Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Karen's Best Photos of 2019

Listening to the news as 2019 dipped towards the horizon we were inundated with the “best ofs.”  The best songs, the best cat videos, the best political blunders — if someone could think of a category, it had a best list.  If I really want to dive into the subject, I could emerge with a list of best excuses for not keeping up with our blog during the past year.  The problem is, it would get rather repetitious.  That’s the area that reigns at the top of the list where I excel at recycling.

But now it’s our turn to join the parade.  Karen has taken a bunch of thousands of photos Since January 1st, 2019 and only deleted a bunch of hundreds.  Of these, we have many hundreds of favorites.  The challenge for our last blog of the year is Karen’s best photos of 2019 in 10 images.  Now, in reviewing the preliminary selection of 137 photos all deserving top prize, perhaps we should add two words to the description:  Some of.  And we’ve upped the ante to 12 plus added one of my own — of my favorite photographer.

Happy New Year.  Can’t wait to see her photo contributions for 2020.

Karen snapped this image of a pink (humpback) salmon trying to navigate a rapids during extremely low water this past August.  Obviously it was checking for any rocks that might be in the way up ahead.

2019 marked the first year Karen encountered common yellowthroats and then it seemed they seemed to be (as their name suggests) common.

Speaking of common, a seemingly ubiquitous bird, the song sparrow has become one of Karen's favorites with more than 12 images all deserving top honors in her best of list.

Karen also had enough intertidal images to more than fill most photographers best of list, but she picked this one because if you look closely there is a barnacle to the left of the blue mussels that has it's feet out.  I mean, look really closely.  I tended to notice the pattern of the mussels.

Another category with which she could have stuffed the ballot bot is trumpeter swans like these two beauties coming in for a landing in Washington's Skagit River Valley.  Oh, for another week there because...

The swans were in the minority those early November days, where maybe 40 to 50 thousand snow geese kind of captured ones attention, especially when they all took off and flew directly overhead.  Oh my, I just lowered my camera that day and stared in awe.

I primed Karen with verbal images of how much she would enjoy a drive over Lolo Pass as she crossed the border from Montana into Idaho.  So, it rained.  One thing about Karen, she can find a good photo subject under the most unappealing circumstances.

Let's see, have I shown any song sparrow images yet?  

Or snow geese freshly arrived from the Arctic, perhaps Siberia or Alaska.

The reason Karen was where this humpback whale was diving is because she was off to look for rocks on a favorite beach.  That's Alaska for you.

Two probably common merganser chicks -- such simplistic beauty -- unless you're a juvenile salmonid.

What's wrong with this image?  The white-breasted nuthatch photographed in Iowa is right-side up.  They always seem to be upside down, "hopping" down a tree trunk, but, not this time. 

That completes Karen's top 10 list for 2019.  We want to leave you wanting more, not less.

Happy New Year.

Oh, by the way, here are two bonus shots, one of the photographer and one of the editor.

The photographer and a fan club in Viola, Idaho.

The editor being investigated.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas December 2019

To our friends who may not have received our Christmas greetings:

Christmas 2019

                             Spoiling ourselves at a coffee house in LaConner, Washington

Merry Christmas from the House of Corn

Surprise!   It’s me, the reason my great great grand second uncle coined the term squirreling away.  That’s ‘cause I’ve been squirreling away peanuts the gentle lass spreads out for me and the jays and the crows and her illegal deer herd for the past year.  By the way, don’t tell the police, but Bambi still eats apples out of her hand while she tickles him under the chin. 

They started 2019 with the utterly most fantastic non-trip of the century.  After spending hours and hours, day after day after day, the grouch planning the ultimate winter getaway, he glanced up from their Apple computer screen and exclaimed “oh, it’s spring.” 

Besides, once again, after vowing they would never ever under any circumstance paint a large painting on watercolor paper to be cut up into pieces as a fund raiser for WAVE, a non-profit that works against domestic violence, they had a winter commitment.  That’s ‘cause the grouch uttered that forbidden three letter word, “yes.”  So the fair lass, now obligated without any form of consultation had one more “have to.”  Naturally she wisely painted five individual paintings, each surrounded by a white margin, on her mega-sized sheet of paper.  Meanwhile, he painted four very discrete paintings smartly tied together so they looked like one complete piece of art work — cleverly designed so no one could miss his conception.  Brilliant!


