Sunday, July 28, 2013

After Months of Traveling Through The Endless Woods, Walt and his Bear Cub Friend Finally Find the Fox House Sanctuary

  Here is an illustration I made for my Dad for Father's Day.

   Walt lives in a small and strange town whose legends work to entertain the townsfolk but also to stifle their freedom. On three sides, the town is surrounded by an endless forest, commonly known as 'The Forbidden Forest.' The townsfolk all believe the forest is cursed and full of angry ghosts. No one from the town dares to enter the forest. The only way the people ever leave the town is by the sea, which crashes against the frayed and sandy edges of the town's unforested side. But Walt's much beloved fiance, Alexandra, vanished at the sea, one stormy evening. She was on a voyage to visit her sister in a different village when the ship she was on disappeared into the murky waves. Afterward, the sound of the sea gave Walt nightmares. He could no longer stand living so close to the sea and he knew he must escape the town. So he ignored all the towns legends and entered the forest.
   Walt walked for days and days and days, the woods seemed to be endless. During one sunny day, he met a little bear with a body the size of a tiny cub but the face of an ancient and grizzled bear. They formed a silent friendship and continued exploring the woods together. In the woods, Walt did meet ghosts just as the towns people predicted. But they aren't angry. They hardly notice Walt and flutter past him like half-forgotten memories. His heart still aches for his beloved Alexandra, but as he walks in the woods he finds solace and comfort in the beauty of the landscape. But after months of walking, Walt and his bear cub are tired. They need to rest, and they need to find some place to call home, even if only for a little bit.
  Then, while walking through a clearing in the woods, they find it! The Fox House Sanctuary. They saw a  light glistening from afar and their curiosity compelled them to investigate. When they stood in front of the fox sanctuary, they felt warm and safe under the fox's eye glow. It was under that eye glow that Walt finally felt at peace.
  Walt is not the first weary traveler to come across the fox house sanctuary. For eons, the fox house sanctuary has made itself known to tired and discontent travelers in need of comfort and safety. The fox house sanctuary changes based on the person who discovers it. It becomes whatever it needs to be in order to provide comfort for the person who discovered it. Walt and the bear will spend several months at the sanctuary before they decide that they need to continue their travels. But once they do continue, they will walk with an extra skip in their step. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Graffiti Castles

   Here are some photo's I took while wondering around the U-district. There is a building in the U-district which is designated for legal graffiti. It is a beautiful building and I have been wanting to take pictures of it forever!

   I recently listened to a good audio book called "The Keep" by Jennifer Egan. It is hot outside and the world is cheery with that happy summer-glow, so I should be in the mood for a sunny-themed book, but I'm not! When I decided to listen to 'The Keep' I was in search for a good old-fashioned Victorian Gothic full of suggestions of ghosts, ambiguous sanity, and dreary English women in black frocks. Usually it is not until Fall that I get a craving for a good Victorian Gothic. While searching for a book to fulfill my craving, I found 'The Keep.' It does not quite fit all the prerequisites I had in mind, but 'The Keep' was a wonderful read (or listen, in my case.). The themes in this book are ones common to many Gothic novels such as imprisonment, haunted pasts, and the fine line between sanity and insanity. Half of the novel takes place in a castle and there's even a mad women! But 'The Keep' setting is in modern days and definitely has a modern feel to it.
   The story is about Danny who is invited to stay at a European castle that his cousin has just bought and is converting into a strange hotel. Danny has a complicated relationship with his cousin due to an act of childhood cruelty that he perpetrated against his cousin. The incident scarred them both in different ways. The castle is an eerie place that seems to stir the pot of Danny's insecurities, causing him to question the motives of the people he shares the castle with. Danny's own sanity seems fragile which causes the reader and Danny try to figure out what is real and what is not.
   There are twists in this book too, but not the traditional (expected?) plot twists, like 'His sister is really his mom!' or 'it was the butler in the scullery with the noose!" I don't want to give anything away, but the twists work to shift our perception of the story rather then to shock us.
   I first heard about the author, Jennifer Egan when I was listening to the radio and one of her stories was read. It was about a family that goes on a safari (and the story is appropriately entitled 'The Safari".) It is a beautiful story! Shortly after I heard this story I began to hear a lot of hype about Egan's book "A Visit from the Goon Squad." So I checked it out with the good intention of reading it, but I never got around to it and I had to give it back to the library because a lot of other people had holds on it. I think that sometimes when a book has tons of hype, I feel less inclined to read it. Not in a hipster, 'not-wanting-to-like-something-because-it-is-popular' way. But when a book his highly lauded and critically praised I feel a lot of pressure to like the book and to get something deep and meaningful out of reading the book. Sometimes I just want to delve into a book and not worry about enrichment. If enrichment happens to come with the joy of reading the book, then all the better!  But now that I have read this book, I am more inclined to go back and read or at least listen to 'A Visit from the Goon Squad.' Although, I am still on my Gothic kick and right now I am listening to 'My Cousin Rachel' by Daphne Du Maurier. It is really good so far! Is cousin Rachel a kind, good-hearted woman or a greedy schemer? I just don't know! 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wandering Around The Lake In A Silver Canoe

