Saturday, December 04, 2010

Garden Writing

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A 3-4 mph wind comes and goes here on the mountain at mid day. The snow has slowed for a few minutes, enough so now that small birds are able to get to the feeders for a late breakfast buffet. There is a quiet sanity about today that is so respectful compared to earlier this week, Wednesday through last evening, when rain and incredible winds toppled trees by the thousands and took electricity so quickly it seemed we had no ownership to its use. Over three- plus days I have been through tanks of chain saw gas and have filled the tractor twice to operate the brush chipper.....but yes, things are coming around.

After twenty years of living in this house, we have fine tuned our emergency preparedness so that Wednesday night about 7:05 when the "everything electric" stopped in silence, we knew what we needed and where it was. The kerosene lamps and box matches came out first although admittedly the lamps are "kerosene" in name only as we now burn a clear, odorless fuel . The wicks fired up flawlessly as we gathered in the front room and tossed another log on the fire. There was no idle chatter about what had happened or when electricity would be restored as the wind and rain pounding the house and the repeated crashing of trees in the adjacent forest and along the road made it clear that this was out of our control. Like a big trout taking line, it had to play out. Without speaking but as if on cue, we each gathered our individual reading material and settled in like chickens entering their coop for the night.

The interruption had come when I had just finished reading an old post from a garden blogger in Texas who I enjoy very much. The blogger is Sue Tomlinson and she writes The Bike Garden. Sue is a great writer and a very talented naturalist, artist and college professor. I had just finished reading a blog from her Garden Design section. It was titled The Bike Garden: A garden writing room of one's own, written on May 9, 2010. Sue's "before" and "after" pictures of a garden spot she turned into a writing area were sufficient to give example to what an outdoor writing room can look like.

Seeing Sue's creation brought back an instant memory of the Ogden Pleissner Gallery that Gail, Alex and I visited at the Shelburne Museum in late October. In 1986, the museum moved Pleissner's studio from Manchester Vermont to Shelburne. Although much of Pleissner's war time paintings are now at the Pentagon, the balance of his collection is in Vermont. Seeing the studio from which much of this work came is an awesome experience and as with Sue Tomlinson's outside place to write, Pleissner's studio makes you want it for yourself .There is a fireplace, some overstuffed chairs, window light, materials to sketch, paint and write. There is a peace about the room that encourages creativity.

Reading in the shadows of oil lamps and thinking about Sue's outdoor writing area and Pleissner's studio made me speculate about where my favorite writers created. My office is an 8 foot X 12 ft affair at the end of our front room. It comes with a big window, a view down the valley, an outside bird feeder and an anemometer. The office is interrupted in the middle of the longer wall by the back side of the chimney for the wood stove on the other side. Computers, monitors, printers, a scanner, speakers, lights, a paper shredder and filing cabinet share the space with three bookcases, photography gear, a fax machine and a home style weather station. A lithograph and also a die cast model of Gail's 1957 John Deere 320 U tractor adorn a book shelf along with an old fishing creel and a native gourd pot filled with wild turkey and crow feathers. There's an old print of Abe Lincoln explaining something to his children and there's a 1929 map of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. There's a changing collection, dropped just inside the door, of whatever doesn't fit someplace else in the house at a given minute. This is the place where I write. It's nice. It's mine. I like it!

Last night I had an opportunity to hear four writers read favorite portions of their work.
The Center for an Agricultural Economy sponsored the event in Hardwick as a fund raiser to the area's food pantry and to the Center's Food Access Fund. Appropriately each author read about food. I won't go into any description of the readings but I do wish they were recorded and available for others to hear. They were excellent and made the crowd applaud with hand clapping and smiles and cheers. And to a guy like me who came to Vermont at age 5 and lived through so much of what each was reading about, the evening ended too quickly. Here is a summary from the Center's Who's Who list.

"Caroline Abels is the editor of Vermont's Local Banquet, a quarterly magazine about local food and farming. She lives in Montpelier and writes primarily about animal agriculture.

Bethany M. Dunbar of West Glover, is an editor at the Chronicle, a weekly newspaper in Barton. She has a background in farming and is working on a collection of photographs and essays about farmers and food in the Northeast Kindom. (Her new book will be titled Kingdom's Bounty. I believe I recall her saying the family farm she worked until 1991 was seventh generation!)

Ben Hewitt has seven cows, four pigs, six sheep, one wife and two children. He lives in Cabot and likes cheese very much. (I like his first book, The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food, very much and I told him so!)

Julia Shipley, a writer and subsistence farmer in Craftsbury, is collaborating with Andrew Miller-Brown of Plowboy Press on a collection titled Bales of Prose. She recently received a Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council to complete a book of agricultural essays."

I wish each of you could have attended the readings as you could smell and hear and taste Vermont at every sentence. The authors all like writing, are very good story tellers, and I'll bet they have interesting places they write from. Perhaps not a chair in a garden or a formal studio, but I'll bet they have a place. And you? Do you have a special place where you write? I wonder. Descriptions welcome.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond which was frozen over but now is not because of the high winds earlier this week. Current temperature, as I finish my writing at 8 PM is 18.6°. Perhaps the pond will freeze over again tonight.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
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Ficurinia said...

As a native Oregonian, I have heard a lot about Vermont and I would like to visit there someday. I also like garden writing a lot. What a great post. I will have to look up that artist you mentioned. I love studio spaces and understand why you cared enough about them to write about the subject. There is a sacredness to them. I visited a few in Paris and I was really humbled by them. Good luck with that crazy weather over there!

joey said...

Delighted to catch up again, George. Hope by now you are toasty and snug by your roaring fire and that your Thanksgiving was wonderful (with your love affair for cooking, I'm sure that it was). Sending warm thoughts your way ... Happy December :)