I went to a friend’s house yesterday to do some sketching; had a lingering headache from earlier in the morning so I was a little restless. An old cottonwood–a massive black dendrite in the yard–caught my eye, so I pulled out a brush pen and tried to work out the hierarchy of branching directions.
What is it that makes a cottonwood? A certain powerful upward angle of primary branches (trending to bowed lower on the trunk); graceful swoops of secondary branches. And the short, stout bud-branchlets, bristling out almost perpendicular to the more sinuous smallest branches.
By the time I reached the bottom of the tree my brush pen was almost dry, but it felt OK for the drawing to stutter out.
Looking at the drawing today I’m struck by how it feels like a visualization of my headache–the tendrils of pain branching around my neck and head. I like the thought–it’s comforting somehow.
One of the fun things about traveling in Southeast Alaska is noticing the often-subtle differences in vegetation from place to place. Wrangell is just far enough south so that cedars are a major component of the forest, lending it a a different texture. Here in Juneau, we have to hike quite a ways in to find the little pockets of cedar that exist here.
The fauna's a little different too. Northern flickers are fairly common around Wrangell, but not so commonly seen here. I love watching their wings and tails flash fiery orange as they fly.
I just got back from a great two weeks in Gustavus, where I was working with students and teachers at the school.The school is wonderful; there are just over 50 students, grades K-12. And Gustavus is a fascinating place: a broad, flat landscape, formed by outwash from the Glacier Bay glaciers over many centuries. The combination of flat land, lush meadows and wetlands, wandering rivers, and pine/spruce/cottonwood forest are an unusual mix in Southeast Alaska.I saw swans and herons, listened to a wolf moan under the stars, and got thrilled (even a little over-thrilled) by moose.
I'll post a series of Gustavus sketches next, starting with an iconic plant: willow.
Spent a blissful three days puttering around Benjamin and North Islands with two naturalist friends. Kayaking and exploring conditions couldn't have been better: warm, sunny days with glassy water, cooler breezy evenings, lovely sunsets, few biting insects. Most importantly, we were surrounded by a paradise of nature puzzles and treasures to discover. Here's a first page of sketches; I'm planning a second page of memory sketches and notes and plan to post it soon.
UPDATE: looks like our mystery orchid is Malaxis (Hammerbya) paludosa, bog adder's-mouth orchid.
On the ski picnic, I collected some branches of white spruce (Picea glauca) and felt-leaf willow (Salix alaxensis) that had been cut during the festivities. The willows in particular were interesting. The tips of many of the branches were as densely-furred as hares' feet, making them shine and sparkle as if frost-covered. Within a day of my bringing this branch in and putting it in water, the catkins were swelling dramatically, shoving the protective scales off at the tips–a process that's listed as one diagnostic characteristic of this species.
I just returned from a two-week artist-in-residence visit to Unalakleet, in western Alaska on the shore of Norton Sound. It was a wonderful experience–and in addition to getting to work with wonderful students and teachers, I had the opportunity to observe and sketch a fascinating corner of the world. I'll be posting sketch pages from the visit over the next few days.
The first page was done from memory on my first day, when I was whisked off to visit some ice fishers on the river.
Unexpected weekend sunshine sent us on a road trip north of Juneau to a little beach near Sunshine Cove. We sat several hours on a rocky outcrop, watching and listening to the abundance of the wakening northern world. I took the opportunity to practice drawing the textures of foliage on the little salt-battered shoreline spruce.
My eye got caught by lichens today, so I brought a few samples home to draw. I got my little digital microscope fired up, and had a great time looking closer and closer…
This is milo (Thespesia populnea), a small tree we saw fairly frequently, especially near beaches. It may be native to Hawaii, but may also have been brought to the islands by the Polynesians–in either case, it's a very important tree in Hawaiian culture.
Milo is widespread in coastal areas of the East Indies and Polynesia. The wood is rich reddish-brown at the heart, with some white "marbling" that is quite lovely; we saw many beautiful things made from milo wood.
We also appreciated the cool, deep shade it provides along the beaches–especially important to this pale, easily-burned Alaskan…
I caught myself thinking this morning, In just a month, we'll be hearing varied thrushes… in just two months, we might be starting to work the soil in the garden beds… in just three months, the little lilies will be blooming… It's that time of year when I struggle to appreciate what's here rather than just longing for what's coming.
So the compromise is to look at seed capsules and buds. Rusty menziesia is a good example; its handsome little capsules are gaping wide this time of year, its seeds long gone, and the buds are sharp and tight and just touched with rusty color. They're late-openers around here, though–it won't be until long after the blueberry bells are out that these buds will open.