Sketching Wolves!

Gray wolf sketches- Zephyr and Alawa

Turkeys gobbling in the distance, wolves howling right next to me– I had a fabulous morning today! A few days ago I registered for “Coffee with Wolves” at the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, and I’ve been impatiently waiting for Saturday morning to come, so that I could go see the wolves. I usually sleep like a log, but last night I kept waking up to see if it was morning yet. Finally it was 5:30, so I leaped up and bundled up, since it was supposed to be a chilly morning. It turned out to be warmer than predicted and sunny, but still cool enough that the wolves were quite active (active enough to make a good sketching challenge).

Arctic wolf sketches- Atka
Arctic wolf sketches – Atka

There are four “ambassador wolves,” who are there to educate and interact with the public, and then quite a few endangered red wolves and Mexican gray wolves. The red wolves and Mexican gray wolves are not on exhibit, so that they will not become habituated to people, in case they can someday be released into the wild. They are also used for breeding to build up their populations, and this wolf center is in a network of about fifty such centers that cooperate and exchange wolves to maintain genetic diversity.

I sketched the four ambassador gray wolves (canis lupus); three of them Zephyr, Alawa, and Nikai, in one enclosure; and Atka in a separate enclosure. Atka is an arctic gray wolf (canis lupus arctos), almost 14 years old and looking great. Zephyr and Alawa are Canadian/Rocky Mountain gray wolf five-year-old littermates, and two-year-old Nikai is their brother from a subsequent litter.

My sketches are simple and mostly unfinished, since the wolves were active, requiring me to move from sketch to sketch and then back to a previous sketch when a wolf would momentarily return to a previous position. Atka was lying down most of the time, so was easier to sketch than the others, but even so he was alert and shifting position almost constantly.

(Click on an image to view it larger.)

Gray wolf sketches – Zephyr and Alawa
Gray wolf sketches- Zephyr and Nikai

Here’s a watercolor and ink painting I did of Alawa from a photo I took when I was last at the wolf center.

Canadian/Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf- Alawa

Morning Musings

Song Sparrow and Chipping Sparrow

I pull a heavy sweater over my pajamas , slip my feet into my Crocs, and step out into birdsong—Cardinals, Robins, Titmice, Chickadees awakening the day. Heading up my driveway in soft-soled stealth-mode, scanning the still dark woods, I spot three sleepy does just as they spot me- and leap to their feet, causing me to startle momentarily.

I continue, Canada Geese and Chipping Sparrows now adding their calls to the growing concert. A  Spruce stands tall and black against the glow in the Eastern sky as a Red-bellied Woodpecker lilts past. I pad silently, drinking in the dawn.

The crown of a Maple turns green, then suddenly all the gray gives way to shades of abundant life, and more birds merge their voices with the joyful announcement of morning. I turn homeward, surrounded by the songs of Phoebes, White-throated Sparrows, Bluebirds and more. The day has begun, and I am ready to join it.

Canada Goose with reflection
Titmouse, Chickadee, Nuthatch


Castor canadensis
Beaver Field Sketches

On Saturday Stephen and I went for our usual evening birding walk down the rail trail. We usually walk in along the north side of the lake, where we can get a good look at Double-crested Cormorants, Great Blue Herons, and sometimes a variety of duck species, as well as warblers in the shrubs and woods. This time, though, we walked down the rail trail and cut in beside the south side of the lake and then around behind it, where I hadn’t been before.

We heard a call that was familiar but couldn’t place it at first, then saw our first Osprey of the season flying over the lake- such a beautiful bird. Then we saw a ripple in the water moving in our direction. A beaver! We do occasionally see beavers swimming across the lake, but usually from a greater distance, and not swimming in our general direction. We stopped and stood still, Stephen with camera in hand, me with pencil poised over the sketchbook in which I had just been sketching the view and jotting down bird species as we saw or heard them.

The beaver swam along the shore, pausing several times to look in our direction. I don’t know if he saw us, since their eyesight isn’t great, but perhaps he smelled us. To our astonishment, he swam to a muddy spot on the shore about six yards from where we were standing and climbed out onto land. He came a few feet closer, till he was about 10-12 feet from us, then stopped and looked at us briefly, before turning and going back into the water to resume his swim along the shore.

