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Art, Unbidden

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Look at the carved cattle trails, all converging on the dark heart of the barn. The little outbuilding I'll tell you about is the half-white one in front of the barn. The house Clarence and Opal lived in is on the left side of the road.

Any city person who moves to the country has outbuilding envy. We city folk tend to put up houses, garages, and not much else. Country folk had an outbuilding for everything. Maybe that's why their houses were so tidy and homey. They weren't trying to cram everything into them the way we do. They had outbuildings for all their crap. For instance, I dream of a potting shed, where the stacks and mounds of huge planters and tiny pots that spill all over our tractor and bicycles could find a real home.

The beauty of country outbuildings is the way they fit into the farm and the landscape. I can't bring myself to buy a pre-fab shed just to have a shed. But this little garage/shed/barn has a beauty that's hidden from the main road. The former owners of this farm were Clarence and Opal M., who I had the pleasure of getting to know just a little when I stopped to talk with them about the brilliant blue bluebird houses Clarence had constructed and put on fenceposts around the house. They were enormous, perhaps 9" square, and painted bright blue because Clarence thought that might help attract bluebirds. Of course, they were full of house sparrows. I gave Clarence a couple of little Gilbertson PVC boxes, which house sparrows don't much like, and he put those up, too. Got bluebirds in 'em! Clarence was in his nineties by the time we met. I'm so glad I stopped to talk with him that day.

Clarence and Opal are gone now, and the bluebird boxes are gone, too. But the new owner of the little farm has saved, at least for now, one thing I prayed would survive the change of hands: Clarence's art.
I'm glad I got a chance to admire this in front of Clarence, to show him my paintings in the copy of Enjoying Bluebirds More that I gave him, so he'd know I wasn't just blowing smoke when I told him I loved them. Here's a closeup of the pinto's head…
This painting has the same quality, to my eye, that Inuit art displays--an elegant reduction of unnecessary detail, a fluidity and grace. It makes me want to paint a horse on our barn. But my horse would look much more like a real horse, and in that something precious and irreproducible would be lost. I simply know too much about how to paint a horse "properly" to do a nice barn painting. How I wish I could ask Clarence to come paint a horse on our garage, because I'd much rather look at his art.

Another surprise awaited around the corner: a frieze, depicting a pair of horses and a foal, now almost lost to the elements:
The square chips of paint gave it a mosaic-like quality, and looking at these paintings I saw something ancient, as ancient as cave art: the desire to capture beauty, however well or ill-equipped the artist. Clarence surely captured something in these paintings, and through his interpretation gave them another layer of beauty.

Inside the barn, another surprise awaited: some folk art by kittens.
The cat and her kittens, like Clarence and Opal, are doubtless long dead, but I am here on this February day, rinsed clean by the traces they have left.

The Breathing Barn

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lines, and a bit of captured sky, a perfect red oil drum for color. I wheel around and see the scene, perfect.

A walk needs a destination, I think, even if it loops around and comes back home. As I've shown in previous posts, a restlessness for new ground has set into my soul and I've ranged miles from home, borne only by shanks' mare and my lust for discovery. That quest was richly rewarded when Shila and I came upon an old barn, recently purchased and well-cared for by a new owner. He's put some new windows in it, and though I prefer the old, I have to admit that a barn is only as good as its roof and its windows. The view through the new little window was hypnotic:These Appalachian foothills, when scraped of their trees and put under cattle, have a sculpted beauty that I find incredibly poignant. Would I rather see them wooded? Yes and no. I remind myself that a much greater percentage of them are wooded now than ever before in our history except pre-colonial times, and that's why we're seeing bears and bobcats, coyotes and cougars where they haven't been before. That's why we're not seeing meadowlarks and bobolinks, Henslow's or grasshopper sparrows, upland sandpipers, harriers or short-eared owls. This land has a history of clearcutting and pasturing that makes my augenblick on the planet look entirely insignificant. All these thoughts and more, running out over that denuded but lovely landscape as I gaze out the little new window.Ah, the grace of an old gooseneck barn lamp. We have new imitations on our porches. I guess we're carrying the style into the 21st century.

