Before it unfolds in a grand show of color and song, spring is all subtlety. I go looking for it first in wetlands. There, blackbirds returning from the south are greeted by last year’s matted cattails and the reddening stems of dogwood. The odor of skunk cabbage is pungent; its maroon streaked hoods emerge from the mud, hiding small flowers that feed newly awakened bees. I sketch skunk cabbage every year, but this time I also discovered a patch of scouring rush (Equisetum hyemale), a leafless, hollow-stemmed primitive plant that has survived since the mid-Devonian, 350 million years also.
High temperatures rose into the 60s this past week and a few trees began to bud. From a distance, there is a welcome hint of color in their branches. Up close: tiny flowers and catkins have dusted my desk with a fine yellow powder of pollen, my reward for bringing a few stems inside.
And so, I bring you the first blush of spring in New York, minus the pollen and the odor of skunk cabbage.
I am excited to announce that I am offering a new Technique Takaway at the Winslow Art Center: Ink and Watercolor Basics for Sketchers, Friday, May 14, 2-3:30 PST / 5-6:30 EST. This session is virtual via Zoom, $40. Find out more and REGISTER HERE.
I love your skunk cabbage sketches, Jean. I’ve never seen any in person, but they look fascinating. Your reds in both sketches are beautiful. Our maple trees flowered this week too, always the first of the trees in our yard to do so.
Hi Susana- Skunk cabbage is quite fascinating. It comes in different shades and striped patterns and the leaves will emerge and uncurl in April. I have to go looking for it, but it grows along the stream behind our house, so I don’t have to wander far.
First buds is just beautiful Jean! Amazing how different they all are. So inspiring as always! Saw skunk cabbage at Art Omi….such an interesting plant.
I bet the Omi wetlands are a great place for skunk cabbage. It’s still so brown and gray here, but I was glad to find some color on a few trees. More to come.
Jean I was browsing through the links on Word a Day by Anu Garg and found a discussion of
Doric Scots language and territory in the far north of Scotland, part of Aberdeenshire, and found this! “Strathnaver is a lush valley running from Loch Naver to the northern coast along a salmon-blessed river. This was the territory of the historical Clan Mackay, and you can walk the 41km Strathnaver Trail through the deserted flagstone townships of Grummore, Rosal and Achanlochy. Once home to hundreds of people, these Gaelic-speaking crofting communities, formed by tenant farmers working small-scale agricultural plots, were evicted by the Duke of Sutherland in the 19th Century as part of a bloody episode that would become known as the Highland Clearances.”
p.s. I too love your skunk cabbage painting! Skunk cabbage has been in my neighborhood, since childhood, and I love the mystery of this heat producing plant under the snow, in February.
Hi Sue- Quite a history lesson! Your note sent my husband looking up Northern Scotland and the Strathnaver Trail. After Covid we’ll be eager to break out and explore! Hope spring is showing itself in your neck of the woods too.
How lovely – I haven’t seen skunk cabbage here in the PNW but it was always a first sign of spring and we’d always find it near the Green River that ran near our farmhouse. Yours is lovely. Our spring facilitates here but the rhodies are starting to come out and I will try to sketch them. Look forward to class in May and am grateful for the classes I took with you. Hope your spring is warm and healthy!
Thanks Patti- I think its interesting to consider the plants we miss when we are no longer near them and those we seek out year after year. I tend to like the subtle beauty of our native flowers (e.g., skunk cabbage over tulips), but will take any color I can get about now. Keep in touch and I’ll look forward to seeing you in May!
Both charming and beautiful spreads. No buds here quite yet, but your reflection (very well written, as always) reminded me of a trip we took to Cape Breton a few years ago. The hills were a breathtaking sight of budding trees, appearing to glitter in the sunlight with specks of pinks and chartreuse. It was magical! Like fairy dust everywhere. Sigh…
Ok, back to reality! Time to get out and check for buds on my trees. Your posts are always inspiring.
Perhaps you are a week behind us. If you go out here, its still mostly brown and gray. You’ve got to look hard for the color. Soon….soon….it’s coming your way!
It is such a joy to read your posts and to study your beautiful journal pages. I love the little touches of pollen, the hovering bee, the swish of green over the date — but of course, the rest is just so inspiring! We are fortunate here in Vancouver to have plenty of colour already and the skunk cabbage in the ravine next to our house has big, bright, yellow flames of skunk cabbage.
Thanks Lisa! The skunk cabbage in the west is different from the eastern version. Bigger with yellow flowers that are quite showy. Enjoy yours!
I had an early morning walk in the forest today and saw many skunk cabbage emerging. I have to say the odor never bothers me, in fact I rather like it. I also saw the beautiful Alder. When I returned home, I found your new sketches and find it hard to believe that I cannot remember ever seeing scouring rush. It looks so interesting. Could you just mention where you found it? Along the stream, I imagine. Thanks for always teaching me something new.
Hi Dawn- Yes, I found it along the stream. It spreads by rhizomes, which is why you may see it in a clump. Once the undergrowth springs to life I can’t hike back to the streamside, so I won’t get to see it throughout the summer. Look it up– it’s a very interesting plant!
Wonderful skunk cabbage sketch. Coincidently I also sketched skunk cabbage last weekend. My sketch was OK I but really messed up the WC on it. Using your wonderful model I redid it and tried some of your apparent watercolors and methods. It was much better this time. I love to look at your drawings, very inspiring.
Thanks Diane- It can be hard to paint the darks on skunk cabbage without the paint getting muddy. I use alizarin crimson and burnt umber for the maroon and alizarin crimson and ultramarine for the purples. I use ultramarine in the shadows, too, so that I am not introducing another color to the mix. I always start light and then go dark, so that I can get them dimensional without loosing the lighter areas. I’m glad to hear your second go was successful!
As soon as this rain stops, I’m wanting to get out this week and see what’s come up in our woods. There in one area with the most incredible pitcher plants…and I DID see a blooming witch hazel last week! so Pretty!! I love the colors in those skunk cabbage though…I know a little creek where I should be able to find some nearby!
I bet you are another few weeks for pitcher plants, but I’ll take any small sign of spring I can get at this point. By the end of April, we won’t be able to keep up, but now…witch hazel, skunk cabbage, and bluebirds will do! Enjoy your wanderings.
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Am I really almost a month behind? Well, I’m sorry, but it’s still a treat to see these. I don’t know which appeals to me more, those hilarious Skunk cabbages that ooze personality or the cheerful budding branches, one of my (many) favorite spring things. I bet you’re busy these days! 🙂