The Overstory

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?