It's the light coming through in lines that kills me, that makes me want to stop my life in its tracks and sit down and make a watercolor. I'm sure these interiors will show up in my paintings. When I start to berate myself for not packing along palette and paper, brushes and water and easel, I step back and remind myself that there is a time and place for everything. It may take years for me to get around to that barn interior painting, but it will happen. For now, I'm just grateful to have a camera that can save the moment for me. Breathe deeply and take in the sweet hay, hear the gutteral coo of a pigeon, the clatter of its wings as it dives into the sky through a broken trapezoid in the boards.Jagged bits of sky, light in lines
splashes and stripes of sunlight
Here, the sky caught in twin ruts
Puddle, or hole in the firmament?
A small window frames the surreal countryside
Stripped of trees and carved by cattle
Meandering tracks leading to its own dark heart.
Pigeons clatter out
and circle, wings whimpering, waiting for me to leave.
Cement poured on a summer day
holds dainty prints of kittens, long grown into cats
who themselves have moldered away.
The hay is still sweet where the sun paints it gold
and I would lie down in it
But for the rustle and peep of mice.

Still Walking with Chet

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The sky was beautiful this day, silvery and broken, a presage of more rotten weather to come.

I was glad to be out, though, and to find some scat that had probably been left by a raccoon. I say that because there are two different piles here, one fresh (on the left) and one older (grayer, on the right). I'm guessing it's 'coon scat because they like to poop in the same place a bunch of times. It could also be coyote scat. It was pretty big.

It's full of persimmon seeds. That's the other thing that makes me think it's probably 'coon scat. A coyote would have a hard time filling up on persimmons, because they'd have to scrounge whatever fruit fell to the ground, and they'd have to compete with opossums and raccoons for it. A 'coon, though, could climb the tree and pick the 'simmons, making for a nice big persimmon dump.
I could be all wrong about this, but I thought I'd let you in on the thought process. As you know, there's a lot to see and think about in feces. Well, maybe you don't know that. One should never assume one's readers stand around in the woods pondering poo as one is wont to do.

Chet does that too, which is part of why we get along so well. He also ponders voles. Here, he's listening hard for the scuttling sound of a vole in the meadow. You can tell he's onto something because he's pointing. See how his tail is sticking straight out?
He's still listening. This is a better look at that elegant tail of his. Sometimes I wonder if another sort of tail might complement his formal attire a bit better. And then decide he's perfect as he is.The stream was running down in the Chute with a happy sound. It seems hopeful that spring will eventually arrive.Southern Ohio usually enjoys some concrete signs of spring by late February. But this year, the daffodils are still just emerging, the water maples and Norway maples haven't even thought of budding, and the woodcocks are AWOL, along with the spring peepers. On bright mornings, though, the bluebirds are singing like mad. I heard a Carolina wren shouting JULIE JULIE JULIE! on the front stoop this morning, and the tufted titmice and cardinals are caroling. White-breasted nuthatches are yammering, and the red-bellied woodpeckers started quirring on the 23rd. It's coming, whether the weather agrees or not. Good thing I've got sweet Baker to keep me smiling.

Here, Mether, is the stick that you requested I return to you. It is large and unwieldy, but I, Chet Baker, am the dog for the job.

Walking with Chet

Monday, February 25, 2008


It's true. People who own dogs tend to walk more and are overall healthier and happier than people without them. We also smell better, have thicker hair, and make all our own clothing. Chet has been fixing me with stares lately, stares that say, "We haven't been out in WEEKS. I am losing my mind." Well, I am, too, but I'm smashed flat trying to get ready for two major trips, back-to-back, and the weather STINKS. Our woodcocks should have arrived February 17 and begun twittering and peenting in the meadow. Not a single sign of them, and I listen every evening. I hope they're all in South Carolina, biding their time. My poor daffodils are growing taller every day, perhaps party to some inside information about the next ten days that eludes Intellicast Weather. I think they're insane to poke their heads aboveground. I am heartily tired of winter.

