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Perfect Winter Hike – Looking for Color

Just another day of perfect December hiking and taking in the challenge to find some color. Our winter nature study is shaping up to look more like fall….warm temperatures and dry, dry, dry. We looked at each other after lunch today and everyone was in agreement. We needed to be outside.

I quickly filled the backpack with water, snacks, and camera then we were out the door. The parking lot at the trailhead was about half full of vehicles and most of those were trucks with horse trailers, a few with bike racks. We opted to hike since the Kona dog wanted to take a swim at the river. It was that warm.

Cronan Ranch Trail
The trail starts off on a downward slope and if you look in the distance you can see our landmark “lollipop” tree (farthest hill with a single tree). We aim for that tree and know that the river is somewhere over there. It is an easy hike with several trail options. We took the Long Valley Trail down to the river and the South Fork Trail back up.

Goldfinches in the Winter weeds
Along one section of the trail we observed lots and lots of goldfinches having a seed feast. Amazing yellow color in real life…our first real color of the hike. We also stopped to observe another little bird who sat on the cattails in the ditch. It was a new bird and we took the time to really look with the binoculars, noting shape, size, color, eye-stripe, beak shape, tail shape, and song. (We identified back at home as a Bewick’s Wren=new to our life list!)

South Fork View
The river was running high and we had the place to ourselves, except for some barn swallows swooping overhead and a couple of fellow travelers on horses. This is a gorgeous section of the river all lined with oaks in the winter sunshine.

Kona Swimming American River
Kona took a swim right off the bat and I decided to rest on the rock overlooking the river. She splashed and retrieved sticks for the next half hour. One man in a canoe and one woman in a kayak went past. I was happy to be dry up on my rock but I waved a friendly wave as they floated past.
South Fork American River
I soaked in the sun, watching the water rush by, and contemplated the beauty.

I was grateful. My heart felt refreshed or maybe just cleansed of the everyday.

South Fork American River
The view from my rock spot was enjoyable and it is easy to get lost in your thoughts as the water rushes by you. So much power and so much potential…wondering where the water will end up at the end of its river journey. I even thought for a few minutes about the rocks just under the surface of the water, the rocks the kayaker succeeded in navigating around on her trip down the river. We all need to know where the rocks are.

River Rock and Leaf

Here is my favorite image of the day showing the winter color of my world. The shore of the river is always changing but these multi-colored rocks keep the river from eroding the banks away except in the highest storm waters. What are your favorite colors found in the rocks? The green? The pinkish orange? The speckled? The white? I put one in my pocket and now it is sitting on my shelf as a reminder of my winter color walk afternoon to the river.

American River Swim
We had to drag Kona away from her beloved stick fetching and started back up the hill towards home. Along the way we watched two birds in flight over the rolling hills…stopping to hover over some prey. We used the binoculars but were unable to really identify this second new bird of the day. We noted behavior, wing shape, size, color. At home we identified this new bird as the White Tailed Kite.  How exciting is that?

It was a very good day.

December Nature Journal in Progress

My December nature journal entry in progress…notes and things I want to remember about this month….to be continued as the month rolls along.

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Our Nature Study Week – The Familiar and the Surprising

Want to know what I love about walking a familiar trail? I love knowing where things grow, the landmarks to notice, the way you can tell that something is different. Usually this is the changing of the season, seeing the plants grow, blossom, and then die down in the fall. Sometimes it is a man-made change and it is shocking!

Walking Trail Renovation-No More Thistles

This is where our star thistles, Queen Anne’s lace, and sweet peas grow in mass every spring and summer. We haven’t been on this section of the trail in a few months and were were surprised to see that they had cleared it off, inserted a culvert and pipe, and then recovered it with this material. We are wondering what they reseeded it with. I can guarantee it is not star thistle, Queen Anne’s Lace, and sweet peas.

I dug up a photo from a previous season.

Field of Queen Anne's Lace

Our family used this spot as a landmark. I could say to the boys as they ran on ahead, “Stop at the thistle spot.” Now we shall have to see what grows and make a new landmark. I know I will miss my Queen Anne’s lace.

