Archive for February, 2010


Autumn-flowering clematis in late autumn, after the flowers.

As the seasons change, I watch the autumn-flowering clematis that has overtaken a chain-link fence along the walkway between Arlington Court and Quarrier Street. This Japanese native has a sweet smell and is alive with bees when it’s blooming. In fall, it seems to attract mostly flies. My friend Neal tells me that some consider it a dreaded, invasive plant, and a quick search of plant sites on the Internet confirms that many gardeners hate it because it’s so difficult to contain.

Since I am not a gardener, I will take no position on whether or not you should try to eradicate this plant if you find it creeping into your neighborhood. I’m just an observer, and I observe that this plant has a wonderful, whirly, curly, silly aspect that delights me in a purely visual way. What I’m showing you here are closeups: each of those seeds is less than a fourth of an inch long, and the vine grows in a great tangle.

In winter, the reddish seeds turn brown and the little hairs spread out, as below:

Autumn-flowering clematis in February.

Artists and designers often take lessons from nature, and I can imagine this plant inspiring a designer of fireworks displays, a wallpaper pattern artist, or the inventor of a carnival ride. Whee!

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Heart of a Snowdrop

Looking at a snowdrop blossom from below.

The snowdrop is aptly named: perhaps to protect its inflorescence from the cold, the flower droops its little head, and we don’t usually see what’s inside that little drop of white. Today I got down on my knees and looked. Oh, my! What a riot of color and shape. All of spring’s promise, and possibly some of summer’s, is under there.I can’t help but think of a shy girl at a dance — the kind of girl who hangs back and looks down at her feet and gives the impression that she might burst into tears if someone actually asked her to dance. But, underneath her prim white dress: layer upon layer of frilly, frothy, scalloped petticoats.

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Signs of Spring

Right on schedule, in mid-February, we found snowdrops on the Carriage Trail yesterday. And, even though I love winter, I also love seeing these harbingers of spring in West Virginia. If there are snowdrops today, there will be ramps soon, and spring beauties, and bloodroot, and then Virginia bluebells and trillium and trout lily. Like friends who have been off for some extended spell, they will seem more tender and beautiful than ever before, and I will be unable to resist taking the same pictures I take every year.

When I was young, my mother would sometimes put away some of my toys for a few months, then bring them out again. I don’t remember missing them — probably they just disappeared quietly and I didn’t notice — but I remember the pleasure of seeing a doll or a game I hadn’t seen for a while. That’s how it is with spring flowers.

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Happy Valentine’s Day

This may not qualify as site-specific sculpture…more site-specific graffiti, I guess. But I had a lot of fun doing it. And, a day after I took this picture, I found a reply — identical to my message but with the number “2” at the end — carved into the seat of the stone bench. I don’t know who my secret Valentine is, but I’m glad we brought each other a smile.

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Just Ducky

Does it look like a duck to you?

One of my all-time favorite teachers was Ken Macrorie. He died a few months ago, at age 90. He wrote some wonderful books about writing and teaching writing, and he inspired me from the first class session. On that first day, when we young, would-be writers were assembled around a conference table, all looking toward this gnome-like fellow who wore a pair of ski boots and an irrepressible grin, he said, “What’s on your mind?” Nobody said anything. For about 20 minutes. Finally someone ventured something, and we lurched into a conversation.

The next sesssion, he did the same thing: “What’s on your mind?” That time it didn’t take so long for us to get started.

He began every class session with the same question, and soon we could hardly wait to start sharing.

One day he brought a pile of smooth stones he and his children had picked up on the shore of Lake Michigan. He gave each of us a stone “to inspire you.” I still have mine. It is one of my dearest possessions.

Finally, Dr. Macrorie introduced me to the Fabulous Reality: a coincidence so uncanny as to seem impossible. But he assured us that fabulous realities were all around us, every day, if only we would be open to them. I have found that to be true.

Which leads me back to the ducky. I had nothing to do with that shape. Nature made it. But it sure looks like a duck to me. That’s a fabulous reality. Just a little one, it’s true. But fabulous nonetheless.

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Site Specific

Icicle art on the Carriage Trail

I walk up and down the Sunrise Carriage Trail almost every day, and lately the wealth of icicles has been enticing. Andy Goldsworthy inspires many people, and I am among them. But I guess I’m not as patient (or is it compulsive) as Goldsworthy. My particular challenge is, “What would Andy Goldsworthy do with this if he had, say, five minutes? What if he had to pick up the kids after their piano lessons or get a poster ready for a client?”

So, today, I made two five-minute sculptures. That was the first one. The more amazing one is below. Don’t ask me how I got that thing to balance. I warmed the bottom of it with my hand so that it would stick in the crotch of the tree, but mostly I was just lucky. I can’t wait to see if it’s still there tomorrow.

Another icicle sculpture. I called it "Treecicle."

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More Feather Art

Water drops on feather

So wonderful, the way the convex shape of a drop of water bends the light. Not to mention the way a duck’s feather (well, I think it was a duck’s feather, because I found it on the walkway beside the river) repels water.

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Red Letter Day

Poster made from snapshots of found letterforms

This poster was made as a Valentine gift for Michael, back in the days before digital photography. (Well, before my acquisition of a digital camera.) I used to think it an extravagance to go out and shoot an entire roll of film — remember film? — in one day. It was an extravagance, in fact: between the cost of film, the cost of processing, and the cost of prints, it was an outlay of $12 or more. And you never knew if the pictures were going to be worth it.

But I got lucky that day: all of these snapshots of found letterforms came from the same roll of film. My favorites are the “O” that’s made from a bird’s nest (found on my neighbor’s porch) and the “E” that is a sewer grate. I cheated a little bit for the “Y,” which is a picture of a funnel from my kitchen.

Ever since then, I have had an eye open for found letterforms. Nowadays, with the digital camera, it’s much easier to collect them, of course. I keep a special folder in my computer for these lucky finds. Today, while I was walking over to the local produce market at Capitol Market, I came upon not one, but two, fabulous found letterforms: an “F” made from a broken piece of pretzel on a rain-soaked sidewalk and an “E” in a curled seedpod from a tree near Arlington Court. Here’s a word employing those two, along with a snowy “A” and a rusted tin can “C” found sometime last year.

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On the Diagonal

Stairway to the Kanawha River

Here are a couple of cold visual treats that were here a couple of days ago but are gone now. Yesterday rain washed away most of the snow in this town. But it was beautiful while it lasted. And, while I know it’s stretching the imagination, I see some correspondence between the jaggedy stair steps and the scalloped edge of the icicle. It’s good to stretch the imagination!

Icicle on the Carriage Trail

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