Sometimes life just simplifies things for you.
A slow healing foot and a clunky cast means: no running errands, no snowshoeing, no major home or studio projects, no trips, no February studio sale, not even very many crow walks around the neighbourhood.
But what there is, waiting for me every day, is the garden. And in the garden, the birds. I’ve discovered that between those two things, there’s more than enough to keep me occupied.
For one thing, I joined Project FeederWatch, run by Cornell University and Birds Canada, and started spending time each week counting the birds in the garden and sending the information to help track North American bird populations. Given that recent statistics have shown a terrible decline over the past few decades, it’s important to gather these numbers.
I’ve discovered already that there are two things that will clear a garden of birds in seconds. The first is a hawk in the neighbourhood; the second is a human being out there to count birds. They normally fly around me with not a care in the world, but as soon as I settle in with my FeederWatch App, it’s as if a pterodactyl has cast an ominous shadow. Still, I managed, over two days this week, to monitor 12 difference species in our small space.
While it seems at times that the wider world is going mad, we are lucky enough to have few square feet of our own in which to try and make a small difference. I’m researching how I can make our garden an even better refuge for birds than it is now. More native plants, a brush pile, more water sources … John Marzluff, bird scientist and author of Subirdia, recently appeared on the Joe Gardner podcast, chatting about bird population decline and ways in which gardeners can help.
Creatively, I’ve been working on a new series of portraits, all from bird photographs taken in our small garden. While I do like to travel and see birds, somehow it seems to me more miraculous when they make their way here, like feathered messengers.
So far, in the 2020 collection, I’m working on chickadees (black capped and chestnut backed), an orange crowed warbler, northern flicker, varied thrush, Steller’s jay, Anna’s hummingbird, spotted towhee, brown creeper and starling.
Some of these images are works in process. My years old libraries of photographs of flowers, leaves, ancient walls, vintage fabric, lichen, cracked stone, forest landscapes and family letters are used like colours in a painter’s palette. Sometimes I think an image is done, but the next day something doesn’t look right and I start again.
Although I’m confined to home and garden, I feel as if I’m travelling as I go through decades of images looking for just the right scrap of texture or colour. It may be a suggestion of a lupin or a grass shadow. Ancient walls from a church in Wales appear in many of these new images. The barkcloth curtain on our back door which frames my daily view of the garden is usually in there somewhere.
As I work, they layers of the images remind me of people I’ve know, letters I’ve written and received, places I’ve lived, books I’ve read and music I’ve listened to. All of these things come together in how I see the world, so it seems appropriate that they should be part of my work. The bird portraits are my explanation of what the natural world means to me, now — and all of those memories are part of it.
Once I’ve finished playing with these images, I will try making tiles with them. Somehow seeing them on stone brings them into focus for me. Here is a nice little movie in which I talk about my tile making process.
When I’m happy with the images, they’ll be available as prints in my online shop and, eventually, some of them will become textiles like cushion covers and bags.
In the meantime, however, I’m enjoying wandering the virtual hallways of images and recollections, so I may keep creating some more new images for a while.
There’s a small nuthatch that I’m thinking of, and a perhaps a pygmie owl …
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12 thoughts on “Simple”
Absolutely stunning images! I can’t remember how I discovered you but I’m sure glad I did.
It is a treat to see watch your video and finally put a face (and voice) to the artist behind the images. I hope you continue to make new discoveries while you heal. Slowing down is important, as you know. I’m sorry this one came as an “involuntary” respite.
It is interesting that John Marzluff was speaking about the decline of the bird populations. We recently wrote him inquiring about his thoughts on the new Cornell study, as it states corvids (crows and jays, specifically) are also also on the decline. He said he “didn’t buy that” part of the research. It appears that the data from Cornell’s study doesn’t match Christmas Bird Count (CBC) data, which of course captures birds in urban areas in the winter. To me, it makes sense that it might show different things. CBC data shows crows increasing (which our local Audubon chapter frequently states as justification for supporting the hazing our urban roost) but Cornell’s new data conflicts.
