December 2005

Year In Review

Well, it’s inevitable. Everybody in the blog-o-sphere* is doin’ it. You must endure…Ursula’s 2005 in review!

Ya know, it’s been a damn good one.

Got a lot of art made, some bad, much forgettable, but some good stuff that I’m proud to have made, too, including my most popular painting yet, the Azezaelbunny. Sold a metric asston of orginals, as James would say. Made some money–not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but as much as I’ve ever made on art, which granted that this year I took almost no commissions and did mostly my own stuff, is a great thing. Got some art into some books, if not Spectrum yet. Digger vol 1 came out, Digger got praised in the New York Times and won a WCCA for art.

Everybody was pretty healthy. James got Lymes Disease, but got over it. I had painful dental work, but got over it, too. The cat puked a lot, but this is one of her hobbies. Both sets of parents seem to be doin’ pretty well, too. No major financial crisis, didn’t have to move, saw some neat birds, hung out with good friends. Shed some tears, had some laughs, a lot more of the latter than the former, which is always a plus. Continued to be married to an excellent husband. Read some good books and some lousy ones, saw some good movies and some lousy ones, ate some good meals and some I cooked myself, played some games, filled the time.

And next year, so far, has no major shadows looming over it either, and some definite bright spots on the horizon. “Black Dogs” is slated to be published by the redoubtable Sofawolf, along with Digger 2, and who knows, maybe I’ll scrape together more tales of the Little Creature, too. My career, thanks in large part to you, O Most Excellent Fanbase, continues apace, and my newly acquired agent will hopefully be able to weasel me into some galleries as well.

So ya know, it was a great year. I can’t remember a better one as an adult. And if 2006 is even half as good, I will consider myself the luckiest of artists, and sacrifice chocolate to Ganesh.

Happy New Year, all!

*This always reminds me of bathospheres. I imagine people in little iron balls, sinking into the dark waters of Livejournal, peering out at the drifting inhabitants. “Ooo! An angstfish! Note the pity lure dangling from the front of the head, with which it lures in unwitting sympathizers!” Darting shoals of quiz results flicker past, a lone phosphorescent photosquid slowly jets by, before it’s startled into voiding its link sac and vanishing in a cloud of little broken picture icons. Off in the distance, great shadowy sharks cruise, discussing politics and religion and making elaborate qualifiers that they don’t mean YOU, you’re one of the NICE ONES, while tiny remoras slip along their skins, picking off bits of drama. Jacques Cousteau narrates as we visit this deep and complex ecosystem.

Well, we returned from the wilds of PA yesterday. It was groovy. My stepfather and I got up at the crack of dawn and went looking for birds. He sees Goldeneye, Buffleheads, and various swans along the river practically daily, along with eagles and pileated woodpeckers and whatnot. As could be expected, they all heard that I was in town, and cleared out at once. We scoured the river, the lake, several iced up beaver ponds, and a wildlife refuge, and turned up nothin’. My great sighting was an American Tree Sparrow at the wildlife refuge. (I love my new birding books–they allowed me to actually ID a sparrow for once! O glory!) My stepfather was actually relieved to see some mallards lurking along the river at last–at least it meant they hadn’t dumped several metric tons of rat poison in the river or something over Christmas. It was that dead.

Still, waterfowl aside, there were kestrels lurking on phone wires and deer tracks in the snow, and it’s really never a bad time to go tromping through snowy woods with tiny icy streams gurgling through ’em. So that was fun.

The new books really do rock. My old field guide was so old that it listed the Bachman’s warbler as “rare” and the dusky seaside sparrow as “endangered.” (Both are extinct, since 1962 and 1980 respectively.) And it still had “orchard towhees” which were eventually divided into the Eastern and Spotted Towhees. This sort of speciation and unspeciation goes on relatively often, as science decides that the Spangled Prairie Wuffle is actually just a subspecies of the Greater Pooping Prairie Wuffle or whatever. If you’re an obsessive lister and get into the very large numbers of birds, apparently you have to stay on the cutting edge of ornithology just to keep your list current. This is a rareified height I have not aspired to. Yet.

Lifelist is up to 96. I wound up not adding the anhinga–the new books have rather different drawings, and my degree of certainty from memory isn’t high enough to rule out “badly waterlogged cormorant,” so I’ll have to go back and tromp around the lake and see if I can find one again. Hell, I have to go tromp around the lake anyway. I have new gear! I have new books! MUST TROMP!

P’raps tomorrow morning. Getting up at the crack of dawn to go peer at birds in the icy chill of morn seems like a nice way to end out the year.

So James is playing “Shadow of the Colossus” which we were both sort of interested in.

And we’re playing.

And damnit, it’s sad. You ride around, find these gigantic, rather interesting, but melancholy seeming giant stone creatures. Some of them attack you (mainly by stepping on you) but some of them just sort of wander by until you attack them. And then you climb all over them, find their happy fun spot, and jam a sword into it repeatedly until oil sprays out and they drop dead.

One does not get a sense that the world is a better place for you having skewered these creatures. One or two are vaguely humanoid and have weapons and attack you straight out, and then you get that sense of justified outrage. But the rest…they seem large and bewildered and not terribly aggressive, and they’re so huge you feel like you’ve killed a bit of attractive scenery. It’s like stabbing the Sphinx to death. Sure, it was a giant monster, but…well…it was just sitting out in the desert, minding its own business…

It’s funny, because I can cheerfully dive into Zombie Nazi Massacre Bloodbath #7: Zombpocalypse Now! or whatever, where blood flows like wine and your finishing moves involve twisting people’s heads off and juggling them while singing “Born in the USA.”* But killing big, sad stone robo-statue things is sort of tragic. “I didn’t realize they’d be all big and sad and lonely,” said James glumly, who has personally run over several thousand grandmothers and nuns in Carmageddon.

