Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Late this afternoon I took a break from desk work and carried a cup of coffee outside, intending to sit a while on the bench at the end of the deck, watch the water and enjoy the warm sun. As usual, I carried my camera along. After perhaps two sips of much-needed caffeine, I had a thought…why not see what all I could photograph in the space of time it took to finish my cup, and post the results on the blog?
The self-administered contest lasted a half hour. The rules were simple—one lens only (a 70–210mm Nikon zoom, handheld), and no moving off my fanny. As the bench parallels the river, I decided I could only face that direction; no turning around and shooting rearward. I allowed myself to twist or lean, so long as one, er, cheek remained on the wood; but no scooting to get a little closer—I shot what I could shoot from where I sat. Easy enough that even an aging Irishman could manage.

This is what I came up with, pretty much unmanipulated except for cropping…

(Double-click to enlarge.)

Looking straight at the river and the Cottage Pool from the side-deck's bench. You'll notice the wild grape sweeping across the stone steps which lead down to the edge of the river—a persistent vine that encroaches every few days and which I keep at bay by relocating with a broom. By the way, the river is not quite down to pool, and is still discolored from rains last week.
The first shot I took of sunlight sparkling off a stone in mid-riffle.
A shot of a single blooming clover in the grass
at the deck's edge.
Orange day lilies blooming along the riverbank about 100 yards upstream.
A mayfly on the cottage's limestone wall.
Hackberry leaves backlighted by the sun; looks like something has been eating on them.
Damselfly on a grape leaf.
Ox-eye daisy at the top of the steps.
The delicate beauty of a common dandelion
gone to seed, at the edge of the bank.
A lost ball that came floating down, over the riffle, looking for a home…
A hen mallard who knew perfectly well where she was, but wanted to see what was going on.
Buzzards winging home as it began to cloud up.
Rowan said in her blog recently that turquoise is her favorite color.
So, Rowan…this bug's for you!
I just missed this one…a bumblebee about to land on a nightshade blossom.
And I almost missed the shot at the top of the post—the one of the blue heron standing at the end of the lower island—because he slipped in on me while I was shooting. To celebrate catching him in his sneaky ways, I took a sip from my cup, which turned out to be the last of my coffee…and thus my little photo contest ended.

Monday, June 29, 2009


There’s a storm blowing in from the west. Less than an hour ago it went from sunny, to partly sunny, then mostly cloudy in the space of perhaps thirty minutes. The wind kicked up, the air began to cool. Since then the overcast has thickened considerably and the temperature has dropped another ten degrees; the air now feels a bit damp. Still, no rain is predicted until midday tomorrow, so maybe this is just a precursor—both forerunner and portent of weather to come. I’ve spent the day running around…and around…and around, finishing up the business of replacing my long-lost Social Security Card. The experience has left me with a new insight as to why otherwise stable folks sometimes take up serious drinking. I’ve also come away believing there’s a real need for a compassionate Bureaucracy Recovery Program; however, if such a thing exists already, I beg them to please consider targeting me for immediate intervention. In the meantime, I’m sitting mildly benumbed in my deck-side rocker, watching a fellow who doesn’t know how to fish not catch anything from the pool below the cottage. It is doubtless a mark of the dark depths to which a day can sometimes hammer a man that I confess to find this inept angler’s total lack of success rather uplifting—an admittedly uncharitable thought, for which I must eventually seek forgiveness from the spirit of ol’ Izaak Walton. A few minutes before the weather changed and the light began to dim, I made a few photos of the blue flower you see at the head of this post. It just bloomed today, while I was running around downtown. I don’t know the identity; it came in a mix of seeds…but it is pretty, whatever the name. Sitting in my rocker, watching the last of the light slip away while the rain tries to decide whether to come tonight or tomorrow, I ponder this most noble thought—that beauty can be nameless and still be just as beautiful. Then I think of my day downtown—running from place to place, circling the blocks in search of parking, sidewalks hot enough to fry eggs, blinding glare off buildings designed by architects devoid of artistry or souls, long lines and longer waits in offices with seating by the Marquis de Sade—I recall all this jolly fun, and I have another, less noble thought…that I could easily have caught at least a dozen fish from the pool that gave the interloping angler his skunking! Sorry, Izaak!