Sunday, June 27, 2010

Moving Forward

“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.”
Dalai Lama

The garden

Brannin Beuhner outfitting himself with his gear (the harness)
Bear & Owl Tree Care
First Class Arborist, Certified Logging Professional
Fully Insured and Licensed
400-6913/ 733-4959

Leaning back with chainsaw to cut deadwood from the walnut tree

Looking quite relaxed up there.....

This shot kinda puts it all in perspective...

Swinging! Is work supposed to be this fun?!

Ben tending to the apple tree

The remains

It was a tough last few days. For those who have followed my blog, I know that you have been wondering the fate of our small school. This past week, the town voted 269 to 230 to close Lubec High School. The day before the vote, a group of us gathered at Flatiron Corner and rallied in support of keeping our children here in our own community. News crews and journalists snapped photos and interviewed participants. For two days or more we were the headline for most of Maine. Other districts watched with anticipation, hoping that their school will not be the next casualty of underfunded education.

I first received the news at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday evening, 2 1/2 hours after polls closed. My sister had just arrived from central Maine and the unfortunate timing for her meant that she would have to listen to me repeat over and over for the next two hours "I can't believe this is happening." I was in shock. The next morning I woke feeling sort of numb. I went to my "pottery cave" to throw, and as my hands cupped and centered the clay, a whole flood of emotions poured out of me. I realized that I was moving through the stages of grief. The sadness deepened as empathy built for my students, whom I imagined were experiencing emotions much the same as mine, only ten-fold more intensely.

I was thankful for a call from a friend asking me to walk with her. It gave me the opportunity to process the event more fully. A second walk later that morning with my sister down the boardwalk to Mowry Beach, and up through town, brought me in contact with folks from the community. I could hear in their voices the same shock and grief that I was feeling.

That afternoon, Kristin and I returned back to the house and started to plant a garden. I was tired form the drama, but felt that now, more than ever, I needed a symbol of hope and growth. I laid out a design similar to the inner square in a mandala with four gates and a "seed" center.

Moments after we made the rows and mounds, the sky broke open and weeped heavily. Floods of rain came down over the garden. Then, as quickly as the storm swept in, it cleared out. Sun streamed intensely over the spruce, maple and birch, making the green of the leaves glow against the grey. A double rainbow arched over the town.

I felt at that moment that I had let go of my worry and pain and could sense exciting new beginnings about to unfold.

My sister left Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning my longtime artist friend Becky arrived from Portland for a visit with her very energetic seven year old daughter Alice. We enjoyed a day of beach-combing and shopping and we even went to an art opening at the library downtown. When we go back to the house Brannin Beuhner of "Bear and Owl Tree Care" called to let me know that he had a free evening to tend to some of our injured trees. Last summer's construction left many of the limbs broken, sharp-tipped, and pained. Brannin and his apprentice, a very interesting organic farmer/sailor/yogi from Vermont, began to climb and cut. At first, it was odd to see the bareness left behind. But this morning when I woke, it all felt good and healthy.

Becky, Alice, and I went out to breakfast at Village Restaurant then burned off energy at the West Quoddy trail. All felt perfect, listening to the waves crash the cliffside. Wild irises speckled the grass, and the air smelled salty and clean. We returned back to homebase to find Brannin and Ben here for day two of restorative tree care. Last night we mainly watched the simple hand-sawing of spruce deadwood but today's task required the more serious gear - a harness! Like a spider, Brannin climbed up "his thread" to a big dead walnut limb.

This walnut is the most majestic of trees in our yard. It stands taller than most, and despite it's huge girth and age, it weathers the elements, and still each summer, blooms green with fresh young leaves and produces walnuts that occasionally fall to the ground. Lately the dried-up dead limbs have been looking sorta tired.

Brannin, dressed in his harness, swung a beanie-weighted bag attached to his "spinneret" over the limb. He pulled himself up, swinging to and fro, until he could latch onto the branch with his arms. He then hauled up the motorized saw and began to cut away the deadwood. Each grayed and balding branch that fell to the earthen blanket seemed to lift the spirit of the tree canopy.

