Wild Animal Friends -1970s

groundhog

Our friendly groundhog (Marmota monax).

In a previous post I wrote about our moose neighbors in Jolicure. We had many other animals that we lived among – none as big as the moose, but just as thrilling to see.

Our first summer in Jolicure (in 1973) we had a fat groundhog take up residence in our basement when part of the wall of the foundation collapsed inwards and we had a wide open hole to the outside. Our century old farmhouse was just barely sitting on a century old foundation made of massive blocks of stone, and the basement was literally just a big square hole in the ground. (and when the rocks fell inward they crushed our water pump –  so no water for a while til that got repaired too)

groundhog1So I guess the groundhog figured this big hole in the basement wall was an invitation to move in – and he did. It may be that he caused the collapse by digging in in the first place… we’ll never know.

It was a family crisis. What were we going to do with a groundhog in our basement? We couldn’t let a wild animal live down there – we had to be able to have access to the basement after all, and we stored our root vegetables down there.

My father considered shooting the animal, but the rest of us prevailed. Instead my mother went down there with pots and pans and made a tremendous noise until the poor intruder moved out. He found a very nice piece of real estate in our backyard by an old tree stump and stayed there for many years.

backyard mom and dad601

My parents in the backyard. Behind my father to the right is the large tree stump that the groundhog liked to sun himself on. Long Lake is behind us and beyond that is forest and marsh for miles.

In the summer you’d see my father sitting in his lawn chair in the backyard sunning himself, and alongside him on the smooth wide top of the tree stump, surrounded by mallow flowers, would lie the groundhog doing the same.

One summer evening I was all alone at home – the light was a soft golden color and as I sat in my bedroom window looking out past the lilac trees in front of my bedroom window to the field directly opposite the front of our house, I saw a beautiful lithe red fox hunting. He was jumping and leaping into the air over the old tilled remains of the field, now covered with thick grasses and wildflowers. It looked so joyful and lyrical, it made me happy inside.

red fox mrwallpaper

Red Fox leaping – image courtesy of mrwallpaper.com

There was also a wonderful porcupine who would lumber out in the evenings from the forest to the big long field by our house and nibble on the grass there. Because he was so prickly he never was fearful of us and we could walk right up to him and have a visit. Mind you, we would never try to touch him, and luckily our dog was well trained enough that we never had her get into a mess with the animal.

porcupine

Our friendly porcupine in the field of clover.

We always had a giant great horned owl that lived in the row of tall pines behind our house. In summer evenings with the windows open you could actually hear the near silent swoosh of his wings and see him in the dusk hunting back and forth for rodents.

Bubo_virginianus,_Great_Horned_Owl

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

We’d find his pellets containing the tiny bones of his dinner under his perch. And if you looked carefully during the day he was there high up in his pine tree.

Needless to say there were frogs – and in the summer especially, there were huge loud choruses of them along the lake edge where there were lots of lily pads and other plant growth. The marshy areas were thick with frogs too and even the mucky wet areas of ditches and the forest were homes to them. In the spring there’d be big masses of frog eggs in the shallower water – shiny and slick with little black spots in them. Then as time progressed hundreds of  tadpoles of all sizes would hatch and you could watch them develop into full sized frogs.

ermine

Ermine – image from the Canadian Wildlife Federation

We had a weasel for a few years that lived under our kitchen shed. It turned pure white with a black tip on its tail in the winter. It was so sleek and elegant and fast. We saw its tracks more often then we saw the animal – it was very wary of us and our pets.

common-loon by Roy Toft National Geographic

Common Loon – photo by Roy Toft, National Geographic. If you’d like to hear a loon call go to the following National Geographic page and click on Audio – http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/common-loon/

And for the entire time we lived there, there was a pair of loons on our lake – they’d return in the spring to nest and stay til just before winter came. They had such a beautiful haunting call. We’d see them out there with their babies every year – the mother bird would carry her crew on her back when they were tiny little fluffy puffs and not able to swim yet. When we went out on the lake with our canoe, the loons would repeatedly pop up right next to our canoe and then dive down into the deep tea colored water. It was a wonderful gift to be able to be so close to such beautiful wild creatures like that.

Being in the middle of such wilderness there were many more wild things that we encountered over the years – fish hawks, sparrow hawks, rabbits, bats, mice, shrews, swallows and more… all to be discovered, appreciated and left alone by us.

There was one tragic siting that I will also never forget though – something so disturbing I am still racked with a sick guilt and sorrow. My mother and I and the dog were hiking through the forest when we came upon a raccoon stuck in a horrible trap

Racoon in a tree wikipedia commons

Every living thing deserves respect including racoons. Image from Wikidpedia Commons.

– its rusted metal jaws were clamped shut on the poor animal’s leg and the raccoon was so frantic that it allowed us to try and release it. But we were unable to help; the trap was too strong (it looked like a bear trap – it was big and heavy and powerful – a very dangerous thing that I or my dog could have just as easily been caught in).

Rusty-Bear-Trap

A rusty bear trap – primitive and cruel.

My mother as brave as she was, couldn’t bring herself to kill the racoon and put it out of its misery – and I was near hysterical. We went home to get my father to take him back and shoot it. But he refused. He didn’t want to get into a war with any local trappers. All I could imagine was the suffering of that little helpless animal alone out there in the forest… I wish I’d had the strength to go back there myself and end his misery – but I failed.

