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Caer Llan, view from the Driveway

Caer Llan, view from the Driveway

The last time I drove a rental car in the United Kingdom, it was to get to a Welsh cultural festival. Recent Hiram College graduates Tim Walker, David Cornicelli, and I were in Wales working for the summer, helping to build a passive solar-heated, earth-sheltered extension to the Caer Llan Field Study Centre. This was 27 years ago. We had come as graduate students to pitch in on the environmentally visionary project, and to spend a summer surrounded by the ruined castles and abbeys of the Wye river valley and nearby black hills, and to drink the beer. One weekend we heard about this cultural festival, the Welsh National Eisteddfod, so we figured we’d rent a car for the weekend and drive up to hear the famous choirs.

Caer Llan, view from the back garden.

Caer Llan, view from the back garden.

Back then, to rent a car in a foreign country, a person needed an international drivers license. David had an expired one, which he’d brought with him from the US for no good reason, but he didn’t bring it along when we went to pick up the rental car. After all, it had expired. Why bother? But when we arrived at the rental place in Monmouth, the proprietor wouldn’t give us the car without the proper paperwork.

"Dear Peter, I want to build a wall. Love, David."

“Dear Peter, I want to build a wall. Love, David.”

View from the Berm House roof

View from the Berm House roof

“We forgot to bring it,” we told him. “We’ll be back.”

So we went back to Caer Llan to see if we could figure out some plan to rescue our weekend: No license, no car, no choirs. None of the anticipated road trip debauchery. So David took out the old license, a slightly worn document three years expired. And we noticed that it was made only of heavy paper, no laminating, no photo ID. And further, that at the bottom, just below the expiration date, there was some left over free space. We happened to have some US coins in our pockets. So there was borne an idea.

A US quarter would do the trick. We laid it down on a block of wood, and the driver’s license down on top of it, and a heavy rag down on top of that, and then another block of wood. We popped the whole sandwich with a big hammer from the construction site, embossing the page with the very official looking profile of George Washington. In God We Trust. We got a black pen and a ruler, and next to the improvised notary stamp we drew a line. We wrote in a new expiration date. We signed it “Richard Shagnasty,” in a script so sloppy as to be illegible to anyone who didn’t know.

Double rainbow, full arc, right the whole way across the landscape below Craig Y Dorth.

Double rainbow, full arc, right the whole way across the landscape below Craig Y Dorth.

This was satisfying work. We showed it to our host and employer, Peter Carpenter, who –despite the position in which our expatriate criminal activity might put him—had that usual gleam in his eye. “I’ll either see you in a few days, or I’ll see you in jail,” he said.

We picked up the car without a hitch. The lending agent didn’t look twice. We drove through the night to Porth Madoc, the town in North Wales where the Eisteddfod was held. We drank the local beer.  We slept in the car. We met some Welsh women. At no time did the the police intervene.

*

These days you don’t need an international drivers license to rent a car in the United Kingdom. I know this because twenty seven years after that summer at Caer Llan—last week–I went back. I took a short break from an artist residency in Germany to catch up with Peter, his son Jake and

With Peter Carpenter, the visionary who conceived the Caer Llan Field Study Centre, and designed and built the earth-sheltered berm house there.

With Peter Carpenter, the visionary who conceived the Caer Llan Field Study Centre, and designed and built the earth-sheltered berm house there.

family, and to see the beautiful place we had helped, in the smallest way, to build. What I feel looking at the place –more than pride in my tiny role there–is massive gratitude for having been involved in such a visionary project, with such capable and generous people.

Caer Llan was originally built as a private house at the turn of the 18th to 19th century, overlooking pasture land marked off by hedgerows undoubtedly older. It was enlarged over the years, but as fortunes ran down in the twentieth century, so did the house. In the sixties it was being run as a small boarding school, and it came up for sale. Peter Carpenter was teaching biology and leading his students on field study excursions at the time. Circumstances aligned, and he bought the place in 1969 with a plan to make it a field study center—a place for student groups to come and stay while they studied through the lens of the surroundings: The English majors would visit the ruin of Tintern Abbey, famous as the place in the Wye valley above which William Wordsworth wrote his famous lines. Perhaps they would take in a bit of Shakespeare in the courtyard at Raglan Castle. The history students might do that, and look at Chepstow and other castles, and any of the significant prehistoric stones that can be found nearby. For the biology students, there are peat bogs. For everyone, plenty of English beer.

