Monday, November 30, 2009

“I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom”

It’s the Monday Morning Blues, & there is some happy/sad news affecting all of us at Robert Frost’s Banjo this week, & especially yours truly. My very good friend, Dani Leone is heading to Germany this Thursday in what looks a lot like a permanent move overseas. Dani will be joining her true love Angela & we sure do wish them all the happiness two people can enjoy!

But it’s sad, too, since Germany’s a long ways from Idaho, especially when at least one person has a truly spectacular fear of flying (that would be me). Hey, thank goodness for all those fun internet ways of keeping in touch!

I got to know Dani thru a mutual friend, Jonah Winter, with whom Dani played in the wonderful San Francisco band Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, & then I got to know her better when we both played on the Mission District baseball team in the Roberto Clemente league. We’ve gone to scads of restaurants together—Dani has been the Cheap Eats restaurant reviewer for the San Francisco Bay Guardian for as long as I’ve known her—played baseball, played pitch (a card game—high, low, jack & game), got involved in the Java Supreme music & poetry series, played music together both informally & on a few stages, & had endless conflabs both over tea/coffee/food & over the phone. Dani drove me to Idaho when I came to live with Eberle, in her Toyota van packed with everything I owned, & she’s seen me thru some very rough patches in life, as well as some very happy ones. In short, she’s a true friend.

I wanted this week’s Monday Morning Blues to be something for her, but I just couldn’t think of the right song. I even considered quite a number of non-blues songs, like “Happy Trails” (just not the best song for me), or an Ed’s Redeeming Qualities song, maybe one of hers, but again, this didn’t seem a great match. I considered posting an epic steel drum (Dani) & tenor uke (me) jam that Eberle recorded a couple of years ago in California—the pic at the top of the post was taken during that. I thought long & hard about some Townes Van Zandt songs, because Dani & I have jammed on those a lot. But in the end, I decided to stick with what I do best: the blues.

This great Robert Johnson song seems appropriate in a couple of ways—it talks about the urge to move on, & it talks about looking for love in some distant land. For what it’s worth, this one is for Dani.

Oh yes, a couple of quick but important advertisements: you can purchase Dani's book Big Bend (written under her nom de plume, L.E. Leone) direct from Sparkle Street Books right here & you can purchase her self-produced cd (under her nom de musique, Sister Exister) at CDBaby.

& now, as Dani herself might say, Enjoy y’all!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dad’s Photos #21

Happy Sunday! I’m moving kind of slow after the Thanksgiving revelry, but I do have another installment of Dad’s Photos for your viewing pleasure. Also, for those of a more poetical bent, you can visit my Days of Wine & Roses blog for the poem post.

There will be two installments of Dad’s Photos in December, & that will bring the series to a close. The photos were taken at the “International Ski Jumping Tournament, Brattleboro, VT, February 18th 1940” (my father’s only caption for the set.) When I first looked at these images, I didn’t find them particularly compelling—these days we’re used to zoom images of sporting events, so the fact that the images are miniaturized & not in the very sharpest focus seems a liability. On the other hand, the more I examined the photos, the more I liked them—most of them display a sense of composition in the overall layout, & there are pleasing details, like the spectators who’ve climbed trees for better viewing. These really will be enhanced by enlargement, which you can do of course by clicking on the image.

I’m not adding captions, tho I will say that I believe you’ll see my mother in the center of the last photo. I hope you enjoy them, & that everyone had a pleasant holiday!

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

“As She Was Thus Alone in the Clear Moonlight”

Some months the Weekly Poem is programmatic; this month they’ve been a hodge-podge. In fact, this poem by one of my most favorite poets, Kenneth Patchen, was really a last moment whim. The poem this week was supposed to be “The Desolate Field” by William Carlos Williams—oddly, this would have been the good doctor’s first appearance in the Robert Frost’s Banjo Weekly Poem (not that his reputation is suffering from that). I’m sure Dr Williams will appear in this space somewhere down the line. In the meantime, please enjoy this lovely poem by Kenneth Patchen.

