This summer I discovered an interesting productive self sustaining organic farm within my neighborhood. It is owned and operated by an university professor and his wife. They have a crew of several young folks working in their fields during the summer to help maintain and keep up with the clientele demand for their healthy produce. The vegetables grown from the purposefully prepared soil are very large: One single plant pulled from the ground will be an armful, colorful, thick leaved, tasty and able to keep its stability for a week in the refrigerator. Every Sunday, each client receives an email from the farm listing all varieties of vegetables available for their purchase. Wednesday is the pick up day at the farm for those who ordered via email.
My husband and I have decided it’s senseless to exercise the hardworking effort to prepare and plant our own garden next year, since in past years the sandy soil on our property had always produced poor quality vegetables; the rain just drains all the nutrients through the sand. I will keep our large herb garden that produces inviting flowers for the local winged critters, butterflies, yellow jackets, honey and wild bees to enjoy from the herb food supply. Also, the herbs do not interest the deer and rabbit appetites while cruising the backyard; so the blossoms on the plants will give color to the landscape.
The atmosphere, and activity at the garden is one of my many favorite places to sit, relax and enjoy sketching any day during the summer. The country ambience brings back memories of my youth when my family would drive to small suburban self supporting farms beyond Seattle metropolitan to purchase all sorts of food items. I did set up my portable chair and a few sketching tools and started to sketch some interesting scenes I liked and wanted to remember in the future. Later at home, I painted the scenes, from the sketchbook, in my tiny studio using oil pastels on board. I spread the oil paint using gamsol. Oil pastels are an interesting medium for painting compared to tube paints and takes a while to learn how to use to get the desired effect. The oil in the paint never thoroughly dries so I’m not sure if the finished product can be vanished. I am sharing the results of my summer at the farm
It is too blazing hot outside for my Scandinavian dysfunctional body thermostat to be comfortable outdoors in the sun; but I wanted to sketch the old stubborn cedar stump left over from a time when the large trees had been harvested from our property. Being determine to do some sketching, I packed up my plein air chair and art tools then strolled to the shade where the trunk was tucked in between the new growth cedar grove. The shade was comfortably cool so I was able to remain in one spot to work on the sketch.
The tree before it had been felled, was about three feet in diameter; its present height is about five feet. Sections of the inside core have rotted away with openings in the decaying bark where visibility of the woods on the other side can be seen. The outer side of the old stump has texture, value, with dark deep crevasses from top to bottom where the roots are still embedded into the soft ground.
The top of the tall stump has an aged red huckleberry bush with twisted branches and roots extended from its main stem as it struggles to survive; each year it produces less red berries for the birds to enjoy; the green leaves are now sparse with a few showing at the end of the long branches. We have lived on this property over twenty one years, and at move in, the bush was in a healthier condition. I love to walk pass it to admire the interesting shapes formed over the years as I head on the trail leading to the road for a neighbored walk.
Early this July two adult rabbits and one juvenile were spotted munching on the newly green weeds and grass in our unkept back lawn (better there than in the veggie garden.) They and the deer have found the most lovely plants on our property too good to pass up; but now, we have limited their tasting range with chicken wire and wire fencing. These two rabbits were brave and probably had felt safe by exposing themselves in the large open space unaware they were in plain view of an observing Barred owl in amongst the shrubs.
We discovered shortly the reason for the rabbits’s not being present for their daily juicy green leaf meal in our backyard: The Barred Owl had been spotted in our neighborhood by our near neighbors, and myself. My first spotting of the large visitor was when I was walking toward my husband to get his attention during his mowing the lawn near some rhododendron bushes. The disturbance of the loud motor and our approaching closer to where the owl was hidden under the Rhododendron bush with its prey, caused it to take flight. The owl carrying the large heavy rabbit, even with its strong large wings, was not able to get strong lift so flew about one and half feet above the ground with the rabbit’s feet dragging across the lawn.
I watched the owl quietly aim for the brush and trees on our property where it disappeared and probably made a safe landing with its prey, to enjoy and share a meal from nature with its offspring.
