Sunday, May 31, 2009

Stormy Evening

"It won't rain," I assured Dad. All day he warned of storms. The National Weather Service showed no chance at all, that is, until it began raining. Dad and I even had a friendly wager - he was so sure of his predicting ability - that I am now out "several hundreds of thousands of dollars". I haven't yet been told to "pay up".

This particular cumulonimbus (above) was east of us when I took the picture after 8 p.m. I checked with WeatherBug and they showed this cell topped out at about 33,000 feet. When it passed just to our south, we had a brief shower - just 0.11" - that gave us a quick dousing but nothing of any consequence.

Another view as the storms scooted east. There were numerous watches and warnings and a couple of tornadoes were sited south of here, one by the National Weather Service staff themselves in Wilmington. Hail reports were numerous, too.

From behind the garage, I shot to the southeast (above), as the setting sun shone brightly on the towering clouds. It was dizzying, watching these giants rumble by.

And so I know less about predicting the weather than I thought I did. It's fascinating to watch but nearly impossible to forecast, even a few hours hence.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pink, Orange & Blue

Can you imagine anything so intricate and beautiful as the center parts of the common poppy? Here are the stamens and anthers around the outside edge (the male parts) and the ovary (the female part) in the center.

The picture (above) is a macro shot of our salmon-pink poppy in the front flower bed, taken just after it opened. The parts are still fresh and wholly alive and very, very sensual. I look closely at a structure like this and think that an alien could not be any stranger. And here is something so other-worldly at our very feet!

Look now (above) at the same structure in our traditional orange poppies. It is the same and yet it has a wildly different feel about it. Who can pass a poppy and not look deeply into this soul of this flower?

While I was photographing the poppies, our family of eastern bluebirds were flitting about the yard as though on training flights. When Bob and I worked on shingling the garage roof, I'd often look down upon the bluebird box at the edge of the garden and one would be sitting there watching us, completely unafraid. I thought that it was simply that by being higher than the birds, I had presented something less fearful.
But when I was admiring the poppies, a pair landed on the burn barrel and I quickly switched from macro to telephoto and took a shot of the birds. What a gorgeous sky blue above, gentle orange below, as though the sun was setting on their very feathers. They are the evening sky itself on wing.
I hope there is a resurgeance of bluebirds and I trust we are taking a part in this.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A New Roof for the Garage

If you think I spent Memorial Day weekend at the beach, think again. Instead I spent much of it on our garage roof!
On Friday, we began stripping off the old, rotten shingles. We found just a single layer but I'd guess they were much older than the 25 year life expectancy. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the garage - and the roof - was built in the 1960's.
The first shot is of my brother, Bob, climbing onto the roof (already stripped clean at this point) with circular saw in hand to remove some rotten plywood decking.

Here (below) at the front of the garage (south), we found three very rotten sections of wood. We took those out and used and split one of the plywood sheets up to fill in with. We then bought a new 4'x8' sheet (1/2") to replace an entire section.

Here (below) is Bob removing a rotten section of plywood. What caused this? Two things, I'd say: rain gutters which have sagged (and which we fixed by backing them with aluminum flashing) and ice dams in the winter.

On the back side of the garage (west), here's Bob after we finished one run of tar paper. As you can see, most of the plywood decking is in fine shape - still smooth, dry and clean.

Here (below) is a wide view of the work we completed on Friday (05/22) and Saturday. At this point we have the entire roof stripped of the old shingles and new tar paper installed. You can't see it from here, but we managed to get some new shingles laid on the east side of the garage (the side facing Pinehaven).
The truck, by the way, was loaned to us for the holiday weekend. It wasn't being used and all we were asked to pay was gas and the dumping fee for the refuse we collected. It's good to have friends.

And here it is Monday (Memorial Day, 05/25) and Bob is finishing up installing shingles on the south side. We figured we'd walk there the most so we'd do that side last. The nail gun was a real time-saver. How hard it is to pick up nails when your fingers are hot, tired and covered in tar! It's real easy to pull a trigger.

