Polka-dot Retake


Hello again :)

I want to thank all of you for your generous comments and for your feedback. Taking out the egret in the water seemed like a very good idea~what do you think?  The scale would be wrong to add smaller birds, I’m afraid. You can really tell the difference a day makes to the grass, too. Today it is snowing, and the light is more dim.

I learn so much from you. How happy I am to have found such wonderful friends in blogland!

Peace and snowflakes to you….unless you live in Texas, in which case, may the frostweed be frosty :)




Polka-Dot Meadow

Polka-dot Meadow

This is a work in progress, but I wanted to share it with you. I rather like the polka-dot flowers against the bands of color in the foreground but am not sure about the egrets. The one in the water I painted out, then sort of put back in. Anyhow, it is that sort of day.

Recently I saw a bumper-sticker that I liked. It read, “I would rather be here right now.” I love that, because it seems to me a lot of the problems in our world stem from people wishing they were somewhere else and so neglecting the place where they are. The ecosystem, the community. Of course as I type this, the wind outside is howling, it is bitterly cold, and there is a bunch of snow on top of ice and I dearly wish I lived somewhere else. Like I said, it is that kind of day. Anyhow, this is where I am right now so I’ll do my best to embrace it.



November Shimmer

November Shimmer

November Shimmer

The air was still, the light was soft and diffuse, the trail beckoned. I haven’t always been a fan of fall but Illinois does it really really well. The ticks and mosquitoes have gone away, mercifully, and the temperatures have moderated. There is a lovely lavender cast to the sky which makes the fall foliage pop.

In this particular woodland there are some hills to climb which I appreciate, both for the exercise and for the vistas. I’ll be bringing you more, soon, I hope. These sisters are maple saplings. I’m a little ambivalent about maples, to be honest. They would love to replace our oak-hickory forests, which are maybe not as pretty but which provide valuable food and shelter for a great number of creatures. In my mind, maples belong along the Eastern corridor. But one thing nature has tried to teach me is that life is all about change. So, I look for the meaning in these shifting forests.  There is a question many don’t want to consider…maybe the ecosystems we work so hard to protect were not meant to be held in amber.  Over the course of nearly 3 decades I’ve participated in restoration work, mostly as a volunteer. As the years passed I noticed that the list of invasives grows every year, land managers grow ever more stressed out, and herbicide use has increased tremendously. I’ve never been a fan of using chemicals on the land, but I was told that it was the only way to control invasive trees and garden escapees that are overrunning our natural areas. I went along with this, reluctantly, for awhile. Until I began to notice that it doesn’t even work. So I’ve been asking the question~what if we don’t do that anymore?  Yes, I suppose some species will be lost but maybe they won’t. Or maybe a new balance will establish itself, if we stop getting in there and trying to control it.

I dunno. I’d love to see some studies on it. I am starting to see some books appear on the library shelves, other people asking the same question. What a relief it would be if our preserves could go back to being a place to relax and stop being battlegrounds. Who knows, maybe other aspects of life on this planet would also find a natural balance if we would all stop trying to control everything. Isn’t that what religious extremism of all stripes is, the desire to tell the other guy how to behave?

Of course, my mind immediately tosses up “yeah, buts” at me. What about the stand of trees I saw this week with a dense carpet of reed canary grass growing under the trees, choking out all else? I don’t know. I do know that throwing chemicals and either/or mentality at it hasn’t worked. What do you think? Does anybody have any experience in this idea of helping new species live in harmony with existing ecosystems?

Rollins Prairie Restoration

Rollins Restoration

Rollins Prairie Restoration

I’ve mentioned Rollins Savanna before in this blog. Here is one of my favorite stretches of the trail. You can see the magnificent white oaks in the distance. There is nothing quite like an open-grown oak, with room to spread wide its arching limbs. In the middle ground is the result of breaking drainage tiles. Right away the water came back to the land, bringing with it many birds. Success! And in the foreground is a patch of prairie. Brush cutting and prescribed burns keep this system in good health, while some judicious seeding of native forbs is reweaving the tapestry that provides food and shelter for a great number of creatures.

The farmer who owned this place before it became a preserve obviously took good care of the land. I hope he or his family are pleased with how it is turning out these days. Places like this are wonderful in their own right, but they also give me hope because of the human influence they represent. There are forces in the world that help to restore balance and healing. I believe these forces will prevail over the distortions that create fear, hatred and war.

Compass Plant Reverie

compass plant better

“Compass Plant Reverie”

melissa blue fine art

In the field, Compass Plants can get quite tall~well over my head. So when I spotted this one lolling over in the lazy hot summer heat, I grabbed my chance. My intention was merely to get a reference photo for a later pen and ink drawing. When I developed the image, however, I was struck by how graceful the plant’s pose was. For the painting I added blooms in the background, and then washed over them with color to mute them and set a meditative tone.

Every painting is imbued with layers of meaning, for me. I remember the day in the field, for starters. The way the heat felt, and the scratchiness of the leaves, the song of birds and the breeze bringing scents of wild roses. The feeling late summer brings me, of joy and sadness at the same time. Most of all I wanted to convey the lyrical nature of a plant ensconced in its proper habitat, its home.

