Thursday 31 March 2022

Secret Knowledge by David Hockney

    I enjoy painting every day.  I like realism and strive to make the images I paint look like they actually are.  My paintings are based on photographs that I have taken.  To accurately paint the image, I import it into my computer then make a grid over the image.  I draw another grid on my canvas.  I used the grid lines as guides, so that I can draw the image on the canvas, carefully noting where the lines I draw, fall when crossing the gird lines.  That is how I get everything on the painting in the right place.

    I guess you could call using a grid my painting secret, although I have never hesitated in tell people how I paint so accurately, when they ask.

David Hockney, a renowned artist who lives in Great Britain, became aware of something that peaked his interest.  He noticed that before the year 1430 paintings were pretty flat looking, then suddenly after 1430, paintings became a lot more realistic, with more dark shadows and depth.  It occurred to him that 1430 was the year when glass lens and mirrors started to spread through Europe.  He began to do some research the subject and gathered a lot of evidence that the Old Masters began to secretly use optical devices to make their paintings more realistic.

Hockney experimented with something called a camera obscura.  It is basically just a confined dark space with a tiny hole on the side that projects an image of whatever is on the other side of the hole, onto the opposite surface of the dark space.  The image is projected upside down.  With a lens in the hole, the projected image becomes much sharper and distinct.  Access to small concave mirrors make the image even more distinct.  To get a really sharp projected image, you need the light outside the camera obscura to be very bright, thus producing a lot of shadows on the projected subject.  Later paintings had more intense areas of light and dark.

Hockney began to do an intensive study of the paintings after 1430 and began to see evidence that his theory was correct.  Because the projected image could not be very large, painters would project a bit of what they wanted to paint, sketch that out, then move the lens to paint another section, then paint that spot.  Moving the lens created small differences in the projected image, so by studying the whole final product Hockney could see how they were made.  

He found that sometimes the painted faces where too big or too small for the bodies.  Sometimes there were more than one perspective vanishing point.  He noticed that objects close to the viewer were sometimes blurry, while more distant things were sharp.  This is something that occurs with a lens, and is different when you are looking with your eyes, because when you are looking at something close, your eyes focus on it making it sharp.

Hockney found that many of the subjects where holding things in their left hand, while in actuality, most people are right handed.  This would suggest that a lens was used.  A lot of paintings had no underlying sketches, just the paint.  This was something that is very unusual and normally doesn’t occur in realistic paintings.  Post-1340 paintings suddenly had a lot of shadows and dark areas compared to all of the earlier paintings.  This was due to the very bright light needed to project an image.

Most people think that using some optical device somehow lessens the greatness of an artist, but just having an image projected only allows a painter to put everything in the correct place, the actual painting still takes an enormous amount of skill and time.

Famous painters like Vermeer, Caravagio, and Rembrandt had to be extremely talented, even if they used optical devices to turn out the masterpieces they are famous for.

Making a living by painting was a very difficult and competitive profession, so painters hid their secrets from the competition.  There is some written evidence of painters using optical devices, but very little.  Vermeer’s neighbor was a lens maker.  

Impressionistic painting grew out of a rejection of the use optical devices and their very realistic paintings.  Impressionist just eyeballed things and didn’t care so much about accuracy.

Secret Knowledge was a fascinating book to read.  I was eager to read it after seeing the documentary, Tim’s Vermeer.  It is a film about an engineer who had read the book, then decided to paint a copy of one of Vermeer’s famous paintings, even though he wasn’t an artist.  He built a room, exactly like that in Vermeer’s painting, dressed models in costumes like the subjects in Vermeer’s painting, then using lenses and a mirror, was able to copy, almost exactly, Vermeer’s painting.

    Below is a photo showing an example of a painting before 1430 (on the left) and how paintings started changed after 1430 (on the right).

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Wednesday 30 March 2022

Kona's Firewood-Carrying Obsession Continues

    Every time we walk our dog Kona around the pond, she insists upon picking up a piece of firewood I have sawn up and left there, and carries it back to our house.  Every piece she brings back is one less that I have to deal with, but still, I wish I could understand what the habit is all about.

    When she gets to the firewood scattered on the dam, she goes from pile to pile, sniffing the pieces until she finds the one that seems right to her.  She picks it up, sometimes awkwardly, by the its end, then proudly, with her tail high, prances it back to our carport door.  There I tell her to “Drop it,” which she seems happy to do, then she goes into the house.

    I periodically pick up all of the pieces she has carried to the door and put them into a pile just to see how many she has lugged back to the house (Photo above).  Yesterday I took her collection and stacked it with my other firewood, but she had accumulated quite a pile.  Some pieces are quite large  and a bit heavy to be carrying in your mouth.

