Art on the Vine

There has been no shortage of projects in the past two months and, consequently, I wanted to make sure and add another so as to avoid any of that pesky sleeping that is such a barrier to productivity. Therefore I decided to create a new work for OCAC’s Art on the Vine 2008 auction. This is the second work I’ve created for this particular live auction, the last being Every Man Sings to His Own Sea, which was the first drawing that I ever created in this style (and, oddly enough, the only drawing I’ve ever created twice, making it an “editioned” drawing).

We were jostled by the light. captures a moment when sun and storm fought over a stand of trees during the first minutes of a visit with my father. We braced ourselves against the wind and pondered the possibility of burning bushes.



I want to give thanks for those things that are so vital to my art practice— those tools, entities, and ideas that assist me in realizing my myriad creative efforts.* Family, friends, and pets should not feel slighted about being absent from this tally as you are all well loved and much appreciated. This is a list for everyone and everything else. With the exception of the top three, they are presented in no particular order.

1. X-acto knife— The single most useful item of any creative artist (even after the advent of the personal computer). Sleek, dangerous, high-maintenance, and impossible to live without.

2. Metal ruler— The x-acto knife’s less glamorous sidekick who keeps it all straight.

3. Glue stick— Now that everything is cut out what are you going to use to put it all down? It dries quick but is fairly forgivable. It also dries clear. But beware that purple kind and make sure there’s plenty of scrap paper about to use as a blotter in order to avoid messy glue migration.

4. The studio— A designated space away from home that gives you room to work and a place to focus your creative energy. I had no idea how important this was until I was lucky enough to obtain one. 2007 has allowed me to move out of the dining room corner and into artistic legitimacy. Bonus feature: the cat can’t sleep on my charcoal drawings any longer.

5. Kneadable eraser— Beloved by everyone who encounters it, the kneadable eraser can be shaped for precision erasing and used as a tension taming sculpture medium when there’s nothing else around.

6. Clickable eraser— Handles like a pencil but with far more erasing power.

7. Gesso— The single most important paint medium. Don’t ask me to justify that statement because believe me, I can. My photographic transfers would have to rely on fairly toxic means without gesso. Gesso is around when I need a quick white paint. You can sand it smooth or build it up around a form to take on impressive dimension. Did I mention it was a primer? Now that I’m thinking about it, gesso should really be in the number two or three position on this list. I’d cut-and-paste it up there except for the implicit irony that would engender.

8. Large format photocopy machine— Meant for architects and contractors to reproduce plans this machine turns tiny pinhole photographs into massive black and white vistas.

9. Rives BFK— King of papers. Run it through the letterpress or use it in lieu of canvas. BFK can be purchased in a roll that will last even the most ambitious painter a few months.

10. India ink— Black. Permanent. Enough said.

11. Pushpins— How else can you put something on the wall and gain some perspective? The clear-headed push pin is an ubiquitous feature in art school classrooms around the world. Pushpins are used daily and, I’ve recently discovered, available in a very fashionable matte black that elevates the pin to an acceptable means of display on the gallery wall.

12. Nikon FE SLR camera— Not delicate and fussy like those new-fangled digital cameras, the manual FE can be dropped, exposed to horrible weather, and neglected for years without forgetting its primary function: to take pictures when I want it to. The built in light meter keeps me close to the mark but the fully manual operation gives me the freedom to take whatever out-of-focus blurry image I want. Perfect. Why did the photographic world ever feel the need to evolve?

13. Lensbaby— While on the topic of photography lets here it for Portland innovation! The Lensbaby makes me think I’m Keith Carter every time I release the shutter. Of course, upon receiving the prints, it’s clear that Mr. Carter and I are at different stages of our photographic development (no pun intended), but the Lensbaby always helps me live the dream for a little while.

14. 2” Paintbrush— Skip the over-priced art store and head straight for your hardware supplier. One high-quality house painting brush has helped me complete 80% of the painting I’ve done in the past decade. Treat it well and you’ll save a bundle on bristles.

15. Powdered graphite— Very useful for getting a quick overall tone. It prevents me from having to shave the tips of pencils and a little goes a very long way.

16. Benefactors/Patrons— I’ve been luck enough to have a few over the years. Without their support art-making probably would have proven to difficult and too demoralizing. The enthusiasm and generosity of others prevents you from believing too firmly in all those ridiculous Romantic ideas about mad, suffering, artists.

