Hawks Prairie Reclaimed Water Ponds

w/c pencils, pen and watercolor in Etchr sketchbook

Monday was the third meeting of our new nature journaling group.  After sharing about our favorite workshops from the Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference which had just ended (at least the live-streaming part), we headed down the path to the ponds. Hawks Prairie reclaimed water ponds are not far down the road from the dump and just off the freeway, a handy location for this few acres of land, where wastewater from homes and businesses in a three city area is cleaned of pollutants and released back to the environment for irrigation and other vital purposes other than drinking. 

For us it quickly became a sensory wonderland as we gobbled up observations and shared them with each other before settling down to our nature journal sketches. We noticed for instance that the temperature on this very warm morning dropped noticeably as we got closer to the ponds, and we drank in the cool damp air hungrily. 

The ponds were covered with pale yellow-green cover of duck weed so dense that it looked like you could walk out on it. Soon the ducks showed up, and after a few quacks, lay down with their heads flat on the water surface, vacuuming up their namesake weed.

The nature seemed to court us and in different ways. Some were drawn in by the foliage patterns of the striking tall trees, others by the variety of reeds around the pond edges and the berries and flowers and flying insects. And the textures of the oak galls so delighted a couple friends that they laid out them out to sketch with intense concentration to detail -which generated pressing questions of what? and how? and associations with a host of other memories and on and on.

And in this way we all woke up a bit. Got away from our screens for a bit (except perhaps for using the Leaf Snap app and that would be me). Woke up from the indoor lives we live, or even the way we go outdoors mostly to exercise, not stopping to notice the spider on the bloom, the dragonflies sewing up the air in sudden dips and swoops, the shiny bright red berries that were not there yesterday.

Just to let you know, the Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference is still available for a while in video recordings at a ridiculously low price here.

Wild Wonder out in my garden

I was sitting in my studio, glued to the screen, watching and sketching along with the many live streamed teachers at the Wild Wonder Nature Journal Conference, and finally broke away to explore the wild right outside my studio door. Usually when I spend time in the garden it is to harvest vegetables or dead head flowers or discover garden chores that are overdue. So, strangely, it took some very clear intention to head out to the garden with my sketchbook!

fineliner pen and watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mixed Media sketchbook

I started with my most recent discovery of wasps swarming Grandma Marie’s paper birch tree in the Ancestor Grove. It was so named because we found two side by side birch trees in our new home garden and planted ashes from our two mothers’ urns under those trees. Grandma Marie’s was chosen by a colorful Yellow Bellied Sapsucker as a place for his preferred meals of sap, opening the way for others to dine as well. At the moment it is hosting swarms of what look like wasps. One could say that the tree does not look happy, being blackened and sticky, but that would surely be from the standpoint of our very own species and not that of a tree, which gives generously to the cycle of living things, throughout its life and decomposition. In any case it was a story to tell in my nature journal, recently fortified by ideas and tools of other nature lovers in the conference. I started drawing while standing and gazing at the swarm on the spot close by, then started feeling uneasiness when I realized I was in the flight path!

Next I was drawn to my favorite small corner garden, no more than a yard long and a foot deep. It is filled with seeds, which I must remember to distribute to other areas of the garden, and blooms steadily from spring through early fall with wildflower tenacity. The Calendula and Love in a Mist are the stars of the show.

And on then to the end, you might say, of the blooming season for the Bee Balm flowers. I am so struck by the beauty of these going-to-seed plants whose seed vehicles are golden chariots in shape and tone and texture, and rival their spring beauty.

The late summer sunset was then upon me, so I brought the Bee Balm inside to have better light to view it. Also at that point I was wondering how all these drawing/paintings would sit in a balanced way on the page. Text, boxes, descriptions and personal feelings were easy ways to fill the empty spaces and put down more of the late summer afternoon experience in a way that I can never forget.

Oh how I love you, Love in a Mist!

