Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year from Prairie Hill Farm!

Echinacea angustifolia at Prairie Hill Farm
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

The last day of 2013...I have mixed reviews for this year, but as Georgie says "even numbered years are the best".  Something to look forward to, right!?

One event I left hanging out there late in the summer was the transmission lines (to be the largest ever erected in Iowa) running along side our acreage.  This, thankfully has changed.  We had contacted several state agencies and environmental organizations about this and the encroachment on the Waterman Creek Great Blue Heron rookery across from us.  We were concerned about this, as well as the prairie remnants here in the valley that the line would displace, and of course - the ambiance that was still here - the bird songs in the morning, the insect music through the night, the views of the night sky, and the relative silence in the background of the days and nights here.  We had several individuals meet with the out-of-state corporation and it was finally revealed to us that the route has been redirected two miles further north.  Now it will only interrupt farmland instead of natural ground and disappearing habitat in our county.

This may not be the case in other areas throughout the state, particularly where it routes through riparian areas across streams and rivers.  I do know that those folks who were speaking with the corporation are also working on protecting other sensitive areas across the other 16 affected counties in Iowa; all I can say is God Bless 'em all for trying to protect what little Natural Heritage we still have in this "most changed" state in the union!

There will be wind farms built in the area directly to our west and the corporation has "officially" stated they are solely rerouting the transmission line to avoid interfering with the wind farms to be built.  Regardless of their reasons, I am still taking my hat off to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, The Iowa Nature Conservancy, Iowa Audubon, Iowa Sierra Club, Iowa Environmental Council, and the Iowa DNR for their input in this event.  Please support these organizations and state people who are working for your children's children's future in our environment!

We're off to a cold yet sparse start with moisture this winter, but there's a ways to go - we'll see how things shake out, you just never know what the new year will bring.  The Great Horned Owls in the valley have been communicating back and forth each night...probably sizing up their nesting options.  They'll actually be nesting in the not too distant future, perhaps as soon as 3-5 weeks!  And the squirrels in the yard and grove are shoring up their nests and being amorous on the tracts of tree trunks about here and there.  I think they eat too well here as we've gotten two broods a season the past couple years here - that's a lot of Fox Squirrels!  (Keeps the Red-tailed Hawks happy anyway!)  We've also been seeing more hen pheasants than all last year; not many but at least a hopeful few!

What else will the year bring?  Hopefully some more native forbs and grasses in the south pasture.  We just completed our first planting there as the first true winter front moved in about 3 weeks ago.  That pasture will take a few years to complete but we don't plan on going anywhere!  Its fun to watch the changes through the years.

I'm lining up work here in the studio to keep me busy till spring.  Lets cross our fingers on that prospect!

And here's to sending our best wishes out to each and everyone of you - for a very Happy and Prosperous New Year!

See you next year!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Solstice and a Merry Christmas!

Today is the first day of winter!  Sound excited?  Well sort of...at least from here the days will slowly (agonizingly) begin to get longer and spring will be on the distant horizon to look forward to.  

OK, I don't really want winter to go away entirely, we all need a rest from spring/summer/fall chores, plus it is a great time to get work done here in the studio!  Besides, one gets really fired up during the winter, thinking about those wonderful things we have to look forward to...getting into the garden, or here, the prairie....being able to spend time outside in the warm sunshine.  These things are more precious when you have to wait for them I guess.

My studio time since I last blogged (sorry its been awhile) has been spent filling client orders, framing and painting commission work.  I have several paintings waiting on the back-burner here and hope I can get to them after Christmas has passed.

I did manage one feat of final fall work in the south pasture here about two weeks ago.  As some of you may know, the north pasture is a native remnant, and there are some native grasses in the south pasture but overall the south pasture has been degraded to the extreme by years of constant grazing.  

