Monday, March 6, 2017


At the tender age of 76 the event still haunts me. 

The last game of the season — Manoa School vs our arch rival.  Our team behind by a scant point. The ball poised a mere foot from the goal line.  4th down.  Barely time for one last play and our place in history.  The quarterback called a never-miss play.  Cliff — I forgot his last name although I think it began with a Ke. — would make an easy end run.  No sweat and we would be the never-to-be-forgotten champions.

Then, from an obscure corner of the huddle, the fullback, an insecure 11-year-old, squeaked “let me take it this time.  I’ve never scored a touchdown.”

The perfect snap put the ball squarely in my arms and I plunged headlong towards the ragged wall of sweating players.  Glory lay inches away that golden autumn day.

Today I can still feel the sensation.  So intent in crossing that goal line I forgot one essential item.  Rather than tackling me, that opposing guard simply plucked the ball out of my arms as easy as picking a dandelion from a lawn.  I tackled him, the buzzer sounded and the game ended.  A would-be hero instantly turned into a goat.

I was reminded of that traumatic day this winter. 

I have had paintings accepted and shown in the first two National Weather Center Biennial competitions — an international arts event in Norman, Oklahoma.  One painting even ended up on a page in Southwest Art magazine.  I felt I made up for that missed touchdown twice and was poised for a third.  I entered three paintings in this year’s contest.   My favorite was “Cold,” a portrait of Karen I painted specifically for this competition.  Karen had taken a selfie of herself at the end of a snowstorm and this one seemed ripe for the contest.  Karen documents her life by taking occasional selfies and I love how they reveal her personality in such an unassuming way.  

                                      Cold   12 x 16 inches   Alkyd on Canvas

The email of acceptance came in mid-November.  The congratulatory message came with a simple message, “further information will be coming soon.”  That’s all.  “When is soon?,” I wondered.

One thing my parents impressed upon me was the old adage “patience is a virtue.”  Maybe, when used judiciously! 

Every day I patiently waited for that message.  I waded through volumes of filtered junk mail — an uncanny amount due to several lowly spammers, pre-Christmas offers, political stuff — over 200 per day.  Nada.  I knew the event was scheduled for Earth Day.  Be patient!

Finally, in mid-January, I decided I had better inquire.  No response.  A week later, another email netted an answer.  “Sorry, you missed a December 31 deadline to send us another copy of your painting.  You’re out of the show.  We sent you several emails.” 

I'm not so sure, but if that’s true, my favorite guess as to what happened is they did indeed send me emails.  However when the show curator typed a message popped up that I often get when forwarding something to myself.  “Did you mean”  A simple yes would have sent the notifications to who knows where, but certainly not me.  Other explanations seem equally plausible, but i vote for this one.

I could be wrong, but one thing I know.  Patience is best tempered with reason.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, I’m against competitive sports until children are emotionally mature.  Our society pays too much attention to the heroes, but what about the goats?  As for me, I’m still waiting to reach that level of maturation.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Another WAVE Rolls In

The unexpected call came in January.  Would I be willing to participate in another Art by the Inch fundraiser for WAVE (Working Against Violence for Everyone) — in the front half of February.  Oh my!  As much as we believe in the mission of the organization, “No” was my only option.  Sure if the call had come in November, but with that kind of timeline during which I had two out-of-town trips scheduled — yikes.  That would leave me three weeks to complete a 22 x 30 inch painting I needed three months to complete without significant stress.  No way!

So I said yes. 

Several days later six sheets of wimpy 140 pound watercolor paper showed up at our door.  Wait!  I said I would paint one painting, said nothing about Karen and they were expecting six paintings.  No way!

So we compromised — I would do one and Karen would do one.

Petersburg residents responded with enthusiasm during the first two Art by the Inch fundraisers and I have to admit, Karen and I enjoyed watching their responses — at first.  The concept: artists complete a 22 by 30 inch painting to be hung on a wall at Petersburg’s Sons of Norway hall.  On the big day, each attendee gets a number when they enter the venue.  Clutching onto their number, they mill around the hanging artwork, oohing and aahing while they consider what part of a painting they would like to cut out to take home — for the cost of $1.00 per square inch.  Yes — cut out.  It’s brutal for artists like me.

Finally, after feasting on tasty treats and getting lubricated with wine, to soften participants resistance, comes the big moment.  The emcee draws ten participants numbers in random order, say 21 through 30, and those ten individuals, varying sized pieces of mat board in hand, get first crack at what part of whatever painting they want to take home.  WAVE volunteers mark off their selections.  When group one sits down, the second group gets their shot at the remnants and so forth for the remaining groups.

Last time I carefully planned a piece (I only had time to complete a 22 x 15 inch painting) so that it was “totally obvious” where it should be cut up.  Anyone could see that.  Bad idea.  Someone in the first group destroyed the painting by cutting something out of the middle.  Lacking the heart to wait to see what happened next, we left.

