Monday, October 22, 2012

The Orionids (not)

 It's 2:55 am on Sunday (10/21/12) morning and my clock radio has come to life. Appropriately, "Coast to Coast" is playing. I wake up quickly, swing my feet over the edge of the bed, pull on my robe and gather up a few items I've arranged on my desk the night before.

 I'm down the creaking steps in the middle of the night and I find Mom is already awake in the living room, expecting me and not sleeping because she's worried I'll miss getting up.

 At the back door I grab my camera, already placed on the tripod and manual settings made. I step into the darkness of a country night as the 38° air tickles my face. I've got a winter coat pulled over my robe and a knitted stocking cap on my head.

 I'm startled by a barn lot light to the southwest ... probably Coffman's. It's enveloped in a thick ground fog and looks like a full moon setting. But the moon never sets there.

I slide along the edge of the garage, careful to not trip to infrared sensor on the lights. I want the darkness to stay undisturbed and I want my eyes to continue to adjust. I've come for the sky. I've come for the Orionid meteor shower.

 I've chosen this time purposely. Orion will be just east of south and the debris from Halley's Comet should be pelting the atmosphere with its ancient debris. The rate of meteors is expected to average around 20 per hours near dawn. This is close enough, I'd say.

 Close up (above) Orion's belt is brilliant. Angling down from it is fuzzy M42 (the Great Nebula of Onion) and M43. I can see a wisp of color but the camera does a better job of discerning details. I need no telescope. My eyes and this telephoto lens are sufficient.

There, in the opening between the trees which line Sam's driveway, is Orion. Betelgeuse, bright red, command a apex of the parallelogram. Down in the tree branches is Sirius, rising already. It is a marvelous view. The stars stand out as brilliant pinpricks of light, colorful and bright and I feel lucky to be standing here alone.

 Here's a wide view of what I see. Orion commands an open place of respect and I have a front seat view of the potential action.

 And then I wait. And wait. Forty minutes later I have watched Orion slowly step westward but I have not seen a single flash of light. While I stand there, no dogs bark and only two cars thread there way along Clayton Road.

 Here's a 15 frame movie of Orion sliding westward. It covers 3:07 am to 3:16 am. Imagine how far the stars move in a mere nine minutes! Is it any wonder that the earth revolves?

 By 4 am I'm a bit dejected and pulling the electric blanket back over my shoulders. I haven't seen a single meteor ... and neither has my camera. In the 40 minutes I stood in the chilly (and damp) night air, I took 48 time exposures. Not a one shows a single meteor in that part of the sky.

 But who's complaining? I had the sky to myself and it was a lovely sight. Where is the loss in watching majestic Orion and Sirius sliding up through the branches of our ash? Time viewing the sky is never wasted. A meteor would have just been an extra gift but the gift itself was already given.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Little White Pill

 We grasp at straws when a loved one dies.
   .... sometimes we grasp at pills.

 I am working my way around the house, washing windows inside and out. Today brought me to the southeast living room window. Off to its side is Dad's smoking stand. For years before his death, Dad used it to store his pills, a sort of living room pharmacy.
 I can still remember Mom telling Dad, "Why don't you keep your pills somewhere else?" Every time she was cooking or doing dishes, Dad would want to get into the kitchen drawer which held his prescriptions. Dad wasn' happy about moving them but the two of us cleared a drawer in the smoking stand and I stood the pill bottles up there, labeling each plastic top with a letter (or a couple of letters if the letter was a duplicate). In that way, Dad (or I) was able to find the proper pill bottle without pulling them all out.
 It wasn't so convenient for Dad but it was better for Mom and so we made the move.

