|"Wave Runners," reduction linocut
16" x 12," edition of 12
Birders use the term “life bird” to describe their first encounter with a species that's new to them. (There are also year birds and state birds and county birds and yard birds and, well... you get the picture.)
My lifer northern gannets were spotted almost 20 years ago in the Firth of Forth, off the coast of Scotland. I was in a little crab boat, headed for the Isle of May Wildlife Sanctuary, five miles from the mainland. The weather was wet and windy; our boat crossing was a bit rambunctious and our landing particularly sketchy. But my strongest memory of that adventure was a sudden splash off the port side, which turned out to be not a compatriot tumbling overboard, but a diving gannet. Several more birds plummeted into the sea around us while I stood there gaping at the spectacle.
Not far from the Isle of May is the Bass Rock, breeding ground for 150,000 northern gannets. On this side of the Atlantic, the largest colony is at Bonaventure Island, Canada, but I've caught glimpses of one or two individuals in the Gulf of Maine. Thousands of gannets pass the Schoodic Peninsula near Acadia National Park in the autumn, headed to southern waters for the winter.
My own experience wasn't nearly as dramatic as this clip from Nature's Great Events with David Attenborough, but it was memorable nonetheless. (The footage is spectacular, but be advised that it ends on a somber note.)
As subject matter for prints and drawings I find gannets extremely challenging. The shape of the head alone has given me hours of consternation. But when I think about gannets I think of the word wild: They are at home in wind and waves; they raise their young in huge breeding colonies on rocky cliffs. The surprising and strange aerodynamic shape of their wings, folded back for dives of heart-stopping intensity, seems otherworldly (and distinctly uncomfortable). What better inspiration could there be for a linocut than the memory and mystery of these Wave Runners?