Per the ancient lore, part 35

cattail bullrush Typha reflection in drainage channel
This week we return to the Leaves/Plants/Trees folder, a little abstract reflective image taken in the drainage channel behind the apartment complex where I lived while in Florida. I have to note that drainage channels in Florida are the size of some shipping canals in other countries, primarily because Florida decided very early on that it held nothing but disdain for the drizzly, off-and-on rain showers that many other states practiced. When it rains in The Sunshine State (which is nearly every afternoon in the summer,) it does so with a demonstration of efficiency that is breathtaking. Water has to be delivered and there’s no time to waste, so the goal is to be done with it all within seven minutes, and often it only takes three. The dam bursts and it hammers down, then stops and the sun comes back out again in moments, and if you happen to have gotten caught in it, relax, because you’ll be dry again in 20 minutes or so. And I say this knowing that you think I’m exaggerating…

But anyway, to accommodate such deluges, the ‘ditches’ that are provided are usually deep and voluminous – so much so that the one in front of the complex, by the roadside, was two meters deep and housed non-too-small turtles all year round. Mind you, the water wasn’t that deep, more along the lines of 10-20 centimeters, but the capacity was there. Out back, the channel was even larger, easily capable of handling a small boat, and I never did determine how deep it was.

[I will also note that many of these channels were created to actually maintain large patches of dry land, since Florida is prone to swamps and wetlands and marshes, not the most inviting of geography for housing developments. The solution is the cut deep drains for the water and use the soil from those cuts to raise and level out the land more, and it largely works.]

On the same day that this was taken, I happened across a Florida gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus) lying in the grass near the channel – rather curiously, when I thought about it.

Florida gar Lepisosteus platyrhincus lying in grass alongside drainage channel
Somewhere around 50-60 cm in length, it was still alive, and not far from the water but not immediately alongside it either, with the surface being some 2 meters away laterally and one beneath it. I initially suspected that it had been caught by a fisherman and left there, but there was no visible hook injury and it seemed odd that, if an unwanted catch, it would be discarded there and not simply tossed back in. But it also seemed like a good distance to have jumped on its own accord. We had otters that foraged in the area, and of course countless wading birds, but again, no visible injuries. Eyeing those teeth warily, I picked it up and tossed it back into the channel.

And I have to note, when I remembered this image and had to go back and find it in the Aquatic folder, that I had to go much further down in the list than I had for the cattails that were taken on the same day, because between the river visits and the aquarium that I maintained, I have a disproportionate number of aquatic subjects over the vegetational, at least during that period in my life. I suppose I should try to maintain a more balanced diet of photographic subjects…

Have a nice trip, see your first fall

patch of fall colors in Ohio
I mentioned in the most recent podcast about going to Ohio for a few days, and I’d gotten back just over a week ago as I type this. It was a “help out friends” type of trip, but we ended up doing more than just the planned tasks. We had intended to do a small side trip, but the weather wasn’t cooperative, so (to indulge me a bit,) we hit a small local park instead, where I could take advantage of the autumn colors that were developing apace up there. They were actually running late this year, since they usually peaked third week in October or so and hadn’t yet during my trip, but I could still do the selective thing and fired off a few frames in the overcast conditions.

I’ve mentioned before that this is how I often pursue them, and the truth is, it can be very hard to find a broad landscape where the colors are all ‘popping’ – different species of tree all tend to change colors at different times, so it takes finding a collection of species about on the same schedule, yet different enough to provide a variety of color, and this really doesn’t occur in many places at all. Just to illustrate, I include this image across a small valley, showing how sporadic the bursts of color often are.

broad shot showing selective fall colors
So, you go in closer and choose the bits that dominate the frame and give everyone the impression that the whole region is colorful (unless you’re dumb enough to tell them that it isn’t or, much worse, actually show them.) Overall, however, there were more of the species of trees that do get pretty colorful than I normally see around here, and the colors were notably vibrant, so this brief trip was enough to provide a pleasant little selection of images, more than I believed I was likely to get.

