reportage

Wild Wonder out in my garden

I was sitting in my studio, glued to the screen, watching and sketching along with the many live streamed teachers at the Wild Wonder Nature Journal Conference, and finally broke away to explore the wild right outside my studio door. Usually when I spend time in the garden it is to harvest vegetables or dead head flowers or discover garden chores that are overdue. So, strangely, it took some very clear intention to head out to the garden with my sketchbook!

fineliner pen and watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mixed Media sketchbook

I started with my most recent discovery of wasps swarming Grandma Marie’s paper birch tree in the Ancestor Grove. It was so named because we found two side by side birch trees in our new home garden and planted ashes from our two mothers’ urns under those trees. Grandma Marie’s was chosen by a colorful Yellow Bellied Sapsucker as a place for his preferred meals of sap, opening the way for others to dine as well. At the moment it is hosting swarms of what look like wasps. One could say that the tree does not look happy, being blackened and sticky, but that would surely be from the standpoint of our very own species and not that of a tree, which gives generously to the cycle of living things, throughout its life and decomposition. In any case it was a story to tell in my nature journal, recently fortified by ideas and tools of other nature lovers in the conference. I started drawing while standing and gazing at the swarm on the spot close by, then started feeling uneasiness when I realized I was in the flight path!

Next I was drawn to my favorite small corner garden, no more than a yard long and a foot deep. It is filled with seeds, which I must remember to distribute to other areas of the garden, and blooms steadily from spring through early fall with wildflower tenacity. The Calendula and Love in a Mist are the stars of the show.

And on then to the end, you might say, of the blooming season for the Bee Balm flowers. I am so struck by the beauty of these going-to-seed plants whose seed vehicles are golden chariots in shape and tone and texture, and rival their spring beauty.

The late summer sunset was then upon me, so I brought the Bee Balm inside to have better light to view it. Also at that point I was wondering how all these drawing/paintings would sit in a balanced way on the page. Text, boxes, descriptions and personal feelings were easy ways to fill the empty spaces and put down more of the late summer afternoon experience in a way that I can never forget.

Oh how I love you, Love in a Mist!

Squaxin Park

Normally when I take walks in parks I leave my “gear” behind, preferring to swing my arms freely and not carry unnecessary weight. But the weather on Friday was lovely, and there would be few people on the trail that afternoon, so I headed off to Priest Point Park with my nature journaling gear.

Entering the park I noticed a new sign showing that the name of the park had been changed to that of the original inhabitants, namely the Squaxin tribe. Hooray! Better late than never. 

The park is just outside of downtown Olympia and along the shores of Budd inlet, with one of those mystical northwest forests of towering trees and ferny, mossy, living understory. A feast for a nature journaler creature. I walked out to the beach and wandered there a while until I my shoes alerted me with that sucking sound of the tidal muck, and I turned around. The tide was looooow, and the mud/muck was giving off that rich briny fragrance as the sea creatures breathed out through the doors of their under-muck homes.

Fountain pens and w/c in Etchr sketchbook

I’m always drawn to the holes and textures in tree bark and thought I would focus on that. What creatures live in those holes? The tree is of a generous nature, like a hotel or apartment owner, who invites such habitation, but never charges rent. Or perhaps its more accurate to say, like the host who invites those who not only need a home, but who begin the recycling of the host’s body while it is still alive!

But I was also struck by the exquisite patterning of the tidal  waters, and wondered how it would change over the hours and days with the steady ebb and flow.

It was a peaceful spot to sit and sketch, undisturbed, at least if you don’t count the bugs and the crow that perched himself directly above me and kept up a banter of heckling as I sketched. Was it derision or approval? Maybe he was calling to other crows to fly over and see what the lady was doing?

Here’s some of the nature delights that I would have painted . . .

So many creature homes in this view. . .and what manner of things are inside the web-hammock I could never imagine disturbing?

Down on the beach, (recently at high tide, the sea bottom), the remains of an old dock. But a sculpture park? cemetery? the ruins of an ancient civilization? The imagination goes to work on it.

Not hard to imagine what happened here, but was it gull or heron or ? that ate the crabmeat?

You probably guessed that I’m warming up for the Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference that starts this Wednesday, September 14-18, with 30 teachers and speakers, online classes and talks, curiosity and community, wonder and fun! It’s not too late to register for the conference at the unbelievable price of $85 and stream it all online live and in recordings for a few months afterward. I’m hoping to pick up lots of tips for this kind of journaling and appreciation of nature, and it would be great for anyone just wanting to start a nature journal. If you live in the Olympia area, let me know and I hope to invite you to some upcoming nature meet ups.

Olympia Harbor Days

Labor Day Weekend in Olympia was dominated by a colorful harbor scene at the 49th Annual Harbor Days Festival  presented by the South Sound Maritime Heritage Association, boasting 250 things to do and see! The sketcher in me translated that to – 250 things to sketch!  Starting with the tugboats, which are a thing here with lots of history in the Puget Sound.

