Touchstone Place

AHayloft

Good morning!

I am at Ragdale (which has a lovely brand-new web site), still not quite realizing I that am actually here. This sudden utter freedom is stupendous, after six months of being buffeted about by the outside forces of our situation, and then being rather locked down since returning home from teaching in August, snatching bits of time in the studio while nearly every moment of every day was dictated by those forces. I wasn’t the primary person who was affected, and (if I do say so) we did both cope rather well throughout the ordeal, so I simply did not realize (or did not allow myself to think about) how constricted I had been feeling until it was past.

Abush

Someone had painted this bush right outside the studio window where I usually place a drawing table. The red and the green are fluorescent colors. I was quite amused for a moment, even laughed out loud, but the straight-out-of-the-can artificial colors are too jarring, and I am too influenced by what I see, so…

Ascreen

…this is the new drawing place, and I’m finally using that screen in the manner for which it was intended.

And now, here I am, still a bit shell-shocked. But the studio’s set up, fiber soaking, I had my first prairie walk and delicious dinner by Chef Linda, and I slept deep and woke when my body wanted to. Oh, and I am living in the lovely Hayloft room when not in The Best Studio In The Universe. On top of it all, not only do I have everything this marvelous place has to offer laid out before me, I am honored to learn that I was named this year’s Prairie Fellow…riches upon riches!

aprairie

These colors.

Beginnings

alight

The final and toughest week of our six-month long situation is past; one last wee bit tomorrow, then it all begins to go uphill, till we rise past it. (HUGE sigh of relief).

aweeboy

Chance is one year old today! He is definitely influenced by his retriever genes, though, and probably won’t entirely mature for another year or two. He’s still a (big) goofy pup who loves his toys and, wonderfully, his training. We now have a great foundation laid for getting him past his fears during the coming months.

Bigboy

The processing of all the milkweed harvests is finished; it took exactly one month and one day from the first harvest, though for at least half, maybe more, of those days I was unable to address it at all. I have big single bags of black-spotted, clean green, and Cecile’s second harvest gift (which due to time constraints was just steamed, stripped and dried as it was), two gallon bags of stripped seed fluff, two big bags of intriguing seaweed-ish chiri, and best of all, a big bucket full of cleaned, scraped, pure fiber, more than I’ve ever had at one time before: riches.  (Plus, a generous gift of another bag of clean stripped seed fluff which will come my way later in November).

aharvests

Top: a little cooked hollyhock, left, plus a small gallon bag of chiri, black-spot, regular steamed & stripped, clean green below.

And the best part of all?  Though I will need to arrive a day or two late, the next time I write to you will be from Ragdale. I don’t think I’ve ever needed a residency more (and the milkweed is coming with me).

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Chiri (and the last of the pods).

Under Milk Weed

aplantz

It was a tough but not too tough week; I needed to shift to quickly interruptible upstairs work, with the pleasing result of now being almost all the way through the seasonal shift of the house (which ialso concludes shipping season: only one more smallish crate to arrive in December). And, an article draft was written and delivered only a few days past its deadline, a pleasant anomaly for me. Now, we are essentially locked down for the final week of our six month shared situation. Next Monday, the worst will be over, and though the climb might begin slowly, it’s all uphill from there. Whew! Plus: Ragdale!

aapod

Last week, before I needed to let the milkweed in all its forms languish, I got through one of two big pots full of milkweed pods. Extracting fluff is never, ever going to be my favorite activity, though it is quite a visually rich experience. I hope to get back to it soon, even as I cringe a bit about that second waiting pot o’ pods. Everyone says the seed fluff fiber will be worth it. But I can’t wait to get this over with and get back to the bast: I know that is more than worth it.

aaseedkleen

Sometimes they strip beautifully, other times not.  I’ve been trying to keep the clean and not-so-clean fluff separated, to see if it makes any difference.

