Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Back to work

The title of this post is a little misleading--I am always working, it seems, but not always on artwork. I probably spend less time making art than I do running the business and getting ready for shows. But this year I have managed to get into a few shows that do not allow you to hang framed prints in your booth, so I need to make sure I have plenty of originals!
I failed to post any pics of my last piece, "Piggyback" while it was "in production", but you can go to my website to see it completed. My latest piece takes me back to my passion, big cats. This is as yet untitled but is of a snow leopard.
There are two of these beautiful creatures at the Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, and I got some great shots a few summers ago. Right across from their enclosure is the pen for the red panda (which may be my next piece). One of the leopards was up out of sight, sleeping, but the other was pacing and kept jumping up on this rock outcrop and watching with great interest the panda on the other side. I could almost hear it thinking, "If I could only get out of here...."
Snow leopards are exquisit animals and are highly endangered. They live in the higher altitudes of central Asia and are well adapted to the climate with thick fur, a stocky build and large, furry feet that aid in walking across snow. Their tails are nearly as long as their bodies which probably helps them keep their balance as they chase prey across the mountains, and may also serve as a blanket of sorts.
Because of their carnivorous nature and their dwindling habitat, they are increasingly targeting livestock, and are frequently killed for this. The loss of even one goat can be a tragedy for herders living in these unforgiving regions so the killings are understandable if not regrettable. The loss of one breeding leopard can be devistating for the species, so conservationists are working with herders to devise ways to keep their livestock safe and to deter further attacks.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Silence is Golden

I am in my studio watching the birds in the warm evening light. It’s been a pretty day but chilly, with a bit of a breeze out of the north. While winds from that direction keep the temperatures down, they keep the noise here down too.

Our house is about half-way up the side of a south-facing hill. About two tenths of a mile to our south is a fairly busy east-west running dirt road. Unless the wind is blowing down from the north (or northeast or northwest) it will actually carry noise from the road right up the hill to us. It’s as if we live in a huge satellite dish that funnels the noise right to our house.

I was dismayed after moving here to realize how much noise the property catches. Walk over the hill to our neighbor’s property and you hear only the loudest vehicles. One of the things I really wanted when we moved from the city was a break from all the noise. We lived on a busy street and even though our house sat back from the road 50 or 60 feet we could not sit on the front porch and have a conversation for all the traffic roaring by. I guess I became over-sensitive to it.

This brings me to a topic that is very important to me, and that is one of quiet/silence in our parks and wilderness areas. My friends don’t seem to notice noise like I do and so are not as affected by planes circling the lake when we’re kayaking, or the rumble of an expressway a half mile away from a nature trail. But those sorts of things drive me nuts and can really ruin an outdoor experience for me. We as a society have come to value a place primarily for its visual beauty and seem to have forgotten that we have other senses.

When I go to the woods or lake or fields I am seeking not just solitude and a pretty scene to gaze upon but a total escape from us, from the things made by man. To be able to hear a chickadee’s wings as it darts over my head, to hear the movements of small creatures in the duff, the creak of trees in the wind, the soft sounds of a rill running down a wooded slope after a heavy rain, are just as much a part of the experience of being outdoors as are a pretty sunset or the sight of an indigo bunting.

The great author/naturalist Sigurd Olson wrote in Reflections of the North Country, “Silence is one of the most important parts of a wilderness experience; without it the land is nothing more than rocks, trees and water.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement. To really feel a part of a place, to be immersed in the spirit and the energy of your surroundings, you need to employ more than just your sight. Whether in your own backyard or on a trail in the U.P., the sound of an ATV or barking dog can be just as distracting as a cell tower or a clear-cut woodland. The difference with sound is that it is pervasive—I can look away from the cell tower and still enjoy a view, but I can’t block out an annoying sound without blocking out all sound.

The best place I have found to experience silence in the outdoors (what Olson considered the lack of man-made sounds) is in the Porcupine Mountains State Wilderness Area in the U.P. There are no roads through the park, just one that goes around its south border and one to Lake in the Clouds. Everywhere you want to go you have to walk. My partner Lori Taylor won an Artist-in-Residence there last fall and was given a cabin in the woods for two weeks. Lisa and I went up and camped, and spent a lot of time at the cabin, and I have never known such silence. Every once in a while there’d be the sound of a plane, or a loud motorcycle on a road somewhere, but otherwise it was like another world, one without mechanized man.

If you’ve never read Reflections of the North Country, you’re really missing out on what I believe is one of the most wonderful collections of essays ever written about wilderness, our place in it and our need for it. And if you’ve never been to the Porkies, as they’re affectionately called, well, you’re missing out on the crowning jewel of Michigan’s Park system and one of the most amazing places I’ve been so far. Give both a try.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Learning to ramble

I know that I should be writing more, and although I feel that I have a lot to say, my thoughts are unorganized and incomplete. I am not one who likes to ramble, despite the name of my blog. For me the need to know what I am doing before I do it supersedes just about everything else—I am a planner. I plan out what I’m going to do, say, wear, eat, etc. My mother likes to tell the story of how when I was a baby I started talking but then stopped for about 6 months. My parents were quite worried and took me to the doctor but he didn’t find anything wrong. Then, when I did start to talk, I was speaking in sentences. Guess I just had to put it all together first, plan it out.

I have a lot of things I want to explore, a lot of topics that I want to read and write about, but I feel that I need to put it all together before I put it before the public eye—small as that eye may be. I am learning about all sorts of different but related issues and philosophies that surround the idea of environmentalism--deep ecology, transcendentalism, conservation and stewardship, the place of God in nature or of nature in God, man’s own place in nature—and I want to put down here what I’ve learned and what I think about it all.

Right now I am reading two books, both very well written and informative: Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken and The Life of the Skies by Jonathan Rosen. Both these books have a nature/environmental theme. Blessed Unrest discusses how issues of social concern are often tied into environmental issues, while The Life in the Skies talks about bird watching, its history (or at least the history of the naturalist as scientist) and takes a much more spiritual angle. I mention this because I think what I’d like to do is use the books I’m reading as a jumping off point, to write about some of the points made and what I think about them, and try not to worry if I’m right or wrong or even if I know what I’m talking about. The point is to use my voice and to start a discussion about topics that concern me, and hopefully we will all learn something—about ourselves as well as the world around us.