AS SHE WAS THUS ALONE IN THE CLEAR MOONLIGHT, standing between rock and sky, and scarcely seeming to touch the earth, her dark locks and loose garments scattered by the wind, she looked like some giant spirit of the older time, preparing to ascend into the mighty cloud which singly hung from this poor heaven

so when she lay beside me
sleep’s town went round her
and wondering children pressed against the high windows
of the room where we had been

so when she lay beside me
a voice, reminded of an old fashion:
“What are they saying?
of the planets and the turtles?
of the woodsman and the bee?”
but we were too proud to answer, too tired to care about designs
“of tents and books and swords and birds”

thus does the circle pull upon itself
and all the gadding angels draw us in

until I can join her in that soft town where the bells
split apples on their tongues
and bring sleep down like a fish’s shadow

Kenneth Patchen

Friday, November 27, 2009

Indian Valley in Pix #4

We’re coming down out of the lonesome rangeland & back into civilization—soon we’ll be home. These photos are a bit of a time machine now, as winter weather has come into the Valley a bit earlier than many years. Hope you enjoy this last look at the late autumn landscape—until next year!

The intersection of Grays Creek Rd & North Grays Creek Rd

A sign of the times: the fenced-in road on the mostly unpopulated Gray’s Creek Meadows subdivision

Curious cattle

Resplendent bitterbrush

Calf & cow

Looking west toward Mesa Hill from North Grays Creek Rd

Looking south back into the Valley from North Grays Creek Rd

Curious sheep on a nearby ranch

Heading down the hill back toward our house, we again look south toward the Valley

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Genius of Oblivion

[Here’s a short essay from Eberle about a woman who wrote one of our best known nursery rhymes & who also played a big role in creating the holiday we’re celebrating today in the States!]

Did you ever wonder who wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb”? That would be Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (1788-1879), one of the most read and cited women authors in America during the 1820s. For Sarah, as for many women authors in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, children’s literature was part of establishing a financially viable existence as a writer. Because children’s literature was considered by many to be less unwomanly than other kinds of authorship (and less serious) it often provided a gateway for women into various kinds of writing careers. Sarah Hale became an all-around professional: writer, editor, publisher, celebrity.

After the success of a book of poems (The Genius of Oblivion and Other Poems) as well as a novel, Northwood: A Tale of New England, Sarah was asked in 1828 to edit the new Ladies Magazine, published in Boston. In addition to editing the magazine, which proved a successful venture, she wrote a wide variety of material for it. She later became the editor of the famous Godey’s Lady’s Book, establishing herself as an arbiter of taste and behavior. A prolific writer as well as editor, she was the author of cookbooks, housekeeping books, collections of poetry and essays, novels, and children's books. She turned the Godey’s office into a publications business, issuing a variety of compilations, reprints, and translations.

Sarah worked actively for women’s rights, having first-hand experience of the difficulties that a
woman faced as a single parent—she was widowed while pregnant with her fifth child in 1822. In the following year, she published The Genius of Oblivion and Other Poems. The family had been living in Newport, New Hampshire, Sarah’s birthplace in 1788. She moved to Boston when she became the Ladies Magazine editor, and to Philadelphia when she was editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. At a time when women did not find the road to publication or a career easy, Sarah persisted in creative and professional work. She placed great importance on the role of women, and left a fine legacy in her Woman's Record; or Sketches of Distinguished Women, a multi-volume work containing biographical sketches of more than 1,500 women and published over a period of 23 years, from 1853-1876. Sarah retired from business at the age of ninety, two years before her death.

Eberle Umbach
© 2007-2009

[Note: As you can read in the following excerpt from Wikipedia, Sarah Josepha Hale was instrumental in creating the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States
—in fact the second image in this post is a letter Hale sent to President Lincoln discussing the proposed Thanksgiving holiday. Happy Thanksgiving to all our U.S. readers, & happy Thursday to all!]

Hale is credited as the individual most responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday in the United States; it had previously been celebrated only in New England. Each state scheduled its own holiday, some as early as October and others as late as January; it was largely unknown in the American South. Her advocacy for the national holiday began in 1846 and lasted 17 years before it was successful. In support of the proposed national holiday, she wrote letters to five Presidents of the United States—Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln. Her initial letters failed to persuade, but the letter she wrote to Lincoln did convince him to support legislation establishing a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863. The new national holiday was considered a unifying day after the stress of the American Civil War. Prior to the addition of Thanksgiving, the only national holidays celebrated in the United States were Washington's Birthday and Independence Day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Weiser River Pillow Book #12

[Fans of Eberle’s Weiser River Pillow Book posts take heart—since my division of the manuscript into months involved quite a bit of guesswork, it turns out that there will be a post in December as well to complete the material. In the meantime, hope you enjoy the November entry; & you can stop by Eberle's blog for more animal adventures!]


