Monday, April 25, 2011

I have hit Rock Bottom, and consider it a good thing

Rock Bottom Ranch, Basalt, Colorado is my new home, and my new place of work. It is already beginning to feel like a home, even though I only arrived yesterday afternoon. (This entry was composed on April 24th.) I am connecting fast with the landscape, the animals, the people. I have a good feeling about this place. However, work proper begins on Monday, so I should not jump to conclusions too quickly.

First impressions: a quick sketch of the pasture from the porch of the ranch house

The Ranch is located in the Roaring Fork Valley. I stay in a ranch house, next to a stream, with tall willow trees about, whose leaves are now yellow-orange. We are surrounded by pasture, which leads to forested mountains, then snow-capped peaks in the distance. Yesterday, I stood on the back porch and did some quick sketches of the landscape. It snowed this morning, and the snow turned to rain. The pigs deigned to avoid the icy drizzle, and stayed in their pen. The cows and burros seemed to mind less, and were still out grazing. A Canada goose stood atop one of the structures, face to the wind, experienced the elements. The goose stayed there for the duration, and walked back and forth. Whether the bird was out to enjoy the view of the valley, take a cold shower, or something else entirely I do not know.

The ranch is run by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. Being an Environmental Educator and Ranch Hand, I will guide youngsters on educational programs involving caring for the animals and learning about ecological agriculture, as well as exploring the wetlands, fields, and forests and learning of the ecosystem therein. I'll also do my bit to care for our local population of chickens, cows, pigs, burros, and garden vegetables.

I have high hopes for this endeavor. I feel that it is in the spirit of The Homestead. It is thanks to The Homestead that I have made pursuit of opportunities like this one; the community in Ohio is the intellectual and emotional impetus for my eco-agrarian ambitions.

It was a long road trip from Seattle to Portland (where I visited Nisus and Stumptown comics shows, and Wealth Underground Farm) and then across Oregon, Idaho, and Utah, to reach Basalt, Colorado. Aerosmith contends that while “On the Road Again,” “you can do what you want.”1 I, however, found that I couldn't do much other than drive for most of the days, so great was the distance. Huge continent we live on. Makes me not even want to think about the size of the Milky Way Galaxy, much less the universe.

Somwhere in Idaho

Somewhere in Utah

Near the end of my journey, I managed to do a bit of tourist activity, at Dinosaur National Monument, mostly on the Utah side. The pastel red and yellow plateaus and desert quietude captured my attention. So did the bones of a giant sauropod, which I viewed on a guided tour.

deserts of Dinosaur

sauropod femur (species unknown)

I also took in the Desert Voices Nature Trail, which had a set of interpretive signs, which were considerably more impressive than what we typically see. They were rich in their level of philosophical depth, and their use of the wisdom and artistic visions of children.

I camped at Green River, where pelicans and Canada geese flew by. The night was cold, and so was the early morning. So much that I became motivated to dig through my tightly-packed Subaru, find my backpacking stove, and use it to boil water. I sipped hot chocolate in the cold desert, and felt like a king, with camp chair as throne.

I shall miss my Homestead-alum friends, most of whom now dwell in Seattle. Such a great group of people I know. I shall also miss Crater Lake, and its supportive community. But I do look forward to my new adventure. And I hope to stay at Rock Bottom Ranch for a while. We shall see how events play out.

1. Pandora's Box disc 1

Monday, April 11, 2011

Departing Seattle, planting trees in my wake

For Earth Day, I have a tradition of doing service for our planet. It's not the only day that I work for Earth, but I hold April 22nd in special esteem.

This year, I will be moving on Earth Day. I am off to start a new venture in Colorado, the details of which I will reveal in a future post.

Ross the restorer; photo by Lizzie Petrin

So I did my service early. This past Saturday, I returned to a place where I have put in quite a bit of work in the past several months—the West Duwamish Green Belt. With 182 acres on public land and another 300 on private, the green belt is the largest contiguous forest in Seattle. Seattle was nicknamed the Emerald City for its abundance of evergreen-dominated forests. But due to logging and invasive plants, many of the forests are now in a weakened state. Parts of the once-proud green belt have turned into thickets of Himalayan blackberry; the formerly-biodiverse habitat has become a monoculture. The Nature Consortium, a nonprofit based in West Seattle, works to restore the forest of West Duwamish to its emerald glory. (The NC also provides youth environmental education programs which integrate the arts, for more information consult their website.)

