A Whale of a Time

When it’s a hot, gross, sweltering August day in New York City one can find relief in an air conditioned movie theater. An even better option, in my opinion, is to get out of dodge completely and find yourself on a boat 15 miles out from Montauk harbor, where it’s a few degrees cooler, a lot breezier, and the whales are surfacing and putting on a show. Finally, after years of wanting to do so, I went whale watching, and it was everything I imagined it would be; a friendly group of fellow watchers, a great ship crew of hard working young people, and a brilliant expert marine biologist narrating our excursion. Throw in clear blue skies, passing pleasure boaters and fishermen, and the marvelous undulations of the rolling Atlantic waters, and you have a perfect summer experience.

Five finback whales and two minke whales graced us with their presence. Of the five finbacks, two were a mother and her calf. Love! The babies are born in the winter so the calf was approximately six months old. When momma surfaced and then took her deep terminal dive to search for food, the little one soon followed her lead. It was beautiful to see. Whales can stay underwater for around 7-10 minutes before coming back up for air. Amazing creatures.

Cresli (Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island), which organizes the summer whale watches, posted the day’s report on its website:

I am an animal lover through and through. But I have always held a special place for marine wildlife, particularly marine mammals. I don’t really know why exactly, it’s not like I grew up around boats or spent time on the ocean other than sunbathing at Jones Beach. But on Sunday when I saw the dorsal fin of the first minke whale rise out of the water and then ease back underneath with such elegance and cool – sophistication almost – I was in complete awe. Their manner of movement is so distinct. There’s nothing else like it in the natural world. And when the fin whale, at a further distance from our boat, came up to breathe and spouted 30 feet into the air, I was doubly in awe. Our marine biologist explained that the spout may appear like a fountain of actual water but it isn’t. It’s warm air being expelled from the whale’s lungs. Unlike humans and all other mammals, cetaceans have to breathe through conscious effort. And that effort appears so effortless on observation. While the whales were certainly aware of our presence out there on the water, temporarily encroaching on their habitat, they just went about their business attending to the important matters of life in the wild; feeding, breathing, raising babies. Not trying to impress us, but impressing us anyway. I adore these animals. Big, strong, and intelligent, and also graceful and gentle.

Beautiful watercolors of cetaceans by Scottish wildlife painter and illustrator Archibald Thorburn:

The international commercial whaling ban went into effect in 1986, but some countries get around it through loopholes or just flat out defiance. Japan, Norway, and Iceland are the most guilty culprits. An exception to the whaling moratorium is supposed to be for “scientific” reasons, but that is pretty much a crock of shit, as the whale meat is still being sold on the market for consumption, and the scientific research claim is just BS. And Japan continues its horrific annual dolphin slaughter at Taiji by claiming that dolphins and other small cetaceans are not protected by the whaling ban. (If you haven’t seen the Oscar winning documentary “The Cove” please do see it.)

A seagull that hitched a ride on our boat:

So where are my photos of the whales? I don’t have any! I had planned to take pictures but I soon realized that, honestly, unless you’re a professional photographer with a serious camera and a gigantic lens, it isn’t worthwhile to try and snap crappy iPhone pictures of whales on a whale watch. The length of time in which they’re visible is a brief window – just a precious few seconds. And in those precious seconds I’d rather watch them with my own eyes and relish the experience and not deal with taking a picture.

But I do have a human photo for you. This lady had not only a great camera, but a great hat too!

A Visit to the Vet in Four Acts

Jessie the cat would like to share this photo essay with you 😆

“I don’t need a check-up. I feel fine. And I hate this stupid carrier.”

“Ugh. One of those yappy dogs is in the waiting room. If he comes near me I’m prepared to smack his snout.”

“They’re gonna take my temperature. And look at my teeth. I don’t need this.”

“Mommy? Whatever I did, I’m sorry. Please stop bringing me here, ok?”

Year of the Dog

With the arrival of the Lunar New Year on February 16th, we’ve entered the Year of the Dog in the Chinese Zodiac, which corresponds with the lunar calendar. My birth year, 1968, was the Year of the Monkey. Monkeys are great, but dogs are, well, the most beloved animal on earth, and they deserve that status. The great screen legend Elizabeth Taylor famously said that some of her best leading men in Hollywood had been “horses and dogs.”

