Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Hummingbirds in January

With a temperature forecast of the low 'teens, I brought the hummingbird feeders in at dusk.  This morning I put one of them out at first light.  By 8:30 it was full of ice crystals.  I took the other one out to swap; before I even got to the feeder station a vermilliion-headed hummer was at the feeder.  I stayed immobile.  It whirred and whizzed and bobbed into each of the "blossoms" before zooming into the barren lilac limbs. Virginia watched with delight, through the kitchen window. 

I set the kitchen range buzzer for an hour, and changed out again, all morning long.   Next time the bird was a ruby-throated variety.   With sunshine all afternoon and the mercury (mercury?) near the 30s, I left the feeder in place until a half-hour after sunset.  But then it already was solid ice.

Somebody told somebody else that she doubles the sugar in the solution in this weather.  I'll try it for the morning feeder.  I just hope the hummers don't get diabetes, or overweight.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hummingbirds in November

When they dug the hole to repair the sewer pipe early this month, we had to uproot three of the winter-flowering jasmine that grace the stairwell railing by the back door.  They'll be replanted, but meanwhile, one remains in full health, and full bloom.

The jasmine's yellow blossoms brighten a drab corner of the yard, the only cheering color in these wet, mid-November days.  This morning I saw another flash of color--a brilliant, green hummingbird feeding at the jasmine. 

In the 46 years we've lived here, I'd never before seen a hummingbird there.  As I posted earlier, one was feeding at the scarlet crocosmia that I was painting in August.   And the feeder I'd filled day-before-yesterday near the kitchen window already is down an inch, a sign there's been hummer activity there. 

We've put the ashes of two of our late dogs--Sebastian and Mozart--beneath the daffodils planted in our sidewalk gardens out front.  I'm certain their spirits inhabit the spring blooms that bring cheer to our passing neighbors.

Not to seem macabre, but the blooming jasmine is right next to the grave of Maggie, the sailor dog I wrote about last week.  I wonder--are some of Maggie's no-longer-needed molecules feeding that hummingbird through the jasmine's roots and blossoms?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Re-planting Maggie . . .

Maggie the Sailor Dog, veteran of North Sea storms and winter Pacific crossings, was laid to rest in our back yard for the second time this afternoon.

Maggie died of congestive heart failure and old aqe two years ago last July.  We buried her corporal remains beneath the jasmine near the back door, marking her grave with her luminescent collar on the stairwell railing overhead, and her battered orange chase-ball atop the soil.  I carry her spirit with me, so it is convenient to greet her each morning as I return from hoisting the American flag out by the garage.

Her sleep was interrupted a week or so ago when I returned from a hospital stay, where I had gone to free up a gastrointestinal blockage, to find our house's sewer line also blocked, some celestial irony.  The plumber needed to dig a car-size hole to install an impervious liner in the pipe to the alley, and when the glacial sand sluffed from the side of the hole, it carried Maggie's bones with it.  Recovery was swift--the Bobcat operator lowered his bucket deep into the hole with a gentle touch.  We hoisted Maggie's bones into my wheelbarrow and covered her with some fabric from the dregs of the garage.  There she lay for a week.  This afternoon I re-dug her resting place, and lay her bones in it.  Her collar once more marks her grave;  the orange ball is back atop the soil that shields her from this changing world.

Goodbye, Maggie, for today.  Resume your sleep.  And tomorrow, I'll say hello again.

Farewell, Shipmate
by John Lane

Posted on Facebook on Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 7:13pm

In dog years, she had her measure of three score and ten. Maggie, circumnavigating sailor dog, ended her journey today.

I met Maggie on my first blue water voyage. I had turned my back (I thought) on cold Bering waters, and I was headed to Africa on a steamship older than me, taking food to the hungry. I rode the train to meet the ship. Maggie went, too. She was a shelter dog from Iowa, just a pup, escaping the likely fate of shelter dogs aboard a corporate jet that delivered her to the ship, which was loading grain on the Columbia river. For years she would have steel decks under her feet, and live in the company of sailors. Our first trip was in the fall of the fateful year when the world changed, and the image of falling buildings would be etched into memory forever.

She roamed the deck of the 900-foot ship, keeping an eye on the deck hands, sometimes borrowing a glove left carelessly in reach. At night she would sleep in a stateroom, or on the bridge, as the mood would take her. One of the mates finally wrapped her collar in reflective tape, because it is hard to see a sleeping black dog on the darkened bridge of a ship in the middle of the ocean, and no dog likes to be stepped on in her sleep.

She had the run of the house. I remember sitting with her watching TV while the ship was wallowing in swells. Maggie would jump on the couch, and drop her ball. As the ship rolled, the ball would roll away. She would watch it, then leap down to catch it, and climb back onto the couch to start over again. Not every dog knows how to play fetch by herself.

