Category: nature

perception: part one

per·cep·tion
pərˈsepSH(ə)n/
noun
noun: perception; plural noun: perceptions
  • the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
    • the state of being or process of becoming aware of something through the senses.
    • a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.
    • intuitive understanding and insight.
    • PSYCHOLOGY/ZOOLOGY
      the neurophysiological processes, including memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli.

 

(For the purposes of this blog post, I am concentrating on the second part of this definition, the mental impressions we have of ourselves and the world around us.)

I have been pondering this term perception for quite some time. It crept into my brain during the elections, most specifically to explain the outcome. I began to realize that it didn’t matter what Hillary Clinton did or did not do, the perception that she did something wrong (or even illegal) was strong enough to stop people from voting for her.

Perception is much different than reality or truth. Perception is based on all sorts of factors, some of which have nothing to do with the truth and everything to do with our backgrounds, our experiences, our morals, our wishes and our desires. It is not quantifiable, nor is it something that can be predicted on an individual level.

There are many ways that perception has been wandering around my thoughts lately. I had actually planned several other posts about it, but I think they will have to wait. This morning there was an image on facebook that hit me squarely in the gut.

The image was of a lion lying dead among the rocks.

Considering how many images flash before my eyes as I scroll through facebook, it is fair to ask, why did this one catch my eye? I don’t have a pet lion, I don’t go to the zoo often enough to get to know the lions personally. I can’t say I have even seen this lion.

Here’s the thing. Tullamore was a part of a (now) rare group of lions. Most of the time we see lions living in the savannah, moving through the grass, showing up around waterholes and hunting the plentiful game. The lions of the west coast of Namibia are desert lions. They live in some of the harshest conditions, little water, little vegetation and little game. They have lived in this area for a very long time and once were pretty plentiful. Then came man. And cows. And other livestock.

In an area that is short on game, it makes sense that a herd of cows would be seen as a gift to a predator. It would also make sense that the owners of the cows would take great offense at having their livelihood eaten by a big cat. Here is where the perception thing comes in.

I am a rich American. I take a trip to Africa, stay in a lodge in the middle of a dessert for three days. I hear about these animals and I see the beauty of them. That is, after all, why I am there. I am a woman from the east coast of the US where there are no predators and I get to stand in front of a cheetah, or a rhinoceros, or to get close enough to practically touch an elephant and it seems like a dream. In the safety of my vehicle or standing beside the tracker with his gun, I am allowed the luxury of “being with” the animals, seeing them walk, run, play and hunt. I come home to watch countless videos of animals in the wild or Planet Earth or read books about how many species are going extinct. I view, from afar, the devastation of man around the world. And I judge. And I grieve. My perception of the death of a lion is based on my need to pet the fox when I was three (my mother nixed that idea quickly). My heartache comes from knowing that “Tullamore” was the last of a group of five male lions in the area (they were called the Five Musketeers). His four compadres were shot or poisoned over the last few years by farmers. I grieve because I met the guy who has has been studying these proud animals, a man who spends much of his life in isolation, and loves it. Unless someone kills an animal.

So what would be my perception if I were a Namibian farmer who does not see any monetary gain and many deficits with the lion population? What if I wanted to send my children to a good school, or build new fences, or dig a new well and a lion started to eat my profits? What if I am of a generation that grew up killing predators without judgement, in fact was rewarded with a pat on the back from my fellow farmers? How would I perceive lions then?

I don’t know. That is the thing about perception. You can’t always tell how you would react if you were in someone else’s shoes. I can only hope to feel compassion for this person. It is tough, it is a stretch for me, at least until I stop feeling so very angry and sad. Until I stop feeling. But right now, my perception of the person who poisoned this lion is that they are not a good person. I don’t know them, I will never meet them, but at this moment I hate them.

I will end by showing three photos. The first two are of cubs in the sand dunes. The last is of Dr. “Flip” Stander monitoring the lions. Despite the setbacks of the last couple of years, he continues to work with the growing population of lions, as well as finding ways of connecting with the surrounding human population. Looking at these pictures makes me smile. Life includes death, even if it doesn’t feel good. But for now, I want to concentrate on the living…

cub3dune2

 

Namibias-desert-lion-Flip-Stander

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Namibia

I returned from Namibia less than a month ago and I can honestly say I’ve never had a better trip. The country is trying to grow environmental tourism in such a way that everyone benefits. Their goal is to create a win/win for people AND animals, especially predators. It is a long term goal, one that will take a generation to really grow strong, but already there have been some positive stories. Not to mention the fact that the infrastructure construction is booming.

The good news (for me) is that the experience was amazing. There are still large swathes of the country that are uninhabited, mostly because they are uninhabitable. The sand sea of Namib is an immense section of land that has been evolving (and dying) for millions of years.Water is more than scarce, it is practically nonexistent. And yet some lifeforms do exist. The recent drought (how can you have a drought in such a dry country?) have made it even harder for them to survive.

