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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Bees and Spiders and Snakes, Oh My.

“Develop a boundless ethic which includes all living things.”

Watercolor of a pine warbler by Virginia Nature Artist Karen Hines

I had just finished finished typing this paraphrase of Albert Schweitzer’s advice when a small warbler hit the sliding glass door beside my desk.  I ran out to scoop her up off the deck.  She didn’t seem to have broken anything but was obviously in shock and so I kept her warm in my hands until the shock of the accident wore off.  Happily, after about thirty minutes she seemed perky enough to sit in my grapevine wreath (aka recovery room).   Later when I checked on her, she flew off like a little jet to join her mate in the big oak by the porch.   I think Dr. Schweitzer would have been pleased.

The real challenge is to treat even the less adorable living things ethically.

I have collected quite a few examples of cute, cuddly creatures on my “Mitzi Katzen” Pinterest board that are much more endearing than bees, spiders, snakes and other less popular creatures.

Still, I have been inspired to paint many interesting bees and spiders and snakes. Many less than cuddly things do have their endearing qualities and a special function in the Web of Life.

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t discover something new and fascinating in nature that I have never seen before like this little spider with a shiny, metallic pink body that I found today in the garden! Pretty!  (Metallic Crab Spider, Philodromus marxi)

Metallic pink spider on a leaf As fascinating as I find most animals and plants there has to be a balance of compassion and survival.  I do kill poison ivy, eliminate yellow jacket nests and do not welcome poisonous snakes into my yard.

However, the little pink spider happily scurried away.

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A Noisy Silence

May has been a silent month.  A month of quiet activities that revealed the noises that so often go unnoticed, nature’s background music.  Just like chamber music in an elevator, the  sounds of nature need to be the center of attention to be truly appreciated.  With windows wide open the silent house is filled with birdsong and chipmunk chatter.

As I write its early morning just before dawn of the first day of June. A “quiet” time filled with the chirps of insects and frogs and the songs of birds rising early to meet the new day. A noisy silence that soothes the soul.

The month of May was not without its hectic days when the mind becomes distracted by traffic, technology and responsibilities of today’s world and neither will the month of June be without stresses.  More reason to put a little silence at the top of my to do list.  Nature’s melody will be in the background waiting to take center stage.

Watercolor of a wood borer bee by virginia nature artist Karen S. Hines

Wood borer bees filled today’s silence with buzzing and boring as a fine dust of wood fell silently to the ground.

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In the Blink of an Eye

April is one of those months that passes in the “Blink of an Eye”.

In April, after anticipating the coming of Spring through long winter months, nature hits the fast forward button. One minute tree limbs are skeletal and the next covered with unfolding leaf buds. One minute gelatinous masses float in the pond and the next minute fat little tadpoles are thick in the water.

In the Blink of an Eye

It is April. In the “Blink of an Eye” tadpoles wiggle free from the masses of eggs in the pond.

The first tadpoles of April appear seemingly overnight.

The first tadpoles of April seem to appear overnight.

In the “Blink of an Eye” colors pour across the landscape like paint on a palette.

April Color

April Color

In the "Blink of an Eye" the petals of Dogwood and Redbud trees will loosen and drop to the ground in the April woods of Virginia.

My watercolor of Dogwood and Redbud trees decorating the woods of April.

Bright flowers of the Redbud and Dogwood trees are here too short a time.

In the”Blink of an Eye” it will be May Day.  Perhaps then life on Earth will settle into a slower pace where writers and painters can blink and not miss an inspirational moment.

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