And I will carry that with me to the end of my days.

 

 

 

Advertisements

1970s Teen Angst

house from  field011

I posted earlier about my father’s intense paranoia and how that drove him to move us to an isolated farmhouse in Eastern Canada away from the spying eyes of other people, especially people he believed were spying on him from Time magazine.

In addition to his paranoia, he also had a need to control everything in his life, particularly my mother, his money, and me. My sister moved out of the house half way through her first year of college to live in an on-campus dorm just a year after moving to the farmhouse (I know she felt the iron grip too). Though she spent time at home after that, it was intermittent.

My father had kept me from friends when I was little in New York, because he believed their parents were spying on him.

When I was a teen he exercised an even greater level of control over me just by living in such a remote location. I was stuck there miles from anyone, and couldn’t go anywhere without his approval. I had no privacy, and even if friends called me, he would frequently listen to me while I spoke on the phone located in the central hall of our house and then question me about who had called and why. Because our phone was on a party line it drove him crazy knowing that the neighbors could hear our conversations.

Jolicure, New Brunswick by Bernard Safran 1983

This painting shows the crossroads of Jolicure proper where the car is parked in the distance. To get to our house you had to keep going past the house with the green roof for another 2 miles. Jolicure, New Brunswick by Bernard Safran, January 1983 17″ x 32.5″ oil on masonite.

And he refused to let me learn to drive. I went where my parents went, or if my sister was around, where she went. I had no independence apart from where I could go on my bike or on foot.

This meant that I spent a lot of time at home alone with my crazy parents in that isolated farmhouse – it was frequently tense with my father in a fit over something, and my mother either fighting with him or walking on eggshells trying to handle him. I’d arrive home from school to find the atmosphere thick with tension – I seemed to be a neutral energy that both welcomed.

I was at times desperate to get out. At least I had the solace of the woods and fields, my dog and cat, and my cousin’s horse.

Living as we did in the middle of nowhere in the back woods of New Brunswick, Canada, had major disadvantages for my High School social life (which no doubt was just fine by my father).

red house dusk147

To get to and from dances, football games or any parties or after school stuff, I first had to get parental permission and then had to find someone to drive me or drop me off at my house which was 10 miles from the Town of Sackville where I was bussed to school. On rare occasions my mother drove me one way, but most of the time I had to bum rides from other kids, beg an invite to stay overnight in town with an approved of girlfriend (whose parents had to be met by my mother first), or just miss out. This led me to feel quite literally like an outsider, always trying to catch up and never really fitting in. (There were other reasons for my feeling different from everyone – being from New York, having two artist parents, and being half Jewish were just three of them).

And when I started dating you can imagine how that played out at home…

My first official boyfriend (who lived in Sackville) didn’t have a car and that caused some complications. He did call me every night, and I saw him at school every day and occasionally in town, and he took me to Senior Prom. He was cool – he smoked weed and tobacco and played bass and hung out with the other cool guys in school – he was a senior and I had just turned 16. We started going out in the Spring when he brought me a hand picked bouquet of flowers during lunch in the cafeteria and he declared his love for me.

violets

A bouquet of violets just like the one I received during lunch period in Grade 10.

One day he rode his bicycle 10 miles across the windy and open Tantramar Marsh along the Trans Canada Highway and down the dirt road to our isolated farmhouse, to come and see me. I was amazed at his dedication and passion.

My father caught us kissing down the hill from the house, and that was something I’ll never forget – my father’s expression: at first perplexed and then fuming. My boyfriend rode his bike back the 10 miles to town soon after. It wasn’t long after that, that that boyfriend was no more – 10 miles is quite a commitment especially with a fuming and searing father waiting for you at the end of a long and painful bike ride.

Map of Jolicure and Sackville, New Brunswick

Sorry that this map isn’t easy to read here, but if you click on it you’ll get full size. I just wanted to show you where my house was located – at the small red dot on Long Lake in Jolicure (close to the center of the map). In the left hand corner you can see Sackville. Now you can visually comprehend how far we lived from town.

To have “friends” who chat you up on the school bus and tell you all about the great things they were up to, but never invite you along, was a life lesson in itself – which I obviously understood – they weren’t really my friends. If they’d wanted me to go to their parties in town they would’ve easily included me… or to join a team that they were on “Oh, you should join the field hockey team!” which I heard repeatedly and which I really wanted to do but couldn’t because I couldn’t arrange to get home from practice even when these friends only lived a few miles away.

I can tell you from experience that trying to bum rides all the time is humiliating. More than once, I ended up in the cars of kids I didn’t know who either took pity on me or who had their own agendas for driving into the woods. You’d think that a controlling father would be more likely to drive me himself rather than let some unknown kid do it, but that way he saved money on gas, and 9 times out of 10 I couldn’t manage the rides so I stayed home.

One time my desperation resulted in being driven home by the biggest toughest looking guy in school and his “for the moment” girlfriend – who spent the entire time driving me home at high speed along the highway, and feeling each other up in the front seat of his black Firebird.

Pontiac Firebird Trans Am 1976

A black Pontiac Firebird Trans Am c 1976 – very much like the one that the big scary guy and his girl drove me home to Jolicure in one night from town. I guess I can’t blame him for not wanting to take the car down 2 miles of rutted dirt road.

