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.
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!
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.)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.)
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.
I am a freelance writer/illustrator and regular contributor to the Wildlife in North Carolina magazine. I also do portraits of children, and teach weekly nature journaling classes in and around my studio in the woods. I teach seasonal workshops on Nature Journaling at our public garden, Hatcher Garden & Woodland Preserve. In the past I have led workshops for all ages, from elementary to college classes, from young adults to retirement groups.
I live with my husband, two dogs Daisy and Duke, and two cats in a house called Middlewood. The house is surrounded by my perennial garden, a little grass, and acres of forest. I love wandering in the woods, or hiking on the pipeline that runs near the house (see pic below). I work in a small studio nestled in the trees behind the house.
"Open your arms to life! Let it strut into your heart in all its messy glory!" Deborah Wiles
"Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after." Thoreau
"Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there." Gary Snyder
"What grace a few moments of seeing bring. Such a fine gift: this wind, these eyes, this Earth." John Caddy (see: www.morningearth.org)
"You cannot use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." Maya Angelou
"I slept on the beach last night and saw the new moon over the dunes at sunrise, a crescent coasting above a casual slurry of pink and blue, like God got up late and slung color over his shoulder before stumbling off to make coffee." Roger Pinckney
"Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with the eyes of love."
Thich Nhat Hanh
"Life cannot give you any more than you are willing to put into it." Yogi at yogisays.com
"Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind." Henry James
"The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning." Morrie Schwartz