Friday, November 10, 2017


After an absence nearing a year it seems obvious I cannot just slip back into what I've been ignoring... with sadness & to my disappointment. the year is being its own kind of animal... giving a bit of a wild ride!

Winter poured our total annual average of rainfall by April. Inside grey moods, weeding would only make mud wallows. Slip & sigh...

A significant mud-slide immediately to the south of us honed our awareness of our fabulous fragility...

We found some respite in our annual visit to help Mother-in-Love Helen travel to or from her condo on the gulf coast of Florida, Long Boat Key, near Sarasota.

This year we brought her back home to Minnesota. Needing ever more help... after 98 years of vibrant life... she is gradually gracefully slowing down.

The always momentous month of May brings our Vashon Island Art Studio Tour for the first two weekends. 'Twas the usual scramble to prep both studio & garden for show-time. Mother Nature reliably saves me with her generosity!

So... the year is being good.. It certainly is being very rich... & mostly happy.

Traditionally we visit my mother during May. She lives comfortably in her own apartment, part of our youngest brother's home in Fort Morgan, Colorado. Much of my family lives along the I-25 corridor, from Rye to Loveland/Longmont.

My Bro-Jon, who lives in Kansas City impulsively flew to join us for a fine bit of family time. We also have other deep friends whom we love to visit in both Boulder & Denver.

We drove a triangle which included time with Brother David, Love-Sis Michelle plus Niece Lisa & her family. A rare feast.

We returned to a summer which brought another record-breaking period... months without any rainfall!

We were planning & prepping to set-up GRB Bells' canopied booth for the Island's Strawberry Festival... one of the few out-of-studio shows I do. But, only a few days before that event, it became evident that we were needed in MN. We flew to help Helen by spelling sister Alice & Bro-in-Love John, who because they live close to her, have taken the yeoman's share of her daily care.

I stayed a month. Learning & loving ever more to care for Helen. She & I developed & honed more deeply useful communication inside our decades of a familial lovingly unique relationship.

We chose each other for this journey.

She blessed our long-laid plans to travel in September & October... even as such "plans" necessarily became more truly improvisations as I replaced our friend Orlando with whom Stephen had planned to travel for the first leg... but who had to cancel because of undeniable back difficulties.

Originally I planned join Stephen in Venice... after their tour of the Dalmatian Coast, Croatia. With only days to change tickets... with a stretch & a splurge ... I danced into taking Orlando's place. We had a wonderful time together.

Now I am working to edit the 1700 photos I made & & stitching & quilting them together with amplifying the few snatches of journal I managed to write along the way into what will become several posts about the trip...

Only days upon our return we repacked to fly to be with Helen again... relieving Sis-Alice & Bro-in-Love John, who have been such reliable... constant & essential caretakers. Now they were scheduled for a week of babysitting their grandchildren...

Helen's strength had faded to the point it taxed the two people required to help her move inside the the ever smaller radius of her world. We were concerned about safety for us all & she agreed it was time for her to move to the hospice only blocks away from her condo. This small facility takes wonderful care for the whole family. We were gifted richer time to spend together with her as she lived the last few days of her long life.

Stephen & I were with her in the quiet moments of her passing... Stephen sweetly singing hymns to her. They had such an intensely close relationship. I was honored to be where I wanted... holding them both in that beauty.


Love is reflected in love
-- Mary Baker Eddy

Helen Fitch Silha passed away peacefully October 21 
of natural causes, surrounded by loving family.
Helen was born May 21, 1919 in Manhattan, Kansas, the third child of James Burgess Fitch and Alice Rakestraw Fitch. She had an older brother, Dr. William Fitch, 
and an older sister, Marjorie Fitch Shaffer.
Her father later became head of the dairy division of Kansas State University in Manhattan. In 1935, Mr. Fitch came to the University of Minnesota as head of the dairy division there and Helen finished high school at Marshall High in Minneapolis.
A lifelong learner, Helen attended Principia College in Elsah, Illinois for two years, then returned to the University of Minnesota where she received her degree in education in 1941. She taught social studies and English in Tracy, Minnesota schools. She also worked in the Student Activities Bureau at the University of Minnesota.
Helen married Air Force Corporal Otto A. Silha at the Fitch home on September 4, 1942. Their long marriage was enriched by Otto’s media career as publisher and CEO of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune / Cowles Media Company. Together they founded the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law, which conducts research and presents lectures. Otto died in 1999. 

