Category Archives: noticing

"Sylvia's Prairie", watercolour

Sylvia’ s Prairie

Years ago I made a choice to let go of my perennial garden so that I could spend more time in Pheasant Creek Coulee with the wildflowers that were already there. Flowers requiring no care at all. I felt some sadness about this choice, but have been thrilled about the time it has freed up for me. I especially love to spend very early mornings painting in the coulee once the ticks have disappeared.

This Covid summer has been no exception. In fact, life without playshops and art sales has offered me not only MORE time in the coulee, but also daily visits! What I have most noticed is how the more I get to know, the more I realize I have not noticed before. How could I have missed that, I think? I note that I miss so many things. “I see, but don’t see”. There is always a new surprise or mystery when I visit the coulee. We see and experience the natural world with strong filters. Happily, daily visits disturb some of my filters.

Showy Locoweed (the flowers not out yet, but an impressive plant, so furry and luxurious!)

Showy Locoweed in bloom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A great joy has been wondering about the mystery of an emerging plant – before it blooms. Who are you? What colour will you be? In the case of Showy Locoweed, it was several weeks between emerging leaves and eventual blossoms. Well worth the wait!

Now, I am appreciating the varieties of seedheads, and finding great beauty in this stage of plant life. How can the delicate pink and white bell shaped flower of Spreading Dogbane become a brilliant red pod sometimes measuring four inches long?

Spreading Dogbane-the pod

Spreading Dogbane- flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These last few weeks, I have perched on my stool, looking down. I am intrigued by the shapes and forms and postures of plants. I have always loved the distinctive shape of Indian Breadroot* or the particular curve of milk vetch leaves on the stem. Or the deep green of Indian Breadroot contrasted with the silvery green of wolf willow and sage.

“Underfoot”, Watercolour, 14.5 ” x 14.5″

My first painting, entitled “Underfoot” highlights the leaves of Indian Breadroot when the blossoms are dying. In the background are the fading leaves of the prairie crocus. At this time ( early July) Ascending Purple Milk Vetch (blue) is in full bloom, as are Gaillardia (yellow) and Hedysarum (pink). Broom is just coming into bloom and it’s bright fake grass green colour contrasts with the other shades of green.

Detail of “Sylvia’s Prairie”

“Sylvia’s Prairie” was painted over several visits the last ten days of July. Silver Leaf Psoralea ( a cousin of Indian Breadroot) is highlighted in this painting and I love how its silver leaves contrast with the green of Western Wild Bergamot (shown here without blossom). Other blooming plants include Purple Prairie Clover, Harebell, Pink Prairie Onion, and Low Goldenrod. Flax seeds and the empty rust coloured seed heads of groundsel as well as wild licorice leaves are here also.

The title of this piece came as a wonderful surprise. Once I was finished and was looking at this painting from a distance, I thought, “These are Sylvia’s (my late mum) colours.” In fact, I could imagine her wearing a shirt just like this. I was struck by how our parents are always with us, even when we have no idea they are present. Years ago, when my mum visited the prairies, she loved to smell the sage. She always picked some to freeze in a baggie, and pull out from time to time, just to breathe that distinctive prairie smell deeply. So, it fits that two types of sage are in this painting as well – women’s sage and pasture sage.

In some ways, I am pleased with “Sylvia’s Prairie”. Yet, at the same time, some dissatisfaction  pushes me to explore further. I like the energy and movement in an earlier attempt to get to know Silver Leaf Psoralea (below). I begin August wanting to spend more time getting to know Silver Leaf Psoralea better by sitting with her, drawing and painting her, trying to express other dimensions of her incredible beauty and wildness.

* Indian Breadroot is also known as Prairie Turnip.


Pheasant Creek – Late June Flowers

In my humble opinion, June is the best month for wildflowers. There are so many new flowers coming to blossom, it is hard to keep up. Interesting seed heads to observe from earlier plants. The leaves of plants that are coming soon have emerged. It is also a beautiful month, unlike any other for startling prairie skies. Of course, the plants bloom long after my  contrived two week time periods. And yet, keeping note of the plants as they bloom has me noticing more. The more I learn, the more I notice.  The more I learn, the more questions I have. What a privilege it is to walk the same hills daily, to notice the ever changing plants and shrubs as well as the birds, animals and insects.

