Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Hey Mister--you an artist or somethin'?" A tale wherein your diarist wrestles with his conscience.

I was midway in my journey between Brigantine and Bowie and had stopped for gas at the WaWa store in Middletown, Delaware .  This particular WaWa* is the last convenient oasis for fuel, coffee and a restroom before the road joins the limited access part of route 301 on a southerly path eventually melling with route 50 and the bay bridge some 70 miles later.  I was engrossed with the task at hand and was not being particularly attentive to the other patrons who were also refueling when a voice on the other side of the pumps directed a question at me and the visible cargo I was carrying in the back of my station wagon:  "Hey Mister--you an artist or somethin'?"  What my inquisitor saw through the car windows was a tangle of bayberry limbs that should have been cut into the size required by the City of Brigantine for lawn debris and put out for waste collection along with the smaller branches which I'd generated while pruning the one remaining bayberry in our backyard.  I had to admit, they did look sort of arty laying in the back of the wagon.

* Recall that I mentioned the Wood family from Greenwich in an earlier post.  Richard Wood's descendants started the WaWa chain of convenience stores--small world kinda thing.
Art or lawn debris?

For those not familiar with bayberry it is a wild, native plant which grows on just about all the mid-Atlantic barrier islands.  When I was a boy bayberry bushes covered our entire island from the ocean side to the bay.  Now bayberry is restricted to the dunes and the last handful of undeveloped lots scattered around the island.  Being a sentimental fool, I dug up some small plants a few years ago and transplanted them to our backyard.  Of the several I planted one large one remains along side our back porch.  This plant has grown either into a magnificent specimen (my view) or a large, unruly eye sore (diaristwoman's opinion).  We fight about it each spring.  This year while weeding she found a viney plant which she claimed was poison ivy.  I claimed otherwise but she invoked the safety of small visiting children as an ultimate trump card and so I reluctantly got out the bow saw.  My poor bayberry bush is now a ghost of its former self but at least I was allowed to keep some of the smaller branches of the bush intact with the the edict that I must here after keep up with pruning!  After bundling and moving the twiggy stuff to the alley I was left with a pile of bigger limbs which I decided to bring back to Maryland.

Shaken from my day-dream at the gas pump, I looked up from the nozzle and into the eyes of my inquisitor.  Those who know me well realize that while I, like most humans, respond favorably to art, I myself have little in the way of artistic talent.  Never mind all that, for a microsecond I was greatly tempted to make up a big whopping story about how these crooked, tortured limbs reposing in the station wagon, (sort of like Lenin in his mausoleum), were destined to be "great art" and that he was indeed a lucky man to witness the very beginnings of the artistic process.  After all, I'd probably never see him again.  But then I thought to myself "Devil, if this is the best you can do in the way of temptation then we'll got a very long way to go", and so I told him the truth: "Na, I'm no artist.  I'll sort through this stuff and set aside the few promising pieces and maybe make some tool handles.  The rest will feed the fireplace next winter."  "Tool handles?" he said, obviously disappointed.  "Yeah, you know, handles for files, rasps, chisels, that sort of thing".  He looked away no doubt feeling like he'd wasted his time talking with me and I suddenly realized, much in the same way as a character in one of John Steinbeck's novels, that the truth can at times be a very dangerous commodity--he would have been much happier with a lie--a story that he could tell around his family "campfire" that evening about the crazy artist guy with the weird load of sticks he'd bumped into at WaWa.  My honesty had denied him that small, delicious pleasure.  Our respective nozzles clicked shut, we finished fueling and went our separate ways.

A station wagon load of bayberry limbs reduced to just enough firewood to make a single small fire next winter.

These few sticks might be useful.  We'll see.

I applied a coat of latex paint to the cut ends so that they won't dry out too rapidly and develop checks and splits.  Woodworking supply companies sell expensive sealants for this little job but leftover house paint works well.  I'll let these sticks rest for a few months.  Ya know, just maybe there is some art hiding inside them after all.  I've got a few months to think about it...


  1. Brilliant! I love it when bloggers write about off-beat things like this.

    1. Ah, the tension of the mortal dilemma. Almost as good as the thrill of the chase.

  2. Bayberry bushes all but overtook 829 South Drive when I was young. That's where we hid my Uncle Gordy's Hobie 16 mainsail one night when he was fixing to go for a drunken midnight sail.

    I wonder if bayberry wood would impart a good flavor if used on a charcoal grill. May be worth a try?

    1. I don't know if bayberry smoke would be a good eats thing or not. Only one way to find out... We throw pine cones on our charcoal grill (after we're done cooking). The resiney smoke does a good job on the skeeters I can tell you that.

      I've heard that once upona, bayberry leaves were used in Old Bay seasoning but that may just be here say. OTOH, I have seen plenty of references for using bayberry leaves instead of Old Bay, for example:

    2. The only cologne or after shave I use is Bay Rum, which typically is made with bay laurel leaves, the bottle even garnished with one. These leaves are also indispensible in cooking.