July is brand new but it’s hard for me to let go of June in Carolina. It’s the month I wait for all year… roses, lightning bugs, tomatoes, yellow sun, swimming, painting all day.
The other night I woke up and opened the window. The night sounds that burst into the room made me stop mid-motion, holding onto the window frame, my mouth open in sleepy enchantment. There was, surrounding my house, a web of sound, an intricate woven form with nubs, holes and rhythms.
To capture the best of the Carolina June day I’ve been getting up at six and going straight to the garden where I’m learning, for the first time, to grow things. The garden is around what we call “the ruin”. The ruin is a couple of standing walls from a mostly destroyed building my grandmother called the Jar Room. I presume that she stored her preserves in it. Perhaps the day’s milking was also kept there, since it had a concrete floor. When I was little it was a handsome building, made of creek sand, mortar, and local rocks combined into a kind of peach-colored stucco. It had a hip roof of standing seam tin, and handmade doors.
I am creating a kind of patio area, enclosed by the remaining walls. It’s been a lot of fun, learning a little masonry in order to patch the crumbling places. From my grandmother’s old cast iron wash pot we made a pool, and water splashes into it from an old discarded spout removed from the general store’s kerosene pump. The ruin is becoming a space that is quirky and imaginative.
In the cool morning I water the rose bushes my son David planted for me, and work on building a low rock wall to surround my kitchen garden. Perhaps the best part about this experiment is the chance it creates for me to enjoy my mother’s gardening wisdom. She is, I’m finding, an encyclopedia of knowledge about plants and gardens. We have a new subject to discuss. And, for once, I’m taking all her advice.
In the studio I’m working on a lavishly composed and wildly colorful painting of flowers that grow in Kim’s breathtaking flower bed. My sister-in-law grows about a quarter acre of flowers in deep beds of great soil. I’m painting a lily that is 5 feet tall with many blossoms on it, each larger than a man’s hand. I reverted from oil back to acrylic paint for this piece because I wanted its sharp edges and the variety of colors I have access to. I knew this painting called for the quinacridone reds, magentas and burnt oranges that are in my acrylic palette. There were a few awkward moments as I began the painting when I tried to remember the difference in media and shift my mode of handling. But the years of acrylic practice came back to me quickly.
In the early hours of the day I can work in the studio with just the ceiling fan on and the door and windows open. To conserve energy I’m trying to use air conditioning as little as possible. I’ve even taken to hanging my wash on the line. All this was inspired by a program I saw on PBS about energy. They showed a huge pile of coal sitting on a house lawn and said that was how much coal had to be burned to generate enough electricity to run a light bulb for a couple of hours. I was shocked to think of energy in those terms, and the polluting outcome of even a little bit of wastefulness. I recommitted to turning things off, to being responsible for less wasted energy and more protective of my earthly home. And to my June sense memories I get to add the clean tree smell of my line-dried clothes.