Ossabaw Island – Georgia’s Gifts From the Sea

Painting of Moonlight over Ossabaw Island by Ann LitrelI grip the thin handrail of the boat as it crests another wave. We’re entering “Hell Gate,” a narrow sea passage on the way from Savannah to our destination. At the wheel, the captain seems unconcerned that six middle aged women are perched on the edges of his bouncing boat.

We’re headed for one of Georgia’s wildest places – Ossabaw Island.

This is “Turtle Weekend,” a trip organized by Ossabaw Island Foundation, which stewards Ossabaw in partnership with Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources. It’s a chance for us to learn about Georgia’s sea turtles – and perhaps see a turtle nest hatching.

Naturalist John “Crawfish” Crawford sits in the front of the boat, wasting no time in launching our education. His gray, curly-haired head seems overflowing with a lifetime of lore about Georgia’s salt marsh, and the ways of her birds and wild creatures. In a tumble of words, he spills the treasure of his knowledge as we travel through the waves.

Ossabaw sparkles bright green on the horizon. The sky arches high overhead. I am unprepared for the shore’s utter wildness: this could be the New World a half millennia ago. Welcoming us ashore is Elizabeth, the Executive Director, who takes us to our accommodations. The century-old Club House is tucked into the trees, built long before the island was designated a State Heritage Preserve in 1978.

After dinner Crawfish gathers us around a table in the common room for our orientation. Amid an array of turtle skulls, a Green Turtle shell, and a preserved turtle hatchling in a jar, he relates the ecology of the island and the history of ongoing sea turtle conservation and research. Two solitary research residents have lived here all summer, monitoring the turtle nests, counting hatchlings as they emerge. Twenty years of national conservation programs appear to be successful: a decade ago, Georgia’s annual count of sea turtle nests numbered 1005. This year, the count is 3956. But Crawfish cautions us: Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc this summer.  Many eggs were drowned in the rising storm waters. He wants us to be prepared for the nest we will see tomorrow.

The next morning I grab a mug of coffee to watch the sunrise over the marsh. The full moon is setting, faintly illuminating the ghostly forms of tall birds fishing in the water…  wood storks and white egrets.

Promptly after breakfast, a jeep appears to take us to our destination for the day – South Beach, to see a turtle nest, a hatching – or whatever we may find.

The Beach is a graveyard of trees, their twisted forms looming out of the sand like the bones of huge skeletons. We meet the researchers, Brianna and Caleigh, at the nest site they have marked for today’s excavation. It’s been 65 days since the mother Loggerhead turtle laboriously dragged herself out of the sea to lay her eggs, leaving her trail in the sand. Caleigh begins to dig. This is the reason we are here – to see the hatchlings.

But as feared, it is not to be. Caleigh brings the eggs out of the hole one by one – round, the size of ping pong balls. They have all been drowned.  She breaks open one of the soft, permeable eggs to show us the unborn turtle with his tiny flippers.

Brianna reminds us of the good news, that more turtle nests were laid this year in Georgia than ever before. Many hatchlings are already safely in the ocean. More will hatch, no doubt.

On the return ride to the Clubhouse, we are a quiet group. The ruined nest, though expected, has dampened our spirits. Halfway back to the Club House we pass a bare, leafless tree marking the edge of the marsh. Amid the branches we catch a glimpse of movement – bright pink, flashing  –

There, strutting and bowing on the branches are strange birds – rare Roseate Spoonbills! Prehistoric, with platypus like beaks and bright red eyes – looking for all the world like the distant dinosaur cousins that they are. They cavort like pink-plumed clowns, dipping and flapping their wings.

Roseate Spoonbill at Ossabaw ISland - painting by Ann LitrelWe watch for long minutes, this unearthly gift from a wild place.

Not what we expected. But beautiful and rare just the same.

This year, as you wind up this season of gift-giving, consider seeking out the gifts from Georgia you may not know you have.

