Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Just Sitting on the Roadside: December 24, 2011

Ford's Pond, Douglas County, Oregon
Often on Christmas Eve we are off on a seafood gathering expedition to the Oregon Coast to pick up crab, oysters and fish. But we took advantage of good weather and did that two days ago, and feasted on it while it was fresh. So a simple supper is planned for tonight. We’re looking forward to dinner with friends tomorrow. We’re so far from family we’ve given up trying to get together at Christmas time. Meanwhile we have one more clear day predicted before a week of rain is supposed to set in. We’ve come to a nearby pond, Ford’s Pond, to photograph birds. Dale has gone in one direction looking for sparrows. I’m that funny lady sitting on the shoulder of the road torn between photographing and sketching. I’ve got my camera to my right and my fanny pack on my left. It froze last night. The ground is cold and a little damp, but there is a little wintery sunshine. It occurs to me sitting here is an odd thing to be doing on Christmas Eve.

Sketching wins for awhile. Most of the cattails fluffed out before the falls rains came. They look a little bedraggled now, but still pretty. Their long stems are doing all too good a job of hiding a Virginia Rail. I can hear him, maybe ten feet from me, but all I see is an occasional wiggle of a cattail stem. I’d love a chance to sketch him!

Coot will have to do.

Sometimes I’m guilty of taking coot for granted. They are a plain bird. They spend much of the day swimming about and diving here and there to come up with soggy strings of aquatic vegetation. It’s a busy life. When I sat down on this cold shoulder I saw one duck, some coot and one shy pied-billed grebe on the pond. Suddenly the coot grab my attention.

We’ve all heard the old adage, “two is company and three is a crowd.” Well five is also a crowd. This little pond has five coots swimming about, two pairs and a loner. The paired coot aren’t happy about that fifth coot. Head low, one of the coots swims in a bee line towards the unwelcome coot. When near, both erupt into a mad scramble across the surface of the water. Water flies, green feet flash, coots squawk. Mr. Unwelcome heads for the cattails. The water settles back into gentle ripples.
But life isn’t quiet for long. Head low and stumpy little tail held low, one of the coot is making a beeline for the extra coot. Mad spashing and off they scramble again.
This time the fifth coot heads to my right. Apparently that portion of the pond isn’t valuable real estate. The chaser turns and joins his mate.
Oops! Now two coot are ganging up on that fifth coot. Side by side they cruise towards the odd coot. They just aren’t going to give him any peace.
Away goes Mr. Unwelcome again! Does he keep coming back hoping to make an impression on a female? Or is this just the best feeding spot? In any case, I gave up sketching and am concentrating on trying to get photographs.

Eventually the aggressors win and peace settles on the pond. I’ve lost track of Mr. Unwelcome. I suspect he is resting somewhere in the cattails, gearing up for another round of being chased.

And I’ve discovered we’re not the only people enjoying this lovely day. While we’ve been here two other cars with birders from our small birding group and stopped by to check out Ford’s Pond. We all seem to be thinking that savoring a day out in nature is a good way to appreciate the spirit of the season.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all. May your world be full of joy and peace.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Back to the Basin: Part II

Klamath Basin Refuges, California, USA: Oct 27-30

Beautiful clear sky tonight. One star has been shining especially bright in the east – not a star. It’s Jupiter. With binoculars tonight we can see the four ‘Galilean’ moons. The number varies from night to night depending on if any are hidden behind Jupiter. With very powerful equipment, one can see even more moons, 64 in all. Many of the tiny ones have only recently been discovered, but Galileo discovered the first four.

When I zoom to 60 power on the spotting scope I can see two faint bands on the surface of Jupiter. Lava Bed’s low humidity, high elevation, and few people make this sky far crisper than what I usually see. The Milky Way stretches over me, aglow with tiny stars. With the scope I can see even more stars, way more. I can see right into the Universe. It doesn’t seem possible that Earth is actually part of the Milky Way. It all seems so far away.

