Alaskan Summer

I have been in Homer, Alaska for almost a month now, and tomorrow I am going to Prince William Sound on the F/V Sea Mist, to spend the rest of the summer chasing salmon among the fjords. The midnight sun is here in abundance, bringing with it an explosion of plant life, animal energy, and waves migrating visitors: squawking cranes, leaping salmon, and  human seekers and adventurers of all kinds.

It has been good reconnecting with friends old and new here in this small coastal community, this self-styled ‘cosmic hamlet by the sea’… Even though my home is now down south among the Doug fir and madrona by the Salish Sea, I will always remember this place and these people.

While in Homer I stumbled upon a great community art project called Searching for the Sublime at the End of the Road. I helped Michael Gerace, Jesus Landin Torres III, Jimmy Riordan, Sarah Tonin, and many others to build a hive-shaped adobe cenotaph on Bishop’s Beach. It was a great learning experience in mud, sand and teamwork, and also a labor of love that suddenly and poetically climaxed when a storm-surge washed away most of the cenotaph a day or two after it was fully fired and complete. We knew it would be ephemeral, but the swiftness of the ocean in reclaiming its dominion over the beach made it that much dearer to our memories. I must also thank Asia Freeman and Michael Walsh at Bunnell Arts Center for bringing this project to Homer, and for all the other great things they are working on at the gallery and in Old Town. If you are ever in Homer, take a long walk down Bishop’s beach, get a loaf of bread at Two Sisters, stop into Bunnell to see some fascinating art, consider a tattoo at A Muse Ink, get a good book at the Mermaid cafe/ Old Inlet bookshop, have some bouillabaisse at Maura’s… you won’t be disappointed.

I am now looking forward to spending another summer in the labyrinth of rain-drenched islands and fjords that is Prince William Sound, among salmon, bears, deer, eagles, jellyfish, kelp, and the constant radio gossip of the seine fleet. When the days get shorter and the pink salmon are gone, then it will be time to go home to San Juan Island, to blackberries, plums, apples, winter squash, and good friends that I miss.

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Seeker at the end of the road

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Faces of the Down East Saloon

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The ubiquitous Pushki

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The Sea Mist, built in 1976

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Sketches, with a figure copied from Arthur Rackham

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Drawing by Karma

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Last day in Washington, views of the Salish Sea

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Miscellaneous sketches

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A memory of India

Bird's eye view of the cenotaph site

Bird’s eye view of the cenotaph site

Looking out from the alder grove by the creek, cenotaph under construction below

Looking out from the alder grove by the creek, cenotaph under construction below

firing the cenotaph

firing the cenotaph

inside

inside

after the storm

after the storm

Island Spring

Mother Mouse

Mother Mouse

Now I am living in my yurt on San Juan Island, on a south-facing slope at the foot of Cady Mountain. Awakening each morning to innumerable birdsongs all around, walking outside through waves of tiny wildflowers and the rising tide of nettles, grass, and brush, I have been taking time to watch the bustling insects pursue their mates. Tomorrow I am going to Alaska to prepare for the Prince William Sound pink salmon fishery, but I will be back to this island Eden when the blackberries ripen in September. I have been drawing and painting as always, going back into a simple mode of observation and reflection.

Fishery Point, Waldron I.

Fishery Point, Waldron I.

Beach Camp

Beach Camp

E & M

E & M

Town

Town

Open Mic

Open Mic

Observations (large bug at upper right copied from Aaron Horkey)

Observations (large bug at upper right copied from Aaron Horkey)

Faith, that the sun will rise tomorrow.

Faith, that the sun will rise tomorrow.

 

Home Improvement for a Friend

My friend Kyle of the Hub Bike Co-op recently approached me about doing a small painting for the bathroom in his house. It seemed like rather an odd request, until I got there and saw that the entire house has has been lovingly remodeled in bold cheerful colors with a quirky and endearing sense of design. Kyle has put a lot of skill and creativity into the place, especially the little bathroom. Check out the beautiful tilework in the shower:

2014-01-24_14-48-07_258Kyle showed me a small painting in a sort of Chinese landscape style that he liked, and asked for something along those lines, insisting, however, that I go where inspiration led. Bathrooms are places where we use water, a place of cleansing and refreshment, so I wanted to paint water. I also wanted to continue the lovely azure color of the tiles, which goes well with the bright yellow walls. And, the bathroom being a small, intimate space, I thought it would be nice to show a broad view of a vast, far away place.

2014-01-24_14-47-50_444What emerged was a dreamy landscape inspired by the deep fiords of the Alexander Archipelago… Southeast Alaska. Tall Sitka spruce along a drift-strewn beach, with a classic old-fashioned halibut schooner chugging along to their next set. Wraith-like shreds of cloud waft along the avalanche-scarred mountainsides… A crude imitation of the real thing, but hopefully enough to jog our memories.

