Monthly Archives: March 2008

Lost art

Lost artBy Pat Nelson
For “The Daily News,” Longview, WA
Reprinted with permission

Fourteen years ago, a drifter named John, a talented artist, agreed to create a pastel drawing of two children believed to be from Kalama or Woodland, but John left the area before the family received the finished artwork.

I don’t know how this family met John. It’s likely that they saw him sketching on a napkin in an area restaurant. He often went into a restaurant, ordered coffee, and sat for hours creating elaborate artwork on napkins. Often, customers admired his work, and sometimes they paid him to sketch something for them. These jobs gave him enough money to move on to the next stop in his never-ending journey. He never stayed in one place very long.

My husband met John more than twenty years ago when he stopped  by his store in Longview to ask if there was anything he could paint. John agreed to paint signs on the building. That probably wasn’t the kind of painting he had in mind, but he needed money. When he finished the job, he moved on.

For the next six years, John stopped by every year or two when he was in the area, and my husband always found a little work for him. When we moved to Vancouver and opened a store there, John located us and painted our building. We took him to lunch one day, and I can still remember a man in the restaurant saying, “Oh, you’re the guy who’s painting that building across the street.” Bright yellow blobs of paint covered John’s shirt, pants, and worn shoes.

By then, we had seen some of John’s sketches, and we realized he was a very bright and talented artist by choice, and a building painter only by necessity.

 My husband, who had never met or even seen photos of his Indian grandfather, but had been told he looked like him, asked John to capture on canvas what he thought his grandfather would have looked like, dressed in furs.  After a few days of work, John showed us the unfinished picture; it was incredible, but he kept working on it until he no longer liked it, and he sold it to someone in a restaurant for next to nothing. He started again, and then once more. Finally, he showed us two pictures: one that he was happy with, and another that he considered garbage. We loved both. Today, framed and matted, they hang side-by-side in our home. We enjoy looking for the similarities and differences in the two pictures, and wondering if my husband’s grandfather really did look like the man in one of the pictures.

I was so impressed with the Indian pictures that after my daughter was married in 1993, I asked John to do a pastel portrait from her wedding picture. However, after we saw the partially-finished picture once, John left and did not return.

I thought about that wedding portrait, and was sad that it had never been finished. I didn’t expect to ever see it again. Then, one day I received a phone call from a lady in Astoria. “Did you ask a man named John to do a wedding picture of your daughter?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Well, I have it here, and you’re welcome to pick it up. John left the area, and he wanted me to get this picture to you.”

 We drove to Astoria and picked up the beautiful wedding portrait. That’s when we found out John had left another undelivered picture, a pastel of two children.

“I’ll send this one with you too,” she said. “Maybe you can find out who it belongs to. John told me it’s for someone he met around Kalama or Woodland.”

 The children in the picture had probably been in a wedding. The dark-haired boy wore a white hat and tux, and the little blonde girl, not even reaching the boy’s shoulder, was dressed in frilly white. The boy stood proudly and the little girl, clasping her hands together, looked shy.

These kids would be young adults now. Their family probably gave up long ago on ever receiving the picture. Maybe with the help of The Daily News, this won’t remain “lost art.”

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Filed under art, Kalama, The Daily News, Woodland

Natasha the blue heron has the ultimate license to fish

Natashe the heron By Pat Nelson
For “The Daily News,” Longview, WA
Reprinted with permission

Wednesday morning, I looked out at Woodland’s Horseshoe Lake and realized that spring is almost here. There was Natasha, back from her winter’s journey south. She sat motionless on a metal railing, her yellow eyes scanning the chilly water for breakfast.

Natasha has always behaved differently from the other blue herons I’ve watched at Horseshoe Lake. She spends a lot of time around people, more out of laziness than love, I think… or maybe she’s just plain smart. She’s likely to claim a spot for herself right next to a fisherman’s chair over on the beach near the skate park, hoping for a handout. She was given her name by a Horseshoe Lake fisherman.

In past years, she tried to make a neighbor’s pond her fish market. The neighbor tried adding a gazing ball to the pond so that Natasha would be frightened by her reflection, but that didn’t stop the bird from having her pick of the pond. Next, the neighbor added a sprinkler system on a motion detector to scare Natasha away, but she soon learned that it took a minute or two for the sprinklers to reset, giving her time to fish.

After that, stronger measures were required. My friend spread a net over the entire pond. If you try this, keep the net a couple inches off  the water so that the hungry blue heron does not use it to stand on while poking its beak through the net to nab a fish.

As I watched Natasha Wednesday morning, something must have frightened her because she flew away with a low-pitched squawk, her head folded back onto her shoulders, with her long legs out behind her body. Her broad gray wings resembled leather stretched over a frame, flapping slowly and with great strength. Her 6’ wingspan was impressive. 

Herons use their sharp bills to grasp or spear their prey. With toes designed to navigate muddy lake bottoms, they wade as deep as two feet, moving slowly while watching for their next meal. They don’t land on the water, but rather stand and wait motionless, often at the edge of a pond or lake, not just watching for fish to swim by, but also looking for insects, rodents, frogs, and small birds.

