Alaska 2017 Part 2: Denali National Park

After our wonderful time in the cabin in Seldovia on the Kenai Peninsula, we spent a rainy day (many days in Alaska are rainy days) driving up to Denali National Park, over an eight hour drive after a 45 minute ferry ride from Seldovia to Homer, which was after a 10 minute skiff ride from the cabin to Seldovia. It was a long day, but, even through the rain, we were often dazzled by the beauty surrounding us wherever we looked. I could have found a view to paint almost anywhere we stopped along that route. We didn’t have much time to stop, but a travel day like that still counts as a day of wonder.

We stayed at the Denali Park Hotel which, as all the reviews said, is a fairly basic hotel but very nice. The reviews were absolutely right, and we would definitely stay there again. We liked it from the start, but seeing the Aurora Borealis from right in front of our hotel room door on the last night really sold us on it.

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Northern Lights from our hotel room door!!!

I did a fair amount of sketching at Denali, more of wildlife than of landscapes the first couple of days, as we were much more on the move. I missed the quiet, serene pace of our time in Seldovia, but loved all the hiking we did at Denali. Whereas Seldovia is lush with abundant plant life of all sorts, being a temperate rain forest-type habitat, Denali is more Boreal forest and tundra habitat, and so has more open land or shrub and low tree growth. The color of Seldovia when we were there was largely blue water and green mountain, when not softened to warm shades of grays by mist. Denali, clothed with autumn color by late August, was red and yellow and orange and green and purple and blue.

(Click on images to see larger version and read notes)

Black Diamond Grill View — where we ate breakfast every morning
Arctic ground squirrel and collared pika– totally adorable!
The Savage River valley
Ptarmigan and Gray Jay
Moose– outside our hotel and in the park
Bears and Sheep
Teklanika River Valley with a grizzly bear
Snowshoe Hares
Roses Cafe View where we ate dinner one night– HUGE portions!
Denali View from Mt. Healy– perfect view of Denali in sunshine
Tundra Tapestry on Mt. Healy
Hoary Marmot on Mt. Healy– totally adorable, like a long-haired white woodchuck
Looking up at Mt. Healy after hiking it
Mt. Healy Trail along very steep mountainside
Denali Sled Dog Demo
Denali sled dog team
View from the Morino Grill at Denali National Park

Alaska 2017 Part 1: Seldovia

It’s hard to know where to start when my mind and heart are full of images, every one glorious and each bringing back wonderful memories of breathtaking beauty and shared joy in the wonder of God’s creation. Stephen and I got home from our Alaska trip eight days ago and have now pretty much returned to east coast time and have more or less gotten caught up with phone calls, emails, and life back home. It takes a while to return to “normal” when you’ve been immersed in wonder.

Our trip started with a bit of unexpected excitement. As we waited to board our plane from Reno, NV (after the Lake Tahoe family vacation portion of our trip), a phalanx a 10 TSA agents filed in and took up positions in a semi-circle around our gate, posted a sign saying all passengers would be subject to additional screening, and stood closely scrutinizing the crowd waiting to board. They then pulled various people over for pat-downs (including Steve) after we passed the gate and headed down the jetway. I have no idea what they were looking for, but that was the first time I’ve seen that happen.

The plane trip was uneventful until we were about to land in Anchorage, very close to the airport and very low, when the plan suddenly accelerated and quickly gained altitude. Everyone was wondering what was going on, until the pilot announced that we couldn’t land yet because there was a pack of coyotes on the runway! We had to circle out and come back about 15 or 20 minutes later, after the coyotes had been chased away!

We ended up landing just before midnight in steady rain, so we went straight to our hotel and got some sleep. The next day, August 21st, was Eclipse Day, but it was heavily overcast and raining, and the eclipse was only 40% in Anchorage, so we didn’t see the eclipse. But, as soon as we looked out our hotel room window, way in the north we could see Denali (Mt. McKinley) along with other mountains in the Alaska Range, all snow covered but glowing under clear skies and sunrise light. Denali (the official name was Mount McKinley until 2015, when it was changed back to its original name “Denali,” which mean “the Great One” or the Tall One”) is often wreathed in clouds, so it was a special treat to see it on our first morning in Alaska. We hung out of the third floor hotel window taking photos (Stephen) and sketching (me) for a long time, hardly able to tear our eyes from the mountains shining in morning light even through the rain where we were.

