Off once again to San Pedro, where it is a wet and chilly almost-winter. Mary’s house turns 100 this coming year, and is not exactly equipped to meet the needs of a nearly frozen Texas resident, so items like a space heater and the warmest socks the internet has to offer were top priorities.
When I wake up early as usual and return to my cozy bunk with a Thermos of hot coffee, I feel I’m channeling writers like Elizabeth David, who was known to spend the first half of the day in bed with a Thermos of hot coffee. It is only right that the other part of the day should include cooking, often Mediterranean inspired.
There must be some sunshine somewhere.
On many days it’s been hard to tell where the sea leaves off and the sky begins; it’s all the same pale blue-white of skim milk.
At other times the clouds take on a little definition, letting the watery sunlight through.
Mary and I have been much indoors, for a few days getting ready for a new couch. How much do you have to trust a friend to let them see under all your furniture, even the piano? But now the living room is rugless and somehow roomier, and tiny colored lights festoon the large bookcases in preparation for the arrival of an old friend who loves Christmas.
It’s good weather to work on a blanket for a very tall grandson, with plenty of feline assistance available.
We’ve been making it a point to take a good walk every day, our pace and distance dictated to a certain degree by Mary’s fancy new hip. Her recovery has been truly amazing, and I am usually the one having to set limits on terrain and distance. Just yesterday we tested the new hip on a long slope downhill, to where a few surfers had a small cove all to themselves.
down to where the waves rush in and then pull back in a roar of water and the constant clatter of stones wearing each other smooth.
Even on the cloudiest days, winter flowers seem lit from within.
When the sun does come out, my phone seems to produce photos in Technicolor.
Just as in Central Texas, the winter days go from that damp cold that inserts itself into your bones, to warmth that peels off sweaters and makes life livable again.
Back at the house, a big bush I’ve been teasing Mary about for years has proven me wrong. I don’t know when she tossed that apple core in the back yard, but the impossible seems to have happened.
In real life I know apples don’t come from tossed cores, but you don’t come to Southern California for reality, do you?
Late on a recent afternoon Mary and I ventured down to White Point to see what the winter sunset had to offer. I was interested to see what my phone would do when pointed straight into the departing sun.
In Austin, if you drive out to the Oasis for some mediocre Tex-Mex and a full view of the sunset, when the sun finally drops down below lake level everyone claps and cheers. At White Point I was the only one clapping.
We all know what it sounds like, and we all know the scent: crisp leaves collected into piles. Then the leap, the mild sharp edges, the smell of the year’s last season. No matter how long it’s been since we’ve made that leap, the sensations are unforgettable; and a scuff-walk through fallen leaves brings it all back in a rush.
A Texas summer can be so relentless, so monotonous, that it’s easy to forget that weather ever changes. Weather forecasters promise rain week after week to keep us from hitting each other, and week after week we have no rain. Or ten drops and 100% humidity.
Then one day, or in the middle of one night, the north wind arrives and summer is slammed into the Gulf of Mexico. Rains return and we’re kind of supposed to be glad it’s 40 degrees and raining.
Fortunately those miserable days are quickly replaced by the high 70s and we watch our leaves change color. They go tree by tree at first, rolling out different hues and patterns as the days go by. It’s now late November and we have plenty of color still to come.
But the serious falling has begun.
Speaking of falling. Last month I made the amazing discovery that I don’t even need to fall to break myself. It was the most ironic situation I’ve landed in since years ago when a kitty I was holding onto at the vet bit my right ring finger so hard I ended up in some of the most painful and long-lasting trouble I’ve ever endured. No good deed going unpunished and all.
This time I don’t even have a frightened kitty to blame. I could blame a hose, however.
Since I paint in a corner of the garage when weather permits, I make much use of the hose right outside the garage. The ground in that area was covered with 2-6″ rocks placed by I myself personally that all of a sudden seemed a little unstable. Clearly the large rocks had to go, and a cubic yard of gravel must be put into place in their stead.
That was all it took for the universe to admit me to the world of stress fractures. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t seen the X-ray.
Breaking your foot in the effort to render a piece of your property safer. Can I be the only one?
… A few days have gone by since I started this post; I was glued to the TV and having flashbacks to the ’70s. Fortunately, nature has moved along on its own and during TV breaks I could take in some more colors.
