Sunday, August 28, 2011

retreat with a hurricane

Molly's red house is down under the hill in a valley that leads directly to the bay side beach. 
I have had the most wonderful two weeks full of fun creative and colorful experiences. My pal Molly Ruppert and her big family have a few homes out in a community called Fairhaven Cliffs, Maryland very close to Washington DC on the Chesapeake bay. She asked me late last spring if I wanted to come have a few weeks artist retreat in one of the houses that is normally a rental that was vacant this summer. I responded that I would like nothing better! When and what were the conditions. She wrote and said I could have a house with three bedrooms and all we might have to do in return was to mow the grass once and I could bring whom ever I liked to my retreat.We choose the last three weeks of August since Keith was out of town much of July and was very busy in June. August suited me too because this time of year in the city is typically very hot and muggy and mosquitoes are king. The garden is tired and dry grass is brown and dusty but I also have my annual birthday and what better way to celebrate than a retreat to make art at the beautiful bay.
 We packed up two Sundays ago and took food, pillows, sheets, art supplies and all sorts of exciting ideas to the bay house. I even took mom's feather weight Singer sewing machine to see if I might have space to make some fabric art. I also bound a special book for my daily sketches at the bay of large pages from the spare papers I have been saving for years for other projects that have accumulated in the folios in our studio. It was a perfect beginning. We ate a big dinner at Molly's the first night after we got keys and settled into our Red house. The folks in Fairhaven call the houses by their colors not addresses. The Rupperts call them by the family member's name that owns them. 
So we had the red house the place is an old beach house that was just perfect for us to make art and not worry about messing anything up. It is more space than I think I have ever had to work for more than a few hours at a time. I had a whole bunch of rooms to live in and a yard and the bay .... it was ideal. Nature is all around the house the hills behind are covered in a vine called Kudzu which is kind of creepy but also sort of magical in that it makes everything very green like topiary trees of mysterious shapes. 
from the end of the pier looking back at the cliffs and the beach and in the distance the red house.
looking at the house and the yard and bay beyond from the roadside above. 
Kudzu grows right up to the roadside and covers everything including dead tree trunks...
at dawn the sun showed me a kudzu bear and elephant at the edge of our yard!
 first Wed. afternoon a regatta of sailboats appeared on the bay
the first crab skeleton I found on the beach 

Our resident spider named Charlotte, naturally worked on her web daily. 
Keith worked every day on amazing arrangements with materials he collected right there in Fairhaven. Gardener neighbor Juanita Foust was very supportive and offered us anything we wanted from her garden and several other yards of vacant homes up for sale. 
butterflies were abundant and posed for my camera nicely. 

dawn on the bay was spectacular as the half moon hung over head and the sun came up red as fire
Not only did I enjoy making photos and drawing and painting each day but I also undertook a big quilt project inspired by the bay windows and the many colors and patterns of the experience of being in this great place for two weeks. I saw exciting patterns and colors and went right in and added them to make up a bay window inspired work. I worked almost every day a few hours if not longer on the sewing in a room that was intended for guests none of whom ever came. I used the empty single beds as my work tables and sewed on mom's machine until it gave out. Had to drive it to the sewing machine doctor this past Monday and there I found another one older but more valued by collectors. Who collects sewing machines I wonder? Anyway I could not resist using my birthday gift money to buy the sleek 1935 Singer featherweight sewing machine to get right back to the bay and work on the project that I was so deep into by the beginning of the second week. Now I have my own and I can leave mom's at her house for projects out there... it's perfect.
my birthday gift the singer sewing machine in perfect working condition. 
for my birthday I also got these beautiful antique plates like one I had to eat on as a child. The chocolate raspberry butter cream with brown sugar whipped cream was also a real treat but tasted even better on the depression era crackle plates. 
Then Tuesday morning while eating a delicious breakfast one of my teeth broke off! It didn't hurt but I was concerned it would so I called for a dentist appointment and had to drive back to the city very early Wednesday for a walk in visit. Then later Tuesday you all know that we had a 5.8 earthquake that shook up the east coast. It didn't stop us for long but we were really scared when the oil tank alarm went off in our red house. We found it and turned it off and rushed to the land line phone to call Molly but neighbor Juanita saw us and asked us if we were OK before we got the call dialed and explained that the shaking was an earthquake not an oil tank about to explode! What a relief it was to learn that our house and this wonderful vacation was not going to blow up all our fun. I got my tooth fixed and got back to work on my bay windows project soon as I got home and settled but we had to start getting ready for the weeks next disaster headed our way. Irene a hurricane was on the way. We decided to stay as long as we could to see what it was like if the neighbors were safe we figured we could be too. We shopped for supplies, cooked frozen meats and made ice to keep things cool... filled up big bottles of water for when the power went out and we had no well water to flush toilets. It was kind of exciting but not nearly as alarming as watching the news broadcasts full of doom and gloom about the terrors approaching the east coast would be had we been able to see them. We took all needed precautions and worked to use our last hours of power before the storm.
Irene arrived on the Atlantic coast miles from the bay about eight and the winds were strong, the rain fell in sheets all afternoon and into the night. We tried to ignore the sounds but the crash of a branch through a window and the flickering lights were alarming. We fixed the broken window with a little duct tape and a black plastic bag and one of those old fashioned window screen devices that held it in place. The lights went out right after we got the glass swept up from our broken window. The next part was sitting next to the open windows listening to the wind blow the trees soggy leaves and crashing branches falling & splitting. I suggested we read by our hurricane lantern in the bay room and we did for a few hours then about 10:30 we went to bed. It was black outside so we couldn't see anything and it wasn't safe to go out to look to see what those crashing sounds were. As long as they didn't land on us we were good. We woke to lighter rain and softer winds a tree had fallen and a few branches were broken. Fallen leaves were everywhere the car was waiting and the roads were soon open. We took a last walk on the beach then a tour of the little community of houses and checked on our neighbors. Then packed up our studio and the food and headed home. The trouble is there won't be power back for days if not weeks. No water, no power and only charcoal to cook with is too much of a hardship to give us time to be creative. We had a great two weeks with some really high drama moments but many more fun hours of simple walks on the beach or visiting with Rupperts and each other. I spoke to Molly this afternoon when we got home and she says we can come back when the power is restored for the third week she promised us. I said Hooray, that is just what I was hoping we could do because a retreat this much fun is very hard to give up for any reason. So hurricane Irene wasn't so bad to us after all.

the night before the storm arrived a beautiful view of the bay. 

cliffs before the storm at low tide. 

the tree that fell by the red house covered in ivy is barely visible but the root ball shows in the mud at it's base.
Keith standing in front of the fallen tree this morning 
 cliffs at the end of the beach after the storm 
 bay after the storm
at the base of the clay cliffs leaves and balls of various colors of clay rolled in balls upon the sandy shore
across from Molly's house a real broken maple tree 
sail boat that washed up on the big beach across from Molly's house

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