Saturday, July 27, 2013

Locomotive on a list

I'm very happy to see Locomotive on an interesting list of interesting books from the always interesting Paul Zelinsky, here. The list places the book in the company of the work of Sergio Ruzzier and others whose books I’ve long enjoyed and admired, and in the company, too, of some work I don’t know but now look forward to checking out. (King Rene’s Book of Love, by the Duke of Anjou and King of Sicily, is now on order.) 

Thank you, Paul and Sergio!

More on Paul is here, and Sergio, here.

Above: through the Great Basin, from Locomotive.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lightships East and West

I was happy to receive an email recently from Seattle’s Northwest Seaport, a maritime heritage organization that owns and is currently restoring Lightship no. 83, today known as the Swiftsure lightship. After restoration work at Lake Union Drydock in Seattle, the ship will be returned to its regular berth at the Historic Ships Wharf at Lake Union Park. An article about the restoration and the ship is here, and the Northwest Seaport’s site is here. Theyre also on Facebook, here. Northwest Seaport will also soon begin a fundraising campaign to boost rehabilitation efforts; theyve recently been awarded $30,000 as seed money by the organization 4Culture (more on them here) and they encourage donations, which can be made here.  

And speaking of lightships and museums, here on the East Coast the South Street Seaport Museum—home to the Ambrose lightship—has been in the news for its tight financial situation, made none the easier by damage inflicted last year by Hurricane Sandy. The Museum is “alive and kicking,” though, to quote yesterday’s status update on their Facebook page. Here’s hoping it stays that way, and if you’ve ever considered joining or donating, now would certainly be a good time. It’s a great museum; the city deserves to have it, and it deserves the city’s support. The Museum’s web site is here, their Facebook page is here, their donation page is here.

Best wishes to these ships, museums, and the dedicated people who keep them literally and figuratively afloat!

Above: the original, unused jacket art for Lightship. I was happy with this painting but I was told, as Chief Brody might have put it, and probably correctly, that I was going to need a bigger boat. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The leaf is on the tree.

Here’s a sketch from this weekend, done at just about the time on Saturday evening that it was becoming pleasant to be sitting outside. So long, heat wave.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas

If summer comes, can spring be far behind? Apparently not; I’ve just received early, unbound copies of Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas, a picture book by the amazing Lynne Cox, coming in Spring 2014 from Schwartz & Wade Books. Elizabeth is a southern elephant seal, great of girth, slow of flipper, inclined to nap in city roadways. Complications ensue!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

This traveling demigod, this cloud-compeller

Tomorrow, July 12, is the birthday of Henry David Thoreau. Happy 196, Henry! To mark the occasion, here is a railroad-centric excerpt from chapter 4 of Walden, first published in 1854. This makes for a long blog post, but it’s too good a passage for chopping up. I should also say that I don’t post the excerpt meaning to imply that Thoreau was a fan of the railroad; this is the man who wrote, “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us.” (And see D.B. Johnson’s Henry Hikes to Fitchburg for a picture book telling of what Thoreau thought of spending money on a ticket.) Still, even within Thoreau’s critique there’s an evocation of the grandeur of the engines and some marveling at their workings, and the passage presents a vivid contemporary view of the transformative and disruptive power of the railroads. 

“The Fitchburg Railroad touches the pond about a hundred rods south of where I dwell. I usually go to the village along its causeway, and am, as it were, related to society by this link. The men on the freight trains, who go over the whole length of the road, bow to me as to an old acquaintance, they pass me so often, and apparently they take me for an employee; and so I am. I too would fain be a track-repairer somewhere in the orbit of the earth.

The whistle of the locomotive penetrates my woods summer and winter, sounding like the scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer’s yard, informing me that many restless city merchants are arriving within the circle of the town, or adventurous country traders from the other side. As they come under one horizon, they shout their warning to get off the track to the other, heard sometimes through the circles of two towns. Here come your groceries, country; your rations, countrymen! Nor is there any man so independent on his farm that he can say them nay. And here’s your pay for them! screams the countryman’s whistle; timber like long battering-rams going twenty miles an hour against the city’s walls, and chairs enough to seat all the weary and heavy-laden that dwell within them. With such huge and lumbering civility the country hands a chair to the city. All the Indian huckleberry hills are stripped, all the cranberry meadows are raked into the city. Up comes the cotton, down goes the woven cloth; up comes the silk, down goes the woolen; up come the books, but down goes the wit that writes them.

