Walking In A Blue Heaven

 

Hiking To See Wildflowers!

By Rachelle Siegrist

rachelle siegrist hiking the smokies

Wes and I enjoyed a lovely hike this past week here in the Smokies!  It’s that beautiful time of year again when the wildflowers are blooming most everywhere, bringing splashes of color and life to the forest floor.  Though it was chilly when we started out walking early that morning, it warmed up nicely as morning gave way to afternoon.  There is a place which I love hiking to where the phlox bloom and turns the forest floor blue, was the destination.

smokies wildflowers

Surrounded by a sea of blue blossoms whilst walking through the basin, I was reminded of a song Wes’ Nana use to sing called “My Blue Heaven”, and felt as if I was in my own “Blue Heaven” standing there in the tranquil forest.  When we first moved here to the Smokies almost 18 years ago now, places like this were always quiet and uncrowded, but this location the past few years has seen unbelievable foot traffic due to social media.  The flowers have been reduced to less than half of what they use to be, from the sheer amount of hikers as well as wild hogs, trampling them and bringing invasive weed seeds on their clothing which has taken over much of the area.

trillium in the smokies

Because of what has happened, most of the “social trails” have been blocked off in an attempt to help the native wildflowers recover in the area as best they can.  With a less than stellar display of the phlox and with most of the area now closed, there was hardly any hikers there, returning it to the tranquil woods that it once used to be.  Needless to say, we relished in every minute of the peace and quiet there!

wildflowers of the smokies white trillium

The Wild Blue Phlox were not the only superstars along the hike, as there were numerous trillium, shooting stars, ginger, and many other native wildflowers blooming. Pictured below are shooting stars, wild ginger and the delicate white flowers of Rue Anemone.

We saw several different species of butterflies flitting about whilst enjoying the nectar buffet provided.  We were delighted to see a large millipede crossing the trail one point as well!

The moss obviously found the warmer moist air to be the perfect conditions for blooming, and of course, I had to gently pet this particular gorgeous chunk!

hiking the smokies

Assorted fungi were looking quite stellar as well, and had covered this downed tree with a variety of multi-colored seashell shaped clumps, which I found most interesting.

fungi in the smokiesw

With many trees still bare at that elevation, the trunks were quite visible.  We found this tall, twisted tree most intriguing, wondering what caused it to grow this way and I thought the other gnarly, bent Rhododendron trunk greatly resembled one of the creatures found at the cantina in Star Wars!

Needless to say, it was a splendid day indeed, as any day spent in the woods or on the water is to me, and I came home feeling quite refreshed!

wildflowers of the smokies

~ Fresh Off The Easel ~

Wes has put in numerous hours once again this past week while working on the SAA entries for the upcoming jury and board meeting in Chicago next month.  I’ve continued painting on my commission, which is a miniature after Alred Usher Soord’s painting from the late 1800s, “The Good Shepherd“.  I’m still having fun with this one and will share it with you once it’s finished.

 

alfred soords the good sheperd painting
The Good Shepherd in progress

 

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Celebrating Easter . . . For He Has Risen!

~ Rachelle

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Can You Say Worms?

Worms . . . Worms . . . And More Worms!

By Rachelle Siegrist

carolina wren photo5

     Kermit the frog would be as happy as I am, for the world is turning green outside!  It seems every hour of every day literally hundreds of baby bright green leaves unfurl, causing the woods to spring to life right before our very eyes!  The brilliant white blossoms of the dogwoods are in full splendor in our yard, as well as the tender pinks on the pink Dogwoods, and the hot pink of the Redbuds.  It’s truly beautiful and I can feel myself becoming more alive each day as well!  Several birds are already nesting in our yard, in bushes and available boxes located throughout.  I’m delighted to say that after a several years absence, the bluebirds have returned once again and we’re quite sure they’ve chosen a box by our garden to nest in, filling the air with their familiar . . . “Cheer cheerful charmer!

raising mealworms

Nesting birds are hungry birds, and even more so when babies start hatching soon.  So this past week we ordered 4,000 mealworms, and I don’t know who was happier when they arrived, the birds or me!  Peedeepeeps has been thoroughly enjoying eating the worms while posing for multiple reference photos for a current commission.  I’m quite sure he believes one can never have too many reference photos!  Of course, the Tufted Titmice are enjoying them as much as the wrens and soon the bluebirds will be as well.

carolina wren photo

I believe the last of the gifted suet cakes have been served up, and I cannot express how much I have enjoyed watching all my critter kids enjoy eating it!  I’m sure the squirrels thought they had died and gone to heaven when presented with such a delicious treat, with several of them practically laying in it while consuming it, eyes going closed and obviously in a state of bliss!

cute squirrel photo2

And why simply sit BY it, when you can sit ON it while chomping down!

