Friday, July 25, 2008

Up Up and Away

My husband gave me a gift certificate for a hot air balloon ride for Christmas in 2006, but a variety of scheduling difficulties and weather issues prevented us from taking our ride until this week.  In this photo several of my fellow passengers watch the crew set up and inflate the huge balloon.

Our pilot, a congenial man who was born in Wisconsin, moved to Arizona where he learned to pilot balloons, and now has moved back, took us a mile high, then flew low enough over fields and tree tops that we could see deer, rabbits, turkeys and sand hill cranes.  Water-logged fields made the extent of damage from our recent flooding very clear.  The view here is of Lakes Mendota and Monona.

The burners threw so much heat that I sought shelter under the heat shields.  When the burners are not throwing flames, the ride is whisper quiet.

While I don't have a photo of the inflated balloon, I enjoyed watching our shadow as it passed over the countryside.  

At the end of the ride, after we landed, packed up the balloon and returned to our point of departure, the crew put out champagne, strawberries, cheese and crackers.  We heard a  bit about the history of hot air balloons, and then were sent on our way with this familiar Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

If you'd like to see an image of the balloon, or find out about the company, here is the web address for Token Creek Balloons:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oh Give Me a Home...

"Where the buffalo roam"  Custer State Park is a marvelous place to see wild animals moving freely.  It's a huge sprawling place, and we were thrilled to see about 100 of their herd of over a thousand American bison as they lumbered across a road.  My image of buffalo is of them grazing on the prairie, but this herd was coming out of a stand of trees.  The bull pictured here is happily scratching an itch on one of those trees.  I shot the photo from the safety of our vehicle, but with the windows down we were impressed by the animals' size and the deep noises they made.

"Where the deer and the antelope play"  We saw pronghorn antelope everywhere.  These were in Custer State Park, but we saw dozens grazing along side cattle in Wyoming and South Dakota.  The state park and surrounding area also has burrows, mule and white tail deer, elk, and mountain goats.
"Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day"  OK, so sometimes the skies are cloudy.  After several days of brilliant blue skies a few clouds made the Crazy Horse Memorial easy on the eyes.  I had seen the mountain in 1960 with my grandparents, and remember nothing more than a white outline on the side of the rock.  While the project isn't nearly finished, there is still much to see.  Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, who worked on Mt. Rushmore, was approached by Lakota chief Henry Standing Bear in 1948 to create a memorial to Crazy Horse to remind people that Native Americans have heroes too. We were impressed with the other part of the complex there, the film with background on the project, the huge museum dedicated to many aspects of Native American history and culture, and even the gift shop.  We passed up an evening laser light show, though we did have one more exciting moment a day or so later.  We were on top of an observation tower miles away in the state park when we heard a boom.  At first we thought it was thunder, but then a cloud of dust rose from the Crazy Horse monument.  They are continuing to chip away at the area under the sculpture's arm.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mt. Rushmore

I did this little sketch in my Moleskine at Mt. Rushmore.  There was a nice shady amphitheater, so I sat and drew a couple minutes.  It turned out to be almost the only drawing I did on the trip.

Here is my husband and his sisters on a 1968 trip.  We both remember the monument as being less well developed, just a small visitors' center and place to eat or buy souvenirs. Today it takes all day to see the museum displays and films, visit the sculptor's studio, and see the evening program and night lighting ceremony.

I had no idea about the original plans for the Mt. Rushmore monument until we saw the original model Gutzom Borglund made to guide his workers.  The original plans included what you see here, but money concerns, the quality of rock lower on the mountain, and the sculptor's death halted work.  

We walked a path under the monument that revealed all sorts of interesting alternate views. Maybe I'll give a shot at drawing or painting from the reference photos I took.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Westward Expansion

This is me, posing for my grandmother with my Brownie camera at South Dakota's Badlands, in 1960.

This is my husband and me last week in the Badlands. There is nothing like a photograph to inspire me to returning to eating sensibly and working out.

Here I am again in 1960, riding a Depression era cement Protoceratops at Rapid City's Dinosaur Park.

This creature has been moved from its hilltop location, has been repainted, and has lost its clutch of eggs. I have grown too big to sit on cement dinosaurs.

My husband and I just returned from a ten day trip in the West. It began as a reunion with college friends in Colorado Springs, but ended up being a reprise of family vacations each of us took in the early 1960's. Most of my early vacation pictures are pretty poor, faded, off kilter, poor resolution, though my Photoshop program can doctor them up a bit. Still they are a good reminders of the trips I took with my grandparents. My dad was a dairy farmer who could not leave his herd, and my mother just hated to travel. But my grandparents liked to explore, and being the oldest grandchild, the only one who didn't get carsick, I was lucky to be invited along on their vacations.
Both my husband I visited the Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, South Dakota, as children, but neither of us remembered that the park was at the top of the highest hill in the city, with a beautiful and dizzying view. The life-sized cement dinosaurs were built in 1936 as a WPA project, and today the simple shapes and benign expressions are more like Barney than Jurassic Park. But it was fun to see them again, pleasant to see the view, and we shared a rootbeer float and considered how time passes. It occurred to me that one might plan a whole trip centered on dinosaurs, with all the emphasis on fossils in the Black Hills area. Maybe next time we'll go to Hot Springs to see the Mammoth Dig site.

