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Fiery forest revisited

Exactly one year ago this month, the White Mountains of eastern Arizona were ablaze with the Wallow Fire, the largest fire in state history.  The human-caused fire scorched more than 530,000 acres in four counties in Arizona and one in New Mexico, significantly damaging or destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness habitat, as well as historic and residential buildings, water and timber resources, and range-land.

This weekend, E and I hiked and camped in the high-altitude mixed conifer-aspen, near-alpine grassland biome near Mt. Baldy, curious to see how the fire had affected some of the areas we know and love.  In the few days we were there we found big changes, but perhaps not as drastic as we feared.  We were able to camp and hike in favorite places, each scarred but not destroyed by the wildfire’s effects. The campground was only marginally burnt.  I would love to know if this close call was a natural quirk of fire topography, or if firefighters saved the campground.

<< aspen and ponderosa forest damaged by the 2011 Wallow Fire (Photoshopped edit, A.Shock photo)

Our relief that things weren’t worse than they were is the result of a non-technical, tourist viewpoint.  For residents, both human and wildlife, the fire changed the landscape in ways that will not be restored in our lifetime. Blackened trees stand everywhere, some killed outright, others damaged and struggling.  Fallen trees — some reduced to a trunk-sized trail of ash — criss-cross the forest floor.  Some of the downed trees were felled as part of federal and state agencies’ safety strategies intended to make the most seriously burnt areas safer for hunters, hikers, and fishermen: many hazard trees near roads, structures, in campgrounds, and along trails have been cut down and piled into charred heaps by feller-buncher equipment and saw-crews.  Bright yellow signs posted at every trailhead and forest road junction caution people venturing into the back country that flames are not the only dangers of fire: once the fires are out, flash flooding, falling trees and branches, and landslides are the legacy of wildfire for seasons to come.

But not all of the forest suffered equally: crown-fire areas, where the flames jumped from treetop to treetop, burnt hotter than others and show more severe damage.  Ground-fire areas burnt spottily, while other places were only lightly toasted.  Some pockets were not touched by flames at all. Yet each of these places shows a welcome resurgence of life.

>> a foot-tall aspen regrowing in the shelter of a charred ponderosa trunk (Photoshopped edit, A.Shock photo)

Although Ponderosa pines appear to be hard hit in many places, aspen trees and firs growing alongside them often seem to have sustained less damage. In addition, 2012’s snowmelt and spring rains provided most areas with a green carpet of grass, re-sprouted shrubs, and young trees.  Elk cows trail gangly calves, and busy Barn swallows, Hermit thrushes and Brewer’s blackbirds have bug-filled beaks, carrying food back to their nestling broods.  A pair of Bald eagles has built a nest in the woods crowning a peninsula of a popular fishing lake: a joyful reason for an area closure, unlike the parts of the forest still closed to recreation because of severe fire damage.

<< watercolor sketch of small aspen that survived the fire (A.Shock)

The flame-colored sky in the background of the top image is reminiscent of the fires that swept through the area last year. But it’s just a mid-June sunset glowing behind the aspens and Ponderosa pines where we camped. Ironically, the blazing sunset is caused by smoke particles in the air, wafting from wildfires currently burning in Arizona and New Mexico — the Poco fire near Young, AZ, and the enormous, lightning-caused Whitewater-Baldy Fire in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest , now classed as the largest fire in the history of that state.

A sketchy bird list

Not keen on enacting the Mad Dogs and Englishmen scenario, E and I lounged for a couple of hours during the heat of the day in the shade of a wild palm grove last weekend.

<< Southwest Palm Grove, Tierra Blanca Mountains, Anza-Borrego State Park (photo A.Shock)

This is a well-known oasis, and not terribly remote — but a destination doesn’t have to require too much hiking before you can expect to have the place primarily to yourself, especially if it’s slightly uphill. With only occasional others wandering through, we ate lunch and waited for the heat of the day to subside so we could march back across the desert to our campsite in the low sun.

