Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bog Plants and a Spider

This afternoon I went journaling with my nephew, Will. The weather was cool and cloudy so instead of going on a big adventure, we walked to the lake close to my parents' house. There are interesting bog plants growing there in a low, sandy spot that gets very soggy after a good rain. South Georgia has had plenty of rain this fall, so today the plants that grow there were all in squishy, wet soil. Our footsteps filled with water as we slogged across the grass to the lake edge. A Great Blue Heron flapped noiselessly over our heads. The minute we sat down, seven geese honked their way through the sky along the far side of the lake. Honk honk!

We used my dad's "beached" kayaks as seats, and pulled our journals out to draw. Right away, Will noticed a spider on a dried, brown goldenrod stem. He picked the stem and handed it to me for viewing. At first I couldn't even see it, but then the spider decided to move. Like magic, out popped the eight inch-long legs. It scooted up the stem about three inches, then stopped, retracted his legs and placed them neatly along the stem. (I drew him with his legs out just a bit so he could be seen.) The bog plants were growing all around the kayaks, so all we had to do was lean over and pick one to draw: the long green one is Foxtail Clubmoss, the orange flower is Orange Milkwort. The cone, I believe, is the remains of a Spikerush. When a tiny flying bug landed on Will's page he handed his pad over for me to see it. "Do you want me to draw it for you?" I asked. "Sure!" he replied. You will see the bug near the arrow on the left side of Will's drawing. We thought it was a good thing when later, a bug landed on my page, as well. I always take advantage of the moment and draw my buggy visitors.

The red leaf was discovered by Will floating on the lake. He only got a little wet retrieving it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Gall, Beetle Art, Cocoon

Yesterday was a fine day for hiking as long as I stayed out of the wind and in the afternoon sun. Otherwise, even with strenuous physical exercise, the cold crept into my bones. Once I realized this I kept to the sunny side of the pipeline. And since the pipelines are lined with pine trees, which blocked the north wind, I was plenty warm.

At one point I chose to take a shortcut between two pipelines. It was an obvious deer path - more like a highway - through piney woods. On this path I found a pine gall and a chunk of bark with the amazing pine beetle design. I leaned down to pick them up, and as I stood to head back out to the sun the dangling cocoon tapped me on the knee. Since it was last year's (empty, but still in good condition) I snapped the branch and took it along with me.

There's nothing more peaceful than sitting in a sunny, protected spot on a cold winter's day. Get your dog to sit close and find something interesting to draw, and you're truly living right.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Winged Sumac in Seed

Hiking at the end of a busy day is a wonderful way to work out stress. Today I started out with my backpack (which holds journal and accessories) but soon realized that what I really needed was a good, brisk walk. At the same time I noticed on the pipeline the graceful beauty of a patch of winged sumac in seed, their fuzzy stems of rusty brown seeds arched like dancers taking a bow. I stopped short to admire them, and to wonder how I hadn't noticed them before today.

Leaving my backpack right there in the path, I headed off on my hike with Radu and Daisy. Down the steep hill we went, through Meetinghouse Creek, up the far hill to the fence. Turning around I noticed that our thin bit of sunshine (really just a fuzzy bright spot in a gray sky) was about to be wiped out by a charcoal gray cloud rising up from the western horizon. Sure enough, as I hiked home I watched the cloud slowly take it over. The temperature reflected the lack of sun.

By the time we hiked back up the steep hill to my backpack, I'd worked up enough body heat to sit for a while and draw. I settled beside the pack and dug out the journal, accompanied by a flock of Chickadees singing in the woods around me. Chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee! Chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee! Daisy and Dubie, tired from full-speed-ahead running, sniffing and exploring, curled up nearby for much needed naps.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lichen and Jelly Fungus

The world brightened quickly around noon when the morning fog finally burned off. As soon as it did the dogs and I set out for a much needed sunny hike. Water was still running off our high hill and down the small gully in the middle of Old Thompson Road, swirling and dancing over small waterfalls as it sought lower ground. Water droplets still on branches sparkled in the sun. It was warmer than I thought it would be and not as windy as predicted, so within the first five minutes my fleece jacket had to come off. Whew! I also headed for the pine woods to let the shady coolness counteract my decision to wear Smart Wool long underwear!

The soggy needles and leaves were spongey. They made no sound as we wound our way through the trees with a Downy Woodpecker leading the way, flying from tree to tree. We crossed a swollen Meetinghouse Creek, and headed up the other side. On the highest hill I accidentally relocated an interesting old sourwood tree and was just as surprised and excited as the first time. The trunk has deep furrows broken into fat chunks of bark. The branches twist and turn and cross each other in a beautiful pattern, and seen against today's blue sky it was quite striking. And it was just what I wanted to draw. I walked all around and found a good angle. I put my waterproof pad down, folded my fleece jacket and put that down for added comfort. I settled down to work. Out came my box of pens. I carefully picked out one of the new ones and then located my reading glasses in my pocket. Then... Something was missing. My journal. There was no journal in the backpack. I'd had it out for Monday's post and didn't put it back into the backpack. Geeze. Nothing to do but admire the tree a while longer then pack up and go home.

By the time we got back to the house the wind had really picked up. I retrieved my journal from the kitchen and wandered back in our woods a while. The wind kept getting stronger. It really roared! I finally decided I should NOT sit around under old trees in high wind. Sure enough, within five minutes after leaving the hill I heard a loud crack and turned in time to see a huge branch fall out of the top of one of the large oaks and land with a heavy THUD right where I'd been considering sitting. OK! Good decision. For safety's sake I sat myself down in the driveway, one of few spots around Middlewood with no trees, to draw part of a large branch that had fallen in the woods due to the jelly fungus that covered it. The fungus grows on dead branches during summer, looking like dry, mushroom-like scales. When the winter rains begin, bringing days of rain instead of just hours, the jelly funguses plump up into a slimy, jiggly, heavy mess. They grow too heavy for the dead branch to support. Crack! down they come.

On closer inspection I found another fungus (Honeycomb) and various lichens on the small piece I'd picked up. I've always been fascinated with lichens and have wondered about the weird jellies I see in our woods, so this was a particularly fun day...first hiking, then drawing, and last but not least, learning.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Aster in Seed

Having been sick for over a week now it was more than wonderful to go outside in the cool but sunny afternoon. The breeze had died and the clouds drifted away enough for me to actually feel warm sitting on the south side of a steep hill with my face in the sun. Oohhwee! I could have taken a nap, that's for sure. Birds chipped and cheeped in the pines around me, Chickadees and Tufted Titmice, for sure, Kinglets too, I think. Crows passed noisily overhead. Radu and Daisy came to sit beside me. The sun sank before me. All in all a yummy afternoon.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fossils, Shells, Sea Glass, Sea Whip

Today was our last day at the beach. To celebrate our wonderful week I took my journal to the beach this afternoon and settled down to draw whatever I found around where I sat, or on the beach in front of me.

Sitting there I thought about how lucky I am to have access to this beach crowded with wildlife, not by people. Every morning I've seen deer tracks running right along the beach, and today I noticed that both deer and raccoon have a major highway located between the low dunes and the tidal creek that snakes around behind them. Also back there: Great Blue Heron tracks, Little Blue and other smaller bird tracks, and big rafts of brown sea oat stems washed in by high waves. In the cold wind I smelled the beach, the pluff mud of the creek, and wood smoke from somebody's fireplace. The surf was calm, and occasionally there would be a slight pause in wave action that offered up a remarkable silence not usually found on a beach. Dolphin rolled far out in the smooth water and pelicans cruised in single file right over me and the lone pelican that floated on the water. Sanderlings skittered around on the damp sand, dashing in and out of the smallest waves.

