Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Winter Jasmine

Today was another spring-like day, high around 70 and a steady warm breeze from the south. The garden got some attention this morning (winter cleanup), and then Radu and Winston accompanied me for an exercise hike on the pipeline - no wandering or stopping to draw allowed.   Back at home I was in the mood to draw a flower, so I poked around the Lenten Roses looking for a bloom or bud, but nothing is happening yet.  The only two plants I could find with blooms were common Chickweed with its tiny white flowers, and Winter Jasmine, just beginning to bloom under the Sparkleberry trees.  All the regular birds around the house and feeders:  Tufted Titmice, Cardinals, Chickadees, Goldfinch, Purple Finch, White Throated Sparrows, Carolina Wren.  While I was drawing they zipped over my head and all around.  A Red-bellied Woodpecker chirruped from a high tree.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Running Cedar

This afternoon was bright and warm with a cloudless blue sky.  After being gone for a week, it was mighty nice to have a day like this for a hike.

The dogs and I settled down in a section of piney woods beside Meetinghouse Creek that is covered in running cedar, dotted with Christmas Ferns.  Sun rays found their way through the treetops and made the green carpet glow in spots, and a breeze rustled brown leaves clinging to three small red oaks nearby. I drew for a while, but when the wind picked up I suddenly wanted to feel warm sun on my head, so I hiked back out to the pipeline and resettled.   Chickadees, Kinglets, and Tufted Titmice flitted about in the pines.  What I thought was a strange bird or a tree frog turned out to be two trees rubbing in the wind. SQUEEEEEEEK!  

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

This morning started off cold and quite windy, but by the time I'd hiked to the top of the rocky ridge and back down to Meetinghouse Creek, and then settled on the sunny, northern edge of the pipeline (facing the sun) to draw, it had become more comfortable.   Although at its lowest point of the year, the sun felt plenty strong and flooded my fleece layers with its Solstice heat. Off came the scarf.  Off came the hat.  If I hadn't been intent on drawing Hickory Nut shells I would have been tempted to curl up like a cat in the brown leaves.  

It was very quiet today, only a few crows in the distance and occasional chirrups and pecks from a Hairy Woodpecker across the way. As I drew I heard tiny click-clack-rattle sounds in the leaf litter behind me, so I turned to investigate.   Other critters had come to life in the sun. Five or six small brown beetles with yellow legs (Spiney Soldier Bugs) were marching up and down and around the leaves.  Scritch-scratch.  Scritch-scratch.  Also, a tiny two-inch long Green Anole (brown today, to match the leaves) had crept up a folded leaf to soak up some sun.  He stretched.  He blinked.  As I watched the anole I was surprised and delighted to see him acting rather like a cat -  first, he rubbed his face up and down many times on the edge of the leaf, much like a cat will rub his face on a box edge or chair, for a scratch, and then he used his back leg to scratch himself behind his head!  I swear he did this.  I saw it.  As he warmed he moved slowly on the big leaf, around and around in a circle, and finally slipped back into the leaf-litter underworld.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Most of today we had heavy fog, occasional drizzle, and water droplets that fell with regular splats onto brown leaves. By the time I headed outside (around 4:00),  the fog had thinned enough to allow the pale winter sun to shine through. Fleeting shadows stretched long across the grass, and it even warmed up a little - after being a steady 50 degrees in the fog, in the last hour of day I bet it came close to 60 degrees.  Fall crickets started singing while I sat on the pipeline and watched the sun drop into blue misted hills.  

The lichen I drew was a simple version of what I really wanted to draw (but was too big)- an old pine trunk I found that was hollowed into a narrow trough. It looked as if it was designed for exactly what it held -  a moss & lichen garden. It was so beutiful! Lichen colors are quite vibrant set against the sepia of wet wood.

Once the sun went down it cooled quickly so I headed back.  As I walked through the woods I passed through amazing pockets of thick, warm air.  Could they be seeds for tomorrow's air? Oh, I hope so... mid-winter-mild is my all-time-favorite kind of day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Grape Fern

For years a patch of these little ferns have been growing beside a trail in our woods, but until today I haven't been serious about finding out about them. While drawing this one I became increasingly curious to know what it is. That's what happens when I draw something - the plant (or whatever) becomes mine and it is necessary to call it by name. I have no choice.  I'm driven to find out.  

Back inside I did some research. A cursory flip through field guides produced nothing, but then I remembered an old book, bought months ago at our Friends of the Library used book sale, called How to know the Ferns, written by Frances Theodora Parsons, published 1961.  In the book I happened upon a drawing of the same fern... or close to the same. The one in the book was called a Ternate Grape Fern (Botrycnium Ternatum). Mine is not ternate (not in our range), but some other Grape Fern.  Don't know which one yet - even on the internet it is hard to distinguish between the various leaves.  

