Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sassafras Leaves, Carolina Locust

Another beautiful fall day at Middlewood!  Daisy, Dukie and I headed out around noon to enjoy the bright colors and cool breeze.  It was best kind of hiking weather. On the pipeline, I can (and do) easily switch from hiking on the shady side (cold) to the sunny side (hot, if there is no breeze). I wove back and forth today.  After we crossed Meetinghouse Creek (cold) we headed up the other side and walked to the sunny side of the far hill to settle down, me to draw, dogs to nap. After about ten minutes, Daisy and Duke moved from the sun to the shade.  Later, Duke wandered off to explore in the woods and Daisy came to sit in front of me to make sure I was safe.

I put my face into the sun and enjoyed the toasty silence with occasional rustling oak leaves and Crows cawing in the distance.  Opening my eyes I noticed in the distance rippling heat waves rising from the warm, sunny side of the pipeline. Suddenly, a loud BZZZZT! broke the silence as a Carolina Locust sprang from the grass beside me, flew about 30 feet, and landed back in the grass.  You always know a Carolina Locust by his black and yellow rear wings, which are only seen when they fly.  Otherwise, they are just average looking grasshoppers.  This guy flew his short "hops" around me for the whole hour I sat drawing.  BZZZZZT!

Sassafras leaves come in various shapes, all on the same tree. Here are three examples, but the possibilities are endless.  These leaves are past the color stage, but aren't the shapes beautiful?

By the time I'd finished drawing, I had taken off my fleece jacket, put my hair in a pony tail, but still felt hot, so we trekked home on the cool, shady side of the pipeline.  On the windy hilltop I felt cool and put the jacket back on.

Here are some photos of our trees, and my sweet guard collie.

Nature Journaling Workshop

A day-long workshop at Heathwood Hall with 54 fifth graders!  Everyone had so much fun learning how to slow down and pay attention to nature's details.  At the end of the day I sat and talked to some of the girls waiting for their mom's to pick them up.  When they asked if they could write me a note in the back of one of my journals, I was happy to let them.  What a wonderful read later that night.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sassafras, Maple, and Oak Leaves

I couldn't let the fall leaves pass without painting a few, so we headed out at midday for a hike and a little journaling time.  Daisy and Dukie did the usual leaping and prancing and fake fighting, and Daisy did her thing of pulling at my shoe laces as I walk... yes, it's always a little difficult getting going!  

Our section of woods is at its peak right now, with hickories, maples, sourwoods, and dogwoods full of rich color.  On the pipeline, though, many of the trees have been stripped bare.  It can be like a wind tunnel out there.  On a breezy day, when you step out of the woods it feels more like the beach than the piedmont of SC.  

As we hiked no human sounds could be heard - no planes, no lawn mowers, no leaf blowers, no traffic - so I was able to hear the soft, high-pitched cheep of  Golden-crowned Kinglets. I found them in binoculars, one male and two females, busy in a dogwood tree.  The male's lovely golden crown was bright and clear. The females look the same, but without the crown, and could be mistaken for other birds, so it's good to see the male with them. It makes identification much easier.  The dogs weren't impressed, so we headed on so they could run, run, fast, fast!  

I hiked (the dogs ran!) downhill toward the creek, but didn't make it all the way to the water.  Instead, I picked up sassafras and maple leaves and found a sitting-spot at the top of the steep drop-off to Meetinghouse Creek, on the upper edge of the sloping field.  By this time Daisy and Duke were tired enough to take naps, so they settled next to me for a snooze.  

Two leaf sketches later I got up to pick a few leaves off of a baby oak tree nearby. They hadn't completely turned, and I thought the color was nice.  But, when I came back to my journal I found a large Wolf Spider sitting on the page!  I'm better about spiders than I used to be, but I just couldn't bring myself to even try to draw him as he sat on my journal, so I whipped out my trusty iphone and snapped a photo.  

By the end of our journaling time the clouds were breaking up, revealing blue patches, and lots of sunshine.  I packed up my bag and headed into the afternoon sun, marveling at the glowing leaves in the woods.

The view from where I journaled.

2 o'clock sun filtering through bright leaves as we head home.

Come on, Mom!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Photos from yesterday's hike

White Checkered Skipper

Photography is such a great way to share what you've seen, but it's also a great way to see what you missed in real life.  For instance, in my attempt to get this photo of a White Checkered Skipper I jumped around in waist-high grass and wildflowers, probably stepped in fire ants, and picked up an armful of beggar-ticks, just to follow the constantly moving subject.  The lens' auto focus wasn't functioning for some reason, so that added a special challenge.  I was able to get only six shots.  In my rush to the capture butterfly, I didn't notice the yellow beetle on the leaf (left).

