With thanks to the Oregon Coast Aquarium photograph archives, here is a sketch of the sea lions that appeared as tiny dots in the ocean in my previous post. Sea Lions are strange and fascinating creatures, perhaps the ultimate “walking fish”!
Thanks to a tip from a co-worker who lives at the coast (Thanks, Ken!), our trip to Coos Bay turned out to be a sight-seeing Bonanza. He suggested we drive past the Shore Acres State Park a ways and look for sea lions on the rocks. It sounded like a good way to spend a few minutes, and Griff loves to try out new roads. It was gorgeous, and we stayed for several hours, believe it or not, actually BASKING in the SUN! Yes, Oregon in January – and the wind wasn’t blowing, and the sun was shining. Hundreds of sea lions bobbed up and down in the surf , and as I sketched I was buzzed by a hummingbird several times! At one point I saw a white plume that may or may not have been a whale blowing – people with binoculars thought it was, I wasn’t sure that my imagination hadn’t embellished it a bit.
After that sunny interlude, we drove back down to the botanical gardens at Shore Acres, where I was able to sketch the old gardener’s house, built in about 1914 by the very wealthy Simpson family. They graciously donated their entire water’s edge mansion and grounds to the state in the 1930’s. There wasn’t much in bloom this season, but lots of hopeful daffodil points were beginning to poke up, and a few industrious bees buzzed around the sun-warmed heather near the entrance.
The weekend was over too soon. Sunday the January weather returned and we drove home in the rain, stopping for lunch at the Gingerbread restaurant in Mapleton. I remember stopping there with my Dad as a teen when he took me fishing with him on the Siuslaw River. I sketched, he caught salmon – or not, but we both enjoyed just sitting on the river, watching the world slip past. I was pleased to see that the same souvenir plates line the shelves above the windows, and the 1960’s decor is pretty much intact… what I didn’t expect were the cowboys at the next booth. Cruel spurs, ten gallon hats, long knives on their belts, they were the Real Deal. I wish our friends from Botswana could have been with us to see this little bit of Americana!
It’s not my best effort at perspective, etc., but frankly, I was afraid they might not take kindly to being sketched, so it was a rush job!
We tumbled into the boat panting almost as soon as we arrived at Chobe Lodge, anxious not to miss the afternoon tour. I looked skeptically at the large boat, the bartender, the people with camera lenses as long as my arm, and thought, “Well, it’s all part of the experience. Any wild animals will be miles away.” But my skepticism vanished almost immediately. There across the river, in the lush spring marsh, was an IMMENSE elephant, munching away like one of Aunt Audrey’s milk cows, oblivious to our boat and several other smaller boats.
And that was just the beginning. The lone bull elephant was our first sighting of what are known as The Big Five in Botswana, big five as in Really Big Animals Who Look Prehistoric. Wow. Even the loud/drunk South African pig farmer on our boat (reminded me of a Dutch rugby player I dated in college) couldn’t diminish the experience. Magical. Unforgettable. So magical that I didn’t even try to sketch, I just took photos with my tiny camera, knowing that sooner or later I would be back here in Oregon watching the rain and loving the intensity of fond memories as I sketched. So here he is, with his personal entourage, which at some point I will research to figure out what these birds are and why they were following him… elephant poop hors d’ouevres perhaps?
Going through photos from 2011 as part of my “get better organized” New Year’s resolution yielded a nice shot of wild iris at Finley Wildlife Refuge from last May. It’s been so bleak and soggy here since we got home that I felt like a bit of Flower Therapy was in order for the sketch book, so I spent a couple of glorious hours Sunday afternoon daydreaming about May… I put into action a suggestion from a wonderful book about sketching that I’m reading (The Art of Travel with a Sketchbook by Mari Le Glatin Keis) – start with a watercolor wash on the page. So simple, but so effective, and as I read I was delighted to recognize the names of several contributing Corvallis artists I know: Gale Everett and George Norek. I wish I had read the book before I traveled, but then again, it felt like I had enough going on without more ideas to overwhelm me!
