reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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woven wicker paper plate holders and love. [two artists tuesday]

“mom’s beloved paper plates,” my son called them. the boy was referring to plain and simple paper plates, the least expensive kind, not the dixie plates or chinet plates or the styrofoam plates that make you cringe when they squeak. just the kind of paper plate that is uncoated and recyclable.

i’m not sure that is a good thing to be remembered for. but in busy times with busy schedules and no dishwasher, paper plates were often a choice. “double them,” my momma would say. or she would hand you one of these woven wicker paper-plate-holders, of which she was a big fan.

and so, walking in the aisle of the grocery store and passing a gigantic display of these was like a gentle ‘hello’ from my sweet momma. since we already own some of these, from our beaky, we didn’t need to stop and buy any. plus, we rarely use paper plates these days. in these times there is more time for dishwashing. and real plates and cloth napkins. but oh, that ‘hello’.

cardinals in the backyard, notecards in the bottom of old purses, paint-by-number paintings in antique shoppes, peeps in easter candy displays, woven paper-plate-holders…they all keep alive memories of my sweet momma. in short order, this month, we will mark six years since she left this plane of living, nine for my poppo. it doesn’t seem possible. the blue metal planters peanuts can that my dad kept in his drawer for a zillion years sits on top of my dresser, the small wooden boxes from his workshop hold our nespresso pods, the ceiling fan chain wraps around our wrists, braceleting a reminder of him.

like you, i notice things, whether antiquing or sitting or cleaning out or grocery shopping. thready and emotional, beyond repair, i will always stop in my tracks. i choose not to see these things as passively there. instead, i choose that somehow, crossing the invisible ‘over’, this tiny gesture is a greeting, a reminder, a reassurance, love itself.

*****

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the color of new growth. [two artists tuesday]

desi is growing up. suddenly, seemingly overnight, there is lime-green new growth rising toward the sky in the way pine trees reach up, up, up. this seedling we adopted has beaten some odds and its tiny shoots show promise.

we’re not sure what kind of evergreen it is. maybe a white pine? though we are curious and want to be sure to tend to desi properly, it doesn’t really matter. we share our table at the window with her every day, watching for changes, carefully rotating her pot. she is present with us in all our lunches and dinners, with glasses of wine and snacks, surrounded by happy lights and joined in potted life next to various succulents, a fluffy ponytail palm and KC, my new adorable birthday gardenia bonsai from my girl and her sweetie.

a little research on firs reveals a plethora of trees i did not realize even existed. fantastic specimens of hardiness, each kind of tree reveals new growth in a different color, in a slightly different way. desi’s lime-green is a stunning color and we wonder what these new shoots will look like as time goes on.

before we rescued her from being mowed over, desi lived in a place of much diversity. pines and oaks and maples and hickories, all living in harmony, co-existing. tall trees reaching for the sun, hardy and stoic through thick and thin, symbiosis at its best. downed trees, decaying leaves, rich soil ingredients for strength, a diet for underbrush and trees alike, no boundaries drawn.

sunday we drove big red to chicago. we like to take the back way, through smaller towns and past homes built on the edges of ravines and lake michigan. it slows us down and keeps us off the anxious interstate. we were on our way to my boy’s new place where he and his boyfriend waited to serve us an amazing four-course dinner for my birthday. my girl and her boyfriend had sent lovely bottles of wine for the occasion, to be there though they could not be there.

on the way down, as we got into the city, a few police cars with lit light strips caught our attention. and then, hundreds, maybe thousands, of people marching, “stop asian hate” signs leading the way. horns blowing and demonstrations of support rang out as they marched in protest and we were proud of their efforts to raise awareness, to alleviate – stop – this prevailing and abhorrent hostility, violence and discrimination committed against AAPI people. the quiet suffering is no longer quiet. what will it take for us, for this community, this country, this world, to achieve healthy symbiosis?

i wonder what color my new growth is. i wonder if it’s visible. i wonder what the shoots will reveal. like desi, i hope, in my tiny spot in this universe, i will turn toward the sun, ever-stoic, ever-inclusive, ever-present, surrounded by happy lights and full of promise.