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Sorry I haven’t written lately. And, no, I haven’t had a bout of swine flu, nor have I been enjoying a sweaty interlude of moral turpitude in Argentina with anyone. I haven’t even been temporarily decommissioned by galloping ennui. Nope, the prosaic truth is too much work and not enough time or energy. Yeah, I know…waah, waah, waah! Everyone has that excuse. Can’t you at least whine about something exciting? Well, I would if I could—but I’ve just been busy. You’ll notice I didn’t say I’ve been accomplishing much; if I can’t be heroic or manly or lazy, I’ll at least be truthful. On the face of it, the impetus behind all this expended energy and shortfall of time is simply a planned cookout tomorrow for family members arriving overnight from South Carolina. No big deal. Except… Sunday was Father’s Day and I spent half the day doing various yard chores and the other half at my daughter’s for a meal and visit. It was dark when I made it back home. Monday I decided—given the state of the world and the increasing need to identify one’s self, citizenship, and attitude toward God, country and apple pie—to go downtown and apply for a replacement Social Security card. My original card was stolen when my Volvo was broken into in 1980. (Yes, I kept my wallet which contained my Social Security card, Driver’s License, etc.—but no cash—in the car’s glovebox. Yes, I do know this was stupid.) To save myself time, I downloaded the proper form from the Government office and filled it out. A couple of additional documents were also required. They could either be mailed in (two weeks turnaround) or delivered in person at a local Social Security office. To apply for a replacement Social Security card, one must show they were born. (Presumably, those who were hatched, conjured, or animated via test tubes and jolts of electric current, are precluded from card ownership—although, an hour spent pushing your way through any sidewalk crowd will convince you the majority of these cardless, happy souls are thriving among us, nevertheless.) Proof of one’s birth essentially comes down to waving a certified copy of your birth certificate in front of the proper authority’s nose. I have several certified copies of my birth certificate; it was locating them that proved the rub and required half the morning and a climb into the attic. The second required document is a valid Driver’s License or other Government-issued photo I.D. (Your birth certificate proves you are born, it doesn’t prove you are you.) Fine, I understood that—but I wasn’t about to mail off my Driver’s License to the Government and pray I got it back in two weeks. I'm dumb, but I ain't plumb dumb. So that item also had to be waved in front of the authorized eye as well. Hence the downtown trip. A bit after noon, necessary documents in hand, I called the local Social Security office—just to make sure I had everything. “You do,” the nice lady on the phone said, “but the office is pretty crowded right now—you might want to wait and come down in the morning.” I confess—it didn’t take another word to talk me out of the trip. Downtown in mid-afternoon on a day when temperatures were again pushing ninety wasn’t my idea of a good time. I decided I'd rather try my luck this Friday. The attic hatch was still open, so I figured I’d rearrange my work room, which included moving several hundred books in boxes into the attic, along with returning the cartons of files and papers I’d pawed through looking for my birth certificates. I then decided I’d clean some things out and make that an additional few cartons of new files and papers. All of this required rearranging the attic to make space to accommodate the storage. Attics are hot when it’s ninety degrees out. Boxes of books and papers are heavy, especially when they must be carried up a stepladder. I quit about dark, showered, and hobbled to the front porch rocker. There I watched bats swoop over the Cottage Pool, sipped an iced coffee…then later hobbled off to bed. That brings us to Tuesday, which was grocery gathering day. Two stores, four hours. Then the unpacking and putting away. After that more cartons up the stepladder and into the attic. In the late afternoon, I mowed the grass. Afterwards, my second shower of the day, a hobble to the front room for supper and a bit of TV, followed by a hobble off to bed. This morning I had to make up a batch of my barbecue sauce, write two articles, do wash. I still have dishes from the sauce making and lunch, the rest of the laundry, supper, house cleaning…and the usual bedtime hobble, which I predict will occur about midnight. See—not much accomplished, though a lot of energy expelled and time wasted. And given the circumstances of my week so far, this is the best posting I can manage. Whine, whine, whine…! (I did take a nice sunset shot a few minutes ago, however.)