Because of this, my experience in Namibia was much different than many visitors to Africa. There were no plains, there were no huge herds of anything. There was an enormous amount of sand. Each time I encountered an animal it was magical and exciting. (Except for Oryx, there are lots of them. No wonder they are the national animal.)

Here are some things I learned on the trip.

  1. Elephants do actually listen to humans. I found this out when an adolescent elephant began leaning on our vehicle while we were standing looking out the top of it. Instead of turning the truck on and scaring it away, the driver just said calmly “No, don’t do it”. The elephant stopped leaning, thought about it one more time, then walked away.
  2. Watching seals is not fun when there are newborns around. The newborns are not protected and often die by being squashed, especially if the seals get spooked and exit quickly to the water.
  3. I know exactly how big and heavy the horns are forester kudu. I also know how tall kudus are compared to me.
  4. I am a better photographer than I give myself credit for. That being said, there is still room for improvement. (Auto focus does not always know what it is you are trying to focus on. I will not show you the thousand blurry pictures that I took.) I thought I would be out of my league on a photography tour but it was actually extremely helpful and I learned a lot.
  5. There are few actual “wild” places in Africa. Even in the bush, animals are often collared in order to monitor them. Sometimes I felt like I was in what I call a “natural zoo”. In other words, the predators and other animals run free…until they get to the fence. The fact that there are miles in between fences does not take away from the fact that they can’t go wherever they want. The good news is that they are protected from local farmers who have a desire to kill any predator that might take away their livelihood. The bad news is that it creates an unnatural ecosystem that constantly has to be monitored. One place had so many lions that they were regularly catching giraffes. However, if it weren’t for these places, I would never have had the amazing experiences that I had.
  6. Even seasoned trackers get excited when they actually find the animal they are tracking. I will never forget when I heard our tracker say “I got them!” in an excited tone when he found the rhinos.
  7. White rhinos are less persnickety and mean than black rhinos.
  8. Rhino horns are made from the same materials as our fingernails. If you know of anyone taking Chinese herbs that contain rhino horns, shoot them. No, wait, I mean explain to them that by taking those herbs, they are killing off an entire species.

Of course there is tons more stuff I learned but I see your eyes glazing over. So I will move on to the visual part of today’s lecture. Enjoy looking through this group of photos! (If you are viewing this on the WordPress Reader, visit the actual blog site in order to see the slide show. It’s definitely worth it.)

a walk through the zoo

I was on vacation last week. That feels a little funny to say because my daily life would be considered a vacation by many people. So I will revise it. I spent a week in a totally different location, spending my days with friends by the pool, drinking those kinds of drinks that taste better with umbrellas, going to the zoo, the botanical cactus garden and hiking into the Living Oases that were up in the hills. Then I spent more time at the best zoo in the world, walked along the beach at sunset and had some awesome sushi with my nephew. If you guessed Palm Springs and San Diego, you would be right. I thought I would share some of my pix with you.

I’m pretty sure when you read that you thought that I would be posting beautiful pictures of animals like this:

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But here’s the thing. While I enjoy taking fabulous pictures, I was actually on a mission. I was doing research for future sculptures and as such, I need more information than a pretty picture could give me.

For instance, I needed to know what the butt, the foot, the skin and the side of an Indian rhino looks like. Look at how much the spine is ridged. Believe it or not, the skin is not armor-like, it is soft…rhinos can feel when a fly lands.

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And while I didn’t see the skull of the Indian Rhino, I did see one of a black rhino. Isn’t it fascinating? It doesn’t even really look like a skull. No wonder they are sort of funny looking! ( I picked the brain of this docent for a while, he was very informative.) The opening under the horn is not the mouth, this skull is actually missing its jaw so you can see the top teeth at the bottom of the skull. It makes sense though, the rhino smells and hears way better than it sees. That is some huge sinus cavity.

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For the Greater Kudu, it was great to see what the feet, the back of the neck, the back of the head and the underbelly looks like.There is a hump on top of the animal, but there is also one under its chest.

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But of course the horns are what intrigue me the most so I was thrilled to see them in person.

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It was a special treat to see cheetahs in both locations, for I am going to the cheetah preserve in Namibia next month and will see them close up and personal. They are fascinating creatures, very thin, very muscular. And, as you can see in these pictures, they have very small ears and beautiful feet.

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The orangutans will have to wait for another post, I did not get many good pictures of them for various reasons, the most important one being that I foolishly only took one memory card and filled it up before I got to the exhibit. Quite honestly it was a surprise to see them, and since I have some down in DC that I can go see, I didn’t mind too much.

You can be sure that there will many more animal pictures coming. I will be spending 10 days in Namibia on the Skeleton Coast and at Etosha National Park observing the wildlife and trying not to die of the heat. I am super excited about it (and yes, super nervous as well). It has been on my list of things to do for a long time and I can’t wait!

