Monday, January 31, 2011

The Great Chicken Experiment

Jumping at several small opportunities may get us there more quickly than waiting for one big one to come along. ~Hugh Allen
Opportunity is often difficult to recognize; we usually expect it to beckon us with beepers and billboards.  ~William Arthur Ward

When I think about writing in this blog, I believe I am required to illustrate the post as I have in the past, but can't think of a piece of art I haven't shown before, so I don't write.  It occurred to me tonight that such "shoulds" and "haftas" have always dogged my life; I can be governed by rigid thinking patterns.  Who writes the rules for me anyway?  Moi.
I remember a story about a dog we had named Ginger.  My husband and I bought 5 acres of dirt in western Oklahoma, with  great expectations of it being a nice little farm. I never worked so hard in my whole life with so little results .  We planted a huge garden but it was wrecked by drought and a grasshopper plague; the only thing that survived was okra.  We ate it stewed, fried and pickled.  I hate okra.
We also launched the Great Chicken Experiment.  We decided we were going to raise chickens to butcher and sell.  Actually my husband decided, and I go "oh, OK."  So we had a garage full of baby chicks, which immediately fell prey to raccoons.  Raccoons may look cute but they can be mean when you try to take away their dinner. We put the half-grown hens in the chicken house with a sturdy fence to keep the varmints out and kept the light going all night, but we were still were mysteriously losing chickens, until I discovered owls were flying over the fence into the coop for a midnight snack. I sat up one night with a shotgun scaring the birds off.  The next day we had to modify the pen.  We finally did manage raise some chicks to pullet size and sold some, and ate some, but we didn't come close to breaking even; I hated the chicken business--specially the butchering part.  Chicken don't like to turn loose of their feathers.
Ginger was a wired-haired terrier--a wonderful dog.  That little farm was her personal responsibility and she watched out for the kids, the cats and Ahab the goat. When the goat got into stuff he shouldn't or started pulling clothes off the line, Ginger would alert me with her barking.  Ahab couldn't get away with anything. 
We started letting the surviving chickens out to scratch and at first they didn't know they were free and stayed huddled in the pen.  But when a hen started to venture out, Ginger chased her back in, then another would leave the pen, or two or three, only to be pushed back in by the dog.  Ginger spent a whole day herding chickens until she wore herself out and had to be satisfied with lying on a rise watching over the hens outside the pen.

I am trying to break free of old ideas--rules I have set down for myself in the past that don't have anything to do with reality--just rules. And sometimes I still feel very married and sometimes I let well-meaning people tell me what I "should" do.  I am free, and I am single and I can do what I want.  I know there are owls and raccoons out there. And wolves and sharks. (I have already encountered a few wolves but I came out unscathed and very much wiser. :o) I know I will make mistakes, but there is also freedom for me in the wide open spaces and opportunities if I am not too scared to try.

Writing this blog has been a way of sneaking out of the pen.  In fact, if you google me you will find me.  Not only this blog, but in my Face Book art page, and at Deviant Art.

I have gone dancing--I even danced with a cane before the surgery.  (Dance like nobody's watching...)  And bowling (maybe I should bowl like nobody's watching. :o) And I rode a snowmobile.  I not exactly ready to bungee jump, but I want to be alert to opportunities outside that chicken pen--chances to have fun, try new things and to be creative.  Maybe I'll try karaoke--the dog doesn't howl when I sing. :o)

I actually did find a drawing I haven't posted before.  I titled it Emily's House.  It is the Victoria home of Emily Carr, (1871-1945) a Canadian artist and writer who lived and worked in B. C.  She lived a non-traditional life for a woman of her time; she explored and recorded the world around her.  She made it out of the chicken pen.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Extraneous thought.

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.  ~Hans Hofmann

Eliminate physical clutter. More importantly, eliminate spiritual clutter. ~Terri Guillemets

When I posted art on Deviant, I found that the photos I uploaded were such low resolution, they couldn't be made into prints, so I have been rescanning the pictures at a higher DPI.  Because some of the paintings are larger than the scanner, I could only scan part of the picture.  I discovered that removing the extraneous parts of the painting actually made a  better picture.  I recall that the struggle with some of these paintings wasn't creating the subject, but with filling in the other areas of the composition.  This is something to keep in mind for future works.  Simplify.