layers of same autumn colors
It’s long been my suspicion that one of the secondary appeals of falls colors (following distantly behind the vividness of course) is the depth that they provide, the distinction between different species of trees and different distances, which often disappear in two-dimensional photos – see the third photo on this page for my prime example of this, because you can imagine that, when everything is the same general shade of green, you have far less of a distance and depth effect. So when the leaves are all the same color, no matter how bright, the depth can still be lost. To combat this, I went in close to some low-level branches and used a short depth-of-field to blur out the more distant portions of the same tree, creating some subtle distinctions between them. And of course, showed the range of colors even within individual leaves.

selection of fall leaf colors on stump
At times you might get lucky and have a wide enough variety of species close together to produce a little pastiche on the ground (places where the wind eddies can help a lot,) so even when the trees turn and then drop their leaves at differing times, you can still capture their colors together. And my friend will vouch for this being exactly how they were found, because he was noting how selective I was being when composing.

patch of yellow ground cover leaves
I don’t know what kind of plant this is – it looks a lot like something that we have here in central NC, but I’ve never seen such colors from it, so either it’s different, or my timing normally sucks. Either way, they were brilliant yellow, a nice patch of sunshine on the cloudy day (“My girl, my girl, my girl, talking ’bout…”) and the red leaf was included just as an accent. Had it fallen and draped across any of the yellow leaves, I would have been all over that natural composition.

changing colors on banks of stream overlook
There was a little brook down there and, as can be seen here, we were well above it on the trails, and never found the way down to it. Well, the easy way, since a ‘path’ can be seen right here in the shot, but one we weren’t inclined to take. Sure, yeah, go ahead, harp about how a real nature photographer would have tackled that slope, feel free. I was game, but I was with a normie. I was being considerate. Get bent.

But yeah, notice how some of the trees are just starting to turn, like the milk in the fridge a couple days past the date on the carton. We were lucky to have a variety to work with, barely interspersed at all with spindly threadbare longneedle pines like, you know, some states…

rich colors with sweeping boughs through
This is probably my favorite from the trip, because of the nice lines of the boughs and the colors. And I’ve said this many times before too, but it’s worth repeating: bright sunlight would not have helped this at all, and likely would have made it far less impressive, because color subtleties come up much better with low-contrast, muted light like haze to overcast. Now, early morning with a clear blue sky might have been an improvement over this, but generally, sunlight isn’t always a friend to colorful photos.

Now, I will diverge from topic for a bit just to include a couple of other photos. One rainy evening, I noticed one of their cats staring intently out the front window, and I suspected it was doing the whole “cats staring at ghosts” routine (though this was still a few days before Halloween.) But on glancing out myself, a shape in the front yard just a few meters from their door could easily be seen, and I spent a moment or so of, “What the hell is that?” before it became apparent. This was partially because I haven’t seen one in years – for some reason, there are very few to be found in this neck of the woods. They probably hate longneedle pines. And I need to point out that this was in a crowded suburb of Cleveland – not exactly a deepwoods environment.

skunk, possibly striped skunk Mephitis mephitis, foraging in yard
This is a skunk, despite the odd coloration – most people expect one of two stripes running longitudinally, but there is a very wide variety of patterns that can be found within species, and a surprising number of species. As such, I’m going to tentatively identify this as a striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis,) mostly because they’re the most common in the region, but don’t go alerting Wikipedia. There was just the one patch of white on the head, with a tiny stripe between the eyes, and no markings on the tail whatsoever; since it was facing away from me when I first saw it, this made it a little more confusing. Plus it was dark. Dark enough, in fact, that the image is a little out of focus because I was focusing manually and didn’t have anything to lock onto easily.

Due to its proximity to the house, I was initially reluctant to fire off the flash (which was the rinky-dink on-camera flash tube of the Canon T2i) because of the chance that I’d startle it. Skunks, on the whole, are pretty mellow cusses, confident in the knowledge that most things will avoid them, but if I was wrong and it fired off a blast, their house would be rather… aromatic for days. But then one of my friends, viewing the forager while we both stood in the open doorway, banged loudly on the doorframe and only provoked a momentary lift of the tail, without even a pause in the skunk’s industrious digging for grubs, so I figured the camera wouldn’t bother it. And indeed, it twitched a little at the first flash and ignored all subsequent ones. Lots of people will tell you that flash photography will startle animals, but they see lightning and the sudden appearance of cars over the hill – camera flashes really don’t register much at all with them.

