The Way Things Are

Summer has officially arrived and here I am bundled up in a blanket, of all things, glancing out the window at the miserable blanket of water laden, gray clouds above. They’ve been marching across the mountains while dumping rain over the landscape, bringing down the ambient light as well as the temperatures. Monotony!

Contrast is where it’s at! I’ve lived the majority of my life in the Pacific Northwest and by now you think I’d have learned to relish the rain, but I’ve never enjoyed it. Joy is golden sunshine, lively green plants, colorful flowers (Eden is at the Equator! Haha!)! My soul sings when there is light, shadows, a sweet breeze, my body feels alert and capable and my mind darts from one prospect to the next. That, or thunderstorms. I LOVE thunder and lightning. I miss storms like those on the East Coast (I lived in New Jersey for 3 years), when the prickly, smothering afternoon humidity and heat would birth towering, eerie looking clouds that offered some relief from the stagnant air. Relentless heat lightning that stretched and leaped from cloud to cloud never ceased to impress me on spring and summer nights. We don’t really get that around here (if you don’t count this crazy storm from back in 2012) so there isn’t much to look forward to.

I was worried that this summer would be as dry as last years. On the Olympic Peninsula, the bizarre heat wave resulted in the burning of some of the most predictably damp regions of our famous temperate rainforests! Wildfires in Paradise!? It was not unheard of, historically, but it had definitely been a good while since the last time that had happened.

At the moment I live at the foot of the Olympic Mountains, just along the national park and for that summer, the mountains were creepily devoid of any significant snowpack. It was so strange to see them naked like that. Mountains can be unimpressive looking without patches of snow that herald their sky scraping altitudes. I was so used to seeing them with some quantity of snow and because of all the wildfires that were raging at the time, these bare peaks often looked dingy and dull, an uninspiring faded blue-green. I remember one day I had gone outside and was startled to see a hazy, neon-tinted smoke filling the air, quite dense and ugly as I tilted my head back to look up. The predominant odor was that of a giant barbecue. My eyelashes and hair soon became coated in brittle wisps of pale ash that rained down on everything in great abundance. It reminded me of our last trip out to Grand Coulee. We had prospects of documenting all sorts of wildlife in the canyons, but it was really more of a venture out into a post-apocalyptic landscape. We tried to make the most of it, but spent most of our time marveling at the arid and volatile conditions, since the air quality was extremely poor. It caked ones nostrils and throat to be out for more than a few minutes, marveling at the fact that the locals were familiar with these events and didn’t seem terribly perturbed by it.

Anyways, it hasn’t been as dry this time, which is just fine. Droughts are no fun! This is the first year I’ve been able to work on a garden with any kind of vision and I’m finding the whole process of planting and maintaining my little photosynthesis buddies completely enthralling.

I was nervously plopping corms into freshly tilled soil back in March, covering the little corm pits and watering the flowerbeds for a few particularly hot days. Every morning I would go out there to see how things were progressing, doting on the earth and willing the little things to sprout up. I don’t really know why I checked on them so frequently right at the beginning, since it would be more than a week or two before anything significant was supposed to happen, but I was so eager to witness the eruption of the first shoots!I couldn’t help it. I felt like something of a new parent, eager to catch the miraculous first smile of their newborn. I kept daydreaming about what the first growths would actually look like, as I actually had no idea and I didn’t want to know until the moment I could see them in person.

I had went crazy and planted a legion of gladiolus. Some larger varieties, others miniature ones (supposedly). The sun did the majority of the work, blazing down on the flower bed and I did my part by dutifully watering them around dusk, every so often, usually after arriving home from work. I could imagine the corms in their little, dark earthy nests, absorbing the lovely radiant heat from above and drinking up the liquid that trickled down to reach them, all while reaching out with tentacle-like root limbs to embrace the food that surrounded them, stabilizing them for the future. They were always ‘alive’, but now they were truly ready to grow! I have vivid memories of the first day I spotted one of these growths peeking out from the dirt. I wasn’t even sure of what it was I was looking at…if this…thing…was really the thing I had planted.

An adorable, tiny mound had appeared to break the level surface of the ground, it was crumbled and cracked like a slice of moist chocolate cake or a miniature mole hill and something purple and smooth was scarcely poking its way out of the center of this disturbance. I crouched down to look at it more closely.

Hmm. Purple? Was that…right? The thing was purple, kind of reddish purple actually. I hadn’t anticipated that.

I carefully brushed some of the soil aside and noted a tinge of green on it. Interesting! Well, this was definitely a plant, and new…and it was right beside the toothpick marker I had left, placed above the buried corm. Hmm. My eye wandered to a similar mound and was surprised to see an even taller sprout in its center! Even more green on this one. I stood back up and felt a rush of excitement. I fully realized that I was now a plant parent proper, and these were my first baby gladioli!

The springtime sun rose and dipped behind the mountains, the bright moon waxed and waned in its inky bowl – more heat, more moisture, more time. I kept checking in on things. Sure enough, my legion was stirring. The developed shoots were a beautiful pale shade of green, shaped like the tip of a sword rising from various ancestral graves. These protrusions were sheaths, actually, and of surprisingly sturdy make…like soft and lightly ridged leather. More sheaths rose and day by day, I was astounded by the height these plants reached in only a month or two. I pointed them out to James every day, probably annoying him with my excitement over every millimeter of growth.

They are still growing, developing and I’m crossing my fingers that we will see a successful bloom soon.

Beyond gardening, I’ve been tending to my art. I am accumulating tools and materials for my fairly sincere ceramics studio, which is practically outdoors, although in a covered area. I haven’t much money to work with, so I’ve been building some things from scratch (like a wood utility table, from spare planks) with help from James and his brother. It’s fun to try new things and experiment! I tried my hand at drilling pocket holes with the very handy Kreg Jig I bought. It’s working well!

