Quantcast

Explore: October 2011


« September 2011 | Main | November 2011 »

13 posts from October 2011

10/28/2011

Three Ways to Lighten Your Pack

Are you stuck in a rut with your nature sketches? Do you find yourself using the same colors over and over? Are you wedded to that one special style of sketchbook?

Maybe it's time for a trip to the art supply store. It's easy to purchase supplies online, I know, but I find that actually seeing new colors of paint and touching real paper is more inspiring. Then again, if trolling for what's available online helps you think outside the canvass and try new techniques, then that can be inspiring, too.


Wcsamples copyA dazzling (and lightweight) way to try new colors and pack them along on a walk is to use a color chart. Daniel Smith Art Supplies makes one with 238 (or 66) watercolor samples, each one a dot of colorful paint, labeled by name and grouped by color on four different sheets of paper. I made a color chart right away, touching each paint dot with a damp brush, curious to see how "rose of ultramarine" compared to my usual "quinacridone violet" (much livelier, I found). This particular product is only available by phone from Daniel Smith at (800) 426-6740.

Many hikers include water brushes in their traveling kits, but I couldn't understand why until I actually saw one while perusing the art supply store. Think of a fountain pen: You dispense the ink in its reservoir by pressing the nib to paper.

Lemon copyThe Ninji water brush works in the same way, holding clean water in its reservoir, which you dispense by pressing the brush to the paper. To use it, simply run the water brush over a sketch you've made with watercolor pencils or crayons--and you have paint! The brushes themselves come in three different sizes, and I find "small" most useful, comparable to a number 6 round watercolor brush. Why do you need this tool?  For convenience. You can leave at home your water container, your travel palette, and even your paintbrush if you tuck a water brush and a few watercolor pencils in your pack instead. I painted this image of a lemon and kumquats using a waterbrush.


And how about painting on an artist trading card?  These tiny cards measure 2.5 x 3.5 inches and have become the darlings of the art world.  You can even find online galleries of them on Flickr and in Switzerland! Artists hold swaps of mini masterpieces, painted in watercolor, printed in ink, even collaged. You can mail them as little postcards or tuck them into tiny envelopes or clear plastic bags to exchange. You can find mini pre-cut mats if you end up creating a masterpiece! A package of 10 artist trading cards weighs far less than a spiral-bound sketchbook, and you might find yourself painting something totally unexpected on this miniature canvas.


Tradingcard copyAt left is a trading card next to a water brush.

Have you found other ways to travel light with art supplies?

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.


The King of the Planets Reigns Bright

10-28-11 Moon-JupiterLakeReflections_Chumack
Reflections of the Moon and Jupiter. Credit: John Chumack

Friday, October 28, is the date of opposition for the planet Jupiter. Opposition is a favorable observing time for planets because they are opposite the sun in our sky, rising as the sun sets and setting at sunrise, therefore being visible all night long. Jupiter will also be shining at its brightest during opposition, at magnitude -2.9.

Jupiter is found in the constellation Aries, close to the boundary of Pisces and Cetus. As the King of the Planets rises higher in the east, the notable Pleiades star cluster rises behind it in Taurus. Jupiter is easy to spot because it is so much brighter than any of the surrounding stars.

If you look at Jupiter through a telescope on Friday night, you will see the four largest moons scattered on either side of the planet. Ganymede, the largest satellite, is on the lower left, with Europa and Callisto extending outward to the upper right. Io is hiding behind Jupiter, but by late evening it will begin to appear from behind Jupiter’s limb on the same side as Ganymede.

Jupiter’s reign as the brightest visible planet currently in the night sky is chipped away little by little as Venus becomes more apparent. Venus is a bright magnitude -3.9, easily surpassing Jupiter and any other planet or star with its stunning light. But Venus is only just starting to peek out from the western horizon at sunset. On Saturday, October 29, while you may be shepherding your kids out trick-or-treating, see if you can spot Venus setting in the west while Jupiter rises in the east.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter attwitter.com/Astronomommy.

10/25/2011

A Year in Yosemite: A Sense of the World

DSC_1746
"Indians" put the finishing touches on their ‘umuucha.

There were many reasons our family moved to Yosemite National Park three years ago. Prime among them was our daughter. She is a good student academically but she is also an ace fidgeter, a condition that does little to endear a child to a teacher. When we found Yosemite Park’s Wawona Elementary School, with its supremely gifted teachers and a curriculum that includes all the basics plus healthy doses of art, music, cooking, nature studies and even skiing, we jumped at the chance.

