Walk/Sketch:Day Six. Nature not so Idyllic!

I was so encouraged by all your very kind emails and comments re My Day.

I particularly liked the ones which felt, like me, that all work and no play makes for a very dull person.
So today as it was sunny and beautiful I went out for some time.
And of course,  if you don’t go out and look, you don’t see, and then you don’t learn, so I do have the very best excuse to go wandering the local paths.
By 12.00 it was hot, steamy and torpid… no breeze at all and actually quite uncomfortable away from the lake.
I cycled and walked for some time before deciding to go back to the dead tree again and the path leading up to it.
Today I took pen, brush, white gouache, water soluble pencil and coloured paper. I like the sweep of the hill and the tree.

But after I had done the first sketch I walked up to the hill and saw a dead crow hanging from a stick in the ground. I know this is an old custom to deter birds but thought it was long over.
It is completely misguided and unnecessary. I felt sad and the day seemed to become more oppressive.
Now I am not so sentimental as to feel that everything in the garden of nature is always lovely. Living here we see our share of animal fatalities.

But I do like crows…I lost my appetite for sketching, just as I had the other day, when sitting by the lake to sketch, my drawing was accompanied by the frantic intermittent buzzing of a fly somewhere which was being wrapped up by a spider.. what to do?

Deprive the spider of its food, try to save the fly?

I could see it nowhere and that gloomy day just got gloomier.. These small cruelties can sometimes seem unbearable, bad enough when they are animal against animal but somehow the involvement of the human hand is more unacceptable.

But on the other hand today there were so many beautiful butterflies around. I am particularly admiring of the peacocks with their dark underwings which give no clue to their beauty until they spread their wings. There were many, many of them resting on the path.



So just a couple of sketches. Yes, and a thumbnail of the crow at the bottom of the page.. I drew a similar one for my  Scarecrow Book.

the hill to the dead tree bg      dead tree and crow bg

Later, the day became more settled, clearer and more beautiful..
I went out again and walked by the water, my faith in all things natural restored, for a while!

The USA Bee Count and the UK Butterfly Count

Tomorrow the 16th of July in the UK and the USA our pollinators are getting some close and welcome attention. It’s the second year for the Butterfly count in the UK and the first for the bee count in the USA. If you are interested in joining in go here to the UK Butterfly Count: http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/

“Why count butterflies? Butterflies react very quickly to change in their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators. Butterfly declines are an early warning for other wildlife losses. That’s why counting butterflies can be described as taking the pulse of nature.”

and for those in the USA the bee count is here  http://www.yourgardenshow.com/bee-a-thon

“The count is a citizen science campaign to map out bee populations in every zip code in the United States, because in-depth, collaborative knowledge of bee populations could help mitigate the havoc wrought by CCD. You can check out the count in your neighborhood below, and “attend” the Bee-a-thon to learn more about getting involved.

Meanwhile today I have had a day in the sun, mooching about at Paxton Pits and saw a few butterflies, some bees but not so many as last time as the brambles are almost done.

There was some excitement about a sighting of the Norfolk hawker dragonfly which I didn’t see but I did bump into Andy Fountain who works with the charity Inspire.

More of them and their work later but while chatting to him he pointed out this pretty thing. It’s not a butterfly but a day flying moth. It’s very small and I think it’s a Mint Moth… again, I think, Pyrausta aurata. The excellent Adur Nature has a good page on  pyralid moths This one it seems, loosely translated, means  “gilded fire winged”. Perfect!

and while I am on the moth theme there were lots of these!

cinn moth cat

Some Cinnabar moth caterpillars Tyria jacobaeae making short work of the ragwort. they will of course become the beautiful cinnabar moths.


(Photo © Ian Kimber  ) from the UK Moths website here. I will be counting my butterflies and bees tomorrow and until the end of the month.

Some Strange Entomological Finds in Key West

It could only be us, a couple of non festival aware Brits, who would book that “relaxing” hammock-swinging, foot-lolling, end of October weekend in Key West.

