Monday, November 29, 2010

Bertelmann's Cat

NPR did a piece about Volker Bertelmann, a classically trained musician from Dusseldorf, Germany who has been creating some interesting sounds on what he calls his "prepared piano."  Simply put, he will begin to play a piece, and then at some point drop a "thing" or things onto his piano's strings and hammers. It might be ping pong balls, aluminum foil, paper clips, leather, whatever. Sometimes the elements he drops in work and sometimes they don't. When they do it makes for an interesting sound.

Bertelmann said sometimes when he's playing the piano with ping pong balls, one or two will get away from him and eject out in an impresive arc which of course surprises the hell out of the unsuspecting members of the audience. The mental picture I had of that was pretty funny. But then another image popped into my mind - Bertelmann's elegant baby grand sitting in an equally elegant drawing room with a fish bowl filled with ping balls sitting on the elegant piano seat. That made me chuckle until I got to wondering if Bertelmann had a cat.  And if he did, was it the cat that initially had the brilliant and let's face it, cat-like-idea, to drop the ping pong balls into the strings and hammers first? My bet is on the cat.

Bertelmann's Cat, 8" x 8" watercolor •

Tree Farm • 8" x 8" watercolor • Framed to 12" x 12" • $200

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wild Turkeys

Every time I see wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), foraging alongside the roads up here in Maine, a smile crosses my face. I did a story about the reintroduction of these birds in Maine while working for The Irregular newspaper up in Kingfield back in the early 80s.  I had heard about a reintroduction program in Maine, got curious like a good reporter and started nosing around. As it turns, this once plentiful breed was on the brink of extinction in 17 of 36 states in this country including Maine.

At one time wild turkeys existed in significant numbers in York and Cumberland Counties.  Deforestation eliminated their habitat and food source of insects, berries, grass, grains and small reptiles, which drove them close to extinction in the 1930s. Reintroduction programs began in Maine in 1942 when the Department of Inland Fisheries and Game released 24 birds on Swan Island, in Sagadahoc County. In the 60s, fish and game clubs in Bangor and Windham imported birds that were raised from part wild and part game-farm stocks. But all attempts failed - wardens determined it was bad breeding and poaching - a bad combination. 

In 1977 and 1978, MDIFW reintroduced another 41 wild turkeys from Vermont and released them in the towns of York and Eliot. This time it worked! Nine turkeys were harvested in Maine during Maine's 1986 hunting season. The number climbed significantly to 6,043 in 2009.

Today, there are more than seven million wild turkeys patrolling the hills and valleys, fields and woods in 49 of our 50 states. Alaska is the only state that doesn't claim to have turkeys in the wild, and though I am tempted to dispute this opinion by commenting that I know it has at least one big one for sure, I will honor my son's request to set politics aside in this blog and just wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with their dear friends and family!

Here are some fun wild turkey facts:

• Turkeys can fly up to 60 miles per hour and a distance of one mile
• Footprints of toms can exceed 6 inches.
There are approximately 5,500 feathers on an adult wild turkey. 
• Wild turkeys can run up to 25 miles per hour. Their top speed in flight is 55 miles per hour 
• A wild turkey’s gobble can be heard up to one mile away.
Wild turkeys see color and have excellent daytime vision - three times better than a human’s eyesight which also covers 270 degrees. But they have poor vision at night.
• Because they have so many predators, they roost in trees at night 

Wild Turkeys • 8" x 8" watercolor • Framed to 12" x 12" • $200


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


One of the best things about living on Munjoy Hill is the Eastern Prom. It's a terrific little park with a trail that meanders along Casco Bay, attaches to Back Bay and beyond. You can stroll, ride or skate anything on it without a motor. The highlight each day is observing the parade of dogs and their owners - but that's another story.

The Prom is also a great excuse to pause now and again.  Remember pause? It's when you sit and just stare into space with no action going on between your ears. I forget to pause until I see someone else parked on one of the benches at the Prom in deep pause. They look so peaceful just sitting there.

The fancy word for pause these days is meditation which very few of us can do - it's too hard. But we were all kids once and we all knew how to get lost in space.  So that's what I do. I hearken back to a time when it was okay to simply pause for a minute. It's quite nice!

