So I retired on April 15th, and before the end of the month I had written and recorded my opus, “Home”. Now what am I gonna do? (The recording is way at the end and 9 minutes long, so if you start it now it might be done by the time you’re finished reading!)((Yes, 9 minutes. Didn’t I say it was an opus? That’s short for an opus, really.))
Moving on to painting my masterpiece, I guess. I’ve recently completed my first seascape, my first breaking wave! As a student, I’m pleased with the result, generally. I had the hardest time getting the hue of the sand right. First it looked like snow and then like mud and then like flesh tone. I called the piece “Fleshtone Beach” for a while. I really struggled with the scrubby plants, re-working the underpainting and then getting carried away and ending up with a green I’m just not satisfied with. Mostly it’s “art-mill” style, which is a good way to practice brush strokes and palette knife work, but tends to throw some rules out the window.
I’ve recently tried to break out of the confinement of training myself to paint in realist or in impressionist styles. Those remain my lofty goals, but most efforts in that area bring frustration due to my undeveloped skills. It’s just something I need to continue to pursue patiently. Like learning to ride a bike, but falling down a hundred thousand times before you get it. So my first experience with Galkyd painting medium met with mixed results. I should have used a clear gel or maybe even oil. I foolishly ignored the fast-drying characteristics of the Galkyd. I covered the canvas with it, to try a wet underpainting method. I wasn’t half way through the piece and it started drying and getting sticky, so I had to rush to complete it. Anyway, it still struck some people (or they were stricken by it, I guess), so it hangs in the gallery. I call the piece “Galkyd Lake Sunrise”. A good lesson. And p.s. to any novices out there: Galkyd would be good mixed on the palette as needed. It leaves the paint with a high gloss and dries quickly. It says it’s tacky in 24 hours, but in my experience it was completely dry by then. If you have experience with clear gel I’d be keen on hearing about it.
This is my first post of my attempts at painting in oils. Most of my “best” works have been given to children and friends. I imagine I would still find them flawed and amateur if I saw them now. An artist is never satisfied with their own work.
I regret digital media is not the kindest to such things. The paints have pigments the camera can see but we can’t. I’m using my Ott Light which is supposed to be “daylight” for painting under, but is more of a fluorescent light. Anyways, I picked the images that were closest to showing the colors correctly. The last little piece, “Island Life”, is currently on the easel. It’s a small format canvas, 5 x 9 inches, which brings its own challenges. As you can see, the basics have been laid in. The next step is adding branches and foliage to the trees, then some shimmers on the water and at the waterline of the rocks. I might try some brushy blueberries, but the foliage debacle in the seascape has left me gun-shy.
I love to paint and write and play music. The writing has taken the back seat lately to the other pursuits, and to life in general now that spring has brought all that mowing and gardening and sunbathing to Engleville. I’ve spent a lot of manic high hours in the music studio, and have put up a couple of scratch versions of my songs. This one is a bit of collaboration with my son Ryan, who was doodling with a theme on the piano. He said he wanted to name it, and decided it reminded him of our beloved Victorian Ark that houses us. This inspired me to write the lyrics, and I couldn’t stop until I cobbled together an entire rock anthem. I’m hot on the trail of a couple more new songs, so won’t make any promises about the writing. As always, the tunes I post are not polished master recordings, just my dabblings in the studio to get the songs out of my head.
Until next time!
Is it this house? Is it these walls? Is it these old familiar rooms and airy halls?
The Sparrow nigh? This Mourning Dove? Each day some new treasure here to love?
No. It’s not of timber. No. It’s not of stone. It’s a warm and whole belonging. I’m Home.
Did I choose? Has it been known By all the stars forever I’d call this my own?
How can it be These ancient trees And fragrant lawns could be all the world to me?
Here, this simple man, In this humble glen I can Feel Home.
Snow will fall. Winds will blow. I don’t claim it’s always Paradise, y’know.
Through chilling cold, Each tempest thrown, Through everything that cuts me to the bone,
Here, the storms may test me. Here, no ill can best me. The surest place I’ve ever known Is Home.
If you’re adrift Out on the sea Amidst the raging storms of this mortality,
Or slashed and burned, Or beat to hell, Or lost to us at the bottom of your well,
If you need a rescue, A place where you can run to, I have a place for you, There’s always room At Home.
