Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Out Loud

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”--Emile ZolaAzalea

We are all artists. We come into this world to create. To create our lives, to crack our doubts wide open, to live our stories. There are no mistakes. There is no time wasted. There are no failures. There is only our becoming and our dreams and our stories. So take a deep breath. Lift your voice high and live out loud.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wood Thrush Concert

One edge of my yard drops off into a steep, undisturbed woodland. To sit at its edge is to sit perched at the top of a grand amphitheater awaiting a performance. And yesterday there was a performance of the most pristine kind.
After two days of rain, rain and more rain, the forest canopy sagged and dripped. The thick piles of leaf litter were sodden and silent, the air cold and heavy, the sky overcast with gray. But the song of the wood thrush drew me into his hushed world, to a stage so reverent and tranquil that I became transfixed for the duration of an hour.

In silence I listened to the most heavenly and purest of songs. And after a while, I could follow his movement, though still unseen, by the non-melodious vocal ‘blubs’ and chirps that seemed to accompany his adjustment to a new perch and introduce his next song. This gave me great delight.

Toward the end of the concert, he paid me a visit, landing on a branch just over my left shoulder, and showed me his next perch, so I could both see and hear. It was as though I had a seat in the VIP section of the theater and the star had just come to shake my hand.
My lens is not nearly strong enough to capture a good photo at that distance, nor was the gray light of much help, but I do love my photos. They bring even more intimacy to the moment and will give me later reference for when, before the summer’s end, I sit down to paint this star's portrait.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Birds Think I’m Interesting

A friend of mine sent me a Peanuts comic strip recently. In the first frame, Snoopy was sitting alone on the roof of his dog house; in the second, a bird was flying toward him. By the last frame, five birds were sitting in a row on the roof looking up at him. The caption read: “Birds think I’m interesting!"

Comics are sometimes like poetry. You never know if you understand exactly what the artist intended. But then, that is part of the beauty. You laugh in your own way, connecting with your own special humor. Laughter is one of the true gifts in our lives. Opportunities for laughter are all around us in every single day. We have only to open ourselves up to them. Ruby-throated Hummingbird (juvenile)

Nature is full of peculiar and lively characters that are worthy of a good chuckle. The hummingbird is one of them. If you have any doubt, sit near a hummingbird feeder for a while and watch the antics.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only hummingbird species that breeds east of the Mississippi. The males are arriving now, staking out their territories. The females will soon follow. A brilliant red-throated male has been visiting my feeder recently.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dawdling with a Skink

Well, I went outside to work on my novel yesterday. And you know what? There’s too much going on out there! A lizard, known as a skink, slipped around the corner of the wall and started looking at me. Taking that to mean, hi, I had to stop what I was doing to pay him some attention. He allowed me to come so close, I was astounded. With each shift closer (I’m sitting on the ground at this point and he’s on the wall) I expected him to sprint away. But he didn’t. He just posed. And so after a little while and lots of photos, I thanked him and went back to my chair to resume writing.
Ten minutes passed, before I caught movement in the corner of my vision. I turned my head and there he came, sauntering across the patio, not sprinting, not break-neck speed, not avoiding me, but swaggering straight up to me, stopping within three inches of my toes. I mean, this was giggle stuff. I later did some sleuthing. This is a five-lined skink but from there the puzzle gets confusing. This skink was about eight inches long including that gorgeous tail. But only juveniles are said to have that brilliant blue tail. With a flex of a muscle they are able to release a section of tail to free themselves from a predator and save their life. Males have the brighter orange head which is an indicator of sexual maturity. His legs were a beautiful pale pink underneath the gray pattern. Nesting occurs in April and May with broods hatching June to August. I take that to mean there shouldn’t be any juveniles hanging around, right?

So now, where does that leave us? With a handsome salmon-headed skink still carrying a bright blue juvenile tail who was attracted to my toes? He was so cute. And lucky me, he's my neighbor.

Whip-poor-will Serenade

“On certain occasions, an inherent symmetry falls into place like the intermeshing gears of an old-time pocket watch—perfect alignment where all things are connected and work together, moving over the water, the land, permeating the air. It’s an overall sense of balance, of past and present, flowing energy followed by calm…”
--Stephen Lyn Bales

Last night, just as I was about to call it a night, a whip-poor-will began to sing right outside my window. Oh, my heart! It was only a couple of months ago that I was searching for reference photos and laboring over a sketch of this elusive nocturnal bird, a bird that I have never seen and whose song I had not heard since childhood, a bird whose numbers have declined by 57% in the past forty years.

