Posted in Musings

Otter Weather

wheelhouseRain hammers the deck as the wind roars over the high bank of the south shore.  Like big, blue wings, the tarp on the derelict boat rafted alongside billows in the gusts and shoots spray high onto Old Hand’s wheelhouse windows.  Windward is a sorry sight–the once proud Herreshoff racing sloop now lies rotting through the long Northwest winter rains.  I used to pride myself on my tarpological creations, but now they are blown to blue tatters before the furious onslaught of the Pineapple Express.

A kingfisher chatters high over the rigging as the whole boathouse sways above Old Hand’s starboard rail.  At times like this, I wonder if I should have used 10″ lag bolts to anchor the posts onto the dock.  But it seems to be holding fine.

This is the weather the otter likes.  One slithers onto the float and lies momentarily atop my inverted Livingston dinghy before again vanishing into the green depths of Port Madison.  It’s good to see them otter croppedagain–my pals the otters–if I could only get them to use the cat box.  But they scoff at such refinements, and prefer to poop all over the lines I’d so artfully coiled on the dock.  Such is the life of those who toil at sea.

After all the work creating my art exhibit, I went through a depressed phase, exacerbated by a lingering cold.  This down time usually accompanies the completion of a project.  It’s just part of the process.  It’s only natural that we feel emptied out after such an expenditure of energy, and the empty feeling, far from being  bad, is just what I need.  Rather than feeling washed up, it’s better to make friends with the emptiness and spaciousness in order to be filled again with the creative spirit.

So now I roll and split great oak rounds near the old Ed Monk workshop, repair Old Hand’s diesel heater and go over current tables–making long, Springtime passages over the Salish Sea of my imagination.

Posted in Paintings in Progress

Studio Update 2

vickers cropped 10-13vickers 10-13 cropped DSC02808fall colors 10-13 croppedHere are a couple of paintings I’ve been working on for my November exhibit.  The top one is my first version of the Vicker’s memorial in Kane cemetary.

One of the most difficult things in painting is knowing when to stop, and maybe that time passed long ago. But I have another version which I began when I’d given this one up for lost.

The second one I just began.  The colors outside the studio window are more vibrant than I could ever hope to capture in paint.  It’s still a work in progress, though the show goes up in 3 days.

Posted in Musings, Old Hand's northern voyage

Maybe I’ll write about the Sea

studio etc 016

I rebed pad eyes by day and rewrite the wandering craft of my prose after dark.

Our plan is to leave September 5th on the new moon-the time propitious for undertaking our voyage north through Saratoga Passage, by way of the Swinomish Channel, to the funky wharf town of La Conner.  We then cross Rosario strait into the San Juan Islands.

I paint the deck a battleship gray that colored my 50’s childhood with visions of martial efficiency projected in the gaunt, strident scenes of the Great War.

I read Look Homeward Angel, marveling at the luscious prose. Who are these characters that populate Thomas Wolf’s stories? The stone carver, grave ornament maker, who had an Angelic vision as he chugged west to die among granite hills.

O lost!

The refrain Is heard throughout the story-as if our prodigal hero was born lost in this juicy world whose co-ordinates had been firmly laid with ancestral rites and arcane laws of property.

I’ll bring back McWhirr to tell of the Sea.  I miss the old guy during long spells of writer’s block-as if he were my inner navigator admonishing me to hold a steady course through the endless watches over the dim sea. It is his Saturnine compass that scribes the boundary of possible outcomes. Only his stentorian oaths can direct the wandering track of my narrative along a course that is true.

As the wind freshens, strange voices call my name. A woman’s voice beckons over the slimy, creaking sea, and vanishes when I turn to hear.   It’s as if she called softly from in the groaning, weathered piles that sway with the tides; when I least expect a visitation from the other world.

I hear faint drumming that-like a star that is seen only peripherally-falls silent when I listen.  Are they ghostly drummers chanting over the bright waters of Port Madison on a moonlit night. Grandfather said their voices still sound over the waters, calling from the other shore.  Haya, haya, haya-the song carries on the cool breeze.

How does my own story fit in here? How woven into the warp of necessary fiction?  Shadows ebb blue violet as blackness rakes the mudflats between two tides-between two lights. Raccoons paw the foreshore where starfish glow.   A heron is perched on Reah’s dockhouse like he owned the place.

I change writing pads so my crimped hand may expand in florid loops beyond the web of type-into fictional streams that draw me toward a vague landfall in some maritime dream of adventure.  I’ll write about the sea, about Old Hand’s tortuous passages into far reaches of the Skagit Channel. As ensign of our great endeavor, we shall festoon the masthead with laurel, and call upon the gods to bless our voyage. It is toward the faint sound of chanting drums that we set our course, toward an ever-receding song dimly heard from the north.