Denali in morning light

As soon as we’d eaten breakfast we rented a car and headed four hours south to Homer, where we parked the car, so we could board a ferry to Seldovia. But before we got on the ferry we met and chatted with a fascinating man who, with his wife, has built and lived in house trucks for the past 35 years. Here’s an article about him, with a video tour of his house truck: 75 Year Old Man’s Adventurer House Truck. I asked if I could take photos of him and am planning to do a portrait, since he looks so typically “Alaskan.”

We then rode the ferry 45 minutes to “The City of Seldovia.” I guess the Alaskan definition of “city” is a bit flexible, as Seldovia is more like what we’d call a village, with 250 year-round inhabitants, and a few more for the short summer season. Once in Seldovia, our host, Scott, who built the VRBO cabin we rented, met us at the dock and took us by skiff to his cabin down the bay and across to the other side, where his cabin is nestled right at the base of a mountain.

In Scott’s 18 foot Lund skiff
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Our cabin, nestled at the base of the mountain– low tide. At high tide the water is almost up to the deck!

This cabin is delightful, as are Scott and Janet, who built it. They stay in an older cabin behind the one we stayed in, and from our cabin all we could see was the bay, the mountains beyond the bay with one cabin nestled at the base of those mountains, sea otters cavorting in the bay, salmon leaping high from the water, and Bald Eagles flying back and forth, sometimes landing on the beach in front of our cabin. And one morning coyotes meandering along the beach! It was quiet, peaceful, and soul-nourishing- a piece of heaven on earth for sure. The view changed constantly, due to mists wafting around and through the mountains, so every minute I could have done a new painting.

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Every morning I awoke early and, while Stephen slept in or enjoyed the view from the loft bedroom, I got the wood stove going to warm the cabin, then sat and marveled at and sketched the view while sipping a steaming mug of tea. I could not imagine a more perfect start to any day!

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Ink and wash misty mountains
Seldovia Bay and coyotes (on far right side of beach)
Graduation Peak sunrise Seldovia Bay view

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There are sea otters everywhere in the bay! They float on their backs cracking mollusks and crustaceans, rolling around in the water, playing, letting us get fairly close in the skiff.

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Sea otter
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Synchronized swimming

This off-the-grid cabin is absolutely charming and perfectly comfortable, with windows on the entire side facing the bay, a propane refrigerator and stove for cooking, no internet (apparently some people can get enough of a signal to get online, but I was very glad we couldn’t), and solar powered lights (which we scarcely used). There’s running water and a shower (water heated by propane) inside, and a perfectly acceptable outhouse instead of an inside toilet. The water is the best tasting and coldest water you can imagine! It comes from a mountain stream and is so clean it doesn’t need to be filtered or treated in any way. Scott just stuck a pipe high enough up the stream that the water is gravity fed, rather than pumped in. I wish I could have brought that water back with me.

Cabin kitchen
Looking down from the loft bedroom

Whenever we wanted to go hiking, Scott took us in his skiff over the Seldovia, where we hiked some beautiful trails, ate lunch in a delightful restaurant, then returned by skiff to the cabin to cook our dinner and have a quiet evening. So perfect!

Seldovia Outer Beach view and Seldovia Bay Ferry

Rocky Ridge Trail Seldovia

The last evening we were there, Scott took us in his skiff to the back of the bay, which he calls his “cathedral,” with mountains on all sides, Bald Eagles perched and flying all around, and salmon leaping all around the boat. He snagged and filleted a salmon for us, which I cooked for our dinner when we got back to the cabin. On the way out to the “cathedral” I sketched the view while the skiff was bouncing along over waves– fun!

Sketched while bouncing over waves in the skiff (white gel pen trees added later)
Salmon leaping
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Salmon swimming by the skiff

It was hard to leave this amazing place and we hope (plan) to return someday. As we rode the ferry back to Homer, we stayed out on the upper deck, watching the amazing panorama of jagged Kenai Mountains to the east. I could look at those mountains for years and never grow tired of them.

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Seldovia Ferry View

I’ll do another post in a few days for the second half of our Alaska trip, which was mostly in Denali National Park, and probably a third one for birds and other wildlife we saw, so stay tuned!

