Category Archives: Paintings

THE RAINS CAME

For the last week the Catalina Mountains have been closed to all but emergency vehicles as firefighters struggle with a fairly large fire. In the last 12 hours over an inch of rain fell on our property, and probably a lot more on the mountains, so the fire must be well under control. It has been just two months since we had rain. We have had to fill our bird-bath every day, which means that the hot sun has evaporated an inch of water in twenty-four hours. If you multiply that by the number of days, over five feet of water has evaporated since the tenth of May. It is a wonder that any vegetation has survived.

Here is a picture of the Brittlebushes in our back yard. It will not be long until they revive and turn green again.Brittlebush in back yard

 

In spite of two months without rain, the Desert Milkweed (Asclepias subulata) in the same back yard is in full and glorious bloom.

Milkweed in back yard

Ascleipias subulata 7b home

With the mountain closed, I have done a few watercolors. Here is one showing a view from Oracle Ridge,. The area caught in the sunlight is the Reef of Rocks.

Reef of Rocks in the sun b

Now that the summer rains have begun, we can expect a profusion of wildflowers in the mountains.

Art and Life

It is still cool in the mountains, though the valley temperatures are close to one hundred degrees. On a recent trip I started on a trail out of Marshall Gulch only to find the trail blocked by four fallen trees. This was a reminder to me of how much we owe to those who maintain trails. Without maintenance, most of the mountain trails would be impassable in a few years.

MG trail blocked

On a recent walk on Oracle Ridge in the Catalina Mountains, Ed and I were struck by the beauty of the Parry’s Agave, sending up sturdy flower stalks. We also noted something neither of us had seen before, the male flower cones of the Ponderosa pine opened to release pollen. We had seen them in their tightly closed form, with their beautiful scales. On this trip we saw how the cones expand to release pollen, seen as pale yellow dots on the picture.

Agave parryi 3

Agave parryi 1 stalks

Pinus ponderosa 7 m

Pinus ponderosa 9 m

My friends Hilary and Andrea took me to Oracle State Park. One of the nature trails afforded a view of the historic Kannally Ranch House in the distance. I took a photograph and later did this little watercolor of the view.

Oracle State Park wc

Speaking of watercolors, on Saturday, May 6, 2017, the Bear Canyon Library in Tucson will feature a show of three nature photographers, Brian Gersten, Tom Trebisky and Leslie Eguchi, plus six of my plant portraits, done in watercolor. This one is of the Canadian Violet (Viola canadensis). The opening reception is from 3 to 4:30, and you are all welcome.

Viola canadensis new

Watercolors

February is a quiet month for  wildflowers, so I have been putting my energy into working on my new book, tentatively called: “Small Wonders” in which I show enlarged pictures of tiny flowers that are rarely noticed. I am up to page 150 out of a possible 200.

In addition I have been working on watercolors for an upcoming show with our son, Owen at the Contreras Gallery in Tucson. The opening is next Saturday, March 4 from 6 – 9 pm. Here is the invitation. I would love to see you there.

dual_invitation2
And here are some of the paintings.
c-Snow at Loma Lind

c-Patagonia gold

c-San Rafael Valley
Many wildflowers have started blooming, and soon they will absorb much of my attention.

A CAMOUFLAGE SPIDER AND A CHILDREN’S BOOK

Recently I was exploring the area south of the Santa Rita mountains with my friend, Jim. We were particularly interested in grasses, but kept coming across other plants of interest, including this one with the yellow flowers (Melampodium). When I processed the picture I noticed what seemed to be a yellow flower right at the base of the stem. Then I zoomed in and found it was a spider! I believe it is a Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia). Years ago I was processing a picture of a Bouvardia plant, and found one tucked in among the red tubular flowers. It seems that this particular spider does not make a web. Its color enables it to perch unseen on a yellow flower and just wait for insects to land on it. Maybe this one was trying out a red one to see if that would also do the trick. These spiders also come in white, and can change color to match the flowers they visit.

melampodium-longipes-3

melampodium-longipes-spider

yellow-spider

Recently my old friend, Virginia Ames, published her charming book: Bo and the Fly-Away Kite. She is old in two senses. I have known her for many years, first meting her in 1982 – 34 years ago. Now she is 102. And this is her first children’s book which I was honored to illustrate for her. She is an accomplished water-color artist herself, but chose to have me do the illustrations. It is unique in having the text in three languages, since the story includes three boys – English speaking, Spanish speaking, and O’odham speaking. Here is the link on Amazon.com.

