Monday, November 29, 2010

Some Peaceful Fall Photos

If you read my other blog you will remember my admission that taking a hunded or so photos on a day will leave me with a few that are nice and acceptable for posting and not closeups of frosting smears!  And thus you can see some of the beauty I was able to capture on this recent fall paddle along the river and into the small bay.  Apologies, but I reduce the pixel size so that my blogger allotment does not get too full too fast...the photos are nicer full pixel.

Alas, the leaves are now all on the ground making earth food for next year.  This morning my yard looked as though someone has sprinkled sugar over every leaf edge and every remaining flower petal.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Just Passing Through

Fall in the backyard was gracefully peaceful and still about a week ago. The rare and intermittent scurry of a gray squirrel across the dry leaves, and in the distance, the piercing cry of the blue jay were all that I heard as I stood on the deck.  The wind and twirling leaves had slowed their dance.

This peace was temporary, because abruptly, the sound of 1000 weak squeaky hinges, accompanied by one thousand hyperactive blackbirds descended into the coral and gold tapestry above my head and landed all about me while maintaining continual noisy conversation. It was like a mass of fans had just been released from a concert.  There were so many that at least a minute passed before the bulk could land.  Hundreds would move on to make room for the newcomers from across the river.  More and more came in  dark spotted waves of motion landing on every branch and below all of the trees scrappng in the leaves and chattering in high pitched screeches like excited girls at a Justin Bieber concert. 

Then with the precision of a well choreographed dance team they all rose like a whisper just at tree level and streaked around like black ghosts to the front of my yard.  I grabbed my camera and headed out the front door trying to capture this ephemeral phenomenon.  A huge number had landed just across from the driveway under the pine trees at the front.  I quietly approached, although the noise they made was so loud my footsteps would have been buried and I was a gray giant.  I took one step and then two getting closer.  They became quiet, sort of.  My camera and photographic skill does not do justice to this migration.

In an instant, with the unexpected precision of a shotgun going off, they all rose at exactly the same time, all clapped their wings at exactly the same instant and the boom caused by the synchronous  percussion of the movement of their black wings in the air actually startled me.  It did sound like a gun going off!  They screeched and without looking back moved high into the trees in the next yard.  I could hear them renewing their girlish silly conversation an acre away.

If you click on the photos 'may' get the gist as the photos in large size appear a little sharper.   (Maybe they were looking for Justin?)  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Planted a Tree

A few years ago, having such hubris in trying to conform the forest to my taste, I planted a sugar maple in the single open part of my yard by the turn-around in the driveway.  This autumn rewarded me with such autumn beauty that the planting of this tree seems like an extra layer of icing on an already sweet cake.  As you can see it must share the space with piles of top soil or mulch or whatever we dump in that open area in the fall.  I live in the woods and yet I still plant trees, what can I say?  The first two years the leaves on this youngster turned crackly brown and fell to the ground in the fall revealing its skinny arms and I was pretty disappointed.  Yet, each spring I could run my fingers along the smooth gray trunk of the weeping bark and bring my fingertips to my mouth and taste the sweetest nectar.

This fall my tree has found her brazen courage. She is no longer a wall flower and dances with the delicate red maples and 100-foot golden poplars as if she belongs here.  She is like that pretty three-year-old that dances on the floor in front of the band, but like everyone is watching as she flips her strawberry blonde locks!

The dance is far too short, but I am glad I did not miss it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Getting Fat

Weather had been unusually cold the second week in November, or perhaps, in my aging joints I was feeling it more.  Highs barely squeezed above 55 F by mid-afternoon.  There was a steady but gentle breeze which made it seem as if you were sitting in front of the air conditioning vent all the time. Moving into the natural wind shelter of the salt bush at the edge of my river and then placing my bottom on the firm and almost hot aluminum canoe while facing the bright morning sun was a perfect solution to this problem.  I could  sit here for quite some time unnoticed by man or beast.  The cooler air did get under the tilt of the canoe and the aluminum surface where my butt blocked the sun did slowly cool, but every ten minutes I just shifted slightly to one side or the other for renewed warmth.

I sat and waited for wildlife. Water lapped gently at the low tide exposed mud flat and I could hear crickets singing in the grasses at the edge of the dock.  Woodpeckers and flickers intermittently called as they shifted from dried limb to tree branch pecking at their larder, but did not show themselves.   I was blinded by the flutter of the remaining colored tree leaves which camouflaged and mimicked the beauty of the birds flitting against a striking blue sky.  Just behind me and hidden in the brown grasses I heard the small sparrows pecking and turning the crackly fall leaves looking for juicy insects. The peace was briefly broken by the angry crows cawing about something around the point as they always seem to do, noisy curmudgeons of the forest that they are.  After a while I could just see and hear a large number of geese flying far away above the horizon at the mouth of the river like hundreds of small black scarves adrift on the wind.  They also seemed to be arguing or heavily discussing something, perhaps about route changes and which dry cornfield was best for landing.

Suddenly two lone geese flew against the sun just above me trying desperately to join the crowd demonstration that was so far away and I was just able to capture one before he crossed the sun.

