Friday, April 30, 2010


Here in western Maine, we have a variety of partridge known as the Ruffed Grouse.  They are the size of a small chicken, and have stunning plumage, which is not to say gaily colored--oh no--rather it is absolutely the best combination of tans, browns, grays and black bars, spots and mottling one could the point that a ruffed grouse on the forest floor is invisible unless it moves.  And, they, like yesterday's turkey hen, know that sitting tight is their best chance of avoiding detection.

So, it comes as a heart-stopping surprise when a grouse explodes off the ground within a few feet of you, usually just after you have passed it and are caught with one foot in the air, stepping over a blow-down or some such.  Years ago I hunted grouse....and never had much luck doing it, so I quit.  But, today, amazingly I put one up and it was about five yards from where the female turkey surprised us just the day before.  In typical ruffed grouse style, it thundered into the air, wings beating furiously and making enough noise to magnify the startle effect.  I can imitate this sound with my mouth, but I honestly don't think I can adequately describe it with words.....let's just say that using the term, "thundering" is not a real exaggeration.

It is notable that grouse are friendly little suckers and under the right circumstances, they will become quite tame and can then be hand fed, even become a bit of a nuisance around camp if you let them.  There is one that has taken up residence at a shooting range here in Maine, and all the shooters have a very protective attitude about him.  He's a plucky fellah and very likeable.

She's Baaaaack......

Whose back?  Spring, Mother Nature's wunderkind who comes this time each year to restore not only the life of the forest, and the land....but, to restore hope and a deep feeling of gratitude.

Teaching this morning prevented me from taking our dogs on their morning sojourn in the woods.  But, when I leave the house on Friday mornings, my last words to them are always: "Hang in there; we'll go for a walk this afternoon."  And, not surprisingly, they look at me in a way that says: "Promise?"  I have no doubt that they understand this now traditional transaction.

So, after some soaking rain, some sleet, some gale-force winds that even snatched new leaves off their stems on the poplar trees, finally it is sunny and warm today.  I knew that it would mean that the black flies were out....and I wasn't wrong.  But neither were they at full maddening strength...merely annoying.  I did NOT know, however, that the Trillium would be out. We have the variety known formally as, "Trillium erectum", and while white flowered blooms will be along soon, all the ones I saw today were purple.  This is almost always the first wild flower to be seen each spring around these parts.  It has some curious names: Wake-Robin, Stinking Benjamin, Birth root, Beth root, and a few more.  It is also said to have astringent properties that make it useful in treating diarrhea and bleeding, but, I have no personal experience of this and so cannot vouch for it.

I can, however, tell you that my heart leaps when I see first one, then another, then realize that there are dozens and dozens scattered all across the forest floor.   

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Waterman's Life

This is a 20 x 30 oil, on panel, and was done from a photograph taken in Stonington, Maine in 2003.   I was looking forward to it coming up on my list of paintings because I knew it would be a challenge to render the soft pastels and the quality of light that was happening as the sun just peeked above the eastern horizon. The translation from reality to digital file has inevitably skewed the colors, but I was in awe as I stood on the shore, camera in hand, looking at the blues and pinks in front of me.

The other aspect that drew me to make a painting of this scene is that it is a record of the beginning of the work day for two lobstermen.  They are going about getting ready to head out and pull traps, making a living on the water in the same way that Maine watermen have for over two centuries now.  This is a benign dawn, but they are also out there when the weather is blustery, cold, and the water has a mean, steel grey appearance that makes me shudder when I think about spending the day out on it.  Lest anybody should think being a lobsterman is either easy or idylic and enviable, it is worth knowing that Stonington has THREE AA meetings and making ends meet in this way is often a hard-bitten struggle.

Last year Maine lobstermen...and, yes, a very few women, pulled 75 MILLION pounds of lobster from the cold, green waters of our rocky coast.  Even with such a bountiful catch, many of them struggled to just get by.

