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“Something Was Happening in the Sky,” 11″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas, 2004, (SOLD)

Dreams about momentous events happening in the sky have visited me all my life — a vast net descending upon the entire nation from space — or — many enormous futuristic air tankers falling out of the sky all at once into an urban landscape. In my dreams the people are electrified, thrilled and concerned, as they are in this painting. But the dogs — thank God for the dogs — are filled only with wonder and delight.  Six dogs live with me at Sawmill Run. They and the sky out here in the woods show me new revelations every day. 

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I live the life of a happy hermit artist these days. Very few people visit. Maybe they’re uncomfortable with the solitude and silence or being out of cell phone range or the wild animals that live in these woods. Maybe they’re afraid of setting foot inside my rickety temporary quarters while I rebuild the cabin next door to live in eventually. But I love it here, more every week, as the years roll by. It is so incredibly peaceful deep in the woods compared with life in the 5-bedroom, 3 bath house in the Philadelphia suburbs where I lived until a little over 3 years ago.

I worked very hard on that place for 9 years with lots of help, building a quarter mile of boardwalks through the woods, gazebos, a Victorian garden house, a big sun room with Plexiglas roof, ponds, fountains, an elaborate pagoda, gardens and so on. Then one day 5 years ago, I suddenly realized that the whole real estate bubble was going to burst, the Peak Oil Scenario would hit hard, the economy would crash, and there was a good chance global climate change might create havoc, too, within my lifetime! I had to get out of there fast and find a place to hunker down and survive!

It felt like sawing off a leg, but I sold that gorgeous house months before the real estate crash and moved into my temporary quarters deep in the woods of  South Central PA Amish farm country, on 10 acres with a half-acre pond and a rushing stream and a 150-year-old barn that was threatening to fall down. It was the pond that sold me on the place. For many years I have kept koi. This pond is fed by fresh water springs, and the koi are very happy. All 60 of them have names, and they would do just fine without me in this balanced ecosystem. In any weather over 45 degrees, and sometimes in the pouring rain, I sit up on my Tree House Deck under the giant pines and watch the koi swim about  in the pond.

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Sawmill Pond is full of 2-foot koi, bass, catfish, and small sunnies, blue and green gills, and tree frogs. It is surrounded by irises and mulberries in spring and freezes solid in winter. It changes and offers a new and different experience every day.

I haul water for dishes, drinking, and cooking, from the same springs that feed the pond, because I think another spring that services the house plumbing may be tainted by the 30-yer-old cess pool that was dug too close to the water source.

I have 6 small to medium-size dogs with indoor kennels and doggy doors leading outside to two dog runs. Out back in the screened porch there are 4 large talking parrots, a love bird, 4 rosellas, and 8 cockateils. Last summer I remodelled a shed and added a screened outdoor space for my 12 chickens. They lay white, brown and aqua-colored eggs — about 9 eggs every day.

The barn is 150 years old. With lots of help I have worked very hard to save it from collapse, replacing the termite eaten floor, and adding an  inside front support wall, and a new roof. After living in cramped temporary quarters with 7-foot ceilings, I often like to just sit in the barn with a drink and talk with friends or enjoy a thunderstorm with all that great vault of space overhead.

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 The 150-year-old barn is my favorite building on the property, and it now serves as my studio and private art gallery where people can come and see a growing body of paintings on canvas and other artwork.

Living like a hermit in the woods is perfect for an artist. A very good old friend from California visited over a year ago with some trepidation, after hearing all the scary descriptions of my new lifestyle. When he poked his head inside the front door, he exclaimed, “Ohhh!… It’s COZY!” And so it is. I paint at the kitchen table most of the time except when creating larger canvases which I paint down in the barn. But in my temporary quarters I have managed to cram in lots of art also.

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The livingroom is only about 13 ft x 15 ft, but it holds a big inlaid hardwood TV cabinet, an oversized chair and couch, a rocker, two more padded chairs and two inside dog kennels with doggy doors to the outside.

Progress marches on. The barn is saved and functioning as a studio and gallery. The cabin which will become my future home is developing nicely and it won’t be long until I can move in there and begin remodelling my temporary house into a nice studio, office and guest space. In the future I see large sculptures and mosaics in gardens along walkways and trails through our woods and by the stream and pond. I envision a humming painting and sculpture studio and frequent visitors coming to see the work. I have been here for more than three years now, and my dreams are coming true, one day at a time. It is hard work, but I love it, and I believe this is the perfect place for survival and making art and living a happy and peaceful life during these uncertain times.

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Sawmill Run as it rushes toward the Susquehanna River. I often enjoy the half-hour hike beside the stream, through 78 acres of incredibly beautiful Pennsylvania State Game Land to the river.

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Sawmill Road becomes so rocky and uneven as you approach the Susquehanna River that it is nearly impossible to make it through in a vehicle without four-wheel drive, but it is a wondrous hike.

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Here on Sawmill Pond the tree frogs have been singing in multi-part harmony as part of their annual mating ritual. Every year the first warm evening of spring brings the great frog orgy — green frogs, brown frogs and red frogs all ballooning their throats, trilling ecstatically and creating the next generation wherever you look. On that evening anyone walking around our half-acre pond has to be careful not to step on deeply preoccupied couples. My six dogs love to chase them back into the water. Over the next several days there are large thick ribbons of frog eggs all along the sunnier side of the pond at the water’s edge. That’s the situation today — many ribbons of frogs eggs that look like coiled snakes in the shallows. Soon there will be millions of tiny tadpoles all around the edge of the pond. The frogs are still here and I am so grateful. I have lived in other places where they disappeared, and their song was not heard again. I will do whatever I can to keep them alive and healthy. After all, they were here first.

 

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Kevin Miller works on “Fallen Angels,” his 6 ft x 8 ft oil painting on canvas

This is the beginning of a discussion about art and life deep in the woods. I sold my big 5-bedroom/3-bath house on 1.1 acres in the Philadelphia suburbs, just before the real estate crash and bought 10 acres, just a 20-minute walk through beautiful state game lands to the Susquehanna River in South-Central PA 12 miles north of the MD line. Some people call this area “L’il Alabama.”  I decided that it was better for my ultimate survival to move from an upper middle class celebrated home to an old, rickety house in the woods where cell phones don’t ring and you could yell your lungs out and nobody would hear you. Most people thought I was crazy. Some still do. 

Then the whole world economy crashed and I knew I had been right. My fortune 500 business consultation work slowed way down, and I began concentrating on my chickens and the half-acre pond with 60 2-foot-long koi, and my 6 dogs and 16 parrots, and making art — all kinds of art — like multi-media constructions made from junk mail, plastic trash, and dollar store finds — and Provence Style landscapes and still life paintings inspired by Cezanne and Picasso and Southern France — and fantasies — and good old abstract expressionism. Art of all kinds is good. I cannot and will not limit myself to one form of expression. But I am more than happy to limit myself to the infinite world of nature’s beauty within these ten acres most days.