark and cold recesses of the refrigerator drawer, it sent out explorers to find the sun. It looked like an alien creature, these pale arms reaching, reaching from a purple half-orb.

Before we drove away, I walked through the empty rooms of my growing-up-home, touching walls, gathering memories, shedding the skin of my childhood. We’d already moved my dad to a memory care facility. Now, my mother is settling into her new apartment. Closing a chapter as another opens.  All are reaching through a necessary uncertainty for what is next.

We left Denver and drove up the mountain into and through a furious snowstorm. Cresting the continental divide, we descended again into spring. There was snow and then, within a mile, there was a blanket of green climbing the hillside. This morning, outside of our door, the birds are in full chorus. The dandelions are in a heated competition with the grass and it’s anyone’s call which will win, though, left to their own devices, I’d put my money on the dandelions.

We think we are in control of nature but the last laugh is always on us. We are nature. Our control fantasy crumbles with age, making space for new life and next seasons. Whether we want to or not, we send out new shoots of pale green from our dark purple skin, hoping to punch through crusty soil to find the sun. Either way, we change form, stepping into the next, leaving well-known houses and used skin, filled with rich remembering, opening to welcome the new. The impulse to life.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE ONION

Step Into The Overlap [on Two Artists Tuesday]

The guy on the horse called out, “I love those. They’re called May Apples!” Kerri was taking photographs of the strangely creature-esque plant when the man in the cowboy hat and chaps rode by. “They’ll blanket the forest floor and be gone by Father’s day,” he said as rode down the trail and disappeared.

It is probably an understatement to suggest that life can sometimes be surreal.

Actually, I’m either not aging well or my eyes are finally opening to the utter strangeness of day-to-day life. The whole ride is surreal. Salvador Dali was a realist and society missed the joke.

Where did the cowboy come from? Considering his outfit, he could well have come from another era. The strange army of plants assembling for their march across the forest floor definitely gave the impression that we’d stepped out of linear time. We could be walking through a Venn Diagram of ages and had stepped into the overlap. Cowboys and prehistoric plants. I took a moment and scouted for dinosaurs since, if my Venn-Diagram-suspicion was accurate, we could be back in the food chain, a snack for a Velociraptor. It’s best to check when reality twists.

It tickled me to think that we might have wandered into the golden age of fairies and spirits. These plants may be watching us. They might have Rip Van Winkle intentions for us; we’d snap photos, continue on our walk and return to a parking lot only to discover that 300 years had passed. What would we do then?

We would do exactly as we are doing now. Navigate the strangeness. Take one-pandemic-day at a time. Orient and reorient to a world seemingly caught in an angry spell, conspiracy theories galloping down the info-trail and disappearing into the mad e-forest, lies bellowed as truths and truths shouted down as lies. The globe warms, the deniers deny (loudly), the religious faithful embrace the outrageous salvation of the pumpkin-orange-grifter. We would sip wine at day’s end and compare strange stories of magic, confusion and wonderment sometimes known as “news”.

Salvador Dali was a realist. I’m now certain of it. The Grimm Brothers were historians and not purveyors of folklore. We walk in the woods, Hansel and Gretel could be just around the bend. If we come across Rumpelstiltskin, we’ll be sure to share the gold spun from straw. Or not. By the time we get to the car, gold may have been a passing fancy, worthless, and tin foil will be the market standard. Who knows! This place is a miracle of possibilities and unpredictability. Avalon disappears into the mist. Time bends or at least drapes lazily in our vast dream-scape.

We walk in the woods. The May Apples assemble for a march. Their ultimate intention is anyone’s guess.

read Kerri’s blog post about MAY APPLES

Come Look! [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The artist finds, rather than creates and controls.” ~ Declan Donnellan

I’m not sure when I began including floral shapes in my paintings. I’ve always appreciated the shape of symbols and shapes as symbols. One day in my Seattle studio, I lined the walls with my most recent paintings and was surprised to discover leaves and plants and stems etched into figures and the spaces. My charcoal and paint flora was generic; they were not studies of plants nor in any way representational. They were shapes. They were accidental.

Even when my plant-shapes became intentional they remained generic, improvisational. I didn’t go outside and study the shapes of leaves. It never occurred to me to step into the field next to my studio and look at the plant life. I’m slow that way.

And then I met Kerri. We walk almost every day. While my mind wanders into the ethers and gets lost in the sky, she is busy looking at life’s minutiae. She stops often and takes photographs, usually of a tiny treasure. A forest flower. The bud about to burst on a limb. A butterfly nestled into the leaves. “Look!” she exclaims and kneels on the path, camera in hand. She navigates thorns, wades into tall grasses, climbs over rocks, all to get close enough to see, really see the miniature miracle.

