The Daffodil Thief

Many people are obsessed with particular flowers.

Daffodils, oil on canvas

History is peppered with stories of the adventures of people following a flower obsession. Tulip bulbs were at one time more valuable than the currency of The Netherlands.  Instead of Dutch coins, you paid with tulip bulbs!  It became so serious the government had to deploy armed guards around the tulip fields.

On a recent visit to Light Trap Books in Downtown Jackson, TN, proprietor Lauren Smothers suggested I might like reading Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief. While the main story revolves around the life of a colorful orchid expert in Florida, the author goes into great detail about the history of orchids.  Orchid societies abound all over the world to feed the obsession of orchid aficionados. More on that in an upcoming episode!

Reading that book led me to look at my own flower obsessions.  I have to say obsessions because I have never settled on just one flower.  As a child I was obsessed with daffodils for a while. I loved their bright sunny faces that told me that spring was almost here. One spring I lusted after the daffodils that had sprung up all over a neighbor’s yard. There were bunches and bunches of them. I must have been about 6 years old.  I couldn’t resist.  I walked right over there and picked myself a large bouquet of the gorgeous blossoms.

Daffodils, watercolor on paper

Needless to say, my mother was appalled that I would do such a thing.  She made me take my whole bouquet back to the neighbor’s house, knock on the door and apologize for my theft. I cried all the way over to the neighbor’s house and could not summon up the courage to knock on the door.  I put the bouquet down on her porch and ran all the way home.  My mother never asked what the neighbor said and I never told her what I had done. Whenever I see daffodils, I think of the shame of a little girl who acted on her obsession with daffodils. I don’t think I have had the urge to steal flowers from someone else’s garden since. 

However, I do still have flower obsessions! Do you?

The Captivating Amaryllis

Symbolic of success, strength and determination, the Amaryllis’ name means “to sparkle” and so it does!

Symbolic of success, strength and determination, the Amaryllis’ name means “to sparkle” and so it does!

Pink Amaryllis, colored pencil

Symbolic of success, strength, and determination according to FTD.com, the amaryllis is a captivating flowering bulb. Gardener’s Supply says the Greek meaning of the word, “Amaryllis” means “to sparkle” and details the mythological love story Amaryllis and Alteo.  Gardener’s Supply also states that an amaryllis bulb can live for 75 years!

The exotic winter blooming amaryllis has become a part of the Christmas tradition for many people.  For me it began in my grandmother’s last years. She was mostly housebound in those years and my mother decided watching a beautiful flower grow would bring her joy.  My mother was right.  Both my grandmother and her caretaker, Betty, quickly became enthusiastic about the fast-growing bulb.  They kept the yard stick near the pot and made daily measurements of the growth, delightedly reporting every inch. Each year we gave her a different variety and each year the enthusiasm would build as the amaryllis came closer and closer to bloom time. What color would it be? How big would the bloom be? When the bloom day finally arrived friends and family made a visit to observe the amaryllis in all its glory. My grandmother and Betty would show off their gorgeous flower like proud parents whose child had just won the spelling bee.

Those memories came flooding back this year when my dear friend, Celeste, gave both me and another friend, Caroljeanne, amaryllis bulbs for Christmas.  Celeste works with the University of Tennessee Agriculture Center which has an amaryllis yearly sale where she was able to get some wonderful varieties.  The three of us made regular text message reports on the progress of each bulb. Caroljeanne’s delicate pink flower arrived first.  I realized immediately I would have to begin a painting to mark the three bulbs. Celeste’s gorgeous variegated red and white flower arrived second. And finally, my beautiful salmon-colored double petal variety, “Double Dream” made its dramatic presentation.

Instead of replicating my grandmother and Betty with their yardstick, I recorded the rapid growth with my camara. The preliminary work has begun for a painting of the three beauties with a colored pencil drawing of Caroljeanne’s lovely pink flower pictures above.  Next will come Celeste’s variegated beauty. “Double Dream” will bring up the rear as it did with its blooming.  In the meantime, I couldn’t resist showing off the progress of the growth in a slideshow.

