Watercolor Milkweed

I collected a monarch caterpillar several weeks ago and at the same time I started a watercolor painting of the little larvae. Painting a monarch butterfly caterpillar in watercolorAs he safely munched fresh milkweed leaves, I worked on the painting.

Within a few days a bright green chrysalis hung from the screen covering the top of the caterpillar jar and my painting began to morph into a colorful tribute to one of my favorite butterflies.

Watercolor painting a monarch caterpillar

Last week I excitedly finished the painting  anticipating the emergence of the monarch butterfly and it’s addition to the annual migration.

The Autumnal Equinox occurred on Wednesday and ushered in two beautiful Fall days.  There will surely be many more.

Today there is a drizzle of rain falling and a chill in the air.  The last summer generation of Monarchs is flying south.  One caterpillar is suspended in time, surrounded by morning glories and savoring a bright green watercolor milkweed.

My Monarch Caterpillar_edited-1An insect’s metamorphosis is a miraculous and complex process.  Its journey through life is filled with dangers.  Sadly, my little creature was destroyed in its chrysallis by a parasite that it acquired before I brought it in.

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Happy Flowers

photograph-bright-lavender-zinnias“Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; medicine to the soul.”  Luther Burbank

Nothing brings me more pleasure than painting – except perhaps arranging flowers!  Zinnias and dill blossoms – a little “medicine to the soul” from my garden. 

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Waiting to Exhale

Early morning, not a leaf stirring, birds silently roosting, insects motionlessly waiting for the heat of day.

It is as if nature has taken a deep breath and then paused, waiting to exhale.

“Watching the animals come and go, and feeling the land swell up to meet them and then feeling it grow still at their departure, I came to think of the migrations as breath, as the land breathing. In spring a great inhalation of light and animals. The long-bated breath of summer. And an exhalation that propelled them all south in the fall.” ( Barry Lopez, American writer.)

Its mid-August and I take time to inhale deeply, pausing to enjoy the aroma of late summer before slowly exhaling a sweet, cleansing breath.

Watercolor of a Monarch butterfly by Karen Hines

One of the migrating creatures that I will miss until the first breath of spring brings them back to valley of the New River.

I like Barry Lopez’s description of autumn’s seasonal migration. As much as I hate to see the hummingbirds, monarchs and towhees take flight to their winter homes they will be back in a great “inhalation of light and animals” after the cleansing breath we call winter.

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Preserving a Memory

I do “take time to smell the roses”. To savor a moment in time, to strive to remember all its details thinking that the memory will never fade.    But sometimes the rose in the field fades too quickly for an artist.

I press flowers, take photographs and paint pictures.   I like being able to later re-visit the happy feeling that I had when I first saw something that moved me to want to preserve it.

The blossoms of my lilies which starred in my blog last week, After a Period of Drought, quickly faded but their photograph extended their effect on me for days as I joyfully painted Swamp Lily flowers.

“Swamp Lilies”, watercolor by Karen Hines

My morning power walk always starts in low gear with a strolling walk-about with camera in hand.  I am always treated to something marvelous.

Ever since I observed the visit of the Monarch butterfly to my milkweeds last week, each morning I first stop at that amazing patch of plants.  I now have two babies munching on the green, sappy leaves.

Photograph by Karen Hines of a Monarch caterpillar

Monarch caterpillar!

I’ll bet you can guess who is now the subject of this week’s painting in progress.

I’ve been really amazed at the variety of other insects that have made the milkweed patch their home.

Here is a sampling of nature’s beautifully colored creatures that I have found on these most interesting plants……..

orange spotted beatle_edited-1 Milkweed Tussock caterpillar_edited-1 Green Cicada_edited-1

Nature Photography, orange ant, Karen Hines

“Take time to smell the roses” but don’t ignore their foliage.  You never know what fascinating creatures might be sheltered there!

Wishing you happy strolling and a colorful week!   Karen

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After a Period of Drought

“…….flowers often appear after a period of drought interrupted by rain.”

Photograph of Swmp Rain Lily flowers

I love this quote from the care instructions that came with my Swamp Rain Lily bulbs.  It reads more like a motivational sentiment from a book of inspiration than a plant description! 

Sometimes all we need is a little “rain” to bring us out of one of life’s little droughts.

My Swamp Lilies truly teach a lesson of survival and resilience .  The pot full of long slender leaves has sat  patiently through hot dry summer days the past month and after just a few cloudy, drizzly days last week sent up the most beautiful milky white flowers with their bright yellow centers.

Swamp Rain Lilies, one of Thomas Jeffferson's favorite plantsThe Swamp Rain Lily was introduced from Argentina and Uruguay in 1822.  I received mine years ago as a surprise gift from my sister. She purchased them at an heirloom plant sale at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, Virginia.  It seems Jefferson was also fond of their beauty and tenacity.

I’m writing today after a rather long creative drought during which time my love of nature was sorely tested.  Losing bird nests to marauding black snakes, observing disturbing behavior of various  predators and scavengers in the yard and spending time in the emergency room after having been bitten by hungry insects and arachnids makes one want to do nothing other than sequester one’s self  indoors, under a ceiling fan with a good book.  And so I did!

 The “rain” that broke my drought came on butterfly wings.  Just when I’d sadly given up seeing a Monarch butterfly this year, I watched one sail into my milkweed patch and leave precious eggs on the leaves. 

Felt the rain on my face.  Ready to flower.

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A Time to be Patient

Photograph of a  Granddaddy Long Legs on the flower of a milkweed plant by Karen Hines

One of many visitors to the milkweed flowers this week.

The sweet, intoxicating fragrance of milkweed is heavy in the air today and I am patiently, hopefully waiting for a monarch butterfly to be drawn to my yard by the scent.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying watching and photographing a host of other insects and arachnids (like this Grandaddy Long Legs) as they visit the beautiful clusters of small lavender flowers.

Yesterday’s summer solstice ushered in the new season.  It is a season of patience, of waiting for buds to open, fruit to ripen and nuts to fatten on the hickory and walnut trees.

“Today the summer has come at my window

With its sighs and murmurs;

And the bees are plying their minstrelsy

At the court of the flowering grove.”

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941)  Hindu poet

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A Little Intervention

I am enjoying the company of several pairs of mocking birds this year.  Their repertoire of bird songs is incredible.  They are masters of mimicry and their morning serenade includes familiar and exotic selections that make the woods seem like a giant aviary.

Watercolor of a cardinal on her nest by Karen Hines

Nesting Cardinal, watercolor by Karen Hines

Cardinals, wrens and mocking birds have all chosen to nest nearby.  This week the tranquility of the morning was interrupted by hysterical screeching from a pair of birds nesting in one of my bushes and I found a large black snake in there, head poised above the nest.

With last week’s post Bees and Spiders and Snakes, Oh My on my mind, I carefully pulled the snake out by the tail, scooped her up on a rake and flung her into the woods hoping that she wouldn’t return.

I realize that not all eggs hatch nor fledglings survive to leave their nests. There is no lack of predators in these woods. Predators keep the balance.  Neither prey nor predator is guaranteed to survive the law of nature.

In this case, a little intervention to adjust the “course of nature” seemed to be the right course of action at the time.  I hope that the pair of mocking birds will be successful parents but in the end nature will determine their fate.

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