Sheltering in Place, Part 8


It’s been an uneventful week for us since I last posted, which is a Good Thing. Our four days with no cases (as per my previous post) turned into six days. Then there was one new case a day for two days, bringing the total for Humboldt County to 52. We’ve now gone three more days with no new cases. I think we’ll most likely stay under the shelter in place order through the end of the month. When we went grocery shopping at the Arcata Coop on Thursday almost everyone was wearing masks and being distance-conscious. Despite the ridiculous, ginned-up by right wing donors, protests a few days ago it’s clear that order or no orders most Americans get that social distancing is working and that doing so and otherwise being mindful is the fastest way to beat Covid-19. Someone posted a photo on Facebook this morning of a beach in Jacksonville, Florida that had been reopened and there was almost no one there.

In art news, I finally got around to experimenting with a new, very cool drawing pencil, a Koh-i-Noor Versatil 5340 “Magic”, which is what I used to do the drawing of the mooose above, plus the ones below.

Koh-i-Noor Versatil 5340

What makes it special is that, as you can see, the leads themselves are multicolor. You can see in the moose’s head how the color changes as one moves the pencil. Below is the first drawing I did of a skunk who visited our backyard a few years ago. I simply scribbled to see what the pencil would do. This was fun but I think I like the effect of the more simple use in the moose.


In other news, the weather has now warmed up so the 2020 gardening season officially began late last week. I got four varieties of beans started in six-packs and planted a few things that I’d started last year. It will be late May/ June before the ground is warm enough for the beans to be happy in the ground. Ditto the squash. I weeded the pea beds, which are a row on either side of a salvaged cyclone fence gate, and found a gopher tunnel running the length of one side. So we will be lining each row with gopher wire before planting.

I also potted up six packs of sweet peas yesterday, all heritage varieties:
‘Painted Lady’
‘Lady Grisel Hamilton’
‘Miss Wilmot’
‘King Edward VII’
‘Black Knight’
‘Spanish Dancer’
‘Prince of Orange’
‘Winston Churchill’
‘Spencer Supreme’

Sweet peas, like most plants, go in and out of fashion. For awhile it seemed that mail order nurseries either had none or just a few varieties. Last year there was a sudden splurge of choices, so I stocked up. I plan to let some of each go to seed so I’ll always have some on hand. One of my favorite seed suppliers in particular, Select Seeds, had a great selection and most of the ones listed above came from them. Also worth checking out for interesting seeds in general is an English firm, Plants of Distinction, which will happily ship to the US and at a reasonable price. Both are potentially dangerous to one’s pocketbook so consider yourself warned. :0)

Finally, here are two more of my “magic” multicolor drawings. I’m also back at the easel doing repaints of some older African wildlife paintings. Hope to post a few of those by the end of the week!


An Album From My Garden (Lots of Old Roses)

My main hobby when I’m not in the studio is gardening. I love old roses and English style borders. It’s also really good exercise.

And it’s an art form, too, interesting partly because it adds the dimension of time. And also impermanence.

The orchestration of bloom through the seasons is fun and an on-going challenge.

I started this garden almost five years ago and there have already been a lot of changes.

What you’ll see here, with the exception of ‘Ispahan’, is the front “yard”, where most of the roses are. We killed off the grass in the middle a couple of years ago and put our vegetable garden there instead. The rose borders are coming along, but some plants are going to be moved this fall having already gotten too big for their allotted space. It’s hard to tell how a plant will do. Some never do well and some totally overdo it. The David Austin English roses are known to sometimes become vigorous climbers in California, but stay sedate shrubs elsewhere.

So here is an album of the front garden with photos I took day before yesterday, mostly the roses, but also a few other favorites.

