Lady Baby Spring Doings

Because I was in Alaska when news came of the Sweet Baby’s arrival, I got to watch Lady Baby see the first photos of her new cousin. With the sweetest expression of curiosity and awe, she said, “She’s so tiny. She’s the size of Pink Baby, right?” (Pink Baby is a soft doll clad in pink terry cloth, a long-standing, cherished member of the family.)

At Downtown Abbey now when I’m with Lady Baby, it’s like visiting with a really good friend. We enjoy each other, laugh at old jokes and memories, and share new experiences. Her dad came home one day and said, “You two are thick as thieves!”

He’d found us sitting at the top of the basement steps with the door closed. (It’s always closed and has a cat flap because the Ladies Cora and Winnie aren’t allowed in the basement where the Lords Cromwell and Wolsey spend a lot of time.) I’m not sure why we hunkered on the top step chatting. Well, actually, (as Lady Baby often begins a sentence), she had requested we sit for a “meeting,” because of some “concerns” about Baby Boy. (He likes to skate but fell on the ice. I said: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” She replied: “It’s OK, he’s a doll.”)

We spoke of other matters, the weirdly painted stairway walls (my doing long ago), more “concerns” (not serious ones because I can’t remember them), questioned how bulky Wolsey clambers up to his perch high on a shelf, and I told her the story of how Frances came to live with us. Lady Baby loves stories, and ones grounded in reality work just fine.

We only broke up the meeting because we’d discovered her bike in the basement where she showed me her steering and braking skills. We realized we could take it outside! (A miracle if you live in Alaska and only know bike riding in the basement.)

It’s a purple bike with training wheels, and must be really hard to pump, but she rode the whole way to the bakery, bike wheels spinning out a little on snow patches. Liberation – a bike to ride in springtime.

Muscles grow stronger with daily rides around the block, and one day we rode to the nearby school playground. We stayed a record two hours, sliding, swinging, and watching a family hide Easter eggs.

Whether Lady Baby rides her bike or we both walk, we’re fond of singing loudly “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor….” Lady Baby doesn’t know Mr. Rogers yet, but she surely knows the first part of his song, and sang with lusty enthusiasm while tromping the gritty sidewalks.

This time I suggested the ancient Johnny Horton hit “When It’s Springtime In Alaska…”, but couldn’t remember any words. So Lady Baby sang, “It’s springtime in Alaska, and the birds are nearly singing!”

And that works just fine.

Scanned Image

Maira Kalman and a Bird

Oh I do find inspiration in Maira Kalman’s sense of humor and her take on life. She makes me want to go and do – to travel, to see, and to make. To get on with it!

And just when I needed an infusion of energy in the bird project, a Workroom friend posted a video by the filmmaker Gail Towey. It’s about Maira Kalman, and particularly about the process of selecting objects for the opening exhibition at the recently refurbished Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City.

I hadn’t heard about the video or the exhibition – and thought how fine it would be to select objects with personal resonance from a huge collection (some 200,000). It was enough fun to draw all those flowered things from the V&A and post them here! Fancy choosing objects because of the stories they tell, the emotions they can arouse, or because they elicit a “gasp of delight” – and then to make an exhibition, and even collaborate on song and music about your choices.

Kalman calls the exhibition room of “Maira Kalman Selects,” a “contemplative space,” recognizing that people will gravitate to specific objects. The range is broad and eclectic – from Lincoln’s pocket watch (and a recording of it ticking after 200 years!) to hats and shoes and mourning samplers.

Part of her series, “Portraits of Creativity,” Gail Towey’s wonderful film is here:

http://www.portraitsincreativity.com/maira-kalman-smithsonian/

And I loved this longer one,

http://www.cooperhewitt.org/2015/02/18/maira-kalman-my-favorite-things-a-film-by-gael-towey/. This video records the premier of Towey’s film followed by a question and answer session with Towey, the show’s curator, and Kalman. They talk about what Kalman wanted to see, how they traveled to off-site storage locations to view “the cutest dog in the world,” and about being told, “No, you may not borrow Lincoln’s hat,” by the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

With the serendipity of creative collaborations, everything came together to support Kalman’s themes of time, of life and death, and questions about the human condition like, “Why am I here?”

“Small questions.” Kalman says.

Olive-sided flycatcher

Olive-sided flycatcher

Daffodils and More Birds

At the beginning of March, sunshine and daffodils in yellows warm and pale lit up the world. Cold mornings gave way to warm middays, and all day the sun shone into my workroom onto bird photos and paintings. Welcome rain returns this week, but I loved sitting and painting in warmth.

