Wednesday, December 31, 2008
A close-up (12x) of the "belt" is below (at the bottom of this page is a whole frame shot).
The three stars in the belt are Mintaka (top to bottom), Alnilam and Alnitak. Though they appear about equally bright, they are actually very widely spaced. From top to bottom again, they are 916, 1342 and 817 light years away.
The three stars to the right (pointing to about 5 o'clock) point out the location of the Great Nebula of Orion. It's pretty much centered there, favoring the bottom right. I hoped the camera would pick up some of the colors of the nebula in this 15 second exposure. But that is apparently not long enough.
In this wide view of the entire constellation, the four corner stars are well-known guides. Beginning on the left side of the screen that's Betelgeuse (427 LY) and then going clockwise: Bellatrix (243 LY), Rigel (772 LY) and Saiph (721 LY).
What appears a grouping of stars to us - with it's two distinctive straight lines - is actually an odd assortment of widely diverse stars. There is no constellation at all but from our vantage point.
Still, Orion is the first grouping I remember as a child (unless the Big Dipper came first) and it is the one I watch for each winter. I find nothing so endlessly fascinating as this brilliant group. It is the sign of winter.
There is a constancy in watching for Orion, a satisfaction that the universe goes on unperturbed. What historical figure hasn't admired these stars? What future generation won't look upon them with the same satisfaction as I?
Monday, December 29, 2008
I've watched through the trees during those weeks checking to see whether there was a dark form perched there. But, no, the stand has been forever empty.
It's a metal stand and attached quite firmly to a tree and I suppose it will remain there through the hunting season, however long that lasts.
As I approached the spot - wanting to see whether the stand was still there and camera in hand - I heard a crunching sound as two squirrels scampered through the leaf litter. Wouldn't it be funny, I thought, if there was a deer there, too, when the hunter was not?
That's when, just beneath the stand, two deer rose and stood not fifteen feet away from me! One bound into the field, ran to the west, stopped, turned and watched me from a distance (see above). The other deer must have run toward Clayton Road to the east or else stood still within the woods.
I put 12x into the camera and took the shot above. The deer stood there some minutes watching me attentively, ears scanning. When at last I turned and began walking away, she, too, relaxed and began walking back towards the woods.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Leaving for the grocery store in Miamisburg it was merely rainy. Returning we found heavy fog. The pines at the front drip constantly. Have a look:
Behind Pinehaven, the field is obscured by the moisture and seems to disappear right beyond our property, as the trees designate a transition to eternity. The land falls away in corn stubble and then there is nothing beyond but gray-white.
Coming upon the house from the south, beside the barn, the sycamore, too, drips constantly. The seed balls, once held high, have dropped in the wind and now cover the ground. One branch hangs between me and the house, as though barring my way.
In the past month, we've had over 4.5" of precipitation, almost all as rain. Our normal precipitation for December is just under 3". So we are ending the year with an excess of moisture. A day such as this makes the hair frizzy and the jackets hang limp. But at least it is a break; it is not cold.
Monday, December 22, 2008
We had two Arctic cold fronts pass through in the past day. At 3 a.m. on 12/21 we were at 31. Twelve hours later we had fallen to 14. The trouble wasn't the temperature so much as the wind: it gusted as high as 43 mph giving us wind chills to -25.
Last evening we watched the thermometer continue its dive: by 9 p.m. it was 1 degree and the poor furnace, which tried nobly to hold our 64 degree setting, finally decided enough was enough. The thermostat in the dining room fell to 63 and the furnace - already switched to electrical back-up - ran without stop.
