September 2009 Hedge a gram

My “before” version of the Verreau’s Eagle.  I used artistic license to give him a pale coloring.  He has a little incident in my story that changes his coloration!

Verraux’s Eagle as seen in Namibia Africa hunting above the cliffs of Twyfelfontain.
Happy September!   Hi, this is Jan Brett, and I’m sending you my monthly hedge a gram. This is when I stop whatever I’m doing (right now, I’m painting a Verraux’s Eagle wearing purple and black checked trousers, red spats, and matching suspenders.) I stop what I’m doing to send you a verbal postcard on how I’m doing on my current project, and other thoughts on my job as an illustrator, or “colorer” as I’m known by some children.

     A Verraux’s Eagle lives in Africa in Namibia where I traveled to get ideas for THREE ROCK DASSIES. In 2007 we stayed at a camp called Doros Nawas. It was a desert-like place, with dry rivers nearby where we saw sand elephants. These are elephants that have adapted to the desert by evolving large feet and smaller bodies. Gemsbok are common in this area and they are graceful huge antelope, pearl gray and black that are often seen silhouetted against the sky on rock ridges, their huge saber shaped horns towering over their heads.

Twyfelfontaine petroglyph
in Namibia, Africa
     We decided to go for a ten mile run and mountain bike trip from Doros Nawas to Twyfelfontaine a legendary place of red rock cliffs that hold petroglyphs created by ancient Africans. Some are 20,000 years old. The reason they survive, is that as the mountain cliff crumbled and shifted and the artwork, perhaps hidden in caves, was revealed. As we climbed the World Heritage site, the petroglyphs stunned us with their beauty and grace. They were of lion, ostrich, rhino, and of humans. It was pretty hot and isolated in this place, and we sat by a fresh water spring to bird watch in between the giant boulders. The wildlife all came to this spring in between the giant boulders for water. We were also on the lookout for a leopard that had been seen the day before. Instead we saw, first an Agama lizard. He acted like he owned the place, and probably got tourist handouts like beef jerky, a lizard favorite. He had a big bulbous bright red head, and a blue body. His neck was small and his limbs were very articulated The all over effect was of a dapper young man in his prime. His eyes were heavily lidded, and he turned his head as if he were about to speak.

The Rock Dassie a
common African animal
     In wild Africa, the shrill whistle of the eagle makes you instantly look up for a spectacular air show. The eagles and hawks are everywhere, and they never disappoint you. The Agama hugged the crevice as he eyed the sky. We both had spotted the Verraux’s Eagle hunting the cliff. The Verraux will eat lizards, but what they are known for is their appetite for the Rock Dassie, the cutest, most unusual little creature you could imagine. About the size of a Western Marmot or a Woodchuck. They are not related to either. Its closest relative is the elephant. It has three toes, a big bump of a nose like a Koala Bear, and soft fur. Wherever there’s one, there’s sure to be another which is a mama with three or four babies. They live in rock houses which always have a sunny front porch. They lie down on their sides and have a sun bath in the morning until they see the eagle’s shadow. Then they run for cover. Their houses are easy to spot because it looks like someone has spilled white paint over the cliff below.
     That day we were exhilarated from our long desert run, and blown away by the ancient African art. It was a red letter day for me in ways that I wouldn’t know about for many months. The images I saw of Agama Man, the adorable Dassies and the frightful Eagle all danced in my head like the sugar plums in THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Two years later, and I’m re-creating them for my new book, THREE ROCK DASSIES. Little did I know that day, that the happenings would emerge months later and speak to me in a way that made me want to write and draw their story.
     Right now many of you are returning to school. The season is changing. What has happened to you in the last year that keeps replaying itself in your mind? It very well could be the beginning of a story. Sometimes characters will assemble themselves – it’s one of the mysteries of storytelling. Please honor the creativity that has been given to you and put the pieces of your own work of art together. You’ll be happy you did. Find that wonderful story in amongst those captivating memories.
Bye for now,
Your friend, Jan Brett
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