It started with an invitation
…to participate in a 40 x 60 Woodcut Challenge! (Actually, it started with an inquiry about whether or not there were still any openings to participate, and thankfully, they’d seen my work and welcomed me to take part).
40 x 60 Challenge?
Pretty amazing morning. But before I show photos, you should know that the scenes below are from the actual birth of a baby alpaca, so if you are squeamish about that sort of thing, you shouldn’t scroll down.
So, our neighbor Mindy (at GalPaca Farm) called to say the mama alpaca’s water broke, and she was going to give birth soon. We’d talked earlier and Mindy agreed to let me come take photos of the birth, etc., to use as reference for future art (any alpaca art I do, they get a print in the edition, as owners of the models…).
The alpaca mother’s name is Maggie. In the sequence below, you’ll also see some of the rest of the herd as well (mostly all females–males are kept in another pasture). And that big white dog is named Betty. She’s a Great Pyrenees. She was brought to the farm years ago, specifically to guard the alpaca (from coyotes, etc), and although she was never taught how to care for alpaca young, you will see below that she always knows exactly what to do. This is not her first experience at caring for newborns, but Mindy tells me that from the very first one, she knew it was her job to help the mama alpaca clean and protect the newborn.
So, anyway, the call came and I got over there just as the head/feet of the baby were showing.
(Click on any photo to enlarge it)
And so it follows…
Everybody come see
Betty starts cleaning the baby even before it’s out
Wait for it…
Fell to the ground totally healthy. It’s a girl!
That’s the mama on the left looking at you
Betty and Mama Maggie begin the cleaning process
Betty pulls off all of the gunk
Cleaned up considerably…
…the newborn picks her head up, and starts to try to stand up.
Betty on guard
When one of the others gets too close or starts being too rough with the baby, Betty steps in and pushes the offender back (or gets between her and the baby). Here, she’s confronting the potential trouble-maker.
Welcome to the herd.
Drying in the warm sun and cool wind.
Here she is one hour after she first entered the world.
What a perfect morning for a birth.
Heading out to my studio very late one night this week, when I noticed something big and dark in front of the studio door. A toad? Oh wait–turn on flash–holy cow it’s a huge furry spider!! Biggest one I’ve seen in a really long time–it’s legs were all stretched out and looked to be 3-4 inches long! (body definitely 1 1/2- 2 inches long)
Now, I’m going to be honest here. I usually kill spiders if they’re in my house or studio or pretty much any enclosed space of habitation. I mean, sometimes we (dogs and I) take power naps on the dog cushions, under table, on floor of studio and I’m a mouth breather, so…. gross, right?
But this “little fella” was outside.That’s neutral territory.
Grabbed a 5-gallon bucket lying nearby, turned it over and trapped it, ran inside to find a glass jar, came out and stopped. These guys are really fast and I don’t really want a spider ON me. Hemming and hawing… You want to get a close look or not? You some sort of wimp??! OK, quietly picked up the bucket and quickly put jar over spider. Slipped matboard underneath, turned over, removed board and screwed on lid. Holy cow!! Look at that Mother!
And Mother she DID turn out to be.
It had all these funny looking bumps on it’s back. Gross!! It’s got a skin disease!!! But wait, I think one of those bumps moved. OMG are those??….
The Carolina Wolf Spider (Hogna carolinensis) is of a really impressive size. Seriously, when seeing it at first my brain signaled “small tarantula” but then I remembered I was in Wisconsin, 2012 (not Central America, 1980’s). These are remarkable spiders for a number of reasons: The mother carries her egg sac with her, always raised above the ground so it doesn’t drag, and does all her hunting, etc while carrying this big egg sac with her everywhere! I’m impressed. They’ve been described as robust and quick-moving. Ha! No kidding. At spiders.us they write: “[The] egg sac is a pale sphere carried from the spinnerets of the adult female. An average count per sac is 100-150 eggs. The spiderlings will emerge from the egg sac in summer and ride on top of their mother until their next molt, after which they disperse.”
So that’s what I had here, a mama with her babies riding on top of her. Spiderlings. How cute. I say this without sarcasm. Now.
Wolf spiders are also remarkable in that their eyes seem to glow in the dark–when you put your flashlight on them, they have “eyeshine” and you can see their eyes literally shining out of the darkness (you’ll see this in later photos). This is how many nocturnal animals can be found at night, with a flashlight–by looking for the eyeshine. Wikipedia explains the phenomenon on various pages:
“Eyeshine is a visible effect of the tapetum lucidum. When light shines into the eye of an animal having a tapetum lucidum, the pupil appears to glow.” This layer of tissue “is behind or within the retina. It reflects visible light back through the retina, increasing the light available to the photoreceptors…. This improves vision in low-light conditions [and contributes to] superior night vision ….”
Wolf Spiders are nocturnal and they hunt their prey at night, and now we know how they can see in the dark!
So what was I going to do next? I was enthralled and grossed out (did you look at those furry fangs??!!) and yet kept thinking “She’s a mama.” And of course my thoughts turned to Charlotte(‘s Web), which was read to me at a young age by my Mom. Well, after a day of wondering what to do with her, I had to let her go. I learned that Wolf spider bites are NOT necrotic (google image search this word if you want to be TRULLY grossed out), so if she did come back for revenge (hopefully not with her army of children) I wouldn’t be seriously wounded. They also kill/hunt/eat many pests, so they’re beneficial to humans, and…
…she’s a mama.
The next night I decided to let her go–first walking away from the house and outbuildings (I wasn’t going to actually “invite her in”, mama or not). I turned my flashlight on to hopefully get a last photo of her, but the MICROSECOND I lifted the jar off the cement surface, she flew away from the crazy monster bug-catcher.
Check this out, I thought I missed her, but you can see her babies’ eyes glowing from her back as she makes her great escape:
The next night, walking up from the barn, finished with chores, I noticed something small hopping along beside me, in the almost-blackness of night. Probably just a toad, let’s check it out…turning on flashlight and…holy cow (or holy spiders at this point) it was another mama Wolf spider (I say “another” since this one was smaller), her back covered in babies, eyes shining brightly. “Hey little mama” I smiled (I actually smiled at a spider?), and walked away.
*NOTE: Here’s a nice video showing how the “bumpy-backed” spider turns into a mama with live babies on her back:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmr-B_JZTnE. A little cute AND a little creepy.
This scene usually happens at dusk or at night. In fact the most breathtaking chase that I witnessed took place on a moonless night in pitch blackness, save for my gazillion candlelight flashlight I used to watch the chase. As always, the coyote seemed to just taunt Ivan. This one night, there was only one (they almost always work in pairs or more) the scrawny thing didn’t even start running till Ivan–a 120 lb puffing and snorting and bellowing freight train–was practically bearing down on him.
When being chased, the coyotes always look back to see how close Ivan is, and they will actually slow down so they don’t get too far away. It really looks as if they are toying with him–teasing him enough to get him to jump the fence and start chasing them, and then they just mess with him. Ivan will chase them off the property–past the barbed wire–then come chugging back up the ridge to the house. Often, the coyotes will reappear on the crest of the hill that Ivan just chased them over, and they’ll bark and bark at him. I swear it sounds like they’re hurling insults at him “Your mama wears combat boots, sucka….” Wily coyotes indeed.