The Muse

Apples.jpg

Welcome to the New Year of Apples, Art, and Spirit!

After two years of weekly posting, I am going to change it up a bit. Posts will still arrive on Sunday morning, but I might miss a few. When I am not writing the blog, I will be finishing a memoir about moving to Old Frog Pond Farm — how apples came to take over so much of my life, finding a spiritual path — and lots of art.

Meanwhile, the renovation of my studio has taken longer than anticipated. With no shop space, I’ve gone back to watercolor — a medium I find challenging and delicious. And what do I find I am drawn to paint? Apples, of course! I’ve been taking a class with Sandy Wilensky in Maynard. Sandy has us make a blind contour drawing before we start painting. Contour means following the outline of the object; blind means looking only at the object we are drawing, not at the paper. The drawings tend to be refreshingly off, the lines don’t necessarily connect, but the intense concentration of really seeing makes for a drawing with lines that are alive. It’s not about drawing our idea of what an object looks like, but drawing what the eye really sees. It’s fun and you have to trust the process. I highly recommend it, especially if, like me, you don’t feel confident about drawing.

 Here I’m experimenting with color, shape, and transparency. 

Here I’m experimenting with color, shape, and transparency. 

 I’m also testing the medium and using the watercolor paint as if it was acrylic.

I’m also testing the medium and using the watercolor paint as if it was acrylic.

Sandy’s classes are super supportive. She creates an environment where her students feel at ease. She slides in some technical information, but the focus is on finding your own expression and trusting it.

I'm also taking a workshop with Martha Wakefield, one of my favorite painters from Wild Apples days, the journal I published and edited with friends Susan Edwards Richmond, Sophie Wadsworth, and Kathryn Liebowitz. This series of Martha’s classes are all about color  —  we explore its technical properties — hues, tints, shades, saturation, for example.  Martha gave us homework after the first session to use only one color with black and white, and paint a simple still life. I’m so undisciplined when I paint it is helpful to have these restrictions.

 Here’s my apple using only three colors:  M. Graham’s  Green Gold, Chinese White, and Mars Black. 

Here’s my apple using only three colors: M. Graham’s Green Gold, Chinese White, and Mars Black. 

Soon I will be back in my studio. It’s been lovely to explore color before I return to wood and metal. If you desire to move in a new direction with your art, or open the faucet to new creative energy in the New Year, I recommend trying a class or workshop in a new medium. Be a complete beginner, it’s humbling and freeing. And give yourself lots of space. A Zen master, Suzuki Roshi, taught: "To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him.” Give yourself lots of space, don’t limit the possibilities; there is no right or wrong, no watcher judging, only your own mind putting up fences.

Here's to freeing your muse in the New Year!

A Dream for the New Year

I went to sleep not having written a blog and this dream woke me . . .

I was in a room and it was time. My mind was clear and present. I agreed to have the injection that would end my life. But when a tall man with a black suit and white shirt arrived with a syringe ready to plunge the needle through my skin, I freaked. “No! No, no!” I shouted as I pulled away. He was determined and latched on, but I was thrashing wildly and ripped free of his grip. I would not give in easily, I wanted to live.

With every particle of my being, I fought back. Then I said, “Please, if I am to die now, I must tell my Zen teacher and community.” He agreed to let me go make a phone call if afterwards I would return for the needle.

I ran out of the room, ran as far and as fast I could. I was on the lam. Up and over bridges, staircases, down alleys, and across lonely boulevards. In an area with small shops I saw some boxes of biscuits and thought of snatching one, but resisted.

Then I saw my daughter. I called, “Ariel!” and again, “Ariel, come with me, please!”

She came over, I grabbed her hand, and we sprinted until we arrived on a grassy plateau. I was about to tell her what was happening when the tall man with the black suit and white shirt arrived waving the syringe. He grabbed my arm and said, “You will not escape me, now!” He jerked my right hand towards his body to plunge the needle into my wrist. He injected the fluid with great glee and strode away. But I had seen the needle catch on my sweater’s knitted cuff, the poison had not entered my body.

I had outsmarted death. I didn’t know how many more times I would be able to avoid him, but I secretly hoped for nine lives like a cat — and that when the ninth time came — I would be ready. I want no regrets, I want to go with grace.

You might wonder why such a strong dream at this turning of the year. A few days ago, I had breakfast with a friend who lost her partner to a re-occurrence of breast cancer. I have a friend struggling with depression, another paralyzed by the political turmoil in the world, and another beside herself with grief because of the destruction of the natural world. Many of us carry serious fear, and even terror.

Confucius told his followers, 'Bring peace to the old, have trust in your friends, and cherish the young.' And he lived during turbulent times. The message I received in my dream is to live life to the fullest. I am grateful for my Zen Mountain Monastery community who helped me survive in my dream as they have through difficult times. I am grateful for my daughter who brought her angelic presence to the dream as she so often does in daily life.  