Somewhere in the land there is hustle and bustle and people are making and spending money by moving products and paper from one place to another, but in my little corner the bustle is focused on trying to get fat before winter bares its skinny teeth.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Achy Breaky Endorphins

I am being a dedicated person this week.  I have just completed 4 hours of volunteer time at the local county park/swamp.  While there I pulled weeds, raked leaves, dug out poison ivy, swept sidewalks, hauled and spread mulch and pruned wild crazy overgrown trees.  I met some charming young women who work there and a very nice man who supervises the staff.  He is also in charge of the reptile and amphibian survey in our county.  Now I will get off my butt and start counting those animals and email him!  It appears that we have been sighting some rare species, so we need to be more careful about tracking them.  I also learned a few indigenous plant names and what they looked like as they were starting to go dormant.

My back aches, my feet hurt, my ankles are stiff and my hair is full of leaves and mulch.  My clothes are filthy.  But I remain unbowed, because this is a good thing to do every once in a while.  For some reason it is more inspiring than shelving books (my other volunteer effort).  This is probably because you can whistle accompanied by birds or even talk while you work and the air is wild and free.

I will carefully shower, will wash the garden tools with soap and water and will wash all clothes to avoid any trace of poison ivy.  (As a post script, I got a dot of poison ivy on each wrist...!)

Now I am off to eat enchiladas and drink a nice margarita as a reward.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rare Wood Duck Found

Each trip into the out of doors is a search for that something new, rare and special. Sometimes I get lucky and get a special photograph!

This week I was rewarded with being able to get this photo of the rare wood duck, Magnus quercus capitis.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Visiting the Trees

The National Arboretum is not far from where I live. Not close but certainly something I could, and should, enjoy more often as it is a reasonable day trip and I can still get back home by late afternoon...which I recently did.  I am taking that Master Gardener class and we recently had a field trip to this USDA facility.  I had been there before a long time ago. The 22 Corinthian columns in the background of the photo above were part of the White House East Portico before a re-modeling.  This, I guess, is our little homage to Ancient Greece and Rome.  

Touring of the arboretum is free and research and maintenance are paid for by the American taxpayer.

There are over 446 acres of trees, various Asian gardens, a knot garden, an herb garden, a bio-tech fuel walk and a tremendous bonsai garden among many other features of interest.  The bonsai museum houses a tree that was started in the 1600's.  I did not get a photo of that, but maybe next time.  The arboretum is packed with visitors in the spring, but the fall is a also a good time to visit and not so crowded.  This is the place to get ideas for fall and winter color and structure in the landscape.

Just a few lovely views below:

Knot Garden
Chinese Valley
Fall in the arboretum

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Small Woody

While walking around one of the interesting marsh areas that are so nicely maintained by the local beaver family near my house, I came across this woodpecker and at first thought I had seen a new species. In my excitement I took several dozen photos.  When I got home and used my various bird books and brought it up tight on the monitor, I saw it was a juvenile red-headed woodpecker. You may just see the red feathers starting to cover his/her head. He/she was somewhat shy.  What a gangly and awkward-looking teenager he appears to be!    Just a little curious and just a little timid.  (Apologies as I reduced the size of these they are not as clear as I would have liked.)

Friday, November 05, 2010

Feeling Red

We had a long, hot, dry, crackly summer in my county. The result is usually a brown and crackly fall. But we have been blessed with more than 6 inches of rain in September through October and the colors of our fall have been awesome. The kind of awesome that means long walks in the woods, the awesome that inspires lovers and poets and it makes up for the hellish month of July.

We have had a pallette of reds that inspire.







Of course on your monitor depending on its settings and your mood they can look like lipstick, chile powder, paprika, or even rust!

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Power of Fire

There are few things that make me feel so powerful and so dangerous at the same time as burning all the fallen twigs and branches that end up in the lawn and across my long country driveway.  They get piled into a large pile as high as my head and crackle and sputter as I poke and prod to keep the fire in bounds.  Maybe this exhilaration comes because as children we were warned and warned about playing with fire, and suddenly, now that we are all grown up we can!  

I once stopped a scampering fire from racing across my back yard under a small forest of oak trees while living in another house.  It had been set by the neighbor's children while playing with a cigarette lighter.  Had I not looked out the window that windy day, it would have burned my house down in short time.  The boys were barely 6 or 7 and really had no idea what damage they could have caused...including, perhaps, to themselves.  My house was close by the scampering flames that raced across the brown leaves.  The children had just run away realizing it was out of control.  The hose was nearby and allowed me to rush out and drown the beast.

This time while I watched the flames and the floating ash, the flicker or woodpecker was shouting at me the whole afternoon hidden somewhere in the red and golden leaves.  Perhaps because I was destroying a wing of his supermarket, the one with those rare gourmet grubs.

I do leave a percentage of the large limbs and trees for shelter and food, but I am a tidy owner of this strip of land and fear fires that could be started by lightning, especially after a long drought, and I would have to string 4 hoses together to get out to this area...which I did in safety for this little adventure.