The individual plants never have more than one leaf stalk and one fruiting stalk, both of which last through the winter and fall away in spring when the new leaf emerges. The fruiting stalk grows in the fall. Only four of my plants are big enough to have a fruiting stalk, on which grow tiny, grape-shaped spore cases that start out green, then split open to release white spores.  As they age the cases turn papery brown, like the one above, while the spores remain white.  One of the cases (above) must have had wet spores inside because when it popped open the spores remained in a little ball that resembled an teeny-tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream. On other cases the white spores were messy and dotted the case's exterior as well as the interior.

I stood up to leave and spotted four more baby plants, which makes eleven, all growing within a circle about 8 ft. in diameter around a rotting pine log.


Sunday, December 14, 2008


It is cold and dreary today.  The clouds are thick and low and look like snow clouds.  They spit rain occasionally, but no snow as temps are in low 40's.  Hiked with the dogs and Spooky - our little fluffy black cat that showed up as a kitten two years ago, on Halloween - to the highest point on the pipeline listening for birds.  Hm... There's a gun club a couple miles away from us, but today it sounds like it is right next door, and from the number of muffled booms, I'd say they are shooting skeet today. Boom Boom Boom Boom Bang Bang Bang ----- Boom Boom Boom Boom Bang Bang ----- Boom Boom Boom Boom Boom  ... It's amazing how sounds echo off low clouds. There was finally a break in gunshots and I heard some birds - Chickadee, Kinglets, Crows, red-bellied woodpecker....

I finally sat on the pipeline and looked around for something to draw.  The curly, tan grass leaves were hidden in the spikey aftermath of the great mowing of a few weeks ago. When I tugged on one curled leaf to draw, the whole plant came up, roots and all, so I drew the whole thing.

By the time I finished and headed home my hands were almost frozen.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Storms and Sting Ray Barb

Yesterday was stormy except for a few morning hours, which happened to be high tide, so we decided not to take the boats out to the inlet.  Instead we drove to Edisto State Park and walked on the beach there.  The clouds were low, dark and scudding, the beach scoured clean from the extreme high tide earlier in the day.   We walked the mile or so to Jeremy Inlet and found the falling tide had exposed what could have been all the shells from the other part of the beach. Piles of shells, fields of shells, strips of shells lined up by water currents.  No memorable fossil finds there, but fun just the same. I started noticing all the different textures strewn across the beach - so amazing.  I picked up a few pieces of shell for the fun of drawing them: Fossil turtle shell,  cockle fragment, cracked conch fragment, fossil sting ray barb, fossil tooth of bull shark, jingle shell, sand collar (egg case of a Shark Eye), and another conch fragment.

When I finally looked back up the beach, a squall was practically upon us.  We hurried back up the now desolate stretch of sand and dunes and ran into the camp ground to get out of the driving rain.  The windspeed dropped dramatically within the thick tangle of Live Oak and Palmetto Palms.  RV campers were set up here and there, some seeming to be settled for the holidays - there were wreaths on the doors and Christmas lights twinkled on miniature trees on the dashboards.  We scurried along the worn limestone path just behind the dunes until we finally reached the car.  The rest of the afternoon was stormy until a cool wind pushed away the clouds long enough for the full moon to peek through for an hour, then the storms returned.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

White Day

I'm on Edisto Island on the third day of a fossil-hunting expedition with a friend. We've had heavy, pea-soup fog all day long. We traveled to the beach by kayak from our dock - an otherworldly experience today. Once there we were the only people on the narrow spit of a barrier island - not unusual since you can only get there by boat. There were birds, of course, and signs of wildlife, but not much was happening out there. It is a most peaceful place. The weather this fall has been hard on the inlet. There were a couple of hurricanes that skirted the SE coast, and in doing so ate up the sand and left a wide expanse of thick brown pluff mud spiked with nubs of grass. The point has been completely rearranged and the mounds of dunes and wildflowers completely washed over. It felt like we'd landed in a new place, an unknown land.

We slid with a crunch of broken shells onto the island just before high tide and hauled our kayaks up a steep, cutaway bank onto level beach, then pulled them up past the high tide line. They were tucked up next to a cliff of sand, where a storm tide had cut into the only small patch of dunes left on this end of the island. We would be gone before the water came up that far, but we pulled them up for mental comfort. We tucked the paddles and jackets's safely away and headed down the beach. Susan immediately found a wonderful, palm-sized vertebra (possibly dolphin) that had swashed out of the inlet onto the point. Other goodies followed - turtle shell fragments, bones, horse teeth, and ancient pottery, some with the pattern still visible. Colorful sea whip dotted the wide, shelly beach, shockingly bright in the dense fog. Brown Pelicans and Great Black-backed Gulls along with Semi-palmated Plovers, Ring-Billed Gulls, and several Common Terns gathered on the edge of the water, blurred through the binoculars by fog. Sanderlings skittered about, pausing to peck some juicy morsel from the sand.