This was to be our much looked forward to, quiet break by the sea. Yes, I suppose we did notice that Orlando was smothered in fake cobwebs and had been glowing orange with plastic pumpkins for the last month, but Halloween, to us, is of no importance.

So it was only 24 hours before leaving that we read that our trip coincided with the Island’s wild and wilful 30th celebration of the outrageous eye-popping “Fantasy Fest”
Billed as a rival to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, Fantasy Fest is an adult party/ fancy dress celebration of the Conch Republic and of course of Halloween.

This years theme was “Villains Vampires and Vixens” and they were all there. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea to see the intimate areas of the over 50’s sprayed and brushed with gaudy body paint, but you would have to be a miserable soul not to have found this funny and liberating.

Thighs and hips, escaping at last from tight jeans, sagged and dimpled. Breasts jiggled and swayed irrepressibly, in and out of bikini tops. Bums and bellies, large and very large challenged to the limit both the imagination and resources of the body artists.

Crowds gathered and lenses jostled to see nubile young ladies being sprayed. Lurid paint seeped its way into crevices and tucks that are usually kept respectably out of sight.
Hairless and hairy men threw beads to the audience.
There were men in frocks, and men out of frocks.
Fat men dressed as fairies, thin beautiful girls painted with stars, fat beautiful girls in pirate costumes.

Elegant almost naked ladies who belonged in university libraries sipped bloody cocktails on the verandas of Duval alongside their equally elegant husbands, with only a couple of thongs and jock straps between them.

We watched the crowd from a balcony for a while, heard a voice floating up from below “Hey there sweet tits” ..and saw 30 acknowledging heads turn… both men and women.

As the afternoon heat increased and temperatures rose we slipped into Sloppy Joes for a frozen Margarita.

It is the first and probably only time, until perhaps my geriatric days, that I will ever ask a respectable elderly lady sitting next to me if I will see her with her clothes off later. “Why sure honey!!! ” she shrilled.. “ I’ve gotten myself painted!! I sure can’t do THIS everyday in Virginia.” … not in Lincolnshire either I can tell you!

Poignant scenes were there too… a lanky “fly” weaving home alone in a darkening street, his antennae sagging, glittering gauzy wings drooping.
The ample breasted girl from the Adult Entertainment shop, sitting disconsolately on her verandah, neglected and alone, her obvious charms struggling to be freed from the tight white tee shirt but sadly eclipsed by the many, more glittering and readily available ones on offer on the street.

The very tiny old man weighted down with leather straps and chains resting his frail bedecked body on a low wall, bony elbows on bony knees watching glumly as the cruise ship on the dock spilled its gleeful cargo of nudists.

Of course, lest we all forget ourselves and surrender completely to sin and debauchery there was the occasional sober man of God dragging a cross along the road reminding us of the consequences of our actions.
A derelict wild eyed drunk lurched across the road in pursuit of one of them, but, on seeing the good man disappear into a nearby churchyard, turned back muttering the best line of the weekend.. “ Well d.a.a.a.a.mn !!!, he’s safe… he made it back to holy ground, agin! “

So our quiet weekend was not quite what we expected, but we ate wonderful seafood and delicious Cuban rice and beans, drank dark bitter buchis, indulged in Key Lime Pie, heard some good old nostalgic music, giggled and laughed our way up and down Duval, sailed out to see the sunset, cycled everywhere, and generally had a good time, all in the company of 80 thousand happy people who were doing very much the same.

fly2       bee

Two winged happy creatures from Fantasy Fest, photos by Chris.

Leaf of the Day: Snakewood Leaf 2 and the wonders of metamorphosis.

Today I had the good fortune to see a butterfly hatching and, purely by coincidence, a caterpillar transforming itself into a chrysalis too. There are two chrysalis cases at the Gardens which Joel cares for with great solicitude and affection. He collects the butterfly eggs and raises them, through caterpillar stage, up to chrysalis stage, when he brings them to the cases. He nurtured and liberated over 1000 of these beautiful creatures last year.The butterfly garden at Leu is his domain. I was asking him more about the milkweeds which are the food source for the Monarch butterfly and as we were looking at the line of exquisite jade Monarch chrysalis, one began to emerge.

