Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Contemplating Rainbows

I've been photographing my art supplies for a little booklet to accompany my classes in nature journaling.  When I viewed this photo at 5:30 a.m., I experienced a profound discomfort.  Why didn't I arrange the pencils in rainbow order before taking the photo?  Then I had a flashback to first grade when the teacher, during an art lesson, asked me, "What comes after yellow?"  I said I didn't know, and the class laughed. I then explained that the colors don't come after each other.  They're there 'all at once.' The teacher, apparently under the spell of the new boxes of crayons, had us memorizing "red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, black."  You see, in her world, green comes after yellow!  For a first grader, I was fairly precocious and I knew that after referred to time, and there was no way that green came after yellow.  If one has a lot of colored pencils, it makes sense to order them in some way for quick retrieval, but rainbow order is not the only possible way.  Every true artist organizes art stuff in a way that works for him or her.
On a possibly related theme, I am reading a most interesting book titled "On Deep History and the Brain."  This is the first history book I've read by a historian that takes humans' evolutionary history seriously as a necessary prelude to the standardized prehistory that assumed humans to be already fully-formed Homo sapiens but ignores how we got that way.  We have all seen rainbows, but as a fraction of our waking hours, I'm sure rainbow viewing doesn't even come close to 1%.  Is it possible, though, that the rainbow order of colors is deeply imbedded in our brains as the "correct" order?
[I'll finish this exploration later today. I want to mention Richard Dawkins' "Unweaving the Rainbow" for another angle on this topic.]
I'm back.  Dawkins' book, among other things, talks about the consequences of Newton's discovering the fact that white light is made up of a range of wavelengths and that with use of a prism the wavelengths can be separated into the familiar "colors of the rainbow."  To an extent, Dawkins' whole career has been centered around defending science against those who believe that factual explanations of things like rainbows ruin the sense of beauty.  You know, the "ignorance is bliss" idea.  Dawkins' argues that greater understanding leads to an even greater  appreciation of beauty.  He sees outgrowing  the manufacture of and subsequent dependence on "gods" to be enlightening.  It is rather amazing (dare I say un-Christian) how violent some of the criticisms of him have been over the years.
My youngest son is a very science-oriented guy, and I love to talk with him about things like rainbows.  He has more knowledge about the electromagnetic spectrum than most high school science teachers.  And, there's no doubt in my mind that he has a deeply felt appreciation for rainbows.  Not only would he never take them for granted, he would go way out of his way to view the double and triple rainbows that I've told him about that are frequently viewed along the Front Range of the Rockies.  Looking eastward from towns like Boulder during the summer rains one can often see amazing rainbows.  Centennial country is out there 100 miles or so, and happens to be the world's greatest locale for experiencing hailstorms.  But, that's another story.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sharing Nature with City Dwellers

These images were captured within walking distance of my house. When I choose to put them on greeting cards, I wonder who will receive them.  When out of town visitors buy my cards at Main Street Artists Gallery, I enjoy finding out where they are from and to whom they might send the cards.  More often than not, they are from large cities and are intrigued that these natural wonders are so accessible to those of us who live here.  I don't think I could live in a city without parks.  In places like Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and Central Park in New York City, one can imagine being in the wilderness.  If you live in a large city without parks, it just takes more creative looking to connect with the natural world.  For example, while attending college in several large cities, I never took pigeons for granted.  And, in some cities, owls and peregrine falcons have taken up residence on tall buildings.  And, here's a salute to the weeds.  They always manage to find a way to survive in cities.  I've discovered many wonders in cracks in the sidewalks.  How does one explain crawling around on hands and knees on a city sidewalk?  Maybe say that you dropped a contact lens.  If anyone stoops down to help, you could then introduce them to what you're really looking at!   Spread the joy.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Art of Seeing

