Saturday, March 30, 2013


From above the dam, South Natick
conté pencil
29 March 2013
And now I feel certain that Spring has arrived. Her limo is parked outside on the tarmac. She will emerge any minute. Relief and anticipation are evident in the expectant crowd. I see it in the way the leafless willow twigs sway and sparkle. It's absurdly obvious in the masses of crocuses which have been working quietly and selflessly on our behalf for weeks now (they sigh "now do you see?"). I saw a large fish swimming in the shallows in the low raking sunlight (can the fishermen be far behind?). I like the reality of Easter rather than the story of Easter. And these statements directly from the source drown out all powerful and comely mythologies that humanity has written over the ages.
The sun is out there: seek it!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Temporary & Timeless

When I need to think, I go here. What do I need to think about? Nothing at all if possible. I go to the dam to not think. My whole thinking apparatus is available to whatever feels like playing with it: the geese, the wind, the thundering water, the light playing tricks. The temporary and the timeless.

Water rushing over the dam
March 17, 2013
charcoal, wash

March 21, 2013
charcoal pencil

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Walking on Water

The Charles River and The Pleasant Street Bridge
16 March 2013
Winter won't go away. A day or two of warm weather last week and I believed Spring was just around the corner. I guess Winter heard me and put an end to that nonsense. I imagine the remaining dirty piles of iron-hard snow are walking into real estate offices and window-shopping at appliance stores for freezers. But there were a few days of wet snow and rain and the river is swollen and the island is covered in roiling, swirling water. I watch where it flows under the bridge and monitor the depth informally by how much of the arches are obscured by water.

I prowl the river's banks and ruminate on the water. It's really tearing along. I toss a few sticks in and they go shooting off to Boston harbor. I imagine stepping out and tumbling into the frigid water. It's black and really cold. Could I walk on it? I've heard that it's possible… in the Bible. But walking on water is totally unnatural and an abomination. It's not possible to just wish away Physics and walk on water. Period. And why would I want to do it?

You would conclude that I am an agnostic or a non-believer. But I go to church all the time and am probably too involved in their business. It's all good but I see no place for miracles in my life …although I succumb to magical thinking all the time. It's a problem for most people I think.

The other night I was driving and narrowly missed hitting a person who was ambling across the dark six-lane highway. My daughter was riding shotgun and I was scanning the illuminated signs and storefronts on the right side. She started making strange noises when she saw the man and I slammed on the brakes and stopped a few feet from his shaggy form. He didn't break his relaxed lope and gazed up at us with no fear or panic. He might have been wearing headphones. It was bizarre. He crossed the road and we continued on our journey home. Was it a miracle? Maybe it depends on how much you stand to lose. There were no witnesses except me and my daughter and the man who chose that moment to stroll across the road. After the shock of it all the experience exists solely as some rearranged neurons in my brain. Happens all the time.

Most things ultimately resist analysis. But it's as if one is desperate to make a withdrawal from the ATM and it's closed for a holiday.  So you root around in your drawers and dishes and jars of pennies and scrape up some sort of explanation for what is essentially unknown void empty of meaning and purpose.

I don't believe in miracles BUT I do believe that I am lucky …sometimes. Sigh… :-p
I hope fate smiles on you too. Today!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Muskrat

A Muskrat, feeding
charcoal pencil
10 March 2013
Sunday morning: I'm still rubbing the sleep-sand from my eyes. It's daylight savings today and we've all lost an extra hour of sleep. But I've slipped down to the river to see how things are after the heavy snow we had on Friday.

I see a black shape on a shelf of ice in the river above the dam and can't make out what it is. It could be a piece of driftwood …or a piece of muskrat-shaped driftwood. I imagine that it is a actual muskrat but I can't confirm this by sight; it's too far away. As I concentrate on getting out a pencil and opening my sketchbook, the black shape disappears which means only one thing: it is a muskrat-shaped real muskrat! Just my luck; it's being shy and I can't draw it. But it soon reappears in the same spot. It has carried a bit of plant matter (muck!) up from the river bed to eat. It does this a few more times while I draw until my fingers become numb.