E doesn’t sit still very well, but he was amenable under the circumstances: just feet from the moist green calm of the grove, the white desert glared through dark trunks, reminding us of the hot, spiny, and hard path home.  He read, and poked around the substantial grove with his camera.  There was plenty to look at: like windmills, palm trees have a quality which readily vacillates between stateliness and creepiness according to wind, light, and the observer’s mood.  At noon on a calm day, these palms seemed merely sleepy and obliging, providing shade and coolth to travelers, both human and animal.  I sat on a rock, choosing this outlier palm to scratch into a small Moleskine sketchbook with an excessively-finepointed pen, fussing over capturing the complicated but orderly rhythm of shadow and light on the pleated, fringed fans, and considering how to show the blackness of the trunk without losing the way the sun picked out its checkered texture. Slatted shadows wheeled around us as the sun rolled across the afternoon sky.

Sitting still is a wonderful way to see birds, especially at a frondy desert oasis with high perches for cawwing ravens and low cover for furtive Lincoln’s sparrows and simultaneously sneaky and showy Common yellowthroats.  Instead of keeping a list in a notebook, I wrote species’ names as they manifested in the palm’s portrait. It was possible to use a cramped scrap of background for this because bird diversity was low — the list was quite short, even with non-avian species like ants and butterflies included, and the few words provided the perfect coarse-textured, mid-range value for the desert beyond the grove.

<< Look closely, this isn’t just a landscape, or a portrait of a stately middle-aged California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera), it’s a bird list (click, twice, to enlarge).

Normally, previous years’ fronds cloak the trunks of Washingtonia palms to the ground, giving them a mammoth-legged look: sturdy, shaggy and brown.  But this grove had burned sometime in the past few decades, leaving the surviving older palms bare-legged and carbony black, smooth and manicured like well-behaved resort palms.  Little palms grew up around them, a decade or two old themselves, and bearing all their previous fans on their trunks naturally, indicating they’d sprouted after the last fire.

>> glowing spines (photo E.Shock)

We timed the return trip well, and eventually hiked back to camp with the low sun behind us.  It back-lit the cholla with a golden haze, and ignited the early Scott’s orioles perched on red ocotillo tips into melodious yellow flames.  But the orioles wouldn’t hold still for a photo, and there was no time for a sketch; darkness falls abruptly in the desert.

Posted by Allison on Mar 31st 2012 | Filed in art/clay,birding,botany,drawn in,field trips,natural history | Comments (5)

Drawn in: The Curious Case of the Owl in the Notebook

The VLO (Very Large Owl) sculpture “Windblown Owl” found a new home recently.  The next VLO is underway, currently drying and eventually migrating to a client in California (shhhh, it’s a surprise), and I wanted to use the same greenish-golden surface coloring and glazing effect on the new owl.

I had a basic idea of what had been applied to “Windblown”, but I needed specifics.  That meant doing a bit of sleuthing.  The obvious place to start was my own notebook, which by means of hasty drawings, measurements, and notes records much if not all Three Star Owl clay work, theoretically in detail, although in practice I’m not always as good about it as I should be.  Happily, next to a small sketch, I found helpful marginalia on the slips and glazes used on “Windblown”.

Windblown Owl VLO sketch (photo and drawing A.Shock, click to enlarge) >>

I enjoyed revisiting the drawing, which made me smile, the owl looks so much like a dog riding in a car with its head out the window.  The discoloration of the white background page is a photo-editing effect, a result of mercilessly and excessively bumping the contrast for more stimulating web viewing, as is the ability to see the drawings on the back side of the page, which in the actual book are only faint ghosts of lines.  Shades of paleographical or even forensic document investigation:

  • “I say, Holmes, you can see right through the page!”
  • “Precisely, Watson.  Evidently our potter had made a bowl with a conical foot and hummingbird squares stamped on it, some little time before glazing the large nocturnal bird.”
  • “By Jove, Holmes, how can you possibly know that there were hummingbirds on the bowl?”
  • “Because I’m eating my porridge out of it right now.”
  • [Watson chuckles] “Capital, Holmes — a bowl with cleverly stamped hummingbirds on it.  Well done!”
  • “And, may I add, my dear fellow, it’s made entirely by hand…”

By the way, definitely Rathbone and Bruce, here, I’d say. Brett and Hardwicke would never have shilled for Three Star Owl.

