I spent a lovely week on Great Spruce Head Island a few years back and have sketchbooks, drawings, and photos that I’ve been working on ever since. The color swatches alone are enough to bring up detailed memories of the morning light on Penobscot Bay and thunderstorms on hot afternoons under the spruce trees. This is a study of the rock that ends Double Beaches like a punctuation mark, 12 x 16, oil on panel:
I’ve set up the pastel corner of the studio and decided to try out my new idiom in that media. My new effort is centered around allowing information to accumulate: marks that describe color and volume coming together over the entire surface of the work. I’ve been working at this in oils for a few months and it makes a kind of perverse sense that it is an easier thought process in chalk.
Frenchboro, Wharf with Fishing Gear, 18 x 24, pastel on board
August in Maine is by turns bright and stormy, and always chock full of cars, camper vans, and people. We have family and friends visiting, phone calls and g-chat, and people in expensive cars from out-of-state pulling over to the side of the gravel road to ask about the garden and take pictures. All this will start to taper off after Labor Day and disappear entirely before Thanksgiving so I’ll take the crowds now as antidote to the barren landscape when it comes. Meanwhile, in the moments in between visitors, we paint.
This is the matching piece to last month’s small painting done in Frenchboro titled “Shade Trees”, 20 x 16, oil on panel. Both pieces are currently hanging at the Artemis Gallery in Northeast Harbor, and look lovely glowing under the good lights against the white walls there.
This site has been very, very good to me. . .something about the stacked layers of rocks and water going straight out to the horizon that is visually compelling. Right now in late June and just past the longest day it’s like a desert down there on the rocks, but I took a long hike along the shore on Mother’s Day when the snow still extended down to the water’s edge and made the start to this painting.
By popular request, here are some details. . . the far reaches are under water at high tide and are covered in rockweed and barnacles, turning them a lovely warm sepia color even in the dead of winter.
Detail of the rotten snow along the tide line:
And finally, the drawing stage from the site. This is Ivory Black oil on a tinted board.
Dandelions are only a nuisance weed if you have lovely heaps of fertile soil. For those of us who live on a pile of rocks, Taraxacum o. is a long-season cultivator with a tap root that loosens packed subsoils and moves soil nutrients to the surface for other, more delicate species. The composite blossoms are a dependable food source for the bees during the early spring, and I have to admit that as much as it would have driven my father crazy, I don’t mind looking out my front door on to a sea of yellow blooms.
Looking to the side yard toward the swamp, where the blue Chinese forget-me-not is blooming early and the Centura nearly taking over. . .
And along the front walk by the hives and tomato plants in their protective cloches.
We’ve had a few warm days since I took these photos last Sunday, and the blueberry bushes in the foreground are all blossomed pink and white. Spring is passing quickly!
If you live on the island, you’ve noticed that the rocks at Compass Harbor are black basalt, bleached with salt-grime and truly spectacular in the late afternoon sun. If you also said to yourself, wow, I bet that view would be very difficult to paint, you would be correct. Here’s a first attempt:
View from Compass Harbor to the Porcupine Islands, late afternoon. 24 x 18 inches, oil on panel
I have four new blog entries started and material just keeps coming; the title of this blog was never more apropos than the bees and art in spring 2014. It’s all very exciting but very little is actually being posted. To remedy that, here’s a quick look at a study for a larger painting now on the easel of Frenchboro Harbor. Done from studies and photos taken last August, this study represents a departure for me in terms of image and paint application.
Frenchboro Harbor Study; Big Trees 16″ x 20″, oil on panel
Here’s a detail of the paint: applied without medium a la Cezanne, “a short stroke representing only the brush exploring the form”.
Every winter I try to take a snow day off from work and spend the morning finalizing my seed order to Fedco. There’s something very satisfying about glancing up from long, detailed descriptions of luscious tomatoes and tender green beans to see the snow pelting down outside. (Seeds for bush beans and alyssm “Carpet of Snow” are already on order, as they were in 2013 below.)
My seed order for the coming year will be an experiment; an acknowledgement of suspicions and assumptions that I’ve been resisting for several seasons. My new guidelines, In no particular order, are:
- I don’t need to grow boatloads of everything. That goes double for tomatoes
- I should grow more of what we actually eat, regardless of whether it appeals to my Yankee nature and stores well in the pantry or root cellar
- I love flowers, I paint flowers, and although we can’t eat flowers, I should step all over that Yankee nature and give serious consideration to creating a huge cutting garden.
And maybe give in to the occasional impulse buy that turns out to be really cool – like Dutch Butter popcorn!
