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Drumroll please! I am so happy, excited, over the moon – you name it! to announce that my first children’s book has been accepted for publication!

Where Do Butterflies Go at Night, my only picture book story in rhyme, will be published by Ethicool Books, a young and growing publisher creating extraordinary and extraordinarily beautiful books inspiring kids to create positive change in the world. This is a unique company that walks the walk of sustainability in making the world a better place for both young readers and the world at large.

Illustrating Butterflies is Stella Mongodi, an unbelievably talented artist who will bring the magical images of my text to life in ways I can’t yet even imagine. She has a unique and unforgettable style, and I can’t wait to see what she does.

And what you see here? The little butterfly that so piques the curiosity of a small child and inspires their rich fantasies.

More to come …

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This past June was the hottest on record in the United States. July saw the issuance of multiple tornado warnings in my state, one specifically for my town and the surrounding areas. Never in my life here in Jersey, have I ever had to seriously sequester myself and animals in either the basement or lowest interior space in the house (my chosen option), in response to serious tornado warnings. And they did hit, too, just, fortunately for me, not here.

But let’s look on the bright side, because there always is one.

One of two dwarf red maples on the property, this one is more a deep bronze than a shade of red. Unless, of course, you’re a little newbie sprout. This close-up doesn’t tell you how tiny the new leaves are in comparison to the whole, which is huge. But it might tell you why it brings a smile every time I look at it.

One morning, I looked out my kitchen window and saw something indiscernible in between two of the ornamental grasses out back. It looked like a face. Oh …. it WAS a face. The face of a very young (and adorable) deer holding very still but just about ready to chow down on a hosta. I went down the porch stairs to gently shoo her away. Maybe only 4-5 months old, she easily cleared the nearly 4′ garden gate. As I returned, I saw she had been on my porch, and had eaten the front half of the impatiens above and a few other potted plants. It’s discouraging, but that little wide-eyed face holding soooo still, trying to be invisible …

For some reason, this pretty pair was spared, and is now starting to bloom.

There are snowball hydrangeas all over this property. They bloom snow white, and are now in their green phase, to turn a stunning rust as the summer wears on, and it becomes cooler.

Hello, little fella. This very young praying mantis greeted me one morning on a kitchen window screen. Soon after, he disappeared. But he hadn’t gone very far, I later discovered. It was turning out to be a very hot afternoon, but I managed to find myself a little time to sit on the back porch and read while there was still some shade nearest the house. And there he was. Not far from me on the decking, in the very hot, bright sun.

I thought to make his way a little easier by moving him into the shade. I offered him a large hydrangea leaf to climb on, as I didn’t want to handle and frighten him. He very calmly walked right over the leaf, and into the shadow of the railing. “Thanks, ma’am, but I’ve got this,” I imagined he said as he found his own shade. And then over the next half hour or so, he slowly made his way across the length of the porch and disappeared.

All I could think of was that that must be what `biological imperative’ means. He knew where he was going and what he had to do, because at the other end of the porch is where I often see adult green praying mantises, like the one next to Pumpkin in a photo from a few years ago.

I know for myself, and most everyone I know, that the last year and change has had a lingering impact in one way or another. And yet, we find, there are still always bright spots. Hope you keep finding yours.

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The other evening as I was “closing up shop” on my day, putting files away, and cleaning up my desktop, I happened to look out the window and spied a bird on my fence I’d never seen before. It was a hawk, but too small to be a red-tailed hawk. What was it?

First, I took a few photos through my office window lest I go outside and frighten it away, and then went to Audubon’s website for a little research. I found that we have eight hawks native to New Jersey, and this is a sharp-shinned hawk, also known as a sharp or sharpie. My reading on Audubon identified it as a juvenile. It stayed there for quite some time, and I stayed staring at it for quite some time, mesmerized by its beauty. Seeing an animal like this so close is always a gift to me.

And on to sillier matters …

I went out to get the mail down at the road, and my 6-year-old neighbor was taking an outdoors break from his online school day. He had a white toy animal which he quickly explained to me was a Komodo dragon he’d gotten for his birthday last year. “Wait!” I said. “I have a Komodo dragon, too!” And I showed him what you see below. He loved it, but was called in by his Dad for his next class. Inspired by his enthusiasm, I took a few photos and texted them over to my friends for him.

