Memorial Day

Barn Swallows Have been returning to my barn as long as I have lived here. Two years ago they brought so many friends and relatives that the rafters of my barn were encrusted with their tunnel nests and the floor was impossible to keep clean. There were 32 nests. So we incorporated ornithology into our art class.  Children watched them build nests using mud from the swale across the road in Eric’s field.  We made watercolor sketches of birds and nests and wrote journal entries with facts about these genius construction engineers.

This spring when they returned from South America, they were dismayed to find a new barn door blocking their entry to their customarye nesting site. I’m glad I won’t have the mess to deal with but I do feel sorry that I took away such a good habitat, and I expect we will have more flies and mosquitos this year.

Another  conflict of interests on the farm is the domestic cat population. Our rural neighborhood shelters too many of those prowling felines! The bluebirds and wrens are upset. And this week a roving black cat killed 4 of my pure white baby pigeons.  It’s hard to tell if the parents grieve at all for this loss–they just get right to work sitting serenely on more eggs.

I do think hens grieve. I’ve watched  them fall silent when a death occurs. If one hen is ailing, the others will take turns staying with her, tilting their heads to show their concern for her discomfort.  I spend quite a lot of time watching my flock and its my belief that the phenomenon of hen pecking is associated more with a bored captive flock than with a flock that has places to go and menu options to explore.While hens can be cruel like us humans, overall a backyard flock is a source of joy.  Their social life is one I admire, where contentment prevails.

Thanks to those of you who have contacted me about the art camp. Schools will release the new generation from classroom environments in a few days and I am eager to provide a group experience of enrichment in our area.

A house wren is warbling near the nesting box in my apple tree, reminding me of summers with my father who especially loved these little brown songsters.  He was a conscientious objector during world war two and did government service projects right here in Michigan. His unit planted pines in the Manistee National Forest.  Peace to everyone who remembers a soldier today.


Mid May Message

Renovations in the barn are moving along. We’ve been cleaning up the century old post and beam structure on the ground floor. Those things are solid! From the outside the barn looks its age, but it will do just fine for our art camp.
We already have classes forming so please call or email me to get your seat in the studio. In June we expect to have a sculptor and painter from Des Moines IA who will bring us inspiration in his field.

In the garden radishes, peas, lettuce and spinach are up, as well as enough green onions for all the restaurants in Grand Rapids. The hens are producing eggs of many colors, and the white pigeons are multiplying enthusiastically. Chances are good that we will have a pair of orioles nesting here. There is one singing in my apple tree right now with a song of such rich tone and complexity,it would almost put a nightingale to shame.

I’m glad we live near the vibrant city of Grand Rapids, where the preparations and connections for Art Prize are in full swing. Also on June First, the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts regional competition will open. My son, a student at GRCC has a piece in the show. This Saturday I will be performing in the Spring concert  of the Grand Rapids Women’s Chorus. Its not too late to get a ticket. I think you will be stirred, comforted and inspired.


I’ll be back soon with another topic; Barn Swallows.  They had to move their nest building operations out of my barn when we put a new barn door on the lower level. Alas!




Moving into May

Apple petals are falling this morning and I planted arugula. Mother’s Day is a great tradition! I’m glad it comes every year. Having children return to the farm is pure happiness, not only here at my house but in the neighborhood which I will be telling you about as time passes.

On Friday I filled in for the art teacher at Caledonia Elementary School. I had a blast! One of the lessons I taught was on the work of Grandma Moses. Her unschooled but magnificent paintings of  rural America in the 1800’s, often with a panoramic format, convey an appreciation for the rhythms of country life and an optimistic view of humanity.  And the fact that she took up painting late in life is inspiring.

Here is a painting I did long ago of a little boy in England who has since died.  Spring time in England is magical. Living with animals is good for the soul. I hope to share my joy in these things with children and adults who come to my hilltop art studio.

Hilltops are rare in lower Michigan, and on another hilltop nearby there is something else to make your trip worthwhile: Boulder Ridge Wildlife Park.  I hope to go over there today with my daughter who is moving to Battle Creek for a summer internship. Also in the neighborhood you can find Heidi’s Farm Market, recently opened for the season.  Alto is as fine a community as you will find anywhere and the township is looking forward to having an art center right here at the corner of Bergy avenue and Selah drive.


Dave Mason and a lamb
Dave Mason and a lamb