Saturday, March 23, 2019

Hooded Merganser - Positively Flamboyant

Hooded Merganser

The hooded merganser is a secretive creature that prefers to live in a secluded woodland somewhere near a small pond or stream. A mated pair nests in a cavity of either a live or dead tree where the female lays a clutch of seven to fifteen eggs.

Remarkably, the fuzzy hatchlings leave the nest within 24 hours after they hatch. Upon reaching open water, the tiny youngsters begin diving and foraging immediately but remain close to mom for warmth and protection.

The hooded merganser is a diving predator and the only duck that specializes in capturing fish. They’re able to track down food by sight because their eyes are specially adapted for unsurpassed underwater vision.

These speedy, little ducks are found almost exclusively in North America. They must like it here because even during the spring and fall their migration routes are usually just a short distance.

Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic is their striking appearance as both male and female exude elegance in their own way. The gals take on a dusky look with a dark head, bill and chest but they display a fancy orange hairdo that can be raised and lowered at will.

The guys are quite spectacular with bright yellow eyes, chestnut flanks and a white chest that’s crossed by two black bars. Their crest is white with a black border and when fanned out in excitement, the presentation is positively flamboyant.

A secretive creature

Lives in a secluded woodland

A diving predator

Found almost exclusively in North America

Speedy, little ducks

A striking appearance

Quite spectacular

They like it here

Crest is fanned out in excitement

Positively flamboyant

The females exude elegance

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Winter Cyclone - A Blizzard's Aftermath

A winter cyclone

Over the past month, the Front Range foothills have been battered by a series of severe storms. The latest of which has been appropriately deemed an historic weather event.

The winter cyclone came spinning into our state from the southwest, dumping buckets of heavy, wet snow. A vicious wind came blasting down through the valley at 70 miles an hour leaving 10 foot drifts in its wake.

The only saving grace during this unique system was the warm temps that pumped much needed precipitation into the parched landscape. After the blizzard subsided and daylight broke, Bergen Peak was a black mountain frosted with white dust.

The big mountain loomed solemnly over a barren meadow of smooth, polished snow. The fresh pack was about knee-deep and required a great amount of physical exertion in order to plow through.

The exposed ponderosa pine were blown clean of any pale lace but in the more protected pockets, the trees were plastered with snow. The silence was eerie as no one else was crazy enough to venture into the frozen woodland.

While it’s much more enjoyable to tramp through the mountains on a warm, summer day there’s something invigorating about experiencing the wilderness after such a fierce snowstorm.

The foothills have been battered by storms

A barren meadow of snow

The cyclone was an historic event

A black peak frosted with snow

Ponderosa pine

The big mountain looms solemnly

The silence was eerie

Drifts were left in the wake

Trees were plastered with snow

Much needed precipitation

After the blizzard subsided

The fresh pack was knee-deep

A fierce snowstorm

A frozen woodland

An invigorating experience

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Fillius Loop Trail - A Fortress of Solitude

Fillius Loop Trail

March has arrived like a lion and exerted it’s ferocious nature by unleashing a storm distinguished by heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures. The foothills resemble an arctic landscape reminiscent of the last ice age.

The lower Fillius Loop Trail is in a secluded setting located near the edge of town. The park seems to be not well known so whenever I’m there, I usually don’t see another living soul.

The old-growth, ponderosa pine forest is a steadfast fortress of solitude. The uncultivated woodland is a barrier between an urban environment and the vast Rocky Mountain wilderness beyond.

Last week, the morning after the storm, the trees were glazed with scumbled swatches of fresh snow. Their cobalt shadows crept quietly across the smooth drifts.

Bright sunlight beamed through the clear, thin air while thawing the bone-chilling cold. The distant mountains were dusted white and set against that pale landscape, the sky was the deepest blue imaginable.

Trudging through the deep snowpack was especially difficult as the uneven terrain was broken by rocks, mud and ice. Deep inside the dark forest, traversing a steep, slippery hillside required cautious negotiation.

It was a surreal situation in which the fresh powder sparkled like cut diamonds and the thicket was encrusted with a silvery sheen. March is always our snowiest month so I guess I have more of this fairytale-like scenery to look forward to.

