Archive for May, 2009

Creekside Discoveries

Friday, May 29th, 2009

photo1It’s been really hot here lately – over 90 F – and I tend to gravitate toward walks on the cooler side.  So these days I’ve been walking mostly in the shade near a creek where I live – part of the woodland trails that are protected in our town.  The sun filters through here and there.  The creek is still running, so the foliage is greener and cooler everywhere.

The wildflowers tend to be slightly different here than in the more arid spaces where I normally walk.

It’s been a real treat to walk in the forest-like shade with the sound of the creek gurgling and splashing against the rocks.  I saw a Mallard duck the other day, too.

photo4The flower on the right is a Trillium and they only grow in filtered shade near more moist areas.

The leaves can get quite large in the shadier spots.

This is a shot of part of the creek, running merrily along its course.  By the height of summer, it dries out completely.

Of course, the wildflowers ar fast fading, owing to the heat.  But it surely has been wonderful to see these little treasures.


Cedar Hard at Work

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

cedar21I mentioned in a previous post that we have a new office mate.  Well, this little boy was unnamed then, but now I can introduce you properly.  His name is Cedar and he’s growing inches every week.  A thick brown undercoat is taking over some of his original black coat.  He’s going to be a very beautiful adult.

Here he is concentrating very hard at work, while we were not.  Actually, he’s trying to dicipher what some wolves were saying while we played a Youtube video with wolves from Yellowstone howling in the background.

We already know he can howl very well.  On his first day at work, we encouraged him and he obliged quite nicely.

But perhaps some of the messages he was hearing might have been a bit unsettling or confusing, as the next shot I took was Cedar seeking reassurance  from his new owner:

cedar31But in the end, he couldn’t help but put in his two cents.  He raised his head and howled just like the big boys:


Carrie Enters the Slipstream

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

carrie-paintingThis painting is for my sister Carrie’s birthday, which falls on May 30, the day of the benefit concert to raise money for her surgery coming up in August.  You can read about that at this link to Carrie’s blog.

I told Carrie that I didn’t know what to call it.  Could she please come up with a title?

And so, with a nod to Van Morrison’s “Queen of the Slipstream,” the title is now “Carrie Enters the Slipstream.”

Vincent Van Gogh and His Drawings.3

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

drawing4This is called Portrait of Patience Escalier done with reed pen and ink over graphite on paper, 1888.  Vincent wrote to Theo:   “Shortly you are going to make the acquaintance of Mr. Patience Escalier, a sort of man with a hoe, former drover of the Camargue, now gardener at a farm in the Crau. Today I am sending you the drawing I made after this painting.”

Vincent painted two portraits of Patience Escalier.  I prefer the warmer tones of the version I’ve included.

As I mentioned in part 1, Van Gogh was keenly interested in the life of peasants and workers, so it’s no surprise that he drew and painted so many.

When I first saw this portrait, I was stunned at how much Van Gogh was able to portray in the eyes of Patience.  Van Gogh shows me a person who has worked very hard in life, who has suffered much, but someone who also seems kind.  It made me think that Van Gogh could never have captured all these qualities so clearly without having recognized and experienced them himself.

painting1For all you painters and non-painters alike, Van Gogh’s thoughts on being active and facing fears are timely:  “If one wants to be active, one must not be afraid of failures, one must not be afraid of making some mistakes. Many people think they they will become good by doing no  harm; that’s a lie…it leads to stagnation, to mediocrity…. 

“Just dash something down when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face with a certain imbecility.  You do not know how paralyzing that staring of a blank canvas is; it says to the painter, You can’t do anything. The canvas stares at you like an idiot, and it hypnotizes some painters, so that they themselves become idiots. Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the really passionate painter who is daring – and who has once and for all broken that spell of ‘you cannot’….”

Vincent was always worried about draining his brother’s resources.  One of the circumstances that most surely must have contributed to his deepening depression toward the end of his life was that Theo was married and recently had a child and was feeling financial strain.  Vincent did not want to be a burden to his brother.

Theo was at his brother’s side when Vincent died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.  Vincent’s recent paintings were hung around his coffin.  The coffin itself was covered with yellow sunflowers and dahlias.  Theo is quoted as saying:  “It was his favorite color, if you remember, symbol of the light that he dreamed of finding in hearts as in artworks.”  Theo was heartbroken and perhaps drained from caring for his brother and family.  Theo died 6 months later and the two brothers are buried side by side in France.

After having read so many excerpts of Van Gogh’s letters, studied his drawings and paintings, I feel like he has become a friend and mentor.  While he had to suffer so much during his lifetime – and depended on his brother Theo for monthly monetary help to survive (remember, he was not selling any of his paintings at the time, though Theo, as an art dealer,  tried to sell them)  – he nonetheless managed to create a monumental body of art that continues to inspire.