Anna's Hummingbird in the feeder

Another change we see is in our bird feeder attendees. This year we are seeing Anna’s hummingbirds everyday in our feeder. They are coming and going all day long. Several of you have noted the hummingbirds on my monthly bird list. This species (Calypte anna) is an iridescent green and gray below…the male has an iridescent red head and throat. If you catch a glimpse of them in the sunshine, you are amazed at their dazzling color. They stay all winter even in the sub-freezing temperatures. I go out to check their feeder each day to make sure it isn’t frozen.

Moonshadow Yarrow

We took a walk around our yard last week as part of the Preparation for Winter-Plants challenge. This challenge had us looking for ways that plants get ready to survive the cold winter temperatures. We noticed that several of our plants are putting out a new bloom. This Moonshine yarrow is very pretty..especially up close.

Roses in December

One plant that is surprising us is our yellow rose. It is still blooming…not the prettiest of blooms but still treating us to some rose-goodness for the kitchen table. For all you Redwall readers out there, we have named this the Winter of the Rose.

Quart and Magnifying Glass

As part of my research and preparation for the new More Nature Study #2 ebook, we are having fun studying rocks up close with our magnifying lens. I set up a spot on our nature table with some interesting rocks and I noticed that just about everyone has stopped by to take a peek. (Quartz will be a topic in the new ebook.)We have lots of examples of quartz in our rock collection so pulling them out and putting them in one place has brought them back out of the shoeboxes and into the spotlight.

We are headed into another week of dry sunny days so we will be outdoors walking quite a bit. I know at some point the rain and snow will come but for now we are breathing deep the warm (50’s) afternoons together. Hope you get the chance to be outdoors this week.

More Nature Study #2 button
Scheduled Publish Date: 12/28/11

By popular demand, here is the link to the SE Folding Magnifier, Glass Lens 2 1/2″ Dia., Power 5X
we have in the photo above.

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The Play of Light – Changing Landscapes

Leaves and Rocks
Leaves Bathed in Light

Autumn is a time for colors and textures…and this year autumn is featuring its light side. The sun has ushered us through the season, bathing us in warmth and cheerfulness. The usual seasonal sadness did not arrive and I am grateful.

“Call attention to the changing beauty of the landscape. Let the children tell what they enjoy in it. Point out more, if they are old enough to appreciate it. Show them the play of light and shade, the harmony of the colors, the subdued hues, the neutral tints of forest and meadow, of mountain and fading perspectives.”
Nature and Children

Colorful Fall Leaves
Piles and piles of colors to behold.
Leaf Raking in December 2
Early December yard chores

“Hey mom, look how many leaves came down in the wind! Why do you think only one tree still has its leaves? Now it seems like winter.”

What a wonderful way to teach about the cycles of life: the growing and dying, the green and the brown, the fullness and the bareness. One just leads to the next, round and round. He notices. We notice.

Autumn Trees with sun
More light to capture

Today I am reminded of how my season in life is changing, grateful for sons who remind me to stop and notice things that I might have otherwise missed, filling up on the light they bring to the day.

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Knowledge Leads to Pleasure-My Heartfelt Thank You

Autumn Sky and Trees 2

“Knowledge is power. It is also pleasure or affords pleasure. Many students learn for the mere pleasure of learning. This is the case of the scientist who discovers the laws of nature or proves a theory, without a thought of their practical application. Even a child in the satisfaction of his curiosity has a similar feeling.

But we can get sweet and helpful pleasure also from the sensuous enjoyment of the beauty of nature’s forms and colors, the songs of birds and the sound of running waters, the fragrance of the flowers and the smell of the earth and sea, the delicious flavor of fruit, the warmth of the genial sunshine, the touch of our feet on the ground, or the feel of the earth as we lie upon it. These pleasures of the senses, though not the higher kind, should not be neglected. Without them life would be much more matter-of-fact and uninteresting”
Nature Study and the Child by Charles B. Scott, late 1800’s

I want to say that my life has truly been enriched by keeping this blog of our family’s adventures. The knowledge we have gained about the natural world, seeing the creation of a loving heavenly Father, has indeed made our hearts full and life more sweet. But this blog would not be complete if it were not for all the wonderful people who have joined us along the way. The kinship of like-hearted moms who have helped create a place of sharing and encouragement is really the other ingredient to the Handbook of Nature Study blog.