March has arrived like a lion

Trees are glazed with fresh snow

A pale landscape

Ponderosa pine

Trudging through deep snowpack

Reminiscent of the last ice age

Sub-zero temperatures

Cobalt shadows

Fresh powder sparkled like diamonds

A fortress of solitude

An uncultivated woodland

March is our snowiest month

Deep inside the dark forest

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Urad Lake - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Urad Lake" Colored Pencil

“Through art we can change the world.” ~ #twitterartexhibit

It’s a warm, summer evening at Urad Lake with skies of steel blue in the low, fading light. Situated at tree-line below the Continental Divide, the high basin is enclosed by a black forest and dense willows.

An aggressive creek and its lively tributaries come roaring down from the high peaks, spilling into the bottom of a narrow valley while forming a fan-shaped reservoir. Filled with this frigid snowmelt, the water is ice cold.

Patches of resilient snow still cling to the red mountainside and the steep, grassy slopes are dotted with tundra wildflowers. Shapes and colors from the surrounding landscape tint the reservoir with shimmering reflections.

The peaceful haven for wildlife is found off the beaten path just past the outskirts of Empire, Colorado. Flush with fresh air and bountiful fish, the tranquil setting is undeniably therapeutic.

Through trial and error, I try to express my admiration for the great outdoors through art with hopes that others will approve of the final product. I want to inspire people to appreciate the same beauty in nature that I do.

Urad Lake is my contribution to the upcoming Twitter Art Exhibit: Scotland. This unique event is an international exhibition of original postcard art supporting Art in Healthcare.       

It is well known that art can have a positive impact on an individual’s health and well being. Art in Healthcare is an Edinburgh based charity whose core aim is to have “a Scotland in which visual art improves health and keeps people well”.

Art in Healthcare works closely with a broad cross section of healthcare providers in hospitals, GP surgeries, community care groups, hospices, healthcare centres and other bodies involved in the provision of healthcare to run a series of carefully tailored art workshops throughout the year.

The programme of art workshops which is led by professional artists and aided by volunteers have grown steadily since 2011 enabling Art in Healthcare to reach a broader cross section of patient groups. In addition the Charity has a large collection of contemporary artwork which is displayed in healthcare premises across Scotland.

Funds raised by TAE19 will enable Art in Healthcare to develop and extend their workshop programme to benefit more people within the healthcare system. All Art In Healthcare’s workshops bring the power of creativity to people in times of need whether in a hospital, care home, community health centre, hospice or any other healthcare setting.

Twitter Art Exhibit: Scotland is the ninth installment of this open international exhibition of handmade postcard art for charity, donated by artists from around the world.

Social media plays a major role in the Twitter Art Exhibit. It is their intention to tweet, share and promote contributing artists to thank them for their participation, and to make this event a success for all involved.

The event will be highly publicized and well attended by art buyers and enthusiasts, members of the press, local artists and the TAE community.

For more information, please check out this link: #twitterartexhibit

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Ponderosa Pine - At Home in the Mountains

Ponderosa Pine

This week's post is written by my uncle, Jerry Covault. Jerry is a retired United States Forest Service Ranger. During his 33 years spent working on National Forests in Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, he has learned about the relationships between mountains, forests, soils, weather, fire, animals and people.

Jerry shares some of his unique experiences in his new book "About Forests and People". He resolves to stimulate interest and curiosity about trees and forests and how people use them both through the ages and at present time. Jerry also discusses the problems our forests and environment have today and he suggests a few things that can help.

The following essay by Jerry Covault is taken from his book "About Forests and People".

Ponderosa pine is handsome and it gets big. To be in a stand (a foresters’ term) of big ponderosa with their orange plates of thick bark shining in the sun is akin to being in a grand cathedral - better. Ponderosa pines have long dark needles wrapped in bundles of twos and threes. Those dark green needles get even darker in winter. They are the source of the name for the Black Hills of South Dakota. It’s a good thing ponderosa is so striking to see because its name sure doesn’t give any hint of what it’s about.