The passive solar-heated extension followed. Timothy, David, and I met Peter on a Hiram College trip to Cambridge, which stopped at Caer Llan. The berm house was an unfunded vision then. But a few years later, we learned that Peter had cut a deal with a retired submarine commander, who pledged enough money to get the project moving, in exchange for being able to live there in his remaining years. So we wrote Peter letters, telling him we’d give a summer’s labor in exchange for lodging and food. It was 1987.

Caer Llan was among the first (if not the first) passive solar heating structures in the United Kingdom. The modern addition uses recycled stone to match the original house, and does not

The ol . . . as in late 13th/early14th century . . . church at Penalt.

The ol . . . as in late 13th/early14th century . . . church at Penalt.

obstruct the view of its façade or any of its other sides. Castellations and other features are complementary. Built into the side of a hill, it has southwest-facing, double paned windows and hyper insulated walls. To top it off, it is covered with six feet of earth, atop which are planted a lawn and garden. A BBC news program once featured Peter mowing the roof. The idea and reality of the construction are that for the majority of the year it is heated and cooled by just a single fan that draws in fresh air, warms it in the solar corridor, and vents it in and out of the rooms. Only in the coldest months do rooms require a little boost from a space heater.

Garden vistas abound. This one ends with a foot path through the woods, toward a former  pub called The Gocket (now a private home) and beyond.

Garden vistas abound. This one ends with a foot path through the woods, toward a former pub called The Gocket (now a private home) and beyond.

In the years since I worked there, Peter has handed the place off to his son Jake and his wife Vicky to run. Caer Llan has evolved under their leadership to keep up with the changing economy. Instead of students sleeping in bunk rooms with group bathrooms, eating meals prepared by live-in help, the place caters to weddings and business conferences, offering five-star group lodging.

For my return visit, my rental car travels were not quite as eventful as the first time around. I picked up a nice Vauxhaul at Stansted airport at about midnight, and set off, guided by a GPS I borrowed from an artist friend in Dresden, Kerstin Franke-Gneuss. I made one wrong turn, landing eventually on two-lane “A” road that took me through Oxford, Ross-on-Wye, and about 47 thousand roundabouts. After a three-hour trip that took me five, I rolled up the driveway at Caer Llan at about 5 a.m.

Chris, the senior gardener, then and now.

Chris, the senior gardener, then and now.

The Welsh countryside is still there, including the hilltop known as Craig Y Dorth, with incredible views over small farms, delineated by ancient hedgerows and populated by sheep and cows. I walked around it a couple of times, and saw the full arc of a double rainbow there the day I arrived. Peter Carpenter chauffeured me to the 13th/14th century Old Church in Penalt, which was one of my walking destinations a quarter century ago. I’d have walked this round, too, but for lack of time in a three-day visit. Other destinations back then and now included the old parish churches of Mitchell Troy and Trellech; the Virtuous Well of Trellech and Harold’s Stones nearby; the town of Monmouth with its old fortified bridge; and, in a quick stop on the way back to London, Tintern Abbey.

With Jake Carpenter and Vicky Carpenter, who run the place now.

With Jake Carpenter and Vicky Carpenter, who run the place now.

All this, obviously, is illustrated with photos from the trip. Huge thanks to Peter, Jake, Vicky, Charlotte, and Georgia for unparalleled hospitality. Here’s hoping the next time takes much less than 27 years.

The phone booth at the end of the drive, with phone still operative.

The phone booth at the end of the drive, with phone still operative.

The road around Craig Y Dorth--a walk of a mile or two, with glorious views of the green Welsh countryside.

