Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Trailing Arbutus

On my hike today I heard raucous crows in the woods, fussing up a storm. This usually means a hawk or owl is in their territory, so I hurriedly slipped and slid down the still-snowy hill, hoping to see what was happening, or at least get there in time to see what it might be. As I approached, the sudden scream of a Red-shouldered Hawk echoed from the crow-crowded spot. Over and over he shrieked, while the crows screeched and cawed and flew out from a pine tree and back again. Their mobbing was such a noisy affair... the hawk must be in that tree. As I crept closer, and at the same time held Daisy to keep her from racing ahead, the crows saw me and flew away, squawking. After a moment of silence, the hawk flew out from the pine, still screaming. He landed on a bare oak branch very close to me and kept screeching, over and over and over. What is he so excited about? Is he fussing at me? I wondered. I also longed for my camera. The bird was close now, and was perched at a great angle for photography. Through binoculars I watched him cry out continually from the branch. About two minutes later, he flew screaming back into the pine and then... out of the pine flew a huge, dark and silent Great Horned Owl. The noisy hawk was on his tail as they flew off into the treetops.

Thirty minutes later I found these small, evergreen plants (above) on the steep north-facing hill above Lawson's Fork. I poked around under the leaf litter and saw that they were trailing plants, and then I saw the flower buds so I knew it would be an early bloomer, but I still didn't know what it was. That means research! One of my favorite things about wandering the woods is finding something new, and then digging into my field guides to identify it. Turns out they are Trailing Arbutus plants that bloom in early March with spicy, scented flower heads in pink or white. I've heard about them, but never seen one.

On the way back home I came face to face with a deer antler wedged in a small tree.... probably exactly where the young deer stopped last spring to rub his antler, and then lost it and left it. A fun find.

Later, I looked up the Red-shouldered Hawk and found this fascinating mention of what I'd seen in the woods:

"Although the American Crow often mobs the Red-shouldered Hawk, sometimes the relationship is not so one-sided. They may chase each other and try to steal food from each other. They may also both attack a Great Horned Owl and join forces to chase the owl out of the hawk's territory."
(Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

What a day!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

White Ash & Tulip Poplar Seeds

I headed out around noon today, with only a two hour window to walk Daisy and draw in my journal. The shade felt cold, but on the sunny side of the pipeline it felt warm. In fact, by the time I'd hiked to my favorite winter-afternoon spot, I was hot and had to take my coat off.

After twenty years of hiking out here, I've found the best place to sit this time of year is on the far side of Meetinghouse Creek, where a steep hill facing south rises from the creek. You can settle there between noon and about four o'clock and receive full winter sun rays, the north wind is blocked, and radiant heat rises from the earth around you. It is heavenly on a cold day like today. The only problem... today the warm sun also awakened a few ants, who proceeded to come pester me. They weren't fire ants, but it is still disconcerting to feel one walking on your skin.

I drew small things I found on the ground around me. Daisy slept nearby.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Jamboread Poster

This is what I've been working on this week instead of journaling (I still hiked with Daisy, but no dilly-dallying)...I finished up my 10th poster for JAMBOREAD! - our county library system's reading festival for children. The image is my idea of what would happen to a book if a dragon read it.... but what book would a dragon want to read? I think this one. If you haven't read it, you should! Jamboread is the first weekend in March. Come see us!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Elephants Foot Seedheads

It's cold today! When Daisy and I headed out under heavy clouds, a breeze moved across the open field and tried to pull my scarf right off. Brrr! I pulled my scarf snug around my neck and lead Daisy to a low, protected spot by the bridge, where a patch of Elephant's Foot grows at the edge of the woods. It was mostly quiet while I sketched the dried stalks and seedheads, except for some crows cawing, a red-bellied woodpecker chirring while working a dead pine, and Lawson's Fork in the distance, rushing over shoals near the old iron bridge. I heard small raindrop splats on the leaf litter before I either saw or felt them.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sand dollar & Blue Crab Claw

This morning's clouds turned into rain and allowed me time to complete yesterday's entry. Below is a photo I took on the beach. Home tomorrow.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Today was busy with family and food, fossils and photography. I am thankful to have the opportunity to enjoy all of them here at the beach. Instead of working on finishing my journal entry for the day, my first-born son and I went out for another photo session with the sunset. Here's a picture of him taking a photograph at the tail end of the red sky.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Shrimp Head

Today we travelled to the coast for Thanksgiving week. As usual, my first priority was to go to the ocean to say hello. It was a particularly beautiful evening, with an almost full moon rising over the water. Back at the house the shrimp were boiling and the beer was cold in the fridge. A great way to start the vacation!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

St. Peterswort

Returned from Charlotte in time for an afternoon hike to see my favorite Sourwood tree. It's in the woods across Meetinghouse Creek and almost at the top of the hill. Many of the sourwoods around here have dropped most of their leaves, but maples, hickories, oaks, as well as dogwoods and beech trees are at the peak of color, making it a beautiful hike. Found a wing feather of a juvenile red-tailed hawk under a huge white oak... I know this because I found it at The Feather Atlas - a fun site for bird lovers.

I wandered the woods around my sourwood, listening to the rattle of fallen leaves, field crickets, and the steady hollow knock of a nearby woodpecker. The tree had a spattering of pinky-red leaves remaining on the branches, the rest fallen into a carpet under the tree. It's a huge twisting tree, with a summer canopy so thick that nothing else grows under it. Large branches that have fallen look like serpents wiggling through the sea of leaves.

Twisty branches of the Sourwood tree, last winter.

I finally went to sit in the sun and open breeze to draw. A Buckeye butterfly flitted around over the field, and this St. Peterswort (in seed) was growing right beside me. It's only about 6" tall and has narrow, oval leaves. The remaining bracts are distinctive and help you identify it when not in bloom.

Daisy sat beside me (not on the plant I was drawing), closed her eyes and put her face into the breeze. Eventually she took a nap. We are such an exciting pair!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Chufa (Umbrella Sedge)

Today's sunny afternoon was perfect for hiking to Meetinghouse Creek with Daisy. The wind, out of the NE, offered a pleasantly cool contrast to the warm late-day sun that soaked into my blue turtleneck sweater. Few flowers are still in bloom, but on the way downhill we passed a single bright yellow Dandelion that had a visitor - a brown Folded-wing Skipper sipping nectar. Small Asters bloomed here and there, and a single stem of Rabbit Tobacco glowed bright against the dark woods. Above our heads, bright orange maple leaves danced in the wind against the cornflower-blue sky.

Once at the creek I found a spot in the sun to draw this sedge, while Daisy settled in shade nearby to chew a stick. River Birch and Sycamore trees towered over us, their thinned canopies quivering in the wind. Crickets sang from trees and field, and were occasionally joined by crows calling from the distant woods. Carolina Locust leapt about in the tall grass; deer tracks going every which way dotted the ground.

On the way back a Question Mark butterfly fluttered down the trail towards us and landed on my arm. What a picture! Its vivid blue edging shimmered against my blue sweater. Daisy and I admired it for a few minutes until it flew. Daisy gave it a half-hearted chase, then turned to race me home... a race she always wins!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Under A Pine

This morning was cool (49 deg.) and windy so I knew I needed to find a spot out of the wind, and in the sun. Brrr! As I thought about the lay of the land, I remembered one spot that would provide both: the old road down near the rusty, defunct bridge gets direct morning sun and runs through woods thick enough to block winds from the NE.

