Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Gaudy hornworms & sandal butterflies

Exhibit A, rare footage of the old sandal butterfly that can only complete its lifecycle by feasting on smelly sandals curing in the sun.

Exhibit B [see below]: Friends and family of this guy ate my tomato crop. Is it dressed for Xmas?

Is it spawning more of the same? No, and no! The white capsules are a parasitic infestation. I am ashamed that I let out a cheer ... "A natural predator of the tomato hornworm is a tiny beneficial insect called the braconid wasp. This wasp lays its eggs inside the hornworm. As they hatch, they eat their way out, killing the hornworm in the process. It's a bit off-putting to see this creature on your plants, but you're better off letting him be and letting the wasps do their job. Once they hatch, they'll be enough braconid wasps to keep your garden hornworm free."
Go wasp go!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hot shit!

Researching alternatives to flush loos, this looks likes the most interesting way forward both for its introduction to the microbiological science of composting (esp thermophilic bacteria), and Jenkins' relentless (humorous) attacks on fecophobes:

THE HUMANURE HANDBOOK, A Guide to Composting Human Manure, 3rd edition, by Joseph Jenkins - 255 pages, 19 photos, 42 tables and charts, 55 drawings, indexed.

Here is a link to a very simple explanation of how it works, with pix. http://www.saskwastereduction.ca/resources/Composting/comp-toilet.html

No more concessions to out-of-sight, out-of-mind. But it is hard not to still enjoy the thrill of the sucking jet loo emptying prowess of the toilets in big box stores. You feel as if you are a full participant in the Space Age. Another seductive illusion.

Cabin Pix

Three days later. Now I can get obsessed about details, including some sort of vine covered deck, both for visual balance and .... pleasure.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Artists Retreat Cabin #1

Today, Josh Leith, Don and Jeremy started work on Artist Cabin #1. Finally I took the plunge. 12'x20', including a small bathroom and kitchen area, with undetermined plans for a water supply, a sawdust loo, and solar power. Just a shell, but small enough that finishing it out ought to be a breeze. I will slow everything down by insisting on making an outside door myself. The cabin will sit above the old farm pond amidst shelves of limestone.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The fantasy of the ever vigilant goatdog

I went up to feed my faithful goatdog Zip at dusk last night\ He was not around, so I left his food in the usual bowl\ This morning I checked, and it had not been touched\ I went hunting the goats, finally finding them under some shady trees\ But no Zip\ He had been eaten by coyotes! Testosterone had wandered him off (I had been warned)! Or perhaps he was lying injured, unable to woof\ Somehow I was failing my dogs\ My heart sank\ I wandered around - perhaps this ever alert guard dog was on higher ground surveying the scene, watching me even as I was looking for him\ Then I noticed a small patch of white in the grass not far from the goats\ My heart sank again\ Was it perhaps his limp body? I went closer\ He opened his eyes out of deep sleep, got to his feet, and walked off/ Then he turned around: "Is there some problem" he asked?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hegel and the Dog

Hegel distinguishes humans from animals by pointing out that we eat, while animals feed (essen/fressen)* Faced with food, we humans may contemplate the prospect of eating, while an animal will just plunge in and gobble up his food*

Zip has clearly not read his Hegel* Last night at dusk I went to feed him in his usual dish at the front of the barn* His habit is to lurk nearby and then eat when I move away* But he was not there* I filled the bowl anyway, and then as I was leaving, I heard him barking from the back of the barn* It struck me there just might be something going on* Round the back, a goat had his horns stuck in the corner of the shed and was bleating like crazy* I released him, as Zip looked on* What was it - duty? a 'problem'? something out of the ordinary? distress in one of his charges (the goats)? Whatever it was it was more important than food, even for a hungry dog*

On a similar note: "Hegel once remarked jokingly that shredding learned books and mixing them with the food of your dog will not increase the intelligence of your dog even one iota"* But reflecting on when dogs sacrifice food for other values might increase ours!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Yellow Bird / Giverny

In setting up Yellow Bird I had partly in mind Monet's garden(s) at Giverny* Three big differences - YB is much bigger and more interesting topologically* Giverny had no goats, or deer, and lots of flowers (connected!)* And Monet was, well, Monet, and did not get his reputation from his garden* And he had (I believe) lots of gardeners*

Giverny went through long periods of neglect, and it is a miracle it still exists* Only now is it open for visitors* YB will not have lily ponds, or flower gardens, but in some ways it should be just as interesting, not least as an ambulatory place* with sculpture trails* The one feature of Monet's original I would dearly love to copy is the Japanese bridge* Damn it, I remember it as red! Here is an image:It is planned to go between the two lakes* I think I need to get on and have someone make it, as he did! Here is the general plan of the gardens at Giverny* I need to develop a similar such map for YB*

"Claude Monet (1840-1926) expressed the opinion that he was good for two things in life – painting and gardening. Today, his paintings fetch record prices at auction, and his restored 5 acre (2 hectare) garden at Giverny, France – an hour north of Paris by car – attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.