Another event I experienced with the Barred owl was a couple of days later as I was silently standing near the bird feeder observing their behavior and lovely markings. The feeder is near a group of large garden plants with space under the branches where birds and rabbits freely roam for seeds, weeds and grub. Suddenly, with a loud ruckus, the Barred owl flew out from beneath the large Rhododendron branches spreading its large wings as it took flight around the corner of the house toward safety.
The owl had obviously been observing and monitoring the rabbit and bird activity in that spot so quietly without being noticed flew there for an easy catch of prey, except I interrupted its plan.
These sketches were drawn from my memory, a fun exercise for my journal.
The winter was cold, wet and windy and a few of the Anna Hummingbirds attempted to stay in location rather than fly the long journey south, so we kept the syrupy sugar solution hanging outdoors during entire season. Now a few months into spring, it still feels like winter with the rain, cold nights and days; along with the overcast and few days of sunshine, the bright spring flowers are slow to bloom. This weather pattern is not good for the local and returning birds to successfully obtain nutrients for their high metabolism; so, we are preparing the required calories needed for their diet every two days: one to four ratio of sugar and water.
A few days ago, I was unable to supply the syrup mixture for twenty four hours and I think it was the cause for a near death to one Hummingbird. The next day several hours after replenishing the feeder, I observed a Hummingbird sitting on the circular ledge on the feeder. It was immobile except for when slowly dipped its beak into the port opening to obtain some nutrients. The bird’s feathers were fluffed out, enlarging the size and its entire body was constantly shaking. The other hungry birds were curious of the bird’s non reaction to their appearance when they approached the feeder. I walked within a foot of the bird and it still did not move, only slightly turning its head to watch me. Then, a few minutes later it took a few more sips of the sugary water, the shaking stopped and the bird swiftly flew away into the tall cedar trees.
If the Hummingbird was suffering from hypothermia due to my careless behavior, I hope that it recovered from the shock to its tiny body; and, hopefully the weather will return to its normal temperatures and warmer spring weather. Even the wild pollinating and honey bees have not been seen around my flowers or veggie garden. Just bugs!
The island rains, day cold temperatures, and gusty gale winds that blew constantly this winter have started to diminish, finally, after a brutal winter of constant inclement weather! Now, there are more sunny days with longer daylight hours and the first flowers of spring are blooming. The migratory birds have returned from Mexico and beyond to mate and raise their young off-spring. Hearing their lovely spirited songs and calls for a mate bring joy to my day.
The rabbits had been tucked into their winter quarters; so being aware of the season’s change, the adults ventured out to the lawn for a munch on the newly sprouting weeds appearing in the rough lawn. Mating season has been witnessed by me as the spring chase is all around us by the birds, squirrels and rabbits.
The bright moss in the lawn, garden beds and forest is healthy due to the temperate weather which means I will need to rake the garden to remove it for the survival of the vegetable and flower plants. Otherwise wild thimbleberries, salmonberries, huckleberries and nettles will start growing within the mossy environment. Those native shrubs do very well outside the perimeters of the lawn and garden. The birds during the latter part of summer feast on the berries before migrating south. We look forward to their return again next spring when we hear the song birds sing again and being entertained watching the rabbits running after each other.
The 2022 winter’s sub-freezing temperatures were too unbearable for a few of the brave Anna Hummingbirds that decided to weather out the winter by taking advantage of the sweet syrup in our Hummingbird feeder. The feeder hangs from the overhead cover on our front porch and it’s a great spot to keep it dry and prevent dilution of the solution from the rain. Also, the pesky ants can’t get to it and the birds can quickly escape to the nearby shrubs if threatened by predators or another hummingbird.
The pacific northwest states experienced a very frigid 2022 winter for about a week or more. The unpleasant conditions included several days of snow on the ground causing miserable conditions for local folks and many of the wild birds and other animals. We were easily able to maintain the backyard bird feeder with the black sun flower seeds for the Chickadees, Juncos, Sparrows, Nuthatches and a few other birds I am unable to identify.
But, the hummingbird feeder turned out to be a disaster for the tiny hummingbirds due to the day and night freezing temperatures. One day I noticed the feeder syrup was becoming cloudy and upon checking the reason for the change in texture, I discovered the solution had formed ice particles from the cold temperature. I brought it into the house to thaw out the ice chunks then rehung it again. But, almost four hours later the crystals had returned. At night I had to bring the feeder into the house to keep it warm and prevent the syrup from freezing solid.