At the time, our daughter was in an excellent school in Los Angeles but her inability to sit still proved so relentless that we’d enrolled her in occupational therapy in an attempt to contain the urge. When we announced to her aunts and uncles (really friends but family nonetheless) that we were leaving for Yosemite there was a hue and cry about the dangers of taking our daughter out of occupational therapy, a fear that she would begin to slip backward. So I went to see her therapist and asked her what she thought. Her answer? “Nature is occupational therapy, 24/7.”

Continue reading "A Year in Yosemite: A Sense of the World" »

10/21/2011

The Sky Is Falling!

10-21-11 WinterRisingStarscape_Chumack
Winter constellations such as Orion are rising in the late evening. Credit: John Chumack

This weekend is both the peak of the Orionid meteor shower and the chance to see yet another satellite come crashing back to Earth in flames.

First up is the Orionid meteor shower, which is dust and debris leftover from the passage of Halley’s comet. These meteors appear between October 16 and 26, but the majority of meteors can be seen overnight on Friday, October 21. Expect up to 25 meteors an hour during the shower’s peak. The meteors appear to emanate from around the constellation Orion, which rises in the east late on Friday evening.

Just last month, a NASA satellite fell to Earth in the South Pacific, but not before raising fear in some that it would come crashing down on land and cause damage and death. While the harmless satellite did not live up to the hype, a new satellite called ROSAT is again stirring fears. While the odds of being killed by this satellite are still incredibly small, they are actually larger than last month’s satellite.

ROSAT is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere sometime between Friday and Monday. This German satellite is the size of an SUV, and approximately 30 pieces of it are expected to survive the fiery reentry and reach the ground, including the large heat-resistant mirror. The German space agency has estimated the odds of it hitting someone as one in 2,000, which puts your odds of being struck by the satellite as one in 14 trillion. (If the satellite fell 2,000 times, only once would it hit someone, and with around 7 billion people on the planet, that makes your chances one in 14 trillion.)

Keep an ear open for more accurate estimates of where the satellite will fall, because seeing its fiery reentry would be an amazing show. And if it turns out it’s nowhere near your part of the world, there’s always the Orionids.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

10/20/2011

Low-tech Leaf Printing

 SassafrasleafIf you've never tried leaf printing, you may be surprised by how easy it is.

Start with a leaf that call to you, as the trident shape of the sassafras leaf at left calls to me. Textured leaves--those with lots of veins and crinkles--print best, because the roughness holds the ink.

You'll need water-soluble printing ink (I used Speedball red, yellow, and blue), which you can find at a crafts or art supply store for about $5 each. You'll also need newspaper and white paper plates on which to mix the ink. If you can afford it, a mini paint roller or brayer (about $10) will help to transfer the ink onto the leaf, but you can also spread the ink onto the leaf with your fingers. I used both a brayer and my fingers as spreaders to print the image on the left.

I mixed yellow and blue on the plate and ran the brayer through the mix, making sure to cover all sides of the roller with ink. Then I laid the leaf on a piece of clean newspaper and rolled the inked brayer all over the surface of the leaf (don't forget the stem!). I dipped my fingers in ink to gently fill in white spots in the print, where the brayer had missed, and to add the unexpected red of the stem.  

DSC05927You can print on white copy paper, but I love the texture of the soft mulberry fibers in Japanese paper. The paper must be soft to the touch to make a good print.

The paper you see at right is soft as cotton cloth. It made beautiful prints because the paper absorbed the ink from all of the little crinkles of the leaf. Pick up your leaf and lay it inked side down on your paper of choice. Cover it with a clean sheet of newspaper and rub the leaf through the newspaper using your hands, the brayer, or the back of a wooden spoon. Remove the newspaper and lift off the leaf. You have a leaf print! (I added an oakleaf hydrangea in the center and a leaf from the round-lobed gum tree.)

If you enjoy leaf printing, you will like the ideas in two books that focus on printing from nature: Natural Impressions, by Carolyn Dahl, and Nature Printing, by Laura D. Bethmann.

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.

10/14/2011

Astronomy: How to Observe Sunspots

10-14-11 sunpot1305_eruption_Chumack
A sunspot erupts near the sun’s limb. Credit: John Chumack

"There's a little black spot on the sun today…."

Sting and the Police were probably not referring to sunspots, but that song lyric is a rather accurate way to describe them. When sunspots grow large enough, as they have occasionally done within the past couple months, all you need is proper eye protection to see them -- no telescope necessary!

With solar activity on the increase as we head toward the maximum in the solar cycle, larger sunspots are becoming more common, meaning an increased chance for disturbed solar weather and aurorae on Earth. Sunspots tend to cluster in groups and can last for weeks on end before dissipating. Sunspots are dark areas on the surface of the sun that are cooler (about 5000 K) than the surrounding photosphere (about 6000 K). These regions can be several thousand million kilometers square. The darkest inner area is called the umbra and the outer edge is the penumbra. Photographs of sunspots often remind me of the appearance of unhealthy moles, a bit ironic considering the sun's role in skin cancer.