Crescent Moon Studio has been many things for me. It started with music, a long time ago, when I was doing overdubs on reel-to-reel tape decks, incorporating cassettes (Yikes! I know, right? 1 and 7/8 inches per second? Seriously? Slowest tape speed ever in the history of tape speeds. Can you say wow and flutter?) I used a radio shack mixer and a reverb unit that made my voice sound more like a sound effect from a monster movie. I used a $69 keyboard for drums, bass, strings and horns! (p.s.: I have a Korg M50 now, though the voices don’t really sound much better than the old Casio wannabe).
When I was a youngster, in my teens and twenties, I was a little starstruck with music, and imagined I might pen a song that would sell, or perhaps be discovered by a talent scout as our band Big Country slammed and blasted it’s way through 4-hour sets at Art’s Tavern. I’ve been writing songs for as long as I can remember. I recall driving my go-kart around the maple tree in my parent’s front yard at around ten years old, and composed this one. I don’t know how the Grammy people missed it.
“Go little go kart, racing them all. Go little go kart, even racing Pope Paul.”
It had a melody and everything. Okay, so I didn’t even know what a Pope was, and I think Paul was indeed the Pope at the time. I’m not sure if he ever raced go karts, though.
Then, along came grownup life for a guy that did not hitchhike to L.A. with a guitar on his back and a suitcase full of dreams. A job. A car. Before long, a wife, children, a home and mortgage and a disgruntled boiler and bicycles and birthdays and graduations. My guitar sat in a corner, sometimes for whole years. Sure, I got it out and played a few tunes around a camp fire, and played the music for Ryan’s wedding, but mostly it was a keepsake from bygone days, it seemed.
And so, Crescent Moon opened its doors to my other artistic pursuits. Things that could be crammed into precious evenings and weekends and lunch hours. Composing poetry, doing a lot of photography. Making the leap from 35 mm film to digital cameras. Taking up oil painting. I liked oils because my parents both delved into oil painting, and the smell is always an olfactory flashback for me. Also, I could work on a piece and put it away for the week, and when I got back to it the paints were still wet. In more recent years I was as surprised as anyone that I could write a novel and wanted to do so, and the Sasha Of The Chukchi Sea series was born. Along came blogs, and it seemed writing was now my siren. Add a blog for the studio, to share photos and some narrative about their composition or challenges of the shoot.
2020. Ugh. For a brief moment, we thought it was cool that the television show that launched Barbara Walters’ career had actually caught up to its futuristic title. Then, the C word, and this time, not cancer. The Covid pandemic took a world that was swirling too fast and whipped it into a frenzy. Then took the top off the blender and hit the High button. The world had gone mad, and my simple life in the country was overshadowed daily with paranoia and sickness, loss and death. During this time I penned “Circles”. While it ended up as a catchy tune, the original poem was one of solemn resignation that my life was effectively as good as over. An ailing wife at home, an ailing father two hours away. Timing could not be worse as my Aunt Marie died (of natural causes) just months before my Uncle Richard, my dad’s brother. In August, another death unrelated to covid, rocked our little world as my wife’s best friend of 54 years passed. Life was never quite the same after that. In just four months, my wife would follow Liz to the grave. Three months after my father died.
When I was a teenager, I was smitten with southwestern art, and adopted as my personal symbol and talisman, The Phoenix. In legend, The Phoenix rises from fire in a 100-year cycle. The Phoenix has been used countless times to describe something that “rises from the ashes”. I had forgotten about my association with The Phoenix until just recently. Then I realized how symbolic it was.
In the wake of my wife’s death, as I sat staring aimlessly out the window, a curvy black case called to me from the corner. I don’t remember exactly when or why, but the guitar found its way to my hands. My Esteban, to be exact. My late mother-in-law had purchased it for me as a gift about fifteen years ago. A “cheap” guitar to an aficionado, but it was the only playable guitar I had. The Ventura V-17 twelve-string acoustic my mother bought for me at the age of sixteen had long since developed a belly warp which wrenched the saddle into an unusable condition. (I had a guy try to fix it, but all that did was mar up the face of the guitar). It is only at this very moment that I realize both these guitars were bought for me by mothers. How curious.
In difficult times, we seek out the comforts of familiarity. We search for the things that remain after loss, the things which are steadfast and enduring and lifelong. The foundations and roots of our lives. My children and grandchildren. The Ark. Windows twice as old as me, antiques and heirlooms. Photos. And my art. It is part of my spirit. Part of me. Dating back to my Go-Kart song and the day I took my dad’s 8mm movie camera and shot a stop-action animation short. Songs that described just what I am going through now. Poems that spoke to me in my own words some important things that I needed to hear. And music.
