“The Art of Noticing” a Book

Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.  Mary Oliver

I notice small things.  This probably started when I started birding and identifying plants in college.  Little brown birds become wrens, those spikey white flowers in a bog become bog orchids, rocks in a canyon tell stories.

As I slow down and notice things around me, the world becomes less chaotic.  When my cell phone is left behind and the portal to insanity shut off I can sit on the porch step and notice the honey bees probing in the flowers of autumn joy sedum and the variety of clouds in the sky.  Noticing helps me to be a more imaginative writer and artist.

A book, The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker, recently came to my attention via Austin Kleon’s blog.  I checked it out from the library recently and have been impressed by the plethora of unique activities that will get the novice and experienced noticer into prime form.  Enjoy taking a color walk, documenting odd things from a road trip like gas stations, writing a review of manhole covers or fire hydrants, start drawing, write a field guide to the dogs in your neighborhood, write a poem about the items for sale in the check out line of a store, stop talking and inventory what sounds you hear.

If you need help downshifting into observation mode this book has the tools to do so.  Who needs Facebook and Instagram for entertainment when one knows how to notice?  As a new hardback it’s around $15, or check it out from the library as I did.  Everyday life will become full of new adventures.

When All Else Fails, Bake a Pie

It’s late summer and the berries are ripe and the apples are coming on.  My sweetie and I have a tradition of riding our bikes down the road on a summer’s evening when the air is cool and picking enough wild blackberries to make a pie

Now, I am not the best pie baker, and sometimes I have been known to purchase a crust (Trader Joe’s is the best) but this time I dove in and made a gluten-free crust.  We both agreed it was pretty good.  Raymond likes Ice cream on his pie and I prefer yogurt.

Now the thing about eating a fresh-baked pie is that it’s pretty hard to be depressed about the world at large when you’re digging into a warm concoction of sweet berries and crust.  In that moment nothing exists but the pie and the people enjoying it.

Entering pie bliss…

Never baked a pie?  Don’t be intimidated.  Have someone show you how to bake the crust, watch a YouTube video or just buy one.  The fruit part is easy and it must be fresh!

Pie makes people happy. They should serve it at peace negotiations. Sit down at the table and serve the slices to the ones you care about. Serve with coffee, tea, and ice cream, or whipped cream if you prefer. Spread a little joy one pie at a time.

(sketches from my day planner)

Learn about the history of pies by watching this video

The Garden Gazette

This is my alternative news outlet lately…

The Garden Gazette

Off with the news

out to the garden

plenty of good tidings to report there

The red of ripe tomatoes

peeking from a tangle of foliage

zucchini lurking like green submarines

below the surface of splaying leaves

a raspberry to pluck here and there

the green beans are longer than yesterday

maybe tomorrow for dinner?

dangling cucumbers play hide and seek

eluding my grasp

the sunflowers have opened their cheery faces

to the delight of probing bumblebees

the eggplants are ready to pick!

This is a better way to begin one’s day

in the company of bees

to the whirr of hummingbird’s wings

to the gifts of my labors

the earth brings forth

Trying to Keep the Glass Half Full

I’m trying really hard to stay positive as the news gets grimmer and grimmer. The Delta variant and now Afhanistan on top of everything else. A good friend of mine gave me the prompt “unprecedented” to write about. We’ve been hearing a lot of that word lately. Here’s my take….

Unprecedented

temperatures

draught

wildfires

storms

flooding

hospitalizations

deaths

homelessness

violence

misinformation

division

threats to our democracy

pollution

extinctions

PLEASE

can we all come together

sacrifice

give

work for the common good

for this nation

this world

this planet

that would be

unprecedented

Mural Magic

A much younger me, mid 1990s, Four Corners Elementary School, Salem Oregon

As children, most of us have been told “Don’t color on the walls!”, but it is so satisfying to have such an expanse waiting to be graced with marks made from your small hands.

I did get my chance as an adult.  For a number of years I was an artist in residence in an assortment of schools in a three-county area.  At times there were opportunities to color on walls creating murals with a cadre of small hands.

In the beginning was a wall..

