Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Photographers have to to work for their desires during the winter months.  We do not have the dramatic whites of snows nor the scary crystals of ice storms here, I write somewhat thankfully.  We do have many gray and cold days where the sun peaks through clouds only briefly and usually just before sunset to remind us that is it still there, behind the silver cold waiting for warmer weather to join us.  As I left the driveway in exploration of something new to add to my files I saw one of our many damaged maples struggling to pretend winter was not upon us in full force.  Its entire top had been broken away and while it stood headless it still was alive.

I drove to a new agricultural area and as I came over the crest of a hill I saw the scene below in the distance.

This is a dormant peach orchard, and being a photographer, I was also salivating at how lovely it would be to photograph in the spring.  Nearby were other ornamentals that the farmer grew for others yards and that were more beautiful this time of year than other season.

There is beauty in the grays and silvers and sages, but my eye always goes to the energy filled reds.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Harsher Times

Winter is a harsh time of year for both man and beast.  It pretends that its soft white snows blanket with peace, but if you look closely their is red blood on that white cover.  While we do not yet have snow, there is a red tailed hawk that has kept our mouse and mole population down around the compost pile.  We also have a large mulch pile of wood chips from the tree fall that will probably house a bunch of rodents this winter!   The hawks are busy.  The one below managed to swallow the little rodent he had in two gulps before flying away.

We have an abundance of deer this year (every year) and we have a hunter neighbor who is an archer.  He eats whatever he shoots.  If you are vegan, the image of deer wasting disease may be more to your tastes.  I feel at peace with hunters and fishermen that control the excess.  He now sits high in a tree at the front of our land waiting for a good target. 

We have four young deer...maybe a year or even two in age, that come through the bracken and munch not so quietly each day.  This is hunting season and they are wary, and as I stand on my deck and try to see them in the deep brush, I can see and ear or eye angled my way if I clear my throat.  We also have a large doe who rests against the bank of our ravine on the opposite side of the house.  She rests in the company of a large 6 point buck who is most impressive in stance.  I have tried to get photos of him, but without success.

You may wonder if I eat venison.  I do.  I think it might be healthier than the hormone treated and corn fed beef available in my store.  I know the deer have happier lives than many feed-lot steers.  

Monday, December 12, 2011


This time of year there seems to be competition for attention.  My geraniums have actually survived the cold freeze as they are tucked against the foundation and beneath the deck.  They will not survive the winter, but I did save one plant for my sunny windowsill.

The holly berries are in abundance this year and not to be outdone by one little geranium blossom!  They compel man and bird alike to pause and enjoy.  Food is provided for both the stomach and the soul.

But when I tire of the cold and bitter air I come inside and find that something else is competing for my gaze during this season.  Yes, it is artificial and has too much glitter, but it is here for such a short time and does manage to keep the house a little warmer.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Planting Trees in the Forest

We planted a tree like this one, this past spring. Ours is still too young to produce young, but it is turning a lovely shade of pink rust as the winter sets in. This is a bald cypress. Such an odd name for such a symmetrical and lovely tree. It would make a perfect Christmas tree but it drops all its needles in the winter and thus, was given the name "bald" because of that.   It can grow up to 70 feet tall and grows well in swamps. But it also does a good job in our front yard which is high and dry.  Because our tree's feet are on dry land we will not get that distinct round bowl at the base that it produces when sitting in water nor the bumps of the roots seeking better stabilization which are called cypress knees that can be found sticking out of the water in swamps.

According to wikipedia "The tallest known individual specimen, near Williamsburg, Virginia, is 44.11 m tall, and the stoutest known, in the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has a diameter of 521 cm.  The oldest known specimen, located in Bladen County, North Carolina, is over 1,620 years old making this the oldest living plant in Eastern North America."  Quite an impressive tree, is it not?