Soon I'll be participating in another blog, a group effort showcasing my home town of Quincy.  My part of this enterprise will be called Seldom Seen Delights.  Yesterday, as I was waiting for an appointment with a colleague at the Mt. Hough Ranger Station, I decided to wander around with the camera for a few minutes.  At first glance, the area around the parking lot looks overly groomed, or one might say "tamed." Very little underbrush, lower branches trimmed - boring!  However, the job of a photographer/naturalist is to look beyond the obvious.  This practice is always rewarded.  When one chooses to place a rectangle (the frame of the viewfinder) around a portion of nature, many considerations come into play.  The most important consideration is light.  Am I trying to show the scene "as it is" or am I trying to use some poetic license to convey a message?  Am I highly conscious of what I'm leaving out? Examples: litter, vandalism, unpopular items.  I think a unifying theme in my photography and drawing is "seldom seen."  I think "discovery" is one of the greatest possible human experiences, so I try to share my discoveries.  These are rarely, if ever, things discovered for the first time, but my particular view is a discovery for me and usually for most people who accompany me.  Like Thoreau, I marvel at the wonders in my own back yard.  No need to travel to a rain forest or the Arctic to feel I'm seeing something exotic.  I'm glad I arrived a bit early and decided to wander around a bit.  Click on any photo for a closer view.

Grazing in the Snow

I've never seen a Golden Eagle on Golden Eagle Drive.  Plenty of Canada Geese, though.  In this meadow on the way out to Feather River College, I've seen lots of wildlife.  I've probably been a traffic hazard more than once as I stopped to watch waterfowl, coyotes, kingfishers, and ospreys.  Seems like a good place for a raised boardwalk out to a wildlife viewing platform.  I can think of lots of reasons for not building such a thing, but I do sometimes get nostalgic for the many such structures in the brackish marshes in South Carolina's Low Country. 

Life in the Cambium Layer

Seems that I can't pick up a piece of firewood these days without getting distracted.  Busy writing when the house got a little cold.  I figured five minutes to load the wood stove wouldn't interrupt the flow, but I was wrong.  When I saw these beetle tracks on the first piece of firewood I picked up, I started daydreaming about life beneath the bark.  As the larvae chew their way around, how do they decide when to make a left or right turn?  Do they ever get curious enough to chew toward the surface or deeper in?  Maybe they're just hooked on the tastiest layer and are not capable of curiosity.  Of course curiosity can be a blessing or a curse.  I forgot what I was writing about.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I'm catching up.

There's been a break in the rain and snow this afternoon, so we took a walk.  The mosses, ferns and lichens were bright green having quickly resurrected from their dehydrated state of only a few days ago.  A good photo op in my driveway for showing the differences between Douglas-fir and White Fir.  In the top photo you can see how the lower branches of Douglas-fir tend to droop, while those of White Fir (fourth photo from top) tend to stick out horizontally from the trunk.  Also, while Douglas-fir needles tend to grow out from the bark all the way around each twig, the White Fir needles tend to grow out sideways producing a flat, fern-like look (4th photo from top).  On closer inspection, you will see that each White Fir needle tends to have a 1/4 to 1/2 turn twist at the base where it attaches to the twig.  No so with Douglas-fir needles.  Finally, the cones are quite different.  I saw lots of Douglas-fir cones on the ground, still intact (third photo from top), but White Fir cones tend to explode into a pile of individual scales when they hit the ground or get torn apart immediately by squirrels seeking the seeds.  Thus, I saw no intact White Fir cones today.  Douglas-fir cones tend to hang downward from their attachment points on the branches, while White Fir cones are cylindrical and tend to grow upright from the branches like traditional Christmas tree candles.  Finally, another treat on today's walk were the lichens.  They suddenly look lush and colorful after having gotten rather dry over the past month or two.  The bottom photo here shows a nice patch of fruticose lichens growing on a tree stump at the foot of my driveway.  This whetted my appetite for a trip down the Feather River Canyon where the mosses and lichens are probably entering their peak season of lush greenness.  The area where Rock Creek enters the Feather River is especially great for viewing mosses, ferns and lichens.  Also, the stretch on the south side of the highway where great slabs of exfoliating granite hang over the highway.  In the canyon, it is always best to find a turnout and get out and walk, or you might get rear-ended by someone trying to get through the canyon too fast.  I called this post "catching up" because I'm catching up to my self-imposed quota of a post per day.

Class Announcement

Click on the image for an enlargement.  Easier to read.  E.mail me if you have questions. blackoaknaturalist@att.net.  Looking forward to some adventures, discovering the seldom seen delights of Plumas County.