In the back yard, the pomegranates that always split open before ripening (about which I do not care because I only like pomegranates for their flowers) create cracked red orbs filled with red beads. This is sufficient holiday decoration, as far as I’m concerned.
The birds will make good use of the fruit. And maybe a thirsty skunk or two. We’ve had a few as night visitors and are only lucky enough to have a pretty passive dog and a VERY calm skunk who didn’t even become punitive when Travis trotted off up the street after them! We now have five quarts of hydrogen peroxide at the ready, and all fingers crossed.
The steel planter tree outside my window is dressed in winter colors. I’d been thinking “pansies” when I realized I was out of pressed flowers and thinking about selling art at the nearest farmers’ market. They’ll be pretty all winter.
Also in the back yard, maple tree + pomegranates + this morning’s wild north wind.
Some of our crape myrtles are the late-blooming types, and two outside the front window are also late to take color.
Damp air and a north wind are the perfect excuses for painting in the kitchen instead of the garage. It’s amazing how much of a mess I will clean up every day when I have to.
I’ve been playing with a few techniques.
On a recent evening walk Travis and I looked up for sources of color, and were duly rewarded.
It reminds me of the part in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek when Annie Dillard writes about people who’ve been blind from birth being surgically given their sight. One person exclaimed over and over about “the tree with lights in it.”
So I’m living the quiet life and really loving it. Off to LA in a few days where I’ll spend a month with my girl Mary. When I return all the leaves that fall will have fallen, and the dull days of winter will be in full swing.
Fortunately for me, that doesn’t drag on for too long.
If you look to that last distant sweep of sand you can see Royal Palms, where for a brief moment in the early 20th century there was a terrazzo dance floor, a stage for the band, stone benches and fireplaces, and what I imagine to be very glamorous flappers and their brilliantined gents drinking cocktails, smoking cigarettes, and dancing the night away under the swaying palm trees.
Now there are mere remnants left, and the majority of customers are people coming down for a picnic lunch and Ah Youth coming down to smoke weed in cars, positive they are the first youth ever to be so daring and cool. I wanted to tell them stories about things that used to happen in cars like a certain Chevrolet before their parents were even born.
One afternoon we walked over to San Pedro High to get a late glimpse at the classic car show. Although the one I squandered much of my adolescence in was green and cream, you get the idea. Having to stop at the town dump on our way to the drive in to steal an old transmission to get through next week was way more fun in the telling than the doing, but to be honest I was a teenager with a certain thirst for adventure.
But back to White Point.
These gulls are perched in front of some of the ruins left behind by the hotel and hot springs resort. An earthquake blocked up the sulphur supply and ended the hot springs part, and it seems the resort didn’t last very long after that. I’m fairly sure we’re seeing where the saltwater swimming pool used to be. Now it’s an area with calm clear water and scrambling kids – the kind of place I would have to be dragged out of when I was a kid.
There had been an earthquake or two in the days just before my trip. Mary experienced them much as she does with those few she actually perceives. When the long metal tubes of her doorbell began to chime by swaying into the statue of the Infant of Prague, naturally she first thought raccoons were in the attic playing with the doorbell mechanism.
We didn’t see much new damage, but as we walked steeply down along the high cliffs beside the road down to White Point, we saw one disappointing alteration in the landscape. Up until January the section I’m talking about looked like this:
We just loved that beautiful swirl of rock, narrative of centuries of events for someone who knows how to read them. Now that spot looks like this:
So many details on the left have had enough of pressing one another together and have collapsed in a huge pile of rock and rock dust. Here it is from a little distance away:
We were glad to see the road down has been beautifully repaved and a stout curb poured into place on the cliff side of the road, but every day when we visited there were more and more rocks piled up between the curb and the cliff. Time for helmets when walking down the hill?
On many evenings we walked down to Point Fermin. If you have ever watched the opening scenes of “Chinatown” or a recent series on Netflix or Amazon about a young widow (“Dead to Me.” Thanks, niece Chris!), you have seen Point Fermin. Even though the TV show claims to be set in Laguna Beach. As we walk toward the park on Paseo Del Mar, first we would see the place where peregrine falcons nest and people with expensive-looking equipment photograph them.
This guy looks like he really wants to join his comrades in flight way down there, but it’s a big leap!
