My morning started with me waking up five minutes before the alarm went off. I hurried to feed my cats, then fixed my coffee and dressed. Gathering up my camera, bins, and cooler with water I jumped in my car and headed for Canton, MA. On Thursday I had learned that Julie was going to be there this weekend giving a couple of presentations at the Mass Audubon Visual Arts Center. I called and signed up for one of them, joining Mass Audubon in the process. I had never been to the Visual Arts Center before and so I was looking forward to this day on many levels.
I thought it would take me an hour and a half to drive down to Canton, but it ended up only taking me about 35 minutes. I am quite sure it would take much longer on a week day, but traffic was light on I-93 this morning. As I pull into the parking lot and park my car, I look up to see another vehicle pulling in. Since I am now almost and hour and a half early I wonder if the car that pulled in is Julie Zickefoose. Sure enough, the vehicle’s door opens and out she comes! I step out of my car to say “Hi” and am quite surprised when she calls me by name. I did not think she would remember me from when I met her over 2 years ago at the New River Birding and Nature Festival in West Virginia.
Julie and another artist walk with me to the building and show me where the presentation will take place. I leave them to prepare and head back to the parking lot to get my camera and bins. I have about an hour to kill before the presentation time and I plan to do some birding!
Cloudy skies veil the weak sun shining overhead. A few rusty-colored leaves cling to trees and litter the ground. Near the parking lot I am assaulted by some kind of gnat or black fly biting away at me. I jump back into my vehicle swatting and slapping. A cloud of insects follow me inside and I am smashing bugs on my windows and dashboard. Fortunately I have insect repellent in my glove box. I open it up and step out of the car to spray it on myself.
Now, here is my dilemma: I had done my hair and actually put on make-up this morning so that I could look nice for today. I wore a new shirt but comfortable pants and good shoes for walking. I had not anticipated a horde of insects, however, and now had to decide if I would crush my hair with my birding hat just to keep the bugs off. I didn’t debate for long. After spraying my hat with the repellent, I slap it onto my head. I spray my hands and smear insect repellent on my face and behind me ears. As I do this, I am thinking to myself, “This is November! All these insects should be dead by now!” Then, I gather up my bins, camera, and notepad and head for the trails.
I walk past the buildings and follow the Pequit Brook trail down through the meadow and into the woods. Along the way I stop to watch titmice fluttering and chickadees gleaning insects and seeds from the twigs and branches. A downy woodpecker swoops by and I can hear a Hairy Woodpecker calling from the woods. Suddenly I spot her high on a limb probing the bark for insects. In the underbrush I see some motion and am delighted to find a pair of butterscotch colored Carolina Wrens hunting around an old dead log. I am looking in the weeds and hedgerows for sparrows but finding none. Another participant walks by and tells me she saw juncos in the brush here just a few minutes ago, but I do not see any. The gnats that pestered me seem to be gone by now and I do not encounter them again.
Once I enter the woodland trail all is quiet around me. The colors of the woods are soft and muted in the filtered light. As I near the brook I hear it tumbling over rocks and the faint descending chatter of a downy woodpecker calls out through the trees, but that is all. It is getting late and I turn back to the center. I do not want to be late for Julie’s presentation.
As is to be expected, the presentation goes well. I am amazed by Julie’s talent, her stories and her dedication to the birds. It is fun to watch her slides of how her paintings develop and learn the process of water colors, a technique I have little experience with. As she talks, I wonder what it would be like to have a chimney swift baby clinging to my clothes or hanging from my lips like she has had. I do not know If I could be so dedicated as to sit by a bluebird nest box all day to try to protect the babies, or feed abandoned birds every few minutes in an effort to save them. By the time she is done I know that there is only one Julie Zickefoose and I am pleased to have met her. I wait my turn, then buy one of her books and have her sign it for me. Who knows when I will ever get this chance again. I say my good-byes, then gather up my stuff to go, and I am almost out the door when I remember that I did not get a picture of us together. So, I hurry back and wait again and hand my camera to Jamie Bishop from the Hoffman Bird Club in western Massachusetts. She graciously snaps this picture for me. Thanks Jamie! And Thank You Julie!
Now I head over to the Visual Arts Center Gallery to view the paintings of Robert Verity Clem. I had never heard of this artist before but apparently he was a mentor to Julie and quite well known in his day. When I signed up for this class the person I spoke with told me that Clem was “the most famous bird artist you have never heard of!” So, I went to see for myself. And now that I am a member, I can go inside the gallery for free!
Crows by Robert Verity Clem
These are just some of my favorite paintings by Clem. His style is very technical, almost bordering on being photographic, but still with a bit of expression and softness to them. I love his painting of these crows but all the paintings were behind glass and I did not want to use my flash, so they all came out with a golden hue to them. I posted this one as a black and white but in reality there is a bit of blue in it. It’s much better in real life. I like the detail in the feathers and the light bouncing off the middle crow’s back. To me this is a scene I could imagine myself coming upon in the woods.
Gyr Falcon in Iceland by Robert Verity Clem
As I leave the art gallery I walk past the old building where Julie’s presentation took place. I am captivated by the architecture and the colors. I think to myself that I got to hike in the woods, watch birds, meet other artists and birders, see Julie Zickefoose and walk through an art gallery all in the same day! Though my stomach is rumbling because I haven’t eaten since I gobbled a bagel in the car on the way down at 8:30 a.m. and it is now almost 3 p.m. I am still glad I came. On the drive home I get lost in my audio book, but as I step from the car in front of my apartment a flock of geese flies overhead honking and calling with their wild voices. It is a perfect benediction for a perfect day.