*****

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a coupling with no conscience. [two artists tuesday]

gasket (noun): a shaped piece or ring of rubber or other material sealing the junction between two surfaces in an engine or other device.

what the dictionary doesn’t tell you: gasket (noun): havoc-wreaker.

this small piece of black rubber wields some mighty power. its failure has made us dance for the last three days (and i’m not talking about good-dancing.)

we woke to the sound of water. a pleasant sound, we were suddenly aware that we, indeed, were not camping by a lovely mountain stream. instead, we were inside our home where the sound of unsolicited running water is reason enough for stomach flips and jumping out of bed. we are good at running around looking for the problem. we are not so good at what to do next.

we stared at it. the water on the carpet in the basement was an obvious problem. we quickly traced the dripping, er, flowing stream, to the cold water feed to the shower. and, because the very wise craftsmen who built this old house had the foresight to leave a tiny door in the closet on the main floor behind this feed, we found the culprit. the coupling! one coupling, without a conscience, failing us miserably.

we were wise enough to turn the water feed off – don’t overestimate the reaction of two artists in a plumbing emergency – and the water stopped. and then the fun began.

it takes a village to play plumber. we took pictures and sent panicky texts to innumerable friends who instantly wrote back advice and words of encouragement, channeling my sweet momma’s “you can do this.” we got to work, reading and re-reading the wisdom on our phones.

inside the coupling was this tiny gasket. it was no longer completely round and smooth. its edges were a little torn and battered. here was the problem. this havoc-wreaker had done its havoc-wreaking job and we were faced with the fallout.

the shopvacs whirring, we went after the water. over and over again, until it was possible to actually move the carpet. donning masks and rubber gloves after reading up on google what we artists should do in such a plumbing emergency, we released the carpet from its metal stripping and pulled it back (wet carpet is ridiculously heavy). though we were actually helping the carpet, the padding below was sopped.

using boxcutters like pros, we, garbage-bags-later, had the padding out and were accumulating all the plastic things we could find to lay out the carpet and dry it with fans – any and all fans we had.

we read that baking soda would help so we bought boxes and boxes of baking soda and sprinkled it generously like my mom would sprinkle confectionery sugar on her homemade crumbcakes. and then it was time to wait it out.

meanwhile, we went to see tom at the hardware store. he directed us to a gasket for 99 cents that we brought home and placed in-between the pipes. it’s not quite right – the gasket we had (heaven only knows how old it is) had some shape to it – like an o-ring attached to the gasket, filling in a round moat in the pipe (note the professional terms). this gasket was flat, so we are now looking for one that has this so-called built-in o-ring to fill in the moat. without that (or some other fix we are trying to figure out) there will always be a place for a tiny bit of water to go, squeezing microdrop by microdrop under the gasket and then worming its way out the coupling and then, terrifyingly, down the pipe where – if i even see one drop on the carpet i will freak out – it could land downstairs. anyway, after days of intense and concentrated effort, the crisis has been diverted, knock wood. (there’s been a lot of wood-knocking going on…)

now, the quest for the proper gasket. plumbing supply stores watch out!

*****

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babycat. [two artists tuesday]

his long white whisker was on the black rug in the sunroom. i bent down and picked it up, my heart aching for this sweet adored cat no longer here. i taped it to a piece of colored paper, trying to hold on to babycat physically just a little longer.

b-cat was twelve. according to the almanac that’s about 64. it hadn’t occurred to me or us that he was a senior cat; he was simply our babycat and his presence was more than one-fourth of our home. his absence has made a profound impact; it is very very quiet. it’s not that he was that noisy, although he was a vocal cat. it’s just that he was that present. for each of us.

i was alone last week when it happened. in an unusual turn d was away and i was home. monday was a day of sorting and cleaning and rearranging. babycat spent the day in the same room as me and split his time between snoozing and pets. nothing out of the ordinary, just extraordinarily normal. tuesday morning was unexpected and will break my heart for some time to come. suddenly symptomatic and ultimately laying down behind a chair i never remember him exploring, i knew things were dreadfully wrong. racing babycat in his blanketed dog-crate (since he was too big for cat carriers) to an urgent veterinarian appointment, i spoke to him the entire way while he loudly meowed and i could feel hope leaving my body. there are moments that feel surreal and, like other losses in my life, this was one. over a covid-enforced veterinary facetime app, a very kind and compassionate doctor explained the xray she had immediately taken and the dire implications of all that she could see suddenly impacting our beloved cat. babycat gave us no time to make longer term treatment decisions. he died on that tuesday morning in march, almost twelve years since my life had been graced by him as a kitten. and, in the way that death changes everything, i won’t be the same without him.