Maggie traveled across the Pacific, north of the Aleutian Islands into the Bering, through the Sea of Japan, the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, the Mediteranean, the Atlantic, the Carribean, up the Mississippi River to New Orleans, all before New Year's Eve. Before her sailing days were over, she would go through the Panama Canal, visit the Philipines, Singapore, Yemen, and both Koreas. She was a terror to North Korean officials, little men in big hats afraid of a black dog.

After a few years, there was no work for the ship. The order came from the head office to tie it up and leave it sitting empty next to a scrap yard. The crew would all go home, but what about Maggie? My father drove three hours to the ship to pick up me and Maggie. By then I was living in another state, and didn't have a place for a dog in my life, but he did.

It was a strange experience for Maggie. For so long her home was a busy, noisy place. The boilers were shut down, the crew went away, and she seemed frightened, confused. She left the ship for only the second and last time (the first was a visit to the vet). A new life waited for her.

Dogs were foreign and confusing. Lawns, trees, squirrels all new things. After a few skittish days, she settled into a new life. I would sail again; she would not. She would spend the rest of her years living with my parents, in command of a large yard. When my father repaired the fence, he cut portholes into the boards, so Maggie could look out and see what was going on.

I lived away for some time, but whenever I came to visit Maggie always leapt on me with joy, familiar friend. I moved closer to home, started a new life, and eventually brought my children to visit Maggie. She knew what to do with kids--lick them. As the years passed I never noticed my parents aging, but I saw the time in Maggie. Black fur and white toes added grey. She slowed, she widened, but she stayed joyful.

In the end her heart grew weak. Old dogs earn their rest. Hers came with quiet dignity, and now she rests forever under the winter flowering jasmine in the yard that had  become her home.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Doctor's Choice

Bob Lane spent five days in St. Joseph Hospital, correcting a blocked intestine.  Upon his release, fellow ex-news reporter Jim Erickson wrote the following poetry (with some slight editing):

Four out of five doctors recommend
The very best patient to attend
Is none other than R. J. Lane,
So cooperative, hardly a pain.

Nurses like Lane a hundred per cent.
They think he's somehow heaven-sent.
(In reality, his devilish soul
Dreams nurses dancing pole to pole.)

Lane had a week-long hospital run
After stomach issues had begun.
A tube was thrust inside his nose,
Something he never would have chose.

He desperately needed rehydration
So he could once again feel elation.
That would help end his hospital stay,
If his insides got a positive X-ray.

From his seventh-floor window he could see
Mile after mile, tree after tree:
Colorful leaves drifting to earth,
Making his view something of worth.

'Though he'd rather shout out cheers,
Lane's overcome instead by tears.
A changing moment in his life:
He vowed to rid himself of strife.

To show seriousness about his plan,
Lane shed mustache, beard: A new man.
No more coffee; ice water he'll drink,
Using his time to write and think.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Birding with oils

My backyard studio
Scarlet blooms of crocosmia brighten an otherwise emerald wall of grape- vines cascading down one side of my stuccoed garage.  They've been blossoming all summer.  But now they seem to sense that I'm trying to paint them, and they're tiptoeing away.

This summer, I'm determined to once and for all face the challenge of oil paints bequeathed to me by the late Charles Foster, New Orleans portraitist and composer who settled in Tacoma following the loss of his studio to Hurricane Katrina.

For the past year or so, I've collected How-To books on the subject.  I talk with painters.  I inventoried the thumb-stained tubes and worn brushes Charlie left me. I've uncapped the jug of turpentine and sniffed the jar of linseed oil, all but gagging at the overpowering stench.  If this is the price of printing "oil on canvas" in my catalogs, I think, forget it!  I won't have the smell in the house.

But sailing in on this summer's high-pressure atmospheric jet stream is my opportunity, I realized.  With little likelihood of rain, I set up a 10-foot pop-up canopy in my  back yard.  Paint cans filled with concrete provided anchors.  I hauled a studio easel downstairs.  I set it up near the crocosmia.  A portable vinyl table and a lawn chair completed the studio furniture.

A recycled pastries tray from Costco is my palette.  I spread out a half-dozen tubes of Charlie's paints.  I circled the tray with my basic colors.  I diluted a  green oil with turpentine and lay what I'd thought was a thin ground on a stretched canvas.  Apparently it was not thin enough.  Three days later it was still damp.  And it still stunk.

When I paint plein air with my acrylics or oil pastels, I seldom sit long at a canvas.  For better or for worse, i lay the pigments down with almost rhythmic deliberation, often bypassing the palette to blend paint right on the canvas.  I work from horizon to foreground.  That's the beauty of acrylic--paint dries to the touch within minutes, especially in this warm summer weather.  I need not imagine my "whites" in advance.  I can change composition as I go.  Or paint out problem areas and start over.  In any case, in two hours I pack up my kit and I'm gone!

