Rummaged Rooster

It’s the “world’s largest” rummage sale and an auction, but here it’s just known as Rotary. People donate, volunteer (more than 1,500), and – shop! Last year Bainbridge Island’s Rotary Auction raised over $625,000 for community grants and projects, scholarships, and international humanitarian work.

Bargain hunters come from around the Northwest and Canada, and the logistics of organizing people, parking, items for sale, and ensuring little waste boggles the mind.

The whole thing could be chaos. But somehow, in the midst of this evidence of wretched American excess – it’s really fun. Last year I helped a friend and volunteered in the linens department, but didn’t attend the sale.

This year we ventured into the fray – but not to do the running start at 8 a.m.! A mob of shoppers crowd together for a mass start (having previewed goods on Friday night), then, at a signal, dash for their targets. By 10:30 when we arrived, the very best “good stuff” was gone – but plenty remained, and we accomplished our objectives – life vests for our Bainbridge friends’ grandchildren (three for four dollars), new games and puzzles (bags stuffed for ten dollars), and two bowls and a plate from the “breakable kitchen ware” section.

As we made our way back to the shuttle bus stop, I realized the abundance on offer – huge things like oversized televisions, barbeques, kayaks, and dingys, even cars and trucks. Small treasures of glass or pottery. Massive stacks of linens, toys of all stripes, children’s clothes, grown up clothes, lawn mowers, garden tools, outdoor furniture, Christmas decorations, vacuum sweepers, luggage, building equipment, ski equipment, windows, doors, bikes, antlers, vinyl, computers, and boom boxes. Knitting supplies have a tent apart. The quantity is hard to convey – a whole middle school, classrooms, gymnasium, and playing field chockablock with discarded possessions awaiting new life.

We watched one family enthusiastically load into the back of a canopied truck, a huge storage container for a dock (apparently filled with other purchases), a child’s handmade wooden kitchen, a small table, a large wooden chair, a big two-burner camp stove, a shower surround (!), then add leftovers to the extended cab – along with their three-year old, the Bob stroller, themselves, and father-in law.

Thankful to avoid the road as lines of pickups queued to pick up (we watched a man trudging amongst them carrying a life-sized deer), we crowded into seats on the shuttle bus with bags on our laps. A woman perched a big suitcase full of clothes and books next to me – and held on tight from behind. (Every year her daughter reads the mountain of books purchased for a few dollars). Other passengers wrestled purchases down the narrow aisle – a bed frame, a huge dog carrier, a thick pottery crock pot, two long-poled weeders, a large framed mirror – everyone jolly about their treasures.

My best find was a little hand-painted “California Provencial” Poppytrail plate, made by Metlox Pottery in the ‘50s. One rooster crows in the middle of the plate – here he’s multiplied into a pattern!

“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…


Walking the High Line

{Note: My next few posts are about a pre-Sandy visit to New York, a tranquil New York with subways, bridges, electricity, and little rain or wind. I’ll go ahead and post in honor of this great city, while sending wishes for safekeeping to all in the path of Sandy. May the power return soon!}

With our younger son and his sweet bride, we walked in New York City for a week in October. Each morning we left our rented apartment on the Upper West Side and set out.

The first morning we walked past the Dakota and the “Imagine” Memorial to John Lennon, through Central Park full of people on a holiday Monday, and emerged at the Fifth Avenue corner by the Plaza Hotel. We watched a Columbus Day parade, celebrating everything Italian, passed glitzy stores with familiar names, and rode a series of elevators up 70 floors to the observation deck at the top of Rockefeller Center. Afterwards, with the grid of New York streets and the green of Central Park in our minds, we headed home, up Broadway from 47th to to 74th Street.

We walked in daylight across the Brooklyn Bridge and, at nighttime in the brighter-than-day light of Times Square. We ambled through Chinatown, Greenwich Village, Little Italy, and SoHo, with a long stop at the Strand Bookstore (shelves so tall the store provides ladders), and a quick peek into the Prada flagship store (designed by Rem Koolhaas, elegant and tranquil). We strolled through the Greenmarket at Union Square where New York chefs shop for fresh food.