Somehow, I cannot help contrast this with the pigs who sit behind desks on Wall Street and clever up barely or not even honest ways to shuffle stock, mortgages and other securities.  The contrast is just so stark that it makes me want to honor these watermen.

A Wild Encounter...

On our morning walk in the woods, we had a close encounter with a mature hen turkey.  The  dogs were doing their nose to the ground thing, Holly particularly alert to the possibility of chipmunks or red squirrels, of course.  And, suddenly something moved in my peripheral vision and I turned my head to see an adult female wild turkey....ABOUT TEN FEET AWAY.

Apparently, she had been practicing the preferred predator avoidance strategy of hunkering down and not moving a feather.  She hadn't any way of knowing that we were on a trail that would inevitably bring us right to her.  So, by the time she realized it was going to be a very close encounter we were right on top of her.

Fortunately, for all involved, the dogs' attention was directed downhill, towards the bog off to our right, so I was the first to see her and I was able to move between her and the two BIRD DOGS that were less than five yards from her.  Holly was the first to realize what was up and went into 'GET EM' mode in a flash.  But, there I was with my finger pointed right at her and shouting in my best drill-sergeant voice. "STAY!!!!"  She looked from the turkey to me and knew that she was close enough that disobedience was unrealistic.....the ogre would emerge and she does not like having him around.

Emma was further away, but also knew that the fact that I was between her and the turkey posed an insurmountable obstacle.  So, they both settled for acting agitated and watching the turkey disappear up the hill at a rapid run.  Had she been in fear of being overtaken she would have spread her wings and taken to the a lumbering C-130 clawing for altitude off of a short runway.  Turkeys avoid flying unless it is the least difficult option, and one would know why once they have seen how much work it is getting all that bulk airborne.

Ultimately, it was a thrill to be so close to a wild bird, and I did have a chance to admire how beautifully her color scheme works as camouflage.  Far from the gaudy plumage of the males, the females are a symphony of drab grays and browns that help them disappear in the woods.  She was almost invisible by the time she had put fifty yards between us.  The dogs, of course, thought the whole thing was exciting and followed her scent trail all the way to the top of the hill...tails wagging, noses to the ground.

Just another beautiful day in the Maine woods.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Digital and hints.

Over the years a lot of people have asked me how they could improve their ability to capture images with their digital cameras.  This is just one 'hint' that will give you much more control than without it.

First of all, digital image files have lots of detail in areas where a film image does not.  If you shoot slides and underexpose in order to make the colors more saturated, you can also expect that the darkest shadows in a typical landscape scene will 'drop out' or 'block up'.  I.e., they will be just black and without details.  But, when you underexpose a digital capture--in order to avoid the most handicapping problem of 'blown-out' highlights--areas where there is simply no data, blank....NUTTIN'--there is still detail in even the very dark shadows.  It isn't necessarily even visible, until you use the tools available to you in most image manipulation programs....okay, in PHOTOSHOP.  Let's not mince words here: Adobe Photoshop is, has been, and likely will remain the dominant software for photographic manipulation.  If you don't at least have the consumer strength version, Photoshop Elements, you are using something that is a wannabe program.

If you are taking digital pictures and NOT using a computer to process and improve them, then you are realizing about a quarter of the potential of digital imaging.  Automated 'point and shoot' cameras are very, very good these days....but, that doesn't mean that they are able to wring the full potential out of an image.  To do that you need to dive-in and use Photoshop--on at least an entry level initially--to adjust and improve what the camera did.

And, if the whole proposition intimidates you, then welcome to the club.  Every first-time user has felt that way at some level.  You need to find out what the basic controls are and--like driving a car--what to do to make it make it do what you want to do.  You have to be a beginner before you are a's like life, eh.

So, here's the BIG TIP:  if you figure out how to set your camera on 'manual' and have the ability to adjust the exposure of each shot you can make sure that you have data, i.e. detail and subject matter, in the entire 'blown highlights'.  By underexposing by about 2/3 rds of a stop, you can come away with images that are ready to be 'photoshopped'.  They will appear a bit darker than you might prefer....but they will not have blank areas.  This means that by using 'levels' or 'curves' or--better yet--'highlights and shadows' in Photoshop, you can set the contrast of the image so that it has detail in BOTH shadows and highlights....and that is HUGE.

