Monday, March 31, 2014

Good Bye, March

As March rolls right on out the door tonight it is time to say "good riddance." The ice, massive amounts of ice, is still floating around way out there on Lake Huron. From my vantage point here at Cedar Bluff, this Great Lake is still pretty arctic looking.

The robins were bouncing around in the ditches and looking for worms on the flattened lawns. I almost expect them to show up in little tiny down jackets, with the ground still being so cold from the snowbanks that have yet to melt.

So, good bye to March. Bring on the warm weather!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Watercolor Brackets

I'm funny about how I follow the NCAA basketball tournament. For three years now I have been making out a brackets sheet, not to pick a winner of each game, but to follow the course of the tourney. The first and second year sheets are in pencil. Year One (2012) is haphazard. Year Two shows more detail with scores and rankings and even the names of some of the coaches.

This year's bracket sheet was started with pencil which was then overlaid with black ink. (I use a Pigma Micron 02.) Carefully laid out on watercolor paper, the brackets sheet has a background of green glimmer mist spray. The green honors MSU, since I am a MSU fan and the Spartans are a green and white team.

Oval circle highlights Payne's Gray and Viridian Green, colors chosen for WJ's brackets

Each team that wins is highlighted in gray. Actually, I am using Payne's Gray, a paint color name that watercolor aficionados will recognize. I chose this color in honor of Adreian Payne, Michigan State's senior player who is an integral part of the MSU team. (But my favorite player is Travis Trice, for whom I could not find a color name.)

Michigan State is highlighted in Viridian green. That green streak should continue to the center of the brackets sheet and be the dominant color for the Final Four.

Go Green!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

All Sales Final

Huron County is saying good bye to the Bad Axe Kmart store this week. I shopped yesterday for the last time. I found some backpacks for my granddaughters and several other goodies. But the store will be closed very soon.

When I moved to Huron County in 1972 there wasn't even a McDonald's restaurant in the county. We drove to Bay City for Big Macs and french fries. The Kmart store opening was a very big deal. I remember meeting lots of people whom we knew when we visited the store for the first time.

The store was always a great place to shop. People were friendly and helpful. The floors were shining and the shelves were well stocked. I've always liked their housewares line and often bought school supplies and techie type stuff at Kmart.

I'm gonna miss ya, Kmart! You were a good thing for Huron County!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Spring Whitetails

Driving across Atwater and then Bay City-Forestville Road today, I saw hundreds of whitetail deer. Snow is disappearing from the fields and the deer are scrounging for food among the cornstalks, wheat sprouts and sugar beet leftovers.

From a distance these animals appear to be in good shape after a very rough winter, but when I enlarged some of the photos, their ragged coats tell a story of how difficult the cold months must have been for some of them. Then, too, there are deer carcasses along almost every road in the Thumb. Now that the snowbanks are melting, those dead deer are appearing and will be a welcome food source for the returning turkey vultures and the ever present pairs of crows.

My guess is that I could have counted 300-400 deer in the herds that I saw today. There were scads of them in area near the intersection of Bad Axe Road and Atwater Road. I would pull to the shoulder, lower the driver side window, lift my camera and shoot. In that small amount of time, the deer come to attention and take off. Some stay to graze anyway, lifting their heads now and then, as if checking to see if the vehicle will be any threat to their supper plans.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Snow & Ice Along Lake Huron

While the reports of ice covering on the Great Lakes this year have indicated as high as 85% coverage, it is the pictures that tell the story. Here's the view from along the eastern shore of Michigan, looking northeast out across White Rock Shoal today. The gray green patches on the shoal are ice that is melting over shallow water. The dark line way in the distance is open water.

In contrast, here is almost the same view in a photo taken on March 22, 2012, two years ago almost to the day. Not a speck of ice is in view.

As I write this blog post, a snow squall has moved in from the lake. The wind is howling, kind of whining sort of sound. Big flakes are swirling. I can't see the edge of the shoal, let alone the horizon line of Lake Huron.