 

random thoughts

I have had thoughts floating through my brain this week. Thoughts on everything from my dad to politics to what is going on in the studio. Here’s a sample.

  • My dad turns 95 on the 17th of this month. That is really old. He’s been old ever since I can remember (he was 41 when I was born) but now he’s REALLY old. And he is so excited about his birthday. He is planning a little party for lunch. I will be there with my brother. Some times in the last few years I have grumbled and complained about my dad and having to deal with him. But for this moment, I am grateful that I will have one more fun memory of him.
  • Speaking of my dad, (not to totally take away the good feelings of the previous thought) but a certain presidential candidate reminds me of him a bit. My dad would have made a terrible president.
  • Speaking of a presidential candidate, it may be true that he has a personality disorder. But mental illness is NOT a reason for not being president. Look at Lincoln. I will leave it up to you to determine what the differences are between them.
  • Why do I feel the need to dress up and look my best when I go buy a car today?
  • Making paper is fun, messy and time consuming.
  • Rust and hand made paper…an interesting combination. The jury is still out as to whether I will continue this interesting idea or put it aside for the moment. Stay tuned.
  • Curving a 15 foot 1 1/2″ diameter pipe into a circle requires two people. Thank you husband-o’-mine…
  • Previously mentioned pipe is the start of a new piece. If all goes according to plan (and I don’t expect that it will) there will be a very large bowl on the property in the future.
  • I am feeling really sad about the devastation of a local town here in Maryland due to a flash flood. I spent seven years working and playing in Historic Ellicott City. It breaks my heart to see how many buildings and lives were ruined in the course of a short amount of time. Disasters like this happen everyday but it is different when you know some of the main players.
  • Young, male car salesmen should not tell middle-aged women “You’ll get used to it” when explaining the new safety technology of a car.
  • And finally, I think I will not start autumn squashes indoors next year. This year I will be harvesting pumpkins in August. Guess I will have to buy pumpkins at Halloween. Sigh.IMG_2414

the seed of an idea

Seed pods. What are they about anyway? Why did I choose them?

One could argue that I didn’t, but this is not an existential blog post. It’s a practical one. The answer is at both times simple and complex.

The simple answer has to do with shape. Since I made the bulb (garlic, amaryllis, whatever you want to call it) I have been enamored of making shapes. Organic, curvy shapes to be precise. Seed pods tend to be both organic and curvy. It’s funny, but there is a moment in the making of these pieces where I just want to touch and hug them. It’s the moment when the space starts to be enclosed and the vessel begins to appear. The roundness is intoxicating. And observers to the process really start to understand what my vision has been. Up to that point it is a bunch of flat steel welded to steel rods.

I have also been super aware of the reactions that I get to these forms. The forms don’t always have a clear origin but can remind one of milkweed pods, garlic, bulbs etc. And for this reason, I think they inspire a non-verbal reaction. One that is based in something that we may not even be aware of. If you look at children’s books that identify things you will see that it is all about shape. Bananas have a curved banana look. Lemons and limes are elongated circles almost bordering on an oval. Oranges are ROUND. You get the picture (so to speak)

So what is the complex answer?

Well, it has to do with Monsanto. Yes, I’m talking about the company that many in the environmental world call evil. I will refrain from judgement. I won’t refrain from telling you how Monsanto is influencing me as an artist.

You see, I have been introduced to a new term, one which describes a potentially freaky scenario. The term is “terminator seeds”. According to Wikipedia :”Genetic use restriction technology (GURT), colloquially known as terminator technology or suicide seeds, is the name given to proposed methods for restricting the use of genetically modified plants by causing second generation seeds to be sterile.”

This is a pretty scary thought.

We, as a species, have the technology to create seed that will grow a plant that will not be able to reproduce on its own. The logical sequence then says that farmers must buy seeds every year in order to farm successfully. And who will they buy them from? Uh huh.

This is from the Monsanto website:

Myth: Monsanto sells “Terminator” seeds.

Fact: Monsanto has never commercialized a biotech trait that resulted in sterile – or “Terminator” – seeds. Sharing the concerns of small landholder farmers, Monsanto made a commitment in 1999 not to commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops. We stand firmly by this commitment, with no plans or research that would violate this commitment.


Monsanto’s customers range from large family farmers in countries like the United States and Canada to small landholder farmers in countries such as the Philippines, India and South Africa. Each farmer and each culture has different needs and challenges, and we are successful only if our customers are successful. That’s why Monsanto has never commercialized a biotech trait that resulted in sterile – or “terminator” – seeds. We share many of the concerns that farmers – especially small landholder farmers – have about this technology.

What is a “Terminator” seed?