 

Explore the Bucket List of Georgia’s Gifts:

“35 Natural Wonders of Georgia To See Before You Die.”

Top 3 Native Flowers for a Caterpillar and Bird-Friendly Yard

Illustration by Ann Litrel of Top 3 Native Plants for Caterpillars in Home Landscaping GardensIt’s 5:30 am. My fellow Master Naturalist Diane Tidwell is driving, speeding south as the sun rises. Our destination is Macon, Georgia, where today, she and I have a chance to meet a rising “rock star.” His name is Doug Tallamy.

Tallamy is an entomology professor. In other words, a bug expert. The best-selling author is keynote speaker for the annual Georgia Native Plant Symposium. Sporting glasses and gray hair, he appears the quintessential bookish professor. Yet Tallamy is leading a revolution, a grassroots movement in conservation home landscaping. As he talks, he flashes photo after photo of suburban yards, including his own, showing a sanctuary for butterflies, pollinators, and native nesting birds.

Doug’s message is full of hope: the key to restoring our eco-system can take place right in our yards.

– 85% of land in Eastern United States is owned by private landowners, 110 acres in suburbia.

– If just half that acreage is landscaped with productive native plants, we will re-create a sprawling network of wilderness – 50 million acres, bigger than all of the national parks put together. Tallamy calls it “Homegrown National Park.”

Here is what has happened: Many common landscaping plants, like crape myrtle and liriope, are exotics. They feed virtually ZERO native insects, on whom the whole community of our birds and small animals depend.  Our native plants, on the other hand, co-evolved to feed our insects, birds and wildlife. Leaves of native plants, for example, feed  the caterpillars of native butterflies. Bloom times and berries of native trees and shrubs match the migration and nutritional needs of migrating birds, etc.

Doug’s message is this: Wildness is a renewable resource. Re-create Nature’s eco-system right where you are.

Author and enomology professor Doug Tallamy with Ann Litrel

Caterpillars Are the Key to Helping Birds

Caterpillars, according to Tallamy, are THE KEY to the ecosystem. Here is why:

– Ounce for ounce, caterpillars transfer more energy from plants to other animals than any other lifeform.

– Caterpillars are essential for birds – 6,000-9,000 caterpillars are needed to rear one clutch of baby birds.

So how do you help? As you improve or replace your aging plants, just make sure to use natives. If you’re in a hurry, the first and easiest step is to shrink your lawn. Plant a native tree in a suitable spot, and surround it with an island of native shrubs and perennials. You’ll save water, and cut down on your chemical use, too. Voila!

In the illustration above, I show the top 3 native perennials for caterpillars. Those are: Goldenrods (host to 112 butterfly species), native Sunflowers (62 butterfly species), and Joe-Pye weeds (host to 34 butterfly species).

Butterfly Show In My Yard

Five years ago, I planted a native passionflower vine in my backyard bed and let it ramble among my blueberries through the summer. Passionflower is the ONLY known host for caterpillars of the gulf fritillary butterfly.

Every summer since then, I have been treated to a show of dozens of the bright orange fritillaries dancing among the showy purple flowers. Last year a pair of bluebirds raised their young in the bushes right next to the vines. I have no doubt the baby bluebirds dined well on fritillary caterpillars.

Just one plant – and I provided food for a whole community!

 

Resources

Find the best native plants in our zip code for supporting wildlife at the National Wildlife Federation database NativePlantFinder.

Locate nurseries to purchase local native plants at the website of the Georgia Native Plant Society.

 

Help educate your community!
This infographic is available to share with your community, group or in your publication.  Please Contact me

Gardening for Wildlife – I Have a Magic Bird Feeder

Illustration by Ann Litrel of Native Birds and Berries to use in gardening with wildlife

My Magic Birdfeeder fills itself. What’s more, it gets bigger and holds more food every year. And to top it off, this feeder sustains not only birds, but caterpillars and beneficial insects as well, which also feed baby birds.