Friday, June 19, 2009


Today has been a hot one along the riverbank. Ninety-one degrees an hour ago. But worse than the heat was the humidity, which wasn’t helped by the hard morning shower that poured like gangbusters for a quarter hour, then sputtered and drizzled an additional twenty minutes, like a guest who can’t seem to say good night, but keeps lingering by the front door, nibbling on those cookies you always keep handy to the porch. In its aftermath, the river and bankside vegetation steamed briefly with rising vapors, as the sun reappeared and began turning up the burner. From then on it was hot and muggy all the way—a green sauna which seemed to sap the energy like a vampire sucking an artery, while reminding me anew why I’m not all that keen on Ohio’s summer. Of course, technically speaking, summer is yet a day and a solstice away. What kept me under a shade tree, sprawled on the chaise longue with a sweating glass of iced tea clamped permanently in my hand, was actually spring’s last hurrah, a sultry seasonal send-off that I could have done without, thank you very much. The good part is that a few minutes ago I heard thunder rumbling to the west; the bad part is I’ve just checked the National Weather Service’s local radar loop and it shows absolutely nothing on the screen. But it was thunder—distant, yet unmistakable—and I have faith…well, hope, anyway. And it goes without saying the weather oracles don’t always get it right, in spite of their fancy gear. Heavy thunderstorms are predicted for late tonight; a “hazardous weather outlook with possibly severe rains” as those who claim to know put it. Oh, goody! I’ll get to perspire in bed until 2:00 a.m. and then have to worry about possible flooding. No doubt the grass will appreciate the additional rain—after all, today’s heat has probably slowed its growth rate to not more than a half-inch per hour. I cut the stuff on Monday, and already the squirrels bounding around under the sycamores disappear between leaps. Still, what’s a bit more rain to close out this year’s installment of spring? It has already rained three out of the last four days…and possibly twenty out of the last thirty, though I’ve not kept track. A lot of rain, nevertheless. Enough that if I were a more righteous man, I might have begun listening for an on-high voice telling me to start constructing a rather large boat in the side yard, and to expect a great many animals to be arriving two-by-two. The only saving grace in all this is that yesterday I installed the big fan in the great room window. This isn’t one of those piddly “box” fans from the local hardware. This is a fan that’s at least as old as I am, built back in the days when manufacturers took pride in making their products as indestructible as possible, and “planned obsolescence” was not only an unimaginable business principal, but one they would have been ashamed to have heard about, let alone applied to the design of merchandise coming off their assembly line and bearing their name or trademark. It’s the sort of fan that is made to go in a window and move air—lots of air. You can turn it on low, venting out, open any window in the house, and feel the force of the incoming breeze; turn it on high and it will blow your hat off in the hall. In summer’s heat, this efficient-if-venerable fan is my salvation. I don’t like air conditioning. When temperatures soar into the one-hundred-plus range, I still prefer a breeze over refrigeration. My old fan fulfills my needs. Moreover, there are ample ceiling fans scattered throughout the cottage to really keep the interior air currents swirling. However, at the moment—sitting outside, watching the sun sink into a noticeably cloudless sky—I feel about as limp and drooping as the leaves on the weeping willow I photographed following this morning’s rain…and not one bit impressed by spring’s idea of a send-off.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow…even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
