407. Not… now… Forever…Granpa Wine

Image result for champagne and shrimp picturesThings run their course for one reason or another. What we enjoy and anticipate doing wears off over time. That’s the human condition. We get bored of the same thing over and over no matter how good it is. Call it sedition. Shrimp and champagne were great yesterday but not so soon again today. Steak and beer? Sure. Ice cream and pretzels. Not again. Not right now. Still, some things are eternal.

[My first draft was about this being my last entry, but as I wrote about my feelings, they changed. Like Otis Redding singing, “Stop this pain in my heart”, the more I said and wrote about quitting, the less I wanted to quit. Too much desire on this side of the keyboard to stop, but enough static to think about it.]

Springsteen is great, but not again right now. Santana too. My ears are sound burned, perhaps because my mind is unspunked. Put the records away for now. Marvin, Clapton, Hendrix, give me a rest, just for now. Hmmm, you know Johnny Cash sounded so good near his death. Eternity sang harmony with his rough hewn voice, sanding away any false sentiments. Potent as formaldehyde with a whiskey chaser.

Smoked a pack a day back in the day. Never again. Nicotine is anxiety’s best bad friend.Image result for loose cigarette picturesThirty five years ago my pregnant wife asked me to smoke outside where it was 5o degrees below zero. I smoked one and concluded that the entire habit was stupid. It was one of my top ten decisions in life, below following God, marrying my wife, and having kids, doing therapy, oh, and quitting teaching.

Image result for green pepper plant picturesGardening was once a tender joy for me, watching a pepper plant stand tall and bear fruit once filled me with wonder. I still like gardening, but not as much. The fertile magic diminished as the work increased. Other good things came knocking on the same door, but the man behind it grew tired.

Golf was a cool thing briefly. Maybe I’ll go back to it when I’m retired for the second time. Oh what a fight, though, just to be average. Like chess, you can learn a lot about a buddy over 18 holes. How men handle failure tells you a lot about their character. Golf rewards the man who has efficiently done the least work.Image result for golf pictures

I had a phase when I liked to play with tiles, finding wholeness in broken things. There is untapped potential in a good dumpster, my friends. Finding mosaic beauty is a noble cause. The whole gives meaning to each disparate piece. My writing is similarly mosaic, lacking meaning in the particulars. If you fuzz your mind, you might find some value in the whole. Then again you might find nothing more than rubbish. I guess it depends on what you went looking for.

Image result for artistic mosaic tiles images

Used to run seriously. Seriously, I was slow but steady for 3, 5 or 7 miles. Felt so good and alive to find that runner’s zone of zen outside myself. A body in space obeying gravity and healthy guidelines. But the joints jabbered in pain and my back joined in the chorus.

Then I drew and did water color cards, little pictures that held a  wordless story I somehow needed to tell. When I stopped that practice, I realized it was my way of unloading daily anxiety onto paper with lines and shapes and colors. Each card was a 90 minute journey away from the lion’s jaws.Image result for watercolor paintings

Hunting tickled something in me I did not know was there till it was gone. Primal, visceral, powerful, and essential. You need a license, though, and some planning. After you pull the trigger, it’s all work. Unlikely to go there again.

Chess has always been a faithful friend, however, always fun. Look out retirement village. I’ll be check mating till my foolscap matures into full blown dementia.

Now it’s ballroom dancing with my bride. Maybe the best of all endeavors I’ve ever sampled. The zen of twoness puts a smile on my face when we mirror one another successfully. Mates, take my worn down soles advice: dance with your woman while you both can still move.

Image result for wine bottle picturesBrewing beer or making wine has that same sort of appeal for me, though I’ve never done either. On the way to work this morning I began to ruminate about making figurative “Grandpa Wine”. I was talking to my beloved granddaughter by phone yesterday, promising to nibble her toes off in my dinosaur voice, which she loves to rebuke in her three year old squeal. “No, Granpa. Don’t eat me!”

“Why not?”

“I made my bed.”

“Oh, I’m so proud of you. Good girl.”

“I made mommy and daddy’s bed too.”

“Whoa! You sure are a good big sister.”

“I uh, I uh, uh I want you to be a dinosaur again and chase me.”

“Aarrrgggh.”

“Weeeeee. No, Granpa. don’t eat me.”


