Sunday, July 16, 2017

Natural Bridge State Park

The Red River at Hemlock Lodge.

It had rained overnight, and when I got up next morning the mist was heavy over the hills. Upon a closer look, the mist was actually a drizzle. I had breakfast in the dining room while watching the birds at large feeders near the windows. There were a lot of finches, cardinals, some tufted titmice, a downy woodpecker and a brown creeper, and the squirrels' antics raiding the feeders and fighting each other off were very amusing.

It stopped raining after breakfast and looked to be clearing up so I got my gear ready for a hike. There were two trails going up, each about 3/4 of a mile long, and I stopped by the Wildlife Center to ask which was better. I chatted with the ranger, and he explained that the second trail had over a hundred steps and was much better for coming back downhill--the first trail was the original one, in use since the early days of this natural attraction, and a bit easier. I commented that I regretted forgetting my binoculars since there were so many lovely birds around, and he was kind enough to loan me a spare pair to use during my stay.

Partridge Berry by the trail

I took the ranger's advice and followed the original trail. The trees had not leafed out yet, but the forest floor displayed some early wildflowers, fungi, mosses, and ferns. It took a bit a climbing before the sandstone formation of the natural bridge could be seen.

Natural Bridge
Under the bridge.

The trail getting up to the top of the natural bridge led under the arch and a set of steps at the back along a very narrow place between rock walls. The sides of my pack scraped the rock walls--I imagine most grown men would have to turn sideways to get their shoulders through this stretch and as for the obese... well I don't think so.

Steps up to the top.

The trail up.

Once at the top, the view was fantastic. There were signs posted to stay away from the edges--at the Wildlife center the literature said an average of eight people a year were killed or maimed from falls off the cliffs--yet many people disregarded the warning and sat in precarious perches at the edge of the precipice. I walked the length of the bridge and continued on the Laurel Ridge Trail to the end of the upper ledge, a place called Lover's Leap.

Top of Natural Bridge

View from Laurel Ridge Trail

There were a few plants blooming here: some variety of wild cherry (Prunus serotina or P. avium?) and Trailing Arbutus (Epigaia repens), but the most interesting plants I saw were the fruiting bodies of the lichens growing on the rocks--light pink in color, I'd never seen these in bloom before. My internet research said this is a Cumberland rock shield lichen or pink bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum), which makes sense, these mountains are part of the Cumberland plateau.

Wild cherry blossoms

Trailing arbutus (Epigaia repens)

Lichen with pink fruiting bodies (bubblegum lichen?)

After reaching Lover's Leap I walked back to the bridge and started down the Balanced Rock trail. The mountain sides were covered with enormous, tree-sized Rhododendrons, (Rhododendrum maximum, I presume) which I'd love to see when in bloom. The wooden steps leading down were very artistically laid out, but there were so many of them it was a good thing I was headed down rather than up.

Trail down from Natural Bridge
Balanced Rock Trail

Balanced Rock

I was back at the lodge in time for lunch. It started to pour again while I was in the dining room, and it looked like it might continue for the rest of the afternoon. I could only hope that it might yet clear up long enough to do another hike in the afternoon.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Stalking the Fragrant Pinesap

Fragrant Pinesap (Monotropsis odorata)

For a number of years I'd been wanting to find some Fragrant Pinesap (Montropsis odorata) to photograph and paint. When I first read about it I was intrigued by this elusive member of the fascinating Monotropa family: lacking chlorophyll like the rest of this family, it bloomed in the spring and fall but only the spring blossoms were fragrant. The fragrance was described as spicy, resembling cloves, allspice or cinnamon. The flower is so inconspicuous, that the sources said it was common to first detect it by scent. It grew in native forests under pine trees, where it presumably found the mycorrhizal fungi necessary to sustain itself.

Living in Maryland at the time, I looked for it in Calvert County, the only place in the state where it was listed, but despite many hikes in the area, I was never able to find it anywhere. When I moved to Virginia I asked some of the folks from the Virginia Native Plant Society if they'd ever found it in this area. One gentleman thought he'd photographed one flowering stem in the fall during a hike, and shared the location of his find.