We hung the feeder from its normal location after the severe weather. Now, a few of the hummingbirds are starting to return; but, fewer than prior to the winter cold spell. A few weeks back, while helping my spouse clean an area near the trees where the hummingbirds like to escape, I spotted a tiny dead Anna (possibly a male) with its iridescent green feathers shining from the glare of the sun. I brought it into the house to practice sketching and painting the bird several times. While doing so, I felt sadden by this birds sudden failure to survive this winter.
Next year, I will not hang the feeder unless I can locate one with a warming device. My neighbor wrapped their hummingbird feeder with Christmas tree lights to maintain a warm feeding solution so the birds could live through the winter cold spell.
Monday, the weather was nice, almost like spring, so Bill and I stepped outside to trim the shrubs, rake the leaves off the driveway and remove the wind fallen evergreen limbs from the lawn. The hydrangea bushes were covered with beautiful dried creamy flowers with perfectly formed crowns. Each petal still held its shape by the remaining veins but the fiber between had decayed during the winter. This gave the entire flower a delicate, lacy and transparent appearance.
I trimmed back all the stems on the hydrangea bushes, removed the blossoms then brought a few into the house to sketch and paint later in the day.
I love the ruggedness of old fruit trees, a favorite for the apple, with its bright red apples shining through the green leaves and aging rough trunks . Through the late fall months after the leaves have fallen to the ground the apples remain on the dry brittle twisting branches with lichen and moss appearing on a few branches. The contrast is striking and makes me wonder how a tree appearing to be dying with open hallow gaps in the trunk can continue to produce fruit. With the center core rotted, how can the nutrients reach the demanding branches to produce its fruit and leaves; thank goodness for its strength to survive.
I have watched deer awkwardly stretch their bodies to reach and grab a sweet juicy morsel hanging from the branches during the cold months when no other fruit is available for nutrition. Other wild animals enrich their diets with fallen apples on the ground. The old fruit trees remains and offers a gift for several living creatures on the island
This painting I completed with oil pastels on canvas. The scene is a small group of several old apple trees located on acreage in my neighborhood. I can almost create this scene my memory since I drive and walk pass it almost every day while on an outing.
I was fortunate to photograph the morning sun as its strikingly brilliant rays slowly peeked up behind the dark landscape during my early morning walk. The rising sun had not yet reached the top of the distant tree tops to cast its light onto the fields and foliage. The dark shapes against the stark light was striking and I couldn’t let the scene escape my memory, the reason for capturing it with my camera.
This morning, I picked the same scene from my collection of photos and decided it would be a challenge to paint it with my oil pastels which are much more forgiving than the watercolors, my normal use for sketches. Each time I paint with the pastels is a total experiment in learning with usage, spreading, mixing colors and values.
This oil painting of our garden shed, I did from a photo taken during last summer’s long dry season. In the real life it is my favorite spot throughout all our other plants and native landscape: It is in a location away from the tall evergreens where the sun lays its rays upon the soil to warm the earth for flowering plants and vegetables to produce; plus, it is in constant change during the growing season. The shed is cedar board/batten that Bill constructed many years ago for garden tools and the entrance into our fenced vegetable garden. That is the part I love most about this garden shed. I can stand inside the shed, lean on the gate to the garden for several minutes while being protected from the sun to enjoy the summer’s warmth and watch the vegetables grow. It is so relaxing and satisfying to see all the greens slowly appear from a pencil point size seed to this eclectic assortment of tasty nutritious food. Nature is amazing!
Having to be indoors during the heavy rains this week, I decided to paint a scene that would remind me of those warm, dry and bright days of summer…so I selected my favorite spot. The painting was an experiment with oil pastels on board, a medium I haven’t worked with for a several years. Total fun!
The long snow event in the northwest is finally coming to an end with the arrival of more seasonal weather that will melt the snow. Yay…I will soon be able to get outdoors for some fresh air and needed walking exercise. Although, I can’t really complain: Staying indoors has encouraged me to clean house, put away the ceramic Christmas tree, select items to bring to the thrift store drop off center for recycle and, best of all, spend more time to sketch the outdoor snow scene from comfortable chair next to my window.
