10/20/21

The Guide a Mediocre Good Book?

 

THE GUIDE (2021)

By Peter Heller

Alfred A. Knopf, 257 pages.

★★★

 


 

 

Let’s talk really good mediocre book. Peter Heller’s The Guide is a sequel to the more polished The River (2020), an echo of the British film Never Let Me Go (2020), and selective culling from recent news stories, such as that of Richard Cooke, the world-class jerk who killed a tame lion inside a Zimbabwean game reserve. It has other issues as well, but Heller gets away with things that would raise alarms were they offerings from writers of lesser skill.

 

Heller fans have met Jack before. He and his best college buddy Wynn went on a tragic canoe trip in northern Canada in The River. He blames himself for Wynn’s death, as well as that of his mother, whose horse slipped off a mountain trail. In short, Jack suffers from a double dose of PTSD. His father and uncle assure Jack he is blameless, but the sprawling Colorado ranch feels so claustrophobic that he needs to get away and clear his head, a search that lands him at Kingfisher Lodge, a retreat for the elite on on Colorado’s Taylor River near Gunnison National Forest. Kingfisher needs a “guide,” though not of the backpacking sort. The Taylor is famed for trout fishing, and Jack’s job is to be a glorified babysitter for wealthy folks coming to angle in the Billionaire’s Mile, a section of well-stocked waters.

 

Day One is just what the doctor ordered: solitude, jaw-dropping beauty, a small cabin, and Zen-like fishing. Jack is leery of Kurt Jensen, who manages Kingfisher and has niggling little rules and threatens to dismiss those who can’t follow them, but Jack is here to heal not rebel. One command gets his attention: stay clear of the sign warning “Don’t Get Shot,” the explanation being that a cranky neighbor named Kreutzer doesn’t tolerate trespassers. But Jack enjoys an amazing dinner, which compensates for an odd meeting with the laconic Cody, another guide.

 

 On Day Two, he meets the person he will guide, Alison K*, her surname suppressed because celebrities coming to Kingfisher want to escape the fame game. Good luck with that when you’re dropped off by the head of your security detail. They’re in the Rockies, but it only takes a New York minute to determine that she is a famed country singer. Luckily for Jack, she’s also down-to-earth. Her fly-fishing technique requires fine-tuning, but Alison’s a natural, loves the outdoors, and relishes both Jack’s company and deep silences.

 

Too good to be true? Duh! Jack and Alison notice that none of the other guests are fishing and Cody doesn’t do any guiding. Nor does it help when Alison and Jack must duck for cover when she goes beyond the sign when landing a large trout. Jack is dressed down for that when they return to the lodge, but how does Kurt even know about it when Jack, Alison, and whoever shot at them were the only ones on the river? They observe that some of the guests seem spacey, perhaps ill. Jack also keeps getting warnings to play everything by the book, as the autocratic Jensen is really following the orders imposed by Kingfisher’s owner, Mr. Den. Only housekeeper Ana seems genuine around Jack. When she discovers he speaks Spanish, she whispers four numbers to him. Why would she whisper inside his cabin? Why was he hired in midseason? What happened to his predecessor?

 

Jack might be a Colorado rancher’s son, but he’s also a Dartmouth grad and there are simply too many things that feel wrong. A foray into the mountains affords an overview of Kingfisher and adjoining properties. If Kreutzer is a rival, why are the chain-link fences surrounding Kingfisher, Kreutzer’s, and another lodge interconnected? Why do the barbs face inward rather than toward the river? More to the point, why does Jack see a person in a hospital gown running from Kreutzer’s and witness Cody, Jensen, commandos, and the local law enforcement on the grounds? Alison has similar questions, and the two begin to spend personal time with each other, another rule violation. In a drive to Crested Butte for dinner and Wi-Fi connectivity, Alison learns a distressing fact about Mr. Den.