Clicker training, I am loving, and so is Chance. We’ve got a long way to go before beginning to directly address the fear aggression, but it’s already having a huge effect on his personality. Sunday, I surreptitiously watched through the kitchen window as our neighbor S came to the fence. Chance jumped up but not in a threatening way, thrusting his nose (and closed mouth) towards her: a goofy and perhaps inappropriate greeting, but a greeting. He bounced off the fence, dropped to the ground and milled around with Lupe for a few seconds as S reached down to pet them, then he simply retreated to the porch, and calmly sat and watched while S petted Lupe. All without one single bark or any sort of defensive (or jealous) action on his part, and no commands; it was a series of decisions he made on his own. This was not AT ALL the case before we switched to clicking. Good boy!

aEardown

Several consecutive days of heavy rains were too much for the split-ear; it slid off its support.  But it’s otherwise intact, and it’s very funny to handle this big, floppy thing when it’s wet.  I’m letting it dry out, draped to change its shape, and then we’ll see.

aEarstretch

Odder Still

aabacawall

The papermaker / clicker trainers’ privacy screen.

A few days ago, we reached a point in our ongoing situation that makes our days even more unpredictable than before, and we will likely stay at that stage for the next couple of weeks. I am neither booking nor promising anything during this time, just staying home and available to quickly address what comes up, while working on my odd assortment of tasks in a jerky forward motion, bits here, bits there, in the office one day, upstairs the next, an hour or two in the studio or the garden, running out to fetch things, and caring for my pack.

aChancepup

Training goes that way, too: short sessions, some at regular times, others random. I am learning as much or more than Chance. We need to limit exposure to his fear triggers for awhile, so I found a new use for abaca half-stuff, above: he can’t see the sidewalk where many of his imaginary monsters patrol, but we tall humans can see friends and FedEx arriving. If Chance jumps up and rips the panels, they’ll still make lovely pulp: win / win. It’s early days, but I can definitely say that Chance is already noticeably calmer. He and I are both enjoying this; Paul joins in today or tomorrow.

aloopweed

Cecile harvested near some railroad tracks in her neighborhood, and this milkweed had some stories to tell, apparently.  Lupe found it immensely interesting, and thoroughly, methodically checked out every. single. stem. Chance stole a dried-out stem and tossed it around the yard.

Sunday, Cecile generously brought me another milkweed haul! She got a wee bag of frozen hollyhock blooms in a rather unequal exchange. I got the stems trimmed and steamed that day, and stripped the fiber yesterday. But there was more: a giant bag of seedpods. I’ve never processed those before; but two large pots full of them were steamed yesterday and are now waiting to be stripped of their fluff.  The fluff by itself makes a gorgeous, smooth, shiny pale gold-ish paper: beautiful, but not the qualities I need for my work, so I’m going to have fun pushing this around and combining it with other fibers to see what I can get that will suit what I do: another first.

apodpot

When the processing is finished, I’ll have *five* types of milkweed fiber.  One that I’m finding most intriguing is milkweed chiri:

achiri

Oddtober

aoddtoba

I made an October shortlist of tasks and am happily going about them. Except for the next stage of the milkweed (which will resume over the weekend) the order in which things get done isn’t important. That lets me take advantage of weather; I’m acutely aware of the impending winter. So, my self-determined work plan is a little goofy, but satisfying and comfortably productive.

aHHfiber

Monday’s main task: the older back garden. Thanks to a gorgeous day and my desire to try to grow milkweed, it’s now cleared more extensively than I usually do, and much earlier. For my new fiber this year, I harvested, chopped, steamed and stripped the French hollyhocks to see what happens (I’ve seen hollyhock paper, but not handled it). If I like it, I can take two small harvests a year from the yard. Tuesday, a lot of admin, including a visit to the genius bar, and though I didn’t plan to, I cleaned all the hollyhock fiber, because it was super-easy. There were some other harvests, too.

ahhot

addogs

Yesterday, I cooked the hollyhock, and then we humans met with our new trainer. She’s a vet and animal behaviorist. We’re radically changing things up,  starting Chance with clicker training. It had become very clear that while traditional correction training worked well for some things, it worked against his fear aggression, and in fact has intensified it. We’re training ourselves one tiny step ahead of Chance, but we have experience with that: any teacher of humans has, whether or not they admit it. I began today and Paul chimes in in a few days’ time, after Chance understands the basic foundation. He’s very interested in this new activity, focused. I am too: I’m already liking the process, and as I read more, I’m also intrigued by the premise (and predict I’ll end up reading the theory). Best of all, it can and should happen in short bursts throughout the day, easy to fit in (and contributes to) the pleasing odd range of October tasks.