    Below is what the entrance to our carport door usually looks like.


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Tuesday 29 March 2022

The First Bloom of Spring

    Yesterday I saw the first flower of Spring, a crocus.   In these northern climes, once winter finally is pushed aside and warmer weather starts to arrive, things happen quickly.  The growing season is short, so there is a rush to begin.  

    Years ago I bought a bag of 80 crocus bulbs at Costco and planted them along our sidewalk.  They came up for a few years then disappeared.  I have no remembrance of planting crocus in this flower bed and was surprised to see a group of them coming up.  

    I am usually pretty hungry for the sight of plant growth after so many months of winter, so planting bulbs like crocus, grape hyacinth, and daffodils are very rewarding because they provide flowers while there is still some snow in the yard.

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Monday 28 March 2022

Fraser River- Ice Free

    This time of year I eagerly look for signs of Spring.  When the winter ice on the Fraser River finally melts, that is one of the major indicators that the spring season is taking control of the landscape.  In this photo which I took a few days ago, you can still see some ice patches floatng down the river.  The river ice broke up quickly and although I haven’t been by the river in a couple of days, I suspect all of the ice has now disappeared.  

    The next spring marker I await is for the ice on my pond to melt away.

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Sunday 27 March 2022

The Snow is Melting

    Back in the fall I was so eager to see the snow come.  Now that it is spring, I am just as eager to see it gone, and luckily, it is starting to disappear.  At the moment, about half of our lawn is snow-free.  Early this morning when it was still pretty gray outside, I noticed a pair of Robins hopping around in the yard.  The Daffodils and Crocus are starting to sprout in the flower beds, and you can now hear geese honking in the distance when you go outside, so it does feel like spring is slowly arriving. 

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Saturday 26 March 2022

Silas Marner by George Eliot

    A month ago I was looking for a movie to stream and came across one called “Silas Marner.”  That title rang a bell because I remembered the name from a literature class I took in high school a half century ago.  Although I remembered the name, my mind was totally blank concerning anything about the story.

    The 1985 film starred Ben Kingsley as Silas.  It was very realistic, set in the early 1800’s.  The film sucked me right in and I enjoyed watching it.  

    Shortly after seeing it, I was looking through books I could download to read on my iPad and once again came across the title, Silas Marner.   I was intrigued and curious about how closely the film had followed the novel, so downloaded the novel and began reading.  I discovered the film followed very closely to the storyline of the book.

    Silas Marner was published in 1861 by George Eliot, whose real name was Mary Ann Evans.  She wrote under the name of George Eliot because she didn’t want her novels to be stereotyped as those typically written by women at the time.

    Silas Marner, the main character was an honest, hardworking weaver, who was a member of a Calvinist religious sect in a factory town in Northern England.  He was about to be married to a woman, also in the sect.  Silas suffered from a very mild epilepsy that caused him to periodically black out remaining motionless for a time, not aware of what was going on around him.  

    One particular night when he was assigned by the sect to watch over the bedridden, dying leader of the sect.  Silas fell into one of his spells and when he came through, the minister was dead.  Later he learned that the sects money had been stolen and his pocket knife was found on the sight of the robbery.  Silas, of course, was blamed for the theft.  Proof as to whether he was the thief or not,  was determined by the congregation drawing lots.

    When the lots were drawn, they indicated Silas was guilty.  He was kicked out of the sect, which was his whole community.  His wife-to-be dumped him and ended up marrying his best friend, who was the one who had secretly stolen the money to frame Silas.

    It all left poor Silas a totally broken man.  He left the industrial town and all of his former friends in the church and settled far away in a small rural town.  He made his living by weaving and selling the fine linen that he had woven.  He lived alone in a small cabin, isolating himself from the local community.  Everyone there began to think of Silas a strange hermit-like person and he was sometimes ridiculed.

    In his lonely life, his only joy was counting the hoard of the money he was making from his weaving.  One night when he had ventured outside his cabin, all of that money was stolen.  The community tried to help him find who had stolen it, but some of them questioned whether he really had that much money in the first place.  The theft, further depressed Silas.

    The son of the local aristocrat, had secretly married a woman who became an drug addict.  She had a infant girl child from the marriage.  Her husband became tired of supplying her with money for drugs and regretted the secret marriage that was preventing him from marrying a beautiful wealthy woman who liked him. 

    The druggy wife got fed up and carried her daughter through the snow to confront her husband at a New Years Party, but she collapsed and died of hunger/cold just outside Silas’s cabin.    Her toddler daughter, managed to walk into the open door of Silas’s cabin, where he discovered her.