There is a forest view from the living room window of mostly cedars and evergreens. Growing in front of the dark trees is a group of wild willows about fifteen to twenty feet in height. Presently, the long branches are heavy laden with snow and striking against the dark tree and wild shrubs in the background. The native birds fly quickly from the feeder toward the willows to hide away in the mass of branches. Its future of its life is nearing each year as it decays and eventually falls to the ground; but, in the meantime, it supplies a refuge for the birds and is a beautiful brilliant yellow/gold color in the fall that contrasts with the trees in background.
This small brown bird was perched on our porch early this morning with the temperatures in the teens and fresh snow covering the ground and steps. It appeared to be cold and forlorn not knowing how to cope with the sudden disruption in its daily survival activities. As I approached the window for a closer look, it became aware of my presence then flew away.
The scene was so touching, I had to sketch it while meeting with my artist friends on ZOOM today. We gather together each Tuesday to do our artwork and critique each other’s work. The sketch was drawn from memory plus I was able to snap a quick photo to use for reference.
This entire week the weather report kept promising a cold front from western B.C., Canada, heading toward the northern western states and bringing snow with it. Almost a phenomena on Christmas Day in the Pacific Northwest!! This morning, December 26th, we woke up to a beautiful blanket of white snow covering the ground as far as we could see.
Later, after morning chores completed, I sketched the backyard bird feeder as the local birds gathered near for a chance to get a black sun flower seed from the feeder. I spotted the usual Nuthatches, Chickadees and Juncos crowding around the cylinder, grab a seed then fly away to rip off the shell for the inner seed. Three days ago, we poured more feed into the mesh cylinder to ready for the storm; but it appears sometime tomorrow it will be empty again since the birds are unable to mix their diet with native seeds hidden underneath the snow.
From my upstairs window while admiring the snow, I observed one of the large fir trees that stands out from the others: It is healthy and has a somewhat symmetrical shape with branches nearly touching the ground and very picturesque with the fine snow covering the needles on its sweeping branches. Evergreen trees are very time consuming to sketch because of the fine detail, values, perspective and shape to express the tree’s own character, the reason I don’t always sketch them. Today, I spent some time completing the challenge with patience.
Wednesday was Plein Aire day for the Whidbey Island Artists group so I packed my folding chair and art tools into my car and drove north about 20 miles to Coupeville to sketch Penn Cove and the wharf that includes a board/batten wood building from past years. The morning was beautiful, sunny and warm making it easy to settle for a lovely view along the grassy bank with an incline to the shoreline.
While sketching, I noticed a gal waving her hands and saying hello to me. I didn’t recognize her as being part of the WIA group, so I called back asking “who are you?” She replied, “I’m your daughter!” Surprise! She had driven to Coupeville for a short visit before returning back to Oak Harbor. We chatted for a while then she continued with her errand. Sometimes, it can be a small world on Whidbey making life wonderful and full of surprises.
The graphite sketch was completed after my daughter left that day The composition is the long wharf extended on the north side of the small Coupeville village and it is a great walk on a sunny day. Penn Cove harbor is long and somewhat narrow creating a safe harbor for boats. In the future I plan to use this sketch for a watercolor painting.
The meeting of strong currents going in different directions during certain times of the day at the mouth to the Keystone ferry landing can either give the ferry rider a thrill of their life, or experience a short miserable sea sickness. The captain at the helm takes the challenge very seriously as he/she pilots the large boat through the swells and choppy water toward small key hole entrance to reach the dock.
The pigeon guillemots were socializing and playing with each other on the breakwater rocks. Across the water way is a state campground with an everyday perfect 180 degree view of the straits. Further across the waterway hidden in the fog is a large freighter announcing its presence with frequent blast from its fog horn as it propelled its way to the deep ports in Seattle
The guillemots are very social marine birds and they were either settled on the large rocks or playing on the water surface and keeping in constant communication with each other. I never saw them diving for sea life the entire time while sketching the three scenes. Possibly, they were well fed during their early morning fishing expedition. I am suspecting they may have nests tucked into the deep openings between the rocks, the reason for being on the breakwater. It’s a wonder they nest and hangout so close to the ferry landing, a very active center.