Because she sees, I see. She is single-handedly responsible for my ongoing Georgia O’Keeffe revival. And what I’ve re-learned as Kerri beckons me to, “Come Look!” is that my vast imagination is not capable of creating the amazing shapes and colors and delights that surround me. I’ve been walking through this intense world of marvels my whole life and noticed only the smallest slice. The best I can do is pay attention and dance with what I find.

It’s humbling – as it should be. I’ll never be a better creator than nature because I am a creation of nature. In fact, I realize again and again that my job as an artist is not to create, it is to discover what is already right in front of my face. To open eyes – my eyes and others’ eyes – to the enormity of what already exists. The wild shapes, the dancing colors, the glow of life that I’ll never be able to capture, no matter how great my technique or pure my intention. The best I can do is point to the mystery, with symbol, shape and color, and say, as Kerri does for me each and every day, “Look! Come Look!”

read Kerri’s blog post about SUCCULENTS

Make Belief [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” ~ Saul Bellow

In addition to meaning uneducated, it occurred to me that the word ‘ignorant’ also means to ignore. It’s an adjective, a descriptor. Someone who ignores is ignorant, is an ignorant. I looked up the root of the word to be sure. To disregard.

Early in the pandemic, we placed a table in our sunroom. We call it our pandemic table. In our isolation it helped us to end the day, looking out at the back yard, and watching the light wane. Through the spring, summer, and into the fall, we’d sit at the table and talk about the news of the day. We’d ramble on and on about our disbelief in the angry wave of intentional misinformation rolling over the country, the big things and small things people have to ignore in order to make belief. To support an angry illusion.

One evening, we shook our heads in utter incredulity as a member of our community re-posted a QAnon assertion that the CDC was exaggerating the numbers of COVID deaths just to make the then-president look bad. As proof, the post included a morbidity chart extracted from the official CDC website. We pulled up the website – it took less than 15 seconds – to see the extracted chart nestled on a page with multiple charts detailing comorbidity data; the many many ways that COVID kills. We felt compelled to write a note. It was too easy to debunk the assertion. We asked him to take a moment and go to the site, to look at all of the data. He was being fed a chart cherry-picked from a veritable mountain of information. Nothing was being hidden. No evil plot was in play. His reply was angry, defensive. He unfriended us. We’d done the unthinkable and revealed what he was ignoring.

We learned a lesson about the power of invested ignorance.

Over the year our pandemic table has changed. It’s been populated with sparkling lights and plants. A bonsai gardenia, a birthday present from Kirsten to Kerri sits next to the ponytail palm, both surrounded by succulents. It’s become a sanctuary. We’ve changed, too. We rarely give our time to shaking our heads in disbelief or pushing back against the non-sense things people-in-our-world believe. I’ve stopped exclaiming, “Check Your Sources!”

We occasionally comment about the big things and small things – the mountains – being ignored in order to sustain the modern bubbles of make-belief. The big lie. We are no longer shocked by the dreck that people swallow without question or thought. We’ve moved beyond our own naive illusion and admitted that many people simply do not want to know anything that might challenge their make-believe.

We sit at our pandemic table. We listen to the mourning doves. We eat our lunches looking out at the vibrant green returning to the backyard. We laugh at Dogga running circles in delight. We talk about replacing the very-worn rug beneath our feet. We appreciate the bonsai gardenia, checking the moisture of the soil. We celebrate when our friends and family are vaccinated. We know more than ever it is important to hold dear the baseline, to not disregard our responsibility to check our sources, to carry a healthy doubt about what we are hearing on the news, the story we are being told.

read Kerri’s blog post about BONSAI GARDENIA

Take The Time [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe

To see takes time.

Desi has been teaching us to see. She sits on the table in a clay pot. We join her at the table every evening to sip a glass of wine, watch the light wane, the robins and cardinals dart across the yard, debrief the day. We’ve been watching Desi all winter, spending time with her. Watching.

Truth be told, I did not expect Desi to live long in her pot. She’s seemingly so fragile, her “trunk” no wider than a sewing needle. And yet, throughout the winter, her robust green needles never yellowed. She thrived, verdant in her unlikely home.

Kerri talks to Desi more than I do. I’m the silent male but I regularly send her my good thoughts. She regularly reciprocates. Kerri and Desi can carry on for quite awhile about nothing in particular. Soil. Water. Warm days. Pine-tree-talk. Hope.

