Peepers and Other Clues That Spring Has Arrived!

If you take the time to really listen to Nature, it isn’t any secret that Spring has arrived.  As the first full day of springtime dawns today here are some of the clues that have heralded its arrival to the mountains of Southwest Virginia.

“10 clues that let me know Spring is here.”

  1. The last of winter’s ice has receded from the warming water of the pond.

    The last of the winter ice recedes from the pond

    The last of the winter ice recedes from the pond

  2. The serenade of the peepers has begun. (You can learn about these little frogs and hear their chorus at
  3. Masses of frog eggs have appeared among the  bright green algae in the pond.First frogs of Spring.jpg
  4. Green sprouts of chives, daffodils and crocuses have broken ground and leaf buds are bursting  open in the underbrush of the woods.

    The Lenten Rose is one of the first plants to bloom in springtime.

    Lenten Roses, watercolor by Karen Hines.

  5. The purple “Lenten Roses” are blooming in my neighbor’s yard.
  6. The Northern cardinals are waking before dawn to begin singing their mating songs.
  7. The Tom Turkeys are escorting flocks of hens out of the woods and into my yard.

     Wild Turkey and Dogwood  from a watercolor " Virginia Gentleman" by Karen Hines

    A Wild Turkey stands behind the blossoms of a spring flowering Dogwood tree ( Virginia’s State Flower) in” Virginia Gentleman”, watercolor by Karen Hines.

  8. The air smells of damp earth and catkins  have appeared on the pussy willows.
  9. The sun spends more time in its journey from sunrise to sunset.
  10. And Nature is calling me to record the wonders of the season on paper with watercolors!

I hope that you have a moment today to appreciate the clues left behind by Nature that the earth is slowly awakening from it’s winter sleep.

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The Light of Spring

“A light exists in spring

Not present on the year at any other period-

When March is scarcely here.”

Emily Dickinson

Spring Chicks_edited-1

Spring Chicks, watercolor by Karen Hines

It shines with the promise of new life.  It reflects off new fallen snow with bright green shoots of daffodils breaking the surface.

Although March has just begun,  the meteorological spring has passed and the Vernal Equinox approaches and Nature will celebrate the coming of Spring as the “Earth laughs in Flowers”.

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Deep Freeze

The pond is frozen.

winter watercolor painting of two deer

“Quiet Pond”, watercolor by Karen Hines

The New River Valley has finally taken a plunge into the deep freeze of winter. The fickle sun brightly beckons me outside but the thermometer sitting on 8 degrees over rides the urge to walk about.  Only a walk to the bird feeders and baths today.

I spent the past few days of snow and frigid temperatures reading an exciting novel set in the 1700’s and marveling at the ability of the characters to survive winter in the Scottish Highlands without the modern conveniences of my world. 

My lights are still on, the house is warm and the refrigerator is humming.  Only the logs burning in the fire and a respect for nature’s fury connect me with my own ancestors from that century long ago.  

Grey cat sitting by a fire

My “Tiger” by the fire.

Stay warm!

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Woodland Calligraphy

Naturalists and artists tend to appreciate details within the big picture.  We marvel at the the shapes of shadows, the perfect hexagons in a comb of honey and the curly-cues and flourishes of tendrils.  In these are the characters, alphabets and language of the forest.

I’ve always loved the graceful, natural shapes in beautiful writing. Grapevines are the calligraphers of the woods.  interesting grapevine design

They wind their way through the trees in flowing shapes that surely must have inspired the cursive of early manuscripts.

Without the lush foliage of summer, the woods reveal the artistry of the vines.

grapevine shapes

This vine cast a single musical note in shadow to its left on the forest floor.

grapevine 7_edited-1

A very talented teacher of calligraphy once challenged me to appreciate the beauty and artistry of the handwritten word and to make each character an intertwined part of the message.  The vine’s record their  journey through the trees in woodland script like the free flowing ink from a calligrapher’s pen.

“Man′s beauty is in the beauty of his writing.”  (author unknown)   

  Might we also say “Nature’s beauty is in the beauty of her writing.”

