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.