Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sketch of St. Mark's

Last weekend Christina and I walked over to Evanston to sketch St. Mark's church.  Every time I get off the highway I drive by this beautiful church and admire the tower.  The church is no longer open but there is a school attached to it that is still functional.

After sketching we walked over to the new coffee shop, "Community Blend."  My smoothie was delicious and according to George and Christina the coffee was good too.  It was nice to support a locally and employee owned shop (see video about it here).  If you are in the area you should stop by.

You can see Christina's sketch here!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Spotted Salamander

Friday night there was a steady rain and George convinced me that it was the magical night he had been waiting for for weeks...the night of the spotted salamander migration!  The spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) spends all winter burrowed deep in the ground.  In the early spring on the first rainy, warmish night, they venture out of their winter hiding to migrate to vernal pools to lay (or fertilize) eggs. It is one of the few times a human might actually be able to catch sight of these highly reclusive creatures.

Earlier in the week George had gone searching for the elusive amphibian only to be disappointed.  It was indeed the first warmish night of spring, but the pool still had a skim coat of ice; not a single yellow-spotted creature to be found.  So when he came up to the computer room Friday at 9:30 pm where I was cozily surfing the web, I was not sure I wanted to don my wellies and raincoat to search in the rain and mud for this illusory prize. 

But boy was I ever rewarded for braving the elements. As you can see above we were successful in our quest!  We had barely arrived at the trail before George spotted those yellow spots.  I was amazed how big and fleshy its body was.  And I loved the ridges on its flanks, not to mention those wild yellow spots.  The whole creature seemed quite improbable and yet there it was looking back at us in the soft rain.

The distance from the trail head to the pool was only about a half a mile, but I couldn't imagine how such a small-legged creature could walk so far on those little side-protruding limbs.  But somehow they do it!  And when we arrived at the pool it was clear that many do indeed make it.  The video below shows a salamander on the moss-lined edge of the pool making its leap into the water.  When we looked into the pool you could see maybe twenty or so salamanders writhing, swimming, and every so often coming up for air.

(After pressing play, click the bottom right corner to enlarge the video.  It is fun to watch it large!)

We found five or six salamanders on their way to the pool.  At first I wasn't too worried about stepping on them because of the bright yellow spots, but then George found a couple that had no spots.  I am not sure if they were young ones or a different species. 

On the drive home I couldn't help but think that we live in a crazy, amazing world.  To think this startlingly beautiful creature not only exists, but lives right near me blows my mind!  And I must mention that, yes, they really do appear to have a smile on their face.  I know I am anthropomorphizing here, but I will never forget their docile, yet determined nature.

So if you are ever offered a chance to search for gold in the middle of the night in the pouring rain, take it my friend... take it!  You will be rich in experience, your heart will sing, and you won't be able to wipe a ridiculous grin off your face for weeks.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Chinese Lantern Plants

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I stopped to photograph these Chinese Lantern plants growing in my yard I was excited to find one with the orange seed still inside this late in the season.  Usually the sun, wind, snow and rain have worn through the walls of the seed pod to free its precious cargo.

As I sat here looking at this incredible seed pod I couldn't help but imagine myself as that little orange seed.  My first thought was, "What holds us in and makes us feel secure is what holds us back."  But then I thought, "No, this cage does indeed protect us for a while and the slow wearing away gradually allows for a beautiful, slow maturation.  Until one day, when we are ready, life wears down enough of our barriers that we fall into our potential.  Everything about the system is perfectly timed and designed."

OK, enough waxing philosophical.  If you also didn't notice I had a hard time deciding how to crop these images.  The top two are the same image and so are the bottom two.  Normally I just make a firm decision and move on, but I was torn between loving a good close-up and really enjoying the composition of the original images.  And because the fun of the blog is to do whatever I want, I decided to post them all!   

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Beefeater Begonia

When we first moved in to our house a neighbor across the street gave us a cutting of her beefeater begonia.  Twelve years later it is still thriving and produces the most beautiful flowers at the bleakest time of year.  I have always been fascinated by these blooms because they are both tri-lobed and bi-lobed on the same flower.  But the real reason I started this blog entry about the begonia is not because of the flower.