The garden is composed of two equal parts – Monet’s flower garden immediately in front of his house, and his water garden on an adjoining property, today connected by an underground tunnel to avoid visitors crossing a busy highway that in Monet’s day was a railroad track.

Monet declared his water garden his greatest work of art, and he delighted in conducting visitors around like the emperors of Imperial Japan when they entertained important dignitaries. He was also visited by numerous journalists who captured his thoughts as they toured his garden, and took photographs so that today we have an accurate record of what the water garden looked like at its peak of perfection, and why he designed it the way he did, as a cup garden and a subject to paint in all seasons and under all lighting conditions." (Derek Fell)

For more information about Giverny:

As for RED bridges, here is a possibility:

The Principal/Agent Problem

The Principal/Agent problem is an issue in economics: how to get the person you are hiring to do what you want them to do, rather than what they would rather do. Two interesting examples from recent bush-hogging. Jay started bush-hogging the big pasture, when my priority was to redo the trails, which we then did. Then Randall went off into the backwoods finding new mini-fields to clear that I did not even know were there. And he sorted out problems with the bush-hog that I did not know existed. This guy knows more about what I want than I do. Do economists discuss this variant of the P/A 'problem'?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Space, and the Magic of Place

Before 7am this morning Randall Bogle was bulldozing the last section of the Japan loop, winding up the hill from the road he cut two days ago, to join the road from the old Sunny Slope entrance, negotiating rocky outcrops and sturdy trees, and maintaining where possible a gentle gradient. We retraced the whole route back to the house, dressing it up a little. I am not sure whether google earth can see what we did. But it did feel like drawing lines on the landscape with a very big brash brush. At the moment it is all very raw, with broken and wounded trees everywhere, dislodged rocks, and random piles of earth. With wind, rain, gravity and the action of countless living things, this harshness will heal.

We need benches by the road, meditation sites. I talked to Donald at the CC Arts Center about a bench competition for local artisans, with follow-up installation. Must look up some images on google. And in head.

Magic: YB can increasingly become magical both in itself (moonlit paths) and also as a canvas for magical activity and designation. Space turns into place, and the next step is magic.

The Way to Japan, and Beyond

Yesterday Randall Bogle cut and restored the 'old road' to what was once a small house on the NW end of Yellow Bird, and is now evidenced only by a stone chimney, and a stone fence surrounding a more or less circular plot. The mystery is that only parts of an old road were at all obvious, and we had to forcibly invent bridging sections. I have ventured there a number of times, and a few years ago planted bamboos both on that site and further down the wet weather creek. Two huge osage orange trees had fallen down, and, with some roots still feeding the fallen giants, it had shot up again vertically with new trunks. I had thought to accommodate these monsters artistically, but the dozer-power we had was too much to resist using and Mr Bogle lifted and drove these hulks off-site, with much splitting, crunching and crashing of limbs, and huge branches waving their protesting green tops in the air. We had thought that cutting the road might involve compensating for immoveable rocky shelf by moving soil around, but in fact there was good soil depth everywhere and the dozer work went very smoothly. Buoyed-up by our success I resolved to plough on, and we opened up a way through the strip of bottom land, below SS Rd, and on through. Tomorrow, I will ask Randall to bulldoze up the hill at the far end and reconnect to the road inside the entrance to Sunny Slope. This will give us an entirely new walking/4-wheeling-off-road driving loop, and some beautifully different scenery. I call it Japan because of the bamboo I planted down there. [This conceit is stolen from Osgood Mackenzie's Scottish Garden at Inverewe, Ross-shire, carved from windswept moorland on a rocky peninsula beside Loch Ewe, one section of which is called 'Japan' (another 'America'!)] Bogle says it's ideal copperhead country, but I have yet to see these snakes. And now there will be a 9' clear path through the area, with bamboo leaning overhead. The old house site, which Joe D recalls was deliberately burned after becoming derelict in the 40s or so, will make a perfect place for a pagoda, and a particular quality of peace. There is debate about whether this is the house in which a young boy died in the tornado in the 30s, or whether it was across the road I must ask Louise Melton, who was born on YB, and whose long-term memory is as good as her short-term is bad. There is said to be a spring on the corner of the plot. Who would build a house without a spring!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Goat arithmetic

Molly was one of the missing, part of the reduction of numbers from 13 to 10. A day later who should turn up again, but Molly plus two new guys on the block. Here they are. Back to 13.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Berzerker in memoriam

This morning Tom Bean's dog Pinto killed Berzerker in the far corner of the basement where B had sought refuge under boards and wire and other material. Tom said Pinto hated cats and had killed two already after once being scratched on the face by a cat. When I found B he looked fine, eyes open etc. But he was already a little cold, only five minutes after his last plaintive miaow. I wonder if he had died of shock - he still seemed in one piece. I attach a post mortem image, scarily bright. I can only imagine the snakes, the squirrels, the mice, the birds, the moths, the lizards all celebrating tonight at the demise of the Feline Stalker* But he was MY small animal killer, and my friend, and I will miss him.

