Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spring Grass and Spiders

Walked early this morning, before the low clouds burned off, and had a steady fog-dampened breeze in my face that made it feel like a summer morning in the NC mountains.  There is so much going on out there that I tried to keep a mental list of sightings but couldn't keep up with it all.  

The first thing I noticed on the way out to the pipeline is that one of our patches of Mountain Laurel is in full bloom.  The tallest is about 12 - 15 feet high - it towered over my head as I walked the path my husband made years ago that winds directly beneath it.   Bees buzzed around the delicate blooms that glowed in the gray morning.

As I walked downhill on the pipeline I heard the musical song of my all-time favorite bird, the Wood Thrush.  They're back!!! (from southern Mexico/Central America/Panama) and singing their hearts out in our woods. They truly have the most beautiful song of all song birds. I heard three, I think, as I progressed downhill to Meetinghouse Creek, and then up again toward the far fence (3/4 mile). "Watery" is how I always describe the Wood Thrush song.  Other descriptions I've read.... "ethereal (oh yes!)," and "flute-like (definitely!)."  Also heard this morning on the pipeline near the house was the call of a Bob White! When we first built here we heard them every year, but in the last 8 - 10 years they have been scarce. What a thrill to hear these two birds within an hour of each other.

As I approached the steep drop-off before Meetinghouse Creek I paused to consider my path and happened to notice, right along the edge of the woods, a flash of color... not bright color, but a rich dark red.  Instead of heading down I picked my way across the washed out hillside to see what it could be.  It was Sweetshrub!  This is a common wildflower in the Piedmont, but until today not found on my treks through Middlewood or the adjoining pipeline or far woods. This discovery definitely added to my morning joy. Just below this spot is where the Green and Gold is blooming, and where the White Rattlesnake-root is sending out its large, fancy-cut leaves. Also on this damp stream-bank are numerous ferns, Joe Pye Weed, and other goodies. Out in the sun blooms thousands of  Lyre-Leaved Sages, Spotted Cat's Ears, Cinquefoils, Low-bush Blueberries, Dewberries, and as of yesterday, Lance-leaved Coreopsis.  The Gray Beard-tongue has swollen pink buds ready to pop.

So you might wonder about my journal drawing of grass.  Grass? with all those flowers and birds out there?  For the record I decided I need to try to learn about our native grasses.  I sat on my bench with a field guide and identified three of these before I drew them.   Anyone out there know the other two?  When I looked closely at two of them I saw the spiders.  Luckily I've gotten over my hatred of spiders and was able to appreciate and draw them.  Just hope I don't dream about them tonight!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wild Blue Phlox

The perfect spring day... this afternoon it was 80 degrees with a cool breeze, blue sky, and a multitude of birds singing in the front woods near the house, where I'd settled to draw.  The Wild Blue Phlox is in full bloom in the shady woodland garden there, and the fragrance of its thousands of small blossoms wafted around me as I drew. Anyone with woods should grow this native wildflower for its spring event - a delightful pale blue cloud that shimmers in the breeze.  Also included in the charms of Wild Blue Phlox is that it attracts the Hummingbird Moth.  Today one was buzzing in and out of the flowers, sipping sweet nectar from every bloom.

Other native plants grow with abandon in this part of my garden...some might call them weeds. I know that, and  I keep trying to hate Hedge Bindweed (I think that's what it is), a climbing vine that truly does "bind" plants together in my garden.  But, the heart-shaped leaves of this vine are so beautiful, I just can't do it.  They start out a rich coppery color, with deep ridged leaves and veins, and a most delicate and sensual shape.  The vine wraps itself around anything and everything - maybe even you if you sit too long in one place?  

The other weed (native plant) in today's journal is Star Chickweed. We have a healthy crop of this salad green every year.  We have yet to eat them, but in case you're interested, I read that they taste best when boiled briefly in salted water and served in place of spinach! 