On the other hand, Karen, my wise wife, completed five separate paintings on her sheet of paper.  All were some of the first chosen and all survived intact.

Which brings us back to this year.  Once again, Karen completed four separate paintings — at least after announcing she was giving up after completing a half sheet with two paintings on it.

I, in my infinite wisdom, showed my lazy side deciding that painting multiple paintings exceeded my level of ambition.  Thus. I began with one complete scenic subject covering the entire sheet.  Done!  I smiled with satisfaction that I hadn't spent all three weeks working on it.  But wait — it needed some critters.  Oh, and maybe a couple more.  Alas, the number kept growing (it ended up with 24 plus 7 gnomes) until I ran out of time.  Ultimately, I foresee another disaster as participants take a shot at it.  At least this time we’ll be out of town during the event due to the show being delayed to accommodate other artists.  We’re still curious, but at least we won’t have to cringe at the process.

             Karen's WAVE Project  Total 22 x 30 inches  Watercolor, acrylic and colored pencil

                                                         Detail:Lop-eared Bunnies

                 Detail:  Sheltered (Gentoo penguin chicks based on a photo by Robin Roberts)

                                                         Detail:  Pecking Order

                                                       Detail:  Birds of a Feather

Don's WAVE painting  Muskeg Mischief  22 x 30 inches  Alkyd  Sorry about the somewhat folded over upper left-hand corner

                                          Detail:  Left side of Muskeg Mischief

                                         Detail:  Right side of Muskeg Mischief


Friday, January 6, 2017

Winter Harbor III

Karen does not limit her focus to waterfowl when she prowls around Petersburg’s boat harbors.  To her artist’s eye everything is fair game whether it moves or not.  Nor does she feel limited to the harbors.  Two sloughs duck down into Wrangell Narrows behind our harbors.  Hammer Slough in particular is lined with historic and not-so-historic homes and fishing gear storage warehouses accessed by land or sea — your choice — although at low tide you might think twice about the water option.

                              A small slough drains into Petersburg's South Harbor.

I often look at the old weathered buildings along Hammer Slough and wish our log house had not been painted when we purchased it.  Like an aged senior citizen, weathered wood has character.  Then again, also like an aged senior citizen, in our rainforest climate, it also has a finite life span.  We have seen a few historic buildings built on pilings in Hammer Slough succumb to the that mightiest of forces.  No, not wind or waves, but  a microscopic fungi or bacteria secretly nibbling it’s way into the wood while nobody’s looking until one of them takes that last “bite” and brings the whole structure down.  You can imagine the admiration it’s companions have on that day.  “Wow, you did THAT!”

                                    Life is always scenic when you live along Hammer Slough.

Grassy areas, so boring in summer could be a vacant lot anywhere in America — a wasteland coveted by developers — a “blight” on the landscape.  But add a layer of frost during clear, cold winter days and Karen discovers a magical world as exciting as any 4th of July fireworks display.

                                           Just a plain old boring spider web or is it?

   Wild Celery is pretty in summer, too, but don't touch it when the sun is shining or you'll get burned.

           The door into this warehouse has more character than the finest California mansion.

OK, this is not a fine mansion, but add a spot of sunlight hitting a frosty tree and it sure improves the decor.

                                                 A tree reflects in the harbor.

A belted kingfisher scours the water for a fish.  When it spots one, it does the improbable for a passerine bird.  It dives into the water to capture it's dinner.

Speaking of a fish dinner -- this Pacific loon has caught a sculpin dinner -- if it's eyes weren't bigger than it's stomach.

Maybe it should have shared with these harbor seals -- the one on the right seems to always be cruising around the harbor upside down.  

Come to think of it, with all the hungry predators, many with pointy beaks, Petersburg's harbors may be a lousy place to be a fish.

                  Ah, somebody that doesn't cater to fish dinners -- a friendly song sparrow.

OK, we need some ducks -- in this case a mallard drake and hen take their ease along the harbor shoreline...

                                           As a few Barrow's goldeneye cruise past.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Winter Harbor II Colors

Sometimes Karen comes home with photos having the strangest backgrounds — reflections of whatever lays beyond her subject — especially when she’s aiming her camera towards water.  Normally, this isn’t a problem in wildlife photography — unless you’re photographing a raven sitting on a green dumpster or you find some inconsiderate person’s beer can in the image’s background when you download it onto your computer.  

                              Petersburg's South Harbor offers a wealth of background colors.

The difference is — Petersburg’s harbors in no way resemble nature.  Here you find boats, mostly commercial fishing vessels, painted in a wide array of colors — from a somewhat menacing black to first-responder red to electric blue, even rust.  Should I include a pea soup-green fish-processing cannery?  Here, they turn reflections across the harbor’s water into a myriad of colors — definitely not something natural.

Now float a bird or even seal amidst those colors and viola, you have the most surreal wildlife photo.  In other instances our low-angle winter sun, maybe blazing onto a snow-covered mountain, or even our rare blue skies expand that varied palette reflecting off the water.  Add the ripple of waves and you have your subject resting in an abstract painting.