Her’s all sold intact — the largest purchased by a note-worthy art collector from Alaska — herself.  Yep, she bought her own painting to save it from being cut up because…..

There was this little girl.

An elementary school art critic.

Her mom gave her an itsy bitsy, I mean tiny, mat board with a cut out hole through which to select a portion of someone’s painting to be excised.  To their mutual horror, this little girl sprinted back and forth trying to decide — cut out one of the lass’s deer or the gnome on the back of a goofy bear the grouch had painted?  Whose work would be the victim?   Oh the agony they each felt as she darted between their paintings.  Back and forth, the lass’s heart sunk, back and forth, the grouch’s heart sunk, back and forth like a natural-born shopper.  Ultimately…… 

The gnome “won.”  

Now many downpours end with a rainbow, and that day proved to prove the tenet.  A man sitting at their table saw the grouch’s anguish as he slumped in his chair realizing hours and hours of labor had just been obliterated.  In an act of valor, he purchased the rest of that section of the big painting at a dollar per square inch as a gift to “the girl,” but in reality…you guessed it.

By the way, that Alaskan art collector I mentioned earlier ended the evening with one additional purchase.  There, on a silent auction table rested a painting the fair lass couldn’t resist — a gem left over from the previous WAVE Art by the Inch fund raiser.  A delightful pair of penguins with a chick had somehow escaped the discerning eyes of other art collectors.  Just why begs understanding, but she bid and now the fair lass’s very own painting from two years ago also hangs in their home.  The grouch believes it would be best if the fair lass refrain from visiting our local art gallery where more of her art is for sale.

Still, the lass’s major enterprise this year came through the viewfinder of two cameras.  If there is a duck, merganser, gull, loon, shorebird or bird from any other flock of the thousands that pass through Petersburg, whose image is not tucked safely in their computer, it’s not because she didn’t try.  It was probably just out-of-focus.  No, wait, if it’s out-of-focus, it’s still there.

And now thanks to the fact that she celebrated another birthday this year, she has a new camera, a Sony DSL RX-10 IV which, if you check out reviews on line, has a manual translated into English by a committee comprised solely of members who do not read or write English.  The name of the camera, RX-10 IV instead of RX-10 4 should be a clue.  Thus, the grouch even bought her a book on how to use the camera so she could get started because this camera will do anything except floss your rear molars — if you can figure out how — except  they couldn’t — figure out how to do most anything with it — the camera that is.

So, it was while standing alongside maybe 40 or 50 thousand snow geese in Washington’s Skagit River Valley with her trusty old Canon that she struck up a conversation with a guy, and this guy showed them some photos of geese and swans that would roll your socks down and back up, and they asked him what kind of camera he had, and hallelujah, it was the same Sony DSL RX-10 IV which she wasn’t even using because — I think you understand about flossing your rear molars.  Anyway, in a 10-second demonstration, he told her how to do what the grouch gave her the camera for.  Of course, she immediately dug the Sony RX-10 IV camera out from under a pile a thrift store treasures and set out among the birds only to find that all three batteries were dead and now it was time to leave the 40 to 50 thousand snow geese and, did I mention, several hundred trumpeter swans?

I’ve deviated chronologically because the Skagit River Valley provided the equivalent of hot fudge ice cream cake being served when you thought you were being sent to bed without supper.  It came while the grouch was grumbling because they were forced to wait a week for a ferry home as the finale of a 50-day trip across half of America and back — a trip that began with a drive down British Columbia to Bellingham, Washington.  There in one of those “no way” coincidences, the grouch’s brother just happened to be visiting from the east coast at the same time.  From there, he made a left turn to drive 2,000 stormy miles in four days lashed by rain, snow, wind and the spray from passing semis to Door County, Wisconsin, while the fair lass flew America’s stuffed skies being served a tiny bag of salty unidentified crunchy stuff along with a plastic cup of her beverage of limited choice over a parallel route.  

