What Fresh Hole Is This?

hole By Elizabeth Speth 

Every time Angus, the Jack Russell Terrorist, digs a new hole, I think to myself:  “What fresh hell is visited upon us now?”

Lest you think I am melodramatic, let me explain.  Have the stomach to hear me out, and then ye can judge.

Angus digs several holes — about 36 — a day.  In the nine or so years he’s been with us, that makes… let’s see…. multiply by… carry the four… factor in two leap years… seventy billion holes.

It’s not his fault.  He’s a Jack Russell.  They are known for their frantic energy, their non-stop drive to go, chase, chew, jump, yip, run, bark, dig.  I don’t hold these things against him, although my husband swears he is football-shaped for a reason.

My objection to the holes is based solely on three factors.  Location, location, and location.

I’m talking about the holes in the flower beds.  And the dirt sprayed over the walkways.  I’m talking about the holes in the garden, and the subsequent mass slaughter of innocent herbs and tender radishes.  Holes among the rose bushes.  Holes around the propane tank.  Holes in my neighbor’s yard.  Holes in my neighbor’s garden.

Holes in my indoor plant pots.

There are the holes in the riding arena, where my horses will someday snap a leg if I don’t constantly re-fill them, only to turn around and see that little white tail going mad in a new flurry of flying soil.

We have a lot of pasture, and many are the nights I have heard the horrific clack of my teeth as I suddenly step in one, arms full of hay, because Angus has strategically dug right in my walking path between the gate and the feeders.  Between the gate and the barn.  Between the faucet and the water troughs.  Our pastures are so hole-y they ought to be consecrated.  Filling those holes is about as vain an exercise as picking up horse manure every day, but it still must be done.  One does these things.  One keeps up appearances.

You might be tempted to suggest a dog trainer, or a canine psychotherapist, or a strong sedative.  What we need here, gentle reader, is an exorcist.  I am withholding Angus’ allowance until we can afford one, but in the meantime there are the holes, multitudes of them, each one bringing us several inches closer to hell.

This morning, I caught my wheelbarrow on a new one.  It was hidden under the gate, right where I always pass through, often pushing or pulling a loaded cart, to deliver the horse poop to the compost pile.


The wheel of the cart plopped right in, my forward momentum was abruptly arrested, and over the cart went, road apples tumbling everywhere, a warm and fragrant bed upon which I landed after several long seconds of undignified struggling against the inevitable fall.

Angus had the grace to look guilty, although he did not offer to help me re-gather my manure.


“Damn you, Angus,” I said, because no one was around to hear it.

I finished my chores, circumnavigating the hole, and then I went to fetch my shovel to fill it.  Angus ran circles around me as I worked, joyful and energetic, assuming I was having as glorious a time as he so obviously was.  This is why it’s hard to stay mad at Angus.  He is a gleeful dog.

Shovel poised, I approached the gate.  Angus scurried underneath it, as he’s been doing for years, because he’s too impatient to wait for it to open.  I watched him crawl through using the hole like an open tunnel.

I rested the shovel on the ground.  “Come here, Angus,” I said, and he slipped back under, through that perfectly-placed, perfectly-sized hole like a breeze.  He came and sat at my feet.

I took a good, long look at him.  In my mind’s eye, he is still a puppy.  That is because my actual eyes, which will be fifty soon, blur the edges of the everything now.  They still see Angus as a youngster because of his energy and attitude, I guess.  But I did the math right there, and realized he is a middle-aged gent, maybe even a little older than that.

Also, he has gotten stocky, put on a few, as the saying goes.  I hadn’t really seen that before.  I asked him to lie down, then roll over, which he did happily, but was that a little stiffness he struggled against there, getting back up?

“Angus, go back the garden,” I said, and he obliged, flowing like a creamy white rivulet, right back through the hole and under the gate.  I put the shovel away, marveling at the fact that it was entirely possible Angus is taking stock of himself, and coming to some of the same realizations that I must face.

I’m approaching middle age too, and damned if things aren’t starting to widen and stiffen.  Most of my clothing has elastic now.  I need reading glasses.  I use a mounting block to get on a horse, but I don’t intend to stop riding.  Angus needs a hole under the gate, because he does not intend to start waiting for it to open.  We are both trying to maintain a certain standard of living here.


I have to admire the fact that he assessed a need to adjust his environment to his changing needs, and took care of it.  It made me feel better about myself.  And also a little sad for both of us.

So that one hole can stay.  All future holes will be evaluated in light of this Angus epiphany, but I think it is a safe bet that most will be re-filled.

The horses remained unimpressed when I shared my new insights about our tiny, rough-coated, high-pitched and frenzied friend.  They still find him irritating.  They assure me it will be ever thus.


A Portrait of the Artist as a Generous Man

 By Elizabeth Speth

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Kermit Pahkum McCourt believes everyone deserves a little (or a lot of) art. The artist in one of his signature wood tie creations.

Forgive me. I’m about to get carried away here about a beautiful thing.  This is a local story, in that one of my favorite artists is about to open his own gallery nearby, a long-overdue and well-deserved cause for celebration.

But this is also a global thing.  Because the artist, Kermit Pahkum McCourt, firmly believes that beauty should be accessible to everyone.  He prices his work accordingly,  and at his rate of production, there might just be enough to go around.

I don’t know what else to call this but a study in mind-blowingly talented generosity.

