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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Our 16-Dollar-a-Day Car

Karen and I spent a couple of weeks in southern California and Nevada this past winter..  Naturally Karen excelled in documenting the trip with her camera.  But our blog still needed a narrative link. So I focused on our rental car.  Obviously, you probably think.  So I wrote one, but wait, April is National Poetry Month.  Why not?  So this blog differs in one respect.

                                                     The ultimate 16-dollar deal

Our 16-Dollar-a-Day Car

We rented a car on a recent trip
Just 16 dollars a day said the ad.
A Toyota Corolla or equivalent
The price didn’t sound too bad.

Oops, an insurance item remained.
Something more for the shopping cart.
That price couldn’t be retained,
We still needed the collision part

For on our own car we save plenty of dough.
‘Cause for one year’s coverage the charge
Is more than the thing’s worth.
So we skip it, the saving’s large.

But, for a mere ten dollars
Added just once per day,
A fender dent would ne'er be a worry.
It seemed wise to say OK.

We reached the rental store
At 10:30 late that night,
Most weary and exhausted
From our third airplane flight.

“Now, about the insurance?”
Grinned the car rental man.
I said “Oh, we’re covered
By your ten dollar a day plan.”

“Hmm, I don’t see it here,” he smiled,
As his computer he checked.
“Are you sure it’s worth the chance
If this car should turn up wrecked?”

Drat, I strained to recall
The deal that bested my ability.
I didn’t bring the papers
What if I’d only bought liability?

I give, I said, how much the cost,
What will be my outlay?
“That comes to 20 more dollars.
Oh, that’s once per day.”

With a sigh we set off in our Corolla
Happy to be on the go,
Til the next day sunlight revealed
A front end designed to plow snow.

A rock, parking lot speed bump
We go to places that’s got ‘em.
Disaster lay in the agenda
We’d surely tear up the bottom.

Alas, our itinerary changed
We returned to the rental store.
Can we exchange this thing,
Something with clearance, just a wee bit more?

The nice man behind the counter
Scanning his computer found a blip.
Ah, yes we have a new Volvo,
Two hundred dollars for the rest of you trip.

What’s the difference? I sadly moaned.
We’ve stretched our budget so far.
And we drove away from that town
In our 16 dollar a day car.

                      Our Morongo Valley destination as viewed from our rental car.

                                           Our neighbors -- a cottontail rabbit and...

         A jack rabbit.  Life has to be tough on big ears with all those prickly desert plants.

     Unless you're a ladder-backed woodpecker who finds a cactus a cozy place into which to snuggle.

Another neighbor, a northern mockingbird on a another sharp pointy plant, probably Mohave yucca, that I found out was nice to avoid -- the hard way.  They're nature's natural sword.

                    This blog needs some color.  How about a vermillion fly catcher?

                                                  And a western scrub jay.

A real treat was hearing over-wintering white-crowned sparrows, whose notes evoke memories of tundra summers.

We can't resist including an image of a phainopepia if for no other reasons than it's exotic name -- and head adornment.

Speaking of head adornments, how about this mustang's hat.  The owner of the airbnb we stayed at has adopted two of them -- mustangs that is.

       Oops, in the last image you couldn't tell the mustang has a nose.  This photo rectifies that.

Did you think Karen forgot to photograph rodents during this trip?  Wrong.  Here's a shot of one of the neighborhood's antelope ground squirrels.

Besides all the critters Karen "adopted" during this trip, another reason to visit the area -- Joshua Tree National Park. 

By the way, remember this is California so what might you expect to see out in the middle of nowhere?  Yep, only in California.  All rewards of travel in our 16-dollar-a-day rental car.

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.