Archives for the month of: March, 2014
March Thaw

Red balls, March thaw

Alaskans love to share wisdom with a cheechako, so early on I learned that ice cleats can keep you from busting your butt, unless you don’t mind crawling across a parking lot on your hands and knees. I do mind that. I learned that a moose can stomp you to death, so head the other way, fast, when you see one walking across the street. Or hide behind something; I wonder if a stop sign is a good enough deterrent. I learned that earthquakes happen nearly every day, but a big one isn’t likely to happen for several hundred years. When it does, drop, cover, and hold on.

I learned that you can make tea from stinging nettles, that ferns are poisonous past the fiddlehead stage, and you do not need ice for meat and fish purchases. I am not planning to make nettle tea or cook fiddleheads, and I asked only once for ice in a grocery store in Anchorage. The guy behind the counter looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re not from around here.”

Most Alaska long-timers are also generous with tips on coping with the dark months of November, December, and January. Starting in August, they say, sit in front of a SADD light for a couple of hours a day (I do, while I work at my computer), stay busy (I’ve never needed encouragement), exercise (of course), go South (which I can manage for a couple of weeks in the winter).

Last year, several people told me to beware of March. “It’s the worst month,” they said. “Very bad for mental health.”

“What’s so bad about March?” I asked. No one seemed to have a convincing explanation, other than its still chilly temperatures and occasional snow. But having lived happily through two Alaska Marches, I think I’ve figured it out.

While the Lower 48 hoops and hollers through March Madness, Alaska oozes and slogs through March Mudness, when snow melts and dog poop thaws. Everything covered by snow and winter darkness is exposed. Alder, aspen, and willow are bare. Snow is infused with black grit. Wherever people walk and drive vehicles, beer cans and liquor bottles emerge from the ice, some still wrapped in the brown paper bags that are supposed to make people think the tipplers are slugging down health drinks.

There is mud, and there is dust. The wind whips it into miniature tornados on sidewalks and streets. Trucks roar along Sterling Highway whisking up clouds that nearly obscure vehicles. I hold my breath as long as I can when they pass by.

In my house, bright sunlight, about 12 hours a day now, blasts through grimy, streaked windows exposing my sin of omission, the lick-and-a-promise approach to housecleaning this winter. Dust glistens on baseboards, table tops, books, lamps. The car is coated too, inside and out, except for the arcs cleared by windshield wipers, and mud is splattered from tires to door handles.

Of course, I am not despondent. I know that, come May, leaves will bud on trees, and we’ll see green again. Weeds, including dandelions big as saucers, will cover the litter. And by then, I will have run Silver through the Star Wash a couple of times, vacuumed the interior and wiped the dash clean. I will have dusted inside the house, too, maybe with a little more attention to detail as summer visitor season draws near.

I may have planted something in my muddy yard to block the invasion of pushki, the cow parsnip, which resembles gigantic Queen Anne’s lace. It’s edible, but it can cause dermatitis when you pick it. Go figure that one.

For now, I’m putting on hiking boots to tromp the muddy Reber Trail. The temperature has soared to a balmy 41 degrees and the skies are that Carolina color everyone loves whether they’re a Tarheel basketball fan or not.

Copyright 2014. Genie Hambrick

ImageLast Saturday, I started an art project in cut paper. I’m inspired by the work of one of my sisters—both are professional artists—and by a Matisse documentary which was one of numerous Netflix movies I watched while cold bugs raved inside my head. God, what a party they had.

I’ve been itching to make art for a while. I used to make two-dimensional paper puppets:  caricatures of close friends for their birthdays and famous women in history. The subjects of that series are modeled after real people.

Joan of Arc is a young woman who was a work friend in Atlanta. She’s from France, multi-lingual, and lives now in Delft with her husband and son. She connects women and children, especially expatriates, to each other and to community resources.

Marie Antoinette is another woman I worked with, but not a friend—a boss. Once, in a staff retreat, while she delivered a talk intended to be motivational, she stood before us licking her fingers and eating cake supplied by a vendor who knew her sweet tooth. Of the down-sized and out-sourced, I imagined her saying, “Let them eat cake,” and soon enough that would be several of us, including me.

Elizabeth I, the largest puppet I’ve made, is an El Greco-style Meryl Streep with orange construction paper curls. Her dress is made from scraps of Christmas wrapping paper. For several years, she hung by magnets on the cover of the electrical breaker box in my condo. Low lighting, you know, preserves the color.

The remains of my paper puppet collection, created over a period of maybe 10 years, are shielded from light until someone empties the contents of the old camel-back trunk where I stored them. They’ll wonder why I kept the puppets and everything else that’s in that trunk. So do I. By the way, the only male figure, Rumpelstiltskin, bears uncanny resemblance to one of the founders of a major corporation whose signature color is orange.

When I decided, in a fever, to get into paper cutting, I remembered a couple of large, flat pieces of corrugated cardboard I kept from the packing for a floater frame I ordered online from Blick Art supplies. Saving the cardboard says something about how living in Alaska has changed me, because in Atlanta, I would have whisked it to the recycling bin in my condo community before the sun set.

With an X-ACTO knife, I cut one piece of the cardboard to 24 x 20 inches, which is the size of the largest frame Blick ships. I assembled scissors, glue, scraps of wrapping paper and dozens of paint chips left from last summer when my house was under construction.

I thought about the subject of my work—probably a seascape, maybe something with a boat in it. Maybe a fish.