The road around Craig Y Dorth–a walk of a mile or two, with glorious views of the green Welsh countryside.

Returning to Caer Llan on the footpath that leads to pastures behind what used to be a centuries-old local pub on the road from London to Monmouth, the Gockett.

Returning to Caer Llan on the footpath that leads to pastures behind what used to be a centuries-old local pub on the road from London to Monmouth, the Gockett.

Steps in the garden

Steps in the garden

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

The Virtuous Well of Trellech, a destination for pilgrims ho came for its healing properties, fed by water from four springs.

The Virtuous Well of Trellech, a destination for pilgrims ho came for its healing properties, fed by water from four springs.

Dresden Palimpsesto

Dresden Palimpsesto

The narrow, cobbled streets of this 200 year-old neighborhood, Dresden’s  Neustadt, or New Town, are lined with 4-story buildings, and for block after block, the first six feet up from street level are covered with graffiti. Mercilessly, exuberantly, covered with painted words and graphics of all kinds: a generous dose of hip hop, inevitably. And the scrawl of grass-roots politiking: the polyglot voice of discontent, of young egos. And–soaring above the visual din, murals–monsters and skeletons and human figures, realistic and surreally distorted. Sometimes they reach 30 and 40 feet high.

Love, American Style

Love, American Style

Every one of these veins of street art is interesting in its own way. All together, they project pure energy. The urgency to make a mark, to take ownership, to communicate. Ideas about private property are especially provocative in this formerly communist place, long run-down, now percolating—boiling, it seems to me–with twin spirits of entrepreneurship and something US politics shies away from by comparison, the collective effort to build a better place.

Friday, October 3, is German Unity Day—a national holiday celebrating the official reunification of Germany 24 years ago. To my eyes and ears and all my senses, really, Dresden is defined by the energy of reunification, and rebuilding. Graffiti is just one of the release valves.

Just like home.

Just like home.

Consider the hip hop style pieces and tags. To an awful lot of people, and perhaps especially Americans, this is what graffiti is. But here it is just one particular brand, one specific thread in the rope. Viewed through the lens of east and west, of capitalism vs. communism or socialism, it’s a grass roots embrace of western culture, the flattery of imitation applied to that American street style, one of our most easily recognized cultural exports. Eye candy. It’s a bit like seeing McDonalds, or a Subway, both of which are present here, even if only a little. Hip hop style shows up as part of the chorus everywhere graffiti can be found–but it’s just one of the voices. In this context I appreciate it mostly as part of the palimpsesto–one layer in the whole, screaming chorus of color and activity.

In Dresden's so-called "Bermuda Triangle"--an intersection here young people gather every night--the flavor goes on and on.

In Dresden’s so-called “Bermuda Triangle”–an intersection here young people gather every night–the flavor goes on and on.

As far as individual marks go, I’m personally more intrigued by written messages painted around town, in at least three languages.

"It's hardt to see racism when you're."

“It’s hardt to see racism when you’re.”

I see plenty of English with the German, including many lines written by people painting in what seems (by its syntax) to be a second language. “It’s hardt [sic] to see racism when you’re,” for example. Indeed: When you are racist, it is difficult to see racism. And indeed, someone wrote in a correction to the spelling of “hard.”

The linguistic mix includes a bit of Spanish, some even with Mexican (not continental European) sympathies, such as the mark of the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional, (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), of Chiapas. Remember Subcomandante Marcos?

EZLN, The Star of Humanity

EZLN, The Star of Humanity

Some of the same unwritten rules clearly apply to graffiti here as in the US, and everywhere I’ve looked for the writing on the wall.  The baroque neighborhood surrounding the Frauenkirche (The Church of Our Lady, its familiar domed version completed in 1743)  is immaculate. The Frauenkirche and the palatial Zwinger complex of museums have been rebuilt stone by stone since demolition by allied bombing in 1945. And everyone knows you don’t tag a church.