i’ve seen bumper stickers with pawprints that read “who rescued who?” each time i nod my head, understanding. babycat came to me at a time of great need. my girl and my boy and i drove to florida to pick up this kitten who had come to stay at my niece’s doorstep, with no evidence of a missing owner. a first-time-cat-family, we drove “cat”, who we were having trouble naming, all the way home, trying to figure out how to feed and water and potty-break a cat on the way, when all our experience was dog-based. somewhere along the way babycat was named “wilson” but he chose to never answer to that and picked “babycat” as his given name. we taught him to sit, to beg, to come when called. he meowed when we said “speak” and was a lot more dog than cat in many ways.

babycat – in the wisdom of the animal kingdom – followed me around in moments of loneliness, insisted on regimented times for meals, showed me that the sun on the rug in the living room was something to soak up, sat with me on the floor. baby-the-c’s constant companionship was my solace in empty-nest-initiation and his lack of stealth was a bit of noise i desperately needed around me. so much to say about that little creature. yes, who rescued who?

his absence now is, if possible, even bigger than his presence. babycat love – ours and his – surrounds me.

*****

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the snowman with mom-arms. [two artists tuesday]

in kindergarten, i watercolor-painted an image of my mom. there was no mistaking her, of course. to my eyes, it looked exactly like her and i was proud as could be when she later turned my masterful painting into a tile to hang on the wall of the kitchen next to the tiled artistic expressions of my big sister and my big brother. now i wonder as i look at the photograph of this artist-sans-maestro image. why did i paint my sweet momma with two distinctly different length arms? was i proportion-inept? was i image-to-paper incapable? was i running out of room on the page in-between all the birds? maybe, oh maybe, i was just not a gifted five-year-old-watercolorist. despite all its shortcomings, my sweet momma carried that tile-painting from one house to the next to the next to the next to the next to the last. as i glance at the art of my children around me – the hand-drawn childhood notes framed on my bedside table, the painted fish-rock on the kitchen windowsill, the handmade signs in my studio – i understand her fierce everlasting dedication.

this snowman seems the snow-replication – at least arm-wise – of my ‘beautiful’ mom-painting. i don’t think i ever painted my mom in a solo piece again after kindergarten. i’m sure i painted my family, my house, my pets, flowers and sky and horses. but i didn’t paint any more portraits. no, it didn’t seem like i was gifted in any way in a depiction of a real person on canvas or paper. but i would hasten to add that i easily have portraited my mom in a million other ways.

she is in music i have written, in photographs i have taken. she is in the branches i have dragged out of the woods and the rocks that have been collected in backpacks. she is in the memories that swirl in antique shoppes and in table coffee-sitting. she is in words i speak and expressions on my face. she is in my mind’s eye, my thready heart and in that little voice in my head. she is in the letters i write and the upside-down shampoo bottles and the homemade chicken soup in my stockpot. she is in the way i push back against inequality, the way i rail against wrongdoing. she is in the merry morning sunshine and the stars that glitter at night, begging attention.

and she is in this tiny snowman we built on a bench in southport park on a snowy day in february, proportionately-inappropriate arms and all.

*****

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the good old days. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

carly simon is – obviously – singing in my brain as i design this. “…anticipation, anticipay-ay-tion, is making me late….keeping me way-ay-ay-i-ting… …cause these are the good old days…”

for dogdog and babycat, these are the good old days. there is nothing more pressing than the treat in our hands, the invitation to go “on errands”, the lure of catnip, the tiny bite of potato from our breakfast plates. they are filled with anticipation.

this morning i heard of the passing of a young woman who was in a youth group i directed decades ago now. i easily remember her. back then we called her missi and she was full of smiles and adventure. though i haven’t seen her in the decades that have passed, it is stunning and sad, as it always is in loss, to think of her not on this earth. those days of youth group were most definitely good old days, surrounded by eager teenagers of promise.