Posted in Saturnius McWhirr stories

Sailing the Bardo of Rebirth with McWhirr

port madisson images 032Cats paws darkened the blue reach of Puget Sound beyond Skiff Point to the north. I went below to shut down Phyllis, my Norwegian diesel engine (named after my mother,) trusting the breeze would hold and keep us off the shallow bank south of Fay Bainbridge park. There’s nothing so peaceful as that moment when the wind lifts and the engine is shut off. Old Hand sails better without human interference close-hauled, so I sit back and listen to the sound of water moving along her hull as she gathers speed along Bainbridge Island’s east shore.

It was lovely. We had attained a state of harmonious accord between man and boat in the mandala of winds, and that single point we occupied at that particular moment in time and space was golden perfection. I try to seize such moments on the fly and, by retelling them, prolong existence itself and sail with the generous breeze into eternity.

“Look sharp, Mister Spencer.”

The resonant voice was hoarse, as if graveled by long watches in the north Atlantic-as if it emerged from the very depths of the bilges.

“Ready about.”

“Ready about.”

McWhirr paused then called:

“Helm’s alee!”

I let go the jib sheet as the bow came across the wind and hauled in for a port tack toward deeper water northeast.

“Nicely done, lad. Ye’ll be a sailor before long.”

McWhirr is a pain in the neck sometimes. He’s a relic of working sail and can be as dark as Ahab in rehab on a bad hair day.

But such a breeze can soften a heart encrusted by long watches over icy seas. McWhirr stood stark against the red sky like a weathered piling on a  rocky cape.  Light flickered through the dark shrouds  behind him as if projected on a movie screen.

“What do you make of the Ancient Mariner’s yarn, lad?”

– through soul’s stations he sails…sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze…sigh of compassion that pervades all creation… repents his cruel slaughter of the innocent bird and sees divinity in all beings… it raised my hair, it fanned my cheek…essential reality…wisdom and compassion combined…

“It’s a strange tale.”

McWhirr brooded as if some heavy recollection had made him grow, if it were possible, even more saturnine.

“Aye, we all carry the albatross’ weight around our necks.”

-tangled lines lost in fouled line-lockers…it mingled strangely with my fears…endless dream pilgrimages through foreign city streets looking for misplaced baggage… He loved the bird who loved the man… all those times too slow on the uptake, clueless or proud... who shot him with his bow..neglect of kin…Mom’s eyes…executors of karmic law…archons of the muddy sphere in which my life is, more or less, firmly moored …Oh, my neck.

“What about that part where he must repeat his tale endlessly to strangers?”

“I don’t know.   It sounds like a writer I know. But I won’t mention any names.”

Posted in videos

The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner

I shot this video yesterday while cruising slowly down Bainbridge Island’s east shore toward Point Monroe and Port Madison beyond.  Although my speed was a mere 2 knots, it was one of those days where all came together in a perfect moment.  The only sign of wind I saw wind was along my course-

…on me, alone, it blew.

Posted in Paintings in Progress

A summons to set out

At ebb tide the water swirls  toward a North forever receding beyond the gray headland.   Shadows of cedars stretch along the foreshore where tanned humans tourists roast mammals on spits; their gaudy shirts billowing like the capes of  fishwives on a storm-wracked shore.  Otters writhe on the grassy bank.port madisson images 018

I hear the north wind as a  summons to set out.  From the wheelhouse, my eye is led toward the harbor entrance where it opens into Port Madison Bay.  Knowing such an expanse of open sea lies just around the bend gives me a  sense of spaciousness and freedom.  The immensity is continuous with the confined space of the harbor.

I suppose it also has to do with the long history of this historic mill town and shipyard where lumber schooners were built on the west shore in the late 1800’s.  The 1906 tug,  Noreen, lies at Halvorson’s dock just off the mouth of Salmon Creek, her high pilot house tilted back haughtily as if in defiance of the steep waves of the inland sea.

Vickers Memorial by Craig Spencer
Vickers Memorial by Craig Spencer

I’ve been working on two versions of the Vickers memorial, trying to get that feeling of expansiveness the sculpture seems to generate. I wonder how much this has to do with the harmonious distribution of masses and voids, and how much is due to her angelic status-what she represents.

There is too much emphasis on the precious object in art-on its monetary value, as if that were the sole end of art. The art scene is a big Antiques Roadshow. This fixation doesn’t see beyond the material product to the more ineffable virtues of what art does, how it feels and whether it confers upon the environment a greater sense of spaciousness. For greater spaciousness is always a virtue, and good art amplifies that poetic space which is continuous with the spaciousness inside ourselves we find in moments of revery.