https://www.amazon.com/Bo-Fly-Away-Kite-Virginia-Ames/dp/1533561524/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1475246820&sr=1-7&keywords=virginia+ames#reader_1533561524

RAIN – RAIN – RAIN

We have been going on plant walks every week since June, and every week we see fewer flower species in bloom than usual. The last rain here was April 11 – just under eleven weeks ago. What a thrill today when the heavens opened and almost an inch of rain was recorded in our rain gauge! In a few hours the temperature dropped thirty degrees.

There are some wildflowers in bloom, including three that I have never noticed before. One of them had been on Joan Tedford’s plant list for years, but I have never seen it. Perhaps this is because it has leaves that look very much like the walnut trees which grow in the same area (about 6000 feet in elevation.) When I saw the leaves I thought it was just another walnut tree, but then I looked at the flower cluster and knew that this was a plant I had never noticed in the mountains. I could have seen it in other places in America since apparently it is the only tree or shrub that can be found in all of the lower 48 States.  It is called Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra).   I look forward to seeing the red berries, and its brilliant red leaves in the autumn.

Juglans majorLFsWalnut leaves

Rhus glabra LFcpSumac leaves

Rhus glabra 6cpSumac flower cluster

Another new plant – not yet identified – looks like a lactuca, but it seems to be one that I have never seen before. The third new plant is a Galium. I am waiting to photograph it when it starts to bloom in a week or so.

Mystery lactuca plantMystery plant

Mystery lactucaMystery plant close up

I recently produced a new book of plant photographs. I call it – “More Wildflowers and Trees.” It includes photographs of plants that did not make it into my books: “Mountain Wildflowers of Southern Arizona” and “Mountain Trees of Southern Arizona”.
The new book has been printed in a very limited edition. Later I plan to print more. It contains photographs of 342 species.

On Father’s Day (June 19) the Arizona Daily Star had a two-page article titled “Art Strengthens Family Ties – Father, son share love for creating watercolors.” This excellent article was written by  Angela Pittenger and features our son, Owen, and me plus pictures of our paintings. I have had many very positive responses to the article.

Fall leaves“Fall Leaves” – One of the paintings in the article:

We are all excited about the rain that fell today, and hope for more rain in the coming weeks. This should bring out many more of the wildflowers that I love so much.

FALL OF A CHAMPION

Some time ago I heard from Jeannie at the Ranger’s Station that one of my favorite trees on the mountain had fallen. Early this month (May) we saw a front page article in the Arizona Daily Star: “100-foot tree towers no more in Catalinas”, by Doug Kreutz. Then I knew that it was time to go and see my old friend.  I have been hiking in the Catalina Mountains for thirty-four years and have come to know and love this very special tree. It was on a West-facing slope high in the mountain, and leaned over the trail. I have done a number of paintings of this magnificent specimen. This is one of them

. Granddaddy Ent

I recalled my fear for the tree in the Aspen fire of 2003 when much of the town of Summerhaven and huge stretches of forest burned. When I finally got to visit the tree again, about a year after the fire I noticed it was in fine shape. I apologized to it for doubting its ability to deal with fire. In its two or three hundred year history it must have been scorched many times.

In the end it was not fire that brought the tree down, but internal decay. This made it vulnerable to the wind.

Soon after reading the article my wife and I went to hike at the top of the mountains so that I could see it for myself. Considering the angle of the tree I knew it must have completely blocked the trail when it fell. Sure enough I found the trail impassable, but people had made a route up the slope to the base of the stump and around the other side. I had a few moments of silent respect for the tree, and returned a little saddened by our loss

It was a Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). This is a species that is second only to the Redwoods in the height to which it can attain. Fortunately there are other giants in the Catalina Mountains, but none that I know of with this much character. We will no doubt see it lying across the trail for a long time to come, and will miss its majestic presence on the mountain.