They were so eager to leave me in Jolicure they dropped me off at the Jolicure crossroads and I had to walk in 2 miles along the dirt road in the dark (singing loudly and whistling to scare any bears away).

Their plan, like many teenagers, was to find a quiet spot to continue feeling each other up or whatever else they got up to.

In Grade 11, I had a new boyfriend – he was on the football team.  This time my football playing boyfriend had a car. It was a giant 70s car –  low slung, no seat belts, and room for numerous teens in it. We went on several double dates to movies, to a couple of dances, and on one or two occasions hung out with his friends in town.

We spent more time together than my parents apparently approved of. I think that one of the incidents that they most disapproved of happened during the winter of that year. We had gone to a movie on a double date, but my boyfriend had somehow managed to drop off the other couple and drive me home the back way…

giant 1970s car

A giant 1970s car similar to the one that got ditched on that cold, dark winter night, way back when.

… however, there really wasn’t a “back way” to my house except to go a very long way around the Marsh and through miles of forest on dirt roads that were in bad shape. I had no idea where we were going – it was dark and he was driving, and no doubt eagerly thinking ahead to some secret spot he knew of in the woods, when the car slid off the ice and snow covered road and landed in the ditch. God knows where… it was late, it was dark, it was cold, and I was really pissed off.

We could see a barn light in the distance so we carefully made our way along the ice sheeted road up to the farm – it was probably around midnight when we knocked on the door. “Please could the farmer pull us out of the ditch, down the road, in the woods?” The couple were in their pajamas and robes.

I asked the wife if I could use their phone to call my parents – it was getting really late and I knew what was happening at home – my father pacing, huffing, with one eyebrow raised, face beet red, thinking of the worst possible thing I could be doing –  snarling to my mother: “Jesus Christ Del!”.

On the phone I explained to my mother that the car got ditched, something which happened to my parents regularly, so they really couldn’t complain – I left out that my boyfriend had driven me somewhere remote… that would have ignited a fire storm.

And so the farmer got dressed and got out his tractor and kindly pulled out the dinosaur sized car from the ditch in the woods.

I got home, made my explanation short and went straight to bed. I was careful to never let that happen again – knowing that that time I’d gotten a free pass. What I didn’t know was that my parents were just waiting for a reason to make me end this relationship – and by the end of that summer they forced me to break up with this guy – something that I honestly never forgave them for. It wasn’t the first time or the last time that they forced themselves into my personal life, but it hurt the most really, because they didn’t trust me.

And it was just another way to keep me out there in the woods alone with them.

My father was always saying how wonderful my life was – just like an Andy Hardy movie – but the reality was that it wasn’t. It wasn’t all bad – but it wasn’t all that good either. I couldn’t wait to get away.

Deneb, Aldebaran, Andromeda* and me

the Milky Way NASA

The Milky Way, photograph by NASA

I’ve always loved outer space – the vast scale of it, the foreignness of it, the discovery of it, the beauty of it. I learned this from my mother who shared her passion for science and nature with me from an early age. We spent many nights together looking at the stars.

Andromeda Galaxy by Ted Van

You can find the Andromeda Galaxy on a dark Autumn night in the constellation Pegasus. In this amazing photograph by Ted Van it appears as a large glowing blob in the right half of the picture. To learn how to find the Andromeda Galaxy without a telescope visit http://earthsky.org/tonight/find-the-andromeda-galaxy-in-autumn.

As a child in Bronxville, NY,  we could find quite a lot to see in the night sky, considering we lived in a suburban neighborhood with big trees and streetlights. With just a pair of binoculars and a star chart and our book The Stars by H A Rey we found planets and moons, constellations, the Milky Way, star clusters and even the Andromeda Galaxy.

Buzz Aldrin Apollo 11 moon landing

One of the the most famous images from the Apollo 11 mission – Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the Moon, 1969.

When the Apollo 11 Space Mission set off for the Moon in 1969, my mother and I were rapt.

Apollo 11 Lunar Module NASA model

An illustration of the NASA model of the Lunar Module. Mine looked just like it except mine was a bit messier and things kept falling off that had to be reglued… good thing the original held together.

I joined a NASA space club and received full color posters and information about the mission and our Solar System, as well as a Lunar Module model that my mother and I put together. I loved that model – it was endlessly fussy to put together, but when it was completed it looked just like the real one – it even had foil on it that I remember being very difficult to handle.

The following year when I was 10, I was given a book for Christmas by Patrick Moore called Seeing Stars  – it had beautiful full color photographs of celestial bodies.

When my mother took me on my yearly birthday trip to the Natural History Museum in NYC, we always included a visit to the Hayden Planetarium. I loved watching the sun set on the domed ceiling, and to then see the stars starting to twinkle up above. The best part was the thrill of traveling from Earth to the planets beyond – flying in our comfy seats to worlds far, far, away.

In 1973 when we moved to the remote farmhouse in Eastern Canada (see my previous posts c 1970s), the sky was enormous. We could stand outside our house and turn off the lights and see the most incredible array.

