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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Quite a few years ago, I worked in the city for a major magazine publisher. There I met Marilyn, who became a very dear friend. Our work was very hectic with endless deadlines and demands of all kinds. When she took her vacation, she and her husband went to some remote-ish island in the middle of nowhere to just relax.

“How boring,” I remember thinking.

During that time period I wanted to travel. I remember a great trip staying with cousins in Arizona, heading south to see New Mexico and north to visit the Grand Canyon. I also had the  pleasure of staying with friends I’d made through the publisher and visiting beautiful western Kentucky. No laying about for me!

My, how times change.

Now my idea of a vacation is exactly that of Marilyn’s – a quiet beach, with as few people as possible to distract me, and simple relaxation. I’d like to bring some books, a notebook, a sketchbook, and basic art supplies and just sit. I’d like to close my eyes and listen to the ocean, and open my eyes and see this …

Now the funny thing is that the beautiful ocean above is actually the New Jersey shore, and about one and a half hour’s drive from my house. But I only want to go off-season when I can just sit. Better yet, that remote-ish island.

This could also work. It’s the quiet and the freedom from distractions I would like. And, of course, being near the water.

But overlooking or near the ocean would be my first choice. There is something so wonderfully soothing about the sound of the tide, ebbing and flowing, whispering and calling. I wouldn’t mind spending some of that time alone, just to rediscover parts of my artistic self that don’t find enough space and time in everyday life to express themselves. But see? There are two chairs, and you’re welcome to join me in companionable quiet, just enjoying the peace.

And at night? Being near enough to feel enveloped by the gathering dark, listening to the rushing of the ocean tide coming in. And just being. (This, too, by the way, is the Jersey shore.)

To think … Marilyn had it right all along.

 

Thank you to the photographers above who have generously shared their work online so that I may have such beautiful illustration to my post.

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I know I’ve mentioned this before, but the county where I live now is the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived. I had a quick trip to the dentist this morning, and thought to bring my camera along to capture a lovely view or two. This is what’s across the street from my dentist.

Further to the right, a church nestled in a grove of trees. It was – still is – a clear, bright day. The sky an almost startling blue with not a cloud in sight. The only sound, the slight hum of the tractor carrying across the fields, and the occasional car passing me by.

I snapped a few photos, but then just stood there, loving watching the farmer go about his mowing, likely the first cutting of the year. I probably should have waved. Out here, you can be pretty sure he’d wave back at you.

Looking down the road, heading west. On a day like this – cool, dry, sunny, and inviting – it would have been nice to go down this road and explore more, see where it would take me. But life being what it is, I had other stops to make, other things to do. In fact, in all the years I’ve been going to my dentist, I’ve never once taken the time to follow this beautiful road.

It’s the downside of our lives sometimes … not accepting an invitation because we’re too busy. The backroads are always a great invitation; I need to open my schedule up a bit.

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Yes, I find crows magical, and I am a fan. Whoa, whoa! OK, all you farmers out there – I see you throwing your hands up in the air with a loud and unified “OY!” But hear me out. Let’s look at these magnificent creatures from three standpoints – science, myth and magic, and personal experience.

First a little science. Did you know that crows and ravens (same family) and macaws have the highest brain to skull ratio of any bird on the planet? In fact, their brain to skull ratio is higher than in humans! This in part accounts for their high intelligence, not to mention they have been on the planet for 60-65 million years.  Crows also have a skill accorded to one of the most intelligent mammals on earth, the great apes, i.e. they create and use tools. Crows also will gather around one of their own when it has died to try and determine the cause of its death. They will  learn the facial configuration of a mean human and teach all other crows to know it as such and avoid that human. When a crow leaves its flock and joins another, it immediately acquires their “dialect” by taking on the characteristics of the most popular crows in that flock. No intellectual slouches, these crows. Learn more about them.

The magic. When I designed my own website a number of years ago, I drew the header for it myself. The header featured none other than the crow, and I have utilized that symbol for my blogs. Why?

Because in certain cultures and mythology, the crow is believed to be the symbol of magic and creativity, something near and dear to every artist’s soul. In some cultures the crow has been the symbol of evil and/or death, juxtaposed against the white of the dove and purity. I don’t see life in black and white terms, and for all their brilliance, I like the crow’s mythology in Native American terms and Crow Medicine. As such, Crow is a guide on the path to spirituality and enlightenment and is the keeper of sacred law. It is said that Crow has known the darkness and when they appear in our lives, may be guides through our own darkness on the path to enlightenment. Granted, these may be mythological ideas, but it can be said that all religious/spiritual beliefs are mythology, just different. I am not arguing that point, just drawn to the many inspiring aspects of the beautiful and intelligent crow.