Posted by Allison on Sep 16th 2011 | Filed in art/clay,drawn in,effigy vessels,owls,three star owl | Comments (7)

What luck!

This morning, I found a golden egg, high up in a tree.

Nestled into the rough bark of our backyard mesquite, a magical bird had laid a golden egg.  This was excellent: what a windfall! — my fortune was secured, if only I could reach it.

But it was too far over my head, so I had to satisfy myself with longing for its golden curves through binoculars.

And guess what, it wasn’t an egg at all, but some type of -quat or other: kum-, or perhaps lo-. Yes, that was what it was: a small orange fruit, probably a loquat since a neighbor has a tree, wedged into somewhere safe by a bird, or maybe a squirrel, to be retrieved later.

Who would do such a thing, hiding a golden treasure in plain sight?  The jammer would have to have sufficient strength, beak/jaw gape, toe-grasp, cleverness and agility to handle hauling a small fruit into a tree, and stashing it on a vertical trunk.  There are several candidates, but I strongly suspect the Curve-billed thrashers, who have just fledged their ravenous brood and are working incessantly, combing every crevice in the yard to feed their greedy-gaped offspring.  These industrious foragers will eat anything, seed, suet, bug, or fruit.  And they have an eye for treasure, just as golden as loquats.

(All images A.Shock).

Posted by Allison on Jun 7th 2011 | Filed in birds,botany,drawn in,nidification,oddities,unexpected,yard list | Comments (2)

The Ganskopf Collection: Epilogue

(This is the FINAL final episode, the Epilogue to an eight part series. To read all the episodes, click here: The Ganskopf Incident or on The Ganskopf Incident category in the sidebar to the left. The earliest posts are at the bottom, scroll down to read them chronologically from the bottom up.)

“That’s what conservation departments are for.”

That remark by Dr. Danneru stayed with me a long time, quite as long as the shock of seeing the fragile amber “fetish” destroyed by infinitesimally improbable misfortune and scofflaw beverage consumption. His controlled tone was either supremely insensitive or genuinely kind: either a willful effort to deny the magnitude of the loss, or a desperate reassurance intended to put things in perspective for us. I’ve never been able to decide which. Coming from the person most responsible for the disaster, it was certainly self-serving.

In any case, the statement was mere bravado – the piece was unrecoverable, as he must have known. My stained, smeared drawing of it was used as evidence in the insurance inquiry and subsequent lawsuit, and I had to return to Lassiter for a day in court where I answered a lot of questions asked by precisely-speaking men in expensive suits. Surprisingly, the question of tea never came up. Apparently ranks had been closed in the face of investigation, perhaps agreements reached. Museums, collectors, academia, and the legal profession are a squabbling ménage, yet they perennially cohabit, with law enforcement and insurance their prying neighbors, ears pressed hard to the walls.

I never heard the outcome of the case, but I was fascinated to hear that the monetary figure in question – the insured value of the shattered piece – was put at an amount well above what I could earn in a year. This official valuation had been provided by an unexpected expert witness: Dr. Darius Danneru, PhD, MacCormack University, member ESSA, ICER, fellow of the Szeringka Institute, etc etc, who, it seemed to me, was hardly impartial in the matter but who turned out to be the world’s leading expert on the subject, which explains a lot.

