Monday, August 25, 2014

candy colored park

While our favorite park in Halifax is Point Pleasant, the large multi-pathed and semi-wild woodland that overlooks the harbor, the city does have a very rare (in North America) formal Victorian public garden at its heart. Even though we walk through its seventeen acres fairly often, I hardly ever remember to carry my camera. This time I did.

Known now as The Public Gardens, the park was established back in the 1830s and officially opened to visitors in 1867. It's home to several ornate fountains, a bandstand, statues, urns, a lake and a magnificent wrought iron fence and entrance. Also among their treasures are over 140 different species of trees, including unusual or rare species, some of them very old. There's an oak tree planted by King George VI and a new one next to it planted by Charles earlier this summer. So far that one doesn't have a plaque as I expect they're waiting to see if it survives a Nova Scotian winter or two. I'll wait a while before I take a picture.

As the aim of the urban Victorian garden was to display a great variety of plants in a confined space - confined, that is, by the standards of aristocratic country estates or the great landscape gardens of the eighteenth century - this one is very successful as you can see. I promise I didn't enhance any of these pictures. In fact, it's almost too much if it weren't for being quite nice to actually see.

The bandstand, renovated two years ago with a new copper roof, hosts concerts every Sunday afternoon in summer. Summer is most definitely the Season here. Happily for us locals the park has stayed open until the first big snowfall these past few years and reopens in April once the white stuff has safely gone.

The beautiful Victoria Fountain, built in honor of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, was renovated just a year ago. Sorry, but I missed the proud seagull that was standing on her head just a second before.

The Soldier's Fountain was built in honor of WWI veterans. There's a bench just under those tree boughs on the right where it's nice to sit on hot summer days

There's also a lovely, if rather small, lake in mid-center of the park - another nice place to sit and visit with the ducks and other birds that happen by. Yep, it's pretty tranquil around here all right. I just wish I could say the same for everywhere else, each in its own special way.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

seaside dancers

Here she is, my whirling sea dancer in a painting that was finished a few days ago. It was fun to do, but I seem to have a better time these days doing illustrations for stories written and unwritten. There will be more of those as time goes by.

Meanwhile I was reminded a few days ago about an artist who lives near the sea in Holland. I am awed and inspired by the work of Dutch artist Theo Jansen, who creates "sand beasts," kinetic sculptures that roam on the coast near his house in the Netherlands. He has been creating wind-walking examples of artificial life since 1990.

Constructed as intricate assemblages of piping, wood, and wing-like sails, Jansen’s creatures are constantly evolving and have become excellently adapted to their sandy beach environment. They sport legs, which “prove to be more efficient on sand than wheels . . . they don’t need to touch every inch of the ground along the way, as a wheel has to”.

You can always read more about him here or here, but the neatest thing of all is to spend a little time watching Theo Jansen's Sandbeesten cross a flat windswept beach. They would be an amazing sight to see in real life.

Compilation from Strandbeest on Vimeo.

Some of them, sensing when they're too close to the sea, back away while others can fasten themselves to the sand when the winds grow too strong.
Tell me that didn't make you smile.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

bored of the future with Crow

During an idle hour this afternoon Crow and I got involved in a conversation about a 'soon to arrive in all our homes' innovation - namely, the Internet of Things. Since we share a generally ironic point of view, as well as a low opinion of high tech devices, our exchange naturally enough turned to the topic of what could go wrong? Now if you're not au fait about this particular modernism (as I was not until Crow explained), it's the idea that all of our modern devices can - and soon will if the corporations whose sole intent is to mine us of the last of our cash get their way - talk and interact with one another.

Imagine the day when the 'Internet of Things' is established, you come home with your new 'smart toaster' and plug it into a kitchen outlet. The toaster boots up, finds the home Wi-Fi network and sends out a message to all the other smart devices registered to you. Your alarm clock, smart toothbrush, TV, smartphones, tablets, PCs, smart glasses, smart smoke detector, smart doors, smart clothes, smart fridge, smart washer and dryer and smart kitty litter box introduce themselves to the toaster, telling it what they're capable of doing. The toaster responds in kind and arranges to send and receive instructions from other devices.

Then comes the morning when you need lots of toast for guests. There's a lot of heat and a little smoke, and your smart smoke detector suspects a fire. So it sends out a message to the other devices saying, in effect, 'is anyone creating heat and smoke?' The toaster can respond the equivalent of: 'Yeah, it's me. No fire here and nothing to be alarmed about'. So the smoke alarm doesn't sound. But what if somebody else just set the curtains on fire?

It's even more likely our toaster will display a bread ad before we're allowed to make toast, suggesting to us we should get out of our jammies quickly, run down to the local grocery store and buy a specific loaf. Then as we're pressing down the lever it'll read our finger print to identify us, report that to a number of data warehouses for a plethora of governmental security agencies so they'll know down to the square foot where we are at all times and just how much toast we're consuming. That being said, I still find that my dumb toaster perfectly suits my needs, and see no reason for it to talk to any of my appliances. In fact I'd prefer not having to suspect my toaster and vacuum cleaner of colluding in some nefarious scheme while I'm out.