High atop the cliff face, people come to watch the falcons. I was never able to get a good shot with just my phone (my excuse and I’m sticking to it).
That concrete structure is one of the many gazebos set along the broad sidewalk leading to the old lighthouse and finally the point itself. Every time we went walking, there were kids and families and lovers taking advantage of the fresh air and the views.
The concrete wall between the gazebos is pretty decorative itself, and as they will do everywhere, wildflowers enhance the situation.
Walking back from the point to the car, the broad lawns and palm trees along that stretch of Paseo are enough to put the stupid stupidity of our current world right out of my head. Let’s hope beauty wins.
I suppose nothing need be said about flowers in Southern California. Mary’s back fence:
Little spots of beauty seen on every walk:
I could go on. I saw hedges made of geraniums
hedges made of lantana
hedges of roses, hibiscus, rosemary – what could be better than that?
I should have taken a photo of the delicata squash plant that came up from seeds Mary had tossed out after her meal prep. We ate roasted squash one night, but she has plenty more where they came from; just before I left, one vine seemed to be heading straight for the house.
It was lovely to savor long mornings with no need to get out and exercise before the day’s thermostat is set to Broil. We bought paint early in my visit and I did many, many pours. On canvas, on plywood, and on an old glass table top.
I even used leftover pouring paint to cover a table on the back porch that had nothing but some cracked white tiles to say for itself.
Since Mary has a book on how to paint with watercolors, I thought that might be fun.
A little more piano practice, the mastery of a few modern languages, and I’ll qualify as one of Jane Austen’s accomplished ladies.
We ate out often enough to still feel on vacation, but we ate on the back porch most days. Suffer, suffer.
Don’t let me forget to get the recipe for that cauliflower soup!
Of course there was time to get over to Hermosa Beach and get myself into those waves. The water this year was very mild, temperature-wise.
I decided to be a bit of a tourist and take a few photos I would have taken in Italy as I walked around Mary’s neighborhood. I think it helps.
I also had to get a photo of one of Mary’s three kitties. They were, um, bequeathed to her years ago when an old acquaintance left them because she couldn’t take care of them any more. Mary resisted as long as she could, but they basically never left her yard and now rather own the house as well. I give you Baby Kitty, who will hiss like mad if you pick her up but then start to purr and get all drooly once you start the petting. She is the sweetest thing ever.
As always, I was homesick for San Pedro before I even left.
Have I mentioned that retirement is the greatest thing in the world besides spaghetti? I knew quite some time ago that I didn’t have the time to go to work. Now that I am blissfully retired, I can see that I was right.
It is late June in Central Texas; a chilly wind blew a storm through yesterday. We had a very pleasant spring, though a little on the humid side, and when you’ve been through years of devastating drought it’s hard to complain about that.
What else can I not complain about? My world is made of flowers.
Even the day lilies keep coming; even ones that have never blossomed before.
The crown of thorns that received a splendid new planter after a wild wind blew its pot to the ground in a storm of potting soil and terra-cotta shards is doing amazing things. Talk about an ill wind that blows no good! In its steel plant stand, it had become so difficult to move that it has spent the past couple of summers outside the master bath window.
While it was nice to see all that refracted color coming through the glass, that’s not my favorite part of the yard to visit. I’ve had this plant since it was a tiny thing – over ten years now – and it has never once been devoid of flowers. Now it is a floral blast by the front door, and I can see it from the front window any old time I want. Not to mention there’s a bistro set right there on the patio (not in my kitchen, you moronic house stager you) where I can drink a beer in the shade at the end of the day.
How did dog feet end up in my photo? I hadn’t even noticed until now. I shouldn’t be surprised, though: Travis is ten times more my shadow now that I’m home so much.
Our part of the world is currently covered in crape myrtle.
Pink, white, dark pink, red, purple – all the colors. Tiny blossoms litter the sidewalks, so you always feel like a bride walking down a petal-strewn aisle.
Okay, well not really. But it is very pleasant.
The sidewalk garden is the same old thing.
No big deal.
They’re just flowers.
Before we move on to what I’ve been up to (I can just picture you on the edge of your seat), I’ll remind you that my niece Chris visited recently and we had that Thelma & Louise & Mary trip to west Texas. Then Chris returned to Connecticut for reasons I cannot fully fathom. Being as she is the real Martha Stewart of northwest Connecticut, what used to be known as a bread-and-butter gift soon arrived at our house.