The Walnut tree looks even more proud now. I will from this day forward refer to Brannin as "The Tree Whisperer". He has a quiet aura about him, intuitive and sensitive to the trees' needs. He removes only what is necessary and approaches the task with reverence. He heals the wounds of the wood.

It was a tough few days emotionally, but my own healing has begun. The universe presented me with an unforeseen challenge, and is forcing me toward change. Like the garden, I am ripe for growth. Like the walnut tree, I am letting go of deadwood. I choose to not wallow in the pain of losing our high school, but instead, will look forward to new perspectives and opportunities.


If you are in need of an arborist to help heal or re-shape your landscape, I highly recommend Brannin Beuhner. Even though he is located here in Lubec, he tells me that he is currently working with folks as far south as Portland.

Bear & Owl Tree Care
First Class Arborist, Certified Logging Professional
Fully Insured and Licensed
400-6913/ 733-4959

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Blank Canvas

Dumping the loam

Preparing to plot a garden

Last summer our yard was battered-around during construction and this spring we were left with a mound of gravel and sprouts of field grass in scattered clumps. Attempts at dropping grass seed didn't yield any improvement. I even tried mowing "the desert" a couple weeks ago. I don't recommend such action to anyone else in our same predicament. The dust was clouding around me and rocks were flying. Perhaps more of a battlefield than anything else!

"Plan B" went into action a few days ago. I arranged for a loam delivery, having been told that this is what we would need to do should we want grass, in any recognizable pattern, ever again.

It's always exciting when big equipment pulls up the drive. I managed to grab the camera just in time to catch the truck bed lift-up and dump. Bello ran and hid, fearful of any big booming noises. Carl then got into his little yellow tractor and pushed the dirt around the hill we call our front yard.

Before all these changes, we had a five foot wide swath of grass bordered by phlox, digitalis, valerian, rose bush, lilies, primrose, and peony. It was sad to lose these plants last summer, a casualty of the excavation equipment. But this spring, remnants of the yard-past keep popping up in new places. The phlox is peeking through in varied spots and the digitalis is now lining the driveway. Chris planted a new rose bush a few weeks ago, and I am waiting with anticipation to see where the primrose will surface, or if we will ever see the ancient peony again.

Yesterday yielded gorgeous blue skies and near tropical (by Lubec standards!) temps. I was eager to get outside to work in the yard but the day's chores of pottery, paperwork, and prepping for guests kept me inside. After company left at 6:00, the weather was still holding and I decided that I would take advantage. I spent a couple hours raking out the big clumps of loam to create some sort of smooth grass-growing surface. And now....

I am staring at a blank canvas.

"Plan C": Plant a veggie and herb garden.

I know this is common for most everyone else, but in our nine years of living in Lubec, Chris and I have not planted a garden. A friend, whom we consider a master gardener, offered-up some seedlings. So, here we go.

Chris and I had a very successful garden in Tennessee, but the previous homeowner had preened the soil just-so. All we had to do was turn the earth and plop in plants and seeds. Not even a bit of fertilizer. Here, contending with a big pile of gravel, there is much more prep work to do. But since we needed the loam...why not just go for it? So, in the car waits chicken wire, manure, and a hoe.

This will be an adventure for certain, an experiemnt to see what plants we will be capable of growing in this windy coastal climate, and what critter-casualties will occur. It goes against my better visual/aesthetic senses to put chicken wire in the front yard....but I am thinking a trade-off of fresh cherry tomatoes, basil, and squash is pretty good. The rabbit and the fawn will just have to look at the fresh produce with envy.

We see this year's garden as an experiment to better prepare us for next summer. Should our garden grow, we will look into purchasing canning equipment and trying our hand at that. Hopefully some local friends will take pity on our lack of knowledge and offer to teach us the tricks of the trade. Side-note: Is it hard to make and can apple sauce?

I am anxious to get my hands into the rich soil. Gardening gives me that same peaceful feeling I get when working with clay.

