November Days

     Now the thankful week arrives, when we acknowledge how much we have to be grateful for every week. Including this year – disaster averted on Election Day – thank you specially to Generation Z!

On my gratitude list will be opportunities for work I’ve so enjoyed, seizing gift thoughts that float through. In one endeavor, I entertained myself greatly by making postcards for the most recent beginning-reader in the family. Utter nonsense that was so much fun to do. So I subject you to a few of the images and, forgive me, the doggerel. I send these along with Thanksgiving wishes all around!

October For Real – At Last

About 11 a.m. last Friday, the long-awaited rain arrived. I slipped out to the deck in stocking feet and brought in the faded geraniums and the little ice cream table and chairs, wooden parts covered with old oilcloth but not protected from hard rain.

In spring I’d had plans for that little seating spot – intending to ignore the looming three-story buildings staring down at us and have tea there or eat lunch – but a summer of travel and too much heat foiled that plan. Finally, after hot weeks and weeks of drought, and days of thick forest-fire smoke, the air is chilly and cleansed by rain.

     Autumn beauty found its way nonetheless. In sunshine tourists gaped and stopped to photograph the maple trees’ royal red and gold, and in gloom and rain, color-washed leaves brighten the sidewalks. Flowers soldiered on – one cosmos plant in a particularly happy spot is more than two feet tall and wide and blooms still with magenta good cheer. And, discovering beauty and interest I’d always overlooked, I painted the gone-by golden stems and seed heads of meadow grasses.

     I like what Katherine Swift writes in her book “The Moreville Year” in a chapter titled: “A Little Vase of Flowers”… “There is something very touching about flowers seen like this: just two or three blooms, picked at random, not ‘arranged.’ They still seem part of the garden.” These late bloomers, wonderful to paint, speak of resilience, a final burst of defiance in the face of the inevitable.

     The shape of the seasons becomes unfamiliar. It used to be you could talk about this happening in January and that happening in July, but those sureties no longer hold. So, all one can do is pay attention to what is. And this peculiar weather seems part of the general uncertainty and fear in the air – political tension, war, new variants. Are we all tired from holding those fears at bay?

And sometimes I wonder if the world has always seemed so unsteady to people of a certain age. My father-in-law in his last year was reading a book titled, “How They Died.” I was young with a new baby and dismissed it. But now I find myself wanting to read about “how they live” in last years – specially the writers and artists I admire – the ones who keep a-going with work.

     And wet streets and dark days lead me to thoughts of grandchildren and holiday plans, storing the geraniums and pumpkins for winter, making a pie, and being excited to plant bulbs for spring.

September Arrives

     No matter my efforts to cling to the last of August, September happened last week in a flurry of back-to-school excitement. For weeks it’s been summer hot, and so dry, but change is upon us.

     Recently we woke to the first morning fog in months, geese gather on the shore heading south, squirrels knock hazelnuts out of trees, and a neighbor who heats with wood has already stacked a mountain of delivered wood into her tidy shed. A scatter of leaves on sidewalks crunches underfoot from drought, and bramble leaves turn red.

The pumpkins, which had such a hard go in the cold and wet early spring, finally show some orange. They may not get their required 110 days to be pie ready, but each day more of their huge yellow blossoms open defiantly – late season beauty and color swarming with bees.

     Being much inclined to leave seedheads this year (and in truth having missed a lot of deadheading), I’ve watched a small wren pry open the sweet pea pods. They seem large seeds for such a tiny bird – maybe it seeks insects within.

And now, verges and rights-of-way enrich my walks with the proliferation of seedheads and shapely dried stalks of grasses and, yes, weeds as they prepare for next year. The filagree blossoms of Queen Anne’s lace close on fists of seeds held high, and the puff balls of hawkweed scatter in the wind. All these small wild places, the ones that matter to the natural world have caught my attention this summer (probably belatedly). But it seems like our thinking changes about the importance of such spaces and how we might provide them.

I’ve been aware of the attempts by municipalities and large gardens to make meadows supporting pollinators and creating visual interest – and the efforts of homeowners to get away from the monocrop of level lawn and embrace “No Mow May.” A nearby neighbor began early in the season to cut only around the edges of his lawn – and a path through. Each day I walked by to see what appeared in a formerly green blank.

     This fall I want to scatter and dig in many small bulbs in our tiny bit of lawn – anemone blanda, species tulips, small narcissus to naturalize – and then let the grass and weeds grow next spring and see what happens.

I suppose that’s a huge part of the changing season – planning new beginnings!

