Sunday, August 22, 2010

Return of the Stinkhorns and Other Backyard Sightings

The stinkhorn fungi have made their reappearance in my front yard after the recent rains. There were quite a few more this time, popping up in the flower bed and lawn under the maple tree. This time I was able to photograph them immediately while they were intact, and thanks to the site, I can now identify these definitely as Mutinus caninus. The spores from that first one must have been spread by the insects it attracts and the fungi have now colonized the area. Herb called my attention to these structures that look like a small egg partially buried in the ground. These are the first indication of the fruiting body of the fungi and form the covering for the tip.

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This morning I woke to a soft rain. I was downstairs fixing myself a cup of tea, looking out the kitchen window when I spotted a creature of reddish color under one of our cedars in the back yard. At first, without my glasses on, I took it to be our neighborhood ginger cat making his rounds, but a second glance told me it was too large for a cat. Could it be one of our resident foxes?  Herb told me he has seen one out in the open (maybe the same individual?) on a few occasions during the day; one time he was lying in the shade in our neighbor's front yard on a very hot day.

I ran upstairs to get my glasses, and sure enough, it was a fox. He started to scratch  himself furiously, turning around from time to time to bite whatever was tormenting him. After a good while of doing this, he lay down, but rest eluded him and he kept turning from side to side to scratch incessantly. I took some photos and sat down to read the morning paper.

After a while I got up to make my second cup of tea, and looked out again. A doe had come out of the woods to browse under our trees. I got the camera out again. The fox sat up to look at the deer, perhaps calculating whether he had a chance at it, and the deer looked back at the fox at the precise moment I snapped this shot.

After that glance, the deer went back to browsing unconcerned and left after a few minutes. The fox stayed under the tree for a bit longer and then he too left. Altogether he must have been in our back yard for some forty minutes or so. I don't think I've ever had a chance to observe a fox this closely for this long before.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Winnaford Farm

Winnaford Farm, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14." Contact artist for price.
Last weekend MAPAPA members were invited to paint at historic Winnaford Farm in Baldwin, some miles north of Baltimore. We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day: clear and sunny with moderate temperatures in the seventies. The old farmhouse was surrounded by cornfields and a yard shaded by enormous trees, with several ancient horse chestnut trees loaded with the huge green fruits (they must be a sight when in bloom!).

There were about seven or eight other painters already set up by the time I got there a bit after nine. I picked a spot under the ancient trees overlooking the cornfields and this lovely cottage with the classic white picket fence. Except for the occasional sound of a motor wafting from far away, it could have been a summer day a century ago--the pastoral scene seemed so timeless.

The time passed quickly while we painted, and most of us were finished by lunchtime. Most of the painters left at that time--no critiques were offered, though I asked a few to show me their paintings or sketches.

I had brought a sandwich so I could last through the afternoon, and our hostess, Ann Dance, supplied iced tea. A handful of us stayed on. After lunch I walked around the other outbuildings and decided to paint a patch of sunflowers taller than I am. There were chickens cooped right under the sunflowers and, as anyone who has ever been around chickens knows, their droppings stink to high heaven, but I figured out in the open the smell wouldn't be too bad.

Sunflowers, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9."
Wrong! I was downwind, and after a couple of hours in the late afternoon sun the stench was overpowering! It was hard to stay on task and focused on painting, but I stuck it out for as long as I could. I wouldn't say this one turned out well--the light had changed too much from beginning to end of the painting and the colors lack luminosity--but under the circumstances it was the best I could do. Next time I'll know better than to get that close to a chicken coop.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Painting on Mattawoman Creek

Lotus at Mattawoman Creek, oils on canvas panel, 9" x 12." 
My friend Linda sent word that the yellow lotus on Mattawoman Creek was blooming, so last weekend I went down for a visit. The hundred-degree days of the previous weekend had moderated somewhat--we figured it was safe to take out the kayak to paint the lotus from up close.

It was a beautiful morning, still cool, when we rigged the double kayak up on my car and drove down to Indian Head to the boat ramp at Mattingly Park. I had brought my Guerilla painter box and canvas supply bag to work on a small oil painting, and my camera. Linda took her watercolors, a sketchpad and camera. With all this gear, extra water and our lunches, it was a wee bit crowded in the kayak. We lathered on sunscreen and bug spray, and started paddling with our stuff wedged between our legs.

The tide was high and allowed us to paddle into a shallow inlet to pull up close to the flowers. Wild rice was blooming in the marsh. We tied to a clump of Pickerel weed and proceeded to set up for painting. Once again the knob of my Guerilla box had come off--it must have fallen in the trunk of my car but I hadn't noticed it until it was time to set up. It took some maneuvering to balance the paint box on my thighs and wedge the lid at the bow, thus holding it open. More maneuvers to prop the solvent jar upright by one leg and the brush holder on the other side. At one point a couple of brushes fell overboard, but the handles being wood, they floated and I was able to retrieve them. Ah, the things one endures to paint in nature!

Linda wasn't having such a difficult time: watercolors and paper are much lighter and easier to deal with in the field, though I don't find the finished product as satisfying. It took about two hours to complete my small oil, at which point we were both burnt out and stiff from our cramped quarters. My thighs were dripping with sweat and had the imprint of the rubber feet from the paint box on them. The tide was starting to turn when we pulled out onto the main channel.

It was now time to cool off with an afternoon dip and lunch--we paddled a bit farther to another channel where there is a high gravel mound and pulled the kayak up on the shore. The water felt great, even if the hydrilla growing thickly underneath tickled. There were wild hibiscus plants with white and pink flowers around the shore and a huge roost of swallows on one tree. A pair of ospreys circled overhead. It's hard to believe a pristine marsh like this can be found only thirty miles from the hustle and bustle of downtown Washington, D.C.

All too soon it was time to start back, grungy and tired. Back at the house Patrise was  cooking the baby-back ribs I'd brought for our dinner. We showered and rested a bit and then went to an evening performance of a colonial wedding enactment at National Colonial Farm. We enjoyed a delicious picnic before this fascinating look at what a wedding in the 1750's would have been like, with wonderful period costumes.