I have visited this farm with Chris; you can read all about it from November 2016 if you want to see a Heaven On Earth For Cows.
The chocolates arrived thoroughly and magnificently attired and cushioned and cooled with cooling packs. Boutique chocolates. Flavored with things like lavender and mint that those cows obviously help to grow. (If you have never had a chocolate mint flavored with real mint leaves, you have never eaten a real chocolate mint. Rather than the sharp intensity of a peppermint patty, these mints arrive like satin in your mouth. I can’t think another way to say it.)
Anyhow, there’s nothing like chocolates that arrive with an “eat by” date to inspire indulgence. Without that imperative, we might have just kept them around to look at forever.
Boy, do I hate going from candy nirvana to the story of my life on the world wide web over the past few weeks.
Being as I am a woman of the 21st century, I thought it might be a good idea to start selling my art online like everybody else on the planet. I thought I might set up a shop using WordPress, since I already use WordPress and no doubt that would simplify things.
I’d be falling out of bed laughing right now if I weren’t afraid of ending up back in surgery.
I’ll just say a couple of things about the So Easy One Click world of setting up an online store. 1.) If you are the type of adventurer who loves arriving in a foreign land where the people speak a language you have never heard before crafted from an alphabet you have never seen, this is your trip of a lifetime.
2.) If you are more of the stay-at-home type but you love nothing better than enormous meditation mazes in which you can meander for hours and lose all track of where you are but it doesn’t matter because you can’t possibly be lost because you have been in this part of the maze 25 times already today, this is a great trip for you, too! See? Something for everyone.
3.) Schoolchildren learn coding for a reason. Go back to third grade and sit in on the coding class.
4.) People who earn mucho plenty bucks galore helping people set up their online shops deserve all the bucks they make. And as soon as the dust settles, I am going to go find me one and see if I can even formulate a cogent question about what the hell am I supposed to do next.
Now Sherry is a “fine” artist (fine in every sense of the word, but what I mean here is not a paint thrower like myself), completely self-taught (please click on her link so you can see things people can teach themselves to do). Meaning she is not going to go to a July 4th craft show at an outdoor mall for a couple of hours. But she thought it might be a fun place for me to set off on my road to becoming a millionaire.
There is nothing like an extremely time-consuming and energy-zapping distraction to rescue one from an impossible task like setting up an online store. The deadline for applying was about four days away, and one of the application requirements was a “booth shot.”
Now this was nowhere near as bad as that time when my friend Hillery and myself, having just finished collecting dissertation data for a year, stopped by the IT office for statistics help and the guy said, “Do you have a codebook?” and we said, “What’s a codebook?” and we ended up spending four days and nights writing a codebook to cover 1200 scorable items for each individual in our study (3×52 individuals, if you must know) and then entering those little pieces of data along with our comrade in misery Randy because Hillery and Randy were days away from leaving for internship.
But I certainly did not have a “booth.”
I did have a vision of wood-framed cattle mesh from which to hang my canvases, but there was no time for that now. Pegboard would have to suffice for the application photo, and maybe I could come up with something more suitable if I passed muster and was admitted to the fair.
I’m just going to tell you this once: never even attempt to paint pegboard without your own personal spray booth, a professional paint sprayer, and of course all the respirator stuff you need if you want to be able to breathe afterward. There’s about four hours I’ll never get back.
And if you order a mesh banner from a great place you know will get it to you fast, be sure you have time to let it off-gas outside. Vistaprint, I love you, but the thing smelled like rotten baloney.
There’s no sense saying a thing about wind, because wind is a given. Try not to think about what will happen if you pass the audition and have to set up your tent in a place where you cannot drive stakes into the ground. Because no way can you hoist sandbags. So worry about that later.
There was plenty of wind on audition photo day, I can tell you. It was Keystone Kops, starring yours truly, as I ran around trying to keep the pegboard upright, the canvases sort of level, and the garden posts from tumbling to earth AGAIN. Thank you for that great rack, Floyd.
unrulygardenart may not be ready on the world wide web, but I like outdoors better anyway.
For the past two weeks I’ve been trying to figure out how to sell my art online. Clearly everybody in the known universe is capable of selling stuff online; they have links and swipes and sponsored posts and ads and all the things.
