Into the Sun – Day 2

Life Balance, Outdoor Adventure
Nature's Stage

Nature’s stage – light…action!

The stage is set by a solar spotlight. This morning the light is cast on what may seem like random spot of dirt and rock. But, this little lit-up soil patch contains millions of organisms – nematodes, algae, bacteria, and many other. I wonder how many earthworms, pill bugs, and millipedes are hiding under the leaves. Is there a salamander under that rock? I’m not typically a stone-turner, but I do get the urge once in a while.

Nope. Just an assortment of bugs scattering about. This time of year, the photoperiod (aka hours of sunshine) is on the decline in the northeast; this patch of soil and its inhabitants now have a big workload of leaves to decompose, as a result. The Jays seem particularly rambunctious nowadays, as their calls have gotten noticeably louder and more frequent. I wonder if they too are concerned about this photoperiod business; never enough time in the day to cache all those acorns, I suppose. Thanks for planting all those oaks, my friends.

 

5 Days into the Sun

Life Balance, Outdoor Adventure

The sun is the heart of our solar system; it is a driving force behind much of the activity (seasons, climate, currents) and life on earth. Throughout history the sun has been worshiped and debated; ancient civilizations built stone structures (calendars) to mark the sun’s path through the seasons. During the days of Ptolemy, most believed that the sun revolved around the earth. Then, much later, we learned it was the other way around. Today, many people are still excited about the sun, especially during phenomenons like the solar eclipse, but most of the time it sort of goes unnoticed.

This is an exciting time of year to notice the changes! During the next 5 days, I’ll make an attempt to be a bit more mindful of the sun by noticing its intensity and position in the sky. I may try to compare to the sun’s presence a month ago. Each day, I will post a photo taken “into the sun” as a way to reflect on the sun during this time of seasonal transition, when the sun becomes a bit dimmer and more pleasant, like turning down the lamp light in the house for a more relaxing mood. I hope this little 5-day activity inspires us to notice our natural surroundings more often.

Into the Sun - Day 1

Photo taken near “green pond” at Harriman State Park, NY

A Painting in Memory of the 600-Year-Old Great White Oak

Art, New Jersey, Outdoor Adventure, watercolor

It was the tree that the town of Basking Ridge, NJ grew and developed around. Further back, the story goes that George Washington talked strategy underneath this tree. And now a few months ago, with great sorrow, we said goodbye to the 600-year-old giant. The tree was taken down at the site of the old church and cemetery. But, the oak’s lineage lives on! One of its acorns has now grown into a 25 foot tall descendant and it was planted at the site of the old tree. Below is a painting to remember this giant oak and all the joy it has brought to locals and visitors alike.

Watercolor on Arches Rough Paper

Original 14″ x 20″

Great White Oak, Basking Ridge, NJ

Original paintings and prints available on our Etsy Shop!

 

Emmerich Greenhouse Painting

Art, Outdoor Adventure, watercolor

On a drizzly, humid summer morning, Brandy and I set out to paint in Warwick, NY. We drove around looking for something interesting to paint. Finding parking was not easy, especially near interesting enough places. Then, we zoomed past an old farm building – Emmerich Greenhouses. The parking worked out and the folks working the greenhouses were very friendly. I haven’t lived near Warwick very long and I am always excited to discover places of heritage (especially, places that are not heavily advertised). These greenhouses were started by Chris Emmerich in 1982 and still going strong!

 

Watercolor on Arches Rough Paper

Original 14″ x 20″

emmerich-greenhouses.jpg

Original paintings and prints available on our Etsy Shop!

Connecting with Nature?

Life Balance, Outdoor Adventure

A friend recently gave me a book called “How to Connect With Nature”, written by Tristan Gooley. At first, I thought, “are you saying I need help connecting with nature”? How dare you; after all, I attended “Nature College” and earned a “Nature Degree”. Of course, I dare not actually say any of that stuff and I thanked him profusely for his kind act. But, hang on a minute; my friend is actually spot on! Reading scientific papers about deciduous forests is not the same as experiencing a deciduous forest, fully with the senses. Better yet, hiking through a deciduous forest and identifying plants with a wild, scattered mind is not the same as experiencing a deciduous forest, fully with the senses.

I’m only a few pages in, but so far I like it. It seems the purpose of this book is to give people practical tools to make a profound connection with Nature. Sounds very cliché; we hear it on television, musicians sing about it – take it all in, commune with nature, they say. But, to consciously want to connect with our natural surroundings, in my opinion, is not a common desire. I had a friend tentatively make the following request a few times per year – “take me hiking, dude, so I can be one with nature and shit”. I assume this request came out of the idea that going to some scenic setting with birds and a nice overlook would seem cool. But, perhaps there is also a good chance that folks who want to take a hike for commercially inspired purposes might develop a deeper interest in nature through that experience.

It seems that to be present and “feel connected” is no easy task, even for people who really want to experience nature in a primal sense. For me, there is often an in and out signal – sometimes I feel more aware of my surroundings and sometimes I feel foggy-headed and distracted by thoughts of what has occurred in the past or what might occur in the future. This dilemma seems to circle back to ancient teachings about the practice of awareness and staying in the present moment. I believe this is the fundamental step for people who want to “connect with nature” in a truthful way. There are many wonderful sources out there for folks who want to learn more about mindfulness (and I don’t mean to use the term “mindfulness” as the marketing buzz word that it has become). Below are my top 3 favorite sources that I follow on this topic, and I hope you can benefit from them too. Happy trails!

