nature journal

A recent memory. . .

fountain pen and w/c in 8 X 8″ hand.book w/c journal

At this writing the rain has melted all our lovely snow, and luckily the ice that made the grocery store parking lots dangerous and walk-taking impossible.

But oh the snow! There’s something so cozy about being in a neighborhood and imagining the nice neighbors across the street snuggling in with the winter white wrapped around so peacefully. I wanted to try a night scene so I chose this one from the living room window after the birds had gone to bed [where do the birds go at night??} 

So I made a diluted mixture of thalo blue and sepia and painted the entire scene with it, except for where the light shone. Then came back in with darker shadows of the same mixture and bright yellow for the lights. Just that, and then lifted a bit of color off the trees to show patches of snow. Ten minutes and I was done! Memory fertilized and archived for years to come. And without the reliance on cell phone picture captures which are handy, but capture only part of the story.

I apologize for the quality of my pictures of the art lately. For now I am left with going to a window (where there is not that much light coming in these winter days), holding the sketchbook up to the light coming in, and snapping a picture of it with my other hand. I hope it will improve when I move into the studio in a month.

Being more housebound lately I’ve had time to indulge in taking online workshops. I’ll be sharing my student work along with resources you may not know about. Stay tuned! 

Precarious

Precarious is the word for the season. It’s how we feel about our health with a new variant blasting its way through our illusions of safety. It’s how I feel when I go outside and encounter the slippy-slide-y snow and ice. It’s the extreme-weather-economic-social angst and a million other things in the news every day.

And it’s what I feel for the birds in their frenzied visits at our feeders.

One day when the birdseed supply had almost run out, I noticed a particular pattern of bird prints in the snow at the edge of our front door portico. Had they seen me emerge from there, even though it’s not visible from the feeders? I got the message and filled the feeders directly. They didn’t wait for me to depart before they started eating.

15 color medium point Posca Pens

So when I finished trying out all the flavors of Posca paint pens in my gift set, the birds outside my window jumped into the picture along with their tracks!

The problem was the hummingbird feeder, which froze solid so the Annas were out of luck. I should have melted it down each morning, but it was so cold I thought it would just freeze back up.

But then I saw a couple Annas on the feeder and realized I’d better try a little harder. Next morning was sunny and when I put the feeder out again with fresh nectar, I had a couple customers.

Next day though I found a one tiny body in the snow below. The heart gone from its 1263 beats per minute to 0, wings no longer beating 80 times per minute but now motionless.

Precarious. . .the life of such a small creature in the frozen world.

one male Annas hummingbird from three angles

Found you,  my tiny iridescent flasher

Beneath the feeder on a pristine pillow.

Did a snow clump fall and knock you out?

Did the cold stop your heart?

Did you, desperate with hunger, drink too much too fast?

Or did it the nectar come too late, after days of starvation and freezing?

My grieving took the form of an afternoon of study of this miraculous little body with the tiniest iridescent feathers that shone electric when in just the right light, but otherwise had become a dull gray. I hoped with my attention to unlock some secret of bird survival in a kind of artful homage to a valiant life.

Or was it a contemplation of the precariousness of life. 

Snowed In

And the snow keeps coming! draping us in a pristine white silence. We walk around the neighborhood in the fresh snow, taking care to avoid the layer of ice underneath. Today our neighbor Margo and I brought our two year old friend Ellis along for a sled ride, then helped older kids build a snowperson family of four on a front lawn. Memories of my childhood in Canada and Connecticut came rushing back. Hours spent absorbed in play and unconcerned as the fingers and toes grew numb with cold.

There’s the backyard discoveries of tracks in the snow – deer and rabbits – and Quon Yin sporting new winter garments. On a walk around the block the discovery of a street-side Christmas tree, labeled “free”, adorned with white and unclaimed. We live in Christmas tree heaven here where all the cut trees in the lot are full and perfectly shaped, with 6 or 7 species to choose from. Bob and I bought the first one we saw when we arrived in the big barn at the Hunter Family Farm.   