Except for a final payment for the straw owls drawing, I never heard from Dr. Harrower again, or went back to the Ganskopf Collection to draw. I don’t know if this was because the project was finished anyway, or if it ended precipitously as a result of the calamitous mishap. There had been dialog between us concerning the drawing of the archaic stone owls, which Dr. Harrower insisted he hadn’t requested, and so did not intend to pay for. Rather than pressing for payment, I called him to ask for the drawing back. In a refined Texas drawl, he politely agreed to send it, but the only thing the mail ever brought was an apology from him with a message that he seemed to have misplaced the drawing. I let it drop at that.

My other drawings of owl “fetishes” eventually appeared (without credit, to my astonishment and irritation) in a popular archæology magazine – a news stand “glossy” – accompanying a fluffy article about mystery artifacts by Dr. Harrower, confirming the moonlighting theory. I thought the illustrations looked pretty good, despite the printer having used a heavy-handed red in the page (nobody thought to send me the color proofs to check), and the layout was a welcome addition to my portfolio. Of course I’m no expert, but the text seemed somewhat trivial to me; and I keep recalling that poorly restrained, haughty sniff Dr. Harrower’s colleague had emitted at the mention of his name.

Strangely, not long after the incident I received a cold-call from someone named Rory Zohn at NEMECH, the New Elgin Museum of Cultural History, inviting me to interview for a full time position as Illustrator for the Unsecured Antiquities Collection. The interview got off to an odd start: Dr. Zohn’s first question wasn’t to see my portfolio or about previous job experience, but to ask me to recount the Ganskopf incident, even though he seemed to already know a lot about it. I didn’t leave anything out or spare anyone, including Dr. Danneru and his illicit mug of tea, and when I got to the comment about conservation departments, my interviewer just shook his head, muttering something that sounded like “supercilious bastard,” but clearly smiling behind his beard. I got the job, and I’ve been working there since, now fully acquainted with what “unsecured antiquities” are, and glad to not be surviving on freelance work alone. Stranger still, just last week while rummaging through a flat file at work, I found the archaic stone owls drawing. Rory said he’d had it for quite a while but had forgotten, and I was supposed to take it home. Somehow, distracted by his bad joke about the owls finally coming home to roost, I never heard how they had come to him.

I’ve always wondered what happened to Miss Laguna – almost immediately after the incident, her name was gone from the staff roster on the Gankopf Foundation website. I couldn’t find out if the poor woman had been fired, or if she had quit. Perhaps she had fallen back on her night job. I wondered if anyone – like for instance the person whose carelessness had lost her her career – had made any effort on her behalf. Considering his apparent lack of concern about the shattered “fetish”, it seemed unlikely. Yet, thinking of my own out-of-the-blue offer of a plum job at NEMECH, I had to admit it wasn’t impossible.

One thing I know with certainty: whoever replaced Miss Laguna as Ganskopf Librarian is bound to be a dragon for regulations concerning food and drink in the reading room. That was one damn costly mug of tea.



Coming soon, the next series, a prequel to the Ganskopf Incident:

“What happened at Beit Bat Ya’anah”

or, Dario and the Mother of Owls


Posted by Allison on Sep 13th 2010 | Filed in art/clay,artefaux,drawn in,pseudopod waltz,The Ganskopf Incident | Comments (1)

in which I reveal my graphic petticoats along with an Orange-billed sparrow

… or, saving shots by going artsy…

Not all photos are created equal, especially if you’re an amateur photog like me who asks my competent but limited point-and-shoot digital camera to do things it wasn’t meant to do, like capture images of cryptic birds high in trees with too many leaves against the light on an overcast day through a fogged-up scope (see previous potoo posts) in a hurry.

And, some birds don’t have the courtesy to pose standing still six feet away in the open in the light for an hour while some fudge-fingered camera-camel like me tries to get a shot off before they get on with their lives finding scarce food, competing for mates, and evading swift-grasping predators.

<< app-altered digital image of an Orange-billed sparrow (photo and alteration A.Shock).  Orange-billed sparrows (Arremon aurantiirostris) are striking but rather skulking sparrows inhabiting moist woodlands from southern Mexico to northern South America, not terribly uncommon or hard to see but tough to photo.  A bold black-and-white head pattern, a lovely olive back, golden epaulette and neon orange bill make them distinctive as they hop about the shadowy forest floor in small flocks.

