Woodard Bay

My favorite thing about living in Olympia is that I can be on the Puget Sound, in a dense ferny, mossy forest, on miles of trails or a lake within 15 minutes of my suburban home. Last week we “discovered” Woodard Bay Conservation Area which provides habitat for shorebirds and songbirds, harbor seals, river otters, bald eagles, a large maternity colony of bats, and one of the most significant heron rookeries in the state. 

And boy could we hear the birds! The trail to the rookery is temporarily closed but it was unmistakable what was going on across the bay with all the ruckus. This week we hope to take the kayak back and explore the shorelines.

replica of indigenous tribe’s canoe

Yes, it was tempting to hop in the canoe and get out on the water, but it wasn’t going anywhere!

fountain pen and watercolor

So we sat a while, listening to the birds and the harbor seals and sketching!

And Andrew caught this picture of me, unposed, relaxed and in my Northwest element which suits me so well. I kept feeling my father was with us and remembering my early experiences of fishing with him in the Canadian wilds. He would have so loved this place. 

Doors

As some doors close, there are new ones constantly opening. That’s always true of course, but particularly obvious now that we have successfully moved. There were times “back home” in Sebastopol when it felt so excruciating and scary to move away from all that was familiar and loved. My wise friends said not to worry, that I would find an exciting new life. This piece is about the jumble of sensations as doors get opened. . .

acrylic inks and collage over powdered graphite underpainting

Each day take a deep breath

Say Trick or Treat!

Fruit is everywhere!

sweet and juicy

sour and tart

Take a peak through the door

To the landscape beyond

Dare you enter?

Turn the handle

Open the door

Take a long look

And inhale deeply

These doors are invitations

So don’t pause too long

But take care

Is one of these the witch’s apple?

You can’t afford to sleep a hundred years.

 

garage studio wall with Muse cards hung

My studio desk in the garage has just gotten friendlier and inspiring with cards from my Muse sisters whose collage art has become gorgeous and expressive as they continue to explore mixed media without me. We all need fellow Muses like this to help light our creative fires, and i am very blessed. I need just look up at my wall to get an idea to pursue in my next Muse piece. Perhaps you can see how they influenced me?

 

Quan Yin

When we moved from our home in California we left behind the garden statues of Buddha and Quan Yin, because it didn’t feel right to disturb the nature sanctuaries that had grown up around them. They would continue to protect and bless the land that we’d come to love so dearly, and the new owner was delighted to have them.

Our new garden is a wonderland that we have “inherited” and yet it had no statuary or bird feeders, -houses, -bath or garden art. But luckily we found a garden statuary place in nearby Lacey and brought home our own goddess of compassion to preside over the fountain in the back yard. Quan Yin is known as the One Who Sees and Hears the Cry from the Human World and her presence is gentle and healing. She stands now in the shade of a tree with round, coin like leaves that rustles in the breezes.

pen and watercolor in Stillman + Birn sketchbook

I finally tore myself away from the endless tasks of “getting situated” in a new home and brought my sketchbook out to Quan Yin and the waterfall fountain. As usual I took on more than I should have in the sketch, but I really want to practice the water and rocks and flowering plants and trees that are such a delight! “Do it every day!” I said to myself. That’s always the way to learn.

view from the gazebo

True confession: I haven’t started the daily sketch regime yet. But several times a day I spend some time picking blueberries, watering the tomatoes, watching bunnies and picking flowers. Also all phone calls with friends happen here in the gazebo, like yesterday when I caught this moment that just struck me as so colorful! It begs to be sketched.

Thanks to all of you who let me know you visit this blog and follow along. I can add you to the faces of friends I “talk” to in the blog. I loved getting reactions to the purple boating hat in an earlier post and reassurances about getting over the hard parts of moving. The meeting-with-Bronka story engaged some folks in the practice of walking to stay young! When I know someone is paying attention to whether I stick to the sketch-a-day pledge, then it’ll happen! That’s human nature for you. And it’s even better if you join me!

Lake Cushman

So many people I’ve met in California have vacationed in the Pacific Northwest. Aside from a trip to Seattle with Ben to look at UW when he was applying for college, I was not one of them. So when my friend Brigitte heard I was moving to Olympia she said, “oh, Hood Canal!” like I should know. But since then I have tried to learn some local geography and Hood Canal is not far, and it’s supposed to be a kayaker’s paradise.

