Friday, September 27, 2013

A Mysterious Lighthouse and A Cheerful Lighthouse

   I love learning about historical mysteries, and recently I learned about a new one: The Mystery of The Flannan Isles Lighthouse Keepers. There is something about the job of a lighthouse keeper that seems very romantic. The lighthouse keeper spends his days staring to sea and keeping boats safe from the dangers of treacherous waves and jagged rocks. It is a very isolated and lonely profession too. On the Flannan Isles, the lighthouse keepers worked in teams of three, with a fourth man who spent his time on shore so they could rotate duties and the men could all spend time with their families on shore when it was their turn. The most important duty of a lighthouse keeper is to keep the light shinning. The first sign of something strange happening on the island occurred when the captain of a passing boat looked toward Flannan Isles and the lighthouse and saw that there was no light. It was close to midnight when Captain Holman looked toward the island in expectation of light and saw nothing but bleak dark. Five day's after the first glimpse of the missing light, the relief  vessel arrived on shore. Usually, the lighthouse keepers would greet the ship when it moored. But the ship was greeted with only the sound of the waves and the gulls, probably making the absence of human life even more acute. The relief keeper went to investigate the lighthouse on his own. What he found there was unsettling. All of his fellow lighthouse keepers had vanished! The gates to the lighthouse were closed. Inside the lighthouse the beds were unmade and the clock was stopped. There was no sign of the lighthouse keepers. Inside the lighthouse, one chair was knocked over, providing a clue that led only to wild speculation and more uncertainties.
   The bodies of the lighthouse keepers were never discovered. Maybe they each left the lighthouse on three separate ships to three separate continents so they could start their lives over again with new names and identities. Maybe they were pulled into the sea by an angry sea serpent. Maybe they were overtaken by madness and they all jumped to their deaths. Maybe they were sucked into a parallel universe where there was no such things as lighthouses or lighthouse keepers, and they had to remake themselves into something different.
  I am not the only one who has come up with over-dramatic and unlikely theories about what happened to these three men. Theories about the vanished men include: ghosts, aliens, spies, giant sea birds, and that one of the men murdered the other two and then jumped into the sea. There is something about imagining three vanished lighthouse keepers on a isolated island. It is impossible not to imagine far-fetched and mysterious explanations.
  A more plausible explanation was put forth by the Northern Lighthouse Board of Investigation. They believed that due to stormy weather, the three men were all swept out to sea by an especially large wave. One hitch in this theory is that one man was always required to stay in the lighthouse. So who ever left the lighthouse last was ignoring important protocol. But, if he saw his two friends in peril and thought he could help, protocol wouldn't be much of a motivator to keep him inside. It is sad though to think of one of the men trying to rescue his friends and instead succumbing to the same fate. Two of the men left behind widows and children who would never find out what happened to their loved one.
(Here are links to where I got the info on Flannan Isles: Wikipedia and BBC)

    Speaking of lighthouses, here are some pictures from in and around a lighthouse themed roadside-restaurant. This light house is decidedly more cheerful, and decidedly more hokey (in a good way!)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lucky Books

(Wendel with a coat of fur made of sunlight, Roses the color of stubbed toes, Decayed leaf resembling an old map, sightless owl with orb eyes)

  Right before I left for vacation, I got two books from the library, both of which I was very much looking forward to. I put holds on both of these books ages ago when they were not yet out and only 'on order' at the library. So it was just good luck that I got both of them right before I left. A good book makes a plane ride far more enjoyable. The two books I got were 'Kind of Cruel' by Sophie Hannah and 'The Color Master' by Aimee Bender. I love both of these authors!

   I've gone on about Sophie Hannah before on this blog, so I won't do it again except to say that 'Kind of Cruel' was really good! I really can't figure out why some mystery books, while I like them, I can still easily put them down and get on with my life. While other mystery books, including all of Hannah's books, I cannot put down even when I know I should be doing other things! I recently read that Sophie Hannah will be writing new books for Agatha Christie's Poirot series. While I am excited to read more Poirot and I am happy for Sophie Hannah that she got the honor and opportunity to do so, I am also bummed! I want to read more about her characters but now she will be distracted by this new project. I will happily read the new Poirot books, but in the back of my mind I will be wondering about Simon and Charlie. Now I know how hardcore 'Song of Ice and Fire' fans feel when they complain about George R.R. Martin watching football instead of working on more books. (Although I think poor George R.R. Martin should be able to watch whatever he wants without being harassed.) Also, I probably should not complain myself because now I know that an author I love will be writing more mysteries.
   Aimee Bender is another author I love, but I especially love her short stories, so I was excited that her newest book was another collection of short stories. Her stories are just so beautiful and poignant and insightful and I could keep reading her forever and ever. I also love her stories because they are often odd and surreal and I love to have a bit of magic in the stories I read.