Below is one of the failed attempts, but click on the photo and check out the flowers to the right - there's a party going on!  A stinkbug, a red-eyed fly, and behind him, a ladybug.  I totally missed them in real life.

So, once again I am reminded that in life, slower is better.  Imagine how much we don't see even if, like me, we are actually searching for it.  Note to self: Slow down, slow down, slow down.

Here are some more photos from yesterday's hike.  Click on the photos for larger size.
Interesting leaf-change - looks like it was somehow affected by 
the insect chomping holes in it...  

Possibly False Turkey Tail... on oak log.

 Leftovers from someone's meal.  It was a small animal (compare to oak leaf)...  not sure who has teeth like that.

 Yellow Bear Caterpillar (turns into a Virginia Tiger Moth)

 Crowded Parchment

On the same tree as above... only 1/3 inch high.  

And last but not least, Daisy on the Lawson's Fork trail...

watching out for her brother Dukie.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Stiff Aster, Folded Wing Skipper, Winged Sumac

An early cold snap Friday dipped us into winter for a bit and zapped many of the fall asters out in the field, but today it was back in the 60's, and a refreshing breeze blew from the west.  There were NO GNATS!

The dogs and I tramped around in the woods up on the rocky ridge, then slid down the steep hill to Meetinghouse Creek, where lots of four-legged romping and splashing took place. Duke disappeared around a curve in the creek and may have explored Lawson's Fork (he came back totally wet); Daisy stayed with me.

On the way out of the woods we passed through a spot I particularly love, where pines rise through an emerald green carpet of running cedar.  I've tried to get a photo of the carpet numerous times, but it just doesn't translate. There must be a magical trick of the eye that creates the carpet, something a mechanical camera just can't do. Deer paths cross this way and that, and downed pines sprout Turkey Tails and Crowded Parchment.

Back on the sunny pipeline, we hiked back up to our hill and settled down to draw a flower or two. The Stiff Aster was quite close to me, so I just leaned in to see details as I drew.  I was about 12" from the flower when a tiny honeybee landed on the yellow center.  It was fun seeing him working, up close and personal.  And then, as soon as the bee buzzed away, a folded wing skipper (probably a Fiery Skipper) fluttered past my ear, and landed to sip.  She didn't stay long, and the iphone was out of reach, but the magical camera in my eye caught her beauty perfectly.

 Turkey Tail & Running Cedar under pines

Unknown mushrooms

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Grass - Purple Tridens

Message to my readers:  It's been almost a year since the book "Middlewood Journal" came out.  What a fun, busy time I had traveling, talking about journaling, and making new friends!  Alas, all that activity gave me little time to unwind enough to go out and journal, and then come back in and post.  I walked, yes, and sometimes journaled, but somehow they didn't make it to this blog.  But now... I'm back!  I hope to post at least once a week.   Thanks for your patience,  Helen

TODAY:    Even if the trees are not showing much enthusiasm color-wise, fall weather is working its magic this morning at Middlewood.  Up on Jay's Hill a stiff northerly breeze blew across the grasses causing them to swirl and dip.   Fall field crickets chirruped all around, and tiny grasshoppers bounced around the grasses under foot.  Two buckeye butterflies twirled and danced in the cool wind.  We are supposed to have temps in the 30's by Friday... I wonder about those buckeyes... do they hibernate like mourning cloaks?  Will have to look that up.

I sat to draw near a Tulip Poplar that grows alone on top of the hill.   My view was the sloping hill, a line of treetops (from lower down) that are just barely turning color, and beyond to Hogback Mountain and the whole range (in NC) north from there.  The sky above me was deep blue, with the horizon pale and filled with lines of small scurrying clouds.  When gusts came in from the north, leaves on the poplar rattled and were torn from the tree, and once on the ground they bumped and tumbled across the grass.   

Only one flower was visible from where I sat - a lone dandelion, glowing in the sun.  At first I thought to draw it, but when I got close I realized that a huge ant hill (fire ants) had been built all around the plant.  Enough said, yes?  Instead I just picked a non-anty spot to sit and found this small tuft of tridens grass with one spent seedhead.  

