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.