Tag: nature photography

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:

p1140450p1140563p1150408p1150091p1140198

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.

p1150350

p1150173p1150161p1150103

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.

p1150255

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.

p1140589p1140579p1140588p1140463p1140504

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

p1140459

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.

p1150064p1150065

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!

 

all in a day

I think I’ll go for a daily ramble…wanna come?

“Sometimes I worry about being a success in a mediocre world.”-Lily Tomlin.

Some days I wake up and start the day and some days I don’t. I have learned to appreciate the former and ride through the latter. Recent days haven’t been so bad. I have done lots of nothing and a little bit of something and I am content. My brain, however, continues to work whether I am or not…pushing out thoughts and rationalizations and fears throughout the day. These thoughts seem to stem from the world around me, both near and far. Here’s just a sample of a typical day.

Okay, time to get up and start my day. What day is it and what are my goals? How do I feel? Is it shower day? I say hello to R. out of habit and preference, he is usually downstairs working on his laptop. I am not satisfied until he responds. If he doesn’t, I know I am alone in the house.

Cereal, milk, bowl and spoon…today I managed to get them without having to think too hard about the next step. What’s the weather like? Can I sit on the back steps and eat while hanging out with my four best buds? They circle me like vultures, hoping today is the day they get to have some leftover milk.

During my morning ablutions, I notice that the redbud tree has grown so much that I can see the mockingbird from the “throne” and I am thrilled to see him back again this fall. I imagine he and I have a relationship, even though he is a bird and I am a human…yes, I really do believe he is looking at me…and then of course I have to get my real camera and catch him hanging out by the berries.

img_2584p1140155

When I am satisfied that the pictures look good and post them on facebook, I stomp out to my studio. It is blessedly cool and I actually feel like welding. I seem to be focused and there are no cobwebs in my head which is a super bonus. I take note of what’s around me, the air, the sky, the smells, the sounds of the wind in the trees.

Putting pieces on the third seed pod form, my mind is occupied for brief moments while I determine which piece goes where and how should it get bent in order to fit. The rest of the time I am left to think about other things, the plight of the world, the plight of my friends, family and neighbors, the latest conflict both personal and worldly. I take the time to mentally connect with my three siblings and think about their lives for a while. And I usually touch upon a friend or two, especially if there are any moments of happiness, angst or disruption in their lives. The latest book, the latest movie or TV show is great fodder for rumination as the steel sculpture grows steadily.

Then I come back to me for a while. I think about what a great time I had hiking with my niece and her daughter one day and with my neighbor and her two horses the next. I fantasize that I am the horse whisperer, that there is some magic that was passed down the generations from my grandparents that allows me to be a natural horse person. Then I think maybe I’m ridiculous and I should just be careful, horses are not magical beings, they are 1,000 lbs of unpredictable animal. Of course if the horse wants to take a selfie, who am I to argue?

img_2586

I often spend lots of time rehashing all my moments of interactions, both pleasant and unpleasant which might lead me to wonder how to resolve a very small and seemingly insignificant dispute over driving speeds on our driveway with one of our neighbors. I think how totally silly it is to have tensions around this issue and I don’t want to be the speed Nazi and I don’t want to yell and I have had my share of neighborly conflicts over the years and I am simply tired of it and I refuse to play this game anymore.

Then it’s on to the country, the world…Trump, blah blah blah…Hillary…blah blah blah. I am scared of what the future holds, I see major problems, I feel like the country has opened up a Pandora’s box and it isn’t pretty. I wonder about our civility, or lack thereof and then I wonder about whether the media is making things bigger than they really are (very likely). I also wonder if the media and algorithms and facebook are controlling what we think (also very likely)  and what I can do to stop it. And I wonder if maybe this is the year that I get off my butt and stand up for my convictions, come out of my self-imposed political black out of opinions (a lady does not discuss politics or religion. A lady understands that everyone has their own opinion but it is nobody’s business but theirs. That way conflict and tension will not be present when relating to others. Oh, wait…then there is the other side of the parental coin…I’m going to argue vehemently and loudly with anyone who crosses my path even if they agree with me. Hmmm…which one will win???)

If I am honest, I also will tell you about the multiple times that I think, “Am I done yet? Can I go in to the house? Can I take a nap? Is it lunchtime? ” But finally it is time to stop and then my thoughts come back to the mundane, the in-the-moment of meal preparation. And the anticipation of chocolate.

After lunch I sit down at my computer to work (and check facebook) and work (and check the newspaper) and I spin myself into fear about the world and what is going on in it. How the world is disappearing, the land, the ice, the water all going away because of man and his/her attempts to control, to live beyond the necessary into the have-to-have world of cars and TV’s and plastic and petroleum and technology and nuclear weapons/power plants and it is all so scary as to make me want to run and hide but then I remember that there is really nowhere to run to. I have been known to take a nap at this point, I am so tired…and then I remember a conversation that I had with niece and all of a sudden I am reminded to take a step back and see what is important in this world. This does not include any of the nominees for president, nor does it include conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, terrorists, global warming, silly neighbors…it includes (not in any particular order) cereal and mocking birds and dogs and cats and horses and chocolate and husbands and friends and family and…and bugs. Especially ones that are hanging out on my screen window making new bugs for next year.

img_2587img_2589

And then I breathe.

