Moonlight, Dog, Bell

As April — National Poetry Month — draws to a close this week, this blog post may serve as a reminder of the poetry in everyday life.
full moon
A springtime full moon in East Hampton Durell Godfrey

   It’s 3 in the morning in Springs, on the night of March 20, when the moon’s at the perigee of its orbit, as close to the earth as it gets. Ned — who is now nearly 11 months old — woke me up a little while ago with a paw on my shoulder. I got out of bed and walked to the door to let him out in the garden, and a clutch of perceptions happened all at once.
    First, the moonlight was wonderfully bright, a foggish glow like theatrical lighting. Second, something was happening just outside the gate, where I’d piled a big stack of euonymus branches from a tall spindly shrub I’d just put out of its misery. Deer think this plant is beyond delicious, something I’d understood better when I cut the branches that had been stripped to the height a doe could reach. I kept noticing a sweet, lightly spicy scent, like a much watered-down odor of carnations.
    Just as I registered that a deer I could hear but not see was just a few feet away, grazing on the leaves, Ned did too, and the deer noticed us; it must have leapt and turned — I heard the strike of hooves on gravel once and then the faintest sound of hurry, gone almost before it was there. Ned has been in the vicinity of any number of deer and never really paid attention. Until recently he’s been absorbed in his puppyish ways, playing with a stick or chasing a leaf while a doe ambled 20 feet away on the path. Not long ago we slowed down in the car and together watched a mulish-looking younger one walk across the asphalt. Ned observed but did not comment.
    But that changed tonight; he went flying at the gate, barking, and I told him he’d have to stay in — he has ways of besting the fence, when he really wants to — and he went wandering off into the garden.
    A week ago I bought a bronze bell probably about the size of my own heart at the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art in Chelsea. Well, probably not bronze, but some cheaper amalgam of metals cooked up in Tibet, where it was cast or hammered into its pleasingly rough shape. It has a wooden tongue and makes a startlingly clear tone when it’s struck. Wake up, it seems to say, every time it’s rung just once. I’d planned to hang it on the doorknob so Ned could use it to tell me when he needs to go out; Arden had a string of bells from Pier 1, back in the day, and he’d jingle them with his nose when necessary.
    When I brought the bell back to the apartment, Ned was clearly enchanted. He heard that tone, raised his head, and drew up his spine in that way dogs have of physically demonstrating their complete attention. Then he came bounding to the bell: He wanted it. So I wasn’t sure my plan would work. But the afternoon I went large foundation that was also destroyed. “Adelaide had a theater underground with seating for 100 people.” Occasionally, guests would be escorted down a hall to a coded special door and then another coded door, leading to a room full of Picasso and Monet paintings.
    Upstairs, the couple’s Shaker furniture collection and antiquities gave the classic lines of the buildings a further timeless elegance. “A priceless Egyptian artifact would be used to hold a cupboard door shut.” If someone touched or moved an object, Ms. de Menil “wouldn’t care, but a guest, most likely an expert, would say ‘be careful, that’s some fourth-century thing.’ ” All of her possessions were special, “but she liked to use her stuff. She bought the houses to save them, and she put them on the beach and used them.”
    The houses and barns were collected from properties all over the South Fork and “placed on the landscape with the precision and care of sculptures in a park,” Mr. Goldberger noted in his book introduction. “They turned these small, exquisitely gentle houses into discreet pavilions, furnished with a minimalist sensibility, each connecting in its own way to the magnificent landscape beside the dunes. The houses bespoke simplicity, and precision, with a quiet strength that managed to make a vast oceanfront estate seem like a place of understatement.” The couple lived there for some 40 years.
    Initially, Ms. de Menil hired Mr. Powers to chronicle the process for her own use. They became acquainted when Mr. Powers and his wife were brought to dinner as guests of a guest. “We were invited back subsequently and stayed a few times at one of their 18 houses. They liked us and liked to have artists as guests.” He recalled seeing Alan Lomax, the ethnomusicologist, singing at the fireplace and being a guest when I.M. Pei and Chuck Close were visiting. “If you have a billion dollars, an artistic bent, and 18 houses, you can’t help having a busy social calendar,” he said.
    Gradually, he began to see the project as something more. He was concerned, however, that his change from black-and-white film to color digital photography would not work in a book. He consulted with Stuart Smith, a book designer whose work he respected, who said it could be done. With 500 images placed on the floor, “we came up with a flow . . . and when we found the flow, I wanted the book.” The concept still seemed like a long shot: “There were some houses and they moved at a quarter-mile an hour — not exciting.”
    Plus, he felt it was a dying form. “I love reading books, fiction, photography books, but I think it’s over.” This assumption, however, made him more determined, in that it was likely his last chance to do a photography book. “Something I could tell my grandchildren about or something I could pass to them.”
    Mr. Goldberger also found the change in mediums to be appropriate. The black-and-white photos signal that “the past life of the houses is now to be seen only in the softer, grayer tones of memory, and that it is the new, public life of the houses that is the real thing. Color in these photographs represents reality, and the future.”