Fog became even thicker as we headed back late in the white day. We caught a ride with the in-coming tide and sped up the creek toward the house. We sidetracked into a small creek off to the right and were rewarded by our first sighting of a Seaside Sparrow, chirruping while clinging to marsh grass. He acted as if he were glad to see us, flying away then back several times, and turning this way and that so we could get a good look. We hoped for but didn't see the dolphin from yesterday, rolling and feeding in the creek around our boats.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Brrrr..... It was 41 degrees when I headed out with the dogs this afternoon.  The pipeline was still mostly sunny, but by the time I found these strange galls - or whatever they are -  and settled down to draw, the sun was slipping behind the hill.  There were clouds gliding low in the north, pink and gray in the pale blue sky.  Once the sun was gone the temperature dropped 20 degrees - ok, probably only 2, but it felt like 20.  I was suddenly chilled to the bone.  

Winston and I scurried back up the steep hill to home.  Radu had disappeared into the woods earlier, while I was drawing, and as usual, there he was sitting on the back stoop. He ran to greet us as we walked the last bit of path through the winter trees.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Puzzle pieces

After a hectic Thanksgiving weekend I looked forward to a walk, no matter what the weather.  So, around 3:00 I waved goodbye to Scott as he drove away in the mist, and went inside to put on my hiking boots.  As soon as Radu and Winston saw what I was doing they went crazy.  Radu began his happy dance, and Winston sat up on his hind legs, waving his paws in the air until I grabbed them in my hands for a double shake.  We didn't know him as a puppy, but right then he reminded me of his much  younger, newly adopted self.

The leaves in the woods were soggy from the weekend of rain, lying flat against each other in endless layers.  Out on the pipeline, solitary leaves were laid out on the mown grass like puzzle pieces on a card table, their shapes and colors just as different as can be. Along the edge of the pipeline, I was surprised to find tiny, 8-inch high oak trees with green leaves.  How could this be? Didn't they experience the same way-below-freezing weather as the other trees? I would love a botany professor's answer to this most perplexing question!   

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Turkey Day

In honor of the holiday here are two wild turkey feathers given to me by my b-i-l from Georgia. Around my house I have tons of individual feathers he has given me over the years.  I love these feathers. When looking at one feather I think about, well, the feather. It's easy to admire the details, the beautiful iridescence, the miracle of flight.  

A friend who hunts once gave me a whole, intact fan of these feathers.  He thought I would love it, but every time I look at it I want to cry. When looking at a whole fan I immediately see the whole bird and I think about the hen who laid eggs in my woods last spring, and about the flock that visits us in the winter, the tom displaying his fan out on the pipeline... oh!! So sad.

Obviously, I am not a hunter.

Anyway, today I am thankful for TURKEYS, all turkeys past and present.  I hope you all have a very thankful day!


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Green Anole

Hiked with Radu again today - clean and silky Radu, amazingly sweet-smelling from his "EMERGENCY BATH" yesterday.  (Seriously, that's what they called it when I mentioned on the phone that he had rolled in something nasty. They took him even though they were overbooked.)  

Today's weather felt mild when you were in the sun, out of the wind, but step into the shade of a pine, and let a gust blow up and  brrrrrr... it felt like January.  Found my way to a fallen pine log stretched along the north-east side of our pipeline, facing south-west and the afternoon sun.  Thought it would make a nice seat, so I settled down. Leaves rustled overhead and when I looked up saw that I was directly under a big White Oak.  Its crown of reddish-brown leaves jiggled in the wind, with an occasional leaf flying off and twirling over the field.  I love White Oaks - their scaly white bark, their lovely round-tipped leaves, and especially the fact that they are a favored roosting tree for owls.  Their branches spread out as if they want to give you a hug.  

As I admired the tree's bark, I noticed a slight movement.  Right in front of me, barely moving, a Green Anole (in his brown phase to match the winter tree) was sunning himself on the west-facing trunk.  Because he seemed to be in slow-mode I decided to attempt to draw him, and it worked! It was almost as if he was posing for me.  He stayed in one position for a while, then slowly turned his head, took one step, or changed direction, never moving from within about 2 inches of where he had been.  I really appreciated his cooperation.  Most of the time wildlife moves too fast to study it... like the two huge whitetail deer I'd startled by the creek.  Snort!  Crash! their white tails flashed and Zoom! they were gone.

A tiny brown cricket clicked against brown leaves as he hopped between me and the White Oak.  I wondered how many other tiny wild lives were enjoying this protected sunny spot... then I remembered the winter I was hiking on a sunny hill and came to (almost stumbled into) a nest of snakes around a sunny hollow log, much like the one I was sitting on.   Ha!  Fine time to remember that.  You'll be glad to know that I didn't jump and run.  It was time to go anyway, to go find Radu, who had wandered off possibly to find something to roll in.  

I put my journal away and wandered back home.


Sparkle II

Spent time yesterday working on everything around the rock.  Did I mention that the rock is not white, as it appears?  It is grayish-sparkles and brownish-red from the minute garnets (seen through a 10x lens... ) I think the rock is mica-garnet schist - the flakey mica gives the rock it's sparkle. Obviously I still have much work to do on this one.  Stay tuned....

