Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Next Stop

Next Stop  Acrylic on NYC Metrocard by Meera Rao

Our Son and Daughter-in-law renovated their home and covered a wall of one of the rooms with NewYorker Magazine covers.  So I surprised them by painting on a metro card from my collection of expired cards from various trips, mounted them on canvas ready to hang in that room  on another wall :) 

I find great satisfaction from painting on these cards that otherwise will end up in trash.  I love  the 'Next Stop' for this card is on a wall instead :) 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

VMN Nature Journal: Plant walk

Plant Walk Nature Journal by Meera Rao 

Going on nature walks always leaves me very humbled.  The beauty and variety in nature is just mind boggling!!  I know nothing about almost all of them but I am totally in awe of it all.

I noticed the tiny Partridge berry plant for the first time during the plant walk arranged by the VMN Class. I had seen the Lady slipper Orchid Cypripedium acaule before but studying it up close and reading about it I discovered that native Indians named them Moccasin flower and used the roots medicinally as a remedy for nervousness, tooth-pain and muscle spasms!  

Plant Walk Nature Journal by Meera Rao 

I sketched these at home mostly from photographs I had taken during the walk as there was no time to observe and draw during the walk.  I kept the samples of the grass that our instructor had used to show the difference. 

Plant Walk Nature Journal by Meera Rao 

During the plant walk for the VMN class, I also learned "Sedges have edges, Rushes are round and grasses are hollow - what have you found? "  

Plant Walk Nature Journal by Meera Rao 

Learning to distinguish among Sweet gum, Sycamore and Maple leaves was an interesting exercise! I still need to look at the tree and its vicinity for clues to identify them! I had discovered 'seeing eyes' when I first started keeping a journal during my trips to India and now keeping a nature journal I am learning to be much more observant of small details! 

Monday, July 8, 2019

VMN Nature Journal : Mateson Trail

Matteson Trail Nature Walk  color pencils by Meera Rao 

Matteson Trail Nature Walk  color pencils by Meera Rao 

These sketches are from my VMN Nature Journal.  Most days I walk for my exercise especially if it is a beautiful day.  On this particular day right at the start of the trail I stepped on  sweet gum pods that were littered all over, slipped and fell. I still walked about a mile and back and that was not a wise thing to do considering my weak many times sprained ankles. Back at home, nursing the ankles, keeping them elevated, I kept busy sketching the few things I had collected and photographed. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

VMN Nature Journal - Pine Grove Nature Preserve

VMN nature Journal by Meera Rao 

The field trip in April to Pine Grove Nature Preserve maintainted by the Nature Conservancy filled four pages of my journal. Endangered Red Cockaded Woodpecker Picoides borealis and the long leaf pine are their main focus and efforts to restore both the species are in full swing. I took a lot of photos and notes and worked on the journal at home. 

I was fascinated by the Bluets Houstenia caerulca - the beautiful tiny blooms littered the forest floor. Until the field trip, I was ignorant of the jelly like Spotted Salamander eggmass in the vernal pools.  One of the cohorts caught a Spring Peeper frog and we saw the little guy upclose :)   

Spotted Salamander Eggmass photo by Meera Rao

VMN nature Journal by Meera Rao

The Cockaded Woodpeckers in the nature preserve are one of the last breeding population in Virginia and the restoration efforts are bearing results.  The male has a small red speck on each side of his head/cap.  These birds nest exclusively in live pine trees! 

VMN nature Journal by Meera Rao
We saw the different kinds of pines and saw and felt the differences in the varieties of pinecones.  The controlled burning of the forests are a necessary part in the growth of Long leaf pines and in turn the cockaded woodpeckers.  

