Friday, April 21, 2017

Wolf in an Enriched Setting

Flat countryside full of watery pockets that freeze and relax back into cool swampland spawned this painting. My home region along the Canadian border remains wolf habitat, and for a person a wolf sighting tends to be remarkable and quickly over, since the wolf wants to get away. I wanted to portray one wolf that stood, seemingly sadly I thought, in front of me in a way that so much wildlife art does not pick up on. When I reflect on North American paintings of wolves I think of wolves in glorious poses with heads high, or wolves engaged in chases. My Tuesday morning wolf from the spring of 2016 paused broadside to me, ducking her head and exuding suspicion at being viewed by someone from the road. I had a moment's vision of German shepherds or similar dogs made afraid by a family member's loud impatience, cowering. This wolf cringed with lowering head and ears a bit but then exited tall and trotting, with a sense of her own dignity coming back to her, I felt, as she went. Her path was I think of her own making, from off a piece of ATV trail into a convenient grove of aspens.

This art piece aims to exalt our continent's lingering timber wolves in all their well-warranted shyness, which helps them save their own lives concurrently with all our industrial expansion and superstition about how cruel wolves are and how eager to eat us, not to mention prejudice with regard to wolves slaughtering our livestock. The composition seems overpowered by the flatness of the lands hereabouts. Depth occurs in layers, with rain clouds behind a distant line of forest, and then the grove of 'doghair aspens' all squeezing from the flat meadow behind the wolf, who is assuredly the star of the painting, exposed like a potential victim in front of a human ogler, whether or not the human is armed and dangerous. A land's marshy flatness combined with cold climate or soil infertility may work in favor of its remaining vacant from people's standpoint. But this little wolf landscape was too flat and too inconclusive, to my judgment. It might to someone else evoke a scene out a window, in which a solitary wolf is vanishing at a run. But the open-ended issue for me is how that in-the-flesh wolf would or wouldn't convey fear of whatever had sent it off at a run. That picture, outside my own experience, is still a mystery. An art piece about a fleeing wolf might better be dominated by grass and landforms, the traditional retreat of wild wolves which cover so much countryside ( up to125 miles in a day, according to Barry Lopez in his Of Wolves and Men) in all their questing, long-legged might.

So the first wolf scene as it was lacked context. I still needed to show that the wolf knew how to save itself from the hazard that comes with a human encounter. Through that context comes more of the poetry of little trees whose whole purpose from their tender beginnings is to reclaim open land, making cover for littler and larger lives both plant and animal and sparkling, quivering, delighting us as we cross the country looking out along it. Is it possible that this wolf in art, whose form never underwent any revision except a little more contouring of its fur coat in the meantime, has gained in dignity because a grove of sapling aspens grew up around its route of escape? A bit of added downslope, as well, takes away from the earlier sense that the wolf is on a course into a hole in the ground, or oblivion.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Lonesome Retreat vs. a Frenzy of Adaptation

In winter when soils and bog waters are frozen there is a creek I walk just about due westward, out of hearing range of most anything human except the odd gunshot or a plane, high up. I'm on the ice or on erratic marginal land petering into islets sometimes just big enough to support one of my feet, with little bog plants bearing leathery reddish leaves all between my strides, which are slow and ponderous in case I start to hear a sheet of ice cracking. Also I'm listening, since I want to see the most secretive, other warm-blooded creatures that venture through our spruce bogs. On each side stand the tree citizens of the bog, old black spruces and tamaracks maybe as tall as a store building on the edge of town. They take a long time to grow in the acid-rich watery soil, which in certain spots is a living upholstery that bobs on top of water if stepped on.

A boreal chickadee, more predictably found at one of the feeders in prior winters, would be welcome if I could hear any chickadees at all, but this time hardly a chickadee throughout the afternoon, and no wheezy boreal chickadee voice this whole winter long. They're shyer than the every-day black-capped chickadees, much more selective of their habitat, and--could it be--learning to stay away from ourselves, the bipeds that talk and lift binoculars at them. Yesterday I noted only the chet-chet of white-winged crossbills calling from one to another high up somewhere where there must have been cones on firs or spruces.

