Explore: October 2011

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13 posts from October 2011


Traveling Performers Set Sail

Acrobats by ashala tylor 
All the world's a stage, especially if you're a family of sailing acrobats. When they're not exploring the open sea, Delphine Lechifflart and Franck Rabilier use the mast, boom, and rigging of their 40-foot sailboat to perform acrobatic feats. The couple and their two young daughters live on their boat, La Loupiote, earning money at each port by collecting donations during their free performances.

Since leaving France in 2004, the acrobats have docked their traveling stage in harbors all over the world. Most recently, Lechifflart and Rabilier were spotted in British Columbia and Washington. Their current repertoire includes two 20-minute performances: a Buster-Keaton-inspired sailing parody and a romantic duet.

The troupe will perform in the San Francisco Bay Area through the end of October. Next, they'll continue their voyage down the California coast, reaching Baja by year's end.

--Della Watson/Photo by ashalaTylor.com

Year in Yosemite: A Walk with Giants

The California Tunnel Tree. Tunnel was carved through the tree in 1895 as a way to promote the grove. Originally, it could accommodate a car. Since that time, the bark has been growing inward in an attempt to close its wound.

Things move slowly around here. On October 13, 2010 the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County finally opened its doors. It took 17 years to plan and build. The museum celebrates the era when massive wooly mammoths, saber tooth cats and dire wolves roamed the region. Last Thursday, I joined two friends and spent the day wandering among the last living relics of that time.

Located just up the hill from our home in Yosemite National Park, the giant sequoias of the Mariposa Grove represent just a tiny slice of the massive forests of sequoias that scientists believe once stretched across this part of California. Their growth is even slower than that of the Fossil Discovery Center. Stretching up and out at a rate of just inches a year, it has taken some of these beauties almost 3,000 years to reach their present girth and height. It was worth the wait. As their heartfelt guardian Galen Clark wrote more than 100 years ago, "Here it seems one is standing in a great temple, silent, restful, with the air seemingly filled with eternal peace."

The Grizzly. The first branch on the right has grown vertically. Its diameter is larger than the trunk of any non sequoia in the grove.

Not everyone saw it that way. Just a couple of miles away, in an area now called the Nelder Grove, the Madera Flume and Trading Company tried logging these giants. The results were disastrous. The trunks were so massive that it took days and several men with massive saws to cut down a single tree. When the sequoia fell, the ground shook with the intensity of an earthquake, shattering the tree into thousands of pieces -- useful for making only shingles, pencils and matchsticks.

Continue reading "Year in Yosemite: A Walk with Giants" »


Two Cities, One Blue Sage

We dropped our daughter at college in Chicago last week, which gave me a chance to visit the Lurie Garden at Millenium Park, right in the downtown area, east of the Loop. It's a striking oasis, full of flowering prairie plants and goldfinches pecking at the seedheads of coneflowers.

The garden's designer, Piet Oudolf, also designed the High Line garden on the west side of Manhattan--and a gorgeous blue sage is blooming in both places right now. The sky-blue blossoms of this plant are unmistakable and unusual; most perennials said to flower blue actually have a purple cast to their petals. I was so excited when I saw it in the Lurie Garden, I made a quick pencil sketch:


DSC_0001-1 copy

The High Line is a repurposed elevated railroad trestle that runs for 20 blocks along the Hudson River as a stroll garden. Oudolf retained many of the plants that had grown up on the abandoned railroad bed (the goldenrod, the sumac) and added native sages, asters, and vibrunums. Oudolf, from Holland, has introduced American gardeners to the idea of using native vegetation--planted in large groups, with dried stems on perennials--as food and shelter for wildlife. These low-water gardens work as natural habitats, even in the city. Oudolf has authored many books, but my favorite is his early "Designing with Plants" for its specific plant recommendations, accurate photos, and playful translation from the Dutch.


I've been painting with Yupo, the synthetic "paper," because I like the random flow of the pigments on its slick surface. I can't use pencil on Yupo because its surface is too slippery, so I lightly paint in the plants using cobalt blue and a fine brush. Then I go back in and add the colors I want. Here is Salvia azurea, Blue Sage:


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-- 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.

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