Where The Wild Things Are- Nature Calligraphy

I have spent a lot of time this summer learning calligraphy. Not the typical alphabetical type. Nature calligraphy. The subtle patterns in the light and shadows that, to the human eye, are seen as leaf and branch, flower and land. When trying to paint nature scenes there are as many ways to do it as there are artists. Some times just the flow a paint across the paper, a dot, a swoosh, and it is done. Everyone who sees it knows what it represents. Other times it is painstaking details, each line and spot adjusted for color and shadow. I vacillate between one extreme and another in my paintings. I want to be accurate, so a person could look at my painting and identify this plant and that one. The trees specific varieties. The fauna the correct age and species for the location. But I also want to paint loose, flowing, expressive paintings that draw you in, that make you feel. So, learning what will make an eye see foliage, without painting every leaf is practiced. How a shadow will push forward what is next to it, giving depth to a flat piece of paper. What to include, what to just hint at, what to emphasize. All those marks on paper or canvas have to start with observations in the field. It is a lifetime of study leaving in it's wake a littering of papers and canvas strewn in my path.

I have learned that my memory isn't enough. To capture and share what I have seen requires more. You cannot write a novel by looking at some type written pages, and then freely spread some of those letters, words and groups of words on a page. You need to know what each one means. How it is written. How it works next to the other letters.

So sometimes my time in the woods is spent just looking. Taking photos of details with no intention of them, on there own, becoming any great work of art. Trying to see how the shadows play across the landscape and change everything they touch.

All of this, so when you chance to see my artwork, you might, for a moment, feel like you were there. In that place. At that time. Take time to look for the calligraphy of nature. It has a lot to say...


Where The Wild Things Are- Birds!

Lets talk about birds! There are many that call Camphill home, some year round, and some as summer or winter visitors. One of the largest is the Sandhill Crane. You will hear their prehistoric call echoing around the hills in the spring. It has been present on earth over 2.5 million years. The oldest fossil known was found in Florida. At 5 feet tall, with a 7 foot wingspan, it is hard to miss them. They weigh 5-8 lbs. They are known to mate for life and to return to the same areas year after year. But the most remarkable thing is that they live up to 40 years. In the wild! So the pair that comes around the village each year may well be the same pair that has been here since the village started!

Another large bird that lives in the village, has a different type of existence. The Barred Owl lives here year round. They do not migrate anywhere, and since they also mate for life, they may spend their whole life within a 6 miles territory. And they can live up to 24 years. So the ones that are in this area are the same ones, or decendents of the original owls that lived here at the villages inception. They are about 17-20 inches long and weigh 1 to 2 pounds. While you are not so likely to see the owls, you can frequently hear them calling in the woods and swamps. Their call sounds like "Who, who cooks for you!" I was honored to see two of these owls while out hiking along the East side of the village the other day. I was able to capture a photo or two which really made my day!

The Barred Owl

The Barred Owl

Where The Wild Things Are- Summer days, Light Breezes and Flowers

As I walked this morning, I was thinking many things. How spring was so late, and went by so fast. How June went by so fast, and when did these goldenrods get so big. Wondering whether or not I would find any species that were new to me this summer. Then I was interrupted by a buzzing. It brought me back to the here and now quite quickly!

I was walking through chest high sumacs. If you have never stopped to look, you probably have never noticed their blossoms. A cone of light yellow flowers, tightly packed. In the fall and winter the berries are dark red and show up in the winter landscapes. They are in full bloom right now. And full of bees! There were other pollinators crawling and flying around them also. The whole area buzzed and while I was surrounded by bees, none gave me a second glance. Summer is a busy time, gathering food, getting the next generation off to a good start. Nature has no time to waste!

