Sunday, May 29, 2016

Art of Paying Attention on NPR: Snakes

Gopher snake drawing by Beth Surdut 2016
For NPR audio, which I highly recommend, click here

Everything you see on this page is © Beth Surdut 2016.

Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way.” ~ John Muir

I was experiencing an “ohh, look, a tiny baby bunny” moment, when an impressively large gopher snake zoomed across the yard like a kid on a bike when the ice cream truck is in the neighborhood—head up, jaws wide open, and only one thing in mind.
I know everybody’s got to eat, but not in front of me. I have a hard time watching those nature TV specials where the antelope/bunny/mouse/cute thing gets chomped. So, I literally ran interference, yelling, “No you don’t!” while chasing a five-foot long snake the size of my fist, whose earless body can transmit my vibrations through skin, muscle, and bone.
           
I don’t want to send this beautifully patterned reptile--or any other-- to its next incarnation as a belt or shoes; but, since we all can’t just get along, and these snakes can have a quarter-mile territory, I’d like it to move on. A challenge-- my yard is a snake’s Eden with fresh-water stations, shade, baby birds, bunnies, ground squirrels, a variety of lizards to eat, and a human who doesn’t want to kill snakes, just discourage them.
           
The gopher snake, also called a bull snake, is non-venomous, but can mimic a rattlesnake even though it has no rattles. Now coiled and, for lack of a better word, sulking under a lilac bush, this snake has the ability to flatten its head, vibrate its tail and hiss like a rattler, but other than bunny bloodlust, there was none of that action and no aggression.

Eyeing the sharp end of a long-handled hoe, I considered my stance on live and let live. Yup, still not a murderer. The tiny bunny was nowhere in sight, so I did the only reasonable thing I could think of—I ran to get a very long stick and my camera.
           

Mighty hunter that I am, I spoke softly and poked the big stick very gently at the tail to coax the serpent into leaving paradise. It complied, slowly. Stretching out, it nosed upward slightly, tongue tasting the air as it slithered out to the driveway and camouflaged itself on a welcome mat of accumulated dead leaves.
           
I nudged the tip of the tail again, and, when it didn’t move, I explained loudly that it should find a new zip code. Snake languidly moved another ten feet under foliage so thick, I couldn’t see a trace.
     
Did I mention I was born in the Chinese year of the snake?


This past year, in one of my Paying Attention workshops, a woman told me her sister and husband had bought a house with acreage in the Chiricahuas, from an old man who told them that there was a diamondback named Charlie on the property. He said that snake was at least 25 years old. Had never hurt anybody.
One day, the woman and her sister were standing by a stream there and her sister said, “Don’t move, but look down in the grass between us.”
“I could see the diamond pattern and that it was big…and then we kind of went crazy,” she said to me. Her voice rose and she talked in that way people do when they’re really flustered. “What about the grandchildren? What if they play down here? We have to do something.”
Her sister told her to go get her husband from the house and tell him to bring his gun.
There was such sadness in that woman as she quieted down and said, “I did. I went and got him. He shot that snake in the head. He killed it because we were hysterical. We weren’t thinking…if only we’d thought about what we were doing. Because when we settled down, I realized we’d killed Charlie. I felt so bad and I still do. If we’d only thought.”

 I saw the tiny bunny once a couple of days after the deflected gopher snake attack. About a week later, while watering, I spotted two separate pieces of bunny fur with chunks of skin and meat attached. Not unusual—almost every critter here is food for another. But, even knowing that, I stood in bleak sadness, letting the hose pour costly lifeblood onto the always thirsty desert floor. But then, I saw movement—a youngster! Little furred ears, their insides the color of peaches, a white puff of tail!  I named it Survivor.
 A baby gopher snake, only as big around as my index finger,  slipped gracefully past me this morning on its way to a plant-filled no-man’s-land between me and the neighbor’s—I hope it likes it there.







