Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Some Pen and Ink Work

  Living a long way from town means for me the recommended restrictions of 'socially isolating' are not that much different than daily life. Yes, I change and eliminate social interactions, but I have a life time of spending long days in the woods or at home, where it is quiet and no one else is around. Two days in a city is enough to overload me to this day. Yet not having the choice creates a different state of mind. I think ahead to how it will feel when it is again possible to zip around and be too busy, and how good it will feel to have finished some paintings and drawings and small projects that are languishing for lack of attention.

   The first drawing is a detail of a larger work of six rare cats that live in different parts of the world. It was a commission for a conservation organization in Canada that worked to save habitat for these cats. They are all small in size and almost unknown, even by the local peoples.

Rare Cats of the World-detail  Pen and Ink on Paper

  On Tabletop Mountain is a scene in Montana. My friend Kay rode with me for two weeks while I traveled through Montana some years ago; here she and Bux are descending from the plateau onto the canyon trail.

On Tabletop Mountain  Pen and Ink on Paper
    Unlike painting, which for me takes a great deal of thought and work, pen and ink or pencil drawings are relaxing, meditative and fun. So I've been spending the 'extra' time using up the pens and ink that exist only to be used. What was I waiting for?

Occasionally I do artwork for the Kickapoo Valley Reserve and now have some drawings in progress for an upcoming publication. Those drawings have grown into a small series of bird and plant ink drawings. Not sure how many will appear, but so far there are nine of them.

Asarum canadense -ginger

   Asarum is one of my favorite plants. Hidden and unusual flowers, lovely leaves, lives in moist and shady places.

Podophyllum peltatum - May apple
       This little May Apple is about to unfold and lift off, or so it seems. Have you eaten ripe May Apple fruit? They are as delicious as they are rare. It has been quite a while since I've found one, as the large number of turkeys can always get there before I do.

Old Oak From Upstairs Window
   At the top of the stairs the window frames this big old oak that is now slowly falling apart, limb by limb. It is still home to countless birds, squirrels, insects. It scatters thousands of acorns for any who are hungry and  holds a world in its limbs. From moss and lichen and insects to owls, hawks, climbing coons, possums, and what is left of the bats, tucked under rough bark, it is home.

  Another good day to get on the other side of the walls and see what is budding, sprouting and singing. I hope you too find yourself outside.

   More drawings soon; please visit again. Sharing this site is much appreciated!

Monday, March 23, 2020

More Pen and Ink Drawings

   Here are a few more of the current series of pen and ink drawings. The first one is of a Cerulean Warbler, a treetop dweller in deep forests that most of us never see, but he can be heard high overhead in the spring as we walk under the canopy.

Cerulean Warbler
   I remember discovering Showy Orchis in the woods near Avoca when I lived in that area. Realizing that orchids live not only in the tropics but the midwest too was a big surprise. I used to hunt the woods for Lady Slippers and all the other orchid family plants that lived there, just to see them bloom.

Orchis spectabilis - Showy Orchis
Arisaema triphyllum- Jack in the Pulpit
         A creek runs at the base of Coon Rock hill, between Arena and Spring Green. The area is marshy and forested, or used to be years ago. Mosquitos were enormous there, rattlesnakes could be found in the rocky ledges near the cave at the prow of the ridge and one day I caught a five foot long bull snake there. I was riding on the narrow farm road and she was on her way across the road. I jumped off Fira, and holding the reins in one hand grabbed Snake's tail parts in my left hand, and held on. I really didn't have a plan past that moment, but Snake did. She wrapped the front of her body around a convenient fence post and stared back at me. Fira pulled back on my right, Snake pulled back on my left. We all stared at each other for some time as I assessed the merits of the two choices offered, and finally I had to choose; walk home after Fira runs off or let Snake go. Large bull snakes such as her were common then but now are rare or maybe gone completely.
   Small family farms filled the sandy flat valley, but the steep slopes and marshy base of Coon Rock seemed a wild land at the time. My mother and I headed for the cave one hot day and ended up wading in deep water through the marshy woods at the north side of the hill. As we got on higher ground we noticed the Jack in the Pulpits; they were everywhere and they were huge. They were so large we measured them; some were three feet tall. The flowers were big goblets, some with water in them. I wonder if any place in the midwest now can grow a Jack in the pulpit that large.
   The past few years our smaller Jack in the pulpit residents have a hard time keeping their flowers. Just as the morels pop up,  Jack in the pulpits start to bloom and that's when turkeys roam the woods for a spring feast. By the time we get up and get out in the woods, the turkeys have nipped every morel off at the base and also eaten all the Jack in the pulpit flowers. That must be a tasty combination for turkeys.

