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Cerulean Homemaker

Monday, May 30, 2022


It seems I've just returned from a week in West Virginia, and yet I look at the calendar and it's been almost a month. Such is my life during Vegetation Time, when all that free time I fritter away doing things like editing, blogging, writing and painting gets sucked up in Vegetation Management. Oh, there's plenty of that all winter long, but it's more like upper body workouts, and not as horribly pressing. In southeast Ohio in May, you manage your vegetation or smother under it.

People have been asking me about No Mow May. "Is it bad to mow my lawn during No Mow May?"  The whole concept makes me laugh in a snorty way. Whoever came up with that doesn't live in southeast Ohio. Maybe doesn't even have a yard to maintain at all. I've thrown a belt and broken a pulley mowing my paths this spring. Yesterday I mowed a path that I had inadvertently skipped--it went about three weeks without mowing. Aaaack. I barely got through it; the rider mower was gagging and growling and burping on grass.  Then, just as I was finishing up three hours of path mowing, I threw a belt again. What fun. It takes my beloved neighbors Bill and Kathy and me to get the damn deck off, belt replaced, and back on the mower. Every time.  I'm all for not mowing. But around here, you'd better have a tractor and a brush hog ready if you quit for the month of May. Honestly, what could those No Mow May folks have been thinking? 

Kathy and Bill, saving my bacon again, and again, and again.
I am in the market for a new rider lawnmower. I need one that doesn't throw
belts like a Chippendale dancer, and doesn't give me PTSD
every dang time I climb on it.

Anyway, I'm not here primarily to kvetch about having to mow. I'm here to celebrate West Virginia, ancestral home of the Zickefooses, West Virginia University, ramps, and kick a-s birds. I celebrated my 20th year of involvement with the New River Birding and Nature Festival this spring by committing to an entire week of guiding. It wasn't nothing, getting up at 5 every morning, leading a 7-hour field trip, then getting up and doing it again the next morning, and the next...

But oh, the places we went, and the things we saw! 

I will now share some glorious things in a random way. 

One of the things I love about our field trips is that they are entirely bird-driven. If we find a bird, or birds, we stop dead and hang out for an hour or more, just taking in what the birds give us. Such was this moment with a female cerulean warbler we found visiting a junky-looking pile of winter stems on a Fayetteville road bank. 

You'll want to click on the photos to see her.

Birds are natural botanists and artisans. Like me in an art store, they know what materials they're looking for, and when they find the right stuff, they'll keep coming back. This little beauty was stripping papery fibers, perhaps from a winter milkweed or goldenrod stem.

It took some effort, and she'd throw a wing out and flutter as she pulled, which is what drew our attention.

It didn't take her long to get a billful, and she'd bear that off into a tall maple where, unseen, she was weaving a masterpiece.

We were charmed beyond delirium.

The female cerulean warbler has a dusty aqua/cornsilk yellow/dove gray color combination you just don't see on any other bird. She owns that muted color scheme, wears it beautifully. Please see her crown. Heavenly blue!

Seeing this little miracle taking place before our astonished eyes was such a full-circle moment for me. Years ago, I received a commission to paint nesting cerulean warblers in a West Virginia mountain setting for the WV Breeding Bird Atlas. I watched cerulean warblers and shot some landscapes for reference on this very same road, with my same WV friends. And the great big beautiful vastly informative and carefully researched book is out, and it's SO good, and I'm so proud to have decorated the cover. You can find out more at

It almost always rains for part of the festival, and I really wanted to convey a sense of West Virginia's mist-shrouded mountains. 

Taken from the New River Gorge bridge early one morning during this year's festival...wonder where I got the inspiration for the painting?

The little cerulean warbler didn't know any of this stuff that was swirling around through my head. She had work to do. And so she kept tugging and pulling and gathering, and we kept smiling. 