(Paintings of far-away places on a nearby wall in the coziest of coffee shops, two friends and two strange heads, a sea god in a sea of buttercups, reminders of the forest on cold city metal.) 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Do You Know The Way To San Jose?

  When I was with my family in San Jose, we went downtown to the art museum. Right next door to the museum is a beautiful and elaborate Catholic church. We popped in to admire the stained glass and other ornate artwork within. It was so elegant and I can see why people feel calm and at peace in such places. It was very silent inside the church. But not that awkward, uncomfortable silence that makes a person want to fill the empty air with noise. It was a comforting, warm silence. Here are some pictures of the church.

  Near the art museum is the California seal. This seal is the source of one of my first tastes of utter disappointment. I was a kid in grammar school and my class was going on a school field trip to downtown San Jose. Our teacher told us of all the different things we would be seeing on our trip. I was most excited about seeing the 'great golden seal of California.' When we got to the seal and this is what I saw, I was a little bit heart broken. I had been expecting a different kind of seal, as in the sea mammal. I was imagining this great golden seal as being a miraculous and amazing creature. I saw him as a sleek, golden seal, shimmering in the sunlight. Maybe even all us children would be able to pat the top of his golden seal head.

    I didn't end up taking any photo's in the art museum because I never know what we are allowed to take pictures of in museums, so sometimes I don't bother trying because I don't want to worry about getting reprimanded. Every time I go to the San Jose Art Museum, I always have a good time. They always have new and interesting exhibits. This visit there was an Annie Leibovitz exhibit and a Hung Liu exhibit to name a few. At one point I was sitting on a bench next to my dad when a very petite and frail old woman sat next to us. She said to me in a hushed and slightly raspy voice "Your shoe is untied dear. You wouldn't want to fall." It is very sweet to know that kindly strangers are looking out for me! 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Autumn Rabbit, Alone in a Colorful Woods

   Autumn is officially here! Time for gourds, pumpkins, autumn leaves, pumpkin bread, pumpkin beer and all the other delights of Autumn. I recently made a batch of Autumn themed paintings. They are mixed-media paintings using leaves, black tea, gouache and acrylic paint. The first one I am sharing is an Autumn rabbit.

   Once, a long time ago, the Autumn rabbit found an abandoned book in the woods. It was about a village of talking rabbits. He knew he couldn't be the only talking rabbit around. He set out to find this town. Instead he found more mute rabbits that wiggled their nose and twitched their ears, but never stopped to talk. He left it all behind and found an empty forest. The only sound he heard in the forest was the wind rustling the colorful leaves. It sounded like an old man's raspy breath or like a dream he once had that had no images and only sound. The sound started softly but grew louder and louder and louder until he woke up.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fruit Stands and Golden Hills

Here are more pictures from on the road!.... Fruit stands and golden hills.

(Fruits and vegetables for sale from a rickety fruit stand. Cherries and strawberries handed over by a sun-kissed farmer's wife or a scruffy haired local boy saving money for a new bike.)

(Golden hills curving toward the cloud-splotched blue skies. Just over the edge of the hills sit all the good dreams you ever forgot, huddled together like lost kittens, waiting to be scooped up and brought back home.)

  I heard two interesting stories about animals today. One of them is actually a story disproving a previous story in which it was reported that fifty-thousand stray dogs are roaming free in Detroit. This makes Detroit sound like a post-apocalyptic town in which shaggy dogs are every where! Rummaging through garbage, chasing cars, living with big packs inside empty houses! But apparently the number was inflated, and although Detroit does have a larger then average stray dog population, there are not fifty thousand of them (according to NPR.). It is still fun to imagine a city of dogs!
  The other animal story I heard is that Scrub Jay birds have funerals. When a Scrub Jay finds one of his fallen compatriots, he lets out a chirp to let his fellow Scrub Jays know. Scrub Jays descend from the sky and the trees and surround the dead bird. Together they mournfully let out a series of bird songs, almost as if they were singing a farewell ballad to their fallen friend. This reminds me of once when I was walking my dog in high school. On the side of the road I spotted a dead robin, his wings slack, his legs pointing toward the sky. Next to the dead robin was a live robin looking down and examining the other bird, as if he was trying to figure out what happened to his friend and if his friend would recover. It was very sad because the live robin really seemed distressed at his dead friend. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

