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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