On those rare, rare sunnyish days I HAVE to get out and walk, and Chet is the guy I want by my side. His exuberance buoys mine, and he always makes me laugh. I find myself saying, "You little goofball!" again and again. Chet lives to be called a little goofball.

I sat down to rest and found a twisted branch that I lobbed toward Baker as he snuffled around in the grass. There ensued a game of Fetch that Chet enjoyed because he likes a challenge--hauling a twisty old branch that kept rotating in his jaws and getting hung up on things. Good boy, Chetty.
My camera's AV (Ai Servo) setting is good for taking pictures of an object moving toward me, in this case my pet dog. It adjusts focus continually as he approaches. This is about as sophisticated a photography tip as you'll get from me, and I got it from Shila, who takes photography classes and has taught me most of what I know about my camera. You see, she reads the manual instead of sticking it away in a drawer overflowing with varranties and water heater assembly instructions and lost computer passwords and old check stubs.
My usual brand of photography tip goes likes this: If you want good pictures of your dog, lie down on the ground. Or: If you get mayonnaise on the lens, you might as well lick it off.

Chet and I found some cool stuff on this walk, including what I believe to be bobcat scat. I say that because cat scat tends to be broken into very short segments, as anyone who cleans Fluffy's litterbox can tell you. As you can see, this is not composed of digested Friskies. It's all fur, and there is a gorgeous little bit of shrew maxilla in there, too.
The whole thing actually looks like a skull to me, complete with eye socket, and teeth in approximately the right place. See, you can find beauty and verisimilitude in catdoody, if you look closely enough.

I took this acorn photo on December 21. It was just sending its root out. Now, the same acorn is firmly rooted in the ground. It hopes to be a chestnut oak someday, but it's growing in a gas line cut. I'm afraid its hopes will be dashed.
A plant with more realistic aspirations: fernlike moss.I'll finish the walk with Chet tomorrow. My life is in a Bassomatic blender at the moment and I have spent almost all day canning posts so you will not be without some trace of Zick for the next two weeks. I could just leave you hanging, but it doesn't seem fair somehow to either of us. Dependability is about 80% of successful blogging, in my opinion. Originality and quality are in there somewhere, too.

Signing off....

Old Faithful

Chet Buries Things

I wanted to do a post called Hiding the Salami but I didn't think it would be very ladylike, or a very accurate reflection of my incredibly dull life lately.

While I have your attention, gentle guest, another little quirk of my pet dog: He buries things. When you give him a treat he doesn't necessarily like all that much, but wants to keep, he trots around until he finds a good place to cover it up. This is much easier to do outside where there are leaves and grass and dirt. Inside, Chet's instinct to bury gets short-circuited.

He begged so hard for a slice of hard salami that I relented and gave him one. He spat it out immediately, not liking its oversized floppiness, I guess, and then thought about it and picked it up. Soon I heard the rhythmic snorfling sound of him burying a treat. And looked over to see him trying to nose a tablecloth over the salami.
Which might have been fine because Crazy Old Dog Ladies are used to finding salami under their tablecloths, actually happy to find it, because it means darling Poopsie has been up to his old tricks! but the tablecloth was about 12" away from the salami , and there was no way it was going to cover the treat. But that didn't stop Baker. Twenty or more times, he nosed the tablecloth toward the salami. It would extend, and then fall back into place. It was like watching a dragonfly try to lay its eggs on the shiny hood of a car, or a cardinal fighting its reflection in a window. Where is my sweet, intelligent doggie? What is this little instinct-driven automaton trying to accomplish here? Hello? Free will? Reason? Brain cells?
Finally, he was satisfied that he'd hidden it, and sat down to see if anyone would find the buried treasure as we bustled about in our morning routines.What salami? I do not see a piece of salami. I have buried it and no one but me, Chet Baker, knows where it is. I find it with my laser vision.