 

At this juncture, the cowboy and the songstress tale mutates into a Covid-era thriller. (Covid factors into the plot, but in an unusual way.) Frankly, the final third of the book stretches credulity, especially when Jack transforms into James Bond-as-cowboy. The novel’s denouement is abrupt and contrived and, in my view, Heller adds an unnecessary subplot about what’s happening at Kreutzer’s.

 

For all of that, The Guide is a chilling page turner that is so hard to toss aside that I read it in just two sittings. Heller ropes us in through vividly sketched characters–not just Jack and Alison, but also minor ones such Ana; Shay, who oversees food services; and guests such as the Sir William Barron and Teiji and Yumi Takagi. Moreover, Heller’s love of wilderness comes through on every page and he makes you feel nature’s majesty–right down to a simple description of nighttime clouds parting to reveal skies “freckled” with stars. I don’t fish, but Heller’s river sequences are like liquid meditation. The Guide is not a patch on The River and it’s certainly not The Dog Stars, Heller’s stunning debut, but it will reel you in.

 

Rob Weir

 

*I immediately wondered if this character was a veiled Alison Krauss reference, but neither Krauss’ age nor profile fit.

 

 

 

 

10/18/21

Winter Counts is a Bit Obvious, but Holds Fascinations

 

WINTER COUNTS (2021)

By David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Ecco, 336 pages.

★★★ ½ 

 

 

 

The skinny on Winter Counts is that it's a fascinating look at Lakota (Sioux) culture, but an easy-to-crack mystery.

 

The title references a calendar reckoning game common on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, southwest of the more famous/infamous Pine Ridge Reservation. Both, sadly, lie in parts of the state deemed less desirable by whites living in places such as Rapid City, sometimes dubbed “Racist City” by Native Americans.

 

At the center of the story is Virgil Wounded Horse, an “enforcer” on the rez. That's a thing. Reservations are, in theory, autonomous nations onto which outside law enforcement seldom venture unless a serious or federal offense takes place, and even then, they only respond about half the time. Tribal police are notoriously ineffective and reservation governments are too often dens of corruption. If a score needs to be settled, enforcers like Virgil are the ones who take care of it. Virgil does the dirty work that others won't touch and that’s okay in the minds of most, as he’s only half Lakota, an iyeska (roughly, a “half-breed).

 

Virgil is also the guardian of his nephew Nathan. Virgil doesn't have many parenting skills, but what can he do? His sister was killed in a car crash and Nathan has no one else. Nathan seems like a good kid– until he overdoses on heroin. He survives, but when a lot of oxycodone is found in his locker, Nathan is headed off to jail and the Feds are ready to adjudicate him as an adult and send him to a penitentiary, though he's just 14 years old. Nathan swears the pills were not his, but he's caught in the middle of a campaign to get serious drugs off the reservation at a time in which Ben Short Bear hopes to become Council president and won’t pull strings for Nathan.

 

Ben is, however, willing to bargain. He thinks a drug peddler named Rick Crow is smuggling heroin into Rosebud and wants Virgil to nail him. In the interim, Virgil has to try to get Nathan out of jail, which isn’t easy for a guy who drives a Pinto and has no valuable property for collateral. A former girlfriend, Marie, who is Ben's daughter, recommends a good lawyer, Charley Leader, but that's a money issue as well. Small wonder that Virgil is interested in the $5,000 that Ben offers to put Crow out of business.

 

There are side stories involving an indigenous foods guru; disputes between Marie and her supervisor Delilah Kills Water; battles over commodity beef allocations; and deep suspicion that tribal money is being siphoned by graft. Virgil also discovers it’s one thing to think about going after Rick Crow; it's quite another to venture to Denver and into neighborhoods controlled by drug syndicates. It looks as if Nathan's only shot is to cooperate with the Feds, wear a wire, and make a heroin buy on reservation land.

 

Winter Counts could use more red herrings. I sorted out the baddies before halfway through the book and read on to see how it played out. With minor twists, it was just as I had imagined. Again, the primary fascination with the novel is learning more about Lakota life – yuwipi vision quests, contested battles over the Badlands, the long historical memory of indigenous peoples, spirit names, and (sadly) the appalling conditions on the reservation. For those on the rez, life is often a series of compromises and the hope that the right ones have been made.