Thank you!

I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy… Philippians 1:3-4

This morning I have been filled with gratitude. I’m not sure why this morning in particular, as I wasn’t consciously turning my thoughts that way any more than usual. In fact, I was reading in The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages about hospitality and prayer and maintaining balance in one’s life, when all of a sudden I was almost overwhelmed by a wave of gratitude as the names and faces of people started coming to mind.

People who have spoken into my life with words of encouragement and sometimes admonition, helping me grow in faith and character and way of living… I so appreciate the people who gently but clearly point me forward, even at times when I’m not always so willing or confident that I am able to move forward, and who walk along the way with me, encouraging me to keep going and keep growing.

Mentors and others who have inspired me in my art and writing over the years… I sometimes look back at early pieces I painted or have written and am both humbled and grateful as I remember the encouraging words they gave me. And knowing that there is always much room to grow, I am still so thankful for their gracious words that encourage me to keep going and keep growing.

Those who have mentored and encouraged me in various ways of teaching that I have done over the years, including homeschooling my children, training dogs and their people, teaching classes and workshops of various sorts, leading Bible studies, as well as other less formal forms of teaching… I am so thankful for the ways they have encouraged both confidence and humility, encouraging me to keep going and keep growing, both in my own skills and in my ability to encourage others on their own journeys.

So to the many, many people who have spoken and those who continue to speak words of grace and hope and love into various areas of my life, thank you, thank you, thank you. I do thank my God when I remember you and I pray for you with joy. Some of you I know well and some I have not yet met and may not meet in this life. And many have gone on before and are no doubt still cheering me on from unseen sidelines in ways I might not recognize but I suspect impact me nonetheless, helping to me to keep on going and keep on growing in this life.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2

Bald Eagle

Hiking Huckleberry Point, Giant Ledge, and Panther Mountain

tephen and I had a great day hiking in the Catskills today! He took the day off work and we hiked up Panther Mountain. The views from the summit of Panther are pretty impressive, but halfway up there’s a series of ledges, called Giant Ledge, with really nice views where we could actually see more. That’s where I stopped to sketch, both on the way up and the way back down.
Looking east from Giant Ledge
Near the summit of Panther we first heard, then saw a Blackburnian Warbler– such a brilliantly colored, beautiful bird! We’ve only seen a Blackburnian a couple of times, so this was a real treat. This bird didn’t seem too wary and even came down closer and sang just above us. We mostly saw him from below, so my sketch (done from memory a little later) is of that angle.
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This was my first time using one of the new soft-cover Stillman & Birn sketchbooks, and I am sold on them! I’ve filled many of the hardcover Stillman & Birn sketchbooks, but this one weighs so much less than the hardcover sketchbooks, and, at least with the Beta paper I was using, I had no problem with it being firm enough to paint against. 
Last week, on the Fourth of July, we also went hiking in the Catskills, that time to Huckleberry Point. That was a pretty easy hike with a beautiful view and many delicious wild blueberries. As usual, I sketched while Stephen figured out what mountains we were seeing, then I added the names into my sketch.
Huckleberry Point view

After today’s fairly long hike (6+ miles) I was really hungry, so we detoured through Rhinebeck on the way home to stop at the Matchbox Cafe, my favorite place to get a burger and fries. It was a great finale to a great day of hiking and spending time with Stephen!

Hiking and painting on the Quiet Side

The Quiet Side of Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island is aptly named and full of beauty that one can enjoy in silence and solitude. As I drove along the Loop Road in Acadia National Park, even the not-quite-busy season crowds were enough on a beautiful Saturday in early June to deter me from stopping and sketching as often as I would have otherwise. Then I drove across to the Quiet Side and felt all tension melt away as I left the crowds of people and lines of cars behind.

I stayed for a few delightful days with a friend in a little one room cottage in the village of Southwest Harbor. Jana is an incredible artist who has spent a great deal of time exploring and painting all over Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park (see her website here– Jana Matusz), and over the days I stayed with her she shared many of her favorite hiking and painting spots with me. We hiked out to less-known but beautiful spots where we painted the coast or the woodlands. We watched a Peregrine Falcon fly in with food for her chicks, we saw a gorgeous Common Loon on her nest trying to be invisible, we saw an Osprey carrying a fish to its nestlings and then flying away with it again (did the chicks turn up their noses at it?), we climbed the aptly named Perpendicular Trail, we bushwacked down to a beautiful waterfall, and we tried, as so many have, to push Bubble Rock off the cliff where it hangs seemingly so precariously, and, of course, we ate lobster!