17. Adobe Creative Suite— The sky is the limit. Design anything you can imagine and see it take 2D form. While it seems contrary to the handwork of my art practice, I’ve found Adobe’s programs to be life-savers in helping manipulate images and ideas over the years.

18. Cordless drill— Install hardware, hang pictures, and build whatever inane maquette you like. Free of the restrictions that a plug brings you can quickly move as quickly between tasks as you do ideas.

19. Chop saw— How can you make picture frames without a chop saw?

20. Sticky tack—Earthquake insurance that also keeps your frames level. . . and it’s reusable. A great product that should make tape feel ashamed.

* I’m not being paid to endorse any of the items on this list. Trademarked names are used because, in many cases, that is how all the artists I know continue to refer to them. Those companies should feel happy to know that their branding efforts are paying off. Any person or company listed above who’d like to pay me for this endorsement is welcome to contact me.



I just completed a beginning graphic design course. I don’t offer that information as an excuse for why I haven’t posted so much as an explanation for what I’m about to write.

I’ve had to ask friends and family if they’d let me photograph their necks. This request has garnered a mixed response— from the wary “Ok.” to the flat-out “No.” The neck, after all, is a sensitive space, tucked away between chin and chest. It is a vulnerable spot that has earned at least two telling cliches over the years:

1. ...sticking your neck out...
2. ...going for the jugular...

I’m sure there are more.

Perhaps due to its vulnerability it is also a place of desire. Tender and recessed, it wraps around our power of speech, swaddling our vocal cords through a life-time of inspired and mundane words.

Considering that it allows food and water to travel to the stomach, messages to travel between brain and body, air to travel to the lungs, and words to travel into the world the neck can be viewed as a conduit. The sexiest conduit in existence, but a conduit none the less.

But I digress. . . these are the reasons why I chose to photograph necks but they do not explain the end product.

Our final project in the design class was to redesign the CD packaging for a favorite album. I’ve long since moved beyond attempting to clarify what my favorite album might be so I chose an album that I was exceedingly familiar with but hadn’t given much attention to over the past ten years— Tricky’s Maxinquaye.

Upon listening to it again I was struck by how raw it still seemed: Tricky’s vocals coercing Martina’s delivery with both of them indiscriminately singing atop one another. The album has a sexual bravado juxtaposed with a crippling vulnerability that makes it hard to describe to others. I had expected that I wouldn’t have to do much explaining to my classmates as they’d all be familiar with the album, but I was proven wrong. Apparently, Tricky was only an inspiration to me in the late nineties.

I proposed to create packaging that over-layed photographs of necks printed on vellum with lyrics from the songs. That way it would appear as if the words were stuck in the throat. Furthermore, there would be odd images of textures and locations placed alongside these combinations of necks and words. It was my hope that this might produce some approximation of both the alluring and disquieting qualities of the music. For the most part it succeeded. The vellum had a skin-like quality compared to the heavier paper stock used for the photos and lyrics. Some of the photos chosen were cropped in such a way that the compositions themselves were confrontational and confounding. When people picked up the packaging to examine it they rarely had smiles on their face which, while not always an indicator of success, somehow seemed appropriate.

There are still many details I’d like to tweak before I would feel completely satisfied, but that requires asking more people to offer up their neck, and those conversations have proven to be just disquieting enough to prevent me from exploring this project any further.



As an adult on a school bus my thoughts mimic the landscape through the window. Short bursts of memory align with the racing autumn colors. Yesterday I was a quiet student and today I’m the quiet teacher.

The rain pelts on the metal roof of the bus. It is especially audible under the rooftop emergency exit. I take a few pictures of colors. Perhaps someday they will remind me of remembering.


Five From CNET

I periodically binge on CNET. The lure of free, legal, music downloads preys upon my mind and I can lose hours to sifting through genres and recommendations. Usually this yields only a very few songs. Much of what I’m just discovering has been enjoyed by much cooler people for years now— Wolf Parade, The National, Devendra Banhart; these are acts that are relatively well known to those who didn’t spend most of their twenties trying to simply stay afloat in overwhelming jobs.

Realizing that I cannot profess to have a blog and not try to foist my musical tastes on others I submit to you just five artists that you can download and experience for yourself. My reasons for recommendation range from how emotional a track makes me to how perfectly derivative a band sounds. Regardless of the reasoning they’ve all been getting a lot of play around here.

