Saturday, May 31, 2008

Catching Up

I spent the last few days in Green River, Wyoming, judging their annual quilt show. It was a wonderful experience with lots of great quilts to see and an outstanding group of people to work with. I had never been to Green River so wasn't sure what to expect of the town. I was pleasantly surprised to find a community that included many pieces of sculpture along the main streets and an amazing park that stretched for miles beside the river and made my morning run a treat. It was a long drive - 6 1/2 hours each way - but the recent rain meant that the scenery was incredible and the miles passed quickly. I have never seen Wyoming so green!

One of the most amazing sights I saw on my trip occurred before I got to the end of my driveway. As I came over the small rise just before the last cattle guard I suddenly realized there were a couple of female pronghorn by the side of the lane. I had a second to wonder why they didn't bolt (pronghorn are incredibly intolerant of human presence) before I took in the fact that one of them was licking a newborn baby. My only option was to try to get by as quickly as possible so they weren't completely panic stricken by the vehicle. Even so, mother and baby took off across the field and so I stopped to get a shot once I went through the gate and they were at a distance where they wouldn't feel immediately threatened. Pronghorn babies are born able to run as soon as they hit the ground. Elk and deer tend to hide their newborns in the sagebrush and rely on a lack of scent and noise to keep them safe from predators in the first few days but American antelope have the ability to flee from the second their feet hit the ground. I expected to see a lot of baby pronghorn on my drive but that was the only sighting, despite the fact that I saw hundreds of adult animals.
While I was judging the show on Thursday, the vendors were setting up in preparation for the next day's opening. As we stopped to take a break for lunch, one of the vendors that I have known for a number of years came over to talk to me. She said she was delighted to see me there because she had just picked up a new embellishment for this show and she had thought of me immediately! Now, how fun is this?! I have to say, I don't do a lot of "western" stuff but she hit it right on by thinking I would get excited over this trim. She let me buy 7 yards even though she wasn't set up to sell at that point. I have at least three projects in mind to use it and I am already thinking I should have bought more from her. I have two friends that are going to be so jealous of my purchase!
I went for a walk today to try out some new hiking boots. I took the camera with me because the wildflowers are in full bloom. I tried to stay high and in the open because the elk are calving right now and I didn't want a repeat of last year's incident when we startled a cow mid-birth. I was on full alert, expecting to see a rattle snake because it is just that kind of day. Even so I was surprised when I came down off a rock and saw this guy on a ledge beside me. He is pretty big for a local rattler; two feet at least with 7 or more "rattles". I hate it when they don't make any noise at all. You can see how well he blends in and without that warning sound it is easy to step right on top of them. After looking at this guy for a minute it became pretty obvious why he was so sluggish. Look at that belly! He should be about as round as the last three or four inches of his tail. Instead he is so stuffed he is almost flat! I don't know what he ate but it must have been almost as big as him. He will be digesting that meal for the rest of the day!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Best Laid Plans