A design of squares on a linoleum floor.

The grain and knots of pine paneling.

Water stains on a plaster ceiling.

Lines of print when you are very tired.






Fields of tulips and daffodils in Holland.

Hibernating bears. Also, strangely, hibernating wasps. Not, however, hibernating squash bugs.

A rusted dredge in the rock fields outside an abandoned mining town high in the mountains; the snow piling up.


In Baltimore, past the electric candle sconces with paint drips imitating wax, a helicopter hovering.

In La Paz, the cold and writing with fingerless gloves, watching pigeons in mud niches under the rooftop across the street.

In Ohio, just room enough for a huge four-poster bed, climbing out the dormer window and onto the roof sheltered by the leafy boughs of an enormous tree.


In the nineteenth century, piano legs, table legs, all decently draped in upper class parlors.

In the twentieth century, trash compactors, stereo equipment and televisions hidden in wood cabinets; at the turn of the century, expensive wood housings for refrigerators.

In my own house, it is the electrical outlets I wish to cover up in one way or another, especially if they are unused.


A small plastic fountain, indoors, with plastic waterlilies and lights and on top a ballerina twirling, powered by the water flowing.

A garden crowded with ornaments—gnomes, deer, butterflies, wishing well, whirligigs.

A lot of broken-down cars in a field by a house.


Pasta shaped like miniature pizzas.

Sports Utility Vehicles.

Mount Rushmore.


At the corner, a line of cow skulls, very neat and clean, on fencepost. On the way back, a herd of cattle coming at us, turning into the old homestead I call Shangri La. It has the most falling-down buildings and equipment. Even an old schoolhouse and two small silos. No one lives at the house, where there are curtains in the windows but no glass.


It would be hard to explain the phrase "blanket of snow" to someone who has never seen snow. How the blanket is not only a visual image, but also involves the muffling of sound, a fleeciness, a sense of warmth. Also how the phrase itself is not fancy and can be used by anyone. Like a nutcracker. Some people choose the smooth metal kind, simple and elegant but slippery. There are ones in the shape of a squirrel that some people find tacky and others consider adorable. Then there is the nutcracker from the fairy tale and ballet—the staring soldier, wooden and bearded. Originally handmade for an aristocratic family, now these can be bought for the price of half a tank of gas in large chain stores that offer inexpensive imported goods. In the countries where these nutcrackers are produced they would be too expensive for the people who make them to buy. In Pernumbuco I was shown how to open cashews by placing them in an old oil can on a fire until the shells cracked with a small explosion. That was drought country. They did not have the phrase "blanket of snow" but they did describe an unsatisfying rainfall as "grasshopper spit."


Baling twine.

Airplanes and all-terrain vehicles.

Beer cans.


Talking to two women whose husbands have retired. One weaves and one paints. They speak of the difficulty of finding time when their husbands won't interrupt them. They have raised children, continue to run the households, cook and pay bills. Their husbands can't bear them being alone long enough to do work they love.


The bottle of soy sauce in my cupboard seems wildly improbable—so exotic, sitting there, as the snow piles up and the temperature outside could kill.

My cleaning frenzies are happier, less panic-struck, and have more to do with spaces than surfaces. More like a squirrel burrowing into cupboards and closets.

The pumice stone becomes a place you travel to, a narrow blue bay in Greece lined by white pumice cliffs and white bits of rock floating on the water.

The flowers on the Christmas cactus seem in motion—salmon leaping or bright birds in flight.

Seeing a wasp or even a Chargas beetle—instead of an impulse to destroy them, there is a sense of kinship, of being survivors together.


Bee boxes.

Hay bales.


Trailer houses.



Fence lines.

Partially ruined buildings.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Fame & Fortune"

[Here's the next of B.N.'s poems. Enjoy!]

Fame & Fortune

He will take you by the hand, lead you to
to that promised land — Hank Williams

We can't remember,
where we went, what we wore.
Some place upstate, something woolen.
In this way we were famous
in this way we were fortunate.