Old Thompson Road is nothing but a narrow, rutted roadbed that ends in deep ditch just before the bridge. On the hill above the bridge Duke Power keeps clear a portion of the road that has lines running beside it. I picked a spot there, beneath some short leaf pines, where a cluster of British Soldiers (lichen in bloom that look like they're wearing little red caps) caught my eye. The sun felt warm, I was out of the wind. Perfect!

Except ... Daisy was curious. She walked in front of me and wanted to sniff and look at everything. She sniffed at my pen and then at the pencil box and in my attempt to get her to move, she stepped on the box and flipped it, spilling art supplies across the ground. She stepped on the lichen I was drawing, and when I asked her to please move, she sat. Everything I tried to draw was a new and exciting discovery for her. Sniff. Sniff. She knocked over my cup of water and ate the ice cubes; she dug up my small pine, and got her dirty paws on my journal (Daisy, OFF!) but luckily the dirt was dry, so it brushed off. I could go on, but long-story-short, she finally, finally! curled up and took a nap.

This journal page shows all the little things growing under the tall pines. I had to sneak away to find another baby pine since Daisy was sleeping on the first one.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Catbrier, Spotted Wintergreen, and Cross Vine

Abandoned homesites in the woods are strange and beautiful places. The one I visited this morning, for instance, is slowly disappearing into the forest. Cedar and Sweetgum trees are growing from the hole that was the basement, the stacked stone foundation has fallen apart in most places and overgrown with moss. The old barn, rotted from the bottom up, is only the angled tin roof sitting on the ground. Wild grape vines that grow on the still-standing chimney are three inches in diameter.

The strangeness comes mostly from the fact that many farming families once had the habit of throwing their trash in a pile quite near the house. As Daisy and I wandered around the homesite today I found some of the expected junk: rusty cans with triangular punched holes, old bottles (baby bottle, milk bottle, brown Clorox bottle, Ball jars, Pepsi, old Dukes mayo), broken bottles with ebony spleenworts growing inside, as well as broken pottery, half a turquoise milkglass mug, and old lightbulbs. Rusty metal blends right into the leaf litter and crunches when you step on it. When I stubbed my toe on something and went back to look, I saw a curved metal edge rising an inch above the soil. A hard tug brought out an old car horn - the wide end 5 inches across, the length about 15 inches.

Another surprise was tripping over a very disguised coil from an old box spring. I turned and had to stare hard to see it, but once I did I realized it was the whole boxspring! The springs were everywhere! it was amazing I made it through the maze at all. Fifty (or more) years' worth of leaf litter had fallen and rotted, and many plants were happy to grow in the rich humus it made: Cedar, ironwood, holly, sweetgum and small oak trees grew all around, as did ferns and spleenworts. The small wildflowers (above) paid no attention to the Dr. Seuss-ish curls of the box springs and grew all around and between them.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Indian Hemp Seedpods

Imagine a nice fall day planned for birdwatching, and me riding with my friend towards the local state park, hiking shoes on feet, binoculars in hand. Suddenly the clouds burst and rain pours down. We take a side trip to a local coffee drive through, and with coffee in hand we decide to still go to the state park, and to birdwatch from the car. (Go ahead, laugh!) We drive out of town and down the long road to the state park, but around the last curve we see that the gates are closed due to tree work along the roadsides. All the guys working turn to stare at us as we do our three point turn. Oh well. No problem. My friend lives close to the state park, so we decide to birdwatch from the car over there.
We head down the old farm road at her house, drive around the pond and over the dam. The car, being a new hybrid, is very quiet, so we did actually see some birds... A Kingfisher, Bluebirds, a Northern Harrier, a flock of Purple Finches, Song Sparrows... Even though we were moving, the loudest noise was the that of the raindrops coming in the wide-open windows and hitting inside of the front doors. SPLAT SPLAT SPLAT splat splat SPLAT splat.

On a grassy hill above the pond was a big patch of gray. "That's the patch of Indian Hemp," my friend said, "It was covered in butterflies this summer...but what are those yellow leaves in the middle of it?"

Before I could say I didn't know, the beautiful new hybrid headed off the clear road and up the hill. We plowed through grass plumes that towered over our heads - other plants scraped and scratched along the undercarriage.

"So," I said, "this Lexxus is an offroad vehicle, right?"

"Oh, yeah," she said. "It's an SUV."

"Alrighty, then," I said. We headed toward the Indian Hemp patch and rolled right into the empty, gray stems as tall as the car. All the leaves had long since fallen off so we drove a loop through the stems. The yellow leaves she'd noticed were from a Indian Hemp plant that hadn't lost its leaves yet for some reason. As she pulled away I noticed seedpods. "Oh, look, there are seedpods! They're split open. See the seeds?"

Another donut circle brought the car right back to the same Indian Hemp seedpods dangling from the bare stems. I leaned out into the rain and picked a few.
After hiking with Daisy today I sat at my counter to draw the seedpods in my journal. "Next time I'm driving," I thought. I mean, even though her car is an SUV, somehow it makes more sense to use my ten-year-old Jeep to go offroad.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Maple Leaves, Long-necked Seed Bug, & Common Sulphur

Today was warm, damp, and cloudy, with a rich color show in the maple, cherry, and sassafras trees, as well as the virginia creeper vines and the winged sumacs. I settled at the edge of the pipeline, got out my journal and was looking around for something to draw, when a gust of wind whooshed past. It stripped leaves from the maple trees behind me and twirled them in the air like confetti. Some leaves danced and whirled in spirals like helicopters, some sashayed back and forth as if they were post-it notes dropped from the small plane that just buzzed over. Others swung wild and looped back up, flying even higher into the air! They eventually landed around me with a soft click, some on my page.

Field crickets trilled from the grass, a red-bellied woodpecker chirred from a pine he was working. Daisy got interested in digging a hole right next to me....scratch, scratch, scratch....PAUSE, shift... scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch.... pause, shift... the clay soil, damp from yesterday's rain, gave way easily to her claws. Sniff, sniff. Pause. Scratch, scratch, scratch. A bug landed on my knee, so I quickly sketched it. I didn't recognize it, but once home I looked it up and found that it is a seed bug - a long-necked one, no less.

After sketching the leaves, I brought them home so I could paint them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Unknown Fungi

While hiking in the cool dewy morning, I saw a hawk being mobbed by a group (a murder) of raucous crows! The attackers' harsh cries could be heard from a distance so I headed in their direction. Twice as I walked toward them the noise stopped for about ten seconds, only to begin again just as loud and persistent. Why do they do this? How do they all know to stop at the same time? I don't know if my approach encouraged the hawk to get the heck out of there, but when I got close there was a sudden whoosh - whoosh - whoosh of large wings and the flash of a red tail as the hawk flew off, escorted by about eight squawking crows. One they were gone silence fell over the woods. I walked slowly on looking for rocks and feathers, and noticed that within five minutes the other little birds in the trees started singing again.

There were two piles of fresh fox scat full of persimmon seeds in the cut that runs between the three pipelines. I use it all the time to gain access to the woods and rocky ridge above Lawson's Fork. It must be a fox cut-through, too.

