The Fish Whisperer

The weather report predicted rain the whole time. We had only five days.  Last-minute tickets were double the price.

But we love Alaska

…we love my sister Constance…

…and we love to fish.

On his last trip Eli couldn’t drop a line without pulling out a fish.  After catching a thirty pound King, he was hooked.

 

Using frequent flyer miles and companion fares, we caught the tail end of the salmon season.

You can pack a lot into five days, especially in the Land of the Midnight Sun.

We set out each day by the crack of noon.

Wildlife was abundant, whether feathered…

 

 

…or finned.

And then there was the two-footed kind.

Con’s friend Barbara is famous for her gin and tonics, and now her recently remodeled garage is a neighborhood attraction that everyone calls the Garage Mahal.

At the Alaska State Museum my artist sister’s painting, belonging to its permanent collection, was on display.  She’d just had a show of paintings created during a residency in a historic lighthouse keeper’s house on an island off the rugged coast of Norway.

 

We were inspired to make art of our own.  At her studio Eli and Constance painted…

…and I sketched Thom, although I couldn’t get him to look up from his book.

The line at the art house cinema was tolerable.

Small town headlines were refreshing.

And the fish were biting!

 

Some for grilling…

…and some for smoking.

 

The Fish Whisperer…

 

…strikes again!

 

We’ll be back. 

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of the Weekly Photo Challenge: Fun.

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Holiday House

I was in Juneau, Alaska last week.

It was a treat to see real winter, as ours in Seattle tend to be mild.

Mostly I was there to see my sister Constance, a well known Alaskan artist.

Her solo show, “Breakthrough,” was at The Juneau City Museum, and scheduled to open for Juneau’s big annual Gallery Walk.

We hung her paintings the night before.

Her work is vibrant and exciting.  It catches your eye from across the gallery…

 

…and is mesmerizing up close as well, with intricate detail and creative use of negative space.

 

Then we shopped for cheese, crackers, nuts, and veggies to serve at the opening.

Constance’s friend Nancy made five dozen deviled eggs, which were also a work of art. (Nancy’s husband Andy applied the garnish.)

 There was a great turnout, and Constance sold some beautiful paintings.  Her work will be on display until December 27th.  To view her artwork for this show and to read her artist statement about it, click here.

The whole town turns out for Gallery Walk.  Every shop and gallery in town serves refreshments and features local artists.  People come out in droves, wearing their sequins and snowboots. I popped over to Annie Kaill’s and saw my sister’s painting, Holiday House, in the front window of the shop.  This festive painting was on loan to the gallery from its owners.  Someone I talked to said he overheard people praising the painting in St. Petersberg! My favorite art tells a story, and this one tells a story I know.  Constance painted it as a gift for her neighbors Jeff and Terry.  Look closely and you can see Jeff in his brown overalls on a ladder, putting up his Christmas lights. Jeff is the kind of neighbor every neighborhood wants and needs, but few are fortunate enough to have.  When he mows his own lawn, he also cuts the grass of an elderly neighbor.  If Constance comes home and finds her driveway shoveled, she can guess who did it. Constance met him for the first time decades ago, when she bought a sandbox for her kids out in the valley and it wouldn’t fit in her car. She recognized him and, not knowing what else to do, asked a stranger’s help transporting it in his pickup.  It was all set up in her yard when she got home.  On our visit to Juneau last summer he heard that my son Eli was interested in fishing, and offered to take him out on his boat.  Jeff helped Eli land a thirty pound king salmon.  It was the highlight of his trip–all of ours, really, because eight of us ate fresh King salmon every night and there was still some to share with the neighbors. Every year Jeff spends the weeks preceding Christmas putting up tens of thousands of lights on his house, and at least a dozen Santas and snowmen.  His electric bill spikes each December, but the people of Juneau count on him to put some serious twinkle into their holiday. Some people save their treasures for heaven, but I think there’s a twinkle light shining on his house for each kindness Jeff has paid to others.  They add up, all those little lights, and push back the darkness for us all.