    Silas found the corpse of the mother in the snow and went to the party to get help.  No one knew about the marriage or who the father was, but because the toddler ended up at Silas’s house, he felt like it was a preordained gift and so he kept the girl and raised it as his own.  The girl gave meaning to his miserable life and Silas slowly began to become part of the world again.

    This is only the first part of the story, but I will stop there.

    I really enjoyed reading the touching story about Silas Marner, and went on to read The Mill on the Floss, another of George Eliot’s novels.  I enjoyed reading it too until I got to the  disappointing ending. 

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Friday 25 March 2022

Life After Death

    We once had a nice big birch tree that shaded our house.  Unfortunately it died and I had it sawed down.  (Photo below)   I was curious about when that was and when I did some research I was surprised to discover that it was exactly 6 years and one day ago.

    We loved that tree and hated to see it go, although it was nice to glean some birch firewood out of its death. 

    The other day, the stump appeared through the melting snow and I was amazed at how many things were making a living off of that old birch stump.  I hadn’t really paid much attention to it over the last 6 years and was quite surprised at how it now looked.  The stump is now home to a myriad of living things; moss, lichen, and fungus could be seen on its surface.  No doubt there are other things living inside the decaying stump.   The dead birch stump is supporting a whole community of living organisms.

    All of those things are extremely important to the environment.  They break down and recycle the nutrients left in the dead things.  Can you imagine a world without them, where when things died they just remained.  All the trees and other plants, all the animal corpses, just piling up on top of each other and not disappearing.   These recyclers do good work.

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Thursday 24 March 2022

Night by Candle Light

    In the past we seemed to loose power every time there was a strong wind.  McBride was located at the end of the transmission line so whenever something happened along the line, McBride lost power.  The wind was always blowing trees over onto the transmission lines.  Over the past five years things had greatly improved.  There was a small hydro generating plant built on a local river that allowed power to be sent to McBride when the main line went down. 

    Yesterday was sort of a return to the past for us.  The wind wasn’t all that noticeable, but at 3:20 in the afternoon our power went out.  Shortly, it came back on, but only for a while, then in went out again, this time for hours.  It remained out until about 9:30, so we found ourselves back to sitting in the dark with only candles and flashlights for illumination.

    In the past about all we could do when the power failed was to entertain ourselves by trying to read something by candle or flashlight, instead of spending the evening watching TV or using the internet.  Luckily last night I had a book which I had downloaded onto my iPad that I could continue reading and that is what I did, hour after hour, after hour.  

    The outage was caused by a “Circuit Failure” in the Village of Valemount.  I am not sure why the local hydro generating plant failed to kick in and give us power.  We were in bed when all of the lights we had turned on hours before suddenly went on when the power was restored.


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Wednesday 23 March 2022

Snow-Covered Weed

    I really like the clean, fresh, look of these snow covered weeds as they were illuminated by the spring sun.

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Tuesday 22 March 2022

Pond Path

    Every time Kona gets antsy at being in the house and wanting to go outside (often), I walk her around the pond.  While initially I am disturbed at being interrupted from what I was doing, once I get outside and we start our walk, I am happy that she bugged me.  

    I took this photo two days ago on our walk around the pond path.  This is what is looks like as we walk on the dam.  All of the frost on the trees made for an interesting picture.  On the left you can see some of the small piles of firewood where Kona always stops, picks up a piece, and then carries it back to the house.

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Sunday 20 March 2022

Radiating Heat

    Happy Spring!  Yes, officially spring has arrived, although we still have 10 inches (25cm) of snow covering our yard.

    The photo shows something I have always found fascinating:  How dark colors absorb and then radiate heat.  I noticed this “Y” shaped twig that had blown down and laid on top of the snow.  Because of its dark color, it absorbed more heat from the sun.  That heat warmed the twig so much that it melted all of the snow around it, all the way to the ground.  

    On the left you can see two other twigs that are melting their way down through the snow.  I wouldn’t have thought that such a thin things could have absorbed so much heat that they would melt the snow.


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Saturday 19 March 2022

Cloudy Sun Rising over the Mountains

    As Kona and I walked around the pond, the sun was just climbing over the mountain.  Except for the sky, it was a world colored with hues of blue.  You are looking across my frozen pond and that dark mass on the middle left is our house.

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Friday 18 March 2022

Saved By A Dog Walk

    Fifteen minutes ago I had a problem.  I had nothing for this blog.  I always try to have at least a photo to show, but I had none.  In desperation I decided to walk Kona around the pond, hoping that I would see something photo-worthy.  As it turned out it was rather scenic outside.  We had had a snow overnight that clung to the branches of the trees and the early morning light before the sun made it over the mountain, painted everything in the mountain shadow subtle shades of blue.  

