gathering the summer in

....before I head off to France to teach. Though I always feel I should spend more time at home during the summer, other adventures always seem to beckon. 

This year it began with sailing the Southern Gulf Islands on Circadia with my french friends Brigitte and Isabelle.

I never tire of these islands, which are so familiar, yet always feel exotic.

Brigitte is my long suffering French instructor--you'll notice the mandatory french vocabulary ;)

Late June, I left the boat temporarily to join my good friend Nancy for our annual Mitlenatch warden week.

We have been coming to this seabird colony in the Strait of Georgia for over twenty years. It is always magical, an island dense with birds and wildflowers, sitting in a great bowl of blue, rimmed with mountains.

Home from sailing for a few days and then off to work on Maple Leaf in Alaska. 

Everything is big in Alaska!



mid-winter homebodies

I have always admired the Winter Wren (now unimaginatively called the Pacific Wren). It's a feisty little bird with, at first glance, dull markings. On closer examination it is a study in all the browns of the forest, studded with little light flecks--a kind of subtle bird bling. Winter Wrens (sorry, I'm sticking with that name) are the ultimate homebodies, staying firmly put in their territories all year round, usually no more than a few feet from the ground. Their scientific name Troglodytes embodies their earthiness -- they dwell in the bushy cave of the understory.
They are also one of the only birds which bothers to sing once in awhile in the winter. Their song is a long burbling exuberant series of trills, which run as fast as a rainforest river. Slowed down it is a miracle of haunting flute-like notes
In short, I love everything about these little birds.

For the last ten years or so we also have Anna's Hummingbirds with us for the winter. I am always astonished when I see these tiny beings up and at 'em before sunrise in subzero weather. How do they manage to survive these cold nights and have enough energy to fire themselves up for the first trip to the feeder?

photo by Tom Colgrove, via birdshare.

I hope you as content as these birds, cozy at home, this Christmas season.


summer sketches

Some seasonal changes creep up on us--the sun rising just a little later every morning. At summer solstice it is up by 5:07 am, climbing above the mountains of Howe Sound (from where I look across the strait). By 6:00 am it is blasting into our bedroom, making it impossible to sleep in. Today the sun rose at 6:19.

Other changes happen overnight--a few days ago all the Purple Martins which nest in the boxes on the pilings at Newcastle, just up and left. The soundtrack of their happy twittering as they fluttered over the island suddenly silenced. But a day later the mew gulls arrived on our point, noticeable because of their calls, described as "squealing outbursts" in the bird book, so different from the calls of our local glaucous-winged gulls. These mew gulls have just finished their nesting season. They may have come from as far as Alaska.


Despite the fact that it still feels like mid-summer, with the hot winds blowing all day down the strait, things are on the move. The light has the final say.

Time seems to move more quickly in the light and heat of summer.

My summer started with trip on the S.V. Maple Leaf in Haida Gwaii. Like last year, we traced some of the travels of Emily Carr in the islands, stopping to draw, as she did over a hundred years ago. 



As always, Haida Gwaii was full of natural history surprises, a group of transient orcas, one morning, hunting seals, just off Windy Bay. A herring left in the wake of a feeding Humpback.

And this beautiful Lingcod, mottled to match the sea floor which was home...


 Late July I was off to Mitlenatch Island Provincial Park, to work for a week as a volunteer. It is special to return to a place every year for many years (my pal Nancy and I have been going there for 20 years). It is a seabird colony, a small island humming with compressed life: wildflowers, gulls, cormorants, oystercatchers, guillemots, peregrines, ravens, seals....the best show on earth. And while you are there, other than orienting visitors to the island and some ongoing bird counts and upkeep, there are rich long hours for just sitting and watching everything unfold. And for drawing of course. This year the wet spring and sunny summer was perfect for fruiting and the wild apple trees were weighted....


In August, Kim and our daughter, Sophie, and I sailed the southern gulf islands:



Creative Destruction

At a recent abstract course I was reaching for words to describe the process I use in abstract art or any art for that matter—a state of mind which I have come to appreciate over the years—in which I alter, at times destroy, the stuff I've laid down.

I recognize in my students the hesitation, even fear of this process. As the painting emerges we look so desperately for something we love that we indulge it, let it hang around, play it safe.

After many years of this I can now recognize over-attachment creeping up on me. When I feel it leaning into my ear, whispering, “that part is really beautiful…surely you are not going to paint over it….” or, when I am writing…”no one ever said that so well—how could you ever edit it out?” that is when I know I have to consider getting rid of it, or at least messing it up. In writing I’ve heard it called “murdering your darlings.” The reason it is important to do this is that we become so attached to a tiny piece that we can’t see the needs of the whole. I think of it as creative destruction.

I have become attached to this process. I love the surprises it creates, I love the rich and textured surfaces that emerge.

Of course, it can get out of hand. Here is a large landscape painting I did a few years ago.


 And here it is now.

 I love the abstract (as you can see it appears in my banner) but I should have put that landscape away and given it some time to let me love it!

 By the way, when I googled creative destruction I find that it is an economic term:

Creative destruction refers to the incessant product and process innovation mechanism by which new production units replace outdated ones. It was coined by Joseph Schumpeter (1942), who considered it 'the essential fact about capitalism'.




La Manzanilla

Escaped the rain this week for this sleepy little beach town.