Countin’ those ties on the railroad tracks….

AMiner

Well, I can’t promise more than a doodle next week, since I’ll be unpacking my worldly possessions into a new building. Naturally, art supplies are going to be pretty high on the list of things to keep handy (right up there with books and food), but things *do* have a way of going awry when you’d much rather they didn’t.

This is an aardvark who also appears to be a miner of some sort. He was drawn with the same pencil, sketch book, and eraser I used to draw my November critters (including his forerunner of sorts, Scooter the pseudo-aardvark from Four Legs Good ). The reason for the latter is simple: Those were the art supplies sitting next to my monitor. My monitor is on the floor. My computer is on the floor. My keyboard is on the floor. I am on the floor. Welcome to the final stages of the Small Move (the Big Move being the title reserved for my workplace’s move out of, then back into, its first-old-then-renovated library quarters, which is taking place around the same time as my personal change of address).

The reason for the former — which I assume you’ve forgotten after that whole paragraph, so rather than making you go back and re-read it I’ll just remind you that it’s the aardvark-miner part — is still fairly simple, but a bit less reasonable. Basically, I needed to have something I could just turn out little sketches of in a semi-reliable fashion when I got tired of what I was really working on. Since my huge unabridged dictionary is literally the ONLY book that has been spared in these last phases of the move, it seemed like a good place to start. I decided to take the first mammal (“animal” was my first choice, but I needed a way to politely dismiss various inconveniently tiny and ambiguous living beings that might otherwise count) I found for each letter, discover something about that animal that I *did not know before,* and draw a picture based on that new piece of knowledge.

I … really didn’t know how that would wind up going. Would I end up drawing the actual animals, or something based on them? Cartoony or realistic? I decided to just get on with it and look up aardvarks, since everyone knows (though I did still check the dictionary, hoping beyond hope) that’s the first mammal you’re going to get for A. I feel like there was probably a Hawaiian bird or two before that, but rules are rules….

But what interesting fact could I actually find about aardvarks? I knew the name meant “earth-pig,” knew various things about the crazy tongues, suspected they were edible … but I’d never really looked at the scientific name. That’s some crazy stuff right there. Orycteropus? Is that like some kind of nightmarish land-octopus? I could’ve stopped right there, but knowing that “-pus” means foot, I couldn’t help doing some digging (heh, heh) to see what the rest meant. Dictionary said it meant some variation of “burrowing foot,” via a Greek word that meant “miner.” A miner-aardvark sounded cooler than an aardvarktopus (or at least a lot less terrifying), so here we are. They’re omnivorous, so I like to think there’s a nice hearty termite-and-potato pasty in that lunchbox.

No, something better than magic….

bookwyrm

Not a moth! But you’re used to that by now. This was just a sketch I made on a whim, lying in the hallway with some rather terrible lighting. Why not just move over to somewhere with better lighting that wasn’t, you know, a hallway, you ask? Well, that’s where the radio was and a good song was on … a good song I *own*, mind you, and could have played on at least two different devices that were not located in the hallway, but such is the mysterious draw of a playlist you don’t control.

Anyhow, if you haven’t noticed, this is a bookwyrm. That’s in no way an original idea — how could it be? — but I feel the need to point out that I did come up with it independently, at least. Hey, they can’t all be original ideas. The books I’ve been reading lately certainly haven’t been. That’s my fault for sticking so close to one genre and decade-hopping, though; one’s bound to find influences, homages, and (like the bookwyrm) decent ideas that just happened to spring up on two separate thought-islands without ever seeing each other. The better an idea, the more likely it is to have been done already. Then, people copy terrible ideas too (see: movies).

As I type this a song has come on that reminds me of a particularly unforgivable pun-drawing I made recently (the kind that hasn’t been done before for a good reason) involving Lorde and ball pythons. Look, I can’t help that there’s a morph called Queen Bee, okay?

I may need help for this art-pun addiction. It’s getting a bit out-of-control. I even changed that on-the-fly from “out-of-hand,” because snakes don’t have hands, even though that has NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING. Speaking of snakes though, as I was drawing the face of this dragon I suddenly recalled all the hours I spent long ago, looking at a library-book of snakes because I’d decided that snake-scales worked the best for dragons but I’d never seen a proper snake up close. I didn’t want little round boa constrictor scales (and not just because they’re a pain to draw), I wanted something from the the faster, sleeker specimens.