The magic birdfeeder is my yard. This small suburban plot is just 3/8th of an acre. But around the edges of the tree islands grow a cornucopia of berry-producing shrubs and trees which feed birds all year round.

A Calendar of Magic Moments

February Holly calls to the cedar waxwings migrating overhead. They descend by the hundreds to feast on the berries before they continue north. One day next month, I’ll hear the riotous noise and rush to the window to see the masked invaders – elegant but greedy, swarming to strip every bit of red before they move on. It’s one of my favorite “spring” days.

June Blueberries attract pairs of robins and thrashers each summer. As they hunt caterpillars for their babies, they sneak away to feed on the sweet fruit. A half dozen blueberry bushes grace my front yard with pink blossoms in spring, bright red leaves in the fall.

September Beautyberries feed the catbirds and cardinals with clusters of bright purple berries as decorative as any flowers. This shrub, an American native, has the added bonus of being deer resistant.

October Dogwoods bear bright red berries, with red fall foliage which signals to birds that the highly nutritious fruit is ripe. The berries are quickly eaten by both residents and migrants headed south.

December Viburnum is mostly bare, but a few dark berries linger to feed the hungry. Mapleleaf viburnum bears thrillingly colored leaves which turn right at Thanksgiving. I time their pruning to use the branches in my Thanksgiving table arrangements.

Jump Start the Magic

  1. Find a Spot

There is no need to re-landscape your whole yard – start small! Treat yourself and choose a planting spot where you can enjoy the view from a window. Achieve economy and a natural look by purchasing smaller plants and grouping them in multiples of 3  (3, 6, 9, etc.) Pick a spot with at least some sun to ensure berry production for the birds.

  1. Choose a Native

Many berry plants have both native and nonnative varieties. Choose a native variety whenever possible – it has the added bonus of being adapted to feed not only our local birds, but caterpillars and insects which are the primary food source for their babies.

Research bird-friendly plant choices on Audubon’s website.

The Georgia Native Plant Society publishes lists of native plants as well as resources, local and online nurseries, where they can be purchased. GNPS Sources for Native Plants 

Avoid patented hybrids from commercial nurseries – many times these varieties have been bred for looks only and are not as good for birds and wildlife. Mother Nature knows best!

  1. Add More Magic Each Year

I cannot recommend enough the very enlightening book “The Living Landscape” by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy. Fabulous photos provide a road map for landscaping with native plants using traditional principles – creating beauty and biodiversity in your yard for a far greater number of native birds, pollinators, and wildlife.

Just by adding a few plants each year, you’ll be on your way to creating a self-filling, ever-growing, multi-colored Magic Birdfeeder of your own – one which will last for generations to come.

 

Help educate your community!

This infographic is available to share with your group or in your publication. Please Contact me

 

Leave the Leaves for a Pollinator-Friendly Backyard

Yard Signs available HERE

 

Sometimes I wonder if bagging leaves started as a practical joke on us homeowners. As an artist and a gardener, I can tell you that getting rid of leaves is one of those suburban traditions that just doesn’t make sense.

Leaves are great natural mulch.

From a gardener’s perspective, leaves are healthy. They are Nature’s great compost, perfectly designed to enrich the roots of trees, shrubs, and flowers. They have nutrients in them that the trees draw up from deep in the soil. WHY would we throw them out?

From an artist’s perspective, leaves are no problem. They’re brown, just like mulch. They look great in your beds, around your shrubs. If your leaves look “too big,” just run the edges of your beds over a few times with a mower or put them in a shredder before you blow them into your shrubbery beds.

The entire trick to mulching with leaves is this: edges. If you can’t part with the look of neat beds, purchase a few bags of brown mulch. Mound the mulch along the edges of the beds. Six inches in, let it thin out. Take a few handfuls and scatter it into the bed so the mulch blends into the natural shredded leaves.

Take it from an artist – the human eye is mysteriously attracted to neat edges, and for some reason will ignore all kinds of messiness – if only the edges are neat.