It's become significant to me how much oftener, if it happens at all, I see my wild four-legged kin from the road where I'm driving than I do anywhere I happen to be walking. Or if I meet a big mammal from a trail I'm walking or skiing it goes by in a flash, like the cougar silhouetted off to my right in post-sunset forest by a river, or some low brown animal or other deep in grass ahead of me on a fishing afternoon. Cars quietly coursing a county road or driveway seem to be more trusted since the other creatures know them not to swivel around suddenly or leave the road but to keep their bearings, though risk is intensified if a car stops at any point. What wild animals make of ATVs probably fits parameters of its own including the particulars of terrain.

In any case rare creature-sightings come as surprises in places to any degree wild or worked through our own industry, like bird rarities dropping in on suburban lakes or farmers' mud flats. In the Anthropocene Era, the geological time period that mass human activity is said to have launched beginning with the atomic bomb in the mid 20th century, every shy outnumbered animal a person sees can be thought of as having some human influence brought upon what it breathes or circulates through its tissues, or where its travels have taken it. But if it lives, rejuvenates itself, bears offspring and shows itself off to respectful gawkers that it halfway accepts, it's made some adaptation to our ever-growing takeover of earth, so far. For those of us excited by novelty and resilience in the animal kingdom, hope endures.

                            Mixed-media pencil-watercolor: Pecking Order in the Collapse of Seasons

Right about now, worldwide, leading people are crazed by the opposition of one imaginary vision--impossible endless growth and monetary enrichment--to the need of limits so that diverse peoples and other creatures that we know and don't know can hold on, in their life cycles replenishing what humans in their mega-dreaming have continued to sap--all kinds of natural resources. We're in the gravest of danger from wars that beget other wars that successively undercut what we all need to sustain us. The struggle seems inexorable, since too many business-immersed people making up corporations know nothing but the mandate of growth; there can only be a crescendo and a collapse. All kinds of living things, meantime, are moving to where fear or new atmospheric conditions sweep them. We have exotic plants and animals, and we have extinctions where these things were stranded in the only homes they knew.

Only a cancer grows until it kills its hosting organism, in this example the mother Earth.

The mixed-media art piece shown above, Pecking Order in the Collapse of Seasons, was drawn from an initial scene in grittiest downtown Duluth, Minnesota where imported, naturalized bird species like the English sparrows and the Eurasian tree sparrow shown on the wall commingle in the breezes, in the wake of confused, abbreviated seasonal phenomena, with stray plants that will grow in the poor soil at the footings of a parking lot, or out of cracks, plants whose seeds were borne from nearby beaches or abandoned farms or gardens way inland. Sorrow yet wonderment at all kinds of transitions out across the natural world amid the chill of this past winter attended this work in a corner of my new home, which I think I get to keep for a while. Dried clippings of last year's weedy fruit and flowers served as my models. The piece is 12 x 9 inches or 30.2 x 22.7 cm. unmatted, and is painted in watercolor and pencil on cold-press 140 lb.watercolor paper. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

In which the Wind-borne Find themselves Impelled

This winter, for two full days on separate week-ends I've been one of the birders heading over northwest to try and see a rare bird visitor, the curve-billed thrasher who should normally be found in warm arid places mainly in the far southwestern U.S. My work priorities during the last three episodes of rare birds have made me postpone the drive over to wherever the sighting was happening by at least a day while I ran errands or took care of some first thing first. Then by the time I got there the bird would be out of sight, maybe or maybe not gone for good where less attention would be on it. Storms, or gales, have a lot to do with odd bird arrivals or departures. Yet why a thrasher from hot lands of chaparral, sage and cacti would opt to roost in spruces, both ornamental and native, in Itasca County, Minnesota all beset by frozen peat bogs in January's deep freeze no one has explained so far as I know, but it's interesting to think about animals no matter what kind they are, and what some sports among them may do partly by choice. For reasons of our own, too, birders are compelled to zoom across miles of highway to see a new kind of bird for its unique evolutionary splendor, never mind that it might be immature and in drab plumage.