Streams of people walked toward us, so many clothes and faces and conversation fragments – spoken to companions or on cell phones – “I keep playing the typical teenager really well!” (spoken not by a teenager), “I want to eat some ice cream,” “The only reason to have a car is to get out of the city,” “Can we just enjoy the walk?” (I always wish for a bubble overhead, identifying what the person does in this amazing city.)

For years I’ve read about the High Line, about the transformation into a garden path of an abandoned, elevated rail line running north from the Meatpacking District. On a sunny day with wind at our back we walked the mile and a half from its southerly beginning. What a pleasure.

Inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the tracks in the 25 years after trains stopped running, the plantings are sturdy – full of grasses, trees with fall foliage, and shrubs full of berries or rosehips. You walk above the sirens, car horns, and bustle of the neighborhoods below – closer to sky and air.

Sidewalks of aggregate looking like wide planking expand into areas for seating, and for eating from food stands and restaurants nearby. Wide wooden chaise lounges built for two, narrow perching benches by the guardrails, and a set of stadium-style bleachers provide seating in limited space. A shallow stream flows for a while beside the walkway. At one point the path passes through a building, but mostly you tread a garden path.

A huge billboard and unused boxcars make perfect urban canvases for artists – surprising public art pieces. An exhibit of tiny sculptures tucked into spots along the route is titled “Lilliput.” A sound installation – a voice seeming to come out of the bushes – recited the names of animals, dividing them into human goods and bads: panda, swan, spider, tapeworm.

In a week of walking, the High Line was a high point!

Populated Mailbox

We often pass by a larger than usual, old and rusty rural mailbox where someone with a sense of delight in the absurd has installed a “set-up” of small plastic action figures and troll-like creatures. A figure who seems like he’s lost his motorcycle, but wears a party hat, holds down the top of the box. Inside pose a skinny Avatar figure and other bulging-with-muscles articuated beings I can’t name. Floofy feathers adorn some of their party hats since they are safely out of the rain. Recently, a seated, naked baby doll improbably joined the party, looming large behind the colorful crowd.



September 10th

On Saturday morning, a quiet morning, at the beginning of a weekend full of memories, we walked the beach, salt tang in the air, blue sky, and golden September light. Our boots scuffed and crunched on gravelly sand, gulls cried overhead and dropped their catch on rocks, and then, an explosive THUMP brought us to a stop. Out on the Strait, flashes of water, more thumps and moist, loud breathing – Orcas!

On the beach we paralleled them as they breeched, one after another, headed east faster than we could walk. Sound carried easily to us – tail slaps and blowhole eruptions – and we could see glistening splashes of water off black dorsal fins and flukes. The movements stretched a long way – “There’s another! And another! – Look over there!” – as they passed by little boats stopped at the sight.

The pods’ progress up the Strait ended between Whidbey Island and Point Hudson in a furious flashing of seven or eight shapes visible at a time – muscling in and out of churned-up water. Food is the target – driving panicked fish into a circle to eat.

The sound brought us close – sharing breathing with these creatures – so alien and so local – their excitement carried to shore. They reversed direction after the feeding and headed away. The beach silence seemed loud and empty. But they are there – out in the Strait, around the islands, plying the Salish Sea.

We are lucky!


Art with Books

When my family and I moved to Alaska in 1959, the year of statehood, the Z.J. Loussac Library (then a 1955 downtown building) was a lifeline for my sister and me as out-of-place newcomers.

We migrated from the Young Adult section to the real stacks during years of checking out big piles of books and high school study afternoons at old wooden tables. Later, motherhood meant accompanying little children to story hour – followed by a treat at the nearby Woolworths, and a slow walk home with the red wagon full of books.

In 1986 Anchorage built a beautiful new building – many-leveled with comfy chairs and good light. Past story time by then, our sons’ continued trips to the library supported their new interests from schoolwork to backcountry manuals. A list of the checked-out books (a life list like birders keep) would trace our years, revealing life’s changes and inquiries.

