It's been a kind of stressful week for the country, but the weather was flat out glorious yesterday, and I spent the whole day outside painting. It felt marvelous. I did two journal spreads for myself, one large and one small, and I did two commissions. My house portraits often get a little tight, but this was for a fellow artist, and I let myself play more than usual. I had been loosening up in the forest, and I intentionally went straight on over. Unusually for me, I did the paint first and added the lines after, something I'm trying more of lately to get more motion in my pieces. Houses are easy to get too tight and precise about. I was pleased with the results, and (beautifully) so was she. I love doing paintings for friends. I haven't got permission to share the other one yet (sometimes they're surprise gifts), but I'll post it when I can.
I've been running a little crazy since I got home, dealing with mail and other things that had been piling up, seeing people I've been missing, and trying hard to get the book published in time for the holidays. I had a whole plan that failed on me, and I'm regrouping. So I haven't sketched much, but I have done a couple. Above is the Shelby Farms dog park, at the east end of the park. I hadn't been there before (further into the park than I've ventured on my bike, and my dog isn't a dog park kind of guy). But it was just around the corner from the vet where I had to leave him several hours, so I took a walk with my sketchbook and did a bit of exploring. If I had a more social dog, it would be a wonderful resource to have available. I see why people drive out from midtown.
I'm also back at my local farmers market with joy. It was lively to have tomatoes, broccoli, fresh flowers, and bread (though that didn't make it in the sketch). I really like the rhythms of Saturday mornings at home, though there certainly things I'm missing about out west as well.
I was more tired on the way home than heading across in July, but I still did a modest amount of sketching on the way home. I'd been looking at the night skies all summer and thinking of painting one, so I took the chance coming across before I got home to the city light pollution. As always, I sketched a good dessert to help me remember the joy of it. I'm also still really enjoying sketching Alice. The last day I was playing banjo in Missouri, and a deer came to watch. Apparently banjos aren't that common. I grabbed the sketchbook next to me and did a very quick gesture of it. The ears were adorable. It wasn't a lot of sketching, but it felt nice to do a few small, happy things in the middle of six days' worth of driving.
I’ve been balancing work, vet care, and vacation out here. With P is for Possum finally finished, scanned in, and at the printers for a proof, I’m leaning more towards vacation (and preparations to head home, which is a bit of an undertaking). So I celebrated a couple of lovely small things in my latest journal page — an enormous tomato gift from a friend plus a second breakfast. I did that a couple of times this past week, having berries and tea when I got up but then joining Jude in an egg a bit later. It’s nice to be cooked for sometimes.
I've been trapped indoors for a solid week now, and we're hoping for relief tomorrow. I took a quick walk with a mask on and snapped a photo of the orange sun, but it was too awful to stay outside and sketch. The bottom smokey view is from my indoor work table window, though, and the blueberries are from life, done sitting at the kitchen table. I really love the berry stands out here. Such joy.
It's been a tough week with various large griefs around here and among people I care about. I've been carving on my new block, the 18x24" one, while watching some escapist BBC mysteries, but it's big enough to be going very slowly, so there's nothing really to share yet. I'm grateful for that meditative work, and I'm grateful for sketching, where I can turn bits of daily life into color and pattern and be-here-nowness. I'm also grateful that this was the week when strawberry rhubarb pie showed up at the local grocery. Rhubarb doesn't grow in Memphis, and that's a treat I really look forward to coming out here. It hasn't been available, and then yesterday it was. Baked goods, stones with strong life lines, walks in great beauty, and tea have all been balms this week. So there they are for my journal this weekend.
I slowed down on the sketching as the week went on. Our next stop was Keyhole State Park in Wyoming. There was a nice looking trail running a long way around a deep blue lake, though our campsite was off a smaller bay. It had lovely red rock on the far side and geese the next morning at sunrise, but it was super hot when we got there. I turned the air conditioning on in Alice for the first and only time on the trip, and Mr. Darcy and I put the bed down and took a nap. Then I did the sketch above looking out toward the water from our spot. On a cooler day it would be a neat park to explore further, and we did enjoy a short walk the next morning with a lovely breeze. It had cooled off enough to sleep with the windows open, which is nice because the A/C is pretty loud. Here are a couple of photos from the morning.