Jupiter is so spectacular tonight, we decide to take the scope over to the nearby campsites were a scout troop is camped. The boys are very appreciative of a peek beyond their normal range of vision. I’m impressed at how much they know, they just hadn’t seen it before.

Cold nose warm toes. I love waking up in the back of the van. Our last night is the first night above freezing. Even though I wouldn’t choose to have to make midnight runs to the restroom, I have to admit I savored the quietness and paused to see how much the Big Dipper had moved since I went to bed. Last night I was even treated to a shooting star. After I was back in my sleeping bag I heard a muffled bark nearby. I’m pretty sure it was a saw-whet owl unsettled by my wanderings.
We usually sleep with at least one of the back doors wide open. Our bed is at the back of the van. The van is just wide enough so we can sleep across with width of the van. That puts my face at the open door. A8 campsite at Lava Beds my morning view is the rising sun. Yesterday, at first light, a crimson streak glowed beneath a heavy cloud bank. It redness peeking between juniper tree branches reminded me of campfire coals. I went back to sleep.

This morning the morning sky was cloudless. Deep crimson blended into dark blue above. All was quiet. When I stirred again, about an hour later, the horizon was bright yellow blending into the prettiest blue above. We didn’t mean to sleep in, but it does feel delicious to breath the clean air and just stretch out in the warm sleeping bag.
We leave camp and slowly drive along the toe of Sheepy Ridge, part of the Tule Lake portion of the Klamath Basin Refuges. We haven’t seen many bucks this year but these two does and two fawn were cooperative.
We leave the Basin today. We swing through the western part of the refuge, Lower Klamath, on our way home. Most of this part is wide open, but a long string of big, old willows follow part of the road. The willows are still thick with green leaves and a touch of gold. A great horned owl perches on his day roost in one of the first willows, all fluffed and rather sleepy. It’s the fifth great horned owl we’ve seen on this trip plus I heard one.
We’ve just spent two hours parked in the shade of one of the big trees. First we ate a late lunch and then ‘shot’ about 500 ducks (photographed). Small groups of ducks are crossing in front of us, heading to the flooded field to our right. At least half are pintails, but also mallards, redheads, ring-necked ducks and gadwalls. Just a few Canada geese amongst them. All during our stay hen mallards yammer near us. A blush of new willow growth hides them but not their talking and splashing. Occasionally a harrier flies low over the marsh, and a red-tailed hawk high above us.

Shadows grow long. I’m never ready to leave the Basin, but it’s a three hour drive home. Time to go.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Musing on Camping

This started as an introduction to Part II of “Back to the Basin, but I got too wordy, so I’ll make it a separate post. I will post Part II -- soon.
Lava Beds National Monument is high desert and far from night lights. The air is usually so clear I feel as though I can look deep into the Universe. Here is the Milky Way as seen from my bed at night.

CAMPING – What exactly does that word mean to you? My quick and easy answer would be, “A tent and a campfire.” My ideal is ending up somewhere far from a road and sleeping under the stars. For many camping includes a motor home, or at least a camper. Dale’s and my normal style of camping is somewhere in between. We’ve owned two Ford vans. We ran the first one for 24 years and sadly gave away ‘Old Blue’ in 1994. We ordered a second one, unlined, and lined it ourselves in order to save the last three precious inches that allows us to sleep crosswise, rather than lengthwise in the back of the van. We sleep on a platform and store gear underneath. We can break camp in about fifteen minutes and be on our way. The first year we owned the new van was the first year of retirement. We slept in it 99 nights!

Our idea of camping is preferably some unimproved site on public land; more often we camp in a proper campground, but we pick a spot where we can pull in and sleep with the back doors open wide. Usually the van is better than tent camping. I lie in bed, look at the stars, and hope to hear a coyote howl or an owl hoot. The mattress is good and I’m not surrounded by smelly tent material. I’ve even made rain coats for the doors and a rain curtain for the opening so we can sleep with the doors open on warm, rainy nights. I only have a foot of skylight with the rain curtain hung but that still gives me the feel of outside. When the rain stops I can drop the curtain in a moment. When we want privacy it takes a minute to pull our cloth curtains shut. Cooking is done outside and usually breakfast is just hot coffee (made the day before), peanut butter on bread, hard boiled eggs and juice … served on the dash when we head out.

