Nature is healing…

This was going to be about Spring inevitably bursting forth into being, amid even the calamitous atmosphere of the Coronavirus outbreak…but then as I walked out into my garden, (sadly the only walks that seem to be safe these days), I noticed a change about me…

I startled a robin, or more like we startled each other. She had built her nest in the ivy growth on a tree trunk at barely two feet off the ground. Each year the robins have nested in the ivy, though they build much higher, hence my surprise as I reached over to lean against it. And, not five feet away the Carolina wrens fluttered out of the bramble. It would appear they too had nested, almost at ground level in the bramble. Bluebirds that barely come close enough for a clean picture, now want to nest on my deck. I caught glimpse of a pair vying for the wren nest box, though it’s a tight fit. I’ll have to find them new digs and soon. 

As I rounded the corner to the front, I startled a groundhog who scuttered away waddling his bulk into the brush. He’d been sunning on my front porch, ha! What a life! Strange and surreal things are truly in the works here! 

Then this afternoon I saw the most delightful sight out my kitchen window. Two fox cubs having a rough and tumble on my lawn. I’ve had a fox cohabitate on this land for years. I think she (or her ancestor) was here long before we built. Yet I’ve only seen the female as she skulks about the perimeter on her pre dawn and dusk hunts. She knows I’m watching her as she watches me and never flinches. It’s as though we both know her right of way. But to see these cubs on their own out in the open out of the woods shocked and delighted me.  As I stood at the window watching them they merely threw a glance my way then went back to playing. And when the vixen returned, bouncing out the woods came two more, four cubs, wow! She didn’t seem to mind my presence either. She stuck around for a bit and then left them in my care, or so it seemed, and disappeared to resume her hunt. Quite an experience and I’m still smiling. Can hardly wait to seeing them in the days to come. How long will they stay together, how long before they part ways.

Last week looking out the back yard I saw two deer prancing about. Deer often stop by here but they too keep to the edge of the wooded perimeter as they graze, all while keeping a watchful eye. Only in the winter dawn hours do they venture closer into the garden beds when they’re pressed for food. But this carezfree playfulness was a first. I’d never seen deer in playful behavior right here in the backyard. Wonderment. Spirit uplifted. Even if for just that short moment. D

I can feel a change is in the air. Things seem different, perhaps I t may only last for awhile, but I’m basking in the kindness of it. These encounters are a welcome relief and are what’s keeping my spirits up in these harsh unknown and unknowable times. 

Yet I can’t help wonder what’s bringing about these changes and how long  they’ll last. Could it be that with the decrease in human footfall, the lack of automobiles plying, the reduction in human noise are emboldening our wildlife friends. The roadways are eerily empty, hardly any traffic on the tar. Even county parks have been shut down. There aren’t any airplanes flying overhead, I haven’t heard one in weeks! The mechanical sounds of the humans are considerably diminished. With Stay in Place ordinances now extended from a fortnight to another month and possibly longer, our presence out and about reduced or absent, the quietude that has settled over the land is changing wildlife diurnal behavior. For the better.
Nature is healing.

Will byways and roadways become animal paths and crossways, playgrounds and hunting grounds for wildlife. Now, I know this is in just one infinitesimally small spot in the world I’m talking about, but I can’t help wonder if it’s happening everywhere, in small towns and cities In the US where there aren’t any cars plying, in countryside and hill walks in Europe and the UK where walking pathways across fields and meadows are now almost devoid of humans, in downtowns arenas and cities around the world where people are no longer loitering about in crowds, and in parking lots free of cars and of the smell of automobile exhaust outside empty buildings, theaters and shopping arenas. I see a slight shift, an imperceptible change happening around me. The wild is moving closer taking back what once belonged, even if perhaps temporarily, and I’m thrilling from it. 

