Sunday, October 31, 2010


"aqui with extraneous umlaut / aqiii." October 26, 2010


If you grind coffee finely enough, you get a nice, thick residue at the bottom of the cup. Two doodles neither her(e), (aqui [aqiii]) nor there. The coffee was Highland Grog decaf. The residue makes a nice, pasty substance, perfect for jotting down a few notes.

A few days after making the above, I saw a video showing how Alex Gildzen creates entries for his The Book of Java, and realized that the idea to make something out of coffee must have been percolating in my head since I read Alex's Making Circles manuscript last year, which contains selections from The Book of Java. Now I remember from where this idea was stolen!

Friday, October 29, 2010

wind / gust / cloud

"Wind." October 27, 2010.

"Gust." October 27, 2010

"Cloud." October 27, 2010

A windy week. Three doodles while waiting for soccer practice to wrap up, and before it got too cold to sit on the grass and write. The fields are guarded by fearsome plastic swans, but that's for another day.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Sycamore Ouija and Zen Advocacy Group

In May 1792 twenty-four stock brokers met at 68 Wall Street in New York City and signed "The Buttonwood Agreement," which created the New York Stock and Exchange Board, which eventually became the New York Stock Exchange. According to legend the agreement was signed beneath a "Buttonwood Tree," that is, a sycamore. Sycamores are referenced in a number of myths and legends in both the east and the west, involving at least three species of trees from two different families. The story that the New York Stock Exchange was created by men meeting under a sycamore is yet another legend that joins the sycamore with the Druids, Jesus and family, the Egyptian afterlife, and a number of Native American stories, for starters.

While wandering around last summer, I found some sycamore bark that had been sloughed off a large tree growing on the edge of an old ice pond that was built around 1900. Today the ice pond is a 30-acre densely wooded swamp, filled mostly with ash trees, but its outside is lined with a number of sycamores.

The sycamore bark peels off in ragged, jig-saw-puzzle-like chunks. There are plenty of interesting shapes. After finding a piece that was about the same size and shape as a screech owl (I can use this! I thought), somehow or another, I came up with an idea to use a few pieces of the naturally "hol(e)y" sycamore bark as a sort of ouija pointer, with a copy of The Wall Street Journal filling in as a ouija board. The October 4, 2010 edition of The Wall Street Journal was handy, and one evening I set things up to see if the Sycamore Ouija ("SO") would produce any interesting results.

Sycamore Ouija, October 4, 2010. Ready for a little conservative divination, sir!

Perhaps because I don't believe in the existence of a spirit world outside our material world, and lacking the help of my own David Jackson, I couldn't get the Sycamore Ouija to lead me to anything interesting or coherent in the pages of The Wall Street Journal. For some reason, it kept arguing that Barack Obama was to blame for everything. (Did you know that Obama and Woodrow Wilson were behind the Hindenburg disaster? They purposely mishandled the guy wires during the final landing at Lakehurst, and then, well . . . Even Glenn Beck didn't know that.)

The spirits being unwilling, and hoping for something more interesting, I tried a random approach of opening the paper and dropping the SO wherever it might fall. Here are some of the results:

The Wall Street Journal said what?

"now say hurt . . . "


Unable to connect these dots.

eh . . .

This might make sense to someone.

The last one is a little outside the rules, random that they are, but while cropping the photos, the image editing software got into the game and created something called "Caring Americans in Foreclosure," which is "a zen advocacy group." Maybe the Sycamore Ouija and the October 4, 2010 edition of The Wall Street Journal are working together in some fashion. Right before adjusting the initial crop of this image, I noticed what had happened, and decided to allow the software to join in the game. I kept its work. It's not bad.

Perhaps someone more conceptually minded and skilled than I am, someone more attuned to the possibilities of the spirit world, could do better. There are warnings against this kind of thing, though.

But if you're still willing to give this a try, there's probably plenty of sycamore bark near you; if not, let me know, and I'll send you some.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

cow and violin

Half Price Books had a few copies of Kazimir Malevich: Suprematism, the catalog of the Guggenheim Museum exhibition of the same name on sale for six bucks a few weeks back. That would be more like "One Tenth Price Books," and I was happy to stumble on the deal. Malevich was born in the Ukraine in 1878, enjoyed success as an avant-garde artist and intellectual, most notably in the nineteen-teens and twenties, before his spirit and eventually his life were squashed by the Stalinist Soviet Union in 1935.

