Sunday, February 26, 2017

Winter Wonderland - The Abacos

We stay for the winter months in the Abacos, one of the northernmost islands of the Bahamas.  It is a place often nicknamed Paradise by those who visit and by those who live here, when describing its natural beauty. The extent of its unending changing beauty is hard to describe.  Much of it is the subtle colors, the shifting of the light, the way the breeze runs across the beach.

Recently, I have tried to depict my feelings about this place using watercolors.

The more I paint, the more I see the wonder of this place.  The more I see, the more I paint the wonder of this place.  It is becoming quite an obsession.

The first painting is of early morning, what we see when we look toward the ocean.  It is followed by paintings at various times of day.

Early morning.

Late afternoon

Mid-day 


Before a Rain
These paintings were from our front yard. The stillness and motion of the ocean is what makes for much of the beauty.

The natural island settings of the low trees and bushes along the beach edge, facing the backyard are also very beautiful, however quite different from our front yard.

More to follow, next time.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Turning Wood into Art - Through Woodturning

Our neighbor, Steve Knowles is a wood turner who makes beautiful wooden bowls and other wood products that are all hand crafted in his workshop at his home in the Abacos at Bahama Palm Shores.  He has taken on woodturning as a hobby.  Every year his work becomes more popular and he now shows his pieces at art fairs around the country.

He currently works at Abaco Hardware where he services home appliances.  He is also the Assistant Fire Chief for the High Banks Volunteer Fire Services.  He and his wife Anita live in a natural and woodsy part of the Abacos called Bahama Palm Shores, an area surrounded by beautiful trees and bushes, with many different kinds birds settled in the greenery.

Bahama Palm Shores is well-known for its parrots and for its natural beauty, and is also well known for being a vibrant, active little ocean-side community.  It is a great place for Steve to find wood for his many craft projects.  Neighbors call him to tell him that a tree or branch has fallen in a storm and he comes over and retrieves some of the wood.


Poison wood tree


Picking up wood from a neighbor.


Wood piled up ready to take to his wood shop.

Cutting wood into blocks.

Palm tree downed by neighbor.
Steve stacks the wood that he has collected and prepares it for woodturning through a process of cutting and seasoning.



He works with a variety of different kinds of wood, highlighting their grains in his designs.




Bowls emerge along with candleholders, bread boards, hot plates, billy clubs and spinning toys.

Candleholder, prepared years ago.

Ready to go to an art show.

Fish hot plate and bowls.

While he works, he thinks and dreams up new ideas for future projects, sketching them out as he goes along.

Interested people stop by his wood shop to see what he is working on or to ask him to make them something out of wood. When tourists and  birdwatchers visit the neighborhood, many stop in to see his work, some purchasing items to take home with them.

Neighbors drop by to purchase gifts for weddings, birthdays and other occasions and often bring their guests to see Steve's work.  Steve has also taught some people how to wood turn. 


Early shaping of a bowl.

Initial wood cuttings

Sawdust on the floor.

Turning the wood.

Bowl, ready to go.

Selected finished pieces of Steve's work were recently displayed at The Bahamas National Trust, Art for the Parks held at Abaco Beach Resort in Marsh Harbor.









Steve will soon be retiring, and when he does, he is going to be very busy just keeping up with all the demand for his beautiful bowls and other wooden items.

Steve Knowles' wood turning  is a good example of how one might ease out of the work force while adding a very interesting project to ones life.




Here is a short video showing his recent work.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Native Plants: Bringing our land back to life

We live in the wintertime in one of the most beautiful places in the world and often refer to it as Paradise.

Like any place, it has its pluses and its minuses. I don't want you all to be too envious and think we never have problems.  No place is perfect.  But this place is oceanic beautiful.

And the people are wonderful, too.



Here, it is beautiful throughout the day.


What is not as well known is that next to the ocean, we have natural botanical gardens.  Here is an example:



Often the first instinct of some when they decide to build on this land is to remove all the native brush, resulting in this look:



Below, is the kind of greenery that gets plowed over and removed.



Or this:



The ripped up roots and all the valuable top soil from the land often ends up in a landfill at a nearby dump.


Sometimes after razing the land, one does not get around to building or landscaping and the land sits barren. This reduces the food supply for our native birds and butterflies.  Invasive plants take over. The abandoned land tries to return to normal, but is overwhelmed with invasive plants like Casuarinas and Hawaiian Grape that quickly grow, leaving little space for the return of native plants.

Entomologists teach us that insects and birds cannot survive on invasive plants.  Invasive plants do not carry appropriate insects and seeds to feed our local birds and butterflies.  Their leaves and seeds are not eaten by native birds. Also, fewer insects live on these plants, thus reducing the food supply for birds and butterflies.  This is why invasive plants reproduce so quickly.  All their seeds survive for further growth because local birds and butterflies are not eating them.


The more the invasive plants grow, the less diversity of plant life is found.



Many are now realizing the values of the original native plants on our properties and are trying to be more selective about what is removed.  More often, walking pathways are cut, perhaps with a machete, and carefully selected areas are opened for driving or building. The end result is very striking.

Homes are then surrounded by beautiful, mature, native plants.  The air stays cool from the shade of native trees, birds readily find their berries and bugs to eat and butterflies abound as they dip and fly through the bush.

