We aren’t the only creatures longing for water. The golden hills are dry as tinder and crackle under the feet of the herd as they are moved toward a water source. A water truck makes its way painstakingly up the hill to replenish troughs which sizzle in the unfamiliar heat. There is a now long-ago memory of lush green hills with cattle grazing contentedly and gazing up now and then to contemplate a high flying hawk.
We once ate a picnic in a small boat while floating down a river in the Perigord. I had hoped to eat an authentic Cassoulet for lunch. Instead, we opted for the nearby deli and a small rented boat.
We had expected the French families in boats alongside us to retrieve carefully made lunches from baskets. But all had brought potato chips and sodas or beer instead. They jealously watched us as we laid out chilled artichokes with mayonnaise, Bayonne ham, tiny sausages, a small baguette, Cabecou cheese, figs, little plastic tumblers and a bottle of rose, all tucked in a capacious backpack.
The Dordogne is a slow river and we drifted along amid small eddies and chirping birds. It was the best picnic I ever had.
The Victorians loved to picnic. They knew the joy of joining the wild and the tame while trudging through field and stream for lunch. Painters such as Renoir, Manet and Monet were among many who found the delights of eating outdoors worthy of a few dabs of paint.
The only difference between “picnicing” and “eating outside” which for most of history was just eating — is the pleasurable collision between human refinements and the energies in the natural world which have escaped them.
When I was younger I produced picnics as close to those in the abundant cookbooks as I could in spite of raising an eyebrow from Dr. Advice, whose idea of a picnic in the park is egg salad or tuna sandwiches and not a lot else. Not that he wasn’t happy to eat my potato salad, ham sandwiches and cold fried chicken, he simply felt it wasn’t necessary to “put on a show”.
The most committed picnickers can always find a new temple of nutrition, and after reading a glowing review of a local taco truck we tried it out yesterday. We chose well, taking both fish and carnitas tacos to the local park and then stopping by the corner ice cream shoppe for a butter pecan cone.
The food truck craze has proliferated all over the country, with fleets of them setting up on given days and offering fare from street food to banquet worthy cuisine.
We picnic often, usually with a couple of tuna or egg sandwiches washed down with a can of soda! Time changes all, except the joy of sharing the outdoors with a few chirping birds under a live oak or willow on a grassy knoll.
I don’t remember the painting I first showed for the public amusement, but it was likely a landscape daubed out in oils. Possibly 38 years ago a small group of us asked the owner of a neighborhood tennis shop if we could set up a display of our paintings in front of his store. The idea was to simply give a little color to the sidewalk, not to sell anything. But when we went to collect our paintings that evening, mine was gone. Someone had had the temerity to buy it!
Fast forward to 2015 and the Fremont Festival of the Arts is celebrating its 32nd year as one of the largest Art Fairs in the country. The expectation of a crowd of more than 350,000 people is a far cry from the 10 or 12 who had nothing better to do that day 38 years ago. Of course we didn’t offer food, wine or music to entice a crowd, and our friend the tennis pro didn’t offer free lessons either.
Through the early years I explored the idea of art fairs to gauge any interest people might have in what I produced. You gain an insight into the public which is not always complimentary on either side. First of all, by necessity, your own skin becomes tougher, and you realize you are not as good as you thought you were when you left home. That’s the good thing. The bad thing is the evil thoughts you direct to people who loudly proclaim “Oh, I could do that.”
The last art fair I did many years ago was in Walnut Creek, on the hottest day of the year, leaning against a brick building with no umbrella. Around noon I transmitted a call to Dr. A to “Get me the hell out of here—NOW!”
Charlie is a brave soul who shies away from stepping into the Pacific Ocean, and lives comfortably with the various wildlife sharing our garden. Though he was bred to destroy rattus norvegicus wherever they lived, he insists that our garden variety rat is a potential friend, and only gives them a bark or two.
However, the sudden action of an earthquake sends him into paroxysms of angry terror as it did in the early hours of the morning today. We were all nestled comfortably in and on our bed when the house shook and crashed. Dr. A slept soundly until Charlie announced the event, and then sleepily groaned “Naw, that wasn’t an earthquake.” The morning news showed it was a 4.0 quake right beneath us, though with no visible damage. Some so-called experts say that animals show nervousness when a quake is on the way, but that has never been the case with our animals. They simply take them as they come.