Pause • 8" x 8" • watercolor • SOLD

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Clementine Open

I went to the local market the other day to get some provisions and ran across some clementines. Once upon a time you could only get the little gems during Christmas - they were a very special treat. I still consider them a treat and nabbed a bunch before they ran out (an old habit). While I was waiting in line I started thinking about the clementines... and cats.

I don't have a cat right now, so I can only just imagine them. There was something about seeing those  clementines in a bowl on my table with a couple of cats that got me to chuckling. There's no way I could keep a bowl of clementines in a bowl on my table because I would have taught my cats how to play table tennis with those clementines and they would have been really good at it, and extremely competitive. I can imagine this because believe it or not, we had a cat that learned to fetch a cigarette pack wrapper, trot it back to us and drop it on the floor at our feet.

When our kids were toddlers, our big excitement for the week was watching King Fu on TV with our neighbor Ron. On one of those nights during a commercial break, Ron taught our cat to fetch a cigarette pack wrapper (remember those?). Here's how it worked:

Play started by stripping the crinkly cellophane off one of our packs of cigs (I haven't smoked for 30 years), which immediately piqued the attention of our soundly sleeping cat. He'd be up and off the couch and at our feet in a flash. Next, we got him all excited and circling neurotically around our ankles by rolling the crinkly wrapper between our palms. It made a heck of a racket - probably a lot like those chip packages everyone is complaining about these days.

Then we'd get down on the floor with the cat, eyeball to eyeball, and set the crinkly ball on the floor between us. The cat would stand there and stare at it with her Bjorn Borg-lack-of-interest-like-she- could-have-cared-less expression. We would make an O with our thumb and index finger, and shoot that ball of cellophane a bloody mile. The cat would take off like streaked lightning, bat that crinkly ball around a bit and, sure enough, pick the blasted thing up, and with it in her mouth like a dog, trot back to us and, I repeat, drop it right at our feet.

This is a true story.

The Clementine Open, 8" x 8" watercolor on paper • Framed to 12" x 12" • $200

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Make Believe Place in the Off-season at Biddeford Pool

My friend Ellen had a long stretch of time to kill between two appointments here in Portland so she asked me if I wanted to go explore. I suggested Biddeford Pool - Tom and I had kayaked out of there many years ago, but we never really checked it out.

Biddeford Pool is a small mostly summer community on the south side of the mouth of the Saco River. It's five or six miles southeast of downtown Biddeford on 208. The Pool is actually a large tidal pool that goes to mud at low tide, but is kept drudged at the mouth where it empties into the Saco. There were a couple of lobster boats out there.

The community is a mix of little original houses (it was the site of Maine's first recorded permanent settlement then called Winter Harbor - circa 1616), and newer minor McMansions which are way too big and really too obnoxious for this little bit of land. We tooled around looking for a place to eat and ended up at a boat landing which also looks like the center of "town" on the Saco where you could spit across to the other side of the river, but couldn't get there. So we backtracked and took a trip out to the East Point Audubon Sanctuary that at first looked like a golf course it was so green and flat. It was a little too cold and blustery to walk, but if you wanted to they do allow parking on the street. We continued our drive along the ocean side of the community which was below sea level - or so it seemed. The water was boiling and pretty damn scary-looking. I don't know how people do it - there were waves slamming those rocks (called Jordan Rocks), as if their sole purpose was to one day reach those houses.

We meandered in and around the community which was pretty much closed up for the season, and although the dunes grass was all yellowed, it was still summer-like in a way because you could, even on a fall day like that one, imagine it being summer there. I picked out houses I could live in and others I couldn't, and imagined spending a summer in a place like this. Even saw a couple of crows I would paint flitting here and there. I came home and did a quick sketch of a make believe place in the off season at Biddeford Pool.

A Make Belief Place in the Off-season at Biddeford Pool, 8" x 8" watercolor • Framed to 12" x 12" • $200

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Let it go and let it be

Although November is generally lumped with March as one of Maine's more drabbish, I have chosen to think to the contrary.  It's a matter of sanity - a trick I use to get through to the ski season. I rationalize that November is one of our more beautiful months - it's just that you have to work a little harder to see it.

The issue is fundamental. We have been color blinded by the brilliance of hardwood leaves which, like a flashy dresser take our attention away from the less colorful and more tastefully attired partner. It's the 'ole male duck versus female duck dilemma. She is actually more intricate and elegant in design, but our eyes sweep to him first. It's in our DNA - another leftover from our time as fish people - we can't resist the flashy thing.  But if we look hard enough, there are extraordinary colors out there right now.