In hindsight, I seem to have gone for the smallish nonvenomous colubrids, species that probably would have made reasonable (and not particularly dangerous) pets. They do have the fiercest little faces though, with the streamlined scales and huge angry eyes. But, of course, those eyes have one little problem: they don’t look like the traditional “snake eyes,” with the little cat-pupils. They’re all round and troublesomely adorable. My preferred draconian visage wound up being a combination of several snakes and lizards, in the end, and of course I’ve far from mastered it even today. But when I just go on autopilot like this one, I’ve got the little green grass snake and his kin to thank for what appears.

Two legs at noon….

Mothra2I finally decided on the White-lined Sphinx for the color palette — it doesn’t necessarily go with the feathery antennae or teddy-bear legs, but I simply couldn’t do without those. It’s just not properly mothy to me without a lot of fluffy brownness. The Sphinx, on the other hand, contributes a little much-needed color and contrast with the namesake white lines (which I may render beige/yellow) and that bright splash of pink on the hindwings. 

In a somewhat relevant vein, I just spent about an hour explaining to someone what “fantasy” meant. Not like, the definition of the word itself, but the genre. Usually the trouble is distinguishing fantasy from sci-fi or supernatural, but this was more a case of convincing them that “fantasy” didn’t just boil down to “unicorns and Pokemon” (though I personally have nothing against either — or Rapidash). It can be awfully trying to describe a genre to someone who seems to view it as fundamentally “stupid” or “silly” … but I finally managed to get us started on brainstorming some possible fantasy scenarios. I was a bit trying in my own right, by constantly replying “Oh, like in [book title]” instead of nodding and pretending it was a new idea (as if those exist). To be fair, I consider it a compliment to compare something to a favorite fantasy book.

Speaking of favorite fantasy, I stumbled across the last Diana Wynne Jones (or rather, Diana and Ursula Jones) book the other day. The name of a deceased author on a new-book spine always catches my eye — and it happens just often enough to warrant an “always” there — though the quality does have a way of varying. I’ve heard good things about Islands of Chaldea though, so I’m cautiously optimistic about it. Wish me luck (or warn/encourage me if you’ve already read it)!

Mothra1

Sun’s comin’ up down on Main Street….

Madame Moth

Look, I’m being good and actually posting the project I’m ostensibly working on! Mostly because I put off this entry till the last minute and didn’t have time to think of anything else, but it’s something.

Side note: My little gecko’s eye is better, as far as I can tell — though, despite the abundant humidity and scratchy-things I’ve offered, he now has a little shed-mustache (more like shed-muttonchops, actually) that he’s even touchier about than the eye. Luckily it’s not anywhere that’s in a hurry to get infected or lose circulation and fall off, so I’ll just keep the shed box moist and let him take his time with this one.

Anyhow, I think I have Madame Moth’s pose down, though I’ll surely rearrange bits and pieces a few more times. I’m not sure whether I want her scarf to be a fancy scarf or a winter scarf, or something in-between. She’s got an umbrella, so unless she’s in a really weird climate I think I’ll probably be going with “fancy scarf.” Though a few days ago I probably could’ve used a scarf and an umbrella — in the midst of our annual lowland floods, it got down into the very low 50’s, a good ten degrees below average and just shy of a record. There weren’t as many “cold day in July” jokes as you’d expect, which I suppose was a mercy. I, of course, am not so merciful.

I’m not sure what colors I’ll be using, yet. The umbrella will probably be some flavor of black-and-white or black-and-brown, recalling the cryptic/disruptive coloring so often seen on the leading edges of moth and butterfly wings. The rest should probably be brown and beige tones, though my affinity for splashes of color may thwart that plan. The feathers, though already partially colored (I just can’t stand leaving it empty pencil) will need to become a lot more convincingly “feathery” before they’re done.