Our little tree was bought at the garden club sale and currently stands only three feet high, but every tree has to start somewhere.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Tiny Swimmer

I could not wait for the light to get bright enough so that I could make my way down to the dock and personally greet the still morning.  Sitting in the house and hearing the heater kick on and off was not soothing to my soul.  The fog was extra heavy as it hung close to both edges of the river denying the sun its pink light as it does most mornings this time of year.  Birds were singing as if it was spring even though the temperatures hung in the low 30's F.  Since there was no wind, it was very comfortable.

I had on my heavy dark gray down coat covering my Jennifer Lo animal print flannel PJs.  Thus I looked much like a tree trunk as I carefully navigated the path toward the dock.  I had to really pace myself when I learned that the dock was covered with slippery frost hidden from the eye.

Our resident bald eagle flew high over this section of the river on his way to better waters for the morning meal, and, although I remained still as the water watching him, I could swear he spotted me as he glanced down my way.  He seemed to "eagle eye" me with a tilt of the head, shocked at my wardrobe.

I didn't take many photos but just watched the morning stretch and open its way into the world.  Eventually, off to my right, I saw a small dot swimming toward me.  

The swimmer was steady and focused, and of course, I had the wrong lense!  I was hoping to capture the big picture.  As it finally cruised closer I recognize that it was a gentle bufflehead duck, our smallest diving duck.  Because of the fog, I could not see the green and purple gloss of the head, but the white patch was a distinctive identifying mark.

These birds are extremely wary and impossible to photograph without a telephoto lens, but this diver did not notice I was human and came just close enough for this grainy photo with my regular lens.  I did look a little like a fatter version of one of the dock pilings, and thus he was fooled.  He scooted past onto the next dock where he spent several minutes diving and flapping in the smooth waters eating something just beneath my neighbors boat lift. 

I eventually tired of standing so still and as I moved slowly back up the dock toward coffee, he immediately recognized my movement and headed out and away beyond sight.

Friday, December 02, 2011

More on My Visitor

I did some research on the Yellow-bellied sapsucker because of a comment or two to my post.  These birds are only temporary in my neighborhood as this is the upper range for their winter home.   The females fly all the way to Central America for the winter months. They breed mostly up north and in the woods of Canada, so I will never see a nesting pair.  This siting in my yard was rare.
They are essential to other birds such as humming birds and some mammals with the sap they get the trees to release.  Many species benefit from the sweet sap and humming birds would not be able to stay in the woods of Canada without the sapsucker since there are few flowers for them to use.  Sapsuckers also eat the insects that come to the sap holes and include berries in their diet.

In the spring the male may use traffic signs or other metal for tapping to declare his territory.  The males are the better parent, selecting the site early and creating the nest.  They also incubate the eggs in the evening and if one of the parents meet with death, the male is the most likely to be successful in raising the birds on his own.  Fascinating stuff.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A New Visitor

One of the things that I do when I am trying to ignore chores is stare out windows. I couple this with the Cornell Feederwatch Project and it makes me feel like I am wasting less time.  Today I saw this visitor in my front yard eating bugs and perhaps berries off the holly tree.  (Our hollies are prolific with berries this year.  I am hoping this does not mean a long hard winter.)  I have not seen this bird in my yard and rarely see it elsewhere, so I was truly excited and want to share. Photo taken through a double paned not a crisp or great shot, but the species is recognizable...yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Poetry in Motion

Birds are wary and do not linger long for photos. They dart in and out of the feeders, hiding frequently in the nearby holly's evergreen bows for shelter and camouflage.   I spend time sitting very still and sometimes they seem to forget I am there until I cross an ankle or turn my head, but still it is difficult to get a crisp shot.

If a hawk lands in a close high up branch they freeze.  They look like stuffed animals at the museum exhibit and do not turn a head to see if the shadow of the raptor is behind or beside.  They do not move one tiny feather.  Their form is that of a hunched life form ready to fly, but tucked tight in the center.  They are usually tucked beneath a flower pot, leafy branch or in deep shadow.