Well, I'm sorry, Chet Baker, but I do not happen to want a piece of greasy salami lying around on the kitchen floor, so I'm throwing it away.
Some Crazy Old Dog Lady you are. The next thing you will tell me is that I am not getting the 17 brothers and sisters I have been hoping for.

Attention-seeking Birds

Thursday, February 21, 2008


This morning dawned brilliantly clear, standing at 18 degrees. Last night, the kids and I danced in and out of our warm house every ten minutes or so, dragging ourselves off the couch to check on the total lunar eclipse. American Idol; lunar eclipse. From the ridiculous to the sublime.

First there was a nibble, then a bite, and finally at about 10:15 the entire disc of the moon was covered in shadow. The snow, once brilliant silver in the moonlight, took on a dull pinkish glow, and the night deepened like velvet. The moon was viscous and dull, swirled with burnt orange and violet. My photographs are hopeless. Some things must be left to the pro's, with their tripods and timed exposures. Resting a 300 mm. zoom telephoto lens on the top of one's daughter's shivering head produces less than admirable results. She is tall enough to serve as a tripod now, but I needed a bit more light than was offered by the slowly surrendering moon.

Liam was spooked, and he didn't want to be alone in the house with the moon doing things like that, so he put his coat on and trudged out with me and Phoebe to look, too. I have to think that eclipses were strange and scary to early people who, like Liam, couldn't have understood what was happening. Lunar eclipses make my heart race, but solar eclipses make me run around in circles, helplessly wondering. Have you ever seen birds fly to their roosts in a total solar eclipse? I have, twice, once when I was a child in Virginia and once here in Ohio, in early May of 1993. I love freaky nature, nature that's bigger and stronger and stranger than any of us.

Cold as it was, it was such a beautiful morning. I scuttled from window to window in the house, snapping pictures of the birds clustered around it. They come here for the food and the cover, and yes, for the sight of me inside, and for the hope that I'll emerge to stoke their feeders full again. Make no mistake, they are hoping to get my attention by sitting close to the windows, looking decorative. Ahem? Sunflower's getting low. I am beautiful, no? Feed me.

Hello, Zick? Juncos like suet dough. They like it a lot. Here's my feathery butt. Cute, yes? Feed me.There's been a big influx of goldfinches lately. They love the gray birches we have planted all around the house, and they work on the seed cones as they wait for a place at the feeders.
Junco tracks give silent testament to the wildlife value of gray birches. Think of birches as showering food all winter long, and you have them from a junco's eye view. No wonder juncos like snow. It makes their food so easy to see.

I have to confess that the junco tracks are a bit more concentrated around the front door, where I throw suet dough several times a day.These are the tracks of a single dawn, in the twilight hours before I get up, put on my rubber clogs, and go out to slop the juncoes. Yes, it's ridiculous. We have a lot of birds at Indigo Hill. And I love each and every one of them, down to their little pink toenails. Don't think they don't know it. In cold like this, in late February, when the daffodils should be blooming, as should the Norway maples, they make me feel needed.Have a wonderful weekend. Ours started yesterday, with a snow day. Just another four-day weekend for my barely-educated kids. When people ask, "You must home-school, right?" I answer, "Yes, in the winter, whether I like it or not."

I'm Expecting. It's a...Flower!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

OK. Nature. Nature. Enough on the navel-gazing, enough on the local rokkers. I'm a nature blogger. Right. Look around room, since it's 18 degrees and snowing again, and the kids are home for yet another snow day. Ah. Orchids: Exotic plants that do exotic things right on your windowsill.

February is a time of anticipation for orchidkeepers. February is when a lot of plants decide, through the stimulation of lengthening days and intensifying light, to put out bloom spikes. Nine of my plants are cooking up something wonderful as I write. Like most orchid collectors, I count quite a few seedlings and new starts among my 50-odd plants. I also have some old soldiers.