I'm glad that I did my raking last night. The rain is starting to fall this morning, making for a quiet grey day here in downeast Maine. I'll take advanatage of the indoor time to trim yesterday's pots and continue work on a new project. It's good reflective time.

In the meantime, are there any "must-knows" for us before the seedlings get planted? Sage advice from master gardners? I couldn't find zucchini or summer squash seedlings, will seeds work just fine this late in the season?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Getting Messy Again

Greenware bowls, trimmed and ready for chop signatures

Messy wheel: Clay trimmings everywhere!

Wheel production started about three weeks ago. The ritual of beginning the pottery season is always the same. I neaten the area, get a warm bucket of water, wedge a zillion small balls of clay, and reintroduce my hands to throwing by making a slew of mini pots. By the end of the first weekend, and about seventy pots later, my hands were raw from grit, and my back a bit disgruntled. Ergonomics seem to pervade me when in the "zone".

Chris has aptly named the clay studio the "Pottery Cave". It is housed in the basement, cold, concrete walls, dark. Surprisingly, I don't mind this. Maybe it is because the studio at USM was similar, or maybe it is because I retain some sort of psychic connection to a past life in paleolithic times when I was a hunting and gathering cave dweller.

I haven't gotten too far with production yet, but now that I have my weekdays freed-up from teaching, I can concentrate on the functional pottery. Last weekend I jumped into bowls, trying out a few different shapes to get a feel for the forms again. I tried a couple new variations and am not sure where my like-level is with those yet. Yesterday I trimmed, which is my absolute favorite part of potting. I love to watch the shavings curl and fly, and to see the bowl take shape. I am always pushing the limit...can I shave off just a bit more? How far can I go without cutting through the pot? Sorta like playing chicken with revved-up streetcars in a back alley....except I have a shimpo wheel and a K-4 Kemper trim tool.

Mom is visiting from central Maine, as she does each June when school first lets out. She is agreeable to my quirky semi-obsessive need to do my thing despite having company. She graciously allowed me to spend a few hours in the Pottery Cave while she entertained herself by playing guitar. We stayed here at the "homestead" until 2:30 so that the shop could be open then ventured on our way to Eastport where we checked-out a galleries.

I was pleased to meet two potters. Dancing Dogs Pottery might be the "easternmost-city" potter (whereas I would be more officially the easternmost town potter). I think Lubec is slightly more easterly, but we are literally a hop-skip-and a jump from each other across the bay. A good pair of water skis would get me there in no time. Nonetheless, no bridge, so it is a lengthy drive off our peninsula, up US Route 1, then down onto the island of Eastport.

After Dancing Dogs Pottery, which has gorgeous glazes on porcelain, we ventured into the Eartport Gallery which is celebrating twenty-five years in business. Good for them! The gallery-sitter was the featured artist and told us about using paper clay and her love of raku. I totally got it. I love the raku process as well and bought a raku kiln about 15 years ago. Sadly, it has not been used since moving to Lubec nine years ago. The bricks were demolished pretty much in the last UHaul experience. But now I have new bricks and pots already bisqued and ready to fire. I hope to begin raku again this summer!!!

Today should be another fabulous day for mom and me. I plan to get-in some time in "The Cave", then we venture out onto the streets of Lubec, Mom is itching to get back to Northern Tides and say hello to its owner Deb, who is always so welcoming. Then perhaps a ride over to Campobello for some international touring. I doubt the whales are out and about yet, but we'll check things out at East Quoddy, and then on over to Lubec's West Quoddy for a short hike. Tomorrow night, dinner at a new restaurant downtown and an old-time music jam at the CCLC.

It's time to gently nudge Bello the cat away from my arm so I can wrap-up this blog and head on down in to my cave. Why is it that we hate so much to disrupt a contently resting cat? When it's time to get Chris up I just jump up and down on the bed and sing loudly (mind you, not in tune) and flip on the bright overhead lights.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Submitting to "Calls for Art": Process and Rejection

A misty veil of fog has settled over the field. Stepping out on to the deck this morning, it felt as though there was some ghostly presence shifting through the grey, eerie and magical at the same time. Birds were starting to chirp, signaling the waking of the diurnal creatures. The rains have brought all kinds of critters to this safe haven. Yesterday afternoon a small rabbit hopped through the rosy pink phlox and a fawn preened and snacked at the grassy edge of the drive.

