It is such a lift to the spirits to come across a stream in the woods, isn’t it? Grant Woods is home to a remarkable range of habitats, all carefully restored by the stewards and volunteers. This little patch of woodland plays host to a population of cardinal flower. I am always amazed by these ruby gems glowing in the shadowy wet ground along here.
This little plant is called Cardamine bulbosa, and it likes to have its feet wet. As it happens, so do I, so we run into each other a lot. I quite like how it tosses its little bells out there like its having a party, and that inspired how I approached its portrait. I’ve been saying for quite some time that I yearn for the freedom of extraction, and so for this one I just turned my brush loose. I wanted to let the colors romp about and talk to each other, and then superimpose the flower. The fun part of this is you have no idea how the painting will ultimately look. You just keep playing and looking until you are pleased with it.
As I was gazing at it, thinking of what I wanted to say about it, I realized it reminded me of those fireworks that explode in a white starburst. Perfect! Happy Birthday, America!
…Now, if you’ll excuse me, my little dog, who also likes to have his feet wet, needs a bath…
One of the preserves in my area was formerly a gravel pit, if I’m remembering that correctly. They shaped it and let it fill with water, and planted the hills around it with native seed. Now people walk and jog around the lake, or fish along its shoreline.
This is a large canvas, 24″x36″. As I gaze at the image here, I am remembering that a few months ago I felt I had room for some new activities in my life. Isn’t that hilarious? I should have known all I had to do was wait a bit. Sure enough, events rushed in. My husband broke his foot. It is a bad break, one that takes months to heal. No weight on it. He can’t drive. Suddenly, I’m very busy! Also my little dog needs to have surgery on his knee. I’d hoped to put that off a bit but he is limping more now so it is time. Two patients at the same time! I suppose the heat wave we have plunged into is a good thing in a way, because it is much easier to convince Pete that walking is not such a great idea right now. When this is all over the 3 of us will be hitting the trails together. In the mean time, I’ll content myself with painting the trails I long to visit.
As you know, one of my favorite places to be is Volo Bog. Here, the Arrowhead has gone to seed. It is a hot day toward the end of summer and if you walk quietly you’ll see the dragonflies lurking. Thanks to them, the mosquitoes and biting flies are rarely a problem there as they are elsewhere. I chose a slightly different set of colors for this painting, relying much more on blues and greens. A wash of red across the background yielded some nice soft colors I really like. I wanted this painting to have a bit of an abstract feel but still convey a hot day at the bog.
By the way, I was at the bog again yesterday with my daughter and we saw THIS lurking in the water:
YIKES!! Pretty cool, though. It is a water snake. I thought it was an eastern water snake but I think when we looked it up it was a northern water snake. I believe it has its head hiding under the mat of vegetation there. Because that way we couldn’t see it, right?
This one is for my son. He fell in love with Eagle River Wisconsin several years ago, and when he took me there last summer, I could see why. The place is dripping with North Woods magic. The air is crisp and clean and smells of pine. The pace is slow. People are few. We found several trails that led off into deep woods. It felt wonderful and I never wanted to leave. Of course, then winter comes. I whine about winter here, and we run a good 20 degrees warmer! I can’t even wrap my mind around how cold it gets, or how deep the snow gets. So, it isn’t for me. I am forever grateful I got to take that vacation with him, to see it, though. Isn’t it pretty?
Ah, an afternoon at the beach. Can’t you just feel the sun warming your shoulders, as your feet relish the sand and the water that never really warms up? I saw this trio the last time I had my daughter at the beach at Fort Sheridan. I really liked the dog leading the parade with his big stick, just like a parade marshal should. The graceful way the mom moves between the child and the dog, linking them. The adorable child, concentrating as she navigates the waves and sand and rocks along the shore. I painted this very loosely, to suggest the casualness of a summer afternoon, and used saturated colors to capture the bright sunshine. It was a bit turbulent in the water that day, so I had a wonderful time with color and brushstroke to suggest that.
This is a place on the shore of Lake Michigan that has a rich history. It was a military fort for a long time~there are photos of soldiers in the water with their cavalry horses dating back to the civil war. The area was closed to the public right after the afternoon in question. The Lake County Forest Preserve and the Corps of Engineers are working together to stabilize the shoreline and the ravines that terminate at the shore. You may remember Ray Bradbury talking about ravines in his wonderful book, “Dandelion Wine”. His ravines are from Waukegan, a bit to the north of the ones at Fort Sheridan. Stabilizing them is a tricky balance, because they are home to unique suites of plants that actually need erosion to thrive. Too much erosion from above, from home building, for example, will of course sweep away the whole thing. Too little and the plants will begin to die.
