In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.
On Thursday we left Montreal rather precipitously, planning to attend a 2:00 pm graveside service for an elderly friend the following day in Washington, D.C. After two hours in solid rush hour traffic, trying to get out of the city, we headed down the Northway, but by the time we reached Albany it was already late and we were exhausted. So we crashed in a motel in Schenectady, and the next morning reassessed our plans; it was clear then (as it had really been the night before) that we just didn't have enough time to make it to Washington by early afternoon.
So we contacted our family and friends, explaining the situation and saying that we'd be with them in spirit (as one of them remarked, Jewish funerals and long-distance travel are a difficult combination), and instead made a right-angle turn onto the New York Thruway to go see my father.
As it turned out, we had a beautiful drive, both going and coming, and a wonderful fall weekend in the countryside that I love so much. After all the busyness of preparing for J.'s book launch, it was a restorative few days, with long nights of deep sleep, natural quiet broken only by the calls of geese and the chatter of squirrels and chipmunks, foggy mornings that gave way to bright clear days, the saturated color of hardwoods in autumn, and time for me to wander in the woods and along the lakeshore, and sit quietly looking out on the meadows. I had been wanting to go there very much; this felt like an unexpected gift.
Most importantly, it was a good visit with my father, who's doing very well. We had already shopped for a turkey, and bought a giant stalk of Brussels sprouts, a berry pie, lettuces, cranberries, and new potatoes at the local farmers' market on Saturday morning -- all the ingredients for a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner for my father, his girlfriend, and four guests. The next day Dad and I raked and hauled a lot of leaves, and then he went up on the roof to clean the gutters while I steadied the ladder and fetched whatever was needed. It was such a glorious day - crisp and bright - and I felt so happy and so much in the moment. In spite of his age, Dad was very nimble up there on the roof, and quite glad to be getting this task done. At one point he asked for a rope, and I tossed him a coiled clothesline, which he deftly caught. "Nice toss, eh?" I remarked.
He grinned down at me: "And did you see that catch? Left-handed!" and it seemed like twenty, or thirty, or forty years had just been erased.
He sat back on the roof and surveyed the shingles, and the trees beyond them that so faithfully shed their leaves to clog the gutters and the drainpipes. "You're going to need to put a new roof on here one of these years," he said, turning back toward me after a few minutes with a wry look.
"How old is it?" I asked.
"This one's original, and it's still OK," he said, gesturing toward the addition he and my mother put on in the 1990s. "The other one has been replaced once. I did it with Harold Shaw, long time ago." He shook his head: "I didn't like doing that work very much."
"At least it's not as steep as ours was in Vermont."
"Right. I went up there with Jonathan once - that was really steep. No matter what, houses are so much work, there's always stuff to do..."
"But it was fun; your mother and I had a good time building it, figuring stuff out."
He uncoiled the rope: "OK, Bethie, now go get me a bucket half-full of water, and let's see if we can get any of it to go down through the drain..."
My dear friend V. brought these flowers yesterday: how absolutely gorgeous they are! We're at the height of fall color here, with some leaves starting to come down, but other trees still green. Last week brought a string of the crisp warm days, crowned by blue skies, that all New Englanders and Quebecers anticipate and love. J. and I walked back and forth to the studio on a couple of those days, enjoying the slowness of foot-travel, and the swish of the dry leaves in our path.
Exciting announcement coming on Monday, so stay tuned! Right now I'm heading off to the market, where the fall harvest is in full swing.
Thingvellir, Iceland. In the far distance you can see Skjaldbreiður, ("Broad Shield"), the prototype for all shield volcanos worldwide.
Standing in the main rift, Almannagja, which marks the eastern edge of the North American tectonic plate.
Three years ago, this past weekend, I was at Thingvellir, the great rift valley of Iceland. It was my 59th birthday, so I'll always remember the date. A lot happened that day that changed me. Even though we didn't witness an active volcanic eruption, we were surrounded by raw evidence of the earth being born in the not-too-distant geological past, and by a kind of beauty I had never before seen. Something happened that shook up my sense of time and solidity, and of my own identity within it. It took me a long time to understand why I felt so captivated by the strange forcefield that is Iceland, but one result was the reawakening of my own artistic creativity: not just because of wanting to express what I had seen and felt, but because I had a renewed sense of myself as an intrinsic part of the creation that is always happening, a link in the human chain of becoming, creating, and passing away that mirrors events in nature.
Three years later, I've got an unfinished but fairly extensive book manuscript, a lot of directly-related artwork, and seem to be back on a track of sustained drawing and painting. I'd hoped to go back to Iceland again by now (and we will, eventually, who knew we'd go twice to Mexico instead?) but, more importantly, it has become for me a kind of spiritual island, an Avalon in the middle of the far northern ocean, both real and mythic. I visit it in my thoughts, and feel sustained and encouraged by what I discovered there.
Lake Þingvallavatn. Charcoal on prepared paper, 30" x 22".
Yesterday morning while waiting to go sketching with my friend I did a quck drawing at my desk. As is often the case, the areas that first caught my interest (above) ended up being invested with the liveliest line, the most energy, the most abstract interest.
Because the sheet was big enough, I drew the ceramic cup and the things in it. Although there's some liveliness in the pen point and pencil and feather, the composition becomes conventional and boring with that verticality right in the middle. I always like cropping, zooming, turning pictures upside down or sideways. A lot is revealed.
This drawing is so much better than any of the ones I did outside later on!
