Saturday, February 25, 2017

Crow hosts the daffodils

When there's mud between the snowbanks, spring can't be far behind. This is most definitely a picture from somewhere else at some other time, but it's one Crow and I have a great fondness for. Perhaps it's about some future when things are a little less crazy in the world. Did you know that recent statistics in England showed more children had been hospitalized for falling out of bed than from falling out of trees?

Meanwhile, some thoughts about fairy tales and fantasy, when the need has grown large:

"In an age that seems to be increasingly dehumanized, when people can be transformed into non-persons, and where a great deal of our adult art seems to diminish our lives rather than add to them, children's literature insists on the values of humanity and humaneness." 
- Lloyd Alexander

"The great subversive works of children's literature suggest that there are other views of human life besides those of the shopping mall and the corporation. They mock current assumptions and express the imaginative, unconventional, noncommercial view of the world in its simplest and purest form. They appeal to the imaginative, questioning, rebellious child within all of us, renew our instinctive energy, and act as a force for change. This is why such literature is worthy of our attention and will endure long after more conventional tales have been forgotten."
- Alison Lurie

"The fairy tale, which to this day is the first tutor of children because it was once the first tutor of mankind, secretly lives on in the story. The first true storyteller is, and will continue to be, the teller of fairy tales. Whenever good counsel was at a premium, the fairy tale had it, and where the need was greatest, its aid was nearest."
- Walter Benjamin

"People who’ve never read fairy tales have a harder time coping in life than the people who have. They don’t have access to all the lessons that can be learned from the journeys through the dark woods and the kindness of strangers treated decently, the knowledge that can be gained from the company and example of Donkeyskins and cats wearing boots and steadfast tin soldiers. I’m not talking about in-your-face lessons, but more subtle ones. The kind that seep up from your sub-conscious and give you moral and humane structures for your life. That teach you how to prevail, and trust. And maybe even love."
- Charles de Lint

The thing about fairy tales is you have to live through them, before you get to the happily ever after. That ever after has to be earned, and not everyone makes it that far.

article of the week

Saturday, February 18, 2017

lizard girl

When I received a photograph of the very pretty granddaughter of a friend I thought I'd try to capture her in a drawing. Of course my rendition does her actual looks almost no justice at all; in reality, her vivacity and confidence in the love that surrounds her defeats my small ability at portraiture. You may have noticed this little girl isn't standing in a doorway or a garden and neither is she accompanied by a typical household pet. Instead, she stands at ease with an iguana in equally sanguine posture. Do you wonder why?

Well, just a few days before I found her photograph in my inbox, I'd been reading about The Galapagos Islands, the remote archipelago where Darwin first conceived of his theory of natural selection after examining the unique fauna who lived there. Some 30 percent of the plants, 80 percent of the land birds and 97 percent of the reptiles are found nowhere else on Earth. Besides the famous giant tortoises, there were several varieties of oversize iguana - the land ones feed on cacti and shrubs while the marine iguana graze on seaweed near the shore.

Over the past 300 years, hunting and invasive species reduced both the giant tortoise populations and the lizards by an estimated 90 percent, destroying several species and pushing others to the brink of extinction, although a few populations on remote volcanoes remained abundant. Along with the pirates and eventual settlers, came goats, pigs, donkeys, dogs, cats, and rats. They trampled the delicate native plants, gobbled up turtle eggs, staged inexplicable attacks on land iguana colonies, snacked on baby chicks, and tore through cactus tree trunks. After the Galapagos National Park was established in 1959, park guards halted killing of tortoises for food, but those animals introduced to the islands continued to destroy the habitat and kill the native species.

 How researchers got rid of more than 200,000 goats is interesting (if somewhat gory):

In a project called Isabella helicopter aerial attacks eradicated 90 percent of the goats on that island. Although it's relatively easy to remove 90 percent of a goat population from an island as they become more rare, they are harder to find. Once they'd been educated and learned to hide, the hunters flying around in an expensive helicopter found no goats.

So they decided on a technique called Judas goats. Since goats are gregarious and like being in groups they captured individual animals, put radio collars on them and released them back into the wild where the goats would go and find more goats. A week or two later it was easy enough to find the hidden herds.

It's hard to write about the Galápagos without talking much about the tortoises, but since their story is far more famous than the efforts to protect the lizards, I just thought I'd let you know that overall the situation for all of the rare and beautiful species that Darwin described is far better now. Extraordinary measures that have been taken to protect these animals have been largely successful. At the same time the future remains mired in debates over how to protect the islands from the 150,000 tourists who visit each year, many of whom unintentionally bring invaders by depositing tiny seeds on trails, and occasionally fungi or insects that can cripple the fragile ecosystem. (Personally, I agree with Crow that tourists should stay at home, but that's a whole other subject.)

Land iguanas are large - more than 3 feet long - with males weighing up to 30 pounds. They live in the drier areas of the Islands, and in the mornings can be found sprawled beneath the hot equatorial sun. To escape the heat of the midday sun, they seek the shade of cacti, rocks, trees or other vegetation. At night they sleep in burrows dug in the ground, to conserve their body heat. They feed mainly on low-growing plants and shrubs, as well as fallen fruits and cactus pads. These succulent plants provide them with the moisture they require during long, dry periods. Land iguanas show a fascinating symbiotic interaction with Darwin’s finches, as do giant tortoises, raising themselves off the ground and allowing the little birds to remove ticks.