In the bad old days of film, you were facing a set of choices that were all less than ideal.  And, perfectionists, and professionals went to great lengths--using all manner of tricks and techniques, tools and skills--to arrive at the same point that pretty much anybody can today....just by taking the time to find out how.

Trust me it will be worth the effort and your photographs will take on a much richer and more appealing appearance. The below image would be rather plain and even boring without using the available tools to improve it...nothing fancy, just basic adjustments. 

The and full effort painting.

A number of people expressed an interest in seeing the full effort painting: "The Boatride".  So, I present it here in all its glory.  The size is 18 x 36.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Upcountry Harbinger

This is a painting of a farm in northwestern Maine that I photographed two summers ago.  The title is derived from the farm not the geese, and it alludes to the fact that the farm is no longer really a farm, but is slowly being enveloped by the forest.  Whoever owns it probably comes up to spend time in 'Vacationland' and has no idea that the barn is already 'surrounded' in part.

The photographic record that I have been making for the last 30+ years is rife with images of farms gone by, and along with them is the clear knowledge that an entire way of life is disappearing.  You cannot really blame new generations coming along for not wanting to be farmers.  It is one helluva hard way to make a living and most farmers in this part of the world just scrape by and work hard to do so.  But, when the entire agricultural industry is in the hands of Montsanto, Dow, Exxon, DuPont et al, and farms have all been absorbed into corporate conglomerates that hire the people who used to live on them to run the equipment and apply the copious amounts of chemicals that 'Agribusiness' feels are the life-blood of food production now.....I guarantee you that big problems are headed this a way.

Don't believe it.......see "Food Inc."  Just a gentle will be amazed and outraged.

FWIW: somebody--I know not whom--unsubscribed after my last post...about the nukes, of course. I can only hope that I offended them outrageously and that they are of the 'birther', 'truther', 'tea bagger' and other similar ilk.  It is my clear intent to offend such people...and I am doing my best to do it well.   Any offense I might send their way is MICROSCOPIC compared with how offensive I find their attitudes.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

NEWS FLASH......Obama has secret stash of nukes!!!!!

At the same time that he's making deals with the Russians to pare down our massive nuclear stockpiles....our foreign-born, socialist-commie, anti-christ of a president, has been secretly building an entirely new stockpile.....RIGHT UNDER OUR NOSES!!!!!

I certainly would never have believed this had I not seen if for myself.  We already knew that he's a sneaky and nefarious dude....but, this really takes the cake.  Further proof of the horrid truth of my discovery was offered when, as I attempted to photograph the stock-pile, I was approached by a very menacing dude about 6'6, who informed me in no uncertain terms that I COULD NOT photograph there.  Well, being a good tea-bagger, I whipped my little camera out as soon as he turned his back and gathered the irrefutable evidence that we are being duped......again.

Where does this end?   First a foreign-born MUSLIM manages to sneak into the White House, then we find out that he's waaaay too intelligent to be a real least, going by the norm we have become accustomed to....and now we find out that, he's pulling the biggest switch and bait scheme in history.

Beam me up, Scottie.  I am ready........

Uh, Scottie......?   Are you there?


Monday, April 12, 2010

Earth, Air, Fire and Water

Abby and I spent time yesterday visiting our friend, Teresa, in Old Orchard Beach, and we were there when the sun was shining and the tide was out.....very nice day at the beach.  Until Memorial Day dogs are allowed on the strand too, and our goldens had a nice time sniffing all the detritus that washes up.  One slightly off-putting moment was coming across a pile of stuff that contained two gloves--not a pair--and assorted other human garbage.....including a used hypodermic needle.  Just a curt reminder that we're hard at work soiling as much of the planet as we can.