All words and images copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Paint.

Click here for more interpretations of Nancy Merrill’s Photo-a-Week Challenge: Artsy.

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Twice Blessed

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.  It has already begun around our house, with relatives flying in and out of town.  I set writing projects on the back burner to enjoy a houseful of family and friends.  After two weeks of intense studying, Eli just took his GRE, and is free to play.  Bea just arrived home from Stanford with exciting stories, and a long list of fun things to do in her short week home.

My sister Constance stopped in Seattle on her way home after three months in Norway as an artist-in-residence.   We put her on a plane to Alaska yesterday, but first we celebrated an early Thanksgiving and Christmas with Uncle Lew.  We set up his tree, played music, and ate Lew’s famous green bean casserole by candlelight.

 

Auntie Lee flies in from Michigan tomorrow, and her lovely daughter Adrienne will arrive from Yakima the next day.  We will meet Adrienne’s fiance for the first time.  Constance made me promise not to take out the tape measure.  (I only did it once before, with her last boyfriend, and it was just a joke!)  I hear this one is a keeper.

The kitchen table has always been a happening place.  So many hours of my kids’ childhood were spent there, talking, listening to music, creating art.  The kids’ favorite projects always seemed to combine art and sugar.  Sugar cube igloos, taffy pulls, gingerbread houses, painting cookies.  Eli recalled the penguin mints we used to make, and adapted it.

First came the prototype…

Then came the production line, with Bea and Eli making turkeys.  Auntie and I were inspired, and soon we were mass producing meringue mushrooms.


Everything we do takes a long time because we tend to be easily sidetracked…

Eli created a flock of turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner.  It makes me smile whenever I open the refrigerator door.

I love Thanksgiving because, unlike Halloween or Christmas or Valentine’s Day, it hasn’t been turned into a shopping occasion.  There is hardly a way to commercialize it.  I don’t waste too much time cleaning because, well, who cares?  I don’t spend too much time cooking, because our dinner is always potluck, and guests bring dishes to share.

Thanksgiving is mostly a bookmark, a reminder that every day can be a day of thanksgiving.  When the kids were little, before dinner we would often go around the table and share with each other the things we were thankful for.  It was our practice at bedtime to look back at the day, and recall the good things that happened, and look ahead to the good things the next day would bring.  People who live their lives with gratitude and appreciation are twice blessed.  Once because they are.  Twice because they know it.

Dear friends, I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving, next Thursday, and everyday!

All words and images copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Where Were You When Mt. St. Helens Erupted? I Covered My Ash…

In 1980, my sister Constance and I took a birdwatching class. At least I tried watching them.  Before I could focus my binoculars, the birds were usually natural history.  Our last trip, to Eastern Washington, was to depart on Friday, May 16th.

“Let’s skip it,” said Con. “Stay home and I’ll buy you dinner.”

I watched our classmates loading gear into four cars, and felt suddenly shy.  But surely I could survive a quiet weekend of birdwatching with a pleasant group of strangers, even if my sister wasn’t there to hold my hand.  I jumped into the first car with room, and waved to Con as we drove off.  I was riding with Bob.  His other passenger, Betsy, was quick to smile and kept up a lively conversation.

But I missed Con that night, and lay awake in my sleeping bag listening to a lone coyote howling in the distance.  The next day I stayed only slightly more focused than my binoculars…until we found a Forest Service birdhouse, and peeked inside at a nest of cheeping baby birds.  Featherless birds aren’t easy to identify, but Peter said they were bluebirds, and I believed him.  Some people think they know everything; Peter really did.  But you’d never know it unless you had observed him carefully, as I had.

Saturday afternoon we hiked into a canyon and made camp.  After the others retired, Betsy and I sat by the fire singing and talking.  We rolled out our bags on the same patch of ground.  As I drifted off, I thought, “Good.  I made a friend.  I learned my lesson.  Now…I want to go home.”

