trees

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.

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?

 

 

Time to Winter

Do you ever try to think like a tree? Like in “Gee I’m so thirsty!” or “It’s getting so cold. I’d enjoy a blanket of leaf mulch to restore my energies.” This piece made me think like a tree.

I started by painting foliage and trunk shapes with water and droppering three acrylic inks into the water shapes so they moved and blended while I tipped the paper. Then I took a color shaper and pulled some of the wet ink out to create branches and spritzed the foliage lightly with water to suggest leaf shapes.

Daler Rowney acrylic inks: Antelope Brown, Indian Yellow, Dutch Blue

Time to winter

send roots down there

with the gopher and grub

under the shroom spore and worm tracks

While we sleep

they do the work

turn leaf mulch and water

into blooming flower beds

So take a deep

soul

quieting

breath

of loamy air

Settle into the perfection of this season

Trees and tombstones

Some sketches from last week. Late afternoon is a magical time in the garden, and one day I enjoyed some time before dinner, sketching the entrance to our home which is on a private road.mailboxwelcome

Mr. Frog used to spout fountain water, but later was retired to the garden. I found him under some plants which were towering over him, and invited him to pose for the sketch, which needed an accent at the bottom.

tombstones

Another day I met Cathy and Bettina at the rural cemetery in Santa Rosa. My first sketch was a study of the various shapes of the old tombstones from the 1800’s. I put them close together to make a single shape, since none of the them were particularly interesting in themselves.

cemeterytree

Then I became mesmerized trying to sketch this tree. Nothing like a beautiful tree to lose oneself while painting!