Orion's Belt Nebula http://oneminuteastronomer.com orions belt nebula

A section of the constellation Orion, one of the most easily identified of the Northern Sky constellations. I chose this image because it shows the location of the Great Nebula on Orion’s belt – which can be seen with binoculars on a clear moonless, night. http://oneminuteastronomer.com orions belt nebula

When your eyes adjusted to the darkness the glow of the star light was softly visible. There were vastly more stars in Jolicure than in the suburbs of New York City, and so there were many more star clusters, nebulae and other celestial phenomena to look for. We could even see the Northern Lights on occasion, and meteor showers were like bright points of fire falling from above. In the pristine air, and the open wilderness, the Milky Way cut a broad and glittering path across the sky.

My love for star gazing and for learning about the vast universe continued.

In Greece (in the 1980s) when I worked on the south coast of Crete for two seasons at Kommos Excavations, I remember one August in particular that I and two friends took a blanket and some wine and hiked down to the sand dunes near the coast.

Leonid meteor shower 1913 Erick Arnesen

A depiction of the Leonid Meteor Shower from 1913 – note that its so exciting a phenomena that people are fainting. The way the sky is shown is probably somewhat exaggerated, but that’s how it felt when we were watching the Shower from our sandy spot on the south coast of Crete – the sky alight with fire.

We found a spot away from any lights and lay there in the sand and scratchy brush and watched the most spectacular Perseid meteor shower I’ve ever seen. The shooting stars were thick and long tailed – they glowed bright as they trailed across the black heavens. And there was a multitude. It was truly awesome.

Years later my mother moved to Calgary to live with me and my husband and daughters. In the first few years that we’d moved here, there were no houses or schools, no roads or streetlights, behind us. We had a herd of cattle grazing right up to our backyard, and a big herd of deer too. The land swept from our house across the Bow River all the way to the Rocky Mountains without any development, save for one or two barn lights in the far distance. This meant that star gazing was great back then. My mother, my husband and I would wake our little kids and drag them outside to see things in the night sky.

RichardGottardo Rocky Mountains at night

The Canadian Rocky Mountains at night – a beautiful photograph by Richard Gottardo of Calgary. To see more of Richard’s amazing work visit: http://www.richardgottardo.com/gallery-category/personal/

The Northern Lights were sensational in Calgary 16 years ago. Giant beams of white light – like celestial searchlights, rose up from the horizon to the apex of the dark sky. Waves of brilliant color washed across the stars – green, shades of deep blue, violet – even red, splashed and ebbed and flowed high above us. One night the lights were particularly startling as they took the shape of a giant bird with wings outstretched – I kid you not – it was breathtaking.

Dean Cobin Northern Lights

The Northern Lights taken in the Yukon, Canada, by Dean Cobin. To see more images by Dean Cobin visit http://www.deancobin.com/project/the-northern-lights-yellowknife-canada/#5

Now that our new neighborhood is built up, and the City of Calgary has extended west, there are houses and streets out behind our house down to the river and beyond. There is too much light pollution to see more than the very brightest stars or planets despite the City changing all the streetlamps to low emission bulbs.

The last time that we made a concerted effort to see a Leonid meteor shower (without light pollution to diminish it) was a long time ago. Our girls were only about 4 and 7 years old. We bundled them into our car and drove out to beyond the city limits, to a wide open prairie. We found cars parked all along the back roads that night, full of people out to see the falling stars. The girls were unimpressed, but the rest of us enjoyed the comradery and the vision of fire shooting across the black sky.

The Northern Sky is very different now from when I was a little girl. The stars haven’t changed, but there a is constant, crisscrossing of traffic above our planet, made up of satellites and probably space junk. We used to look for the International Space Station whenever it went over our house;  it was like a bright white planet floating in a graceful arc.

solar system from www.seasky.org

The Solar System, the way I learned it as a kid, included the planet Pluto. Nowadays its only considered a cold and distant lump of rock orbiting on the far edge of our Solar System. (image from http://www.seasky.org)

I admit that watching satellites can be fun too – but it does sadden me that there is so much up stuff there now.

The world and its place in the solar system was much more exciting to me as a child when it was a rare and exciting thing to see a satellite going by and Pluto was still a planet.

 

*Deneb : Deneb is the brightest star in the constellation Cygnas (aka the Swan, the Northern Cross). It is one of the most distant stars that you can see with the naked eye and also one of the most brilliant – it is a super giant star, and it is white hot. To learn more about Deneb and find out how to find it in the Northern Sky visit http://earthsky.org/brightest-stars/deneb-among-the-farthest-stars-to-be-seen

*Aldebaran :  Aldebaran is a huge reddish orange colored star glowing in the eye of the constellation Taurus the bull. It is easily seen in the winter sky. To find it visit http://earthsky.org/brightest-stars/aldebaran-is-taurus-bloodshot-eye

*Andromeda : The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest galaxy to ours. It can be seen in the Northern Hemisphere with the naked eye or with binoculars on a moonless, clear Autumn night. To find out how visit http://earthsky.org/tonight/find-the-andromeda-galaxy-in-autumn

Update December 9th, 2014 – I just saw this beautiful night sky video of Banff and Jasper National Parks by Jack Fusco created for Travel Alberta and had to add a link – please take a minute to view…  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wp4xVLnVIFA

Baking 101

Betty with hairband age 7

Little me, around age 7

I don’t actually remember being taught to bake from scratch – it just seems to have spontaneously happened at some point when I was a small kid. I must’ve learned by helping in the kitchen like most kids do. But I was pretty young when my mother let me go it alone with a recipe. Like they say, if it doesn’t kill you…

One of my earliest memories of baking was actually with my Nanny who lived next door to us in Bronxville. I was pretty little at the time – I had to stand on a chair next to her at her kitchen counter and we made a birthday cake for my mother. She let me choose what kind of cake to make and how to decorate it. I chose a bright pink fuchsia colored sherbet for the filling between the three layers.