Time to do something! The "Pipe Brigade" - which I wrote about in Pinehaven - was called into action. We fired up two portable kerosene heaters, placing one near the bathroom door and the other at the north side of the kitchen. Each was turned low, just enough to add some needed supplemental heat. I put an electrical heater (upright, oil-filled) on the enclosed porch and turned the 600 watt switch on. I pushed two panels out of the ceiling so that some heat would rise into the pipes in the second floor bathroom. Finally, a trouble light and muffin fan were turned on beneath the first floor bathtub to keep those pipes warmed, too.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
It is hard to get around outdoors. I have managed to stay in - except to get the mail, take out the trash and take these two pictures - working on newspaper projects that allow me to make do with phone calls. It's one of those rare times when people I call are home, too. But where - how - can they go?
I covered a meeting last evening for the paper and the drive home was slow. I covered the five miles (all in a straight line from parking lot to driveway) in about 15 minutes. A light mist fell but in the 24 degree air, it immediately coated all it touched with ice. One other driver - and I only saw one - passed me on the icy roads in a van. Idiot!
I was inside by 8:15 p.m. and that's where I've been since. There was little traffic last night. I didn't hear one car in the whole time I was going to sleep. Only toward morning did I again hear a vehicle pass. Schools, which were initially on a two hour delay, closed.
It doesn't look so bad, does it? Have a look at the shingles and you can get an idea of the icy coating. Grass blades stand stiff and brittle and crack as you step, Your footfalls immediately darken and your path remains etched for as long as it stays below freezing.
I first came outside when I heard the mail stop at our box. I walked to the window and saw him pass, deliver mail one house beyond and then I saw the little jeep leave the road. Soon I saw him backing up, going forward, backing up ... When he at last got back on the road, he was facing the wrong way. But, no matter. He drove back to the lane beside our house, turned around and tried again. This time he made it - slowly - beyond the fateful spot. "Neither rain nor snow ..."
It will warm again tomorrow, I suppose, and we'll be able to travel again. But for now it's good to be trapped. It's not so warm in here but it is sufficient but I am happy to have a roof over my head and a dry bed. These are the times that make me thankful for the least.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Mom's Cymbidium, which I don't remember ever blooming during the holidays before, seems to have the Christmas spirit. It has managed the brightest reds I have seen from it and the timing is perfect. The picture (above), taken today (12/12) shows a couple of the flowers up close.
But there is a cluster of half a dozen flowers open at the moment. We keep it on the enclosed south porch which is not particularly warm (it was 53 when I took this picture, a bit cool for my liking). Apparently the orchid finds it perfect.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
All the day the snow has been flying. It's light, to be sure, but it reminds us clearly that winter days are here. When we first woke, the ground was covered with a thin layer and throughout the daylight hours the flakes have been flying in fits and starts. It's a good way for winter to begin - a little hesitant. And yet the wind that carries these snow showers means business. It burrows beneath the layers of coats and causes you to rush to the next warm spot.
The pampas grass beside the henhouse had a short season to flower; it was quickly blasted by a heavy frost. And yet, protected as the spot is between henhouse and pines, this particular group of grass did manage flower heads and then seeds. Now those same flowers gather snow and shake it off in showers of their own when the wind finds them.
This ragweed hangs low with the snow it's collected and its days of bothering me with sneezing fits and runny eyes are over. Later in the winter, when the snow begins to melt, I'll cut the meadow with a scythe and it will start anew in April.
Friday, December 5, 2008
I was overjoyed to find the pond's surface still clear but mottled by snow flakes, blown into tiny white clusters and breaking the surface up into a reflection you might find with a dirty mirror. The pines (above) along the western shore reflect beautifully on this mottled surface. better even, I think, than had it been crystal clear. It is not imperfect when it is more interesting this way.
And along the eastern shore, by the bridge where fishermen cast all summer long, the surface calls to skaters. They're not allowed, of course, but the call is clear just the same. When I walked near the pond a few days ago, it had begun to melt and the rocks thrown across the ice by children were dropping to the bottom one by one. Even a branch skidded across the surface rested at the edge of a break and threatened to submerge. Now it, too, is gone from view.