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I enjoyed contributing a small piece to this excellent home, itself an ongoing work of art…2014-01-24_14-49-01_177

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oregon Holidays, and a story for Dog lovers

Marys Peak

Marys Peak

Looking south from Bald Hill
Looking south from Bald Hill

Bald Hill

Bald Hill

Benton County Historical Society Museum

Benton County Historical Society Museum

Having spent the holidays in Philomath, Oregon, I am struck once more by the beauty of the Willamette Valley and the Coast Range mountains. The pale lichen-covered oaks and ashes offset the dark serrations of Douglas fir. Shifting clouds and fog alternately reveal and disguise the surrounding hills and ridges. Fertile farmland spreads across the valley floor, criss-crossed by roads and bike paths, punctuated by peaceful towns and hamlets, and divided by the ever flowing rivers. I grew up in this place and always felt its beauty in a deep, subconscious way. But now returning after many far travels, with a keener eye for species and climates, I am delighted anew by this gentle landscape.                                                   Heading farther into the mountains to Marys Peak, the forest grows taller and darker, the moss thickens on the branches, and the road curves and twists like a snake to climb the steep ridges. On the lower slopes of the Peak, older trees appear like mythical guardians of an ancient realm. Their weathered crowns tower over us like great shaggy pagodas, pointing upwards out of sight. The mountain is crowned with broad meadows ringed by a ghostly blue forest of noble firs. Up there you can see from the shore of the Pacific to the Cascade peaks, and to the north and south an unbroken procession of rugged green mountains. This Coast Range, marked by clearcuts and dotted with little valley hamlets, is one of those places where you could spend your entire life and not see every rushing creek and mossy glen. Here and there are human homes carved out of the temperate jungle, roads connecting valleys to the coast, but in the end it is the trees that rule the landscape. Fallen giants are replaced by saplings racing upwards, as the hungry mills wait to transform them into newspapers and condominiums…                                                                                                                                                                         For a long time I’ve been meaning to record a story read out loud, and thanks to my friend Sam Hazen I have now done so. It is “The Birth of Bran” from the book Irish Fairy Tales by James Stephens. The story will be of particular interest for those who have dogs in their life…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hungry Animals at the Co-op

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On Thursday I finished a mural commission at the Bellingham Food Co-op, a 4′ x 8′ piece in the children’s play area (next to the free tea station and the service desk). It took me nine days of working anywhere from 5 to 12 hours at a stretch. I had a lot of fun painting this, and best of all was when kids would come in to play while I was working on it and provide all kinds of interesting commentary. Children have a way of bringing a fresh perspective to the conversation: while most adults would say “oh, nice mural…” I had a number of kids ask me simply: “why are you painting that?”

Karl Meyer, my friend and the community relations person at the Co-0p, came to me a few months ago with the idea that the children’s area needed a mural. He liked my Eat North West poster (which obviously resonates with the Co-op’s provision of local and regional food) and suggested something similar. I came up with this image as a way of illustrating healthy eating in a more fun and entertaining way. Everyone is fascinated by animals, expecially children. The weary farmer, asleep in his wheelbarrow after a long day’s work in the autumn harvest season, doesn’t notice the hungry animals gorging themselves. But it’s ok, because the harvest is so abundant that there is enough to let some other species have their share. The whole ecosystem is provided for. Even in the middle of Bellingham, deer, raccoons, rats, and other animals are a part of life that aren’t going away.

There is a strange dichotomy in the way that Americans spend vast amounts of money on keeping dogs, cats, and other pets, and yet are ignorant or frightened of the wild animals living in forests and briar patches all around them. We sit indoors watching films and tv shows filled with exotic and imaginary animals, while raccoons plunder dumpsters unnoticed outside. I think that we should be more observant and appreciative of the creatures recolonizing the margins of our civilization. They can better instruct us in the art of survival, and nourish our ancient yearning to live among many species, than can our house-bound pets.

Acrylic on plywood wall panel

Acrylic on plywood wall panel

Return from the sea

photo 2At last we have caught our quota of halibut and black cod, and I am free once more. We had another great adventure out there, but I’ve seen enough of heaving waves and slimy fish for a while. Although I didn’t have great deal of time to sketch or paint over the summer, I found time on long wheel watches to put words together in remembrance of things that I saw and felt.

Blood Mother Ocean

The high cliffs of Nakchamik crumble rusty red and purple

down into the wide grey sea.

Striped and streaked with paler white

like giant marbled flanks cut from the earth’s flesh.

We hunt our prey with hooks.

The boat’s awash in blood, slime, bile, and digestive juices,

Eggs and sperm of frantic fishes mad to live.

