Background Switcher (Hidden)

In with the Old

Friday, December 29, 2006

Every year, we attend a Christmas party at the gorgeous Victorian home of our silky-smooth ex-drummer and his fabulous, hilarious wife. Mike and Rosanne Buell put on a feast and gathering every year. I don't for the life of me understand how they pull it off on December 23, but they do. This year, they remodeled their attic (where do you put all your useless krap when you remodel your attic??). In contrast to the respectful Mission Oak treatment given the downstairs, the upstairs is sleek and modern, complete with pool table and plasma TV. On the house tour, I was riveted by a lamp, clearly a vintage piece, on display in the corner. A dancing lady turned slowly, wobbling slightly as she described a circle beneath the glow of the bulb. I sat and stared, transfixed, at this objet de art for the better part of a half-hour. Even though all the Christmas cookies were downstairs, I had to know the story. Any lamp with a revolving flamenco dancer has to have a story.
Rosanne's parents bought this lamp the year they were married: 1952. Their color scheme: Pink and black. "Everything had to be modern," Rosanne's mom told me. They went furniture shopping and saw this lamp. "I had to have that lamp!" Mr. Blazosky told me. It cost the newlyweds $25.00. Wonder what that translates to 54 years later?

Sorry about the blur. I wasn't exactly drunk, but it was dark, and I didn't want to blast these lovely folks with a flash.
In my initial examination of the lamp, I was puzzled by the white shade. Something about it didn't look right. I could tell it was early Fiberglas, the off-white, translucent kind with great big fibers visible in it. (You can make out a piece of it behind the dancer). Rosanne said that she'd tried to clean it, failed, and decided to paint it white. Oh. I get it. There had apparently been black rick-rack around the rim of the lamp, and she took that off, since it was kind of beat.
There are heirlooms and there are heirlooms. Waterford crystal, homemade checkerboards, or flamenco lamps. Our generation has a wider array of heirlooms to choose from. My dad used to say, "A weed is but a plant out of place." And an heirloom is in the eye of the beholder.

Speaking of heirlooms, here's the original drumhead from our band, circa mid-90's. Sorry about the blur. It was really dark, and there was just a tiny light inside the drum. I'm proud to say it was on display near the dancing lady lamp. I just finished painting a sleek new one for Steve McCarthy's drum, with our zippy new green logo (see Bill of the Birds' newsy post for that). Steve insisted on a shiny black drumhead, a decision which condemned me to lay down three coats of acrylic on the lettering, repeatedly curse our band for having such a bloody long name with so many @#$@#$ letters in it, and give over six straight hours of my life to making it look at all professional. I was too done in to photograph it when the paint dried--minutes before our last marathon rehearsal began-- but I will try to get a picture of it at the New Year's gig.

We are really looking forward to this gig. We spent almost all day relocating, Googling, and organizing the lyrics. Over the past couple of months, we've worked up probably 5 straight hours' worth of music. There's no way we're going to play it all, but knowing us our breaks will be short and we'll chew through quite a few tunes. We start at 9 pm and end around 1 (we think). We've been told that we can play as long as we want; anybody who checks into a hotel expecting to get to sleep by 10 pm on New Year's Eve is in for a shock. I think I'm most thankful that we're all healthy. Nobody has a fever, a cold, or a sore throat (I know, I'm tempting Fate here). The kids are coming with us; we've got a room. I checked it out and the Blennerhassett Hotel is pet-friendly. Sort of. They allow dogs. For $50.00. Come again??
"Fif-tee, or fif-teen?" I asked.
"Is that a deposit?" I croaked. "No, it's a non-refundable fee," the receptionist replied.

Oh. That's kind of a sneaky way to be pet-friendly, don't you think?

So I guess Baker's staying home. He hasn't peed on a carpet for a year and a half, but I suppose they have to charge for the dogs who do. He'll have doggie friends over on New Year's Day, though, so don't cry for him. I think we'll have enough going on that evening without Baker jumping up on every Tom, Dick and Harry and kissing them on the lips. No self-respecting Boston terrier would wait until the ball drops, that's for sure.

So put on your party hats and get down tonight!

Unrelated topic: The sun finally came out today and I had a ball shooting suet dough customers from Phoebe's bedroom window. Borrowed Bill's howitzer 300 mm. lens with doubler for this shot.
Redbelly: Nice hat.
Cardinal: Right back at ya.

