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.