“Blackbirds and Black Willows, Close of Day”

Posted on Nov, Tue, 2022 in Black & White

“Blackbird and Black Willows, Close of Day”  C.G. Baker, 2022

 

“The Blackbird”, (last stanza)

“Two golden stars, like tokens from the Blest,
Strike on his dim orbs from the setting sun;
His sinking hands seem pointing to the West;
He smiles as though he said—”Thy will be done”:
His eyes, they see not those illuminings;
His ears, they hear not what the Blackbird sings.”  Frederick Tennyson

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“Sycamores, Nature’s Rendition”

Posted on Nov, Mon, 2022 in Landscapes, Musings from Still Point

“Sycamores, Nature’s Rendition”

John Ruskin, many would assert, was the 19th century’s most famous art critic, though his reputation at that time as a polymath and contemporary Renaissance man elevated him into other spheres of ideas and endeavors. An extraordinary draftsman, watercolorist and philosopher, he championed the interrelationship of nature, art and society, positing:
“Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty.” J. Ruskin

In the spirit of his observation and my own obsession with American Sycamores, I post this image taken yesterday late in the day after a light snow collected in the crevices and shadows of the forest floor just above the banks of the Chagrin River. These images are eerily reminiscent of Gustav Klimt’s slightly abstract portrayal of trees, especially the beech and birch forests that attracted him.

I would note there is no saturation or Photoshop compensation here, simply “nature painting for us … pictures of infinite beauty.”
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“Autumn Grass, Hudson River Valley”

Posted on Nov, Mon, 2022 in Gallery Image, Landscapes, Musings from Still Point

“Autumn Grass, Hudson River Valley”

Back home only a week, missing and musing about this inspirational landscape for the Hudson River School artists. A scene from our hike of Frederic Church’s estate, “Olana”, perched above the banks of the Hudson River. The unseen reverse view captures the full sweep of the Catskills and the Hudson River valley below; a dramatic backdrop to the home of Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School. He well might have opined on the role of providence putting us in the valley at the perfect autumn moment. We counted our blessings.
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“Willow in the Window”

Posted on Nov, Mon, 2022 in Uncategorized

“Willow in the Window”

Scene out our window last week (Nov. 2) in Hinesburg, Vermont., a small New England village outside Burlington. The restored barn where we stayed provided ideal quarters for the first half of our trip, not only for its beautiful landscape but for its interior views that evoked memories ranging from Kertész to Wyeth.
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“Late to Flush”

Posted on Nov, Sun, 2022 in Landscapes, Musings from Still Point

“Late to Flush Mallards”

This morning (Wednesday, Oct. 19) provided for an unanticipated closeup as migrating mallards, after holding tight through freezing rain and the season’s first trace of snow, burst into flight at the west end of the marsh . In deeper water, 100 yards to the east a pair of redheads and a raft of lesser scaups, more backsides visible than heads, were tipping and resurfacing like “drinking bird toys”, as they foraged below.

A reluctant yet serendipitous decision to hike through freezing rain provided rare color as poplars, maple and wild cherry were already brilliant. White and red oaks are in early stages of rust and the sedge, rush and reeds range from red to light green at this moment. For a few days only, it is the latter, the light green grasses, that give the landscape another dimension.
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“Goldenrod, September’s Child”

Posted on Oct, Mon, 2022 in Landscapes, Musings from Still Point

Goldenrod, September’s Child

 

Goldenrod was on my mother’s list of least desirables, an aversion imprinted on her in early childhood by my grandmother, who, as a teenager, carried with her into the 20th Century a set of myths and folklore about plants, food and health. In her pantheon of seasonal allergens, goldenrod ranked above ragweed and grass pollens and would never have found its way into her vast store of healing herbal tinctures. No doubt she would have suffered the vapors had she learned goldenrod extracts and pollen would become an effective anodyne for respiratory and digestive ailments as well as the treatment of UTI’s.

Notwithstanding the healing properties of the plant, Northeast Ohio’s landscapes are colored and textured by this wildflower as it contributes to the region’s autumn aesthetic. Rising, rhythmically, sweeping over meadows and fields, filling culverts with color, goldenrod induces the warm nostalgia of early autumn, the bittersweet longing for summer before its passing, reminding us perhaps of Shakespeare’s 18th Sonnet (“ … and summer’s lease hath all to short a date.”). Or, the qualities of Saudade, evoking the sweet melancholy and yearning for a past place or person, so inextricably infused into the culture of the Portuguese and Spanish.