Yesterday, I went to see the goats, still reduced in numbers from 13 to 10! Where was Zip? He was over by the shelter on the left of the lake, where the goats often hang out* When I got close to him, he ran off to join the goats. I found one dead goat, middle-sized, exuding a noxious stench. This morning I went looking for a saw-mill, and found again Robinson's mill. Could not help recalling meeting Mr Robinson, still bent double after a childhood accident in which a tree had fallen on him and broken his body. What revenge to have started a sawmill. Anyway he subsequently died, and his mill is now just a buyer of timber.

Steely Dan Thoreau, my not-very-feral barn cat, wants to be with me, even waiting on the bank plaintively while I swim* Two 'moral' dilemmas: 1. Can I bring him down from the barn to the house so soon after B's demise? Would that not disrespect the memory of Mr B? 2. Should I really separate him from his companion/brother? Should I bring both or neither? I could bring both, and then get more feral cats (always in need of a home).

I am worried I am getting immured to death as it is happening all around me. At 9am Berzerker was stretched out next to my laptop, interfering with my hand on my mouse. At 9:30am he was gone, saved at least from terror, furry but getting cold. RIP Mr B

Friday, July 16, 2010

Death mat (2)

Visceral Offering (Cat Art)

Death mat (1)

Remains of the day

I washed squirrel hair and bones
Off the death mat at the door
And left it on the deck to dry
With Berzerker looking on

Later in the day I found
Seven blue butterflies
Feasting on death's nectar
With Berzerker looking on

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sometimes a tower is just a tower

Last year (!!) I marked out the six spots for the deep holes into which the trimmed cedar trees were to be slotted. I have waited and waited for the soil to be dry enough for the heavy drilling truck to be able to make it w/o sinking into the mud. Meantime the markings faded.

This morning it took an hour to remark the spots, using the precious early morning coolth from 6:30-7:30. Zip heard me hammering stakes and barked-up the valley. Good dog. I am trying to creep up on big projects so they do not seem quite so daunting. Trouble is there is heavy rain on many an afternoon. Will conditions ever be right?

Why a tower? Rilke writes: "Are we here perhaps just to say: house, bridge, well, gate, jug, fruit tree, window-- at most, column, tower... but to say, understand this, to say it as the Things themselves never fervently thought to be."

Am I going too far - wanting to build a tower, plant fruit trees, construct a (Japanese) bridge, and a column ("Covenant", spanning the Gaza/Israeli wall)?

I know the way of words, and honor it. But there is something about a tower not found in a 'tower'. Is it just a guy thing?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Inappropriate speculation

A propos of my BBC blog entry suggesting it might be possible that Wayne Rooney was taking something to control his temper, (see yesterday) I received this email this morning: "Dear BBC Blog contributor, Thank you for contributing to a BBC Blog. Unfortunately we've had to remove your content below. Inappropriate speculation." And to think this is the first time I ever blogged the Beeb! Could it perhaps be true? No-one else can explain his sluggish performance.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Apologia pro vita mia

[with apologies to the Cardinal]

Night has fallen. As I sit down with a glass of sparkling water in my study out at Yellow Bird, it just crosses my mind, just faintly, that even my friends may not understand what I am up to, what the stakes are. So I thought I would sketch a Day in the Life of this two-legged, just to bridge the gap, if such there is. Sartre once recommended a life of total transparency. I would not go that far. But I could be more forthcoming than I am, so here goes.

6:20 a.m. 6 a.m. is the official time I get up. Sometimes I do wake up at exactly 5:55, microwave some of yesterday's coffee in a glass, and I am at my small bar table desk by 6pm. Often, like today it is a bit later. I open the front and back doors to let the cool air through, and open the garage door downstairs to allow the gasoline vapors from the various bits of lawn equipment to dissipate. Today, this Dr Dolittle is greeted by a gift from Berzerker on the back Rat Mat - a small beheaded bird.

6:20 - 9:30. Yesterday I read from Rilke's New Poems, and biographical intros by Leishman and Bayley. As well as short pieces by Borges, and Barthes. And Calvino's Mr Palomar. I am working on a book called Things at the Edge of the World - a project it seems I began 10 years ago. I plan a longish initial chapter (or two) laying out the general idea of a fractal ontology - of worlds within worlds, each centered on a 'thing' - followed by short essays on 20+ such things, ranging from God to cat to 9/11. I am re-reading these authors both to remind myself of the importance of style, and, in the case of Rilke, because he shares an interest in Things (reflected in his writing about Cezanne's realism). I realized this morning that there was something of a tension between the phenomenological approach which would expand our sense of the things before us by reference to the intentional 'acts' by which we constitute them, and the openness to the delightful complexity of the real that Rilke is recommending. So I wrote a section of a few pages that should go into my theoretical introduction, trying to show these two approaches are in fact compatible, at least if we interprete Rilke heuristically.

