Imagine…

Imagine a hazy, too warm, brooding September day in the south of Turkey. The air carries the smell of rain and a subtle threat of thunder. Outside the window the pines that were thrashing in the wind an hour ago are now only gently stirring.

In your palm rests a fragile clump of shaped earth, bearing the slightest traces of an ancient cylinder seal. Slanting the desk lamp to cast the impression into relief, trying to distinguish between the rough texture of the clay and slightly raised figures depicted there, you sigh with frustration. (Seriously: if you were about to make something that would last three thousand years wouldn’t you take the time to do it properly so that when it finally came out of the ground three millennia later someone might actually be able to appreciate your craftsmanship without squinting to the point of near blindness?) Angling the piece nearer to the light, trying not to damage the fragile, crumbly lump, your tenuous grip eases slightly and the clay falls to your angled drawing table, sliding to the floor, shattering…

NO. That didn’t happen. Imagine, I said, just imagine. 

This scenario plays and replays in my head throughout my workday as a myriad small finds pass through my hands: delicate bits of jewellery, tiny beads, intricately decorated figurines and amorphous lumps of unbaked clay printed – sometimes barely visibly so – with seal impressions. I worry about crushing or dropping or unintentionally losing something as I measure and examine and trace the contours. It hasn’t happened – yet. The fear does, however, keep me mindful and reverent of these small remnants of ancient daily life entrusted to me.

Beside my desk this afternoon rests a crate of miscellaneous objects to be drawn and –  aside from a few things that still need to be conserved or photographed – this will likely be the last of the season’s new drawings. We’re nearly at the end of digging. Tomorrow evening is our wrap-up party and many of the dig staff scatter for home on Sunday. Senior staff remain another two weeks – finalizing research, assembling data, composing reports, documenting finds – winding down. 

For now, back to the drawing board…and some quality time with this little fellow, who I am holding with a firm grip.

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Another season’s end

The 2018 dig season is a wrap. The last of the die-hards departed early this morning; some off to dig at Zincirli in Turkey, some to home – and I to continuing adventures.

Nearly three weeks have flown by in a blur of early wakings, lengthy days and plentiful strong coffee. A steady supply of new artifacts has been appearing on my desk, nearly the number I would expect in the usual longer time in Turkey.  I nearly made it across the finish line, but some hours of work remain to close out the season.

Somewhere in there was a morning outing to a sea cave on the Lebanon border, two field trips and an evening stroll to the Mediterranean shore to feed the mosquitoes. I dipped my toes in the Sea of Gallilee, looked over Jordan, clambered through a crusader castle and strolled Roman pavements. The highway signs are laden with story:  Nazareth, Bethlehem, Tiberius, Jordan. History lies thick on this land and beneath it.

And today I am in Jerusalem.

That’s a story for another day. Time to tuck in early in my cool stone-lined nook of a room and try to replace a few of the hours of sleep I’ve been missing.

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Off again…

Autumn became winter, then winter became spring and now we are half way through summer. I’ve shamelessly neglected this blog so rather than face the daunting task of catching you up, I’ll just launch in to my current exploits, shall I?

Here I am once again – half way around the world. New country. New dig. 

Tomorrow I begin as the illustrator at Tell Keisan, working once again with Dr. David Schloen – this time in Israel. It’s been lovely landing in a strange place to find familiar faces from past seasons at Zincirli – friendships that reach back over years and stretch across many miles. With more than fifty staff here, there are also many new faces to learn in the next two weeks! 

I’ve arrived on the weekend so it’s been an easy start: yesterday a half day to catch up on sleep and slip into a new rhythm, and today to tour a nearby dig at Tel Dor at the edge of the sea, followed by time on the beach. I have to honestly say that this has been, hands down, the best first day on a dig I have enjoyed thus far! Nonetheless, I’m still a little sleep deprived and jet lagged. So I leave you with a snapshot of the Mediterranean from the Israeli shore.

More soon…

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Season’s end

Yesterday I awoke in the Turkish city of Adana; this morning my window overlooks the Toronto airport, the city skyline in the hazy distance. Tomorrow, I’ll wake to my Kelowna valley view. The 2017 Zincirli season is not only over, but half a world away.

As ever, the final days of the dig were frantically busy. The few of us left behind to conclude the season worked intensely – but also enjoyed some cosy communal time. The smaller group fit companionably along the courtyard picnic tables, lingering over evening meals, sampling the local wines in a vain search for something palatable, dissecting world events and digesting the season’s findings. A challenging jigsaw puzzle focussed our attention the final nights but, alas, too late in the day for completion. Our numbers dwindled by twos and threes until the final departures this week. Now the offices are sealed awaiting our return.

I leave you with a few images from this year’s work and travels. Heading home…

Time flies!

I’ve been here on the dig for three weeks and we’re already past the half way point of the season. Spare time seems to be at a premium. I’m using my afternoons to catch a nap rather than socialize or write. The usually punishing schedule is particularly punishing this year; could it be advancing age??

