Zen And The Art Of Stacking Wood

Pete and Shelley's wood pile 2008
Pete and Shelley’s wood pile 2008

Pete and Shelley set the standard by which we judge woodpiles. Off the grid in the Adirondacks, they thin their property for heat in the long winter months. Their stacks are worthy of a Chelsea art gallery installation.

Jared's wood pile 2010
Jared’s wood pile 2010

Our neighbor, Jared, a retired chemist for Eastman Kodak, puts wood up not like an artist but like a scientist. We turn to him for advice on all matter practical.

Our woodpile in 2020
Our woodpile in 2020

After two 75 year old oaks came down out back this spring Peggi and I had a record of wood, more than in 2020 when the picture above was taken. Instead of walking we’ve been chipping away at the pile each day for the last two weeks. We strap on our Home Depot noise cancelling headphones, cut the trunks and limbs into log length with a chainsaw, fire up the Heathkit splitter we inherited from our former neighbor, Leo and then stack the split logs. This is where it all comes together Physics, geometry and risk. We have had only one pile tumble over in twenty years.

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The White

Kurt Ketchum installation at Colleen Buzzard's
Kurt Ketchum installation at Colleen Buzzard’s
Kurt Ketchum slideshow at Colleen Buzzard's Studio
Kurt Ketchum slideshow at Colleen Buzzard’s Studio

Kurt Ketchum walks a fine line well. His fine art work comes right out of his advertising work and engages you like a good ad but leaves you with questions rather than answers. To me this feels very comfortable, a space where everything around you could be an art piece. He has a finely tuned sense of color and uses it sparingly. White, he uses loosely and liberally. His show is up at Colleen’s until the end of the month.

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Body of Body Work

Still from moving image documentation of Ana Mendieta work in "Elemental" at RIT City Space Gallery
Still from moving image documentation of Ana Mendieta work in “Elemental” at RIT City Space Gallery

I found the video of a talk and slide presentation by Ana Mendieta at Alfred University in 1981, currently showing as part of a show called “Elemental” at RIT City Space, particularly engaging. I watched it three times before moving on to the five videos of her recently restored one hundred films, most documenting her “earth-body” work.

Still from moving image documentation of Ana Mendieta work in "Elemental" at RIT City Space Gallery
Still from moving image documentation of Ana Mendieta work in “Elemental” at RIT City Space Gallery

Mendieta worked in drawing, sculpture, photography and video and the wall text summarized the themes in her work as “exile, displacement and the return to the landscape.” Why had I never heard of her and why did she die so young? I turned to Wikipedia.

In Cuba Mendeta (1948-1985) attended an upper class, all girls Catholic school. She was able to escape Castro’s dictatorship but her father spent 18 years in a political prison in Cuba. Ana Mendieta died on September 8, 1985, in New York City, after falling from her 34th-floor apartment in Greenwich Village at 300 Mercer Street. She lived there with her husband of eight months, minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, who may have pushed her out the window. She fell 33 stories onto the roof of a deli.

I kind of like Carl Andre’s work, I modeled the base of our outdoor fire pit on one of his works, but not anymore. “Elemental” runs until February. Don’t miss it.

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Small World

Back end of the ferry from Puntarenas
Back end of the ferry from Puntarenas

Peggi and I both noticed how beautiful the back end of the Puntarenas Ferry looked. I went down to the lowest level when we were furthest out in the bay, when the ship was really starting to sway. I got really sick on a ferry years ago and I didn’t want to take any chances. I’m still thinking about how idyllic Costa Rica was and I was sorry to see them get knocked out of the World Cup last night.

We’ve been watching two matches a day for weeks. Hardly enough time left over for wood splitting. The round of 16 starts tomorrow with the US and the matches will have a little bit of breathing room as the field narrows. We go right to the Sports section in the morning papers now. There are so many great reporters to follow, Rory Smith in the Times and Sid Lowe in the Guardian, They are as much fun to read as the match was to watch.

OK, Spain is advancing but they have taken the beautiful game to extremes, playing it out of the back and maintaining possession while wearing down their opponents, that is until someone makes an errant pass and the opposition scores on a fast break. Japan is good at that, so good you wonder if it might all be a calculation. They swarm on a loose ball like a pack of industrious bees. And everyone of the worker bees is giving it their all. They upset Germany and then Spain. As upsetting as that was, we’re looking forward to their match with Croatia.