1. Wikked Lil’ Girls by Esthero

This one might be a tad embarrassing to explain so I’ll skirt around the issue a bit. Apart from obvious props to Benny Goodman there’s an energy that rewinds life ten years. Whether you can live into the lyrics or not I think anyone can appreciate a little big band and high-sheen lip gloss.

2. End of Time by Beat Chemist

If you’re Fat Boy Slim then you beat a one-line sample into the ground and create a monotonous piece of radio triffle. But the Beat Chemist takes one short sample and fashions a sweet little rumination about seasons passing and the frailty of life. The beats are still phat, but they come from a heart.

3. Nothing Was Special by Lendi Vexer

Do you ever get tired of reading reviews for bands that reportedly sound like Portishead only to give them a listen and wonder how anyone could make such a comparison? No? Well, I’ve spent years lamenting the loss of Geoff and Beth so I fall for the old, “if you like Portishead” trick almost every time. This is the first group that, yes indeed, sounds like Portishead. The organ, the haunted female vocalist, the echoing chamber and languorous beats— it’s all here. Derivative? Sure. And that’s what makes it awesome.

4. To Build a Home by The Cinematic Orchestra

Sparse and a touch maudlin. This is the only free track offered by this group and I haven’t been out to purchase the album yet but, if this song is any indication, Coldplay’s lawyers are keeping a close watch. Did I just admit to knowing what Coldplay sounds like?

All my credibility just flew out the window.

5. By Your Side by CocoRosie

My wife dug this one up and it’s a nice counterpoint to Wikked Lil’ Girls. The inane simplicity of this track juxtaposes beautifully with the exceedingly nebulous intent of the lyrics. Ironic? Resigned? Love struck? Maybe just struck. If you’re down with the growing tendency towards haunted lo-fi folk then you’ll probably enjoy all the other free tracks by this group as well.

If you’ve got comments about this selection, or recommendations for other tracks, feel free to drop your line below. The next list of five will feature songs by bands that reveal how I’m five years behind the times.



Some ideas are really good. At the outset of the summer I had just such an idea. It came to me as I vacantly thumbed through one of my albums of 35mm photographs. You see, I have hundreds, possibly thousands of photos that I’ve taken over the course of the past decade. I would consider them opportunistic snapshots rather than art with a capital “A,” but many people who see them tend to scratch their heads and politely inquire as to where exactly I was visiting and with whom. There are rarely any people in the images. There are few vistas to establish the scenes. Most are textures or colors. Many reveal an aversion to focusing. In short, not art, and not accessible as documentation, they fall in some nebulous realm that will land them in flea markets and junk shops as curios from another time when people recorded images on chemically treated paper. But I digress; I was writing about a good idea.

I thought that there was no reason to let this bounty languish on a bookshelf for my enjoyment only- why not put a page on my website that would share the best of these images with the larger world. I could organize them into thematic groups, write short quips about the why and where of each image, and solicit viewer comments. Such a page would undoubtedly require plenty of work resizing images and I might have to consider finding a server that could host all that data without slowing upload times. The complications were many but it seemed like such a good idea, and I did anticipate having some free time this summer. . .

Then I remembered that I’d seen something like this before. It might have been a few years ago but I took the chance and searched for “photo sharing” on the web. Oh yeah, that was it: Flickr. In a flash my idea didn’t seem either unique or insurmountable. My website remains unchanged but after a mere hour of uploading the beginnings of my 35mm collection are on-line. Take a moment to visit by clicking here.

Next good idea: a site where you can upload and share short low-res video clips. Imagine the potential.


12 Hours Plus

You’re wondering where I’ve been? I could spin a yarn about exciting summer adventures but I haven’t inventoried enough exciting experiences lately to even fabricate a decent fabrication. So the truth must suffice. I’ve been dwelling on spring. . . or a representation of it anyway.

One day I spent six hours transferring and staining an image that I photographed during the height of Portland’s blossoming. After a quick blanket of white pastel another twelve hours passed erasing away the pastel from where the blossoms rest on the branches of the tree. Following the reductive step roughly sixteen hours of drawing ensued on top of the erased spaces. I make it sound tedious (and periodically it seems to be) but there is something profoundly comforting about this prolonged period of time spent just. . . reacting.

