Where on Earth?!

After an hour on freeways and the long crossing over Chesapeake Bay, I find my way into the quaint line up of colonial brick and stone building defining old town –really old, established in 1711. It’s fairly easy to find my way into the busy festival grounds of this annual art and waterfowl themed event that dominates the entire town, but once there the chaos of the moment leaves me bewildered.

Numerous painters, sculptors and the best of bird carvers exhibit in three different locations, and the downtown is jammed.  Where to park?  And where is the building I am assigned to?  I can’t look and drive, I have no idea where to unload, so I pull over curbside with the dozens of “no parking” signs lining the streets designated for festival preparations.

I better call Doug.  I need to find my final landing site.  I better call Doug. I know he is extremely busy organizing the exhibits spread throughout old town, but I have his cell number handy just for this occasion, and surprisingly, he answers immediately.

“I can’t find the armory building [where my booth assignment is] and I need to know where to park and unload.”

“Where are you now,” Doug responds.

“Good question.  I’m on Harrison Street, and I am looking straight down the street at a large stone church.”

“Are you in the white van?”

I look up and Doug has moved into the street in front of the church and is waving at me.  I laugh and wave out the side window of the white rental van, “well, I guess I am in the right place!”

“Just go around the corner in front of the church, the armory is on the left corner and you can unload there,” and Doug moves back into the pavilion tents being set up, ready to put out more fires and line out other lost souls.

The stoic Christ Church was shielded by an immense oak tree at least 8-9 feet in diameter, which was presumably growing there in 1840 when the church was built.  The old armory building dominated the opposite corner, with its flight of wide steps and the façade of the flat roof looking like a giant rook in a chess game.  I inched my way around the corner through the surreal time warp, as a Bart Walters bronze  of three geese fully eight feet tall appeared adjacent to the armory’s sweeping steps.  What better way to designate the building as the Waterfowl Festival headquarters.

Now the real work begins, the “in the trenches” and behind the scenes effort involved in showing art in public exhibitions, an important facet of any artist’s life in the field.  The gracious and kind show organizers greet me at the armory entrance and easily answer my query about where to set up my exhibit, since we are standing right in front of my assigned spot.  “Well it is right here,” and an assistant pointed to the right of the main entry.  I am a bit stymied and flattered at the same time, to be placed at the very front of the main hall.

As I got busy taping up random material sections over the plain wood panels framing my booth, a lady organizer queried in light fun, “so you don’t like our backdrops, huh?  “Oh, they are wonderful,” I commented, “and just what I need to display my wall hanging sculptures.”  In her defense, this was a new experimental production, as sculptors and painters were inter mixed in the various buildings and venues for the first time, instead of segregated by buildings as in the past exhibitions.  The personnel were anxious to see how it would work and what the appearance of the overall show would be.   One probationary issue was the pegboard backdrops which were uniformly set up throughout the hall, which were essential for painter to display their work, and were completely covered by their paintings.  But for sculptors, the panels could be a distraction and served little or no purpose other than a back wall to the exhibited works.  Fortunately, I actually needed wall space since I also had wall hanging sculpture to display.

        Challenges of setting up a booth;  problems, solutions, and the final result

My original plans to set up an attractive display had unraveled, since all that generous space at the front of the hall was more than I had planned for.  The black fabric I had for a neutral backdrop was inadequate in size, the clips to hang it were too small to secure the fabric to the wood frame.  What to do.  Search for a store and buy more fabric? Not enough time.  I had too much space for my pre-planned booth décor and not enough black material for backdrop draperies.  I am stymied over the situation, and ponder my predicament.  How can I create a presentable art space?  I survey the scene once again, and there are six large wood pegboard panels that make up my booth backdrop.  There were six connected panels and I had six pieces to hang, so that matched up perfectly.

I had been chasing a full roll of pure white duct tape throughout the packing and shipping process. I always like to have duct tape on hand when building a booth, and well after the crate of carvings was shipped, I searched for it at the last minute before traveling, to no avail.

The white duct tape magically showed up in the shipping crate, and there it was in front of me at the booth site, along  with the black cloth.   The light bulb finally flashed on!  With the materials on hand, why not cut the cloth into rectangles matching each art piece, so each one is framed by the black material, then hang each cloth section by carefully taping the entire perimeter to the booth walls, this creating a white border around each black rectangle.  Each art piece would be framed by a striking black panel bordered by a two inch white strip.