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tulip Poplar Petals

Home again!  Unpacked the car and headed out into the woods before I was tempted to take a late afternoon nap. I made a beeline for the bench to feel the breeze on my face after six hours driving.  

The bench sits on top of our high (pipeline) hill facing southwest and has a far view of rolling hills and sky.  I wondered if it was going to be too hot to sit on the bench, but as I emerged from the shaded woods I noticed that the shadows of the far pines had already moved half-way across the pipeline, and one particularly tall tree's shadow lay around the bench like a rug of cool green.  Very nice. I sat and Radu and Daisy moved on to explore the grassy hilltop.  I closed my eyes for a minute, then opened them again.  A few white cottonball clouds floated on the horizon and a high, thin cirrus wisp flew up and over my head.  The wind was strong and cool in my face.  

Ten minutes or so later I got up to wander around and see what I could see.  The Dewberries are blooming white, and pussytoes have sent up their fuzzy little feet from silvery foliage. Other flowers include Cinquefoil, Violets, Vetch, and Toadflax. Venus' Looking Glass is up with buds, but no blooms yet.  Several grasses are blooming but I don't know their names. 

On the way back to the house I noticed on the ground a splash of colorful petals from Tulip Poplar blooms.  They had fallen from one of our huge trees and were still bright, fresh, and sticky on the inside. Nearby a whole bloom had fallen, the branch tip snipped off by some insect.  I picked it up and found that it was filled with large, reddish-brown ants attracted to the sweet, sticky sap.  They didn't seem to mind my observing their sap sipping activity, and continued their business while I drew the bloom. 

I read somewhere that Daniel Boone hollowed his famous 50 ft. long canoe from a Tulip Poplar Tree's long trunk.  Looking up at our tree I can definitely see how this is possible.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mulberries and Mosquitos

I'm visiting my family in South Georgia for a couple days and finally got a chance to go out for some journaling with my nephew, who is nine and also likes to draw nature.  We wandered about looking for something interesting until he chose a small oak tree with bright green, lobed leaves at the edge of the woods. We settled in the grass to draw. High above us in a long leaf pine, a red-bellied woodpecker kept us company.  His steady knock, knock, knock on the trunk was a nice sound.  Then came another not-so nice sound- the whiney buzzzz of a mosquito.  SLAP!  Then another whiney buzzzzzzzz.... SLAP!  Some we didn't hear, but saw them out of the corner of our eyes as they came in for a landing. SLAP!

Slap, slap, slap, slap...

We drew in our journals until we couldn't stand it then jumped up and moved to another spot.

In the side yard, where a breeze found us and kept away "the little bloodsucking beasts" (quoting my nephew), we found a mulberry tree full of unripe berries.  I saw a bird eating the berries and crept closer to identify him.  The closer I got the more birds I saw - in fact the tree was full of Cedar Waxwings, hopping from branch to branch, tugging at, picking, and gorging on the berries.  I carefully picked a small branch and took it away to draw, so as not to disturb the diners.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Great Red Uprising

So windy today!  Deep blue sky with big fluffy white clouds flying past... turning into dark, blue-black clouds, with thunderbooms and spritzes of cold raindrops, then sun and blue again!  

I was inspired by Judy, at "Down the Nature Trail" (see my blog list) to hunt for mushrooms today.  We've had a lot of rain and a few warm days... so I had hope, and that's what I did.  I hiked around the paths that we have throughout our woods...I went slowly and studied the ground in all the usual places. I took the path less taken... and the path never taken... I left the path altogether and headed into the piney woods below the house.  There are always mushrooms down there.  I've taken many photos of mushrooms there (check them out)... but there wasn't one to be seen.  The wind blew all the tiny, green maple leaves, the hickory saplings were just unfurling their tiny, fuzzy leaves, the fringe trees' blooms were out - but still green,  ironwood trees leafing out. Pines downed during winter and green, mossy logs abound in the piney woods, but no mushrooms.  