Nanny wearing pearls

My maternal grandmother, Elsie Innes, sitting in her dining room in Bronxville. Nanny always wore proper dresses and stockings and jewellery every day. She and I were very close and I spent a lot of time at her house while I was growing up. That is the window that we put the cake out of.

We made a white icing for the outside of the cake and she let me decorate it with bright lime green icing piped around the edges – it was in retrospect really awful looking – but Nanny let me have full creative control. Because we used sherbet between the layers we had to keep it cool before dinner, so we put it out her dining room window onto a box on the backyard patio (my mother’s birthday is in January).

I don’t remember much of anything about the birthday dinner held at Nanny’s, just the cake. When the time came for the majestic confection to make its appearance, Nanny opened the window  and cried out loud – the layers had slipped and smooshed onto the concrete patio. Oh the tears – the defeat – the cruelty of the universe… this was my first cake for my Mommy and it was a disaster. Nanny calmed me as she retrieved the layers and put it back together along with some newly added dirt and smudged lime green icing and sherbet. My mother graciously said she loved it and everyone ate it… but it was a sad affair for me.

Live and learn.

My first solo baking projects were cookies – I cut out sugar cookies of hearts and frosted them pink to take to school for Valentine’s Day. I made Sand Tarts, dusted with cinnamon and sugar for Christmas. I made peanut butter cookies and chocolate chip cookies.

But there is one cookie that I especially enjoyed making – and its great for little hands – Snickerdoodles. When I was little I probably ate more raw Snickerdoodles while I rolled the balls of dough, than baked ones!

I soon graduated to more complex baking projects.

One summer when  I was maybe 10, I decided to make brownies. By this time I was left to my own devices in the kitchen – my mother was off doing something in the basement – probably her book making, or sewing, or some other interesting thing. I pulled all the ingredients from the cupboard and carefully mixed the batter and in it went into the oven – my mouth watering at the smell of the chocolate baking.

Morton Salt 1960s

Morton Salt as I remember it from the 1960s – how could I have mistaken this for sugar?

So out came the brownies at the right time and they sat on the kitchen table to cool. My father had also been drooling over the smell apparently, as he was first into the kitchen to try the first brownie. I was so proud. Then he bit into it and his face changed from delight to something else. He said nothing, but I knew there was something wrong so I tasted my brownie. I had used 2 cups of salt instead of sugar and they were inedible… though my father pretended they were delicious and he actually ate the whole thing.

I cried… all that effort and anticipation – and then, such defeat.  I never made that mistake again.

Another momentous occasion was when I was baking alone in the kitchen one summer’s day (I was probably 10 or 11) while my father was in his studio, and my mother was somewhere else – and though I don’t remember what I was making I do remember that I was using the stand mixer. The batter was pulling up the sides of the bowl and not getting beaten so I took a spoon while it was running and attempted to push it down. What happened next was a shock – the spoon and my hand were grabbed into the beaters and jammed the machine to a halt. I screamed in pain. My father was the first to the scene with my mother close behind. My hand was mangled. They carefully checked each finger and ran their hands gently over my painful wounds. It was bleeding on every knuckle and joint – the whole hand was bruised – but it was not broken.

stand mixer with glass bowls

A stand mixer with glass bowls, like the one we had when I was growing up. Those beaters were solid.

We had no medical insurance (not until we moved to Canada) and a trip to the doctor or the hospital was costly, so my father made a splint for my hand and my parents gently attached it to my hand so it lay flat. I was in shock I suppose. I don’t remember anything after that – I probably was taken to my room to watch television and given an aspirin – the usual thing that my parents treated everything with.

It didn’t scar me for life – at least emotionally – I went back to using the mixer soon after that and I’d learned my lesson. I always turn off the mixer before attempting to scrape down the sides, even to this day.

By the time we moved to Canada to the red farmhouse in Jolicure when I was 12, I was already a seasoned baker.

Red house back door

The back door to the farmhouse entered into a shed which opened into the main kitchen. In this picture you can see Long Lake in our “back yard” – we were in a remote and beautiful location with no neighbors for miles.

Through my teens, I worked my way through almost every cake, pudding, pie, squares and cookie recipe in the Joy of Cooking.

Red House Betty with Nasturtiums age 15

Here I am about 15 years old, standing at the kitchen table in the big kitchen of the farm house in Jolicure. I’m standing in front of the pantry where we had our stove and fridge and counters and cupboards.( I liked to plant Nasturtiums in front of the house – still do.)

I had a lot of time alone, especially during the summers, and a good appetite from all my outdoors activities and gardening work, so I fed myself with goodies… and my father in particular enjoyed the regular surprises from the cookbook. I learned to make meringues, tortes, 7 minute icing – you name it.

I still love to bake, but now that I’m spreading with age and watching my weight the occasions are much less frequent.

When my kids were small and were in skating, gymnastics, and hap-ki-do – I had many coaches and teachers to gift at Christmas and so I baked and decorated literally hundreds of cookies each Christmas (I also gave them to the paper delivery man, the garbage men, the pharmacists and the neighbors – I must’ve been crazy, and I surely had more stamina then!).

