Monthly Archives: December 2013

Osage Orange

sketch of live oak and osage orange

“Osage Orange & Live Oak”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I find myself here in the Great State of Texas for the holidays.  Walking along a golf course in Allen, Texas (near Dallas), we came across these bizarre fruits, scattered along the golf cart path.  We had seen them in October in Ohio and Kentucky, but only from a moving car, so we didn’t get the full impact until I picked one up here.  Whoa – they look and feel like they were jettisoned by some alien spacecraft that needed to get rid of some excess weight… or maybe leaving behind eggs to hatch a new population of space creatures.

Maclura pomifera, is commonly called Osage orange, hedge apple, horse apple, monkey ball, bois d’arc, bodark, or bodock.  My sister-in-law Bonnie says the “correct pronunciation” is boys-dark, but she’s from Kentucky…   They are hard and bumpy, like an experiment in genetic modification gone wrong.  According to Google sources, they have a long and colorful history in the Southeastern U.S., including using the shrubs for pre-barbed-wire thorny fences; using the sticky, itchy white sap to make glue; putting them under the bed to ward off bugs; and to make archery bows from the wood.  Squirrels are about the only animals determined enough to actually eat the seeds, because apparently they taste yukky.

December in this part of the world is an odd mix of Oregon winter and Georgia summer as near as I can tell – it can go either way on any given day.  Yesterday was 70 degrees and I spent the whole day in a full-on sweat; today, it’s pouring rain and 48 degrees.  One thing is for sure, whatever you have in your suitcase is either too heavy or too light!  Next stop: Austin.



Anna's Hummingbird, sketch by Kerry McFall, mixed media

Anna’s Hummingbird, sketch by Kerry McFall, mixed media

I’ve been hearing a hummingbird scolding from our neighbor’s treetop ever since the first hard freeze not too long ago.  The last fuchsia’s and sage blossoms had finally given up the ghost, and the bird was protesting.  I thought at the time, you should have gone south, little bird.  His head was mostly black, his breast caught the sun now and then and sparkled chartreuse, but mostly he was greyish brown, maybe even a she, I thought.  I’m pretty sure it’s an “Anna’s Hummingbird,” and I’ve read that they do over-winter here in the Willamette Valley.  Poor wee thing.

Yesterday, Day Two of the Big Snow in Corvallis, I heard that shrill-pitched scolding again, this time from my front porch.  Perched defiantly on the end of a rhododendron bud, he was trying to warm himself in the thin sunlight.  Every few minutes he would zoom off to do battle with other hummers, and birds many times his size as they approached the neighbor’s porch and their feeders, including the frozen hummingbird feeder.  The neighbors had thawed it and re-hung it several times, and we did once when they were gone for awhile, but with the temperature in the teens, not much you can do.  He took on starlings and robins and pigeons and scrub jays until he was so exhausted that I was able to get within a few feet of his perch, and take photographs.  And then, the incredible happened – the sun caught the top of his head and it shattered into a million ruby crystals.  I literally gasped – I’ve seen pretty little birds before on National Geographic TV specials with ruby throats, but never anything to compare to this, and certainly not on my front porch.  That dark head was a fabulous source of reds and pinks and rubies and black light, and I stood out there in the cold in just my houseslippers long enough to almost capture it on film twice.

He was out there again today, this time perching on a plant stake nearer to the house and out of the wind.  But he didn’t fight as much with other birds, he seemed to sip from melting snow a bit, and just rest.  Cruel cold.  I hope he makes it through another night to share his magical colors again.  Good Luck, little bird.

This sketch is in my sketchbook that I’m going to be sending to the Sketchbook Project next month.  The topic is borders… here I was wanting to shatter the border with the jewels from the bird’s head.  Almost made it work.  The paper is too thin for watercolors, so I’ll need to put in different papers if I can’t resist watercolors again.  Or maybe crinkly pages is one of things that makes the sketchbooks so real, so immediate.


From Snowflakes to Fractals and Back Again…


I remember when the first couple of weeks of December were dominated by getting the family Christmas Cards out the door.  It was both a joy and a frustration, and it has now gone the way of the curly telephone cord.  But there are dear people of my acquaintance who don’t use computers or cell phones, and I can’t bear to isolate them, so I try to make an effort to at least print some holiday stationery and send off a note.  That, and having seen the movie “Frozen” over the weekend, was the inspiration for the following adventure with “snowflakes”.   I started out by fighting a piece of printer paper with my dull kitchen scissors until it slightly resembled a snowflake.  Then I traced the shape into my sketchbook, got crazy with some water colors and white china markers, and took photos:

Cut out and traced around

Watercolor edges

Watercolor edges

Looking like a doily!

Then I spent a couple of hours Off With the Photoshop Fairies, sectioning and slicing and dicing and duplicating … and in the end decided that I really liked the original plain painting better than the “fractalized” version, although it is pretty cool to warp them and make them look like they’re flying:

Snowflake Multiples

So that was last weekend, and lo and behold, we woke up to SNOW this morning, quite a treat for us down here in the valley.  And it just kept snowing all day!  Woohoo!  Which led first to a walk down to McManamin’s pub and lunch in front of their roaring fireplace, and then to a brief wander around the Internet reading about snowflakes and fractals and ice crystals – oh my, how little I know about so many things.  So much to learn and play with, so little time…