For more about buying, growing and caring for Amaryllis bulbs follow these links:

Gardener’s Supply

FTD.com

University of Tennessee Agricultural Center, Jackson, TN

Tuesday Birds-The Canorous Cardinal

Cardinals are the main bright spot in an otherwise drab and dreary winter landscape

The Canorous Cardinal

Cardinals are the main bright spot in an otherwise drab and dreary winter landscape, unless you are fortunate enough to have a snowy winter landscape.  Cardinals are magical in the quiet beauty of falling snow. When spring arrives, they become just another one of the many bright and colorful little birdies showing off their warm weather feathers.  For now, cardinals provide all the color we get until the season changes.  They are the stars of the winter landscape.

Cardinals in the Snow

Red dashes along a brown ground are frequently cardinals foraging around for dropped seeds from shrubs or left behind by other birds. Once the foraged meal is done the sweet sounds of a singing red beauty can be heard from the upper branches of a nearby shrub.  When the branches are covered in snow, that bright bit of red fluff singing his heart out is a sight to see. It might even bring on some added cold chills.

Down in the Valley where the Chickadees can be heard with their continual chatter, the Cardinals are a bit peeved.  Carson Cardinal was quite annoyed and said to Cameron and Caroline. Will those Chickadees ever stop chattering? It’s so hard to sing above all the chatter.  Nothing stops the chatter more effectively than the sight of a glorious red bird preening about in the snow-covered branches of a tulip poplar. When he begins to sing the beautiful melodious tunes as his friends join in harmony, the Chickadees quickly become quite mute.  The Chickadees cannot remain chatterless for long, so if you catch sight of a bit of red flitting through the branches, stop and listen. The reward will be worth it.

Cardinal in the Snow-2

For more information about cardinals follow the link to All About Birds.

Chickadee Chatter

The chickadees are chattering in the old pine tree. What are they up to?

It was a sunny afternoon in the valley when the Chickadees all swooped in to take a break in the old pine tree. They had all had their fill of red berries from a shrub up on the hill. Now it was time for a story. Always one for a good story, Caroljean Chickadee began her latest tale. Catherine, Caroline, Celeste and Charlotte gathered round, perched on the branches in rapt attention. Caroljean’s stories always held the most important info disguised as an incident or some other intrigue. The trick was to figure out the meaning of the story to figure out what was the absolute latest events or happenings going on.

Sometimes Caroljean would tell a story with a moral to it. Other times she might weave a bit of intrigue to point out the need to pay attention. Occasionally, Caroljean’s soliloquy could cause quite a stir among the flocks who hang out in the valley. You never knew what could happen when the Chickadees began to chatter and spread the latest drama from the beak of the most infamous chatterer in all of the chattering of Chickadees.

Word would go out that Caroljean Chickadee was chattering another great chapter from the cantons of chickadee wisdom. The valley would soon be echoing with the sounds of other flocks as they descended into the trees surrounding the old pine. (The old pine was considered to be the undisputed territory of the Chickadees.) Cardinals were usually the first to catch the sound of Chickadee Chatter but you never could tell who might arrive first. The cardinals pecked around on the ground beneath the old pine, where they could eavesdrop in relative obscurity.

Stay tuned to discover what Caroljean Chickadee chattered and who was the first to catch the gist of the chapter as it unfolded. Were the cardinals the first? Maybe it was the herons down at the pond? One thing you can be sure of: the mockingbirds would be mocking within moments of the momentous meanderings. Mr. Hawk will hang horrendously near the happy little group. They better be on the look out!