Save money on mulch. Save money on fertilizer. Leave the leaves.

Leaves are a haven for pollinators.

 Leaves make a healthier landscape. They hold moisture. Among the leaves are the cocoons of hundreds of butterflies and moths who are natural pollinators. Along with the leaves in our beds are dry stems and pieces of wood that shelter small pollinating bees over the winter. The nutrients and microbes of leaf litter sustain thousands of insects and the small animals who eat them – snails, fireflies, lizards, birds, turtles, salamanders…

They all depend on the nutrients of leaf litter for the foundation of their food chain.

Community trends favor healthier landscaping.

Over the past few years, savvy communities and neighborhoods have been easing away from the sterile look of chemical- and maintenance-dependent turf. These neighborhoods have developed standards which allow more natural designs of native grass and wildflower landscaping. Pollinators thrive. Dragonflies flourish and control mosquitos.

The healthiest and most stress-free fall yard you’ve ever enjoyed might be yours with this one simple idea –

Leave the Leaves.

 

Help educate your community!
This infographic is available to share with your community, group or in your publication.

Yard Signs available HERE

For other inquiries, please Contact me

 

Easy and Healthy: Beating Mosquitoes and Ticks

Infographic Shows How Spraying for Mosquitoes Kills Insects Baby Birds NeedMy family is outside in the summer. A LOT.

My husband and sons are the BBQ Guys. They never met a meat group they didn’t like. I’m the Gardener, spring and summer.

The four of us share the yard with hawks, foxes, and 17 resident turtles (to date). Along with them are hundreds of small colorful songbirds, lizards and frogs, who depend on the plentiful insects and caterpillars for food. Over the past twenty years I’ve planted our small yard with layers of native shrubs and flowers which feed and shelter this wildlife.

The health of these animals depends on the presence of insects.

Safe and Effective Solutions for Enjoying Your Yard

Many chemical bug sprays that are ‘safe’ for people (non-fatal in small doses) are lethal to insects – not just the pesky ones, but to butterflies and pollinator bees as well. Our pets, too, are suffering from our chemical use. A mountain of research documents accumulated toxin loads in our dogs and cats at levels much higher than ours.

Most of us recognize that our chemical-dependent pest solutions should be phased out, not increased.

But we want to be comfortable.

For mosquito and tick season, I don’t spray my yard. I’ve found two healthy options that are not just effective for people, but safe for our birds and butterflies – and for the long-term health of the community.

Picardin Bug Repellent for Mosquitoes and Ticks

Picardin is a pepper-like ingredient with all the benefits of DEET and none of the downsides. It’s long-lasting and effective, without the heavy chemical smell or toxicity warnings. I’ve been using “Sawyer Insect Repellent,” which comes in a large lotion dispenser. It has been incredibly effective. The consumer advocate group Environmental Working Group lists insect repellents with Picardin as effective for 8-10 hours against not just mosquitoes but also ticks.

Pedestal Fan to Eliminate Flying Bugs

If you’ve ever been on a beach without a breeze, you know that the biting flies can come out in swarms. Guess what? A tall pedestal fan blowing on your grill or outside table works the same way as an ocean breeze – it drives the insects away. Consumer Reports found that just one pedestal fan (for as little as $20-50) can keep an outdoor space mosquito-free.

During bug season, it’s not hard to pick something healthy – you just have to look.

We can continue to build a healthy community – and not get mosquito bites for our trouble!!

 

For more information, go to

Environmental Working Group www.ewg.org

“Pollinator-Friendly Yards” on Facebook

 

Help educate your community!
This infographic is available to share with your community, group or in your publication.  Please Contact me

Chattooga River – Unexpected Adventure

We strap on our helmets and sign the waivers. Two pages of fine print list the ways in which we can be hurt, crippled or drowned while whitewater rafting on the world class rapids of the Chattooga River.