On Parrots

Thursday, December 28, 2006


It's interesting to see the differing reactions of Chet Baker and Charlie the chestnut-fronted macaw when confronted with a large remote-controlled tarantula. Charlie, like Chet, is one smart cookie, and in his 20 years he's been faced with a lot of unusual stimuli. I found KatDoc's comment a typically insightful one. Faced with this amusing but spooky thing, Chet is full of conflict. Kathi points out that he doesn't know whether to play with it, run away, or stay and protect his little boy. Such heartwarming motives generally escape macaws; they're more self-centered than dogs.
Charles barely batted an eye when the tarantula crawled up to him.I found Charlie's nonchalance about a lifelike crawling spider as big as he is to be quite interesting. I'm going out on a limb here, but I think he can tell, better than Chet, whether or not an animated toy is actually alive. Birds, having a weak sense of smell, are more visually oriented than dogs, and he may well be able to see the wheels that propel it and draw conclusions from that and other clues mere dogs would miss. He isn't giving it the same reaction he gives to live insects, especially spiders and wasps. Watching one, he makes a characteristic rapid head shake, and he draws his nictitating membranes across his eyes as he does it. He was stung on the cheek by a yellowjacket about a decade ago, and the behavior may hearken back to that. (He was fine, but half his face swelled up like a walnut).

No head shaking for the mechanical tarantula. Just mild curiosity. He followed it, tasted it, felt it, straddled it (Hmmm. About the right size for a partner!), thought about regurgitating a little breakfast for it, and then ended up grabbing it by the leg and throwing it a couple of times. At that point, we removed the tarantula.

One thing was sure: he didn't want the darn thing in his grotto, which is a recess behind a well-chewed piece of cardboard where he hides and plays with Chet. I originally set up the cardboard to keep him from chewing the cabinet door. His goal in chewing the door is to get inside the under-sink cabinet and set up housekeeping.Baker plays hide-and-seek with Charlie, who mutters and laughs from his cave. Charlie? You in there? Boo! Mwoo ha ha ha! (He actually SAYS Mwoo ha ha ha!)

It is the lot of captive parrots to be continually frustrated, which is part of what makes them challenging companions. They try their best to live out their biological imperative. This is a creature that mates for life, and spends all its time in the company of that mate. A captive parrot selects the only mate it can find find (in this case, me), but that mate, being inappropriately human, refuses to cooperate. I share my affections with another of my species, even when Charles viciously bites me to prevent my infidelity. I won't eat Charlie's regurgitated breakfast, no matter how tenderly proffered. Occasional furtive copulations with my sock-clad foot net him nothing but a temporary release. Despite his alluring displays of manly courage in pointing out and protecting his grotto, I won't crawl under the sink and lay two round white eggs that Charlie can incubate and protect.Come on in, baby. You know you're ovulating.

But that doesn't keep him from trying to court me and carve out a nest hole, and he'll probably still be trying when he's 50. I had to get a dog to truly understand the difference between keeping a wild animal and calling it a pet, and having an animal around that is domesticated, truly selected to be a pet. If only we could breed a parrot's longevity into the otherwise perfect pet package of the dog. Forget putting glowing sea anemone genes into zebra danios, or carrot genes into cauliflower. Parrot longevity genes in Boston terriers: That's a bit of genetic manipulation I could get behind.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006


The highest use of a remote-controlled tarantula has to be torturing a Boston terrier. Leave it to Liam to figure that out. I could buy these things and repackage them as the ultimate Boston terrier plaything, with a photo of Chet Baker rolling his eyes at it, and make a fortune. Of course if the dog gets ahold of it, it's all over. But Chet isn't about to touch this creepy thing.I wish I were hep enough to post video and a soundtrack of Baker's interactions with this toy. He gives his low, rolling wooo wooo wooo call (it can't really be called a howl) and some short, muffled little groans and barks. There's much skittering of toenails on linoleum and scrabbling backward whenever the spider heads his way.

Liam is incredibly good at directing the spider so it seems to have intent and purpose, and that spooks Chet. Liam gets such a kick out of poor Baker's befuddledness, and the other part of the soundtrack is the music of his and Phoebe's giggles.

