Trailing Wile

First full day of spring. A week ago it was mid-40's and sunny. When I took the dogs out the birds seemed deafening. After months of wind as the loudest narrator of our walks, the volume was startling. And fun.

And then Monday night, we got two inches of slush dumped on us. As Finn, Uly and I headed out the sound track was back to a variation on winter- the cold, slow, tinkling of sleet. And the crunch of slush under foot.

Before long we found tracks of someone else.

We hear coyotes all the time, at least several times each week. Last winter there was a cat fight under our bedroom window. I went out to break it up, and found a coyote, buried to his waist in the hedge, trying to get at our 9 lb sociopathic spidermonkey of a cat, Max. The coyote seemed to disappear, vaporize before my eyes. Then I heard him meet up with the rest of his group in the dark, and they yipped their way out into the fields behind us.

Max was spastic with adrenalin for a few minutes, but eventually no worse for wear.

On Tuesday we came across the tracks in the snow, and after a moment, I compared them to our own. They were fresh in the soft slushy ground covering, not degraded much at all. Finn and Uly were on them immediately, noses to the ground, then looking to me, then back to the tracks. And off we went.

We hear them all the time, but see them rarely. Darby and I stood and watched one last year for 15 minutes. It didn't move, just stared at us. The dogs couldn't see him because of their lower sightline. We just stood and stared right back, eventually moving on, feeling as if we had interrupted him long enough.

A couple years before that I came face to face with one in a blizzard. The dogs were trailing behind me. I was walking head down, just trying to keep moving and get the dogs worn out. They never seem to care that the weather is nasty, and need the exercise to keep them from getting too wound up. Tired dog is a good dog. And I was enjoying the blizzard, plowing along with my head down. Just as I turned east over a culvert, I sensed something ahead of me. He must have done the same thing, because just as my head came up, so did his, and we locked on each other about 15 ft apart. I'm sure if the visibility had been much more then the 25 feet we had that afternoon he would never have let it happen.

We stared for a moment, frozen. I heard the dogs' collars tinkling behind me, turned to cut them off before a chase. But when I glanced back ahead, there was no need, the coyote had vanished. With the wind and heavy snow, the dogs didn't even nose the tracks.

But on Tuesday, they were beside themselves. Uly racing all over, checking the twin tracks of the first trail, then bounding over to a third pair that was raggedly paralleling the first. Finn moved with power and purpose, forgetting her age. It made me remember her 5 years ago- possibly the most athletic animal I've ever seen. And they were so busy going forward coming back, Uly circling between the two paths, I stayed right with them. I clicked a couple pictures, then glanced up at the woods ahead. Movement. Wait.... there again. The single coyote, looking dark in the damp woods. And then to the right, the pair. And they froze, looking over their shoulders our way.

Uly bounded forward, and they were gone.


T-bow's Barn

How to paint. To compose a picture. To lay paint on canvas....... or panel.

My approach has evolved at a pace similar to a Galapagos tortoise. But I arrived where I am by studying other painters, and trial and error. I really do think you learn from failure, rather than success, telling people all the time what I believe to be the secret of painting: 500 bad paintings.

Well, you have to be paying attention. 500 without a vocabulary of self criticism would be 500 down the drain. After a few thousand paintings I still feel like I learn something everyday. Failure. Facing it, then recovering.

I started out to be a watercolorist. Winslow Homer's Blue Boat is still one of my favorite paintings, and I love the watercolors of Thomas Aquinas Daly. But off I wandered. I still paint in watercolor, but there was an itch to keep exploring, following a thread. My teacher and mentor Richard Beale suggested pastels as a transition to oil.

I worked in pastel for several years, first as an illustrator, then as a painter. But there was that thread, leading....... somewhere. Larger was the impetus. I wanted to work on a larger scale, and oil seemed like the logical answer. Either oil or acrylic, and I'd used acrylic as an underpainting for my pastels, and knew it wasn't for me.

So I picked up oil, and ended up thinking, What have I been doing? I'm an oil painter.

This all happened over about 20 years. Tortoise like, me.

So what's all this got to do with T-bows barn? Well, I know how I paint and why. The result of all the mistakes. Years of watercolor, and then pastel, have brought me to approaching painting in a way that feels natural to me, like I am laying down uneven, broken veils of color, one over another, till the painting seems finished. A conversation, laying paint dawn, pulling some of it off. Talking in paint, in color, in tone. Usually.

Not this time, T-bow's Barn. Not him. This guy, Wayne Thiebaud. A painter who's work I love, but who I have never emulated, or even thought to emulate.

Where did this come from? Well, the shape is reminiscent of Thiebaud's cakes, and that may have been a subconscious push. Paint like frosting. Where does this thread lead? Anywhere? Maybe its just a short thread. One painting. Who knows. It was very fun and satisfying to paint.

