Monday, February 28, 2011

Sycamore Seed Ball

By the time I'd finished my work today storm clouds and strong winds had arrived in Middlewood, causing treetops to swirl and occasional pine boughs to break loose from branches and fly out onto Old Thompson Road. Yikes! I knew Daisy and I shouldn't go far in case the rain came earlier than expected, so we headed down to Meetinghouse Creek to draw the flowers of a Tag Alder that hangs off the bank and over the water.

But right at the steepest part of the hill that drops to the creek, I passed a bunch of Sycamore balls that the wind had finally worked off the towering tree at the edge of the woods. Some were still whole, but others had broken open to scatter their little tufted seeds to the wind. Crouching to inspect one I noticed the hollow center and the neat honeycomb pattern inside. I decided to draw that instead. Down in the somewhat protected spot I received only occasional wind gusts... in fact, a few irritating bugs came to visit, reminding me of the other side of warm weather - the side I often forget in winter.

On the way home the sky was getting darker and more ominous, and pushing into the wind felt very... well, beachy! I stopped to check on the opossum skull I have hidden half buried at the edge of the field so the ants can clean it up for me (it's still not ready), and stopped again to take this photo of a different Sycamore, also with the few remaining seed balls dangling from the tree and swinging wildly this afternoon!

Back at our hill Daisy and I sat on the bench to revel in the weather and the site of Daisy's long hair blowing in the wind, but within five minutes a tornado warning siren blasted out from the two fire stations within hearing range of us, Bethesda Road and Glendale, which forced me home against my will.

Sycamore with seed balls and storm clouds

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Vines Along the Creek

Today the woods were full of silence. As Daisy and I headed downhill towards Meetinghouse Creek I stopped occasionally to listen for sounds. Once, I heard tiny clicks in the leaves and my first thought was - rain? It was overcast, but rain was not in the forecast. I listened harder. No. Not rain. I decided it must be an insect or young anole moving among the leaves. Daisy smelled three deer (we did not hear them) and took off to chase them downhill and back uphill and into the woods. Even her mad dash seemed to make no noise.

I hiked on down to Meetinghouse Creek and turned left along the creek bank, ducking into the tangled vines and pines that grow along the sunny edge of the pipeline. By this time Daisy had lost the deer and returned to follow me. From a distance, this area of the woodland floor looks like it's covered in a smooth green carpet of Running Cedar (also known as Fan Clubmoss - Lycopodium digitatum), but as you get closer, the beautiful branched leaves take shape. Daisy walked through the green and down to the creek. I followed.

Vines grow thick all along the creek here. At one spot I noticed all these vines climbing trees (Poison Ivy, Partridgeberry and Cross Vine) or dangling down from branches (Wild Grape, and honeysuckle) or climbing up other vines (Carolina Jessamine). I settled on the edge of the small ridge above the creek to draw. It was still quiet, but a woodpecker was knock-knock-knocking on a tree a short distance away. Daisy came and sat so close she was leaning on me - I could feel her warmth, which is very comfortable and snuggly, and one of the best reasons to be a dog person.

After about an hour I packed up and Daisy and I headed out of the woods. By this time the sun was breaking though the clouds and warming things up. The birds seemed to like this too, so birdsong was everywhere: Goldfinch, Titmice, Crows, Cardinals, Kinglets, Chickadees, and Red-bellied Woodpecker.

ps: the green, thorny vine is one of the greenbriers - I think Common Greenbrier, or Smilax rotundifolia.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Turkey-tails In Love

I tried hard to find some flowers to draw for Valentine's Day by hiking up to the ridge and around in the woods, looking for the Trailing Arbutus I discovered in December. It's supposed to be a very early bloomer, and was the only flower I could think of that might be blooming. Alas, not this early! The flowers were no different than the last time I saw them - still spiky little buds. However, on my walk I'd noticed a log along Meetinghouse Creek full of richly colored turkey-tails. I went back to it and found these that are heart-shaped and squeezed together in a hug. They're even better than flowers for all you lovers out there! I sat right down and got to work.

