nature journal

Birds and Mushrooms

The migratory birds on Capitol Lake have been a spectacle lately! The American Wigeon is one of the classiest I’ve seen. A real challenge to sketch. All those flashes of white on the head and the beak and wings make for a very well-clad bird and difficult sketch subject. They’ve been sharing the waters with flocks of coots and buffleheads and ringed necks and shovelers, and in a different pool all their own, the Trumpeter Swans!

I’ll throw in some belated mushrooms here, from over three weeks ago before the frost turned them to gooey mush! Evergreen College has a magical trail to the beach.  I was pleased with myself for finding two of them in my mushroom ID book. But don’t take my word for it. On my own I am no expert.


Running with the salmon

Sometimes I forget, when encountering a natural attraction here in my new Olympia home, that my reverence for such things has been long running. Like the salmon run. Just now I used the search window in my blog to see what I might have sketched, painted, written about the salmon run. And this post from July 2011 popped up. A mixed media Muse piece with a native woman kissing a fish and my words written in reverence:

The salmon always run, and we must welcome them as the sustenance for more than the body of woman. . .as the running fervor of a life worth living, even through and beyond the destruction of habitat, even through the unconscious living which lacks the vibrancy of a shimmery wet creature wriggling in your hands and burrowing into a space, not only in your stomach, but in the heart, where its beat and yours are joined in celebration. . .

And now that I live on the land where the peoples of the Salish Sea have worshiped the salmon for thousands of years, that feeling has grown. 

On Wednesday this week some of us nature journalers met at Tumwater Falls to watch the salmon swimming and leaping upstream. I’ve been trying to capture the drama with my phone camera, but wanted to tell the story in my sketchbook, on location.

watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mix Media Sketchbook

I started on the opposite side of the viewing bridge from this point, where the fish were lining up on the river, resting up from the already tumultuous trip up the river from the ocean. Ahead were the big leaps that would take them to their spawning waters (or the hatchery tanks). They were barely visible underwater, dark undulating shapes, so I started my story there.

As they crossed under the bridge they largely disappeared in the foaming waters, except an occasional one would attempt the leap up the falls and the onlookers would gasp in delight and amazement. Above the falls it was easy to see the fish up close in the hatchery tanks where some had “bruises” from hurling themselves against rocks on their passionate journey!

In the annotated version here you see the fish ladder to the right of the falls where I presume most of the salmon were able to ascend the river successfully.

the tank above the falls, visible at eye level to the public

Many of the Chinook were already turning this golden color. See the wounds on the mouth of the one on the lower right side. Many of these salmon are quite large, around 50 pounds. If you have a lot of questions about this salmon migration and hatchery, I recommend this article to read.

This sketch was done at home from a picture I took from a different vantage point. It happens quickly, this sudden burst of energetic athleticism. I waited minutes, with breath held and finger on the button to capture this shot.

It never gets old, this adrenal rush and the moment when the fish slaps the water. You can feel it in your belly.

Portland: Japanese Garden/Rose Garden

fine liner pen and watercolor in Etchr sketchbook

How do they do it? Every inch of Portland’s Japanese garden elicits a sigh of recognition. Nature as the ultimate beauty. Sigh. One is invited to breathe it in through all the senses simultaneously. The sounds of water, visible or not, throughout. The contrast of stone against plant holding your interest so it never flags from step to step.

At times last Sunday spectators filled the paths, but a bench opened up inside a mini pagoda structure looking out on this scene, so we sat down for some sketching. I’m learning not to freak out about the complexity of forest scenes, to tell myself to start out with a kind of nature doodle, letting the pen wander, then coming back with playful layers of watercolor, and perk it up at the end with a colored gel pen. The important thing is, can you look at it and feel the cool forest air and hear the water?

Next day we started at the Hoyt Arboretum with its miles of specialized trails ribboning up the hill back and forth: the red pine, the spruce, the redwood, the hawthorn and magnolia and holly and more! We picnic lunched at a forest outlook point and later stopped above the fragrant rose garden where I had time to sketch this appealing restroom while we waited for the bus to take our weary feet back “home”.

Nature Journal meeting #2

the beach at Tolmie State Park on the South Puget Sound

10:00am on Monday, the time we’d chosen for the tides which rule the beach access in the Puget Sound. We met at Tolmie State Park as the tide was slowly ebbing and revealing the creature life, seaweed, driftwoods and muck, in patterns of movement and stillness. A windless sunny morning with a smattering of tidal bounty seekers and some nature loving sketchers. We were ready to focus on some aspect of the vast tableau, sit in wonder, and honor the memory with a journal entry filled with observations, questions and contemplations.  

brown fountain pen, w/c pencils and watercolor in Etchr sketchbook.

