Helping your elders across the road

I helped this gentleman across the road today. I don’t actually know how old this particular fella is, but even a quick google will confirm that turtles as a species have been on earth waaaaaaaaa*breath*aaaaaaaay longer than homo sapiens have. Think hundreds of millions of years. Compared to turtles, humans are but whippersnappers.

I can assure you there is a turtle tucked away in that shell, because when I spotted it, its head and front limbs were out, and it was headed across the road. It was a fairly quiet road, but I still pulled over and helped it finish its crossing. Always in the direction the turtle is already headed. Though it can be tempting, don’t second guess the turtle… they know where they want to go. If folks try to reset them, or aim them somewhere “better”, the turtle will just do the turtle equivalent of a beleaguered sigh (do turtles sigh?) and slowly head back to exactly where they were going the first time. Only this time, from further away.

The reason I say this turtle is a mister is a pretty excellent turtle fun fact. Male painted turtles have extra long claws on their front feet. They use them to stroke the female’s face during courting. And this young man had claws for miles. Were I a lady turtle, I might be blushing.


Turtles always strike me as devastatingly serious. If turtles could talk, I’d believe everything they said.

Erin O’Brien
chickens fauna homestead

Scrappy and the Wyandottes

Prefer to listen to the story? Click the image above to hear the narrated version of this blog entry.

This is Scrappy. A wild eastern cottontail rabbit who has been visiting our property most evenings, all spring and summer. We can tell Scrappy is Scrappy and not other rabbits because Scrappy is missing a chunk of one ear. Which is how Scrappy got his name.

(We think Scrappy is a he, though we don’t know for sure. And however Scrappy rolls is alright by us.)

Lately we’ve noticed that while Scrappy frequents all parts of our yard, he seems to favour the clover-y grass near the chickens. And since there is clover-y grass all over our yard, we finally started to wonder: perhaps it’s not the clover that’s the reason Scrappy is there, but… the chickens?

Scrappy and our Wyandotte chickens tend to be in the yard at the same time. Our chickens live in coops that are attached to enclosed and reasonably spacious runs. We open the doors from the runs to their yard area — currently quite a bit more exposed to predators — only when one of us is outside. We try make time for this, even on busy days. The “old guys”, sometimes also known as “the little guys”, tend to come out in the morning. They’re the bantams from our original flock, and they’re much more advanced in years, so they like to go to bed early. (Our little 9 year old silkie SooZee in particular keeps a tight 4PM or earlier bedtime.) The chickens that make up the younger flock, all Wyandottes, stay up much later, closer to an 8PM or later bedtime.

Our Wyandottes are fond of rummaging around in and trimming the long grass, so we often refer to their yard time as “running the lawnmowers”. As in “do you have time to run the lawnmowers today?” The lawnmowers usually get run first thing in the morning, and again in the later evening. And Scrappy fairly consistently shows up somewhere in the yard right at Wyandotte o’clock. Not only that, but though he has his run of the yard, Scrappy also tends to work the clover on whichever side of the fence happens to be nearest the Wyandottes.

The other night, Neil and I had our last work meeting of the day outside, so the chickens (and us) could enjoy the beautiful evening. The chickens, and us… and Scrappy. Who not only appeared out of nowhere when we let the chickens out, but also went to the yard nearest them and settled down in the grass for a nap.

I think our flock might have an honorary member. If he lays eggs… do you think they are chocolate?


fauna insects and arachnids thinking big

All creatures great and small

Sometimes we glimpse the pure volume of life here and it’s nearly overwhelming.

We were watching the woods flickering with fireflies this evening, and began talking about the other nearby critters, just the ones we know about, who were also going about their evenings, on the ground and on the plants and in the trees around us.

The phoebe sitting on her eggs, in her nest on one of the logs that make up our house. Who periodically cliff-dives down past the living room window, to catch a bug or have a sip of water.

The robin, on her own clutch, sitting on top of the nest box by the wood’s edge.

The hawk who flew over the yard today, carrying a snake.

The four swallowtail caterpillars in the carrot patch.