Morning temperatures have been well below freezing and some of the municipalities are still urging residents keep one water tap running in order to avoid any further freezing of town water lines.

It has been an icy cold winter in this part of Michigan.

March 12, 2012 "Warm Winter, Early Spring"

Monday, March 24, 2014

Plug Me In

My Chevy Volt will roll 52,000 miles sometime in the next few days. I'm still in love with this great car, if indeed one can say that one is "in love" with a machine like a plug in electric vehicle (PEV).

Last Friday I was in Rochester Hills and parked at the charging station in The Villages at Rochester Hills. There are two spaces for electric vehicles to park but the cords on the charging station are really long and can easily reach a third space.

I parked, plugged in and went about my errands. When I returned to my Volt, there was a note in the door of my car. "Please plug me in. . ," it said.

So, for the first time, I got to figure out how to plug in a Nissan Leaf.

One of the things I love about driving an electric vehicle is the camaraderie that develops among owners. Those of us who drive PEVs have stories to tell of miles per gallon, miles per charge, kilowatts used, carbon avoided.

I look forward to a day in the very near future when three PEVs lined up in front of one charging station will be a rarity because we will all be using some form of alternative, non gasoline powered vehicles and "plug me in" will be what we do when we park our cars.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Geranium Color Play

Geraniums are a big favorite of mine. Several plants have been blossoming since February and here is one of them. It becomes the subject for some color play with a setting on a different camera that I am learning to operate. So, you see the geranium, up close and personal, and in the colors that the camera normally sees.

Now we'll switch the setting to a color select function and dial in the red/pink saturation.

The camera, a Nikon 1 J3, makes the decision of what colors to maintain and which colors to convert to black and white. Notice how much of the red/pink the camera found in the wood beams behind the plant.

Next I selected for green and the camera found the leaves, in all their velvety glory. Notice, too, the "ghost" that just happened to find its way into the photo. The ghost (something that appears in photography that was not intended) looks like it was watching the MSU Spartans defeat the Delaware Blue Hens in the second round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament yesterday.

Funny, how that "Go Green! Go White!" pops up in so many places during March Madness!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Signs of Spring

The turkey vultures have returned. Today is the first day of spring and the vultures were riding the thermals along the bluff, out over Lake Huron. The day was quite windy. I first spotted crows riding the thermals, soaring and dipping as they flew south to north.

When I looked at the photos that I took up close, I realized that the soaring birds had been joined by a raft of turkey vultures. The birds would come from the south to the north and then disappear for ten or fifteen minutes. Then they would show up again. They probably flew inland over the fields, headed down the shoreline, and then caught a thermal up lake again.

The sunrise was very delicate looking, almost like a pastel composition. You can see the ice floes breaking up way out on the lake. That dark blue line on the horizon is open water.

By midday the winds pulled the ice elsewhere and open water advanced toward the shoreline. The blob in the right side of this photo is White Rock. The shoal is getting watery and slushy. Soon rivulets will form, like streams across the mushy ice. Spring is coming!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wrapped Up in Brackets

I told myself that I could take a pass on watching too much basketball this March. After all, in early February it looked like the MSU Spartans, my team to follow, would not be in the big dance.

But the Spartans began a run that brought them to the Big Ten Tournament as a team that could begin to shine again. That's what they did.

So I hauled out the big watercolor pad and got out my bracket sheets from the last two years. This year I ruled the big sheet of paper, 11" by 15", using pencil and a see thru quilt ruler. Then I took a micron pen and inked in the teams and their win-loss records. I erased the guidelines so that I now have spaces for additional information like television channels, coaches' names, interesting stats, locations of games, etc.

The everything-on-one-big-sheet-of-paper approach works for me. It allows an over all look at the tournament that is comprehensive and yet detailed.

This year I'm going to color code the sheet, too. I'm not sure how. Maybe the winning teams will be shaded with a watercolor wash. Hmmm, maybe I'll use Michigan State green, since today was the day that President Obama picked Michigan State to win the tournament.

Yep, for a few days, I'll be wrapped up in brackets.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

CBS Guys Like MSU

Just ask Ed.