I love a good nature still life! Just pull up a stool somewhere on the sandy/pebbly beach at the tide’s edge where the seaweed, shells and barnacles collect, and the sea is stretched out to touch the land and blue mountains beyond. Inhale the salty sour sea air, and let the mind go blank as it fills with gratitude. What happier spot can there be for pulling out the sketchbook?

And then the “dessert”. Joining friends on the beach to braid together our discoveries, questions, and the wonders of the day!

If you missed our first meeting’s post, you can see it here. And if you live in the south Puget Sound area and want to join us for some nature journaling leave a comment here!

Leopards and Tigers in my yard

brown ink fountain pen, watercolor, white gel pen in beige toned Nova sketchbook

A neighbor told me about the ice storm a few years ago that felled a lot of trees on the block, including one out front by the mailboxes. The loss of a shade tree helped to clarify something I haven’t understood, namely, why anyone would plant shade loving plants in an unprotected sunny area.

But there they are, hydrangeas and hostas, well established and flourishing in the spring, until the first week of 80-90 degree heat like we’ve been having. The large leaves droop and then crisp. 

Chief among them is the Leopard plant, a shade plant, large bush-sized with leaves about 1-2ft across. Right now it’s blooming with those yellow orange clusters, impervious to the heat.  I just had to sketch them and ponder their imperviousness, which is far superior to my own in the hot hot weather.

And Tigers, you ask? Well I’ve got some of those as well now, though I haven’t had time yet to train my paintbrush on them.

I’m discovering that so many of these plants, in the garden that I did not plant, are far-eastern varieties, from Japan and China. Exotic, in other words. This one doesn’t seem to mind the sun, and happily is not also tasty to the deer who regularly graze here.

And then there’s the vegetable garden, which I did plant this summer, and have been struggling to understand and learn by. This picture say a great deal about that learning part. The cabbages are a great success. This one weighed in at 3 lbs! Meanwhile the zucchinis are stunted. Weren’t they they ones people said, don’t plant too many, you won’t be able to eat them all!? The beans are beautiful but I didn’t plant enough. And the beets will be good, but soon we’ll have eaten them up and they’re gone!

But back to dahlias. . .has there ever been a gaudier flower? And these I had nothing to do with. Planted before I arrived. And a bit difficult to arrange in a vase. Each one seems to want to take over and steal the show. So I decided on the second best thing. . .a floor arrangement.

And the third best thing, hiding behind a lavender dahlia, stealing her beauty!

Zucchini and Spiraea

I’m chuckling now as I read this. When was it that I unlearned how to spell? My mother the school teacher would turn in her grave. pollenization? zuccini? Ah well. The visual artist in me cares not a wit, or is it whit?

Anyway I have not grown zucchinis for many years and I wondered how it is that some of the blossoms were attached to baby zukes and others were just on a stem. And so I researched and got my answer. Only the females “give birth” to babies! But all the flowers are edible. Then I started worrying that the bees might not find their way to the flowers to do their pollenating. Maybe the deer netting would keep them out! Silly me. But there are youtube videos on how to pollenate them by hand. . .of course, there’s videos for everything these days! So now I know how to imitate a bee even if I still can’t spell correctly.

Meanwhile the bank of spiraeas are showing off. Examining them closely you see at least 4 different flower formations as they simultaneously display the stages from buds to flowers to seeds. And there’s no need for a human intervention to do the job of pollenating here. The busy bumblers are on the job all day.

Walk at Woodard

w/c and w/c pencils in 5 X 7″ spiral mixed media sketchbook

Packed up my water brush, tiny palette, a couple pencils and a water bottle and headed out to one of my favorite nature spots this week – Woodard Bay. The cormorants were roosting in great noisy numbers and only a couple seals were sunning on the docks next to the old railroad track pier in the waters of the sound. I managed this sketch just before the preschool kids arrived and turned the historic dugout canoe into a jungle gym, chattering in that high pitched way, a flock of another sort. 

Of course the park had not changed since last July, soon after I’d moved here and claimed it as one of the best reasons to be happy about a move to Olympia! See that blog post here. Of course there is also the memory of the kayaking adventure with Andrew where we got stuck in the muck! blog post here. Luckily that’s just a funny tale to tell in retrospect! 

Flowers and their insect partners

watercolor on CP Fluid w/c paper

The garden is keeping me busy these days. I have no particular skill at flower arranging but the sheer diversity and quantity of blooms in this season is prompting me to try filling and refreshing our vases frequently. Since I have not planted any of the flowers, but rather “inherited” this garden and the not insignificant responsibility of maintaining it, there is much to learn. Of course sketching them improves my understanding of the different growth phases as well as how long they last when I bring them indoors.