If the pattern holds, we’re easing into September weather. Temperatures are in a slightly more comfortable range – in the morning and evening, certainly. Our start time has been dialled back to account for a later sunrise, and we ended our evening meal after dark tonight. I have a full crate of artifacts collecting beneath my desk, awaiting attention: an assortment of partial stone vessels, clay weights and such. Nothing that you would recognize as ‘treasure’ but it all tells a story. I’ve drawn about half of what is on my “to do” list, and more comes in from the field each day. Maybe that accounts for the lack of free time more than my age?

While I continue to play catch up here, I thought I’d hold you at bay with a few photos from a recent trip to the Gaziantep museum. The stele I’m posed with and the orthostat were two of the very first finds that I was assigned to draw in 2008. I was only here for three weeks that first season – a “try out” for the position of illustrator. I cut my teeth on some major material and passed the test, so here I am nine years later. The museum case may not seem like much to you – but it’s the first time ever that I’ve seen a collection with which I’d been up close and personal: I’d drawn (and handled) every artifact in the display!

 

 

Once around the circle…

Hello again. Welcome back. I know. It’s been a while.

I’m sitting on my balcony as darkness falls. A chill glass of white from a neighbourhood winery sits to hand. The distant clouds are frosted in pink, the nearer hills shading to bronze; following a week under the shroud of a smokey haze, it’s lovely to breathe clear air and see down the valley again. The crickets have begun their nightly chorus – the rhythmic song of late summer that lulled me to sleep my first nights here.

It was a year ago this weekend that I left behind my home in Ontario. I’ve come round the calendar, marking the changes and learning the rhythms of this new home. I’ve seen the summer orchards shade to bronze and copper, watched as winter crept down from the peaks and watched it retreat again, drank in the scent of orchards in blossom, marvelled as clusters of fruit appeared among the rows.  It was peach season when I arrived and it’s peach season again; each day’s offering bigger and juicier than the day before. Berries, apricots and cherries have had their day, now root vegetables and field tomatoes are crowding the stalls. Cabbages and pumpkins ripen in the fields, the trees are burdened with still-green apples.

Summer is far from over here in the Okanagan – but I’ll be heading off in the morning to spend the remaining weeks of the season in Turkey.  After a year of exploring and learning a new place, it’s time to return to a familiar one. The dig at Zincirli opened at the beginning of August and I’ve had word that lovely objects have emerged from the soil and are waiting to be drawn. I’m eager to reconnect with friends – it’s been nearly two years! – and I’m wondering how the sleepy little village of Fevzipaşa has fared meanwhile. I’m awash in thoughts of steaming tea in tulip glasses, tiny cups of morning espresso, late night conversations in a windy courtyard and early mornings awakening to a somewhat-less-than-melodious call to prayer. Adventure – of a sort – awaits.

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If you’ve been following this blog previously, you have an idea of what’s to come. If you’re new here – you may want to take a look at this early post to catch up on what I’m up to. Old friend or new – I hope you’ll come along!

Painting a morning

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Some months back an illustrator friend wrote a post entitled “A confession and resolution.” In a roundabout way, this post of mine began there. Thank you, Kathryn Killackey, for both your challenge and inspiration – this goes out to you.

A donkey brays. A car door slams. A child’s small voice is answered by an older, deeper one. A gunshot cracks and the echo comes back seconds later. A swallow swoops by in the flowing wind, close enough that I hear the zzzzt of wings. Each time I shift, crisp grass crackles under me. My brush chinks against the water container as more shots sound, echoes cascading like far-off thunder.

I sit atop a high mound of earth with a panoramic view of a mountain valley at my feet. Toy houses are scattered across the slopes below me. Between the peaks a city glitters in the haze, unreal in its distance. Later I will learn that the hillock on which I rest once housed a tomb and ancient human remains, amateurishly excavated by the landowners.

As I craft my sketch, I work to understand the shadows; each shape yields a clue to the landscape casting them. This mass is rounded, that one sharper, these two connect with a curve, that one sits in front of this; mentally, I walk the highlands I will never reach by climbing. i study the varying shapes of trees – spheres and cones and cylinders – and note the subtlety coloured fields. The early morning light intensifies while I paint; shadows grow and recede. The sunlight grows warm on my skin.

I am aware of the immense pleasure of the act of drawing, my inner narrative both stirred and stilled by the quiet. This morning will be locked in my brain by this: the sounds, the sights, this feeling. One minute I am delighted at the ease of recording what I see. Later, I’m intensely aware of my inability to capture the enormity of the scene, conscious of my short-comings: too careful with colour, too cautious with shadows and contrast. The page is too small for this panorama. There is not enough time…

Eventually these concerns drop away. Sound, light, wind, brush, busy brain all blend into the solitude of learning this vista, understanding it well enough to command this stroke and then this until the picture I intended is swept up in the picture I have made. If only for me alone, it encompasses this perfect morning –  even the donkey’s bray and a child’s joyful greeting.