Early this morning, Islanders awoke to the smokey haze in the air, yesterday included. Bill and I like to sit outside on our porch to drink our first cup of coffee and discuss our plans for the day, plus enjoy the beauty of the early sun rays filtering through our tall evergreens. But this morning, the air had an eerie feeling to it; it was warm to our skin, no cool marine breezes to freshen away the stagnate air, there was a constant heavy haze in the air hiding the clear blue sky. The landscape was encased in a warm yellow glow, the rising sun did not have the normal blinding glow to it, but a light yellow bleeding into warmer shades of yellow to almost orange around its rim.
This strange appearance is caused by forest fires burning in eastern Washington and British Columbia several 100 kilometers north of Vancouver. We had experienced a very wet spring but this summer has ended up hot, dry, and almost windless. That’s not good for the healthy evergreen forest in the mountains and low lands in the Pacific Northwest encompassing Oregon, Washington, B.C. and Alaska. At this time, there are several fires burning acres of beautiful pristine forest and harming the wildlife in the area. I realize that natural forest fires are necessary to revitalize the earth but it is a sad feeling when they do occur even naturally. Each year there seems to be an increase in forest fires due to climate and careless people.
I sketched the forest scene this morning with an attempt to express the eerie glow in the air.
Yesterday drained every bit of my energy pulling several invasive long, strong, stringy ivy vines with those short, hairy, tendrils clinging to the old rhododendron plants on our property. To rid those vines, I break the vines with my garden clippers to kill further growth on the bushes, then I get a good grip on the end and give it a hefty tug. I love the ripping sound as the vine separates from the trunk delaying their aggressive growth for a few more years.
So I gave my arm and leg muscles a break today and drove to the small village of Langley three miles from home to join the Whidbey Island sketchers for an afternoon at the Farmers Market to sketch the activity. Kim’s Marimba group was providing the music for the day giving the shoppers and browsers a bounce and swing to their steps.
Several of we sketchers enjoyed the music, the crowd and spirit spreading through the street. The stalls were full of bright colorful flowers and rich healthy vegetables that made my vegetable garden look very anemic. From where I sat, it was interesting to listen and observe browser and friends warmly greet each other along the streets and stalls, friendly conversations between serious gardeners or curious browsers about the process and details of producing successful beautiful edible plants.
I sat in the shade between one of the retail shops and a street stall set up with a friendly young couple’s home grown vegetables for buyers. Their blond son, who must have been near five or six, was behind the table eating snacks from a plastic baggy. He was a picturesque quintessential farm boy; I imagined a piece of straw grass sticking out from his mouth. He wore a large straw hat, heavy sandals, long blue sweat shirt and probably his most comfortable trousers. He was an active up and down, difficult to sit still, quiet shy boy along with good behavior. His dad would turn and give him some conversation time and a hug.
I was fortunate to get a quick observation of him sitting on a crate enjoying his snacks before he moved from that position to stand upright for a few seconds and then he started to do his own dance steps with the beat of the marimba group; they were small steps but it was obvious he was happy and enjoying the music not at all conscious of himself or anyone watching him. He looked over at me several times with questioning eyes wondering what that grandma lady was doing watching him and doing something with her hands on a piece of paper. He was adorable and so unassuming. I asked him if he wanted to see a drawing of himself but he quietly turned his head toward the other direction with no word from him; his parents must have told him not to speak to strangers.
I treasure this small sketch to remind me of those long summer days as a kid and the feeling of freedom and time for lots of day dreaming and imagination.
Friday, my plan was to sketch with a group of Whidbey Island Sketchers at a designated location on the island where the sketchers would gather. I am not often able to join the group for sketching time outdoors so yesterday was going to be an enjoyable event. I drove to the scheduled spot, waited 45 minutes for others to arrive; by 1:15 the other sketchers had not shown up; I messed up on the time, again; I’ll meet up another day. So I decided time was valuable then drove to two historical locations in Langley to sketch.
