John Smith

March 1, 2015

This is a tribute for my friend and colleague John Smith who passed away last week.

John Smith

It was late autumn (northern hemisphere) 1984 and I was in Hawaii with my partner Linda for a week’s vacation before heading back to North Carolina where I worked as a designer-maker of sculptural furniture. On a whim, I called my home phone to see what business messages might have been left. After listening to this strangely accented voice asking whether or not I would like to come to Tasmania and lecture at the School of Art on a two year contract, I hung up, turned to Linda and said: “Where is Tasmania?”

Two weeks ago I celebrated the 30th anniversary of having arrived in Tasmania in February 1985.

The person with the “strangely accented” voice was British born John Smith. Considering the history (think 1776) between America and England, I am culturally inclined to not speak favourably of anything English; especially, the monarchy.

But without the slightest hesitancy or phoney smile, I can unreservedly say that John Smith, and John Smith alone, gave me the golden ring that would spell out the deeper meaning and purpose of my adult life.

Yes, I, myself, had to grab that gold ring when proffered, but the hand that extended it has to be acknowledged. The hand that shook my hand at the airport upon my arrival thirty years ago has to be acknowledged and that acknowledgement has to be both heartfelt and full of gratitude. Which it is.

Without a doubt, the shaping of my adult life, the deep ecological perspective of my art work, the eco-feminist nature of my home Windgrove, and, the fulsomeness of my creative life could only have happened by John placing that original phone call. For this I will be forever in debt to John’s physical existence on this earth.

And herein lies the strength and legacy of John Smith. Without his determined vision to create a world class design-in-wood department at the School of Art, there would hardly be a ripple of designer-makers in Tasmania making their living out of their craft. Just like Claudio Alcorso had the vision to create a vibrant wine industry in Tasmania — against the “perceived wisdom” of the day — John Smith stuck to his belief that Tasmania could educate and foster the talents of many people.

Like all artists and people of vision, John had his critics. And, at times, this would include me. But underlining every engagement with John, whether in agreement or disagreement, the look in his eyes spoke of a steely determination to achieve his dream. This, surely, must be admired.

Today, just as there are over 250 vineyards springing up across all of Tasmania, designer-makers are also springing up across this small state. In both cases, my guess is that most people will not know who laid the foundation stones for their respective careers to survive and flourish. They should, though, know this history.

I’m not suggesting that we build a statue of John in front of the School of Art. However, a simple plaque carved in huon pine and then cast in white fibreglass polished to the highest shine — this, now, would be symbolic and appropriate.

….The above photo of John was from the 1980′s when I arrived in Tasmania.

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Are we ever alone?

February 2, 2015

Old boards are being covered with new ones.

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Portions of the deck in front of the atrium are seriously decaying and, therefore, the whole deck is being topped up with new hardwood before someone falls through and breaks an ankle.

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However to fit the first row snugly into the atrium wall, it was necessary to remove a board from each of the vertical sections between the door and the windows to either side of it.

And what an interesting surprise when, after taking off one of the boards, a tiny nest of fresh eucalypt leaves were found. Who lives here?

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A pigmy possum, that’s who.

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And think of this. The oil of the eucalypt leaves acts as a natural deterrent for mites and ticks. How smart is this?

I sleep easier at night now, knowing there is a guardian out the front door.

PS. Steve and I made sure the entrance to the pig possum’s home was kept clear.

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Too old? Never

January 26, 2015

Gosh. Just when you think life is in the final stages of ripening, nature tells you something different.

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I was in the garden this morning feeling a bit tired from staying up past 9:30PM in order to watch a soccer match the previous night. I awoke quickly, though, when I noticed the “new” budding flowers of the gravenstein apple tree whose yellow/green early ripening tangy apples are now ready to be picked and made into either an apple sauce for pancakes or a pie to be eaten along side some vanilla ice cream.

The ripe apples are delicious looking, for sure, but what was more amazing was to see these fresh blossoms pushing forth well past their normal spring time period of flowering.

As if to say: “Come on tree, make room for us on your branches”, seven whitish pink flowers spoke in unison.

The lesson was clear: One is never too old. For anything.

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But if you look carefully at the photos, you will notice a green string that I have attached to the roof of the garden that helps support the branch that carries the weight of all those apples.

