Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Fish Ladder

a view of the dam with the fish ladder
I go away for a few days, and it rains like crazy. The river gets filled up and is its merry gushing self again. No ducks dabbling at the top of the dam now; the current is too strong. There are a few upriver where it's a bit safer. Only the sturdy geese seem to be able to relax at the top of the cascade.

This is a view above the dam drawn in the late afternoon. A Little Green Heron is perched on the wall looking for frogs to eat. It's a weird little bird. Comical: his crest folds up and down depending on I-don't-know-what!
The top drawing shows a fish ladder. It's a stair-step affair that allows fish that are so inclined to swim up the river to reach their favorite spawning places. I've never seen a fish leap up there like they do by the dozen in National Geographic.

I met one old-timer a few weeks ago who said that dare-devils would swim inside the rooster tail rapids and sit and enjoy being surrounded by the rushing water. He also informed me that there apparently used to be a bathing beach with lifeguards at this park… back when there were taverns in South Natick. Now we all drink nice wine on our decks and gossip about the neighbors with subdued voices. I'll take it!

To summer then! Salut! School begins later this week :-(

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Colored Pencils

I'm having fun drawing with colored pencils this summer. They're portable and I carry a pocket knife to sharpen them. I have an old plastic tray filled to the top with these pencils; I'll never run out.

I've inherited many different colored pencil sets over the years. Some are quite nice and of high quality. Many are run of the mill cast-offs from my kids. There was a while where for every birthday party we had (the ones where the parents of the birthday guests think of and buy the presents) my daughters received comprehensive "art kits". These sets included magic markers, crayons or pastels, some lackluster watercolor cakes and a rainbow assortment of colored pencils. So, yes it's true, I can count Toys R Us and the local CVS pharmacy among the more respectable art material suppliers (Dick Blick, Pearl Paint and even Sennelier).

Here's a smattering of what my febrile brain came up with in the land of colored pencils last week while I was on a short visit in New York's Adirondack Park:

Stream, Kane Mountain, New York (colored pencil)

Stream, Kane Mountain, New York (colored pencil)

I've found colored pencils to be perfect for these nature studies I've been focusing on this summer. The soft creamy texture seems to be pretty forgiving; I never carry an eraser.

shy alligator (inspired by Alain Lachartre "Les crocos")

Lighter than air machine

I'm liking this diagrammatic style. Perceptive readers will detect DNA from Richard McGuire and Blexbolex. Just giving credit where credit is due.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Low Flow

The flow in the river is very low now and only portions of the dam's face are covered with flowing water. This allows the hungry ducks to scramble up and down the exposed cement and glean the tasty green weeds and slime that grow there.
The low water also seems to attract children. While I drew this picture a bunch of them scrambled over an expanse of exposed rocks and gravel to the island (not included in this drawing) and explored. They startled a Little Green Heron and brought back memories of something wild …and maybe some poison ivy too :-(

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Bridge 1

The water is very low now. Yesterday morning I found a spot just under one of the arches of the Pleasant Street bridge and sketched the view downriver. The sun was bright and there were shadows and reflections on the cool water underneath. Two mallards could be seen through the arch. From this spot, the Charles River winds about 30 miles I guess to Boston Harbor. Over the years we've found our favorite stretches.
colored pencil

All the ducklings have grown up (as far as I can tell) and are gradually becoming part of the larger flock that calls this spot home. I miss them. On this day the air was cool but the sunlight was bright and hot. I did find frogs sunning themselves above the dam. I wonder what on earth they are thinking as they pose, unblinking, like statues for long intervals of time. There was also a turtle bumbling about in the increasingly shallow and muddy water. All I saw was a green, duckweed-festooned dome paddling this way and that as it looked for breakfast. I wonder if this is the same turtle I saw earlier in the summer.

colored pencil

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Walk Around the Lake at Sunset

I took at walk around a lake before dusk the other evening. Before setting out, I frittered away my time (at the computer no doubt) so that when I left the house, even though it was very light outside, I knew that I'd be returning in the dark --probably. I'm an optimist and it gets me into trouble. Of course, there was no trouble; there was just a lack of light and a nagging feeling that someone would worry a little about me.

I bumped into an old acquaintance along the way and we chatted halfway around the lake and through the college campus. By the time I got back to the shoreline it was apparent that I'd be walking back in the dark. My feet on the path would be my eyes. The sky was clear and I could see Venus glittering to the west in a sky in deepening shades of a Maxfield Parrish blue.

Then I saw where all the ducks and geese were hanging out. It was nearly 9:00 p.m. The sun was down and the stars were starting to twinkle. There was still a lot of light in the sky but any shadows were just a suggestion rather than cast by any distinct light source. Everything was reflected or hinted at.

But the birds were busy as ever: scouting this way and that, tipping up and dabbling at something below or bossing each other around. As I write this, two days later, it's 06h45 and I know they are all up and at it: feeding, squawking and reacting to the life of a duck or a goose in the waning days of summer 2010. It's seamless really, a bird's life. Sleep but an interlude between the waking, wandering and wondering until the big bell clangs and it's time to go.

I felt my way home and avoided looking into the sky or even over to the lake because my light-deprived eyes were so attuned to to varying degrees of gray and black. A looming dark shape could be a mass of bushes in the distance or a tree trunk about the collide with my forehead. My depth perception was not dependable so I used the sounds of my footsteps to tell me whether I was on the trail. The lights were on at the college and they reflected off the lake's surface. A pair of black silhouetted mallards whooshed overhead to join their friends in the cove.

I made it home fine. The lights were on. I had to squint in order to see.

colored pencil, ink

Thursday, August 5, 2010


It's hot humid and overcast and the ducks continue to dabble in the dwindling river. I saw the family of nine this morning. The ducklings followed their inquisitive little beaks through the growing shallows below the dam while the mother kept a watchful eye on me. I was sketching this gentleman skimming at the top of the dam and missed a chance to try to draw the frantic antics of the kids. Eventually the young ducks passed by me and into the pool below the island. Soon they joined the ranks of silhouetted mallards feeding beyond the bridge where the river flattens out even more. Are they now fully attuned to the bigger currents? Will I see them again?
They have grown to resemble the other broods and may be indistinguishable.
And when will the river fill up again?
Hurricane season is approaching…

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


It's August and new shallows and riffles have opened up downstream from the island. It seems like perfect habitat for the dabbling mallards. Here is what mallards do: preen, fight, dabble, sleep, work on their tans, and dabble some more. Some are very leisurely at their dabbling. Others are quite vigorous; it's like they're digging pernicious weeds out of hard ground.

Here's an old drawing showing geese on top of the dam.
It's a short drop.
Because the water level has been steadily dropping, riffles and chutes are opening up all over the place. The ducks and young ducklings line themselves up, several abreast, bills into the current. They then move like farmers' combines across the breadth of the small currents and dabble furiously at any bit of passing tasty things.
In this sketch I tried to capture the agitation of the water's surface and the position of the ducks.

One of the more interesting dabbling spots is up on the top of the dam. I wish I had a sketch for you; maybe I'll do one tomorrow. What's funny about it is that with the lazy flow of water, the ducks get quite bold (or careless) in their walking down the concrete face of the dam. All the while their bills are sifting the flowing water for something of nutritional value. Once in a while, they go too far and fall down. Sometimes they scramble (flapping as gracefully as they can) back to the top but other times they just wind up getting boiled in the white water at the foot of the dam. Then they waddle out of the spin cycle and start to preen again.

I think it's funny. We've always wondered what happens because geese and ducks are up there all the time.
The birds could probably care less!
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