I’ve always loved rodents and have been fascinated with beavers, since they are the second largest rodents in the world (after the capybara of South America). North American beavers are typically 40-60 pounds but can occasionally reach 100 pounds. The beaver we saw seemed on the large size to me. I am not experienced with estimating beaver weight, having never before seen one up close on land, but I am pretty good at estimating dog weight, and I’d estimate this fellow’s weight at over 50 pounds, possibly even over 60.

We left the beaver swimming in peace and, as it was rapidly getting darker, we headed back. Once on the rail trail, I looked back and saw our beaver friend silhouetted in the dim light as he crouched on a fallen tree in the lake, eating his dinner. A wonder-filled walk by Lake Walton.

A few facts about beavers:

  • mate for life and give birth to 1-6 kits in May or June
  • young stay with their parents until they are 1.5 or 2 years old
  • one of the few species (including humans) that modifies their environment
  • eat leaves, bark, twigs, and aquatic plants
  • can remain underwater for 15 minutes
  • have special transparent eyelids to cover their eyes underwater
  • can close flaps behind their long incisors to keep water out when carrying sticks or gnawing wood underwater
  • can live 20-30 years
Beaver swimming
Beaver on land

Comfort in Grief and Trials Prayer Guide

Always in your heart
Always in your heart…

Many people I know are grieving the loss of a beautiful, vibrant, beloved young woman. I am sure there are also many others who are grieving for losses in their own lives, so I am drawing thoughts for prayer and meditation this week from a couple of passages that speak of Jesus’ compassion and God’s comfort when we face loss or trials. In addition to these passages, there are many psalms where grief and lamentation are clearly expressed in prayer. Feel free to comment if you would like to know other passages that I have found comforting when going through hard times.

“When Jesus saw her weeping… he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. …Jesus wept.” John 11:33,35

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

God is a God of mercy and comfort. Jesus weeps with his people when they grieve, and he cares about each of us and longs to comfort us in our sadness and afflictions. Let’s sit with the words of these passages this week and allow them to work peace in our souls.

Monday: Bring your heartaches and tears to Jesus, knowing that he feels your sadness and welcomes you with open arms. He weeps with you and joins you in your grief.

Tuesday: What are some things that remind you of God’s love for you? Try to think of some ways you can remind yourself when you’re feeling down that Jesus understands and is always there to comfort you.

Wednesday: God, who created the entire universe, is full of mercy and comfort for us, small though we are in relation to the rest of creation. Let’s meditate today on the truth that the God of all creation cares tenderly for our hurting hearts.

Thursday: God often uses people to comfort others and touch them with his love and grace. Ask God to give you discernment and compassion, to recognize when others are hurting so you can comfort them.

Friday: Pray for people you know who are grieving or struggling in some way. Ask God to be close to them and to fill their hearts and minds with his peace and comfort.

Saturday: Thank God for the way Jesus showed us God’s compassion. Thank him also that he can use our pain and brokenness to someday help us comfort others, lending purpose to our times of sorrow. Move forward with him, asking that your struggles enable you to experience more of Jesus’ presence in your life, maybe not today, but over time.

Courting Cardinals

Courting Cardinals Sketches

Nearly every day recently I’ve watched Cardinal pairs engaging in courtship behavior that always makes me smile, because of how it seems so similar to human displays of affection. Of course I don’t know what is happening in Cardinal minds, but it is charming to see the male Cardinal repeatedly select a small seed, fly to his mate and, reaching out, gently present it to her. She carefully takes it from him and eats it. Sometimes they then sit together for a moment before he flies off to find another seed.

Cardinal Courtship
“With This Seed…”

(This painting, “With This Seed…” is currently featured in my Etsy Shop.)

Light in Darkness Prayer Guide


…because of the tender mercy of our God…
the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
 and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.
Luke 1:78-79

Monday: God, the Creator of all that is, is a God of tender mercy. Let’s meditate on this today and ask him in his tender mercy to calm our fears and draw us close to him.