Thanks for visiting, and thanks for sharing this blog!

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

A Tree Sketchbook

Old Maple Tree 
   Trees have been my life-long companions, everywhere that I have lived. I found some inexpensive sketchbooks that had paper with a good feel to it and I filled one of them with sketches of trees from different places around the country that I particularly like. All sketches are done in pen and ink.

   Some trees were met only in passing, such as the these trees on a beach near St. Augustine Florida.

   A few years ago I was on the north rim of the Grand Canyon while there were active forest fires burning in the area. Forest that had burned a few years ago had green new growth under the tall spikes of burned tree trunks. The bare and polished gray trees made a dramatic pattern against blue sky.

Here is an oak tree in Marin County, California, living on a grassy hilltop.

A row of eucalyptus trees in Marin County, California. Rows of live oaks, eucalyptus, cypress trees or allees of espaliered trees seem to invite a walk to whatever is beyond the path they shelter.

There are many beautiful trees in Victoria, British Columbia, including beech and sequoia, some quite large. This beech lives near the downtown area.

   In Wisconsin we are surrounded by many species of beautiful trees. Here are walnut trees growing on County P east of Valley.

   An elm tree garlanded with red ivy stood on the ridge on County V for many years.

   Splendid, big old locust trees filled the air with fragrance from their white flowers every spring at a friend's farm south of Hillsboro.

   The thorns on these trees were one of my favorite toys as a child. I would make chains of thorns stuck one to another. During recess at school we sat in the grass under the trees making crowns and necklaces of the locust thorns and twigs.

   Here is an old oak near my home.

      And finally, the forest of trees near Warner Creek on a winter day.

    That's my little tree sketchbook. I hope you've enjoyed meeting some of my tree friends! I'd love to  hear of special trees you know.

   Sharing this blog is appreciated. Thanks for visiting.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Life as a Prickly Pear Cactus

    If you were a cactus, and wanted to live in many places, you'd be an Opuntia. Home is almost everywhere in the Western Hemisphere, but prickly pear have been introduced by humans into every area of the world. They quickly became invasive pests in many places, taking over millions of acres of land in Australia alone. Now they are truly world citizens, comfortably living and reproducing easily everywhere they can get a root-hold.

   As a child wandering the sandy Wisconsin River valley, I found prickly pear once in a while. They seemed mysterious and almost magical; the idea of cactus living in Wisconsin seemed impossible to me at the time. They even bloomed. But it was hard to imagine them living under the cold snow in our long winters. Many years later I learned they have grown in those sandy areas for a very long time and had prior experience high in the Andes and at the far end of Argentina; they are very cold hardy and were right at home.

  Visiting the Sonoran desert this winter, it was quickly apparent that opuntia are even more at home here, and there are a great many species. They suddenly became more interesting. You probably think of 'prickly pear' as the cactus with flat green pads that seem pegged together, one stacked on the other. That's what all the pictures show, and they are iconic images for desert scenes, along with the saguaros. But that commonly seen cactus is only one of almost countless prickly pear family members.

   In Sonoran desert towns, cactus are garden plants. Walking about in city neighborhoods is a great way to see many different cactus. Some are very old, their large nopales (pads) towering overhead. Many are cultivated for different uses. They interbreed easily so identifying them can be difficult.
(This reminds me of trying to identify lichens. If you follow my lichen blog, you'll know about trying to identify lichens...not for the faint of heart!)

Opuntia aciculata-cowboy whiskers prickly pear
    The more I look for prickly pear cactus, the more I find. Sometimes it seems that they have taken over the whole land, as far as one can see. I started sketching them to better remember who they are;  a challenge somewhat like trying to remember all the relatives at a family reunion who haven't been seen in decades.
   Remembering one or two characteristics of each does help sort them out.

Prickly Pears
   Almost all prickly pear are edible. All are used by every living being around them, from ants and iguanas to humans and deer, birds, and rodents. Even elephants in Africa eat them. There is a spider named for her close relationship to a prickly pear cactus ( Theridion).

   Prickly pear flowers come in many colors, and like most cactus, are spectacular and well worth the long wait for a good season of blooms.