Before getting down to writing, I made a list of the major practical projects I had promised to complete this summer - somewhat in despair that they are not getting done - and vowed (again) to make progress on them. Finish sauna, erect tower, commission writer's cabin etc etc.

Then breakfast at 9:30. This schedule really works. If I have breakfast when I get up, I am too woozy to think. I make more coffee. While its brewing I take the kitchen scraps down to the garden to compost. I bury it under a thick layer of last Fall's Nashville leaves currently mulching the raised beds my New Zealand wwoofers bequeathed to me when they left in the Spring. I inspect the zucchini, tomatoes and water melon, and try NOT to get sucked into serious gardening. I am just waiting for the coffee to brew. I once asked Paul Ricoeur the secret of his productivity, and he said he wrote roughly from 6-1 every day, did correspondence after lunch, and spent the evening with friends. I'm trying at least to imitate part 1. I keep a separate yellow pad by my side as I'm writing to soak up the distracting thoughts - people I need to email, repairs I need to make, things I need to buy. After lunch I can either keep writing, or turn to this list. Today I drank a lot of coffee, kept writing until about 1:30, then made myself some lunch (avocado, bread and cheese, thick soup), and caught up with NPR news. After lunch I googled various philosophical references to Things that haunt the recesses of my mind. With my bad memory for detail, google is a godsend. I found various Heidegger references, the source for Bishop Butler's "Everything is what it is and is not another Thing" and so on. And I kept in touch with a live text feed of England's second World Cup soccer match (against Algeria). This, it seems was an abysmal showing by England. The result was a goalless draw, and fans (who had spent thousands of pounds to get to South Africa) booed them off the field. I posted my speculation on the Phil McNulty blog - that Rooney was 'on something' (quite legal, like beta-blockers) to temper his temper, which took the edge of his game, and because he is such a focus, the whole team collapsed around him. My entry was referred for further consideration!!

At 3pm, I took an hour's siesta. Amazing, with a gentle fan overhead, how good that feels. I'm not using air conditioning, even in this heat. But the fans are indispensable.

4pm: time for tea - I brought back lots of tea bags from Bangladesh. I THINK they taste different, but it may just be my imagination. And whole grain bread from the Turnip Truck, with honey and with peanut butter. Woodbury is hopeless for bread - indeed for good food of any sort. Is rural America all this culinarily deprived? This is not some relativist value judgement; it's a sad truth.

After tea, another gift on the Rat Mat. This time, a small crested bird. I can tell because this one was not beheaded. Perhaps that's just a morning thing. It lay there intact, feet in the air, as if having its own siesta. But I could not wake it. I set about doing some "small things around the house". I transferred some young seedlings (more tomatoes, squash etc.) into pots; I hosed down the recently purchased lawnmower that needs to be returned under warranty because it has seized up under heavy use; I repaired a mysterious rectangular hole in the deck that has always been there (now it looks like a lovingly patched deck), almost Japanese. I restrung a hops plant that is supposed to be covering the deck with its leaves. I bombed the four-wheeler up to the first cabin-site and chain-sawed up a large cedar branch that had fallen on the pile of floor timber. I went down to the barn and fed corn to the goats, who had already assembled at the sound of my engine. Zip, my new Great Pyrenees puppy, actually followed me around the back of the barn to the dog sized entrance where I feed him. And I think he finally realizes that I am the regular source of his chow. I do not want to be friends - see the WALDO problem in earlier posts - but somehow, minimally, I need to be able to handle him so he can get his shots etc. He does look SO cute. The substitute ignition switch on the four wheeler broke at the ridge-top cabin-site. Fortunately I managed to nurse the machine back to the house (about half a mile) and soldered it back together, much to my relief. I was tempted just to park it in the basement and attend to the problem tomorrow, maƱana. But I remembered something Schweitzer once said, running a clinic in what was then French Equatorial Africa. He did not pause between one chore and the next, he just kept going.