Like me, Jana likes to hike and paint quietly, so we both greatly appreciated the spirit of the Quiet Side. While we often chatted and laughed while driving from place to place, we hiked mostly without speaking, marveling at the play of light and shadow on birch trees along the trail or the various songs of myriad birds who mostly remained unseen or sudden vistas opening out before us. Then once we’d decided on a place to paint, we’d fall into a comfortable and companionable silence, each focused on our work, each appreciating the spot in our own way and attempting to capture it with our brushes. Be sure to check out Jana’s paintings on her website. We use different mediums and paint very differently, but I love her work and learn from studying every painting of hers.

It was a wonderful few days of hiking and sketching and I am eager to return and do some more exploring and painting. Many thanks to Jana for sharing her love and knowledge of the Quiet Side!

(Click on images to see larger image)

Cooksey Drive Overlook at Ingraham Point
Jana painting at Ingraham Point– very sunny day!
Wonderland View
Bubble Rock
Me trying to push Bubble Rock (it is estimated to weigh 181 tons!)
Sketching the beaver lodge from a beaver stump
Duck Brook Beaver Lodge
Lower Hadlock Pond Falls
Ship Harbor Trail and Thurston’s Lobster Pound

Acadia Artist Retreat 2017– Wonderful week of painting and sketching!

The final week of my month in Maine was the 2017 Summer Acadia Artist Retreat at the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park. We had a foggy start to the week and, although I love painting the softness of fog and mist, one of the other program leaders and I were planning some indoor alternatives to plein air painting in case some of the participants weren’t keen on being outside in the fog. At our first gathering, however, all the participants waxed enthusiastic about the fog and said they were excited to get out and paint the fog-wreathed landscape. That enthusiastic spirit prevailed throughout the week as we painted in fog and sunshine, hiked as a group to Little Moose Island and then dispersed to paint whatever views captured our attention, shared thoughts and ideas over meals, learned from Ranger Kate Petrie on her fabulous geology walk and touch tank presentation, painted taxidermy models and a retired ranger who kindly sat as a portrait model for two hours, did figure drawing at nearby studio in town, and more, including, of course, lots of free painting time on our own. All the planned activities were optional, and varying numbers of artists participated in each, with everyone free to pursue their own interests and goals for the week.

Portrait painting with a retired park ranger
Ranger-led bird walk
Ranger Kate explaining sedimentary rock

Each of the four program leaders gave a brief presentation; mine was on quick sketching of wildlife, particularly birds. I also demonstrated the meander folded journals I like to make and fill when I travel to a special place. Below are photos of my meander journal opened out; I love that this kind of journal is called a meander journal, since I fill it as I meander through time and place.

Meander Journal side 1
Meander Journal Side 2

I really appreciated the opportunity to garner some helpful suggestions and ideas from the various presentations and from the other participants and am looking forward to putting some of these ideas into practice in the coming weeks. In addition to the painting and sharing times, we had delicious and plentiful breakfasts and dinners served at Schooner Commons, Schoodic Institute’s dining hall, as well as box lunches that we prepared each morning at breakfast so that we could be free to paint or explore throughout the day. On our final night we had a fabulous lobster dinner, cooked and served by the lobsterman who had caught the lobsters that day!

(photo by Jana Matusz)
Lobster dinner!
(photo by Jana Matusz)
Dinner at Schooner Commons

One of my goals for this retreat and really for the whole month in Maine was to try new approaches and materials, and the retreat was great for that with so much varied input and opportunities. I had been wanting to do more with gouache, which I’d only used a few times, and one of the retreat artists uses gouache, so I asked a few questions and watched her work, then went out a played with it. These two are gouache, the fisher from a taxidermy mount and the landscape did plein air in my meander journal on Little Moose Island.