Tomorrow we head back to Middlewood. We'll pick up Daisy and Radu on the way, and as soon as we unpack I'll head right out into the woods. As wonderful as the beach is, it is always good to get back home.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bayberry, Glasswort, Sea Rocket, Sea Oats, etc.

Vacationing on Edisto in November is heavenly. There are very few people about, the beach at Jeremy Cay is empty, and so far, we're the only jon boat and/or kayaks in Frampton Creek. The roads have little traffic. Foggy mornings have given way to overcast days in the 60's with a cool breeze. We hope for sun by Thanksgiving, but really, the cloudy days are lovely, too. So who cares! The peace and beauty of this place is everything.

Using Google Earth I figured out that today I walked over seven miles on the beach. I found some good fossils and saw many birds, including Cormorants, Great Blues, Little Blues, Kingfishers, Egrets, Sanderlings, Willets, Great Black Backed Gulls, Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans, Sand Pipers, as well as Ruddy Turnstones, Piping Plovers, Hooded Mergansers... We also saw a dead Cormorant on Botany Bay Island. In the low lying ground behind the small dunes and Sea Oats (due to recent years' erosion) were large patches of Glasswort, vining Beach Pennywort, Sandwort, Sea Rocket, and Seaside Croton. Old turtle shells from this year's hatchlings littered the crusty sand. Along the water's edge I found Sea Urchins, starfish, sand dollars, Sea Whip, and a dead Red Drum that apparently had been on a line that got caught in seaweed. The whole mess had washed up in the recent rough surf.

What a wonderful day!

Sunday, November 15, 2009


It's a beautiful day today! Temps in the 70's, blue sky, bright colorful leaves still dangling on some maples, dogwoods, and hickories. My hike with the dogs took us all the way to the far end of the pipeline, to where a fence cuts diagonally across the field to mark a boundary. The gate there is still open from when they did some work on a pipe next to Lawson's Fork in late summer. Once we came around the corner from the lower pipeline, the dogs dashed off into the woods and toward the house that is way back in the woods. I waited and waited for them, wandering slowly along the pipeline while listening intently for the rattling leaves of their running. Nothing. In the end they didn't return to me, but returned to the house. A quick call on the cell phone gave me the answer I needed: yes, they'd made it home and were sleeping on the porch. I did the rest of the hike by myself, and was finally able to poke around in Meetinghouse Creek in peace, and pick up rocks without Daisy leaping around, jumping on me, and sniffing at each rock I pick up.

It was very peaceful!

2010 Jamboread Poster

Since last week was busy and gave me very little time to journal, I thought I'd post this painting to show you some of what I've been working on. Mr. Frog is next year's "poster child" for our library system's fabulous children's reading festival, Jamboread! If you have children in your life and live nearby, plan to come! It's always the first weekend in March.

I hope a journal post will come along this afternoon.... stay tuned!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Maple-leaf Viburnum

This is yesterday's post, but it could just as well be today's. With clear blue skies, leaves falling in the cool breeze, and fall crickets trilling here and there - both were perfect afternoons for a hike with the dogs and a little journaling.

The patch of small Maple-leaf Viburnums have been in our back woods from the time we built our house, twenty years ago. They don't seem any taller, wider, or thicker than when I first saw them but this might be because they grow in deep shade on the side of a dry hill. There is another large patch of these viburnums (possibly?) in the front woods that are twice (maybe even thrice) as large. They grow in a damper spot that gets a little more sun, but they have no fruit and have barely begun to change color... as I write this I wonder if perhaps they are another kind of Viburnum...hmm.

Anyway, when I first noticed this small cluster of trees it was about this time of year, and you couldn't miss the mass of pink leaves in deep shade. They glowed! and for a few years I thought they were just small maple trees. Then, somewhere along the way I read about viburnums and things began clicking - my eyes took in more. The flowers in the spring, for instance - Maple-leaf Viburnums have clusters of small white ones. After reading that I walked into the woods to look, and there they were. How could I ever have missed the flowers? And the tidy pairs of leaves.

Now I admire my Maple-leaf Viburnums every time I walk past them. Not only that, I've also learned to identify other viburnums, such as Arrow-wood, and Rusty Blackhaw. Who knows what will be next!

If you have any interest in shrubs, you might look for the fascinating book written by Donald Stokes in 1981, called The Natural History of Wild Shrubs and Vines (Eastern and Central NA), Illustrations by Deborah Prince Smith. My copy came from the Friends of the Library book sale, so I don't know if it's still available new, but used books are easy to come by these days.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cranefly Orchid, Spotted Wintergreen, and more

Today was cloudy and damp, misty at times, windy, and chilly! When we headed out I was so surprised! I went back inside and checked the radar to see if the fine rain was going to turn into something worse. My peek at the radar/sat page made it look like it should be sunny here, and as I walked, I could indeed see blue skies and sun way out on the western horizon. The sun never made it to Middlewood, though, and the misty fog is still here as I type (4:30ish).

The dogs and I wandered down the pipeline. About halfway to Meetinghouse Creek we took a sharp right and climbed a bit of steep north-facing hill. I placed my sit-upon under a canopy of thinning bright red and deep yellow leaves that shivered in the wind. There were green plants all around me and I realized they were all small evergreens: slender Carolina Jessamine, Woodland Sedge, Spotted Wintergreen, American Holly, Moss, and the lovely purple-backed leaf of the Cranefly Orchid. My pen scritch-scratched as I drew, crows cawed loudly as they flapped overhead, the dogs panted as a result of an earlier deer-harassment run. The leaves clicked as they landed in the woods.

My fleece jacket and the scarf around my neck helped me stay warm on the hill for an hour or so. As soon as the chill set in, I packed up and headed back. Radu and Daisy ran ahead and led me through the colorful woods to home.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


The cloudy skies set off the leaves' beautiful colors this afternoon. The yellows of the hickories, poplars and maples glowed like they had a lamp inside them, but the reds outshone them. The Red Maples are in full (red) leaf. The Sumacs are shorter but grow in mass along the pipeline and therefore make quite a show of orangy-red. Dogwoods turn a purply shade of red, to contrast with their shocking orange-red berries this time of year. Sassafras trees turn various colors depending on the light available where they grow. Some are a school-bus yellow (like the hickories), some are orange, and some, like the small tree from which I picked this leaf, are deep red.

Red, yellow, orange... whatever their color, the trees in the Piedmont of South Carolina are putting on a beautiful show right now, and I love it. Fall is my favorite time of year!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Eastern Redcedar

The maples and sourwoods surprised me this morning as the dogs and I headed out for our walk. I didn't realize how much they'd turned. Could some of this color change have happened overnight? Or maybe today's heavy clouds accentuate the bright reds and yellows. The wind definitely makes the leaves shiver and shimmer and look downright energetic!