When I awoke, the sun was shining, the bees were humming, and the birds–I know not which–were singing.  It was eight-ish, and camp was deserted.  “They left at six-thirty,” said Betsy, yawning. “I couldn’t make myself get up.”

It could’ve been a sense of foreboding that made us yearn for home, but I suspect it was caffeine withdrawal.  “Pray for rain,” I suggested.

As if on cue, we heard the loud crack of distant thunder.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  More likely a sonic boom, we thought.  We went on to weigh the virtues of cinnamon rolls at the Phinney Ridge Cafe against all-you-can-eat hash browns at Beth’s Greasy Spoon.  But the sky was darkening.  The hum of insects and the twittering of birds had trailed off, and the woods were eerily silent.

“You know, I think it really is going to rain,” I said.

The others, having reached the same conclusion, bustled back into camp.  Within ten minutes we had packed up, donned rain gear, and were following Peter single file out of the canyon. The sky to the west had turned an ominous yellow-green, reminiscent of tornado weather back home.  But this storm wasn’t following the rules.  I could hear rain falling on my poncho, yet I wasn’t getting wet.  The sky rapidly changed to an ugly green-gray.  My eyes were stinging.  I looked more closely at the surface of my poncho.

“It’s dirt!  Peter, there’s dirt falling from the sky!   Oh, my God!  They’ve bombed Seattle!”

Peter whirled about and gripped my shoulders. “No!” he cried. “She did it!  She blew!  Mt. St. Helens blew!”


Nothing could have been further from my mind than volcanic eruptions.  We joked about our class going out with a bang, while Peter studied his map and estimated we were between fifty-five and sixty-five miles from Mt. St. Helens, as the crow flies. The acrid darkness thickened.  We were no longer amused.  Ash was in our eyes and hair, and it was difficult not to breathe it into our lungs.  In Seattle, we’d chuckled at the “In Case of Volcanic Eruption” brochures; now we desperately tried to recall their advice.  This was my first volcano; I wanted to live to tell the tale.

“Use your canteen water to soak your bandanas, and cover your faces to filter the ash,” said Peter.  “Less than a mile to go, but we’ve got to keep moving.  Hold hands or hang onto a belt.  We don’t want to lose anyone.”

I gave Betsy my brimmed hat, because her eyes burned, with gritty ash particles grating between her eyeballs and her contacts.  We stumbled after Peter, unable to see our hands before our faces, but somehow he got us over the last barbed-wire fence to the trailhead.  There we encountered Bob’s personal tragedy–six inches of ash piled on the cars, including his brand-new Toyota.  He was frantic about what the ash would do to his engine and the paint job.  Peter reminded him that our first concern was to get out alive.

We followed Peter’s Volvo into Yakima, although we couldn’t see past the hood, even with headlights on.  Peter’s taillights were barely visible at a standstill; when we started moving, ash flew like talcum powder and the windshield wipers just stirred up the mess.  The interior of Bob’s car was soon covered with a fine layer of pungent ash that over-powered the smell of new car, and defied closed windows, doors, and air vents.  There were close brushes with the ditch at the side of the road, and once with Peter’s bumper.  At last we came to the outskirts of Yakima.

The ash-laden streets were deserted, but The Buckboard Tavern had opened its doors to stranded motorists. Refugees gathered under a television mounted over the pool table.  Mt. St. Helens rated minute-by-minute coverage on the ever-rising statistics, flood damage, missing campers and scientists.  Stuck in our own little ash cloud, we hadn’t realized how lucky we were.  News flash!  All roads in and out of Yakima were closed.

Glumly we stared out the windows.  It was nearly noon, but by the light of the streetlamps, it could almost have been a midnight snow scene. Another wave hit, and the air grew thicker.  Instead of coffee, they started serving beer.  Now and then the swinging doors would bang; all eyes would turn to the newcomer.  Once a cowboy entered, brushing the ash off his coat and stomping it off his boots. “I got a hundred head of cattle out there,” he told anyone who would listen, “and half a dozen newborn calves…”

I thought of the baby bluebirds.  Had they smothered in ash or survived the blast only to die of starvation?   What would they eat?  Who would feed them?

