Friday, April 1, 2011

An Expressive Transient Encounter

Last weekend I ran across these images while rummaging through a drawer of old photos.  I was looking for some house pics to do a couple of before & after postings for the blog.  I had totally forgotten about these pictures which I took several years ago one July evening. 

Most of our property is picturesque fields or meadows, but behind the guesthouse is a 7 acre tract that’s completely wooded. 

One of our best friends, J who is from Georgia, but lives in Los Angeles frequents here often to visit his family.  He doesn’t like them very much so by the second day he’s usually made his way to my house and spends the reminder of his trip here on the farm.  In a way he is my decorator muse and creative inspiration; a person of great taste and big vision, a 21st century Oscar Wilde in Prada, he’s also VERY verbally and spiritually L.A. 

Every time J visits he has a different lifestyle message to deliver; always focused on how he thinks I should live my life.  I don’t always agree and take the advice – at first, but looking back he’s usually right. Although, I’m still not bought into his advice that I should move my pool!

On this particular visit he arrived with several coffee table books featuring the work of Andy Goldworthy.  Goldworthy is an artist who specializes in exquisite organic art installations, most of which are temporary in nature.  This visit’s message was all about how we should create some ‘unexpected moments’ through out the property to enlighten and surprise ones self as he or she strolls around the farm.  I looked at him and agreed, “Great idea. Now let’s go to lunch.”

On our way home, C had to stop by a home improvement store to pick up something to fix whatever had broken around here that week.  It was something simple; he needed a faucet washer or air filter, nothing big.  While he and J searched for whatever it was we had stopped for, I excused myself and wondered over to the garden center to browse. 

After about 20 minutes and no sign of C & J, I went back into the store to retrieve them and get on with the day, at home!  When I could not find them in the construction section, which was the reason we were there in the first place, I started searching aisle by aisle.  I was looking for two guys wearing shorts carrying an air filter, so I almost missed them and had to do a double take when I spied them at the end of the electrical aisle.  They had one shopping cart and a large rolling flat.  The flat was piled high with orange construction lights.  They had some of every variety the store offered.  Hand held versions, ones with hooks, double units on tripods, you name it, and if Home Depot carried it they had loaded several of each on their buggy.  Currently, they were filling their shopping cart with heavy duty outdoor extension cords. 

“Those don’t look like air filters to me.”  I said. 

“We’re going to do a light installation in the woods tonight.”  J looked at me and explained, “Like Andy Goldsworthy!”  He then turned back to C and they continued their calculations of how many extension cords and junction boxes they would need to get power from the guest house to the a large stand of oak trees in the center of the woods. 

A few minutes later I leaned against the check out counter as I watched a large woman with a tight blond perm wearing an orange apron scan their items.  Her name tag identified her as Phyllis. 

“You’re total is $468.37,” said Phyllis.  She was about to explode, in fact you could just see that she was trying to find the right words to formulate a question about what we planned to do with twenty four orange utility lights, six hundred foot of extension cord and one air filter.

Before she could even ask, J looked her directly in the eyes and contrarily said, “We’re creating an expressive transient encounter that demonstrates the irregular disparity between nature’s organic design and the austere utilitarianism of the human intervention by focusing energy on individual objects while using the unlighted nocturnal surround to envelop those illuminated entities into one singular conceptual moment.”

Phyllis just stared back.

I wanted to speak up and interject, “We’re going to drink some tequila and hang a bunch of these lights in trees.”  But instead I just leaned against the counter and smiled. 

J could not get home fast enough.  We spent the afternoon placing every light to best illuminate each ‘individual object’ tree properly.  Some were placed at the base of trees while other were hung forty feet up thanks to the help of my extension ladder J had hauled from the garage.  The orange extension cords were run throughout the woods and he covered many of them by kicking leaves over them to hide their ‘austere utilitarianism’. 

Just to make sure it was good and dark, we waited until around that evening to venture back outside.  With a pitcher of margaritas in hand we made our way to the center of the woods and the grove of oak trees where much of the wattage had been positioned.  J and I stood in the woods, cocktail in hand while C walked down to the guest house to plug in the main power cord. 

“Tell me when,” C yelled back to us.
“OK. Now.”  J responded.

All at once the woods light up like Times Square.  C jogged into the woods to join us and we raised our glasses in a victory toast. 

Then everything went black; not just our ‘expressive transient encounter’ area, but also the guest house, the garage next to the guest house, the main house on the other side of the pasture and probably anyone who lived within a five mile radius. 

While I played margaritas cocktail waitress between our base camp in the woods and the guesthouse, C and J reworked their project.  They repositioned, unplugged and re-plugged lights for an hour, but blew the power every time.  Finally after realizing they would have to either build a nuclear power plant or settle for a smaller lighting installation, they succumb to using only about half the lights they had purchased and managed to light the woods without blowing the power. 

We stood around in the woods and discussed how we should plan to do it again sometime for a party or even a catered dinner.  White lanterns could be hung from the trees, we would just need to figure out how to pipe music out this far.  After about thirty minutes we went back inside the house to watch Saturday Night Live.  After all, how long can you stand in the middle of the woods and stare at trees?  But I do have to say, it really was magical!


Oh, also…if anyone needs to borrow any utility lights or outdoor extension cords, just let me know.  I have plenty. 


  1. At Christmas time while everyone else is going crazy with all their "little lights'...thrown all over the shrubs and dangling in trees..( anywhere from 1-3 days work)...I take out all my outdoor extension cords and a dozen or so flood lights on stakes and shoot them up into the barren trees and pines in my backyard woods....It's magical....when you stand in my front yard the entire back is lit up and my house glows....It takes about 45 minutes to set up and 15 to take down.....go big or go home.......great post...hopped over from Jenny's salute to you today at MFAMB......have a great weekend....k

  2. Good Lord...this, although longer than usual, makes me want to run, not walk, to the farm and slap my lights back up.
    I had almost forgotten this story that you all told me in Rome...I've had big orange construction lights on the big oaks at my farm for every Farm Friday since! Of course, I listened carefully to your experience and only had 3 huge trees lit so that my friends could see to find their cocktails!
    Thanks for reliving it for us.

  3. I love that Kathy woman up above.

    This is not only a great story, it was exquisitely told.


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