Monday, September 30, 2013

Beast of the North Woods

One month to go at Carlsbad Caverns. Assuming that I don't get upended by the pending government shutdown. Either way, I'm thinking about where to go next. Perhaps to the west coast, where most of my comrades dwell. The north woods of Washington and Oregon.

At the high altitudes, at my old home of Crater Lake National Park, the rain and snow fall hard. The mountain hemlock trees bend under water's weight. Somewhere among the column trunks, a beast glides for branch to branch, quick and silent. The fisher (Martes pennanti), of the weasel family (mustelids.) Equipped with claws and canines, a voracious appetite, and an amazing lack of fear. Ready to take on prey that is armed, dangerous, and much larger than itself (i.e. a porcupine).

When I encountered footprints in the snow, in a snowy spring at Crater Lake, I developed a fascination with the creature who left them behind. The fisher now appears in my sketchbook, and co-stars in my new comic book (currently being penciled and inked.) The fisher has had considerably less interest in me, being preoccupied with the pursuit of rats and rabbits. However, I am sure that as I trekked through the forests of the north, the fisher has watched me--from an unseen vantage point in the trees.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Of Zines, Forest Wonders, and Aliens

Much has happened in the past month. My journeys have taken me to the bountiful forests of the pacific northwest, and back to the mysterious deserts and caves of the southwest, a few times. Alongside fellow artist Lesley McClintock, I had a successful exhibit at the Portland Zine Symposium. In preparation, we had a memorable art-jam session, as well as an “open mike” gathering and reading, at the Independent Publishing Resources Center (IPRC). The IPRC had tools ranging from old-fashioned letterpress and printing press to high tech computers and scanners, and varied cartoonists and zinesters working away to finish their publications for the big show. There was an energy present, which reminded me of my alma mater The Center for Cartoon Studies, and made me envious of the independent artists of Portland, who have regular access to such resources. At the symposium, I sold or traded a stack of my own comic books, and returned with a pile of new and different works by the other exhibitors, which I am gradually reading.

Back at Carlsbad Caverns, I reintroduced myself to the world of caves, and worked frantically in preparation for guiding my first tours of Lower Cave and Slaughter Canyon Cave. No sooner had I completed these interpretive missions, past such luminary speleothems as the Texas Toothpick, the Monarch, and Skeletor (shown below, driving his slaves), than I had to depart for my next expedition to the west coast.

This one brought me first to Seattle, then to Mazama, Washington. I was witness to wonder, both in the mighty forests of Mazama, and the wedding of Brad Halm and Erika Kercher. Brad is an ol' Homestead friend of mine, and co-founder of the Seattle Urban Farm Company. Erika is an Outward Bound instructor, based in Mazama, hence the wedding location of their favorite place to hike, climb, canoe, and grow a garden. For me, the wedding was another Homestead reunion, with multiple Homestead and post-Homestead comrades sharing a cabin in the woods, with camping space in its yard, which I capitalized on. The ceremony took place in a field, against a backdrop of towering evergreens and volcanic rock-faces. It would be hard to imagine a better send-off to the next phase of life, with the spirits of earth as witness. At night, the lights of countless stars glimmered through the black void of space; perhaps they bore witness as well.

On my drives between Carlsbad and the airport in Albuquerque, I contemplated visitors from space. For betwixt these locations on Route 285 is Roswell, a small New Mexican town, whose name, for the world, has become synonymous with UFOs. I finally made landing at the International UFO Museum and Research Center. Established in 1994, the Museum is devoted to the UFO phenomenon, and especially the "Roswell Incident." In 1947, on the morning after a violent thunderstorm, rancher William “Mack” Brazel found strange wreckage and debris scattered across his sheep ranch in the desert of southeastern New Mexico, and later made the 75-mile journey to Roswell to report it to civilian and military authorities. After inspection, the air force announced to the press that a flying saucer had crash-landed, but changed their story to a weather balloon a few hours later. At the UFO Museum, the walls are covered with affidavits and testimonials from witnesses, who claimed that the flying machine was from another planet, and contained materials not of this earth; that the military recovered alien bodies along with the wreckage; invented the weather balloon story as a cover up; and silenced anyone who knew otherwise with bribes and threats. The Roswell Incident makes for an intriguing story, whatever the origins of the aircraft in question.

Especially in my youth, I regarded the possibility of extraterrestrial visitors with a special sense of awe—and fear. While vampires and werewolves could send shivers across my frame, I had confidence that these creatures were pure fantasy. Aliens on the other hand, might be real. When I saw the 1993 film Fire in the Sky, I became apprehensive about walking in the woods alone, especially in my home territory of West Virginia. I was concerned that I might be next, and didn't want the little grey men to put a needle in my eye. In recent years, I have become less afraid of otherworldly travelers, and more concerned about global warming and nuclear war. After revisiting some of my childhood wonders and fears at Roswell, I expressed them in my sketchbook.

I wish happy and safe journey to my readers, and hope that you stay clear from all threats. terrestrial or extraterrestrial!