Dresden also has places as ruined as Cleveland’s storied “Fun Wall,” where writers paint with impunity, accumulating layer on layer of paint. Dresden has its direct parallel, not far from the Elbe River, about halfway between Neustadt and Blasewitz, an overgrown ruin of a building covered in hip hop pieces.  Whoever owns these walls seems to have no plans, except perhaps to sell when the right bidder comes along with a new construction project. Until then, it’s just canvas made of brick.

In the Neustadt, though, Graffiti is not only everywhere, but it is all over buildings that are actively being used. Not long ago, this neighborhood was losing people, except for squatters.  Now people, own these buildings, run businesses in their storefronts, and live in their apartments. Despite the objections, it seems to me the energy reflected in the graffiti is part of what has drawn people again. People like to be near creative energy. The artists, as we know in Cleveland, bring it.  Of course not everyone sees it that way. One landlord conceived a can’t beat-em-join-em kind of solution, painting the entire first floor of a building on Boemischer Strasse with black chalkboard paint. It’s covered in chalk graffiti. And of course, just above the chalkboard, someone sprayed a tag.

Chalk Fest

Chalk Fest

Once in a while, though, you turn a corner and see something that distinguishes itself: a work of art that’s neither graphic treatment of a made-up name, nor political branding, just images, figures, scenes along the street, available to everyone, all day, every day. Folks who have appreciated the Zoetic Walls project in Collinwood will appreciate such pieces.  It’s commonly said that street art loses something when it is done with permission, which some of these clearly have. I’d have to say that very much depends on the nature of the street art. When I roll around here on my bicycle, taking it all in, I just don’t care.2014-10-03 09.22.34

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Off Martin Lutherplatz

Off Martin Lutherplatz

2014-10-03 09.21.25

Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang

Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang

My bikefor a month: The Checker Pig, in front of the Hotel Raskolnikoff.

My bike, for a month: The Checker Pig, in front of the Hotel Raskolnikoff. It’s the one on the right.

By the grace of Zygote Press, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Grafikwerkstatt, I find myself in Dresden. Located in the former GDR, along the Elbe river between Berlin and Prague, Dresden is a city of a little more than half a million people, thriving in Germany’s post-soviet reunification, with businesses filling the shops and enough government involvement to keep it all running beautifully—at least it seems that way to me. But I’m getting off track. I’ve got five weeks here to carve wood blocks, set type, and make prints. And right now I want to talk about the acquisition of a bicycle.

Dresden is a terrific cycling town. Bikes don’t quite rule the streets: that honor must go to the excellent municipal tram system. But there are an awful lot of bicycles rolling all over the place, and plenty of shops. You see people of all ages, and bicycles of all kinds. That phrase used by American bicycle advocates—”we’re not holding up traffic, we are traffic”—seems completely unnecessary here. No one honks at cyclists.

The day we arrived, jet lagged and exhausted after about 35 hours traveling (curse the layovers), we walked around the early 19th century Neustadt, or “new town.” This is the neighborhood left standing after the war, a tight cluster of 4-story buildings with first floor shops, lining narrow, cobbled streets, all run down during the Soviet era, but still standing, then taken over by young people, including lots of squatters and entrepreneurs. As we passed one of them on the day we arrived, a city official giving a tour pointed out a shop where I could buy a used bike and sell it back at the end of my stay. Sounds good. I figured a city bike or a mountain bike—something with slightly fat tires to manage the cobbled streets and tram tracks.

I’ll spare you the details of prices, of second hand shops, co-ops, and rental shops, of stores closed on Wednesdays, or in the middle of the afternoon, of which take credit cards and which would not.

The long and short of it is that after two days that included all of the above, I went—still bike-less– to hang an exhibit of my prints with three other resident artists—Ellen Price from the US, Anna Garberg from Sweden, an Nicolas Sphicas from Greece. The show is in an old firehouse converted to a gallery, the Alte Feuerwache Gallery, in a slightly swanky

The Alte Feuerwache Gallery, at Fidelio F. Finke Strasse Number 4, which the Endomondo sports tracker tells me is just under 5 miles from the Hotel Raskolnikoff.