All the laws of nature, as we understood them, were suspended.  But the Real World intruded into our Twilight Zone.  Steve had to give a talk at the U, Russ had a job interview, Betsy said she’d used up all her volcano leave.  And, of course, we had to get Bob’s car to a doctor.  Bob threatened to make a dash for it, and the other drivers were inclined to join him.  Peter advised against it, but agreed to lead the way, if they promised to let him choose the moment.  It was several more hours before the ashfall let up a bit.  We ran for the cars to go home to whatever reality awaited us in Seattle on Monday morning.  As our caravan traveled west, the sky gradually changed from pitch black to gray to an unnatural white.  It was a weird moonscape, devoid of life and color.  When we got to the roadblock, the police waved us on through.  Having gotten through the worst of it, we stopped at Snoqualmie Pass to pose for a photo with buckets and bags of ash collected from pockets, pants cuffs, and car hoods.

It was the weekend of the University Street Fair.  On the way home, we thought of the fortune to be made, if we could bottle and sell the ash we’d brought home, fresh out of the oven.  I even designed a tee shirt for a rather small target audience–birdwatchers caught in the ashfall.

 


Those  entrepreneurial thoughts were forgotten when we topped the pass and saw the first rays of sunlight filtering through ash-dark clouds.  It was nearing sunset, but to me it was the second sunrise on a long and very strange day, such a beautiful sight, I wanted to cry.

Bob dropped me at Con’s, amidst heavy foot and car traffic in the U District. The smell of food and the sound of music filled the air.  Fairgoers in sundresses, cheeks burnt rosy by the sun, still meandered from booth to booth.  “Go home!” I wanted to shout.  “Go turn on your radio. The real world is black and acrid and people are huddled in the dark and dying on the mountainside.”

My sister hadn’t heard the news, but there was still a hot shower, a borrowed bathrobe, and a candlelight dinner for two waiting for me.

I’m so glad I didn’t let insecurity prevent me from having this life-changing experience.  The fortunes made on T-shirts and bumpers stickers were made by others. If you could take everything I learned about birds and put it into the brain of a blue jay, it would have flown backwards. Regrets?  Only one.  Bob broke my heart when he refused to pull over, so I could take our picture next to the “Use Your Ash Tray” road sign.

But here is what I carried away from it.  A tiny bottle of ash collected from my pants cuffs, that I still hang on my Christmas tree each year.

The realization that Mother Nature doesn’t always play by the rules, at least not our rules.  An appreciation fine leadership–thank you, Peter, wherever you are.   Not a day goes by that I don’t thank the sun for rising and the birds for singing.  I am grateful for the good fortune that kept me from becoming a statistic that day.  But I’m still haunted by that nest of baby bluebirds, more non-statistics, and it makes me wonder about the countless stories in this world that will never be told.


All words copyright Naomi Baltuck

This Versatile Blogger Welcomes You to the Planet Baltuck

Hey!  It’s official!  I’m a Versatile Blogger!  First, thanks to these  folks for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award.   

Mike Reverb is a writer with a great sense of humor, plenty of encouragement and useful tips for his colleagues.

Samir, a citizen of the world, is a creative writer who asks thoughtful questions about the art and craft of writing.

Maggie Myklebust, an American living in Norway,  just published her memoir, Fly Away Home, and her blog is great.

And Now….Welcome to the Planet Baltuck.

Eli–a typical inhabitant.

 Part of accepting the Versatile Blogger Award is that I share my world with you–or at least seven surprising and/or little known facts about myself.  So here they are…

1.  There really is a Planet Baltuck up there in the night sky.  It’s named after my big sister Miriam, the white sheep of the family, for her contributions to science.   Learn more about it in my post, After All.

Bea says, “Don’t go away.  There’s much more.  For instance…”

2.    I am a twin.  My brother Lewis is older by three minutes, but I’m bossier.  He must have been hogging all the room in there, because he weighed much more than I did at birth, but I made up for it by stealing his baby bottle.  We are best buddies now; I need to stay on his good side because he’s a great cook, and desserts are his specialty.