Maybe it’s supposed to be–it’s got that cryptic Japanese film mood goin’ on. There is pathos. Perhaps it perks up somewhere. We kept playing because…well…it’s a game, damnit! You can’t just leave these things hanging! I’ll feel at least justified if the chick we’re doing this all for wakes up at the end, slaps you, and says “You bastard! You killed those nice colossi! I hate you!” and then steals our horse and rides into the sunset.

Still. Note to self: If ever working on a game where hero is forced to kill giant interesting monsters, design the eyes to look scowling instead of baffled, and have the narrator at the beginning mention repeatedly that they are Evil. Hammer Evilness home repeatedly. Killing sad giants is a major downer.

*Shut up, it’d totally sell.

Mystery Bird!

Okay, gang, up here in the wilds of western Pennsylvania, and I need help with Mystery Bird Theatre.

The bird is the same size and shape as a white-throated sparrow. My tentative ID is song sparrow, but I’m weak on it. It’s hanging out in my folks’ backyard, feeding on the ground. It would probably be called a streaked breasted bird, but the fact is, it looks pinstriped, top and bottom. It’s stripey as hell. The back is just as streaked as the breast, and much the same color. Head is also striped, same color. It’s a plain buff color with black stripes, very drab, except for the dramatic striping. It has pronounced dark lateral throat stripes (I think they’re called? The dark wedges down the throat.) The breast stripes seem to merge together, but I couldn’t see a prounounced breast spot (although it might be there–angle wasn’t great.) It’s very striped all along the sides, didn’t see any dramatic white anywhere, just buff and stripes. There may have been wing bars, but if so, I missed them in the general thick striping. This is a hellaciously striped bird. Sparrowish gray beak, basic wedge, nothing dramatic.

It was bigger than a purple finch, and the stripes a bit thicker, particularly on the head. It did not have the reddishness or the more solid patches that appear in my guide on the song sparrow, buuuut the online guides mentioned that there are a lot of color variations with song sparrows, so my tentative guess is something in a vague beige song sparrow. Alas, I have no good photos of such a bird to compare to. This area is cold enough that it does get lapland longspurs and other migrants from cold areas overwintering, though. I can’t rule out a female of some species, either.

There were several of these birds, all feeding on the ground, amid white-throated sparrows, slate juncoes, and mourning doves.

Any guesses?

Edit: Spotted the little bugger again, and he does have a dark breast spot, and when he stands up, while the sides are still streaked, the very lower underbelly is white, and if I squint, I could see the crown being just slightly rufous. So I’m gonna call it probably a somewhat drab song sparrow. We’re not really in the right territory for Vesper sparrows, which would be the other possibility.

EditEdit: Okay, some of the photos of the greyish savannah sparrow are it to the life. Except it’s in the wrong area–it’s not supposed to be in Western PA until summer. But the upper borders of the winter range are fairly close, so while they’d be out of their range, it wouldn’t be by much, and they’re listed as forming small loose flocks in winter (there were several,) where the song sparrow’s supposed to be solitary. So this may just be a case of the birds not reading the bird books. I’m leaving it off the lifelist until I can find more reports, or check more photos of the song sparrow.

God, this is why I never messed with sparrow IDs before. What was I thiiiinking?

EditEditEdit: Okay, it’s listed in OTHER guides as wintering farther north, and also having color variations. So my major argument against savannah sparrowdom is shot down, and it matches those photos rather better than it did the song sparrow.

Jesu Christos, what a hobby.

I got a penis for Christmas!

No, really. My friend Deb gave me a necklace featuring…well. She goes to Thailand now and again, and evidentally there is a famous Penis Market there, featuring oodles and oodles of carvings, jewelry, charms, etc, all on the generalized fertility theme, for all your decorative penis needs. S’cultural motif. Perfectly anthropological and whatnot. My glee at having this necklace is solely for a form of multicultural bliss. Honest. The ability to say “Dude! Check out my cool new penis!” to my friends has nothing to do with it.* (Yes, I have a somewhat sophmoric sense of humor…)

I have vowed that someday I must visit this market, even if only to have an excellent conversation piece when I am in the nursing home.

*James didn’t bat so much as an eyelash. I don’t know if that says more about me or him.

My Mithras Card

For everybody who reads this, and the world in general!

This drawing was worth it just to realize that I like Mithras for the same reason I like Ricardo Montalban.*

*Because they’re studs, damnit. I don’t care if they’re a thousand years old and/or dead.

The monocular is interesting and a bit tricky. It requires more precision than the wide-angle binoculars, and I suspect I’ll need at least as much practice as I did with the binoculars at first. Because it’s so precise, it’s a lot harder to figure out where exactly you’re looking–but goddamn, you can see it closely when you get there! I can see the tops of the trees in stark detail!

I anticipate many happy hours peering into the woods behind the yard and thinking fondly of my grandfather’s poker skills.

Oddly, I’m at loose ends today. There are a few projects I can/should work on, I don’t need more work, but none of them are direly urgent (well, most of them are Christmas presents, frankly, but everybody expects to get their stuff in January anyway.) Need to get another Digger done to bump up the buffer for Christmas, but nothing huge. I do not having the looming feeling of You Must Be Working On THIS, Right Here! in my brain, anyway. It’s peculiar. I should probably go sketch or something.

The Sibley field guide is a freakin’ work of art.

I have a monocular. I have a spotting scope that could examine the quivering nostril hairs of somebody a block away. I have a field guide.

I wanna go birding! RIGHT NOW! Arrggh! Curse you, rotation of the earth and your lack of daylight!

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