Thursday, December 24, 2009


So here it is at last -- Christmas Eve, or as we say in Norwegian "Julaften." It is a night for children everywhere to anticipate the fulfillment of wishes, and in the United States, all you have to do is leave cookies and a beverage (preferably one laced with strong spirits) for Santa Claus, and you are all set.

For the Norwegian child, more hangs in the balance than just getting a Disney Princess and the Frog "Just One Kiss" Tiana Doll or not. You must leave a bowl of groet, a rye/barley porridge, laced with butter, for the Christmas troll. If he comes to your house and finds no groet, he will kill all your father's cattle. That is one rugged Christmas tradition.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lille Julaften

There is Christmas Eve, and then there is Little Christmas Eve --- Lille Julaften. In Scandinavian tradition, December 23rd is celebrated with as much enthusiasm as (Big) Christmas Eve. In fact, when I was there in the early 1960's, the Christmas season did not start until Lille Julaften. It was then that the stores put up decorations and people thought about shopping. Away from home at sixteen, I had begun to think that Christmas simply would not come to Aalesund, the small city in Norway where I was living.

Ah, but it did, on Lille Julaften. Up went the Christmas tree, spiraled with tiny white lights, long before they were the fashion in the United States. No gaudy glittering glass globes, but instead tufts of white cotton, looking not the least bit like the snow balls they represented. No candy canes, but instead garlands of tiny paper Norwegian flags. The tree was cool, pure, and perfectly beautiful. The final enchantment came when we joined hands, walking around the tree, and singing Christmas songs.

So tonight I wish you a sweet and simple, joyous Little Christmas Eve, wherever you are.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Golden World

Who knew that the lenses we were born with would turn amber over time, giving our view onto the world a warm, golden tint? When these lenses develop cataracts, headlights become searchlights, and road striping disappears in the brilliant aura, making night driving really, really scary for everyone involved.

If one is fortunate, out goes the old lens, like an amber M&M, and in goes a sliver of high-tech synthethic. Trouble is, the new lens is as clear as the day you were born. The world through one eye is icy blue, and through the other eye, it is as golden as October in the woods. Eventually both my eyes will see the same clear world, and I wonder what this will mean to the things I make. Will the work look like it has been devised in a high latitude studio with chill Northern light, instead of a dreamland nearer the middle bulge of the globe? We will see, as they say.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Through My Eyes Today

This morning I experienced cataract surgery for my wonky left eye, a fascinating procedure performed by a skilled and empathetic doctor. You know how you close your eyes when something is being done to you that you don't want to see? Not for this one, thank you very much. The well-doped bad eye was propped open, I think, and the other, inquisitive eye looked out through a piece of foggy plastic, much like the stuff Edward and I tape to the wall as makeshift storm windows.

Determined to watch the whole thing with the vigilance of a patched pirate, I think I dozed off just as the view was getting interesting, all swirly and glowy. A few hours later, I feel slightly glowy myself from the anaesthesia, and looking around is certainly interesting. My right eye is carrying the load, somehow realizing that Lefty is as clear as an old shower curtain. I am constantly entertained by covering one eye and noting how the other reacts.

I am grateful for the skill and technology that makes it possible to receive such precise care. It surely was not too long ago, in terms of human history, when cataracts meant the end of visual life. Today I am looking through my glass brightly.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why I Don't Like to Make Pies

Don't get me wrong. I love to eat pies, and I adore the people who make them. It is the obscure and quite impenetrable construction process that I try to avoid. Cooking in a cast iron skillet or a soup pot I get: you taste it as you go along, and you pretty much know how it is going to turn out. An unbaked pie, all pale and cold, gives you precious little clue as to its future success or failure. And the entire project is uncorrectable until it comes out of the oven. Too late then, except for a gigantic ice cream rescue or a shroud of whipped cream.

I also think the requirements are vague and smugly mysterious How could the same substance resemble both tiny peas and coarse meal (Which by the way, is what? Cornmeal before it goes through its last grind at the corn meal factory? Who among us has encountered that?) Peas are quite round and green. Coarse meal is lumpy and not green.

