nature journal

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.

It’s time for nature journaling

There’s so much for me to learn about the mystique of Pacific Northwest nature, the flora and fauna which change dramatically each week, so different from the areas of northern California where I lived for the past 37 or so years before moving to Olympia, Washington this summer. I want to know the names of trees and other plant life and birds and bugs and learn their habits. And what better way than to have an illustrated nature journal! So I ordered a sketchbook to be dedicated to this pursuit – a beige toned Stillman and Birn Nova sketchbook, 8 X 10″ soft cover.

and to inaugurate it, took my stool out to the front yard to sketch the march of mushrooms across the lawn with pen and gouache, in the process meeting yet another of my friendly neighbors walking by. Mushrooms are abundant here where we have been getting some rain most days for a while now, while the sun plays hide and seek.

Tolmie State Park has a glorious beach on the Puget Sound and trails through the forest with markers to answer some of the questions that arise as you encounter massive root systems connecting the understory of trees growing in community, branches that resemble giant fuzzy tarantulas, and trees with “legs” growing on rotting stumps or fallen trees called nurse logs. I’ll be back to many of those to put them in the journal. But these fairy-like mushrooms on their exquisitely lichen and moss covered host tree totally captivated!

And then more mushrooms in the yard, and new favorite caterpillars! Woolly Worms, which have been making their way across the Chehalis Trail where I walk. One day I noticed something about the similarity of shape and color with the tiny pinecones around them – another clever nature camouflage? Unfortunately many of the Woolly Worms never make it across the trail as cyclists are not able to see them in time, not to mention walkers like me with poor vision. I’ve taken to walking with eyes down so as not to smoosh them.

And that’s really saying something, because in that position one is apt to miss some piece of the gaudiest show of autumn color I have ever witnessed, anywhere. Lest you think I am exaggerating, get a load of this, totally unprocessed/unfiltered picture I took in my neighborhood yesterday.

It reminds one of those male birds of certain species, seen in nature videos, that will go to absurd lengths to woo the female of their kinds. What is going on with these maples? It’s enough to make a sketcher throw in the towel after trying to capture that in paint. Believe me I’ve tried. 

But before I end, just one more show stopper, with a tree’s version of jewelry (bling!)

Look at the plain green tree hiding within.!

I’ve been rereading the Pulitzer Prize winning, The Overstory by Richard Powers , “a stunning evocation of—and paean to—the natural world”, and it’s hard to ever feel the same about trees when you’ve read it. 

You’ll also see my reference to Forest Bathing. It’s an actual healing modality that can help boost immunity and and mood and reduce stress and involves immersing oneself in the natural environment. It’s always made sense to me. Wouldn’t you agree?

 

 

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.