Geese at Standley Lake (soft pastel and charchol on canvas) by Karmen Lee Franklin, 2007
It seems that in life, nothing ever turns out as expected. Over the past week, which was, of course, National Wildlife Week, I participated in the Blogger Bioblitz. The experience was loads of fun, quite educational, and full of surprises. By the last day, I'd sort of given up on counting (overwhelmed by the diversity I'd discovered) and switched into artistic mode... but the surprises kept coming.
I dropped by both sites A and B over the weekend. I completed a small count at the beaver ponds at site B, which I'll describe in a separate (shorter) post. Then, at site A, I decided to take a quick impression of a different sort. Over duration of my bioblitzing, I watched a couple of geese tending a nest on the end of the small peninsula which separated the cove from the canal and the rest of the lake. With trees just beginning to sprout new leaves, and snow still draping over the mountains in the background, it was inevitably a peaceful scene. Until the dam poachers showed up....
...but I'll get to that in a minute. No matter how many photographs I took, I couldn't quite record the movement of the scene. The camera was too slow to catch the actions of the geese as they swam about, plucked food from the grasses, and guarded their nest. The little waves and ripples on the surface of the water were flattened in the pictures, turning out as sort of a dull grey. Still, I wanted to share the way the light sparkled on the moving water, and the manners of the two geese, how they'd go about their business, seemingly ignoring each other, yet fully cooperating. With a photograph, I just couldn't catch it. But I knew another trick.
I've always been a big fan of impressionist art. Be it Van Gogh with his spirals, Monet and his lily ponds, or Degas watching dancers, the impressionists captured motion, the complexities of light and color, and the, well, impression of a stolen moment in time. The style was just what I needed. So, with the spirits of the impressionists behind me for inspiration, I took a blanket, my easel, and set of soft pastels (just like Degas used to use) and sat myself on the shore of the lake.
It was the perfect day for visiting the lake. It was warm and sunny, with just enough cloud cover to keep the temperature from rising too high. There were a few fishermen scattered about, including a family of tourists sitting across the cove. (We'll get to them in a moment.) Sometimes noisy motorboats are zipping around the lake, blasting their stereos, but this day, there were no crafts on the water, so all was still and quiet... for the most part.
As I sat, softly sketching, watching the geese out of the corner of my eye, I noticed one of the guys who was fishing across the cove had started "exploring". He walked right across the narrow strip of land that I was drawing, and marched right up to the goose's nest. I watched, horrified, as he bent down and picked up an egg out of the nest. The geese went nuts, honking at him, but he ignored them, and started to walk back, egg in hand. I was pissed. I put down my pastels, and called out.
"Hey! You do realize that you are on a wildlife refuge, and that bird and its eggs are protected by the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, right?! You're breaking the law!"
He sneered at me. "It was already broken," he drawled, with a thick accent that seemed to match his cowboy hat.
I didn't really know what to say. I sat there, watching and shaking with anger, as he brought his buddy and kid over to stomp around on the nest. Not only was he going to raid the poor bird's nest, but he was going to teach his little kid how to do it, too. What a way to teach your kids to respect their environment. As they walked, the pile of sticks (one of the focal points in my painting) collapsed under them, sending debris spilling into the cove. They kept poking around the nest, while the geese shouted angrily. What could I do? I grabbed my camera, and took pictures of their despicable desecration of my bioblitz site.
The pictures came out sort of grey and fuzzy, because they were too far from me, and the lighting was terrible. Then, I realized they were the only other people on that corner of the lake, and that I must have parked next to them. So, I took a deep breath, and finished the background of my painting, as planned. When I finished, I packed up everything but my camera into the car. Sure enough, there were two trucks parked by my car, which I'm quite sure belonged to the careless tourists. One had West Virginia license plates. Recalling that distinctive drawl, I knew this was the SOB who was casually poaching the nest. The pictures of his truck and license plate turned out beautifully:
Dam Poaching Idiot
If you see this truck, flip him the bird. He deserves it. Also, I'm sending all of this information off to the Colorado Department of Wildlife's Operation Game Thief, and hope he gets what's coming to him.
I eventually managed to calm myself down, and get back into my artistic mood. I'd taken a few pictures of the geese, which helped me decide where to place them in the painting. As soon as I got home, I started working on the details. This was the fun part. I've used pastels in the past, mostly for sketching flowers. This, however, was the first "painting" I ever attempted with the sticks. (A pastel work is called a drawing if most of the area is left blank. If the entire surface is covered with pastel, it is called a painting.)
Pastels are an interesting medium. The pigment is bound inside a gum base, which keeps the colors bright. Similar to chalk, pastels leave a fine powder which sets into the "tooth" of the paper. Because of this, the colors never mix. In order to blend colors, you have to use several different colors, side by side. This is where it gets fun. The best effects come from using what seems like the wrong color; yellow and purple in the clouds, or red on the surface of the water. Laid down in tiny strokes, the vibrant colors interact in ways that simulate the complex interplay of light and shadow. Up close, it looks spotty; from a distance, everything blends perfectly. (Click the image at the top of this post to see the details in my painting.)
One thing I learned while working on this, is that graphite reacts badly with pastels. I'm not sure why this is, but I read about it after I sketched my basic outline with a graphite pencil. I found myself trying to erase the lines later, as they showed up starkly no matter how much pigment I tried to cover them with. Charcoal, on the other hand, blends beautifully with the pastels. I ended up using charcoal sticks to do the details on the wood pile and the geese. Next time, I'll just start with my sticks. They are made from willow branches, which seems highly appropriate, since most of the bushes and trees growing around the lake are members of the willow (Salix) genus, or their close cousins, the poplars.
While I didn't get a wildlife count yesterday at Standley Lake, I did learn a valuable lesson. Painting can be a rewarding way to get to know your local wetland. Poaching in your local wetland, on the other hand, makes you a dam idiot.
All images by the author.
Beautiful work, both the drawing and calling out the SOB.
Well done on getting the license plate photo and turning the b*st*rd into the DoW. I'd have been furious, too. I'm furious right now, after having read about it. I just don't understand people like that. *shudders* How infuriating (and scary) that must have been for you.
another candidate for retroactive birth control
Congratulations on reporting this person! It took a lot of courage on your part. May we all do the same.
Gaaaahhhh!!!! What kind of a thrips-brain thinks it's fun to smash up a bird nest? I really feel sorry for his kid.
Hope the guy gets thoroughly fined.
Thank you for doing what you could. I hope the authorities follow up on this. Will you hear back from them? If you do, will you let us know the outcome?
Congratulations on your cool headed reaction that led to taking photos for evidence. I hope they catch the jerk. And I feel so sorry for the child; think of how the dad probably treats him at home. Sad story--but beautiful art!
I've been contacted by the wildlife officer for this area, and she's looking into it. I'm not sure if I'll hear much more; there is a reward for turning in poachers through the Game Thief program, but I mentioned in my letter it wasn't necessarily... I was reporting on behalf of the geese. I'll try to check back with them (the geese, that is) and see if they stuck around. I'll report back with any new (hopefully good) news.
Nice post. And way to stand up to the idiocy of those people disrespecting mother nature in such a way. Makes me really wonder if evolution sometimes misses certain families' genetics. There are cavemen still walking the Earth. Good to hear that you reported them to proper authorities. That is a wild story.