As we watched, a juvenile Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana, and yes I’m confident in that one) also appeared in the yard, between the skunk and us in the doorway, so I fired off a couple of shots of that, too. It wandered more in the skunk’s direction and received its own tail-lift in warning, which sent it scurrying off in another direction, unwilling to contest territory. Meanwhile, our quiet conversing in the open door was having no effect on either of them, so yeah, urbanized wildlife.

juvenile Virginia opossum Didelphis virginiana

Too cool, part 38: “All Hallows Read”

First off, I’m a little behind where I want to be in posting, but that’s because of the exhibit that I was trying to finish and it’s done now (if that ‘sticky’ post up there isn’t enough of a clue.) So this is a follow-up post to Halloween, and a practice that we were alerted to by Jenny Lawson over at The Bloggess (and you should definitely check out her books.)

The practice is All Hallows Read, and it’s pretty simple: offer scary books for Halloween. Not instead of candy, unless you really want to, but in addition to. We found out about this in time last year and managed to procure a small selection of books by Halloween, mostly through secondhand book sources. Having more time to prepare this year, we had a larger selection, which was good, because we had more kids this year. And they all took a book, and all of them seemed absolutely delighted. So were the parents. The best, I think, was the little preschool-age girl last year that hesitantly took her book, but on the way back down the walk her dad (I’m assuming) offered to hold the book for her so she could handle her candy bucket better; she adamantly refused to relinquish it.

Last year The Girlfriend’s Sprog noticed that kids were simply taking the first book she held out, apparently unwilling to make a selection, so this year we put a small bookcase out on the front walk and arranged what we had roughly by age range, letting the kids pick – this definitely seemed to work better. We did, of course, help them choose, or pick out a small selection for the parents with infants and toddlers in tow (well, in stroll I guess, or in push or whatever the hell.) And we got to hear from someone who had visited last year who was absolutely delighted at the idea, so here’s hoping that it’s going to get established a bit better.

It’s funny; I don’t get the impression that kids need to be encouraged to read, because they seem to do it just fine, given the opportunity. It just doesn’t occur to them to say, “Hey, can we go to the bookstore/library?” mostly because few kids know how to pronounce “/”. But with books in front of them, they’re generally pretty good about picking something that they’ll like. I can’t speak as a parent because I’m not, and the very thought is horrifying to be honest, but I’ll still suggest that the parental duty, or our adult responsibility if you will, is to ensure that the option is there without prompting from the kids. Set aside some time every month to hit the bookstore and let them browse, or the library. Pick out a few and pay attention to what strikes the child’s fancy. And let them see you doing it. Schools are, all too often, more willing to turn reading into a chore rather than entertainment or interest, so don’t leave it up to them.

And don’t be too guided by ‘suggested age’ ranges or reading levels or any of that horseshit – I’m sincerely glad that I wasn’t (though it occurs to me that using myself as an example might not be the best of moves.) Hey, I’m sitting here in my mid-fifties and reading stuff intended for 65 and up, which I’m pretty proud of…

Now through December at least…

I presently have a public exhibit of my images at the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau at 501 West Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to run for an indeterminate time but probably through December at least. You are welcome and invited to stop by during any open hours (M-F 8:30-5, Sat 10-3,) but I will be present for the Visitors Bureau Open House on Tuesday, December 11th from 5-8 PM. Come on by and say “Hi,” tell me my work sucks, whatever you like. This is my first serious exhibit of more than a few pieces (reduced, now down to 32) with a pretty good variety and public appeal, at least if I’m any judge, but we all know how that goes…
Continue reading “Now through December at least…”

Per the ancient lore, part 34

Atlantic blue crab Callinectes sapidus hunting among finger mullet anchovies minnows
This week we’re back to the Lakes/Streams/Waterfalls folders, about to be renamed Lakes/Streams/Waterfalls/Lagoons/Inland Sounds – okay, probably not, though for accuracy’s sake it should, because this once again is from the Indian River Lagoon which is more technically a sound. As a thumbnail it doesn’t do too well, and I tend to blow past it in the folder looking for items that catch my eye better, but when I looked at it close I suddenly remembered that fateful day fourteen years ago, and what was happening.