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Ok, clearly I bit off more than I could chew today.  I'd hiked to the top of the rocky ridge and was sitting, listening the the dogs run through leaves and mountain laurel way down by the creek, when I saw this group of three trees - two sourwoods and an oak - encircled by rocks full of muscovite mica chips - so bright and beautiful in the afternoon sun.  But, how do you draw a flat rock whose most spectacular characteristic is it's tiny sparkles?  Hmm... well, I can't say that I know yet, but I decided to start by including the base of the trees and the leaf litter in the drawing, thinking that the textures would (hopefully) push the rocks out and make them noticeable.  This is a huge undertaking when all you 're using is a micron pen, and I immediately regretted getting into such a project. But it was such a peaceful afternoon, quiet and sunny, I didn't want to move. And for the record, I often get this way at the beginning of drawing something -  I get irritated with myself, or disgusted with my inability to capture what I want to, and I get antsy to try something else, instead.  However, it is rare that I start something new.  

So, instead of wimping out on the above drawing of Sparkles, I got lost in it and drew for over two hours.  When my rear end was numb from the cooling temps, and Radu, having rolled in something long since dead, ran over to share a whiff of his new perfume, I decided it was time to get up and go home.  I could (and hopefully will) go back to the ridge and finish it up tomorrow.

Or not.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Found myself in a patch of piney woods yesterday, on a path worn from use, although who uses it is a mystery because in eighteen years, I have only once seen a hunter's truck here.  I settled down in a soft bed of needles to draw these striking Arrowood leaves. Many of the leaves on the small tree had been nibbled by insects, and every leaf was edged in black. The dappled afternoon sunlight hit the leaves just so and made them glow.  Growing near the Arrowwood was a Carolina Jessamine whose delicate vine stem was heading for the sun of the open field. 
The wonderful warmth of the 60 degree day brought out the tangy scent of pines, which I must say blended nicely with essence of drying hay that drifted in from the newly mown pipeline.  


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Puff Ball

Our pipeline had a haircut today.  Early this morning I heard the mechanical rumbling and clanging of big mowing equipment and guessed right away that they had come to do the deed.  The leaves have thinned enough for me to see the orange tractors running up and down the steep hills while a white pickup sat near our bench on top of the hill to keep an eye on the proceedings. I kept busy writing and running errands, hoping that they'd be through before dark.  Around 4:00, when the dogs and I headed out to see the buzz cut, the tractors were finished with this section (Emma Cudd Road to Lawson's Fork) and heading back to the road. We hid out until they passed.  Sigh... it's always a little depressing to see a smooth lawn where a prairie had just been, even though I know this mowing is just what keeps the prairie flowers happy and healthy.  But the rose hips were gone - the ones I planned to pick... the berries of the big patch of winged sumac were gone - the berries I planned to draw. All chopped up and spit out.  While I was standing with my back to the sun, looking at the neat, close cropped grass, the wind gusted around me and turned into a little dust devil on the flat, open land, twirling brown leaves in a mini-tornado that lasted about five seconds - no more. That couldn't have occurred yesterday. 

I turned and hiked back into the woods where I found this weird puff ball thing.  It's not the same as the other one I talked about a couple weeks ago. This one was not in the open sun, but growing in the remains a fallen pine trunk deep in the woods. This one had a potato shape and big cracks that revealed layers of crust and a mound of spores the color of dark chocolate inside. Drawing it helped me forget the haircut... and by tomorrow I'll be used to the idea and think it looks great. I'll remember how beautiful it will look this winter if it snows, and how the spring flowers will get more sun and be more prolific next year... 

Oh boy, I feel better already!


Monday, November 17, 2008

Rose Hips

Rose hips of the Pasture Rose grow in tangled patches here and there on the pipelines, but where I sat today, facing the sun with my back to a line of pines, there was only this stubby little vine growing. The buds for next year (look closely!) were the same color as the hips.  Forgot my binoculars and didn't recognize their song, so I couldn't identify the three birds who came to visit the trees nearby. 



Sunday, November 16, 2008

Buckeyes in a Red Bowl

We went to the mountains for the weekend with hopes of seeing our first snow of the season. Saturday started out as forecast: warm, with temps in the upper 50's, some sun and plenty of big puffy white clouds scooting quickly overhead.  Around midday someone upstairs opened the refrigerator door.  The wind didn't just pick up, it came roaring over the mountains and brought with it clouds and cold air.  On the one mile drive up Mauney Cove Road I watched the temperature drop nine degrees - from 56 to 47.  There was also a rainbow hanging over the cove which we could see all the way up the mountain.  It was still there when we got to the cabin, so I ran into the house, grabbed the camera, and drove back down to a nice spot that overlooks the valley.  By then is was 45 degrees and spitting rain, but the rainbow was still there.  It rained all afternoon and finally, late in the night, it snowed!  
Since we don't have a television or internet at the cabin, I spent the evening drawing some of the beautiful buckeyes we collected in September from a huge tree below our cabin.  If buckeyes really do bring luck, our little cabin must be an extra lucky place.


