Wednesday, May 27, 2015

California Retreat

Last week I went to a meditation retreat in California.  The nice thing about traveling to the west coast from Ohio is that it is easy to wake up early and for this night owl the morning light is quite a treat.  Every morning before breakfast I took a nice stroll with my camera.  The first day I didn't go very far because I was obsessed by how the sun was hitting the weeds along the road.  I sat down to photograph the pineapple weed below and then noticed the clover next to me.  In every direction I looked, the light was hitting every thing in the most spectacular way!  

I thought about doing a whole post just about the pineapple weed above and took dozens of photos of it.  I love the way the light illuminated the conical lime green orbs. 

At least once a day I took the dirt road in the photo above and ended up at the oak tree below.  One day I tried to have a rest against it and ants crawled all over me.  I had to strip down to my skivvies and give everything a good shake.  Luckily it was just me and the wild turkeys doing our dance.

I was also quite impressed by the size and beauty of pine cones along the road.  And I felt lucky every time I found a "star" dandelion like the one below.

I also have to mention the amazing colors of the muscle-red wood and peeling bark of the manzanita tree above.  Every one of the manzanitas had such character and strength - maybe from living in such a dry environment.

My friend Jodi and I also found lots of oak galls on our walks.  They reminded me of the Japanese art form of creating shiny balls of earth and water called Dorodango (check it out it is awesome!), although I prefer the cracked, earthy appearance of the galls.  If I made mud balls I would want them to look like this.

After a week of soaking in all this beauty and sitting in meditation I realized that the mystery both surrounds us and lies within us.  Whether you prefer looking out or in, it doesn't matter...but look at it...notice it...for it permeates everything... everywhere... at all times... if we only have eyes to see it.

"After chopping through dense salal and hacking off ironwood bushes for an hour or so, I stopped, exhausted. I found myself standing motionless, intensely aware of all of the life around me, the breathing moss, the chattering birds, the living earth. I was as much a part of the woods as any millipede or cedar tree. At that moment, too, I was aware of the mystery." -Margaret D. McGee

"Existence is a mystery.  We aren't here to solve the mystery...we are only here to see that we are the mystery." - Matt Kahn

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Muir Woods

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."  -John Muir

Last week I visited a friend in California and we took a day trip to Muir Woods to see the redwoods. It was a Saturday and we were worried it would be crowded so we almost didn't go.  But I am so happy we went because it was a place unlike any other.  Although there was a decent crowd of tourists there is an air of majesty and quietude that permeates these woods.  The tallest tree is over 250 feet, the widest over 14 feet, and some of them are over 1,000 years old..  One feels dwarfed by these giants and it is easy to feel that we are just a blip on their aged radar.

It is ironic that my favorite photo from Muir Woods was of a giant horsetail (above) and not a giant redwood.  But if you follow this blog you know I love repetition and getting up close to things.  And I really liked the way the many thin threads of the horsetail perfectly illustrated John Muir's quote. I picture myself trying to tug on just one thread knowing that it will move all the threads.  I also learned that the roots of the redwood trees only go down 10-13 feet, but they spread out nearly 100 feet interconnecting with the roots of other trees.  I picture them helping to hold each other upright when it is windy.

It was also interesting to learn the importance of fog to these giant trees.  Apparently the trees are able to take in fog that has condensed on the leaves through tiny pores.  I never thought about trees "drinking" in the fog before this trip.  (I learned here redwoods were the first trees found to move water in both directions.)

Maybe it's because I am reading Sally Kempton's book about the many-armed yoga goddesses, but when I saw this last photo it appeared to me to be a goddess looking down at me waving all of her arms. Just looking at her now I feel her power and am humbled to have had the chance to stand at her feet and observe her majesty.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Spring energy is in full bloom right now in Ohio and I have come across so many interesting things on my walks I can't keep up!  If I forget my camera even one day things have changed dramatically by the next time I am out again.