 

I doubt that the author intended an anthropology lesson, but it is a major takeaway from the novel. Many mystery writers unnecessarily complicate their plots.; this one over simplifies by too starkly sketching good and bad. Nonetheless, I recommend it. You will like Virgil, Nathan, Marie, and their extended network of family and friends. The thing about tough places like Rosebud is that you learn who greases your fry bread.

 

Rob Weir

10/15/21

Supernova Well-Acted but...

 

SUPERNOVA (2021)

Directed by Harry Macqueen

Bleecker Street, 95 minutes, R (language, adult situations, brief nudity)

★★ ½ 

 

 

 

If you love someone, could you let them go? That's the burning question in Supernova.

 

Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) have been a gay couple for more than 20 years. Sam, a concert pianist, and Tusker, a writer and amateur astronomer, have led a good life – travel, gourmet food, lively friends, family acceptance, and intimacy. Their world is shattered by Tusker’s diagnosis of early onset dementia.

 

That's the fulcrum of this heart-versus-mind film. We come in upon a quietly tense and sullen road trip. The mood is set early when we notice that Tusker can’t really read the road map, falls asleep easily, and confesses that he did not bring his medication with him. He tells Sam that they both know it doesn't help, which establishes the central issue: Sam sees, but looks away because he can't bear to admit the truth.

 

The two are on their way to England's Lake District to revisit a site where they first camped, a prelude to visiting Sam’s sister, Lily (Pippa Haywood) and her husband Clive (Peter MacQueen). The eventual plan is for Sam to make his return to the concert stage. A surprise party reunites Sam with dear friends he hasn't seen in a while, but one of them lets a proverbial cat out of the bag. This and discoveries Sam was supposed to make ex post facto takes us to the crisis point: Tucker plans to commit suicide before he could no longer exercise that option.

 

I’m not giving away much, as this is pretty much all the film is about. What would you do if you were Sam? You can imagine being strong enough to help those who can't care for themselves and won't even know who you are, but are you? Who gets to choose, those inflicted or those who love them?

 

Some movies are slow because their plots need time to marinate; Supernova is more like a short story padded to novel length. Frankly, it would've been a better one-act play than a movie.

 

Two things partially redeem it. First, Dick Pope’s cinematography is glorious. Granted it's easier when you have the Lake District as your backdrop. Pope, though, skillfully exploits its changeable light and weather to match moods demanded by the screenplay.

 

Second, we need actors the caliber of Firth and Tucci to make the threadbare script work. Sam is a combination of silent rage and fear, his clenched jaw tongue pressed against cheek our tip that he's not really in control. Tucci, by contrast, is calm, rational, and last-hurrah charming. He knows the score and is willing to concede before the last inning is played.

 

Supernova looks good and is well-acted, but it's a so-so film. In addition to being   stretched to 95 minutes, its title is a contrivance. Tusker explains to a young girl that she is made of star stuff, but what are we to conclude about that? Tusker shows no indication of mysticism of any sort, nor does he connect his stargazing to his portending fate.

 

There is a more substantive flaw in the film. For a guy who is supposedly in the midst of an inevitable decline, Tusker is too often lucid, logical, and capable of sustained discourse. It would be safe to say that Tusker would have to end his own life, as he would not meet doctor-assisted suicide standards for such a choice. Overall, Tusker’s part is under-written. A clear indication of dementia – absent from the film– is that sufferers recycle the same remarks in exactly the same words. They also have trouble following conversations and are certainly not the life of a party.

 

See Supernova for its exteriors and to observe how two great actors play off one another. Frankly, though, Sam and Tusker should've been played by gay actors. Firth and Tucci are convincingly tender playing old lovers, but they are decidedly straight.

 

Supernova will tug at your heart strings, but for a more accurate portrayal of dementia, see superior films such as Away from Her (2006), I’ll See You in My Dreams (2015), Still Alice (2014), and The Father (2020).