Friday, November 14, 2008


It is raining today, and a carpet of soggy brown leaves covers Ben's grass, the driveway (after being blown clean yesterday) and the deck.  But hey, it's no problem at all for me to find something to draw. Anyone who has been to my house or studio knows that my windowsills are filled with nature's  goodies.  All I have to do is decide if the subject will be animal, vegetable, or mineral.  No need getting cold and wet if you don't have to!  


Thursday, November 13, 2008


Went paddling with Susan on Lake Johnson yesterday. Clouds hung heavy over us and the wind across the water was brisk, making me wish I'd put on more layers of clothes, or had brought the skirt for my kayak.  Still, it was very quiet and peaceful and worth the occasional shivers from holding the cold metal handle of the paddle.  Late crickets and/or cicadas were calling from all around, and back in one protected cove, a river of Whirligig Beetles entertained us for the longest time.  Try watching them through binoculars some time. Their shiny bodies glide effortlessly through the water and leave a tiny V of ripples.  When they are in neutral you can see their two front legs vibrating, churning the water on either side of the head.   As our kayaks floated into the river of beetles, they divided into two rivers, with occasional independent thinkers heading out to explore on their own.   "Look," Susan said, "that's us!"

Bird list from Lake Johnson and the swamp:  
Canada Geese (flock of 24 greeted us then flew away honking)
Chickadees (hanging and eating seed on pine cones)
Kinglets (too high to see their crowns)
Tufted Titmice
Kingfisher (one in lake, one in swamp)
Black vultures circling (4)
Eastern Phoebes 
Bluebirds (many swooping out over lake catching bugs)
Killdeer (several walking the shore pecking the ground)
Great Blue Heron (flying very high above lake)
Mallards (in swamp)
Red-bellied Woodpeckers
White Throated Sparrows (singing)
Mourning Doves (also heard whistling wings)
American Goldfinches
Pine Siskins (flock in a Sweetgum tree)
Turkey Vultures (on road as we left)


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Late Bloomers

Leaves were falling like snow today, criss-crossing in midair.  Our long driveway is rapidly being covered again even though Ben blew it clean of leaves on Sunday, after returning from Georgia. 

Today is Susan's birthday.  Her gift from me was a baggie full of wildflower seeds gathered from my pipeline: Golden Hairy Aster, Silvery Aster, Gerardia, Field Goldenrod, Whorled-leaf Coreopsis and more, in hopes that she can begin her project of turning an old pasture into a prairie. 


Monday, November 10, 2008

Cushion Moss

Today was a cool and blue-skied day with a stiff breeze.  Hiked to the rocky ridge and crossed the fence line into new territory where long ago huge boulders rolled down from the ridge into mountain laurel thickets. There were many green plants around on this steep, north-facing hill: dwarf heartleaf, cranefly orchid, spotted wintergreen, christmas fern,  as well as pale pink maple-leaf viburnum, and cushion moss growing around a rock.  

Amid the brown leaf-litter I also found two 5" leaves with three distinctive lobes.  Back at home I found it first in my trusty Readers Digest Illustrated Guide to North American Wildlife - a handy reference book for wildflowers because it has paintings of the whole plant, and there are many times when I want to identify a plant by its leaves only - like today.  My mystery plant is named for its yellow, threadlike underground rhizome:  Goldthreads.  In May I'll go see it in bloom.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Tulip Poplar

Came home to find that the leaves here have completely turned the corner from summer to fall. There's not a green leaf anywhere.  When I turned into the driveway it was lost under a layer of leaves, and more were blowing down throughout the woods. The thinning of canopy could literally be felt as I got out of the car and the afternoon sunshine hit my shoulders.  It was pretending to be fall last week - today I came home to real thing. 

Being gone almost a week is good for us all. Winston and Radu missed me possibly as much as I missed them and our life at Middlewood.  They were jumping, yapping and ready for a walk before I even got to the back door, my arms filled with luggage.  They looked totally frustrated by me as I emptied the car, called my parents, and found my hiking shoes. In fact, by the time we headed out to the woods the sun had gone down.  From the pipeline the sky still remembered the sun and was bright in the west, while night was a dark blue smudge on the northeastern horizon.  A waxing gibbous moon hung silent in the dusky blue sky, just above the treeline.  

We hiked toward the creek but didn't go all the way down.  Above Meetinghouse Creek a Great Horned Owl began hooting on the far hill... when I stopped to listen I realized that it was not one but three owls calling back and forth!  The trees along the pipeline showed as a band of yellow, orange and brown with a slender white skeleton of a bare sycamore standing out against them.  Fall field crickets chirruped in the grass around us.  

