Slowing Down


Posted February 12, 2017 by Kerry McFall

There is a fabulous old sailing ship moored on Harbor Drive in San Diego.  I spent a long time sketching the rigging and sails and tackle and I don’t-know-what-all, trying to unravel where this or that rope connected, until I came up with a reasonable facsimile and decided enough was enough.  Such complexity!  I tried to imagine what travel would have been like on that ship, sliding into the bay after tossing at sea for days.  But making the drawing served the purpose of calming my jangled nerves as we wrapped up our visit and prepared to come home.  That was January.

Tall Ship sketch/painting

“Tall Ship”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Traveling by train week before last gave me another opportunity to calm down.  There were no television screens reminding me of how tenuous the world has become, no wifi (except the occasional 1-minute blip) so no emails, no text messages, no calls.  I could see rabbit tracks in the snow for a few hours as the Coast Starlight climbed up and around Shasta and past Odell Lake.  So many invisible rabbits!  Or maybe just a few very busy rabbits leaving all those tracks… I thought about drawing, but even at  train speeds, the scenery went by too fast.  So began February.

I was glad to be home, even though I missed the sunny mornings of southern Cal.  But duty called, and I had to get my mother to a medical appointment, so I drove to Eugene.   I got her there, I got her back home, and I headed back to Corvallis.  Highway 99W seemed far less threatening than the tangle of San Diego freeways … until that one moment when I sensed that the car to my left was turning the hell right.  And I was between that car leaning into me at 40+ mph and a traffic island with a huge cement base of a monster metal pole.  Reality does odd things at those moments.  BAM.  She hit my door and front fender.  I bounced off the curb of the island, then goosed the gas pedal to speed up and cranked the wheel just enough to avoid the pole, held tight to keep from veering into the flooded ditch, braked, and eventually stopped.  Ppssshhhhh.  Flat tire?  Hydraulic something-or-other?  Ugh.  Deep breath.

So that’s over with, and I’m okay.  She’s okay, too, but I’m betting her insurance rates are going to go way up !   Life can change in a matter of seconds.  Just when you think things are complex, you blink, and it’s even more complex.  I’m trying to remember to savor those sweet moments when it seems, however briefly, simple.  Pet the cat.  Count the rabbit tracks.  Hold hands.


This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Posted February 5, 2017 by Kerry McFall

This is what democracy looked like yesterday.  Just your basic Saturday filled with errands and housework, shopping and baking a chicken pot pie for supper… and a Town Hall Meeting at the community college.  Senator Ron Wyden was welcomed by an overflow crowd, and my neighbor and I were among them.  I’m a bit too arthritic to be sitting on a gym floor for very long, so we didn’t stay for the entire Q & A event, but I’m glad we went.  The speaker in the sketch was meant to be Senator Wyden, but it doesn’t look a bit like him I’m afraid.  He was wearing blue jeans and a sports coat, though – I did get that part right!

“Democracy Saturday”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I’ve been doing what I can where I can.  Holding doors open for folks with big parcels, smiling at strangers when we pass on the sidewalk, sending congressional emails nearly daily, but somehow that doesn’t feel as important or as effective as Showing Up.  Being a part of an energized crowd of people who ask intelligent questions and clearly express themselves feels like I’m doing something.  It’s like voting with my time, my energy, and my body.  Being there is good.  Making noise is a good stress reliever.

For now, without violence, I am making a statement about what I believe democracy is and can continue to be.  Being old enough to have been around this block too many times, I fear that the violence will come, and I don’t know what my response will be then… But for now, this is what Democracy looks like in Oregon.  I’m proud to call Oregon my home.

As Mr. Wyden said yesterday, “Speak up, push back, have intelligent alternatives.”

Beyond the March

Posted January 22, 2017 by Kerry McFall

sketch of protesters in San Diego

“Women’s Protest March”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I am “tickled pink” (pardon the expression) that the Women’s Marches went so well, and so peacefullly, all over the world.  In San Diego, my husband and I joined the marchers, enjoying the wit and wisdom and art of the signs people created, reveling in the multi-generational and multi-cultural flavor of the conversations around us, wishing we had brought our umbrellas!  Some of my favorites: “So many issues, so little signs!”  “I thought we got this s**t over with years ago!”  I didn’t make a sign, couldn’t decide…  I’m invoking the “80% of success is just showing up” principle.