First location where I settled down with my painting tools and sun hat was at an old cemetery on a hill above Langley. I selected one of the few benches placed throughout the grounds for visitors to sit and relax while spending meditation and reflection time of loved ones. The bench was directly in the sun and I was getting more and more uncomfortable from the heat and the sun’s glaring rays on the white paper but I was able to get in one sketch before becoming blind. Then I drove just down the road to the Anderson family farm another historical site in Langley. It’s a lovely old farm with open fields of pasture land with cattle, horses, goats and chickens; an old double story house, unique old barn and a lovely arty decorated chicken coop with tons of wire to keep chickens in and predators out. The person maintaining the grounds has planted a field of dahlias, some garlic and other veggies plus several varieties of fruit trees labeled with hand printed signs. I love the character and charm of this place. There is a small crafted lean-to shed filled with flowers and vegetables that can be purchased on the honor system.
Outside the make shift fencing is a commissioned hand crafted bronze type metal table with benches on each side of the table and an umbrella on a pole in the center. I sat at this table in the shade of the umbrella and started to sketch the flower shed and the old house with the one of its green houses in the foreground. This land mark is so special to the owners and other local residents in the area I assume the relatives had the table crafted in memory of the former owner with the printed raised words formed on the table top: “THE ANDERSON FARM – 1907 PEACE AND LOVE IS ALWAYS FOUND HERE THANK YOU FOR THE GIFT”
The ambience in the past that had been so fresh, natural with wildlife, beautiful scenery and only a few man made obstacles to obstruct a pleasant view is slowly disappearing with the influx of people’s desire to settle on this rocky, sandy, wet and wind blown island. I don’t blame folks for wanting to live here away from the horrific traffic and fast life on the mainland; my spouse and I did many years ago. I guess changes happen everywhere now days. Time doesn’t move slow anymore as it seemed to when I was young.
To capture some of the ambience that still remains before more changes occur to the land and beaches or historical buildings, I photograph or do quick sketches of the scenes to work on in my tiny studio. Some scenes I have drawn many times and can almost sketch them by memory.
The following three preliminary graphite sketches I have drawn will be painted several times until the right medium expresses my feelings and thoughts for these places that remain on Whidbey. I plan to put together a collection of these paintings into a journal. I seldom paint large scenery; but I so enjoy creating watercolor journal books of my life on this island!
Ocean Spray (holodiscus discolor) grows wild on the island, everywhere in large dome shaped bushes! This is the time of the year the blossoms are at their peak with frothy sprays of tiny creamy white blossoms in a large clump hanging at the end of long strong arched branches. The tiny blossoms attract butterflies, insects and birds like the cover under the branches for their nests plus the refuge it offers from predators.
Holodiscus discolor grows wild on the western slopes of west coast mountain ranges from Alaska to northern California and on toward the pacific ocean beaches. The west coast Native Americans used the long branches for arrows and sewing tools because of the strength in the wood.
The above sketch is a branch I picked from one of the many frothy white bushes growing wild on our property
Our neighbor’s driveway is long with tall deciduous and evergreen trees growing on each side of the narrow dirt roadway. The wild salal, salmon berry bushes, ocean spray, and nettles grow rapidly healthy during the early warm spring rains; their branches reach out over the roadway. Over the years the trees have dropped their heavy branches to the floor of the forest from the high winds and the variety of flora have crumbled and decayed creating a soft ground for the deer to bed for the night. Their hidden bed is barely visible beneath the long hanging branches on the evergreens.
During the early morning hours when the bright sun rays peek through the tall trees, I enjoy walking the length and back on this driveway just to see the color in the shadows against the soft bright highlights on the ground and in the forest. The morning birds joyous songs echo deep through the forest to my ears ignoring my trespassing through their habitat.