 

Rob Weir

10/14/21

The New Puritanism? Woke Up and Go Back to Sleep!



 

Consider these two quotes. The first is from British author L.P. Hartley: “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” The second comes from Rhode Islander Stephen Hopkins. When asked whether Colonists should consider a Declaration of Independence, he replied, “… in all my years I ain't never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn't be talked about.”

 


 

Would that we took such sentiments to heart. We recently celebrated–if a day filled with rancor can use that verb–what is now called Indigenous Peoples Day, formerly Columbus Day and, in some places, Pulaski Day. My local paper saw a spate of op-eds for and against the new appellation. I think we should call it Heritage Day and honor everyone’s roots, but that’s not how things work anymore. 

 

 

Other calls to alter the past came on the heels of the holiday renaming controversy. As if poor Pawtucket, Rhode Island, needs more problems, a new statue to William Blackstone, the area’s first white settler, abstractly depicts him riding a bull and reading a book. The Narragansett Nation wants it to come down, as whites displaced and killed Native peoples. In Northampton, Massachusetts, a biennial art show was canceled because a person identifying as a Native American poet objected to one painting (of 60 works) he claims promotes genocide. If you look at the work, it’s hard to make that leap of logic, but the local arts commission deemed the outcry so dangerous that it cancelled the entire show. 

 

 

 


 

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum, writes of the “New Puritanism,” which she blames for "trampling democratic discourse." She takes to task both Conservative and Liberal Puritans. I will ignore Puritans on the extreme right, as I find them irredeemable. I am, however, distressed with Liberal Puritans, though I share nearly all of their values. It saddens me when they behave exactly like the pejorative “Snowflakes” the hard right calls them. Is there any substantive difference between the censorship of Conservative or Liberal Puritans?  The latter often want no part of anything that upsets them or challenges their value systems, though both are prerequisites for true discourse. Overnight, dialectics have been replaced by orthodoxy posing as revealed truth and sanitized history linked to political ideology.

 

It is laudable to oppose racism, battle for equality, and support universal rights. If only the latter really meant universal. Have you noticed the situational ethics and cultural relativism involved in explaining away things such as women in burkas, black-on-black crime, or Palestinian rockets? Or how all things Christian, white, or Israeli are axiomatically soaked in privilege? It is assuredly true that systems of power come into play, but “universal” is an absolute. Violence and inequality are either justified or they’re not. If parsed, it’s not universal; it’s a double standard.

 

Alas, many Puritan Liberals seek to rewrite things that upset their worldview. Much of my career was based on “teaching the controversy.” I’ve always felt we must look in the face of history, discuss what was done, why it was done, and what it meant–to them, not us. It’s not necessary to applaud the beliefs or deeds of the past, just understand them. Note to Millennials: You did not discover that many white people have been racist; that’s why we study Indian Removal, slavery, xenophobia, and nativism. Were these things wrong? In a system of universal, immutable values, yes.

 

But let’s not confuse the ideal with the real, or conflate wrong-doing with pure evil. Open that can of worms and you can excise Martin Luther King Jr.  from history books; he was a serial womanizer. Should we not discuss Native Americans who warred on enemy tribes? Or Islam, which gave us the very word assassin? Should we ponder what generations 20, 50, or 100 years from now will make of current sacrosanct values?  You cannot white-wash history, but neither can you black-wash, brown-wash, red-wash, or yellow-wash it.

 

I recall two times Liberal Puritans accused me of “micro-aggression.” I was once called on the carpet for doing accents in class, to wit, a Scottish brogue. Should I mention that I am third-generation Scottish, grew up with Scottish relatives and neighbors, and was engaging in self-deprecating humor involving my own culture?  If you think this is ridiculous, another “Snowflake” said I was racist for using "the N-word.” Actually, I didn't; I made her read the actual word in a primary source document. That seemed appropriate in a course on the Civil War involving enslavers justifying human bondage. I’ve yet to read an enslaver that used the PC term “N-word.”

