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Sunday, November 10, 2019

Great Wolf Lodge

Yesterday I joined the South Sound Urban Sketchers at Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound. I'd driven past the place many times and was aware of its attraction to families as an indoor water/amusement park. I didn't expect the huge lodge lobby with it's massive stone fireplace, cushy seating and collection of stuffed wildlife. I decided to sketch a montage rather than taking on the massive lobby space.

And clearly visible from the lobby was the massive waterpark--waterslides, beach chairs, spouting water, a wave-pool, and hundreds of bodies scampering about in bathing suits and striped towels. When I walked in to the pool area, it was so warm and humid my glasses fogged up. Fortunately once my glasses warmed up the lenses also cleared allowing me to sit and sketch this stretch of indoor sunbathers. 

It was all so impressive especially since we could walk through and sketch anywhere on site without having to pay anything. Now if I wanted to hop in the pool or stay overnight ...that's another story. Thanks to South Sound Urban Sketchers for arranging this fun sketch outing! 

Friday, November 8, 2019

Frederick Franck's Pacem In Terris

When I was in the middle of raising three children I would dream of having a studio where I could have uninterrupted time to do artworks. Then I found Frederick Franck’s book: The Zen of Seeing, Seeing/Drawing as Meditation and I learned instead to make simple drawings, focusing intently on what was before me. That book by Franck - The Awakened Eye and Art as a Way, A Return to the Spiritual Roots were my touchstone to whatever shred of creativity I could muster.

Last year while visiting in Warwick, New York I was surfing things to do nearby and to my astonishment came upon mention of Franck.  

“Pacem in Terris is a trans-religious space created along the Wawayanda River in Warwick, NY by Frederick and Claske Franck. It is  "One man's work of art that aspires to be an oasis of quiet, of sanity, where spirit and nature may reconnect.  It is dedicated to what is Human in every human being"

I had to wait until summer to visit since it’s only open on weekends from May through October, but it was definitely worth the wait.

The site is inconspicuous from the road—no signage or grand entrance. Once inside it becomes an extension of Franck’s drawings—intimate and rich with meaning.  It sits on the Waywayanda River (more like a creek at that point) and has three separate entrances – one on either side of the river and another across the road. I first entered where the former Franck dwelling and some outbuildings sit on the east side of the creek. I was delighted to find some of Franck’s actual drawings on display. There’s also a small building with his stained glass of the Stations of the Cross and a video room where you can watch Franck highlight his life story including the Pacem in Terris project.

Several sculptures and a labyrinth wind in and out of trees allowing you to meander along the riverbank and contemplate the words of wisdom scattered in and amidst the sculptures.

On the other side of the creek sits the main building – a stone sanctuary completely dark inside save one candle and a bit of natural light. And across the road another sculpture garden and smaller meeting room are open for people to walk around.

Center of disc says, "The meaning of life is to see."
The physical site is impressive especially since a lot of it appears to be handbuilt with wood and stone from the natural surroundings. The sculptures, mostly wrought iron, are bold and dramatic often with a message spelled out in hand-cut letters. The retreat site is dedicated to Pope John XXIII, Albert Sweitzer and D.T. Suzuki, all super-respected leaders in their respective faith traditions.  

But what enthralled me the most was to see Franck’s drawings on display in the small gallery. I was taken back to my original inspiration for drawing on location – it’s not about creating great artworks. It’s simply about seeing and falling in love with the world.

"I am the living center of the heart"

One of the sculptures in the garden

This site has a nice collection of some of Franck's work.

Pacem In Terris - Warwick, NY

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Black Dirt, Pine Island and Onions

Last winter I was listening to the NPR podcast, Planet Money and my ears perked up when they mentioned Pine Island, NY, a small village just a few miles from my daughter’s home in Warwick, NY. We’d been to a local winery there, and driven though on our way to places beyond, but it never struck me as anything special. But apparently Pine Island has some of the richest soil to find anywhere; so rich, in fact that it’s known as the Black Dirt Region. The dirt is the result of the deposits made by glacial lakes over 12,000 years ago. After a very slow thaw the bogs collected rich minerals that feed the soil and produce rich and intensely black dirt that’s especially suitable for growing the ubiquitous onion.

Being from Washington I associate onions with Walla Walla, but apparently the Walla Walla can’t hold a candle to Pine Island onions. The Planet Money team reported that back in 1955 an onion farmer, Vincent Kosuga,  in Pine Island, cornered the market by buying futures in onions – betting on a drop in price. He then purchased all the onions he could from anywhere in the country and stashed them in warehouses. Next he literally dumped the onions in the Chicago trade center, creating a glut of onions causing the price to drop through the floor. Vince raked in over 8 million in 1955 dollars.

A lot of onion farmers lost a lot of money. Congress stepped in to pass a law that prohibits purchasing onion futures, protecting onion farmers from then till now. So onion farming is now still strong In Pine island. They just had their annual Onion Festival complete with an onion eating contest – a timed event to see which contestant can chomp their way through a raw onion the fastest.