The submission process sure has changed over the years. As usual, I find myself lacking some of the necessary skills to pull a packet together, nonetheless, the job is done. When I first entered the world of "calls for art" in the early 1990's, 35mm slides were the normal protocol. As a student, I didn't have the funds to hire a photographer who was adept at using filters, backdrops and professional lighting. My slides were a mess.

Now we live in an era where submissions are done primarily online with photos taken with digital cameras. Digital cameras are fantastic in that they almost guarantee a decent looking photo for even the most amateur photographer. Auto-focus and on-screen editing has eliminated the olden day waste when we would disappointingly thumb through an envelope of 36 shots (72 if you ordered double prints!) of blurry-faced friends with red-eye and sometimes a tip-of-the-finger shot that inadvertently snuck its way in to the front of the camera lens.

But even with a digital camera, photographing art can be tricky, especially when photographing sculpture. For a submission to a show, an artist wants their images crisp, true to color, and without disruptive shadows. Anyone who has tried to photograph their own art knows the frustration of trying to conquer all three of those requirements.

The past couple years, when submitting to a particularly important exhibit venue, I have solicited professionals to help me achieve those goals. For smaller sculptures I have had success with my own camera, an E-Z cube, and tungsten lighting. But for the larger sculptures which are not easily moved and mixed in with the usual studio mess, I rely on professionals who know the tricks of the trade.

A recent photo shoot went well. From approximately fifty shots I found two or three that I considered appropriate for the current submission. I let the photos sit in a folder on my computer for a couple weeks until ready to use, or rather until "down to the last-minute wire" of submission deadline. I had assumed it would all go swimmingly since I had the photos done, the most challenging part of the process.

Silly me. I opened the photos in preview mode only to find that the resolution was 72 dpi, a far cry from the 300 dpi that was required. Frantic, and highly frustrated, I tried setting up the lights and photographing my own series. The colors were nowhere near as warm as when the other photographer took the pictures, but I was desperate. Again, something happened in translation, and images were at too-low a resolution. I know my camera is over five years old, but at the time, consumer reports ranked it highly.

I began to frantically email people that I knew asking for a local photographer who could do the job ASAP and who also knew the tech end of things. Local is key. See, I have a sister-in-law who is an amazingly talented photographer, as well as a friend who is a photojournalist, but they both live over four hours away. That just isn't feasible. A return email came with an offer to look at my file. So I emailed the file to Jude and soon after received a reply that turned my whole day around. It turns out, it was just my own ignorance with the photo program. I didn't realize that I could actually play around with the resolution and image size. So simple.

Once that little golden nugget of information became available (thanks, Jude!) I was able to proceed with the online submission.

The next phase entailed updating my artist resume. I removed some of the older shows from more than ten years ago and added a few new accomplishments. Artist statement was the final component. I asked my husband to give it a read, he did, despite his own super hectic schedule which right now involves his own writing and submitting, teaching an online ethics class, giving a poetry reading in pacific palisades, and preparing to facilitate an online poetry workshop for Rooster Moans. So bless his heart, he gave it a read and came back with some edits stating "the first four paragraphs are dry."

I was surprisingly pleased with his comment, since he tends to sometimes be far too gentle, but this time, he laid it on the line and offered a few suggestions. I mixed things up a bit incorporating some of his suggestions while still preserving the parts that I felt were necessary to my own voice and style.

The actual online submission, which included uploading photos and typing basic information, was a snap. Now the waiting begins. I go into the process with hopes of being accepted, but also know the reality of the competition, the thousands who enter, and that it also comes down to which pieces will complement each other in a particular show or also what personally appeals to each juror.

Albeit, there is still a glimmer of hope in me that hell will indeed freeze over and that pigs will someday fly.