Well, not fateful for me, but likely fateful for somebody. For me it was just another day kicking around in Florida chasing those things that I generally only see in Florida. This is crapped a bit tighter than the original, which may draw more attention to the main subject now, but what I was after was not the minnows (anchovies, finger mullet, whatever,) but the guy on the bottom, waving his pincers desperately as the school wavered past overhead. That’s an Atlantic blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) down there, and as I’ve said before they’re the most aggressive crab species that I’ve encountered, always ready to put their pincers to good use rather than slinking away or seeking cover. And in this case, it was eagerly trying to catch one of those minnows as they temptingly passed just out of reach. This would, of course, have been much better on video, and the camera did have that capability, but I either didn’t think of it in time (I’m by nature a still photographer,) or the behavior stopped once I’d switched modes.

Here’s an enhanced version, boosting contrast to combat the reduction that the water caused, and tweaking the green tinge away towards more of a color that reflected the occupants than the water itself.

enhanced Atlantic blue crab Callinectes sapidus hunting among finger mullet anchovies minnows

Perhaps the first of the last

tiny mushrooms erupting from trunk
Given that October 31st is now twice as long, I actually have more time to post the end-of-the-month abstract, and so I might be back later on today to feature something else. But this is what I’m offering right now.

The image above came from my recent trip to Ohio, in a small park that constituted a brief indulgence of my propensities, which means I didn’t do much shooting while there, and even less of my normal subject matter – disturbingly, I shot more photos at a halftime show for some sport, it might have been chess, but those were of my hosts’ sprog and anyway we left before the second half or third trimester or whatever the hell it’s called. I did indeed travel with one of my macro lenses, the Mamiya 80mm, but did not take along a flash unit (airlines, you know,) so I was shooting handheld in natural light, which was pretty crummy overall. And in my defense, I will say that these mushrooms were tiny, barely discernible as bright specks on the trunk at ‘normal’ viewing distance, so they’re magnified quite a bit (more so because this image is cropped.) They really deserved to be tackled more seriously, but not with the rig that I had at the time.

More photos from that trip will be along shortly, but for now (and because I’m feeling a little guilty about the shot above,) I’ll throw in another from earlier this month, from right after I had repaired the Canon 17-85 IS USM and was out doing test frames. As tests go this isn’t really a good example, because I’d repaired the aperture so the goal would be to see if it worked at, like, f16 and not wide open as seen here (and it did,) but the shot looked a lot better wide open so I’m featuring that one. Don’t ask me what these are, they’re just orange berries along the nearby pond. I probably should work on my fartistic blather more…

unidentified little orange berries

Just in time!

I know, you’ve been watching all month to see what the holiday for October would be, but what could I do? This is the day it was set for. But you may be glad you waited, because October 31st is (among other things, apparently,) International I Need Some More Time Day, the day when we’re permitted to catch up on everything that’s been getting behind. To that end, today is actually 48 hours long – to all celebrants, November 1st does not start until, you know, November 2nd to the outside world. Yes, we’ve gained an extra day in the calendar, kinda – not really, because there’s still 365.2422 days in a year, but one of them is now twice as long.

It sounds like it could cause a lot of confusion, but really, the date is just a matter of semantics, isn’t it? We’re the only living species (well, except for blue-footed boobies) that appends an actual title to any given daylight period, or rotation of the Earth, or whatever you want to call it, so we can change it at will. Hell, there are periods in our past history when months and even years just disappeared because someone wanted to clean things up – no, not in the erasing history sense, but in the, “Dammit, this calendar keeps getting all fershlugina,” way.

If, for instance, some supervisor at work or professor at school starts giving you grief over this, claiming that “it’s not actually a holiday” or something whiney like that, first off, point them right to this post – that should be all the authority you need. But you can also remind them that they’re stupid enough to do this whole ‘Daylight Saving’ clock-switching horseshit, so how is this More Time Day any worse? And just think about how much it’ll help with deadlines and tight schedules. Seriously, we’ve needed this holiday for a while.

So, go ahead and check out two sunrises for today. Put off that mortgage payment for another 24 hours. Get your homework done and finish that TV series you have on videotape (people still do that, right?) When someone says, “You never fed the dog today,” remind them, “The day ain’t over yet.” Sit back and gawk at Miss October just a bit longer. We’ve earned it.