In 1915 or so he developed a theory and system that used basic geometric designs and shapes to create paintings and other works that were purely abstract. He called this "Suprematism." Sotheby's sold a Malevich piece titled "Suprematist Composition" a few years back for an ungodly sum of money. The Sotheby's site has a detailed catalog note about Malevich and Suprematism, which is worth reading if one is so inclined.

Malevich produced a lot of interesting work in various styles and in various media. Some of it is clearly in a cubist vein, and employs collage and humorous images, written phrases and words ("Composition with Mona Lisa," which features a tongue-in-cheek defacement of the Mona Lisa that might predate Marcel Duchamp's similar gesture, and "Private of the First Division" are a couple examples), etc. Many of the pieces have quirky titles--"Simultaneous Death of a Man in an Airplane and on the Railroad," as one example--others are more simply titled, such as "White Square" or "Black Square."

Last week, I had an hour-and-a-half to kill while waiting for a soccer practice to finish, and I read a reference to a work titled "Cow and Violin" in the Malevich Guggenheim catalog. I was bored, and it was getting too dark to read, but not too dark to make bad drawings, so I made a few doodles of what I thought a cow and violin might look like together. Here's the best of the bunch:

It's a really big violin or a really small cow.

Here's what Malevich's "Cow and Violin" looks like:

If you want, you can color your own version of "Cow and Violin" as well as other Malevich works, including "Suprematist Composition," on the Super Coloring website:

Maybe you can sell yours for sixty million dollars. Wouldn't that be nifty?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Let's Observe! A Lesson in Observation

I have been a serious birder for all of my nearly forty-two years of life. I well recall a second-year male American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) that I saw in my front yard when I was two-and-half years old. The amazing vitality of this incredible and plucky neotropical migrant imprinted itself on my young and inquisitive brain. This early observation was confirmed nearly twenty-three years later when I found an illustration of--you guessed it--a second-year male American Redstart in the first real bird field guide that I ever saw while standing in the Nature section of Borders Books And Music. All those years, all those miles, all those observations . . . I always knew I had been right. Besides birding for a lifetime, and possessing heightened powers of observation, every good birder must have the ability to recall specific details of their birding observations many years after the fact. It's true! (And remember, it's not bragging if you really can do it! And, well, I can!)

Take the following example, which I offer as a lesson in observation that might be helpful and informative to new or less knowledgeable birders:

Recently, while repairing a damaged screen door on the back deck I became aware of the alarm calls of a mixed flock of perhaps seven or eighteen Carolina Chickadees (Poecile atricapilla) and Tufted Titmice (Baeolophus bicolor). These sprightly little feisty balls of feather and sinew can create quite a ruckus when they encounter something their little brains deem alarming or dangerous. My years of birding experience created an absolutely unconscious response: immediately I dropped my spline and roller to the deck and began searching the canopy for the source of the birds' alarm.

Within minutes I found the reason for the alarm calls!

Eastern Screech-Owl (Otus asio)

An Eastern Screech-Owl! One of my favorite unnecessarily hyphenated common bird names! In my very own backyard! No wonder the birds were so upset. I walked backwards through the empty space where the damaged screen door once stood, and only once inside, and out of direct sight--so I assumed--of the owl, I ran through the kitchen to find my camera. After a few minutes of frantic searching for the camera, I finally found it right where I had left it the day before. Carefully, I went back outside onto the deck. I was in luck! The owl was still there, apparently happily roosting in one of the four owl boxes I thoughtfully had my grandfather build for me so that I could attract these wonderful little avian predators. (I care a lot about providing appropriate habitat for birds. That's another trait of serious birders, so take note, though if you must do so, perhaps you need more remedial help than I can give you). After waiting for ten or so seconds for the automatic focus to get itself set, I snapped the picture shown above.

