Leaving Spring


These Indian Pipes popped up on our hillside a week ago, hundreds of them. I almost did not make it up there with the camera in time to catch them, they disappear so quickly!  I have always had difficulty letting go of beautiful things that don’t last.  Like sunrises which fade in a few short minutes or the notes of a wood thrush’s song.  Perhaps that is one reason why I am an artist and writer, I am searching for ways to catch these things.  Today I am having a hard time letting go of spring.  Not that I dislike summer, I simply like spring better, and it always seems so short!  Here is a poem I wrote about spring several years ago.

The Critic


Beneath the sash there strayed an elfin wind

Which lit upon this volume’s trembling leaves.

It ruffled them with careless, scornful touch

And reading half a verse turned to the next.

Then lighting on a scrawl entitled Spring

It read the lines with withering disdain.

“Of Spring!” It cried, “How dare she write of Spring!”

“What does she know of Spring who lives in walls?

She never felt the swiftly swelling bud,

Nor has she tangled with the newborn mists.

She never kissed the icy, rippling stream,

Sprung from the snows of January’s storm.

She never rested in the tops of trees

Strewn with a lace of new unfurled leaves.

Nor ever combed from waving grasses hair

The harbored jewels dropped by the morning dew.

How can she write of Spring?” And gathering

Itself to go, in haughty pomp, it turned;

Yet stopped, for to the page was held, secure,

In flowing bonds of ink and simile.

Thus was my Spring: The little swelling buds,

A little mist, a little cold,

Some leaves and grass, and . . . wind.



What Do We See?


Last winter, when I was half-way finished with a charcoal drawing, my grandmother came for a visit.  She watched as I knelt on the floor (I never have gotten used to using an easel) diligently turning my fingers a lovely black, and asked me what it was I was drawing.  I showed her the photograph I was working from.

“That is beautiful,” She said.  “I would like to have it when you are done.”

At the time, I personally thought it was ugly, but I was glad she liked it.

Last week my grandmother came for another visit and my drawing was behind glass, ready to go home with her, but when I showed it to her she said:

“that isn’t the one you were working on last time I was here.  Where is the lady you were working on?”

My grandmother has very good sight, she can read normal sized print without glasses, but when I showed her a picture of a toad she saw a picture of a lady with long dark hair.

* * *

Several years ago my Dad asked me to do a drawing on a thank you card, he let me choose the subject.  When I was finished, he looked at it for a moment.

“Is it a fox?”  He asked.

“No.”  I said, in surprise.  “It is a pair of silos, with trees around them.”

* * *

My first pastel painting was of an old tower with a little vine covered house in front of it.  When I proudly showed it to my sister she said:

“I like that you put the smoke from the  chimney in the picture.”

I looked at it, puzzled.

“Oh!”  I said.  “That isn’t smoke that is a crack in the side of the tower.”

But as I looked at it I realized that it really did look more like smoke than a crack, I just had not been able to see it that way, because I knew it was supposed to be a crack.

* * *

Our eyes play tricks on us.  Not that it is our eye’s fault, we see the wrong thing because we expect the wrong thing.  It is really our minds which are tricking us.  My grandmother did not expect me to be drawing anything so ugly as a toad, my Dad had no idea that I was very fond of silos, and I could not imagine how my drawing of a crack which lined up exactly with a chimney, would strike someone who had not seen the original.

An important part of learning to draw is learning to ignore what we think we already know.  If we think that a face is a circle with two dots for eyes and a thin curve for a mouth then we will be unable to see that the face before us is actually rather square than circular.  But this tendency to blind ourselves is not confined to drawing.  How many times has someone misheard your name, simply because they were expecting something different?  It happens to me all the time, and sometimes, I do it too.

Knowledge can obscure our understanding as well as illuminate it.  And if this happens when trying to grasp tangible things, like drawings, how much more should we expect it to cloud our understanding when thinking about abstract, intangible things?

What do we not see?