I’m always happy to draw an X in Scrabble, but so far this has been the most challenging letter for this A to Z challenge. I considered writing about the obvious– X-rays, but don’t have any cool X-rays I could use, and besides, what would I say about X-rays? Hmmm…what if I could have X-ray vision? Maybe not so exciting if all I could see were bones, fascinating though they might be for a science nerd like me, but what if I could see not just bones, but all that is hidden inside all sorts of things…

But, lacking X-ray vision, I decided on Xanthophylls, a group of yellow and orange pigments found in many plants and animals. Lutein is a xanthophyll pigment that makes egg yolks yellow and that we have in our eyes that protects our eyes from the damaging effects of ultraviolet light. It’s also found in dark leafy green vegetables like kale, turnip greens, and collards, which is one of many reasons they’re good for us. Salmon and shrimp get their pinkish-orange color from astaxanthin, another xanthophyll, that has anti-inflammatory and other healthful effects.

More interesting to me as an artist, xanthophylls are the pigments responsible for the beautiful yellow and golden colors we see in fall leaves. What I find fascinating is that they are there in the leaves all through the summer, but there’s so much green chlorophyll that the yellow pigments (as well as red pigments) are masked, until the chlorophyll begins to degrade in the fall. But even though we can’t see the xanthophylls all summer, they are performing valuable functions for the leaf.

One function is to capture light of wavelengths that the chlorophyll can’t absorb. After converting that light to energy, the xanophyll passes the energy along to the chlorophyll, which uses it to make sugars. I really like the idea that the xanthophylls quietly perform this important support function for the more visible chlorophyll. Another function the xanthophylls perform is to protect the leaf from excess sunlight which could damage it. They do this by converting the light into heat and dissipating it.

Along with many other landscape painters, by the end of the summer I am tired of painting green. It can be difficult to mix greens to realistic foliage colors, and too much green in a painting can be monotonous. I’m always eager for the kaleidoscope of autumn colors to appear and transform the landscape. It fascinates me to think of those colors that I so eagerly anticipate being there all along, working quietly behind the scenes.

Thinking about that now, as green is emerging everywhere, makes me wonder how much beauty there is in all the world, and even in people, that is currently hidden from my sight. If I just had X-ray vision that would enable me to see beyond the ordinary to the beauty beneath the surface!

A to Z April Blogging X

Shenandoah National Park

Trees and mountains garbed in autumn splendor, thick mist softening the world, deer and bear watching from beside the road, craggy rocks to climb, soul-nourishing views to the east and the west…On our way home from Florida in September, Stephen and I took an evening and a day to drive through Shenandoah National Park along the Skyline Drive. I’ve been wanting to explore and sketch there for years, so we meandered our way slowly along the 105 miles of the Skyline Drive. We stayed the night at the Lewis Mountain cabins, partway through the park, staying in a delightful, clean cabin, where I awoke the next morning to the sound of a Screech Owl right outside the window and the fragrance of fall rising from the damp earth and leaves.

We stopped to enjoy most of the overlooks, savoring the variety of views, and I sketched as many as I had time for. We also took a couple of short hikes (though one was longer than planned, due to missing a turnoff on the trail), stretching our legs and breathing deeply of the refreshing, clean air. I could easily spend days in this place, but I thoroughly enjoyed our short visit.

Here are my sketches that tell the story of our time in that magical place. You can click on the images to see them large enough to read my notes about each location and my thoughts about the park in general. 

McCormick Gap Overlook
Sawmill Run Overlook
Crescent Rock View
Jewel Hollow Overlook
Hazel Mountain Overlook
Pass Mountain Overlook
Hogback Overlook
Shenandoah Valley Overlook


Minnewaska Hike

High flying flocks of geese heading south, honking their connection to one another; red, yellow, and orange trees overhanging tall rock slopes; Catskills clothed in shades of lavender, standing majestically to the north; the fragrance of fall making the air sweet to breathe.

Yesterday Stephen and I headed for Sam’s Point Preserve right after church to spend a perfect fall Sunday afternoon hiking, but when we got there, we found that everyone else had had the same idea and the parking was full and they weren’t allowing anyone else in. Figuring that nearby Minnewaska would also be overcrowded, Steve pulled out his geological survey map collection and did some searching. He found a small back way into Minnewaska through tiny Berme Road Park in Ellenville. We found our way to the park and headed up the Smiley Carriage Road– not one of the well-maintained carriage roads we’re accustomed to in Minnewaska, but not full of the Columbus Day weekend crowds either. 

We hiked up and up, along a very stony, sometimes rutted carriage road, slippery with leaves in some places, surrounded by beauty everywhere.

At one point we met a couple coming down, who told us there was a three-foot rattlesnake coiled in the path a few minutes farther along the trail. I grabbed my sketchbook from my backpack, thanked the couple, and headed up the trail, watching closely for the snake. Sadly, he had left by the time we got to wherever he had been, so my rattlesnake sketching will have to wait for another hike.

We made our way to Naparoch Point, a rocky overlook complete with the deep crevasses one expects in Minnewaska, opening to a view of the blue and lavender Catskills in the distance, the gold-tinged Shawangunks nearby, huge rocks with twisted pines and oaks in the foreground, and blueberry bushes in fall shades of red carpeting the ground.