Schweitzer - organist, physician, philosopher, pacifist - is something of a model for me. Ditto Leonardo, with his painting, his anatomical investigations, and his machines. And then Wendell Berry, farmer and poet. I guess I'm committed to a version of the Renaissance ideal. When chatting to WB at Vanderbilt, we talked seamlessly about goats and coyotes, as well as the ethics and poetry of place. I fantasize sometimes about living the life of a pure writer. There is something about Roland Barthes - academic, writer, lived with his mother and for whom, it seems, words were his whole world - that is deeply attractive. But I am too deeply wedded to sensuousness, to materiality, to shaping and creating, to exploring and mending, to protecting and encouraging - hence the shape of my day - making, fixing and growing things. And if Barthes had been a tad more worldly perhaps he would not have been run over by a laundry truck. But then again, he would not have back-ache from hauling things, nor bruises from falling over. I imagine that physical exercise will keep me healthy, and that engaging with matter in all its richness will feed my writing with images. I share Rilke's almost spiritual appreciation of things, stuff. But the word spiritual suggests we need to add a layer, like salt on food, to bring out what is there. If, as Blake put it, we cleansed the doors of perception, would we need to add anything? Perhaps we need to acknowledge our breaks from the dulling power of habit.

As dusk approaches, four crows kick up a squawk on the newly mowed grass outside the garden fence under my study window, pecking and scrimmaging. Shall I compare them to a dysfunctional family of umbrellas?

This evening I wrote emails to graduate students, to friends, to people connected with various art projects, and I wrote this blog, to try to explain myself a bit better. I worry about whether Yellow Bird is just a private fantasy, or whether it can have the wider buy-in that I want and need for it. It's not NORMAL to have a project like this. But I keep saying to myself: this is your dream, you actually have the chance to make it happen! And so it continues. Across the fields, Jacob ("Dream Builders") is completing a small house for my neighbor. I think I will ask him to help construct the first Writer's Cabin. And then perhaps finish off the cob sauna.

Come by sometime. After lunch.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Walls and fences

Last week, after the Israeli commando raid on Gaza relief boats I constructed (planning stage) large pieces of sculpture that would effectively protest against such walls everywhere. Including the 2000 mile barrier between Mexico and the US. Thesis: every wall is the mark of a political failure. Treats people like animals ...

Back at YB, the top of the barn is becoming 'pelleted' - somehow the goats are getting up there. They have already found a way into most of the lower area. I think they have demolition equipment hidden in the woods. (Why do I go to such doggy lengths to protect them? A mystery.) So I spent dusk fencing off all their access points to the barn. They have other places they can get shade. Like the sauna - aaaargh I have to fence that off too! Fortunately their pellets when dried and collected are good fertilizer.

So I clearly believe in fencing - treating animals like ... animals. If I could reason with them, I would. In justification: I am fencing them out of prime shelter (the barn) for which I have other uses, directing them towards more suitable spaces, and fencing them IN to about 170 acres. They are getting a GREAT deal. I am fencing them out of my orchard - they have eaten my fruit trees - for the same reason. They don't need to eat the bark and leaves of young apple trees, and when they do they kill them. Ditto the deer out of my garden.

Playpens are good for kids. Can't get away from it - I am a fence-paternalist when it comes to kids and creatures.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

And they are all mine!

Down by the sauna, early in the morning. Identity is everything. Zip knows who he is, what he is, where he should be. He has found his place. I only worry if a big coyote should turn up. When Zip is bigger, he will eat coyotes for breakfast. But now he himself might need help from his big-horned friends.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

True Shaggy Dog story

No one who has been following these pages will forget the story of Waldo. After Buddy disappeared, I needed a new goat dog to protect the herd against coyotes. I found 'Waldo' who had lived with goats for the two years of his life. When he arrived, I befriended him with treats and cuddles. But I also explained to him that his job was (like Buddy's) to stay with the goats and look after them. He was introduced to the herd, tied up near the barn, and coralled with them for two weeks. He was not interested. And they just kept running away when he bothered to approach them. Finally I relented and invited him into the house. He immediately peed on the planter, and I hurriedly escorted him out. Though we did connect at some level, we were not really communicating. And he left. He found another family across the hills. I brought himn back twice. But he returned to them. I was about to travel on and off for weeks, so I gave up.

A few days ago, I went to see him. He was tied up because he had savaged the neighbor's dog when that dog had threatened his goats ($300 vets bills). His new owners were getting him fixed to calm him down. He had started creating his own herd, on four occasions bringing them in his mouth unweaned kids, to be bottle-fed.

Last week someone advertised a Great Pyreenes puppy on craigslist. I collected him in a trash can with a wire lid, and locked him up in the barn overnight with food and water. He had hardly ever had human contact, but he uttered not even a growl. Next morning he was gone. Disconsolate, but resigned to goat-dog-failure, I thought I would take a tour of the lake on the quad. Down by the sauna, there were all the goats. And the new puppy, just hanging out. I fed the goats corn near the barn, and he came with them. I tried addressing him personally - no interest at all. He is the exact reverse of Waldo. The guy (Steve) who supplied him gave me this advice: "Treat him just like a cat" - at the most a pat on the head. Don't befriend him. He will hang out with the goats day and night and defend them to the death. I think I will call him Zip. He was the last of a litter of 10, 1/4 Anatolian Shepherd (Karabash), 3/4 Great Pyrenees: father Sampson, mother Annie. When the other pups were being given away, he had escaped. But "Houdini" seemed too long to shout across the valley, and didn't really abbreviate.

