**(To Alaska readers, please know I send my best wishes – may you have suffered little damage and recover quickly. The quake and afterquakes seem terrifying and exhausting, and I’ve been thinking about all of you, sure you carry on bravely, like the Downtown Abbey crew, enduring what my old neighbor called the “new normal.” xo)**
My young friend’s parents once walked across the north of England on a 10-day trip – from St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay. I’ve envied that ever since because islands captivate me – all that water, all that coastline with indents and outjuts of land, and the possibility of a point-to-point walk from one coast to the other!
And Bainbridge, a little wider, but shorter than Manhattan Island, can be crossed on foot via a five-mile linking of trails, heading northwest from the east side. So on a miraculously sunny Sunday in November, Sweet Baby, her dad, our young friend’s dad (who made a previous crossing), Papa Jim, and I set out.
I made a handful of the little watercolors from the trip – added here to tell the tale. The route offers interesting sights along the way: a miniature pony and little goats (with a jar of pellets, so passersby could feed them), a derelict high-up treehouse, tall conifers, trees dropping orange-brown leaves, sunshiny meadow, views, and opportunities for lots of laughing!
For four days in May, while Mrs. Hughes celebrated her birthday with her sister and her best friend in New York City, we flew north to help Mr. Carson hold down the fort. (He doesn’t really need much help.) Chill from the north wind dampened the days of our visit, but didn’t dampen Alaska spring activities.
Pretty much nothing is cuter than a six-year old girl with braids and a ball cap playing her first baseball game (after just two practices). Standing by the dugout full of tiny teammates, I watched the swing and heard the satisfying smack when bat connected with ball pitched by her coach. Braids flying, she headed to first base, a little uncertainly at first, and then swiftly!
One day Lady B’s kindergarten teacher planned an excursion to the Municipal Greenhouse and nearby woods, and asked me to lead a little watercolor demonstration. She provided good materials (that can make all the difference with watercolor) – tiny palettes with six real watercolors, fine line pens and brushes with points. The students didn’t need much direction, and soon scattered around the greenhouse to draw – watercolor paper taped to clipboards – then came together in a circle to paint. The penline and watercolors produced amazed me by their careful observation of shape and color, each unique to its creator.
It struck me that the days of Lady Baby are behind us. That little girl in the orange t-shirt, worn over a red, long-sleeved thermal shirt with Tyrannosaurus rex on the front, seems far from anything with baby in the title. The girl formerly known as Lady Baby has school life and social relationships of her own now – two best friends, a girl with a mop of blonde curly hair, and a boy with dark curly hair and big glasses. Maybe now I call her Lady B, a more grown up title, because Baby Brother (who rapidly outgrows that moniker) calls her Bopal.
We spent great days with Baby Brother while Lady B was at school. Playgrounds please, but nothing is as popular as “owside” – the back yard with swing and slide and balls to kick – or a slow amble down the sidewalk out front.
He loves books – specially ones with pictures of “boom boom crash” providers, particularly enormous bulldozers and crane trucks. Lady B reads to him, revisiting all the favorites (dinosaurs). He laughs with the same joy and relief at the resolution in “Knufflebunny” that I remember from her.
When we first arrived I marveled at his mom’s understanding of his language, but as the days passed I began to get it better. He repeats everything said to him – so the structure and intonation becomes more clear, and you realize how much he can communicate, if only his listener understands. He says all the family names, but somewhat curiously, Lord Cromwell became “Bacram.”
It sounds odd to say of someone so young (he’ll be two in early September), but he seems contemplative as he thoughtfully considers things. I say: “Look, chickadees – chick-a-dee-dee-de.” And he listens and looks, head tilted to one side, before repeating the call. It’s easy to be totally silly with him and make up nonsense, eliciting great grins and chuckles.
I loved watching Lady B and Baby Brother greet their mother when she came back. Both brave while she was away – and overjoyed at her return!
*Image used by permission of the artist
Two paintings by the English artist Mary Newcomb depict a woman and her dog in a rowboat just at dusk. In the first panel, the rowboat goes one way, and in the other, with dusk deepened, it returns. In Christopher Andreae’s book about Newcomb, he includes Newcomb’s words (and punctuation) about the scene:
“After half an hour when more light had gone she returned past us, rowing slowly, turning to talk to the dog. The dog sat on like a little black mountain Both were very peaceful and companionable to one another It was a perfect moment.”