Douglas Fir Stump and trunkThe trail was about in the middle of this fallen trunk

Douglas Fir Stump and blocked tailThis is where the trail used to be

 

 

The trail now goes just by the stumpDouglas Fir Stump

An odd plants, a dead bird and lost paintings

On our walks lately we have seen plants in bloom but they are few and far between. We did see a Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) with two flowering stalks. Normally they only have one that stays on the plant for more than a year. At least we think it was one plant. Sometimes plants grow so close together that their leaves become entwined to the point that it is hard to tell whether it is one or two.
Dasylirion wheeleri 2 stalks
The Teddy bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) has some of the densest collection of spines of all the cactus species around here. Some birds build their nests right in the thick of them where they can feel really safe and secure. How they manage to fly in and out without impaling themselves is quite a mystery. Recently we came across a dead bird lying on one of their branches. We assumed that it had been flying in and out of the plant successfully until it finally got hooked. Of course it could have died in the air and simply fallen to this resting place.
Chollas

Cholla closeup

Dead bird  in cholla
My wife and I occasionally have a burst of energy to de-junk our house. Last week we tackled the shed throwing out many large plastic bags of trash. And then, to my amazement, I found two oil paintings that I had done years ago. They were tucked away in the back corner. The fact that I had not signed them proves that they have never been in a show. As it turns out our son, Owen, and I are having a joint show at the Contreras Gallery (110 E. 6th St., Tucson) the whole month of March. We will frame these two oil paintings and make them the center pieces of my part of the show. You are all invited to the opening of the show, 6-9 pm, Saturday March 5, 2016.

Douglas fir

“Douglas fir” oil painting (30×24 inches)

Navajo country

“Navajo country” oil painting (24×30 inches)

In a few weeks we will have lots of flowers to enjoy and talk about.

JUNE SIGHTINGS

Steve and I were walking along Oracle Ridge. A fairly steady wind was whistling through the bare trunks of ponderosa pines which were burned in the fire twelve years ago. As we looked up we could see ravens circling around, playing with the wind and with each other. At first there were just a few. After a while I counted twenty-four, and knew there could have been more. When I finally woke up to the possibility that this would be worth photographing, one of the ravens had settled on the top of a burned out tree, and a few others were near. Soon the dance was over, and the sky empty. What a treat!

Raven dance A raven on a dead ponderosa pine with two more in the sky

Ed and I were making our way up Turkey Run and stopped, as we always do, to see if the rare and beautiful Shooting star flowers were in bloom. I took out my binoculars and thought I saw one lone blossom up the hill and to the right. Ed looked and questioned my perception. He said it was just a patch of sunlight on a leaf. The hill is very steep and wet. I had to scramble up and see for myself. I got near enough to the clump of foliage on the right to know that Ed was correct. Then I looked left and saw more than twenty Shooting star plants, all of them in bud and three with open flowers.

Dodecatheon dentatum Watercolor painting of shooting star plants (Dodecatheon dentatum)

Dodecatheon dentatumC Watercolor of a flower and a bud

Years ago when I first saw these plants I got some good photographs and was able to do watercolor portrait of a group of plants, and a close-up painting of a single flower.

We were taking a plant walk in Marshall Gulch. Anne called me to look at a cluster of Coral root orchids. There were four in a little group. I managed to get a picture of what I thought was one plant, but turned out to be two. This is possibly the most densely flowered of these orchids I

 

have ever seen.

 

Spotted Coral Root orchids (Corallorhiza maculata) The one with the black background is actually two plants. Note the penny for scale.

Corallhoriza maculata 3Corallhoriza maculata 1

Coming down the mountain I stopped to see if the rare and somewhat obscure Catalina beardtongue (Penstemon discolor) was in bloom. I found them where I had expected to see them, and noticed that a few of the plants in bloom. I had my close-up camera with me so could get a really nice picture of one of these beautiful flowers.

Penstemon discolor 1 Catalina beartongue (Penstemon discolor)

These plants are about six inches tall.

Penstemon discolor 7 An individual flower close up

Flowers at the top

February 13th was a beautiful day on the mountains. Dave and I went looking for some Iris plants I saw last year to see if there might be signs of them this early. Nothing. But then, on the west end of the Butterfly trail, the delightful Red Fuzz Saxifrage plants (Saxifraga eriophora) were starting up. With their mixture of red and green leaves, red flower stalk, and white or pink flowers, they are quite a sight. Some years I have even seen them poking through the snow. I went there again today and caught a picture of a flower cluster, glistening from the recent rain. It was a cool day on the mountain (38 degrees), and the flowers looked like they were doing fine.