Personal experience. I have a very deep back porch, and during the day, next to my back door, is a bowl of water and dry food for my neighbor’s cat. I’m working at my computer when I hear a rather loud caw. “That sounds mighty close,” I think. I look out the back door, and there is a good-sized crow pilfering the dry food. She sees me and flies away. Not 10 minutes later, I hear the caw again. I appear and she flies away. Shortly thereafter, out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of black through the side door window. She has learned in only two incidents that her caw brings me to the door, and now flies in silently. Seeing me again, her next attempt was from a different angle that I could not easily see.

Another time, I hear muted crow noises and slip quietly and unseen to watch four of them on the porch. They are talking amongst themselves and jostling for position, pushing one another away from the cat food bowl. I take their verbiage to mean “Wait your turn” and “Get out of my way.”  It is likely a dominance issue. I knock on the window and they disappear, but I could have watched their antics for hours; they were quite amusing. Now, as a result of this, I have to bring in the dry food for a while.

Occasionally, I will see a crow on my walks or on the fence near the window where I work. I always say hello and am sometimes acknowledged with a look and a “caw”. When a crow -– or any animal – appears unexpectedly and/or repeatedly in my life, I may look into its possible meaning. In the case of a crow, I might be at a crossroads, looking for or ready for a change, and need to pull more on my own intuition. Even if that has nothing to do with the crow, when is it ever a bad idea?

One last thought .. there is so much amazing art regarding crows, among them gorgeous paintings by Susan Seddon-Boulet ( above left), but also in a favorite children’s book, Crow Call by Lois Lowry and revered illustrator, Bagram Ibatoulline.

The natural world is filled with wonder and beauty. Depending on the day, I could happily write about pangolins, pandas, or hammerhead sharks. Today, it’s crows.

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The Delaware River in her many moods extends a never-ending invitation to be photographed. Just three houses away, I’m able to easily see whatever weather-inspired beauty is happening on the river on any given day.

One of my favorite views is after rain or snow, when the fog in the area has cleared, and a cloud all her own has settled on the river.

I’d already started my work, but when I looked outside, I couldn’t resist, so slipped out with my camera down to the edge of the road.

There’s just such a moodiness at this time of year to how that cloud sits low, and the wintery colors are as rich in their own way as the green vibrancy of spring. If I were able, I could happily just pull up a chair and sit for hours.

This very old concrete structure had something to do with the railroad tracks and the trains that once ran here, I imagine. Oddly enough, I’ve never inspected it more closely, and today that ground was a field of mud beneath the leaf litter.

An ancient twisting tree of the sort that inhabits mysteries and horror stories. One of the joys of the winter months is in appreciating the skeletal silhouettes of so many different types of trees.

Rising from the misty shrouds is a ghostly white hotel on the far river bank in Pennsylvania, appearing to be much closer than it actually is.

On drier days, I can go over the tracks and much closer to the river’s edge, but the muddy ground was soaked, and on the bluff overlooking the river at this point, undoubtedly quite slippery. So I just counted myself lucky to live near such beauty, and returned, inspired, to my work

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It’s been a very long time since I wept so at the end of a book. And I mean wept. Even I didn’t see that coming. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is an outstanding novel, told in the first person by Enzo, a dog. But don’t think that this is just some dog story – it’s not; it is skillfully told through the keen observation, devotion, and insightful outlook of a narrator who just happens to walk on four legs.

The main character, Denny, to whom Enzo has been deeply bonded since a small pup, is a race car driver, so periodically, there is background and information about racing. But don’t think this is a story about racing either – it’s not. Racing is a metaphor for life and how to live it, particularly racing in the rain, of which Denny is a master.

The first chapter begins at the end of Enzo’s life, where he wishes to be released with dignity. From watching “too much television” (according to Denny), Enzo has learned of a Mongolian belief whereby a dog who’s lived a good life will become human in his next incarnation. This is what Enzo aspires to, and despite his periodic dismay at not having speech and being unable to communicate what he knows, or to have been denied opposable thumbs, Enzo does his best to live a model life.