Thursday, May 12, 2016

White-winged doves in the Southwest

Beth Surdut's The Art of Paying Attention: White-Winged Doves

 
Author and artist Beth Surdut listens to ravens, and has paddled with alligators in wild and scenic places. She also knows that a nest shouldn't be judged on appearance alone
Listen on NPR:
White-winged Doves
©Beth Surdut 2016
High-up in the imposing tamarisk tree outside my bedroom window, a migratory white-winged dove nestles like a plump teapot in the flat saucer where the branches fork. I can see the circle of blue highlighted with lavender around her bright orange eye as she bends her head to rearrange some sticks poking out around her. Her mate arrives with another slim stick in his beak and he stands on her back, drops the stick next to her, and then flies off for what seems to be a very long time before returning with another stick. Again, he stands on top of her, drops his gift, which slides away and shimmies through the air. He does not fly down to retrieve it, but instead returns to his favorite building supply area.
I think they must be new at this, but the more attention I pay, the more I learn that there is a lot that I don’t know about critters, even when I think I do.
By day two of construction, we have had rain—unusual, I’m told. The air sits sweet and sticky on my skin. The dove sits on her sticks. When hummingbirds build a nest, it is compact, dense, designed with tensile strength and lined with soft materials. Clearly, the doves didn’t get that memo. If these inhabitants were humans, they’d be on the road to divorce or looking for another architect and builder.
By day four, the nest looks like a skeleton ready to be filled in. Ms. Dove sits, but doesn’t stay. I take the opportunity to wrap my dressmaker’s tape around the tamarisk’s girth—41 inches tapering upwards to 36. I’m impressed. Though these trees are disliked for their lusty drinking habits and sloppy grooming, I see this one as a tree of life where not only the doves nest, but also, varieties of sparrows, hummingbirds, and verdins perch and call while collared lizards scuttle across the bulky outstretched base.
beth surdut dove unsized body image
Later in the morning, as I’m watering the nearby bamboo, the dove pair returns. She nestles, he stands on top of her, his head above hers, and their heads turn towards me in unison as I walk by. The unlined, seemingly rickety, open-air nest that resembles a tangled pile of the game of Pick-Up Sticks proves to be a challenge for me to draw as I try to discern where the elements intersect. What appeared to be a haphazard pile, serves the purpose of holding mother and two eggs—usually two—until little pin-feathered beings grow viable feathers and fly to the ground after two weeks. Both parents watch over them during incubation and through this exploratory period, but doves are food for the Harris’ and Cooper’s hawks in my ‘hood.
Yet even with the losses due to predation, consider the seemingly ubiquitous presence of doves that pollinate saguaros and line the utility wires — I often count more than 20 — and the ones that fly out of the oleanders and eucalyptus as if flushed by hounds when I walk by. Look around for the nests—my neighbor has one built on the electrical outlet cover next to the light by her front door, another in the rhus lancia tree at the corner of her house, and a third on a crossbeam under her patio roof.
Last year, at the edge of a gravel road that leads to my house, the doves chose a labyrinthine mass of cholla with pointy twists and turns surrounded by prickly pear that seemed to present a formidable fortress. Sometimes, if the mother deemed I was too close—she had, after all, chosen a well-trodden path--she would fly off and pretend she was wounded, dropping one white-tipped wing and dragging it as she hopped along on the ground, making herself an obvious target.
A friend came to visit, arriving at my front door, saying “There was a Harris’ hawk standing on the ground just as I made the turn into here. I wonder why?’
I knew why. When I got there, the mother and two babies--they were not old enough to fly—were gone, feathers scattered, some standing upright like little grave markers.
This month marks a year that I’ve lived here, and I see nests being reconstructed in many of the same places. The current babies fledged in that cholla today—the mother was on the nest, father on a branch near her, and I found one youngster walking on the ground below them. I looked up into the trees and the utility pole tops where I usually see the hawks, listened for their distinctive calls, but heard only the drone of bees, the chittering of small birds, and the calls of the white-winged doves.
beth surdut baby dove nest photo unsized
The Art of Paying Attention Workshop
Observing nature starts with curiosity about what grows, flies, and crawls around you. Explore our integrated place in nature in a workshop with award-winning wildlife artist and writer Beth Surdut, creator of the illustrated Listening to Raven stories and The Art of Paying Attention NPR radio series.
Sponsored by Pima County and the USA National Phenology Network, for ages 12 and up.
Date & Time: Thursday, May 26, 2016 from 4:30 – 6:00 p.m.
Where: Pima County Agua Caliente Park, 12325 E. Roger Road
Cost: Free with park membership, non-member fee: $10. Pre-registration preferred..
Please bring a notebook!
For more information contact www.pima.gov/nrpr, eeducation@pima.gov, or call 520-615-7855
Visual storyteller Beth Surdut invites you to observe, with unbounded curiosity, the wild life that flies, crawls, and skitters along with us in our changing environment. From exotic orchids and poison dart frogs to local hawks and javelinas, Surdut illustrates her experiences with wild and cultivated nature by creating color-saturated silk paintings and detailed drawings accompanied by true stories.
You can find Surdut's drawings - and true stories about spirited critters - at listeningtoraven.com 
beth surdut with raven statue unsized
Beth Surdut's illustrated work Listening to Raven won the 2013 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Award for Non-Fiction. Elements of her raven clan have appeared in Orion Magazine, flown across the digitally looped Art Billboard Project in Albany, New York and roosted at the New York State Museum in an exhibition of international scientific illustrators.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Hummingbird Etiquette on NPR

The Art of Paying Attention: Hummingbird Etiquette
© Beth Surdut, 2016
Audio on NPR/Arizona Spotlight

This story starts with bird droppings. But before I go any further, if you have a penny and a quarter handy, please hold one of each in the palms of your hands while we embark on a treasure hunt.
Tiny white bird droppings splashed onto a walkway that led to my front door in New Mexico. Each day, more splotches accrued on the same piece of blue flagstone. So, I looked up.
About 6 feet above me, on a slim branch of a juniper tree, a broad-tailed hummingbird, her weight approximately the same as a penny, had crafted her nest, the size of a quarter and maybe an inch deep. The materials she chose included lichen, leaves, bark, and grasses interwoven with spider webs and lined with what looked like downy milkweed and feathers. Inside were two chicks, each about the size of one of my fingernails.
As the birds grew, the nest stretched to accommodate them, because it was purposely made pliable by the spider webs that also secured it to the branch.
My drawing of these broad-tailed siblings shows them not long before they fledged three weeks from the time they were born. Their beaks, which began as nubs, are almost full length. Their feathers, with only hints of the green iridescence that will deepen in maturity, have emerged from tiny hollow tubes of cartilage.