So Andrew and I set off this week, with the tandem inflatable kayak, to explore Hood Canal, an easy 45 min. drive. And ended up, after a lunch of local fried oyster sandwich, at Lake Cushman. We were not disappointed. 

Lake Cushman at the foot of the Olympics

The water was crystal clear and the breeze significant enough to be cooling but also to create some wave motion to keep the paddlers busy! We were right at the foot of the Olympic mountain range, Mount Ellinor straight ahead! We ventured up a narrow inlet, through a narrow tunnel and into an enchanted grotto. Hood Canal another time! There’s always another body of water to explore in this neck of the woods.

Still playing around with gouache portraits on toned paper. 

There’s still so little time for art-ing these days, which seem taken up with chores related to getting our new home organized and outfitted. Yes, there’s time for exploring, for meeting some really nice neighbors, but there’s so many things to fix or figure out. Like that loud hiss that comes from the direction of the water heater, or the door that locked me into the room and I didn’t have my cell phone and my pleas for help went unheard (for 20 minutes)!

Crazy stuff. It’s fixed now, but there’s always the next thing. I guess houses have to get used to us as much as we have to get used to them. 

And I think I need some new clothes. Andrew says my boat hat is not very cool and somehow the color seems all wrong here. I mean lavender? Really? Gray maybe, or khaki, or dull green, but not lavender.

Like a vacation, only it’s not

It is a strange experience. It feels like I’m on vacation. You know, finding your way around a new town, meeting new people, and everything is a bit of an adventure. Oh, and it’s summer and sunny and warm every day and lots of people here are on vacation, because this is a summer vacation destination. 

But it’s for keeps. So every new person you meet is a potential new friend or has a vital piece of information you are going to need about living here. And every new thing you learn brings you that much closer to being settled, comfortably.

downtown Olympia street fair

This weekend we headed to town for the first of a summer long Saturday afternoon event called LoveOly, a street fair with performers and a beer garden and dancing and activities and entertainment for children. As I posed in the (social media highlight) spot I realized that it’s just a really good idea, when moving to a new home town, to make a conscious decision to love it. So there I was, proclaiming it! (and now it will be social media-ed!) And I’ll be back for future Saturday’s to sketch the action from one of the shady spots I scoped out.

Then I got an invitation from the one art friend I had in Olympia, Jane Wingfield, to join her for sketching at the Farmer’s Market the next day. And her group of local urban sketchers showed up, a friendly and enthusiastic group! 

South Sound Urban Sketchers at the Farmer’s Market

Bob showed up to take the picture and meet folks before we did our shopping for local produce and some culinary herb plants for my herb-garden-to-be.

Oly Farmer’s Market, fountain pen and watercolor in Stillman + Birn sketchbook

They tell me about the long gray winters here but it’s hard to imagine, with these long summer days that are sure to make the vacation last a bit longer.

Bunny bunny

In my “old home” I used to spend a great deal of my time in my studio, a modest detached building next to the house surrounded by garden. The deal about moving was that the studio would hopefully have some degree of separation from the house, the washer/dryer and every other manner of house chore interruption. In the “new home”, that separation will be a wall built inside the garage. . .eventually. Apparently there’s a shortage of contractors for that kind of work here.

So I packed up my “old studio” with that delay in mind, and built a sort of wall partition of those boxes here. Then I pulled out just the supplies for mixed media play, otherwise sometimes known as my Conversations With the Muse.

studio in the garage

As you can see there are windows to let in light and even the fluorescents for nighttime and overcast days, and the water is a quick walk across the garage. Who needs more that this?! A fan sometimes, but otherwise I’m good.

torn watercolor painting, cotton balls and bunny painting!

The start here was to tear up an old painting, always a great way to start when you have nothing in mind. A bunny kept hopping through my mind, so I knew to put bunnies in. They wanted to hide, but you know they’re not very good at it. The bunnies in my yard are different shades of brown and buff and easily seen on the green grass which they love to munch. In the bunny world you learn to freeze if a possible predator, like one of those towering humans, gets close. Bunny lore has it that you cannot be seen if you stay still enough.  Haha! But when the big bumbling human reaches for the cell phone to get that coveted picture, the next thing the human sees is the white of the cottontail and startled, drops the phone! So I had to paint some bunnies since I couldn’t get a good enough picture to share with you here! Maybe there’s a hidden teaching here, but I didn’t find it. The bunnies are enough.