The Alte Feuerwache Gallery, at Fidelio F. Finke Strasse Number 4, which the Endomondo sports tracker tells me is just under 5 miles from the Hotel Raskolnikoff.

neighborhood called Loschwitz. And as I described my adventures to the gallery manager Hans-Peter, he said “I’ve got a bike back in the shed. Why don’t you just take that?”

Sheds the world over have the same musty smell, and the same kind of chronologically layered organization. For a person who cares very much about bicycles to be confronted with that smell and that style of organization at the hand of a generous person attempting to help out a visiting artist, the situation is precarious, indeed. “What, exactly, might I get myself into behind that wooden door,” I said to myself. This could be absolutely any kind of bicycle, in any condition, I knew. But one doesn’t want to reject hospitality. One wants to move gracefully around a foreign city.

In fact there were two bikes back in the shed—a rickety old three speed, and a very hot, full suspension mountain bike outfitted with Shimano Deore components: The Checker Pig 6000. Full suspension is not my style, but with everything tight, lightweight, and built for high performance, I felt like a very lucky man. “It was left to us by a lawyer who was moving away,” said Hans-Peter. “Take it.” So I did.

We put some pressure in the tires. I adjusted the seat. And Dresden was open to me in a whole new way. The trams are magnificent, miraculous, even, to a Clevelander. But on a bicycle I am faster. I don’t have to wait, or to change lines, or to walk to and from stops. Today, a beautiful, sunny Saturday, I pedaled the excellent bicycle trail along the Elbe River, which goes to Berlin and beyond in one direction, to Prague and more in the other. I didn’t go quite that far. I rode about 40 kilometers round trip, dallying for beer in a town called Heidenau. I don’t really know my way around Dresden yet, beyond the gallery, the Grafikwerkstatt print shop, and the Neustadt, where we’re staying at the Raskolnikoff Hotel. I get lost sometimes, but it doesn’t matter. I find my way. It’s perfectly comfortable mingling with the cars and the tram. I’ve got a bike now, and I am traffic.

2014-01-27 15.38.55 On Friday nights in the summer time in Tremont, Chick Holtkamp, Niki Zmij, and some friends occasionally climb the brick exterior of Chick’s building. It’s the urban face of rock climbing, a Cleveland reaction to the fact that we just don’t have much in the way of good natural climbing rocks around here. They attach belay ropes for safety, cling to the bricks and window sills, and go up like spiders, practicing techniques they’ll use on trips to places like Moab, or Yosemite.

Cleveland has a dedicated community of climbers, but they have to travel to find big rocks. There are a couple of small-ish rock gyms where they can climb indoors. Holtkamp and Zmij, however, have a vision of a climbing facility that would put Cleveland on the nation’s climbing map in a whole new way. If only they can get the right people to listen.

Rock climbing, Tremont style

Rock climbing, Tremont style

What they want to build is a climbing gym that takes advantage of the city’s spectacular architectural heritage. Of course there are plenty of large industrial spaces that might serve such a project well. But their vision is to use the city-owned Fifth Church of Christ Scientist. It’s one of the most celebrated vacant landmarks in the region, a neoclassical sandstone octagon that stands at the corner of West 117th and Lake Road.

The fight to somehow preserve the building has been going on for twenty years. The congregation opened the doors there in 1926 and held services there until 1989, before selling it to Riser Foods in 1991. Riser, which operated a Rego’s Grocery Store that stood nearby, wanted to level it for parking.

People in the neighborhood raised enough of a ruckus to hold up the demolition, though. They picketed and petitioned, and the grocers backed down. Riser’s first revised plan was to incorporate the structure into a new grocery store. They gutted the woodwork and other interior details, along with removing asbestos, in 1995. But the economics didn’t work out, and the plan was scrapped. In 2002 they decided working out a way to reuse the historic building was too much a burden, and they gave the property to the city of Cleveland: a gift. Since then a few developers have come and gone with ideas, including a bookstore, a produce market, and of course subdividing the structure into condominiums. Former councilman Jay Westbrook supported the neighborhood’s interest in finding an adaptive re-use for the building for years, but none of those visions became reality.  As of January 1, it became an opportunity for councilman Matt Zone.

