Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Boots, Blades & Bobcat

It's Springtime! Things are coming alive and I can get outdoors more. Recent rains have set consecutive days of rain records. I need to hike in a local wetland and finally have an excuse to buy these waterproof boots. The wetlands are REALLY wet and my Goretex-lined hiking boots just aren't up for walking through standing water for a few hours. These boots do the trick.

Then it's time to mow. After changing the oil, the oil filter and air filters and lubed the Zerc fittings, I started the beast. My little zero-turn is 12 years old now, and I had plenty of oil-burning smoke until it heated up some. That will take some work, but not today. These are the old blades that I'll take in to be sharpened. With two sets of blades, there is no hurry for these do be sharpened, which helps the shop in their busy season. I mowed the first cut. The war has begun.

It's time to plant a few geocaches in the Topeka area. My next one will be on Burnett's Mound, which is in Skyline Park in the city boundary. Recent rains have made the hiking trail very muddy. Luckily an old road is fine and I can hike to the top, but I study the hiking trail for tracks. BINGO! Tracks of a young bobcat are plain as day for about 20 yards. I've only seen one of these little cats in my life but I've seen the tracks much more often. They are evasive but living with us.

PS  I heard my first Northern Mockingbird this past weekend. I've seen a Killdeer in Topeka but not here on our land. They've nested here the past four years and we're looking forward to their migration return.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Beats a Chainsaw

The rancher across the road from us is doing some fence maintenance. He's taking over the operation of his parent's cattle ranch and the fences haven't been maintained properly for several years. One particular stretch, probably a half mile, is overgrown with hedge trees (osage orange) to the point where you can't even get to the fence posts sufficiently to fix the barbed wire. In my younger days this would just mean breaking out the chainsaw and most of the family members and clearing out trees, one at a time. It takes weeks. Not today (if you have the money).

One day a bulldozer and an excavator show up. In the course of about three days the half mile of osage orange trees has been taken out and stacked for burn. They haven't rebuilt the fence row yet, but the worst is over, and it looks sharp. They've already reworked the fence along the road with nice 5-strand tight barbed wire. He knows how to do it right.

When the tree-clearing was finished the dozer was taken to its next job, but the excavator is still there. Last night was a warm night (for March) and I had some time after supper to walk over and sketch this beast.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

March Sketch Crawl

Today was sketch crawl time for Lawrence Urban Sketcher. We visited the KU Spencer Museum of Art. My first visit. We had a good showing of sketchers and met in the Student Union for a little food and talk afterwards.

This sketch doesn't really exemplify a typical art exhibit. I was drawn to this exhibit, though. The heart wants what the heart wants. The artist made up a story about an escaped (stolen) lab animal from KU. He had the office desk of the lab researcher, letters explaining the escape, lab tools everywhere, and then you notice an incubator with a weird looking animal in a glass globe. Then you notice the lungs expand as it breaths! And it's all made up. I walked around to all the other arts exhibits but came back here to sketch. Due to typical art museum paranoia we were told to use pencils only. I used my fountain pen. I sure love my flex nib.

The Urban Sketcher scene around here is very active and in a state of flux. The longest-running group in the area is organized by Kate Johnson of Excelsior Springs (Kansas City). As that group is fading away, another unofficial group started in Lawrence, headed by Gail, which I've been attending. Then an official Lawrence Urban Sketcher groups started in Lawrence last year. Our two groups have been meeting together lately. Then last week was the kickoff sketch crawl for the newly-created Kansas City Urban Sketchers group.  It's a busy time for urban sketchers! I think they're onto something.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Out With The Old

I was driving near downtown Topeka this week and noticed an old building being demolished. Not just any building. It was the Morrell Meat Packing Plant. My dad worked here right out of high school. This was the second largest employer in Topeka, with over 1200 employees. Then the flood of 1951! This was a big event in our local history. This building is virtually on the banks of the Kansas River and was flooded out. After the flood waters receeded, the building was declared unfit for production of food products, or at least it would not be cost effective to rebuild the building to where it could be used again my Morrell. So it has stood empty since then. That's 75 years. Not that people haven't tried to refurbish the building for other uses. However, no pipe dreams came to fruition. This building was erected in 1940, so it only saw 11 years of service.

Recent work to rehabilitate the levees and flood walls along the Kansas River have created the idea to just tear it down. A second Morrell building has already been removed.

