oak limb cross section
saint paul, minnesota
yes i see the satisfyingly mounded texture of the curled and gripping oak leaves. but i can’t help also seeing the negative spaces between the leaves, and for some reason, i mostly see mouths. they are grinning, gaping, smiling, moaning, smirking, singing, and gasping in horror. they have very crooked teeth, when they have teeth at all.
curled november oak leaves
grass lake trail, saint paul, minnesota
i was faced late this afternoon with a choice between a simple photo of a single branch of interestingly textured oak leaves, or an ambitious photo involving patterns and shapes and several pints worth of dried sumac leaves crumbled and ground in a mortar and pestle. i had about 45 minutes to do one or the other. we have been particularly busy lately and sometimes when you have a lot on your plate it is actually easier to take on an ambitious project. for whatever reason, my husband said he liked the sumac leaf idea, i looked at the clock, and thought, “bring it on.”
crumbled leaf matter
saint paul, minnesota
i read a book recently about how our time gets shredded into confetti, and that we all actually have much more time than we think, but it’s divided up into tiny, sometimes useless increments. i have been feeling this way, lately. despite having decent time management skills, and despite having a list of things i would really like to do, i find myself dodging distractions and demands on my time almost daily: light social invitations, oil changes, software updates, driver’s license expiration dates, vet appointments, pop-up ads, mailing list reminders, and prescriptions at walgreen’s. sometimes i feel like this feather. i just want to stand on a beach for a while and preen.
either grand marais, minnesota or sète, france
as i lamented yesterday on instagram, this bouquet was gathered under duress, from a drainage ditch, in fading light, at the end of a day full of “shoulds,” and sorely lacking in “wants.” it involved a lot of toyota dealership, and no puggle walking. a lot of dishwashing and driving, and very little contemplative gathering. a lot of below freezing and very little southern france. a lot of physics homework and very little talking to my hubby. it is testimony to the charmed stage of life i find myself in that a day spent driving my beloved son to and from school, running a few errands, cooking a nice taco dinner, contributing a photo to my blog, and sitting by a fire after dinner could be perceived as a sort of trial. i expect exactly zero sympathy.
november stems: milkweed, staghorn sumac, and two others unidentified
from the parking lot drainage ditch on hwy 61, white bear lake, minnesota
one of my favorite walks this fall was along grass lake. about 300 meters of the trailside is covered in wild cucumber vines. now with all the leaves down, it looks like mounds of fishing nets laid out to dry. unlike wild grapevines, the cucumber vines are very fragile. i would love to lift a whole loom-sized web of the vines off of the supporting twig-scaffolding to bring home and photograph, and maybe even hang on the wall like a textile weaving. but i would need several helpers to do it. and now that the temps are well below freezing, volunteers are scarce. funny.
wild cucumber vine wreath, white cedar, and wild asparagus berries
grass lake, sucker lake, and turtle lake trials: saint paul, minnesota
this large leaf, about the size of a clipboard, has been sitting on my collections table for a couple of weeks. i loved the colors, but couldn’t decide what to do with it. i finally decided i would crumble it–separating the colors as i had done earlier with sumac leaves. then i would make a composition of eyeshadow-like smudges with the copper, brown, olive, and charcoal-colored leaf matter. it was going to be completely gorgeous. but unlike the sumac experiment, which exceeded my expectations and then some, this project was a total fail. the leaf would not crumble! it simply crumpled like a kleenex. i don’t know if it had longer fibers, or what, but instead of an esté-lauderesque bit of fashionable elegance, i have only this snapshot i took, by chance, right before i mangled my subject beyond recognition. i present you with the law of unintended consequences.
autumn burdock leaf
grass lake trail, shoreview, minnesota
all wild canines have upright ears. not all dogs with upright ears are wild, mind you. but, all wild canines will have upright ears. it turns out that those cute floppy ears, curly tails, white patches, and tameness in our pets and agricultural animals are traits related to domestication, and it all happens at a particular stage of brain development. this coyote, on the other hand, was wild for every moment of her life. i saw her lying still on the side of the road and couldn’t decide, when i pulled over, whether i felt better or worse, when I discovered that she was not a domesticated dog, but a wild dog.
coyote in snow
highway 88, minneapolis, minnesota
- the kids are getting older and i have a little more time for myself each day
- i’ve been dabbling for a long time, i am ready to commit to something more ambitious
- austin kleon tells me to do good work and put it where people can see it, and i have only been doing the former.
- blogs like randel plowman’s a-collage-a-day and lisa congdon’s a-collection-a-day really resonate with me in a visceral way
- having little kids around means it’s easier for me to carve out 20 minutes three times a day, than it is to commit to an hour a day
- i need to build on something already in my daily routine–i keep a regular artist journal, and i walk the dog every day
- i could do: a collage a day, a pattern a day, a nature find a day
- in the end, i chose the latter, because i thought a collection or a collage would require that hour i did not have, rather than those 20 minutes i did have. plus a nature find a day gave me extra impetus to get outside and walk every day, even in deep winter, which would benefit both me and my very spoiled dog.
After almost three years, i have, almost in spite of myself, adopted some general and very personal rules.
- art is art but it has to fit into a life or it doesn’t get done and then it’s not art, it’s just daydreaming about art.
- a little sustainable bit every day adds up to more than an ambitious lot every once in a while.
- make it pretty, or make it interesting, or, sometimes when you’re lucky, both.
- wants are better than shoulds.
- let the process teach you. don’t try to learn everything first and then apply it. apply what you already know, however little, and learn from there.
- you can drown in equipment.
- get over yourself. be imperfect and then laugh about it. then watch how much people love that.
- there is a niche for everything. you just have to love your niche.
- the world is huge. statistically speaking, nobody really cares, which is very liberating.
- the world is huge. there are people out there right now who will love everything you do, which is very moving.
- narrow and deep is more interesting than broad and shallow. plumb one thing to its depths and that one thing will be more interesting than all the world capitals you’ve visited.
- addendum: just make sure you love that one thing.
- your bioregion will always be interesting, whether that bioregion is the costa rican rain forest, the yukon watershed, the north woods, or the lower east side.
- when in doubt, things lined up in a perfect grid on a white background is always satisfying.
a collage of november nature from my bioregion
saint paul, minnesota
a lot of my nature finds come from walks along the shores of vadnais lake. vadnais was once the water supply for the city of saint paul, so the lake and the land around it has been protected from development, meaning that this gem of an urban lake with its five miles of pristine lakeshore trails is available to the public, although i think of it as my own personal little kingdom. recently engineers have been tinkering with lake levels to do some work to the inlet channel, and the resulting lower lake levels have exposed about 4 meters of beach around the edge of the lake, which i have never seen before and will probably never see again. i used the opportunity to shimmy down the banks and do some bargain hunting among these plentiful shells on temporary display.
fresh water snails and zebra mussels
vadnais lake, saint paul, minnesota
p.s. shimmying at age 50 is indeed as comical as it sounds.