Finally, a picture of myself as I looked for much of the job. Yes, I just kept putting on the same, stinky, dirty clothing day after day! When I pulled them off each day, I'd step directly into the shower and watch a river of dirt go down the drain. How shampoo and soap burns all of the blisters, too. I have three: one on my right palm, one on my left thumb and one on my right knee.

OK, I'm nothing to look at! But the idea is that you know you're going to get dirty, you're going to be uncomfortable and you'd better block the sun as much as possible. I know: I look like some old troll.

This is the final shot and you can see the last side of the garage is half shingled. We still had to cap five runs (four up, one across) but the job is close to completion at this point.
For my own knowledge, we used Owens Corning shingles: Supreme AR in Onyx Black. The algae resistance (the AR) is good for 10 years and the shingles are supposed to last 25 years (they're good for 60 mph winds, too).
I think that was my fourth and final roof. I don't suppose we;ll face a "next time" here as a new house roof was installed last spring and it's good for 30 years. I'd be almost 90 when these roofs wear out and I fully expect to wear out long before that.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Christmas in May?

Our "Christmas" amaryllis is blooming for a second year in a row in ... May.
I remember last year having to cut it back and force the blooms but this year it has bloomed without any coaxing. I think I brought it up from the basement fairly late - maybe January or February - and again it has paid us with a May bloom (two actually).

The picture (above) is a close-up of the anthers where the pollen is formed. They are held by the slender filaments. Together the two flower parts make up the stamen. Do you remember high school biology?

A little closer look at the same structures shows the powdery yellow pollen beginning to form.

A wider view shows the trumpet-like single flower which is open. The other is still an almost-open bud.

And a wider view still. We are truly celebrating Christmas in May.

Finally, I wanted to get in very close for a macro shot to detail just two anthers, each beginning to form pollen. It is a delicate structure, held by the thread-like wisps of filaments, and they bob in the wind. That is the idea after all ... make the pollen enticing and available.
Yesterday, a "horny toad" and today a "horny amaryllis".
If you want to have a look at last year's bloom and compare them, go back in this blog to the entry for May 22, 2008 or simply search at the top of the page for "amaryllis".

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Horny Toad

No, the subject line doesn't refer to me. Not even close. (Dad, maybe)
When Mom first stepped out the back door this morning, after a night of heavy rain, she was met with this toad standing near our mat.

This is about the darkest toad I've ever seen. I suppose there is some camouflage to it but this guy (a sexist remark, not a scientific fact) looks almost like black leather. When I found him late in the afternoon he had made himself home beneath a metal watering can with an indented bottom, just high enough to give him access through a dent. I lifted the can off him and he just blinked but didn't move. As I brought the wide-eyed camera lens ever closer, he sat still.
We seem to find one of these amphibians every spring and then later find a desiccated body somewhere about the base of the house. Maybe this will be the year where we'll see one survive.
In any case, we've named him "Horny Toad" and think of the movie "Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou".

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Lincoln Bicentennial Trip - Part 10 of 10

Here's John taking one final look at Henry Clay's Ashland.
In our three days trip (actually just 50 hours), we traveled about 700 miles. We generally traveled clockwise through the state, beginning in Louisville, travelling southwest and then ending up in Richmond.
A good vacation! Plenty of good food (too much!), good friendship (never too much!) and an educational insight into Lincoln's early life.
How do we top it next year? I'm hoping for Washington, DC!

Lincoln Bicentennial Trip - Part 9 of 10

Finally, one last look at the Mary Todd Lincoln house, this sign above the walkway pictured in part 8 of this blog. The sign's not going to last much longer.

While in Lexington, a must see is the Henry Clay estate, Ashland.

The house tours had finished for the day when we arrived so we walked around the outside a bit. Ashland, by the way, was built beginning in 1809, the same year Lincoln was born "down the road" and under quite different circumstances.

These units (below) stored food underground in a cool environment. Here's John reading about them.

And here's a side view of the famous house.

Lincoln Bicentennial Trip - Part 8 of 10

As I walked out of the abbey (see part 7), here's a view of the cemetery to my right. Many stones date to the 19th century. Peaceful!

Then on to a stop at Mary Todd Lincoln's home in Lexington. I was there many years ago with another friend and toured the house at that time. John had already been through it, too, so we didn't take the tour again. Besides, it was about closing time when we arrived.

