A Brown Study

Despite a day or two of cold and a recent dusting, this has been a decidedly warm and un-white winter. And spring is coming quickly; already I’ve heard the territorial whirr of a red-winged blackbird, and violets and celandines are sprouting beneath last year’s crispy leaves. It’s likely, then, that this winter will remain the winter that really wasn’t. I could mourn this (and, honestly, I do), but I can also make do with what the river and woods will give me: a rainbow done in shades of brown.

Recently, in the heart of the “island,” I made what has become one of my favorite discoveries: a fallen tree, debarked, drilled upon, and worn away by weather, animals, and fungus. It is like a massive canvas, revealing masterpieces frame by frame.

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They are mostly Impressionist pieces, I think, or perhaps Expressionist. I can see Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” or Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” to name two more famous works. Another fallen trunk I found assumed an altogether different color and texture, slightly more Cubist, perhaps, a tree trunk reassembled:

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Then, we can move on to something equally textured and also, thanks to the mud left by recent rains, brown. Also decidedly Modern. Our trash:

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“Bicycle Seat”

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“Beer Can”

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“Styrofoam Cup”

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“Self Portrait with Plastic Bottle”

Scraps

Sorting through my photographs, I realized that there are several that I set aside for a particular post but then, for whatever reason, never used. Although it conflicts with my need for some sort of focus for all of my writing, in an effort not to completely lose sight of my intentions for these pictures, I’ve decided to set them all out today, with notes, like a disorganized scrapbook page. (I have tried scrapbooking before, and it just isn’t in me; neither is keeping an immaculate house. Truly I am a failure as a homemaker.) But, of course, having written this paragraph, I’ve assigned a theme.  Why do I do that?

These photographs were to be about line, texture, and symmetry. The old wasp’s nest also reminded me of the huge hornet’s nest that hung inside the ‘Walking Stick’ shrub in my backyard when I was little. I ran right into it during a game of SPUD and suffered the consequences. I never developed a fear of stinging insects, though, perhaps in part because my father took the nest down that winter and allowed my brothers to hang it in their bedroom from the central light fixture. Also, I’m clearly not allergic to them.

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I found this and spent the rest of the day with R.E.M. songs streaming through my brain.

Peek-a-boo trash: before and after. I nearly missed this Starbucks cup when the only thing visible was the green straw.

And, of course, I’m still running into the problem, months later, with other sorts of trash. (Yes, Bud Light, again).

My mixed-breed, young Rosie, is obsessed with sticking her head in holes. (Mostly made by groundhogs, I think). I’m a little afraid that one day she’ll pop back up with a bite on her nose. My friend’s dog once got bit by a squirrel, and the poor thing bled profusely. The dog was fine, but the car never really recovered from the trip to the vet.

Okay, so now I’m fighting the urge to write a summary paragraph. Mission almost accomplished.

 

Delinquency

Thinking about anything has been like slogging through mud lately, so facing the mental gymnastics of writing has been impossible. Whether Christmas, brain chemistry or lack of sleep is to blame, I have no idea, but I’ve been hanging on with a meagre and unhealthy diet of popular fiction. It’s fun while it lasts, but leaves me hungry and unarmed for the simple tasks of daily life.

Even in this half-wakeful state, I can walk through the woods and pick up the trash. A few days in a row, I found plastic bottles filled with balls of tin foil, like this:20161209_163649.jpg

I did puzzle over them a little but wasn’t completely suspicious until I found this alongside them:

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When I googled this combination of objects, I found that, yes, I had a right to be suspicious. I immediately disposed of the objects (though the ammonia kept leaking through my bag) and carefully did not mention them to my boys, who would be all too interested in their explosive chemistry.

Fortunately, they’ve been distracted with their own, much less poisonous and more peaceful, project: the building of a shelter made of fallen branches. It is the perfect size for two boys, one adult, or a couple of curious dogs (and I know this because we’ve tested all such combinations). My oldest even used a bit of my trash to decorate its facade.

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Because you can do more than one thing with an empty bottle.

Love, Up Close

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This is the very first image I posted on my blog: my original header.

Initially I hesitated to use it because the Monocacy, the polluted but lovely southern river for which this blog is named, is nowhere to be found. Ultimately, however, that is one of the very reasons that the picture is so appropriate. A river is more than the water that flows into it; it is the land that surrounds it. It is the land that determines its health. It is on the land that I find most of the trash that pollutes its waters.

