On Saturday morning we held our first “Let’s Draw Davis” sketchcrawl since the pandemic sent us all home, our most recent one being on February 29th. It was a socially distanced crawl, masked up and stood out of the way, down at the UC Davis Arboretum. It’s been a while. I felt uncomfortable being out sketching, but when I arrived our group was not too big so it was nice to see people. However seconds after parking up my bike I got stung by a wasp! Right behind my ear. That has never happened to me before, not even on those hot June days in the garden back in England, but they finally got me now. So I was in a bit of pain as I introduced the sketchcrawl from behind the veil of my face mask. I was wearing a mask with one of my sketches on it, from Porto. Above is the view from the path of the Redwood Grove.
Above is the richly decorated underpass that goes beneath the train tracks. When I lived in South Davis I would take this route every day on my bike, but it has been years. it was not so colourfully painted back then, but it looks very nice now. It was hot while I sketched, and my head was hurting a bit, probably due to the wasp sting that was still throbbing a bit.
Above, a few grapes hanging down from the Gateway gardens. Below, there were some turkeys passing through with a bunch of young poults, so I quickly sketched some. The bird on the right is a Green Heron, though I thought it was a Kingfisher due to the colouring, which reminded me of Kingfishers back in England, which to be fair I’ve also never seen. I was told it was a Green Heron so I am glad I waited to write that down. It was incredible – it would extend its neck to double its body length like Mister Fantastic or something. I expected another bird that looked like Doctor Doom to come along and fight it and call it “that fool Richards”, or a movie studio to come along and reboot it unsuccessfully. Still it was a fascinating creature.
Speaking of fascinating creatures, here is that wasp. I didn’t know exactly what had stung me because I didn’t see it, but when I went back to get my bike, one of the other sketchers Bill Lum came with me to identify it, to see if it were a wasp, a yellowjacket, a bee or maybe even a murder hornet, at least that is what I was thinking. He noticed that there were plenty of them over some of the bike racks, and they had built nests inside – putting my bike on one had disturbed it, so it had stung me. As he got close, one of the little bleeders came out and stung him too! So, we had to be careful. I held my sketchbook up as a swatter, and carefully extracted my bike from the wasp danger zone. Gently does it. I managed to do so without getting stung again. The sting was not particularly bad, and went down by the afternoon. I’d never been stung before so it was a first experience, nature’s way of telling me it’s not time to go sketching outside yet.
Bill took a photo of it, and identified it to be a ‘paper wasp’. So naturally I have spent the past few days trying to come up with paper wasp jokes, none of them any good, at least not on paper. So not a yellowjacket, not a murder hornet. Very interesting to draw though!
Look at this big geezer. I had to go into the office in early April, a few weeks into the shelter-in-place, and found an overgrown campus where the wildlife had taken over. Standing like a sentinel outside my building was this turkey, looking enormous with his feathers all ruffled up and on display. Strutting. His long wobbly beak and that colourful chin feature looked like something from an early 1980s Dr Who prop department. The ‘snood’. Always reminds me of those Arsenal players who wore those snoods when it got cold but the Premier League said they couldn’t. And the long hairy bit on his chest that falls down, look how long it is! That’s called a ‘beard’. Some humans have those. As far as I’m aware legs covered in tattoos, shaving one side of your hair and sampling snifters of craft beer aren’t yet popular in the turkey population. And he didn’t want me entering the building. He kept shaking his feathers at me as if to say, #stayhomesavelives ! #gobble #itscalledasnoodnotafacialnutsack (and other popular hashtags). When I went in, he came and stood by the door looking through the window at me and stayed there for a few hours, goading me when I came down to use the vending machine, I better not try to leave or he will stop me and ask for my attestation, am I going out for essential items (cranberry sauce or gravy I suppose). There are a few other doors to the building though so unless his mates are covering all the exits he wasn’t stopping me. He did loads of poos all over the entranceway though. You needed to know that. We get a lot of turkeys in Davis, there is a flock that lives near me on the north Davis green belt. They strut about making loud gobble noises when I go for an evening walk. They live quite high up in very tall trees, you’d be surprised how high they fly up. You may recall the story of Downtown Tom, a solo turkey who lived in downtown Davis for a while, occasionally terrorizing citizens and catching bad guys, evading all attempts at capture, until The Man had had Enough, and called in a sniper to assassinate him in his sleep. I imagine they though if they ever did catch him, they would all stand around wondering whether Tom actually intended to be caught, because he had some other nefarious plan up his snood. But no, they took him out in the dead of night, not releasing the news for six months, presumably it took that long to be sure he was really dead and didn’t have some kind of horcrux somewhere. Dudes, he’s a turkey. Tell you what though you don’t want to get into a ruck with one, they have much bigger claws than you do.