Flooding of the Kansas River has happened a few times in Topeka history. It's part of who we are. The '51 flood caused many changes in the area, and in Kansas. It was the pivotal event that spawned the creation of several US Corps of Engineers flood control projects (lakes) in eastern Kansas. It also changed my history. If it weren't for the '51 flood, I would be the son of a butcher. Dad really liked the vocation of meat butcher. Not so much the big slaughterhouse experience, but after you pay your dues, you can hire into a grocery store as the house butcher, which he said would be great. Good skills, good food, good pay. He was set. The flood put him out of work, and after service in the Army he became a printing pressman. He loved that job, too. But I always remembered Dad when I saw the Morrell building. Now one more thing is gone to remind me of him. Now I have this sketch, though.

I decided to spend Saturday morning sketching the demolition work while there was enough structure to see what is used to be. While sketching, I had to good fortune to meet Danny and his grandson. They parked near us and had also come down to watch the action. The grandson just walked up and asked what I was doing. Nice kid. Then, after his curiosity was satisfied, he played with some toy cars he brought. Danny worked just across the street from my Dad and we're both grandpas raised in the area, we chatted a while. Danny and I chatted as they started to use the wrecking ball. We had a front row seat, right behind their fencing. Once in a while the vibrations would come through the ground. Impressive. So, it was a nice outing all the way around.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Business Trip to TX

I don't fly out often on business, but it happens. This week contained a 1.5 day meeting of a regional engineering committee I'm on. We met in San Antonio, TX, which is a favorite of mine with their River Walk. I have no proficiency for flying. There are little things that should be looked at before you fly, and I'm rusty. Little things like making sure there is no crazy long layover (like the 3 hour layover I have in Dallas going home) and knowing what ground transportation your using when you land (completely forgot). But life has a way of progressing, anyway, whether it's planned out our not. And it did. Nothing profound happened, but it was a little clumsy.

Getting time for sketch time on the River Walk is a challenge. I need a combination of daylight, time away from the meeting (which is paying my salary), and a spot to sit. The real estate is crammed with restaurants and stores. I'm sure it's all expensive, too expensive for green spaces to sit and relax. When there is the occasional bench, if you sit you may get approached by the street people that are killing time. However, our meeting was over 30 minutes early and I had a window of time before my flight. I found a mexican restaurant for lunch that overlooked the walk. I could sketch and eat. Being a popular restaurant, though, I didn't feel I could relax too long and take the space from another paying customer. So I did order a dessert, which I normally don't, to have more sketch time. A real sacrifice (ha!). This was the trip for pen and ink.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

February Sketch Crawl

The Urban Sketchers Lawrence group had their February sketch crawl at the local bowling alley. I just recently found out about this group. This is my second outing with them and it was mostly a different batch of people. Had a good time and met some nice people.

We were there this morning and we thought a tournament was going to be happening. However, the general public was all that was bowling, so most of the lanes were empty to get ready for the tournament. We still had people to watch and observe and sketch. So many parallel lines and perspectives! The kids were fun to watch, too. They always have so much fun bowling. Brings back memories.

I started with some quick gesture sketches in my other sketchbook, using my brushpen. All the movement of limbs was captivating. I just learned in an on-line sketching class I'm taking now to start by thinking of the verb - then see the line of action - then draw it. The verb would be bowling. The line of action is complex. Usually there is just one, but here there are two. The body slides and stands on one leg while an arm delivers the ball. The shoulder line and hip lines tilt differently, and torso leans. This is good stuff . . . and I've never noticed it before.

Sunday, February 5, 2017


I've got a thing for flashlights. Always have. Always will. And it seems that it's not unusual for guys. The recent craze for tactical equipment is just another verse to the old song. I've resisted buying one because they're just too pricey. These are LED torches with rechargeable lithium ion batteries. They brag about their lumens. My brother and brother-in-law have them and paid dearly for them, and they punch out into the night real well. Very impressive.

Then I had a thought. Maybe if I bought the smallest one it would be affordable. Well, I found that an AAA-size flashlight is the least expensive, as I thought. I'd have the neat power and features without the high cost of the full size flashlights. However, they are still expensive. I've resisted for a long time, but finally succumbed recently. This little rascal is great! With the rechargeable high-output batteries it puts out more light than any traditional flashlights we have around here. I'd do it again.