The police we saw and talked with were courteous and not dressed like Storm Troopers, a big plus.  I kept looking around for, you know, snipers and FBI photographers and CIA drones… but not a one did I spy.  Which doesn’t mean that we don’t all now have our lovely faces in a big facial recognition database somewhere in the Cloud tagged T for Troublemakers – oops, there goes that little Conspiracy Theory voice in my head again, that one with the Tin Foil Hat…  Dang, wish I’d thought of the Tin Foil Hat before the march, that’s what I could have worn as a Pussy Hat alternative!  (see previous post here on my blog

It’s a good start.  My kids used to hate it when that was my response to a paper they were writing or a job they were working on.  Why?  Because the implication is unavoidable: we’re nowhere near being finished.  We did well, very well, but I’m quite certain that our President didn’t get the message…  and this being a democracy, we will never be able to stop working on equal rights, climate change, immigration issues, the quest for peace…

I for one have very little clue how to proceed.  Anybody got some fresh ideas?  Hey, wait – what if we all wrote REALLY LARGE letters to Mr. Trump and his crew, as in real paper letters in big decorated envelopes sent via USPS, every week, thus flooding the Whitehouse mail room (is that still a thing?)  Perhaps they would be less likely to be ignored.  Or knit stuff, like potholders, with messages, sending it to said hypothetical mail room.  Nice messages, of course, ever so sweet in a double entendre kind of way… Oh, I dunno.  Like I said, ideas anyone?

An Old Girl Speaks Up

Posted by Kerry McFall January 18, 2017

I’ll be participating in the Women’s March on Saturday, in San Diego, but I won’t be wearing a pink Pussy Hat, and here’s why.  (For the short version, just skip to the last paragraph!)

knitted pink "pussy hat"

“No Thanks”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

My first political demonstration was in 1969 when I was a highschool senior about to graduate.  It was an anti-war rally, and I was terrified.  My best friend’s mother had gently challenged me to stand up for what I believed.  Not what my parents believed, not what my peers believed , but what did I believe?  Did it matter enough to take a stand?  She was a college professor, and at the time the President of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.

So, I didn’t tell anyone I was going, and I marched, pretty sure I was going to be jailed or shot.  For a few blocks, I held my head up and strode with confidence.  When I was about to pass the Phone Company building, where I had just scored a terrific new job as an operator, I faded into the background, went over one block, then re-joined the group  two blocks away.  I reasoned that if I lost that job, I wouldn’t be going to college, and I felt that a college- educated female activist would have a far more powerful  voice than a female voter with no credentials.  At that time, I even harbored ambitions for law school, another reason to not provoke the “powers that be”, i.e. those ladies who were scowling down at the street from the operator’s break room on the second floor, and who would be happy to see me fired.

Chicken?  I like to think of it not as cowardice, but as caution.  The Operator job did put me through college, which has served me well.

After that introduction to “activism”, I got involved in different ways.  I wrote letters, made phone calls, served on committees, and knocked on doors, mostly for women’s issues.  After a stint in a D.A.’s office as a legal assistant working with abused women and rape victims, followed by another as a manager at a social service agency, I decided that Planned Parenthood and NARAL were critical to women’s lives and health, and I worked quietly and hard for them, doing what I could where I could. I volunteered in my children’s schools and lobbied hard for Spanish language instruction.   I’ve never broadcasted my beliefs, but I’ve never dropped back again like I did in that first march.  And briefly, at the turn of this century, I thought we women might just have succeeded, we might have secured our rights to contribute to governing this country and the world, to control our own bodies, and to be paid equal dollars for equal work.

I have now worked for lo these many years, mostly as a writer in a technical field where women earn much less than men. Early in my career, I was shocked when a male manager (whose wife was 8 months pregnant) propositioned me… what a worm.  At another point, a federal agency was cutting budgets and I was called in to discuss my job as a contractor.  I got to keep my job, and my male counterpart was laid off, because we did exactly the same job, we were both top-notch writers, but he cost more.  I worked there for 7 years, taking home less than 30% of what the federal agency paid for my work – the contract company kept the rest, and told me to go ahead and find another job if I didn’t care for the arrangement.  As if.