Striking a Balance in "Bad" Weather

During a heavy rain last night, my son Ryan created this balance out of copper wire with pans made of sheets of stainless steel.  We were anticipating more snow and rain for at least a week.  We've gotten pretty good at creating indoor activities when we aren't in the mood to bundle up and brave the stormy weather.  Inspired by Thoreau's "There's no such thing as bad weather, just good clothes," we decided to take a walk today and gather up some small natural objects to weigh on this balance.  Lacking a set of standardized weights, we decided to use shiny new coins.  We found the weights of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters, and chose shiny new ones.  We'll pile small seeds, bugs, pine needles, or other small objects on one side until they balance a given coin or coins on the other. I also collected a small bag of items for drawing practice - white fir cones and needles, blackberry leaves, rose hips, and seeds of a boxelder tree.  I'm also working on a painting of two damselflies mating, hoping to finish it in time for the February show at Main Street Artists.  The February show will have a Valentine's Day theme.  If you're looking for a unique Valentine's Day card, stop by the gallery and take a look at my Convergent Ladybird Beetles and Oak Treehoppers mating.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Looking for a Taste of Spring

This photo of a gathering of Convergent Ladybird Beetles was taken last fall at around 5,000' elevation near Quincy.  These beautiful beetles may now be found at the lower elevations, say 1,000' to 2,500' and will be mating soon.  Then most of them will head for the Central Valley for careers in aphid control. In Quincy, with the present lingering storm, we're having the feeling of winter just getting started.  If you're a fan of spring, as I am, just drive down the Feather River Canyon, and in places like Table Mountain and Bidwell Park, as well as in the lower reaches of the canyon itself, spring is underway.  Bring a camera and a notebook and you'll find wonders.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Time to Hibernate?

The bitter cold that prevented me from outdoor journaling has passed for now.  It warmed up enough to melt the snow off my front lawn.  However, there's a big storm moving in, and the Brown Bear in my neighborhood seems to be contemplating going back into hibernation inside a giant nautilus. 

The first meeting of my Community Education class, Adventures in Nature Journaling, will begin at the FRC student center at 9:00 a.m., on February 4.  Watch this blog and/or the college's web site for information on how to register.  The college will be issuing a catalog shortly.  Meanwhile, feel free to e-mail me with any questions.  The class will meet for 6 Saturday mornings between February 4 and March 17.  The class may be repeated and a second 6-Saturday session will be offered between March 24 and May 5.  The class will meet at a different site near Quincy every week.  Depending on weather, we'll meet on established trails and/or inside coffee shops and art galleries.  I'll contact participants weekly to announce each Saturday's venue.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

9 Degrees F; Too Cold to Journal!

My next class in Nature Journaling begins February 4.  Judging from today's temperature, I'll need to arrange alternative venues to prevent frostbite.  Fortunately, Quincy has some pleasant coffee shops and an art gallery, and I have a growing collection in my personal natural history museum as objects of discussion and drawing.  Sitting on today's page of my open journal is a photo of juvenile Oak Treehoppers, three seashells, and two electronic devices my son created that look rather like flowers.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cold Day Musings

"In the depths of winter, I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer."  Albert Camus said that, or something like it.  I've found dozens of variations on this statement attributed to him.  Either he said it or something like it many times, or people weren't listening or reading accurately.  This began as a very cold day, 13 degrees according to the usual unreliable sources, yet sunny.  No snow on the ground, so the sun put me in the mood of yearning for sunflowers and bees.  I just happened to have the above photo from last summer on my laptop.  One can interpret the quote literally, and I relate to it literally, but, if you know Camus, it seems likely there are layers of metaphorical meaning. 