But I’m also coming face to face with the insect partners, the beneficials as well as predators, the good and the bad bugs. In my sketchbook (only) they are all welcome.

watercolor and white gel pen in beige toned sketchbook

. . .like the Asian Lady Beetle larva I found on a barberry leaf (in the flower arrangement at the top here). It was so small I almost missed it. I zoomed in with my phone to see the intricate arrangement of parts with eye-like front and “arms” like canoe paddles. I was enchanted, and observed that it was in the same position a day later. My research revealed that it was in fact a larva form of the Asian Lady Beetle. A day later it had still not moved and even shrank slightly, but had almost become the adult lady who would fly away! (see lower right picture). Low and behold it then appeared that I had read the body parts backwards? You see what I mean? Cool stuff.

Another day I met this tiny spider, so exquisite with its dashing red streak!

A lot of people have the skin crawly experience in the presence of bugs/insects. I certainly don’t appreciate getting stung or bitten or threateningly buzzed any more than anyone else. But I think if we all sat down and took a good look, we would find such admiration for the colors and shapes and movements and transformational qualities, that we could get cured of the heebee jeebees when we get “visited”.

The European Ground Beetle looks just like a big shiny black bug you would not want to have in bed with you. But in the flower bed they are quite welcome, eating the bad bugs that eat our vegetables. I caught this one on the grass trying to burrow in and moved him where I could take a close up picture and discover the iridescent pink edges to the shell. Mother Nature is so extravagant in her tastes! Imagine dressing this beetle in a formal tuxedo, when he spends most of his time in the ground! 

Recently I learned a new word. Umwelt, is the sensory bubble in which any given animal (including us) exists. Ed Yong, author of An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, invites us to imagine the sensory world of other animals in what he calls “an act of radical empathy”. I practice this a lot with birds and have begun trying it out on bees in particular. The pollinators seem so happy drunk all the time and there’s something so heart grounding in that buzzing sound, a kind of Om’ing. 

I’m also trying to practice umwelting with the deer and having more trouble with the radical empathy there. After denuding a dozen rose bushes just as they were about to bloom, the deer family moved onto eating the buds off of hundreds of our lillies in a couple days. My empathy wilted dramatically.

You might enjoy Rob Walker’s blog, The Art of Noticing, as I am. That’s where I learned about umwelt and many other creativity turn ons.

A Garden Journal Day

watercolor in 8 x 8″Travelogue sketchbook

I was banished from my studio for a day to make room for the installation of my sink cabinets by son Andrew. The buddleia bushes are in bloom next to the patio table, and while I meditated on the intricate details of this bloomer, I got my first sighting of a monarch butterfly, along with the tiger swallowtails that have been fluttering around for weeks now. (and yes I know I mispelled sighting on the sketch. always happens when I’ve been drawing!)

Been scratching my head a bit about how to nature journal plants like these without doing a whole landscape treatment. This was one of my first tries at a hybrid-type sketch. The thing I noticed immediately about this plant is that it grows simultaneously in every direction, a rebellious cultivar. Not like your sunflowers that move their heads in unison to face the sun. With the 4th of July just two days away, and my neighborhood already testing out their rockets, these flower spires reminded of what was to come.

As Andrew labored on in the studio I moved onto some more of my summer favorites that are already blooming and going to seed, which they repeat continuously throughout summer. My plant app gives me more than the one name, usually very descriptive or at least imaginative. But I’ve never heard a plant named “Ruggles” before, have you?

Andrew finished installing the cabinets (which he had designed and built in his shop in Seattle) just after dinner. Bob remarked that I now have the finest piece of furniture in our house, and I must agree. Thank you Andrew!

Are you finding time to “just”sit in a garden? I mean without the socializing, reading, eating, or weed pulling? If not, adding paper and pen and brush to the garden time could be just the thing!

Birds of the month, etc.

watercolor and white gel pen in beige toned Nova sketchbook

As I was finishing my sketch of Mr. Black Headed Grosbeak, I caught myself thinking like a bird (?) “Oh you are a handsome fellow!” Something debonair in the way you. . .oh really!

These two were my picks of the month from our monthly Gals Go Birding audubon group of sage women bird watchers at Millersylvania Park in Olympia. I tag along with them each month for the thrill of it, since I would see not a fraction of these birds along with trail without their skills and generosity.

Honestly I am happy as a clam just to explore a different PNW park each time, always with water and sky and . . .

the dense forest carpeted with wildflowers and ferns, under the towering sentinel trees. Birding gives an excuse to walk slowly, stop a lot, attuning all the senses to nature’s cues and clues.

red black ink, dip pen, watercolor, white gel pen

Meanwhile back home the pink peonies out front had started their metamorphosis, losing petals and gaining a new kind of pod-beauty resembling a jester’s floppy hat, which I almost prefer to the flower!