Thursday, November 9, 2017

First post from the coast!

Whew! It's been several epic weeks since I last checked in with Brush and Baren. I hated to leave you all hanging, but all I had to show for a month of effort was a huge pile of boxes. Not terribly interesting.

But I'm finally here in Maine and my belongings are all more or less stowed until I can find a place to live and work. There's still a bit of shuffling to do, but I'm now fighting a wee bit of a cold so I've decided to just let things sit where they are for a few days. The press and my inventory are safe, and that's the biggest thing. Literally!

If any readers were following along on Instagram you probably saw a few photos from the journey, but here's a quick recap. In all we traveled 2,419 miles through 12 states in 4.5 days. We weren't trying to exhaust ourselves, but we weren't dawdling much, either.

My friend Sue flew out from Maine on October 30, and an intrepid crew of Salida helpers got everything loaded on October 31... both a trick AND a treat. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but we got absolutely everything I own, personally and professionally, into one 16-foot rental truck.

It took longer than expected to get on the road... we didn't leave Salida until early afternoon on November 1. But after a quick stop in Colorado Springs we were finally underway, and the view of Colorado in my rearview mirror took on a surreal quality.

I tried taking a few random shots of the sunset whilst driving... just aiming the phone over my shoulder and clicking. I got a lot of crooked horizons, but you get the idea...

The next day we crossed in to Nebraska, where we stopped for coffee with an old college friend and then visited the Rowe Audubon Sanctuary on the Platte River near Kearney. It's the site of a huge sandhill crane spectacle during spring migration, but the fall season is quiet and a bit lonely. We made a quick sketching stop here and then got back on the road and into Iowa after dark.

Dinner that night was in the bowling alley on the back of the motel where we stayed. Definitely a small town Iowa adventure.

By lunch time the next day we were crossing the mighty Mississippi River, and we made a sketch stop on the Illinois side. Sue's looking at interesting fossils in some of the shoreline rocks.

So let's see... where are we now? Illinois. Then Indiana. Then Ohio. We spent the night in Montpelier, Ohio... former home to Sue's grandparents and a place she visited often during her childhood. We of COURSE made the pilgrimage to her grandparents' former house and did some drive-by photography.

From Ohio we cut through a corner of Pennsylvania and then crossed into New York. My biggest memory of that stretch is that the road went down and down and down for what seemed like hundreds of miles. All I could think of was how happy I was that we weren't on the west-bound side having to go up and up and up with a heavy truck.

Autumn color was past peak, but there was still enough to make the drive a pretty one. Just before dark we made a stop in Allegany State Park. No sketching this time, but a much-needed stretch and a short hike.

Embiggenable with a click

I am really looking forward to learning all these new deciduous trees! Beech was prevalent in this area, and some maples. And something I couldn't identify with leaves the size of my head. Not an aspen leaf to be found.

We stayed that night with former Puffineers in Binghamton, NY... a town whose name made me think of old McHale's Navy episodes. (It was a TV sitcom in the US in the 1960s.)

And then it was the final push. New York, Massachusetts, a wee chunk of New Hampshire, and then Maine! It had been a smooth, if long, journey... with only a few sprinkles of rain the entire time. We unloaded some of the truck into a friend's garage and then collapsed into bed, intending to empty the rest into a storage unit the next day.

Or not.

Sue had gone home overnight (where they'd been without power for a week already, but that's another story). When she came back in the morning we discovered this! The front driver's side tire had gone completely flat! How lucky were we that this didn't happen on the road? And how lucky was I that I had taken the advice of the rental agent in Colorado Springs and paid the extra fee for roadside assistance?

I made the call and waited for the repair truck.

And waited.

And waited.

In the end it was 27 hours before anyone got to me. The clock was ticking... I had to have the truck unloaded and returned by the end of the day Tuesday... and by Tuesday morning at 10 I still had no technician. The dispatch service assigned 3 different vendors before we finally got one to show up... three cheers for Bob of B & B Truck Repair in Saco (about 100 miles away). He made the long drive to Bristol and had the tire fixed in less than 20 minutes. We got the truck unloaded at the storage place in Edgecomb and returned to the rental company in Brunswick with 45 minutes to spare.

So we drove an hour north and went to ukulele practice. Because that's what you do at the end of an epic week.

Tomorrow night I make my first official appearance as a Mainer... I'll be a presenter at the Midcoast PechaKucha Night at the Camden Opera House. If you're anywhere on the coast, come on out! It looks like a great evening, with 7 or 8 presenters and a reception after. Doors open at 6:30, program starts at 7:00.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What's it All About Wednesday: Gaining Ground

With my studio and living space piled high with boxes, getting a new linocut finished... or even started... has become a far away dream.

But that just means it's time for another chapter of What's it All About Wednesday! Today's lino: Gaining Ground.

"Gaining Ground," reduction linocut, 9" x 6"
Edition of 20

Since I'm headed to Maine (in three weeks! ack!) it seemed natural to take a look at one of the most engaging bird species of the northern Atlantic coast: Puffins!

Long-time Brush and Baren readers will know that since 2008 I've spent part of each summer as an instructor and Artist-in-Residence program coordinator at Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine. Originally envisioned as a place for teachers to come and learn about nature, the camp opened in 1936 with such luminaries as Roger Tory Peterson heading up the staff.

Fast forward to 1969, when a young biologist named Stephen Kress joined the camp's instructional team. Surprised to learn that Maine's coastal islands had once been home to the nearly-extirpated Atlantic puffin, Steve wondered if there were a way to bring the birds back to their former breeding grounds. It was a question which led to the launch of Project Puffin in 1973 and subsequently to the development of seabird conservation techniques that today are employed around the world.

Project Puffin and Hog Island Audubon Camp remain closely connected, and one of the highlights of every camp session is a boat trip to Eastern Egg Rock to see puffins at the site of their first successful reintroduction.

The puffin in "Gaining Ground" is one of Egg Rock's current residents. The title refers both to this individual's waddle towards the highest point of rock, and to the slow but steady increase in the Maine puffin population overall.

While it's wonderful to celebrate the successful return of the species to its historic breeding grounds, we can't just wipe our hands, pat ourselves on the back, and walk away.

In 2012 the northeastern US experienced its warmest March on record, and temperatures remained high throughout the breeding season. The Gulf of Maine is heating up faster than almost any other marine environment on earth, and warmer waters mean changes in available food species. A water temperature rise of just 3 degrees meant puffin parents couldn't find enough small, slim, cold-water hake or herring to feed their chicks. Instead, they found warm water butterfish... which are too fat and round for chicks to swallow. Only 31% of Maine puffin chicks survived to fledging in 2012. The others starved to death with fish at their feet.

The long-term future of puffins in the Gulf of Maine remains uncertain. Good fisheries management has led to increases in the population of the once-endangered Acadian redfish... a good food source for puffins. But the continuing volatility of ocean temperatures can lead to disaster at any moment.

Perched at the border of the US and Canada, Machias Seal Island hosts the largest puffin breeding colony in the Gulf of Maine– 5,500 pairs. But locally warmer surface temperatures in 2016 again created a lack of sufficient food, resulting in almost complete nest failure across the colony.

Monitoring, protecting, and researching the lives of puffins and other seabirds helps us understand the larger changes in our environment, and I am proud of the efforts of my friends and colleagues at Project Puffin and other research projects across the globe. Of course puffins are fun subject matter for a linocut, but for me part of the joy of creating this piece was celebrating the hard work and dedication of biologists everywhere. Thank you all!