With temps in the 20’s the sketching is happening in the upstairs room where my watercolors and sketchbooks live.

It’s a cozy spot with a carpeted floor, a temporary art roosting spot until the garage studio is completed. Yesterday we had the electrical inspection, so things are moving along in spite of the fact that no roads around us are plowed. 

The windows on the left are being enlarged and there’s a door on that wall which looks out on the back garden.

And here’s the opposite view, with a sink going in where the black pipe comes down. And while the work is happening, the majority of my studio supplies have been stashed and unavailable in the rest of the garage. To say I’m excited would be an understatement. Being “snowed in” is highly conducive to art play!

Wishing you a joyful new year with an abundance of creative inspiration, tantalizing art materials, and fellow art lovers to share it all with.

Kettle View Park in the Rain

I waited too long to get out for a walk a couple days ago and by the time I was out the door an icy rain was just getting cranked up. I knew this day would come to test my determination. So I went back in, donned the rain pants I’d purchased for just such an occasion, and drove to a new (to me) park about a mile and a half from my house. The midday sky was dark and the park abandoned by all but a dedicated dog walker who looked miserable.

There wasn’t much to this suburban park and the puddles on the loop were getting deep. But there was a narrow muddy trail into the woods that looked more interesting. I saw chairs through the brambles and thought “homeless encampment” but saw no humans and was curious.

The scene looked more like a secret spot where three musician friends might come to jam on a summer night. It opened under the leaden sky, and bordered on one of those pond-like depressions in the earth one sees everywhere here in the rainy season, where birds flock and hold their conventions in the frigid water.

bamboo pen and ink, watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mix Media sketchbook

Home from my walk, I dried off and got a hot cup of tea in hand. . .and became totally absorbed in sketching the scene.

This morning the rain had turned to sleet when I went out to stock up on food for the week. Our son Ben arrives tomorrow, and we haven’t seen him in two years!

There’s an urgency to paint after being out in this weather, and a feeling of snuggling up with pens and paints, and no beautiful weather to lure me away! The silver lining of all these clouds. And a white Christmas is seeming more likely every day.

Evergreen

The word evergreen is of course very descriptive of the west coast of Washington state where I live. It’s on our license plates, the state college here in Olympia, as well as innumerable public places, groups, and commercial products.  

When I set off to explore the forest at The Evergreen State College on the opposite side of Olympia from where I live, I was searching for yet more varieties of fungi life. A few paces into the forest on the Beach Trail (trail to the Eld Inlet of the Puget Sound) it felt like someone had hit a dimmer switch on the day. The greens had all gone greener or darker and momentarily felt ominous. Gulp. Until I switched into something I will call forest bathing vision and started to feel like a kind of relaxed excitement. There was just so much life there talking to me! I slowed way down to listen, sense, absorb, linger, and take time to look in a different way.

fountain pen, watercolor, white gouache in beige toned sketchbook

The trees were like alien creatures, reaching their visible roots everywhere, entwined like fingers, claws, hands held. Trees growing out of downed trees (aka Nursery logs) like this image I had to paint.

Then I remembered I was there for the mushrooms!

And was not disappointed, because even though this one had already been found, it lay on the ground where it could not only thrill hunters like myself, but contribute its spores to the living forest floor.

So I decided to take nothing, even the smallest sample, home with me. I mean, would you take even the smallest votive candle from a cathedral?

like this translucent umbrella

I walked slowly so as not to trip over roots, staring up in puzzlement at the towering giants with their fuzzy monkey green tails.

then putting on my reading glasses to focus in on the tiny creatures like this elegant slug

until the waxy cap mushrooms stole the show for a few minutes

At some point I started to realize that without eating the magic mushroom I was being given an almost psychedelic ride in this enchanted forest!

And then I arrived at the promised beach of the trail’s end and was given a reminder of the drama of the salmon run and evidence that at least one of the salmon did not make it back up the river, but nevertheless contributed its nutrient rich flesh to the circle of life. Or is the footnote here about man’s destruction of vital habitat and sustenance for the indigenous tribes?

