Monday, April 14, 2014

Not as such---

I'd be hard pressed to describe what we have in these parts as spring. I'm willing to go as far as to say that it isn't really winter, but that's about it. Temperatures have receded into the minus freezing zone--to the double digits below at night (this is Celsius),  just under freezing by day. We've had snow and high winds as well, adding to the discouragement. I've seen one cold-looking robin, and not a heck of a lot else in the way of returning birds, corvids excepted. There do seem to be lots of crows in the city and magpies in the country. I've also spotted a few Canada geese and the odd duck, trying to find a bit of open water to land in. All in all, I really thought we'd be further along by now.

Ever optimistic, I've bought my annual tea rose for container planting, and have started a few canas--all warm and cosy in the bright light of my upstairs studio until such time (if ever) as they can be planted out. They need a good head start here as the growing season is relatively short, possibly even shorter than usual this year unless things shape up.

There's always a side benefit, even to this weather. I've been in encaustic mode intermittently for the past few months, and was ready to give it up as being too hot an activity for the warmer weather. The ongoing cold means that I can still work away at it for a while yet. Bonus is that I've discovered "cold wax" which is something I am keen to try and which doesn't entail any heat sources at all, so it may be a good warm-weather option for me. Time will tell. 

Shots one and two today are the results of my studio time. The top one is a mixed media encaustic with a photo transfer overlay.

This one is an encaustic painting. Both are 10" x 12".

Shot three shows the little ice islands frozen around the base of each of these grass stems in the ditches along the country roads a few days ago. I had to stop the car and get a good look to figure out what they were.

Here's a little bit of our front yard in the snow that fell on the weekend. This is the "pellet" version of the snow, which later evolved to huge beautiful flakes. It's not cold enough for the bit of accumulation to stay, so it's now history.

I did some more shots of the last of the forced tulips. I almost prefer them in this rather tortured over-blown state than when they are in their full beauty. There's something wonderfully sculptural about the shapes they take on as the petals fade and die. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Water replaces snow---

I can see my outdoor time increasing as the snow goes and my options for wandering about in nature become more plentiful and attractive. Even tooling around in the back yard has its pleasures these days, since the only time I've logged out there for the past five or so months has consisted of  brief freezing outings to pick up dog poop. At least that chore is less unpleasant when the product is frozen. :-) The plus side of our diligence is that the back yard is way more pleasant than in previous years when we were less on top of things.

Shot one shows a ditch by the road to the barn, running with melt water where many feet of snowdrifts sat all winter. You can even see a little current that has been generated as the water rushes downhill. The spring melt has been slow and protracted this year, which is overall a good thing as it minimizes flooding and maximizes moisture penetration into the soil. Living in the prairies where drought is always one of the options, having a good start on subsoil moisture is always a benefit. 

I like getting shots like the one in photo two. I think of these little assemblages as nature's collages. I'm also thinking of subject matter for my own work, possibly in encaustic where I can make use of the depth, smooth surfaces and texture that can be achieved with encaustic. As I say this, I'm also aware that my encaustic season is quickly drawing to a close. The studio is already starting to warm up a lot (as in too much) in the daytime, and from now on it will for the most part be too warm to add heat from melted beeswax, heat guns and propane torches to the mix. 

This is the season when the wonderful red bark of the dogwood in our front yard is at its most vibrant. I'll be happy enough to see green leaves when they appear, but I always appreciate the graphic beauty of trees and bushes when they are bare of adornment and their structure and texture are on display.

The Ebon "mail-box corner" gopher has made its annual spring appearance at the stables. I caught this shot of him/her (?) a few days ago as I was heading to the barn. Gophers were quite scarce around here last year. We'll see what this year brings. 

The weekend was warm enough that many of the young Ebon riders were out enjoying the chance of a first outdoor ride for the year. This time last year the grassy area they are on was underwater, in a reappearance of "Lake Ebon" but last year we had a lot more snow than we did this year.

Things have been hopping at the stables for the past couple of days, with general horse and rider activity on the weekend, and herd health for all the horses today, capably and efficiently handled as always by the veterinarians and senior students of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. We are extremely fortunate to have this facility and its dedicated practitioners and staff in our city.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Out like a------

March, having come in like a lion, is perversely not going out like a lamb as indicated by the old folk saying for this month. Instead it's going out more like a polar bear. We've had yet more freezing rain, snow, and double digit sub-zero temperatures with the wind making it feel even colder. Given that we saw our first snow on October 20th and tomorrow will be April, I think we've earned a break. The number of available months left for the other three seasons is getting smaller every day.