I know that I have little time to waste if I want to "catch" flowers in bloom. In the spring I found last years leaves of a plant I had not noticed out there before. The Shinleaf. I have seen it's cousins the Pyrola, deep in the bogs, but the Shinleaf is a woodland plant. I have been looking in the area where I saw them, hoping to catch them in bloom. When I was in that area on Sunday, I didn't have much time as there was an impending cloud of doom approaching. Trying to find the basal leaves, and looking for a single stem, 6-8 inches tall turned out to be an impossible task that day. The other plants in the area have turned into a waist deep thicket of heavy foliage, foot snagging vines, and mosquitos.

With thunder rumbling and a several minute hike to the van, I had to give up for the moment. It is a good thing they might bloom from the end of June through August. I still have time to look. So here is to summer days, light breezes, and flowers that are waiting for me to discover them! Get out there and discover some of your own!

Where The Wild Things Are-Leaving the Nest

It is the time of eggs and nests, young following around the grownups. Some hatched long ago this spring and now look much like an adult. Others are eggs just laid in hidden bowers. So you probably know that baby birds are generally called chicks. Unless it is a duck. Then it is a duckling! But before I wander down off that path, lets learn some vocabulary for dealing with baby birds in general.

Fresh out of the egg, most birds are naked and have their eyes shut. These are called Hatchlings, for a few days. Some birds (like ducks) do not go through that stage. After a few days they are covered in down, eyes open. These are called nestlings! They don't leave the nest at this stage and are totally dependent on the parent birds. Then the feathers grow in, the young birds start climbing out of the nest and practicing flying. These are the fledglings. These are the kind usually found by well meaning souls who think they are abandoned. In reality, the parents are still feeding them, where ever they are around the nest. They are at increased risk from predators, but that is part of the cycle of life in the bird world. Lots of eggs are laid, a good number of them hatch, some make it to adult, and a few come back and start the process over again.

As I said earlier, not all birds go through all three stages. Woodducks are fluffed out at hatching, and almost immediately go out the edge of the hole or nest, usually 10 feet or more in the air, and jump! To survive the ducklings need to get to the water as soon as possible. Ducks do not feed their ducklings in the nest. Most water fowl abandon the nest soon after hatching. The nest is an easy sight for predators. The ducklings, goslings, cygnets (goose), loonlets, are on the move, resting by riding along on the backs of the adults.

Turkeys have poults, guineafowl have keets. Cranes have colts. All of these young are built ready to run. A baby puffin is called a puffling. and hawks have eyas.

Now you know what to call those babies, not that they really care, but you will sound knowledgeable to those who listen! So go out in nature and if you find a nest, leave it be! Those nestlings have a rough life ahead of them. A quick peek is fine, but the parents are really busy feeding those not so little mouths!

Where The Wild Things Are- Stairways at Hogwarts

I am convinced that the woods are like the stairways at Hogwarts. I am sure that I saw something in one place, and when I go back...nothing. I begin a trail from one end of the woods. Next time out I come from the other end, figuring on meeting in the middle. Long narrow woods, trail on crest of hill. Nope. No meeting of the trails. I couldn't even find the first trail. I think I need to carry trail markers that I can see for more than three feet away.

There are always interesting things to see, even if I cannot find them again. The iris are still coming up, but should be blooming in a couple weeks. In the mean time the grasses are filled with Golden Alexanders and Canada Anemone. The whorled milkweed, with the other varieties of milkweed are popping up out there. I saw one Monarch butterfly today, no doubt looking for the blossoms.

The ostrich fern are waist high, with columbine still providing dashes of color among them. It is also prime time to search out fungi. Yellow oyster was a surprising find. "Toad stools" popping up in unexpected places are fun to find.

Dragonflies have taken flight in swarms. It has been cold for them, setting back their hatch and feeding. They will eat almost anything they can catch, with mosquitos being high on their menu. The mosquitos are also delayed this year, not that we really miss them, but those that count on them for a food source do.

Keep and eye along the Marlspring road, across from the woodshed. The Showy Ladyslippers will be blooming soon! So watch out for dive bombing Swallows and get out there!


