Darren and I walked the forest paths, the birder and the beespeaker, listening for the songs of the creatures we love so much. We each have our own agendas, but they happily overlap.
Creating cyanotypes of plants has sharpened my eye for the details of
pattern, shape, and light. The forest edge is full of beautifully
complex relationships among the native and introduced plants there on
the sides of the path. I want to be fully present to appreciate and celebrate every stamen and petal, every leaf miner pattern and leaf edge.
The dappled forest light is glorious, lighting the salmonberries from within like enchanted lanterns.
This bush in particular was growing berries that reminded me of salmon roe.
There are bumble bees that travel along the edge of the forest, pollinating the delicate flowers on the sides of the path, spotlit for their pollinators, as if the stage was set for them.
Darren found a sad little boy on the path, lost and dusty. I put him on a log for a chance for him to warm up and fly again.
Thanks to the Comox Valley Art Gallery, I am currently the artist in residence at the cottage in McLoughlin Gardens near Merville, BC. I am doing a deep dive into local keystone plants for native bees using photography, writing and creating botanical cyanotypes. I'm also working on costumes inspired by insects such as leaf miners, caddis flies, lacewing larvae and bagworm moth caterpillars. Finally, as a board member of the BC Native Bee Society, I am networking with other artists, naturalists and scientists who live in the area in order to create future events merging art, science, and the conservation and celebration of local native bees. My longtime dear friend and collaborator Lois Klassen is in the Comox Valley Artist residence in Courtenay and we are supporting each other with food, conversation, feedback, and inspiration. We are also here to see the show in the gallery with wonderful art by our colleagues from Winnipeg. I am also grateful by hcma in Victoria for financial support for this project as part of my residency with them.
Every day I have here at the cottage I have been searching the beach peas for bees.
Most times I see Bombus flavifrons sucking back that nectar. She's got a long face, but she still goes face deep into each flower.
You can see she's got a bit of pollen on her back legs.
This shot shows her lovely colour morph. The B. flavifrons I see on the Japanese spirea here have a darker colour pattern on the lower part of their abdomen.
So cute to see them grooming as they drink.
You can see little holes in the petals made by the tarsal claws as she clings to the flowers.
I love how the veins in her wings echo the veins in the petals. There are three other key plants here that Bombus flavifrons are foraging in here: Japanese spirea, oceanspray, and snowberry.
Lois and I walked down the forest path, talking of families, family roots, aging and migration. I am focusing my current cyanotype production on native plants, but the delicate leaves of bedstraw caught my eye. There is some debate over whether the Gallium growing here is native, so I decided to pick some to press for a cyanotype. I’ve never researched this plant, so the two things I knew about it were that it sticks to clothing like Velcro and it was once used to stuff mattresses. Some plants have learned to cling to us. They long to come on our journeys. Their longing has grown them features that grip to mobile mammals: hairs, burrs, stems that wrap around our ankles and hold one for dear life. They are the needy weedy plants that nomads spread with their restless footsteps.
The small white flowers are pollinated by small bees, flies and beetles and are described as “insignificant”. But that’s giant humans talking about small things. They are not insignificant to the plant or the insects that pollinate them. For humans, it’s the roots that make this plant really interesting. Gallium species are in the coffee and madder family. The seeds can be roasted to make a coffee-like beverage and the roots can be used to curdle milk and make a red dye. Sheperds made sieves of the plant to pour milk through. Like many weedy plants, it has a history of medicinal uses. The leaves contain vitamin C and reportedly help support the lymphatic system, so making a tea might be a good idea as long as you don’t drink too much of it because it has a laxative effect. It is edible as a cooked plant when young, but the idea of eating it makes me feel like gagging as I imagine the leaves stuck in my throat. This species, Galium aparine, is one of the hairiest of the three species in BC.
The bed straw clung to my fingers as I place it on the prepared watercolour paper to expose it to the morning sun. Nearby bumble bees gathered pollen and nectar in the tiny (not insignicant) flowers of the oceanspray backlit by the sun to the west. I exposed the plant on the paper to daylight for fifteen minutes, and then washed off the chemicals in a plastic tub. My developed cyanotype of bedstraw is on the mantel piece now, with its leaves spread and a spray of tiny white flowers on thin stems. Bedstraw plants have clung to me many times on my journeys looking for bees and now it finally has garnered my interest. Plants have a way of getting our attention when we need them most. What is this plant trying to tell me? What is its significance?
