nature journal

Caterpillar Time

Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar

My orange spiked beauties are munching their way through the pipevine which carpets the upper studio garden. Their exponential growth is a sobering reminder that my own remaining time here is rapidly dwindling. They are already making their way down the path to their hidden places where they will transform into their paper-like cocoons to sleep until next season.  Meanwhile I am supposed to be packing for my own transition to a new (cocoon)home. 

But there are so many other things to do first! Travel arrangements, insurance, health care, moving boxes and schedules, consultations with owners and buyers and decisions about what furniture to bring/not bring/leave, and more. And then there’s the precious time to sit with friends who I won’t see for a while. 

Sylvester

And time to spend with Sylvester, who seems to know something’s going on, and plops down in my path throughout the day, purring and baring his irresistible tummy, while never allowing me to touch it! This takes time . . . to slow down and talk sweetly to him and not startle him away in my impatience to “get things done”!

Caterpillars, human friends and Sylvester. . .These feel like stolen moments, and maybe that’s the appeal. Like cutting extra thin slivers off the chocolate cake when you’ve already had “enough”.  And then there’s the stolen minutes after dinner, painting portraits.

White pencil and white gouache on black toned paper
White gouache and a touch of watercolor on black toned paper

The more playful I get with gouache, the more I like it! Like what happens with the dry brush in the hair. I’m learning to not smooth everything down.

gouache on beige toned paper

This woman is one of the indigenous Clan Mothers of the Bears Ears southwestern lands that are being threatened by fossil fuel development. You can read about them here. Their voices are powerfully moving. . .

When the land calls — you answer.

When your mother calls — you answer.

I’ll be doing some more portraits of these matriarchs who can inspire us all! 

And now, back to the packing (which I haven’t really started yet!)

Mission Accomplished!

We have a new home in the Pacific Northwest! Last week, about ten days into my Washington state odyssey, just when I was feeling a touch of despair at soon being “homeless”, we found an Olympia property that we fell in love with. When I say “we” I mean me, and my husband Bob (at home here in Sebastopol and with me on Facetime), and my dear friend Janet who was with me every step of the way, driving me around, helping me with sanity checks, while we explored the area with walks in the woods and on the beaches. And then there was our tireless realtor Connie, whose energy in this thoroughly nerve wracking endeavor never flagged. Our offer was accepted and we move in June!

My best estimate is that moving takes up 95% of ones mental real estate for weeks/months, and possibly a larger percentage of physical energy! For three days after our offer was accepted I took an average of two naps a day. So in between naps and phone calls to arrange details, I would pick up my brush and paint a bit. One day I even walked to a park across the street to sketch a “living table” for a half hour!

watercolor and pen in Stillman and Birn Beta sketchbook

And then a couple more portraits. . .

watercolor on beige toned paper

My weariness shows here! I couldn’t bring myself to finish the clothing!

watercolor and white gouache on beige paper

(Both portraits from pictures posted on the Sktchy app)

And now I’m home in Sebastopol again, enjoying the spring garden explosion, looking forward to seeing friends, and little by little packing and clearing. Will it never end? Ah, but yes!  Now I can see the end and am breathing deep again.

Thanks for hanging in there with me! The blog isn’t going anywhere and I hope you’ll stay with me.

Kortum Trail

From my house, heading east, this week you’ll need sunglasses, not just because of the sunny days but because nature is yelling  Yellow! at the top of its lungs. Yellow against the black vines; yellow against the violet mountain backdrop, yellow yellow yellow! Mustard, oxalis, acacia, daffodils. . .like it’s been saving up for this season’s festival of yellows.

And if you travel instead west from here you run into the beach. That’s where Andrew and I were last week for a rare break from. . .well, I’ll get to that in a minute. We walked along the bluff above Shell beach and found this lovely spot which we had to ourselves for an hour of sketching and picnicking. There was less yellow and more blue!

Andrew on his perch above the ocean!

We were taking a break from the gardening and house painting and clearing out of things for the important project of getting our house ready to put on the market this spring. The plan is to move north to the Puget Sound area in Washington. Leaving our beautiful home and art studios and nature refuge after 21 years is a big deal, as you can imagine.

Through this pandemic I have realized that distance is not an insurmountable obstacle to friendship. It is no obstacle to reading a blog, and I plan to continue art-ing and blogging indefinitely. There may be longer gaps in my posting frequency at times when I’m actually “on the move”, but not for long. So I plan to take you with me, through the excitement and uncertainty, and the impossible goodbyes to a place I have come to love passionately for its people, nature and (for the most part!) climate.   I hope you’ll hang in there with me!

Landscapes of near and far

. . .just to get the sketchbook and watercolors outside in nature,

to set up the three legged stool and have it sink into the soft forest bed,

to use the lap as a table and the eyes as a sponge to soak up the shapes and colors of the trees and plants,

to forget that it’s just a bit too cold in the shade,

to remember to include what is of greatest interest before you,

to know that you will not forget it when it goes into the sketchbook

where it will always be there to fire off distinct sensory memories of those moments along a trail on a winter afternoon. . .

The sketchbook rarely comes along on nature walks these days. The walks are more about exercise and contemplation. But for a change, last week, a stop along a trail. . .at a complex forest scene, as seen looking down into a ravine from a distance . . .

watercolor, Gray Fox ink, white gel pen in field watercolor journal 8 x 8″

While on an earlier page of the sketchbook, a precious memory from a trip to Ireland four years ago:

Painted from one of my photos taken on the trip. It made me remember how much I loved being there, in a way that will never leave me, and surely bring me back one day.

 

In the winter garden

There’s so much going on now in the winter garden. I keep poking my head outside my studio door to see how the Gulf Fritillary chrysalid is coming along with its metamorphosis. Moments ago it was wiggling its wing and two shiny eyes looked back at me from within its leaf-like encasing. Want to see?