Ten days in Door County on the shores of the over-full Lake Michigan with cousin Connie and her husband, Bob, provided the fair lass with hours and hours of rock/fossil collecting, enough to wreck havoc with her back, her knees and displace everything the grouch had carefully packed in their Honda CRV — enough displacement so he couldn’t find much of anything he had brought along for the rest of the trip.  Between the rocks, the seats designed to carry nothing wider than a soda straw on cross-country Delta Airline flights and sagging, thrift store reject beds in the single $ motels the grouch found for their incredible deal lodging — the fair lass claims her spine feels like it has been compressed into the shape of a pretzel.

Of course, true to her Groth genetic heritage, the fair lass made fast friends with everyone she encountered.  On the shores of Lake Michigan she had a conversation with an “ELDERLY” gentleman.  Editors Note:  He was about the SAME AGE as her YOUTHFUL self.  And, as most people do in any conversation, he told the lass about his favorite high school teacher.  Naturally that teacher just happened to be the fair lass’s late uncle, Waldo.  The lass truly believes God has a hand in these “chance happenings.” 

Finally, back in Alaska when they departed the Alaska ferry, the fair damsel had amassed 47 more friends who want to maintain contact as well as order copies of her photo books plus she had bonded with 89 dogs, a dozen alpacas, two turtles and one toad.  Surprised?  As I said, she is a Groth.  The grouch?  I don’t think he lost too many friends and never met the toad.

The grand finale for that 50-day odyssey came when the fair lass found the ultimate rock — a real gold “nugget.”  Well, kind of.  While flossing her teeth she reached into her mouth and pulled out a beautiful gold inlay about the size of pencil eraser.  Of course no dentists were available to see her that Saturday.  Maybe they can use that gold to purchase another one of the lass’s paintings at the next WAVE auction.

I could have reported more, how she befriended the sweetest crow chick by giving it peanuts once, just once, really, only once, and for the next month it awakened the grouch every day at 4:00 AM and spent what seemed like forever mewing and cawing outside their bedroom window pleading, begging, willing to do anything for guess what?   But, I’ve written enough so I won’t — report on it that is.

The rest of their family appears sort of normal.  David no longer delivers pizzas, but instead has begun delivering people via Uber and Lyft in Wasilla and Anchorage.  Tamia continues her traditional feminine role of driving plows and equipment for the City of Anchorage while Mandy got her second bachelor’s degree — this one in nursing — and currently works where they hope you don’t meet her on a professional basis, in Seattle’s Virginia Mason Hospital. 

That’s about all I dare acknowledge about them for 2019.  Now as a special Christmas gift to their friends the fair lass is offering to loan out rocks as table decorations during 2020 for any special events for which you may want to add a touch of class to the affair.

Oh no.  Someone left the window open and the squirrel got in.  Guess we ran out of peanuts.  Better refill the feeder.   But wait, now we don’t have to write a Christmas letter this year.  All we have to add is what we most wanted to say:

May the blessings the miracle of Christmas fill your heart with the gift of Christ’s Love throughout the season and coming year.

With love, Don and Karen

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

My Lord, What a Morning

It didn’t really start this morning — more like a month ago.  The phone.  “Karen, would you be willing to read the scriptures at Church one weekend in June?”

Now, at Petersburg Lutheran Church the honor comes with a bonus, you’re also the Communion Assistant, but we’ll get to that later.

Before Church Karen attends Sunday School (held at Colleen’s home next to the church) with a flock of her feminine friends, one of whom, Sally, offered Karen a ride.  Not wanting to delay Sally, Karen stood in front of our house ten minutes early.  Never one famous for her patience, nine minutes later Karen decided she had been forgotten and scuttled off on foot.

Thus, when Sally knocked on our door perhaps a minute or two late Karen had disappeared out of sight.  Off Sally drove figuring she’s pick Karen up along the route.  No Karen.  Fearing she may have fallen into a ditch, a most distressed Sally soon arrived at Sunday School, a distress she conveyed to Karen.  Minutes later with Karen now feeling remorseful and a bit rattled for causing Sally to worry, Susan set her cup of coffee down next to Karen as Karen removed her sweater.  Alas, a law of physics prevailed.  Two objects cannot occupy the same space simultaneously, namely Karen’s fast-moving hand and the coffee cup.  Yes, the coffee ended up all over Karen’s pants and the floor.