 

Red FuzzLooking down on the Red Fuzz Saxifrage plants

Saxifraga eriophoraFL2A close-up with my thumb giving scale

Saxifraga eriophora 5Another close-up wet with recent rain
We also saw Periwinkle and  Dandelion at 8000 feet. The beautiful Valerian (used as a medicinal plant for sleep problems)  has buds and soon will be in bloom (Valeriana arizonica).

Vinca majorPeriwinkle (Vinca Major) already in bloom

Valeriana arizonicaMy watercolor painting of Valerian

Jim and I were driving along on our way home from botanizing in the desert. Out of the clear blue sky I asked him to tell me about Tackstem (Calycoseris wrightii). He wondered why I asked the question, and I explained that my chief Botanical advisor on the Flower book, Joan,  had come to the conclusion that Tackstem does not occur on the Catalina mountains, and is fairly rare in this part of Arizona. If we see a white flower like this in the Catalina Mountains it is almost certainly Desert Chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana). He agreed, and said that sometimes, depending on weather conditions, etc, Tackstem may be found along some road sides. The flowers of the two are nearly identical, but the Tackstem has little tack-shaped glands growing along the stem, and base of the flowers.

Rafinesquia newomexicana FLtop Chicory flower

Calycoseris wrightii FLTackstem flower

Rafinesquia neomexicana base of FLChicory at the base of the flower

Calycoseris wrightii tacks2Base of the Tackstem showing the glands

A few minutes later I noticed some white flowers out of the corner of my eye and I suggested we stop and have a look. When we got out of the car and walked back to the flowers, we found that they were Tackstems! This is the first time I had ever met and photographed the plant.

Every time we go out, we see more flowers in bloom. On a recent hike I counted over 60 different flowering species. What a treat.

BIRD WATCHING

It has been almost a month since my last posting. Not being able to include pictures has been a deterrent to making new entries. Our son, Owen, has solved the problem, for which I thank him.
instagram1

 

 

 

This is one of Owen’s great photographs

 

 

 

 

 
In the last week or so we have had a lot of rain – about three inches in three days at our house. Considering that this area receives only a little over ten inches a year, that is a lot. And more is on the way. This leads us to expect a spectacular show of spring flowers.

Recently Ed and I were invited by our friends Doug and Arlene, to see the birds in the nature preserve known as Whitewater Draw in Sulphur Springs Valley, near the border with Mexico. The preserve is one of a number of locations for the Sandhill Crane. It has several very large ponds, full of all kinds of water fowl and other birds. Doug and Arlene, both keen birders, pointed out a number of them: Great Horned Owl, Shovelers, Pintails, Coots, Ruddy ducks, Green winged teal, to name but a few. We arrived late morning.  It was a beautiful overcast day, with grey clouds reflected in the water. This part of the valley is flat, and is ringed with mountains ranges. I thought, “This is a watercolor day.” When we got home I did a little sketch which I will later develop into a painting.

Whitewater

 

A 5 by 9 inch watercolor sketch

 

 

 

We saw only a few cranes in the morning, but were treated to a large flock of Snow geese, which circled, finally landing in the water only to take off later, circle, and then land again. It was a wonderful sight, especially when the sun caught their brilliant white color.

We went to the old mining town of Bisbee and returned after lunch. As soon as we got out of the car we could hear flocks of sandhill cranes, in raucous conversation. They came swooping in, some landing on the ground, others waterskiing up to the shore. Later more flocks arrived. Had we stayed until dark, we might have seen as many as ten thousand of them. What a treat! The flocks stay here until the middle or end of February when they will migrate north for the summer, some going as far as northern Canada and Alaska.

cranes landing

 

A flock on the ground, and a half a dozen coming to join them

 

 

 

 

In my last posting I mentioned seeing a number of Jack rabbits on a couple of our hikes. Here are some pictures.Hare ears

 

 

hares twoNote the huge pink ears

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes they run rather than hop

 

 

 

 

Rabbit 1

 

And this is a rabbit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a few weeks, we will see the desert in bloom!