A Man for All Seasons

Man for All Seasons Column final

The stars were the hardest part, he tells me, showing off the American flag he has painted on the side of a haphazard-looking shed, an agglomeration of boards, lattice and scrap plywood that sits smack in the middle of the wide, muddy space. When stencils failed him in his quest to neatly frame the nation’s firmament, he says, he used a cookie cutter to “get ’em right.”

Surprisingly, the “water shed” is as solid as the man showing me around his community garden plot at Walker Farm. He is P.J. Russell, and he resides in Providence, but it’s out here that he really seems to live. On the day I visit, the 70-year-old is in his element, walking straight and tall and projecting like a character in a Turner Classic Movie.

Russ, as he likes to be called, talks about working the soil, growing peas, tomatoes, garlic, watermelons and other things. Rotating his crops so he doesn’t exhaust the soil. Relishing the hard work he’s plowed into this 83-by-42-foot plot for a decade now.

We take the stairs to the “upper floor,” a reinforced plywood roof with gutters to channel precipitation down into industrial-size blue plastic barrels. In this offseason, if you could call it that, Russ has already collected about 200 gallons of snowmelt and spring rain to use during summer dry spells.

From the top of the shed we can see Hundred Acre Cove and its marshes. In the summer, he sees everything — sailboats, osprey and the rising green of the 20 or so plots of his Walker Farm neighbors. “I know everybody — ‘Hey you want a hamburg? You want a hot dog?’” he half-pantomimes. It is a very social place.

We head back down, past the protective boundaries of his kingdom lying in wait, rolls of wire fencing that he’ll install to keep out crop-stealing pests, some on four legs and some on two.

Russ is grinning as he picks up his saw and starts through a board. “Work” isn’t a word he uses for his labors out here in the place where life comes out of the ground and the stars shine even on the brightest days.

“Eat, play, garden, exercise,” he says. “The outside — tons of stuff to do.”

copyright 2017  Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

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Scenic Humor

Leaf recyle and dropoff in Barrington April 2014

A great landscape photograph – a scenic that truly works – takes a lot of time and effort. It is rarely just a pretty scene you come upon. It’s planning and patience, a balance of light and composition, and repeated failure until you get the version of an image that takes your breath away just as it did when you experienced it in real life.

True confession: I don’t get scenics. When I am standing on the mountain and seeing a heart-stopping site, the last thing I want to do is take a photo of it.

But when I do, (I am a photographer after all), I take the picture to remember how much I loved where I was. Scenics for most people are attempts to make a memory of a place, not art.

I like my landscapes slightly askew, awkward, images with a sprinkle of humor.

I want a person or a horse or maybe a monkey to walk into the frame. Traits that do not translate well in this photographic category.

The masters – the Ansel Adamses of the world – are all business and produce art that touches everyone. Me? I just want to have fun.

Exhibit A: A Barrington friend once best described her hometown life as living on another planet. I thought I found that realized in an image I made at the leaf dump along Route 114: The rotting yard debris made for an unreal surface, and the threatening dark clouds reflected in the brown water.

It all just worked for me, and I thought it was creepy and funny at the same time. …

copyright 2014 Kris Craig / The Providence Journal