The second chapter begins the story of Denny, his love, Eve, their child Zoë, and the journey of their lives together. From Denny and Enzo watching race tapes on the TV, with Denny explaining all the details to Enzo, to Eve’s illness, to the in-laws overbearing attitude and ultimately cruel shattering of Denny’s life, we are drawn into a story – sometimes funny, sometimes tragic – of a life that could be anybody’s. It’s always set against the backdrop of Denny’s aspirations to be an accomplished driver, and his teaching Enzo the subtleties of mastering the track. Enzo gets it. “Your car goes where your eyes go. Simply another way of saying that which you manifest is before you.”

You do not need to have ever had a dog to appreciate Enzo or his telling of Denny’s story. But if you have ever loved a dog at any time in your life, you will be greatly enriched – and moved – by Enzo, and all that he is. Likewise, those familiar with racing will have the extra bonus of understanding the racing world references. But you don’t have to know anything about racing – as I do not – to understand the story, for again, in the end it’s not about racing, but life.

While we knew from Chapter One where this book would end, the impact is unexpectedly profound; the epilogue, deeply touching. If nothing else, Enzo is a remarkably skilled writer. I had not realized how invested I was in this story … and in Enzo … until the end. The Art of Racing in the Rain is a keeper.

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One of the wonders of nature is the movement of large numbers of animals in a synchronization we can only observe in awe. In fish, we see schools, in insects, swarms, and in birds, we see flocking. It is a mesmerizing dance. Above we see crows, below starlings.

In the video linked to here, titled The Starling and Falcon Dance by Nick Dunlop, set to the most perfect music, we see thousands of European Starlings migrating south. They have attracted a prime predator, the Peregrine Falcon, and in attempting to evade him, they fly in synch and create amazing patterns in the sky. As fascinating as these photos might be, they cannot show you the magic created by the birds in flight.

Please take a look at one of nature’s miracles.

 

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The internet is an incredible source of so many things, and some incredibly wonderful. This is one of those, and brings tears to my eyes each time I watch it. So simple, so beautifully and brilliantly done. Just 3 minutes you won’t regret. Go full screen.

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While waiting for needed input on a number of projects yesterday, I decided to take the walk I’d been putting off. It was sunny and crisp, and even in mid-afternoon, with the shorter days, the light was angling through the trees and casting long shadows.

Ornamental grasses flanking a walkway sport their furry blooms. Many trees in the area have lost the majority of their leaves.

Long shadows are cast by an already lowering sun.
In the background, a sparkling river moseys south.

Something new for me when I moved to this side of the state was the concept of rural delivery. The postal carrier does not bring mail to the mailbox by your front door, but instead leaves it in mailboxes which stand alone or in groups at the edge of properties and driveways. Certainly makes sense considering how much of this area is farmland!

My town was initially established in the mid 18th century, a mill town on the river, but was not officially incorporated with its current name until 1925. It went through many names, among them Burnt Mills after the grist mill was destroyed by fire in 1769. Many older buildings grace the town, this one (I’m estimating late 1800’s) is converted to a barber shop and residence.

Trees along the riverbank holding on to the last of their leaves.

Looking north, the Delaware is a sea of calm. Whether due to rain or the extended warmth of much of the fall season, there were not many of the brilliant oranges and reds to be found among the trees this year. Instead, the green leaves seemed to fade to dull yellows and browns.

A group of Canada geese swim, relax, and feed at the edge of the riverbank.

An oak leaf on the textured concrete bridge path looks both crisp and leathery. It’s shadow seems to have another life altogether, something insectile.

A train once connected Phillipsburg about 1/2 hour north of my town all the way south to Lambertville, paralleling the river. The tracks were recently cleared and maintained to allow a train to travel several miles for fun trips for passengers at an annual event. The mournful whistle of the steam engine could be heard for two days, and then on occasion afterward.

Walking with my camera always opens my eyes to my surroundings, and causes me to be very grateful to live where I do – an older, established community with a long history, and where people still are gracious and kind.

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As the summer has ambled on, turning gently into the 40’s and 50’s at night, certain of the flowers and shrubs begin to lose their color, their energy to stand tall, their vibrancy. Such is the case each year with the beautiful snowball hydrangeas (as I call them.) They produce huge balls of snow white flowers in the spring which turn to the softest lime green as summer glides through. In late August, the canes bend low to the ground, and the once white snowballs now begin to turn to rust and copper. This is what I observed in the garden that surrounds my back porch.