Here she is rock climbing in the back yard. The carving came from a now-defunct store called Two Buttons which was in nearby Frenchtown. The owners of the store were local author Liz Gilbert and her then-husband, Jose, she being the real-life Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat, Pray, Love. (She was played by Julia Roberts in the movie.)

And playing on the porch. Two Buttons was an amazing import store that sold the wares of artisans from all over the world. This little dragon is carved from the root of a tree that grows in Indonesia, and is about 11″ long. They had different sizes, including one that was about 7′ long and breathtaking. If I had a few thousand dollars doing nothing, that one would be in my living room now.

Exploring in the grass. I am reminded to be grateful, in these unusual times with all their challenges and frustrations, that there’s still something silly in me – and in those of you who are enjoying the dragon photos – that has survived and seems alive and well. Cheers to us!

And on one last note … it’s spring here in New Jersey, and the pollen seems particularly intense this year. Witness my car a few hours ago.

Coming back up my driveway, the wind suddenly whipped up, and a cloud – I mean a CLOUD! – of pollen pursued me up to my door. I’d say Pollen-10, me and my car-0. And tonight we are expecting high winds. Woo hoo!

Life brings with it innumerable changes. This past year has brought with it many that have been massive, widespread, and often out of our control. And yet we’re still here … coming through on the other side – maybe a little frayed around the edges, feeling a little beat down – maybe a lot beat down – but have not given up hope. What just came to mind were the immortal words of John Lennon, “And we all shine on.

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It was Wednesday, a day predicted to be cloudy and cold with possible snow showers in the afternoon. The perfect day to be inside as I had a good project to focus on. But first, something lovely to light my day. I realized, after I’d taken a few pictures, that the sparkle of a tea light in the unique beauty of mercury glass could not easily be captured with a camera. It’s quite magical, so I’ll offer my best try, and you can imagine the light shimmering within.

At a certain point in the late morning I felt restless and too much inside. The sky had been a nearly colorless grey-white since daybreak and was less than inviting, but I needed some fresh air. I opened the side door to my porch and was greeted by a chorus of happy song. The many sparrows that abound around the house raised their small voices to the sky from the privet hedge and cheered my heart. Soon I heard  the nasal call of a Canada goose overhead, then three, then perhaps seven or so, as they winged their way southward, dark silhouettes against the paleness.

Despite the faded grey skies, I felt inspired to step outside, even if for a little while. The privet hedge nearest my driveway remains green for a surprisingly long time. However, with the temperatures now dipping to 18 degrees at night, even these leaves are turning and starting to fall.

Before the spring earlier this year, I had an arborist come out to trim it and cut back the vines that insinuate themselves among the gentler stalks of the hedge. There is no killing the intruders as all their roots are totally entangled, but once cut back, I can keep a better eye on the vines and continue cutting them to the ground. I watched the arborist out my tall office window – he was an artisan with a ladder, clipping here and there, then climbing down and standing back, assessing his work, much like an artist at an easel. It was a delight to watch him trim the branches so carefully to their natural inclinations. When done, he assured me that it would look beautiful and grow wonderfully in the spring because privet hedge loves to be cut back. He was right.

The tall tree in the furthest corner of the yard was a pattern of lace in the sky, also still holding on to some of its last leaves. In the foreground to the left is more privet hedge which the owner lets grow tall and wild for privacy. Totally untended for a while now, however, it has slender maples growing here and there, and I wonder if they might choke it out at some point. On the occasions that the hedge was trimmed, it was always with a chainsaw, so I suspect my little area of privet along the driveway may be counting itself lucky indeed.

At the corner of my front porch is a tall shrub, perhaps some sort of hemlock. From the recent rains, it was covered with droplets of water, sparkling without the benefit of sun, just catching whatever light they could, and looking quite festive.