Daisy, Radu and I headed down to the lower woods, where an old homesite lies under years of fallen leaves. The foundation stones are moss covered, and all that remains of a barn is one corner's logs cut to fit like Lincoln Logs, and portions of the old tin roof, now on the ground and covered with leaves and compost. There were mushrooms galore in these woods, purple, red, yellow and brown, some buttons and some fully open. In this same area is this remnant of an old Redcedar - a natural sculpture rising from the leaf litter. It's beautiful enough from a distance, but up close it's amazing. Oak, Poplar, and Sweetgum leaves flew about in the wind and landed on me as I drew the old tree. I wish I'd gotten closer to the tree to draw it, although when I did get closer I saw that it would be an overwhelming task... and too much for today. Maybe some other day. In the meantime, a suggestion: stop occasionally and look closely at everyday things. Most will look completely different, not to mention totally amazing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wildlife Tracks

Late yesterday afternoon I hiked with the dogs along the pipeline. It was warmer than the weekend, but still pretty cool for mid-October. The late afternoon sun felt good on my back as we headed east. When I go to the top of the farthest hill, a spot where there's a pale orange, sandy stretch of path, I noticed what I think are tracks of a Red Fox. They were so - so- (bear with me here) so cute! and so clear in the damp sand, the shadows sharp due to the low sun. As I admired the fox tracks I noticed that a Wild Turkey had also walked through the sand. There was a soft track near the fox tracks, and more, clearer tracks nearby. I drew one of the clear ones that even showed the rough bottom texture of the turkey's foot.
Deer tracks are everywhere along the pipeline, even on the woodland paths around our house. It's interesting to note the size of the tracks and to picture the animal standing next to you. Some deer tracks are splayed wide and show, as well, the dewclaws - these are made by running and leaping deer. The print near where I was sitting had just small dots to indicate where the dewclaws would have been, and are pretty far back, so I'd say this is a deer's back foot print. The smaller and sharper print is from a small, young deer.

I finally got up and started studying the prints and counting toes, and soon realized that some of the small prints were not fox (four toes) but something else (five toes). I drew them and came home to look in my Animal Tracks book to id them. I'm not positive, but I think the five-toed animal could be a skunk.

The other obvious track in that spot was a REALLY BIG one, quite clear and deep in the wet sand! Oh... yeah. I happened to have some good track-makers with me on this journey. I think the big track belongs to Radu. Daisy's prints weren't represented in this particular spot.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Local Color

It was a cloudy afternoon that finally broke up and showed patches of blue sky and - yes - some SUNSHINE! The dogs and I headed out for a walk around 4, and as soon as I got to the pipeline I turned and stood with my face in the sun, loving the warmth on my face. The breeze was still damp and cool, and as I headed downhill toward Meetinghouse Creek, it was welcome as it kept the gnats away. We are deep into Mushroom time, and today it showed. They're everywhere! But it's also fall flower time, and the pipeline is full of the beautiful blooms of many asters, goldenrods, bonesets, gerardias, etc.. Today I chose a few more blooms to paint, and was forced to add, as well, the Black Tupelo fruit that was falling onto the pipeline, for their gorgeous deep indigo blue color. The leaves of the Black Tupelo were scattered around, as well, their rich scarlet coloring bright, beautiful and SO noticable. Goldenrod is everywhere, as are various asters. Don't know what this Aster is called. If I figure it out I'll post it!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hickory Leaf, Aster and Gerardia

Beautiful sunny day! Yesterday's soaking rains are gone, leaving us with blue skies and a waning crescent daytime moon. While we were out this morning we walked under/into a flock of blackbirds that reminded me of the movie, The Birds! There were squawking and chattering so loud they didn't hear us crunch into the woods to look up into the trees. I could hardly hear the leaf-crunch myself. There were easily thousands of them. I walked all around under them and finally settled on the pipeline nearby so that I could enjoy the aviary feeling of being close to their noises and activity. Suddenly, they all stopped squawking at once and took off with a loud collective WHOOSH. They flew out and over the pipeline in formation and veered and rolled in the blue October sky like a school of fish in the sea. I was awed by the sights and the sounds of this beautiful flock. They whirred around over me for a few minutes before they disappeared. In the silence that followed I started hearing the usual woodland birds again - Chickadees, Titmice, Red Bellied Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Pileated Woodpeckers, etc.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Pick-up Sticks

This is yesterday's post that didn't get finished until today! It was started out in a field full of fall asters, goldenrods, and bright red and yellow catbrier leaves. So why did I choose to draw a little pile of sticks on the ground? I honestly don't know. The flowers would have been easier.

The day was lovely when I started out on my hike, sunny and coolish with a slight breeze. But, once I stopped to draw the gnats came to visit. The irritating little biting kind. I waved them away for a while and was considering moving on without completing the drawing when a heavy cloud cruised in from the west and blocked the sun. The temperature dropped ten degrees (or at least felt like it) and the breeze became a bit stronger. The gnats then retreated to wherever they live during off hours. From then on the day was delightful once again and I drew for another hour or so, taking breaks occasionally to stand and stretch and enjoy the beautiful flowers I wasn't drawing. I finally headed home because I had other things I had to do, not because I was finished with the pick-up sticks.

Today there is a soft and gentle rain, ordered up by my grass-seed-sowing husband. It is just the rain to soften the dry flakes of Fescue seed and help them to germinate. The rain will also make the wildflowers happy. (See photo of last year's fall flowers on the right side of this page.)

I used today's rainy-inside morning to put a light color wash on my pile of sticks, but I think my next post will show off some of fall beauties growing out in our little prairie.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Resurrection Fern

Today is all blue skies, dry air, and wind waving the treetops. A great day to be outside. Radu, Daisy and I headed out around 11:00 to hike to the rocks in the woods at the far end of the lower pipeline. My family refers to this ridge as the "Lion King Rocks" because of the way they jut out at an angle from the top of the hill - smaller versions of the the big rock in one of our favorite movies. The scent of rain soaked earth still smelled sweet as we walked. There were lots of wildlife tracks in the dirt, and many mushrooms rising from fields and the woodland floor. We passed two that looked like small irish potatoes nestled in the ground. Will they grow taller? Guess we'll have to wait and see.

In the woods near the rocks I almost stepped on a 5" long Eastern Box Turtle who was crossing the path. The dogs ran right over it at first and continued on, so I sat to draw the little guy. However, it wasn't long before Daisy and Radu came running back to investigate why I had stopped walking. TOO bad, too. Sniff sniff sniff, paw paw, a growl or two from Daisy... I felt very sorry for the turtle so I decided to keep moving and let him get on with his day. Wild critters are hard to draw when you have dogs with you.

Arrived at the big rocks and saw that the Resurrection Fern, one of the Polypody Ferns that grows on this ridge, was lush and completely unfurled. The fern grows on the granite boulders, on ledges that accumulate old leaves that break down into and humus. In other places I've found it growing on tree trunks and branches. Its leaves are leathery and evergreen when there is enough water. During dry spells the leaves roll up and look quite dead.

While I was drawing a strong wind blew the treetops around. Occasional CRACK's and THUD!'s told me where branches were snapping and falling in the wind. A Red-Bellied Woodpecker chirred and pecked in a tree nearby. After investigating the hilltop, Radu and Daisy both took naps. On the way home we hiked with the wind in our faces... wonderful!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Rock, feather, acorn, hickory nut

It was hot today, surprisingly so for the end of September. Thinking we were early enough for cool temps, Radu, Daisy and I headed out around 10 a.m. for a good long hikeabout. Within minutes I was sticky and had walked through three or four spiderwebs - the kind that wrap around your face and leave a small black spider sitting on your shoulder... has this ever happen to you? The best way to handle spiderwebs in the woods is to pick up a long stick with branches at the end, and constantly wave it in front of you (like a big clawed hand) as you walk. I know this, but I often forget it.

I was hoping there would be a breeze on the pipeline - usually there is one. Today we had no such luck. It was just plain sticky, as if even the water molecules in the air around me were hot. This could be atmospherically correct, I suppose. Whatever, in spite of heat and no breeze, I made myself continue.

As we trekked, I noticed something weird. In the still air I could smell the scent of red clay - small pockets of fragrance that rose from the ground and swirled around me. When I got close to the woods it was the scent of pines that was the strongest. Near the creek it was the smell of damp earth mixed with fresh hay (recently strewn about by the pipeline workers to help the grass seed to germinate). Heading up the far hill I could smell crushed plants, left after the trucks and machinery finished their jobs. Maybe it's because usually a breeze freshens the air so that no one scent stands out, or maybe it was the humidity that held the air in place so I could walk through it. Whatever the reason, it was nice.