I drew this from a photo I took, in the grey paper sketchbook.
Just a brief interruption before I start posting my Italy stories, back to Davis again, here is a sketch from last week drawn downtown on the corner of 4th and F. Oh it’s been hot in Davis. There was a heatwave while we were gone, and another after we were back, oh and there’s more heat coming. Davis in summertime! Well one thing we learned this week was the death of one of the true characters of downtown Davis in recent history. I say ‘death’, I should say ‘assassination’, really. I’m talking of course about Downtown Tom. Downtown Tom was a turkey. I don’t mean he was like a turkey, I mean he was an actual turkey called Downtown Tom. There should be a ballad about him. Actually I’d be massively surprised if there isn’t already a ballad about him. “The Downfall of Downtown Tom”. There has been a Turkey Problem in Davis for a number of years now, (I can just imagine Downtown Tom now, narrowing his eyes, growling, “What Turkey Problem?”) with fairly large flocks of the wild birds wandering the town, digging up mud. jumping on roofs, annoying postmen, I don’t know, whatever turkeys do. We get loads of them in my neighbourhood in north Davis, I would see them outside my house all the time, loads of them. Huge things they are too. I tell people back in London and they don’t believe me, they say things like “why don’t you just catch them and cook it for dinner?” like that is just the easiest thing in the world, just catch and kill a massive turkey with my bare hands, somehow waster half the day trying to skin it and then spend the next week trying to cook it, for what exactly? I’d rather just go to Burger King. Of course people in London go out hunting wild animals for food with their bare hands every day I expect, it’s so easy, no it isn’t, just go to Lidl. Anyway, we have a lot of turkeys. As was reported in the Davis Enterprise recently, the city recently formed a “Wild Turkey Population Management Plan” to move the turkeys to a different part of California where they can’t block Davis traffic or dig up verges or whatever they were doing and a whole bunch were sent off to the country, but Tom…
Downtown Tom was a loner. He didn’t hang with the other turkeys. I don’t know if they banquished him, maybe he lost a trial-by-stone to become the new turkey emperor, or maybe he was just too cool to hang out with those squares in the suburbs, whatever his deal was, Downtown Tom became a local legend. None of us will ever have a name as cool as Downtown Tom. I used to see him wandering about by himself, and I saw in him a kindred spirit, he didn’t mind his own company. The only thing was, he was occasionally a bit aggressive, a bit lary, got on the wrong side of the law one too many times. Misunderstood, was Downtown Tom. Nobody knew nor cared what he had seen, what he had lived through, all those countless Thanksgivings, no, he was just ‘a wild turkey’ and a ‘nuisance’. There was the case where someone called the cops on him because he was ‘surrounding their car’ and they couldn’t get out. Sure, he was a menace, but those streets are mean when you’re a turkey, doing it on your own. But like the Artful Dodger, they couldn’t catch him, they couldn’t bring him in front of the beak, as it were. He outsmarted them every time. When the Animal Control people would come after him they would manage to chase him out of downtown, but turkeys are hard to catch and he would always come back. Oh he was a sly one, old Downtown Tom, a comic book villain. In January, however, the threat of Downtown Tom was finally lifted, his reign of terror come to an ignominious end with a Moe Green Special (probably). It was less the Wild West, more Leon The Professional. A ‘contractor’ was hired by the city to take him out, and execute him they did, at night, in his sleep where he roosted, with a rifle. Not, as my city-dwelling London friends would believe, in broad daylight with bare hands and a boiling pot on the stove. Maybe it went down differently? Maybe it was like Jules Winfield, reading a passage from the Bible before laying down vengeance upon him. (“Say Gobble again! Say Gobble one more goddamn time!”) No, in the end Downtown Tom went quietly, his passing kept a secret from us for six months until now. (“Codswallop I say. Nope, I reckon he’s still out there, too tired to carry on.”) I guess they had to do what they had to do. This town wasn’t big enough for etc and so on. He’s gone to his gravy. Anyway, this was his manor, around 4th and F Streets. Tom may be gone but they say his ghost still lives on (they don’t say that, by the way), and if you listen carefully at night, you may hear a gobbling (no, that’s just people eating late night burgers at Jack-in-the-Box), and you better watch out, or Downtown Tom will get you (he won’t, he is really dead).