Category Archives: Curious human being

What’s New? One or Two Haiku for You

Self-portrait sketch, ©Sukie Curtis, ink on paper

 

One or two haiku–
some days that’s all I can muster–
a moment compressed.

 

Man standing knee deep,
Fishing rod flashes sunlight–
Not one fish nibbles.

 

I often think I will try to write at least one haiku every day, but I’m not that good at those “one something a day” things, although I did once commit to a whole year of at least one small drawing a day, and it was a wonderful experience. I stuck with it for a full year.  And my drawing skills improved in the process! 

I was inspired in my one drawing a day by someone else’s daily blog of drawings and paintings–Elizabeth Perry’s woolgathering. She is still doing daily drawings, from what I can tell, but now on Instagram and Twitter. Elizabeth dates her drawings and includes a number, now well into the four thousands, to indicate how many consecutive daily drawings she has posted. That’s a lot of daily drawings in the midst of a very busy, creative life!

Most days a small drawing is part of my morning routine. I like the way drawing grounds me and quiets my mind. Even if I draw many of the same things over and over–my hand, my hand holding my mug of tea, an old ceramic mug on my desk full of pens and pencils and a wooden spoon.

I often think of haiku as being very like simple drawings–a way of closely observing a moment in time, a glimpsed view, a sensory experience. Perhaps I will pair an occasional drawing with an occasional haiku, and see what happens.

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View from Islesford, Maine painting

“View from Islesford,” ©Sukie Curtis, oil on canvas, 9×12

Painted last year after David and I enjoyed a long weekend in a beloved spot on Little Cranberry Island, Maine, this view is a slightly fanciful version of the real thing–looking from Islesford across the Eastern Way toward Mt. Desert Island and Acadia National Park. The rounded profiles of the Bubbles, perhaps slightly exaggerated (who can resist?!), occupy the center of the painting.  

Given the slow drying time of oils and the challenges of transporting wet oil paintings, I often do small sketches of landscapes “on location” and later paint from the sketch, or at least with the sketch and my remembered experience as inspiration. Among my favorite sketching tools are a very fine felt-tip drawing pen and watercolor pencils (colored pencils that blend easily when wet). They are extremely easy to transport!

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Rowboat Song

Brass oarlocks on wax-print fabric

Rowboat Song

My song is for the rowboat hauled out for winter, 
listing in a sea of leaves.  I love her lines,  
the graceful beauty of her usefulness.  But even more 
I love the way she carries the music  
of my father, his summertime humming  
and the ringing of brass oarlocks dangling from his hand 
as we walked the tangled path pungent with huckleberry 
and sweet fern in August heat. 

                                                           Our syncopated footsteps
on the wooden runway, the slight lift and sway of the float 
beneath us, slap-slap of running line on water  
bringing the dinghy in.  My father’s slender fingers  
worked the line, hand over hand, removing strands of eelgrass 
and slimy mermaid’s hair, green, and matted. 

                                                                                      And then 
his easy rowing, skilled feathering of oars, their rhythmic turning 
in the locks, a two-part pulse of leather and wood against brass: 
back and forward, back and forward.  Between strokes, 
from the oar tips a whispered staccato drips in tiny 
running steps across the water’s surface. 

Did we speak?  Maybe a little.  Mostly in silence we’d do 
what was needed—unstop the sails and hoist them,  
let go the mooring line, back the jib to bring the bow 
around, and with sails filling slip gently out the harbor. 

Strange–I remember always the setting out 
rarely the homecoming, always a new beginning, 
always another chance. 

 

 

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Father on porch

Remembering My Father’s Slide Rule

Father on porch

My dad, Richard P. Curtis, c. 1964?, Marblehead, MA

My father was an engineer who died before the advent of pocket calculators, personal computers, and smart phones. Often when he came home from work, his slide rule was still nestled in the pocket of his white button-down shirt. I am embarrassed and even a bit ashamed to admit that I have never used a slide rule and wouldn’t know what to do with one. Even though I was quite good at math, I avoided calculus and chemistry and never learned to use a slide rule.

If I held one in my hand, I would treat it with respect and curiosity. Not as playful as an abacus with its sliding beads capable of making music when shaken, a slide rule by its silence and straight edges seems a sober sort of tool. But nonetheless possessing a certain sort of beauty, with its numbers so small I might now need a magnifying glass to read them. And that center panel that slides to line up universes of possibility–imagine holding the secret solution to so many puzzles!

In the old black and white photograph my father sits on a folding summer chair on our generous porch high above the ground that fell away from the ledges on which our house was built. The neighbors’ trees in the background are smaller than I remember them. The house in the far distance at the top of our neighborhood hill was less than a quarter mile from the house where my father was born.

The sleeves of my father’s white Oxford shirt have been neatly rolled to his elbows. His face is turned downward toward his hands. His long slender fingers hold the slide rule gently, gracefully, as he works some calculation that will likely be recorded on the back of an envelope in small, tidy figures.

His handwriting is neat but not fussy. He signs his name with one modest flourish at the end, so that the tail of the “s” on Curtis swoops around counter-clockwise to cross the “t.” Then his hand lifts to dot the “i.”

My father has been dead so many years I nearly clutch my heart when I come upon his handwriting–those unmistakable tracks made by his own hand. Some days I bend down and put my lips to the inked letters to kiss them, or hold the lettered paper against my heart.

*I wrote this piece with this photo in mind but not in front of me. I’m not sure my dad is in fact holding his slide rule in this photo, but it doesn’t really matter.

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Meet Gould’s Pandora

Gould’s pandoras in my hand

Most of the shells that wash up on a nearby beach are species familiar to me from my childhood: mussels in shades of blue like Chinese porcelain, clams of various species (surf, razor, Quahogs, among others), slipper shells (a.k.a. boat shells), lots of periwinkles, and the very occasional whole moon snail.

This year I have paid closer attention to–and started to see more and more of–what at first I took to be the pearly interior fragments of some larger shells. When I noticed that all of these supposed fragments were uncannily similar in shape, size, and location of a hinge, it finally dawned on me that they were likely their own species, simply one unknown to me!

So I looked them up in a field guide to seashells.

One of several species of the family Pandoridae and of the genus Pandora, these are known as Gould’s Pandora, Pandora gouldiana. Each shell half (called a valve) is nearly as flat as and not much larger than a guitar pick.

I find them quite lovely in their simplicity, their lightness of being, their iridescence, and the music they make when jingled in hand or pocket. The shell’s pearly layer is revealed only after the tougher outer layers have worn away.

Of course their name, Pandora, set me musing a bit. Yes, there’s the woman from Greek mythology who was entrusted with a box containing every conceivable ill the could plague humanity. And she opened it. (As a young girl, I never considered the implicit misogyny of this–another “blame it all on the woman” story.)

But the name, Pandora. . . . My two years of studying Biblical Greek long ago suggest that pandora in Greek would mean simply “all gifts”–pan  (all) + dora (gifts)–the good and the beautiful and the painful and the destructive. All of these gifts, all together.

When I checked my old Greek lexicon to confirm my memory about dora, I found a beautifully musical word nearby: dorophoria, meaning “the bearing of gifts.” In a flash the marvelous treasures of language and sound brought tears to my eyes. 

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