A pod of Orcas passing through

Friday, we were sitting on the cabin porch at the beach enjoying the saltwater marine ducks, crows, eagles, and checking out the occasional pleasure boats slowly cruise their coarse while fishing. So. our eyes were naturally on the view in front of us when I saw a strange object quickly protrude out of the water and then disappear from the surface. Focusing and trying to locate the unusual object again, I spotted another view of a black triangle shape appear as it was moving in the water nearby the previous sighting. Soon several more were appearing and this time we recognized the shapes being either large dolphins or Orcas.

After watching the large fish slowly breach the surface of the water and roll back beneath, my husband decided they moved too slow to be local dolphins. They had to be Orcas. Sure enough, some of the Orca bodies would expose enough of their underside for us to see the large white areas that truly identified them. Plus, as they smoothly rolled above the surface of the water, we could hear several loud exhales coming across the water. It was thrilling. The pod was fairly large and spread throughout a large area as it moved north. Once in a while we saw some linger in areas giving the appearance they were feeding off the fall salmon running through the Puget Sound waters.

Today, Saturday, my husband witnessed the Orcas repeating Friday’s performance as they returned from their salmon feast in the seas north of the island. Hopefully, their appetites were sated for the needed energy on their long migration to the south.

Thirty years ago it was not unusual to view Orca pods passing through the same waters feeding on the salmon and breaching high off the surface of the waters as they played together. Now, as the salmon population decreases as the population of people increases in our area, we may see a pod passing through the waters going north or south once during the summer. So when we do witness their activity, it is a wonderful sight and sound.

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Salmon, Herring, or other “fry?”

Navigating my steps on the rocky and sandy shoreline at Glendale beach requires that I keep my eyes on the ground to prevent turning an ankle, tripping over a large heavy driftwood or missing interesting rocks, sea shells, small pieces of driftwood to carve, or man made debris and plastics. I usually bring a bag to collect the debris that is dangerous to the health of the marine wildlife, then take it to the recycle center.

In the cool morning of my beach walk just before the sun warmed up the sand and rocks, I kept my eyes focused on the ground for any “treasures”. I saw laying flat on the cool damp shining rocks two small fry that for some reason had washed up with the incoming tide then left to dry on the rocks as the tide lowered. They must have experienced some type of trauma to their bodies to not survive a full life span. Their bodies were fully intact with no open wounds, only an array of silver, black, pink, blues and white shimmering skin.

I searched the internet for images of small fish fry to identify these two fish, finding only the northwest salmon fry to appear somewhat similar. The salt waters of Puget Sound is a habitat for 100’s of marine fish species, so it’s anyones guess as to what these fish could be.

I placed one fish in a large clam shell with water, while at the beach to help separate the fins and loosen up the tail from the stiff body so I could sketch it more accurately. Upon returning home and sitting on my back patio, I used my artistic license to sketch and paint a watercolor scene of the small fry in their underwater habitat. Painting in the house was definitely not an option since the fish was rapidly decaying creating a putrid odor and attracting a whole hive of Yellowjackets!

The rare Piebold deer

Local residents talk about seeing the rare white or partially white deer roaming the island. After living on the island for almost twenty years, today for the first time, I was fortunate to see an all white Piebold deer grazing along the side of the road at Smuggler’s Cove. I actually stopped in the middle of the road to snap a photo of the deer not more than 20 feet away from the car! It had small white antlers so I assumed it was a male but the belly was swollen so it could have been a pregnant female being that females can grow antlers as well as the male.

Piebold deer can be confused with Albino deer and can look very similar. They both carry dormant genes and are considered an inferior breed of deer. The Piebold markings can be all white; or, white with brown spots; or, soft solid brown in the front half and solid white the rear half. This deer was totally white with a few brown carmel colored hairs, black nose, eyes and hooves so it is not a true albino. An Albino or Piebold deer is rare and for either to be born, both its parents must carry the recessive gene. So each breed is very uncommon.

See photo and watercolor pencil sketch from the photo taken today.