If this bird continues to be seen in the same neighborhood I figure on making time again to go and try finding it along with the others who will be trying, most having come a lot many more miles than the 36 I've been traveling to get there.

Meanwhile I'm most of the way through the homespun travel memoir From Blueberries to Blue Seas by friend and neighbor Curt Bush, published just last year by the Savage Press of Superior, Wisconsin. In 2013 Curt followed where his heart and fascinations were leading him, taking a 28-foot sailboat he had bought and re-outfitted for a long solo journey out of Duluth and down the other Great Lakes, out the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Coast of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, ominous with winds and seasick rollers, crags and sunken rocks and three-day fogs. Having trained himself on earlier, less-well-adapted boats on the perilous near-shore waters of Lake Superior he had gained the skills it took for him to survive storms, mysterious tidewaters, shoals and other deceptions of nature besetting the long route from the Upper Midwest to the sea. The story is as lighthearted as the teller's own typical manner, but  recounts his stresses and moments of rage along with his delight in places, landmarks and friends met, cherished and left behind. In the part I read today he is nudging his way along the coast of Nova Scotia in a fog and a headwind, with reefs and boulders to either side, making only 30 miles in a day, using charts, an instrument called a chart plotter and his anxiously squinting eyes in order to keep from wrecking against a surface he might not have seen. He puts up for the night in a bay on an island wrapped in fog, the only sheltered bit of water the maps reveal, demonstrating how, even in the technological age, a person can still painstakingly venture with something of the attitude of fear, daring and triumph known in the Age of the Explorers over lands they crossed, at a pace truer to that period before mechanized transit. No human may have been there before him, he'd have supposed for at least a moment. This reader would love to have had the know-how to make this trip herself, or a different trip lots like it.

The thought came to my mind as I was reading, and not for the first time: what if an ancient overland traveler, a North American of 200-300 years ago, could be reincarnated and sent walking the familiar country, with at least a vague idea of how much time had elapsed. What would the person see that still evoked the place in those bygone centuries; at what rediscoveries, besides the stark changes, would the person exclaim to some modern-day companion, like me? Could it be that as long as there is humankind there will still be be a few trekkers on foot or by sail or by hand-powered boat, seeing what there is up close and intimate, ending up spellbound by the hand of nature?

In our time when the urban hordes and the businesses supposed to serve us all threaten to use up or wash away soils, acidify waters and ruin the climate for anything out in the sun, it seems to me a kind of learned adaptation to detach in happy-go-lucky style and move within the moment, eternalizing it inside the self. Whatever the weather we'll weather the weather (if the means persist) as some old song said. It's easiest if the present weather is a kind you savor--bright if you adore the sun, dim if that fits your temperament..

Remembering back to last fall when week after week of August-balmy sun prevailed and unusual people like me, not particularly a sun lover, fretted that we might have crossed into a new winterless era marked most of all by long dark nights with the interspersion of a little frost, if nothing else, I've been drawing and painting a different, recent bird visitor. Day after day back then we had had southwesterly winds. Those must have been the impetus for the sudden, startling Eurasian tree sparrow seen on a weekday morning from within my car where I slouched in the driver's seat looking over a call list I had marked up. This was in an alley-side parking lot in downtown Duluth where English sparrows whirl and forage, pigeons peck and gulls swoop for morsels dropped or kicked out of cars. I had seen my first Eurasian tree sparrow not quite two years previous, a visitor to Hastings in southern Minnesota during that January. But now as I looked at the specimen just an arm's length the other side of my windshield, on top of an embankment, I was stirred with a memory of rushing from the car in weeks recently past and glimpsing what may have been an earlier Eurasian tree sparrow but dismissing it through inattention. Some days later a local authority on birds up the Lake Superior shore saw another Eurasian tree sparrow in the town of Two Harbors. I connect these strays with the southwesterly winds that must have swept them from Missouri or neighboring Illinois where their species, by some whim introduced from Germany in the 1870s, can be most reliably sought among the much commoner, more raucous, grubbier-looking English sparrows.