MorrisMuseSm

Out in the world, a very nice blog by Ann Martin, also exhibiting in Pulp Culture at the Morris Museum, who was able to attend the opening reception in Morristown, NJ. Ann provides artists’ credits; the museum’s Facebook album has lots more photos and shows more works, but gives no information: still very definitely worth the viewing. This is another show I’d love to see in person.

MorrisMuseView

Installation photos courtesy of the Morris Museum.

good labor days

Harvest2

On Friday afternoon, not only did another big milkweed bonanza arrive, so did fall, dramatically.  Friend and plant paper maven extraordinaire Cecile Webster came to use the beater and brought me two big bags stuffed with milkweed stalks that her neighbors wanted to be rid of.  While Cecile beat a couple of loads of yellow flag iris (gorgeous pulp), I stripped away the milkweed leaves – lovely clear stems.

Harvest3

After a good post-process talk, we went out to the garden to harvest some chilies, plus indigo leaves and late blooms (hollyhock, marigold, impatiens, nigella, and yellow and purple coneflower) for Cecile’s next eco-dye batch. While were running round the garden, huge billowing gusts of cold wind whipped down from the north, dropping the temperatures over twenty degrees.

Harvest4

Allegedly there was even a little snow, but I didn’t see it. Saturday afternoon was dark, rainy, the heat on upstairs but not in the studio, where I spent several hours chopping, steaming in two batches, beginning the stripping and making some plans. Today, temperatures climbed back up a wee bit and I was outdoors for the short couple hours of early afternoon sun with Chance, then into the studio to finish all the stripping.

HarvestStrip

I have never had this much milkweed all at once (about 12 ½ very full gallons) and it’s exciting.  A scraping session awaits, then in the next 20 days, my plans are to cook and make some tests with three of four types of fresh milkweed fiber, deal with some other neglected fibers, clean up the gardens, meet a writing deadline, start Chance on a new, radically different training program, see a couple of important shows, and cycle out the closets for winter. That’s a good, satisfying schedule. Hello, fall.

Harvest5

Milkweed Month

MWMcolorOctober already! I have a second sweet harvest of milkweed bast, thanks to the lovely Kathleen Marie Garness, a social-media friend, and now one I’ve met in person. And that was grand. She raises milkweed in among her other thriving garden plants. Thanks to her work with various area forest preserves and open lands, she hand-raised forty monarch butterflies this year with her milkweed-leaf farm and caterpillar cafè.

MWharvestIt was inspiring to see how very much milkweed one can raise in a yard just the same size as mine, along with a large variety of other plants. It was easily half the Ragdale meadow harvest. The other thing: garden-raised milkweed is so fat, happy, clean and unblemished! I need a good quantity of the clearest white fiber for a planned bookwork; now I definitely have it.

MilkweedPornNot only all that, Kathleen also told me to take some seedpods and gave me expert instructions for growing. I’m turning over chunks of the gardens to milkweed. There’ll be a late fall planting, which will require a day of clearing of volunteer plants (there is an incipient, unwanted Rose-Of-Sharon forest beginning out there), and that – in addition to the processing – is why I’m calling this Milkweed Month.

MWpodzFor other planned works, I also have a replenished stock of an old staple, unbleached abaca (plus a bit of bleached flax half-stuff just to mess around with) thanks to a quick visit with Jen Thomas at Werkspace, and rumor has it that even more milkweed stalks may be arriving tomorrow. Abundance!

MWhome