I would probably compose a better Year of the Dog blog post if I wasn’t still harboring disappointment that Slick the border collie didn’t win Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club show last week. Did anyone else watch that broadcast? Slick was robbed!! Biggie the pug was also robbed. They gave the top honors to the bichon frise, who was really cute, but I just have a preference for dogs who do productive things, like herding, hunting, guarding, protecting, working their tails off on fishing boats and farms and mountains. If you haven’t seen border collies in action you should. Impressive to the max. Intelligent, resolute, amazing dogs. One of my favorite breeds.

Siberian Dogs in the Snow by Franz Marc:

Though I love all animals, these days I am technically a cat person. Museworthy readers are required to know of my girl Jessie. You can read about her on my post Crazy Cat Lady. There will be a pop quiz afterwards 😉

This video is hilarious. A compilation of cats stealing dog beds. As wonderful as dogs are in so many ways, they are no match for the territorial dominance of cats. Happy Year of the Dog! 😆

Survival Instincts

I came home from work so tired the other night I had no energy to make anything to eat other than a piece of toast with olive spread that I ate standing at my kitchen counter. That would have to suffice as ‘dinner’. All I wanted to do was get into bed under the covers and find something to watch on TV, as long as it wasn’t cable news. So I stumbled onto “Baboon Queen” on the National Geographic Wild Channel, which had already started 15 minutes prior. The program followed the life of Tubu, a female baboon in Botswana. These shows which focus on the trials and travails of a single animal are really effective at making the viewer feel emotionally invested in that individual. Because by the end of this thing I was bawling my eyes out, my head on the pillow, dabbing my cheeks with tissues. It was an embarrassing display.

The last days of Tubu’s life were heartbreaking. Old, lanky, and slow, she became separated from her troop, grunting out distress calls to them from tree branches to no avail. Tubu was left behind. The last images of Tubu show her despondently stooping down into the reedy backwaters under the golden African sun, and disappearing. She had had enough. She was done.

In my sobbing state, I was reminded – with the help of the program’s narrator – that Tubu had lived an extraordinary life by baboon standards. She reached an amazing 25 years of age, had multiple children, became a grandmother and a great-grandmother. The queen of her baboon troop. Over the years she grieved the losses of vulnerable newborns who didn’t make it and the murdered deaths of other family members. She battled with leopards and other predators, got sprayed with the venom of a poisonous snake and was temporarily blinded. The life of Tubu was marked not just by hardships and survival-of-the-fittest clashes, but also by tight-knit community, familial bonds, and affection. It’s because her life was so incredible that her demise was particularly heart-rending. After all she had survived in the wilds of Botswana, to die lost and alone like that . . I couldn’t handle it 😥

From the Metropolitan Museum collection, baboon ointment jar, ca. 1800-1550 B.C., Northern Upper Egypt. This is so cute. Can I have this? 🙂

Wildlife shows are illuminating in many ways. Apart from their standard educational value they can often evoke deeper, more universal truths. Survival instincts are not exclusive to wild animals on the African plains. Females everywhere require vigilance, acumen, and determination to preserve their lives. Big cities like New York are metaphorically called ‘jungles’, and they are. Whether it’s in an urban jungle, a workplace jungle, or a literal jungle, females have to protect their bodily safety and the safety of their children. Predators and dangers are out there .. everywhere. Tubu the baboon knew it, and she fought tooth and nail for her survival. We do what we have to do.

One of my favorite videos on YouTube. Watch this mother elephant protect her baby while crossing the road. The adorable little one is naturally curious and trusting toward the tourists in a jeep with their clicking cameras. Mama knows better. Check out the death stare look in her eyes around :37. It’s like she’s saying, “Try me. Just try me.”

I want to wish Museworthy readers a very happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for all of you! Enjoy your extended weekend if you have one. I know I’ll be enjoying mine, maybe watching more nature shows 🙂

Spirit Animals

The Cathedral of St John the Divine is a true beacon in the city of New York. Not only is it the ‘mother church’ of the Episcopal Diocese and seat of our Bishop, but it is also a breathtaking monument of Gothic Revival architecture, a vibrant cultural center, a tireless provider of social services, and an inclusive religious community famous for its interfaith advocacy and welcoming spirit. Located at 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Morningside Heights, it counts Columbia University and Mt. Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital among its nearby neighbors. A cavernous, awe-inspiring space, the Cathedral’s nave spans the length of two football fields. On September 11th, 2001, hundreds of people converged at St John the Divine in a spontaneous gathering to pray, cry, and comfort their fellow New Yorkers in the hours immediately following the terrorist attacks. The Cathedral was host to funeral services for Duke Ellington, Nikola Tesla, writer James Baldwin, and actor James Gandolfini. On the lighter side, the gardens of St John the Divine are home to three resident peacocks – Jim, Harry, and Phil – who roam freely and strut their stuff on the Cathedral grounds to the delight of visitors and tourists.