Georgie and I had been collecting seed from the north pasture this fall and the first week of December had our first winter storm front of "real" consequence coming in, so I seeded as much of the top of the south pasture slope as I had seed for.  We'll continue doing this each year until we have a good native stand of grasses and forbs...it should look great eventually!

One great thing that happened this year on the prairies here down the valley was the Prairie Heritage Center was able to put together a Federal grant, and a REAP (Iowa) grant, to purchase the riparian and prairie area along the Little Sioux River in the valley below the center!  This was done with a great deal of help from various local organizations and the expertise of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.  But we still have loose financial ends to finalize the purchase and land exchange.  

Last year we sold a local calendar through the Prairie Heritage Center to raise funds towards this effort.  This year we are doing this again and the fun thing about the calendar is each month the PHC will draw names of calendar purchasers for prizes.  You'll be eligible for drawings 12 times throughout the year!  We're kicking off the first month with a $150.00 gift certificate toward any purchase here at the studio - drawings, paintings, prints or cards...whatever strikes your fancy!  Each month will be other great prizes too such as Tablets, Digital Cameras, Cabin stays, and more!

The calendar can be purchase for $50 by calling the Prairie Heritage Center at 712 295-2700.

Take advantage of this fun opportunity to support the new land purchase and not only have the reward of  neat new place to walk, fish, or hunt...but to support saving a wonderful piece of habitat and maybe get a prize on top of that!  Hey its Christmas after all!

Speaking of Christmas - Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone out there!

See you next year!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Can you believe it is the last week of November???!!!  As the Lt. Commander on Star Trek (George Takei) always says "Oh My!"

This day is always welcomed when it arrives, it just seems to come faster and faster each year...I still adhere to the theory that the earth must be rotating and orbiting faster each year you get older!

It has been a busy year for all of us, with many things to be thankful for, and I do hope it has been for you as well.

This Saturday we're gearing up for Small Bussiness Saturday, something we like to do each year...instead of mega box stores celebrating Black Friday for a frenzied shopping experience that only benefits huge corporate coffers in a place far, far away - Small Business Saturday is something for the local folks...your family and neighbors :)  all this stays in the local area and economy!

Another fun event coming up is the area's Holiday Open House - come join us down in Peterson, Iowa this December 7th, at Barb McGee's Gallery on main street! There will be something for everyone with many artists and works available!  This has become a repeat event the past few years and is a great way to make the rounds in downtown Peterson; and take a short scenic drive down to Rocking M Pottery as well!   Hope to see you there!

I am thankful for many things - more than I can count.  But one thing I am truly thankful for is all my family, friends and neighbors...and all the great people I have met here at the studio, whether clients or just folks who appreciate what I do here all year long.  

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Migration and Transition

 Fox Sparrow
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Yes, I am still here, alive and kicking!  It has been a very busy fall so far here at the studio, and instead of being able to stop and reflect on what is transpiring around here, I've been just framing work for customers, printing to replace inventory and working on commissions for clients.  I'm afraid all work and no play "does" make Bruce a dull boy :(
 Harris' Sparrow (male)
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

But it is definitely not dull outside the walls of this place!  As I work inside I'm always looking out the windows at the birds busily working about the yard and around the studio's bird feeders.  We are in the middle of the autumn migration and this seasonal transition does keep life interesting around here! 

 Blue Jay
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
Birds are "eye candy" for me; and they are likely more responsible for my turning to painting and photography than any other influence.  And it was my early experiences with birds that drew me into the natural world - opening that window to everything else out there; the landscape, and all the flora and fauna in that landscape.
 Dark-eyed Junco (male)
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
I enjoy seeing familiar faces return each fall and spring!  Like little friends that cheer you with just their demeanor.  Some can be seen here all year long, like the Red-bellied Woodpecker seen below or the Blue Jay a couple spots above, but their activities and numbers become more prevalent and (in the Blue Jay's case) they can become quite boisterous!  Yesterday was a case in point when we were outside with family and a Blue Jay was doing a very good Red-tail Hawk rendition...you always have to do a double take around here with the Blue Jays.  Last winter one even pulled the wool over my eyes with an amazingly good Bald Eagle imitation!  It had me walking all over the yard watching it call so I didn't think I was losing my mind. (I was convinced I was hearing things!)