A wood rat …. I have to brag a little and say that actually getting a photo of a woodrat is one of those odd things I’m rather proud of. I was after pika and out popped his sweet little face.

Our camping isn’t about hanging around camp. Camp is a place to sleep and our days are almost always spent away from camp, usually wandering in the car, hiking, photographing, sketching, and watching. During the night we’ve had elk bugle within feet, cows come for a close inspection, and my mother’s tame owl even hopped inside once, but we didn’t know yet that she had a tame owl. For about 35 years we’ve been using Lava Beds National Monument as a bedroom for many of our Klamath Basin trips.
Once, when it was 9 degrees by morning, I set up my camp stove on the steps of the old visitor center, out of the wind. No one was around to object. Another time a wood rat started a nest on our motor during the night. Fortunately he hadn’t gotten around to harvesting our wires, but he had gathered a nice little pile of mistletoe. More than once it has rained water boatmen. Lava Beds National Monument has no open water. The nearest water, Tule Lake, is about ten miles south of the campground. When the time is right, the normally aquatic water boatmen in the lake fly to new areas. Dozens, if not hundreds, of water boatmen bounce onto our shiny wind shield, thinking it is a small pond. Dark vehicles are even more popular.

One cool summer evening at Lava Beds National Monument we had a special treat. Some mosquito-like insects were flying but not biting. I’m told male mosquitoes don’t bite so I suspect they were male mosquitoes. In any case, we crawled into bed and soon realized the insects were drawn to the warmth inside the van. If they had been biting I would have hung mosquito netting over our bed. I decided to snuggle in and ignore our visitors.

Swoosh! The faintest of breezes tickled my cheek. What was that! Another and another. Looking out my open van door I realized bats were darting in and out of our van, hunting our insect visitors! Even though the front windows were open, the bats always flew in the open back door and back out the same door.
I know I’m a little strange. I thought having bats hunting above us was simply marvelous! What a treat! I knew their echo-location would keep them from bumping into me; they just wanted my bugs. All too soon they finished their snack and were on their way.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Came Early: My New Fountain Pen

First drawing with my new pen … a tree swallow peering out of its nest cavity in a willow snag. All the drawings except my pouch are drawn with my new pen.

When Dale and I were first engaged I was encouraged to pick out my china pattern and my silver pattern. It seemed a little odd for a girl who had grown up in central Wisconsin in a house without plumbing or central heating. I dutifully picked a silver pattern, and my wonderful grandmother gave me four place settings. Someone else gave me one iced tea spoon.

As for china, I didn’t bother. I think I had a better grasp on reality as to who I was and who my friends were than did my mother and grandmother. But a little of their proper Bostonian background slipped in. I bought one bone china tea cup and saucer. Seven dollars in 1964! I knew Dale wasn’t going to sip tea with his little pinkie in the air so I didn’t buy two. I didn’t realize the razzing he was going to get from his buddies. They thought a $7 teacup ought to be a ticket to visit the queen, or at least make its own tea.

I just bought another, wildly extravagant item, this time with his knowledge and this time with a valid justification, I hope. Just a few days ago my worth-its-weight-in-gold pen arrived. Well that might be an exaggeration but I felt as though I was spending that kind of money.

I’ve spent many years carefully drawing with a bottle of India ink and a dip-nib (you dip the pen point in the ink). I almost always used a very flexible Gillott 290 nib or a fine and flexible point from Hunt. I was spoiled! A flexible point gives life to the line.

