Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mud Season.

We have 5 season here in western New York. The usual four, but then, sandwiched between spring and summer is Mud Season. It is usually a solid month, frequently longer and not ending til May strolls along.

It is the one time of year living with sidewalks would be nicer, and living surrounded by muck farmland is tough. The mud permeates everything. The dogs track it in. The cats. Our shoes. The cuffs of pants, often times soaking up to mid-calf by the end of the daily walk. It wears you down.

Well, wears me down. My two walking buddies don't mind so much.

One in particular.

When I see Trillium show in the dark, damp shadows of the woods I know the end is near.


I'll let you know.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

This week's walks, things seen.

We walk every day, for an hour or so, sometimes much more. Keeps the dogs fit, and me mellow. If I told you about everything we saw, everything I thought about... I'd never get anything done.

But here's a few things from this week.

Once in a while we come across something a bit unnerving- a track the size of my hand.

But then I remember it's ok- he's with me.

And just this morning, for the second time this week, and enormous flock of snow geese. I quite counting at 240. There were ultimately well over 1000.

And just as we got back home, a juvenile bald eagle slid overhead.

Pretty good start to the season.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Uly's Rodeo

Darb and I took the dynamic duo out on Friday morning. Another lovely spring day in western New York, 31 degrees, wind and snow. Slush. Mud. You know, spring.

But no one told the critters the weather was bad, and they were about. Swans and geese overhead- they always get Uly's attention. Finn is fairly oblivious to flying things, figuring out long ago that they are out of range. And Uly doesn't show any interest in chasing things in the air, though if they start on the ground, he seems sure they may be a potential threat. In the air, he watches, seems to contemplate.

The rodeo started when we crested the hill out back, in the woods. A field filled with turkeys, 150 yards away. There was no holding him back, and with that much lead, the turkey's were in no danger. A little squabbling went up from the flock as he burst through a hedge row, then turkeys lifting off in every direction. Hell, I'd probably take flight too if I thought he was after me.

Sixteen to twenty turkeys, going in ten different directions. And then they spooked the deer. I don't think the deer ever saw the Big Thunder (he has about 31 nicknames at this point), just spooked with the turkeys, their bellwether. Turkeys every which way, deer tearing the length of an unplowed field. Maybe it is spring.

Once he was sure the coast was clear, his work done, he strutted back towards us, obviously quite proud of himself. If I was a more demanding dog owner, if we lived in town, if we walked in parks or on sidewalks.... well, if, if, if. We don't, because neither he nor I would get to see and smell all the good stuff. See it, feel it, smell it, roll in it. Well, I leave the rolling mostly to them.

On the way out of the woods a opossum waddled across in front of us. Waddled, rather than bolted- I don't think a opossum is capable of bolting. But the waddle drew the dogs attention, but more like their cats do at home. Curiosity. A buddy, a plaything...  We called them off pretty easily, and held them in turns while we each took a closer look.

The oddly pink and human hands, gripping the maple and hickory in the cold, looked like he was thinking it wasn't quite spring yet either.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Trailing Wile

First full day of spring. A week ago it was mid-40's and sunny. When I took the dogs out the birds seemed deafening. After months of wind as the loudest narrator of our walks, the volume was startling. And fun.

And then Monday night, we got two inches of slush dumped on us. As Finn, Uly and I headed out the sound track was back to a variation on winter- the cold, slow, tinkling of sleet. And the crunch of slush under foot.

Before long we found tracks of someone else.

We hear coyotes all the time, at least several times each week. Last winter there was a cat fight under our bedroom window. I went out to break it up, and found a coyote, buried to his waist in the hedge, trying to get at our 9 lb sociopathic spidermonkey of a cat, Max. The coyote seemed to disappear, vaporize before my eyes. Then I heard him meet up with the rest of his group in the dark, and they yipped their way out into the fields behind us.

Max was spastic with adrenalin for a few minutes, but eventually no worse for wear.

On Tuesday we came across the tracks in the snow, and after a moment, I compared them to our own. They were fresh in the soft slushy ground covering, not degraded much at all. Finn and Uly were on them immediately, noses to the ground, then looking to me, then back to the tracks. And off we went.

We hear them all the time, but see them rarely. Darby and I stood and watched one last year for 15 minutes. It didn't move, just stared at us. The dogs couldn't see him because of their lower sightline. We just stood and stared right back, eventually moving on, feeling as if we had interrupted him long enough.

A couple years before that I came face to face with one in a blizzard. The dogs were trailing behind me. I was walking head down, just trying to keep moving and get the dogs worn out. They never seem to care that the weather is nasty, and need the exercise to keep them from getting too wound up. Tired dog is a good dog. And I was enjoying the blizzard, plowing along with my head down. Just as I turned east over a culvert, I sensed something ahead of me. He must have done the same thing, because just as my head came up, so did his, and we locked on each other about 15 ft apart. I'm sure if the visibility had been much more then the 25 feet we had that afternoon he would never have let it happen.

We stared for a moment, frozen. I heard the dogs' collars tinkling behind me, turned to cut them off before a chase. But when I glanced back ahead, there was no need, the coyote had vanished. With the wind and heavy snow, the dogs didn't even nose the tracks.