The Fast Friday Fabric Challenge for May was "deconstruction". We were to make a small piece or use an unquilted piece we already had laying around, chop it up and put it back together in a whole new way. Ken thought the concept was pretty crazy but I was happy because I have a collection of "also ran" tops that I have never taken to the final quilting step. I leave today to judge a quilt show in the southern part of the State so I knew I couldn't do anything too big. I had this small (16" x 24") top that has been sitting around for about seven years so I decided it was time to take the plunge. This was originally created to be part of a larger quilt. It was meant to be the quilt within a quilt, but once I got everything put together, I realized the scale was too small so I set it aside and made another, larger piece for the original. I had invested far too much time in this piece to just throw it out and yet I hadn't put the attention to detail in that would allow it to stand on its own as a miniature so it just sat around looking abandoned until now.
Once I decided on the piece I wanted to use I needed to come up with a new design. The lupines are blooming all over our place right now and the colors were perfect so I decided to go that direction. I chopped up the quilt top and added in some pale fabric for the background. Then I ironed some Wonder Under onto a few fabrics of the right colors and started cutting free form. I ironed everything down and then free motion stitched close to all the raw edges. It then got quilted and bound and - voila - a whole new quilt. I will admit I am happy to have a finished piece rather than one more UFO (Unfinished object for the non-quilter). It is certainly not perfect and there are things that I know will be shot down by a judge, but all in all, I think it was a good result for a day and a half of effort!
My intention was to finish this piece, do a painting for Illustration Friday and work on another small quilt, all before I had to get in the car and drive south this morning. Of course, all that assumed I would have so many hours each day to work on things. But then I lost an entire day on Monday and my plans had to be modified. The problem with Search and Rescue this time of year is that it is inconsistent. Once you go for two or three weeks without a call you find yourself lulled into a state of complacency where you forget the disruption an emergency can cause. So when the pager went off at midnight on Sunday night it was even more of a rude awakening than usual. The call was for a stranded party in the mountainous area east of Cody. The problem was that a young man had called 911 on a cell phone and had just managed to give his approximate location and the fact that he was stuck before the phone died. We all knew no one from around here would call 911 just because they had to spend a night in their car so we had to assume something more was going on. Were there children in the vehicle? An injured person? Someone who needed medication they didn't have with them?
Nine of us showed up to respond. Two stayed at the hall to manage the incident and the other 7 of us headed into the field with four wheelers and a six wheeler and enough gear to treat just about any situation. We found the vehicle at about 3 am. Imagine our surprise to discover a young, healthy college student with enough camping gear in his vehicle to survive at least a month in the wilderness. It turned out he was a biology major from a college in North Carolina who was taking a road trip as part of his summer vacation. He had been on his way from Greybull to Cody the night before when he decided to take a detour onto the dirt roads to see if he could see any wild horses. This, despite the fact he didn't know anything about the area and that it had been raining for three days straight and that he had a very small, un-powerful vehicle without 4-wheel drive. His biggest concern seemed to be that we were unwilling to spend the time at that stage of the morning to figure out how to get his car pulled out of the mud. He was upset that we expected him to call a wrecker and that vehicle removal was not part of our services.
If I sound a little annoyed it is because I am. Ken and I arrived home at 6 am and spent the day Monday barely able to function. We do not charge for Search and Rescue in this State. All our people are volunteers who give up time in their lives to help others. Would I respond to this same call if it came again the next night? You betcha. Without a second of hesitation. That doesn't mean I wouldn't have appreciated at least a "thank you" from the person we (9 of us!) gave up a night and a day to help out of a sticky situation.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Little Loco

"Loco Weed"
Transparent watercolor on 140# paper
10" x 12"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Garden Guardian

I have mentioned in the past that I like bull snakes. I like how they look, I like how they feel and I love that they keep the rodents in check in the garden and the feed shed. By this time last year I had already had several snake encounters and I have been kind of bummed that they have been so scarce this spring. Ken saw one a couple days ago and was greatly entertained by its interaction with the magpies, but I wasn't home at the time so missed the show.
Then, last evening, I looked out the living room window and found this visitor in the flower garden. He is a pretty good size - probably four feet at least. He parked on the warm stones in the waning sun and collected the last bit of heat for the day. I am sure he is curled up hiding today as the weather has cooled considerably and promises to stay that way for the next few days.
After my last post I had a couple people ask me if I wasn't worried about being attacked by the bobcat. The answer is "no". Anyone who has been scratched by a house cat knows the claws are nothing to scoff at, but I was fairly certain the wild cat was not going to take a swipe at me. For one thing, I was standing in the middle of a herd of 9 llamas. Even though the cat obviously didn't see the bigger animals as a threat, he was still looking up at more than a ton of total animal mass. Also, I was above him, putting him at a strategic disadvantage. He was not cornered in any way and had lots of room to run away from me down hill and I was pretty sure that would be his instinctive reaction.
If the feline visitor had been a cougar it would have been an entirely different story. Cougars average about 120 lbs of muscle as compared to the 40 or so pounds of the average bobcat. Cougars seem to have little fear of anything and have been reported to attack humans just for the sheer fun of it. I have no doubt that if cornered the bobcat could easily fight his way out but I wasn't going to put him in that situation.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Gift