All this on a trashy-looking mountain road bank, that just happened to have the right kind of bark for the nest of one of our most beautiful and imperiled warblers. 

Liam's Blog Takeover!

Sunday, May 22, 2022


Hey all! This is Liam, and I'm doing a blog takeover for the day.

I just graduated from West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia, and I have been looking for jobs for months as I prepare to launch into the workforce. I am looking for work in graphic design or any other creative field, as I received my Bachelors in graphic design with a minor in painting, and I would love to make my living doing something creative. I have four years of experience using Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere, Audition, and XD. My proficiency in these programs earned me my diploma, and I am confident in my skills as a graphic designer. I do artistic commission work as well, and I am currently looking for work in New York City, Pittsburgh, PA, or Columbus, OH. If anybody has recommendations or job openings in these areas, please let me know. Thank you!

Starting off, I would like to show you all some of my work. I have a very large portfolio, and rather than post it all here, I'll just give you a taste of the things I do. 


"Grounding Forces, Fig. 1." 2022. Acrylic on canvas, 24" X 24"

This is an acrylic painting of recording artist Donald Glover, or Childish Gambino. I chose to do stylized, blocked shading rather than a smooth blend to diversify my style.

"Grounding Forces, Fig. 2." 2022. Acrylic on canvas, 24" X 24"

This is an acrylic painting of the late musician Malcolm McCormick, or Mac Miller. These two artists have been essential in my growth as a creative, and I wanted to make tributes to them. Mac Miller is even more inspirational because of the amount of work he created in his short lifetime. His life was cut short by an accidental overdose, and it taught me that life is precious, able to change at any moment. 

"America." 2021. Oil on canvas, varying dimensions

This collection of work, simply titled "America," is my take on the current political and cultural climate we live in. These paintings were done from stills of the "This Is America" music video, based on the song of the same name by Childish Gambino. Each painting has its own meaning and putting the three together tells a story.

"RUN." 2022. Acrylic on canvas, 24" X 36"

This is an acrylic painting of the recording artist George Miller, or Joji. It depicts Joji running through a limosine in one of his music videos by the name of "Run." I used his expressive face and pose to imply the struggles of mental health and the feeling of running from your own irrationalities and anxiety.


Visual Metaphor Project. 2020.

This was a class project that took a dive into what I could do with visual metaphor, and I chose to illustrate the message of staying away from junk food. The junk foods I picked were soda, pizza, and candy (lollipops to be specific). I took photos of pizza, blueberries, watermelon, and a clementine and cut them out in Photoshop. I then combined these foods to imitate the junk foods they were replacing, showing that eating healthy food can taste just as good as most junk food, while being better for you. I brought the project home by using the slogan "Health Always Tastes Better."

Smithsonian Sample Magazine Spread. 2021.

This was a particularly fun class project. I dive into this more in my portfolio, but this project was essentially my biggest launch into designing a magazine layout and really paying close attention to typesetting and image placement. We were tasked with desiging a conceptual magazine about an exhibit at the Smithsonian, and I chose the Hall of Deep Time, focusing particularly on the large dinosaur and fossil exhibitions. These are just two text-heavy pages from the magazine, the whole magazine being 40 pages long cover to cover.

"'Faces" Album Cover Poster. 2022.

This poster was done as a fun side project in between classes. I focused on making a typographically interesting poster of Mac Miller's latest release, the EP "Faces." I chose an image of the album cover, and created a poster from it.

"Wildfire Foldable." 2021.

This booklet is an informative foldable that outlines the impacts of the devastating 2021 California wildfire season, and the reach that some of the fires have had across the state. 

"Born of Rebellion" Exhibits. 2022.

These exhibit boards were made for West Virginia’s “Born of Rebellion” traveling Civil War exhibition. The exhibition details the founding of West Virginia and the impact of the events of the Civil War. My professor hosted a competition in the class to find the best designers for this exhibition, and the winners would design the actual traveling exhibition. I was on a team with three other graphic designers in my class, and out of five teams, ours was chosen to move forward. This exhibition will be traveling across the state of West Virginia, and I am honored to be a part of it. 