The other day I was doing a rare thing and cleaning the house when I noticed a dead leaf had fallen from the begonia.  When I picked it up to throw it away I happened to glance down as it fell into the garbage can and this is what I saw!  These amazing dessicated pathways were being created as the leaf slowly dried out while laying on the radiator.

How lucky I was to find this leaf at that perfect moment.  And when I looked even closer at the drying leaf, there was a beautiful, warm glow at the heart of it set off perfectly by the silver grey lines.

"Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure."  -Rumi

Monday, February 16, 2015

Philodendron Sketch - Krohn Conservatory

Last week Christina, Amy and I sketched at the Krohn Conservatory.  I decided to sketch a huge philodendron that overhangs the waterfall in the center room.  I have always loved the heavily-lobed shapes of philodendron leaves.  Plus the pattern left by the old branches on the trunk and all the "strings" hanging off give it quite the visual appeal.  And the name comes from the greek words philo or "love" and dendron meaning "tree" (Wikipedia) which seems like the perfect name to this tree hugger.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Embroidered Valentine's Card

I have had these scallop-edged cards in my stationary box for years and decided it was time to make something with them.  I started by making the design in Illustrator using the polar grid guidelines.  That allowed me to space everything perfectly in a circular layout.  I then printed the design on regular paper and gently taped it to the scalloped card.  Once it was taped I used my hammer and awl to make all the holes.  I pre-drilled the holes because it makes it way easier to sew later.  After the holes were punched I then removed my paper guide and embroidered the design with a needle and embroidery thread.

Because I wanted to hide the "messy" embroidery on the back I decided to cut a pink circle that would get sewn at the same time as the edge circles.  I decided to add a single heart to the pink circle and sewed that before sewing through both the layers.

I told George that when I am an old lady I just want to sit around making exquisite cards to send to people.  I love designing and implementing a project all in one day.  And I like the thought that there is not another card in the whole world like this one.  Happy Valentine's Day everyone! 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

An Eye for Wood

I have always loved the odd, bulbous growths (called burls) found on some trees and the other day I stopped to look at one in a neighbor's yard.  As I was looking at it I suddenly realized it was looking right back at me!  And not only that, but it looked like an elephant eye which made it all the more delightful!

The wood spirits must have been especially active that day because I was also called to inspect a stump that I have walked by a thousand times.  This particular stump is about 5-10 feet from the sidewalk and doesn't look like much from the side.  But when I looked down at it from above I was struck by the beautifully aged "golgi-body" shapes that reminded me of petrified wood.  And this is not even mentioning its gorgeous muted color pallete. 

When I really got up close to it, it became a wrinkled landscaped of worn, ruddy mountains waiting to be scaled by a passing ant or termite.  I wonder what they feel when they scale this rugged terrain.  I guess at this time of year they are nestled deep down in the folds dreaming of warmer weather.  It makes me want to climb in there too.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Winter Cabbage

"I thought you went for a walk, not a swim!" was George's comment when I returned home the other day and showed him the photos from my walk.  These cabbages are right next to my front door and I can't believe I walked by this awesomeness every day and didn't notice! Although faded, they are still amazingly beautiful.  My mom bought me these cabbages in the fall and their transformation from bright and bold to soft and delicate is remarkable.

My eyes hear
The wrinkled song
Of fading cabbage leaves

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Berry Feast

I haven't been posting much lately because I have been holed up in my house avoiding the cold weather.  But yesterday a friend asked me to walk their dog and it forced me to venture out and I realized that if I bundle up properly, it really is not going to kill me.  So today, even though it was only in the 20s, I took a brisk walk around the neighborhood. 

As I was walking I noticed several trees had dropped all their berries and the robins were having quite a feast.  I stopped by the house to grab the camera and sat near the trees to try and photograph them.  As I sat still waiting for the birds to get used to me, cars kept driving by asking if I was OK.  They were probably thinking, "What kind of freak would sit out in twenty degree weather next to a pile of rotting berries?"  After I reassured them I was OK they would drive away and the birds would slowly return and I thought, "If they only knew what they were missing they would be sitting next to me!"

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Elephant Linocut

I decided to make a linocut print for my Christmas card this year.  Above you can see the final print and below are photos of the linocut in process.  I really like using Safety-Kut for the carving block because it is so soft.  If you have never used it, it is like a giant eraser.

