Odder Still

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Oddtober

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Installation photos courtesy of the Morris Museum.

good labor days

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Free: from work to work

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There was just enough room in the pot to sneak out and snag the seven milkweed plants that survived the summer’s aggressive alley weeding…which one person does with poison spray (ugh).

I almost don’t want to jinx it by saying it, but as of yesterday, I’ve entered a solid four weeks with only one relatively uncomplicated deadline, with every afternoon and some evenings absolutely open to do what I want, to completely self-define what the work of each day will be. (Barring the occasional glitch; Wednesday’s will take me to the genius bar. In a mall. It shall go quickly).

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Realizing this feels rather fantastic, a deep intake of breath.

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This stretch of time was deliberately set aside to address our situation; but as things have evolved, it and admin and Chance’s training take up the mornings only.  As I schedule 2015 (which so far contains a comfortable three classes and four shows), I’m going to try to duplicate this lovely free stretch…maybe twice, but definitely for a month in the fall, when harvest and fiber prep is a good bit of the work I want to do. And next year, I’ll maybe have the mornings too. It feels so good…

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Finished stripping the second type.

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This year, I have enough of each to separate the two types of Ragdale Meadow milkweed to see if there is any difference in the paper. One type is shorter, and often has a reddish cast to the stems. The other is quite tall and has already developed a lot of black spots. I don’t know what they are because I don’t see the plants when they are flowering, which is what most guides use for identification, but I hope for some clarification soon, during an afternoon harvest at a generous person’s garden. She knows these things.

prairie day

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The Meadow milkweed harvest at Ragdale. I always, always think I am too early, just after the equinox / Mabon. I also always take a first look round the meadow and think, “Oh!  There isn’t much this year.” Yet I am always right on time, and there is always a good-sized harvest.

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Fall has barely begun, just an inkling.  The work was hot and sweaty under the afternoon sun, as I crawled into dense foliage, with thorns or pesky burrs.  Yet for someone who lives contained by buildings, fences, concrete, alleys, it was glorious.  Just to BE, out where the only visible boundaries are trees and the big bluestem hides nearby buildings, just me and prairie, sky, birds and critters.

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And the Meadow Studio.  No one is in residence just now, so I went and peered in the windows, said hello, and made a fervent wish that our situation will allow me to be there later this fall. I’m scheduled for late October through November. I sat in the shade and trimmed my stems, then walked a circuit round the meadow, tossing the seedpods back in for next year. It’s a rich, vital wheel on which to turn.

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I love this year’s version of the Ragdale Ring. Love it.

There was even more reward:

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I couldn’t yet get near it without, say, a machete, but:

the Ragdale ear is still here!

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It’s lasted eleven months and it looks solid, and is most wonderfully, subtly warped. The dye has faded but is still there, and some seems to have moved through the piece. I’ve been making more plans for this site this year, regardless of whatever might have remained. This is better than I hoped (and I owe a lot of that to other harvests). I already value this place so much for the enormous gift of allowing me to interact with a landscape over time; that has now gone to a whole new level. I’m feeling a bit like one of those seedpods.

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(Thank you, Ragdale and Lake Forest Open Lands).

 

In & Out

We’re quite busy with our non-blog activities here at home, but a few good things have been happening Out There:

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Earlier this week, I went to visit and assist the lovely Sandra C. Fernandez as she installed her ofrenda in memory of Sam Z. Coronado at the National Museum of Mexican Art.  The Dia De Los Muertos exhibition there has long been one of my favorite annual events in Chicago, so it was great to be behind the scenes, working and watching all the altars being made. Unfortunately, I did need to miss the opening reception last night, but will definitely (definitely!) see the show. Congrats, Sandra!

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Radha Pandey wrote a sweet blog about her work in my class at the Morgan Conservatory last August (thanks!). I’m looking forward to seeing her completed thesis work!

This also appeared on a site from the Ukraine called Real Thing. My translation app did not provide anything that made sense, but friend Smith kindly sent this: “Today read that about 90% of our cells are similar to the cells of fungi and bacteria. Because of the Melissa Jay Craig can be interpreted in different ways: mushrooms-books, each of which can tell your story, eared trees able to listen, trees growing out of the books and hands – of trees. Got something to admire and something to think about. (smiley face)” Большое спасибо!

The Morgan’s Revive and Renew exhibition closes today, sadly, but Ann Starr has celebrated it beautifully in this thoughtful review of some of the works (more and many thanks!).

Tomorrow, Pulp Culture opens at the Morris Museum in New Jersey. And I am hoping for a milkweed harvest this week, and am thawing out a gift I popped into the freezer awhile ago,  a bag of cooked water hyacinth roots.

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Sandra’s ofrenda, completed. A beautiful tribute.