Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sketching at Fakahatchee

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park was once christened “the Amazon of North America.” A forested watershed of cypress and mixed hardwoods, the Fakahatchee Strand is a linear-shaped wetland, about 20 miles long running north to south, but only 3 to 5 miles wide east to west. The Strand is the main drainage pathway for the southwestern part of Big Cypress Swamp.

Apple snail
During the wet season, sloughs, ponds, and lakes flourish. The water moderates temperatures and creates a haven for epiphytes and ferns. In the dry season (November through April, sometimes May), parts of the slough dry up completely, leaving only a few year-round ponds and lakes. In the dry season, we may only get 15 inches of rain of our typical average of 54 annual inches.

As part of the En Plein Air ~ Arts in the Fakahatchee event, a small group of us met near Lake Harmon, a year-round man-made lake. Created when limestone rock was quarried for fill and road surfacing, the water depth is easily 30 feet in places. The lake is named for the family who owned and operated Harmon Brothers Rock Company. Lake Harmon is just off Jane’s Memorial Scenic Drive, an 11-mile gravel road that follows the path of an old logging trail.

Snake eggs, already hatched!
The Lake Harmon area offered several interesting spots to sketch: the lake itself, a nearby cypress dome, and a recently burned grassland with lovely greens and browns. I painted the lake first in watercolor (top  image), trying to catch the quickly shifting clouds and rippling surface of the water. In the foreground are grasses and cattails, the opposite side of the lake is bordered by trees and the edge of a cypress dome (on the left).

The cypress trees are bare this time of year – with grayish bark and branches that almost gleam white in bright sunlight. Another artist and I walked over to the nearby cypress dome to explore. Less foliage means it’s easier to get around and to see things that we might otherwise have missed. At the edge of the dome we found numerous apple snail shells, a few crawdad shells, and two vacated snake eggs!

Sketching the recently burned area.

Later, I sketched the grassy area that had been a controlled burn not long ago. One cabbage palm tree caught my eye – the burnt trunk and the changing tiered colors of the palm fronds. The lowest fronds were burnt a dark brown, in the middle the fronds were dry and yellowed where the heat, but not the flames touched them, then the top fronds of living green that escaped the fire. The surrounding field was greening up, but there were still some of the rust and yellow-ochre grasses peeking through the new greens.
Tillandsias growing on a cypress trunk.

After a quick lunch, Park Ranger Karen Relish took us for a short walk into a cypress dome off Janes Scenic Drive. The ground was dry this time of the year, but there were some damp and watery places still deeper inside the dome. Once again, we saw apple snail shells scattered over the ground, and here and there the new growth of ferns and tiny wildflowers. Several airplants were blooming, and I marveled at the large buttressed cypress trees. We learned from Karen that our native epiphytic bromeliads are under attack by an exotic weevil that has been slowly spreading through the state of Florida. We also learned about the scents around us: the lemon-resin smell of the crushed Bacopa leaves beneath our feet, the spicy odors of bay and wax myrtle as we brushed by.

It was a beautiful sunny and breezy day, filled with good company and time to sketch. I also learned more about the habitats of Fakahatchee and came away with a greater appreciation of the plants and animals and history. Thank you Karen, for creating the opportunity to draw and paint in this beautiful space. And thank you as well to Cyril, who created the wonderful signs and made sure we got to the correct location, and fellow artists Kerri and Linda.

If you click on the top image it will take you to  my Flickr photostream where you can see it larger and read about the materials I used; clicking on the other images will allow you to view them larger in a slide show format.