Herb and I set out to try to find it one spring, but despite spending hours at the site, we didn't see a thing. I figured either we were too late in year (it was mid to late April), or the dry spring had not been propitious for growth that year. I put it on the back burner and got involved in other pursuits.

A couple of years later, through an incredible set of coincidences(?), I was contacted by a gentleman who wished to buy a watercolor of a related plant, Indian Pipes (Monotropa uniflora), which I'd painted many years earlier. When I asked why this particular painting interested him, he told me he was a botanist and had written his dissertation on this family of plants. We corresponded by email and I asked him what he knew about Fragrant Pinesap, if he knew of any locations where it could be found? He was kind enough to share several of the research articles he had published.

Among the fascinating things Matt's articles revealed, was that although the flowering stems of Monotropsis odorata emerged in the fall (as with other members of the Monotropa family, the only part of the plant that grows above ground is the flowering stem), the flowers remained unopened throughout the winter, protected by bracts that became papery and blended perfectly with the litter on the forest floor, making them very difficult to spot. Then in early spring, the flowers finally opened, emitting their fragrance. That would account for why there was no scent in the fall--the flowers had not opened.

Matt lived in Kentucky, and the site where he'd found the plants was in the Daniel Boone National Forest about an hour away from his home. We made plans to meet the following spring so he could show me the plants. Unfortunately, the following spring I had all sorts of dental troubles and was not able to travel. I would wait another year before my wish could be fulfilled.

Finally, early this year I contacted Matt and considering the warm winter weather, he estimated that the plants would likely bloom towards the end of March. I made plans to spend a long weekend at Natural Bridge State Park in KY so that I could make the seven and a half hour drive there and back and be able to spend a couple of full days exploring the area.

Hemlock Lodge at Natural Bridge State Park

I started out driving on a Thursday morning, drove through a part of WV that Herb and I had seen a couple of summers ago when we visited Dolly Sods, really beautiful back country roads. My route took me past Seneca Rocks and then up a steep mountain road through Elkins towards the interstate. I followed I-79 south to Charleston and then turned west onto I-64, arriving at Hemlock Lodge around 6 PM. By the time I'd checked in and got settled, it was getting dark, so there was nothing to do but have dinner and relax. There would be plenty of time to explore the place tomorrow, since Matt had agreed we'd meet on Saturday.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Local Color in My Garden

Etoile Voilette

Here's some stunning photos of the flowers in my garden this year. Japanese gardens are traditionally subdued: white flowers and perhaps a touch of red are allowed, but the rest of the garden is supposed to be textures and shades of greens.

Pink iris.

In American gardens all color combinations are the rule. I'm as American as it gets when it comes to gardens: ecclectic in choice of plant materials, and as an artist, the more color the better!  I'd find it hard to believe that any color in nature actually clashes with another, though some combinations do look better than others.

Red yarrow, white salvia with barberry, peonies, lavender and roses.

This is what the front bed by the garage looked like a month ago. A couple of weeks later the peonies have set seed, the yarrow flowers faded to pinkish cream, and the lavender is in full bloom, for a different combination of colors

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Thinking about the delightful "Dawn and Dusk' combination of climbing rose and clematis, I found a photo from 2013, right after those two had been planted and I was putting in the flame azalea on the east side of the house.

Planting the flame azalea on the east side of the house.

Four years later.

Here's what that spot looks like today--what an amazing difference a few years' growth can make! Several other plants have been added over the intervening years, of course.

Columbine var. "blue Barlow"

This particular deep blue columbine that I planted last year is odd in that it lacks the classic spurs of the Aquilegia species--I wonder what it was hybridized with? The color is fabulous, anyway.

The Little Indians, early June

The Little Indians bed is now in summer mode, lush with Stella d'Oro daylilies and orange asclepias. A shot of it earlier in the spring shows the seasonal progression.

The Little Indians, mid-May.