Later this afternoon I sat down to draw the strange, brown and scaly fungi above. They've been growing all fall in our yard, until my son picked them and brought them to me last week. I'd love to know a name. I couldn't find it in any of my field guides. I did find a photo of one in a blog and was excited until I saw that the writer called it "Fungus anonymous." Oh, well! If anyone knows a name, please let me know!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Asters, Goldenrod, Sulphur and Folded-wing Butterflies

This morning was errand time for me, so Daisy and I went out late, around 3:00. The warmth has returned, but the sun is low and not so strong, and there was a nice breeze blowing across the hill that was cool. And, NO mosquitos! There was plenty of shade along the top of the hill so we strolled down the upper edge of the pipeline to admire the many wildflowers blooming there. (There were more there than I drew, but they wouldn't all fit on one page.) Butterflies flitted about in the sun, and when I finally sat down to draw, other little bugs came to visit, so I noted them on the page. A small airplane buzzed by, low overhead, and fall field crickets cheeped from sunny grass stems. It was a peaceful afternoon.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tulip Poplar Leaves and Crane Fly

Sunny, and warm this afternoon, with a coolish breeze to riffle my hair as I drew the poplar leaves. I did the exercise walk in the dewy morning so that I could take Daisy in for a bath, so I was alone on the hill. Birds: tufted titmouse, red-bellied woodpecker, red-tailed hawk screaming while he circled high above.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Now that the hot weather has passed I'm able to go out to the woods to journal more often, and the last few days have been heavenly! Who wouldn't want to go out for a walk with 59 degree mornings, 75 degrees and breezy afternoons? Today was beautiful from sunrise to sunset.

I found this tiny, five-inch-high Sparkleberry this afternoon in the woods down near the old defunct iron bridge at Old Thompson Road. (The road is nothing but ruts covered in wildflowers and small mountain laurel, but still, it has a name, and if you use the computer to give you directions, you may be told to "take a left on Old Thompson Road, proceed two miles to..." But you can't proceed, for you'd be in the river by now.) There are old home sites in the woods on either side of the old roadbed, and near one of these I found some neat old bottles. One is from Wood's Beverages, of Gaffney, SC. It's green, with embossed words and logo. The other is from Griffin Allwite, which my friend and neighbor says was white shoe polish, for children's hightops, or nurses shoes during the War. Also around the old brick chimney were rusty mattress springs, tin roofing, and old gray logs still resting on big, mossy rocks. Ebony Spleenwort was taking over the foundation site, and yellow Sweetgum leaves had fallen here and there, like stars fallen from heaven.

I didn't want to sit amongst someone's old garbage (even interesting garbage!) so I moved on down closer to the river. The pink leaves of the tiny Sparkleberry stood out against the brown leaves.... a nice place to sit... the breeze kept me cool.

And to keep my readers grounded and real, let it be known that Daisy found something dead and stinky in which to roll. Her beautiful white mane (she is a Collie, remember) is now black and sticky on the right side. Ahh.... life in the country....

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Checkered Skipper and Sycamore Bark

Nice morning for a walk - 59 degrees and breezy. It felt quite cool heading downhill, into the wind, in the shade. It felt much warmer walking back because we were heading steeply uphill, with the wind at my back, and in the warming sun. There were many small butterflies in the sun flitting about the numerous asters and goldenrods that nodded in the wind, including this Common Checkered Skipper. He's a small butterfly, not much more than an inch wingspread, and he's a new one to me... I've never seen it before! The turquoise hairs on his body reminded me of the Long-tailed Skipper I see down at the coast, so when I got home I looked under skippers in my butterfly book, and voila! There he was, one of the spread-wing skippers.

Daisy and I poked around down by Meetinghouse Creek for a bit, me trying to find a way to get through a briar patch to reach a mulberry tree with huge, yellowing leaves,until I saw that Daisy found a much easier route and waited for me under said tree. After several scratches from the briers I copied her and soon found myself under a huge Sycamore tree where large pieces of shed bark littered the ground. I picked up the only small piece I saw to draw in my journal. Kept going to the Mulberry tree but was unable to reach high enough to get to the leaves.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cranefly Leaves Unfurling

In the woods around my studio there are many patches of Cranefly Orchids. Last summer I watched this group of three plants as their winter leaves withered and died. The foot-high stalks appeared overnight in spring. They grew and bloomed, and a month later the blooms died and set seed. Leaves and bloom-stalks alternate like this year after year. Today I leaned down to see if anything was happening and saw that this winter's leaves are unfurling near the dead stalks. (Each plant has one leaf and one flower stalk.)

Acorns fell as I drew - BANG! on the roof of the studio, BANG! on a car. CRASH! Thud! through tree leaves and onto the ground. The only other noises were the chirring of a red-bellied woodpecker and a chattering squirrel.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

False Turkey Tail & Tiger Moth

Daisy and I hiked almost to the river yesterday, stopping to admire this log full of bright and fresh False Turkey Tails. We could hear the river, running high after two days of rain, which was quite noisy as it rushed over the shoals at Helen and Susan Islands. When I sat to draw, Daisy sat close, guarding me. At one point I heard a SNAP! and turned to see three deer running away into the woods with Daisy on their heels. Oh, such a brave girl!

Before I left, I picked one of the polypores from the log and stuck it in my backpack. Later in the day I pulled out my sketchbook and the small polypore came out with it, completely changed. Instead of the rich, tawny brown color, it had changed to a fuzzy gray. I decided to record the changes in my sketchbook. The tiger moth was as gift from my son, who found it in his bedroom. Apparently it had flown into his open window and gotten lost behind the dresser. He brought it down and presented it as I was painting the False Turkey Tail - the best kind of gift for this mom!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Red Leaf and Helenium (Sneezeweed)

Took an early walk today and enjoyed the long morning shadows and wind in my hair. Tuesday's silence had disappeared. Instead, I heard traffic from Pine Street (we live at least 2 miles away from Pine St.) a lawn mower, a dog barking across the river, as well as the dog's owner yelling, "Shut UP!" It's amazing how noisy some days are! Along the way I found half of a bird egg, a tiny puffball that poofed its brown smoke when I poked it, and the seed pods of a sensitive brier. Fyi: if you ever see a seedpod on a sensitive brier vine, do not touch it or you'll get a handful of invisible splinters. They are so tiny it's hard to get them out. I had about ten in my hand even though I was very careful when I picked it to draw, and then dropped it immediately.

While I was picking prickles from my hand, I noticed the beautiful crimson leaf on the ground. A much safer choice for today's journal entry. I though the red contrasted nicely with the yellow of the Sneezeweed (Helenium).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Turkey Feather & Green Acorns

Fall is coming! The angle of sunlight, dewy cool mornings, beauty berries showing off, as well as the heart-stopping BANG of hickory nuts falling on the studio roof... these are all reminders that September is passing quickly and October is on the way!

Daisy and I stirred up three deer today as we headed down the steep, washed out hill to the lower trail. I hate doing that, and every time it happens I consider keeping Daisy on a leash. The reason I don't is because she's never caught anything, and I love to see her run. Collies are made to run. It's a beautiful site. Besides, the deer are usually so far away that there's no chance she'll even get close! Today the deer bounded away through the tall brush no more than 25 feet away, and although Daisy did head out after them, I called her back with one of the treats I had in my pocket. Happily, it worked.