Below the pastel lies ghosts of line and tone that are nearly discernible. I stare, erase, excavate- connecting lines and organically shaped blocks of toner until a resemblance of the original image emerges. It’s not accurate in any sort of photographic sense but the essence of it emerges intact. And then I draw it in. The charcoal makes conclusions about line placement and intensity that I had waffled on thus far. It often feels as if the entire process is outside of me. I’m just a translator. Perhaps a charlatan- pulling an ideal reality from artificial moments of time transfixed to film or pixels.


Small Wild Things

Copying other artworks is part of any trained artist’s education. I’m not sure if the primary objective of mimicry is to sharpen your own handling of traditional art materials or to instill a crushing respect for all the greats who’ll forever outshine you on the pages of history. I suppose it hardly matters; either way you first feel humbled. . . and then grow defensive. How would Raphael fare copying a Rothko? Imagine Frank Stella tackling a Chris Ofili? No one is exempt from a dose of failure when so many parameters lie outside your own level of training and comfort.

This past week I copied fifteen artworks by one of my former instructors. Or, I should say, I copied fifteen copies of her paintings done by another former student who, in all fairness, was copying fifteen copies done by another artist. In truth, I don’t know how many degrees of separation exist between myself and the original fifteen paintings. I’m just one connection in a collaboration that can most easily be explained as a visual game of Telephone.

I expected this project to feel much the same as the three agonizing weeks I spent trying to recreate Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park color palette. There would be tears, certainly, and a mounting sense of disgust with myself followed by the aforementioned defensive rationalizations for my inability. But from the outset I felt far different than I had expected. These were, after all, my peers, not some patriarchal group of historically vindicated uberartists. A presumptive understanding of my former instructor’s visual tendencies made me suspicious of certain technique and material choices that existed on the fifteen copies before me. The question that confronted me wasn’t along the lines of, “Can I achieve an accurate copy?” so much as “Should I be accurate to what lies before me or what I believe to have been true in the original?”

Being a tad yellow-bellied and prone to obeying all mandates I did as the project rules instructed and recreated what was before me. Upon finishing I compared my replicas with the set I’d received.

They were remarkably different.

Not in size, shape, or placement mind you; those things were spot on. It was the technique and material choices that seemed. . . off, somehow. It was humbling


The Itinerant Poetry Librarian

The Itinerant Poetry Librarian will avail herself of our couch for one more week before leaving to share her collection of “lost and forgotten” poetry with the citizenry of Seattle. Thus far the Poetry Library has been featured at the Independent Printing Resource Center (IPRC), Reading Frenzy, The New American Art Union, The Free Skool, In Other Words and outside the gates of Portland’s aptly named Portland Art Center.

A thorough explanation of the Poetry Library would require tremendous time and edits for accuracy by the punctilious pen of the librarian herself. Therefore, I will provide only a flavor of the benefits of membership.

The Poetry Library is a temporary installation of a varied, and rotating, collection of obscure poetic publications from around the world. During an installation all are welcome to join the library provided they are willing to abide by the Library’s Bye-Bye Laws while members of the library. Here is Bye-Bye Law 13, by way of example:

“No person shall behave in a disorderly, discordant or overly debauched manner in the library or use violent, abusive, or obscene language therein unless expressly invited and incited to do so by the Library Authority. The Library Authority takes no responsibility for matters and manners occurring from the above.”

Patrons are given a library card with which to check out materials and a free haiku upon joining. The Itinerant Poetry Librarian manages the checking in and out of materials and makes suggestions about readings patrons might enjoy. Upon the closing of the library all materials must be returned to the librarian. The library card, haiku, and a copy of the Bye-Bye Laws (if requested by the new member) are retained by the patron.

The Itinerant Poetry Librarian manages a thorough chronicle of her project which is open all hours.



He looks frequently to the periphery of the room- in the upper corners where the ceiling and walls form a vertex. I wonder what he sees there. Long pauses between thoughts are when his eyes most frequently dart upward, as if he’s waiting for the next words to be given to him. I see children look in this way sometimes. They stare at the corners in markets or at empty park benches. It makes you wonder who might be there to return their look.

This elderly gentleman has an abundance of energy, smiles frequently, and is unafraid to offer his opinions. He sits with us in a sixth grade classroom abandoned to the leisure of summer and lectures on teaching astronomy. He’s taught for decades and his enthusiasm for astronomy is contagious.