The flying squirrels, whose day begins as ours ends. Who take off from our roof, each evening at twilight.

“Scrappy”, the eastern cottontail missing a chunk from his ear, who visits the yard every evening, and who seems to have developed a taste for milkweed as well as the other forage.

The eastern grey squirrel we saw building a new drey today in one of the junipers.

The monarch babies on the milkweeds, some of which are evading Scrappy.

The cabbage white eggs on the kale.

The bat who has been using the roof’s overhang as a sometime roost. Leaving little bat poop “I was here” sign on the deck.

The hummingbird who buzzed my head today, intent on getting a drink from the red flowers of the scarlet runner beans.

The tiny bees in the yard’s clover.

The wolf spider carrying her egg sac.

The mystery russet-coloured bird who flushed from the ground up into the trees, when I rode past on my bike.

The veerys, singing their pan-flute songs as dark sets in.

The barred owl, whose call drifts through the night and in the bedroom window.

Just a few of the critters we happened to notice today. Just the ones whose paths crossed ours.

Each one of them living their lives, coming and going and breeding and eating and resting.


Goodnight moon, goodnight birds and bees and bugs and beasts. Goodnight all.

fauna insects and arachnids

Black swallowtail catersnake

“All swallowtail larvae have an eversible horn-like organ behind the head known as the osmeterium (osmeteria, plural) that looks like a forked snake tongue. It is a bright yellow-orange color on the black swallowtail. When the caterpillar is disturbed it rears up and the organ is extended for a short period of time. When everted it it releases a chemical repellent with a foul smell to repel predators. It is harmless to humans, however.”

From Wisconsin Horticulture

One of several black swallowtail caterpillars (all different instars — a younger one pictured below) found munching away on the carrot tops. I wasn’t trying to alarm it into pretending to be a snake, but just my looming presence in the carrot patch was probably a bit alarming.

It would be better for our crisper if the caterpillars were on the usually abundant Queen Anne’s Lace instead of our domestic carrots, but until the wild food gets going, I don’t mind sharing. The veg patch can be a pop-up pollinator garden.


Earlier instar, same species. Black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
fauna tracks & scat

Deer little things

Prefer to listen to the story? Click the image above to hear the narrated version of this blog entry.

There is no stop on the tour when you are out for a walk alone in the unmediated woods. No guide raises a colourful umbrella to get your attention. There’s no floating arrow directed at points of interest. No plaques. Just your own eyes and whatever you pay attention to.

When you walk with a companion, you can see with their eyes as well. When Neil and I walk together, there is usually a fair amount of quiet pointing while we chat about other things. An interesting tree, a patch of new blooms, fruits emerging on the mayapples (oh the mayapples…). But no one stops you from walking right past something marvelous. It is up to you to notice. And there’s an awful lot that hides in plain sight. And not all of it is small.

A couple of days ago I was walking the woods alone. I had gone up to the woods to try for a gentle run, and did a walking lap of the woods first. I often end up walking a full lap before running it. It just gets my feet used to where I am. Besides, my head was many places other than where I was. And that is usually a good recipe for a turned ankle. So I did a walking lap to let my thoughts ramble and untangle. But as I neared a large mayapple patch, I doubled back. Had I seen tiny tracks in the dirt? I retraced my steps, crouched down to the ground, and decided… yes! I had. Tiny hoofprints leading into the mayapple patch. Deer. But so small. Was this the right time to be seeing fawn tracks? I wasn’t sure. Would they be big enough to be walking around? I walked on, thinking to myself about how much I love learning to see animals even when they’re not there in front of me. Oh how right and wrong I was…

I finished my first lap of the woods, and began again. As I passed the mayapple patch for a second time, I thought about the unseen deer. And a few metres further on, I *gasp* SAW. Not a hoofprint, not a flash of white tail bouncing away. A little tiny wee baby deer, curled up and resting in the grass right beside me. And I do mean, right beside me. Three feet away, if that. I had gone right past it on my first lap, moments after spotting those prints. Right past it, and it was right here.

