Breakfast on the Grill

This is a true story of love and provision.

My husband is a truck driver. Wednesday, his truck broke down about an hour and a half away from home. Wanting to save money on a tow, I hopped in the car at 5 am with a bag of tools in the hopes that he could fix the problem himself.

I arrived at a truck stop in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Indiana, gave my husband his tools and waited in my car. Suddenly, my eyes locked onto a pair of sparrows. I watched as they flew from one truck grill, to the next truck grill, to the next, all the way down a line of parked trucks a half mile long.

What in the world are they doing?

Then, I noticed something big on the truck grill in front of me. I got out of my car, approached closer, and instantly knew…

They’re eating breakfast!!
They eat insects from one truck, then they fly to the next eating more insects. On down the line… What a wonderful mutual symbiosis, really a +/+ situation. The truck gets cleaned and the sparrows are fed.

So why is this a story of love and provision?

Because of this…

“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Matthew 10:29-31

Especially during this global pandemic, there are many who are afraid. Many have been laid off from work or lost their job all together. But take heart, you are loved and your Father is strong to provide. He wants you to know that you are more valuable than even these sparrows. And look, look how they feast on their breakfast buffet!

But you have a job to do. You must employ that tiny, tiny, mustard seed of faith. Switch fear for prayer. Hold on to that mustard seed and don’t let go!

My Native Front Yard – Wild Geranium

Last year I converted my front yard into a native habitat. Goodbye grass, hello native plants! Why? To save the insects.

First, lawn grass does not benefit much in nature. If there is little rain, you must supplement with water from your hose. Water is very costly. Next, you must buy gas for your lawnmower so that you can spend some time each week mowing. Finally, to keep it weed free and healthy, you must buy fertilizer and some type of weed blocker. You do this, your neighbors as well….now times that by every household, park, school, and commercial property. The insects are wondering…where did our food go?…where did our habitat go?

Recently an article came out which gave a figure to the current insect collapse: 27% in the last 30 years. Why is this significant? Why should we care? Because insects pollinate our food. Insects are necessary for a healthy ecosystem.

If you are at middle age or older, think about your childhood. Do you remember all the fire flies on a summer night? So many that you couldn’t count? Do you remember being constantly chased by bees? I do. Not any more, however.

Native plants not only provide food, shelter, and a breeding ground for insects, but the roots of the native plants are much longer than lawn grass. Long roots filter pollutants and provides clean water. Best of all, native plants do not require extra water or fertilizers. Once established there’s no need to water because they are drought tolerant. Win for humans – win for insects.  +/+

My native front lawn is being planted in stages. A few last year were planted, a few this year. Eventually the plants will cover the area. The neat thing about this yard is that something will be blooming in every season. When it blooms, I will feature the plant and provide some neat facts. Today, wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) is in bloom. This is the second year of its growth.

Wild geranium is easy to grow. It has beautiful leaves and it supports a host of insects. On the pink flower, you will find stripes leading to the center. This is called the nectar guide.
Insects that benefit from nectar and pollen:

  • bumblebees
  • mason bees
  • cuckoo bees
  • long-horned bees
  • Halictid bees
  • Andronid bees
  • Syrphid flies
  • dance flies
  • butterflies
  • skippers

Insects that benefit from the leaves and stems:

  • Leaf-mining larvae of the beetle Pachyshelus purpureus
  • geranium aphids
  • yellow plant bug
  • burrowing bug
  • stink bug
  • moth caterpillars

These insect stats were taken from the Illinois Wildflower site.

If you are interested in creating a native habitat, small or large, and you live in the Chicagoland area, Denise from Good-Natured Landscapes can help with your design. She knows native plants…which ones thrive in shade/sun or a combination of both. Which ones work well together, what season they bloom, and what insects they benefit.

Where can you find native plants to buy? The Growing Place (Naperville and Aurora, IL) or on-line at Prairie Moon Nursery.

Soon my golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) will bloom! I can see the buds! To be continued…

 

Cup Fungi Watercolor

What a mouth-opening surprise I had when I found these cute cup fungi growing in my own yard! What’s so neat about these fungi? Why, let me explain their coolness. First, they look like tiny cups on the ground. Awwwwwww. Second, they want it to rain. For when it rains, drops hit the inside of the cup splashing spores out of the cup and onto the ground. What a neat reproductive strategy. Most fungi use wind as a means of spore dispersal. I believe these are common brown cup (Peziza badioconfusa), but there are many different types so I could be wrong.

