Saturday, January 31, 2009

Celebrating One Year of Blogging

It was one year ago in January that I created my blog and published my first post.
And as our calendars flip over to February, it’s clear that the date itself, January 13, wasn’t particularly remarkable for me. But knowing the anniversary was passing caused me to look back and reflect. And as I did, I was reminded of how simply it began, as a desire to display photographs and art and write about nature. And I see what it has now become, an interactive community of mutual sharing, learning, mentoring and inspiration.

And so to celebrate my first year, I want to highlight for you, in this post and the next, two aspects of blogging that have become particularly important to me and inseparable--the stage and the inspiration it provides.
The stage of course is the blogging platform, a place to "perform", to publish your writing, your photographs, your artistic endeavors, whatever they may be, to an audience that remains largely anonymous but that can span the globe. It makes the sage advice, “You make your stage. The audience is waiting”, spring vividly to life.Every stage we create has something to give us. We step forward, find our courage. We practice and make our mistakes. We change and we get stronger, not just on the blogging stage, but in every aspect of our lives. We learn as we create and we learn as we experience the stage, whether it's this stage or any other we have selected.I was recently talking with a friend who is a published author and artist, and said, “I haven’t done one thing toward publishing my novel. It just sits there along with the writer’s market books that are stacked on my buffet and I do nothing.”
“Well, why not? Why aren't you getting it out there?” he asked.
“Umm…avoidance, I think. I’m shy.”
“You’re shy? What do you mean you’re shy? I’ve never seen that in you.” We stared at each other. I finally spoke.
“I don’t look shy. It’s what we sometimes call counter-phobic in the mental health field. Everything I love requires that I be on stage. So I push myself out there until I make it look easy, but it’s really not.”
And that is one of the many ways this stage has become important to me—practice. We create, we let the world see what we have to say and then we’re stimulated to create again by the very stage we dance on. It’s an energy that feeds itself. We get some feedback and we have some control. But most of all, the more we practice the more courage we have to say what it is we have to say and to show the world who we are through our passions and creations.
Next post: The inspiration in blogging

Photos from top to bottom: Greater sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache (more in an upcoming post); Golden-crowned kinglet in watercolor (also upcoming); possible female rufous or broad-winged hummingbird in New Mexico; a stack of writer's market books; me (right) with Natalie Goldberg (2008), who doesn't like photos, but isn't shy about her teachings; writing and hiking buddies in the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico (2008).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Zick Dough-- Romance, Laughter, Intrigue

Sound like your favorite novel? Feeding the dough-y bird suet best known as, 'Zick Dough', is every bit of that and more.For those of you who may be unfamiliar with it, the suet nickname refers to infamous blogger, NPR commentator, author, artist, naturalist, Julie Zicklefoose, an experienced bird feeder who has made the recipe renown with her observations about her feathered patrons.
I made my first batch less than two weeks ago and just before our Tennessee thermostats plummeted into single digits. So far it’s given me countless giggle breaks as I've peeped out the window to see what’s going on out there. And there's always something going on.A titmouse was my first taker. He grabbed a chunk of the peanut-buttery suet and devoured it on a nearby limb. And the suet attracted the first blue jays I’ve seen near my feeders.

They were cautious about approaching the feeders, but eagerly snatched the tidbits scattered on the ground. A parade of other suet lovers has followed, among them, the frequent visiting white-breasted nuthatch, a pair of Downy woodpeckers and flocks of juncos.
The happy chattering of this Carolina wren usually brings me to the window. It’s a sound that reminds me of a giggling child or the purring of a contented cat as he chows down dinner. I watched him grab a bite of dough, drop it to the ground, jump down to gobble it up and hop back to the plate for another helping. A couple of days ago, instead of chatter, I heard him scolding. I looked out to find him perched over an empty plate. Visitors had come in the night and cleaned up all the leftovers leaving behind plenty of scat on the ground.
Hmmmm. Raccoon? Opossum? It didn’t look like any scat I found on the web. I became more judicious about handing out dough and started bringing the suet plate in at night. Then last night, a sound outside the door. I turned off the inside light and flipped on the porch light to take a peek and look who I found.
Kind of cute, huh? But I think ‘pure trouble’ is a better description. His buddy sauntered off when he spotted me in the window.

I know these guys to be crafty and tenacious. Racoons are responsible for the heavy blocks weighting down trash can lids around here. The good news is the hanging feeders are still unscathed. But I'm guessing there'll be challenges ahead.

Note added Jan 31st: Be sure and read the comment section regarding the night time pellets. There's a good chance that instead of scat, these pellets are castings left behind by a 'possum instead.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Yellow Hint of Spring

I looked out the window yesterday morning and found evidence of progress toward spring. This male American goldfinch was feasting on sunflower seeds at my feeder and showing off brighter colors. The black on his wings and tail was richer and darker and he was sporting some bright yellow mixed in with his winter olive. Cornell lab says the American goldfinch changes from winter plumage to its bright golden breeding plumage through a complete molt of its feathers. It is the only finch in its family to have two complete molts, one in fall and another in spring.Even when my photos are blurred because of the window, I can't complain. The window makes a nice blind that allows me to get closer than I otherwise could. In this series of images I could see the goldfinch rolling the seed around in his mouth until it cracked open. He then flipped the shell out of his mouth. In one photo there was a shell flying through mid air behind him as though he had flipped it over his back. A goldfinch study. I will be watching for my subject's black cap to arrive right along with spring!