I don’t know if I ever saw those particular juveniles after they left the nest, but one day, I was working on a drawing, magnifying glass in one hand, ink pen in the other, when I heard wing beats —so close, I could feel the air puff on forehead. I held my breath, raised only my eyes, and looked at the hummingbird looking at me. Face to face, we both seemed suspended in the heartbeat of the universe before the bird turned and flew out through the open door.
Every time I have held a hummingbird— only out of necessity—is due to the nest building of a large invasive species—humans.
Another time, a broad-tail flew into my studio. She bounced repeatedly against the window, as I flew across the room saying, “No, no, no!”
Landing on the wide sill, she fluttered between the glass and a painted wood cut-out of two flamenco dancers. Her emerald wings winked at the edges of the woman’s ruby skirt.
I cupped the bird loosely in my hands, my fingers forming the bars of a cage. Quiet, she brushed the side of her beak along my finger.
Eyes bright and dark, she looked at me. Didn’t seem scared. Curious, I think.
I wanted to ask her what she’d seen on her journeys.
I wanted to invite her to stay and build a nest out of spider webs.
What I wanted, though, wasn’t the point, so I walked her to the open doorway and opened my hands.
Last summer, I was standing outside my big studio window here in Tucson. My pink shirt was garnering inspection from a purple-headed Costa’s hummingbird who poked me and a male Anna’s whose rosy-red crown and glittering throat flashed as he swooped around me. Then I heard that heart-dropping impact of body slamming into glass, and I looked down to see another Anna’s conked out on the ground.
She looked perfect, but as time passed, she didn’t move, didn’t open her eyes, so I picked up her little body and held it in my hand.
“Please be okay, please live, little one.” I waited, standing in the sunlight.
The bird was on its back—so vulnerable.
“Please.”
Tiny feet moved, eyes opened. She lay there, then turned over, so light on my palm. I felt her throb, filling all the air sacks in her body, and then this miraculous jewel of a creature flew up and zoomed through the cloudless blue sky.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Art of Paying Attention: Raven and the Flying Doritos® on NPR

Egg Thief Raven drawing © Beth Surdut (prints for sale)

“If you talk to the animals, they will talk with you and you will know each other.” ~Chief Dan George
I know ravens love junk food and they can even recognize a fast food logo, but I’m pickier than those clever corvids—Common or Chihuahuan—who I think of as equal opportunity eaters. Even knowing that eating almost anything helps sustain their big brains, I just can’t bring myself to feed them patties of processed animal parts. Usually, I don’t put out any food, but one day I placed two uncooked whole chicken eggs -- free range, of course -- on the lava rock watering hole in the garden.
The next morning, just as I got out of the shower, I heard gleeful quorks and gurgles through the window. Two huge ravens were sharing the eggs I’d put out for them. Feathers glowing like abalone in the cool sunlight, they nibbled and chatted. After that, the one I called the Egg Thief swooped in at least once a day to check on the chicken egg situation.
Even in winds so brisk the house howled like La Llorona mourning her children, he took one perfect egg in his beak and brought it over to his mate, who hopped impatiently in the desert. Ravens mate for life, so this guy was taken, but soon the single ones showed up, sometimes solo, other times in rowdy groups.
The Thing I Do for Love raven drawing Beth Surdut http://www.bethsurdut.com/listening-to-raven.html

The eggs were the main prize for the ravens, but from what I can see, some of my neighbors are fueled by the snack food industry. Fierce winds slammed open the lid of their trash can and tossed the contents as joyously as fans throwing underwear at rock stars. Plastic bags, caught in the prickly embrace of cholla, wave like surrender flags.
A large empty Doritos® bag, bright as a macaw, flutters its colors as the wind bounces it repeatedly against the bottom of the wall outside my studio. As I bend over to retrieve the bag, I hear big wings pushing the air—whish-whish-whish- and then a soft “clock-clock-clock-clock-clock” as Raven flies close over my head.
I stand and wave the bag. Raven circles, feet tucked up neatly.
“Clock-clock-clock,” he vocalizes. Not cluck— it sounds more like a gentle tick-tock, slightly seductive, longing, as if saying, “Oh, I want that; please give it to me.”
The wind revs its engines and drives me into the studio.
Still clutching the bag, I touch the tip of my tongue to the roof of my mouth and let it stick for a nanosecond, then repeat.

“Clock-clock-clock,” I practice as I sit down at my work table to draw Raven.
“Clock-clock-clock,” I say to myself, ready for our next conversation.
But not today. Alarm calls from smaller songbirds tell me that Raven is trying to steal babies or eggs from a nest. The screeches escalate as more birds join in to mob Raven, who decides this is too much work and takes off.
We’ll chat another time, Raven and I, especially if I put out more chicken eggs or a bag of chips.

Find more of Surdut's drawings and true stories about spirited critters at listeningtoraven.com and http://www.bethsurdut.com/critters.html
Beth Surdut's illustrated work Listening to Raven won the 2013 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Award for Non-Fiction. Elements of her raven clan have appeared in Orion Magazine, flown across the digitally looped Art Billboard Project in Albany, New York and roosted at the New York State Museum in an exhibition of international scientific illustrators.
"The Raven" segment of Encyclopedia of Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico by Mark Cross is illustrated with The Reason Why along with her explanation of Raven calling her to the Southwest to draw and collect first person stories of interactions with this clever corvid and iconic spirit guide.
Audio available for this raven conversation on NPR affiliate Arizona Public Media

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Art of Paying Attention: Harris'Hawks in my Tucson 'Hood