At the top of the hill I found a 4" tall honey-colored bolete mushroom rising through the weeds. I settled down to draw it. It didn't go well. First, Daisy, being only nine months old, was curious about the mushroom. She came to stand right in front of me to nose around. Second, gnats came out to buzz around me and then some tiny biting thing landed on my arm and my journal page. (not no-see-ums, but just as aggravating) Third, I was sitting a little too close for comfort to an ant bed. They worried me. I found myself looking back at them frequently. Finally I decided to just keep walking and enjoy the sights and scents of the morning. The journal could wait.

My trip back through the woods gave me a few more spiderweb encounters - oh joy! After a hot shower (to remove spider webs) I assembled the goodies I'd picked up on my walk and drew them in the comfort of my kitchen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mushrooms under a Virginia Pine

Such a nice morning to hike! The pipeline guys are finally gone, thank goodness, and they've taken all their heavy equipment away. What they left is a wide, very packed track to walk on, and a whole bale of hay waiting to be spread over the far bank of Meetinghouse Creek. I picked up several pieces of orange twine and sprinkled the remains of another bale along the closer creek bank. If they don't come back to finish the job in the next couple days, I'll probably do it. The hay really does help hold the grass seed they threw out, and the grass helps hold the soil.

Radu, Daisy, and I hiked back to a piney stretch of woods between two pipelines and settled under the trees - mostly Virginia Pines with various hardwoods here and there. The dogs, never completely settled for very long, soon hopped up to chase a scent into the field and then the far woods near Lawson's Fork. The clouds were heavy, the air damp from the past few days' bit of rain. Once I was sitting I noticed that all around me in the woods were tiny mushrooms rising from the ground. Some were 1/4 the size of my pinky nail. The larger ones were about thumb nail size. They were white, buff, gray, brown - all neutral, natural colors that helped them blend with the pine tree and leaf litter. I didn't see the two I drew until after I sat down.

The woods were very quiet while I was drawing. So quiet that I started hearing the soft clicks of falling leaves as they hit the ground. Click - Click - Click A wild grape leaf landed beside me. Click It was yellow with brown spots. After about thirty minutes there was more activity around and about, beginning with a crow calling his friends together. His, "CAW! CAW!" soon led to a convention-style gathering of crows. Other bird and insect sounds were identifiable as well, as were human made ones. All are listed on the journal page.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Yellow Leaves on a Windy Day

Today's weather was amazing for the first day of September. It was windy and cool on the pipeline as the dogs and I walked east. When we left the open field and followed the path through the woods the trees cut the wind a good bit, but I could still hear the wind and see the treetops swirling. Yellow leaves broke loose from stems and twirled through the air and onto the path. As I stooped to pick up a few leaves I noticed the huge Tulip Poplar tree they'd probably fallen from. It's still green, but was dotted all over with yellow leaves. Under the tree lay a carpet of yellow leave that had fallen on windless days. It reminded me of a Christmas tree skirt. Other kinds of leaves were blowing around too - all yellow.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


This is yesterday's drawing - another from Waynesville, NC. It was so nice to be in the cool, lush mountains after suffering the hot, rainy Florida beach for a week and then the hot and dry SC piedmont. It has been raining plenty in Waynesville, according to my happy (and new) flower garden that goes unwatered while we're away.

I took a walk mid-afternoon down Raspberry Lane to see if the old garden down at the end might have some surprises for me. Instead, my surprise came when I reached the spot where the huge Buckeye Tree grows above the road. Scattered around the base were a dozen or so big nuts very recently fallen. I thought they started falling late Sept or even in October. The exterior of the cases I found were still a little green, and some hadn't dried enough to split open yet. Some popped open in my hand as I picked them up.

Buckeyes are a most beautiful nut when they are fresh. I usually pick them up without the case, from where they have bounced or fallen out after the case dries out. It was fun finding the why's and wherefores of the sizes of the nuts by examining the cases. They all seem to have at least two, sometimes three, and even four nuts in one case, but the largest nuts have grabbed all the nutrients and left the second nut with none (see picture) whereas two equal nuts grow in something like this yin/yang case. I opened the largest case later last night and found four funky shaped nuts inside. These often have one flat side where they've pressed up against another nut.

I have a big red bowl full of nuts from the last two years. They save well, with only an occasional cracked or moldy ones discarded. Yesterday I tossed four that were bad, but added eight new ones.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kudzu, Gerardia, and Small Wood Sunflower

This morning was cool and breezy when I headed out to hike around 8 o'clock. As I walked through the woods I noticed a beautiful fresh black feather with regular white spots down one side. It's about 4 " long and lay peacefully in the center of the path. My guess is it's from one of our frequent woodpecker guests - red bellied perhaps, or Hairy or Downy. I emerged from the dark woods and really felt the damp breeze in my face. Daisy and Radu and I walked along the pipeline (well, they ran - I walked) and I started seeing the many things I've noticed before but have forgotten to mention. So, today I decided to make a list of things I noticed as I went along. I always do this while in a kayak, or hiking in other places, so today I did it here.

Woodpecker feather in the woods
Slow-moving Buckeye lands on Aster
Upland Bonset growing on NE slope above Meetinghouse Creek
Evening Primrose blooming in thick growth along creek
along with Pale Indian Plantain
and Dodder Vines coiled around Joe Pye Stalks, blooming
as well as Starry Campion in full bloom
Winged Sumac on far hill in bloom - although the actual blooms and greenish
white, they look yellow from the thick pollen on
stamens of newly opened flowers
British Soldiers are wearing their red caps
Dew on Grass Spider webs
Heal-all blooming
Hyssop-Leaved Boneset and Tall Goldenrod blooming everywhere

With all that going on it's amazing that I noticed the small yellow flower drawn above. The blooms are just opening - only two were open on this plant - and they are not very tall - no more than 2 feet, and growing amidst the wild growth of the pipeline. I looked them up at home and think they are Small Wood Sunflowers. Their rough topped leaves (minute hairs all pointing toward the leaf tip make them feel like a cat's tongue) were helpful in identification.

The middle lobe of a Kudzu leaf was so distinctive that I couldn't wait to paint it. To me the spots are like a brown-spotted pony's. Then I noticed how hairy the leaves and stems are! I guess I hate how Kudzu acts, but enjoy the plants details. If you've never smelled the flowers of this pest, go out now and look for vines. The purple "wisteria-like" blooms are hidden beneath the huge leaves but give themselves away by giving off a scent reminiscent of NuGrape Soda. Yum.

The bright pink Gerardias are just beginning to open on the hill around our bench. Last year we had a profusion of them interspersed with goldenrod. It was an amazing site. I hope this year's show will be the same.

Monday, August 24, 2009

St. Andrews Cross, Pencil Flower, Bitterweed

This is the first day in a long while that I've had time to wander on the pipeline, so I was glad to find that it was overcast and breezy this morning. I could tell that summer is losing its grip and that fall is just around the corner. It's interesting to note that in middle-age those once distinct seasons are now much more blurred together. I seem to notice many more slight differences in the patterns of nature as the seasons turn: the color of male goldfinch feathers, hickory nuts that fall early, Slender Lady's Tresses that bloom again, Cat Brier leaves that turn red as early as mid July, and small oak trees that are still putting out tiny, fuzzy leaves. The seasons are beginning to soften as I get older - each blending with the one before and after.

