Capturing nature’s finest (with crayons)

Courtesy of Nicholas Tillinghast. Blue jay with a CD copy of Rumours.

As a frequent photographer of nature, I’ve had to deal with the pesky reality that an iPhone camera simply isn’t quick enough for nature’s most elusive skitterers and high-flyers. Until I can convince the Misc to buy me a Hasselblad, I will always be limited in my abilities to take photos of nature. This is where crayons come in. The sketches I can make with my set of 150 let me represent the animals exactly how I want to, and in some bold news ways, too. But before we get to that I’d like to update you on the past week on campus. 

Courtesy of Nicholas Tillinghast. A roseate spoonbill on Vassar campus?

Dec. 1: An alternative subtitle for “Nature” this week would have been, “Everything on campus is dead now,” but I decided to end the semester on a more optimistic note. All the grasses and cool bambooey horsetail plants by the path going to Sanders Classroom have been chopped down and carried away, leaving this large, strange bowl shape in the ground that one could hypothetically log roll into. I asked my greenhouse boss what the deal was, and he told me that in fact he was the one who cut down all the weird bamboo stuff down and surrounding grasses with some power tools. At that moment, I was disappointed in my boss. In addition to the many dead grasses, the leaves on the trees have nearly all fallen, reminding us all that trees are gangly and spooky things that should not be trusted. Not the conifers though. Trust them––they’re warm, unchanging folk. 

Dec. 2: Lottie grew a single pink flower over the past week. It’s a sign that she’s doing pretty alright and that she is, in fact, not dying, but like a father who doesn’t want his son to get into competitive breakdancing, I didn’t want Lottie to put all her energy into flower development. The internet told me that it is best if I make her devote that energy to leaf development instead, like a father who wants his son to devote his time to pharmacology, so I pinched off the little bloom and I’m hoping the leaves will be a little more vibrant and lively in the coming week. 

I sat outside Thursday to enjoy a nice expressive lunch outside the College Center. There was a hazy gray sky and the air was nearly silent, not a kernel of wind to be felt. Fifteen minutes later when I was walking to my tennis class, I finally understood the silence. There were small dots of water on the apartment sidewalks. Rain was on its way. As I entered the Athletic Center, I was saved from inevitable downpour, and when class ended the rain had already left. I had experienced the calm before the storm, and subsequently skipped the rain part. This last week had an overall similar calm to it, preempting the busier weeks to come––but if there’s anything this loose metaphor has taught me, it’s that I can probably avoid the busy part by playing copious amounts of tennis.    

Nature and art have always had a strong connection. Medieval artists worked tirelessly to represent a variety of animals, showcasing their deep emotional pains while ignoring less important things like basic anatomy. Later on, James Audubon jumped in and just started painting a bunch of birds really well. Now, here I am, entering into the long history of Nature in art. Part of the beauty of this process is that the artist, through their tools of art, has the ability to do a little bit of invention, capturing what you want to capture rather than maybe what’s actually there. Who could forget Audubon’s classic painting, “Bald Eagle playing the Tuba”? With that in my mind, I’m drawing the kinds of exciting scenes that you could never reliably capture with any camera. In this series, note the Blue Jay’s swelling pride. But does he have a CD player? The squirrel is looking to put his work in a very creative zine. And finally,  what a welcomed spoon-billed friend! 

Courtesy of Nicholas Tillinghast. Squirrel writing poetry.

Good luck with studying, folks. When it gets boring, maybe pull out a few crayons and draw a fine deer or two.

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