Daisy and Duke sat near me while I drew and studied the view.  They are both four years old now and settling down nicely as journaling companions... well, except for an occasional burst of Dukie Itchiness that causes him to stand up, and then throw himself onto the ground with a loud UMPH, followed by some serious wallowing and back-scratching.  It ends with him standing back up and shaking all the dead grass onto me.  Then, of course, he gives me a big Golden Slurp, and also of course, Daisy has to get in on the action and comes to give me a dainty little Collie Kiss.  It ends with them going back to their spots to sit and enjoy the view, and me going back to my journal. 

The last of the morning glories for this year.

Heading back to the house.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Here are some photographs I took at the Nature Journaling Workshops I led last weekend at our beautiful Hatcher Gardens.  I taught them to make lists, write poems, draw pictures, and/or write descriptions of what they saw.  Friday was the adult workshop, Saturday was for kids 12 and under.  This is such a great activity for any age! Please email me if you would like to discuss a workshop in your town. 

 The adults spread out so much I couldn't find everyone, although these three were easy!

 Female Downy Woodpecker who flew right in front of me, and landed on this tree.  I believe she wanted to be photographed.

 Sweet Lilly!  

 Busy Alexander, who loved bugs of all kinds!

 Bella exudes happiness!

 With some encouragement, Charlie decided at the last minute to join the workshop (with his sister, Bella).  He had a great time!

 Lilly is a serious journal keeper.

 Bella and Lilly - Friends!


 Charlie's Honeysuckle Poem

Bella's great list of what we saw!

Charlie said, "This thing in the pond looked like half fish, half squid!"  I promised to look it up in my field guides.  Stay tuned.  :)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tulip Poplar Roots

In case you ever doubt that a tree's root system is as large as the tree itself, check out the roots of these twin Tulip Poplars, holding on to the bank along my favorite small, but fickle, Meetinghouse Creek.  During heavy rains, the innocent looking little stream rises high enough to erode the soil under the trees.  Over the years, the tree has compensated for this by growing its roots into the side of the steep hill.  

I have loved these trees since I first saw them 22 years ago.  It's a great place for children to climb and play - a fall (onto soft sand) would not hurt even the smallest child.  And, in the dark recesses of the root system, I think some wild animal has made a home, although it must be a nice animal, because it doesn't seem to mind us playing on the roots.  

The trees are located in an area of the woods my family has always called, "Coon Hollow," because we've always seen raccoon tracks in the sand along the creek.  Today, I am sitting on the trunk of a fallen oak that rests on the opposite (also rising) side of the creek, so it is not flat on the ground, but about two feet in the air, and is the perfect height for me to sit comfortably.  

It was warmish when we headed out, or maybe "coolish with no wind" is more accurate, so I hiked into the shady woods to draw, but by the time I'd finished, at 5:00 p.m., the chilly air was settling in the valley.  My fingertips were beginning to feel numb.  Daisy and Dukie didn't seem to notice, they just had fun playing in the water, and then resting nearby.

I chose the sunniest route home, and at one point stopped in full, hot sunlight to put my face up to soak up the solar heat.  So delicious!

 (You probably noticed... I forgot my pens today!)

 Cranesfly Orchid leaves growing in Coon Hollow

My friends run through Meetinghouse Creek...

Sunday, March 3, 2013


We headed out this afternoon around 3:00 in full sunshine and a stiff breeze.  The mid-40's temps meant the wind was very chilly when a gust came whooshing past.  Brrr.  As I left the house, I called, "I may be right back, but I may not!"  I had been trying to leave for several hours, but the wind-chill-factor kept sending me back in.  This time I had on enough top layers to block some of the wind: silk long undies, long sleeved t-shirt, turtleneck wool sweater, Patagonia top, and a scarf.  My goal: head to Meetinghouse Creek to sit in the sun on the south facing bank.

It was good.  It was warm.  It was cozy.  Daisy and Duke played a bit then settled down for a nap on either side of me.  The air in the little valley smelled damp, the sound of rippling water over rocks soothed my frazzled, undecided mind.  I would stay. 

I drew one of the many Spikerush plants that grow in the sand along the creek.  The sun can't penetrate the round spikes of this plant, but within it were blades of newly grown grass that glowed bright green.  The dark green Spikerush grows everywhere along Meetinghouse Creek as it passes through the open, sunny pipeline.  Its roots help hold the banks during times of flood.

After I completed the drawing I closed my eyes, put my face into the sun, and listened to the wind blow through the pines above our head as it skipped over our low valley.  A small plane buzzed high in the sky.  I put my hand on Daisy's side, her fur hot to the touch, and she looked up at me with sleepy eyes.  "Are you finished, Mom?"

Yes, sweet girl.  

I woke Duke and we all three headed home.

My friends napping in the sun.