The coolest bit of equipment I have right now is a pottery wheel. I didn’t think I would own one for a very, very long time but I was gifted a used one by a friend who I met for the first time at one of the Scarab Society presentations James and I did together at the Burke Museum. We made the journey out to his home to pick it up one day because we were going to be in the area. I’d only known him through Facebook previously, as he is a fellow macro photographer and nature enthusiast. He gave us a tour of his awesome ceramics studio and some of his property. I was so excited to talk to another human that shares so many of my interests! I usually find meeting new people to be totally nerve-wracking, I am awful at small talk, but it helps to already know a thing or two about a person, especially if those things actually make up a vast portion of one’s interests and those interests lead to more invigorating subjects. The problem then is to not talk too much! Ha!

I hope to meet more people this way. 🙂

I’ll get the wheel going once I get my wedging table set up. I tested the wheel, and for something that is supposedly 30 years old or more, it seems to work beautifully! I love the color of the wheel table. Apparently the whole thing was made by the previous ceramic artist, instead of being a mass produced model, which is a bit odd. I wish I knew who it was! (Maybe I can find out.) It’s colored an interesting, very bright, ruddy tangerine hue. My pottery stool is a wooden one I found at a second-hand store and James was kind enough to lend me his muscles to saw the legs to the appropriate height for sitting at the wheel. Woohoo! Funny enough I feel compelled to clean this wheel before I get it filthy again!
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The main thing I need for the studio is an inventory of glazes, a few little tools and one day a kiln, but I am a very long ways from having the appropriate space and setup for the kiln. Waah. The glazes I am working on acquiring right now so that I can create just about any subject and have at least one shade of each color. My work in progress is a handbuilt pot of Cruziohyla craspedopus. Here are some photos of it so far. I am planning on using 5-7 glazes on this pot alone, most of the colors are ones I don’t yet have!

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Glazes are going to be an essential part of my ceramic art, as my goal is to create highly realistic recreations of actual animals and arthropods. So much of many creatures is the texture and patterns of their bodies, especially the colors, right down to the way the light strikes the different odds and ends, I think especially so with insects. Argh, sometimes it is a pain in the butt (more like a hole in ones wallet) to be a stickler for the little details, but I really love the end results, such as with the latest project – the Siberian Tiger, which actually turned out just like I wanted it to! All my research and scrutiny paid off.

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This tiger is up for sale in my Etsy store! (I’ll be adding other items as soon as I get the shipping stuff figured out)

I am so excited to experiment with new forms, different ways of integrating nature, science and wildlife themes into products people can use every day. The most important thing I can do with my work is to be successful enough to donate a good amount of my earnings to various conservation programs being operated by passionate people from all walks of life. Some I have been lucky enough to have met already and spoken with about all kinds of issues facing imperiled wildlife in a variety of countries. Places like Panama, Ecuador, and hopefully beyond. Others, I look forward to meeting in the near future. In that vein, my current focus will be on a beautiful species of dwarf chameleon that is endemic to the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. I’ll make an attempt at getting a ceramic piece put together for their flagship conservation project, to secure habitat for the Pondo Dwarf Chameleon. The project is being undertaken by Herpetological Conservation International, a fairly new organization. The project itself is dubbed ‘Project Pondo‘. They’ve done extensive surveys and research and have a great plan for the short and long term. Raising money through art auctions is just one little thing I can do to pitch in! I plan on doing more.

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Sad Pondo Dwarf Chameleon is sad. A quick watercolor painting I did yesterday night.

Considering the almost endless number of extremely depressing stories we read about regarding the destruction of habitat, natural resources and the devastating loss of so much biodiversity, I try to focus on the passionate people out there who are simply not going to give up and allow precious places and animals to be destroyed. I will do what I can to lend some sort of helping hand to ensure that something meaningful and positive can happen for vulnerable wildlife. I am always amazed by the number of people out there who are willing to put a lot on the line for these causes, sometimes even losing their lives for speaking out in defense of habitat, or working with animals that are indeed dangerous, but not purposefully so. For me, there is no greater source of wonder than those precious moments spent exploring and observing nature and wildlife. Not in the touristy sense, but in deep, patient contemplation of the most minute of creatures and things. I really cannot imagine my life without vast wilderness and darkened, starry skies. It is a fundamental aspect of who I am and always will be.

In other news….the other project I am continuing to expand on is the production of nature inspired jewelry. I’m delighted to have found homes for a surprising number of my salamander pendants. I was so scared to offer these guys up to everyone at the start, wondering if anyone would appreciate the depictions the way I did. I’m so pleased to know there are such people and from all kinds of places! Right now, the rattlesnakes are being cast in bronze, so this is the new experiment. These rattlesnakes will be purely decorative in nature, but I imagine they would be fun to have around as a reminder of our fondness for animals that are persecuted to the most barbaric degree and our determination to let curiosity and enlightenment direct our perspectives and actions in life, rather then fear.

Another recent event – I’m proud to say that my painting of Anolis proboscis (Courtship of male and female) is featured in the Herpetology in Art section of Herpetological Review, an expansive, quarterly publication by the Society for the study of Amphibians and Reptiles covering all things reptile and amphibian. I was invited to contribute to the June 2016 edition by Jackson Shedd, who is himself a fantastic artist!

My big hope for the next few months it to get outside and do some hikes and photography trips. It’s been way too long since I’ve been able to do any of that extensively! I’ll try and update the blog with each trip – I think I’ll add a report with photos of the most recent hike James and I did a month or so ago.

Anyhow, that is pretty well it for things I’ve been up to recently.

….Until next time! 😀 😀

 

 

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