Thus the truth of nature is that motion catches the eye.  You know this if you have tried to view wildlife.  Someone may point out that bird or animal, but you cannot see it, unless it moves.  And then it comes into focus surrounded by grass or leaves or branches.

I learned that even I can be hidden.  As I sat on a plastic stool at the edge of the patio, camera in hand, trying to catch various bird photos I also disappeared.  I heard rustling leaves to my side, but assuming it was a digging squirrel, I only turned somewhat later.  There was a young deer digging for roots or moss.  A warning cry from some bird caused him to pause as he started the climb up the ridge toward my lawn.  He raised his ears, then lowered them, ignoring the warning.  He came out into the clearing  only 15 feet from me and I did not move but held the camera in his direction.  He seemed to sense something was amiss but continued to graze.  I clicked the camera and he did not seem to hear.  I continued to click and then he looked up and stared at me.  He tilted his head as if to get a better focus.  I did not move...he could not see me!  There I sat in full view and he stared for several minutes before something about me...perhaps the movement of my breathing caused him to trot off across the lawn and into the other side of the ravine.

Movement, the dance of the living, that is the key to it all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Not a Turkey

That time of year again when we show thankfulness by eating and drinking until we make ourselves ill.  I saw this duo in the photo below just a week ago.  They seemed to be saying "We are NOT turkeys!"  I felt it was my duty to post a close-up to make sure you didn't accidentally eat one of these on Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2011

I Hear Dead Things

Morning is still sleeping, but I cannot.  I seem to be getting up before the sun regularly on these shorter than short days.  The full moon peeks behind high clouds and then ducks back taking the gaunt moving shadows with it.  I sit in a silent room sensing the quiet cold that has settled outside as I tuck the throw more tightly around my legs.  A simple sound could carry a mile on the thin crisp air out there.  Even the few lights on the river seem to twinkle so quietly, almost fearfully, with a silver white glow.

Suddenly, the house seems to take a quick and deep intake of breath as if bracing itself, and I hear the rattle of twigs and leaves beside windows, scraping across the porch, and clacking across the roof.  Just like boney fingers with long nails they tap as if testing to get in, reminding me they are spinning out there, in the waiting cold, flying against and over the house, scratching and biting their way through the woods, clattering and spinning chaotically.

Once the sun is up, they become nothing more than dancing debris, but now  in the dark they are dead things that move.

(I know...compared to the prior post...I am a little bi-polar.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Falling Love

I have always been addicted to the passionate beauty of autumn.  It never hides its love.  No caution is thrown to the wind, only jewel toned leaves.  Autumn does not fear rejection nor criticism nor competition.  It is all about the sex without reproduction.  The trees throw flaming red scarfs to the ground until they stand naked and cold before you.  It is the passionate center of things that is valued.  Autumn stands brave, unapologetic, and stalwart with emotion.  As a teenager I declared it my favorite season, and I even wrote sappy teenage poems to it!  I think that love affair is still ongoing.

I took a walk around my woods as the sun was just beginning to rise a few days ago.  The former night's evening dew still clung to some of the leaves like diamond jewelry.  I decided to select only the reds for this post, because it is, after all, all about the passion.  (I reduced pixel size to save space on Blogger which seems to be losing memory (space) rapidly.)

A dogwood at sunrise just waking.

Dogwood Dew (and she does!)

Stunning reds of the sweet gum tree.

Sweet Gum kiss.

Now don't you really need a cigarette or a shower?

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Rest of the Story

I finally previewed a few of my foggy paddle photos and can now tell you the rest of the story.  First, let me write about the photo that I missed...the best one of the day.  We had just reached the dock.  The water was like a silver mirror and the horizon that met it was covered with cotton batting.  Hubby held the canoe stable and close to the dock and the high tide made it easier to enter with one wobbly ankle.  I was just bending to sit when looking up and only yards away a juvenile bald eagle swooped in what appeared to be slow motion and gently touched the surface of the water with its claws and retrieved a small fish which it carried away to a distant tree.  It would have made a stunning photo even without a telephoto lens since the bird was so close.  Our eagles are extremely shy and it is rare to see one so close.  My heart sat in my throat for minutes.