The next day we got to Lewis and Clark Caverns state park in Montana. The landscape reminded me of the reddish hills and scruffy bushes in Turkey near Bergama where I got to stay and paint a decade ago. Very few trees, and an open campground with just circles of rvs, but some really nice trails. Again it was hottest, but we had a nice short hike after we got in. It’s another park that would be good to explore further in slightly cooler weather. I had thought I might need a full day off driving one of these two days, but each morning I woke up ready to go again, so I pushed on. I found that an average of 450 miles was very doable. I mostly got in about 3pm, and I’d have time for a bit of a walk, a little sketching, and a lie down if I needed one. I was going to bed early with the light failing instead of using lights in the camper, and then waking up early and enjoying the beauty of the morning and breakfast and tea before taking off again. I could easily have spent long and lingered on this trip, but Mr. Darcy was ok with the camper but still not that relaxed, and I was looking forward to seeing Jude for the first time since early January, so we just kept moving. I’ll definitely do some state park visits to just settle and paint when I’m not trying to make it solo across the country though.
Rather unintentionally, here are my two new main pursuits across one spread of the Quarantine Journal. I've always enjoyed birds but have never watched them as intently and intentionally as I have this spring. Likewise I have always enjoyed tomatoes, and I've had an herb bed in the past, but I'm not much of a gardener. I put in a new herb bed (the old one had been totally overgrown after several years of way too much travel), added tomatoes (which I've tried without success before, but we'll see), and added a few blueberry bushes and a fig tree. Also things I've tried before and killed. Although in my defense, the fig tree was doing fine until a large masonry wall fell on top of it, which I don't count as a mark against my gardening skills.
I've gotten decoyed off the journal in recent days as I have dived headlong into the forest ABC book. I tend to do immersion in new projects while the energy is flowing and the images in my head are fresh. But tonight I have my first few tomatoes ready to pick, so I thought I would celebrate. The outdoor tomato plants are behind the curve, but this one pot is sitting in the window in my laundry room. I thought I'd try one that the squirrels couldn't get to. So far that's been a success.
I feel like most of us are having these most weeks. This week has been especially so for me. I had a lovely mother's day visit on the patio with my folks, from a safe distance. Then the baby Cardinals finally hatched. And then they died overnight in the nest, I think from cold. It affected me in an outsized way, although I imagine some of that is just the grief and stress of these times also showing up, and it's not bad to push a little of that out occasionally. Plus Mr. Darcy came over and gave me big sloppy kisses to make me feel better.
I found that I needed to physically turn the page on this page of my sketchbook, so I drew my dinner last night. I've never cooked beets before. Thanks to Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything (which I think is going to be key for my CSA journey), it was super easy, and I've had a couple of truly lovely beet salads with goat cheese and slightly candied walnuts.
Then today was lovely again. I met Dad and Pat at his grandparent's house, my great grandparents, about half a mile from their daughter's (my grandmother's) house where I live now. I never knew my great grandparents, or the house, and it's recently been bought by a lovely woman who is lovingly restoring it and who wants to know the history of the house and of our family as she moves in. It's beyond special to have someone there who wants to know and carry forward those family stories. We've had such a great series of emails over the last week, and it means a tremendous amount. I sat afterwards and sketched the house to have more happiness in my journal from this time. My favorite thing, aside from getting to see the place, was finding out that the sunroom off the main bedroom was called "The Joint" because it was jointly owned by my dad (with his bed there for weekend visits) and his grandfather, who kept his desk in there.
I've never done a CSA before, and for years now I've traveled too much to even consider it. This year, however, I will be staying home, and I'm trying to shop as little as possible. Plus I'm tired of my same cooking, so it seemed like a good idea to branch out, support fantastic local farmers Whitton Farms, and learn to cook some new things. Boy howdy, it's a lot of food for one person though! I can see that I may be sharing some with my folks as we go along, but it's exciting and very beautiful to paint. This week I am going to learn to cook beets (which I usually just buy cooked and ready to go), and I think I'll try my hand at a beet/goat cheese salad. Or feta, depending on whether I can get some goat cheese easily. And I haven't had sweet potatoes in a while. It's good to bust me out of my routines.
I also did a nest sketch. The mama goes off occasionally for short periods, so I sat up on a ladder (inside my kitchen, not near the nest!) to peep down in. It's quite a deep nest, and I'm hoping another egg or two is hidden on the near side that I couldn't see. But it was fun to glimpse the one speckled one. I didn't even know what a cardinal egg looked like. I'm so excited about a baby or two.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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