Fisher in gouache
Little Moose Island in gouache

I’d also been wanting to do figure drawing again, which I’ve only done a few times, so it was great to have that as an option one evening at a studio in Winter Harbor, and again, I learned a lot from seeing how the other artists there approached it. While doing the figure drawing, I also tried working with walnut ink, which I’ve had for a while but have never used. (I’m not posting my figure drawings here since some viewers might not appreciate the nudity.) I also had not painted a portrait from life before, so painting a ranger who patiently sat for a portrait session was new and very enjoyable. I don’t think it looks a whole lot like him, but I was happy with it as a first portrait in watercolor from life. A bonus was that we got to hear wonderful stories from his work as a ranger while we painted him.

Walnut ink & watercolor
Ranger Ed

 

I tried sketching on Rite in the Rain paper when it was too foggy for my pencil to work on ordinary paper, and that worked wonderfully for sketching a Herring Gull at Schoodic Point. I’ll definitely keep a pad of this paper in my car for damp days.

Rite in the Rain paper

I tried doing watercolor on multimedia artboard, which I had never even heard of, and I loved it! I’ve already ordered a pack of it and am eager to do more with it.

Spruce in Mist on multimedia artboard

And of course I painted the rocks and trees of Schoodic Peninsula!

Pink granite and diabase dike
Schoodic Point Fog
Rainy day painting from the back of my car
Schoodic Point Solstice

Here’s a link to Schoodic Institute’s write-up of the retreat with many more photos: Artists Reflect on challenges, techniques, and experiences at Acadia Retreat . We’re already starting to think about next year’s retreat, so keep posted for updates!

Musings, Doodlings, and Insights from Acadia National Park

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I’m back home in the Hudson Valley of New York, but when I close my eyes I see spruces and firs draped in Old Man’s Beard lichen, their trunks nearly white with other lichens, their roots clad in bright green mosses; pink granite and greenish-black diabase rock glistening in the surf; Herring Gulls and Eider Ducks flashing white in the sun as the fly over blue-green water. I hear the steady pounding and crashing of waves on the rocky shores and feel the nearly constant cool breeze that wonderfully keeps black flies and mosquitoes away. The songs of Black-throated Green Warblers, Northern Parulas, Swainson’s Thrushes, Winter Wrens, and many other birds still play in my mind. I feel cool mist on my cheeks and watch the hide and seek game of the islands as thick fog rolls in and out and in again.

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I was planning to post again after my second week, but I was so enjoying my break from computer time that I decided to wait till I was back home. I was also heading out to explore, sketch, or hike by 5:00 most mornings and wasn’t spending much time inside, so I didn’t really have time to photograph my artwork or post about what I was doing.

The second week of my artist residency was just as wonderful as the first, perhaps more so, as I settled into a quieter internal state of mind and became more and more present with the world around me and with my own being. I had been very much looking forward to this extended time of quiet, and it was, as expected, a time of insight and personal growth, as well as a wonderful time of sketching and painting.

I’m still reviewing and pondering my times of roaming and observing and meditating, so will probably have more thoughts as time goes on, but one significant insight for me was realizing how much I pressure myself, even when there are no external demands on me. While in Maine I was reading and pondering the book Nature as Spiritual Practice, by Steven Chase, and one section I really liked was about how the cycles of nature can be a kind of liturgy– liturgy being something repetitive that shapes us over time. The liturgy of the sea helped me recognize the pressure I was placing on myself.

One morning I was sitting above the sea in my favorite contemplation spot–a sun-warmed hollow in a diabase dike (a vein of dark diabase rock in the pink Schoodic granite), and I started thinking of the steady rise and fall of tides and the ebb and flow of waves. I thought of the refreshing action of the waves on the rocks and tide pools and then about how much I needed to be refreshed. And that led me to the realization that I was pushing and driving myself even while there, which was absurd, since I’d be sketching and painting just as much without pressuring myself, just because I love to do those things. As I realized that, I felt the pressure wash away, and I came away from that time with an eagerness to simply live as God made me to live with the abilities and passions he has given me, without driving myself to always do more or be better in order to satisfy some internal voice that was telling me I never did enough.

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Throughout my residency I read psalms that speak of sky and sea and wind and creatures of all sorts praising God through being what they are and doing what they were made to do, and I let them lead me in praising God both with words and by living as he made me to be. I had never before asked myself how a wave praises God, but that was one question I asked nearly every day as I heard the fierce crashing or the gentle lapping of the sea in its various moods. And how is the wind, so very present on Schoodic Peninsula, God’s messenger, and what message might it have for me?