August Meadow ©Katy Gilmore 2022

“Flower Pleasure: Books, Bookmarks, and Watercolors” at the Miller Library

I’ve so neglected the blog for all these months, but now I wonder what I could possibly have said about our ongoing dire straits. Each week brings some new sadness, for humanity, for the environment, or double outrages like last week’s decisions. Maybe I would have given up anyway – turned completely to painting a record of the wonders we have in flowers and plants – as I seem to have done for the Miller Library show!

My show at the Elisabeth C. Miller Library opens on July 5, 2022, and continues until July 28, 2022, with a “Meet the Artist” from 3-5 p.m. on Thursday, July 7, 2022. (Hours and location on their website: https://depts.washington.edu/hortlib/)

Oh, I have enjoyed making this work. The Miller Library inspired much of it – particularly John Gerard’s “The Herball” from 1597. The illustrations provided images to adapt for bookmarks I made specially for the Miller as a fundraiser – 36 bookmarks, each with an illustration redrawing a woodblock image from Gerard and a quote from a gardening book (most available at the Miller).

I also greatly enlarged and painted the images with watercolor for two large paintings.

And for a set of 12 accordion fold books, “A Flower Year: Books I-XII,” I wrote, and digitally printed short essays and printed, then hand-painted, images. Here are Books I and VI:

The exhibition includes a 15-foot long (when extended) accordion book titled, “A Pumpkin Season,” and the series of drawings “Mornings at the V&A,” which first appeared here on the blog, and now will be in the Miller’s wonderful, glassed tabletop display cases.

I’d love to see you at the “Meet the Artist” – if not, I still hope you might have a chance to visit the Miller, such a treasure for those who love plants and gardens. This librarian’s article really describes it well: (https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/236591#page/35/mode/1up).

A visit would make a great day out – a pleasure to ride the light rail to the University of Washington Station, then walk below the UW athletic buildings, through the Union Bay Natural Area to the library in the Center for Urban Horticulture. (Info: https://botanicgardens.uw.edu/center-for-urban-horticulture/visit/maps-trails/)

True summer has arrived now in the Northwest – and I wish you a really enjoyable one!

Postcards for May

     Happy May to all! I hope spring finds you well and enjoying our emergence from winter’s dark tunnel. Perhaps because it stands in stark contrast to Putin’s barbaric behavior, this spring has seemed more delicious than ever before – alive with beauty and birdsong.

     As an escape from things one can do nothing about, my mind has been much occupied with flower images for my solo show at the Elisabeth C. Miller Library in July. So, when the Bainbridge Island of Arts and Crafts recently requested postcards for their first-ever mail art exhibition, I adapted some of the drawings I did for part of the Miller show.

John Gerard published “The Herball” in 1597 – full of errors and appropriations from other authors – the woodblock illustrations are nonetheless charming and a great pleasure to draw from. (For the show in July, I also enlarged some of the woodblock images into big watercolors!)

I’ve heard that hundreds of original postcards have been donated and will be for sale as a fundraiser for the non-profit gallery – it should be fun! (On view from this Friday, May 6 until May 29, 2022.)

Here are my offerings, along with all best wishes for spring to you!

January Thoughts

In spite of early snow and torrential rain (no exaggeration), the frost on Sunday felt decisively January.

On a sunny walk, my mind buzzed with thoughts of my commonplace book idea. I’d imagined 24 small books about flowers for the beautiful glass cases at the Miller, but lately, I’ve questioned that plan.

     Now I think about taller books, still about flowers, the year in flowers. Just a sampler, and, of course, Washington flowers this time. Some of the months will require revisiting past notes and blogs. And because the books’ size will better allow stems, I can begin with the branches of January.

     In these early months I get to check memory against reality – and observe new things – like this beginning to bud Ribes sanguineum decorated for some unknown reason with a teeny, tiny knitted hat!  

Here’s to You 2022!

     While getting out the tree decorations this year I found a note I wrote to myself: “I’m putting these decorations away on January 6, 2021, while rioters attack the U.S. Capitol. Where will we be when I unpack them?” The answer I suppose is in the midst of a barely bipartisan investigation and a lot of other woes.

     The tree didn’t get decorated by our California family as hoped – colds (not Covid) felled three members, cancelling travel. In hindsight, maybe a good thing. Omicron increased its presence, an after Christmas snowfall left ice in its wake polished by a stiff north wind, and temperatures fell to a record 17° in the Pacific Northwest.

