Late winter still life

We can call it late winter, can’t we? We have passed the half-way point, and the crocuses and camellias are now blooming…

One morning last week, as I was gathering my things for the day, there was something about the clutter on my kitchen table that stopped me. It struck me as beautiful, the arrangement of things I did not arrange. The unposed mix of textures, colors, and shapes so pleased me I reached for the camera, trying to capture how it looked for me.

Of course, I didn’t really.

The 17th century Dutch assigned layers of meanings to the objects in their still life paintings, which functioned almost like a code (mostly of judgement, it seems), but there’s nothing like that going on here. Each object is simply what it is: a beleaguered basil in a dull clay pot; an empty Ikea vase; a $3.00 bunch of chamomile from Trader Joe’s; a bowl of common fruit; a chipped Franciscan ware lid sitting on its matching bowl, protecting the salt within it. Apparently, still life paintings rank low on the painting hierarchy–or at least they did in 17th century France. Ordinary, inanimate subjects were deemed less worthy than living ones, but I rather like these things on my table that talk to me without words or movement.

I couldn’t quite catch through the camera how it felt to me, the cluster of objects in late winter’s early morning light, but I can look at the image and hear something of what they are saying: Here is a life with flavor. Some simplicity. Healthy sweetness, and a touch of ordinary pretty.

Kate Messner’s Over and Under the Snow is a picture book I’ve loved this winter. It invites us to see beneath the surface of things. Over the snow is a still, white world. Under it, hidden from view, a colorful kingdom of animals inhabit rest and safe shelter–a still life of a different kind.

There is, of course, life coursing through the objects on my table: Meals, friendships, memories, outings, unfinished chores. The very beginning of a season’s turning. It’s a mostly quiet life right now, a lull before spring storms. For weeks I have been living, at times, not unlike Messner’s voles, scratching “through slippery tunnels, searching for morsels from summer feasts,” and at others like her snoring black bear, “still full of October blueberries and trout.”

It’s important, I think, to be still from time to time. To stay warm. To rest. It’s important to know what’s beneath the surface of things. To pause and really see what and who surrounds us, from both above and below. To hold and appreciate what we can, as we can, all the while knowing that the crocuses will out, and the season of busy colors will return.

So tell me…

What is on your kitchen table?

What’s going on under the surface of your life?

What kind of paintings speak to you?

Oh, and if you want to see truly lovely still life photos, check out Oh Katie Joy’s Tuesday Things posts. Many times they open with a long string of photos, many of which are still life shots. I dare you to look at those and not see your own home through different eyes. Another master of the genre is Alicia Paulson.

14 thoughts on “Late winter still life

  1. TD says:

    “SO TELL ME…
    What is on your kitchen table?” An extra tall crystal vase with an etched daisy pattern that my grandmother passed on to me (memory of her grace) fill with opening blossoms of pink and red roses marking a celebration milestone for my 60th birthday. A plain glass dome with Valentines candy. A small crystal lamp that’s a match for the vase with an etched daisy pattern design that I found in an antique shop a few years ago and was so excited to find. James Kent Du Berry Vintage Chintz plate pattern of millions of colorful flowers. Blue cotton quilted places mats.

    What kind of paintings speak to you? Above the table are Thomas Kinkade’s “Bridge of Faith”, “The Garden of Prayer”, and “The Victorian Garden”. (In my living room, I have four others by Kinkade, so his creative beauty of art work definitely speaks to me, my heart and soul.)

    “What’s going on under the surface of your life?” It’s odd to say this: but maybe someone will relate, under the surface of my life is a knowing of a closing of one’s life as I’m downsizing and letting go. I chose this corner apartment that is right on the edge of the bay sea wall, physically 50-100 feet to the water. The past 12 days and nights have been the most gorgeous and interesting views that I have ever lived. Each of those days has been very different in weather, flights of birds, and glorious sunrises or sea fog! This is a temporary move until I find my next house, but there are moments that I wonder if this is where I’m suppose to be…

    Well, it is for now, Rita.

    • Rita says:

      I have things from my grandparents in my home, too. It always makes me feel good to see them (even as it also makes me miss them). It does feel strange to realize that I’m approaching the closing down of some things. I’m trying to focus on what’s opening, but it still feels strange. I know I look different on the outside, but on the inside I feel much the same as I ever have. When I was younger I thought I would feel much different when I was the age I am now. Nope!