You want to find a thing useless
and junked, a house
lovely and abandoned with windows
intact. What you want from women.

You have a greatness
in mind, believing the
ugly more deft, you say:
they are gentle and can foretell
futures in our hands.

It is like so many things
laid down and forgotten. The birds
smoky and peppered are dirt poor.
We wanted it like this, the land lightly
colored, the trees waiting to
run sugar. Is this
the way we wanted it?

© to the author 1983-2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

We Interrupt Our Regular Programming…..

Happy Monday everybody—it’s cold & wintery here in Indian Valley, & I fear yesterday’s snow may be with us for awhile—possibly until March. Yikes!

But on to happier subjects. This is just to let all interested parties know that the first post is up on Platypuss-in-Boots, & you can read it here. Thru some glitch or hiccup on Blogger it doesn’t seem to be getting picked up by any RSS feeds—I think I understand the problem, & everything should work fine for the next Platypuss-in-Boots post on Wednesday—I think it had to do with a time zone mix-up in the post scheduling (Mountain Time just gets no respect!) But please do swing by for the big opening day celebration.

& thanks to you Robert Frost’s Banjo followers who’ve already started following on Platypuss-in-Boots!

Peavine Blues

Today’s song is not about gardening! It’s Charlie Patton’s song about a branch line off the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad—the branch ran from Dockery Plantation to Boyle, while the mainline ran from Memphis to New Orleans. A number of famous bluesmen have been associated with the Dockery Plantation, not only Patton, but also Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker & Howlin’ Wolf. The Clarksdale, Mississippi depot on this line has been converted to a blues museum, & the Peavine has its own marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail (see pic at top). In addition to Patton’s song, the line is celebrated in Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues.” Charlie Patton was one of the early bluesmen—he was born in 1891 & died at age 42 in 1934. Along the way, he left quite an impressive legacy: 56 songs recorded at four recording sessions from 1929 thru 1934, & some of these, like “Pony Blues,” “Moon Goin’ Down,” “Peavine Blues” & “Screamin’ & Hollerin’ the Blues” (to name just a few) are standards of the Mississippi Delta style. His own playing & singing are very memorable—a growling baritone voice & amazing drive on the guitar.

In other news: don’t forget to stop by Eberle’s brand new blog,
Platypuss-in-Boots, which is celebrating its kick-off at 8:00 a.m. Mountain Time today; her wonderful stories will be enjoyed by “kids from one to 92” as the old song goes—maybe even older than 92! & hope you enjoy the song.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Announcing Platypuss in Boots!

[Today’s guest blogger is Pinky the Elephant, & she has an important announcement to make!]

Well tomorrow will be an exciting day for us in Big Bed Land! Some of us have been working hard (and some very hard and some not at all, which is also very important) to find a way to link to what you call blogging. If I take a moment to shop the minds of a few Big Bed Land animals, I see that Pirate Goat imagines blogging as some kind of very fast tobogganing, and Madame Manatee thinks of it as bouncing a large head of cabbage around in the water for a while before eating it, and the little Finger Pigs remember looking up in dismay, worried that blogging would somehow replace their favored means of travel, which is by hot air balloon.

So you can imagine that Platypuss and Boo Boo the Bear and Lion O’Lion have been busy answering questions and calming anxieties, and the truth is we are all finally excited about being a part of Platypuss-in-Boots! Even though very few of us, even now, know exactly how blogging works. I, for instance, have no idea how the history and adventures of Big Bed Land animals will go through Platypuss and into the invisible ocean of E-waves to come to you! But I trust Piggles and Lion O’Lion and Dog and they all say it will work fine.

I will be your hostess at Platypuss-in-Boots and keep you posted on upcoming events. Also, I’m
here to make you feel welcome if you don’t happen to be used to talking with your animals. It’s perfectly safe, don’t worry!

Lastly, Eberle (who can be shy at times) and all of us (rarely shy, to tell the truth) would like to thank all of you for your participation in RFB (what a grand diorama it is!) and for your comments to Eberle—she has appreciated these!

And by the way—don’t forget to visit John’s poetry blog!

Hope to see you tomorrow at Platypuss-in-Boots!

by Pinky

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mystery Animal Arrives at Idaho Ranchette

Have you ever seen such a critter? You might almost call him Platypuss in Boots!”