I try a test run with a scrap of cloth, and the tape secures it perfectly!  How I love inspiring solutions when thinking on your feet! With the problem solved, I question how tedious and time consuming the process would be; everything would need to be cut and taped very carefully to have a sharp looking display.  The end result had to be appealing in appearance.  Confident enough to take the risk, I tore into the new founded project.

Before long I have tape and material chopped with scissors and scattered all over the place, and in the flourish of plastering white tape on the walls, I notice some quizzical glances coming my way.  With shreds of material strewn about and white duct tape dangling from the plain pegboard panels, a headliner artist from a neighboring booth came over.

“I have some black duct tape,” she hopefully suggested.  I tried to give her a look of reassurance, knowing full well that artists strive to have the best possible presentation and don’t welcome a sloppy or tarnished look from a neighboring booth.  She was unaware that I had a large selection of wall sculpture to hang on the backdrops.

While diving into my new plan, it became apparent that I was attracting more attention, and began picking up some comments from the show organizers and volunteers.  “What is he doing?”  I heard the show staff wondering.

Finished art display

Finished art display

As I polished up the final touches of my installation, I wondered if my presentation was passable. The show manager came by, stopped and observed my progress, and immediately exclaimed “Now that looks great!”  My neighboring artist who seemed hesitant at my erratic booth building came over.  “Terry, you crack me up!  That looks like modern art!” she exclaimed with enthusiasm.  It seemed that I had pulled it off, my presentation was being met with approval!  After verifying that everything I had done was extemporaneous, the show volunteers continued discussing my display, with comments like “I can’t believe he had not planned this,” and “well, artists can just do this type of thing.”

Finally, the opening night arrived, which is an invitation only event for exclusive guests.  A gentleman showed an extra interest in my free form eagle with naturally formed wings widely spread.  “Do you know the woodworker Nakashima?” he asks, and without a second thought I exclaim, “Do you mean George Nakashima from Bucks County, Pennsylvania?”

“That’s the one, the wood guru and furniture craftsman who also authored  Soul of the Tree” he replied.

I acknowledged that he had been a mentor and inspiration early in my wood art career. “In fact, I still have a Life magazine article about Nakashima from the early seventies that expounded on his spiritual connections with the trees and their special woods,”  I explained.  It was from that article that I first saw the term “free form” style, which described the natural edges with the contours and textures of the tree worked into the Nakashima furniture designs, and I have used that description for my natural style carvings ever since.

Carved eagle that found a place to land, by Terry Woodall

“Well, this eagle sculpture by Terry Woodall will be prominently displayed on our George Nakashima table that we purchased years ago,” he clarified as he proceeded with the purchase.

I was stunned and highly complimented.  It was the opening night of the exhibit, and I could visualize my eagle perched on a Nakashima table and go home happy, all from this one pleasant encounter.

Where on Earth?!  Waterfowl Festival, Easton, Maryland, 2015.  Also exhibiting in the 2016 festival, November 10-13

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Where on Earth?!

Heavy with the harvest season, a full moon bright as a bare light bulb lit up the conical peak jutting up from the vast plain that lay before us.  “Do you really think he landed on that snow capped mountain?” I asked my new found friend as we perched from a cliff at the opposite edge of the empty plain.

“That might be a stretch; anyway, it’s just a legend,” replied my traveling companion.

“But it had to get started somehow,” I came back at him, “It was probably an eccentric ole geezer living on the fringes that happened to attract lots of wild animals and made it his thing.”  Enthused by the idea, I continued excitedly, “he probably lived in a swamp type area, then he saved a bunch of his nature pals in a homemade boat, or maybe he had a whole barn that floated off.”

Feeding on the theory, the Englishman reiterated, “He probably was some backwoods character that attracted lots of animals, and maybe he built his wild pets a floating shed for refuge.  That could be how the story got started.”

“ Well,  maybe it’s not a legend,”  I clarified,  “ I saw really good photos in Life magazine, you could see the shape of Noah’s big boat outlined in the rock, all petrified and lodged way up high on that mountain right over there.”