Rosa mundi- a sport of Rosa gallica, ancient

Rosa gallica- The Apothecary Rose and the Red Rose of Lancaster, ancient

Rosa alba semi-plena- the White Rose of York, very old

Lilac 'Sensation'

"Leaping Salmon', large-flowered climber, 1960s; the closest to a hybrid tea rose you'll find in my garden

'Ispahan'-which has formed a HUGE bush; damask rose from Iran

'Golden Celebration'- David Austin English Rose

Hardy geranium 'Splish Splash', which is happily self-seeding around the garden

Duchesse de Montebello- gallica from France, pre-1826

'Crown Princess Margareta'- David Austin English Rose

'Citrus Splash'- Jackson and Perkins

'Abraham Darby'- David Austin English Rose

The vegetable beds- peas, beans, radishes, tomatoes, scallions, shallots so far

Bed with Charles Austin (David Austin English Rose) California poppies, orange wallflower, varigated maple, Citrus Splash rose, sisyrinchium striatum, backed by acanthus mollis

Mongolia Monday: The Best Camping Trip Ever, Part 7 – A Quieter Day, But One With Its Own Rewards

We came south down out of the mountains and into a small soum center, stopping at a petrol station. There was a truckload of horses parked near us and Khatnaa spent some time chatting with the men while I snuck a few photos from inside the car.

Horse transport, Mongol-style

Khatnaa chatting with the herders

Our next stop was in front of a fenced compound, which turned out to be the home of Khatnaa’s cousin and his family. We spent a few hours visiting them, being fed a feast of airag, buuz and other goodies. Since this was a very special social stop, I left the camera in the car. Not only did it seem inappropriate to even ask to take pictures, but I’ve found that sometimes I simply want to fully be a part of whatever is going on and using a camera creates a barrier that makes me an observer instead.

We finally went on our way, richer by a container of fresh, delicious airag.

It was fairly late in the afternoon by the time we left, going north back into the mountains. We crossed over a pass and on through a valley, finally stopping for the night on an open slope. The next morning we were visited by a young local herder, who was obviously nervous, but unwilling to pass up a chance to meet us. He did seem to have a quiet, confident way about him and I asked Khatnaa to ask him if he had been a jockey in naadam races. And the answer, as I expected, was “yes”.

View from our campsite, with yaks

There were small groups of horses and yaks around, so I got some good photos just sitting in our camp. Then a well-dressed older gentleman rode over to us and stopped for a chat. He really was the quintessential Mongol herder.

Local herder

We finally got all packed up and on the road, crossing a river as we drove up a beautiful green valley. But suddenly, the green turned white. Khatnaa stopped the car immediately and I saw that the ground on either side of the car was carpeted with tiny white flowers. We got out and took in the beauty of the scene. Khatnaa spoke with Soyoloo and then said to me in English that it looked like the very first light snow in October and one didn’t see this large an area of the flowers very often. Even though it was cloudy, the fields had an airy, delicate quality which was quite magical.

Carpet of white flowers

Close-up of flowers; don't know the species

Our next stop was at a small temple which stood on the outskirts of a soum center. The statue and offerings on the inside were quite extraordinary, at least to me.

Temple on outskirts of soum center

The occupant of the interior of the temple, with offerings

Driving on, we were soon going up in elevation again, stopping for lunch at a turnout in the road that, at first, looked good simply for its lovely view. But once out of the car and walking around, I found that we were in the middle of an alpine rock garden, filled with delicate flowers, like yellow poppies, which were delightful miniatures of the kind one finds in western gardens.

Lunchtime view

"Rock garden"

Miniature yellow poppies

Asters and unknown white flower

Coming back down into a valley filled with gers and livestock, we passed the remains of one of the illegal “ninja gold mines” that are disfiguring the Hangai Mountains. These mines have also affected the run-off which fills lakes like Orog Nuur, causing them to be dry now, more often than not. Very sad in a country that has traditionally had such a strong land ethic. But understandable when there are not enough jobs and people have families to support.

Illegal gold mine

As we continued on, we saw two young men on horses riding in our direction. We stopped and Khatnaa got out to chat with them while I took photos from the car (do you see a pattern here? :0) . I don’t know where they were going, but they were all dressed up and looking good.

Local lads

We continued on into the valley and a huge freestanding rock came into view.

Another river to cross

As we came around the bend...

Driving up to it, I could see that it was festooned with khadak, the ceremonial blue scarves. We stopped for a short time, walking around it.

Sacred rock (I didn't get its name)

As it turned out, just past this local sacred landmark was what I will always think of as the “Valley of the Yaks” and which I think is one of the most beautiful places I saw on my trip.


