Nature Journal Club – Gene

Good morning! I’m still not sure how our Nature Journal Club will materialize, but until then, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Gene from Illinois. Gene loves nature, art, poetry, and writing. Gene doesn’t let obstacles get in his way of loving nature.

His work is beautiful! Unfortunately, Gene battles with Parkinson’s disease but that doesn’t stop him. He’s even written a book about it.

One True Thing About Parkinson’s Disease And The Ten Thousand Things That Follow

You can find more of his work here: https://meltedanswers.wordpress.com/

Gene inspires me! And I hope he inspires you as well.

The purpose of a nature journal club is to inspire others to enjoy nature through art and journaling and hopefully through this, become closer to God, the Intelligent Designer and Original Artist.

If you would like to participate in the nature journal club, comment below. The theme has to be nature. It does not have to be painting, it can be nature journaling, nature poetry, or nature journaling/hiking through videos. I will visit your site and choose a picture to post or a link to your nature journals/poems/videos. Please provide a first name and the state or area you are from. I will not open attachments from email. If any site has inappropriate material, like swearing or nudity, it will not be posted. Also, I may not be able to post for several weeks or a month at a time. I’m going to school full time and working, so I’m rarely able to devote time for posting. Maybe in the future, when time allows, this nature journal club can materialize into outing events.

Have fun nature journaling!

Autumn Storm Approaching – Nature Journal Club

You can hear the wheels of photosynthesis grinding slower. With every breeze carries with it a handful of leaves. They swirl past my ears.

Mr. Bee, would you like to visit the goldenrod resting peacefully on the edge of a quiet pond? Or in the middle of a blowing prairie? Your options are many.

A scold of blue jays call in the deep oak forest, while the rain escorted me through. Did I mind the rain? Oh no! On the contrary, I quite like the unexpected rain in the woods.

Come on a hike with me and see the sketch in process in my nature journal:

I would like to start a nature journal club but I do not know what that will look like yet. It doesn’t have to be paintings, It can be just text. Or text and a pencil sketch. Well, for now, I’m throwing it out there. Let’s see what materializes.

The Importance of Keeping a Nature Journal

On its own this particular journal page is not that significant. It’s a recording of my encounter with a cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) in my front yard. But when you look closer, taking the time to create this page not only caused me to ask questions, but it forced me to look closer to details enabling me to record a moment in time.

One day, this record in time could be important.

Do you remember going outside in the summertime as a child and encountering hundreds of bees? I do. Do you remember insects galore? Yep. Well in our lifetime, for multiple reasons, we may be witnessing a decline in species. Some scientists think we are in the beginning of mass extinctions simultaneously. In just my own recollection, I do see a change in nature.

Keeping a nature journal is my way of documenting my interactions with nature. I can look back through the years and remember. On this day, the cedar waxing caused me to recognize its call: Zeet, Zeet, Zeet! I’ve heard that sound before outside my bedroom window and did not know what it was. Now I do!! So writing in this journal taught me its call. Not only did I learn its call, but I noticed it was alone. I thought they traveled in groups. My question excelled me to do some research. Evidently, it’s only winter time (in my area) that they travel in groups possibly for protection and knowledge of food resources. I learned something new!

Keeping a Nature Journal:

  • Forces you to see details
  • Caused you to learn new things
  • Documents nature in time/space
  • Strengthens memory
  • Calms nerves
  • Causes you to experience the health benefits of being in a state of flow

Some people may be intimidated to start a nature journal. They think: But I don’t know how to draw!!!

No fear, nature friends!

Keeping a journal is not about beautiful, well drawn art. It’s supposed to be messy. It’s supposed to be done quickly as you encounter nature. And it could be for your eyes only if you wish. Nobody has to see your journal. Plus, who said you had to draw in it???

You can keep nature journals with only text. What do you write? Start with some stats: Date, time, weather conditions, temperature. Next, move on to your 5 senses. What do you see? What do you smell? Feel? Taste (it better be an edible and not toxic…ha ha ha)?

It’s easy to keep a nature journal. Don’t stress about the quality. Soon you will be filling books and fondly looking back at great memories. Plus, it’s a great feeling in the dead of winter, when it’s below zero, to read about your previous summer days.

Happy nature journaling!

 

A Polyphemus Came to My House One Day

One day when I least expected it, I had a visitor from nature. I was sitting on the floor of my porch when I looked over to the siding on the house and noticed a giant, juicy, green caterpillar. Upon closer inspection I discovered that I had recognized this visitor from my work, for we had raised some and released them. It was none other than a Polyphemus caterpillar (Antheraea polyphemus).

What are you doing on my house, Mr. Polyphemus?

Feeling sorry for it because it was at least 40-50 feet from the nearest tree, I decided to try and feed him maple leaves. I know he likes them.

Sure enough within seconds, he was munching away on some tasty maples leaves.