3 Great Websites About Awareness / Simplicity

Audio Dharma – an archive of Dharma talks given by various speakers.

Zen Habits – a blog about finding simplicity and mindfulness, by Leo Babauta.

Raptitude – a blog about getting better at being human, by David Cain.

 

Find Your Flow

…Nature-inspired watercolor paintings available on our Etsy Shop! 

What To Paint? – Creative Process

Art, Outdoor Adventure, watercolor

Dear fellow artists and wanderers,

I’m going to let you into my world.

I put together a short video that outlines my typical creative process for painting nature scenes in watercolor. It is quite simple: wander around someplace, find something that you think is interesting, take a picture, and put it down on paper. You might be thinking: yeah, easier said than done, but I hope you might draw some inspiration or ideas from my process. Please enjoy!

I rarely paint in plein air, but I would like to get into that habit. I don’t mind the cold or the occasional curious observer.  It’s just that I am spoiled by the ease of working from a photograph, indoors where I don’t have to worry about the light changing rapidly or the wind blowing away my art supplies. Still, I plan on sacrificing these creature comforts for a different experience and greater challenge…maybe.

What does your creative process look like?

Indian Head Mountain Hike, Catskills, NY

Hike of the Week, Life Balance, Outdoor Adventure

Here’s a look back on a great hiking weekend in spring (May)…

We were extra anxious to get the Friday workday over with and head to the Catskill Mountains, but the weather report called for rain all weekend. Didn’t matter, we were determined, even if that meant getting drenched and having to haul a wet tent and wet gear back home. Pruney fingers are a small price to pay for some time in the mountains.  On Saturday morning, we woke up excited like kids on Christmas at hit the road (I even skipped my coffee ritual).

A couple hours later we made a left on Prediger Road and parked at the trailhead. It was around 10am, but the parking lot was already at maximum capacity. We registered by signing the book and began marching through the woods via the following loop hike: Devil’s Path (red blazes) to Jimmy Dolan Notch (blue blazes) and back to the parking lot via Devil’s Path. The loop is about 7 miles, but we decided to extend the hike a bit by climbing up to one of the overlooks on the way to Twin Mountain to have our PB&Js.  There are about 5 scenic overlooks on this hike including Indian Head Mountain, which has earned our vote as favorite scenic point in the Catskills (so far).

indian-head-map

We made sure our rain jackets were easily accessible, but luckily there was no need – the day was cool and overcast and we were fortunate enough to have good visibility at the top – The Hudson River cut through the landscape below, like a long winding mirror, and up above, other peaks purpled out in the distance, rise up into the gray sky. Spruce forests occupy the first few hundred feet at the top of the peaks. It is noticeably cooler in these mountain top spruce forests and the cool moist ground is covered with a diverse array of moss. This is my favorite setting, but likely the most sensitive to recreational use.

On our descent, we were dazzled by two gorgeous types of trillium scattered along the trail sides – Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum) and Wake-robin (Trillium erectum). Aside from differences in size and leaves, the Painted Trillium has white petals with crimson veins extending from the base of each petal, whereas, the Wake-robin’s entire flower is maroon or dark-purple. We also found Dutchman’s Breeches (not actual pants, but an herb with flowers that kind of look like dangling teeth), Trout lilies, different species of Violets, and other forest herbs. Lastly, a shrub that we’ve often seen in the mountains – Hobble Bush (Viburnumlantanoids) – was really bursting with color in these last weeks of May. Hobble Bush is a native perennial shrub with two types of flowers – large showy flowers with no stamens or pistils on the outside and little egg shaped flowers toward the center of the flower cluster.

As the hike came to an end we reveled in the fresh spring greenery, which in a few weeks will darken into that deep summer green. It was time to camp – or as some may put it – glamp! After a short drive down a very steep Platte Clove road we arrived at Rip Van Winkle campground – a family style private campground with a heated pool, children’s playgrounds, fishing pond, and many other festivities. Luckily, our campsite was tucked away in a quiet place on the edge of Plattekill Creek in the middle of an Eastern Hemlock stand. I think that Rip himself would have personally selected this site if he were to stay at his campground. There’s something for everyone here and it is the perfect base camp location for day hikers looking to explore the park’s Northeastern peaks and waterfalls.

We relaxed on the creek, read our books, identified some plants, boiled up some ramen noodles, burned a few pieces of birch wood, and then of course the rain finally came. This forced us to brush, put stuff away and retire into the tent for the night. I tried to read a few more pages, but before we knew it we dozed off to the sounds of water falling softly onto our shelter. The worst thing about camping is having to get up out of the tent to pee (especially in the rain). One sleeps remarkably better after overcoming that challenge.

The next morning, another 7 mile loop hike would have been nice, but in reality we needed to head home and get ready for work. But, first we treated ourselves to breakfast at Bread Alone, a bakery in Woodstock, NY.  Our local supermarket carries Bread Alone bread, but we soon discovered that they don’t just make bread (alone); they have a delicious breakfast menu, amazing dark coffee, and more. Bellies full and slightly caffeinated, we left the quirky hippie town en route to Jersey with a smile on our faces that read – what a weekend!