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In The Groove

Willow leaves in Durand Eastman Park
Willow leaves in Durand Eastman Park

So autumn lasts forever now. We split wood yesterday. We have a serious amount from the two oaks that came down this spring. With temperatures in the fifties today it was too warm to split we so moved a few face cords onto the porch in preparation for winter’s fury.

We tried a new setup for our Thanksgiving eve gig. Melissa, the cello. player wanted to hear a little more bass. Ken usually plays his double bass in the corner so he can get a big sound without an amp. I set my drums up between him and the piano and the cello was in front of the piano. This time Melissa sat right in front of me. I had to move backward and Ken forward to accommodate the new arrangement and everything felt off.

We took Brad Fox’s stereo amp to the Hi-Fi Lounge for some maintenance. Mark, the owner was talking about the upcoming Record Store Day. I looked at the releases and spotted the the Clear Spot reissue with an album worth of outtakes so I had my neighbor pick me up one of those on Friday. Frying Pan had one of their rare gigs that night, along with Nod, so we made a night of that – after watching two World Cup matches. We have Argentina vs. Mexico in the can and plan to watch that soon and then we’re off for more music, the Debbie Kendrick Project at the Little. We plan to bring the new Clear Spot out to Brad’s and listen to it on his big speakers.

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Big Dose Of History

Sol Lewitt Wall Drawing going up at Memorial Art Gallery
Sol Lewitt Wall Drawing going up at Memorial Art Gallery

Sol Lewitt’s art is more than the final piece. It is the plans, the installation and the temporary display on a wall. One of Sol LeWitt’s iconic “Wall Drawings,” has been generously gifted to MAG and it is being rendered directly on a wall in the Vanden Brul Pavilion by a representative of the LeWitt Estate and an artist from the Rochester community. The installation of “Wall Drawing #957: Form Derived from a Cube” can be seen after the holiday, starting November 26, when the gallery resumes its regular hours.

The new exhibition at MAG, “Striking Power: Iconoclasm in Ancient Egypt,” starts with the definition of “iconoclasm” which literally means “image breaking.” With statues and sculptures from ancient Egypt, all with body parts deliberately broken for religious or political reasons, it made for pretty interesting shows as it packed in a big dose of history.

The Memorial Art Gallery’s buildings sit on ground that formerly belonged to the Haudenosaunee tribe, part of the Seneca Nation. The three-channel video installation in the MAG’s video gallery, “Here you are before the trees” (2020) features his grandmother, Dolli Big John, and focuses on the Indigenous histories of upstate New York and the devastating consequences of the US colonization of Indigenous peoples. Beautiful, sad and powerful, it is an especially moving 12 minutes.

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Passage Of Peace

Teepees near Exit 33 along Interstate 90
Teepees near Exit 33 along Interstate 90

We had parked our car at the Poughkeepsie train station and took a Metro North train into the city. I was driving when we passed these teepees along the New York State Thruway so I couldn’t very well snap a shot. On the way back Peggi was behind the wheel and I was looking down at my iPad when she said, “There are those teepees again.” I fumbled for my camera and got this shot. They looked so beautiful.

When we returned I searched “Teepees Interstate 90” and discovered they are part of an art installation by members of the Oneida Indian Nation called “Passage of Peace,” ten teepees , some on each side of the thruway. The installation is ongoing through the holidays and if you drive by at night you will see them lit in different colors. Two are illuminated in orange, the color used by advocates to raise awareness around the impact of the forcible removal of Native children to attend residential boarding schools.

From their website – “Between 1869 and the late 1970s, hundreds of thousands of Native American children attended boarding schools far from their families and tribal communities. These schools sought to achieve assimilation through denial of Native culture and language.” 

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Penumbra

Anselm Keiffer "Exodus" Gagosian Gallery Chelsea
Anselm Keiffer “Exodus” Gagosian Gallery Chelsea

Anselm Keifer’s show at Gagosian, entitled “Exodus,” features extremely large paintings based on the Hebrew book of Exodus. I stood in front of the one above for the longest time, drawn in by the glass-filled walls on either side but then never really landing in the space before the back wall. I loved the disorientation. “The penumbra between life and death,” as Roger Cohen calls it in a recent article on the artist’s work.

