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Newsletter April 2011

Blogs: #8 of 72

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Newsletter April 2011


Greetings from the mountains of western Maine!

Last year spring came on like a freight train. This year it’s in slow motion, one step forward and one step back into winter, three steps forward and two steps back. The daytime temperatures have been running ten degrees or more below average, and we have had twice as much rain as we usually get in the spring. All of my spring markers are two to three weeks later (for example, when the bloodroot started blooming). I do have a couple of stories for you, anyway.

Saturday night, April 9th, I went out onto the porch after supper to get a book. I heard a strange noise in the dark, a rhythmic sort of scraping, chirping sound, at about five second intervals. Not quite like a cricket, not quite like the call of a nighthawk. I was so puzzled over it that I went back out a few moments later. This time I heard a clear jubilant twittering in the night sky over my head. There was only a thin crescent of a new moon; it was too dark to see anything. But the twittering went on and on, rising and falling. I went back in the house even more puzzled, and grabbed a couple of the bird books.

I looked at the nighthawk entries---nothing. They make a strange booming sound with their wings during courtship flights, which I have heard once, but there was no mention in the book of chirping or twittering. And then I remembered the woodcock that I had seen just last week, rising up from almost under my feet when I was out walking. Sure enough, what I heard was perfectly described in the books: the courtship flight of the male woodcock. Wow!

I went back out one more time, but this time the sky and woods were silent. Apparently a woodcock pair has decided to nest here, for the first time as far as I know. This is a perfect habitat for them: brushy meadow, moist woods. They apparently have found it to their liking.

Here is a study of a woodcock that I did in colored pencil a few years ago, from a bird that a friend of mine shot when he was out hunting with his dogs. A woodcock is a very strange little bird, but exquisitely marked. I am not in the habit of finding dead birds to draw, but if the opportunity presents itself, I will do it.

Actually I spent a lot of the month studying tree twigs and buds, and drawing them, since the spring flowers were nowhere to be seen. I learned a lot about recognizing trees as they appear in the winter.

I learned to recognize the difference between the gray birches and the white birches. I did not know that we even had gray birches on our property. But I was reading about birches in my tree book, and realized that a lot of the trees that I thought were white paper birches here are actually gray birches. Then I walked the woods, looking more carefully, and saying to myself, “white…gray…white…gray” as I spotted them.

They both have chalk-white bark, but the white birch bark peels in wide strips, revealing the orange inner bark, and the gray birch has close-fitting bark that does not peel except in tiny narrow strips. The black scars on the trunk where the branches come out are eye-shaped on the white birches and more sharply triangular on the gray birches. As they grow older, the gray birches take on a more decidedly gray color at the base of the tree. The twigs are very similar.

Thankfully, as I am finishing this newsletter (even my April newsletter was late this spring!) the leaves are beginning to emerge and the whole landscape has that soft green film over it that it gets just this week of the year. I appreciate it all the more for its having been so long in coming. And the new developments in websites and online stores? Stay tuned, because they are still in the works….

For more information on “Swift River Treasures,” my artmaking 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. They also offer greeting cards, either single or in packages.

If you want to look at the Moments of Transcendence book, here is the new link to it on the booksite (a different link than last month): .

O year, grow slowly. Exquisite, holy,
The days go on
With almonds showing the pink stars blowing
And birds in the dawn.
Grow slowly, year, like a child that is dear,
Or a lamb that is mild,
By little steps, and by little skips,
Like a lamb or a child.
(by Katharine Tynan)

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.