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #22 at bringing awareness to the conservation of our world's birds.

Friday, January 23, 2009

That Special Quality of Morning

Its nice to look out and see the sun rising in the morning while I'm having my first cup of coffee.
Soon after it peeks over the horizon, the mountains in the distance take on a bluish hue and a soft fog rises briefly in the valley below. My first visitor to the birdbath is often this mockingbird.
He announces his presence with a squawk that is becoming familiar and if the bath is frozen I soon add water. Think maybe he's training me?
On the morning of these photos the bath had almost frozen over again by the time of this visit. But he found a drink around the edges.
I'm noticing a kind of ettiquette developing around the birdbath. The mockingbird reins.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Chickadee

No sooner did I see my photos of this Carolina chickadee in the snow than I began to think about painting it. Since I haven't painted snow in a while, I decided to try it first in my sketch book. Sketching is fun because its relaxed. Generally used for recording experiences, artist notes and sometimes the planning out of a painting, a sketchbook is a place for 'no pressure' practice and play. It's a doubly worthwhile experience to take photos as the sketch progresses. I'm discovering this as I remind myself to do it. You get to see what's happening twice, once while you are deep in your creative brain, wandering the uncharted territory of color, shape and perspective as it relates to a new subject. And a second time as you see the progression through images.

While viewing the image on the left above I could clearly see the pathways of dark and light and how they weren't leading my eye through the sketch. And since this sketch is a bit of a map for a future painting, I went back in and added the darks you see on the right and in the final sketch (top). Generally, I like to begin with the background when I start a painting, to see how the colors and light play out. Then I work with the painting focus to make sure these same colors are reflected in the subject.

This is a painting of neutrals with a splash of color, an arrangement I love. I used ultramarine blue, vandyke brown and sepia to make variations of gray and brown. I added quinacridone gold to the blue to create greens and Winsor Deep Red for the berries.
In the end the sketch was wonderful practice. I noticed and corrected details in the placement of the eye, the shape of the beak, the shape of the white feather pattern against the black cap. I also noticed snow. It's crusty and irregular. I lost my snow shapes easily. So, with my sketch to remind me, I'll draw the snow detail more carefully in the final painting.
Inauguration day. New hope and new energy for the world.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Snow Birds

This winter settled in and pelted much of the US over the past month with cold temps, snow and ice, even in areas where it isn't generally expected. But we've had no snow to speak of in the Tennessee Valley for the past several years, so even though mentioned in the forecast, we weren't especially expecting it today either.
I drove to a meeting mid-day and spent a pleasant couple of hours watching snow fall through large paned windows as we held our discussion beside a warm fire. On the drive home, at 36 degrees F, the clouds of falling snow quickly turned to water and it seemed the show was over. But when I turned off to climb the hill where I live, the trees magically transformed into a fairyland of wintery boughs of fluff.
The light was gray and snow still falling when I snapped these photos. And despite being a non-native species, this holly, pictured earlier today, has been a wonderful perch and shelter for many species. I even watched a yellow-bellied sapsucker climb its meager trunk a day ago and snatch one of its berries.
Sigh.... Maybe one day they'll make glass that won't confuse my automatic focus.

Birds pictured from top to bottom: Slate-colored junco (often called "snow birds"), white-throated sparrow, Carolina wren, Carolina chickadee, yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Funny Pine Siskins

It has been such a treat to watch the birds at the bird bath and to occasionally step outside with a camera. Opportunities for fun observations happen when you least expect it.
I can count on the pine siskins to announce their presence with high pitched whistles as they gather in the tree limbs near my feeders. Sometimes they fly away enmass when I open the door. At other times they don't seem to care and on this cold day, they were more intent on getting a drink.
When I looked at these photos I couldn't help but laugh. The birdbath had shifted in the soggy ground making the water farther away on one edge than the other. And when the artic air arrived, the ground froze so I could neither remove the ice nor straighten the bowl. The pine siskin that landed on the 'away' side had a time, not only with the distance he had to reach for the water, but the smooth surface on which he perched. You can see a curious, contemplative and even frustrated experience going on in his behavior.
Okay, lets try this another way.
I first thought that I just hadn't been observant enough in the past. Pine siskins are new to me this season. But a naturalist friend of mine in the area, Stephen Lyn Bales, observes in his blog, Nature Calling, that they have not been so common in the Tennessee Valley.

Our breeding bird atlas (Atlas of the Breeding Birds of TN) describes them as "uncommon to fairly common winter residents" and rare in the summer. Breeding information is scarce and those times that breeding has been documented, usually in the Great Smoky Mountains or at Roan Mountain, the reports followed an "intermediate or major irruptive flight" during the preceding fall or winter.
Reading about pine siskins just makes these birds all the more intriguing to me and so I will be observing and reading more as the winter progresses.

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #21 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.
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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