By staying with native plants, tens of thousands of dollars may be saved in burdensome costs for purchasing of replacement top soil, high-priced charges for replanting the land with expensive and often imported plants and costs for purchasing of numerous bags of chemical fertilizer.

In addition, keeping native plants and original top soil eliminates years of frustration that comes with paying others for landscaping ideas on how to revive land that was injured by removing all its topsoil on already nutrient-starved beach property.


A number of us are wondering if there is something that might be done to encourage those who live on land in beautiful natural areas to know their options before they raze the land and have to spend years regretting what was done.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Small Gardening: Just for Fun

When we  moved to a suburb in New York, we had a side yard we developed into a beautiful garden in which we  spent many long, happy hours working.  I wrote several blogs about the garden. Here is an example: Dressing Down to Dress Up

We have sold our big home with the garden and moved to a very enjoyable, easy to manage condominium.  In the process of moving, we no longer own land for outdoor gardening.

I am going to grow a garden anyway.

My inspiration to continue growing a garden without owning one, came from reading about people who took up gardening potholes!

I figure if somebody could successfully make a pothole into a garden, I ought to be able to find an plot of land for gardening in downtown Portland, Oregon.

I recently decided to adopt a four foot square area out in front of our condo that has a tree in the middle.  This small piece of land is right next to a main thoroughfare and cars often park next to it. Because nothing is on the land and it is shady, because people step on it, because dogs water the tree and wander freely across the dirt, plants haven't grown.

Here is my chosen plot of land.


You may ask, why would I choose such a spot for gardening?  Well, for starters, I figure I can't do much damage to this plot of land. And with a tiny bit of luck, perhaps I can do better.

It was already the end of the July when I decided I needed a garden which means that most of this year's growing season is over, not leaving a lot of planting time. Harvest is already upon us.

Therefore, I have dug up the area and have started planting perennials, hoping to establish a base of greenery that will root in this year, and expand and flower next year.

An amazing number of people have stopped to speak with me while I work on the garden.  Many offer words of encouragement, saying they enjoy seeing the little plot of land change its design as plants are added.

It is a perfect-sized project.  I have dug up the dirt, planted a variety of perennials and the biggest goal I have now is to keep the plants watered.  I might also drop some bulbs in for spring flowering. Toward winter  this little plot of land will be composted and I hope at least some of the newly planted perennials make it through the winter and show themselves next spring.

As of today, the outdoor square area looks like this.


Will it survive?  I hope so, but if not, then I can start all over again next spring.  If it does survive, I will add many flowers in the spring.

After all, the entire purpose of a garden is to have something to look forward to in the future, to care for something, and to see the cycle of life as it rotates through all its beauty.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Don't Drive, Ride a Bike!

We have no car on the mainland any more.
Life just got simpler
and we feel a whole lot better from the exercise.

Now that we live in a condo in a big city like Portland, the question keeps coming up.

Do we need to drive?  When we think about it, probably not.

We consider biking instead, or walking, depending on the distance we need to go.

We own bikes and are getting in the habit of using them for every day travel to nearby places.
Bikes are easy to use in a city like Portland, Oregon.

Portland and many other urban settings like New York City are planning to keep bikes as a major source of public transport. Entire lanes and off-road areas are dedicated for bikers, making it easier to avoid competition between bikes and cars and reducing potential, unnecessary, collisions.

We learn bike rules, however.  We are expected to know how to signal when changing lanes, where to position our bikes when we turn left or right at crossroads.  We stop at red lights and at stop signs.  We stop for pedestrians.

Roads here are designed and marked to clarify space between people who need to open their car doors and bikers who ride by on the road.  I still keep my eye on parked cars, just to be sure no one is about to open their door and get out.

Portland has entire bridges dedicated to pedestrians, bikers and rails.  Here is one we take almost every day, the Tililikum Bridge.  Walking, or riding the bike across this bridge is such a thrill and a bit of a challenge on the way up to the top.





Lines and signs clearly lay out where pedestrians and bikers are supposed to be, reducing the usual dance between them.






The views from the top of the bridge are spectacular as well and reward us for our work.  We often stop to admire the view and take a breather from the upward part of the bridge.  Although, going down on the other side gives us plenty of respite, as well.


The view




Top of the bridge



Not interested in owning a bike?  Then why not rent one?  Numerous cities are now experimenting with bike rentals and part of their public transport systems.

Here in Portland, they now have a program called Biketown that offers bike rentals on a daily, or annual basis.  I joined it recently and use it for getting around town and shopping, or going to appointments.  The bikes are ever so colorful and fun to ride.

But, remember, it is BYOH, or bring your own helmet.


Shopping at a nearby nursery.


Don't want to bike somewhere?  Are you thinking that it is too far to go on a bike?  Don't want to?  How about rent-a-car?

We figured out costs of renting or using short-term car rentals like Zipcar and there is no way we could make the costs of rentals for shopping and getting around town equal to the cost of owning one's own car in the city, paying for parking.

In our case, we have Zipcar right around the corner. Other companies also offer short-term rentals. I'll bet some people walk as far just to get to their garage as we do to get to a car rental.

In any case, life is but an adventure, and biking is certainly a lot of fun, and it is also a very practical way to get around town.

Try it!  You may get addicted to all that fresh air.