Posted in Musings, videos

A Goose Story-Dispatch from the front lines

It’s a bright, sunny morning. The north wind freshens, sending diagonal ripples toward Old Hand’s stern as I gaze at reflected ovoid shapes meandering over the surface of  Port Madison.  The wavetops  reflect the cobalt sky, while in the  troughs,  dark green falls into the depths.

Johnathan Raban, in his book, The Sea and it’s Meanings, says that the fantastic imagery of Northwest Coast Indian art is greatly inspired by this sight- their stylized abstractions emerged from long hours paddling through the Salish Sea Dreamtime.  The ancient Northwest Coast artist first saw Thunderbird, Raven and Bear while in becalmed revery, gazing at the sea’s mirror.  The bounded yet fluid shapes that contain and release their ovoid imagery are interwoven, like sinuous kelp, with the sea itself. The mythic Hamatsa (cannibal dancer) of the Kwakiutal was descried on that insubstantial realm between surface and depth where images flicker and vanish.  This is the intermediate realm between wakefulness and dream.  Some of the masks came originally from the deep, while others descended, exact prototypes of masks we see today, from the sky.

Things are quiet in Port Madison. I spend a lot of time watching the Canadian Geese. The other day I witnessed a flock on Reah’s bulkhead repel an alien siege from another group who also desired the choice spot. Perhaps a rabble-rouser was after a female that was serenely perched on one leg under the cherry tree. The invading bunch first tried to look casual as they eased up the old boat ramp. But the locals charged down on them, their beaks lowered aggressively. This was, of course, accompanied by a god-awful din. Always something. They should have a reality TV show.

Then there’s the goats. They would eat my studio if I let them. When I show up they give me this interrogative look, as if I had the answer for their goatish angst. Maybe I am projecting- anthropomorphizing. Try pronouncing that, goats.

Today is clean the goat-shed day, a task to rival Hercules’ distasteful trial.

But I shouldn’t complain. I am ever grateful for the blessed gift of this lovely place, thankful I have found a home in this peaceful harbor.

Here’s a goose video I shot of a diving lesson, a big step in the life of any chick. Sorry for the quality. You can see the little guy on the big rock below the woodpile. The parents on the right call to him with encouraging honks.

Takes me back to my own first leap into the sea. But that is for my next McWhirr story.

Posted in Paintings in Progress

Our Lady of the Kedge

vickers painting may 23 2013

There are infinite possibilities in art. When faced with an empty canvas an artist can be stymied by so many alternatives. It requires a narrowing of focus to hone in on intention, that particular thing you are called upon to express.

One needs set the right environment, speak prayers of supplication to the muse, and open to what nature has to reveal in the exuberant flow of her endless manifestations.

The challenge is to maintain balance, and walk the fine line between conscious intent and receptivity to what arises spontaneously when paint hits canvas and colors bleed in confounding ways.

I take a break from the mental gyrations of painting to work in the garden.DSC02047

Thatcher Farm is big, with more rows of fertile earth than I can plant. I take an 8 by 16′ bed and divide it according to the square foot gardening technique. I lay it out with sticks and line, and plant seeds so many per square depending on the plant’s requirement for space. I impose an ordered framework, prepare the ground and trust that Mother Gaia can take it from there.

It’s like the layout for my next painting. But here the grid is based on the mystic proportion, the Golden Mean.

It is a major precept of spiritual and artistic disciplines to work like nature. The ancients discovered that the Golden mean is the proportion that comes closest to the original unity from which the diversity of life forms arose. It is this unity to which, in spiritual practice, we aspire to return. The proportion is expressed in plants, shells and seasonal cycles.

I lay out a grid of charcoal lines and, with color studies, narrow the colors to a triad of blue/green, red/violet and yellow/orange.

vickers painting 3

The sculpture on the Vickers memorial abides by the golden proportion, and its mystic rule sets the measure for creative expansion into the space around her. She is a portion of that spaciousness which is the ultimate nature of reality and she bestows it generously upon the graves of Port Madison’s founders lying at her stone feet.  Like a beacon, she radiates light far over the bay.

I recall what my Eastern European sculpture teacher told me: sculpture is, ultimately, about light and space. He talked about how Michelangelo distorted David’s head so it would catch light and project it upward. Maybe it had to do with chakra’s. But I did learn from him that the ultimate end of the sculptor’s work is emptiness.

It is the quality of spaciousness and light she projects that is the theme of my painting, and her expansive energy inspires a harmonious distribution of color and form on the canvas. For, in the end, it comes down to this: to call upon the muse of art (and gardening) to favor us with her bounty and use the brute material of the tangible world to evoke the intangible spirit.