January is well known as a bad month, the beginning of a trilogy that ends in April when the first warm breezes of spring are felt in the air, at last, sweeping up from the South. There is a sense of remorse felt when opening credit card statements and scanning bank accounts where the multiple modest purchases never seem to add up to the large final balance owed and I fume with anti-institutional mistrust. But the real issue for the East Coast is its weather. Its on mornings like this that trouble me the most; ones where we glimpse our mirrored reflections in the damp sidewalk on the way to work and question our purpose, look up at the skyscrapers disappearing into the fog and see a solitary glove abandoned in the road echoing our despondent mood. This year more than most has been harrowing due to the politics around the Trump impeachment where something was lost, but it’s difficult to say what. Most of us are less upset by his policies than his person which makes us participants in a class, or more accurately, education war and one that we are helplessly on the losing side.
The answer is apathy and distraction. And so we found ourselves at the Opera a few times, perhaps subconsciously to enrage Trump supporters more. To the Magic Flute, a gorgeous nonsense by Mozart, brought to life by the spectacular set designs of Julie Tamor, possessing its own mesmerizing alchemy. Like the best productions its memory griped me for weeks, its arias echoed in my head, and I felt like sneaking off from work to see it again during the day time.
Then the annual Burns night party at our friends Liz and Adam broke the misery that comes with the third week of January, well known to be the most dispiriting week of the year. Dancing and drinking, bad poetry read with perhaps the worst Scottish accents I have ever heard, honoring a reckless individual who got his family housemaid pregnant when he was far too young. How could that not be fun?
A day trip upstate, the stark tree’s bare and leaves rusting on wet ground.
At daybreak on a cool Saturday morning early in February I got in a car service which swept me down the FDR and on to Newark airport where a full mustard colored moon hung low in the sky. Eight hours later I saw it again, this time clear and watery through the arrivals hall in Heathrow. After all these years it’s still strange how you can be transported like this. Later that night lying in bed with jet lag in English suburbia a storm came in and 90 mile an hour winds, tearing down trees and garden fences. There was naked violence to the storm, a treacherous lack of consistency to its pitch and inclinations, at some moments a hum and drone and at others a shrill destructive gust. In the soft guilty-hangover light of morning the garden was examined, a large tree branch on the grass, another tree downed, leaning against a fence, and portions of a neighboring fence gone. But the rain persisted, freezing at times, and I fought against it when walking into the small town. At night, when I went for a walk before bed, I snuck into a local pub and sat alone with a pint happy to be out of the house. Listening to the inane conversations around me I realized how far I have come and, with a sinking feeling, knew I couldn’t return.
Home to an evening where some pendants I had made were to be shown in a fashion designers shop, thanks to a lazy conversation one evening in January. Our friend Yeohlee had lost her husband suddenly. It was a shock to all of us mainly because he was so full of life and youthfully optimistic, he had no outwards signs of ill health and we were heartbroken when we got the news. So she came to dinner and saw Mary wearing an Owl pendant and made the proposition. A crate of champagne was ordered, invitations and press releases sent giving me a sense of detachment from myself. I regretted not using an alias.
I needed to talk about the images and the ideas behind it and so to format my feelings wrote this a few hours before the event:
Sometimes ideas can come to you with the pace and quietude of an owl in flight. They can take you by complete surprise and no matter how slight and insubstantial, you have to honor them somehow with action, or they will just slip through your fingers and drift silently back into the night woods.
A big part of this little project was to answer a question much on my mind, how do you memorialize a day that held special meaning for you? We all can, and do, take a photographs nowadays with our phones but rapidly these become mislaid and forgotten in the ephemeral cloud of social media, quickly dismissed with a “like” or two. For reasons that remain mysterious to me I made a pendant for Mary using a photograph I took that day simply so we could remember this windy but perfectly clear spring morning in South West England in the company of some hawks and owls.
I had hoped that we could fly a hawk but the handler told us in a tone (used by country people when talking to city people) that it was lambing season so “obviously” that was out of the question. Mary and I looked at each other and with a serious expressions nodding vigorously in agreement in the way that city people do when they are too embarrassed to ask why.
The Owls were the real treat and I was able to photograph plenty and in one case had an errant subject fly directly at me from quite a distance and land on my leg. It stood there for several minutes digging its talons into my skin, each of us I felt were recognizing the absurdity of the other. I felt no fear but I was glad at the time that I didn’t know about the photographer Eric Hosking who in 1937 lost his left eye while photographing a Tawny Owl. I photographed one of these that day called Bowie given perhaps a little predictably because one eye is a different color from the other.
Later I thought how it was impossible not to be struck both by their vulnerability and curiosity when you are close up, there is something spellbinding about their presence and you can understand why in ancient times they were both worshiped and feared. Instinctively you know they were in existence before ourselves and that they will surely outlive us. So that’s why I made a pendant of my favorite Barn Owl for Mary and she started wearing it, she would be stopped at art openings and on subways, a few of her friends admired it and so the idea took flight.