I think I am like most folks, lately, in that I am living on a seesaw. I alternate between reading every word of the news, needing to understand and make sense of the politics, economics, and natural disasters, and just needing to NOT. To NOT read. To NOT analyze.
My walks are a good time to NOT. Instead of analyzing, I notice. I photograph. I appreciate. It gives my brain a short focus lens that is very restful.
It is just past sunflower season, as I’ve talked about before. But the dahlias are getting taller than my head.
The nasturtiums are playing nicely with all the other flowers.
And the onions, like me, are dancing beautifully while going to seed.
I know I am a grownup, and I need to Pay Attention to the world. But I can’t let it suck me down. Flowers help put me back in balance.
Sometimes, between the Covid-19 and the political situation, it’s nice to go out for a walk, and not think about anything. I mean, to just think about what is right in front of you.
Fortunately, in our neighborhood, there are lots of lovely flowers to look at. Sunnyside Elementary and Environmental School has delightful gardens, which are being tended by staff and families while the school is shut down.
On a street down the hill a sunny patch is filled with Black-eyed Susans and zinnias.
Our local community garden up by the Laurelhurst Care Center, sweet-peas and dahlias stand tall in the sun.
And between our house and Auntie Katie’s place in Ladd’s Addition, the four rose Gardens are home to hundreds of bushes, all tended by volunteers. This ‘Caroline Testout’ rose, a variety that was created in 1888, caught my eye on our last walk down that way.
We have been having such sunny weather that I have been walking every day. Yesterday, I took Auntie Bridgett on a bit of a wild goose chase looking for some sculpture.
We had two items on our agenda: to eat a picnic lunch in a park, and for me to show Bridgett a front yard full of sculptures that I had seen the day before. I thought I remembered right where it was… and I was almost right.
We packed sausage, cheese, fruits and veg, and two giant bottles of ice water. We also took watercolor supplies, as Bridgett said, “just in case.”
I led us to Market Street and then Stephens, keeping my eyes peeled for the house that I knew should be … around here … somewhere. But we had gone too far, and I was puzzled. How had we missed it? We asked a lady working in her yard, and, after some confusion, she remembered and directed us. It turns out, we had turned exactly one block too soon.
Big sigh. It was getting on to noon, and we had come blocks too far. We stood in the shade and thought… should we go forward, not see the sculpture, and eat sooner, or backtrack, see the art, and delay lunch a bit? We opted for the art, turned around, and walked. And after fifteen minutes, there it was!
It is a real sculpture garden, right in someone’s front yard. Realistic portraits, stylized African heads, and a delightful hand monument, all set among flowers, sunshine, and shade. I took pictures and we stood and appreciated to variety and arrangement.
Then it was sure and truly lunchtime, and we headed to Seawellcrest Park. There were lots of trees and shade, kids playing hide and seek, and deliriously happy dogs playing fetch. We sat and enjoyed being out in the world, watching our fellow mammals at play. We ate our lunch and then painted a little, my first “plein aire” (painting outdoors) attempt.
It’s more of a sketch with pencil and water color than an actual painting, and I’ll work more on it later. But better to start badly than not at all.
When we had eaten every crumb and knew we had gotten too much sun, we headed back home. Sunshine, art, and a wonderful neighborhood to get lost in… I am truly blessed.
On Friday we got to visit Cousin Kestrel, Cousin Jasper and Auntie Katie and give Kestrel some birthday presents.
Grandpa Nelson and I decided to make a day of it, so we walked the two plus miles down to Books with Pictures. We stopped at Palio to get some pastries and met the family across the street from their shop and house.
We enjoyed the croissants and little apple pies, had a nice visit and got to say hi to our friend Misha Moon when she came by on her way to My Vinyl Underground, the record store in Auntie Katie’s basement.
After a while Grandpa Nelson suggested we play some games. This started with a race, which Auntie Katie won. Then Kestrel taught us a game called Gargoyle. In this game, the person who is the Gargoyle sits with their eyes covered (today, we used our face masks!) and guards an object. The other players try to sneak up on the Gargoyle and steal the object.
The Gargoyle needed to be able to hear the other players’ footsteps and call them out, and because of the street noise on Division Street, this was really hard! But it was fun to be sneaking and having to stifle our giggles. Jasper won that one.
After some other games and chalk art, we headed over for some ice cream from Zeds, the ice cream truck parked in the parking lot of Books with Pictures.
It was moving past lunchtime when we headed for home. Pastries and stolen ice cream licks just aren’t real food, so we stopped at McMenamin ‘s Barley Mill up on Hawthorne. On their very thinly populated open porch, we had cider, a wonderful oatmeal stout, and a veggie burger. Their fries were a letdown, but everything else was delicious.
By this time we were over-sunned, over-fed and over-walked, and we were still a mile from home. We found the shady side of the street and just kept at it, covering almost six miles by the time we crashed.