We in California are used to the earth shaking now and then, and even sometimes wonder if it will give us a bit of excitement when the weather remains warmer than usual. They predict that sometime in the near future, the San Francisco Bay Area will experience what they call the “Big One”. Since we have about as much control over the weather as we have over the fury of a terrified Jack Russell Terrier, we may as well go back to sleep.
Every fisherman or hunter has a few bear stories to tell around the campfire meant to raise the hairs on the back of your neck before bedtime. Some stories are humorous, some scary. The bear is usually the winner. One story told of a large old grizzly who snatched an unsuspecting salmon out of the water with one swipe of a large paw spiked with five inch claws. Not feeling especially hungry, he tossed the fish into the air, caught it and tossed it again and again until there was not much left of the poor salmon, and then calmly walked away leaving the shattered fish for the birds. It is well known that bears also like berries, and spend a great deal of time nibbling wild blueberries and other tasty berries. Blueberry bushes are small the further north you go in Alaska, and an impatient bear frequently simply rips the entire bush out of the ground to hurry the process.
Once at Lake Shasta in California, we watched some people on a houseboat toss some meat to a waiting bear on the shore. As they were floating away, the bear, seeing his food source depart, plunged into the lake and began to swim after the boat, which was by that time filled with frightened and screaming tourists. Since he could not catch the boat, the bear finally went back up onto the shore and began tearing all the bushes up in his frustration.
We had been following the Kobuk river for most of the morning, alone in a vast Alaska wilderness of scraggly spruce and quaking aspen, beside water the clearest and purest I had ever seen. As the riffles rushed over rocks half submerged, the water caught the sunlight and deflected it back into our eyes
In the deep green pools sockeye salmon, red in their spawning coloration, sluggishly dragged their tired bodies over the gravel at the bottom. Above them, small grayling flickered nervously in and out. Other than the beauty of our surroundings, our fishing excursion had yielded nothing save a few grayling which we returned to the water.
Though I heard no sound, and saw nothing out of the ordinary, I had a disturbing feeling that we were no longer alone. The forest was silent; there was no longer the sound of birds chattering in the trees. In the slight breeze the late summer aspen leaves had turned yellow and were beginning to drop into the river. It gave the impression of expectancy; as if the forest was on alert, waiting for something to happen. We felt a sudden chill in the air and decided to retrace our steps back to our base camp.
When inquiring about the weather in Alaska, a native might shrug his shoulders and say “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” The trail alongside the river was damp from a recent shower, and in the wet weeds and dirt, we began to see the tracks of an unwelcome follower, obviously hoping we could supply him or her with a salmon dinner. Though we walked a mile or two there was no sign of our companion, and before long the tracks disappeared into the woods.
“This was his country, clearly enough. To be there was to be incorporated, in however small a measure, into its substance–his country, and if you wanted to visit it you had better knock.
His association with other animals is a mixture of enterprising action, almost magnanimous acceptance, and just plain willingness to ignore. There is great strength and pride combined with a strong mixture of inquisitive curiosity in the make-up of grizzley character. This curiosity is what makes trouble when men penetrate into country where they are not known to the bear. The grizzley can be brave and sometimes downright brash. He can be secretive and very retiring. He can be extremely cunning and also powerfully aggressive. Whatever he does, his actions match his surroundings and the circumstance of the moment. No wonder that meeting him on his mountain is a momentous event, imprinted on one’s mind for life.”
“excerpt” from “Coming Into the Country” by John McPhee
I don’t know why it is surprising to see sunshine–other than a few drops to wash off the dust yesterday, sunshine is a cash crop here in California. There is no negotiating with Nature. My motto, adopted from baseball player Ernie Banks, former shortstop for the Chicago Cubs is, “The whole theory of my life is sunshine, and today the sun is shining.”
The rain did bring these lovely narcissus though and they look nice showing off in front of the antique Chinese robe. I have a love of artistry and of things made by hand, and the robe is embroidered with thousands of tiny stitches said to have been made by blind nuns. I heard a phrase that Pope Francis said which seems appropriate: “There are some realities that you can only see through eyes that have been cleansed by tears.”
I don’t remember deciding to become a writer. You decide to become a dentist or a postman or woman. I always defined myself as a sculptor if I ever thought about it. I have a sign which says so, which hangs in my garage along with other things formerly important only in my imagination. In my chrysalis days in art shows and street fairs, it hung beside my table, directing potential customers.