 Ariel and I on a Hike, Selfie, 2016

Ariel and I on a Hike, Selfie, 2016

Dreams have a lot to offer us. I tried to go deeper into sensing this ‘being alive’. I felt each thing awake — the singular blade of grass, the snowflake, the pink salmon. We shape the world with what we do, what we see, and what we think. Mind is what I cherish because it connects us all — each person born and unborn — each tree and star. And just maybe, the poison to my body had no effect because it will never have power over mind.

I wish you happiness and well-being in the coming year!

May you receive and offer gifts of kindness, generosity, and creativity.  

Canyonlands Many Hands.jpg

Many Hands Blessing Earth

Happy New Year 2018

 

 

A New Year for Apples

Many of you who have been following my weekly blog know that this fall I became quite discouraged about farming and the orchard and so much that I’ve poured myself into over the last ten years. In large part, my frustration was due to a fungal pathogen, Venturia inaequalis, better known as scab. But thanks to a persuasive mentor and the researchers at PRI, I’m finding the door is opening and there is light on the other side.

PRI refers not to Public Radio International, but to Purdie, Rutgers, and Illinois Universities, the name of the cooperative disease resistant apple breeding program that has patented apples such as Scarlett O'Hara, Sundance, Pixie Crunch, and CrimsonCrisp — all apples bred to be crunchy, attractive, tasty and most importantly, resistant to apple scab.

When I started growing apples in 2005, my mentor Denis Wagner’s first concern was what we were going to do about apple scab, one of the worst problems for organic orchardists in New England. Denis advised I spray micronized sulfur, a common material used in agriculture to fight fungal infections. It is a mined material and permitted under organic regulations. The Sumerians used sulfur 4,500 years ago to combat disease in their crops.

The scab fungus overwinters in the orchard floor. In the spring, after a warm, rainy period —  millions of spores float upwards into the tree like dust motes in sunlight. Landing on warm and wet, fresh green leaves, the scab shows up as innocuous-looking dark spots on the leaves. But gradually, these black cloudy patches grow darker and spread over the leaf surface. Unchecked, the fungus becomes rampant and jumps from leaf to fruit.

apple scab.jpg

The apples develop brown crusty scabs and eventually crack. Sulfur applied to the leaves changes the pH and makes them an inhospitable host. The problem is getting spray onto every leaf surface — next to impossible — and renewing the coverage after it rains. An organic orchardist might need to spray sulfur fifteen times or more.

Over next few years, I learned through my holistic apple grower’s network how to calculate the spore release and not spray at every threat of precipitation. I would spray only when there was a large percentage of inoculant. I found I could keep the virus in check, unless we have a bad year – meaning a very wet spring. Then it becomes impossible to control. Ten years ago was a ghastly season. The scab was so ugly on the Macintosh trees that I decided to take down every Mac that wasn’t in the first three rows. My thinking was that I could confine these scab-susceptible trees and control it better. Macintosh trees are notorious scab magnets.

This year was again a banner year for scab. We lost half our fruit. Scab jumped from the Macintosh to the Golden Delicious, and then to the Blushing Golden, varieties that are normally scab resistant. With the Macs in the front three rows of the orchard, it was not a welcoming site for those entering the orchard: for people coming to pick apples for the first time, it was alarming.

I consulted with Denis again. “Remove them,” he said. “The trees are old and very densely planted.”  I hemmed and hawed. I didn’t want to take down any trees. But I knew that even when I sprayed I got only about 50% coverage because of the tree size and density. I told Denis I would consider removing them and began my Macintosh cogitation.

What to do? Take down thirty-five beautiful trees? Take down only one row to start? I spoke with another apple grower and he suggested leaving a few Macs – because they make lovely early season cider.  ‘Ah, what a good idea,’ I thought. I mentioned this to Denis. 

            “Linda,” he said. “You made the decision to get rid of them, just get rid of them.”

 First Row of Macintosh Trees

First Row of Macintosh Trees

A phone call came in.

            “Don't hang up!” a gentleman said. “This isn’t a solicitation. I’m interested in organic apple wood.”

I would have hung up, but at that moment I was stewing in apple wood decisions. It would take considerable labor to cut down thirty-five full size trees, pile the branches, burn them, and stack the burnable logs. 

            “We’re looking for some organic apple wood to make charcoal,” the man said. “We think we can sell it to high end organic restaurants.”

He had my attention. He was in Arizona, but coming to New England and wanted to visit the farm, meet me, and see the trees. I explained that this year, I actually had a few large trees that I was planning to take down. We agreed to meet.

Len Kronman visited along with his business partner, Dave Santos. I don’t know how they are related, but Dave is younger and Len is older. Dave seems to be the on the ground man and Len is perhaps a financial backer. While we were walking through the orchard I told Len about my attempt at creating a wild orchard pointing out Valerian and Jerusalem artichokes growing between the trees.

            “My daughter-in-law had just published a book on wildflowers. Would you like a copy?” he asked.
            “Oh yes,” I replied.
            “Please send her a copy,” he directed Dave.

