Pipevine

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!

Butterfly Love

About 18 years ago I learned about the rare pipevine swallowtail butterfly from a local treasure, Louise Hallberg of Hallberg Butterfly Gardens. Louise was a butterfly whisperer, and I wanted to be like her. I found the host plant living in a hilly ravine in my neighborhood, and planted some under an apple tree.

Each year I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the butterflies in February and watched as the vine extended its reach. In those early days I was busy and it was not til a few years ago that I started noticing the orchid-like Dutchman’s pipe flowers hiding under the leaves on the vine, and a couple more years til I noticed the starfruit-like fruit on the vine and the tiny clusters of eggs.

Yet I always wondered where the caterpillars went to to metamorphose into the pupa or chrysalis stage. . .until this year.

pipevinelifecycle

Maybe it’s because I’m home all the time and walking back and forth to my studio from the house, but this year I watched a butterfly drying it’s wings, newly emerged from its dormancy. And this week I have been watching caterpillars as they migrate, looking for a place to form their chrysalids. I fear for their safety from predators. (Louise used to bring them into her house and keep them safe while they went dormant.)

And then I got to watch a caterpillar do it’s “transition” on the gutter above the door to my studio!  In 24 hours it became a jewel-like chrysalid with its “coat” dangling on the end of a string! The next day it was a different jewel-like color. I must say I’m enchanted.

handful

Something is definitely going on in our ecosystem this year. In addition to the caterpillar/butterfly action this week we were visited by a bobcat in our backyard one day and a great blue heron the next. And the birdsong. . .well I’ve written about that. It’s operatic! Have you noticed nature reaching out to us humans more this year as we quiet down?

 

Bud Book

Apparently the flip side of Corvids, those noisy crows and such, is Buds. At least that’s the case in my little Pentallic Accordian sketchbook which helped me to weather the first two weeks of sheltering in place.

Whenever the sun was out I took my pens, mini-watercolor palette and sketchbook out to the garden to watch what news was happening there. While I sketched buds I noticed other things, like the bumblebees hiving up in the birdhouse next to my studio door, and the pipevine swallowtail butterfly newly emerged from it’s chrysalis and drying its wings on the passionvine trellis. . .

brandnewbutterfly

I stood and watched it with its stuck-together wings blowing back and forth in the wind until they were dry enough for it to fly away, leaving me standing, hair on end in awe.

grapevine

The vintners here in wine country call it bud break when this particular spring marvel occurs, as it did along my house this month. So I started there in my little book.

succulent

I must admit that spring fever got to me while sketching these. I kept looking up to see the honey- and bumble-bees and loosing my place in the complexity of the succulents, but that was precisely the point, to catch the spring fever rather than the viral fever, right?!

 

rhodyapple

The apple tree behind my studio is one of those ancient hollowed out ones that still produces large quantities of apples. In February it attracts the bluebirds and in March, when the apple blossoms bud out, the butterflies seek them out for nectar.

euphorbia

Euphorbias of all kinds love my otherwise rather wild and untended garden. The flowers are blooming now in a riot of miniature bow ties of different sorts.

pipevine

But my favorite spot in the garden is the pipevine, which is blooming and fruiting and attracting the butterflies in ever greater number each year. Here is what is found at this stage. The little orange eggs are “deposited” in the pipevine bank by the butterflies, like the one in the picture above, and next month the hungry munchers with the orange polka dots will be hatched and systematically eat the entire hillside of pipevine to the ground!

chrysalis

And what is this magnificent sculpture? Another chrysalis on my studio wall which I noticed at the same time as the emerging butterfly. But this one is another species – the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, also known as Passion butterfly here on the wall where my passion vine grows. Last time I looked it was a yellow green color, but now is daily turning orange, the color of the butterfly, slow enough that there’s no point in watching it, but I do check in regularly.

budbook

So I can’t help thinking that all this spring metamorphosis provides yet another silver lining to those of us who, while ruminating on the dreadful pandemic news, have time to notice the small things like insects and buds.

Annas and Mourning Cloaks

We’re finally getting some rain today, intermittent with the sun breaking through clouds. Nature has been so bountiful this week with brief hailstorms, the blooming of those miraculous orchid-like Pipevine flowers which look like Dutchmen’s pipes.

And there was the morning I was standing in our front walkway talking on my cellphone while scanning the garden and my eyes fell on this jewel.

annasinhand

Regrettably no, this little Annas Hummingbird was not just tame or friendly, but rather quite dead, newly so, and with no sign of external damage and no cats around to blame. And so brightly festooned in neon iridescence that I was quite awestruck. He may have been the one buzzing around my head in an urgent greeting some mornings. There was nothing to do but say a prayer for him and. . .

annasisketch

. . .to immortalize him in sketches! I have been watching these beautiful creatures for years and wondering how to paint that color, which changes into a multitude of pinks and reds and purples and russets and even blacks with each turn of the head. The dot you see on the top of the page is one of those head feathers that came off. I glued it onto the paper, and when you turn the paper in the light, all those colors manifest!

The next day on an afternoon stroll at Riverfront Park not far from my home, I was delighted to find myself practically alone on the trail, except for a pair of Mourning Cloak butterflies that accompanied me the whole way, weaving back and forth and stopping just ahead to open wings wide as if waiting for me. At one point one of them came repeatedly to rest on my scarf almost touching my chin! No way to sketch this in real time, so I just enjoyed the conversation.

Riverfront2

watercolor in 5 X 8″Stillman + Birn Beta sketchbook

But as I sat on a bench overlooking the lake I heard a drone overhead – the electronic kind which we will be seeing more and more and everywhere. Such a strange world. I wonder what the butterflies and birds think of those flying “brethren”?

Riverfront1

It was time to leave, but this view delayed my departure. Another challenge for the artist here in wine country, to get the color right on those impossibly yellow (actually the definition of yellow!) mustard plants that abound in the winter vineyards with a backdrop of blue violet hills.