And then, about a week ago, a herald appeared – a new, small white snowball. The temperatures had not gotten warmer; in fact, cooler nights had arrived when it bloomed. I am enchanted. And somehow heartened, as if a messenger of hope had appeared in the midst of so much worldly turmoil. The leaves of this large plant are drooping, crumbling at the edges, yet bright and tall stands a youngster in their midst. So I thought to photograph this resistor of cold nights, this affirmer of life among his fellow snowballs, who slowly yield to the coming of fall.

The snowball hydrangeas look equally magnificent as they dress for fall, slipping gradually into their new and deep copper attire.

I am a believer in signs and synchronicity (which people often refer to as “coincidence” or “accidents”). I can’t be sure what message this lovely upstart is meant to bring, if any, but it brought me a renewed wonder in nature and her whims; a small feeling that anything is possible; and a smile every time I look at it. And that’s quite enough.

I did not go on my brief photographic venture alone. I was joined by Pumpkin, who lives next door, and who thought to also enjoy the simple wonders of a sunny morning.

 

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It was my plan to post a drawing I did of two whales. I went through my recent sketchbooks, and they seemed to have swam away. But what kept appealing to me was this pen and ink sketch I did of a spirit bear.

Spirit bears are snow white bears, not albinos, that live only in a specific area of Canada, the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest unspoiled temperate rainforests on earth. This is a partly protected area in the islands and coastal areas of British Columbia. They are actually a rare subspecies of the American black bear known as a Kermode bear, most of whom have dark coats. The double recessive gene for the white coat must be carried by both parents in order to produce the white spirit, or ghost, bear. They are looked on as sacred by the indigenous tribes of the area, and have become symbolic of these people’s fight against proposed desecration of the rainforest by those wishing to build a pipeline there. It is unclear how many spirit bears there actually are, but estimates run from 150 to 200.

Learn more about the Spirit Bear.

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I do. Even if I’m not doing very much of it at this very moment.

Yesterday I received a notice from Pinterest that someone had pinned one of my French Bulldog drawings from one of my boards which features only my own Frenchie artwork. (I have others I’m working on, but they’re not active yet.)

I don’t know why I feel so inordinately touched when someone pins one of my drawings, but I do. Why do I still feel so surprised when someone appreciates my work? Since many people actually do, I thought to share a drawing I did not too long ago of a grey wolf.

I have a deep fondness for wolves and feel very connected to them. I actually feel connected to all animals, and my work in Frenchies has simply been part of my path. When I visited the board where this kind person had pinned my French Bulldog pencil drawing I was greeted not with just Frenchies, but drawings of all kinds and subjects. I was entranced. They reminded me of how much I really do love to draw. I felt inspired.

I realized I need to make time. Not find it, but make it. It’s a challenge in an overly busy schedule, but when I looked at all those drawings, I felt happy. I felt happy because I know that that’s inside me. And I don’t have to draw for a reason, such as working on my portfolio or illustrating one of my picture books; I can draw just because I like to draw. It’s seems like such a novel idea, yet it’s hardly a new one.

And so, once again, I am offered a lesson I haven’t yet learned – different time in my life, different presentation, somewhat of a variation on a theme. I do believe that we all have lessons to learn in our lives, and we will be given them again and again until we catch on. Sometimes I feel like a pretty slow learner, but I’m sure it’s all unfolding exactly as it should.

And for those who’ve read this post, and who very possibly agree, I thank you for stopping by, for briefly being part of my world and perhaps sharing yours, both of us unfolding together.

 

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Serene is sure a feeling that can escape us when we’ve got a lot on our plate. And lately, this photo is what’s been bringing me back to some semblance of serene.

Beautiful orcas in a sea of calm. I feel like perhaps they are dreaming. Diving, resting and just breathing in the night air. The last few weeks have been far too busy with one thing or another and although I know – we all do – that from time to time, it’s just how life is, I found myself longing for a touch of the serenity I see in this photo. I found myself wishing I could weave among them as kin where they would welcome me, not be afraid, and just share with me whatever they know and feel in the moment captured above.

“They were watching, out there past men’s knowing, where stars are drowning and whales ferry their vast souls through the black and seamless sea.”
~ Cormac McCarthy

But this period of so much going on has had its up-side, too.  I have been on a real reading tear, loving diving into one book after another, middle grade, adult, picture books, no matter. Perhaps these books have all given me the respite I needed, new places to go, people to know, situations that grabbed my attention and heightened sensation. What a rich world books bring us.

OK, change of plans. I’ll sit on an outcropping of rocks next to the orcas, they with their dreams, me with my book, one in spirit under a full moon. Join me?

 

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