Though I had never encountered a baby deer like this before, I knew well enough to leave well enough alone. I took this fast photo with my phone and then I was the one who hightailed it out of there. The best thing I could do for this baby deer was am-scray. Though my best day is one when I see a baby deer, a baby deer’s best day is when it sees no one.

Baby deer (yes I know they’re called fawns but baby deer) can stand and walk shortly after they are born. But they’re not fast enough to keep up with mom, and they also don’t carry the scent that mom has, and which predators might use to find them. So, for the first few weeks of their lives, mom keeps them safe by keeping them away from her. She leaves her babies secreted and alone in various spots during the day, coming back only to nurse them, once every four hours or longer. In this way, baby deer are very similar to baby bunnies, whose moms also protect them by staying away. (Deer and rabbits are also similar in that our handling the babies and leaving our scent on them may cause the mother to reject it. Excellent reason to keep our paws off the wildlife. This is not, by the way, true of baby birds, an idea that is widespread but unfounded.)

At this age, being perfectly still — and wow was that baby ever still — and being perfectly tiny is a fawn’s best defense. A healthy baby deer lying quietly and still and alone is doing exactly what a baby deer is meant to do. Like so many other times, with so many other critters, the best thing I can do to show it I love it… is to walk away. Just because something is still does not mean it is not frightened. Its mom keeps it safe and alive by leaving it alone, and I should do the same.

Is that easy? NOPE. This is your brain, this is your brain on baby deer. Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhh! As I walked quickly away I literally had to hold my hands over my heart to keep it from bursting out of my chest. A baby deer! Heaven! We have spooked fawns in the woods before, been right on top of them with no idea until they suddenly flush from under our feet. But never this. A baby deer at rest. So perfect and perfectly still.

I thought I would finish my walk in a daze, processing what I had seen. In the moment, I had trouble connecting my eyes to my brain. It was a baby deer! It was right there! I was right beside a baby deer! Etc! Seeing them in the wild… it’s difficult to process. A fawn staying perfectly still looks like every photograph or illustration of a deer you’ve ever seen. I ran it over and over in my mind as I walked. Curled up, russet-coloured, big ears, white spots, right there. And oh, no, wait…no…nope.. no way… what is that over there??

I was clear on the other side of the woods when something caught my eye. Much farther away from the trail, but a shape I had just seen, and which I guess my eyes will now always search for — it was another baby deer! You can see it in the photo above. That reddish patch in the centre of this zoom. Thaaaat’s a baby deer. A second baby deer spotted on one walk. If you need me, I’ll be over here holding my exploded heart.

In the first few weeks mother deer “store” sibling fawns separately from each other, so this spotting of a second baby was another good sign that all was well and normal. If there were signs things were not well and normal, well, that is a discussion for another day. My decisions around hard questions are not drawn with hard lines. But in general, if it has a human cause, I will intervene. If not, I will let nature run its own course. I have intervened before, on smaller scales, and cost another critter its dinner. I tread more carefully now around my “help”.

Now did I worry about the baby deer? Yuuup. Of course I did slash do. I know what else is in the woods, why it is so important to be still and quiet and scentless. And, for human concerns, people drive too fast on the roads near here, hunt both in and out of season, and it was not out of the question that mom was not coming back.

I will pause here to say that I do eat meat, including deer, and that I am not opposed to hunting, in principle. Though not hunting done ignorantly, or wastefully. A lot of hunting seems to just be a socially-acceptable reason for men to go sit alone in the woods. Which is just… sad. You shouldn’t feel you need to justify a long walk in the woods with a death. It makes a real mess of things. That said, one bad day in an otherwise wild life is incomparably better than the “lives” of almost all the meat we eat.