It's enough for me to know they're out there in hope that Earth will continue as the beautiful and diverse surrounding that gave us birth. My further hope is that little Lizard Girl and her friends will grow up to add to our knowledge and compassion for all God's creatures. We need more nature photographers and naturalists.

ps: My picture didn't do justice to the iguana either..

pps: Harper's
Game On - East vs. West, Again
by Andrew Cockburn

Saturday, February 11, 2017

secret gardens or unknown?

When I was a child one of my favourite books was 'The Secret Garden', but while I was told about walled kitchen gardens enclosed to keep foraging animals out I never knew walled gardens had been commonplace up until the relative recent past. From the sixteenth to the twentieth century, European urban farmers grew Mediterranean fruits and vegetables as far north as England and the Netherlands, using only renewable energy.

These crops were grown surrounded by massive 'fruit walls', which stored the heat from the sun and released it at night, creating a microclimate that could increase the temperature significantly. The 2.5 to 3 metre (9 to 10 feet) high walls were more than half a metre (20 inches) thick and coated in limestone plaster. Mats could be pulled down to insulate the fruits on very cold nights. In the central part of the gardens, crops were grown that tolerated lower temperatures, such as apples, pears, raspberries, vegetables and flowers.

The fruit wall appeared around the start of what's known as the Little Ice Age, a period of exceptional cold in Europe that lasted from about 1550 to 1850. Initially, fruit walls appeared in the gardens of the rich and powerful, such as in the palace of Versailles. However, some French regions later developed an urban farming industry based on fruit walls.

The most spectacular example was Montreuil, a suburb of Paris, where peaches were grown on a massive scale. The French quickly started to refine the technology by pruning the branches of fruit trees in such ways that they could be attached to a wooden frame on the wall.

Established during the seventeenth century, Montreuil had more than 600 km (375 miles) of fruit walls by the 1870s, when the industry reached its peak. The 300 hectare (750 acres) maze of jumbled up walls was so confusing for outsiders that the Prussian army went around Montreuil during the siege of Paris in 1870. Now there's a secret garden for you.

Peaches are native to France's Mediterranean regions, but Montreuil produced up to 17 million fruits per year, renowned for their quality. Building many fruit walls close to each other further boosted the effectiveness of the technology, because more heat was trapped and wind was kept out almost completely. Within the walled orchards, temperatures were typically 8 to 12°C (14-22°F) higher than outside.

As the 20th century grew closer, the production of Parisian peaches went into decline. The extension of the railways and the arrival of cheaper produce on the market saw the orchards deteriorate and disappear into the urban fabric. Here we are 150 years later completely dependent upon container shipped fruit and vegetables from all over the world.

While fruit wall gardening was certainly labour intensive I can't help but remember Mary Lennox, the sickly, foul-tempered, unsightly little orphan girl who loved no one and whom no one loved. Her discovery and care of the secret garden on her uncle's estate led not only to her transformation but to the healing of a sad family's tragedy. If all the factory work is to be done by robots, perhaps the gardens will still have need of us and treasures to share.

Near the end of the book a character says: "There must be lots of Magic in the world. But people don't know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen, until you make them happen."

ps: * The design is achieved by wrapping the fruit in a paper bag while it's growing.  Once it's full size a stencil is attached to the ripening peach using egg white. The Japanese do the same with apples. :)

The illustrations of The Secret Garden were painted by Inga Moore.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

the recital underway

It's been some time since I last posted a new picture and now that there is one I thought I'd show you how it progressed from an early sketch to a finished illustration. As I said, an early sketch rather than the chicken scratches I'd be embarrassed to show you.

For some reason unknown to me I can't get the second image in the sequence to load - the one that shows the tonal underpainting. Instead, this is the third with the characters looking pretty well developed.

There was a time when I'd spend a lot of time putting together the elements of a new painting. The paintings themselves took weeks of evenings and weekends to complete. I seem to be much less patient now.

There needed to be a background and after several pencilled in tries and much erasing I decided on a nice walled garden. Deep in a Canadian winter is a good time to spend some imaginary time in a sunny walled garden, especially one that is a home to roses. I thought my little band of musicians would be happy there too.

Of course it still needed more depth and colour as well as something going on beyond the stone wall. Thus, the next day's effort found it looking like this - still a bit wispy but I could see where the picture needed to go.

If you're wondering where (if, of course you've stayed this long) here is the final result:

Finally, after adding more layers of warm transparent hues to give more shape and definition to the main image, I drew and painted the border - a thoroughly relaxing process that took a couple of days. Both during the Recital's development and now that it's done there are things I couldn't change at the time that I wish I'd done differently. Then again, nothing made by hand (at least by my hand) is ever perfect and perhaps that's the charm. It's nice enough. If only changing the way we live on this Earth were as easy..

“Throughout the world what remains of the vast public spaces are now only the stuff of legends: Robin Hood’s forest, the Great Plains of the Amerindians, the steppes of the nomadic tribes, and so forth. Rousseau said that the first person who wanted a piece of nature as his or her own exclusive possession and transformed it into the transcendent form of private property was the one who invented evil. Good, on the contrary, is what is common.”
~ Antonio Negri