Back home again I confronted the limitations of my palette in the quest to celbrate the infinite greens of my evergreen home!

Backyard Exploration

Over the summer I was out in the backyard every day, picking flowers, watching bees and bunnies, picnicking, pulling weeds and dead heading plants. Now that the flowers are all gone along with fall leaves, and even the bunnies are no longer seen munching peacefully on the lawn, I watch from the window and wait til the sky clears a bit to go out and explore. The beauty that I seek must be appreciated up close and personal now. And it sometimes requires lifting a low conifer branch to see what is hiding below.

watercolor and white gouache in beige toned Stillman and Birn sketchbook

. . .like the tiny cup fungi on a piece of lichen (lower right) that was the width of three fingers. I’m taking time to learn learn the names of trees, now that I know that it helps to identify the mushrooms that share the biosphere. I use the Leaf Snap app, which allows me to take a picture with my phone, identify the tree/plant/flower, and record the entry on site. Otherwise in my excitement I would often forget the details!

Norway Spruces – your usual Christmas tree – line the back of our property. Now I know where to look each year for these mushrooms. I have not yet graduated to learning the genus and species names of particular mushrooms. There are too many lookalikes and such a vast and diverse world of fungi! But the ones that look like little cups? or have waxy colorful caps? That I will remember!

Mushroom ID 101

Have you watched the documentary Fantastic Fungi on Netflix? Yes? then you know that much of the footage was shot in Olympia, WA and guided by our very own local, Paul Stamets.

Haven’t seen it? then watch it and take the magical mystery tour, without the need to ingest any psilocybin.

Small wonder that I would see my move here as an opportunity to delve into the world of mushrooms. So last week I took a Mushroom ID 101 workshop with the South Sound Mushroom club at Watershed Park, a seven minute drive from my house. The teachers were a team of two young mycologists from Evergreen College whose enthusiasm for the wonders of the forest erupted in a constant flow of shared discoveries and encyclopedic knowledge. With their guidance, the trees, mosses, leaves, and streams, which I am accustomed to enjoying, became a backdrop to a fascinating and downright magical other world of bizarre and beautiful “fruits” that I had never noticed before. 

fountain pen, watercolor and white gouache on beige toned paper

Only a rudimentary vocabulary of mycology managed to find a home in my awestruck brain. Instead I found myself thrilling at my own “discovery” of a lone mushroom with a colorful cap and pure white veil and stipe nestled in the leaves. The delight of the scavenger hunt. The feeling that Nature herself had left it in my path as an invitation to join in. And then the pleasure later of sketching and matching nature’s shapes and colors with my brush and paints. And with no need to taste them or get any high-er on them.

collection basket

Some mushrooms that made it into the basket after being passed around the group and discussed. Gilled mushrooms, corals, boletes and polypores.

And at the end of the day, all forest treasures spread out on the classroom table. Some tiny mushrooms were so small that a jeweler’s loop was required to see the intricate beauty.

Meanwhile at home, work has begun on the garage studios and the sound of a saw and hammering has become music to the ears.

Yes, it rains a lot here, about every day at some point. And it’s cold and damp. But there are warm clothes to wear, and so much forest life yet to explore!

McLane Creek Nature Trail

The living room coffee table is strewn with books on the Pacific Northwest trees, birds and mushrooms that I’m determined to learn more about. I need go no farther than my yard and neighborhood to sample the diversity, and I have yet to run out of new possibilities within a 20 minute driving radius of my house. So on Monday when Andrew was visiting and up for a walk in the woods with us, we headed out to McLane Creek Nature Trail, and hit the jackpot!

