Monthly Archives: August 2014

Right Around the Corner

           liz mth in process

            I have tried again and again to keep a diary, but the self-centered repetitions and petty quarrels I found myself trying to make into comedy read like belly button lint. My definition of belly button lint? The sort of meanders that no one but the author really cares to examine. If you keep a daily record of your life, you really need famous names dropping by, or better yet, a good dose of laughter, and giggles. Comedy is the hardest thing to write. The whole effort depressed me each time, until I stopped.

            I find that this blog serves many of the better purposes of a diary. More fluid, more adaptable to what I’m thinking about, not the chance trivia I used to faithfully pen out to fill the page.

            So what am I doing now that’s possibly interesting?

            I’m working on a seven foot by three foot canvas stretched over board, out in the carport. Why the carport? It’s got great natural lighting and has the advantage that I can step back far enough to see what I’m doing. I have a handy bunch of twigs and leaves as references, right before me, and stones in the yard to take my bearings by. I began five days ago. First the stretching of the canvas over a doorskin glued and squared and cradled with cross supports and an under frame. Then five layers of gesso, sanding required between each layer and its successor, with a final sanding to make a skin texture that will take the oils well. Then the sketch in chalk, nothing detailed but a loose gesture taken from my first sketches. Next the real work of laying down paint, rich oils, shadows of Indanthrone blue and Napthamide Maroon, sun splotches of Hansa Yellow and Titanium White, touches of Indian Yellow. Working in to these, Sap Green, Blue-Violet, Quinacridone Gold, and Quinacridone Rose.

            It’s the 27th now, and I have finished the big painting, at least for now. I may go back in and glaze some leaves in the foreground and soften the edge on a tree trunk, but I believe the essence of the thing is done. It’s not one of my hills paintings, instead it is of a place I walked with the daughter about two weeks ago, a location called the ‘Lizard’s Mouth’. A park area full of tumbled boulders and scrubby brush, with a few oaks scattered about. I chose a small intimate view that shows several sun and shadow dappled rocks with the shade of oaks, their trunks streaked with sun. I like the feeling that one could walk into the painting, and I think I captured that. How different from some of my bright big landscapes, this one is. I don’t like to play it safe, and this wasn’t safe. I present to you, above, the painting as it was two days ago just before my last push, with not everything defined, but all of the promise just around the corner.



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In a drought year


Aug w peppers

We are in August of one of our driest years yet in California. I pulled back my garden ambitions this summer, and I’m hauling gray water out to the plants, but we still have a succession of fruit and vegetables from our small plot. Here is the photo husband took yesterday of the day’s produce. Those red-purple fruit with a bluish bloom are Plumcots. But he forgot the lemons, the pail of Washington Navel oranges, one basket of tomatoes, and I had already poached a basket-worth of green beans.

Did you know that the pole string bean variety ‘Kentucky Wonder’ first hit the seed market back in the 1870’s? They like most beans tend to self-pollinate so I can save the seed and keep the line going. Did I already tell you all that? I wouldn’t be surprised. When something really delights me, I do repeat myself.

I am grateful to my predecessors when I pick. All those farmers and plant breeders, amateurs and professionals whose work still comes into my hands whenever I walk in the garden wondering what I have to eat and to share; I feel as though in their presence.

There’s usually a wooden box on stubby legs set out at the end of our driveway. Husband built it when we first moved here. I put what extra I harvest into it for passers by. Sometimes I am embarrassed to come out and find a few coins left, or even a dollar bill. (I need to repaint the ‘Free’ label.) Sometimes it’s a card with a thank you from a person down on his luck, who finds the box a timely helpful friend. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to have nothing worth putting out.

But today is a good day; the season may be dry, but it’s generous.


Filed under food, gardening

We’re Back

We’re back. I didn’t know we were going until about a week beforehand, so I never told you, but now I will. We flew over to Boise, Idaho for the annual Botanical Society meeting.

It’s been seven years for my husband since he last attended a Bot Soc meeting, and then he went only for a day, to one held in Vancouver. I was nursing my mother in at-home Hospice, and barely paid attention to the meeting’s occurrence. That had not been so in previous years. I’d enjoyed the scientific and human interactions. I’m not a scientist by training, but I loved wrapping my mind around the language and principles of botany, letting my imagination work on the problems like the perpetual student I am at heart. (As a footnote I will tell you my mother graduated from Hospice back to health, and is still living, and very well, too.)


What are these meetings, why do they matter, how do they feel and who on earth would want to go?

Think plant nerds. Think plant fans. Imagine a batch of people obsessed with all sorts of vegetation and fungi and how they work, their ecology, the habitats they create, their greenness and aliveness, or if you prefer the fossil sort, their deadness, their ancient characters, their clues to the past and perhaps the future of our planet. Imagine a mass of folk filled with resonant obsession for the things you love. Massing together in the biggest botanical meeting in the country, showing off their ideas, sharing knowledge and concepts in a party atmosphere. Travelers from overseas as well, all coming in tired but eager.

We’d been away too long. That happened because husband took on an administrative post, and being the person he is, could not step back far enough to continue his own science. I assumed we’d see lots of new faces after our seven-year absence (for me actually even longer of course, let’s say ten,) but that we would have no place. I thought we’d come in like graying graduate students, reincarnated as students again in the field. Starting from somewhere near the beginning, simply grateful to have finally enough time to attend the meetings and start trying to catch up.

Which field in botany, you ask? Paleobotany. The science of very dead plants. The people who love them dream about them at night. They will endure temperatures over 100 Farenheit for the privilege of prying rock open in an endless detective hunt for the fugitive leaf. It’s magic, the heat vanishes, thirst and hunger likewise, all you can think about is the next promising chunk and the new discovery a rock hammer stroke away.


(above, witness the induction of a member of the section into the “Order of the Bow Tie”)

Paleobotanists also laugh and joke and have silly fun — witness the auction where two of the highest income generating items were a calendar featuring Paleo Barbie companied by famous paleobotanists, and a Harlequin Romance whose author knew Kirk Johnson, a paleobotanist now Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and used him as the inspiration for her hero in his whitey tighties in the novel Let It Bree.


I was stunned by our reception at the meeting. No, my husband was not forgotten. The best description I can give you is that they’d kept seats warm at the table for both of us.

We’re back.


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