I'm always ranting about how biased the sports reporting is on TV. The baseball announcers from teams other than my Detroit Tigers can't compliment a good play by the opposing side, i.e., my Tigers. They don't call the pitches in detail. Was it a fast ball inside? Did the pitch graze the batter's belt buckle? Don't tell me that it was just a pitch. Give me a description of what just happened.

Football announcers are not too much better in my book, although we saw so many games at MSU, in the stadium, this year, that I can't say too much about the announcing.

Then there is basketball. Wow.

This year's Spartans started out great and then got hit by a wave of injuries. Things were not looking too good for the East Lansing bunch, especially when the tide turned for Michigan and they beat us twice. Anyone announcing those games pretty much was starting to dismiss the East Lansing team as a has been for the basketball year.

Then came the Big Ten Championships last week in Indianapolis. State pulled off an upset and took the tournament. Coach Tom Izzo, in an interview before the championship game, said that there were two good things about Sunday's game. First, MSU was playing in that final game. Secondly, we got to play Michigan.

The Spartans plowed through Sunday's game. Travis Trice's underhand layups (is that what they call that shot?) were a thing of grace and beauty. Adreian Payne, truly a pain in the butt for the Wolverines, and Keith Appling played like the senior starters that they are, and Brandon Dawson, well, Dawson was awesome.

On the CBS Selection Sunday broadcast, just after the Big Ten Championship game, I figured that the Spartans wouldn't place too high and that there wouldn't be too many good words for them. After all they had lost a lot of games in the latter half of the regular season. And I figured that the CBS guys would like Michigan over Michigan State.

When all was said and done, the Spartans ended up as the Number Four seed in the East division. Not bad.

But the telling comment that warmed every Spartan fan's heart is contained in this snapshot of the CBS guys' picks for the Final Four. MSU, along with Florida, got picked by all three commentators.

Very cool, Clark and Seth and Doug of CBS. If there is such a thing as a team peaking at the right time, you, along with lots of others, are starting to get the picture of a very capable, well rounded, well coached, and motivated MSU basketball team.

My bracket sheet is filled out and I am scheduling myself to be near a TV as the Michigan State men's basketball team marches right on through March's madness into a national championship in April.

This fan says, "GO STATE!!"

Monday, March 17, 2014

Desert Day

The yellows were brilliant along Dove Mountain Trail yesterday. In spite of the high winds and several days of dust, the wildflowers have survived and are stunning.

A cardinal watched me come closer and closer with my camera, yet he kept on singing.

And in the evening, after the sun was set and before the rise of the full moon, the city sparkled in the distance.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Desert Clouds

A windy few days in the desert Southwest has meant high clouds and the threat of rain in the Tucson area. 

The clouds throw dark shadows across the Catalina Mountains that loom over the eastern side of the city. You stand and watch the ever changing patterns, and wonder at the beauty of the desert. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Gila (Gulp) Monster

"Wanda, come and look at what is in our yard." My neighbor Sandy was standing at the front door yesterday noon with this look of wonder on her face.

A walk across the street and into the neighbor's side yard revealed the presence of a large, lumbering lizard called a gila monster. With orange and gray bead like skin, this critter was crawling along the wall, trying to get back to its desert habitat.

The beaded surface of the skin is raised and each segment is usually a single color. Look closely in this photo and you can see the hexagon shape of the grandmother's flower garden quilt pattern in the center of this guy's back.

One website says that the gila monsters are emerging from hibernation about now, mid March, here in the desert. I'm guessing that this critter is hungry and is on the prowl for a bird's nest full of eggs, something to satisfy a three month hunger.

To read more about the gila monster on the website of the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, click HERE.

Oh, and did I say that I watch where I walk more carefully after meeting this guy?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Artwork: Grandpa Bill's Cow

My Grandpa Bill Luedtke raised Hereford cattle. Here's my graphite pencil sketch of one of them. I can see that I'm getting better at drawing these animals. The heads still are confounding for me. Practice, practice, I tell myself.