Shot one pretty well sums it up. This is our front yard as of March 31st. Enough already! 

It's time for the changing of the guard with the local corvid population. Many of the ravens that have been around all winter will start filtering to more northerly parts of the province, and the crows have returned from their wintering grounds somewhere south of the province. A few ravens have started opting to remain in the city year round, slowly changing and adapting their life-style. 

There are always territorial squabbles between the crows and the ravens, and sometimes within the raven clan as well. I caught a series of shots last week of a pair of ravens tussling mid-air. It's always hard to know if these disputes are serious or just part of play or courting display. Either way, it's always interesting to see. 

Shot three features the most recent of our forced tulips, beautiful visually and in scent.

There have been large flocks of cedar waxwings in the city for the past month or so. Coming home from the barn today I spotted a couple of mega-flocks, each one numbering many hundred birds. These ones were alighting on the side of the road trying to drink the bits of melt-water from the snowbanks.  Every time a car went by they scattered into the air. We have several high-bush cranberry bushes that often attract the waxwings, but so far this year they haven't appeared in our yard.

In honour of the fierce exit of March, here is one of my lion themed photomontages.  If I had a polar bear image to work from, that would be here instead, but my access to polar bears has been non-existant, so the lion will have to do. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Meanwhile,back on the prairies----

 Oddly, after I went off for my brief west coast visit to the land of spring a few weeks ago, I thought that the prairie version of spring, or at least the end of winter and hope of spring, would be along fairly quickly. Not so. After just enough warmth and sunshine to melt about half the snow, we are now back into a solid block (in more ways than one) of unseasonably cold weather. The aforementioned melted snow has turned to polished ice covering streets and walks, rendering walking very treacherous in some areas. Not that I really want to walk anywhere, the temperatures being in the minus double digits and with a brisk wind putting the windchill back into the minus 20 zone yet again. Just like most months since last October. Sigh. My horse is back to wearing his winter blanket, and it's too cold to walk the dog. On an optimistic note, I did have my winter tires switched out today, which does seem like a step in the right direction.

Despite the unseasonably cold weather (even for here) we are seeing some signs of the advancing year. The light is strong and daylight hours noticeably longer, and we are starting to see some more "summer" type cloud formations.

Indoor blooms are always important for us in spring, since "spring" in March is really just late winter. Jim usually buys bulbs for forcing in the fall, and this is the time of year when we reap the benefit and enjoy the beauty of these plantings. Shot two shows one of the overblown double tulips currently in bloom. 

I was heading to the barn when I saw a large bird silhouette over a nearby field. It was so large that at first glance I thought it was one of the red-tailed hawks back for the season, but once I got a good look I realized it was a raven. He dropped down onto the ground and rooted around in the stubble for a bit, then took off this his prize in his beak. I couldn't tell what it was as I was taking the shot, but on a closer examination in the computer, I see it is a little mouse. Ravens don't generally take live prey, so I'm guessing this poor fellow had already given up the ghost before serving as a raven meal.

Another black creature was a good photo subject as I arrived at the barn. Spooky the barn cat was sitting in the open crevasse in the deep snow south of the barn road. The area he is in was cleared of snow by running water during the brief thaw, and is right down to the grass there. I suspect he was checking the area hoping to find a rodent of some sort. I didn't really expect to see a cat head sticking out of the snow as I headed down the barn road.

Succulents are amazing plants. The ones in today's final shot are planted in an old enamel pan in the front yard. When the snow comes they disappear from sight, and eventually reappear as the snow drifts retreat. I'm always amazed at how green they are right from the get-go. Now that they don't have  protective snow cover and the temperatures are getting very cold at night, they might not be so happy in the next while.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Colour and texture

If you're not interested in colour and/or texture, you might as well wander along now, since that's what's on offer here today. We're still a couple of weeks back in time with these photos from the west coast. Due to public demand (one friend seemed interested :-) I'm obliging with the requested lichen shots, plus a few others from the rich visuals I gleaned on my trip. 