Slowly the colors of fall revealed themselves as we coasted close to shoreline.

Once the sun had burned off the fog there were only tentative pockets of mist in the tucks of the river beneath the shadows of large trees.  The rest of the shoreline welcomed us with open arms.
We carefully pulled out way through marsh grasses up a finger of the river toward a familiar beaver dam.  It was high tide, but soon to change, so we could not stay long exploring this home.

I did managed to capture a photo of this marsh sparrow who was singing his heart out at the melting of the fog.

And not all of the stars had disappeared with the night.  A few were caught in the marsh grasses.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Bored Walking

I actually took a 2 mile walk stroll around a nearby lake yesterday. I had trouble going down the small hills along the path, but no trouble walking up them. That is progress certainly?

At my age when I walk with a limp from the injury, I age 10 years or more to those that see me.  But with healing comes an ability to stifle the limp and to stand up straighter and I think I look like a different person.   Thus, I took some before and after photos of my walk to show how we see things differently with subtle changes.  I took a photo of one of my favorite places on this lake...the beaver dam with a resting bench that one reaches by going half way around.  The first photo is what the camera saw.  The second photo is what I did in post processing to reveal what my eyes saw.  (I even removed that tiny sign on the tree...!)

Friday, November 04, 2011

Float With Me

If you have never been in a canoe or are not a type to head outdoors in an early morning fog, come let me share my recent morning with you as you sit safely in your easy chair at home under the warm glow of the computer screen.  If, alternately, you love something like this, I am thrilled to share with you my most recent outdoor adventure in photos.

There is nothing quite like that effortless feel as a canoe floats away from its tether at the dock and your first paddle stroke breaks the smooth glassy surface of the silver water picking up speed.  (A description on the intricacies of getting in and out  of a floating canoe with an injury is for my other blog.)   The fog had settled on the river over the night and a very gentle breeze was just beginning to push it away in soft misty drifts.  The sun was hidden behind heavy moisture, but soon would burn its way warmly over head.

I felt as if we had been surrounded by a soft white comforter and we were trying to find our way across toward the open light.  It was not quiet as bird song did begin to pierce the cover of moisture letting us know they were awake and also thinking about the start of the day.  The air was cool but layered clothing kept us comfortable.  The fog re-painted the river and we saw everything with new eyes as we carefully set direction.  Large shadows melted into trees along the shoreline and sharp items became boats at dock.

By the time we reached the open area into the river, the fog was beginning to pull away and formed a wall against the bank on the far side.  It looked so gray against the blue sky.  Fog was drifting without wind as you can see from the mirror of the water's surface; there was just a slight breeze.  It is mid-fall and few boats were visibly moving at this finger of the river.  

Our tourist geese were beginning their shopping trip to the nearby corn fields and were magnificent in flight if not quiet as they flew off the water just ahead of us.

These few stragglers were certainly surprised at our quiet appearance as we passed the corner of this marshy island.  It did not take them long to paddle quickly until they got speed and also took flight.

The fog cleared just as we entered the wider part of the river where motor boats could have been a challenge.  We saw some lovely fall colors, sea gulls diving for fish, bald eagles, marsh wrens and sun.  But that will have to wait for another post.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


Some small towns have those seasons when tourists arrive in droves.  They buzz like noisy bees, poke into nooks and crannies like rude in-laws, and then, they disappear just as quickly as dew on the morning grass.  They come for the spring colors, or the summer waves, or fall leaf changes or winter skiing.   Thank goodness they only stay through the peak because they are not shy in revealing their presence.  They actually act as if they were the owners and not the visitors!