Recently, being politically active has become more difficult.  Writing letters?  Or Emails?  Do they ever get read?  Apparently not.  Making phone calls?  How many robots do you want to talk with?  Knocking on doors?  No way – people don’t answer their doors.  Turns out that money makes the world go round – but what exactly gets done with my donations?  Ads – who watches them?  No clue, especially in presidential or congressional races.

So here I am, now a jaded “old Girl” as my grandson calls me, about to take to the streets again in frustration, knowing that this march might make me feel slightly less impotent (I know, interesting choice of words in this context) but probably won’t make a rat’s ass worth of difference in healthcare or immigration issues or wage equality.  We worked SO HARD for so many decades only to now see a man at the helm who by all appearances thinks women are sex toys.  Come on, Bozos– how many more “Welfare Queens” will be added to the mix if you take away birth control?  And that’s only the beginning of a terrifying list of fears engendered by the electoral college “victory” of Donald Trump.

Somehow those cute little pink hats just seem to play right into the scripts of the male power brokers – “Here ya go gals, wear these, they make ya look like pussies (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).  Ain’t that kewt? And maybe you’d like a Hello Kitty or My Little Pony sticker, too? “ So wear ‘em if ya got ‘em, Ladies, but if ya made one for me, go ahead and send it to The Donald.  I would love to see him snug it down on his little… no, I’m not gonna reduce myself to his level.  Pretend you didn’t just read that sentence and I’ll pretend I didn’t almost write it.

One Foot In Front of the Other: Footprints in the Sand

Posted January 15, 2017 by Kerry McFall

The sand gets plowed every night here in Pacific Beach, San Diego, no kidding.  A big old tractor chugs along down the foamy edge of the tide, removing any evidence of yesterday’s barefoot surfers, strolling lovers, and sand castles.  The tractor leaves the beach looking like legions of tiny leprechauns raked it in preparation for planting magic clover seeds.  This strikes me as Odd, capital O.  To a girl from Oregon, it just doesn’t get much weirder.

Back home, you walk down the beach, one foot in front of the other, and leave a trail of bootprints.  You look back and you see where you stopped to look at that decaying crab, or picked up a smooth stone, or vectored off to sit on a big piece of driftwood for a minute.  The next morning, the tide has washed away any trace of your stroll, and dropped off new crabs, stones, and driftwood seating.  Similar results, although not quite as tidy, so why plow?  I mean, it’s not like there aren’t good waves in San Diego (which I posted a sketch of last week at  Google isn’t offering much insight – seriously, plow to remove piles of seaweed? – so I guess I’ll just have to start asking around at the lifeguard stations.

I guess that’s just what we do here in the US of A, we mess with nature, in oh-so-many ways.   We drain swamps (or make hollow election promises to that effect), we fill in wetlands, we frack for oil, we pave riverbeds with concrete, or re-route the rivers through underground pipes.  Being in this part of the world provides daily reminders that we have come to believe that we are entitled to mess with nature, and we have come to believe that we CAN with impunity.  I’m old enough to understand that we are NOT in charge (I witnessed what Mt. St. Helens did), so I just hope that Mother Nature is in a jovial mood when she lashes back.   Rest assured, she will.

Meantime, I marvel at the footprints and tractor tire impressions in the sand, and continue to draw and paint the world around me in all its human-engineered glory.  This week, we visited the Junipero Serra museum building, which stands up above Old Town San Diego flaunting a big California bear on its weather vane; and we sun-bathed on the sand on Mission Bay at the Catamaran resort, whose management actually posted a sign saying “Public Welcome, feel free to use our beach chairs”!  What a treat!

