Wednesday, June 30, 2010

ISS Passes Overhead

Every now and then I'll note a particularly good pass of the International Space Station (ISS) scheduled for that evening. I always visit this link to get details for the pass.
So last Friday (06/25/10) evening I had written down the times of the pass and where I was to look and was stationed in the backyard, camera mounted on the tripod and eagerly awaiting the pass.
The ISS came from the SW (10 degrees at 10:03 p.m.), was at its highest point in the SE (54 degrees at 10:06 p.m.) and faded back into the earth's shadow as the ISS moved to the ENE (10 degrees at 10:09 p.m.)

This shot (above) was taken late in the pass (10:08 p.m.) and faces a little N of E. I'm shooting above the row of Scotch Pines that line the front of our property on S. Clayton Road.
As I stood there with the camera, I noticed that Sam was coming out of his lane in his truck. What you see at the bottom of this shot is his truck (side marker lights and taillights) as he passes on the road below heading north.
Within a minute of taking this shot, the ISS was scheduled to pass back into the earth's shadow. I did not wait it out as the mosquitoes and bugs were too bad to delay going back to the house. But I've seen this happen before. One instant and the ISS is bright ... then there is a slight blink and it's gone. It disappears while it's still in full view. You'd think this would give rise to UFO reports, but no. Who looks skyward any longer?

And this shot (above) was taken at 10:06 p.m. and faces roughly ESE. The line you see which is etched by the movement of the ISS is the distance the space station travels in 15 seconds. At it's highest, it is just 246 miles above the earth, not so far, really.

I enjoy standing in the dark and watching the sky for sights such as these, as much for the quiet alone time as anything else. How nice to have the dark canopy overhead, the entire universe revolving above me, riding this small chunk of rubble through the cosmos. It is a staggering thought, this earth .. a tiny spaceship of our own, all we truly have in this wide ocean of space, journeying utterly alone.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Shelf Cloud

Yesterday's storms were preceded by an impressive - and huge! - shelf cloud that extended from the NE horizon right down to the SW horizon. It looked as though a white-grey lined had been etched across the entire sky.
When I walked out to get the mail just after 10 a.m., this is what I first saw:

I went in and got my camera and began taking a few pictures of the expansive structure. This first shot (above) and the one below were both taken facing roughly NE. I took the first from our side of the road and I walked across to the other side to take this one:

In addition, the first picture was taken at 10:13 a.m. and the second just one minute later.
So, skip ahead to 11:37 a.m. and the actual storms, which formed to the NW, began rumbling into the Miami Valley. This is the view (below) to the SSW as the storms approached.

Even this much later, the shelf cloud is still to be seen though far less prominent. Within a few minutes the rain began to pour and I ran for the house, camera tucked against my chest.
I stood in the garage with the door up so that I could watch the storm unfold. Such lightning! Such thunder! Such torrential rain!
This morning at 8 a.m. I had 1.33" in the rain gauge. In the next two hours I recorded another 0.48". But now (nearly 11 a.m.) the rain seems ended and the sun is breaking through. The corn is watered, though probably a little too much. Sometimes nature provides an excess of a good thing.

Friday, June 18, 2010


The dragonfly seems to me absolutely otherworldly. How does it manage to fly so expertly with two sets of wings? How are they coordinated so well with such a tiny brain? And yet they do acrobatics in their flight that would give a professional stunt pilot pause.

These are probably White Tails and they flew about the pond today in great numbers and with great abandon. Each of the past few days their numbers have increased. Today I promised myself that I would go to the pond alone, camera in hand, and spend as much time as I wanted to get my fill of them. Hopefully, too, to get some good photographs.

I picked my spot where I sensed the most activity and I waited. Hat firmly placed between me and the hot sun, I held my post while they flew back and forth. Anyone who wants to photograph dragonflies must choose a spot where they have a convenient spot to land. A nice clump of weeds near the pond's edge seemed appropriate.
They would dart about for some minutes on end and then decide another area was more to their liking. I'd stand there in the blazing sun until finally one would decide to come back and the rest would follow. They seem in constant competition, else battle. Perhaps it is play because I saw no enemy vanquished.