This is our family recipe for Snickerdoodles:

1 cup soft butter

1.5 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 and 3/4 cups sifted flour

2 tsp cream of tartar

1 tsp soda

1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sift dry ingredients together. Cream butter and sugar. Mix ingredients by hand. Chill dough and roll into balls the size of small walnuts.

Roll the dough balls in a mixture of 2 tbsp sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 8 to 10 minutes until lightly browned but still soft.

Enjoy!

 

Fairy Tales of Violence, Lust, Romance and Magic

Miss Bianca illustrated by Williams

Miss Bianca and Bernard illustrated by Garth Williams. In my personal opinion, Garth Williams is the only artist that can do Miss Bianca right.

As soon as I learned to read as a little girl, I loved fantasy stories – especially ones about animals like the books about Miss Bianca  and Doctor Dolittle. And naturally I had books of fairy tales as a kid that my mother read to me with the classic stories like Cinderella and Snow White.

My first book of fairy tales (that was mine alone) was the Tasha Tudor Book of Fairy Tales which was very pretty and rather tame. I loved the pictures and remember that I had a treasured box of jigsaw puzzles of some of the same illustrations.Tasha Tudor's Fairy Tales

I didn’t start to read fairy tales to myself until I was around age 10. We had a gold bound book of Andersen’s Fairy Tales with colorful but unpleasant pictures by Arthur Szyk, and the incredibly beautiful Golden Book of Fairy Tales – both of which had dark and disturbing stories in them. These books weren’t the sanitized versions kids know today with happy princesses and lots of love and singing – they were full of violence, sadness and suffering – though the good and virtuous (and beautiful) usually won over the evil in the end.

The Cat that Walked by Himself by Rudyard Kipling

One of my all time favorite stories about animals – the Cat That Walked by Himself by Rudyard Kipling – illustrated by the author.

I remember my 12th birthday very clearly because of the gift my sister gave me that year. We had my birthday dinner in the dining room on the big pull out antique table that had been my paternal grandmother’s; one that we usually only used for company or for Seders. My sister was working at the time at a bookstore in the Village of Bronxville. The gift she gave me came from that store – it was a copy of the Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. The book was a facsimile edition from Dover Publishing full of beautiful Victorian illustrations that were elaborate and romantic and pulled me completely in. I remember the joy of opening that present and finding this wonderful book inside.  I eagerly devoured all 390 pages.

I loved the book so much that soon after, I saved up my allowance and asked her to order in a copy of the next book in the series – the Red Fairy Book.

Illustration from The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang

One of many beautiful illustrations from the Blue Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang

The following January, we left NY and moved to the remote farmhouse in New Brunswick, Canada. I had only the books that our family owned to read (though admittedly it was a very good selection and I went through almost every book eventually), and some wonderful classic horse stories that my cousin kindly lent me to help me get through the adjustment of life in the country that first spring.

I read my Red and Blue Fairy Books repeatedly that year and knew that Dover had the entire 12 books in the series in print. So my 13 year old self wrote to Dover Publishing and asked if I could buy more of their Fairy books, and they sent me their catalog all the way from New York City.

The frontpiece from the Wood Beyond the World by William Morris, Dover Publishing

One of the adult fairy tales I bought from Dover Publishing, The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris. This is the front piece from the book originally published by Morris’ own Kelmscott Press.

I’d save up my money and when I had enough, I’d go to the post office in town with my mother and get a money order in the right amount and send it off in the mail, and magically a beautiful treasure of a book would arrive a few weeks later. I ended up owning the entire series when I was a teenager – all in all hundreds of fairy and folk tales from all over the world and many many enchanting illustrations.

As I grew older I turned to more grown up books. From Dover I was able to order the facsimile editions of the King Arthur books and the Robin Hood book written and illustrated by Howard Pyle – cementing a passion for all things Arthurian and Medieval. (see my post Going Medieval on this blog)

Sir Gawaine by Howard Pyle

What could be more romantic than this? Sir Gawaine on his quest, from the Story of King Arthur and His Knights written and illustrated by Howard Pyle, Dover facsimile of the original.

And I fell in love with the language and romance of The Boy’s King Arthur by Sidney Lanier (based on the 15th century texts of Sir Thomas Malory) and  illustrated by NC Wyeth –  a tough read but worth it. I especially loved the fights between knights when they smote each other upon their brain pans.

I got so interested in my teens with medieval tales that I read the Mabinogion and and the Joinville and Villehardouin Chronicles of the Crusades. I also read excerpts from my parent’s copy of the Golden Bough.

Around 14, I discovered my mother’s 1941 edition of the Arabian Nights – A Complete and Unabridged Selection translated by Richard F Burton. I already had the magnificent version of the Arabian Nights illustrated by Maxfield Parrish which was more aimed at children (albeit children with advanced reading abilities).

This book however was for adults and was full of the original stories that were erotic and exotic tales of love, lust and violence.

Arabian Nights by Burton illustrated by Steele Savage

The Tale of Nur Al-Din Ali and His Son Badr Al-Din Hasan, from the Arabian Nights by Richard F Burton and illustrated by Steele Savage.

Definitely a new take on the traditional tales I’d been reading up til then… it was eye opening. I thought it especially wonderful that the most beautiful women were described as having navels that you could fit a giant ruby in or an ounce of oil…

I guess all that reading of folk and fairy tales and tales of medieval romance, explains why today I so love the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin, and the subsequent TV series Game of Thrones.

