Saturday, April 19, 2014

Courthouse and Jail Rocks - A Proud Palace of Solitude

Courthouse and Jail House Rocks

Located just south of Bridgeport in the panhandle of Nebraska at the eastern terminus of the Wildcat Hills, Courthouse and Jail House Rocks ascend 400 feet above the North Platte River Valley. For me, the rocks are an enduring symbol of the pioneer spirit, hope and home. During the Westward Expansion, they were a famous landmark as the Oregon, California, Mormon, Pony Express and Sidney-Deadwood trails all ran near the geographical marvels.

The formation was first noted by Robert Stuart in 1812. From a far distance, he observed a solitary tower rising out of the open prairie. Only upon closer inspection did he discover there were actually two. Stuart thought the larger feature looked like a courthouse, while the smaller a jail. Locals originally began calling the place McFarlan's Castle while passerbys referred to them as the Lonely Tower, the Castle or the Capitol. By 1837, the name Courthouse and Jail Rocks had stuck.

During the 19th century, settlers on the trail relied on natural landmarks to guide them in the right direction. To emigrants from the European coast who had never seen a mountain or even a bluff, Courthouse and Jail Rocks were described as stunning, geologic features. Fascinated by the strange peaks and because they knew they would never see them again, many people climbed to the summit and carved their names in the soft Brule clay.

Being the first of several impressive monuments in Western Nebraska, Courthouse and Jail are a proud palace of solitude and the vanguard of unforgettable scenic wonders that travelers would encounter further west. They provided comfort that the party was on the right track and inspired hope that everything was going to be okay in the future. When feeling a bit under the weather, a powerful tonic can sometimes be memories of home. Just like the pioneer days of old, it's time to circle the wagons.

The rocks rise 400 feet above the valley floor

Seybolt Park is the eastern terminus of the Wildcat Hills

The peaks are geographic marvels

The natural landmark can be seen from a great distance

A stunning geologic feature

Jail House Rock

Courthouse Rock

A proud palace of solitude

The vanguard of scenic wonders to come

They provided comfort and hope

Just like pioneer days of old, it's time to circle the wagons

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Chicago Basin - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Chicago Basin" Colored Pencil

It's a warm day in Colorado's Front Range where a dense thicket of sharp willows forms an almost impassable barrier. You must search for a narrow passageway that leads into the heart of this spectacular wilderness. At the top of Chicago Basin, dark evergreens and a gigantic boulder mark a natural gateway to the incomparable Chicago Lakes. Here, the tundra landscape opens up to a panorama of expansive, gray peaks.

The pair of icy-blue ponds are stair-stepped remnants of an ancient glacier that shaped this high valley thousands of years ago. Today, the deep cirque is lush with golden grass and colorful wildflowers. Long, transparent shadows creep down the hillside defining forms in the rugged terrain while steep rock walls enclose the area with a sense of isolation and solitude.

Harmless, wispy clouds drift down over the foothills and just beyond the sheer headwall, Mount Evans pierces the wide open sky. Warm rays of sunshine are neutralized by an ever-present breeze of cool air. Reddish-violet in the morning light, the mountain is still flecked with white snow. After such a long, hard winter, I'm looking forward to summertime in the Rockies.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cyborgs - They are Walking Among Us

General Grievous

"I am Grievous, warlord of Kaleesh and Supreme Commander of the armies of the Confederacy. And I am not a droid" ~ Grievous

I've always been fascinated by science fiction stories. I'm allured by the exotic locales, strange creatures and the wondrous but sometimes unsettling human characters that are portrayed as a synthesis of organic and artificial parts. People like the Six Million Dollar Man, Robocop and the Terminator raise questions about the differences between man and machine concerning morality, free will and empathy.

My favorite cyborg has to be General Grievous from the Star Wars saga. Not only because he's artistically cool but he's also a battered old warrior living precariously to fight another day. After a bomb destroyed his shuttle, Grievous suffered near fatal injuries that rendered his body useless. The Separatists reconstructed Grievous by implanting his brain, eyes and vital organs into a duranium alloy body. Grievous was brainwashed and used as a weapon against the illustrious Jedi.

Today, humans whose physical capabilities are extended beyond their limitations is no longer fiction. Restorative cyborgizaion is the repair of broken or missing processes that enable a person to revert back to a healthy or average level of function. For example, someone fitted with a heart pacemaker has mechanical parts that enhance the body's natural rhythm through synthetic feedback. We don't necessarily have to play the God-given hand we were dealt.

