Friday 26 June 2015


Fish Pond – a "nonagenarian" perspective

When I came back to Stockholm from my two months' visit to Berkeley in June 2010, an intriguing miniseries was shown on Swedish television. It was called "John Adams" and gave us Swedes a refreshing course in the American independence years. Educative as it was, there is only one episode that etched itself onto my memory. It dealt with President John Adams as a nonagenarian.

Old and worn down, almost crippled and bowed he staggered along in his garden, grasping with his trembling right a staff whilst leaning heavily on his son. Still, his mind was unbroken and full of the uncanny creativity of age. This showed clearly in a declaration he made to his offspring, which I take the liberty of quoting verbatim:

"I have seen the Queen of France with 18 million livres of diamonds on her person. But I declare that all the charms of her face and figure, added to all the glitter of her jewels, did not impress me as much as that little shrub right there! My mother always said, that I never delighted enough in the mundane. But now I find, if i look at even the smallest thing, my imagination begins to roam the milky way!"

… did not impress me as much as that little shrub right there!
John Adams (mini-series). Click on the picture to see the sequence!

I have not quite yet arrived at that level of enlightenment, even if I see myself closer to John Adams' stage of life than to that of Emil Ems only five years ago! Still, this little story got me thinking. I have been a very busy man during the first seven years of my retirement, restlessly hammering away at the keys of my computer, so as to arrive at the ultimate end: the publishing of my great "oeuvre". Now that is finished, I am somewhat at a loss. What should I do now? Can there possibly be a task still worth doing?

Fish pond – a "septuagenarian" perspective

The John Adams episode told me to relax. As we grow older, the world around us appears to be shrinking. Old friends pass away, old passions fade, formerly strong feelings only leave an afterglow, however pleasant. But the genuine urge to investigate the universe remains; the brain accepts that the world has become smaller, and starts appreciating details in the small.

"Objets trouvés" in Marcia Donahue's garden "gallery"

Thus, I can permit myself to cease dreaming of grand projects. Even small ones, which would concentrate on what my aging mind is interested in, will suffice to keep the creative flame alive and burning.

A recent experience reinforces this conclusion. I am presently back in Berkeley for a short stay. This time no grand projects, just the simple task of meeting old friends and acquaintances, and present them my new book as a gift. In that context, one of those, Karl Reeh, invited me to visit an old artist friend of his, called Marcia Donahue.

This picture and the following are all taken in Marcia Donahue's garden

Now, Marcia is an intriguing artist. She takes a delight in shaping small objects, hiding them away in her lustrous garden. The latter is so densely planted that it likens a wild jungle in South Asia, barely leaving room for small pathways and, in its center, a small pond where golden fish are feeding on the water lilies.

Each Sunday afternoon, she keeps her garden "gallery" open to visitors. Whilst Karl was chatting with the artist, I ambled around within the dense greenery, admiring all the miniature marvels created by Marcia. Unfortunately, my camera chose to quit on me, to my despair. But the artist, recognizing my creative eagerness to document it all, graciously gave me permit to revisit the garden at any time, whenever I would deem conditions favorable for picture taking.

So Saturday last, in late afternoon, I got my act together and walked down to Wheeler Street to revisit this enchanted place. The result can be seen in the pictures I am adding below. They all inspired me greatly, let me tell you. But before letting you look at them, a final exclamation seems in order, in the spirit of John Adams, to honor a great Berkeley artist and for having found a new perspective on life and work:

There is no hurry anymore, when all is said and done!

"Rejoice evermore!"

Sculpture shaped by Sara Tool, Marcia Donahue's daughter 


Censor said...

Emil, it was wonderful to visit with you again and have the pleasure of reviewing some of your photos with you on hand to fill in the details of their creation.

This garden is one of our little local treasures so it is extra special to have you document it for us.

I hope you can revel in the unparalleled joy of just being!

Hugs to you,


Anonymous said...

What you are writing here is really great. Hope to see you soon!
Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Underbart Emil! Tack. Birgitta

Jamie Brown said...

Beautiful and peaceful!

Anonymous said...

Otroligt vackert - som vanligt. Men du har en poäng om att lämna det stora som engagerat under ett aktivt liv och se det fina i det lilla och stillsamma.
Göran W

Anonymous said...

All is not said and done, by no means. For instance, and first of all: you have to write your memoirs.

Emil Ems said...

Dear Lars,
Your wish is my command! After seven years' hard labour, my retrospective came out of the printer a month ago. Even if it may not rise up to your expectations, this is my way of writing my life's story, partly in letters, but mostly in prints! You will soon receive your copy by mail. In the mean-time, you can have a first glance on my website

Marcia Donahue said...

Hello Emil!

I just read your essay and admired again the beautiful photos. Well done! Thank you so much! I will forward this on to my aging friends, and even the young ones. I've already sent it on to my daughter Sara, who is in Berlin now. She should get a thrill to see her work so well recorded, considered and admired. So do I.

Many thanks! And all good wishes to you.

Anonymous said...

Lieber Emil!
Wie schön, dass Du Deine zwei großen Projekte erfolgreich abschließen konntest und nun wieder Freunde und Bekannte in den USA besucht hast! Oft sind auch die 'kleinen Dinge' und die 'kleinen Freuden' besonders wertvoll. Dein bezaubernder neuer Blog und Deine - wie immer - exzellenten Bilder zeigen das sehr gut.

Liebe Grüße und alle guten Wünsche für den Sommer aus dem derzeit recht heißen Wien,

Anonymous said...

Dear Emil,
Many thanks for your wonderful reflection inspired by the great founding Father!
Indeed! All is not said nor done as long as you are able with William Blake:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

So carry on!