Now that I’m retired from all manner of teaching and the monetization of my artwork, I have a chance to color on my own walls.  A boarded-up window on the outside of my detached studio building has been calling to me for a makeover.  Numerous ideas swirled around my head for months.   A cheery window scene was my ultimate goal.   I sketched out many thumbnails but nothing seemed totally right.  One thing I knew for sure, I was going to paint a black crow on the right side of the piece to disguise a hole that birds had enlarged for a nesting nook.  Also I wanted my tuxedo cat, Zander in the picture along with a teapot, cup, and some flowers (I have this thing about teapots).  I nixed the sun at the top in favor of a compass, a symbol that shows up frequently in my images.

Ultimately I settled on a basic design, a color scheme, and sketched it out on the wood.  Procrastination settled in as perfectionism (fear) took over. Then I decided the worse thing that could happen is I would paint over what I didn’t like.  So I got going.

I worked on the mural bit by bit in the cool of the evenings as the heat wave here in Oregon made it unfeasible to work during the day in the hot sun.  Eventually, I finished- yesterday!  In all I only painted over one vase that was bright orange, changing the color to more of an understated coral. 

I love this mural because it is personal to me and adds a happy focal point to an otherwise  boring wall  My next goal is to doodle all the way up my stairwell.  Let’s see how that goes!

Finished mural

Writing Like a Great Horned Owl

photo by Pixabay

photo by Deb Broocks

There was this magnificent great horned owl that lived in the hayloft of the barn, part of the old farmstead that became the Nature Conservancy field station on the Zumwalt Prairie in NE Oregon. A month ago I spent a week there as a participant of the Outpost writing workshop sponsored by Fishtrap, a non-profit writing organization located in Enterprise (see my previous post, Writing the Zumwalt Prairie).

Occasionally we would see this stately bird from its perch at the hayloft’s opening scanning for prey and looking down on us sternly from above.

Owls are unique in that they can rotate their heads 180 degrees in each direction.  Their feathers are constructed in such a way to facilitate silent flight and their eyes are 35 X more sensitive than the human eye needing only 5% of the light we require.  Add to that their extremely acute hearing and you have an extremely adept hunter.

Dissecting owl pellets

Since owls typically swallow their prey whole, they have a daily ritual of regurgitating a tidy package of fur, bones, feathers, and the like into one tidy package known as an owl pellet.  When one dissects an owl pellet you can piece together the skeletons of the small rodents, and birds they consumed.

During our writing circles with our teacher /poet Kim Stafford, he encouraged us to always be paying attention with all our senses as we experienced the prairie around us, being mindful not to disregard the other visitors to our psyche as well.  He stressed to capture those thoughts and inspirations on paper or voice memo before they escaped us- much like the owl and its prey.  These morsels of observation are what feed us as writers.  Kim is never without a small notebook and pen.  I often saw him jotting things down as he went about his day.

To be any kind of creative it is important to pay attention from wherever our perch may be.  Writing, (or sketching)  like an owl is the essence of personal expression.

Writing on the Buckhorn fire lookout

Owl Pellets

 by Alanna Pass

I am learning to write like a great horned owl

I sit on a high perch

so that I may swivel my head in all directions

observing, listening, smelling

for inspirational prey

I leave my perch at a moment’s notice

a presence detected

with a silent swoop I spread my wings

extend my outstretched talons

and snatch my prey before possible escape

I bend head to toes

open my hooked beak, extract this morsel

and swallow it whole

repeating this routine until I feel a blissful sense satisfaction

Then I rest

to coalesce all my inspirational prey into one tidy parcel

until complete

I project my written pellet into the cosmos

to land at the feet of others

with the intention that they may also

experience the wonders, the truths, the inspirations

that I have lovingly collected, digested, and presented

from my perch with a view

art by the author

Writing the Zumwalt Prairie

In the NE corner of Oregon in Wallowa County lies a little visited wonder known as the Zumwalt Prairie. I recently returned from a five day writing workshop in this remote place and still memories swirl in my mind like the prairie wind.

This 330,000 acre bunchgrass prairie remains largely intact as the high elevation averaging 4,000 feet, poor soils, and harsh weather conditions made it unsuitable for the plow. This was a summering ground for the Nez Perce tribe before white settlers and broken treaties ultimately exiled them from their lands. This land is still home to a plethora of wildflowers, elk, deer, badgers, bird, and insect species, many of them threatened.