A cyanotype is a memento from a specific time and place. It anchors the body memory in the seasons. It recalls the time when photography was invented as a wonder of chemistry.
There are two legumes growing here on the beach: beach peas (Lathyrus japonicus) and giant vetch (Vicia nigricans). The cyanotypes show the distinct contrast between the two species.
The oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) is in bloom and buzzing with bees, and the cyanotypes can catch even the details of the little stamens that protrude from the tiny cream-colored florets. I love the way the sun penetrates translucent elements and creates a sense of 3 dimensions.
I think this is my favourite creation of the day. The tiny flowers of Tiarella trifoliata, the slender stalk, the delicate leaves remind me of many hikes in the forest when the flowers are in bloom at the sides of the trails.
After a flurry of activity at bee school, I am now settled in a peaceful artist retreat on the east coast of Vancouver Island. I am using this period of solitude to make art from dawn to dusk. I am so grateful to have this time to look inward and go deeply into my practise on the unceded territory of the K’ómoks First Nation.
Looking at bees under the microscope and studying anatomical details is fascinating. It challenges the scientific capacity of my brain. Now it's time to use my hands and my intuition to create something from using the materials I have gathered and prepared for this process.
The stitches here represent a map of my travels to be with the bees of Vancouver Island, Kamloops, and Penticton. Following the transition of spring to summer, I was able to see the species of bees associated with the blooming plants at this time of the year.
I am both an introvert and an extrovert. I love the social aspect of bee school: bonding with old friends and meeting new friends with a passion for studying native bees. But I also need time on my own in a quiet place to focus on making, dreaming, and writing. The sound of the ocean and the birds around the cottage sooth me and create a a gentle and healing atmosphere. I have the time and space to fit the small, fragile pieces of my work into something I've imagined might be possible. Solitude helps me focus and make creative connections. I can hear myself think. I can reflect on possibilities. It's a luxury, but also a necessity.
I am grateful for all the people that have helped me get to this place. I am dependent on the kindness of the people I love, the wonderful folks who created this sanctuary (Brian and Sarah McLoughlin), as well as the staff at the Comox Valley Art Gallery who gifted me this opportunity, and hcma Victoria for providing me with the means to buy the materials and take the time to work on this piece.
It's been a privilege to spend some time with showy milkweed in the Okanagan. The morphology of the flowers is stunning and the scent is intoxicating. We know it as a plant that is important for monarch butterflies, but it is also a nectar plant for some native bees.
A male leafcutter bee has been patrolling the patch near the door of the PE building on the Okanagan College campus. He's been knocking the honey bees right out of the flowers. Occasionally he stops for a rest. It took me two days of stalking him with my camera to finally get a few photos of "his nibs".
The female of this same species has been nectaring on these plants. She's got such beautiful orange scopa on the underside of her abdomen.
The swallowtail butterflies are attracted to the nectar, and will take their time refuelling on the blossoms. I happened to capture photos of one with bright red pollen on its wings and body. My friend Amy suggested it may be horse chestnut pollen.
There are also tiny Heriades resin bees accessing the nectar. Although the flowers are open access for nectar, only certain insects, such as long-horned bees, can actually move the pollinia by getting them hooked on their legs.
To my delight, a monarch butterfly appeared on the milkweed plants in the native plant garden on campus. It was a short visit, and I didn't get too many photos but I hope she laid some eggs!
There's a lot of woolly lamb's ear planted in the garden around the PE building. The female leafcutter has also been nectaring on that plant and the lavender, both non native plants.
The lamb's ear has attracted a number of non native wool carder bees that have been entertaining us with their antics, particularly the males patrolling flowers and being bee thugs. The milkweed has more value here as a native plant that supports many native bees and butterflies. I'm excited about trying to do some cyanotype photos made from negatives of some of these milkweed images.