The only issue I still grapple with this time of year are those few and far in between leftover apples I still see hanging in orchards here and there. Are they just too hard to reach? Do farmers use them to scare off birds - they do resemble shrunken heads after a while. Or do they leave them just to bug the hell out of people like me who subscribe to an ancient superstition that says, if you leave a few apples in the trees, the snowfall has a better chance of being less than average.

Anyway, this painting is supposed to be an exercise in finding some peace by letting it go and letting it be.

Letting It Go and Letting It Be, 8" x 8" watercolor • Framed to 12" x 12" • $200

Monday, November 8, 2010

claudia diller: feral Feline Faerie

claudia diller: feral Feline Faerie: "When it gets cold, wet and blustery here in the city of Portland, I begin to turn my thoughts to all of those cats I see on my early morning..."

Feral Feline Faerie

When it gets cold, wet and blustery here in the city of Portland, I begin to turn my thoughts to all of those cats I see on my early morning walks. They scuttle along the gutters, under cars and back into alleyways to secure daytime dens where they can sleep off the night. Although I fear the worst, I keep myself sane by creating images that puts those cats in a better place than they are (of course I also support my local animal refuge organization too).

I don't know why I think there's any way in hell a cat is going be doing what I have depicted here, but you have to admit there is a hint of the unimaginable about cats in general. I guess that's why I find them to be such a fascinating subject. For whatever reason, I see them focused and extremely serious about their acrobatic stunt work. It is after all, a matter of nine lives and death.

I have also depicted a good faerie here. She's not a syrupy sweet faerie, but one who represents all of those people who have the courage to take feral cats out of their predicaments and put them in a better situation. This one is inspired by two people.

My best childhood friend and sister Morgan, is a veterinarian who takes in feral cats. The first time I visited her I never even saw them the whole time I was there - just  traces. It was really quite interesting. I tried to find them one afternoon, but never did.  One night however, as I lay asleep on the couch in the living room, I had a visitation. I was awakened by what I can only describe as a pat on the butt (I use Websters definition of butt as "the thick end of anything"). I thought I was dreaming about Robert Redford and went back to sleep. The next morning Morgan said it was probably one of the cats.

The other friend-of-all-cats friend of mine is my childhood neighbor Mrs. Katz, who spent many years capturing feral cats in our old neighborhood and having them neutered and spayed to help stem the population explosion. It was her thing and what she could do to help she said. I always thought it interesting that her last name was Katz and that she loved and helped cats!

So anyway, bless all of those little beasts out there.

Feral Feline Faerie, 8" x 8" watercolor • Framed to 12" x 12" • $200

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Giant Chicken Delusion

Delusions are one of my favorite pastimes.  They come mostly and with great intensity when I am a little sicker than normal, and right now I am. I've got the flu.

This particular delusion was kind of strange even for me. I think it may have had something to do with an excursion Tom and I took to the Chewonki Foundation's headquarters in Midcoast Maine a couple of weeks ago on a coffee run. The Chewonki Foundation "fosters an appreciation for the natural world and for working in the community for others." Check it out:

So we were meandering around the grounds and ended up at the farm part of the compound where the students and staff grow and raise their own food. There were sheep, a heifer, a horse, and chickens just about everywhere. The chickens are what intrigued me the most because they had full run of the grounds and outbuildings.  They were in the asparagus patch, in the manure pile, and with the horse, which was sound asleep on his feet. We found chickens up in the rafters in the barn, in the flower gardens and in the nearby woods. At one point I really felt like they might even occupy the farmhouse because there were no people to be seen anywhere around, nowhere, zippo. If I wasn't with Tom I might have thought I was in a Hitchcock film and would have started backing up very, very slowly.  There was one rooster that spent the whole time nervously herding indiscriminately. It was kind of fun making him nervous actually!

Anyway, I'm passing this all along because the delusion was about giant chickens and other farm animals that did occupy a farmhouse. I'm only guessing it had something to do with the Chewonki experience, but who knows. All I can say is that when the spirit moves you, you go with the spirit. For whatever reason, the above painting came out the way it did and remains a complete mystery to me. I guess that's why I like delusions so much - they are a great mystery in what can sometimes seem like a less mysterious world these days.

The Giant Chicken Delusion • 8" x 8" watercolor • Framed to 12" x 12" • $200