Our lifestyle was changed in an instant. At the micro level, we’ve been forced to make changes to our daily routines and our social and communal behavior, keeping six feet distance from strangers. Forced to stay home many are working from home, my husband now teaches this semester’s graduate chemistry class from home and my daughter uses Zoom to carry on with her work. We’re getting accustomed to using social media for work and personal communications with family and friends and curbside pickup and drop off for essentials. What other changes will we have to make? Will wearing face mask be the norm going forward? Albert Camus’ haunting tale ‘The Plague’ comes to mind.

All this because of a single virus. A microscopic piece of genetic code wrapped in a skin of protein. That has the capacity to adapt and mutate and spread with the slightest of contact with ease. A virus that is to have come from bats. Bats, they say can live with this pathogen in their body without being affected. They shed the virus when they are stressed! We were forewarned about this by a group of international scientists, but no one listened. What human behavior has caused this stress? Will it get worse? Like I said confusing unknowable times.

Our lives are changing every day, as we adapt to social distancing and self isolation. and when I look out there at what’s happening worldwide and close to home and how quickly the virus is spreading and leaving an aftermath of devastation, we can’t know what’s yet to come. We do know that more changes will have to be made. There is so much uncertainty unknown and unchangeable in the path we are on right now. We can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yet there is light, there is hope, if we chose to change our way of life. For there’s an even bigger cloud out there that is fast moving toward us. This may be mother nature’s way of a dress rehearsal to prepare for the inevitable.

Yet on the bright side, what will the reduction in our carbon footprint be at the end of April 2020? What will it be after that if his shut in goes on longer? Or what will it be if we resume? It’s time to give pause and let this settle in. If this is merely a derivative, even in small measures, of the circumstances that have endangered our lives, what more could we achieve if this were a concerted global effort. Can we make work at home a norm, without having been forced to do so by a life threatening pathogen?

What changes or unusual wildlife movement have you noticed around you? How are animals responding in habitats around you during the day? Have you seen cleaner skies overhead, do you feel the lack of pollution in the air you breath? How has a slightly lower automobile emissions affected the micro climate where you are, how are lower mechanical sounds and less lighting in buildings at nighttime as businesses, restaurants and bars are shut down, affecting nocturnal behavior of wildlife? These are all things we, as humans often don’t think of while we’re hustling and rushing about. We came in and changed the environment on earth as betterment for us, but a negative impact for wildlife. Our advancement precluded any thought or consideration of cause and effect. How many species have been pushed to the edge of extinction or have vanished without a trace  as a result.

So I’m left wondering….is nature healing? Can we cohabit this earth successfully with it? What will the nature of our future be? We can make that decision in solidarity.
Thoughts or comments?

Let’s keep our Tree of Knowledge growing…

As social distancing and self isolation continues on into week 2, feelings of disquiet and general disfunction may begin to set in.  Staying busy, physically active and mentally stimulated can combat these feelings of angst.

I’ve collated a few resources for adults, children and children of all ages, and will continue to update as I find more. Feel free to share and add to in your comments. Hope this is helpful. And, stay safe.

1. BHL has content rich resources for times like these. Looking for curated content? Biodiversity library has this collection of ebooks on a variety of subjects, from Antarctic Exploration & Discovery to Seed & Nursery Catalogs and Latino Natural History.

https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/browse/collections

2. If you need image resources for your #DistanceLearning activities, here are over 160,000 free nature images on Flickr.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/biodivlibrary/albums/

3. Looking for more hands-on educational resources? Explore and download free coloring books created from images in the BHL collection.

https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/collection/ColorOurCollections

4. Some resources to support educational activities around #WomensHistoryMonth (March) here, book and image collections, a coloring book, Facebook videos, and informative articles 

https://about.biodiversitylibrary.org/get-involved/events/her-

5. Want a lesson in writing, a 7-day free writing class, all it takes is 15 mts a day and it starts whenever you’re ready-

https://www.writeyourjourney.com/online-writing-courses/free-online-7-day-writing-and-meditation-course/

6. Looking for birds, webcams, bird ID, etc.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/how-to-make-these-next-few-weeks-a-little-easier-courtesy-of-birds/

