Archive for the flora and fauna Category
we were visited this morning by a very unusual guest ~ we found this huge fly buzzing around our front yard and hanging out on the side of our RV. neither of us had ever seen a fly this large! despite it’s size something told me not to be frightened of it so we included my hand in the second photo for a sense of scale – when it flew away however, it sounded like a small Harley and i was duly startled!
my dad thought it might be a horse fly, and, upon further research we think he might be right… glad it didn’t bite us!
For in the immediate world, everything is to be discerned… without either dissection into science, or digestion into art, but with the whole of consciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands: so that the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart of itself as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all of consciousness is shifted… to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is.
You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.
One awesome benefit of being awarded artist residencies in national parks is discovering and falling in love with new places! This recently happened to us at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in Montana/Wyoming. We stayed at historic Ewing-Snell Ranch about twenty miles north of the Park Visitor Center in Lovell, WY. There are numerous visually and historically interesting structures at Bighorn, with Ewing-Snell being the one continually inhabited until most recently. Many of the ranch buildings have been lovingly restored over the last 30 years. Until this past autumn Ewing-Snell was the only one still used as a residence by the park service and it was provided to us as part of the artist residency. Sadly, the ranch burned to the ground on December 9, 2015. We feel very fortunate to have stayed at this wonderfully restored historic building, and we are extremely sad that it is gone.
With my parents, who were visiting from Lincoln, Nebraska, we had the amazing experience of watching the supermoon eclipse from the porch of Ewing-Snell Ranch. Since no street lights were visible in any direction we enjoyed a clear and open view of the moon as it put on an amazing show, rising heavenward over the vast expanse of park land. It is truly a memory we will cherish for the rest of our lives. In light of the burning to the ground of the ranch merely weeks later, we had only an inkling of how truly lucky we were to be there at that moment in time.
Over the course of our two week stay at Bighorn I worked on a woodblock print representing one perspective of the park. It was not an easy place to narrow down to merely one image simple enough for a woodblock print… So many interesting cabins, canyons, horses, bighorn sheep, mountains and vast panoramic vistas! We visited all of the historic ranches, and saw many of the wild horses that live in the canyon and the Pryor Mountains that flank the western edge of the park… we wandered up into the Bighorn Mountains on the eastern edge of the park where we witnessed the ranchers herding their livestock down the mountain from summer grazing on Forest Service lands. We also had the humbling experience of spending several hours transfixed by the amazingly tangible energy at an ancient power spot called Medicine Wheel. Bighorn Canyon and its surrounding area is a very magical and humbling place. Stay tuned for a future posting about this amazing place.
Lockhart Ranch and its owner, Caroline Lockhart, held my attention early in our visit. Lockhart was probably the talk of the town (small as it was) when she bought land and began ranching in the Dryhead region (now part of Bighorn Canyon NRA). One of the quotes from this city slicker and author/newspaper owner about living there was “My job is writing books and the last thing I had in mind when I came to the Dryhead was filing on land or engaging in the cattle business, and certainly not locating in a country where a fresh track in the main-travelled road is an event.” Though likely scandalous to some she never married, and she surely enjoyed being the person in charge – of her ranch and of her own destiny.
Lockhart apparently never planned to own a ranch but bought L/♥ (her brand) in 1926 when the owner defaulted on a loan she had made to him. The ranch was then just 160 acres but she expanded it to over 6,000 by 1952 when she finally decided to make Cody, Wyoming her permanent home. She raised cattle, kept a lover at times, wrote books and made an excellent living on the ranch. Truly an inspiration for the liberated woman!
As part of my Find Your Park Through Art weekend at Bighorn Canyon a handful of artists joined together to offer workshops and to hike, paint, photograph and draw together in some of the interesting sites in the park. I met some lifelong friends while working together to create a fun and informative weekend for participants. Painter Stephanie Rose led a workshop at Ewing-Snell on plein air painting, and Photographer Marilyn Feather led a sunrise trip to photograph the canyon with other participants. Both were full of energy, freely dispensing tips and sharing knowledge of their subjects, and were truly a pleasure to work with. Marilyn even shared Ewing-Snell with us for about four nights, dodging the local black bear and enjoying the comforts of a wonderfully remote home base.
I led a group into Hillsboro Ranch to draw, photograph and paint on the final morning of the Find Your Park Through Art weekend. Although my Bighorn woodblock print depicts a building at Lockhart Ranch, Hillsboro wound up being a favorite place, mainly for the variety of interesting structures, but also because of the stories of mountain lions seen in the canyon. When our group arrived at the ranch we soon discovered a domestic cat that had somehow made its way to this remote spot and was very happy for our attention. When we left Hillsboro that day one of the group members, realizing that the kitty could easily end up as a cougar snack, decided to adopt her and a few of us happily took turns carrying her out to the trailhead. We were all relieved to get her away from the wild creatures! Blackpaw now leads a happy life with as much food and love as any cat could hope for!