I was happy to help and went on with my outside tasks. I don’t know why I checked on him so soon, but literally 20 minutes later I did. To my shock he had already spun a silk cocoon.

No, no! This is not a safe place! It’s too close to the ground!
I tried pulling him off the house, thinking I could raise him inside until he emerges, however his construction was properly made and his silk cocoon was like superglue.

Now I faced a dilemma. Would he have spun his cocoon had it not been for my maple leaves? Did I do more harm than good? A racoon or skunk can easily walk up to him and consume him! Sometimes our best intentions are blindly made.

Robert Frost felt the same way in his poem, The Exposed Nest, where he writes about trying to restore a nest on the ground after machinery uncovered it.

Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could.

Realizing that the exposed silk cocoon now puts my Polyphemus friend at risk, I had to help him out.

I constructed a barrier around the cocoon and the maple leaves, then I placed a patio chair in front of it. Hopefully in a week or so I will find an exit hole in his cocoon and he will be safely flying at night in the trees.

I saw the risk I took in doing good
But dared not spare to do the best I could.

I work at a nature center where we recently raised about 20 Polyphemus moths from caterpillar state. They were donated to us. It was a spectacular show. And the children that visited the nature center loved watching them.

Here are some hanging in their cocoons and a few that just emerged.

Here are a pair stretching their wings. The female is on the left (thin antenna) and the male is on the right (thick antenna). The large spots on their hind wings are solely to ward off predators. They look like large eyes staring back!

I’m so very grateful to be able to work at a nature center and learn about these beautiful creatures. I’m thankful that I recognized the Polyphemus caterpillar on my house and I hope my little shelter keeps him safe and on his way very soon.

Let’s Paint a Simple Sloppy Sketch

When I speak with adults who want to paint but cannot seem to start there always seems to be the same reason why….. “It won’t look good.”

Fear is a roadblock. Fear is also a liar. Fear is an active gremlin who convinces people to do nothing.

And nothing produces nothing.

So let’s stomp on fear and do a quick, sloppy sketch. The goal of this sketch is to just put down color so that we can have a recording of our day in nature. We don’t care about the outcome. Sometimes it’s even helpful to say that out loud before you start: “I don’t care what this looks like, I’m just going to do it.”

Step 1: Draw a road map with a pencil. Don’t include detail. I just marked a horizon line, a stream, and a few trees in the background.

Step 2: Fill in the sky with lemon yellow. On this day, the sky was not yellow (as you can see in the reference photo below) but it was very hot. So it felt as if the sky as hot as the sun.

Step 3: Add some background trees by mixing green and blue. This whole sketch was done with a flat brush and very quickly too. I believe it was complete in 15 minutes. I did not worry about what anything looked like as I painted. Just keep going.

Step 4: Add larger trees but make them mostly green, not blue. There are three layers here. Light green in the background, medium green on top (skipping around to let the light green poke through), and lastly a dark green here and there and at the base of all the trees.

Step 5: Add a lemon green to the prairie. This too was painted with a flat brush…..quick and loose.

Step 6: Paint yellow in the stream, and a medium green to the edge of the stream. See that blob of green in the middle? That’s because my stream was still wet and it bled in the stream. Am I upset? No. Am I going to quit? No. Just keep going.
With a dark green/blue and the edge of the flat brush, paint vertical cattail grasses on the right side of the stream. Wet the paper under the cattails and pull some color down as a reflection. Then with a little brown, paint the cattails. On the left make thicker grasses for some summer flowers. Nice and loose…..do not mind the form.

Step 7: I added some green to the furthest point in the stream to represent reflections. Next add some summer flowers. Today I saw purple coneflower, black eye Susan, and purple bergamot, but not in this location. That’s okay….I’ll just add it here to remember what was in bloom on this hot summer day. I added these blooms with a liner, not a flat brush. Next, add some tree branches to your large trees with sepia brown. Finally using light green, make horizontal water lines in the creek.

Step 8 Final: In this step I took a red brush marker and added some text. I’m using twin tip brush markers from Hobby Lobby. The brush tip is good for bold titles and the thin tip is good for details such as the date and temperature. I love including text on my sketches in my journal so that I can remember where I was and what the day was like. Today at Springbrook Prairie the cicadas were loud and the wildflowers plentiful.

Here is my reference photo. As you can tell it looks nothing like my sketch. My quick, sloppy sketch represents what I experienced at Springbrook Prairie. Don’t let fear hold you back. Your sketch doesn’t have to look exactly like your photo or on site location. It can be your interpretation. It can be a feeling/emotion in time…and it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Give yourself permission to play.

 

Where Mossy Things Grow Watercolor

Deep in a dark moist forest, it lives where the mossy things grow.
It needs rain…
it needs time…
a little bit of quiet…
and a secret spot to sprout.