Along with this multi-panel exhibit, I designed an additional three-panel exhibit which provides more information about the lawmakers and Abraham Lincoln’s hand in making West Virginia a state. The first exhibit stands at 7.5' tall and 14.5' wide, and the second at 4'  tall by approximately 11' wide. This was my first foray into designing at a larger scale, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I designed the three-panel exhibit on my own, and my group members collaborated with me on parts of the larger exhibit.

So there you go! A good sample of my body of work as an artist and graphic designer. I hope this gives you a better understanding of the work I do and the aspirations I have as a creative. I always want to make something that I am really proud of, and I am eager to be able to make a living doing that. I've been told that it's tough to do. Even one of the spreakers at my graduation acknowledged this, telling us that we were "bold to choose a career in this field." I took it as her saying, "Hey, congrats on graduating with a degree in graphic design, but good luck finding a job." No ill intent obviously, but it made me realize that I have a long road ahead of me. I'm ready for it, though. Thank you all for reading, and I hope to talk with some of you soon!

To contact me directly, please email  liamht99ATgmailDOTcom  (You'll have to put in the @ and the . ---this format is to foil bots).


floating free for now, but hoping to tie up somewhere.

This is a Post About a Cat

Saturday, May 21, 2022


Curtis had to have been asleep when he walked across the lawn, headed for the sound of trickling water. He padded past the dog, stretched insensate on the grass beneath the Japanese maple, and strode confidently through the birch grove in my sideyard. Open mouthed, I watched the gray tabby kitten crouch and begin to lap from the birdbath on the ground under my studio window. 

My mind raced. Every cat that enters my yard is a heart momentarily stopped, a fresh dilemma, a day re-routed. This is a bird sanctuary, and cats are at cross-purposes to my cause. So the first thing that springs to mind is, “Oh crap! A cat!! What am I going to do with this cat?” See, I live too far from anyone for it to belong to a neighbor. Any cat that shows up on my place is either traveling, or, more likely, has been dumped by an uncaring owner. But they all have something in common. They cannot stay here, hunting birds.

 I can usually tell by watching the animal whether it is used to being around people. If it’s jittery and nervous, looking over its shoulder and startling at the slightest sound, I will set a baited live trap, capture it if I can, and take it to the local shelter, along with a donation. I hate to add to the shelter’s burden, so I make it a decent donation. If it’s too wild and won’t go in the trap, I will leave Curtis to keep an eye out for it and give it the bum’s rush when he sees it. The Treeing Tennessee Brindle doesn’t need to be asked twice. He takes his job seriously; he came to me with a strong anti-cat stance, and that is one of the things that hasn’t changed about my good good dog.

I liked the looks of this cat as far as sociability, so I let myself out the lower patio door, leaned around the corner, and spoke softly to it. Its head popped up, it mewed, and walked toward me, already purring. Oh my gosh. Without thinking a thing about it, I swept it up in my arms and held it against my chest. My God, I could feel every bone in its body. A quick check showed it was an unneutered male. 

Without alerting Curtis to his presence, I snuck him in the lower patio door and took him upstairs. He seemed amazed and thrilled to be inside a house. You can see how terribly thin he is, without any of that flubber that hangs down on most cat bellies. And look at the sharp angle of his spine. His pelvis bones protruded...he had been without food for a very long time.


As I ran my hand over and over his knobby spine, I felt myself falling down a well of need—the need to do right by this animal, who was so instantly trusting of me. 


It was also a well of impossibility. I cannot have a cat, committed as I am to providing a safe refuge for birds here on Indigo Hill. Keep him indoors then! But no-- I’m strongly allergic to cats—already my eyes had begun to itch, my nose to drip. Dang it!! Here I stood, holding a kitten in my arms, knowing that I had just taken the first step down a long, long road, but also knowing this one was too special for the local shelter, already overflowing with needy cats. This one came with a loving heart, not skittish in the least. That's something. That's huge.