But, there was a moment when I stood facing the ocean and realized that I was looking at the most bone-plain display of the mystical elements that is is possible to see.  There was a gentle land-breeze blowing, so the 'big pond' was as gentle and calm as one will ever see her. Something about seeing such a poetic display of earth, air, fire and water makes me feel the planet will survive its encounter with humans.  Of course, it may have to shake us off in order to do so, but, I guess we'll see how it all turns out in the next couple of decades.

In the meantime, here is a record of that moment.  I cannot look at it without being reminded that Earth herself is ALIVE....and, that every aspect of it is completely and inexorably intertwined.

Btw:  there is a FIFTH mystical element:  Ether, and it is a combination of the other four.  Ether is typified by the color grey and is the equivalent of Pranha, Chi or Spirit, however you want to refer to the Life Force.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Boatride

This is a 'study' for a painting that I am presently working on in a larger and more detailed size.  The title is "The Boatride", and it portrays my neighbor, Shawn, and his bulldog, Dozer.  Shawn isn't a boater, and he and Dozer have never been in a Rangeley boat together...or any other kind of boat, as far as I know.  But, I just had this imagined glimpse of them, and so I approached Shawn and told him about my idea.  His reaction was, "What do you need?"
So, we shot photos of him and Dozer posed in Shawn's yard with the sun backlighting them, and I shot some more of Shawn sitting in a chair in the rowing position.  And, then I sorted and filed the jpgs and put the painting on my list of upcoming works.  And months went by.  Then, Dozer got sick.  He was an elderly fellah and had many age related health challenges.  But, Shawn saw him through them as they presented.  He spent a ton of money doing this for his friend, but, finally, it was all just too much for Dozer to be even comfortable, much less his former happy self......and Shawn had to let him go. 

This all culminated at almost the same time that I was going to begin the painting.  So, I went ahead knowing that it would become a memorial--not just to a great dog and fine companion, but to a man's devotion to his dog.  The title became a metaphor for the process that they went through together.  And, today, Shawn will come to our home and see the study and painting in progress for the first time.

He went away for a couple of weeks, and he came home with  a little bulldog puppy, named Rocko.  And the whole process begins anew.  He was hesitant to make this committment....again.  But, in the end, Shawn knows, as I do, that life is too short and too difficult to do it without a good dog at your side.

And, here's Rocko too 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Emerald Forest......

Winter in Maine seems longer than it really is sometimes.  We reach a point, along about mid-March, when it seems spring is still a long way off.  But, it really is just around the corner, and now--what with global warming--it is even earlier than usual.  We went from morning walks on frozen snow-pack and woods full of snow, to mud-puddles and leaves in what seemed like the blink of an eye this year. Suddenly, spring is popping out all over, and the wood frogs in the larger forest pools have been croaking up a storm, green shoots are busting out from under the dead leaves from last fall, and--most of all--the mosses have burst into the greenest greens you can imagine. 

As a painter, I have a fine appreciation for the entire spectrum of colors, but I also have always loved green, just a little bit more than all the other colors.  Every paint maker has an array of greens that stem from bright yellow-green, i.e. Cadmium green pale, to deep forest greens in both cool and warm varieties.  One of my all-time favorites is a color from Williamsburg paints, Courbet green.  It is a very opaque, dark and warm green that looks almost blackish when it is around bright and lighter colors, but becomes a deep olive, forest shade when it is juxtaposed with other darks, like indigo, or dioxazine violet.

But, there is really no paint that can scintillate the way new mosses do in morning sunlight.  I took some images this morning, in the hope that my humble wee pocket camera could give you some idea of how beautiful these islands of green were.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Make Love Not War......wasn't just a slogan

Okay, yes, I was a 'hippy'.  My forty-something, corporate manager in Silicon Valley of a daughter thinks that hippies were just stoned hedonists. She says the word 'hippy' as if it were an epithet.  She is also a devoted materialist who thinks having money is very close to Nirvana.  She is clueless on both counts. I have never been ashamed of that part of my life, never regretted it one iota, quite the contrary, in fact.