Three friends, Amy, Celeste, and Yasmin, have joined me for this adventure. We’re here because the Chattooga made the bucket list of 35 Georgia Natural Wonders I’m painting on a three-year project. The manager of the rafting outfitter has been kind enough to arrange one of his best guides for us. He’ll pull us aside for photos at the river’s most scenic spots.

We line up for the “Safety Talk.” Our guide, Brandon, appears to be approximately the age of my youngest son. He instructs us how to float – feet first – if we fall out of the raft. That way, he explains,  we won’t smash our heads on a rock.

I wonder if the others are thinking what I am: “WHY did I think this was a good idea?”

“With all the rains we’ve had,” Brandon continues, “we’re in for a treat. The water is very high in Section III, and we’ll see some world class rapids and beautiful waterfalls. It ends with an amazing run, Bull Sluice. We won’t know if we can take it until we get closer. Normally we only take more experienced rafters.”

The girls and I look at each other and raise our eyebrows.

“It’s cloudy today,” says Brandon, “but I think this is when the river is at its best, when it’s all gray and misty like this morning. Then you can see why the Chattooga is special – why it’s called a temperate rainforest.”

We climb into the raft. Brandon pushes off and jumps in. The waters are turbulent, swollen with recent rains, and we are swept away on its powerful current.

Designated a “National Wild and Scenic River,” the Chattooga is protected from human development for miles and miles.

For the next six hours we are transported into untouched wilderness. Giant rocks loom out of the water, evoking fallen monuments, or the remains of ancient civilizations. Birds cry unseen from trees that line the river like a wall of green. Turning one bend, we are surprised by a high waterfall tumbling down the right bank, its lacy fingers running down to the river. Everywhere around us, the voice of the river, wild and tumultuous, follows us on our journey.

Periodically, the peace is broken by runs of rapids. These moments are exciting, tense. “Get down,” Brandon says, and we slide to the bottom of the raft. This minimizes the chances of flipping. If we fall out, we know to keep our feet from dangling down as we swim. The chance of getting a foot entrapped in a rock and being submerged by the current is real.

As we approach Bull Sluice, Brandon steers our raft to shore and confers with other guides gathered there with their groups.

“We won’t be taking Bull Sluice today, “ he announces. “It’s too wild. But we can watch a more advanced group take it.”

I am both relieved and strangely disappointed.

We climb out of the raft and scramble to the highest rock to watch the more experienced rafters take Bull Sluice. The river explodes in white spray, crashing into a narrow gap between large rocks, thrusting the boat like a toy into the churning waters below.

The rainclouds open up. We are soaked and exhilarated, filled with wonder at Chattooga’s power and the beauty of this wild rainforest.  And watching the explosion that is Bull Sluice, we agree that we are already feeling the loss of this wild and beautiful place –

And we vow to come back, to meet Bull Sluice another day.

 

Resources:

Rafting the Chattooga – WildwaterRafting.com

Full list of 35 Georgia Natural Wonders 

 

The Art of Letting Go – A Nature Journaling Retreat

October 25-27, 2019

Do you remember when you were a child, when there was no schedule – when wonder, curiosity, exploring and making things came easily?

Nature Journaling is about opening yourself to the natural world – and finding the wonder you had a child. It’s about slowing down and re-connecting with the small things you haven’t really SEEN since you were small. The moss under your feet. The songs of the birds above you. It’s about asking questions, and being curious again, like we were when we were young.

When you nature journal, you’ll renew the skills of observation, curiosity and creativity you were born with –

Join me on a Pilgrimage Retreat to one Georgia’s 35 Natural Wonders and let’s explore together!

Tallulah Gorge at sunriseTallulah Falls, a Georgia Natural Wonder 

Stunning Tallulah Falls &

Clayton, Georgia in the Blue Ridge Mountains

I invite you to come with me and experience this beautiful part of Georgia in the height of its fall glory.