So, not all photos are created equal.  I have lots of “unequal” photos from trips, including this last Costa Rica visit.  Despite expert bird-finding leadership turning up an unexpected number of fabulous sightings by eye, dim and moisty cloud forests, furtive species (and you know who you are, Silvery-fronted tapaculo), and awkwardly-wielded umbrellas all cut down the number of useful pix to post here.  Some species (Quetzales for instance) I missed entirely; others, such as the Orange-billed sparrow, I only got blurry, distant, or otherwise unusable images of.  Photoshop (even the archaic version I’m still using) and iPhoto are both hugely helpful, and have saved many a photo for publication.  But now I have new tools — cribs, if you insist — to produce internet-ready images for this space from unpromising jpegs.  (Let me add FYI, in case the reader hasn’t read the fine print at, that this is not a commercial blog, and I receive no compensation whatever for testing, using, praising, demonstrating, criticizing, or even just mentioning any product, service, or company).

A recent fairly unintentional acquisition of an iPad has given me tools that are similar to Adobe Illustrator and its kin, but are even more user-friendly: SketchmeeHD, SketchbookPro, and TypeDrawing.  Here is the step-by-step process by which I used these apps to turn an unusable jpeg image into a lively illustration for this post:

<< Far left, original unaltered shot of Orange-billed sparrow: subject too small to see.  Near left, cropped to zoom, the colorful plumage and bill are captured, but the lack of focus due to movement and low light is painfully evident.  Verdict: not publishable in either form.

So, I sicced the iPad app “SketchmeeHD” on the cropped version of the original jpeg.  This cool application renders an original image into an algorhythmically-generated series of layered colors and strokes, as if it were drawn from colored pencil.  It’s easy and quick for the operator (and entertaining, as the image is produced in stages as if being drawn before your eyes by an invisible hand), and nearly but not entirely idiot-proof: there are choices to make, such as opacity, density and substrait.

<< These were the results. It looks adequate artistically (click to enlarge to see pencil-marks), but it’s a bit mechanical looking, sterile.  Annoyingly, but not surprisingly, the lack of focus was faithfully transmitted from the source image, and not magically cured.  Worse, from a birder’s point of view — and probably a bird’s, too — all the distinctive colors have been muted to the point of dullness.  Where’s the olive back?  The golden epaulette?  The eye? The eponymous orange bill, for crying out loud? These are Important Characteristics, Field Marks, and not to be done without, even if this is not a field guide.  Especially if they’re only eradicated by the mere randomness of digital manipulation.  Verdict: insufficient improvement, unpublishable.

But, I have recourse.  At this point, I opened the SketchmeeHD-altered jpeg with SketchbookPro, another iPad app.  By “drawing” with my finger on the iPad’s interactive screen and selecting parameters such as color, point type, width and opacity, I was able to restore liveliness and color to the automatically-generated “pencil strokes” by adding my own hand-controlled digital marks which, even through the electronic medium, supply the human touch, visible in the finished version.

<< The final step was to use the app TypeDrawing to add the bird name caption.  This app allows you to enter type in a color, size, font of choice and place it in your image; the path of your finger on the screen determines the line and position of the text.

Verdict: Publishable illustration of Orange-billed sparrow.

The photos I use on this site, whether taken by me or others, are minimally altered for clear viewing, and never “faked” (except for fictional effect and with full disclosure). Altering photos to prove the identification or occurrence of a bird in a particular place or time is obviously just wrong (for instance, my Maroon-chested dove shots are unaltered except for cropping to enlarge the bird, and the video is entirely unaltered).  Images in this blog, for the most part, are intended to tell a story, please the reader (and myself), and provide visual interest besides text.  Most are digital photos.  Some, like the joyfully garish Resplendent Quetzal image are produced entirely from scratch from a blank “page” with SketchbookPro, driven by the touch-interaction of the iPad screen with my nail-bitten finger.