The same works for my personal life.  Clutter makes me crazy, but I have been tolerating a lot of it since the death of my husband.  That is because I was spending too much time thinking.  It is like my thoughts were sucking up all my motivation and energy--and confidence. And not much of it was productive thought, either.
One of the signs that I am getting better is clearing out the physical clutter in my home and the clutter in my thoughts. I am feeling more like my old self; the energy and motivation that I thought were forever gone are returning.  I am pleased that I have cleaned the studio of the clutter that accumulated while I was laid up--unused places tend to become dumping grounds.  This week I cleared the drawing table and arranged the supplies and it is ready for me to use.  I am proud of the simple things I have accomplished and now I am ready to go onto greater things.  And maybe this blog will become what it was originally intended--about my journey in art.

The picture is part of a larger painting but it looks complete the way it is.  It is titiled Sunny Day on Cape D.  The light is Cape Disappointment on the Washington State side of mouth of the Columbia River.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Unwritten stories

The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.  ~Ana├»s Nin
Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning:  I wanted to know what I was going to say.  ~Sharon O'Brien

I just finished a book, Homestead, by Jane Kirkpatrick who wrote about her and husband's adventures in building a ranch in a remote and rugged part of Oregon; the story also chronicles her journey into writing.  Jane writes about women who have made their mark in the Pacific Northwest but her books are written as novels.  These are real women and the stories are based on facts, but the author takes the accounts further into "what might have been."  The lives of these women may be fictionalized, but who knows, maybe it did happen that way.  At any rate I enjoy Ms. Kirkpatrick's books very much.

My grandmother sitting on left. 
I have made family trees for myself and my husband and I am intrigued by the lives of these people I never met but who passed their DNA on to me.  My paternal grandmother, Gertrude, was born in Winnipeg.  Her father, Reinhart, immigrated from Amsterdam and her mother, Elizabeth, from Scotland.  The 1910 census said that she spoke English and he spoke Dutch.  I wonder how they worked that out and how they met? Elizabeth traveled from Scotland with her sister Margaret and records showed that their father was a miner and later loom operator in a mill, harsh occupations in that era.  Elizabeth died  from a blood clot shortly after the birth of her sixth child. Reinhart later married a woman who mistreated her step children.  She refused to learn English and forbade it spoken in her home though the children all learned their mother's language, and even after the family moved to the US.  I wonder what kind of story Jane Kirkpatrick would write about them?

My Dad on his way to school in front of the farmhouse.
Gertrude married Hendrick who was born in Amsterdam where his father, Jurgen, operated a canal boat.  Henry's mother, Jantina, was one of two surviving children out of seven pregnancies.  The other 5 were stillborn.  The Dutch are generous people; they offer their genealogical records--birth, death, marriage, online for free.  They are also meticulous record keepers--the mother's maiden name and the grandparents names, and often the occupation, are on almost every record, making searches easy.  Henry traveled with his parents and siblings, at age 4, to Washington state in 1904. They sailed aboard the Majestic, which was piloted by Captain Edward John Smith who later commanded the Titanic.  The family settled on a farm on Whidbey Island amidst a large Dutch community.  My dad was born on that farm.

Family tradition states that the 17th century Dutch painter, Jan Steen is one of our ancestors.  I have not proved the connection but there is enough information to make it fun to think about.  Could it be where our family talent came from?

Another situation that set me awondering is that my husband's ancestors and the ones on my mother's side, who came to the New World about the same time in the early 1600's, lived near each other in Connecticut and on Long Island. I lay awake at night speculating that these men might have met and wondering what they thought of each other.  I found a document that states one of my ancestors was actually hired by the brother of one my husband's ancestors to construct a parsonage on Long Island. How exciting is that?

My mother's ancestor, Daniel Kellogg is one of the founder's of Norwalk CT.  It is said that he was a very tall man, but peaceable. One story relates that when a couple of drinkers were fighting, that he grab them by their collars and knocked their heads together, calming them down right quick!!

There are so many stories that stimulate my imagination, civil war soldiers --on both sides, journeys across the Atlantic, a witch trial, love stories, western adventurers... yes, I wonder...