Certainly I could sell some paintings! I’ll just add another blog site right here on WordPress! It will be so efficient and easy! I already sort of know how to work WordPress!
And so, dear reader, I fell down into a hole in which every day was like finding myself in a faraway nation where I not only had no idea what nation I was in, but the language and the alphabet resembled nothing I had ever seen before. I couldn’t even formulate a decent question for the kind people who were trying to help.
So unrulygardenart exists and it doesn’t. I own the domain name and I have a certificate claiming to make it safe for people to buy things from me online. I have photos and the start of an index and many dozens of paintings on the dining room table, the bar, numerous cartons, and just about every flat surface in the house that isn’t too close to water.
I’m only telling you this because I’m kind of excited about it even though I am way beyond LOST in terms of how to actually do it.
Maybe you could stop by the house and see my paintings in person.
Sometimes it’s good to see a place through a newcomer’s eyes again.
This year when my niece Chris wanted to visit Austin, she expressed a need for a little adventure. What could we do?
Well, we’ve done Austin numerous times; someone who lives in Connecticut and vacations on the Rhode Island coast doesn’t really need a new beach; and Chris had never seen a desert in real life. So I booked us some space at the Indian Lodge https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/indian-lodge. Floyd and I had stayed there once during winter break with kids and grandkids; it would be great to see it in a different season.
We’d spend time in Fort Davis and Marfa and try to summon the discipline to return to Austin in time for Chris to return to work and for Mary to get back to peaceful retirement alongside the Pacific.
On a whim I’d asked Chris if she’d be okay with my best friend Mary coming along and Chris, agreeable with nearly everyone and everything, said of course. It would have been more of a Thelma & Louise & Mary kind of drive had the convertible Chris ordered actually been ready for her as the numerous Hertz staffers assured her it was. However, we might have been burned to a crisp by the sun and deafened by the wind after 450 miles, so the fancy SUV served us even better.
The desert was greener than I’ve ever seen it, the vast carpets of wildflowers still vivid and amazing. It looked as though every yucca in Texas was in bloom.
After a long day’s drive we were very glad to reach our destination.
Nestled in the scruffy hills above Fort Davis, this is an old hotel built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It has recently undergone quite a few structural and cosmetic improvements, but I love its rustic flavor and its rooms built on multiple odd levels.
The weather treated us extremely well, sunny and mild with cool nights and all the dry desert air that has made me very nostalgic now I’m back in Austin with roughly 700% humidity. Mary had teased me when I talked about wanting to try living in the desert, but once we were back at my house a short walk around the block helped her to understand such a whim.
Chris was ready for unplugged days and long stretches of just sitting; the Indian Lodge has many lovely places for that.
With such chilly nights, the pool water was quite cold for Mary and me, but Chris is a New England woman and plunged right in. Then came her favorite part, lying in the sun and slowly drying off.
We’d picked an excellent week, not only for the weather but also for the fact that Texas kids aren’t out of school yet so there were no crowds anywhere and the world around the Indian Lodge was silent except for the calls of birds. Evenings we sat up on a covered deck and kept track of the distant hills.
I took a boatload of photos in the hope of making a desert painting or two – it’s difficult to imagine how colorful the desert is until you see it firsthand.
On this trip I had enough experience to book rooms with windows overlooking the sunrise, and on our mornings I (up early as always) just sat on my bed, pillows to lean on in the window sill, and watched.
Of course we had to drive down to explore the town of Fort Davis; it doesn’t take that long. One reason why I knew the three of us could travel together is that I have spent many hours with each of my companions wandering and window shopping until it is time for the next meal.
One little shop had many representations of a creature Chris and Mary had hoped to spot in the wild. Alas it wasn’t to be: we had to settle for inanimate versions.
Once we were back in Austin I could show them the photo I’d taken from the car during that winter visit. Not as good as the real live thing, but you must admit, javelinas are cute enough to be worth waiting for, with their tiny little feet and friendly ways.
Fort Davis certainly has a bit of a western twang about it.
As well as the typical Texas courthouse, surrounded on all four sides by streets wide enough for a horse-drawn wagon to turn around:
We made the executive decision (okay, well I made the executive decision) that we would depart early enough on our last day to eat breakfast in Marfa. Chris and I were out early in our pajamas to grab photos.
So far it had been a sweet little getaway for three friends, old and new.