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 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.