7. Who wouldn’t enjoy a stroll in the garden right now. Five gardens you can tour virtually, including Monet’s garden.

https://www.housebeautiful.com/lifestyle/gardening/g31746949/gardens-you-can-virtually-tour/

8. Connect with SamBlog for interesting articles at Seattle Art Museum

http://samblog.seattleartmuseum.org/category/stay-home-with-sam,video,sams-collection,object-of-the-week,exhibtions,behind-the-scenes/page/2/

9. Resources for learning at home for children of all ages

https://literacytrust.org.uk/family-zone/

10. Ten freeebooks from Haymarket books-

https://www.haymarketbooks.org/blogs/112-ten-free-ebooks-from-haymarket-books

11. More free online books for school children, here-

https://www.wilbooks.com/free-resources-free-online-books

12. Free coding classes / resources for kids 

Coding For Kids: Free Classes, Websites, and Apps | Ages

13. Free Children’s books
http://www.openculture.com/2016/08/enter-an-archive-of-6000-historical-childrens-books-all-digitized-and-free-to-read-online.html

14. Free to download on Audible

https://www.radiotimes.com/news/radio/2020-03-20/audible-just-made-hundreds-of-titles-completely-free-to-help-during-coronavirus-crisis/

15. Emergence Magazine is hosting a number of Free of free online sessions including a monthly book club here

https://emergencemagazine.org/community/#braiding-sweetgrass

Keeping this fresh and growing. Please feel free to add resources in the comments. And I’ll update.

Starlings at the feeder

Spring is in the air and the birds are actively pursuing their mating rituals. The wren outside my window has been singing his heart out, the tufted titmouse, the cardinal and the song sparrow join in the chorus. They are particularly active in the mornings. With my window open the sounds and smells of spring waft in.

This morning was all about the European starlings…I watched four of them at the feeder, their comical frenzy vying for the choice spots, ousting each other from perch to perch… tiny feeder, big bird – makes for quite some tom foolery!

Starlings whilst feeding constantly scan the air for predators making them skittish; unlike finches or song sparrows that are comfortable even when they see movement at the window. Sketching starlings requires more stealth and dexterity almost on a machiavellian level. Remaining partly hidden behind the blinds, with a narrow field of view and hardly any movement on my part, the sketches are a bit stiff, but we’re still fun to do and a few minutes of sketching certainly is meditative and relaxing.
Here are today’s sketches done in between reading and organizing. Did you try sketching today?

Talking about reading, Mary Oliver comes to mind- you can always count on her for great visual imagery… this here is an excerpt from one of her poems, if you have the time I highly recommend reading the full poem…

Starlings in Winter

by Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,

but with stars in their black feathers,

they spring from the telephone wire

and instantly

they are acrobats

in the freezing wind.

And now, in the theater of air,

they swing over buildings, […

…] I feel my boots

trying to leave the ground,

I feel my heart

pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.

I want to be light and frolicsome.

I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,

as though I had wings.

Today I read some of Mary Oliver words. What were your reading blocks today?

NOW YOU HAVE THE TIME….

A succession of shutdowns are happening all around us, everywhere schools, libraries, museums, Gardens, theaters, etc. are closing down for the month at the least…

In times of uncertainty, fear, worry and anxiety all kick in, as does stress. Fear of the unknown- a mental activity along with worry stirs a physical reaction of bodily stress and mental anxiety. Yet humans have the ability to cope and help each other cope through times of such uncertainty. It’s imperative to keep mentally and physically active to feed the body, mind and soul to aid in dialing down the panic.

Here are a few simple things we CAN do…

FRESH AIR & SUNLIGHT : Let’s start with Fresh air and sunlight – two proven natural disinfectants – go outside in your yard or garden and get some of these. Start a garden, prune your trees and shrubs, clean the yard. Open a few windows for short periods of time to keep fresh air flowing indoors and listen to birdsong! It’s that time of year and the birds are out there actively readying for spring! Play outside with your children and your pets. Enjoy nature’s bounty right in your backyard.
Here’s what’s lurking in mine….