This one was particularly pretty in the brilliant noontime sun. His wings seemed veined cellophane. Looks how prominent the white tail is in this shot.
The other species were there, too: what Dad calls the "Devil's Darning Needle" and the "Snake Doctors" with their tube-like waists. Unlike the White Tails, they will not stop, not even for a moment.
On a side note, the walking path was so hot in the nearly-90 degree calm air that I saw where the luminaria were placed in the recent Relay for Life (American Cancer Society) showed signs of melting. I've seen the tiny pools of white wax there for a couple of weeks. Today the wax is liquid and runny and I tread between shiny pools as I made my way around.
I thought the wax would not degrade and be there forever. Not so. One nice hot day and it is melting into the asphalt.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Night Lights

Last evening this is the scene I saw as I walked to the rear of our property and looked out over the young corn. The sun had set and the corn stood in dark, cold waves as far as the eye could see.
But above the tops of the young plants, fireflies flashed their yellow-green strobes. It is a magical sight, these "lightning bugs" which I remember from my earliest childhood. An insect that could light!
We'd catch them in large glass jars. Or perhaps "accidentally" damage one and watch its light change from flashing to solid as it slowly faded away.
You cannot see the fireflies in the image above because it is greatly reduced to fit this page. So I have cropped four of the fireflies from the full-res version and presented them below:

In this 15 second exposure (f/8.0), a firefly can travel some short distance. Their path seems always to be an arc, never a straight line. In the shot above, one firefly flitters above the corn while another apparently is at rest below. This reminds me of a comet moving near a star.

Above is an odd and colorful glow, almost a form of fading fireworks.

And this insect (above) travels an odd curving path. The gap at the bottom of the trail of light is either when the light was stopped or when the bug passed behind a blade of corn.

Finally this shot (above), cropped from a more distant spot in the field, shows five fireflies at once; two are at rest, three are in flight.
I remember many years ago sitting on a log in the woods north of here - late at night - and being startled to find various points of light at my feet. What could this be? I thought I must be seeing starlight reflected in drops of dew. I dropped down, moved the soil with my finger and discovered glow-worms were the cause: fireflies not yet in their adult winged state.
What can make a June night more special than these aerial lanterns? It is perhaps my earliest recollection of nature. And it is one, even as an adult, that I cannot quite believe.
Magic, indeed, is all around us. The very air lights with it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pinehaven Redux

I am fascinated by history but nowhere so much as here. I cannot help but wonder what the past was like within these very walls. The first picture we have of Pinehaven is the one below. We believe it was taken about 1900. I'll explain why in a moment.

The house itself has changed in many ways. A century ago there was a front door; now that spot is taken by a fireplace and an external chimney. A hundred years ago the building was nondescript cold frame; now it has a veneer of warm brick. And the original roof was shake shingles, they were replaced by modern asphalt.
The small trees at either side of the house are long gone though perhaps the stump of the one on the right is what we find at the edge of our flower bed.
Since the front door is gone, so, too, are the charming wooden pillars. And the four windows, still looking out on S. Clayton Road, are in the same spot as the originals, also gone to history.
But look at the figures in the front yard! If I zoom in a bit you'll get a better look.

William Sholly (middle) was born in Pennsylvania in December 1845. He died here on February 26, 1928. So, too, his wife, Susan (Susana) Sholly (right) was born in Pennsylvania in October 1853. She died here in 1920 (the exact date is unknown).
But what of the young boy on the left? That's Orville L. Shell, their grandson, and he would come to own the house on March 18, 1929, just 13 months after his grandfather died. Shell owned Pinehaven until 1941.
It is Orville that somewhat dates the picture. He was born June 13, 1892. Could the boy in the picture be older than about eight? We think not. And yet even then, in 1900, the house does not appear to be new. The trees have grown, after all. Our original research placed the house construction to about 1891.
Orville died in August 1953, but four years after my own birth. He was living at the time in Jefferson Twp., our neighboring township to the east. Why did he leave here?

Both William and Susan are buried at the Holp Cemetery, just 1.4 miles north of Pinehaven, almost exactly the distance west of S. Clayton Road as Pinehaven itself sits. It's as though they've never left.
I walked among the mossy stones this afternoon and felt the morning rain still filtering through the leaves above. I thought of my own words as I concluded Pinehaven:

But I talk of more than names and numbers.
They merely describe.
We are the "here and now" of it.
At the moment, it is enough to live the days,
Enjoy this wonderful roof over our heads,
Neither look back nor ahead.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Billowy Cumulus

I had to cover a meeting for the newspaper last evening and as I drove home, particularly as I crossed the north bridge in Miamisburg over the Great Miami River, I saw cumulus to the south which seemed to billow up forever. I'd have stopped and taken a picture right then and there, with the river flowing almost into the clouds. But the traffic - and no place to stop - prevented it.
But when I got home, this is what I saw:

This view is southeast, across the Coffman farm. Clayton Road is just to the right of this picture; I am standing just north of Pinehaven at the edge of the road.