Prickly pears-some fruit and blossoms

   In North and South America, where people have lived with prickly pear for thousands of years, the fruit is harvested but the pads or nopales are also used for food. Added to almost every type of recipe, they are a staple in many traditional diets.
Some prickly pear plants have large, tuberous roots that can be dug up, dried or roasted and eaten.

    Finally, the prickly pear is cultivated as a host for the cochineal insect that is grown for the carminic acid they produce. This acid makes the red dye used in food coloring. Large farms of closely packed prickly pear nopales are seeded with the insects, which feed on the cactus.

   Prickly pear have been in the Americas for thousands of years, growing different types of spines and shapes of pads, slowly learning how to live as far north as British Columbia and as far south as souther Argentina and Chile.

  Cactus physiology has modified what being a plant means. Their skins do the photosynthesis because they do not have leaves. Or maybe they stopped having leaves because they figured out how to use their skin and save all the work of making and caring for leaves in the hot dry climate. Leaves were modified into spines, and they have many functions since freed from the work of photosynthesis.

   Cactus spines are not thorns, and are all sharper than you can imagine. Some are brittle or even a bit soft, but they are very, very, very sharp. My habit of leaning against things when standing has been quickly modified by a few walks in the cactus forests. I'm not sure 'forest' is the correct term for cactus-land, but to me the Sonoran desert, with tall, columnar cactus towering over shrubs and smaller cactus is a forest without a canopy. What do you think it looks like?

   Opuntia are one of the plants that have developed a long, mutually beneficial relationship with humans as well as making themselves comfortable in almost every environment on their own. Even in the midwest, keep a look out for these inconspicuous but complex cactus. They might be your neighbors, no matter where you live.

Thanks for visiting! Please 'like' and 'share' if you know someone that might be interested.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Sonoran Sketches

Sketch of Ocotillo plant

   The ocotillo is one of my favorite plants, since I first met them while living in California many years ago. After all the time I've spent in the deserts, it is only in the last few days that I've learned they are not cactus. I sure feel dumb! But an easy mistake to make; they grow where cactus grow, they have thorns. I confused thorns with spines; they are not the same thing.
Ocotillo is interesting to draw; many textures, and sometimes small green leaves for contrast and of course the beautiful long curved thorns. Very red flowers crown her stems in the spring.
   Ocotillos bloom in the spring, often even if there is no rain. They provide a dependable food source for migrating hummingbirds with their regular blooms. As with many desert plants, there are numerous ways that humans and other animals use ocotillos.
    A spray of their branches rising up to twenty feet from the rocky ground, topped with trumpets of crimson is a beautiful sight.
    Making sketches here in the desert seems challenging if one is unfamiliar with the terrain. Everything has a spine, thorn or sharp tooth. But it is really not much different to wander here than at home in the Driftless hills. There, checking for ticks before and after sitting in the forest is similar to taking a look around for cactus spines or residents better left alone, such as scorpions and rattlers. 
   So after finding a nice flat rock and a good view, sketching here is rewarding. Every plant has a unique and different shape. Trees, cactus, vines, shrubs, lichen, moss all grow here. There are over 2,000 plants in the Sonoran desert so there is no shortage of subjects to draw. This desert is one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Yet zooming by in a car, we see almost nothing but a few tall cactus and a monotone flat land.
   Artists in this area often use very bright colors. Some of that is because of the Spanish and Mexican influence. Brightly colored buildings, blankets and pottery are part of this region's history.  The people who have lived here for thousands of years also developed dramatic and colorful art. But beyond that, the land itself holds an amazing amount of color. Cactus display every color from green to purple, to red, yellow, black, white, browns and some turn purple with cold temperatures.

   Saguaro cross section, above, has a core ring of woody ribs that support the water filled, fibrous body. An old saguaro can weigh thousands of pounds and is a world of food and shelter for many other desert residents.

   The Golden Torch cactus is from South America. Grown in botanical gardens here, it's quite arresting to see when backlit by the sun. Did you know cactus are Western Hemisphere plants? They live from southern South America to northern Canada. There may be one or two species in Africa, but this is home for them. We have cactus in Wisconsin; prickly pear grow in the sandy areas along the Wisconsin River valley.

   The desert, like the prairies, once visited can be hard to forget. They are hidden worlds, full of diverse and unique life, colors that change constantly and a beauty that we have mostly forgotten is how the world should be.
                                                                                  desert beauty


Some Pen and Ink Work

  Living a long way from town means for me the recommended restrictions of 'socially isolating' are not that much different than dai...