    Last weekend, David and I went canoeing in Lake Washington and it was such a blast. He brought his fishing pole and I brought a book and my sketchbook. We paddled around in between bouts of relaxation under the shinning sun.
    The area of the lake we were canoeing had a surreal feel to it. The lily pads gave the liquid landscape a more solid feel, like we could step out of the canoe and wander around on the islands of lily pads. The cement structure of the 520 highway rose from the water, giving the idyllic, sun-drenched lake an industrial edge. Usually this area would be buzzing with traffic sounds, but the 520 bridge was closed that weekend. We lucked out! Because of the cement structures, I think this would be a good place to have a scene in a post-apocalyptic movie. Although the film crew would need to do filming on a cloudy day to really convey the unsettling atmosphere appropriate to a post-apocalyptic movie.

   While wondering in the canoe, we spotted many signs of animal life.

  Two baby ducks came right to the side of the canoe in order to befriend us. How cute! We could reach out and touch the tops of their heads if we were not afraid it would scare them off. We also saw a mama duck and her babies skirting through the lily pads.

  We found a stowaway in our boat! A little green grasshopper-like bug. 

  I also found a water snail, although he looks like a brown stone in this picture. You'll have to take my word for it, he was a snail.

    I love the swallows with their orange throats and blue feathers. They dart around in spastic motions, unafraid of collision with anyone or anything. Some of these industrious little birds built their nests along the bridge.

    Near the swallow nests I spotted a bald eagle. I hope he wasn't planning on eating any baby swallows.

    We also saw a great blue heron. They are very still birds when they want to be.


    We spent a long time on our canoe trip, nearly five hours. This is because we not only enjoyed paddling about, but we spent time lounging in various spots. David was fishing while I was reading or working in my sketchbook.

(David preparing his fishing line, me using my watercolor set)

(Sketchbook, Fruit, Mystery Novel)

    There are just so many beautiful sights to see while canoeing on the lake! 

Friday, July 19, 2013

After Buying A Mysterious Pack of Seeds, Myrtle Grows a Very Unusual Crop of Flowers

  Here is an illustration I made for my mom for Mothers Day. It is gardening themed because she likes gardening.

