A little holiday red and green from the desert southwest. Flambé and I send you warm season’s greetings from our home base in beautiful New Mexico to wherever you may live on planet Earth. May all your 2023 New Year’s Resolutions come true.
Thanks to all for following my first full year of posts. Flambé Kat and I are excited to share our (mis)adventures with you during 2023!
But underground, plant roots fest ….. Winter is for fun.
Today’s the day, Earth’s tip at max ….. Solstice is upon us.
Sunlight grows, it bounces back ….. Time to raise a ruckus……
What is a Solstice and Why.
Ancient astronomers, noticing that when the Sun reached either its highest (Summer) or lowest (Winter) point in the sky for the year, appeared to stand still. They came to know these two days as “solstice,” a word that combines the Latin “sol” for Sun and “sistere” for To Stand Still.
Contrary to common thinking, the Solstice doesn’t last a full calendar day. Instead, it lasts only a brief moment before the earth begins to right itself, causing daylight hours to either shorten (Summer Solstice) or lengthen (Winter Solstice). And depending on where you live, the change in daylight hours can be swift (8-9 minutes/day above the Arctic Circle), to less than 1 minute/day as you near the equator.
The Northern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice 2022, occurs Wednesday, December 21st. Also known as the hibernal (from the Latin hibernalis which means anything wintery) solstice or The Longest Night, it’s the time when the Earth reaches it maximum tilt away from the sun. The Winter Solstice, the day the sun is as far south as possible, marks the official beginning of astronomical winter (as opposed to meteorological winter, which starts about three weeks prior to the solstice). And just for fun ….. stand outside at noon on December 21st, and if the sun is shining take a look at your shadow. This will be the longest shadow you’ll cast for the whole year!
Solstice marks the changing of seasons, and has been cause for celebration in many cultures over hundreds of years.
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!
For the last 7 years, I’ve jumped onto the the month-long (October) Inktober challenge, using prompts developed by the Zentangle community. This year I switched it up, deciding to follow the official daily word prompts, one word a day, creating images representing each word, solely in ink. The only rules I held myself to were: 1) only ink; no pencil sketching, and 2) create a drawing daily in 10 minutes or less. When I was all finished, it seemed some shading with Tombow brush pens was needed, and then Flambé wanted to play ….. but in color! Definitely a fun challenge! Here’s what I came up with.
So what exactly is Inktober?
Inktober is an annual art challenge lasting for all 31 days of October. It was created by artist Jake Parker, with the purpose of improving art skills and developing daily drawing habits. Participants create an ink drawing daily, and Inktober.com posts an official list of word prompts to help guide you on this journey.
Even though there’s an official list of words to follow, “Inktober is just a framework to get yourself to draw better, flex a little, and/or have some fun with your art. Inktober is a challenge NOT a contest to see who the best artist is. It’s a challenge to see how much you can improve your art in a month, and to be inspired or to help inspire other artists to do the same.”
Anyone can participate, in any way imaginable. You can come up with your own list or search for the numerous lists created by many others, like the one of patterns posted annually by Zentangle. And you can use ink, pencil, paint or crayon. There’s really no rules, no wrong approach. Just make art every day in October!
Even though Inktober 2022 is officially over, you can still take on the challenge in the the following months, or anticipate and participate in the event in October 2023.
For more information, search the web for Inktober.com. I’d love to know if you go for it!
We usually know where we’re headed in the morning, but how we get there is another story. As we left Indian Bread Rocks we talked about optional routes to reach our destination …. City of Rocks State Park. There were several choices, and since we’re not interstate highway fans (unless absolutely necessary) we opted for the road less traveled; through New Mexico’s “Bootheel” in the extreme southwestern part of the state. Going this way we might just catch a glimpse of that infamous Border Wall too.
Although this route was the long way to City of Rocks (200 miles versus 110 miles), it was definitely eye-opening. As we traveled lonely roads, dodging no less than 3 huge rattlesnakes sunning themselves on the pavement, the only vehicles we saw were border patrol. It was windy and hot as we approached the Mexican border, and we strained our eyes to see something resembling a Wall off in the distance. Between Hachita and Columbus, NM, we could make out what looked to be a RR bed in the valley bottom. Binoculars weren’t much use, as this very straight line wasn’t resolving into a Wall, until ….. all at once we saw the RR track climb straight up a pretty substantial hill. That answered the question …. that faux track was indeed the Border Wall, and we had already seen miles and miles of it.
A short distance out of Columbus, driving very close to the border, we found a side road that appeared to lead down to the Wall, so we went to investigate. Coming within about a quarter mile of the Border Wall we saw how very tall it was, and how it was built with metal slats too close for a person to squeeze through, but spaced and angled just so to see Mexico beyond.
We’re both glad to have seen this Wall for ourselves. Rest assured I’ve no intention of turning my blog posts into political commentary, but I have to say this obscene border wall is absolutely embarrassing and offensive.
On to Columbus, North to Deming and to City of Rocks State Park.
Our assigned campsite was a pull through and it was a snap to get The Felix all set up. Then it was off for a nice romp through the assortment of boulders that were created from volcanic tuff and eroded over years to form what appears like, from a distance, a city of high rises. There’s a marked trail through the rock formations that lead you to some of the best rocks and views. But it’s more than okay to wander wherever your legs take you … and sometimes it’s like a maze with many dead ends. The Park also has a nice botanical garden, many “outside the city” trails, and a super visitor center with helpful volunteer staff offering info like lists of plants, birds, insects, reptiles and mammals you might encounter in the park.
Before a big cold front blew in bringing rain and winds, I was able to do some sketching, we spotted lots of new-to-us plants (still in bloom) and a gorgeous rainbow grasshopper. Several birds (cactus wren, curve-billed thrasher and canyon towhee) paid us a call at The Felix. About to go searching for the covey of scaled quail making quite a racket somewhere in the rocks, we changed that plan ….. a good decision as we would’ve gotten drenched with rain!
This was our third trip to City of Rocks, and not likely to be our last. It’s a fun place to visit for a short time or an extended stay.
We were going to enjoy one more day in SW NM east of Las Cruces before returning home, but the weather forecast for the next many days called for high winds, rain and snow ….. so, not at all disappointed in all the ground we covered we came home a day early, driving all 283 miles in good time thanks to a tail-wind assist.
(Turns out the next day, had we stayed one day longer, would’ve greeted us with rain, freezing rain and snow by the time we got home. I could feel it in my bones!)
All in all it was a great Escapito #6, all 4 stops and the 922 miles in between, and a fun way to close out the 2022 camping season (or is it?!). Stay tuned!