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Compass Plant Reverie

compass plant better

“Compass Plant Reverie”

melissa blue fine art

In the field, Compass Plants can get quite tall~well over my head. So when I spotted this one lolling over in the lazy hot summer heat, I grabbed my chance. My intention was merely to get a reference photo for a later pen and ink drawing. When I developed the image, however, I was struck by how graceful the plant’s pose was. For the painting I added blooms in the background, and then washed over them with color to mute them and set a meditative tone.

Every painting is imbued with layers of meaning, for me. I remember the day in the field, for starters. The way the heat felt, and the scratchiness of the leaves, the song of birds and the breeze bringing scents of wild roses. The feeling late summer brings me, of joy and sadness at the same time. Most of all I wanted to convey the lyrical nature of a plant ensconced in its proper habitat, its home.

My dad’s house is under contract. I suppose it will be a relief when it is sold, yet… I mention it because of the frogs. Several years ago he installed a little pond in the garden by the house. Winter took out the pump one year, and the fish all died. However, it was colonized by several frogs. Over this past summer I have watched them. There seem to be too many, for the little pond, and yet they seem alright. They could leave if they wanted to. There is aĀ  lake at the foot of the hill. The little pond seems to be self sustaining in there under the overgrown plants. Duckweed floats on the surface, keeping the water oxygenated and cool. The frogs keep mosquitoes down, I guess. And in winter? I suspect there is a layer of muck at the bottom where they burrow down and hybernate. Water hasn’t been added to this pond ever. It just stays the same~a cool dark oasis filled with frogs. I draw hope from that little frog pond and sort of wish I’d thought to catch a few to bring home. Maybe I could recreate the setting but it would be too sad if I ended up killing them. At any rate,Ā  I think of them there, living out their froggy lives year after year, hanging on in an unlikely little habitat. Life is like that. I’ve read that we are members of the last generation to have played outdoors when we were children. I suspect it is true. There is a trend for families to have more children again. I’m not judging, but just where do these people think all their children will live? Everywhere I look, new roads are being carved through erstwhile fields and woodlands, new houses are cropping up like tumors on the land. I savor the little bits of wild I can find the way I savor the last flowers of the season. But, the frogs tell me, don’t give up. Nature will persist, life will renew itself. At the last moment wonderful discoveries can still surprise you.

I hope you receive a nice surprise today šŸ™‚

38 thoughts on “Compass Plant Reverie

  1. Beautiful painting and I like the memories it evokes for you. I love the hope Nature brings and its renewal always inspires. I feel so blessed to live in a rural area with lots of protected land that will never be developed – such a blessing for the future.

  2. Thank you so much Eliza.
    I have been walking around in deep thought about this. I miss the wonder. Oh sure, I can plant native plants here in suburbia, but I can’t bring back the frogs or other critters that used to thrill me. I’m not getting any younger. If I crave wonder, I gotta go get it!

  3. Fear not! We’re not the last generation to play outside. There’s a new generation growing up in my neighborhood and the kids are out riding their bikes, playing ball, and hide-n-go-seek, and just out running around between each others yards! My kids played outside, and I go out with #1 Grandson to let him play, and explore daily.

    We’ve saved large parts of the mountains and hillsides here in the Bay Area from housing and business. They’re being kept as “open space” for us to hike, bike, and camp in. I hope we’re able to keep them saved forever.

    The painting is lovely. I like the way it flows to the edge of the canvas reaching to continue its journey.

    Does this mean you’re closer to moving?

    1. My financial adviser thinks I should wait for 5 more years. My heart say, “NOW”! Haha. I could go now if I don’t mind going without things like internet, and that might be worth it to me but I’m not sure how fair that would be for my daughter. There is always Publisher’s Clearhinghouse šŸ™‚

      It is so good to hear about the kids in your neighborhood. Yay! And of course, I love how you and your grandson play outdoors. I’ve been a subscriber of Bay Nature magazine, and have marveled at all the land being set aside in your area. Hooray!

  4. Peace to the frogs in their little pond! It’s a very moving tribute to them and the painting evokes your mood!

  5. What a beautiful post, Melissa. I love the painting and all your thoughts and feelings with it. I fee so fortunate to have grown up playing outside. So sad that that is no longer the norm. I really love your frog love, and hope they are allowed to survive there.
    Glad to hear from circadianreflections that kids are still playing outside!
    Hope springs eternal. Thank you, Melissa.
    Peace and hope,
    Mary

    1. Thank you Mary, for you beautiful reply šŸ™‚ I feel fortunate too and am startled to realize how different the world looks to so many people. I hear people say how frightening nature is to them, or that they hate it. Huh. Imagine them feeling about the natural world what I feel about cities! It is a relief that some kids, at least, are being brought up outside.

