Friday, April 29, 2022

HAPPY ARBOR DAY! 150 years of celebrating

Riverside Park Spring trees in bloom

 Today is Arbor Day—a holiday that celebrates trees and nature.  It is celebrated on the last Friday in April in most U.S. states, but in Hawai’i it is celebrated on the first Friday in November and in Alaska on the third Monday in May—the times of year when it is good to plant.  So today when we celebrate Arbor Day, we think of trees and the nature lovers who make our gardens, parks, and public spaces beautiful with trees and plantings. So I thought it would be a good day to put “Birds & Trees of Fort Tryon Park” up on the blog.  It is a fun coloring book and a tribute to trees and the animals that depend on them, humans included that I illustrated, Leslie Day wrote, Alan Robbins designed and Jennifer Hoffa of Fort Tryon Park financed. Fort Tryon Park coloring book  It fits perfectly with the philosophy of Arbor Day, but what do most of us know about Arbor Day itself.


The first Arbor Day was on April 10, 1872 in Nebraska City, Nebraska, so this year is its 150thanniversary. Arbor Day was created by Julius Sterling Morton, who although born in New York City, spent a good part of his life in Nebraska.  In 1854, he and his bride, Caroline Joy French, moved there and acquired 160 acres of treeless land. Morton started to plant trees. Over the years he planted thousands of trees on the “ranche” as Morton called the homestead including an apple orchard, fruit trees like the peach, plum, and pear trees as well as cottonwoods, evergreens, beeches, and any other trees that would grow in the area. He began the celebration of nature and trees in 1872. By 1885, Arbor Day had become a legal holiday in Nebraska and by 1892 was a holiday celebrated in just about every state in the U.S. See the attached Alice Cary article for more information on Morton. Alice Cary from Farmer's Almanac article


Morton was a journalist and politician who used his position to make speeches and write articles about the benefits of planting trees and plants. Morton’s commitment to nature led him to become acting governor of the Nebraska Territory from 1858 to 1861.  President Grover Cleveland appointed him as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in 1893.  A statue of him is in the National Hall of Fame in Washington, DC.  Arbor Lodge, the Morton family home, grew from a small 4-room cottage into a 52-room mansion with acres of plantings and more than 265 varieties of trees and shrubs and is now a state park in Nebraska City that is visited by thousands every year. We can celebrate Arbor Day by planting trees, cleaning up debris around trees in our area, and observing the beauty of trees in the spring time as they burst with blooms and leaves—hope as a tree in bloom.  
















Tuesday, April 12, 2022


 I am thrilled to be able to upload my colored-in page on the garden tiger moth that appears in Backyard Pollinators: A partnership with Plants, the beautiful new book in the Coloring Wonder series envisioned and developed by Cordelia Norris, the creative director and founder of Luna Creative.  Cordelia, Tiffany Miller Russell and I wrote the text for the book and major scientific illustrators across the country contributed their artwork to the book.  Most of us know about the importance of bees as pollinators, but how many of us realize that wasps, moths, butterflies, hummingbirds, orioles, geckos, bats,  opossums and other surprise creatures are also pollinators.  How many of us know that pollen comes in different sizes and shapes?  There is a wealth of knowledge in this book and it is fun to learn and color at the same time. 

As spring approaches, this is the perfect time of year to think about pollinators and plants and the amazing relationships between them.  You will learn a lot from this book and have fun coloring at the same time.  It is a great book for nature lovers of all ages.  It is available on Amazon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Monarch: A Golden Flight of Hope


A golden flight of hope: In today's troubled and confusing times, we are always looking for a bit of good news, and I am happy to report on this item about one of our favorite butterflies.  Don Riepe is the Director of the Northeast chapter of the American Littoral Society and has served the National Park System’s Jamaica Bay for more than 25 years and since 2004 is officially the Jamaica Bay Guardian.  He is also the Secretary/Treasurer of the NYC Butterfly Club.  So when Don gives news about the monarch butterfly, we know we are getting it from a knowledgeable source.  He put a reminder video on his Facebook page of the butterflies landing on goldenrod plants at Jamaica Bay in 2017, and he followed it up saying that he was seeing lots of them again this past week.  Seeing this, I felt I had to do a sketch and share it on the blog.  Monarchs have been in trouble for the past few years and their numbers have been dropping, so it is heartening to read that they are they are still visiting Jamaica Bay in some numbers as they head to Texas and then to California and/or the mountains of Mexico. I have seen dozens of them in the Riverside Park Community Garden since late August up until just yesterday.  Monarchs are amazing creatures especially considering that the monarchs that leave our northern climes and head south, flying up to 3000 miles, are the second generation of the monarchs that arrived here last summer.  New monarchs! Yet following air currents and thermals, they make the trip with in-born genetic information to guide them.  Monarchs are the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration, albeit with different generations, a feat only also accomplished by some bird species. The monarch's golden wings give us hope for their future and the future of our planet.  If you have a garden, plant milkweed since that is the host plant for the butterfly.  

    For me, drawing in my sketchbook also offers a bit of hope and a sense of gratitude for the beauty of nature.  It is a kind of meditation.  You can see that I drew across the page of my little 4x6 Daler-Rowney sketchbook giving me double the size. I don't mind the line in the middle, and I find it good practice to include the date and a note or two about what I am drawing.  