Stand beside the water and look down at your feet, half sunken in the slushy muck and then jump back a step or two to higher ground. Look into the water at the pond's edge and you will see clear to the bottom. The oranges of autumn are gone and replaced by winter's light blue and grays.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Punching in a little telephoto and the two planets resolve a little bit. It was chilly (32 degrees) as I stood in the backyard and shot these. But it was pleasantly calm and clear. Just about perfect but for our neighbor, Sam, who chose this moment to drive out his lane. I knelt and enjoyed the view while I waited for his truck to pass and motor north on S. Clayton Road.
Finally, I wanted to have a closer look at Venus. This is a 12x shot with the camera alone; no telescope is needed to see that Venus is a disk and not a point of light like a star. Compare it, in fact, to the stars that share this frame. One star (just to the left of Venus) looks as though it will soon be occluded or perhaps grazed by Venus passing just above.
So much for this astronomical event unless the weather forecast is totally bogus. But what an excellent view, even without the moon joining in!
And this shot (below), taken from our back porch, shows the planets sandwiched in between our now-leafless Sycamore and a pine (that's the roof of the barn to the right on the pine).
And so that's likely the end of it for me. Clouds moved in overnight and it's been raining most of the morning. There's almost no chance I'll have another look at this conjunction.
On the WCPO (Cincinnati, channel 9) morning news, they mentioned how they had received numerous calls about the two lights in the southwestern sky. Doesn't anyone follow astronomical happenings any longer? What could be more exciting than the chance alignment of two planets, all visible from our own backyard?
ADDED (#2): Saved by Jerry Drumheller, a friend at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), who took the shot below as he was leaving Carpenter Hall (the Engineering Library) and heading home for the day. He took this picture as he walked across the parking lot. Finally, a view of all three objects as they huddled closely. Thanks, Jerry!
Below is how the two planets were positioned on Sunday, 11/23:
And here (below) is the same shot without the text labels. This picture was taken from our backyard, aimed over the pines that line the southwest corner of the property.
Venus is 94 million miles away and clearly the brighter of the two planets; Jupiter is 540 million miles away. Seen from this perspective, Venus appears to be traveling slightly up and to the left. Given enough time (another week), Venus would be below and to the left of Jupiter. The crescent moon will add itself and make a trio, appearing slightly above and to the left of the two planets.
Moving forward four days (to 11/27), it's pretty clear how far left Venus has moved (above). It's still right and below Jupiter but catching up fast. It will be below Jupiter on 11/30 but I fear the clouds will prevent my seeing it.
A particularly good simulation of how the three objects are coming together is available on YouTube and you can watch it by clicking here.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
As we walked about the path today, it was 41 degrees and the breeze, slight as it was, came from the southwest. But two nights this past week had lows of 10 and 12 and it doesn't take many of those for a small pond to respond. What first was a thin layer of ice - so delicate it looked like it might be disrupted by a breath - has deepened and strengthened until we have today a substantial layer. The early ice has a particular gleam to it, a clean shine that it will lose when the first snow falls on its surface. Twigs and pine needles will tarnish the reflection, too. But right now it is a delicate blue, able to pick up the distant trees and still give a muted reflection.
Along the southern end of the pond, the cattails are blasted by the early cold and stand stark and dry. The insects are all gone, the frogs no longer call and today even the birds were silent. Even so, there is a certain warmth to this scene when the sun is low and late-day orange.
In another month, the ice itself will disappear beneath the snow and only the faint outline of the pond will remain. It might as well then be an open field. I wonder what the fish think, this gradual chilling and clouding of their world? Where has the sun gone for so long? When will a beam again pierce the darkness?
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
When I first went outside, this is the view I had to the southwest. You can barely see it in this reduced shot, but both Jupiter and Venus hung nearby one another in a beautiful celestial display. The sky was fairly clear (and cold); there were just a few long, whispy clouds passing by.
The actual pass of the ISS began at 5:57 p.m. (10 degrees WSW). Below as a 4 second time exposure (the sky was still too bright to do extended exposures).