Also still wet from the rains of the night before, the branches of this evergreen glistened with moisture, cradling several of the now crisp maple leaves that have flown by from neighboring trees. This shrub has quadrupled in size since I’ve lived here – it’s in a very happy spot. It didn’t get its chainsaw shaping this year, so I hand trimmed it myself to keep its nice natural shape. Still, I suspect it will need more attention come spring; it has a very expansive nature and gets just the right amount of sun to fulfill its dreams.

Holding on to its once-bright green leaves is another shrub, sporting its cheery red berries. The branches are a tangle of dark criss-crossing patterns, and the leaves have now turned coral and copper, soon to join the slumbering grass below.

I didn’t venture far. It wasn’t that kind of day. But the caroling sparrows and gently changing plant life around my house and yard brightened my spirit, and invited me back into myself.

 

 

 

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You know how you go to a restaurant for a while, then kind of tire of it, even if it is really nice? Revisiting said restaurant – The Clean Plate in Clinton (NJ) – is what happened recently when a  lovely new client, who happens to be a vegan, and I planned to get together. I am admittedly a wannabe (but still aspiring) vegan, but almost completely vegetarian. The Clean Plate is so named because it serves really clean, often organic, and – whenever possible – locally sourced food, with plenty of choices for both vegetarians and vegans. The menu includes locally raised beef and chicken, as well. Anyone who wants to eat healthy can find something delicious here.

I also often think I’d like to take photos of my wonderful food when I eat out, but somehow it never happens. Happily, Danielle did take a photo to show her daughter, who always likes to see what Mommy eats when she is dining away from home.

We sat outside on this late, still-cool morning at a table in the shade and right next to the river. It was wonderful, as were our dishes.  What you see here, from the top, is my excellent decaf and their Fava-Rite Bowl, a mix of fresh fava beans, asparagus, spinach, new potatoes, and roasted red pepper in a cashew-chive sauce with an over-easy egg and sprouts on top. Yum! Danielle’s dish was a red quinoa wrap with mixed baby greens, their featured hummus, avocado, toasted almonds, and dried figs, with apple cider vinaigrette, served with a side of sweet potato fries. She had Kombucha to drink.

It was all fabulous and we both cleaned our plates!

Accompanying us occasionally was a very friendly pair of not-quite-ducks, eager for a bit of our complimentary popcorn. I say that because these were two Mallards clearly crossed with another bird – a goose, I suspect, based on the markings. The larger of the two, likely the male considering the dark head, had the most amazingly kind face. Neither was pushy, so no need to herd them away, but the smaller female was very quick. The larger male just looked in your eyes and hoped. They did get a little popcorn, but I suspect too much wouldn’t be good for them. But for all we know, they may work this crowd regularly and have adapted. Who knows? They were both very sweet.

Should you be in the area and want some healthy and delicious food, perhaps accompanied by a duck or two, check out The Clean Plate and their menu!

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As a graphic designer, I work on a wide variety of projects – ads, booklet, flyers, magazines, fund-raising pieces, websites, etc – which I love, because it keeps me interested and challenged. I have been expanding my involvement in children’s books, helping authors get self-published through my design work. Up to this point, I have focused exclusively on picture books … until now.

Approached by a children’s writer I know to do a chapter book, I hesitated. I do love working on picture books, and wondered if maybe I should stay with what I know best. Well, I took the challenge and the result is the first chapter book I designed, The Last Rhino, by Deb Stevenson. Deb, illustrator Morgan Spicer, and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.

If interested in reading more on my initial journey with chapter books, please visit my graphics blog. To learn more about The Last Rhino, just click on the image above, or watch Deb’s outstanding trailer.

 

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At a certain point in life we figure we’ve heard just about all the clever phrases there are, right? Well, I recently learned differently.

The photos here will illustrate a point. All these gorgeous photographs were taken by John Bergmann, the General Manager of Popcorn Park Animal Refuge, aka Popcorn Park.

I know John for a very long time now. I work with the organization doing their fundraising, graphics design, writing, and in a variety of other capacities over the years. I am now working on their 2019 calendar.

Each year, I receive many photos from staff and others, but, by far, the largest amount of photos of Popcorn Park comes from John. (You can click on any photo to learn more about the animal.)