I went up to St John the Divine the other day to see their “A Blessing of Animals” sculpture exhibition, a juried show organized by the National Sculpture Society. The Cathedral is the perfect venue for such a show as it celebrates animals in so many ways. Their annual Feast of St Francis Blessing of the Animals service is an event to behold, with a festive animal procession that includes not just dogs and cats but creatures of all types; goats, sheep, horses, ducks, bunnies, snakes, geese, guinea pigs, owls, alpacas, you name it.

I have a few pictures to share – just a sampling of the show – but you can certainly visit the National Sculpture Society’s exhibition page for excellent photos of all the pieces. I apologize for the grainy quality. I’m still in the process of deciding on a new camera purchase – one that I can afford within my budget. But I think the outstanding work of these talented artists is evident in my pics here.

River Mates, by Tim Cherry:

Scottish Stag, by Wesley Wofford:

Wild Instinct, by Joshua Tobey:

Stella, by André Harvey:

Flying Heron, by Darrell Davis:

Bobcat, by Rosetta:

Circle of Friends, by Gary Lee Price:

The Peace Fountain, which greets visitors to the Cathedral, on the garden grounds along Amsterdam Ave. It was sculpted by St John the Divine Artist-in-Residence Greg Wyatt:

After its run at St John the Divine, the Blessing of Animals exhibition will travel down to Naples, Florida where it will be on display at the Botanical Gardens through January 2018. So Museworthy Floridians, check it out! It’s an absolute delight.

Like all of you, I am heartbroken over the devastation in Houston and southeast Texas from Hurricane Harvey. The scenes being broadcast from there of people stranded in the floodwaters, having lost their homes, clinging to their children, their pets, their loved ones, are hard to watch. One can’t help but worry about those who are especially vulnerable; the elderly, the disabled, babies and children. But the stories of folks being rescued by valiant, selfless fellow citizens who hooked up their boats, jet skis, and rafts and made their way over to those flooded neighborhoods give us all hope. Remember, saints are among us, living and serving, in everyday life, and are not just figures carved into church altarpieces or painted on canvases. Still, the trauma from such a severe natural disaster will linger for a long time, and the Gulf coast of Texas has many years of recovery in its future.

For those who are interested in donating, I’d like to suggest two other relief/rescue organizations that are in keeping with the theme of this blog post:

Episcopal Relief and Development

Houston Humane Society

Bison and Bucket Lists

Over the long break at a modeling job recently, some artists were chatting about their summer plans. Travel, naturally, was the main subject with one person talking about heading up to Maine for a relaxing couple of weeks, others hoping to go to Europe for painting sojourns in Italy and elsewhere. One of the artists mentioned that she was likely going to visit one of the National Parks with her husband, which particularly struck a chord with me. With the exception of a Hajian family vacation in 1973, which included a visit to the Grand Canyon that I can barely remember given that I was five years old, I’ve never set foot in any of America’s National Parks. State parks sure. But no Nationals. Not Yellowstone, not Yosemite, not the Everglades, none of them. And it kind of disappoints me.

When I think about the magnificent North American landscapes – their wildlife, rivers and hot springs, deserts and lakes and coniferous forests, flora and fauna and waterfalls, wolves and otters and eagles – I feel like an American who is missing out on “America’s Best Idea” as PBS called it. I really want to see bison. I do! I’m somewhat obsessed with bison. Why, you wonder? Well, why not? They are the largest land mammal in North America. They are herbivores who will charge your ass at 30 mph if you threaten them. They are the tough, enduring symbol of the American West. They have outlasted adversity at every turn. Bison have been slaughtered by Indians and ranchers alike. Bison bounced back from the brink of extinction in the late 1800s. Bison survived the Ice Age. They are sturdy, stubborn badasses who just don’t give a fuck. This is their continent, we just live on it. Also, their babies are incredibly cute.

American Bison photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

The explorers Lewis and Clark wrote in their journals that enormous herds of bison “darkened the whole plains”. And in 1871, U.S. Soldier George Anderson wrote in a letter that it took a full six days for his men to pass through one herd of what seemed to be “millions” of bison in Kansas.

