Saturday, October 29, 2011

Give a little, Take a little

January 20, 2011: snow and a weedy elm tree growing out of the masonry above the dam.

October 4, 2011: ten months later, a view of the cracks in the sidewalk and weeds.

October 24, 2011: the swiftly flowing river and no elm tree, just stumps. Will it sprout in the Spring?

I informally chart the depth of the economic recession by the state of repair of the public parks. The nearest park to me is this one by the South Natick Dam where I spend some time. Natick is a nicely varied town. It has it's districts of annoyingly plump affluence and it's worn-at-the-heels sections too. I see houses here and there, strangely vacant. Or some slowly decomposing home with an unattended "For Sale" sign on a post out front. A single light burns in the den at night indicating that a death watch is in progress. But the parks: have the trees been pruned? Did the volunteers in the garden club come by to freshen up the flower beds? After the hurricane, were a few new saplings planted?

There's an arbitrary quality to the upkeep nowadays. The crews get to it when they get to it. We tighten the belt one little notch. But then there can be a dramatic change where previously there was only gradual march of Nature taking back what was its all along. In this case, some ratty elm that had sprouted and thrived for a while from the  stone wall about the dam. From a certain angle it created a screen that instantly complicated my view of the solid and precise four-arched bridge downriver.

Between the tree and the warped metal railing, was a small jungle of weeds and poison ivy. This was all here before economic disaster of 2008. The park was like an old sweater with its moth holes and weeds in the pavement. It was comfortable and "real". However, that changed last week when I spotted yellow « CAUTION » tape all around the railing. Had someone had an accident? Was the poison ivy getting out of control? Were they going to replace the old railing? No, none of these.

The sprouted elm (which was mostly dead) was to be removed –which is apparent in the bottom drawing once you figure out what you're looking at. I'm not lamenting the loss of the tree really. It was surely damaging the stonework. I do miss the branches and the challenge of drawing them. One time, drawing them actually helped me see past some personal problems I was having (last January; the blue drawing on top). So, I guess I will miss that. That little reminder of a place where I left a small emotional piece of myself and took something from the park.

There's some economy at work here: It's the small personal investments of presence which, one hopes, are as meaningful as planting a tree or pulling the weeds.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Blue Coyote

I walked out into a steady mist two days ago and stopped at the field at the top of my street. The green grass was more vibrant because of the rain: it was yellow-green and there were scratchy areas of autumnal-sepia herbs and dried seed heads scattered on the tops of the swells. It was about 7:30 a.m.

I spotted a young coyote a few hundred yards away. It blended into the vegetation but once identified, it was plain to see and observe. Of course, it immediately sensed me and kept its distance. It then loped this way and that trying to determine if I was a credible threat. I had taken my sketchbook out and was jotting down the basic geometry. The charcoal and the blue pencil running in the mist and drizzle.

He trotted farther and farther away, sniffing, reconnoitering all the while. Never fleeing, the coyote made his escape firmly in control of his own reality. I stayed on longer trying to capture the moment and then turned to follow the path into the forest.

"The Blue Coyote"
charcoal, colored pencil, crayon, coffee
Could this be the coyote that absconded with my one year old cat this past summer? That's another story!

I tried to sketch the trees in the forest. Well, I didn't try. I actually did draw what I saw in the forest. Everything was so beautiful. The water droplets on my paper resisted the waxy black crayon and made it seem like I was drawing a snowstorm. Later, I added notes of different things I was thinking about. And what was that? Kitty Crother's wonderful illustrations for "Le petit-home et Dieu" that was published in 2010 by Pastel, a French publisher. Besides being a master story teller, she draws great forests too. So I was thinking about that.

the solo swan, a teen ager perhaps?
I've had the pleasure of observing a family of swans this summer on Lake Waban (accessible by this forest path and part of the Wellesley College campus). There are two adults and four dirty gray offspring. They mostly mind their own business and stay close together along the North edge of the lake. But on the way back home, I spotted this lone soul, an immature swan, looping around at the other end of the lake busily scrounging for the things that swans like to eat. Why was it all alone while the others were together?

Maybe there's a story in that?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Thinking about Ducks

A few mallards at Broadmoor Audubon Sanctuary
brown pencil
© 2011 Rob Dunlavey

At last! Ducks!! They've been scared away from the South Natick Dam and all its rushing and unpredictable water. At Broadmoor, a wildlife sanctuary a few miles from my house, the water level in the marsh is at seasonal (lower) level and the wetlands are populated with dabbling mallards and crazy, easily-frightened Wood Ducks. Wood Ducks are really beautiful birds. If they weren't so skittish, I'd be able to show you a drawing. I did hear them a lot this morning at the far end of the marsh making their plaintive "Let's get outta here!" cries.

