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!