“we can never know about the days to come/but we think about them anyway/and i wonder if i’m really with you now/or just chasing after some finer day…”

i wonder, as we look back, what we will also see as the good old days. are they the days of great accomplishment, of awards or the moments precious few like lottery hits? or are they the days of car rides on back roads with no important destination? are they the hikes in the woods with no concern about speed or distance? are they the days of anticipatory youth or the days of contented age? are they days with the lack of pretense, the lack of measure, the lack of self-criticism?

the dog and the cat do not partake in de-constructive evaluation. if dogdog utters a quiet grumble at babycat for getting too close to his bone, he watches us remove his bone from the spot and clearly is – momentarily – remorseful as we issue a stern “no!” he does not linger there, however. he simply moves on to the next moment, the look on his face is gleeful expectation of whatever is next. he nudges his babycat adoringly, respectfully. he is living each good old day as they come, seemingly regretting none. there is no checklist for him; it just is.

“so i’ll try to see into your eyes right now/and stay right here, ’cause these are the good old days.”

i will try to remember this: despite any angst that lingers in the air or in our hearts, it would serve me well to anticipate the sun of a new day, each new day, ready to slurp it up like dogdog and babycat, because it is – undoubtedly – one of the good old days.

*****

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joey’s 20/20. [two artists tuesday]

we hang out with joey coconato every night. we hike out west with him on back-country trails, on high mountain ridges, in glacier national park and yellowstone, in the tetons and canyonlands. we camp in tiny tents and eat meals out of bags, filter our water and hang our food way up in trees. joey is easy in this world and he has inspired us day after day, taking us one more day through this pandemic, breathing fresh air into another evening when we turn off the news, the dessert for the odd buffet that is life these days. joey’s camera captures the tiny and the vast, things that become indelible in your mind’s eye – the beauty is astounding. we see glimpses of him hiking when his selfie stick leads the way or when he painstakingly plants his tripod and creates the chance to watch. otherwise, we see these trails through joey and we are grateful for his keen eyesight and his love of the outdoors. for him, the mountains and the trail seem to make all things 20/20; he is clear and committed and profoundly capable. joey sees the up-close and he sees that which is far away, both are part of his focus, the details and the big picture.

although he does not consider himself a guide, sometimes joey will have others join him on the trail. i’m guessing it is important to him that their goal for the potential of the hike would be similar, that their respect of mother earth and the basics of backpacking etiquette would be allying, that the bottom line of the trail would be the stunning goodness of being a part of the outdoor miracles of nature. it is clear by his grand hiking successes, alone and in tandem with others, that he values those around him, that he embraces sameness and differences. his generous spirit in his gorgeous workplace is not commanding nor controlling with his hiking partners. he has an overall intention, he has made all the proper regulatory reservations and permits, and he looks to his partners-on-the-trail, people he obviously trusts won’t put him in harm’s way, for input. he listens and he considers what they say, whether it is complimentary of his efforts or is critical or probing of plans he has made; he respects the dignity of each person he is with. if they push back or question him, he, without ego or agenda, looks for clarity and truth. he regularly features these trekkers and always speaks to their strengths. he films them as they hike, as they choose their own boulders on their way down the scramble-field. he encourages them. he empowers them. he takes a back seat and quietly goes about being the expert that he is and together they all get there – to the next campsite, down the next canyon, to the next summit. he is a natural leader.

my gaze alternatively shifts from the icicles in this photograph to the trees, back and forth, icicles, trees, icicles, trees. i can feel the cold air on my face staring at the sculptural ice and the changing color of the sky behind the trees gives me pause, makes me remember the day will soon end and a new day will again be upon us. it’s 20/20 this vision – clear that both exist, co-exist even.