By contrast, an image like the Orange-billed sparrow above is heavily altered — in fact, it’s published only because of my ability to alter it. I do “real drawings” too with pencil, colored pencil, and water color, and to me the apps are not going to replace those techniques — they’re just a different medium than those more traditional paper-born tools, with different limitations and different advantages. Maybe you’re comfortable with this process, maybe not.  Possibly, by posting the techniques behind the results, I’ve made readers think less of a finished product like the Orange-billed sparrow image, as not being real “art”, or requiring less skill than a “real drawing”.  That’s up to everyone to decide for themselves.  Personally, I consider it illustration, and I’m thrilled to be able to present a pleasing visual image of a lovely creature that otherwise would have remained uselessly stuck in the craw of my computer.

Posted by Allison on Jul 25th 2010 | Filed in art/clay,birds,close in,drawn in,increments,natural history | Comments (1)

Did you see a Resplendent quetzal…

…when you were in Costa Rica?  Yes.

Did you get a photo of a Resplendent quetzal?  No.

And was the Quetzal resplendent?  Yes.

Resplendent quetzales (Pharomachrus cocinno) are glimmering emerald birds who inhabit the dense, wet montane and cloud forests of parts of Central America. The males have splendid iridescent fringed tail plumes which trail extravagantly behind them, inviting stares and admiration from both female quetzales and birders, and challenging artists with inadequate pages.  During my recent visit to Costa Rica, several quetzales crossed our path, looking down on us from a secure height, feeding, drying wet feathers, or just loafing.  One adult male bird appeared suddenly overhead, so silently we almost missed him, while we were admiring hordes of busy hummers at feeders near Monteverde.  As with hummingbirds, the exact shade of a quetzal’s plumage depends on light and angle, and can look emerald, azure, glinting with gold, or simply black.  I’ve never seen a photo do the colors justice, let alone an unsubtle computer-graphic image like my effort (although it improves with enlargement, click on image to embiggen).

Throughout their range from southern Mexico to Panama, quetzales are endangered, mainly due to habitat loss.  They are frugivores, and favor the fruits of trees such as the aguacatillo, which has a sort of miniature avocado-like fruit.  Quetzales are cavity nesters, laying two eggs in old woodpecker holes fairly high in the canopy, and males and females share nesting duties.  During the day, nests can be located by the trailing tail plumes of el macho hanging out of the nest hole.  A curious feature of Quetzales is that, unlike most birds, their toes are arranged two forward, and two back.

Queztals or Quetzales?  Either is a correct plural; the first is standard in English, the second in Spanish.

The name quetzal (usually pronounced KETzul in english and ketSALL en español) is reportedly a word from the Nahuatl language, and refers to the spendors of the birds’ tails.  It’s likely associated at least etymologically with the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent.

Click here for an excellent photo essay on Resplendent quetzales by T.Beth Kinsey of Firefly Forest.

Posted by Allison on Jul 20th 2010 | Filed in art/clay,birding,birds,drawn in,etymology/words,field trips | Comments (0)

Cranky Owlet unexpectedly undergoes…

…a drastic chromatic aberration.

Posted by Allison on Jul 20th 2010 | Filed in cranky owlet,drawn in,three star owl | Comments (0)

Straw Owls in the Ganskopf Special Collection

(This is the sixth installment of a series.  Read the others chronologically by clicking these links: first, second, third, fourth, fifth)

Within a month, a letter from Professor Harrower had arrived requiring me to return to the Ganskopf Institute to draw another selection of mysterious “Owl Fetishes” from the Institute’s diverse collection. The project was still making little sense to me, because of its sporadic and leisurely timing, the odd, anachronistic communication style of my employer, and the curious nature of the pieces themselves. But the money was welcome – a freelance technical artist’s pay can be unreliable at times – so of course, when summoned, I went.