To arrive at this spot adjacent to Mt. Ararat, the Brit named John with his land rover and I with my backpack had followed the tireless road past the limits of daylight and into the night. The hypnotic churning of engine and wheels took us past the last inhabited dwellings, some with lighted windows peering out like yellow eyes, but most dark and asleep, and onto the empty plateau. An icon on the map indicated an obscure ruin site just off the road that we followed.  If we could find it, we could camp there.

It happened to be Halloween, and the ghosts of Tamerlane and his Asian hordes rode the moon beams that lighted our way into the ruins. Geared down, the land rover groaned up a rough and rocky spur road until the lumpy boulders transformed into the man made forms that the map had promised.   On the steep hillside buffering the great plain, we became surrounded by beacons of minarets and citadel walls with gates, all resplendent with scroll works and mysteriously illuminated in the white light of the full moon.  The edifices perched on sliding hillsides were composed of the same chinks of stone, only the natural rubble was wildly scattered while the lonely ruins clung to a semblance of orderly construction.  Surely the vestiges of Tamerlane and the haunts of his armies hovered over this hollow shell of a once prominent fortress, since he was the Mongol conqueror who defeated the Ottoman Turks in the 14th century and overran this very site.

While contemplating the iconic mountain in the distance and the haunting ruins of this magical night, I nestled my hands into the deep leathery pockets of the thick sheepskin coat that blocked the evening chill of autumn.  Black angora goat hair shimmered around the coat’s perimeter, rustling with every movement, and emblazoned gold stars bumped out from the embroidery that contrasted with the tan sheepskin.  With this coat I had a statement piece in tune with the legions of backpacking youth out for adventure.

A month earlier, the seed was planted at the Pudding Shop, an impromptu gathering spot anointed by youthful adventurers at a crossroad of exotic lands; “Where are you going, where have you been?  What did you see?”  Hot topics were the alluring and fabled landmarks of Samarkand, Tashkent, and the Valley of the Bamiyan.   The hip attire that designated a seasoned adventure traveler was the ubiquitous sheepskin coat, and I wanted one. The seed grew as I meandered into the Grand Bazaar.

Sheep and goats are the life blood for the herders of the Anatolian Plateau, which are subject to constant currents of icy winds.  To combat this opposing force, the sheep layer on thick wool and shepherds adorn felt capes that are a full one half inch of compressed wool, and substantial enough to become a stand up mini tent lest the herder needs to hunker down from the icy fury.  Hence, the Grand Bazaar was a mecca of sheep skins and woolen goods.

A street urchin named Kazim had led me through the warrens of his proud city of ancient crossroads and into the hidden recesses of the bazaar, where I found many leather workers crafting a multitude of cloaks and vests of all lengths and styles.

Sheepskin and youthful adventure

Sheepskin and youthful adventure

The typical sheepskins worn by hardcore hippie backpackers were natural white, usually tattered and soiled after the long trek back from India or Afghanistan. After browsing through the vast selections of wools and designs, I jumped at the chance for a more customized version and concocted the perfect coat.  A friendly and helpful designer measured and explained the options, and I selected a white wool lining with a tan exterior, all from one sheepskin, along with all the aforementioned trimmings of gold stars and black angora goat hair. Though my artist career was faraway in the hazy and unknown future, I had an early affinity for creative design and thoroughly enjoyed orchestrating this project.

Back at the mountain fortress on Halloween night and hundreds of miles beyond the grand bazaar, my traveling partner and I continued clambering amongst the citadel and its surrounding walls.   While absorbing the uncanny night, we marveled over the day’s events.   The offbeat, rough roads had taken us around enormous Lake Van in the direction of Syria, until we were blocked by part of the Tigris- Euphrates river system.  Wide and muddy, the only hope of crossing was a village ferry used mainly for the local sheep and camels.  The ferry was a decrepit box of a raft, and as we observed preliminary to our attempted crossing, would half sink with a load of livestock by the time it reached the opposite shore a quarter mile downstream.  It seemed the entire village turned out to watch as we got the land rover stuck in the riverside mud and finally churned our way on board.   After a harrowing crossing and many thanks, we navigated on our way.