 

How about troubling monuments? There are legitimate reasons for relocating some. No African-American should have to walk past a statute of Nathan Bedford Forrest to enter a courthouse or voting booth. I've also never understood the Southern adulation of Robert E. Lee, whose picture I displayed alongside that of Benedict Arnold and asked if there was a difference between the two. (Spoiler: Arnold actually fought on the same side as the Founders before he changed sides.) But rather than tearing down statues, we should use them to teach controversy.

 


Puritan Liberals should never be so na├»ve as to believe their views will prevail. Is it conceivable that in the near future Puritan Conservatives will demand that Donald Trump's statues stand in front of courthouses? Is it conceivable they will seek to unseat Arthur Ashe and other African Americans as “offensive?” Look at what happened in Maine, where off-the-rails Governor Paul LePage removed a mural or Frances Perkins, the first female Cabinet officer, from a place of prominence. Bad for business, said he of the Puritan Right.

 

Various points of view must be aired, or only those from the winning side du jour will prevail. The same is true of freedom of speech and academic freedom. To Liberal Puritans I offer advice they don’t wish to hear: “Woke” up and go back to sleep!

10/13/21

The Plot is a Spellbinding Mystery

 

THE PLOT (2021)

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

Celadon Books, 323 pages.

★★★★★

 


 

 

The Plot is a psychological mystery that makes you think you’ve identified its keys, but keeps you just enough off balance that you don't trust your instincts.

 

Jake Finch Bonner is an author whose first book garnered enough acclaim to attract an agent for a second novel, which did not review or sell well. That agent, Matilda, continues to represent Jake, but the once “promising” young author looks like a one-hit wonder and he certainly can’t support himself on his paltry royalties. Keeping the wolf away from the door entails teaching in the MFA program in Fiction, Poetry, and Personal Nonfiction at Ripley College in its summer Ripley Symposia in Creative Writing.

 

Ripley is described as being in “northern” Vermont and internal clues suggest it's a composite of Lyndonville, Marlboro College, Goddard, and Middlebury's Bread Loaf program. It’s quite a comedown for a Long Island lad who went to Wesleyan. He writes and writes, but is spinning his wheels. Into his gloom comes Evan Parker, an obnoxious summer student with an inflated opinion of himself. He bruskly informs Jake that he can’t be taught anything and has no plans of sharing his work with his peers or instructors. Pretty brassy for a guy who has no publishing credits to his name. Parker boasts he has a “million-dollar plot” and only begrudgingly writes eight pages for Jake’s class. It’s little more than a brief sketch of several characters, but to Jake’s horror, it's compelling material, though he has no idea where Parker intends to take any of it.

 

Several years later, Ripley closes and Jake takes a winter symposium gig at a small school near Cobleskill, New York. It's so dreadful that he dreams of being back at Ripley. There’s even a student from California who can't fathom why there is no avocado toast in the cafeteria. Jake does, however, discover Evan Parker’s obituary and learns that he never published his novel.

 

Does Jake have an obligation to take what little he knows of Parker's idea, spin it, and see where it takes him? Would that be plagiarism, literary responsibility, or independent creation? As Jake learns, no one can copyright a plot­–not that he had the foggiest idea what Parker had in mind. Three years later, Jake riffs off what he inferred and his novel Crib is a sensation: two million sold in its first run, an Oprah pick, TV appearances, packed readings, a New York City apartment, and Matilda begging him for his next book. A book trip to Seattle involves a side visit to a joke of a radio show, but he does meet Anna Williams, the producer, and the two take to each other like condoms and sex.

 

What could go wrong? Writer’s block for one thing, but more disturbing are emails from “Talented Tom” that say, “You are a thief. We both know it,” and degenerate from there. Is this some kind of Tom Ripley/Ripley College reference? It can’t be Evan Parker, who died of an opioid overdose just months after Jake met him at Ripley. Who is sending these messages and why? As in many mystery tales, Jake doesn't follow the advice to leave matters into the hands of the experts such as his agent and the publisher’s lawyers. He investigates on his own in a journey that takes him north to Rutland, Vermont, and south to Georgia. Each new email causes Jake to unravel a bit more.

