Inhaling the Essence

We had a big alder fall down over our creek a couple of days ago and my husband cut what he could on the vehicle accessible side of the creek and then scratched his head for a moment about how to get the rest out safely. He’s become accomplished at winching in the years he’s spent salvaging wood (his hobby) and he told me of an elaborate plan that involved his tractor, his pick-up truck, two standing trees and a long length of logging cable. This kind of 3D trigonometry is not my forte so I smiled and nodded as he told me the plan, let him head out the door and then thirty minutes later decided I ought to go and check on him. After all, as accomplished as he is at thinking up ways to make a log move—but not on top of him—all it would take is for the alder hung up across the creek to decide nope, it’s not going that way, and . . . well . . . I’m sure you can imagine the rest. I know I can.

Anyway, rather than find him later pinned under a tractor or something equally gory I stepped out into the gloriously sunny April afternoon and ambled up the path from the house to the creek. One of the advantages right now to not having our little shop open is I don’t have to worry about someone pulling in when I’m not close to the house, which gives me the time to amble rather than race up to the back of our property. The sunshine felt good on my face and my easy pace allowed me to notice the flowering plants coyly flirting with anyone that cared to notice them. The single, creamy yellow tulip standing proudly at the edge of our garden like a singer on a stage:
Single tulip
the purple vinca blossoms fluttering onto the path from the banks where they’d been planted as ground cover:
the flowering quince that we keep threatening to cut down because it’s devilishly thorny but, but . . . look at those heavenly blossoms.
Flowering quince

I meandered my way up to our grassy playground and crossed it to get to where my husband was working. As I approached I saw big rounds of freshly cut alder in a jumbled heap alongside the creek Alder roundsand my husband in the bed of his truck, weaving the logging cable back around the headache rack. He turned and grinned at me. “You arrived just in time to miss all the work,” he teased. He gave me a detailed description of how easy it had all been and then, as he chugged back down the hill on his tractor, I cut through the area he’s been replanting behind his pottery studio and kiln.

There I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of the two flowering thundercloud plum trees. They looked like giant ice cream cones covered in pink hundreds and thousands held aloft as if to say, “Look what we’ve got!” If that weren’t treat enough, to the right of one there was an abundance of forget-me-nots, ornamenting a bank like tiny beads of turquoise on a bridal train. The little blue flowers are not big and showy and bold like the tulips I’m so used to seeing at this time of year, but as I stood staring at them I decided they are the stuff of which sighs are made.

I got out my phone and snapped some photos of both the trees and the forget-me-nots only to be disappointed that the pictures didn’t convey at all what I was seeing. Something about the color and light and perspective, especially with the forget-me-nots, which, from a distance, looked almost like a whisper of blue on the louder green background.
Thundercloud plums
Forget-me-nots 2
Forget-me-nots 3
It made me think of a blog I’ve been following (another advantage of our present situation: the time to read more blogs)—Martha Kelly’s (Almost) Daily Quarantine Journal. Martha is a visual artist and I could immediately picture her doing a quick, colorful sketch of what I was seeing and capturing the essence of it in a way my photographs could not.

I was about to start down for the house again when one of my dogs cocked his head, seeing something. I turned to see what and caught a blue heron lifting off into the sky from the trees to the left of us. I watched it flap away in that awkward, seemingly impossible way, and realized that I’d never seen a blue heron taking flight from our property before. And when I thought about it some more, I realized that if I’d been going at my usual pace I probably wouldn’t have noticed my dog pointing me toward such an incredible sight.

I ambled on, down past the hellebore that my husband planted last year Hellebore

and around to the magnolia tree behind his pottery studio. MagnoliaA friend gifted us that tree as a sapling about twenty years ago, to plant on the grave of our dog Magnolia, who spent 17 years as my husband’s faithful companion and about half that time sharing his affections with me. We buried her on a bank overlooking the studio so she could see him at work and now, every spring, the tree puts on a showy reminder of the dog that once played there. This spring I’ve had time enough to watch the entire show, from thick furry buds forming on the ends of her branches to the slow release of bright white stars.
As I stared at the tree’s floral offering I wondered if they looked brighter this year because I was seeing them in the afternoon sunshine rather than the usual, after work twilight, or if, as another blog I’ve been reading—Cambridge Imprintssuggests, the reduction in traffic, even in our rural area, has cleansed the air so nature can shine. Of course I don’t know the answer to that question. It’s just a lingering reflection I find myself having and writing about in one of my plays; that there’s a gift for all of us somewhere in our present situation.

