rutting

oak1 stainedglassleafskeleton maple chickadeeEvery once in a while, I start to feel like I’m falling into a rut. Here are some pretty pictures. Here also are some words I labored over. I hope you find them pleasing as well.

So I think, Maybe I should try to make some art, but I’m not quite sure how to go about making art. As far as I can tell, there’s gathering and arranging and interpreting involved, but that’s about the best I can make out. And I can hardly take credit for what Nature is doing in any of my pictures.

Maybe I should do more storytelling. But it’s the same story over and over: I went out, and I looked, and I saw lovely things. I guess it’s not so much a failure of story telling as of story having.

Eventually, I arrive at an agreement with myself in which I resolve to carry on doing as I’ve done until something better or more interesting occurs to me. Fortunately, Nature doesn’t seem to have a rut problem. For example, now the days are shorter, and the air is colder. Everything is new again. But colder.

Then again, all things being equal, there are definitely worse ways to spend an hour. Keep up the good work, Nature.

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learning from bad birds

blackbird1I made that bird up there, and I’m pretty darn pleased with him. Not too shabby. And if this were a different blog, I could just post that picture and call it a day. Ta daaaaaaaaa. But for the purposes of this post, I’m going to dig a little deeper.

I’m going to show you something else, and you have to promise not to laugh. Promise?

Ok. Here it is:

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You said you wouldn’t laugh! Heeeeeyyy! Knock it off!

Are you done yet?

Are you sure?

I heard that. Enough already!

Yes, that’s how this bird started. Sure, he’s homely, but he has a place in my heart. And this guy too:

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These bad birds taught me more I’d ever have learned if I stuck to things I’m “good at”.

I used to draw very seriously, but that was a long time ago, back when I was itty bitty. I drew the way most kids do, unselfconsciously at first, then graduating to a five-year-old’s megalomaniac conviction of her remarkable talent. By the time I started calibrating my sense of quality to the real world, my doodles stopped looking so good to me. I did the math in high school and calculated that my natural artistic talent peaked in fifth grade, when I could still get my classmates to pay a quarter for a horse picture.

So I quit drawing. I quit a lot of things because I wasn’t “good at them,” and my days lost some sparkle. As a 15-year-old, my list of “natural talents” was pretty short: one item. I was good at school. Life of the party.

I’m relieved to tell you that a falling meteor conked me in the head a few years ago, and my life has been completely different since the resulting personality change… Just kidding. But I did eventually grow out of my deterministic understanding of what we bring with us into the world, and into the possibility of all the wonderful things we might end up carrying out with us in the end.

I can’t quite explain what a relief it was to me to discover that, no matter where you start with a new exercise or discipline or art, there’s no limit to how much you can improve at it. I earned a genius award with that one, I think (duh, Erin). One night, I got itchy to make something like I used to long ago, so I painted some bad birds for fun. Most turned out much worse than the ones I posted above, but we’re flirting with the limits of my vanity already, so I can’t show them here. I didn’t care if they were any good. Maybe I liked them more the less flight-worthy they turned out, because I learned so much from the glitches. Each bird, no matter how poorly cobbled together, taught me something new and interesting, stamped another detail in my memory, hinted at possible new ways of looking and knowing. The beauty of the bad birds is that I didn’t waste any of the time I spent with them.

I never learned anything from doing things I thought I was naturally good at. That’s always been a pretty short list. But I’ve learned a hell of a lot by trying, and practicing, things I’m “bad” at, and there’s no end of possibilities on that list. Isn’t it wonderful?

perfect august

rwbbDown at the beach the other night, we watched the moon rise over the ocean, wide and rosy-faced in the light cast by the setting sun. Waves lapped the sand in perfect, lazy sets, and the azure water stretched like silk to the clear horizon. This year’s sooty gull chicks, now wearing spangled new feathers, have joined their parents on the beach,  and the first wave of non-breeding shorebirds — sanderlings, migrating sandpipers and the like — arrived within the past two weeks. On these warm nights, I feel like I should pluck the moon out of the sky, gather armfuls of birds, and hug them both tightly for joy and memory, or stash them away for warmth when January’s winds blow snowless through the empty trees.

I’m snapping pictures like I’m on assignment, but in the end, the pixels will count for much less than the memory of a warm summer breeze drying the saltwater on my bare arm. So please forgive me if I don’t have much to say here right now. I’m reveling in this perfect August.

What’s making August wonderful for you? I haven’t even said anything about how much I love the music of the crickets and katydids and cicadas, now that they’ve taken over the chorus from the breeding birds… Share your memories below!