With only les femmes present Colleen suggested they had time to wash the pants during the Sunday School lesson.  Off they came and into the laundry room where Karen grabbed stain remover with which she doused her pants.  Editors note:  It might have been best if Karen had not removed her glasses when she took off her sweater.  After spraying the coffee stains she realized the bottle of Shout Out for Clothes was still on the shelf.  For the record, we now know that carpet stain remover can be substituted for clothes stain remover.

Also, for the record, Karen became the first woman in our Church known to participate in a Sunday School lesson pants/dress-free.  The clothes had about dried as the lesson ended and Colleen’s clock read 10:00 — remember she was the scripture reader this morning and that comes very very early in the 10:00 service.

That’s when Karen decided she’d better get her sweater back on.  Of course that’s also when the zipper of the sweater snagged on her blouse.  That’s also when the bells pealed to signal the start of the service.  Now Karen was due on site in minutes as she sat clad in her lingerie with her pants in the dryer and her sweater and blouse badly intertwined while hung up high on her chest.

A breathless a wide-eyed Karen dashed into Church barely in time to read the Scriptures, but not before announcing to the entire congregation that they were lucky she had her pants on.  

Still rattled she had to face Communion.  Her job — hold two cups, one filled with wine, the second, grape juice.  Now behind her when she served Communion were just two steps and her final duty was to mount those two steps and put the two vessels back on the altar.  Just two steps.  Only two.  She cleared one.  The grape juice flew onto the rug.  The wine into her face, onto her blouse and into the Baptismal font positioned at the top of the steps.  From my pew seat it looked like Karen was Baptizing herself as she washed wine out of her eyes with water from the font.

Finally Pastor Eric communed Karen.  He handed her a wafer to dip into what little wine remained.  She just ate it.  He tried again.  She just ate it.  Ah well, there will be Communion next week.

At the end of the service I couldn’t help but notice when I turned to the closing hymn, I first alighted on the preceding hymn:  My Lord, What a Morning.  We should have sung that one.  I gave Karen a ride home.

                    Courting Days   18 x 24 inches   Alkyd on Canvas

This is an older painting I did of Karen of another memorable morning, OK maybe it was an afternoon, but it was one of those days that sent my heart racing as I fell in love with this gentle lass.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Never Again

Never again! That’s what Karen said two years ago. I echoed her statement with two, no three, exclamation points. The fundraiser for WAVE, Working Against Violence for Everyone — a local non-profit — is a gala event for attendees with alcoholic beverages flowing freely along with a plentiful assortment of delicacies for the most discriminating palates.

However, the main attraction is the artwork, creations by artists mostly on a 22 X 30 inch sheet of watercolor paper to be cut up and sold by the square inch.  Supporter/patrons chosen by random numbers circulate around the artwork with various sized mat boards.  Each searches for the perfect layout they would like to see cut out of the artist’s creation to take home at the hefty price of $1.00 per square inch.  

I’ve suffered mightily in past years.   I offered pieces I composed with obvious (to me) complete compositions that anyone could see — just put your mat board around the central parts and viola. They got decimated.   Karen always painted discrete paintings surrounded by white borders.  They always survived.

This year I decided to adopt Karen’s tactic — sort of, neither one of us figuring on one little girl whose mother must have said “you can chose one little piece.  Take this tiny mat board and have fun.”  Alas, this juvenile art collector ended up being one of the first “art patrons” chosen to choose and she honed in on Karen’s and my artwork.

                   Karen's     You Are So Dear to me     Watercolor/Acrylic

Back and forth she darted between the two.  Again and again — so fast she’s obviously a future candidate for an Olympic track medal.  Karen’s largest painting of bears or one my paintings of a bear with gnomes on it’s back was going to get destroyed with hours and hours of work spent on the rest of the painting laid to waste.  We were miserable as we watched her dash back and forth between the pieces.  Oh, the agony, the pain.  In the end…the gnomes were chosen to be plucked off the back of the bear.

                    Don's     Gnome Fishing Strategies      Alkyd    
The gnomes would have been excised from the back of the bear.  