Work-in-progress with English sparrows and sole Eurasian tree (or German) sparrow on top of a cracking, very American retaining wall

As the days lengthen and thaws allow me the chance, I will keep at this little 12 x 9" piece of work that shows both species (not true sparrows) side by side but mostly minding their own affairs each befitting their  kind, with a background that suggests crumbling, dispersion, residues and traceries of what once made up the area environment. The mood should suggest the whimsical and fleeting, the weather-borne, soon gone, restless and unstable, given over to wandering for maximal stimulation if no other gain.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Brought Beyond Fear - Winter Introspections on a Christmas Eve

Air travel makes me feel that I contain shades of people from eons back in ancestral times and places, who make themselves felt in a kind of glee that we, here and now, aren't confined to ground travel at any speed, least of all walking, and that we're privileged to swoop away over the curvature of earth that only heavenly bodies daily pass across. I feel it in a swell of tears behind my eyes. Holidays are my normal excuse for air travel, so I'd have to admit that sheer wistfulness, excitement at the prospect of rejoining daughter, sister or cousins, precious members of a small far-flung family, causes this feeling. I think too that even for frequent long distance travelers a reluctance is a given, no matter what, at the prospect of leaving home; after all we might never come back. But the exhilaration of the hundred-miles-an-hour take-off  implies a rebellion over any patch of live ground we've stood on, the heritage of ancestors, where soil bacteria, mosses and algae and other tender organisms have continued to support us. We're dismissing it now, at the same time as we might explode in a failure of control at some level of the massive combustion all around us that's propelling this plunge into flight. The sentiments bubble and overflow, yet in the terribleness of what we're riding we might well be prepared to close our consciousness abruptly, succumb to whatever's next. This is how I experience take-off in a jet plane.

I've left the bog lands of the Lake Superior watershed for New York City in a cloud mass that gives the plane a shaky course as the last blue light of day dims blackish. The floor of clouds is characteristically a snowfield with upwellings that fade into night. There is a wilderness aspect to what view is possible out the window away from the travelers around me. They are watching wi-fi movies or are napping; most of them naturally I can't see. It's two hours to New York. Before I begin to notice any degree of tilt into our descent I observe white lights and red way below, a small plane at an altitude to be just skimming the cloud floor. The lights wink, and there's a blue one too. A plane? Or a snow plow? Are the clouds just at the level of some stretch of the Adirondacks that we are flying over, and there's a plow cleaning off a high piece of road engulfed in clouds? I feel as if I'm the only one in the world to be seeing this sight and trying to figure out who that is, doing what.

When you fly in a jet plane there comes at some stage into your descent a relaxation of sound, a sort of prolonged antiphon to the roar that must have been your ascent, and your ears themselves have dimmed with changes in air pressure. You've settled into a glide. In the grey floor out the window rents (gaps) are opening and lit structures pass glowingly near us. We sink into a course that takes in gem-work of night lighting, housing and businesses, all in elegant curves and geometrical arrays. It stretches on and on forward in a patterning that enhances the knowledge that this is Christmas, but that in another part of my mind speaks of infestation. Lights in this case are about triumphs in business and in life; motley colored lights are the emphatic Christmas reminders seen from the air. But America down beneath us is also taken over by ourselves, a most sophisticated life form that like all weeds and pests who have mastered their environment admit little or nothing about their own limits. Through more and more of these exurbs we pretend we can go on encrusting more of the ground and slurping more of the water that mix for our nourishment. And now that superstructure and enterprise is off-gassing into intense weather phenomena that ever oftener come back for us in escalating degrees of danger, but we go on making jet fuel and expanding the airports and hyping the economic growth that boosts ever more of the take-over. We have seen our own heyday by and large and we need to adjust to what comes after, which somehow needn't be our extinction, don't you want to think?.

