Wait for it. There’s a cat in this goose story.

Canada Goose urban wildlife painting contemporary pop art BZTATAs I have written in recent posts about my Urban Wildlife Painting Series (deer and skunk), I have felt a special connection to my animal subjects because of my observations of them while delivering newspapers in the early hours of the morning. I have a special connection to Canada Geese as well, but for a different reason.

In the summer of 1995, a pipeline rupture filled the Tuscarawas River with oil near my home at the time in Bolivar, OH. The natural habitat for the creatures along the river was destroyed, and many animals were harmed. I heard a call for volunteers to help rescue the animals on the local news, so I jumped into action.

There were a few ducks and some domestic and hybrid geese brought in with oil on them, but most of the rescued animals were Canada Geese. There was a beaver and a muskrat and a few snakes and turtles, as well. Sadly, none of the herons brought in survived. Their systems were too fragile to overcome the physical and emotional stress caused by the oil.

My job as a volunteer was not a particularly glamorous one. I mostly prepared and cleaned the pens where the geese were kept. I learned quickly the meaning of “hissy fit” and “wild goose chase” (I often was the one being chased). Trust me when I tell you that cleaning newspapers fouled by goose poop is no fun chore. I was glad to do it though. I felt so sad for these birds who were harmed by mankind’s excess and recklessness.

I also had an opportunity to administer Pedialyte to a few birds (helps to restore their electrolytes) and I helped wash a couple of birds. Yes, they really do use Dawn Dishwashing Liquid for this process. Administering Pedialyte requires forcing a tube into the beak and down the throat of the bird.

So you could say that I have been about as up close and personal as you can get to a Canada Goose.

The process of cleaning and rehabbing the birds took about a week from the date of capture by rangers to the date of release. It was very hard on them. The stress of being oiled, the physical damage to their systems and the stress of captivity was rigorous for these natural creatures. Despite our best efforts, some perished during the rescue process, especially the youngest goslings. But many survived, and their resilience was astounding.

My experience with these geese during their most vulnerable moments left a deep impression on me.  They are proud birds, prancing about with their heads held high in a fanciful manner regardless of their circumstances. They have wills as strong as iron. They are comical in a way, yet tenacious and strong. They hiss and snarl at you, yet they are not violent, and they cause you no harm.

They are amazing creatures.

The goose population in urban areas is growing, and many people see them as pests. They sometimes hold up traffic as they march single file across roadways, and goose droppings can create a mess on sidewalks, parking lots and walking paths. But honestly, we are causing them more disruption than they are to us. And they put up with us.

On my last day as a wildlife rescue volunteer, I was allowed to view the release of a large group of Canada Geese back to the wild (Hybrids and domestic geese were released to farms with ponds as they cannot be released back to the wild.) One by one, the rangers lined up the special carriers, each containing a goose, along the newly cleaned riverbed. They opened the carriers all at once, and the birds started marching out. A few seconds passed as they marched forward, then, all at the same time, they took flight and sailed above the water with grace and command.

And we all bawled our eyes out, watching them regain their freedom after they had endured such an ordeal.

I do not believe that I have ever in my life experienced a moment like that before, and I doubt I ever will again.

As the title indicates, there was a cat in this story too. 

One day when I arrived for my volunteer shift to look after the geese, I saw a pet carrier near the wildlife area of the building that housed the rescue efforts. Inside the carrier was a small tortoise shell cat with gold eyes staring out, purring and looking for attention. Of course, I could not resist giving her the attention she desired.

The rangers said that it had taken them 2 days to catch her as she romped along the oily riverbed. They did not want to leave her, because she appeared to have oil on her, but as it turned out, it was not oil, just the dark markings of her tortoise shell coat.

Long story short, Slick came home with me and she was my loving pet for many years to follow (You can read more about Slick here and here).

As I have done with my other posts about the Urban Wildlife Painting Series, I have chosen a musical selection to augment the story behind the painting. I often think of that moment when the geese took flight when I hear Michael Hedges’ “Aerial Boundaries”. It reminds me that obstacles and limitations can be overcome, when you consider that the sky has no boundaries.

View the entire Urban Wildlife Series in an exhibit at the Johnson Center at Malone University from October 28 – December 7, 2019.

Life is an Adventure!

BZTAT

Happy is the Skunk – Urban Wildlife Painting Series

Skunk urban wildlife painting contemporary pop art BZTATFewer creatures stop us in our tracks the way that a skunk does. The unique defense mechanisms that skunks have against predators fill us with fear and derision. The telltale odor of a skunk places the species in a unique category of the most obnoxious animal know to mankind.

If you keep your distance and observe these creatures going about their business, however, you will discover that they are fascinating animals.

Skunks have beautiful black and white fur that looks soft and luxurious (I have never dared to touch one, so I don’t really know what their fur feels like). Each one has a slightly different pattern. Some are more black than white, while others have greater areas of white that almost obscure their black areas of color. 

They move across a lawn with a bouncy/wavy sort of motion. The movement is both graceful and playful, with a sort of comedic style to it. They typically are solitary creatures as they move about quietly in the twilight hours.