Animal Dreams

Six bear sketches, pencil on paper.

Planning/thinking sketches for a piece I'm working on. You wouldn't guess that I don't have any interest in being a wildlife artist. I always enjoy looking at good wildlife art, but as with the rest of my work, it is the memory of experience that I am interested in. Memory of the natural world, and how that shapes us as human beings. What things fill my mind and imagination, inform who I am and how I relate to the world.

Jim Harrison has written of his dreams of animals and how he thinks they are somehow representative of himself and how his psyche is trying to work things out symbolicly that he can't figure out in his waking life. I'm sure that's a terrible interpretation of what he said, but that's why I paint and don't write novels. It doesn't mean I agree with him any less.

Bears, dogs, horses, birds, fish. And pretty much every other animal. All interesting to me. All in my head after I see them. It's funny to me, but I dream of animals frequently, and while I can easily see how many/most of the animals I dream of could be representative of something else, Molly and Finn are always there as themselves.

Always themselves

Horse by Jim Harrison What if it were our privilege
to sculpt our dreams of animals?
But those shapes in the night
come and go too quickly to be held
in stone: but not to avoid these shapes
as if dreams were only a nighttime
pocket to be remembered and avoided.
Who can say in the depths of
his life and heart what beast
most stopped life, the animals
he watched, the animals he only touched
in dreams? Even our hearts don’t beat
the way we want them to. What
can we know in the waking,
sleeping edge? We put down
my daughter’s old horse, old and
arthritic, a home burial. By dawn with eye
half open, I said to myself, is
he still running, is he still running
around, under the ground? from The Theory and Practice of Rivers, Winn Books, 1985
Lifted from poetry dispatch & other notes from the underground


I love to be outside. Probably the foundation of my being a landscape painter. And my well being. Darby seems to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. She needs sunshine fairly regularly. I don’t mind overcast, clouds, rain, snow. I prefer it, actually. What I like to call Big Weather. I enjoy a beautiful day as much as the next person, but I don’t need that many. I find days and weeks of bright sunshine kind of tedious. But either way, I want to be out in it.

Of course, I love my Gore-Tex.

Somewhere under there is my beautiful wife, having fun, wishing it was sunny.

On the Way Upstream blog, I read of a recent study by the Nature Conservancy, documenting for the first time the building evidence that people, especially children, are spending less and less time outside, in the natural world.

From The Nature Conservancy-

“As a scientist and a conservationist, I find these results almost terrifying,” said Oliver Pergams, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lead author of the study. “We are seeing a fundamental shift away from people’s interest in nature, not just in the US but in other countries, too. The consequences of this could be deep and far-ranging for health, for human well-being, and for the future of the planet.”

When tied together with ideas like Nature-Deficit Disorder - outlined in Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods- this study leads to some ideas for addressing a lot of childhood issues - get them outside.

Under the layer of snow is a very happy Finn, loving her favorite season.

For me, to be removed from the environment, not to be outside on a regular basis, leaves me stressed, depressed, and generally unhappy. I enjoy cities and all they contain, for about three days. I had a studio - a wonderful, north-light filled space- at Anderson Alley in Rochester, for a couple years. I loved the space and my neighbors, but I hated being in the city all day everyday. The studio I am in now is less than ideal, but it is in a pretty ideal location. I’m out with the dogs for at least an hour everyday, and usually a little more around the studio. Kind of a minimum for my well being. And the source of my work.

And I love my new neighbors, too.


I have cross country skied for years. I really prefer bush-wacking rather than groomed trails, and when we have a good snow season (meaning lots of snow), we go right out the back door. When we have a light snow season, I head to Harriett Hollister Spencer Park, where the skate skiers go zinging past and make me envious of their speed. So this year I joined them.

I'm terrible. A combination of lack of technique and lack of aerobic fitness to the degree required. And we have had such a disappointing and inconsistent snow season it has been difficult to get out with any regularity. But it's really fun, and I love learning new things, struggling along the learning curve.

Yesterday was about 33 degrees. The trees weighted down with ice and snow, waving in a light breeze, branches clicking and tinking together, sounding as if I was surrounded by enormous bowls of Rice Krispies.

And Molly and Finn were as happy as dogs can be.

One of the most important aspects of being an artist is the same as any small business person- you have to show up for work. If you are sitting around waiting for the muse to show up, it may be a long wait. Or a short career. But the flip side of this is that there is always something to be done. You can work all the time you are awake and not get done. I am making a real effort this year to work as much as necessary, probably even a little more, but not all the time. My muse is somewhere in my head, and a good regular dose of fresh air helps me see her more clearly.

Today we are back to 50 degrees. Then back to freezing later in the week. And hopefully some snow.