                        Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY on Christmas Day 2016 - winter imitates spring

Like the skiers of the world and other snow-lovers I'm saying good-bye to winter landscapes, which are not going away but are changing to be muckier and greyer and browner. But tradition remains strong in each of us, tradition that celebrates the unchanging look of places, seasons, faces, whatever we cherish. On a night like this full of a sense of the festive, of a knowledge of precedent and of ways that have worked so long and well, isn't there no end of possibility? That the majority know what will need to stay in place to make way for a livable future, that the same majority will count, will succeed in the midst of all their places worthy of saving, and that all these thinkers and devotees and protectorates will, united, be enough to enable future generations who guard against the deadly temptation into perpetual, impossible growth...?

Looking at my own wall art where I live (including framed photos) I'm inclined to admit that winter was always the peak of the year to me, whether or not I'd dare to say it's my favorite season. Winter spins off spring, after all, and is the culmination of autumn. It's in my nature to discourage people from dismissing winter as a dread time and instead to see it for its glories--get out there, look long and look close even if you have to do it from a car. Two original artworks are these:

                         March: Red-winged Blackbird over Lake Pepin (Mississippi River) Blufflands 
                            original watercolor framed at 14 1/2 x 17 1/2 inches framed 

           original watercolor and gouache 16 x 20" matted

Also on -   Surreal Snow Landscape Boreal Forest Cliff with Gull Collision into Rock Facade....

Friday, October 28, 2016

Hollow Hearts in the Anthropocene Era

It must be every waking hour now that I get back to thinking of the resisters/protectors out to the west at Standing Rock in North Dakota, doing what a group of  local citizens can do to stave off deadly industrial development of their home land. Would I ever go out and join that effort or one closer to me? The thought of being captive, jailed or beaten up, is too much for me. And I'm alone, no partner to take up my projects and responsibilities...

Those tribal  people are our most immediate best hope for slowing, at last stopping the suicidal zig-zagging of pipelines across the United States. I heard the filmmaker Josh Fox yesterday, being interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now saying there are plans to build 300 new power plants to process fracked gas in this country, requiring thousands of miles of new pipeline which will be ill-received to say the least by most of the landowners whose acreage gets picked as a corridor. As weather and climate repercussions advance and convince more and more decision makers that we've got to 'leave it in the ground' then rounds of civil disobedience, not to mention things I don't want to mention, will be visible in more and more places. From climate researchers comes the report that in 2015 the atmospheric carbon load was averaging 400 ppm, as it continues to surpass the much publicized goal of no more than 350. And meanwhile the mid-continent highways still zoom with super-sized gas or diesel pickup trucks driven at 70 to 80 miles an hour, because little cars don't have enough power for those mighty drivers.

When will I give up driving a gasoline car--or any car?

At the start of October I circled Lake Superior again in my quirky little old hybrid car, tent-camping on a stack of air mattresses and folded comforter two nights along the way, heading from west to east. Beaches and roadways and dooryards were a-twitch with southbound migrant sparrows (white-crowned, song sparrow and fox sparrow) and the short scooting flights of American pipits, bound as normal from stony open northern Canada to wintering places deep into the United States. I was so glad to watch them and imagine the stages of their traditional year-to-year travel. I had this piece of mixed-media watercolor to finish, with its flying pipit, and so put in a lot of indoor time, window-lit, and shore and clifftop time, ultimately consolidating the piece from a greater width because of damage I had done to the paper. Evidently two coats of masking fluid were to blame, the lower layer when I scraped it away taking the surface and sizing of the paper right off with it. It's a mistake I'd like to remember never to make again. But I'm not sure that the earlier 12-inch wide version of this work would have conveyed any more exact aura of Lake Superior calm and a pipit than this miniature at 6 x 9.25 inches, ready to mat and frame. Small is beautiful all over the universe.