VMN nature Journal by Meera Rao

We learned to identify coyote foot prints and scats.  We also heard many different birds but saw a few Brown headed Nuthatches Sitta pusilla which love pine trees! It has a high pitched 'kit-kit-kit' vocals. It was also the first time I noticed a colony of British Soldier Lichen' Cladoria cristatella  - since then I have seen them in a few places around here ! 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

VMN Nature Journal Eco Art

Endangered Bog Turtle colorpencil and graphite by Meera Rao 

One of the options for our nature journal during the week we studied Ecology in The Virginia Master Naturalist Course was to create Eco-Art.  I researched endangered species in our area and discovered that the Bog Turtle Clemmys muhlenbergii,  at 4"in size -N. America's smallest turtle, was placed on Federal Endangered Threatened Species list on Oct 1, 1987.  It lives in the spring fed wetlands, including herbaceous sedge meadows and fens bordered by wooded areas. Sunny open areas of wetlands provide the warmth needed to regulate its body temperature and to incubate its eggs.  The soft Muddy areas allow the turtles to escape from predators and extreme temperatures. The sketch of the turtle in the journal is same as its real life size -4" :) 

Endangered Bog Turtle acrylic on NYC Metro Card By Meera Rao 

The Bog Turtles had been placed on the endangered species as they were being collected illegally for pet trading, and also because of loss of habitat due to draining of wetlands, urban development and encroachment of invasive plant species. To highlight its precarious situation, I also painted the turtle on an expired NYC Metro card - the green one with the human finger on the circular target. Let us all work to make sure the Bog Turtle thrives in its natural habitat. 

Friday, June 14, 2019

Nature Journaling and Virginia Master Naturalist

Backyard Birds (1-8) graphite and color pencils by Meera Rao 

The past few months, every Wednesday and a couple of weekends each month were taken up with classes or field trips. Three days ago-Tuesday was graduation and now I am a member of Virginia Master Naturalist - Pennisula Chapter :) I loved every minute of the course learning about Virginia's rich and varied natural wealth. 

One of the requirements was to keep a nature journal.  After a class on local birds, when I decided casually for that week's entry in the journal, to sketch the birds I see in my backyard, I was in for a big eye-opener.  I thought there would a dozen or so birds that visit or live in my backyard as I had never really kept count until then. But as I started watching more closely, and listing them, I was pleasantly surprised! I pulled out the binoculars and my bird book and was excited to see the variety as I identified them one by one.  It took me a more than a couple of weeks to do these quick sketches.  

Backyard Birds (9-12) graphite and color pencils by Meera Rao 

I stared to see the difference between different finches and warblers; sparrows and Carolina wrens; Barn swallows and Purple Martins; the many different gulls, Vultures and even crows!  So many 'black' birds - starlings, Ravens, crows, blackbirds, Purple martins, cowbirds,  orioles, even an Eastern King Bird! 

Backyard Birds (13-18) graphite and color pencils by Meera Rao 

I am beginning to recognize the different bird calls - but that is proving to be harder than I thought! It has been great fun to discover the wealth of information available on line to help with that.  

Backyard Birds (19-24) graphite and color pencils by Meera Rao

I used color pencils and graphite to sketch these as the paper in the journal was too thin for watercolors.  I had decided to use the journals we were given at the start of the class - I had to spray the drawing with  a coating of Krylon clear varnish to fix the graphite and color pencils to keep the sketches from smudging and paper from curling.

Backyard Birds (25-30) graphite and color pencils by Meera Rao 

There are a few other varieties of ducks other than mallards that visit the river but those will have to wait! I saw on the iBird page for our area that there are about a hundred more varieties/species that have been seen and identified.  I am excited to watch and learn more about all these birds :)

Backyard Birds (31-36) graphite and color pencils by Meera Rao 

There is always so much drama that is going on with the backyard birds. And now the butterflies and dragonflies are out flitting around :) 

Monday, April 15, 2019

London Days Part 10 History is Never Dull

Ornate light pole by the Thames River Promenade 
Watercolor by Meera Rao 

I was fascinated by the ornate light poles by the Thames River during our walk on the promenade on the banks  opposite side of the London Eye. It is a beautiful stretch with parks on one side and river on the other. We walked past war memorials all the way up to Big Ben -which was undergoing renovation then. There are huge trees along the street and Thames with 'Sphinx benches' under their shade to sit and watch the river as well as the buzz of city life.  

