Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was upbeat for the ribbon cutting ceremony for his countries first Burger King.

“This is a proud moment for all Ukrainians.’ he exclaimed.

The emergence of chain burger restaurant will phase out the old Soviet-style restaurants which required citizens to supply their own food, cooking utensils, and stoves.

“Basically, the Soviet restaurants were simply windowless concrete rooms with some tables.  But never enough chairs.” said Yushchenko. “The name ‘Burger King’ also has a nice ring to it.  Much finer than “Feeding Establishment 14-A’ as we had during Soviet rule.  It’s also nice that food is provided at the restaurant.’

” WE PRETTY MUCH SHOULDA NOT PARKED SO CLOSE TO EACH OTHER ON THE ICE.”

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After an aggregate eight hours spent on the phone with airlines, online ticket agents, consulate officials (actually lifeless, monotone, recorded consulate officials), and the State Department it was apparent that I would not be leaving the country this summer.  Not for the lack of trying, but possibly the lack of money.

I was planning on spending five to six weeks in Brazil.  After attending my friend’s wedding in Hollywood and a nine day galavant around the state of California, in addition to the gargantuan task of securing a Brazilian visa (now I know how the rest of the world feels trying to get into this country)  time and money would not allow for anything north of two weeks in Brazil on a strict budget.  When I go to Brazil, largest of the South American countries, two weeks and strict budget cannot be part of the deal.  That would be something like trying to ‘see’ New York City with fourteen dollars in about forty five minutes.

The backup plan?  Colombia or maybe Peru to meet up with my hiking buddy Keith from last year’s adventure.  But by then it would be too pricey to fly down and Keith was hiking mountains I should only look at. He’s a seasoned veteran but even he still managed to have a run in with some pretty nasty frostbite.  I really wasn’t interested in spending too little time in a place too far way only to come home with my face half-fallen off.  Europe?  It costs at least two hundred dollars just thinking about flying to Europe.  Asia?  Next year, maybe.

The good thing about living in Maine is that it is awesome–especially in the summer months.  It was time to give up the prospect of international travel for the summer and dig in the heels for a summer of Maine living.  And I am really glad that I did.

Here’s why:

1.  Family.  My brother and his wife and kiddos visited form Colorado, which is always a great time.  Watching Red Sox games in the comfort of the folks’ house was a step above going to some painstakingly slow internet cafe in Latin America to get results of the games.

2.  Artwork. There was lots of time to continue working on projects that i have started.  I also started a new series of black and white portraits.  It started with Biggie Smalls and a few other rappers, and is now winding it’s way through the realm of mobsters and general bad asses.  So maybe that’s what the theme is: those who ye shall not mess with.

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3. Friends: It’s funny how traveling in places like Colombia and Bolivia that you don’t run into old friends from high school.  Staying in Franklin County for the summer lends itself to that much better.  My friend Matt came into town from DC a couple of times.  I see him a few times a year but never in the summertime, which brings me to:

4. Rafting: Every year, while I am away a group of the guys heads up to the Penobscot River for three nights of camping and fun filled days of rafting.  The Penobscot River is my favorite river to run.   Beginning at the base of a dam in a steep gorge it winds its way southeast over waterfalls and  many rapids.  Most rapids are easily accessible from the road, making it easy to put in anywhere we want, for any amount of time.  Sixteen of us, one raft, a few coolers, and about 15 thousand pounds of meat posted up on a riverside campsite for the weekend.

My friend Erik used to guide river trips and has since bought his own raft and gear.  We pay for his gas and food and he takes us down the river.  Sweet deal.  It’s great because beyond the basic guidelines of  staying alive on a river we don’t need to adhere to rules of rafting companies.  Stopping to jump off rocks, check.  Letting two people man a six person raft to surf a rapid, check.  Refreshments to beat the heat, check.

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5. Camping: If you’re going to be in Maine during the summer you may as well spend some of the time outside camping.  The summer was highlighted by three major camping trips: one to down east Maine, one down to Massachusetts (feel weird writing that), and the last, possibly the most epic camping adventure I have ever been on, happened up on Spencer Bay in Moosehead Lake.  For some reason, my friend’s 2001 digital camera ate the pictures I took so here’s an old one:

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6.  Concerts: Fresh off retirement, Phish rolled through the east and finished off its summer tour up in Saratoga Springs, NY.  Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) is my favorite east coast music venue and I have never regretted the six hour drive to get there.  It is an amphitheater set in a state park, rife with woods and streams.  The hardest part is finding your way through the labyrinth of wooded parking lots to your vehicle after the show–it took us an hour and a half.

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The band sounded great.  It’s interesting how people are more inclined to perform better at their daily tasks (whether it’s playing in a band or remembering to do things like eat and sleep) when not completely out of their minds on pharmaceutical drugs.  The band seemed happy and the music was tight–or as tight as any jam band music can be.  I went to the show with my long time friend Tim and ran into our buddy Sully, who can count the amount of shows he missed on the summer tour on one hand.  I think he is enjoying having a successful business that he can work from home (or on tour) with Phish simultaneously touring the country.  Not sure, but I think he likes it okay.

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HOLLYWOOD UP TO REDWOOD

July 10, 2009

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Hudack and I were spent by the time we got to our friend Joe Petsche’s house. The effects of the Armenian wedding the day before lingered with us for the five hour drive up desolate Interstate 5 to Joe’s place in Salinas. It was time for relaxation and a break from the fast pace of Los Angeles. It was time to get up to one of the most relaxing places in the world: Humboldt County, California.