What an amazing gift I received this morning! I happened to be looking out the window, laughing at the antics of a chukar pair, when I saw one of the llamas come to full attention. Thinking something might be up, I wandered outside and made my way to the edge of the hill where the entire herd was now gathered. The llamas were sounding their distress call so it was no effort to sneak quietly up and into their midst. As I looked down a beautiful male bobcat came into view on the ledge about five feet below me. I couldn't believe how close he was! As he walked along he would stop every few seconds and look up at the llamas above but it was obvious he was not at all concerned with their presence. He took time to spray just about every rock and every bush in his path and seemed as comfortable as he could be. I held my breath as he walked by, amazed that he was tolerating my presence. If I had bent down and reached out I could easily have touched his back. Then, as he stopped to look up at the llamas one more time, his eyes fixed on mine and the physical transformation in his bearing was incredible. His eyes widened, his tail went between his legs and his entire body sunk to the ground as he sprinted under the nearest large rock ledge. I ran back to the house to get Ken and the camera. When we came back out the cat was still under the ledge but as soon as we neared he sprinted off and I was not able to get a shot. Ken watched as he went behind a tree in the distance and then, lo and behold, he came out on the other side with a bunny in his mouth! Even in his flight he hadn't given up the hunt for breakfast.
I can't imagine I will ever be that close to a wild cat again. I feel extremely privileged to have been given such an opportunity!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Its Been a Hoot!

This has been a fun week despite some bumps along the way, such as a flat tire and a computer melt down! On Thursday we headed into Cody, carefully nursing a plugged tire on the Suburban, just hoping to make the repair shop without a major blow out. Our spare was jammed up under the vehicle and wouldn't release and our other vehicle happened to be in the shop getting its 100,000 mile servicing, so we were stuck limping down the highway, holding our breath much of the way. A few miles this side of town I happened to glance out the passenger window and see a dark shape in a tree alongside the road. I focused in a little more and realized I was seeing a great horned owl and what appeared to be a huge baby sitting on a branch beside her. I yelled my delight to Ken just as I took in the fact that there was another baby on the branch above and one more just below. Four great horned owls in one tree! I was in heaven. The only bad news was that I didn't have a camera with me and, because of our fragile tire state, we couldn't simply pull over and do a U-turn back for Ken to see the sight. I filed it away in my memory bank as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The next evening we had dinner at the ranch of our good friends Mary and Luis. The air was clear, the temperature was perfect and the view was phenomenal. Just as were finishing an amazing meal, their resident elk herd of about 400 head wandered into the pasture and mingled with the white tail, mule deer and antelope that were already there. The curlews are nesting right now and their warbling yells provided the sound effects for the show. It is hard to imagine a more perfect setting.

Yesterday we packed our bikes into the repaired Suburban and headed for Yellowstone to join a group of cyclists for a 42 mile ride in the Park. This is the only time of year you can even think of riding the Park as the tourists have not yet arrived in the staggering numbers we will see in a few weeks time. As we approached Cody I began scouring the trees for the owl family. Sure enough, they were perched in a tree not far from where I had seen them on Thursday. This time I had the camera with me and I convinced Ken to turn around so I could get a shot or two of the magnificent birds. As I left the vehicle one of the babies spooked and flew to the ground so I quickly took a couple photos of the remaining three and got back in the car. Their positioning was not as photo ideal as it had been on the earlier day but I am excited to have the pictures I do as I don't think these baby hueys will be around for too much longer.

The ride in the Park was perfect! I got to ride at a pace I really enjoyed, the company was delightful and the weather couldn't have been better. The highlight was seeing a wolf on the ice of Yellowstone Lake but traffic was such at that point that I didn't feel I could stop to take a photo. Another one for the memory bank! On the way back to Fishing Bridge from West Thumb we all stopped at a prearranged spot for a group photo and we had a friend take a photo of Ken and me in front of the frozen lake.