Already, almost September, after a beautiful summer. In my weaker moments, I've complained that we spent too much of it in the city, but honestly, the weather in Montreal has been so lovely this year, the trees so green, that I've enjoyed nearly every day. It hasn't been hot - we've managed with fans and didn't even go to the basement to lug up the air conditioner and install it - but that's fine with me. I haven't gone to the botanical garden or walked on Mount Royal, and because of work pressures I've been in my garden less than usual, and in the studio more, but we've also gone to the market more often, and discovered some new treasures in Little Italy, along with many happy evenings and days with friends here, and friends who've visited. It's been a delight getting to know my new friend Priya who just moved here from India, and to think about what it must be like to see this part of the world through her eyes.
Happiness begins (I remind myself when I start to get nudgy) by wanting what you have. Even though I will always have the woods and wilderness in my heart, I've become a city-dweller for good reasons. Living in a fairly far-northern city like Montreal means dealing with weather, a short growing season, and constant change. People here aren't static, and although life is perhaps slower than in the U.S., they move, adapt, change; they are open to new experiences, and many of them consciously seek that out. The flow of languages in the buses and on the street has seeped into my own life and my own head; I'm studying Spanish on Duolingo, and working on my French there too; it astounds me how many of the people I've come to know here are bi-, tri-, and even more multi-lingual. Last night we sat with friends outside a cafe eating cornets of delicious frozen egg custard (like soft ice cream but richer, with eggs). Another group of friends gathered nearby, drinking coffee, petting a little Italian greyhound, their conversation moving seamlessly from French to Italian to English. Later, we stopped in the neighborhood park to watch tango dancers in a covered bandstand; it was the last of the weekly Tango Argentinian nights for the summer: slowly, the dancers circled the floor, the women elegant and strong; the men focussed, assured; their tango an expression of desire, tension, and surrender, of the bittersweet and beautiful dance of life between our beginnings and endings.
The world remains violent and troubled, and we are all very aware of that, but last night I was reminded how the peace and renewal I've always sought in nature are also available right here; I just have to look more deeply. Human beings are an intrinsic part of nature, and we too contain all of its silence and mystery.
Boulder, Stream, and Mossy Rocks. Acrylic on gessoed paper, 10" x 9".
Over the past few days I've finally had time to do a little artwork, inspired by our recent stay in the mountains. This isn't a literal interpretation but it gets across the feeling of a particular spot. I'd like to do some more explorations of this composition, maybe using different media. I was fascinated by the huge glacial erratics in the middle of the woods -- poised so precariously, it seemed, but actually very solidly positioned right where they've been since the glaciers retreated -- in contrast to the flowing stream, but the forms had their own abstract interest that I've only begun to explore here.
Below, a few preliminary stages in the progress of this painting.
All of these pictures were taken last weekend near a remote lake in the Green Mountains of Vermont. It was very quiet. We went out on the lake in kayaks, and a loon surfaced about 20 feet from the boat; we hiked in an old-growth forest between white birch trees and huge glacial erratics overgrown with moss and ferns, along a hidden brook flowing on smoothed granite sleek enough to slide down. There were boulders big enough to hide a bear, and tiny homes of small creatures, complete with miniature pine trees, lichen-spores, and mossy lawns, and I moved between the two worlds of my own crushing largeness, and my smallness, dwarfed by the mountains and their vast green blankets of trees.
Notes below...you might prefer to watch the video in fullscreen mode.
The Lachine Rapids are a stretch of impassable water in the St. Lawrence River just upstream from the city of Montreal. Jacques Cartier was the first European to discover them, in 1535, and they stopped him in his search for the Northwest Passage.
Ships can now go around, via the St. Lawrence seaway, but the rapids are just as impressive and daunting as they must have seemed to the early explorers. Kayakers go down them, and tourists in inflatable boats...we saw both while we were there...but the risk of drowning seems very real. Fishermen are required to wear flotation vests, and visitors keep a close eye on their children.
There's a narrow path between the river and the still ponds on the opposite side, and a lot of native wild flowers augmented by natural plantings with species chosen to attract and support wildlife.
This park is a public area within a large migratory bird sanctuary that encompasses several islands in the middle of the river, and it's filled with bird life all year. Redwing blackbirds were very prominent while we were there, along with many ducks and geese, and of course many seagulls and other marine birds. We saw a dozen white egrets on the protected Isle aux Herons in the middle of the river.
We sat for a long while watching a flock of common terns feeding above this section of the rapids. They're one of my alltime favorite birds -- I love watching them fly.
It's pretty amazing to stand in the same spots where Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain must have stood -- you can almost hear them saying "Merde!" The rapids can't have changed much at all in the five centuries since then, and the power and magnificence of La Fleuve remain undiminished.
Last Friday was our 33rd anniversary, and as we usually do, we took the day off and went out for an outdoor adventure. This time we took our bikes to the path along the Lachine Canal, and rode up to the Parc des Rapides, where the inland river journeys of Jacques Cartier and Samuel Champlain ended many centuries ago. The rapids are extremely impressive, and I'm working on a little video to show you what we saw.
But we also took some photos of ourselves, and J. took a few of me, standing by these rocks on the path. To his complete surprise, when he looked at the pictures after getting home, something else had appeared in the frame, just at the right moment! I can't identify this hawk because I can't see the wing bars or tail bars. The compact body and general dusky tone of the feathers make me think it might be a marsh hawk, but I'm wondering if any of you can give a more positive I.D. In any case, it's one of those weird photos you couldn't take if you tried.