3.   I gave birth to my own critique group.  I’m so dang proud of my kids Eli and Bea.   We share a passion for history, art, travel, storytelling.  Best of all, they are great writers, and I can count on them for an honest insightful critique.  To learn more, check out Bea’s blog for writers, Adventures for the Faint of Heart.

 

4.  I was a guest on Romper Room.  I was on the program as part of a West Coast storytelling tour sponsored by General Mills.  It was October, so I told a spooky story, and BOO!  I made Miss Nancy jump!  Does that make me a Don’t’ Bee?

5.  I saw the filming of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  We were on the Yale campus tour four years ago looking at colleges for my son.  It was all very hush-hush, and we didn’t know until we got there what was going on.  Traffic was diverted, curbs were lined with trailers, dressing rooms, antique cars, and camera equipment.  We saw two scenes filmed, including a car scene with old boats from the late forties.  But we couldn’t get close enough to identify the actors.  To learn about my real life encounter with Indiana Jones a.k.a. Harrison Ford, click here.

6.  We came over on the Mayflower.  On my mother’s side, I am descended from four of the original passengers on the Mayflower.  Elizabeth Tilley came over with her parents, John and Joan Tilley, and married John Howland.  He was the only passenger to survive a fall overboard on the journey across the icy Atlantic.  If he hadn’t grabbed a rope trailing behind the ship, I wouldn’t be here today.   Neither would most of America, because almost everyone and his cousin is descended from someone who came over on the Mayflower, whether they know it or not.  To see the ornament we hang on the tree each year to commemorate this event, check out my post, The Christmas Gang.

7.  My favorite candy is Good ‘n’ Plenties.  A sweet burst and a long chew!  When I sent my son Good ‘n’ Plenties in a CARE package, his college roommates teased him for eating ‘old people’s candy.’  But my husband Thom says he read that Good ‘n’ Plenties are a mild aphrodisiac—and then he gave me a box.   I really don’t know about that, but they were very good—both of them.

Now for the best part!    I get to tell you all about these talented and fascinating bloggers as I pass this award on to them.

Island Traveler  is one man’s inspiring journey through life.

Stuff I tell my sister— Good insight into life–and she tells you while telling her best friend, her sister.

I May fly– Lovely photos, humorous and witty.

Susan Wingate—  Award-winning novelist who knows how to herd cats, well, sorta kinda.  But can she write!

Sabrina Garie— A lovely writer who happens to be well-versed in sci-fi.

Saraflower’s Blog— The author of By the Sword, with plenty of  insight and support for writers.

Walking Papers BlogInteresting, insightful, and always intriguing.

Daily Sweet PeasSweet indeed!  Lovely photographs and poetry.

Let’s Cut the Crap--An irreverant view of life after sixty-five.

Sarahpotterwrites— Sarah is a talented musician, artist, and poet.

The ObamaCratMr. J.B. is indeed versatile–he shares recipes, music, poetry, but most of all heartfelt convictions.

Four Blue Hills— A very professional presentation of everything from fun facts to world events.

It’s a Whole New WorldThis is one mom’s everyday life, and what she does to keep smiling.

The Wanderlust Gene— An intelligent and well traveled sixtysomething’s photographs, stories, and insight about life and its adventures.

A Map of Time, a Trip Into the Past-– Fascinating, well told, and often obscure fun facts from history.

Editing Monet’s Garden

Last May, while traveling in France, my sister and I went to Giverny to visit Monet’s Garden.  The line to enter was horrendous, and once we got past the ticket booth, we became part of the swarm of tourists overrunning his house and garden.  We must have heard a dozen different languages spoken, people from all over the globe had come to see for themselves the inspiration for Monet’s most famous paintings.