One of the oldest is a Dendrobium phalaenopsis var. alba (which simply means, auf Latin, a Dendrobium that has a bloom that looks like a Phalaenopsis bloom, and happens to be white). It lived for about three years at the Bird Watcher's Digest office, where it bloomed reliably and delighted everyone. And then it died. I took it home, snapped the living shoots or keikis off the top, rooted them, and put the corpse of the mother plant in sick bay for a year. You see, orchids rarely really die. They're incredibly long-lived plants, lasting for decades, even centuries. And they are tough, tough, tough.

The mother plant threw out some new shoots and even came into bloom on my birthday the following year. I gave it back to the BWD office, freshly repotted, growing, blooming. It hung on for about another year, and then it died. Again. I brought it home and put it in sick bay once more. It sulked for a year and a half. I don't blame it. I'd sulk if I'd died twice, too.
At this point it wasn't the most gorgeous plant, but I thought it deserved a third crack at life. I promised it that it had finally found a Forever Home. It thanked me by throwing out a ridiculous shoot atop an old cane (the one that starts level with the top of the Acoma pot) and blooming, all 2 1/2 ungainly feet of it. You gotta love a plant like that. The big lush leaves at the base belong to another plant. The old girl probably has only six leaves to her name.

I think it looks fabulous, flowering there next to my Acoma pots and my jaguar mask from Isla Mujeres, Mexico. That's the mask that came with its own wood-boring beetle larvae that made a strange grinding sound in the night. Science Chimp found frass on the dresser top, put two and two together, did not want to be the person who introduced the next Emerald Ash Borer to our fair country. So Science Chimp put the mask in the freezer for a week. No more grinding, no more frass.

Part of being a true orchid lover is appreciating the plants' resilience. Part of it is being willing to put up with topheavy, dopey-looking canes and straggly air roots; even finding a certain beauty in them. Part of it is respecting the plant and listening to it when it asks you for help. And most of it is not giving up on them.

When I visited my friend Cindy in New Hampshire in mid-October 2007, I fell in love with a miniature Dendrobium that was blooming wildly in her airy, well-lit studio. The fragrance got me, a perfume to die for. I asked if I might cut a shoot off the plant to root at home. I took the only shoot that wasn't blooming, and did a bad job of cutting it off. I carried it home in my backpack and dipped it in rooting powder and put it in moist medium. It shuddered and dropped its leaves. Not a good sign. I kept watering it. It withered and shriveled. And then it put out a bloom spike. No. This little four-inch-long withered cane, severed from the mother plant four months ago, with no roots or leaves, blooming?

Yes, and not only is it blooming, but it's putting out the same heavenly perfume I smelled last October. It's drawing all the resources for this superbotanical feat from its shriveled little stem. I do not deserve this plant. You see, it thinks it's dying, and so it's trying to throw some seeds out into the world before that happens. It may well be dying, but I'm not going to give up on it until it turns brown and snaps like a twig. I owe it that much.

Shila and I go to an orchid show at the Franklin Park Conservatory every spring. Well, we're planning NOT to go this spring, because we're completely out of room in our respective houses, and we cannot look at a beautiful orchid and not buy it. It's a real problem. It's like going to the pound and looking into a puppy's eyes and saying, "Nope, sorry, I'm not in the market for a dog." The answer, if you don't want a dog, is to stay the heck away from the pound, right? Right. So we're not going this year. Right. So that's settled.
Not going...But LAST year I bought a little seedling of an orchid called Psychopsis Mendenhall "Hildos." I was buying a bunch of other plants in full bloom from a really cool couple from Broadview Heights near Cleveland who call themselves Windswept in Time Orchids. Kimberley leaned over and said, "Psst. I have a couple of Psychopsis seedlings here if you're interested." Having just seen one taking all kinds of blue ribbons for beauty and weirdness in the show in the next hall, my antennae went up. "It doesn't look like much, and it may take a few years for it to bloom, but you will not be sorry."

$25.00 for two little leaves. Hmmm. I looked at the red marbling on the leaves, tough as split steerhide. And bought the plant. The picture above is how it looks now. Last summer, it threw out the two bigger leaves.