After that night in the shadow of Mt. Ararat, we parted ways in Tehran, John on his way to India and I to the Persian Gulf, and were never in contact again, except…  When composing this story, I recently searched google earth for the site of that mysterious Halloween night, and close to that spot was an icon with the entry “1969,  On the road to India, Mt. Ararat.”

And that prized sheepskin coat?  A few years later, while I was gyrating about on a night club dance floor near Mexico City, it was lifted off of the back of my chair and never seen again.

Where on Earth?!  Anatolian Plain of Turkey, and the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, 1969.

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Where on Earth?! Webcams on Wildlife

Published Sept. 8 on Stanford University’s MHAB blog site,  http://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/webcams-on-wildlife/

                  Can technology help connect people and artists with the natural beauty of this world, while reducing the footprints we leave?  Artist Terry J. Woodall shares his experiences from studying, sculpting, sharing and protecting the incredible freshwater seals of Russia’s Lake Baikal.

                                

The Sentinel (2009) Baikal Seal, Bronze, 7x19x12 inches, © Terry Woodall

The Sentinel (2009) Baikal Seal, Bronze, 7x19x12 inches, © Terry Woodall

For nature artists, the doors opened by up-to-date and futuristic technology are many. Options for wildlife observations have grown with stationary webcams, tiny cameras riding piggyback on wildlife subjects, remote controlled model airplanes [eco-drones] with video cams, and night vision-motion activated trail cameras. Some of these methods, like trail cameras, are easily available for an artist’s own research projects. Drones are the latest tool for accessing wildlife that is difficult to observe. Some models are now being used to monitor orangutan habitat in Indonesia, protect rhinos and elephants in Nepal, and to count chimps in Tanzania.

All of these new methods of wildlife observation points to a future of less human disturbances of the animals and their habitats, improving on the well-being of the natural world. An example in point and a method I personally followed and encouraged is a web cam installation in the wilderness of Siberia. This began with my artistic field study on Lake Baikal, Russia.

A career long interest in aquatic mammals initiated my proposal for an artistic field study of the freshwater Baikal Seals as a Flag Expedition, which is a study program of rare and endangered wildlife and their habitats sponsored by the Artists for Conservation Foundation. Besides being unique as the world’s only freshwater seal species, they reside in a land locked Siberian lake of extraordinary physical features.

The initial focus of the 2008 expedition was to actually locate and observe the animals. That is a daunting task for a species spending most of their lives in water, in one of the world’s largest lakes, and one that is surrounded by rugged wilderness. To assure close encounters with the species and for researching them, I enlisted the aid of key Lake Baikal entities:  Zabaikalsky National Park and its nerpa habitat, Baikal Wave environmental organization, The Nature Museum of Irkutsk, and the Tahoe-Baikal Institute head quartered in Lake Tahoe, California.

Although Lake Baikal is vast, it also confines the seals, which is an opportunity to monitor them as an indicator pinniped species in the face of climate change and other impacts. Lake Baikal serves as a living laboratory representing all the world’s pinnipeds, which are far flung and difficult to study. Using this lake as a mechanism for monitoring pinnipeds coping with climate changes has another advantage. For over a century, Russian scientists have kept accurate records on climate and seal numbers and continue to monitor the seal’s well-being.

 Baikal Curl (2013) Baikal Seal, Bronze, 18x16x13 inches, © Terry Woodall

Baikal Curl (2013) Baikal Seal, Bronze, 18x16x13 inches, © Terry Woodall

One project that I pledged to support, which was only conversation during my flag expedition visitations with the Limniological Institute and the remote seal habitat, has now become a reality. Scientists and biologists from the Lake Baikal Museum have installed a web cam on the remote Ushkanii Islands, where numerous Baikal Seals gather every summer and where my AFC artistic field study took place. The museum is now presenting real time video feeds of this seal rookery on large screens, which can also be viewed on their website. Their objective is for the world to see the only freshwater seals without traveling to their sensitive habitat, a method that could be helpful in protecting other species by limiting human disturbance.

Unfortunately, it is possible that rare and exotic wildlife in their own wild surroundings will become less accessible in the future. There are those who say too much eco-tourism access harms the environment, such as popular hiking trails of Nepal that become littered with trash.  Too many people can love a critical habitat to death. More fragile wildlife areas are becoming off limits to human access as habitat diminishes, and in a new trend, sometimes replaced with webcam visuals for the public. This is the direction taken by Russian biologists and authorities at Lake Baikal’s Ushkanni Islands to protect their rare freshwater seals.

