Saturday, March 30, 2013

Of Cabbages and Kings, of Toilet seats and Things

Springtime in Fort Myers -- an Art Show -- 2013 Bell Tower Shops

Florida living provides me with an endless supply of stories and artistic material for painting. Every day I see a wide variety of birds, animals, plants, and aquatic life.

Take this morning. I wasn’t expecting to see a black racer snake devour one of its own on my front porch, but I did.  And I don’t enjoy cracking the door ever so slightly when I leave the house to prevent a lizard, or whatever else is out there, the slightest chance of sneaking in; but I do.

I’m reminded that living in the tropics brings its own special joys and surprises; like the time I was caught in the buff by a thirsty green frog that was perched on my toilet seat. I don’t mind sharing, but not in this case.

I coaxed my mini-intruder into a glass jar and transported him outside, unharmed. If I can, I prefer to save life, even a frog’s. Lizards are another matter.

When I first moved to Florida, I couldn’t bear to kill anything. But after chasing several lizards through the house and having them hide under sofas and chairs, or behind the bookcase where they die a slow death, I’m willing to exterminate when necessary. At least lizards don’t stink when they decay. Like withered old soldiers, they just fade away, leaving a crusty carcass behind.

Today a pair of pileated woodpeckers landed on our cabbage palm; their arrival a breathtaking flash of blink-bright red and black. Observing their skinny necks and hammer-shaped heads made me think of another time and place, when prehistoric birds of Jurassic Park proportions roamed the earth; ancestors perhaps?

The large 18” birds circled the tree, hammering the shaggy palm bark with heavy silver bills in search of insects and grubs. Both birds used their long black tail feathers for balance, leaning on them like old rocking chairs. Suddenly, one of the pair fluttered to the upper palm fronds exposing white under wing linings, a striking contrast against the black flight feathers.

Someday I will paint the pileated woodpecker. 

 Robin’s are not particularly fussy about where they build their nests. I’ve seen a nest cradled in a wreath on someone’s door, and a nest wedged between a light fixture and the bricks on a friend’s front porch.

My friend watched over the nest like a mother hen; protecting first the blue green eggs that appeared, and then the tiny newborns that followed. Each time he stepped out on his porch, the mother robin swooped over his head and dive-bombed him to protect her nest. Little did she know that he was a staunch ally.
The robins’ precarious nest-building habits are not without risk, and many a nest topples to the ground following a strong windstorm. But when it comes to parenting, robins are seldom outmatched.
My acrylic painting “Robin Hood” was inspired by the apple blossoms in the spring and the sighting of a robin’s nest. 
"Robin Hood" 16 x 20 acrylic on canvas

On my daily walk, I watched a turkey vulture swoop overhead and land on a hot tile roof a few feet away. The buzzard spread its wings to soak up the sun and rest while it digested its morning meal.
A startled mocking bird stopped in mid-flutter to bombard the huge bird, diving at it with angry squawks and stabs of its beak, despite the fact that its enemy was ten times its size.
The indifferent vulture pulled in its neck, tucked its small red head between gangley wing blades, and stubbornly ignored the mocker’s tenacious thrusts.
Not to be outdone, the gutsy mocker continued to swoop and dive, until finally the exasperated vulture lifted its dark wings against the sky and flew off in search of a new perch.
I enjoy the antics of the Florida mocking bird, a slightly browner version than its northern counterpart. Its uproarious songs and saucy attitude inspired my acrylic painting: “Berry picking time.”
"Berry Picking Time" 16 x 20 acryllic on canvas