Anselm Keiffer "Exodus" Gagosian Gallery Chelsea
Anselm Keiffer “Exodus” Gagosian Gallery Chelsea

We fell in love with Keifer’s work after spending an afternoon in the large warehouse/gallery devoted to him at Mass MoCa. There the paintings fill the walls, three high, salon style. Gagosian has given him an ultra luxurious amount of room. Enormous paintings on enormous subjects mounted in an enormous space. I am still wow struck by the experience of being in this space with these works.

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Generative Care

Theaster Gates "Young Lords and their Traces" installation
Theaster Gates’ “Young Lords and their Traces” installation

An article in the paper just before we left got us to New York’s New Museum for the first time. Theaster Gates “Young Lords and their Traces” fills three floors with found, rescued and reworked objects of cultural significance. He calls it “generative care”— tending to the past by carrying its lessons into the future. In video he is shown working in clay, singing spirituals in another.

Theaster Gates "Young Lords and their Traces" installation
Theaster Gates’ “Young Lords and their Traces” installation

The title of the show nods to the 1969 Chicago based Puerto Rican organization, an important force in community organizing. Gates rose to fame by reviving a neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side, purchasing vacant and distressed properties and transforming them into artist studios, affordable housing, and performance and exhibition spaces. 

Theaster Gates "Young Lords and their Traces" installation
Theaster Gates’ “Young Lords and their Traces” installation

Had this been a Saturday we would have had the opportunity to hear the Hammond B3 Organ that was wired to six wall-mounted speakers. I particularly loved the workaday materials and earthy palette of his work. So warm and deeply human in response to forces in our culture.

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Spoiler

Alex Katz painting at Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea 2022
Alex Katz painting at Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea 2022

Alex Katz was right up there with Andy Warhol when I was in my twenties. We used to stay with Charlie Coco at his place on 43rd when we came down to New York back then. He took us over to see Moondog passing out sheet music on the corner and to Times Square in 1977 where Katz’s giant portraits were painted on the sides of building, back when the cigarette billboard puffed steam, before LEDs took all the visual space. I still have the article from the NYTs.

Alex Katz is on a short list of artist’s I have run into in New York (Chuck Close-twice, John Baldessari, Julian Schnabel and Annie Leibowitz). A full drum set was part of an installation at one of the Whitney Biennials. Visitors were welcome to play it. I sat down and made a two minute racket. When I stood up I was face to face with the smartly dressed Alex Katz.

The Alex Katz retrospective, “Gathering,” at the Guggenheim was on our agenda. Not that we had much of one. We seem to have the best return, a feast for the mind and eye, when we just stumble around the gallery districts of Tribeca and Chelsea as we did on Tuesday and Wednesday. Full days of absorption. And at Marlborough Gallery on 25th Street we found an Alex Katz spoiler on their second floor gallery. I was able to study, up close, the magic at the edges of Katz’s broad brush strokes that David Salle calls loving attention to in his book, “How to See.” After watching the Guggenheim video of the show and with the forecast for a few feet of snow upstate. we lopped a day of our NYC visit and took a train back.

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Turning The Page

Orange cone along canal
Orange cone along canal

The tall invasive weeds have died back enough for us to take the paths though the park that parallel the golf course. We’re still waiting for that tick vaccine. Yesterday it seemed they had closed the golf course too early. Today, that decision looks prescient.

I never get much reading in before falling asleep. And I know I’m getting tired when I don’t want to turn the page. Often I’ll realize I have no idea what I just read but sometimes I just don’t want to turn the page. What I have just read is just too good. I need to savor it and drift off with fresh ideas swirling in my head.

We woke up to snow this morning. The autumn that went on so long it exhausted our plants had finally produced a frost. The gorgeous fall palette will be drained of all but brown and grey. It is up to us to provide the color in these winter months. We can’t be lazy.

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A Perfect Storm

Carroll Dunham Woman Man painting on view in Chelsea 2015
Carroll Dunham Woman Man painting on view in Chelsea 2015

If we are lucky we will see some Carroll Dunham paintings on our upcoming trip to NYC. I’ve been reading “Into Words – Selective Writings of Carroll Dunham” and really enjoying it, especially his probing interviews with artists. Since the 1990’s he has written for Art Forum, Bomb and various artist catalogs. According to Wikipedia Dunham came from great wealth, which he had squandered on a series of misguided investments. He is married to the artist Laurie Simmons and they have two daughters, actress-writer Lena and writer-activist Cyrus Grace

Carroll Dunham Wrestlers on view in Chelsea in 2018
Carroll Dunham Wrestlers on view in Chelsea in 2018

We have come across two shows of paintings in Chelsea on previous visits and his images have stuck with me. David Pagel, in a Los Angeles Times review intended to be complimentary, described his paintings as “vulgar beyond belief…” They are graphic. Dunham describes “painting’s dual nature as a repository of capital and a facilitator of profound contemplation, a perfect storm of the crass, the sacred and the intimately personal.”