Two bird nests in the neighborhood

Seeing two bird nests in a period of two weeks is a real treat, especially since I usually spot one or two during an entire year. The location of the two nests were carefully selected by the builders being confident they were protected from predators. The Oregon Junco nest was tucked into the base of the white Lavender bush, well hidden from searching eyes. Each time I would browse through my vegetable garden close to the Lavender bush, loud repeated chirps were coming from the Junco perched on the garden fence. Suspecting the bird’s nest was within the close vicinity, I exited the garden to a chair to observe the bird’s behavior. Sure enough, she flew into the lavender, then a few minutes later she sped out. I walked over and separated the lavender stems to find the bird nest with the beautiful spotted medium sized eggs tucked deep into the woven nest of twigs, mosses and grasses. It was beautiful.

Then while spending a day at one of the nearby beaches on our island, I watched a Killdeer bird lower a wing while limping, turning around and appearing to be injured while crying out loudly to distract me toward herself and away from the nest. Knowing this behavior was to protect her nesting eggs, I did a thorough search around me for eggs on the open sand but none were visible. Being that the bird was experiencing extreme fear, I walked away and watched her bird-walk quickly to the nest to assure the eggs were intact and safe.

Keeping an eye on the spot where she had settled down, I slowly walked to that site and after a few minutes saw four eggs close together in an open shallow indentation on top of the sand. They were beautiful and blended with the color, shape and markings of the surrounding stones and sand. It was very difficult to differentiate the eggs from the stones and sand. I am amazed I had not accidentally stepped on them during my many walks across the sand to the shoreline.

Since they are so susceptible to danger, I inserted driftwood stakes around the nest to warn walkers.

Weathered Hemlock Tree

Yesterday I joined the Whidbey Plein Air painting group at the Freeland Park located on the southend of Holmes Harbor. There were several various skilled artists at the site already, so I selected this weathered old Hemlock tree near the water for my subject using a graphite pencil to emphasize the detail. It gets breezy at this location as the cool afternoon winds blow from the north across this narrow section of the island targeting this tree to carve out this surviving twisted form. I was able to finish my sketch before leaving to avoid getting hypothermia from sitting too long in the cool wind.

Spring Nest Builder

The kitchen window in my house offers me a wide open view of the wildlife activity in our backyard while I’m at the sink; consequently, I’m frequently peering out to see any new action each time I glance up from what I doing at the sink. Often there will be a lone deer or a whole family of deer slowly cruising the perimeter of the lawn area searching for tasty appetizers among the many plants before settling down to a serious meal on a rose bush, camellia plant, or other valuable plant.

Almost every morning rabbits visit on our grass and weed lawn intent on whatever is within their munching range.  Well, its better they be there than in our fenced vegetable garden that contains really tasty stuff they like!  One year they ruined our entire bean crop by biting into the base of each stalk.  We then found the hidden opening in our fence and mended it.

Last week, I really got behind my morning kitchen clean up when I peered out the window to watch a lone robin pulling on a long strand of  grass attached to a large clump of ornamental grass planted near the frog pond.  The robin’s back and legs were stretched out as far as they could reach to snap off that one strand.  It was added to the other long strands of grass that were trailing from its beak.  I watched this gathering for several minutes before the Robin flew away to its nest building in the nearby tree.

I am so thankful and lucky to have a large area that offers a safe nature refuge for a variety of wildlife.   Plus, while observing their behaviors, I can sketch and paint their actions for my journal.  This sketch was done with watercolor pencil.

The Old Apple Tree’s Story

 

 

On a picturesque old farm not far from where I live, grows a very weathered rugged apple tree that one could imagine holds a history of rich tales.  It’s not a form of beauty but one of great strength and character, covered with grayish scabby deeply crevassed bark with lichen clinging to it.  The long gnarly and twisting brittle branches reach out to the sunlight in every direction forming an awkward asymmetrical form.  The wide trunk still supports the heavy weight above its decayed hollowed frame and one wonders how it has energy to still produce red apples each year along with a few hanging leaves.

I peer at it for a length of time picturing the local deer reaching up for an apple; crows robbing its fruit; birds nesting on a branch; squirrels making their frantic runs up and down its trunk; children challenging a climb to its height and building tree houses; shade for those who relaxed under the branches on a hot summer day; and, the happy planting day by the past owner’s dream with anticipation of the pleasurable bite into its first apple

It has survived years of abuse from months of draught, cold wintery and windy weather, invasive bugs and negligence from human maintenance.  Slowly, its long life story will end as each important part of the dry withered tree can no longer endure the elements and lack of nutrients collapses to the ground.

