Explore: November 2010

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6 posts from November 2010


Year in Yosemite: Moving On


I'm a person who looks for signs everywhere. Not the "Eat Here" or "Gas Ahead" type, but little messages from the universe that I interpret to mean I am, or am not, on the right path. I know I'm being foolish, but like the fortune that comes at the end of a Chinese meal, I tuck away the ones I feel lend hope or meaning to my life and discard the rest. Lately, I’m questioning this practice. Because all the signs regarding our move to Yosemite National Park seem to be weighing in on the negative side and I've begun to wonder why we're here.

A year ago, I felt like I could easily have been cast in a Boeing commercial. At the time, their "We know why we're here" slogan was my daily mantra. We had moved to Yosemite for our daughter Karis and to feed my hunger for adventure. Tired of the noise and distractions of Los Angeles, both Karis and I needed time to regroup and quiet down — she in the classroom, me in life. We found that here. Amid the quiet and the beauty, I felt at peace.

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Nature Art: Fish Printing by the Chesapeake Bay


Last week I collaborated with a sixth grade science teacher, Traci Fairbairn, to bring art into her students' study of the Chesapeake Bay. For drama, I began by printing an eight-pound carp. Though not Bay natives, carp print well because they have large scales that catch ink. They are also beautiful fish, especially the golden kind.


If you've tried fish printing, or gyotaku, you know how much fun it is. And how easy--a fish, some Speedball ink, a piece of copy paper, and you've got a piece of art. Japanese fishermen invented the art of printing fish to document their catch in the days before photography. After they printed their fish with sumi ink, they washed and ate it. Today, using the technique of direct printing, I apply a thin coat of ink directly to the fish using my fingers. I plug the gills with paper towel so they won't leak fluid. When the fish is entirely covered with ink, I wipe off my hands, prop up the fins and tail, and lay a clean sheet of white paper on top of the inked fish. I gently rub the fish, taking care to avoid the eye and the spines in the fins. When the print is ready to be pulled off of the fish, the pattern of the scales and the shape of the body and fins show through the paper:

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Astronomy: The Big Dipper and the Seasons


Can you tell during what season this photo was taken? Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that by looking at a picture of the Big Dipper, you can tell what season it was taken?

One assumption we must first make is that the photo was taken sometime during the evening hours. Because the stars continue to spin overhead all night long (or, more accurately, Earth continues to spin), the Big Dipper will change appearance over the course of a night. However, if we assume that most photos are taken in the evening and not at 1 a.m. or 4 a.m., we can tell what season it was when the image was taken due to the Big Dipper’s appearance.

On fall evenings, the Big Dipper skims along the horizon. It can almost look like a spoon resting on the ground, with the mouth of the dipper exposed and facing up. To remember this, imagine that the Big Dipper is catching the autumn leaves as they fall.

On winter evenings, the Big Dipper is poised so that the handle dangles down from the spoon shape. Think of this handle as an icicle hanging off the bowl to remind you of how the Big Dipper looks in winter.

On spring evenings, the Big Dipper has seemed to have turned upside down. Any liquid that the imagined dipper might have been holding is spilling out onto the ground. Think of spring showers falling from the Big Dipper to remember its vernal appearance.

On summer evenings, the Big Dipper seems to be headed down toward the ground with the bowl first, as if an invisible hand were using the dipper in preparation to scoop a giant bowlful of water from the sea. Hot summer evenings can remind you of the need to get a cool drink as the Big Dipper dives down for a dip.

Now, looking at the photo above, if it was taken in the evening hours, you should be able to figure out what season the image was taken in.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt


Nature Art: Drawing on Scrap Paper

Do you need a sketchbook in order to draw? I'm here to tell you that you don't. When I don't have a sketchbook handy, I draw on the paper I can find. My scrap-paper drawings are rough, just moments in time. As I draw, I push myself to go quickly and focus on the essence of the scene. I say to myself, "This is just a tiny piece of paper! Go, go, go!"

When I draw people on scrap paper, I try to capture their overall body position before they move; I know I won't be able to catch their faces. I did all of the drawings for this blog post in five minutes or less and the model always moved before I was finished. Last week, at the theater, I was thrilled to see that the back cover of my program was blank...and I drew during both 10-minute intermissions. The paper had a slightly bumpy texture, perfect for the colored pencil I added when I got home:


Over the weekend I came back from a hike with two of my favorite leaves. I put them beside me on the front seat of the car; I had a pen. But my sketchbook wasn't there. I found this old envelope under a flashlight in the glove box. It was getting dark fast, but I managed to get the shapes of the gingko and the chestnut oak leaves:

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Year in Yosemite: It's Official


It’s official. I am now a country girl. I know this because I just spent the last week in Los Angeles. My daughter Karis and I went down there for a few days and had an absolutely fantastic time. Because of Yosemite’s tiny population of year-round residents, my daughter’s friends are few and far between. In Los Angeles, she is wildly popular. For three days she had a play date with a different friend every couple of hours.

Ditto for me. I don’t know if I’m wildly popular but I do count myself lucky to have a large group of extraordinary friends. I had breakfast, lunch and dinner dates and still couldn’t get everyone in. That’s the great blessing of Los Angeles. Having lived there for decades, I’ve had the good fortune to create a family of friends where the bonds of love run true and deep. So why aren’t we hightailing it back to the city?

In a word: the quiet. Los Angeles may have hustle and excitement and great restaurants and gobs of endless entertainment, but it can’t begin to compete with Yosemite when it comes to silence. For whatever reason, my daughter and I can’t seem to get enough of it. We drink it in like ambrosia. It seems to calm our souls.

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Year in Yosemite: The Long and Winding Road, Part 2


It seems to me there are two kinds of fear—the real kind that warns us to fight or take flight and the kind that exists in our head. I excel at the latter. When my family and I moved to the village of Wawona in Yosemite National Park a year ago, we moved to a place that is the very epitome of serenity and quiet. Life—or what most people call life—seems far, far away. I don’t read the newspaper (at least when the news is happening), seldom watch television or listen to the radio. Instead I take walks, watch the wind in the trees that tower over our home, and escort my daughter to her various activities. But tranquility must be more than my mind can stand because I’ve found a way to be white-knuckle Blair Witch afraid. And it’s not from thoughts of anything or anyone jumping out at me from the forest. I’ve put all my fear eggs in one basket, a basket I call The Road.

Starting in the town of Oakhurst 22 miles south of us, and snaking its way through the park to the Valley floor 26 miles north is a two-lane highway the state calls 41 and I call pure hell. It twists and turns and presents endless blind curves and that’s just on the way going down. Coming back to Wawona from either Oakhurst or the Valley, there are numerous places where one could plummet off the side, if one chose to do so.

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