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.