Where The Wild Things Are- Ladyslippers and Turkeys

Trails or no trails. When you have a trail to follow, your way is easier. Whether deer have created it, or it is man made, trails can get you into places with less dodging and ducking, better footing. It can be very peaceful to stroll along and just take in the woods around you. But if deer go along it, they browse while they walk, meaning you miss out on seeing some things. You also are limited by where the path goes. You may walk within feet of something remarkable and never notice it. With no trails you pay more attention. You move slower and need to look around more, just to see where your next step will land. But you need to duck under, climb over, push through. You need to backtrack and rethink your plan. You cover less ground, but more thoroughly. You see things that you might never of seen otherwise. Of course it is easier to get "unsure of your location". If you walk looking down, you can get turned around easily, especially on cloudy days. 

Like most things in life, there is a balance. Sometimes the trails, sometimes off. So I have been enlarging existing deer trails through some of the wild area. Trimming back branches, whatever can be dealt with using a hand pruner. If you are interested in knowing where some of these trails wander, just ask me. I'll be happy to show you! 

On another train of thought, do you know where turkeys nest? I didn't. I didn't really give it any thought. I was surprised to come upon a hen turkey sitting on a nest in the middle of a tamarack bog area! We parted ways peacefully, as I was looking for Small Yellow Ladyslippers, not turkeys! The Ladyslippers are at the end of their bloom, but I was happy to see 5 blossoms this year instead of the 3 from the past two years! In the whole village I have only found this one clump. Maybe next year I will get out at the right time to look over some other good areas. 

Things are changing out there in the woods on a daily basis. Get out there and breathe in the peace!


Where The Wild Things Are- Life Is Good in The Woods!

To just stand in the woods and breathe in the green. Blue sky stretching overhead. Birds calling from behind the expanding leaves. I swear you can hear it growing. One of the prolific plants just starting to bloom right now is Wild Sarsaprilla. Under the canopy of three sets of three to five leaves, on a separate stem are two to seven umbrels ( a round cluster of flowers). I thought the umbrels came in sets of three, but after finding them in sets of 2, 3, 4, and 5, further research taught me that there can be up to seven umbrels on one stem. There is always something new to learn! 

I saw the first Showy Orchids of the year on Camphill land on Sunday. If you keep an eye on the ground along the trail through the woods, you might see this charming white and purple peeking out from under the other foliage. Columbine are dangling about knee high. Wild geranium are light purple spots on the green. 

If you were to go out to the boggy areas you could still see Early Yellow Coralroot, Strawberries and Raspberries blooms, and Bunchberries! The Showy Ladyslippers have started to come up in towers of leaves, but no flowers in sight yet. Higher up in the bushes are the Chokecherries, although most of the apple and plums are gone already. 

I was blessed with a tiny vision of blue, flitting around a small meadow. Stalking it with my camera I managed to get a shot of both the upper and lower sides of the wings. It was a good thing I did, because identification would not of been possible with just the upper blue side. It is called a Silvery Blue! And here I had been discounting the little blue butterflies all as Spring Azures! Now my walks will slow even more as I try and stalk elusive butterflies and dragonflies, in hopes of identifying them. Pretty soon I will just be at a stand still out there!

Go out and just breathe. Life is good in the woods!

Silvery Blue Butterfly

Silvery Blue Butterfly

Where The Wild Things Are- All the Violets

Violets. Lots of violets. There are eleven different ones that grow in our part of the universe. I am sure that there are seven different ones in the village. As I explore more this spring I hope to confirm that number and perhaps add to it. The downy yellow violets are the easy ones. They are the only yellow ones we have here. Of the white varieties, I have seen two of the three. In the woods on the east side of the land, east of Prairie Wind, there is a carpet of Canadian White Violets. On the other side of the river, the Small White Violets are tucked in on the north side of a hill, tiny in comparison to the others. There is one other white kind, Sweet White violets, which are very similar to the Small whites. I need to peer closer at some of those! 