Grapevine Calligraphy

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A Moment of Creativity

Seed Art by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Original Seed Art By Laura Stilson

Earlier this week I decided to spend a moment on the porch enjoying a warm January sunbeam and browsing through two of my favorite catalogs,  Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff and Rare Seeds from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.  I know that I can scroll through their website pages to see their inventories but I like to touch the paper catalog’s pages, fold over corners and draw little stars and brackets around items that catch my fancy.

The pages of Joe Miller’s catalog are full of artwork, advice, wisdom and motivational quotes for artists.  After an hour of catalog browsing, turning down pages and imagining all the creative things I could do with each product, I came across this little tidbit of information from Joe:

“Did you know that a moment is a real measure of time?  It’s one and one half minutes.  So, when you say I’ll be back in a moment, or excuse me for a moment, you’d better hurry.  You’ve only got one and one half minutes!”

Seed Catalog, Rare Seeds

rare seeds catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.

So I had happily spent considerably more than a “moment” in the sun.  I decided to take “one more moment” to flip through the Rare Seed catalog.  Well, this time it took more than one moment for this nature artist to just get past the mosaic on the cover.  What a creative change from the typical photographs of flowers and vegetables that usually grace the covers of seed catalogs!

The cover art reminded me of another bit of wisdom that I found recently on Pinterest:

Creativity is not in the finding of a thing but the making of something out of it after it is found.

Seed Art by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Detail from the cover of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds 2015 Seed Catalog

How clever to create little flowers and butterflies to remind me of what wonderful rewards await the gardener who unlocks the magic of the seeds.

As January clouds and ice move back into the New River Valley today I’m taking a “moment” to sit by the fire and contemplate how to nurture my own Seeds of Creativity in my garden and in my studio.

Wishing you happy moments!

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A “little” Inspiration

Several nights ago the temperature dropped into the single digits and all of the media were emphasizing the importance of bringing outdoor pets inside and providing shelter for livestock.  I don’t have either but after I filled the bird feeders for the afternoon flock I spied a small clay pot of violas by the porch that beckoned me to bring them into the house.

Pot of purple violas

After blooming through ice, snow and freezing temperatures these little beauties deserved a little shelter inside when the temp. dipped below freezing.

Their little throats were the color of bright summer sunshine even in the dead of winter.

Bright blue viola with slash of gold

Hardy, Happy, Colorful, Drops of Joy!

I’ve heard that those born under my sign of Scorpio often disappear for extended periods of time only to re-emerge unexpectedly with a flurry of creativity.   I think these little jewels started the flurry.  I just ordered three new tubes of watercolors for painting, several new spices for cooking and some interesting seeds for the spring garden!

Watercolor Viola  painting by karen HinesI have several plants blooming around the house right now:  African violets, Orchids, Christmas Cactus, Shamrock. 

African Violets

Detail from “Mabel’s Pink Kitchen”, watercolor by Karen Hines

Amazing what one tiny little flower, just visiting overnight, can do to brighten the bouquet!!     

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Snow at Dawn

There was snow at dawn this morning. 

A tranquil beginning bringing us one day closer to the beginning of a new year. 

Watercolor of a deer in a misty, snowy forest by Virginia artist Karen Hines using wet-in-wet techniques

Snow at Dawn, watercolor by Karen Hines

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Winter Greens

First light in the New River Valley

First light in the New River Valley

When last week started off with this beautiful sunrise,  I suspected that I might be taking a technology break and I did.  I spent my week before the holidays away from the computer and immersed in my favorite activities of exploration and creative play.

After the sun rose higher in the sky, I visited my little pond. where the colorful patterns in the sky had become bright reflections on the surface of the water.

Pond Reflections

Pond Reflections




Can you guess what the bright lights are on the surface of the pond?  I couldn’t either so I moved in for a closer look.  BUBBLES! Big beautiful bubbles of oxygen.

Evidently the pretty green algae underneath the water was happily enjoying the sun too.

Oxygen bubbles produced by the process of photosynthesis float among the maple and walnut leaves on the ponds surface

Oxygen bubbles produced by the process of photosynthesis float among maple and walnut leaves on the surface of the pond.

