Saturday, February 17, 2007

bledsoe creek

Today we awoke to a light dusting of snow, and after a leisurely breakfast, set out to find a good place to take a walk. We intended to explore a natural area rumored to have old growth forest, located in a remote part of the county north of here. However, the little Honda was unable to make it up a hill on a snowy back road on the way there, so we had to carefully back down the narrow road and head for more tame surroundings. We ended up at Bledsoe Creek State Park in Gallatin, TN, and it was surprisingly nice. It was obvious that the park is very crowded in the summer months, but since Tennesseeans rarely set foot outside their homes on a snowy day, we more or less had the place to ourselves. We only had to share it with the deer who greeted our car in the parking lot, the great blue herons hunting by the lake, a half dozen species of ducks, and a one-legged wild turkey. Good company, I say.

Friday, February 16, 2007

figure study

I have finally returned to teaching this week, much to my joy. I am teaching a figure study class at Watkins College of Art & Design, and our first class was last night. The students are wonderful and enthusiastic, and it is so refreshing to return to working from the figure. This is a quick study I did after a drawing, a great change of subject.

winter day

Coming from a sunny, relatively warm climate back to our cold weather has been a little rough. It is quite a contrast to go from the green fields at the edge of the desert in Egypt to the dormant gray landscape here. I thought this image characterized the the stark, chilly surroundings, although it is not doing much to help my cabin fever.

magic morning

Finally I am back home in Tennessee and becoming reacclimated. The morning I left for Egypt it snowed here, so this is the first chance I have had to do a piece from that day. It may be the only snowfall we get all year, so I wanted to do at least one image from that morning. This is a beautiful tree in my backyard, from a photo snapped while my dog was playing nearby.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

city of the dead

On the way to the airport from my mother's flat, one passes by vast expanses of tombs and mausoleums in a "neighborhood" of Cairo known as the City of the Dead. It is an eerie sight to see acres and acres of single-story, sometimes roofless structures sprawling across the land, arranged like a city. Some families of the deceased have actually moved into the tombs, or have caretakers to oversee the family restig place. I have been intrigued by this arrangement since I discovered it on my last trip, and thought it would make a good painting.

valley of the whales

For the first time, I was able to camp in the desert and sense the barren, absolute silence. The Western Desert of Egypt has almost no vegetation, being almost completely composed of sand that was once at the bottom of the ocean. In spite of the lack of plant life, there was a surprising amount of animal life. We even had a fox visit our campsite overnight, evidenced by its tiny footprints encircling our tents. It was apparently a picky eater, though, leaving the tomatoes and french fries of the previous night's dinner in favor of chicken bones and cucumbers.

desert sunrise

We camped in the desert west of the Fayoum in an area known as the Valley of the Whales. The valley is full of fossils, most notably several largely intact 55 million-year-old fossilized skeletons of Eocene period whale ancestors. It was surreal to see the "bones" exposed in the desert where they had been for millions of years, exposed to the elements.

Our camping spot was in an incredible alcove near the valley, surrounded on three sides by high sandstone walls encircling a dune in the middle. I climbed to the top of a large rock formation to watch the sunrise the next morning. It was a silence and solitude I will never forget.


One of my favorite things to do in Egypt is to travel through the rural areas along the Nile. It is almost like stepping back in time to see people live in a way that humans have been living in this part of the world for centuries. The Fayoum is not actually an oasis, since it receives irrigation from the Nile, but it is mostly surrounded by vast stretches of desert and has much of the culture of the oases. It is a very quiet, simple place, especially when compared with Cairo, less than two hours away. It was easy for me to see why the Egyptians choose this as a favorite vacation spot.

wadi el-rayan

We spent the last part of my visit in Egypt in an area called El-Fayoum, an oasis-like area to the south of Cairo which has been inhabited since ancient times. Today, it is a beautiful area with lakes and acres of green fields, dotted with small villages. It is mainly a vacation spot for Egyptians and not often visited by foreign tourists. This lake with marshy borders was at the Wadi El-Rayan protected area, home to diverse wildlife and even a waterfall. It is surrounded by barren desert, offering a stark contrast to the clear water of the lake.


One of the last things my mother and I did in Cairo was hire a felucca for a short sail on the Nile. We ran out of time during our last trip, so I wanted to be sure that we fit it in this time. It was a cold and windy day, so there were few other boats on the river, but it was a wonderful experience. We picked up some "kushari," a favorite food among Egyptians, and had a picnic on the boat. The best thing about it was that from the water, we could still hear the honking horns and noise of the city, but it was a reprieve from being immersed in the constant roar of Cairo.