Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ode to July

"Morning Beatitude"
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view
July...when I was much, much younger "July" meant the middle of summer vacation.  It meant there was a whole month "after this one" before school began again!  It was a month of wandering, like June and August, but there was something else about July; it was lived it, breathed the essence of it, held it close and then it was gone.
June seemed like a dream when it arrived; summer was here!  We languished in the
thought of it, but as it gained momentum and you grasped the opportunity - it was finished.  We had "wised up" by July; it needed to be savored.
When August came, the sense of well being was shaken...summer's end was near.
Now that I am older, I pay more attention to the calendar. Summer is no longer finished in August - there's September to look forward to...its not until the equinox that the end is true.  But this old duffer still remembers saying goodbye to July all those years ago; its not over yet but I'll still wish it back.
I know its cheating, but stepping back and savoring a "time and place" in my paintings or, as in this case, my photographs - can be a nice respite.  I hope you enjoy "July" in my work.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


"Anvil Across the Valley" - oil pastel on mounted canvas
© Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view

Its nearly mid July and I'm baffled where the time has gone; I do find myself in this position often, but its never any less frustrating!  Summer is a busy time - make daylight last this long and you're out there taking advantage of every minute, right?  Well, I guess you have to!

Our outdoor work now consists of bug hats and Deet.  All the rain we accumulated in June (14.95 inches) has bred the worst crop of mosquitoes I have seen in some time. The black flies (biting or Buffalo Gnats to some) are just as bad - they're the ones we really wear bug netting around for...I think Deet is like whipped cream to these little monsters! 

But that June rain has made things pop!  And the prairie pasture is very nice this July...this is another good year for Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepia tuberosa) and Compass Plants (Silphium laciniatum) are prominant in the "green" everywhere!  I haven't been able to do much photography work yet this summer though...between the windy days and "life", the opportunities have been limited.

I did set aside an evening "job" for myself though.  I'd been admiring the many "tops" of thunderheads off in the distance the past few weeks and got the itch to do something that's been in the back burner for some 3 years.  I photographed an amazing anviled thunderhead out acroiss the valley here back in 2011.  Back then I had more than one person ask if it were something I'd ever paint.  I thought not at the time but I'm backsliding now and decided to first do a small study in oil pastel and see if it showed promise.

The image above was just finished last night and I think I'm fairly pleased with the possibilities it shows.  It only shows about 60% as wide of a field of view as the original photo panorama does, and the landscape, color and sky are composed more to suit me, but I think it'll work for a larger painting down the road!  Let's see what I can cook up next  - summer's not going to wait around!

Take care and have a great one!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

From the Tallgrass at the Neal Smith NWR

A familiar theme for a place with a "like-mind" - that's about as accurate of a description as I can give.  

I can't live enough years to outgrow or become bored with the tallgrass prairie, it is a subject I will probe and celebrate till I draw my last breath.  The Neal Smith NWR is dedicated to the tallgrass prairie as well.

Just 22 miles east of Des Moines, near Prairie City, Iowa, you'll find a truly unique refuge.  The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1990, within the National Wildlife Refuge System, to "actively protect, restore, reconstruct and manage the diverse native ecosystems of tallgrass prairie, oak savanna, and sedge meadow. These were the native habitats existing on the Refuge’s 5600 acres prior to Euro-American settlement."

The refuge approached me in 2012 to do an exhibit of artwork and photography depicting the tallgrass, and I accepted.  This solo exhibit, at their J.N. "Ding" Darling Art Gallery, will feature work on the prairie theme and genre.

The exhibit will open on July 1st in the afternoon, and will run through August 20th.  More information about the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, its hours and other contact information can be found online at -

Its a great place to visit and I'm looking forward to it!  If you're passing by the area this summer, take a little time and stop for a visit, you will be glad you did!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer at Last

"Pre-solstice Evening Sky"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

The drought of the past 11-12 months has temporarily hit the wall and we are, of course, getting way more than we need all at once!  But I think the old adage "When it rains - it pours!" is about as aptly put as it could possibly be.  We've received 12 inches of rain for June so far here at Prairie Hill Farm, plus a little more wind than we care to ever have.

4 days back we got stuck in the rotating SW edge of a system and around 2-3 a.m. trees started breaking up and dropping in the yard.  So cleaning up is about all we've done for the past 4 days, but today is being "taken off" to recuperate some.  Not only did the trees get busted up, we did too...Georgie broke her wrist and I a torn ligament.  I'm doing much better while Georgie gets used to her cast...glad spring is past us now - hopefully summer will be kinder!!!
 "Bizarre Mammatus Formations and Barn"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Weather does create some visual opportunities though, I just don't care much for the messy ones!

Hope you have avoided the flooding and/or the severe storms the region has been experiencing!  Our hearts go out to those whom have lost their homes the past few days - especially in Nebraska, and certainly to those who were injured or lost loved ones.

It is summer at last and perhaps a change for the better!? We can certainly look forward to that - wishing you a very happy summer solstice!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Circus

"Grumpy Hummer"
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Its been a regular circus around here lately....a circus because of how busy and preoccupied we've been.  But also because of the critters.

Love this male Ruby-throated Hummingbird from a couple days back - just a great expression!

And yesterday I was working in the studio and noticed out the window that I was being robbed in broad daylight!  Good grief, what's this world coming to?!!