    It was a beautiful morning and I ended up taking several photos that I liked.  This is one of them.  You can see part of our pond path on the lower right.  

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Thursday 17 March 2022

That Must Be A Really Big Tomato

    Before Christmas I ordered packs of six different varieties of tomato seeds from Tomato Growers online, for this year’s tomato crop.  When they arrived, I tucked them away with all of my other seeds in a container which I store in my shop.  Yesterday, I started planting my tomato seeds., so I went out and got my container of seeds.   I filled a flat full of soil, marked out rows in the dirt, and then made small indentations in the soil for each seed.   I started planting.

    I planted a row of Matina, then a row of Garnet, Gregoria Altai, San Marzano, Early Wonder, Better Boy, and Patty Beef Steak tomato seeds.  I only had one envelope of seeds left: “Farmer’s Giant”.  

    I prepared the row, then opened the seed packet and when the seeds slid out of the envelope into my hand, I was flabbergasted, the Farmer’s Giant seeds were enormous, compared to the other seeds I had planted, but I started putting them in the soil, just like all of the others.  As I planted, I thought to myself, “Man, that must be a really big tomato if the seeds are this big.

    Before I finished the row, I stopped.

    “This is just too weird,” my brain told me.  I picked up the envelope to get a little more information about the Farmer’s Giant variety.

    The seed envelopes from Tomato Growers are not like most seed packs, they don’t show a photo of the vegetable in the packet.  They are just plain white envelopes featuring the Tomato Grower’s logo, the name of the variety, and a description of the plant.

    I began to slowly read the description of the Farmer’s Giant variety.  

    “80 to 95 Days.”  Okay, that’s a bit long but 80 days works for my greenhouse.  I read on,

    “Fruits are oblong with light skin and delicious red flesh that is very sweet.  Plants are productive, with strong vines and good leaf cover.”   That all seems fine.  I read on,

    “Large fruit reach 20 to 30 pounds each.”   WHAT???

    That couldn’t be right, no tomato is that big.

    I started to examine the envelope more carefully and then I noticed that under the line that said, “Pkt. 10 seeds,” it said, “Watermelons”.  

    Then I realized what was going on.  Tomato Growers always sends a “freebee” packet of seeds with big orders.  In the past the “freebees” have always been another tomato variety, but this time they sent me watermelon seeds.  I had just assumed the seed pack was a variety of tomato named, “Farmer’s Giant.”

    I was happy to have the mystery solved.  I unplanted the Farmer’s Giant seeds I had planted.  Watermelons need a lot more heat for a long time, more than we can provide around here.   It would be nice to be able to grow watermelons in the Robson Valley.  It would be nice to plant 20 to 30 pound tomatoes too.

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Wednesday 16 March 2022

Fraser River, On the Melt

    I was happy to see that the ice-covered Fraser River is starting to melt.  It will be a while before the river is open, but it is good to see that the process has begun.  Once all of the snow on the surrounding land and mountains begin to melt, the sand beaches that you can see in the photo will be submerged as the huge volume of melt-water engulfs them.

    I thought I heard some returning geese honking when I took the photo-- all signs of an approaching spring.

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Tuesday 15 March 2022

A Butterfly? This Time of Year?

    Please excuse the blurry photo, but it is the only evidence I have that I was not seeing things.

    I was sitting in the living room watching the Putin’s brutality on the television, when I caught a movement outside the window.  When I got up to investigate, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  It was a butterfly that had flown to one of the window boxes.  

    I went to get my camera to try and take a photo.  It was difficult to focus on the butterfly down through the double-glazed window, but I did manage this one shot.  I decided to walk outside to try to get a better shot.  I put on my winter boots and coat and walked around to the front of the house.  When I rounded the corner to the front where the window box is, the butterfly saw me and fluttered away.

    I am sure that some of you out there might be seeing butterflies by now, but we still have 10 inches (25cm) of snow covering the ground.  It was a very mild afternoon though (12°C, 53°F) so maybe it felt like spring to the butterfly.

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Monday 14 March 2022


    The other day we had just opened a new jar of peanut butter.  It was one of those “healthy” kinds of peanut butter where before you can eat it, you had to mix the peanut oil that was on the top of the jar with the thick peanut paste that had settled on the bottom.  I slowly stirred and stirred with a knife, careful not to make the oil spill over the edge of the jar.  