Harris’ Hawks
© Beth Surdut 2015
Stuart Udall wrote, “Get to know the land and the messages it whispers to those willing to listen.”
I’m willing, but this is the city. No whispers here. The sound of cars and machinery is pretty constant, although never louder than the birdsong.
I heard noises on the patio, thought it was that large brassy ground squirrel that’d been hanging around, so I’d walked out to look.
Whoah!
Fierce, the Harris’ hawk glared at me with cantaloupe colored eyes.
It's unsettling to be that close to an angry raptor.
Haris' Hawk in my 'hood by ©Beth Surdut 2015 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Hissed at me as it flew to a eucalyptus tree to scold me for all the neighboring animals to hear. (“Annnh, annnh, annh.”)
Big. Intent. Used to winning, I could tell.
Lush russet legs, substantial talons and a beak that could snatch the cat away.
The hawk returned the next afternoon, announcing as it flew overhead.
The cat, no fool, crouched by the kitchen door, watching through the screen.
A baby Anna’s hummingbird, old enough to flash crimson at it moved its head, young enough to be fluff, allowed me to stand near and watch it watch me.
The next morning, hawk flew in, perched on a telephone pole, dominating for only a moment before two mockingbirds give him what-for, screeching, scolding, pecking at his head and chasing him across the sky. His small but mighty escorts persisted, giving Hawk no chance to turn back.
Within a week, where there had been one Harris’ hawk, there were now four large birds, and I had their attention. It was around 7:30 in the morning, 88 degrees on its way to 107, and I was standing alongside the road by my house, holding aloft what I assumed was theirs—a dove, its head barely attached. I’d heard loud repetitive plaintive calls, different from the announcing voices-- two voices, maybe more, back and forth like echoes in a canyon. I spotted a twosome in a leafy eucalyptus, a third called from a backlit branch down the road, and a fourth on a utility pole-- a risky choice.
I dangled the surprisingly heavy kill by its feet, then set it down and moved away into the shade and waited. But no one swooped in as the heat of the day clung to me.
Harris’ hawks hunt in a group, flushing out the prey into the talons of the others. The alpha female might mate with two males and the offspring can stay around as long as three years. The four here are all large, but two often stay together and the other two are somewhat smaller.
Monsoon season has just started.
Late in the day, the hawks stand in the steady rain, wings spread like dark angels.
Lightning splits the sky as the raptors call to each other. Their calls bouncing around the darkening night.
Just above my neighbor’s house, 3 hawks huddle like Shakespeare’s witches amidst the metal coils and wires on top of a wood pole, intent on the kill the largest hawk is standing on and tearing apart. Must be something big—rabbit or ground squirrel--I see thick strands of guts hanging from the hawk’s beak.
The next day, with visions of electricity, water, and dead hawks in my head, I track down the number for the raptor protection program at Tucson Electric Power. In the early morning after that, I stand under the power poles around my house as Jim from TEP points out the protective coverings that have resulted in the raptor population being larger in the city than outside it. He explains that the coverings should keep the birds’ wings, with an average span of 40-47 inches, from touching the power sources on either side, causing the bird to act as a conduit. But what about the water? I ask, and he tells me that the mixture of birds and water can still mean death.
I’ve been in the city only a few months. My neighbors, who have been here for years, say, “The animals seem to find you.” I think not. I think I’m the intruder in animal territory.
Find more of Surdut's drawings - and true stories about spirited critters -  listeningtoraven.com and http://www.bethsurdut.com/critters.html
For audio, go to  NPR / Arizona Public Media

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Art of Paying Attention: Regal Horned Lizard

Regal Horned Lizard  © Beth Surdut 2015
The lizard population around my house is so busy, so varied, that it’s difficult to choose just one to talk to you about.
On my way to the trash bin this week, zebra tailed lizards, who like big open spaces so they can keep track of predators, skittered, stopped, lifting their black and white-striped tails high and gently waving them, languidly, like underwater sea anemones, to let me know my presence threatened their delicate existence. Then off they ran in completely different directions.
Chunky Desert Spiny or sleek whiptails tend to scuttle for cover under rocks, into holes they’ve dug into sandy soil, up trees, under anything prickly or shady. There’s one particular spiny lizard who I call The Sentry, because he often watches me from the same spot just underneath the pink oleander hedge, his head turning slightly as he tracks me.
Regal Horned Lizard drawing © Beth Surdut 2015 colored pencil on paper


But not the Regal Horned Lizard. The operative word for this spiky, fringed, multi-colored, speckled, phrynosoma (that’s with a "ph") solare is SLOW.
Sloooow eaters, but no slouches, horned lizards are ant specialists that can eat as many as 2,500 harvester ants in a day. So stop with pesticides, bring on the horny toads, which are not toads at all.
The crown of horns on their heads is so indigestible, it can pierce through a snake from the inside as it tries to swallow the lizard.
And then, there’s the blood. If you look very carefully, you might see just a horned head poking out of a hole in the morning after a cool desert night. The lizard is letting the sun warm the blood in its head and when the blood is warm enough, it circulates through the rest of the body. While that is impressive, there is a defense mechanism right out of a science fiction movie. When threatened, this rather cute little beast can squirt foul tasting blood from its eyes. Not only is the action shocking, but also discouraging to a number of predators like foxes, dogs—the blood just doesn’t taste good.
And here was a Regal Horned Lizard right on my front stoop. Pointed and crenelated, stubby and shy, lizard was so intent on watching a grasshopper that neither one moved when I appeared. Patience, such patience, I thought as I stood next to the lizard, admiring him with my camera.
Regal Horned Lizard and Grasshopper, Tucson, Arizona  photo:©Beth Surdut

Grasshopper did not move.
My camera snapped at them.
Lizard glanced at me, then back to Grasshopper.
Snap, said my camera. Lizard did not twitch.
Grasshopper held his ground.
So smart, I thought. Grasshopper knows the speed of a lizard. (Because at that point I didn’t know I was looking at the slowpoke of the lizard world.)
Playing it safe, I thought. Oh, the wisdom of the wild.