I remembered driving through the Badlands with my grandparents in their pink Rambler with no air conditioner. It was hot. Really hot. Grandma's way of keeping Grandpa and me reasonably cool was to have a large Thermos jug of ice water and a box of Wash-n-dry towelettes in the car. I remember thinking the drive through the fantastically colored and eroded landscape took days, though it obviously was no more than an afternoon. This time we had the AC on the whole time, carried bottled water, and wore hats, and the experience was a good one, though I was nervous about all the signs warning us about rattlesnakes. I never saw one, though we saw black-tailed prairie dogs and lots of birds.
We drove so much, covered so much ground, that I barely used my sketchbook. I'll post what I did sketch later, and I hope to work from some reference photos. Meanwhile, I'm still digesting what we saw, and trying to get laundry done and mail read.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Few More Up North Photos

I spotted this doe at The Ridges Sanctuary near Bailey's Harbor.  She stood for a long time watching me watch her.

Even though I was afraid I was too late to catch the yellow lady's slippers, The Ridges had quite a few still in bloom.

My sister-in-law, a very "green" person, likes to hang her laundry out to dry.  She seems amused when I like to take photos of it, but it's photogenic!

I had every intention of doing illustrated journal entries for these, and I still may.  But this week I'm cleaning the house, doing laundry, and getting ready for a trip to Colorado, so these photos will have to do for now.

Janesville is slowly drying out from recent flooding of the Rock River.  The library parking lot is once more filled with cars, after being cleaned and disinfected. Upstairs FEMA has a display with forms and pamphlets for people affected by the water.  Main street is open again too, though the United Way parking lot, once filled with spawning carp, is now a sink hole.  Some of the Main Street businesses are reopening as they pass inspections and have their power restored, others are still dark.  Yesterday I spotted a vulture circling over downtown - probably looking to dine on some of the carp that didn't make it back to the river before it receded.  Strange days indeed.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Recent Illustrated Journal Entries

Pen and ink with watercolor pencil, from reference photo taken in Door County in June.

Pen and ink with watercolor pencil, from reference photo taken in Door County in June.

I subscribe to a website called "A Word a Day," and this was the quote included from poet Ezra Pound:  "The only thing one can give an artist is leisure in which to work.  To give an artist leisure is actually to take part in his creation."

That got me to thinking about why I have done so little drawing and painting over the past month.  One excuse I've allowed myself is that all my sketchbooks were in a display case at the library.  That's foolish of course, because I went out and bought myself a new Moleskine. A person would think that in summer a retired person like me would have all the leisure in the world to make art.  But instead I have been weeding and planting flower beds, baking rhubarb treats, cleaning out the closets and attic and hauling loads to the Goodwill store, driving north to attend a doll show, visiting relatives, and riding my bike.  I got lots more artwork done when the weather was not so sunny and warm. Still, I have been busy, and for me one aspect of a happy life is being able to do lots of different things.

My other excuse for neglecting my drawing is that my little upstairs studio gets hot and stuffy in the summer.  The air conditioning just doesn't seem to reach that room.  It's not so bad when I can have the window open, but on humid days like recent ones, it gets awfully close.  After our recent flooding, painting outside requires heavy applications of bug repellent, since we have an unusually fine crop of mosquitoes.  

So, perhaps the best thing is not to worry too much about how much I'm producing right now.  I can enjoy the extra space in the attic, and now have some room to store the overflow of paintings I just brought home from the show at the library.  Then I can think about doing some drawing in my leisure time - maybe downstairs at the dining room table, where it's cool and mercifully free of mosquitoes.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Weekend Update

At the Flying Pig, a garden center and gallery  outside Algoma, I spotted a birdhouse filled with a nest of noisy tree swallows.  The parents flew in a constant tag team to feed their fledglings, but the impatient youngsters couldn't wait for the next course.

My aunt has a robin who returns each year to raise babies in the shelter of an aluminum awning.  These young birds are nearly ready to fend for themselves.

When I visit Door County I like to visit art galleries, including the Francis Hardy Center for the Arts in Ephraim.  The building, located on the Anderson Dock is a historic warehouse, and boaters are invited to paint messages and designs on the clapboard siding.  Since the weekend seemed to have a bird theme, I took this photo of part of the building's constantly changing decoration.

Every summer I drive 200 miles north and spend a few days with my only aunt. She kindly agreed to be my "substitute mom" after Mother died, calling to see how I'm doing, providing a place to stay when I visit, and not caring a hoot if I raid her refrigerator.  I try to combine this visit with the Algoma doll and bear show, held at the high school.  She always works at the fund raiser, baking brownies and delivering lunches to sellers.  We have fun looking at old family pictures, eating out together, and generally catching up on each other's news.  I sometimes rummage in her basement for my cousins' old dolls.  Sometimes I buy a vintage Tammy or Barbie doll for myself, or sometimes I just find and clean up an old doll for my aunt's five-year-old granddaughter. That is what I did this time,  and we had a good afternoon sorting through plastic tubs of old doll clothing, looking for just the right outfit for the Madame Alexander baby who saw the light of day for the first time since about 1965.