Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Foul Weather (Fowl) Friends

The slate colored junco is another favorite winter visitor. They show up when the going gets tough and disappear just as soon as the weather begins to warm. 

They like to hide and roost in the low shrubs and brush around my yard.

This year, I got a big bag of chicken scratch grain for them to supplement the sunflower hearts that I usually feed the birds, since these cuties are happier feeding on the ground than on the various feeders I have available for them. 

They're sort of plain, gray birds, but that doesn't detract from their appeal.

I'm not particularly showy, either, so maybe that's why I feel a kinship with these shy birds.

If I keep my eyes open, I occasionally see juncos fluttering in the brush around roads and walking trails during summer rambles, but they don't sit still enough in the warm weather to photograph.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Black and White

Baloo and I pass orchards and vineyards every day as we're out walking or traveling to favorite woodland trails.

We got to watch this young cherry orchard being planted not long after we moved up here. I thought the long rows of dormant trees in the snow were a pretty study in perspective (literal and figurative). 

This orchard is much more mature and the trees have an interesting and almost sculptural feel to them that is accentuated by the snow coating the trunks and limbs. 

Every season is beautiful in its own way. Before we know it there will be beautiful snowy pink and white blossoms adorning the trees, with great splashes of green and blue, instead of such stark gray, black and white. 

I do love seeing the bones of the trees and land, though.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Snowy Morning Mourning Doves

Quite a nice flock of mourning doves has taken up residence in my back yard. They tend to dominate the largest feeder, but aren't terribly mean spirited about it, so I don't chase them off. 

Even when they're not actually eating, they like to perch on the arms of the feeding station pole and socialize.

Cold and blustery weather doesn't daunt them, either. 

I thought the muted colors of the doves in the snow made a nice sort of impressionist artistic statement, with the branches in the background as interesting abstract counterpoints. Yes, once again, it's clear that I am not only easily entertained, but fanciful into the bargain.. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Scarlet Coat

Walking along the road beside the bay one recent morning, Baloo and I came upon this handsome fellow in the brush. 

He stood out so vividly against the more muted winter hues that I just had to admire him - I like the way he's peering through the branches to keep an eye on us. 

Then there's this bright bird that frequents my back yard feeders and perches in the hydrangea bush to wait his turn at the sunflower hearts.

The brilliant red with the backdrop of snow is just stunning. 

I also liked this pair in the crab apple tree out front. The cardinal and the goldfinch look like they are regarding each other a little warily, wondering who will have first dibs at the feeder.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Finished Daffodil Carving

The samples of the new carving material went into the mail yesterday, winging their way to my band of intrepid testers. I find that I am feeling a lot like a kid in the back seat of a car on a long vacation drive getting antsy for the wait to end already. 

"Are they there, yet?"  

"Have they tried it yet?"

In order to keep myself from climbing the walls in nervous anticipation, I went back to the basement and played with my piece of the sample some more. These are both quick and dirty pictures I took this morning with my phone, so that I could do a fast follow-up on the carving material post from the other day. That means the quality of the photos isn't up to my usual standard, but I knew it would take me too long to go with the camera routine - can you tell I've about run out of patience for anything?

The finished block was a little hard to print, because it was so thin that I kept getting ink all over everything. Finally, I developed the knack for carefully inking, then wiping off the edges of the acrylic block to which I had glued the carving for printing stability, before getting anywhere near the paper. Oh, and I wiped my inky fingers off, too...

Then, just for fun, I did a little color ink wash to brighten things up and turned it into a card. 

Sometimes, just because you can means you probably should.

So, somebody will probably get a St. David's Day card from me this year. 

Field Finds

When Baloo and I wander through the field at the end of our street, we almost always find something interesting to look at (well, Baloo finds interesting things to smell a lot more frequently, but it amounts to pretty much the same thing). 

There was a sprig of spotted knapweed that fell into the snow and left a perfect imprint, melting in just a little bit so only the shadow of the plant was visible unless viewed from above.  

Then there are whimsical snow cones topping what I believe are the seed heads of Queen Anne's Lace.

Finally, I see spiders from time to time walking along on top of the snow, far from any plant or obvious burrow and with no apparent prey in the area. I wonder what on earth they are doing out and about in such cold weather.

They must find something to munch on and there must be holes they can find or dig to get back into the leaf litter and grass tangles beneath the snow, but they seem so exposed and out of their element atop a vast expanse of cold, white stuff.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

New Carving Block Test #2

Just in case anybody's curious about the testing currently in process as we try to draw closer and closer to a suitable replacement for our beloved PZ Kut, I thought I would post a couple process pictures. I should have started at the very beginning, I know, but I didn't think of it at the beginning. I was too discouraged from New Carving Block Test #1 last night being such a dismal failure to consider it (no, there wasn't a post about that - there was absolutely no point). 

Also, the photos are quick phone shots downloaded and cropped in a totally quick and dirty fashion to make sure I got these up tonight, so pardon the less than perfect presentation, please.

So, to begin with, I lightly sanded the block and did a pencil transfer of a daffodil drawing (St. David's Day is coming up, after all, so it seemed appropriate). 

The quarter shows the size of the piece I'm playing with, and it also happens that the thickness of the quarter is almost exactly the thickness of the sample block. If it actually goes into production, the final material will be closer to 1/4".

