Pamelia and I are taking several trips over the next few months to visit naturalists, scientists and artists with whom we either already collaborate or would like to work. We left Maine this week for the first of those journeys. Here's a glimpse of the opening days of what will be a three-week trip that will take us to a total of four states as well as England and Scotland (for a family vacation):
CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE We arrived in early evening after a beautiful drive south through the slanting fall sunshine. There is something distinctive about autumn light. The Sun is lower in the sky and closer to the Earth than in summer. Perhaps that's why the roadside fields glowed an especially bright yellow-green. Maybe the sunlight was illuminating the grass from behind, like stained glass.
Concord has an old, quaint downtown centered on the State House building. As we walked its streets in search of a dinner spot, we felt as though we'd gone back in time a few decades. There was even a record store still in operation. We had never been to this Concord, as opposed to the Concord in Massachusetts, the one of Lexington-and-Concord fame. I wondered how the two cities got their names. I learned that Concord, N.H., was originally called Rumford until the governor renamed it Concord (as in the word meaning harmony and agreement) to symbolize the end of a nasty boundary dispute between it and a neighboring town. The naming of the other Concord is uncertain, though it too probably arose from some sense of peaceful accord involved in its settling. This much is certain: The Concord grape is so named because it was developed by Ephraim Wales Bull in Concord, Mass.
Pamelia and I ended up venturing into Concord's former police station, which has been converted into a Mexican restaurant. And thus, in our only night in New Hampshire's capital, we ate our fish tacos and skillet enchiladas while sitting in a onetime jail cell.
We were up early the next day for a 7 a.m. appointment at the 1790 home of David Carroll, the renowned naturalist-writer-artist and 2006 recipient of a MacArthur fellowship, the so-called genius grant that is bestowed upon a small number of extraordinary Americans each year. Besides being a gifted painter, David is among the world's foremost experts on freshwater turtles, and is a lyrical and observant writer. His wife, Laurette, is a talented painter as well, and the two of them welcomed us for a "quick" visit that lasted five hours.
I will be writing more about David in the future, because he will be helping us with an installation and we will be featuring some of his work at The Naturalist's Notebook next year. But I'm first going to let David tell you in his own words about himself and his approach to combining art and nature:
"The watercolors and pen and ink drawings I produce to illustrate my published books and other written work are of a more specifically natural-history mode and mood. In most cases they include specific plants or other details and ambient settings that relate directly to the turtles' habitats and thereby their ecology.
"As I look over the art work I have done for my five books, one of my most personally satisfying realizations is that with but three or four pieces out of the entire collection, all watercolors and drawings represent something I have seen myself over the course of my swampwalking. Some I observed many times over, others only once in over five decades. Occasionally I make very rough field sketches.
"When I am in the swamps or along streams and rivers my focus is on my searching for turtles and observing and analyzing, their surroundings. I take photos now and then, and more frequently write background descriptions and details in my swamp notebooks, which I later use in my art and writing, ninety per cent or more of which is done during the time of the turtles' hibernating—my 'indoor season.' The weather conditions and at times biting-insect status of the habitats I wander are rarely conducive to prolonged drawing sessions; and my focus is certainly more on the natural landscape through I am ever-so-slowly moving, in seeing and documenting what I come upon. And I am always keenly bent on finding turtles.
"My art, which I do at my indoor drawing and writing tables, comes from sketchbooks in which I have drawn from natural specimens, from turtles I bring home for a day, plants I collect, a red-winged blackbird unfortunately killed when it flew into a window, and so on; plus photos and the occasional field sketches, and my memory and imagination."
As I say, we'll be getting back to David and Laurette in future blogs, but consider this an introduction if you haven't had a chance to read any of David's books. For now, Pamelia and I must return to the road. We'll tell you in the next post about more adventures that will include dinosaurs, dioramas, dancers and danger (to wildlife)...but I hope no more jail cells.
Today's Puzzler The statue below of a U.S. president stands in front of the New Hampshire capitol building. Which president is it?
a) Martin Van Buren b) Calvin Coolidge c) Franklin Pierce