During this morning's ramble I discovered two new flowers (as yet unidentified and amazing that after 20 years I still find new flowers), and saw my first blue aster blooming for fall '09. (The Grass-leaved Golden Asters have been blooming for a couple weeks.) Thoroughworts (upland, round-leaved, and hyssop-leaved) are in late-bloom, Tall Goldenrods brighten the woodland edges, Elderberries are ripening, and the Joe Pye Weed is in full-glorious bloom. It was a beautiful day.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Feathers and Shells

Visiting Atlantic Beach, Florida is more than just a vacation - it's coming home to a place I've known my whole life. My grandmother built the house when I was 6 months old, and I've been coming here ever since. The beach here is wide and flat and has a healthy set of dunes that periodically get eaten half away by storms only to grow right back during the next season. Today the dunes and upper beach were covered in trails of bird prints of every size criss-crossing each other, circling, winding and wobbling, appearing and disappearing. Ghost Crab holes were tucked into the shade of dune plants and radiated the scratchy claw prints of the side-ways walking crab living there. Discarded feathers littered the beach, especially around the gathering spot for almost 150 birds (I counted) of various species: Laughing Gulls, Royal Terns, Least Terns, Sandpipers, Sanderlings... On my walk I found plenty of fossilized bone, tiny skulls, mouthplates of parrotfish...

There may be another journal post from here, but I make no promises. It's family time...!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Shelf or Bracket Fungus

These shelf fungi are growing on a rotting stump in the woods behind the house. My husband found it and came running into the house to tell me about it. "Bring your camera!" he said as he led the way out the door. I ooh'ed and ah'ed and aimed my camera at the stump. At about the same time hubby leaned over to brush the leaf off so that the crisp white border could show. His hand was almost touching the leaf when he stopped and said, "Oh, look!" He was surprised to see the way the shelves are growing around the oak leaf - incorporating the leaf into its structure.

Color-wise they were already the same. In fact, everything out there was some shade of Burnt Umber - everything except the bright white outer edges of the shelves. This is how you might spot shelf fungi in the woods.

Other mushrooms and fungi are growing in the woods but the mosquitos and gnats are quite intense in these long, hot dog-days of summer, so it's hard to take the time to capture them on paper. Luckily fall is just around the corner!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sassafras Fruit

I love surprises and today I got one! As I hiked down the steepest part of the trail above Meetinghouse Creek I came eye to eye with a fruiting Sassafras tree. I've walked past this small tree all summer, but it wasn't until today that the red cups holding the tree's fruit finally caught my eye. What a beautiful little creation! The greenish - purplish berries had a soft "bloom" similar to grapes and blueberries. Being larger than the cups, they looked exactly like miniature eggs perched atop miniature egg cups. So cute!

I love Sassafras trees. When I was little I would pull small trees up by the roots so my friends and I could make Sassafras tea. The fall brings out the best in a Sassafras when the leaves turn vivid oranges and reds, and a few years ago I discovered the lovely yellow Sassafras flowers blooming in the spring. For some reason I never gave a thought to the fact that flowers lead to fruit. Duh. One of my field guides says that with Sassafras fruit production is sparse, as it also reproduces through lateral root offshoots. Hmm... could that be the reason I haven't seen them before today? (Oh, I'm sure it is!) Regardless, now that I've seen them I want to run around to all my known Sassafras trees and see how many are in fruit. But I'll have to do it soon - the book also notes that the fruit provides an important food for wildlife, and we have a lot of that around. Munch munch.

Two more fun facts to know and tell from The Guide to the Wildflowers of SC, by Doug Rayner and Richard Porcher: 1) Sassafras oil is used to flavor tobacco, root beer, and other beverages, soaps, perfumes, and gums, and 2) Young leaves are ground into a fine powder to produce the mucilaginous gumbo of creole cooking. That doesn't make gumbo sound very appetizing, does it? I think I'd rather eat the fruit!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Woodland Sunflower, Butterfly Pea, etc.

These are yesterday's drawings that stretched into today due to the fact that the black background took so long!   Yesterday morning's hike was delightful and cool and full of flowers. One, the Pale Spiked Lobelia, has somehow escaped my notice all these years. There are so many plants that it has to have been there for quite a while.   The other flowers are regulars around Middlewood; old friends.  I know them well.  The orchids are extra special flowers that arise on such dainty brown stalks, and have such small purply-green flowers that some years I miss them altogether.  Each plant is made up of one beautiful leaf that unfurls in the fall and lasts all winter.  They are so bright in the winter woods, crinkly, with purple spots and shocking purple undersides, that you always notice them. But by early summer they're gone.  In August, when the bloom stalk rises from the forest floor, it's very difficult to see them if you're looking for them.  If you forget to look, forget it... unless you happen to have a 7-month old Collie puppy that likes to snap at anything she walks past. She ate the top of one last week, took a bite of it as we walked down the path.  I thought to myself, Oh! yes, it's that time of year.... the Cranefly Orchids are in bloom!

Thanks, Daisy.

Back at home, the ink drawings were complete but I was disappointed in how the pale yellow sunflower wimped out on the white paper, so I put some black squiggles around it to strengthen the contrast.  Ooohh...  I liked the way the flower suddenly popped off the page... how about do another?  In the end I didn't have the energy or willpower to make myself do the Cranefly Orchid.  It would be too tedious, and now I see that I should soften the black edges a little.  Anyway, here you go - August wildflowers of the Piedmont.  

Friday, July 31, 2009

Pussytoes and Cinquefoil

A quickie post today.  This is yesterday's journal entry but I had no time to post it.  Instead I slapped the book shut, stuck it in my suitcase and jumped into the car to drive to the cabin in North Carolina.  Now here I sit on my neighbor's porch, looking out at the beautiful view and writing this, barely remembering the heat of yesterday's pipeline.  Awww... poor me.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hickory Nuts & Eyed Click Beetle

It was a nice breezy morning on the pipeline.  There were blue skies, and it was quiet except for the high buzz of cicadas in the trees.    I was poking around at the edge of the woods, comparing the different kinds of Thoroughwort that grows there when I noticed two hickory nuts snuggled in the messy-tree-stuff (a highly scientific term) under a pine tree.  Some squirrel had probably brought the nuts here to eat and left the empty "containers" there for all to see... litterbug! Anyway, I liked the way they looked and settled to draw them.  While I was drawing there was a sudden buzzy sound and blam!  a huge beetle flew right into my leg and dropped onto the pad I was sitting on.  I recognized him immediately as a friendly Click Beetle because I've seen one before.  The huge eyes had fooled me way back then.  He is scary looking if you think those eyes are real.  Since i knew he was just a fake, and not at all dangerous I stayed cool, calm and collected.... I began drawing him.  He was still for a bit, then slowly started walking away.  I moved him back three times so as to get a better view of him.  He finally scritch-scratched his way into the dry, fallen leaves of the woods. Two Northern Flickers (woodpeckers) flew into the woods behind me and called their funny Woika! Roika!  They pecked around a while then flew without further comment.

The bright yellow of the tiny poplar leaf popped out from the drab colors of the forest floor behind where I sat.  It was such a happy color I wanted to add it to today's page  - a reminder of the shortening days as we move deep into summer, towards fall.  

Friday, July 24, 2009

Dwarf Paw Paw

A front passed through yesterday, and although there were storms all around to be seen and heard, our particular spot didn't get a drop of needed rain.  However, the cool, dry breeze this morning was perfect for my hike on the pipeline.   I took my journal, but hiking the hills felt so good I didn't stop until I was in the woods coming home and passed by one of our hundreds of Dwarf Paw Paws and happened to see a fruit dangling from a limb.  I decided to draw it.  