                                      Calm and a Pipit : Lake Superior 

Meanwhile I continue sifting among the layers and particles of my own climate-related depression.  It's not a paralyzing state of mind, but more of a pall over all my emotional resonance with the lands I look out upon. They appear much as always but are emptier, because fewer birds and other vertebrates hang on, their reproduction down and mortality up.  At least in the short term I cross miles of countryside each day; for me it forms a kind of inner landscape. There was a time when open vistas made my heart sing like a meadow of nesting songbirds of every family known to me. Now the song is musical theory for the most part, or chants I make, driving along, to quiet anxieties, the radio in the background. It's like owning the fact that you're old and facing death, though many around you are significantly older; your best memories are largely if not all made in other times, and the whole topic is best avoided to maintain an ideal level of functioning. Joyfully, there are still visions of splendor out in nature, best expressed in visual art.

Those of us who suffer from the melancholy of watching natural systems wither under pressure from all our uses, gaseous and liquid toxins and climate change as a consequence of these things have to console ourselves however we can. Reading on these topics can help, as experts' research findings bring insight. Walter Youngquist is one of the hosted writers with Negative Population Growth or NPG, working to reduce U.S. population growth especially from the standpoint of curbing immigration and births to immigrants, though also by lowering domestic birth rates. His essay 'The Singular Century' deals with energy sustainability given the world's inevitably shrinking output and reliance upon oil. He reminds us that these 300 or so years of increasing automation and affluence (the Industrial Revolution) look to be a moment in time, even as we move toward renewable energies, because no energy source of the past or the future is so dense, or packed with power, as oil and its derivatives like gasoline. Our growth and takeover of nature will be curbed by built-in limits (which techno-optimists still believe we will indefinitely overcome.) Nothing in nature--including ourselves--can extend its dominion forever; we would have to be gods, not mortals in physical bodies with physical needs. We need to take into account that an expanding population and raw resources on this finite earth are at odds with each other.

Older and sadder I have to learn to be a lamp lit from within if I can, by grace of what passes my windows. It's therapeutic to conjure moments in a desert day--the Badlands?- though I have scarcely been through a variety of deserts, since Creation on its own habitually tends toward beauty which the questing soul involuntarily drinks, even if born in another kind of region.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Another Bout of Doomsaying: A Transformative Exercise

Whatever I feel or you feel or think, we're not alone in that and it's probably in accord with the age we have reached. The evidence comes by reading and sometimes remembering, vaguely, conversations with friends or with strangers who at the time felt like friends. And there are risks faced in every age and position in life.

What happens to single people who follow their own inclinations however kindly or unkindly disposed to their fellow human beings, and drift apart from their friends in the recognition that all friendships are makeshift and incomplete, and that we've reached a place in life where we're completely on our own, irreplaceable in few if any others' estimation? We can best please ourselves now, because our beloved have died or all live elsewhere, and whatever we have done for any of them is at best walled up in the private memories of no one we momentarily want the pain of naming to ourselves. So we make our way back to one or more close friends as time allows, and they help to restore us.

And if the world itself, meanwhile, appears on the fringes of collapse and implosion? We hadn't thought our private inspirations would fail us and maybe they haven't, it's just that giving expression to them won't save that part of the world we cherish. We are one of a destructive horde--people--who will pay on a sweeping scale for the burden we don't stop ourselves from increasing, on the earth and seas and atmosphere. We can at best imagine what might be left after the worst has happened to all of us.

I'm again--yep--talking about climate change, about which any science-driven mitigation seems it will be too little, too late because the unaddressed part of the picture is the ill-considered, perpetual growth of us, all of us, it keeps being said but hardly admitted--a civilization that's gotten too big for its resource base, who are crowding out more and more of the wild life forms that have made this earth an inspiring and supportive place to live. A wide variety of human beings find it their right, or believe it a societal duty to multiply till there is little but ourselves and our leavings any more look at, till we've shot way too far beyond the earth's turnover of abundance necessary to maintain the life-nurturing chemistry and temperature of the atmosphere. People recognize at different rates the harm done to the earth by too much waste released through farming, lumber production, minerals processing, energy consumption and the expansion of pavement, and too many prefer to ignore it till it's painfully past ignoring. We can each do what we find we're able to do in the face of it. Most, I would guess, ignore it or pretend it isn't happening.