You may be wondering why I started talking about ravines when this is clearly a beach painting… 🙂 The thing is, it is all connected, all part of the same system. A thriving shoreline helps keep the Lake healthy and clean. Involving the nearby homeowners gives them a sense of connection, too, helping them understand how their actions affect the whole. The beach isn’t just a place to spend the day. It is part of their home.
I love it that what early settlers took for primeval forest here in America was, in fact, a garden. When Native Americans traveled they would gather seeds from trees and edible or useful plants and carry them back to their home territory where they would plant them. Fires were used to keep down brush and encourage the species they wanted to grow. Working with the natural world, rather than against it, they were able to create a beautiful healthy ecosystem that in turn fed them and provided them with fiber and wood. I am over simplifying, of course, but you get the idea. When I first learned of this it really captured my imagination, and inspired thoughts that led to this painting. By creating a background that almost resembles wall paper to set off the native tamarack I wished to portray, I want to convey this idea of working with nature. Think how our communities could be, if we invited nature back in and worked with her rather than banishing her to the neglected outskirts. This is happening in some areas. In many city neighborhoods gardens are appearing on roofs and on abandoned lots. They serve to provide food, slow the flow of water, and help keep temperatures cooler. Equally important they provide a green and leafy place for people to just be. In other areas the native ecosystems are being restored. Right in the heart of Chicago, for example, dunes and their native plant assemblies are being restored along the lakeshore. What a wonderful opportunity for people to see nature at work, right where they live. Who wouldn’t rather see grasses, flowers and birds than rip rap and chain link fencing as they stroll or jog along?
I hope my painting inspires you. Look around~how might your community invite nature back in, to the benefit of everyone? Can a small grocery store be inserted where people can walk to it? Could a tiny rose garden be squeezed into a parkway? Let me know what ideas you come up with. What if, instead of traveling to Europe to experience beautiful city centers, we could create them here? What if, instead of traveling to Costa Rica to experience rich forest, we could invite back our own? What if, rather than creating problems for ourselves and our beautiful planet, we created beauty?
“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”
I looked through my records, and it doesn’t appear that I have ever posted this painting so I thought I would this morning. Some years ago we had a remarkably warm December and I went out to walk the North Unit at Illinois Beach State Park~my favorite trail here. Birches don’t live long here, because it is too warm for them, and this one had fallen. A large patch of bright orange slime mold was making its way along the trunk, and to my delight, a Mourning Cloak had come out to play on this warm winter day.
I just recently came across the above quote, and loved it. It doesn’t really apply to Mourning Cloaks, though, because they in fact do count months, overwintering in crevices they find in bark. Unlike other species of butterflies, Mourning Cloaks sip sap rather than nectar, and will be out and about on warm winter days.
I was so charmed by this little guy when he came and perched right outside my window that I had to grab a pen and sketch him for a painting. A bird in a garden perfectly captures for me what we humans can achieve, if we reach for it. A garden is a human environment, but if we do it right, it can exist right along with the natural world. It can be a place where wild creatures feel safe and welcome.
Speaking of birds, I did see white pelicans yesterday. Every spring they come through but I haven’t been able to find them. They are HUGE! I saw them there, floating along with a raft of gulls, and they dwarfed the gulls. Even so, my camera couldn’t bring them into focus as the distance was just too great. I’m going to try again today. It baffles me that they always return to the same couple of lakes, and never seem to be in perfectly wonderful lakes less than a mile away. I’d love to get a good photo of them. They are magnificent in their gleaming white finery, wings edged with black. And those bills!
There is a sort of dreamy quality that emerged when I was working on this painting that I quite like. I’ve been wanting to infuse my work with excitement and, for me, this is what that looks like.
When I started my garden I was under the impression that both of these plants were native. Now I’m thinking that neither one is. No matter~I’m particularly fond of both of them. The camassia, I believe, is native to the Pacific Northwest. Here I have just a small clump of them, but I dream of a whole field of them stretching out to frame a view of the sea…