Alaska 2017 Part 2: Denali National Park

After our wonderful time in the cabin in Seldovia on the Kenai Peninsula, we spent a rainy day (many days in Alaska are rainy days) driving up to Denali National Park, over an eight hour drive after a 45 minute ferry ride from Seldovia to Homer, which was after a 10 minute skiff ride from the cabin to Seldovia. It was a long day, but, even through the rain, we were often dazzled by the beauty surrounding us wherever we looked. I could have found a view to paint almost anywhere we stopped along that route. We didn’t have much time to stop, but a travel day like that still counts as a day of wonder.

We stayed at the Denali Park Hotel which, as all the reviews said, is a fairly basic hotel but very nice. The reviews were absolutely right, and we would definitely stay there again. We liked it from the start, but seeing the Aurora Borealis from right in front of our hotel room door on the last night really sold us on it.

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Northern Lights from our hotel room door!!!

I did a fair amount of sketching at Denali, more of wildlife than of landscapes the first couple of days, as we were much more on the move. I missed the quiet, serene pace of our time in Seldovia, but loved all the hiking we did at Denali. Whereas Seldovia is lush with abundant plant life of all sorts, being a temperate rain forest-type habitat, Denali is more Boreal forest and tundra habitat, and so has more open land or shrub and low tree growth. The color of Seldovia when we were there was largely blue water and green mountain, when not softened to warm shades of grays by mist. Denali, clothed with autumn color by late August, was red and yellow and orange and green and purple and blue.

(Click on images to see larger version and read notes)

Black Diamond Grill View — where we ate breakfast every morning
Arctic ground squirrel and collared pika– totally adorable!
The Savage River valley
Ptarmigan and Gray Jay
Moose– outside our hotel and in the park
Bears and Sheep
Teklanika River Valley with a grizzly bear
Snowshoe Hares
Roses Cafe View where we ate dinner one night– HUGE portions!
Denali View from Mt. Healy– perfect view of Denali in sunshine
Tundra Tapestry on Mt. Healy
Hoary Marmot on Mt. Healy– totally adorable, like a long-haired white woodchuck
Looking up at Mt. Healy after hiking it
Mt. Healy Trail along very steep mountainside
Denali Sled Dog Demo
Denali sled dog team
View from the Morino Grill at Denali National Park

Squirrel Sketches

Winter is finally here, with its crisp, clear sunshine; blustery wind; and twittering birds flocking to the feeders to fill their bellies and keep warm. And with the always entertaining squirrels chasing one another in trees and scouring the deck for seeds the birds drop. I’ve had a fairly full schedule recently, so when I’m home, I savor the quiet minutes I carve out to sit, usually with either Petra or Acadia warming my lap, watching the lively world of our deck, and sipping hot green tea (I have a new favorite– Dragon’s Well green tea– yumm! It has a mild chestnut-like flavor, and I love chestnuts.)
As always, I sit with sketchbook in hand (actually balanced on Petra or Acadia, who are remarkably obliging), doing many partial sketches, as my subjects are rarely still for more than a moment. I sometimes spend a few seconds here and there over a couple of days on each sketch, coming back to them as the bird or squirrel is again briefly in that same pose. 
I’m getting to know the three squirrels who regularly visit our deck- a large male, a large female, and a smaller female, who I’m guessing is a late summer baby from last year. The male is here the most, and when the female isn’t here, he spends all his time eating. When the female is here, he spends almost all his time following her around. The youngster is a bit more reddish than her elders, and I’m wondering if that is a factor of her age or if she’s just more reddish by nature. She isn’t here as often as the adults, and she moves away if they approach here. I’ll be watching her over the coming months to see whether she becomes more gray. 

Here I am at about 15 or 16 with Roy, a squirrel with a broken leg that my veterinarian asked me to care for

More Sketches from Acadia National Park

Back home now (I got home a week ago), I am still putting finishing touches on some paintings, as well as getting back into the routine of life at home. Actually, I should say that I am working on developing a new routine for life at home. During my time away I had lots of time to think and evaluate how I do things on a daily basis, and I realized that, much as I have valued quiet time and solitude, I haven’t done a great job of consistently living with a peaceful rhythm to my days. Somehow the demands of life in an overly connected world, along with the alluring draw of the internet have resulted in a feeling of being scattered and constantly available and pulled in several directions at once. While at Acadia National Park, I had no cell signal (what a blessing!) and, as a result, I found that I was more focused in a relaxed way that caused me to be much more “present” with myself and my environment. So now I am working on incorporating some of the lessons I learned, so that I can live with a peaceful rhythm even as I am connected and involved with the world and people around me. I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet, but I am hoping to make progress.

Here are some of my sketches from my time away. I have still more that I will post sketches in another few days. I’ve also posted some of my finished watercolors on my website (Melissa Fischer’s Art ). If you click on the images, you’ll be able to see them large enough to read my notes.)