But immediately the owl flew from the box, with three or maybe ten chickadees and between two and five Titmice in hot pursuit. Crestfallen, I lost sight of the owl . . . for a few minutes. Then. I. realized. it. was. right. in. front. of. my. eyes.

Eastern Screech-Owl (Otus asio) hiding in Panera Bread coffee cup.

Search the literature, and I have, and you'll not find a single reference to an Eastern Screech-Owl sheltering or roosting inside a coffee cup. This was a remarkable observation, and I was happy I had finished the coffee moments before. I was so relieved to have my camera at the ready to document this remarkable observation, and thankful, too, that this amazing event took place before the eyes of an observer with the perspicacity to appreciate its novelty and importance. With that in mind, I snapped a couple modest photos, the best of which you can see for yourself, above.

Of course, I didn't expect the owl to stay in the coffee cup for long. After a few moments of deathly stillness, the owl inquisitively swiveled its head from side to side to assay its surroundings; he shifted about in the cup, his little talons making soft scraping noises on the hardened paper stock; then, finally, the owl snapped its beak two or three times in an attempt to intimidate me (!) before it flew away into the shelter of a nearby Sugar Maple. Here is a photo of a couple feathers left behind in the cup after the owl took flight. I left the feathers inside the cup so that you can see for yourself how tiny the feathers are on an Eastern Screech-Owl.

Eastern Screech-Owl (Otus asio) feathers left behind in Panera Bread coffee cup.

Really good birders are really good at finding birds in places that the average birder or person on the street cannot. It's about that simple! But how does one hone one's skills of observation? Through practice, of course! It takes years of daily practice to become a really good observer. You have to take your nose out of the field guides and put your boots on the ground in order to become a better observer, and therefore, a better birder. A number of books and websites back me up on this point. You probably have them all in your birder's library, already. But don't give in to the temptation to consult them now! Instead, try this little exercise. See if you can find the owl!

First, a brief step back . . . after the Screech-Owl flew out of the coffee cup, I searched the branches of the Sugar Maple where I thought the owl had taken refuge. It took a few minutes: five, ten, thirty? It's hard to say. When engrossed with a challenge while afield, time seems to stand still for the serious birder, so intently focused is he or she on the objective at hand: find the owl! So I can't say with certainty how long it took me to find the owl, but through careful observation, find it indeed I did. I took some photos, which I'll share with you. See if you can find the Eastern Screech-Owl. To make this extra challenging, set an egg timer and see how quickly you can find the owl in the photo below.

Can you find the Eastern Screech-Owl (Otus asio) in the Sugar Maple?

Found it yet?

Okay. That's enough. I know how hard this can be, so I'll give you some help. Here's the Eastern Screech-Owl hiding in the Sugar Maple:

Notice how efficiently the Screech-Owl makes use of his environment, expertly blending in with the bark and leaves; in this manner the Eastern Screech-Owl (Otus asio) becomes one with the tree. "Owl, BE the tree." Folks, that's evolution! Remarkable.

So ends today's lesson in observation. As we've seen, through improved observational skills we become better birders. We are better birders because we are better observers. It's that simple! So go out there and observe, observe!

Monday, October 4, 2010


Bird tracks--Killdeer and Great Blue Heron--probably a Scirpus sedge of some kind, and a little bur-reed, maybe Sparganium americanum . . . or not. It's some kind of bur-reed, though. The Great Miami River edge last May. For a video of bur-reed in action, click here. The video is on the top right.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

It's National Captain Samuel Brady Month! This month! That is, October!

It's October, and that means it's National Captain Samuel Brady Month. Here begins a multi-part graphic biography of Brady, who was born of humble origins on the Pennsylvania frontier in Cumberland County on May 5, 1756. He served in the Revolutionary War and afterwards led a fabled group of Rangers who patrolled the Western Frontier at the time that the Western Frontier started at about Pittsburgh. He was Daniel Day-Lewis frontier chic before anyone knew it. He was tougher than Fess Parker, and probably did "kill a 'bar when was only three," and with his bare hands, too! He led an amazing life filled with mind-boggling adventure and hair-raising escapes. To reference Mr. Day-Lewis twice in the same paragraph, as we follow Capt. Brady's story there will be blood. And lots of it . . . But not yet.