Five minutes later I came upon a beautiful black racer who had been slithering across the pipeline before Daisy had run past, just ahead of me. When I got to the snake his body was tensed up, but he was still calm and looking around. He looked directly at me when I squatted down to inspect him. I had just reached over to touch him when Daisy came running back to see what I'd found. She startled the snake and sent him into a tail-rattling, curled-up-ready-to-spring frenzy. Oh, Daisy! What a nature nuisance.

I led her away and we hiked into the woods on the far hill. It is very crispy and crackly around here from lack of rain. It's been weeks, I think, since we've had significant rainfall. I sat on top of the rocky ridge for a while to draw,with Daisy settled beside me, both of us listening to the birds in the trees. They were everywhere! Red-bellied woodpeckers, flickers, very noisy blue jays, crows, a PW rattled and drilled a tree not far from us. Fall crickets called their high "cheeps" from the tree-tops. Daisy, being an unusually observant dog, looked from tree to tree, trying to find the birds.

On the way back, I stopped in the shade of some pines to notice the quiet. Not total silence, but an absence of background noise.... no wind is part of it, but it's also something atmospheric, I think. Against the background of silence all the tiny sounds of nature seemed magnified: carolina mantids buzzed as they sprang from grass stems zzzzzzzzzzzzt!, a single cricket cheeped from a grass stem - beetles chewed inside a pine trunk behind me. Various kinds of sulfur butterflies fluttered over flowers across the field; even far away I could see their floppy yellow flight, up-over-and-down. They were everywhere - hundreds of delicate wings. For some reason this brought to mind the natural force opposite that of a butterfly wing's slight disturbance - the beautiful/terrible Category-4 hurricane Igor that swirls across the Atlantic Ocean this week. Its width is the same as the distance from Dallas to DC. Take a moment to consider the differences and know we live on one awesome planet!

Monday, September 6, 2010

New York Iron Weed

Clear, cool and breezy - a beautiful day to be outside. The ironweed this time of year is stunning, especially when it is growing next to goldenrod and wingstem! The contrast of yellow and purple does everything it's meant to do - it shocks and pleases the eye at the same time.

While I drew, Fall Field Crickets trilled all around me and a White Breasted Nuthatch worked a tree near where I sat... Ank ank! Ank ank! Ank ank! A Pileated Woodpecker screamed several times close by. A soft breeze stirred the leaves... and my hair. Like I said, it was a beautiful day!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

White Wood Aster

It was already 77 degrees and humid when we headed out, at 9 a.m. High pitched crickets buzzed in the trees, still dripping from rain in the night, and invisible spider webs were strung across the path. I think my friend missed the webs, but I managed to get some of the sticky strands across my face and in my hair. If you've ever done this, you know how I felt. Even thought I brushed and wiped and rubbed my face and shoulders, it never felt like they were truly gone. I imagined the tiny spider on my back. On my neck. In my hair. The only way to deal with this is to STOP thinking about it. Walk on and focus on what's ahead... of course you should also find a nice forked stick to wave in front of you to remove other invisible webs! Once on the open field of the pipeline and its well worn path, there were no more worries of spider webs.

We hiked down to Meetinghouse Creek, up the hill and into the far woods, around the high, rocky ridge that runs along the river. Daisy and her beautiful canine visitor, Olive, raced ahead as I pointed out to Kaye interesting rocks, mushrooms, and box turtles, as well as some of my favorite moss mounds and wildflower patches. One particular patch was Elephants Foot (Elephantopus sp. - sometimes know as Devil's Grandmother), in full bloom in the light shade of high pines.

At the river's edge Daisy and Olive headed for the water while Kaye and I settled down to draw. I found these delicate White Wood Asters that were just beginning to bloom. I thought it strange that the leaf bases on one plant (left) were so varied. It's not like I didn't see things correctly. I always notice weird details, so who knows what was going on with that plant. All the leaves on the other one (right) had typical heart-shaped leaf bases and the arrow shape.

As we were leaving we noticed the itty bitty white mushrooms. They were everywhere - the more we looked, the more we saw all through the woods, up the hill, down the bank, thousands of mushrooms. Kaye found a twig with one tiny mushroom and two that were pin-head sized. Mushrooms are amazing in many ways. Go here to hear a mycologist discuss the possibility of these beautiful fungi saving the world!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hieracium (maybe) and an Arrowhead

Fog and cool temps made this morning a wonderful time for me and Daisy to hike to the river. We headed down the hill into a stiff, damp breeze that felt delicious after all the hot, dry weather we've had lately. Along the edge of the pipeline were long flowering mounds of Butterfly Pea vines crawling over grass and fallen logs, and swaying plumes of goldenrod. Yesterday's rain was puddled in the clay at the bottom of the hill near Meetinghouse Creek. Here were the blooms of Meadowbeauty, Joe Pye Weed, False Dandelion, Seed Box, Heal All, Monkey Flower, and Sensitive Brier.

After the Creek we headed into the woods by way of a newly rough-cut road that winds its way down to Lawson's Fork. No trucks or four-wheelers had driven here lately, so the grass at the opening has grown pretty tall. Once through, the path has a pleasant neglected look, but is clear for a good run for Daisy, and for finding an arrowhead for me! I always pick up pieces of milky quartz, just in case, and a couple years ago I found a beautiful point out on the pipeline in a place I'd been walking for 18 years. You never know when one will finally wash out of the dirt and sit waiting for you to walk by. The one I found today is not as finely worked as the last one, but it's whole!

Further down the road I saw the lovely combination of the delicate drooping leaves of one of the Hieraciums (I think) and the small red mushroom. I could hear the shoals on Lawson's Fork from there, as well as a Carolina Wren, a Pileated Woodpecker, and an Indigo Bunting. The high trill of crickets was background noise. I sat to draw in my journal while Daisy explored the woods around me. She finally came to sleep right in front of me. So sweet! I even used her as a table until a fly buzzed by and she leapt to her feet to snap at it. Yikes! Guess that wasn't a good idea after all.

On to the river! The water was high and very muddy, rushing around Helen and Susan Islands. Mushrooms were everywhere - tall and stately, tiny and button-like, and many in-betweens. Fringed Gentian was blooming along the edge of the low bluff over the river, and Christmas Ferns carpeted the rising slope behind us.

Heading back I made a list of all the flowers I saw in bloom. The fog was heavier, and beads of moisture covered the grasses and leaves all over the pipeline.
Fringed Gentian
Butterfly Pea
Spurred Butterfly Pea
Elephant's Foot
Sensitive Briar
Meadow Beauty
Daisy Fleabane
Joe Pye Weed
False Dandelion
Heal All
Monkey Flower
Queen Ann's Lace
Flowering Spurge
Dwarf Pale Lobelia
Wild Potato Vine
Grassleaf Golden Aster
Whorled Coreopsis

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cranesbill Geranium, Christmas Fern

This post was created Saturday in the front yard of Apple Tree Cottage, in the delightfully cool mountains of North Carolina. A strong, clean breeze blew from the west and played harmonies in the windchimes hanging below the porch roof. I was sitting in my vintage garden chair gazing at this scene in the fern garden. The garden is all that's left after the huge apple tree had to be cut down two years ago. We hated doing it, but the old tree that dated back to one of NC's first apple orchards here on the hill, was nothing but a fat trunk with one live branch sticking out at an awkward angle to rest on the cabin's tin roof. Ivy, planted years ago, had crept up the trunk and across the branch. This branch still dropped withered fruit occasionally, but the main trunk was mostly dead. It leaned a little more each time we visited.