I am looking forward to reading the piece he wrote on Otto Dix. Here is a page from his book describing the work of Max Ernst.

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Bad Patient

Wall chart at Ear Nose and Throat doctor
Wall chart at Ear Nose and Throat doctor

All summer I swam with ear plugs. I forgot to bring them to Costa Rica and sure enough, I got water trapped behind the wax in my ear. I couldn’t hear out of my left ear at all. I went to my doctor when I returned but she was not able to flush it out. She recommended an ENT doctor and I made an appointment but in the meantime the water dried up and my hearing came back. I kept the appointment anyway but I had reservations.

The doctor has three locations and the first appointment was out in Greece. I don’t like Greece. Google maps plotted two routes, one on the expressway and the other along the lake. Both were 21 minutes. I chose the lake route and made it there in plenty of time.

Paul at Ear Nose and Throat doctor
Paul at Ear Nose and Throat doctor

I filled out a few forms and studied the watercolors on the wall, small landscapes in awkward frames. I was thinking they might have been done by someone who works there or maybe a relative. An older couple came in behind me. He was outfitted in LL Bean gear. The assistant took me back to an empty room and I sat there in this chair. At one point someone opened the door and went right to a cabinet to get something. I said hi but she didn’t say anything. I was hoping to god that she wouldn’t be the one attending to my ears.

Drawers at Ear Nose and Throat doctor
Drawers at Ear Nose and Throat doctor

I sat there for about a half hour, long enough to study the room and take these photos. The same woman came back. Not interested in small talk, she barely heard me out and said “As long as you are here we might as well remove your wax.” She pulled a white plastic hose out of the drawer, stuck in my ear and turned on the vacuum. I squirmed as she worked the hose in and I pictured my eardrum popping if it went in any further. She acted annoyed and said, “Let’s try the other ear.” I squirmed again and she said, “I can’t do it if you keep moving. It’s too dangerous” and she put the equipment away. She walked out in a huff and said, “Have a nice day.”

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Upside Down

Smoke stack near REI along Erie Canal
Smoke stack near REI along Erie Canal

We are having a most unusual autumn in New York. On the day we left for Costa Rica it was as warm here as it was down there. Social media posts confirmed that it was beautiful weather while we were gone and almost two weeks later it still is. We picked more tomatoes on our first day back, and a big bag of arugula, swiss chard and peppers. Our marigolds out front have more blossoms than they had all summer.

Every other year the maples have fallen first and then the oaks but this year the maple leaves are still up there, red and yellow, while the oak leaves are a foot deep. We did one rake before we left, just so the house didn’t look abandoned, and we’ve spent the better part of our three days back raking and chewing up the piles with our mower. My watch says I walked five and half miles today and I never left home.

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Slipping Away

Paul at sunset, photo by Peggi Fournier
Paul at sunset, photo by Peggi Fournier

During the flight down Peggi sat next to a talkative little guy with a “Pickleball Getaway” cap on. On our way back the woman sitting next to us asked me if I could open the 16 oz Pepsi bottle she had bought in San Jose. I couldn’t. It was sort of embarrassing. But then again I have a hard time opening those little plastic bags of pretzels that they give you.

We travelled with one small carry-on bag and one of the things that wasn’t in there was our earplugs. We spent a good bit of our days in the water and my left ear plugged up on the third day. As we descended into Newark it popped and I can hear again. I was sort of getting used to not being able to hear but I don’t need to slip away anymore than I already have.

What I think I’ll miss most about our stay in Costa Rica is the early morning dip in the plunge pool. I am in the habit of waking at sunrise, just a few minutes before Peggi, and I would push the button on the coffee maker and slowly slip into the pool, allowing each part of my body to experience the exhilaration. That magic doesn’t happen later in the day, only when you’re not fully awake. Secondly, I will miss the Arugula and Fennel Salad that we ordered three times.

We had no IPAs in CostaRica. I like it when most of the country drinks the same beer. You order a cerveza, you get an Imperial. We had plenty of fresh seafood, often caught the day before. We had fresh fruit every morning. We had time for yoga, everyday. We recharged our batteries. We fell in love with Costa Rica.