I shifted my stance and Lizard lost his focus,
Didn’t squirt blood from his eyes, but scuttled into the blue agave whose spines would protect him from me.
 Grasshopper did not move. Closer inspection allowed. Surely, Grasshopper would leap now.
 But it is hard to leave when one leg is stuck to the pavement.
 Impossible to leave when you are desiccated, preserved, perfect, but dead.
The Regal Horned Lizard (Tumamoc in the language of Tohono O’odham) and I had patiently stalked a dead grasshopper.
Or had we? I called Research Scientist Matt Goode at the University of Arizona’s Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill. He told me that, although it was possible the lizard was interested in the grasshopper, much more likely, lizard wanted to place his sticky tongue on the ants around grasshopper. Or, thought he was hiding from me, blending in with his fringed perimeter and rock-like coloration.
So even though I thought I was paying attention, in part because of what I’d learned about other lizards, it wasn’t just about looking, it was about looking it up.
I also checked in with the National Phenology Network based on the University of Arizona's main campus. Phenology–that’s "ph" like phrynosoma— refers to studying seasonal behavior in plants and animals, especially in relationship to climate. The Phenology Network coordinates Nature’s Notebook online, where anyone, including you, can sign up to log in their observations about species behavior. Scientists can then tap into our data to use for studies that can help define the future of our environment and these critters I so delight in sharing with you.
For more illustrated animal nature drawings, go to http://www.bethsurdut.com/critters.html
To hear the audio on NPR , where this piece was produced for Arizona Spotlight by Mark McLemore at Arizona Public Media, click https://radio.azpm.org/s/34256-the-art-of-paying-attention-regal-horned-lizard/
Like what you see? Interested in  telling your own critter  stories and learning  ways to pay attention?
Sign up for my workshop October 20 during Tucson Phenology Week at Tucson Botanical Gardens
Click to register https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1nqcGLzMjG2p8UoS36T021fVQJTtIkDRr4QtAAHTjR5Y/viewform 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Ten Generationsof Ravens en la troca

Ten Generations en la Troca from Listening to Raven series by Beth Surdut

La troca (the truck) is as iconic in New Mexico and the Southwest as Trickster Raven-- the older rounded forms made by man mimic the languid curves and patinas of this high desert that color my soul.
In Alaska, Mark has been caring for ravens and eagles for the past 18 years. Although there are certainly professional nature photographers with admirable patience, skill, and talent, this man’s love is uniquely communicated through his actions and photographic documentation of his avian friends. His photographs and the stories he tells me gave flight to this drawing as well as  The Ravens of Truth and Memory which nods to the Norse God Odin’s ravens.
Mark writes: I must say I think your drawing of Raven is the best that I have seen yet...
 Raven flew over the office of the apartment complex where I worked. I put some meat out for him and soon he came down and got it. Next, he brought his partner and although she was much more tentative they both started stopping by each day. I started to develop a call that sounded like when the male Kushka called the female Feathers. After time, when I called, they would come down off the mountain. That summer, I noticed that they brought their fledge down to my truck and from that time on I became their babysitter.
  After 10 generations of fledges, I believe the original couple moved on and now all their children come back in the winter to live nearby cause they know I will have food for them if times get bad.
Speaking of la troca: I carried Martha Egan's collection La Ranfla (The Ride) to the mechanic's while he fixed my brakes-- I read the entire collection, nodding and grinning, wondering if I should go looking for a literate cowboy and a good cash crop, when Guapo brought me to tears right there in a chilly waiting room.
When your friends back East ask what New Mexico is about, send them this book. Then get them out here, drive them around in a troca, show them the land and sky and a good taqueria, reading them Jim Sagal's Unexpected Turn if you can find a copy. 

The raven drawing  Ten Generation en La Troca  appears in the September 2015 literary arts journal RiverSedge published by Texas Pan-American University Press. 
(Much of this post was originally published in 2013)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

#NEWYEARPRAYER for Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah Prayer by Beth Surdut
As I add a pomegranate to a custom designed  tallit that a bride will give to her groom for their  wedding  ceremony, I'm thinking about the stories attached to the pomegranate:
In Judaism, the 613 seeds in a pomegranate equal the 613 mitzvot we live by even though many of us would be hard pressed to recite the ten commandments by heart.
In Greek and Roman mythology, the 6 seeds that Persephone/Proserpina ate while she was held captive by Hades imprisoned her in the underworld for 6 months of the year. Her mother Demeter/Ceres, goddess of fruitful nature, mourned the seasonal loss of her child, causing fields to lie fallow.  The winters of her discontent became ours as did the spring and summers of her joy. 

May the seeds we plant bear fruit.
May we intentionally extend kindness to all living beings.
May we act towards others as we would want them to act towards us.
May we make our colorful marks in the Book of Life.
L'shanah tovah!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Dreaming of Hawaii? Aloha nui loa

Aloha nui loa...
Listening to IZ sing Over the Rainbow in his beautiful falsetto makes me miss living in the  islands.
 As a freelance professional textile designer living in Hawaii, I could stand in downtown Honolulu at lunch time and watch my designs walk around on what I call "the business man's aloha shirt."
Beth Surdut's Aloha Shirts @American Textile History Museum
 But when you want something so gorgeous that strangers will walk up to ask "where did you get that," my one-of-a-kind custom Ultimate Aloha Shirt™ is what you want to own.
One of a kind custom silk aloha shirts created by Beth Surdut
             Perfect for weddings, special occasions, or just being the coolest.  dude. ever.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Art of Paying Attention: Harris' Hawks


My Art of Paying Attention illustrated nature series can be heard on NPR 89.1 in Tucson
Links to audio and more visuals bottom of this page.