After enjoying the book so much, I was left with a sense of real loss when I googled her name and discovered that she died about this time last year from breast cancer. She was about my age. I wish I had known her. The book seems like such a gift for those of us who couldn’t go with her on her sketching journeys. And it is inspiration to keep looking and seeing and sketching – and daydreaming on paper.
It struck me as ironic today that I was sketching lions who live in Botswana, where high summer is about to take over, while watching snowflakes drift past my windows… The above is a photoshop combination of two studies I did this afternoon of my favorite lion photo from our safari last month.
The two lionesses were young adults, and had clearly just gorged themselves, probably on an old bull buffalo that we had come across about an hour before… poor old guy. Their bellies were “tight as ticks”, as my grandma used to say, and although they were clearly interested in something in the distance, they were too full to move. Beautiful creatures, unscarred, oblivious to us in our “jeep”. From what I could gather, if you stay sitting down in a wheeled vehicle, they don’t notice you – vehicles aren’t edible as a rule, and they simply don’t give a rip about any predators since they are at the top of the food chain. If you stand up, though, anything on legs just might look like prey. Yikes. This could be crucial, given that the jeeps were essentially just like the Disney Indiana Jones ride vehicles, same non-existent shock absorbers, nothing resembling windows or doors, but sans seatbelts. So we stayed sitting down.
I’d like to do a larger painting of these ladies at some point in the not too distant future. But first I need to study lions a little more – I was surprised to discover for instance as I did the eyes that lions do not have pupils like cats. Lions’ pupils are just round like people pupils, not almond shaped like a housecat. Who knew? It doesn’t take much of an arch to an “eyebrow” or a slant to an eyelid to make them look absolutely evil. But their big puffy ears are like teddy bear ears. And their chins are fuzzy… and in this case, slightly blood-stained. Eww.
A Christmas/New Year’s gift from my friend Tracy couldn’t have hit the mark any closer of what I need to cheer me up – summer in a jar! There is nothing to compare with the taste of home-preserved peaches. When you hear the lid pop, the rich smell of August and the warmth of sunshine drifts up and pushes away the cold of January (ice is on the beaver ponds near my office… brrr). You can almost imagine the peach fuzz on your cheek if you lean close enough. When someone gives you a gift of a golden jar, you can revel in the knowledge that they care about you enough to struggle for hours over a hot stove with slippery skins and gooey pits and sticky kitchen floors… Thank you, Tracy!
Tangled? Yes… but not so much the yarn as the emotions. Back from what everyone has dubbed “the trip of a lifetime”, we are attempting to untangle the threads. Some will never unravel; they are tightly knit into the essence of our beings now – those are the threads that go back years, even decades, the threads that led us to open our homes and hearts to the people who became dear friends over the years and were our hosts for this adventure. Some are wound into the ball of the future, waiting to be unleashed when a cat’s paw – or an earthquake, or the wind – sets them rolling again. Some of the threads are loose ends, bits that came undone when no one was paying attention, or appeared out of nowhere – those are the “now what?” threads. And those are the most difficult to untangle. It’s good to be home, it’s important to be home… but to be honest, taking out the garbage and recycling on Tuesday night is way less glamourous than racing to catch a bus for the next performance of “Mama Mia” in London. Ah, but Life’s Rich Pageant Marches On!
Clearly, we’re not in Botswana any more… or Tennessee, or Brooklyn. Sigh.
But it’s beautiful here in a cold, foggy kind of way. This afternoon I walked the Bald Hill Farm trail as part of my “re-entry” therapy – the Oregon Winter palette is very simple: grey, pale lichen green, more grey, nut brown, dead grass green, and thank goodness for the red of wild rosehips.
I hope to find time to post the last few Botswana sketches soon, but I’ll be back to work tomorrow so it may be a few days before I get everything sorted out.