Vincent Van Gogh and His Drawings.2

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

drawing6You might recognize this scene.  This drawing was obviously a preparatory sketch for Van Gogh’s  painting entitled “Cafe Terrace at Night.”  I love this painting.

In a letter to his sister Wilhelmina Van Gogh, Vincent wrote in 1888:  “It is already a few days since I started writing this letter…interrupted these days by my toiling on a new picture of the outside of a cafe at night.  On the terrance there are the tiny figures of people drinking.  An enormous yellow lantern sheds its light on the terrace, the house front and the sidewalk, and even casts a certain brightness on the pavement of the streets, which takes a pinkish violet tone….Here you have a night picture without any black in it, done with nothing but beautiful blue and violet and green, and citron-yellow color.  It amuses me enormously to paint the night right on the spot.  They used to draw and paint the picture in the daytime after the rough sketch.  But I find satisfaction in painting things immediately.” (p 284, Vincent Van Gogh: The Drawings by Colta Ives.)

Now there’s an example of en plein air in the dark!


One constant about Van Gogh’s life is his relationship with his younger brother Theo Van Gogh.  The only reason we know so much about Vincent is through the hundreds of letters he sent to Theo, with whom he felt the closest in his family.  His parents really did not understand him and his extremes.  Vincent seemed to be an artist who couldn’t function well in the world as a businessman and failed at many attempts to fit in.

That Vincent had something wrong with him there was no question.  Mental problems afflicted him, especially in the last few years of his life.  Over 100 psychiatrists have tried to pinpoint his illness(es), resulting in over 30 different diagnoses!  Some guesses:  schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, poisoning from his paints, malnutrition, alcoholism, or a combination of disorders, etc.  Some physicians have suspected epilepsy and possibly a brain lesion.  That he was able to work despite whatever ailed him is amazing.

By the way, the famous incident of the cutting off of the ear now has a new wrinkle.  Wikipedia states:  “It is generally recognised that Van Gogh cut off the lobe of his left ear during some sort of seizure on 24 December 1888, although doubt has recently been cast on this theory by Dr Wildegans, who suggests that an accident during a fight between himself and Gauguin may have been the cause.”

Reading excerpts of his letters to Theo, I see a mind that is razor sharp and logical, humorous, self-deprecating at times, opinionated, kind, loving, and very vulnerable.  His human side shines through,  making me wish that he’d had more enlightened help for his handicaps then.

Vincent spoke and wrote at least 3 languages fluently:  His native Dutch, English, and French.  He often included sketches in his letters to Theo – ideas for paintings.  Here is one such excerpt, written in English to the Australian artist John Russell:


To be continued…

Vincent van Gogh and His Drawings.1

Monday, May 18th, 2009

vincent1I’ve recently been immersing myself in Van Gogh’s paintings and his life story.

One new discovery I made about his painting process is his very large body of drawings, sketches, and watercolor studies.  Many of these provided ideas and thumbnails for his later paintings.

These drawings are really exquisite and often executed in a style I wouldn’t have associated with his paintings.  Some of them are exquisite and so unusual.

Remember, Van Gogh did not begin painting in oils until he was 27, after having gone through some interesting career changes:  art dealer, bookseller, university student, and preacher to the working classes.  And in 10  short years, until he died in 1890, he produced more than 2,000 works (his best work appeared in the last 3 years of his life).  This includes around 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches.

Colta Ives, in her book Vincent Van Gogh: the Drawings says:  “Astonishingly inventive, Van Gogh’s drawings are in inextricable part of his development as a painter and had tremendous impact on that outcome.”

An example of an early drawing is this one of a boy pulling grass.  Vincent was intensely interested in the struggles and inherent beauty of the working classes.  He spent quite a lot of energy and time trying to portray his respect for everyday people and their concerns.

drawing2This is entitled:  “Boy with a Sickle,” black chalk, charcoal, opaque watercolor, 1881.

Around this time, he wrote:  “Drawing becomes more and more a passion with me, and it is a passion just like that of a sailor for the sea….I am quite absorbed in this now and sit daubing and washing out again; in short, I am trying to find a way.”

drawing1He surely did find his way!

Van Gogh was largely self-taught in his artistic pursuits, and although he was apparently not that talented in the beginning (some of his earliest drawings do seem rather crude and clumsy), Van Gogh believed in his own strengths and had a passionate drive to accomplish his artistic goals.

Believe it or not, though, Van Gogh only sold one of his paintings (The Red Vineyard at Arles)  during his lifetime!