When we laugh, Chet gets tickled and bounces around like a hobby horse, rolling those eyes. Note position of his little tail--straight out. It takes a lot of excitement to get Chet's tail to stick straight out. It's a pathetic excuse for a tail, crooked and naturally stumpy, barely waggable. It earned him the unfortunate but persistent moniker "Tennessee Turd-Tail," abbreviated to TTT in polite company. If you wonder why Chet's face is so expressive, you have only to look at his tail. Robbed of a normal dog's waving social flag, he compensates the best way he can.

Christmas All Around

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

It's over. I'm basking in the luxury of getting back to work. Energized by having made it through another hectic Christmas, with all its demands and joys and energy drains, I sat down at the drafting board today and did five drawings for my book project. 39 more to go. It wasn't long ago I had 125 left, then 75...I'm making progress, slow as it sometimes seems. Work feels like a vacation after pulling Christmas off. Moms and Dads, you know what I mean.
Liam believes. He hears the jingle. This is probably his last Christmas, believing. And we made the most of it, reading The Night Before Christmas, cuddled in bed with Phoebe and Chet, while Daddy ho-ho-ho-ed, threw whiffle balls on the roof, rang sleigh bells in the deep darkness outside, and wolfed down cookies by the fireplace. Chet barked his head off and tore to the foyer window to bust Bill, but Liam was rooted to the spot, pure belief. His eyes were bugging out of his head. He was silent, mouth agape. And then he breathed, "Saint Nick!" Poor Bill never gets to see that; he's too busy being Santa outside. It is pure magic. Phoebe knows, but delights nonetheless. We exchange looks over Liam's head.
'Twas the night before Christmas, the children all tucked in their beds, and Bill and I sat before the tree and the fire and drank the beauty in. One guess who the giant red stocking, the one bulging with chew toys, belongs to.Chet's toys were wrapped in kraft paper. Phoebe helped him a little. He reduced a $15 "chew-resistant" Booda dog Frisbee to tatters in about twenty minutes. It won't wobble, much less fly, now. A Doggie Hoots skunk was demolished, headless, in ten minutes. This is getting expensive. What do we give him now, cast iron chew bones?

When we were all done unwrapping at our house, I suddenly remembered the birds. They were waiting for their suet dough. I put out a double measure as a Christmas present to them. This pretty male redbelly must have stood under the mistletoe last night; he has lipstick all over his cheeks.

Jeez, have some suet dough, Mr. Reddy! Leave a little for your blue neighbors, how about?
More Christmas revels to come. Hope yours was merry and bright, as ours was. This is as close to a Christmas card as we're going to come!Best wishes from Zick and Bill of the Birds!

Merry Christmas!!!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Elves, human and canine.

I'm feeling festive today. I'm really looking forward to seeing the kids' faces on Christmas morning, and that vision is getting me through the mountain of things I need to do before that magic moment. I spent the morning doing laundry and cleaning a bit (it's always at least a two-day job, but I feel the need for an orderly house before I can truly feel ready for Christmas.) The reward system is: Clean, and then you can wrap presents (always fun) and if you get them all wrapped before the kids get home (a solid three-hour slog) you can have a glass er two of wine when Bill comes home. So with that vision in my brain, I cleaned the downstairs bathroom, which has lots of tile and glass, did the laundry and put it away, and began wrapping at noon. I burned soy candles, one that smelled of evergreen and berries, and one that smelled like sugar cookies. Evergreen, sugar cookies. Ahhh. I never cease to be amazed by the power of aroma to put me in a good mood. Soy candles are just fabulous. They lack the obnoxious hydrocarbons that paraffin candles pump into the air. So the fragrance that emerges is pure and strong. They burn at such a low temperature that you can't hurt yourself on the hot wax. What's not to like? Well, they're still pretty expensive, and hard to find, but I snap them up wherever I find them. I am an inveterate label reader where candles are concerned.
I managed to get all the gifts wrapped before the kids got home. It sure beats subterfuge, trying to scuttle by them with gifts under my clothes, or locking them out of the studio or, perish the thought, being nasty to them to keep my secrets intact. With all the book shipping that's been going on out of the studio, I've been able to hide presents in plain sight this year, in plain cardboard boxes right under their noses. Dad always said the best place to hide something is in plain sight. Tee hee.
Bill came home early with armloads of groceries and Cooked Dinner!!! Life is good. He is good. While the chili was simmering, sending delicious scents up the stairwell, we repaired to the tower room and killed off a small bottle of Pinot Noir, a candle guttering between us, Baker curled on my lap. How much more does a girl need? Nothin'. We talked about books and commentaries and work and kids, about sweat lodges and contracts and go-karts and parties and music and Baker's patellae.
Because I rarely post on Friday nights, I wanted to give you Baker fans a little bitty surprise Christmas present. I took this series of photos the other night while trying out the brand-new 70-135 mm. lens Bill got me for Christmas.
We all start off with the highest intentions not to give our slender, athletic new puppies people food, right? And it's easy enough at the start, before they have the concept of "ice cream" and "cookie" and "biscotti" and "cheese" and "nuts" in their brains.
But when your dog puts on a special beg just for ice cream, and he KNOWS it's ice cream you're eating, and he loves it SO MUCH, it gets complicated, and hard to adhere to your principles. Those googly eyes are good for much more than making me laugh. They are begging bombs.