After the tree was hauled off we added more Christmas Ferns to the circle, enhanced the border with more rocks, and planted other flowers as the summers passed. Now the mostly shaded garden is also home to Forget me nots, impatiens, a lovely woods aster that volunteered, Wild Basil, and Cranesbill Geraniums. (The ivy is slowly being removed.) And off to one side of the garden, bravely growing from some old forgotten chunk of rootstock, is a foot-tall sprout of the apple tree for which our cottage was named.

While I drew in my journal Towhees sang from the trees, a crow cawed from a very near branch. Cicadas started buzzing, and two Tiger Swallowtails fluttered lazily around in the sun. Ben pulled out a can of barn-red paint to touch up the front railing near the old sign (it came with the cabin when my parents bought it 35 years ago) that spells out the cabin's name, Apple Tree Cottage. Other than this nothing much happened all afternoon.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Creeping Cedar, or Running Cedar (Lycopodium digitatum)

A front came through yesterday, bringing with it breezes, cooler mornings, and milder afternoon temps. Today it feels like fall, not mid-summer. Daisy and I headed out for a walk at around 10:00 a.m. I meant to make up for being out of town so long and give her a long walk, but instead got waylaid at Meetinghouse Creek admiring the Meadow Beauty that grows low and close to the water. I sat down and tried to begin a drawing when the breeze stopped. A thousand gnats came out to visit. Daisy, who had settled on the hill above me, still had a breeze riffling through her long coat. Hmmm....I thought. Something wrong here. After repacking my bag I grabbed my sit-upon and headed to a higher elevation, along the cool and shady side of the pipeline where I'd noticed the Creeping Cedar "running" under a patch of pines. The breeze was strong, so there were no bugs. I sat.

Crickets buzzed in the treetops, many birds, including my favorites, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Mourning Dove, chirped and sang. The only excitement came when Daisy took off running straight uphill after hearing a white tailed deer "coughing" in the woods to announce a danger we couldn't see. She was soon back and tired out enough to take a nap at my side.

It was great to be outside again.

Clematis viorna, False Dandelion

You will notice that this is a journal entry from mid June - proof that I have at least been trying to squeeze journaling time into my days. The fact that I am only now posting it (on July 2) is proof that I've had some trouble doing it regularly. Please, enjoy this entry, and then check back soon for today's post!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Horse Nettle (Solanum carolinense), Saw Greenbrier (Smilax bona-nox), and more

A damp breeze from the east kept me cool this morning as I headed straight into it on the way down the pipeline. Heavy clouds swung past overhead with occasional thinning to show brighter splotches of white instead of gray, and occasional spits of rain forced me to hide my journal under the sweatshirt I carried. I also had my pack, binoculars to scare the birds away (that's what seems to happen when I remember to take them - no birds), and my rolled up sit-upon cut from an old yoga mat (handy, comfortable, lightweight). Daisy bounced along beside me. Butterflies wobbled past as they flew west with the damp wind - Great Spangled Fritillaries, Spring Azures, a Silver Spotted Skipper, and a Checkerspot - and here and there a cricket buzzed in the trees. Tracks showed deep and clear in the rainwet red clay, displaying the various sized deer that roam around Middlewood in the night. Fox scat and some unknown scat proved that other critters roam, as well.

From trees all around, Indigo Buntings were singing their hearts out. Thank goodness for my binoculars! Since Indigo Buntings like to sit on top of dead wood, it was easy to guess where to find one of the beautiful songsters - he was perched on the highest limb of a dead pine tree that fell onto the pipeline during winter. I was very close to this indigo bunting. His song was beautiful! (listen)

When we came to a section of the trail filled with Pasture Roses, I stopped and closed my eyes and let the scent waft over me. Oh, so rich and sweet! The soft pink petals held drops of rainwater that glistened, even under gray skies. Last Friday I saw the season's first few roses blooming and had cut two for the tiny bouquet I put in my guest room for my brother-in-law's visit. Just two had been enough to scent the room, and today there is a whole field of them! You can imagine it smelled divine. Think of standing in a Cotswold rose garden in mid-June...

There's more! Coreopsis are still blooming, and Daisy Fleabane, Spotted Cat's Ear, Butterfly Weed, and Green and Gold. Just opened: New Jersey Tea, tiny Flowering Spurge, distinctive round pink flowers of Sensitive Brier, and white Wild Quinine.

At the base of many plants were the tell-tale sign of Spittlebug nymphs... white frothy "spit" that they cover themselves with for protection. The nymphs hide in the spittle while sucking plant juices. Sound gross? It looks kind of gross too. Adult spittlebugs look like and hop around like tiny leaf hoppers.

After moving twice to get away from gnats, my drawing location today was chosen specifically to stay in the wind, which kept the gnats at bay. Once settled on top of the far hill on a fairly clear spot, I drew what was around me (and that which stayed un-mashed by curious Daisy). The clouds spit on me occasionally, but no serious rain fell.

I know I have forgotten to write about everything, so here's the list I made of flowers I saw while hiking:

New Jersey Tea
Wild Quinine
Flowering Spurge
Spotted Cat's Ear
Sensitive Brier
Self Heal
Daisy Fleabane (white and purple)
Horse Nettle
Green & Gold
Pasture Rose
Crown Beard
Milkweed about to open
Butterfly Weed

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Carolina Cranesbill (Cranesbill caroliniana), Spotted Cat's Ear (Hypochoeris radicata), Venus' Looking Glass (Triodanis perfoliata)

We had a great walk this morning! A fresh breeze left over from yesterday's storms blew in from the west and made the shady side of the pipeline feel cool. One step into the sun and I felt hot, and just right for butterflies. Silver-spotted Skippers, Tiger Swallowtails, Azures, and a Great Spangled Fritillary fluttered around me as we headed down hill. Lots of plants are flowering now, including Pasture Rose, Coreopsis, Honeysuckle, Crimson Clover (left by the pipeline workers), Ragwort, as well as others. The bright red leaves of the Carolina Cranesbill attracted my attention and at closer inspection, its seeds fascinated me, so I sat to draw in a patch of thick, glossy grass. The blades towered over my head once I settled, so that my view of the world reminded me of what it would be like to be a deer, curled up for the night in a similar nest. Birds sang in the trees around me - most exciting was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo's distinctive call - Ku-ku-ku-ku-ku-ku-ku-ku KALP KALP KALP!

The Venus' Looking Glass and Spotted Cat's Ears (both non-natives) were growing near the native Cranesbill, so I drew them too. The VLG had been nibbled and was missing its usual top spire.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wild Licorice (Galium circaezans) and Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus)

A quick post from a cool spring day. While I was out in the chilly overcast day, the breeze made it difficult to remember (or believe) that today is the 11th of May. Brrr...

The center plant (above) is growing in our dry, rich woods close to the Galium - Wild Licorice (one of the Bedstraws) and also near Solomon's Seal and False Solomon's Seal. I don't know its name but plan to keep an eye on it to see when it blooms - the easiest way to identify a plant.