Woodpecker Tree
Our woodpecker tree

The journey has been even more pleasurable as I have come to know many, many families from around the world who also take time to spend a few minutes each week outdoors with their children. I want to seize this opportunity to thank those who nominated the Handbook of Nature Study for the Best Homeschool Nature Study Blog again this year. This community has helped build a great nature study blog and resource. As the winner of the 2011 Homeschool Blog Award we can perhaps share our adventure with some new families who learn about the weekly challenges and start to participate in the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival. Make sure to check out the other winning blogs when you have some time.

Kona and Barb
Kona and I say, “Thank you so much.”

My thank you would not be complete without a word or two to my wonderful supportive husband and my four children, without which this adventure would never have started. Seeing the world through your eyes has made every moment more special. Thanks for putting up with your crazy nature loving mama. I look forward to many more years of adventures either with you at my side or as I hear of your own journeys out into the world.

2009 Calavaras Big Trees 1
2009 Family Photo – Under the Sequoias

hsbabutton-nominee2008nomineeHomeschool Blog Awards Nominated buttonHomeschool Blog Awards winnter badgeHSBAAwards2011Winner

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Bike Ride on a Fall Afternoon

Bike Ride American River Trail 3

Last Friday Mr. B and I had the desire to get outside and enjoy the slightly cooler weather. He decided on a bike ride and it turned out to be the perfect thing to do together. Sometimes it is hard to find common activities that my teen and I can share but so far bike riding is still on the list.

We chose a mostly flat route along the American River, starting out with not another bike in sight. The photo above shows what the trail looks like as it meanders through the oaks near the river. This time of year the weeds are all dry and brown but the sun on the oak leaves is a fragrance that always reminds me of summer.

Wild Turkeys - American River Trail

We came across a flock of wild turkeys and stopped to watch them scratch around at the edge of the pavement. You can’t tell very well in this image but they have blue heads. Their feathers are sort of glossy and they walk with a funny strutting sort of movement. It is always fun to find some interesting nature study subjects when we are out enjoying the day together.

American River with oak

We looped around at the Natomas Dam after checking for salmon (none), and then we were right alongside the river for quite a way. We stopped to admire the water and the trees. As we stood there, the rowing team from Sacramento State University rowed up the river in their skinny long boats. They were moving pretty fast and Mr.B said he wouldn’t mind being on the rowing team. Hmmmm.

Bike Ride American River Trail 1

We were out riding for about ninety minutes and then we met my oldest son for dinner. It was a wonderful way to spend a September afternoon and evening. I love the homeschooling lifestyle.

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Sunflower Summer: Squeezing Out the Goodness

This is most definitely the summer of the sunflower. We have had full bloom for so long now and the last of the varieties has started to bloom.

Lemon Sunflower Garden
The Lemon Sunflowers are just radiant and the bees are happy to have a new snack spot. We have been cutting them and bringing them inside to enjoy on the kitchen table.

Sunflowers August
The colorful sunflowers are amazing to look at up close. The seeds are so dark black and the petals look as if someone painted them on with watercolors…deep brown and burgandy.

Sometimes I go through a phase where I am all about words….writing, talking, sharing. Then there are times when it seems like things are just in pictures….colors, images, impressions. I think I am in one of those times right now and I just take hundreds of photos, am attracted to video, and need to make sketches and watercolors of everything I see. There just is not enough time to capture it all…..I know I will cycle around again and be ready to write more about my thoughts. My brain is certainly thinking all the time and there are many things I would like to share but in the meantime you will forgive my lack of writing and just enjoy my images instead.

I will be full of images soon… last hike at Yosemite coming up this weekend with a friend, a girl’s weekend. One last real month in the colors and liveliness of the summer garden. There are stacks of books waiting to be organized and enjoyed as we prepare for our homeschool year but they will wait until the last drop of summer is squeezed out of the season.

Enjoy your August day!

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Hiking in the Sierra: Cascade Falls at Lake Tahoe

What did Harmony Art Mom do for her 27th Wedding Anniversary?