    When I had the peanut butter mixed, I decided to reward myself by putting a glob of the peanut butter on the knife and then putting it into my mouth.  Suddenly all of the saliva and moisture in my mouth disappeared.  The peanut butter had sucked it all up.  It did create a bit of a panic in my brain, but I was able to quickly drink some water.

    Amazingly, there is a word for that peanut butter panic:   Arachibutyrophobia- the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.

    The experience reminded me of another time I had arachibutyrophobia:

After I had completed my 2 years of Conscientious Objector service working in the Goodwill Store in Indianapolis, I moved back to Evansville, proposed to my wife, and we were married.  We found an old two story house on the edge of Evansville’s ghetto and began our married life together.  

    I needed employment so I took advantage of my teaching degree and signed up as a substitute teacher.

    One day I was subbing at my old high school.  My good wife prepared a bag lunch for me to take along.  She, being very health-conscious, fixed me a peanut butter (the healthy kind you have to stir up) and jelly sandwich, made with two thick slices of her homemade bread.   

When I my lunch period came, I found myself an empty classroom where I settled down at a desk and unwrapped the wax paper of my sandwich.  I was chewing the first couple of bites from my sandwich when suddenly my mouth became desiccated; all of the moisture in my mouth, sucked up and under assault by the dehydrating, thick, dry, mass of peanut butter and bread.  

Suddenly I realized that I had not brought along anything to drink with my lunch and as my mouth reached par with those of old desert-dried mummies, I made an emergency scramble out of the classroom, down the long empty hallway in search of drinking fountain before I expired.  Luckily I found one before I died.  

    It had been a lovingly-made lunch, that I will long remember.  

You can take a look at my paintings: 


Sunday 13 March 2022

Getting Up Early


    I was never a fan of getting up early and because this is the first day of Daylight Savings Time, I thought that might be a relevant subject for the blog.  

    I know that getting up early is especially difficult during the teen years and that is when I first noticed how torturous it was.  Early risings even effected my grades when I started high school.  On my Freshman year my high school was so over-crowded that they had to set up two shifts, an early one with classes starting at 7:00 and the regular schedule that began at 8:00.

    Unfortunately, I was one of those bleary-eyed students on the early shift.  My father, who I always thought was crazy for getting up so early, had no trouble getting me up and driving me to school for my 7:00 class, but when I got to school, I was certainly not awake enough to do any kind of scholarly work, and what made matters worse was that my first class was Latin.

    I would have had trouble with Latin anyway because I had never been taught the in-depth grammar that Latin required.  I remember my hard-nosed Latin teacher suddenly talking about the Latin rules concerning “predicate nominatives”.   A predicate nominative was something I had never heard of during my elementary school education.

    The lack of grammar background required for Latin, coupled with a brain that was struggling to stay awake, resulted a big red “F” in Latin on my report card.   It is the only “F” I had ever received during my education, and it was not really the way one wants to start their first year in high school. 

    That first year of early rising in high school, forever painted having to get up early, as a negative.  As I grew older, while I never really enjoyed getting up early, I came to accept the practice as a fact of life.  Aging further, I got more and more used to it.

    Now in my dotage, it seems like it would be quite enjoyable to lay in bed in the mornings until I got so bored that I had to get up, but with old age, my circadian rhythm has been firmly set to get up early.  I don’t think I could “sleep-in” if I was allowed to, but I couldn’t anyway, because our dog Kona has a circadian rhythm that is set to an even earlier schedule than mine, and she always wakes me up a half hour before my circadian rhythm wake-up time.

    Thus is life.

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Saturday 12 March 2022

1979: The Royal Hudson Visits McBride

    The Royal Hudson is British Columbia’s most famous steam train.  It is famous because in 1939 it became the train that carried King George VI and Queen Elizabeth across Canada, a tour that ended in Vancouver.  It was the first time a reigning monarch had visited Canada, so it was a big deal.  King George was a bit of a train enthusiast and happily spent some of the trip riding in the cab.

    In 1970’s BC used the famous train to tour around to drum up tourism.  Its passenger cars carried displays with historical photographs and artifacts.   Residents of the Robson Valley were thrilled when they learned that the Royal Hudson would be coming to McBride on April 20th, 1979.  When the big day came, teachers with their students and other residents gathered around the CN station to see the famous train.  The steam train was in McBride to pick up water and as it turned out, that’s all they did.

    No one was allowed inside the train to see the displays.  They had to be happy with just looking at the massive beast from the outside.  The largely anticipated event was a bust. 

    Big events like the visit of the Royal Hudson, rarely happen in small communities and when they do, it probably means more to the people who live there, than for those people who live in big urban centers where things happen all of the time. 

    The visit of the Royal Hudson felt like a snub.  Oh well, I guess we got to “see” the train.

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