 So this morning finds me sliding the smoking stand away from the wall and vacuuming behind it. As I lifted the wires (power and phone), I saw a tiny white pill nestled up against the white baseboard. I reached down, lifted it to my eyes and immediately said "Prednisone". That was Dad's workhorse medicine for his rheumatoid arthritis.
 Many times his crippled hand would drop a pill. "God damn it!" he'd say as a pill skittered across the carpet. Every now and then one would drop behind the stand. Usually I found it. He may not have told me about this one or I may not have been able to find it.
 But this morning I did.
 I can't help with think of Dad lifting it from the plastic bottle, holding it gingerly between his fingertips and then watching it go sailing away, never to be seen by him again. If a pill could hold fingerprints, I feel sure his would be on it.
 I looked up the imprint on the Internet and indeed the pill is exactly what I thought: Prednisone 5 mg. How many times did I hand him one of these!
 It is a bittersweet reminder that he has been gone from us for 17 months now. The pill is a heartwarming reminder of his pain and the brief relief this pill could offer. It is not a mere pharmaceutical any longer; it is a tiny white memory I hold now in my hand.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sunset's Subtle Shades

 It's near sunset on October 14 (6:48 pm to start this sequence) and I am out in the yard, gusty winds blowing my robe about, tree limbs swaying and branches falling. The sky is taking on a rosy glow, Pinks, apricots and shades of salmon tinge the clouds. Grays and browns predominate.

 This view (above) is facing southwest. It is still pleasantly warm (nearly 70°) but rain has been promised all day and bands of showers approach the Miami Valley from Indiana, swirling down towards us like a giant pinwheel on radar.

 Looking more due west, it would seem that a front has already passed, that clearing is underway. The two ash trees (just right of center) have been stripped bare these past two days by the incessant wind.

 Looking northeast now, a small cumulus moves eastward near the horizon. The maple near our kitchen window is just past prime, it's brilliant gold beginning to fade. Many of its leaves already littler the ground.

 The maple beside the barn has a similar yellow shade. In the distance, the sky glows a brilliant orange as the sun sinks to the horizon and begins to set in earnest.

 Only the gathering clouds prevent me from watching the sun dip from view. I am seeing the molten metal in the crucible; the flame is beyond my view.

 But just as the sun begins to drop behind the distant fields, there is a stroke of luck. A cloud or two moves out of the way and a shaft of sunlight It lights a billowy cloud from below, soft as satin, all pastels and muted tones.

 One final gasp of sunlight and the day is ended. Overnight that rain, still distant at this hour, will patter against the windows and drop 0.22". This morning I walked just the same. The 51° air was cool and the breeze still held the chill of night. But I did not wear a  jacket, preferring to feel the full force of fall as close to my skin as possible.
 A few more weeks and this will be no more than a fond memory. Snow flakes will fill the air soon.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fog, Ice & Fire

 Four days - October 9 through October 12 - we've gone from a foggy morning, complete with frost, to a fiery sunrise and then a day with temperatures into the low 70's.

On 10/09, this is the scene I saw as I took my morning walk. Beside the neighbor's lane, the trees stood enveloped in cloud and my world was contracted to a hundred feet. It is mornings like these, though, when sounds carry and bring the world uncannily close. I listened to a school bus thread its way along Clayton Road and every braking was as though it was right beside me. I could tell where the bus stopped and imagine which child climbed the steps and took a seat.

 With the temperature at 33°, there was a general frost and the fog was surely close to precipitating from the air as ice. The rees seemed to have dark dead fingers which reached for me as I passed.

 The corn stubble looked as though a brief snow flurry had whitened the ground. In the distance, familiar trees were all but swept from view.

 When at last the sun had risen I saw no more than an apricot glow and I could not quite be sure at first whether it was the sun or my imagination. Yet, nearly dead-center in this picture, the sun has climbed well above the horizon and begins eating into the fog with dainty nibbles.

 Two days later, the frost revisited and coated the weeds at the edge of the field with a fine white filigree. There was no fog, though. The sun shone brilliantly as soon as it had risen. But the temperature was colder (28°) and my walk was only made comfortable by the lack of wind.

