Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



June 2009

"We have no other world we can actually invade with all our being and at the same time be invaded by, so whatever we create is made of the materials of life. And we should never think of the life as being the enemy of whatever we aspire to create."


Stanley Kunitz with Genine Lentine, with photographs by Marnie Crawford Samuelson, The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, page 98.

Response to the Ice Storm: A Collaboration

Dear Reader,

What do two people, an ice storm, a gallon of primer, and four cans of exterior paint have in common? Destruction and creation. Devastation and joy. Gloom and laughter.

The ice storm that chewed through central Massachusetts on the night of December 11, 2008 was a multi-sensory event. Cracking limbs sounded like gunshots; families were herded onto a busy firing range and held captive. Thuds that followed loud bangs shook the ground with frightening authority. Our little house is surrounded by 80 foot trees that I considered benign and lovely, a canopy to keep us cool in the summer, nesting places for the hawks. On December 11th , they became a menacing and unpredictable presence.

No one slept on that night, or several more. The power went out. We shivered, layered clothes, and for days became accustomed to the sound of chain saws conversing. We surprised ourselves by hauling limbs bigger than we were to the curb. It was a way to keep warm.

My studio looks out onto our back field, and this is what it looked like. The Hawthorne and Newport plum were two victims. They will be missed.

One day in April, my husband John Gaumond decided to have more trees taken down. An arborist had told him that when a tree was more than 30% damaged, it would not survive. John instructed the workers to cut the woeful trees into 3 to 4 feet lengths.

Because of the Asian longhorn beetle quarantine in Worcester, we couldn't give the wood away to anyone outside the city, even though no beetles were found in our immediate area. Many of the downed trees were in our field, and we would have had to carry the debris over the two stone walls John has made.

A few weeks ago, John (stone wall builder, gardener extraordinaire) and I decided to collaborate on a landscape sculpture, ala Andy Goldsworthy. He is the English-born sculptor who works with natural materials to make either ephemeral or more permanent landscape installations. We fell in love with his work at Storm King Sculpture Park in Newburg, NY, and he became our inspiration to make lemonade out of lemons. John and I agreed that what we were going to do was one way to mourn the loss of so many trees.

John placed the stumps on end and created serpentine lines and kooky groupings. The trees' rings told us that some were over 60 years old, yielding logs as big as table tops. The sizes varied from between 2 and 4 feet tall. There was music in the way the bigger logs sidled up to their slimmer siblings. When John finished arranging the stumps, I counted over 200.

Then I went to work. First, I primed the tops. I wanted the paint to have the best surface to show off colors. The chainsaws had left intriguing patterns and textures on each surface. I saw the way bark attaches itself to the tree, making the stump look like a jagged gear. The damaged trees offered up their special beauty to me. Birds sang and a bumble bee the size of a muffin introduced himself to me.

My plein air studio consisted of boards balanced on top of two saw horses. My supplies were brushes, water buckets, plastic take-out containers, and four cans of paint: blue, red, yellow and white. I could make any color in the rainbow, and I did. I couldn't help laughing while I was mixing the colors, then running around painting the tops of the stumps where ever the impulse struck me. It was way too much fun.

Today, May 14, I drove through Worcester and looked at the piles of limbs and brush still lining many streets, ours included. Trees with ragged limbs still dangling from their trunks break my heart because they are juxtaposed with red and purple azaleas, white and pink blossoming dogwood and apple trees, and banks of daffodils and tulips.

In our yard, every hour and every day since we finished our landscape sculpture, different light levels give us a Technicolor show. Gloomy, rainy days make the colors more intense. Even winter is sure to give us another kind of show.

The few people who have seen our work have all had the same reaction: they either smile or laugh outright! John and I named our installation Response to the Ice Storm, and it is an unadulterated expression of whimsy.

We will never say that we were glad the ice storm happened because it was a miserable time, but we will say that making and seeing this artwork has been pure joy.