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Recharging

Two rocks along the coast in Costa Rica
Two rocks along the coast in Costa Rica

I can’t imagine how boring these last few entries would be to read. Nothing happens here, by design. There are big decisions being made behind the scenes. How long to hold the plank? Which way to walk down the beach in the morning, whether to have coffee before or after and where to take a dip in the ocean without being towed out to sea.

It is our last day here and we finally saw our first boat go by, out just beyond the big waves. I was beginning to think it was too rough even for fishermen. It is pretty fantastic for surfers. Michael Gribbroek has surfed here. Our nephew, Andrew, messaged us to find out if we had surfed yet. We sent him back this link to a story in the Washington Post.

Duane emailed us to to arrange details for our visit to NYC. Peggi and I started singing the Swollen Monkeys song, “On Vacation.” They were label mates of ours in the early Personal Effects days and they performed at our record release in NYC. The party was held on the roof of Danceteria and they played out in the crowd rather than on the stage.

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Black Flag

Peñon, Nicoya pennisula
Peñon, Nicoya pennisula

We set the alarm the past few days to make sure we didn’t miss the sunrise. It’s not as dramatic as the sunsets. We’re on the western coast and the sun sinks into the ocean with a blaze of colors. The sunrises sneak up on you. And the color of the light keeps changing as the golden hour develops so its perfect for photos.

We’ve walked down the beach, in both directions, a couple of times now and our walks are not limited by distance, they are cut short by the intensity of the midday sun. So this morning we were on the beach at 5:30, the only ones on the beach, and we walked two and half mikes to this this big rock, Peñon. and then turned around. The surfers were out dodging the rocks between the black flags at high tide.

Our room came with a jar of Costa Rica’s ”Grano de Oro” and a ”Choreador,” cloth filter drip setup. The coffee, by the pool, tasted especially good when we got back.

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Highlights Magazine

Find four howler monkeys
Find four howler monkeys

Everything comes to you if you wait long enough. We were out front of our place, watching the sunset, the best one yet, when we heard barking coming from somewhere in the direction of next door. It wasn’t barking, it was seven howler monkeys right over our bungalow. They call them “Congos.”

Our necks were sore today from staring up at the monkeys for so long. Telling the waiter we saw monkeys yesterday is like telling someone you saw a squirrel back home. We did see a squirrel today, a giant red one with a long, bushy tail, in the big tree over our place. We laid flat on our backs and watched her build a nest.

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Bread House

Cockatoo
Cockatoo

We find ourselves in another one of those situations where the hospitality workers want to practice their English while Peggi would rather use her Spanish. And I like hearing Peggi speak Spanish. The woman behind a desk was telling us about a “chuttle” and we asked her to repeat it about three times before we realized she was offering us a shuttle. We have somehow latched onto Brian as our server at dinner and when he put the bread on the table he said, “This is the Bread House.” We laughed when he left the table, not at him but just visualizing it.

We’re here in the slow season, the rainy season, so there are very few people around. And it hasn’t rained yet. We can’t think of a really good reason to leave our place. Our waiter this morning, Manuel, recommended Montezuma. “More chill, more relaxed, not as many people.” Another of the workers recommended Montezuma as well and she described it as a “hippie town” with a beautiful beach. I’m wondering if we fit some sort of a profile.

We made a half-hearted attempt at catching up on the news and saw this headline from the Guardian. “Mondrian painting has been hanging upside down for 75 years.”

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More Minimal

Our temporary place in Costa Rica
Our temporary place in Costa Rica

The only thing on the white walls of our open plan bungalow is a big round mirror, maybe ten feet in diameter. The design of this whole place is minimal, just the way we like it. Floor to ceiling windows slide open to completely remove any barrier between the room, the patio and plunge pool. The shower has a frosted glass door that swings open to an optional outdoor shower. We choose to skip the daily room cleaning in keeping with Costa Rica’s green push. There was one yoga mat in the closet so we asked for a second and Peggi led an early morning class of two followed by a plunge. We turned on the tv just long enough to determine what “smart tv” means. Not smart enough to let us stream content to the screen. So that will go unused for a week. We walked to a nearby grocery store and plan to watch the sunset and make a meal out of hummus, chips, a long loaf of bread, some Manchego cheese (from Costa Rica?) and Spanish wine.

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