Yesterday it had rained the whole day. I went outside to see if the cups were filled with water, and sure enough they were…

Can you see the rainwater in the cup?

They come in amazing twisted cup shapes. Each cup looks slightly different. I have about 7 of them in my mulch.

I hope you are able to find this beautiful and neat fungus where you are at and I hope you find some water inside!

Chorus Frogs Sing – Watercolor

That song.
The chant of chorus frogs that stops you in your tracks as you hike in the woods. Such a bold sound coming from such a tiny frog…so small your eyes can’t find them even if you try and I did try. When you hear this sound, you know it’s spring.

The watercolor sketch is of the frogs’ vernal pool. I learned that it’s proper to call it a vernal pool and not an ephemeral pond. An ephemeral pond describes a temporary pond any time of the year but a vernal pool only exists in the springtime. And that is exactly what we have.

I hope this post uplifts your spirits at this time. The chorus frogs are doing their job out there…reproducing! And if you cannot get out to hear them, you can do so here.
Happy spring.

Great Horned Owl Watercolor

I’ve always wanted to see an owl in the wild while hiking. The natural way…not with a local bird group nor some Audubon field-trip, but surprisingly caught off guard while walking through the woods. For years, I’ve prayed for it. Then it happened. And it all started with, “You wanna play Tarzan?”

That was my husband’s question to me when he saw a long vine hanging from a dead tree.

“Heck yeah, I wanna play,” I shouted. Who wouldn’t?

He grabbed the vine and pulled down to see if it would hold his weight. It started making loud noises. I thought it was going to immediately break….but I’ll let him test it first. He, he, he.

Suddenly, he looked up and his eyes grew wide as he excitingly clamored, “THERE’S AN OWL STARING RIGHT AT ME!”

“You lie,” I said as I started to walk over.

“No, no! Don’t move,” he replied.

“Whatever!” Rolling my eyes as I walked closer. (He’s usually a jokester and tries to trick me all the time.)

But this was no joke. For a beautiful, mystical, larger than life, great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) swooped out of that dead tree and landed a few feet in another tree.

WHOA!!! 
Yes, my mouth was hanging open.
Without words, we just stood there, amazed. Staring. The owl stared back. Until some songbirds noticed its unwelcome arrival and started to mob the poor owl. It flew to another tree, where a pair of jays took over mobbing duties. They are much more loud and aggressive.

“We must leave,” I said.
I did not want the owl to be bothered and I’m pretty sure by this time of year, there’s probably an owlet or two inside the tree. But before we left, I remembered to do something very important!

Look under the tree for an owl pellet!!!!! YES!
I found one and we quickly left.

And immediately it went back inside the dead tree.

I am still in shock over the whole, unexpected event….how just by chance we flushed out a great horned owl trying to play Tarzan.
I will treasure this day forever.

Unbound and off trail – watercolor

Like many of you, I’m home bound. My state of Illinois issued an order last Friday that restricts residents from venturing out except for necessary grocery trips or doctor visits. But Governor Pritzker said the magic words on television last Friday: “You many go for a walk or go hiking.”

Yes

So as I went hiking, with this whole scenario in mind, I wanted to be unbound and off trail…as unrestricted as possible. There are discoveries to be found when unrestricted. And I found many.

If you see a field, winter/early spring is the perfect time to explore it. Too cold for ticks.The dried grasses do not hinder you. The ground is clearly visible. Everything that is hiding becomes revealed when you find it.

There are bones to be found. What an exciting discovery! Even though these bones seem useless, having its meat stripped cleaned, it is very important for small animals.

Do you see the tiny scrape marks? These are gnaw marks left by small rodents who are getting their calcium from the bone. Very important indeed!

I made other such discoveries such as this female duck strike. You can see her brown feathers everywhere. I didn’t realize it was a female duck until I found her head. This may be gruesome for some, but I find it fascinating. If you would like to see her head, click on the photo and look near the upper right hand side of the photo. I believe you can zoom in some after opening the photo. If you do not want to see her head, let’s proceed to the next photo.

