Archive for November, 2010

Cruising Alaska, Part 2 (Landscapes)

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Besides the wildlife, of which I wrote in Part 1, our trip to Alaska this past August provided me with plenty of material for landscape painting, as well.

My husband insists that the mountains of Alaska put the Rockies to shame. It was difficult for me to judge their heights except by their sharply delineated bands of color. As you can see in “Kenai Lily Pond” (#100905), bare and ice-glazed rock capped the peaks, while a misty green of mosses and lichens veiled the steep, unyielding slopes below; shrubs provided a belt of richer greens undergirding that, and only at the base lay the deep, dark band of forest. We were fortunate to see the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula on a rare, clear day. Clouds often hang heavy and low, hiding much of the glory of the high ridges and snow-encrusted hollows, and the gleaming glaciers flowing inexorably onward through the valleys they themselves carve out as they move on their course to the sea.

Undercut by the salt-laden ocean water, some of the glaciers, which may move as much as seven feet a day, calve frequently. The calves, or broken chunks, large or small, spewed water high and sent waves out for a considerable distance when they cracked and tumbled off the sheer surface of the glacier’s face. The freshly fractured surface glowed a brilliant turquoise blue, typical of the densely compressed interior, which, in a matter of days would fade, like the rest, to the pervading white of ice that had been exposed far longer to the atmosphere. The glaciers’ upper surface, I was surprised to discover, is not smooth but is creviced and eroded into hoodoos by the sun’s heat, by rain, and by unforgiving winds.

Yet not all the landscape seemed so severe. Rocky streams, fed by rain and melting snow, coursed down the mountainsides and cascaded into grand waterfalls. Lakes, reflecting their rim of grasses and moss and evergreens, as well as the overshadowing mountainsides, lay still and serene in the valleys. Lily pads clustered, like pubescent sunbathers waving urgently to friends but jealous of their prime basking positions and one another’s company, and zealous to absorb the sun’s scant attention through summer’s short season. Tall grasses rippled, wildflowers blossomed and faded, undisturbed by human cultivation. Dense rainforests near the ocean’s edge dripped with mosses and lichen and fungi of various forms. Second- and third-growth forest sprouted bowlegged roots to span older, decaying stumps, drawing nourishment not only from the soft, rich soil but from the remains of trees that had fallen long before.

Normally little affected by tidal action around my home in southwest Florida, I was fascinated to see, at these northern latitudes, how radically the ebbing tide changed the contours of the shoreline, revealing islands and tidepools that disappeared again as the hours swept past and the endless pendulum of come-and-go, ebb-and-flow reversed.

Cruising Alaska, Part 1 (Wildlife)

Monday, November 1st, 2010

A trip to Alaska this summer has provided me with plenty of wildlife to paint in the coming months. Salmon were running … and crawling and jumping and squirming … over, around, and onto the rocks that made up the shallow stream beds we saw all along the coast. In Ketchikan, they were so tightly pressed together as they entered Ketchikan Creek that in places their backs formed what appeared to be a cobbled carpet across the surface of the water. In the harbor, they waited enmasse, apparently patiently, until those ahead of them had moved out of the way enough to make room for a few more. There, fishermen cast their lines to draw out their daily quota, since fishing upstream is forbidden in spawning season.

101003 Fishing for Complements

Mendenhall Lake, in Juneau, was where we found a black bear (exempt from the fishing ban) checking out another stream’s potential. Although not shown in “Fishing for Complements” (#101003) above, his ear was tagged to indicate that he had been more proficient in raiding garbage cans than in finding fresh catch. But he paid little heed to those of us who watched as he pounced, in vain, again and again on the salmon that insisted on slipping past his grasp.

A Kodiak bear, on the island for which he was named and illustrated below in “‘Til the Cohos Come Home” (#100901), had more success, nabbing four salmon in the hour we watched him. He carried them to shore, sometimes into deep grass, to dine undistracted and uninterrupted before returning to the river for more.

100901 'Til the Cohos Come Home

Other wildlife were as interesting but more difficult to capture through my camera lens. On occasion, pods of humpback whales blew spray on all sides of the ship, and then, in a graceful dance, easy to anticipate but difficult to follow, arched their backs and disappeared. Another spray and arch of back would follow, and perhaps yet another. Then the tail broke the surface, curving gracefully in a flash of reflected, watery light, and the creature would sound to depths we could scarcely imagine. We would have a long wait before the same animal resurfaced, sometimes to breach, shooting straight up out of the water and falling sidewise with an enormous splash, or sometimes merely to breathe, shoot another spray, and reveal its dorsal arch and tail before sounding deeply once again. A few hailed our passing with lateral rolls, waving their flukes as though in friendly greeting and farewell before submerging from our view.

Harbor seals swam past us as we lay in port, on their never-ending quest for food. Sea lions basked on the rocks of islands that we passed. And sea otters rolled and cavorted in the wake of our ship, seeming to body surf on their backs in the undulating water. Eagles soared against the mountainsides. And puffins floated in loose groups in the water near the glaciers’ face while gulls cried at us from above.