—Matthew 6, 28-29
Yesterday afternoon I spent a couple of hours running errands. Thick clouds blotted out the sun as I left the cottage. A fine mist began falling before I’d driven the half-mile down to the bridge. The sky grew darker. I flicked on the truck's wipers and headlights. Mist became a drizzle as the wind picked up and the air temperature cooled. I'd not worn a jacket and was woefully underdressed for the weather in shorts, tee-shirt, and sneakers. I got damp darting in and out of the stores, and by the time I'd finished and started home, was thoroughly chilled, almost on the verge of the shivers. (Of course, a perverse bit of male DNA messaging, doubtless originating in some lower corridor of my brain, kept whispering that only a wuss would give in and turn on the truck’s heater. (And, yes, I do know how stupid this sounds—the thought sounded equally stupid to me even while I obeyed. Thankfully, I inexplicably forgot all about personal discomfort when I began to notice the flowers. Just beyond the windshield—alongside the road, on stream banks, in field corners, even tucked back in the edge of certain damp woodlands where you’d think it ought to be too shady—numerous patches of bright orange day lilies stood in festive bloom. Some patches numbered in the dozens of flowers; other in the hundreds. I can’t begin to estimate how many orange lilies I passed during the half-hour journey home. What's more, it turned out the small patch of orange day lilies at the end of my drive had bloomed in my absence—a few of them, anyway—in spite of the cold, clouds, and rain. A sort of visible miracle! Of course lilies have long been considered a symbol of hope. This has obviously been a good year hereabouts for orange day lilies. Apparently the latter half of spring served up the perfect mix of weather—the right amount of sunshine, heat, cool nights, and rain. Whatever the formula, it was ideal for our naturalized orange day lilies’ maximum growth. I know I’ve never seen them more abundant or looking better. Some folks casually refer to these attractive summer heralds as “ditch lilies.” While this alternate name does recognize the plant’s preference for a moist setting, I’ve always felt the term too derisive to be applied to something so lovely. Moreover, the botanist who gave the orange day lily its species names apparently shared this opinion. The orange day lily’s scientific name is Hemerocallis fulva. “Hemerocallis” comes from two Greek words which mean “beautiful” and “day.” The “day” part refers to the brevity of the blooms, since a day lily stem may carry a cluster of several buds, yet only one or two of these will be in bloom at a time—and the large blooms will last only a day. (In case you’re wondering, the variety name, “fulva,” means “yellow-orange.”) Day lilies are not native wildflowers. Originating in Asia, they were introduced here by European colonists who knew them as easy-to-grow perennials. Too easy, some would mutter, because the showy lilies soon went AWOL over the garden fence. Yet abundance and a non-native pedigree doesn’t mean a plant can’t also be delightful. Driving homeward under a leaden sky, following the winding backroads, wipers swishing rhythmically, those big swathes of red-orange day lilies lit up the gloom…magically lightening my heart, warming my spirits, and as they've done throughout the ages, instilling a healing dose of hope.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Early morning, long before the sun slips up from the east, I stand on the deck and look across the Cottage Pool toward the island. The river wears a gauzy veil—a mist thin and silvery, translucent as it diffracts the light amid slow swirls which sometimes merge with the movement of the river’s warm currents, loosely cojoining the two elements, water and sky, though always their borders remain ambiguous, unclear.
Looking upstream from the deck.
