Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pretty in Pink ... and pumpkin

The Common Morning Glory is anything but. These past few weeks, I've watched a patch of them bloom at the northwest corner of S. Clayton Road and Hemple Road, marveling at how tenacious they are in the dry weather. The nearby corn field is fast drying and will be ready for harvest but the Morning Glory seems in its very prime. They remind me of tiny trumpets, pink and blue, and they greet the rising sun each morning.

These are so common that I equally marvel that packets of their seeds are sold each year. Actually, somewhat of a tropical plant, they originally were found in home gardens. But they soon make a break for it and are happy giving color to roadside ditches. In our case, this is a vine with nowhere to twine and so they grow up the sides of other weeds and grasses and show their color from down low. Still, I cannot pass these that I don't admire their choice to go it alone.

Another "weed" which is now coming into full bloom is ironweed, given the name for the strength of its stem. Once used for treating stomach ailments, the plant is named for an English botanist, William Vernon (the scientific name of the plant is Vernonia altissima). The plant itself is tall and gangly but the flower, once it erupts, is a royal purple/pink and waves alongside Clayton Road in profusion. It slightly beats goldenrod to the task and it is far showier in its bloom.

Above is the Canada Thistle, a flower I photograph every fall simply because I cannot help myself. I say I will not do it again and then I'm taken by the delicate pink bloom and can't help myself. I love the delicate fringing pink, the tiny filaments, the puff of purple. This flower, also blooming beside Clayton Road just now, has what appears to be a green beetle enjoying the view. I had stopped not so much for the beetle but for a bumblebee that was working on the sunlit side. But as I approached with the camera and my shadow overspread the bloom, the bee took flight. The beetle didn't seem to be bothered by me at all and thus he, not to the bee, made his way onto the Internet. It's amazing how chance plays out.

Finally, here I am enjoying a slice of pumpkin pie in our dining room. On Thursday, when I took my father for his second cataract operation, my mother made homemade pie crust and turned out a nice pumpkin pie. It's a seasonal treat for us - we wouldn't think of having this in the spring - but I look forward to its taste in the fall.

And so you should enjoy a close-up view - just as you do with my blooms - because pumpkin pie is equally enjoyable to the flowers. A little whipped cream, a steaming hot cup of strong, black coffee, and I couldn't be happier.

Isn't approaching autumn as exciting as spring? We have the cold winter nights and the snow to look forward to, as fine a time to me as any other. It is the change I love most and this temperate climate couldn't be better.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shooting the moon

It's the night of the August full moon - the "Full Sturgeon Moon" - and I'm set to experiment with my digital camera. This first shot (below) was taken as the moon appeared above the corn to our east. You can see the old Shell farm - or at least the barn roof and part of a power pole - over on Venus Road, about half a mile away. In the foreground is a pine and catalpa in our front yard.

Punching a little more telephoto into the picture and the moon grows a bit larger. For those interested in the technicalities of this 8:45 p.m. picture (08/16), I used an ISO 200 film speed, f/3.51 and the telephoto was set to 49.6 mm.

So I pull the moon in even closer, cut the exposure time down a little and the moon takes on its natural orange glow while so near to the horizon. With less exposure, the moon itself shows some details on the surface.

Finally, when the moon has risen clear of the trees, I went back outside at about 9:20 p.m. after the sky had grown dark and I shot a series of pictures. Here the moon appears in its nighttime white and shines brilliantly in the crystal clear sky. This shot is also ISO 200 but I used f/3.51 and a faster 1/159 second exposure. I have the camera pushed out to a full 72 mm optical zoom and have added a little digital zoom, too (I'd be better doing that on the computer). The mares show clearly as this amount of zoom and the view closely duplicates what I'd regularly see with my childhood telescope.

I remember bringing that telescope home after spending much of my allowance on it at Malone's Camera in Kettering, Ohio. I even applied a coat of paste wax to the barrel. I then had my grandmother sew a white cotton bag to store the scope in (the bag was made out of an old sheet). Now we can duplicate the views with a fairly inexpensive camera.

The camera, by the way, is a Canon PowerShot S2 IS, as easy to use a camera as I've ever owned. I enjoy the flexibility: an automatic mode when I want it quick and dirty and a range of manual modes where I can make my own settings. I paid just $99 on eBay for a camera that retailed at about $500 new. A camera is like a car: buy it used if you want to save a lot of money. The "mileage" won't matter if someone took care of it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Here's looking at you

There are aliens among us, are there not? As I walked around the track at the Farmersville-Jackson Twp. Recreational Park, I noticed a large green frog sitting in the muck near the edge. Since I happened to have my camera, I approached the frog, expecting it to leap away. But, no, it held its ground and didn't flinch in the least. I moved within two feet, cranked the telephoto up a bit and ... shot!
Still, not a move. Well, maybe a blink!
This alien eye stared at me the whole time I crouched there beside the water, afraid, perhaps, to move ... afraid, perhaps, not to. In this eye, you can see the cumulus clouds drifting overhead. Why are we searching for alien life among the stars when it seems to be right at our feet?