The other day I was washing my plants and trays. Several times a year, I put them all under a lukewarm shower, wash their leaves, check for bug infestations, spray them with pyrethrins, and scrub the humidity trays (which get disgustingly eccchy with this green gloopy algae that smells like, of all things, patchouli). Feh! As you might imagine, with 50 orchids and more than a dozen humidity trays, this is the job of an entire Saturday morning. As I was washing my Psychopsis --no jokes, please--I found THIS:Which can only lead to THIS:
a crazy little Spanish flamenco dancing lobster. At least that's what it looks like to me. Upon looking closer, I expect to see THIS:
and you will be the first to know when I do. Aggggh! Much hooting and happy dancing, excited phone call to Shila, who also bought a Psychopsis that day. I just spoke to the grower, who told me that, although a Psychopsis plant will put out only one bloom at a time, the SAME SPIKE may throw flowers consecutively for six or seven years. At the same time, other parts of the plant will throw out more flower spikes, so the reward just gets better the longer you tend the plant. It's like finding out you're pregnant and you're going to have a beautiful FLOWER!!

Thanks to Ed Merkle for these terrific photos, cribbed from his web site.

The Majesty of Rock

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Well. Well, well, well. If my life has had a theme in the last couple of months, it would be turning dross into gold. There are several examples, and I'm saving them for you, storing them up, because they're just so cool. Certainly, what happened last weekend qualifies. From one only mildly snarky review-- more a damnation by faint praise, actually-- there comes an outpouring of love that would bring Sally Field to her knees. I feel so thoroughly appreciated, so stuffed with love, that I may have to enter rehab. Thank you. I promise to crease and fold my Leonine ego back into its aging, fleshy envelope for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of aging, fleshy envelopes (and who doesn't?) I want to share something with you that fills me with profound joy. It is a front page story on the "Life" section of our local newspaper, The Marietta Times. It's a story about local online YouTube stars.

Disclaimer: As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up. The Marietta Times does that for me.

First is a gentleman, now 42, who was captured on videotape winning a lip-sync contest in 1986. He expertly mouthed the words to Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell," all the while keeping an Elvisoid sneer on his lips. Doing so, he became the Southeast Champion Lip-Syncer. But he failed (by 1% of the call-in votes) to become the National Lip-Syncing Champion. But all is not lost, because the video of his performance is now available on YouTube. It's so easy to forget, watching this electrifying video, that Derek is not singing. Or playing the guitar he picks up for his "solo." That he is not actually the real Billy Idol, his very own self. If you are able to watch the whole video, he doffs his leather bolero toward the end.Bet you won't have much trouble figuring out which picture is from 1986. Derek is now the owner of a public-relations company in Charlotte, NC. He will live forever as the Southeast Champion Lip-Syncer on YouTube, and in my heart. Hotness, thou art Derek in 1986. This constitutes breaking news in Marietta, Ohio.

What really arrested me about this article, though, was the photo of two area rockers that graced the top of the page. They're from Parkersburg, West Virginia, right across the Ohio River from us. For your viewing pleasure, I have located this video performance of their original song, "Growin' Old," on YouTube. I know that I'm really pushing the boundaries of a nature blog reader here, but at about 1:30 in this video, there is a moment when the bass player (the large guy) lays his head tenderly on the shoulder of the lead singer (the little dude who looks like a lady) and keeps it there, a cigarette smoldering between Big Guy's lips the whole while. Bill's take on that is that Big Guy wants to make sure he's in the video. I have to watch this video a couple of times a day because I bark like a seal every time he does that. Let's have a closer look at that picture. They are rockin' on with their bad selves.
Notice the cutline. It says, "Submitted Photo." So that means that the band, who shall remain nameless in this post (since their loyal fans are doubtless legion) gave the Times this photo, as representative of their undeniable majesty.