 

Nature’s forces….

The winter wind blew with strong gusts and intermittent showers this early morning.  This type of cold gray wet weather will mostly discourage me from wrapping myself up in warm waterproof clothes to keep me dry while out in the elements; but, today I challenged the weather and ventured out for a quick morning jaunt.

Not long into my long vigorous steps, I spotted a very small empty bird’s nest on the wet road that must have been blown out of a group of bushes or trees by the force of the strong wind.  I bent down and picked it up to see if it was still intact and to my amazement it was and without any sign of past bird activity.  It had been loosely but strongly built with delicate roots, twigs, stringy strands of lichen and long black horse hairs; then, for some reason abandoned by the builder.   It is beautiful and I could not leave it to become damaged from vehicles moving on the road.  So it is the painting subject in today’s journal.

Pausing to observe the construction of the small nest reminded me of how vulnerable and unexpectedly our lives and comforts can be disrupted by nature’s force.  The severe weather and natural disasters this fall have caused so much sorrow and disaster to people’s lives where they have had to change their daily routines to unknown futures.   I pray they will find strength to cope and receive the support and love from family and friends this Christmas.

 

 

Raining Frogs and Worms

Scan 1

 

If it can rain ‘cats and dogs’, why can’t it rain frogs and worms?  Sounds silly, of course, since I never see dogs, cats, frogs or worms falling from the sky when it rains; but, think about it for a minute.  Why then do I see dead stretched out worms and frogs on the wet road after a heavy rainfall during my morning walk when the sun shows it face between the cloud breaks?

In my long ago younger days, my dad and I would go together for walks after a long period of rainfall.  And, I being much closer to the ground at that time, would notice several worms on the road which made me wonder, “Why are there so many worms on the road after it rains” and “How did they get there?”  So asking my dad, who liked to kid, he  would always reply, “they fall from the sky with the rain”.  Being he was my dad who knew everything, I believed him!

So the other day after a long period of rain, I went for my daily walk and was reminded again of my dear dad’s comment, ‘worms fall from the sky with the rain’ .

A Moose…at last!

I’ve been to Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons National Parks, Maine, Vermont, Western and Eastern B.C., Canada and even into the Canadian Rockies and many other habitats for Moose and never spotted a one; even in the early morning and early evening hours with my eyes searching bogs, meadows and birch forests!  No Moose!

And then, while my daughter was driving our rented car along a quiet road heading toward Jakobstad, Finland this summer, we spotted about three of them grazing in an semi open field surrounded by birch trees.   She almost drove off the road we were so excited and surprised!   We did an immediate U turn and headed back to snap a few photos.   So as she drove passed them I quickly clicked the iPhone several times.  Yay, we have a record of our spotting!  I checked the iPhone to review what I had captured…..no Moose!  What!  How could it be I clicked only the field and trees between the Moose?   Too late.  There was no time allowed for another turn around as it was starting to get dusk and we needed to reach our new lodging for a few days in Jakobstad with relatives.

So all we have is a memory and my sketch using two photos from the internet….but that’s okay, I am assuming all Moose have that unique, awkward shape with parts that just don’t seem to purposely relate to each other   Even so, I love them as they are!

Dried Leaves in August

The summer has been dry and hot continuously, and remains so going into September.  Underneath a Large Leaf Maple tree in our neighborhood,  I found on the ground a few fallen wilted dry leaves still full of rich colors in lemon yellow, umber and ocher plus a (helicopter) seed.  The leaves that remain on the tree appear fresh and green waiting for the cooler nights to change their colors.

This dry summer has caused stress to the deciduous and evergreen trees on the island due to lack of water so I am assuming these leaves are the first to leave the branches.

Queen Anne Lace and Pearly Everlasting plants

Queen Anne in her purple gown proudly sits in the center of her lacy white cluster of petite blossoms.  Her striking throne is perched high on a thin stem that sways and nods with the soft breeze as it towers over the Pearly Everlasting puffy white blossoms.  Their soft faces peer toward the blue sky attracting bees and butterflies to collect their pollen.

As summer sunny days fade toward fall, the Pearly Everlasting dries lasting forever, while Queen Anne slowly fades and folds into her cage spreading her seeds for the following year.