Lakewold Gardens

pen and watercolor in Etchr sketchbook

I finally got to join the Tacoma Urban Sketchers for a meet up at the lovely Lakewold Gardens on Gravelly Lake in Lakewood, a suburb of Tacoma, WA , actually only 35 minutes drive from my home. The grounds are spectacular with giant trees like the Copper Beech that you’d like to live in, formal gardens and meandering trails through the woods with views of the lake below. And more! 

Since I had already begun the Wild Wonder Nature Journal Conference, I was inspired to find a place to look closely and learn. This “pollinator house” drew me in with its shaded slots for nature materials, like a Home Depot for building supplies for bees and birds and mice and such. One stop shopping! As I sketched the contents I tried to imagine which creature would make a shelter here. 

It was situated under a leafy canopy whose branches partially blocked my view, so my interest was drawn to them. My Leaf Snap app identified the tree from the pink flowers: a Harlequin Glorybower! No wonder I was so attracted to the spot. I was in a Glorybower, entertained by a Harlequin. When I stood up I saw that I’d sat on a white star and then found the last of them, the ones that had not yet blown off, on the same tree. 

By the way, the Wild Wonder Nature Journal Conference is blowing my mind, and if you haven’t joined in, it’s not too late. The classes you missed were recorded and you can catch up at your own rate. Gotta go now. A challenge for today was to listen to the song [nature sounds] of the place where you are, and get that down in your journal. Sign the bird’s song back to it in order to learn it?

Squaxin Park

Normally when I take walks in parks I leave my “gear” behind, preferring to swing my arms freely and not carry unnecessary weight. But the weather on Friday was lovely, and there would be few people on the trail that afternoon, so I headed off to Priest Point Park with my nature journaling gear.

Entering the park I noticed a new sign showing that the name of the park had been changed to that of the original inhabitants, namely the Squaxin tribe. Hooray! Better late than never. 

The park is just outside of downtown Olympia and along the shores of Budd inlet, with one of those mystical northwest forests of towering trees and ferny, mossy, living understory. A feast for a nature journaler creature. I walked out to the beach and wandered there a while until I my shoes alerted me with that sucking sound of the tidal muck, and I turned around. The tide was looooow, and the mud/muck was giving off that rich briny fragrance as the sea creatures breathed out through the doors of their under-muck homes.

Fountain pens and w/c in Etchr sketchbook

I’m always drawn to the holes and textures in tree bark and thought I would focus on that. What creatures live in those holes? The tree is of a generous nature, like a hotel or apartment owner, who invites such habitation, but never charges rent. Or perhaps its more accurate to say, like the host who invites those who not only need a home, but who begin the recycling of the host’s body while it is still alive!

But I was also struck by the exquisite patterning of the tidal  waters, and wondered how it would change over the hours and days with the steady ebb and flow.

It was a peaceful spot to sit and sketch, undisturbed, at least if you don’t count the bugs and the crow that perched himself directly above me and kept up a banter of heckling as I sketched. Was it derision or approval? Maybe he was calling to other crows to fly over and see what the lady was doing?

Here’s some of the nature delights that I would have painted . . .

So many creature homes in this view. . .and what manner of things are inside the web-hammock I could never imagine disturbing?

Down on the beach, (recently at high tide, the sea bottom), the remains of an old dock. But a sculpture park? cemetery? the ruins of an ancient civilization? The imagination goes to work on it.

Not hard to imagine what happened here, but was it gull or heron or ? that ate the crabmeat?

You probably guessed that I’m warming up for the Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference that starts this Wednesday, September 14-18, with 30 teachers and speakers, online classes and talks, curiosity and community, wonder and fun! It’s not too late to register for the conference at the unbelievable price of $85 and stream it all online live and in recordings for a few months afterward. I’m hoping to pick up lots of tips for this kind of journaling and appreciation of nature, and it would be great for anyone just wanting to start a nature journal. If you live in the Olympia area, let me know and I hope to invite you to some upcoming nature meet ups.