 Red-bellied Woodpecker (female)
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

The Fox Sparrows at the top of the post are nearly gone now, passing through to the south, but the Harris' Sparrows and the Juncos are still here in good numbers; some seasons these two species stay all winter...I hope we'll get lucky again this year.

Others have "just" shown up; we had our first Pine Siskin of the fall yesterday and the Tree Sparrows were just outside the studio deck this morning eating the seeds off of the Big bluestem grasses we planted there...I imagine they're enjoying the bounty of grass and forb seeds in our prairie pasture as I type.  The Tree Sparrows will stay all winter long and be with us until March...I'll have to work on getting a nice photograph of one this winter...in between my puttering about with my daily chores inside.

Transitions are perpetual, change is inevitable...I the case of migration - I keep looking forward to it each season!


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Good-bye September

The Late September Milky Way from Prairie Hill farm
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

September is now just a memory...where did, August, July and June go - I have no clue!?! 

Did you have plans during this past summer, but "life and work" got in the way and now you find yourself once again saying to yourself "Well, maybe next year."?  This is becoming too common place for me these days!  Whew - there is not enough hours in a day or days in a year!

One thing I have wanted to get around to all summer was photographing the sky here at night.  The Milky Way is very visible here year around and when you step out on an evening when the moon is well past full and not up in the evening - the view can take your breath away!

Last night Georgie mentioned to me how bright the stars were and I decided to go have a look.  It was surprisingly good so I went over to the studio and got my big old Ash Zone VI tripod and DSLR camera and a flashlight and set it up for some shots.  Its a bit clumsy setting up in the dark but I finally managed and took some images of the Milky Way...it also surprised me how fast the heavenly bodies move (how fast the Earth rotates)...I had to keep adjusting my aim so I could stay with the subject.  The image above is one from last evening.

While I was taking photos in the dark I heard a very close and loud cracking noise.  First I though it sounded like a tree branch breaking but I thought the sound came from the direction of the barn so I turned the flashlight on and shined it on the barn roof where there were two pairs of eyes staring back at me!  Here were two Raccoons sitting watching me...as soon as I shown the light on them, one of them dove through a hole in the roof to inside the barn...looks like roof maintenance needs to trip into gear again!  They had to have gained access through the roof in the first place though as there's no openings around the ground level, nor broken or open windows...these things are great climbers.  Such is life out here.

I've been very busy getting ready for the Artisans Road Trip this coming weekend (October 5th and 6th).  We've been gearing up for it for...well, the past year!  We treat the road trip as a very big deal and the organization (of the Artisans Road Trip) is a year long endeavor - this is an event run by artists for artists, no small thing!  If you have time this weekend or want to make a weekend day trip through NW Iowa and enjoy the crisp autumn air, then the 2013 Artisans Road Trip is the perfect time out and about for you!

Our studio and the studio/galleries of 25 other artists will be open for visitors on Saturday (Oct 5) from 9 am through 5 pm and Sunday (Oct 6) from noon through 5 pm.  Enjoy some time out during A.R.T this fall!  Don't miss out this year!  

Be sure and stop by and say "Hi", enjoy a hot cup of cider and other good things, and see what I've been up to during the past year!

Hope to see you then!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Get'n Ready!