But then, an angel.  His name, Richard.  We had never met him before this event but he sat across from us at our table and saw our angst.  Richard likes gnomes and when his turn came he did the unimaginable.  He selected another of my gnome and bear paintings for himself plus….he purchased the entire gnome and bear painting the girl wanted part of so she could have the whole undefiled thing.  My painting survived because of the generosity of Richard, my hero.

In the end my four gnome paintings sold, as did Karen's eclectic selection of four paintings.  Karen was so enamored with her own largest offering she sat on the edge of her seat dreading seeing it cut up or cut out -- until it was her turn to chose what artwork she wanted.  It now resides on our living room wall.

        Karen's    When You're Done I Have a Question    Watercolor/Acrylic
                               Now part of our own art collection.     

                              Don's    A Beary Big Problem     Alkyd

Two years from now we will receive another request.  Would you be willing?  If I breakdown and say yes, which I am vowing never to do again, but if I do which I won’t, the subject will be….blotches of unused paint from every painting I work on for months — a totally indescribable abstract — blotches of color that should never ever ever ever be placed within the same room of each other.  Then, after that maybe WAVE will strike my name from their contact list. 

           Karen's    Are You Sure That Was Decaf?    Watercolor/Acrylic

                           Don's    Waiting For Some Action    Alkyd

                            Karen's      Bird Grains      Watercolor/Acrylic

                Don's    A Gnome Family Outing On The River    Alkyd  
This piece didn't fare so well with the top of the mountains and one deer perishing when they were cut out of the painting.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Karen's High Arctic Adventure

Last June Karen fulfilled a long held dream — traveling to an Arctic wilderness.  A guided trip rafting down the Kongakut River draining the north slope of Alaska’s Brooks Range enabled her to savor one of the wildest parts of North America free from the accouterments of civilization — OK, mostly without.  She brought along her toothbrush.

Prior to Karen setting off on that adventure with a close friend, four other soon to be friends and two guides, I restrained myself from encouraging her with suggestions such as: she gets airsick on small planes (she didn’t ), she’d be under siege by trillions of mosquitos (she wasn’t), and she was sure to get lost (she did).  One out of three — that would be a good batting average for a New York Yankees left fielder.

So, in mid June Karen departed Petersburg on an Alaska Airlines jet, downsized in Fairbanks and further downsized in Kaktovik on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.  The only additional downsizing came when she disembarked the tiny bush plane supported by tundra tires that enabled it to land on a gravel bar in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  There, far up the Kongakut River, she downsized into a full-to-capacity raft to set off down the river — traversing some of the wildest, most remote country in North America.

The Kongakut River originates in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the north slope of Alaska's Brooks Range.  From there it winds it's way to the Beaufort Sea at the top of the North American continent.

                                                  The drop off spot -- an Alaska-style "airport."

The big question, of course, was now how do you fit four people in that thing?  The answer is once the planes have departed you have no choice.

Each day of rafting was interspersed with a day of explorations via foot.  During those sorties mountain tops held the strongest allure for all of the group -- except Karen.  There’s no way mountain tops can come close to competing with treasure hunts for rocks and bird photographs.  Of course it was on one of those treasure hunts for rocks, when she rarely glances up to see where she is going, much less what direction, led to me being successful in one of my predictions — she spent three hours walking away from camp in a effort to get to it.  Only Karen!

                                                                          Off for a day of exploration

Carolyn surveys the upper Kongakut River from a vantage point on the way to the next vantage point one step further upslope.

So, how did Karen manage to get lost when the encampment is to obvious?  Hint, Karen, it's over on the left side of this photo.

So many choices!  Karen wanted to bring all of them home, but wait.  They had to fit in the raft and plane, even Karen's pack.  Can you guess which one of these now resides in our living room?

                           Of course she wanted to bring this family of Arctic Ground Squirrels home, too.

And this semipalmated plover.  Then again, it may well fly to Petersburg every spring and fall during it's north and southbound migrations.  Perhaps it's image even resides among Karen's 90,000 photographs on this computer.  We'll have to check on that.

            Ah, a critter she may have actually brought home residing among the cells that constitute her body.  

A bull caribout that chanced upon Karen while she was visiting the trench that functioned as the camp loo.  Inspired by Karen, the caribou emulated her action.