Stuart Udall wrote, “Get to know the land and the messages it whispers to those willing to listen.”
This is the city. No whispers here. The sound of cars and machinery is pretty constant, although never louder than the birdsong.
I heard noises on the patio, thought it was that large brassy ground squirrel that’d been hanging around, so I’d walked out to look.
Whoah!
Fierce, the Harris’ hawk glared at me with cantaloupe colored eyes.
Unsettling to be that close to an angry raptor.
Harris' Hawk drawing © Beth Surdut (all rights reserved)
 Hissed at me as it flew to a eucalyptus tree to scold me for all the neighboring animals to hear. “Annnh, annnh, annh.”
Big. Intent. Used to winning, I could tell.
Lush russet legs, substantial talons and a beak that could snatch the cat away.
The hawk returned the next afternoon, “annnh, annnh, annnh,” as it flew overhead.
The cat, no fool, crouched by the kitchen door, watching through the screen.
A baby Anna’s hummingbird, old enough to flash crimson at it moved its head, young enough to be fluff, allowed me to stand near and watch it watch me.
The next morning, hawk flies in, perches on a telephone pole, dominating for only a moment before two mockingbirds give him what-for, screeching, scolding, pecking at his head and chasing him across the sky. "Annhh, annhhh, annnh,” I call as his small but mighty escorts persist, giving Hawk no chance to turn back.

Within a week, where there had been one Harris’ hawk, there were now four large birds, and I had their attention.  It was around 7:30 in the morning, 88 degrees on its way to 107, and I was standing alongside the road by my house, holding aloft what I assumed was theirs—a dove, its head barely attached. I’d heard loud repetitive wheezy calls—not the drawn out annh annh, anhh, instead it was hwee hwee hwee hwee-- two voices, maybe more, back and  forth like echoes in a canyon.  I spotted a twosome in a leafy eucalyptus, a third called from a backlit branch down the road, and a fourth on a utility pole-- a risky choice,
I dangled the surprisingly heavy kill by its feet, then set it down and moved away into the shade and waited. But no one swooped in as the heat of the day clung to me.

Harris’ hawks hunt in a group, flushing out the prey into the talons of the others. The alpha female might mate with two males and the offspring can stay around as long as three years. The four here are all large, but two often stay together and the other two are somewhat smaller.
Monsoon season has just started.
Late in the day, the hawks stand in the steady rain, wings spread like dark angels.
Lightning splits the sky as the raptors call to each other, heir voices bouncing around the darkening night.
“Hwee, hwee, hwee” leads my eyes to one hawk’s silhouette on a branch about a half a block away and 20 feet up. Closer, just above my neighbor’s house, 3 hawks huddle like Shakespeare’s witches amidst the metal coils and wires on top of a wood pole, intent on the kill the largest hawk is standing on and tearing apart. Must be something big—rabbit or ground squirrel--I see thick strands of guts hanging from the hawk’s beak.
The next day, with visions of electricity, water, and dead hawks in my head, I track down the number for the raptor protection program at Tucson Electric Power. In the early morning after that, I stand under the power poles around my house as Jim from TEP points out the protective coverings that have resulted in the raptor population being larger in the city than outside it. He explains that the coverings should keep the birds’ wings, with an average span of 40-47 inches, from touching the power sources on either side, causing the bird to act as a conduit. But what about the water? I ask, and he tells me that the mixture of birds and water can still mean death.
I’ve been in the city only a few months. My neighbors, who have been here for years, say, “The animals seem to find you.” I think not. I think I’m the intruder in animal territory.

The radio series is produced by Emmy award winner Mark McLemore, host of Arizona Spotlight. Audio and comments 
Prints from Listening to Raven, winner of Tucson Festival of Books Award for Literary Non-Fiction
Art of Paying Attention drawings including  bunnies, stinkbugs, hummingbirds and lizards

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

R'fuah Shleimah Healing Prayer Scarves


R’fuah Shleimah Healing Prayer Scarves  
Designed and Painted on Silk by Beth Surdut 

Love is the only language you need to give this as a gift. 
Sometimes all we can do for people in distress is 
let them know that we care.

Each scarf contains the Hebrew words r'fuah shleimah 
 from the Misheberach prayer for complete healing of body and spirit.

$140 for 8”x 54” or 30” square

Individually drawn and painted with kavanah/intention. 

Misheberach   
Bless and heal this person who is ill.

May the one who blessed our ancestors, 
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, 
Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah,

May the Blessed Holy One be filled with compassion 
for their health to be restored and their strength to be revived.
May God swiftly send them a complete renewal of body and spirit and let us say, Amen.

Custom orders encouraged.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Be Exquisite in Autumn and Winter--Beautiful Art Scarves @www.bethsurdut.com

Autumn Light hand-painted silk scarf by Beth Surdut
I promise you this: the temperatures will drop, your brain will once again be quickened by the intake of sweet autumn air, and you can wrap yourself in beauty. Think of each hand-painted original silk scarf as a precious piece of fine wearable art--your statement piece or sapphires, topaz,emerald, silver and gold, as sparkling as a finely wrought necklace.
Here's to name-dropping! My painted accessories and garments have been shown at the Smithsonian Institution, De Cordova Museum, Cahoon Museum of American Art, American Textile History Museum, and the fabulous New Zealand Wearable Art Awards.
So go ahead, spurge on the most beautiful scarf you'll ever own and be prepared for strangers to  walk up to you and ask with a  gasp and a sigh, "Where did you get that?"
You'll be able to tell them that you purchased it directly from the artist @http://www.bethsurdut.com/apparel-women---men.html
On sale for $200 apiece.
Night Fall Sangre de Cristo Mountains hand painted silk scarf by Beth Surdut