                                 A male Barrow's Goldeneye in the most unreal setting.

Of course Karen did not set out to capture unreal images.  The birds decided where she would photograph them, but you can be sure few of these images would make the cut in a photo book of Alaskan birds.  

Is this long-tailed duck (formerly known as oldsquaw until the group of poobahs who name birds decided to change it) backed by a boat or sky reflections?

And since I’m not good at resisting temptation, why not include a couple of  Karen’s photos of birds that, in themselves, provide an unreal level of color.  While the females of most waterfowl species are well camouflaged, this is certainly not the case with the males.  Since their role in propagating the species is limited to looking pretty for the “girls” — a couple of moments to pass on their genes, and poof, think I’ll pass on the parenting responsibilities — perhaps they’re more expendable.  It certainly seems a brightly colored mallard drake would be an easier target for a hungry predator than his camo-clad mate.

So here some of Karen’s latest colorful winter harbor creations.

                          Guess there's no question where Karen found this male long-tailed duck

   Low-angle sun shinning through morning fog created an atmospheric background for this bufflehead.

                           It looks like a bit of a mix of background colors for this pair of greater scaup.

                                         A another pair -- this time Barrow's goldeneyes.

         Two males, a surf scoter and a Barrow's goldeneye, emerge out of a sunlit foggy background

                       These barnacle-clad piling don't even need a bird to be appealing.

                                                         Then again, this great-blue heron helps

                It looks like blue sky for this surf scoter, but how can it hide with a bill like that.

                                       What lady duck could resist this American wigeon?

This mallard drake shows the trade off -- attract the "ladies" or predators.  Judging at how successful mallards are, it looks like the "ladies" win.

                       Then again put them in this harbor reflection and does it even matter?

Oh, bet you thought I forgot the raven.  Karen just zeroed in on a head shot.  Viola, no dumpster.  Now we're not sure about the white flecks on it.  We hope it hadn't been roosting below a pigeon. 


Monday, December 26, 2016

Winter Harbor Part I

Here in this corner of Alaska mid-December blessed us with an abnormal stretch of clear cold weather.   Combine that with Petersburg’s setting — one bounded by harbors that boats share with overwintering waterfowl and you have the recipe for a smile on Karen’s face despite cold hands and toes.  Multiple species of waterfowl that could be far to the south basking along sunny beaches dodging sunscreen slathered tourists, short circuit their migrations to remain here where they add color and life to our little burg.

At first glance, Petersburg's boat harbors look like they could have been taken anywhere in America -- er, make that Alaska.

Of course Karen has been making daily forays to commune with the harbor denizens with her camera.   And each day she brings back photographic treasures that are impossible to top -- until the next day.  While further south in wildlife refuges, and other areas popular with bird enthusiasts, she’d be shoulder to shoulder with camo-clad photographers vying for the best position, here Karen has the critters virtually all to herself — unless someone’s black Labrador retriever comes over to nuzzle her derrière while she’s zeroing in on a rare species she’s been stalking for half an hour.  Of course!  She might toss a stick.

OK, there are a set of different challenges for Karen, but she certainly rises to meet them.  Now she’s suggesting she would like to carry dog biscuits for her four-footed friends.  I’m not sure carrying such contraband would enhance her photographic efforts regarding the wild side of PetersburgBut, then Karen is not your everyday wildlife photographer.  She seems just as happy to bring home images of the domestic citizens too.

Actually both four-footed and two-footed friends can render an impressive stalk into an everyday scene around Petersburg.

Naturally Karen has been so productive that it is hard to include as many images as we would like in a single post. Thus, we'll break this one up into several installments. 

                      Barrow's goldeneye are a common resident in Petersburg's harbors.

Mallard drakes, so wary in areas frequented by waterfowl hunters find Karen about as threatening as a snowflake.

                        Three male surf scoters also consider Karen to be just part of the scenery.

For Karen common loons were one of the favorite parts of the north woods where she spent her childhood summers.  Now those north woods are down south in Wisconsin and the loon in winter plumage fails to match her childhood image.

 A female common merganser appears to have visited a local beauty salon.  Then again, with a natural coiffure like this, she didn't need to.  

                               A comparatively tiny female bufflehead paddles past Karen...

                                           And through a flock of snoozing mallards.

Karen was very excited to hear a hooded merganser was frequenting our harbor.  The sight of it didn't disappoint her.

 A great-blue heron looks like a grumpy old bird as it rests on one of the harbor floats.  This is the same species Karen has photographed in other pacific northwest states and, if she ventured all the way to Florida, she would likely still be aiming her camera at one.

                         Frost-covered grass kept distracting Karen, so she added it to her collection. 

This is but a sample of images Karen captured this month.  We plan to publish more very soon.  Oh, and about the cold toes.  It seems that when some footwear gets too cold it....EXPLODES.

                     Maybe that Salvation Army thrift store pair of boots was not such a bargain after all.