Taking a closer look at the jet, there is enough detail to see the seperation between the white lights on either wing. I should have zoomed in and tried for even more detail.
This particular pass ended for me at 6:02 p.m. (11 degrees NE) when the ISS passed into the Earth's shadow. This pass, by the way, was one with the Shuttle docked there. I suppose it makes the object appear even brighter.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
I have been admiring the color of an oak in front of the Germantown Public Library for the past couple of weeks but have never had my camera with me when I was there. Today I returned armed. I thought that the wind or the snow might have ruined the display but the old tree has hung tough, still holding its golden ruddy leaves high. I love how the veins have maintained their greenish tint.
Up close, the leaves are multi-shaded and as tough as thin leather. One year, when we lived in Miamisburg and had a Pin Oak (some French version that I can no longer remember), Mom collected the brown leaves at Thanksgiving time and used them as place settings, writing down names on each one with a black marker.
Our own oak at the end of the driveway, carried home almost 22 years ago, fools us with its display. The leaves - just like our Miamisburg oak - turn a lovely brown and taunt us with their tenacity. Then, with one particularly cold night, maybe followed by a rainy day, they all drop at once. I'd love to have an oak again that holds its leaves until the new ones are ready in the spring.
The other examples of oak we have here at Pinehaven were all collected from the nearby woods. They're natural to the area, offspring of the very trees that have been there for centuries, and they, too, hold their leaves until the last minute - until the weather gets too harsh - and then lose them all at once.
So what of the Germantown oak? It does the same. We watch a squirrel every year collecting acorns from this very tree and we saw him a few days ago putting away his last minute stores. The oak's purpose is more to the squirrel's benefit than it is to mine. I merely watch and enjoy; he dines.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
These berries are, I am sure you know, the stuff of gin. That seems foreign enough to me - and the bushes do, too - but it is that blushed berry that I cannot pass by. These berries are the foodstuff of winter animals so they are good for more than the looking. I have never tasted a berry but suppose that I should. I might then have a taste of gin tonic, without the gin, without the tonic.
This "Common Juniper" is not all that common around here. I've seen it numerous times at the Germantown MetroPark (not five miles away from our park). And yet it grows around here wild and will become quite tall (25' surely) if left alone enough years. It startles me with it's late season blue-ness, the color of chicory flowers beside the road or the hint of low-bush blueberries, coated with yeast, along the Appalachian Trail. In any case, there is nothing common about this bush at all. What gives us year-round green with such a gorgeous display of fruit so late in the season?
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
This shot of the pines reflected in the pond may not speak of the pleasant temperature, but they do show how calm the air was. Actually. after I took this shot and began walking around the south edge of the pond, a sudden breeze blew up and ruffled the water so it wasn't nearly so pretty.
The weekend promises a little rain (how badly we need it) and much colder temperatures, as much as a 30 degree drop. So our pleasant walks sans coats are going to be limited soon.
I have had an emotional day, one that began last evening and one that continues to the current moment. But it's all tempered, all made right, by the votes that I find totaled in the right column. We made history yesterday!
Coming home late from a meeting I covered for the newspaper, I sat myself down in front of the TV and began watching election coverage on CNN and ABC. Mom went to bed at about 8:30 p.m. and asked to be awakened when the results were in.
By 10:30 p.m., with Obama's lead grown to more than double McCain's, I thought it safe to go to bed. I took my iPod Touch along, plugged it into its AC adapter and turned on the clock radio, too.
By 10:55 a.m. I listened to a local broadcaster interview a journalist in Washington. The last question asked of him: "When do you think we'll know who won?" The answer: "Listen to Fox News at 11 p.m."
Of course the news was good: Obama was chosen our next president. History made in our own time. I looked at CNN on the web and they were still hedging their bets. The BBC, however, made the same announcement as Fox. It was over.
I walked into Mom's bedroom, woke her and told her Obama was the president-elect. Going downstairs, I informed Dad, too (he was still awake, said he couldn't sleep with all the excitement).