Bran's Dream by Serena Malyon

The Things I Do For Love, Bran’s Dream, by my daughter Serena Malyon who is a professional illustrator (www.serenamalyon.com),  inspired by A Song of Ice and Fire/A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin.

It has all the pageantry, romance, violence, horses, magic, princes and princesses and good versus evil as the old stuff I grew up reading. Its the best grown up version of a fairy tale I’ve read, and the best way to escape the hum drum of everyday.

Kip from the Golden Book of Fairy Tales

Scary fairy tales: this is the story of Kip – an enchanted cat (that happens to look a lot like my little cat). The princess is dragged to the woods by a huge horrible man, where he cuts off her feet – Kip bravely finds the feet and puts them back on the girl and takes her home. From the Golden Book of Fairy Tales, illustrated by Adrienne Ségur

I think that the old tales were told to help children in particular, learn to cope with the very real fears of life and to give guidance on being a good person. Today, the world is still a dark and scary place and as a kid and teenager I found the stories comforting and an escape from the realities of the very real fear of nuclear war, murderers (and worse), and of course the tension of my father’s mental illness. It was reassuring to know that although there were terrifying things out there, there were good people out there too – heroic people who could change the world.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all – even if it is just fantasy.

Personal Opinion Here:  I firmly believe that everyone – especially children – need real art in their lives – it stimulates the imagination and gives a richness to life. The kind of illustrations I grew up with are rare these days in books and I think that’s an awful shame. Do your children (and yourself) a favor and buy beautiful and beautifully written books.

 

Making Paint

Time article Safran Nov 17 1961

This is a Time magazine letter from the publisher about my father Bernard Safran (Nov 17, 1961) and how he made his own paints and medium.

Many pigments and oil paints used through the ages were made from poisonous or rare ingredients. My father worked regularly with toxins and pigments that were still readily available to him in the 1960s and 1970s to make his own paints (many of these ingredients are no longer available). For those colors that were more difficult to obtain the raw ingredients for, he purchased premade tubes of paint.

Most of these things were available for purchase in New York City – for others he would buy by mail order – like the mastic tears (the sun dried resin from the mastic tree Pistacia lentiscus) that came all the way from Chios, Greece, in a  completely raw form .

Raw materials from Bernard Safran's studio

Some of the ingredients he kept to make his materials: mastic tears from Chios; rabbit skin glue for finishing boards; lead oxide for making the Maroger medium. Note that he kept turpentine in a wine bottle. In fact he and my mother kept a lot of dangerous stuff in wine bottles including their film developing chemicals. As a child I just had to learn not to touch anything I wasn’t given permission to.

My Dad mostly bought tubes of paint when it was an especially rare color like Mummy Brown (made from the flesh of ancient Egyptian mummies), or if it was highly poisonous and he couldn’t get the raw materials – like the white lead paint that he preferred because it was the purest white (and a long involved process to make) or the rare tube of Paris Green that was made from the extremely dangerous copper(II) acetoarsenite (used historically for killing insects and rodents).

Cochineal Lake was a red pigment made from the body and eggs of the cochineal beetle; it produced a brilliant red when glazed. Another red, Vermillion (then made from mercury sulphide), was toxic and not light fast – which my father soon found out after painting the background of his self portrait with it – it turned a nasty black over time after exposure to sunlight. He then scraped off the bad color and repainted it with Cadmium Red – another highly toxic compound that has proved stable.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bernard Safran’s paint box with matching palette that he used for sketching outside or for doing on-the-spot color sketches of clients for portraits at their homes or offices. I’ve also included his folding stool for sitting outdoors, one of his plein air sketches of our red house in Jolicure, and some tube paints that he used for convenience when away from his studio.

In his studio, lined up along the back of his work table (made from a door set on two trestles with shelves) were many brightly colored jars of pigments and the ingredients for the black oil that he made – including large quantities of lead oxide.

A selection of pigments remaining from Safran's studio

A selection of some of the pigments remaining from my father’s studio. Also included – two of his mortars and pestles – the one on the left is made of marble.

I remember him explaining the history and use of some of these pigments to me and he showed me a book that had information on each color and how it was historically made and used. He didn’t consider it a safety hazard to have these things in the house or to handle them on a daily basis, as he was fastidious in their use and as he said – he never put any of it in his mouth.

Bernard Safran's reference books on materials and methods of the Old Masters

Some of my father’s reference books on the materials and methods of the great artists of the past. Open on the left is the book by Maroger The Secret Formulas and Techniques of the Old Masters (1948). I opened it to Ruben’s method which is what my father followed. Open on the right is the book The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques by Ralph Mayer (1940) that he showed me when I was a kid so I could read about all the weird things paint has been made out of over time.

When he cooked the Maroger black oil medium he always did it outside on a temperate day. It took several hours as I recall and smelled pretty bad. He had a dedicated set of scales, pots, measuring and stirring tools, and a two burner hotplate that he could plug in outside. All of these things have lasted for decades – my mother was still using them up to about 5 years ago to make the medium for herself.

He was very disciplined about his work and got up at the same time each day to have breakfast and then go to his studio by 9am at the latest. The first thing he did was to make the paints that he would need for the day. With his years of experience he was able to estimate how much of each color he’d need – and the amount was always small since he painted in thin glazes and in a paced manner required by the nature of the medium that needed to be dried between sessions.