But I've been 10 days into this one painting.  I began with a white ground and thinned the oils with an odorless mineral spirit.  I work as far as I can over dry areas and then walk away, usually until the next day.  A few times I paint both morning and evening.  For all the attention I'm able to pay to the different lights, I may as well be working from photos.  But I'm slowly filling the canvas.  And if I didn't believe I will have something worth hanging at the end of this summerlong journey, I wouldn't continue.

Yesterday morning, I was outside about 10.  The sun wasn't high enough to light up the scarlet blossoms, but I had plenty of background to lay in.  Across the street, a neighbor practiced her scales on an alto recorder.  jFrom two blocks further, I could hear the young voices of a cheerleader camp, under weigh at the university.  And suddenly, these sounds were drowned by the whirrrrr-whirrrrr-whirrrr of a hummingbird's wings as it fed from the crocosmia. 

The bird hovered, darted, backed away, dived in again.  And then it spotted my reddish-colored shirt.  It came within a foot of my shoulder, slid sideways a few inches, then back, eyeing me all the while.  Deciding I was not a flower, it buzzed away in a grand loop, out through the arched sidewalk gate and to the red feeder outside the kitchen window.

Each day I return to my palette, there seem to be fewer crocosmia.  It must be near the end of their season.  But even if they're not around to let me finish my painting,
I'll have that hummingbird's visit to remember.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The old Dash Point dock

The old Dash Point dock in 1964
When I moved from the sandhills of eastern Montana to Dash Point in 1964, Puget Sound was a grand and welcomed lake. At first opportunity I hauled a piece of plywood and my latex house paints and tints to the shore beneath the dock in the county park.

This was my first major work.  I have dabbled in tempura and watercolor all my life but this grand structure, glowing in the late-afternoon light, had captivated me.  A half-century later, I remain entranced by the composition, the color, the repetition of the pilings.

I must have been a fast study with my paints.  Using a household latex satin interior paint, I colored the basic white with intense drops of tint.  These came in metal tubes, common before the "espresso machine" automatic mixers of today.  I had acquired them from paint stores that discarded them in favor of the more accurate mixers.  I blended my colors right on the canvas--or in this case, plywood. 

You can see that the upper sands have dried out, indicating that what is pictured is an incoming tide.  Well, it wasn't incoming when I set up my easel, I remember that.  But it was certainly incoming when I hastily ended my plein air session that day.

It was a week before I had an opportunity to return to the dock, to complete the painting--the water needed attention, and I had hoped to add the feet and legs of some people up on the dock.  But a week later, as any Northwesterner would know, the tide was already in.  And the unfinished painting was pushed aside in the trailer where I lived above the state park, and later in the beachfront home where Virginia and I made our first home together.

A friend who is curator of a small art gallery was left high and dry last week by his scheduled artist.  I came to the rescue with a dozen small acrylics and oil pastels I've done in the past year or so.  And there, behind the door in my studio, was--the old Dash Point dock!

I touched it up a little and stapled on a quick frame.  I'm sure it won't sell, and it won't win any prizes. 

But old friend, it is good to see you again!

Among Old Friends

By Jim Erickson
Two Bobs and an eagle-eyed friend
Meeting old friends over a cup of Joe,
Gets thoughts percolating, then stories flow,
The yarns are really all over the map,
Literally and figuratively, as we yap.
Tall tale ideas of a Narrows dam
Swinging out, Gig Harbor to ram,
Flooding the Legislature in its wake,
Maybe that's a good thing for us to take.
Salinas Valley of Steinbeck's book
Gets more than just a passing look,
Virtues of California's lettuce growing
Mixes with robot machines for sowing.
On to Buffalo, New York, we turn
And about Maxwell Parrish's art we learn
That some critics couldn't grasp his themes,
And lost sight of incredible colors, it seems.
Scary moments on ledges in the West,
Dropped pebbles unheard ending a nightly quest,
But a rewarding sunrise glorious at best;
Sidewinders singing in the dark,
Their rattles like serenades in the park;
Moving, hat by face, to prevent fangs' mark.
From ledges, we leap to a rocky old face,
A man on a mountain in a New Hampshire place;
The Great Stone Face,” Hawthorne's book,
Told the story of a boy who achieves the look.
The face, honored on a coin, no longer around,
Eroded and weathered, it fell to the ground.
We wrapped up with snippets on cowboys and guns,
Shooting snakes in noon day suns;
B17s, Leathernecks and war stories galore;
When we meet again, we'll discuss them more.