Next spring the mass of algae will be alive with tadpoles but today it was decorating the winter green surface of the pond with bright, shiny bubbles that look like silvery Christmas balls .  Some of them were 2 inches across, held momentarily by the cohesion and surface tension of the pond’s water molecules.

Anyone who thinks that winter is a bleak colorless time just needs to explore the woods to appreciate the winter greens.

On the walk back to the house this mass of moss was the most remarkable shade of Christmas green! Amazing how something that looks so delicate seems unfazed by the freezing temperatures of late.

Christmas Green MossBows of pine and cedar come into the house this time of year. Most folks consider these and the holly and mistletoe to be “winter greens” but to an artist the “greens” of winter are  many combinations of blue and yellow that transcend seasons.

Christmas Tablescape

My seasonal arrangement under the antique cheese dome in the middle of the dining table celebrates winter greens with moss and miniature vintage trees flocked with snow.

There are lots of natural holiday decorating ideas to bring a little green into your home.  Birds and Blooms magazine blog has lots of good ideas as well as lots of DIY ideas for nature gifts.  My next project is popcorn, peanut and cranberry garlands for the birds.  They deserved a few gifts too!

Enough for now.  Christmas crafting and a little more baking are on the agenda!

Merry Christmas!









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Asphalt Seagull

From the mountains, across the Piedmont and Tidewater and onto the beach is a trip of about four hours from the New River Valley.  How odd that a bird with no interest in playing in the snow would make the trip from Virginia Beach to this valley in December.

But here they are in search of the alewife, a seagull delicacy.  Alewife are small minnows that live and spawn in the New River and Claytor Lake providing a bountiful feast for the larger fish.  It is not unusual to spot an occasional kingfisher or heron visiting to take advantage of the buffet.  In December and January gulls arrive to feast on the alewife.

While in town, the gulls congregate not only at the lake but are rather fond of parking lots as places to gather and that is where I spotted a party of about 50 birds this week. According to the New York Times, it seems that gulls are rather fond of french fries and other fast food tidbits and have learned that the sources of these delicacies are usually clustered around large parking lots.

watercolor painting of a sea gull

A sea bird in the Mountains, my watercolor of a “water bird” out of water.

There may be other reasons that they are drawn to the open areas of asphalt. Only they know for sure.  At any rate I like it when they arrive.  It is a reminder of warm weather, early morning walks along the beach and wonderful fresh seafood buffets.  I wonder if, on hot summer days, the Gulls dream of their vacation in the mountains and the freshwater delicacies?

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Nature’s Guide to Decorating

It seems to me that Nature has the right idea when it comes to holiday decorating.

Thanksgiving Cactus in bloom

A Thanksgiving Cactus differs from a Christmas Cactus in the shape of the leaves and the time of year that it blooms.

When the leaves begin to change color in the Fall and buds appear on my Thanksgiving Cactus, it is my signal to replace bird nests and butterflies with wild turkeys and pumpkins. So as the last of my Thanksgiving cactus flowers faded and dropped off on Sunday, the colors of Autumn and harvest ornaments were packed away.

Yesterday the Christmas cactus’ first bright bud appeared.  Now it is time to open the Advent calendar windows and bring out precious ornaments  collected or crafted over the years.

Art , Crafts and Holiday Decorations, oh my.

I need to get started on a watercolor Christmas card design but first I had some fun with paper, scissors and glue.

I used my watercolor paper, reproductions of vintage chromolithographs, “silk” florals and other embellishments to create these Collage Ornaments.  Of course, there had to be a little touch of leaf or flower on each one.  Even on the coldest winter day, memories of the garden are always near !   Christmas Collage Ornaments, handmadeAs the first bud opens today on my Christmas cactus I’ll be opening the boxes of treasures so carefully packed away last year.  They’ll  be enjoyed until the last Christmas bud has bloomed and faded.

Soon after, I’ll be sitting by the fire with gardening catalog in hand waiting for the bird nests and butterflies to return.

Grey cat sitting by a fire

My “Tiger” by the fire.



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