& if you did, you’d be right, because that is indeed his name. But what is Platypuss in Boots doing on a little 10-acre ranchette in southwestern Idaho?

You must stay tuned, because soon Platypuss in Boots will be telling you all sorts of stories about himself & his many, many friends in an enchanted land known as Big Bed Land.

But for now, please be patient just a bit longer & make sure to check by Robert Frost’s Banjo tomorrow for a big announcement!

Oh, & before I get too distracted by the Platypuss & his friends like Pinky the Elephant, Pirate Goat, & Gretel the Kangaroo & her joey Bink: tomorrow on The Days of Wine & Roses—a prose poem from my San Francisco days.

See you again soon!

“I had been hungry, all the Years”

Happy Saturday everyone! It’s been a very hectic week around here, with much of our time spent heading to various places in all the cardinal directions. One more trip later this morning, & then we get to settle down for a few days.

& a good thing, too, because we’re going to have some exciting happenings starting on Monday—as I’ve mentioned, just stay tuned to this channel over the weekend for more news on that, both later today & tomorrow. I will say this is pretty much Eberle’s weekend on Robert Frost’s Banjo, so what better way to start things off than with a poem Eberle suggested for the Weekly Poem series. It’s by Emily Dickinson & is such a marvelous exploration of longing & fulfillment.

Hope you enjoy it, & do stay tuned!

I had been hungry, all the Years

I had been hungry, all the Years—
My Noon had Come—to dine—
I trembling drew the Table near—
And touched the Curious Wine—

'Twas this on Tables I had seen—
When turning, hungry, Home
I looked in Windows, for the Wealth
I could not hope—for Mine—

I did not know the ample Bread—
'Twas so unlike the Crumb
The Birds and I, had often shared
In Nature's—Dining Room—

The Plenty hurt me—'twas so new—
Myself felt ill—and odd—
As Berry—of a Mountain Bush—
Transplanted—to a Road—

Nor was I hungry—so I found
That Hunger—was a way
Of Persons outside Windows—
The Entering—takes away—

Emily Dickinson

Friday, November 20, 2009

Indian Valley in Pix #3

It’s Friday, so let’s take another drive in Indian Valley! Today we’ll be following Gray’s Creek Rd. There’s some confusion to the unwary traveler involving Gray’s Creek, because there’s Gray’s Creek Rd, South Grays Creek Rd, & North Grays Creek Rd. But today, we’ll be on the “main drag.”

In other news: do keep an eye on Robert Frost’s Banjo this weekend, because you'll see even more exciting announcements here over the next few days!

Old tires serve many purposes on a ranch—as we turn onto Gray’s Creek Rd, we look south toward Mesa, which is the hill flecked with houses

A common design of irrigation equipment

This pic didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted, but those are cedar splits used for fencing stacked up by the hay

A view to the west (we’ve turned from heading almost due east to almost due north—the plume of smoke may be someone burning a slash pile, a common activity this time of year; slash is the small diameter wood & brush left over after logging

Love the 55-gallon drums for & tires holding up the trailer! Cool bus & old barn, too

Dairy cow with sagebrush

A mullein—these plants are very common throughout the area

Rangleand & not-so-distant mountains

A view back almost due south thru the valley from a high point on Grays Creek Rd

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Inside the Lady’s Dressing Room (part 2)

Here's the conclusion of Audrey's examination of cosmetics & fashions in the 18th & 19th centuries. Enjoy!]

At the end of the 18th century in England and the newly formed United States, artificiality fell out of favor. We might point to the perceived frivolity of Marie-Antoinette, which (among other things) so incensed the citizenry of France that they rose up against the upper classes and in so doing helped to inspire Americans to shake off the fetters of English rule. Excessive display was out. Simplicity was in. The change was most drastic in men’s clothing. No longer were ruffles, powdered wigs, and other such fripperies viewed as acceptable menswear. Women began to wear less powder and paint, and numerous writers advocated moderate exercise and a healthy diet as the pathway to beauty.

Did this mean that women stopped spending so much time at
their dressing tables? It would be nice to think so, if only because of the fault-finding that goes on there. Augusta Webster’s “By the Looking Glass” (1866) poignantly depicts one young woman’s insecurity over her appearance. After returning form a dance, she faces herself in the mirror, and frets that “her heart must starve” because she is too plain to attract a suitor.