"Masked Bandit"
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

OK, so it was just a Raccoon, but geeze...I'd been putting all the hanging bird feeders away at night so I guess they decided to hit us during daylight when we'd least expect it!

Later in the evening yesterday I heard a familiar sound and hoped I was wrong but ya...we had a lost baby looking for momma.

"Where's Momma?!"
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

The noise I was hearing was a bleating White-tailed Deer fawn.  This has happened before and I was holding my breath that this little guy's mother would find it again.  Some mowing had been taking place in a field just to our northwest and I'm thinking this fawn was in there and ran out from the disturbance...also there was a lot of field spraying going on just down the road from us, and a lot of vehicle noise and traffic on this normally quiet road.

But so far so good, we haven't been paid another visit yet nor have we been hearing any commotion, so maybe things are all good once again.

The rest of the circus for the month has been the process of putting together 56 pieces of work for the Neal Smith NWR down by Prairie City, east of Des Moines for July and August!  Man it takes a lot of time getting work put together, framed, printed, labeled, and you name it!  This solo exhibit is "prairie themed" and owns the same title as my last solo exibit in 2012 - "From the Tallgrass" is not a repeat of that same show however, so more work to get it ready!

Also I am in a new exhibit down in Storm Lake, Iowa right now - the 2014 Artisans Road Trip is having an exhibit at the Witter Gallery in Storm Lake.  This show began last week on June 5th and runs through June 27th.  Be sure and stop in to see the show (either one!) if you have time!

Back to the circus!



Sunday, May 11, 2014

Real Signs

 "May Thunderhead"
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view

Its moving at a snail's pace but spring is beginning to show "real signs" of change. The familiar changes along the skyline in the late afternoon and evening has given us a few good looks at some great cloud formations and weather systems moving east.  Unfortunately they all seem to form east of us and we end up missing the rains.  We had a very dry April...the first 10 days of May haven't improved things much either, but the views are dramatic and well worth it!

 "Great Blue Heron Flight"
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view
The waterman Creek Great Blue Heron rookery has suffered some from the heavy winds since mid April.  A couple weeks back we had over 48 straight hours of non-stop 40-50+ mph winds.  The entire rookery was abandoned until after the weather settled to a tempo in the 30 mph range, then the activity started picking up again.  I'm fairly certain some egg laying had to restart.  But the "air traffic" is beginning to pick back up and we're seeing herons flying over the studio and acreage during the day...these are amazing birds to watch up close!
 "White-throated Sparrow"
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view

The White-throated Sparrows showed up on cue about 3 weeks back and the yard came alive with bird song.  We love their "Old Sam Peabody" phrasing whistles!

 "White-crowned Sparrow"
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
It was soon replaced by the musical buzz inserted music of the White-crowned Sparrows.  This is the heaviest influx of White-crowned I have seen here at the acreage; usually a half a dozen birds at a time could be seen or heard...we had a flock of an easy fourty just yesterday!
 "Harris' Sparrow"
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
The Harris' Sparrows have come in flocks equal to or better than the White-crowned, they are everywhere and their song is constanly intermingled with the others through the acreage.  But once the Wild Plums bloomed overnight, we were witness to some gorgeous warbler traffic.
 "Cape May Warbler"
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
 "Yellow Warbler"
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
We had several warbler species but the Yellow Warbler was the most common, with the Cape Mays as a bonus suirprise in decent number as well.  These little birds loved the insect buffet in the Wild Plum trees around the studio; Georgie and I just sat outside near the trees and watched (and "tried" to get photos!).  
Ya, I'd say there are real signs that spring is here and each day is a new treat!


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Just Perfect!

 "Great Horned Owl Nest"
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Its been a real struggle getting to spring; we're hoping maybe it'll get serious one of these days and it will stay till summer!  But we love it around here...the past couple weeks have really livened the valley up with the Meadow Larks singing and the frogs serenading...even had a good night of Coyote music a week back!

I've been working on too many things to recount just now, but jury duty was one of them.  If I can just get through June without being picked again, maybe I'll actually be ready for this summer's exhibit at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in July.

I had a chance yesterday morning to break away briefly and walk the creek across the road from us.  There has been a family of Great Horned Owls nesting there and I wanted to try and get some photos of them before they fledged.  We've watched the nest from the road for the past few weeks but to get a decent image of the nest I needed to walk around to the other side of the valley and see if there was a clear view of it from there.

There was enough to see the nest and to find there were two occupants!  However the nest is fairly small for two birds of that size and I wasn't able to get very decent shots of both birds at the same time.  If you look at the photo above, you'll see the ear tuft of the other sibling just over the left shoulder of the bird in the foreground.

It was really fun to watch them for a while and took some video footage of them as well.  But the wind was beginning to pick up and I headed down to the creek below to cross back over.
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
Just as I made it across, a large bird move nearly above me and was holding its position with wings flapping hard into the wind.  I immediately recognized it as an Osprey and struggled to set the tripod and get the camera swung around.  The Osprey kept moving north along the creek stopping momentarily while looking for a fish breakfast.  I managed to finally get a couple shots as it moved further up stream...nothing spectacular but at least you can identify the bird...maybe I'll use the pose in a future painting or drawing someday?
What a great ending to my first spring morning jaunt in the valley...this is a great place to be and we don't take it for granted for a moment.  It may not seem that way to most people, but its just perfect...for us anyway!