        On a stormy summer afternoon, Myrtle decided to visit the farmers market. Even though the sky was filled with coiled clouds the color of charcoal dust, Myrtle decided to brave the weather. But the farmers were not so brave. All of the usually bustling stalls were empty of produce and people. She walked through the empty market while the warm raindrops soaked through her flimsy summer shirt. She thought about a Twilight Zone episode where a man woke up to find out everyone had disappeared and he was all alone. Her thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the creak of a hoarse but friendly voice.
     "Hello Dear." The voice said. Myrtle looked over to see that one of the stalls was not empty at all. A woman with the voice of a centenarian but the face of a middle-aged house wife smiled at Myrtle. In the stall where the woman sat were hundreds of seed packs.
    Myrtle blushed under the woman's gaze, although she did not quite know why. "Hello." She replied. "I didn't know anyone was here."
    "Are you a gardener dear? I have seeds for every plant imaginable. Common plants like tomatoes and carrots but also seeds of rare fruit trees from across the world."
  Even though Myrtle had come to the market with the intention of buying green beans and strawberries, she suddenly felt a great desire to buy a packet of seeds from the woman. "Why yes," She said, "I am a gardener."
  "I can tell just by the glimmer in your eye what pack of seeds would be perfect for you!" The strange woman said.
   That was how Myrtle ended up with the mysterious pack of seeds that ended up growing into the most fantastical flower. When she first saw the petaled heads popping up from beneath the soil, myrtle felt a little frightened. The next day, they had grown larger and she could see their eyes peering at her from just above the dirt. She was startled to see the eyes, but no longer afraid. They had kind, happy eyes. When the first one fully emerged from the soil, Myrtle saw the the strange plant really was some how both a little creature and an odd plant. The flower monster danced around the yard. He ran through the neighbors sprinkler and nibbled on the fallen bird seed under the bird feeder. Myrtle tentatively called to the flower monster. He frolicked toward her and rubbed his soft petaled head against her arm. Myrtle laughed and patted the top of his head. Myrtle thought, not minding that she was tooting her own horn, that the strange flower monsters really were the most miraculous thing to have ever grown from anyone's garden. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Let Your Whale Flag Fly!

(A whale flag, fluttering in the sea breeze on a sunny day... and my clumsy finger tip blocking the whale flag as it merrily flaps to and fro.)

   When I was little, I use to worry for whales because they breathed air but lived under water. I imagined their lungs always aching as they swam around the ocean. Or, what if they got lost in the joy of exploring and ended up too far down in the sea to make it to the surface in time to take a breath? That realization would be a horrifying moment. It would be a nerve wracking life to always have something you needed to do in order to continue living. Whales can't really get lost in the moment because every half hour they have to stop what they are doing to go get more air. What I wonder is, what do they do when they sleep. Do they only need to sleep in half hour spurts? Do they sleep while floating on top of the ocean's surface so they can breathe naturally while they catch their z's?
   I went to a college that was big on the natural sciences. By the forestry building there was a skeleton of a whale. It was really neat, although I think it was a skeleton of a baby whale so it didn't give quite the real impression of how big they can get. The largest whale (and largest mammal!) is the blue whale and they can grow up to 105 ft long. I saw a picture of a blue whale size chart, comparing the massive animal to other creatures usually thought of as large. The t-rex was just a measly little thing compared to the blue whale. Of course I've never seen a real t-rex (YET!) but I have seen skeletons at different natural history museums and they always look gigantic, with their huge toothy skulls leering down at all their spectators.
  I've seen live killer whales (which I guess are technically part of the dolphin family, just like tomato's are technically fruits. But I guess dolphins are technically toothed whales, so orca's are more like squares. Squares are rectangles, but rectangles are not necessarily squares. And dolphins are toothed whales, but not all toothed whales are necessarily dolphins). I've never seen an orca close up, but I have seen their big dorsal fins bob up and down as they traverse the sea in roaming pods.
   Once I had a dream that I had a pet whale that I rode around. I think I had that dream right around when that movie 'Whale Rider' came out. So the trailers for the movie probably influenced that dream. It was a cool dream though, so I guess I should thank the 'Whale Rider' trailers for their positive influence on my subconscious. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Whidbey Woods and Ramblings on Grown-Up Children's Book Characters

   Here are more photo's from the Whidbey Island trip that I took in April. These pictures are from when Jess, Mike, David and I took a hike through the rain-misted and sun splashed woods.  While hiking, we Chit-chatted, ducked under branches, examined plants and breathed in the delicious forest air. 