Yellow daylilies under the red maple.
Red Alchillea with orange Kniphofia (Red hot poker) and Catmint

Last year I bought an assortment of a dozen unnamed varieties of Asian lilies to fill in the island bed in back. I got them in the ground a bit late in the season and only a couple of them bloomed, rather late--in September! After a year of settling in, this summer they have presented some spectacular blooms--a riot of color!

Lilies starting to bloom
Further along
Bicolor zinger: yellow tipped with orange

Vibrant orange
Pale pink

Pure yellow

Now that I see their colors and different heights, I may dig up some of these lilies and re-arrange them for more pleasing display of color. It may be that the height difference is more due to soil fertility than genetic--that remains to be seen. My garden is my laboratory, where the bare earth is transmuted into gold by the sweat of my brow.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Digital Prints of Glacier Flower Paintings

Glacier Flowers I, 8" x 10"

Glacier Flowers II 8" x 10"

I recently had my Glacier Flowers paintings printed and am offering both of these lovely digital prints for sale. Each print sells for $100 plus shipping, but as a special I'm offering a price of $150 for the set of both prints purchased together.

The reproductions were done by Old Town Editions, a very high quality archival digital printing studio in Alexandria, VA. The prints are mounted in white archival mats with outer dimensions of 14" x 18" and can be put into frames of that size which is a standard size easily found in art framing stores. Hurry folks, I have only a limited number of prints available. I can take payment with PayPal, checks or credits cards by phone.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

My Spring Garden

Dawn and Dusk.

This year my spring garden has been more floriferous than ever. My climbing 'New Dawn' rose and clematis 'Etoile Violette' on the porch are looking even fuller than last year! Other plantings that were just getting established last year are starting to come into their own, like this old-fashioned iris my mother used to grow in her garden. It may not be as showy as the newer varieties, but its wonderful perfume, which many of the other varieties lack, more than makes up for it.

Old-fashioned iris

With such warm weather during the winter the grape hyacinths bloomed early, although the new batch I planted last fall (a mixture of several varieties) didn't bloom until late April, along with the Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides). The new pink dogwood in the background complemented the soft blues beautifully.

Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) with pink dogwood

The rhododendron planted on our first spring here (I've forgotten the variety, probably 'Yaku Princess') finally put out a few blossoms this year, though the leaves sustained a lot of winter damage. I hope that now that it's getting more shade it will continue to improve. In this alkaline soil, it's hard to grow acid-loving plants such as azaleas and rhododrendrons.

Rhododendron 'Yaku Princess'

The 'Admiral Semmes' azalea planted last year didn't put out much bloom his year, it will need more time to get going. I had expected the flowers to be yellow, but the soft peach color is as lovely as the fragrance (It's a cross between the southern Azalea austrinum and Exbury hybrids).

'Admiral Semmes' azalea


I had ordered a metal arbor structure for the clematis that my sister Bea gave me last year but
I've been having trouble assembling it, so the poor vine is just leaning against a couple of bamboo stakes at the moment. Lovely flowers, though I can't remember the exact variety-- it looks like it might be 'Nellie Moser'.

The east bed

The Japanese maples on the east side of the house are growing nicely. Recently I put in two new native trees--a sourwood (Oxydenrum arboreum) to shade the Carolina Silverbell (Halesia caroliniana) partly visible on the left in this photo, and a honey locust in the back yard. The trees came bare-root and the recent rainy spell has helped the locust to start budding out, but the sourwood appears to be dead--I may have to call the nursery where it was bought to replace it.

Irises and Double Knockout rose

The front walk.

The irises in the front didn't perform as well this year--perhaps they need to be given a bit more room to spread? But the general tapestry by the front walk is finally starting to look as I had envisioned. The expansion and consolidation of the backyard beds continues, with two new shrubs: a Fothergilla gardenii and a Blue Mist shrub (Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Longwood Blue').

Today, I have quite a number of annuals and a couple of perennials to plant, so I'm off to toil in the garden. Happy springtime, dear friends!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Goodbye to Sperry Chalet

The staff at Sperry Chalet (l. to r. Sinead, Jason, myself, Renee, Terri, Stephanie, Katie, Karen)

My last morning at Sperry Chalet dawned much too soon--it was hard to believe two weeks had slipped by so quickly in these amazing surroundings, with such unique people!