Joe, Hudack and I became friends at Humboldt State University in a small town called Arcata, which is about five hours north of San Francisco. Back in 1999 we found ourselves with a weekend of absolutely nothing to do before school started. From perpetually rainy Arcata we took a memorable trip up to Eugene, Oregon, which among other events was the final resting place of the car’s alternator and the point of origin for our friendship.

We stayed the night at Joe’s place in Salinas, which is close to Monterrey Bay. In the morning he explained that Salinas is the ‘lettuce capitol of the world.’ Lettuce, fast food, and gangs, is how Joe explained the delicate balance of life in Salinas, but he and his girlfriend got a good deal on a nice house there and it’s close to where they study/profess at San Jose State University.

Humboldt, our destination for the trip north, is a stunning place. The coast features intermittent immense rocky cliffs and sandy beaches. The interior is filled with towering redwood trees, mountains and cool winding rivers. Fortunately for us, as beautiful as Humboldt scenery is the ride north along the 101 from Humboldt is nearly as sweet.

We had four days to conquer the old college stomping grounds and had a list of places to hit during the stay. Here are the highlights:

MOONSTONE BEACH

DSC05583This was the ultimate hangout in college. Frisbee, bonfires, rock climbing faces, relaxing, sunsets…And if those didn’t interest you then it was time to check your pulse and see if you have a heart beat.

DSC05597Low tide exposes caves at Moonstone. I once saw Hudack catch a live fish with his bare hand close to this cave. Hudack has done some amazing things in his life but that ranks up there with the time he fell through our patio roof trying to secure a sound spot to watch the sunrise.

DSC05613Hippies sit on a log at Moonstone Beach discussing pertinent hippie issues.

DSC05622Scenes like this is a big reason why people show up to this beach.

MOUTH OF THE KLAMATH RIVER

DSC05652Kinda pretty, I guess.

DSC05710The Mouth of the Klamath is a wildlife paradise. Fish stream into the ocean from the river only to be eaten by seals like these. The seals face the constant threat of being liquidated by a whale or a shark, which at times make themselves visible.  It’s like a free Sea World without the families from Indiana in matching t-shirts and hats feeding the wildlife nachos.

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DSC05718Even bears love the huge population of fish at the mouth of the Klamath for some reason.

FERN CANYON

DSC05745This little stream carved this dramatic canyon with vertical walls covered in ferns. Usually, it seems, there is a human vs. elk standoff at the entrance to the canyon because they (the elk) are drawn to the stream for water and they (the people) are often less than artful in dealing with wildlife in ‘their’ path.  Even better is when a hippie has to restrain his hippie-dog from attacking the elk: “Marley! No! Chill, Man! Stay, bro!”

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Looking up, out of the canyon.

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Joe poses to make the canyon walls seem taller than they really are.

THE TRINITY RIVER

DSC05852One of my favorite places in the world is traveling inland in Humboldt County to the Trinity River, one of a few pristine winding rivers through the mountainous countryside. The temperature is anywhere from 10-20 degrees warmer than the coast though it is only about 45 miles inland. The water is cool but the air is hot so it is ideal for floating and swimming, The only sketchy part is getting down there. This picture shows approximately where our rental car would have landed if we hadn’t missed the Jeep that was coming the opposite way around the corner.

DSC05801It never required being held at gun point to swim in river water that looked this nice.

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Spots like this are hard to access but once you are there you become thankful that it’s that way–thankful, for instance, that it isn’t inundated with heaps of people with big silver boom boxes blaring Def Leopard using the river are their personal aluminum can recycling bin.


THE COMMUNITY FOREST, ARCATA, CA

DSC05925This redwood forest sits just beyond the back doors of the university.  It has miles of trails winding all around the hills behind school.  It also served as a fine alternative to going to classes.

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DSC05924You can always tell that you’re in a redwood forest because all the trees will be really tall.

This jaunt through redwood country made me realize how important it is to stay connected with this amazing area of the world.  It felt great to just aim the car in any direction we wished, seeing sights that we either took for granted or were too busy to get to back in the college days.

Most of my friends have moved away from there and have become real functioning people:  I teach art in Maine, Hudack gave up bare-hand fishing and now works with computers in Baltimore, and Joe Petsche is now a professor of Geology at San Jose State.  We have plenty of excuses of why it is hard to get back to the place, but letting six more years lapse before heading there again will be a crime.


THE ARMENIAN WEDDING

July 1, 2009

Back in January of 1999 I met Claude as he carried boxes through the hallway of our dorm. We were about to start the spring semester at Humboldt State University in northern California and it was the first day for transfer students to move in.

“Are you 21?” I greeted him as he walked by visibly exhausted.

He looked at me incredulously like I had insulted a family member. It seemed like a fine enough question to me. At that stage of my life I possessed a vigorous curiosity of peoples ages and I didn’t know how old he was. Simply a question.

“Hey man, I just drove like 12 hours. Let me get my car unloaded first, okay?” he replied a bit agitated.

Once he settled in he was more open to talk. Claude, as it turned out, was twenty one or over. He was also from San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles and  is the first Iranian-born Armenian I have ever met, which being from Maine should surprise no one. (Maine’s diverse ancestry hailing from France all the way over the channel to England and Ireland). Claude is part of the Armenian community in Los Angeles and speaks with a lot of pride about his Armenian friends and family.

DSC05979Back in college whenever Claude got homesick for LA we gave him these 3D glasses that made everything look like a club full of pretty Armenian girls with shots of Patron listening to Carlos Santana.

There were a dozen or so people placed in the overflow dorm which served as a holding pen for transfer students until something opened up in the proper dorms. The upside was there were no RA’s to oversee our actions and because of this there really were no downsides to living there. Claude and myself, as well as some of the others became close friends over the next few years. Through living in the dorms and renting houses and apartments together a good core of friends and fond memories developed.