To get a good angle for drawing I had to sit on the ground so that I was eye-level with the paw paw which dangles under leaves.  This was a great set-up for about... hmm... five minutes.  Then the insects found me.  Bzzzzz went the bees, chomp went the mosquitos. Gnats showed up to flit around my eyes and ears.  Flies buzzed around and around somewhere behind where I sat.  They weren't bothering me directly, but I could hear their constant noise, closer, further away. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ZZZZZZZ zzzzzzz  ZZZZZ zzzzzzzzz ZZZZZZZ zzzzzzzzz ZZZZZ zzzzz  ZZZZZZZ I felt bites and had to scratch and/or kill mosquitos, spider and beetles scritched around in the leaf litter... All in all not a wonderful day to be journaling outside. The Paw Paw drawing is a labor of love, no doubt about it.

Two small feathers were found at the furthest end of our section of pipeline.  They are very soft...not sure what bird they're from.  Rufous-sided Towhees called to me all along the way to  "Drink-your-teaaaaaaa!"  Cicadas were grinding away in the trees.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Trees in Fruit

Kayaking Lake Craig (a fishing lake in our nearby state park) is one of the best of summer day activities.  Today, in particular, was special.  It was overcast and breezy and warm, apparently the perfect combination for every species of dragonfly and damselfly to come out and play, or work, as some were breeding and/or laying eggs just beneath the water surface.  Amberwings, White Tailed, Twelve Spots, Green Darners, Brown Spotted Yellowings, Bluets, Green Clearwings, and others that wouldn't stop long enough for us to see.  They zipped and buzzed around near the shore, entertaining us when they'd come close and sometimes land on our boats or paddles.  Some were dip dip dipping their ovipositors into the water to lay eggs, some seemed to be chasing others... Through binoculars we saw that they were skimming the water out as far as we could see.   

At the back end of the lake, near where Kelsey Creek comes in, there is an island covered in sedge, nettles, grasses, and the tall purple Monkey Flower.  Here we sat and watched more dragonflies and damselflies. Continuing up the creek, we were thrilled to hear the "witchity witchity" call of Common Yellowthroats as they called back and forth from one side of the creek to the other.  After much searching with binocs we found one in a small Riverbirch, his bright yellow throat and black mask obvious only once we found him, which took me some time. He doesn't move around much, and his olive back blends so well with the leafy canopy you can't see him from the back.  We also saw two Great Blue Herons, a Green Heron preening in a snag, two Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, and Indigo Buntings.  As we were floating quietly, taking it all in, an Eastern Kingbird flew out from a nearby bush and snapped up a dragonfly lunch just six feet above my head!  I heard it SNAP!  Whirligig Beetles twirled around us in the slow moving water.  

Trees of all kinds were in fruit around the lake.  We first found the Carolina Basswood dangling its green berries over the water from leafy bracts.  Then we paddled under the drooping branches of a Carolina Silverbell. The four-winged seed pods are quite distinctive, but we had no idea what they were!   Ironwood was easy, then came what turned out to be a huge Possumhaw Viburnum. The lower branches had fruit, but there were a few blooms on the upper branches to help us id it.  We thought it would be a Viburnum of some kind, but there are so many!  We broke branches of all to bring home for identifying and for me to draw. 

Several hours later thunder beyond the trees gave us a reason to turn and paddle back.  It's always hard to leave that beautiful place, but today we moved with record speed!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Blunt-leaved Milkweed Seedpod

Morning on the pipeline was overcast, cool (65ish deg?), and breezy-like-the-beach, the steady dampish breeze that makes you glad you wore a long-sleeved shirt.  Daisy and Radu dashed in circles, and then ahead while I stopped to button up. "Come on, Mom!" they said, in body language.  It was wonderful to be outside again, wandering the woods and fields around Middlewood. Birds were singing and crickets buzzing, the Carolina Locusts fluttered as they leapt out of my way.  I love seeing their black wings with wide pale yellow borders as they fly and land 8 or so feet away.  Their drab brown bodies disappear in the dry grass until you approach once more and zzzzzp!  Off they go again.

Flowers blooming this morning:  Man of the Earth, a vine in the morning glory family, with large white blooms with deep purple throats; the early goldenrod (rough-stemmed perhaps?), tiny yellow pencil flower, Woodland Sunflowers (that have held the same blooms for weeks now), Flowering Spurge, Joe Pye Weed, Whorled Coreopsis, remnants of Common Fleabane, down near the creek was Pale Indian Plantain, and near the edge of the woods: delicate white spiraled Slender Ladies' Tresses, a beautiful little orchid.

Buds: Boneset and it's twin (flower but not leaves!) Hyssop-leaved Boneset, the Joe Pyes that had been cropped by deer, and some asters.

I stopped to draw the milkweed plant and sat at the best angle for the seedpod, my back to the wind, which allowed gnats to find my face.  Otherwise, all went well until near the end when Daisy came to sit beside the plant.  She was so sweet, sitting there watching me.... then in a split second she leaned over and chomped at the seedpod!  DAISY, NO!  I called. She jumped away, but milky sap started running down the stem.  I hope it will be ok and the seed pod will continue to dry.  There is nothing in nature more beautiful than the split milkweed pod with it's delicate seeds bursting out.  I hope to draw it this year!


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Four and a half Mushrooms

I'm back!  I thought it would be Wednesday, but I was asked to do a bit more, so it went a bit longer.   As soon as I delivered the stack of paintings on Friday I hightailed it to our tiny cottage outside of Waynesville for a needed rest.  This afternoon I wandered around our hilltop to see what has been happening up here since I was last here in early June.  The most obvious change is the size of the Jewelweed.  It has grown quite large, easily three feet high, if not more. The plants are full of their delicate yellow or orange flowers, each dangling from a leaf base. The blooms that I admired in early June are now gone to seed.  

The mushrooms (above) are growing on the steep hill very near our cabin.  They are a startling color, especially seen rising from the drab brownish gray leaf litter, and appear to be marching down the hill.  The second mushroom from the bottom is actually two stems (one much smaller than the other) whose caps grew together into one.  I believe they are Bolete mushrooms, but it is quite awkward to try to see under the caps in deep shade, and I can't bring myself to pull one up just for my passing scientific interest.   They have the Bolete look and sturdiness (I tried to lean one over enough to see underneath... but it wouldn't move) so I'm going to assume that's what they are.

One good thing about being here this weekend is that the Raspberries that grow all along the narrow dirt lanes are ripe!  They fall into your hand at the slightest touch and are so sweet!  So, now that I have posted this I am off to pick berries for tomorrow morning's oatmeal.  

Monday, July 13, 2009


This is a quickie lunch post to thank everyone for visiting even when the posts were not actually from around Middlewood.   The illustration project should be over in the next couple days and I'll be back to my woodland rambles.   THANKS!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pomegranate and Wild Campanula

Beside the farmhouse's eastern terrace grows a huge shrub that on one trip was covered with these strange looking flowers.  I had no idea what it was - assumed it was just an unknown "French" plant.  I have since realized that we obviously arrived early enough to see the very end of bloom time for this Pomegranate bush.  What I thought was a flower are the thick sepals, the petals having fallen off into the leaf litter below the terrace.  The fruits were already growing, but as you see, rather misshapen compared to pomegranates that come to mind, which are smoother. Regardless, I think this is a pomegranate of some variety.

The Wild Campanula stalk rose from a crown of fuzzy leaves growing in the rocky soil under the olive trees.  In all the years we've been there, the "yard" has never been neatly manicured, so beautiful surprises can (and do) pop up anywhere.  

Monday, July 6, 2009

Snails, Cypress Cones, and a Mulberry

The title of this post says much about the grounds around the old mas, or farmhouse.   The snails are found everywhere - the smallest, about the size of a pinky fingernail, like to climb to the tip of grass blades and hang out there all day.  They look like small white flowers from a distance. The larger shells are seen dotted here and there amongst the shrubbery, along with chunks of limestone and flint nodules ( broken occasionally and showing their deep reddish brown conchoidal fractures), as well as various kinds of pine and cypress cones. 