Bernard Safran's palette

This was my father’s palette. After his death my mother used it for her painting because its quite large and sits comfortably on the arm. My father kept the palette very clean by scraping off the dried accumulated paint after work every day and wiping it with a cloth – you could see the grain of the wood. My mother however didn’t keep it so clean, as you can see from the build up of paint on its surface.

He would first measure out the raw pigment into a mortar and pestle and grind the pigment finely. Then placing the ground pigment onto a glass sheet, he would mix some of the medium into it by using a palette knife. He did this by scooping up the two ingredients and then slapping the oil and pigment down together over and over again til it was completely mixed and smooth.

Then he would transfer the freshly made paint onto his palette. The order of the colors on the palette was always the same from tradition, and so it became rote as to where the paint was and could be used without even looking directly at the palette.

Bernard Safran's old swivel chair from his studio.

My father’s old swivel chair from his studio – I think it originally came from his father’s business supply store. It really creaks and its a sound I associate with my father working in the studio.

He had a large easel that could accommodate large paintings but he also used his drawing table to support smaller works. He used the same old wood swivel chair everyday and with the same taboret at his side – on which rested his palette. Sometimes he used a maul stick to support his hand while doing fine work.

And the radio or a cassette player was always on – his favorite music to work to was opera.

 

Bernie in studio blk and white

This photo shows my Dad in his studio in Bronxville, at his easel with his drawing table on the right and his taboret on the left. He’s holding an artist’s tool called a maul stick – he’d lean it against the top of the painting or easel and then was able to steady his painting hand against it while painting.

 

 

 

 

 

1970s – Magical Moose

In Jolicure, NB, we lived in a pretty remote area, surrounded by empty fields and bordered by miles of forest and Long Lake, so we had our moments with the wildlife out there.

The red farmhouse from the lake in summertime

The Red Farmhouse from the lake – summertime. You can see the upstairs hall window on the left of the house – its the upper dormered window

The first winter we were there in January 1973, we had just moved into our old farmhouse and were in the process of making the house liveable – and we didn’t really know the area at all. We didn’t have a dog yet so we weren’t going for walks everywhere everyday and it wasn’t spring yet with the impassable mud road that we had to hike along. Also we were newbies to the countryside having lived in the NYC area for our entire lives and weren’t quite up to speed with the natural world that we had just launched ourselves into. So we had not yet met our wildlife neighbors.

One wintery January day close to dusk, I happened to look out our upstairs hall window. The view was across some fields and a hilly incline to the abandoned white farmhouse that stood between us and the forest – just down the road that went by our house to the tiny community of Midgic (which was about 7 miles of forest away).

The abandoned white farmhouse, Jolicure

The abandoned white farmhouse near our house on the road to Midgic. You can see the forest in the distance.

Anyway, I saw what looked like 4 horses frolicking around in a circle on the distant rise in front of the white house – they were big and very graceful and looked like some magical vision there in the wintery dusk. I called to everyone to come see – and as I stood there watching I realized they were moose. I couldn’t believe that these giants could look so light on their feet. Big lumbering awkward, funny looking moose – but these were so graceful – like ballet dancers graceful. It was a beautiful sight and one I never saw again… though we saw moose frequently thereafter…

Bullwinkle the Moose

I grew up watching the cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle – I think this is actually a very realistic portrayal of a handsome moose.

We had one giant bull moose that lived somewhere behind our house by the lake. We would see him pretty regularly swimming across the lake in the evening as the sun went down – his big head and enormous antlers seemingly floating along the still water. And we could hear him sometimes – a big deep bellowing/honking kind of sound that echoed off the forest wall and across the lake. (click on the word ‘HERE’ at this link to hear a bull moose http://moosetique.com/moose-sound/)

The other moose seemed to live in the forest on the road to Midgic. It was uncanny how sometimes we’d go for a walk with the dog down the dirt/mud road and it would be clear of car tracks and animal tracks – washed clean, say, after a rain.

moose tracks, image from all-about-moose.com

Moose tracks
(image from all-about-moose.com)

When we’d turn around to go home along the same stretch of road we’d see our tracks from earlier. But it wasn’t just our tracks anymore – the entire surface of the road would be covered with moose and deer tracks. They’d apparently watched us go by, and then come out and run up and down the road. Then when we were returning, jump back into the brush before we could see them.

This is the honest truth, really. It happened all the time.

I spent many hours out in the forest alone with just the dog, and I never ran into a moose. The dog and I would follow game trails and old logging roads and find animal tracks, and droppings and see where wild animals had nibbled the trees and plants or left the remains of a kill.

A big moose seen in McAdam New Brunswick, http://northerncomfort.info/bigmoose.html

A Big Moose seen in McAdam, New Brunswick,
image from http://northerncomfort.info/bigmoose.html

I never encountered anything dangerous and only ever heard things breaking twigs or crunching through the underbrush off in the distance. I knew the moose were there, and I’d heard about bears, and I’d seen wildcat tracks. But these animals were elusive and though they may have been interested in us, they never approached and always kept a distance.

I was never afraid of the wildlife there. Even when I knew they were watching us…

I’ll be writing about some of the other wildlife near our house in Jolicure, in a future post.