Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Canyon of Yellow Stones and Waterfalls

At long last, I visited the place of legend—Yellowstone National Park. Among the many awe-inspiring sites was the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Thomas Moran's epic painting of this great chasm was instrumental in making Yellowstone become the world's first national park. I am no match for him, but still I made the attempt to capture the essence of the Canyon and the Lower Falls, in oil pastels and watercolors.

  



I am at work on a longer and more complete entry on my Yellowstone adventure, will post when I can. For now, excelsior!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bats Over the Water


When first I encountered a bat up close—close enough to touch—I rapidly sketched the critter, and wrote beside it “I am amazed by the live bat, how fuzzy its body, how delicate its fingers, and stretched between them—that's real skin! No photograph can capture it, nor can the sketchbook.”


The event was our first bat survey night of the summer season at Timpanogos Cave National Monument, sometime back in June. The Natural Resources staff run the operation, to discover what bats inhabit the canyon and forest. The method: find a quiet spot on the American Fork river somewhere in the National Forest land, and stretch a net across. Wait for the bats to swoop in for a sip of water and get caught in the net; handle with gloves; identify the species, gender, etc; weigh the animal, photograph it, record its echolocation call; then release the furry flyer. Not having had my vaccinations, I just watch (and draw and photograph, as I can.)


I have been to three more bat nights since; all have provided an opportunity to listen to the river and watch the moonlight draw patterns in the ripples, under the canopy of silhouetted trees and rockfaces. As for the bats themselves, the level of activity has varied. On some nights, only a few get tangled in the artificial spiderweb. On the second bat night of the summer, we had a bonanza.

We most often catch the small bats of the genus Myotis (We can generically call this group “little brown bats.”) These streamed in on that special night in June, but so did one hoary bat—a larger and feistier type—followed by another and another. These fellows don't take kindly to being grabbed, and bite and flail, captives to no one, not even the pale-skinned Kaiju. For hoary bats, two pairs of gloves are recommended.


Up close, bats provoke incredulity: so like us, as mammals, and yet so alien—with small size, skin and veins stretched like a latex glove across wings and tail, and a different sensory world by flight and echolocation. What goes on in their little minds is hard to fathom, and that such animals can exist can be hard to believe. We might seem just as strange to them, were they not caught up in the struggle to escape our clutches at bat night. Let us hope that they can continue to awe us, and escape the wrath of White Nose Syndrome.

Back at the studio, I made tribute to the winged mammals on scratchboard. I chose the Townsend's big-eared bat, which we see sleeping or flying about in Hansen Cave (part of the Timpanogos Cave system) from time to time. I intend to create more stories on bats, in words and pictures. I'll make the time somehow.


Third picture (Hoary Bat) by National Park Service, public domain.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Library and the Festival of Comics and Zines


I own a grand collection of public library cards, even if they are not all kept or displayed in one place. They are scattered throughout varied sock drawers and suitcases, new and old wallets, on my person, in my car, and in my old bedroom at my parents' house back in West Virginia. In my many temporary residences, in Texas, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, etc etc, I have made my sojourn to the local temple of worldly knowledge. My public library card for Klamath Falls, Oregon, is the one of which I am proudest. Because NO ONE ELSE whom I worked with at Crater Lake National Park knew we had borrowing privileges at said bibliotheca. We were 75 minutes drive away from the town of Klamath Falls (off in the mountain woods), but still had residences with a Klamath County zip code, and so I went to the library and  affirmed that the delights on the shelves were mine to take home for a while. I check out books and comic books of many types, as well as audiobooks, music CDs, sometimes DVDs. As I have said many times before, and will say many times again, FREE and LEGAL is an awesome combination. My father has joked that I am the biggest supporter of the public library system since Ray Bradbury. I contend that that honor rightfully belongs to Neil Gaiman. Read his impassioned speech about the vital importance of libraries, fantasy, and imagination, and then go support a public library near you!

With my bibliophilic inclinations, I was honored to find the opportunity to exhibit and sell my creative works at Alt Press Fest—an annual convention of self-publishers of comics, books, zines, letterpress cards, and all else—hosted by the The City Library (of Salt Lake City)! There are many expos and symposia for self-publishers today. Normally, if an American city is large enough to have professional sports teams, then it has some sort of annual zine or comics fest, or multiple ones in hotbed areas like Portland, Oregon. However, this was the first such fest I have yet heard of to be hosted by a public library. It seems like a grand union. Two of America's greatest purveyors of free speech and free thought (libraries and self-publishing) have at last teamed up. Apart from the festival, The SLC library also has a large and permanent collection of small-press comic books and zines. I'll admit that I am impressed. A shout goes out to Brooke Young for organizing the event!