This frog might be one of those responsible for the masses of eggs I saw earlier in the summer. Is it female? How do you tell? On two different occasions, we saw masses of frog eggs just off shore which we mentally marked for inspection again the following day. Perhaps it was the wind - or a kid with a stick - but the eggs were never to be seen again. I never saw a single tadpole in the pond, either. But obviously, the pond is ripe for frogs and this is one of the contented bunch. But who would not enjoy a sunny August afternoon with ample sunshine, temperatures in the low 80's and only the slightest of breezes? It is truly a day to lollygag along the shore and enjoy the warm water.

Just to the west of where the frog sits, is this group of White Pines, as pleasant a spot as I have found. The needles are deep enough on the ground that your step takes on the feel of foam. You might think you are walking on the most expensive carpet padding.

A wider view of the pond, looking north from the south shore (where we park) is shown below. When the clouds are puffy like today, the small pond is particularly beautiful.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Watching for a Perseid

The annual Perseid meteor shower was just a good excuse to get outside this evening and enjoy the clear night air. For August, it was even a little crisp. About 9:30 p.m. (too early, really; the Perseids peak about 2 a.m.) I mosied out into the backyard, PJ and robe-clad, and set up my camera on a tripod. About halfway across the yard, there's a good opening through the pines where I can see to the northeast. That's also the direction of Dayton from here so it presents a bit of an undesirable glow for astronomy. Anyway, here's the wide view I saw.

If I crop along the bottom right of that picture I get the one I've posted below. That may be a Perseid streaking across the frame or it may be an airplane. In either case, I didn't see it while standing there. Why? I set the camera up, tripped it for a 10-second exposure and then proceeded to marvel at Jupiter and the moon, both brilliant in the southern sky. I aimed the camera northeast because that's where the constellation Perseus will rise later. At this early time, any meteors should be traveling across the sky (rather than seeming to flow down) and that's what the one pictured seems to be doing. So it may be a meteor but it may also be an airplane.

But what got my attention was Jupiter and the moon, sharing a section of the sky's southern real estate. The meteors - if there were any - were probably washed out by the brilliance of the moon.

Finally - and this picture was actually taken first - is a view looking roughly northwest through the row of Scotch Pines that I planted 22 years ago as a windbreak. The sun has set about 45 minutes ago but the western sky is still glowing close to the horizon. This picture realistically shows what I actually saw. Even with the slight glow, the stars were poking through the darkness and the far-off dogs had started their nightly barking. Very little traffic passed.

This is what I most enjoyed about camping, looking up and enjoying the night sky. At Bear Lake, I'd take a pillow out in the boat and lie there for hours, bobbing on the lake, marveling at the stars above. It's too bad that the sky glows so unnaturally by all the lights we've littered around the landscape. Give me a dark night!

A couple of days later, I took the picture I've posted below. It was partly cloudy and the moon kept drifting behind banks of clouds. A nearby rain missed us to the north. I walked to the north side of the yard and shot to the southeast, capturing the outline of Pinehaven in the moonlight, it's windows aglow. You can see the outline of the pines and in the center of the picture, the chimney for the fireplace.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Dog Days? Hardly!

These are the star-spangled days of August and not the usual dog days one might expect so late in the summer. The evenings are cool and as soon as the sun has set, the stars blanket the sky. While I was out harvesting potatoes late yesterday, I walked around the south side of the garage and found the flag unfurling in the light breeze. That's camera time!

This was the second - and last - time this summer that I'll be digging potatoes. I managed a couple of rows a week ago but at that time the weather was hot and humid and I decided to wait a while before finishing. Now, with the air cool and dry, I set out to finish the job. We generally plant several rows of Idaho potatoes (the best in my opinion). The crop is generally smaller this year but the very smallest can be cooked with the skins on and make an excellent dish by themselves. A little butter, a little home-grown parsley, and the dish is fit for a king!

I am as enthralled by "weeds" as I am by the flowers we grow. Now that summer is ending, the wild clover is blooming beside the road and its tight purple head is everywhere. Though you might think I managed (somehow) to post this picture upside down, it is shown just as the flower blooms. The morning sun, which is off to the top right, seems to pull the flower in that direction. In truth, I suppose it does.

