On the ski picnic, I collected some branches of white spruce (Picea glauca) and felt-leaf willow (Salix alaxensis) that had been cut during the festivities. The willows in particular were interesting. The tips of many of the branches were as densely-furred as hares' feet, making them shine and sparkle as if frost-covered. Within a day of my bringing this branch in and putting it in water, the catkins were swelling dramatically, shoving the protective scales off at the tips–a process that's listed as one diagnostic characteristic of this species.
I just returned from a two-week artist-in-residence visit to Unalakleet, in western Alaska on the shore of Norton Sound. It was a wonderful experience–and in addition to getting to work with wonderful students and teachers, I had the opportunity to observe and sketch a fascinating corner of the world. I'll be posting sketch pages from the visit over the next few days.
The first page was done from memory on my first day, when I was whisked off to visit some ice fishers on the river.
Unexpected weekend sunshine sent us on a road trip north of Juneau to a little beach near Sunshine Cove. We sat several hours on a rocky outcrop, watching and listening to the abundance of the wakening northern world. I took the opportunity to practice drawing the textures of foliage on the little salt-battered shoreline spruce.
This is milo (Thespesia populnea), a small tree we saw fairly frequently, especially near beaches. It may be native to Hawaii, but may also have been brought to the islands by the Polynesians–in either case, it's a very important tree in Hawaiian culture.
Milo is widespread in coastal areas of the East Indies and Polynesia. The wood is rich reddish-brown at the heart, with some white "marbling" that is quite lovely; we saw many beautiful things made from milo wood.
We also appreciated the cool, deep shade it provides along the beaches–especially important to this pale, easily-burned Alaskan…
I caught myself thinking this morning, In just a month, we'll be hearing varied thrushes… in just two months, we might be starting to work the soil in the garden beds… in just three months, the little lilies will be blooming… It's that time of year when I struggle to appreciate what's here rather than just longing for what's coming.
So the compromise is to look at seed capsules and buds. Rusty menziesia is a good example; its handsome little capsules are gaping wide this time of year, its seeds long gone, and the buds are sharp and tight and just touched with rusty color. They're late-openers around here, though–it won't be until long after the blueberry bells are out that these buds will open.
This one's a "vintage" page from several years ago. I set out to take a closer look at three plants that are considered critical winter food for Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus), the little forest deer of Southeast Alaska.
In winter, when the more delectable plants are sleeping deciduously underground or buried beneath heavy snow, these three winter-greens tough it out on the floor of the broken-canopied hemlock/spruce forest.
We've been seeing a lot of deer lately near my home. The warm sunny spring/early summer has coaxed bursts of ridiculously lush greenery out along the roadsides and beaches. Happy deer…
The island of Chiloe, in the south of the country, is an extraordinary place, with a highly-diverse forest, great variety of birds, and a mellow, friendly atmosphere. It was our favorite place; I'd gladly go back there for more seafood, hiking, birdwatching, and exploring.
Chaura was one of dozens of native forest species there. It's a Gaultheria, so it's closely related to wintergreen (procumbens) and salal (shallon). I got fascinated by the beautiful galls on many of the chaura bushes, so here's my page about them.
For some photos of Chiloe (and the other parts of our trip) go to the following URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/46117111@N05/sets/72157623005731457
Here are a couple of plants we found on a walk. Because they grew in close proximity to roads and buildings, I assumed they must be introduced. But after researching them a bit, I'm now thinking they might be more native than I had thought. There are many native Alstroemerias in Chile (although apparently most are winter-blooming), and the legume shrub looks like it could be in the Prosopis genus, which is native… in any case, I was intrigued by that odd, bright red flag on the seed. Cheryl wondered if it was a bird-attractor.