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I remember when I first met McCourt, at his work space in an industrial area near a rural stretch of freeway.  He and his dog were there alone, surrounded by a breathtaking array of sculptures, paintings, furniture, garden installations and light fixtures.  Eventually he added jewelry to the list of things he creates beautifully.  I tracked down his work at the Flower Farm, a local coffee shop/ art gallery in my hometown of Loomis, CA, and gasped at the price tags.  In a good way.  Shock gave way immediately to the tingle of possibility at taking these wonderful things home to enjoy every day. There is no other feeling like it.

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This is an old window. Glass is the canvas, and the original wood frame carries its job forward, beautifully repurposed.

He only creates with things that are existing. Canvases can be old glass windows in frames, sheets of metal, rough slabs of wood.



This canvas is actually a piece of sheet metal. Its frame is old wooden barrel planks.

Everything he turns into beauty had a life before. There is no waste. There is only re-creation. You won’t believe what his eyes find in the jaded, faded, dented, twisted, rusted and discarded. That glorious approach to creation in a world that already has too many things, in a society that throws away without thought, deeply enhances the enjoyment of his work.

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He is prolific. Unbelievably productive. Diverse. Tangential. Pioneering. Constant. Copious. There is always, always something new and different coming out of his studio. Jewelry. Ties made of wood. Paintings. This is a good thing. Because wherever he displays his work for sale, it is gone almost immediately. And there is always more. All of it wonderful.

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What drives this fierce, powerful artistic engine?  How to account for so much beauty at such a furious pace?

“Personal freedom,” he says simply.  “While I’m painting I feel no pain.  I’m free.”

McCourt is fast and loose with the fruits of his pursuit of freedom.  They are meant for you and for me to have.  For a song.  With love from the artist.  In fact, you can identify his work by the trailing  signature at the bottom of the canvases, but also by the word ‘love’, which he usually scrawls somewhere on the back, out of sight when the piece is hung, but there like a warm secret nonetheless.

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McCourt was born in 1981 in Susanville Ca. His early childhood was spent in the high desert near Litchfield, which he called “rural living at its finest, (with a) generator to power the well pump, kerosene lanterns for light, and an outhouse.”

His father Mike McCourt is a general contractor, and the years McCourt spent working with him and learning the trade have profoundly informed his art.  He can transform a piece of wood into anything, wire the light fixtures he builds. twist scrap metal into beautiful and massive sculpture.

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A headboard fashioned by McCourt from scraps of wood.

“I could swing a hammer ever since I can remember what a hammer looked like,” McCourt says simply.

His mother Marlene Kramer remains one of his most ardent fans, with a home tastefully full of his art and furnishings.  She let him completely remodel her kitchen when he was quite young, and the cabinetry he designed and built is a thing of functional beauty.

Later, when McCourt moved to Placer County, he continued to work with his father when he wasn’t roaming the countryside with friends, enjoying the kind of partially feral childhood that is a cultural relic in these days of sedentary electronic usage, organized sports, and hyper-protective parenting.

Interestingly, he and his friends used to poke around the abandoned fruit packing sheds that are today a busy hub of galleries and artistic shops in downtown Loomis.  It is here, in the High Hand ‘sheds’, that McCourt will be opening his own gallery on Friday.

McCourt attended Del Oro High School just up the road from the fruit sheds, where he took his one and only art class with teacher John Bowler.

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After graduation, McCourt tried a brief stint at Butte Community College in Chico, but he was restless.

“I hated college,” he says.  “The only course I liked was Badminton.”

Instead he studied for and passed the test to become a general contractor.  He started a contracting business with brother Quincy McCourt, and he held out for three years before giving in full time to his artistic destiny in 2009.

From the beginning, McCourt’s work was a hit, selling out at the Flower Farm, High Hand, and Beatnik Studios in Sacramento as fast as he could produce it.

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Close up of a piece on display at Beatnik Studios in Sacramento.

After two years, he realized he was making a living as an artist.  “But the goal was never the money,” he says.  “The goal was to get the art to the people.”

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McCourt’s work on display at the High Hand Artists’ Cooperative Gallery, before he had a space to call his own.

Last year, his eyes craving new vistas to paint, he packed up his paints, his welder, brushes, jewelry making tools and wood-working equipment, and hit the road, travelling cross-country for ten months, working every leg of the way.

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“That was my starving artist phase,” he says.  “I sold my car, sold tools I could live without, made arrangements for my horse, did two garage sales, and bought a truck and fifth wheel trailer.”

Supporting himself on the road was hard, he said.  He sold his work at farmers’ markets, flea markets and other local venues.

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The artist’s work on display during last year’s cross-country odyssey.

He painted up a storm, made jewelry, and  took some time to ‘watch the whales migrate’.

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McCourt and his constant companion, Mahkahnah.


He came home with a lot of work completed, and a renewed energy to produce more.

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You can see some of it Friday, April 4th at the ‘soft opening’ of his gallery at High Hand from noon to 5 p.m.  The official opening is May 3rd.  While you are at High Hand take advantage of the wine tasting there, pop into the gourmet olive oil shop, visit the other galleries and the sprawling nursery.  You can eat at the restaurant, which is located in a massive conservatory on the nursery grounds.  But whatever you do, go and see McCourt’s work.

For those of you not local enough to take advantage of his new venue personally, check out his Facebook Page.  If you see something you like, get in touch with him that way.  Enjoy. Tell your friends. Bring his art home. He wants you to.  He’ll make more.

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