Saturday, March 23, 2013

A is for Animals - The A to Z Challenge

A is for Antelope

My friend Courtney from Maui Jungalow contacted me and asked if I wanted to do something crazy. She informed me that she had entered an A to Z blogging contest and she challenged me to do likewise. The A to Z Challenge requires participants to publish a post almost everyday in April. Each post features a different letter starting with A and ending in Z. That's 26 posts in 30 days, Sundays are off for good behavior.

That's not crazy, that's impossible. I have a hard enough time keeping up with one post a week much less six. I thanked Courtney for the invitation, let her know that it sounded like a bit much for me and wished her good luck. Of course, after further contemplation, creativity began to flow. I have thousands of photos stashed away in shoe boxes, maybe I could somehow incorporate them into a daily posting. I rummaged through the archives, hunting for inspiration.

I guess I found it, because I signed up to take the challenge. My theme will be wildlife photography. I'd like to try and find an image for each letter of the alphabet. The plan is to post a photo accompanied by a paragraph or two recounting the scene. I would describe my photography skills as amateur at best but I have a passion for attempting to document the natural world I see around me. As an artist first, most of my photos are meant as reference for future drawings.

I'm hoping something good will come out of this endeavor not just panic and fear. I've already met some nice, as Courtney put it, "...victims who are also leaping into the fray." The process has revived old prints from the darkness and brought them back into the light. Memories of past experiences and places have come flooding back. I'll be spending April searching, organizing, sorting and writing about my favorite wildlife encounters in alphabetical order. What animal begins with the letter X?
Courtney challenged me to enter the A to Z

I have thousands of photos stashed in boxes

My theme is wildlife photography

I'm an amateur photographer

Most of my photos are for reference

Old prints have been revived

Memories have come flooding back

What about the letter X?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fillius Park - Gateway to the Mountains

An abandoned cabin is a reminder of the past
"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity, and the mountain parks are... fountains of life." ~ John Muir.

In the early 1900s, naturalists like John Muir shouted from the mountaintops about the need for conservation. They wanted to make sure America's wilderness treasures were protected from the destruction of Westward Expansion. Heeding Muir's advice, the City of Denver began purchasing land in the mountains to offer an escape from urban stress and provide outdoor recreation opportunities for its city dwellers. Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. designed a series of mountain parks, linked by a network of roads, all within a day's drive of Denver. Consequently, Fillius Park was created as a gateway rest stop for tourists on the way up to Squaw Pass and Echo Lake.

Every day on my way home from work, I drive past the little picnic area. Except for the interesting sign, I've never paid much attention to the place. Recently, we checked it out and discovered that Fillius Park is actually more than just a lunch spot. A vague trail marker beckons the curious to follow an obscure path into a forest of lodgepole pine. The route follows a broad ridge line that provides dramatic views of the volcanic-shaped peaks that surround the town of Evergreen. An abandoned cabin set against a background of snowy mountains is a picturesque reminder of the old days but the most interesting feature in the park is an aesthetic shelter house.

Jules Jacques Benois Benedict, one of the most prominent architects in Colorado history, designed the hand-built structure in 1918. Doris Hulse, his biographer, describes the artist and poet as "talented, cultured, eccentric, flamboyant, practical, difficult, opinionated, generous, temperamental, considerate, gentleman farmer, man-about-town." The shelter house blends in beautifully with the natural landscape because logs and native field stones were used in its construction. Circular windows provide light, tree trunks create a doorframe and inside is a large fireplace. I believe Muir was right, an evening hike through a mountain park is the perfect way to recover from a hectic workweek in the urban jungle.

Fillius Park is a gateway to the mountains

An obscure path leads into a lodgepole pine forest

The most interesting feature is the aesthetic shelter house

The structure was hand-built in 1918

Jules Jacques Benois Benedict designed the shelter house

"Going to the mountains is going home."

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Great Horned Owl - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Great Horned Owl" Colored Pencil

It's dusk and a great horned owl is positioned on a broken post near the forest's edge. Motionless, it waits patiently for the reemergence of its subterranean prey, the meadow vole. In the background a full moon has risen above the blue, volcanic-shaped peaks. The heavily built owl is mostly brown with vivid striping across the pale chest. The facial disc encompasses large, yellow eyes and a pointed beak. Powerful, black talons grasp the wooden perch. The large ear tufts are neither horns nor ears they're just feathers that form the most distinctive feature of this fierce predator.

According to one author, "Almost any living creature that walks, crawls, flies or swims, except the large mammals, is the great horned owl's legitimate prey". Its preferred food source is small to medium-sized, nocturnal mammals such as rabbits, shrews, mice and voles but it has the power to predate much larger fauna like porcupines, marmots and skunks. The owl is a ruthless attacker armed with a variety of hunting tactics. Sometimes, it may actually walk on the ground during the pursuit of small animals or into a chicken coop to take the fowl inside. Rarely, it will wade into shallow water to catch aquatic prey and an owl can snatch a bird or squirrel directly from a tree branch.

Sheltered under the protective covering of deep snow, the meadow vole scurries about full of careless confidence. The owl won't need its spectacular, binocular vision tonight because its extraordinary hearing will enable it to pinpoint the vole's exact location. The stealthy owl will dive silently from its hidden vantage point and ambush the unsuspecting prey. Then razor-sharp talons deal a fatal blow and the victim is swallowed whole. Versus a flying tiger the outmatched, little rodent doesn't have a chance.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Downward Travel - Snowstorm at the Lake

Snowstorm at Evergreen Lake
"My idea of travel is a downward travel really. Getting to know where you are better and exploring feelings that you know more deeply. I always think that 'knowing something by heart' gives you a depth of possibility which is more powerful than seeing new sights, however marvelous and exciting they are." ~ Lucian Freud

One of the places near home that I have been exploring more deeply is Evergreen Lake. A summer's evening stroll near the water is delightful but trudging along the shoreline during a winter snowstorm is invigorating. Most people enjoy hiking on a warm, sunny day but I prefer being out in nature during a storm. The landscape becomes more interesting and trying to depict the weather effects convincingly becomes more challenging. First-hand knowledge of the subject clarifies the dramatic changes in line, color and perspective and it encourages the artist to create a more truthful expression of the scene.

I've always admired the American artist Winslow Homer because of his relentless pursuit to capture the fleeting effects of stormy weather. Homer was most productive during his later years at Prouts Neck, Maine. Concealed in a studio by himself, just paces from the Atlantic Ocean, he constantly observed a narrow spit of land and watched as storm-churned seas pounded the rocky coastline. There is no doubt Homer's late masterpieces are a direct result of his close relationship with the sea and his immediate examination of the area in all types of meteorological conditions.

Contemplating Evergreen Lake during the different seasons and in all kinds of weather has been a satisfying project. After countless visits, I've acquired an intimate understanding of our riparian ecosystem. I've begun to know the place by heart. I've discovered that a thorough study of your closest surroundings may reveal a deeper meaning for the simplest objects. Traveling to some exotic location to find inspiration is often marvelous and exciting but sometimes through the intense exploration of one's own backyard, you'll find plenty of artistic possibilities.

I prefer nature during a storm

I've been exploring Evergreen Lake

The simplest objects reveal a deeper meaning

Contemplating the lake in all seasons

I've begun to know the place by heart

The landscape is more interesting during a storm

Trying to capture weather effects is challenging

You can find inspiration in your own backyard

"Weatherbeaten" ~ Winslow Homer