They appear happy-go-lucky to me. I think of Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” when I see them bouncing along through the urban landscape. It is ironic that a creature so reviled by mankind seems completely oblivious to our derision, and thoroughly enjoys itself as it moves along its path.

As I shared in a previous post, I have spent a lot of time in the last year and a half observing wildlife creatures in my city of Canton, OH as I delivered newspapers in the early morning hours of the day. The animals that I have observed have inspired me, and I am articulating that inspiration in a series of paintings. I have seen many skunks in my travels. I have also, ahem, smelled their presence many times when I did not see them. A skunk painting (see above) had to be a central part of the series.

You can view the entire Urban Wildlife Series in an exhibit at the Johnson Center at Malone University from October 28 – December 7, 2019. You can also watch my painting progress in social media on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I hope my paintings inspire you to look at these animals in new ways as the animals have inspired me to do.

Hum the tune to “Happy” the next time you see a skunk, and I guarantee you will never look at them the same way again.

Life is an Adventure!

BZTAT

Morning Keep the Streets Empty for Me

Whitetail Deer painting by Artist BZTATFor the past year and a half, I have been creeping around in my car in the early hours of the morning, pondering deep thoughts, observing the late night culture of my city, watching the urban wildlife seek refuge from my high beam headlights, and delivering newspapers to the few people who still subscribe.

The haunting melody of “Keep the Streets Empty” by Fever Ray weaves its way through my mind as I endeavor to complete this nightly job – a menial task perhaps, but one that puts me in an interesting place of contemplation.

Memory comes when memory’s old

My mind often wanders to memories of lost loves, long gone career paths, and all those hopes and dreams that never quite materialized. I ponder about how I got here, and where will I go next?

The answers are few, but the questions are many.

At 2-3 AM, there are a surprising number of people walking in the streets of Canton, OH. I do not know why. They do not seem to be causing trouble. Just walking from one place to another with seemingly aimless determination. The weather does not matter. They are walking in snow, rain, thunderstorms and fog.

Canton is not a city where there is an accepted reason to be out late at night, unless you are making early morning deliveries like me or driving a garbage truck. There is trouble on the streets, but not from these silent wanderers. They are likely victims, not perpetrators. The people I see walking in the night seem to have little to claim in life beyond the clothes on their backs and the cell phones in their hands.

What is their purpose? Are they afraid? Are they so hardened by experience that fear no longer matters? Are they oblivious to the dangers present in the night? Has our world served them well? Do they ponder deep questions like I do?

Do they whisper in their minds, “Morning keep the streets empty for me,” hoping that no harm will come to them as they forge ahead along their paths?

Karin Dreijer Andersson who wrote the lyrics for “Keep the Streets Empty” has remarked about her mesmerizing song, “It’s supposed to be a deer singing,” which makes some sense to me. Imagining the perspective of a deer is something that I often ponder in my wee hour journeys. There are many deer stalking the streets at night, and empty streets are a blessing for them. I interrupt their communal forays into the night as I follow my own path. They watch me with wary eyes, sometimes scattering as I come upon them in the dark.

There is a peacefulness in my observation of the wildlife scurrying around as I sojourn through the early morning. There is unrest in my thoughts, though. The overpopulation of humans in the natural habitat of these creatures means many will not survive.

My artist sensibilities compel me to creatively record my journeys in some way, yet I am frustrated with the unsettledness of everything around me. I seek resolution and balance and hope in my art. I am lost as I seek a thread of that in this.

Everything seems wrong to me in our world of late.

We encroach upon the habitats of other creatures, then complain that they are pests to our privileged way of life. We run ram-shod across the earth and cause irreparable harm to the environment, threatening numerous species of animal and plant life, as well as we threaten our own species’ existence.

Society has organized around principles that grant great wealth to a few, moderate wealth to some, but far too little wealth to many. We mock and disdain the people who cannot seem to amass wealth, all the while laying out the conditions that limit their opportunities to do so.

And then we wonder why they wander the streets in the early hours.

How do I find balance and resolution in that?

Karin Dreijer Andersson also claims that her song is a duet. Is the deer singing to another deer or is the interaction between the deer and humanity?

Perhaps the song, and my own musings about life in the early morning are allegorical. Animals and humans all seek safe passage, regardless of the complicated paths that we take. We interact in such a way that, as we pursue our own survival, we consider that for others as well, or do we?

So many questions.

I have no creative work yet to capture the depth of my musings. The urban wildlife whom I have encountered as I travel along my morning paper route, however, have captured my artistic attention. The deer you see above is the first in my Urban Wildlife Series. I will share more paintings of these fascinating creatures in subsequent posts.

Who knows where it will all lead?

I will be leaving the streets empty myself soon. I am ending my time as a newspaper carrier in a few days, so I will no longer be on this particular journey. The memory of the silent nightlife – the people and the creatures of the night, however, will remain with me.

Always.

I will never disappear
For forever, I’ll be here

View the entire Urban Wildlife Series in an exhibit at the Johnson Center at Malone University from October 28 – December 7, 2019.

 

Life is an Adventure!

BZTAT