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.