Firsts

Living some place new brings a series of firsts. Our first meal was haphazard (tempting to explore restaurants instead). Making soup and muffins seemed a milestone, except for failing to realize that new ovens need to burn off manufacturing oils – that smoky interlude set me back.

Longing to make a first drawing or painting in my new workspace, I would like to declare a series for “Her spirits rose…” – but that’s not happening right now. So I’m tempted to post a few spring images from years past – ones once published in “print media.”

Twenty years ago we provided images to a graphic designer by hand-carrying or mailing the original, or having it photographed. I have full watercolor sheets of individual illustrations marked up on the back by the designer with instructions to the printer: “Country Gardens, 7/96 pink rhodie 61%.” But now, if I separate the images so they’ll fit, I can scan them myself and post to a then-unheard-of blog.

And because gardening and plants are much on my mind (as in those days), I picked out appropriate-to-the-season possibilities for the next couple of weeks (sort of a series). Seeing these old images again brings back memories of gardens from my past life and questions about what I’d do differently now.

Instead of my new rhodie, which is a Rose Madder Pink, here’s an old one in Permanent Rose. More to follow as spring moves along!

Settling In

Some moments in the new house feel like camping or waking up the morning after an airline loses your suitcase – not sure where things are, not sure why I forgot to pack a few table knives.

But moving day went so well, three strong guys and one equally strong young woman swiftly loaded all the labeled boxes, furniture, outdoor chairs, and pots with plants into a truck and a huge trailer. By noon we were on Bainbridge, and by early afternoon our belongings stood stacked about the new house.

The mother of my young friend came right over and set to work unpacking boxes and shelving books in the living room, and our younger son arrived from the airport to help. (I am so grateful for every bit of help we had!) Our old friends who live on Bainbridge – a quick seven-minute drive to their house – welcomed us that evening with a festive meal.

The weather couldn’t have been better – moving day dawned clear and the sun has been constant since then – five days and holding. Because of the house’s orientation, early sunshine pours in our bedroom and upstairs, fills the living room and kitchen all day, and late in the evening disappears into tall trees.

When I started on my walk early this morning – the air cool, sky clear – buses and bikers passed me heading to the ferry, city bustle in a small town. The walk is a gradual downhill through town toward a newly opened piece of protected land, tranquil with trees, grass, and benches. I pass houses and gardens along the way, get glimpses of Eagle Harbor and early morning scullers, spot herons working on fragile-looking nests in a tall stand of trees, and circle back uphill to home.

In spite of surrounding houses, each of our windows reveals huge firs and deciduous trees just-beginning-to-leaf. A Japanese maple with golden-green leaves shelters our neighbors’ porch. Birdsong begins early, loud and lovely all day.

From my work space I look out at the remains of old garden plantings, and what our younger son called “some serious rhododendron business about to begin.” A wizened, but budding crabapple, a climbing hydrangea, lilac and daphne shrubs (small and scraggly, but still fragrant), and lily of the valley emerging from moss grow in the few feet between a narrow deck and fence. Invasive ivy, Scotch broom, and blackberries hang over the fence from the vacant (for now) lot next door.

Our younger son left Vivian Russell’s “Gardens of Inspiration” on the table where he ate breakfast. It’s really fun to encounter books anew, and no matter the small scale of this garden, maybe because of the small scale – I’m inspired!

Red House Bainbridge

In the middle of remodeling the Bainbridge house last December, our builder wrote from a holiday trip to Hawaii. He hadn’t been working on our house at all, but said his daughter had, and he attached a photo of the painting she made with a new watercolor set.

I love the painting in many ways, the perspective, the texture of roof and indication of clapboards, the dark door (still being negotiated at that point, but to become “Deep Mulberry”), and the leafy tree, blue sky setting. The young artist gave me permission to use her picture here, and I’m happy to post it – it seems to capture the spirit of the place.

More from there!

Crunch Time

Down to the wire now – nearly ready for the movers. Our comfy home grows bare and hollow with rugs rolled up, shelves still dotted with photos and undealt with objects, but emptied of books and most dishes.

Boxes scavenged from recycling bins teeter in stacks everywhere –– Paul Newman’s stenciled face above one-liner labels about food for people and pets, small beer cases, and many, many Amazon swooshes. There are also filled-to-the-brim big bins ( iPhone auto-corrected into “bug buns” for a moment of levity).