Cascade Falls trail hiking up

Hiked to a waterfall!

View from the Cascade Falls Trail

My dear husband and I took a day to hike up to one of our favorite spots at nearby Lake Tahoe. The trailhead is at Bayview Campground and the parking can be tricky. We caught someone as they were leaving and got a spot in the shade.

Hiking Cascase Falls Trail

The trail is not steep or very long but there are sections that are covered in granite rocks that you need to scramble up on or over or around. There are plenty of spots to stop and take in the view as you hike along.

Cascade Falls July 2011

We hiked to the Cascade Falls and then sat and just enjoyed each other’s company and the solitude for awhile.

Wildflowers Trail to Cascade Falls

The wildflowers were blooming along the trail and this one was abundant.

7 16 11 Cascade Falls Tallac and Nature Journal (11)
You actually hike to the top of the waterfall so there isn’t a really great place to take a shot of the whole waterfall at one time. Here is a section of it.

Trail to Cascade Falls
We hiked back down the trail in the late afternoon and then made our way over to Tallac Historic Site to have a picnic (including a special slice of cheesecake for each of us).

Wilflowers - Lupine and Paintbrush
I worked in my nature journal recording the wildflowers we saw earlier and my husband did some reading until we decided we better take an after dinner walk to burn off some of the picnic calories. I love the long hours of a summer evening and this time we found a place that I want to bring the kids back to.

Promenade Lucky Baldwin Hotels Tallac
This promenade in the middle of the forest was the connecting sidewalk between two turn-of-the-twentieth-century hotels. The hotels are long gone but the promenade remains. We tried to imagine what it would have been like to stay at one of the hotels way back then.

It was a perfect anniversary day….hope to do it again sometime!

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Nighttime Critters – Our List from the July Newsletter

Summer evenings outdoors….with our chiminea.

We have been working on our July Newsletter Nighttime Critter Challenge all month. I wanted to post a little of what we are observing and learning to give you an idea of how you can pick a few things from your area to study in the evening hours.  I will update our list after the end of the month with any new finds.

Our most predominant nighttime critters of interest are the Brown bats that come every single night to fly in our backyard. I wrote about them back in May as part of mammal study.  For the July newsletter challenge for Nighttime Critters, I decided to share a few of our other nighttime visitors of interest. This study was sort of on-going because when the weather is hot, we tend to drag sleeping bags out to the back deck to sleep in the cool night air. We all lay awake and listen and watch as the nighttime settles in around us.

Shooting stars, satellites zipping across the sky, the moon, the swaying trees in the breeze, and the night sounds all entertain us as we wait for sleep to come.

Great Horned Owl Nature Journal
Fill In The Circle and Fill In With Color Example – Poor owl sketch…he has such a crooked beak.

One of the things that we have discovered sleeping outside on hot summer nights is that we have quite a few great horned owls in our neighborhood. We can hear them calling back and forth right after the sun goes down and then again at around 5 AM. Here is a link to and if you click the sound button, you will hear the two types of sounds we hear from our owls: Great Horned Owls. We have yet to actually see them but they are out there…no doubt about it.

We also are serenaded by crickets when the temperatures get just right. It is amazing how you don’t hear any crickets and then all of a sudden it is as if someone turned on a cricket soundtrack and they all chirp at the same time. The lesson in the Handbook of Nature Study gives a great illustration showing the parts of the cricket and an excellent explanation of how he “sings”. (Lesson 82)

 “The wing covers are much shorter than the abdomen and beneath them are vestiges of wings, which are never used. The male has larger wing covers than the female, and they are veined in a peculiar scroll pattern. This veining seems to be a framework for the purpose of making a sounding board of the wing membrane, by stretching it out as a drumhead is stretched.” Handbook of Nature Study.

Turn in your copy of the Handbook of Nature Study to read much more in the lesson explaining this interesting creature.There is such a simple explanation of the mechanics of the crickets chirping that it is perfect for sharing with younger children. The crickets and the frogs compete in our neighborhood for the winner of the “background” noise. It seems as if one or the other is singing their little hearts out.

