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A Whisper of Running Streams

January 7, 2008

It doesn’t take long to go from warm spring to Arctic winter here. We left balmy Salida Friday and in short order were snowshoeing up to Water Dog Lakes in blowing snow. It was a winter paradise.

The lower forest was soft, rounded, quiet. The creek could be heard but not seen. A “whisper of running streams,” as T.S. Eliot said. The wind was high and distant; the snow deep and softly shadowed. The landscape looked like a Chinese ink painting.

It’s easy to see why spruces get their characteristic shape in which the upper limbs stick out but the lower limbs droop. The lower limbs are laden with snow.

The forest was full of rounded mounds of snow covering rocks, stumps, and small trees. The wind carved wells around them, like moats around castles. One lovely mound looked disconcertingly like the first split-second of a nuclear explosion, with its perfect roundness and perfect well around it. Too bad, but it’s an image we live with.

One small tree was completely covered forming an abstract “Mother and Child” sculpture in rounded snow instead of stone. Uncanny.

Bits of moss tumbled from the trees and rolled over the snow. Tiny cones had fallen beneath one tree, and the wind had carved away the snow beneath them until each was perched on a tiny pedestal.

Frightening explosions would shake the forest, causing canine dismay. Presumably, nearby Monarch Ski Area was bombing slopes for avalanche control. At the lakes, the wind blew horizontally, whistling incessantly, frosting though not dismaying the dog. We paused for a moment to look at the lake and then headed back to the trees.

But, hey, this isn’t Susan Tweit’s nature column. Back to the library and books, and in particular one book: “Drawings” by Mel Strawn.

Mel has selected drawings spanning a period of more than 50 years. He hasn’t presented them chronologically, although occasionally he gives dates, but he has grouped them thematically, with chapters such as “Skulls, Inner Structures” and “Nature, Things, Places …” And, of course, a chapter titled “Abstract/Experimental.”

This is a slim book revealing a broad range of styles and subjects. Mel has studied Japanese and Chinese art, and it is intriguing to see some of that influence in his drawings.

You can see it in some of the nature and calligraphic drawings, but I also think the sketches of the stacks of wrecked autos look like the work of a Zen master … although I’m not making that claim for Mel. I don’t really know his spiritual and philosophical pursuits, outside of guitar.

The book is largely a presentation of the drawings, but Mel wrote an introduction plus a few scattered comments that I enjoyed, including a comment on the tradition of the nude in Western Art.

Mel will discuss his book this Sunday, January 13, at 3:00 p.m. at our next “Arts at the Library” program. In addition to the content of the book, Mel will also talk about his experiences publishing it.

Mel used the service called CreateSpace to publish the book. It is a well-made book with fine reproductions of the drawings. It’s a brave new world in publishing these days.

Digital content and print-on-demand technology mean that a book, theoretically, need never go out of print. It appeals to me to think of Mel using the latest in digital imaging to present works of charcoal on kraft paper from half a century ago.

Please join us Sunday for Mel’s presentation and, of course, conversation and refreshments.


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