I decided to keep an eye on things as lightly and from as far away as possible. I thought about leaving a trail camera, but ours flashes red when it takes a photo and I had seen evidence of it spooking deer before. I certainly didn’t want to be the human cause keeping mom away. So I went up the next day to check as discretely as I could. Baby one, by the trail, had not been moved, but baby two was gone. Which I decided was a half-good sign. Some guides will tell you to be concerned and perhaps intervene if the baby hasn’t been moved in 24 hours. So what about baby one, by the trail? But I asked some wise animal-knowledgeable friends of mine who suggested that it was just as likely that mama deer had simply decided it was a good spot. So I waited another day, and checked again. Sure enough, baby one was gone. No signs of anything gone awry. Just a tiny deer bed, the sign of it already being covered over by the growing woods.

I am so glad to have seen these beautiful babies, and even more glad they have safely moved on. I hope to see one again sometime, though perhaps at a greater distance. Where I could enjoy getting a glimpse of it, and it could enjoy that the human was not quite so close to where it rests until mom returns.

It was good to meet you wee ones. Have a good life, you dear little things.

fauna thinking big

The dance of the fierce and delicate

Prefer to listen to the story? Click the image above to hear the narrated version of this blog entry.

We try to have days in balance here. I have a new policy that if I think I am too busy to go walk the woods, that is exactly when I have to go walk the woods. It turns out that it is just good math. Even a half hour “off the clock” and in the woods generates many hours of a much calmer, happier, more productive me.

Some days though, even with this policy enacted, I just can’t seem to find that half hour in my day, or the steep hill just looks a little too tall for a tired body.

I believe the world is made up of rich and complex interactions between life forms of all shapes and sizes. The wild worlds of microbiomes and mycelliums. Big and little worlds, in, on, and around us. But while I don’t think I believe the woods has a singular sentience that keeps an eye on us here, some days it certainly feels that way.

On the days we can’t or don’t make it up to the woods, nature has a tendency to send an emissary to us instead. “Look at this!” the world seems to shout, or whisper. Nudging something marvelous in our direction. When we don’t go to the woods, the woods comes to us.

Yesterday I was “too busy” and a raccoon wandered past my office window. This morning while I was on a call, a wild rabbit lay down languorously in the grass of the front garden, nibbling greens while recumbent and resting. A tiny long-eared greek god supping grapes off its chest.

Having chickens means we pop out to the garden a few times a day no matter how full the daily docket gets. And between tasks the other day, while swapping chicken waterers, I was buzzed by a good-sized (broad-winged?) hawk. It was not alone though. It was flying fast away from a pursuer! Which turned out to be… two robins. They were the literal vision of “hot on your tail”. Whatever the hawk’s original plans, the robins were having none of it.

Though this is an extremely common occurrence, little birds attacking big ones, I had never witnessed it before moving here. Though now I see it all the time. Tiny birds, birds we often classify as such a hawk’s “prey”, little winged timbits, dive-bombing a “predator” an order of magnitude larger than they are. And, surprisingly, astonishingly, the prey is winning.

It’s a subject I’ll likely come back to here again and again — these misconceptions of predator and prey. Of “good” animals and “bad” animals. Dangerous animals and tame animals. Clean animals and dirty animals… it goes on and on. I structured my understanding of the world around models that aren’t just out of date, not just expired, they were never true. Mama animals take care of the babies, dad animals get the food. Bears growl, bunnies are sweet, the tiny are afraid of the large. “Not so” the world keeps shouting at me here, “not so”. “Look, look, look and begin to see.”

Ask someone who works with bears and they will tell you that bears hardly ever growl. It’s just not how and when they vocalize. As Mike McIntosh who runs the bear rehabilitation centre Bear With Us put it: “They don’t make a lot of sounds that we often hear and think they make. Bears are usually only vocal when they’re either afraid or in pain. Most of the time they’re quiet”. The cartoon version, the scary bear in the movie, it’s not just a caricature, it’s a lie. Like the lemmings who were dumped over the cliff in the fake-umentary that shaped all our understanding of those rodents, it was not is not never was true. Sweet little rabbits will rip each other’s fur out in territory disputes. Father birds will sit on eggs, mothers will build nests. We either just didn’t look, or didn’t see.