Some folks experience the winter blues so deeply, they give the impression that the condition is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Not me.  I grew up in New England, and if you don't like winter, that's not a good place to be.  I loved playing ice hockey on frozen, flooded cranberry bogs.  Before our skates scratched up the surface, rendering it translucent then opaque, I was constantly getting distracted by the fish and turtles I could see swimming slowly beneath the ice.  On a certain level, I was probably yearning for spring so I could renew my acquaintance with these critters.  In Quincy, at 3,500', we are the borderline between true winter and semi-winter.  That is, we sometimes get lots of snow but other times get little or none. For instance, despite the bitterly cold mornings, rain is forecast for later this week.  Minor variances in conditions in the oncoming front could turn rain to snow or vice versa.  I wait.  It always interests me to see how various humans and other animals respond.  If I take the position of anthropologist, I am pleasantly occupied and don't mind whatever weather Mother Nature delivers.  However, I can assure you there is in me an invincible summer.  I can hardly wait to resume photographing, drawing, and writing about wildflowers and bugs, and showing others where to find some seldom seen delights of Plumas County. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Nature Journaling at Art Camp

In my previous post I listed a number of gallery showings and class offerings I have coming up in 2012.  I'd like to add to the list an adventure available in Quincy that not many Quincy residents are aware of and that is Feather River Art Camp that takes place the third week of June on the grounds of Oakland Feather River Camp just a few miles from downtown Quincy.  I'll be offering a class in Nature Journaling at the Art Camp this year, but there are many other great offerings by artists, writers, dancers, etc., at the camp run by Berkeley's Karen LeGault for over 20 years.  Check it out at http://www.featherriverartcamp.com.

Seldom Seen Delights

The above image as well as the ones I posted here on December 16 (scroll back a page) are now available in the form of greeting cards - blank inside and with natural history notes on the back - at the Main Street Artists Gallery in Quincy. 
Beginning Saturday February 4, I hope to offer a class through Feather River College called Adventures in Nature Journaling.  Watch for official announcements soon.  In this class we will visit a different site in or near Quincy for each scheduled Saturday morning in order to discover the many "seldom seen sights" in our local forests, meadows, and roadsides, and indulge in several possible ways of creating nature journals.  People who are interested in creative writing, drawing, painting, photography, or combinations of these modes, are welcome to inquire further by e-mail (blackoaknaturalist@att.net) before 'official' advertising begins.  I plan to offer two, 6-week sessions of the class during the spring semester, Session I on Saturdays between Feb. 4 and March 17, and Session II  on Saturdays between March 24 and May 5.  I will also offer at least one all-day excursion to Table Mountain near Oroville (car pooling to be organized) during the peak time of wildflower blooming, usually between late March and early April.  Watch here and elsewhere for announcements.  Join me in discovering Plumas County's many "seldom seen delights."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

He/She's Back!

I love nature's surprises - usually.  Today I was bringing some firewood up from the carport when I found this live butterfly.  I posted a photo of this species a couple of months ago when we had already got many freezing nights.  Since that time it has been much colder, seldom rising above freezing even in the afternoon, yet the butterfly was still alive.  Not at all active, he/she stayed put as I carried the log up to my porch and fetched my camera.  I was in the house for less than a minute, but it was gone when I got back outside.  I found it a few feet away crawling around, apparently looking for a new hiding place.  Got a couple of photos then let it be.  Must have antifreeze in its veins.

Got Blogged Down

I have three projects going at once - or is it four?  Got a bit behind on my blogging.  I used to try to maintain an average of one post per day.  So, I'll take this opportunity to advertise three projects that are on the drawing board.
First, is my Valentine's Day project.  I am an exhibiting member of Main Street Artists gallery where currently my photo greeting cards and two framed photos are on display.  For the month of February the gallery will have a Valentine's theme.  I am producing a Commonplace Book (definition and explanation to follow soon) with a Valentine's theme.  The top two images here, plants with heart-shaped leaves, have inspired some original sketches that will be in that book.  The bottom image, a flower variously named Harvest Brodiaea, Cluster Lily, etc., etc., will be a part of a small book(let) that will be the first in a series of Natural History "zines."  Volume 1 will be called Those Elusive Lilioids."  I hope to publish it electronically, although a limited number of hard copies will be produced.  Back to the drawing board - more to follow soon.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Greeting Cards coming soon

I've got six photos and accompanying natural history notes made into greeting cards which will be available within a week in Quincy.  The above seven are the next set to be made into cards.  I am currently working on the natural history notes.  The fungus in the 2nd photo was taken by my son Greg in a forest near Arcata.  The rest were taken by me in and near Quincy during 2011.