Saturday, April 22, 2017


Eastern White Oak Tree leaves
Today is a day that we celebrate our earth -- its bounty and beauty.  This drawing is of the leaves of the Eastern White Oak, Querus alba, a tree that represents strength and majesty.  It is the first time I tried to add a rain drop to my drawing--this raindrop is to remind us that we rely on water to keep our world healthy; it is also a tear I shed because of the lack of understanding in our present administration about how we all are a part of nature and about what we need to do to help our world survive.
    Today we celebrate science and all that it has contributed to our understanding of life on earth.  We march and protest to keep funding and support for science and for the health of our planet.
    I saw this quote in the Wordsmith blog site and decided to add it to the blog, "There is a beauty in discovery. There is mathematics in music, a kinship of science and poetry in the description of nature, and exquisite form in a molecule. Attempts to place different disciplines in different camps are revealed as artificial in the face of the unity of knowledge. All literate men are sustained by the philosopher, the historian, the political analyst, the economist, the scientist, the poet, the artisan and the musician." -Glenn T. Seaborg, scientist, Nobel laureate (19 Apr 1912-1999)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Making a duck difference

Today is the 83rd birthday of Jane Goodall, a person who exemplifies what she says, “Every individual matters.  Every individual has a role to play.  Every individual makes a difference.” Happy birthday to someone who inspires me, and who has and who continues to play a role in teaching us about the importance of the natural world. 

Thinking about the natural world, I begin this April entry with the Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis, a small but tough little duck that Rita McMahon of the Wild Bird Fund described as weighing about as much as a can of Coke.  McMahon was writing about a ruddy that had been brought to her rehabilitation center after having been rescued in Brooklyn where he was found entangled in a rubber band and injured from an encounter with a dog.  When he arrived at the center, she said he bit “like a tiger and hissed like a snake” but he survived.  His wounds were cleaned and he received antibiotics and soon was well enough to return to the wild. 

This seems to me to be a time when we have to be alert, tough, and bold, and we have to keep in mind that each of us as an individual can make a difference.  Our world is going through a change that hit many of us hard at the end of January and made me feel that I had nothing more to write.  But in fact, nature is probably more important than ever.  We cannot forget the natural world and the EPA, nor can we forget the NEA, NEH, and NIH—the organizations that foster creativity and science. 

It is individuals like Jane Goodall and Rita McMahon, who devote themselves to nature, that inspire and help us understand that we are part of a web of life and that even though webs are strong, they can be torn and must be woven back again.  To quote Goodall again, “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

So I think about this funny feisty little duck who took on a fierce dog and life-threatening rubber band, but who made it with the help of someone and then several someones who cared.  When I took the class in drawing ducks, I gained great respect and admiration for the duck—an amazing creature that can swim, fly, walk on land, and head out into sometimes unwelcoming waters and environments but who can also survive with a little help from his friends. We need to stay together, care for each other, and stay active doing what we believe will keep the world alive.  

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Jay is for January

Blue Jay drawing
I picked the Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, for the January bird of my 2017 bird calendar because I love seeing the blue jays in the winter, their exquisite blue up against the snow or even against the browns of winter oak trees.  Their name includes cyan, a blue that is in between blue and green. When I looked up cyan, I found that the color is associated with making someone feel better and protected, perhaps that is why it is the color of so many swimming pools.  The color on the blue jay’s tail and back are closer to cyan than the feathers on its body.  In fact, those feathers that we see as blue are really more brownish—I have a blue jay feather and in some lights, it seems brownish gray.  But when it catches or reflects the light, it magically turns blue.  It is magic too—not simply pigment.  Cardinal feathers are red from pigment, but blue jay feathers have a structure that enables them to reflect blue light like the sky does.  They are living magic.

Blue jay males and females look the same.  They tend to mate for life, and the two work together to build the home for their babies.  The male gathers the materials and the female arranges them.  As Leslie Day writes, “The female incubates and broods four to six pale buff-bluish eggs with brown spots, while the male feeds insects to her and the nestlings when they hatch.”  This is a lovely arrangement, fair to all.  Blue jays are omnivores, so they also eat acorns, nuts, berries, and other fruits.  They bury acorns for winter eating and luckily for the forest, they sometimes forget where they are buried so that new oak trees grow. 