The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
    he stretches out the heavens like a tent
    and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
    and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers…
Psalm 104:2-4

11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord…
Psalm 96:11-13

I have come home with more peace as well as more questions to ponder, and I’m looking forward to continuing to observe and share the beauty I find in creation with a greater awareness of my place as a student and observer of nature, while continuing to grow as an artist and a child of God. I am overflowing with gratitude for the opportunity to have spent these weeks immersed in the beauty of Acadia National Park and am so grateful to the Park and to the Schoodic Institute for this gift.

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Wonderful first week at Acadia National Park!

I’ve spent most of every day in the past week hiking, birding, climbing on rocks, sketching, and painting. I’ve identified two new birds for my life list– a Merlin and a Red Crossbill. I’ve walked an average of over 16,000 steps per day and I’ve filled about 50 pages in my sketchbook. I’ve watched and attempted to paint sunsets (not too many, because it’s often been cloudy and sometimes drizzly) and one sunrise (this morning at 4:50– the sun rises much earlier here than at home, thanks to latitude and longitude), and I’ve watched and attempted to sketch the otters here twice so far (they were a highlight of my last time here, and I love watching them swim and dive and cavort in the water). I’ve only pulled my computer out of its case a few times and even then have only been online briefly. I’ve spent hours in silence and days with few words spoken aloud, giving me much time to ponder, to pray, to simply be.

And that’s enough words for now, so I’ll just add photos of some of my sketches and some photos  I’ve taken of this amazing place (will wait till I’m home to post my paintings). (These are just quick photos, because I’m not going to take the time to scan and crop them until I’m back home.) I am so very, very thankful to be able to spend time here immersed in nature and art. Thank you so much to the Schoodic Institute and Acadia National Park for giving me this opportunity, and a huge thank you to Stephen for holding down the fort at home and letting me have this time away.

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A Month in Maine!

Otters scampering and swimming. Gulls in formation facing the sunset on Schoodic Point. Seabirds like specks, migrating over the sea. Fragrance of spruce rising in the sun, while Kinglets sing, scarcely seen. Storm waves crashing, resounding, revealing power beyond comprehension. Planets, stars and velvety darkness awesome in the night… These are wonders of Acadia National Park, some easy to behold, others easy to miss.

My car is packed and ready to go. Some food, some warm clothes, my binoculars, and lots of art supplies. What more could I need? Tomorrow morning I head to Maine for a month of painting at Acadia National Park! During my artist residency the first two weeks I’ll mostly be on the Schoodic Peninsula side of Acadia, where I’ve already spent a few weeks exploring and painting.

I love to experience and share with others the wonders of nature and the joy of quieting oneself to see what the land and its inhabitants have to say to us, whether in day or night, fair weather or storm, grand in scale or miniscule. In my first residency, in the fall of 2015, I focused on the big picture and primarily on what was easy to see—rocks, sea, wind. During this artist residency I plan to focus on aspects of nature that may be easy to miss—detailed observation and field sketches of wildlife behavior or of changes in a location or in plants over the course of day and night or fair weather and storm.

Whether easy to see or easy to miss, all creation, whether easy to see or easy to miss, is valuable and worthy of study. It is a powerful teacher, and when I quiet and open myself to learning what it has to offer, I gain insight into the hidden wonders of nature and also into myself—a combination that enriches my life and refreshes my sometimes harried soul.

After my two week residency, I’ll spend the third week visiting my son and daughter-in-law Jonathan and Minet (and my granddog Clemmie) and painting with a friend on the Mount Desert Island side of Acadia. Then I’ll head back to Schoodic Peninsula for the week-long Summer Acadia Artist Retreat, where I’ll be one of the program leaders. I attended the retreat last year and had a wonderful time with the other artists sharing ideas and learning from each other. (I think there are still a couple of openings, if anyone wants to sign up.)

There’s no cell signal on Schoodic except for at a few high places (and even then it’s iffy), so I’m anticipating a quiet few weeks. Bliss!