I have long respected & loved my Mother-in-Love.

Saturday, February 04, 2017


This post has been languishing in my drafts long enough!

A long-time dream-garden design came to fruition just before Thanksgiving, while having been started some weeks before, when Tom & I finally took salvage on an abandoned utility pole nearby... after which the builder in me had lusted for several years.

We went out with the chainsaw, but discovered it had rotted at the ground enough that Tom simply attached a rope to the original stabilizing cable attached near the top & pulled it down!

The theatre continued as we first cut it into pieces short enough to be rolled along our road the hundred-plus foot push to the north garden gate then dancing them into place with his good eye at the chainsaw to cut the subtle angles allowing the evolution as the curbs of the reconfigured path.
This geometric generosity replaces what had been a steep push from the Italian Cypress, in the middle-right of the image below, up to the gate which is at the top in the lower-left.
Over several recent years we have developed paths which allow us to rather easily move about material by wheelbarrows to nearly all the layers of our steeply sloping property. Firewood can come up from below the south slope [although we also have made several sets of rough steps as well, allowing choices to match one's energy & proclivities]. 

Compost, or gravel for paths, can be moved from it's delivery by truck on the road, can be wheeled down this path to the several levels of the north garden beds. We also have a "chute" which drops compost down a level below the road to be shoveled into wheelbarrows for the beds of the south garden. 

The "alley" between the house & the "Forge"... Stephen's writing cottage... transversely connects the upper lawns, both of which drop sloping to the level which connects them embracing the house in front of my studio, which I call the "Hold", nestling in the foundation. 

I posted in September, about this path, which Tom made, impressing me with its graceful simplicity & functionality.
It  inspired this new project. He regularly proves himself... I love being well attracted.
He inspired another project seemingly out of the blue at lunch on the deck one of our work days, to grow mushrooms...
Why not?!?
We  immediately made an order to Paul Stammit's Fungi Perfecti... committing us to choosing logs fresh enough to be virgin for our rough inoculation by drill & mallet after the kits arrived... This maple stump shows the process of plugging wood with bits of dowels impregnated with fungal spores & sealed-over with wax to prevent wild fungi from intruding.
We inoculated most of the nurse logs in the studio which will be moved to find the best seasonal light & moisture, hoping to have harvest beginning in 6-9 months. The instructions suggested that a month in dry warmth at the beginning is helpful. They got moved outdoors just in time to clean for the Open Studio weekends.
Obviously there is an adventuresome story being written for later!
This longer view from out in the "north lots" below the new path shows the permaculture bank we've been building for several years over an old slough in the property with organic material too rough for the regular compost bins... healing that crack by building soil & thus creating space for future planting close to the fire-pit there.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


We love escaping the overwrought holidays 
 with their traditional obligations
[usually involving some gleeful threat of snow...]
Whenever we can free ourselves.

Thank you, my Sweetman, 
for your irritating wisdom 
about planning!

After our last trip four years ago, 
we hungered for a more tropical solstice.
We flew to visit our friends Joel & Nirgrantha. 

They host guests at Villa Vajra
in the village of Sebali, near Ubud, an artistic center on Bali, 
only one of the many islands collected as the country of Indonesia 
in the the South Seas.

After nearly 30 hours of door-to-door travel we arrived in Bali just before the Solstice... Mostly escaping the frenetic holiday energy, although Christmas is a commercial event with decor widely seen even in Buddhist & Muslim countries.