Such a progression is a double edged sword. On one hand, the Baikal island wilderness that I explored, devoid of any lights or cell phone towers on horizons in all directions, has been invaded with mechanical devices of wire and steel set in concrete. For most artists, nothing can substitute for “being out there.” Obtaining visual material that every nature artist utilizes is a challenging task, albeit usually an enjoyable task when in the field.  Field work remains an important privilege for many artists, not only for observing, but also for living the experience and interacting with nature. The same breeze batting your face sets a bird into flight, as an artist attempts to grasp the full spirit of nature events.

On the other hand, visitors at the Baikal Museum, which is in the most populated fringes of the lake, can now access views of this wilderness and its rare wildlife subjects by virtue of this installation, a wind-powered webcam. Millions of people worldwide can now observe these rare seals in real time via the internet, without visiting or disturbing the actual site.

A similar project is planned on the Oregon Coast near my home and art studio. Simpson Reef hosts four species of pinnipeds that are closed off to public access and is particularly restricted during the harbor seal birthing season. Roadside sites with sweeping overviews of seal and whale activity are open to the public. About five miles from these reefs in the fishing village of Charleston, a new marine life museum has opened. Part of the long term plan for the University of Oregon center, and one which I hope to be involved in, is to connect pinniped activities to a museum viewing screen via webcam.

Since we are tossed about between the fine line of disturbing the wildlife that we revere and enjoying the access for observing them, the technology for observing from further distances may be a positive trend. More people will have the opportunity to enjoy nature and become more appreciative of the wonderful gifts of the natural world without leaving any footprints.

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Where on Earth?! Hood River

We had never been here before, and a brushy, steep slope made river access a challenge as we made our way down an old, overgrown logging track seeking trails to the water’s edge.  The river plunged through a deep canyon to our left, and our every attempt to reach the waterway ended at the edge of cliffs a full hundred feet above our goal.  An ominously steep grassy meadow adorned with a makeshift cross memorial sloped down to the abrupt drop off, and I thought of a child losing his footing.   However, “No Diving” signs appeared about the same time and macho young males diving from the cliffs into the punchbowl below quickly replaced the child of my concerns.

As we returned back to the main track, a fisherman appeared up ahead, coming up the old road from the downhill slope to the river.  At six in the morning, he was the only other soul on the river, and two large salmon dangled from each of his hands.  An obvious local steeped in the ways of “the Hood,” the long haired guy jokingly ducked out of sight as if to hide his good luck catches of the early morning light.  Hardened fishermen have a non-disclosure tendency when it comes to secret fishing holes and successful techniques, and he wished to avoid attention.

Following his new found passion, my son Josh had recruited me for this break of dawn pursuit.  Armed with a degree in biology and time spent at Hogg’s Jo/Mar Hardcore Tackle Shop across the street from his home, Josh was well equipped to pursue the salmonids that call the northwest rivers their home.

As the fellow fisherman returned to the road and continued his homeward trek past us, I laughed and admired his catches, prodding him about the river’s secrets.  “Can we access the river somewhere off the edge along here?”  I queried.  “Oh sure,” he replied, “If you want to pay a ten thousand dollar fine.”  This sounded far fetched to us at the time, but we later learned a fifty thousand dollar fine could be rendered just for catching and keeping an endangered bull trout.

“Oh, we know there is a “no fishing” boundary line somewhere just below the falls down there,” I responded.  This waterfall poured into the punchbowl, which was protected from fishing along with everything else upstream.  As he trudged off with his two fine catches of the day, he softened up and turned back to us.  “Just keep going ‘til this road ends, then take a trail the left.  It will take you straight down to the river.”  Though some fishermen play games with lack of advice or blatant misinformation, this fellow was obviously sincere, and, sure enough, we made our way down to a gravel bar buffering a perfect salmon hole.

What a magical spot!  Just below the punchbowl and its waterfalls, the gravel bar was at the apex of the East and West forks of the Hood River.  The East fork on our right rushed down in an impassible torrent, crashing into the gentle West fork that backed up into the deep and wide salmon rest stop.  After this confluence, the main fork rushed onwards to its meeting with the Columbia.

