Unalakleet visit, part 5

Unk-sketch-6 Here's another sketch page from Unalakleet. I could see these hills from my window, and wanted to try to capture their smooth rhythm, and the way the trees and brush huddle in the ravines. That took care of the top of the page… then I went for a walk on the road out of town and spotted the eagle/raven dynamic. Finally, the last morning I was teaching, there was an inversion layer that caused phenomenal optical illusions, including this view of Besboro Island across Norton Sound.

Unalakleet visit, part 4

Unk-sketch-5 The weekend of the ski picnic was sunny and warm, and lots of people were up the river ice fishing. A kind local teacher took me to several different sites. It was a pleasure to see a grayling again; they're very rare in Southeast (just a couple of remote lakes where they were planted), and they are so lovely: iridescent purples, greens, and blues, and that extravagant dorsal fin like a furled sail.

Unalakleet visit, part 3

Unk-sketch-4 On the ski picnic, I collected some branches of white spruce (Picea glauca) and felt-leaf willow (Salix alaxensis) that had been cut during the festivities. The willows in particular were interesting. The tips of many of the branches were as densely-furred as hares' feet, making them shine and sparkle as if frost-covered. Within a day of my bringing this branch in and putting it in water, the catkins were swelling dramatically, shoving the protective scales off at the tips–a process that's listed as one diagnostic characteristic of this species.

Unalakleet visit, part 2

Unk-sketch-2 Second page from Unalakleet sketches. I hadn't expected to see small birds at all–just ravens. But the town was fluttering with what the locals called "snowbirds." After some observation and research, I concluded that most of them were McKay's buntings (Plectrophenax hyperboreus), with a few possible snow buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis).

One of my sources said that they rely pretty heavily on the beach rye grass (Elymus) for winter food. I scouted around  and discovered lots of small-bird tracks around the clumps of grass seed stalks, and very few seeds to be had.

Unalakleet visit, part 1

Unk-sketch-1 I just returned from a two-week artist-in-residence visit to Unalakleet, in western Alaska on the shore of Norton Sound. It was a wonderful experience–and in addition to getting to work with wonderful students and teachers, I had the opportunity to observe and sketch a fascinating corner of the world. I'll be posting sketch pages from the visit over the next few days.

The first page was done from memory on my first day, when I was whisked off to visit some ice fishers on the river.

Sitka Sketch

Sitka-bird-sketch Spent a very pleasant last weekend in Sitka, participating in the annual Arti-Gras festival. I taught a couple of workshops. I didn’t do much sketching on my own (mostly just demos for class) but I did spend one lunch hour watching birds at Thompson Harbor, resulting in this little memory page. As always, Sitka was lovely and lively. It was a special pleasure to spend time with two wonderful Southeast Alaska naturalists and bloggers, see their blogs:here and here.

Milo tree

Milo This is milo (Thespesia populnea), a small tree we saw fairly frequently, especially near beaches. It may be native to Hawaii, but may also have been brought to the islands by the Polynesians–in either case, it's a very important tree in Hawaiian culture.

Milo is widespread in coastal areas of the East Indies and Polynesia. The wood is rich reddish-brown at the heart, with some white "marbling" that is quite lovely; we saw many beautiful things made from milo wood. 

We also appreciated the cool, deep shade it provides along the beaches–especially important to this pale, easily-burned Alaskan…

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau

Honaunau-scene Just got back from a vacation on the island of Hawaii (Big Island). Being ocean people, we spent most of it in the water or directly adjacent. One of the loveliest places we visited was Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, south of Kealakekua Bay on the west coast. Spent the morning alternately snorkeling and sketching, looking across the lava shelf to the serene palms of the park.

Otter-bahn

Otterbahn  Here's a page of sketches from my recent stay in Seldovia, where I spent a couple of wonderful weeks as artist-in-residence. The school is very small (50 kids K-12) so I got to work with every student, every day.Great kids, great teachers, great staff, nice community… thanks, Seldovia!

One evening, I walked out the "Otterbahn" trail (constructed by a group of high school students in the 1990s, I think) to a small beach. As I settled down to sun and sketch, I heard harlequin ducks making agitated noises. The ducks huffed and squeaked, then finally took off just as a big otter rounded the point. He climbed ashore, shook himself off, and proceeded to entertain me for about twenty minutes, as this page attests.