Years later news came in that Claude was getting married. My longtime college roommate and friend Adam Hudack and I drew up plans to head to Hollywood, California to help Claude celebrate this special occasion. Leading up to the trip we joked about possible toast themes for the wedding and prospective wedding attire. Hudack talked me down from wearing my small 1987 Larry Bird replica jersey with dress pants to the posh Armenian wedding and offering my five all time great Celtics memories as the wedding toast. Hudack is a good friend.

DSC05484Adam prepares for the wedding.  Back in the days when we had a house in Humboldt I’m confident that neither of us could even spell the word ‘iron’ .

I met Hudack at the baggage claim at LAX and had a laugh about the time a few years back that he had, during the course of his flight, forgotten what his luggage looked like when he got to the baggage claim. That was back when in-flight beer was only $3 and mixed drinks just $4.

I steered our golden Mitsubishi rental car onto I-405 to head to our hotel in North Hollywood , a mere 20 miles away. Two and a half hours later we arrived at our hotel. There we met up with our friend Charlie and his wife Melissa and their baby girl. After cooling off from our crawl from the airport and a few old school laughs we set off for Claude’s place where we met up with more friends from the college days to fetch up plans for the night.

It was decided that we would head to a small Argentinian grill/bar for the evening. Claude warned us that he would call it an early evening because he was getting married the next day. We laughed and wished him luck with that dream.

We piled into the restaurant, which was nice but not too formal for the likes of our crowd. Apparently, singer/philosopher Jessica Simpson was eating dinner there when we walked in but no one seemed interested enough to do more than say “Um, okay, whatever, what do you guys want to drink?”  The place was nice but if she was eating there you must be able to order items by number or the menu must have little pictures of the food so she could just point.

It was there that I met Claude’s best man Art. Meeting him it became apparent why Claude always seemed so disheveled after returning back to school from his friend’s weddings. Art had no shortage of ideas for toasts and kept the staff busy behind the bar.

The next day we met at the parents home of Claude’s soon to be wife, Mary.   I had not yet met Mary, though we had spoken on the phone a few times. After meeting her later on it’s obvious that Claude is a very lucky man. She is very pretty and very much down to earth–I couldn’t imagine a better match for Claude. According to tradition of the Armenian wedding, the groom and his groomsmen to go to the house of the bride’s parents, where there is a reception with food and drinks and a bit of music and dance. From there they pick up the bride and all travel together to the church for the ceremony and then to the reception.

Hudack, Charlie, and our friend Jack and I arrived at Mary’s house to find three very well dressed men standing in the driveway with very grim expressions. As we walked up the driveway smiling, trying to fit with the same grace a nun tries to fit in at a frat party, I kept expecting Tony Soprano to come around the corner smoking a cigar wondering who the hell the clowns were that just showed up.

Claude’s brother, Chris (another in the long list of quality people we met), explained to us later that the grim expressions were a common gesture when the bride was ‘taken’ from the family for the wedding. Thinking about it, if I were a father and Claude came up to ‘take away’ my daughter I might be rather grim, as well. But that is most likely because I have vivid memories of the places that we lived during our college years and how close they teetered on the edge of being condemned.

The stretch Hummer that housed Claude and his groomsmen arrived at the house and as they filed out of the vehicle a small band started playing. Slowly Claude moved up the driveway dancing with friends and family members. We clapped in rhythm along with the music as the group slowly entered the house to meet the bride. Inside the living room they continued to dance the same way. The mood was festive, the food was amazing, and it was increasingly hard not to smile at how it was an real celebration happening around us. Adam and I remarked at how senseless it was in weddings we’ve been to where the bride and groom shouldn’t see each other before the wedding.

Just as things were wrapping up at the house, Adam and I noticed a small boy with a large shiny knife.  As Claude and Mary were leaving the boy jammed the knife into the side of the doorway stopping Claude in his tracks.  Apparently, at this stage Claude needed to bribe the family member to be able to take Mary with him.  So, the child was given a pretty good slice of cash and they were on their way.  My thoughts on seeing that was if they pull that when I get married they better send a bigger dude or a bigger knife to get that kind of money from me.

We left and headed to the ceremony, which was held at an Armenian church. The service was completely in Armenian, so we took seats in the back standing and sitting when everyone else did, trying not to be too late in doing so.  Someone up in the front sang hymns in a very high pitch, which I strained to listen to for any Tool lyrics that Claude arranged to be spliced in.

After the service we headed to Hollywood for the reception, which was held at a very nice reception hall.  The wedding party stayed behind at the church for another round of photos because apparently the photographer was paid by the photo and not a flat rate.  There were nineteen tables scattered around the room, lavishly set up with appetizers and big bottles of vodka and whiskey.

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We had been at the reception hall for about an hour when the wedding party arrived.  Keeping busy with the food and drink we had almost forgotten about the wedding party.  Charlie, who was in that mix slid over to our table.

Man, I’m starving.” he said with a tired smile.  Naturally, we poured him a drink.  He was most appreciative.  Dinner was a five course (maybe more, maybe less, I lost count after two, or so) affair.  The food featured a lot of Armenian fare and very well put together.  The Armenians have food and drinking down to a science.

There were toasts, our favorite being the one from Art, which after some words about being ‘happy forever’ and ‘being lucky’ and ‘great girl’ and ‘great man’ and so on, left everyone with “Okay, now everybody….DRINK!” It was all laughs and revelry from that point on, and I’m confident that nobody let Art down.

DSC05536_2The happy couple.

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“SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING’  Acrylic on canvas 16″ x 20″

This is a study for a larger triptych I am finishing.  I’ve taken elements of this piece and incorporated them into a larger landscape.