Image result for grandpa with granddaughter pictures

“I can’t, Honey, you are holding mommy’s phone. Just give it to her if you get scared.”

“Okay, be a dinosaur again. EEEEh!!

These little moments are super sugar-saturated grapes that drop from life’s vine

Only to be squeezed into wonderful Granpa wine

Sweet whispered breaths and wisps of hair

Giggles and laughs, smiles and smirks we share

All go into the batch

We jump around and flop

on all these things And  try to catch

every dropImage result for wine stomping pictures

Explosions of joy spring out of her soul

While to keep up I crawl

She sings and poses

Bows in the kitchen to pick up imaginary roses

Heavy and plump these grapes on the vineImage result for grape vine pictures

Only to be squeezed into Granpa wine.

Funnel the juice in magnum bottles to the max

Seal with crisp Corks covered in wax

And store horizontally for a long,long timeImage result for wine cellar pictures

Break out a bottle on Thanksgiving

To toast our fun loving and living

Share old times as your eyes shine

And a familiar warmth runs up your spine

Image result for smiling three year old girl face

So, Leah,

Before my funeral bells chime

Sip and savor this Granpa wine

Note the bouquet of wild berries and stale Cheetos

And just a hint of nibbled off toes.

It must age as the flavors unfold,

But Granpa wine will never grow old.

 

 

 

384. Love Now

I’ve been off the grid for the past ten days or so. A week in Tucson with my only grandchild so far, Leah, who is three going on forty three. Sunny days and mild temperatures just reset your groove. Playing with a three year old will do it too.  I also got to help redecorate a 20 x 20 foot playroom for my daughter and son-in-law, smearing drywall compound and paint until ugly gave way to beauty, just before my arms and back fell apart. It’s scary how little endurance I have for real physical work anymore. There was a time when I could work all day at a project and be ready to get back to it the next day. Those days are over. Now exhaustion sets in around four hours into steady labor, followed by ibuprofen and sleep. Sixty years old in the body but twenty five in the mind equals a deficit of 35 somethings.

It’s very satisfying to see indisputable progress appear at your fingertips. In a way, painting and redecorating yield a similar satisfaction to blogging. Something is there at the end of a session that was not present earlier. I am nothing if not creative. Likewise, if I’m not creating something, then I am nothing. I love color and music and shape and rhythm. I never grow weary of art. How can you tire of saffron/cinnamon paint called Moroccan Sky as it floods across sterile white primer? Like watching blood flow through a pale, transplanted heart as it beats in the new living patient. Okay, I’m overly dramatic, but I do get excited when I see transformation flow out of a two and a half inch paintbrush.  Light and mood follow color. They have no choice. Bedouins may clomp across the baseboard in a camel train, and it’s all right.

God’s art is all over Tucson. He has done some amazing work in Arizona, let me say.  We visited Sabino Canyon and Ventana Canyon on two separate days. I posted about Sabino last year. Ventana is quite different since you have to  go through a chic resort to get to the 80 foot waterfall that is the crown jewel of this canyon. Despite the commercial development of Ventana Canyon, God’s beauty still pulses in the hills and the stream that runs through them. Not as quiet and untouched as Sabino, still it is lush with cactus and agave and palo verde and mesquites and flowers of all sorts. Man’s hands are much more obvious in Ventana, but it’s all good. Done with respect for God’s gifts.

That’s one of the many things I love about Tucson is the reverence for the landscape and the overall Sonoran Desert environment. Whereas Phoenix paved and watered the desert, creating an artificial metropolis, Tucson grew symbiotically with the fragile  landscape, never overwhelming it as is the blistering case in Phoenix.

 

On our last day in Tucson we visited the Degrazia Gallery of The Sun Museum again. He was an amazing guy and the museum is his creation, filled with his creativity. Primarily paintings, but also sculpture and ceramics, wood, furniture, and glass, as well as whimsical arrangements of old rusty metal objects in the courtyard.  You get the sense of a man who loved deeply– the land, the people, his art, his God, his friends. He is buried there between the museum and the chapel he built for the Indians. A simple pile of blue tinted rocks with a wooden headpiece, a dog tag hangs with Degrazia engraved on it, and a heavy bronze wreath at his feet. Simple and simply amazing. Everywhere you turn you see his handiwork. The man was a creative dynamo and a free spirit.The kind of guy I would feel comfortable hanging with, drinking his Chivas Regal… and I don’t even like scotch.