 This morning (10/12) I was up at 6:45 am and waiting for my brother so we could have breakfast at a nearby restaurant. Well before 8 am, I walked into the yard to watch for sunrise. A few clouds drifted along the eastern horizon as the telltale orange glow fired.

 A few cars passed but, as it was Saturday, the morning was generally still. I waited for the sun.

... and about 7:45 am there it was, just pushing up through the trees on the distant tree-line, surely half a mile away. As a child I remember rising early for vacation and being on the road to Bear Lake hours before the sun rose. We'd watch for it, happy for the week ahead. It was never so glorious once it rose.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Amanita (again)

 Back on October 21, 2009, the familiar white mushrooms sprouted en masse beneath the pines at the Farmersville-Jackson Twp. Joint Park. This year they stood beneath the same pines on October 5. There are fewer of them but they are as beautiful as ever and somewhat unexpected with the hot, dry summer.

 I believe these are Amanita (but I am certainly not sure). They may be edible but probably not and I'm not that much of a risk taker. They're pretty enough staying right where they are.
 While Mom walked along the track, I admired the mushrooms and thought I'd try to get under one and get some idea of a fungi point of view. This, then, is what a mushroom sees from its pine needle vantage point.
 The ivory gills are very delicate and look as though they'd melt under a mere touch. Where the tops have opened, a seal-like membrane falls by the side like a wind-blown flag of truce. The cap, swollen beyond its natural size, has split.
 Here's a view of that same mushroom from the top:

 Others sprout nearby, too. Now we are facing cold nights - even freezing temperatures Monday morning - and I suppose these mushrooms will be short-lived. But while they are fresh, their tops remind me of lightly toasted marshmallows, held carefully away from the flame, left to brown slowly.
 Before I leave, I lay a finger atop an Amanita and feel its cold, earthy skin. It is living but it is also as close to a corpse as nature gets. Still, seeing this family beneath the pines, with faith that they would see light again, even with the summer drought and searing days, I know that tomorrow always holds a fresh renewal.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sunset : Sunrise

 It is late evening on Wednesday (10/03) and I'm relaxing on the sofa with the TV on. Time to unwind. Always the weather aficionado, I keep one eye on the window ... just in case. That's when I noticed the sky growing orange. An add color began lighting the white window curtains from behind. I knew that an unusual sunset was underway.
 Clad in pajamas, who cares?, I climb the stairs quickly to my bedroom and grab my camera from the desk drawer. I grab my shoes as I pass them and I'm out the back door within a couple of minutes.

 The sky is like looking on a wave of lava from beneath. There in the west, the sun has already set but still projects itself on the cloud bottoms. They lift into high relief, take a whole rainbow along their lower edges: reds, oranges, purples ... the sky of blue beyond. Pines offer a dark contrast.

 If I walk to the field - the corn is now cut - I have an unobstructed view of the horizon. It is molten orange, lemon yellow, gold.

 And yet as quickly as I have hurried, nature knows no timetable but her own. Within mere minutes - perhaps no more than two - the colors begin to fade, are bled away from the scene as the sun drops ever lower. The large tree on the left stands besides Sam's lane and I walk beneath its familiar branches every day of my life. But now it darkens and becomes surreal, another creature of the gathering night. It seems to reach and touch the sky with bony fingers.
 At this point, I turned and walked back towards the house. When I put my hand on the door latch, I turned back around for a final look and saw that there was no longer anything to see. The sky had turned an ashen gray; the glory was gone.
 But the next morning I was awakened by a brief and unexpected shower. I heard a car pass the house, splashing as it went. I got up in the dark. When I went outside to read the rain gauge, I saw that the sun was trying to break through the clouds. I had almost been present for its leaving and now I was there for its return. While I slept, the world revolved and I had, it seemed, merely turned around.