In sharing this small-town moment with you, I am staying true to my BlogArtist's Statement, to make room in my life for the things that bring me joy. These things include radiant sunsets, fossils in streambeds, flights of snow geese and the resonant purr of cranes. They also include The Marietta Times, white socks, old sneakers, and the sheer power and absolute Majesty of Rock.

Baker's Got a Brand New Bag

Monday, February 18, 2008


You know how, when you've had a dog or cat for a few years, they have these things that they do? The kind of things that, when you have guests over, you realize are just flat-out strange, and you hear yourself saying things like, "When Chet hears me tearing something, he thinks it's for him?" and then you hand your dog a Wheaties box that you were about to put in the burn bin, and he grabs it and trots into the living room and shreds it into itty bitty pieces, and your guest thinks, "What the hell is this woman doing with this dog? Why would anyone want to pick up 565 shards of a cardboard box spread all over the living room carpet?" and then maybe your guest is bold enough to ask, "Why do you do that?" and you find yourself thinking, "Why am I doing this?" and the answer you should give your nosy guest is: "I know. I am insane. I am seeking therapy. But until then, I let my dog strew bits of cardboard all over my living room rug. It doesn't make sense, does it? (giggle)...."But what comes out of your mouth is simply, "Because Chet Baker likes to tear up boxes!" and that is when you know you are rapidly headed for Crazy Old Dog Lady status. At that point you might as well get about 17 more Boston terriers and let them poop wherever they like and just spread newspapers all over your floors about six layers deep instead of carpet and you should take your guest by the arm and tell her the idiosyncrasies of each of your 18 Boston terriers until her eyes roll back in her head and she backs slowly out the door, then turns and runs.I have processed this Wheaties box for you. It is no longer a danger to you. My fondest wish is that you would give me a full one someday. It would not be that much messier.

Does anyone read their Edward Jones prospectus when it comes in the mail? You do? Woo. I don't. I hand it to my dog, lest any useful financial information impinge on the endless merry-go-round of largely useless biological trivia whirling in my head.

So now it's not just cereal and cracker boxes but junk mail that gets shredded. Since this had staples I stood over him and eventually took it away before he got that far. He probably got more out of it than I would if I tried to read it. In fact, I'm putting Chet Baker in charge of my investments.

So, anyone got a Boston terrier for me? I need a couple of dozen more, because at this point my house is still marginally livable.

I am joking, of course. Please, do not send me Boston terriers. One is more than enough.

Why Blog? Here's Why.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lawn ornaments, Zick style. You know, skulls, scattered bones, busted watering cans. Everything's better with BlueBirdies on it. I'm pretty sure my reader demographic knows the Blue Bonnet Margarine jingle. I still sing it on the rare occasions that I buy margarine. And I buy Blue Bonnet, because everything's better...

It's a THING, as John Acorn likes to say. I'm still sitting back, slack-jawed, at the response. Breaking 60 comments on one post? Can't be happening here. That's for the Big Fish, the hyper-connected bloggers with dendrites snaking into every corner of the Net. Or so I thought. Being honest about the self-indulgent and frankly egotistical side of my blogging smoked out a lot of people who wanted to chime in. Mostly, you were being kind, and trying to make me feel better about what boils down to a completely insignificant (and probably imagined) slight. But many of you were intrigued, I think, that I'd drop my virtual pants and admit that I'm a craven feedback hog at heart. And what about you? If we're honest about it, why else would we post our thoughts and pictures? Why not just write it all in a locked journal and throw away the key? Certainly, hearing feedback from appreciative people isn't my entire motivation for blogging, but it's a powerful one.

Why write, if you aren't trying to please your readers by doing so? I don't care if you're writing gorgeous poetry or hateful spew---you can't tell me you don't care what people think of it. If you make the effort to post it, you've demonstrated that you care. By posting it, you're hoping to reach a reading audience; otherwise, you wouldn't put it out there. And I'd submit that you're hoping that audience likes it. Thoreau, for all his indifference to social convention, hoped somebody would treasure the scribbled product of his hermetic lock-in at Walden Pond. Audubon gloried in painting birds beautifully, and was crushed when critics attacked the animated poses of his birds. Sid Vicious peered out through slitted eyes, gauging the reaction to his snarls in the mosh pit. Though I know little of him personally, I can assure you that Rush Limbaugh hopes his audience likes the particular brand of llama-gob he belches up.