I’m hoping it gets on with it before nightfall. It’s not something one wants to miss!

And then those fuzzy little knobs all over the pipevine are starting to plump out into the orchid-like red Dutchmen’s pipes I have sketched so many times. And that means that some time this month the butterflies will also arrive and lay their eggs and. . .well you know the cycle.

And then, since it’s been raining off and on, we have a new crop of ‘shrooms that are particularly lovely as they progress through the stages of their own life cycle.

All this to be enjoyed even without a vaccine!

Pomegranates and Hummingbirds

I had just picked the miniature pomegranates and found a place in the sun to arrange them, a concrete bench in front of the house, where I could also sit to sketch them. The wee red fruits and even my paints and brush were just an excuse to sit there in the winter sun, next to all the bird feeding activity – mostly goldfinches and chickadees.

But my back was to the hummingbird feeder where a noisy drama was taking place. It sounded like a noisy helicopter propeller, only faster and close enough to cause a breeze on my face and a shiver of danger down my spine. Could these two aggressive hummingbirds actually have in mind attacking me instead of each other? As I turned around, the feeder with its red cap was dancing and a full scale battle was raging over a spot at the feeder. My bucolic setting had turned savage and I hurried to finish up.

Golden Mushrooms

These are not chanterelles, but what are they? The bigger ones are about 6 inches across and they don’t look very edible. I keep promising myself to learn my mushrooms! I did try to look these up and in the process discovered that there are a great many different types of mushrooms that are the psychedelic variety, not that I would ever want to explore them without expert guidance!

But equally exciting in my studio garden right now is the exceptionally large return “crop” of pipevine, which is a tangled mass on the iron trellis right now with hundreds of fuzzy buds which will soon pop open with those glorious Dutchmen’s pipes. And then next month, the return of the pipevine swallowtail butterflies to lay their eggs.

But back to mushrooms – I have been recording them in different media for years now. Here’s a couple of earlier posts, featuring crinkled Masa paper and monoprint/collage/stamps: January 2011 and December 2018

Lizard Spirit Speaks

The black and white gecko from my dream last week finally spoke, and just in the nick of time. How does that work? Well, you sit down with a pen and paper, focus your attention on it, and ask it to speak. Then you take dictation. Of course you have to assume the spirit guide has manifested in your dream and in the art because it has a message.

So with paper and pen before me finally Lizard spoke and I wrote.

“Lay low and listen, to music that soothes and restores. Fill your eyes with images that look past the doom and bitterness that still brews, to the fantastical carpet of green velvet and scarlet mushrooms and the visual cadence of shapely trees and bare branches. Feel the warmth of your own skin inside cozy layers and fresh cold air spicing and refreshing your breath, clearing out cobwebs of thought, and making room for a deep contentment beyond all the distressing rumblings of bad news.

Lay low and listen. Be ready to act in a heartbeat when the time is right. Attune with every sensor in every cell of your body, even to the littlest toe. Feel the drumbeat of upcoming events there. . . . and there, but be not alarmed. Embody readiness, and if a tail must be lost, fear not, for you are a lizard and can grow a new one!”

Later that day I watched as the insurgents stormed the citadel in Washington. By the next morning the tail, which had been lost, was already growing back, stronger than ever! 

Riverfront

I do so love a spot in the sun on a winter day, and with a sketchbook and a view. Riverfront Park was not the busy spot it’s been lately, with scores of families and their dogs. Not midday on a weekday. So after a walk through post-rainy day mud, as well as drier places on the trail, it was time for a sit-down in the sun with a smashing view of the water.

and time to get some details of vegetation and water reflection and finish a sketch on location. Just the kind of activity to serve as an antidote to pandemic and insurrection pandemonium!

Last Night I Dreamed. . .

Last night I dreamed of a lizard, a beautiful black and white patterned one. In the dream I was quite excited to find it among some plants in my home. Because you see, when my boys were little, they were really into lizards, and especially a leopard gecko which Ben named Samon. His preschool art was filled with colorful geckos and our house chirped loudly with crickets that had escaped while trying to get them into the cage for Samon’s dinner. Our good friend Maureen, an accomplished photographer, posed Ben with Samon for her project on children and their pets.

photo by Maureen Morrison

So my delight at having a lizard appear in my dream is not a surprise, particularly at a time when I just published a book (for the family) titled The Cornelis Boys and Other Creatures. It’s a collection of stories about my sons’ early years, when I participated in endless expeditions to acquire a managerie of lizards, frogs, toads, caterpillars, butterflies, praying mantises and more. I became as enthralled as the boys with these creatures. 

But I was also delighted with the dream, because my Muse group sisters and I decided to explore the theme of spirit animals/creatures in our art. So today I got out my ink and got started with some Ralph Steadman style splatter to get the imagination opened up to the possibility of another lizard visitation. 

When finished I got out my reference book, Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small by Ted Andrews and looked up Lizard. Here’s what he wrote:

“Keynote: Subtlety of Perception. . .a symbolism associated with the psychic and the intuitive. The ability to  perceive subtle movement – physical and ethereal, waking or sleeping – is what lizard medicine teaches. To some within the Native American tradition, the lizard is associated with dreamtime. Dreams contain some of the subtlest perceptions of the mind of which we may not be conscious. . . listen to your own intuition over anyone else’s. Learning to follow your perceptions is what will enable you to succeed most frequently.”

Sounds like pretty good advise for anyone, whether you’re drawn to the reptile world or not!

I can’t resist leaving you with another lizard family picture, of my other son Andy and his brother Ben. There’s obviously some photoshop going on here, but I suspect not with the lizard! (oh yeah, and then there was the rat chapter. ..)