One friend has said he looks forward to the upheaval, particularly of the comfortable who have gained by their own and others' greed, hoping he lives long enough to take in enough of the grand spectacle. I find I'm wishing I could stay back at a great enough removal from it not to feel sorrow day in and day out or be at personal risk, and could watch the great leveling and transformation culminate in some new era, that I could trace what might have survived from my own heyday. Is it easier to be morbid out loud, with a companion, or alone, or won't we end up doing both...

It's the loss of a cold-weather homeland, the prospect of watching it burn in extreme summer droughts and convert to something else, an over-layering of regions partly imported from lands southward and westward or eastward, as if in dream fantasies of blended places, that haunts me daily now. That National Audubon study of climate and the birds of North America found that of 588 species of birds observed, 314 are likely to find themselves in serious decline by 2080, with change in precipitation, year-round temperatures and vegetative zones so rapid that these species won't be able to adapt and will likely disappear toward extinction. Most of them appear to be our northern U.S and Canadian migratory birds. The report from the study admitted to the further immeasurable risk to present-day bird breeding habitat taken up by future cities--our population expansion that we seem to have to take for granted. I feel as though I and others have been biding our time through all our prior years waiting for this huge combined threat to the wild homeland out of doors to loom, less and less collectively to be ignored. Peril to wild nature connects to our own sense of doom. We each have to take up things that we're suited to do, that may serve to save some piece of nature against the background of a widespread natural collapse.

The grim recognition of our collective future by scientists who are researching and publishing in domains dealing with climate and the biosphere is addressed in a Daily Dose article by Meghan Walsh. Lab researchers who are disciplined to keep emotional reactions out of the documentaries about their study are finding common emotional ground where climate research is concerned. Loss of life around us, even in prospect, can lead anyone to a state of grief, leading to the term 'pre-traumatic stress' in one allusion by Ms. Walsh. (The term looks to have been coined by a forensic psychiatrist, Lise Van Susteren, who co-wrote a report for the National Wildlife Federation titled The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States: And Why the U.S. Mental Health Care System is Not Adequately Prepared.)  Not very many of us wish to confront a world of ongoing rubble and destruction. Meanwhile we live now in a society of doubters and deniers, especially the power-hungry who connive their way into corporate leadership and then seats in government. Moreover everyone speaking on the subject of end times, in religious or other frameworks, risks being lampooned, sanctioned or silenced in some way.

As an artist embedded in the cycles of nature right through my windows I sometimes have to consciously add up the attitudes, coping methods and beliefs that serve me, a middle-aged non-scientist. One favorite I recall from a conversation with an old supervisor outside of the workplace in the late 1980s--we were confronting climate change then, too, calling it the greenhouse effect--was that 'the earth will always be beautiful'--in some ways, in some lights, in some zones where there will have been an outcome that then, at that time, will distinguish the particular place. Another (2) is the assumption of broad kinship with aboriginal peoples from all places who taught themselves how to make like an antelope, a predator, a sapling, etc. in order to achieve: repletion, ecstasy, heroism, favored status or maybe all these things. Make like a tortoise who will outlive this hot rainless eternity of days. (3) Garden with a mixture of native plants, (to preserve what can be kept of their genetic stock and to nourish the local contingent of birds, reptiles and insects especially as they migrate, are hungry and vulnerable) and with your home area's most wondrous cobbles and boulders: the garden border and ornamentation may be here straight through all the rumblings of doom, whatever it shall look like. A beleaguered human descendant may make a home or place of worship there. (4) As bioregions die out around earth, something different will fill in. Atmospheric phenomena we may never have heard of will manifest themselves due to a kind of chemistry found locally or all over; there will still be worlds within the world, however hostile to water-dependent beings of any kind. Fantasize worlds and sub-worlds in times to come. Nobody can prove that there's no romance within an Armageddon, especially depending on who's having the experience. (5) Embrace your mortality; you are born of Earth where everything that lives dies. Carry it off from one stage to the next with the utmost grace, observant of who you are, where you are and who is with you, all creatures. How we live may well carry over to how our essence endures in the dimension we enter after death. (6) Show and tell the sorrow, the awe, the desperation, and also the horror of what's to come and what's already upon us, the best you can figure out how to do, and to better that as your energies allow. Some few others may be taking it in as a part of their own important process of adjustment.