After we got home last evening Frank the cat had his first chance of the day to spend some time outside. Unfortunately it didn't last long as he got hounded back into the house. I have said before he is not much of a hunter and I guess the magpies are onto him. The aggressive birds all have chicks right now and they don't tolerate any animal invading their space. This one herded Frank all the way from the hay pile to the door of the house, running behind him squawking and actually pecking him on the tail when he showed signs of slowing down. I know poor Frank was humiliated by the experience!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Chukar in winter

"Cold Feet"
Transparent watercolor on 140# cold pressed paper. 10"x12"

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Leapin' Lapin

If it seems as though I am obsessed with bunnies lately, it is because they are ubiquitous this time of year. The books say that our breed of desert cottontail is capable of giving birth year round, but there is no doubt that at this latitude and altitude, the months between winter cold and summer heat are the prime time for mating and birth. One of the things that seems to take place during these activities is that they become oblivious to all other creatures, including humans, as they concentrate completely on their own kind. That allows me to get closer than normal to capture photos of the irresistible rodents.
In folklore and cartoons bunnies are always portrayed as hopping creatures. There is no doubt that is a result of the way they move their front two feet and then their back two feet in synchronization. There is another hop that is common this time of year and I was lucky enough to capture it in action this morning. Ken thinks it happens when a male and a female face off but I am not so sure. I have never seen it result in a mating and I think it may be more of a male to male exhibit of macho prowess. It starts when the two come face to face. They circle warily like a pair of sumo wrestlers until one suddenly leaps straight up in the air. Often the other will react by following suit and eventually one gives up and runs away. You can just about walk right up to them during this ritual and they will ignore your presence entirely as they concentrate on each other.

The photo I got was not the best but considering I have been trying unsuccessfully to capture a mid-leap image for some time, I am quite happy to have recorded anything!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Illustration Friday - Electricity

The Wyoming State Bird is the Western Meadowlark. If all you saw was its back, you would probably ask yourself "why?" It is only when the bird turns around and you see its startlingly yellow front or it opens its mouth to sing and you hear that sweet, piercing melody that it feels as though someone has plugged it in!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Eating Good

Like many people, we wean our wild birds off the feeder in Spring. That doesn't mean anyone goes
hungry but it does mean they tend to disperse more in search of the next meal. There is always a certain group that is a little bolder or a little smarter - I am not sure which - that hangs around the house and cleans up whatever scraps of chicken or llama feed happen to fall on the ground. Over the last two days I have taken a couple of photos to show what I mean.
It is funny because the llamas wouldn't think of letting another llama eat out of its bowl but they seem more than willing to put up with sharing with magpies, chuckars, rock doves and bunnies!

This morning I witnessed a full circle of life and death in the bunny population before I even made it out of my pajamas. It started because we had a load of hay delivered yesterday. There is nothing Frank the cat likes better than a new pile of hay. Normally the first thing we do when hay is delivered is to re-stack the entire pile so it doesn't fall over in the wind. Yesterday was one of those extremely rare days when it rained a wonderful spring rain all day and we decided to leave the pile the way it was so it could dry out before we re-stack and tarp it. It was leaning pretty good so we braced it with some poles and the ladder and pulled a tarp over the top to keep it from getting even wetter.
This morning Frank was at the door before first light, in a frenzy to get outside and smell the hay pile. He went so far as to climb the ladder so he could get a really good look at it all. Because the bobcat has been hanging around regularly I was keeping an eye on Frank out the window when I saw all the llamas run to the edge of the hill and look over. I grabbed the camera and headed out the door in pajamas and slippers to chase away the intruder - either a coyote or a bobcat, I assumed - and maybe get a good photo in the process. Instead I was surprised when I looked over the hill and saw below me the golden eagle with a rabbit in his talons. By the time I got the camera in position he had dropped the bunny and was flying off so I just caught a rear view.