But on Tuesday, they were beside themselves. Uly racing all over, checking the twin tracks of the first trail, then bounding over to a third pair that was raggedly paralleling the first. Finn moved with power and purpose, forgetting her age. It made me remember her 5 years ago- possibly the most athletic animal I've ever seen. And they were so busy going forward coming back, Uly circling between the two paths, I stayed right with them. I clicked a couple pictures, then glanced up at the woods ahead. Movement. Wait.... there again. The single coyote, looking dark in the damp woods. And then to the right, the pair. And they froze, looking over their shoulders our way.

Uly bounded forward, and they were gone.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013




A natural object or animal believed by a particular society to have particular spiritual significance.

I'm not sure many people have totems any more, but I still have mine. Some times seem more important than others to keep them in mind. This is a good week for me to think on my own.

From an ongoing series that goes... I know not where.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Wisdom from Mr. Thiebaud

It is too easy to become an employee of the art world, be consumed by it, and have it take you away from who you want to be. 

-Wayne Thiebaud

Monday, March 4, 2013


Living in a rural area, we have a PO Box, and I look forward to stopping in to get the mail. It's a chance for a moment's company, welcome in the middle of days alone. And there's always the chance of an unexpected surprise in the day's delivery. When I opened the box one day last week, there was an extra key inside, an indication that something was too big to fit, and it's waiting in a second, oversized box.

I went through my mental inventory of things due- maybe a fly rod, or my end of fly swap. Books I'd forgotten I ordered. A package from family. Horse stuff for Darb…. but she hadn't given me a heads up. Nothing came to mind.

A mystery.

I open the po box and pull out the package below. I didn't recognize the name, and momentarily thought, It must be for Darby. But no, it's addressed to me. There was a little click in the back of my mind.

After the short trip home and giving the pups a treat, expected for their remarkable accomplishment of following me from the truck to the house, I pulled out my knife and opened the box. Inside is a note and a roughly packed picture frame sticking out of an envelope. I recognized the top edge of the frame as one that I used for years, and pulled the frame from the envelope, already knowing what was there.

Several years ago, at a show in Philadelphia, two paintings were stolen. The only time it has ever happened, before or since. The box contained the smaller of the two.

I'm not sure what to think. 

I picked up the note for the first time and read the following:


I've possessed the enclosed painting for a number of years as it was given to me by a friend. I recently learned (oddly) that the painting was acquired in an illicit way. I feel compelled to return the piece to you as I do not like knowing that I have something, especially a work of art, that wasn't rightly purchased from the creator. Hopefully this painting has some meaning to you, or at least can now be sold as you originally intended.

All the best,


I am still left with an unknown emotion. 


Why? Because I'd already decided how i felt about the two pieces being stolen, and kind of tucked it away, a little more watchful and wary than I was before. I was initially really angry- ok, flat out pissed-off. But then I went around to many of my neighbors at the show, warning them to be extra careful, and to a person, they all responded with some version of, Well, man, nobody stole anything from me? How should I feel about that? 

Like I was the only one that juried into the Thief's Choice Show.

The responses of other artists struck me as so funny it helped me decide to just let it go. I  figured the loss was one of those tolls life occasionally collects, and I decided that I had gotten off fairly cheaply.  The decision was made easier by the fact that neither piece stolen was very big- though the other was larger, about 14 x 18 inches if I recall correctly.

So I have this small painting back. It was from a series of tree paintings I did over a few years, really just a subject around which to play with and better understand color. The series started with me puzzling over the bright, intense, shimmering colors I saw in a small grove of Sugar Maples across from the field where I used to coach my kids soccer teams. I learned a lot about color from the series- in fact it changed the way I paint. Bu the whole series is gone now (with the exception of the last two that are available on my small work site), and it doesn't really fit with what I am working on these days.

What to do?

First a thank you note. 

Dear ??????,

Honesty is the trait I prize above all others. Thank you.



And now what? I've been stewing for the last couple months, or realistically, maybe the past year or more. Obviously not about the prodigal painting. But stewing is something I am prone to do, and when I'm in the middle of it, I don't recognize it. Part of my creative cycle. Mostly humming along, but then, occasionally, stew. Stew can simmer for a ridiculously long time. Darby asked me the other day if I was depressed, and I assured her that I wasn't. It isn't depression, it's stewing. It's just that I've only recently recognized that I was doing it. Somehow the return of the painting turned the lights on

And then I remembered why I stew. Because I'm trying to figure something out. I'm not a verbal thinker. I don't sit down and think an essay, or short story. There's no obvious set of directions, do this, then this, then this. No narrative. I describe it to people as looking for a path in a dense woods. In the dark. Blindfolded. There's a sense of direction, a pull to the place I need to go. But if you just blunder forward, you'll end up lost.

I am my father's son in many ways. I like to work. Actually, I love to work. Work for me is putting paint to canvas. But sometimes that gets in the way of finding my direction. A big part of my work is thinking about putting paint to canvas- what I'm painting and why. Sometimes I need to slow down, and stew.

So I think I've had about enough stewing. I think. I'm feeling like I know what I'm doing again. I have a lot of paint to put on canvas. 

I haven't been posting on this blog in forever.  As I said, I'm not a verbal stewer. But I am figuring some things out, have some big projects ahead of me, and some big adventure behind me that ties to it. And that would be fun to tell you about.

So the return of another prodigal. Me. More soon.