  6. I love the art and the thoughts. I’ve occasionally wished for a larger version of your image and today I discovered that all I had to do was click on it. How’s that for a nice surprise? šŸ˜‰

    1. Thank you Gunta. Um, was it a nice surprise? I don’t like how my paintings look blown up. The digital camera has a way of slicing through layers of paint, somehow. I was thinking I would look for a way to limit how large it will blow up for that reason! šŸ™‚

      1. Well, I have a huge screen so it almost looked like a painting for the wall. But to be honest, I loved seeing the detail in the paint and such, as well as backing away and pretending I had one of your paintings on my desktop! šŸ™‚

  7. Thank you, Melissa. Nature does indeed prevail. I just started listening to Liz Gilbert’s _Big Magic_. She describes a project in the 1960s when people tried to build a highway through the Anazon. They halted when the rains came, intending to continue later. When they returned they found all of their equipment, as well as the nascent road, swallowed by nature, and they abandoned altogether.
    Sometimes I think we will learn our lessons and treat nature more respectfully. Then I think whatever, eventually we will probably kill ourselves and nature will finally be rid of us, relieved. All I can do is my best to care for that which is in my charge, and try to influence others for the better. I think you are doing your part, too.

    1. Thank you for your lovely thoughts, Catherine. You are doing a wonderful job, and I believe you have it right. If we are mindful and act in ways we know to do, that is what we are called to do.

  8. I enjoy seeing those plants, and others like them, in these final weeks of fall. Not many are left now.

    We were in Cuba and realized how little some people have and how much we Americans have in excess. It makes me think when I do some of the little things like run a faucet or flush a toilet or check the computer. The differences are huge and make me somewhat uncomfortable.

    1. Especially when it was our arrogant political policy that has kept them in that state. It makes me ashamed. However, I’m told that the Cuban people are incredibly well-read, articulate, creative and warm. I can’ t help but wonder what will be lost when they regain wealth.

      1. You are correct on all counts about them.

  9. You’ve done a fine job of transforming your thoughts into a cohesive image.

    It is very distressing to see all the new building that is constantly taking the wildness from our lands. I am quite concerned with the efforts of the current congress to do all they can to undo the protections of what little remains in the name of financial pursuit. As the saying goes, “When the Last Tree Is Cut Down, the Last Fish Eaten, and the Last Stream Poisoned, You Will Realize That You Cannot Eat Money”. And taken a step further, eventually, if the planet some day is paved over (yup, a little hyperbole but not far from the mark, I fear), our future selves will come to realize how important the experience of nature is for our well-being.

    1. If I were Shakespeare I would write, “First thing we do, we kill all the developers. And bankers.” Maybe we can ship them all off to Mars. Only the people who love and appreciate this gorgeous Earth get to stay.

  10. Lovely painting – it does have a reflective mood to it. It’s wonderful when an artist captures one of those moments in nature, when time seems to stand still and one remembers the sensations felt, the light, the sounds and scents, the time of year…

    I love how you interpreted the message from nature via the frogs still making it in your father’s pond. Sometimes I cannot believe how far and wide we were allowed to wander without supervision in the woods around our house when I was growing up. I cannot imagine letting my granddaughter enjoy the same freedom. But my daughter and son-in-law are buying a house in a co-housing community with 11 acres of woodland that won’t be developed. I find myself relaxing a little more about the prospect of my granddaughter’s future opportunities for playing outside.

  11. Thank you, Barbara. I’m so pleased you like it, and my frog story šŸ™‚
    We sure did cover ground when we were kids, didn’t we? That is great that your daughter and son-in-law have found a way to bring your granddaughter into close relationship with land.

  12. This post really resonates with me Melissa. I hope that nature does persist…. I wonder about all of the new developments popping up all over here too. Sigh. I am glad you are so passionate about the land around you. It shines through in your work. Another lovely painting! ~Rita

    1. Thank you so much, Rita. That means a lot, and your passion shines brightly too.

      1. Thanks Melissa! šŸ™‚

  13. It does seem that so many children in western countries are addicted to electronic entertainment these days. Fortunately, I’ve noticed a resurgence in parents wanting to “get back to nature” and taking their little ones with them. I see them on my walks quite often. It is quite heartening, although they do tend to scare away some of the critters in their enthusiasm though. Still, it;s better they are squealing with joy at nature’s delights than glued to a screen! šŸ™‚ Much of my suburb is being cut up for new development which is saddening to me. Just today I looked at a piece of land that was once bushland that is now flattened and bare in preparation for yet another shopping centre and housing development.
    Thank you for describing how your paintings carry meaning for you. While I haven’t painted for some time, it was like that for me also. Now my photographs bring back special memories for me – the sensations I experienced on the day, the thoughts that went through my head.
    You succeeded in showing the lyrical side of the plants with your painting as my first thoughts were that it looked quite romantic but it also reminded me of paintings of dancers. There is movement in your painting! šŸ™‚
    When I have moved house it has often been the small creatures in the garden I’ve wondered about – the little bird that comes to visit regularly, the big green frog in the fernery for example. I understand your thoughts about the frog pond. Best wishes.