Tall, narrow cypress trees line a portion of the drive. They are also grown as a windbreak around the pool, although I can't imagine swimming while the Mistral is blowing.  We experienced several days of Mistral winds one year, and I can tell you, swimming is far, far from your mind as you stagger around hoping you don't get blown over onto the pavement. The thick stone walls of the mas, built with blocking Mistral winds in mind, has only one small window along the whole length of the back wall, attesting to the strength of the wind.  There is one tall Cypress tree on the western side of the house, deep green against the towering honey-colored stone chimney.  You can pick out the house from above (in Gordes) by  gazing downhill toward the east and searching for that tree/chimney combination. 

The front slate terrace is shaded by a fairly large Mulberry tree. Its horizontal limbs reach up and over a standing adult's head and drop juicy black fruit onto the stones. Yes, kind of messy, but they taste very sweet.  The terrace, with its low sitting wall is a good place to have afternoon wine and cheese, and baguettes fresh from one of the local boulangeries.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Tiny Morning Glory

These are flowers from around the farmhouse in which we were staying... the tiny morning glory was growing in rocky soil amidst a long row of lavender that lined the drive.  The bloom was the size of a nickle.  The pink flower was probably a garden planting some time ago. The leaves were gray, which set off the pink flowers beautifully.   I don't know the name of this one, however I am becoming more determined to identify all that I drew on this trip.  I have a field guide, but as it's written in French and the pictures are tiny, it doesn't help one bit.  What now?

Another trip to Provence is definitely coming to mind!  

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Centranthus rubrum

Another amazing sight throughout the Provence countryside is the wild Centranthus that grows with abandon in the old limestone walls.  The narrow lanes of the perch villages are pretty much lined with honey-colored stacked-stone walls of various heights, depending on whether it is holding back a hill or keeping cars and bikes from going over the edge.  They are of various patterns (basketweave is my favorite), but always topped with a line of vertical stones, like books on a shelf.  From many of the crevices spill the deep rose mounds of Centranthus.  The rich-rose flowers seen against the honey walls is a beautiful (and unforgettable) sight.

The other flower is in the carrot family, similar to Queen Ann's Lace, but with a little extra lace around the edge and a bit larger.  Don't know the name.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Provence is known for acres of poppies in spring that can turn an average olive orchard, say, or even a bland roadside into a magical place.   Here is a single poppy plant from the front yard of our farmhouse.  I think it's good to study just one flower so as to better understand the magic of the field-full....the vivid red tissue-thin petals held aloft by such a long, skinny stem, the ragged leaf, the bristly bud and sculptural seed pod...   The other flower I never identified.  I guess I'll just have to go back and try again!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wildflowers in Provence

For the record I'm still alive and well and living at Middlewood!  I went on a vacation with my family and returned to find that the deadline for a big project I'm responsible for has been moved up by a few weeks.  I still take walks, but the wandering and journaling has been put on hold until the project ends in mid-July.  (I think this means I'm living in the REAL world for a while.)

To thank you for your patience I plan to post some old journal drawings from one of my trips to Provence.  Travel journaling is a wonderful way to soak in a new place, and the best of souvenirs! 

Our favorite place to stay is a wonderful old farmhouse outside of Gordes, a perch village overlooking the Luberon Valley.  It is at the end of a long driveway off a tiny country road that winds along the side of the hill and through olive groves, open fields full of wildflowers, and weathered stone walls. The almond tree (above) is just outside the stone wall and columns that support the creaky iron gates to our house.   

The small, handmade journal I used has buff-colored Canson paper.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Creekside: Early June

The morning was cool and fresh with a breeze blowing from the east, which means into my face, as I headed downhill towards Meetinghouse Creek.  There were no gnats swarming around my head, a big plus in summer, and some new blooms to admire: New Jersey Tea bushes are covered in lacy white flowers today,  more than I ever remember seeing, and there are still some Coreopsis spotted throughout the pipeline grasses and leaves.  Best of all, I noticed the delicate blooms of Clematis Viorna dangling from low growing vines along the forest edge.  

On the way downhill I found some interesting mushrooms, one patch an intense orangey-yellow ones, and a white one still in button stage, also found a dead Luna Moth lying flat on the path.  It had obviously been there through some rains as it was still whole, but its pale green wings were already partially disintegrated, where nature doing her job of breaking the moth down and turning it back into earth.  

It was fun observing the activity around the slow-moving creek.  Bees, beetles, ants, as well as dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies buzzed, hummed and clicked all around me.  The most beautiful of all was the male Black-winged Damselfly that flitted about and landed right in front of me.  I think he just wanted to show off to somebody.  His body was a most shocking turquoise not often found in nature. When he rested on a leaf I could see that he also had a patch of turquoise on his head.  

Spent a couple hours messing around and drawing by the creek, then back to the house to begin packing for our vacation.  If the house has internet I will post journal entries from the SC lowcountry during the week.  Otherwise, check back next Monday!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Spotted Cat's Ear and Mockingbirds

You've got to love Mockingbirds!  On my walk this morning there was one singing from a Poplar on the sunny edge of the woods. He was so full of himself, singing everyone else's songs. I walked toward the creek on the cool, shady side of the pipeline and enjoyed his music, as well as the chirrrrr of field crickets, the buzzing of bees, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo's monkey-like call, the clear notes of Cardinals, and Chickadees calling chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee!  The scents of summer were everywhere, one spot heavy with a musky sweetness I could not identify, nor could I find a source... another mystery Mother Nature will keep for today. 

Down by the creek Eastern Tailed Blue butterflies drank from the sandy edge of the stream, and a Great Spangled Fritillary sipped nectar from Butterfly weed.  White Yarrow is blooming down there now, and Horse Nettles, too.   All the while the Mockingbird sang! 

Just as I settled down near the creek to draw a Horse Nettle in bloom the breeze died and, as usual, this is when the gnats showed up. Biting gnats.  I couldn't stand it. I finally had to get up. I decided to go back uphill and check out the breeze situation up there.  

There was a steady breeze from the south at the crest of the hill so I sat down and decided to draw the Spotted Cat's Ears that are growing there and in various states of blooming and producing seed.  While I drew many small spiders visited me, either creeping tentatively across the page or dashing so quickly I thought perhaps I'd imagined it. As well, a tiny black beetle came to check out my drawing, walking, stopping to look around, walking, stopping, walking... ants, (some large) flies, bees - a cricket landed on me. An orange-ish folded-wing-skipper (not as bright as a Fiery Skipper) landed on the bloom I was drawing, took a quick sip, and was gone.  

Towards the end of my drawing the Mockingbird stopped singing and it was suddenly so peaceful!  I was reminded that once I compared a Mockingbird  to a loud radio with a boy at the knobs constantly changing the stations so that you get to hear snippets of songs, but not the satisfaction of hearing the whole thing.  I immediately heard other birdsongs that had been drowned out by the Mockingbird: Indigo Bunting, Red Bellied Woodpecker, Tufted Titmice, and the soft zeeeet! of Golden-Crowned Kinglets from high in a pines near where I sat.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pasture Rose, Butterfly Weed, and other May Wildflowers

Today is all about the flowers.  The ones I drew were all growing on the pipeline, near the top of the hill where our bench sits facing southwest. It was cloudy and very gnatty, the kind of gnats that like to fly into your eyes and ears, which could very well be used as a form or torture. The Yellow-billed Cuckoos were calling from the treetops again today - Cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-KALP! KALP! KALP!  and the ever present Wood Thrushes.  

