The Artist at Work

The Artist at Work
The Artist at Work

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Making Time for Walden - Cabin in the Woods

Marcus and I are reading Thoreau's Walden or Life in the Woods in the midst of trying times.

I bought my copy of Walden and Other Writings from The Strand bookstore in New York City in September of 2000, when I was terribly homesick for the mountains of North Carolina. When I picked it up yesterday, for the first time in years (not counting unpacking and packing it) I found within the pages, in the chapter called "Solitude" pictures of my long-gone friend Ishmael and the garden we grew together on the Bruce Farm in Mars Hill, NC. Calvin Chandler, who had cows and a tractor, plowed and raked over the soil for me - half an acre worth - and I planned to grow enough vegetables to keep students and families of Mars Hill in fresh vegetables all season. The task would prove much easier to dream than to realize - not so much the growing (I had the Ishmael, with about 7o years of gardening experience, to help me) but what to do with all the vegetables and how to get my classmates to come shovel manure in the name of community.

So mostly, it was just me and Ish at the garden. The photos are a result of my excitement at the vast, plowed expanses of what would be my garden. It was the fall of 1993, and I was starting a garden of greens and crimson clover. Ish and I were talking about how to lay everything out, and I caught a great crooked picture on a little disposable camera of Ish walking off a row, followed by two scrappy beagles, whose names I can't remember but know that I have recorded in a journal somewhere in the pink liquorstore box in my closet here in South Asheville, in the late summer of 2011.

Ishmael died in the late nineties, when I was living in New York. The place where our garden was is, last I checked, an embankment that serves as an entrance to a gated community, now starting to show the age, despair and neglect of the recent few years.

So what does all this have to do with work on Marcus' 25- year retrospective? Well, this remains to be seen, but I suspect it's because a retrospective is, necessarily, a lot about time, timing, looking back and wondering. It involves asking, sometimes too, what to make of a diminshed thing - whether we're talking about the natural world we once knew, or the people we used to be. That's the hard part. But. A retrospective well done can have a happy ending, and help us re-member ourselves as surely as we see the same person in the mirror when we pause to look ourself in the eye, every time.

Plus, in the middle of August, really, especially, who doesn't dream of retreating to a remote cabin in the woods, to study the of late summer drone of crickets and cicada, and to stare at the deepening sky, trying to catch and name that particular shade of blue. Closest thing to hitching a ride on the watch in the detail of Marcus' "The Watch" and flying into that deep color blue.

In hectic times like these, it's good to have some sort of retreat, a cabin in the woods to re-member. Maybe that's reading a book you once loved, or losing yourself in an art, the practice of making something. And then, added to that, an invitation to a good friend's "cabin" in the woods wouldn't hurt.

Marcus writes:


My cabin in the woods:
No roof.
No walls.
Canvas provides shelter from the cold,
Paint fuels the warmth,
brush along,
Invitation only!

-----------------------August 2011

Come visit us here anytime. Tell us how you retro-spect and re-member. And share where you found your "cabin in the woods" where you make the time, in these times, to practice your art, whatever it is you practice.

1 comment:

  1. Flights of bats at night, morning alpaca hums, and frisky kitten leaps provide soft solace in a busy world---the critters that abide on, in, and around our urban homestead subtly bring joy to us. Diminished things respite from a demanding world.