Mr. Bumblebee had his haunches loaded down with red pollen while performing his nectar retraction on the purple lupine, with no idea of how flashy he was! Did the red come from the flowers next to the lupine? Or was the yellow waist pack another pollen carrier, and how did he keep the pollen colors separate? Watching nature always leads to innumerable questions. I looked up the dainty red flowers on the Leaf Snap App which I make daily use of, and found a great many variations on the name. My favorite is Purslane. So Shakespearean.
I’m trying to sit out and nature journal from life more now that the weather is cooperating. The patch of shade under the tree was working fine, though eventually the tiny green spiders covered my arms and legs; nothing scary/creepy, mind you, but it got pretty itchy, so I put the finishing touches on inside.
I was shocked! Double shocked. I’d forgotten how blue the sky is, for one. And three monster poppies emerged in our garden. Since we didn’t plant any of the flowers, bushes, and trees on our property, having just moved here a year ago and having lots of other things to keep us busy, we have been in a constant state of discovery this spring as colorful plants emerge from bare soil. The red poppies were like an anniversary present to celebrate our first year here.
So I got busy studying the unfolding of petals.
The first bloom popped before the others opened, and the sheer weight of it, combined with a steady drizzle that toppled it, made it an early casualty. The seed pod on the bottom here was the “final” stage in the cycle. I was ready to stake the other two so they would live a bit longer, and the rains finally stopped, giving a few more days to study the full expansion of beauty.
And then this morning, of all things! another casualty after a combination of direct water spray from the irrigation and sudden scorching sun.
But can’t you just imagine the most ravishing outfit on a Flamenco dancer? It put my sketches to shame as nature always does, and rightly so!
Ever since I took away the squirrel and bunny picnic table feeder (it was attracting raccoons) my squirrel friends have become even more adept at bird feeder acrobatics. So I thought I’d try to capture the action. Not easy! but lots of fun to try. Can you imagine going through all that leaping and swinging and eating while hanging upside down, just to get a few seeds? It makes me dizzy to watch.
The bunny action here is ramping up too with lots of cottontails bouncing around the garden. I caught one getting through an opening in the fence around the vegetable garden and chased him around the beds til he stopped and took a nibble while looking me boldly in the eye. I felt as foolish as the Mr McGregor character in the Beatrix Potter books.
Such a funny little songster, the Marsh Wren. What I like about them is you can see them close up in the marshes and watch that beak open alarmingly wide while the strangest squeeky sounds emerge, plentiful and varied.
On that same walk on the Chehalis Trail here I can stop now to gaze at the osoberries and salmonberries and honeysuckle climbing out of sight up towering trees. The moth was in my backyard where I’m making an effort to appreciate insect life as well, in hopes that most of these tinier residents are the beneficial ones not eating my vegetables. At the moment it seems rather unfair that the hungry green-eaters are focusing on my spinach and chard while the abundant “weeds” in the yard are given a pass.
When I start to get tired of this rainy weather, which shows little sign of ending, I refocus on the friendlier aspects of this climate: like a white blanket of snow for Christmas morning! and bunnies cavorting in the garden at Easter!
I’m sure you’ve wondered, as have I, how bunnies keep their tails so white when they sit on them in the mud. Now that I have two customers dining at the same time on the miniature picnic table I have been able to view and compare their table manners. Not only does Ms Bunny keep her cotton puff white, but she doesn’t put her feet on the table, like her counterpart, the highly athletic, but poorly mannered Ms Squirrel.
Right next to the picnic table is a pink rhododendron in many stages of bloom. So I took my stool out in a brief patch of sun to contemplate rhodi- and bunny-ness.
I do love going out with the bird watching gals, though it remains a humbling experience. The combination of my inexperience and poor eyesight frequently result in my finally getting the binoculars focused on the right spot just as the bird flies away. Last week it happened within five minutes on the trail when everyone got to see the Barred Owl except me! An owl, no less. My favorite.
Not that these wonderful ladies didn’t do everything they could to help me zero in on the right branch. “See that tree to the left of the tallest one? Now count down three branches below where the clump branches off and. . .”
But this time (with substantial help from my new friends) I got a really great view of the pileated woodpecker in the distant treetop and watched him for a while as he worked his way up with an unobstructed view. That’s what I’m talking about!
Easily satisfied at this point with simply learning to recognize a bird, I am delighted with any more tidbits of behavior and lore to remember. Here’s what i found online: “[Pileated woodpeckers} represent steadiness and loyalty. If you’re feeling like giving up on a difficult task or work assignment, the Pileated woodpecker may present a good symbol for remaining steadfast and continuing until your task is done.” I’ll take that as a personal lesson, at least for this week when I may have once or twice wanted to give up on something difficult. Ahem.
Now I can be found stopping on the walking trail practicing with my Merlin app, identifying the birds I can’t see by their song. I stop every so often to try this, or to identify blooming plants with the Leaf Snap app. Have you tried these? Instant knowledge of the sort that our little phones are so good at, and they’ll even record the results so that you don’t have to tax your memory!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.