How soon they forget:

Sunday, August 3, 2014

the dancer

 Just in case you're wondering if I'm coming or going these days I'll tell you now I'm still here - but slower. I've been working on a couple of new things, this being one of them. I haven't seen anyone like this in my travels up and down the beach but it would be kind of nice.

One thing about my blogging habit is that I've come to demand of myself some new painting or drawing (at least) for every one. Talk about painting oneself into a corner, eh? Crow's pictures used to come much faster but now they too require days rather than hours (or minutes, in some cases).  Besides, it's summer and walks take longer.

I hope you're enjoying the best of summer wherever you are. Meanwhile, here are some words of wisdom from H.L. Mencken:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace in a continual state of alarm (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing them with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

ps: Don't forget your sunblock. I did that one overcast day and wound up with a rash that lasted ten days.. and most of my long sleeve shirts are turtlenecks :(

Sunday, July 27, 2014

the scavengers

There's a story in here somewhere but I tend to go off on tangents even I don't expect - the story I was thinking of has no dragon-like beings. Even as this pair appear to be innocuous enough one can never be entirely sure about the intentions of dragons.

I may paint it, or I may just draw another. These days I'm having a hard time maintaining any creative focus. This could be blamed either on the weather (which has been wonderful) or on the news (decidedly not wonderful).

Til next time.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

all at sea with Crow

In April of last year I wrote about a young man from Holland by the name of Boyan Slat who had devised a plan to clean the plastic detritus from the gyres of the world's oceans. Crow, who is off enjoying his annual mid-summer circumnavigation, sent me a letter:

My dear susan,

First the bad news is the garbage is still there - in point of fact, there's even more of it now than before. Young Slat’s plan, if you recall, is to deploy several V-shaped floating barriers that would be moored to the seabed and placed in the path of major ocean currents. The planned 30-mile-long arms of the V are designed to catch buoyant flotsam three meters below the surface while allowing my companions of the sea to pass underneath. “Because no nets would be used, a passive cleanup may well be harmless to the marine ecosystem,” he wrote in the feasibility  study. The idea is that over time, the detritus would flow deeper into the V , from which it would then be extracted. The report estimates that the plastic collection rate would total 65 cubic meters per day and that the rubbish would have to be picked up by ship every 45 days. Slat hopes to offset costs by recycling the material for other uses.

He's given me a picture of how one looks. I was delighted when I learned that the results of studies he and his team of researchers have done show that just one unit could remove half the plastic in the Great Pacific Patch. They've had great success with their first deployment and are now more than half-way to their goal of collecting $2 million for the next implementation of the plan.

I'm sure you'll agree to share this wonderful news with our mutual, and esteemed, friends. Now I'm off to visit my pelagic colleagues to let them know that help may yet come. The albatrosses, great auks and small, boobies, frigatebirds, gannets, murres, seagulls, penguins, petrels, and puffins depend upon clean seas. As do people. And fish. And sea mammals..

Warm regards to all,

ps: Please set aside some brandy and fruitcake to be shared on my return.

It's good to know there are people who don't take 'impossible' as an answer. After I read Crow's letter I found a few loonies down the back of the couch and made a small donation to Boyan Slat's website  The Ocean Cleanup. Whatever helps. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

no going back

A couple of weeks ago while digging through some old photographs I came across an out of focus snapshot of a picture I painted thirty years or more ago. I have no idea why I had polar bears and their lady guides climbing down a grassy bank, nor what they're thoughts and plans are regarding the young man and the other bear, but it must have seemed significant at the time. Anyway, what I did see was at least half a dozen things I'd do differently now that I have a bit more skill using watercolors. The first thought that occurred is that they should be on their way back to a land of ice and snow - a far better environment for the polar bears than a mossy slope. The next was that the composition would be much improved by losing the guy and the other bear. 

This is as far as I've got, and likely as far as I will get, with this project. Once I'd redrawn the picture and begun adding color it wasn't long before I realized I no longer had much interest in painting nubile young women riding, or otherwise interacting with, large and dangerous wild animals. What did I think happens when you try to hug a polar bear? Of course you know what happens, the polar bear isn’t going to be into it, and it’s probably going to try to eat you.

On the other hand there's a brave man named Kevin Richardson, a South African zoologist, who studies animals native to Africa. He's studied lions to such an extent that he seems to have uncovered the secret to not being mauled to death, as you will see. He has decades of hands-on experience studying how lions behave, and he was able to use that knowledge to his benefit (and ours) in an amazing way.

Now I shall return to painting Crow and friends - perhaps there'll even be one with an old lady :)