sketch of bell tower and succulent trees

“Junipero Serra Museum”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

rental sailboats

“Mission Bay Sails”, mixed media by Kerry McFall




New Toys

Posted January 7, 2017 by Kerry McFall

sketch of brushes and pen

“New Toys”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as finding a gift in your Christmas stocking that is both just what you might have asked for had you been so bold, and something that you probably wouldn’t have thought to buy for yourself.  Okay, it really wasn’t in my stocking because I don’t hang one anymore, it actually showed up wrapped in tissue paper and bubble wrap inside a fairly oversized cardboard box, with a little tag that explained they traveled from Seattle to Atlanta to Oregon!  Lovely – and now I have an excuse to go to the art supply store and see what kind of additional mischief I can manage.  Some inks, perhaps, for that intriguing bamboo “brush pen”?  Or some big sheets of hot press H2O paper for the fluffy fat camel hair watercolor brush?  Fun!  Thanks again, Leigh Douglas!

Wisdom from the Waves

Posted January 1, 2017 by Kerry McFall

In 2016, I’ve spent more time than ever before watching the waves lap the beaches of San Diego, and occasionally Marin County, waiting for wisdom from the sea.  Oblivious to my quest, the sea simply continued her task, dedicated to her own routine, teaching by example perhaps.  The sea, and all of nature, is endlessly changing and forever the same, nibbling away at the continents.  Breathe in deeply, breathe out fully, says the meditation tape.  The surf rolls in, the tide bubbles out.  It appears that nothing changes as you look out to the horizon, yet you know that everything changes in every teaspoon of sand and salt water with every wave on  the shore .

“Rainbow Surf”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

One day two  weeks ago, a pair of whales spouted every few minutes as they worked their way down to Mexico in a tide so low that I thought, “Tsunami?!”  It was the day of the waxing gibbous moon, the day of what is called the “spring tide”.  Spring tide has nothing to do with the season and everything to do with gravity as the moon, earth, and sun aligned themselves in some eternal pattern that our techno-centric society has essentially forgotten.  But luckily, we have squirreled “spring tide” away in Google, surrounded by its keywords and digital imagery.  If you see it happening before your eyes and wonder what you’re seeing… the tribal elders aren’t around to enlighten you, but Google is.  Google is now as ubiquitous as elders once were.  Elders… now there’s a sticky subject for me.  Which I will leave for another post, but I won’t attempt to unravel it on this New Year’s Day.

Today I stood on Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach, San Diego, watching the surf swirl below me and feeling it shake the pier.  Waves are very different when you’re above them, not waiting for them to get your feet wet.  My reward was a sudden chunk of rainbow that hovered above a big frothy wave as it curled inward on itself.  Magical.  Beautiful.  There were several in quick succession, but of course they were gone by the time I had my camera ready.  Dang.  There was only one thing to do – add the rainbow  to a painting!  Who needs a camera anyway?!  Here’s hoping for more chunks of rainbows in this coming year.

The Great Shakeout

Posted by Kerry McFall, October 21, 2016

Scrub jay sketch

“Bob’s Cache”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Oregonian’s are all supposed to be preparing and practicing for the Big One today (10/20/2016) by participating in the statewide earthquake drill called the “The Great Shakeout”.  I think most of us have gotten over shrugging our shoulders and just hoping to be in the first wave as the Tsunamis wash us to Kingdom Come.  We are constantly being reminded that the Big One is coming because research shows that anticipating emergencies, and thinking about how you might respond, actually increases your chances of survival.

In that spirit of preparedness, we keep our cache in the garage, stocked with tuna, granola bars, and bottled water, and the old sleeping bags and tarps are fairly accessible in tubs under the workbench.  There’s a big wrench by the back door (for shutting off the gas valve and/or the water main), right next to the flashlight and fire extinguisher.  Got flashlight batteries? Yep.  Got candles?  Two big new ones scented like hazelnut latte, which is probably the closest we’ll get to coffee for months if the earthquake does what’s anticipated.  (I do have an adorable tiny backpacking stove that burns a tiny tin of fuel, but it should last about an hour, tops.)

