In our final days in Baltimore, Ace and I shifted from a house that was empty to one that was very full – of art, and art supplies, and things that, in the homeowner/artist’s view, could, with a little work and imagination, be turned into art someday.
Artist J. Kelly Lane, having an out-of-town house-sitting gig of her own, offered to let Ace and me stay Thursday and Friday in her South Baltimore rowhouse, which, she warned me ahead of time, had its quirks
You know you’re in bigger trouble when, in a house full of art works, you break one of them.
In the wee (literally) hours of the morning, I rose off the downstairs futon to make my way upstairs to the bathroom. I was stepping carefully through the darkness, but my knee hit a stand-up ash tray and knocked it over.
If that alone weren’t bad enough – it’s hard to find ash trays at all these days, let alone the stand up, three-foot high kind — Kelly had apparently applied her artistic skills to this one.
I’m guessing (and hoping) it was a thrift store find –as opposed to a family heirloom — one that, while already the perfect combination of form and function, she saw as being in needed a bit more pizzazz.
Someone, I’m guessing Kelly, had painstakingly painted both its post and the two serpents that make up its handle, which is the part that broke when it fell to the ground.
Now it’s 4 a.m., and I can’t go back to sleep. In addition to the guilt I feel for breaking it in the first place, I’m feeling guiltier yet for what’s popping into my mind:
Blame it on Ace. With a dog as big as him, in a house filled with so much art, an accident is bound to happen. Right?
Staying at Kelly’s house was like spending a night at the museum. Her paintings cover the walls. Walk in the front door and you’re in what looks like a studio. Enter then next room and you’re in what looks like a studio. Keep going back and you enter what appears to be a studio.
She’s applied her flair to the dwelling, too – like the stair rail and stairway risers painted in leopard skin motif. In addition to painting canvases, Kelly paints house interiors, and she’s into a host of other crafts, like hand-made Valentine’s cards and decorating items like the stand-up ashtray whose handle is now broken.
True, I have in the past blamed him for gaseous eruptions that did not originate from him, but that’s different – dogs are more easily forgiven than humans for that.
Then too, blaming him for the mishap would tarnish his image as the perfect dog. In reality, he’s not perfect – and I wouldn’t want him to be – but he comes a lot closer to it than I do. And when it comes right down to it, I – wrong as it might be – probably care more about his image than mine, except when it comes to farts.
Like a lot of dog people, I worry more about my dog – his health, his reputation, his “proper” behavior – than I do about my own self in those regards.
From previous visits, I knew there would be some risks at Kelly’s house – that a wagging tail, or Ace going into rambunctious “let’s play!” mode, could result in serious damage. As it turns out, it was I, in my pre-coffee, bathroom-seeking clumsiness — as Ace soundly slept — that sent things a kilter. And a standalone ash tray, no less – a true antique that harkens back to the days when smoking wasn’t a misdemeanor, and ash trays were respectable enough to be an entire piece of furniture.
I’d gone more than a month in our previous location – also somebody else’s house — without breaking anything. But then, it being an empty house, there was really nothing to break.
Now I must break the news, and somehow make things right.
Then, and only then, will I be able to go back to sleep.
(Postscript: Kelly was very forgiving, and didn’t seem mad at me. To find out more about her art, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Posted by jwoestendiek February 28th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accident, ace, america, animals, art, artist, ash trays, baltimore, blame, broken, damage, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, freeloading, guest, home, houseguest, housing, kelly lane, museum, painting, pets, road trip, studio, travels with ace, visit
Between the Salton Sea and the Chocolate Mountains — in what may sound, and look, like a space you’d land on in the old board game Candyland — there was a man, and a mountain, I needed to check in on.
About 12 years had passed since I first visited Salvation Mountain — Leonard Knight’s massive, hand-painted monument to God. I was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, fond of seeking out stories in the middle of nowhere. He was 67 by then, and had spent almost 15 years constructing his mountain out of hay, tires, adobe and more than 100,000 gallons of paint.
What struck me then was his incredible commitment to the task. What struck me this time is how, even after finding a modicum of fame, what with his own book and DVD and his appearance in the movie, “Into the Wild,” his determination and focus remain — not on himself, not on getting rich, but on the mountain, its maintenance and its continued survival.
Leonard, at 79, is still at it.
He can’t hear too well. His eyes are going bad. He walks with a pronounced limp, and he can no longer lift the hay bales he uses as bricks, or to mix up adobe, to fashion his ever-expanding monument.
While volunteers still drop by to make donations and help with the labor from time to time, on this particular day — Thanksgiving — he was alone.
“Have a seat,” he said, shifting over to the next chair. A blanket was stretched across posts to block out a relentless wind. For the desert, in November, temperatures were chilly. Leonard, wearing paint-spattered khakis, kept his hands stuffed in his jacket as Ace sniffed at the conglomeration of items in the back of his pick up truck.