Mushroom hunting is an artist’s dream scavenger hunt. It’s also a culinary master’s dream, photographer’s dream and more. And it’s the pot of gold at the end of these daily rains we get here.  This two-mile loop trail had a discovery around every bend! Within minutes we’d passed the pond with the flamboyant wood duck and presiding eagle. Minutes later we reached the creek where the salmon were running. Heavy bodied fish at least 18 inches long, resting while settled on the creek bed, until with ferocious effort leaping, splashing, surging upstream to the next resting spot – a strenuous marathon ending in the spawn and the afterlife of becoming nutrients to a hungry biosphere. 

fountain pen, w/c in Nova beige toned sketchbook

I took a lot of pictures thinking I would bring them home and study them for identification purposes. Next week I’m taking a mushroom ID workshop in a park in town.

Meanwhile I continue to find beauties in my yard. There are fairy ring mushrooms that grow in a large ring in the grass. As the aging ones fall apart new rings are born! And here’s some more that made it into the nature journal.

You may know that this pretty white polka dotted Amanita, which I used to find in my yard in Sebastopol also, is poisonous. Don’t worry, I’m not tempted to eat any of these!

Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is a protected estuary at the southern end of the Puget Sound where river meets sea, birds flock and salmon run and nature lovers can walk way out into the estuary on a long boardwalk. My friend Jane and I were there on a cold and windy but gloriously sunny Sturday. The meadows were densely populated by Canadian geese and the parking lot was full. 

After a bracing walk onto the open area of the boardwalk we entered the forest by the river to enjoy the dense fall foliage and sketch the play of light and shadow.

fountain pen and watercolor in 8 X 8″ Travelogue sketchbook

The boardwalk through the forest created the light and shadow patterns necessary to make visual sense of this dense forest scene. With nowhere to sit and get this view, I leaned myself up against the railing, sketchbook braced in the my arm, and got the pen moving! Luckily I’d brought clips and a water brush and mini-palette which attaches with a magnet to the clip. Otherwise it might all have ended up on the forest floor!

The punctuating sound effects of hunting season were intermittant and disturbing. It was hard to tell how far away the shots were, but not so hard to imagine the poor unwitting targets.

Tired after finishing the ink sketch, I sat down on a bench across the way to rest my legs and eat some chocolate. In moments a gray squirrel had hopped up on the bench and boldly approached me with obvious intent!

I took a picture of course, thanking him for his attention, but stopped short of offering my chocolate. Wouldn’t you agree that salted caramel dark chocolate is a rather extravagent offering for this little fellow who stays healthy eating acorns I imagine? But I suspect he probably wouldn’t have agreed.

Autumn Foliage

When we moved to “wine country” in California 21 years ago I became obsessed with painting the vineyard landscapes. My paintings always fell short of capturing the awe I felt gazing at the tapestry of winter’s yellow mustard accented with bare black vines with a backdrop of lavender hills. Now I’m repeating the experience here, once again failing in attempts at finding the right pigment and techniques for these outrageous autumn foliage displays. But the enjoyment of observation grows ever stronger with each attempt!

Starting here with some of the trees in the backyard that I can see from my upstairs window, where I can paint in warm comfort on cold days. I thought I’d just start with trying to mix the colors. The yellow leafed tree is now bare and the ground beneath, a thick carpet of gold. Weeks later red and orange now prevail in the garden.

pen and w/c in beige toned sketchbook

When we first moved in I thought this short tree was rather hideous and Troll-like, with a thick mop of foliage all the way down to the ground. We gave it a haircut and discovered in intriguing patterned trunk, but the color was muddy. Now it’s red hair can only be approximated with a mixture of opera and vermillion and quin rose paint!

One day I went out on an exploratory mission to find autumn trees to paint and pulled over to the side of the road when these beauties caught the sunlight and made my hair stand on end! I did a quick sketch on my lap in the car, not wanting to expose myself to the damp cold of the air outside.

More drama needed, I thought. So I painted another one at home and liked it a bit better, though a third try might have been the best.

And that got me ready for this last one from a walk on the Chehalis Trail during the Bomb-Cyclone! The big leaf maples were getting undressed by the cyclonic winds and the air was electric with the golden rain of leaves 8-12 inches across. The gray path was carpeted with leaves. As we walked along suddenly a leaf wrapped itself around my face, held there for a moment by the force of the wind as if to say, “Look at me! Pay attention!” And I still am.