An octopus appears in the checker

Red blooming, alien intelligence unfurling across the aluminium.

And Sam with the gaff behind it, takes its life away

It will make good bait.

Cod guts gashed open reveal smaller fish and their own organs,

Tiny crabs and shrimp shells half-dissolved,

Worms writhing through it all.

We go on, gnawing our way through the world,

This world full of blood and shit and parasites and predators.

Green hills on the island echo far sweet memories of a different life.

But we are hunting still

And the red jewel of a halibut heart is my elixir of strength

The rich taste of iron life-force

Sends another pulse born of iron rocks and salty sea

Swirling into my own.

Half an Hour

“This place can kill you in a heartbeat if you get lackadaisical about shit”

Going through Unalga pass with Greg

With half an hour we slip through

Just in time.

The rusting hulk of a crabber on the rocks

Is a testament to the forces at work here.

Greg tells me of deck-loading his little Bay boat with giant halibut

And barely escaping a ten-foot wall of water in the pass.

The surging pull of the moon was

“Like the fucking Death Star up there”

Half an hour too late that time.

So much wisdom and experience

Of the dangerous world

Are stored up in this greying man.

Now a hard-driven captain and vessel owner

Snapping back at the scams that gnaw at

His narrow profit margins.

He gets his own.

Better Angels

Peace and anger roll in waves across our minds;

Here we have struggled with demons since the onset of time.

War never will be ended once and for all across the globe

For day by day each man must make himself at peace.

The baboon survivor of ages past still snarls in reaction

To every perceived infringement of territory

While the better angels of our nature look on in 20/20 hindsight

In every place, in every age, humans have hoped to save their world

From the ravages of themselves.

May we all find the patience to forgive our neighbours

Day after day until the end of our lives.

Floating World

Pausing in our salty labours

We gaze up out of the bait shed

At clouds emblazoned like holy scripture

Across the blue vault of heaven.

From far green mountains ringing round the bay

Wafts a freshly blooming fragrance

Washing away the stench of halibut blood and livers

For a moment.

We gulp down lungfuls of this airy elixir:

The sweet ethereal promise of going home some day.

Sunlight breaks through like a revelation

And every atom of our floating world seems forged anew

As I shovel a thousand colors of starfish

Back into the sea.

Leviathan

We saw a sperm whale swim underneath our boat

Passing just below the bow

And our hearts raced with fear and wonder

To see that giant silent shadow in the sea.

REM

After dreaming of hot city streets

Riding a bike over broken asphalt among dogs and children

At home on woodland paths,

I get up to pee

And slowly awaken to the fact that I am at sea

On a fishing vessel

Encapsulated in sea-going machinery,

Rolling about on the waves.

No one told me life would be so strange.

In Sand Point

A flocking fleet of fishermen

Settles in to wait out the storm.

Drinking beer and coffee

As they rest their clawlike hands on galley tables,

Comparing notes, critiquing gear,

Sharing future fears and schemes and strategies.

These tough little boats packed with hooks,

Sharpened to maximum efficiency,

Evolved through adversity,

These are the pointed canines of humanity

Feeding the hunger of wealthy Japanese and Americans

For thick succulent black cod and halibut flanks

This cannery town ruled by Trident Corporation

Is the grinding jaws of our civilization.

The Birds

O Seabirds, how you must rejoice

At the sight of our stout vessel

Plowing the wide grey seas.

Can you tell the longliner by its neon flags and buoys?

Can you smell the salted herring before we set our first string?

At least we are not so lonesome at sea,

Crowded by such motley flocks:

The proud sabre-winged albatrosses,

The fulmars in their nattering multitudes.

Here is a feast for all:

Free lunch and dinner and breakfast

Fresh entrails and fish carcasses of every description

And most coveted of all,

The golden oily gobbets of livers

For which you crowd in quarrelling and peck each other about the head.

Eat then,

O feathered hordes

And be sated.

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Irons in the fire…

The mural at Make.Shift was finished in February. Many thanks to Cat and all the volunteers for letting me rummage around in the basement for five weeks, and also to Cullen Beckhorn of the Bellingham Alternative Library for letting me use some of his books as visual references.

After the mural came a few months of mostly garden projects: planting dozens of fruit trees and shrubs at 2500 Donovan Avenue in Happy Valley, sheet mulching, turning compost, feeding chickens, growing starts, etc. Along the way I found my own fascination with useful plants and permaculture growing by the day.  I must thank Martin Crawford for his excellent book Creating a Forest Garden as well as Sepp Holzer for Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture.

