Monday, October 19, 2009

recent journal posts


Don't ask me why, but grackles fascinate me. Around here we have great-tailed grackles, which are larger and blacker than common grackles and which have, ummm, great tails. Most people hate grackles. Positively despise them... Yah, yah, I understand... They poop on things - especially cars - and make a LOT of noise, and eat other birds and are scavenger city birds who've learned to co-exist with humans. Well I figure that makes them pretty smart, and I love their cries, and I just try not to park my car under a tree branch...

A couple of years ago, Ricë and Earl and I spent Christmas day in San Antonio at a fancy-pants hotel on the Riverwalk. We had a fabulous time just walking around and having drinks in the bar, which was a whole scene in itself, because it was decorated as a swanky old English manor house type library, with leather couches and chairs and a fireplace flanked with bookshelves filled with books. Being us, Ricë and I immediately went to the bookshelves to see what they had. They were all these moderately old leather bindings in German and Swedish (at least we thot it was Swedish) and books on engineering. Nothing really interesting, but the Swedish books were some sort of encyclopedia and they were OUT OF ORDER!

Oh, NO! This could not be! While Earl got us our drinks - we wanted Pomtinis but ended up with something else - Ricë and I began organizing all the books on both sets of bookshelves... Yes, down on our hands and knees, saying "Oh, I think this one goes over there with that..." I think the bartender got a little concerned, and Earl had to tell him he should just leave us alone, we were happy and not causing any trouble, but I may have hallucinated that part.

Now what, you're probably wondering, does this have to do with grackles? At sunset we went up to Ricë and Earl's room and had wine and cheeses and breads from Central Market. The sunset was gorgeous and we were pretty high up and could look across to the buildings on the other side of the 'river' where hundreds, possibly thousands, of grackles were lining the edge of the rooves of the buildings. Cackling... Letting our their long grackle cries into the coming night. Suddenly, all ten thousand of them (perhaps I exaggerate the number) swooped over to our side of the river, while an equal number of birds from our side swooped over to theirs! The air between the buildings was filled with black birds. And then they all sat and settled in for a bit, and then did it again. Ricë and I tried to figure out if there was a signal, a lead bird, someone saying "OK, now, guys! SWOOP!" But it was getting dark and we were drinking wine and we never did figure that part out.

That wasn't the beginning of my grackle fascination, but it helped: I think they're beautiful. Probably some part of it is that they are BLACK BIRDS, and one of my favorite poems is Wallace Stevens' Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. When I was doing these pages, I was thinking of stanza III:
The blackbird swirled in the autumn winds./It was a small part of the pantomime. That's where the swirls came from. I used my usual Caran d'Ache Neocolor II Watercolor Crayons for coloring the bird, and india ink and then a lovely coat of Golden Acrylics Interference Blue to make it iridescent afterwards.

7 comments:

Amy in Austin said...

Love it! Glad to see you back online. Maybe lunch sometime soonish?

aimee said...

the black/white swirls look dynamite next to your grackle. what a great combination!

(p.s. i had to google grackles.)

journalrat said...

Wendy, I love your painting of the Gackle, and your recounting of your experience with the flock, and Ricë and Earl.

One of my favorite memories of Texas is all the Gackles—everywhere. Especially at the restaurant where we at lunch when I arrived. It was heaven!

As always your calligraphy and design is stunning!

wendy hale davis said...

I hate to say it, but I've been looking for a dead grackle, much as that would sadden me. It's the only chance I have to get anywhere close to being able to de/reconstruct the visual confusion of feathers!

journalrat said...

Wendy, I'm a big proponent of sketching roadkill for just these purposes so I totally understand this. And it is the only way, besides looking at museum specimens, to see what is going on with those black feathered birds. Is there a natural history museum in town? The Bell Museum has a crow specimen on display that is very helpful, and then of course drawers of specimens for study, that are simply the study skins.

When West Nile first showed up here there were dead crows everywhere and as sad as it was, it was a drawing bonanza for me!

wendy hale davis said...

Alas, I think the closest NH museum is in Houton. They have stuffed birds at Cabela's - not grackles, of course, only exotic African birds!, but still not MOVING - but they're in a diorama, and you can't get close to 'em.

So it's Houston or road kill.

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