Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Finished with Part I

The Raccoon River Valley in Sac County

Georgie and I spent last Friday down in Sac County (Iowa) visiting the last of our designated 70+ sites for the NW Iowa Watchable Wildlife web site. Friday was a real crap shoot with the weather and had been raining in the morning, so we left in the afternoon. It wasn't as much fun as we would've liked because we were really on a tight schedule - to get photographs and video footage shot before daylight ended.

It was around 3-3:30 before we even saw a glimpse of sun, and then it was exasperatingly brief and unpredictable...but we found plenty of interest to keep us busy! Lots of waterfowl, Pelicans, Cormorants, etc. down on the Sauk Rail Trail area in the SE part of the county. And the Raccoon River had very nice color along it, as well as interesting features.

I'm not all that familiar with the Raccoon River, but I must say it is quite pleasant and worth checking out. The best part we saw was along the McDonald Greenbelt in the NE part of Sac County. It was the last place we visited and the sun had just finally broken through looser clouds. The sun was getting quite low and the colors in that valley along the river were very saturated. I love the color of the day's last light, but this was a little more challenging because the sun was in, then out, then in and out...and the valley was nearly back lit so I was contending with lens flare and the fact that the wind was almost too high for my carbon fiber tripod...my old trusty wooden ash monster was home of course.

The wind softened much of the landscape for me, the foreground of native grasses became a recorded blur, as did many of the middle ground trees, but the impression was really quite nice for the late autumn colored landscape.

The tree color here at Prairie Hill Farm has been disappointing this year, but the Raccoon River valley made up for it.

Now that we've visited all our sites for the year we'll be spending time putting together information, editing video footage, and building more pages on the web site this winter.

Have a good autumn while it lasts!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Seems Like Just Yesterday

Steele Prairie Dawn

I remember the day we first moved in at Prairie Hill Farm in October. I remember walking down the gravel road on a break from remodeling inside the house, looking at the valley and the colors...thinking "this is the most beautiful place!". Aside from a couple early snowfalls the first week in October and a bad band of hail passing through (which totaled many bean fields) it was Indian Summer-like weather.

We had our first introduction to Asian Lady Bird Beetles that October. I remember framing in a new window in the kitchen...I was outside on the ladder trimming it out after we inserted it. I was covered in "lady bugs" and even had to take my shirt off and shake it out; was a very weird first time experience with these crazy bugs! Later we were scooping "drifts" of these bugs out of our buildings...this is no exaggeration, there was 10-12 inch drifts against the east walls of the future studio building.

It's been seven years now and seems like just yesterday, how can time pass by so quickly? I relived the beginnings here again recently through Woodlands & Prairies magazine. The magazine ran a really nice article on Georgie and I, our work here and my photography and artwork depicting the Tallgrass Prairie.

I've mentioned Woodlands & Prairies magazine before in this blog, it is a wonderful place to find like minded folks out there, fighting the same battle! I'd wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who is interested in passing their natural heritage on to future generations!

Woodlands & Prairies magazine isn't normally what I'd consider an "art" publication, but publisher Rollie Henkes has run features of other artists in past issues that related their work to the environment in which they work or lived.

The last issue had an article of Harvey Dunn, that great pioneer born artist of the South Dakota prairie...that issue's center peice was "The Prairie Is My Garden", a painting I've marveled at for as long as I can remember...a very emotive painting of a pioneer mother and her children, and the amazing expanse of the prairie before we nearly blotted it from the continent.

Another issue, the Winter '07 issue, had a nice article on a landscape photographer from
Illinois. A husband and wife that ran a unique lumber business together. Michael Johnson, though, is also a true artist with his 5X7 view Camera.

And each issue also runs work by good friend Carl Kurtz. Carl writes and illustrates the "Naturalist's Notebook" articles...Carl's photographs have been awing and educating Iowans since the '70's. Carl's work in prairie preservation and restoration/reconstruction have influenced myself and others far and wide.

Rollie ran my Steele Prairie Dawn image for the center two page spread of the Fall 2009 issue and wove his article on us and Prairie Hill Farm Studio and Prairie both before and after the centerpiece. A humbling piece for me to read...who is this guy!! (ha!)

Thank you Rollie and thank you to Rollie's readers who've made mention of the article to me the past couple days.

You can get back issues and subscribe to Woodlands & Prairies magazine by going to the web site at http://www.woodlandsandprairies.com

Ya, it brings back lots of memories...seems like just yesterday.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Autumn Bur Oaks

I don't believe I would ever make it in the Pacific Northwest. I do think it'd be a cool region to visit - don't misunderstand me! But I need the sun to touch my face most every day. I also need that cerulean blue of the Earth's sky to overtake the clouds and create a wonderful back drop...a relief for the eyes and spirit.

The past week has been miserable! Overcast each day, cold drizzle each day; the coldest October on record so far for our region. Still no Indian Summer.

Our raspberry crop stopped producing over a week ago; a hard freeze put an end to it. But that's OK, just ask Georgie. She picked (with a "teenie" bit of help from me) a pint for every day of the year this past season. Ya, 365 pints! Whoa! We finally broke down and bought a small freezer - it's impossible to eat a pint every day of the year! Even though I love raspberries!