I also found evidence of a male cardinal strike. Several red feathers in the mud.

But the mosses I found to be most exotic. It was 35°F when I took this hike. Quite cold. But in a section on the edge of the field, where trees and shrubs are found, the ground has its own ecosystem. The ground is a great deal warmer where these mosses grow.

And on these mosses there truly is another world.

The last two pictures are mature sporophytes on the moss. When the sporophyte is ready, it will release spores from that capsule at the top. Phyte means plant, so a sporophyte is just a spore plant. The green part of the moss is the gametophyte.

What I enjoyed the most was this part of a dead tree that a woodpecker drilled massive holes in. It could have been from a pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), they make huge holes, but their holes are somewhat rectangular, so maybe this is from another woodpecker. In any case some thing lives inside. Some thing made a home.

I asked it, “Are you in quarantine?”

It replied, “Never.”

“Oh yes.” I answered, “You may fly where ever you like.”

With all kidding aside, some people may be frightened by the events that are unfolding lately. But take courage, God is in control. He is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.
When I start to feel my anxiety rise, I draw near to Him.

Jesus said:

I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have he light of life.
John 8:12

Being afraid is like walking in darkness. But we don’t need to stay there.

The other day I read the story of the woman who was caught in the very act of adultery. The men who caught her brought her to Jesus and said that Moses’ law commands that this woman be stoned for her sin. Stoned to death. Jesus, bent down and started drawing on the ground. (I always wondered what He drew.) Anyway, after some time, He told the men: Those of you that have no sin, cast the first stone. Nobody did. They walked away, one by one.

Here’s the thing… Jesus could have. He could have thrown a stone because He’s without sin. But he didn’t. He instead chose mercy. He looked at her and chose compassion. He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more”

I am that woman – figuratively

All of us are that woman in some way, whether we’ve lied or hurt someone. But Jesus chooses mercy. If we repent and accept that He died for our sins, we are forgiven and made clean in God’s eyes. A gift. And once you’re made clean to God, nothing shall put you in fear. Not your past life, not the current pandemic, and no event in the future. No one needs to remain in darkness. A free gift of light and life.

I like it.

 

 

Time for Skunk Cabbage – Watercolor

Eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is the earliest ephemeral spring wildflower to appear. Yes, this odd plant is a wildflower! And I found it while hiking just yesterday. Actually, I found tons of them! Skunk cabbage is a very unique plant. It generates its own heat by using oxygen to break down starches that it stored, in a process called thermogenesis. For two weeks, it can maintain an internal temperature of 60-70°F (15.56-21.11°C) while the outside temperature fluctuates in extreme cold. Because of this, skunk cabbage can melt the snow around it or create a dome under a thick blanket of snow. The goal is for the plant to be the very first to offer pollen to the early emerging insects. What an amazing plan and amazing plant.

On the day I found them, there was no snow on the ground. If you gently place your finger in the opening of the skunk cabbage you can begin to feel some warmth. The plants emit a fowl odor of rotting meat when their leaves are bruised or crushed. I did not smell anything foul when I saw them, then again, I was very careful where I stepped. You can find skunk cabbage near water in moist soil and only in the early spring.

Happy hunting and sketching!

Let’s Paint Deer Takes Flight Watercolor Sketch

Do you want to paint a quick watercolor sketch using only a few colors? Okay! Let’s go.

Here are my reference photos taken at Hammel Woods in Shorewood, IL on a beautiful winter day.

Step 1: Sketch out your road map. What do you want to convey about your hiking adventure? What did you see? On this particular day, I scared white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and  mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) all within a few minutes of each other! And could you blame them? They must take flight…when a big human is nearing closer. I like the combination of the two subjects. The deer, being larger than life in comparison to the landscape scene of mallards, makes a nice collage and great memorial of the day.
In this first step, I’m using a new pencil to sketch instead of a regular graphite pencil. This is a Prismacolor Col-Erase #20044 blue tinted pencil which completely erases even under watercolors. In the end however, I liked the blue pencil marks so much that I decided to leave them in after all.