cute squirrel photo3

Of course, when you have eaten till you can eat no more, there’s nothing left to do but to go lie down and rest for a while.

cute squirrel photo4

Or if you overindulged, you may just have to be satisfied with sitting, like my precious Bunny squirrel below.

cute squirrel photo

Peedeepeeps and Elvira, as well as all the other birds, think it is too good to be true!

carolina wren photo.2

It seems like our yard is constantly bringing surprises as we never know for sure “Whoooo” is going to pay us a visit.

barred owl photo

Besides enjoying meals on the back porch while feeding and watching my critters, I spent much of this past week painting our bathroom and bedroom.  The first day it was exciting to have such a large canvas to work on, but by the end of the third, I decided it’s more fun to paint miniatures!  I’ve yet to touch up the trim and still have the living room to do but for now, it’s back to painting on my commissions for a while.

 

rachelle siegrist

~ Fresh Off The Easel ~

Wes has put in countless hours this past week while working on the SAA entries for the annual show, which will be juried at the board meeting in Chicago next month.  Therefore his easel has been very lonesome this past week.  I’ve started my commission painting which is a miniature after Alred Usher Soord’s painting from the late 1800s, “The Good Shepherd“.  Needless to say, I’m having a ball with this one and am anxious to get back to the easel!

 

painting The Good Sheperd
Painting the first washes

 

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Until next time . . .

~ Rachelle

 

 

It’s The Little Things

In Daily Life . . . That Many Times Mean The Most!

By Rachelle Siegrist

crab apple blossom

Spring is finally in the air, making its presence known through a beautiful display of flowers and tiny bright green leaves bursting forth on shrubs and trees.  It’s also brought milder temperatures, which I really love! While the bright yellow flowers of the forsythia and the cherry tree blossoms are now mostly gone, and the intense red of the crabapple blossoms have faded to a delicate shade of pink, the white flowers on the Dogwoods are starting to open and the Carolina Jasmine is adorned with lemon yellow bell-shaped flowers.  Each day seems to bring a change if one takes the time to observe nature close enough to take notice of it.  The recent rains followed by warmer temps have also brought another delightful treasure . . . Morel Mushrooms!  We harvested two baskets of these little edible gems yesterday!

morrel mushrooms photo

The challenge of the hunt in finding them is as much fun as eating this delicate gourmet treat of the woods.  We walk about looking intently, until catching a glimpse of one, and upon closer observation see another here, and another there, and before you know it our basket has enough for a meal, and we couldn’t be more delighted!  They are brought inside and soaked in water to remove debris tucked inside their numerous rubbery chambers.  Once free of dirt, rinsed and drained, each one is carefully sliced into four sections lengthwise, and sauteed in melted butter, in a cast iron skillet.  Add a little salt and pepper and within minutes, you have a delectable treat that is sure to tantalize your tastebuds if you, like we, are a fan of mushrooms.  Be forewarned, however, that once you have eaten Morels, mushrooms from the store will never taste as good again!

cooked morrel mushrooms

Speaking of edible treats, one of our neighbors who decided to stop feeding birds recently, gave us multiple packs of suet.  So one day this past week, Wes had a wonderful idea to make it where the furry critters, as well as the birds, could enjoy the tasty treat, so he spread some out along the handrails on the back deck one morning.  Within minutes there were numerous squirrels there lined up and competing for prime seating at the buffet!

cute squirrels

The squirrels enjoyed consuming the crumbles all day long, and towards the end, only a few crumbs remained for them to choose from.  I had to laugh when I looked out and saw one of my squirrels, looking as if it had exceeded the capacity of its stomach, and was overcome by the sense of fullness mixed with the warmth of the sun, and could do nothing but just lay down in it, succumbing to a complete and total state of bliss!

cute squirrel photo

Meanwhile, my resident Carolina Wrens Peedeepeeps and Elvira, are thoroughly enjoying the idea of practicing eating mealworms for reference photos for one of our current commissions.  Our collector friend wants a painting that’s long and narrow, requesting that I paint the side featuring Peedeepeeps whilst Wes paints the side featuring Elvira.  It’s going to be very interesting to be able to easily see the difference in our styles, permanently displayed side by side in the same painting.  I’ll be sharing progress with you on future blog posts once we get started.

carolina wren

Since we walk or ride bikes almost every day around Townsend, we occasionally find things.  We’ve found boats. money, tubes, ties, backpacks, umbrellas, just to name a few, and this past week we found a very nice cushion that will be great for camping or maybe kayaking.  I had to scamper down the riverbank to retrieve it and give it a wash before carrying it back home, but we were quite pleased with this week’s free treasure.

little river townsend

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Until next time . . .

~ Rachelle