Two adventurous blogging buddies have just returned home from the steaming jungles of Amazonia. JZ has been reporting back from Guyana (they had some kind of an internet connection and I’m lucky enough to be on her email list). Take it from me, folks, it’s some kind of serious nature adventure she’s been having with what sounds like a lot of sweating, giant anteaters and incredible phenomenal birding. TR called me this morning and debriefed me on his own Amazon expedition.
TR’s tales were unnerving enough, and of course he told them with great brio and his usual good humor, for that’s the kind of guy he is, and TR sets the standard for behaving well in times when humor and steady nerve is all that’s between you and some nasty consequences. For starters, he said, I should get acquainted with the Zen approach to getting along with Africanized, aka “killer” bees. They’re attracted to salty sweat (is there another kind?) and will swarm all over you and not sting as long as you don’t push them too hard to leave your freakin’ body alone. Then there are some awesome poisonous spiders, terrifying giant bullet ants (so-called because you’ll swear you’ve been shot if you’re stung) and vicious white-lipped peccaries that may chase you up a tree or dismember you if you don’t make it that far. Don’t get me going on snakes.
TR was in Peru, to the south near Bolivia. I will be going to the northern reaches of Peru, not far from Colombia. There is a field station on a tributary of the Napo River, which itself is a tributary of the Amazon. It’s fairly basic all said, and there may or may not be any electricity depending on the generator situation, there won’t be any internet (sorry, no posts for almost a month). Also, no indoor plumbing- that’s what’s giving me the worst willies, and I’m not ashamed to admit this, is the prospect of getting up in the night to stumble into the jungle looking for the outhouse. That’ll wake me up good, I’m certain of that.
So what’s the story on this Amazon trip? Here’s what:
1) The Don and Virginia Eckelberry Fellowship. The Don and Virginia Eckelberry Endowment was established in 2000 by the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia to support natural history artists by enhancing their access to museums and field sites. Earlier this year I was awarded this prestigious grant, and it’s entirely sponsoring my trip. I’m am utterly, entirely, grateful to the Endowment for making this journey possible.
2) My upcoming show at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. It’s titled, and you’ll get a kick out of this, Drawing the Motmot. On the museum’s schedule to open October 2009, it’ll run until January 2010, DTM is going to be a multi-media art/science/rainforest adventure presentation with drawings from my sketchbooks, writings, paintings, video clips of drawings as they happen and possibly an immersive rainforest atmosphere with ambient sounds of birds, howler monkeys, frogs and whatever else I can record on this trip. I’m hoping it’ll be something like a theme park jungle ride with framed artwork. Stay tuned.
3) I’m working on a field guide. Birds of Trinidad and Tobago by Richard ffrench, is being updated with all new color plates. A small team of bird artists are working on the illustrations, including Barry Van Dusen and myself, under the direction of the great artist John O’Neill, who is painting some really honkin’ plates for this book. Going to Peru will have me sketching firsthand some of the species I’m working on (antbirds, owls, nighthawks) right there in the field.
4) My spouse is a science geek, and he has a grant. Mike and his colleague Steve ( I hope you check that link- it’s fascinating) are untangling the mysteries of the ant world, and this trip is a return one for them- they were there last year working on another experiment and came up with this one. They are bright, inquisitive boys and know how to ask sharp questions. Stay tuned for the answers.
5) I want to draw a hoatzin, the world’s weirdest bird. I have ever since I was a wee child that could barely hold a pencil in its grubby paw and was shown a picture of a baby hoatzin using its wing-claws to climb a tree, yes, it has relict claws on the wings until adulthood; and ever since I have wanted to see one of these things for myself, and draw it.
Off to the Amazon. I leave in two weeks. More soon…