Pelicans

White Pelican, oil on canvas

The white pelicans are arriving in my part of the US on a daily basis. They will hang out here for the winter. Large numbers of them come to Kentucky Lake and Reelfoot Lakeevery year. The numbers of winter arrivals have been increasing in recent years. The white pelicans are mostly people-shy and stay well away from populated areas, hanging out in large flocks. It hasn’t been easy to get decent photos to paint from. It will take a longer lens to catch up to these shy guys. There are comparisons between the white ones arriving for the winter and the brown ones more associated with the Gulf coastal areas. The brown pelicans I have encountered in coastal areas are not nearly as camera and people shy as their white counterparts. Some brown pelicans appear to actually pose for the camera. While the white ones remain on the far side of the lake shore the brown ones will sit around on the docks and and the water’s edge begging for scraps.

Brown Pelican, Marco Island, FL

Pelicans have always appeared to me to be a bit prehistoric in their look. Turns out they may actually be prehistoric as fossils have turned up that are almost 30 million years old. Of course the ones we are now familiar with have evolved a bit over the last 30 million years but are similar enough to the fossilized version to be easily identified. That’s pretty old! Maybe that is part of the reason that make these birds fascinating survivors. Quite adept at fishing, the brown ones are also good at hanging around the docks when the local fishermen bring in their daily catch patiently waiting for the fish cleaning process to leave bits for them to quickly pick up. 

White Pelican, miniature oil on canvas

As an ancient bird, pelicans have figured in folklore for many centuries. It was believed that a mother pelican, lacking food for her young would actually pierce her chest with her beak so that the babies could drink her blood. That myth was eventually proven false but remains a legend still. It is believed that the pelican is a symbol for the passion of Jesus as she spills her blood for the survival of her children. Saint Thomas Aquinas even adds the pelican to his hymn, “Humbly We Adore Thee.” Queen Elizabeth I in medieval times is said to have taken on the symbology of the pelican and is seen in one portrait wearing a pelican broach. The pelican is the national bird of Romania and the state bird of Louisiana. Louisiana is known as the Pelican State. Several countries in the Caribbean have also adopted the pelican as their symbol. The pelican is quite revered as a symbol of self sacrifice, in spite of its rather awkward and ancient appearance.

Juvenile Pelican coming in for a Landing, Alligator Point, FL

Even with all the noble history and folklore surrounding the pelican, I tend to think of them as more comical. In this photo, a juvenile brown pelican was trying to perfect the art of landing on the water and having a bit of a struggle. He eventually mastered it and made for good entertainment as he repeatedly practiced. It was a great moment when he landed without so much splashing and thrashing. I wanted to cheer him on!

Pelicans were the subject of a witty limerick that has several variations. The original was written by fellow Tennessean, Dixon Lanier Merritt in 1910:

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican,
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week,
But I’m damned if I see how the helican.

Cheers to the wonderful pelican!

Cormorants

These swimmers are so funny with their underwater antics. Cormorants love to make people smile!

Cormorant, oil on canvas

These swimmers are so funny with their underwater antics. They love to pop up and get all eyes looking for them in one place while they dive down, disappearing only to pop up again in a completely different place. I think they do it on purpose just to confuse the humans. Unlike some birds, they are not very shy, occasionally swimming right up under the boat. Cormorants love to sit on buoys and other markers out in the middle of the lake where they can watch the boats and barges going by. Maybe they’re keeping tabs on what the humans are up to in case some illegal fishing or something is going on. The cormorants are on top of it. They want us to know they’ve got their eyes on us so we better not step out of line. Then again, they may be wondering why we float around on top of the water while they have so much fun diving down and swimming around. Their blue eyes must help them see in the dark down under the surface. Like the red eyes of night predator birds, the blue eyes work for underwater predator birds. I don’t know that I would call them pretty birds but they do have a look that is a bit on the fascinating side. I want to keep watching them to see what they are up to next.