It seems with the continuing impacts of humans on all other creatures we should be doing everything necessary to conserve habitat and resources, rather than paving the entire earth. Your comment about hoping there are birds around when your tiles are excavated in an archaeologic dig may, indeed, be a sad presentment.
Thanks again for your beautiful images, which capture the wonder and preciousness of our avian friends, as well as your delightful newsletter.
Thanks so much Rebecca. It’s hard to know how crow populations are doing, but I do know the roost near Vancouver is under a lot of pressure from development — fewer trees and more high rises every time I go there. They may be adapting by creating smaller sub-roosts in other areas. What kind of “hazing” goes on in Portland? I know that around Still Creek (the local roost) building owners have trying hiring falconers to ward off the crows in the past, but to no long term gain. The loss of habitat seems the greatest threat, although crows are so adaptable they always seem to find a way. I do agree though, that thought and compromise should be brought to bear in making space for the natural world in our urban sprawl. In the industrial town where I grew up in the north of England there was really very little bird life for decades. Not even crows — just gulls and pigeons. In the intervening decades the city had become much more urban nature friendly, with amazing results.
A really lovely and moving meditation, June.
I truly love love love what you are feeding us with nature.
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What a beautiful post. It’s alarming what is going on in the world. I love my backyard visitors. I have many feeders in the yard (originally put up for the indoor cats enrichment, now my husband and I are just as excited as the cats are!) . I took the plexiglass out of the house style feeder so the squirrels could sit in there in the winter and eat under shelter, and was pleased when the female had her babies in the lean-to shed off the garage(it’s completely enclosed so no neighbour cats cat get in). We believe she has passed now, such a sweet dear, she would come and look in the window at the cats. We called her “spider squirrely” because she crawled along the sides of the house/garage (old glass/stucko). For some reason she really liked my husband and would come out and hang out on the house near where he’d be in the yard.
A few years ago new neighbours rolled into the ‘hood and promptly cut the big fir trees down, we lost a few crow/magpie familys then. with the loss of the trees and their two outdoor cats we lost a lot of the corvids. they have come back but not as many as I used to have. it’s sad as they were so enjoyable to watch. Life stresses just seem better when I can watch the birds. I still have lots of the little guys we call LBJ’s (little brown jobbies). My goal next winter is to find a way to do winter watering as it freezes up a lot here in Alberta (St. Albert).
thank you for your wonderful posts. I learn a lot about birds and your pictures are so much more detailed than in the bird books. thanks again. running a business and online posting is a lot of work and I appreciate all of it. happy healing.
I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your bordering trees. I expect we’ll see a reduction in bird species when the school at the end of our street fells the poplar trees on their property, but I’m glad to hear your LBJ’s are still thriving. With regard to winter watering, here in Vancouver it doesn’t freeze often, but I have a bird bath heater that does the trick during cold snaps. It probably gets a lot colder where you are, but here is the link, in case you think it might work in St. Albert.https://www.wayfair.ca/outdoor/pdp/alliedprecision-de-icer-bird-bath-heater
Hi June, I’m so sorry to hear you are still laid up with your injured foot! It’s good that you still have so many things to keep you busy, and what interesting things too! Being part of bird counting, and researching how to better your garden space to help them. Your new works are going to be stunning! That little chickadee is such a darling! I feel happy for you to be able to immerse yourself in all your old files, and rediscover all the things you have collected over the years. How inspiring!
Warmest wishes, Corinne
Thanks, Corinne — as my mother used to say, “every cloud has a silver lining” and I guess spending time with my older images is the cast’s silver lining!
I so relate –just injured my left shoulder and processing the grief of all I cannot do right now, and yet right there out our window are the birds at the feeder–the nuthatches, juncoes, chickadees, finches, and if you attend long enough-the unanticipated–a flock of red crossbills yesterday. Your paintings are beautiful.
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