Monday, August 10, 2015

Mr. Stinky and the Wild Princess

Feral, gorgeous and virile Mr. Stinky courted me every night by YOWLING at midnight out front of my house. He'd go quiet as soon as he saw me, never asking for food, seeming just to want me. Two months into this nightly serenade, I began to suspect that he was one of my old bad boyfriends dressed up in a cat suit--he had all the same moves, rubbing his handsome self up against me, running away when I tried to get too close, marking his territory but still schmoozing the blond across the street, who fed him.
Cats for the Mind painting by Beth Surdut
Breaks my heart to see homeless animals, so when I was asked recently to design an image for the Sarasota Defense of Animals Catwalk  at Siesta Beach, I created Cats for the Mind and licensed it for use on tee shirts. Available from me as prints, and if you sign a big fat check, the original painting can be yours. Of course, a portion supports kitty programs.
Mr. Stinky, so much handsomer than his name, turned out to be a good cat with bad manners, living with me part-time, now nutless, still spraying, trying to get it on with the little feral spayed princess and eventually getting confused part way through the mating dance because he can't quite figure out how to get tab A into slot B, kind of like the old guys here, but cuter.
See more at http://www.bethsurdut.com/critters.html

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Death and Cookies


Death stands next to me in the kitchen watching me make cookies. He gets way too close, his murky odor distracting me as I measure portions of raisins and oats.
Death’s shadow and I have been keeping company a lot these days.  I think he especially wants beautiful Sara because her heart’s so good. A bad-mannered suitor, he grabbed her breast and slid into her spine, not realizing what kind of backbone he was dealing with. That woman’s faith has gotten her through sixty-some-odd years of more than you want to know. We know she needs a miracle, and she’s gotten sidetracked from what she does best, which is full-time ministering to people as a pastor.  I think when she comes through this, she’ll fill her kitchen with people seeking the warmth of her great spirit.
I add a teaspoon of ginger and listen to a public radio interview with a Unitarian minister who has esophageal cancer. He got himself so right with God and Death that for a long moment that man forgot his family was in this, too. Then he got a year’s reprieve. When Death came knocking a second time, “My family and I had already had the dress rehearsal,” said the minister. Bet his wife and kids didn’t look at it that way.
I hear people say, “I’m not scared of dying.”  Maybe all the people who love them are scared. So think of that next time you get all philosophical about leaving this earth. We still want you.
Death still hangs around as the flour and rising agents fall gently out of the sifter. At least one of us is disturbed to see something wiggling. I scoop out the little wormy things and give Death a few treats.  
“That’s all you’re getting from me today, buddy,” I say, as I cream the healthy substitute butter with the natural substitute sweetener that’s supposed to help keep me on earth longer.
Some of the cookies are for a rabbi with a sweet tooth. “Who will say kaddish for me,” asked the bachelor Rabbi in a sermon twenty years ago, when he could still tap dance. Possibly everyone he has ever met, I think, as people come up to him wherever we go. From birth to death, he has been a part of every life cycle event. Now, at 82, brilliant and sparky despite crippling spinal stenosis and Parkinson’s, he taps sitting down, his feet clicking to Gershwin and the Beatles.
I’m making these cookies in my writer friend David’s kitchen. “So what happens when Jews die?” he asks. His lymphoma has him walking the tightrope between Christian Science and modern science. So far, he’s finding his balance.
“No heaven and hell. We’re about the here and now, though reincarnation would be great. I can’t get everything accomplished in one lifetime,” I tell him as I plop cookie dough onto the next baking sheet.
When I bend over to open the oven door, Death pokes me as rudely as a wet nosed dog.
He leans close, rotten breath whispering, “Make room for me.”  I slide the second batch into the oven. Then, fed up, I shove Death in, too, and quickly close the door. No matter how much sugar you add, death stinks, but for the time being, the comforting scent of oatmeal cookies completely fills the kitchen.
I divide up the sweets for Sara, David, and the Rabbi.

This morning I revisited this piece written in 2009 because that greedy bastard Death is trying to take my uniquely creative friend who conquered prostate cancer, then colon cancer, and other challenges. He and his wife kept those trials a secret until now, years later. So I say Misheberach for him, the Jewish prayer that asks for r'fuah shleimah, the Hebrew words for the complete healing of body and spirit.
We sat around my dining room table in Florida, talking about beauty and laughing about life's ironies  as I fed my friends, who I love to cook for. May we share a meal  again.

Healing Prayer Scarves http://www.bethsurdut.com/r-fuah-shleimah-healing-scarves.html
I originally posted this as a guest blogger on author Judi Hendricks' blog.
Beautiful Sara died in May 2014, the day after I got out of the hospital, her loss still a fresh wound to my heart. The rabbi passed away at 86. David just turned 79.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Harris'Hawks in the Hood




Harris' Hawks in the 'Hood, the newest installment of my illustrated radio pieces, is online now and airs Friday and Saturday on NPR 89.1 KUAT
https://radio.azpm.org/p/azspotlight/2015/7/30/69208-the-art-of-paying-attention-harris-hawks/

What started as


gradually became
and is currently

 

Visit http://www.bethsurdut.com/critters.html for more wild nature drawings and stories.




Thursday, July 16, 2015

Critters on the radio

I listen to ravens, and paddle with alligators in wild and scenic places, but I know that true adventure can be found just outside your window.
Starting July 17, the first of my multi-platform The Art of Paying Attention Nature series will be airing on Arizona Spotlight KUAT Friday at 8:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. and Saturday at 5:00 p.m. My drawings of the critters I talk about will be featured on AZPM's website.https://radio.azpm.org/kuaz.azspotlight/ where you can listen anytime online.https://radio.azpm.org/p/azspotlight-features/2015/7/17/68383-the-art-of-paying-attention-the-rabbit-warren/
 

First up: The art of paying attention.Once you start looking, it is hard to stop.
Next week: Stink bug love. Warning: this piece contains graphic (insect) sex.