Tuesday: Jesus is the rising sun from heaven, who has brought light to dispel the darkness of the world. Let’s ask him to light our way, especially when the world seems dark around us.

Wednesday: Thank Jesus for the light he has shone into your life. Let’s pray for those we know who are struggling with darkness, that they could experience and receive his light and life.

Thursday: Pray for those who are fearful or grieving under the shadow of death, that Jesus would light their way and comfort them.

Friday: Thank Jesus for the peace he gives to his people; peace that can steady us even in the midst of darkness. Ponder this and ask him to keep you close to him and living in his peace, no matter the circumstances.

Saturday: Thank God for the good gifts of mercy, light, and peace that he has given through his Son, Jesus. Ask how you can share what you have received with those who need God’s mercy, light, and peace.Maine-Sunset-102512

Honored to be Artist-in-Residence Again!

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 some of the wonders of the Schoodic Peninsula, some easy to behold, others easy to miss.

I applied again to the Artist-in-Residence program at Acadia National Park, hoping to again experience the peace of being immersed in nature at Schoodic; the concentrated time to observe, study, and sketch wildlife and the environment; and the opportunity to share with others my love of creation through sketching and painting. A couple of weeks ago I was thrilled to get a phone call saying that I have been selected to be a returning Artist-in-Residence! I feel astonished and so honored to be selected, and I am very thankful to Acadia National Park and the Schoodic Institute for giving me this wonderful opportunity once again.

I love to 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. There are aspects of Acadia National Park and Schoodic Peninsula that are easy to see and hard to miss—rocks, sea, wind. In my first residency, last fall, I focused on the big picture, primarily on what I easily observed all around me. During this second residency I hope to focus on those aspects of nature that may be more easily missed—wildlife behavior or  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 is valuable and worthy of study. It is a powerful teacher, and when we open ourselves to learning what it has to offer, we gain insight into the hidden wonders of nature and also into ourselves—a combination that enriches our lives, refreshes our often harried souls, and builds a desire to care for creation.

I’ll be returning to Schoodic Peninsula for my second residency in spring of 2017, and of course I’m already dreaming of how I’ll spend my days there. In the meantime, I’ll be heading up there this June for an Artists’ Retreat offered by the Schoodic Institute. There’s still room for more artists, so here is a link for those who might be interested. Artist Retreat  Last year when I was at Schoodic I joined with the artists who were there for the Artist Retreat and had a great time with them. The instructors are wonderful artists and teachers, and the other artists had all sorts of interesting experiences and knowledge to share and knew some fabulous painting locations.

Sundew Trail Rocks at the Ledges
Gannets Diving


More Easter thoughts and meditations…

In many churches Easter is celebrated for a season, rather than just one day- Easter Sunday, and actually, every Sunday’s worship is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. This week’s prayer guide is from another passage about Jesus’ resurrection, taken from a conversation the risen Jesus had with two disciples who did not yet believe that he had truly risen from the dead. I followed a different format this time, breaking the passage up into separate verses to meditate on each day.

Monday: “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel…” Luke 24:19b-21a

Are there ways in which you have been disappointed by God that have affected your faith? If so, talk honestly with him about it. He can handle it, and throughout the Bible God invites people to speak with him openly and honestly about how they are feeling and what they’re thinking.

Tuesday: “In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” Luke 24:22-24

Do you tend to automatically receive or automatically dismiss other people’s testimony? Pray for the ability to accurately discern truth, so that you can benefit from the experience of other believers without being gullible to error.

Wednesday: And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Luke 24: 27

Read and meditate on the testimony of Scripture about Jesus and let it inform and transform you.

Thursday: They urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. Luke 24:29

Ask God to open your heart, so that even when you don’t really recognize him or understand clearly how he’s working, you will be able to be hospitable to him in your life.

Friday: When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him… Luke 24: 30-31a

Thank Jesus for nourishing us with the bread of life—his body—and revealing himself to us. Ask him to give you the ability to recognize him in whatever way he is present in your life.

Saturday: Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. Luke 24: 35

Share how Jesus has worked in your life, that others may be strengthened in their faith through your testimony. Praise him for his gift of Scripture, the fellowship of believers and his presence!


