The blossoms on my heirloom crab apple tree have long since faded and its now covered in hundreds of tiny green apples. She’s been working hard for months now, preparing her food for autumn, when the summer supplies of brambles and chokecherries have all been picked clean.
The Eastern Bluebird has made fewer trips into the open spaces at my woods edge lately, but I can count on his reliability each year to be among the first spring arrivals. This year, I spotted him before I even saw my first Robin. His showy blue feathers striking against the brown monochrome landscape of the early season; a harbinger of the promise of a new life-giving cycle.
The apple blossom and the bluebird; Each spring they flash onto a dreary Midwest landscape with promise and predictability, bringing with them beauty, wonder, abundance, and stability. Extending their gifts freely, they give unconditionally and only ask us to appreciate and accept them in return.
“But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.” – Job 12:7
This fall I caught my first glimpse of a Great Blue Heron. I just so happened to be looking out my picture window and gazing through the trees to the creek below. It was thrilling to watch it move along the creek, hunting in the tall grasses. I knew that this one would be on my art “to do” list soon. And so here it is, all finished now. I hope I was able to capture it’s essence, in all it’s magnificence.
“Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” – Genesis 1:20
Two new species that 2019 brought to our property was the ever elusive Wood Thrush and the little appreciated Pokeberry plant, providing me with further inspiration, wonder, and understanding. I’ll let this post rest there and leave you with my latest work.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11
Last year around this time I wrote a post about the Gray Catbird’s fall migration from my property, entitled “Farewell, Gray Catbird.” And so I feel this year needs a revisit to the post now that another Gray Catbird exodus is upon me.
The 2019 spring bird migration brought with it a slightly different dynamic than did 2018. The places on my property they previously seemed to like the most were in direct correlation to the fact that I hadn’t had the opportunity to do some badly needed plant control and forest management. I purposely approached many of these areas with an easy hand this year, but it still seemed rather severe when I looked upon the freshly opened spaces in early spring. Would the same birds come back to the area? What about my beloved Gray Catbirds? Soon, time and its spring arrivals proved that all my worrying had been unnecessary. The Gray Catbirds arrived! And then they arrived some more. And then they had broods. And by July the entire property seemed to be filled with their flicking tails and noisy mews.
These birds are known to be “elusive” and “hard to spot”. My Gray Catbirds have definitely overcome their shy tendencies. Every morning this summer as I worked in my gardens around the house, a Catbird would fly out of the woods just to perch on a nearby tree and mew at me. As they grew more adamant in their noise making (and annoying), often I would remind them that they inhabit my property and life here was pretty good for them, so they just needed to relax. Using pragmatism didn’t avail to them much, so in the end, I told them they were just going to have to deal with my presence. They responded with the now broken record response of “mew” and provided me with a summer full of fun (and noisy) bird watching.
So here I am again. It’s mid-September and the inevitable is approaching. I’m remaining diligent about recording my bird sightings each day so I don’t miss it. It happens so quietly, like an exhale. One day it’s an unusually warm autumn afternoon and all of nature is around; the Phoebe is dancing in mid air for its catch, a few Hummingbirds zoom by, and I spot a Painted Lady fluttering among the Autumn Joy Sedum. Amid the activity I can always hear Catbird calling. Calling to me, I imagine, bidding farewell to another splendid year. It sure was a good one this year! I stand and listen and wait, and take everything in. The next morning brings the familiar low dark clouds of Wisconsin autumn, and as I walk through the edges of the forest, the mews have become silent. They are all gone now.
Farewell Gray Catbird, again farewell.
“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” – Matthew 6:26
An animated version…
It moves quietly in the shadows of the forest.
Like a mist, fading in and around its surroundings.
A flickering wisp, lingering without a sound.
A thought, then it vanishes.
Among the shadows, ever watching.
There is never a lack of inspiration here in the summer, only the lack of time to put down all my ideas. This summer has been no different, and life has been busy for me with everything else except artwork. This piece took me 4 months to go from concept to finish, which is not what I had in mind, but nonetheless I feel happy about how it turned out. Sometimes taking a long time on art is exactly what it needs to be crafted properly!