And I finish out the day reading and learning and making a good dinner and drinking some wine and eating more chocolate and yes, playing a few games of solitaire and petting a cat and letting the dogs out one last time before bedtime. And life is mostly good. Now if I can just get to sleep…

 

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

thine enemy

Lately I have been thinking a lot about how and why we define someone as an enemy. It seems that these days enemies are everywhere and we are being told who they are and what we can do to defend against them. To me the answers seem ludicrous and childish. But there are a lot of people drinking the enemy Kool Aid.

While I was pondering (and rewriting) this blog this afternoon, I took a break and went out to take some pictures. I found honey bees on my Cranesbill, siphoning off the nectar.

P1120650

All of a sudden, the whole issue clarified for me. And here is what I began to think:

Have you ever gotten stung by a bee? The fact that they sting is a defense mechanism developed a very long time ago. They do not sting because they don’t like you. They sting because they perceive you as a threat. They would perceive any large being encroaching on their nest as a threat. But they have no feelings towards you specifically. Humans also attack those whom we perceive as a threat. The difference is that we aren’t always good at knowing exactly who the enemy is. It’s not always as simple as defending against a big destructive giant. There are subtleties and nuances and group dynamics to be taken into consideration.

And yet it seems easier for most people to see the world in black and white. If you are not my friend, you must be my enemy. There are also many people who seem to be waiting for a reason to hate, to condemn, to attack. And given the right amount of tinder, they will. For no other reason than because they feel threatened. They are afraid that the person who is not like them, the “other”, is somehow going to make their lives worse. They will have fewer jobs, they will be poorer, their kids will have fewer resources, they will have to pay more taxes…the list of potential grievances goes on. It is easy to fault the government, illegal immigrants, Muslims, rich, poor, African Americans, mentally ill people, homeless people, guns, corporations, Wall Street, Jews, women, men, white people, stupid people, smart people, LBGT, Democrats, Republicans, the news media and any other groups of humans that can be described as “different than me”. And I think that the politicians make it even easier by defining who we should hate and then claiming that they can defend us. They feed into our general fears and focus us so that we know who and what we should be fearing.

This issue of defining who our enemy is becomes even murkier with the element of time. I recently watched an episode of a British crime drama that takes place a few years after WWII. One of the characters talks about how difficult it was to switch the concept of enemy in her mind. She spent years during the war working to mathematically solve the encryption codes of the Germans. She firmly placed the German people in the enemy camp in her mind. Years later, she was having problems letting that go and not seeing every German as an enemy, someone who turned her country and her life into chaos and fear.

I can understand this mindset in this case. This was a clear story of one man in one country causing destruction, death and suffering in many countries. He aggressively chose to destroy and conquer, and many of his countrymen followed orders. The Germans, as a whole, were threatening the very existence of many countries. I think I would also find it tough to change my opinion of people from that country. How confusing and destructive it must be when friends and even relatives become enemies and vice versa.

To go back to the bee thing, in my thirties I became allergic to certain bee stings. Specifically yellow jackets. I swell up, I get groggy and I hurt for a couple of days. It is not so bad, yet, where I need an Epi-pen or I will die. But that may come if I get stung too many more times. The first time I had the bad reaction I made a decision. I was not going to be afraid of all bees. Yes, I can be afraid, wary and respectful of yellow jackets. But bees in general are not something to afraid of, simply because I am allergic to one of the species. It takes a conscious and strong decision on my part not to judge, fear and despise all bees and wasps but it helps knowing that even though they sting, they are also here on earth for a reason. They can do something I can’t. They can pollinate flowers. They are also part of the food chain for birds, spiders and other animals.

After Pearl Harbor was bombed during WWII, there were thousands of Japanese people who were interned. This included people who were first, second or even third generation Americans. But because they had a Japanese name or because they had family in Japan, they were labelled the enemy. Our enemy. Even though they were us, they were our enemy. How confusing is that? (I am reminded of Pogo’s famous statement, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”) German Americans avoided this fate but still were ostracized. For some reason, this feels truly reprehensible to me. We judged, juried and found the need to hate and protect ourselves against a very large number of people that were not a threat. It’s a fine line, but it is an important one.

So here is my promise. I will try not to define my enemies based on hearsay and conjecture. I will try not to hate someone just because my neighbor does. I want to judge someone based on my experiences and values as well as theirs. I want to look at the bigger picture, not to excuse, but to understand and to clarify what I don’t understand. It is really hard. I won’t always succeed. But I will try. And, lastly, I won’t let a politician (or any wannabe politician) tell me who my enemy is. I refuse to follow the herd, drink the KoolAid and join the bandwagon.

P1120651

And I will continue to love honeybees. Buh bye!

 

 

 

 

take a break

I admit it. I was ready to give up on this blog. After four + years of writing fairly consistently, I became less and less inclined to write to the known and unknown general public. The breaks between posts started getting longer and longer. The days filled up with time in the studio (a worthwhile substitution), gardening (ditto) and life in general. I will also admit that for a while, my depression deepened and I was uninterested in writing anything. Don’t get me wrong, I had lots of ideas, lots of subjects, it just seemed that when I sat down to write, the words seemed unimportant or off kilter somehow.