But this image is really about the heart spray-painted on the trunk of the dead tree. Ostensibly it is vandalism, a sort of trashing of nature, but the symbol and its underlying message imbues it with its own sort of beauty. It also reflects my feeling toward this small part of a much larger ecosystem. This heart on this tree is on a small island on a small river (the Monocacy) that flows into a larger river (the Potomac) that flows into a delicate bay (the Chesapeake) that opens into an ocean (the Atlantic). This space is so much more than it seems. And so is the tree.

Let’s look a little more closely. A heart:

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And more closely still. An imperfect heart:

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And even closer. A mere smudge:

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Or something more. This heart on this dead tree is the marker for an entrance to a whole other world. It hides the holes made by birds looking for insects looking for food looking for a home. If I were a microbiologist, I could say more, but even my limited knowledge allows me to appreciate the complexity of the life provided by this rotting trunk.

And appreciation is what this blog is about. Appreciating the ugly in order to appreciate the beautiful. Appreciating the moments that make a small life big. Appreciating the life around me so easily overlooked. Appreciating how often things are not quite as simple as they seem. Appreciating a world of writers, thinkers and artists who may not think of themselves as any of these things.

Love from the Monocacy.

Art Trash/Trash Art

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Kit-Kat in Black and White

When first beginning my blog, I hoped to capture some beauty in the trash I find. Occasionally I entertain myself with close studies that approach (yes, merely approach) the artistic in composition or contrast, but most of the time trash really is just a blight on the natural landscape. An unwelcome interruption. Still, I photograph what I find. Even if I’m not making any artistic contributions to the world, I am at least leaving a sort of sociological record. (Can you see the future dissertation title: “Bud Light and Flavored Cigars: A Study of the American Consumer in the early 21st Century”?)

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7-Eleven, Coffee in the Leaves

 

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Annie’s and Minute Maid on the Shore

 

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What I Like About You: Japanese Hops and Coca Cola

 

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Coffee and a Yogurt

What I See

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I’m actually distressed by the amount of “new” birds I’m seeing this spring. When I set out to do a backyard bird list for my small stretch of the Monocacy River (see the Birds of the Monocacy page), I promised to record the appearance of a bird only when I was absolutely sure that I had identified it correctly. I imagined that there would be a quick burst of activity in the beginning as I noted the most common birds (robins, crows, house sparrows, etc.), followed by only sporadic additions. As it happens, I was entirely wrong. My bird sightings have been constant and frequent, almost unbelievably so. When I see three new birds in a day, when I find more than one type of swallow in a week, when I notice a bird that I’ve never seen before, I begin to doubt myself.  It’s impossible, isn’t it? Won’t real birders say that I must be mistaken? That I’m just hoping that I’ve seen these different birds?

While I was internally berating myself like this one day, even considering pretending not to have seen the green heron perched in the tree a few yards back, I realized that there was a perfectly good explanation for why I was suddenly seeing all of these birds. Namely, I was suddenly seeing all of these birds.  Hadn’t I, in the past, seen a small bird out of the corner of my eye and simply thought, “Oh, small bird”? Or maybe I hadn’t see the small bird at all, because I was looking down, or ahead, or at some picture in my mind. And it’s not really about seeing at all, is it? It’s about looking. That bird is small, it’s brown, its tail is short and tipped up, it has white stripes by its eyes, it hangs out in the bushes. Oh, it’s a wren! What kind of wren? How small is it, really, how clear are its markings, what is its song? Oh, it’s a Carolina wren!

I remember when I first really understood drawing. I had always drawn. I was a highly complimented drawer, in fact, but when I was about eleven, I realized that there was something missing from my drawings. They didn’t look real. They were only flat representations of real things. I was stuck in this place for a long time, until one day in art class, my new teacher said, “Look at what you’re drawing. Don’t draw what you think should be there. Draw what is there.” Look at the lines, look at the shadow, look at the color. The sky isn’t simply blue or gray. It’s violet and olive and all sorts of shades in between. So is that rock and that leaf and that flower and your skin. Her words were magic. They were like a spell that opened my eyes and transformed what I saw, permanently changing the way I drew and painted.

Look. See what is there. Don’t think in shoulds. You’ll be amazed at what you find.