Monday, October 31, 2011

Mushroom Peeping

 Sunday my husband and I went to a trail I've been very interested in exploring called Land Bridge Trail. One interesting thing about it is that it goes over I-75 giving hikers and wildlife a safe way to keep on trekking along the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway.   It was kind of a trick finding this trail head but extremely worth it! The drive is very beautiful itself, going through horse country and passing many ranches.  My preferred types of trails are those that are designated for "foot traffic" and more than a little rough at times. I want it to look like it has been almost untouched by human presence.  When we hike, we equate it to the reverence one would feel in a church, we speak quietly and treat the forest in a respectful way.

Now my favorite time to go hiking is after we've had a good soaking rain.  One reason is all the animal tracks will be fresher and another reason is because of all the mushrooms that pop up the next day.  The colors are so vibrant after a rain, it looks as though someone has come through with a brush and watercolor painted everything.  I was thrilled to find this beautiful example of color on our hike:
This is Cortinarius Violaceus , one of the few types of completely purple mushrooms.  I've read that it's quite rare but they were very prevalent in the area we were visiting.
Another beautiful mushroom that we spotted was this lovely reddish mushroom that I believe MAY be Russula Pulchra .

An especially interesting variety (at the time I was not 100% sure it was a mushroom) is this one:
I believe this to be a lentaria micheneri , also known as a coral type of mushroom. It looked almost like a little bouquet of flowers.

I really love any type of shelf mushroom, especially the way they cling to fallen tree branches:

I'm not sure which variety this is, but I really love how they look like little oysters.

Another really special thing that we saw, though not a mushroom was this clump of Indian Pipe Orchid  growing:

They were some of the largest I've seen and had the most beautiful tinge of pink.

We also saw some beautiful varieties of lichen. This variety is known as Christmas Lichen:

Sticking to the "Christmas" theme we also saw Reindeer Lichen:
The gorgeous flora really made up for the quiet day wildlife-wise. We did see a Barred Owl and an indigo snake and some coyote tracks, but it was rather quiet, I believe because it was a sort of breezy day which I am sure helped with the mosquitos.  I can't wait until my next sculpting day because I can definitely see some violet mushrooms in the forecast!

I highly recommend this trail for anyone who enjoys a more rustic hike. The paths do require some care.  We aren't afraid of snakes, and honestly most of the snakes we've seen while hiking HAVE been poisonous, including coral snakes, pygmy rattlers, diamondback rattlers, and water moccasins. In every single case when on the path, they move once they realize we are coming, but we spot them and are able to take care.  Anyone hiking along these trails would benefit from a sharp set of eyes and a walking stick, just to be safe, for nudging a snake out of the path (I don't recommend this with a LARGE venomous snake), though usually once they become aware of your presence they have no desire to stick around.  I love this trail BECAUSE it is unpaved and natural.  Another part of the Greenway, the trail head at Baseline Road is very much paved and very good for people who would like a more level walking surface.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ode to a Lacebark Elm

When we first moved to this house, I became very fascinated with a tree that was near our living room /studio window.  The tree branches create this high ceiling, festooned with silky drapes of Spanish moss.  The bark is so beautiful, it's got a magnificent mottling that is almost like a patchwork of grey and rust.  Early on, I was pretty certain it was a type of elm because of the leaves, which are a deep forest green and very detailed, but I had the hardest time finding which one.  After a lot of searching I discovered that it is the Lacebark Elm  also known as the Chinese Elm.

I have loved to use leaves with clay since almost forever.  In the early days it was with Play-doh, but I was always looking for ways to use leaves in my artwork.  Of course, the elm makes a fantastic impression.  When working with clay it's very important to use leaves with a very pronounced veining to get the best impressions. I've also been experimenting with making impression "molds" with these leaves as well. This way I can created a raised design like this one here, shown on a piece I am still working on :

 After firing this *should* become a darker brown although I really do love this rusty shade of the unfired stain. I may have to work on figuring a way to get a similar effect...maybe with underglazes. 

