I was in the greenhouse picking chamomile flowers for tea a few days ago, and silly me was being a little grumpy about how long it as taking to fill my basket with the tiny flowers. Each flower must be carefully, individually plucked by hand and it took me about an hour of constant plucking to get enough to feel like it was worth doing. Not nearly as instantly gratifying as scooping up an armful of kale, or lopping off heads of broccoli. Tedious, even.
But then I thought –“Who complains about having to spend an hour picking sweet-smelling flowers, of all things? And in my very own greenhouse, on my very own beautiful farm in Alaska?” Wow. How selfish of me.
I need to remember how lucky I am to be able to have the luxury of spending an our in this way, when people all over the world are spending their hours in much, much worse ways.
Consider my attitude adjusted. I’ll think about this lesson every time I drink a cup of chamomile tea this winter, and remember just how blessed I am.
This painting was inspired by all of the tiny fishing villages in coastal Alaska, with their homes all crowded along the narrow shoreline, tucked in between the mountains and the sea, sometimes spilling over into the bays, perched up on stilts. They are lovely to see as you pass them by when sailing along the inside passage or other narrow byways on the Alaska Marine Highway system. For some of these remote villages, the ferry is their main connection to the rest of the state, otherwise isolated except by float plane. I always wonder as I pass them by, who lives here? What are their lives like? What are their stories? And though I have visited some of them, there are so many I know I will never get the chance to experience. It is amazing to me that in a country so crowded, so connected, so busy, that there are still places like these. It certainly is a very different life than that of most Americans, or even most Alaskans. And yet here they sit. Mile after hundreds of miles of them, dotted along the edges of Alaska.
Painting is available for purchase. See details in the Gallery.
One common question visitors or newcomers to Alaska often ask, when spotting marine mammals in coastal waters, is “Is that a seal or a sea lion?”
To answer that, I will describe them both for you and then give you some tips to tell the difference.
These are harbor seals, which are the seals you will most commonly see in the parts of Alaska most folks visit. They are grey-brown and speckled, with large eyes, and tend to hang out alone. You will most likely spot them just sort of hanging out in the water, peeking above the waterline, or moving quietly around, disappearing and re-appearing here and there. They are distinct from Sea Lions in that they have no ear flaps. If you see one out of the water (rare-they spend the majority of their time afloat) they move awkwardly, scooting and flopping along on their bellies because of their short front flippers and their hind flippers that point straight behind. For this reason they avoid going ashore and prefer to stay in the water where they can swim quite gracefully. Harbor seals average around 300 lbs at adulthood, with males slightly larger than females.
Next, Sea Lions:
This is a female Steller Sea Lion (or lioness). Steller sea lions are golden brown in color, with darker brown points (extremities), and can often be seen actively swimming in the large, mixed age and sex social groups in which they live. They have long front flippers they use to propel themselves through the water and small ear flaps. Unlike seals, sea lions can often be spotted hauled out on rocky shorelines, docks, or navigational buoys. They move on land by rotating their hind flippers forward so that they scoot on all fours and can move fairly quickly on land. They can also be quite loud and rowdy, with males reaching up to 1200 pounds and growling or roaring their opinions to the much smaller (around 500 lbs) but equally vocal females.
In my paintings, I have tried to convey the very different impressions one gets of these two often confused marine mammals. I’ve painted calm, soothing icy water gently surrounding the floating seals, and a sea lioness actively hunting as she dives in pursuit of her prey, while turbulent water swirls around her.
I hope this helps you to spot the differences and be able to identify two of Alaska’s beautiful and charismatic marine mammals.
Both paintings are available for purchase. Details in the Gallery.
It’s hot. I mean, not South Florida hot, but still…
We’ve had record breaking heat here in Alaska this year and have been struggling without the relief of our usual cool coastal rains here on the Kenai Penninsula. Wildfires are raging all around the state and everyone is being so very careful not to burn anything or do anything that would cause a spark. Keeping fingers crossed.
Here at the Twin Spruce homestead we are doing our part by keeping our garden well-watered, and the veggies are responding by growing like crazy. So I thought I’d share a peek into our summer garden.
The Asian greens, arugula, lettuce and spinach have all bolted from the heat, but the potatoes are loving it. I am having to mulch the broccoli beds to keep the soil cool–a first around here, where I’m usually concerned more about growth being retarded by too cool soil!
Keeping the greenhouse from overheating has been a challenge, but with the addition of some well-placed fans, we are managing. And we have some pretty green tomatoes just starting to fill out as our reward. We’ve also been harvesting and drying herbs for the winter. I just put up a pint of dried oregano today and tomorrow I will start in on the sage. And just look at that chamomile! I can already imagine chilly winter evenings with a warm cup of chamomile tea by my side. Yum!
I just added three new paintings to the Gallery. These are a continuation of the Living Tundra series that began with this larger (16×20) piece:
The three new additions are a series of smaller (8×10) portraits of individual caribou across the seasons:
Caribou never fail to inspire me and I’ve enjoyed painting these three guys with their varied settings. All three are lightly textured and painted on heavy 1.5 inch profile gallery wrapped canvas and are now up for sale in the gallery. I hope you enjoy them.
Happy thaw, everyone! I know it’s officially been spring for a while now, but in my part of Alaska we are just now getting rid of our last bits of sloppy wet snow. Further north, it will take a bit longer still, though with much warmer than usual temperatures throughout Alaska this year things are thawing much earlier than usual.
So, in honor of spring, I painted a picture, of course!
The photo shows it a little dark, but the painting is actually quite bright and cheerful, much like my attitude when spring finally rolls around. I cant wait to start digging in the garden again! I have a bed of native wildflowers that should start showing themselves soon, and its almost time to get Kale, Broccoli and Pak Choy in the ground. Plus, I will be starting seeds of more tender plants in the high tunnel . Fresh basil, here we come!
Of course spring in Alaska means several more exciting things:
The return of the humpback whales following the huge schools of herring as they spawn along the coast The best place to see them in my humble opinion is beautiful Sitka, where you don’t even have to go out in a boat to see them up close and personal. Just stand on the shore and listen to them blow and call as they pass by, and wait for the dramatic moment they all dive deep and then rise as a group and scoop up tons of herring caught up in their clever bubble nets.
Brown bears and black are coming out of hibernation (many mamas with cubs in tow) anxious to fill up on the fresh greens popping up in sunny sites and whatever tasty morsels they can scrounge up along the coastline.
Of course that’s just the prelude to the big feast coming up!
Boats are coming out of their own hibernation as fishermen get them primed and ready for “the season”.
Soon they will be lining the harbors all over Alaska waiting for the first early salmon openings and halibut charters.
Its breakup season here in Alaska, but no need to cry! The tripod at the Nenana Ice Classic on the Tanana topples as the river ice breaks up and someone wins a lot of money. (The breakup happened earlier than ever in the 102 history of the event with the tripod toppling on April 14 this year)
How about you? What has spring got you excited about? Tell me all about it in the comments!
I just finished a new painting, which is a great example of my more whimsical approach to Alaskan wildlife. I hope you find this as fun to look at as I had painting it!
This little octopus is tucked in tight with his favorite toy shipwreck, snuggled under a kelp blanket, with his head softly cradled on sea sponge pillows. Angler fish is (begrudgingly) providing his night light. Sleep tight little one!
This painting is 24×30, highly textured acrylic on canvas. It will be added to the Gallery soon and available for purchase.