Our 13-hour flight from Seattle, left for Taipei just after midnight Saturday/Sunday, crossing the International Date Line to arrive early Monday. We flew EVA Elite so we enjoyed slightly more spacious seats plus, quite nice service & good food.

Meals on the flight to Taipei consisted by our choice of mostly Chinese foods, avoiding the western load of gluten: pasta & bread. I especially enjoyed the breakfast presenting multiple bowls, a variety including “congee”... as written on the menu, but verbalized by the hostess as “porridge”... a soft rice, more liquid than not, with additions including a packet of fluffy flavoring powder delightfully, aptly, called “fish floss". I want more!

I have a memory of being introduced, decades ago, to a similar breakfast a friend from Singapore called “jook”. I realized too late that the pickled salad was intended to be added, as Tinnee had taught me in those Sedona days. I prefer savory breakfasts.

Another 5-hour flight brought us to Denpasar, Bali where our friend Joel met our plane & drove us... while rain threatened... an hour more up to their Villa Vajra near Ubud…  putting us, for the first days of this visit, in the larger guest villa, which is usually rented to paying quests, but tourist times are tough on Bali and in much of Indonesia, due in part to overbuilding by expats.

Joel had arranged to have a masseur ready to welcome us with wonderful body-work before a simple dinner. What a delightful treat to have the wrinkles of traveling deliciously ironed out! During my massage there came as well the welcome of a first delightfully booming thunderstorm!
This was the view from the massage table on our bedroom's covered deck looking down into the living/dining pavilion... two stories of open space with drop-down weather shades.

We had indeed leapt ahead of time by flying over the International Date Line... so we went directly to bed, quite ready to sleep into our jet-lag.

I began a journal on the plane which continued to evolve fulsomely throughout this entire travel. I have a rather checkered history with such travel journals, which often find themselves neglected in all the movement. This one informs this text.

Remember that I am rather a hermit meditating in a fast lane. I've become comfortable choosing to miss some excursions to enjoy instead rare qualities hovering 'round the solitude essential to savor dancing so lively in time & place. Travel has many complexions...

Waking from deep sleep accompanied by intense frog-song, we joined Joel &  their sweetly aging dogs, Abelard & Heloise for their regular morning walk along the nearby ridge familiar from our last visit four years ago...
The grass growing along the ancient stones is what becomes the traditional material for thatched roofs, which are increasingly more rare due to their shorter lifespan than iron-wood shingles, which, while more expensive, last years longer.

A treat was to see a small, low growing, version of Passion Flower...
At the trail head is this demon's mouth doorway, 
carved from the wood of a tree root system...
Back home for a gorgeous breakfast with Nirgrantha in their delightfully efficient villa. A lovely plate of fruit: banana, kiwi & the incredible, richly flavored mango & papaya which are in high season.

A lovely wild native orchid blooms in front of their sofa:
On the wall of their courtyard garden is a zig-zagging black pepper vine, which I identified in answer to Nirgrantha's quiz, having seen them in India.
The rich exuberance of plant life in the tropics is exemplified by even simple moss on a lovely pot...
I might wish to attend the sale of his textile collection which Nirgrantha intends, such as this jacket on their bedroom wall.
Or... this sarong patterned to guarantee making any movement an undulation... I doubt I could afford such treasures as he has collected in his years here.

Joel suggested lunch at a vegetarian/vegan restaurant he’d recently discovered, accessible only along a rough road followed by a bit of a walk, which made it impossible for Nirgrantha to join us.

He is confined to the interior of their walled villa's two roofed sections... living & sleeping... with a garden & pool between. Such architectural incorporation of the tropical bio-system becomes lovely logic.
Moksa (the restaurant) is another open pavilion set well above & overlooking its garden planted in the river-bed’s fertility. I was entranced by the graceful swirls creating beds shaped with puzzle-nobs of paths interlocking soil. All bordered with a staccato of coconut husks, sensibly allowing the middle of them to be easily accessed… delighting this gardener!