It felt good to tear paper and paste and draw and all that. I miss my Muse Group but I can sit at my table among the boxes in the garage and be happy to be at play again. Time to do another now!

On the trail and at home

Our new home is beautiful. No doubt about it. Which is not to say that it is without, shall we say, unexpected occurences which must be dealt with or accepted as is.

On the beauty end is the climate and the way the garden view enters our home (now that the recent heat dome is a point of history that is). Andrew has found the perfect perch to absorb the warming rays for a cat nap after lunch. 

And then there are the surprises. Interesting sounds. Like the crickets in the toilet downstairs, sounds that is. After watching a few Youtube videos Bob was able to discover the problem and after several tries, silence the crickets, at least for now.

Then there were a few days when we would suddenly out of nowhere hear the first few bars of Beethovan’s Fur Elise. No it wasn’t the doorbell, or the dryer telling us the clothes were dry. No one at the door. . . Finally Bob discovered that it was the old security system which was being activated by something at the street, and he shut it off.

Then there was the discovery that pretty much every wall in the house is painted a color called Spiced Vinegar and it was beginning to feel like a bit much.

But walking the trails around here seems to put things to right again. A couple days ago I was walking on the Chehalis Trail just three miles from home. It reminds me a bit of the Redota Trail in Sebastopol, though the forest is denser and taller. I stopped to look at a lake that was almost covered with some kind of water lily, and a tiny old woman saw me puzzling and stopped. I knew immediately I wanted to talk to her.

Chehalis Western Trail, Lacey

And so I met one of my first new friends here in Olympia, Bronka Sundstrom, a 96 year old woman who walks 5-6 hours each day. 

Bronka Sundstrom

We walked for a while together as she told me some of her story. She was a Polish Jew who was interned in a concentration camp during WWII at the age of 12, lost her 7 siblings and both parents while there, barely survived herself. She was so debilitated when finally rescued, that she had to learn how to walk all over again. But she went on to marry a Swedish man with whom she led a long life of skiing and mountaineering, and here in Washington acquired fame for breaking records for climbing Mt. Ranier as an old woman. 

Needless to say I had to sketch her portrait, and now I have a reason to see her again and give it to her. Maybe some more of that courage and determination will rub off on me. And maybe this walking-the-trail activity is not a bad to make new friends here, not to mention increasing longevity! 

The Fourth

It was kind of a joke on us that we moved up to the northwest coast to get away from the heat/drought/fires and arrived just after a a week of downpour and in time for a historic heat wave. What could we do but use some of that cardboard we’d brought with us to cover some windows and keep the hottest part of the sun out. 

It was one of those worrisome global warming shocks, but the nature here in our yard at least seems to have recovered quite nicely. The bunnies that went underground for a few days are back munching the grass in the yard and the hydrangeas are blooming again above their crisped leaves. And my basket is still overflowing with flowers. 

My friend Shambhavi from Seattle visited over the weekend and we took our sketchbooks out to Tumwater Falls.

watercolor in Stillman and Birn sketchbook

There were lots of families out on the trail around the falls and one particular group was proud to show off their patriotic attire.

I’m not particularly a fan of July 4th, but I sure appreciated their style and spirit. When evening came we got to experience another kind of holiday fervor. . .fireworks, which by the way were outlawed here this year due to the recent heat wave that elevated risk. Ahem. You wouldn’t know it from my neighborhood. There were all kinds of sizzles and pops and airborn light shows going off in all directions. Who needs to go to a public display when you can just stand on your sidewalk and gape.

And We’re In

Our movers showed up early on a sunny hot morning  exactly a week ago now, and they rolled out the red carpet!

A nice touch. And they were cheerful and anxious to get it right. We were anxious too, traffic directing as the boxes came rolling in 6 or 7 deep and sometimes a bit squished; and with the heavy furniture getting carried up the stairs accompanied by loud grunting and shouted commands (I had to leave for this part because it was so unnerving!)

But no one was injured, and only one piece of cheap furniture crumpled, and so far everything else made it intact. Phew!