Treat him like a cat? Not sure how one should treat a cat. Steely Dan Thoreau, erstwhile feral rescue cat, is the most affectionate creature imaginable. And, as if he were a dog, will come on long walks, jumping through the long grass. Could YB be a place where species meet and exchange characteristics?

Zip is about 6 months old. I am not sure he is a goat-dog, more a dog-goat. He clearly THINKS he's a goat. The problem is feeding him. Any food I put out the goats will eat if they can. I am experimenting with a gap in the barn corral that only he can get in. His food seems to be going. Have the racoons found it? Watch this space.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Whatever happened to March and April?

If to be is to blog, I stopped being for three months. How did that happen? I went on a world conference-art-travel blitz, burning aviation fuel as if flying was about to go dodo. I went to Baton Rouge, Richmond, San Francisco, Bangladesh, England, Tasmania, Richmond (again), and Chicago - all in three months, while teaching too. YB became the home base I took for granted, and ignored. Waldo settled in with a new family, Miss Jean Brodie and Steely Dan Thoreau stopped being feral cats, and settled into a life of rodent control in the barn, ducks Daphne and Bellerophon survived with some unknown anti-coyote strategy (perhaps the coyotes know Bs reputation - "slayer of monsters"), the goats continued to ebb and flow reproductively, and in the Great Rain that flooded Nashville, the lake and pond here filled up like never before. Snapping turtles now sunbathe on the upturned blue duck-motel that floats on the pond - my unappreciated safe-haven for the ducks.

Not only did I stop blogging for three months, I also missed the start of the gardening season. No early tomatoes in pots etc. - and this in the first season of my new raised beds (courtesy of Daniel and Audrey) and the other beds dressed with leaves and horse manure. I bought half a doz each of Lemon Boy and Bradley tom plants (mistaking the latter for Brandywine, an heirloom beefsteak variety, but they seem also to be an oldtime favorite), and buried them deep in the first raised bed. [It was a mistake, but I welcome the unintended, as Derrida said we could welcome Lefebure, a surname resulting from a mistranscription of Lefebvre, which actually means something (smith/metal worker)]. Now I have bought cheap packets of most of the usual suspects: eggplant, zucchini, cantaloupe, water melon, squash, yellow and green beans, arugula (yeah!)[= rocket, in England], green pepper, carrots, beets, other veggies, basil, and various flowers. I will try to get them in tonight, in the cool of the evening. For my sake and their's.

I ran over a 4'+ long snake yesterday that had already been run over, just down the drive. It has dark red saddle splotches on an off-white background. Google identified it for me as a corn snake. I have always assumed that it was so named because it lived in corn fields. But the more usual explanation is that 'corn' refers to the checkerboard pattern of black and white squares on its underbelly, resembling the alternation of corn kernels. This snake is essential a small rodent constrictor. I was told that dead snakes can still bite, just as headless chickens can run (but can their heads squark?). This one, having been run over twice, was too dead for that. And they are apparently gentle souls when alive, unless you are a mouse, on the receiving end of a 'big hug'.

After lunch, I chanced upon a largish low flat light-brown animal scooting towards my house. Google research suggests it was a groundhog (Marmota monax) aka a woodchuck or whistle-pig, and in some areas a land-beaver.

The major event today was the return of Heliotrope from Richmond, my 36' diameter sunflower-shaped floating sculpture. Jay and Steve retrieved it - 600 miles each way. They started out with my black truck and trailer, but had to turn round and trade trucks after 50 miles with spewing transmission fluid and black smoke giving a big thumbs down. I will float it in the lake here - putting it out to pasture, so to speak.

Yellow Bird is a grand project with many dimensions. I need to bring in more energy (people) to make it all happen. Apply within.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Wild Waldo and Valentine's Day