"Red Admiral on Swamp Milkweed"
colored pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

The days are slipping by fast here and the Artisans Road Trip is quickly approaching!  If you haven't heard of A.R.T. before, it is an open studio tour of artist's studios and galleries in NW Iowa each fall.  This year marks the 10th Anniversary for the Artisans Road Trip and there's a lot of artists scattered about the countryside here in NW Iowa to enjoy - why not stop by the studio here and get a great view of the valley and the studio as well!
I have been busy framing up new pieces for visitors to see and even just finished a small color pencil drawing that I started back in July!  A nice little piece of a Red Admiral butterfly on a Swamp Milkweed (Aclepias incarnata) in the lower pasture here!
I have also been busy creating new gift cards and note card sets!  Did you know the largest gift card and note card collection portraying NW Iowa is found right here in our studio?! No where else will you be able to find as many, beautiful, and diverse Note Card Sets, single panel, two panel and triple panel Art Cards and Photo Cards of NW Iowa, our landscape and flora and fauna!
 "Scenic O'Brien County Card Collection"
photography - © Bruce A. Morrison 

The most recent addition to our notecard sets is the "Scenic O'Brien County Card Collection"! This beautiful little set is of the most recent set of beautiful landscapes to be added to our notecard collection. Our note cards come in sets of 4 designs, 2 of each - in a set of 8 cards and envelopes. These are great cards to send to friends and family - the old fashioned way of communicating is still the best - most personal and heartfelt, and genuine way of communicating with those you love!

Stop by anytime or take advantage of the 2013 Artisans Road Trip and make the trip more special!  For more in formation on the 2013 Artisans Road Trip - check out the web site at http://www.artisansroadtrip.com/ - a fun way to spend a fall weekend!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pasture Tramping

Eastern Black Swallowtail in Dotted Liatris
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

Whew!  Its been a bit warm and humid for us lately!  But the summer marches on and things keep evolving and finishing out - you have to keep up!

A couple days ago Georgie came in the studio to let me know there was some butterfly activity going on out there, so I grabbed the camera.  There were a couple Monarchs in the pasture and a sulphur or two, but what really caught my eye was an Eastern Black Swallowtail...it appeared to have just recently emerged because of it reluctance to take flight and its flawless marking - no frayed edges or worn markings.

I also realized the heat had spurred the Dotted Liatris (Liatris punctata) into a peak bloom.  Things can get by a person around here if they get too busy!

Eastern Black Swallowtail on Stiff Goldenrod
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

The late summer forbs are now all moving along quickly here, the most dominant this time of year are the goldenrods - we are over run with Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida) unfortunately...oh it is striking and a nectar favorite for all pollinators, but it is much too aggressive and is crowding out some very nice plants. 

 Monarchs on Stiff Goldenrod in our pasture on 09-02-2009
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

At this time of the year we are usually over run with Monarchs, especially on the Stiff Goldenrod, but have only been managing one or two ever day or so...this is a disturbing  situation all over the country where they usually migrate through.  This subject is worthy of a blog entirely of its own I think. 

I've left another subject hanging in the background for a few weeks and just wanted to say that it is now "officially" proceeding.  I'll explain in a little more detail but don't want to make this too much of a soapbox as this blog is more about our place in the prairie and about my endeavors in a creative process with my artwork. 

Clean Line LLC is a corporation building large transmissions line around the country.  They are not a utility company in the states they are building, until they become franchised.  Once they become franchised in Iowa, they will have the same power of a utility, and in our case that means eminent domain.

They are building what they call the "Rock Island Clean Line".  They have been talking to the counties in NW Iowa for about 3 years or so about their proposed transmission line, so there is quite a bit of invested time for local governments and this corporation.  I only mention this "time investment" to give a background on the support for this endeavor by the county officials here in O'Brien County.  I am in the minority here if I do not support it, well I don't, so-be-it.

This transmission line would be the largest and longest to pass through Iowa.  It will be a 600kv line; would carry 1.3 times the equivalent power of the Hoover dam past our home and pasture each year.  Many things are unclear about this project, even though the "official" public informational meeting was supposed to clear things up. 
This is a "merchant line" (my words), the line is not coordinated with any existing grids in Iowa, even though it travels across 16 counties to the state of Illinois, it ties into no existing grid - it is solely being built to pick up electrons from wind power generated here in NW Iowa and sell it at higher rates in northeastern states. They do not have contracts with any wind farms in NW Iowa either; this is being built with the philosophy "if you build it they will come" in mind.