As writers our eyes and ears are always open for snippets of something to expand upon. Today’s snippet came from my good friend Bill and it deals with the cleaning of an old oil painting.
Bill is a connoisseur of antiquities, and came by an old and dirty painting by way of a relative. I had restored a couple of old paintings for him some time ago, but he took it upon himself to do this one himself. He was chuckling while he told me that he was cleaning it with spit. This is a skill you may need to know some day and it will take awhile, but courtesy of Canadian Jaqueline Mabey this is how to do it:
As far as I know this only works on oil paintings, though possibly also on acrylic. “The chemicals in saliva are like the perfect gentle cleanser; they break down the dirt and dust that builds up on the surface without damaging the paint. You’ll need little sticks, a roll of sterilized cotton, and patience4. You can’t really rush the process. It will take the time it takes.
Wrap a small amount of cotton from the roll around the tip of the stick. Stick the cottony end of the stick in your mouth between your tongue and your cheek. Roll it around getting the cotton wet, but not saturated. Remove from mouth and slowly brush the surface of the painting. Make your way slowly across the work.”
Well there you have it.
The Japanese period began with teaching my Campfire Girls troop about children’s holidays in Japan. There were many little Japanese friends while growing up in Long Beach, California, and it was fun to hear about “Girls and Boys Day celebrations. When a CampFire Girls troop opened up it seemed like a good project to teach them about children’s customs in Japan, so a lot of study began on my part first.
What started with the CampFire group, extended to studying the language, and to the decoration of a new home and garden.
While we tore the house apart and rebuilt, restored and re-imaged it, we began to tackle the flat, uninteresting patch of grass in the backyard. We suggested a swimming pool, but our girls said they would rather go to the two neighborhood pools where their friends swam.
San Francisco has a world famous Japanese garden which we frequented often getting ideas for a garden of our own. It had to begin with a pool of course, and Dr. Advice spent many evenings after work digging. The hole was soon about 4′ deep, 12′ long and 8’wide, so I suggested he stop. Ultimately, there was another pond with waterfall at the other end of the yard, and a red moon bridge over the larger pool, leading to a small teahouse among the trees at the other side. A wooden finial on the top of the roof was carved by a woodcarver friend. We were indebted to our late brother-in-law and another friend for joining us in all the digging, hammering and celebratory beer drinking after the job was finished. Our good friend Tak Fudenna helped us get rocks and offered suggestions.
The bridge had a slight accident a few years later when it groaned under the stress of about 15 high school girls posing for a photo-op before graduation. Dr. A groaned a bit himself when he called home from a business trip and heard the news.
A visiting Japanese friend who came during a home and garden tour, said “It’s lovely now, but wait another ten years and it will be spectacular.” I visited it several years ago, and he was right.
THE WARNING OF THE WATERMILL
Poem by Richard Holding
Vitruvius Molinus made me,
With wheel and stone and leat,
While cohorts marched against the tribes
Westward on Watling Street.
Four generations tended me,
Till the Legions recall to Rome;
But a Molinus stayed to work my mill—
He knew no other home.
When invading hordes had settled down
And village life was born,
The sokeman and villeins needed me
To grind the Saxon corn.
I was listed in William’s Domesday book,
As were five thousand more;
I tendered my tax in “sticks of eels”,
According to Norman law.
For centuries have I worked away,
Whatever line was in power;
I garnered the local harvest
And ground it into flour.
Men said then that the power of steam
Was a more efficient way;
So my weir, my leat, my wheel collapsed,
And I began to decay.
Then a “property developer” rebuilt me,
With deal and glass and point,
He turned me into a restaurant,
Described as “rather quaint.”
He took out all my machinery,
Hung my artifacts on the wall,
Displayed my sluice behind plate glass,
As a “picturesque waterfall.”
Perhaps when you’ve used all your North Sea oil,
And your fossil fuel is done,
You’ll remember I was once a watermill,
And rivers will always run.
Proverb: “The mill cannot grind With the water that is past.”
This grist mill was built by my ancestor Francis Kendall for grinding corn in mid 1600’s, near the town of Woburn, Massachusetts for which he was a founder. He and his brother arrived in America in 1630.