Holtkamp and Zmij believe their proposal might have the magical combination that makes it feasible, though. First, renovating a stone building as a climbing gym doesn’t require the same level of polish as a grocery store or bookstore or pricey condos need. That would make it much less expensive. Neither does it need as much parking as any of the retail establishments that have been proposed.2014-01-27 15.39.53

Perhaps most importantly, though, it has the benefit of being visionary. It’s an inspiring way to preserve and even capitalize on a prominent piece of Cleveland’s fallow architectural heritage. Comparing it to other climbing gyms is almost unfair: It’s not a boxy warehouse, but a soaring, octagonal brick and stone space capped by a dome. The eight sides of the interior could create climbing challenges to satisfy all skill levels. There are other indoor climbing gyms, but the 56 foot dome would put this one near the top in terms of how high people could climb. And the appeal of adaptive re-use by a young congregation focused on physical activity would make it every bit as much a landmark as it was as a church.

It’s hard to imagine people better prepared to carry out the vision. Holtkamp is a respected climber, and not just in Cleveland. As it happens, he’s also a successful redeveloper and manager of old masonry buildings. He was one of the first new investors in Tremont back in the 1980s when he began renovating some of the most prominent buildings in the neighborhood. Lemko Hall, which was used in the film The Deer Hunter, is just one example. Zmij, also a climber, has worked in commercial climbing gyms.

Until the rock climbing proposal surfaced, the former church was facing the same fate as it did 20 years ago: A grocery store developer wants to demolish it for parking. As the Plain Dealer reported last fall, the best outcome people in the neighborhood dared to hope for was to keep the columns and portico standing in a little scrap of a green space flanked by parking for the grocery store. It would look like a fragment of ruin in a city park: it would be better than a total loss, but still a monument to how wealthy Cleveland once was, a sad reminder that we used to have classically proportioned churches built out of real stone.

But a rock climbing facility would keep the structure standing, and bring it back to life. It wouldn’t be the first time a hulking Cleveland vacancy was turned into an athletic attraction. Here’s hoping City Hall gives this one a chance.

 

Here’s a link to Neighbors In Action, a grassroots group looking to preserve the church.

 

 

A black-capped chickadee in the hand

A black-capped chickadee in the hand

The pictures speak for themselves: It’s a snowy day, and the tiny birds alight in the palm of your open hand to to pick out a sunflower seed before just as quickly fluttering off to eat it.

At the Brecksville Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks, chickadee feeding in the winter months dates to the 1940s, when naturalist A.B. Williams began to feed the birds. Inside the nature center there’s an old black-and-white photo of Mr. Williams, nattily dressed in his fedora and tie, his hand outstretched as a black-capped chickadee perches there.

A.B. Williams

A.B. Williams

Seventy years later, the birds in those woods know the custom. Dozens of them gather in the trees around the feeders at one end of the shelter—chickadees, woodpeckers, and some other birds that don’t skip town for the Cleveland winter. They know the drill. When we were there, as many as a dozen people at once stood in a little arc around a split rail fence, their hands reaching out, offering food.

The feel of a little bird’s feet perched on your finger tips, suddenly, twitch twitch, and gone—is a little like fishing for perch. You wait. You wait. You concentrate on standing still. You try to think like the birds. You look into their eyes, and when they get close you can tell when they’re thinking about the seeds in your hand.

These birds aren't afraid of a little snow.

These birds aren’t afraid of a little snow.

They flick their wings and land there, peck a seed, hop, twitch, and then the bird is gone, and once again you’re waiting for the next.

The chickadees are dusty shades of grey, white, and black, with beige beneath their wings. They’re quick and beady-eyed. You’d be justified on a cold winter day to put a glove on your hand, and the birds don’t seem to care if you have a glove or not. But I’d recommend going with your bare skin, the better to feel the little bird feet, the shuffle of their weight, the gentle peck of their beaks as they snatch a seed.

