Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Summer Rambling

"Summer Memories"
(12X16" - oil on mounted canvas)
click image for larger view

I've been waffling from the studio to the prairie to "on the road to nearby prairies", the past couple weeks.  I'm being tugged where ever I look.  I'm convinced I had an attention deficit way back in the 1950's and 60's before there was a name for it!  But I'm trying hard to keep up with it all...finally finished a "farm/summer" landscape.  I'm throwing the word "memories" in the piece title because it was not all painted from life and also because the more I worked on the piece the more I remembered the summer weeks my brother and I would spend together on my grand parent's (my mother's folks) farm in central Iowa way back in the 50's and early 60's.  I have to stop thinking so much about these things as I'm getting way too melancholy for my own good!

"Jack's Bales"
(2 1/2"X3 1/2"color pencil)
click image for larger view

I was also toying with just something fun...something to do with my idle hands when I had no "great" idea boiling in my brain :)  I did this small 2.5X3.5" color pencil rendering from a photograph I took across the road from us about 3 years back.  Just to have a little more fun with it I've put it onto a miniature easel for great fodder for thought but ya gotta keep things less serious sometimes.


Out in our native pasture, the succession of forbs (wildflowers) is moving right along.  We've experienced quite a bit of rain in June here. 14.35" here at our Prairie Hill farm...I don't believe we even had 1 inch here last year during the same was extremely dry then.  Feast or famine!  The mosquitoes have now arrived with all this standing water and a walk through the prairie brings other logistical problems...I've taken to wearing my bug hat and a cotton sweatshirt!  Like a mini sauna...great for a weight loss aid!

Showy tick trefoil
(Desmodium canadense)
click image for larger view

One forb I like collecting seed from is the Showy tick trefoil...I used to collect it's seed when I was a kid - but never knew it...well, I knew it but didn't know what it was and didn't appreciate it!  The seed, sometimes called "beggars tick", sticks to anything...kinda like a predecessor to velcro!  I love it now because you don't need a bag or sack to collect it...just walk through it and it sticks to your clothes!  Then pick it off when you get front of the TV works for me  :)

Hope you can get out, avoid the skeeters, and enjoy the prairie!

Friday, June 25, 2010

After the Solstice

 Prairie Phlox and American Vetch
(Phlox pilosa and Vicia americana)
Summer is truly here to stay and so much is going on that I'd like to run some where and hide for 3 months!  Way too much to see yet so many conflicts and little time to take advantage of things on the prairie.  I'm very fortunate to have some native pasture here to walk through at almost a moments notice...that is my "sanity buffer" I guess!

Our Prairie Phlox is nearly finished here; with the warm (hot) weather, things seem to progress faster. I like it for it's early stark contrast of color against the grasses.  We've never had a lot and that's something I need to work on.  (I'll put it on that very long to-do list.)

 Common Milkweed
(Asclepias syriaca)

One thing we do have plenty of (and so does everyone in the neighborhood) is Common Milkweed.  But I like it.  Although I will thin larger stands, I do not eradicate it because it is a good host plant for Monarchs and Milkweed Tiger Moths.  Last year one evening I also discovered that the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds even feed from the plant's flowers!  Never seen that before so was very surprised!  All the Asclepias family (milkweeds) have amazing flowers...get up close and see for yourself!

Let's see...what's next on that list...?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

On The Tallgrass

 Prairie Coreopsis and Prairie Phlox
(Coreopsis palmata and Phlox pilosa
(click on all images for a larger view)

When I think of the prairie I think of grasses, forbs (wildflowers), birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates (insects).  As an artist, I work on what interests and inspires me...that's what anyone should do.  The tallgrass prairie interests me.

In this blog "Prairie Hill Farm Studio" you'll often see artwork...paintings, drawings, and photographs.  I also might occasionally spend a lot of time just talking about the habitat - the prairie; a preoccupation for this subject should be expected...otherwise, why would I be inspired by it?!

This is a segue of sorts for a journal I published online since 2002 - A Tallgrass Journal.  I'm transitioning this "journal" into a new blog I'll be posting on occasion.  The journal is about the tallgrass prairie and all that relates to it or is affected by it.  It's part commentary, part informative and part also about my personal experiences.

If you find an interest in the prairie - injected here and there in my "ramblings", consider wandering onto the tallgrass on occasion when the mood strikes your fancy.  You'll find out things happening here at Prairie Hill Farm that aren't discussed in the "Studio" blog.  I might share prairie related issues that exist here or region wide; for example I might share informative links on specific things relating to the prairie such as insects, plants, planting, burning, herbicides, and issues relating to these.

If you'd like a walk through the Tallgrass , visit and subscribe, follow or visit!

Yesterday morning was my first opportunity in 2-3 weeks to get out and walk the prairie myself...trying to pay bills is no fun!  But getting out is, and the morning was perfect for the camera...barely a breath of wind makes photographing grasses and forbs simply a pleasure!  