Last week when the rare warm sun was shining on our island surrounded by moving sparkling blue waters, clear blue sky, and distant blue mountains, I took advantage of the day to walk the trail along the very high bluff at Ebey’s Landing. The entire trail has an overlook of the Straits, other islands, mountains and mainland in the distance. The view goes on and on as far as the eye can see in all directions with the constant change in color of water and mountains, cloud action, wildlife and boat activity on the water; the big ships pass through the straits on the way to inner Puget Sound ports.
The wildlife consist of several birds, large raptors to the tiny hummingbirds. On the higher elevation part of the trail, one can witness the backs of large raptors, sea gulls and smaller birds below as they gracefully scan the steep sloping bluff for critters and other interesting food types.
Many of the wild flowers were blooming when I took the walk; my camera was busy photographing the colorful subjects for later painting into my journal. During a certain time in spring the sloping bluff will be painted with colorful flowers covering the hillside that flow down to the beach.
The Nootka wild rose, yellow crown sparrow on the fence post and the unidentified butterfly taking pollen from a wildflower were captured through the lens of my camera. I used the photos to paint those special viewed moments into my journal.
Zorro, my cat, drinking the water
This year I gave up on supplying our garden pond with feeder fish for the raccoons to raid for their night time snack. For several years I’ve been hoping the newly planted fish would have a chance to grow larger but each time their length reaches about four inches, the raccoons decide they are ready for the big meal. Then after the meal, the raccoons leave a mess of tangled plants in the pond! I can picture the raccoons getting their fishing supplies, aprons, table dressings and appetites ready before waddling along the trails through the forest over to the Mathews’s pond for the family meal!
This last spring, I did not invest in feeder fish so the fish aren’t there darting and swimming around the water to gobble up all the newly born wrigglers. Not ever seeing tadpoles in the pond, it never occurred to me that all these years frogs had been laying their eggs in the water for the fish to enjoy a nutritious meal. Luckily, I noticed them while walking around our garden area after returning from a four day holiday ‘off island; otherwise this routine could have gone on for several more years. What a surprise and how wonderful; I love frogs.
Earlier this spring I heard a frog calling from outdoors for a mate in the late evening just below the window where I was reading. Little did I know that it was probably the same frog arranging a late night rendezvous with a mate that resulted in forty future frogs enjoying the dark green waters full of good stuff. If they all survive from the predators and dangers of their world, next year the pond will be overloaded with another batch of future frogs! Then the spring nights will be filled with a chorus of lovely croaks. I am convinced there will no longer be feeder fish in my garden pond.
Bill loves to lie on the ground and pull weeds. It must be two fold: Getting rid of the noxious weeds and relaxing in the sun at the same time. I sat in the shady cover of our front porch where it was cool and comfortable sketching this scene that I see every spring. (I used a grainy buff colored paper for this sketch. It needed adjustments and more contrast for clarity but then the contrast made the final scan too grainy.)
Walking through the Earth Sanctuary today in search for Wood ducks turned out to be a big fat 0! Not a one could be seen by the three of us with our binocular helpers. But, we did see lots of other waterbird activity mostly on the two ponds (Middle and Fin) which are the largest of the three ponds in the E.S.
First, just as I was going to make a turn into the entrance of the E.S, I came upon a Red Tail Hawk devouring a prey on the road. About ten feet in front of me it considered “too close for comfort” so it flew off to a higher elevation for protection still carrying the prey.
Quietly and slowly walking the trail around Fin Pond, I spotted the Gadwall pair sailing so tranquil along the surface of the water heading toward the tall grass in the 15,000 year old bog island.
Then while observing from the same spot along the shoreline and under tall trees, a female hooded Merganser landed with a splash on the surface of the calm water creating a small circle of ripples; it was easy to spot her. She immediately started making short raspy calls that would only be recognizable by a male Merganzer also looking for a mate. Three male Gadwalls then flew off from the pond headed in the opposite direction. She stayed a few minutes more calling for a male Merganzer to be attracted to her call but without any results so after five minutes she took off heading to another area of the large pond.
