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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Soul Weather: July

I've had the sense that I was focussing too much on my computer screen to see any wildlife besides my little acrobatic marten, but this morning my eye was caught by a doe and fawn eating around my cabin.  They look so peaceful, perhaps because they're vegetarians and seem to find food everywhere:  their coats blend in with the bark of the tree trunks, and light up in the same dappled way when the sunlight hits them.  The fawn was peacefully oblivious and hungry, but the doe would take a bite, sniff the air, and take another bite.  They ambled, it's true, but only after the doe's sense of smell told them it was safe.  Of course I didn't have my camera!

Here's the beginning of the second chapter I've been working on here: 

In July, even the weather slowed down to watch the paint dry. After the weather gods had flooded Maple Creek, Yorkton, the Kawakatoose First Nations reserve, Saskatoon and most recently North Battleford, they’d decided to blow in one of those characteristic Saskatchewan summer days – the kind we make nostalgia from: dry, breezy, the sky so infused with dense blue that it's almost hot. It was the long weekend, and everyone seemed to have left town for Regina Beach or Echo Lake.
Lee is working on the second bedroom, giving Dirk a chance to finish downstairs. He’d allowed her to choose the colours, and she’d decided to find paint that reminded her of celadon glazes. She's used her favourite, an ambiguous blue-grey-green, in her garret and will use it again in the immense downstairs room that stretches from kitchen to living room when it was ready. Perhaps only a potter would have known how smashing it will look with the dark, reddish-brown cabinets. She calls her celadon “green,” but it isn't the colour of leaves – not the grade-school green of elm trees or the yellow green of the trailing sweet potato vines people put in pots with their annuals that has such punch. Celadon is more like water, and just as ambiguous: celadon could be the reflection of that hot blue sky in the green-grey wrinkled elephant skin of Wascana Lake on a windy day. Or the colour of water from melted glaciers, cloudy grey-green where the water is ruffled; cooler, clearer green in peaceful backwaters where the silt has a chance to settle. Celadon has layers. She’s chosen a brown that looks like an iron oxide rich celadon for the larger second storey bedrooms. It's deep and chocolatey with what she liked to call “aubergine notes,” as if it were a wine. She has a pale taupe-y green for the “master” bedroom that looks very Japanese, and a soft teal green for the smaller room, which she is now working on. Like all the colours she's chosen, you couldn't name this one with a single word, and it changes with every breathe of warm July air. You wouldn’t think watching paint dry would be so busy, but it is.


Painting her eyrie, she worked out a system she suspects was like reinventing the wheel. Somehow Dirk assumed that if she could glaze her pots she could also paint walls, but these are the first rooms she's done by herself. It's tempting to do all the work on the ladder across the top of a wall and then to push the ladder away and do the bottom half , but when she tried that on the first wall of her room, she found the nearly-dry paint where the roller strokes met was coming away from the plaster. So now she goes up the ladder with her yogurt carton of paint and her brush, strikes in as far as she can reach, comes down, goes up again with the tray and roller, stretching both up and down, comes down and strikes in the baseboard, finishes the section that demarcates her furthest reach, moves the ladder in again, goes up to strike in along the ceiling. It's not only the room that makes a big circle. By the last wall of a second coat, her thighs are like soft lead, malleable and heavy. Her arms, which should be strong from her work on the wheel, are used to containing and balancing force, not to stretching beyond her balance point.

But in spite of the ache in her thighs and arms, she's learning what painting does to your eyes, how it turns you into an animal made for seeing. Going for a walk or even running errands after several hours of painting is like being high. The world was suddenly irradiated with colour. Aaron Nelson, a potter who now runs the Shaw International Centre for Contemporary Ceramics in Medicine Hat, talked once about travelling in a canoe – or was it a kayak? – all the way down the west coast from Alaska to Vancouver. If you want to know everything there is to know about vessels, he said, spend seven weeks in one. Perhaps the same could be said of colour. If you want to know about colour, paint a whole house. In a world saturated with logos and branding, her colours don't have a meaning; they don't signal your destination: the red and white PetroCan or the green and yellow Superstore or the gold letters that would read, when you got closer, “ Bay.” They aren't the colour of your loyalty. Colour simply is, and you realize how endlessly variable it is as it dries: how it goes on slightly darker but with a damp sheen, and then becomes dappled, grows light and matte. Colour on walls is simply where you are, a pleasure you can live inside.

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