“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” -Psalm 91:4
A small flock of robins stayed on our property through November this autumn. In December I only spotted two flying among the treetops. During the first snow flurries and increasingly cold temperatures, occasionally I would see two, occasionally I would see one. Then winter arrived proper, with consistent snowfall and harsh temperatures. I wondered, what became of my robins? On a warm day of snow melt, I spotted one fat robin flying in the treetops, feeding off the fruit leftover in the Hackberry trees. I was happy and relieved. But winter returned with it’s depths of snow and on January 31, a low temperature of -35 Fahrenheit. Would the robin make it through? Days went by and I wondered, though winter was undaunted. Then, on February 4th, the weather turned and we saw 40 degrees. With it, the robin was out. Flying in the treetops above our bird feeder, keeping company with the winter birds and eating hackberries. From that point on, I would see my one fat robin every other day or so. In late February it was joined by a couple more, and then the flock arrived on March 12 and it was lost to the woods once again.
“In him all things hold together.” – Colossions 1:17
These wonderful little birds have captured my imagination since the day we moved here. Throughout the year I can hear their distinct calls all around the forest, though have to watch closely just to get a glance at one. In the winter however, the bird feeders get hung up and they become a welcomed mainstay throughout the dark cold months. There are many things I dread about the harsh winters here, but come feeder season, I find myself looking forward to the time spent watching my winter “friends”. In the spring, they are back to the woods!
I’ve delayed posting this last painting, which I finished just before Christmas, as I’ve had a hard time creating a story to accompany it that I thought was good enough. So, perhaps this time simplicity is best. I painted this for a gift for a family member, and it’s a scene of my grandmother at her house on “the farm”, that the family has affectionately come to know so well. She was dear and beloved to all who knew her, and even though it’s been 14 years since Mamie went home to be with her Lord and family before her, I still found myself getting teary eyed at times while painting this. I’ve added a very brief story of her life after the photos, just to attach a bit more history to the picture if you’re interested in further reading.
Thanks for looking! 🙂
Mamie was born in 1909 in Detroit, Michigan. Both her parents were first generation Americans from German immigrant families. They spoke fluent German as well as English, though Mamie and her brothers were raised to speak only English. As a girl, she grew up in Detroit, in what was then considered a nice middle-class neighborhood. She had 3 brothers, one of whom died of Polio at 2 years old. Her mother had battled sickness on and off for most of her life, and when Mamie was 9 years old, her mother died of gall bladder complications at the age of 36. Shortly afterwards, her grandmother moved in with the family and helped her father with the children. She met her husband, Louis, on a street car in Detroit and was married, age 20, in 1929. Mamie & Louis started their family in Detroit, raising 4 children through Chicken Pox, Measles, Whooping Cough, and Scarlet Fever. After WWII, Louis lost his job at the war plant in Detroit, and the family moved to Springport, a small country town in southern Michigan to make a fresh start. Her life turned to farm work, and the family of 6 lived for awhile with no electricity, running water, indoor toilet, or telephone in a 3 bedroom house. She and Louis raised 3 more children along the way (finally adding electricity and indoor plumbing); the last two children being twins, born when Mamie was 42 years old. Mamie & Louis celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 1979, and just a year and a half later, Louis died from heart failure at age 75. After her husband’s death, Mamie lived alone on the farm for nearly 20 years, until she moved in with family. Family was the most important thing to her, and upon her own death at 95 years old, she left behind 7 children, 21 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren, and 1 great-great grandchild. Due to the times she lived in, Mamie’s life was not easy, being filled with the hardships of poverty, sickness, and death. Though despite her circumstances, she was always able to give love, and taught us about the unconditional and abiding love of the Lord just by being herself. Mamie made such an impression upon us that 14 years since she went home, she is still remembered, loved, and missed by those she left behind.
For this year’s Christmas card, I found inspiration in one of my favorite places to spend time in nature – that is my very own backyard! It seems that this year we have been lucky to enjoy significantly more Cardinals than we did last winter season, and so, observing them as I often do, it was an was easy choice to make. In addition to my newest card, I also printed some cards from a poinsettia design I painted a few years back, though never did anything with. Both original designs were painted using gouache, with touch-ups done digitally.