Hope. A few weeks ago, Desi stood taller. New tender sprouts pressed from nowhere , tiny arms reaching for the sun. We celebrated Desi’s new heights. We encourage her to keep going – and she does! Now, each evening, first thing when we sit at the table, we spend time ‘seeing’ Desi.

In a hard pandemic time she lightens our spirits. She cares nothing for the news cycle or the ridiculous foibles of bipeds and we find that refreshing. Most of all, if, for a moment, we forget that we are surrounded by hope – it’s everywhere – we take a moment or two and have a sit-down-visit with Desi. We take the time to see what is always right in front of our eyes.

read Kerri’s blog post about DESI

Fear The Babbling Brook [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I find the sound of a babbling brook soothing unless, of course, it is coming from our basement. Knowing with certainty that we did not install a brook in the basement, I knew the soothing sound bubbling up the stairwell was problematic.

It was more waterfall than brook. A steady stream of water cascaded down a pipe from the ceiling, a large pond was already forming in the carpet.

I’m confessing here and now that I am not a handyman. My first response to most home emergencies is to stare, to flood myself with utter disbelief and brainless-white-noise. So, I did that. And then, a miracle: from somewhere completely unknown to me, a voice of reason, a whisper from deep within, said, “Turn off the water.” So, I did that, too.

The waterfall stopped immediately.

We found the source of our problem in the wall. Some farsighted human-from-the-past installed a Hobbit door in the upstairs closet, knowing that there might be a future plumbing problem and a Hobbit door would make the fix possible without having to also experience demo-day. Kerri and I both stared at the offending plumbing knob. She took photos. She sent texts.

And, although I may not be able to appreciate basement babbling brooks, I very much appreciate friends from all over the country who immediately sprang into action to help us. The digital world met the ultimate analog problem. The advice from Portland and Texas and across town was unanimous: you can fix this. Don’t call a plumber. Our waterfall was the result of a simple gasket failure, a washer gone bad. Unscrew the offending knob, remove the wasted gasket, go to the hardware store, find someone with know-how, buy a replacement, insert the new gasket, tighten the offending knob. Va-Wah-La! Well. Almost.

Our basement now looks like a conceptual art piece in the museum of modern art. The carpet raised, the sodden padding removed, plastic Adirondack chairs, plastic crates, plastic bins stuffed beneath have turned the carpet into a 3-D topographic map, fans blow under and over, baking soda swirls like micro-tornadoes across the mini-mountain range. The waterfall was right smack in the middle of my studio, so surrounding the mountain range, are willy-nilly un-art-ful stacks of old school paintings, lifted above the waterline. An art history statement: the conceptual art explosion forcing the canvas-and-paint-crowd to the margins.

And, so, we do what all good artists do in times like this: we sip wine and wait for things to dry. We spin our experience into tell-able and re-tell-able tales (our generous friends listen whether they want to or not). We send heaps of gratitude to the folks with real practical knowledge who led us by the nose through our watercourse way.

read Kerri’s blog post about WATER

Say Farewell [on Two Artists Tuesday]

And just like that, our BabyCat was gone.

He waited until I was traveling so I experienced his death through Kerri’s eyes. His sudden illness. The race to the vet. A dire diagnosis. He died before any decisions were made or treatments considered.

When I first met Kerri there were two approvals I needed to secure. Beaky’s [Kerri’s mother] and BabyCat’s. Beaky’s approval was easy. We took to each other right away. BabyCat’s acceptance took some time. He’d had Kerri all to himself for years and was cautious about this newcomer. It didn’t help that my entrance to his quiet world also came with a rambunctious puppy. After our honeymoon, one evening, with no warning, BabyCat jumped up into my lap and I knew I was in. “Well, look at that!” Kerri said. BabyCat purred. I beamed.

He joined me in my morning yoga. He bumped my legs to alert me of his empty bowl. He trained me to carry him up the stairs for his late night snack [his bowl was on the landing, safe from invasion, since DogDog is afraid of climbing stairs]. He crawled into bed with us each night as we watched our late night trail and made himself available for lavish pets. I willingly became his grateful servant.

Two days after his death BabyCat came to me in a dream. I was still in Colorado and felt badly that Kerri was all alone with her grief. In the dream, BabyCat came to the backdoor and yowled; he wanted to come in. He was an indoor kitty his entire life so I was surprised to find him outside. I opened the door and knelt down. He came in and crawled into my lap and we had a nice pet. He purred. I told him that I was going to miss him.

