Monthly Archives: October 2014

Repeating Hills summer 1993

Late Summer HIlls 1993

I suppose I should explain– the owners of this painting are renovating their home and asked if I would house this work of mine plus a number of my others they had purchased over the years, and of course I was delighted. Delighted to remake the acquaintance of these works, to be able to spiff up the frames and clean and re-varnish and re-photograph them all. I no longer use the old Kodachrome slides, sigh. It’s all digital now and I have the database on an Excel sheet in my computer that names all the paintings and gives each its own number, dimensions, all the information that seems important to me.  This one is 17.5″ x 38.5″, painted on a gessoed board. Click on it if you want to see it as it really is, all rich onionskin and glowing grass. I’m still really fond of this piece, and have never chosen to try to do another quite like it though this set of hills is a favorite motif of mine. I often speak of it as the HIlls, Hills and Hills… or the HIlls “cubed”. Below, for contrast, a springtime painting done a few years earlier of the same place. You will see differences in the configuration of the hills– I am often amused to realize how much my eye varies its weighting of elements even when I myself believe I am painting the same place! Stones move around, angles of repose shift a little. I am no camera; that much is clear.

1990 #103


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Every so often after I’ve spent hours out in the studio painting, there’s a message waiting on the machine when I walk into the study. Hit the button– I hear the tentative young male or female voice on the recording and then a rush of words.

“Professor? You won’t remember me. I took your class…” in years gone by, ten or more, and took the time now, to call. For some reason this is the day for this spate of words, with its embarrassed misspeaks, an offered gratitude.

“Your enthusiasm meant so much. I’ve always remembered how you took that plant and broke its pot on the desk, scattering dirt all over, to prove the point that there was more to a plant underground than on top.”

I’m smiling, listening.

“I have never forgotten how you declared you never expected us to believe everything you said, but that you did expect us to know what you had said. I became a scientist because of your class.”

Some days when I’m listening, he or she says the next wonderful thing.

“I became a teacher because of you.”

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Number 1256 and No 1257 and 1262 I’m dreaming of rain


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go and see a pangolin

I saw a real live pangolin when I was seven years old in Nigeria. I didn’t understand how rare the chance was, but now, finding a guest blog on a blog I love, I had such pleasure revisiting the strange and wonderful reality of the pangolin. A  a modest silent dragon humbly trundling through the African wild in the dark. Have a look at this marvelous animal.


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A Con-ver-sa-tion

“Welcome,” my mother said to the unwelcome guest. Her black eyes assessed the make-up, hair-sprayed brown curls, the round features of a young woman of perhaps twenty five.

“What a nice house,” the guest said. She turned her big blue American eyes on my very Chinese mother and slowed her words down to one syllable at a time. “I was say-ing, you have a nice house, a nice home. Ver-y nice.”

Her voice cranked up. I could almost see her thinking if she talked louder, she might communicate better. She put spaces between her words. My mother gave a polite nod and sat down, taking up her knitting.

“The min-ute I came in, I felt, this is a Chris-tian house. It is so im-por-tant. To be Chris-tian. You are Chris-tian too, I am sure. I hear many Chi-nese have be-come Chris-tian.”

She smiled, bent down a little to peer at my mother before she, too, took a seat. Perched herself on the edge of the davenport as though she was aware to her core of an extraordinary opportunity.

I didn’t know what to do. I’d barely turned sixteen and was just as awkward as any of us remember being. I wanted some hint. Should I feel angry? Should I correct this guest? She’d come in with my cousin, so I didn’t have to feel responsible for her, did I? I looked at my mother for guidance, but, her gaze cast demurely down, she moved her knitting needles with smooth efficiency.

“I hear you are Chin-ese,” the guest said, louder yet. “You come from Chi-na?”

My mother nodded, flicking the strand of yarn up and over. Was she smiling? No, surely not.

“You know En-glish? You un-der-stand me?”

My mother nodded, clicked the needles.

“Oh yes,” Mother said. “Indeed I do.”

“Have you been here long? In the U-ni-ted States? Of Am-er-i-ca?”

“Thirty years,” my mother said.

“Wow. That is won-der-ful. That is so ex-ci-ting. You real-ly un-der-stand me?”

“Oh yes,” my mother said. She nodded.

“I am so ex-ci-ted. I am so hap-py to meet you. This is such a nice house.”

She stilled a moment, her hands folding nervously in her lap. She glanced at me and then away. I probably looked unfriendly. She stared at my mother calmly knitting. Where was my cousin? How soon would he rescue us from this absurd situation?

“I love New En-gland,” the guest said. “Oh, you pro-bab-ly don’t know what that is.”

“I do,” my mother said, but the guest didn’t hear, she was too busy explaining.

“We call these states New En-gland,” she said, and proceeded to name them off in her loud one-syllable fashion.

I was right, my mother was trying with all her might not to smile. Her mouth corners were tucked with fierce control deep in to hold laughter back. She nodded a lot and her fingers flew through the motions of knitting. What was she knitting? I thought it was supposed to be a sleeve for my sister’s new sweater, but it looked long.

“I am so pleas-ed to have met you,” the guest said. She began to look a little tired and I caught her glance going to the parlor door as though she too, wondered where my cousin was. “Chi-na is so far a-way. Do you speak Chi-nese? You must speak ver-y good Chi-nese.”

My mother did not nod.

“Did you ever go to school? In Chi-na?”

My mother nodded. Knitted.

I could not bring myself to leave. I must not laugh, I tried to slow down my breathing.

“Oh that is so neat. You pro-bab-ly would have liked to go to coll-ege.”

“I did,” my mother said.

“Wow! What did you stu-dy?”


Even the guest could not come up with a comment on that so my mother went quietly on.

“But in graduate school I focused on Shakespeare.”


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