Friday, October 2, 2020





As the days get shorter and colder and insects and flowers disappear, thousands of birds migrate along the Atlantic Flyway to move to warmer more hospitable climes.  Warblers, orioles, swallows, flycatchers, martins, and mimids among others take this perilous trip  Along with the mockingbird, the catbird is a member of the mimid family—birds that can mimic other bird and animal sounds; in fact, the catbird received its name because its call sounds like the meow of a cat.  The migration time in New York City is a dangerous time.  Birds fly into skyscraper and even store windows and suffer serious injuries and often death. 

We found a dead catbird on 88thstreet between Broadway and West End Avenue yesterday. It must have flown into a store window after seeing its reflection.  The bird was so beautiful—its deep gray color both soft and luminous; its black eyes and its black skullcap.  I have tried to draw catbirds many times and have never totally captured the extraordinary gray of these birds, but I tried again—this time with a small drawing in my little sketchbook.  I did not draw from life (or should I say death) as I know many bird illustrators including Audubon do.  I have drawn from skins of stuffed birds in NYBG classes and even those skins do not capture the beauty of the gray bird we saw on the sidewalk.  So for this drawing, I found a picture on the web of the bird in a position that showed its curious nature as well as its sense of pride. I did the best I could to show those things and to create its amazing gray to pay homage to the beauty of the little bird we found.  


Finding a dead bird is devastating, but the Wild Bird Fund of New York City says that it is getting an enormous number of dead and injured birds this fall.  I just received this  from the Wild Bird Fund:  

This morning, October 2, was the worst window collision day of the year so far, with more than 100 birds found dead in the World Trade Center area, and some 50 or more survivors brought to the Wild Bird Fund from there. The numbers were also high at the Time Warner Center, and reports of dead and injured birds are coming in from all over town. We may have more than 100 intakes today.

They suggest that if you find an injured bird, you should pick it up carefully and put it in a paper bag to keep it calm.  Call the Wild Bird Fund at 646-306-2862 or go to it on Columbus Avenue and 88thstreet and they will help your bird and save its life if it is possible.  The WBF always needs funding.  They do extraordinary work for the wild life in our area. Check their website for more information about exactly what you should do to help any injured bird or to report any dead bird you find.  



Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Tree to Savour

Ginkgo leaf found on Riverside Drive

This past Veterans Day weekend when the temperatures started to drop, so did the ginkgo leaves. Riverside Drive and the upper west 80s and 90s are covered in the golden and green fan-shaped leaves. Cars disappear under the thousands of delicate leaves. Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) or maidenhair trees are known to drop their leaves on the same day or very close to that and so it has been this year.   In his poem “The Consent,” Howard Nemerov reflects on the phenomenon:

“Late in November, on a single night
Not even near to freezing, the ginkgo trees
In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind
But as though to time alone: the golden and
the green
Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday
Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light

The ginkgo is a fascinating tree.  It is the only living species remaining in its division: Ginkgophyta. It is a living fossil with the earliest leaf fossils dating from 270 million years ago.   As Peter Crane writes in his wonderful book, Ginkgo, “To borrow a phrase from Darwin, ginkgo has become a platypus for the plant kingdom, paleontologists have traced its lineage millions of years into prehistory…a tree that time forgot and an increasingly familiar living link to landscapes of the distant past.”

Crane continues that the ginkgo “inhabited a world without people, and for much of that time, a world very different from that of today.  For tens of millions of years, it lived alongside plants and animals that are long extinct.  Several different kinds of ginkgolike trees watched as our ancestors transformed from reptiles to mammals.” 

The ginkgo is dioecious, which means that some trees are male and some female.  Many prefer the male trees because they do not have fruit.  The female trees produce a seed ball that is smelly and slippery if you step on it.  Although the seeds are prized and used in supplements and various extracts, they are somewhat toxic and should not be eaten raw.  The ginkgo tree is a living fossil whose beauty we still treasure and whose shade we appreciate on hot summer days.  In 1815 Goethe wrote a poem about the ginkgo tree translated by John Whaley from which I have excerpted a few lines.  Go to link below for the whole poem: 

From the East this tree’s leaf shows
Secret sense for us to savour
And uplifts the one who knows.

Somewhat mysterious as is the ginkgo tree itself.

Thursday, October 31, 2019



Happy Halloween!  

       This month I gave myself a project inspired by the wonderful artist Mindy Lighthipe   It was good drawing practice and fun too.  In my sketchbook, I have drawn a leaf every day from ones I found near Riverside Park, the NYBG, Fort Tryon Park, and Bethel, New York.  I looked for leaves with unusual colors and or shapes and tried to capture what I could.  As the month has gone on, I found my watercolors becoming more muted.  In the first days, I tried for deep rich colors with lots of detail like the callery pear on the top below, but the leaves themselves got softer and more muted in their colors as the days moved along.  I found some with tears, bends, and weird shapes.  I purposely tried not to look for perfect shapes.  I’m including a few just to inspire.  Having a drawing project is a way to motivate yourself to do some drawing, even just for 15 minutes, and to end up with a portfolio that you can look through in the darker days of winter soon to come--we turn back the clocks on Sunday night.  Now I have to think about what I'll do for the 30 days of November.