Find more drawings - and true stories - about spirited critters on this blog and at listeningtoraven.com
 http://www.bethsurdut.com/gallery-.html

Friday, June 26, 2015

Out of the Lion's mouth

Yes, I drew this, but there are days when I can't tell if she's being swallowed or launching herself out of the lion's mouth.
In Balinese myth, a big moon faced ogre swallows the moon goddess each month until she's a sliver of light and hope, but he never succeeds entirely, because he only has a head. She always emerges, serene and beautiful, with a knowing little smile. It's something to aspire to--outwitting the ogres, knowing where the lions are-- don't you think?

Musical confluence--Wondering Where the Lions Are by brilliant Bruce Cockburn

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Rare mermaid sightings in the desert dispels myth!

Four mermaid sisters, merbabes all, recently arrived in the low desert of Arizona. They are stranded and looking for seaworthy accommodations, preferably with a handsome vegetarian sailor or two  who views them as more than just a nice  piece of tail. Meanwhile, they are  waiting for monsoon rains and may be spotted in flooded arroyos.
Separated from their 6 siblings by frames, they keep their mersisters close in the form of small unframed prints.
Merblue Mermaid 32" x 42" by Beth Surdut
 Each mermaid is watched over by a set of eyes on her tail-- a chaperone of sorts.
Meremerald Mermaid 28"x42" by Beth Surdut
And many of the mermaids travel with a small denizen from the deep, except red haired Meremerald.
Merglow Mermaid 32" x 42" by Beth Surdut
Merglow knows secrets she may never tell...and has had a large portrait printed of her beautiful self.
Mermaid and Parrotfish 31" x 42" by Beth Surdut
 This mermaid fiercely protects her parrotfish from human dinner tables and never divulges her name.


Original paintings on silk, $2200 each. Lovely small signed prints, $75 each. Larger sizes available.
To meet all the mermaids and read their inception/conception story, visit The Mermaids Return
and watch the video with a luminous score by Conrad Praetzel.



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Modern Tallit

Pomegranates and the 613 Mitzvot Tallit designed and painted by Beth Surdut
                                                   
When my Russian-born grandfather was 18 years old, his two brothers, studying to be Torah scribes, were murdered by Cossacks. My grandfather came to America in 1905 and fathered three sons. My decision to become a designer and painter of prayer shawls, wedding canopies, Torah covers, and healing scarves is, in part, a way to say Kaddish for these family members, along with my mother and my father, each time I hand letter a prayer in Hebrew. 
I see a prayer shawl as an invitation to step out of the chatter of daily life-- and life has become very noisy-- and into a meditative space. Designing each silk tallit for a specific client, I draw, paint, sew, and tie tzitzit to form a portable house of prayer.
Wisdom Tallit custom designed and painted by Beth Surdut
As I look through notes I've taken while I interviewed clients and their families, I find the girl who wanted an owl flying in a night sky over the Jemez Mountains, the woman in the desert who felt at peace by the sea, the man who freely sang his heart to God every week, the scientist who admired the Periodic Table, and many more. Jews by birth, Jews by choice, seasoned adults and 13-year-olds about to be Bar or Bat Mitzvah-- each one bringing me to new places of study as I searched for prayers that spoke to each person. 
Like many people, I tend to avoid the Book of Job, yet in that catalogue of tsurris I found one of my favorite questions for an atarah:
"Where shall wisdom be found and where is the place of understanding?" asked Job, the guy we all run from until we meet him face to face in the mirror. 
"If not now, when?" asked Hillel. Autumn Tallit custom designed and painted by Beth Surdut

Monday, June 22, 2015

How to have sex with a flower: the art of hybridization

Nectarine Dusk by Beth Surdut
If you think this going to be about sex as you know it, you're going to be disappointed, although giving these luscious little hand painted hibiscus pieces might lead to a really good time.

 Hybridization is about sex of the floral kind. Beautiful colors, the right scent, some pollinator action, and the appropriate reproductive organs make flowers ripe for pro-creation. There's even a peduncle involved, which is the piece of the stem that's attached to the flower, not some totally creepy relative who should be locked up. And, as if life isn't already confusing, the stigma, florally speaking, is the receptor of the female flower's reproductive organ.
 Hybridizing is the act of "crossing" flowers to obtain a seed pod. This creates seeds that are completely unique, and, just like humans, the offspring can be even better looking than their parents... or just different. You get to be your own mad scientist with a cotton swab and sperm donor.
Peachy keen by Beth Surdut

Turns out that flower sex is best in the morning. Sperm dries up in the heat of the day and no amount of boom-boom pills is going to make that pollen functional.  Choose a good looking male (flower), pick up his/its pollen on the cotton swab--the more sperm, the better. Rub that sperm onto the female stigma (sooo much more fun than a stigmata). In dry climates, maybe a little shpritz from a mister--this is not a euphemism; I'm talking a bottle with water and a sprayer. 
The goal is to create new seeds and a plant with a resulting flower you can name after yourself or your pet or your kid, if you are so inclined.  There's even a special place for you, the floral yenta/Dr. Frankenstein, to record the parents. It's called a stud book. No, not making this up. 
Know that crosses do not always come to fruition. Just like humans, sometimes the seed capsules do not mature during the 60-90 days of waiting. Who knew flowers could be so sexy? But let's be clear, this  is all about  the seed that will become the plant that will produce the flower, maybe. 
Roxanne's red dress by Beth Surdut

I'm not that patient. Instead I painted my idea of hybrids on silk using fiber-reactive dyes and gold-flaked resist. The images are approximately 11 inches (not so square) and 15.5" square framed and glassed.
$175 includes domestic shipping per piece. If you purchase the gang of three, I'll give you a discount and no, you can not trade sex for art. 

Monsoon:Quench My Thirst,  43" x 32" $2100