     Our young friend, her parents, and her visiting university friend from England, salvaged Christmas Eve. The young people decorated the tree (revisiting a long-standing tradition from our young friend’s childhood), and it was interesting to hear the 20-somethings’ take on Covid, feeling lucky because they’d had two years of real college, and feeling sorry for younger students who began their studies on-line.

We missed the California crew, but, backsliding to FaceTime togetherness, opened Christmas presents in the morning and ate Christmas dinner with them. Which is far better than nothing.

Now it is January – and we head into our third pandemic year with mind-boggling crises around every corner – the Covid deaths that now seem unnecessary, the refusal to deal with climate change, and the threats to our democracy.

The other night we watched “Don’t Look Up!” – have you seen it? I laughed – laughed hard – the reactions to impending and certain doom so absurd. And then, of course, the truth of the whole thing hits – how precisely and accurately the movie skewers humankind’s reaction to important events like climate change – or Covid for that matter. The attempts by the heroes are familiar and heartbreaking – the responses chilling. It’s very good and very discouraging.

But it is a new year, and, as my painter friend said recently about the future: “you never know.”

So, here’s hoping for health, accomplishments in your chosen endeavors, and year-long sprinklings of unexpected joy (like revisiting images from the last 10 years – starting the sunbonnet of Lady B – who just turned 10 herself)!

Winter Solstice

     If you are away for a while this time of year, and miss the gradual shortening of the days, the disappearance of light is shocking. Darkness lingers late in the morning and descends early in the afternoon – but – all the better for shining twinkle lights and Christmas trees!

     We were away in Kauai – for a glorious time (a year delayed) with both families. Days of body surfing and boogie boards with Mrs. Hughes for the girls, Lord B floated the “Lazy River” that forms by the shore near the place where we stay, and Sweet Brother, having never known Hawaii pleasures, happily paddled in the shallows and dug in the sand.

Each night after dinner the cousins searched by flashlight for frogs and giant snails. They mastered walkie-talkie lingo enabling fun communication between the condos (code named Jungle Base and Tower Base). Every morning I walked what we came to call the “cookie walk” – with Sweet Brother in the stroller and one or the other, or both Sweet B and Lord B. As we walked a path beside the beach, my companions adventurously tromped cross-country through a patch of trees, spoke of birds and baby chicks, stopped at the “laboratory tree” to include found treasures in its crannies, and sang made up songs to appease Sweet Brother (he does not like to stop).

     The Alaskans had gone home before our trip ended with three days of serious storm – gale winds and torrential rain – but warmth.

     After missing holidays and trips last year, to be together in that warmth felt luxurious. Last year we all tried so hard with strange, lonely holidays – and here is normalcy (sort of) returned and welcome. While the pandemic slides into endemic –the California contingent will come for Christmas.

     I’ve been silent here on the blog – so many books I’ve missed writing about – Anthony Doerr’s new book “Cloud Cuckoo Land,” “Patchwork: A Life Amongst Clothes” by Claire Wilcox, a curator at the V&A, and a revisiting of all the novels of Elizabeth Taylor, beloved if not well-known, British writer from the last century. Treasures all.

     My excuse is the show next summer – I want to explore books and pictures about gardens and plants, and I have been rereading my books and visiting the Miller Library. So far, I’ve only produced dummies of the artists’ books and bookmarks I’d like to make, but I have plans. Without the fresh flowers of the warm seasons and the inspiration of growing things – this will be a different way to prepare for a show.

In the meantime, along with our Christmas card (drawn by Lady B this year!), I send you warm wishes that these days at the year’s nadir are full of holiday cheer!

Rain and Trees and a Good Summer Gone By

     Last week a rainstorm blew in – a drenching that called for sturdy shoes and coats and startled after this summer of day-after-day sun.

     During the first week of August, in the midst of that sunshine, Lady B came to visit. We did all our best things: drawing trees at Bloedel, beach time and hikes, painting pottery, and visiting the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. She overlapped a day with Sweet B, and the two of them decorated our driveway with chalk flowers and a “welcome to the neighborhood sign,” and then camped out in the living room for a sleepover night.

The next morning, we rode the ferry to meet Lady B’s mom and eat crumpets and ice cream before they returned to Alaska. Sweet B stayed on with her family for three terrific weeks.

     In September, the Garden Project at the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Gallery succeeded with a near sell-out – earning more than $800 for the food bank. In an exciting development for me, I met another artist in the exhibition, a kindred spirit named Lou Cabeen. Over coffee one morning, she told me about the Elisabeth C. Miller Library at the Center for Urban Horticulture, part of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens.

