Sitting on my chair again, to get to the point of writing you here I pass through some places on the internet. On my way here I read some further accounts of some events that gave my heart the weight of lead. That’s one of the good reasons to draw lots of birds, because you can call em all up to pick you up. or at the very least come to realize you have an Ornithological sketch hoarding issue…
“Spent a little time on the mountain
Spent a little time on the hill
I saw things getting out of hand
I guess they always will
I don’t know but I been told
if the horse don’t pull you got to carry the load
I don’t know whose back’s that strong
Maybe find out before too long
One way or another
One way or another
One way or another
this darkness got to give”
One o’clock in the morning, A freight train rolls into the station behind my apartment building. Diesel shakes my window panes. The building is quiet enough for me to believe I’m the only one awake. Sketching prairie plants with a pencil while a movie plays in the corner of the room. Earlier this evening I was hunched over a sheet of plywood scribing it with ten thousand or more, very short lines. When its late at night like this I don’t like the music too loud in the headphones. Just enough to meld with the diesel running in the backyard. It’s leaving town in just a few minutes, then I’ll turn the volume back.
A mockingbird and a Barn Owl. Two of my favorite occupants of this California Republic.
My father and I share bird reports regularly, he’s been sharing sightings of sharp-shinned hawks diving for birds at his feeders and in the field next door in Illinois. That’s had me wanting to work one into a pen drawing for a while. The prairie piece was the perfect fit.
The compass Plant is finished too, I ran some numbers and there are roughly 10,000 lines in the large bloom alone. Drawing Illinois plants in a room 2,300 miles west.
The pen brings clarity to the flower and I. My Compass Plant flower that grew under light of the drawing lamps. Across from it on a branch sits an American Kestrel. A small and swift raptor of the prairie and open woodlands.
There is a Kestrel that hangs out by where I like to ride my mountain bike. Last week one hovered just 20 feet from where I sat. It has helped me a lot with illustrating to be able to watch them in the wild. Raptors aren’t easy to observe in detail. This local Kestrel did me a service in getting close for me to notice its face markings. A blessed encounter.
I put in two hours tonight, I’m sure there’s another half dozen to go. My sister tells me that the prairie plants back in Illinois have begun to push through the soil and make their way towards the sun to later make flower. At that rate, I’m ahead of schedule.
My Illinois has grown into a place it couldn’t be until I left it. I was too preoccupied with plotting my escape to truly sink into its beauty. That’s not to say I didn’t look for it before I left. In the plots of restored prairie around Kane county Illinois I found the greatest beauty, and came to fall in love with grasslands.
My first large paintings were of mountain ranges, rather cartoon like, they captured the image of where I was heading. I painted them on the walls of my room (to my mother’s delight).
That feeling when you’re driving in towards Denver from Nebraska. To put the grasslands and corn in your rearview mirror and the mountains right on ahead. I was making a break for it, running for my life, cool and calm doing 65mph on Highway 76.
Illinois out the basement window.
It was to just be another summer job at a kids camp in Tahoe and then return. Though that wasn’t to be the case at all. Here I am 6 years later, I’m putting my eyes on the rearview mirror and revisiting some old familiar plants and animals. All the while sitting on a chair in California drawing birds.
I wanted to do a page called “Raptors of the Illinois Prairie”. I chose the American Kestrel and Sharp-shinned Hawk. And after sketching a few old friends from the plots of Kane County. I went with one of my top three favorite plants, the Compass Plant. They stand a good 6-8 feet tall and their roots go almost twice as deep. Part of my love for the flowers they put out is tied to the roots they send so deep. Escaping the full wrath of the fires that recycled the prairie.
I will put a good many more hours into this drawing. To explore it further in pencil and pen, before coloring with watercolor.
I remember it well standing in the driveway saying goodbye to my Dad that May morning. The dogwood was blooming. I was sad to leave home I told him. “Home is where ever you go” he told me. Those words put a smile on my face whenever my heart grows heavy.
He knew I wasn’t coming right back to Illinois before I did.
Sitting on my chair again, a blank page at my disposal. It stands in place of the plywood of the previous project. My mind travels elsewhere. It travels out the window of my room.
Pushing aside the screen. Down the vine tangled walkway under my windowsill. It drifts down the street, past all the parked cars. It drifts upward, narrowly missing the roof tops. It picks up a burst of speed and goes up, over California, above the West coast, Drifting out over across the Pacific Ocean. Higher into the stratosphere it climbs. Until above it is the black of space.
There are no eagles flying where my mind is now. No air for one to breathe. Just my mind and maybe some space junk floating by.
For all the air breathing creatures my mind likes to render I wonder how it stays safe up there, what does it pick up out there that it isn’t down here on a chair in an apartment in California? It goes there every time, and passes a lot of airplanes and birds on its way up. I wonder if she crossed paths with it when she caught the red eye out of LAX.
I suppose its possible but, it’d be too dark out and I really don’t think she’d recognize it anyway.
I remember well when I met my first mocking bird. A sunny California morning some five years ago. It was 7am and I was sleeping on a broken cot inside a closet of an office I rented in a house in this central coast town. The bird landed on a branch that scrapped against my window whenever the wind blew. it sat there for 40 minutes and sang, not repeating himself once. I awoke in amazement. Who is that bird and how do I become friends with it?! my first thought that day, and every encounter since.
I first became aware of the mockingbird from reading Harper Lee’s “To kill a mockingbird”. It was during my freshmen year in high school back in Illinois, English class.
While the bird itself is of smaller significance in the plot of the book. No book I’d read at that age before had woke me to the country I lived in. And the following year I read “Of Mice and Men”.
The two stories melded together in my mind to form a drive to travel around this American land. Mockingbird wrote me out a moral code, and Of Mice and Men put the wheels on my wagon and got me headed west.
There are a lot of fence posts and telephone wires down all the roads I’ve been down to get to this part of the coast. On those many posts and wires were plenty of different birds. Here and in my books you’ll find them on a page. And come to find out recently my favorite Grateful Dead song, “Jack Straw” was inspired by “Of Mice and Men” as well.
“We used to play for silver, now we play for life”.
My eagle drawing on plywood made its way through the next phase of its coming to be. Like a fresh molt, new color. The process left my hands blue, try as I might they’ll hold bits of that color for a while. The Bald Eagle has been long held sacred by many tribes and nations. Seeing one on the fly overhead was all it took for me to see why. I’ve admired them for a long time, but put off attempting to paint one til I found myself reasonably pleased with my process and abilities. And now here in May of 2014, on the golden coast. Still far from mastering my craft, but the weather seems right and my hand true enough to give a go at borrowing the likeness of an entity so great.