I can see what's about to happen so I run inside again and grab my camera. I'm standing beneath the dripping trees when the first shaft of sunlight stabs through the morning darkness. Framed inside Pinehaven's trees, another day begins.
 Didn't Thoreau say it was enough to be present?

Autumn's Palette Peaks

 The sun peaks from behind clouds today. When at last it shines, the trees take on a breathtaking brilliance, one where the color is both dazzling and almost dangerous, where it might be too much for mere mortal vision. This is the peak of autumn's color. The lowering clouds hint of a cold rain just off in Indiana. It is a rain that will strip this beauty from the trees.

 The maples around the parking lot of the Germantown Public Library attract me every year with their fine display. As I walk from the car, I blink at their brilliance. It seems impossible that these leafy green canopies could chameleon to something of this brief grandeur.

 This is the reign of anthocyanin, carotene and lycopene, bleeding reds coursing through once-chlorophyll green leaves. Xanthophyll, favone and flavonol paint with yellow brushes. Anthocyanin carries a clown's garb, really, dipping its single brush in hues of purple, bruised blue. It is a leafy chemistry experiment.
 If you had not seen fall leaves before you would think the world of trees gone made.

 Maples are forever my favorite: apricots and reds rule. They are the regal tree of autumn.

 You need not look up to enjoy the season. The asphalt parking lot (this shot was taken a few days ago) is littered with leafy confetti. Any artist would envy this variety of paints, the freedom to dabble in nuances of hue, blending from this to that at random. An inch is enough space to try a whole rainbow of reds.

 And these canvases! Discarded at the touch of mere raindrops, masterpieces crumpled at my feet.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bobo's Button

 Mom has spent the past couple of days going through old jewelry boxes. She has little of her own jewelry left: it was stolen in 1987 when the house was burglarized and the jewelry box and contents taken. It was a cold day in early February when she and Dad (and Ginger, too, for that matter) returned home from a quick outing and found the back door broken down and hanging free of its hinges.
 Not that there was anything much of value in it - there wasn't - but the point was that someone had invaded our privacy. We still have little of any value but within a month we had a security system installed (a bit late, thank you), since upgraded, and nowadays always-on web cameras that monitor the house around the clock. Seems were better protected now that we have nothing left to protect.
 One item of personal value - though zero in a financial sense - is a tiny button, almost of the political sort, of my grandfather, Elwood M Schmidt (1898-1970). He was about two when this picture was taken:

 The man is perfectly recognizable to me even as child. I can't say "he didn't change much" because he did but the eyes, at least, are something he cannot hide behind. Those lovely eyes give him away and still stare at me across the ages, even from the grave.
 How and why was the tiny button made? I suppose photo shops offered such as this or perhaps a passing circus sold them as novelties. In any case, the button was always kept in my grandmother's jewelry box and I'm happy that Mom still has it today.

 The back of the button looks to be brass or perhaps copper. The pin is of the old fashioned type. It is made better than today's political buttons that are designed to be thrown away when the race is done.
 In the same small jewelry box were these:

 I posted the picture and requested friends try to identify what they were. We all thought they were in the jewelry or fashion accessory category but beyond that we pretty well came up blank. After several days the answer came. Have a look here.
 An antique skirt lifter? Seems those dirty, dusty roads were just begging to soil the long skirts of  Victorian era women and this device protected the dresses lower fringe.Value? Around $200 each. Ours do appear to be silver. They are not tarnished or damaged and seem in much better condition than the one pictured.
 I'd say, though, that they were my aunt's (Minerva Belle Hinkle) who lived from about 1870 to 1962. My grandmother (Helen M Schmidt) was born too late (1902-1995) for this lady's accessory.
 And so the old jewelry box delivered two old "treasures", one of no monetary value, the other only modestly so. I treasure both just the same.

* "Bobo", by the way, is what I called my grandfather. He loved the name and even signed greeting cards that way. My maternal grandfather did not take so quickly to the name. He thought I had called him a hobo.