A beautiful year for wild roses

Gaillardia (or blanket flower)

Goatsbeard started to bloom at the beginning of June. the seedheads, like very large dandelion seed heads just came out at the end of June.

Ascending Purple Milk Vetch

Spreading Dogbane

Showy Locoweed. I have been admiring the furry leaves for many weeks. Finally, at the end of June, the first blossoms show up.

False Dandelion

Close up of Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus catching the last sun of the day

Harebell (and a small bit of bedstraw)

Western Wallflower (a member of the mustard family)

Caraway

Smooth Fleabane

Low Milkweed

Hedysarum (began blooming in early June)

Yarrow

Prairie Lily

Buckbrush

the plums of ground plum or are they?

Alfalfa…this is in the meadow as I approach the hills. Many people haven’t seen it before and comment on her beauty- in all shades of purple and cream

Fritilitary enjoying alfalfa’s sweetness

Hawksbeard (not sure which one) with chamomile in background

White Water-Crowfoot

Nuttall’s Atriplex (Atriplex gardneri) Antelope, mule deer, rabbits, and mourning doves graze on it. Its leaves are an important food source during the winter because of their persistency. It is especially important for sheep because it contributes to the minimum nutritional requirement for maintenance of gestating female sheep

Just at the end of June, the first prairie coneflower blossoms

Low Goldenrod

Which vetch this is I am not sure

 

Sources: Saskatchewan Wildflowers Website by Glenn Lee and Facebook Page of Saskatchewan Native Plants- Saskatchewan Native Plant Society 

Catkins! How do I Love You?

Let me count the ways!

If there has been a personal theme this Covid spring, I would call it “seeing but not seeing”. This sounds mysterious, but I often see things, and yet don’t really take them in. Catkins are a great example. Most years, I love to find the first catkins, bring some in to enjoy, marvel at their softness. Sometime later, I may notice how the willow trees look lacy at a distance, and  how pretty that looks. But really,  before this I have considered the appearance of the pussy willows to be the main event.

With more time to explore this spring, I have visited the pussywillows and catkins just about every day, noticing not only their great variety, but how also lovely (and sometimes unlovely) they are at each stage of development and in every weather. I have photographed them with my phone, and have observed that the pussywillows most amazing to me I can’t photograph at all – these are the tiniest ones. On a rainy morning, they remind me of twinkle lights, small jewels bedecking the curves of the willows, hundreds of them. There are no pictures of them here!

This may be one of those posts I put together mostly for myself. Now that I have taken time with the pussywillows and catkins, I don’t think I will pass them by again.  Even so, behold the variety of expressions of the catkin!!

Just before they fall off, and the leaves begin to come

Female catkin, all others showing these photos are male

Pussy willows are dioecious, meaning there are both male plants and female plants. The pussy willows  act as insulators, for the flowers (catkins) that will eventually bloom. I am glad to know this because I saw my first pussy willows in January, during a thaw.

Usually the male catkins grow first and release their pollen. Then the female catkins grow and open shortly afterwards to receive pollen. By releasing and preparing to receive pollen at different times the tree has less chance of receiving its own pollen and a greater chance of receiving pollen from other trees. The pollen from other trees can produce stronger offspring. Willows do not spread their pollen via the wind. Instead, they rely on insects for pollination, despite having less than gaudy flowers. What they lack in visual cues, they clearly make up for in olfactory ones, producing large amounts of strongly scented nectar. Bees and flies are readily drawn to pussy willows in full bloom. One of the advantages of flowering early in spring is that there is very little competition for pollinators. The willows gain the full attention of the many bees and flies that also awaken early in the spring and are desperate for food.

Source: Johnny Caryopsis, The Biology of Pussy Willows, Nature North