The Bison Trail by Charles M. Russell, 1908:

Although it can be an interesting, and at times revealing, exercise in exploring personal aspirations, compiling a “bucket list” isn’t something I’ve given much thought to. But to the limited extent that I have, going to Yellowstone National Park and seeing the bison would definitely be on my bucket list. Maybe the time has come for some of us who are middle-aged to start contemplating bucket list goals after so many years spent in a carpe diem style existence. I’ve never been much of a long term goal planner. Nor do I possess a go-getter, ambitious nature. I just don’t have that driven, ‘make things happen’ personality. But hey I can still assemble a bucket list! I think all the summer travel talk at that art class triggered something in me …. regrets over the places I’ve never been, and the things I’ve never seen or experienced.

But imagine a bucket list that allowed for time travel! Now THAT would be tremendous, because we could involve scenarios with individuals who are now dead. For me, that would include being a back-up dancer for Prince, getting bombed on gin & tonics at a bar in Paris with F. Scott Fitzgerald, seeing Charlie Parker perform at Birdland, and modeling for Raphael. Hell yes to all of those.

So here we go … my bucket list. One of these might actually happen and is sort of in the works. Another one was supposed to happen several years ago but never materialized. The others, well, let’s just put them in the “never’ category … for now 😉
1) Go to Burning Man
2) Get up on stage and tell a story at The Moth StorySLAM
3) Visit the Holy Land
4) Open a no-kill animal shelter
5) Snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef
6) Yellowstone + bison
7) Learn to play Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #23
8) Help build a home with Habitat for Humanity

So what’s on your bucket list?

Portraits & Pets – A Museworthy Art Show

Companions. Loved ones. Models. Friends. Souls – human and animal – with faces and gazes, personalities and body language, stories and histories. Followers of this blog contributed works of art – in a most glorious array of expressions – to a little online art show themed “Portraits and Pets”. Some included brief descriptions to accompany their work, others let their art stand alone. Each one is thoroughly unique, and a gesture of participation in this blog’s congenial community. And your blog hostess was honored to participate right along with you. I now present …”Portraits and Pets”! Enjoy 🙂

Ron Anticevich
Radar
oil on linen
Simi Valley, California

Mark Wummer
Finding Flint
watercolor
“Flint is a fifty-five pound black lab that started his life training to be a service dog but decided on a career change, and instead became our son’s family pet. He can curl himself into a ball of black fur so tightly that it’s tough to know what part of him you are looking at.”
Reading, Pennsylvania

Derek James Tewey
Mariama, my sister, 1935-2017
acrylic
“I miss her”
Brisbane, Australia

Dave Moran
Hero
graphite
“my pit bull mix”
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Fred Hatt
Leo and My Foot
Aquarelle crayon and gouache on grey paper
Brooklyn, New York

Todd Fife
Ilex
pencil, acrylic, coffee, gold leaf
Bowling Green, Kentucky

Daniel Maidman
Felix
oil on canvas
Brooklyn, New York

Bill MacDonald
Young Man with a Beard
colored pencil over graphite
Quincy, Massachusetts

Two from
Susan Berkowitz
King
gouache, watercolor, and acrylic on aquaboard
Brooklyn, New York

Susie
oil pastel

Rob Carroll
Lulu
HB pencil
Swindon, UK

Bruce Williams
Claudia and Ika
hand-colored drypoint
New York City

Two from
Judy Waller
Best of Friends
watercolor on paper
“At home in the studio where she lives and works, her little parrot Beatrix can almost always be seen sitting contentedly on Lita’s shoulder. Lita starts every day by holding Beatrix in her palm and stroking her feathers, much to the little bird’s obvious delight. They truly are ‘Best of Friends!'”
Roseburg, Oregon

Siesta
watercolor on paper
“My painting of Mike and his dog Sophie captures the tender affection between the two, in a peaceful moment of repose. Mike has a natural affinity for animals, and can befriend even the most reluctant dog or cat almost instantly.”

Elaine Hajian
Patriarch
pastel
“My grandfather who came to America to escape the Armenian Genocide. Honoring a gentle man who will live forever in our hearts.”
New York City

Mark Kurdziel
Blu
oil on linen
Jersey City, New Jersey

Christopher Hickey
Anne’s Black Bird
etching tinted with watercolor
“our cat Noelle has a cameo role”
Atlanta, Georgia

Francisco Malonzo
Connie 3
acrylic
New York City

Rosanne Kaloustian
Rose
pastel
“This painting of my aunt was created from an old black and white photo … remembering the good old days.”
New York City

Roberta Moring
Pauly
acrylic
“My muse is my beautiful African Ring-Neck parrot”
West Bend, Wisconsin

Claudia Hajian
Jessie and her Blue Toy
pastel on paper
New York City