And at last, after prehistoric pebbles, pine-bark souvenirs, Attic coins, and other miscellany, the Special Collections librarian Miss Laguna had brought out something really odd – two items that conformed a little more closely to my expectations of what “mystery relics” ought to be. It was a pair of strange straw owl “dolls” – really just owl-like shapes about 8 and 10 inches tall – bound with colored twine and smelling a bit mildewy, like an old barn. One was an extremely rudimentary representation, faceless, and owlish only because of its proportions and an aura of eyeless alertness.  This was due to the presence, perhaps deliberate, of “ears” at the folded axis of the straw representing its head. The other, held together with a faded purple cord and made with a greener straw, was owly and anthropomorphic, with stunted wing-like “arms” jutting out to the side, and thick-thighed legs. It had more of a face, with eyes and beak stitched on in the purple cord, and straw blossoms jutting up in a V to indicate “horns”. The stitched eyes looked blank, and its slightly torqued posture gave it the impression of motion, but also made it look impaired somehow, damaged: the effect was unsettling. Equally disturbing was the fact that both owls appeared blind – not the standard presentation of open-eyed owliness, especially common in folk-art.  Neither figure stood upright, but appeared to be meant to either hang, or simply lie flat.

Their straw was spotted and stained, and the pieces looked fragile; in fact, each had shed a few crumbs and fragments of dry fiber onto the black velvet pillow. Miss Laguna allowed the crumbs to lie there, and gently passing a non-latex purple-gloved hand above them, explained that all the bits and pieces would have to go back in the drawer with the objects after I was through. She set them down a little farther from me than usual, then looked at me and said seriously, “Please, I must ask you to not breathe on them. They suffer in the presence of moisture.” This earnest instruction, together with the moldy smell of old straw, had the instant effect of making me need to sneeze, which I tried to suppress as I nodded my head and began to set up my gear with watering eyes.

It was going to take a long time: my sketches needed to accurately reflect the number and placement of each fiber of straw, and also I wanted to be especially sure to capture the creepiness of the purple-twined figure’s posture. I’d forgotten my watch, so I glanced up through the Special Collection’s front glass to check the wall-clock in the main reading room. As I did, I noticed another patron: once again, it was the sleek Dr. Danneru. He was talking on a cell phone, nonchalantly stationed right under a sign plainly forbidding cell phone use. When he saw me looking, he turned away as if for privacy, although I couldn’t hear him through the glass.  The rules just don’t apply to some people, I thought, and turned back to my work.

The sketches did take a long time. Miss Laguna, despite her concern over the decomposing straw pieces I was drawing, left me largely on my own. This was in order to see attentively to the needs of her other patron, who had finished his phone call, passed through the metal detector and past the security guard into Special Collections, and was currently viewing a Ganskopf item at the table behind me. I was not surprised to see a steaming mug held in one of his hands as if it were too hot to drink, but too coveted to put down. The grassy – and pricey – aroma of green Rooibos tea reached me where I sat, mildly irked by the scholar’s flagrantly bootlegged luxury beverage, when I had been instructed to not even breathe.

A couple of hours passed in the near silence of the Special Collections room. By then my back had stiffened up from leaning across the table to get closer to the straw figures, and it was getting dark outside.  I found it necessary to stand up to straighten out: I extended my arms over head, cracked my neck, and twisted my torso right, then left. Then right again, quickly checking behind me: Dr. Danneru had disappeared – perhaps to fetch fresh tea – leaving his notes on the table, along with the black cushion and his study object. He must have left quietly, because I’d never noticed. Miss Laguna was nowhere in sight, either. As if merely stretching my legs, I casually sauntered over to the other table, curious to see if the scholar was studying an owl I’d already drawn. He wasn’t. I stared.

Now, there was a “mystery relic”…

To be continued…

Posted by Allison on Jun 4th 2010 | Filed in art/clay,artefaux,drawn in,pseudopod waltz,The Ganskopf Incident | Comments (2)

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