The oak tree

When my parents moved our family to a 28 acre farm in the hills south of Syracuse, New York, the yard in front of the weatherbeaten early 19th century wood clapboard farmhouse was surrounded with mature trees - several different species of towering maples, a butternut, a big old willow, spruce, pine, an orchard of fruit trees, tall cedars. Next to the attached garage stood a slender young pin oak, an almost scrawny thing.

Fifty six years later, most of those trees have died, and new ones that my father planted have taken their place. But along with the cedars in front of the kitchen window and across the driveway at the gable end of the barn, the oak still stands. Its huge trunk splits off into thick limbs, twisting wildly in different directions before pointing skyward again to form an enormous canopy.

My parents, now both 87, have remained in the old farmhouse. My mother needs a lot of assistance, but my father is still strong and healthy enough to care for her, and has made it his main mission in life to see to her comfort as best he can. It is touching to see how their relationship has mellowed and weathered the storms of a long marriage. They've become gently affectionate with each other. Some echo of what drew them together, cultures apart, so many years ago. Along with being Easter, my father's birthday was Sunday, so Gabe and I made the familiar 250 mile drive north on Saturday afternoon. 

Sunday morning, our visit lasted little more than an hour; my mother needed to go to the hospital, but they were cheered to see Gabe and both were in good spirits. As we said our goodbyes outside the garage and prepared to leave, I looked up at the massive oak. I thought how it had stood there, slowly growing for all these decades. All of what it represented to me. The years I lived on that farm. I thought of the many times I've not done or said what the moment asked for, and how little time we really have. The oak seemed to beckon me to pause and reflect.

I took out my sketchbook and a soft pencil and walked across the grass, calling over my shoulder to Gabe that it would be a few minutes more before we got back on the road.

the old oak, 8" x 10", graphite and colored pencils and watercolor




Easter side trip

A drive 250 miles north yesterday with my son Gabe, for a short visit with my parents on Easter Sunday, coinciding with my father's 87th birthday. To break up the return trip, we veered slightly west to Ithaca, had brunch at the Moosewood, and took a quiet little hike up the rim trail in Robert Treman Park. A hasty pencil and watercolor sketch. As they now say about cardiovascular exercise, even the briefest effort is better than none at all.

Robert Treman gorge from the rim trail, 11" x 8", watercolor and Derwent Inktense pencils



Start again

Often words fail us. Sometimes it's better to pause and reflect, if one is to say anything at all. Drawing what's in front of me helps me to find my way.

pen and ink, 11 x 8-1/2


A little snow

Our early morning vista the last day of 2018. A light covering of snow, bare patches of a long lane curve away from the white blanketed pond towards the county road below and the folding wooded hills and barren fields for miles to the west. Sharp, chilly air under gray skies. A piece of the stark winter landscape I grew up with; peaceful reminder to look at what is essential, at the end of a cacophonous year.


light snow in the hills, central New York, 11-1/2" x 6", fountain pen & ink


The shared gift

More than three centuries ago, George Berkeley, an Anglican cleric and writer, posed the provocative question, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" The question has vexed philosophers, scientists, and us common pilgrims ever since.

Earlier this dark, rainy morning, three days after our modest Christmas observance, I was standing in the kitchen pressing a pot of coffee and thinking about the extraordinary writing of Anthony Doerr. A copy of his first published book from 2002, a collection of eight sparkling short stories, was my daughter Nora's gift to me. Inspired and humbled after reading two of them yesterday, I was reminded of the author Stephen King's frequent words to his millions of fans, each of whom he has addressed with gratitude as "constant reader". I mused about my own struggle to reconcile with a desire to be appreciated for my work as a designer, how I've angrily dismissed it as the weakness of a needy ego. Then I considered the giver and the receiver of a gift. Is one even relevant without the other?

I don't know. What occurs to me, though is this: we crave connection. A work of art may mean something to the maker, but without a recipient, it is inert. Only when accepted and assimilated can it become a living creation. And when it's appreciated, the artist is validated. Sharing is an essential part of having a full life, and we all need it to declare our humanity. It is as important to be part of an appreciative audience as it is to offer what we can do.

the gift, 11-1/2" x 8-1/2" fountain pen and ink on paper