On its approach to the punchbowl, the west fork funnels through a long, narrow chute lined with vertical cliffs a hundred feet in height.  The cliffs widen out into a giant bowl as the torrent spills over a rock ledge and into the natural amphitheater carved into the basalt cliffs of the gorge.  Opposite the main falls, another beautifully plumed waterfall cascades into the bowl from a greater height, originating from a smaller side creek.  This powerful sanctuary of nature has been revered by Native Americans for its bounty of teeming salmon since its discovery by the earliest of peoples.

Those admirable “fish in the hands” of the lucky fellow passing by were spring run chinook salmon, or “Springers”, and along with the summer steelhead moving through these waters, were the main target of our fishing endeavor.  Swimming from the ocean into the rivers to spawn in the fall is the natural cycle of the salmon, but some chinooks hold out to feed in the ocean for an extra four or five months and complete their river migration in the spring and early summer.  These Springers are highly sought after by those in the know and salmon connoisseurs, for these fish are extra rich and oily due to their extended feeding.  I have been fortunate enough to have these fish, and when lightly grilled within hours of being caught, it is an experience worthy of any gourmet’s bucket list.

But as it turned out, not this time, and we left the river empty handed.  Josh lamented that we missed the break of dawn and the best window for success, which our passerby had met, while we were an hour later [although we were on another section of the main stem at dawn}.  Still, such an outdoor experience is not without merit; there is the excitement of the chase along with the peaceful therapy of being immersed in magnificent riverside nature settings, and I received an unexpected reward shortly afterwards.

In an amazing coincidence, a flyer landed in my mail box the day after our fishing adventure with a banner proclaiming “We Did It!” It was from Western Rivers Conservancy, a progressive organization that works to protect rivers of the American West while keeping them in the public domain.   The full color photo on the polished brochure was of the exact spot we had been fishing!  The confluence of the East and West Fork Hood River! And the headline proclaimed that WRC had successfully deeded the surrounding land to the county park system, including the entire punchbowl falls area.

: “Myrtlewood Migration”, by Terry Woodall, and part of the 2008 “Salmon for the Sandy” fundraiser sponsored by WRC, is on permanent display at One World Trade Center, ground floor window, on Salmon Street in downtown Portland, Oregon. Length: 48”

: “Myrtlewood Migration”, by Terry Woodall, and part of the 2008 “Salmon for the Sandy” fundraiser sponsored by WRC, is on permanent display at One World Trade Center, ground floor window, on Salmon Street in downtown Portland, Oregon. Length: 48”

WRC has worked ardently to protect some of the most terrific stretches of wilderness waters in the west, and I have given them my full support ever since being involved in a fund raising event with salmon art works [see photo].

 

"Myrtlewood Migration" Detail

“Myrtlewood Migration” Detail

Where on Earth?!  Hood River, Oregon.  The river called “The Hood” is fed by glaciers and snow melt of that monolith of the Cascade Mountains, and Oregon’s highest peak, Mt. Hood.

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Where on Earth?! Columbia River

“Teeming” is an oft used term to describe the spectacles of numbers in nature.  “Countless” also comes to mind, and these terms speak well to air borne species when they appear in great abundance.

Although insects harbor the most numbers, a better term for, say, numerous ants covering a counter top might be “hordes”, hordes of ants, or perhaps a frantic “gawd zillion” would aptly frame the moment.  Masses on the move.  But birds, our avian friends, can have colors, serenity, gracefulness and unique demeanors that, when displayed in great numbers, rises to the top of nature’s wildest revelations.  Even ordinary, everyday birds.

For many years, from my wooded hillsides, I have observed a pattern of movement that occurs at dusk; on late summer evenings when light is fading, but also year round.  Always at dusk.  Usually I hear them first, sometimes I see them first, and almost always they follow the far ridge line across the narrow valley deep into the Coast Range foothills.  Rarely, they will flock directly overhead. Presumably, they navigate the ridge line to their secret and secluded forest roosts.