Here is what children (and you) should know about the heavens.* The point directly above your head is known as the zenith and if you draw a line from the zenith through the top of your head- down to the center of the Earth- you’ll find the nadir point. If you think of the horizon as a flat plane extending from your feet then you can draw a sphere above your head with the top-most point of the dome being the zenith. This is your own unique dome of heaven. Since two people can’t occupy the same space at the same time** each person has their own entirely unique celestial dome with an individualized perception of the stars overhead. When you reflect on this you realize what a wondrous observation it happens to be. Your perception of the stars mirrors the unique nature of your individuality. You see the heavens like no other at each moment of your life.

This idea immediately reminds me of a time when the stars aligned for me. I was in the library of my junior college doing some research for an analysis of Whitman when I became fed up with the dry blocks of endless academic text and decided to spend ten minutes looking at some art books. I randomly grabbed a hefty tome about a German artist named Anselm Kiefer and the imagery left me dumbstruck. Charred landscapes, decayed photographs of staged maritime battles, massive expressionist prints-- it was the least safe art I’d ever seen. This one book on Kiefer compelled me to enroll in a drawing class. This one drawing class led me to abandon english studies all together.

Kiefer remains a great inspiration and there is one watercolor in particular that I think about often. It’s a subtle one and I would urge you to find a good reproduction. It translates into English as something like “Everyone Stands Under His Own Dome of Heaven” and it is literally an illustration of a solitary figure in a vast field under his own dome of sky. The ambiguity arises with the figure itself. Dressed in what appears to be a dull military green he raises his right hand in Nazi salute. I won’t presume to know Kiefer’s intentions, but I can state this: good and evil may strive for dominance on the earthly horizon, but the stars consistently remind us about the origins of voices in corners.

*These aren’t the only things that middle school students should know about the heavens it is apparently just a fine way to begin the exploration.

**Put aside theoretical physics for the time being.



I’m attending a seminar to assist with my upcoming year of teaching. Over the course of the next four days we will explore the sciences, humanities, and developmental issues related to the age of my students.

In a writing workshop we were asked to take fifteen minutes and write a story with a surprising element. As a person who prides himself on telling surprising stories, I found myself painfully blocked. The only tale that I could think of was amusing, but hardly surprising to anyone who’s eaten in France. As the minutes ticked by I stopped trying to force something brilliant or poetic and put down this simple bit of autobiography:

I am the only person seated at the outdoor cafe in the early hours of the evening. Even though the narrow street has been thrown into shadow the cobblestones still radiate heat from the summer sun. A lanky waiter inquires about a beverage. I order a Belgian beer, having grown weary of experimenting with weak French brews for the past week. The drink comes as warm as the day but I hold my tongue lest I live up to the reputation of my countrymen abroad.

Dinner is ordered and arrives just as the last dregs of beer are put away. “Un autre boisson avec le diner?” he asks.* The first beer has warmed me to the idea of another, regardless of how tepid it might be. I order another. The waiter stands quietly staring down at my bowl of steaming mussels in a delicate white wine broth. Then he regards me with a look that seems two parts pity and one part disgust. “Monsieur,” he says crisply as he slips the bill beneath the lip of my bowl, “absolument pas!”**

*Note emphasis.

**Linguists be aware that French is not my forte. Tu as? Furthermore, I don’t know the key commands for accents so spelling errors are inherent.



Last week I completed the paperwork that would accession “Interlude” into Portland’s public art collection. The decision to purchase the work was made by the Regional Art & Culture Council (RACC) on behalf of the city. RACC is one of the primary reasons that Portland’s art scene continues to thrive as they offer a host of grants to individuals and institutions of all creative disciplines.

Of all the works I’ve created in the past two years “Interlude” was the most difficult to complete and the work that I’m most proud of. For years I’d been keeping this low resolution image of the sun setting out the library window where I worked. It was one of those stormy fall days where the water whipped about in all directions as it fell from the sky and I felt fortunate to be among the quiet confines of the books and magazines. When the sun broke along the horizon the blackness of the storm clouds was made all the more apparent and having nothing but the Photo Phazer (an early digital camera that had been marketed to children, was held like a phazer from Star Trek, and had perhaps 5MB of total storage capability) I shot the scene through a rain-spattered window. The resulting image moved me. It was powerful in its mediocre representation of something so sublime. The blacks were mushy stains when the digital file was printed and the edges of shapes revealed the square corners of pixels more than the organic contours of nature.

When it came time to take on the challenge of converting this image into a drawing I opted to play down the digital origins of the image. The abstract composition of line and form took center stage and mushy blacks became silvery graphite. I did preserve the lack of clarity in the lower fifth of the image where a bramble of branches in shadow simply melded into one nebulous void of darkness, but ultimately the drawing was biased toward grandeur rather than technological mediocrity.