 "Waterman Morning"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)  
* This is an actual location that will be clear cut in our valley
"if" the proposed line does go through.

I first heard about this line last fall when I read an article in the paper...I thought it odd at the time that we were allowing a line to be built just to take our produced power somewhere a couple thousand miles away.  Didn't we have use for power produced here ourselves?  We, after all, are so dependent on western coal for our local power...wouldn't our own wind power be beneficial and responsible for us and our region?  Then I read a quote by a county supervisor in the article.  The supervisor responded to a question or supposition by someone asking whether someone might object to the line going through their property, the supervisor responded by saying  (I'll paraphrase) "There's nothing in the county that a transmission line would bother."  That really got my attention!  I wrote Clean Lines LLC right away and asked them to please not take those supervisor words to heart - that there was indeed much in the SE corner townships that a transmission line could hurt or disrupt!  These two townships carry 99.9% of the entire county's natural heritage.

 Great Blue Heron
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)  
*The largest rookery of these birds in the state of Iowa (west of the
Mississippi River) will be disrupted "if" the proposed 
line does go through.

I thought at the time that this line was a done deal...the media reported it in that vein.  Well when we got a certified letter this July, telling us the transmission line would have its easement on our south pasture and would be 466 feet from our house, and pass across the valley past the largest Great Blue Heron rookery in Iowa, west of the Mississippi River, and through the northern most prairie remnants still found in this county - I began researching the corporation, its goals and its "behavior" and opposition in other states it is running through. I have serious doubts now as to how much "checking around" the local county officials did themselves with this corporation. 

Clean Line LLC has been working in Illinois much longer at trying to receive a "franchise" status than it has in Iowa, because Illinois' utility regulations are much stricter than Iowa...they have been having quite a time there and the dockets in the Illinois testimony records are quite a read.  But this is the early stage for Iowa - out of the 16 counties it will pass through, there are still 10 counties that have not heard of any routes...there are still a lot of people who are unaware of their property's potential future.  

We are talking very large poles and/or towers.  They would all require blinking aerial lights.  The registered documents required in Illinois state that they could use grid towers of "200-240 feet or more"...a definite flight hazard for herons in a rookery access path and a definite "footprint" hazard for any prairie remnant in its path. (Just for reference - the statue of Liberty is 150 feet tall)  Oh, we were told at our public meeting on August 20th that this would have no affect on our property value...Uh...ya, the county will still tax you "as if" the transmission line and tower didn't exist, But...try convincing someone to buy that tower and huge lines too, when you try to sell your house!  Also, our studio is very much a "destination" business and that would inevitably suffer as well.

The corporation could not give any clients listed to hook onto their line when questioned at the public meeting.  They used the "patriotic American" card when asked why we could not use our area's wind farm electron production for "our region".  Is it unpatriotic to produce enough electrons for 1.4 million homes and not use it in our own region?  It certainly isn't "clean" energy when we have to use western coal here and not our own wind energy - its especially not clean to have to ship our electrons east when they are already needed here!!!

A large wind farm that was about to build in this area was just bought up by Mid American Energy (a franchised Iowa utility).  They just announced plans to build 600 or so wind towers.  Are they hooking up to Clean Line LLC?  No - they upgraded existing grids and are transmitting it themselves.  That makes perfect sense.

I won't dally further in this discussion, it is deeper than I've taken you so far, and its obvious where I stand.  If you are an Iowa resident and are possibly in one of the 16 Iowa counties or would just like to help us keep truly "clean" transmission in this state and our region - you can fill out an Objection Form with the Iowa Utilities Board using their electronic filing system online at http://efs.iowa.gov or by clicking on the link on their web site at http://iub.iowa.gov.  You can also support the grass roots organization which is forming across the entire state - The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance...become a member or just make a small donation to their cause - their link is here - http://www.iowastopricl.com    You can e-mail me if you have any questions about this at all. 