Then, over on Middle pound, we spotted a female Mallard with her eight baby chicks cruising the surface of the pond staying close to the shoreline where they were somewhat hidden. We decided after two hours with our eyes practically glued to our binoculars, we had had enough for the day. Just as I was making a turn to leave, I spotted an Osprey perched on an old dry log sticking at an angle out of the pond. It had a prey under its long sharp talons while pulling the meat off the prey he had found that day. It was enjoying the first bites of the fresh meat before taking off to bring to its newly hatched chick.
A great day for observing the birds and wildlife for this week at the Earth Sanctuary, a peaceful and tranquil spot for one’s soul.
Tofino a small fishing village located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia is an artist dream for sketching and painting. It’s lovely with pristine scenery that is undisturbed by other unpleasant objects; the ambience remains its wild self. It has long sandy beaches for walking; small wooded and rocky islands near shoreline to explore or sketch; the weather can be warm and dry at this time of the year; thankfully it was for us.
In the small village the views of the near outer islands located in the protected sound are absolutely amazing. My husband and I sat on a park bench enjoying the nearby waterfront activity: Float planes landing and taking off; kayakers, small boats, and barges heading toward the beautiful passages between the small dark forested islands; we could see a First Nations village on the waterfront located on one of the several islands in the distance. It was difficult to get up on my feet to leave this serene view!
I have been wanting to visit Tofino for years so my husband decided to venture onto the beautiful Vancouver, b.c. Island where roads and people are not so many but plenty of wild rugged country and beautiful scenery. We stayed in a comfortable ocean front cottage located on McKenzie Beach only a five minute drive from Tofino village. During relaxing time I did some graphite sketches of the scenes viewed from our patio. The below sketches are done on a soft light ochre toned rough paper in my sketchbook.
As the crow flies, Tofino may be less than 200 miles from where I live on Whidbey Island but to drive via car it’s 297 miles which is about 7.5 hours of driving including a two hour ferry ride from Tsassassen ferry port to Duke Point in Nanimo. The road from Aberni, b.c. gets really rough with winding curves and lots of traffic during weekends and summer; but the trip is so worth it. We loved it there!
Delicate white bells
Hanging from the thin green stem
Hidden in the shade
I am ashamed to admit I don’t know the botanical name for this tall thin graceful perineal plant that springs up early every spring next to the trillium bunch growing in the shady part of my property. In that same shady area next to the trillium is the shamrock (oxalis acetosella); all three are blooming at the same time. It is lovely.
The native wild trillium’s beauty is outstanding, blossoms with big floppy pale white almost transparent petals and large green leaves; also the shamrock with its club shaped leaves showing off its delicate white flute shaped flowers. But, this mystery plant is charming with a long thin strong stem and at the top there may be one or two small blossoms shaped like bells. It appears to hang its head down not wanting to be noticed, protecting and not wanting to share the dark yellow pollen at the end of its stamens with the bees and insects.
I don’t have to go very far to find a salal plant growing. Our non-landscaped property is covered with the densely growing plant. The native plant grows wild on 75 percent of our property. The roots of the salal meander underground through the soft dry decayed acid mulch blending with dirt spreading up to around ten feet from the plant. Eventually, one of the wriggling roots will seek the sun and a healthy pink root starts to grow a new plant. No use trying to pull it from the ground if it appears in your flower bed. Splitting a shoot from the main plant only exacerbates the multiple growth of more roots that turn into plants! I love the wild thick salal bushes. It means no weeding, mowing or special care and the plant is a beautiful addition to landscapes with large masses of plants and trees. The flowers bloom during April and May attracting all species of bees; their wings create a loud buzz as they hover from blossom to blossom. Then the red to deep purple berries appear soon after blooming to give the birds a pleasant treat.