I listened to the radio for another hour. First McCain's touching concession speech and then Obama's wonderful speech from Chicago's Grant Park.
Even before I drove to my meeting I had walked out to Clayton Road and took down our Obama sign. It had been vandalized once (run over by a gray truck while I watched from the front window) and then wholly taken last Saturday night. But we had a second in the garage. Freedom of speech?
Could this thing even be possible? This was a perfect political storm: war, economy, a bright young man. Obama came along at just the right time and just as Lincoln set the stage with his 1858 debates with Douglas, so too did Obama with his convention speech four years ago.
I have a renewed sense of hope that the world's opinion of America will rise again, that our opinion of ourselves will improve, that our "can do" will return.
We did the right thing yesterday. We truly made history.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Actually, the recipe is pretty generic and is adapted from several Mom's been making over the years. I can remember these even when I was young. I thought they were too good to be true! My mother could make something like this? Of course, now so can I.
So you have some idea what the end result is going to look like, the apple dumpling pictured above was eaten by me earlier this afternoon (sorry folks). But I'll tell you what I'll do as compensation: I'll show you how to make them.
OK, one more look before we dig into the recipe. See that spoonful of apples on the right? Yum!
I should tell you right off that Mom prefers them less sweet and less spicy than Dad and I do. She adds only a sprinkle of sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to the mound of apples before they're pinched into the dough. I'm quite a bit more liberal. I want them sweet! So, use the word "scant" if you like but the recipe shown probably is a little lighter than I go on the spices. I want these things to stick to my ribs!
Pinehaven Apple Dumplings
2 cups water
1-1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 - 8 drops red food coloring
1/4 cup margarine (that's 1/2 stick)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup shortening (Crisco)
1/2 cup milk
6 small apples (Winesap are great)
Making the syrup:
Mix water, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and food coloring.
Cook about 5 minutes, remove from heat, add margarine.
Making the dough:
Mix flour, baking powder and salt.
Cut in shortening with a fork, a little at a time.
Mixture will be crumbly.
Add milk, stir lightly.
On floured pastry cloth roll to a rectangle (about 12" x 18").
Cut into six squares (6 - 6").
On each dough square, place mound of apples.
Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, dot with margarine.
Bring corners of dough up and pinch to seal (they will be irregular).
Baking: (* can be frozen and baked later)
Place in pan (all six will fit in a 13 x 9 x 2" pan) but we bake in two
Pour syrup over dumplings.
Bake at 375° for 35 - 40 minutes.
I first came upon this crab apple beside the pond, its fruit bright red against the light blue sky and darker shades of water. This is certainly our Indian Summer: we've had freezing weather and now we're almost as warm as 70 degrees.
On the northeast side of the park, just beginning to walk with the sun in our faces, the red leaves of the trees (maples) were lit from behind and so bright as to almost require a squint. In another few days, the leaves will be gone and the picture painted here will be no more than a fond memory.
The cattails, too, have been "burnt" by the cold nights. All their summer green is gone. Though the water looks inviting on this warm day but it is but an illusion: it would already be so cold as to be numbing.
I enjoyed, too, time in the yard. I dragged the last of the downed limbs to a pile in the meadow and raked where they have been stacked since the winds of 9/14. I also re-stacked one of the wood piles which had fallen over. I added wood that was cut last summer (see 7/12/08). It's been stacked right near where it was cut and it's bothered me every time I passed it. So, with warm weather and no excuses I could think of, I got that project finished before winter, too.
Here's a different flower (10/21, below) fully opened and as pretty as can be.
And finally a picture I took a few minutes ago (11/01, below) with the far left bud on the photo above opened. The flower you see above is beginning to fade and is off the frame to the right of this shot.
This orange/red Cimbidium always takes my breath away, with its depth of color and staying power. This flowering sequence has already lasted over two weeks and we have at least that long to go. Right now the vivid color is mimicking the last of the fall leaves. Or is it simply early for the Christmas season?