Friday, July 29, 2011

Work More (or less) in Progress

My friend Alicia gave me a 2x4 foot canvas last month and asked me to paint something for her newly relocated framing and art gallery, a placed called Raven's Wish.  Even though an idea appeared in my brain almost instantly, getting the show on the road has been slow going.  The list of reasons/excuses includes these:

First, I just have never worked this big before.  My studio is a long narrow space under the eaves of our 1939 Cape Cod, furnished with a "rummage sale" style folding table that has shelving, lights, and miscellaneous jars of brushes taking up part of the real estate.  This canvas does not fit on that work surface, so instead the canvas currently resides on the dining room table downstairs, where the light is better and it is cooler.  Usually.  Right now the AC is out.

Also, I tend to prepare too much.  I collected reference photos of ravens.  I read entire books about ravens.  I drew zillions of ravens trying to figure them out visually.  I made 12x12 inch raven drawings and arranged them on the gessoed canvas, then rearranged them.

Right now I am at the point where I am nervous about how to continue.  Should I add more collage material?  What color (or colors) should the background squares be? I'm working in acrylic paint, so I can redo what I don't like, but I don't want to totally wipe out the text and maps bits I have already added to the image.  I rather like what's there and don't want to make it worse.  But I feel compelled to continue.

So - I guess I will run off the image on paper and play with different colored backgrounds in that safe format.  Enough procrastinating.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day Tripping, to the Everglades of the North

Yesterday the heat and humidity broke and Mr. Bike Man and I decided to travel north and take in a boat tour of the Horicon Marsh.  I had taken a similar trip with my dad when I was in college, but Dick and I had only driven around the edges of the huge cattail marsh.  A few weeks back we saw an item about Horicon Marsh Boat Tours at Blue Heron Landing on the local television news, and decided to go see for ourselves.  This photo is of Marc Zuelsdorf, son of the man who founded the operation.  Marc has been giving tours since he was eleven, and knows the marsh and its birds backward and forward.  We were impressed not only by his knowledge of the history of the marsh, but his ability to spot birds from very far away, and identify them by their calls.  There were a couple hard-core birders with the group, and none of their detailed questions threw the man in any way.

I always think of the marsh in terms of it being the source of the Rock River, a river that begins here, runs south west through towns like Watertown, Fort Atkinson, and Janesville, then eventually empties into the Mississippi at Rock Island. But the marsh is the largest fresh water cattail marsh in the United states, and an internationally important wildlife refuge.  The city of Horicon, which has a population just under 4,000 people, is home to a John Deere manufacturing plant, seen here from our vantage point on the Rock River. 

These boat houses are for for hunters and fishermen to store their boats.  Some are new, some a hundred years old.

The marsh is huge, and shallow in most parts.  Fishing isn't very good, unless you're out for bullheads or carp.  

Out in the marsh what you see in the middle of a summer day is a whole lotta water.  Off in the distance our guide spotted some white pelicans, and we saw other birds like great blue and green herons, kingfishers, cedar waxwings, red-wing blackbirds, several varieties of swallows and swifts.  We also saw quite a few painted turtles sunning their little cold-blooded selves on logs in the shallow water.  What we didn't see much of, although there were hundreds of thousands of them nesting in the cattails, was ducks.  The marsh is divided into a portion controlled by the Wisconsin DNR and part run by the federal government.  The Wisconsin controlled part has a hunting season, but hunting is never allowed, and access is strictly controlled in the federal wildlife reserve.  Guess where there are more ducks and geese.

Over three hundred varieties of birds have been documented in the marsh, but the great blue heron is one of the most common ones to see outside of spring and fall when the land and sky are black with ducks and geese.  It's hard to resist trying to get a knockout photo of these large birds, but this was the best I could manage. 

Maybe I can talk Mr. Bike Man into a spring or fall trip, and see what sort of bird pictures I can snap then.  He certainly seems to enjoy a summer day out on the marsh.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


It has been too warm lately for me to want to work upstairs in my little studio.  I'm feeling too lazy to do anything much, except maybe take some photos, so yesterday I went looking for red things around here.  I like red.  It's hard to use in the house, even though it's is sometimes thought to be good luck, because it's so strong.  My favorite coffee cup is red, just like the one Greg House has on the television show.  I have red flowers, bee balm, impatiens, geraniums, planted to attract hummingbirds to the yard.  My favorite fountain pen is red, and we have an older red Cavalier convertible that we use in the summer. My front door is painted a sort of raspberry red, though the sun fades it so much that it turns lavender pink, and I have to give it a fresh coat.  In summer I have my toenails painted red, though I give it up in colder months when shoes and wooly socks make red toes irrelevant. I like using red when I paint, though I tend to warmer reds, earthy reds like Indian red or vermillion. I love the scent of rose madder genuine, but like the roses from which it is made, the pigment fades, so I rarely use it.  There is an interesting website about pigments which discusses the symbolism of red here.

A Sunday poem, featuring a red-breasted robin -

Morning Talk
By Roberta Hill Whiteman

        —for Melissa L. Whiteman

“Hi, guy,” said I to a robin  
perched on a pole in the middle  
of the garden. Pink and yellow  
firecracker zinnias, rough green  
leaves of broccoli,
and deep red tomatoes on dying stems  
frame his still presence.