Goats are said to become tame and go wild faster than any other creature. And since recent attempts to integrate them with Waldo, they have learned to return for corn whenever I turn up. I recently took in three feral kittens/young cats as mousers in the barn. Only one is still visible (the others MAY be hiding, or they may have been eaten). It is said they will never seek human contact, and one should not try. But this one black/grey little guy ... is slim, sleek, and desperately affectionate, curling his body around my legs. So, early today I set out flyers about Waldo-Lost Dog, including one at the church at the bottom of Sunny Slope road just before their morning sevice. A Miss Scott called from way back in the hollow on Hollis Creek Rd. She had him, and when I went round, he was on the road walking with yet another lady, who was surprised to learn I was his 'owner'. Two other dogs turned up, and there were various attempts at canine fornication (though I believe they were all boys). I took him home in the back of the truck, walked him up to the barn etc. He checked out his hut, found no food there, and set off into the distance round the lake. At the same time as my dear Waldo was going rogue and I was sitting on the rocks, the little barn cat was shedding his 'feral' label, enjoying being stroked and petted. On this Valentine's Day, I am thinking I have been sent a big lesson. You will lose what you don't keep stroking ... And you can conquer even a wild creature if you put it out there. But I am especially sad about Waldo, who I assume, has gone back to his new friends. I guess I blew it. Just then he came bounding up from behind the barn, having obviously made a very long circuit, probably peeing on every tree trunk. I gave him food in his hut, heard the scuttling of mice, the 'feral' kitten joined the party (and smelled the mice), Waldo chased the kitten, ate some food, and came back with me to the house, where he wouldn't come in, and where he was greeted with hissing from Berzerker, asleep on the recliner on the porch. I gave him more food. He hung out on the porch, ate the food while I combed him out, then after barking at ?? (a deer?) he disappeared. It's not so much a dog-eat-dog world as one in which tastes and affections, and food are unpredictably distributed. But if you want to keep it, stroke it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

We don't rent pigs !?

I think we need a little background here.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Scale Green Birdman

I emailed David Kemp to see if he had an image of Scale Green Birdman (1982), a weird and wonderful tiny hut/look-out at Grizedale (UK). Something of the same uncanny tone would work well here. I wonder if he will reply.


Feeding corn outside the barn: the goats swarm down from the rocks, the two ducks scuttle up from the pond, and 'elbow' their way in, a mouse hops out of the grass nearby and scoots towards the barn, where the streaky black feral kitten does not notice because he is watching Waldo, who is really only trying to be friendly.

When I feed Waldo in his absence, the goats gobble up his biscuits in a trice. Do I have to buy him bones so they will leave his food alone? In the absence of food, he is wandering off, perhaps 'visiting'. In the snow, I thought he would be camouflaged, white on white. No way: he's not white at all, but dirty yellowed off-white.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Warm globally, freeze locally

A duck froze to death last night. I should have fed them cracked corn more regularly. I thought they could still find insects, but perhaps they stay warm by staying in the water, which is now frozen over. Need to pay more attention.

Artists in residence at work

Audrey and Daniel Lebel

A library and a garden

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need" (Cicero)

Well, here is the garden, tucked in for the winter by Audrey, and with raised beds by Daniel, from wood recycled from the old house. The library is indoors. So what is the link between library and garden? Culture and horticulture: complementary resources. This garden, founded on composting and soil improvement, promotes the idea that a good gardener feeds the soil not the plant, a more generally applicable principle. In an earlier entry, I have defended the garden in relation to the wholly wild. Man can cultivate and enhance natural diversity, even as we can also trample it underfoot. Intervention is not always blind.

I must read Robert Pogue Harrison's Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. (He visited us many years ago in the wake of his Forests book.)

Here is some blurb for Gardens:

"Humans have long turned to gardens—both real and imaginary—for sanctuary from the frenzy and tumult that surrounds them. Those gardens may be as far away from everyday reality as Gilgamesh’s garden of the gods or as near as our own backyard, but in their very conception and the marks they bear of human care and cultivation, gardens stand as restorative, nourishing, necessary havens.

With Gardens, Robert Pogue Harrison graces readers with a thoughtful, wide-ranging examination of the many ways gardens evoke the human condition. Moving from from the gardens of ancient philosophers to the gardens of homeless people in contemporary New York, he shows how, again and again, the garden has served as a check against the destruction and losses of history. The ancients, explains Harrison, viewed gardens as both a model and a location for the laborious self-cultivation and self-improvement that are essential to serenity and enlightenment, an association that has continued throughout the ages. The Bible and Qur’an; Plato’s Academy and Epicurus’s Garden School; Zen rock and Islamic carpet gardens; Boccaccio, Rihaku, Capek, Cao Xueqin, Italo Calvino, Ariosto, Michel Tournier, and Hannah Arendt—all come into play as this work explores the ways in which the concept and reality of the garden has informed human thinking about mortality, order, and power.

Alive with the echoes and arguments of Western thought, Gardens is a fitting continuation of the intellectual journeys of Harrison’s earlier classics, Forests and The Dominion of the Dead. Voltaire famously urged us to cultivate our gardens; with this compelling volume, Robert Pogue Harrison reminds us of the nature of that responsibility—and its enduring importance to humanity."


"I find myself completely besotted by a new book titled Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, by Robert Pogue Harrison. The author . . . is one of the very best cultural critics at work today. He is a man of deep learning, immense generosity of spirit, passionate curiosity and manifold rhetorical gifts."—Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

"This book is about gardens as a metaphor for the human condition. . . . Harrison draws freely and with brilliance from 5,000 years of Western literature and criticism, including works on philosophy and garden history. . . . He is a careful as well as an inspiring scholar."—Tom Turner, Times Higher Education

"When I was a student, my Cambridge supervisor said, in the Olympian tone characteristic of his kind, that the only living literary critics for whom he would sell his shirt were William Empson and G. Wilson Knight. Having spent the subsequent 30 years in the febrile world of academic Lit. Crit. . . . I’m not sure that I’d sell my shirt for any living critic. But if there had to be one, it would unquestionably be Robert Pogue Harrison, whose study Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, published in 1992, has the true quality of literature, not of criticism—it stays with you, like an amiable ghost, long after you read it.

