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.