 

The truly masterful thing about The Plot is that it's extremely well plotted! In the too- crowded field of mystery writers, Jean Hanff Korelitz also stands out because she can really write. It's a testament to her craft that we begin to wonder if Jake saw more of Parkers novel than he claimed, or if his tormentor is a psycho. We feel Jake’s existential dread and experience feelings of creepiness, though nothing more pointed than emails prick Jake’s privileged bubble. This is one mystery whose resolution I did not see coming. The final twist makes sense, but it nonetheless staggered me.

 

Rob Weir

 

10/11/21

Mary Shelley a Tepid Take on its Namesake

 

MARY SHELLEY (2018 USA release)

Directed by Haifaa al-Mansour

IFC Films, 121 minutes, PG-13 (adult situations)

★★

 


 

Mary Godwin Shelley (1797-1851) was a fascinating individual. She was the daughter of proto-feminist icon Mary Wollstonecraft and theoretical anarchist William Godwin. Her mother died shortly after giving birth, but Mary was well educated. She grew up strong- willed, intelligent, and stroppy enough to defy her father by becoming the lover of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and eventually his wife. She is best known to history as the author of Frankenstein, though it was first published under Percy's name. She badgered her father to put her name on the cover when Percy drowned in 1822. What's not to like about such a firebrand?

 

The answer, alas, is the lame biopic Shelley, which doesn't have the courage to spotlight the very qualities that made Mary’s name immortal. Mary is played by Elle Fanning, who is shortchanged by an immature script from Emma Jensen and PBS-Lite misdirection from Haifaa al-Mansour. We certainly get no sense that al-Mansour is a controversial figure in her native Saudi Arabia for daring to become the filmmaker.

 

We get a quick drive-by of Mary's early life, but most of the film concentrates on the period between 1816-22. Mary is presented more as a coltish girl-woman rather than learned or strong. She has a troubled relationship with her stepmother Mary Jane Clairmont Godwin (Joanne Froggart), and is drawn to the dashing Shelley (Douglas Booth), who is being tutored in moral philosophy by Mary's father (Stephen Dillane). In an act of defiance, Mary elopes, which was very problematic as Percy was already married. In the script, Mary's father is outraged–understandably so, but he acts more like a scolding schoolmaster than an anarchist. (Percy and Mary tied the knot properly when his lawful wife died in 1816.)

 

The film accurately resents Percy Shelley as a fop content to burn through family money rather than exert himself, but much of the film is just filler to get us to Switzerland, where Mary's sister-in-law Claire (Bel Powley) fawns over Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge), who has impregnated her. He treats her like a vase of dead flowers and casts her aside. In 1816, Byron's Swiss villa is more famously recalled for a challenge in which Byron, Percy, physician John William Polidori, and Mary compete to see who can concoct the best ghost story. You know what had its genesis from Mary. You can also understand her fury when publishers insisted it bear her husband's name. And so it would remain until Mary reconciled with her father and Percy was pushing up poppycocks.

 

The film’s central subject is too tasty to call Mary Shelley a complete waste of time, but it’s absolutely fair to call it a waste of potential. Fanning is surprisingly flat, almost as if she recognized this is as a TV special gone wrong. A further problem occurs in presenting Claire Clairmont. She too was a wronged woman, but Powley plays her as so cloying and histrionic that you could see why Byron wanted nothing more to do with her. It would have been nice had the film delved into the gender dynamics that allowed him to walk away with nothing more than a vague promise to give financial support to the child. (He eventually took over his daughter’s care with the stipulation that Claire had to stay away.) We get no sense of Claire’s intellect, only that she was a royal pain in the neck.

 

I could go on with similar critiques of other characters in this film, but you probably get the idea that most of them are exactly that – just characters, not the embodiment of complex historical figures. Mary Shelley bombed at the box office, so we can only hope that a better script and director will come along, as there hasn’t been an interesting  version of the Mary/Percy/Byron tale since Ken Russell's Gothic (1986).