Olympia Harbor Days Cont.

two page spread in w/c Hahnemuhl Zig Zag Book

Day 3 was a busy scene at the harbor with every manner of water conveyance from the grand Lady Washington tall ship and Virginia V steam ship to the tiniest remote operated sailboats. This city does love their boats!! Ostensibly we scheduled the meet up for the time listed on the program for the tugboat races, but we learned that you have to book passage on a tour boat to go out in the bay where the races take place since they cannot be viewed from the harbor plaza.

No problem, we occupied benches on the end of the promenade and started drawing the easier ones as they blew, floated, motored and paddled by, with no concern for relative size or distance. The whole scene got anchored by the folks temporarily watching from the rocks closest to the water.

 

last spread in the Zig Zag book

To finish off the sketchbook I went through my pictures of the weekend, picking my favorite poses of the people who entertained and shared talents, history and tribal blessings for the event. Maybe next year I’ll book passage on the Virginia V and watch the tugboat races from the sound!

Olympia Harbor Days

Labor Day Weekend in Olympia was dominated by a colorful harbor scene at the 49th Annual Harbor Days Festival  presented by the South Sound Maritime Heritage Association, boasting 250 things to do and see! The sketcher in me translated that to – 250 things to sketch!  Starting with the tugboats, which are a thing here with lots of history in the Puget Sound.

The historic roots of tugboat racing stemmed from the last half of the 1800s, when sailing ships arrived in the Sound from ports throughout the world.  Because of the lack of wind on the inland waters, steam-powered tugboats were required to tow them to the docks for cargo unloading.   By tradition, the first of the tugs that raced out to meet the arriving ships got the towing work.

 

fountain pen and watercolor in Hahnemuhle ZigZag book

Some of the tugboats I saw on the dock last weekend were hardly the working kind however. Like Tugzilla here, with its owners chillin’ on deck and answering questions from the appreciative crowd of onlookers. On Sunday there were tug boat races in the harbor and you could book passage on an historic boat to be able to view them out in the Sound.

The festival was crowded enough that finding a place to sit and sketch was problematic. I found this little bit of dock alongside the colorful Tugzilla and got set up to sketch, only to discover that the crowds of enthusiasts were finding their way down the boardwalk in my direction and creating a wave motion on the floating boardwalk, disrupting pen and my sense of equilibrium! 

So I adjourned and met up with Ineke, and we both decided to tackle the busy scene above while standing at a railing (color and details added later at home!) The big crane in the background is an ever visible reminder of the Port of Olympia activity and the lumber yard. The historical underpinnings of this city on the Puget Sound, its roots in native tribal life, white settlement, and  the role of commerce in expansion and development are abundantly visible to this day. 

Stay tuned for more sketches from Harbor Days!

Wasps? Hornets?

I like to eat my lunch in the garden and watch the flying insects. For the most part they are not interested in me, and only occasionally will a yellow jacket check out my lunch and drive me inside. There is one tiny, skinny bee-like insect that likes to hover close to my face, a bit unnerving but it does me no harm. 

Lately I’ve become an insect voyeur, spending time observing bees, wasps, dragonflies, butterflies up close if I can. The honey bees and bumblebees tend to be so drunken with their nectar cocktails that they will even fall asleep (especially on the sunflowers) and get carried in the house if I don’t shoo them off. I take a lot of close up pics of the others, who move too quickly for me to sketch them from life. 

But then there’s the labeling conundrum. For instance, these two didn’t quite match the pictures I found online. But the word “handsome” popped to mind. Then “hornet”, and I liked the alliteration and wrote them down on the illustration before I realized that these two were more likely wasps, because of relatively small size. I’ve always had a problem with the distinction. All hornets are wasps, but not all wasps are hornets. Hornets tend to be bigger than an inch and “meaner” than other wasps because they release a neurotoxin in their sting. Ouch! But they can all sting repeatedly, unlike honey bees who have one shot at it. And wasps are carnivores. Unlike those pollen fuzzy bees and bumblers, they eat bugs, and that’s a good thing for us vegetable gardeners who don’t appreciate the bugs sucking the juices out of our vegetables and leaving behind big holes in the leaves.