And here is the source photo, from a slide taken by my dad, Stan Hayes, and scanned by my sister MB. The photo is probably from the fifties. And that is one beefy cow!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Purely Pink Penstemons

I got mixed up in identifying penstemons versus salvias last week. This purely pink flower should be a penstemon. I came upon a whole sea of waving penstemons while out on my morning walk.

I could tell you a little more about them, but I do think that a picture is worth a thousand words when it comes to Arizona's spectacular spring wildflowers. For all you golfers, that is the Gallery Golf Course in the background, home to the Accenture Matchplay Championships for several years before the tournament moved to the Ritz Carleton golf course further up Dove Mountain.

Here are the spikey penstemons constrasted with vibrant yellow brittlebushes and a tall saguaro, a very desert scene for the Tortolita Mountains on Tucson's north side.

Monday, March 10, 2014

So This Is Art

So this is art. You set up your camp stool in a lovely garden, right in sight of a flowering vine. A little shade overhead helps because you will be in one spot for a while. 

First you sketch to catch the line and spacing of the plant. You plan the perspective and composition that that you will record on the page. Close to the plant? More distant? Blossoms in the center? More leaves? Less leaves?

Your eye, an eye that is used to seeing and taking in a lot of cues at once, now has to filter out unnecessary detail and distill what is three dimensional into pen lines and dabs of paint, all set onto a sheet of paper. 

The drawing takes shape. You see the details. The slant of a petal, the wisp of a stem, the turn of a leaf. 

Now you turn to color and find that the depth and brilliance in front of you that is not contained in the wells of the paint palette. The flower has reds that are scarlet and velvety. The green of the leaves shines and glistens, unlike anything you mix. 

Finally you finish. The work is done. But you are not satisfied. Somehow the essence of the plant stays on the vine. You close the sketchbook and know that you have tried. 

Another day, perhaps the next day, maybe a week later, you open the page and are surprised by how the moments and colors have been captured.  You feel the warm breeze moving across your face, just like that day when you thought the colors were elusive and the line was scattered and weak. 

Looking at the page, you are reminded again. This is art. This capturing of focus and attention. This time away from the cares of the day, now enshrined on a crinkled page in a banged up sketchbook. Those moments. That hour. One afternoon in a pleasant space. 

Once again you know that this is art.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Wildflower Class

I'm taking a weekend class at the Art Institute at Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. The wildflowers are in luscious bloom and the class is an exploration of drawing and painting wildflowers.

Here's my first drawing, a pen and ink rendering of a portion of a Parry's Penstemon, a desert plant that blossoms in March. Tall and graceful, the desert penstemons seem to be almost everywhere on the grounds at the Museum. They have tubular shaped blossoms on top of a tall stem. Blossoms can be pink to red. [Edit of 3/10/2014: This plant is probably a salvia, not a penstemon. The plants seem so much alike, but others in the class, those far more botanical that I am, called it a salvia.]

This drawing uses color pencil in layers, a technique that I have admired but not tried until today.

After the color pencil work, I traced the sketch and began again. This time I used watercolor to interpret the leaves and blossoms. I'm pretty pleased with the results. Both of these pieces are done on 9" x 12" paper, one in a sketchbook and the second, on watercolor paper.

We were able to sketch potted plants on tables at an inside classroom. Tomorrow we will work outside on the grounds of the Museum which is like a botanical garden, zoo, and park, all wrapped up in one special place.

I'm always amazed at what can be learned from a subject when you really observe something in order to sketch or paint. Wildflowers are no different and there is lots to learn from close observation and excellent teaching.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Arizona Birds

An Arizona cardinal sang and sang to us from a treetop this morning while we were on our walk. Red and stately, the cardinal was a highlight of the morning.

Cactus wrens, big guys in the wren family, like to perch on top of the saguaros. Look how this one has carefully placed its feet between the cactus spines.

A curve-bill thrasher, yellow eyes blazing, posed in ironwood trees. This guy stayed put long enough for me to take several images of him. Look how firmly this bird is grasping the tree branch where he has perched.