“Though more modest in scope, this new book is similarly destined to become a classic. It has two principal heroes: the ancient philosopher Epicurus . . . and the wonderfully witty Czech writer Karel Capek, apropos of whom it is remarked that, whereas most people believe gardening to be a subset of life, ‘gardeners, including Capek, understand that life is a subset of gardening.’”—Jonathan Bate, The Spectator

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

End of goat Guantanamo

After ten days of sequestration at the barn, with Waldo, the goats are released. Some hesitated, the rest poured out. So, we're into animal management, training, instilling habits etc. 'Twas always thus. They are much tamer, they like hay and now hang around the barn more.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Saffron Gate

In memory of
Photo Neko

Projected Framescapes

Writer’s cabin site with surreal viewing windows.
Photo Neko.

Floating Gallery

Natural objects find themselves unexpectedly surrounded by a gallery space.
Photo by Neko.

Great Leap Forward

Finally Yellow Bird is taking off as a writers/artist’s retreat and sculpture park. I currently have two artists in residence, a barn ‘gallery’, and some new installations of my own. (See http://sites.google.com/site/yellowbirdonline/about-my-art/new-installations). And with the help of the Lebel family - Daniel, Audrey, Neko and Luca, wwoofers extraordinaire - the whole site is being repaired, restored and generally made ship-shape, especially the orchard, the barn and the garden. I have identified the sites for three cosy cabins, the first one using the rough-hewn 9’ x 15’cedar frame of an existing shed (called the ‘garage’ because of its pre-1964 use), with an unusual bowed roof. And we are recycling wood from the demolished house, and standing dead trees in the woods, into stacks of fuel for the new woodstove.

The last few weeks we have spent creating things and mending them. The first makes afresh, the second works with a shape already given. Each has its own particular satisfaction. The first explores the unknown, brings into being. The second traces the contours of the given, with a view to restoring, even improving it. We repaired a cheap bench once imported as a kit from China, relaunching it with recycled heart of pine slats that will last indefinitely. It was easy to imagine, with Plato, that it now more closely participates in the ideal form of the bench.

When you get into the groove of mending things, it is astonishing how many of the things we live with need our help, and how we shield ourselves from noticing this. This phenomenon is ‘writ large’ when you inherit a dilapidated farm, but I suspect it is generally true. We dream of getting ahead of the game, but is that really possible? And if we include unfinished plans and projects, the fractal nature of incompleteness is surely incontestable. I have about five books currently on the go: suppose I completed all of them – what would the writing landscape look like then? My guess is that there would be another five germinating in the compost bin of the brain. But what follows from this is not that there is no point in finishing these books (because the category of the unfinished will be replenished), but that I (at least) need to convert that frustration into the creative tension of an active ongoing process.

There have been set-backs. The truck spreading gravel on the connecting road got stuck in the deep mud. So too did the wrecker sent to rescue it. Finally an old army truck with winches etc. pulled the other two out. (See image.) The whole convoy only pulled out long after dark. And the jury is still out on Waldo, the new goat dog. Buddy disappeared in October, and I was assured that two year-old Waldo, a Great Pyrenees, had been raised with goats. A real goat dog runs with the goats protecting them day and night. Waldo however likes human company. A final 10 day goat-sequestration experiment will decide which way he will go.Newsflash: yesterday two new kids were born into freezing weather, dying hours later. Their mother licked them, but I think she knew they were doomed. 150 days after the pleasures of August, who would have known where it would lead. I bought straw bales to provide a nest, but … I am told heat lamps might have saved them.

All the mending, clearing and re-arranging sets the scene for the next phase, of art and intellectual creativity, residencies etc. With Rohan Quinby’s help, we launched the YB series of workshops/seminars Thinking Without Boundaries with Time and the Image in November, and then in December we had an inaugural exhibition at Wild Goat Gallery, with Daniel and Audrey Lebel, Paul Littlehales, Joel Beaupre, and William Kooienga.
Plus two of my own installations, and a new Floating Gallery. [See next blog]

Non-profit status is being applied for, and Margaret Pearson’s generous support is continuing.

This morning (Sunday) I helped Luca measure up rafters for his tree-house, keeping watch over the Peace Circle. We saw a red fox, a flock of plump iridescent blue turkeys, white-tailed deer high-tailing it through the woods, and we released Waldo from his captivity with the goats for a spot of galavanting on the newly frozen lake.

Life goes on.