The Nature Conservancy owns and operates 36,000 acres of this land.  It’s a nature preserve but part of its mission is to work with the local ranchers integrating them with their mission of conservation work which includes biological inventories, ecological monitoring and preserving biodiversity.  It’s a partnership with conservation and private interests.  Careful grazing management is part of the picture.  The Nature Conservancy field station was a farmstead abandoned years ago as the harsh conditions of hot summers, frigid winters, poor soil, and remoteness made it too difficult to farm.

Continue reading “Writing the Zumwalt Prairie”

Digging for Garlic – White Gold

This year’s garlic harvest is in.  It‘s always a bit of magic when the spade brings to light the seed I planted in the fall.  From singular cloves come beautiful heads of garlic ready to enhance my cooking and that of others.  Trim the stalks and brush their smooth skins – a ritual I never tire of.  Then off to the racks of our root cellar (actually a former darkroom) where they will cure on racks.  Typically the harvest will last until mid spring if stored correctly.

We use garlic liberally, often pressing an entire bulb and storing it in a container for use during the week.  When I was a young cook I used to follow recipes that called for a clove or two of garlic. I could never taste the difference.  If you want some pizzazz to your cuisine, be generous 5 or 6 depending on the size of your cloves. Trust your taste buds.

Over many years none of our acquaintances- even my closest friends have ever complained to me of garlic breath.  A good tooth brushing will take care of that!

For more about my garlic obsession, see

The Art of Growing Garlic

          &

Tis the Season of Garlic Scapes

Of Garlic

Plant cloves come fall

Dig bulbs midsummer

Spicy, pungent warmth

Dazzle my senses through spring

Surviving a Heat Dome In Oregon

We were driving back from a blissful writing workshop up in a remote area in E. Oregon when we came back into cell service.  I’ll never forget my friend, Linda saying “Oh my god- there’s this thing called a heat dome that’s moving into the Pacific NW.  It’s going to get up to 116 degrees F!”  Seriously I thought she was joking until she insisted it was true.

We live in a place where occasionally we will experience triple-digit temperatures in the low hundreds but not this.  These are Death Valley or Phoenix temps.- not Oregon.  Another blow- last year it was the forest fires and now in late June extreme heat.  Add to that the pandemic, politics and it’s beyond cataclysmic.

My house has no AC.  There have been few times we have needed it as it is well insulated.  This time, however, since it only dropped into the high 80s at night the house would not cool off and remained at 89 degrees inside. This was intolerable- especially for me as I am highly sensitive to the heat and can get ill.

Continue reading “Surviving a Heat Dome In Oregon”

‘Tis the season of Garlic Scapes

This morning there was an event in my garden- the garlic scapes were ready for harvest.  What is a garlic scape?  It is the flowering stalk that appears about 2 weeks or so in June before the garlic is mature enough to dig.  It’s always a bit of a miracle to see it mature since I planted it way back in November.  We ran out of our garlic about two months ago so it is exciting to know that soon we will have fresh garlic to enjoy.

This is where it gets a bit complicated.  There are 2 types of garlic, hardneck and softneck.  Hardneck garlic is the only type that produces scapes. They have, as the name implies, a long hard neck or stem.  they have fewer cloves but the cloves are huge.  Softneck garlic has soft stems.  They are the type you see in braids.  Their bulbs can get huge with more cloves but they are not as big as those of the hardneck. Generally, they don’t store for as long as hardneck either.  They are impressive and make great gifts

My garlic bed- back right

I grow both kinds, Susanville, a softneck variety, and Musica, a hardneck variety.  Any type you grow at home puts the tiny store-bought garlic from China to shame in terms of flavor and size. (Why we import that inferior garlic from China is a mystery to me!)

Garlic scapes have a mild garlic flavor.  Tonight I will brush them with olive oil and place them on the grill with other vegetables to serve as a side dish.  This is my favorite way to serve them. I also sauté them and add them to everything from eggs to stirfry.  Look for them now at farmer’s markets and specialty grocery stores for a special treat.

Garlic Scapes

Amid the crossing linear foliage

I spot them

heads nodding

shyly on slim necks

stems curving

with gestures of

graceful  ballerinas

First harvest

Artful are these scapes bearing

buds like slender crane’s bills swaddling

garlic flowers

unlikely harbingers of the fiery bulbs

maturing beneath the soil

waiting for my shovel to bring them

to the light of day

to the warmth of my kitchen

to dance in the food at my table

Susanville garlic

For more about my garlic hobby see my post The Art of Growing Garlic