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Newsletter April 2010

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Newsletter April 2010


Greetings from the mountains of western Maine!

Spring is coming on like a freight train this year, ahead of its usual schedule. In the past week, the new blooms in the woods include the shadbush, trillium, trout lily, and Dutchman’s breeches, and in the yard we have narcissus, bleeding heart, forget-me-nots, purple azalea (the first of all the azaleas), and plum tree. The summer residents have been returning, one after another. In the mornings the woods are so full of bird songs that the very air seems charged with life.

One annual spring treat here is having fiddleheads for supper. We have a patch of ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, growing by the stone wall near the shop. This is the classic “fiddlehead” fern, producing the tightly curled sprouts that rapidly unfurl into great graceful ostrich plumes. The image you see here is a drawing of ostrich fern fiddleheads from my study book.

Did you ever get one of those party favors when you were a kid, the kind that you blow on and it unrolls with a loud BRAAAAPPP sound? The ferns seem to uncoil the same way, from a tight Archimedean spiral, as if spring itself were blowing on its roots. They grow so quickly you can almost see them uncurling as you watch.

The taste of fiddleheads is similar to asparagus. Thorough cooking (ten minutes if you boil them, twenty if you steam them) reduces the bitterness and some of the components of them that are said to not be good for us. If you are going to pick fiddleheads, pick only three per plant and leave the rest, so the plant will continue to thrive.

Spring has its mysteries, too. Last week my husband Steve was cleaning up the chips and sawdust left from a winter of cutting and splitting firewood. When he was getting to the bottom of the pile, I heard him calling, “Betsy, come look! I just broke something!” He had found a huge, fresh-looking, white-shelled egg buried in the sawdust. His rake had clipped it and the shell was cracked, showing the clear white and the yolk inside. It apparently had never been brooded; it looked as fresh as a chicken egg from the grocery store. But it was almost four inches long!

Now this is a real mystery. Whose egg was it? And how did it get buried in our sawdust pile? The two biggest birds we see are the turkeys and the vultures. Both of them have eggs that are speckled with brown, as far as I know. This egg was white. We do have neighbors half a mile up the valley who keep geese. The only thing I can figure is that maybe someone stole that egg from them, carried it down here, and hid it. If you have a better idea, let me know.

We do have red foxes. I saw one just recently, heading from our property back to its den on the other side of the road. And I found a story online, complete with photos, about a fox stealing goose eggs and hiding one for herself after she had fed her family. (You can go see it at So the evidence would possibly suggest that a fox put that egg there. But this valley is certainly full of secret lives and doings that we know nothing about.

Right now I am dividing my time between making art about fiddleheads in my study book and finishing a large oil composition about the white pines. I am painting this on a panel, using painting knives, and trying to apply what I have been learning about light and color. I will show it to you in the next newsletter, when it is finished.

In my original newsletter I have attached a file of a fiddlehead art card for you to print. The original is a miniature oil painting. Art cards (or ACEO’s) are a collectible form of miniature art the same size as a baseball trading card. Print this one on good stiff photo paper, cut it out, and start your own collection, if you wish. I give you permission to print or reproduce this image as you choose. If you would like to receive my emailed newsletter, send me a message at

For more information on “Swift River Treasures,” my art-making process, or recent work, or to check out my blog, see my website at Here you can order prints of my work, and have them matted and framed if you choose, courtesy of Fine Art America’s great print-on-demand service. I also offer greeting cards, either single or in packages.

Always be looking for the unexpected in nature—you can have no formulas for anything; search constantly…. I don’t know of a better definition of an artist than one who is eternally curious. (Charles Hawthorne, from the introduction to Hawthorne on Painting)

Thanks for joining me in the journey. I hope that you enjoy looking at the art as much as I have enjoyed making it! I would love to hear from you, too, so please do reply with comments.