They are flocks of cawing, clamoring crows, distant legions darkening the rosy twilight.  Black crows just like every other black crow, only compounded into impressive numbers.  The explanation for this sometimes daily exodus might be that they are heading for the hills after a hard day of scavenging sandwiches and other tid-bits from the towns nearby. On one occasion, they pecked holes in a bag of dog food left in the back of my pickup truck in a downtown parking lot, and were still going at it when I returned to the vehicle and shooed them away.   From my hillside vantage point, downtown would be down the valley and across the bay, about five miles, well, “as the crow flies”.

Just when the streams of black, flapping wings on the far horizon seem endless, a break in the swarming cloud would signal a diminishing.  In the gaps of open sky, stragglers would keep coming, small groups of five to ten at a time, squawking to keep up with the mother ship, until there was only open sky.  Yet, unbelievably, another major flock would follow in waves, and on and on it would go, until finally, a few cawing also-rans would be the end of it.  But wait, there’s two more intent on catching up.

Transition from this ridgescape to a seascape sixty miles south, and a major coastal highway parallels the constant swells of the Pacific Ocean with wide vistas of sand to surf line at eye level.  Directly to the west of the straight and level route, hillocks of sand topped with tufts of dune grass appear like moguls on a ski run.  This bumpy section of dune scape becomes laced with channels and ponds of water separated from the voluminous Pacific by another stretch of dune moguls and a continuous sand berm that forms the last feeble defense against the forceful ocean.  Finally, a wide expanse of tide swept beach, damp and cleaned by receding waves, completes the meeting of land and sea.

Normally this expansive sea coast vista is devoid of everything except drift logs scattered like twisted pretzels and occasional pockets of sea stacks that define the numerous beach boundaries.  But on one special trip south along this coastline, the description of “teeming” birds came into full focus.

The typical sight of seagulls scattered along these beaches became more and more apparent, until larger than normal groups were commonplace.  After passing another sea stack barrier, the beach exploded with phenomenal numbers of seagulls.  Every square foot of sand was home to a seagull, thousands upon thousands of them, as mile after mile of wide beaches were occupied by the countless masses.  The scene was like the gathering of breeding colonies documented on Antarctic isles.

Numbers of western gulls can reach 10,000 in breeding colonies on islands offshore of California during the bird’s nesting and breeding period of May through July.  Since I observed the afore mentioned  event in mid- November and much further north than the California gatherings, the purpose of this particular gull fest remains a mystery to me.

It’s not the end of this main artery south along the coast, but with nightfall it is the end of our time traveling its route.  We step outside our destination hotel that is like a stylish “little Italy” and clamber aboard a boisterous cable car.  Clanging along, people dangling from its sides, the cable car grinds up and up the steep hill, a hill with a name.  Nob Hill.  At the top of Nob Hill, with city lights sparkling below, we pile out in front of a modest but ornate concert hall.  The fevered throngs sweep us inside, where Van Morrison carries the night.

Another place, another era back in the currents of time, and I am piloting a hippie van south, way south.  A real hippie van, a VW bus converted into a camper, complete with a homemade, pop up sunroof.   A leaky sunroof, but we are on an adventure and we are happy.

The colors start with a few bright dots appearing on the mundane stretches of swampland that separate the highway from the gulf stream waters.  As we roll along, the colors multiply, until the vast swamps are coated in bright pink with splashes of white. The now awe inspiring vistas of these lowland swamps are filled with thousands of Roseate Spoonbills,  tall waders as bright pink as their flamingo cousins.

After miles of this spectacle of nature, another call of nature beckons and I coast to a stop alongside the sparsely traveled road.   A modest expanse of knee high grass buffers the road from the inland jungle, and I wade in halfway to the tree line.  After doing my part to help irrigate the roadside strip, I noticed a tire partly buried in the grass close by.   But it is not a black tire.  It is a slate gray tire.  Curiosity set in, and I poked at the not so normal looking tire with a stick.  Immediately, a slender head attached to a very long neck shot up from the tall grass about ten feet away from my prodding stick.   Fierce eyes zeroed in like laser beams as the round gray tire began to uncoil and sprawl out.

My curiosity satisfied, I escaped the boa constrictors neighborhood within milliseconds and once again prodded the VW bus into travel mode.