A view of Langley waterfront

In the village of Langley, there’s a small waterfront park with tables and benches to sit on while enjoying the activity occurring in the small harbor.  The view is relaxing and overflowed with beauty of the Saratoga Passage, mainland and Cascades in the far distance..  On the day I was there sketching the scenery and filling my camera with photos, the water was calm and there was no activity at the boat launch or within the small port and harbor.  This was good.  I had the entire beach to myself for sketching the island ambience on that calm day.

There is not a beach on Whidbey without an assortment of large gray weathered logs that used to be majestic tall trees felled by harvesters, or swept into rivers and water from land slides atop bluffs, or breaking away from log booms.  These bare logs (called deadheads)  will drift for years from one shore to another plus occasionally collide with marine activity to cause damage to small and large boats. These logs are swept up on the shoreline during the extremely high tides during winter storms.  Most of the higher logs will stay lodged on the beach for several years until they eventually decay from bugs, weather, encroaching beach grass and people chipping away at them for beach fire fuel.  The following winter’s high tides will again reach the lower logs sweeping them into the current to bring them off to other far away beaches throughout Puget Sound and possibly north into Canada.

Watercolor sketching in Dunn Gardens in Seattle

I finally met up with my cousin for a day of sketching in the Dunn Gardens designed by the famous landscape architect, Olmstead.  The garden is like walking through an imaginary wonderland with woodland trails loaded with old growth Douglas firs; old rhododendron bushes some 20 feet tall; trees blooming with a variety of exotic flowers new to me; unusual colorful miniature irises, columbines, and other small blooming flowers .  There are several ponds and open meadows with a small plant bearing tiny blue flowers covering the floor.   The wonderland goes on and on and we walked through only a small portion since we selected a perfect spot in the Grand Lawn to sketch a large patch of miniature irises under a grand Douglas fir.   Looking west toward Puget sound through all the trees and tall shrubs we could see the Olympics in the far distance.  There are no words to describe what our eyes witnessed through the landscape on that sunny day this week.

Both my cousin and I lived a stone’s throw away from this reclusive garden in the city and had never heard about it in the past. Of course, as kids, I probably never paid too much attention to adult conversation.   Now, I need to go back to sketch more and reminisce my old child neighborhood.

 

The lifting fog on Whidbey Island

An early morning walk in the fog along the beach on the island is beautiful and mysterious as the sun rays warm the earth lifting the moisture from the water’s surface.   Visibility is constantly changing by the unpredictable movements of the fog creating unidentifiable images in the distance.  One moment it can be thick and then suddenly change to a thin layer with brilliant sun rays beaming on the surface of the water.

The morning summer day I walked this particular beach, the low fog covered the water and beach with an eerie silence and stillness.  It was difficult to distinguish the line of the distance water’s edge where it met the fading sky.  The brilliant white sun just hung in the fog above the marked image of land still visible not far away.  Then, suddenly the sun won out and lifted the fog turning the earth into a warm glow.  I love it; one of the scenes I’ll always remember.

Sketch was done with water soluble graphite pencil and a water wash.

A Whidbey Wild, Windy, Wet, Winter

 

My two paintings represent no relationship to  a wintery scene on Whidbey Island; but, in a way they do, since this is what I enjoy doing when the weather gets really wet, windy and cold in winter:  Painting the plants from nature that I had collected during the long autumn months after the plants start to dry and turn rich with color.

Now, the weather indicates spring is heading our way, noting the native plants, shrubs and trees are sprouting; new colors are appearing and the grasses are rich in shades of green; the newly arrived birds are exercising their vocal cords through several octaves in their songs, and the newly arrived frog in my small pond can be heard at night.  I am hoping it finds a mate.  Finally, the daylight hours are getting longer along with warmer temperatures.  I will soon be outdoors sketching more scenes on Whidbey.

Zingin’ and Trinkin’ at Useless Bay Coffee Co

Java is brewing

Old melodies sung with friends

with spirit and joy

Friday morning Bill and I joined the group of friends at the local coffee house in Langley.  Dave, the accordion musician was there, as usual, playing his repertoire of favorite songs while the large group of friends sang along giving the entire coffee house a break from normal loud chatter.  The walls were vibrating from the happy “zingers.”