A girl, and so plain a face!
Once more, as I learn by heart every line
In the pitiless mirror, night by night,
Let me try to think it is not my own.
Come, stranger with features something like mine,
Let me place close by you the tell-tale light;
Can I find in you now some charm unknown,
Only one softening grace?

Alas! it is I, I, I,
Ungainly, common….

Such a frank appraisal of deficiencies is heartbreakingly authentic. One wants to take the young girl’s hand and tell her that looks aren’t everything.

Less fortunate still might be the dressing table’s attendant, the lady’s maid. Isabella Beeton, in
her guide to everything, the Book of Household Management, says of this servant, “the lady’s-maid has to originate many parts of the mistress’s dress herself: she should, indeed, be a tolerably expert milliner and dressmaker, a good hairdresser, and possess some chemical knowledge of the cosmetics with which the toilet-table is supplied, in order to use them with safety and effect.” Although Isabella deems the duties of the lady’s maid to be “light and easy”—in comparison, no doubt, to the more onerous work of other household servants—because of the intimacy of the position, she would have little time for leisure. Dusting bonnets, cleaning shoes, laying out clothes, lighting fires to warm her mistress, cleaning and sweeping the dressing and bed rooms, packing for trips, being constantly on call—such tasks were all to be performed quietly and unobtrusively. Ever the recipe-collector, Isabella provides instructions to the lady’s maid for making solvents to clean brushes, shoe polishes, hair washes, and the following “Pomade for the Hair.”

INGREDIENTS - 1/4 lb. of lard, 2 pennyworth of castor-oil; scent.

Mode.—Let the lard be unsalted; beat it up well; then add the castor-oil, and mix thoroughly together with a knife, adding a few drops of any scent that may be preferred. Put the pomatum into pots, which keep well covered to prevent it turning rancid.

The ideal lady’s-maid, says Isabella, would take classes to learn to style hair according to the
latest trends, study fashion magazines to keep her mistress’s wardrobe up to date, and always be thinking of ways to make things better for her employer.

She will also, if she has her mistress’s interest at heart, employ her spare time in repairing and making up dresses which have served one purpose, to serve another also, or turning many things, unfitted for her mistress to use, for the younger branches of the family. The lady’s-maid may thus render herself invaluable to her mistress, and increase her own happiness in so doing.

So much for spare time! More than her mistress, the lady’s maid was a slave to fashion.

A Miss M. H. Butt, writing in Godey’s Lady’s Book in April of 1854 presents beauty as an equal-opportunity trait, one that came more from within than without.

Whether she be in the lofty or lowly walks of life, if she possess certain mental qualifications and traits of character, she is beautiful. Her beauty does not consist alone in the bright flashing eye, which seems to speak the sentiments of her heart; it depends not upon the graceful form or gorgeous equipage; it is her mind, well cultivated and endowed with all those intellectual qualifications, which will make her a brilliant star, and which will enable her to enlighten those with whom she may become conversant....Yes, woman is truly beautiful; she is earth's greatest ornament; of her too much cannot be said. In whatever light we view her, she is lovely.

Such sentiments, no doubt, encouraged many a young woman to develop her mind!

In closing: Frances Sargent Osgood's
“Flattery. Venus’s Looking-Glass” (1864)

Beautiful? yes! Those deep-blue eyes
On heaven have gazed, till they caught its dyes;
Thou hast been seeking the rose, to sip
Its dewy bloom for thy balmy lip;
Thou hast been out in the radiant air,
Wooing the sun with thy wavy hair;
For a rich gleam breaks through its braids of brown,
Like a smile from Day's bright Eye sent down;
Beautiful? yes! but the rose will fade;
The smile grow dim which the bright eyes wear;
The gloss will vanish from curl and braid,
And the sunbeam die in the drooping hair!
Turn from the mirror! and strive to win
Treasures of loveliness still to last;
Gather earth's glory and bloom within !
They will be thine when youth is past.
Audrey Bilger, © 2007-2009

Pix from Top
Madame Seriziat: Jacques Louis Davis, 1795
Title page from Beeton's
Book of Household Management
Fashion plate of English and French costumes for 1815
Godey's Lady's Book, 1867

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On Inventing Ancient Weaving #1

[Check out Eberle's exploration of ancient textile arts thru the media of found junkyard objects & silk from Nepal!]