Such considerations might seem pedantic, but these are the musings that go through your head when you stare at a work in progress over the course of many weeks. These considerations are what grant “Interlude” some presence and they are made possible by idle days before windows- staring out at storms.


Swab the Deck

I was surrounded by pirates. At first I thought it simply the predictable cultural reaction to a media blitz by the movie companies. But then I considered the ocean beating against the sand just a few hundred yards away and decided that pirates were a logical tourist gimmick for a coastal town. Blaming the movies or consumer culture reveals my jaded So Cal sensibilities-- for Hatteras and the surrounding islands have a very legitimate history of piracy that has nothing to do with theme park rides or t-shirts.

Edward Teach was one of the most notorious pirates to plunder along the Eastern seaboard. His long braided dark beard earned him the moniker Blackbeard and, according to the “museum” at a local pirate gift shop, he was a sturdy fellow who carried plenty of pistols and travelled in the company of the Devil himself (such tall tales may have served as the inspiration for Ahab’s shadowy companions a little over a century later). It was on the shores of Ocracoke that Blackbeard would fall to a cadre of soldiers dispatched be the governor of Virginia to end the pirate’s raping and robbing along the Outer Banks. If ever there was a locality in America that deserved to capitalize on the pirate mythos its the communities separated from the American mainland by the Pamlico Sound.

The world is a very different place than when Teach led raiding parties off the Queen Anne’s Revenge. While many in my generation dress up like scurvy dogs and attend themed taverns for their grog I’m quite honest with myself about the roll I might have played aboard a pirate vessel. On July 4th I spent two hours in the blistering sun scrubbing years of accumulated filth off the wooden slats of my back deck. It may not be as glamorous as swinging from the rigging or engaging in a skirmish with cutlass brandished high, but let’s face it, slippery wooden planks would have been as great a liability to pirates in the 1700’s as they are to party guests in the twenty-first century.


Pinch Me

We arrive to a lightning storm over the Atlantic. Out at sea massive thunderheads are periodically back-lit by the quiver of lightning. They appear as puffy silhouettes with halos of orange and purple. Some of the strikes surge down toward the blackened sea and create a momentary reflection in the water. The air is dry and warm as we stand parallel with the storm on the third floor deck.

* * *

The current Cape Hatteras lighthouse in North Carolina was moved a couple thousand feet to avoid being swallowed by the sea. That was the fate of the first lighthouse over a century ago when the dunes retreated from her base. The current lighthouse is meticulously painted with a black and white candy stripe. The interior is whitewashed with the winding staircase a deep red. This brick column is almost more picturesque then the view it provides from its wrought iron balcony. Part of the lighthouse’s allure is the romance of its function- warning ships of danger in the darkened stormy seas, but part of it is also the incongruous form it adds to a landscape of scrubby trees and rolling dunes.

* * *

There’s a constant wind here. Out on the beach someone is flying a kite that looks like an orange shark. It dives about in the currents of the air: a furious flapping of streamers trailing behind its fins.

* * *

Blue crabs are red when cooked. You flip them over to find a “key” tab on their sternum. Lifting up and breaking off this tab allows you to pry off the upper shell and reveal the innards. At that point the experience can vary. Once you’ve peeled away the inedible lungs you might be confronted with bulbous globs of goo ranging in color from yellow to blue-green. This goo usually graces the tips of the sweet white meat that you are seeking. I’m told that the goo is considered a delicacy but I suspect this might be a diversionary tactic to keep my thoughts away from food poisoning. Crabs are scavengers after all- quick moving sea insects that feed off the bottom of the ocean. However, they’re also mighty tasty cooked in Old Bay seasoning. I crack off legs in hungry abandon, hardly noticing when a barb on a claw slices open my thumb as I try to free a morsel of meat from cracks in the exoskeleton.

* * *

The fourth floor of the house (named “Pinch Me”) has a tromp l’oeil ceiling painted to resemble a cloudy blue sky. From the vantage point the room offers you can watch the moon rise over the Atlantic or cars queue up for the ferry to Ocracoke island. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the room is a coffee table that’s built like one of the wooden boats Major John Wesley Powell used to brave the white waters of the Grand Canyon after the Civil War. There is a glass top over the boat and it sits atop a little stand. The stand is quite the liability, with the two back legs listing heavily toward the stern of the ship. Someone has moved the table to the periphery of the room with the hopes that it will remain there unnoticed. Sadly, I doubt it will survive much longer in a vacation rental that sees a new group of vacationers nearly every week.