Of course there is history, controversy and more behind these lamps. From the website Paul Dobraszczyk Rag-picking History : 'Built in stages between 1862 and 1874 by the Metropolitan Board of Works, the Thames Embankment transformed London’s riverscape by reclaiming marshy land next to the river and constructing wide carriage- and foot-ways and a high granite retaining wall, stretching over three miles in total.' After much deliberation 'a dolphin lamp designed by George Vulliamy, architect to the Board of Works'  was chosen.  Please hop over to the website and check out rest of the designs, photos and more juicy factoids :) 

Skylon Marker  watercolor and ink by Meera Rao

A small shiny  marker on the footbridge over the Thames River sent me googling  'Skylon' and 1951 Festival of Britain.  Of course, even the smallest objects around the city have interesting history :) 

From Wikipedia : The Skylon was a futuristic-looking, slender, vertical, cigar-shaped steel tensegrity structure located by the Thames in London, that gave the illusion of 'floating' above the ground, built in 1951 for the Festival of Britain. The former location of the Skylon is the riverside promenade between the London Eye and Hungerford Bridge. Skylon was removed in 1952 when the rest of the exhibition was dismantled, on the orders of Winston Churchill, who saw the Festival and its architectural structures as a symbol of the preceding Labour Government's vision of a new socialist Britain. According to The Guardian  : The original Skylon, built in the last year of the postwar Labour government and immensely popular as a futuristic shape, was vengefully scrapped, cut in pieces and sold as ashtrays by an incoming Conservative administration. 

These are the last two sketches of my travel sketchbook from last September - finally all posted in the blog!  

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

London Days Part 9 Hanging Flower Baskets

The Woodman at Highgate watercolor by Meera Rao 

I loved the flower boxes and hanging baskets all over London.   We came across this charming pub often as we got in and out of the nearby tube station.  I preferred taking the bus over the trains just so I could see the beauty of the flower boxes on various buildings - even though it took us longer to get from place to place :) 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

London Days Part 8 Cattle Trough

Cattle Trough  watercolor and ink by Meer Rao 

When I came across this opposite the public library on Queens Ave in Muswell Hill, London, I just assumed it was for flowers for neighborhood beautification. Then I saw the inscription on the sides: 'Metropolitan Drinking Fountain & Cattle Trough'  it said on the long side and had this inscription on the short side: 'In Memory of the late David Kidd of Leyton.'  There was also a notice that confirmed its present status as a planter maintained by the local Association- and a request to enjoy the flowers but not take any of the plants. 

Upon googling, I discovered the fascinating history of these troughs and what lead to the government takeover of the water supply for the citizens from private suppliers, paving the way to the modern sewer and water systems. According to Wikipedia 

The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association was an association set up in London by Samuel Gurney, a Member of Parliament, and philanthropist and Edward Thomas Wakefield, a barrister, in 1859 to provide free drinking water. Originally called the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association it changed its name to include cattle troughs in 1867, to also support animal welfare. In 2011, as the Drinking Fountain Association, it began to support the Find-a-Fountain campaign to map the UK's drinking water fountains.  

I also found out that the troughs that have survived over the years are mainly granite and they are mostly now planted with flowers. Cast iron or Zinc lined timber were also in vogue - but were too easily damaged.  The write up was really fascinating - amazing how any one thing can have so much history and be a part of the culture of the place! 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

London Days Part 7 : A Whole Lot More Than Crumpets and Tea

A Whole lot More than Tea and Crumpets  watercolor and ink  Meera Rao 

London surprised me with its wonderful offerings of Vegan and Vegetarian food. That made our outings so much more enjoyable. Of course, there was Indian food but almost every restaurant had vegan and vegetarian options. Even a Fish and chip place near Westminster had a delicious vegan dish to order! Street food wise, 'Horn OK Please' near London Eye had yummy vegan/vegetarian options and very tasty south Indian Masala Dosa :) I was amused to find Karma Cola as a drink option most everywhere - had not encountered that brand before.  The red Coca Cola bucket with condiments was at a Pizza place that happily for me had vegan Pizza on the menu. Supermarkets too had many ready to eat vegan and vegetarian selections in their aisles. So, at-least in London, British food was definitely eclectic. 
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