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.