But of course you know all this. But just in case you’re a little fuzzy on distinctions like myself and are prone to lump bugs and insects into the same category. . . Insects always have three body parts and six legs. They also usually have four wings and two antennae. Whereas true bugs have specialized parts of their mouths to suck juices, mostly from plants. In other words insects will get you from their back end and bugs from the front end. Haha! or neither, which is what we hope. End of science lesson for today.

You entomologists out there . . .please correct me where I am wrong!

A Taste of Cuba at the Farmers Market

fountain pen, watercolor, felt tip pen in Travelogue sketchbook

Ninety percent of our Farmer’s Market here in Olympia is under permanent open air structures year round. Not so vital during our dry summers, but in the other seasons it’s essential for staying out of the rain. And that includes eating. Market days are Thursday through Sunday from April to October, and most of that time, there’s live music under a roof where the picnic tables are! A perfect invitation for a sketch lunch.

A Taste of Cuba is a group I hadn’t heard before, with a lovely young professional Cuban born flautist/singer bringing her musical heritage to life on our northwest stage. 

It’s always a treat to share the sketch with the musicians afterwards. I was happy to wait my turn after someone consulted her about booking the group for another event.

Nature Journal meeting #2

the beach at Tolmie State Park on the South Puget Sound

10:00am on Monday, the time we’d chosen for the tides which rule the beach access in the Puget Sound. We met at Tolmie State Park as the tide was slowly ebbing and revealing the creature life, seaweed, driftwoods and muck, in patterns of movement and stillness. A windless sunny morning with a smattering of tidal bounty seekers and some nature loving sketchers. We were ready to focus on some aspect of the vast tableau, sit in wonder, and honor the memory with a journal entry filled with observations, questions and contemplations.  

brown fountain pen, w/c pencils and watercolor in Etchr sketchbook.

I love a good nature still life! Just pull up a stool somewhere on the sandy/pebbly beach at the tide’s edge where the seaweed, shells and barnacles collect, and the sea is stretched out to touch the land and blue mountains beyond. Inhale the salty sour sea air, and let the mind go blank as it fills with gratitude. What happier spot can there be for pulling out the sketchbook?

And then the “dessert”. Joining friends on the beach to braid together our discoveries, questions, and the wonders of the day!

If you missed our first meeting’s post, you can see it here. And if you live in the south Puget Sound area and want to join us for some nature journaling leave a comment here!

Summer in Oly

I must say I’m beginning to feel like the school teachers among us who must return to work now after a lovely summer vacation. . .only I’m not. But still, all good things eventually must come to an end. Like the steady stream of interesting events springing up each week in a summertime Olympia, when the weather makes it actually possible most days to be outside all day long in the sun!!! 

Bob and I were taking our favorite walk around Capitol lake and came upon the All Triumph Drive In! in Heritage Park. About 30 – 40 spit-polished luxury sport cars, parked on the lawn with the owners comfortably lounging in their folding chairs, ready to talk to admirers. The brew pub tour, Poker Run, and celebratory banquet may have also lured them to the capitol. I wanted to admire the intricacies of their shiny engines,  which were clearly displayed for this purpose, but I hadn’t the words to match the task. So I smiled and ooo’d and aaaah’d and commented on the nice weather instead. Oh, and then later sketched the colorful scene from a picture I took.

On Sunday we made it to the last day of the Love Oly Summerfest, a weekly (in August) street fair/block party put on by the Olympia Downtown Alliance with live music, street performers, games and activities for kids, a beer garden and more. I sketched one of the circus troupe in movement! and. . .

caught the next performers for the music stage, hanging out under the marquee in the back of their stretch limo/hearse with the red hub caps. A real class act I must say, though I didn’t stay to hear the music to see if it matched the quality.