nature journal

Bumblehummer

I’ve been perplexed ever since hanging the hummingbird feeder outside the dining room window. There’s a fair amount of activity of the frenetic Hummer sort literally all day long. The part I don’t understand is the absense of male activity. I thought it was my poor eyesight, that with the backdrop of greenery I was unable to catch the flashier colors of irridescent red or purple under the chin.

Then I recently solved that problem by placing my small binoculars permanently on the table, ready to grab mid-bite. But persistently the little birds at the feeder have been green with white undersides and not a trace of other color which I can see. No guys. How can that be? I’ve read about female hummingbirds disguising themselves as males, but the other way around?

But a couple days ago a pair of tiny, roundish, golden colored birds appeared and sent me running for my phone to try to ID them. Could it be? Bumblebee Hummingbirds, native to, gulp, Mexico? Rufous Hummingbirds, (more likely in Washington)? The pictures matched but in any case it’s still only the female I’ve seen!

I’ve started to get in trouble with Bob, interrupting him mid-sentence to grab the binoculars to get a better look, and I don’t think I’m chewing my food properly. There’s simply no time when you have to keep a look out for the movement of creatures whose hearts beat 1,260 beats per minute!

More Exploring

I’m still new enough here that every time I leave the house I think of it as an exploratory mission. There are different driving routes to learn and places along the way to commit to memory. . .the bank I will need at some point. . .that cute lunch place I’d like to try out, that walk along the lake. . .the UPS store, etc. And if I have the presence of mind and time to spend, the sketchbook gives me a chance to focus in on the particulars of shape and color, atmosphere, human activity and flora and fauna.

pen and watercolor in Stillman + Birn sketchbook

My friend Janet was visiting for a few days and I knew she’d enjoy beach combing at Priests Point Park above the Olympia harbor.  Not wanting to gaze into the glare on the water for a landscape sketch, I sat down and focused on the busy shore textures of shell and rock, leaves and wood. The wonderful stick with the hole in it that looked like a bird’s eye came home with me!

Another day we drove to Seattle for a day in the city. It started with a disappointing tour boat ride, followed by a long harbor side walk to see many of the tourist spots. Our favorite was the Olympic Sculpture Park.

What I could see was the sculpture of the man with hands out, and a challenge to try to quickly sketch the water. Challenge indeed! But after I’d finished, the fountain switched in its cycle to reveal the son, a little boy on the left side and the father had vanished in the water. So clever of Louise Bourgeois!

But the real show stopper was Echo, a collossal stone sculpture facing the water and Mt. Olympus in the distance. I sketched this with my scruffy waterbrush only, just to see what would happen. 

But here you get some of the effect of this 46 foot sculpture.

The short version of the Greek myth that inspired this sculpture:

Echo, in Greek mythology, a mountain nymph, or oread. … To punish Echo, Hera deprived her of speech, except for the ability to repeat the last words of another. Echo’s hopeless love for Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image, made her fade away until all that was left of her was her voice.

The Gum Wall

But Janet wouldn’t let us end our day in Seattle without a visit to the notorious Gum Wall. Does it kind of make you feel like you could get Covid just by looking at it?

Nevertheless people were reverently chewing gum and having their friends photograph them as they said their prayer? made their wish? and added it to the wall. Maybe I missed the boat not getting my wish out to the Gum Genii!

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. 

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.

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

Amanita mia!

The Fly Agaric or Amanita mushroom is the flashiest ‘shroom in the fungi world. And I found them growing right next to my driveway this week. Not only are they gorgeous, but they are constantly morphing into a new variation each day. From round topped to flat, and brilliant scarlet to gold, from two inch to seven inches across in a couple days!

But don’t eat them! Although apparently few people die from eating them. Except maybe flies. The term fly- refers not to insects as such but rather the delirium resulting from consumption of the fungus. Now I know it’s become more popular to consume mushrooms lately, especially the psychedelic sort. And the amanita may provide a high, though I wouldn’t recommend it. Flies on the other hand may find the delirium referred to here to be quite a spiritual experience!

Pigs and Clouds

My friend Ruth happened to mention that her neighbor next door has pigs, so I invited myself over to visit them . . .oh, to visit her too.

Since there will be no county fair this year, no 4H kids with their pigs ready to show, I took the opportunity to meet Goldie and Zoomzoom. They were quite busy sticking their snouts in the wet mud, snorting and carrying on as pigs are wont to do. I’m not sure where the syllables “oink oink” originated because I heard none of that. I quickly gave up trying to sketch them from the perimeter and did this later from pictures.

GoldieandZoomzoom

Can you imagine the good fortune of the small children of this household who get to ride around on the backs of these remarkable creatures? Of course I wonder how they will feel when their porcine friends become bacon.

viewofsouthyard

The time to paint the sky in California is mainly in the winter and early spring when there is more than just endless blue skies. But one day last week I realized that we didn’t have many days left with those heavenly cloud formations. So I grabbed my sketchbook to try to capture the scene outside my studio door.

But then the light kept changing every five minutes and the smoke bush was glowing and changes colors and I got all excited and frenetic and lost it all!  So I turned it into a kind of map of one portion of my one acre home. Some day, who knows, I’ll look back on this sketch and it will fire off the sound of rushing waters in winter and the smell of mint and the excitement of my young boys who found the mint there and transplanted it closer to the house, where we now regularly pick it for recipes and tea.