here now


There was another prairie burn; same quadrant as last year, and another in the woods. This time, I didn’t need to wait for smoke; I saw the vehicles and knew what must be happening.  Jane Fulton Alt was there, and it was lovely to talk with her and also to watch her work.  And to watch it all begin.


It’s been a struggle, but eventually I got there: losing track of time in the studio, diving through that portal. There was imagery that just wouldn’t leave me, resulting in an experiment that might not have worked, but those?  Those are what excite me, involve me, take me to that place.  And it worked, so I made another, and will make at least one more. Ahh. So now, I’ve no words for the best of reasons.


I rushed to get these ready and installed on the last warm day; still waiting to get a shot in the snow (it disappears quickly.) I wanted one on the fallen section of tree, but could not get the ladder safely positioned; too many huge fallen branches all tangled together.


A few days ago, I went home again overnight, to switch out supplies, see my pack and luckily was able to catch a haircut on the way back; chopped it short (winter artificial heat and too much hair: no fun.) This week I will meet with my fellowship’s benefactor, which I’m looking forward to. I’m also contemplating the possibility of extending my stay. Oh, and there is snow, just enough to make the path back from the studio more visible to my tiny flashlight; the late nights have begun (it’s also dark by dinnertime.)


This imagery is still insistent. I am not resisting. This was a test piece that made me very happy.


In progress, above and below…


Touchstone Place


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.


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…


…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!


These colors.

prairie day


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.


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.


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.


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

There was even more reward:


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

the Ragdale ear is still here!


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.


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


Ah, Ragdale.


Ah, Ragdale. I’m home now, after loading the Subaru one final 2013 time (with David’s steadfast and much appreciated help) and unloading (with Paul’s, ditto), and a fine evening of comfortable homecoming celebration. I slept deep and late, woke to Lupe’s gentle nose and a sweet note from Paul, who was out getting us dinner for tonight from my favorite takeout place.


Grateful for my papermaker’s boots, I dashed out as storm #1, with spectacular,  frequent close lightning strikes, began to wane into a simply torrential deluge.  The standing water was six inches deep in parts, here and on the path to the studio.

Ragdale and the Shaw prairie continued the changing-season show during the last week, with the severe storms that caused so much damage to areas of the midwest. We fortunately escaped the worst. There were three seperate storms that rolled through during the day, and the sky put on a spectacular show: each storm had distinctly different cloud formations.  The studio was rattling and banging from the winds, but I was working away and didn’t know what was occurring elsewhere, or that I should be worried.


Storm #1 moving out, #2 moving in…


On another night, when the intensified internal shifting I was undergoing threatened to spin off-course into a downward spiral, Chef Linda set me right with a delicious plate in the warming oven, chocolate, and a poem by Dan Vera that was as warming and healing as the superb food, and nurtured me just as vitally.


Four harvests happened, including steaming, stripping, bark-removal and drying for three of them: good batches of fiber all (five counting the earlier-in-October milkweed, and a sixth harvest of winter bast yet to be done).


Four ear-fungi were made, with the highly improved third-generation construction method. One was installed, right back where the original was located. I want a grouping of three there, but wasn’t sure how smart that would be because of the colder temperatures (the adhesive needs some warmth to set properly; it was 8 degrees below the minimum). I decided to come back and add the others in the spring. However, I’m happy to say that this one did survive three days of rain and some snow; I hauled the ladder over and checked it yesterday before I left, and it was still quite firmly attached.


Bits of the original were still attached to the tree, and gave me lots of information when I removed them. After installing, I scouted around again under the now-leafless young scrub trees to see if I could find any other pieces; I didn’t, but was rewarded instead with this lovely raccoon skull.


On Monday I made a fine decision: not to push to finish things, because I didn’t need to.  Unlike past years, when leaving Ragdale meant leaving my work for long periods of time (or, more recently, when I’d been working to satisfy deadlines), this residency segues into my self-provided long stretch of home studio time: I can continue! So, I decided to simply keep taking advantage of the Meadow studio itself. I left with five new works in progress, completely built, only awaiting color.


Since these six projects are in progress, I don’t feel comfortable showing them yet, but here is a teaser detail of one.  (Yeah, I know: sorry.)

And there is a sixth: the beginnings of a new installation, fully thought out and sketched out, with two prototypes made. The second of these was informative enough that the third attempt here at home, with all my equipment at hand, will very likely be the first component of the work.


Early in the residency, walking off-path in the meadow to see a fine sunset, I discovered three milkweed stalks I’d somehow missed during my previous harvest.

Some writing was done as well, and a couple of lovely 2014 classes came in and were booked and/or are under discussion. And above and beyond everything else: that palpable internal shift. I don’t quite know how to write about that yet, but it is personally profound, and I don’t think it might have happened as thoroughly and articulately without this place and what it provides.


I brought them in to grace the studio’s ‘relaxing corner’ along with some prairie dock leaves (which I love), intending to strip their fiber when I left.

I’ll admit: each year of my post-salary life, I’ve wondered if I can afford to come back to Ragdale, and, when I get there, if this year will be the last. But during this, the first residency without an agenda in such a very long time, I learned: I really can’t afford not to. This is the touchstone place, where I am renewed, always. Thank you, Ragdale.