This evening we were having dinner when the character of the birdsong out the window suddenly changed, like someone had abruptly clicked to the next song, mid-track. I looked out the window and saw a fine feathered kerfuffle unfolding in the large maple in our yard. A sizeable hawk was perched on a branch, but not for long. It was being pelted at all angles by tiny birds. A variety of tiny birds it seemed. Nearby nesting moms and pops and various bystanders were having none of this large predator in their midst.

It is not uncommon to see a group of blackbirds or swallows chasing a hawk or eagle, or a group of songbirds fluttering and calling around a perched owl. Such “mobbing” behavior is probably the most frequently observed overt antipredator strategy. Nevertheless, the exact purpose of such noisy group demonstrations remains a matter of some debate.

…one function of mobbing may be educational–to teach young birds… Another may be to alert other birds to the presence of the predator, either getting them to join in the mobbing or protecting them, since a predator is unlikely to be able to sneak up on an alert victim.

Much is lacking in our understanding of mobbing. It is not clear why predators don’t simply turn on their tormentors and snatch up one or two of the mobbing birds. If they did, presumably mobbing would quickly disappear; that it persists suggests that surprise is an essential element in raptor hunting.

The Birder’s Handbook by Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye

I won’t end here though on the victory of the tiny birds over the big mean hawk. Though David and Goliath stories stir the soul, no one is the villain in their own story, and the tale is of course different from Goliath’s perspective. A “predator” has its own beautiful babies to feed. Its own soaring life to support. Life-Death-Life, around and around we go. The fierce and the delicate, wrapped up in one package.

A world without good and bad guys, without roaring bears and ever-sweet bunnies is a confusing place to be. Up is down, down is up and your generalizations won’t save you now. But the truth, it turns out, is so much stranger than fiction. So much more interesting. So much more beautiful and compelling and frightening and hopeful. Look look look, and begin to see.



Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?

Prefer to listen to the story? Press play above to hear the narrated version of this blog entry.

Fledgling birds can really worry us humans when we encounter them. Young birds are often “rescued” by humans when found out of the nest, even when they’re exactly where they’re supposed to be.

Little birds will often pop out of the nest once they’re fully feathered but before they’re ready to like, fly fly. They’re like “Let’s do this! I’m ready!” and then *boop* they’re on the ground. Their parents know about this and will continue looking after them down there: “Great job Tim! Now let’s work on that ‘flying’ thing…” The parents keep feeding and protecting them when they’re out of the nest, including scooting them to safer locations as needed. When we move fledgling babies, the parents may not be able to find them again — “where’s Tim?” — or we inadvertently put them somewhere that’s actually more risky to them. No human knows the threats to a robin like a robin does. In this case, a bird brain is the best brain.

I knew this intellectually, but was very relieved when I actually saw it happen a couple of years ago. A wee little robin was out of the nest on the ground. You do not look like that is a good place for you little friend! But I just watched it over the course of the day, heard the parents coming and going, and by nightfall its folks had done such a good job camouflaging it in a pile of leaves that I initially thought it was gone. And Tim was still there, safe and sound, in the morning.

It happened again this year. Every year we seem to get one or two robin’s nests, so most of our springs include fledgling robins. We’ve had so many robins’ nests appear on and around the house since we moved in that I suggested to Neil we could use them to count our years here, like the rings of a tree.

This year’s “Tim”

One of this year’s nests was in the rafters right above where we park our electric 4×4. We’ve been careful with our comings-and-goings since the nest appeared, and try to time things so we’re not interrupting feeding time. Today, it seems, was fledging day. By late afternoon, there was only one baby robin in the nest, and it was clear they were thinking about leaving. By evening, there were zero robins in the nest.

Just to be sure though, I checked the ground carefully around the 4×4. Nothing there. So I started unloading bits and pieces from the 4×4 bed. And whoop! Out flew a baby robin! I definitely didn’t put that there. I guess the little one’s flight path had parabola-d up up, out of the nest, and down down into the bed of the truck. Fortunately it was a very mobile little nugget, so when I disturbed them it just flew up and out of the bed and down to the ground. It stayed there for a little while, cheeping indignantly for a parent to come sort this out. I left, to give the feathered family plenty of space. I came back again later and found the fledgling on a different perch, tucked on the logs we keep behind the house. It kept cheeping and a parent kept cheeping back from somewhere up the hill for another hour or two, until Neil and I eventually noticed we were no longer hearing either the big or little cheeps behind the house. Up and into the woods you go little one.