Actually it was as much a process of discovery as invention. First of all, I needed a lunar calendar. It was one of the first cold days of fall and I was still getting over a virus of some kind that made me slightly dizzy to go outside. But I had decided that the timpani which had spent ten years in the garden should make the voyage up to my studio. Since I was outside, I gave the llamas some oats and saw, in the shed with the oats, the familiar heap of objects, remnants of several years’ expeditions to the dump (the turkey buzzards and crows, the heat in high summer and the mysterious trailer where the dump man lived, reported to have used the county backhoe for hanging deer he had shot.) I noticed a collection of bicycle wheels I had gathered but had never found the perfect way to use as garden sculpture. The shape would go well with the timpani, I thought, and I brought a few upstairs.

Once the timpani and one bicycle wheel had found their places among the fruit crates and silk
hangings and cushions that were part of the oratory I suddenly started building one summer day in my studio, I realized that I wanted color on the bicycle wheel and it struck me that I could weave strips of fabric in among the spokes. I went to my closet and found a gauzy concert dress I no longer wore and tore it up into long strips. I had already cut pieces out of a bright silk shirt to use for some forgotten project and tied the remnants onto my djembe. I took these off and also tore them into long strips.

I don’t actually weave, though I remember the cat’s cradle and pot-holders of my girlhood, also the intriguingly square friendship bracelets we all made by weaving long thin plastic sort of stuff. My experience with textiles finds its apex in sewing the occasional button back on a shirt. My mother loved to weave and sew and knit, but I had never learned how to do either of these things before I left home (too busy refusing to brush my hair for weeks on end and wearing only black…ah youth.) But I found that the general principle wasn’t too hard to execute. I added a large metal bee and some beaded ornaments that had been on the dress and I thought it was lovely.

Time passed. The need for a lunar calendar became more pressing. And weaving as well as
embroiderey had become very important elements in the book I’m working on—in fact I had begun to have a terrible premonition that I was not going to be able to avoid inventing ancient embroidery as well…(this did eventually happen.) I had been very excited about a lunar calendar I had started to build out of the silver lid to a chafing dish the man at the local junk store had set aside for me and the bottom of a bleach bottle. I loved my design, but I could not figure out how to attach this to the wall and had come to a dead end with it. I looked at the remaining bicycle wheels and decided I could weave a lunar calendar.

I had already discovered that a wheel, divided in four for the four phases of the moon, with markers for seven divisions in each phase could indicate where the moon was at in her cycle if you turned the wheel one notch each day. I had spent quite a bit of time writing out the lunar calendar for the whole year and deciding for myself, in the 13 months of the lunar year, where spring, summer, fall and winter would start and end, given the climate in Indian Valley. I have always been annoyed by the standardization of the seasons.

The word “menses,” I was charmed to discover, was rooted in the word for moon and month. It also struck me as quite interesting that a deck of playing cards has the same general structure as the lunar calendar—52 weeks divided into four suits for the four phases of the moon, each phase (suit) having 13 expression over the course of 13 months… I had never noticed this before. This gave me the idea for drawing a set of moon cards connected to this structure, but that’s another story.

During this period my already tenuous sense of time became a complete ruin, and in fact these
were the ancient ruins I discovered I must walk through in order to invent ancient weaving. Very early on in the process of weaving I came across the ancient need for a shuttle, although I had woven over 100 yards of ribbon onto the wheel before I finally discovered a shuttle. It was in the little sewing kit I had used for years for sewing buttons. There were these odd tools on one side of the kit that I had never removed from their tiny collars of elastic. One was a wide, flat blunt sort of needle that was absolutely perfect.

The ribbon I used I ordered through Etsy—a woman (and I thank her warmly!) who sells—among a number of wonderful things
ribbon made by a women’s collective in Nepal out of remnant silk from factories that produce material for saris. Check out her stuff here. Stay tuned for Part 2 to see the completed calender and hear more strange and intriguing details about my journey into the primitive textile arts currently being invented by my hands, my girlhood, and my imagination. You might also be interested to learn how all this connects with the poet Henri Michaux…

Eberle Umbach