The morning fog was still in the air and hanging out around the group of evergreens and fields near the water. Later in the morning the fog started to lift to give warmth while we sketched.
The currents in the Straits of Juan de Fuca are swift and strong just outside the entrance into the key hole at the Keystone Landing of Coupeville. I did a sketch of the large white caps forming by the choppy water. During that time the large ferry navigated into turbulence from an angle as it slowly tried to aim for the landing.
A new life began sometime in the early morning hours on a warm sunny morning after a nights heavy rainfall. The grasses and trees were heavily dampened as well the road where I was walking. I could see the warm sun rays evaporating into the air from the road…what a lovely sight. While enjoying the scene, I spotted the robin’s freshly broken half shell before me. It was soft and moist so I carefully held it in my hand to prevent it from crumbling and headed back home to paint it in my journal. The thin shell had to have broken open recently since it still contained its brilliant blue/turquoise color; and, somewhere above where I had stood were the branches in the tall trees where the little chick was tucked into a cozy nest built by its mother.
Two days after I had sketched the egg, the brilliant color had already started to fade and the egg shell had begin to dissolve. In the past, I had picked up an undamaged bird’s egg from the ground…it either fell from a nest, or the nest had been raided by a local raptor and the egg fell out. I placed the whole egg on a shelf with other nature items in my house, not realizing that in a few months it would become a very small pile of powder.
Early spring is when we hear the mating songs coming from the many robin’s who habitat on our property. They are the loudest and first bird we hear in the morning and late into the evening so it’s not surprising to find empty half broken shells on the ground after the chicks have hatched. The local raptors are eagles, owls, ravens and hawks, and for those birds, the robins are easy prey to observe their habits for an easy nest capture. The robins are very aware of any predator near that could be potential danger to their nest. Their loud cries and quick flights toward the large bird alert all the other birds to join the chorus until the danger has flown away.
The colors in the above image have been edited on my computer to show the details of the egg. The value range in my original watercolor painting was light and very limited for a good visual image after scanning it.
Yesterday was cold with a heavy precipitation most of the day but that didn’t deter the small Anna’s Hummingbird’s determination to post himself not more than ten feet from the sweet syrupy Hummingbird feeder. He established his perfect perch on top of the flower basket hanger in front of the dining room window, where I kept a watch on his activity, from early morning until almost sundown. He was burning up a lot of his energy by the constant motion of his head turning quickly side to side for any females heading to the feeder and predators that had other plans for him.
It was thoroughly entertaining and educational to watch his behavior and activity when female Hummingbirds came close to his perch. In a resting mode, he would make a dart to the feeder to replenish the burned calories while trying to impress a beautiful female; or, he just remained perched and his colorful feathers would become more subdue. I cannot explain the scientific theory for the sudden flash of brilliant colors appearing on his feathers, even on the gray day as yesterday. The upper chest, neck and top of his head would turn an iridescent red the entire time his head was in motion. If a female approached the feeder he would immediately zip over to her, making lots of buzzing noise with his wings, but she would quickly fly away with him in pursuit; then shortly after, he would return to his perch for more patrolling.
In the afternoon, he did finally attract and impress a female when I peered through the window to see two hummingbirds dancing and making quick darts around the feeder and bushes. It would have been somewhat dangerous to be within their space as they performed several quick aerobatics.
I sketched the front and back view of the male Anna’s Hummingbird colors during yesterday’s mating scenario. Even the back feathers had changed to a warm tan.
During my walks along the beach, I noticed as late summer turns toward fall the change of sea tides every six hours frequently bring new marine debris of sorts onto the shoreline with the incoming tide. Then, as the tide slowly lowers again some of the discarded marine animal particles get left high and dry upon the sand by protruding rocks, swirling sand and water, different levels of the beach and other obstructions. Several of the objects are marine animal homes that their bodies have outgrown, then realize a need to move into new dwellings either by molting; find a safe empty home; or, continue to grow the outer shell surrounding the animal.
