Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stormy Weather

 I was visiting my father in the hospital, sitting beside my brother, as we watched the western horizon from our second floor vantage point at Sycamore Medical Center in Miamisburg (Room 2008-2). Every now and then bright flashes of lightning began directing our attention there. I pulled up radar after radar on my iPod as we watched the serve storms race eastward. We planned to stay with Dad until 7:30 pm but I could see that the storms would arrive at Bob's house by 7:40 pm. So we left at 7 pm and kept a quick pace getting home.
 As I approached Farmersville, traveling due west along Farmersville-West Carrollton Road, the sky turned an inky dark. It was an absolutely frightening look. After I pulled the car into the garage, I grabbed my camera and walked to the rear of our property and shot two photos and one video.

 From the middle of the back yard, I shot overhead at these mammatus clouds (that is my interpretation anyway), just forming. They hung in pendulous swirls and moved so fast that they made me dizzy.

 This shot, taken mere moments before, is looking to the west. These are the same clouds as the last picture but seen as they are still approaching. It could be that they were simply torn from the main cloud deck by the winds. Both shots were taken between 7:25 pm and 7:35 pm [05/23].
 When I took the first shot pictures, rain drops began to punctuate the sky and I ran for cover. The resultant storm was less severe than I expected though the initial gusts of wind probably neared 60 mph. Two wooden rocking chairs on our back porch were turned over, a couple of wire cages in the garden blew away and small to medium sized branches were scattered about the yard. No hail and only a little lightning. Also little rain ... 0.25" in the gauge at 8 am on 05/24/11.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Big Step

 Back in August 1960, Col. Joe Kittinger took a big step: 102.800 feet, in fact.
 After he stepped from the open balloon gondola, suspended at the edge of space above the New Mexico desert, Kittinger found himself stepping into the record books. To this day, his parachute jump was the highest, fastest, longest.
 Today {05/12/11] he visited Valley View Middle School in Germantown. I advanced the story last winter for the Dayton Daily News and today I was back to complete the story.

 Kittinger is now 82 but remarkably agile and still at home suspended beneath a balloon. Gentle Breeze Hot Air Balloon Company, Ltd. of Lebanon, Ohio, was kind enough to donate the use of one of their sport balloons for much of the morning. Three students got to take the tethered ride with Kittinger by winning an essay contest on why manned spaceflight is still important.

 The balloon holds 60,000 cubic feet of hot air, has two burners (each produce 800 hp) and can travel as high as 15,000'. Today it barely left the ground ... perhaps it reached 20-30'.

 To the right of the balloon are the three essay winners (their teacher, Jill Weaver, is second from right).

 As each student boarded the balloon - one at a time - the crowd moved back so that the ropes had room to move.

 Kittinger is right at home in a balloon. He'd give the handle on the burner a tug and produce a roar of flame whenever the balloon began to settle to the ground.

 Two tethers held the balloon in place during the rides.

 Here's Kittinger and Brian (with Gentle Breeze). The day was perfect: a calm and warm May morning.

 Above is a shot of the VVMS science teacher, Jill Weaver, climbing aboard for her ride.

 As the four rides came to an end, the crowd was invited to gather close and have a look at the balloon. Then it was time for VVMS students to launch their own creation, a paper balloon with a note attached to a string dangling beneath.

 They placed the paper balloon above a propane burner. The envelope came to life and began lifting skyward.

 When they let it go, the balloon climbed slowly and then began to drift lazily towards the north. Actually, it appears the air in the balloon began to cool rather quickly and I suspect it didn't go very far.

 But this final shot shows it clearing the trees as the north edge of Barker Field as it meanders northward.

 Kittinger (and his wife, Sherry, too) are wonderful people, easy to talk with. I told Kittinger I was just 11 when he made his famous third trip in the Excelsior program (there were previous climbs to 76,000' and 74,700') and that I remembered both a Life magazine and a National Geographic article on his flight. It was certainly an inspiration to me though I never in a million years expected to meet the man.
 I remember most vividly how the seal on his glove broke and how his right hand had swollen to twice normal size during the flight. Kittinger did not tell the ground crew so that the flight would not be aborted. I got to shake that same hand today ... twice.
 What a wonderful story to be able to cover.

 For my Dayton Daily News story, click here.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Robins - Day by Day

 I had the unique opportunity to watch a family of robins as they were raised and to be there, by chance, at the very moment they fledged. There isn't much I need to say as the story develops day by day. I'll just place to the date under each photo:
















 I happened to be out working in the yard when this group fledged on May 20. Perhaps it was caused by my own activity, though I was not at the nest but walking between it and the garden, when there was a sudden explosion of feathers and all four scattered to the winds at once. I kept my eye on one which flew to the rear of our property, probably 200' away, airborne all the while and landing in a pine tree. Another fluttered to the ground north of where I was walking. As for the other two, they were gray streaks, scattered like wind-blown  leaves and I can't be sure where they went.
 All the while, mama and papa were having a stroke.They landed in the maple by the kitchen and chastised me for being so close. Then they'd try to follow each of their four offspring. After a while all quieted down. I never saw them again.
 I first got my step ladder out and saw the four eggs on May 5. Three of the four eggs hatched two days later. So from hatching to fledging took this group just 13 - 14 days. No doubt, nature operates a rapid assembly line.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ch-ch-ch- chives!

It's mid-May and so our garden has a familiar splash of lavender. If I show this picture (below) to friends, most are hard-pressed to name the gorgeous flower. And yet it is not a familiar flower bed entry at all, but the bloom of a beloved vegetable: chives.

 The purple globes stand atop thin stems. It is the stems which serve as the garnish in our soups and salads and which turn a sour cream dip from bland to marvelous. Early in the spring, when the green shoots first pierce the ground, I find this plant most useful. Now that the flowers have formed, the taste becomes a little too strong. But the color - oh, the color! - attracts my attention from far away. It is a clump of exquisite royalty, there in the corner of our garden. The plant will not be as pretty again this year.

 Here's a wider view of the plant ((Allium schoenoprasum) and how it's delicate purple globes bob atop the thin green stems. Chives are the smallest species of edible onions. I think it is the prettiest plant in our garden. How can the meager tomato bloom compare to this? Or the lowly potato?
 As I am mowing, this flash of purple gives me joy to be outdoors. It is a shade known only as well by the Canada thistle or the teasle.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Life Goes On

As I mowed, every time I passed near the edge of the garage, I'd see a robin take off and fly across the lawn. But where was her nest? I began to watch and saw that she was launching from above the bend in the downspout; she had built her nest atop it, a nice stable spot and beneath the overhang of the roof, a snug and safe place.

 Last evening, after I had taken my shower, I remembered her flying near me and went back outside, now pajama-clad, and found the step ladder in the garage. Of course as I approached the spot she flew away with a squawk.

 Inside the nest are four lovely blue eggs, carefully dropped atop a bed of mud and grasses, as heavy a nest as we have for our songbirds. I will watch for the eggs to hatch and follow the young brood.

 And so as I help my elderly parents in their final days, I watch a new generation of birds about to be born. How life does hold on, increasing and spreading each spring ... nature's own assault on death. The Earth lives again with every May and I know as one generation reaches its end, another scratches at its beginning. The cycle of life continues. I take part as observer of both ends at the same time, saddened by the one, bolstered and made to smile by the other.

 It is a great consolation for me to see this, to know that life itself continues without intervention or assistance from humankind. These four blue eggs hold the very sky in their shell; the next generation begins to take flight before my eyes.

 What, in spring, is more wondrous than this?