And so I sold my varied comic books, with their frogs and monsters, guinea pigs and robots. I tabled right next to the front door, and so had the incidental honor of introducing the whole fair to many a perplexed passerby, who had planned a quiet visit to the library, only to enounter a big splash of ponies and superheroes and typewriters and rainbows. I had some nice discussions with my assigned table-mate, Steve Anderson. He and I had both worked in recycling centers—and he created a zine based upon the experience, including found objects from within the bins. Evidently, one person's recycling really is another's treasure. I recommend buying Steve's zines someplace on etsy (which I haven't yet found.)

For the Alt Press event, I debuted a new zine called Wood for the World. I call this one a zine because it contains more prose than comics. It contains stories which are pro-environment and anti-imperialist. I must note that its contents have previously appeared online, either in the archives of this blog or on cartoonstudies.org/studlar/. Nonetheless, if you are like me and my new comrade Steve, and have a unique attachment to the wonders of print, then head over to my etsy site, and buy your copy of Wood for the World!


Contents of Wood for the World: Gag cartoons on war and global warming, comic "The Supreme Law," prose narratives "United Against the Midgard Pipeline" and "The Quest for Mountain Justice", illustrations including "The Unlucky Pika" and "The Midgard Serpent." 


And thanks to Steve for the photo of me at my table.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Occupy, V, and The Supreme Law




Upon the shelves of Night Flight Comics in Salt Lake City, I spied a graphic anthology called Occupy Comics. It contained subversive political stories, about or related to the Occupy movement, by famous and rising cartoonists. It also contained the essay “Buster Brown and the Barricades” by Alan Moore. Not surprisingly, the best comic book writer in the world (whose avenging anti-hero V—co-created with David Lloyd—has become a world-recognized symbol of uprising and resistance) can also give us unique education about the history and sociology of the medium. Among many other insights, Alan revealed the origin of the word “cartoon:” In the politically volatile 17th-century Italy, muckrakers took to drawing satirical images of political figures on the sides of carboard boxes—which were called cartons. Soon the images were known by the same name as the containers which acted as the poor man's canvas. From early on, cartoons were a way to communicate revolutionary ideas to the masses. In the 18th century, cheap paper became more widely available, and cartoons moved into broader distribution, and more refined art and writing techniques—but kept much of their incendiary spirit.

Inspired by this retrospective on the subversive art, and the new set of tales for the 99%, I brought forward an idea from my cerebral back-burner. A two-page story from a disillusioned fan of science fiction literature and Isaac Asimov's positronic robots, who recently saw Jeremy Scahill's provocative documentary film Dirty Wars. Perhaps the Fleischer brothers were there first—the “Mechanical Monsters” of this 1940s Superman animated cartoon bear an eerie resemblance to modern drones (and I must credit my mother for pointing this out when I showed her said cartoon.) Wendell Berry said: “FOR A NATION TO BE, in the truest sense, patriotic, its citizens must love their land with a knowing, intelligent,sustaining, and protective love.”... “And they must not allow their patriotism to be degraded to a mere loyalty to symbols or any present set of officials.” And so, in the patriotic spirit of July, I present “The Supreme Law.” 



Top: Reuters photo of protestors in Bangkok, Thailand, with homemade versions of the V mask, used here for educational purposes only. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Cascade Springs, in bright green and yellow

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “the earth laughs in flowers;” Gary Larson pointed out that the earth engages in sexual activity through flowers. Whether your leanings are emotive or biologic, there are a lot of beautiful wildflowers at Cascade Springs in Uinta National Forest, Utah. This past Saturday, it was my duty to deliver a guided walk at this verdant artesian spring (even though I work for the National Park Service.) The American Fork Canyon hosts a rare level of cooperation and partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service: Forest Rangers join the staff of the National Park Service visitor center, and Park Rangers deliver guided programs in National Forest areas. (The USFS and NPS belong to separate branches of the federal government, and have very different approaches to land management. Look it up on Wikipedia to find out more.) 


In preparation for the guided event, I visited Cascade Springs solo, and created the watercolor painting at the bottom of this page. Against the backdrop of purple mountains, the springs are quite full of yellow monkeyflowers, with aspen and water birch growing about the shoreline. Stellar's jays, hummingbirds, and western tanagers fly through and about; dragonflies dart through the skies in pursuit of tasty mosquitoes, occasionally a rubber boa slithers past. I took note of a web in the bush, the home of a tiny, almost translucent spider. I watched a small insect (I'll say a tiny moth) land in this web, and become tangled in its strands. The spider coiled back, and felt the web strands, to assess the situation. She prepared to spring into action. I got ready to see the drama of life and death which pervades nature at all scales, from spider and insect to grizzly bear and caribou. The moth thrashed about, ripped free of the web, and flew off. Also at all scales, the prey escapes most of the time.