Thank you for being patient with me.  And thank you for your support.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Trying to Keep Up!

"Little Sioux River Valley Sunrise"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view

Its been very hard keeping up with everything lately!  Life is more complicated than we give it at face value, isn't it!?  The work in the studio and around the acreage is keeping us on our toes lately...this is always a busy time of year.
I've also been trying to keep an eye on our pasture here because I often can use it as a gauge as to when things might be at their best on the prairies nearby.  I had been noticing our Dotted Liatris (Liatris punctata) and Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera) beginning to look pretty good, so I thought I'd run off to Waterman Prairie this morning where I know these things are in good number...see if I could catch them before they get past their prime.
When I got up everything was really socked in outside; I actually woke a few minutes before the alarm rang - a Coyote out front of our place woke me with its yowling; sounded like it was missing someone or feeling left out!
I procrastinated a bit, not sure if the fog would lift enough for some decent images, but eventually talked myself into getting in gear and heading down the road.  I went to the O'Brien No.1 site again; this is where I'd been watching some decent locations for late summer prairie blooms.
When I arrived it was so thick I decided to just walk to the ridges above the Little Sioux River, figuring I could scout some along the way.  There's a hanging valley there...I'm sure I've talked of it in the past.  The farmers who access fields down below the prairie there use it as an access road...its actually an ancient river bed left hanging along the edge of the hillside.
No sooner had I reached the ridge top the sun popped out of the fog and the curtains down below me were opening to expose the river below.  I scrambled and got a few shots before the river and valley below were gone again...if I'd been a couple minutes or more later I would have simply missed out!  It was truly a "WOW" moment! Serendipity?
I walked around checking for late summer liatris but the majority were still in tight bud...some years you get lucky and they all go at once - that would be nice!  But no such luck this morning. 
 "O'Brien No. 1 Sunflowers and Big Bluestem"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
I kind of did a mental inventory of plants as I slowly walked back to the road and did see some surprises; for one there was still Spiked Lobelia (Lobelia spicata) in bloom!  That's nearly always done by early August in my own pasture, and this year I couldn't find it; I suspected because of the drought we'd been experiencing again.
The Sunflowers were way ahead of our pasture here as well, but the stand I stopped to photograph is in a low lying wet area so that may be the reason.  I was seeing three varieties, may even have missed one.  there was Maximilian (Helianthus maximiliani), Sawtooth (Helianthus grosseserratus) and Showy Sunflower (Helianthus laetiflorus) in bloom intermixed with some good clumps of Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) also in bloom!
A good morning for a wet walk, ya the air was 100% humidity - even my glasses kept fogging over trying to look through the camera's viewfinder.  But a beautiful morning on the prairie!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Still August...Still Hanging In There!

"Sunrise at O'Brien No.1"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view

Its surprising how quickly this summer is flying by...but August has been different in some ways.  Kind of like slow motion, yet at the speed of "life" if-you-will.  We've had events of great joy, some not and some yet to happen, it makes for a suppressed level of creativity...I talked sparingly about this in my last blog.  But I have been tending to business and yesterday morning (Saturday) I kicked myself out of bed early and drove down to a spot I hadn't visited for some time.  The sunrise wasn't overly spectacular but very pleasant; a quiet/still dew laden morning with low lying fog in the valley below.  I have talked about this area on occasion in the past; it is part of the Waterman Prairie complex but I refer to it as O'Brien No.1 because the person who first identified it as a prairie of importance gave it that identification in her report.  

Ada Hayden was the first woman botanist at Iowa State University, she has been credited with publishing the best native flora survey of any part of Iowa. And she campaigned for a system of prairie preserves, two of which were later named the Hayden and the Kalsow prairies.  