READ: Stock up on books – physical, electronic or audio – we all have TBR lists, now is the time to catch up on your reading. Reading transports you to places you’ve never been, see and experience things you never have, all from the comfort of your favorite chair. Reading stimulates disparate parts of your brain such as vision, language, and associative learning to work together. Mental stimulation from reading can help protect memory and thinking skills, heighten overall brain function. So grab a book and READ.

So many books and now so much time!!!

DRAW: More and more studies are proving drawing is a meditative practice, lowers stress levels, deepens your breathing, helps calm your mind. Drawing helps enhance the development of the brain by putting all parts of the brain to work. It boosts memory and relieves stress. So Grab a sketchbook or two and some pens/ pencils/ crayons or whatever, and draw. You don’t have to be an artist or create a masterpiece, just draw. And it’s free— grab a pad and a biro if you don’t have sketching supplies and get started. Draw anything and everything – your hands, feet, pets, utensils, plants, food, spouse, or a cartoon. It’s not what you draw, it’s that you draw. Anyone can draw. Remember kindergarten, yup we all drew and colored and didn’t care what it looked like – but as we grew older we lost that feeling. Get it back now. No experience necessary.
Here are rough sketches of mine, mostly drawn live, not for perfection but for fun…

“Faites des lignes. Faites beaucoup de lignes.” (“Draw lines – draw a lot of lines”) Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867)

WRITE: Similar to drawing, handwriting increases neural activity in certain sections of the brain, just like meditation. Handwriting sharpens the brain and helps us learn. So write — write that novel or short story, movie script, Op-ed piece or blog post you’ve had in your head but didn’t have time to put down, grab a pad and pen and get started. Or write your family history for your children- do the research, organize all those family heirloom photos and records, get the whole family involved, everyone can contribute. Or just start a journal, record your experiences and feeling, childhood memories – anything. Just Write!

MUSIC : listening to and /or playing music provides a total brain workout. Research has shown that music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory. Get your favorite bands playing or grab your guitar / keyboard, French horn, and learn a new song, anything that will get your mind and body move into a comfort zone. Get up and learn to dance or combine music with another activity. Or listen to podcasts to help enrich your mind and soul.

LEARN: On a physiological level, learning and practicing a new skill increases the density of the white matter in your brain which helps improve performance on a number of tasks. So Learn a new skill – cooking, baking, woodworking, bookbinding, whatever! There are many online resources to choose from including YouTube with myriads of videos. That thing you always wanted to learn to do – now is your chance, take a stab at it! Be bold.

DECLUTTER: Decluttering helps reduce chaos both physically and mentally. Even the physical activity of cleaning out your garage, your home, your closet can be mentally rewarding. Get the whole family involved, turn on the music and get going, do it in chunks – and spring cleaning’s done and donation piles ready ahead of time. And you’re not sitting around worrying! Oh, and how about those old your emails, text messages and file folders on your laptop? How many MB of storage can you retrieve?

PLAY: Play games – Quizzes, board games, electronic, whatever- keep the whole family occupied mentally, and physically and have fun. Laughing relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after. Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. So play and laugh together. When was the last time you did that as a family…

STAY CONNECTED: Stay connected with friends and family. Social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t call, text or video chat. Do all that from the comfort of home.

Whatever your choice, keep busy with things that’ll make you laugh, cry (as in movies), exclaim, enrich, enliven, and let your emotions flow – our mind, body and soul needs this now more than ever.

SHARE: And don’t forget to share activities with others specially those who can’t do it on their own and need a bit of help and encouragement, especially children and the elderly.

Keeping ourselves occupied physically, mentally and emotionally is not just a healthy way to deal with uncertainty, fear, anxiety and worry. It’s now the only way to keep us calm and offset the Panic button.