My students a few days later were a few families and and a middle-aged couple. The kids were glad to learn about some trees and insects, and the art and science of field watercolor painting. (Or en plein air if you want to sound like a fancy artistic type.) And their mothers were not too proud to join and give it a try. I had one school teacher on vacation on board, and she could not resist but to jump in and help out with all setup and take-down. 


My next task was to rove Cascade Springs, and entertain questions and complaints which I wasn't much prepared to answer about entry fees for the Forest Service area. I also listened to gripes about the absence of running water (for the drinking fountains and bathrooms) at the Springs. I too was a bit puzzled as to why the water was still shutoff for winter, even on June 21st. I noted that I was of a different agency, then moved further from the parking lot and sought areas where there were more trees and fish to discuss. There is always a bit of tumult in the oasis, and that is why we have rangers.




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The original interpretation of Wind Cave (and some new and youthful renditions)



Out of the blue, our physical scientist at Timpanogos Cave informed me that Wind Cave has a new sign up at its entrance. I was not involved in this project. The sign is great! While Wind Cave has many intriguing stories from the annals of its geology and history, perhaps none of these have the emotional potency of the Lakota genesis. The Lakota people claim Wind Cave as their place of emergence, and that of the buffalo (bison). To them, the bison is the living spirit of Tatanka, the shaman who sacrificed himself so that the people could live. This makes every bison meal and every block of pemmican a sort of Eucharist for Native Americans. In the new sign, members of the five tribes affiliated with Wind Cave explain the sacred site in their own words:



Although I cannot match the power of their interpretation, I wish to share some murals, which I and our visiting youngsters created together at Wind Cave. Each of these pictures accorded with one of our lessons in the Adventures in Nature winter educational programs. The kids colored the mural as a sort of warm-up, before undertaking a series of hands-on activities about the day's theme. The (deliberately pixelated) picture is from our "Underground Treasures" event. It shows Rangers Amanda and Matthew introducing the youngsters to caving, before the kids split into smaller groups, conducted experiments about speleogenesis, tried caving techniques on a model cave (made of cardboard boxes!), and visited the real cave. And the bigger kids even surveyed and mapped parts of cave! I drew the giant size coloring book style murals with a sharpie, and the kids went wild on the coloring. (And in some cases, they added their own objects and characters to the scenes.) The kids ranged in ages from three to fifteen, and so we see some varied approaches to color. When I was three, I too was a natural abstract expressionist. The images here are a little less produced than the usual sketchbook and comics entries which appear on this blog, but hey, it's untrammeled like the imaginations of children....

 
 

NPS work is non-copyrighted.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ancient Realms (and Old Times) Revisited



 

I must give my props to The Museum of Ancient Life, at Thanksgiving Point, Utah. Its exhibits told chronologically the story of life on Earth, beginning with the unicellular, moving through the Precambrian seas, and on to that part of the ancient past which has long captured the imaginations of youngsters (and imaginative oldsters)--the Mesozoic Era, the age of dinosaurs (and gymnosperms!) The skeletons or replicas on display were set such that I felt like I walked through a jungle populated by the giant reptiles—sauropods thundered past, and raptors lurked among the cycads, poised to leap from the shadows or strike from above. Although they would rather eat me, I also thought of the dinosaurs as old friends from my youth, having populated my picture books and stop-motion movies, my imagination, and the typing paper which I filled with drawings by number two pencil, and colored pencil, and crayon. There was the ravenous Tyrannosaurus Rex, the horned Ceratosaurus, the giant turtle Archelon, the giant amphibians, the mountain-sized Supersaurus, and Pachycephalosaurus (interpreted in the display as using its hard round skull as a battering ram). The awe and fear and admiration I had felt as a child for these extinct beasts returned vividly; I survived my encounter with the Utah Raptor and departed full of blood and electricity. Many great fossils have been found in Utah, including those of Dinosaur National Monument (which straddles the border between Utah and Colorado.) At least for the moment, I was glad to be in this odd and beautiful state.







Photo stars from top down: Many skulls with Archelon at far left middle, giant amphibians, Supersaurus, T-Rex, some kind of theropod. Thanks go out to the couple of unknown bystanders who photographed me with the Dinos!