 I grabbed some of Curtis’ kibble and put it on a plate. He bumped it with his nose, clearly hungry, but apparently didn’t recognize it as edible. Plan 2: I had some cooked chicken breast in the fridge. That clicked. He was so hungry he meowed loudly as he ate—yow yow myow myow myow. 

I finished his meal with a tablespoon of cottage cheese—eagerly accepted. Then I soaked some dog kibble in hot water until it was mushy, and that disappeared, too. He kept leaving his food to bump me with his head and curl around me, purring, saying thank you between bites. It made me laugh, how concerned he was about communicating his gratitude to me.

 As I bustled about the kitchen, the little cat wound in and around my ankles, nearly tripping me a dozen times. More than the food he so desperately needed, he wanted to be ON me—on my lap, shoulder, in my arms. It was an utterly novel sensation, to be courted by a cat in my own house. 


Neglected and pitifully malnourished, he was also dirty, and his fur felt dusty and skeezy. He needed a bath! I thought quickly. I can do this. He's gonna let me. I visualized success. First, I filled a bowl with warm water and dipped his front paws in it. No big deal; he kept purring. So I filled the bathroom sink with warm water, and gently lowered him into it. Squeezed a little baby shampoo onto him and soaped him up. He did stop purring then, but he hung with me through the rinse! His little limbs stuck out to the side, but he never once flailed or turned a claw on me, and I got him clean and sweet-smelling in nothing flat. Just talked him through it. I had to towel him dry because the hairdryer was deemed a bit scary. I'll grant him that. Obviously there are no videos of that process. Bathing a cat--even a sweet compliant kitten--is a two-handed proposition!

With each minute that went by, I was more amazed at this kitten. I’ve never seen an animal so plainly state his needs and desires—it was as if he had a magic hookup to my heart. Like he had one chance to make it work, and he was giving it all he had. Willing to compromise, to work with me.

Now that he was fed and bathed, we could get to that third great need of his: to be loved. This was the biggest of all his needs and desires. 

Oh, it was something to sit down with a sleepy kitten on my lap, to heart his hypnotic purrring.

To know that his fate was in my hands. That he trusted me completely. I felt my blood pressure go down, felt his need and my love mingle and soak into my soul. He was definitely giving back for everything he'd gotten.

Now that his immediate needs were met and we were settled, I called Shila. She'd know what to do. I briefed her on the situation, and she grabbed a pet carrier, jumped in the car, and headed right out, because it was a Caturday and she's that kind of friend. With my allergies and Curtis' prey drive and strong anti-cat stance, she felt Purvis was safer staying with her until we could get him to our wonderful veterinarian, get him stable and strong, find him a home. 

And it was Shila who documented me, the crazy bird lady, with a cat asleep on her lap, for probably the first time since I was 13.


"What color is the sky today?" I asked her. "Is it still blue, or has it turned purple? Because here I sit with a cat on my lap, and I'm loving it."

I named him Purvis. I could have been cute and spelled it Purrvis but I try to be subtle, not cute. 

He can be yours, you know. He needs to be someone's baby, and he will bring so much joy. I wouldn't do this for just any cat. He's very, very special. You get renaming rights, of course, if Purvis as a name doesn't make your canary chirp.

If you or someone you know can give Purvis a forever indoor home, please email 


I've configured it that way to confound the spam bots that steal email addresses. For those who might be unfamiliar, I am in southeast Ohio, 18 miles NE of Marietta.

 I'm convinced that, after having the worst start in life, this cat deserves the best we can do for him. There is more to his story, but that's enough for now. With all fingers crossed for an alignment of the stars, for the right person to take this perfect kitten, I remain gratefully yours, JZ

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