A few steps further and another plant - much smaller - is unfolding it's purple head, too. They look like delicate royal pompoms to me.

Finally, another rose is blooming behind the garage. They, too, musty enjoy the cool days and nights. Another two months and all of this will be over, snapped by the frost. I'm enjoying it while I can, then.

Last night: 53 degrees! Yesterday the high temperature was but 78. I wake towards morning and have to pull up a sheet. What could be better on an August night in the Miami Valley than to have to pull up a cover?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Confirmed Bachelor (button)

I remember the bachelor button growing in one of our flower gardens even as a child. They are easy to grow and easy to dry. When the weather doesn't cooperate, the bachelor button doesn't much care. The two examples I've pictured below are growing in our front flower bed and offer a light color palette to the show.

The bachelor button (Centaurea cyanus) carries the nickname "cornflower" and grows wild in European grain fields. Is it then a weed? Imagine these plants, a foot or two tall, waving in the breeze! What few plants we have take my breath away with their beauty. From a distance where one might commonly admire a flower garden, the plant is actually pretty plain. But get in close, as I've done with these pictures, and you begin to see the exquisite detail of the flower.
I am not mistaken, I think, to call the chicory flower a blue unto itself. This bachelor button is darker and more detailed. And yet it is another sky blue and makes this mid-August day special.

Now, behind the garage, another rose has burst into flower. I "dead-headed" them earlier in the week, cut them back to nothing more than branches, and already they have put forth bloom. Where did these flowers come from so quickly?

There is something especially sensual about this pink rose. Look at how the petals unfold, wrapped together in one tight bloom. They are prettiest before their full bloom has been shown. Watch them unwind by the hour until, at last, the bloom is fully open. And as quickly it is stale and gone.

There will always be the next bloom so there is no sadness in a summer's garden. With the first frost at least a month and a half away, the roses know no fear at the moment. It is all sun and heat and warm breeze and regular rains as the flowers reach their full potential in August.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Beside Clayton Road

Though it is the first morning of August, already the landscape has a hint of fall to it. It's hot - no doubt about that - and summer is fired up to its very peak. But I think it's the general dryness, maybe even a tiredness, that seems pervasive. Along S. Clayton Road, just north of our house, is a particularly pretty stretch of weeds: Queen Anne's Lace and chicory mostly. They haven't been mowed in weeds so they've had a chance to grow tall and put forth copious blooms. Maybe it's the mixture of white and powder blue that I like best about this spot. But it alos the wind that moves them and makes them seem even more alive. Passing cars help, too.
This view is facing north and just about 300' north of Pinehaven.

Walking a little farther north, crossing the road, and looking southwest, you can appreciate the height of the corn. It's easily 8' in this shot and I've seen nearby fields where the corn has surely topped out at 10'. I'm not sure that's the goal. Instead the plant should be putting all of its energy into creating kernels. But this is the every-other-year we love best, when our house is buried within fields of corn on all sides, and we seem to sit at the bottom of a green pit. What glorious privacy!
In this shot (below), Pinehaven is behind the catalpa trees on the right. Clayton Road is blessed with little traffic, particularly in the morning when everyone has already left for work. I heard the newspaper be delivered at 6:15 a.m. and watched the flashing lights scan the ceiling, but the road has been mostly quiet since. Early night (10 p.m. to 2 p.m.) is another story. I suppose folks are returning home (if they can find it) after an evening of revelry.

Nearer the woods and also north of the house, yellow hawkweed takes hold. It is not a plant I remember as a child. When we traveled each summer to Bear Lake, Michigan, I remember the common orange hawkweed, something I found similar to our common dandelion (in that they were common in all lawns; not that they looked a thing alike). So now we have a hawkweed of our own. I'd prefer the orange; it's more showy.

Finally, our catalpas are now heavy with their long beans, many 15" or more in length. As a child, my grandfather, planning to go fishing, would scope out a catalpa tree and find the common worm that eats the leaves. I haven't seen many worms around here though they seem to be heavy one year, nonexistent the next. Even now, fishermen have stopped and asked if they could check our trees for worms but I think they've left empty-handed. None have come back again.

The catalpa is a tree that has certainly lost favor. Who has ever seen one in a nursery? Yet they grow commonly here along old fence lines. Our trees are very old and probably nearing the end of their lives. When they drop their leaves in the fall I always think this might be the last. But then the next spring they explode with green and soon enough another crop of beans hangs heavy.

Surely this is the tree that stands behind the "Jack & the Beanstalk" story.