I discovered other amazing bird photographers to add to my acknowledgement list, most specially Alan and Elaine Vernon’s beautiful photos. They are generous and their site a fine resource: www.naturespicsonline.com.

With frets in the air about the early spring and low snowpack, I wait for the migrants to return. No sign yet of these two, the White-crowned sparrow and Violet-green swallow, but I hope to see and hear them soon!

White-crowned sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

Violet-green swallow

Violet-green swallow

Winter Wren

On a pouring rain day at the end of February, a lone bright-red anemone, scattered crocus, and many snowdrops bloom in the garden. Hellebore cluster together on straight stems and bow their blossom heads. An acid spring-green colors a proliferation of not-yet-blooming forget-me-nots, the sharp spears of new crocosmia, and thick moss on garden bed edging logs and pavers. That newborn green shines against the dark gray of winter forest, and amid a discouraging amount of standing water.

Indoors, I consider the bird project – begun with my very favorite and one of the smallest – the winter wren (maybe finding its shape, but not yet background.)

IMG_4595

 

“Big Bad Birds”?

Last year Bainbridge Arts and Crafts presented a group exhibition called “Big Bad Bugs,” and this year I’m invited to participate in their May show: “Big Bad Birds.” The deadline approaches quickly – it’s a temporal truth that time speeds up toward a due date.

Drawing a winter wren for the Twitter exhibition in Oslo reminded me how I love to draw birds. And from a few years ago, I have the photographers’ permission to draw from pictures of juncos, winter wrens, robins, sparrows, chickadees, and other beloved birds – now filling the woods with their spring song.

I’ll post more here later, but the image below is a start –- getting familiar again with bird colors and shapes. In the end I hope to make little paintings – maybe on wood, not big or bad birds, but small and sweet birds.

Bird Study - neighbors

Beginning a bird study – near neighbors in pencil and watercolor on Rives BFK…

 

Considering April

My young friend and her parents came to stay at the Buffalo during her spring break, and I loved having them here. It seemed so neighborly to have people you love next door, like in my old neighborhood. They enjoy this place – like sleeping late and reading, walking in town or on the beach, going out to dinner or eating at home by the fire, some nights rewatching favorite movies.

As they headed to the ferry on their last day, we walked the trail at Bloedel Reserve – past pink rhododendron blossoms, hellebore, and primula, much green grass and ducks on the pond. Part of the charm of Bloedel is the manor house, a graceful mansion that looks so livable (if one were really, really lucky). My young friend’s mother and I smiled to see it.

Houses have been much on my mind. I recently read both Bill Bryson’s book “At Home: A Short History of Private Life,” where he rambles, as is his wont, through our relationship to houses and their contents, and “A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman,” a collection of Margaret Drabble’s stories. These wonderful stories span her whole career as a novelist, but have never been collected together before. I remember houses in Drabble’s books the way one remembers characters, and first wrote about her here.

Then, looking for April inspiration, I came across the dummy pages, quotes, and illustrations for a house journal my young friend’s mother and I once talked about doing together. I also found an old sketchbook with line drawings from a solo trip to Hawaii long ago, when I drew all the utensils in the kitchen drawers instead of vistas or flowers.

These thoughts moiled around until April seemed a month for houses – with open-ended possibilities, visits, details, houses in movies? The art of life is much about house and home.

In these parts March has gone out like a lamb (albeit a lamb well-hydrated by rain), a beautiful ending with flowering trees and blooming bulbs. Indoors, on the sunny days, light reveals cobwebs, dust filigrees, and smudges – and that will surely be another part of the month of house – to see if I can inspire myself to a “deeper clean” or just draw pictures of sun splashes, never mind the housework.

Frances in a sunspot

Harry Potter’s Creative Life

When we visited London three years ago with my young friend and her mother (a trip we still speak of often), we joined a Harry Potter walking tour and saw places where the movie was filmed and sites “that probably inspired J.K. Rowling.”

But Warner Brothers’ Studio Tour “The Making of Harry Potter” wasn’t yet open. My young friend would have loved it – not just because she grew up reading Harry Potter, but because it is all about the work of clever and creative people.

Reaching the studio requires a long ride from London on a bus dressed up to suggest the night bus. I felt a little sheepish climbing aboard – wishing we had in tow all sorts of fans: my young friend and her mother, my niece’s best friend, Mrs. Hughes who loved those books, and my painter friend’s grandson for starters.