I like wide open spaces, even though I live in North Jay, Maine.  Driving around out west what I ind remarkable is the immensity of the sky.  Even if what is happening on the ground yields little of interest the sky has a lot to say about a landscape’s beauty.  That is good news for places like Nebraska and Iowa and of course, let’s not forget Kansas.

MONTREAL FOR THE WEEKEND

April 20, 2009

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I was late (some would say ‘as usual’) and Davis and Mike were anxious. They left me messages and as I drove to Mike’s place but I knew there would be little benefit to hearing them. I threw my stuff into Davis’ Jetta (or Jettre in Canadian?) and assumed the shotgun position for the five hour jaunt.

The border crossing was uneventful, which is good because you never want ‘events’ happening at the border. The first stop after the border was hitting the store for snacks and supplies. I really don’t know why it is so amazing that just a half hour north of Sugarloaf USA people are speaking only French. Yet it always is

“Merci, beaucomp.” I told the cleark, a frail attempt to speak the native tongue as I took my bag of Canadian road trip purchases.

I usually travel in Spanish speaking countries and can linguistically navigate
through most public situations. I felt a bit helpless at least as far as making conversation or jokes. I didn’t even have a cool accent with which to butcher the home language like the Australians I meet traveling in Latin America: “Whole-la, Amaaaygo. Como est-ass? Me La-mo Daiy-vid!”

We pointed the car west and drove until Montreal appeared on the horizon. We covered such topics as:

  • How Canada has purple money.
  • We tried to figure out how far Montreal is in real life (miles), not in those silly kilometers.
  • Talked at length about what being one of the million deer we saw on the way would be like. (Very straight road, very boring)
  • Socialism (laughing at, not with)
  • Wishing the Montreal Expos were still around. Big time.
  • Wondering how many loonies and toonies it will cost to get into the Canadians hockey game.

Embassy Suites would be our headquarters for the weekend. As we pulled up next to an Audi it was apparent that we may be a bit outclassed (not dissing the Jettre, Davis). As we retrieved our backpacks (speaking of classy) from the trunk we noticed a small group of people stood outside the door, including a man dressed in leather jacket that had bright gold dress shoes.

Our suite was not bad for $65 a night (thanks Hotwire), and like hillbillies seeing a neon light for the first time we jumped around the place laughing and pointing in awe. Davis stepped out of the bathroom with the Embassy Suites complimentary bathrobe on, thankfully over his clothes.

Then we went out on the town.

Late the next morning we arose and hit the streets for breakfast, which given our complete lack of planning/research turned into a long, hungry walk. Blindly looking for any particular place in the city is similar to chasing mirages in the desert. Each block that looks promising and filled with diners and breakfast joints from afar seems to have nothing up close. Up close diners and breakfast joints magically transform into closed laundromats, a nail place, and a smoky bail bonds office.

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I wouldn’t say the locals despise American tourists, but ‘welcoming’ may not be the right word either.

Eventually it was found. We had a good feeding session then set off for the contemporary art museum.  I think my favorite types of art museums are contempoaray art museums.  I find the art there humorous–like a jab in the chest at people taking art and life too seriously.  Last April it was Chicago’s contemporary musuem, now it was off to the Contempoarary Art Museum of  Montreal.Post modern art is a great deal about conveying a message so there often there is a deeper meaning in the art but how it is portrayed comes in a variety of forms, such as looping video, illuminated marquee signs with homeless people on them, or as we saw in Montreal, large canvases of solid color and nothing else.

Here are some highlights of the minimalist painter Claude Toissagnt exhibit:

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Red on canvas.  And to think all this time I thought that I had to go to work for a living.

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I don’t think Mike understands the underlying intricacies of the artists work.  He explains his feelings in a more gestural manner.

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Davis and Mike pose for the album cover of their upcoming folk album “Power to the Flower People”

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We tried to tell Davis that doing the wave just looks friggin stupid with only one person and that he should have tried something else for the picture in the neon pyramid exhibit.  Davis is stubborn.

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Claude Toissagnt is famous for creating some of the easiest and most brainless mazes in the world.

After the museum and a few refreshments at the hotel we went out for the night.  The next morning it was back in Le Jettre for the long ride home .

dsc04588Local miniature dog, Remington Buckshot, amazed onlookers by placing third place in a geography bee held at W.T. Kelly Middle School last week. He outlasted most other contestants with his surprising geographic prowess.

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It’s time once again for the Maine Educational Assessment. Kids are sitting in my classroom filling in circles completely and not marking in the space marked “Do Not Mark in This Space” longing for an end in sight.

Given that the test is ultimately irrelevant to the students for all practical purposes (unlike the SAT scores on which colleges often dwell) the teachers mantra for the week is a paltry ‘try your hardest.’ Sometimes it’s a “This could affect our funding and programs could be cut if we don’t do well”, which still does little to motivate the students. In the sports minded school that Dirigo is, I opt to appeal to emotion by bringing our rival school into it: “It’s pretty sad if you guys can’t even beat Mt. Valley on this test. We need to show them who’s better at standardized testing. Let’s Go!”

Motivated or not students fill in the bubbles, insert their answer booklets into their test booklets, hand them to me, I put them into a box, that box is joined with other boxes to form a big box that goes to the State. And magically, the State grades them using bubble-sensitive equipment and determines how effective or ineffectives we are as teachers. Sounds reasonable. If little Jimmy wants to fill in bubbles using a check mark or x’s instead of filling them in completely the State will deem the boy ‘dumb’ and his teachers ‘incompetent’. I hope the little Jimmies in my class fill the bubbles in completely.

dsc04268Boulder sits nestled by the mountains. This is the point where the first ‘settlers’ heading west to California saw the prairies end and the mountains begin. It was a collective “Holy (expletive), we’re supposed to get the wagons and oxen and everything over those mountains?  Hmmm, this looks like a great place to build a town down here. We’ll begin construction of whole food stores and yoga studios and we’ll call it…Boulder!”

dsc04301This is my baby nephew Quinn at the “Tony Soprano Look Alike Contest for Babies.”  Unfortunately, Quinn lost a close one to a baby that wore a little Italian suit and smoke cigars.

dsc04399The Royal Arch. Rocks, trees, and blueberry skies= Colorado.

dsc04412Still life with tree, rock, and more trees and rocks farther away.