      I’m glad you are able to live so close to the water and wildlife. I would love that!

      • TD says:

        Rita, I like the thought to “Focus on what is opening.”!!!

        When my townhouse became pending, I had zero idea of where I would live. I thought worse case; I would live in a hotel for a while. The buyer wanted a quick closing date that was a changing target and ended up being sooner than the proposed offer.

        I did not intend to live on the water bay front. I had a week to look at the options that would allow my dog, a must be ground level, no stairs because of my aging body and health issues, and work with my financial situation. When I looked at this dog friendly complex, I was shown the inside of an efficiency and a one bedroom. I was shown the outside, ground level backdoor (I could see only the two bedrooms that the carpet had been pulled out and being painted which was in make ready phase, but would be “open” before my closing date).

        Because the manager was willing to work with me, I took a risk of not seeing the inside apartment. I put down my deposit and signed a six month lease. I had no idea how beautiful the view would be!

        So YES: Focus on what is opening!! One day at a time…

  2. TD says:

    Breathtaking. The manager said that I would see the dolphins from my apartment. And I just did for the first time here! The bay water is calm today, but the cold fronts bring surf and waves so it’s in constant change as are we.

    Bye: I love your fruit in the bowl photo!

  3. Josh Klauder says:

    Rita, I love this piece of writing and photo! Between the two I feel you have captured what you wanted to capture. The profound in the simple, the eternal in the now.

    And as I read some of your lines:
    “It struck me as beautiful, the arrangement of things I did not arrange. …
    a beleaguered basil in a dull clay pot; an empty Ikea vase… a chipped Franciscan ware lid sitting on its matching bowl, protecting the salt within it.
    …Here is a life with flavor. Some simplicity. Healthy sweetness, and a touch of ordinary pretty. …”

    I think you could just as well be describing yourself. I know from your sharing that your life is not what you would have arranged. But there it is. Often beleaguered, sometimes stuck in dull clay, sometimes an empty vase. Chipped, yet lovely, and protecting the salt within you.

    Except for the last two words. You are anything but ordinary. And ‘pretty’ smacks of damning with faint praise when applied to a person. You are beautiful. In just the same way as those things on your counter that made you feel compelled to express. Which is what I’m doing.

    • Rita says:

      Thank you for your kind words. I want to push back on your assessments of “pretty” and “ordinary,” though. Both are under-rated, I think.

  4. Laura Millsaps says:

    What’s on your kitchen table?
    1. A crockpot that I haven’t bothered to take downstairs to its storage shelf
    2. About 2 lbs tea that arrived in the mail this week that I’m really excited about, but slightly ashamed of spending so much on. Is that why I haven’t put it away?
    3. An avocado green glass bowl with two clementines in it. I didn’t get the grocery shopping done this weekend, and I’m not sorry now, though I probably will be later.

    What kinds of paintings speak to you? The kind that suggest (or for that matter, prove) that the artist as a kindergartner regularly broke the tips off all their crayons, they so loved color, color, color. Matisse’s red-walled interiors. Van Gogh’s paint-piled-on sunflowers. Stuff like that. Vivid.

    What’s going on under the surface of your life? Lots of unexpected, though not unpleasant, changes. But as usual, overthinking every detail is just my way of making sense of it.
    Laura Millsaps recently posted…Trees I Have LovedMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I’m wondering now why our kitchen tables are so revealing. I have not done any chores for the past two days, and I’m not sure there will be as many as there likely should be today, but I don’t think I’m going to be sorry, either. And I think we are overdue for another chat. Inquiring minds want to know more about those changes. 🙂

  5. Marian says:

    Beautiful post, Rita. I love seeing what’s on your kitchen table. I’ve often thought I should do a post about what I see out my kitchen window and ask others to tell me what they see 🙂 . Curious minds want to know…

    What’s on my kitchen table? A tablecloth (always) and my laptop. It’s a small table, so there isn’t room for anything decorative. But I think even if it were bigger, I’d still prefer it bare. (Minimalism is very comforting to me, and the kitchen table is also where we eat and where I write and work on my courses, so it’s just nice to have a clear space.)

    What’s going on under the surface of your life? Yikes. It’s not pretty under there, so I think maybe I should pass on this one.