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Birding with a two-year-old in San Francisco

I scan the ochre-colored sandy path closely as Paul and I walk beside the canal, he sometimes riding, sometimes pushing his tricycle. I’m intrigued by the houseboats lining the canal. Who lives in them? What are their lives like? I’ve been fascinated with houseboats ever since having a childhood friend who had lived for a time on a houseboat. The path is lined with pines and other trees I can’t identify– the flora here in California is so different from that of the Northeast. There are birds, many species new to me, in these trees, and I have binoculars in my pocket.

The binoculars remain in my pocket, though, and I barely glance at the birds, much as I am drawn to them. I continue to closely watch the path ahead, making sure my active grandson doesn’t step in the wrong place anywhere along the path. There’s actually surprisingly little dog waste given the tremendous number and fascinating variety of dogs to be seen anywhere one goes around here– from tiny Chihuahuas to towering Great Danes, from a diminutive nine-week-old Shiba Inu that looks like a bright-eyed teddy bear to two lumbering Newfoundlands who look like real bears. The vast majority of dogs here are social and well-behaved, and I’m guessing that the vast majority of dog owners are considerate and responsible about cleaning up.

Apparently not everyone takes advantage of the conveniently placed poop clean-up bag dispensers and attached garbage cans, though. What I’m most concerned about Paul stepping in is human waste. I know from an earlier walk with Paul that there is some along this path, thankfully covered with a little paper, but obviously something to keep my quicksilver grandson from inadvertently running in. I also want to be sure Paul doesn’t jump on the navy blue sleeping bag, unzipped and spread out right beside the path, that I’m pretty sure is sheltering a sleeping person. That would be an unwelcome surprise and rude awakening for the sleeper.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I see a movement above me and I look up and see a very small, fairly nondescript, drab-colored bird fly from the pine branches above me as another alights in the same low branches, then immediately disappears! I glance ahead along the path, then tell Paul there’s a bird in the tree even though I can’t see it. I’ve been teaching him some basic bird species and he’s been quite interested, though he’s generally ready to move on pretty quickly. The branches are low and not particularly dense. Where could the bird have gone?

The binoculars still heavy in my pocket, I glance back and forth from Paul to the branches overhead. And then I see it: a beautifully fashioned, perfectly camouflaged, narrow tube-shaped nest with a small opening near the top, hanging from one of the branches, partially obscured by the needles of another branch. It appears to be made of moss, the same color as the surrounding pine needles. I never would have noticed it if I hadn’t been alerted by the quick movement of the parent birds.

At that moment Paul spots a rock on the path a little way ahead– round and white with small black speckles, about the size of his fist. Running to it in delight, he picks up the rock, looks at it closely, then adds it to the treasures he’s already collected in the compartment on the back of his tricycle, and we continue on our way.

The next day, my last before returning home, I once again take Paul out on his tricycle for a walk along the canal, hoping to look more closely at the hanging moss nest and the birds whose home it is. We don’t get any farther than the sleeping bag that’s still beside the path, however, because just at that spot, without any warning, Paul’s tricycle suddenly collapses and falls apart into three separate pieces! Thankfully he’s been walking, not riding the tricycle, so though startled, he’s not hurt.

As quickly as I can, which isn’t very quick due to my lack of tricycle assembly experience, I reassemble the tricycle, only to have it immediately collapse once more in a heap in the sandy path. All the while Paul is providing shrill two-year-old commentary, and soon the sleeping bag stirs, revealing a sleepy older woman’s face. I apologize for disturbing her rest and tell her we’ll be on our way as soon as possible. After a short time that seems long, probably to all three of us, I finally get the tricycle precariously assembled and we head home where Nathaniel will do what dads do– repair broken toys.

I never do get back to see the hanging moss nest, but I have a clear enough memory of it and the birds to look them up and identify them as Bushtits– a new species to add to my life list of birds I’ve identified! I also have memories of a delighted boy holding a round white rock with small black speckles, a tricycle collapsing into pieces on a sandy path beside house boats, and a sleepy older woman patiently watching a baffled young boy trying loudly to grasp what had just happened to his hitherto unquestionably reliable tricycle.

Birding in a city neighborhood with a curious two-year old is nothing like strolling quietly, binoculars in hand, through the dense woods and open fields I’m accustomed to, but it, too, is rich with moments of delight and wonder.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Paul delighting in life and the outdoors
Collapsed tricycle!