Whip-poor-wills arrive in Tennessee around the first of April, spending their days roosting on tree limbs or on the forest floor and their nights hunting insects on the fly with large wide open mouths aided by long whiskers. They lay their eggs in leaf litter on the ground in late April with incubation lasting 19-20 days. Amazingly, these parents coordinate egg-laying with the moon cycle so they have the best moonlight while feeding their brood.You may wonder how these birds survive with such vulnerable habits. The secret is camouflage. You would be more likely to have heart-stopping fright as this bird flushes from beneath your step, then to ever see one at roost among the leaves.

Did I tell you I heard a whip-poor-will singing last night?

Friday, April 25, 2008


“Being preoccupied with our self-image is like being deaf and blind. It’s like standing in the middle of a vast field of wildflowers with a black hood over our heads. It’s like coming upon a tree of singing birds while wearing earplugs.” –Pema Chodron Trillium

We spend a lot of time concerning ourselves with how others see us, concerned about whether we measure up or fall short in the world around us. The more we do this, the less we truly know who we are. So come out into this world and live your life. Move through each day with your senses alert, your observing eyes and ears open. Interact with all of your being. And above all, feel. Your feelings are your guidance from within--your feelings are the only measure you will ever need.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Silently one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossom the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.
--Henry Wadsworth LongfellowA woman said to me, “I need to get away, go somewhere and figure out who I am.” And I thought, that could be a nice break, but what I hear in those words is ‘more of the same’. We do not discover who we are by thinking or even going someplace new to think. We take whoever we are with us and repeat what we know in our minds.

If you want your life to change, if you want to experience something different, you must do something different. Action invites discovery. It is in doing a new thing, in trying a different way that we discover who we are, where we are stuck, our attitudes, our true values--and only then, if we act with awareness. Everyday is full of new discoveries--we only need to pay attention.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


“The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves. Yet it’s never too late or too early to practice loving-kindness.”—Pema ChodronAmazingly, this is one of the hardest things to teach and to learn—kindness to ourselves. Kindness is not the same as self-indulgence or determination. It is the act of treating ourselves in kind ways, with kind thoughts and kind words no matter what mistakes we make or what fears we face. It is not self-improvement or self-image. It is relationship. It is the ability to value intent and to regard with understanding. And it’s the ability to try again when something is important and approach it with encouragement.

Harshness cultivates harshness. Kindness cultivates kindness. Be kind in all your relationships. Be kind to the chair, to the car, to the lamp, to the door knob. Be kind to the earth, the wind, the butterfly, the sky. Cultivate kindness in all that you do—and kindness will become you.

Tiger Swallowtail--I loved the way she dove into that blossom.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Viburnum-- Witch Hobble

I couldn’t let the name ‘witch hobble’ go without searching for some information. And so I'll share what I found. Viburnum lantanoides, or witch hobble, is in the honey suckle family, and therein lies part of the explanation for its fun name, even though this variety appears to be a shrub rather than a vine. It is also known as hobble bush and the folk tale goes that it was used by witches to trip those passing by. It has other fun names, depending on where you live, among them, tangle foot, tangle legs, trip-toe, dog berry (it has red berries in the fall), devil’s shoestring and mooseberry.
The names of native plants are rich with folklore, culture, history and imagination which makes them all the more special and intriguing. Stories are intriguing. Nature has lots of stories to tell.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Witch Hobble and Practice

Don’t be afraid to answer the questions. You will find endless resources inside yourself....Even if you are not sure of something, express it as though you know yourself. With this practice you eventually will.”
--Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
Witch Hobble is a common name for this variety of viburnum, a native shrub that grows mostly in the northeast but extends as far south as east Tennessee. Each intriguing blossom is like a factory producing a whole village of tiny flowerettes, all of which, are encircled by graceful, snowy white petals. Witch Hobble? Don't you just wonder about the story behind this name?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Nature Break

When I passed the young redbud yesterday, the one that lives a short walk from my driveway and introduced me to the snail, I noticed that all its blooms were gone. It was sprouting those beautiful little heart shaped leaves that become voluminous as the tree matures. So I paid it another visit. And then I wandered. Quaker Ladies
I found more Quaker ladies sprouting among the mosses and a few more woodland flowers I had not yet seen. And I paid a visit to the wisteria hanging among the oak tree boughs. Unfortunately, this is not the native variety. Also visiting were a kettle of bees. I attracted some unpleasant stares, but happily, they were more interested in chasing each other than me.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Nostalgic Saturday