Spring is happening. The river is full to the brim with meltwater and snow. This morning I saw some unidentifiable ducks far away, several flights of geese, songbirds, starlings and an American Kestrel (…or a sharp-shinned hawk). Opossums have been busy and some have been unlucky as they cross the thoroughfares. A friend has heard amorous owls hooting at night in the tall trees near his house.

It's impossible to stop this tilting planet. Impossible to stop Spring and imagine that Winter will never end. What a silly sentiment. The climate is changing but here at least, we will always have seasons.

The South Natick Dam
11 March 2013

Saturday, March 9, 2013

No Name Storm

The Charles River in South Natick, MA
litho crayon and watercolor wash
7 March, 2013
It was snowing.
It kept snowing and blowing and snowing some more.
But today, all is blinding white and blue and the sun races on.
The puddles will grow and grow and grow.
The river rises…
Welcome to the new weather.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Goose God

I saw a pair of Canada Geese at the park above the river a few days ago; it's much diminished buffet. But each day the snow melts and reveals a bit more of this late winter's gruel: a mixture of thin, sere bluegrass and in the nearby water, a bit of appetizing algae floating by and free for the taking. There must be more variety available somewhere because the geese seem happy enough –not that I could tell one way or the other.

We have been discouraged from feeding the migratory waterfowl and I do support that management practice. But I also want to make the geese's lives a little easier. Maybe knit them some mittens for their feet or  accidently drop a few unwanted pieces of hardened bread, —like manna perhaps?

Oh, the human urge to play God! A god for geese even! Did I put food in my refrigerator yesterday or is it all manna? It's all a matter of your basic perspective isn't it?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Lunch with St. Francis

St. Francis, Trinity Church, Boston
conté pencil
1 March 2013
I had thirty minutes or so to wait for a train yesterday, so I wandered around Copley Square in Boston looking for something to draw. I hadn't been there in a long time and the city seemed new despite the old snow and grime of March. I circled the sturdy brown confection known as Trinity Church and admired the slate roofs and carvings of Biblical personalities and Phillips Brooks above the entrances and windows.

In the back of the building complex, I saw people hurrying inside for a lunch-time organ concert and I was tempted to attend and take a later train home. But this had been an impromptu journey in the first place and illustration jobs were calling me to the studio.

Near the back entrance there was a small courtyard. Informal cobblestone paths encircled its four sides and a fountain lay covered but I could almost hear the splashing water and feel the warm rays of the Spring sunshine to come. In the center of this postage-stamp garden was a small statue of St. Francis of Assisi. It's nothing fancy —compared to the heroic bronze of Phillips Brooks giving a benediction backstopped by Jesus Christ by Saint Gaudens around the corner. No, St. Francis is even a bit mossy and a cement sparrow perches in one hand. Such is the state of things. It all looks so expected: two visions of redemptive power and authority existing under the same roof around the corner from each other. Like the two-faced Greek god. Yin and Yang. Jekyll and Hyde. Glory and humility; something for everyone. We truly are people for all seasons and inside we are, for better or worse, a union of contradictions.

I've been wondering about St. Francis lately and feel I must read a good "Life of…" He lived in a very different time. A very dangerous time I suppose and I wonder about the example we assign to Francis now: meek, loving, humble, a friend to animals. But what was the reality of challenging the powers of Rome (presumably some Romans had a problem with vows of poverty) and also founding a functioning Franciscan Order with any corporation's needs and machinations? Was Francis a bureaucrat or a Christ-like saint wafting through the middle ages like a gentle Spring wind?

Oh, religion is such a weird and sticky thing! It's the artist in me that wants to see the Spirit behind all things and it's the artist who is perpetually seeking glory in the most mundane and forgettable effects and coincidences of the things that cross my trajectory through my existence. Maybe St. Francis would have some thoughts on the matter…?
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