* * *

Scattered throughout the island you’ll find tiny fenced plots tucked haphazardly around the water-ways and tourist developments. Foot-and-a-half tall white pickets randomly partition off the yards of vacation homes. Or they rise from the marshes below the wood plank boardwalks that surround a shopping center. These small fenced yards house the eroded tombstones of early families that settled the Outer Banks. There are many diminutive stones poking from the sand- children lost on this tiny finger of sand out at sea.

The South is hardly afraid of, or inconsiderate towards, the past. Most of the graves are well tended with fresh flowers, urns, and mementos. It’s odd in this day to consider a municipality without an established graveyard, but is seems that the randomness of the ocean itself has inspired an organic approach to interment. The deceased were laid to rest on the high spots of the island or on a family’s property. Time has shifted property lines as surely as its shifted the dunes, and now the dead are part of the backdrop in a community established to help people forget about life during a week or two of vacation.

* * *

We cross the Virginia line and a bug lands on my hand as I drive. I brush it away quickly, fearing all of the bugs here equally due to a general ignorance regarding their relative dangers. The bug clumsily bounces onto the dashboard and begins to asses its situation. A few quickly aborted attempts at flight confirm that my rough hand has damaged one of its wings. So ends that insect. Or, so I think. . . As the miles tick away on the odometer the tiny trespasser proceeds to very slowly remove its wings from its thorax and leave them on the dashboard. They look like the smallest of fish scales as they glint in the sun bouncing off the black dash. With the wings discarded the insect looks very much like an ant with a black and white striped abdomen. It explores the dash with great care before finally settling on a steep ascent toward the roof of the car. I follow its journey out of the corner of my eye, wondering what fate awaits it when the rental car employees vacuum away all trace of our presence from the car.


Dog Mountain, WA

Ticks. Rattlesnakes. Poison Oak. These are the three things emphasized most in nearly every review of the Dog Mountain trail in the Columbia River Gorge. It also boasts one of the finest displays of spring wildflowers in the Pacific Northwest and is an immensely popular trail in the region. After my experience on Wednesday I can attest to the trail’s beauty but I wish to modify the list of dangers to include fatigue, disorientation, and blisters.

The Dog Mountain trail is a loop that begins along the Columbia River about 45 miles out of Portland on the Washington side of the river. It is not overly long for a day-hike; anywhere from 6.1 miles to 7.5 miles depending on what source you consult. My 25 cent Special K pedometer claims eight miles. But, as my friends Amy and Branden pointed out as we stood gasping for breath at one point, you can’t put much trust in an electronic object that was purchased at a garage sale and manufactured to promote the consumption of cereal. At that point it did seem to be flawed, indicating that we had achieved the 3.7 miles to the summit when the trail marker before us clearly stated another mile of switch-backs awaited us.

It is a strenuous ascent from the floor of the Gorge but much of it lies under the cover of the tree line. A generous collection of poison oak borders the path in many places. I’ve hiked in Oregon for many years and never had any trouble with poison oak but I didn’t trust that my friends would be so lucky. “Don’t pet any dogs.” I warned on the ride there. They asked me to point out some poison oak when we arrived so they could identify it on the trail. I hadn’t even left the parking area before my finger was flying around to show off the countless examples that fringed the gravel clearing. It took nearly an hour of hiking before they stopped walking with their arms clamped to their sides.

As you ascend, intermittent breaks in the canopy allow you views out over the Western Gorge (this all assumes, of course, that you initially take the portion of the loop that heads west up out of the parking area). Looking up the mountain to determine the trail will give no clues about the awesome sights that await you at the top. After a few hours of strenuous switch backs you emerge onto a wind-swept hillside. Swaying in the invisible currents are thousands of bright flowers- yellows, reds, purples; all intermixed and clinging to the sharply inclined slope. To the south the snowy crown of Mt. Hood rises from behind Oregon’s basalt ridges that border the Columbia. Turning to look back down the trail grants a view of a blunted St. Helens among a collection of hazy blue Cascades.

A strip of beaten dirt takes you along the undulating hillside of color until you reach the top. With a view east now possible you can look beyond Hood River and see where the rain soaked tree-line gives way to the scrubby golden grasses of eastern Oregon. Fatigued as we were the sights still awed us and, for a time, while sharing food, we neglected to think about the other half of the loop that remained.