Each walk I notice new treasures getting my attention for interesting objects to sketch and paint plus lots of great views of the surrounding landscape; but, the small beach objects can be picked up and sketched at a later time when I can observe them better in my tiny studio. If the animal had died in its shell and left any body particle inside it will have a strong rotten odor that will not be welcomed in my house.
So this is what I gathered last fall from a nearby beach on Whidbey Island: A Dungeness female crab identified by the small pinchers plus a wider flap on the underside; it’s illegal to catch for consumption; males are legal. Normally the crabs are more of a gray/blue color when alive. After leaving its shell during molting, which is mating season from May to August, the shell dries then turns red.
The moon snail is a beauty with the soft pastel colors inside its shell and the perfect round shape it forms. These can grow very large. The animal will extend itself way beyond the edges of its shell to cover a large sand clam to devour by penetrating a hole through the clam shell so to suck out the meat. The moon snail creates a circular sand collar on the beach surface to lay its eggs that will hatch in to larva and imbed themselves into the sand to grow.
The brown kelp is like a forest and is a very important marine life for the health of animals, plants, sea and human life. It photosynthesis from the light it receives through a bulb extends to the surface of the water to capture the exposure. There are no roots on the kelp but they keep stable by attaching to rocks on the sea floor. It is illegal to pick kelp but the ribbon extending from the bulb can be harvested. Healthy kelp grow in large forest on several beaches throughout the Salish Sea in Washington state.
The animal that lived in the empty barnacle shells attached to a heavy flat rock still remain attached with the rust colored dried sea life surrounding the old shells. Live barnacles filter the sea water creating a healthy environment along the sea shores on the west coast. They attach to all objects that are stationary and stable within a salty habitat.
The varnish clam catches my eye when the shell is open and lying on the beach. It is small, has a brown stripped outer shell and a beautiful shiny warm blue/violet color on the inside. They are deceiving being high in biotoxins and possibly unsafe to consume.
The Japanese Maple tree in my yard has long delicate branches reaching into the sky from its trunk with delicate colorful leaves that change throughout the growing season. The range of colors can be greens, yellows, brilliant oranges and reds. It captures my eye every time I peer out the window to view any wildlife action outdoors and then my eyes stop for a while at the tree to take in its beauty. A nice resting place.
Even the Oregon Junco will hop onto one of the branches for a rest or get a bird’s eye view of what is happening on the ground beneath it. There are many Juncos that habitat on our property searching for small seeds, bugs and other on the ground around the tree planting area. Also, the local hummingbirds like to stop on the branches to check out the surrounding environment for predators before flying a few feet to the bird feeder.
This painting was a long project time wise, painted with acrylics on a board ten inches by forty inches. My husband cut the board per my requested dimensions to fit a space above our fireplace and it will stand on its own w/o a frame to maintain the free flowing movement.
The frogs vocal croaks have been loud and plentiful this fall resonating through the tall evergreens around the neighborhood. We listen to their single messages that are hundreds of feet distance from each other. Could these lovely vocal green amphibians be tree frogs? In the spring, we can hear the chorus of frogs that habitat a pond on a neighbor’s property; but, near our house, we hear all the croaking coming from a single critter possibly attracting or notifying the other nearby frogs of their location.
Being so many frogs exposing themselves during this wet season, I wasn’t surprised to spot that one had it’s life cut short as it attempted to hop across the road. It was drizzly and wet during my morning walk, a perfect setting for other amphibians to venture out that day. A few steps further a Salamander about five inches in length was on its way to cross the hard pavement. I found a stick to turn it onto its dorsal side to photograph its belly for a later journal sketch, and then I flung it into the brush to prevent another critter’s end of life.
Several new mushrooms beneath the tall evergreens are forcing through the hard soil to reach the sunlight appearing in all sorts of strange shapes with pale colors. Most are of one variety and consistent formation and then a few will have unidentifiable formations and look really out of this world. I am not a wild mushroom connoisseur but sort wish I had the knowledge of safely identifying all those fungus growing. They do look very appetizing with their pale pink and brown color.
Sometimes I have to encourage myself to get outdoors to walk in the rain, but when a new discovery are finds of nature’s gifts, the first step through the door was worth the effort.