My dad’s house is under contract. I suppose it will be a relief when it is sold, yet… I mention it because of the frogs. Several years ago he installed a little pond in the garden by the house. Winter took out the pump one year, and the fish all died. However, it was colonized by several frogs. Over this past summer I have watched them. There seem to be too many, for the little pond, and yet they seem alright. They could leave if they wanted to. There is a  lake at the foot of the hill. The little pond seems to be self sustaining in there under the overgrown plants. Duckweed floats on the surface, keeping the water oxygenated and cool. The frogs keep mosquitoes down, I guess. And in winter? I suspect there is a layer of muck at the bottom where they burrow down and hybernate. Water hasn’t been added to this pond ever. It just stays the same~a cool dark oasis filled with frogs. I draw hope from that little frog pond and sort of wish I’d thought to catch a few to bring home. Maybe I could recreate the setting but it would be too sad if I ended up killing them. At any rate,  I think of them there, living out their froggy lives year after year, hanging on in an unlikely little habitat. Life is like that. I’ve read that we are members of the last generation to have played outdoors when we were children. I suspect it is true. There is a trend for families to have more children again. I’m not judging, but just where do these people think all their children will live? Everywhere I look, new roads are being carved through erstwhile fields and woodlands, new houses are cropping up like tumors on the land. I savor the little bits of wild I can find the way I savor the last flowers of the season. But, the frogs tell me, don’t give up. Nature will persist, life will renew itself. At the last moment wonderful discoveries can still surprise you.

I hope you receive a nice surprise today :)

Evolution of Ideas

Progress 2

You may notice a signature on this draft of the painting…ignore it. The canvas was originally intended to be an abstract painting, but I just couldn’t leave it there. In this image I’ve begun laying in the distant line of trees that protect this little wetland from the world.

I intended to show the painting in more stages but I got all caught up in painting and forgot to pause for the camera. Sorry about that! Here it is, completed:

Spring Bluff Egret

You’ll notice that the finished painting appears to be a much higher key than it started out as. Hm. I think that is a function of adding elements, plus perhaps differences in lighting. I liked the water just as it was, and so set about layering in vegetation to give context to the egret stalking about in the foreground.

This ecosystem has changed, and will continue to change. You’ll notice the tree snags in the center. Water levels were altered at some point, allowing trees to get growing there. Then drought ended, water rose, and the trees died. This is good news for herons that nest in dead trees. Eventually these snags will rot away, and the birds will have to find a new place to hang out. That is fine, if we allow it to happen. Sometimes the conservation community gets hung up on what was, and tries to force the natural world to stay still. We expend tremendous amounts of effort and money trying to keep habitats just as they are, forgetting that nature is always changing and evolving. I think we can let go, a little. This may even apply to exotics. Certainly alien species can look like thugs that will take over the world. We wage endless wars against them, often creating the precise conditions they need in the process. What if we step back for a moment instead, and wait to see what happens? In Australia, native creatures are learning how to cope with Cane toads, for example, and the species is beginning to fit in. I think that is very hopeful news. Of course, the wider community also has to help. Rivers need room to meander, creating shifting wetland habitats. Nature evolves and our understanding needs to evolve along with it. Trust nature’s wild unfolding and learn to flow along.

I’ll leave you with a cool mushroom I came across at the bog this weekend…

Volo 'shroom

Pretty neat, huh?

Painting in Progress, and a Walk

in progress

To begin a painting, I like to create an underpainting con brio. That’s fancy for “letting the paint fly”. This one is planning to be a wetland painting, with an egret in it. Let’s see if that is where it goes. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime I ran off to play hooky at Illinois Beach State Park earlier this week, and I want to share with you some of my favorite photos of the day. They will probably become paintings eventually but I’m slow.

Euphorbia corollata turned red

Here is a Euphorbia corollata, all decked out in red for fall. I love this plant for its lacy white flowers that dance over the savanna for several weeks, and then light up late dog days of summer by turning red.

Dead River TRail

We are on the Dead River Trail, heading toward Lake Michigan in a meandering sort of way. That is my favorite way of getting somewhere, so this is pretty much my favorite trail ever. To the left are older dunes, left by the retreating glaciers. They are cloaked by Black Oaks, Quercus velutina. To the right is a glorious sedge meadow wherin rises the Dead River. In the summer is it filled with fritillaries and many other butterflies. In fact, back when I was the butterfly monitor, this was a very busy spot. Woodland and Savanna butterflies on one side of the trail, wetland and meadow butterflies on the other. Swiveling my head back and forth could make me dizzy but it was worth the effort.

Ladie's Tresses

Ladie’s Tresses! What a cool find. I really like how the blooms spiral up.

DunesAnd that brings us out to the foredunes.  This photo doesn’t show it well, but blazing stars, asters and golden rod were in bloom all over the flanks of the dunes. More, in fact, than I’ve seen before. When I first started coming to the Park, the dunes were much more bare of vegetation. It has been quite interesting to watch succession take place here. By the way, I find it quite odd how the lake appears to be about to pour right off the screen. That is a bit unsettling. A check of the tree reassures me that I was not leaning, myself. Photographers, what am I doing wrong?

As you can see, it was a very good day to play hooky. At one point I looked up and could see the Chicago skyline. You can’t always, but on a clear day you can. I marvel about that~the contrast between the wildness where I stand and the city I can see.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our walk :)