The dang sn*w continues to fall here at Haiku Farm, and more is forecast for tomorrow. I can only hope that the rain will come to our rescue before Thanksgiving Day! Meanwhile, the brightside of being sn*wbound: my NaNoWriMo project is now at 36,168 words!
Here's a new chapter:
December 28th, 2010
Skookum Tribune issue number whatever, volume whatever
Meet: The Bird Painter
By Annabeth Spencer
Ed Rucker has been working for Pilchuck Public Works for nearly forty years. He’s been married to Betty Rucker for thirty-eight of those years. Ed is the father of two adult daughters, a deacon of the Pilchuck Presbyterian Church, a member of the Elks Club, a volunteer fireman. But if you ask most people who know Ed, they don’t mention the man’s job, or his family, or his club memberships.
People who know Ed talk about his birds.
Ed started drawing birds when he was in high school. He worked three summers in Alaska, and while he was there, a guy on the fishing boat he worked showed Ed how to sketch the terns and gulls and other native birds they saw as they fished in Prince William Sound. Ed was never much of a letter-writer; as his undiagnosed dyslexia made reading and spelling a tremendous challenge for him, but his girlfriend Betty threatened to start dating another guy if she didn’t hear from Ed at least once each week. In desperation, he would write a brief few sentences each week, and fill the rest of the page with drawings of birds. The early sketches were primitive, executed in pencil or ball-point pen on cheap notebook paper, but Betty treasures them still, and keeps them in a small cedar box that one of her friends built especially for the purpose of keeping the old letters safe.
After high school, Ed and Betty married and he started working for the County Public Works, driving the lawnmowers or the snowplows, as seasons dictated. He learned to clean drain pipes, and he learned to build picnic tables. For many years he made extra money by selling firewood cut from the trees that he saw going to waste on his day job—trees that were cut down or limbed or topped to make way for a new sidewalk in a park, or to make power lines safer in bad weather. Before Ed took over the disposal of that wood, it was just tossed off to the side of roads, where it would rot away in a few years. Ed grew up on a little farm, though, and he recognized good firewood when he saw it. He requested and got approval for a “tree recovery” project, in which he and the other crews would track where they had stowed trees and branches cleared from public lands. Then, he and a neighbor boy would go by in the evenings and pick up all the trees and branches, use the chainsaw to cut out rounds small enough to lift, and then haul the whole load back to Ed and Betty’s place. Every weekend was spent splitting rounds—at first by hand, and later with a gas-powered splitter--and stacking wood into neat rows to be sold as firewood.
Ed smiles at the memory of those days, saying, “My job with the County paid the bills, but selling the firewood paid for the extras: the piano lessons and prom dresses, and even part of the college tuition.”
There was no time in those days for drawing, except for an occasional Christmas card sketch.
When the girls were grown up and graduated from college, Ed sold his firewood business to a young fellow in the Public Works department who was supporting his wife and twin boys. “Picking up wood and hefting it around is work for a younger man,” Ed says. “The wood wasn’t getting any lighter, and I wasn’t getting any younger. It was time to pass the job along to somebody else.”
Then came a dilemma that Ed and Betty had never encountered before: What to do with Ed’s spare time?
“He was driving me crazy!” Betty laughs. “All the time that he used to spend gathering, splitting, stacking and delivering firewood, he was now spending in my kitchen. I knew we had to find him another hobby, fast, or I was going to toss him in the oven and serve him to the neighbors.”
She remembered the old bird sketches, and asked Ed if he’d like to take some classes. The Parks department had all kinds of art classes going that summer, and Betty signed Ed up for every art class in the entire catalogue—sculpture, sketching, watercolors, and even needlepoint. “I was desperate, and so, I think, was he,” she says.
Ed didn’t much care for needlepoint, but the sketching and watercolor classes really captured his heart. He didn’t wait for Betty to sign him up for the next session of classes—instead, he called the Parks office on the first day of enrollment and asked the Parks secretary to sign him up for as many sketching and watercolor classes as they had. Soon, he was attending art classes every day of the week, except Sundays. “Sundays, I stayed home and practiced all the stuff we learned in classes during the week,” Ed says. “I was still taking up all kinds of room in the kitchen, but at least I wasn’t making a lot of noise there anymore.”
Before the start of that winter, Ed converted his old workshop, formerly full of chainsaws and other firewood-working devices, into a proper artist’s studio. He installed a little wood-burning stove, replaced the old scratched-up vinyl windows with double-paned windows, and then built a painting table by the windows. From the gutters and beams of the roof, Ed hung birdfeeders of every size and description.
Outside, the building itself seems to be alive with the continual fluttering of finches, robins, sparrows, wrens and other native songbirds. Inside the building, Ed spends hours each day photographing and sketching his avian visitors. He draws all sorts of birds, from great blue herons to pet parrots, but clearly his strongest affinity is for the cheeky, chirping chickadees who crowd his window feeders.
From rough sketches, he then draws the birds in pen-and-ink. When the ink is dry and set, Betty is called to the studio. It’s time to add the color, and unbeknownst to many of Ed’s friends in the art world, the artist himself is colorblind.
Unable to tell the difference between red and green, Ed depends upon his wife to assist him. He shows Betty the photos of the birds he has drawn, and she points to the colored paints he should use. His color washes are pale glimmers contained by the dull browns and blacks of the inks, as the birds in his drawings flit, flutter and fly in the variegated powder-blue skies.
Though winter surrounds the rest of us, for the chickadees produced by Ed Rucker’s paintbrush, the days are full of the chirping song promising a springtime soon to come.