20/20 vision is a funny thing. according to the aao, the american academy of ophthalmology, only about 35% of adults have 20/20 vision without corrective lenses. with correction, 75% of adults have this vision while 25% just don’t see very well at all. so, at best, what we see is somewhat subjective, centered on our own focus, our own viewing lens. i’m pretty certain that in life this pertains to all manners of vision. so many lenses.

these days our lenses have a pandemic-limitation as we respect the boundaries of what we should or shouldn’t do, where we should or shouldn’t go. we know that we don’t necessarily align with everyone else in our choices, but we are painstakingly figuring out how to go about life in this very difficult time, constricted and staying on the trail for the time being. now – with over 500,000 good people in our country who have died from this insidious virus – is not the time to split hairs over alliances. instead, it is the time to recognize the big picture co-existing with the tiniest details and to stay as laser-focused as possible on working together, in unity, in community, with love. now – in this time of the kind of extreme angst not seen in a century – is not the time to cease conversation, to cease looking to each other for input, to cease collaborating. it is not the time for commanding or controlling or invoking fear. perched on a cliffwall, trail transparency and accountability as guideposts, reality as his north star, joey knows all that. he is a natural leader.

so right now, if someone – in any arena, on any mountain – says, “your vision doesn’t align with ours,” i can’t help but wonder about their version of leadership. what does that really mean? whose 20/20 counts? is it the icicles or the trees? or is it both?

maybe i’ll ask joey.

*****

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damning ice-damming. [two artists tuesday]

there is a price to pay for having an adored old house. ours is 93 years old. sturdy, charming, with wood floors and crown molding, built-in cabinets and solid doors, details that wouldn’t necessarily be affordable in new construction. but then there’s that thing that many of these sweet old houses don’t have enough of — called insulation.

many’s the time i have been on a ladder in the winter with a hose that is stretched to the basement laundry tub spigot. just me and hot water tending to the ice in the gutters. one year, when it was a particularly big problem, big jim came over and performed magic. i remember driving to illinois to purchase the proper tools: heating cables (they were out in wisconsin stores) and one of those really long telescoping snow rakes. and now d has had the distinct pleasure of dealing with this as well. each fall now we check the gutter cables – i’m always holding my breath to make sure they are still working lest the winter comes and they cease being warm in the middle of ice-damming weather.

and ice-damming weather it is.

it’s not like i’m happy that other people are dealing with it, although there is a little bit of content that we aren’t alone in this. as we walk around the neighborhood or drive around town we point at houses and icicles, inches of solid ice clearly stoked up in the gutter, snow falling off roofs like icing sliding from a cupcake on a hot summer’s day. even newer houses and brand-new construction have ice-laden soffits and fascia. and i listen and just keep hoping i don’t hear the telltale drip-drip-drip sound somewhere inside the house; that is never a good thing.

my first experience was memorable. i was alone when i walked in the front door and could hear water literally pouring somewhere. thinking someone had left a faucet on, i immediately went to check the bathrooms, but the sound lured me directly to the sunroom where i stared at the scene that ice-damming had created. my dad and a friend, neither in town, provided some pretty healthy support over the phone for my first adventure on the perilous ladder perched on the icy deck with an unwieldy and uncooperative long garden hose that i had to first thaw from its frozen coiled state as i tried to win against mother nature and too little insulation. eventually, i did win, but not until i was solidly drenched in 20-degree temperatures and i had earned the nickname ‘hoser’ over my moral-support-suggestion-laden-phone-calls and their quest to keep me laughing.

another time, my son can attest to walking into the sitting room one day to find water coming in from above the windows. we both stared at the phenomenon (staring is a requirement as a first reaction in ice-damming). then we got to work with every spare towel we could find. so, yeah, it’s not like i’m happy other people are dealing with it (isn’t that something like schadenfreude?) but i am happy for company in misery. and i know that in the summer, when we are calmly sitting outside in adirondack chairs in the warm sun having an iced tea, these will be funny stories.

but now? this year? yes, i am still holding my breath. the ice is particularly stubborn and the temperatures are lingering in ice-damming territory. facebook posts are abounding with pictures of dammed ice (or “damned” ice, depending on your level of zen) and people’s comments are empathetic and knowing. i don’t remember this from long island at all. i blame wisconsin. nevertheless, in the words of my momma, “this too shall pass.”

i seem to be thinking about those words a lot these days.