I ended up using oil-based ink which rolls beautifully and allows a long work time before drying out.  Some people like to use water-based ink because it cleans easily, but I use vegetable oil to clean with and it is not so bad.  The only other problem with oil-based ink is that it does take a few days to dry.  I think it helped that my house is really dry in the winter.  Plus I moved all the prints to dry on top of the radiator covers which I think helped speed the process.  By the end of the day every radiator in my house was covered in elephants!

Below you can see my dining room turned into crafting/printing room for a weekend.  I printed 108 and it took me all day.  Although it was exhausting, it was fun to see the table slowly fill up with prints.  I think that is why I like print-making.  In a very short amount of time you can create something where there was nothing before.  And look at the beautiful repetition (yay, yay, yay!).

After three or four days the prints were dry.  We packaged them up and sent them off into the world because seriously, who doesn't want to receive a cheery, red, linocut elephant in their mail box?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Land of Medicine Buddha

Aside from the elephant seals I was also impressed by some other great beings on my California trip...the giant redwood trees.  And a great place to see them is the Land of Medicine Buddha meditation and retreat center.  The center is located on 108 acres of coastal foothills and is next to 10,000 acres of redwood forest.  It offers a meditation trail which leads visitors on an exploration of the "Eight Verses of Mind Transformation" (you do not need to be a Buddhist to visit).  I especially loved walking the trail and coming around the corner to discover treasures like the Buddha carving above.  The combination of the redwoods and buddhas were not only visually stunning, but their serenity was palpable and one could truly feel a sense of awe and tranquility. 

When we entered the retreat center we were greeted by huge redwood trees (above) and a giant prayer wheel (below) that you can turn.  You can choose a mantra of your choice according to your need.  I didn't know it at the time, but the prayer wheel physically contains at least 170,425,600,000 mantras inside.  There is a great description of the wheel here.

Below my friend Jodi is turning the giant wheel.

Farther up the trail we were greeted by more prayer wheels and this awesome bell.  There were detailed instructions on what to say when turning the wheels or ringing the bell.

At the end of the trail we found this temple which was closed but contained the largest Buddha I have ever seen.  I wish we could have gone inside to see it better, but I was impressed nonetheless.

It was easy to feel serene and humbled while walking among these giants.  And it's amazing to think how long these trees have stood in the same spot taking whatever comes there way.  Come wind, rain or shine they stand steadfast as an example to us all.  

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

California Beach Beauties

Last week I visited my friend who lived in Santa Cruz and we took a walk one day along the beach at Capitola.  As we were walking up to the boardwalk this step caught my eye and I marveled at what the ocean, sun, and wind can do to a piece of wood.  It seems the ocean slowly reclaims everything.  I love the way the boards of the boardwalk are gradually turning the same blue-green color of the water.

One of the highlights of the trip was visiting Año Nuevo State Park to see the elephant seals.  I want to specially thank Steve (above) for taking me out in the cold, pouring rain even though he was feeling sick and for giving me a wonderful tour. (In the photo he is standing behind a whale vertebra.)  It was raining so hard at times I couldn't keep the drops off my lens but it was totally worth it. 

Seals have always held a special place in my heart. The word "cute" doesn't even come close to describing their fusiform, blubbery bodies with their huge, soulful eyes.  The sleeping beauty above was a large male bull who returned to the area to mate.  He was one of the first males to return and was apparently resting up before all the action began.  We had an incredible view of him and were able to see (and hear) that he was snoring.

The seal below was probably a female, but could also have been a young male.  I was able to watch it haul itself out of the ocean and make its way towards a large, sleepy group higher up on the beach.  I think Steve thought I was crazy but I admitted to him that if I could, I would love to snuggle up to next to them and nuzzle and kiss those sweet cheeks.  It reminded me of the dog on bugs bunny... " I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him...".  I don't think I can quite say enough about how much I love these animals.

Below is a terrible little video I took with my phone, but it shows the incredibly cute undulating motion they use to propel themselves while on land.


I know I say this at the end of many of my posts, but truly if you ever get the chance to go to Año Nuevo  it is an amazing experience, rain or shine.