The Gift of Birds in Print

top on top of original illustrations used in the book

The Gift of Birds is now available in my shop!

The above photo shows one copy on a pile of the original illustrations. I took this to get some Instagram glam in my on-line presence. Probably not most people’s idea of glamorous but I really enjoy turning my writings into illustrated books!

I took a copy to the nearest Little Free Library at 35th and Spring Garden as has become my tradition when I finish a new book. I’ll keep that up until I no longer live in walking distance of a Little Free Library.

Settling for an Old Adage

watercolor forest painting from Upper MacCleay Trail by Alexandra Schaefers

It’s 80 degrees as if summer already. I’m on the Lower MacLeay, one of the most popular trails in Forest Park. When I lived in the neighborhood I walked its length almost daily and was familiar with every section. The place where the creek runs along a wide gravely shore just a tad lower than the trail. The place a small green pool forms between narrow banks. The spot flanked by a high rock wall that’s covered in ferns. The stretch with a wide, flat rock in the middle.

Today I feel the same deep familiarity and utter strangeness with this trail as when seeing an ex. There are plenty of landmarks I recognize but they are interrupted with unfamiliar foliage, reconstructed bridges and obscured views. I feel like a tourist by the time I cross Cornell.

As I walk up the hill I feel suddenly and viscerally at home. It’s rush hour. I can hear the constant roar of traffic on the road below but I am filled with peaceful belonging.

I wonder about home. Do we have a preordained place we belong despite any roots we have set down elsewhere? Is our birthplace our only true home that we shirk off in the name of progress? Or do we create home wherever we care enough to get involved, to fall in love with the place and not just our doings?

The latter seems logical. Yet having spent four years in Multnomah Village, another ten working there, having walked all over its streets and parks feeling deep affection for its forested beauty I still feel like a traveler. Do I simply need another 4 years? Maybe I need to buy a house here to be welcome, what with all the “Stop Rezoning” signs around. I believe we can preserve the uniqueness of our neighborhoods while allowing housing for people of all incomes to be built but its a touchy issue for many.

I pass the Cumberland Trail which reminds me of my first love. I know a lot of people don’t think Sasquatch exists but I’m pretty sure I dated him. I never asked, I just assumed that as cameras became more prevalent he shaved, moved into a basement studio in the West Hills of Portland and got a job in a medical office. He’s a sensitive soul, maladapted for city life but he loved to wander in the woods as much as I so we got a long for a bit.

We met on this trail and would take the Cumberland from his old street into the park for our walks.

I hike to the Upper MacLeay then sit on a bench admiring the gentle way the Oregon grape plants on the slope move in the breeze. I listen to an Orange-crowned Warbler, juncos, jays, and Pacific Wrens all making their distinct songs the way each plant along the tail has its own distinct shapes of leaves.

When I think back to my most innocent self, home is where there are bluebells, daffodils, rhodies and hydrangea bushes, Doug fir, White Oak and Big Leaf Maple. There are the songs of robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Bob White Quail, jays, flickers, nuthatches and chickadees. But this feeling of belonging makes me want to fit somewhere on a molecular level.

I consider the Chinook, the Cowlitz, the Atfalati who were violently forced from this land. Even though their molecules, and the molecules of the place, are one in the same. It seems disrespectful to dwell on these lofty questions, to want stolen land to be my fated place. So being the descendant of settlers I’ll have to settle for the old adage home is where the heart is.

Sasquatch was not good with money and often predicted future homelessness for himself. Every so often I check the internet to make sure he’s still alive. He doesn’t share his data the way the rest of us do. The first time all I found was a marathon finish time buried in the local paper. Since he loves to run, it was enough.

Book Making!

Here’s a video of me illustrating a book 5 years ago. I use the same illustration technique I’m going to teach in my upcoming artist book class at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. Illustrating a book is surprisingly easy if you start all the pages at once on a large sheet of paper.

When I make books for print I illustrate the pages individually but I love this technique because it teaches one how to make creative compositions, have a consistent aesthetic throughout the pages and quickly cuts through the intimidation factor.

My illustration style has developed tremendously since I started making books and I believe that this technique was critical in my development. Also, it’s really fun! I love art techniques that have an unpredictable element in them!

My next greeting card book is actually going to be a revised edition of The Gift of Birds, you’ll get to see that soon.

There’s still some spots in Artist’s Book Illuminated. Hope to see you there!