I enjoy collecting objects that are useful to me, or objects of nature with interesting abstract shapes, color and beauty that had a connection with the environment. All of these objects I consider great finds when found along my walks, in thrift stores or book stores. My favorites though are from nature such as the thoroughly rusted soda can that had been thrown from a car landing in the shrub by the road side. It must have been there for years with all the rust on it. The side of the can had a jagged open cut where I looked through and spotted an abandoned small hornets’ nest attached to the inside wall of the can! It is beautiful and it sits on my collection shelf. No one knows what’s inside the can until I point it out to them; not too many observers are impressed with my find.
Another favorite is the salal leaf after it has gone through its cycle of life; the nutrients are shut off from reaching the leaf causing it to wither and drop from stem to ground. While on the ground the leaf decays further into a very delicate frame with only the strong veins remaining to indicate the former shape of the leaf. It endures the hardship of the weather changes for a few months and then finally disappears. If I spot a leaf in this fine delicate state, it gets picked up and brought home to add to my collection of dried decayed leaves in a fiber woven basket.
The four leaves in the above sketch show the progression of a salal leaf during its early stage to decay.
Within the last month the songbirds had returned to the island for their summer mating. It was obvious they had found their favorite mating territory by their loud cheerful cacophony of songs that raised my spirits during the warm sunny day walks. It was a blessing to my ears; their music brought back those feelings of spring that had been dormant during the long cold and gray days of winter.
This early morning when I started down the driveway through the forest, I noticed the quietness around me. It was silent! Then, I realized the songbirds weren’t singing announcing their day was going to be bright and warm; a perfect day for collecting food, playing and attracting mates. So, the two mile walk I did on my own without nature music to accompany me along the way. Further into my walk big chunky rain drops begin to fall intermittently with large snow flakes grounding all airborne animals from flying. The birds must have sensed the minor storm arriving this morning giving them a few more winks of sleep until the weather improved.
My thoughts drifted at that moment to the birds behavior during these quiet periods: Where do they locate, how do they maintain body weight if unable to search for their daily food intake and how do they keep warm?
In the painting, I used crayon resist hoping the white snow drops would show through the watercolor paint but they do not show on the print. The scanner results always shows the white paper gray; so you are looking at gray snow flakes.
The other morning the sun met me as I stepped out of the shade into the warm bright glow of the sun. The rays filtered through the tall dark trees laying long shadows across the road. The change in the weather was a welcome and it felt like a warm spring day in the middle of winter.
The first song birds have returned to the island singing their joyful songs. It was delightful to hear them after a winter of silence while they were in their winter habitats. They were perched in the trees keeping an eye on me as I strolled through my neighbor’s driveway dreaming of the colors and fragrances of spring coming in the near future; following with long warm days of summer.
Sharp shocking white angles
cutting into the icy blue sky
winds passing over the Cascades
bringing a chill to cut the warmth
of the morning sun
Another day too cold for a walk along the beach so I sat in the cabin and sketched the Cascade mountain range with its sharp white angles piercing into the icy blue sky. From where I was sketching the view was sharply clear in brilliant shades of blues with Puget Sound in the foreground and the Cascades in the distance.
The Cascades divide the more humid, wet and cooler western side of our state from the very arid desert (hot in summer and cold in winter) eastern side. The tall mountain range starts in Canada and ends in northern California changing weather patterns to not reach eastern Washington. Consequently, the west side of the range keeps the clouds and rain hanging around for some time.
I sketched this scene using my watercolor pencils plus a small wet paint brush to spread the color only in certain areas while maintaining the textural feel of a sketch rather than a painting. John Law demonstrates this style using his watercolor pencils on his website (google John Law, artist) He has several free lengthy tutorials that are excellent if you want to learn how to draw.