That leaves the biggest group, the blue/purple violets. Keeping in mind that some of those can also have white blossoms also, there are three main ways to tell blue/purple violets apart. The most obvious is location. Some thrive in dry places, some in wet, most in the shade. The second is the presence or absence of a beard. Fine little white hairs on the side petals. A magnifying glass is handy at that point. And then there is whether or not the flower is on a stem by itself, or on a leaf stem with other leaves and blossoms. 

So I have a "cheat sheet" that I am carrying with me. It lists the basics of violet identification. If I still don't have a positive ID I can at least get a good photo of the parts in question and try to sort it out when I can blow them up on the computer screen. So far I have seen (this year) Marsh blue, Northern Bog, Dog, and Common violets on village land. I have seen Prairie violets just north of here on the prairie by Midway Gas. 

Other new blooms out there...Blue Cohosh, Naked MIterwort, Three Leaved False Solomons Seal. The complete list is in the shed on the white board.


Where The Wild Things Are- Wild Spring

It's been a wild spring so far. With the weather so changable nothing is quite what is "normal" for the season. The flowers are getting a slow start. The lilacs not even blooming yet! The bellworts are blooming in the deeper woods, along with Wood Anemone and Wild Strawberry. The bloodroots have almost gone already, and the jack in the pulpits are just starting. If you walk in the woods you need to pay attention to see the violets, hugging the ground. The path by the bridge has a lot of them and will for several weeks. 

The other creatures most affected by the weather are the birds. I am having an Oriole explosion at my feeders the last few days. They normally pass by in large numbers, but this year the cold and rain have stopped them from moving on. They love grape jelly, and if I don't have enough out there, the battles begin! Oranges are also a favored food, and a scattering of orange halves litters the ground under the feeders. Rose Breasted Grosbeaks have come back, looking for seeds. The hummingbirds have been hitting their feeders also. There have been many sightings of Scarlet Tanagers this year, along with Indigo Buntings. You normally do not see them in any great numbers, but this year they seem to be much more visible.

It is the time of the year when my walks slow way down. Between scanning the trees for warblers and trying to see what has sprung up out of the ground, I feel like if I move more than a step at a time, I will miss something! I am peering constantly at the developing leaves, trying to remember which plant had leaves like those, guessing what it might become. Temptation to mark specific plants and photograph them every week or so to watch their progression is kept in check only because I don't have markers, yet. 

It is a great time to be out there. The mosquitoes are not yet out in number. You can see through the foliage yet to check out birds and things in the distance. Wood ticks are out, but not much worse than any other year. I find ticks are far more common in the long grass than in the woods. So go for a stroll along the roads. Wander along cattle paths. Put on your boots and walk upstream, or down in the creek. But stay off the river, it is still a bit on the wild side!

Sessile- Leaf Bellwort

Sessile- Leaf Bellwort

Where The Wild Things Are- The Push to Grow, Bloom, and Create Begins

Spring is officially here. Pay no attention to the need to wear your winter jacket and hat. It is spring. The bloodroots prove it! After searching high and low, I finally found them in abundance, down by the river. The other flowers won't be far behind. Hepatica, Leatherwood, Violets. Small leaves are poking up through the dried leaves. 

The Yellow Rumped Warblers are flitting about the trees, snatching up almost invisible insects. The swallows are competing for the nest boxes along the road.Sandhill Cranes are strutting about the fields. The songs of various sparrows, the pounding of the woodpeckers, the soft coos of the mourning doves fill the air. 

There is an aliveness to the woods that has been missing. An urgency permeates the fields and wetlands. This is the time! Now is when the push to grow, bloom, create the next generations begins. 

As the summer unfolds, I will keep you appraised of what is blooming, migrating, and hatching out there. There is also a giant white board in the machine shed, where I will be documenting the latest blooms, showing where you might find them in the village wilds. I hope you schedule your time to allow you to experience first hand the wonder that is nature in the village!