The mule train arrived mid-morning right on schedule, bringing up the supplies. I recorded some of the unloading: Sinead and Katie moving the big propane tanks around the dining room to the storage room below. These young ladies were strong! The packers lugged the 30-gallon plastic trash cans with the supplies into the dining room, then picked up the trash and laundry to be taken down (my luggage too, except for my daypack) that had been packed the night before, and strapped the buckets onto the mules.

Stephanie calms a mule while the packer unloads the propane tanks.
Sinead and Katie carry a propane tank to the storage room below the dining area.

Sinead and Katie carry a propane tank down the path.

Katie  holding one of the mules.

I hung around until noon, then started my trek down to Lake MacDonald, where Kevin would meet me. The trail back would be all downhill, and much easier than the hike up. I took my lunch to eat on the way down.

Leaving Sperry Chalet

I lingered to admire the scenery one more time and took some pictures at Sprague creek and its cirque--there were different flowers blooming now than when I'd hiked up two weeks earlier.

Sprague Creek.

Sprague Creek and waterfall.

I stopped for lunch about one o'clock, looking up at the chalet and admiring its impressive height as I munched. Further down I noticed that there were a number of what looked like orchids with inconspicuous small flowers growing by the rill where I'd seen the Red Monkey flowers on the way up. I'm still not sure of the identification, other than it's definitely an orchid, perhaps the White Bog Orchid (Platanthera stricta)? The flowers look very insect-like.

Lots of orchids growing by a rill beside the Sperry Trail

Closer look at Bog orchids (Platanthera stricta?)

Lichens growing on forest on trees

Fireweed growing by the trail

The Fireweed was in full bloom further down, and once I entered the forest, I found many other flowers decorating its shady floor. I recognized rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyeara oblongiflora) in bloom, similar to our eastern  Goodyeara pubescens except without the intricate veining on the leaves, Pipssipewa (Chimaphila umbellata), and one-sided wintergreen (Orthilia secunda) along with other familiar plants.

Goodyeara oblongiflora

Pipssipewa (Chimaphila umbellata)
One-sided Wintergreen  (Orthilia secunda) and Foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata)

I looked for huckleberries, which should have been fruiting by now at lower altitudes, but wasn't able to spot any bushes with berries near the trail. The patch of Twin-flower (Linnaea borealis) had finished blooming, and I saw many mosses and fungi but didn't see the Coral Root Orchid seed pods I'd seen on the way up.

Mushrooms on the forest floor.
I continued down the trail lingering over the plants, arriving at the Lake MacDonald Lodge parking lot a little after four-thirty, and went into one of the snack bars to wait for Kevin--we'd agreed he'd meet me at five. I ordered a glass of wine to brighten the wait, and then realized I'd sent down my purse and wallet with the mule pack, so Kevin had to cover my tab when he arrived.

After Kevin picked me up, he drove to his home to unpack the buckets brought down by the mule train, where I could get the rest of my gear. It was a most interesting look at the logistics of the operation--he had a garage-size building next to his home that was used for storing the Chalet's supplies, shelves of goods, and a number of spare plastic trash cans used as the carrying buckets. He quickly sorted through the buckets brought down today and picked out my gear. I'd be flying back tomorrow on a Monday, the day Kevin hiked up to the Chalet for his weekly visit, so he wouldn't be able to see me off then.

Kevin Warrington with me at dinner on my last night in Montana.

We went out to dinner at a very nice restaurant in Columbia Falls I'd sampled during my first days here, the Three Forks, and we said our goodbyes there. What an amazing, unforgettable experience to have been Artist in Residence at Sperry Chalet!

Bear Grass (Xerophyllum tenax), color pencil drawing, 14" x 11"

I end my Sperry Chalet stories with these goat sketches, done very quickly one evening when Handsome goat was hanging around the rocks near the chalet.