Hiding in a crevasse, surrounded by lush green carpet,
it tries not to call attention to itself.

But its beauty gave it away…
I had to bend down to see what lives where the mossy things grow
and my breath it somehow stole.

 

Happy Hunting

Amazing Jewelweed Watercolor

Jewelweed is one amazing plant for many reasons. First, its beauty. Jewelweed flowers look like little trumpets hanging under leaves. The one I found is pale jewelweed (Impatiens pallida), but you can also find orange jewelweed (I. capensis) which has a deeper, more vibrant color. I painted one in 2011.

The second reason jewelweed is amazing is the way it disperses its seeds. When something (like a pollinator) brushes up against the seed pod which also hangs under the leaves, it explodes, catapulting the seeds into the air! It is sooooooo much fun to find these pods and touch them. They pop right in your hand! The pod opens and the sides coil tightly, sending seeds flying.

The third reason it’s a gem is because this native plant feeds many native pollinators including hummingbirds! You’ll find many bumblebees, bees, flies, and others on the same bush at any one time.

And lastly, jewelweed is a lifesaver if you encounter poison ivy or stinging nettle. Simply crush the stem and rub on effected areas. It may save you until you can get home to wash the area with soap and water and apply calamine lotion. It is believed doing this will lessen your reaction to the plants.

You can find jewelweed in shaded forests with moist soils. You can also plant jewelweed in your garden if you have shaded, moist, well draining soil. This will attract many pollinators to your yard.

I hope you can find some jewelweed on your next hike! Try to touch those pods….they’re ripe now! Happy Hiking!

Summer Insects Watercolor

Summer. A time to slow down…enjoy the weather. A time to place a thin blanket on the ground, sit, and have lunch on the grass not a table. Soak in those rays while you’re at it! Summer is also a time for insects. It’s their time too.

These are a few that I’ve seen within the last week: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), the Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly (Calopteryx maculata), and the tiny, tiny sweat bee (Halictidae). I’ve also seen the Colorado Potato Beetle (not good for the garden), many ants, spiders galore, and a centipede.

What I haven’t seen are many honey bees.

From word of mouth, bee keepers are voicing difficulty with their hives. Honey bees have an uphill battle. Some of their struggles are: loss of habitat, pesticide, insecticide, and fungicide use, GMO crops, monocrops, mites, virus, and bacteria.

Honey bees are pollinators which pollinate our food. There are other pollinators such as: beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and even bats…but none are as efficient as the honey bee. We need to protect out pollinators because our food depends on it.

Disappearing pollinators are such a concern that scientists have developed drone pollinators. Yes, robot pollinators. Flying tiny robots pollinating flowers. Because these drones need to be controlled by a human, they cannot be efficient. Scientists hope to teach AI (Artificial Intelligence) to be able to control the drones on their own and know how to pollinate.

Do you want AI pollinating your food?

Not me. I hope we never get to that point. Let’s help the pollinators. But how?

This year I am converting my front grass lawn into a native habitat. Grass cannot hold much water, does not support a great deal of wildlife, costs a lot of money to fertilize/water, and you must mow it every week. But native plants support a lot of wildlife! You do not need to fertilize it and after the native plants are established, you don’t even need to water them! Yay native plants!

At nurseries there are beautiful blooming plants to purchase, but many don’t do much for pollinators either because they are cultivars or have been artificially bread to be hearty and beautiful. Many native insects cannot stomach those plants. Good for pretty, showy flowers, bad for nature and the ecosystem.

Man’s tampering has unintended consequences.

Leisurely Bike Path Break Watercolor

I took my bike on a nice long ride. When riding, I become a child again. Downhills are my favorite, uphills not so much. The wind races through my hair and I feel rather bird like…soaring effortlessly.

On this particular day, I packed a lunch and my paint supplies in my basket.

The sun felt good on my skin. My body missed vitamin D, so my skin was as happy as my spirits. However, after two hours I needed shade and my sandwich. The tree I painted was of no particular interest, except that it was across from a shady bench. The wildlife around me performed some lunchtime entertainment. Tree swallows swooped, red-winged blackbirds sang, and butterflies danced by.

What a perfect spot for a leisurely break.
I hope you are able to find your leisurely breaks in life.

Handsome Jack Watercolor

There he is…. handsome Jack.

I tell you the truth, no matter how many times I find this spring ephemeral wildflower, it always stops me in my tracks and takes my breath away. Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) seems like an exotic species in my mundane Midwest landscape. So unique….so unlike any other plant.

Short to the ground, it takes patience and being in the moment to notice this creature among the sea of green on the forest floor. If you’re walking while dreading bills, or life’s challenges, you risk missing it! You must calm your mind, go slow, and be in the present moment, enjoying every inch of blessings around you.

It is something as small as Jack, that can pick up my spirits and transform my day. I am so grateful for all God’s creation.