Porcupine grass (Stipa spartea)

I have a couple grasses here in our remnant pasture that are flowering and fruiting and at nearly the same time - one is Porcupine grass (Stipa spartea)...the other is Scribner's panic grass (Panicum oligosanthes).  But these grasses are nothing alike in appearance!  How can a simple grass inspire visually?  Well, much of what inspires can be subjective...subject to the "experience" or "landscape", and maybe that's too difficult to briefly discuss here - but both grasses inspire me for several reasons and I'd just say "come on over" and we'll take a look!  But come over soon as they'll be finished and done for the year soon...these are just a couple of a few cool season native grasses and will give way to the others, and then to the later warm season species here.

 Scribner's panic grass (Panicum oligosanthes)

In the mean time I'd just suggest - stop and take a real close look, even touch or step back and admire as well...there's a lot out there on the Tallgrass!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Evening Bliss

Cope's Gray Tree Frog
Hyla chrysoscelis

We've had some great evening ambiance here at Prairie Hill Farm this late spring. Each evening around dusk the Tree and Cricket frogs begin serenading below the north pasture. This makes for wonderful sleeping here when the serenade lulls us into that blissful state.

I love the sounds of nature
as well as the sights and smell. And I like to save the sounds and savor for other times - like in 3 feet of snow at 25 below zero! Ha! What better time to bring it back and listen to...warms up the soul!

But it's great now!
We're savoring it each evening we can, and we want to share it with you.

The Cope's Gray Tree Frog is found here
in the yard too, so I can occasionally get photos of them here. The Cricket Frogs are more secretive and are in the wetlands nearby here. They are the noisy ones...sound like a "steelie" tap, tap, tapping together constantly. The tree frogs are more mellow...a brief quick trill...not to high or too low. It's hard to describe, but I find it very pleasant.

Frogs don't call all
summer long; they call, sing...whatever you like to call it, only for a few brief's for procreation and then it's over. They're still out there, but we'll no longer hear them after their "time" is through.

Well...occasionally one will get a bur up it's hinny and sing out of the blue, but for the most part - when they're done, they're done! Too bad - they're fun to listen to!

The tree frogs
are almost finished with their singing season now, but the Cricket Frogs are at their peak and the Bull Frogs will begin their reign soon.

Please scan down to the video player below (it kinda gets lost on my black background blog page - if you are on my email list, the video/audio link will not show up - in that case please come to the blog site itself to listen in)

I'm attaching an audio file for you to listen to of the chorus here last week. Hope you enjoy!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Late Spring on the Tallgrass II

Large-flowered Beard Tongue
Penstemon grandiflorus
(click on photo for a larger image)

Wow, this is the first day it's felt like I remember June used to feel; we got lucky last night and actually had a good rain...first one in 2-3 weeks. Today is warm and humid, and I spent some time this morning feeding black flies and forking thistle in the native pasture.

The prairie is looking real good...the Porcupine Grass is forming it's "quills" and the different "panic grasses" are flowering as well.

But the real attention getter I like is on the gravel esker slope in the north pasture, the Large-flowered Beard Tongue. This is a real bumble bee magnet and I was hoping to get one in action climbing into the flower tube but had no takers this morning. About a half hour ago there was one showing off but I was indisposed at the moment...I do have some video footage of bumble bees and these penstemon, just no still shots. I'd say the Tallgrass season is definitely in full swing now - just gets better all summer long.

Looking forward to it!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Late Spring on the Tallgrass

Golden Alexander and Prairie Sage
(click on photo for a larger image)

It's June! Ah, but still spring...this is important to me. There is still so much to be done here at the Prairie Hill Farm Studio and I'm grateful that summer is still about 3 weeks away...speaking of the solstice of course.

Our native pasture has a degree of difference and evolution each year, but there are still the stalwart standbys that we can count on seeing each spring. A couple plants that seem to flourish and increase each season we burn portions of the pasture are the Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) and the White or Prairie Sage (
Artemisia ludoviciana). I'd never really put the two together in my mind but they've done it for me in one section of the east pasture; some Golden Alexander has wandered into a heavily vegetated area of sage and it really has an interesting, but subtle, visual relationship...nearly a mono tonal effect in some ways as the sage picks up color of surrounding vegetation, but also as a foil supporting backdrop.

Part of the thing that keeps my mind working visually are new experiences in nature, this case being the very prairie remnant I try hard to walk through each day. I find that without this mental exercise I become still in my expression...when this happens, things just don't feel right...the process and emotion needs feeding!

I've been on this road I chose for over half a century now...I have to be be visually creative, it's just something I must do and I doubt I could ever explain it. So I'm very grateful for the intermingling species on the tallgrass here, I'm grateful for the ever present scheme of things chlorophylled, feathered, furred, and scaled here...what fodder for the senses!

The sage is noted in journals as having been used by native Americans for medicinal and ceremonial uses and to repel insects...I wonder how it would work on Black Flies??? Those little buggers are still driving us crazy...the photo above was taken while wearing a bug hat; kinda hard seeing through the camera's viewfinder with bug netting in the way.

There's more awakening out there now, I'll have to go have another look!