Chet stakes Phoebe out. She's got Breyer's Raspberry Chocolate Chunk in that mug, and he knows it.

Oh, Phoebe, I just love you So Much. You are So Beautiful. Let me kiss your ice creamy lips. Yes. Breyer's Raspberry Chocolate Chunk. I may need to go into overdrive.
While I am at it, (kissing you because you are So Beautiful), I may try to get just a little taste of your raspberry chocolate chunk ice cream. I will not be greedy.
Merry Christmas, Chet fans. We hope you find everything under the tree that you wanted. In lieu of gifts, here's your laugh.

OK 1902

Thursday, December 21, 2006


My father said a tree
Is fifty years growing,
Fifty years living
Fifty years dying.

OK 1902 it said, and it must have been big enough then
to carve on
Big enough to rest the heel of a hand long gone.
These hundred and four years it has been OK

Until today. It lies in pieces in the duff
Broken beneath the lowest living branch.
This is how you find things in the forest.

Is it dead now?
Will its roots go on?
The top came down, snapped the trunk of the tree beside it
A healthy tree, no heartrot there
but dead now, too.
Or: alive at the root.

Where trees are concerned
The exact time of death
is hard to figure.
It is perhaps the point
at which they can't grow back.

JZ, Dog Photog

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Another lovely clear day, and another two drawings finished: a loggerhead shrike carrying a vole, and an eastern wood-pewee on her licheny nest. I watch the sun creep across the southern sky, low enough to shine in the studio window all day long, hitting the side of my face. I work and work, pushing until 3, when I allow myself to go outside for an hour. The reward system is in play.
Chet goes into transports of joy when he wanders into the studio at about 2:50, and is met with a smile and the question, "Shall we go for a walk?" He grabs the nearest toy and cavorts around the yard with it. This is a good time to set the camera on Sports setting, which fires off a rapid series of shots when the shutter is depressed. Oh, fun. I love freezing my doggie and his crazy google-eyed grin. He reminds me of a carousel animal in this one. Wouldn't that be a cool carousel, with all different dog breeds carved of wood?
The red ball thrower in his jaws was used for its intended purpose only when it was new; Chet kept grabbing it in preference to the tennis ball, and it has been a good toy for him just as something to haul around and chew. Just like a Boston, to redefine the function of a toy. What is not to love about these little dogs?

The woods were gorgeous today, with low golden light limning the edges of the tree trunks. It's almost the winter solstice. The days are about to get longer. The birds will begin to sing again . Can I get a YEAHHHH!!!???? We took a different route after cutting through the meadow, and headed down toward Beechy Crash. I finally got a picture of Chet's peculiar way of walking. He trots along, holding his left hind paw up for ten or more steps. The dachshund I grew up with used to do the same thing. It makes me realize why three-legged dogs do so well. The first time I noticed him doing this, I threw Chet like a miniature Angus calf and examined his left hind pawdy pad, thinking he must have a thorn in it. He looked at me like I was temporarily insane. Now I just chuckle when he does it, because it's just another of his quirks. With a hip, a hop, a hippy hippy hop...Oh Chetty you're so fine/You're so fine you blow my mind hey Chetty! hey Chetty!