In addition to emphasizing books about horticulture, botany, plant ecology, and garden design, this library presents monthly exhibits by artists who share the library’s love of plants, gardens, and nature. I applied to exhibit, and a lucky vacancy allowed me to be accepted for a show in July 2022.

     The Miller is heaven for me – books and gardens! Last month I rode the light rail to the University of Washington, walked along a wetland path on the shore of Lake Washington, behind the huge stadiums and athletic buildings, to meet librarian Rebecca Alexander and see the available space. It’s plentiful, varied, and inspiring with possibility – and a little intimidating.

But really I wanted to make this update because of this piece by Adrian Higgins about trees. It reminded me that, in my efforts to transform the pumpkin patch into a long-lasting space, more trees are in order. (I’m beginning this process, but for now, more than 25 pumpkins nearly engulf the shrubs I planted last spring.) Our neighborhood has seen the destruction of all sorts of small habitats these last few years. It’s fall planting time, and a joy, to put some back.    

A Update on “A Garden Project”

     How can it be the middle of July already? Summer days for sure. We endured the heat dome, and now experience our summer drought – day after day of sunshine – but so far, thankfully, without a return of the extreme heat.

     A recent comment referred to these posts as “accounts of life, illustrated,” a lovely definition of what I’ve always tried to do here – and an update is due.

My work is now part of the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts exhibition in September – not August. The pieces made of gardeners’ words and my images are safely at the gallery – all 50 of them! They will be priced at just $35.00, unframed, with my portion of proceeds to be donated to the local food bank at Helpline House. (That seemed a good solution to using other people’s words.) It was great fun to do this project, and I look forward to meeting many of the gardeners at the opening!

     This September show is large, with many artists involved, so I’m not sure my other work will all be hung, but I surely enjoyed the making – illustrating garden bloom. In August I’ll post more blue and whites here, and maybe some pieces from “A Garden Project” on Instagram. Here’s one!

Checking In

     The other day I received an email from a dear reader who wondered, “being a worrier,” about the blog. After 10 years of mostly weekly posts, this has indeed been a long spring break.

     We’ve been to both Alaska and California – exciting to go through the familiar steps of travel – and bliss to see the grandchildren. A long enough visit in California let us settle into a routine with a table full of art supplies and projects, lots of book reading, and much admiring of the changes in Sweet Brother! He’s a whole little person now – walking everywhere, full of fun and strong opinions. We visited the two open museums in Los Angeles, the Sweet Bride made us wonderful meals, and their garden in a California April is paradise.

     And Alaska – one year and five months since we saw Lady B and her brother. I’m thankful for technology for keeping us from seeming strangers, but nothing compares with being together. Lots of hugs, many games of Go Fish (I lose always), Quick Cups (I sometimes win), and Lady B worked with me on my “Illustrating Animals” class homework. Lord B delighted us – funny and smart and so welcoming – he worked on Star Wars Legos with Papa Jim and listened every night to chapters of “The Lord of the Rings.” The Anchorage April landscape brought back memories.  

     I would have written about all this, and books, and excitement about Biden’s attempts to right things, but the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Gallery offered the opportunity to be featured in August – to do flowers – whatever I wanted.

I plan three big paintings and many more of the blue and white series. In that wonderful way of ideas appearing from nowhere, I also began to think about words from local gardeners about their gardens, to combine with images from my past flower and garden illustration work.

     I passed out a query letter to gardeners on my walks, asked coordinators of P-patches and garden groups to share them, and encouraged all to pass on to gardener friends. The varied responses range from the closely personal to Ann Lovejoy’s, “If you have too many weeds, you don’t have enough plants.” It’s been great fun to receive gardener’s words and choose a suitable image to accompany them. The final products – text and pictures on a backing – look a little like garden book pages.

So, it’s been busy – in a good way for sure! I hope you are well and vaccinated and enjoying this spring and coming summer!

A Spring Break

     A week ago, while listening to a book on FaceTime, Lord B told me that, in Alaska, “it’s not spring, but it’s spring break.” Snow still covers the ski mountain – making for great ski days without school.

     Here it is spring – just days past the vernal equinox, blossoms cover cherry and plum trees, flowering daphne perfumes the air, anemone and a few cautious tulips join daffodils, whose insistent yellow declares the season begun. On my morning walk, a pair of small dinosaur hatchlings suddenly appeared at the end of a driveway – made of plastic and wearing masks, of course.

     Resident birds noisily busy themselves, and V-shaped flocks of geese touch down on Eagle Harbor, then depart for northern climes. Unseen for months, rabbits appear from thickets to nibble fresh green grass. And in the human world, the garden center seems relaxed compared to this time last year, when a desperate air permeated the place – gone are many of the restrictions and plants are plentiful.

