All posts in Environmental Learning

04 Jul

Exciting 20,000 Acre Land Grant in Orange County

In Environmental Learning by admin / July 4, 2010 / 0 Comments

Limestone Canyon, Orange County CA

In a time where open space is often being devoured by land developers, it’s inspiring to read the news of a recent 20,000 acre land grant. In June 2010 The Irvine Company gifted the land to Orange County Parks System.

The grant encompasses six wilderness areas, averaging about 3,300 acres each.

The Irvine Company owns a large portion of Orange County that covers the former Irvine Ranch, which dates back to the ranching days in California’s history. They are the county’s single largest developer of residential, commercial and retail properties.

They also have a philanthropic side, donating and setting aside other land preserves throughout the years.

This grant is of special interest to me because I love to hike in areas like these, gathering inspiration for my paintings.

Limestone Canyon, which is known as the “Grand Canyon of Orange County”, is a part part of this grant. My husband and I have hiked into this beautiful, multi-colored landscape quite a bit, and love the vibrant reds and pinks on the hillsides.

An exciting point about this grant is that it increases the Orange County Parks land holdings by 50%. This grant demonstrates an ongoing partnership between the Parks Commission and the Irvine Company’s Ranch Conservancy, demonstrating that big business and land preservation groups can work together on mutually beneficials goals.

14 May

What Moves an Artist to Paint?

Springtime Succulence

Inspiration for Springtime Succulence

What moves an artist to paint a particular subject? Probably the same force that enables special stories to be written.

I call it pure inspiration. Something special jumps out and shouts for our attention, like this grouping of prickly pear cactus did for me one spring afternoon.

I’d started along a familiar trail in the Anza Borrego Desert CA, and as always, I had my eye out for that unique element in nature that would inspire me to paint.

Approaching the path in the warming sun, I rounded a bend and saw the many sprinklings of flowering desert plants that dotted the ground like confetti. The beauty stopped me in my tracks. I’d been to the desert many times, but had never seen so many flowers blooming all at once.

As I looked closer at the landscape, I was impressed by the ocotillo, with its tall, spiny columns and tassels of brilliant red. Nearby were a variety of succulents and cacti, which were also topped with dashes of color.

Standing amidst the colorful landscape my eyes rested upon this particular patch of cactus, so full of open, pink blossoms that it reminded me of a bouquet of fresh cut flowers.

These beckoning pink blossoms created such a beautiful sight that I knew I had to paint them. I asked my husband to take a few photos, with his great camera. He’s a hobbyist photograph, so this turned into a  full photo shoot.

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24 Apr

Earth Day Video

In Art in Nature,Environmental Learning by admin / April 24, 2010 / 0 Comments

BristleconePineMy husband recently shared this video with me, and I was inspired by its creator, Tom Lowe.

This talented photographer has found a artistic niche with his time lapse photography. Tom states that he took these photos during a trip to Yosemite and California’s White Mountains, an area that’s filled with ancient Bristlecone Pines.

Timescapes Timelapse: Mountain Light

Looking at the videos it felt like I could almost hear a faint chorus of “Happy Birthday” — which is perfect timing on Earth Day!

17 Feb

If It Looks Like a Cactus, It May Not Be One

In Environmental Learning by admin / February 17, 2010 / 0 Comments
Photo of Succulents - No Cactus Here!

Photo of Succulents – No Cactus Here!

Written by Daiv Freeman, a friend and cactus expert.

It is said all that glitters is not gold. It can also be said that all
that’s sharp is not a cactus. These statements seem obvious, but we can take it one step further and say that all plants that are succulent and covered in thorns or prickles are not all cactus either. After all, we know that rose bushes have prickles, but we don’t confuse them for cactus.. Even so, there are many plants that get mistakenly referred to as cactus plants that are just as distant from a true cactus as is a rose bush.

This article will  examine the common factors which lead to this error, and discuss the unique features of cactus that will help us avoid errors. As mentioned above, every “spiky” plant is not a cactus. In my experience, there are two other main factors, in addition to the presence of spines or thorns which lead to this mistaken identity.

One factor is succulence – meaning plants with thickened stem or leaf tissue used for storing water. The other has to do with the plant’s location, specifically those that live in a desert setting. Of these three factors – “spikes”, succulence, and habitat -succulence contributes to the most misidentification, followed by “spikes”, and finally desert habitat. When any of  these factors are combined, such as both succulent and living in the desert – or even all three factors – then the chances that a plant will be considered a “cactus” increases dramatically!

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19 Dec

AOTE Annual Sustainable Living Bike Tour-Another Success

In Environmental Learning by admin / December 19, 2009 / 0 Comments
Morro Bay at Sunset

Morro Bay at Sunset

Hello all! This post celebrates the official launch of the Western Trails website.

While my site is primarily an online gallery for my artwork, I’ll also share personal stories about my life and about things that inspire me. Topics may include sustainable living, creative ideas, other artists, travel, exploration and more.

In today’s post I’ll introduce you to a unique and amazing team called The Catalina Island Ambassadors of the Environment, or AOTE for short. I was first introduced to them by my daughter, Heather. Every year the AOTE members and organize and participate in the Sustainable Living Bike Tour, which lasts for about 3 weeks during late November.

I’m not sure what impresses me the most about AOTE members – their physical stamina, their dedication to the environmental education, or their commitment to the school children they teach. First the stamina: these 15-18 environmental leaders cycle 750 miles down the coast of California – beginning in San Francisco and ending in San Diego!

They’re on an outreach mission and they visit 14-18 schools along their route, doing grass-roots marketing and teaching children about environmental sustainability including topics such as gardening and composting, turning organic waste into edible resources, alternative transportation, human impacts on coastal ecosystems, and greening the schools in California.


For the past few years my husband and I have hosted groups of AOTE members in our home for one night. We serve a feast of yummy food to help re-fuel them as they pedal through Orange County. This year their route took them west of our home,  so we dropped by their host home with some macaroni and cheese for dinner.

While weather in Southern California is usually dry and perfect, it does rain here on occasion and the day before it had been absolutely pouring. I asked one member, Lissa, how they’d managed to bike through the downpour. Lissa responded by pointing out that it wasn’t so bad since peddling creates heat!

She then shared a story about the school they’d just visited in the L.A. area, and how dedicated, informed, and energetic the students were about the environment. What was so impressive about these students is that they live in an area that ranks as the 3rd worst in the U.S. for air quality. Talk about dedication – those students are a great example for all of us.

I chatted with another AOTE member who shared a less inspiring story. While biking alongside the Pacific Ocean, she was saddened to see a large swath of storm drain runoff polluting the ocean. This often happens when it rains in Southern California as the drainage and treatment plants become overburdened. Unfortunately this pollution can cause serious infections, so surfers and swimmers are required to stay out of the water during those times.

As I sat by the flickering fireplace with a glass of wine and a delicious organic meal, I thought about these two contrasting stories, enjoying the music and friendship of this close-knit group.

The members of AOTE are courageous, yet they don’t take themselves too seriously. You always hear the soft strum of guitars, a sweet melody being sung in harmony, and laughter wherever they travel. Thanks guys, for sharing your talents, your passions, and a peaceful and inspiring evening with friends.

Bike Trip Team

Bike Trip Team

I always appreciate any feedback or thoughts, and I encourage you to check out the Annual Sustainable Living Bike Tour blog. ‘Til next time, cheers, and great work again, to the AOTE team!