I dropped out of grad school in '71 and took a motorcycle trip to California from New Mexico. Up to that point, I had only a passing idea that there was something happening that was being referred to as "the counter-culture". It was a term that piqued my curiosity and when I ran smack into the middle of it, I was a goner.  I returned to Albuquerque, sold my motorcycle, dumped most of my possessions that wouldn't fit in a backpack into a dumpster, and moved to San Rafael, in Marin County CA.  I was immediately accepted into an extended family of unique souls, all of whom I came to love and for whom I have great respect and admiration.  Every member of our little family had a former life in which they had been trapped and unhappy.  Each of us knew that adopting the counter-cultural lifestyle was a form of liberation, from EVERYTHING.

Did we get stoned?  Hell, yes.  Was so-called 'free love' commonplace?  Duh.  Were we hedonistic?  Not exactly.  If a person supposes that being there at that time and place was all about having 'fun' and 'being hip', they have missed the core of what it was really all about.  More than anything.....we were IDEALISTS.   We had the temerity to actually hope, to believe, that a new society could and would emerge from the one that we all felt alienated from.  We called ourselves 'freaks', and did so with a measure of some pride.  We practiced freedom on a level that I had never even imagined was possible.  It was not about staying high and having as much sex as possible......that was a side-effect of feeling that if something was not harmful to anybody else, and it felt 'good', then it must actually be okay.  Cultural conventions were tossed aside, in favor of following a sense of what seemed right in that moment, in those times.

We were pacifists.  I knew many Bay Area hippies who were, like me, veterans of the Vietnam era. I have written about one of them here previously, Russell.  He remains one of the most remarkable souls I have encountered this lifetime.  Far from being stoneheads, we were stoned on BEING ALIVE, as alive as we could possibly be, and in every way we could be.  I hitch-hiked across the country five times, without more than a few bucks in my pocket, and with everything I owned in a backpack.  I saw and experienced enough to write books and books about it.  The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" seemed apropos to describe being so free and open to life.  I also went to Europe, arrived in Paris with $40, and stayed all summer and into the fall, worked at two jobs in Germany, learned about life there on a level that would have been impossible as a regular tourist.

We referred to 'straight' people as being 'lame'.  It was snobbish, but, to us, they acted so lame that the term became simply a useful means to describe a mind-set, more than it was a judgment.  Through it all there was this feeling that we could find a way of being in the world that didn't feel like enslavement, to a job or to a set of conventions that imposed such a stultifying world-view.  We embraced with a feeling of reverence the idea that Love was the answer to most of the world's problems.  And, while that may seem just a tad simplistic as one looks at the problems we face today, I still believe that is essentially TRUE.

Looking around, and feeling alienated once again...I am coming back around to the idea that an alternative lifestyle and each day being viewed as a new opportunity to feel fully ALIVE, and to do it with love if at all possible..........may well be the most viable answer to the hatred, divisiveness and depression that is stalking the land.  Living simply, with a feeling that the things that truly matter are the most simple of still, after all these years, the one approach to life that just makes sense.

The question is: can we get back to that?

Some already have.....some never let it go.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

More About Trolls....Down Under, in fact

It seems that Australia is having a hard time with 'trolls' as well.  The link here is for an article in the Courier Mail a Queensland newspaper.  In typical Aussie fashion, however, they are actively 'stalking' the trolls and looking for ways to hold them accountable.

One thing struck me as I looked through the rest of the virtual newspaper....and saw how much like America Australia is.  Almost all of the articles could be from any American newspaper and you would never guess that they were from down under.

Here is a quote from the Courier Mail article:
"These sick bastards have to be stopped," said a Gold Coast mother, turned troll-hunter. "Facebook clearly can't control them."
The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said her research had uncovered disturbing details.
They also directly taunted the parents of dead children.

Somehow, it feels better to be pro-active against such people than it does to remain passive.