And you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh, but my darling, “What if you fly?”

~Erin Hanson

If you find a baby bird on the ground, it is good to ask for advice to help ensure you’re seeing what you think you’re seeing before intervening. If you phone a wildlife centre (SPWC; Toronto Wildlife Centre) they will help you assess the situation and give the little ones their best shot at life — nearly always in the continued care of the parents, if at all possible.

See you next year Tim!


tracks & scat

In/visible Animals

Prefer to listen to the story? Click the image above to hear the audio version of this blog entry.

“Did you see anything cool?”, asked usually moments after the front door closes, if we hear someone is back home again, after a walk in the woods.

What we’re usually hoping is that the other person caught a glimpse of a wild thing. A critter — fur, feathers, skin or scales — usually being top of the wishlist.

Of course seeing a wild thing is wildly exciting. Seeing a deer or an owl or a porcupine or a fox. We hope for it of course. We like when our stories overlap theirs. When they join us on our walk.

If something four-legged or flighted or slithery crossed our paths, the answer is an enthusiastic and quick “yes!” But the answer is almost never “no”.

The list of what is “cool” one might see in the woods is expansive…. perhaps endless? Fungi and saplings, flowers and insects. Buds and bark. Animate, if possible, not-currently-animate understandable.

Our eyes are still learning how to see here. When we arrived, we could barely tell an oak from an ash. But over the past days and weeks and months and years, we have been studying. We have been learning. Our vision is getting better.

Perhaps what has most changed the character of our walks is our study of signs. Most critters, quite rightly, prefer to give us humans a wide berth. More than once I have only spotted a wild animal because I turn around periodically to “check my six”. On one walk, as I was headed south, I turned around to look behind me, and crossing the woods perpendicular to my path was a coyote, trying to sneak away without my glimpsing. But whether we see them “in person” or not, critters’ comings and goings are recorded in the woods. Sometimes the signs are bold and loud, and sometimes they are barely whispers. They are quiet. Be slow. Look.

I walked the woods today. I saw nothing and everything. On the path up the hill, a bit of white on the ground caught my eye. Looking closer, I saw it was the fur of a dead mouse. And now that I was looking, I saw that what appeared to be a pile of muddy leaves, was in fact two more dead mice.

There are three mice in this photo.

Curious. Nearby, I found this. Mustelid scat.

Weasel poop

Perhaps the mice were from a disturbed mustelid cache? Weasels will kill more than they can eat at once, and store the rest for later. There were some dug up areas nearby. Could it be the mice were either being put in to or taken out of a cache? Or perhaps it was coincidence, and the mice met their end for reasons other than death-by-weasel. Someone intent on reading this particular story could examine the mice to try and determine cause of death — weasels tend to kill by biting the back of the head — but I wasn’t in the mood for necropsy today, so I walked on, content to let it lie at theory.

Baby oak

Sometimes the landscape is added to, sometimes things go missing. Bark nibbled off a branch, berries secreted away. On this particular day, all along the walking path were these little pock marks of popped out acorns. Freed in the sudden thaw, they have been excavated by our local rodent work crew. A squirrel perhaps, or one of the approximately eleventy billion chipmunks here who have awoken from their winter slumbers and are making up for lost time and calories. Scurrying sciuridae.

I’d hoped the soft muddy ground would also yield a print or two. And the woods obliged with one. This little deer hoof, trod mostly on a leaf, but just enough denting the soft ground to be unmistakable. “I was here.”

Though we can learn to see shades of mud, and parse the brown, our other senses come out to play on a walk as well. I walked through two columns of air thick with fox smell. Someone orange and furry had been by, not so long ago… And higher up in the canopy, the bashing sound of woodpeckers, harvesting the spring bugs from the trees.

