Pelicans

White Pelican, oil on canvas

The white pelicans are arriving in my part of the US on a daily basis. They will hang out here for the winter. Large numbers of them come to Kentucky Lake and Reelfoot Lakeevery year. The numbers of winter arrivals have been increasing in recent years. The white pelicans are mostly people-shy and stay well away from populated areas, hanging out in large flocks. It hasn’t been easy to get decent photos to paint from. It will take a longer lens to catch up to these shy guys. There are comparisons between the white ones arriving for the winter and the brown ones more associated with the Gulf coastal areas. The brown pelicans I have encountered in coastal areas are not nearly as camera and people shy as their white counterparts. Some brown pelicans appear to actually pose for the camera. While the white ones remain on the far side of the lake shore the brown ones will sit around on the docks and and the water’s edge begging for scraps.

Brown Pelican, Marco Island, FL

Pelicans have always appeared to me to be a bit prehistoric in their look. Turns out they may actually be prehistoric as fossils have turned up that are almost 30 million years old. Of course the ones we are now familiar with have evolved a bit over the last 30 million years but are similar enough to the fossilized version to be easily identified. That’s pretty old! Maybe that is part of the reason that make these birds fascinating survivors. Quite adept at fishing, the brown ones are also good at hanging around the docks when the local fishermen bring in their daily catch patiently waiting for the fish cleaning process to leave bits for them to quickly pick up. 

White Pelican, miniature oil on canvas

As an ancient bird, pelicans have figured in folklore for many centuries. It was believed that a mother pelican, lacking food for her young would actually pierce her chest with her beak so that the babies could drink her blood. That myth was eventually proven false but remains a legend still. It is believed that the pelican is a symbol for the passion of Jesus as she spills her blood for the survival of her children. Saint Thomas Aquinas even adds the pelican to his hymn, “Humbly We Adore Thee.” Queen Elizabeth I in medieval times is said to have taken on the symbology of the pelican and is seen in one portrait wearing a pelican broach. The pelican is the national bird of Romania and the state bird of Louisiana. Louisiana is known as the Pelican State. Several countries in the Caribbean have also adopted the pelican as their symbol. The pelican is quite revered as a symbol of self sacrifice, in spite of its rather awkward and ancient appearance.

Juvenile Pelican coming in for a Landing, Alligator Point, FL

Even with all the noble history and folklore surrounding the pelican, I tend to think of them as more comical. In this photo, a juvenile brown pelican was trying to perfect the art of landing on the water and having a bit of a struggle. He eventually mastered it and made for good entertainment as he repeatedly practiced. It was a great moment when he landed without so much splashing and thrashing. I wanted to cheer him on!

Pelicans were the subject of a witty limerick that has several variations. The original was written by fellow Tennessean, Dixon Lanier Merritt in 1910:

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican,
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week,
But I’m damned if I see how the helican.

Cheers to the wonderful pelican!

Sunday Slideshow on Monday–Reelfoot Autumn

The Cypress trees of Reelfoot Lake turn a beautiful red orange in the fall.  Reelfoot Lake was created by the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-1812, a little known, little talked about earthquake but still the largest to hit the United States mainland.  Reelfoot is also known as the lake made “the day the River ran backwards,” as the Mississippi River, disrupted by the shifting ground of the earthquake, flowed backwards into a low lying swampy area before reversing and flowing back out again.  Today, Reelfoot is home to vast numbers of migratory birds and is a nesting area for bald eagles.

Soaking up Enchantment

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“I do not understand how anyone can live without some small place of enchantment to turn to.” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of Cross Creek and The Yearling

 

Do we, as artists, require a place of enchantment?  Can we create without a place of enchantment? Do we have to physically be at that place or can we go there in heart and mind? When I first asked these questions nearly a year ago, I wasn’t sure of the answers.  Since that time, I have to expand to ask these questions of all creative people.  I am more convinced than ever, that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was on to something.

Rawlings was a moderately successful New York writer until she moved to a small Central Florida orange grove near a place called Cross Creek. Eventually Rawlings wrote about the people of Cross Creek, FL. Her writings about life in the Florida orange grove rocketed Rawlings to her place as a treasured American icon after the movie The Yearling, starring Gregory Peck, hit the big screen. She drew her creative nourishment from the beauty of her place of enchantment.

For me, that place has always been Reelfoot Lake.  Though I now live almost 200 miles from Reelfoot, I get there as often as I can.  Sometimes I coerce friends to ride along with the promise of magical scenery and the best fried catfish known to man.  Occasionally, I get up early and throw Twinkie and my camera in the car and drive over for a brief afternoon, returning late that night.  But I don’t paint there.  I breathe in the energy, absorbing the air.  I take in the visual feast and snap some shots.  Later, back home, when I sit down to paint, I go back to Reelfoot in my mind.  I remember the sights, the sounds, even the smells.  But what  happens with the paint is more the memories from childhood.  The infrequent trips to Reelfoot never fail to stimulate the childlike sense of awe that makes Reelfoot a place of enchantment for me and probably always will.

Reelfoot is not the only place of enchantment for me.  Gardens can also stir up feelings of enchantment, especially butterfly gardens.  When focusing on the place of enchantment, the feeling and spirit of the place returns fully.  Rawlings knew what she was talking about.  We all need those places.  The question is, how many of us take enough time to soak up enchantment?  I know I don’t.  Currently, I’m overdue for a major soaking.

For more on Reelfoot go to:http://tnstateparks.com/parks/about/reelfoot-lake

Sunday Slideshow–Lily pads of Reelfoot

Lily pads of Reelfoot

Most of my art focuses on Reelfoot Lake in Northwest Tennessee, a unique lake formed by the New Madrid (Missouri) Earthquakes of 1811-1812.  The New Madrid quakes are still the largest earthquakes to ever hit the United States mainland.  For more on Reelfoot, go here and here.  For more on the New Madrid earthquakes go here.