I couldn't resist Abby's Nostalgic Saturday invitation and am posting it early because its already Saturday in Australia. So here are a few old photos of favorite places and people. Images that go deep to early beginnings for so many things. So thanks Abby for the fun idea. The timing couldn't be better. That's me on the right clinging to my sister and my Dad feeding the orphan piglets.
My two early best friends. Me (left) and my sister on our pony, Cutie. I learned to ride at age five on this pony. When I fell off, my feelings were hurt and I didn't want to ride anymore. Knowing I was okay, my dad just laughed and said, "get back on" and I did, but only after he agreed he wouldn't make her trot this time. Me on the right with my sister. The tomboy in us is smiling through the frills.

A Tribute to Writers

"Remember life is an ongoing process of creation. You are creating your reality every minute. The decision you make today is often not the choice you make tomorrow. Yet here is a secret of all Masters: keep choosing the same thing....over and over until your will is made manifest in your reality."
--Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God

My priority today and until it is complete, is finishing my novel. This commitment, that the time is now, has given me a new kind of respect and admiration for published writers. It is enough to choose this priority over and over again midst the trials that life throws your way and among other daily demands. But then there is the eye strain and the aching joints from too much stillness and the mind-numbing reading and re-reading.

I've always loved reading and writing, but this experience has given me an even deeper appreciation for those who have gone before me. And so I continue, repeating this phrase in my head over and over again--"every single day, choose the same thing, choose your novel."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Nature Calling

If you haven’t yet visited Nature Calling, pay Stephen Lyn Bales’ naturalist blog site a visit today. Philosopher, writer and naturalist of the Huck Finn variety, his daily musings into nature are both lyrical and refreshing. Today he features one of my favorite song birds, the wood thrush. Not only is the photo captivating, but also the interesting information about this bird’s vocalizations. I have yet to hear my wood thrust this spring, but now I anxiously await his arrival.

And while you are browsing, also visit my review of Lyn’s book, Natural Histories, Stories of the Tennessee Valley. (Scroll down to the second review.) No matter where you live, you will enjoy this expert storyteller’s ability to titillate your senses and lead you on a naturalist’s journey through the depths of time and change.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fear--the Great Teacher

Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share....

So the next time you encounter fear, consider yourself lucky. This is where the courage comes in. Usually we think that brave people have no fear. The truth is that they are intimate with fear.”
--Pema Chodron

Monday, April 14, 2008

Dogwood Winter

It's a wet, wintery Dogwood day. We expect this when the Dogwoods bloom, another blast of wintery cold, sometimes harsh, other times, fleeting. The native Dogwoods are a hardy bunch and what I noticed today in the cloudy gray is their crimped blossom edges have a richer, crimson hue.
Lots of cool, drippy gray to show off this blushing beauty.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Gray Fossil Site

Our amazing earth and the enriching stories she tells.

Shovel-tusked elephant depicted in Gray Fossil Site Museum mural.

The discovery of the Gray Fossil Site , located in Gray, TN, in the southern Appalachian Mountains, is telling the world previously untold stories about the climate and wildlife in eastern North America 4.5 million years ago during the Miocene era. In doing so, this discovery is enriching the knowledge of scientists around the world. Exciting finds of pre-historic Red pandas, Shovel-tusked elephants, tapirs, rhinoceros, prehistoric badgers, camels and alligators, sabor-toothed tigers and sloths, all have brought new understanding to us about climate change and land mass formations from North America to Asia, all of this told through the stories of flora and fauna being uncovered at the site. Red Panda skull (left) compared to today's Red Panda (right) on display through the window of the paleontology lab. Constructed with wrap around windows, visitors can see the newest discoveries being processed and pieced together.
I love the stories. I love the way the earth speaks to us and tells her stories through nature. A journey into enrichment, an experience beyond the everyday and into the wonders of time and change--nature, with a different face, showing her depth and endurance.