This elm impression tile is available at I plan to add some of the pendants, possibly as necklaces in the next week or so!

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Bear! Finally!

'I Saw A Bear!' by ALDDesigns

Finally! This weekend my husband and I took a wildlife spotting trip through the National Forest.

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Ever since we moved to this area I've been aching to see a black bear.  It's one Florida animal I hadn't seen in the wild.  My husband and I would go hiking and look carefully for any sign that a bear had been near, but we weren't really seeing any.  We decided to go to Juniper Springs  which is a bit deeper into the National Forest.  It is a GORGEOUS park, but on the day we visited no signs of bears, however we did see an alligator.

On the way home we noticed a sign for The Centennial Trail, which is an off-highway vehicle trail that goes very deep into the forest.  Right at the opening of the trail we noticed these:

So now we knew where we would need to be looking! Lucky enough I recently got a new (to me) jeep with 4 wheel drive so this would be definitely something we could do.  Saturday morning we got up at 6 a.m. and headed out along the trail. 4 wheel drive is definitely a must because there is a lot of loose sugar sand and it's a bit treacherous at times.  All along the way we started seeing signs of the presence of bears, lots and lots of footprints and quite a lot of bear poo.

It's kind of gross, but it's nice to see we were on the right track.  We went deeper and deeper along the trail. FINALLY we saw a youngish black bear ahead of us on the road. It was large but very lanky and when it saw us it quickly ran  across the road and into the woods.  I was unable to get a decent picture but did get a photo of it's tracks.

Of course it's not something we can do all the time, it takes A LOT of gas to get back in there.  We've found another place to spot bear signs, and  it's fairly close to my neighborhood so we visit frequently. Who knows, maybe another siting is in the near future!

Forest Life

A lot of new changes have happened in my life lately, including an unexpected move so I've decided to start fresh with a new blog.  It's going to be a sort of backstory about my artwork that I sell on Etsy .

 One of my biggest loves is the outdoors, especially the feeling of being totally surrounded by trees. Recently we've moved to the Ocala area, which is in North Central FL.  We live in a residential neighborhood that just happens to practically sit on the edge of the Ocala National Forest, the second largest forest in Florida.  It's a place I've always wanted to live so I'm pretty pleased.

We get lots of wildlife visitors to our yard, mainly some pretty stunning bird life (many of which do not supposedly  live in FL). So far I've seen Balitmore Orioles, summer tanagers, house finches, Carolina wrens, Carolina chickadees, tutfted titmouse, cardinals, Blue Jay, the biggest crows I've ever seen, red shouldered hawk, red-tailed hawk, bald eagle, ruby-throated hummingbird, American white ibis, black vulture, turkey vulture, red-bellied woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, downy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, American kestrel, white-winged dove, mourning dove, mockingbird, brown thrasher, barred owl, and common grackles. These sitings were all within 50 feet of the house!  I'm really looking forward to the winter migration because I think I'm going to see a bigger variety than what I'm used to seeing in the parts of FL I've lived in.

Most of the wild mammals I've seen in the yard are pretty common anywhere, just maybe a bit more plentiful. LOTS of gray squirrel, armadillos, and of course, raccoons. I've sort of made friends with one of the raccoons. We have a deal, if I leave him a dish of scraps, he won't mess with our trash.  If I forget, all bets are off. Raccoons kind of creep me out, but this one is rather cute, smaller than many I've seen and he has very nice manners.  We also had a big brown bat siting.  My son and I were refilling the bird feeders and I noticed the blue jays chasing this brown "bird" around. The brown "bird" flew in a circle around my head at eye level, and I realized it was NOT a bird.  This was especially unusual because it was during the day. I'm figuring he was resting in some spanish moss and was disturbed and started searching for a nice new hiding spot, but the birds weren't having any of it.

It's really hard not to be inspired when surrounded by so many types of wildlife. It sort of spills into my creativity and totally fuels my ideas. I really think this is the start of a new chapter in my life. Every day I feel more and more like my old self again. Good healing energy.