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Don Freas
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I saw a young eagle diving at the water out in Budd Inlet. I couldn’t make out anything on the surface that he might be diving for, so I figured he was fishing. After three or four rapid-succession dives in the same spot I went for the binoculars. Ducklings in Danger Zoomed-in I could see that the quarry was a tight brood of six ducklings, in the care of their papa. (They may have been mergansers, but I’m guessing wood ducks.) They were navigating low waves on a medium tide, just beyond the shingle beach. I grimaced at what I thought I was about to see. I appreciate eagles, and I know they have to eat, but when baby ducks are involved…yikes. I was making a classic mistake, assuming the ducks were helpless, the eagle almighty. These birds have been living out here together a whole lot longer than humans have been watching and worrying about them. I thought of another eagle and duck dynamic I had noticed. Divers Last winter from a high bluff nearby I could watch bufflehead ducks “flying” underwater. I noticed that they generally surface from a dive with a sudden rush across the water for a few yards. They winter here, so I see it every day. Intrigued, I have long thought perhaps it was a mating display. A few weeks later I noticed an eagle was perched on a tall madrona snag overhanging the beach nearby. There were buffleheads out on the bay, diving, surfacing with that sudden scoot. The eagle appeared nonchalant, just sitting up there, looking around. Suddenly the eagle rolled off the perch and into a fast steep dive toward the water, and the flock of buffleheads. His timing was impeccable—he hit the water just as one of the buffleheads surfaced. But he couldn’t quite factor in that surfacing rush: the duck scooted and the eagle caught water. While the eagle flew back up to try again, that instinctual rush the buffleheads practice gained a whole new meaning. What Happened to the Ducklings? My grimace turned to a grin as each time the eagle dove, all seven ducks dove as well. Thinking this had to be easy pickings, the eagle kept flying up, turning back, diving again. He made the loop at least twenty times in the next few minutes. With every pass the ducklings and their father went under just long enough to avoid the plunging eagle. They came right back up and continued paddling along, no doubt watching ever more closely for expanding shadows. The whole family paddled on as the eagle gave up and headed back to the woods. Papa duck was showing the kids something about the vulnerability of being a duck, and how to relate to that reality, while the eagle was learning something important about the vagaries of a mobile and perceptive food source. Tough to be an eagle, too. He probably used up more energy in the attempt than he would have gained from... Continue reading
Posted Jul 31, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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An idea for a work has the sole purpose of getting me into the studio—it has very little to do with what the final thing will look like. The intriguing idea will be swallowed quickly into the hard realities and limitations of materials and skills, and the fluidity of mood, vision, and chance. When I let go of the original motivation something I couldn’t have imagined will come out of the process. The unimaginable whispers, pulls me like gravity. In fear, I resist it as well. But I’ve learned that if the process scares me enough it just might offer value. The work shapes me as much as I shape the work. How To Begin How do I begin, then, with no image of what I’m making? I get excited about the parts and pieces I’ve gathered or made. I wonder what they’ll look like in relationship. I begin in order to find out what I can only know by making it. The truth is in there. I proceed with curiosity and intuition, trying relationships until something says “yes” (or “what the hell.”) That has to be enough. I take a stand, trust, weld the first two bits together. There is no top, bottom, front or back, still no larger vision. Two unique pieces, union: the first push back against entropy—temporary but bold. Then I ask where the next one goes, and make another choice. Now there are three. Relationships start talking to me. Riffs on those add harmony and dissonance. I still know only a little about where this is taking me, but I’m underway in the unknown. Become Visible My first conscious dip into partnership with the work in this way was with a wooden piece, ten years ago. It wasn’t my first sculpture, but it was the first time I began without an image or drawings to work toward. I had some tapering scraps of mahogany from a furniture project, and, an idea about what might happen if I glued them together at slight angles to one another. A thing happened. (I wish I had a photo of the clamping arrangement. It was nuts trying to hold it all together while the glue set up.) I smoothed and carved it, though I still had no idea about what it was—or even if it was finished. How would I know? I wondered if it was part of something larger, body sculpture that needed a harness, maybe something to be cut up and reassembled further. The piece was so successful as an unrecognizable new thing that I didn’t know how to relate to it, didn’t know what I had achieved. It was perfectly useless and didn’t bring anything but itself to mind. It stood on the back bench all winter. When I had a gallery show the next spring I needed one more piece. I oiled it, titled it “Becoming Visible” and put it on a pedestal. Watching the public response I began to realize what the process had... Continue reading
Posted Jul 30, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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“The more perceptions and representations of the universe each monad integrates, the more it unfolds its own perfection and differs from every other.” -Tom Cheetham, All the World an Icon I realized something while writing yesterday’s BAP post—something I didn’t know I knew. This is why I write (or make sculptures): connections arise; I can’t predict what will happen. ([click here] to read Tuesday’s post.) In this case it was the part about the overlay of multiple experiences, the dimensionality that accrues when we visit a place (or any interlaced living system) again and again over time. We could call it the vertical dimension of familiarity, moving beyond the horizontal. How did I get that out of a forest? I better to take you in. Horizontal Dimension It’s easy to take friends out to an old-growth forest sanctuary I know and show them around—that’s the horizontal dimension. We park at the trailhead, walk in through the young replanted clearcut, enter the vast cathedral of the old forest. We drop down to the river and maybe I show you a couple of side trails