The house was built between 1803 and 1806 as an Inn. Mary Todd followed her sister, Elizabeth, to Springfield, Illinois. It's there that she met Abraham Lincoln and the rest is history.

A side view of the house.

And a view of a walkway beside the house. What would the Todd's have given for that air conditioning unit on a hot, summer night in Lexington?

Lincoln Bicentennial Trip - Part 7 of 10

Now we move a little north of the Lincoln sites, to Trappist, Kentucky, and the Abbey of Gethsemani. This is a place my mother became interested in after reading several of Thomas Merton's books.

As John and I headed back to the motel in Richmond, Kentucky, I saw a small sign for this place and knew I had to stop. John was game to check it out. It's among the rolling hills and far from just about anywhere. The sign (above) is the first thing we saw as we arrived.

The abbey has been home to Trappist monks for over 150 years. We've purchased a number of food items from them over the years: fruitcakes, cheeses and fudge. While in the gift shop, I purchased some preserves (made at another abbey). We watched a video when we arrived.

A wider view of the abbey shows a garden area in the foreground.

Why not get closer? I walked towards the doorway and found signs stating "no talking beyond this point" and as I passed the few other people that were there (tourists?), they merely smiled at me and walked on. It was as peaceful a place as I've ever been. There is a cemetery on either side of this walkway (visible on the right of the above picture). See the door up ahead?

Here I am inside that opening and shooting back along the walkway in the opposite direction.
It would have been nice to have a longer time there. If Thoreau hadn't found Walden, he'd have been happy with a place like this, I think.

Lincoln Bicentennial Trip - Part 6 of 10

Here's a wider view of the town square of Hodgenville, Kentucky. This is "ground zero" for Lincoln, a spot he saw with his own eyes. In fact, if you were to turn around here and look over your left shoulder, you'd see a stone house that Lincoln mentioned by name. Sorry, but I didn't take a picture of it.

Then we headed up the road to Lincoln's boyhood home at Knob Creek. It's probably no more than eight miles from the birthplace. Lincoln called this place, not Sinking Spring, "my earliest recollection".

A log cabin is on display here - certainly of modern construction - but the fields are still open and green as they were in Lincoln's day. He could step out here and recognize the area, I'm sure.

Here's John checking out one of the plaques. We were on our second Lincoln pilgrimage.

This is the only picture taken of me on the entire trip.

Lincoln Bicentennial Trip - Part 5 of 10

Lincoln's birthplace was called the Sinking Spring Farm and this plaque depicts the story. The spring is just down the hill from Lincoln's cabin.

And here (below) is how Sinking Spring looks today. It's lush and green - and unfortunately closed while we were there. Again, damage done by a winter ice storm has limited access to many Kentucky sites while clean-up is underway.

A wider view of the Memorial Building with the American flag fluttering in the spring breeze. One interesting note: there are 56 steps leading to the memorial, one for each year of Lincoln's life.

This statute of Lincoln is on the town square in Hodgenville, Kentucky. I believe it was placed there about 1909, the centennial of Lincoln's birth.

And here's another statue - opposite the one above - of Lincoln as a young boy. Of all the pictures meant to portray Lincoln as a young lad, this statue does a better job. Many of the features of the adult Lincoln have somehow made their way into this representation.

Lincoln Bicentennial Trip - Part 4 of 10

From inside the welcome center, a window looks out across the area where Lincoln was born. It is designed to be read from outside so this image appears reversed.

This structure - the Memorial Building - houses a log cabin at the site of Lincoln's birth. The log cabin isn't actually Lincoln's but is rather considered "symbolic". In fact, the National Park Service employee inside told us that wood in the cabin was dated in the past few years to the 1840's. It's size and shape, I suppose, is representative of the one where Lincoln was born.

The front of the building is quite impressive.

A plaque (one of two) notes the group that raised funds for the project. The Lincoln Farm Association was formed in 1906 to preserve Lincoln's birthplace. The group raised more than $350,000 from about 100,000 citizens to build the memorial to house the cabin. Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone; William Taft attended the 1909 dedication.

The side of the building - made of granite and marble - is almost as impressive as the front.