There’s an innocence to such mornings that I adore, a Garden-of-Eden illusion that is both mysterious and comforting. I can sense the newness of creation. Forget, if only briefly, all the ugliness and turmoil, grief, sickness, and trouble of the world. What I see before me is it, all there is, everything…and the mood is filled with gentle peace and quiet joy. A great blue heron fishes in the shallows at the upstream tip of the island, alert to my presence the moment I stepped into view. I wonder if he’s caught anything for breakfast. Yesterday’s on-off showers have freshed and roiled the stream so that it is neither muddy nor clear, but rather a nebulous shade that’s more a dull olive…still fishable if I were of such a mind today. The only sounds I can detect are the slow whispers of current against the rocks, and from somewhere behind, a titmouse calling its usual peter, peter, peter. The turkey vultures which roost on the island are invisible in their treetops; they likely won’t reappear for another hour—depending on the mist’s longevity. Even then, they’ll probably just reposition themselves to catch the burgeoning light, then sit around a while warming damp bones in the rising sun, waiting for that moment when whichever of them gets to decide such matters, finally launches from his perch, catches on outspread wings, flaps once or twice to begin a slow lifting into the morning. I have yard work to do today, things I’d hoped to get finished over the weekend but couldn’t manage because of the rain. So I need to fix my own breakfast and get started. But for just a few minutes longer I linger…savoring the diffused green light, the sweet cool breath of morning against my cheek, the magic of the moving river as it appears from some unseen, secret source, gains clarity as it glides sibilantly near my feet, then fades and disappears again into the unfathomable mist to continue its enviable journey.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Looks can be deceiving. And when it comes to wildflowers, some of the prettiest blooms occur on plants that can make you sick or even kill you. Bittersweet nightshade is a prime example . Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) produces small five-petaled flowers, violet or purple and shaped like a shooting star, with a brilliant yellow protruding center column composed of fused anthers. Unquestionably quite beautiful. But a beauty that often strikes fear into the heart and mind of the beholder, who—when it's pointed out to them and mentioned by name—stares in appalled disbelief as one might fixate on a close-range cobra. Don’t get me wrong—the plant does indeed contain a number of active compounds. However, its deadly reputation is overblown, in part because it’s often confused with the related deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), that perennial favorite of old Gothic novels and whodunit fiction. I certainly wouldn't advise you to ingest any part of the of the plant…and kids, especially, need to be warned of its possible dangers. Still, most reputable modern botanical sources classify its toxicity as merely “moderate." Bittersweet nightshade has been blooming along the river for a couple of weeks. The plant is a climbing or trailing vine with alternate, oval-shaped leaves with a pointed tip, and two smaller leaves or lobes that jut out from the base. Later on there will be bright red, pea-size berries. The plant’s vining nature is accounts for its alternate name, climbing nightshade. The name comes from a substance called dulcamarine which, when chewed, gives first a bitter then sweet taste. The “dulcamara” part of it’s name is a combination of Latin words meaning bitter and sweet. “Solanum” comes from the same Latin root as “solace,” and likely derives from the plant’s long and varied comforting use in herbal medicine. Bittersweet nightshade was once used to treat everything from asthma and bronchitis, rheumatism, skin diseases, jaundice and kidney problems, to syphilis. And if your aliments had a darker source, bittesweet nightshade could also be employed to treat and counteract witchcraft. Thoreau thought the bittersweet nightshade’s ripening berries exceedingly lovely. “I do not know any clusters more graceful and beautiful than these,” he wrote. They hang more gracefully over the river’s brim than any pendant in a lady’s ear. Yet, they’re considered poisonous; not to look at surely…But why should they not be poisonous? Would it not be bad taste to eat these berries which are ready to feed another sense?” Bad tasting? In bad taste? Or just bad? I’ll leave that decision up to you. Pretty poison? Or just pretty? I’ll stick with the latter. Though I will point out that nightshade and potatoes are related…

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Where innocent bright-eyed daisies are, With blades of grass between, Each daisy stands up like a star Out of a sky of green.