As we age, our natural parts wear out. That used to mean immobility or death. Now, we can replace them. Artificial implants such as knee or hip replacements can reduce the suffering of a patient and allow them to live more comfortably. Many scientists believe that cybernetic technology will play a crucial role in the ongoing, human-evolutionary process but the future is now. Look closely and you'll see, there are already cyborgs walking among us.

The Six Million Dollar Man

The Terminator


"I am not a droid!"

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wild Iris Loop - A Storm is Brewing

Wild Iris Loop

It's a warm, winter day at the Alderfer Open Space. The tranquil hike is a regular walk in the park. Eastward, long shadows are cast toward a trio of rocky crags while puffy white clouds drift across a clear blue sky. Known as the Three Sisters, the local landmark is gleaming in the golden light.

The evening's events are routine. Black crows gather in the yellow stubble while a herd of wary deer emerge from the dark forest. In the summer, this place is a lively meadow full of riotous wildflowers. In March, it's a bowl of broiling, back-built maelstroms that bury the foothills in heaps of heavy snow.

Out for a lovely stroll, everything in my little world is just fine until suddenly the landscape changes. My peaceful promenade is interrupted by a disruptive squall of winter stew. Heavy clouds descend onto the scene and the panorama of sweeping, white peaks melts into the gray firmament.

Caught in an eerie forest of lodgepole pine, the murky dusk gets dark in a hurry. Cold seeps into my aching joints and a merciless wind spatters my face with ice pellets, bringing tears to my eyes. With a congenital determination, I ignore the pain and proceed full-steam ahead. I must get home and prepare for the difficulties looming on the horizon. A storm is brewing.

Alderfer Open Space Park

Clouds drift over the Three Sisters

Mule deer emerge from the forest

It's a routine event

A lively meadow in the summer

Heavy clouds descend

White peaks melt into the firmament

A broiling back-built storm

Difficulties loom on the horizon, a storm is brewing

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Rockwell Kent - Searching for God in Greenland

"Early November: North Greenland"

It was the summer of 1929 and a small sailing boat named Direction cruised into Karajak Fiord off the west coast of Greenland. When a sudden williwaw struck, the overmatched vessel foundered leaving its three-man crew shipwrecked. Artist Rockwell Kent packed his rucksack and set off into the wild.

Kent hiked, climbed, scratched and clawed his way across the frozen tundra in a desperate search for help. After a three-day trek, Kent finally stumbled upon a lone kayaker fishing in the ocean. The native Greenlander guided Kent to a nearby village where the kindhearted locals rescued Direction and helped repair the damaged boat.

Rockwell Kent was an experienced adventurer, architect, carpenter, lobsterman, sailor, printmaker, illustrator, writer, dairy farmer and political activist but mostly he was a painter searching for God in the most desolate places on earth.

Rockwell Kent was born in 1882 in Tarrytown, New York and later studied at the New York School of Art under William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri. Kent perfected his craft painting seascapes off the rugged coasts of Maine and Newfoundland. By 1918, he was struggling to develop a personal style and was confused by the stormy art scene battering New York City.

Kent enlisted his nine-year-old son and fled to the wilderness. They reclaimed an abandoned cabin on tiny Fox Island and spent a year in Resurrection Bay, Alaska. On the water and in the shadows of massive, snow-covered peaks, Kent was reborn. It was there that he mastered wood engraving, created original paintings and illustrated a written journal about their quiet adventure.

Kent became an accomplished frontiersman. He once sailed all the way down to Tierra del Fuego and southward from the Strait of Magellan. There he climbed mountains and explored the maze of narrow waterways woven into the tip of South America.

Kent relied on the knowledge and experience gained from these excursions to execute powerful illustrations for a special edition of Moby Dick. The skillful integration of text and images was a tour de force of publishing. The project elevated Herman Melville's story to classic status and earned Kent heaps of deserved, critical acclaim.

During the '30s and '40s, Kent enjoyed celebrity status based on the success of his paintings, illustrations and adventure narratives. If art was Kent's religion, then Greenland was heaven. The icy paradise featured a spectacular landscape inhabited by an extraordinary population of indigenous people. Kent was able to paint, write and illustrate in isolated bliss.

Kent's Greenland paintings are masterpieces of simplicity, structure and light. He depicts the stark beauty of a forbidding landscape, expresses the awesome power of nature and man's fleeting, insignificant place within it. It makes you wonder how people survived in such a harsh environment.