I trotted the rest of the way down to the house to check on the only visitors in our shop right now—some new baby chicks.
Baby chicks
then ended my journey over at my little rose garden.
Rose garden
I always buy potted tulips at this time of year to set inside my husband’s big stoneware planters that I sell down at the Tulip Festival. After the Festival is over, I bring the potted tulips home and plant the bulbs somewhere on our property later in the year. Last year I added them to the rose garden. Looking down at the yellow ruffles made me miss being out in the fields. Not just for the lost income but for all the friends I usually see there and the colorful array of flowers I get to drive past on my commute to the fields. But if I had to miss it, I thought, I was glad it was so I could inhale the essence of our own springtime flower festival.

And don’t worry, I didn’t miss out on all the work with the downed alder. The next day my husband split those rounds and I stacked them in the truck to sell as cord wood. Because, as my sister would say, when times are tough—“a girl’s gotta do, what a girl’s gotta do.”
Truck loaded

Stay safe, everyone.


Art and your Destiny

Do you have a piece of art in your life that has stayed with you, inhabited you, maybe even guided you towards your destiny? So when you see it, or even a variation of it, you get a sense of coming home? It turns out that I do, although I can’t say that I truly knew it until I read a few pages towards the end of Donna Tartt’s novel, The Goldfinch. In these pages, she has the character of Hobie discussing art as a beacon for our destiny. “And the painting, above his head, was still the point where it all hinged: dreams and signs, past and future, luck and fate.” I ate those pages up, feasting on their foresight, because the truth of what was being said was so intrinsic to me. It was as if the author were writing my story.

To backtrack a little I grew up in England and, as a young woman, three things were true about me; I wanted to be an actress, I wanted no part of marriage and I knew nothing about pottery. In fact, at that time, I found myself drawn to fine china when I went to the fancy department stores in London and even though fine china falls under the same ceramic’s umbrella as pottery, it’s about as far removed from it as an RV is from a tent. So then how did I end up married to a wood-firing potter, 100 miles from the closest, professional theatrical hub and 6,000 miles from where I grew up? And more importantly, how did this life, which appeared nowhere in my young adult daydreams, end up being my bliss? So much so that I even made it the basis for my first novel, How to Make a Pot in 14 Easy Lessons.

Well apparently it was there all along, as Hobie suggests, secreted in art that captivated my interest. Even though I didn’t know pottery when I met my husband I do remember going to David Greig’s Grocery Shop as a little girl with my mother, and while she was looking at the cuts of meat at the butcher’s counter I was staring at the tiles on the wall. There was something eminently fascinating to me about art in this earthy format. I was drawn to the symmetry of the lines, the lines within the lines, the fact that the colored squares could make a pattern within the white background that would form a word. Words.

David Greig mosaic

And I remember thinking how clever it was that they could use tiles of a different color to frame patterns, making them look like paintings hanging on the wall. Tiles 3

So when my husband and I made a tile sign to hang outside our pottery shop something stirred deep inside me but I don’t think I made the connection back to David Greig’s at that time.

Sign tiles 2

And then there were the decorative pieces at the grocer’s shop. A sheep, a bull and David Greig’s signature piece – the thistle – which would have me standing, staring, completely lost in the image until I felt my mother tugging at the shoulder of my coat, telling me it was time to leave.

Tiles 4

Tiles 5

David Greig's thistle

When I installed my husband’s own decorative tile pieces in our home and shop, the fish he loves to draw, the wildflowers indicative of the area in which we live, I did become that little girl again, staring in fascination at the art that could be created out of tiles.

Flower tiles Stove tiles

And when we decided to use glaze test tiles on the floor, interspersed with production tiles, I could see the patterning again on the walls and counters of David Greig’s (which you may not be able to see clearly in this black and white photograph but if you look at the front of the display case it’s covered in white tiles with a repetitive, blue, thistle pattern in them).

Floor tiles

Our shop floor tiles

David Greig's inside

Inside David Greig’s

But it wasn’t until we made the sign for our business that stands out by the highway that it all fell into place. As soon as my husband laid the finished tiles out on the floor of his studio I was captivated. The dark blue of the letters, the lines of the tiles dissecting but not distracting, the webbing of the glaze on the surface of some of the tiles, and the delectable spread of color. I didn’t even care that a migration of red (from atmospheric conditions inside the kiln) had splashed across the top of the sign, making it a little hard to read. It was art. My kind of art

.Sign laid out

I took great pleasure handling each of the tiles and gluing them on the wood frame for the sign. And when I finished and stood back, I knew I was home.Sign

Of course it never occurred to me that these tiles were an indicator of my destiny. Not until I read the words that made the different parts of my life slot perfectly into place, like a dovetail joint in carpentry. “And isn’t that the whole point of things – beautiful things – that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture, in one way or another?” (from The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, p.757)

Maybe your destiny lies in a piece of music, a plot of land, a photograph – maybe even in something you created. A friend of mine told me she was asked to draw her ideal place to live in an art class once and, years later, she found her drawing, looked out the window and realized she was living in the place she had drawn. But that’s the monumental magic trick of destiny; it’s happening while you don’t know it. Unless you have a fondness for art.