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I chose to shoot the pictures of Rocky National Park in black and white since there were no other colors in existence that day in the park.

dsc04515The Mighty Elk.  Looking at this massive beast one word that doesn’t immediately come to mind is the word ‘intelligent.’

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Colorado has always been an interesting state politically. The first thought of the state usually conjures up thoughts of ski mountains, hiking in the Rockies, with perhaps some white water rafting thrown in.  It’s got Boulder, the liberal college town known for it’s green progressivism, and a slew of other outdoors/ski/youthful places seated in the mountains.

Looking closer, but without the need to squit the other side of Colorado is evident. Colorado Springs, for example, owes its existence to the military. The eastern part of Colorado, or West Kansas as it seems is conservative through and through.  Colorado is historically a red state–only three elections since World War II have gone to Democrats.  They even voted for Bob Dole, if that is an indication.

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Outdoor enthusiasts were excited by Obama’s promise of no fewer than 25 new rock climbing faces introduced by 2012.  His proposal also called for creating five new whitewater rafting rivers in the next four years.

But it would seem in Boulder that Colorado could be witnessing a changing of the guard.  It could be just that people there were sick of  the previous conservative grip of the last eight years.  It also could be Obama’s progressive  rock star status that had the state ovewrwhelmingly vote Democrat this past year.  Numerous stores on the Mall in Boulder sold t-shirts and posters and all sorts of Obama laden objects.  I saw one store where people stood next to a life-size Obama cardboard cut out posing for pictures.  Imagine a store selling George Dub gear like that?

“Cardboard cutouts?  Yeah, we got’em–in the effigy section.  Lighters  and gasoline sold separately.”

It is not a bold statement to speak wondrously at how Obama is so popular in  one of the greenest and healthiest city in the country.  It’s like observing with amazement how Sarah Palin was so popular in Jefferson Davis County, Texas.  But it makes me wonder if the number of transplants and progressive folks are starting to outnumber the conservative bloc in Colorado.   As stock of things like soy and organic snow shoes and eucanacia-fueled cars rise, the conservative hopefuls seem to fade from prominence.

CONCEPTUALLY DIXFIELD

February 10, 2009

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“MICROSCOPIC” By C.D. (Mass of red blood cells, 4’x4′)

The current batch of eighth graders that I teach are a cut above. I have taught many of them since second grade which has been a treat, for me anyway. I describe them as a fun group, the kind of class that I find myself getting off track in the beginning of class with conversation winding in amazing and often ridiculous directions. But it is conversation between two genuinely engaged parties: students and teacher.

This eighth grade, I often tell them, will be treated like high school kids in terms of the projects they do.  It is amazing the power in treating kids like they are respected and that you trust that they are capable of doing advanced work.

Here is an example of a project I did with them:

They were to choose a word that is non-physical; a concept or idea (such as time, love, or pain) and using any media they create a piece of art expressing that word without actually showing the word in the art.  The first challenge was getting their concrete adolescent minds to think conceptually and not in the physical sense.  We made mind maps which I related  to as a mass regurgitation of ideas about their concept to give them direction in their project.

Once they chose their medium and their concept they had to design their piece and build/create it.  There was an abundance of dumpster diving for materials as well as consistent pillaging of the cardboard recycle bin.  One student even brought in a truckload of junk from his grandfather’s junk yard for people to use.  Included in that bounty was an old street sign,  truck tire, headlight,  stump,  part of a front end of a delivery truck, and some chains.

For five classes the kids painted, carved, pounded, scraped, drew, blended, shot photos, searched for images, hot glued, twisted, pried and for one project, torched.  The goal was to get them to think conceptually and to use media that was completely their choice.  If you hate to draw, then don’t draw.  Choose something that you actually want to use.

Here are some selected finished products:

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“REVOLT” By: K.H.  My personal favorite.

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“QUIET” By K.B.

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“CONDESCENDING” By C.B.

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“LIGHT” By D.L.

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“REFLECTION” by M.E.

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“DEATH” By S.L.

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Well, I thought as I wandered into Merrill Hall on the campus of the University of Maine at Farmington , I am once again a college boy. Heading down the stairs into the musty basement where the painting classes congregate it was a weird feeling. I did a mental rewind to ten years earlier waiting outside my first art class back at University of Southern Maine probably wondering how many projects the professor would allow me to include Jerry Garcia.  Thinking globally, I know.

Professor Tom Higgins and I had a great chat about my direction this semester in my independent study. We shared our respective recent work and discussed different media and surfaces and solvents and all the various things that people who paint discuss.

The plan for the semester is to paint three large scale (4’x4′) paintings–one for each credit. The first is underway; a mixture of a large flower photograph I took this summer and a landscape. I just received some paint in the mail which will prepare me to kick off the second painting, which will be a triptych of a vast landscape with most of the canvas devoted to the atmospheric part of the landscape (a.k.a. the sky). The third painting I want to create a large combination of unassociated objects with many vanishing points that one can look far into the distance.

All three will feature space and distance as a theme. At least that is what I am writing here before much of the paint has fallen.

