Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Thursday, April 30, 2009


This weekend, Masterpieces in Miniature opens at Picture This! gallery in Sherwood Park, Alberta. The show, featuring paintings less than 155 square inches by 40 invited North American artists, officially opens on Saturday, May 2nd, and runs through the public drawing on May 21st. The entire show, including my "Wilson's Bird of Paradise" (above) can be seen online, and intent-to-purchase forms can be filed over the internet over the duration of the show.
illustration: WILSON'S BIRD OF PARADISE (2008) acrylic 6" x 9"


Having such a smart readership is both gratifying and terrifying. Yesterday the Rigor Vitae ID quiz was trounced once again within the span of a couple of hours. Obviously, the photo was of a softshell turtle of the family Trionychidae, but closer identification was much trickier. The heavy lifting was done this time by Neil of Microecos, who correctly identified the subject as belonging to the genus Cyclanorbis, the African flap-shell turtles. I was unable to honor his request for a beetle box, and his coin-toss for the species came up tails. Had he done a Google image search for "Cyclanorbis," he'd have seen that I'd posted the picture earlier with the proper ID, which is what I suspect he did right after the fact. That proper ID (C. senegalensis) was supplied by Andrew R. Special thanks to hand-model Paco, whose distinctive arm-tone seemed to direct everyone to the correct continent. Aside from the prefrontal bones, the Senegal Flapshell is smaller and darker, with a narrower and differently-shaped shell (it also has distinctive throat callosities which aren't visible in the picture). No votes came in for the related and poorly-known genus Cyloderma, but C.J. covered the last base by taking up the card for Trionyx triunguis, the African Softshell (pictured above). A big applause to you all. I think it's only fair to declare the quiz a tie, so if Andrew and Neil can email me at cpbvkATjunoDOTcom with their subject requests and mailing addresses, I'll get to work on their drawings.
photo taken in southern Cameroon by CPBvK

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Grab your field guides, it's quiz time again. Last month's puzzler turned out to be easier than I expected; Clare barely gave me time to punch the "publish" button before correctly identifying it, with several correct responses following quickly behind him. This time, then, we'll try something devoid of feathers -- still, not a terribly hard one. The creature in the photo above is typical of its species. The first person to comment with the correct species before the end of May 6th will receive a pencil drawing of the subject of their choice. Good luck!
photo by CPBvK

Monday, April 27, 2009


Tomorrow morning at 11:45, Tim DeChristopher will be arraigned at the Frank E. Moss Federal Courthouse in Salt Lake City.

For those who don't know, Tim is a 27-year-old economics student at the University of Utah, who became a sort of folk hero around here last December. In one of its final acts, the Bush administration set up a last-minute BLM auction for oil and gas exploration leases in rural Utah. Tim, with the sort of financial backing typical of undergrad students, signed up as a bidder and won 13 parcels near Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, totaling 22,000 acres, drove up the prices of numerous other parcels, and threw the entire auction into confusion. His total bill: $1.7 million.

I speak for many when I say I wish I had the inspiration and chutzpah to have engaged in such elegant sabotage. Tim caught us all by the imagination, and his support from the community has been a wonderful thing to watch. A website was set up to collect funds to cover the down payment on his BLM invoice, which was raised, though the government refused to accept it, saying it was late. On February 1, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar ruled that the auction had been improper, and ordered the BLM not to cash any of the checks. It's hard to say for sure, But I imagine Tim's act of civil disobedience played a big part in that decision. Even so, Brett Tolman, Utah's US Attorney, has decided to charge him with two felony counts punishable by up to ten years. Tim's attorney, Pat Shea, says he expects his client to plead not guilty tomorrow before the federal magistrate.

At 11:00am, DeChristopher's supporters will gather at Library Square in Salt Lake (4th South & 2nd East). Samba Gringa will entertain and former NASA climatologist James Hansen will speak, then we'll all march over to the federal courthouse for a silent protest until Tim's arraignment. After that, it will be back to Library Square, where Hansen and DeChristopher will speak.

All too often, activists are hotheads whose philosophies are weakly constructed and whose actions are poorly thought-through. Tim is one of those rare individuals who not only has the courage of his convictions, but who's scrutinized those convictions thoroughly. We need to publicly demonstrate the civic support behind this thoughtful young man and not allow him to waste his next decade behind bars. See you there.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I've given the time-lapse treatment to a new painting. Feeling more confident with the process, I tackled a major painting this time: A pair of courting Crowned Flying Lizards (Draco cornutus) in the foreground compete for our attention with a big old male Orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus) calling from his sleeping nest in the background. In celebration of getting it done, I've used some real music instead of the silly original compositions I've relied on in the past. Of all the great Salt Lake musical combos that I've listened to over the years, my absolute favorite was Thirsty Alley. We're favored with 1½ wonderful compositions, I Formed the World with my Tongue, I Cleared the Bar with my Diaphragm and Haloumi (Part II).

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


(originally posted two years ago)
I'm devoting today's post to a very unusual arthropod that's rather common in the immediated vicinity of my home, although I've never seen it anywhere else. The Assassin Dock (Lappazoon sarcophagus) displays an extreme sexual dimorphism: the small, flying males live but a few days, fluttering weakly upon the breeze. The much larger females are sessile, saprophagic, plant-like creatures anchored to the soil by their rootlike heads.
Every other year, these females, which can reach over a meter in height, "flower," giving rise to numerous burr-like sexual bodies. Attached weakly to their stalks, the mature sexual bodies break away if snagged on the fur or feathers of a passing animal, and begin growing "feeding tubes," which pierce the skin of the victim, secreting a potent toxin, while extracting nutrients. The injection kills the host in a few days, and the sexual body, after being fertilized, scatters eggs about the corpse. The larval Assassin Docks feed on the flesh of their host, and overwinter as cysts. Most larvae metamorphose into mature males the following summer. Female larvae live in the enriched soil for two seasons before metamorphosing, and "sprouting" from the ground.
illustration: "ASSASSIN DOCK" (2004) watercolor 24" x 18"