This very life-like dummy might lead you to think the birds are not very bright.

This very life-like dummy might lead you to think the birds are not very bright.

It feels lucky every time.

A Naturalist in Brecksville says they prepare for the chickadee feeding season about a month ahead of time by putting a dummy naturalist out among the trees with a wooden bowl of an outstretched palm there full of seeds, just to introduce the idea of a human shaped feeder standing there. Some of the other Metroparks reservations have begun feeding programs in recent years, she says, and she’s tried it herself at home. But nowhere she knows is it so magically successful as in the Brecksville reservation.

You should try this, and bring your kids. It’s 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays and Sundays, through January. Here’s the info. 

chickadee-inthehand-1

How could you not love this?

How could you not love this?

snow-hopkins

Close quarters

Lakewood houses are packed in tight, usually with nothing but a one-lane driveway and a little strip of a flower bed separating one from the next.

Sometimes two neighboring Lakewood houses are built with adjacent driveways. That makes for a double wide drive way which—in good weather, and as long as you get along with your neighbors—can be very handy for jockeying the cars around. But in snowy weather, two adjacent driveways like that pose a special kind of problem.

Because on the one hand, you can’t shovel your snow off on the neighbor’s driveway. And you can’t shovel in the other direction because that’s where your house is.

The only solution, as anyone who has one of these driveways knows, is to shovel the snow past the house, and then pile it up in your front yard. You could hire a guy with a snowplow, if you have the money for that. But most of us in Lakewood deal with our own snow.

gathering mass

gathering mass

Snow shoveling under any circumstances is solid exercise. But if you’ve got to move a big pile 30 feet down the drive—making the pile bigger as you go before you shovel the whole mess off to the front yard—that’s more than just exercise. That’s what we call “hard labor.” Depending on your health, you might just be better off hiring a guy with a plow.

But let me tell you about the “snowman method” for driveway clearing.

I invented this technique the other day, when I decided to take advantage of the packing snow and the gravity of my driveway’s gentle slope. Most driveways slope down toward the street, which makes it easy to roll things that way: Kickballs, basketballs. I began near the top of the driveway, rolling a snowball down toward the bottom.

When we say something “snowballed,” we mean it grew over time, like a snowball rolling down hill, gathering more snow. This is what happens if you roll a snowball down your driveway. All that snow—all that white mass, and the labor it represents—gets caught up in the rolling. And then, in the joyous, gravity-assisted process of making a gigantic snowball, it finds its way to the bottom of the driveway.

The fully executed "snowman method"

The fully executed “snowman method”

Once I got there, I rolled the big balls off to the side and stacked them up in the yard—hence the “snowman method.”

You are hereby encouraged to try this at home.

One sheet of paper, one little letterpress book

It’s not magical: It’s just elegant. The single sheet book form is old-school simplicity. One sheet of paper printed on one side, cut and folded to make a little 8-page booklet with no glue or stitching.

It’s a great form to photocopy, or to make a PDF so that anyone anywhere can print it out and make their own, as the folks at Printeresting are doing with their Rum Riot Press exhibit. 

But all that elegance is made richer if you make the book with a letterpress machine.

And as it happens,  next month I’m teaching an introductory letterpress class at Zygote which will show you not only the basics of movable type and printing on the Vandercook Proofing Press, but also how to make these little books.

Vandercookin’

If you’re curious about letterpress, you should take this class. If you know a bit about letterpress and would like to see some innovation re: laying out forms in the press bed, you should take this class. You can sign up here.

We’ll use a custom chase, which simplifies what could be a complicated layout by giving you little windows in which to organize your words and pictures.

As you can imagine, this little booklet is a beautiful way to lay out a sentence you love, or a few lines of poetry, or a short comic, or whatever you can fit into 8 small pages. My plan for my class project this time is to lay out simple statement that gives this blog its name: A bicycle . . . is a gyroscope . . . that takes you places. Hope to see you at Zygote Press!

 

 

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