I know—or we sit on the bank and throw some rocks in the pouring river. This first level of experience is horizontal because it doesn’t involve multiple experiences over time. For the new visitors it’s just a place. There’s no resonance over time, no commitment. Vertical Dimension In a way, the vertical is already there for all of us, because we each bring our decades of living, and our unique individual set of assumptions, fears, and beliefs through which we filter perception wherever we are—but let’s put that aside. My own vertical perception of this particular place is thirty years deep, and dozens of experiences thick; my friends just arrived. They have one hike down the dusty trail, and whatever I’ve told them: that’s pretty flat compared to how I know this place. The vertical develops for my friends as their own perceptual and experiential moments overlay and add up. I have to shut up and turn them loose here for that. Maybe one of them decides to camp here for a month. A whole new version of the place accrues as her vertical relationship builds. She runs with a herd of elk, or picks blueberries with a bear. Another comes back once a year, always near the end of July, and builds a very different stack of experience and relationship. He knows a lot about finding a campsite when the place is crowded, maybe, and has always found it to be warm and dry here. Ten Years On When we return together ten years later the horizontal dimension will be a little different than it was, but essentially the same for us all, while the vertical will be wildly varied among us—different planets on the same ground. Around a campfire we share what we can of our individual perceptions and experiences. The place becomes even more rich for each of us. Each perspective is still absolutely... Continue reading
Posted Jul 29, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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About an hour from home there’s an old-growth forest that has befriended me over the last thirty years. Huge old Douglas firs and cedars, broadleaf maples along the braided river. Delicate vine maples grab stray rays in the understory; salal and Oregon grape hold the forest duff with trillium and mushrooms. I’ve shown up there enough that after a while the place began to open itself and show me the back corridors —deer trails, abandoned forest roads, tiny waterfall glades as peaceful as anything on the planet. Over time I found new ways to enter and leave, saw how everything connected. Every few months I take half a day and head up there to hold up my side of our friendship—and to see what has changed, what’s the same (with me and with the forest.) Most of the changes are subtle but there’s often something more grand: a tree has come down, or watersound leads me to a new grotto. It’s alive, moving, breathing. One pass is a thin postcard, a glimpse. Many passes make for increasing depth and richness. Pass the same way time and again and you become visible, part of the place, with its slow means of perception, and easy sway. Denouement This piece started with an idea about showing up to the urge to create. I wanted to bring in poetry and sculpture. Now I’m out in a wilderness reverie, taking a nap with a forest brook in my ears, an owl calling. You never know. To circle back: I have to get out to the woods, to return again and again, in order to know the place (that can’t be fully known)—just as I have to stop thinking about writing and begin casting spells of ink on paper, or setting my fingers free on the keyboard in order to write. I have to be writing to write. It’s commitment, with action. I show up and take part, ply the old pathways, look around. The first words may be junk but I’m underway, into the glowing wild lands where there is mystery around the next bend (and where I saw a river otter last time.) Any idea of finished work is secondary here: detritus sloughing off. That will come. When I show up, heart and eyes open, something happens. It builds on the last time I showed up, and every time before that. Show up often enough at anything and you will be surprised at what accrues. A life, yours. Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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It’s blueberry season, two weeks early this year. I’m on an orchard ladder, with a small red bucket hung from my belt, near the top of one of the old, eight foot tall blueberry bushes that have been on this old homestead for decades. I notice my hands, dancing. Both hands work blueberries off the fine branches of the canes, sometimes in sync, often independently. Palms up, thumbs and forefingers lightly pinch each little blue-black globe, roll it off the stem. The hand rotates at the wrist and the berry rolls down into a small cache of berries cupped in the same hand, held by the three other fingers. I can hold about ten in each hand before I risk dropping them—maybe a few more where the picking is easy and I don’t have to twist too much to grab the next. The left hand spills its load into the right, and that hand drops to my waist, to deliver the berries to the pail. One hand hooks a step while I climb up another rung and lay over the top of the ladder to reach a rich trove of ripe berries. I’m watching my hands twist, rotate, fingers grasping and cupping, adjusting to every angle, reaching around, so agile and versatile by design. I have two gallons in the freezer already and the season is just coming on. I’m careful not to pick too many in one session. The repetitive motion can build up in my hands and arms. I don’t have to do it all at once. The berries will be coming on for a week or two more. Two quarts is enough for today—an hour as the evening cools. I climb down, pour the bucket into a larger kettle and go back for more. Yesterday I leaned a little too far to the left and the three-legged ladder tipped. I pushed off, hit the ground and rolled. With my imbalanced weight gone the ladder stood back up. I didn’t hurt myself but spilled most of the belt bucket. Had to pick the berries for a second time, out of the grass. I was amazed again at the precision of the fingers completing this task. Might be best not let the bucket get so full. And I’ll see if I can stay on the ladder. It’s enough work to pick them once. It’s cooler this evening and my hands drop to zip my jacket. The left hand inserts the pin on the left tape into the box on the right tape, braced by the right hand. Right fingers grasp the pull tab while the left keeps a hold on the bottom stop. The teeth mesh as the slide rises up the chain. Hands again: their magic. The front of my jacket closes against the chill. Back to the blueberries. Remarkable how well it all works, when I let myself notice. The biggest mistake I can make is to become inured to the small wonders of the world—to take... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Jul 23, 2015