These are just a few of my favorite activities – what are some of yours?
Find some that excite you and carry on….surround yourself with the things you love to do, and then do them…

As for me, besides reading I’ll be sketching and posting my sketches often, daily if I can, mostly of nature around me…here’s my sketch from today, Pi-Day, 3/14/2020, also Einstein’s birthday.
Join me if you can…

So many things… AND NOW YOU HAVE THE TIME!

Inktober 2018 – Week One

Inktober 2018..

This year I’d resolved to pick up my ink pens and practice my line drawing but it’s taken me till October to do so…yet, what better month than Inktober eh!

Typically I start painting my subjects directly with watercolor as shapes, as light and shadow in color, without any pen or pencil under drawings. Hence the need to strengthen my drawing technique on occasion is a necessity for me. Forcing myself to use a pen and draw lines for a month I knew, would be a challenge, yet good practice… so here goes.

Week 1 started out rather wonky and wobbly and I found myself falling back on using my brush with ink rather than the mighty pen! I was using the term “inking” rather loosely as you’ll see here in my sketches from week 1…

This first one of a dragon fruit with an ink pen and slight hatching, immediately followed by a second one in brush pen where I proceeded to use my brush for shadows…

Day 1

(L) – Brush pen sketch of Dragon Fruit in our fruit basket at the hotel.

(R) – Ink pen sketch of Dragon fruit

 

Day 2

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Today, Oct 2nd is Gandhi Jayanthi – Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th anniversary…of course I had to pay homage to the Father of the Nation! ‘Ahimsa’ (non- violence) and ‘Satyagraha’ (Truth) come to mind – much needed today I’d say…

 

Day 3

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Humayun’s Tomb – This was one of the most direct influences on the Taj Mahal’s design. Built in details of geometrical sandstone and marble pietra dura inlay patterns. Tough doing this one in black and white…stay tuned for the watercolor version…

Day 4

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“CAW-CAW”- My neighbor on the 10th floor albeit outside the windowsill…he’s there every morning to greet, chat and pose for me…

 

Day 5

Indian Black Kite- Color was eventually going to creep into my Inktober sketches ;-/)!
This guy was incessantly harassing the parrots at the Taj’s Paradise Garden….quite the character – he definitely earned his spot in my sketchbook!

 

Day 6

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“Mehman Khana” – The Rest house also known as the Jawab (‘answer’) built to maintain symmetry and harmony of the Taj Mahal complex. It stands on the East end of the mausoleum as a twin to the Mosque on the west. Built in Red sandstone and marble, this is one of the towers of the building….

 

Day 7

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“Frangipani” – Fragrant, intoxicating, delicate and graceful…they sway gently releasing their perfume…they’re blooming everywhere! Capturing them in black and white was the hardest thing to do ;-/) Whew!! Made it through first week of Inktober 2018.

Throwback to Santa Barbara

A very short trip to Santa Barbara, but I couldn’t leave without sketching the Santa Ynez mountains. We took the afternoon drive up into the mountains. The Santa Yenez start off as volcanic hills that then transition into well defined ridges. On a bright sunny afternoon they brighten up the landscape and from the top looking down they are quite dramatic. Even in the distance you could smell the sage scrub and see the patches of green break up the rolling yellows and oranges of the mountains. The early inhabitants here were the Chumash people. There are many examples of rock art, we only got to see the Painted Cave. Didnt get to sketch these as we were short on time. But a great excuse to return!

Here then are the sketches of Santa Yenez .

Sketching at Longwood Gardens

Day 9, 10 & 11/31 #WorldWatercolorMonth

I decided to do it differently for the past three days of #WorldWatercolorMonth. For days 9,10 and 11 instead of posting each day I did cumulative sketchs of the same subject over and over. I figured this would improve my technique and a better understanding of my subject matter. I chose the water lily pool at Longwood Gardens. The pools is a bloom and though it’s a late start the lillies are looking great. The large lotus pads which are a trade mark of Longwood’s lily pool have not reached their peak size yet but are still huge! These leaves are what I’ll be focusing on over the next few days. I did a total of 12 sketches but I’m just posting three..

Baby it’s cold outside!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanza, Happy Holidays to one and all.

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