The “new” library building is 25 years old this year, and Friends of the Library plan an exhibit of art made from books as part of the celebration. When my painter friend passed the “call for artists” on to me – I applied.

Organizers invited participating artists to select books to use, winnowed from donated and deaccessioned library books – leftovers – unwanted even at book sales. The day I visited on this trip, I chose from books in an alternate set of stacks in the basement, the “dungeon.”

I looked for a book with a title that might reflect my thinking and found a little gilt-lettered volume titled “The Great Conversation,” the first volume in a Britannica Great Books series. The relationship we have with the libraries of our lives does seem a conversation of sorts.

And now the threatened “end of the book” as paper object complicates things. On the airplane I read part of a paperback novel, but also one on my iPad. The New Yorker from last fall I carried with me has a Roz Chast illustration on the cover titled “Shelved.” It shows books with expressive faces on towering, stuffed bookshelves. They watch a fellow in a chair using headphones and a laptop.

I haven’t a clue what I will do with this little book – can I make it a library memoir of some sort? I have till August to conquer my reluctance to “alter” a book and make an offering from this unwanted volume.

Signs of Spring X


And we’ve been noticing tiny black-and-white lambs at a farm down the bigger road from our house. The other day I stopped to pick up a blanket woven from the fleece of their elders.

The farmer and I stood in the sunshine enjoying the smells of warm earth, hay, and grass, and sounds of baas and busy birds. A stately llama, guardian of the flock, eyed me suspiciously. (Its main job is to prevent coyote visitors.) The farmer raises the sheep mostly as breeding stock, and he also keeps a couple of cashmere goats “to make things lively.”

These are Jacob sheep – popular 400 years ago as lawn mowers responsible for the perfect green swards we associate with English stately homes. They nearly died out, but hand weavers in England (fond of their mixture of white and black fleece blending in yarn to grayed tones) encouraged small farmers to save them.

These sheep are healthy in the way of heirloom varieties. (The farmer told me proudly that most does deliver their lambs with little help from humans.) Their coloring is distinctive, also their complicated horn arrangements of two or four, twisty or straight.

Guinevere (singled out as a “very good mother, she keeps her lambs near her”) lounged so close to the fence with her babes, she seemed to be showing off these fine offspring – tiny doe and ram (one with two horn nubs and the other four). We all soaked up the sun together.

I walked back to the car with a blanket – soft gray with stripes of darker wool – comfort for a cold night, warm with memories of a sunny spring day.


On the rainy (of course) evening of our return, after a stop at the grocery store for provisions and colorful tulips, I uploaded painted tulips into the header for March and collapsed into bed with a glad-to-see-us, but out-of-sorts, Frances.

She doesn’t like the weather. While our beloved house sitter was here, tending to her every need in snow and ice, she put up with it – but perhaps expected better with our homecoming.

We’d hoped for a little better ourselves! We traded cotton blanket for wool and down, t-shirts and sandals for many insulated layers, a dozing-on-sunshine-soaked-sand monk seal for a deer grazing on the bluff above the white-capped Strait. Water flowed icy right out of the tap, and snow littered the side of the drive. Daffodils hold their buds tight.

Checking messages on the machine the next morning, – and hearing again the ones I can’t ever erase – a string of “Hi Mom,” “Hey parents it’s me,” “Hey it’s me!” I kept thinking how amazing and how wonderful it was for 10 days to have the real people instead of the disembodied voices. And to be warm! And read – and eat fresh island produce.

Then I opened the shades and saw a muted rainbow arching off toward the Pacific. The near end dipped right to the beach below the bluff.

Welcome home!

February Garden

On a weekend with warm dots of soft rain, solo winter wrens warming up in the woods, and the Washington weather guru prophesizing no more big storms – a garden writer stayed in the Buffalo. Marty Wingate, author of several Washington garden guides, spent the night before her lecture for the Master Gardeners.