"Wild Rose hips from O'Brien No.1"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Hayden received a grant one summer in the early 1940's to travel the state, make a census of remaining tallgrass prairies and make recommendations for preservation.  O'Brien No.1 was her identification for this site and she recommended its preservation to the state.  It took a while but in the mid 1990's the location was finally purchased by the state as part of the Waterman Prairie complex.  Ada is one of my heroes (OK "heroines") of our nearly vanished Tallgrass Prairie...I have several but she is definitely a kindred spirit at the top of the list.

 "Early Light on Dog Creek"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Its getting into the later part of August and the landscape and plants are showing the signs...I'm beginning to see swelling flower buds of Liatris aspera, the Solidago sp., and the color of wild rose hips are taking on a bright red hue...the warm season grasses are in flower or finishing up.  There is even a hint of yellow in the Cottonwood leaves along the creeks and streams in the valley.

Here at the studio we are seeing more hummingbirds than just our resident nesting pair, the Red-headed Woodpecker's off-springs are sporting their strange black heads, and we're overrun with the fresh crop of youngster Orchard and Baltimore Orioles.  

The dawn chorus had changed permanently till fall; I do not like that.  I already miss the overlapping cacophony of bird song beginning at predawn.  I still catch the Song Sparrows, Sedge Wrens and Dickcissels in the early morning walks or evening respite, but its a sign of change from a season that is just too short even more so at this age...you youg'uns will understand clearly someday.

The other change I led into in the last blog has not changed.  The transmission line process will be a long one, it will shadow us for at least the next couple years.  I will speak more on it after the required "public meeting" next week.  Until then - savor each moment left of summer!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

August in the Valley

"Hidden Pool"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

Its a mystery to me how summer vanishes before our very eyes.   Oh it hasn't yet by any means, but it just began a blink ago; and here it is August in the valley.

This morning the sun found me south of the studio two or three miles, walking the "edges" of the Waterman Creek valley.  I had planned on walking the creek, because it is so low that traversing and wading is not a problem right now...we're having another very dry summer here.  

This section of the Waterman is embraced in what I'd describe as a "bowl" or "basin".  I've walked the creek on this section several times but never explored the edges surrounding it.  It was a pleasant surprise when I came upon this small woodland pool on a ridge above the creek.  Some Wood Ducks , likely in molt, paddled towards the opposite side of the pool, softly expressing their displeasure or concern.  The duckweed gave the pool a soft green blanket; a convenient salad breakfast for the "Woodies".

As I had hoped, the air was still as the sun broke; this always helps with closeup landscape photographs like this...leafy branches hold still for a longer shutter speed.
This image is a bit deceiving, as it is mere feet away from the valley opening below,  and this creates a perfect edge habitat for Orioles, Eastern Bluebirds and Field Sparrows.  The Field Sparrows were doing that wonderful trill; its a beautiful song and I was so happy they were still present with their notes!  Soon many of our birds will be in that transition mode into fall and the familiar favorite songs and calls will be absent until returning next spring.  I always regret seeing this transition come.

There are other transitions coming to us here, I won't get into it too much at this moment as I'm going to hold off until I can gather more information.  But it involves a "possible" change for our valley and for our personal lives here.  A very large (it will be the largest in Iowa) transmission line is applying with the state's utility board to run through our property and across the valley past the Waterman Creek Great Blue Heron rookery.  This is a 600kv(+/-) line system to cross the entire state and into Illinois...it will cross 16 counties "if" it is approved, and it will be carried by 200-240 foot lattice work towers.  

We aren't really the masters of our destiny as we so often find out.  And this isn't written in stone yet.  We have joined forces with an association of landowners to do our best to see that this does not happen, and hopefully 16 counties worth of landowners will find a voice to prevent it...but this will be a shadow for a couple years or more before we know what is happening, or not happening.  This has been a unfortunate interruption to the creative flow of work here at the studio, needless to say.  I am now doing my best to direct research and followup time for this specter, to a smaller part of my day, trying to keep things in perspective. I am hoping to stay out of its shadow and into the sunlight so I can still create and enjoy this beautiful gift we have treasured since coming here 11 years ago.