We took a break a weekend ago to see “Leaning Into The Wind” – a new movie about the Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy who makes art with the natural world in the most endearing, non-destructive or intrusive ways. When I try to figure out what I love so much about him, his sense of wonder and his “stick to” stand out, along with the way he, by drawing attention to the details, expresses the emotion we feel for the planet’s beauty.

The film shows him interacting physically with his environment in ways we’ve not seen before – creating a striking line of rain-soaked leaves up a set of steps next to an Edinburgh street, climbing five or six feet up through a brambly hedge, and leaning into a violent body-stopping wind high on a heath.

After the movie my husband allowed as how it was time to traverse the seemingly impenetrable Northwest thicket of firs and native shrubs enclosed by our driveway circle – “there it is right out our door and never been crossed!” And I kept thinking how Goldsworthy would make something of this current house habitat – he’d pile his boxes artfully, stick the chunks of blue tape (indicating a possession to go) with more rhythm and consciousness.

But, like much of Goldsworthy’s work, that construct would be ephemeral – for as a friend wrote recently: “I hope the worst of packing is over and you can just get ready to unpack!”

Oh boy!

The Naming of Things

These days I move furniture around rooms in the new house using a marginally accurate graph paper drawing or a map in my head. The rooms have pragmatic by-purpose names.

By labeling book boxes to indicate destination, I hope to direct the movers to the bookcases on the landing, in the living room, or my workroom (more a space than a room). The upstairs bedroom will be my husband’s study, a guest room, and the television space (known in some circles as an adult lounge). For now I write “upstairs bedroom” on the boxes.

And there are so many boxes of books – my new neighbor came one afternoon, and we filled 19 boxes, a number since doubled. Piled up in stacks, they surround little islands of ever-shrinking comfortable regular life.

In a recent adjustment to my mental map, Granny Trudy’s desk will go on the landing. My father-in-law shipped it to us in Alaska, and it became the place for family business. The slanted, drop down desktop made a good place to write checks, back when we paid bills with paper.

Thinking about that desk being forever Granny Trudy’s desk made me consider how families identify things. We had “Jake’s cabinet” in the house in Anchorage, glass-fronted shelves with drawers below, built long ago by Jake the carpenter. In that house, ownership of bedrooms shifted around so many times that names changed frequently (sometimes rooms are identified by cardinal direction no matter who occupies the south bedroom).

A wicker chair, always Frances’s chair, is now downstairs, substituting for an armchair gone to a clever seamstress to be slipcovered. Inspired by Mrs. Hughes’ advice and the designer Anna Spiro, the newly covered-in-ticking chair might be called after Spiro or maybe Simone for the seamstress!

Traces of the past will remain in the garden nomenclature here – the Buffalito bed, the bride’s garden, the quad garden. Front and back of this house has always been difficult to label – is the front toward the drive or toward the bluff? There is a clear front to the new house, car parked right near the front door.

Some impulse to fill the new house in comforting familiarity operates on me, but it is countered by reminders to enjoy the chance to rearrange – and rename!

Frances I, II, and III

Surrounded by sorting and packing chaos, three stuffed replicas of Frances sit on my worktable. They seem less disturbed by the activity than the real Frances would have been.

Each has a red felt heart on its back side, embroidered with the initials of Lady Baby, Sweet Baby, or Baby Brother. Soon I’ll pack up the stuffies to mail, along with a little note explaining that Frances is gone. She wasn’t friendly to the children, but she was important.

Each Frances is slightly different and wrong in its own way. They looked like her in the paper pattern, but lost resemblance in the stuffing. Little muslin bags of beans weigh them down, so they sit easily, but their floss whiskers sag, and they look disapproving and slightly strange – not cuddly (maybe that’s lifelike). I tell myself the imperfections matter less than their existence.

I’m leery of that impulse, said to grow stronger as we age, to let ideas die, to fail to push against resistance and stalling and overcome inertia. Making these three became important to me as a memorial – the figuring out and stitching were an occasional escape from the tasks at hand, the handwork therapeutic – but also as proof of follow through (at least this time).

The trio stares at me – or past me – multiple reminders of Frances and of making. I like to think of them joining the other beloved stuffed animals with names and history – but I’ll miss them!