These beauties like to show off so they like to be in the lower mountain elevations where people can see them. That hasn’t been a great strategy for the biggest trees because it made them the first ones cut by early loggers in the West. The stories of driving a team of horses pulling a wagon for miles though valleys forested with big ponderosa are pretty much all we have left of those times, see the book, "Following Old Trails" by Arthur L. Stone, Missoulian Editor, 1913. Those beautiful ponderosa pine stands were the result of management policies by Native Americans over long periods of time. They set fire to the forests - often. That meant the flame lengths were only four, eight, or maybe twelve feet because of the frequent burns there wasn’t much fuel on the ground to carry a hot fire. These “cool” fires would not kill the bigger trees because their thick bark insulates the phloem and cambium, but the "cool" fires would stimulate the growth of grass and shrubs the following year, providing excellent feed for deer, elk, and buffalo the people relied on for food. This forest management policy served the people well for over four hundreds of generations.

These fires would certainly kill any small trees in the way of the flames, but fire in the forest doesn’t burn uniformly. There will be many spots within a fire’s general perimeter that are not burned or burned very lightly. It may be that there was not enough ground fuel to carry the fire, or the humidity came up, or the wind changed, or night came, whatever the reasons, some areas within a fire are left unburned. Small trees survive in these spots. In the next fire cycle, these small trees may have grown their bark thick enough to survive a cool fire and they are on their way to becoming a 250 year old big beautiful orange barked ponderosa - that smells like vanilla, or butterscotch if you smell the bark up close. These trees are somewhat shade tolerant, but not total shade. That characteristic causes the trees to be spaced out so everyone gets some sun and trees of various size and age are growing near one another. These factors make for what is called a “park-like” forest. We can visualize that. So when the early settlers came, there were beautiful park-like ponderosa pine forests, provided by the First People’s management and time - hundreds of years.

The fire management strategy that created the mature ponderosa pine forest in the valleys was really designed to stimulate the grasses and shrubs for the grazing and browsing animals the people needed to survive. If a change in weather caused a fire that had been burning for several weeks to become a threat to their village, the people could simply take the cover off the lodgepoles and move their homes out of the way.

When settlers came to the valleys it was a different story, they built permanent homes, barns, fences, etc.. These structures needed boards, the big pines were cut to make those boards. Fires could not be tolerated because if a fire burned freely it could burn homesteads - and that was before insurance was invented. A new policy would evolve for managing ponderosa pine forests, the policy we are living with today. It doesn’t include allowing trees to become 250 years old, we can make use of their wood long before they reach that mature age. Today there aren’t many of these magnificent old growth ponderosa pine forests, the few exist in specially protected areas such as Wilderness, special study areas on public lands and a few places here and there where a continuum of people who simply appreciate beauty have said, "no we won’t cut these pines, at least not now."

Favorite

What’s your favorite -----,
Grampa?
A fair question.
One way a young boy divines
His own preferences, and the World.
“What’s your favorite tree?”
No one-line answer for that one!
A beautiful question,
Deserving an answer from
Head and heart.

Alpine Larch, an evergreen that speckles the mountains yellow in fall,
Rocky Mountain Juniper, resident of the dry foothills,
Western White Pine, simply regal and beautiful,
Aspen, Kelly green in spring and flaming candles in fall,
Alpine Fir, sharp pointed top, high on the mountain,
Cottonwood, companion to rivers,
Ponderosa Pine, its trunk a puzzle of orange plates,
Red Cedar, mysterious, where gnomes live,
White Bark Pine, artful, high on the mountain,
Mountain Hemlock, always bowing at its top,
Lodgepole Pine, straight as an arrow, except when they’re not,

Good reasons for each:
Beauty, dominance,
Fast growing,
Inspiring, populace, persistent,
Long lived, interesting.

I think it has to be ----,
Ponderosa.
It is at home in the mountains
Where snow comes in November,
Goes in April.

It shares space with grass,
Brush, wild critters
And,
When they let it,
People.

Common looking when young,
At maturity it’s
Beauty comes together,
Color, size, shape, and quiet
welcoming presence.
Ponderosa shows experience
and balance.
It is adapting, persisting,
Sharing.
It knows how to occupy space
In time and on the land.

Allowed to, ponderosa pine will,
With earth, fire, wind, rain
And time,
Form a beautiful community.
People need to think about that.

I guess Ponderosa Pine is my
Favorite.
That’s a good question Sam.

These beauties show off

A Grand Cathedral

A quiet, welcoming presence

A park-like forest

A magnificent forest

A beautiful community

It shares space

Handsome and big

At home in the mountains

Adaptable and persistent

Striking beauty

Ponderosa Pine is my favorite