Let me mention two things here. One, Popcorn Park is a sanctuary to exotics, wildlife, farm animals, and birds. All of its residents were rescued from cruelty, neglect, abandonment, exploitation, inappropriate ownership, injury, or handicap. None were safe in his or her existing situation.

Two, as a photographer, John loves to take photos of all the animals, from the smallest birds, to turtles in the pond, to wildlife, to the exotics. His favorite, though, is photographing the big cats.

Each year when I do the calendar, and during the year as well, I look forward to seeing John’s stunning shots. In a conversation about his submissions for this year, I complimented him on all the shots of the parakeets in the aviary. Each was lovelier than the next, and all were positively luminous.

Now John is a very modest guy. His response to my compliments?
(Here comes the catchy phrase.)

“Even a blind dog finds a bone once in a while.”

Ahhhh, John. Not only have I never heard that before, but it’s just downright funny. As I said, way too modest.

Should you want to read more on Popcorn Park, you can visit them on the Associated Humane Societies/Popcorn Park website, and/or on the Popcorn Park Facebook page, where you can see more of John’s photographs and learn more about the refuge residents and their progress, as well as some stories about our adjoining animal shelter. You can also visit – they’re located in Forked River, Ocean County, NJ

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Yes, I find crows magical, and I am a fan. Whoa, whoa! OK, all you farmers out there – I see you throwing your hands up in the air with a loud and unified “OY!” But hear me out. Let’s look at these magnificent creatures from three standpoints – science, myth and magic, and personal experience.

First a little science. Did you know that crows and ravens (same family) and macaws have the highest brain to skull ratio of any bird on the planet? In fact, their brain to skull ratio is higher than in humans! This in part accounts for their high intelligence, not to mention they have been on the planet for 60-65 million years.  Crows also have a skill accorded to one of the most intelligent mammals on earth, the great apes, i.e. they create and use tools. Crows also will gather around one of their own when it has died to try and determine the cause of its death. They will  learn the facial configuration of a mean human and teach all other crows to know it as such and avoid that human. When a crow leaves its flock and joins another, it immediately acquires their “dialect” by taking on the characteristics of the most popular crows in that flock. No intellectual slouches, these crows. Learn more about them.

The magic. When I designed my own website a number of years ago, I drew the header for it myself. The header featured none other than the crow, and I have utilized that symbol for my blogs. Why?

Because in certain cultures and mythology, the crow is believed to be the symbol of magic and creativity, something near and dear to every artist’s soul. In some cultures the crow has been the symbol of evil and/or death, juxtaposed against the white of the dove and purity. I don’t see life in black and white terms, and for all their brilliance, I like the crow’s mythology in Native American terms and Crow Medicine. As such, Crow is a guide on the path to spirituality and enlightenment and is the keeper of sacred law. It is said that Crow has known the darkness and when they appear in our lives, may be guides through our own darkness on the path to enlightenment. Granted, these may be mythological ideas, but it can be said that all religious/spiritual beliefs are mythology, just different. I am not arguing that point, just drawn to the many inspiring aspects of the beautiful and intelligent crow.

Personal experience. I have a very deep back porch, and during the day, next to my back door, is a bowl of water and dry food for my neighbor’s cat. I’m working at my computer when I hear a rather loud caw. “That sounds mighty close,” I think. I look out the back door, and there is a good-sized crow pilfering the dry food. She sees me and flies away. Not 10 minutes later, I hear the caw again. I appear and she flies away. Shortly thereafter, out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of black through the side door window. She has learned in only two incidents that her caw brings me to the door, and now flies in silently. Seeing me again, her next attempt was from a different angle that I could not easily see.

Another time, I hear muted crow noises and slip quietly and unseen to watch four of them on the porch. They are talking amongst themselves and jostling for position, pushing one another away from the cat food bowl. I take their verbiage to mean “Wait your turn” and “Get out of my way.”  It is likely a dominance issue. I knock on the window and they disappear, but I could have watched their antics for hours; they were quite amusing. Now, as a result of this, I have to bring in the dry food for a while.

