For years we’ve hiked (carefully) past hundreds of stately cane chollas, many with what looks like wads of dried grasses caught tightly in and around the numerous spindly and haphazard arms that grow all over this desert cactus. On closer examination, we’ve discovered the cholla does not actually capture grasses blowing in the wind. Instead, an industrious and very chatty little bird collects great quantities of dried grass to build a football-sized cavity nest woven protectively and securely on and between the many arms of a cholla.
Meet the Cactus Wren.
Once you’ve heard this gregarious wren chatter and sputter hilariously, you’ll never forget it’s call! As we were walking along the trail one day, I instantly recognized a wildly vocalizing cactus wren. Scanning the skyline (because I know they also love rattling from a perch), he readily showed himself, and did not shy away as I approached. He was calling from the highest (10 feet) arm of a pretty stout cholla, and then quickly jumped down into the center of the branches to inspect an old nest.
This nest may have been old, but apparently this little guy felt a facelift was in order and began tidying up the tunnel-like entrance. He then collected a wad of grasses he’d plucked from the entrance and plunged himself down the tunnel, grasses included! What? What was this crazy bird doing …… nest building?
Turns out cactus wrens build several nests in the spring within their territory, and maintain them year-round. I have to believe they use their nests throughout the cold winter months to keep warm, and it looked like this guy was fixing up the interior of this particular nest with super soft bushmuhly grass stems. I would’ve loved an invitation to peek inside, but hiked on, leaving the cactus wren to his chores.
I’ve been by this nest several times in the past few weeks, hoping to catch the wren at home, but to no avail. Maybe he’s tending another nest somewhere else, as this one is in disarray.
The Sketch My sketch, mostly from memory, was done all in graphite using the “subtractive” technique. I don’t usually sketch in his manner, because it can get quite messy ….. laying graphite down then using my mono zero eraser to create the image …. but it was an effective way to illustrate the complexity of the nest and so many cholla spines. Let me know what you think!
On this day of Thanksgiving, my heartfelt gratitude goes out to all of my creative friends and acquaintances who have encouraged and inspired me along my artistic journey. Whether you realize it or not, without your pushing and nudging, cheering and challenging, I might still be stuck in a causality loop of repetitive and, dare I say, boring attempts at something resembling art. Because of you, I’ve crossed the threshold of humdrum “wanna’ be” to humbly admitting myself “artist.” You know who you are, for you are all many and amazing! From my active Zentangle days to today’s infatuation with nature journaling, this post is dedicated to you.
But today I pause to pay special tribute to a remarkable woman, Jo Flaherty. An amazing artist with a beautiful grasp of design and color, Jo was a master of the flow and rhythm of even the most complex of Zentangle patterns. She prolifically created works of tangled beauty, but also knew how to have serious fun in her art-making, all while exploring new methods and media. Jo was a natural teacher, coach and mentor, and we spoke numerous times to discuss her various techniques involving composition and color blending. Always willing to provide caring critique and advice on approaches to my work, Jo was extremely influential in my evolving style of art. Even today There are hints of “Jo” peeking through my journal pages. Such an inspiration!
The devastatingly sad news of Jo’s passing earlier this month was such a shock. She will be greatly missed in the art and Zentangle community as a wonderful artist and friend to so many. We all need a hearty dose of “Jo” in our lives, and I’m so glad she graciously and selflessly took me under her wing all those years ago.
Salvatore Dali said it perfectly ……. “A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.” This was (and in so many ways, still is) Jo. Someday I hope to follow in her artistic footsteps.
From the bottom of my heart ….. thank you Jo Flaherty (1953-2022)
Love those who’ve inspired you. Their gift is priceless.
It’s always a grand idea to save leaves raked up in the Fall into big piles scattered about your yard. These cast leaves provide important habitat for overwintering birds, small mammals and insects. In the Spring they break down forming compost which helps recharge the soil with nutrients and microbes that fertilize new seedlings and build soil structure.
But what about that lone leaf, now brown and crunchy, alone on the ground? That leaf, once part of a network of thousands that once beautifully graced a massive shade tree growing bravely alongside a busy city street? That leaf, now fallen to a surface covered in concrete or pavement, is skittering about in the late morning breeze searching fruitlessly for an organic resting place.
After leaving our favorite Albuquerque Mexican restaurant the other day, I stepped into the parking lot and noticed a giant sycamore leaf scratching and skidding across the pavement. Seconds later, an incoming car full of hungry customers about to park, was on a collision course with this abandoned leaf! Yikes! Quickly playing out the scene out in my mind, I dashed across the pavement and scooped up this big brown leaf, rescuing it from being smashed into bits and pieces.
Whew! That was a close call. Naturally this leaf deserved better treatment and a chance to contribute to Earth’s complex web of resources. And that’s what would happen ……. after a few sketches in my journal, of course.
This big, brown, crunchy sycamore leaf is now a part of one of the various compost piles we keep scattered about our yard. If leaves could feel, I’d like to think she’s so much happier being rescued than the alternative. Would you agree?
Our Smoke Tree is always one of the last to drop its leaves. While this tree tenaciously clings to its thousands of food makers, the leaves go through many stages of decay. Some remain purple-green but are polka-dotted with rusty red spots. Some more quickly change to brilliant yellow-orange with rusty splatters. Some display hints of green-brown and it’s these leaves that show the most insect spotting and damage.
One day, probably soon, the tree will get tired of the display, and just before a heavy frost or wet snow, it will stand bare with piles of multi-colored leaves lying on the ground, having dropped in one big fall.
Here’s a page from my perpetual journal that I created yesterday from a few leaves plucked from this pretty Smoke Tree.
Enjoy your seasonal changes wherever you may live!