We sat for awhile on a bluff, and the woods were so silent we could hear the golden-crowned kinglets, and the soft winnow of wings as a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers flew over. Chet was alert to every sound, whipping his head around. He even listened to the image-stabilizing motor in my lens. He was hoping to hear a squirrel rustling the leaf litter. Did someone say squirrel?
We came to the stream, and Chet leapt atop one of the many fallen logs that cross it. I stationed myself next to the log and shot photos as he trotted back and forth, showing off.
I'm not sure where all this dog photography is going, but I can't stop. It's good practice to shoot fast-moving subjects. Maybe someday it will translate into something. I can't tell from here. I just know that my little pied goofball and I are having fun.

A Good Day (if harrowing)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


My day started innocently enough. I awoke before six, saw that it would be clear and sunny, and immediately had a bad premonition that something awful was happening to my mom. Crying, for no reason other than knowing it was happening, and feeling helpless to stop it. I'd had another premonition that she would come to harm on Saturday night--bad enough that I called her to see if she was OK. She was. But sure enough, she took a bad fall on Sunday afternoon, characteristically didn't tell anyone about it, and by this morning she was hurting so badly that she asked my sister to take her to the ER where they live in Maryland.

I continue to be amazed at the mind's ability to connect to someone else's pain and suffering. I knew on Saturday that something bad was about to happen to Mom, and this morning I was sure something bad had happened, just as she was waking up and hurting, over 350 miles away. I opened my email, and one came in from my sister, saying Mom had fallen. After most of the day waiting to be seen in the packed ER, it was determined that nothing was broken, but she has a badly bruised tailbone, and a load of prescription pain medication. We're deeply thankful she dodged the bullet (mostly) this time. And I am doubly resolved to listen to my little voice even closer from now on.

On the day my father died in 1994, I was painting a big backyard feeder scene, the sun streaming in the window of my Ohio studio onto my paper. I suddenly emerged from my right-brain haze, thinking, "I need to call Mom and see how Dad is." I looked at the clock: 10:39 AM. I picked up the phone, dialed the number of his room at the nursing home in Virginia, and quickly changed my mind, hanging up just before it rang. "I'll give her a few minutes with Dad. He needs her," I thought. I waited twenty minutes, and called again. "He just passed," Mom sobbed. At 10:39 AM, April 10, 1994.

I am sure that we all have such connections and seemingly psychic abilities. Animals have them and use them all the time. We suppress premonitions and feelings of dread, and tell ourselves we're crazy when we have them. We should listen to our subconscious. It knows things we cannot know.

My sister Micky is probably the best at listening to her subconscious voice. We have a family story about her that raises the hair on my arms even today. My mother was an avid bridge player, and she met every few weeks with a bridge club in our neighborhood in Richmond. One of the ladies in the club was, shall we say, not known for her culinary contributions. We'd always ask Mom what Virginia had brought to the potluck when she got home. This time, Micky made a prediction as Mom was getting ready for her night out.

"I'll bet she brings English Pea Salad," Micky proclaimed.
" And I'll bet she drops it before she walks in the door."

We could hardly wait for Mom to get home that night. She finally came in around 11, smelling of cigarettes and stale perfume. We crowded around when she came in the door. "What did Virginia bring?" we chorused.
Mom went pale as a sheet.
"Virginia brought a big glass bowl of English Pea Salad. And she dropped it on the front stoop as she was coming in the door." We dissolved in gales of amazed laughter. Of course, Mom hadn't had the heart to tell anyone about Micky's prognostication, for fear of embarrassing Virginia, so she'd had to hold it in until she could race home to tell us Micky had been dead right.


There's got to be a way to harness power like that. For starters, I'd like to take Micky with me to Arkansas and Florida, and hunt us up some ivorybills.

From there, my day definitely improved. I got a sitter for the kids, and Bill took me to Parkersburg WV to finish up our Christmas shopping. If there's anything more fun than outfitting willowy Phoebewith a new winter wardrobe, I'm hard pressed to think what it would be. We had a blast. I called my sister's house and found out that Mom hadn't broken anything. Bill and I had a lovely dinner out to celebrate. I called home to check in and Phoebe told me that one of my commentaries had aired on NPR. It's about Christmas caroling. You can listen to it here.

Bless Mom's bones, the power of the subconscious, and the little voice within. It was a good day.