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Very much in progress, this is the first large scale painting of the semester. It is a floral landscape, which naturally can be shortened to simply a “flandscape”

I have a feeling that this round of college will be quicker, more graceful, and definitely more healthy than the previous round of schooling. Needless to say there will be loud music and late nights–only now the nights will be filled with painting and productivity.
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1/20/2009

January 20, 2009

It was a long, emotionally arduous and frustrating night back in November of 2000 watching everything collapse before our eyes on television in our living room in Arcata, California. My roommates and I watched as the major networks and their anchor people botched the election coverage like a bunch of drunken clowns at some low budget mid-western carnival. It couldn’t seem to have unfolded any worse.

We went from jubilation to disbelief to anger to hopeless in a the span of about two hours. The Dub was our president. It was happening. It happened.

What transpired in the last eight years of Bush leadership has been thoroughly documented, hashed and rehashed. The implications of the previous administrations actions have begun to and will continue to will play out. No need to exhaust ourselves with more of that talk. That’s what historians are for.

Laying on the living room floor back in 2000 as the television spewed the news, frustrated and bewildered by our country’s ‘election’ of George W. Bush all we could do was wish and wait for 1/20/05 and hope things don’t go too far south before then.

Oh, but ‘things’ went south. Deep south. “Things’, as it were, happened to be south enough to be eating grits at a Wafflehouse watching a NASCAR race.

Once ‘things’ got to the southerly point of eating grits in a Mobile, Alabama Wafflehouse there was, we thought, no way that he could be re-elected. But, sure as Boss Hogg has a big bald head ol’ George was re-elected and in time three quarters of Americans and even higher percentage than that of the world came to view the administration in a disapproving light.

It was blatantly obvious that the country was starving for change and it is now going to get that, though it remains to be seen what kind of changes will occur. At any rate the 1/20/09 date has been looked upon with eager eyes and hearts and it is now here. Finally.

dsc03897The small canyon-side village of Byron, Maine reveled with news of the addition of a sparkling new bathroom facility that the mayor explained , ‘will drastically improve the efficiency of the town’ and ‘revolutionize the way we conduct business here.”

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With the exception of a four year hiatus in Colorado and California, I have lived my life in Maine. I always felt like a Mainer and upheld a sense of pride in being from Maine. The only native Maine tradition in which I do not participate is adding the letter ‘r’ on words that don’t have ‘r’s in them and omitting the ‘r’ in words that do have them: “I have a good idear, get in the cah and head downda the mahket and get some pizzer and soder...”

Other than that I feel quite at home in Maine–like I belong. Recently, I bought a 2004 Nissan Frontier with reasonably low mileage, 4-wheel drive and a cap for the back.  Now, with the arrival of the truck it’s evident that I was a bit naive in my comfort level being a Mainer.  Yes, I drove something (or in extreme Maine-speak “drave” something) that was all-wheel drive with the Subaru Outback, which is a common car in snowy Maine, but it is the truck that is the necessary fixture for ascent into true Mainerhood.

It is not my intention to boast too loudly because a 2004 Nissan Frontier doesn’t exactly emit a ball crushing sense of raw power and might.   It is not jacked up.  There is no HEMI.  You won’t see it hauling four snowmobiles and an ice fishing shack or being filled with old I-beams and concrete rubble by an excavator.  And there are some who will call me an unpatriotic liberal Communist (the truck is red) for driving something that was not built with pride (bailout, anyone?) in the United States of America.

I can deal with truck criticism artfully because this truck is ten times the truck I drove before, which was a Subaru Outback and not a truck at all.  I have always been a Mainer, the difference now is that I can prove it without words.  Just take a look out at the driveway.

RECENT WORK…

December 22, 2008

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“Winter Up Weldgelydrid” Acrylic on canvas ,   40″ x 70″

This is a painting I did that will used for a fellow teacher at my school.  It will serve as a wintry backdrop for a miniature replica rural village.  There are little houses and people and trees placed on cotton for snow, so I gave them an environment in which they can exist with proper atmospheric conditions for the time of day.

Mr. S stated that he wanted dusk, but that he wanted to avoid overtly dramatic sunset colors in favor of a more toned down feel. What I tried to portray was a freshly fallen snow storm that has given way to clear, but cold evening skies.  My geographic inspiration was a mix of Weld and Rangeley with possibly a side of Madrid thrown in.

I finished the piece after a day of riding at Saddleback Mountain.  The molasses-quick Rangeley chair lift at Saddleback repeatedly gave me a solid block of time to study what snow looks like on pine trees.  It is better not to rush some things in life.

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Years ago  (8, precisely) I ventured through an exhibit of California art in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  One painting struck me more than the others as I meandered through the halls.  It was a rendering of a non-descript but strikingly realistic wood paneled station wagon sitting in a sun-splashed driveway of a suburban California home.  The image was done on a canvas and the small description to the right of the work read: “oil on canvas.”  But without close inspection the fact that the image was actually painted seems to defy imagination.

Upon leaving I did my museum visitor civil duty and bought the post card in the museum shop at its typically inflated price and taped it onto the dashboard of my car (I was in college) to entertain anyone who wasn’t already overtly stimulated by riding in a 1992 Chevy Lumina.  Now the card is long gone but the image remains.

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“His pictures look just like real pictures!” student art critic, Dixfield, ME

On the wall over my desk at school I have the painting printed out in color.  Every now and then I point it out to discern between realism and photorealism.  Seeing that work, the concept of photorealism does not escape them.

The artist is Robert Bechtle, a painter from California who taught at San Francisco State University.  He thrived at painting very ordinary scenes, such as suburban homes, driveways, and sidewalks, but by creating them with such vivid likeness he transformed them into subject matter worthy of close inspection.  When I look at his work I find myself looking closely at things like newspaper dispensers, rear bumpers, and sidewalk curbs searching for brush strokes and other signs that the work was actually marked with a paint brush.