My busy days will be over after this week, and I'll be back in my world... check back soon!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)

Springtime is truly here when the Fringe Trees bloom in our back woods. The delicate flowers are hard to see, but I can smell the fragrant blooms from all over the back woods, and on a breezy day like today, their sweetness can waft all the way out to the pipeline. Also blooming in the woods are the dozen or so Catesby's Trillium that I have protected, babied, fretted over, read about, as well as painted, drawn, and bragged about for the last 20 years. Their pink, nodding blooms are so beautiful.

Today there were many other flowers in bloom, as well: Soloman's Seal, Dewberry, Lyre-leaf Sage, Wood Sorrel, as well as Spotted Cat's Ear, Hawkweed, and Dwarf Cinquefoil. Wild Strawberries (white with yellow center) were blooming along with Indian Strawberries (yellow) and the tiny Carolina Cranesbill. I made a mental note of them as the dogs and I hiked in the cool breeze. Near Meetinghouse Creek grew Violets (Common Blue) and a variety of ferns unfurling into the sun. Several spots of bright red in the creek caught my eye. Upon inspection I found them to be Cross Vine blossoms that had fallen upstream from. The more I looked, the more red and yellow flowers I found drifting down the creek, catching on rocks and reeds, or swirling around in small eddies. Daisy noticed that I was interested and ran to check them out too, stepping on some, snapping at others, getting right in front of me so I couldn't see the water at all. Sigh.... some day I might have to leave Miss Daisy at home.

When I finally sat to draw a tiny, half-inch long Praying Mantis hopped onto my journal page. I removed him with care and started in on my branch of fringe tree. When the breeze slacked off, biting gnats appeared from nowhere. I had to swat at them awhile until luckily, clouds moved in along with an even stronger wind that blew the gnats back to where they came from. Daisy and Radu wandered back and settled down beside me. I wondered if they could appreciate the amazing fragrance of the Fringe Tree beside them. I know I did.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Amsonia - Blue Star

A small patch of twenty or so Blue Star plants grow in the shade of pines near Meetinghouse Creek. Some years I miss their blooming completely by walking a different way - we have many options - or by walking right past them while thinking about something else. Earlier this week I looked and I saw that they were about to open. So, late this afternoon I took a hike to draw the flowers. They were in full bloom!

I sat before the plant above and pulled out my journal and pens. The weather was perfect- cool, breezy, with no bugs. Crickets chirped in nearby trees; in the distance Mourning Doves cooed their sad song. Otherwise the world around me was quiet. The sky above was clear, smooth blue. Thanks (or no thanks) to the Iceland volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, there were no white contrail stripes or sunlit silver wings zooming to or from Paris and London. It felt strange. We haven't seen empty skies like this since after 9-11. Daisy and Radu came to settle beside me.

After a peaceful drawing session the dogs and I headed back home. I poured a glass of wine so that Ben and I could walk out to our bench to watch the sun go down - good exercise for the two dogs and four cats who accompany us.

What a glorious day.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mossy Riverbank

Today I spent a couple hours drawing on the mossy bank of Lawson's Fork. By the time Radu, Daisy and I hiked there, it was the middle of the day. The sun, bright and strong, made all the new spring leaves shimmer as they danced in a strong breeze. I'd felt warm when I sat for a while in full sun, out of the wind. Beside the river though, there was only dappled sun and the open water allowed the wind to pick up speed, so it was definitely cool enough for the sweatshirt I had on. While I worked, the dogs ran, jumped and splashed in the water and nosed around Susan and Helen Islands. Beetles and spiders came to visit, and a Tufted Titmouse sang Chiva! Chiva! from a blooming dogwood tree. One spider (above) looked like a miniature Daddy Longlegs - is there such a thing? I haven't been able to identify the brown and black beetle. Zebra Swallowtails fluttered throughout the woods - I counted five - as well as Spring Azures, Sootywings, and an unidentified orange/brown butterfly.

Hundreds of Violets, sedges, and grasses grow in mounds of moss along this stretch of the river. I followed a well-used wildlife trail through them to the very edge of the river, where I could touch the water if I wanted. Just downstream the arching branches of Dog Hobble were in bloom, and a few Rue Anemone still held delicate white flowers. Other plants sprouting beside the river, but not in bloom: Euonymus, Virginia Creeper, Goldenrod, Poison Oak, Christmas Fern (unfurling), Japanese Honeysuckle, Ginger, Trillium, Solomon's Seal, and Maple Leaf Viburnum.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Carolina Jessamine

The dogs and I headed out on a hike midmorning, and while the sun was hot at times, the wind felt quite chilly when I sat in the shade to draw. I was very glad to have brought a sweat shirt along. Lots of butterflies fluttered about. I saw a Tiger Swallowtail, a Zebra Swallowtail, Spring Azures, Checkerspots, Duskywings and a Mourning Cloak. The Blue Jays and Crows were so noisy it was hard to detect other birdsongs. JAY! JAY! JAY! CAW! CAW! Two crows talked back and forth to each other for the longest time, with a sound that was nothing like a caw. Crows are amazing and very intelligent birds. They can imitate not only other birds, but also certain elements of human speech. Some of their vocalizations sound weird.

I was sitting at the edge of the woods, in the shade of pines. The field in front of me was in full, hot sun and hosted many buzzy locusts, probably Carolina Locusts. I often see their black wings with yellow border when they leap away from me as I walk through the grass. Today their rhythmic buzzes reminded me of summer, which is almost here.

Nearby, a clump of Carolina Jessamine grew intertwined with brambles. I couldn't get close enough to draw those beautiful blooms, but at one side of the clump, a branch of the Jessamine with two yellow flowers stuck out one side of the thorny brambles. Those would do! As I drew in my journal, Daisy and Radu, who had been cavorting about and chasing unseen but suspected wildlife, settled down for long naps on either side of me. Ahhh... Faithful dogs, wind in the pines, refreshing breeze, warm sun, noisy crows, buzzy locusts... oh, and did I mention Nekot Crackers for a snack? All in all a delightful morning!


When I walked my dogs last Thursday I noticed the Yellowroot blooming down by Meetinghouse Creek. The small plants' woody stems (the one above is 12" long) hang out over the water, each topped with a burst of spring-green leaves and racemes of tiny purple flowers. They are so subtle that many years I miss them completely. I sat down to draw one under heavy skies that threatened to rain at any moment. I'd even checked the radar before I left home, so I knew that time was short. But it was peaceful and cool, with rippling creek and occasional birdsong - so the time was sweet, especially after the record heat of the week before.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Rue Anemone, Round-lobed Hepatica, Violet, Fern Fiddles

Today was not as hot as the past two days, thank goodness. Yesterday, it was sunny and 87 degrees, with no breeze. That kind of heat is a little much this early in the spring. Luckily, high clouds throughout the morning today kept it cool. The breeze was delightful.

I was up and out earlier than usual today to dig up the last of the give-away perennials for some friends. The phlox and siberian iris I'd dug out of the garden yesterday and they waited in a plastic tub, but I could not for the life of me remember the third plant I'd promised. In the middle of the night it came to me - Ginger Lilies! So early this morning I went out and dug up tubers and tossed them into a grocery bag, then did some other garden chores while I waited.
My friends were right on time. After we'd visited a while, and their car disappeared around the big curve in the driveway, I called to the dogs and said the magic words: Wanna take a walk? Oh, the frenzy, the hysteria! Leaping, running, wiggling and whining, Daisy and Radu were definitely ready for a walk!

