We’ll follow lessons inspired by the English Victorian, John Ruskin (1819-1900) and his book Elements of Drawing. He aspired to train anyone to draw, to be an artist, so that they ‘might see greater beauties than they had hitherto seen in nature and in art, and thereby gain more pleasure in life’.
Tucked in a sliver of land in a county park, Earth Sangha’s Native Plant Nursery stands out as a leader in the conservation of native plants. I helped staff and volunteers pull invasive stiltgrass and porcelain berry at Rutherford Park. Then I visited the nursery to talk with conservation manager Matt Bright about other recent projects. Here’s what I learned, as reported in the September issue of Plantings.
In master naturalist training we identified trees by looking at their shape, bark, leaves and seeds. While hiking near Barcroft’s bog, we found oaks and poplars growing tall above a thriving poison sumac. Be aware, and if you’re in doubt about a plant, don’t touch or taste! Poet Jacqueline Jules stresses the importance of learning our plant IDs — and watching out for poison ivy!
by Jacqueline Jules
I beg you. Reconsider
and identify the difference.
Three together. Mitten shaped.
Small stem on the center leaf.
Pointed tips. Shiny. White berries.
Not the same as Virginia Creeper
and its cluster of five.
Do a little research. You’ll find
most are harmless. Don’t despise
every green vine gracing the path
because one or two
produce a nasty itch.
“Identfying Ivy” copyright by Jacqueline Jules — printed with permission of the poet
Only a few weeks ago, I met a group of Arlington Regional Master Naturalists to talk about journals inspired by nature. To prepare I headed to Barcroft Park, the site of our March field trip. The trail, covered with snow, wound past a seep bordered by tall trees. Quiet prevailed.
Our leader Jan had pointed me to the work of John Muir Laws, biologist, artist and journal mentor. Laws advises beginners to include numbers, words and pictures in journal entries. Near the path, I found a branch with dry leaves. It was just the right place and just enough of a specimen to start my notes. I recorded time and temperature. I described features like color, shape and location, and I finished a quick sketch.
Jan stressed that journals can be exclusively written work, too. That brought to mind autumn meetings with a group of poets and visual artists at Fort C.F. Smith Park. The year? Possibly 2004. My friend John Clarke shared a poem at each session. I thought of John, as I heard rumbles of automobiles and leaf blowers and beyond that, the calls of crows and the trills of other birds, perhaps sparrows, in the trees above. Further up the path, I reached the playground of a school deserted through the winter — a pandemic silence, broken only by brief tapping by a woodpecker.
Taking in the sunshine, I decided that the best journal was one that you enjoy working on!
If you were an animal in the rain forest, would you be a butterfly? A toucan? An iguana? A jaguar?
In art club after school, Carlin Springs students painted a wild setting for the spring play. They discovered inspiring scenes of forest canopies in books from the Arlington County Library, including Little Kids First Big Book of the Rain Forest by Moira Rose Donohue, The Amazon by Tom Jackson and What’s Up in the Amazon Rain Forest by Ginjer L. Clarke.
Students wrote the script and acted as animals alarmed by changes in their habitat. Katie McCreary and Ashley Hammond of the Educational Theatre Company led the writers and directed the performance — all in the spirit of learning through the arts!
With sleet and snow blowing across Arlington streets, the birds have disappeared from sight. Looking for inspiration, kids in art club discovered the Audubon Society’s North American field guide. Their imaginations took off with drawings of colorful owls, finches, hummingbirds, tanagers and flamingos.
In a box with books from my childhood, I found a paperback published in 1948 by the Iowa State College Extension Service. It includes information on 24 birds with drawings and instructions for coloring. Never miss an opportunity to use your color pencils!
On the crow, authors Thomas Scott and George Hendrickson wrote, “The ability of this crafty creature to perform such misdeeds as eating bird eggs, pulling corn and the like is due to its high degree of social cooperation. Although these birds are with us all year they are seen at their best in the large flocks which form in groves during the winter.” (page 20)
I hope your neighborhood is full of feathered neighbors. It’s not too late to put out birdseed. This handbook says cardinals prefer to feed off the ground and like seed plus a little fruit and insects.