*****

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my momma and chicken soup. [two artists tuesday]

i wish i could sit with my mom right now. i wish i could be at her kitchen table with a giant bowl of her homemade chicken soup and a big glass of red wine. i wish i could be talking with her, really talking, not merely chit-chatting, but sharing all the stuff that we – very-human human-beings – go through. i wish i could feel that kind of comfort, that kind of never-ending fierce support, that kind of unconditional love, that kind of mothering right now. i wish she were here.

making my own homemade chicken soup will have to suffice. pouring a glass of wine and turning on the happy lights in the sunroom will have to do. sitting with david and pouring out my heart, tears and laughter intermingling, will have to satiate me. looking out over the backyard, staring at the lights strewn up between the trees, will have to be enough.

adulthood has its challenges. we race through our younger years at seemingly warp speed, our ever-widening circles further and further away from home. so much presses us. too much sentimentality is rejected; this world does not run on threadiness and success is not deemed reached with a collection of rocks, feathers, branches collected to remember times with beloveds. we are encouraged to push back against emotions that are confusing, that are overwhelming; this world does not reward our angst, our fear, our grief. instead it suggests that teflon hearts, insular, tough, impervious to the outside, will forward us down the road. we give less and less time to nurturing relationships; we are immersed in making a living, in getting by, in our own self-actualization.

and then suddenly, we screech to a stop. and we are there. we are adults. and, despite all the trappings, we are a little bit lost. we look around, we look back, down the disjointed path, and we realize it’s all fleeting and we, struggling, our hearts quivering, the gift of retrospect bright and shining, pine for simple. we wish we could sit and have chicken soup with our mom, or with our children, and listen and share. we wish we could say that we have learned, in all our human-imperfection, that most important of all, just as we might have suspected, are those rocks and feathers and branches. most important of all are those moments spent with beloveds. most important of all is the honest exchange of ideas and thoughts, choices good and bad, learnings and re-learnings. most important of all is the sharing of our emotions, the visceral, the belly laughs, the sobs, the mistakes and the forgiveness of our flawedness, our common denominator. and hopefully, if the world is as full of grace as we are told, most important of all is the giving and receiving of unconditional love.

i wish i could sit with my sweet momma right now and ask her…how did she make it to almost-94 without a broken-heart-from-life-stuff time and again. i wish she could, once again, reassure me that “this too shall pass” and remind me that moments in time are just that – moments in time. i wish she could tell me her coping strategies, the way she found her zen in this big old damaged perfect world.

i’m guessing chicken soup played a big part.

*****

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the middle of an elongated hexagon. [two artists tuesday]

the cheesecloth sky filtered out most of the sun over the trail through the woods. others had been there before us; the snowmobile track interrupted by the plodding hoofprints of a horse, picking its way through inches of snow. we were next, our boots crunching and breaking through crust the bit of sun had settled on the top of the snow. we saw no one else. we passed by no one else. the quiet was welcome; the quiet was necessary.

in the distant clouds we could see the brush of setting sun. and the lyrics, “…right now it seems to be more than enough to just be here today, and i don’t know what the future is holdin’ in store. i don’t know where i’m goin’, i’m not sure where i’ve been. there’s a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me. my life is worth the livin’, i don’t need to see the end…” (sweet surrender, john denver)

we were awake in the middle of the night. this is more usual than unusual these days.

we talked about the elongated hexagon of life. of the start. of sweet babies lilah and jaxon and their beginnings – their exponential learning day by day, their attaching to people, to things, to understanding. the billowing ever-widening incandescent rainbow bubble of possibility that surrounds them as they grow, as they become.

we talked about the elongated hexagon of life. of the end. of the narrowing down of experiences, the detaching, the ever-decreasing possibilities of dearest columbus, in the journey that minds take on roads of dementia.

we talked about the elongated hexagon of life. of the middle. of the time in the center. of our lives. “more than enough…just to be here today…more than enough…”

the trail is familiar; the trail is different every day we take it. we trace deertracks with mittened hands and build snowmen and snowhearts with the powdery snow in the shade of the trail.

we don’t know where we’re going. we can’t see the end. we are smack dab in the middle. and, on this bitter cold day in muted woods under a cottage cheese sky in silence, that needs to be enough.

*****

read DAVID’s thoughts this TWO ARTISTS TUESDAY