Standing there at his grave, I thanked him for being true, not pretentious or aloof. A real guy who inspired me. Part of me wants to go back to the 1930’s and build an adobe house on a bluff above Tucson. Drill a well. Plant slow growing vegetation that will take decades to come to fullness. Watch as a mesquite tree spreads and builds a pocket of shade beneath it. And just create left and right, above and below. Paint the stars at night and sunrise in the morning. Sculpt anything that stands still. Stack rocks in zen formations. Cast bronze figures. Fire clay and make glass. Pound out sheets of copper. Just stay on the wavelength of making art I believed in.

One other delightful site to visit nearby Degrazia’s place is the Hacienda del Sol, a fabulous resort built out of a former girls boarding school that was constructed in the 1920’s. Desert spirits are in every nook and cranny of the place. Hand made furniture and beams, doors and tiles just seduce you; calling you to linger and get outside of time. Beauty so palpable it can bring you to tears of awe. Dali’s melted watches and clocks make sense when you transcend the bully of industrialized TIME and its command, “Go, go, do, do.” Uhhh, no, not for me. I say, “Screw you, time naggers.” Drop it!! Just be, feel the moment that you are in. Cherish the past and hope for your future, but fully inhabit the moment you are in. Life artists do this very thing when they create.

March 2016 025When we came back to PA, I knew what I was going to do. If I can’t stay in Arizona, I reasoned, I can certainly put Arizona on my office walls. I pictured the work involved on the long flight back. I’d follow my favorite phone photograph taken from my daughter’s back deck, a sunset over the western ridge of mountains. Gloriously simple. I calculated the effort and imagined the colors. Strategized the parts involved. And smiled in pleasant anticipation of the outcome. “Hey, Ted DeGrazia, I’m comin’ to getcha.” Classic rock songs played on a loop in my brain as I entertained this project… Hendrix, “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire”, “Purple Haze”, “All Along the Watchtower”. I think deeply creative folks can see a song or hear a painting, smell a sculpture or feel an abstraction. Don’t expect me to prove or explain that statement. It’s a stick built hunch leaning over a vortex of faith. Okay? So, with just a few hours of sleep after a three a.m. arrival, I went to my office and began to DeGraziate it. Pictures will follow as I finish the Sonoran Desert Mural.

 

In the moment

life pulses

from God’s fingers

through mine

across my little Desertine Chapel

And time stands still

Suffused with peace

195. burly legacies: nakashima, pete seeger and mark craver

Big people cast long shadows in life and even longer ones in death. Big personas are not perfect; rather, they’re landmarks for observant travelers who find existential confirmation from these monumental persons. Like a huge white oak tree in a vast field or an enormous saguaro cactus in the sprawling desertscape, great people become compass points for the rest of us to navigate life by. There is a “foundness” in our fondness for these characters. We feel safer, stronger, and braver in their presence, whether it is through direct contact or not.

George Nakashima was a great man who spoke through wood. His biography/philosophy of life, The Soul of a Tree, is worth reading for inspiration. He was a man of many countries and influences, and ultimately a great artist. An educated American architect with a master’s degree from M.I.T., nonetheless he was interned for part of WWII because he was also Japanese.

“Nakashima’s home, studio and workshop near New Hope, Pennsylvania, was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in August 2008. One of Nakashima’s workshops, located in Takamatsu City, Japan, currently houses a museum and gallery of his works. In 1984, George Nakashima had the opportunity to purchase the largest and finest walnut log he had ever seen, and sought to use the immense planks to their fullest potential. He dreamed then that if Altars for Peace were made for each continent of the world, as centers for meditation, prayer and activities for peace, the world would be a better place. Over the past decade, his furniture has become ultra-collectible and his legacy of what became known as the “free-edge” aesthetic influential.” Wikipedia entry.

Simple beauty. He worked with the wood’s natural knots and burls.

Pete Seeger is a legendary figure who outloved his enemies. His banjo motto said, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”.  He maintained a singular focus for nine decades of life, always affirming life and freedom. I can’t even begin to outline the achievements of this great man. Funny how he was a peacenik and a believer in the oneness of humanity, and the sanctity of nature and human life. He used words and music like George Nakashima used planes and chisels.  Maybe you’ve heard a few of his most influential songs.