Well, my small river has its tourists as well -  the geese from Canada.  The "early birds" arrive just as fall winds get cold and the rest of the mob crashes in ahead of winters nor'easter.  They laugh and call to each other and generally fill the river with discord as the sun sets.  They are nightlife zealots and the party lasts until well after midnight.  The males in the center of the river and the gals swimming around the edges.  Then in what can only be called a drunken stupor, they finally sleep it off muttering gently through their night dreams with heads tucked under wings until the sun reaches the horizon.

Once morning is pale pink this cabal begins again a noisy cacophony that only a dysfunctional family reunion could mimic.  The noise carries for miles across the water on the cold air.

"Move over!"
"My side!  My side"
"Wake up you sloth!"
"We are going this way!"
"Your mother wears army boots!"
"Your mother doesn't migrate!"
 And on and on they call and honk until finally the noisiest one begins a chant that seems to resonate -  "Your left, your left, you left, right, left."

And, as the sun reveals its golden glory, there is much slapping of wings on the top of the water and increasing noise and bellowing and with much effort they leave the surface.  They move like low flying cargo planes or heavy laden bombers skimming the water, gaining elevation only over time, heading in the direction of distant dormant corn fields.

They leave behind tufts of white floating on the glassy surface and cast against the shore.  An unbelievable quiet fills the air as if the river has just sighed...until the next evening when it is repeated all over again.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Tonight the moon is more than half full.  That cold pearl light sharpens the dark shadows that lay across my path and the glow washes past the field that I must cross.  It is the only light I have as I set out on my journey.

Did you hear that?  It is the muggy warning call of the owl.  He sees and hears all.  What is he trying to tell me as my feet crunch the leaves covering this narrow path?  I hear nothing else except the ground fog breathing cautiously below and hiding my way as it flows behind the tree trunks.  The air smells damp and dead and of black mold.  The earth is old and wet which I notice as my heel slips on the downside of the path.  Then a tree root catches my foot causing me to stumble against a craggy oak.  I have bumped my head and as I reach to rub it, I touch a web and brush it with panic from my forehead.  I turn but first must adjust my shoe before returning back on the path.

Tonight it is THE night and I cannot turn back.  All of the night creatures will be there waiting for me with their glowing eyes and sudden screeching music.  Even now they crouch low and wait to pounce as the moon slides behind a cloud for a brief time.  This is their hour of power.

At last I have reached the edge of the mowed field bathed in the last of the moon light and I see the barn up ahead.  What a perfect night for a Halloween Barn Dance, I think as I wrap my scarf closer about my neck!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Falling for Fall

A month ago, when I could amble, I took an exploratory trip to a place called the Monocacy Battlefield. It has a wonderful historic museum as well as several farms to wander around. They are actively leased by real farmers who put up with the tromp of tourists.  I took the photos (manipulated for an autumnal feel) below.  They do not actually fit into the Room Without Walls, but all I have for now.  I hope they get you ready for fall.

A traditional rail fence along a meadow path.

A modern barn.

A well maintained traditional tobacco barn converted for storage.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I miss my room without walls these days. While the weather has been nice enough to keep the windows open all day and all night, I long to be sitting under trees somewhere, in a canoe on the water before it turns cold, or hiking through some crispy fall leaves.  I miss brushing spider webs from my hair, kicking mud from my shoes and carrying my camera everywhere. Being the addicted photographer, below is what I have been seeing for the last few days.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

More Dancers

They come to dance and flirt and tease and I am compelled to share their photos on this day. They skip and loop and flutter close past your forehead causing such a distraction that you unconsciously wipe your brow leaving a brown streak with the mud from your hand.  And just when you think you have been distracted  to the limit with their inability to form a serious parade, they twirl far away.

Summer's song is not too long
It is not too loud and 
Not so familiar
That you can sing along.

Your eyes begin to adjust
To the carnival lights
Your ears to the buzz of warm rhythms
And your nose to the smell of ripe honey.

And then Summer has waned
The days are smaller on each end
The earth no longer needs your care
And the butterflies laugh and all flirt away.  

My gift to you while I recuperate and miss being outdoors.