snow covered the ground like milk the sun was a red crescent a chili pepper spicing the air with a baby’s cry
Wilbur Scoville was born on January 22, 1865 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. A pharmacist by training, he wrote a celebrated pharmacy textbook and won many awards for his research – but he is best remembered for devising the Scoville Scale, which is still in use today for measuring the spiciness or heat of chili peppers. One could argue he made possible such things as chili pepper eating contests and our cultural awareness of different kinds of peppers and their spice levels. It is interesting to think of the effect that the attempt to quantify something has on our perception of it!
I hope that everyone had a safe and happy holiday season and that 2021 will turn a corner and get better! The start of the year was a bit sluggish for me in returning to making art and posting here – I had some potential COVID exposures at work and daycare. It turned out okay and neither myself nor anyone else in either place tested positive or got sick thanks to protocols in place and strategic closures. But it does devour all of one’s mental energy.
I have a new post going up on Friday and the theme of the upcoming post reminded me of this one, a fun haiku by Tricia Knoll. She is a very active Vermont-based poet and you can see all her upcoming events and poems at her website: triciaknoll.com
Original text of the post: “This haiku puts a grin on my face every time I read it. And it never fails to launch me on an extended trip down memory lane as well – from the greenhouse in my grandparents’ backyard to one I visited once in Iceland. I consider this one of the superpowers of the haiku: they are a reservoir of memories stored in present tense words. Ms. Tricia Knoll is an award-winning poet working and living in Portland, Oregon. Her website, triciaknoll.com, has more of her wonderful haiku as well as links to many of her published poems and books – I definitely recommend a visit! Painting (acrylic on cardboard), digital collage, and composition by me. Have a wonderful weekend!”
Looking back through the archives, I found that I posted this acrylic painting/haiku pairing almost exactly 5 years ago (Dec. 19th, 2015). At the time I was working through some exercises in a color mixing book, so much of the painting I was doing was abstract and focused on the colors. This translated haiku also reflects my house cleaning aesthetic – and I’ve read we are all falling behind on chores and cleaning even as we spend much more time at home (and therefore have a dirtier house) due to the pandemic.
Original post is below the read more tag. I wish everyone happy and safe holidays!
the ether swirled behind her eyes “It’s a girl,” the midwife said lamplight flickered in the window the new mother smiled, “My daughter will count the stars, call them each by name one by one.”
My history poem today is in honor of the birth of Annie Jump Cannon on December 11, 1863. Ms. Cannon became famous as an astronomer who pioneered the Harvard Classification System for stellar bodies – a system that is still in use today. She was also a pioneer for women at Harvard and in astronomy. She manually classified an astounding 350,000 stars in her lifetime – a number that is still a record. Her career in astronomy lasted more than 40 years and later included numerous honorary doctorate degrees from top universities – often from universities that didn’t admit women in the 1880’s when she was attending college. The Annie Jump Cannon Award is still presented by the American Astronomical Society each year to an outstanding early career female astronomer.
I wish everyone a good weekend – stay safe and healthy out there!
Even though I had to take a break from participating, I’ve been keeping an eye on the Kick-Abouts over at Phil’s Red Kingdom blog – the creativity is always phenomenal. Two weeks ago he announced that the prompt for Kick About #16 would be the last verse of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
This poem was my first poetry love: I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know this poem and didn’t find it magical. I distinctly remember being in my grandmother’s house when I was 8 years old, in my mother’s childhood bedroom, reading it in an old school book anthology I found on a shelf. If my childhood in Southern California was filled with parched chaparral, cars, and Santa Ana winds, Frost described a world that seemed to me in a snow globe or fantasy book – harness bells, snowy woods, deep silence, and solemn promises. I’ve always held this poem close – and I’ve found that has made it difficult for me to make art about it. But I still wanted to participate in the Kick About, so I decided to revisit a trip I took 6 years ago to the Robert Frost Family Homestead in Derry, New Hampshire. All photographs by me on my old iPhone then equipped with a now ancient photo filter app.
The farm is a day trip from Boston – where I was living at the time – and is absolutely worth the trip if you are ever in the area (their website is here). I went in August, so everything was as green and humid as it could be.
It’s hard to fathom writers as famous as Robert Frost being anything but famous and successful – how could anyone have ever doubted the man, after all, he’s Robert Frost? But the origin story of the farm speaks to the fact that there was a time before he was famous, before the Pulitzer and the Congressional Gold Medal. Despairing for the fate of his daughter-in-law and grandchildren, Frost’s grandfather bought the farm for Frost to ensure he had a means to feed and support his family. You can almost hear Frost’s grandfather now, more than a hundred years later: “You want to do what? Be a poet? What – how – how will you feed the children?” Frost enjoyed the farm for the solitude and privacy to write, but was, by all accounts, a half-hearted farmer. He did make a go of it, however, and it was a working poultry farm for a few years.
It is amazing to walk the nature trail around the farm and see the inspirations for his poems for yourself: the woods, dark and deep; the mending wall; the old barn and farm tools.