Precious

And when they were ready to leave I got to meet the co-driver of the monster truck, Precious! She had to come along on the run, because no one was at home to care for her. But I got the sense she was well loved and cared for and even content to watch much of the drama from the bed behind the drivers seat.

art studio-to-be in the third garage bay

And here is my studio! I can certainly set up a table and do some painting here until we find a contractor to do the work. Actually right now I’m on my computer at the back of the space.

bounty from the garden

I’ve been wandering the garden every chance I get to make new discoveries. The abundance of this summer garden is mind boggling to me. After struggling to garden with clogged irrigation, gophers, deer, and hard clay soil I can scarcely believe this. The green lawn strikes my California senses as a bit scandalous, but during the rainy season here it rains so much that each neighborhood has collecting ponds to capture the overflow and send it draining down to the Sound. 

Ms. Willow

One of my favorite spots is the shade of this willow out front. It’s a green mansion, and several degrees cooler than the rest of the sunny garden. The bunnies we’ve been seeing every day must have gone to their underground homes during this extreme heat wave, but we have seen them lounging on the front lawn. It’s hard to think of them as pests, though the gardeners here say they eat everything.

white pencil and gouache on black paper

And ending with the only sketch I’ve done this week of unpacking, done inside and with the fan blowing on me! Last day of the big heat is today, and then more exploring Olympia wonders. 

Thanks for joining me!

Exploring Town

The Move to Olympia continued. . . 

We had 5 or 6 days to do a little exploring of the city before moving into our house and taking on the overwhelming task of unpacking and organizing. We picked the right place for our first meal, a restaurant which proudly proclaimed its Northwest allegiance, the Cascadia Grill. We were welcomed warmly by the owner and Tickles the Beaver (statue) and Jonathan Livingston Eagle (statue) and delicious fish dinners.

Cascadia Grill (note tattooed arm on customer to left)

At a little bookstore down the street I picked up just the book I needed, Making Sense of Olympia by David Scherer Water. I haven’t had time to read much of it yet, but the first few pages help to set the stage for what we saw on the city streets: There are 83 financially solvent bars(or were before the pandemic anyway), 41 of them downtown and 40 tattoos shops and 58 banks. The question being how a city with a population of 50,000 sustains all that. Oh, and 8% of Olympia’s 20 square miles is city owned parks. So, it’s a great place to be out in glorious nature, have a drink, get a tattoo and go to the bank?

Oh, and have an excellent cup of coffee! The coffee shops have the best espresso drinks I’ve tasted anywhere. The first morning we found one in a clothing store which opened at 7 for coffee. Then we found this one in a motorcycle shop. Great parings that surprisingly work. And always friendly people to chat with.

Later in the week we had an afternoon coffee break at Burial Grounds Coffee Collective and my latte was a work of art! (Day of the Dead style!)

Burial Grounds coffee

Somehow I think the moms in this town would be fighting a losing battle trying to keep their kids untattooed. I started to feel like I might need to get one myself. . .naw! The untattooed one in the picture is my son, but that may soon change.

Olympia Farmers Market

The Farmers Market on the harbor is open 4 days a week in high season. And it’s got a permanent roof, which makes sense since this is a rainy place for much of the year. Or that’s what they say. I haven’t seen it yet. Haha! The food is so attractively displayed that it’s hard to put down the cell phone camera long enough to buy something.

When it cools down a bit (111 is the forecast for today, gulp!) I’ll bring my sketchbook to the market.

Watershed Park

Have you heard of Forest Bathing? That’s what we were doing on our walk in Watershed Park, a 5 min. drive from the Market. It’s a rainforest with all that lush vegetation. The gold is the light bouncing off the rocks under the water I think. Breathe it in. Pure oxygen.

Tumwater Falls

And five minutes in the other direction is Tumwater Falls and the trail along the river. Can you hear the roar of the water?

Finally it was move-in day and the truck’s arrival at our new home. And the first thing out was my car, which required a tow truck with a flat bed ramp to disembark. More on move-in day coming up next! 

But one last picture, of a portrait I did in before the move (just to prove I’m still an artist!).

portrait from picture on Sktchy app, gouache on beige toned paper

“Ahhhh!” she sighs. “Don’t you just loooove Olympia?!!!”