I finally made the full circle back to the studio and  decided to forget the mushroom quest. Instead I sat near our outdoor shower at the studio to draw the beautiful white Mayapple bloom.   As I studied it I happened to glance to the right to see the Great Red Uprising, right there, four feet away... Such power this red mushroom had, to rise up and shove the leaf litter up and away, to make way for its red cap and sturdy white stem.  The cave beneath looked dark and damp.  The red top was broken, possibly a result of the branch falling on it... the color was also "chipped away" in spots and along the edge, showing the white underlayer.  A small black beetle landed on my leg while I was drawing.  I carefully moved him to a leaf so I could see him better.  

Daisy was a constant presence during this field trip. She followed me around the paths, investigating every log and stump. When I sat down to draw, she put her paws on my back and looked over my shoulder...(the muddy pawprints will wash out of the shirt). She tried to sniff that thing I was so interested in, but I distracted her with a stick to chew.  She pounced on Radu (peacefully sleeping beside me) like Cato in The Pink Panther.  

I worked hard to keep Daisy away from it, but just as I finished drawing the mushroom... she sat on it.  

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Catesby's Trillium

Took a walk with Radu early this morning before the rain came.  I'm so easily distracted by birdsong and wildflowers that I must listen to music or a book on my i-pod if I intend to get serious exercise out there, so today, that's what I did.  But, even as I moved out listening to Van Morrison, I noticed a few things... First, the breeze was out of the west, felt soft and cool on my face, and carried the scent of pine sap.  Second, some of the trees that came down in the snow haven't given up.  Two "reclining" wild Cherries are in full bloom, their lacy elongated clusters of white flowers dangling in splendor from each branch tip.  Also, one downed pine tree is putting forth its spring growth as usual, and has thick and robust "candles" making ninety-degree turns to grow toward the sun. 

Under the pine is a stretch of sandy clay washed downhill and collected in this spot.  In this I noticed many signs of wildlife!  Deer tracks, turkey tracks, Radu and Daisy tracks, Helen and Ben tracks, and fox scat perched right on top of a rock. 

Another little thing I noticed... many, many poison ivy sprouts! They are lovely, by the way, tinged with maroon, so tender and graceful.

One of my favorite native plants growing in our woods is the Catesby's Trillium, and on the way back home I noticed one in bloom.  (We have a patch of six plants that grow near the house, and other single plants dotted around, here and there.)  I dashed to the studio, grabbed my journal and pen, and headed back out to draw the Trillium before it rained.  I didn't actually finish the drawing because it did begin to drizzle.  Pooh.  I went to the studio and tried to remember and/or make up the rest. I finally gave up and moved on.... Sometimes this is best.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Whorled Coreopsis

The sky was so blue today!   Or did it just look extra blue next to the bright green spring foliage budding out on the treetops?  I worked most of the day, so my escape was much needed.... could that be why the sky looked so blue? Regardless, Daisy and I contemplated this deep question for a while from the comfort of our hilltop bench on the pipeline as the breeze riffled through those tender leaves.  I'm still unsure about the blue, but am absolutely positive that it was a beautiful spring day. 

The "old road" that runs the length of our property used to be the drive to the Camp Croft Officers' Retreat.  The building, burned years ago, is now just a brick chimney (with a great view) covered in kudzu vines.  The old road is home to several interesting wildflowers. The Whorled Coreposis plant, lovely on its own (above), blooms in the summer with bright yellow "daisy" like flowers.  It must like dry, rocky shade as it grows along the upper side of the old road, deep in the woods.  Also along here are Dwarf PawPaws, host plant for the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly, as well as a tiny wild blueberry, and Soloman's Seal.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dwarf Crested Iris

It cleared up around 3 today, so I went out to smile at the sun.  The rain had brought out so many more tiny green leaves!  A Tiger Swallowtail sipped at the purple creeping phlox draped on the rock wall, the Bleeding Heart and Wild Blue Phlox were beginning their spring show in the front woods. Birds were singing everywhere... it sounded like an aviary.  