It is a fascinating sight. The butterfly at this stage has tiny crumpled wings and a huge black and white spotted body which over about 15 minutes pumps liquid into the wings along the main veins expanding them to their full width and beauty. We could see the butterfly experimentally curling and uncurling its divided proboscis which has to join into a tube before it can feed. At the same time a stripy caterpillar was busy shrugging off its striped coat and transforming itself into a chrysalis.

I held in my hand the tiny concertinaed skin of the caterpillar complete with little antennae and legs.
We may have all seen this on the TV and “know” about this extraordinary aspect of nature but to see it happening in front of you is riveting and it’s so quick. I was so busy watching I forgot to take more photos.

I did drag myself away to find the Snakewood again and then I bumped into Pedro who tells me that snakes like to hide in the snaky Snakewood roots and he has seen a couple of old shed skins there, which followed on neatly from the butterflies and also my thoughts about the leaves looking like sloughed skins. It’s a good time of year to consider renewal and re emergence.
He also showed me some beautiful little orchids which have just sprung up in one of the borders on the drive. I have not yet discovered out what they are.

I made a couple more root sketches around the Gardens which I will post tomorrow…Meanwhile I sketched another Snakewood leaf and there is a series about Darwin on the radio this week to catch up with, and I read some more about Burchfield…Oh dear…so much to do/ read/ listen to/ watch/ draw/ design/ write etc etc … so little time…. I am constantly running out of time and the white rabbit in Alice came to mind… so with apologies to Tenniel here is my own Time Keeping Rabbit reminding me that I should get a move on, which I think I will now use as shorthand in the posts, signifying lack of time.

I will have a few others too, each describing my day, sloth (often), procrastination (every day), despair (sometimes), inspiration ( fleeting), ..with a key in the side bar. I need never write again! I could just use pictograms..Hmm that’s a nice little project for a rainy day.


Snakewood Leaf Sketch

Leaf of the Day: Moujean Tea, Tea and Butterflies

I went to the garden today and cycled along the beautiful lakeside roads with some autumn colour here and there and the lakes waters still and placid. Despite the dull and chilly weather, today is a very good day. It is also bonfire night in the UK when we would have been eating parkin, toffee apples and baked potatoes, if we could ever get the bonfire hot enough for long enough. Sparklers would be sparkling with the occasional hot spark landing on bare flesh and unruly Catherine wheels detaching themselves from wooden posts to tear around the garden.
I should really have drawn the Firecracker plant but today I was walking through the herb garden and decided at last to get round to drawing the very beautiful little herb, Moujean Tea Nashia inaguensis. This little bush is so delightful. It has dainty little scented leaves, not more than 1/2 inch long, and tiny flowers. ..and of course you can make tea from it.

It originated on the rocky outcrops of the Caribbean islands, in particular from its namesake island, Inagua in the Bahamas.
It likes a sunny, well drained but well watered position. This shrub has small, scented leaves and they say the leaves have a vanilla or Earl Grey Tea taste when made into tea. I am chewing a leaf as I write this, and trying to decide how I would describe it. The leaves are very hard and rough, definitely slightly bitter and aromatic but very pleasant. The flowers with a sweet and spicy scent are followed by equally tiny orange fruits which can be used in the tea too. Bees love this plant and it attracts the beautiful previously endangered butterfly the Atala butterfly, Eumaeus atala.

Image and info from University of Florida here

This lovely thing needed the coontie plant to thrive, so the recent reintroduction of the coontie for landscaping has helped its re-generation. It is very beautiful, a basic black and orange with highlights of metallic greens and iridescent blues.
That is the very pretty and useful Moujean tea for you. It also makes a lovely bonsai because of its tiny proportions and if you have a scent or herb garden, this would be a must here in Florida, tea and butterflies.. a very pleasing combination.


