Friday, July 29, 2011

Garden Begins to Deliver

 I've been at it every evening, watering the garden daily, in hopes of managing a crop even with the extremely dry weather. Each day the heat, too, impedes the garden with it's hours-on-end baking. Today, in fact, was the 31st day this summer where we managed a high temperature of 90° or above. Two have exceeded 100°.
 A few days ago I pulled the first few tomatoes from our garden. In the small space we've allotted this year, I planted but four tomatoes and four bell peppers.

 The bell peppers are huge, even fist-sized, but they are also long rather than stubby and compact. They don't much lend themselves well to stuffing. Usually we simply cut the top off, gut them and stuff them. If we did that with these, the meal would look like a shiny green smokestack. So Mom cuts them in half and uses both halves for stuffing. Thus one equals two hearty meals. The stem is merely cut off and that end of the pepper is not eaten. Otherwise we'd be throwing away good food.
 We are giving peppers away, too. Each of the four plants have already produced several peppers and probably a dozen are hanging there now ready to be picked.
 How stocky and strong are the plants! And yet by evening, when they have stood beneath the sun all day, they are wilted when I go around with my hose. By morning they are sturdy and healthy looking again.
 The tomato plants are large, too, and already beginning to produce more than we can eat. I was sorry to see, though, that the fruit are small. Though perfectly shaped (I hate those humongous varieties that produce ugly misshapen fruit), they are not particular acidic and lack that old-fashioned tomato taste we most love. These remind me of hothouse tomatoes, picked too early, or grown through hydroponic means. Give me a tomato grown in dirt and left to ripen on the plant!
The finches are enjoying the last of the sunflower seeds already and the carpet of portulaca blooms in a variety of colors early each day (by late in the day they are closing up). How pretty the multi-colored rainbow is beneath my feet.
And so the garden begins to peak. It will feed us for nearly two months and then we'll clear the debris and the rectangular patch will be bare and readied for winter. It is an everlasting cycle of birth and death, rejuvenation and decay. We stand in the middle of it all and admire it as though we are outsiders in the game.
 But we know better.

Camel-back Cricket?

 Last evening, about 7 p.m., I happened into the kitchen to get something to eat. On the kitchen window was this yellow, almost-transparent insect. I guessed that it was a cricket but I've never seen one quite this color before.

 In the dazzling, late day sunshine, he looked like a sunbeam come to life. He continually inched his way up the glass but I managed to grab my camera and take this shot before he disappeared over the top.
 My first thought was of a cave cricket. You've seen pictures of them ... transparent and blind. I imagined an unseen cavern beneath Pinehaven and this cricket freed from the depths to be dazzled by his first glimpse of light.
 But I think (thanks to local science teacher Jill Weaver) that this is no more than a common camel-back cricket. My guess is that it's very young, perhaps fairly newly emerged and hasn't yet taken on the darker coloration of an adult. Because the shot was taken through the glass, his "camel-back" was facing the other way and is not visible.
 Anyone care to venture another guess?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sunset's Final Curtain Call

 Another day [07/20/11] of extreme heat. I recorded an even 100° and my 22nd reading this summer 90° or above. While watering our critical plants at 4:15 p.m., I heard thunder to the northwest and felt sure we'd have a nice rain. I cut my watering short.
 I took a look at the radar and a storm was gathering near Eaton and was on a track to give us some needed moisture. The ETA was about 4:50 p.m. and I was back out in the yard at that time watching the clouds swirl our way. But a mere minute or so later, the clouds parted and the sun returned. The thunder stopped. We had missed our chance for rain.
 Then, at about 8:30 p.m., another round of storms dropped to the south and the weather radio began issuing warnings. Again we were in line for a nice shower. At last the wind began to blow and it began to rain. By 9 p.m. we had over half an inch of rain in the gauge. 
 As the storms receded to the south, as the power stopped its usual flickering, I watched as a brilliant orange glow began to overtake the house. It was a powerful and strange color and seemed to seep into the very bricks. Everything came alive as though on fire. Naturally I got my camera, pulled on a pair of shoes and was out in the yard, pajama-clad at 9 p.m. Sunset was just a minute before.

 Through the pines at the back edge of our property, the storm's dying embers glowed with brilliance. In this shot, pay attention to a small, lighter, circular cloud near the left edge of the photo. Standing there, it seemed a most unusual sight.