Artistically, I have been thinking more and more about how to be creative with materials close at hand, like bamboo, twine, cob, and wood.  Drawing and painting still hold a unique sense of fulfillment for me, and are also an excellent way of recording knowledge and sharing  ideas. However, I see a real need, for myself and others of my generation, to provide for ourselves with the resources in our towns and fields and forests. In this way, we can gain some independence from a globalized    economy whose currents and storms are tossing us around like twigs in the ocean.

Through attending Neighbourhood Association meetings and taking regular walks I found a great many good connections with other people living in Happy Valley. Like a forest seedling inoculated with mycorrhizae, these friendly connections provided me with everything from clumps of bamboo to hot bowls of soup. Me being out in the garden a lot, and having a yurt and a cob building popping up between a trailer park and subsidized housing, caused a lot of folks to stop and chat as they walked their dogs or brought the kids home from school. So many times one positive comment or exchange with a passerby really made my day.

My neighbor Aaron Walters and I decided in March to start an ‘intersection repair’ in our neighborhood, and through many cups of tea and informal meetings, it has become the Happy Valley Community Crossroads project. http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2013/06/29/3071329/happy-valley-residents-hope-to.html Picking up steam in the neighborhood and even getting some attention around town. Having seen such projects in Portland, Oregon, I feel that it could really benefit the community of Happy Valley.

My good friend Kenny Schaumberg returned from a journey to Kauai in early April, and with Traesti Gudmundson and Luke Zonka we started making plans for expanding the garden, a garden that has become to us the seed of paradise, a budding urban Eden that we have sweated and worried over and dreamed about more than any other single project, because it is more than a project: it is a way of life in the making. Aquaponics, beekeeping, greenhouses, aquatic crops, ducks, vermiculture, mycoculture, biogas, biochar… the possibilities are really endless when you have an acre of land to work with, access to information and a little imagination.

Then, in the middle of April, we encountered a roadblock. We know all along that it could drop down on us like an airstrike, but it was still an unpleasant surprise when it did. I will reproduce here my letter to the Cascadia Weekly describing the situation:

To the Editor,
I live in a 20′ yurt on a small urban farm in the Happy Valley neighborhood of Bellingham. My colleagues and have also built a 10′x12′ cob structure to be a music studio and use a small food cart trailer as a kitchen. The land, an empty field before 2011, belongs to a family member who has generously allowed us to build and grow here. In the last two years we have grown all kinds of edible crops, raised dozens of healthy chickens, and planted fruit and nut trees that will yield food for decades. Almost every day neighbors and passersby stop to talk about gardening and natural building, or just to tell us they think what we’re doing is great.
Then last week we received a letter from the City of Bellingham, informing us that they have received an anonymous complaint and our three structures are a zoning violation and must all be taken down or destroyed by a certain deadline or else incur fines of $1000 per day and potential jail time. No judgement of harm or benefit to society, let alone the name of the complainer or their reasoning, just a rote condemnation. I suppose the city only has enough funding these days to demand huge fines by mail.
In an age when young college graduates are still priced out of the housing market, forced to settle for the transience of renting, we seized an opportunity to put down roots of all kinds and demonstrate a low-impact way of life in the midst of suburbia. What does our society need more than young people growing more food and consuming less junk? We have come up hard against a real roadblock to sustainability: a shortsighted bureaucracy that cannot fathom anything new. Bellingham loves to think it’s sustainable, but what’s behind all the eco-literature book clubs and fanfare over local pastries? Will real-life permaculture and natural building be relegated to backwoods enclaves beyond the harsh gaze of intolerance? Once again, the young and creative will be exiled by gentrification.
Daniel Tucker

Luckily for me, another friend has allowed me to set up my yurt temporarily on his rural property. Traesti is working with an architect to have the cob structure measured and qualified for the building code. The garden is still going strong, which is really the heart of our efforts there. Yurts come and go, and may come back…Many of those same neighbors and passersby who had stopped to chat and comment stopped by again to express their concern for me and my yurt, and their anger at the city officials who condemn harmless yurts and cottages while allowing developers to churn out flimsy OSB apartment complexes that will be toxic ruins 30 years from now, another mess for my young generation to clean up. People from all over town saw the letter and voiced their support for our cause. I have also sensed a lot of interest in yurts, particularly from younger folks who, like myself, want to avoid being saddled with debt for 30 years just to have a place you can call your own home. I have hope that there are some open-minded people somewhere in city hall and that perhaps we, as a community and a city and a society, can have a reasonable conversation about how we want to live. The story is not over.

This summer I am fishing in Alaska once again on the Western Freedom (http://www.westernfreedomseafoods.com/) to save money for more dirt and plants on shore, fertilizing the land with the sea you might say. Fishing also fulfills a primal need for adventure: the fascination of distant islands and alien creatures of the undersea, and the satisfaction of eating tasty fish at the end of the day. I look forward to getting back to Bellingham in a few months when we have caught our halibut and black cod quota.