On the way back Radu disappeared (as usual) into the quiet woods after some unknown creature. The lights from the house twinkled in the distance and for the first time since adopting Radu, I beat him home.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Hat Pins

I've been in Georgia at my parent's home since Tuesday, and because family and friends are gathering for a wedding things have been too hectic for me to escape to the woods... until today. As soon as I could slide out I headed to the small lake across the road.  The weather was perfect - 66 degrees with a fresh breeze from the north, tempered by the afternoon sun. The edge of the lake is thick with wax myrtles, bay laurels, various grasses, as well as smilax, honeysuckle and Lobelia. A yellow coreopsis-type flower is blooming.  It has distinctive leaves with short hairs that will help me identify it once I'm back home with my shelves full of field guides.  Hat Pins are here, sticking up above the grassy tangle like little white buttons.  They have been a favorite of mine since I was a little girl growing up in north Florida, close to the St. Johns River.  

On my drive down I noticed thousands of white-blooming shrubs beside the road.  They were everywhere and I very much wanted to stop and pick some to draw.  However I have learned that roadsides aren't as accessible as you think (or wish they were), so I kept moving.  Then on Wednesday, when my sister, nephew and I took a walk, I found them growing here in the neighborhood beside the lakes.  Up close they are even more beautiful than they looked from the zooming car.  The tassels are silky and bright, much whiter that I imagined them to be.  The larger leaves are lobed while the small leaves are smooth.  I picked a handful to use in the house for Friday's Bridesmaids' luncheon.  Today is Saturday, wedding day, and they still are fresh and beautiful, possibly in honor of our beautiful bride, Madeline.


Monday, November 3, 2008

shades of brown

We awoke this morning to heavy clouds and wind twirling the tops of the tall oak and poplar trees around the house. It wasn't cold (temps in the 50's), but it looked it.  All day the fall colors were intense in the overcast light.  

It was late afternoon when I finally got to take Radu and Winston on a walk.  I wandered around the kudzu hill, checking out some mushroom things I've been keeping an eye on for a couple of weeks.  They have become the weirdest looking things I have ever seen.  I thought they were mushrooms, but now I think they are stalked puffballs, even if the stalks are almost as big around as the puff.  The first time I saw them, the top of the things had big "cracks" that were dark brown in the buff colored mushroom top.  Cool, I thought.  Each time I checked them the cracks got deeper, wider, and darker.  Today they were all covered with light-brown spores, the cracks all but invisible.   I tapped one with a stick - TAP TAP TAP - and it sounded hollow, and a fine puff of spores floated up above the mushroom, or whatever it is.  I thought about drawing it, but ....   Ok, ok,  maybe next week, when I come back from my niece's wedding in Georgia, I'll draw the THINGS.   Today I decided to sit out in the fading afternoon light and draw some of the frost-bitten wild flowers and grass on the pipeline.   


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Morning Sun

It's amazing how quickly the leaves change color once the time is right.  Today is even brighter than yesterday afternoon!  The dogs and I hiked to the southern bluff above where Meetinghouse Creek flows into the much larger course of Lawson's Fork.  Sitting here feels like being in a treehouse.  The view is of the tops of the trees growing way downhill, as well as across to where the bluff picks up again, beyond Meetinghouse Creek. The leaves, primarily yellows and oranges, glowed in the morning sun.   Just past the rocks (in the sketch above) the land drops off so steeply that you have to hold on to small trees or roots going down or with one misstep you could roll all the way down to the Dog Hobble that lines the creek. From up here you can also hear the gurgle of the creek as it cascades over rocks. If you were beamed to this spot and had to figure out where you were, I bet you'd think you were in the North Carolina mountains.

To the left of this treehouse view a Mountain Laurel thicket grows all the way down to Lawson's Fork. It is so dense you couldn't push through it if you tried. The rocks are covered in lichen and moss, and some with Resurrection Fern, brown now from the drought.  Small clumps of Yucca dot the ridge.  

Found a Zen-garden-in-a-bottle.  It is old, narrow-mouthed, and filled with lime-green moss. 


Saturday, November 1, 2008


Took a nice long hike today with Son #1, who is home from Charlotte for the weekend. In the house, when the W word was spoken Radu's ears perked up.   When shoes were retrieved from another room he sat up straighter and followed me with his eyes.  When I tied my hiking shoe-laces I noticed his front legs were getting itchy. Winston, not wanting to waste energy unnecessarily, raised one old eyebrow and waited for a sign from Radu.  This outing is definitely the highlight of their day, but no need to move until you need to.

We set out down the path to the studio with Radu and Winston bouncing around in excitement. They soon ran ahead doing their doggy thing of sniffing and marking, pouncing unsuspecting insects, and checking occasionally to be sure we were with them. They stayed with us a long time, but only two of the four of us made it all the way to the river.  The other two spotted a deer on the rocky ridge above the river and dashed off in a barking frenzy. Too bad for them. They missed their chance to go swimming, chase the hickory nuts we threw into the water,  and even missed seeing the colorful maple leaf reflections.  Later we all met back up out on the pipeline.  By then Radu was ok,  but Winston was moving slowwww, and  acting rather like the old rhinoceros in Jumanji's stampede scene. Slurping water from Meetinghouse Creek helped him a little, but from there it was a slow walk home, uphill the whole way. 