She lived a life that would have been considered outrageous even by today’s standards, but Beatrice Woods began her life in 1893 as a daughter of a wealthy, socially conscious family in San Francisco. Ultimately, it was her exposure to the arts that ruined her mother’s hopes for her in 1912, when Beatrice rejected plans for a coming-out party and decided she wanted to become a painter.
Supervised by a chaperone, Beatrice went to Paris to study, but it was in Giverney, home of Monet, that rebellious Beatrice ditched the chaperone and moved into an attic with her painted canvases.
Moving to Paris, she decided to become an actress, and while taking acting lessons, Beatrice became became part of a Bohemian group of artists, and where she was introduced to the artist Marcel Duchamp. “We immediately fell for each other,” Beatrice recalled. “He was an enchanting person.” Duchamp introduced her to Henri-Pierre Roche, a French diplomat, writer and art collector, who became her first lover. He was also the first man to break her heart. Beatrice had found herself surrounded by Bohemian men who thought little of bourgeois morality. During this time she became known as the “Mama of Dada”.
“Marcel shocked me because he said that sex and love are two different things,” Beatrice later recalled. Yet she fell into a relationship with both men, and remained life-long friends with Duchamp. In 1953 Roche wrote a semi-autobiographical novel called Jules et Jim, about a threesome, which some some erroneously suggested may have been inspired by the association of Woods, Duchamp and Roche.
In 1948, Beatrice moved to Ojai, California, to be close to the Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti. She built a home in the small peaceful village of artists a little south of Santa Barbara and surrounded by lovely rolling hills. There she taught and pursued her art for the next sixty years. At age 90, at the urging of her friend Anais Nin, she became a writer. Her most famous book is “I Shock Myself”.
I first became interested in Beatrice in 1985 while teaching a class in conceptual art and Marcel Duchamp, and when I learned that she was living in Ojai, I welcomed an opportunity to visit her.
If you want the local lowdown in Ojai, California, a resident says “People rarely ask what you do—they ask, ‘what brought you to Oja?’ I love that. Ojai is a beautiful sleepy small community of artists, farmers, and a few people who simply want to relax and enjoy life.
The prospect of seeing poppies drew us up into the green hills above the town. We had been graced with the sight of enormous 5 inch wide white flowers along highway 101, and Ojai thought enough of them to name a park Matilija—Ma-till-a-hah.
Winding up through the hills we came upon Beatrice’s little house where she lived, worked and had a small gallery of her work. The door was answered by a diminutive Indian man who introduced himself as “her humble servant.” Beatrice was momentarily engaged in another room but we saw her as she darted past the doorway like a barefoot hummingbird. Draped in colorful sari and Native American jewelry, she was an iconic figure, even better than I had thought
When she floated into the gallery and found my interest in art, her “humble servant” brought cups of tea and she described the art displayed in the room. She was quite open about her relationships with Duchamp and Roche, and introduced us to her German Shepherd dog,
Roche” who wandered into the room in search of a pat on the head.
Her sculptures were funky, funny and engaging and told a wry story of her life. One large piece was of a brothel on fire, with girls leaning out the front windows while a variety of men were pouring out the back doors. Beatrice explained that the men were “the mayor, the police chief, etc.” It was plain that her way to get even with the men who had hurt her throughout her life was to put them all in erratic or hazardous situations in her art.
To what did she attribute her longevity? Her stock answer was “I owe it all to chocolate and young men.” Beatrice Woods died in Ojai at the age of 105 in 1998.
Her personal and artistic style intrigued me, and I developed a number of pieces as a dedication to Beatrice.
Two weeks ago I was typing away, minding my own business, decided to empty my recycle bin, and suddenly with no warning, over 4,300 files slipped rapidly away in front of my eyes. What did I do to deserve this? Not even the clever tech people could say what happened, but they were smart enough to fetch it back; for a price. The only things worthwhile to me were Art records, so yes, it was worth it to me.
The computer came home clean, with all 4300 files home again, this time in incomprehensible computer language. Being a determined woman of a certain age, I muddled my way through all of them and now life is again running along as it should be.
Among much-loved photos, I found this one of a sailboat at sunset, taken one evening several years ago in the Canadian San Juan Islands. We had pulled into a small secluded cove and dropped anchor for the night. Shortly afterwards this boat pulled in with the same idea and as the sun was setting, presented this lovely scene. A friend aboard with us, unwrapped his bugle and gave a tender rendition of “Taps” to end a perfect day of sailing.