We headed towards Lawson's Fork to look for spring ephemerals. I had a feeling I would find something good, and, I did! Rue Anemone grows all along the shore, the delicate white blooms easy to see against the brown leaf litter. I settled near a small patch and started drawing. As I drew, I had to fend off the dogs when they returned to me to make sure I was still there. It is amazing how they will come and sit on the one thing in the forest I wish they would NOT sit on. The tree-tops along the river were a lime-green haze. Low-growing young oaks, some just one to two feet high, had fuzzy red leaves at the tips of their branches that were as beautiful as the wildflowers. At the base of a huge red oak was a round-lobed hepatica, the bloom reaching for the sun, the leaves drooping down the steep slope. Christmas Fern grows everywhere along the river, and at this time of year the new leaves are uncurling into fuzzy and graceful fiddleheads. I found a short bunch that would fit on my paper, and drew in the journal until Daisy went into her manic mode and started running as fast as she could in a big circle that passed right in front of me, and right over my fern fiddles. Geeze. I quickly packed up and moved on before she tore up the whole hillside.

Next, the dogs went swimming in Lawson's Fork. As I watched them, I noticed that the lowest edge of the riverbank is covered with mounds of bright-green moss, slender grasses, and wildflowers. The only ones blooming today were the Blue Violet and Bluets, but I saw other plants with promise and made a mental note to come back to see the blooms of Foam Flower, Pipsissewa, Partridgeberry, and Rattlesnake Plantain.

By the time we hiked back up the steep hill it wasn't cool anymore. My long sleeves were hot, so I pushed them up, readjusted my backpack, and trudged on. Radu and Daisy ran slower now, except when they spotted a turkey hen and took off like a shot. "Stop harassing the wildlife," I called to them and pulled out the treats I'd brought. By this time the turkey had flown into a tree."Daisy, COME!" I called. Daisy heard me and ran to me. Radu wants to be like her, so he came too. They each got a treat, then the three of us finished the uphill trek to our bench. I sat for several minutes so we could all catch our breath, then we followed the Middlewood trail back to the house.


As you can see, this journal entry is from last week, about the time I had an article due. After I took the time to sit outside and draw, I had to come in and focus on work instead of pleasure.

For the record, the week before that I was staying in a cabin on the Suwannee River, taking day hikes in some of North Florida's State Parks, and paddling the Ichetucknee River. I took my journal to Florida, but I didn't have free time to work in it.

The flowers above are the five-inch-high blooms of bloodroot plants. These and hundreds of others grow in the front woods of Middlewood on either side of the drive. It is a glorious sight when you first spot them blooming for it means Spring has truly come. They don't look like this now. As the bloom fades and petals fall, the leaves grow ever larger and hide the oblong see capsule. The leaves will last through mid-summer, basking in the filtered sun under high hardwoods, and storing up energy for next spring's show. The patch of Bloodroot was one of many surprises our hillside had in store for us when we bought the land. Twenty years later it's still possible to find new goodies I haven't seen before.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Heartleaf, Round-lobed Hepatica, Cicada Exoskeleton

Oh, what a day! Strong sun in a blue, blue sky, warm air with a cool breeze. The dogs and I hiked along Meetinghouse Creek, through the huge patch of creeping cedar, until it gets squeezed between two rocky bluffs. Here the creek looks like it's in the mountains as it tumbles over and between mossy rocks into small, silent pools. It's a special spot.

I found this (above) and other small groups of Heartleaf on the south-facing bluff, and started hunting for one with a flower. I searched quite a few before finding this one, and it wasn't even open yet. I decided it would have to do. The spot where I settled, on a natural flat stone, was so steep around me that when Daisy ran to me for a treat, and I told her to sit, she had difficulty doing it and then she began to sliiide downhill. She stood, repositioned herself, and sat for another treat only to slowly sliiide back down. Radu was smarter. He refused to sit and gave me the Radu stink-eye, which means you're crazy if you think I'm gonna sit. He has his moods, you know, and they have been more pronounced since Daisy's arrival last year.

After drawing the Heartleaf, I crossed the creek and did an all-out search for the Round-lobed Hepaticas. I've found them here before in early spring but I couldn't remember exactly where. I only knew they were on this extremely steep, difficult to scale, north-facing hill. Radu and Daisy didn't find it difficult, but I was holding onto small trees, almost crawling around on all fours trying to find the flower. I found the first one in deep shade at the base of a huge Red Oak. The leaves were very distinctive and obvious, but I had to get close to notice the one small flower bud. I drew the plant and bud, then I headed back onto the slope to try to find a fully opened flower. The second plant found was in the sun, and the flower was so bright there was no way anyone could miss it - except that the hill is so steep, I can't imagine that any other person has climbed around to see the tiny spring ephemeral.

Radu, Daisy and I finally returned home after a two hour outing. The panting dogs settled in the shade of a large azalea by the back door. I'm sending this out to you, and then plan to head back outside. Oh, what a day!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Sunshine Award

Laurie Edwards, a friend I made at a writers' conference who is also an artist and a blogger, just gave my blog the Sunshine Award! Her note said:

I'm loving your blog. It brings me joy to see your nature sketches. Gotta get myself out and about and doing the same. Anyway, I've gotten such pleasure from your sketches, I added your blog to my list for a Sunshine Award. Laurie's blog can be found here. I will pass along this award to 12 of my favorite blogs... I will post them as soon as I can.

Thank you, Laurie! Please let me know when you begin nature journaling. :-)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Purple Dead Nettle, Wild Onion, & Hairy Bittercress

Another blue-skied spring day. The high was around 60 in the sun, and it was clear when I headed out, but it wasn't long before the breeze kicked up and fat white clouds floated over and blocked the sun, which made the temperature drop considerably. Then the clouds would move on and the sun instantly warmed everything back up. It was an amazing contrast in comfort. I went from hot to almost cold and back again, over and over. Daisy, Radu and I hiked down to the far rocky ridge over Lawson's Fork, then followed it back so I could search the steep, north-facing hill to see if any of the spring ephemerals were in bloom. They're not.

Back at our hill I settled in the sun to draw the Purple Dead Nettle and Hairy Bittercress that is blooming around our bench. Oops! I'd forgotten to put my journal back into my pack. I headed back to the house, retrieved it from the kitchen, and headed out to the garden to draw. We have plenty of Purple Dead Nettle and Hairy Bittercress also growing in the yard and along the brick garden path so there was no need to hike back out to the pipeline.

The clouds and sun continued their dance and birds fluttered around the feeders very close behind me. Mourning Doves cooed in the trees. A soft YANK! YANK! YANK! continued the whole time I was drawing, telling me that a White-breasted Nuthatch worked a tree nearby.

By the time I finished drawing, clouds had completely covered the sun and blue sky.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lenten Rose, Daffodil, Winter Jasmine, Oakleaf Hydrangea buds

Today started out mild and damp from yesterday's weather, but it did not actually rain until I got serious about drawing in my journal. For a while I wandered around on the pipeline in the bright (though cloudy) afternoon, with a warm breeze in my face. The dogs ran in circles around me and some gnats hovered around my head for a bit on top of the Kudzu hill. I considered walking the whole pipeline, and was curious about a very loud Crow Event down in the valley near Meetinghouse Creek - Was it Owl or Hawk? - but since I've been sick for over a week I thought about it more than usual and finally decided I didn't have the energy to make it back up the steep hill. So Radu, Daisy and I headed back to the house. I was in the mood to draw something Springy, and the only colorful flowers so far are in my garden.

