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  • Writer's pictureHelena Tiainen

The Influence of Being Influenced

Updated: Apr 12, 2021

A short while back I had the pleasure to watch the documentary, My Octopus Teacher. I viewed this film with great interest since I myself have had numerous experiences with animals that have proven to me that we human beings have very little understanding of how similar we are to other animals on planet earth.

Let me share with you a few examples of my experiences. On my very first camping trip ever to Trinity Alps in Northern California we had an encounter with a mountain lion and her cub. If the Blue Jays had not alerted us to the presence of these cats, we would likely not have been any wiser. Earlier in the day we had met a flock of jays that were as curious about us as we were about them. They made their home in the tall pine and redwood trees on the edge of the campground by a meadow, where Greg and I had chosen a site to put up our tent and make camp in Douglas City. Late in the evening, when it was dark and we still had a campfire going after dinner, one of the jays suddenly let out a warning cry that was immediately followed by a growl unlike either of us had previously heard live. This made us point our flashlights in the direction of the growl and we saw two pairs of eyes staring back at us, one glowing red and the other grayish yellow about forty feet away from us in the meadow. Clearly one of the animals was much smaller than the other and it did not take us long to figure out that these were Cougars, likely a mother and her cub. They were watching us and we kept our eyes on them until we decided to retire to our tent. While we were outside, they never came closer to us than where we first spotted them and except for the initial fear reaction and caution, we did not really feel very threatened by them. However, during the night I woke up to the sounds of something large clearly circling our tent. My heart was pounding in my chest when suddenly the animal decided to mark our tent right next to my head. We were visiting in its territory and it wanted to make this absolutely clear to us. Needless to say, after a few river adventures we packed up and left the following day to avoid further encounters of this scary kind. This was my very first camping trip and Greg thought that after this kind of an experience I would likely never want to go camping again. Well, I am tougher than that and this was just the beginning of many more camping experiences.

In the years to come countless camping trips in California followed. On these trips we have witnessed crows kissing and later listened to the father crow complaining to us about the hardships of bringing up a kid and having to teach them everything. He was clearly tired and needed to unload and we were glad to listen.

Since 2002 we have followed a Steller's Jay clan in the Navarro River Redwoods in Mendocino County. When we first started camping there, we initially met two brothers we named Chip and Bob based on their vocalizations. Bob likes to make the call of bobwhite and repeats this over and over again. We have as well been honored to listen to many concerts by Chip where he clearly mimics the sounds of the redwoods, like tree branches swaying in the wind and chipmunks chattering. He is an amazingly wonderful and talented mimic who clearly likes to entertain. Chip later met Blue and they coupled and had many babies over the years. This clan and in particular Chip have been very dear friends to us. Recently a son of Chip and Blue we named Two Stripes, because of the two very outstanding blue stripes on his forehead, has taken over the leadership from Chip. When we last went camping in the Navarro Redwoods in September 2019, Chip and Blue and Bob were all still around, but in jay years, they were and are now definitely very senior.

Among the many experiences with other species of animals, I have also had a young woodpecker land on my head, we have witnessed jays and chipmunks trading food with each other, we have had a frog, out of clear curiosity, take a long peek inside our tent standing on the doormat. This happened after we noticed that some creature like this had been watching us during the evenings hanging around a tree. I have had a cicada hang out on my sleeve for quite a while singing its songs. And there is so much more. that I could share.

The experiences we have had are nothing but amazing and numerous. Too many to share in just this one blog. More stories of these encounters might surface in the future and I must admit that my nature experiences have had an enormous impact on my art. Besides all the wonderful animal experiences, I have spent hours watching how light and shadows effect perceptions in the wild and how nature is full of suggestive and repeating forms. Simply put, nature puts me in awe with its beauty and variety.

If you look at the painting which I have chosen to illustrate this blog, The Joy of Design LX, you might notice that there is some resemblance to an octopus in this abstract artwork. This must be because I was influenced by My Octopus Teacher, which touched me deeply. Somehow this experience found its way into my art. It is not like I tried to copy anything. Not even that I tried to do an abstract octopus, This form just surfaced spontaneously. I personally think that this is a good example of how we are basically influenced by anything we encounter and how these experiences reflect in our life and creations.

The original painting, The Joy of Design LX, is available. You can view more info about this painting in The Joy of Design Series gallery in my Portfolio. Also, in the very near future I will make this painting available in custom printed format at FAA/Pixels and I will notify you when this is done. Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have. Also, I invite you to share about your influences in the comments here. What do you acknowledge has influenced you lately? I am curious, so, please, do share!

PS As of April 13, 2021, I have published this painting on Fine Art America:

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