I didn’t make it to the onion festival in Pine Island, but I did find a plethora of onions at the farmer’s market in the neighboring village of Warwick. The market was bursting with fresh onions - also corn, tomatoes, peaches and so much more. And since Warwick and Pine Island are about an hour’s drive from Woodstock, NY, our market visit was enhanced by Woodstock revival tunes played by a local band.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Resurrecting the Western Flyer

The Western Flyer  - John Steinbeck's escape into environmental science

The shipyard next to Boat Haven Marina in Port Townsend is a health and fitness clinic for big boats. The Hawaiian Chieftan sits on drydock. Rumor has it that Pete Townsend’s yacht comes in for check-ups. Big cabin cruisers, a shiny  sky-blue 80 foot sailing yacht, a ginormous rusty metal fishing boat all scatter the boatyard. The star of the show these days, however, is the Western Flyer.

This eighty foot wooden former sardine fishing vessel, originally named the Gemini, was the home of authorJohn Steinbeck and biologist Ed Rickerts back in 1940 when they embarked on their 4-month long journey documented in the book Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research. The boat itself is an historic artifact—a symbol of adventure, freedom, camaraderie, or perhaps even refuge for John Steinbeck, who was at the time under public attack for his novel Grapes of Wrath and it’s depiction of America during the depression.

Steinbeck and  Rickerts hired Anton "Tony" Berry and his fishing vessel. Once in the Sea of Cortez, habitat to an unmatched collection of sea flora and fauna, Steinbeck’s attention was fastened to what he saw. He documented the unqualified inter-dependence of sea-life, unwittingly writing the first supplementary textbook for the study of ecology. The book documents the scientific findings and tells the story through Steinbeck’s narrative.

Built in 1937 as a purse seiner, the Western Flyer, first fished for sardines out of Monterey Bay. After the epic journey documented in the book it returned to Monterey and continued sardine fishing until the early 50’s when it went to Alaska as a fishing vessel. In the 60’s it fished in northwest waters, then caught crabs in the 70’s. It changed hands several times during the next few decades ending up in Anacortes where it hauled salmon to canneries.

In 2013 it was salvaged from the dregs of Puget Sound where it had sunk twice during the previous winter. Several entrepreneurs made plans to revive it for moneymaking purposes. Finally in 2015 it was purchased by a geologist, John Gregg, with the dream to restore the vessel exactly as it had been when it made the historic voyage that became the birth of today’s science of ecology.

It’s an awesome sight to see the work being done by Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op to restore the boat to its original state. Remnants of the original hull are stacked near the warehouse. The skilled boat builders work long hours, steaming wooden planks to shape the boat’s hull. Countless school field traipse through the shipyard learning about the history of the boat and it’s role in exposing our planetary interdependence. The owners expect the ship to be finished in 2020 and hope to use it as a floating classroom for the study of marine biology. If you get a chance to visit Port Townsend check it out. The site is open to the public and welcomes visitors.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Take it or Leave it

I first heard about Lopez Island’s unique trash collection system, last summer when visiting the island with friends. We met Kate Scott, an artist and long-time Lopez resident who, during the course of our visit, showed us photos of the Trashion Show, an annual fundraiser for the Lopez Solid Waste Disposal District. Although the show has retired along with it’s coordinator, it is evidence of the creative community on Lopez. While visiting “The Friendly Island” again this year we got a closer look at the story behind the show.

It seems back in 2011, the San Juan County Council decided to stop operating wast facilities on all of the San Juan Islands. They wanted to contract with commercial carriers on the mainland – out of sight out of mind.  Lopez Island residents voted with their signatures and pocketbooks, committing to establish their own district and take care of their own trash.

Key to it’s success is SWAP – Solid Waste Alternatives Program. SWAP is a non-profit dedicated to supporting the Solid Waste Disposal District with supplemental funds. Their tagline: Reuse. Repurpose. Recycle. It serves to educate the community on “responsible waste management practices working towards zero waste.”.

We came upon the solid waste disposal site while walking along the road on our way from our boat to Lopez Village. I’ve never seen anything like it.  First, they have a giant free store—“Take It or Leave It” where folks bring stuff they don’t want any more--stuff you might give to Goodwill or donation center that runs a thrift store. On Lopez people can just go pick out what they want. Volunteers accept and sort the second-hand items, all usable, clean, to-good-to-toss. “It’s been open since 2015”, the woman at the receiving table told me, “all run by volunteers.” Islanders and even visitors can pop in and select what they want and walk away. We found a sharp knife, a spatula—two items we forgot to bring on our boat—and a small boat bumper for our bow. The place was as busy as our next stop, the farmers’s market.

At the market, SWAP runs a booth that sells skirts sewn from recycled t-shirts and shopping bags made from plastic feed sacks. The booth was staffed by all volunteers. one them, Kim Norton, current chair of the Board of Directors, told me the story. “Every month I send out an email to about 40 people”.  She rents space at a local church, sets out old t-shirts and patterns and people come to design and cut the skirts. “We have a design party. People come and cut the t-shirts up and design the skirts. Then we give them to volunteers to sew. All the money goes to the Lopez Solid Waste Disposal District.”

SWAP sponsors school activities educating students about zero waste, earth day clean-up, and volunteer appreciation events. Their proceeds helped purchase a backhoe for the disposal site, and equipment for a “remake lab” and fixed holes in the road at the dump. They also fund a levy to provide funds for the disposal site and provide a scholarship for a graduating high school senior.

SWAP also sells “Junk Bonds,” created by local artists that sell for $25.00 and are “not redeemable for anything”. One whose image I found through Google sums it up, “Its not just a transfer station, It's a philosophy.”