Per the ancient lore, part 33

unidentified snail snoozing on water reed[Yawn] Yeah, sorry, we’re back in the Invertebrates folder again, which certainly got off to a slow start; even now, I don’t add a lot to it, but back then I could go a couple of years without getting any photos of a snail or slug (which might have been a good thing, considering what I get up to now.) And so, this one was taken with my first actual digital camera, the Canon Pro90 IS, one of many such offerings that were soon surpassed by models appearing only a couple of years later – obsolescence can occur quickly in the digital camera realm. I took plenty of photos with that rig before I got my first DSLR body, but I was still concentrating on film for the quality shots at that time.

I was at a loss as to where this was taken for a bit, until I did a little poking around in the other folders for images with the same date, which soon reminded me: this was at River Road Park in Wilmington, NC, right alongside the Cape Fear River, and taken in 2006. Overnight, the snails would forage along the banks and water reeds, but as daylight arrived they would occasionally just hole up right where they were. Near as I can tell, they attach themselves to such perches with a variant of the mucus that they exude to facilitate their movement, in this case something that dries into a kind of glue; it might be the same stuff that they will seal the opening with to keep the moisture in, which I’ll feature here at some point later on. Are they sleeping when this occurs? Couldn’t begin to tell you – I don’t know if snails actually sleep, but what else they gonna do? Play video games? Update their blogs?

Obviously, I had to get down pretty low for this shot – or at least, the camera did. Since the Pro90 IS had an articulated LCD screen, I could hold the camera at wild angles and still frame the shot with the screen aimed conveniently, while not having to grovel in the mud and sand quite so much – something that I can’t do right now with any of the DSLR bodies that I use. I never recommend using the LCD screen for framing a shot, because it usually means holding the camera in an unsteady manner that can lead to camera shake and blurred shots, but there are times when it’s useful, especially if you remain aware of the downsides. Here, it permitted me to take advantage of the blue sky and the light angle that brought out the texture of the shell – not high art, but could have been much more boring, you know?

Just because, part 27

Meerkitten yawning in infra-red
I came across this one while trying to find some other frames for a particular post, and decided to feature it for giggles. I have a Personal/Miscellaneous folder that mostly holds photos of family and friends and so on – in other words, not stock images that are available for publication (which is why it doesn’t feature in the Ancient Lore lineup.) I don’t go into it often, but usually when I do I get at least a little reminiscing out of it.

This was from Florida, and taken with the infrared function of the Sony F-717 while just fiddling around one evening with the lights off. This is Meerkitten, one of the semi-feral shelter rescues that became mine for fourteen years, and one of the smarter cats I’ve known with a lot of personality to boot. She earned her name from her ability to stand effortlessly on her hind legs in order to see something better, and because “meer” was the noise she always made. Obviously I caught her here in mid-yawn.

I love the effect that the infra-red light had on the lens sitting beside her though, my old Vivitar 75-260mm for the Olympus cameras – at the time I was normally shooting with the Canon Elan IIe, my first ‘serious’ film camera, but I did a lot of experimental and B&W photography with the Olympus rig. The color difference you see on the lens came from the different materials: the rubber focus and zoom rings are dark, while the anodized aluminum lens barrel came out, for reasons unknown, much brighter, even though they were identical shades in visible light. In front of that sits a ribbed tube which had been an old metal broom handle before it was repurposed into a camera adapter for a telescope, glimpsed here (the yellow bit). You can’t make it out in the photo above, but it’s attached to a rear lens cap that allowed the Olympus camera to be used with the scope.

And if you look very closely, you can see the string of saliva that join her upper and lower canines on one side. Bet you really wanted that detail pointed out.

And there’s the handoff

juvenile northern water snake Nerodia sipedon basking while approaching molt
Oh, look – another insipid sports metaphor. We can’t really escape them, can we? But I suppose I can take solace in the fact that I don’t know what it means or what sport it’s from. I think it’s jai alai…

Anyway, this is a photo from a recent outing with the Tardy Mr Bugg, who’s supposed to provide the entire story, so I’m encouraging you to click on his link and find it. I would link directly to the post itself, except that he hasn’t posted it yet as I write this, so this is only to his main blog – I’ll correct it when he finally puts the post up.

While waiting, you can bask in the warm glow of my voice (well, you know, compared to certain others, anyway) with the podcast that I just added, below. We’re entering the slow season, and this is a reflection of it, but also hopefully a source of further news within the next two months. We’ll just have to see, won’t we?