When I meet the engine with its train of cars moving off with planetary motion—or, rather, like a comet, for the beholder knows not if with that velocity and with that direction it will ever revisit this system, since its orbit does not look like a returning curve—with its steam cloud like a banner streaming behind in golden and silver wreaths, like many a downy cloud which I have seen, high in the heavens, unfolding its masses to the light—as if this traveling demigod, this cloud-compeller, would ere long take the sunset sky for the livery of his train; when I hear the iron horse make the hills echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the earth with his feet, and breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils (what kind of winged horse or fiery dragon they will put into the new Mythology I don't know), it seems as if the earth had got a race now worthy to inhabit it. If all were as it seems, and men made the elements their servants for noble ends! If the cloud that hangs over the engine were the perspiration of heroic deeds, or as beneficent as that which floats over the farmer’s fields, then the elements and Nature herself would cheerfully accompany men on their errands and be their escort.

I watch the passage of the morning cars with the same feeling that I do the rising of the sun, which is hardly more regular. Their train of clouds stretching far behind and rising higher and higher, going to heaven while the cars are going to Boston, conceals the sun for a minute and casts my distant field into the shade, a celestial train beside which the petty train of cars which bugs the earth is but the barb of the spear. The stabler of the iron horse was up early this winter morning by the light of the stars amid the mountains, to fodder and harness his steed. Fire, too, was awakened thus early to put the vital beat in him and get him off. If the enterprise were as innocent as it is early! If the snow lies deep, they strap on his snowshoes, and, with the giant plow, plow a furrow from the mountains to the seaboard, in which the cars, like a following drill-barrow, sprinkle all the restless men and floating merchandise in the country for seed. All day the fire-steed flies over the country, stopping only that his master may rest, and I am awakened by his tramp and defiant snort at midnight, when in some remote glen in the woods he fronts the elements incased in ice and snow; and he will reach his stall only with the morning star, to start once more on his travels without rest or slumber. Or perchance, at evening, I hear him in his stable blowing off the superfluous energy of the day, that he may calm his nerves and cool his liver and brain for a few hours of iron slumber. If the enterprise were as heroic and commanding as it is protracted and unwearied!

Far through unfrequented woods on the confines of towns, where once only the hunter penetrated by day, in the darkest night dart these bright saloons without the knowledge of their inhabitants; this moment stopping at some brilliant station-house in town or city, where a social crowd is gathered, the next in the Dismal Swamp, scaring the owl and fox. The startings and arrivals of the cars are now the epochs in the village day. They go and come with such regularity and precision, and their whistle can be heard so far, that the farmers set their clocks by them, and thus one well-conducted institution regulates a whole country. Have not men improved somewhat in punctuality since the railroad was invented? Do they not talk and think faster in the depot than they did in the stage-office? There is something electrifying in the atmosphere of the former place. I have been astonished at the miracles it has wrought; that some of my neighbors, who, I should have prophesied, once for all, would never get to Boston by so prompt a conveyance, are on hand when the bell rings. To do things “railroad fashion” is now the byword; and it is worth the while to be warned so often and so sincerely by any power to get off its track. There is no stopping to read the riot act, no firing over the heads of the mob, in this case. We have constructed a fate, an Atropos, that never turns aside. (Let that be the name of your engine.) Men are advertised that at a certain hour and minute these bolts will be shot toward particular points of the compass; yet it interferes with no man’s business, and the children go to school on the other track. We live the steadier for it. We are all educated thus to be sons of Tell. The air is full of invisible bolts. Every path but your own is the path of fate. Keep on your own track, then.”

Just fifteen years after Walden was published, the first transcontinental railroad was completed; the changes that Thoreau was observing in his corner of New England then reached from coast to coast.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

4th of July

Fireworks on the Hudson. This is the view from the cheap seats.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


For the 150th anniversary of the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, here’s a picture from Billy and the Rebel, a Gettysburg story by Deborah Hopkinson that I illustrated that came out in 2005. It was one of two Ready-To-Read Civil War books we did together, the other being From Slave to Soldier

To research the book I visited a Gettysburg reenactment with an old friend who was there doing his own research; with his colleagues, he was there collecting notes, reference images, and sound effects for a computer game. I can’t, in all honesty, say that the battle reenactment was terribly impressive to watch; inevitably, maybe, it just felt so staged. But if one followed a path into the trees at the edge of the field, and then crossed over a small stream, and kept going, one emerged into another field, enclosed and hidden from the rest of the world, and there were the campsites, a neat field of white canvas tents and small fires and men preparing quietly for the day, and 150 years seemed to fall away. It was remarkable and strangely moving. 

An essay by Robert Hicks in the Times today, “Why the Civil War Still Matters,” offers interesting points about the battle and its relevance to modern America. You can read it here

More links: Billy and the Rebel, From Slave to Soldier, and Deborah Hopkinson.