Here are a few more examples of his work:

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Outside of the first and last “Cool People Drive White Volvos” meeting.

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Sarah Palin’s worst nightmare.

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“So, you’re dropping out of school to become a fire juggler?”

525385426_517ec5291eThe outgoing principal has clocked over 14 years as principal but wishes to “head off, I guess” and pursue other interests.

I am not a brain genius, but I can tell you at least one newspaper or news source I read for my news. I am not a Rhodes Scholar, but I can offer a basic outline of the Bush Doctrine. I am not running for the second highest position in American politics, but I can tell you more about world history and the current issues than Sarah Palin.

The emergence of Sarah Palin to the mainstream American political arena has created a very interesting diversion from the two presidential candidates in the race, which for media and entertainment purposes may be a blessing. Barring any remarkable ongoings in the days leading up to the election the existence of Sarah Palin will be the one persistent memory we have of the 08′ elections. In 1992 it was the emergence of a short, jabbering Texan presidential candidate named Ross Perot. In 1988 it was Dan Quayle instructing a small boy to spell potato with an ‘e’ at the end during a spelling bee photo op. This year it is Sarah Palin and her deer-skinning humor and sugar-coated charm.

Sarah Palin has her admirable points.  She’s popular enough to win the governorship of Alaska and she’s certainly a capable mother and markswoman.   But then, through all the American flag bunting and the sugary “you betcha”s we get that sobering reminder that Sarah Palin could be the leader of our country in a short while.  That is scary on many fronts.

Sarah Palin is remarkably unfit to run our country.  Her knowledge of the issues, beyond what she is spoon fed at cram sessions with McCain’s people prior to public speaking events, is laughable.  She uses the desolate far eastern coast of Russia and its proximity to Alaska as her international affairs experience, which at the height of the Red Scare might have made a nervous Joe McCarthy perhaps raise an eyebrow, but then again in his warped mind the Boston Red Sox were a undercover Communist institution disguised as a hapless baseball team.

Palin emerged in Minneapolis for the Republican convention and sounded fairly articulate and energized the fledgling Republicans.  She spoke about bulldogs and lipstick and the need for change in the person of John McCain.  During the debates she sounded like a person who was carefully instructed to dodge the questions and instead perform a diatribe on the issue that the question entailed.  It reminded me of someone who was told to “remember your health care speech. Now when it comes time for energy here’s what you say…”  She doesn’t know the issues and she’s new to the game so that is what you do.  Fair enough.  We have witnessed that before.

Now, as for one on one interviews that she has done, the true Sarah Palin and her vast insufficient knowledge of the global affairs was on display.  You can say that the interviews were liberal media attacks all you want but interviews are also far more genuine conversation in which you do not have a script to recall or henchmen telling you what to say, as in speeches and debates.  You are on your own, answering questions to the best of your ability.  Governor Palin’s performance genuinely answering questions only highlights her complete lack of knowledge about some of the most imoortant issues in our country and around the globe.

What is so aggressive or out of line about asking someone about their foreign affairs record?  Then, when that person make up vague and seemingly baseless connections about Alaskan-Russian affairs and the host asks her for specifics–is that attacking?  Is it too offensive to ask a vice presidential candidate who nobody south of Ketchikan has ever heard of where she gets her national and global affairs information?  And then when this vice presidential hopeful cannot name one newspaper that she reads for her information and then revises her answer to “all of them”, perhaps the interviewer wants some clarification–is that too aggressive?  Wow, all of them?  Really?  So, that means they ship up to Alaska the Omaha Reader and The Oklahoman?

Now, people will say that you don’t need to be able to name one newspaper that they read to be a leader.  You can say that someone doesn’t need to be able to list more than only one supreme court case that they do not agree with.  You can argue (I suppose) that to be president or vice president that you do not need to know the basic tenets of the doctrine of the previous president.  But it is now blatantly obvious to people who want a well informed leader who has a sound concept of national and global affairs that Sarah Palin, down home cooking and all, is thoroughly ill qualified for the vice president position.

The daycare will also be scrapping it’s Get-Free-Scratch-Ticket-For-Each-Child program as well as it’s popular but controversial Kiddie Kasino.

The Dinner Guest

October 9, 2008

The other night I walked into the wood stove room (pictured above) to find one of the kittens eating dinner along side a skunk. The skunk came in through the cat door and started eating the cat food. Somehow the thing didn’t spray which would have caused me to sell or burn my house down. After taking photos of the skunk Amity took our aerosol air horn (usually used for kitten discipline) and blasted our visitor until it got annoyed and waddled outside.

Luckily, cats and skunks are soul brothers of sorts and after some curious sniffing they settled into a nice dinner. My friend Owen used to live with me along with his two dogs, one a rambunctious Lab/Dane mix and that would have spelled disaster in this case.

The air horn is a very loud but effective kitty trainer. Initially, they freeze wide-eyed and then run around the kitchen like wild, depraved maniacs. But, they stay off the counter.  The skunk reacted with surprising calmness. He finished chewing his mouthful and slowly headed for the door and out into the night. Lessons learned: skunks will come in through cat doors and air horns, for a plethora of reasons are awesome.

It was a great day. A sunny Saturday with warm, pleasant air and to top it off we had secured use of the parents minivan to make the trip over to Unity for the annual Common Ground Fair. Possibly my favorite Maine event (besides of course demolition derby), the Common Ground Country Fair is an organic, community organized event that draws Maine farmers, crafts-people, artisans, and assorted vendors to a rural setting for a three day celebration of what makes our state awesome. Call it the Anti-Strip Mall Fair. Sorry, New Jersey and Massachusetts and Connecticut, but this just isn’t your kind of party.