     It’s a good time for a short spring break in “Her spirits rose….”

Crowds

     After being a click ‘n shipper for a year, last week I actually visited the post office. Bainbridge sports two post offices, one tiny and the other small. Just one person at a time may enter the tiny post office. But a line forms at the other – six customers and two workers in a small room, sort of spaced out, not really a crowd – but being there made me antsy.

     And made me think about crowds, about how they used to be associated with exciting things: travel, performances, big cities, the Women’s March. How readily we accepted being close to an unknown person – and how long ago that seems.

     And now I wonder what it will be like as things open up, will we ever again be comfortable with crowds? Will we come to a point where crowded moments – the cluster that forms as people wait to disembark the ferry, an airport waiting area, the aisle of a movie theatre after the show, the crush of a rattling, stuffy subway car! – will be normal again?

     What do you most look forward to in our future? I love the very thought of a hug (or maybe a crowded hug) with grandchildren and their parents. Increasing acceptance of public crowds will mark a milestone in our COVID-19 journey – this one toward joy! 

“Hamnet”

     Because I began and continued to read Maggie O’Farrell’s new book, “Hamnet,” in bed for several nights in that liminal space between awake and sleep, I utterly failed to appreciate what a wonder it is. But I woke up to its pleasures about a third of the way in, and the next day began to devour it properly. I have loved Maggie O’Farrell’s books and now also this one – for her language and the scope of her imagining.

Despite the title, the crucial, central character in the book is Agnes, the name O’Farrell gives Anne Hathaway, William Shakespeare’s wife. She’s a healer and herbalist, an outsider, a woman who at 26, married the 18-year-old Latin tutor, destined to become playwright to the centuries. The tale alternates between the book’s present time, when Hamnet, their only son, is 11 with the time of Agnes’s youth – beloved mother and wicked stepmother, meeting her husband, and the birth of their three children.

Replete with Shakespearean themes of death, grief, the supernatural, twins, mistaken identity and the natural world, O’Farrell wholly imagines the life of the family Shakespeare left behind (paying only infrequent visits) as he found his way in London. O’Farrell uses the everyday details of forests (hazelnuts are “dust-jacketed pearls”) and kitchens, herbs (“extract of valerian and tincture of chickweed) and animals, childbirth, in-laws, and houses.

And she writes specifically of tragedy, for Hamnet is felled by an unnamed pestilence, most probably bubonic plague. (O’Farrell’s rich recreation of the infection’s journey, via generations of fleas who voyage the world, is harrowing during our plague.) Hamnet’s death brings an unbearable grief to Agnes.

     In the end, Agnes’s countryside and the playwright’s teeming London town collide – and also the griefs of mother and father – in the crowded pit of the Globe Theatre, during a production of “Hamlet,” four years after the death of Hamnet.

     It’s a marvel of a book – worthy of a wideawake reading.

 

A Year On

     On the third of March last year, I first mentioned the coronavirus on the blog, wondering about its spread. Then gradually, with no real uh-oh moment, we learned new words and phrases: fomite, flatten the curve, shelter in place, social distancing, super spreader. It shocked when Italy shut down, but by mid-month Washington followed suit. Masks quickly became standard, as did virtual work, school, and social life. Hugging went the way of touching our faces.

     But at no point early did I imagine that a year later COVID-19 would have killed upwards of 500,000 Americans. Now we can answer the questions posed as the year wore on: Will the winter of 2020 be better? Or the darkest winter we’ve ever known?

     I just mark this anniversary, and for a moment think about then and now. It’s discouraging to face how badly the past administration did, but heartening to watch the new one attempt to set things right. At first vaccines seemed a matter of years in the future – and now everyone is scrambling to get one of three approved vaccines. (Speedy vaccine development made possible by scientific breakthroughs, and by the appalling amount of virus circulating in the country.)

     And I try to appreciate that vaccine miracle as we negotiate the new uncertainties. We’ve grown familiar and comfortable with masks and distance, and I try not to think about the variants with their uncatchy number names. But nothing seems certain anymore. And we are a little numbed I think, very accustomed to Zoom life with family and friends, maybe a little nervous to actually be with them. With two shots aboard, my friend of longstanding visited hers, and commented, “it’s real life in an unknown time.”

     I loved reading about happiness at vaccination centers. Surely the coming spring and summer will bring an easing of anxiety and return of trust – an end to this COVID year’s dearth of joy.