The plates were deliciously inventive… served in / on pottery made by the partner of the owner who runs the front-end. I got to meet the other partner, who is the chef, to compliment him on the raw squash “spaghetti” I had so enjoyed sauced with a turmeric dressing... which I finished with a spoon!

We ought to have visited the potter’s studio/store, but we had too little time… Joel wanting to get back to check on Nirgrantha. We did stop to change money, each rather instantly becoming millionaires several times over, in the local Rupiah, for a $200.00 investment!

Both of us napped more deeply than intended… waking in the jungle twilight just before dinner. Grilled Mahi-Mahi & poppingly-delicious small potatoes roasted with rosemary… plus the Brussels sprouts which we’d brought from home at their request, being impossible to get in the tropics. A holiday feast!

Another deep sleep, with curious dreams, brought me to waking just before dawn, to watch the fireflies blinking like morning stars above the mosquito netting of our bed. I got up to enjoy the coming of the light on this Solstice morning.

Solstice still is important here, almost at the equator… just enough below to make some noticeable difference, according to Joel, as the longest day of the year.
Leaves from their Bodi tree... genetically a true scion of the Buddha's... hold deep truth.

We decided not to follow our original plan to go into Ubud for lunch & to shop. It seemed it would be too crowded. Instead Joel suggested lunch at a new eco/farm restaurant higher up the road where he’d celebrated his recent birthday. The half-hour drive took us through an area frequented by tourists, so there were numerous open shopping places for all sorts of schlock around a once picturesque rice terraces… now looking too shoddy for that traffic to even want to photograph… illustrating what he explained as the rapid deterioration of local culture.

At Basanta we were met as we parked by a guy with walkie-talkie bringing a young woman who turned out to be our guide [& later our server]  through the rather newly developing gardens, showing us the two strains of coffee [Arabica & Robusta] which they sell as “Luwak”… which I will explain later to those not too faint for adventure. We ate in one of several typically open thatched pavilions overlooking a lush valley.

Joel & I had interesting avocado smoothies laced with chocolate, pretty, but I might prefer a spicier addition rather than such heavy sweetness. They were too much like dessert! Stephen’s drink was made with beets… a lovely color. We were put-off by the plastic straws, after having a more beautifully organic version made from stems of papaya… a clue to how clueless we ultimately found much of this operation.

One starter was deep fried spinach… a variety with large densely textured leaves. I’m curious what was the batter’s binder, making an equally sturdy crispness… eggs, perhaps. The other was a timbal made of fruit & veggies enclosed with long thin petals of sliced cucumbers, another technique I wish to try at home. Main courses were a fruit & vegetable “paté” contained in a collar of banana leaf stitched with a pick of bamboo, a similarly wrapped bundle of batter-fried potatoes, perched horizontally atop, floating in an orange sauce. We shared a second preparation of red rice served with a basket of various sauces, small salads & bits of flavorful preparations & sambals, all contained in a tight composition of more stitched banana leaf vessels.
While all was fine in its elaboration, the meal did not seem so well tended as the lunch the day before. The entire experience seemed contrived toward the notion of the curious coffee, which involves collecting the beans after being processed through the digestive systems of civets [a weasel-like animal] which supposedly works some wonder worthy of exorbitant price. We did not like the idea, seeing the rather cruelly caged animals & samples of the the end of the process. Such curious excess of obvious & overt-marketing seemed another example of what “eco” & “organic” are not really about. The gamelon music was boringly repetitive & the rackety walkie-talkies the entire staff carried at full volume were distracting & disturbingly insensitive.

We would not recommend it over Moksa… or indeed at all!

No matter, 
by the time we arrived home all was again refreshed 


One important part of this travel to SE Asia was to visit two ancient archaeologic temple sites near Jogjakarta,...on the island just west of Bali... we flew to Java on Christmas Day. Java is predominantly Muslim, while Bali is mix of Hindu & Animist.

Borobudur is Buddhist. Prambanan is Hindu. Both were built in the 9th century. Each is unique to the style of religious, philosophic or artistic  manner... particularly in silhouette... yet with notable resonances in detail suggesting notions toward friendly co-existence at that time, in this place...