Salvation Mountain looked much like it did 12 years ago — bright, bold and scripture-laden. But it’s far more famous now, with everyone from National Geographic to Ripley’s Believe it or Not finding it worthy of note. And after Leonard and the mountain were featured in ”Into the Wild,” the 2007 movie based on the travels and eventual death in the Alaskan wilderness of Chris McCandless, interest in his monument rose again.
Even so, he said, maintaining the mountain, much less working on more recent additions — including a “museum” area that wasn’t there the last time I dropped by — has become a strain. The volunteers seemed fewer this year. Leonard blamed the weather. “The summer was too hot, the winter’s too cold, or it’s just too windy, like it is today. You can’t paint on a day like today.”
Crazy as the weather has been, it’s still better than his native Vermont, he said.
Knight was one of four children, born in Burlington, Vermont. He never liked school, got teased a lot, and dropped out in the 10th grade. In 1951, he joined the Army, was trained as a mechanic and got sent to Korea.
Upon his return, he worked as a mechanic in Vermont, supplementing his income by picking apples, which helped him raise enough money to make trips to Caliornia to visit his sister. He treasured the trips, except for the fact that she would make him go to church.
During one visit, after an argument with his sister, he stomped out and sat in his truck. There in the driver’s seat — for reasons he can’t explain — he found himself saying, “Jesus, I’m a sinner, please come into my heart” over and over again. Jesus, he says, did.
For the first time in his life, Leonard had a sense of direction — and it would be, as it turned out, a very strange direction.
In 1971, still in Vermont, he noticed a hot air balloon one day, advertising a brand of beer.
What if, he thought, he could market God similarly? He began researching and seeking materials to build a hot air balloon, and praying to God to help provide them, but for nine years it remained a distant and unreachable dream.
On a cross-country trip in 1980, he had engine trouble in Nebraska, and had to spend several days there. The mechanic working on his truck offered to help with the balloon project. They got a bargain on some material, and, for three years, Leonard stayed in Nebraska and sewed.
The balloon never got off the ground, though. When he came to the desert in Niland, California to make a final attempt to launch it, he discovered the material was rotted.
It was then, in 1985, his 14-year quest to launch a God is Love balloon over — that he decided to build a small replica of the balloon, in the middle of the desert, out of adobe. He planned to stay for a week in Slab City — a makeshift community of desert-dwelling loners, snowbirds, RV’ers and on-the-verge of homelessness types.
But what started as an 8-foot sculpture would become Salvation Mountain, rising about three stories high, an accumulation of tires and other junk salvaged and donated, coated with adobe and brightly painted with flowing rivers, budding flowers, a yellow brick road and Bible scripture –all topped by a big white cross.
It’s a constantly evolving work, and, as you might expect, it has fallen victim to both structural collapses and government bureaucracy, at both the county and state levels.
Leonard had his own tests done that proved otherwise.
County supervisors backed off their threats to shut him down, but by then all the free publicity from the controversy had added to the mountain’s legendariness.
Today, the mountain is more likely to be referred to as a work of folk art than an environmental hazard, and even though the mountain is a squatter — an unauthorized work on public land — Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2002 afforded it some protection when she entered it into the Congressional Record as a national treasure.
Leonard lives on the grounds of his masterpiece. He beds down for the night in a small cabin mounted on his 1930s-era fire truck, which like every other vehicle in his compound, be it tractor or bus, is covered with painted-on Bible scripture.
He works on it everyday, weather permitting. A newer ”museum” wing, still under construction, features a tree whose base was created from tires and adobe, and whose branches he cut from dead and fallen trees nearby. He hauled them to the mountain, and bolted them on, painted them and added flowers, which he says are easily made by punching your fist in a mound of adobe not yet dried.
Leonard urged me to go take a look at the addition, and apologized for not making it a guided tour. His leg was bothering him. Ace wasn’t sure what to make of it. He explored its nooks and crannies, and, back at the main mountain, climbed up the yellowbrick road path to near the top.
When I returned and took a seat next to Leonard, he gave me a DVD of a documentary about the mountain, “A Lifetime of Childlike Faith,” and a Salvation Mountain magnet. I asked him what his plans were for Thanksgiving dinner and he said some friends were bringing him some turkey.
Leonard gave Ace a final pat on the head, and we said goodbye to the old man who lives in the desert, having learned, or relearned, at least two things.
One is that there’s a thin and sometimes not immediately discernable line between visionary and nut job, so be careful who you call a nut.
The other is that — however eccentric Leonard Knight may be, and no matter what your feelings are on God — faith can indeed move mountains.
Or even build them.
Posted by jwoestendiek November 29th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, adobe, america, balloon, bible, bureaucracy, california, chocolate mountains, commitment, desert, determination, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, faith, flowers, god, god is love, government, hay, hot air, imperial county, into the wild, leonard knight, mission, monument, niland, obsession, paint, rivers, road trip, salton sea, salvation mountain, scripture, slab city, state, tenacity, thanksgiving, tires, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, visionary, visit
Finally, some good press.
Ace got a nice mention — and I didn’t fare too badly, either — in our friend Susan Adcock’s “Carny Dog” blog last week.
