Friday, April 18, 2014


Next week, April 22nd, is Earth Day. But what exactly is Earth Day? What are we meant to do on this day? Isn't Every Day Earth Day, as the slogan goes? I aim to live my live in concert with my planet, and so I wondered what I should do differently on this day, as opposed to any other day.

So, I did the usual. I stopped by the Tompkins County Public Library to troll the shelves for science books. A few weeks ago I wrote about Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. And now, again, I come back to Rachel.

In 2003 Amy Ehrlich published a book called Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson, illustrated by Wendell Minor. This vibrant picture book takes us through Rachel's life from her early nature explorations, to her biology studies at college, to her continued devotion to having science in her life by the Maine sea. The book is divided into chapters, a page each, with joyful illustrations capturing a moment in Rachel's life. It includes her writings, and her magnificent Silent Spring, but the focus is Rachel's life. It is simply written, and yet draws the reader in completely.

In 2012, Laurie Lawlor published a book called Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World, illustrated by Laura Beingessner. Oddly, this more recent book is a bit more wordy, but it too tells Rachel's story with color and clarity. There is more focus on Rachel's struggles supporting her family, and her place as one of few women working in the sciences. By the end, Lawlor is showing more overtly the challenges and triumphs of Silent Spring.

Both books present the essence of Rachel and her work with honesty, and both share the impact that she had on our world. Both also made me fall a little bit more in love with Rachel Carson. She was a woman of her times, yet she defied those times to pursue her passions- nature, science, writing. She did what she had to do to care for her family, to work her way through the publishing world, and to create work that she was proud of, and in the process she ended up changing the world.

Earth Day sprouted from the environmental movement that Rachel started. And perhaps it is to the new growths of spring that we should return. Earth Day is a day to plant spinach seeds, to walk in the woods with a child, to petition our government to use less energy, to stand up and defend our planet, defying our times if necessary. Whatever we do on Earth Day, let us look to the bugs, beech trees, rain clouds, and bird-song-filled spring sunshine surrounding us and be grateful for it all.

"It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know of wonder and humility."  Rachel Carson

STEM FridayIt's STEM Friday! Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Friday, April 11, 2014


When my husband and I first moved in together years ago, he brought to the household a framed print of a blue and white wave towering over a distant snow-peaked mountain. It is a nice image, but I honestly didn't think much of it. The picture hung in our bedroom for a long time, fading in the sun until I was ready for something different. Since then it has been stuffed in the back of the closet left to collect dust.

Recently, in meandering the stacks at the library I found a picture book that tells the story of our disregarded print. I took the book home to read and realized that I had not given nearly enough credit to this image. 

The painting called "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" from the collection called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji was created by a man named Hokusai when he was seventy-something years old. The book Hokusai- The Man Who Painted a Mountain by Deborah Kogan Ray (2001, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) explores the life of Hokusai and how this painting came to be. 

Hokusai grew up as a poor kid in the capitol of Japan in the late 1700's. The story of his struggles and successes in becoming an artist is an inspirational one (thought long-winded as per the early 2000's picture book style). Hokusai got his start because he loved art and books. He wiggled his way into working at a library so he could study art books for free, was later invited to work at a woodblock printing shop based on his self-taught skills, and then found his way into an apprenticeship with a master artist. With his passion driving him, Hokusai made his way through his world to become what he wanted most- to become the best artist he could be. 

For most of his adult life, Hokusai pursued his passion, sketching, painting, creating wood cuttings of all he saw around him. His great project was Mt. Fuji. He spent years observing, drawing, and painting it from every angle with every type of scenery around it. Finally, he converged his work into a collection of these images, with "The Great Wave of Kanagawa" standing out among them. 

Hokusai said "From the age of five I have needed to sketch the form of things. Yet all I drew prior to the age of seventy, there is truly nothing of great note.
"At the age of seventy-two, I finally understand something of the quality of birds, animals, insects, fish, and the nature of grass and trees. Therefore at eighty, I shall have made some progress."

He goes on to says that as he ages he will further come to understand life's deeper meanings, and thus his artwork will grow to be "marvelous." Hokusai died not long after his Fuji collections was published. But he left a great legacy in his wake. 

After learning about this poor artist from Japan, I am looking at the print in the closet slightly differently now. It is not just a picture of a wave; it means more. Now for me, this image means passion, dedication, and a focus to explore that all-consuming artistic drive. I get it now. In fact, it's time to stop typing, go fish out that old print, clean it off, and hang it somewhere where I can be reminded daily that becoming the best artist I can be takes drive, time, and an understanding that nothing I create before I am seventy will be any good at all. 

Keep at it. We'll get there.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Backyard Artist Date- April 2014

April is here, and with it, rain. Grey clouds, slightly warmer days, and water water everywhere. Walking the same yard, in snow, sun, wind, and rain, month after month searching for photo shots has made me see that the best way to find new angles is by looking with new eyes. It's the same yard, but I am never the same person. So I'll stop. Look closer. And try to capture a breath of a moment.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Balance Wednesday- Get Sticky

I am a slave to sap. Maple season is here again and I cannot escape the pull toward the dripping sugar water running down the trees outside my house. 

We tapped five trees with six taps this year. Since mid-March each bucket has filled up 3/4 of a gallon each day. This week however, things are picking up. The buckets are filling a gallon several times a day. 

It is pouring out of the trees like a cut wound of a hemophiliac. You can cup your hand under the drip and catch enough to take a gulp. What comes out is a sweet, watery, refreshing drink that makes manufactured sugar drinks pale by comparison. The sugar is subtle, light, natural, fresh. It is almost like drinking earth. 

After collecting it all several times a day in five gallon buckets, we move to the fire. A fire that is kept rolling by massive amounts of scrap wood Rob brought home from various work projects. The more wood you keep on, the hotter the fire, the faster the water burns off. And the faster you get to the sticky part. The best part.

The sap boils all day. We add more wood as it gets low, burning and burning and burning it down. Finally, when there is an inch or two left in the pot, we bring it inside to complete the boiling on the stove. Inside, we can keep an eye on the progress, pick out the dead bugs, and sample as much as we'd like.

Eventually, we get close to syrup. Not being an expert syrup-maker, I just taste test, look for thickness and stickiness, and simply hope I pull it off before it burns. I did burn one batch this year already. It tasted like smoke-flavored caramel. Not entirely awful, but a bit too burnt for my liking. 

To complete the process, I sterilize a few canning jars, pour the syrup in, seal the jars, lick the pot clean, and wait for the lids to pop, telling me they've sealed. This year so far I've canned more than 10 pints of maple syrup. And some is boiling as I write this. Some pints are thick and gooey, some amber and watery. I paid more attention to some batches, and thus they are more along the lines of perfect. Others, well, they'll just be good for a tea sweetener months from now. No matter how perfect or not, it feels like I am creating gold. Out of the blood of trees comes a powerful and deep wealth.

How does this all pertain to writing? (Doesn't everything pertain to writing?) See, all this sap made me forget about writing. I forgot, for a brief time about deadlines, and work habits, and artistic fears. I'm just outside, reading a book, keeping the fire going. The last few months of winter have been long (as per my last Balance Wednesday post). I have felt a bit like the maple trees- shut down and shut in, the sweetness is in there, just waiting for some warmth to let me stretch my limbs again. In cold days, windy days, rainy days, and now finally sunny and warm days, getting out and emptying the buckets, stoking the fire, and sampling sap is just what I need to get me out of my winter-ice-frozen stupor and back in the living world. I am moving again however slowly and stickily. And that means my writing is too.