To be continued…

Spring Expansions

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

pregnantdoeIt might be a bit hard to see as this doe is in the shade, but her belly is expanding greatly.  I predict she will have twin fawns!  (Well, no hardship prediction there…)  All the lady does of a certain age are quite large.  Within the next 1-3 weeks, we should have quite a few new faces to watch for!

The flower buds are expanding too, and are treating us with splashes of vivid color and exciting forms.

The peonies are bursting out of their ball-like buds, and here’s one from my front yard:

peonyI’m amazed at how bright the reds are in this flower.

While on my walk this morning, I came across beds and beds of blooming iris.  Most of them are purple, but I loved this mass of white iris blossoms.

iris-bedOnce I got to the woodland trails, the flowers were far less spectacular as far as size and sheer mass.  But really quite spectacular in a more quiet understated way.

I love how this wild columbine shone with an orange brightness in a shaft of light through the madrones.  So delicate and complex, and quite graceful.  I’m just sorry I couldn’t get my camera to focus on near rather than far…but you get the idea.


Our New Office Mate

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

dog2Introducing our new office mate!  This is a 12-week old male puppy with a rough coat and a history of Black Lab and ???.

We’re not sure what his name will be.  His foster family called him “Bear.”  But his proud new owner thinks another name might be more dignified, or perhaps a translation of bear in the Takelma Indian tribe language.  The Takelmas are the Native Americans who have lived in the Rogue Valley where “Bear” was born.

This little fellow is immediately captivating and adorable.   He is extremely calm and mellow, and very affectionate.  He’s not so keen, however, on wearing a collar.  It was his first day of wearing the annoying band and he kept trying to scratch it off.

It was a big event to see his new surroundings.  After an hour of scoping out his new day digs, a nap was in order!  He slept like the dead, unconscious of noises and newness.

So, welcome little guy!  May all your days and nights be good.


Will You Be Dining In, or Out, Sir?

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

sam1For the last 2 weeks,  Sam has been indifferent to eating his wrapped Harrison’s pellets.  Even though he forages for them in his cage, he wasn’t going after the pellets as he usually does.  To humor me, he would at times snatch a wrapped pellet, open it, then drop the pellet and look at me dubiously.

I do know that he likes eating the Harrison’s fine pellets (that the cockatiels and lovebird eat) on the play tree, so I decided to hide his normal large pellets on the tree and see if that would make a difference.

Well, as it turned out, it did.  The guy just needed to eat out for a change!  And don’t we all?

Here you can see where I’ve tucked some wrapped pellets in the basket the birds chew on.  I also tuck them into other hidden places you can’t see.  Sam loves this!

sam2In the next photo he has a wrapped pellet and is about to unwrap it for eating.

I don’t blame him for wanting to eat out, espcially since the ambiance is just perfect with the late afternoon sun warming the play tree, around 5 pm.  The birds outside are singing, deer tromp by, and sometimes the Calico cat pounces in the meadow next door.  It’s almost like eating outdoors!

So, just like us humans who need change now and then, I learned that Sam needs a change of pace too.  It also made me aware that I need to be more clued into these needs and try to make little changes for all of the birds so that they aren’t weighed down by the same-old, same-old all the time.

Sam can sometimes spend a couple of hours on the play tree, going from eating pellets to playing with this foot toys, and back again.  It’s a great time of mellow contentment for all of us – humans and birds.

By the end of the tree time, there is a large pile of disused paper (recycled paper!) wrappings below the tree and even more crumbs.  Small price to pay for a happy bird.sam4

Hmm…maybe I should eat out soon….

A Walk on the Very Quiet Side

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

cemetery1I mentioned previously that one of my regular walks is around the perimeter of the old pioneer cemetery in my town.  Although there have been some recent additions to the cemetery,  most “inhabitants” are very old.

Where I walk, I skirt around the very back of the cemetery, which is where the Catholics were buried.  During the Gold Rush days, Catholics, people of the Jewish faith,  and other non-Protestant religionists were considered 2nd class citizens, relegated to the outer fringes of the cemeteries in this country.

Many of the headstones I looked at this morning were names of folks who had come from Ireland.

Here’s an example:

cemetery21Some graves are extremely simple.  For example, another fringe group of citizens were those who had no family or money.  They were interred in the Paupers section of the cemetery.

I don’t actually know whose grave this belongs to.  It’s just a wooden structure that once surrounded the gravesite of an infant or a small child.

It’s rather a poignant landmark.   I guess in tribute to the unknown and long gone child, someone has stuck into the middle of the plot a modern-day baby’s pacifier.

cemetery3Such old headstones invite more questions than answers.  Each person buried there had a fascinating story.  We will never know them, and that’s a bit sad.

But, I will say this:  The residents here have a glorious view of the valley below (if they ever come out in ghostly form), deer for company, and lovely trees to shade their resting places.