The moment I sat down and pulled my journal from my backpack, I felt little spitting droplets on my hands and face. I looked up and saw that darker, lower clouds had moved in, looked down and saw the drops land on the black cover of my journal. Oh well. I dashed around the yard and picked a few springtime goodies - the budding branches of one of our big Oakleaf Hydrangeas, one daffodil bud, a Winter Jasmine branch, and a stem of Lenten Rose, and took them inside to draw. I left the doors open so I could hear the birds singing their hearts out. They obviously love this mild day as much as I do. The male Goldfinch are all splotchy with their emerging bright-yellow breeding plumage. The male cardinals glowed in the dreary afternoon. A tree frog croaked from the tree above my car.

Fast forward two hours: As I write, a thunderstorm has moved over Middlewood. The first distant rumble brought the dogs rushing in from the side porch. They are now sound asleep at my feet and the house is completely quiet except for the rain. It is still 60 degrees, and so very peaceful!

Monday, March 1, 2010

American Holly (Ilex americana)

Yesterday, a sunny and cool Sunday afternoon, I wandered down to the woods near Lawson's Fork where it runs under the old iron bridge on what used to be Old Thompson Road. No longer a road, it alternates between a red clay gully, a flat walkable path, and a barely discernible rut through young trees. Goldfinch, Chickadees and Titmice sang in the trees nearby, and crows called to each other in the distance beyond the river. Radu had disappeared on his usual adventure. Daisy was beside me, as well as Cookie, our skinny little calico cat who, at 12 years old, still enjoys hiking with us.

I had only two hours to draw because we were going to see the matinee showing of Avatar, so my goal was to find something simple to draw. Naturally, it wasn't long before my eye fell on a beautiful, old American Holly tree whose thick, gray trunk was knobbed, wrinkled, and rich with mosses and lichen. This is not simple, I thought. I inspected it closely. Not simple. Oh well, what could I do? I wanted to draw that tree.

I settled in the leaves at a distance so I could see the leaf canopy, but then realized the beauty of the trunk was lost at a distance. When I moved closer I realized that I would not be able to include both the trunk details and the canopy. A choice had to be made. Well, not really. It was the trunk that first attracted me anyway. Once I sat, the canopy was so far above my head I had to lean back to see it. Settling was complicated by Daisy, who drooled on my knee as she sat in front of me, hoping for a treat, as well as by Cookie, who made it clear she would like the drawing part better if I'd let her sit in my lap, on top of the journal. This is the usual pattern of things, so I dealt with my pets (got them interested in things other than me) and then went to work sketching the trunk.

Getting to this point had taken thirty minutes or more, but I finally relaxed and did my best to get lost in the tree for the time I had left. Birds continued to sing nearby. Various woodpeckers chirred and pecked in some of the old dead pines that had been killed by the pine beetle yet are still standing. The crow calls had become lazy - or at least not as insistent as they'd been earlier. Breezes stirred the tree tops and squirrels rattled the leaf litter in the distance - but no human-made sounds were heard while I was drawing.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sun Bleached Deer Bones

Today was the day I've been waiting for! Temps in the mid-60's, completely sunny, and not one puffy cloud to block the sun. On the way home from the grocery store, earlier, I heard Spring Peepers down in the swamp behind the Glendale Dam.

The dogs and I headed out at about 4:00 for a nice warm hike. We headed down to where Meetinghouse Creek crosses the lower pipeline. That was the last I saw of Radu, who has a habit of running off on his own personal (no Daisy) adventure. Daisy, as usual, stuck with me, and came to stand beside me as I squatted beside the rippling creek to inspect the rocks. Picked up many, but only kept a nice chunk of yellow feldspar. In the woods beside the creek I found an old, white turtle shell (without the outer "tortoiseshell" layer), and a cool "Old Bottle Greenhouse," that was full of the bright green growth of some tender plant that really liked the protected situation it found itself in. Also, in the creek was a beautiful leaf skeleton that I thought would make a nice journal drawing.

Then, as I crossed the middle pipeline, I noticed a pile of white bones on the upper side of the creek. I crossed over and climbed the hill to investigate, and saw that it was the skeletal remains of a young white tailed dear.It had probably been there a year or so. They were sun bleached and not complete. I saw various leg bones scattered nearby, and some obvious bones were missing (skull, other half of mandible, etc). I picked up various bones and found a place in the sun to draw.

Daisy settled next to me and went to sleep as I got to work drawing some of the bones. The only sounds I heard were some raucous crows, squawking about something important in Crow World, a distant four-wheeler, and finally, a Chickadee and Blue Jay calling out their names. Chick -a-dee-dee-dee! Chick-a-dee-dee-dee! JAY! JAY! JAY!

I headed back home as the sun dipped behind the pines along the pipeline. It was still warm and breezy. My sweet Daisy was right there with me.

Radu was on the side porch waiting for us when we trekked up the hill from the backyard.

It has been a beautiful day.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mantis Case, Blue Curls, Thistle, Dodder

The afternoon was cold and breezy; white puffy clouds scooted across the blue sky. I was not surprised to see patches of snow down by Meetinghouse Creek, on a north-facing bluff, because our road also still has fat, dirty chunks of the stuff left from last Friday's event. It proves how cold it's been this week. I'm still waiting for that unseasonably warm day when you can smell the very earth warming, and hear spring peepers trilling. That would be delicious.... either that or a doozie of a snowstorm that drops twelve inches instead of four!

Anyway, cold or not, I grabbed my backpack and headed out to hike with Radu and Daisy. They did their thing - running, turning to look at me - running - turning - running... You get the picture. We headed east, with the sun to my back. My goal was to build up body heat first, then sit to draw with the sun in my face, for warmth.

The plan worked so well I got hot, and soon, I'd shed my scarf and coat and was luxuriating in the warmth of the afternoon sun. This is it, I thought. It feels like April!

I was sitting on the worn path, close to Meetinghouse Creek, and next to the thick tangle of briers, sumac, and goldenrod that grow thick in the damp soil. Also in there I noticed a small thistle seed head. I went in to retrieve it. What I found was that the main stem of the thistle was easily 10 feet tall but had fallen over, otherwise I would have seen it towering over the other growth. I snapped one seed head to take back to my seat. While I was in the jungle, I decided to snap the top of one of the many sumacs that had black dodder seed head vines spiraling up the main stem. This is the only place I've ever seen the dodder seed heads, and all of them are down very close to the water.

I found many praying mantis egg cases while hiking down the pipeline, so it was not surprise to spy this one in the thicket. The leftover bracts of the Blue Curls were so dainty and pale, I am surprised I noticed them at all.

Daisy and Radu sat close by my while I drew for about an hour, until with no warning, one of those nice, white fluffy clouds had the gall to scoot itself right over the sun. The temperature dropped dramatically, and the wind picked up. (I wonder if this is a normal weather phenomena, wind rising when a warm area is suddenly shaded like that) Brrr. It was definitely February again! I packed my stuff up, put my coat back on, and was on the way home within two minutes.