On A Lonely Road

    I was out of town recently visiting my family in California, and I took over a thousand photo's while on the trip! I will slowly share at least some of these photo's here. This first batch of photos are all taken from the car while traveling between the central valley and the bay area. Car photography is different then street photography because it involves a lot of luck and disappointment but also pleasant surprises. While moving at fast speeds, I have no chance to think about setting up my photo, and I have less control of the photo's composition. So it is lucky when I get a good shot. Sometimes while in the car I'll see something interesting and I'll think, 'I've got to get a photo of that!' but by the time I have grabbed my camera and turned it on, there is a likely chance I am already well past the interesting sight. This can be very disappointing. But when I happen to get a good shot it is extra exciting! Despite the perils of car photography I really like attempting to capture the interesting things a person can see while in the car. Although sometimes I decide to just leave my camera put so I can stare out the window and daydream with out the pressure of getting a good shot.
    The Central Valley looks very lonely while traveling in a car. There are great expanses of land with only farms and a house here and there. But probably the farmers like their solitary life styles. They like to get up early and breath the fresh air, and feel the morning sunlight on their skin. They like that all they can hear are the occasional hawk calls and the distant rumble of traffic. The farmers spend their time with seeds and plants, their family and their fellow farmers. Probably the farmers think cities are lonelier places, where you can pass a hundred people in a day and not say 'hi' to one of them.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Libraries:Very Interesting Places Indeed!

   Whenever I go to the downtown library, I always end up taking tons of photos, but there are so many interesting nooks and crannies to photograph so I just cannot help myself. These photos are from a couple of months ago.

   In college I checked out a book of poetry by  Richard Brautigan. Sandwiched between the pages was a folded piece of lined paper with a poem written on it. It was a poem about witches and birds (maybe?) and I think an ex-girlfriend. I wish I still had the poem but I lost it somewhere. I think the mystery poet was trying to write in Brautigan's style because the found poem was odd and short and a bit surreal like many Brautigan poems. I love finding evidence of past borrowers in library books. Once I borrowed a book in which some previous borrower had crossed out every curse word in the book. It was a very respectable swear-word protest, because the word's were crossed out lightly in pencil. But the person must have been staunchly against swear words, because the book's author certainly did not use curse words gratuitously. The swear words were mostly used as characterization because the only time they were used were in the dialogue of a particular character. The book was a large print version (I think I chose it because it had less holds on it) so this made me imagine that an old woman with bad eyesight had borrowed the book before me. I imagined her as a grandmother who kindly but sternly chided her children if they used any inappropriate words. Somewhere toward the end of the book I found a piece of stationary with a grocery list on it. The stationary was official church stationary and had the name of a church written on top. This was a fun find, because it was just more evidence of the previous reader. So, she was an old woman with poor eyesight who was very invested in her faith and good moral behavior such as not using swear words. Also, based on her grocery list I knew she liked milk. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bessie and her Elephant Friend Mabel Water the Rooftop Garden

Here is my last 'Summer' illustration of the season. I have 'Fall' illustrations finished that I will start sharing next. Even though I will miss sunny days at the beach, I am happy Fall is here.

    Bessie lives in a small house by the sea. She loves living by the sea, but she also loves flower gardens. Bessie has discovered that gardening on the seashore is especially difficult. One day she woke up to find all her flower's eaten by an otter that had wondered in from the sea. Another time, she found a bunch of hermit crabs using their tiny claws to snip the blooms from their stems. This was almost worth it because Bessie was able to watch a parade of small hermit crabs marching back to sea with tiny flower blooms in their claws. Another time, the wind had blown sand onto her garden so her flowers were hidden underneath a mound of sand. Who knew that seaside gardening could be rich with difficulty? Bessie realized that most of her gardening travails could be solved if only her garden was higher up and away from curious animals and runaway sand particles.
   Bessie was especially delighted because she did not even need to use a ladder to tend to her garden. Whenever she needed assistance reaching or getting to high places, she was assisted by her elephant friend, Mabel. Mabel was a runaway circus elephant. In her past, she use to have to dress up in a tutu and parade around an arena. Mabel found the whole ordeal humiliating. But one day in the dead of night, she sneaked away from the circus. After many days of walking, she ended at the sea. When she first set eyes on the sea, she felt relieved. The glittering sea made her feel like anything was possible, including a new life away from the circus. Mabel decided she would live on the shore. When Bessie found Mabel sleeping in the sand on a cold Autumn day, Bessie, a life-long bleeding heart, invited the elephant to live with her. Bessie has not had to stand on her tiptoes once since her elephant friend moved in.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Sisters of Winchester Orphanage Escape for a Day

 Here is another illustration I finished recently.

