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.
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.
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.
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.
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’ .
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was reminded this week how the true meaning of Christmas has impacted our lives throughout many generations by two events expressing generosity and love shared between two people who may not be close friends. What I witnessed is seldom noticed by me any other time of the year but, during Christmas and the Holiday season, I am aware of people unconsciously and spontaneously expressing kindness with only a small gesture to share something of value with another person whether it is a hug or a valued object; the simple act verifies the joy of Christmas spirit within each of us.
Today while talking with our checker at the market, I noticed the eye catching bracelet around her wrist that was loaded with jingle jangle holiday charms and symbols. I commented on how appropriate and attractive it was. She told me she was also attracted to the same bracelet on one of her customer’s wrist while waiting for her groceries to be checked. The checker complimented on it. Then suddenly the customer removed the piece of costume jewelry and handed it to the clerk to keep! Wow! How generous to give away an item to never see or wear it again! This person has the spirit of giving and sharing her generosity and love to others without something in return. Could I do that?
This last Sunday while talking with a friend in church, I noticed she had a small gold object in a precarious position on her shoulder which caught my eye. I asked her what was on her shoulder? She reached up to the piece of gold jewelry, removed it, then handed it to me saying “it’s an angel and it’s yours to wear.” I do have it and wore it on my shoulder to remind me that my precious angel in heaven, with God, is on my shoulder everyday guiding me how to give love and hope to those I meet.
Each of you, Christian or a follower of other religions, may have consciously or unconsciously experienced unique events of your own during the Holiday Season that has left an impact on your lives. Take time to reflect on them.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays to all of you.
Lately the marine air has been too cold and damp with days of heavy rain which makes it difficult to get up the courage for a morning walk; the dry, warm and cozy feeling house encourages me to stay in to attack some projects that have been beaconing me daily. So, this morning, I did venture out for a two mile walk with warm wraps to keep me warm. It was cold, damp and dark along my usual walking trail with the same old sights but this time no birds singing, the colors more muted with less contrast in the fields and deciduous trees against the strong darkness of the tall evergreens.
At the end of the road, the old farm house tucked into the distant landscape had a long tail of stark white smoke drifting from its chimney and hanging low in the atmosphere as it leaned toward the south. Possibly it’s a north wind this morning, an indication that a few clear days might bring some sun. I can imagine the dweller inside the house keeping warm from the flame in the wood burning stove, reading, baking, or enjoying the warmth during their routine morning activities. Only one more month till solstice when the long dark days of winter will gradually disappear bringing the awaited lengthier daylight and warmth to the earth.
A short post script: Thanksgiving is the holiday to reflect and give gratitude for the small daily blessings we possess, I feel it important to express my appreciation for all the viewers and followers who might happen to spend time browsing through my short essays and sketches about nature seen on Whidbey Island. I would like to give thanks to a few of my continued following talented blog friends with whom I have over years enjoyed sharing supportive comments: Paula Kuitenbrouwer, MINDFUL DRAWING; Jeff Zablow, WINGED BEAUTY BUTTERFLIES; and Jet Eliot, TRAVEL AND WILDLIFE ADVENTURES. Take some time and fun to enjoy learning about their adventures in nature as you browse through their blogs.
Early this September my husband and I camped in our trailer at Fort Worden State Park campground located in Pt. Townsend. Ending the last few days of our camping adventure at Fort Worden is always relaxing and full of adventures, with long walks along the sandy beaches covered with interesting shells, rocks, pearly beach glass and marine life; plus the views along the way of Whidbey Island, B.C. Canada, Cascade Mtns, beautiful sunrises and sunsets; and, a visit to the very nearby historic town of Pt Townsend.
My camera gets very busy as I carry it with me where ever my feet will take me, while on walks through the large state park. Very near our trailer in the campground which is located on the waterfront, we can see the lighthouse situated at Point Wilson where there is also a standing war II bunker for protection from the Japanese submarines; there are several additional bunkers on a higher level of the park with a view of the Straits of Juan de Fuca to the ocean. As I remember, that bunker was built for protection against the Spaniards years past. It is very old but still strongly intact.
During our time in the park, I painted and sketched several watercolor scenes from the collection of photos I took plus one photo I obtained from the internet. I created my own watercolor memoir journal from these scenes which I finally completed this week and happily share with you. The watercolor scenes are arranged in the Japanese fold to enable them to stand alone for an open display.
Every autumn I anticipate the sound of falling cones hitting the ground, fir boughs, roofs and road, plus the chitter chatter of the squirrels as they run up and down the tall fir tree trunks. It’s a happy time for them as they gather the seeds out of the fir pods to store them in secret hiding places where they are bound to forget their cache placement several months later. For the seeds they forget to retrieve, it’s our benefit when a new fir tree sprouts from the earth. I love to hear the songs of the chattering but this year in our neighborhood, it has been unusually quiet. Their sounds are not heard; there are no bright green fir cones dropping from the trees; the road and lawn are barren of cones. I don’t hear the squirrels or see them during my early morning walks! What has happened?
I gaze up to the top of the fir trees and I am able to see a few brown cones dangling from the fir branches; they are not green. Are these cones left from last years crop the squirrels did not remove? I ask my friends and neighbors if they have noticed fewer cones on the ground and less squirrels running through their property. Some friends who live on another part of island say they have cones on the ground but not as many squirrels. They blame the unusual weather this last summer.
I don’t know the answer. Some of the trees in our neighborhood are starting to die from root rot. Maybe this is a year the cones did not pollinate, and the constant heat and long arid summer could have interfered with pollination? Whatever the answer (I’ll research further in the future), I sure miss our Douglas and little brown squirrels running swiftly, chasing and chattering at each other through our property.