We’ll adventure on trails and along waterways, and I’ll guide you through a few quiet sessions of introductory journaling – no artistic talent needed! (I’ll show you how to make your journal “shine” with a few quick tricks so you can bring home a beautiful memento of your trip you will treasure.)

Above all, it’s a chance to re-connect with nature, restore your soul, and maybe learn a few things too!

The Retreat

Each day will include an moderate hike outside one destination each day – Tallulah Falls and one of the surrounding nature destinations, such as Warwoman Dell or Dicks Creek Falls. We’ll take time to savor and enjoy, and along the way, I’ll point out the native plants and geologic features. We’ll “tune in” to the songs of nearby birds and insects, and the rhythm of nature’s fall activities . And we’ll be immersed in the amazing colors, sights, sounds and scents of northeast Georgia in October.

Each day you will experience a guided journaling session – practices for listening, waking up your senses, drawing and recording your thoughts in a number of approaches to unlock your innate perceptions.

We’ll return to our home base each afternoon for a period of quiet and free time, for reflection on what we’ve seen, a glass of wine together or a cup of tea and rest before dinner.

Accommodations

We have reserved a lovely vacation home in the Chattooga River Wilderness for our retreat. Surrounded by quiet fields and trees, it offers a fire pit, and a long front porch for drinking morning coffee and watching the mist lift off the fields across the lane.

The home has 2 Private Rooms, each with a queen bed, and one Shared Room with 3 beds.

Meals

Breakfast is included each morning, as well as a hiker’s lunch for the walk. (Dinner is pay your own, in one of the several lovely restaurants in this college town set in the Blue Ridge Mountains. )

Nature Journal Drawing of Joe Pye Weed and BeesGuided Walks

I’ll bring field guides and phone apps to help you learn to identify the native plants, animals and geology of the surroundings. I have a Master Naturalist Certification, which means I know enough to bring references for questions I can’t answer!

Transportation

For participants attending both nights, transportation (my van) is available for the drive to and from our Retreat home.

Supplies

I’ll provide drawing supplies for our Nature Journal sessions. At the end, you’ll have a bound Nature Journal of your memories to bring home. (Alternatively, you can order your own supplies – contact me for the list.)

Reserve by September 4 for Early Bird pricing

3 Days, 2 Nights Retreat

– Private Room     $290. ($320 after September 4)

– Shared Room     $190. ($210 after September 4)

2 days, 1 night Retreat

– Private Room     $210. ($230 after September 4)

– Shared Room     $165. ($180 after September 4)

Last day to reserve your spot September 30.  Limited Number of spots available!   

 

50% Deposit required with registration, remainder due by September 30. We hope you won’t have to cancel, but refunds are available until October 10. Contact me and I’ll get your credit card information (or check)

Call or text  678-640-8217

Or Email Ann@annlitrel.com

I look forward to journaling together!!

Ann

 

Altamaha Adventure: Kayaking On Georgia’s Little Amazon

Great Egret On the Altamaha River, painting by Ann Litrel

 

Alligators and six foot long sturgeon reputedly swim in the depths of the murky river under our boat. My friend Ginger sits behind me, steering the kayak while I periodically break to click a quick photo. We are deep in south Georgia, navigating the wildest unbroken stretch of river east of the Mississippi: the Altamaha, which flows freely for 137 miles with no dam to break its course to the sea.

The river is known as Georgia’s “Little Amazon.”

We’re here on a weekend stewardship trip with the Georgia Conservancy, joined by 70 fellow paddlers from all over the Southeast. Our bright boats and life vests form a colorful parade gliding atop the water. On either side of us the wide fingers of the Altamaha reach far inland, spreading quietly between the trunks of cypress and tupelo.

The silence is eerie. Small drips and splashes follow our paddles through the water – but there is no motor noise anywhere to be heard.

So far, so good. I briefly recall the warning in bold print on our registration form: “Intermediate Paddlers only.” I blithely ignored it.