Berkshire Mountain Visit

This week I visited a good friend at her wonderfully quiet country home in the Berkshire Mountains. Her home overlooks a heavily wooded valley surrounded by mountains, with almost no noise other than the music of birds and the rustling of wind through pines. Spring hasn’t made much of an appearance there yet, and the ground was covered with snow (they got 8″ on Monday!). Cheryl, like me, loves the outdoors and also loves quiet time hanging out with tea and dogs, either talking about life or just quietly enjoying the beauty of the mountain scenery outside her windows.

We hiked through the snowy woods with Cheryl’s three dogs, watching birds and looking at tracks in the snow (we saw some that we think are fisher tracks) and counting melted spots in the snow where deer had slept the night before. I kept walking with my neck craned to see if I could spot an owl in the pine trees, but alas, they stayed well-hidden. Afterwards I sat at her dining room table to sketch and paint the rainy view and draw some of the many birch trees. Although warm temperatures are ideal for being outside, and sunshine makes for brilliant colors and striking shadows, I also love the muted colors of misty days.

Berkshire Mountain View
New Lebanon View
Birch Trees


Cheryl and I both love food, so we cooked and ate a delicious dinner together (and I got some great  new recipes to cook for Stephen). Being relaxed and full of good food after a busy few weeks, I was ready to go to bed early, and I slept to the music of the most beautiful-sounding wind chimes I’ve ever heard. The wind rose and fell during the night, with the lullaby of the chimes as a soothing background to my dreams.

In the morning we relaxed, read, and played with the dogs. Between rain showers, I stood on the deck to paint quickly in brief sessions, before the wind blew my palette away and froze my fingers. We’re just on the cusp of plein air painting season, and the weather seemed to vacillate between winter and spring every few minutes all morning.

Berkshire Mountains
New Lebanon

When it was too windy, wet, and chilly to stand outside painting, I curled up on the couch wrapped in a soft blanket with a mug of tea in the cozy den overlooking the valley. One of the dogs, Tessa, a German Shepherd Dog, is getting a bit old and the stairs are a challenge, so she stayed downstairs with me when Cheryl went up to do some morning chores. Tessa watched and waited for Cheryl, her ears constantly tuned to every movement and sound from upstairs, a perfect example of the devotion of a good German Shepherd, and a perfect subject for sketching.

German Shepherd Dog sketches
Tessa watching and waiting

I’m home now, rested and refreshed by the enveloping peace of the mountains, by relaxing time with a good friend, and by the opportunity to sketch in a leisurely manner.

Playing Skills…

When I homeschooled my children, one of my goals was to develop in each of them a lifelong love of learning. That is something I have, and when it comes to art, there is always something new to learn. However, sometimes as I’m trying new skills, my old dread-of-math-homework attitude rises to the fore, squelching the “love” part of learning, and I find myself getting very tense, trying to find the one right answer, to make the exact perfect painting. I’m trying to overcome that anxiety by adopting a playful approach as I work on learning new skills, which involves lots of practice. So perhaps I should say that, just as someone learning to play piano spends time playing scales, I’m playing skills…

Right now I have stacks of library books on Japanese ink painting (sumi-e) and Chinese brush painting scattered around my house that I’ve been studying the past few weeks. I’m drawn to the economy of line and simplicity of composition that I see in much Japanese and Chinese painting, though I’m finding it isn’t always so simple for me to produce paintings with such economy of line and simplicity of composition. I’m having fun learning, though, whenever I relax and just play with my ink or paints. I’m hoping to incorporate some new skills and thoughts into my painting and drawing styles, but in the meantime, I’m just having fun making pictures and playing skills. Below is a sampling from my ever-growing pile of practice papers.

Fox in Payne’s Gray watercolor on watercolor paper
Blue Jay in sumi-e ink on rice paper
Chickadees in sumi-e ink on rice paper
Emu in sumi-e ink on rice paper
Great Horned Owl in sumi-e ink on rice paper
Koi watercolor on watercolor paper
Koi watercolor on watercolor paper