The art piece below, completed in 2015, conveys a spectacle of wildlife--red-throated loons most noticeably-- within the meltdown of subarctic peatlands like those of northern Minnesota way up through Canada. A wolf, camouflaged the color of  bleached tree stumps, stands back watching.

               Freshet from a Ghost-marsh 

             a 15 x 22.5" mixed-media watercolor on Arches heavyweight cotton paper

New 12x16" work in progress - watercolor/mixed media on a mass urbanization theme

Friday, July 8, 2016

Reptilian Flowers and the Low Abodes, past Homes and Driveways

This is a little artwork that relates shunned plants and animals (the poisonous, the wriggly and the ones thought to be symbolic of evil) to those suddenly discovered dainties a person comes across, especially certain flowers that appear pristine, close to perfection in their design by all forces within nature that shape wild species. The flower in this piece is the turtlehead, or in Latin, Chelone glabra, a member of the figwort family and another denizen of the wet meadows and ditches common to the Lake Superior region, but a sun-lover in common with many snakes and turtles. I have written about this flower before, it is so immediately, strikingly, formed like the head of a turtle, with a reptilian mouth slightly open for breathing or other vital purpose. I first saw a pink version of it, almost certainly planted on that ground by a long-ago gardener in northern Ontario. The native northland variety is cream-colored.

When first illustrating it in summer 2015 I exulted in roadside specimens hemmed in, as if through modesty, by thick grasses that mostly hid the blossoms. Just before beginning the project I mislaid my late mom's sunglasses alongside a turtlehead skirted by an improvised path, in hay that was mowed the day following my recovery of the glasses with a blindly reaching hand, after no amount of searching by eye would turn them up. So this painting, built of at least three perspectives--sidelong, top down and upward from sod level--is a little frenzied, by a looker who couldn't be contented with just a few standing-up views of the plant.

The red-bellied snake is an addition I can dedicate to my near neighbor on the west who first showed me  one that she captured by hand right off the sand-and-grass driveway well into autumn. I had seen this kind of snake but considered it some brown local version of a common garter snake. But close intimate looking reveals other markings, particularly on the underside; this snake held high for viewing or rolled over shows a pink or pale red belly. The Latin name is Storeria occipitomaculata--and thank you Deb for making my introduction, you who grew up in the adjoining county.

I wanted a land-form to offset all the billowy grasses and first thought of stumps since they abound in squat and snaggy forms, but the open country where the turtleheads occur made other suggestions. Ant mounds revealed themselves where I was prowling for ideas and so, in the vicinity of some old landowner's tumbledown carpentry I sat and drew in a mound, symmetrical and shooting out its own grasses.  Ant mounds function as nurseries for the ant colony, and serve to open a piece of ground, allowing for exchanges of gases, water and nutrients via the concentrated activity of the ants. They are an indicator of nature at its busiest, and would likely not be allowed to flourish if very many people were raising kids and running pets nearby.

Old Field Comeback: Turtleheads with Red-bellied Snake, as I have titled it, is a revision of the 2015 work which had two snakes in it, and speaks for places with a possible, forsaken or forgotten human touch on them, with moulds and lichens and the likelihood of something's buried or exposed bones, with smells of a wide variety, and an overtone of sadness mixed with free-spirited delight, since today is today, suffering little enough of yesterday.  A link to it, partway down the page on is here.