Colors contribute much to the spectacles of bird life, but even shades of white have an appeal.  Great white birds appeared in another theater of nature where pinnacles of dark conifers and stately hardwoods buffer a wide river of the deepest jade green.  One ancient hardwood has many worn down branches and tree segments battered open as it struggles for dominance along a crowded river bank, and these openings are occupied by a colony of Great Egrets.  The bare branches and the many hollow spots in the tree’s structure, which shows signs of previous nest building, create ready made perches for the preening egrets.  Looking across the river at the brilliant white egrets filling this enormous tree is an impressive sight, and I counted close to seventy of the large birds.

In yet another northwest drainage, many ponds, small lakes, lagoons and streams buffer the Columbia River from the abrupt cliff walls that line the gorge with thousand foot ridges, and even more water pours directly off the cliffs forming numerous waterfalls.  One string of connected lakes hosted a hundred or more tundra swans involved in gentle rhythms of nature.  Clustered together at the base of a cliff, they slowly swam to and fro, around and around, occasionally dipping their long necks in the shallows, beaks uploading the rich nutrients of the deep mud.  A nameless waterfall streamed down the cliff face behind them, creating a pastoral scene of the winter migrants.  Two more rafts of swans content with their winter haven were also spread out in the string of small lakes.

In the feathered world, pure white seems as vibrant a color as any, especially for larger species, and another spectacle of nature unfolded when the subtle, neutral  color was refracted by crowds of graceful waterfowl.

Tundra swans and unnamed waterfall

Tundra swans and unnamed waterfall

swans

Where on Earth?!   Ridge top crows; coastal foothills of Coos Bay, Oregon.  Seagulls; Southern Oregon Coast, 2013.  Roseate Spoonbills; gulf coast near Tampico, Mexico, winter 1976.  Great Egrets; Coos River, Oregon.  Tundra Swans; Columbia River, Oregon, winter 2016.

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Where on Earth?! Easton, Maryland, 2015

The evening of November 12 kicks off the 45th Annual Easton Waterfowl Festival, a celebration of waterfowl and conservation in the Chesapeake Bay region.  The downtown area of quaint and colonial Easton, Maryland, is transformed into numerous art venues and sporting activities through Sunday, November 15.

After accepting an invitation to exhibit at this event, my focus became the driftwood art forms that had achieved awards at the recent Artists for Conservation exhibition and would have an appeal in the marshland environment;  herons, eagles, pelicans, all carved from driftwood.  However, the usually smooth sailing of preparing works for an art event was upended in the October chaos that ensued.

Driftwood Eagle, by Terry Woodall

Driftwood Eagle, by Terry Woodall

Finally, a few days ago, I finished building a five foot tall plywood crate nailed to a pallet.  In went a four foot humpback whale and its driftwood-wave base, an equally tall pelican snatching a fish, numerous herons and more, all carved from driftwood and myrtlewood.  On went the lid and off it goes to be presented in the Armory Building for my second debut in the festival.

And that October chaos? Early in the month, surreal and bizarre real life events unfolded that almost negated any plans I had of exhibiting my art on the other side of the continent.  It began with the dreadful Umpqua Community College shooting.

You see, in 1933 my mother was born in Roseburg, Oregon, and I was born there, as were all of my siblings and most of my children.  Although my adult life was spent a hundred miles away on the Pacific Ocean coastline, I was raised in the vicinity of Roseburg, and attended that same college years ago.

On top of that emotional impact, I spent most of the following week by my mother’s side as she slowly slipped away from an illness.  At her bedside a week after the shooting, I watched the television as the president landed a few miles away and bivouacked at her old high school. She would have liked that.  She passed away the next day.

October is over, life begins anew, and things are falling into place again, after just more evidence that “life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.”  [John Lennon]

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Best in Show, “Matters of the Heart”

"Matters of the Heart" by Terry Woodall

“Matters of the Heart” by Terry Woodall

A driftwood sculpture of two herons, “Matters of the Heart”, was honored with the “Best in Show” award at the 8th Annual Artists for Conservation International Exhibit of Nature Art in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Artist Terry Woodall was also presented with a Medal of Excellence Award at the gala opening night of September 10 at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in downtown Vancouver.

AFC President Jeffery Whiting, left, presents Terry Woodall with his awards.

AFC President Jeffery Whiting, left, presents Terry Woodall with his awards.

“Matters of the Heart” will continue to be on display with the Artists for Conservation art exhibit at the Grouse Mountain Resort in North Vancouver September 19 – 30.

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