    What kind of paintings speak to you? Abstracts, mostly landscape and floral. This Christmas, my daughter’s boyfriend brought his new virtual reality set along to our place so we could all try it out. He had a program where you were in a coffee shop and Vincent Van Gogh was seated at one of the tables, and when you walked to the window and looked out, the sky was The Starry Night. It was beautiful and I couldn’t stop staring up at it. (As in, other people were waiting to take their turns and I was just standing there in the middle of our living room with this big thing on my head, looking up at this virtual sky, and not wanting to go back to reality.) I told myself if I loved it that much, I should buy a print and hang it somewhere in the house, but of course I didn’t. (Because: minimalism, and all the stuff going on under the surface…)

    PS: I see my blog is listed under Old-School Friends. I’m honoured to be there. But also a bit terrified that more people might read my ramblings. Which is why I almost don’t want to tell you the link is wrong. (I went from dot com to wordpress dot com quite a while back, so the correct address is

    • Rita says:

      I wish I could see your kitchen–no, not just see your kitchen, but visit you there. It really sounds lovely to me, and I’d love to have a long chat with you about paintings, and minimalism, and all the things going on under the hood of our lives. For whatever it’s worth, I hope you will buy the print. I am thinking of Cal Newport now, and his definition of minimalism and his ideas about how it should serve us. I’ve been thinking a lot about what to remove and what to keep and what to add. What values I want to serve. Yesterday Cane and I made a visit to an “antique mall,” an activity that used to be a favorite, and for both of us it did not hold the appeal it once did. It was sort of fun to see old things and think about how life used to be, but mostly I felt surrounded by old junk. Not just surrounded, but smothered. We left without buying anything, and it felt so good to emerge from those narrow rows of so much stuff into the sharp winter air and just walk. Where I saw that buds are already emerging on the flowering trees. I think we need a certain amount of space to really see and value the things we put in it. What if your print were the only thing on the walls of a room?

      And thank you for the heads up on the link. I made that blogroll list years ago. In an earlier phase of minimalism on the blog, I took the list off the sidebar. Last week I was doing some de-cluttering (got rid of a whole bunch of categories of posts and consolidated them) and it just felt right to bring the much edited blogroll back. Off to fix that link…

  6. Kate says:

    Thank you for the mention. Alicia Paulson is the MASTER of life snippet photography. I have no business being mentioned in the same paragraph, but I appreciate it. I’m so jealous of your flowers. I’ve seen us enter spring in March before, but my guess is that we are still a LONG way away from anything resembling flowers. (I like winter – it might be my favorite season – and we just got back from a warm weather vacation, so I have zero complaints about this fact. I do need to get myself some cut flowers though – because I like them this time of year.)

    I love your kitchen table. It just looks so inviting. I love the chamomile especially and the picture you captured of it. (I would never have known! Thought they were daisies)

    As for my table – there are piles and piles of clean laundry in baskets that need to be gathered by children when they get home from school to put away. Under the surface – it’s a little messy but mostly contented. I tend toward clean lines/minimalist still life and landscape paintings. Or things that are maximalist and big old messes. (Honestly, kind of like my photographs!) In my home, I have two really lovely barn paintings from a local artist that are very minimalist/clean lines and they’re my favorites.

    • Rita says:

      I think you do have all kinds of business being in the same paragraph. Her photos are beautiful, but I prefer yours. Maybe it’s just that I know you in a way that I don’t her. (Although I’ve shared public spaces with her several times now–I wouldn’t recognize her, but I recognize her daughter. It’s startled me every time; I pass this girl and think, I know her from somewhere–and then I realize I don’t know her at all. I wonder how many other strangers I regularly cross paths with and don’t know it at all, just because they aren’t famous in any way. But I’m digressing…) Your photos have a realness to them for me that I really appreciate. Nothing feels staged. I prefer that.

      I’m glad there’s an undercurrent of content running through your life right now. I like winter, too–real winter, that is. I never feel as if we get enough of it here. We never even got one real snow this year. It’s still cold, but flowers are popping out all over and the season has definitely turned a corner.

      Oh, and I didn’t know that was chamomile either. I also thought they were some kind of daisy. I really would like to know more about plants of all kinds.

      • Kate says:

        You are really sweet. I’ve actually had that happen a few times where I know someone from social media and see them in public and think “Oh, I know you!” and then think “Oh, not really and you don’t know me!” It does seem kind of funny.

        Great minds on the chamomile! I’d like to know more about plants too!!

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