But sketching with a bottle of open ink doesn’t lend itself to sketching on my lap, standing, or in the car. For that I used a variety of pens: ballpoints, Uniballs, Sakura Pigma Microns – all throw away pens and none with a flexible point although I could switch pens to get a heavier line. I thought a stiff pen is just the price I’d have to pay for sketching in the field; and I thought fountain pens were something that went out with crank telephones.
About two years ago I discovered art on the internet -- blogs, forums, Flickr. I’m seldom around other artists, so this was a big eye opener for me. Some were sketching with fountain pens, especially Cathy Johnson. I also learned that even though a good fountain pen costs way more than a throw away, it can pay for itself. Ink is relatively cheap. An inexpensive pen plus a bottle of ink can pay for a pocket full of throw away pens.

I trotted down to Staples and bought an inexpensive fountain pen. I loved how smoothly the ink flowed. That translates to ‘how rapidly I could sketch with it;’ but their pen had a fat line, too clunky for me. When I finally got to the big city, I dared to buy a better pen with a finer point. I was hooked.

Life isn’t as simple as I want it to be. I promptly lost the pen from Staples – no big loss. But I miss-placed the much better pen for longer than I care to admit. Over my lifetime I’ve left a trail of lost throw-away pens. Could I be retrained? By now I wanted two good pens, one for permanent ink and one for ink that bleeds. I kept thinking about the joy of sketching with a fine and flexible point. I found my miss-placed pen under the couch cushions and bought a second, good pen, from Richard Binder. I now had two decent pens, one for each ink; but I wasn’t ready to pay for the real treasure, the fine and flexible. I promised myself if I could go a full year without losing a fountain pen, I might dare to take the plunge. The clock started ticking on July 27, 2010.

Meanwhile I made a little pen pouch. My pens are to stay in or near the pouch … and when we are out of the house, the pouch hangs around my neck or on a knob in the car. The pen pouch has another very good reason to be: we often change altitude by 3000 or 4000 feet in a day. I’ve had problems with Uniballs leaking when we gain altitude and I suspect it is a lot to ask of a fountain pen.

July 27, 2011 finally arrived, but I still felt a guilty about spending so much money. Now comes the funny part. About that time our bathroom faucet decided to leak and Dale couldn’t fix it. Lowe’s wanted something like $75 to install a new one I wriggled and squirmed and convinced myself I was up to the job. I announced to Dale I’d fix it and use the money towards the pen of my dreams. I was excited! BUT he realized the other faucet was starting to show the same symptoms as the first, and that cabinet is a real bear to wriggle around in. I threw in the towel and had Lowe’s come. This is where I start smiling. By now Dale realized this pen is no bone china tea cup. He encouraged me to go for it. It isn’t that we can’t afford it, we just like to spend money wisely.

It was time. I ordered a pen from Richard Binder at www.richardspens.com, a Pelikan pen with a Pelikan xxxf nib, customized for full flex -- a lot more expensive than one bone china tea cup.
My new pen is here. I’m in heaven. It takes a light touch, but feels so alive! I can draw skinny line; or with just a little bit more pressure, press to a nice broad line. Richard warns his customers not to push the nib too far, but after my years using flexible dip nibs I’m not worried about that. It does lay down more ink so I have a longer drying time before I can erase or add a wash.

I do hope my inner nurturing device will apply to my new pen. I only lost a daughter once. Well once she really disappeared and got whisked away by mall security and once she hid in tall cloths racks for just long enough to give me a panic. It didn’t help that I had twins running in two directions at once. When it was really critical I never lost track of them. Dale was on a soils survey in Alaska. We stayed in a little cabin, miles for any road, for two weeks. Long, fall grasses filled the opening near camp. I harnessed the little imps while I washed diapers in the nearby stream. I tell myself if I could keep track of them, I can keep track on my new pen.

Hmmmm … I kept track of our twins, but my wedding ring lies in the bottom of the little stream where I washed diapers.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Back to the Basin: Part I

Klamath Basin, California, USA: Oct 27-30, 2011
I can't believe it has been over a month since we camped in the Klamath Basin. I wanted to finish some of the art before I posted. Some of the art is done on location, some is finished after I get home, and the last one was painted after we got home.