It’s been two days since Ginger and I pulled into the Altamaha River Campground, tossing together a two person tent that appeared designed for a single small child with a pillow.  A night in the tent produced dents in my back and frozen fingers at dawn, but multiple pots of coffee and hot eggs resuscitated all of us, and by 9 a.m. we were fortified for the all-day paddle from camp to sea.

The river surged with spring rains and a slow tidal breath from the sea. But the miles of wild banks were peaceful, and even as we drew near the small town of Darien, our take-out point, no signs of humans marred the landscape. Swamp trees gave way to rustling marsh grasses. Bald eagles soared high in the blue, alighting from time to time in the few lonely trees standing in the marsh.

The wilderness made its imprint on us in silence and ancient wildness.

Today, our second day, is another gift. We have ventured into the deep swamp creeks surrounding the campground – the “best part of the weekend,” say returning paddlers. With each stroke we penetrate further into the prehistoric forest. Trunks of trees loom large in our path. Ginger and I suddenly notice water inside our kayak, sloshing over our seats. Maybe a slow leak. We look up. The spaces between the trees have narrowed.

Perhaps an intermediate paddler would know what to do.

One of the guides paddles up behind us. “This is where is gets a little tough for a tandem kayak, “ he says laconically. “Y’all have much experience?”

No.

Experience would be handy right about now – say, when you’re paddling a leaky 18 foot kayak into a thicket of trees and you need to execute a sudden 90 degree turn to avoid crashing into a snag of fallen logs.

We weren’t the only ones having problems. Kayaks running into kayaks. Canoes stuck between trees. One boat taking on water and getting close to capsizing. Within three minutes, our group was a floating traffic jam. Forget about enjoying the wilderness. Ginger and I wanted only to get out of the swamp without swimming with the gators.

As it turned out, we finally did get untangled, and after a couple more hours made it back to base camp. As a matter of fact, we became “intermediate” paddlers.

Lying in the tent that night, we heard the barred owl call. The stars shone like maybe they have since the beginning of the world. And at dawn we watched a great white egret hunt along the shoreline in the mist.

Worth a couple of cold nights and wet bottoms.

Kayaking the Altamaha River with the Georgia Conservancy

 

Resources for Georgia Nature Excursions:

The Georgia Conservancy 

The Nature Conservancy

 

Spring Paintings from Cherokee County Georgia

Spring means I’ll be road tripping around Georgia to paint our state in all her spring colors! The astounding color of red maples and oak trees in bud seems to me as brilliant as any foliage in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall.

Below is a series of pastels from past spring road trips. This spring, I have trips planned from south to north, from the Altamaha River – Georgia’s “Little Amazon” – to the wilds of Rabun Mountain in the north at peak wildflower season. Stay tuned – As always, I’ll be posting work in progress on my studio Facebook page.

Let me know your favorite wild Georgia spots – I love to hear discoveries!

 

Ann Litrel painting of the Etowah River, Georgia, showing riverside rocks and trees budding

Spring on the banks of the Etowah River

 

Ann Litrel painting of horse pasture in spring, Cherokee County Georgia

Sunlight dazzles on the pasture and red-roofed barn in this roadside scene in Cherokee County

 

Ann Litrel painting of the Blue Ridge Mountains and spring color in Cherokee County, Georgia

The Blue Ridge Mountains as spring color explodes in the trees, red maples and golden oaks in bud

Birthday In the Swamp

Okefenokee Swamp painting with coreopsis blooming

Okefenokee Swamp – Watercolor and Ink,  Chesser Prairie with Coreopsis Blooming

I’ve told the story of my 50th birthday, when my sister Jane booked us a five-day trip to Nebraska in March, where we sat in a duck blind before dawn in sub-freezing temperatures, to witness one of the “Ten Great Animal Migrations” of the world – 400,000 Great Sandhill Cranes migrating north to their winter breeding grounds in the Arctic.