 I've turned the camera towards that cloud (slightly south of the first shot) and brought it into the opening between the trees. The sky looks like molten lava, flowing with the retreating storms.

 I zoomed in on that odd-looking cloud for this shot. It seems to hang there like a smoke ring. I suppose it is no more than a wisp of moisture torn loose from the cloud above by the swirling storm. And yet it seems an odd individual, there among the fiery clouds of sunset.
 These shots were all taken from 9:04 p.m. to 9:05 p.m.

 For comparison, these are the storm clouds from 5 p.m. moving southward. This cluster rumbled to our north and then stopped, broke apart and seemed to re-form to our south. I suppose it was an optical illusion but radar showed the approaching storm and then later a stretched area of light rain with storms well to the south. In any case, this first round gave us not one drop.

 I took one last shot (4:51 p.m.) almost overhead to show how the clouds, still angry in places, were parting and showing calm, blue sky, too.
 It was an interesting day, finally giving us our due of moisture and, I'm sure, making the desperate farmers very happy. But the second gift the day offered was that glorious sunset and that rare circular cloud hanging beneath. I came in, took off my shoes, watched a little TV and was in bed by 10 p.m. The night was calm and uneventful.

Friday, July 15, 2011


 Last evening [07/14/11] about 8 pm, I was sitting at my usual spot on the sofa, enjoying a TV program. As is my usual habit, I often look out the top of the window nearest me to watch birds perched in the pine or monitor the weather. I see a small slice of the world through the top of that window - sandwiched between curtain and window frame - but it is enough to keep my eye on what's happening outside.
 Last evening I happened to look up and see the curve of a wispy cirrus cloud pass by, one with particularly feathery edges, looking all the while like some intricate white lace. I watched as others passed until I could stand it no more. Mom looked up at me. "You're going for your camera, aren't you?" she asked. "You're going outside."

 The cloud on the left is probably the one I saw from my seat in the living room. It looks something like an old jet contrail blown to bits by high-altitude winds. It is likely that the cloud was 20,000' or more in altitude. The prevailing wind at my 5 pm reading was ENE but these clouds seem to be blowing apart to the S, even SE.
 The trouble with photography is that there is no depth. Standing there in the yard in my bare feet, the sky opened into a deep aerial well and exhibited endless texture and dimension. That is not captured here.

 Zooming in on one section of the cloud, some of the intricacies can be seen.

 This shot is looking roughly east and the clouds can be seen to have moved south from the initial frame.

 Though this picture would appear to have been posted sideways, this is shown just as it was taken. The maple beside our kitchen has overhanging branches to the left. I am looking nearly overhead with this shot.
 These clouds speak of fair weather and that was exactly the forecast for last night. Cirrus seem most spectacular in the winter to me but their "mare's tail" structure is enjoyable to observe year-round.
 After coming back inside, I saw the sky suddenly begin the clear and by 9 pm I saw not a single cloud. These delicate clouds had been absorbed back into the atmosphere, born and died in an hour's time.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Baby Bunny

 It's that time of year. Go forth and multiply. Rabbits are experts at that. Each year I'll find a small hole in the lawn, soft and fuzzy around the edges and I'll know what it is: a rabbit nest. This year the mother rabbit chose the spot where I've planted new grass seed. I suppose the soil was softer there (I dug it to plants the seed and I keep it watered) and she must have thought I had prepared the site especially for her.
 So today I'm watering the grass when I see movement. Here comes a baby rabbit running across the lawn. I, in turn, run for my camera.

 This one has a beautiful white patch centered atop his head. He was a little shy about having his picture taken but I'm not good with "no" so, at last, he decided to sit still. He is no bigger than my clenched fist. I did not see any brothers or sisters but I'm sure they'll leave the nest in the next day. I always have to be careful with mowing when I know baby rabbits are entering the world here at Pinehaven.