  Recently,  I some how got caught in a internet rabbit hole and ended up on the Wikipedia page for Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, the Sweet Valley Twins. When I was in elementary school I read the Sweet Valley Kids series which take place when the two twins are seven. The summer before middle-school started, I read tons of the Sweet Valley Twins books, which take place when the twins are in middle school. As an only child, I have a deep interest in sibling relationships. I like to hear sibling stories from my friends. The sibling relationships portrayed in the Sweet Valley series is part of what attracted me to these books. The Sweet Valley books are by no means high up in the children's lit cannon, but their formula got me to turn pages.  I lost interest in the the twins adventures before I ever got to the Sweet Valley High series. Despite my abandonment of them, I still have fond memories of these books. When you read tons of books starring the same characters, these characters begin to feel like friends. This is why I was so dismayed by the Wikipedia page for the twins. The ghost writers of the Sweet Valley books followed the twins life well into adulthood. Most people would expect a happy ending for two characters that starred in several children's books. But no, this is not the case at all. According to Elizabeth Wakefield's Wikipedia page, Elizabeth became engaged to her high school sweet heart, Todd. But they did not live happily ever after. Instead, creepy Todd cheats on Elizabeth with her own twin sister! This is quite a betrayal and a double betrayal at that! It is sad to think the two lively twins I read about in the Sweet Valley Kids series grow up to have such a poor relationship. Of course Elizabeth is not so interested in having a relationship with her sister after the Todd scandal and they become estranged. And this Todd seems like quite the shady fellow. Cheating on your finance is bad enough, but cheating on her with her identical twin just seems weird. It would be difficult to get lost in a passionate moment because the face of his mistress would constantly remind him of the betrayal of a women that he supposedly loves. But this isn't the worst twist inflicted upon the Sweet Valley Twins, and in particular Elizabeth. So, Elizabeth gets romantically involved with a new guy named Bruce. Here is a quote from the Wikipedia page "She is involved in a scandal when Bruce is accused of rape. This echoes back from when Bruce attempted to rape Elizabeth herself." What!?!? Why is Elizabeth involved with a creepy dude who tried to rape her? This whole convoluted mess seems like a tragic ending to a series that a bunch of children are reading. It makes me afraid to find out what ever happened to other favorite childhood book characters. Like, what about Ramona and Beezus. I hope they grew up to laugh out their childhood quarrels and antics rather then rehashing them as adults. Or the box car children? If these mystery solving rascals grew up to be anything but upstanding citizens it really would be upsetting. I loved the 'Anne of Green Gables' story, but I never read any of the later books when Anne was a grown up. And maybe it's a good thing I didn't!  At least with the Harry Potter books we kind of know what happens to the kids. They grow up and marry the people they are suppose to and then have broods of their own rambunctious magician children.  I get that life is messy and that if you follow characters into adulthood, it can't all be rainbows and unicorns, but I wish they (the Sweet Valley ghost writers) had written a future for these twins that involved less betrayal and less creepy men. Maybe I'd have a different view point if I had continued reading these books when the twins were in high school. I know the middle school plot lines could get pretty soapy and I'm sure they got more soapy when they were in high school.  But from my perspective, I feel there are plenty of soapy and entertaining story lines without the inclusion of estranged sisters and relationships with rapists. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Mystery of the Fuzzy Orange and Black Stripped Caterpillar

   About two weeks ago I was walking along when I noticed, inching it's way across the sidewalk, an adorable fuzzy caterpillar. All caterpillars are cute, but there is something especially endearing about a caterpillar covered with fur. They are like elongated miniature mammals. I knelt down and snapped a couple of photo's of him with my phone. I shared one of them on my instagram feed so all my instagram friends could also marvel in this small creatures cuteness. I mused to myself (and my instagram friends) 'I wonder what this little guy will turn into.' Here are the photos.

