Friday, February 23, 2007

Okay, bad me. No blog entry for more than a week. I have a hundred excuses-- deadlines, commitments, and a head cold being chief among them. Lest you think I've completely disappeared into oblivion... here's proof that I HAVE been working. 28 unfinished linocuts drying on the rack and waiting for the next color pass. It smells like ink in here. Really.

The painting table's been busy, too... working on illustrations for the new catalog for Blake Nursery in Big Timber, Montana. Native plants. Nice people. Border collies. What more could you ask for?

And of course, there's the spanky new iMac sparkling in the corner, with several interp sign jobs cluttering up the monitor. Mere minutes from completion they are, but for a couple of missing photo files. And there's a newsletter for Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory in progress, too.

It's multi-tasking at its best. Or at its worst.

So, while you're waiting for something readable to turn up here, check out recent posts by Bill Schmoker and Susan Tweit... and then follow their recommendations for other posts and then.... Oh, wait. That's multi-slacking. Not multi-tasking.

P.S. In case you haven't also visited A Snail's Eye View, please wander on over for a taste of not-even-close-to-winter in Melbourne, Australia. Bugs, film, travel, books... and neighbors who might be as bad as mine, although I'm not sure yet.

Colorado Birding Trail

Now online! A huge effort by a lot of people I know. (And even a little bit by me.) Check it out!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Wrestling to understand

Earlier this week I interacted with bighorn sheep in a new way.

It's been 15 years or so since Red 42, Yellow 9, and their compatriots were tagged and collared. As always, the information gathered has created more questions, and state wildlife biologists decided it was time to facilitate the collection of more data. We have had a good, diverse group of sheep coming in to a local site (Red 42's old stomping grounds) this winter, so on Monday the troops were gathered for the mammal equivalent of catch and release.

This shot is from the first intense moments of the trapping. (Thanks, Jeff K.) The net has been dropped, and probably 50 volunteers have raced to get the sheep blindfolded (to help them stay calm) and into safe positions so they can be carefully extracted, processed, and released. In a very busy hour, veterinarians, biologists, and "hangers-on" like me (pun intended) were able to tag and collar 38 sheep-- lambs, ewes, and rams. Some ewes got radio collars. All sheep had blood, fecal, and saliva samples taken. They were given antibiotics and vaccinated against lung worm... and turned back loose to roam the hills.

The yearling ewe with me has a new identity about which she certainly cares not at all, but one which will hopefully help us to understand a little bit more about the secret lives of her tribe: Where do they go? How do the groups interact with each other? How do they use the high country along the Continental Divide? We'll learn about how they are coping with lung worm, what strains of bacteria they are tolerating, and if Red 42 is any example, even a little bit about their longevity.

Just for the record.... she's Green 64. And you can be sure my sketchbook and I will be looking out for her, silently saluting her contribution to human curiosity, and wishing her green grass and healthy lambs in the seasons ahead.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Who needs rodents and shadows?

A spark of deep cobalt landed on a wire fence as I passed yesterday: a male mountain bluebird in all his royal blue finery. It's not unusual to have a few stick around through the winter here (often inspiring a surprised or worried phone call from a tender-hearted observer), but something's definitely afoot. Or a-wing, as the case may be. In the last 24 hours I've had two phone calls and a conversation on the trail which all began with "I just saw a bluebird!"

I remember being quite surprised the first time I learned that migrations labeled "spring" and "fall" really have little to do with either of those calendar designations. (I was well over 30.) As a child I had learned the Universal Truth that "birds fly south for the winter," and at no time since had I received any information to challenge, or at least qualify, that statement.

Why did no one ever explain, for example, that migration is a two-way trip? Sure, the fact that we didn't run out of birds implied that they must also "fly north for the summer"... by why was that deemed the less interesting fact? Why was departure the icon, instead of arrival? And why the implication that nothing noteworthy happened in between?

Sure, there are some quiet moments in the year, but around here owls have already begun nesting preparations. Song sparrows and house finches are singing up a storm. Dippers are chasing each other in the river. Waterfowl are bobbing, stalking, calling, flirting. Bluebirds are appearing on fences. Despite all this, the landscape still looks like winter: ochre and brown and gray as a broken cottonwood branch.

Halfway though my walk I was stopped by a woman ("I saw a bluebird!") who commented on the exuberance of this morning's birdsong. "It's only February," she said, "but doesn't it all seem like it means something?" I could tell she hardly dared to hope-- that she, too, had learned the Universal Truth that said nothing more about bird life and February than "south." "Doesn't it seem a little like... well... sort of like... spring?"

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Out of the deep freeze

It's with no small sense of chagrin that I admit my delight in the arrival of a "real winter like the old days" has worn dangerously thin. We've been in negative Fahrenheit for a ridiculously long time, and for the last several days it has been outrageously windy. You know the kind: relentless, howling, bitter.

But today the gift of that wind arrived: temperatures above freezing, calm and clear skies. I took a little walk for the first time in many days, not around the lake but to the Salida Café, where I had lunch and a leisurely contemplation of the week ahead. Friends from Colorado Springs arrived unexpectedly to give their stamp of approval to my new digs. I opened the front windows and let in some fresh air. I put the remaining moving boxes into the shed.


In the spirit of defrosting I pulled a little horned lark out of the Hotpoint (funny name for a freezer, come to think of it) and gave it some time on the drawing table. From here it will go off to the bird observatory and later to the museum... but for today I got to wonder over it all by myself. Subtle little things they are. Delicate. Not my usual forté. But it definitely felt like a return to "normal" to spend a Sunday afternoon with NPR and my paintbrushes.


In the week ahead it's fish and canyons and vintage LIFE magazines for me (the latter the business of friends, check out
2Neat Magazines). I'm twitchy to get some new linocuts going, too. Exhibitions loom! There's a painting of trees and shadows in a half-started state... but I've temporarily lost my enthusiasm for winter scenes. Go figure. Maybe instead I'll paint that happy groundhog whose absent shadow seems already to have spurred the shift of seasons. At least for today.

Closet Archaeology

The one good thing about moving is that some things that were lost are found.

A few weeks ago I mentioned bighorn sheep Red 42, the former Grande Dame of Cottonwood Canyon. The first year I helped with the sheep project I made a little sketch of her, but the sketchbook in which that entry was recorded disappeared when my bag was stolen in Denver later that season.

Sometimes I use copies of sketchbook pages as stationery for letter writing. I was fairly certain Red 42 had gone on such a journey, but any extra copies I might have made were lost to time and a capricious filing system.

She turned up this week in a folder, in a box, in the closet, under another box, below stored artwork waiting for an exhibition opportunity. Not the original, just a copy.. but it was nice to see her again and to read my notes about her.

I'm mostly settled in my new space. The success in recovering the sketch of Red 42 makes me wish I had more time to sort through some of the other boxes in the closet, but any lost treasures they hold will have to wait, since I seem to have created some new artifacts with
this move! Some things I could locate only last week have vanished into as-yet-undiscovered locations. Whether anything crucial has gone AWOL will likely be revealed as I settle back into a work rhythm in the next few days. In the meantime, has anyone seen where I put my car keys?