Step 2: Wet the deer with clean water and a small round watercolor brush. I’m only using 5 Winsor & Newton watercolor paints for this sketch: Winsor yellow, raw sienna, burnt sienna, French ultramarine blue, and viridian green. While the deer is wet, paint in Winsor yellow all over the body except for the white parts. While this is still wet, touch the outer edge of the deer with a little raw sienna.

Step 3: Add a little more raw sienna to the body, staying clear of highlighted areas where the sun is striking on the right side.

Step 4: Make a mixture of French ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. Paint the shadow areas on the deer. Use French ultramarine blue in the shadow areas of the white sections like his tail and under belly. Do not cover all of the white. Let the paper show through.

Here is a picture of my set up. Unfortunately this sketch could not be painted outside. I needed to study the deer’s flight position from a photo. In the top palette I have many colors, but I made a new palette with just a few. I’m trying to see how few tubes I could use and how many color combinations I can create.

Step 5: We have to let the deer dry completely before painting detail, so let’s move onto the background trees in our landscape portion. Turn the paper upside down and wet the background trees. Using a mixture of French ultramarine blue and burnt sienna with a heavier concentration of the blue, paint the trees as one big area. Dab a little more blue sections and dab a little more brown sections to give it depth.

Step 6: While wet, scratch out some tree shapes with the end of a pointed brush or something sharp.

Step 7: Using the Winsor yellow and raw sienna mixture, paint the grasses making sure not to touch the distant trees if they’re still wet. Paint the lake using French ultramarine blue. While the lake is wet drop in some burnt sienna for reflective shadows. Under the deer’s feet, paint a few grasses using the same yellow mixture and paint a little snow using a mixture of viridian green and French ultramarine blue.

Step 8: Our deer should be dry, so paint in some dark details using a strong mixture of French Ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. As in strong, I mean more pigment and less water. Paint his eye, hoofs, and darkest shadows.

Step 9: Time to paint the foreground tree and ducks. I know I sound like a broken record, but again, you’re using a mixture of French ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. The ducks have more blue about them and the trees have more sienna.

Step 10: Embellish with text. Here I wrote the location with a pink brush pen and the scientific names of wildlife spotted with a fine tip brown marker. I don’t have scientific names memorized, but I’m hoping the more I write them, the quicker I will learn them. I forgot to write the date and temperature, but I can go back and do that later.

I hope you enjoyed this free step by step demonstrations on how to watercolor sketch nature using only 5 colors. Don’t be afraid to try it yourself! The more you practice the easier it will become.

Go take a hike and sketch something!

O Holy Night Watercolor

If you’re feeling low this holiday season, stop for a few minutes to reflect on this…

For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

The Mute Colors of Winter – Watercolor

Immediately at the start of my hike, a single blue jay welcomes me with a loud reception. Smiling, I look ahead and notice something silver hanging from a branch…something out of place…something not of the woods…

One silver ball.
A simple gesture really, but to me it signifies hope.

I continue my walk in the woods and about a half mile further, another…

This one, so slender, the runners wont notice it. The bikers wont notice it. Only the contemplative walkers looking for little miracles in nature will be observant and slow enough to notice. And when one is deliberately slow, purposefully mindful in the moment, a whole world opens up.

A world of frozen oaks trapped in ice.
A world of delicate weeds, donating their seeds to a frigid gust…

In this world, sometimes you hear things long before you see them, but only if you’re quiet. Like a swoop of sandhill cranes high in the sky.

 

And an angry squirrel’s screeches above a frozen stream…

While one unhappy squirrel screams, another quite a distance away cries too. Is the second cry a warning call? A sympathy cry?
If you’re still vigilantly observant and look down low, you might even find a hawk’s lost dinner…

I continue my hike to observe the mute colors of winter…

And I stop a few times just to hear nothing at all. The forest is generous with its gift of silence.

The ink in my pen refuses to flow…too cold. I switch to a more trusty device – a pencil.The cold air is exhilarating as it enters deep in my lungs. My nose is wet, but that’s what my gloves are for…wipe…wipe. Winter’s subdued colors do not make this hike drab. On the contrary! Beauty still illuminates in the woods in just about every inch, high and low. Don’t let the cold keep you indoors. You’ll miss out on winter’s elegance.