I will write a little more in depth about this soon...in the meantime it is August - grab summer by the collar before it s gone!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Summer Morning

"Summer Morning" - oil painting (12X24")
© Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Yesterday was a typical summer morning.  The low lying mist wasn't as heavy as usual, but the dew point was a tad lower than in recent weeks, and thank goodness it was cool for a change.  One thing hadn't changed - the blackflies were insane (some call them buffalo gnats or biting gnats).  Why is something always there to put a bur in the moment (?) - I don't know, I just try to adapt.  I've taken to wearing bug netting over my head...I don't think I'll post a picture of that, it looks weird and undignified.  But the bugs are the rulers of their kingdom and when you step outside you're fair game!

What was exceptional that morning was the air...still as...well, more than a whisper.  Early light was wonderful, something you carry and remember months later when you're house bound.  I don't know if I came away with anything that memorable "visually speaking", but I still hear the birds singing...a Grasshopper Sparrow stands out, I haven't had the privilege in some time!

I try and keep these moments in a place for future keeping and the oil painting above is one example.  It still sits drying on the easel here a few feet away, and I can yet see that morning and hear the birds.  

"Summer Morning" - oil pastel "study" (6X12")
© Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

I had wanted to attempt this piece for some time, waiting for other committed work to be completed.  I finally did a smaller (6X12") oil pastel 2-3 months back; I treat smaller studies like you would test the water with a toe or hand before jumping in.  It seemed right and now the experience is behind me and I'm looking forward to another! 

This morning the wind whips across the valley...it'd be a decent day to work through more commitments here in the studio; nothing is more distracting than a summer gale on the prairie!  I might just reflect back on more past walks down the valley...step down to the creek and test the water...

Friday, July 5, 2013

Close to Home

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

Its interesting how we often over look things that are closer to home. I know, as a kid I always thought things were much cooler out down the railroad tracks a few miles west of town.  I'd go down that path every chance I had; I eventually found out I'd been walking right past all sorts of hidden treasure and adventure...some even in my own backyard!

Nothing has changed, but I do consider my own backyard as something of a larger scale than when I was a young person.  I generally don't tend to wander that far on a daily basis because I'm constantly finding things in my own "back yard" that are stirring and new. 

A couple mornings back I found This wonderful landscape in the early morning light, just a hop, skip and a jump from my very back door.  This is Waterman Creek of course and it never ceases to amaze me how beautiful it is close up...and even closer to home!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Father's Day Morning

Father's Day Sunrise
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

What a drop dead Father's Day morning it was!  Really beginning to actually feel like June now...about time - the month's half over!  

I originally went out to photograph the Little Sioux River Valley in the fog that lays over the river like a thick blanket this time of the year, but it stayed socked-in for a good 2 hours as the sun rose and I could not find openings for shooting.

After photographing the sun breaking through the horizon (image above), I walked over to the hilltop at the Prairie Heritage Center and checked out the small Bison herd there to see if there were any photo opportunities there.  The Bison were pretty obscured too but I kept waiting to see if they'd ever emerge.  

Breaking Sky On The Tallgrass
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Eventually the sky did open above the Bison, and even though there was a patchy haze over the ground, I decided to give it a try and made  a series of images that worked fairly well...the Bison were still a bit hazed over but the feel of the ground and background fog with the great swirling sky cloud pattern had a nice feel to it.  I think the only thing that'd make this a "dream" image would have been about 50-60 more Bison!

A nicer day couldn't have been asked for...well, the mosquitoes were rather ravenous but nothing good bug netting and gloves and hooded sweatshirt couldn't cure :)   OK, things could always be better but I'm not complaining, looking back on the morning.

Hope your day was good...here's to our Fathers...still with us and departed.  God Bless 'em!