Wednesday was a sunny day, and I decided that I, too, would stand on the dock and look at the lake. There, where Natasha had been earlier, I watched a two-foot steelhead lazily swim by, and then an even larger one. Both were covered with ugly white patches, but I don’t think such cosmetic flaws deter herons. Earlier in the day, Natasha had probably been watching those big fish, wondering if she dared eat one. Even though herons can swallow fish many times wider than their narrow necks, Natasha must have decided her eyes were bigger than her stomach.

She’s probably looking forward to April, when tasty fish pour out of a truck into the lake for the Moose Lodge fishing derby, fish just the right size to slide easily down her long throat.

When Natasha isn’t fishing, she’s protecting her territory. One day, I watched her as she stood on a small boat with a cabin, peering with her beady eyes into a Plexiglas window. Seeing another bird on the other side of the glass and wanting to protect her space, she began pecking at the glass, but every time she did, the other bird jutted its beak towards her. Whatever Natasha did, her reflection mirrored her actions, and she finally gave up and flew away. She’s pretty smart about fishing, but when it comes to defending herself against her own reflection, I think she’s just a bird brain.

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Filed under birding, blue heron, fishing, heron, Horseshoe Lake, The Daily News, WA, Woodland

An egg hunt inspired by Nancy Drew

egg collectionby Pat Nelson The Daily News, Longview, WA
March 21, 3008
reprinted with permission
I was a shy child, but enjoyed reading about other girls’ adventures. Nancy Drew was my favorite. I checked out Nancy Drew books at the library, but bought my own copy of one special volume, The Clue in the Jewel Box.”  In this book, Nancy and her friends helped Madame Alexandra locate her missing grandson. The only clue Madame Alexandra provided was a faded photograph of her grandson-prince at age 4. Before Nancy reunited the family in this suspense-filled mystery, she discovered another clue hidden in a beautifully decorated jewel box made from an egg. I imagined that beautiful egg, and held it in my memory as though I had really seen it.About 25 years later, still remembering that beautiful egg, I told my family I would like to start an egg collection. One year when a vendor displayed decorated eggs at Longview’s Triangle Shopping Center, my in-laws gave me my first decorated egg. This goose egg has a hinged lid painted with blue flowers. The lining is lavender velvet, and the egg sits on a golden pedestal. A few months later, on Mother’s Day, my children added to my collection by giving me a pale yellow egg cut to resemble a basket. A yellow ribbon weaves its way around the egg, and a scalloped edge includes tiny heart cutouts. Over the next several years, I added many eggs to my collection. One, a large emu egg, in its natural dark green color, has a hinged lid and is decorated with gold leaves. I call this one my “wedding egg,” as it was used not only for my wedding, but for the weddings of both of my children, to carry the rings. I keep tiny mementos inside: a matchbook from Chapel of the Chimes in Reno where my son was married, and the corsage my mother wore at my daughter’s wedding.My granddaughter Chelsea, now nearly eight, was introduced to my egg collection at about 18 months of age. My niece had just given me a fresh emu egg from her farm. The deep green egg was so beautiful, and I decided I’d rather add it to my collection than eat it. Two neighbors, Jack Lester and Peter Ilyin, offered to drill holes in the egg and clean it out. They said they had a plan.I held baby Chelsea and watched as the two men worked on the egg over the recycle bin in my garage, “just in case.” Jack held the egg and Peter drilled the ends. Next, Peter blew air into the egg with a compressor. Nothing happened. He increased the pressure. Still nothing. As he again increased the pressure, the beautiful shell exploded. I screamed and scared the baby; she cried. Jack got hit with a flying chunk of thick, green eggshell. Peter stood looking at his hands as gooey egg dripped through his fingers and onto recycled newspapers in the can. As Chelsea grew older, she loved the egg collection. At first, I held the eggs and showed her how the lids and doors opened, and wound the music boxes for her. Now that she’s older, she handles the eggs herself. She sits on the floor and carefully takes the eggs out of their display case, one by one. She looks at an egg, and then puts it back and takes out another. As she does, I tell her stories about each one, like the pumpkin-egg, that I saw at an egg show. The egg artist didn’t want to sell the egg. She had covered it with bread dough, baked it, and painted it orange. When its hinged door was opened, a ghost and a tombstone were revealed. I convinced the artist that I would take good care of the pumpkin-egg and she finally agreed to sell it.Chelsea takes the wand out of the quail egg turned perfume bottle and sniffs the perfume still lingering in the bottle. She opens a goose egg and removes a decorated quail’s egg on a gold chain and slips it over her head. She winds the music box of the wedding egg and listens to it play “Edelweiss.”She examines the whimsical eggs purchased several years ago at a Woodland bazaar: a crow with a straw hat, a turkey with feathers, a reindeer with twig antlers.It’s fun to share my egg collection with my Chelsea, and in another couple years, I’ll give her a copy of “The Clue in the Jewel Box.” I didn’t know at the time, but that jeweled egg I read about many years ago provided me with a clue about a special treasure to share with my granddaughter.

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Filed under egg collection, grandchildren, The Daily News