In order to get a good look at Wood Ducks, I think you just have to sit still and be very patient. Then they probably will put on quite a show. Early in the Spring. I was down at one of the vernal pools drawing maple blossoms and trying to keep warm when, lo and behold, a pair of Wood Ducks started going for a little walk: up in the trees (that's one reason they're called Wood Ducks). They nest in trees and this pair was, perhaps, looking for a good spot to get started making more Wood Ducks (for my benefit no doubt).

Now here's the honest-to-God truth: Two years ago, I was present at the moment when a brood of Wood Duck ducklings left their nest (in a tree cavity twenty feet above the ground and a 30-40 foot waddle to the river). One by one they flapped/plopped to the soft leaf litter below, collected their wits and were quickly hustled over to the bank. Mom and gravity did the rest of the work getting them out onto the relative safety of the water and on with life. I saw it with my own four eyes. I did!

Friday, October 7, 2011


graphite drawing with digital color

pencil sketch with Photoshop additions
© 2011 Rob Dunlavey

It's interesting to watch the seasons through the eyes of the blogging world. All over facebook and flickr my friends and acquaintances have posted many pictures of mushrooms. A few have posted photos of bleak autumn landscapes and some are still lingering on balmy beaches. Me, I'm trying to get the house ship-shape for winter… …like I do every year. It's that dance between preparation and simple enjoyment of the many fleeting moments.
Oh, there's another sunbeam! Gotta go!!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


You can just make out the arches of the Pleasant Street Bridge beyond the metal pipe fence. Normally, I'm focused on what is beyond the fence: the rushing water and the marvelous white noise of the cascade. I hunt there for wildlife and the tricks of light. But this day I study the obstacles and those immediate things that eclipse my dreaming.
It's also, perhaps, a portrait of a society going through a downturn. Someone should pull those weeds and paint the fence and fix the crumbling stone walls. Or should they? I'll draw it either way. And the old ways will prevail in the end.

Sonnet 2 by Shakespeare

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a totter'd weed of small worth held: 
Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days; 
To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserv'd thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer 'This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,'
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Geese! People!

Continued high water on the river has kept all but the heron and this small flock of vegetarian geese away from the cascading river. Below is a quick charcoal sketch of four Canada Geese mowing the lawn in the park. They used to dine regularly on bread and Cheerios™ provided by local youngsters until the biologists discouraged the practice. And you can see why: the geese stop migrating for food and lounge around like panhandlers all year long. Goose droppings are everywhere (be careful where you sit Rob!). The geese are graceful but you know as well as I that geese are not very friendly birds. And swans are worse (but that's another story).
I do enjoy observing the group dynamics though: one bird appears to be the lookout while the others determinedly rip at the grass. If something is amiss, they huddle and get skittish.

geese at the South Natick Dam
Sept. 29, 2011, charcoal
© 2011 Rob Dunlavey

"…it was  a misty, moisty morning…"

You might be able to see a fisherman way down by the bridge in this photo. Another fisherman with gelled hair wearing a black leather vest and tight jeans joined him but instead of a rod and reel, he used  an "old-fangled" Pocket Fisherman™. I remember the incessant ads for these when I was younger. Soon, the pocket fisherman was just a ball of tangled fishing line and the hipster left to get some more string.

On the opposite shore was a group of twenty recruits from the Massachusetts Fire Academy practicing water rescues.  They were clad in hi-tech helmets and wet suits. One by one, like ducklings, the stepped off a ladder into the fast-flowing river and bobbed downstream for a few seconds before they were "rescued" by one of the more senior "mother ducks". Then they'd clamor out, splashing in the shallow water and do it again. Too bad it wasn't a nice summer day!

I was intrigued by the heavy walnuts hanging from the Black Walnut tree. Every once in a while one lets go and makes a loud splash and is  on its way to Boston Harbor.
Regarding the Massachusetts Fire Academy and its rescue drills: I'm proud of these men and women and despite all the craziness in politics and the economic stress in the world it's good to know that some folks have their priorities sorted out. Whatever the cost, this type of training and readiness adds a kind of stability to Life that is hard to quantify when all we seem to care about and consume is News. I guess they're a bit like that goose keeping an eye out for trouble.
One man's opinion folks —from Massachusetts no less! :-\
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