With the run of the place and no one to answer to, I began to assemble in the parlor my music studio. It began with a new guitar. Well, new to me, it was a used guitar, but a Washburn (with stunning bindings and inlays), not a “cheap” guitar from the Home Shopping network. (Since acquiring several fine guitars, I have a renewed respect for the Esteban, which is pretty impressive for the little it claims to be). Concerned that the ravages of age, particularly arthritis in thumb joints, would arrest my guitar playing career, I decided I should begin to learn to play piano in earnest. I bought a piano. Not just any piano, mind you, and not some black lacquered Yamaha you would expect to find in a studio, but a 1942 Chickering baby grand. Exactly the thing a respectable Victorian parlor should boast of. A few more components, and I was back on track to begin laying down the songs stuck in my head for the last twenty years.
I can’t say there was not an element of denial and repression during this period. The New Moon was a welcome distraction, and one I felt held merit. Music is universal, and even the trinkets I purchased for the studio were good investments. Things my children and grandchildren could proudly inherit. Things that maintain or increase in value if they choose to liquidate them after my demise. Perhaps as important to me was the ability to put my songs “on tape”, in hopes the kids would one day hear them and enjoy them long after I am gone. At the very least, my kids might better understand what I “am about”. Or was.
Like moving from 35mm film to digital format cameras, I purchased a Tascam digital multitrack workstation, and began a new learning curve in recording. There are five or six tunes now, sketched out for my next album, “Perihelion”. Always learning, steady improvements have been made in my playing, singing, and the sometimes-tedious process of recording and mastering songs.
Along about March, the idea of a Ukelele band was floated by my daughter and her husband. They had both purchased guitars 20 years ago, and had a few starter lessons from dad before they fell into their own rhythms of domestic life, jobs, home and children. Their guitars went to the closet. But they were not gone. One fateful day, Matt looked at his now-vintage Fender dreadnought, and considered that the kids were grown, one off to college already, and the other getting her driver’s license. Perhaps he would be interested in renewing his interest in the guitar. My son Ryan also has the guitar I bought for him for Christmas when he was sixteen (the age at which my mother bought me the Ventura 12-string). Low and behold, our mutual friend Carl, a banjoist, was also keen on learning to play guitar, and within a couple of months we discovered our friend Dontay played bass, and would also like to know guitar. And the Cedar Swamp String Band was born.
Okay, so I know we’re not “really” “a band”, in the sense that they are all students essentially, but it’s fun to let them think of themselves as a band. Believe it or not, we have played a few “gigs”, though they were actually just occasions for us to jam on the songs we’re learning. And y’know what? People love them. Or “us” I should say. People are just wowed by someone playing a musical instrument, particularly if they have no such pursuit. (note I did not call it talent or ability, ’cause anyone can learn to do it). We meet every Wednesday and learn about musical instruments and learn to play them. We’ve learned popular songs and are now up to a “set list” of fifteen songs! Sometimes, it is the highlight of my week.
There you have it, the update from Crescent Moon Studio, where I will continue to post photos and the stories of their capture. At some point I may try to post some oil paintings, and the stories of their creation. The poetry mostly lives on Armchair Zen and Chow Dog Zen, and simple tales of a simple life of a country widower will come to Life In Engleville.
Without further ado, another “scratchpad” sketch of a song from Perihelion. This one was co-written by my dog, Chuy. I wrote the chorus and music. It’s a poor mix, in that I have the unbridled bongos and tambourine up a little too high. I’ve been meaning to revisit the mixdown, but have been too busy laying new tracks to go back and polish anything. This one still has the long tail where the song should fade out. And the harmony parts are really rough. Enough about me. Here’s Chuy’s song, Wish.
That I might rise before the sun, Before the waking world’s begun To sing aloud of another day. Reticence is my way.
That I might see the greening grass, Or sparkling snow, and clouds that pass, And beyond them the great wide aquamarine skies The color of your eyes.
Every day I want to live, To do and go, to grow and give. Every day I want to feel These things in life that are real. To love all I can. Every day the time’s at hand. No matter how long, no matter how old, Onto these wishes I’ll hold.
That I might feel hot sunny days, The summer wind as the cottonwood sways. Or driven snow, and chilling cold, When striking out feels brave and bold.
That I might savor this vapor rich With piney woods and muddy ditch, The taste of water, clear and cool, Fresh from a springtime pool.
That I might lay me down to sleep With dreams await, and promises to keep. Knowing, sure as the stars shine above, That I am loved, And so, too, I love.
No matter how long, no matter how old, Onto these wishes I’ll hold.