It was eye candy, a stunning profusion of color!   But instead of the rare and exotic flora I expected, all the flowers were, well, your regular garden variety.  Irises, roses, tulips, pansies, alyssum, forget-me-nots…nothing I don’t grow in my own garden.  Yet they were artfully arranged by height, texture, and color to maximize the effect.  And after all, they were in Monet’s Garden.

I wanted to capture at least the illusion of solitude and serenity, and to photograph the garden as I thought it must have been back in Monet’s day.  I waited for lulls in tourist traffic to get my shots.  But while waiting, I watched hoards of humanity shuffling by, and I caught glimpses of peoples’ lives that I found as moving as anything I saw in those historic gardens. Mothers and children, old couples holding hands, a little boy with eyes only for the baby chicks, an awkward teenaged boy who had eyes only for the teenaged chicks, and a family with four generations of women all sharing a park bench.

While we writers strive to capture a mood or feeling or effect, we should also observe the stories happening all around us.

The first  is like a very pretty still life, or a posed portrait of Mother Nature.  The other is a vibrant, sometimes messy picture of the world, brimming with humanity, and all the joy and heartbreak that life and love have to offer.

There is beauty in it all.

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All images and words © NaomiBaltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Plants.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Vibrant

Harrison Ford and The Wildlife Report

In 1981, at the theater debut of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I whispered to my boyfriend Thom, “Honey, if I couldn’t have you, I’d have Indiana Jones.”

A few years ago, my sister Constance and I spent a week in Jackson Hole, WY, where Harrison Ford has a ranch.  I gave a goodbye kiss to my kids and Thom, my husband of twenty-some years.  “Dang!” I said.  “I forgot to get my hair cut.”

“Why bother?” asked Thom.

“I want to look my best, in case we run into Harrison Ford,” I joked.

From Grand Teton National Park I called in the daily Wildlife Report.  “We saw a moose at Willow Flats, a bear, skunk roadkill, and a doe with triplets.”   Next day it was a coyote, an osprey with a fish, and a bison that peed in public.  The folks at home were very impressed.

One rainy day, after having lunch in town, we walked down the street.  I picked at that last stubborn bit of tuna between my teeth, and noted my reflection in a shop window.  My wet hair was looking pretty scraggly.  “Stimudent?” I asked Con.

She didn’t answer–I turned and followed her gaze–she was staring at the back of a man in tan cargo pants and a matching jacket.  “That’s Harrison Ford.”

“Good one,” I said.  ” But that guy’s too short.”

“Honest!” said Con.

I’d only glimpsed the guy’s back on a crowded sidewalk.  It could be.   “Swear.  On our mother’s grave.”

She wasn’t lying.

“Oh, my God!” I cried.  “They will never believe this back home!  I need proof!  Photo-documentation!”

I drew my camera and followed, elbowing small children and little old ladies out of my way, but I couldn’t catch up.  He jaywalked through traffic and I saw only the back of his head as he went into a ski shop.  My face pressed discreetly against the glass, I saw him walk to the back wall, and the display of…no, not whips, knives or even hats.  Stuff sacks.

He still had his back to me.  I had to know.  I entered the store, but panicked, and went straight to the rack of sunglasses on the front counter.  A clerk  hurried over to help.  But there was no help for me; I had just stalked a man who might or might not be Harrison Ford through the streets of Jackson.  I bolted for the door.   As I escaped, the man glanced over his shoulder.

It was Him.  That night the Wildlife Report included a Big Game Hunt and Worthy Prey.

©2015 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Entertainment.

 

Survival Stories

 

While exploring Etruscan tombs in Tuscany, my sister Constance and I stumbled upon the ancient hilltop town of Pitigliano.

 

We saw many other lovely towns…

…and picturesque villages.

But I loved this place like nowhere else in Italy.  Its story was the key to my heart.  Pitigliano had provided a rare refuge for Jews driven from Spain during the Inquisition. After the Pope and the Medicis forced Pitigliano’s Jews into the ghetto in 1600, they still accounted for twenty percent of the population.  After the war and the Holocaust, a small handful returned to care for the synagogue and to tell the story.