Rainbow from last week's storm
Rainbow from last week's storm

A great old French word that I picked up many years ago when I was active in the Society for Creative Anachronism. It means “a jumble or hodgepodge”. Which is kind of what today’s post is.

SOFTWARE THAT I USE to keep things moving and, with luck organized. FWIW.
I switched to Apple at the end of 2008 and have never looked back. I tease my husband, who still uses a PC, about when he’s going to come over from The Dark Side. He might, at some point, if his business requirements allow. In the meantime, other than house network stuff, which is still his balliwick, I can now handle my system with a minimum of whining at him for technical support.

1. MobileMe– keeps a bunch of data like my address book, email, notes, etc. in an online Apple “cloud”, which lets me effortlessly keep my iMac, MacBook and iPhone synced.

2. Quicken– checkbook balancing trauma is a thing of the past. At last. I also record my credit card transactions.

3. Flick!– just started to enter the records of my paintings. I used to have Working Artist, which I absolutely hated, but everything else available for the PC was worse. Flick! has a clean, attractive interface and responsive tech support. It’s built on Filemaker, the Mac-based database standard.

4. Aperture– Apple’s image management software; handles my closing in on 30,000 images effortlessly. Lets you open images in Photoshop with one click. Set up whatever categories (which it calls Projects and Albums) work best. The RAW files are resident on the iMac for speed, but are backed up to an external Time Machine hard drive,  so every image exists in duplicate. We hope to eventually keep an additional set on a Buffalo Terrastation that will be kept in the garage, which is a separate building. Am I paranoid? After experiencing a real, physical back up hard drive crash a couple of years ago with a machine that was supposedly designed to recover from something like that and having the vendor essentially shrug and say “Too bad”, and in which I lost forever a bunch of images of older work, you betcha. CDs are not archival. None of them. A high quality external hard drive is the only way to store images for the long haul.

5. Photoshop CS4– can’t imagine how I’d function without it. The relevant difference between it and Elements is that Elements doesn’t let you do CMYK conversions and other tasks necessary to prepare images for commercial reproduction. I use Photoshop for just about everything image-related.

6. iTunes– last year we converted over 700 CDs to digital. No more getting up to change discs and no more discs taking up valuable shelf space. All my music is right on my desk. Hey, it’s a big deal when you grew up with a record player and a stack of 45s and LPs.


Unless I’m writing, talking on the phone or doing concept work (thinking up ideas for paintings), the music’s on. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for most of the 1980s and there were still quite a few musicians from the 1960s around and working in various bands. Guitarist John Cippolina was one of them. He was best known as the lead guitarist for Quicksilver Messenger Service. I saw him in the mid-1980s in a band called Terry and the Pirates. It turns out there’s a two album set of recordings by the Pirates and, if you want to spend 99 cents on one of the hottest, driving SF-style rock songs out there, buy “Something to Lose”. Cippolina on the guitar and Nicky Hopkins, who was also in Quicksilver for while, on the piano. Crank. It. Up.

Species tulips, hellebores, flamingos
Species tulips, hellebore, flamingos


Frogs are at it around the clock now, crocus and early daffodils are blooming, tulips are up. Primroses going strong. In the neighborhood, the willows and Indian plum are starting to leaf out already. We’ve covered the front “lawn” (34’x19′) with black plastic and are going to turn it into a vegetable garden.


Pansies, Pickwick crocus, tulips
Pansies, Pickwick crocus, tulips


I’ve become increasingly concerned about what’s happening/happened to the food supply in this country. The pet food recall in 2007 definitely got my attention. Oh, and then there’s the Peanut Thing. Now I’m (finally) reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and it is really crystalizing my thinking. One of the basic points is that industrial scale food production, in and of itself, is a major problem, both in the animal suffering it causes and the loss of nutrition and taste in fruits and vegetables. Plus the environmental cost of moving all that stuff an average of 1500 miles. And who would have thought that corn and the excessive amount of it grown is literally the root of the problem.

It’s time to, as Pollan says, “opt out” of the industrial food chain. His book is an exploration of how that food chain works, what the consequences are and how new alternative food chains are being formed. Anyone who wants to make conscious, sound and informed decisions about what they eat needs to read this book.