Well, no, growing popcorn is an indulgence in space that we could be taking up by growing 9′ stalks of Silver Queen (the finest white sweet corn of all time), so popcorn didn’t make the 2014 list. I am easily swayed to excess when I’m reading seed catalogs but I think I managed to hold closely to my New Rules. FEDCO seeds just emailed me my order confirmation:
214 – Greencrop Bush Green Bean ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
658 – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( A=2oz ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
818 – Oregon Giant Snow Pea ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2073 – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrot ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
2186 – Bulls Blood Beet ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
2425 – Bleu de Solaize Leek ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2510 – Space Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2555 – Giant Winter Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2766 – Australian Yellow Lettuce OG ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
3209 – Maruba Santoh ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
3222 – Tokyo Bekana ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
3230 – Mizspoona Salad Selects Gene Pool OG ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3273 – Joi Choi Pac Choi ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3315 – Gypsy Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3316 – Purple Peacock Gene Pool Broccoli OG ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
3322 – Arcadia Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
4441 – Aromato Basil OG ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4481 – Wild Bergamot OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5113 – Sunburst Heliopsis ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
5168 – Giant Imperial Mixed Larkspur ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5171 – Lavatera Mix ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5291 – Tall Climbing Mix Nasturtium ( A=4g ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
5350 – Elka Poppy OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5351 – Ziar Breadseed Poppy OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5731 – State Fair Mix Zinnia ( B=2g ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80
This order and what I’ve saved from previous years will probably still grow more that we can eat, but perhaps I won’t feel quite as compelled to spend the entire harvest season canning tomatoes. Perhaps. The baby in this photo is now 22 – obviously I have a long history of growing too much produce!
We’ve had very pleasant weather for far longer than is usually the case in October. There have been a few chilly clear nights but no hard frost here yet and the temperature is predicted to stay above 40 right through next week. Temperature doesn’t rule every living thing, however, and the pumpkins, green beans, tomatoes, and the bees, are all closing down as the day-length contracts and we move inexorably toward the winter solstice. We’ll see just over 8 hours of sun on December 21st vs. exactly 11 hours today.
Our bees have had a rough summer. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why there were so many corpses lying around (drones? disease?) the hive entrance, but I finally caught the culprit – we have predators! Bald-faced hornets are a North American species known for their large paper nests and for stinging aggressively in defense of their home turf. I’ve noticed them hanging around the fruit in the compost heap, but they have also been attacking the weaker of our two hives, robbing the honey stores and larvae and impeding the growth of the colony.
I picked up an old monograph on beekeeping at the Jesup Library book sale a few years ago. The cover is missing, so I can’t credit the author, but it includes some basic information about combining colonies when one is disadvantaged. The author suggests that this is easier on the bees when they have a common enemy – approaching cold weather, for instance, or predators. We have both, so I decided to give it a try. The weaker colony isn’t going to make it through the Maine winter by itself in any case.
I opened both hives and found that “Vanilla” (we name the hives for the color of their paint!) had not yet built out the outside frames with eggs or larvae. I removed those and then slid the active frames all the way to the outside wall on one side. Then there was just enough space to drop in the four active frames from “Pistachio” – it was a tight fit – against the other hive-box wall, with a section of newsprint between the two, formerly separate, colonies.
There were crowds of bees in the air during this maneuver, but I didn’t get stung and everything seemed to settle down rather quickly. I put on some sugar cake and buttoned everything back up with a Styrofoam box feeder on top (for a February syrup feeding). I left the Pistachio hive open, but empty of frames, figuring that workers might still be returning to that box. I may have sacrificed the field bees with this move, because the guard bees from Vanilla won’t be inclined to let them in.
Later in the day I found a moderate amount of activity but no fighting or new corpses. I imagine there will be some evidence tomorrow as the hive cleans itself out. I reduced the main entrance to provide more security and closed the top entrance loosely with grass that the bees can push away if need be. There were guard bees behind the reducer and they repelled a wasp while I watched, so that’s a good sign!
So now we wait and see – pretty much the gardening motto around here. I will no doubt be driving up to Skowhegan to Abnaki Apiaries next spring to pick up a new nuc hive, and return the boxes from this spring. Onward!
BY PAISLEY REKDAL
I have been taught never to brag but now
I cannot help it: I keep
a beautiful garden, all abundance,
indiscriminate, pulling itself
from the stubborn earth: does it offend you
to watch me working in it,
touching my hands to the greening tips or
tearing the yellow stalks back, so wild
the living and the dead both
snap off in my hands?
The neighbor with his stuttering
fingers, the neighbor with his broken
love: each comes up my drive
to receive his pitying,
accustomed consolations, watches me
work in silence awhile, rises in anger,
walks back. Does it offend them to watch me
not mourning with them but working
fitfully, fruitlessly, working
the way the bees work, which is to say
by instinct alone, which looks like pleasure?
I can stand for hours among the sweet
narcissus, silent as a point of bone.
I can wait longer than sadness. I can wait longer
than your grief. It is such a small thing
to be proud of, a garden. Today
there were scrub jays, quail,
a woodpecker knocking at the whiteand-black shapes of trees, and someone’s lost rabbit
scratching under the barberry: is it
indiscriminate? Should it shrink back, wither,
and expurgate? Should I, too, not be loved?
It is only a little time, a little space.
Why not watch the grasses take up their colors in a rush
like a stream of kerosene being lit?
If I could not have made this garden beautiful
I wouldn’t understand your suffering,
nor care for each the same, inflamed way.
I would have to stay only like the bees,
beyond consciousness, beyond
self-reproach, fingers dug down hard
into stone, and growing nothing.
There is no end to ego,
with its museum of disappointments.
I want to take my neighbors into the garden
and show them: Here is consolation.
Here is your pity. Look how much seed it drops
around the sparrows as they fight.
It lives alongside their misery.
It glows each evening with a violent light.