I cut paper, moved it around on the cardboard. I cut more paper, stopped to make dinner and eat it, blew my nose, cleaned up the kitchen, then dragged myself to bed with a cup of herb tea and a box of tissues.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, I cut more paper and moved it around when I wasn’t blowing my nose and coughing into my elbow.

By Wednesday evening, as I stood over my work, I felt not artistic. I felt like a convalescent reluctantly participating in craft time at the old folks’ home.

I don’t like the paper. The largest pieces are seasonal; the good paper (paint chips) are too small.

I need big sheets of black and white construction paper. I need more tissue paper; all I have now is red, green, and white (Christmas). I need to be, as my sister Joy counseled, a hoarder if my art form is going to be cut paper and collage.

With just enough space cleared for one car, her garage is a  storehouse and studio chock full of canvases (blank and works in progress), tubes of paint, brushes, and mountainous stacks of painted paper. She could be Matisse’s assistant; better, he would be hers.

On Thursday, I cleared the kitchen counter of all my materials. And while I waited for inspiration, I started playing “The Hidden World of Art.” It’s a computer game where you look for hidden objects stuck into master works of classical art. I think the developers like James Tissot because at least a dozen of his paintings are featured in this game.

Pulling this game together is the background story of a young woman named Lana Vassari who is hired by dealers and collectors to restore works of art. Let me just tell you, it’s a fun diversion, and it’s made even more fun by the captions that made me realize, early on, that English is not the first language of the game developers.

Here are samples, exactly as they appear on the screen; I mean, exactly, the spelling, punctuation, spacing.

I wished to have this painting as once as I saw it.

No argue, it’s painted really well. John Millais was really famous artist in his time. But I don’t really liked this painting . And I think that there is no difference as for me – as it is the stuffed bird is even better – you can watch it well from all sides. And alive bird will fly away!

You know that young people, they are ready to throw away all the past and look only in the future, they forgot their roots and don’t want to know anything! Today we were brought a canvas of Dominque Ingress work, he’s a master of neoclassicism.Do you know what they were talking about when saw it? They say, that according to the rumors, the master was terribly drinking, that’s why the ladies turned out to be more beautiful on the drawing than they really were.

How can you laugh! This thief turned out to be an artist, he decided to attract attention to himself in such non-standard way – like, make it out yourself, which is my work and which is Lesrel’s one

Oh, no… Right, I remembered – my friends, knowing about how much I love art, presented me very expensive painting. But I spatted it with a nail polish accidentally

Almost each his painting is an allegory.

You certainly understand that not everyone can own a private collection without allow. I can. And I can allow to myself a specialist of your high standing.

Almost all his life this artist had to fight with a poverty, . . .

Well, the case is really delicate, big money is obviously takes place here . . .

Does this painting convey you something?

Than you should know that it’s Fragonard who rose this graceful style of art to the unheard-of  loftiness.

Look at this painting. Agree, it’s breathing with peace and home cosiness.

Thank you for such a cognitive talk!

By Friday, I felt close to 100 percent well. I played “Hidden World of Art” one more time, and read the credits: Oleg Kuznetsov, Vladimir Borulko, Vlad Dyjnchak, Dimitry Batura, Aldeander Tochinsky and others. I’m guessing they’re Russian, probably in their early 20s, and if they don’t use perfect English, they have a sophisticated knowledge of classical art, and they’re really good at hiding jack hammers, tennis rackets, and Gramophones in a Tissot painting.

Yesterday I felt inspired again to make art. I shopped Amazon for paper cutting scissors, a set of X-ACTO knives, and a self-healing cutting mat. The order has already shipped, and my artist tools will be here by mid-week.

In the meantime, I see possibility in every piece of paper, Kleenex excluded.

ImageThis afternoon, I walked around the outside of my house imagining how the place would look with botanical ground cover instead of mud or snow, which looks great, but I don’t want it year round.  In the back, I retrieved a float that the wind had ripped away from the old shrimp trap I have on the deck. How many times, middle of the night, did I get out of bed and stand out there trying to figure out what the heck was beating against the house?  I’d noticed that I wasn’t hearing that anymore.

I stepped around piles of poop left by neighbor dogs. A cat’s small prints are mixed among theirs. No coyote came by, unless they’re in the canine mix. No bears. No moose, and I had been so sure they would meander through the yard and rest under my deck. No humans, not until today. This is, of course, a very good thing.

On the east side of the house, I saw the tiniest bit of red life pushing up from the mud. Rhubarb is coming back in the spot where there was a huge stand of it before my house was built.

From the person, who lived in a house trailer on this land before me, I have rhubarb and one rusty metal can that I’ve repurposed as a flower pot.

Everything, everyone has a season and a purpose.

cold or flu virusInside my head, a bug is having an otolaryngolical party. Hey, ya’ll: I didn’t volunteer to host this. I did not offer to serve herbal tea and Emergen-C around the clock. I did not offer heaps of tissue, Auburn University style, for the party animals raving in my nose.

No. I’ve been minding my own business, going about town, washing my hands frequently, noticing how many times I touch my hands to my face and trying not to do that, wishing people would not lick their fingers when they turn pages (this, in Safeway, as an officious manager type approached a checker type with some kind of paper work while I was checking out. Please don’t touch my groceries, I thought).

You know that drill. But here’s the thing: bugs get into us. They find a place to do their thing. The longer I go, the more I know it. For now, I’m nearly happy that it’s just a cold.