Tonight I told my husband that I was thinking of discontinuing this blog. And he said one of the sweetest things he has ever said to me.

“But people will miss reading it.”

Sometimes I forget that people actually read what I write. Unless someone clicked the like button or left a comment, I really had no idea who read my words or if you enjoyed/hated them. But over the years I heard comments from some of you that you enjoyed reading my posts. Sometimes those comments came at a party with friends, sometimes they came at the end of the blog post. You are the silent readers, the ones I sometimes forget are out there. But I know you are real.

So here’s the deal. I will continue to write. I will not worry about the best time to post or how many people are seeing my blog. I will write for myself…out loud. I will be more diligent about being consistent.

Because the bottom line is that I enjoy writing. I enjoy putting into words the thoughts and feelings that runaround in my head all day, while I am working, walking, eating and driving. There is so much happening in the world and in my life. There are books to read, philosophies to absorb and current events to watch. Not to mention sculptures to create!

As you may know, I like to show at least one photograph in my posts. Well, tonight you get a bonus (mostly because I couldn’t figure out which was my favorite). The mahonia in my backyard has berries which, combined with the color of the leaves, is absolutely stunning. Enjoy!

(P.S. there is LOTS of stuff happening in the studio, keep an eye out for the next post. Or visit http://www.virginiasperry.com or www.facebook.com/VSperryStudio/)

Cheers and Happy May!

 

experimentation

I have been told by my doctor to baby my wrist, it seems I have developed a sprain of sorts. An X-ray ruled out a break but I nearly fell off the examining table in pain when she had me try to push against her hand. So, five pound hammer and steel garlic are put on hold while I let the wrist heal a little bit.

I admit I am a bit whiny but the good news is that there is so much to do in the studio that does not require heavy lifting or bashing metal. Yup, you guessed it, it’s experimenting time! I am currently working with steel dust/rust and fabric. It has come to my attention that the amount of moisture and the length of drying time really changes the outcome of the staining process on paper so I have been working with those factors with the fabric as well. The nice thing about the fabric is that it is not as fragile as the paper. I can scrunch it up, crease it, poke holes in it, sew things onto it…the list is endless. It is also more durable for displaying. I just have to figure out how to do that…but that will come with time.

I, needless to say, am having a blast.

IMG_1996.jpg

In other news, I had a commission for one of my rust paintings recently. A customer wanted a triptych for her long dining room wall. She liked the triptych in the studio but it was too big and the interesting stuff would be hidden by her dining room chairs. I said I could make a smaller “upside-down” version and that I would install it for her.

I generally dislike commissions, I feel a lot of pressure to get it just right which then makes the whole process less enjoyable. It took me a couple of tries (and this is where I learned about the time/moisture quotient to the staining process) but I ended up creating a really nice triptych. I have installed it in the customer’s house and I am happy to report that she is THRILLED. It wasn’t such a bad gig, she fed me chicken soup and chocolate cake…I think I made out on the deal. Maybe this commission thing ain’t so bad after all! (hint hint…)

driptrip.jpg

P1110959.jpg
in situ in the dining room

News from around the house:

Because of the recent house painting we had done, the curtains were down in the guest room. Otherwise I might not have seen this guy eating the holly berries…

P1120015.jpg

P1120016.jpg

Have a great weekend everyone!

this and that

A lazy day…fortunately it’s Sunday so it is more socially acceptable to coast through the day. I did get to work on the kangaroo, really just little fix-it stuff…the left foot and the pouch. Fine tuning you could say. Mostly because I am petrified of starting the hands. Hands are notorious for being one of the hardest things to sculpt. I don’t think it is any easier when it is a kangaroo hand.

There is the myth in the non-art world that smaller means less expensive. In my experience, smaller should be more expensive. True, I use less materials but having to cut, finish, bend and weld little tiny pieces of steel is remarkably difficult. I am thinking of doing a camel next because it might be a bit easier to bash larger pieces again. Then again, I may change my mind, who knows???

In other news, I went for a (short) walk today. The sky is bluer than blue and I took a picture of a vulture because yesterday was International Vulture Awareness Day. Even vultures are not immune to the changes that the earth is undergoing. In some places in Asia and Africa they are actually becoming endangered. This may not seem like a tragedy but have you ever been in NYC when the garbage workers go on strike? Imagine this happening every where that vultures are around…They are nature’s garbagemen. They are one of the important links in the decay of dead things.

P1100755

I am also posting this picture from my time up in Connecticut. It is in response to Fozziemum’s post today. She lives down under and is so excited to see color and feel the warmth after a long winter. Her pictures are wonderful. These kinds of pix are what my sister calls Crayola pictures…all full of saturated primary and secondary colors. Blue and yellow make GREEN!!! What a great picture to teach color theory. (And BTW, if you want to see great pictures of real kangaroos, check out some of the other posts on Fozziemum’s blog…she is quite expert at taking pictures without bothering the beasts.)

P1100665