In my opinion, the best part of the fair is how each year the fair offers a cross section of the state’s population from ultra-liberal to far right and everyone is smiling. The only thing that would make it a more all encompassing representation of the people of Maine would be to create an organic race track for racing  enthusiasts (which would require a beer tent to both lure and keep them there). You could also make a case that lobstering is not represented, but given the centralized location far from the coast that would take some careful and possibly heroic planning.

The fair has the reputation of being a hippie event because the theme is sustainable living and leading an organic existence, but each year there there’s enough BUSH/CHENEY stickers in the parking lot to necessitate the use more than two hands full of fingers to count them. There’s a strong showing of down home country conservatism present as well as green liberals. It is a great example of how Maine is a violet state politically; sometimes red-violet sometimes more blue-violet.

I found this pumpkin on a bale of hay across the path from the Obama pumpkin.  Right next to the McCain pumpkin was a smaller, less intelligent pumpkin who knows alarmingly little about the issues named “Palin”.

Amity and I, our friends Dids, Amanda, and Owen piled into the minivan and marveled at its creature comforts. We laughed at how as teenagers we thought of minivans as dorky, grocery getters that we wouldn’t want to be seen driving. Then conversation turned to what our mood would have been like had we stuffed five of us into one of our cars for the hour long ride. In the van we had leather seats, solid music, and plenty of space.  The van was also equipped with gadgets and dazzling lights and automatic functions that made the vehicle seem as though it were suppose to take off into flight if we pushed it over 65. Maybe I am getting older because I now feel that minivans are both excellent and fun.

(To be fair, I already kind of knew that from my teenage years. We made several trips to concerts in minivans and had a great time each trip.  The major difference is now I don’t pretend that vans are dorky even while using them. Now I am proud to be driving a minivan full of friends–maybe I am stepping out of some vehicular closet.)

Every year it is the same, and every year it is different, which I think makes for a great fair. It is the same scene, but each year brings different experiences, new art, different food, new vintage tractors, more animals and so on. There are 5 elements of the fair that I really get into and this is a small part of the whole, i realize, but these are items five that I enjoy the most:

1. THE FOOD: I would dare to say that anyone who does not list food as number one on their Common Ground Fair Awesomeness List is not being totally honest with themselves and others. Just like any fair in Maine the fair is rife with food vendors, but here the food is organic and diverse.  Among the countries I visited food-wise at the fair were Greece, India, and Jamaica if you count the Rasta Juice people as Jamaican (and for the sake of this blog, I will). I allocate about 80-85% of my Common Ground Fair funds to food each visit.

A smoothie from the Rasta Juice People is a treat on a sunny day.  They manage to squeeze $9.50 worth of fruit and ice into an 8 oz. plastic cup.   Amazing.

2. THE ART: Naturally, I like to stroll through the art tent.  The Maine artists present in the big white art tent are very diverse in terms of products with jewelry, photography, pottery, and textiles.  It tends to be mostly out of my price range (I always seem to go there after the Rasta Juice stand), but there are some artists that offer a nice range of pieces.

The art of Blue Moon Clay Carvers tends to draw me in each year, in part because they are good friends of mine but also because the art is very original and well-rendered.  The owners, Roger and Sue Bisaillon run a steady business throughout the weekend with their unique, never-dull clay sculptures.  They show their work over New England and New York and have just opened a new and improved gallery near Farmington.  I generally check out their booth last because after visiting them the rest of the pottery seems a bit dull in comparison.  It’s kind of like going on the biggest, fastest roller coaster first at a theme park–the rest of the day all the other rides just won’t do it for you.

3.  THE ANIMALS: There might not be a Zipper or a Gravitron (sadly) like at Farmington Fair, but they have animals in good amount.  It is cool to walk through the various barns and stalls full of animals lounging and biding their time until they are corralled into big trucks and brought home.  It has never been a desire of mine to own farm animals but I do admire those who do and they are fun to watch and are good subjects for photographs.

Wait til’ next year!

“Nah, Ol’ Bessie never attacks.  Just don’t eva’ reach through the pen and startle her.”

A local farmer picks up two points for this hold during the sheep wrestling exhibit.

4.  THE THINGS THAT GROW OUT OF DIRT: Fruits.  Vegetables.  Plants.  Another facet of the fair that helps the wallet lose weight are all the great organic vendors.  Each year I buy a chili pepper plant from the fair, partly because I like spicy food and partly because I can’t resist how cool they look.

My other favorite organic stand is the people selling banzai trees.  Imagine a tent full of little trees you’d see in a Dr. Seuss book.  There were dozens of trees, each with its own base consisting of a garden of dirt and rocks that made the while thing look like a miniature version of bigger trees out in nature.  Seeing them, I imagined myself shrunken down hanging out in the tree and the rocks.  And it was then that I came to the realization that if I bought one of these trees it could not be in any room that I expected to get any work done.

5.  THE PEOPLE: As stated earlier, the crowd is what makes this fair so special.  People come from all corners of Maine for this weekend.  People watching is never a boring activity at the Common Ground Fair:

A local farmer hones his bongo drumming skills before the community drum circle.

The Bush/Cheney crowd was steadily entertained by the “Whack Things with Big Hammers” exhibit.

Owen and Amanda, a friend of theirs, and Jerry Garcia talk about how being a hippie is way different nowadays.

We left the fair, not seeing everything of course, but feeling fulfilled nonetheless.  It was time to pile back into the minivan for the afternoon flight back home.  We were even treated to this moment of Zen as we waited in traffic on our way out of the fair:

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