Shot one is a ridiculously over-the-top azalea blooming its heart out in a garden bed near the harbour. This one might need a shot of iron as the leaves seem rather on the yellow side, at least compared to the glossy dark green of my indoor azalea. On the other hand, my indoor one has a grand total of four blossoms at present, so we're really not much of a contender on the flower front. 

I know next to nothing about lichens and their kinship networks, but these look very like the ones we see on similar-looking rocks here in the prairies, as far as colour and shape go. I think these were likely below the water line when the tide was in, so that makes their habitat very different from the prairie version. 

The shot below shows the rich colour and texture of the underwater plant life left momentarily stranded on the stone beach when the tide was low.

I'm always thrilled to find interestingly weathered wood, ideally in tormented shapes such as this prime specimen. This was a big one as well, much taller than me. Luckily we went down onto the beach so I was able to see this angle. From the pedestrian walkway at the top of the cliff, this beauty looked very uninteresting and would have been easy to pass by. 

And yet more lichen. This bright yellow/gold was the predominant colour, set off nicely by the interesting tones in the rocks that it clings to.

And back here in Saskatchewan, we've had a week of springlike weather, with snow melting at a rapid pace, and ice, slush and water in abundance. Next up, mud. Gotta love it. I can see my texture series of photos continuing at home, albeit with quite a bit less colour.

Monday, March 10, 2014

And now for something----

I don't know about the rest of you, but *I'm* glad to have something other than my standard frozen tundra images of the prairie vista as we have endured one of the coldest and harshest winters for a couple of decades. 

My MIA status on this blog last week was due to me being off for a brief visit with family in Victoria BC. I left on one of the foulest, coldest and nastiest weekends of the very long winter--so cold and vicious that the horses weren't even being taken out of the barn due to the windchill--and I flew straight into the sort of spring weather we will see here in another couple or so months, if we are lucky. 

The locals in Victoria felt it was a bit cool and that spring wasn't as advanced as usual, but for me just seeing green grass and leaves on some trees, not to mention actual blossoms and flowers, was just amazing. We saw rain most days, but the only day when it would have been a problem was the day we left, so we weren't slowed down much in our activities.  I think I walked more hours in a few days than I have logged all winter at home.

My sister's place is wonderfully well located in terms of handiness to interesting walking destinations, and going to the harbour to see the seals was near the top of my list. There were five "regulars" hanging around the Oak Bay docks, and they are well used to visitors bringing them fish offerings. The seal in my first photo has figured out how to work the crowd to good effect. The "wave" is a winning tactic that is pretty well always rewarded with a treat.

An interesting sidebar in my personal history is that when I was a quite young child my family used to visit friends in Oak Bay on summer holidays. I think I would have been only five or six at the time, but I remembered a few things about their house, and also clearly recall walking to the harbour to the docks, and feeding the seals. So here I am sixty years later, walking by the same house on the way to the same docks, and feeding the seals, possibly descendants of the ones I remember from so long ago. 

I wanted to see Butchart Gardens, so since the rain wasn't too bad on our first day, we headed off for a tour. Even though this is off season, there was still much to see and enjoy in the way of interesting visuals, including a few of the classic northwest native totem poles that are icons of the area.

Shot three is also from Butchart gardens. Quite a contrast to the snow-covered plains I came from.

Meanwhile, back at the harbour, here is a shot of the retreating fog bank as seen through the branches of one of the massive trees along the harbour walk. When the tide was low or out, the lichens on the rocks were a rich source of photos for me with a wealth of colour and texture that I hope to use as inspiration for encaustic art.

We never did see any evidence of mountains due to the low cloud cover while we were there, but I believe this is the right direction to look if it is clear. When the tide was out I got right into the midst of these rocks for my colour and texture shots.

Another bonus of Oak Bay is that the northwestern crow is the local equivalent of the pigeon in other areas of most cities. They are everywhere and compared to the ones I am used to in Saskatchewan, they are very "tame" and non-spooky. I got a lot of crow shots which I will put to good use in future artwork. That's my daughter standing on the rocks--I was lucky that she was willing and able to join me on my west coast trip. I pretty much need a keeper in order to get from point A to B, and she did a good job.

All in all, we were there for a good time, not for a long time, but when it's such a total break from the usual, it's well worth getting away from winter for a bit. And further good news is that the weather here has finally broken, with temperatures edging up above freezing and lots of sun. The snow is starting to melt!!

Monday, March 3, 2014

But no

No post this week. Will be back on track next Monday.