The flower below is from a rather weedy looking plant in my backyard. I always want to pull it but never do because it has the prettiest pink blooms every spring.  I have asked several botanist friends but I can't figure out what it is.  I thought it might be a plantain (Plantago) of some sort, but I can't find any with pink flowers. If you know what it is please let me know in the comments.  Regardless of its name I love the form of the beautiful pink inflorescence.

Right next to this pink flowering plant is our mill stone fountain.  One day I was sitting in front of it and decided to try and photograph the water that bubbles up out of it.  It was around seven in the evening and the light was sparkling in the most beautiful way.  I had never tried to photograph moving water like this and was quite pleased with the amazing globular forms in the images.  The water seems so alive, and even more so when you hear the sound it makes.  I included an audio file below the photo so you could hear it too.

I also took a gazillion photos of bees on crocuses this year trying to get one in focus.  The photo below was the best one.

You might not recognize the Virgina bluebell below.  Its blooms had not opened yet and I loved the incredible design created by these flowers.  This flower is so awesome because the blooms are pink before they bloom and gradually turn blue as they open.  You can see an open one here.

Each year I think, "Oh, I've already photographed this flower or that bee" but I am always happily surprised when I see the same flower (or bee) in a new way.  If you really think about it you will never see anything in exactly the same way because everything is constantly changing.

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
  - T.S.Eliot

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Acorn Linocut - Part 2

I finally finished printing the giant linocut acorns!  It has truly been quite a learning experience for me.  I learned that:
  • It will take me months to complete a project like this
  • You need to sharpen your linocut tool every day with a slipstrop
  • I friggin love carving and listening to music 
  • It is really hard to print a big black area evenly
  • I need help to print this large
  • I will have extremely strong arms if I keep this up
  • I need to clean the basement so the whole house is not disrupted by large prints laying everywhere
The list could go on and on, but in the end this experience has only wet my appetite to do more.

I also had fun documenting the process.  Below you can see photos at each stage.

1) Complete full-size pencil sketch.

2) Transfer to Safety-Kut.

3) Carve design.

4) Ink the plate.

5) Print!

It was interesting to me because in the end I may have been just as excited about the photos of the plate and print as I was about the actual print.  Maybe down the road I will make some note cards of the photos. (You can click on the images to enlarge.)

As I said above, one of the biggest lessons I learned was that I need help during the printing process because the paper is so big.  I couldn't have done it without the help of my next door neighbor John.  He not only shot the following video of me inking the plate for the first time, but he helped me lay each sheet of paper down onto the inked plate and then meticulously rub every square inch until our arms were going to fall off.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, John!

(Music and permission given by Kodomo)

As you can see in the video this was the first time I inked the plate to make a test print.  I quickly realized I needed to buy a bigger brayer!

Below are a few more photos of the final print.

At some point I hope to be selling these prints either online or in a gallery.  I will keep you posted!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Acorn Linocut - Part 1

I have been dreaming about giant linocut acorns for a while now so I decided it was finally time to attempt one.  I usually have an assortment of pods, seeds, and random plant parts sitting under my computer monitor and I stare at them all the time.  I think the acorn caps below have been sitting there for at least a year and it was finally time to make use of them.

I started this project by photographing the acorns and then composing them exactly how I want them in Photoshop. I then printed the photo and did a large sketch exactly the size I wanted to do the carving. Below is a short video of the sketch as it came along. (Sorry about the quality, I am just learning this video stuff!)

After finishing the sketch I then transferred the design to my plates. I originally wanted to make a SUPER GIANT print, but decided I'd better start with a size where I can buy the paper locally. So I went downtown to Suder's and bought a roll of mulberry paper and a sheet of their largest Stonehenge (38''x50''). I then had to decide what material to use for my plates. I wanted to use safety-kut because I have some arm issues and it is nice and soft to carve. But the down side was I would have to tile two sheets together to make the print (they sell an 18x26 "Big" sheet). The other option was to carve out of wood or linoleum, but then I would have to buy real tools that can cut those materials. In the end I decided to go with the safety kut and hoped that fixing the seem wouldn't be too un-seemly. 

