Something leguminous

Last week our local plein aire group met at a house with a view of the beach meadows, Icy Passage, and Pleasant Island. I usually try to do some landscape sketching during these outings because that’s a subject I otherwise avoid, but that day I was just more interested in the close-up world.

Kantákw—Nootka lupine—caught my attention first. They’re abundant out in the uplift meadows: big billowing masses of leaves, topped at this time of year with a second flush of purple/blue/white blossoms, and freckled with seed pods drying and browning as they mature. Nearby, beach pea plants sprawl among the mosses and climb ryegrass stems; their pods too are heading toward ripeness. I decided to spend some time observing and comparing these two fabaceous neighbors.

Lingít plant names are from Tlingit Dictionary, edited by X’unei Lance Twitchell. Gunalchéesh for this wonderful resource.

Spring buds, day 1

Drizzly and cold here lately but the plants know spring’s coming. I brought branches of three shrubs inside, to watch their little packages of potential unfold. Today’s day 1.

As usual, willows are among the first to start to open. But the serviceberry is also surprisingly bold. Both have early leaves and flowers that are protected by furry coats, so the risk is probably a little less for them than for, say, a spruce. Cottonwood’s buds are packed with aromatic sap, which gives the enclosed leaves some protection, but I haven’t seen any sign that they’re taking the chance yet.

Yellow Pond Lily


 Pond-lily2-khSpent a fair bit of time today wandering around a medium-elevation bog. Plants were about the same stage as those at sea level, though a couple of pond lilies still had underwater buds (!) This was particularly interesting, because I could see almost all of the stages of flowering at once. I had never studied their blooming cycle that closely. I was fascinated at how the pods dissolve in the still, tea-colored water of the bog ponds; I could see scatterings of seeds underneath several plants.

I always feel a little guilty picking a pond lily flower or seedpod. They're so big, and so gracefully-formed: like urns or chalices. But there were so many this summer that I'm not feeling too terrible about it. Several of my plant books say the seeds are edible and tasty. I'd say edible, perhaps borderline tasty. They're big, anyway: as big as grains of Calrose rice.

Contorta contorta


Here in Southeast Alaska, lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) grows in its "shore pine" (P. contorta contorta) form. It's well-named: no lodgepole-straight trunks here, just endless variations of twist and turn, forced into beautiful cantilevers by countless winters of heavy snow. A shore pine with a trunk with the diameter of my arm may have 300 microscopic growth rings in its heart. I love the way the branches reach out; they offer up their clusters of needles with such grace.

Drawing Through


I like to think that when we draw from nature, we're drawing nature through ourselves–through eyes and brain and heart, and down the arm onto the page. If that's so, then every time we draw something, we take a little bit of it inside. It has become part of us; we understand it in a new and important way. We've made a connection.

Looked at that way, it doesn't necessarily matter what the end result looks like. The important part is the drawing through.