We’re fortunate to have some Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds live on the Engleville Tick Ranch for the summer. Their arrival in spring is more subtle than that of the hundreds of American Robins roosting in the pine stand on their way north. Much more quiet than the Canada Geese honking their horns at each other. One morning in spring I’ll be sitting in the cabana drinking coffee when I hear the sound of the world’s largest wasp. Well, that’s what it sounds like. The first time you have a hummingbird buzz by you, you’re spinning around looking for the giant bee, ready to run. After that, the sound is immediately recognizable. There’s no other sound like it in my woods.
The photo above, dark and a bit unfocused, is one of the best images I captured. One of only two with the bird in flight. I was actually shooting the backlit Foxglove shown here, and while doing so, the giant bee flew in and started drinking from the flowers. I could barely move, just enough to swing the lens over and snap a frame. I didn’t dare to move my hands around trying to adjust the camera for better lighting. One of my rules is “Snap the picture first, then if you have time you can do all that other fancy photog stuff like get the light correct and get the subject in focus and compose the image and stuff.”
Yeah, it’s a long rule. Anyways, I snapped the above photo and the following one with the bird hovering a foot-and-a-half from my face.
I spent a number of mornings set up and perched at the cabana, waiting for the Hummingbird to come around to the Foxgloves, the Touch-Me-Nots and any red flower we had. They love red. They frequently get caught inside garages because the release handle on the door opener is red, and they fly in to check it out.
The Other Photo
Hummingbirds have nested in the grapevines on the barn, or the corner of the barn with the grapevines. Maybe it’s the same nesting pair, as they go to the same place for the several years I’ve been watching. About thirty feet from that corner of the barn is a crabapple tree, and they like to stop there. It’s probably standard bird behavior; stopping to check for predators before going to the nest, to avoid advertising its location.
Grape vines on the barn
Most days I’d be sitting in the cabana for morning coffee, but a couple of times I set up between the barn and the crabapple tree. It wasn’t easy to choose a good place to set up. I wanted to be able to “reach” the corner of the barn and the crabapple with the 300mm lens, but didn’t want to be so far from the cabana that I’d miss a longer shot if the birds ventured there. Also, I wanted the sun to be behind me (or at least beside me) to avoid backlighting the subject. Lastly, I wanted the shot angle to avoid the domestic surroundings; my boat on the trailer, the Power Wagon parked on the lawn, the rusty chicken wire fence protecting the blueberry patch.
The cabana was hung with several flowering plants including two in red, and just around the corner was the foxglove and touch-me-nots the birds liked to visit regularly.
The day I put the most effort and time into this pursuit, I set up the camera on the tripod where I could shoot the barn and crabapple. I positioned myself beside the outhouse, so the camera and I would be shielded from direct sunlight. This is as much for lighting as it is for hiding. Hummingbirds are quite wary, and if they see you move they’ll take off like a jet.
From this position, I was able to get a few snapshots, although the bird was backlit when perched in the crabapple. They hung around the young sumac saplings, too, which were just a bit further away than the apple tree. A couple of shots are of the bird perched on a sumac. So there I am sitting, patiently waiting for the Hummingbird Holy Grail; that perfectly-lighted shot of the bird hovering with its beak in a beautiful flower. (Like the ones above, but lighted and focused!)
As I sit with my eye to the viewfinder, I hear this giant bee come flying in alongside me. The hummingbird came over to the touch-me-nots, about 12 inches from my face, and started feeding on them. Well, I couldn’t move at all, for fear of spooking the bird and driving them from my location. The hummingbird was so close I felt the breeze from its wings on my face as it flitted about. I could just see it out of the corner of my eye.
Ultimately I was able to get a silhouette of the bird perched in the apple.
Tripod & Touch-Me-Nots
I got around the other side of the apple for a close shot, but the bird was obscured by leaves. In the photo, you just see a splash of ruby red in the midst of green apple leaves. The female lighted elsewhere on the apple and noticed me. There was enough tree between the bird and I that it didn’t flee, but appeared to be trying to figure out what I was. Click any image to start a full-size slide carousel.
Finally, I did get a good shot of a well-lit hummingbird in flight. Unfortunately, it was a wind spinner.
Hummingbirds migrate south, usually in mid September. I wish them bon voyage on their trip. There’s always next year. Meanwhile, I think I’ll look for something bigger.
Take care, and keep in touch,
My gear: Nikon D3200 DSLR. Most shots with a Nikkor 55-300mm zoom lens with vibration reduction, some with Nikkor 55-200mm VR. Tripod by Vanguard, Alta PRO 264AT.