“Whose Side Are You On?”

“Goodnight Irene”

“If I Had A Hammer”

“We Will Overcome”

“Wimoweh, The Lion Sleeps Tonight”

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”

“Turn, Turn, Turn”

“Worried Man Blues”

It’s ironic that he withdrew from Harvard after failing a class. Consequently, he went on the road to educate himself about American people, music and life. Like Nakashima, his life was interrupted, twisted into knots, thank God.  He did not have his  freedom taken from him; instead, he grabbed for it and gobbled it down.

 Like Nakashima Pete Seeger’s patriotism was tested. He was a communist at one time, which sounds odd… an American Communist.  I believe he evolved into a humanitarian and left the political theory behind him, outliving Joe McCarthy at the House Un-American Activities Committee and J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI. Great men have plenty of haters, but heroes must have villains to overcome, right? John Lennon’s line, “Time wounds all heels” comes to mind. Whose legacy is worth reading now? Not the haters and fear mongers. Who winds up on the right side of history? You don’t know until it gets here. Still, some folks seem like clairvoyant soothsayers. Perhaps that’s because they hold to truth and beauty. Their view of the future is not so different from the best of the past.

Mark Craver was my friend from high school days. He cast a long shadow in many lives, as a student, a friend, a teacher, a writer, and just as a human being. His nickname from the days of Lew Welge, Sam Ray, and Jim Wilkie was “Burly”. I think Wilkie tagged him with that name. Funny that the concept of burls fits well in each of these guys’ lives.

“A burl is a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. It is commonly found in the form of a rounded outgrowth on a tree trunk or branch that is filled with small knots from dormant buds.

A burl results from a tree undergoing some form of stress. It may be caused by an injury, virus or fungus. Most burls grow beneath the ground, attached to the roots as a type of malignancy that is generally not discovered until the tree dies or falls over. Such burls sometimes appear as groups of bulbous protrusions connected by a system of rope-like roots. Almost all burl wood is covered by bark, even if it is underground. Insect infestation and certain types of mold infestation are the most common causes of this condition.”  Wikipedia entry.

So, if you are following the analogy, Blogestations, things of beauty are born out of deformity, dormant buds, crushed dreams, even malignancies. If you’ve ever seen a good burl in the woods, it resembles tree cancer. Yet, this is where wood artisans find the material for gorgeous swirls and crazy patterns in their work. It’s hard to work on a lathe when the grain cyclones through a hunk of hard wood, but that’s where the jackpot is.

Mark absorbed pain, I think, just as he absorbed knowledge and beauty. His photographic memory contained many unforgettable uglies right alongside sterling moments. Mark speaks in a low voice in my memory banks. He died in his sleep ten years ago. I recall the memorial service at George Mason University. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, academics, young, old, bikers, fishermen, farmers, men and women, straight and gay, artists and audience were all there, maybe 400 folks who loved Mark. On the drive over to his sister’s house, which was further west, I drove into the glorious winter sunset hoping it would not set, that the darkness would not come. Like Dylan Thomas’s voice urges his dying father,

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on that sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Yeah, well Crave, Pete, George,

Fellas, that light does indeed die and we all go into the good night.

Thanks for your legacies.

189. cruel renewal

Making all things new again. That’s a tall order, I think. Just making one simple thing new again is hard enough. Refinishing a piece of furniture, for example, requires five times the effort than the original finishing took. Think about it:  you have to strip the varnish or polyurethane with some solvent and a wire brush and fine tools to get into the grooves. Then you have to strip out the stain with more stain remover/solvent. At this point you have to sand the remaining stains or patches of finish to smooth out the original wood grain. Finer and finer grits of sandpaper need to be rubbed carefully with the grain. Then you wipe away the fine dust. Finally you are back to the starting point of new, bare furniture. But that’s what you do to restore the old wood to prime condition so that its luster and deep grain can be seen and appreciated again, or maybe for the first time.