Canid scat. Likely fox.

And elsewhere, the promise of fungi to come. This bird’s nest fungus, currently “empty nesting”, the spores long ago released, but a tiny reminder that the days of bright luscious fungi are getting ever closer.

So what did I see, on my walk of the woods? Mice, mustelid, sciuridae, fox, and deer… The same place, just not the same time.

“Did you see anything cool?”



fauna wild inklings

Wild Inklings: “Paint Bravely”

Prefer to listen to the story? Click the image above to hear the audio version of this entry.

It’s been awhile since I’ve added to my collection of Wild Inklings. Fortunately my homemade wild inks are very patient, chilling out on the top shelf of our fridge, waiting for their next field trip. And Neil, lovingly and patiently, accommodates that sometimes his morning marmalade migrates behind my rows of glass bottles, each one filled with mysterious murk. The contents of which are not suitable for spreading on crumpets… probably.

I’ve enjoyed experimenting in many different mediums, but the moment I made my first wild ink, I was home. Painting nature-with-nature is pure magic. I enjoy the forage, the secret colours, and the alchemy on the page. I love to watch the hues change as they land wet on the paper, and as they settle into themselves over time. I love that the quest for colours is tied to the seasons — horsetail strobili in the spring, goldenrod in late summer, wild grapes in the fall. I love that the seasons swirl together in the created image. I love that you can use a dandelion to paint an acorn, or sketch a moose with a grape. Render a flower out of sumac, or create a bird from a charred vine.


The more I use this wild palette, the more I understand it, but it is also made of organic matter, and full of surprises. So when I paint with these inks, I am not 100% in control, and, more and more, I am not trying to be. I would like to paint a hawk, but the exact how and what of the hawk, that remains to be seen. I discover it along the way. It’s an exercise in exploring what is possible with what is at hand. This practice in letting go is good for my brain, which, like the brains of so many other humans, is so much more comfortable with hanging on.

Neil is a wonderful painter in his own medium: building and finishing miniature figures. Some of what he does is very specific, and he watches video tutorials to improve his skills. One of the creators he follows advocates “painting bravely” and it’s an idea I come back to again and again when I’m painting. Some activities I do in life have high stakes, but painting is not one of them. If I make a “mistake”, really, really, it doesn’t matter at all. So some ink ends up on the page in an unintended place. A colour combo doesn’t look great. So what. I like to be evidence-based, and so far the world has continued to spin each time, weird blobby of ink on the page or not.

When I’m doing well at “painting bravely”, again and again I try the thing that makes me nervous. I push my own edge. And for nearly each painting I have done, my favourite part of the image will be created in the moments just after I whisper to myself, “…paint bravely”. Even if the aesthetics of what comes out of the brush doesn’t work, the bravery, that you get to keep.

Here are a few photos to show how one of these wild inklings comes together. This time a hawk, rendered in inks from: sumac, wild grape, buckthorn berries, horsetail strobili, acorns. The painting’s creation supported by a combination of good music, reference photos, my inks, my tiny brush, and the constant reminder to “paint bravely”.


fauna tracks & scat

VIDEO: Tracking Weasels in the Woods

My lovely friends Sevaan and Tess, who do not know each other, periodically give me the ol’ “you should vlog!” Is it so I won’t send them 8 texts in a row about fisher footprints? Who’s to say!

While I’m always happy to yammer on and share my excitement about nature, and in theory I like editing videos, in practice my glitchy ancient copy of iMovie makes editing an exercise in gaaaaaaaaah.

But! Sometimes you just find some tracks in the woods and by gum, you wanna share it! So when I went to the woods a few weeks ago I flipped my phone around and shared some of my ramblies about weaselies. Ironically an unscripted vlog needs more editing, but hey, that is just how fun tracking is! It must be shared!

Have fun out there, you critter-loving woods walkers!


(Hi Piper! Hi Lucy! Have fun exploring tracks with your supercool mom and dad!)