As the string demonstrates, it is important to have the support of a community or partner or friend or family if one wants to blossom at any time in life; whether young, middle aged, or old.

We all need help.

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The (good) blues of summer

January 19, 2015

Between the house and the tennis court I have two blueberry domes totally enclosed to keep the possums out and the blueberries safe.

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Today, and for the next few weeks, whenever I walk past these domes I will peek through the protective wire netting and check on the progress of their ripening.

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These aren’t the same sort of berries I picked as a kid in northern Michigan during those lazy days of late July, early August. Those were huckleberries.

But a berry is a berry. And a handful picked of either berry is a handful of deliciousness none-the-less.

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I’m fully aware that these berries are somewhat “tame” berries as they grow in cages; cages that, like any cage, offer protection but nowhere near the “wildness” of berries grown in the wild.

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Still….. when I crouch down inside the dome and nibble on a few of the riper ones — even those that have fallen to the ground — I can close my eyes and find myself, once again, in the pine forests, on my knees, putting one huckleberry in the bucket for every three eaten.

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Blueberries

I’m living in a warm place now, where
you can purchase fresh blueberries all
year long. Labor free. From various
countries in South America. They’re
as sweet as any, and compared with the
berries I used to pick in the fields
outside Provincetown, they’re
enormous. But berries are berries. They
don’t speak any language I can’t
understand. Neither do I find ticks or
small spiders crawling among them. So,
generally speaking, I’m very satisfied.

There are limits, however. What they
don’t have is the field. The field they
belonged to and through the years I
began to feel I belonged to. Well,
there’s life, and then there’s later.
Maybe it’s myself that I miss. The
field, and the sparrow singing at the
edge of the woods. And the doe that one
morning came upon me unaware, all
tense and gorgeous. She stamped her hoof
as you would to any intruder. Then gave
me a long look, as if to say, Okay, you
stay in your patch, I’ll stay in mine.
Which is what we did. Try packing that
up, South America.

Mary Oliver

We four friends went looking for hints of Christmas on an island so far from the North Pole that snow and Santa’s sleigh could only be dreamt of between smudgy clouds and icy grey water.

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In my Detroit childhood, wintry nights of going door-to-door singing carols with my younger brother in a somewhat vain attempt to seduce a few coins out of the stingy pockets of our neighbours with our repertoire of only two songs — “We wish you a Merry Christmas”, and, “Silent Night” — the dominate colours we observed on the homemade wreaths and decorations gracing the thresholds of the neighbourhood doors was green and red.

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But what about today? Here in Tasmania? Can Christmas be found?

Of course.

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One only has to walk around to find the greens and reds so associated with Christmas and the Christmas spirit.

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Even the hakea bush with its needle like Christmas tree feel, is adorned with decorative balls of its own making

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And looking down into the flower head of the protea bush, one can certainly sense the star that guided the three wise women to the new born social activist sage being swaddled in a manger surrounded by animals and the beauty of nature.

How apt then to post this Wendell Berry poem as a meaningful message during this festive season.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

Keys to coping

December 8, 2014

There are those days when my life seems to be on the verge of collapse; when standing emotionally erect is difficult. Same for you?

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But there are ways of coping that do more than just stabilize. They inspire through a re-charging of the soul.

1. One of these ways is through connecting with nature. Not just once, but over and over again on a daily basis.

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Think of nature as your lover, your most intimate partner. Take a vow of fidelity and life long commitment. Make a ritual of it.

2. Another way is to connect with people who share similar interests about art and the natural environment.

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Recently I hosted ten interstate and international visitors on a MONA art-nature tour at Windgrove. Walking and talking on hallowed ground can’t help but boost those spiritual endorphins that are released with the inter-connectedness of all beings.

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3. And just over a week ago I hosted a nature mythologies workshop given by photographer Lucia Rossi where the seven of us delighted in the mutually supportive challenge of learning new techniques and a new way of engagement with nature. Along with an intelligent and passionate presentation by a knowledgeable teacher, there is nothing like good food and conversation to nourish what needs to be nourished.

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4. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, is the need to get down on one’s knees and look humbly and with awe at what is present in the natural world. It drips with gold. And is easily available should we look for it.

How rich we all are.

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