Len is also an art collector; he specializes in Native American art. But as he said a few times, he just loves to collect. We took a tour of sculpture on the farm, and he chose a piece of mine, a small figure sitting on a tall rock. All this from organic apple wood . . .

Dave and I chose a date when he would come with a few men, a chipper, and a truck. Then he called back, apologetically.

            “Would it be all right if we chipped and left the branches less than 2” in diameter? It will be too small for charcoal,” he explained. “If we take it away we will need to bring two trucks – one for the charcoal making wood and the other for the twig stuff.” 

Chipped wood from the smaller branches is called ramial wood chips. They have more nutrients than older wood. They’re hard to come by unless you have your own chipper.  We always burn our prunings in a huge bonfire and then spread the ashes around the trees.

 Bonfire of Apple Prunings

Bonfire of Apple Prunings

            ‘Nutrients for the trees,’ I thought. “I would love to have them!”

            Dave and his crew won’t be here until after Christmas, but I am feeling better about removing the Macintosh trees. I’ve already ordered replacements — two early season, scab resistant varieties from the PRI breeding program. In the front row will be Pristine, a hardy yellow apple, with crunch and sweetness, that I already grow. And for the second row, Redfree, another early season apple with skin color 90% red wash over yellow. The tree salesman also convinced me to put in an order for the new Evercrisp apple. He said, “You might have to wait a year or so, but you’ll love it!”  I’m looking forward to the ripening of the new year filled with things not yet known, not yet tasted, not yet seen. I hope you are, too! All best for the Holdiays!

 

 

 

Intuition

When my husband, Blase, and I were in Italy a month ago, we went to the Fortuny Palazzo in Venice to see the exhibit, Intuition – five floors of paintings, sculpture, and objects reflecting the theme. The exhibit began in a darkened room. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting, Versus Medici, 1982, hung on one end wall. Occupying his monumental canvas was a figure painted with exuberant colors, the body compressed as if the painter had to bend the limbs to fit all of it into the frame. Having just been to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, it reminded me of the trio of great Pre-Renaissance Madonna paintings by Cimabue, Duccio, and Giotto. However, instead of angels, alchemical symbols and his own unique graffiti glyphs surrounded Basquiat’s figure.

Like a priest facing their congregation, Basquiat's figure, one arm raised, gazed over the room. In this crypt-like space were raised beds of dark, rich earth. Planted in the soil were Neolithic sculptures — male and female figures found in Northern Italy and Southern France. These sculptures, standing four to five feet high, were astonishing in their purity and simplicity.

 'Dame de Saint-Sernin', Statue-Menhir of a Female Figure, Saint-Sernin,Aveyron, Southern France, Late 4th-3rd millennium BC, Photo:LH

'Dame de Saint-Sernin', Statue-Menhir of a Female Figure, Saint-Sernin,Aveyron, Southern France, Late 4th-3rd millennium BC, Photo:LH

We didn’t want to leave the room, but what followed was equally inspiring. Juxtapositions of Anish Kapoor, Man Ray, Marina Abramovic, Odilon Redon, Ana Mendieta, Giacometti, and always in the background, informing the mystery of great art, an infusion of intuition.

Where does art come from? How do we know its truth? How can centuries of time separate two objects and yet we recognize that two similar psyches conceived them? The answers lie in our intuition.

Today, we are programmed by a glut of advertising. There is very little time in a day when the inputs of the contemporary world don’t influence us. As artists, and I use this word in its broadest context, as creative beings, it takes time away from these stimuli to hear the inner voice of intuition. And then, it’s not enough to hear a whisper. We need to remain with it, to be at the listen, if we are to have this ancient wisdom manifest in our lives.

Recently I heard a Zen teacher, Hojin Kimmel Sensei, give a talk in which she mentioned three words that have helped on her spiritual path — perseverance, wonder, and kindness. Actually “being kindness,” she explained, “not loving-kindness.” When I heard her speak these words, I knew they would also hold meaning for me. I also realized that they were good tools for accessing one’s intuition.

We need to persevere: we must be strong and dedicated in our intention. We need wonder — curiosity and openness. We can’t think we already know the answer. It is important to open our hearts to the wonder that exists at each moment. And we need kindness: in this clashing world of battering egos, we can find softness and solace when we act kindly toward everything we encounter — the earth, other beings, and ourselves.

These three directives are like the marble sculptor having a hammer, chisel, and polishing tool. I now, in turn, offer them to you. May they help you get through the density of the holiday season! And may intuition be your friend as you travel from the darkness into the light — whether she arrives in the style of a Renaissance Madonna, a Basquiat painting, or books made of bread, sculpted by the Italian artist, Maria Lai (1919-2013).

 Enciclopedia Pane / Bread in 17 parts, Collection Archivio Maria Lai, Photo:LH

Enciclopedia Pane / Bread in 17 parts, Collection Archivio Maria Lai, Photo:LH