Friday, December 2, 2011

In the Service of the Beaver

Valles Caldera: The Return of the Beaver / oil and mixed media on canvas / 16 x 12 inches

I was fortunate to be able to join WildEarth Guardians on a recent Beaver Restoration Project in  Valles Caldera. 
Cattle have recently been removed from riparian areas in the Valles Caldera Preserve,  and wildlife biologists have been anticipating the return of native beavers, who were starved out of the area decades ago by cattle competing with them for food.  Their preferred food is the inner bark of willow and poplar saplings.
Two wildlife biologists had been monitoring the entry and exit points of the San Antonio River in the Preserve for signs of beaver activity, but they spotted nothing--until recently.  To their surprise, one of them stumbled upon a small beaver dam deep in the heart of the preserve.  A trail cam confirmed the presence of an occupant.  The little guy (or gal) trudged for miles to lay claim to a new home on the river. 
By the time dam construction began, winter was approaching, and food supplies were scarce.  WildEarth Guardians came to the rescue.   Local Guardians loaded a large flatbed with willow shoots, some generously donated by Santa Clara Pueblo, and we set out for the site in the midst of one of the season's first snowstorms.  We also brought more than forty willow saplings to plant on the river banks, so the beaver will have a food supply upon emergence in the spring.  In the photos below you will see two handsome foresters operating an auger for the tree planting.   (We're sporting day-glo vests because it is elk hunting season).  WildEarth Guardians plant thousands of trees every year, hiring local labor to supplement their volunteer workforce. 
We made our  way to the site and spent the day off-loading the willow bundles, dragging them over a ridge and down the other side to the river, and placing them on the banks, cut side in the water, which served as the beaver's big refrigerator.  We wished we could have seen the little guy's face when he emerged after we left.

A second beaver painting is coming soon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lone Buck Mountain

Running up Lone Buck Mountain,
with a nice cold wind blowing from the west.
 Going up.  Looking across Bear Canyon at Picacho.
 The top of Picacho, still above me.   
 One of my favorite color combinations.  In oil paints, that green is ivory black + cadmium yellow light.
 The first false summit beckons.
The ski basin comes into view, north, through the ponderosas.
 A gap in the ponderosas.
 Second false summit.
 Looking west, across Santa Fe, to the Jemez Mountains,  where the fires burned this summer.
 The scruffy head of my old friend Atalaya.  My parents' ashes lie on top.
 The summit.  The sun is just rising up here.
 Picacho, below me now.
 Looking south, across the slope of Atalaya, to the Cerrillos Hills, and Albuquerque's Sandia Mountains.
 OK, no more photos of pink rocks with green lichen.
 Ready to head back down.  Sort of. 
 McLure Reservoir, at drought level.
One small step for man . . . Dang!  I thought I was the only human ever to set foot in this pristine wilderness.  I'm certainly not the only being.  Just passed a pile of bear scat.  My kids say no more scat photos.
 Looking down on Santa Fe, St. John's College in the foreground.
 Picacho, looming large again.
 Noodling around with hand-held camera.  I prefer going up to going down.
 But it's down I must go.
 Looking west one last time before it all disappears in trees.
 The ridge between Picacho and Atalaya.
 Last view of the ski basin.  Into the trees.
 I wandered too far south on the way down, apparently to photograph this dead tree. . . 
  . . . and ended up, as usual, overcorrecting to the north and landing between two sets of gnarly cliffs.  I call it the Bermuda Triangle.  Once, I was here in a big wind and I thought there was someone above, throwing rocks at me.  After tearing a tendon in a wild attempt to elude my tormentor, and contemplating it in the ER, I concluded it must have been the west wind throwing rocks at me.
 There's only one way out of the Bermuda Triangle.
 Follow the tracks of a rabbit.
They always know the best way.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The best time of the year

 Big Red, oil on panel, 10 x 10 x 2 inches

I've been drawn to baby animals of late.  Perhaps I should title the series "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Cute."    
The best time of year is here, and I am getting out in the wilderness as much as I can.  Land art resonates with me the clearest when I stumble upon it and it is not created by humans.   This tree is a "scrape," used by a small mule deer buck to rub the velvet off of his new antlers.  Once deer find a scrape, they return to it.  This tree is girdled and its fate sealed (or peeled).  It will be a standing home to many for a time and then it will fall and slowly become one with the forest floor, new life springing up in its form.    
What painter could come up with so balanced a composition?  The aspen leaves flow in an unbroken line out of the red striations in the rock.  The streams in the mountains and foothills are  waning as the harvest moon waxes.  When I'm out running, I'm never far from a brook, always mindful of the munificence of water dakinis in a desert.

Friday, August 26, 2011

631, oil and original acrylic gel transfer photograph on back-framed panel, 24 x 18 x 2.25 inches.

Two months ago, I wrote about the wildfires consuming the forests. The Las Conchas fire became the largest wildfire in New Mexico history, burning more than 150,000 acres, a third of them the first night, fueled by 60 mph winds. I watched it from my front porch, wishing I could do something for the animals made homeless or worse by the inferno. From my back yard, I watched smoke from the Pacheco fire, burning ten miles up the watershed. I started this painting when the fires were new. They continued, and I continued, for weeks.

I began by photographing an abandoned gas station at 631 Cerrillos Road. It had been a street art magnet for fifteen years. When I photographed it, I did not know it would be cordoned off and demolished within a few days. The disappearance of the gas station coincided with the erasure by the forest fires of human-built structures in the forest and of other, less tangible constructs that a fire of this order brings into question. 

As I lay awake at night listening to the whir of water-bearing helicopters, the howling of coyotes, and the drone of planes dropping chemical goo on the fires, the painting began to take shape.  I applied a mirror image of the gas station photo to a panel, using the acrylic gel transfer process, and then several layers of PVA ground.  The gas station became a place of uneasy refuge for the forest animals I painted over it in oils.  Meanwhile, bears and deer roamed the night streets of Los Alamos, driven into the strange urban landscape by the destruction of their habitat and nourishment.  When I completed the painting, our summer rains finally arrived, and the fires were out, leaving 160,000 acres of charred wilderness.    

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I found a beautiful pigeon with a badly fractured wing on a ridgetop in the wilderness. I've never seen a pigeon in the backcountry before.  I ran for about a mile with her carefully wrapped in my shirt, and then drove her 20 miles to the wildlife hospital.  The fracture was recent but gnarly; I fear they euthanized her. 

She was so calm and sweet, and dare I say trusting. She had such presence.   What an adventurous bird! 

I do not usually name wildlife, but if there was a name for this bird, it would be Amelia Earhart.  I often make a sort of offering to the animal in the painting; a symbol, some flowers, corn, snow; whatever comes to mind.  Hence the painting's title, Apple Blossoms for Ameila Earhart (oil on canvas, 8 x 8 inches).  May she live long and well.