All of these birds are common to the Sonora desert around Tucson. These images were taken on Dove Mountain in Marana, north of Tucson.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Canyon Cows

Grass fed beef. That's what we are looking at here. Driving through Box Canyon on Forest Route 62 south of Tucson this week, we came across cattle grazing on the hillsides. Busy bovines all, these critters were contentedly turning grass that we humans cannot eat into protein that we can eat.

There were no sacks of grain or feeder troughs in sight, although these cattle might be rounded up and "finished" with a month or two of grain. Surely these range grasses are not permeated with antibiotics or growth hormones. Just sunshine and grass and water -- that's what these Arizona cattle are consuming.

Now, there is a lot that could be said about the great amount of water and grass that a cow consumes. Then we could talk about methane emissions from the latter end of the animals. For now, put that aside and consider the simplicity of grazing animals on grasslands. Properly done, the raising of canyon cows results in some mighty fine burgers and steaks, locally made and no doubt locally consumed.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tale of Two Canyons: Madera Canyon & Box Canyon

Just an hour's drive south of Tucson, the Santa Rita Mountains and Coronado National Forest provide the traveler with desert to mountain and back to desert landscapes. Paved roads lead back in to Madera Canyon where you can drive up the canyon as high as 5500 feet. Trails that lead up Mt. Wrightson start at the highest picnic and parking area.

Popular with birders and hikers and bicyclists, the area had a lot of visitors, some of them watching birds, for a midweek afternoon in March. Steady traffic on the roads kept us watching and hopping as we stopped to photograph the scenery.

Majestic Arizona sycamore trees are found throughout the canyons in the Santa Ritas. This giant tree, probably 3 feet in diameter, stood along the wash that runs down the canyon.

White bark and gnarled trunking patterns make these trees distinctive. They remind me of the wonderful trees on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing, Michigan. The Michigan trees are American plane trees and are found in the eastern part of the United States.

The Arizona sycamore is from the same family, but is found in New Mexico, Arizona, and part of Mexico, primarily on the sky islands which are mountains that rise out of the southwestern desertlands.

Plane trees are also found in Great Britain where they are of the variety known as London plane trees.

After leaving Madera Canyon, we drove Forest Road 62 through Box Canyon, headed east for State Route 83. The road, improved but not paved, clings to the side of the canyon for a portion of the drive. Although there are no guard rails and some of the bends are pretty scary, Ed drove slowly but surely. Just when I was feeling like we were in a pretty remote part of the world, we met two bicyclists headed west and enjoying their afternoon exercise. They looked for all the world like sensible people who knew what they were doing, so I relaxed my grip on the overhead handle in the car and started watching the scenery.

Forest Road 62 meets up with Highway 83 after passing through ranching country, complete with grazing cattle, windmills, and lot of water tanks. We drove this route in the afternoon, finishing just before sunset when the low light casts a golden glow on the grass and the landscape lights up. At this point we met more traffic, mostly ranchers in pickups and people headed to their ranch homes for the night.

From the junction of FR 62 and Hwy. 83, we turned north. It was about an hour's drive back to the south side of Tucson where Hwy. 83 meets Interstate 10. We had started from Exit 63 on Hwy. 19 at Green Valley about 3 pm and were back in Tucson, having dinner by 7:30 pm. The route for our adventurous drive is marked in orange dots on the map below.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Elephant Head Rock

For two days in a row we have driven south of Tucson on Highway 19, once to Tubac and again to Green Valley, and both times we have had excellent views of Elephant Head Rock, a distinctive formation on the west side of the Santa Rita Mountains.

Elephant Head is an unusual structure that stands somewhat alone and is clearly visible from the highway. We drove back into the Coronado National Forest toward Madera Canyon and could see Elephant Head clearly as we approached the mountains.

This image was taken from the frontage road near the Arivaca Road exit. Low clouds cover the high peaks of the Santa Ritas. Elephant Head dominates the front range. This unique rock formation is about a half hour south of Tucson, not quite midway between Tucson and Nogales.