Usually when the raspberries stop here, we get Indian Summer. We're still waiting...it may happen yet this week but it's usually here by now. That's my favorite part of autumn; when the air is crisp and delicious, as are the colors around us...nothing quite like the flaming yellow of cottonwood with the clear blue sky as a supporting back drop. Or the Bur Oaks when they turn that subtle burgundy. That hasn't happened this fall here...most everything has just turned brown and withered. The exception has been the prairie remnant here and in the area; I mentioned that in my October 9th Prairie Autumn blog; the
prairie never lets us down!

Yesterday afternoon was our first sunlight for many days so Georgie and I took off down the road to work on the Watchable Wildlife website project. We are getting closer to finishing the first leg of the 70 new location agenda...once we have footage and photographs of these 70 sites, I'll be adding them to the website this winter. It's been fun this summer; nice to get some new material for future paintings too!

This was the first real work I've accomplished since the Artisans Road Trip weekend. I'd be the first to admit I have stretches with a lack of direction or attention. It's hard for me to describe, but any artist, writer, or song writer knows what I'm getting at. Keeping the creative self moving uninhibited is hard and I personally have never been as good at it as I care to admit. I find myself just poking through things as if I've lost something...I'll go through books, old magazines, drawers, etc. The other night I rediscovered my "Black and Yellow" boxes. These are my Kodak boxes of old cameras and photography memorabilia. I know this is a distraction but it takes my mind off having an empty one (mind!) at the moment! There is a kind of melancholia I experience when handling old cameras...thinking back on those days when things were made of bakelite instead of plastic and were so much less complicated I guess?

Last night Georgie and I were listening to a neighborhood Great Horned Owl hooting from the north grove. It was still daylight and we walked out into the back yard when Georgie spotted it. We watched it watching us for a few minutes then went back inside. Later, before turning in, we walked out and sat on the studio deck and stared mouths agape at the Milky Way and a quick obliging meteorite. What an amazing sky when the moon is absent!

I tried starting a new painting last week...ended up tearing up the canvas. This too shall pass. When? When it does...it's as simple as that. But for now, I'm so happy to see the sun and my favorite color of blue...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Birthday Snow!

Hey! I got snow for my birthday! Isn't that great?! (?) Well it's pretty anyway and I guess I'll take the positive approach and be thankful - I made another year after all, and my sweetheart is still by my side! And all the kids and grand kids are definitely something to be thankful for too!

I went out onto the prairie here at Prairie Hill farm and did a little video taping while the snow was falling and covering everything, and put together a short video for you to enjoy - my gift to you.

If you're on the email list for this blog, I don't know if the video will show so I'll post a link here and you can watch it that way - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1XbDgcRqKg

I guess I should be painting a snow scene maybe?? Naw, it'll be Indian Summer soon...I hope - and that'd be better!

Keep warm!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Prairie Autumn

Big Bluestem stalks in Autumn at Prairie Hill Farm

It hit 24 degrees farenhiet this morning at Prairie Hill Farm...I think autumn has really arrived and will be here to stay. It's really not too early for a hard frost here, it just seems like it should still be August!

Most people don't realize how beautiful the prairie can be in the fall. Even Big Bluestem covered hillsides have a wonderful amber or bronze blush from a distance. Little Bluestem and Indian grass also add to the mix, creating an forgetful patina.

Stiff Goldenrod are never a dissapointment on the autumn prairie!

The forbs (wildflowers) are richly multicolored too in the fall. Probably the best examples are the Stiff Goldenrods...they're kind of like the "hard maples" of pairie autumn color makers! But all the goldenrod family celebrate fall in similar ways, so even the most docile CRP or pasture will yeild a show worth stopping and looking.

There are even asters still blooming at this time and despite the frost, their stems and leaves are ablaze with reds, burgundy, rusts, orange and yellow. Another late bloomer is the Downy Gentian...a flower of deep blue sky, a bloom to be jealus of.

We have been nearly overwhelmed with chores in the garden, yard and pasture since the A.R.T. weekend event, so there has only been minor work going on in the studio at present. Today we're off to Waterman Prairie south of here to help the Prairie Heritage Center pick seed for their prairie work. That's fun work, especially on a crisp sunny fall day like today!

Hope you can get out and enjoy this day as well!

Sunday, October 4, 2009


It was GREAT! (to see you!) And great fun meeting new faces and sharing stories this past weekend at the 2009 Artisans Road Trip!

Thank you for your patronage, and thank you for your friendship and support! And as I always say - "Come by any time!"

P.S. Weren't Georgie's raspberry pastries amazing! (She and gallery guests picked over 20-30 pints today as well!) And hot apple cider hit the spot this weekend!

Friday, October 2, 2009

It Begins!

We've had some very needed rain start yesterday...in fact we got more rain yesterday here than we got during the entire months of August and September put together! And we received less than 2 inches. Prairie Hill Farm seems to be drier than surrounding areas...at least to us! We've had one good year of moisture in the last seven we've been here; we're usually on the dry side.

Don't let the rain dis way you from taking in the Artisans Road Trip today and this weekend though! These are studio and gallery artists "inside"! Dry and warm!! We're going to have hot apple cider here in the studio in case you need to warm your bones!

There's a lot to see on A.R.T. whether you're out here on the remnants of the prairie or up at Iowa's Great Lakes or down in Storm Lake. Take it in! And support the Arts at A.R.T.!!