At her talk she used words I haven’t said or thought for months – words like rill and moongate, Green Man and Lutyens. It almost felt a foreign language in a foreign land, being in the lecture room – revisiting that enthusiasm of gardeners – and their plant passion. I’m not a great plant luster, being fondest of things that succeed even if ordinary, but I did write down Erysimum ‘Constant Cheer’ – a long-lasting, ever blooming wallflower. (It might replace the one reaching the end of its short-lived, but important life.)

A day or so later the sun came out, chilly in the early morning but sailboats on the Strait by afternoon. A garden walkthrough produced moments both discouraging and miraculous.

Daffodil spears suddenly stick up, three inches and more, in clumps in garden beds, and in pots – though so often drowned by rain, I’m amazed to see those flourishing.

Buds swell on the ribes and cherry tree, and just begin on the potted rose. Tiny but actual leaves dot the quince’s branches. Primroses look tattered by wind, slugs, and rain, but their color flashes. I see snowdrops and tiny cyclamen – buds and blossoms – just a few but exciting. Little pink bells of a heather and sober-colored hellebores bloom in their brave way.

All seems beat up and neglected, but being outdoors encourages me to work for real – soon. Popweed rages, but the soil is damp and it’s easy to pull weeds. I’m amazed as always in Washington – it’s only February.

The last few months Frances has spent many more hours in the garden than I have – but she’s not inclined to weed, clean up downed branches and fir cones, or cut nepeta gone dry and gray. She’s done her job – door mat deposits of the occasional entire rodent carcass, or simply an internal organ or two.

I need to begin my jobs – a little work would bring spring closer!

January Weather

By way of talking about our wintry weather this January, in spite of snow falling so gently down I can hardly keep my eyes on my business (it’s like one shake of a snow globe or the WordPress snow), I’m thinking mostly about clothes.

In Anchorage, an annual exhibit of small self-portraits is titled “No Big Heads.” I liked to respond to that call-for-entries – my favorite submittal being “A Small Book of Self-Portraits With Big Head Cold,”  but the piece I have in mind dates from 1989. That winter we had six sub-zero weeks, six weeks of days when the temperature didn’t rise over 0° – taxing even for Alaskans.

The layers of clothes on the paper doll I made to mimic what I wore in those sub-zero weeks included outdoor gear, but I actually wear more indoor layers now. Washington houses in general are chillier than Anchorage, and our modern automatic thermostat assumes everyone here goes out to work – and heats middays only minimally.

This fall when I complained about the cold, the roofer told me I didn’t move around enough, and it’s true – I sit in my job. On windy days I abandon the window seat and sit at my desk in front of the computer, feet propped on my old sewing machine underneath.

Multiple layers of wool insulate my days – long underwear tops and bottoms, wool pants, and heavy sweater over lighter sweater. Wool socks, of course, but my feet would still be cold were it not for a suggestion, a happy style I adopted from my young friend in Anchorage.

When I visited in December I found her wearing a pair of chubby boots designated indoor boots – with warm fluffy lining and quiet soles – she called them her slippers. (Style dictates that her cohort of pre-teens wears them without socks.) So her mother kindly sent me a pair (they’re knock-offs and not extravagant). They’re knee high – you might laugh – but it’s a great winter pleasure to prop up those boots and get to work – no matter the weather. Bare toasty feet do feel extravagant when snow falls past my window.

We’ve had it all weather-wise this month: a sufficiency of rain and snow events, and, often, lashings of wind. But in the early morning we can always walk for outdoor time – and somehow the weather’s been perfect for the reflective month of January – true winter – as long as one is well clad – and shod!

Well-lighted Scenes and Margaret Drabble

November’s afternoon darkness holds a tingle of anticipation and excitement. We’re closer to the winter solstice and very close to the holidays making these months so celebratory. The darkness begs to be lit, begs for color, and is background to winter festivals with lights and food and family.

Some of my spirits rising phenomenon is left over from Alaska. November meant snow – a little glitter to reflect city lights. Here, forest and ground stay dark green and afternoons end abruptly – time to shut the shades, cook the meal, light the candles.