I don’t harmonize so well, so while others were singing I sketched the scenario.  Dave, the musician is in watercolor and at the table on the left is Bill, me and our friend.  Her husband is joining in song at the table on the right with six other Friday morning java “thrinkin” friends.

For years and years I have enjoyed  expressing my thoughts, observations and experiences visually by using artists’ paints and drawing tools onto paper, canvas and journals.   Some  months ago an artist friend of mine encouraged me to join her memoir writing group…so I did.  After writing and sharing with friends a few short stories, I felt comfortable and excited that I was able to construct and arrange words to create a few paragraphs about my past experiences.  I was hooked.  Each month we select a topic and the topic for February was talking with an unanimated object.  It was a fun learning experience to discover the thoughts that could flow out of my imagination!  I  felt really pleased with the result of my story so I am sharing it with you.  Maybe some of you late night readers will wonder what stories are shared throughout the shelves during the dark quiet night.

*  *  *  *  *

Ouch! Be careful, my cover will tear! Move over! I’m getting squashed. How does she expect to squeeze you into that narrow space! Where did you come from anyhow? Where in the world have you been!…..your odor is stifling strong! You smell like a dark, damp, dusty old closet and I have to be this close to you?

Okay, okay…..I’ll pull myself together a bit tighter to get a place, but that’s it. My cover is hard, you know; not soft with dog ears as you have. it’s not my fault, she keeps pushing me further into the shelf and it’s becoming more and more uncomfortable. There’s little air in here, you know, to circulate around us. I’m new here you know, so what are the norms? Are we destined to be unnoticed, packed into these shelves to become brittle and aromatic ancient tales?

Thanks, that helps? What’s your story that you can share with us all?

I originally lived in a large warm space with lots of room that allowed me to stretch out and display my attractive cover in horizontal or vertical positions. The former owner treated me with loving hands, slowly reading and turning my pages with visual images plus descriptive, detailed and wonderful use of words, while all the time smiling. Then, that interaction between us suddenly stopped. The owner no longer approached the bookshelf. So, I just quietly sat on the shelf becoming dusty and grimy plus picking up unwanted odors. It was a long wait before hands again started to reach toward the book shelves. But, suddenly someone started pulling all of us story tellers with knowledgable and colorful information off the shelves and placed into boxes. Next, we were being removed from the boxes and pushed into another shelf in an unfamiliar room full of other objects and people. Then I saw an arm reach toward my direction, pick me up, open the cover and began carefully turning my pages, smiled then put me into a bag. And, now, here I am.

Let me tell you, so you’ll know what to expect from your new owner while living among us. It’s a good resting spot and she gently removes us to enjoy our stories, while we get to stretch out and be refreshed. Sometimes, I watch her expression as she selects one of us to read. First, her eyes scan horizontally across each of her precious books, making a decision as to which book might interest her. My words shout out several times to attract her, but at times, I go unnoticed. She looks at me! I think she’s going to pull me out, but her hand selects another book, very near, full of rich colorful and expressive paintings by an artist who impresses her.

I know she loves each of us on these shelves just by watching her as she settles a book on her lap then opens it to begin slowly moving her eyes across each of the pages, stopping frequently to observe the lovely paintings and words. She’ll sit for hours in that comfy chair next to us and the window so she can easily reach us. Sometimes while reading, she’ll fall asleep in her chair. Don’t try to shout out to awaken her; she’ll not hear you. She’s unpredictable in her behavior. Sometimes during the dark morning hours, I’ll hear faint shuffling noises as her bare feet head toward the kitchen. She’ll attempt to warm a cup of milk in the microwave without turning on the light so she doesn’t wake up the man of the house. Finally, she grabs her hot milk with honey in it, and with careful stepping in the dark, heads for that favorite chair to get settled before turning on the overhead lamp. Then, she’ll spend about one and half hours enjoying one of her books before placing it back in between us and turning out the light.

The cool night is dark, and, again, the beginnings of silent whisperings of expressive words can be heard throughout the shelves.

 

 

Ebey’s Landing my favorite hiking trail

For over thirty years my husband and I have hiked the Ebey’s Landing trail overlooking the Straits of Juan de fuca with views of Mountains Rainier and Baker in the far distance.  It’s a three mile round trip hike starting with a steep climb to the top of the ridge where the trail meanders through delicate wild flowers, the weathered stunted pine trees and tall grasses.  The view is spectacular, but heed, you’ll need a walking stick to prevent tripping and rolling down the steep bank as your eyes are surveying  the stretch of salt water to the ocean, Olympic mountains, peninsula and Canada in the distance.