    1. Thank you, Jane. Dancers! What a lovely allusion.
      It wrenches my heart whenever I see plots of land leveled as you describe. Politicians just shrug and say it is good for the tax base. BAH!
      We can only hope, can’t we, that the wee creatures were part of the charm for the people who buy our houses, and will not molest them.

  14. When I enlarged your photo, I couldn’t quite pinpoint the resonance I felt. Finally, it came: William Morris. Of course Morris’s botanical prints and designs tended toward greater symmetry and repetition, but there still was some connection for me. I think it might have been the curves: so much a part of his work, too.

    It sounds as though your frog pond is a lovely, self-contained, self-sustaining little ecosystem. I understand so well the urge to recreate it elsewhere, but after a few attempts at re-creation of my own, I’ve decided it isn’t possible. For one thing, the pond isn’t important just as a pond: it’s a part of something much larger, that’s gone now, forever.

    I don’t mean that to be depressing — although I do find it poignant. But it’s true. When I lost my little place in the hill country, I felt as though my heart had been ripped out. Today? I’ve found ways to reclaim some of the most important parts of that experience, and am the better for it.

    1. I’m a great admirer of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. That may well have been a sub-conscious influence when I was composing the painting. How pleased I am that it resonated with you.
      You are right~the frogs in their little self-contained world are a part of a larger magical place. I’m so sad to learn that you lost your little place in the hill country. Permanent losses like that are indeed poignant.

  15. Judging from the positive replies here, it seems your compass plant has pointed you in the right (or a right) direction.

    I assume the plant is something in the genus Silphium; do you happen to know what species you have there? In the Bull Creek watershed in my hilly northwest part of Austin we have Silphium radula, whose stalks sometimes get heavy and fall over the way you’ve shown in your painting. The prostrate plants don’t seem any the worse for horizontality (and sometimes for curving), but keep flowering all the same. I’ve noticed the same thing with some Maximilian sunflowers, so the phenomenon may be more widespread in the sunflower family (and perhaps other botanical families).

    By the way, did you know there’s a Silphium in Texas with white flowers?

    https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/white-on-the-blackland-prairie/

    And speaking of frogs, we have miniature ones here that, even fully grown, are less than an inch long. Do you have tiny ones like that in Illinois?

  16. Silphium laciniatum is the latin for Compass Plant. We have a similar sunflower to your Silphium radula, called Rosin Weed, or Silphium integrefolia. It isn’t common for our sunflowers to flop over, now that you mention it. “Max” always does but the others almost never, which is why I was so struck with the one I painted.
    Your little frogs sound adorable. We used to have Cricket frogs but they are very rare now, sadly. Our Chorus frogs are pretty tiny, around 1 1/2 “. They are abundant, and deafening in the spring! šŸ™‚

    1. Chorus frogs is a good name for critters that raise a din.

      The most common name here for plants in the Silphium genus is rosinweed. When I searched for compass plant on the website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, I got two hits. One was the Silphium laciniatum that you mentioned, and the other is the white-flowered Silphium albiflorum that I mentioned.

      1. Yes, it is, isn’t it? I’ve lost track now…is Silphium a new name for Helenium?

    2. No, Silphium and Helenium are separate genera.

      1. That is what I thought but yesterday I was reading a book that referred to one as the other, so now I’m confused. Ah, well. A sunflower by any other name…

    3. All the Silphiums I’m familiar with are stout, tall (or tallish), erect (when they’re not flopping over) plants that many people think are sunflowers (Helianthus spp.). In contrast, the Helenium species I know here are forbs that are smaller and more delicate and that stay relatively close to the ground:

      https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/?s=helenium

      1. Ok. Silphiums are scratchy, too, and coarse. They all grow tall, here. Thank you for helping me straighten that out in my mind šŸ™‚

  17. Gorgeous flowers :-). I like the “mysterious” colors. The antique-y colors and the flower stem curves do remind me a bit of William Morris.

    I like you frog story. I suppose some people have two ponds, if they want fish and frogs?

    Today was sunny and there were 2 inches of snow on the ground. The black squirrels who poked their little faces in the snow looking for buried treasure would come up with white dusted muzzles which twinkled in the sun. That was a nice surprise when I looked out my window.

  18. SNOW??!!! Oh my gosh. That must have been cute, little black squirrels with snow mustaches.
    It was 65 here, today. Blissful. I say that because once we get snow, we are in for a long grim haul. blech.

    1. Yay for blissful days! I find a lot of winter days can be blissful (sunny afternoons, gentle snowfall). But the many months without bright green leaves and flower petals feel a bit long.

  19. […] Melissa recently wrote a moving piece on the tenacity of nature, despite the destruction of […]

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