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A Day in the Life

Friday, September 14, 2018

 I'll be honest: I'm coming down off the I have the whole house to myself! cloud and tiptoeing along the ditch of Is that all there is? I knew the shine would wear off it pretty quickly.

Make no mistake: there's plenty to keep me busy here, with a book deadline looming and me working at capacity. It feels really good to have my watercolor painting chops honed and oiled. But when you've been used to other living souls around to feed, clothe and care for, to share with and laugh with, it can feel weird to go all day without talking to anyone in person. So you keep yourself busy.

I decided I'd better get my sneakers back on the road. I ran down to check on the neighbors' place.
 On the way, there was the most beautiful mackerel sky. I wish I knew how the clouds form and line up like that. I'm just glad they do. I feel like a bug under a lace doily. It's all so huge and beautiful and incomprehensible.

I turned off the road and down a dirt path. I stopped and rested in the shade of a bulldozer. The smell of oil and diesel is comforting, because it reminds me of my dad. He was always messing around with things that used oil and diesel. I figure if he's going to accompany me, it'd pay me to hang around machinery that he's interested in inspecting. DOD was all about machinery.

I walked to the rise, where I could see the neighbors' castle taking its final form. I've been walking in and watching it, with their blessing, for about three years.  Phoebe and I even walked around inside it not long ago, and it's really, really cool. It's so amazing to see it turn from big skids and piles of block into a real castle. And it's interesting to live near people who have a dream, however unusual, and are willing to put all that money and work into it.

It occurred to me that there aren't all that many people in this part of Appalachia who could or would follow a dream like that.  So that's something special, to watch their dream take shape. I like people with dreams.

Also special to me: The morning glories are finally opening. I didn't have to wait quite as long this year as two years ago, when they were still in tight, tiny bud on October 12! Still, it feels like forever. I planted the durn things in the greenhouse in April! Fenced and barricaded them against rabbits and chipmunks. Only two of the six made it even so. The chipmunks climbed up and into the 2' cylinders of chicken wire to bite them off. The rabbits nipped off any stems that dared grow outside the cylinders. It's been a thing.

But being able to drown in that heavenly blue makes the battle worthwhile. Last year I grew "Flying Saucers," these ridiculous tie-dyed white and blue things that on the seed packet sound great. This was as good as it got. And it's pretty good, but they weren't all that nice by any means.

 The vast majority of their blossoms were this sickly bluish-white, and though they were nice against a pearly sky, I hopped off the Flying Saucer train.

 Nothing beats this plant. I'll be faithful from here on out, Clark's Heavenly Blue.

Let's face it. I'm a color junkie. Always have been, always will be. It's just getting moreso. Here are my impatiens stairs. You can't really walk up them any more. I don't care. I like the cascade of color flowing like spilled paint down the old sandstone blocks. From the time we were first laying the stones, I knew they would be no more than a backdrop for flowers. I used to grow sun-loving succulents like portulaca, purslane and ice plant here, but the Japanese maple that stands guard nearby had other ideas. Slowly its canopy overspread the steps, and I was emboldened to try shade-loving annual impatiens. It turned out to be just the thing. And the rabbits didn't touch them, go figure! I'll do it again! And they've seeded themselves nicely. Doubt the seeds will make it through the winter, so I'll start fresh in spring.

 As I work away in the studio, painting top-secret blue jays and wishing I could share them with you, my phone chirps and bloops, telling me when a message from the kids is coming through. I am still in a state of suspended disbelief that I can SEE them. Get photos from them. Sometimes talk to them, and SEE them talking. It's a Jetson's world. I'll never get blase about that. I think of my weekly telephone call to my parents when I was in college and just shake my head.

It's one thing to see Liam in his dorm room three hours away in Morgantown, but quite another to see Phoebe, sweatin' to the oldies on La Gomera in the Canary Islands! How can this be?

She's on a Fulbright fellowship, and she'll be a teaching assistant in an elementary school, where her Spanish is going to reach full fluency. I can hardly believe it, and I can't wait to see pictures of her school, her co-workers and students.