“I’ve heard you’re not
THE REAL ROBIN. Bird watchers have  
agreed,” I said.”THE REAL ROBIN  
lives in England. They claim
your are misnamed and that we ought  
to call you ‘a red-breasted thrush’  
because you are

He fluffed up. “Am I not
Jis ko ko?” he cried, “that persistent  
warrior who carries warmth
northward every spring?”
He seemed so young, his red belly  
a bit light and his wings, still
faded brown. He watched me
untangling the hose to water squash.

“Look who’s talking!” he chirruped.  
“Your people didn’t come
from Europe or even India.  
The turtles say you’re a relative  
to red clay on this great island.”
Drops of crystal water  
sparkled on the squash.

“Indigenous!” he teased  
as he flew by.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saturday Night Mussels and Turchese

My dear husband, Mr. Bike Man, made a great meal this evening.  He steamed a couple pounds of fresh mussels in garlic that had been sauteed in butter and olive oil, chicken broth and white wine for six minutes.  We lucked out; every single mussel opened.  The pretty concoction in the cherry bowl is turchese.  We first tasted this a moules frites night at the late great Le Chardonnay in Madison.  Lately the chef has been doing occasional moules frites evenings at the Icon, and we took the time to search out a recipe so we could eat the heavenly stuff at home. We had no  french fries, but substituted a deli salad, along with a bottle of white wine.


3 large carrots
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tablespoon tahini
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of cayenne
a dash of fresh lemon juice

Cut the carrots into big chunks, coat with a little olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil and either roast on the grill or bake at 375 degrees in the oven about 30 minutes, or until tender.  Mash the carrots with a fork, then add the rest of the ingredients, adjusting to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley.   Serve on good French or Italian bread.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friend Honored

Our friend Tom Kautz is a nice guy.  My husband and I know him and his wife Rosemary as good friends with whom we occasionally share a meal and tell stories.  We've gotten to know Tom as a man who likes woodcarving, hiking, fishing, hunting and generally being outdoors.  He helped me catch and clean my first bluegill.  But he is also a man who has spent much of his life in public service.

Recently we were happy to see a notice in the Janesville Gazette that Tom was being honored by having a boardwalk and nature trail at Beckman Mill Park near Beloit named for him.  We headed over to the park yesterday to find the pavilion filled with friends and well-wishers, and also some regional television reporters.

This reporter was busy interviewing Tom.  We checked out the Rockford station that night at 6 p.m., but although they mentioned the event, we never saw the actual interview.  We did see, much to my chagrin, a shot of two people, from the back, walking on the boardwalk.  Their faces didn't show, but it was us.  Gotta say, my backside isn't my best feature; I would have rather heard what Tom had to say.

Here he is.  Tom retired in 2004 after spending thirty years as Rock County Parks Director.  During his tenure in that position he managed to almost double the amount of parkland in Rock County, and was instrumental in acquiring grant money to help restore the Beckman Mill.  So it's a darned good thing that he was recognized in this way.   Hard work and dedication may be their own reward, but a nod from other people is a fine thing as well.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Summertime, Summertime

It was a cool and wet spring, but summer is turning out to be nice so far.  The other day my friend Lyn, visiting from Florida, emailed to say she is visiting her mother in town and to ask if we could meet for coffee.  Of course!  I drove us to nearby Milton, where an old church and former daycare has been transformed into a coffee shop and garden center.  I couldn't resist sharing some pictures.

This is Lyn, partially hidden behind a summery display of plants and garden art.  Everything is on sale, but, alas, my plantings all require shade, and my hostas have pretty much taken over the yard.  So, I enjoyed just looking and taking some photos.

The garden center is called Patty's Plants, and one of the things I enjoy is how nicely she displays her flowers and veggies.  I like the way she uses wheelbarrows,  garden seating, and rusty tools in creative and artistic ways.  Inspiration abounds!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Feeling the Years

Yesterday was the 4th of July, warm, very warm, and sunny.  A beautiful day for a bicycle ride, I thought.  My husband loves his bicycle, and has logged over a thousand miles this season; I have ridden a handful of times, to breakfast (maybe two miles), with friends (six miles) around town (who knows?). Anyway, I clearly am not in shape for the Tour de Janesville or anywhere else.  But I suggested we ride from Verona to Mt. Horeb and back,  twelve miles each way.  It sounded like something I could do, even though Mr. Bike Man told me the first leg of the trip was all up hill.  How hard could it be?  It's a railroad conversion, no more than a 2% grade.  I could do it.

It was hard.  I was soaked with perspiration, winded, with sore legs and a sore sitter.  I got off the bike to look at scenery.  I got off to get drinks of water.  I got off to whine.  I got off the bike to take pictures of wildlife (see turtle below).  I finally said, "Just go on ahead; I'll catch up," and to his credit Mr. Bike Man refused to abandon me.

We finally made it to Mt. Horeb, a charming Norwegian community along the Military Ridge Trail.  Our destination was a brew pub called The Grumpy Troll, a name that by that time could pretty much describe me.

The place was packed, but we were seated and when the waitress saw my red face and dripping hair she sprinted to get me ice water.  After about forty-five minutes of cooling down and eating a really really delicious Italian Wrap sandwich, I was ready to face the trip  home.  Here's the thing.  If you ride uphill for twelve miles, the return trip is much easier.

Thank goodness.