The Frost family sold the farm in 1911 and it changed owners many times until it became a car junk yard in the 1940s. There is a heartbreaking display on the nature trail with a black and white photograph showing the meadow gone and buried under a sea of wrecked and twisted cars, nothing but thick and clumpy mud. Fortunately, after Frost’s death, the state of New Hampshire recognized the historic value of the property and purchased it. Restoration was undertaken with the help of Frost’s daughter Lesley and the farm was opened to the public in 1975. It is a peaceful and beautiful place to visit. When I read the words of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, I see the woods around the Derry farm, the road curving past on its way from town. I think everyone reads their own life promises into that last stanza – but standing in the meadow behind the Frost farm, it made sense to me that at least some of Frost’s promises were made right here, on an old farm in the New Hampshire countryside.
Flashing red yellow orange the poppies chase me up the off-ramp
California poppies bloom here in the spring time – sprouting up in even the most marginal of habitats – freeway shoulders and empty lots. I wrote this haiku last spring, but took awhile to get around to working on a collage for it. I’m posting it now, in the “deep” winter here (I know it’s 73 degrees F here today, but we’ve had one brief rain storm and some Santa Ana winds! Weather!), as a reminder of what’s to come: a new year, a new season, of hope. The transfer on this one was done at the same time as my last Highway Haiku, but it turned out a little “better” than “Osprey” – for no discernible reason.
I broke out my acrylic paints for the first time in a long time – it felt good to just paint without any real goal in mind, just mixing color and having fun. I had some Fuyu persimmons in my fruit bowl and so they became an impromptu still life. I’ve always loved the color of persimmons – they always evoke autumn for me (they ripen here in October/November). I painted the top picture over strips of newspaper to give it more texture.
A few weeks ago I ran across a blog calling for artists and writers to submit recipes to share to help each other through the pandemic. I thought it sounded fun and community minded…but I did not get it together in time to participate in the call! But in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow, I’m going to share my recipe for Persimmon cookies. My grandmother gave me the recipe, but I’m 98% sure she got it from a cookbook (so it’s not some ancestral family recipe or anything). I’ve baked them many times and they make the whole house smell amazing and it is a fun way to entice Persimmon-doubters to try the fruit.
Persimmon Spice Cookies
1/2 cup butter 1 cup sugar 1 egg 1 cup of persimmon pulp (I’ve used both common varieties of persimmon – fuyu and hachiya. Hachiya gives a stronger persimmon flavor, but you have to wait until the fruit is extremely ripe before using due to astringency) 2 cups sifted flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg juice and grated peel from half a large orange 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves 1 cup finely chopped pecans (optional – I don’t use but it’s in the original recipe) 1 cup golden raisins (I’ve also used dried cherries and that works too!)
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg and add persimmon pulp. Sift all dry ingredients together and stir into egg mixture. Add pecans and raisins (if using). Drop by spoonful on greased cookie sheet. Bake for 375 degrees F for ~12 minutes. The cookies should be soft and cake-like. Enjoy!
For my friends and readers in the U.S., I hope you have a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday! I myself am staying home this year, so no travels for me this year – the first time in a very long time!
On a street light at the highway 8 interchange an osprey perches
This was one of those transfer prints that didn’t go as planned – as goes so much of life these days – but I have committed to posting the highway haiku, no matter how the transfers turn out, so here it is! I’ve decided that the sparse transfer of the words reflects the oh-so-brief glimpses I’ve gotten of this osprey perched on a highway light. It’s actually the first osprey I’ve seen in the wild here and thankfully they are distinctive and easy to identify, otherwise there’d be no hope for me to say what species of bird it was as I speed around this interchange at 60 mph!
Another unexpected thing that happened this week was that a short creative non-fiction piece I submitted to the Ekphrastic Review was accepted! My thanks to Lorette Luzajic and the editors at the Ekphrastic Review. Head on overHEREto check out my “21 Thoughts on Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans” as well as all the other creative responses to Warhol’s iconic image of a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup.
Camille Pissarro Visits Charlotte Amalie for the Last Time
The hills have more houses and there are no more clipper ships the roads curl like smoke from the missing jungle But the sand in the synagogue is the same and my memory of the people the ebony lady with her water jug she still smiles at me descending the hill with her hand on her hip
The impressionist painter Camille Pissarro died this day in 1903 – he is not only famous as an artist in his own right, but he was also known as the “dean of Impressionist painters.” He mentored and inspired almost every Impressionist name you can think of – Cézanne, Gauguin, Renior, Seurat, and van Gogh. But one thing I learned about him for my history poem (I guess if I’m not writing haikus, I shouldn’t call them history haikus anymore!), was that he was born to a Jewish family in Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas, in the Danish West Indies. This is now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. I had always associated Pissarro with France and the French countryside, so it was fascinating to read about his early life and works in the Caribbean. I visited the U.S. Virgin Islands about seven years ago and toured the synagogue in Charlotte Amalie – it is the oldest synagogue in the U.S. and the second oldest in the western hemisphere. One of the most unique features of the building is that the floor inside is overlaid with a thick layer of sand. The reason given on our tour was that the sand is in remembrance of the persecution of Jews during the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal – the sand muffled the sound of worship in secret synagogues.
The post I am working on for Friday to mark the death of Camille Pissarro in 1903 reminded me of this post I did six and half years ago. I took the photograph in the hallway of an old converted house in Cambridge, MA – I was helping a friend of mine move out of the attic apartment. The light was just like that, pouring through a circular window at top of the stairs. Mueller’s poem came almost immediately to mind; this post is still one of my favorite very early ones from my blog. To read Mueller’s whole poem, go here.