We had the pleasure of meeting Susan, a long-time ohmidog! reader, and her pit mix, Stella, when they came to Baltimore from Nashville last week — a pilgrimage prompted by the last request of a carnival worker named Barney, who Susan befriended as a photographer.
After Susan spread Barney’s ashes on the grave of his mother, we met up at Riverside Park, stopped to hydrate with the dogs at a neighborhood bar and went out to eat.
Among Susan’s kindly notations on my dog and me: ”…It didn’t take long to realize that the two of them were as much a part of the neighborhood as the park itself. Everyone from homeless guys to moms pulling wagon-loads of kids knew them well enough to stop and talk, and they did. Humans called out to Ace from a distance.” Ace, she noted, was “one of the more well-adjusted dogs we’ve encountered.”
She was also impressed with our impromptu dessert. We stopped at the house of some friends on our way back for some leftover birthday cake. “It is a true friend who will let a man show up with a complete stranger, at nine-thirty at night for dessert,” Susan wrote.
On that point, I couldn’t agree more.
I think, for Susan, it was love at first sight — for the city, I mean. I think she saw in Baltimore what I see in it: its curiously appealing grittiness, its near total lack of pretentions, its quirkiness, its deeply etched character, and characters — some as shiny and polished as the Inner Harbor, some as rough-edged and splintered as a ratty working wharf.
Having just pulled out Friday, I miss it already.
I think Susan does too. “Seriously,” she wrote, “it made me want to move.”
(Photo: Ace, Stella and me, by Susan Adcock)
Posted by jwoestendiek September 19th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, baltimore, barney, carnival, carnival workers, carny dog, carnys, dog's country, dogs, john, ohmidog!, pets, road trip, stella, susan adcock, travel, travels with ace, visit, visitor
A Georgia man says a visit from a census worker led to the death of his two-year-old Chihuahua, Sofie.
Charles Oliver said a worker from the U.S. Census Bureau pulled into his driveway at his home in Byron Tuesday, crushing his dog.
Oliver said he had not returned census forms sent to his home this year.
“They know I’m here,” he told the Macon Telegraph. “Why do they even need a census? Let me not pay my taxes. They’ll be here.”
Oliver said the census worker, whom he described as an older, heavyset man driving a newer model sport utility vehicle with a Vietnam Veteran tag, didn’t apologize after both men spotted Sofie in the driveway. He took Oliver’s information and left.
Sofie was normally kept inside, but was in the yard because Oliver was outside working in his garage, he said.
During the 2000 Census, 13 workers died during visits to collect information from people who had not responded to the mail-in form, including one who was mauled to death by a dog, census officials say.
Ed Davis, spokesman for the U.S. Census bureau’s Atlanta office, said the bureau had received no report about the dog’s death.
“We take very seriously the public safety and personal safety of our workers,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, things happen when we have hundreds of thousands of people in the field.”
The Peach County Sheriff’s Office took a report about the incident, but no charges are expected to be filed against the unknown census worker.
(Photo: Beau Cabell / Macon Telegraph)
Posted by jwoestendiek May 5th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 2010 census, animals, byron, census, charles oliver, chihuahua, death, dog, driveway, forms, georgia, home, killed, news, ohmidog!, pets, run over, sofie, u.s. census bureau, visit, worker
It’s time for some good cheer, dammit.
And in that spirit, Santa invites all pets and their owners – both those who have been good and those who have been bad — to come to Riverside Park in south Baltimore this Saturday to have your pet’s photo taken with his merry old self.
If seeing Santa, and getting a lasting, suitable for framing memory of your pets’ visit with old St. Nick, isn’t enough, there will also be free treat bags, while supplies last, and Santa himself will award a FURminator to the dog who appears in most need of it.
And there’s also the fact that all proceeds go to a very good cause – the Franky Fund at BARCS, which is used to provide emergency medical care to seriously sick and injured animals so that they may be doctored up and adopted out, as opposed to that nasty alternative Santa doesn’t like to talk about.
Santa will be at Riverside Park between 10 a.m. and noon, assuming he can find a parking space for his sled.
The event is sponsored by BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter), Brazen Tails, Ride Entertainment and the South Jersey Thoroughbred Rescue and Adoption Center.
Photos will be taken by Gail Burton, a freelance photographer who works for the Associated Press covering the Ravens and Orioles. The fee is $10, and the photos will be posted online for easy downloading.
How does Santa know all this? Because he’s Santa. And as for those two or three dogs who — like leaping Lola above — wanted nothing to do with Santa last year, I’m looking into ways to make myself less intimidating and more appealing, including smearing myself with bacon grease.
On another holiday related note, tune in tomorrow (Thursday) for an ohmidog! quiz, the five winners of which will receive holiday treat bags for their dogs. The quiz will be posted at 9 a.m., and the first five contestants to submit the correct answers win.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 9th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: baltimore, baltimore animal rescue & care shelter, barcs, brazen tails, christmas, christmas cards, dog, dogs, events, franky fund, fundraiser, my dog, ohmidog!, parks, pet, pets, photographs, photos, riverside park, santa, santa claus, spirit, st. nick, visit, with santa, your dog