Walking around to the back of the house, I looked due south, across Sam's driveway, and added a little telephoto to the shot to bring our neighbor's house fuller into the frame with the high clouds as backdrop.
Aren't clouds of this sort wonderful? They seem wholly unreal. I stand there and look up and almost lose my balance. Such wonders the sky writes into our lives! And with no more than a pen nib dipped into the purest moisture.
I love nature, the soil and greenery beneath my feet, but I suppose I love the sky even more. What marvelous structures are built there!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Stormy Weather

Wednesday, by early evening, the daytime heating gave way to clouds and then thunderstorms. I watched the radar as they developed to the west, slid across Indiana and I was out in the corn fields with camera in hand as they made their way to our western horizon.

This bolt (above in higher-resolution) was caught at 6:24 p.m. on 06/02/10. I stood in Sam's lane and aimed west, towards Farmersville, 1.7 miles away. The clouds boiled and rolled and then, just as the storm approached, the wind picked up, a few rain drops began pelting me and the temperature suddenly cooled.

This shot (above) is the same bolt but shown in full-frame. That's Sam's lane on the left (and his house to the left of the lane in the distance). I am aimed nearly due west and the lightning bolt came down just north of there ... just about on the village of Farmersville itself.
I like how the bolt travels through - or behind - and intervening cloud.

This shot, taken one minute earlier (6:23 p.m.), was as the storm began to approach in earnest. I stepped out of the corn and onto the lane to avoid biting insects (my ankles are now proof). How I took the shots of daytime lightning are this: I set the camera to manual and pre-focused it to infinity. Because I wanted the shutter open as long as possible (to compensate for my slow reaction time) and because I wanted it fast enough to hand-hold the camera, I chose 1/40 second and f/8.0.

Again, the same shot but this as full-frame so you have a sense of what I was seeing.

Finally, the is the first of the three successful pictures I took that day. There's just a small bolt visible but this, being the first, the storm was farther away and the lightning was probably hidden somewhat by clouds between me and it.
My success rate was about 30%. I have plenty of shots of cloudy skies!
As the storm got too close, I ran for the house and got inside just as the rain poured down. Then, as the storm passed east (the worst seemed to go over Miamisburg to the southeast), I went back out with umbrella in one hand, camera in the other, and tried for a few more. None were successful.
Nighttime shots of lightning should prove easier - open the shutter and wait! But these have the power of seeing the surrounding landscape. Besides, I don't much like getting up during the night and going outside when the rain is pouring.
The total rainfall was about an inch.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I walk nearly every day at the nearby park and the small pond there is my greatest reward. I remember when they dug it some years back, how the grass was peeled back and the pond sunk deeper and deeper. It was properly sited; it belongs where it is.

I wonder what Winter Zero Swartsel would have thought of this pond, near where his farmhouse stood, probably beneath where a number of his beloved bottles hung. Winter would hang the bottles on fence posts or drive stakes in the ground to hand his enormous collection of bottles.
Though it might have impressed some as a junk yard where a farm should be, I imagine the bottles and their dazzling sparkles in the sunlight and muted tones in the wind, must have presented a sensual feast to his eyes and ears.
The bottles are gone - along with Zero and the whole of the farm - but this pond stands at the site and offers other pleasures. The pond is my reward for walking.
I might drop behind the shadow of the pines and sense the immediately cooler air. Or I might look down at its calm surface and see up into the clouds. What a feat that is, like looking forward and seeing the back of your own head.
Though I have only a share in its ownership - being a resident of Jackson Twp. - I feel the whole thing is mine while I am there alone. Isn't this a wonderful gift Winter gave us? And it was wholly unseen by him. The parcel of land is the same, knows the same bounds and yet it is not dry farmland, not stubble of corn nor even seedling bottles.
Every age sees the past in the present. And yet the future is no more than hazy imagination.