Somehow politicians depiction of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as being a wasteland doesn't jibe with our definition.

Aufeis, Kongakut River overflow that built up in layers of ice last winter greeted the intrepid explorers as they approached the Beaufort Sea.

The final destination:  a gravel bar separating the Beaufort Sea (on the right) from a lagoon at the mouth of the Kongakut River.

                            Remnants of last winter's Arctic Ocean ice pack line the shores of the Beaufort Sea.

Just shy of the sea, aufeis lingers on even after summer solstice.  Can it ever melt before winter?  We won't know.

It’s with great sadness that we now watch tax reform wrangling in Washington.   Politicians, whose main concern is rewarding the oil industry for funding their campaigns, are on the threshold of turning parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge adjacent to the Kongakut River into an industrial zone.  To add insult to injury, anyone who isn’t employed in the oil industry will be barred from even accessing the area.  Politicians claims that effects on the refuge can be mitigated is total nonsense. 

The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Seemingly so barren and yet it's the nursery for the Porcupine caribou herd as well as a myriad of bird species.  Turning it into an industrial complex can't be mitigated and once lost, it's lost forever.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Three Portraits

Three portraits gave me reason to head into my basement studio this past winter and spring — a couple of “would yous?” and one “just couldn’t resist.”  

                                         Jay    12 x 12 inches   Alkyd on Canvas

When I think of heroes, one of the first who pops into my mind is Jay.  Summer after summer Jay and his wife, Carolyn, would charter a plane from Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories to fly into a lake surrounded by a continental sized wilderness.  Left on their own in the middle of the Canadian Barrens they would set off in their canoe chasing the retreating winter’s ice as they paddled up some unexplored drainage to it’s headwaters, portage over the continental divide (the other one) and trace the path of another drainage until their journey ended as autumn reached the Arctic Ocean.  They had zero room for error as they surveyed countless rapids before deciding whether to risk running them or to portage past, keeping in mind the date of their Arctic Ocean rendezvous with the plane flight home.  Almost every year they explored a new drainage and most years they may have been the first people to ever set foot where they trod.  The nearest person, with whom they had no contact anyway, might be the distance from Alaska to Seattle — maybe even further.  At the end of one of their last expeditions, the two celebrated Jay’s 80th birthday by scaling a granite wall overlooking Bathurst Inlet, a branch of the Arctic Ocean.  The top of that cliff is the setting for “Jay.”

                                       Ava    12 x 12 inches    Alkyd on canvas

Ava presents a different inspiration — the creative kind.  I often reflect on how an elementary school aged child can have such a fertile mind.  Her grandma keeps us updated as to her comings and goings and there is no doubt Ava possesses “the gift.”  Ava reportedly often retreats to her room after school where she creates fabulous art work.  I only hope she can keep doing her own thing instead of someday being drawn into other’s expectations.  I painted Ava based on one of her grandma’s favorite photos of her.

                    Cadence Lost in Thought    12x 12 inches    Alkyd on Canvas

I didn’t even know who Cadence was when I began painting her.  A friend asked Karen to take some photographs during her son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law’s wedding rehearsal.  As usual, Karen’s eye for strong images gave me fodder for more painting subjects.  One photo of three children especially caught my eye.  The young lass in the photo seemed a million miles away, maybe thinking of her own wedding someday.  Who knows?  That’s for whoever views “Cadence Lost in Thought” to figure out. 

Karen’s photo translated into my painting remind me of a poem I wrote several years ago:

We passed in the morning
She a child
Lost in her dreams.
I a man
With mine.
Her eyes turned skyward
Yet not.
For hers was an inward gaze
Bound in some other world
From that which we traveled.

She, an unfinished page
Her beaming face
Like the morning sun
Clothed in innocence
Unsoiled by time
Without a laugh,
Rising corners of her mouth
Said everything
And yet so little.

Our eyes never met
Giving me the chance
To wonder.
Where was she as we passed?
Somewhere ahead,
Or just behind?
Today, tomorrow, or yesterday?

There was no hint.
Only joy.
That enveloped my today
And made my tomorrow brighter.

Don Cornelius