The trail is on the edge of the high bluff so we often spot a variety of raptors with wide out stretched wings gliding below us as they slowly scan the hillside full of prey.  We watch fisher people in their moving boats with fishing lines baited to lure fish, underwater divers bobbing up and down in search of fish and Dungeness crab, people walking the beach, tour and commercial freight boats headed out to the Pacific ocean, and Canadian boats with visitors on board for a day or two in Victoria, B.C.

One day last summer, I sat on the edge of the cliff and sketched this scene, then at a later time completed it at home.  These are the old warn out steps, crafted from the beach logs, starting from the beach to the trail as it heads up to higher elevation along the bluff.  Consequently, what goes up always has to come down, so one half mile into the trail it makes a steep grade down the slippery sandy bank to the beach.  Then the return back to your vehicle is an enjoyable long walk as your eyes scan the natural marine life, rocks, shells and driftwood and scenery with the constant sound of breakers hitting the shoreline.

Now the walk is a bit more challenging for me due to the steep climb, but I enjoy it even more at a slower pace giving me an opportunity to take in the full scenery and wild flowers as they show their colors in the spring.

Remembering the first snowfall

C-r-u-n-c-h, c-r-u-n-c-h, c-r-u-n-c-h is the only sound I can hear as I put each foot down on top of the newly fresh snow that covers the ground like a blanket.  The air is biting cold and still, not even a sound from the neighborhood birds, wild life and neighbors pets.  People’s voices are not carried over the fields to my ears.  It’s like being enclosed in a small padded room. The snow seems to absorb all the usual noises in the winter whiteness.

It snowed during the night and we awakened to a beautiful picturesque white wonderland sparkling with crystal ice flecks on the surface of the snow.  I love to take walks soon after the first snow when it lays fresh and pristine over the open fields, trees and roads, even before the animals start trekking over it to leave their tracks for me to identify.  I continue to walk to the end of the road in the cold where I stop to view nature’s offering of a serene quiet scene before heading back to my house to be warmed by the gas stove and view winters setting through the windows.

I remember as a very young child the feeling and excitement I felt waking up in the morning to see fresh thick snow covering the entire ground and the branches on the tall evergreens.  My eyes were filled with the beauty of natures most wonderful play ground.  My day was planned at that very moment.  Nothing was going to stop me from getting my sled out to join my friends for several glorious hours sliding down the long slope on our neighbors front lawn.  All the young neighborhood gang would be on that slope starting right after breakfast, with time for lunch by midday, until our parents would come and get us at sunset.  As I grew a few years older and wiser, I became aware that hill on the neighbor’s lawn wasn’t so long and steep after all, so I would venture out with my older siblings as we pulled our sleds and skis to the nearby golf course.  It was an eighteen hole course filled with rolling hills, valleys and a large pond that froze over one winter with thick ice.  My siblings, friends and I would  spend hours sliding down the long runs on our sleds and skis speeding fast over the refrozen bumpy ice chunks stuck to the pond surface causing our sleds to slow down while we laughed and shouted to each other the distance we had slid across the pond.

My snow pants, coat, hat and mittens were 100 percent wool since high tech clothing was not in existence during the mid forties, so by mid day, after crashing into snow covered bushes, trees and rolling in the snow, each piece of clothing was covered with white snow balls that clung like velcro.  Trying to wipe anything away from my eyes and face was useless since the mittens were already covered with snow plus the hat and hair.  Being one big snow bunny, I tried to hold out from going into the house which created another source of discomfort but nature’s calling eventually is impossible to ignore.  A few minutes in the warm house would start a flow of cold wet streams sliding down my face, neck and water absorbing through the wool clothing.  Puddles started to  appear on the floor leaving a trail for my mom to wipe up.  The solution would be to quickly change into another set of warm clothing and adventure out into the snow playground.

I have always enjoyed the sight and magic of the first snow fall, especially during the night as I watch each flake drift softly and silently down disappearing into the dark.  It always brings back memories of the unexplainable joy and fun I experienced as a youngster in the snow.