I think that’s all I’ve got. I’m a little (okay, maybe a lot) worn out from walking downtown, watching the holiday parade, going to work, walking around more downtown, and then walking home yesterday — all in all I wasn’t on my feet much longer than a regular workday, but there was a good bit more walking and outdoors-being. Fortunately I don’t sunburn, or I probably would have, but either way I think I got just a tad more sun than I needed. The unseasonably cool weather makes it easy to forget that it’s not *that* cool. Nevertheless, a proper night’s sleep and all is mended. Until next time!

I think it’s a small dragon…

anxiousdragon

Of course it is. What it isn’t is a moth-lady, in whole or in part; but you’ve grown used to such happenings by now, haven’t you? Tonight, a misunderstanding that began with some neighbors getting locked out of their building and ended with shouting and mild threats has me a bit antsy, despite not having directly participated in any of it (except for some quiet and hurried clarifications in the hopes of calming things at least for the night).

As a result, I felt more like this Anxious Dragon than anything, and spent a slightly-soothing forty-five minutes or so scritching him out on paper with a mechanical pencil (anything needing sharpening would have interrupted the whole mindless-drawing flow). While the face is mostly tortoise, his eyes are most definitely influenced by another source of anxiety: my gecko, who had a particularly bad bit of trouble shedding and is now patiently enduring assault-by-eye-drops as I try to follow the vet’s advice on the situation.

Leopard geckos — having prominent eyelids as well as large, nocturnal eyes — are endowed with surprisingly expressive faces, and I just can’t bear his perplexed little “frown” when I have to mess with his eyes. Trust a human to misread a nonhuman facial expression any day of the week, but there’s no doubting that he doesn’t like it. If you can’t trust the face, his little alarm-squeak, followed byrunning back under my arms like it might be safe there, should suffice. What I really hate is that I can’t tell whether he trusts me (or the giant disembodied hands that make up his concept of me) anymore. He doesn’t run from my hand when I go to pick him up; but he hasn’t “asked” to come out of the cage (looking up in the air until my hand appears, then climbing up my arm) for several nights either. Since I continue feeding him by hand (which he’s always studiously avoided biting), but have to pick him up and remove him from the cage to torture treat his eye, I can’t imagine what’s going through his little lizard brain now when he sees me.

Ah, well. He feared me once, long ago, and with a combination of food bribes and body-heat-having I managed to convince him to feel otherwise. Hopefully my little anxious dragon will be well again soon, and we can go back to being friends.

The call of a nightbird….

The call of a nightbird....

Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve gone off on another avian tangent after that last post. That said, it’s not my fault that hoatzins are awesome and need to be brought up at every opportunity. Nor is it entirely on me that someone suggested that a hoatzin Pokemon would be even cooler.

It is my fault that I agreed heartily and immediately went to work sketching possible basic and Stage 1 forms, followed by a further diversion that resulted in a hoatzin-dragon (or wyvern, rather) of some sort. I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that the recent movie Smaug is a wyvern now. Old news, sure, and it’s been established that I like the four-limbed (2 legs, 2 wings) design in general, but … hmmn. That’s. Well. Different. I’ve already whined (if not here, then just all over the place in general) about splitting such a short story into this many parts, and HELLO SPOILERS having Smaug just fly off at the end and leave the desolating-stuff part to the movie that’s not named after that, but. Yeah. I won’t go into that again.

Anyhow, hoatzins are basically the best birds. They have big red dinosaur-eyes and the babies are basically wyverns themselves what with the thumb-claws, plus they have wicked crazy mohawk crests, plus they’re kind of like bird-koalas because they mostly climb around and eat poisonous leaves (which makes them nasty-smelling and rumored to be toxic in their own right). So, if that’s the only thing you come away from this blog with tonight, then I’m okay with that.

