The Summer We Didn't Die
That year, that summer, that vacation
we played out there in the cottonwood--
we were young; we had to be brave.
Far out on those limbs above air,
we played out there in the cottonwood--
above grown-ups who shouted, "Come down!"
Far out on those limbs above air
we were brave in that summer that year.
Above grown-ups who shouted, "Come down,
you'll be killed!" we were scared but held on.
We were brave in that summer that year.
No one could make us come down.
"You'll be killed!" We were scared but held on.
That year, that summer, that vacation,
no one could make us come down.
We were young. We had to be brave.
William Stafford, The Summer We Didn't Die
Part 1: Burton Island
Spent July reading Annie Dillard's early work, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, in a watery natural setting in far northern New England. She writes: "Xerxes, I read, 'halted his unwieldy army for days that he might contemplate to his satisfaction' the beauty of a single sycamore."
I halted mine to take in the water, the sunsets, the thimbleberrries (honorably native), the honeysuckle (invasive and scorned yet still beautiful with red berries shining), the moss on the rocks, and the cedars along the shore. Also cottonwoods. Eagles and mergansers. A failed hatch of phoebes, the dead babies dangling precariously over the entrance to the women's bathhouse.
Dillard shares that Xerxes had the sycamore wrought on a medal of gold to keep with him and always remember his ecstatic experience of the world's beauty revealed. That's the sort of thing I'm trying for with these images, putting them down more permanently in my heart. See how I've stitched the thimbleberry flower into my sleeve?
Kilkare from Burton Island with Asa in the Opti
Watercolor, 6"x8", 7/2022
Left: Last Day, Watercolor, 6"x4", 7/2022
Right: Thimbleberry (Rubus Odoratus/Fragrant Bramble), Watercolor, 9"x6", 7/2022
Part 2: The Jungle and Beyond
At the conclusion of our New England adventures, my artist sister and I were able to make a brief foray into New York City where we met up with a few friends at MoMA and the Met: Bourgeois, Klimt, Matisse, Rousseau, many others. Very sadly, Rousseau's Sleeping Gypsy was not on display. The Dream, however, was.
Rousseau, feeling that his painting was perhaps being misunderstood, supplied this poem to accompany The Dream:
Yadwigha in a beautiful dream,
Having gently gone to sleep,
Heard the snake-charmer blow his flute,
Breathing his meditation deep.
While on the streams and verdant trees
Gleam the reflections of the moon,
And wild serpents lend their ears
To the joyous measures of the tune.
Man, I feel that, Rousseau. Me, too.
Here I am, having entered the dream:
47 (Visiting the Jungle)
Watercolor, 12" square
The lion has devoured Rousseau's lover from his younger days. The enchanter plays on, the chaise-longue is empty, and we are still on the hunt.
After New York, I was again with my wonderful friends and patrons of the arts, sanity, and good living for a week on Bible Hill. Here I continued reading about Rousseau, his late start as a full-time artist, his struggle to be taken seriously among peers, and the intriguing epitaph written for his gravestone by Guillaume Apollinaire. Here's the relevant excerpt:
Let our luggage pass duty free through the gates of heaven.
We will bring you brushes paints and canvas.
That you may spend your sacred leisure in the
light and Truth of Painting.
I spent my sacred week of earthly leisure in just this way.
Pond Studio: Rousseau's Afterlife
Watercolor, 12" square
During this time I was also able to complete work on two pieces commissioned by a friend for the wall of her new home. The conversation around the commission included themes of new beginnings, resilience, natural and botanical motifs, favorite titles and authors (the Tinker Creek recommendation arose from this conversation), and personal symbolic references. Also making sense of the world, mortality, and life after the death of ones we love.
Here they are: two paintings of daffodils. On the left, the natural world: her innate order, her beauty, her timelessness, her indifference to death. Air, rocks, soil, decomposers. On the right, the human world: culture, human emotions and ideals, self awareness, questions, and the search for meaning. Achievements, souvenirs, ancient myths, fathomless Leonard Cohen! Also Annie Dillard!--top shelf recommendation.
Such an honor and a pleasure to make these.
Daffodils in Conversation (Matters of Life and Death)
Companion Pieces, each 24"x20", 8/2022
Part 3: The Future
Transitioning from summer to fall is always a little tricky. I'm lassoing my artist self to a plan to share work next month at Forever Never Lasts, a 3-person weekend show here in Philly.
I'll be showing work from this late spring and summer that came out of a very inspiring experience with the 2022 Very Short Fiction Exchange which fosters personal healing and interdisciplinary connection between creatives at the level of the individual.
A series of small, lightly narrative works on paper feature a concatenation of cats, plants, gestures, and moments connected by a skein of red. Sneak preview:
It will be part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, in a pop-up space on North Front Street. There will be a Saturday evening reception if you fancy cheese and crackers. I'd love for you to come, and you can read more about the event here:
Finally, I leave you with an excerpt from E. B. White's Charlotte's Web which just gets better with each reading. Aloud with a child quite possibly best--I can recommend 8 as an ideal age.
The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone,” they sang. “Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.
The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year—the days when summer is changing into fall—the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.
Everybody heard the song of the crickets. Avery and Fern Arable heard it as they walked the dusty road. They knew that school would soon begin again. The young geese heard it and knew that they would never be little goslings again. Charlotte heard it and knew that she hadn’t much time left. Mrs. Zuckerman, at work in the kitchen, heard the crickets, and a sadness came over her, too. “Another summer gone,” she sighed.
Another summer gone.
Thank you for reading!