Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Old Stump, Elk Ridge - Colored Pencil Drawing

"The Old Stump, Elk Ridge" Colored Pencil

The morning after a spring storm, Elk Ridge is buried under a blanket of fresh snow. Irregular shapes undulate across the drift's smooth surface as blue shadows exaggerate the billowy folds in the landscape's white tapestry.

Scattered across the high ground, a few resilient evergreens call this hostile place home. The subalpine zone is a harsh environment where few organisms are adapted to survive.

A single cloud, floating just above the horizon, is a last remnant of the passing storm. The sun's warm rays stream through the brilliant, blue sky inspiring hope that better days lay ahead.

Twisted by ferocious winds, the old stump is a weather-beaten warrior that fought until the bitter end. The bare tree trunk symbolizing the strength and perseverance required to survive at such a high altitude.

A fantastic Englemann Spruce forms a dark halo around the poor tree snag. In the background, smaller spruce are a new generation eager to fill their role in this extraordinary ecosystem.

As these long-lived conifers reach maturity, their individual traits imbue each of them with a unique personality. Their will to survive and perpetuate the species seems almost superhuman.

Do trees have a conscience, a spirit or soul? I don't know but if we take the time to listen, I believe the forest speaks to us in ways that we can comprehend.

Their verbal testimony, though, would be of priceless value to anyone investigating nature's great, unsolved mysteries. If only trees could talk.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Mule Deer Buck - The Crown Prince

Mule Deer Buck

While hiking up Elk Ridge on a blue, summer evening, the mountainside is drenched and surprisingly cold. Colorful wildflowers hug close to the muddy trail as the crackle of rolling thunder echoes from down in the meadow below.

Around the bend, occupying a nook in the forest, a young mule deer buck grazes on shoots of lush grass. His orange coat is glistening wet from the downpour of steady rain that seems to develop every afternoon.

If the bull elk is the undisputed monarch of the Rocky Mountains then the mule deer buck is the crown prince. This time of year, these regal animals are bestowed with an extraordinary rack of velvet antlers.

He moves gracefully across the rugged terrain that characterizes the Front Range foothills. The elegant creature seems undisturbed by my presence as he’s become accustomed to sharing his territory with our strange kind.

The new weather pattern tells us that the seasons are changing so this lone deer is feeding with a purpose. He’s going to need all the strength he can muster because the annual rut is just around the corner and soon after that - another harsh winter.

A blue, summer evening

Thunder echoes across the meadow

Grazing on lush grass

The crown prince

Extraordinary antlers

They move gracefully

Undisturbed by my presence

Seasons are changing

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Pacific Ocean - A Peaceful Sea

Palm trees on the Pacific

Our blue planet is dominated by the five great seas from which the Pacific is the biggest, deepest and most inhabited. The vast ocean fills the gap between the Americas on the east and Asia and Australia on the west.

The massive body of salt water is an astonishing 64 million square miles and it's spread across one-third of the earth's surface. In the northwest section there's an incredible chasm known as the Mariana Trench. At 35,797 feet down, it's the deepest point in the world.

The ocean's current name was given by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan during the Spanish circumnavigation of the globe in 1521. He called it Mar Pacifico or the Peaceful Sea because after sailing around the treacherous Cape Horn, the expedition entered into much calmer waters.

The place is hardly peaceful, though. Enclosing the ocean, the volatile land that forms the Pacific Rim is known as the Ring of Fire because of all the volcanos and earthquakes. Tsunamis born from underwater earthquakes have taken a devastating toll on countless inhabited islands.

I've only experienced the Pacific while in southern California where a blue-green surf smashes into the rocks and cliffs, sculpting a coastline of unsurpassed beauty. The exotic foliage of palm trees and colorful wildflowers enlivens the laid back atmosphere.

Since the very beginning, powerful waves have pounded the land in a therapeutic rhythm while shaping the malleable earth. Today, eternal waters continue to churn with relentless force in a graceful sequence sure to last until the end of time.

The biggest, deepest and most inhabited

Mar Pacifico

The peaceful sea

Hardly peaceful

Southern California coastline

Unsurpassed beauty

Exotic palm trees

Colorful flowers

Powerful waves

The waters continue to churn

Until the end of time

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Broad-tailed Hummingbird - An Energetic Visitor

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Rocky Mountain summers are distinguished by warmer temps, colorful wildflowers and the metallic trill of thin air whistling through the wings of tiny migrants. Zooming through our high meadows, the broad-tailed hummingbird is an energetic visitor.

Bursting onto the scene around May, they arrive from their sun-drenched homeland situated south of the border. These hearty birds have developed a unique characteristic that allows them to survive the harsh conditions present at such a high altitude.

Broad-tailed hummingbirds save enough energy to survive the bitterly cold nights by lowering their internal thermostat, becoming hypothermic. This reduced physiological state is an evolutionary adaptation that is referred to as torpor.

Torpor is a type of deep sleep where a bird's heart rate drops, breathing slows and its metabolic rate lowers by as much as 95%. By doing so, a torpid hummingbird can save up to 60% of its available energy as opposed to when it's awake.

Their diminutive nature is complimented by an elegant palette of iridescent colors that sparkle in bright sunlight. Adult males are described by a dazzling ruby-red throat, green crown and back and white underparts with green flanks.

The females are single parents burdened with the domestic tasks of nest building, incubating the eggs and feeding the brood. The promiscuous males flit about on a quest for the foothill's sweetest nectar while defending their territory with considerable zeal.

These little dynamos perform an impressive array of arial maneuvers when hunting for spiders, small insects and sugar water feeders. Propelled by powerful muscles and a limber shoulder joint, they can flap their wings at an astonishing 50 beats per minute.

By late August these forest jewels begin making their way back to the Mexican highlands where they will spend the winter. Their sudden disappearance is a sure sign of changing seasons and the start of a new school year.

An energetic visitor

Bursting onto the scene

Hearty birds

A diminutive nature

Colors that sparkle

A little dynamo

A forest jewel