Do You Know the Biscuit Man?

Monday, December 18, 2006

He has a biskit, I know he has a biskit. And it is for me. For me. For wonderful me. Hurry please with the biskit, Gene the mailman.

Of the many things and people I am thankful for, one is our mail carrier, Gene. Gene has delivered our mail for 14 years, and the day he retires will be a happy one for him and a sad one for us. When I got mono two winters ago, and was too weak to get to the mailbox, he delivered the mail to the nightstand by the bed. (Where I was lying, editing the manuscript for Letters from Eden, and deciding what illustrations were needed, and where). But there's more. If I want to mail something and don't know what it will cost, I just stick it in the mailbox, and Gene covers it with his own money and puts an envelope with the cost scribbled on it for me to fill the next day. Same with stamps.
Chet Baker knows Gene as The Biscuit Man. He noses Gene's pockets and stands up on him, wanting that biscuit. And this dog, who will not eat a Milk-Bone for love or money, happily crunches them down as long as they're from Gene. (He's just as eager to get Milk-Bones from the drive-through window at the bank, but he usually buries them somewhere in the car. I think it's because he knows the teller can't really see whether he eats it or not). He likes the ritual, and the fact that Gene was thinking about him, and being an appreciative pooch, he eats them with evident enjoyment right on the spot.krounche krounche krounche. I think I'm looking at too much. I sent them Baker pics months ago and they haven't posted them yet. And yet we all know there is nothing cuter than Baker. Except maybe hamsters, piglets, bunnehs, kittehs and Cats N'Racks.

On this day, Gene and I had a lot to talk about. Gene spends all day every day driving the country roads, and he knows a lot about wildlife. On the day after Thanksgiving 2006, though, he saw something in his backyard in Reno, Ohio, that gave him pause. It was larger than his border collies, tawny tan in color, moved with a fluid motion, and had a long tail that brushed the ground, then curved back up. It was a mountain lion.
He keeps a pair of binoculars in his truck, and he trained them on the cat for a good long look. When it disappeared in the brush, heading downhill, he drove to the end of the street and quietly waited. Sure enough, it emerged, and he got to watch it again. He said it was not the least bit concerned about him. But he was concerned for his dogs. He's going to be watching for it. We discussed the possibilities of its being truly wild or released, and given the venue (a thickly settled neighborhood backed by woods) and the fact that his neighbor had seen it tussling with her dogs, we decided it was of suspect origin. I tried to imagine what I would do if I saw Chet with a mountain lion. I would probably leap on its back and get all torn to pieces. People keep the damnedest things, and when they're tired of them, sometimes they let them loose. But then again, maybe mountain lions are around, like ivory-billed woodpeckers are around. I wouldn't be too surprised if they are. Cats are good at hiding. You never know what's out there, or what might have taken a notion to walk a few hundred miles east.

While we were talking, Baker wheedled three Milk-Bones from Gene, and ate them all. He gives Baker a hard time for being a girlydog.

Now this is your last one, you sorry excuse for a huntin' dog.
Note Baker pawdy prints on dusty car. Wrinkled nose indicates he is woo-woo-wooing at Gene. Note scratches too. He has begged here before, and he will beg here again.
Thank you for all your kind words on my blogiversary. I'm honored, and happy to share this life.

Holding the Point

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Regular readers of this blog know that I have surrounded myself with a lot of living things who depend on me, ranging in height from 6'4" to 4'8" to 18" and down to (how tall is a turtle? A tetra? A mealworm?) I love it that way. I love to take care of living things of all stripes and hues. It feeds my soul. But it does keep me hopping, and it makes it hard to get everything done in a 17-hour day. I'm experiencing a crunch right now, with a deadline for having 200 drawings done that passed today. I'm still 47 drawings short of finishing the job. In 30 years of freelancing, I haven't missed a deadline like that before. But neither have I had a book published, nor have I set up a fulfillment house in my studio, or embarked on a book tour. All new ventures, all very satisfying, all just added on to all the stuff that already filled a crowded life. Life has gotten bigger and more overwhelming, and I'm under it now, looking up at it, like that gigantic spaceship in Independence Day.