Occasionally, I will see a crow on my walks or on the fence near the window where I work. I always say hello and am sometimes acknowledged with a look and a “caw”. When a crow -– or any animal – appears unexpectedly and/or repeatedly in my life, I may look into its possible meaning. In the case of a crow, I might be at a crossroads, looking for or ready for a change, and need to pull more on my own intuition. Even if that has nothing to do with the crow, when is it ever a bad idea?

One last thought .. there is so much amazing art regarding crows, among them gorgeous paintings by Susan Seddon-Boulet ( above left), but also in a favorite children’s book, Crow Call by Lois Lowry and revered illustrator, Bagram Ibatoulline.

The natural world is filled with wonder and beauty. Depending on the day, I could happily write about pangolins, pandas, or hammerhead sharks. Today, it’s crows.

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One of the wonders of nature is the movement of large numbers of animals in a synchronization we can only observe in awe. In fish, we see schools, in insects, swarms, and in birds, we see flocking. It is a mesmerizing dance. Above we see crows, below starlings.

In the video linked to here, titled The Starling and Falcon Dance by Nick Dunlop, set to the most perfect music, we see thousands of European Starlings migrating south. They have attracted a prime predator, the Peregrine Falcon, and in attempting to evade him, they fly in synch and create amazing patterns in the sky. As fascinating as these photos might be, they cannot show you the magic created by the birds in flight.

Please take a look at one of nature’s miracles.

 

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The internet is an incredible source of so many things, and some incredibly wonderful. This is one of those, and brings tears to my eyes each time I watch it. So simple, so beautifully and brilliantly done. Just 3 minutes you won’t regret. Go full screen.

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It was my plan to post a drawing I did of two whales. I went through my recent sketchbooks, and they seemed to have swam away. But what kept appealing to me was this pen and ink sketch I did of a spirit bear.

Spirit bears are snow white bears, not albinos, that live only in a specific area of Canada, the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest unspoiled temperate rainforests on earth. This is a partly protected area in the islands and coastal areas of British Columbia. They are actually a rare subspecies of the American black bear known as a Kermode bear, most of whom have dark coats. The double recessive gene for the white coat must be carried by both parents in order to produce the white spirit, or ghost, bear. They are looked on as sacred by the indigenous tribes of the area, and have become symbolic of these people’s fight against proposed desecration of the rainforest by those wishing to build a pipeline there. It is unclear how many spirit bears there actually are, but estimates run from 150 to 200.

Learn more about the Spirit Bear.

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I do. Even if I’m not doing very much of it at this very moment.

Yesterday I received a notice from Pinterest that someone had pinned one of my French Bulldog drawings from one of my boards which features only my own Frenchie artwork. (I have others I’m working on, but they’re not active yet.)

I don’t know why I feel so inordinately touched when someone pins one of my drawings, but I do. Why do I still feel so surprised when someone appreciates my work? Since many people actually do, I thought to share a drawing I did not too long ago of a grey wolf.

I have a deep fondness for wolves and feel very connected to them. I actually feel connected to all animals, and my work in Frenchies has simply been part of my path. When I visited the board where this kind person had pinned my French Bulldog pencil drawing I was greeted not with just Frenchies, but drawings of all kinds and subjects. I was entranced. They reminded me of how much I really do love to draw. I felt inspired.

I realized I need to make time. Not find it, but make it. It’s a challenge in an overly busy schedule, but when I looked at all those drawings, I felt happy. I felt happy because I know that that’s inside me. And I don’t have to draw for a reason, such as working on my portfolio or illustrating one of my picture books; I can draw just because I like to draw. It’s seems like such a novel idea, yet it’s hardly a new one.

And so, once again, I am offered a lesson I haven’t yet learned – different time in my life, different presentation, somewhat of a variation on a theme. I do believe that we all have lessons to learn in our lives, and we will be given them again and again until we catch on. Sometimes I feel like a pretty slow learner, but I’m sure it’s all unfolding exactly as it should.

And for those who’ve read this post, and who very possibly agree, I thank you for stopping by, for briefly being part of my world and perhaps sharing yours, both of us unfolding together.

 

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