Like crows, blue jays are in the Corvidae family—a family of intelligent, curious, and playful birds.  Although blue jays have a reputation for aggressive behavior toward other birds, only a small percent of them actually do this.  And often it is a way of protecting their nest.  They are known to mob owls, squirrels, and even humans to defend their young.  But generally and especially in the winter, they bring color and beauty to the winterscape.  So when I went out for my walk on this snowy day, I searched the park for the spot of blue that means blue jays are about. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Persistence of Persimmons

Persimmon drawing Dec. 14, 2016

Yesterday I tasted for the first time the luscious autumn fruit, the persimmon, Diospyros kaki, that is the Japanese persimmon.  Leslie gave it to me as we walked around the Bronx Zoo with Aya and Jim. I stared at a peacock under an oak tree and ate my persimmon.  It was the fuyu persimmon or non-astringent type, which means that it has less tannin and can be eaten fresh.  It is like a squat, sun-colored tomato and can be eaten like a ripe tomato or apple.  It is even a little crunchy unless the one you get is soft and very ripe; mine still had its crunch.   It can also be cut into smaller chunks and put in salads and or cooked.  Persimmons originally came from China and the tree spread into Korea and Japan, and made it to the United States in 1856 via Japan and Commodore Perry. 

Some persimmon trees are dioecious, which means they have separate male and female trees.  There are also some monoecious ones, which means that the male and female flowers grow on the same tree.  The female flowers are cream-colored and the male flowers are pink. 

Persimmons are supposed to be healthy fruits that have lots of Vitamins C, A. E, and B6.  Sounds a bit like the New York subway system.  They are said to be good for the eyes, protect against breast and prostate cancer, and boost the ability to fight free radicals.  For such little fruits, they pack quite a punch and they taste good too.  So here’s my take on persimmons and on other fruits and vegetables one may not know--try them.  Give them a chance.  There’s a real possibility you will find something that will actually make your life a little brighter and tastier if you are willing to take a risk.

Excerpt from “Persimmons” by Li-Young Lee

My mother said every persimmon has a sun
inside, something golden, glowing,
warm as my face.

Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,
forgotten and not yet ripe.
I took them and set both on my bedroom windowsill,
Where each morning a cardinal
sang, The sun, the sun.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Reds Made on Purpose

Red Maple Leaf in Autumn Drawing
A most interesting discussion has begun about a process that most of us marvel at each year and that is the turning of leaf colors.  We know that in the fall (or autumn if you prefer) when it starts to get colder, and daylight gets shorter, the chlorophyll that turns leaves green starts to break down and reveal the underlying cartotenoids, which then turn leaves yellow or orangey. This is familiar to us, but what about the reds? Those glorious reds? All the way back on October 25, 1936, in the New York Times Charlotte Wallum wrote “The red pigments are cell-sap colors.  They are supposed to be tannoid compounds (referred to as anthocyanin) and the pigments of red beets and dark grapes are similar compounds.”

Now eighty years later to the date, October 25, 2016 in the New York Times, Joanna Klein takes another look at this familiar yet extraordinary process in her wonderful article, “Why Does Fall Foliage Turn So Red and Fiery? It Depends.” Klein begins her article poetically, “Leaves scream their final cries in color before dropping to the ground.”  She reminds us of the normal break down of chlorophyll and the revealing of the underlying yellow or orange in most leaves.  Klein then explains that the story of the red leaves is different.  Red leaves are “made on purpose.”  She tells us that the anthocyanins that are produced come from built up sugars in the leaves that combine with the green pigments left in the leaves and turn into different shades of red depending on the species, the environment, and its own genetics.  Clearly eighty years later, scientists understand the process better.  But even today, they are asking why some leaves use their “precious energy” to turn red before they die.  Several theories have been posited: They may be flashing color to attract birds and mammals to their tree’s fruits hoping that they will be eaten and the seeds dispersed.  Or the red leaves could be a warning about the bad-tasting poisons or chemicals in the leaves so they should be left alone and not used as sites for pests wanting to lay eggs.  Or the red color could signal that the leaf is dying and not to be eaten because it has no nutrients.  And finally there is Robert Guy, a professor of forestry at the University of British Columbia who wonders if the red “works like a sunshade in maple trees.”  According to him, the red leaves may serve as a protection from bright and UV light so that the leaves have the time to send their nutrients back into the tree for storage before they drop to the ground. 

I don’t know how many of us will be around eighty years from now, but I certainly hope the maples, the aspens, the black tupelos, the sassafras, and all the other trees whose leaves turn red will be.  In fact, I hope all the trees and natural life of this planet will be. But for now, let's take joy in the glory of the reds, and the glory of the fall.