Back at the house we walked up the driveway to admire a particularly beautiful red maple/hickory/blue sky combination.  While there I pointed out the berries of our native Euonymus, or Burning Bush, otherwise know as Hearts-a-Burstin'...  with happiness? Well, that's what I always think when I say the name, and today that is just how I felt while hiking and sharing my world with my first born son!


Friday, October 31, 2008


A gorgeous day all around.  The leaves are finally getting serious about turning. Found some scary stuff out there in honor of the day.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

October Shadows

Cold again today - and still windy.  I walked to the top of the "Kudzu Hill," the hill with the view where my b-i-l wants to build a house.  There were pockets of warm air, and in those pockets were butterflies- buckeyes, folded-wing skippers, a tiny checkerspot.  There were carolina locusts everywhere!  As I walked on top of the hill through a field of pale grass seedheads, grasshoppers and locusts exploded from the grass - flinging themselves away from me.  In the clear-blue distance were all the mountain ranges we are ever able to see:  Hogback Mountain, our closest and deepest blue, the Black mountains, including Mt. Mitchell and the whole range...around me the wind blew through the pale grass, red maple leaves danced, a huge tulip poplar cast a long cool shadow between me and the mountains.  


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stargrass and Sumac

Brrrr.... It was cold today, and the wind made it so much worse!  The small Winged Sumac plants are so beautiful right now, with their rich purply-red leaves, especially in the late afternoon sun.  The taller (older) ones have partial red leaves, but are still mostly green.  The plant I chose to draw is the whole plant, as seen from above, and only about six inches high.  The Hairy Yellow Stargrass is very late blooming.  I thought its deep yellow blooms contrasted nicely with the sumac leaves.  Other bloomers include: Eastern Silvery Asters, Wooly Golden Asters, Calico Aster, Showy Aster, and Field Goldenrod. Tonight's hard freeze may be the end of these for this year.  We'll see!


Monday, October 27, 2008

House Mouse

This has nothing to do with journaling - but it is the poster I've been working on this week for JAMBOREAD!, the annual children's reading festival at our library - the real work that has kept me from being free to wander the woods.  And, no, this mouse doesn't live in MY house!

Available as poster in March (more poster art here.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Last week I read an article about one of America's quietest places, which happens to be in Olympic National Park in Washington State.  "It's not easy to find silence in the modern world," says the writer. What is silence?  The writer defines it: "Silence is when you can listen for fifteen minutes in daylight hours without hearing a human-created sound."  
Luckily, I don't have to travel cross-country to find silence. Today was remarkably quiet right here at Middlewood.  I noticed it as I walked out onto the pipeline.  I stopped to listen for human-made sounds.  Nothing.  The sky was clear and blue as sapphires, without one contrail - which is highly unusual for us as we are under the flight path between Charlotte and Atlanta.  No person within hearing distance was cutting wood with a chainsaw, driving a car, blowing leaves, mowing grass, riding a dirtbike.  There were only the high-pitched trill of crickets, crows cawing in the distance, the breeze stirring the treetops...  it was very peaceful. 

The dogs and I hiked all over, but ended up in the deep dark woods beside Meetinghouse Creek... in the spot we named Coon Hollow for the hundreds of raccoon prints in the sandbars and the steep north-facing bluff on one side of the creek that curves around with the bend of the creek. In this shady spot the leaves still held tiny pools of water from Friday's rain. Mushrooms were growing everywhere, all sizes - from a 5" Old-Man-of-the-Woods, down to the tiny, shirt-button-sized, umbrella shaped Pinwheel Marasmius.  , and the above sedge, fern, and the mystery plant with holes.


Swamp Sunflowers

During October afternoons the Swamp Sunflowers are quite shocking.  I've planted this wildflower in my garden - BIG MISTAKE.  Right now the tallest stalk is about fourteen feet high and likes to bounce in the breeze... but most have fallen over and are resting on the patch of past-prime phlox.  It's a mess.  I need to dig them up.  I keep telling myself this, but the blooms are so beautiful, it's hard to actually get around to doing it.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pine Tree Stuff

Today I experienced  a case of "Do as I say, not as I do."  I did exactly what I tell my students not to do.  I tell them that it's best not to go searching for something specific to draw in their journals- something that they like or think is beautiful or interesting.  "Instead," I tell them, "just find a place to sit and look at the ground beside you.  Something there will inevitably become interesting to you."   

This morning something came to mind that I'd seen the other day and I decided I wanted to draw it.  "It" was a pine gall nestled into a thick bed of reindeer moss with pine needles sprinkled around. I decided that I must find it again, (an impossible task) or else find another to draw.  I won't say how long I wandered in the woods looking for pine trees with galls, but after a while I did finally find two weathered pine galls on the ground under some pines.  Plus, it was a great hike!  Winston, Radu, and I got plenty of exercise while I searched, and I discovered a wonderful old Sourwood, as well as some neat shaggy brown mushrooms, and a whole bank of pyxie cups growing in moss and lichen.  Also, I found some spotted red oak galls that had fallen to the ground, and of course, a multitude of fall flowers, butterflies, and Carolina Locusts.  Did I mention the huge black puffball?  It was easily 6-7 inches across.  These were all worthy subjects for my journal... I wonder if I'll be able to find them again?  