The Dwarf Crested Irises grow around a rock outcrop in the woods below the house. There's a huge patch of them, and when they bloom it's an amazing site if I don't miss it.  Some years I get busy and forget to go look and completely miss them.  So today I walked down to see if they were blooming and found that they are just beginning their season.  This  "bloom" was the first and only purple to be seen.  I sat down to draw and to enjoy the birdsong, the sunlight, the warm breeze through the spring trees.  Daisy was in the house, Radu was napping... I was alone. A caterpillar crawled across my knee.... a tiny grasshopper landed on my shoe.... a brown and black beetle flew into the leaves beside me.  Otherwise, not much was happening at Middlewood today.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Rainy Day Fun

All day it has been rainy and gloomy... which sounds bad, but I mean it in a good way!  There are many wonderful things about a rainy and gloomy spring day, such as no pollen in the air; dogwood blossoms that positively glow; joyful frogs (in need of vernal pools created by spring rains to lay eggs); happy trees and garden; our part of the state moving a notch closer to being out of a drought.  Also, the birds' songs seem louder on a dreary day... as do the frogs' rejoicing croaks.  

For me the day was spent out of the rain -  in the studio having fun in a work kind of way.  A good friend (and talented artist) sent me a thick packet filled with scraps of various brands/weights/surfaces of paper for me to experiment with, each one neatly labeled with all pertinent information.  A wonderful gift!   The sketches above are little practice illustrations on two of the papers.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Early this afternoon, while Ben hiked with Daisy, I  spent time in the woods drawing these little Bloodroot leaves that are growing along our front path.  They are not close to our big patch by the driveway, so I'm excited to think that they are expanding their territory

In the late afternoon I took a hike with Radu on the bright and breezy pipeline.  Bluets and Cinquefoil are still in bloom out there, but new things are happening too - the Green and Gold down by the creek have sent up big new leaves; Coral Honeysuckle and Carolina Jessamine vines are in bloom and already dropping their old, yet still colorful tubes of petals onto the ground; tall and skinny Toadflax blossoms are up and waved in the breeze.  Along with the good were two things to avoid: big patches of tender, sprouting leaves of Poison Ivy, and the quickly growing hills of fire ants all along the pipeline. 

Tiny Meetinghouse creek was a magical place today.  The creek bed is in a steep little valley that both blocks the wind and holds the afternoon heat, so on a cool and breezy day like today it can be quite still and warm.  Clumps of violets are still in bloom along its banks, while a flock of Spring Azure butterflies sipped from the sandy gravel nearby.  A Mayfly was busy, gently depositing her eggs in the still water behind a natural rocky dam, creating ripples each time she touched the surface.   Then, I heard, PLOOP!"  A frog?  I stood on a culvert recently placed by the pipeline (so they can drive their mowers across) and studied the slowly moving stream.  At first I didn't see anything, then out of the culvert floated a three-inch Green Frog, with one back foot hanging down, the other floating on the surface.  His head and two front feet were also at the water's surface.  I watched his body drift, drift, drift... he moved slowly with the flow until it came to a small stick that had become wedged cross-stream.  I was wondering if he would crawl over it or swim under it... but when he came to the stick he didn't move at all.  In fact, he thumped into it and his legs drifted around and honestly, he looked dead.  Oh dear, I thought. What's wrong? I watched him several minutes - no movement.  But as soon as I took a step toward he water he shot away in a flash to hide in a clump of old leaves.  Ha!  Do frogs "play possum?"  I don't know for sure, but this one seemed to be doing just that.