I know that the only way to get this job done is to chip away at it, and I do, every day. Is it hard to sit down at the drawing table when there's so much else needing to be done? You bet. Charlie helps. Having a bird on my shoulder calms me, and makes me want to stay put. He loves it when I'm snowed in with work--more shoulder time. I blog to the sound of him sorting through his feathers and breathing in my ear. Twenty years of shoulder perching, and we both still enjoy it. The Chet and Charlie games are a welcome diversion. Ol' Chuck is stealing Chet's Nyla-Ribs as I write...they're running circles around the flat file, AWK! Woof! ticka ticka ticka AWWWP!

To keep myself hacking away at work, I set up a system of rewards. The ultimate reward for a hard day's work (two to three drawings done from concept to finished product) is a walk. Lately those walks have only been half-hour sorties, jammed in between finishing a drawing and picking the kids up at the bus stop, but they help.

Making the walks ever so sweet is my new little buddy, the Canon Rebel XTi. Its compact, 28-135 mm image-stabilized Canon EF lens arrived today, but I didn't have time to take more than a couple of shots. I could focus from as little as 15" away, which will open the door to a lot of nice, intimate pictures.

Roger Tory Peterson painted field guide plates for most of his working life. He told me, "It's the most stultifying work I know. I sweat blood to do those paintings. I literally have to force myself to sit down at the drawing table every day. But if I get a good day's work in, I let myself go out and take some photographs."
At the time, I hadn't discovered photography. I remember thinking, "Whatever floats your boat." But RTP was right--it's the perfect antidote to hunching over a drawing table all day. To me, it feels like catching lightning in a bottle--like magic. Instead of laboriously making pictures, you're taking them. You're capturing something ephemeral and unself-conscious, and then moving on to the next thing that catches your eye.
Artists, I think, have a heightened sense of what is beautiful, and we fall in love easily--with an empty vireo nestor the impossibility, the importunity, of a solid-red grosbeak (with a pointed hat no less!)
or the sudden glance of a bluebird through birch twigs.
These are not perfect pictures; they're not even very good, but this is how birds present themselves, and I am honored to be able to show them to you.

Speaking of presenting himself:
Chet is as thrilled about the new camera as I am. When he's in the mood, there's no better model. I believe we're developing a synergy that approaches the one William Wegman has with his marvelous Weimeraners. (Minus the talent, the props, and several thousand dollars' worth of camera equipment). Chet poses, there's no doubt in my mind. He will hold a pose until he hears the camera fire, and then he'll relax and go about his business. I talk to him, the way a fashion photographer talks to Christy Brinkley, and he gets it. It must be nice to be adored. And now for the clumsiest segue possible: Monday, December 18 is my one-year blogaversary. Last week, this blog took its 100,000th hit. Which makes me feel like The Artist Formerly Known as Prince: publishing his own music, the record companies be damned.

It's been an interesting ride. I sat down last night and composed this long, sort of tortured post about blogging, but it's not fully formed yet, and I don't want to dump a fetal post at your feet.

I first want to thank Birdchick for asking me to blog-sit for a couple of weeks last December, while she froze her toes in rubber boots in an Arkansas swamp. She told I should be doing it; told me I'd be good at it. I answered something like: "Uh, what's blogging?" I truly had no idea. Clearly, Birdchick was onto something, and she opened the door for me, with a ready-made audience, and for that I'll be forever grateful.

And now I have this community of friends and ardent supporters out there who time their morning coffee or midnight snack around my efforts. For that I am thankful. For all of you who've risen up, hackles ruffled, when somebody blunders into my Comments section with a stinkbomb, thank you. For your wise words and deep caring when I'm struggling, thank you. Thank you telling your friends and co-workers to look here, and thank you for buying my book. I feel I owe you something worth reading and looking at.

I thank Phoebe, Liam, and Bill for letting me post pictures of them. I hope I haven't embarrassed you too much. I want most of all not to embarrass anyone, and that is trickier to accomplish than it might seem. (Which is why I do so durn many dog posts. He's the only family member who I haven't yet been able to embarrass). Thank you, Chet Baker, doggie extraordinaire.

I'm glad to have a place to celebrate the love that permeates our house, and the love I feel for the natural world. I feel blessed, humbled, and lucky to be here, lucky to have my family and sweet Phoebe, Liam, and Bill of the Birds to share life with. It only seems fair to try to share it with you.
[Back to Top]