   June, Eartha, and Felicity are sisters who, after their parents tragic death, were left to be raised at the Winchester Orphanage. The caretaker's at the orphanage are not cruel, but they are dull. They don't realize that children need vibrancy to thrive. The three sister's dislike the orphanage and wish they could be raised in a family, but they know it is unlikely a family will want to adopt all three sisters. So whenever prospective parents come to view the orphans, the three sisters act rowdy and ill-mannered. They would rather stay in the orphanage together then be raised apart.
   Even though the orphanage is bleak, the three sisters love that the orphanage is right next to the ocean. They love falling asleep to the sound of the waves. Every morning they look out their window together and watch the waves lap onto the shore.
   One day, the oldest sister Felicity woke up especially early from a horrid nightmare. She sneaked out of bed and looked out the window. That is when she saw it!  There was a giant sea monster relaxing on the sandy shore. She woke up her sisters so they could see the wondrous creature. Even though they knew most would describe the strange beast as a 'sea monster', they felt confident that the creature was not monstrous at all. The creature look sweet and docile and as gentle as butterfly.
   But to the sisters delight, the sea monster was more then just gentle, he was also generous. He offered to take the girls to sea for one day so they could experience a pleasant day away from the orphanage. The sisters brought books and a picnic and hopped on the back of the friendly sea creature. The orphanage's dog, Spot came running after them to join them on their adventure. The sisters had the most wonderful day. They breathed in the sea air, watched the waves and befriended the sea animals. They knew nobody would believe this most unlikely of adventures, but they did not care because nothing could detract from the joy of the day.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Statue Man

    On Sunday I went downtown to meet a friend. I hopped onto the bus, found an empty seat and drifted off into my thoughts. About two stops after mine, a very interesting fellow entered the bus. Usually when I say I see or meet an 'interesting fellow' on the bus, this is code for creepy or shady or awkward. But this guy was legitimately interesting! He was dressed up like a living statue! His costume was so impressive. The texture of his clothes did not look like fiber, but like weather worn metal. He was attentive to detail with his revolutionary war outfit which is commonly seen on city statues. His outfit even included those green streaks notorious to outdoor statues. On the bus, I sneakily took a photo of him. I was disappointed to see that my stealthy photo taking resulted in a lousy photo that did not do the statue man much justice. But he is wearing sunglasses in this photo, which I think is funny. It feels like a treat or a secret to see street performers when they are out of character but still dressed for their character.

   I was going to be early to meet my friend, so I got off the bus a couple of stops before I needed too so the extra walking could eat up some time. As I stepped off the bus I wistfully thought of the statue man and how I wished I would see more odd but harmless characters on my bus. I figured I would probably never see the statue man again..
   Again, I slipped into my thoughts as I walked toward the aquarium where I was meeting my pal. When I got to the aquarium, I saw a most delightful sight! It was the statue man! What a wonderful coincidence that he happened to set up his street performance act right where I was planning on going. And I was still early despite the extra walking time, so now I had something particularly interesting to look at while waiting.
   I was certainly not the only one who was endeared by this statue man. He drew quite a crowd of merry tourists. They laughed and snapped pictures as he stood tall and proud. He occasionally shifted his position which further delighted his audience.

   When my friend rounded the corner and greeted me I told him eagerly about this impressive statue man. But soon we were in the aquarium with our minds focused on other amazing sights.
   At the last aquarium exhibit, I heard thunder booming otuside. So I was not surprised that by the time we left, the statue man was gone. He can't have the rain revealing that underneath it all, he is really just a man. Once again, I figured I would never see statue man again. Which was a disappointment because I never really got a good picture of him. So no matter how much I claimed to have seen the most realistic looking statue man ever, I could never prove it with photographic evidence.... like seeing Bigfoot just as your camera runs out of batteries. (Woah, that line sounded like it belonged in a particular Alanis Morissette song!)
   After the aquarium, my friend and I wandered around Pike's Place Market and went to a sandwich shop there for lunch. When we were done with lunch and walking back toward our bus stops, I saw the statue man one last time! And I was finally able to get a good picture of him! See! He really look's like a statue!

   I wonder what this statue man does when he is not a statue. My guess is that he is a college student, studying in the theater department. He is very committed to his craft so in his off time, he gain's experience by preforming on the street. Maybe he doesn't even stick to the same gig. Sometimes he might be a mime, or maybe he recites monologues. Maybe I will see an amazing street performer next time I go downtown and I won't even know it is statue man!