Back at home, while I sat on my bench at the top of the hill, facing the steady beach-type wind, I saw a flash of white against the greening trees.  I got up to investigate. It was a Zebra Swallowtail, flitting about in the warm sun.  When I got close he fluttered into the woods and headed down the path toward my house.   I decided to do the same.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Foam Flower

Went down to the vegetable garden around midday to water the newly emerging beets, radishes, and sugar snap peas.  It was quiet. The sun felt warm on my back, the water felt cold dribbling down my hand as I pressed the hose opening to make a wide spray. Occasionally the spray blew back onto me and made me shiver.  The seeds have just sprouted so from a distance it felt rather like I was watering bare soil.  

I don't know a thing about beets except that I like to eat them pickled, but when we ordered these from Clemson I pictured Peter Rabbit sneaking into Farmer MacGregor's garden to pull up a beet.  That would be fun to do, I thought.  Now I look down at the hundreds of beet seedlings and think about all those big fat beets.... what in the world are we going to do with that many beets?  It's probably wishful thinking to imagine them all making it, or if they do make it, to imagine they will be big and healthy, but we'll see.  It will be fun to come up with recipes and ways to cook a new vegetable. 

Once the watering was finished, it wasn't long before a bright, fresh Zebra Swallowtail fluttered up and over the picket fence and landed on the wet earth.  He sipped here and there and checked out the row of herbs, then fluttered on out again.  It's always nice to have a visitor in the garden.

In the afternoon I sat on the path to my studio to draw Foam Flowers that are blooming now, and Sweet Woodruff stems that are just coming back to life after a winter under fallen leaves. I left Daisy in the house, but Radu was my quiet and calm companion. He seemed to enjoy just being with me on the path's sun warmed pine needles.  

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Unfurling

This was the best kind of Spring day - bright and sunny with white cloud puffs drifting across the blue sky. Temps were in the mid 70's, (warm enough but not hot), and it was breezy, not so much that the wind-chill-factor came into play, but enough to make the pines creak as they swayed.   All the trees are leafing out, giving the woods behind the house a soft, green haze. In bloom are Dogwoods, Redbuds, and our state flower, Carolina Jessamine.  In song are crickets, wind through the pine boughs, lawn mower in the distance, and Carolina Wrens, Cardinals, Chickadees, and Tufted Titmice.... and more.  Beautiful day.

I took a nice walk with the dogs and then came back to my own back yard to draw.  Spring is always amazing around here when the Solomon's Seals start coming up.  Our variety is delicate with thinner leaves than others I've seen.  In the spring they unfurl from the leaf litter, their juicy green leaves bright against the crispy brown leaves.  

While I was drawing the unfurling Solomon's Seal, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker from yesterday returned to the white oak filled with holes from the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and sure enough, he was pulling something out of the holes... his food cache?  My guess is yes.   

Thursday, April 2, 2009


No hiking today due to rain.  I worked in the studio in the afternoon, and spent an hour on the tiny front porch to draw this Mayapple that is just coming up.  The tall, single leaf is about  8" high, the smaller pair of leaves only about 3".  The bud is there to remind us that the twin flowers of Mayapples will open later this month - they have six white petals and hang underneath the umbrella-like leaves.

The birds were very noisy today, chittering and singing throughout the woods as I worked with my studio door open.  Cardinals, Chickadees, Mourning Doves, Carolina Wrens, Titmice, and so many Goldfinches and Purple Finches.... and more!  A noisy Red Bellied Woodpecker called with loud kwirrs and cha's to tell me to come out of the studio and watch him.  Through the binoculars his crisp black and white barred back and red head was quite shocking against the gray trees and sky.  The diffuse light was just right to see his pale "red" belly (he is actually more pink-bellied than red-bellied).  I watched him feast on bugs in a tall White oak, in a section of trunk with many rows of holes made by yellow bellied sapsucker. Since the Red-bellied Woodpecker is known to store food in cracks and crevices of trees, I wondered if this guy has used some of those holes to cache food? 

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Great Blue

Today I finished this commissioned painting of the Great Blue Heron. due next week.  It feels good to have completed the job.    

Tomorrow will be a hiking day.  Stay tuned for more nature journaling...