  Then more recently, I was walking past a bush when I noticed a weird, sci-fi looking webbed pod that immediately summoned forth images of 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers.' When I more closely inspected the strange pod, the sci-fi nature of it became more apparent. It seemed that there were caterpillar bodies stuck in the pod. My theory at the time was that perhaps some moth species lay egg sacks, like spiders. When the caterpillars were born and tried to hatch, something happened and they died while trying to emerge from their egg sack. (or, maybe an intelligent species of moths-aliens flew their spaceships from their home planet, Motherallia to Earth where laid their egg-sack full of their alien young. But when the egg-sack hatched, the young caterpillars could not handle our atmosphere and perished. Thus the alien moths plot to take over Earth was foiled! That's the movie version of this mysterious pod.)

   I continued on my walk when I came upon another bush and noticed another adorable fuzzy caterpillar! And then I noticed another, and another and another! This bush practically covered with fuzzy orange and black caterpillars.

   I became quickly fascinated by this bush and the prevalence of caterpillars on it. So I walked around it, snapping pictures of all the caterpillars. This is when I saw it, another webbed looking pod, this time covered with live caterpillars. I thought at the time that maybe these caterpillars had just hatched from their weird egg sack.

   This was not the only webbed pod on this bush either, there were more!

   Then I remembered a picture I had snapped several months ago. I had been walking past a different bush in a different town when I saw a weird webby structure with tiny bugs milling about inside it. Basically it was exactly what I had been observing in the current bush except with tinier caterpillars.  Here it is:

    One reaction I had to all these caterpillars is that while one fuzzy caterpillar is quite adorable, a whole bunch of them together causes them to lose their charm and they begin to look a bit creepy and almost gross. The word infestation rings in the mind. Too much of even the cutest animal can be a bad thing. Anyone who read 'Millions of Cats' when they were a kid knows this! Caterpillars here, caterpillars there, caterpillars everywhere. Hundreds of caterpillars, thousands of caterpillars, millions and trillions and billions of caterpillars!
    My momentary feelings of 'eww' about these caterpillars was short lived though. Mostly I think they are really interesting. In fact, these caterpillars quite intrigued me and when I got home I set out to investigate! It was a virtual investigation only involving search terms and google. I typed in various combinations of words that I thought accurately depicted these caterpillars, but had no luck until I typed in 'Seattle caterpillars' and instantly discovered what these little guys are: Tent Caterpillars! A lot of my assumptions about these caterpillars were all wrong. The webbed pod things I saw were not egg sacks, but nests that the caterpillars create as protection from various predators. Also, tent caterpillars molt four times during their life cycle. So when I saw nests with what looked like lots of dead caterpillars in them, they were probably just molted exoskeletons of caterpillars that are still thriving somewhere with a new exoskeleton.
    The tent caterpillar hatches from an egg in April or May. They emerge from their eggs and immediately strive the satiate their hunger ( like 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar') by munching on leaves. In whatever leafy haven they can find, the begin to make their tents out of their own homemade silky material. They can retreat to their silky structures at night where they are safe from snacking birds or cold. After six weeks of a life of eating, tent making and occasional molting, the tent caterpillar finds a place to make a cocoon. Here is a photo I took at the Tent Caterpillar Bush. I think this caterpillar is making a cocoon rather than a tent. The material seems slightly different, fuzzy rather then stretchy. But I don't know for sure. What do you think?

    After two weeks in it's cocoon, the tent caterpillar is no more and instead is now a moth. Being a moth comes with great responsibility. They must go forth and insure the continued prosperity of their kind by immediately mating and laying eggs. After being a caterpillar confined to a small bush and crowded nest, it must be nice to be a moth. They get to fly around and see the world from a whole new perspective. But the saddest thing about being a tent caterpillar is that you only get to be a moth for two days before dying. 
    The last picture I am going to share is of the bush where all the caterpillars live. It looks like an ordinary bush from far away, but on closer inspection it is quite interesting!

(Here are two websites where I got my info on Tent Caterpillars. Mostly from this one on the Seattle Governments page, but also a little bit from the wikipedia page which talked more about the Eastern Tent Caterpillar.)