Unremarkable

This is my first time at Riverview Natural Area. It is like a neglected patch of woods behind someone’s house—growing over with ivy, crisscrossed with ill-planned trails. I expect to see a few tree-houses or forts but they’re absent. At least the city took the time to number the trails and mark them with laminated paper stapled to stakes.

I feel like a neglected patch of woods myself these days, overgrown with the desire to not feel my own reality after heartlessly severing a six-year friendship because it housed an on-and-off romance that kept me from getting on with life.

It’s nice to be out under the trees even if everything seems unremarkable in the light of my mood. I cross a log so wide I sit on it and swing my legs over. I stand up to find a big, wet spot of fresh bird poop on my camel-colored corduroy skirt. This would normally be funny. A bird-lover is eventually going to meet with bird excrement. But it’s squishy and I feel oddly embarrassed about walking the trails and riding my bike home with a poop spot on my skirt, as if people will know and assume it’s my own.

I pour most of my water bottle out while trying to rub the debris out of the soft ribbing in my skirt and then keep walking, unconcerned that I might now look like I peed myself.

The trail starts to head steeply downward toward Macadam and I consider that I just rode my bike up this same slope through the cemetery, that I had to rest a few times along the way and that I may not be happy arriving at the bottom to have to climb all the way back up again.

I turn around, resigned to an unadventurous walk getting up-to-date on my requisite encounters with bird poop. Doing the best I can to reckon with the edges of emptiness around a pain in my heart that will slowly fade in the recognition that the hardest way isn’t always the most noble.

Little Books Explained

In The Slough, Greeting Card Book by Alexandra Schaefers

I picked up In the Slough from PaperJam Press yesterday, it is now available in my new WooCommerce shop under the “Books” tab. I’m really excited about making more Little Books. It seemed like a good way for me to be able to do what I love most—illustrate my own nature poems into short books—while also providing something useful to others by making them card size and providing a place to write a note to a loved one in it.

These days we are rightfully tired of clutter, wary of collecting and gifting unnecessary junk and we want to reduce our negative impact on the environment. Since Little Books house heartfelt, intimate poems they can be seen and felt as a special gift while using very little extra resources than a traditional greeting card. They are presents for people we love who really don’t want more stuff. They are for people who love to give gifts but want responsible options.

These are printed on 100% recycled paper. I rode my bike to the shop to look over the proof and took the bus to pick up the finished copies. I even rode my bike to the post-office this morning to send out my first orders. I am going to try my best to keep up the alternative transportation theme so these books can have a hint of environmental stewardship added to their value.

I have a 50% off sale to celebrate the opening of my shop and the completion of my second Little Book, it runs through May 14th. I’d love to know what you think of this idea!

Delicate

watercolor illustration of crows flying through spring trees by Alexandra Schaefers

The scent of Magnolia blossoms draws me along the trail into their grove. The blossoms form colored clouds and layer against each other in the green, adding a murky aliveness to the quivering air as it makes room for the bursting buds and rain droplets.

One crow forages alone at the edge of a large grassy slope punctuating the green. When I look down the trail I see flashes of other crows slipping between the trees. The cloud cover deepens their black feathers so they drip through the woods like oil.

watercolor illustration of a crow at the edge of a green slope by alexandra Schaefers

I sit on a bench and reach into the lace of bird song for the familiars: Scrub Jays, Yellow Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Spotted Towhees, and crows. A woman walks past so engrossed in her phone her steps seem suspended. I do not exist in her attention even peripherally and I wonder if this how a forest creature feels, hiding in its own stillness as we pass unaware.

The rain drops become larger as I write in my sketchbook so I get on the trail again and head for the picnic shelter.

sketchbook drawing of spring maple buds by Alexandra Schaefers

A Spotted Towhee darts across the trail from one brushy cover to another. I feel as though my whole life is the same sort of comic but necessary dash; so I stop to photograph the rusty hues of dead salal leaves and draw a few buds from the spray of spring twigs along the trail.

I came here to admire magnolia blossoms. How delicate and soft the petals are, even on blossoms larger than my hands. Now I have forgotten all about them and find myself snuggled on all sides by the viscosity of green things sending ripples of growth across the air as they turn light and water into fiber.

watercolor painting of a magnolia blossom by Alexandra Schaefers

I want today to be the day everything changes. The day I walk into beauty and never come back. All I have to do is stop minding my worries. They can fuss around me like small children while I dwell in each growing moment unimpressed with their complaints.

A junco flies in and hops around the rivets of the shelter support. Another one lands on the trash and peers into its dark opening. He sees nothing of interest and flies off.