We watched as great clouds of birds with six-foot wingspans circled the sky, dawn and sunset, over their nighttime roosting site in the shallows of the Platte River. As they called to one another, the sounds of their voices filled the sky. I’ll admit, it was spectacular.

And cold.

So for Jane’s birthday this past November, I wanted to measure up with a comparable getaway. For sheer one-upsmanship, I liked the sound of a Swamp trip.

Specifically, Okefenokee Swamp – the largest freshwater swamp east of the Mississippi, located in the middle of nowhere in south Georgia.

I figured there was no way to top the spectacle of a great Animal Migration. I was hoping for alligators (and not too many mosquitos). I booked us a guided, three-day kayak trip, during which we would ferry our supplies in our boats, and camp each night on platforms raised above the swamp waters.

As it turned out, there were alligators. Every hour. Everywhere.

But there were also surprises.

Our guide Sheila was a piece of living history – a self-proclaimed “Swamper” whose family had lived in the trackless swamp going back almost two hundred years. Sixty years old, she is a member of perhaps the last generation to know so many of the old settler stories, a trove of tales she shared with us about life in the swamp as it once was.

Kayaks in later November at Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia

Lifelong “Swamper” Sheila leads us through the trackless Okefenokee Swamp

As she led our kayaks through the maze of water trails, she often stopped us to point out countless strange bird calls, and name the source of each. In one instance, she pulled up to a hummock of ground where she stripped some leaves from a bush, wetted and crushed them, and showed us “Poor Man’s Soap,” lathering in her hands.

As for the alligators: one woke us with a huge bellow somewhere just beside our platform at dawn the first morning. And as Jane and I paddled through a narrow channel the second afternoon, a big twelve-footer slid from the grasses into the water just in front of our kayak.

Jane and I froze – and then strained to stop our kayak. We knew he must be in the water just ahead of us. We called anxiously to Sheila behind us. Nonchalantly she paddled up, glanced at the tea-tinted shallows, and said “Looks like he has enough room down there to stay out of your way. Go ahead.”

The real Okefenokee was not at all what I had pictured. There were moss-draped trees and dark waters – but there were also wide “prairies,” mirrors of glass-like water, covered with pools of blooming waterlilies under the sun. Great shining white egrets perched in watchtower trees above the water, and the healthy waters were alive with fish and turtles and frogs.

Sandhill Cranes, potential header or spot illustrationAt sunset the final night, like an unexpected benediction, we heard the strangely familiar bird cries across the swamp from our platform. Sheila pulled out her binoculars to let us look – and there, heads and necks bobbing above the marsh grasses, were four sandhill cranes, settling down for their evening roost in the water.

For Jane’s birthday, Nature had graced us once again – so we could see the sandhill cranes, a thousand miles from Nebraska, for another birthday celebration.

 

 

Additional Ink and Watercolor Paintings from the Okefenokee Swamp

November Water Lily at Okefenokee Swamp

This work is deliberately minimalist, evoking waterlilies painted in the Asian tradition. Loose washes and splashes of green suggest the water surrounding the leaf and blossom, while translucent washes of warm yellow and delicate blue shadows evoke the effectof the sunlight glowing through the petals of the lily.

Ann Litrel painting in ink and watercolor, Reflections at Okefenokee Swamp

Reflections

Here the drips of the watercolor create shadowy reflections of trees in the mirror-like swamp water. My goal here was to convey the almost unearthly quiet and stillness of this out-of-the way spot in the world, still largely untouched by man.

Ann Litrel painting in watercolor and ink, a lone monarch stops for the late fall flowers, heading south for the winter, Georgia Natural Wonders

A lone monarch stops for the late fall flowers, heading south for the winter

Detailed ink lines delineate the beautiful grasses and flowers of the November prairie at Okefenokee, while the background trees and sunlight are only a glow in the distance. The lone Monarch butterfly, hurrying south before the winter comes, is lightly suggested, formed of misty color and just a ghost of line to show his wings.