Aside from blatant ego-stoking, I use blogging as an illustrated, archived record of my life that, as it grows, is becoming, if I may say so, flippin' OSSUM to look back on. Diving into the archive instantly transports me back to forgotten events and feelings, both good and heartbreaking. I used to keep a document, running to hundreds of pages, called "Nature Notes." Every day, I'd update it with arrival and departure dates of migrating birds, who's singing, what wildflowers are in bloom, the first toad trill of spring, that kind of thing. I knew I'd experience these astounding things and just as quickly forget they ever happened if I didn't write them down.

When I started blogging, I gave up my Nature Notes. Every time I mourn its demise, I slap myself and say, "Zick. You are archiving the most bodacious nature notebook anybody ever saw!" I've substituted the jottings of a few minutes a day with over an hour of careful journaling, complete with a photographic archive. Would I ever organize my thoughts and photos like this if I didn't have an audience I was trying to please? I'll answer that with another question. Will I ever take the time to fill those baby scrapbooks in the closet with birth announcements, photos, locks of first-haircut hair, and taped-on teeth? Snowball's chance. Maybe if somebody kneecaps me. The time to do that has come and gone.

I have you to thank for getting me to clean up my journaling act, to learn to work with a decent camera, to stretch my brain and heart to produce something I'm proud of, five days a week, two years running. I can't think of anything else I've done that faithfully, except eat.
It takes soft mud to give you deer dewclaws.

Writers have to write. It's how they process the world, chew it into chunks they can swallow and digest. If writers cease to write, are they still writers? Blogging, though it's often disparaged as hasty and careless jotting, just another way we "dumb ourselves down," needn't be any of that. A blog is as good as you decide to make it.

I use blogging as a proving ground for essays and ideas, as a cooker for themes in my writing. The intense reader response to a post about the hunting of sandhill cranes spawned two chapters in the book I'm writing--essays I have been trying to squeeze out for almost a decade, essays I never thought I could put into words, much less a book. Suddenly, they were necessary--not pretty or lyrical, but essential. It took a community of nature lovers and, interestingly enough, hunters to show me how to write them. Everyone who reads this blog loves birds, deer, and bunnies, but not quite in the same way. I'm glad for that, too.Some of you are thinking, How beautiful! Some are thinking, Perfect lungshot! You're all welcome here. Please check your guns at the door.

Blogging makes me live larger. Blogging makes me want to experience new things for more than just a momentary thrill. Just as seeing a new bird is more fun with a friend by your side, life is more fun to experience when you go at it with the intention of interpreting it, presenting it to friends. I'm a whole lot more likely to say yes to any diversion, any curious experience, than I was before I started blogging.

If you want to have an interesting blog, it helps to lead an interesting--and interested-- life. Asking people questions about themselves flings doors open to a big, bright and insanely fascinating world. How did Charles Kurault keep coming up with his gentle, moving stories about obscure but remarkable people? How does Ira Glass keep producing This American Life, a show so riveting that, should my kids interrupt while I'm listening, makes me wave my hands around in the air, pleading for silence? Reporters like Kurault and Glass ask people questions about themselves, and the rest follows. In blogging, I pretend I'm working for a small magazine that gives me complete creative freedom, sending me on any assignment I wish. Small detail: Cash flow's not so good. I haven't seen a paycheck in two and a half years. I haven't quite figured out how to approach the boss, but I'm pretty sure she likes my work.

So it's a two-way street, and I get just as much as I give, in the warm glow of your approval and the sparks of your ideas. I have no idea where this train is headed, but I'm hanging on, grinning like a raggedy hobo, as the scenery whips by. Thank you for the virtual cards and letters, the bunches and bunches of roses you have laid here at my door.
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