To stay alive until the light has faded…

Part two of “what’s the deal with me and birds?,” in which birds suddenly appear every 3 years or so — now with less-accurate-than-usual drawings (cobbled together from hazy childhood memories and untainted by, say, employing books or the Internet to find out what a bird actually looks like)! I’ll go into happier details about my late feathered friends tomorrow in Drawn @ Random’s sister blog, Shetland + Pony.

birdFeathery

First, near two decades ago, was Feathery the fledgling. House sparrow? Probably. We’ve all had an encounter like this, I’m sure — the quintessential awkard-brown-birdling-of-indeterminate-status. I assumed she was a juvenile, and looking back on her behavior that seems a safe bet; but she wasn’t the heartiest creature and made no real attempts at escape (my mother and I tried on a couple occasions to release her into the trees, with mixed results). I wasn’t even a fledgling myself at the time, and knew nothing of birds, so I can’t say just what ultimately led to Feathery’s demise; I only know that it was a shock to my small self when she had been “doing so well,” as far as I knew. She was buried in the backyard, a red bow to mark the grave.

birdFledgling

The second sparrow (?) encounter was hardly long enough to merit mention, though my mother always trots it out as a heroic escapade of my childhood by playing up my admittedly-minimal involvement. We were visiting a friend of the family, and their large Persian cat was playing on the lawn with what looked like a leaf; until I realized it was a bird. I grumpily squashed the “naughty” cat with one hand and grabbed the bird with the other. It resisted our attempts to place it in a box, and for all I know lived happily ever after.

birdMoses

Some time later, when I was about 8, was beautiful blood-red Moses the cardinal, rescued from a river of traffic. He seemed so hopeful; no blood, no breaks, no limping legs or wings held askance. Outwardly, he appeared able (if not willing) to move about freely and well. Maybe it was internal damage or simple shock, but something was definitely wrong. From beak to toe he was my favorite color, the color of life, but there wasn’t enough life on the inside. He drifted away at the small-animal hospital, though they apparently decided that a child such as myself did not need to know the particulars of how and why.

birdKekoa

A few years later was Kekoa, brave one, a so-called Downy Woodpecker who was all sharp beak, sticky tongue, and stiff spotty tail feathers. I named her brave because when I saw her, in yet another yard of a family friend, she was fending off an aggressive male who had a distinct advantage: his sight. The adults spared only a quick glance at the noisy birds, but her stumbling flight led me to run over and investigate. Her obliviousness to my presence led me to realize that she was completely blind. Her eyes were tight shut and would never open, and I would never learn why. We bought woodpecker suet and hung it up in her enclosure, hoping she’d eat. She was lively and inquisitive enough, but she didn’t eat, and she didn’t open her eyes. When sleep took her that night it never let her go, though perhaps in that case it was for the best.

birdRobin

Then the robin with no name. She flew into our windshield in the middle of a lonely highway in the desert, which in hindsight seems like no place for a robin. Perhaps she’d lost her way? There was no way to restrain her in the car and no town for miles. Her wings seemed to be working, at least. We walked until we found shade and left her with water.

birdWarbler

The warbler. At the home of yet another family friend/client, this one with a teddy-bear of a cat that was neutered and declawed and so on. Rendered harmless in that sense, but still a cat, and a respectable hunter of mice and voles and such small deer when he was let out in the backyard. I’ll admit that at this point I considered it best not to feel too much empathy for animals, and had once watched with interest as he neatly butchered and devoured a little rodent. But then one day he pounced and I saw beneath his paws a little greenish songbird. I hauled the cat away by the scruff. Yes, the creeping things and the beasts of the earth I left to their fates, but the birds of the heavens? I challenge you to find someone who does not in some way hold them a little more sacred.
My heart sunk when I saw the bright bead of red on its olive-drab breast, but its eye was bright and its look was defiant. It leapt from my hand and darted high into the sky, never to be seen again.

I know better how to care for birds now, though I rarely find them these days. My trees are all gone. Of course, they and I will never be free from each other entirely. My more recent encounters were not wild creatures, but I still count them in my collection of broken birds. There’s the mournful pet-store cockatoo, my relationship with whom is detailed in Hi, Dakota; and the discarded racing pigeon (sort of the catalyst for this whole question) who appeared almost exactly a year ago in both blogs under Odyssey of a Homer and don’t let the pigeon… If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this, it’s that I’ll probably never have  a pet bird….

birdHomer         birdDakota

Note: Using a lyric from Josh Ritter’s “Long Shadows” was intended simply as an in-joke for myself in the previous post, but upon reflection it was something of an appropriate song, so I finished the line out in today’s title. Given the fate of Kekoa in particular, I woke at the slightest flutter from Pigeon in the middle of the night, ready to dash over and make sure he was alright and hadn’t been spooked or hurt or worse.