Prepared?  Not really, but it’s a start.  And what about all of our furry and feathered friends?  What is to become of them?  Case in Point:

Jay caching acorn

“How Scrub Jays Cache”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Bob the Blue Jay has amused the neighbors and us for a couple of years by burying nuts in the lawn, then covering them with leaves.  I decided to do a little research to prove to myself that he would never be able to find them again… but I proved myself WRONG.  There are many scientists who believe that crows, jays, and nutcrackers know what they’re doing – each autumn, they are preparing for a cold winter, when no nuts will be readily available, and it’s called “caching” for them, too.  And although it varies between bird species, there’s a pretty good chance that old Bob the scrub jay will be back for those soggy nuts later, right where he cached them, under the 47th four-inch yellow leaf south of the viney maple beside the birdbath.  Even after I get around to raking the leaves, apparently he’s still got a good chance of success!

Knowing that Bob and his buddies are gonna be fine, I think I’ll go buy a few bags of dry cat food, and a few boxes of chardonnay and add them to my earthquake cache… Worse comes to worst, we can help Bob find his hazelnuts, and share the cat food with Sparky after the tuna runs out.  Plus, the wine requires no cooking, provides a few calories, and warms the belly and the soul.  Prepared?  Closer.

If you’d like to learn more about birds caching food, here are a couple of interesting web pages on the topic:


Moving Between Sunlight and Shadow

Posted September 30, 2016 by Kerry McFall

Sunlight and Shadow at a festival

“Fall Festival 2016 Corvallis”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 8 x 10 prints $25

The biggest challenge for me with  “urban sketching” is squirmy people.  Not only do people move constantly and strike awkward poses, they wander in and out of the light, in and out of my line of sight.  (Hey, that almost rhymes… ) Okay, that rose hedge in the center could be a little less pointy. And I only fudged a tiny bit by using a couple of photos I snapped to help capture the poses as folks strolled around the festival.  The actual Hat Lady was not quite this elegant or graceful, to be honest – she was more of an old-school unreconstructed hippie who just happened to have a really lovely hat… which is rare here in Corvallis, the honorary Capital of The Land of Dopey Hats.

But this was a fun challenge.  What started out as a quick sketch made from a shady bench became a watercolor with a story to tell.  Is the lady with the hat about to rendezvous with the guy in the orange sweatshirt?  Does he even know she’s there?  Or did the guy with the backpack, walking out of the picture, just realize that he’s been stood up and is going to the beer tent to assuage his broken ego?  And what did that shadowy little kid find under the tarp on the left?

Fall Festival is one of Corvallis’ seasonal trademarks.  Artists and artisans fill Central Park, each tent and booth representing at least an entire year’s worth of hard work and creative sweat.  I somehow doubt that most of the festival goers realize just how much effort it takes to get those tents up and decorated and stocked and ready for action.  For many artists, the circuit of summer tent sales like this are how they pay the rent, and it’s a tough way to make a living.  It almost feels like we the “shoppers” should leave a tip for every time we say, “I LOVE your work!” and then mosey on to the next tent without buying a thing.  Just sayin’.

Jiggity Jig

Posted September 13, 2016 by Kerry McFall

"Corvallis Farmers Market 2016", mixed media by Kerry McFall, 8 x 10 print $25

“Corvallis Farmers Market 2016”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 8 x 10 print $25

Home again, home again… I have to admit, it’s a relief to be back in Corvallis after our summer as “vagabonds”.  Familiar landmarks and events, friendly faces… even with the few unwelcome changes (that hotel taking shape on the waterfront is HUGE, not exactly the same scale as most of the rest of the buildings… tsk) it’s good to be home.  We are still pet-sitting for another week while our AirBnB tenant finishes up his stay, but we’re back in town and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is over for this year!

Before we got to town, we spent a couple of days at the Oregon coast, which is always good for sketching if you can find someplace out of the wind:

"Gulls and Cormorants on the Lookout", mixed media on toned paper by Kerry McFall

“Gulls and Cormorants on the Lookout”, mixed media on toned paper by Kerry McFall

I found a couple of small crab shells with barnacles growing on them – I’ve never seen that before.  Wonder what it means to the crab industry?

"Crab Shell with Barnacles", mixed media on toned paper by Kerry McFall

“Crab Shell with Barnacles”, mixed media on toned paper by Kerry McFall