Image result for maple trees pictures

My buddy Clark knows a lot about wood and renewal. He learned about trees as a kid in Patton, PA., walking through the woods to school cuz he’d been thrown off the school bus again and again for being a hyperactive ne’er do well. He was rejected frequently as a kid by humans but not by trees or pieces of wood. He learned about oaks and maples and birch and beech and box elder and walnut and cherry simply walking by them twice a day. He saw pines grow to their fullness and die in his lifetime. However, dead trees simply cross over to lumber for him. He eyes up  trees and looks for unique features that he can use in tables or bowls or just long runs for boards. And then he gets to work creating with saws and planer, lathe and chisels.

A couple of years ago I helped him saw up a spalted maple; that’s a downed tree which has been decaying with fungi but hasn’t rotted yet. The result of spalting is a beautiful array of discoloration, waves and rivulets of brown, red, and black paint spilled throughout the wood. Clark turns hunks of this stuff into gorgeous bowls that appear to be fired ceramic. You have to touch them to believe they are not ceramic but wood, not paintings of deserts landscapes but infected wood transformed into marble. Beauty birthed from death.

Image result for spalted maple lumber pictures

He learned about renewal by living a life full of zest and curiosity… after he was down and decaying like a fallen maple in the leaf mold.  Alcohol was the lightning and tornado that slew him. By age 35 his doctor told him he had a year to live if he did not quit drinking. He said, ” Thanks, Doc. I ‘m tired of living,” and went to the closest bar. He got so polluted on Yuenglings or Iron City beer that the bartender asked, “Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”  “Hell no,” he bellowed and order another. He had one more angry sip and announced, “Now I’ve had enough.” He stumbled out of the bar and right into the path of his beloved daughter and her best friend. (Timber!) No details remain except the pain of shame he saw on his precious girl’s face. Something transformative occurred in that one second. Clark grew on the level of consciousness even as his angry pride fell down face first. He recalls it like Paul falling off his horse on the way to Damascus. Clark went to rehab the next day. That was almost 35 years ago.

Since then he’s been sanding off the old varnish of youth, adolescence and early adult life. The mess of foolishness, the lacqeur of addiction and scars of selfishness. As he does this consciousness raising on a cognitive level, he’s finding more and more to like about himself… compassion, loyalty, a modicum of patience…and an artist’s heart/head/hands package. Late in life, to be sure, but there it is: beauty born from pain and suffering. He is spalted maple through and through, washed by the rivers of alcohol, rejection and rage that are dry riverbeds nowadays.Image result for spalted maple lumber pictures

One story of thousands will have to suffice. Ironic, of course. Up the road from his childhood house was a substantial estate owned by the Five Farabaugh sisters. They were well off spinster sisters. Clark’s dad agreed to be an informal caretaker of the property when the only male child left to run part of the A&P store chain out west. One by one the old ladies died off until there were no more. Still Clark’s father “Bunny” continued the upkeep of the property. When Clark went along to help, his father would say, “Don’t even think about stealing anything. We might be poor but we’re honest, by God.” There were many objects and knickknacks all over this grand Victorian house. In the attic the sisters had a miniature classroom where they had played school as little girls. He remembered thinking, “I could learn here. They would not beat me for being wiggly. They would favor me somehow.” In the old days the sisters had given his dad oranges at Christmas, which was unheard of by working class folks. Only the wealthy could afford citrus fruit in winter. Clark’s family not only ate them but his mom made marmalade from the peels. Then one day that fine house and every object in it burned to cinders and ashes. Nothing survived but memories. Nothing.

Nothing worked out in his life.  By age five he had developed a sense of doom. The spalting had begun. He wondered about the loose ends and unfairness of it all–

“Five old ladies, never had sex or got married or had kids or grandkids. What’s the point? They had wealth and it all disappeared. Just a waste. I shoulda stole something but the Old Man woulda killed me.”

Actually it did not disappear. Rather, it was breathed into Clark’s lungs and memory, spalding his soul. I’m sure if surgeons could extricate his soul and sand it down, it would radiate like his hero George Nakashima’s table tops. Renewed for all to see and appreciate. Nakashima was interned during WWII for being Japanese. That was his sole crime. Poetically, tragically,  or ironically that is where he learned to master woodworking under the tutelage of a master Japanese woodworker. More beauty born from pain and suffering.

So  often we screw up the unstained and painless new and have to claw our way back to a renewal that is soaked in barrels of liquid pain. But that is the difference between grapes and wine, sand and pearls, knowledge and wisdom.