It was the happiest, most productive time of his life and the paintings reflect a certain spiritual fulfillment. His reverence for the extraordinary land becomes obvious. The landscape is reduced to precise architectural forms. Fantastically shaped icebergs trapped in the sea ice are transformed into ghostly cathedrals bathed in an otherworldly light.

The Greenland paintings are not impressionistic attempts to capture fleeting light effects. They're heavy-handed, athletic and hard-edged. They're bold statements made en plein air, expressing the awesome power of Mother Nature and our helplessness when confronted by her. The paintings are not only works of art but also historical documents of a fascinating era in world history. They convey a certain truth not detectable in photographs taken from the same time period.

By the 1950s, Kent's outspoken views on socialism and pacifism got him into trouble. His art was shunned by galleries and museums across America because of his leftist ideology and perceived un-patriotic support for the Russia. Kent was accused of being a communist, denied his U.S. passport and required to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

In bitter retaliation against a paranoid U.S. Government, Kent gifted 80 paintings and 800 drawings to the Soviet Union. A treasure trove of unique, creative works were removed from American soil forever. Today, a new generation of art lovers, un-phased by political prejudice, have rediscovered the lost landscapes of Rockwell Kent.

"Brewing Storm. Monhegan"

"Sunglare: Alaska"

"Admiralty Sound: Tierra del Fuego"

"Squall. Greenland"

"Cloudy Day. Fjord in Northern Greenland"

"Greenland Coast"

"Seal Hunter: North Greenland"

"Road to Asgaard: Adirondacks"

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pikes Peak - An Inspirational Mountain

The majestic, purple mountain

Towering over Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak has been inspiring artists, explorers, gold seekers and presidents for over 200 years. In 1806, from out on the fruited plain, Zebulon Pike first beheld the majestic, purple mountain. He named it Grand Peak but early trappers and soldiers refused to call the megalith anything but Pikes Peak. Zeb felt compelled to climb the challenging alp as he led a party of trailblazers in a failed attempt to reach the summit. Upon his return, he wearily admitted that the mountain would probably never be climbed.

The half-marathon distance from base to the summit was finally attained in 1820 and by 1873 the U.S. Army had established a military installation at the top of Pikes Peak. President Ulysses Grant hoped that meteorological data gathered from the summit of the high peak would assist in predicting volatile weather patterns circulating toward the east. He believed the valuable information would be critical in forecasting the wicked storms which often sank freighters on the Atlantic Coast shipping lanes.

Massive Pikes Peak dominates the southern skyline and is an enduring symbol of the entire Front Range. When gold rushing 59ers set out for Cherry Creek and Denver in a quest for mineral riches, they emblazoned their rickety wagons in fresh paint with the famous words "Pikes Peak or Bust!" Katharine Lee Bates was so inspired by the extraordinary view from the pinnacle that she wrote the lyrics to America the Beautiful. The popular anthem is a superb tribute to the unique beauty and vastness of the American landscape.

An inspirational mountain

Under spacious skies

Zebulon Pike thought the peak would never be climbed

By 1873 a military base operated at the summit

Pikes Peak dominates the skyline

"Pikes Peak or Bust!"

Katharine Lee Bates was inspired by the views

Unique beauty and vastness

The yellow-bellied marmot is a local inhabitant

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Osprey, Lord of the Waterways - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Florida Osprey" Colored Pencil

It's a nature moment in the Sunshine State. Florida is a birder's paradise flush with a multitude of exotic birds. Perched on a weathered post, a hungry osprey clutches its impressive catch. Bathed in a golden light, the raptor's vermillion wings contrast with the muted turquoise sky. The regal head is defined by an array of tufted feathers and bright yellow eyes. The razor-sharp beak and arching eye-stripe are beautiful, dark accents.

Sometimes called a sea eagle, the majestic osprey is neither hawk nor eagle, it's in a class of its own. This "Lord of the Waterways" is outfitted with a tackle box full of adaptations that make it one of the world's foremost fishers. Huge, powerful wings are composed of water-resistant feathers. When submerged underwater, the osprey has closable nostrils and third eyelids which act as semi-transparent goggles. The broad feet are lethal, featuring curved talons, an adjustable outer toe and heavily scaled soles barbed with spicules that provide a non-slip grip.

Watching this bird of prey in action is an incredible experience. The osprey soars overhead and uses its remarkable vision to locate large fish swimming near the surface of lakes, slow-moving rivers and reservoirs. It hovers in mid-air and then makes a dramatic, feet-first dive. The feathered missile crashes into the water producing a huge splash. The startling reemergence of the drenched bird with its slippery prey in tow is a fitting conclusion to the morning's electrifying sequence of events.