We’re back in the Klamath Basin …. This time to camp. Its been a year since we’ve camped. Hard to believe that the first year we owned our van we spent 99 nights sleeping in it. That was the first year of Dale’s retirement, and we made a point of taking full advantage of it. Then it got tougher and tougher to camp and finally it just seemed too much. Now that Dale is walking again, camping in on the agenda. For the next three nights we’ll camp at Lava Beds National Monument in northern California and spend most of the daytime in the Klamath Basin refuges. This post and the next will be bits and pieces from the trip.
Tule Lake Refuge (one of the Klamath Basin Refuges): We slowly bounce along the gravel road that borders the southern end of Tule Lake. Because of dredging and draining, the road runs straight and makes crisp 90 degree angle turns as it heads east and south, east and south – water on our left and fields on our right. When we finally reach the southern point where the flat valley floor rises gently into sagebrush and a few scruffy rock outcrops. Off in the distance Sheepy Ridge forms a steep embankment, and farther off, snow capped Mr. Shasta rises. We park.
While Dale waits for a duck to swim close by, I sketch, first Mt. Shasta, then a close up of the road just before it reaches Lava Beds National Monument and turns left separating the refuge from the monument. Two does and their fawns come out of the tangle near us and wander down the road, nibbling at roadside vegetation. A peregrine flies by and lands on the rocks ahead of us … just far enough that he seems unperturbed by our car. He preens and looks about. I hear Dale’s camera clicking quietly – a pair of gadwalls swims past. The peregrine stays put until we finally move on.
We park in a magical spot about half a mile farther down the road. While we eat lunch flock after flock of snow geese are flying past, low and close. Off in the distance we can see they are landing, but we can’t see just where.

Lunch …. Summer sun. Dale naps while I add the final color to my sketches. Acres and acres of Tule Lake murmur with coots, grebes, ducks and geese. Gradually the birds get used to our quiet car and come closer. So pleasant in the warm car, no traffic. Occasionally something flies by, but mostly it is quiet time.

An unseen force has spooked our birds. I’m sure we didn’t. Coots scramble on top of the water, grebes swim quickly, ducks have disappeared. Everything within 75 yards is leaving. I nudge Dale just in time for him to see an otter swimming along the edge of Tule Lake. The otter soon passes and life settles back to normal. We drive on.

About two miles down the road we find where all the geese went. A few Canada geese and thousands of snow geese have settled into a shallow bay. Brilliant white backs follow the shoreline. Most sleep. A few splash and preen. While we watch a flock of twenty white-fronted geese fly in to join the others. The white-fronted geese slip and slid as they rapidly loose elevation. Their tumbling down reminds me of oak leaves tossing in a gusty wind, twisting and turning every which way, but the geese right themselves just before reaching ground.

The sleeping geese were beginning to stir when we left them. We’ve come back to the spot where we watched so many geese fly by at lunch time. At first there isn’t a bird in the sky. Now, late in the day, a handful of Canada geese and their smaller cousins, cackling geese, fly by, heading west from the bay. We assume they are heading to the recently cut grain fields. The first snow goose to come is a loner, flying with a handful of Canada companions. His whiteness looks out of place with his brown and black companions. Soon flock after flock of snow geese fly past us. Quite a few of the snow geese are grayish – the young of the year. Some are smaller and must be Ross’s geese.

5:45 PM: Just stragglers in the air now. For a delicious hour, geese flying and calling took over the air, wild and exciting. Now we’re back to mellow coot chuckles, mallards quacksgrebe begging, and a few far off Canada goose honks.

Rather than bouncing back over miles of gravel road we take the slightly longer, but paved road through Lava Beds, heading to our campsite. The sky has just the barest wisps of cloud. Mt. Shasta has turned purple off in the distance. A sliver of moon nears the horizon, soon to slip out of sight. Near ‘The Stronghold’ we pass a great horned owl perched ….. on a road sign. There isn’t a tree in sight for him to perch on. Lava Beds National Monument has been removing the junipers that have come in since the Modoc War (1872-1873). Part of me is sympathetic to the idea of managing the landscape to keep it historically accurate, but another part of me wishes the owl had something better than a road sign to perch on. A little artistic license is in order on my painting.