A special thank you to Stephen Lyn Bales and Ijams Nature Center for organizing this trip back in time.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Lean In

Dogwood blossoms “Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors—people who have a certain hunger to know what is true—feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”
--Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Become Your Best Friend

Laughing Gulls
So how do best friends treat each other? With value and respect. By honoring the person who is their friend-- their talents, their triumphs. By standing by through the faltering, the disappointments and the pain. Best friends can be counted on to be kind with their truths, to be genuine and patient. Friendships evolve and change. Only one person will be there for your lifetime--

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Morning Pages

“Morning pages are non-negotiable. Never skip or skimp…. Morning pages will teach you your mood doesn’t really matter….[they] will teach you to stop judging and just let yourself write. So what if you’re tired, crabby, distracted, stressed?” --Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way.
I’ve been writing morning pages for ten years. You don’t have to be a writer. It’s a tool for everyone.

“Three pages of whatever crosses your mind—that’s all there is to it. If you can’t think of anything to write, then write, “I can’t think of anything to write….”

Your morning pages will stand by you through thick and thin, through joy and sorrow. They will clean out the clutter and stop the foolishness. They center your integrity and solidify what’s important. They become your best friend. And then you become your best friend.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Quaker Ladies

"Pale as noonday cloudlets are,
Floating in the blue,
This little wildwood star
Blooms in light and dew...."

--Ellen Mackay Hutchinson Cortissoz, Quaker Ladies, 1900 I found these dainty Quaker Ladies nodding with rain droplets on a sparsely wooded slope among mosses and leaves. Kin to the woodland Bluet, these exquisite little flowers dot meadows and wooded clearings from April to May with a happy sprinkling of blue sky.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Red Bud Visitor

I didn’t expect to find a snail in the tree. In fact, I missed it altogether, at first glance, its speckled brown patterns blended so well with the bark. I confess that I've never been a great fan of the slippery sluggery sorts. But then you can’t help but feel fascinated with a creature that carries its eyes at the end of tentacles and sports another set of tentacles for its sense of smell. A soft bodied gastropod that can’t hear, moves slowly and has poor sight, yet has been known to live fifteen years? There must be some wisdom we can glean from that.
--Brown Garden Snail

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Eastern Red Bud

The Eastern Red Bud parade is in progress. One of our native flowering trees, it sprinkles shades of purple and pink and magenta all over the country side, peeping out among still-bare deciduous trees, peppered along pastoral hillsides, brightening the roadsides everywhere. Native plants do that. They are happy, non intrusive and hardy. I visited several near my home between drizzling rains, just before the dark clouds moved in again. The blossoms sprout from everywhere, all over the tree’s branches, in what seems to be no particular order, although, you can be sure there is perfect order. Nature is the embodiment of order. Everything is connected to everything else, the tree, its roots, the sky, its rain, the visitor, its life cycle, and on and on it goes--a circle of connection--refreshing, renewing and alive.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Seeing Possibilities

When I created this painting, I left the space for the rocks white, blank--saved for last. Even with the photo I was using for reference I didn’t know where to begin. I couldn’t see a single rock, only blank, white paper. Seeing possibilities is like moving past blank paper, creating one shape at a time, even if you don’t know what you will do next. From that one shape, that one step forward, you begin to see a faint something. And little by little, one decision at a time, the rock you wanted to create appears.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

One Decision at a Time

One decision at a time, a painting is formed.
One decision at a time, a life is lived.
The name of this painting is “Pink”. It began as a wash of pigment brushed on wet paper with nothing in particular in mind, except to see what a bit of rock salt sprinkled here and there would create. The next step was to define something, a shape, a form, a suggestion. The first time I tried this, I struggled. My mind was blank. I saw nothing. Nothing came to me, except frustration and the feeling, maybe I can’t do this. Maybe I hate this.
I revisit that place from time to time, where desire and doubt butt heads. Desire wins out with a little perseverance. And the next thing I know something magical has happened and I created it—me and the water and the pigment and the Universe--one decision at a time.
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Ocean Trail at Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, California--2015

Ocean Trail at Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, California--2015

Bird-banding at Seven Islands State Birding Park--2014

Bird-banding at Seven Islands State Birding Park--2014
Photo courtesy of Jody Stone

Bird-banding at Seven Islands

Bird-banding at Seven Islands
Photo courtesy of Karen Wilkenson

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill!--2014

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill!--2014
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Expeditions

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane banners and son, John--2014

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane banners and son, John--2014

The Incredible Muir Woods near Stinson Beach, CA--2014

The Incredible Muir Woods near Stinson Beach, CA--2014
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

Me and Denali--2012

Me and Denali--2012
Photo courtesy of Bob King

For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham