Climbing up a Mountain – Graz &Wien part 3

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I returned to Austria last November but this time with my hubby. We first visited our friends in Graz and climbed our very first mountain ever. That was so awesome! First of all, you need to keep in mind this is my home landscape:

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Here in Keski-Pohjanmaa region anything over 2 meters above the sea level is considered a hill. Seriously. When my hubby first moved here I tried to explain where friend of mine was living. “It’s the red house right on the top of the Koutonen-hill,” I said. My hubby gave me a perplexed look. I offered a more detailed description and he replied: “Oh, I hadn’t realised there is a hill there.”

See what I mean?

So a mountain, even a small one, is a Big Thing in my books.

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Even the relatively gentle slopes around Graz are impressive in my eyes.

The mountain we tackled was the Schöckl. It’s not that high as far as mountains go, but a mountain nevertheless. Our initial plan was to take the cable car up but it happened to be closed for an inspection that day – which we discovered only after we got there. That put a slight strain on our timetable but we still decided to climb up. We took a path that circled around the peak, a route our friends had not taken before even though they are regular visitors. The day was warm and sunny and  the views were quite spectacular. It had rained the day before and there had already been a quite a bit of snow on the Schöckl but the warm Föhn-wind had melted it all away. In fact, the weather felt like springtime!

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The northwards view about 2/3 up to the top.

It’s just mindbogglingly beautiful to look across the landscape from an elevated position. Things in the landscape seem both faraway and oddly within reach. I can understand why they have used the same perspective in classical Chinese landscape paintings. There is something both awe-inspiring and numinous in such a perspective. This is what the Aesthetics’ concept of Sublime was created for.

While perfectly sunny the weather on top was chilling to the bone because of the wind .

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Not quite the highest point but who cares.

We had planned to have a picnic once we reached the peak but it was just too cold and we had to settle for a more shielded spot. Still, the prospect was magnificent, and while the wind certainly made us finish our meal quickly, the sun was also getting closer and closer to the horizon. We decided to get a more direct route down which also meant a more steep descent. We needed to hurry if we were to get past the steepest parts before sunset. It does get dark quite quickly – especially in comparison out lingering sunsets in Finland.

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The southward side and views to the south-east.

Seeing the sun set from a mountain is one of the most spectacular sights. To watch how the blue, cold, and mysterious shadows creep across the landscape below you, and how the green landscape turns into a sea of blue hue with pinkish-orange islands of hills and smaller mountains. That’s when the air, the actual atmosphere itself becomes somehow more tangible. You can see and experience the vastness of the planet, that the space between things-of-the-world is not a void but a substance.

I can hardly wait for the next time.

Summer of Clouds

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It has been a summer of tremendous clouds. There has been rainy days with monotonous greyness, days of sweltering azure (can you use that word like that?) and everything in between. It has been a perfect summer for some cloudspotting.

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From a walk with our dog, Kili. Apparently we fought of a gigantic swarm of flies, and had to overtake a half a metre long adder on the path. It was searingly hot so I sketched like a lightning.

However, form a sketcher’s point of view the summer has been problematic. If it wasn’t raining, it was so hot that watercolours dried far too quickly making it next to impossible to use wet-on-wet properly. So I was usually left with two choices: sketch real quickly or not at all.

The beginning of the August saw a change in the weather as the thunderstorms arrived. Some days were tropical (really, they said that on the TV’s forecast): humid, warm nights were followed by sultry mornings and afternoon thunder showers. The monotonous rain clouds changed into towering thunderclouds.

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A thunder front advancing from the east.

That made sketching clouds a lot easier. Especially as I could see approaching showers well before they hit and look for shelter. Often the clouds rolled past in rows making the landscape seem even vaster and boundless. Pohjanmaa region is clearly the Finnish version of the Big Sky Country. Except for the mountains.

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Then the weather changed again and the clouds with it. The clearly shaped cumuli lost their firmness – a certain sign that the autumn is suddenly just around the corner. Those partly dissolved clouds presented a new sketching challenge, but it was a delight to sit in the open and follow the clouds go by.

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Sometimes they had the feel of gigantic, monumental beasts floating unhurriedly across the landscape, being massive and insubstantial all at once.

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A big sky behemoth.

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The winter is coming – as it always does – and these clouds a the first promise of snow.

Then last Monday I saw clouds that made my summer. We were driving towards the West on our way to the town of Kokkola. It was far too early (for me at least), around 6.30 AM, and there was massif of storm clouds rising above the sea some 15 km from where I took this photo:

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A lenticular cloud above low hanging storm clouds.

The cloud massif was – phenomenal. So many different kinds of formations that I could have spend several hours watching their evolution. But the cherry on top was that lenticular cloud floating almost immobilized above the massif. We don’t often get lenticular clouds over here. I suppose it’s because the landscape is rather flat, i.e. it’s relief is shallow, and to my understanding lenticular clouds usually form above high hills, mountains and such. What a treat!

Mountains and Imperial Splendour – Graz & Wien part 1

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I’ve still been feeling slightly drained after my dissertation (even though that was two years ago) and last winter was pretty busy as I started my work at the uni of Jyväskylä, Department of Art and Culture Studies last autumn. I work as a post doctoral researcher but the the bulk of my work seems to be teaching and tutoring which has sadly meant there has been very little time and energy left for my own research. Maybe it will be better this winter.

I did get to go on one conference trip last November. Me and my friend had a joint presentation in the annual archeological conference, CHNT – Conference on Cultural Heritage and New Technologies, in Wien, Austria. (The link takes you to the site of this years conference.) That was great! I first traveled to the city of Graz where my friend lives and spent a weekend there polishing up our presentation and enjoying the landscape. What a treat! the weather was magnificent, all sunshine, breathtaking mountains and autumn coloured forests.

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This felt just like Lothlórien! (The photo looks wonky because I tried this 360-decrees-setting that my cameraphone has.)

My favourite spot was this small chapel on a ridge in a small village:

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We stopped there for awhile and I tried to sketch the landscape but it did not turnout so well. Maybe it was because I was so in awe of the view, but even if I’m not happy with the sketch itself, drawing and painting it created an extremely vivid memory of being in that place and within that landscape. I will be writing a philosophical article on it soon…

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Not completely pleased with it but see it still makes me feel like I’m still there. That’s interesting…

On Sunday we traveled to Wien where they hold these conferences. The venue was (and still is) the humble city hall of the once imperial capital, Wien:

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The City Hall of Wien, Austria.

No, not that white classical temple. It’s that cathedral looking building in the background. Aye, it is HUGE. Just look at the size of the central courtyard:

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It used to take a lot of office space to run the capital of an empire.

Apparently they have a too much space for contemporary bureaucracy (it’s the computers, I think. They take less space than thousands of filing cabinets and endless rows of typing typists.) My friend told me that one third of the complex is now empty and the city is trying to find new usage for it. It’s not like they can simply tear it down just because the upkeep costs a fortune.

It’s even better inside. This was the staircase leading up to our conference venue:

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And the conference rooms themselves! Someone from USA noted that this was unbelievable as the conference venues back is States were just drearily dull grey, windowless conference centres. This, now this was something completely different!

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I think I could fit one of the chandeliers from the conference rooms into our living room. But I would have to figure out what to do with the furniture – There would be no room left…

There was, like there always is in conferences, some time for sketching. Here’s what I did:

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One of the rooms had old heraldic tapestries.

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No conference is complete without drawings of people from behind.

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This year there were lots of topknots and buns. The man drawn in black was an Italian archeologist.

On the last night we had the traditional conference dinner which this time was a bit more glamorous than usually. The conference was held for 20th time (in row!) and the mayor of Wien treated us with a special dinner. The tables were set in the official banquet room:

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Apparently there can’t be too much gold when you are decorating in an imperial scale.

I managed a quick sketch while waiting for the dinner to start. It does take some time when 200 dinner guests try to find their seats.

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I have no idea who these blokes are but they must be important enough to have their statue standing in a place like that. Marble, of course, and a gilded canopy above each one.

I sneaked away for two days from the conference (archeology is not my field of expertise after all) and visited some pretty awesome places and saw some things I have always wanted to see. More about that on the next post.

P.s. These days I just can’t be bothered to actually scan my drawings. The scanner I have is getting a bit too old for my laptop and photographing is just so much faster. That’s why the sketch photos are what they are. You can’t always have good lighting.

Recurring Themes: Boulders

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I signed up for the first ever semester of the Sketchbook Skool earlier this spring. Our fourth teacher is Jane LaFazio and in her fourth lesson she asked if we had any recurring themes in our sketchbooks, things we like to draw again and again. I have drawn horses all my life and I draw quite a lot of clouds but I suddenly realised there is another recurring theme in my journals: stones, rocks and boulders of all kind. I have always been interested in stones, and me and mom used to collect stones as souvenirs whereever we went and I still do that too. Here is some boulders I have draw over the last year or so. My daily walks with our dog often take me through a really rocky area where the ice age left behind heaps of stones and boulders of all sizes in a haphazard mix of rock types. There is a lot to discover and draw there!

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I must have walked past this boulder countless times before it caught my eye. It’s pretty big, about 2,5 metres across but not that special in itself except for the bluish lichen that grows on it. It was a cold day when I drew this. I have written that my fingers froze and that it took forever for the ink to dry.

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This boulder is about the same size with the first one but this one has clear layers and quartz pebbles in it. The rock surrounding the pebbles is much softer and erosion has eaten it leaving the quartz pebbles protruding from it like pearls or rough diamonds so that the top of the boulders looks like it has pimples! I first noticed this one but afterwards I have found a number of smaller stones with the same characteristics around it.

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This is a proper glacial erratic that I noticed this spring. It might seem odd that I hadn’t noticed a glacial erratic before but there are quite a few of them scattered around in that area. It is large, about 2 to 2,5 metres high and twice as long. It has split in two years and years ago but there is a new rupture in it and a wedge had almost fallen off. The sides of the fracture are still clean and brown as weather, moss and lichen had not had time to invade the newly exposed surfaces. It was pretty warm day when I drew this one and it was the first time this spring that I heard the Common Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs, sing. According to a Finnish saying it’s a half a month to summer when you hear a chaffinch sing. You can listen to it here. You’ll find the play button below the photo. You can also hear the Common Cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, in the background.

Water under the Bridge

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Like I said in the previous post, it’ been a weird winter. All the snow seems to have gone to the North America, and all we had were the leftovers. Instead of snowing we got rain and that meant winter floods. We did have snow on Christmas Eve but by Boxing Day it was all gone and the river running through our small country town was brimming with water, so naturally I had to go and have a closer look. The river Lestijoki had been running high all autumn but now it had reached new heights and so some flood water was running above or on the ice sheet. There were patches of some open water under the bridges and other parts of the river where the current is stronger, but otherwise it was dull brown water on snow white ice.

I had our dog, Kili (named after the dwarf in the Hobbit), with me and he tried to rescue branches and sticks from the river while a draw this. Clearly the little rascal has a much higher tolerance for cold water than I.

The bridge in the picture is know as “the old dairy bridge” (see in picture for the Finnish version). It’s pillars are made of large cut stones and they are sloped on the upstream side to stand the pressure and impact of ice floats during spring floods – though usually the ice just melts away with very little drama. I personally haven’t seen a proper flood with lots of ice since I was about 5-6 years old and it now seems that I won’t get to see one this year either. That one time I remember it was spectacular: we watched how the ice flooded fast down the river carrying with it rowing boats that had been left too close to the river and even small sheds. What a sight it was!

Maybe next year.

Life on Seabed

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I’m a bottom crawler. I live on the bottom of the sea. Ach, well, I don’t live in the sea but on land that used to be sea some thousands of years ago. You see, we all are still living in an ice age. The Querternary glaciation, that started about 2,58 million years ago, is still on. We’re just living in a interglacial period, the time between glacial periods when the continental glaciers are at their maximum. So, ice age was not something that happened a long time ago.

The last glacial maximum ended about 11 000 years ago and that’s how long the Finnish landscape has been free of the contenental ice sheet even 3 to 4 kilometres thick. And that is the reason why I am living on an ancient sea floor. All that ice pushed the Earth’s crust down creating a kind of a dent on the crust. When the ice slowly melted away and the ice sheet retreated back towards the north pole, water filled that dent creating a sea. Once free of the weight of the ice, the crust begun to rebound. Post-glacial rebound it is called. That means that every year the land here rises from the sea a little and the actual landmass of the country increases. It’s not much, approx. 5 mm per year, but give it enough time and it will change the face of the earth around here.

So where I now live it used to be sea about 3000 years ago and you can still see it in the landscape. It’s pretty open and level up here. There are small ridges left over by the retreating ice but between them it is rather flat. If you know what to look for, you can see where the ancient beaches have been, and here and there you can see how the now gone see has arranged the sand that once was at the bottom of it into wave like dunes.

I love the openness. The sky is vast, almost limitless. Clouds are the main feature of the landscape and since we are still pretty close to the sea (a bit over 20 km) we get a great variety of clouds here. There are types that you see only during summer and those that herald snow in the late autumn. Even the slightest change in the cloud coverage changes the light, and suddenly you have a completely different mood over the landscape.

The two sketches were made of the roughly same view along our daily dog walk. Nothing much in landscape changed in between except for the sky. The white things in the picture below are huge round hay bales wrapped in white plastic to preserve them for winter feeding. We call them dinosaur eggs – not quite lovingly.

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Seaside at the Peak of the Season

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Well, not quite. The sea is still quite chilly in June up here but when the wind is right – blowing from the sea and pushing warm surface waters landward – and the sun heats up the shallow waters in the small bay in Ohtakari, it can be quite enjoyable. We didn’t swim there when I drew this. We just had an extempore picnic on the beach with our dog Kili (a white miniature Schnauzer and named after the dwarf Kili from The Hobbit since he is a dwarf Schnauzer he needed to a dwarf name, right?) for the first time. He did have a blast. Lots of sand to dig and room run about. He wasn’t that keen on swimming at first back then but these days he is happy to jump in.

The beach in Ohtakari is a proper sandy beach. It’s usually rather quiet there since most tourists go a bit further north to Kalajoki where they have the longest beach in the country. This was drawn at the south end of the beach where the bay ends with a small stony point with a birdwatching tower on it. Right behind the path leading to the tower begins the Finnish defensive forces’ artillery practice range. We live good 25 kilometres away from Ohtakari but we still can hear the pounding when they practice.

It was a perfect day, sunny and warm. Now, at the beginning of November, it’s not that warm anymore. I stumbled upon this video about a winter storm in Ohtakari two years ago. Not so warm and cozy. Our picnic beach is entirely taken over by the waves but you can see the tower in my sketch around 0:25 (‘Afternoon’).

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Evan Thompson

Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia

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