There were more blooms to draw, but not enough time.  The rain chased me in with one hand clutching a fistful of flowers so I could finish up inside.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lupine seedlings from northern California

It's a funny kind of day - warm and humid, the sun is in and out, and a while ago a band of showers passed by and chased me inside.  I'd been out wandering around checking out wildflowers on the back road - if you can call it a road.  It's no more than the roadbed, and even the clay is washing out into a small gully.   The honeysuckle grows thick and is in bloom back there, so the air was heavy with scent. Many non-native wildflowers grow along the road but are lovely anyway: Venus' Looking Glass, Oxeye Daisy, English Plaintain, Queen Ann's Lace, Carolina Cranesbill, Yellow Wood Sorrell, Spotted Cat's Ear, and Common Fleabane, among others not in bloom yet.  In the woods heading to the old road was White Milkweed, Euonymus (actually a shrub) and dainty Summer Bluet.  A Yellow-billed Cuckoo was calling from a tree above me, and added to the steamy morning made it seem more like a jungle in Africa than South Carolina.  Cu-cu-cu-cu-cu-cu-cu-cu-Kalp-Kalp-Kalp!  Our resident Wood Thrush sang his lilting, watery song as well.  Butterflies: Great Spangled Fritillary, Eastern Tailed Blue, and Red-spotted Purple.   I was lucky to see a wild turkey as he (or she) crossed the old roadbed and headed into our woods. 

After running inside out of the rain (can't have my journal ruined!) I noticed my pot of Lupine seedlings on the back porch. I had picked a dry seedpod last summer while in California, brought it home and tossed the tiny seeds into a pot not quite filled with potting soil.  I seem to remember that the once held a Gardenia cutting that had died in the drought conditions we were experiencing last year.  Anyway, I forgot about them until their small and wiry stems poked their perky leaves above the pot rim this spring. Now they are about 8" high and needing to be put out in the garden. 

I think I'll do that today.   

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tulip Tree Silk Moth and Lettered Sphinx

It was sunny, windy and chilly today, a surprise after the warm weather of late.  Walked the dogs at midday and tried to avoid the shade, which when walked through felt like stepping back into winter.  The wind with sunshine on my face was hard enough until I did some uphill walking and warmed up.  

The pipeline is lush and green after all the rain we've had this spring.  The Coreopsis blooms are at their best right now, the field filled with their waving yellow heads.  Many more bright pink Pasture Roses have opened up, and the ragworts still lend their bright shaggy yellow heads to the picture.  I trekked up to a certain spot where I know there is a large patch of Barbara Buttons that bloom about now... but about a month ago I'd see some bulldozers working near the spot.  This could have been the end of the BB's.  However, I found the flowers in fine shape and in full bloom just beyond where the work had been going on, and on the way back I found some slender stalks of Deptford Pinks.  Perhaps tomorrow I will draw these two flowers.  Today I hurried home to see if our visiting moths were still on the side porch, below the light.

They were.  And they stayed there (as models) all afternoon.  I pulled a kitchen stool out to the porch and was quite comfortable as I sketched.  

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Deerberry and Persimmon

While exercise hiking on the pipeline today I did my usual looking around to see what I could see.  Occasionally, even while exercising and having to concentrate on finding good footing on the trail, something interesting will catch my eye.  Today was one of those days.  As I was heading up the steep cut-through that runs between clearings I saw a low-bush blueberry blooming, and ticked it off on my "head-list" of blooms for the day: Lance-leaved  Coreopsis - check, Ragwort - check,  Toadflax - check, Blackberry - check, Pasture Rose - check, Blueberry - check - - - it took about two seconds before my subconscious came through and made me do a double-take. “NOT BLUEBERRY,” it said. Then I remembered. The blueberries around here have not only bloomed, but the ones I studied just yesterday along the edge of our woods already have small green berries.  I swiveled on the ball of my foot and walked back to the bush.  Another difference was the size and shape of the open, dangling white blooms. First, it was larger, and second, even though the buds were “bell-shaped,” the fully opened flowers were open wide.   Blueberry blooms are little bells.  Because I was in a hurry (how I hate to be in a hurry!) I snapped off a short piece of a flowering branch and took it home where it waited in a small vase until later in the day, when I (with help from a friend) finally had the time to identify it.  We even hiked back to the bush to make sure. It was  Deerberry - and yes, it's in the vaccinium family with the blueberries.

On the hike down to the mysterious bush, we passed a tree with many small blooms along the stems, at the base of the leaves.  My friend said "Persimmon" and we looked it up, but the small blooms didn’t fit the description in the field guides as being 5/8 “ wide, and solitary.  Solitary?  These blooms were bunched in threes at the base of the leaves and none of the many blooms on the tree were  any larger than about 3/8”.   We climbed up the hill to where I know I've seen a fruiting persimmon in the past to see if it was blooming so we could compare the two trees. It was a tall tree so we had to use binoculars to find blooms. Hmm...  There's one! my friend said. But...  one?  Why only one - and it's bigger, isn't it?  We discussed it at length, until I finally read far enough into the detailed description to learn that it is the female persimmon tree that has the solitary 5/8" blooms, while the male persimmons are “bunched and only 3/8 inch wide.”  Oh! It's a male/female thing!   Mystery solved.  

We suddenly realized we'd spent over three hours wandering around in the woods.  "Almost 6:00?  It can't be!"  I said.  We rushed back to the house so I could clean up enough to go out to dinner at 6:30. On the way we found two more trees behind my house that we couldn't identify, but once again, I was in a hurry.  Those trees will have to wait for another day.  

So many mysteries, so little time!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Kidneyleaf Rosinweed

A creek in springtime is a magical place to visit, and little Meetinghouse Creek certainly fit that description today.  During my walk I stopped to see if anything was going on down there, and at first thought, "Nah, nothing here."  Then I heard a low buzz, and a Whitetail Dragonfly zoomed in and landed on a reed, causing it to bounce and wave for a moment.  A Spring Azure butterfly flitted down from uphill and sipped at the wet sand along the creek's edge.  Small minnows made themselves known by swimming through a patch of sunlight close to me, and once looking for them, I saw them everywhere, swimming oh-so-leisurely and then suddenly darting off... where to? what's the hurry? I wondered.   There were the bright round sun spots on the creek bed that showed the whereabouts of a Water-Strider (barely visible otherwise) as he walked around effortlessly on the water's surface.  

As I studied the Water Strider I slowly became aware of something else, something that reminded me once again of how important it is to stop and settle into a place if you want to truly see everything... along the creek bottom, as clear in the creek water as on land, ran a deep set of turkey tracks, heading downstream.  What a fun discovery.  I could imagine a lone Tom strutting along in the early morning and wading in for a Creek Buffet, getting his fill of insects, spiders, frogs, tender grasses and other tasty morsels.  As I stood there a Great Spangled Fritillary fluttered over the creek and stopped to rest on a grass stem. He fluttered away when four-month-old Daisy came running from Radu's side and splashed into the creek, snapping at the droplets she created as well as the butterfly.  So much for peace and quiet... and turkey tracks.  

On the way back to the house I saw a Blue Darner dragonfly zipping back and forth over a sea of yellow coreopsis blooms, a Checkerspot and a Sulphur butterfly,  seven Black Vultures circling,  and heard Chickadees and Indigo Buntings' songs.  At the top of the hill were the new leaves of a  Kidneyleaf Rosinweed.  I think this is the most beautiful native plant leaf that grows around Middlewood.   Years ago, when I first discovered the leaves growing on the pipeline, I was certain I'd found a rare plant.  It's neither rare nor endangered.  And although the leaves are large and ornate, the fall-blooming flowers don't live up to what you'd expect from such fancy deeply-lobed, carmine-veined leaves.  But they are lovely in their own way - small yellow composites on very tall stems, and they are a good source of nectar for butterflies.