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.

Let’s Paint a Prairie Trillium Spring Wildflower!

Spring ephemeral (lasing a short time) wildflowers are making their appearance on the forest floor as we speak! But you must seek them out now, for soon the leaves on the trees will be fully developed and the shade wont support them.

This video shows how to paint a prairie trillium. I could not include a voice over step by step because my software was glitchy. So, this video is just a visual step by step.

More videos on spring ephemeral wildflowers soon to come.

Enjoy the sights and sounds of spring!

 

Lake Katherine Pine Watercolor

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Even the pine reaches for the light.

When I go to a location with sketching supplies in hand, how do I decide on a subject to sketch? I begin to walk…looking for something to speak to me. Something in nature has to reach out, it has to say something without saying anything at all. It could be a unique feature on an ordinary object. It could be a look, a moment, or a feeling. I could relate to it or I could be in awe of it.

This pine at Lake Katherine spoke to me without words. It said, “I’m doing all I can in my circumstance, then I let go.”

Do you feel this way? Can you come to this conclusion?

Sometimes when the world seems dark and overwhelming, reaching for the light then letting go is all we can do.

Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. And God’s peace which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

May you find peace and comfort in the light.
Amen

American White Pelican Watercolor

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Was I seeing correctly? Was that a pelican on the water?

A few days ago, on a spur, I drove out to Rock Run Rookery by myself. I’ve been there once before with ornithologists on a bird outing. It’s fun to listen to bird enthusiasts, especially knowledgeable ones who can identify birds by their call alone and not by sight. You want to be with one when trying to identify birds.

Anyway, on to my visit… I’m not a bird expert, however I was seeing a pelican. In the Chicago area. Hmmm…

Sure enough after some research I learned all about the migrating American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos). Unlike its cousin the brown pelican who is a coastal bird, the American white pelican migrates over land on its way to the Dakotas or Canada from Mexico. He is a very large bird (30 pounds) and his bill can hold 3 gallons of water. As he feeds, he skims the water collecting fish. He does not dive under water like his cousin, the brown pelican. And that hump on its bill? That means its breeding season. After breeding season is over, it will lose that growth.

To look at him, you would assume he was completely white, but in flight he reveals his stunning black flight feathers.

When I saw this creature, we locked eyes. There was a moment. As a faith based person, it is amazing to connect with wildlife and have a common bond with the One who created us. I can’t exactly put that into words, but some of you know what I’m talking about. Maybe that’s why nature is so important to me. It’s not just random cells on automatic pilot…it’s so much deeper than that.

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After my pelican encounter, I walked to the stream at the beginning of the park. Under the comfortable picnic shelter, I sketched the waters, oh so green.

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I don’t know why the water was vibrant green, turquoise like, but that is no exaggeration. This section of the park was quiet, beautiful, and last year’s dried grasses made a marvelous tone.

If you are ever in the Joliet area, I would advise a visit to Rock Run Rookery.