But the sweet bride was there, and very excited, having read all the books in Thai, in Thailand. (Thinking about that makes me pause in awe of J.K. Rowling – of how she created a whole imaginary world to enchant countless children all over the real world.)

The actual sound stage, a warehouse-like complex where the movies were filmed, now welcomes masses of visitors. The ticket line snakes below larger-than-lifesized photos of Harry, Hermione, Ron, and the others at various ages.

The cavernous space contains the enchanting sets, complex and detailed in person – Hogwort’s Apothecary Department, Hagrid’s Hut, and Daigon Alley (where you could walk). In the Gryffindor Common Room, comfy red couches and plenty of cushions, a beautiful room-sized rug, good lighting, and an enormous fireplace with inglenook seemed a great place to be with your friends, and worlds apart from the sad, bleak set depicting Harry’s bed under the stairs at the Dursley house – electrical junction box and bare, dangling light bulb. (Our younger son commented that it resembled the small bedroom in our flat.)

We were there in December, and snow fell as we circled around the enormous model used for filming Hogwarts Castle. In the Great Hall we walked among decorated tables piled high with dishes for a Christmas feast. In the boy’s dormitory, a red garland wound around Ron’s bed with its coverlet of colorful knitted squares and worn velvet curtains.

Descriptions of how moviemakers achieved effects accompanied each set – books and furniture distressed to look worn (fat London phone books became ancient volumes, apothecary potion bottles labeled by hand), intricate costumes designed and made – we learned how artists and crafts people used models and mocks ups in their creative process. The scale model of The Owlery intrigued me, a little line drawing depicting each individual owl.

But the best part might be the stories and videos about the animal actors and their trainers. “Four talented Red Persian cats – Crackerjack, Oliver, Bo Bo, and Prince” – played Hermione’s mangy cat Crookshanks. The Animal Department attached little fur mats with hair clips to make them appear more unkempt. (Lord Wolsey might have played Crookshanks – without effort he inhabits the part.)

Near the Dursley house on an outdoor street set, we sampled “butter beer” beside the real night bus. I bought a Gryffindor House scarf for my painter friend’s grandson for his seventh birthday (and was rewarded later by a video of him, wearing Potter glasses and gown, twirling with wand in hand as though to take off).

Having walked and gawked till exhausted, we each fell asleep on our night bus going back to London.

All that creativity – Rowling’s words, the actors, the behind the scenes people – magic.

Barn Owls and Bats

Just at dusk, during that sweet September time of hot weather, clear skies, and calm sea, my husband and I sat outside on the front deck as the sunset’s red streak stretched the whole horizon from the Pacific out of sight to nearby islands, growing more, then less intense as light faded.

The bats began their nocturnal patrols, swooping near to us, banking right or left, and zooming off. Tiny, silent fighter jets – engrossed in searching for prey (bats eat a third of their body weight in insects each night) – over the garden, over the lawn and bluff.

One evening (while everyone was still here for the Labor Day visit) – Lady Baby abed and the evening’s movie not commenced – Mrs. Hughes and I sat for a moment on the deck speaking of bats and the barn owl that visited earlier in the summer.

I told her about the huge ruckus on an August night that made us aware of owls – screechings from forest and bluff, piercing, repeated, a little scary, and very loud. You think screech owl because that’s what it sounds like or Barred owl because they are plentiful and troublesome in this area, but those owls have classic hoots like Lady Baby’s “hoo hoo.” Our noisy visitors were barn owls.

That screechfest lasted just one night, but for two weeks a lone barn owl screeched from a tree on the bluff every night.

I identified our visitor’s voice on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s owl page (here) as the “territorial scream and advertising call” of a barn owl. We grew accustomed to the nightly visitation and the raspy rhythmic cry, over and over from 1 a.m. till 4 a.m.

Once when it landed low down in a tree , we shined a flashlight, revealing the unmistakable white, heart-shaped face above a tawny body. (Now that I’ve read and really enjoyed Stacey O’Brien’s “Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Story of an Owl and His Girl,” and know more about the sensitivity of owls, I’m not proud of this.)

Barn owls live mostly on mice, and it’s said that when perched in a tree they can hear the heartbeat of a mouse. Our lawn and the bluff teem with plenty of trembling little hearts. (Some days I lament that things are slightly out of control here in the garden, but I love that we have insects and field mice – food for bats and barn owls.)

That evening while Mrs. Hughes and I lingered, a sudden movement caught our eye in the near dark – a pale shape settled on a tree branch – white face, silent – the barn owl back. Maybe bidding farewell, for whatever inspired the night-after-night calling is long over for this year.

And so is summer.