Before we even moved to Washington, and the dog Bill and Frances the cat were so much a part of life, I painted an “after” from Newcomb’s painting, replacing the black dog with Frances and Bill. The little painting is tucked in a bookshelf, right by the nightlight we use to keep the stairs lit after dusk. So most days, twice a day, I see it. When Bill died, it was hard to look at it.
And now Frances is gone as well. Because so many of you have read about Frances since the very beginning of “Her spirits rose…,” I wanted you to know.
Frances was abandoned in an apartment with a litter of kittens, and lodged a long time in a vet’s office cage before living with us in Alaska for three years, and then 12 years here on the bluff (“arriving in a little soft-sided satchel and ending in command of all she surveyed” as our older son said). I’m thankful for all the good times she had – and there were many – she loved living on the bluff, patrolling her garden courtyard and sleeping in warm spots and with us.
A friend wrote afterwards to remark how willingly we enter into these arrangements with pets, knowing full well what we’re signing up for (and getting so much), but feeling such pain when we have to say goodbye.
It was time and it was peaceful, but the house is hollow and empty. Not so companionable.
Lately I’ve kept Maira Kalman’s “The Principles of Uncertainty” propped open next to my computer, a place for my eyes to go while waiting for the printer to print or the scanner to scan. I turn the page each day, looking for “the eternal pleasure of chance encounters,” as Kalman would say.
An entry I came upon right after writing about Andie seemed perfect: dated July 5, 2006, Kalman writes (though it looks better in her irregular handwriting than in text): “My dream is to walk around the world. A smallish backpack, all essentials neatly in place. A camera. A notebook. A traveling paint set. A hat. Good shoes. A nice pleated (green) skirt for the occasional seaside hotel afternoon dance.”
Then I listened to this podcast – what a treat:
And Kalman’s “nice pleated (green) skirt,” and general fondness for objects, put me in mind of a certain twirly skirt.
Finally “Her spirits rose…” has a new header – the banner at the top – one of several variations I made thanks to my friend who paints in the woods, Andie Thrams.
Last summer Andie, (www.andiethrams.com), came to stay in the Buffalo for a lovely long time. We have known each other since the night 20 years ago we met as strangers in the Anchorage airport for a midnight flight back East. We’d been linked by a mutual friend, who thought we would get along (being flower painters), and an invitation to attend a retreat for people “who keep field journals in their work.”
We share a love of watercolor – and the making of handmade books. Andie introduced me to Vamp and Tramp, those traveling purveyors of artists’ books who represent her ongoing series, “In Forests,” beautiful accordion-fold hand bound books, illuminated by paintings and words. Most of these now reside in collections of libraries and universities around the country.
Andie paints the pages of her books while seated on a little pad on the forest floor. She hikes or kayaks into wild places, carrying her art supplies in a backpack – brushes, watercolors, long sheets of paper, and easel – and immerses herself to paint. The press of development, the wildfires and bark beetle of climate change threaten her studio spaces, making observing and recording these woodland parts of the natural world ever more urgent.
Giant firs, cedars, sequoias, coastal redwoods (she has a long list of beloved trees) and their understory of berries, ferns, and fungi can be overwhelming to paint. But Andie captures the changing greens of season, the glowing light through forest canopy, and enough individual form to make species recognizable. Most days here, she headed into our nearby woods – or ranged further and longer to the old growth of the Hoh Rainforest.
Toward the end of her stay, before she went to kayak with her husband on the fjords of Vancouver Island for two weeks, we sat at my computer, and she attempted to bring my meager Photoshop skills up a level. She tried not to lecture me about my faulty filing system – I can be slapdash about organizing; she is orderly and patient.
But I’ve kept it up, “lassoing” images and making future headers (including the one below in Andie’s honor – wildflowers I drew in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains).
Thanks, Andie, for computer tutorial, visit, and long friendship!
On this June morning, the window to my workroom stands open – sun shining, birds singing, weeds growing – the outdoors beckons. When the days of rain return, I will write about our big family adventure in May and early June. Meanwhile – two worn-velvet armchairs – purply-pink from a bedroom and blue from the sitting room of the Ferndale Guesthouse in Enniskerry, Ireland. We spent the night there before setting out to walk along the The Wicklow Way.