Moujean Tea

Leaf of the Day: Another Aristolochia

I did want to have one more try with this plant. This is another variety which grows at Leu on one of the creeper trellis. To me this is not quite so repellent but I still feel ambivalent about it. This variety is Aristolochia cymbifera.It is probably 10 inches in length and it still retains the fleshy feel but is more spectacularly striped and spotted with its flounced frill of petal and strange horn. All this to entice flies.
Here also are two diagrams that explain a little bit more about the structures of the various flowers.

I am trying to redress the balance somewhat though, as these strange plants do attract beautiful butterflies in their droves. One of the aristolochia that grows in the Butterfly Garden at Leu is reugularly attended by many fluttering beauties. I have seen mostly monarch butterflies and swallowtails and a little creeping aristolochia growing near the Vegetable Garden has been almost eaten away by what I think are pipevine swallowtail caterpillars.

On 11th June it looked like this…

on the 16th June it looked like this …

Having been eaten by these …

If I am right , there will be some of these flying about soon..

The beautiful pipe vine swallowtail butterfly Battus philenor .

This image from Carolinanature.com here

But, it seems we can’t quite escape the dark side of these flowers completely, as, in a rather sinister twist, when the caterpillars eat the vines they ingest some of the poisons, which are so deadly to us, and they in turn become toxic to their prey. In another instance, one dangerous species of this vine is proving poisonous to the swallowtail caterpillars, it’s Russian roulette with this one.

The sketch I made today was to understand the patterns and shapes, I might return to this flower to make a more finished painting or drawing as I do like the patterns and the challenge of the soft and hard shapes. It’s still a bit of a monster though isnt it?


Aristolochia Cymbifera

Leaf of the Day:Encepalartos Horridus and Yoga

Today I have spent most of the day out and about..this morning I went down to Leu Gardens early as temperatures are beginning to heat up now and by the afternoon we have spectacular thunderstorms preceded by intense humidity. I am wondering how I will survive the summer?
Arriving early is good because you have the Gardens almost to yourself….almost. I don’t know if it’s just me but my steps seem to be dogged at the moment by yoga or tai chi practitioners who commandeer a bit of public space (usually the very best bit ) with a mat which immediately transforms itself into a private 50 ft radius “DO NOT DISTURB ” zone. She was on the jetty by the lake, cool elegant and composed in her simple leotard. I somehow don’t think she had a burger for breakfast or had arrived on a bike, I was disheveled and sweaty from my dicing-with-death bike ride. The bad person in me wanted to toss her over the rails to the alligators.. The good person was considering a cheery “hello” but she was deeply involved in that pose that looks like a dog being sick so I though better of it and moved along to find the friendlier Cycads.

After reading so much about the Cycads I wanted to go and see them again but a drawback of arriving early to the Gardens is that you may have to trail blaze the paths which are criss crossed with webs, I am not good with spiders. The cone I had taken a photo of 2 weeks ago was bigger and better but the path was guarded by a very large web and it was too early in the day for spider trauma. To be fair I haven’t seen that many here. The ones I did see today were tiny little jeweled little things… but, believe me, I don’t look hard.
However I did find the cycad encepalartos horridus so I have a drawing of a truly horrid leaflet today(actually one I had picked up at Marie Selby last week) and I did meet up with my friend Pedro the gardener, who showed me some more strange and wonderful things in the garden which I will hopefully get round to drawing in the next few days. In the butterfly garden many big beautiful butterflies are languidly flapping from flower to flower and there is a small glass fronted box displaying the most exquisite chrysalises ( chrysalides) of the monarch butterfly. They are like little drops of jade with gold specs… My photo below does not quite capture the colours.

Probably the most spectacular butterflies are the Giant Swallowtails that look like humming birds as they hover amongst the flowers.

photo from the North American Butterfly Association

The full leaf of the ferocious Horridus can be 18-24″ They are long stiff recurving leaves that have many intertwined, needle sharp, leaflets. The spines twist away from the plane of the leaf so it can sink its spines into your flesh however you try to approach it. Its native habitat is on exposed slopes provinces of South Africa. .

Here is my photo from Marie Selby Gardens


Encephalartos Horridus