Below is a video of some photos of the carving process.

Next week I will post some more process shots and the final print. Check back soon!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Birding Journal on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!

Last week I was so excited to find out my book, "Birding Journal: Through the Seasons" was on Tina Fey's new show, "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"!  Earlier in the week my friend Christina emailed me she saw my book on the show.  I assumed it was in the background somewhere.  Then the next day my friend Margot emailed me this photo and I couldn't believe it...front and center!  In the scene Ellie Kemper (who plays Kimmy) is trying to prove how nerdy her employer's step-daughter is and she holds up the book and says something like, "Look, she even has a waterproof birding journal."  It is probably in the scene for five to ten seconds.

I had heard good things about the show but I don't have Netflix.  However, I am going to my Dad's for a week where I plan on binge watching the whole show.  If any of you watch the show keep an eye out for it in Episode 10 at 21:40!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sketch of St. Mark's

Last weekend Christina and I walked over to Evanston to sketch St. Mark's church.  Every time I get off the highway I drive by this beautiful church and admire the tower.  The church is no longer open but there is a school attached to it that is still functional.

After sketching we walked over to the new coffee shop, "Community Blend."  My smoothie was delicious and according to George and Christina the coffee was good too.  It was nice to support a locally and employee owned shop (see video about it here).  If you are in the area you should stop by.

You can see Christina's sketch here!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Spotted Salamander

Friday night there was a steady rain and George convinced me that it was the magical night he had been waiting for for weeks...the night of the spotted salamander migration!  The spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) spends all winter burrowed deep in the ground.  In the early spring on the first rainy, warmish night, they venture out of their winter hiding to migrate to vernal pools to lay (or fertilize) eggs. It is one of the few times a human might actually be able to catch sight of these highly reclusive creatures.

Earlier in the week George had gone searching for the elusive amphibian only to be disappointed.  It was indeed the first warmish night of spring, but the pool still had a skim coat of ice; not a single yellow-spotted creature to be found.  So when he came up to the computer room Friday at 9:30 pm where I was cozily surfing the web, I was not sure I wanted to don my wellies and raincoat to search in the rain and mud for this illusory prize. 

But boy was I ever rewarded for braving the elements. As you can see above we were successful in our quest!  We had barely arrived at the trail before George spotted those yellow spots.  I was amazed how big and fleshy its body was.  And I loved the ridges on its flanks, not to mention those wild yellow spots.  The whole creature seemed quite improbable and yet there it was looking back at us in the soft rain.

The distance from the trail head to the pool was only about a half a mile, but I couldn't imagine how such a small-legged creature could walk so far on those little side-protruding limbs.  But somehow they do it!  And when we arrived at the pool it was clear that many do indeed make it.  The video below shows a salamander on the moss-lined edge of the pool making its leap into the water.  When we looked into the pool you could see maybe twenty or so salamanders writhing, swimming, and every so often coming up for air.

(After pressing play, click the bottom right corner to enlarge the video.  It is fun to watch it large!)

We found five or six salamanders on their way to the pool.  At first I wasn't too worried about stepping on them because of the bright yellow spots, but then George found a couple that had no spots.  I am not sure if they were young ones or a different species. 

On the drive home I couldn't help but think that we live in a crazy, amazing world.  To think this startlingly beautiful creature not only exists, but lives right near me blows my mind!  And I must mention that, yes, they really do appear to have a smile on their face.  I know I am anthropomorphizing here, but I will never forget their docile, yet determined nature.

So if you are ever offered a chance to search for gold in the middle of the night in the pouring rain, take it my friend... take it!  You will be rich in experience, your heart will sing, and you won't be able to wipe a ridiculous grin off your face for weeks.