The historic roots of tugboat racing stemmed from the last half of the 1800s, when sailing ships arrived in the Sound from ports throughout the world.  Because of the lack of wind on the inland waters, steam-powered tugboats were required to tow them to the docks for cargo unloading.   By tradition, the first of the tugs that raced out to meet the arriving ships got the towing work.

 

fountain pen and watercolor in Hahnemuhle ZigZag book

Some of the tugboats I saw on the dock last weekend were hardly the working kind however. Like Tugzilla here, with its owners chillin’ on deck and answering questions from the appreciative crowd of onlookers. On Sunday there were tug boat races in the harbor and you could book passage on an historic boat to be able to view them out in the Sound.

The festival was crowded enough that finding a place to sit and sketch was problematic. I found this little bit of dock alongside the colorful Tugzilla and got set up to sketch, only to discover that the crowds of enthusiasts were finding their way down the boardwalk in my direction and creating a wave motion on the floating boardwalk, disrupting pen and my sense of equilibrium! 

So I adjourned and met up with Ineke, and we both decided to tackle the busy scene above while standing at a railing (color and details added later at home!) The big crane in the background is an ever visible reminder of the Port of Olympia activity and the lumber yard. The historical underpinnings of this city on the Puget Sound, its roots in native tribal life, white settlement, and  the role of commerce in expansion and development are abundantly visible to this day. 

Stay tuned for more sketches from Harbor Days!

A Taste of Cuba at the Farmers Market

fountain pen, watercolor, felt tip pen in Travelogue sketchbook

Ninety percent of our Farmer’s Market here in Olympia is under permanent open air structures year round. Not so vital during our dry summers, but in the other seasons it’s essential for staying out of the rain. And that includes eating. Market days are Thursday through Sunday from April to October, and most of that time, there’s live music under a roof where the picnic tables are! A perfect invitation for a sketch lunch.

A Taste of Cuba is a group I hadn’t heard before, with a lovely young professional Cuban born flautist/singer bringing her musical heritage to life on our northwest stage. 

It’s always a treat to share the sketch with the musicians afterwards. I was happy to wait my turn after someone consulted her about booking the group for another event.

Summer in Oly

I must say I’m beginning to feel like the school teachers among us who must return to work now after a lovely summer vacation. . .only I’m not. But still, all good things eventually must come to an end. Like the steady stream of interesting events springing up each week in a summertime Olympia, when the weather makes it actually possible most days to be outside all day long in the sun!!! 

Bob and I were taking our favorite walk around Capitol lake and came upon the All Triumph Drive In! in Heritage Park. About 30 – 40 spit-polished luxury sport cars, parked on the lawn with the owners comfortably lounging in their folding chairs, ready to talk to admirers. The brew pub tour, Poker Run, and celebratory banquet may have also lured them to the capitol. I wanted to admire the intricacies of their shiny engines,  which were clearly displayed for this purpose, but I hadn’t the words to match the task. So I smiled and ooo’d and aaaah’d and commented on the nice weather instead. Oh, and then later sketched the colorful scene from a picture I took.

On Sunday we made it to the last day of the Love Oly Summerfest, a weekly (in August) street fair/block party put on by the Olympia Downtown Alliance with live music, street performers, games and activities for kids, a beer garden and more. I sketched one of the circus troupe in movement! and. . .

caught the next performers for the music stage, hanging out under the marquee in the back of their stretch limo/hearse with the red hub caps. A real class act I must say, though I didn’t stay to hear the music to see if it matched the quality.

Sunflower Festival

In the summertime Thursten County, WA, where I live now, reminds me so much of Sonoma County, CA! It’s the dry sunny weather and the farms, just a few miles from my house. Last week their Sunflower Festival became a perfect opportunity to get out and sketch with friends. Rutledge Farm is best known for it’s Corn Maze, Halloween, and pumpkin harvest activities which draw the crowds. 

For the price of admission we got a very bumpy, dusty ride out to the four acre sunflower fields where 46 varieties awaited, and later the opportunity to pick our favorite bloom to take home.

These best friends hopped into the car ahead of us and later posed for a picture. This is a yearly activity for them, and they were loaded with t-shirt and bags and jewelry from previous sunflower doings!

pen, w/c pencils, watercolor in Etchr sketchbook

There’s always some kind of unexpected challenge when approaching a new location, even one as picturesque as a field of sunflowers. The obvious ones this day were: no shade, dusty ground, air thick with pollinators, aka bees, and humans of all ages trampling around with their clippers, looking for the biggest and brightest “stars” of the show to cut and take home. I did some standing sketches and retreated to the shaded picnic tables to add color.

We ended the morning by sharing sketches, eating homemade berry ice cream, and showing off our blooms to take home.

Proud of my choice! Something about the slump of the seed center that added to the personality.