We smell skunks quite a few nights a week. Sleeping outside we hear rustling in the garden and I think it is the skunk. I know they dig around the base of the birdfeeder outside our window but over the years I have decided that if he leaves me alone, I will leave him alone. Here is another entry where I talk about our nighttime visitors.

Nighttime Critter LIst - Outdoor Hour Challenge
List from the July Newsletter. I cut it out and taped it inside my nature journal.

One last nighttime critter we have had around the neighborhood is the raccoon. Our neighbor has been sharing how they keep forgetting to bring in the dog’s food dish at night and the raccoon has decided that it makes a easy snack taken just outside their patio door. We have had our share of raccoons in the yard over the years but we haven’t seen any lately. Here is an entry sharing one raccoon experience: Raccoon Visitor.

Well that gives you a taste of what we have around here in the evenings. I just thought of something else I need to put on my list….moths.

I look forward to reading about your nighttime critters. Don’t forget to post your entry and then submit it to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival before 7/30/11 for a chance in the July Newsletter giveaway!

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

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Out and About This Week: Mountains and the Ocean

The best thing about summer is getting to be outdoors everyday. Where we live in California we can do day trips to just about any sort of environment you can imagine.

Here are a few images from the last week.

Kayak Day at the Lake

The boys took some kayaks out at a local lake…..not too hot and we went early.

7 10 11 Fallen Leaf Lake with Lupine

Fallen Leaf Lake is an hour’s drive from our front door and we took the short hike around the edge of this crystal clear alpine lake last weekend. The lupine was divine and the sky was equally as awesome.

7 10 11 Sierra Wildflowers

The wildflowers were amazing! I love getting the chance to experience this Sierra Nevada habitat.

California Coast Drive

We took a day trip to visit an elderly relative and we took the “long way” home along the California coast. The wildflowers were blooming here as well.

See what I mean? Northern California is such a gift to those of us who live here. Our job is to take the opportunity and get outside!

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Watercolor Quick Sketch in the Garden

5 19 11 Daisies in a Pot

I have been sharing my hopes for a colorful “artist’s garden” to sit and sketch in over the summer. I am impatient for all my flowers to start growing but I was inspired this morning by my colorful blooming flowers on the back deck, waking to the sun and warmer temperatures totally lifts my mood and urges me to step outside.

The hummingbirds were darting in and out of the feeders hanging from the eaves on the back of the house and the bees were buzzing among the flowers. It was peaceful. I brought my new favorite art supplies and my nature journal to do a quick sketch and watercolor. Honestly this page took me about twenty minutes start-to-finish, including deciding what to draw and finding a comfortable spot to sit.

Gerbera daisy journal (3)
I made a quick sketch with my Prismacolor marker and didn’t worry too much about exact proportions or numbers of petals. I think that is the difference between art and taking a photo….if you want an exact representation you really should just take a photo. I was going more for capturing my mood and the vibrant color.

Gerbera daisy journal with field watercolor set
I used my little field box of watercolors. I shared this set of watercolors with some friends at a nature study presentation a few weeks ago and they were amazed at how small and light this little box is in real life. I am going to start carrying this in my daypack when I hike so I can add some quick color to my nature journal when I am out and about. It even includes a small brush and a vial to carry some water if you need it. (I rarely carry water for watercolors when I hike since I usually have a water bottle or there is a stream or creek to scoop up some water for my art.)

The paint colors are so vibrant! I filled in the sketch with some watercolors with a sort of  “sketchy” style where I don’t worry too much about filling in the edges perfectly and if I color outside the lines that is okay too.

Watercolor Daisy Nature Journal
I came back with my Prismacolor marker and just outlined the petals again to sort of clean up the edges. I added a date and a caption to complete my page.

gerbera daisy journal (1)

This is my first garden sketch in what I hope will lead to a whole book full of colorful sketches.

Here are the links to the supplies. The watercolors are a little pricey but these paints seem like they are going to go a long way….lots of color for a little amount of paint. The Prismacolor marker set is one that I reviewed awhile back. There is such a great variety in this little set and I have been using mine weekly and have yet to use any of them up. You can read my review HERE.

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