Here in Southern Maine we have received our first significant snowstorm. We have about ten inches of snow, currently. A very light and fluffy whiteness that permeates the landscape.
I have left this mushroom to mature and follow its natural life cycle, rather than interrupt the natural process, for the other natural process of consumption.
We are moving closer to Christmas and all that it implies. With COVID19 this year we don’t expect company for Christmas. Our three kids are grown and live in Boston, near LA and one literally rambles all over the country in a semi truck. We do not see them much when there is no pandemic and seeing them now is down to zero.
I have 3 piles of logs on which I grown shiitake mushrooms. This past summer there was one massive bloom and a second one, later in the fall, after immense rain. I don’t try to control the fruiting but let it occur naturally. Each year I cut about 20 four foot long logs, about 6-9 inches in diameter and inoculate the logs by drilling 5/16 holes and tapping plugs that have been inoculated, into the holes at about 6 inches apart in all directions.
I purchase the plugs at Northspore, a Maine company in Westbook. Each pile has slightly different shiitakes. Some are more favorable that others. The process works well. I typically wait to just before the sap flows to cut the logs. I have used beech, red oak and silver maple (swamp maple). They all seem to work well, though the red oak is the most dense and I suspect would have the larger yield.
I currently have the benefit of having lived 60 years. I also have accumulation of stuff, as witness and compounded during this lifetime. Yikes, a lot of stuff. The possessions I question most are the tangible testimony of my attempts at making art. I view it as a problem mostly. The process of creating is where it all happens, and then we have this stuff left over.
I have never approached art as a commercial venture. Rather a process of self discovery and the process works in parallel with my spiritual journey. Both expanding and contracting according to the laws of the universe.
My painting studio is very small. It is a stand alone building, created in the 1980’s. I built it and still need to put a board, shingle or something here and there to call it complete, but that is another story. A few days ago I had a compulsion to open a plastic bin which contained drawings from a particularly productive period in regards to drawing. Once the top was lifted, a mouse looked up at me with big black eyes. She didn’t have enough spring to jump out, so I assisted her with a stick. As she kept leaping upward, I caught her with a stick an propelled her out, onto the floor and into hiding.
After examining the content it was clear she has built a nest in the box of drawings. At first I was very disappointed to see so much shredded content. I put some gloves on and began removing the nest, comprised of canvas and paper, the work I had imagined was safe. Quickly, I uncovered two infant mice, hairless with rapid heartbeats. They were too small to move, helpless. Two thoughts entered my mind at once. Watching my friend Brad Webber killing mice in his his garden with a spade shovel and how carefully the Dali Lama described excavating ground for a monastery. The monks refused to step on an insect.
I needed a break, so decided to go into the house and make some tea. I conferred with my wife Sandra. Either of us are fans of mice. But I couldn’t go kill them, somehow. So I went back into the studio and made a makeshift nest for them from the materials I removed from the box of drawings. I also set a mouse trap under the wood stove which was the most difficult thing to come to terms with.
Feeling good and bad, I proceeded with my intention of rediscovering the box of drawings. There was much shredded material which included the edges of many drawings. The drawings were laid one upon another and at first the damage seemed significant. I pulled them all out and onto the floor. I cleaned out the plastic tub and began putting them back, one drawing at a time. The drawings that were dated were either 1984 or 1985. Many were not dated or signed. The ones I thought were worthy I scribbled my initials on the backs of.
The damage to the contents of the plastic bin wasn’t as severe as it originally appeared. The mouse had collected much material from other places and it looked like, brought them into the bin. As I looked at each drawing, some were very familiar and some I did not recognize. These drawing were the result of a process that had occurred about 35 years ago. They weren’t so much different from the results of my process today. In fact, some of the drawings that were damaged by the mice, I put in a pile and look forward to reworking them into collages, maybe like the ones seen here.
This discovery of the mice and the vulnerability of my drawings has caused me to wonder about further detachment from objects. After all, what benefit do these things provide hidden away in boxes? Yes, they provide the opportunity for mice and I do admit, I derived satisfaction from revisiting this time in my life. One or two years out of art school, living isolated in the woods, Sandra and I having no idea what today would look like back then.
I received four drawing pads yesterday. I ordered them online. It took longer than expected for them to arrive and two of six didn’t arrive. I am happy as I have nearly exhausted my paper supply. I also ordered and received a quart of Higgins waterproof ink. The pads that I received from Dick Blick are 12″ x 18″ and 14″ x 17″.
The above drawing is the first page of a twenty four page pad. The most difficult decision was picking a spot to draw. There are so many, where I live. I just walk out the door and in all directions are my favorite places to draw. Today, I let my intuition guide me until I have walked far enough. I set up with my make shift camera tripod, portable drawing table.
Being in the woods during an extraordinary fall day is special in itself. When I take a drawing pad with me, I find instant fulfillment. Feeling blessed to be experiencing the remarkable bounty of nature, inspiration is abundant. So, how does one come to terms with drawing in the complex woods?
I kept reminding myself that I cannot be too serious. I must follow my instincts while contemplating all the choices before me. What value, what brush, what to look at, what is calling my attention and what am I missing. With all these questions running though my head, I eventually settle down and slowly forget there are any questions and begin responding to the scene in front of me. As I move through time, I relax and try to make the sketch pad and the scene it represents related in some aspects.
Making the drawing look like the scene is just too big of a task. It is the beauty that I am responding to and bearing witness is my intent. I do this with black ink and white paper, a little water and some old brushes that could use replacing. This is all OK with me. Each brushstroke brings a different type of emotion. I often feel that I have wrecked the whole thing and suddenly it comes back and so it goes to a point where one just decides enough is enough.
I really enjoy making these woods drawings. Today, I took short breaks and wandered around a bit as the ink dried. I saw so many other places where I could set up, that were so inspiring. In my mind I played out how I would begin, what are the big shapes, how to organize the composition. But most of all, just looking, slowing down enough to be receptive to what is before me and being grateful for the opportunity to be in my favorite place, the woods, is always the most wonderful part.