So, today this goes out to each of you, Middlewood Journal readers all. I hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day!

Daisy helping me search for Trailing Arbutus...

Found it! But look at the tight flower buds...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cinnabar-red Polypores (Pycnoporus cinnabarinus)

These tough, slightly dimpled polypores were growing on a dead tree trunk resting on it's own branches about 2' off the ground. It might be a cherry tree, but the bark was peeling and so covered in various mold and lichen it was hard to say. What is easy to say is how I happened to notice the polypores as I hiked past. The shocking cinnabar polypore against the black, moldy trunk called to me from afar. "Paint me!" it said... "paint me paint me paint me paint me!"

Once I settled in front of it with my back to the warming sun, journal and pen in hand, I noticed lots of other interesting things happening on that log. For instance, check out the pale orange "ribbons" of orange polypore that snake just below the tree bark, like runners. I didn't notice the bent grass stem and its shadow until after I'd almost finished drawing the largest polypore. Later still, the white strips of lichen along the bottom of the log became glaringly obvious - each with it's own blackened crack down the middle of it. Which came first, crack or lichen, I wondered. Peeling bark... a mini volcano-shaped knot at the bottom...and more! Finally, I just had to stop drawing. The sun was getting low and the wind quite cold. Brrrrr....

On the way home I found the remains of a box turtle shell scattered in the winter-tanned grass on top of the high hill with the view to the mountains of North Carolina. I'd walked enough to warm a little so I sat down to draw, this time in a larger book of watercolor paper. This will definitely be a long-term project... like I have so much extra time! More on that later.

Turtle Shell Hill

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cranefly Orchid, Cross Vine, Rattlesnake Plantain

It was a lovely Sunday afternoon to be outside, especially after running errands in town during heavy rain on Friday, and social activities all day Saturday. Daisy agreed (because she'd missed out on hiking too) so we hiked to the lower Meetinghouse Creek. I went there intending to draw the liverworts that grow in the damp shade along the north-facing bluff, but I was distracted by a beautiful Rattlesnake Plantain plant that was shaded by the leaf of a Cranefly Orchid. Next to them grew a Crossvine seedling with purplish leaves. As I settled in for my drawing session, I gently moved some oak leaves away from the plants so that i could see it better. Curious Daisy came over to see what I was doing... and like all dogs, the best way to explore something is to sniff it. She edged close to me as I perched on the edge of the small bluff, and poked her nose around. "No, Daisy... Move, Daisy.... Oh, Daisy!" Naturally, she stepped right on top of the plants and broke two leaves off the Rattlesnake Plaintain.

I dug around in my pack and found peanut butter treats to distract her, and decided right then not to try to draw the whole plant (which considering the complex pattern on the leaves would take quite a long time) but to show leaves of all three that were growing together. Luckily, Daisy eventually lost interest and left me for long enough to get these leaves drawn.

In our later explorations I discovered several new clusters of Round-lobed Hepatica in rocky, shady places. I'll be keeping an eye out for their early spring blooms!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Oak Leaves on the Rocky Ridge

I found these leaves on the rocky ridge above Lawson's Fork while hiking with my hubby and Daisy Sunday afternoon. The lacy pattern on the post oak leaf was quite striking, noticeable even mixed in with all the other leaves. The other leaf was obvious because of the Polyphemus Moth cocoon. I've never seen one of those cocoons attached to a leaf - always a branch or twig. The day was warm - almost 70 degrees - and sunny, making it the best kind of winter day to be wandering in the woods.

It was nice having company on the hike! Here is a shot Ben took while we were resting on the rocky ridge above Lawson's Fork. I'm giving Daisy a yummy home-made peanut butter treat.

Later we went down to Lawson's Fork to let Daisy play on the little islands there. She loves playing in the water.

The weather has turned cold again since then - I've had my silk long underwear on today and sleet is clicking against the windows tonight. And even though the warm day was nice, I love winter! I love the naked trees and seeing the lay of the land through the hardwood forests. Plus, I am still hoping for one more beautiful snow storm before spring... just one.