Adding to an emotional state of mind, last week cumulus clouds formed the trailing edge of an autumn cold front, competing with patches of goldenrod as they caught brief intervals of sunlight in Squire Valleevue’s eastern meadow. Not evident in this photograph are the purple and white asters blooming in profusion this week- good timing for a visit to this remarkable landscape in the Chagrin Valley.
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“Requiem for Nature”

Posted on Jul, Wed, 2022 in Uncategorized

“Requiem ”

“Tuft of Flowers”
“ …
But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim. … ”
Robert Frost

Written in 1915, Frost’s poem reflects nostalgic values of an earlier era, ones I fear we’ve lost through the century that’s followed. The speaker here, tossing just cut grass to dry in the morning sun is led by a butterfly to a tuft of flowers spared by one who had mowed earlier that morning. A small expression of humanity had left the flowers intact, presumably for their sheer joy and by the simple grace of the mower. Considered today in the context of the political divide roiling our Republic and the unprecedented normalizing of lies and conspiracies, Frost’s poem, quaint even in its time, is nonetheless an aspirational metaphor for the present era. “Return to Nature!”, the familiar rallying cry for many of us disaffected by contemporary society, has become a routine anodyne to our predicament, its healing qualities now foundering in cynicism and despair. Although I too have invoked the ameliorative power of nature, an experience this past week has shaken my confidence even in the natural world to salve and bridge the divide. To that point, posted below is a series of photographs accompanied by further context and a brief story to document the event.

I can’t recall precisely but I believe I was nine or ten, some 65 years ago, when I first walked these rural northbound tracks of the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway running from Canton and Brewster, through Aurora and on to Cleveland. Even then many of the trees were interlaced high above the tracks that cross Old Mill Road in Aurora continuing on north to feed Lake Erie’s freighters.

The trees, forming a short tunnel beneath their canopy, became my “gateway” to the marsh, to its inner woodlands and to a small cloistered meadow at the east end. I always had the feeling something mysterious lay beyond their long shadows, something numinous yet benign and familiar waiting to be explored. And it was through exploring this “other” world I learned lessons of the woods and wetlands and, over a lifetime, discovery of myself as well. Identifying trees, for instance, how leaf lobes distinguish oaks (white, red and pin); how to recognize the smooth bark of immature beech thriving beneath the canopy as they hold their translucent, parchment leaves through winter; remembering elm and ash now lost; spotting scattered sugar and rock maple here and there, and finding the increasingly rare wild black cherry trees.

The cherry (arched in the first three images below), content with time’s slow passage, etched its shape through space over decades. Years earlier the tree underwent a slow transformative process known as inosculation, its trunk grafting naturally with another cherry that resided in a small copse. One trunk grew vertically, the other cantilevered over the track its bough arched high above passing trains. Here the story begins.

Last week I returned to the marsh, walking the rails as I do every week, savoring the flashes of wildlife and the sounds and earthy fragrances that have marked generations of this undisturbed land. As Frost’s tuft of flowers was metaphoric, so too would become the sight that lay ahead.

Lying before me a startling assault on the landscape; indescribable, indiscriminate and likely an unceremonious destruction of trees that had lined the tracks. A rail crew assisted by modern technology had butchered trees on either side of the rails, and along with these living creatures, the beauty and innocence of place – a sacred aesthetic element of the landscape as well as a home and food source for wildlife. The 4th, 5th and 6th images below depict the slaughter. The history of this land, silent through the slow passage of time, transmuted in a moment. The ancient cherry reaching over the tracks was chewed to a shell, its branches only stubs, the ultimate indignity a remnant of its eviscerated trunk. I would also note, the carnage had extended twice as far as the prescribed 15’ clearance for freight trains.

By happenstance several days later I witnessed the probable instrument of destruction near a rail crossing in Solon. A brush cutter known as a Kershaw Klearway 500 ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvAGPDtl_qg) mounted on rails, its rotary cutter-head mangling trees and brush, sating the hunger of its operators. This giant brush cutter projecting outward on a boom about 25 feet, was shredding vegetation along the railway. Masticating large trees and boughs within its ravenous maw, reminding me of an AK 47’s capacity to gratify the exigent machismo of some men.  Humanity’s hubris will never be lost so long as the pernicious combination of technology and man’s desire for dominion over nature continues. And so, short of eye-witnessing the destruction at the marsh, I deduced it was probably the same or a similar machine that had ravaged the old cherry and untold other trees along the edge of the marsh.

As I began to inspect the area, the keening cry of a red-tail hawk (Image No. 7), followed me, circling for the next 10 or 15 minutes until I returned to my car, its plaintiff, high-pitched cry a requiem; its own lament, casting grief upon the wind, over the woods where it fell upon the marsh – history and pathos buried beneath grass and sedge. His nest, at the top of a mature beech, also had been destroyed by the rail crew. I wondered if he recognized me as I’m probably the only one he regularly encounters. I took his declarations as a coda in the aftermath.

What significance can we ascribe to a relatively trivial event when the world is on fire, almost literally as it appears in this moment? The recent and accelerating divisions that afflict our society, the geopolitical struggles and the existential exigencies that threaten the planet have another origin it would seem to me. Jung would point to the shadows.

Out of the cradle, through instinct and observation, one begins the journey of humanity. Robert Frost’s, “Tuft of Flowers” is a voice from another time. Pray today’s child may hear man’s grace through the strains of nature.

No. 1 Summer Rails

 

No. 2 Autumn Rails

 

No. 3 November Rails

 

No. 4 First View

 

No. 5 Laid to Waste

 

No. 6 Death of an Ancient Wild Cherry

 

No. 7: Red Tail’s Requiem

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