The only way to see these dark spots and protect your eyes is to have the right equipment. Welder's goggles rated 14 or higher are the standard choice for amateur astronomers. While I don't have that, I did keep an old pair of eclipse glasses that came in my Astronomy magazine during a month there was an eclipse, which is what I use to observe sunspots. If you have a telescope, don't try to use goggles or the eclipse glasses to look through it with the telescope pointed at the sun. The intense rays of the sun focused through the eyepieces can cause the optics to crack and shatter.

When you look through the welder's goggles or eclipse glasses at anything around your house, it should look completely black. Then when you turn them toward the sun, you should be able to see just that yellowish-orange orb out of the darkness. Look closely for any small dark mottling on the surface that would indicate a sunspot. To see what the sun's appearance is each day, check the website spaceweather.com for an image of the sun's current condition.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

10/13/2011

Year in Yosemite: Native Genius

DSC_1467
After roasting our acorns, we extracted the seeds and ground them into a fine flour. This Valley Oak acorn is among the few that aren't bitter.

I spent the day yesterday leaching acorns and learning to make acorn mush. It's not what I usually serve to family and friends in our Yosemite home but I can't remember the last time cooking was so much fun. This is the time of year when traditionally, Miwok and other native tribes of the region would have been collecting enough acorns -- 1,000 to 2,000 pounds per family -- to keep them in food for a year. The Miwok would have spent two weeks filling massive baskets with acorns but we took the easy way out. We had a group of school kids collect one bag each from around their neighborhoods in Oakhurst, Mariposa, and Fresno and bring them to us to be leached.

Tonight these same kids will come to Yosemite National Park and make their way to a private camp, Camp Wawona, for their first foray into a world that's virtually disappeared from sight. For one night and a day they will get to experience a tiny piece of what Yosemite was like for the native peoples who thought of it as their three-season home for over 3,000 years. In the short time that the students are here, they will experience what it took to find shelter, food, clothing and warmth using only what nature provides.

Yesterday, my husband and I were at the camp to help the staff get ready for the group that's about to descend on them. Even after a lifetime spent hiking, camping, and backpacking (with the help of JanSport, North Face and REI), I was surprised to learn that nature provides absolutely everything needed to get the job done -- manmade materials need not apply.

DSC_1476
But not all of our acorns were Valley Oak so we had to soak the flour in hot water (3-4 times) to leach out the bitter tannins. When the bitterness was gone, the mush was spread onto cookie sheets and baked into tasty crackers.

Now I get that modern conveniences are just what the words say, modern and convenient. Truth be told, we were only able to create enough acorn crackers to feed 40 people because we used modern inventions. Instead of leaving the acorns out in the sun to dry, we put them in large, industrial-size ovens overnight at 200 degrees. While the Miwok would have used stones to crack them open, we used hammers. After the kernels were removed, the Miwok would have put them on grinding stones and hit them with rocks until they created acorn flour. (That's what the kids will do). Having use of a kitchen, we put them in a nut grinder, then moved them to a blender to get the fine acorn powder needed for cooking. We didn't sit by a river for hours at a time leaching out the bitter tannins. Our method was to simply boil water on the stove and pour it over the flour time after time until the bitter taste disappeared. Then we spread the wet mush onto cookie sheets, placed them in the oven, and minutes later had nutty-tasting acorn crackers rich in protein and fat, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and niacin. It was terrific fun but it wasn’t what produced my aha moment.

Continue reading "Year in Yosemite: Native Genius" »

10/11/2011

Hooked on Leaves

For most of us, a sugar maple, with its scarlet and orange leaves, is the symbol of autumn. It's one of the most colorful fall maples, and the tree in my front yard has just begun to turn. I'm lucky to have one nearby; here in Maryland, in USDA Zone 7, we don't have the long, cold winters and mild summers that it actually prefers. Somehow this particular tree doesn't mind.

I learned contour drawing by using leaves. Oak and birch leaves were the subjects of my first good painting. I loved blending one color into the next on the wet paper:

Fierstonstudyno2 copy

I started by drawing a leaf, from life, on Yupo, a plastic "paper" I'm using these days. With a regular #2 pencil, I used the technique of contour drawing--following the edge of a leaf with my eye and making a corresponding line on the paper. My eye moved back and forth between the leaf and my drawing, correcting any lines that went wild or wrong.