I awoke with a profound sense of peace. BabyCat was okay. I will always be grateful that he crawled into my lap. I will always be grateful that he gave me a sweet farewell.

read Kerri’s blog post about BABYCAT

Invite The Humor [on Two Artists Tuesday]

The sun at last. We pulled on our snow boots and walked the neighborhood, arriving at a place sacred to us, the Southport Beachhouse. It’s the site of our wedding reception and candlelight anniversary dinners on the beach.

Kerri packed a snow ball and another and another. She made a tiny snowman. We scrounged the snow for sticks, small cones for eyes. “He’s so cute!” she said. And then, “Do you think he knows the world is off its axis?”

“No.”

“Lucky snowman!” she sighed.

Horatio had me laughing during our call. He told me that the story of Job was meant to be a comedy and, in his telling, it was hysterically funny. He has me convinced. Grim circumstance is fodder for good humor. It’s why the classic slip-on-the-banana-peel is so funny. I told him that Kerri and I are waiting for the whale to burp. Despite what it seems, our time in the belly of the whale is temporary. Sooner or later, every good comedy comes to a happy ending.

The trick, I suppose, is to recognize that you are living in a comedy and it is better to laugh than shake your fist at the sky.

Sand paintings, like snowmen, are temporary. They are meant to invoke healing. They are meant to provide protection. “Do you think he’ll be here tomorrow?” Kerri asked as we walked away.

“No. He’ll enjoy his day in the sun and that will be it,” I said. She looked at me sideways.

Impermanence. A day in the sun. A snowman made for fun and not forever. In making it, we found an ounce of perspective, some tiny snowman healing.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SNOWMAN

Catch The Glimmer [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Yesterday a treasure arrived in the mail. Mike sent it for my birthday. It is a painting, a study for class that her father, DeMarcus, did when he was a young art student. He was learning to see and use color. This painting hung in her hallway. More than once I stopped and studied it, his color swatches carefully placed at the bottom of the page. She must have noticed that I was drawn to this painting.

Many years ago, Mike gave me DeMarcus’ notebook from this same class on color. It is from a time before it was possible to go to the drugstore and buy a notebook. DeMarcus cut the paper, made a cover from old Levi’s, starched for strength, and stitched it together. The pages, a hundred years later, are tender, so I am careful when I read them. Reading his notes always buoys my spirit since they are a record of his revelation, of training his eyes to see.

During the bitter cold of the past few weeks, an entire ice-age played out on the top of the awning over our backdoor. A creeping ice shelf moved slowly down the awning, crawling over the side. One evening, the long fingers of the ice-age reaching for the deck below, became brilliant with the winter colors of the sky. Kerri grabbed her phone, flung open the door, frigid air blasting into the warmth of the room, she stepped out and snapped photos of the fingers.

“Look!” she said, showing me the screen. “I love this picture!”

Just above the center of the photograph, a glimmer of electric blue. Amidst the suspended bubbles and greens and purples and light-reflections, a tiny beacon of vibrant blue. I could almost hear DeMarcus laughing.

read Kerri’s blog post about ICICLES

Witness Time [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I have this odd sense that time is standing still. I know it is not true though I still go outside each day to check my one sure source of proof: the ever-growing icicles. Ice damming. Without time, the icicles would not grow.

I have this odd sense that the earth is off its axis. I know it is not true though I still go outside each day to check my one sure source of proof. Through the roof, the heat of the house melts the snow and it behaves as water should. It takes the path of least resistance and flows downhill to the colder gutters and, again, behaves as water should. It slows and drips and refreezes as it reaches for earth. Snow to water to ice sculpture. Nature is still behaving according to its principles.

We are expecting snow again today. People are rushing to do their errands early. They want to be in before the snows come.

Twice yesterday, in separate phone calls, we heard the voices on the other end of the line declare that “Three weeks ago seems like a decade ago.” So much has happened. Everything seems in limbo. Both. Like the icicles, it’s hard to reconcile.

I opened the door early this morning to let DogDog out and I was delighted to hear a chorus of birds. I stood in the cold open doorway for a few moments and enjoyed the music. I closed my eyes. The chirpy sounds of spring were out of sync with the piles of snow and ice in our yard, so, with my eyes closed, I gave myself over to the moment.

There is a poignant moment in the Sisyphus saga. Death is bound to a post so time stands still. Without death, nothing moves. Nothing changes. Crops cannot grow. Water cannot flow. Eternal life comes at the expense of change, growth and uncertainty. Absolute certainty brings absolute boredom. Stasis. Icicles cannot form. Sisyphus frees Death from his captivity so water can once again behave as it should.

read Kerri’s blog post about ICE DAMMING