Gracing my kitchen window
with sweet aroma
Today’s icy cold morning walk did not give me inspiration to collect objects of nature to paint for my journal so I decided to add some haiku lines to my recent painting of the orchid living in my house. Sitting on my large kitchen window sill facing west is an orchid plant given to me from my lovely sister-in-law, Shirley. It’s in a happy spot as it soaks up the rays during bright cloudy days or sunny days along with our very cold dark nights during the winter. Its botanical name is cymbidium and grows in the Himalayas, a climate similar to the U.S. Pacific Coast. The large plant has long grass type leaves and wavy thin air roots. Best of all it has a strong exotic fragrance which I think might be unusual for an orchid.
It bloomed for the first time since being adopted into our house; a celebration indeed! The blossoms have been open for several weeks now so I thought it best to paint it before they wilt and drop off the long stem.
Thank you, Shirley, your plant lives on in memory of you.
Fading brown blossoms
Withstanding cold wet winters
Dry withering shapes
Yesterday, I collected a few leftover blossoms from the shrubs and plants along the side of the road while on my morning walk. These scraggly faded flowers have lost their colorful luster of summer and now stand dry in shades of brown and gold. They are fragile and snap off their dead stems and branches when picked. With their lustrous colors of summer gone, their beauty has not disappeared but instead blends into the subtle landscape colors of nearby native evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs.
(I may have finally written a successful 5 7 5 syllable haiku. Let me know if I need improvement. Thank you.)
It has been one of those darn frustrating days I find myself working on an art project and then discover I should have reviewed the important part of the project before beginning it. Remember the standard rule: measure twice then cut! Oh sigh.
It took me two days to paint with watercolors a few small sketches on hot press w.c. paper: An agate, shamrock, and a blue robin’s egg shell I collected while on several walks; and a heron that I observed while taking photo shots of water birds along the lagoon trail.. Since the sketches were of nature, the idea of adding some haiku for each sketch was born. So it took another day carefully arranging words in 3 lines relating to each sketch in what I thought was Haiku form.
According to ancient Japanese haiku standards there are 3 lines: First line contains 5 syllables; second 7; and third 5, with a total of 17 syllables. The painting project was completed so I enthusiastically went forward with the haiku expression using what I thought to be the haiku style, 7 5 7 with a total of 19 syllables not knowing I had reversed the numbers.
The next part of the project was taking several photo shots of the finished project using my camera and scanner then after over 30 attempts finally produced a somewhat acceptable copy to share on my W.P. post. “Thank goodness, finally it’s completed and ready.” “First better do some checking on spelling of haiku” and that’s when I discovered half my day just went down the drain!
Not letting this failure get the best of me, I decided to post the project even with the broken rule in haiku. Even still, I enjoyed the challenge of arranging words to form a meaningful expression with words relating to my sketches. I will definitely do this again using the correct form. This was my first attempt creating haiku so please advise me with your critique.
I love the colors the earth offers us during our gray, cold and damp winters on the island; even the earth offers a mixture of enjoyable fragrances to complement the winter scene. The grasses remain a washed out mixture of light greens, ochres and umbers in the open fields. Most common bushes surrounding the open fields on the island are the white winter berry and Nootka rose bushes full of rose hips and deep red wine branches at this time of the year. From a distance these bushes contrast against the dark evergreens and other shrubs creating a striking scene. In this painting, a group of tall alder trees are growing in the distance further behind the mass of rose bushes. The catkins on the higher branches of the alder are slowly forming on the branches of the alder turning a mass of mauve.
On the same day I walked my neighborhood roads, several of the Gold Crowned Kinglets were hopping along the road picking up any speck of food they could find. They are a very small brown bird with a yellow cap on their head, almost invisible on the ground. They are unafraid of humans, vehicles and animals. I can walk within a foot of them while they remain busy collecting seeds and scraps; often times, I have nearly stepped on one while it was hopping along collecting its scraps.
There is also a Red Crown Kinglet that I have never seen in our area until the same day of this walk! It was a thrill; its crown was a brilliant bright red….oh, how I wished I had my camera since I was able to follow the bird to my driveway before it flew to the near salal bushes. It was my treasure for the day.