This sugar maple leaf fell off my tree this morning, and you can see by the wet paint that I started painting it right away:

Maple1 copy
I love to play with color, and  it's easy to do when you paint on Yupo. Watercolors sparkle on this surface because the paint is not absorbed; it dries randomly, one color flowing into another. And, if you make a mistake, all you have to do is wipe it away with clean water and a paper towel. It's a relaxing change from the rigors of watercolor paper, where you must get it right the first time!

Here's the final leaf painting on Yupo:

Maple2
Go ahead--grab some autumn leaves and give it a try!

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.

What it Takes to be a Climbing Ranger in Yosemite

Yosemite Half DomeJesse McGahey remembers his first season in Yosemite: "I was just a dirtbag climber at Camp 4. I thought I was a good climber." As it turned out, "good" elsewhere meant "just OK" on Yosemite’s granite. So he kept returning, improving, and after seven years, he became a climbing ranger.

What’s a climbing ranger? Well, it’s a lot like a wilderness ranger, except with scalers instead of trekkers. The daily grind involves Leave No Trace education, search and rescue, paperwork, coffee with climbers, and what he calls "extreme janitorial duties." You can imagine the melancholy of a big-wall climber who tops out in a soiled bedroom.

First and foremost, McGahey considers himself “a steward of the vertical wilderness.” Under his harness are six summits of Half Dome and more than ten of El Cap. Still, when he thinks back on the most exciting moments of his climbing career, his modest inner ranger does the talking: “The Yosemite Facelift is my annual highlight, when park staff and visitors come together to support the Leave No Trace Ethic.” This clean-up event happens during the week of National Public Lands Day. In 2010, volunteers collected 172,307 pounds of detritus. More than 80% of it was recycled.

He says of his climbing stories: “None is more exciting than the last.” But there is one that sticks out — for its irony, not its thrill.

When a cascade of stone came down on Yosemite’s Curry Village on October 8, 2008, park officials had to find answers quickly, so they went questing for the rock guy. But geologist Greg Stock was in an unlikely spot: 2,000 feet up El Capitan’s Mescalito route. McGahey had taken him for a vertical stroll.

As McGahey tells it, the decision was made to pluck Stock from the wall. “It’s the only time someone who was safe and unharmed had to be rescued,” he says with a giggle. Specialists helicoptered to the top of El Cap, intercepted Stock, and lowered him down four days’ worth of wall in about 30 minutes.

Despite its intimidating cliffs and deep-rooted climbing communities, McGahey says Yosemite is a great place for intermediate newcomers who want to experience some classic rock. He calls historic Camp 4 “one of the greatest gathering places for climbers in the whole world.” There’s even a bulletin board where people post requests for everything from rides to belay partners. He hosts Climber Coffee here every Sunday. If you make it out, you can meet him yourself.

--Jake Abrahamson

10/07/2011

Draconid Meteor Shower: Outburst or Bust?

10-7-11 PerseidMeteors_Chumack
The photo shown is of summer's Perseid meteor shower. Credit: John Chumack

On October 8, lucky viewers could see 750-plus meteors an hour during an outburst of the Draconid meteor shower. Scientists are forecasting these intense numbers because they believe Earth will barrel head first into a debris trail left behind by Comet Giacobini-Zinner.

The timing, however, is not good for North America. The best estimates of when the outburst will occur is at noon EDT, with the peak of activity between 3 and 5 pm EDT -- daylight hours for us in the western hemisphere. But because the timing of these events is not a guarantee, it's still well worth a look for the chance to see the show of a lifetime. Go out after dark and face north. The meteors appear to come from a region around Draco the Dragon's head. Draco's tail trails between the Big Dipper and Little Dipper and its head curls up between the Little Dipper and the constellation Lyra with its brilliant star Vega.

For those located in more favorable locations, such as Europe and Africa, conditions still won't be ideal. The darkness of night will be partially marred by the glow of a fat gibbous moon. But again, it's definitely worth taking the time to look.

The full moon for October is on Tuesday the 11th at 10:06 pm EDT. This will be the most distant full moon of the year, because the moon reaches apogee, or its farthest distance in its elliptical orbit around us, a few hours later at 8 am EDT on the 12th. The full moon on October 11 is called the Hunter's Moon.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.


User comments or postings reflect the opinions of the responsible contributor only, and do not reflect the viewpoint of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any posting. The Sierra Club accepts no obligation to review every posting, but reserves the right (but not the obligation) to delete postings that may be considered offensive, illegal or inappropriate.

Up to Top


Sierra Club® and "Explore, enjoy and protect the planet"® are registered trademarks of the Sierra Club. © 2009 Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club Seal is a registered copyright, service mark, and trademark of the Sierra Club.