Through modern biotechnology, it may be possible to develop crops that will not produce viable offspring seeds. Sterile seed technology – dubbed “terminator technology” in the popular press – is one type of gene-use restriction technology in which seed produced by a crop will not grow.

We remain committed not to commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops. After consulting with international experts and sharing many of the concerns of small landholder farmers, Monsanto made a commitment in 1999 not to commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops. We stand firmly by this commitment. We have no plans or research that would violate this commitment in any way.

This sounds really good, but the wording is such that you can easily overlook the phrase “not to commercialize sterile seed technology”. This means they HAVE the technology but they won’t SELL the technology or any seeds that result from the technology.

Okay, I’ve bored you with all of this rigamarole, what does it mean to a sculptor from MD? It means that I am pondering a world where humans, and by extension corporations, can control the very food we eat. What happens when a seed pod has no seeds inside of it to start the chain of life again next year? What happens if milkweed pods and fruit seed pods and all the different seed pods out there become empty?

That is what is driving me to create these larger than life seed pods sculptures. I don’t have answers, I don’t know if there are any answers. But there sure are a lot of questions.

Here are pictures of one of the finished seed pods and another that is still in progress. They are part of a three piece series.

 

 

 

south eastern alaska

We have returned from our 30th anniversary ex-po-tition (to borrow a phrase from Winnie the Pooh). An Alaskan cruise has long been on our collective bucket list and now we can cross it off. I have to say, it was a magnificent experience, different and better than what I had imagined.

I think there is a reason why Alaska shows up as an island in most US maps. Even though it is technically connected to the mainland, it is, for all intents and purposes, totally separate from the lower 48. For instance, in Juneau there are cars, roads, McDonald’s…even a Walmart. But the roads lead out of town and then…stop. There is no way to drive from Juneau TO anywhere, everything arrives and departs by plane or boat. Evidently when the McDonald’s opened, there was a line one mile long. They ran out of food in two hours, then had to close for two weeks until they were able to restock.

Alaskan “taxis” are little float planes that can take you from a small town to a remote lodge to have a quiet week fishing or hunting. It is definitely a different land up there, one which the Alaskans are trying hard to preserve, although they aren’t always so successful.

There was so much to learn about the wildlife and because we were on a Lindblad/National Geographic tour, we learned an enormous amount about bears, whales, birds, otters, see lions, glaciers…the list goes on and on. I was also able to learn a lot more about photography, some of which will come in handy for my future photo expeditions. Unfortunately, this was the kind of expedition that shows up my weaknesses as a photographer. Evidently I am not good at taking photographs of wildlife from a moving zodiac. Nor am I very good at being patient enough to get that perfect picture of a whale breaching. But I did get some decent pictures of some interesting things and some okay pictures of some awesome things so I will just shut up now and start showing you a few of them. I think I’ll take few posts to share them all. Oh, and I am starting to figure out Lightroom so if they are not edited very well, it’s because I’m still learning how to do it.

Things I learned:

1.Sea lions are very photogenic.

2. Never use the digital zoom, it will ALWAYS be grainy and can ruin a perfectly good picture.

sleeping on their rock
sleeping on their rock
grainy but one of my favorite pictures.
grainy but one of my favorite pictures.

The next lesson, what I learned about whales…stay tuned!!!

rollercoaster? what rollercoaster???

I took this picture the other day when I was doing some onsite research about eyes. I found out that kangaroo eyes and horses eyes are not really all that similar. They are closer than goats, dogs or cats which are the only other animals that I have to work with around here. This first picture is of my neighbor’s male horse, a really butt head and attention hound so to speak. In other words, a typical adolescent male. The second is my neighbor’s friend’s horse named Clover, a sweet, docile thing.

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ringo
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“So what is this about a rollercoaster” you are asking? Well, I’ll tell you. Three weeks ago I was accepted to attend a summer residency in Sculpture at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. Then two weeks later they contacted me and said that the program was cancelled. After trying to come to terms with the fact that I was not going to NYC for the art residency (and not succeeding very well), lo and behold, an opportunity to attend a different section of the program fell into my lap today. The dates are the same, the opportunities for working in the art studios are the same. What is different is the title of this residency and the focus. The title is “FROM THE LABORATORY TO THE STUDIO: INTERDISCIPLINARY PRACTICES IN BIO ART”

I know, I know…what the hell does THAT mean? Well it is actually very cool. There are many different layers to the residency, the first of which is that I will have the ability to study many parts of nature from skeletons to things that can only be seen under a microscope and then create something (don’t ask me what) from all of that. The deeper part is searching for ways to use art to facilitate knowledge and understanding about some of the amazing ways that scientists are working. It’s all a bit murky to me as well but I gotta tell you it sounds incredibly exciting and I can’t wait to see what I come up with in the next few weeks. Oh yeah, I leave next Monday…gotta go, I have lists to make!!!