Cormorant in the Wakulla River, FL

While ducks and geese seem to glide rather smoothly across the water, cormorants like to splash. Always the attention grabbers making a fuss to get all eyes turned in their direction while they prepare for their next underwater excursion. I wonder how they ever catch a fish with all the commotion they kick up with their big webbed feet. Maybe all the noise sets the fish off guard. After all who could think they are fishing with that rowdy splashing around and churning up the water. One friend commented that they look a bit like the Loch Ness monster swimming around with just their heads above the water unlike the duck and geese relatives.

Cormorants swimming in the rain

These guys swimming in the rain do look a bit like the Nessy monster. They are definitely unusual looking. I think they are doing water dancing in time to their own music.

As this cormorant stands on the dock with wings out drying, there are a number of thoughts going through my head about what may be in that bird brain. Is he saying, “Hey lookie, lookie!” or maybe, “Aren’t I gorgeous?” “What beautiful wings I have!” “If you keep taking pictures, I’ll keep my wings out.” Or maybe he’s defiant and saying, “I’m not scared of you. I’ll stand here with my wings out if I want to.” Who knows what he’s saying. The look on that face makes me think something is going on but I don’t speak cormorant so I’ll never know.

Cormorants seem to make a lot of friends and hang in groups. They even hang out with others who don’t fit in with the same style, like turtles. Turtles definitely lack cormorant style. But neither seems to care when they hang out together in the sun.

The cormorants never lack for entertainment. One tree we’d frequently go by in the boat would have a number of cormorants in it. The tree was right at the tip of a little land point that marked the edge of a cove. We started to call it the Cormorant tree. But as summer fades into fall, the tree doesn’t have quite so many birds there now. They must have a warmer place to go and observe from. Their antics in the lake will have to wait until next year. I wonder what kinds of fun they’ll get up too then. I hope they spend the winter thinking up some good stuff!

Cormorant Flying over Kentucky Lake

Until next year, “Safe travels, Mr. Cormorant.” Happy fishing to you and your friends until we see you again next year. Don’t forget where your tree is when you come back. I’ll have the camera ready.

Last year I saw the cormorants at Wakulla Springs State Park near Tallahassee, FL, a beautiful place that is a must-see where the old Tarzan movies were filmed. While there enjoy at stay at the historic Lodge at Wakulla Springs where Johnny Weissmullerpracticed his famous yodel! 

In the summer, you can see them in the Cormorant Tree on Kentucky Lake at the mouth of Jonathan Creek. Bring your boat or rent one at the many places available like Moor’s. While you’re out on Kentucky Lake, you might get lucky and see a bald eagle or two.

At either place, the cormorants are ready to make you smile!

The Ebenezer Stone

The Ebenezer Stone
The Ebenezer Stone

Did Charles Dickens have a deeper meaning in mind when he named his iconic character “Ebenezer” Scrooge?  Its a topic that had never occurred to me until I heard the literal translation of the name, Ebenezer, which is “Stone of Help.”

It was the name given to a stone that was erected after a battle to humble and remind the victors that the help they received was supernatural. It was not by their own hand that they were victorious over a particularly brutal enemy who had waged war on them for years. It was by a power much greater than their own that supplied the vital help that resulted in the final victory. This stone, the Ebenezer, will forever be in this spot as a reminder. We all have our battles and we can all have our own Ebenezer stones. This is mine. It is alabaster from a Colorado quarry.

In working this stone, I preferred using hand tools instead of power tools because of the tactile nature of alabaster.  Many people make beautiful sculptures of alabaster into a variety of wonderful things.  For me, the stone has its own beauty.  I use hammer, chisel, rasp and sandpaper so I can see and feel more closely what the stone is becoming.  The natural color is obscured until the tools chip away the sharp edges and smooth the roughness.  The only power tool was the drill used to make the center hole to show the color goes through the heart of the stone.

As the work on the stone proceeds, so does the battle of the day.  After the battle, the beauty underneath is revealed.  But it is not my hand that made the beauty.  It was there all along.  The stone is that reminder.  For all battles, there is help.  What comes after the battle can be something beautiful.

 

Here is how the revelation progressed:

 

 

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