After our day at Hillsboro we returned to Ewing-Snell where I did a demonstration of woodblock printing for an inquisitive group. As I said, we fell in love with Bighorn Canyon and the surrounding mountains, and we hope to return and explore for a longer time in the future. I only regret that we will not be able to stay at Ewing-Snell Ranch again. This blog post is dedicated to the park staff who spent many hours lovingly restoring all of the buildings at Bighorn. We all appreciate your efforts and expertise, and we too were very sad to learn of the demise of this special historic gem.
Animal and insect migrations can be truly fascinating. I have enjoyed the snow goose migration in northern New York for a number of years and have never tired of them ushering in winter as they pause on their way south along Lake Champlain. I’ve also recently experienced the wonderful “over-wintering” phase of the Monarch butterfly migration in southern California. Many of us have seen photos of Monarchs clustered in the thousands on their favored eucalyptus trees. Witnessing it in person is, however, truly magical.
“Not for a moment, beautiful aged Walt Whitman, have I failed to see your beard full of butterflies.” – Federico Garcia Lorca
According to monarchwatch.org early settlers who came to North America from Europe, particularly those from Holland and England, were impressed by the sight of the brilliant orange butterfly so they named it “Monarch” after King William, Prince of Orange, stadtholder of Holland, later named King of England.
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Monarch butterflies born in the spring and summer live a brief 4-10 weeks. Those that migrate south for the winter, however, live as long as 8 months, spending a large portion of their lives in semi-hibernation. That’s what the butterflies in California’s Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove are doing right now – spending most of their days clustered in trees seeming to just be resting. When the sun warms them they tend to become more active and flutter about looking lovely. They are just now beginning their mating season and pairs can often be seen during warmer days locked in an embrace.
The Monarch travels as much as 1500 miles, more than any other butterfly, to their winter grounds. Those we see in the east in summer usually migrate to Mexico. The butterflies here in Pismo may have come from as far away as the Rocky Mountains or even western Canada. Groves in Mexico usually hold much higher numbers of butterflies than those in the US.
The current estimated butterfly population in the Pismo grove is hovering between 20,000-30,000, a very significant drop from an estimated high of 230,000 twenty years ago. The Monarch population is obviously dwindling and there are groups such as the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity trying to get this butterfly placed on the endangered species list to help protect it. In the meantime, since milkweed is the only plant on which Monarchs will lay their eggs, one small way that we as individuals can help is to plant milkweed in our yards (and don’t mow it down).
Five counties along the coast of California have sites where Monarchs over-winter, with Pismo generally considered the best spot to see them up close in large numbers. The cypress and eucalyptus trees they cluster in to enjoy protection from wind and rain were planted here about 100 years ago. People began to really notice the butterflies in Pismo around 1940 and it was designated a state park in the 1960s.
A group of very dedicated volunteers give lectures during peak season; answering questions, setting up viewing scopes and selling goods to support the grove – also warning visitors when a mating pair of butterflies is underfoot! (as was the case with the mating pair featured in the attached video, which was saved by a sharp-eyed docent named Ralph just before we began to film it!) Fellow visitors often stand for long periods just marveling at the butterflies clustered on the tree branches or while they are engaging in their mating ritual – and mating, as you will observe in the video, is quite a ritual! A male will glom onto a female, bring her to the ground and initiate a ‘negotiation’ period. She may then accept or reject him. If accepted he carries her into the trees for a mating session that can, according to one docent, last as long as 16 hours.
After enjoying seeing Monarchs in northern New York during summer to early autumn for a number of years, it’s really a thrill to finally see this huge gathering of the beautiful little creatures in the warm California winter air. The Monarchs present in California groves this season are separated from last winter’s butterflies by a staggering four to five generations! Those who left last year mated, headed north and east, and laid their eggs on milkweed. That generation then headed further north, mated, laid their eggs on milkweed and so on – with each cycle living only four to ten weeks – until finally the autumn generation came along and began to head south. They leave their northern homes in late August to early September, arriving in Pismo in October. They will stay in this grove or move to another nearby until warmer weather, and perhaps other phenomena, signal the beginning of their breeding season. They then begin moving north and inland, and the circle begins anew.
Unlike the snow geese this group of creatures have never actually seen their winter homes! We can imagine what guides them – surely instinct and temperature. But might smells also provide clues? – such as the ocean air, or the eucalyptus trees’ distinct fragrance? Perhaps the orientation of the sun in the atmosphere? Traveling only in daylight, they spiral up into the clouds until they hit the south flowing jet streams. They hitchhike on those winds to warmer weather so the species will survive the winter and continue this multi-generational cycle. Truly amazing ~
Our understanding of monarchs and their habits has increased significantly as a result of visiting them in their winter home. For more about the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove check out their website www.monarchbutterfly.org
Update! The Washington Post has an article on the front page about disappearing Monarchs and a new effort to try to save them: The Monarch Massacre…
Check out the video from Yosemite of Monarchs and other creatures feeding on milkweed – amazing footage including rare, slow-motion video of monarchs and other insects doing spectacular things! Yosemite Nature Notes’ Monarchs and Milkweed Produced by the National Park Service and Yosemite Conservancy