 So that you have a better idea of his size, here he is pressed up against the base of our brick steps. Compare him to the size of a single brick and you'll realize how tiny he is.
 Other years I've made terrible mistakes when rabbits were being born. Two years ago I mowed across a nest (I didn't even see it) and they became frightened by the noise and popped out of the hole just as the mower passed over. One was killed instantly. Another year I was digging weeds beneath the pines and accidentally dug into a nest, killing another. For a pacifist vegetarian, this truly injures my own heart.
 So another year, another spring and Pinehaven grows another crop of rabbits. I'll see them, winter-white, when the snow flies. But I'll think of this hot summer day when they first looked upon this glorious world.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Rocket's White Glare

 I waited until July 4 to try my hand at photographing fireworks because I thought, naturally, that'd be the best time. It wasn't. On July 3 our next door neighbor had an impressive fireworks display which would have produced beautiful - and near - photographs. Instead, last evening at 10 p.m. I found Moraine's grand display too low and too distant to be of much interest.

 But somewhere, another neighbor, probably near Venus Road, was firing off their own display and I marveled at the colorful showers, also behind the trees, but not a mile away. These were close enough to hear. I'd catch the hiss of the rocket and then the spray of colorful sparks, disjointed by the distance the sound had to travel. Light and sound had gone their separate ways.
 After 15 minutes I looked to the ground and saw a small animal inching my way. Egad, it was quiet and slow in its approach and I stood there, hand on the shutter and tripod, wondering whether I just ought to run at once and leave the camera sit.
 A week ago I watched a skunk tearing at our bagged trash near the same spot and figured this gray/white animal was one and the same. I would get sprayed and finish my day in the shower. I made some noises to ward it off, or at least warn it that I was standing there. Surely it did not know.
 But it absolutely failed to be intimidated and so it was I who moved! I folded the tripod quickly and made off at a rapid pace. I got back in the house, heart pumping and glad that I was safe and smelling normally.
 This morning I went out to see if I might find some evidence of the skunk and instead found the rock that marks the end of our driveway. That's what I had been seeing all along. In the dark it only seemed to move. I laughed at myself.
 And so my brief time photographing fireworks netted me only one photo to show for my trouble. I was accosted only by my own imagination in the bargain.

Friday, July 1, 2011

White Tail Time

It is summer so it is the time of the dragonfly. I always marvel at the White Tails, they way they dart and swoop about, seldom stopping for long, and then only on the tip of a twig or blade or grass. They are nearly in constant motion.

 As light as they are, carrying that set of transparent wings on their back like a biplane made of plastic wrap, they seem to pay little attention to the breeze. And yet some days it must buffet them about like a hurricane. Surely by comparison to their body weight, the air must feel as water does to us?
 They do not like being approached closely and will often dart off just as I have trained the lens on them. They seem to know when I am about to snap the photograph. So I have learned to maintain a respectable distance (as above), zoom and take the shot at high enough resolution that I might crop it and still have fine detail. Thus:

Their blue-white tail is most notable. Plathemis lydia, they are. For eastern North America they range from Florida up into Nova Scotia. I am always happy to find them here, at our pond, enjoying a sunny summer's day, bringing some movement to the tranquil, warming water.

Orange You Beautiful?

 The orchid I bought Mom many years ago (probably the early 1990's) is in bloom again. Only this time it was I who saw the first bud and surprised Mom with it. She watches all of her plants like a hawk but the orchid, now on the outside porch for the summer, isn't as available to her view just now.

 There are four buds - one has already opened - and the splash of orange on our porch is gorgeous. The buds slide out of a leaf (almost in the same way a lipstick is unscrewed) and are of an almost mahogany color. As they unfold they lighten and take on a striking orange-red. The center is a brilliant, pure yellow.
 This plant spends each winter on our enclosed south porch and I don't think a batter place for plants was every developed. Even when the snow flies, it's a sort of greenhouse. In the basement the heat pump churns away. Heat rises up the steps and warms the porch. At night, though, on the coldest nights, the temperature dips into the mid-50's. This contrast is essential.
 I think those are perfect conditions for orchids. Though they seem a bit high-class, the orchid takes little care. Mom touches the soil to see if it is damp and only when it begins to dry does she add more. That takes about a week in winter months. In the summer, we add water when nature takes a break.

 You've seen this orchid many times on this blog but if you're like me, you'll never tire of the brilliant display. It blooms probably twice a year on average.
 There is a lesson in the orchid, I believe. There was never an uglier plant (some cactus's come close, however). It is all leaves, rubbery and blotched, and stems, bare and leggy. And yet when it sends forth a bloom, it proves the notion that the roughest exterior can contain the greatest beauty. Nature hides her greatest gifts and springs them on us with little notice.