In many ways the descent seems more grueling than the ascent. Due to the steep grade it appears that people on the switch-backs below lose their connection to the Earth. Watching torsos disappear and reappear among a constant rippling of the ground is mentally disconcerting. It lead to a timidity in my step as I tried to regain control of my sense of perspective.

Perhaps the greatest anguish results from being crushed into the front of your boots with every step. Amy and Branden lacked the proper footwear and both suffered blisters. By the final stretch there was limping accompanied by a grim locomotion influenced primarily by gravity. The verdant beauty of the forested hillside became a mist on the periphery of a grim determination. Thankfully, rattlesnakes and ticks never made an appearance.



She seemed to have a preoccupation with weeping that was incongruous with her demeanor. I didn’t want to presuppose anything overly melodramatic, but I did make note of it. Once she showed me a series of photographs that were to be bound into a limited run book. She displayed them in a matter-of-fact way that indicated that I wasn’t to critique, just observe. I observed that she lingered longer on an image of water droplets sliding down a car door. The tracks of the water moving down the side of the car mimicked the path of pigment that was being created on large sheets of paper outside of Claudia’s tiny studio. She had deliberately put these pigmented sheets of paper into the rain over a series of weeks. As the water fell from the sky it would run down the paper and pull some pigment with it. Over time these monolithic sheets of white paper were covered with the pigmented traces of falling rain. Visually they resembled the branching of streams and rivers. Metaphorically, they were about sorrow. That much seemed obvious. I should have known that I wasn’t seeing the whole picture because Claudia was never “obvious.” At that point, perhaps even Claudia wasn’t seeing her whole picture.

I was reading about rain recently. Apparently, precipitation within clouds is in a constant state of movement. These tiny particles of moisture are blown about on the currents of the wind. As they travel they bump into one another and join to form a larger water particle. Rain occurs when so many of these collisions have occurred that the particles have grown heavy enough to be pulled to Earth by gravity. Each drop of rain is a massive collection of individual particles that found one another. When I think about Claudia’s death I think about how her passing will bring together many individuals. Some will have known her in passing, such as myself, while others will have traveled with her for a much greater portion of her life. Regardless of the duration or intimacy of our knowing Claudia we are all joined together through her life.

Open. . . That was the name of the book she shared with me. It had only one page of text. It read:

“Open your eyes when you cry.”

“Look, it’s raining.”


The Illusive Studio

The mind reels at the attainment of a long held goal. Naturally, there is an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, but there also exists a sort of giddiness like you encounter as a child when you’ve just gotten away with something that borders on inappropriate. Perhaps this feeling is unique to me. Perhaps it is indicative of a disjointed cultural heritage that exhorts the denial of personal ambition on Sundays but rewards it every other day of the week. Regardless, as I stood for the first time in the art studio that my wife and I are to share I felt a surge of sensations, chief among them being relief. Relief that adult life isn’t always just taxes, toil, and teeth cleanings.

The importance of a space devoted to creating art might be difficult to fathom if you’re not an artist. To fully understand, it is best to imagine all the tools of a mechanic situated in their living room. While it might be possible to rebuild the carburetor there, it will most likely result in lingering smells, dirty floors, and damaged furniture. Bizarre clutter would be inevitable and it would expand to cover any flat surface. The cat would sleep in the toolbox. Guests would be overly apologetic about their early departure. That’s the fate of any artist, craftsman, or enthusiast that allows their passion to coincide with the space they call home.

This has been the fate in my household ever since graduating from art school. Sometimes the studio has been a corner in the office and other times its been the entire living room. In many ways this haphazard arrangement of creative space convinces you that you’re not really serious about your art. Indeed, many critics and curators would undoubtedly agree. We can’t all be Felix Gonzales-Torres; working on the kitchen table or borrowing a studio from friends as needed.

Whether or not the liberation of our living room will dramatically improve my creative output remains to be seen. I must admit that many artists seek a studio to simply prove that they’re serious and then hardly utilize the space. This tends to be obvious to others and completely hidden from them. After all, isn’t part of art making being creative? You’d think that following the tired formula of leasing drafty cheap loft space would, in some way, relegate you (and your work) to Clicheland. I don’t care however. I’m looking forward to being able to back away from my work and not bump into dinner on the dining room table.