But then, as I was packing up yesterday, I knew where they needed to be.


And now: four to six months at home, with all these new riches spread out before me.  And, just moments before I was leaving, a text: “Lots of mulberry cut down next door, want it?” Ahh, yes.


Kick the tires and…



Yesterday began the final Ragdale week. I got out to the studio relatively early after working late, quite excited by something that has begun. A few moments later, a wisp of smoke drifted past, then became rolling clouds. I grabbed the camera and ran out. Sure enough, Open Lands was doing a controlled burn on the quadrant of the prairie just below the Meadow Studio.


I’d seen a burn here before, but in the early spring.  They’re different in the fall. With the hearing aids on, even I could hear the loud popping and cracking of plants that still retained a bit of moisture, and much more was left standing than in the spring burns, when everything has retted through the winter.  The grasses were dry, though, and the expertly set fires sped through them quickly.  It was excellent to watch, and the smoke smelled wonderful and somehow clean.


That’s what’s happened to me here; what isn’t needed has finally, cleanly burned away; what’s valuable is still standing, watching over the spaces now ready for new growth.


I won’t finish this thing I’m excited about here, but I’ll leave knowing how to make it over the winter, and much more importantly, knowing exactly why I am making it.


(Oh, and the third experimental piece worked well, too, and taught me how to reclaim the second, so I made a fourth today. And there’s more ear-fungi). The burn is over but things are truly on fire.


Changing, Content(ed).



After wrapping up the big main part Sunday night, I finished up the last bit of the harvest work on Monday; I’d left what I thought would be the easiest portion for last. Not so; it took all day. I contentedly worked in my stocking feet, savoring the sweet warmth of the lovely heated floor, watching this happen. There’s something so peaceful about experiencing the change of season here, three stages in a little over two weeks.  (It should mostly melt today).


I now have nice amounts of four new fibers (three different types from one plant) squirreled away to work with this winter, as well as a couple of familiar ones to learn new things about.  Now the focus is on the making; a third new piece is drying (also on the heated floor) and hopefully the preceding two have taught me how to make this one to be what I want. And still, Ragdale continues its work on my thought processes; even if I did nothing else here, this residency would be invaluable for that.


A new resident arrived, a very nice writer I’ve been here with before, and there was a great bustling shift of room-changing yesterday.  When I saw someone moving out of the sweet Yellow Room, I asked for it, and moved in.  Last night, I slept the best I have since I’ve been here, and am off to the studio to happily, intentionally break rules, doing what I do.


Laundry Sunday


Those lovely reds faded to sienna browns very quickly, and I’ve been entertained by huge numbers of scuttling leaves in the wind: beautiful.

Laundry has to happen, wherever you are.  After three days of attempting to get to the Barnhouse machine and always finding it in use, I’ve commandeered both of the machines in the Ragdale House basement, in sheer desperation.  It’s a beautiful day, and I’m itching to get back out to the studio, where one more day of labor on the penultimate harvest awaits, but there will also be a necessary run into Lake Forest, once I have clothes. (Am currently attired in an, er, highly eclectic mix of The Last Clean Things, with no socks). Good time for a blog!


Another test piece happened this week for some new work; larger than the first. I’m on the right track but am not quite satisfied yet. Each time, though, they teach me more; each requires three days of drying. Lots of harvesting, steaming, stripping, bark removal and fiber-drying has been happening.  What with these and the fibers awaiting a late harvest when I get home, and two more wonderful donated batches, I am looking forward to a very satisfying amount of experimentation for my four-to-six month ‘sabbatical’ at home.  (There is a show in April, but I do not yet know if that means travel or just shipping).


Socially, it’s kind of a lonely residency this time, though that’s no one’s ‘fault’. I cannot hear anything in the dining room (for some reason, worse than ever, though my hearing hasn’t changed).  I suspect, too, that I may be the first deafened person anyone here has ever encountered on a daily basis.  All of which made me even more pleased for this week’s (quick, surprise) visit from an old friend and long-time residency-mate, a lot of generous e-mail input from new and old plant-fiber friends, and (speaking of generosity!) a sweet, wonderful out-of-the-blue gift from Aimee: the summer 2010 issue of Hand Papermaking, about invasive plants! (A very timely arrival too, as I’ve been working with one, and changed the following day’s harvest accordingly). And it’s oddly comforting in the evenings to see posts on Facebook from papermaking friends who are deep in fall harvests as well: connection!


And the final load of laundry is due to come out of the dryer: soon, the studio, the prairie. They are ever-changing, yet constant old friends, and that is more than enough.


As for color, there is always this beautiful red-gold, just-before-sunset light whenever there is sun; it comes very early now with daylight savings. It’s my favorite time of day in any season; I always stop and go out to bask in it. Now that the shrubby foliage has died back somewhat, I went looking for the original Ragdale ear-fungus, which toppled last spring.  It’s gone, totally, probably by human means, but I like to think of some critter – maybe the fox – making off with it. But what that light did for this old real fungus in the same location was just gorgeous, yes?