I am sorry if all my taking about painting is boring you, but I feel as though I have discovered a new super power, and I just love it!
Starting from single daisies to sunflowers and coneflowers, I have graduated to vases. Using a full, whole sheet of watercolor paper for the first time, I was nervous. I wanted to get it right. So I sketched, erased, and sketched some more.
Remembering my lessons from Ruth Inman and Auntie Bridgett Spicer, I started light so I could add darker colors later.
As I got more confident as to what the picture should look like, I put in more colors, the vase, and tabletop.
Once I had put in the shadows between the flowers, I let the paint dry before moving on to colored pencils.
This is the longest part of making the painting. There are hundreds of tiny lines and dots of a dozen different colors to put in, and you never know where until you stare at it a long time. Sometimes you need some grey to make a shadow deeper, sometimes a yellow to bring a flower forward.
And, of course, it was only then that I realized….. I had forgotten the background. Big, happy sigh. And back to work.
As the Corona shut down continues into summer, the world outside continues to get more beautiful day by day. We have had an unusually cool summer so far in Portland. I remember our first summer here, with temperatures of 111 degrees for a few days, and am grateful that we are enjoying mostly mid-70s . This, plus a few random showers, have made the flowers very happy.
Being inside most of the time, I have tried my hand at water coloring different types of flowers. I started with daisies and moved onto sunflowers, shading them with colored pencils as needed. The other day I found a great picture of some coneflowers online, and worked to paint them.
I was pleased with my first attempt, and am working on my second. The slight tremor in my right hand isn’t getting in my way as much as I expected and I am feeling more confident.
Then yesterday, or our way to the market, we met this fabulous specimen! A real, live coneflower! I took her picture and will use it for my next attempt.
Art imitating life imitating art imitating life….. It’s a perfect cycle.
Human beings are creatures of habit, they say, but I have always disagreed. I like to go on adventures…walking eight miles to Sellwood, bussing across town for a hike, taking the train to Vancouver and biking around the city. But as we go along in the quarantine, I realize how much I am leaning on my habits. Especially in uncertain times, we feel the need to do normal things in the normal way.
Here, that means morning coffee with news on the sofa, writing blogs, then crossword puzzles, then French practice on Duolingo.
The recent addition of online watercolor classes with Ruth Inman in Illinois has helped fill Tuesday and Thursday mornings with art and conversation. It has also given me courage to make more art.
The other day I painted my first sunflower. I had been doing little daisies and simple roses, which feel less daunting. Sunflowers are imposing. They are flower royalty that literally looks down on everyone. They have gravitas.
And when I got it done, I felt pretty good about it. I asked Auntie Bridgett. “It’s not bad,” she said kindly. “But you could use some colored pencils to bring it out more, to make it pop.”
My first thought was, “What if I screw it up?” But I slapped that thought down, stepped over it, and moved on. We walked to Collage down on Division Street and bought me some Vera Thin pencils along with more watercolor paper.
I started playing. Painting like before, but with the knowledge that some parts would be enhanced or shaded with pencils. I learned about complementary colors and how to use them for emphasis, that shadows are never black, and that short lines can make lovely curves. It is another tiny step outside my comfort zone.
This using of paints and pencils, or pastels and collage, or crayons and paint, is called mixed media. You mix bits that you already know, some you don’t, and come up with something new. This is an interior adventuring, and one I am enjoying very much.
Maybe it will keep my adventurous muscles strong for when I can go adventuring outside again.
We got to walk through the neighborhood yesterday, on our way to Whole Foods for groceries. Our last two days of bright sunshine have encouraged all the flowers!
The bees are going nuts, too, though they were skittish and wouldn’t let me get close enough to take their pictures. However, this solid brick of azalea blooms was very patient.
Up on Ankeny Street in a poetry box, I found this very personal poem. If I had seen it on Mother’s Day, it would have felt cruel and bruising. But today I am stronger and can see it as beautiful.
Feelings are such delicate balances between joy and melancholy, sweet memories and frightful hauntings, it is a miracle we maintain as well as we do. I only really appreciate joy when I have pulled out of a dark hole and can sigh with relief at my freedom.
This week I took advantage of a sunny day and went out for a short walk. It’s good to see that even with most folks inside, the rhododendrons and trilliums are open for Spring. The smell of jasmine makes invisible patches of sweetness that catch you by surprise.
There are still quite a few joggers and dog walkers in the park, and it’s not always possible to properly socially distance, so we walk in the neighborhood. Many folks have taken to crossing the street mid-block to avoid too-close contact, and there is usually a smile or friendly wave that goes with this, acknowledging each other but staying safe. People can be pretty darn wonderful.
We are continuing to be careful but I may have caught a touch of the bug. Grandpa Nelson went out for groceries yesterday because I was feeling really tired, and Auntie Bridgett is just getting over a nasty spell of fatigue.
We are good at taking care of each other. Lots of ginger tea, fruits and veggies, and quiet time for naps will pull us through.