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!
I bring all my visitors to Tumwater Falls for its Wow factor. Last week when Laura and Liane were here we really lucked out. One of the more anticipated events was going on – the salmon run! The fish swim from the salt water of the Puget Sound up the rivers, navigating turbulent waters and fish ladders to spawn and lay their eggs in the same rivers where they were “born”.
Here I am greedily snapping pictures as the salmon swim by in the tanks on their way up the fish ladder and through the viewing portal.
And down below the falls here the Chinook Salmon are waiting their turn, either to try to leap the falls (which many did!) or make their way up the “ladder” maze. The mind boggling part is that they find their way from the ocean back to their natal river and there they spawn and end their lives. An epic drama.
Another day I headed out to Woodard Bay with Gals Go Birding, a very friendly group of “bird nerds” (my son Andrew’s words, not mine. He’s actually impressed.) If you’ve been following here, you’ll remember that Woodard Bay is where we got our kayak stuck in the muck after seeing the Cormorant rookery.
There was a light drizzle going on as we headed out to the viewing spots. Since I’m a neophyte wannabe bird watcher whose only gear is tiny binoculars that I bought for my boys when they were little, ahem, I relied heavily on the company of these veteran bird watchers. They would stop and go silent, scanning the trees and ground cover, listening intently, while their world filled up with birds and their stories, and mine waited to see and hear what I was missing.
The Douglas squirrel was pointed out to me – an adorable cousin to the gray squirrel with whom I’m better acquainted. Later I added him to my sketchbook.
I don’t remember what they spotted here. In the background you see the bare trees where the Cormorant rookery has denuded the trees in the past years. Bald eagles are sort of ho hum here where they are so plentiful, but oh, seen through a powerful scope they are breathtaking.
I’m not sure how I’m going to add a sketch kit to my gear, which must already grow to include rain gear and better binoculars! but I’ve been going back to the lessons of John Muir Laws and his nature journaling school. In his book on drawing birds he describes how to sit so you hold steady your binoculars with your non-dominant hand/elbow by bracing it on your bent leg, while drawing/painting with your dominant hand on the sketchbook on your lap, keeping your eye steady on the bird that’s moving and. . .haha! The fun of it is in trying. And this is nothing compared to my friend Chris Carter who has tried sketching while hang gliding and even while under water!
Life has been good here in Olympia AND I miss my friends back in Sonoma County and would love to be able to make art with my Muse Group sisters again. So I did! Spared myself a flight and just sat down to my art table at the same time they were meeting in person to play with wet-on-wet painting, something which we used to do a lot together. Then I got to see them on Facetime and pretend I was there in person. It did me a world of good.
After getting stuck in the muck while kayaking in Woodard Bay the week before, I wanted to make some muck with paint. You know, like a small child will do after it rains. I started out by dropping ink onto wetted shapes and watched the fantastic landscape shapes appear. Then I mixed in some gesso to make the muck with my fingers. Mmmmm.
I’m still trying to find my footing here in my new home. But aren’t we all? We are all walking on a swinging bridge!
When you launch yourself out in nature settings you have to be ready for anything. . .which obviously we weren’t last week when we returned to Woodard Bay with the kayak, ready to explore from the water side.
I had checked the tides and we put in at high tide on a gravel shore with a gentle incline into the water. The day was sunny and warm with a cool breeze. We paddled along to the foot of the noisy cormorant rookery. From our front row seats we enjoyed watching the bird family commotion in the tall trees above us!
(This sketch, which was done quick and messy when I got home, shows the impact of the scene.) What we were able to see was silhouettes of nests and leaves and birds, sometimes indistinguishable, and a white feathery dust over it all.
Two juvenile bald eagles glided over the water next to us and lit on fallen trees over the water. Later some seals followed us and kingfishers, great blue herons and an osprey made appearances. We were indomitable explorers in high spirits.
Until it was time to go home and the shore had become an expanse of brown muck with holes spouting water from hidden mouths.
Oh right. Low tide. Actually it was a pretty funny joke on us. Attempts to get out of the boat and walk to shore resulted in sinking in up to mid shin level in stinky (of the organic smell variety) brown muck. Using the paddles as a platform and leaning heavily on Andrew’s youthful vigor and strength, we finally made it to the parking lot with every exposed surface coated with muck, which mostly got wiped off with beach towels to avoid smearing the insides of my freshly washed car.
. . .one of those great new memories which improves with the telling!
Note to self: next time you go kayaking in the Puget Sound, check the low tide times and get out of the water before!
My favorite thing about living in Olympia is that I can be on the Puget Sound, in a dense ferny, mossy forest, on miles of trails or a lake within 15 minutes of my suburban home. Last week we “discovered” Woodard Bay Conservation Area which provides habitat for shorebirds and songbirds, harbor seals, river otters, bald eagles, a large maternity colony of bats, and one of the most significant heron rookeries in the state.
And boy could we hear the birds! The trail to the rookery is temporarily closed but it was unmistakable what was going on across the bay with all the ruckus. This week we hope to take the kayak back and explore the shorelines.
Yes, it was tempting to hop in the canoe and get out on the water, but it wasn’t going anywhere!
So we sat a while, listening to the birds and the harbor seals and sketching!
And Andrew caught this picture of me, unposed, relaxed and in my Northwest element which suits me so well. I kept feeling my father was with us and remembering my early experiences of fishing with him in the Canadian wilds. He would have so loved this place.