Our older son told me once in his world travelling days that he tried always to be in place for the sunset. I’ve imagined that meant knowing where he would eat and stay that night. Then he could enjoy a few minutes with his book in a lighted place – a traveler’s routine – a homey feeling.

This time of year I think about a scene from a book by Margaret Drabble – my favorite contemporary novelist. When I first read her, as my friends and I did, as the novels came out – her characters’ lives almost paralleled ours – just a little ahead – your own life narrated in a richly descriptive way. I’ll never manage to read “Don Quixote” the prescribed three times (youth, middle and old age) but I relish rereading Drabble with eyes changed by time and age.

In “The Radiant Way,” Drabble writes of her character Alix’s trepidation at visiting a grown son and girlfriend in an uncertain living situation, nervously fretting about what she would find: “What would it be like, would it be warm, would it be habitable, would the food be edible, would there be any food?”

But she finds instead a “paradise” – “And wonderful it was, like a fairy story, a Bohemian fairy story. The little room was illuminated by candles, by a paraffin lamp, by crackling packing-case twigs in a real fire in a real Victorian grate; its walls were painted a dark midnight blue, its floor was painted a deep red with a dark blue and green patterned border, wooden painted chairs stood at a table covered with a white embroidered cloth and painted bowls and plates, huge cushions lay in heaps in a corner, there were two comfortable chairs….” Alix and the rest of the family are offered: “glasses of firelight-glinting red wine, with olives on a white plate, with nuts on a blue plate.”

I love her words of real things, describing this home where “an island of colour and light had been salvaged from the darkness by long hours, great pains, great ingenuity.”

Upending a lack of parental faith amuses me, as Drabble honors the young people’s creation. And always I find inspiration for “islands of colour and light” against the dark. Ole!

Home to November

Our plane touched down (I nearly wrote “splashed down”), and a film of water slid off the wings, splattered on the windows, and puddled on the runway. I loved it – loved also the pouring rain in Seattle, and gray dark sky and fog through trees (still wearing their rainslicker yellow) on the peninsula. Back on the bluff we found a beautiful evening with calm moist air.

The next morning I was perfectly happy with fog, then delighted by a sparkling day – summer-blue sea and sunshine filling my room. It was so good to see home and feel at home – such different environs from a city or a desert.

One day in Boston I noticed an ordinary black ant on the steps leading up from the subway to Kendall Square, and watched as it tumbled over the edge of the next step. It looked halfway up or down with no place to go – so out of context away from nest and kin. Or maybe not, it’s suited to its particular life. Same with the tarantulas, three-inch fur-clad wonders in the desert mincing their way across paved parking lots or stony trails (impressive but not poisonous in Joshua Tree).

Here, the local fauna greeted me. Driving home from the wee scholars, a large rabbit, white tail bobbing, hopped from a sunny patch to camouflaging shade, and stopped to nibble a leaf, looking at home on the south forty. Also our resident deer – they couldn’t imagine the places we’ve seen – no salal tips, no rose hips. And Frances, so pleased with her lot and fairly indifferent to our return (our beloved house sitter having lavished her with “doting craziness”).

But most of all the weather amazed me anew – such a polyglot of weather language, all jabbering this week! The Washington weather guru, Cliff Mass, warns us now about the winter “weather systems” which will pass through – and they begin.

By the end of the week, during which we had the wettest November 1 and the warmest November 3 ever, after rain, wind, rain again, we enjoyed a Sunday of weather to welcome us home. We woke to rain and wind but by mid-morning I sat in the nook in pure sunshine to stitch the pillows (fall changeover).

Frances sat outdoors under the nearly bare cherry tree in a patch of sun. The garden looks a little sad and a little wondrous – still a few brave flowers and so many textures of green – like ferns – what a marvel, a fern – or a fir tree!

By 4 p.m. rain poured down again, and just after five – hood-over-the-head dark as a friend once said – winter dark.