For us, we’re becoming much better label readers (citric acid is from corn!?). We’re going to concentrate even more on sourcing our food locally. We already do not eat factory-farmed animals or animal products. Period. I’ve mentioned the vegetable garden. We also plan to get chickens later this year to provide eggs.

The great thing is that the information and alternatives are out there, especially for those of us who are fortunate enough to live in California. Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address that subsidies would be cut for “agribusiness”, which is long, long overdue. In the meantime, what we can do is vote with our pocketbooks.

It’s Just Not Fair

So, inches of snow in Atlanta, Georgia and it’s supposed to be around -13F in Green Bay tomorrow for the Packer/Giants game. In most of the country, it’s time for gardeners to kick back with a cup of tea or cocoa, peruse seed and plant catalogs and dream about the gardening season to come. Me? I spent the afternoon weeding. Weeding! In January! It’s like winter has never come, even though it’s been alternately cold and rainy. The grass and weeds invading my flower beds just don’t get that they are supposed to give it a rest already. Sheesh. Where’s the off button?

Many people are interested in how artists do their work. For me, it usually starts with drawings. It’s how I like to familiarize myself with a species that I haven’t painted before and, anyway, I just like to draw. Currently on the home page of my website is my first painting of a badger. Before I started it, I did a number of drawings to learn what a badger looks like. Here are two of them-

Daisy drawings

Her name was Daisy and she belonged to the Triple D Game Ranch in Montana. I “met” her at a animal drawing workshop taught by dynamite wildlife artist Julie Chapman. She was about 20 years old, with loads of badger attitude. She died a couple of years ago, although I didn’t know that when I did the painting or these drawings.


Welcome to the blog of Susan Fox, contemporary nature artist!

I live about six hours north of San Francisco in Humboldt County. Our home, with my studio, is on an acre in a rural area called Dow’s Prairie, which is just north of McKinleyville, which is about ten minutes from Arcata and Humboldt State University. We’re about a mile from the beach (Clam Beach) and less than twenty minutes from Redwood National Park.

My website is at

I’ll be posting new original oil paintings and limited edition prints. There will also be accounts of my various travels to do fieldwork in places like Mongolia, Kenya and Yellowstone National Park. I plan to also write about what an artist’s life is like. I enter a number of national juried shows each year and participate in 3-4 art festivals in the San Francisco Bay Area. I also teach oil painting.

Besides my vocation as a professional artist, I have an abiding interest in environmental issues and animal welfare, so there will also be entries on those topics. Some gardening stuff will probably show up too. And interesting bits about life behind The Redwood Curtain.

On the environmental front, I’ve just contributed to the blog at on the topic of birdwatching. One comment that I’d like to repeat here was that everyone with any kind of a yard can help provide badly needed habitat for birds by providing food, water, cover and a place to raise young. Go to, the website of the National Wildlife Foundation, for more and to learn how to have your garden become a certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat. I’ll be posting pictures of our acre as we bring it back from bare dirt to what we hope will be an irresistible hang out. We’ve already had a young raccoon, a skunk and lots of birds. Oh, and the bat that flew into and then back out of the living room this summer.

I guess I’d have to say that my avocation is animal welfare and rescue. I volunteer at our county animal shelter showing animals, doing meet-and-greets, helping socialize shy cats and walking dogs. I’m also doing my first kitten foster. Having been allergic to dogs, cats, horses, etc. as a kid, it’s heaven to be over it and able to work with dogs and cats. Horses I don’t know as well as I’d like to. We have four cats and a tricolor collie boy ourselves. Pictures and bios to come.

Gardening: Besides walking, the best exercise the average person can get. And since I sit at my easel when I work, it’s a great way to get moving. My taste runs to classic English-style. I love heritage old roses and also those from David Austin. Our house is almost at the end of our street in a microclimate that is noticeably warmer and less windy than other parts of our neighborhood. Everyone had a amazing berry harvest this year. Blueberries, raspberries, wild blackberries, it was non-stop. I wonder if this was true in other parts of California.

So, once again, welcome and I hope you find your time here worthwhile.
Susan Fox