 

Rob Weir

10/8/21

Art in the Orchard Covid Edition


 

ART IN THE ORCHARD

Park Hill Orchard

82 Park Hill Road, Easthampton, MA

Through November 28, 2021.

[Click on images for larger view]

 

It’s no secret that art and the Covid crisis have been troubled partners. On one hand, the lockdown gave artists more studio time to exercise their creative impulses. On the other, galleries and museums locked their doors and, even when they reopened, hours were reduced and there was fierce competition to secure exhibition space.

 

In the best of times, Art in the Orchard is a treat. This year it’s an especially sweet one, even though many of the artists on display quite naturally turned to the somber topic of reflecting upon Covid and its social and personal impact. It is, though, a comfortable event for the public as the artwork is spread in fields along either side of the road from the farm stand. If you want to buy some apples, cider, pie, or other goodies there is an outdoor setup where you can do so.

 

Here is a sampler of art that caught my eye:

 


 

 

When you park your car, you will see a wooden portal that frames a pumpkin patch with orchards behind them and Mt. Tom looming in the distance. Call it a metaphor for an Alice in Wonderland through-the-looking glass experience. On the other side of the road, a metallic bear greets you. If those aren’t enticing come-ons, you can’t be pleased so turn around and go home!

 


 

 

Michael Tillyer is the executive director of the New England Visionary Artist Museum in Northampton and a mainstay at Art in the Orchard. His whimsical sculptures are a delight and I’ve yet to encounter someone who looks at one of his carved dogs and doesn’t have an “Awwww!” moment.

 



 

 

Greenfield, MA artist Ted Hinman spent time reflecting upon our need to be better caretakers of the environment. On the surface, his “Garden of Delight” is a lot of fun and akin to rooting around in a toybox of discarded objects. Notice how he looked at a castoff baseball mitt and imagined a bee. The installation is loaded with eye candy, but he has his eye on bigger things, the aforementioned stewardship of the natural realm.

 


 

 

Brian McQuillen is another repeat artist. His “Vida” is its own statement. McQuillen works with “junk” metal and “Vida” is at once enticing and perplexing. There is the joy of the flute, but also the distress of viewing a figure that is the exoskeleton of something robotic yet vaguely human. Mixed message? I think that’s the point!

 


 

 

Easthampton’s Chris Woodman has fashioned a cyclopic eye for “Rise and Shine.” Try not to gaze into the giant eye that tops a monopod. Talk about grabbing your attention!

 


 

 

Florence, MA-based Dave Rothstein uses to wire and hay for “Hoo Goes There.” Spend some time with it as from a distance it’s not immediately clear that you are looking at nesting owls, some of whom are stretching their wings. Its ephemerality is the ultimate expression of organic art.

 

Covid has the sad distinction of being the deadliest pandemic in American history. Prior to that, it was the Spanish flu outbreak that took 675,00 American lives in 1919-20. It came on the heels of an even grimmer event: World War One. More than 20,000,000 died in the war (116,000 of whom were Americans). You might know Dr. John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Field,” which opens with the memorable lines: “In Flanders field the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row….” It commemorates the blood-soaked spot in Belgium where a particularly gruesome campaign took place. 

 


 

 

Eileen Travis of Poughkeepsie, NY connects the tragic dots between war, the influenza outbreak, and Covid through a simple act that is startingly profound. Travis crocheted a passel of red poppies and strewed them upon the verdant grass of the orchard grounds. Seldom has crochet been so deeply moving.

 


 

 

If you need a pick-me-up after that, wander over to “Geranium,” a cluster of pink flowers sewn from nylon flag material. It is the work of Grafton, MA artist Diana Shobrys. The actual grouping is large, but this closeup shows the richness of the color and the level of detail that went into each flower.

 

Believe me when I say that what I have displayed is but a small fraction of you will see, think, and imagine. And buy some apples!

 

Rob Weir