And because it’s Christmas, something different from my normal type of posts, and that is a personal note; a bit deeper message for a moment… I don’t think the message which these cardinals are proclaiming need much explanation – even to non-religious people. And I do think this message can absolutely transcend to non-religious and even other religious denominations – because it would be a travesty to navigate the darkness of this world today without taking some amount of time to understand where we personally find our foundation of light and hope. If ever there were a time in the past 50 years to contemplate the darkness in the world which we live, I think this Christmas is a good time for such reflection and introspection. Perhaps you live in a blessed bubble of peace and prosperity, or perhaps you are gifted with eternal optimism – what a gift, the more power to you! My little corner of nature is a beautiful glimpse of the “light” of creation that sits on my doorstep and blesses me without me even asking for it. Though, even among all the beauty that I have set before me, sadness has a way of creeping in. I cried yesterday as two beautiful (male & female) cardinals lay dying in my hands, and it only takes but a glimpse at any news page to see that the world is not becoming lighter, but darker. Not becoming more beautiful, but being trampled upon. Not being filled with peace, but filled with divisiveness. Not loving it’s neighbor, but self-absorbed. Hurting, struggling, seeking answers to heal itself through every social, political, economical, technological, and even spiritual means it can find – and yet, does it ever find healing? So, maybe while the world is struggling, and grasping at dust, and telling us what we should be thinking, we ourselves can shut all of that out. We can take some time to search for a light that isn’t temporary or changes with it’s government leaders or social media propaganda. When everything in the world seems to conspire to threaten my comfort, solace, and way of life, I remind myself that this is all very short and temporary. My faith in God grounds me, even from among the darkness, and reminds me that there is a light which sustains a greater hope than what governments, movements, and apps would have me believe! So what hope can I have in this moment, in this life even, if it is derived from a path that brings no healing and leads only to greater sadness and deeper darkness? For me, my faith that God is the light of the world is the reason for the hope that I have!
Merry Christmas! 🙂
My kitchen window is a wonderful spot to sit and watch the world of nature move, breathe, and change with time and seasons. I’ve spent more hours than I dare admit gazing, observing, and simply day dreaming through that window, and it’s through that lens that I’d like to share a little bit of my world illustrated for you.
P.s. Also, it’s my first real experimentation with some animation – all hand painted using gouache paint.
August has drawn to a close and the rhythm of the woods is in flux once again. Since moving to the homestead, August has quickly become one of my favorite months of the year. Months of hard work and sweat are realized as the bounty of summer is at it’s finest in Wisconsin. Most of the birds are done nesting (So, I can finally take that sparrow’s nest out of the shutters!), and at last the wildflowers start blooming from the plants that look so weedy most of the summer. Best of all, the spring explosion of bugs and weeds has finally reached manageable levels and we get the occasional day of humidity reprieve. We are blessed to have quite an array of birds around our property, and a habitat that naturally attracts and sustains both permanent and migratory species. Since our time here, I’ve also grown quite fond of the Gray Catbird. Interestingly, they are considered to be elusive to most, though they are quite the opposite here and enjoyable to watch flitting about the yard and house. This year we even had one nest in a hydrangea bush right next to the porch, keeping a watchful and curious eye on me everyday as I would water the plants around her.
Now, with the change of seasons at hand and the forthcoming migration south of many bird species, including Gray Catbird, for the first time my heart is reluctant to watch August slip into September. For the time being, I still hear one or two Catbirds mew at me when I walk close to the edge of the woods; though their playing in the yard has ceased, I no longer see them dance around the house with tails flickering, and the constant chatter from the thickets are all but gone. In the spring it will all be renewed again, but for the moment, August has ended, and I can’t help but feel a bit like I’m saying a long goodbye to an old friend. So, till spring, farewell Gray Catbird.
I recently did this “quick” painting sketch in gouache. Inspiration; Midwest in August. 🙂
This painting was fun to work on, as this guy has become one of my favorite birds here. The Gray Catbird migrates to SW Wisconsin every spring, and our property has become a favorite hangout of theirs. Dark gray in color, they are easy to miss among the more colorful bird species, but if you take the time to watch and listen, you’ll find they make up for it in character. Their characteristic “cat-like” call is where they get their namesake, and while walking through the woods, or even down my drive, I always know where to spot them because I can hear them first. And if you ever get the opportunity to observe one up close, the subtleties in their color are a beautiful understatement, and they might just have a berry in their mouth!
Finding these beauties growing in my woods.