My Little Friends

I sat on the deck this morning and listened to the whir of wings, felt the gentle currents pass by my head, and watched with wonder as many birds came and went between the overhanging branches and the safflower seeds on the railing and table. Most were Chickadees, such perky, curious little birds. If I were a bird, I would want to be a Chickadee– so full of fun, joy, and life.

There was at least one young Chickadee, still a bit smudgy-looking rather than tuxedo-perfect in his coloring, who would land just over a foot from me and study me inquisitively, sing a few happy-sounding notes, then sort among the seeds for just what he wanted before taking off. Older, slightly-more-cautious Chickadees would land a bit farther from me, ponder a moment as they looked around, then take two or three seeds and depart.

At first a few Titmice landed, then seemed to suddenly notice me and leave without taking any seeds. After a while, though, they seemed to become convinced that I was safe and would land, look around, then help themselves to a seed. A House Finch alighted on the rail and watched the influx of other birds for quite some time, before she decided it was safe. At that point she hopped right into the saucer on the rail (the other birds all perched on the edge) and remained for many minutes eating, while the other birds watched (in dismay?). My friend the smudgy young Chickadee, though, happily hopped to the seeds near me on the table, sang a happy song and selected the seeds he wanted, while his elders looked on.

Once I heard a low, loud hum behind me and realized a hummingbird was feeding on the purple flowers in the hanging planter. I didn’t actually see her until she zipped away into the nearby fly honeysuckle shrub.

I shot a few photos but spent most of my time watching and sketching and smiling at the antics of my small, feathered friends.

After this perfect morning, Steve and I went to my parents’ farm, where I spent the afternoon sitting on a hillside drawing with both my parents, while Steve went hiking (and hiked sixteen miles up and over and back down Mt. Riga!). I drew the view and my mother sitting against a tree drawing, my mother drew me sitting beside the stone walkway, and my father painted my mother and the view. After painting we sat by the pool for a while, then I picked a bag of apples to bring home. A perfect afternoon to round out the day.

Riga Farm

Yesterday some members of the Lower Hudson Valley Plein Air Painters joined my mother and me at my parents’ farm to spend a gorgeous day painting outdoors. The weather was wonderful, not getting too hot until mid-afternoon (and then still okay in the shade), with beautiful views in every direction. The hardest part was figuring out which of the many inspiring options to paint. One thing I like about painting with other artists is the opportunity to see through their eyes, sometimes discovering beauty in places I had overlooked it.

We painted all morning then gathered by the pool, surrounded by a stunning array of snapdragons, to have lunch and iced tea, while talking art and getting to know each other. Then we dispersed for an afternoon of painting, before picking peaches in the orchard and heading home. What a great day!

In the morning my mother and I painted a dead tree up by the tennis court. I find dead trees fascinating. They look dead, and indeed, the tree itself is no longer alive, but there is an abundance of insect life and subsequent bird life in the old wood. I also love the weathered grain that reflects light in so many shades.

After lunch, one of the other artists was painting the view between the barn and the tool shed, not a spot I would have thought of, but it was a nicely framed scene. A bonus was that the farmer was mowing the field we were painting, and we were entainted by the cows galloping after, and even in front of, his tractor.

Last month when I spent the night at Riga Farm, I did some painting and some writing while enjoying a quiet day alone.

Here are some bedtime musings from my time there:

I close my journal, lay down my pen and turn off the light. Bedtime after a full day. But… I cannot resist the call of the night, so I unlock the door, open it a bit, and look out cautiously from side to side. No black and white of skunk in sight, so I step out, quietly shut the door, and slip into another world.

The half moon shines bright over the heavy silhouettes of the maples flanking the orchard. The Evening Star—Venus—is still hanging above the western hills, brighter than any of the stars that shine through from unimaginable distances. I scan the sky until I come to the Big Dipper, a familiar friend I’ve known since childhood. Tracing a line through the two end stars of the dipper and beyond, I meet the North Star, and from there find the Little Dipper. Some of its stars are almost too faint to see; I can only discern them because I know by heart where they have to be.

I search the sky again and think that perhaps I’ve found Cygnus, the Swan, but I’m not sure. It’s odd how I barely remember the constellations I learned in more recent years but know well the ones Papa taught me so long ago. Thank you, Papa, for this, among many other things you taught me of the world of nature.

The nearby rushing of the creek draws my attention, and I listen—to the water running endlessly over smooth rocks between mossy banks (where I sat this afternoon on a pebbly spit reading, with my bare feet in the cool stream), to the crickets singing in the night, to the lack of traffic noise. This last pauses my mental meandering, and I savor the absence of noise and the clarity of the sounds of nature—the music of creation with my ears tuned to its subtle melody.