THERE REALLY ARE ceramic squashes and edible squashes nestled together under sheltering leaves in the garden of Elaine and David Myers. Each is necessary to the other.
Being with Elaine and David for a few hours one sunny morning grew from reading Elaine’s article, Blending Life And Work At The End Of The Road in issue No. 2 of IN CONTEXT, and to David’s photographs accompanying the article. I felt that there was a reaching out implicit in the article that suggested deeper benefits from a mutual exchange. I have a notion that artists of various persuasions enjoy the discovery and refining of a relationship with each other. Also we have mutual friends who seemed to think we should know each other. So when my husband Hal and I were traveling nearby, I called Elaine and asked if we could see some of their work. She suggested we come to their studio.
We followed directions over the forested hills and up the Eden Valley Road, across a cattle grating and into a warm sunny valley. The people in the house and the dog at the gate wisely allowed us to turn our vehicle around, within the limited space, before they quietly emerged to welcome us.
We entered the garden as into a preparation area – as a kind of privileged dance of recognition and awareness – and we lingered long in this eloquent space. Elaine is caught up in a search for the most suitable plants for their micro-climate. Each planting is an experiment with seed saving, orientation, culture, nurture, and future. She is an intimate part of their garden, and revolves in it as the sun.
Sun power. It is sun power that she seeks so keenly. Four hours a day is the most that is possible because of extremely high trees surrounding their land.
Rain power. It is rain power – 120 inches a year – that challenges her ingenuity. There is so much of it. It leaches the soil of nutrients, and it tends to erode the slope they live on given the smallest opportunity. That opportunity is exaggerated by logged over "clear cuts" on surrounding hills.
Challenged by these limits, Elaine and David are well nourished by their garden, year ’round. The garden is more than a necessity for survival; they and their garden grow and adapt together.
Equally challenging are their artistic pursuits. As we walked up the steps of the porch of the old farmhouse, a gathering of winter squashes were warming themselves beside the door in the heat of the reflected sun. Again the ceramic squashes joined the cats in leaning on the live squashes in a symbiotic cuddle.
The old farmhouse is, as David says, "two studios separated by an apartment." He is gradually strengthening the structure, and replacing rotted wood. Inside, its small rooms are full of comfort. There is a no-nonsense professional spareness in Elaine’s studio, however. It is the first room off the porch, just up the steps from the kiln. Shelves are stacked the full height of the room, with work separated by partitions in an orderly progression. She left us to absorb the finished work by ourselves.
The shapes and forms and even the glazes Elaine uses seem to reflect a sense of carefully controlled order. Although the finished work on these shelves was a diverse collection because the rest is in galleries, there was in the perfection of the curves the exhibited skill that is repeatable.
We wallowed in the luxury of having time to choose: bowls for soup, for salads; bowls with pouring lips; tea pots, plates and candleholders; containers enough to fill one side of the room – to fill a life.
We each chose a cup. I think of mine as a vessel, because the word pleases me and matches my special pleasure in holding and using it. It transfers warmth, fragrance, substance to me with perfect grace within its designed function. Instantly it assumes its own position, so perfectly does it fit and extend my hands. I wonder at its subtle glazes as one color crosses another, and my eye tries to penetrate the mysterious transparent depths. I cradle it in my hands, supporting its full-blown curves, fitting my thumb in the opening provided by the elegant sweep of handle. It is a most marvelous fit. I stand the cup off by itself and run my eye from its base from which thrust the quick swelling walls into the classic inward flair to join the gentle released curve of the rim. The steamy fragrance from my tea is released in the same pattern and flow.
I remain entranced by my vessel, and enriched by knowing the artist in her own background.
We combine forces for lunch. The old oak table in the kitchen held a garden bounty. Freshly picked vegetable for a mellow soup in, of course, ceramic bowls. Toasted homemade bread, kefir cheese and cookies from our cupboards, a little homemade wine, and good conversation. Then on to David’s studio up the steep and narrow farmhouse stairs.
David’s equipment is ingeniously arranged in niches along the sloping roof/walls. He has managed to segregate wet and dry areas, and even a "viewing area."
We were shown 16X20 black and white prints of startling impact. He has been successful in recording the remnants of an older way of life. In the valley and along the rivers he works his tools to capture the sagging curve of an old barn, to intensify its distinctive architecture. He lines up the ragged silhouettes of old wharf pilings still defining their former purpose beside the river bank. The significance of these last chance records is amplified by his unique treatment of them. By selection, focus, film, lighting, and darkroom manipulation he seems to be able to give them back to their place, whole.
He works all the variables with ease, and produces long and lovely gradations of gray, white to black. I have promised myself a print one day soon.
Together these two people have made a clear contribution from their rain forest clearing, outward, and forward. They are teaching – gardening, photography, and much more – to others in the local community, and reaching beyond that with radio and with David’s work as a public utility commissioner. They are drawing inward to themselves the quiet benefits of their relative isolation, and letting that simmer and ferment.
The long relaxed morning we shared transferred ideas between all four of us. The give and take was palpable. Perhaps the intentional community Elaine mentioned in her article has already begun. We feel part of it, a spinoff part of IN CONTEXT’s sustainable culture.
Joan Coverdale is a weaver, poet, photographer, and grandmother who lives near the Dungeness Spit on the Straits of Juan De Fuca in western Washington.