How small?” I asked a local. She shrugged. “Maybe five.”

The Jewish bakery was closed for the Sabbath, and the synagogue was closed because there weren’t enough Jews for a minyan.

But a shop sold matzoh and a confection called Sfratto, the Italian word for eviction.  Sfratto has a filling of honey, walnuts, and oranges, baked into a smooth-crusted loaf shaped like a police baton.   It was invented by the Jews of Pitigliano to commemorate their eviction from their homes and into the ghetto by officers using sticks to beat on their doors.  Four hundred years later, they’re still telling the story, and we’re still eating it up.

In a narrow alley across from the synagogue, I shivered to hear the haunting strains of a lone Klezmer violin drifting down from a second story window.  At first I thought it was a recording, until the music trailed off.  It had to have been played by human, or perhaps ghostly hands.

 

 

Nearby was a doorstep decked with flowers as colorful as the town’s history.  Two cats curled up in a big flowerpot, one cat a black and white mix, the other all black, but I was an English major, and I saw them as symbols of the concrete world of black and white, living in harmony with the fluid world of shadow and story.  The scene was framed by dark medieval walls backlit by the sunny valley, while the valley was alive with vineyards and olive trees…

…yet riddled with ancient tombs.


The paradox seemed to capture the essence of Pitigliano, and of all Italy.  But before I could capture it on film, the cats bolted, and I lost the moment.  Or so I thought.  That night in our apartment in Orvieto, Constance painted…

…while I wrote about Pitigliano.  I loved it for its unique history, for providing refuge when so few others would, for its tiny but stalwart population of Jews determined to protect a precious legacy, for the stories and ghosts that linger in every back alley.

Then Constance showed me her painting.  Alive with color, it conjured the fragrance of honey and walnut, the haunting strains of a lone violin. And there were my cats, just as I remembered them, a perfect balance of black and white, and shadow.

It was reassuring.  In arts or in letters, by word of mouth, or in the guise of a Jewish confection, so long as there is someone left to tell it and someone willing to listen, the story will survive.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

After All!


‘The Poet’ by Constance Baltuck

I am not exaggerating when I tell you my sister Constance is a famous Alaska artist.  After all, she has a show hanging in the Alaska State Museum at this very moment, with several of her paintings in its permanent collection.  She was also just invited to show at the prestigious Artforte Gallery in Pioneer Square in Seattle.  (BTW, my walls are decked with early Baltucks, and Con has promised me their value will skyrocket after she dies.)

She felt these opportunities had dropped into her lap out of the blue.  But how many paintbrushes did she wear out preparing for this ‘sudden’ success?  For thirty years she has steadily produced beautiful art, selling out show after show.  The key phrase here is “After all…”  Yes, after all the hard work and promotion and never never never giving up, she has ‘suddenly’ hit the big time.

On the other side of the brain, my sister Miriam, heretofore the uncontested White Sheep of the Family, is a scientist.  She has worked for NASA, and at the White House for the Clinton Administration, and as the first female director of one of NASA’S three Deep Space Tracking Stations on the planet.  Her contributions to science were recently recognized when they named a planet after her.  Okay, so it was only a minor planet, but even so, it’s official…and if you don’t believe me, just Google ‘Planet Baltuck’.   So another sister busted her butt for thirty years working very long hours in very high heels to succeed in a tough field dominated by men.  That’s what you have to do if you want a planet named after you.

And if you want a book that bears your name on its spine and houses a novel that would make your mother proud, you must never never never give up on your writing.  It is a long hard journey that requires grit, discipline, and a hefty supply of bum glue.  But one day you will find that ‘suddenly’ you are a published author.  In the meantime, don’t be too hard on yourself, and always remember that success is relative.  I remember my mother declaring proudly, “Seven children, and not one of them in jail!”

Do you ever get discouraged?  Can you tell us what you do to maintain your courage and determination?  

If you would like to see more of my sister’s paintings, check out her website at: http://www.constancebaltuck.com/