Our cab driver from the airport offered us a two day package including both sites... plus, as it turned-out, several more adventure-not-predicament stories!

We accepted... he delivered us shortly at Prambanan.
Remember, this was Christmas Day [look at the left side of this photograph]...
... at a Hindu Temple complex... a Muslim country...

 We were antique or at least aging moderns in free-fall...

In the orientation pavilion there was this handsomely stylized model of the 
basic architectural form...
 Another model shows the scope of the entire site, a series of terraced courtyards enclosing the three main towers, 
Devoted to Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu.
In all there were some 200 smaller temple structures surrounding the central towers, presently still seen as piles of unsorted stones awaiting restoration.
This ninth century Hindu temple complex is a Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site which has been only partially restored after several huge long ago earthquakes tumbled its un-mortared stone towers. 
Particularly on a day dancing under lively lovely clouds these make a sharply jagged silhouette with the tallest being some 47 meters 
[approximately 140 feet] in height. 

All the surfaces are elaborately carved with borders & decoration. 
An impressively huge effort, both in the original building & in the reconstructions during the last century by a series of international archaeologic efforts.
 Steep high steps lead up through several levels of narrow terraces 
around which one can circumambulate to view the distant landscape between sculptural elements or 
look down 
to carved stone panels
 telling stories from the Ramayana… 
an ancient Hindu holy history.

 Near the top were deep dark chambers housing large sculpted images
 We took our turns at the crowded doorways to allow others to enjoy their arrival inside the heart of these structures. My eyes needed time to adjust, coming in from the bright sunlight, also I enjoyed sharing some intimate moments.
Because of the universal end-of-year holidays the sites we have come to visit are quite crowded... mostly local tourists, rather than western ones… many families & student groups... assuredly almost none celebrating the holiday we were there to avoid, yet all knowing the nearly universal aspects of the commercial Christmas Mythology.


We, being the rare Westerners, attracted attention... numerous shy smiles from young students… encouraged & emboldened by our own easily responsive smiles... demonstrated they were eager to practice their English.

They inevitably began by asking where we are from. Upon hearing “USA” they got even more excited & wanted to have us pose with them for selfies… or… grouping around us, one trading places in turn with another, to join the merriment of spontaneously friendly photographic moments.

We must accept we are millionaire stars of some variety...

I think of the old notion that photographs could “steal” souls… which might then suggest that part of our souls are captured in faraway albums doing this kind of cross-cultural work!

Nearly everyone, older as well as young, has a cell phone & were making frequent shots just as I was doing with my Nikon.

While we all were collecting soul from the ancient art, we were collected as well in the present opportunity enjoying how humans naturally communicate.

Happily we were also captured by a group of young men to pose in their shots… Stephen handing his phone to the one shooting saved that moment’s soul-energy for ourselves!
Some groups were wearing identifying tee shirts or hats, but also many dressed beautifully in lovely, fashionable color-coordinated head scarves, Stephen caught some of them in a candid moment...
Echoing the interesting contrast of graceful curves gentling the very steep steps.
Some details were happily almost whimsical!

I found these illustrations of the several restorations quite interesting, showing various modes of reconstruction techniques:

The site is quite impressive, complex in its original construction & even more so in its reconstruction & restoration. It will long remain to be a huge puzzle!

Our driver asked if we were interested to stop at a batik shop, which indeed we were… wanting more shirts in this complicated craft of wax-resist dying for which Indonesia is famous. It turned out to be the same place Joel & Nirgrantha had suggested we visit!

We spent a happy hour with two helpful women wearing matching headscarves… the uniform of the store… finding gorgeous additions to our own wardrobes of shirts… these being very well made of high quality work in both the lovely dying & fine tailoring… we also bought a few for gifts. It is easy to spend our millions!
At last, after hours from our early start, long drive to the short flight, tour of the temple, we arrived at our hotel, where we were happily gifted our room earlier than usual... we were ready for a nap!