As I turned around I saw that Frank had followed me to the hill so I turned and started back to get him into the safe zone. As we walked by the llama feed trough a bunny jumped out of the trough and ran at us. Both Frank and I recognized the maneuver as an effort to distract us and we looked into the trough where we saw the newest baby bunny I have ever seen in my life. He was tiny and wet with eyes still closed and ears still glued to his head. I realized I had a choice of getting a great photo or getting Frank out of there before his curiosity got the best of him so I did the only thing I could do - I scooped up the cat and headed for the house. By the time I looked out the window mama bunny was back and was moving her newborn under the trough where it will stay for a week or two until it is big enough to fend for itself.

Monday, May 5, 2008

catching up

I don't think Jane Neale reads my blog, but if she does, she needs to stop right now and go do something else. It is not that I don't like Jane. In fact she is one of the sweetest, smartest and most creative people I know. The problem is that a little further along I am going to show a photo of a piece of a row robin quilt that Jane is not supposed to see for another two months.
Four months ago six of us in the local quilt guild took on an "art row robin". What that means is that each participant made a row out of fabric in a certain theme and then passed it on to the next person in line to add a row. Each month the steadily growing pieces are passed along and eventually we will each end up with a quilt made by six different people. This month I happen to be working on Jane's quilt and I am having the most fun I have had at the sewing machine for a while.

In the meantime, a week ago Friday was the day for my monthly Fast Friday Fabric Challenge. The theme this time around was re-cycled blue jeans. I really didn't plan on participating because 1) I was in Virginia at my stepson's wedding for much of the week and 2) I don't own a pair of blue jeans that are ready to be recycled just yet. But by last Thursday I was back home and getting the itch to participate in some way. I pawed through my "ancient fabric" pile and came up with a large amount of a medium weight chambray and a nice yard of corduroy. Faced with less than two days to meet the deadline I decided to be entirely practical and put together a hanging holder for my multitude of rulers. Maybe now I can spend less time searching for just the right measuring stick when I need it!

One of the things I love about spring around here is getting to see the dozens of baby bunnies that seem to suddenly appear everywhere. One of the things I hate about spring around here is seeing how many baby bunnies end up as snacks for magpies, ravens, eagles, foxes, assorted weasels, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. Frank the cat is another problem. Now Frank is incredibly gentle when it comes to other living things. The only animals he really dislikes are humans, with one notable exception (moi). That doesn't stop him from bringing me presents of small or injured animals. Baby bunnies are especially vulnerable and, even though Frank doesn't hurt them when he brings them to me, it is tantamount to a death sentence as I usually have no way of knowing where he found them and they can't survive without their mother. This little fellow on the left was one of the lucky ones as I saw where he came from and he is old enough to survive being carried out of his nest by the gentle Frank. He is about the size of my fist and softer than it seems anything could be. I love the little white spot on the top of his head.

Now on to Jane's quilt, which has a Southwest theme. The original panel was about 22" x 9" with a vertical orientation. I decided to add a saguaro cactus to the piece. I had a large piece of light green sateen in my stash that I wrapped shibori-style around a big tube. I then spray painted it with three different colors of fabric paint mixed with water. Once that was done I added a bunch of pin tucks to give it those "saguaro seams". The most fun was adding the painting of the elf owl that you can see in the photo. He was created using a combo of Caran d'Arche watercolor pastels and fabric paint. I am thrilled with the final piece and think I may have to explore this whole process a little further in a quilt of my own.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Illustration Friday - Seed

If you took a census of the plants growing on our property, it would probably be a toss up as to which is more numerous: sage brush or yucca. It really is not surprising the yucca are as successful as they are even though they don't bloom every year. The ones that do bloom develop large seed pods like the one I painted in the upper right corner that each contain hundreds of seeds. The pods secrete a sugary sap for the first couple months of their existence and the mule deer and antelope can't seem to resist the sweet treat. That is the first way the seeds are dispersed. Those pods that aren't consumed eventually dry out and burst open at which time the seeds are available to be carried near and far by the helpful wind.
I am trying out a new method of watercolor painting with this piece. I think the composition leaves a lot to be desired, but I feel like I learned a lot in the process.