Rock, Stone and a Time Machine

pen and watercolor in Etchr w/c sketchbook

As you may guess from the sketch, the Time Machine is a vintage/antique shop in a historic building on the main street in this small town of Tenino. While I sketched, Janet, a non-sketcher, took her time enjoying the Shiplap Quilt and Coffee Shop across the street.

I can’t help wondering if the Time Machine will change the sign in 10 years when the future is no longer future and the Time Machine brings us back to the present, which we have been trying to escape for many years. Food for thought.

But to back up. . .we were heading out to Tenino on a Sunday and discovered that the Stone Carver studio, a main attraction in this town known for its stone quarry, would be closed. I called the number and reached Keith, who was eating his breakfast at the cafe across the street. “I’ll meet you there!” he said. And there he was waiting to greet us, still munching his hurried breakfast.

Turns out that Keith Phillips is the Master Carver in town and has been a journeyman stone carver for many years, working on large projects on government buildings like the capitol in Olympia but also creative sculptures like a stack of books for Powell’s in Portland. After showing off The Shed (the barn above) he took us on a tour of sculptures he made for the town and invited us another time to see the action at the workshop where the big tools are used.

Keith, beaming ambassador for Tenino, and a delighted artist/tourist. Gravestones? Birdbaths? Garden sculptures anyone? His team is ready to serve.

I sketched The Shed last year, and will definitely be returning for some more. Maybe sketching the stone carvers at work in the workshop next time?!

Tahoma

Tahoma is what the local indigenous people named the  mountain with the tallest peak in the Cascade Range. Now known as Mount Rainier, it rises solitary and imposing to 14,410 feet. Here where I live, it remains cloaked in cloud cover during the dark rainy months, then inspires spontaneous awe and wonder when it suddenly appears sunlit and shimmering on the horizon, looking close enough to touch! 

The opportunity to explore the mountain arose last week when my friend Janet came to visit. We picked a weekday and thought we’d leave early (for us) at 8am to make the two hour drive to Paradise where gentle trails lead to views of glaciers and the cloud bonneted summit. Or rather that would be the timing at other times of the year. But we hit peak wildflower season, a sunny day in the 70’s, and summer vacation. So when we’d finally trudged up the mountain from the overflow of the overflow parking, we began our hike at noon, joining the throngs.

No rocky trails for us. We took the well tended ones with expansive views of alpine meadows undulating with magenta Indian Paint brush, Lupin, Mountain Arnica, Arrow-leaved Groundsel in clusters, arranged by Nature’s curator. There was no way to capture it in pictures, though we tried!

But later, sitting outside the visitor center by the road I made a quick stab at telling a bit of the visual story. We were tired and hot, but so happy to have spent the day in Paradise!

We stopped along the way home for some dinner at the Base Camp Bar and Grill to enjoy some local live music and watch the suntanned mountain climbers enjoy their beer and pizza after a day on the glaciers.

Music in the Parks

It’s been a busy week, so I’ve a bit of catching up to do. Starting with music in the parks. 

Slainte, an Irish word used as a salutation or a toast, or the name of this Celtic Rock band that was playing at lunchtime in Huntamer Park in Lacey last Wednesday. We sketchers planted ourselves around on the lawn, enjoying the scene, with lots of small children dancing in front of the musicians while parents and office workers relaxed in the shade.

As often happens, a member of the band joined us to see our (unfinished) sketches and get his picture taken with the happy artists!

Three evenings later I was back on the dock, this time with friend Janet who was visiting,  for another Summer Evening at the Port concert with the Beatles cover band, Magical Mystery Tour. It’s always a toss up. Should I start by sketching the audience or the performers? I wasn’t sure I could see the band well enough, so I started with the people in front of me.

But then how to fit the musicians in? When you dive right in with sketching the scene as it unfolds, you design as you go! And some pen lines are later ignored and abandoned, like the ghostly seated girl with the great shoes on the left. Every concert requires a different strategy, and with no time to plan before diving in. I guess that’s the thrill of it.

And then the sketch was suddenly aborted when we couldn’t resist joining the dancers, baby boomers that we are, Beatles fans forever! 

Burial Grounds Coffee Collective

pens and watercolor in Travelogue sketchbook

Burial Grounds is not a grassy park where you can visit your ancestors, but a worker owned coffee shop with its roots in social action. Order a latte there and you’ll stare down into a perfect skull in the foam! 

I love their credo: “Coffee may seem simple, but it isn’t just a caffeinated cup of joy, it’s a communal meeting beverage, a coping mechanism, and sometimes a life saver. So, maybe when we say we like coffee, what we are actually saying is, we like people.” 

On this particular morning Jan and Ineke and I chose to pay homage by sitting across the intersection in the shade (it was the thick of the heat wave), sketching in comfort and with a great view. There was an occasional passer by; the slow pace of a city, which seemed to us at least, content to enjoy a vacation mentality on a sunny weekday morning! We vowed to work our way around this quirky and appealing city on upcoming days, recording whatever stories might intrigue.