Restoration director Mark "Buphalo" Tomkiewicz provides instruction for the tasks ahead.

The Nature Consortium holds half-day work parties at the green belt three or more times per week. A work crew consists of one to three NC staff, and a number of volunteers ranging from three to one hundred or more. The NC staff give a short presentation on forest ecology, restoration techniques, and safety, and set the crew to work. Armed with shovels, dibbles, pruning shears, rakes, pitchforks, and weed wrenches, the crew—which sometimes includes yours truly—unearth and remove invasive plants including Himalayan blackberry, Scot's broom, and wood ivy. We plant natives, including Douglas fir, western red cedar, mock orange, service berry, and snowberry. We spread mulch to suppress the return of botanical invaders, and aid the natives. (And leave with the pleasant aroma of fresh wood chips on our sleeves). A Douglas fir can grow to be 300 feet tall and live for over 400 years, and reproduce to make many more trees. So our efforts today can yield high results in the future.

Volunteers take on the Himalayan blackberry.

The Nature Consortium and I have several goals in common, one of which is bringing ecology and the arts together. Hence, many of NC's work parties are also concerts. Musicians of many stripes, including singers, guitarists, and players of varied wind instruments, enter the forest. The restoration crew digs, cuts, and plants to live tunes.

Live music helps plants to grow and volunteers to dig.

We get the forest into better shape. In the process, we get ourselves into better shape. Forest restoration can work up a sweat, and is considerably more rewarding than running on a treadmill.

The restoration creates improved habitat for animals as well as plants. Often, we encounter these denizens of the green belt. Varied birds play their music to accompany that of the humans. At Saturday's work party, a cooper's hawk flew overhead. We met a red-legged frog. It's their breeding season, so this frog most likely had just finished a successful mating. The offspring will inherit a healthier habitat.

Buphalo shares the red-legged frog before releasing it.

Nature Consortium volunteers have planted over 7,000 native trees and shrubs this planting season, and will be back for more. At the end of Saturday's work party, I looked ahead of me into the acres of blackberry and trees covered in wood ivy, and the task of restoration seemed impossible. Then I looked behind me and saw the huge empty stretch of earth we had created, and mountain of blackberries we had uprooted in a single session (wherein the focus was blackberry removal.) And I concluded that the restoration task is doable, thanks to the sweat and energy from willing workers. It will keep the Nature Consortium busy for years to come, and educate countless volunteers on forest ecology and wisdom. The green belt will be a source of community pride and personal inspiration.

I look forward to seeing the ever-improving forest when I next visit Seattle. For now, I have a new adventure in Colorado.... !

Saturday, April 2, 2011

NEW comic to debut at Nisus Gallery, April 2011

On April 7-30, 2011, The Nisus Gallery in Portland, Oregon will display Paneled, an exhibition of comics and art by students and alumni of The Center for Cartoon Studies. My work will be in the show, alongside that of a 14 other CCS artists, including Pat Barrett, Colleen Frakes, Alexis Frederick-Frost, Penina Gal, Bob Oxman, and Mario Van Buren.

The show will include a wall display of original art, and a pop-up store of comic books and zines. As this show is in Oregon, my works about Crater Lake are especially pertinent. Hence, The Raven and the Crayfish will be prominently displayed. And, my new comic Avian Tales from Crater Lake will make its debut. Both books will be for sale in the store, and an original drawing from Avian Tales and a version of the back cover for Raven and Crayfish will be part of the wall display.

Avian Tales from Crater Lake is twelve pages long, and contains three short stories based on my experiences as a Park Ranger: "A Flying Leap," "Mergansers in the Blue," and "A Visit from Thunderbird." (The first two are comics, and the third is an illustrated story.) The tales feature my remarkable observations of bald eagles and diving ducks, and encounters with dangerous weather. Although the booklet may be short, it has received high praise from my fans. My friend Raven even thinks it is the best comic I have yet created.

If you find yourself in Portland in the next month, it would be worth your while to visit this show and examine the masterworks by some of America's most dedicated rising cartoonists. The Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) has rapidly become one of the Nation's most prestigious schools of cartooning. The faculty are famous cartoonists, writers, and designers, and many of the students are destined to become famous. I was part of the pioneer (first-ever) class at CCS, and even gave the student-speech at our commencement ceremony. I remain part of the CCS alumni community. It has led to opportunities, the Nisus show included.

Have a grand April, everyone!