Monday, October 20, 2008

Mapleleaf Viburnum

In celebration of today's gorgeous blue sky the dogs and I walked down to the river.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  Usually I get sidetracked by pipeline flowers, so I gave myself a goal, concentrated on the hiking part and tried to forget about looking around.  Luckily, the lower pipeline (here we have three that run roughly parallel, with a strip of woods between) has recently been mowed, so I went down to that one for fewer distractions.  (Each line is mown every few years, which is why we have such a beautiful prairie out there.  It's sad if they happen to mow in the fall, but I have come to accept the mowing as a necessity.) Anyway, Radu, Winston and I made it to the river by way of the lower pipeline. We took the path off the pipeline that runs through the woods, up the steep hill to the rocky ridge, then down down down, through thickets of Christmas fern, wild azalea, and mountain laurel, to the river's edge.  The ground was damp from the weekend rain, but I didn't care!  The air was cool and the sky as blue as Julian Merrow-Smith's Provence sky in his recent "Postcard From Provence!" I connected with him as I gazed up from the riverside into blue sky and bright yellow poplar leaves.  Provence is a beautiful place, yes, but beauty can be found anywhere you are.  Just look around. 

A special find - the purple-black berries of the Mapleleaf Viburnum.  I've seen these berries in field guides but have never seen them in person.  The berries are quickly eaten by wild turkey, White-tailed Deer, squirrels, and various songbirds.   They must be tasty.



This entry is from late Sunday afternoon, after we returned from North Carolina.  The dogs and I went out for a late walk but I got sidetracked by this earthstar.... a truly magical creation of nature.  Other magical things... an insect that eats neat little holes in leaves (who did this?), and squirrels' teeth - strong enough to open a hickory nut.  


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Berries & Fern

The North Carolina mountains are so beautiful in the autumn, especially when it's a day like Saturday - cloudy and windy, with red and yellow leaves flying through the air and landing silently, carpeting the ground. It was the first cold weather of the season.  At home in Spartanburg it was in the 80's Thursday, so we loved this morning's 35 degrees...brrrr.

Found this Christmas fern frond growing in the trees alongside Raspberry Lane, which runs below our tiny cabin on Hall Top. So much is happening in the woods when you stop and really look.  The little green fern was snuggled in with old rotting leaves, newly fallen leaves, twigs, pieces of lichened bark from a dying tree, and more, and all were amazingly balanced on the steep bank. While I was drawing an ant scurried by, reminding me how all this stuff provides the perfect cover for beetles, slugs, snails, ants, etc.  Then my mind kept going down into the dark, loamy soil, where earthworms and centipedes crawl about, and bacteria and fungi are busy working to break it all down and provide food for plants.  Whew! Maybe all that mental activity is why my journal entries take so long to complete!

The berries...  I don't know what they are called, but they were painfully beautiful.  I still have the tip of a thorn in my hand from trying to pick branches to take into the cabin.  Ouch!


Friday, October 17, 2008


Spent time this morning planting baby lettuces in the garden I share with neighbors - Mesclun Mix, Buttercrunch, Oakleaf, and more.  We had to resort to garden center four-packs because we waited too long for the hot weather to break, and now it's too late to plant seeds.   We are learning as we go.  This is our first vegetable garden, entirely inspired by Barbara Kingsolver's recent non-fiction book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of  Food Life.

Came straight home and headed out through the woods with the dogs for a walk on the pipeline.  The mosquitos from the vegetable garden must have followed me home because they hovered and buzzed and used their silent landing skill to sneak in and bite me while I drew these two Spiny Puffballs. I also discovered two fire ants walking on my knee.  Yikes! I jumped up, brushed them off, and turned to check out the old, flattened chair pad I drag around with me for pipeline comfort. Didn't see any more, so I returned to my spot. 

It was interesting to see that the puffballs' "spines" were in the process of falling off. They were in a pile, and sprinkled here and there around the puffballs, probably splashed by recent rain. While drawing, I remembered a friend telling me that in Germany last month she saw a recipe for "Puffball Soup."  I guess you'd harvest them while small, before they turn into papery puffs, and surely you wouldn't use the spiny variety.  I could serve it with fresh salad from the garden! (Check here for a recipe.)


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sourwood and Asters

It's early fall here in the Piedmont of South Carolina, and the sourwood trees are turning pink. The fields are still full of September's yellow and purple asters, goldenrod, pink gerardia, and tall grass seedheads.   Radu, Winston and I had an energetic hike on the pipeline in the cool shadows of the morning, stopping for a while to meditate and draw this journal entry/explore the woods and chase deer.  The dogs came home covered in green beggar-ticks and muddy paws from playing in tiny Meetinghouse Creek. My hiking boots were wet with dew, but otherwise I remained presentable.