Gannets diving
Maine coast rocks

Otter sketches

Acadia National Park: More Wonders all the Time

I can’t believe I’ve already been here a week and a half, more than half my time. I could stay here for months and not see and experience all I’d like to, but I am making the most of every day I have in this rich place. 
Today the wind is blowing hard and it is raining. The rain started when I was in the middle of a plein air painting, sitting out on the rocks of Schoodic Point, painting the tremendous surf. I’m not sure yet how I’ll finish that painting, but it’s likely to have some interesting effects from getting rained on.
Earlier this morning I saw the otter family again. They cavorted their way around the edge of their pond, then saw me and waited a while, swimming back and forth and sticking their heads up to look at me, making occasional squeaky sounds. Finally they came up the bank and loped across the roads– so funny looking! 
Shortly after I saw the otters, I saw a huge number of gulls along the shore, some on the water, some on the stony shore, and some in the air (all in the air when an eagle flew by). While I was looking at them, I saw a bird in the water that stood out as something different. Heavy, thick bill, very clear black and white pattern with a small whitish area in the black of the side of the head. About the size of a small duck, but with straighter neck and bill held out fairly straight in front. When it dived I saw a sharp black tail. Razorbill! Another new bird for my life list!
Below are some of my sketches and paintings from the past week. If you click on the image, you’ll see a larger version.
Great Black-backed Gull field sketch (he posed for a long time)
Herring Gull field sketch (also posed patiently)

Raven’s Nest- beautiful but scary place to paint
Rocks and Surf (artistic license with colors)
Rocks on Little Moose Island
Sunset from Cadillac Mountain
Rock and autumn blueberry bushes

Some recent sketches

I haven’t posted much recently, partially because I’ve been trying to get out and sketch more when the weather had been nice, which means less time online. It’s funny how the internet exerts such a siren call, enticing me to spend time online, but when I just get outside and start sketching, I feel free of that pull and immerse myself more in the present moment. Here are a few sketches of some such recent “present moments,” some alone and some with Stephen.
Looking downriver from Shadows restaurant during Stephen’s birthday dinner
Bowdoin Park oak tree

Quiet Day

Today has been my weekly Quiet Day, a day each week when Stephen goes to the office instead of working from home, so that I can have time home alone. I cherish the silence and solitude to read, pray, putter, sketch, muse, and just be. It’s actually not silent today– the birds are singing their spring songs of love, the stream is gurgling as it courses by the yard, and a light breeze has been whispering through the slightly greening shrubs all day. Those sounds have enriched my day from the very start, when I awoke at 5:30 to the sound of a Phoebe vociferously calling forth the dawn, with the faint burbling of the stream in the background. I listened briefly, then dozed a while, the birdsong a peaceful lullaby until I awoke again, ready to rise and rejoice in the gift of a new day.

I’ve spent most of today outside walking the dogs, reading,  sketching, and sometimes just enjoying the peace of an unscheduled day. To cap the day off, Stephen and I are going out on a date after he gets home from work. A perfect day that will leave me refreshed for another week of dog training and other work.

Bridge over our stream (Wolff’s carbon pencil)
Locust Tree (Pen & Ink)
Robin’s nest on a ladder

Six Sweet Pounds of Purr and Fur

A paper grocery bag scuttles across my studio floor, a couple of inches of fluff moving side to side behind it like a furry rudder. Suddenly a brownish striped and spotted form darts out from beneath the bag, then turns and leaps into it, smacking the back of the bag with a crinkly thump. Acadia has come to live with us.

After extensive (some might say obsessive) searching on petfinder.com and adoptapet.com, and several lengthy interviews with rescues about various cats, I came upon “Lisa” and fell in love with her sweet face and relaxed body language. After another careful interview, I met “Lisa,” who decided she was home and let me know that, of the names I was considering, Acadia was the one that would fit her. Acadia is probably a bit over a year old, so I’m designating November 28, 2013 as her birthday– Thanksgiving Day, because I am so thankful for her. 
I knew I’d missed having a cat since Silver died a year and a half ago, but I didn’t realize how much until Acadia moved in eight days ago. There’s a saying by Roger Caras, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our life whole.” I know many cat lovers would say the same about cats. I’m not sure I’d put it quite that way, since I believe it is God who makes my life whole, but I do believe that He uses dogs and cats to help many of us experience His love that makes our lives whole. I know that’s how it works for me. I’ve had a cat-shaped emptiness in my heart and lap for too long, and this past week I have often had tears of gratitude and joy at having that emptiness so warmly filled. I’ve been filling my journal with sketches of Acadia, and I look forward to many years of sketching this beautiful creature while she purrs on my lap or scampers around our home.