La pinche calima is a Saharan dust storm! Ack!
Meanwhile, Liam shares his wry observations from WVU, where he's taking four art courses at once. He's drawing from life! I just keep shaking my head. They were both here all summer, and now they're off and doing amazing things, and I get to watch.

Both my fledglings have a good command of the language. Liam in particular has a really interesting vocabulary, and an always unexpected choice of words. I love to read their writing. 

As part of the Fulbright fellowship, awardees are encouraged to keep a blog. As a result, Phoebe is blogging, and I can't imagine anything that could delight this old Blogosaurus Rex any more than to see my girl spread her writing and photography wings for all to take in. Maybe it's seeing Liam's art on Instagram ( @lht_artwork). That delights me, too.

Phoebe's already got several posts up at 

 and preliminary results indicate that the child can tell a story. I knew that already, but it ought to be a pleasant surprise to those of you who have been reading this blog for years. Check her out. I'd recommend reading from the first post!

I find it all pretty incredible. And it's happened so fast. One minute I'm asking them what they'd like for breakfast, and the next he's in a dorm three hours away and she's halfway around the world. And I'm reading her blog. 

Today I got buried in my work, preparing for a talk tomorrow. I ripped my talk apart and hammered it back together again with a bunch of new parts. I loaded the car with all my merchandise. And only when that was all done did I turn back to composing painting number 11 of 19 for Saving Jemima. 

And when I couldn't work any longer I got up to look out the south window of the studio. I could see just a bit of the sky, and I could see there was something serious going on out there.

Maximilian sunflower in the prairie patch

Better, I think, with goldenrod. It lets the clouds be their magnificent selves.

While I'd been working and thinking and absorbed, this incredible cloud parade had been filing silently past, unannounced and unbidden.

I walked out to the meadow and literally fell to my knees, looking for the right angle from which to record it. They were so huge and beautiful and growing, growing, growing, ever upward, their cauliflowery heads expanding, reaching higher and higher into the stratosphere.

It all reminded me of what has happened with my kids. While I was busy, they blew up into these magnificent proto-adults. And then they marched off to the south, like these clouds are doing. I can't stop them; I wouldn't even try. I just have to watch them go. 


Melancholy; bittersweet. You were on my mind when I wrote my blogpost this morning....

I’m new to your blog, my friend Michelle from Boulderneigh sent me your way. My youngest is heading off to Ethiopia in January, as a Peace Corp Volunteer. I so proud of her, somewhat envious as my travel has been limited and scared. I started following your daughter’s blog as well. Love your pictures. Thanks for sharing.

As a longtime reader who has been a bit worried about how things might go once both fledglings were out of the nest this fall, thanks for the reassurance. I'll check out Phoebe's blog; I'm sure the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree in that respect. All the best to you all.

I've already dropped in on Phoebe's blog and it's true... she can tell a tale... a necessary skill for a teacher. I'll be back. Haven't done any Liam lurking ... yet, but his artwork that you have shared here is so impressive. No slacking (not that you were!) on that Jay book, ... Mom's 90 and waiting :)
If you need a Bear boost he's got a secret at PF.

I just read your last two posts. After having describing Willie the Boston terrier, I hope you indulge in getting another dog - especially now that the fledglings have flown the coop. A dog would be a good companion for exploring moldering abandoned farmsteads, running, painting... well pretty much all of life’s activities.

Deara Julie, My 91 year old mama (and I) are eagerly awaiting a signed Jay book too! Thanks for sharing about Phoebe's blog. I'm a reader now and she does have the gift of descriptive language and storytelling that I'm sure was encouraged by you and Bill and maybe even other family members at Birdwatcher's Digest. Based on what she has shared, I'm confident her students are going to find her kind-hearted, endearing, and inspiring. Kim in PA

Julie, I totally get this. While I still terribly miss my 26 yr old, flight attendant daughter who jets around the world, I'm finally accepting that she is where she is supposed to be, doing what she loves to do. Yes, the house is quiet. And yes the memories of her childhood flood my brain. And yes I wish I could see the world with her in person, but we stay in touch daily. I think I know how my eighty five years young mother still feels, and why I love to talk to her daily as well. As your Phoebe continues to soar, she will carry you along with her and you will love the journey.

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