How cold is cold for the shortening? How over is overworked? Does it make sense to make something by hand that your hands should not touch?  

My darling daughter-in-law contends that you just know these things. That is why I let her make the pies, and they are fine ones.

Monday, November 23, 2009

An End

There was a rumble in the air today, and we knew that the harvest beyond our tree line had begun. During these last golden days of low sun and leaf smoke, while we have made hurried efforts to take care of the final outdoor chores, the unharvested corn in Herb's field has seemed indifferent to the end of the season. We even wondered if he meant to leave these spindly, sere stalks standing through the winter  -- in some obscure crop rotation scheme we did not know about.

The harvester arrived, however, and the take-down began, filling the air with corn dust. As night fell, the combine lights came on, and the work continued as, in one powerful motion, the corn was cut down, shucked, and spit into the trucks that waited at the fields' perimeters. How odd to look out our windows and see rows of lights, like landing signals, where -- for every other day of the year --- there is darkness. By tomorrow morning, we will be surrounded by low stubble, and the corn will be on the road to its end as chicken feed and ethanol. The air will be quiet again, and we will see a little farther.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


What in the world is this, and what is it made of? I took the photograph or, at least, had the camera in my hands, and I should know, but I am mystified. Making things has its perilous moments when you do something that is almost good enough, but you haven't the faintest idea how you did it. Worse, you fret that you might never do anything like it again. Edward counsels that making art is getting lost and getting found and getting lost and getting found. He is, of course, unnervingly right.

I do wish I knew, however, what the camera was pointing at as I shifted and bumped the shutter button by mistake. Nothing around me looks just like this, yet for a moment it was real. Like life.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Field Next Door

Each year Herb Miller, the farmer who owns the acreage next to our building, plants an alternate crop for the land's welfare and our entertainment. The soybeans are the more beautiful -- dense, compact, shifting from green to gold to rust as the seasons move. The October stream of beans from the combine harvester into the big hauling trucks is graceful and magical.

The corn is another matter. To my eye, the stalks are pretty only when they are  young and only knee-high, creating a thick carpet of lucent green. At the height of summer, the fields look leggy and tough, and they present a formidable barrier to long views. To give the cornfields some due, they do offer the amusement of looking down the rows as one drives past, dizzy with the shift of lines.

Now in late October, the field next door is one of the last of Herb's fields to be harvested. It is properly sere and spooky for Halloween, and one wonders what possible use can be made of the dried-up old cobs. Ethanol, I suppose. That not-so-good idea.

Any day now, we will hear the rumble of the huge machine that will make quick work of the field. If my timing is right, I will go for a ride with Herb, high above the corn.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Buzzing Giant Revealed

All summer the wasps' nest hanging near the driveway intimidated us. Big, papery, lumpy, and gray, it was the source of constant waspy motion and potential injury. Or so we thought. It turned out that the wasps kept pretty much to themselves, preferring the company of whatever they keep company with.

Now, after days of rain and nights of frost, the private outer cover has melted away, and we can see the intricacies of what they built and busily inhabited. Where did they all go? Do wasps migrate? Are they intense, skinny fellow-travelers with the butterflies, agitating the southward journey with their angular noise? Or do they lie, frail, dry and wispy, in the corners of barns and old sheds? In either case, I am grateful for this quiet, fragile husk.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

All Around Me

Living and working in an old elementary school in southwest Michigan, I have the luxury of having so much to look at. Eight foot tall windows look onto three acres of trees and grassland, and at this time of year, the view is loaded with golden tulip poplar leaves.

The inside of the building is wide open as well, with an 850 square foot bedroom, and another room of equal size that accomodates a tall wall of books, a seating area with inviting chairs, a 10' long dining table, a desk with computers, scanners and printers --- with room enough for a ping pong table.

Everywhere there are interesting things: art and books of course, but there is also room for objects rescued from the side of the road or found in peculiar places. I can't get enough of looking at this curious metal device, part of an ox yoke, and its companions, a pod and a steel ball. They seem to have had an ancient life together.