I cut with modified and unmodified Staedtler #1 gouges, a Speedball #1 gouge and a Testor's Hobby Knife. You can see the swirl, circle and letter 's' that I tucked in among the daffodil petals to test the quality of fine, controlled knife cuts. I just took a pencil and made a spiral, an 's' and did a freehand circle directly on the block for that part of the experiment, so there wasn't anything terribly fancy involved.

Obviously, the carving isn't finished yet, I'm just running it through its paces along the way. The first print was done with Versafine Olympia Green on plain white card stock.

Then, I wiped the Versafine ink off with a paper towel and printed on the same type of card stock with a light green dye ink (that's why there are a couple dark streaks and spots - I didn't get all the pigment ink off with the paper towel).

Unfortunately, I seem to have wiped my pencil marks right off the block along with the ink, so it looks like the rest of the carving will be freehand from here. We like a challenge, right?

I'm not going to say anything about what I thought of the block or its qualities at this stage. I don't want to influence my volunteer test carvers in any way. I haven't even talked with Baloo about it yet, although he keeps coming down in the basement and sticking his nose under my arm to tell me it's time to take a walk - or feed him - or give him some love. He seems to think I'm ignoring him in favor of some mysterious obsession. Poor puppy...

Ornithological Optimism

The chickadee is one of the most upbeat birds I know. I read somewhere that they weigh less than an ounce (they were being compared to a first class letter), but their dauntless curiosity and indomitable spirit make them mighty, indeed.

They're invariably the first to explore any new feeder or addition to the back yard habitat, intrepid explorers that they are. 

They can stand in a snowstorm and sing a song of spring - that's pure optimism, if I've ever heard it.

When Baloo and I walk across the field, they peer out of the brush to see who might be passing through their territory.

And to top it all off, they're just so cute.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

On the Street Where We Live

The snow got deep enough for a while this winter that Baloo had a rough time getting out into the field to sniff around and explore. He was up to his shoulders and didn't enjoy the experience very much. 

So, I took him on short walks in our neighborhood where we could take advantage of the work snowplows had done and still enjoy getting a bit of fresh air.

The whole world seemed sort of hushed (once the wind died down) and magical.

We feel pretty fortunate to live here - every season has its wonders.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Houndstooth Hound

When it gets really frigid outside, Baloo's paws get uncomfortably cold amazingly fast. He still hasn't learned to be efficient about taking care of business,

On seriously inclement days, I get out the lovely hounds-tooth coat that a friend of ours gave to him and bundle him up against the elements. If his core temperature stays warmer, it helps his protect his toes from getting too chilled for a little bit longer. He doesn't really complain about the extra layer - I think he knows that it keeps him more comfortable.  Although there seems to be a certain amount of reproach in his eyes with respect to having his picture taken, I think he looks quite dignified in his designer jacket. It even coordinates perfectly with his black fur and golden eyes.

Occasionally, it's so snowy and blustery we can't even see past the trees on the opposite side of the street. This picture is taken from the top of my driveway, which is (obviously) not plowed. For a while on this particular morning, those evergreens were just a dark blur. It was beautiful, though, making the whole world feel like a swirling snow globe. A really frosty snow globe.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Preening, Provender and Peevishness

All woodpeckers today - well, almost.

I enjoyed watching this hairy woodpecker giving himself a good grooming while clinging to the top branches of a poplar tree in my front yard. As you can see, he bent himself double during the fluff and puff cycle.

Brand new suet cakes delighted the red-bellied woodpecker...

....until a starling tried to horn in his happy meal. He wasn't having any of it and the interloper was soon put to flight.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Honkers and Fast Track Travelers

No, this is not a post about road rage.

Baloo and I enjoyed a lovely snowshoe trek around the state park at the end of the peninsula. We rarely see anyone else out on the trails, but occasionally someone will meet us along the way. Usually, they meet us head on, since Baloo sets a brisk pace (except for occasional forays to sniff bunny trails and other interesting side notes) and unless they're on mountain bikes, they don't usually catch up with us. 

This cross-country skier, however, quietly pulled up behind us and zipped right along on his way, leaving us to our slower mode of travel. It was nice to see someone else out enjoying the beautiful, snowy day.

As we returned to the parking area, there was a lot of noise coming from the farm across the street. Of course, Baloo and I had to go and investigate. There were several geese honking and creating quite a cacophony. I'm not sure what had ruffled their feathers, but they were definitely standing on their dignity and demanding the respect that was their due.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Winter Gold

No, not the Olympics. I'm thinking about the goldfinches that flit through the branches and weeds out in the big field looking for seeds and other goodies to eat.

The bright yellow of their summer plumage is muted to a golden brown, for the most part.

But the energetic flutters of  black and white wings are still quite striking.

Not to mention the dramatic poses (I just love the little toes gripping the twigs, don't you?). This last fellow looks ready to take wing - after imitating the leaf sticking out on the left.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Big Freeze

Just a week or so ago, ducks were still paddling around in open areas on the bay. 

These two are surrounded by slushy little ice floes, but are still finding enough open water to navigate and feed.

The ducks are all gone now, though. The bay has officially frozen over and ice fishing has begun. Baloo and I saw a man pulling his equipment out onto the ice in a big sled while we were out walking yesterday morning. 

It's odd to see the vast, flat stretch of white snow, instead of the usual blues, greens and grays of the bay. I just love that every season and every day bring something new to experience.