—Christina Georgina Rossetti
When some of the old poets wrote about the “snows of June,” they were talking botany rather than weather. Most specifically, they were describing vast fields whitened with the blooms of the ox-eye daisy. For this reason it was often called simply “whiteweed.” The ox-eye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare, is a member of the Aster family introduced by the colonists from Europe. It’s sometimes called the Marguerite Daisy, from the female character in Johann Goethe’s drama Faust, who plucked the petals from a daisy while she sang the refrain, “He loves me, he loves me not…” Hereabouts, ox-eye daisies begin blooming early—in mid-May—and continue into early-autumn, though their peak is over by the end of June. They’re also quite pretty. The flowers are about two inches across, with about 20 snow-white petals and a bright yellow center. Some of my plants are three-feet tall—or at least they were until the most recent downpour, night-before-last, beat them to their knees. Ox-eye daisies were absent around the cottage until last year, when a small clump appeared beside the stone steps which lead from the yard down to the river’s edge. This spring, it’s still just the single patch—though the clump has expanded in size fourfold. The plants expand via their root system and also self-seed. And it’s this ready inclination for spreading that causes some to classify the ox-eye daisy as invasive. However, this disfavor may not be quite as appropriate as it once was, especially east of the Rockies. Our landscape has changed dramatically with time. Yesterday’s farms and fields are now shopping centers and subdivisions. The ox-eye daisy is not near the agricultural threat it once was. In fact, in many areas ox-eye daisies have all but disappeared—and you’ll have to look long and hard to find a stand of daisies vast enough to be mistaken as one of those poetic “June snows.” One the other hand, one man’s noxious weed is often another fellow’s wildflower. For the past few days I’ve been collecting a supply of the tiny seeds to plant in selected sites. I won’t see blooms from my efforts next year, but with luck, the following spring I ought to have white-and-yellow flowers in a number of additional daisy patches brightening up several darker corners. After all, I can’t expect nature and the river to do all the landscaping work for me.
* * * * *
[Dear long-suffering followers and readers: You’ll note that “Riverdaze…” has had another design change—the second in less than a week. And I hope the last one for at least a while. The overhaul I applied earlier made it difficult for some readers to see various parts of the blog and particularly the comments links and profiles due to lack of contrast. For whatever reasons, these difficulties were not universal, or visible to me, and only seemed to arise when you viewed to the blog after arriving here via a particular link route. Still, my original intention was to improve things, not make them worse. I actually like this layout and color scheme even better because it’s simpler, cleaner design-wise, than the previous incarnation. And with luck, it will work for everyone. But if you have problems (gulp!) let me know…]

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


We had a good rain last night, courtesy of a thunderstorm that came muttering in from the southwest. The sound of its distant drumrolls woke me from a deep sleep—a low, resounding rumble that, as it approached, might have been mistaken for the wheels of a horse-drawn wagon clattering over a wooden bridge. After a while the storm drew near and the smell of coming rain, fresh and damp, came wafting through the open screen and quickly cooled the room. The dog, who’s not afraid of even the most tumultuous storm, stirred on her bed, savoring the sudden profusion of scent carried in on the thickening night air. The rain itself began with a few drops on the roof, an erratic pinging, spasmodic, asymmetrical, too misshapened to be called rhythm. But a minute later I heard a dull onrushing as the wall of pouring rain advanced through the woods opposite the cottage, changed pitch as it crossed the open channel, then roared exuberantly as it drenched our side of the river. I don’t mind rain—especially not in the spring when all the earth needs a life-boosting drink. Rain in spring is vernal refreshment. Of course I do mind when it rains day after day, or comes discharging such a protracted downpour that streams flood their banks and I have to stand on the muddy edge of my swollen river in the middle of the night, worried like a parent with a feverish child, and pray for the rising water to crest before climbing another inch. Last night’s rain, however, proved as well behaved as anyone could want—giving freely of itself for half and hour, then packing up and moving elsewhere when the ground was sufficiently saturated. By dawn’s sunny light the whole world sparkled under a sheen or moisture. Everything looked green and lush, swollen with pleasure and quickening with energy. I could almost hear the grass starting to grow. And that is the perfect one-word description for today…lush. A succulent green land, tender, heavy with leaf, dense and thick, yet soft, verdant, almost tropical. The sun remained out and bright; temperatures climbed into the mid-80s. For the first time this year the air felt sultry. I’ve spent much of the time working around the yard, fiddling with plants, moving more wood to the woodpile, trying to figure where to plant what, should I have the funds to expand my landscaping anytime soon—not to mention the necessary energy. Before going inside I stepped onto the front deck overlooking the water. The river was up an inch or two and showing some color. A half-dozen mallards came winging downstream, flying fast, gabbling to one another as they hurried along. One of the local herons, perhaps inspired by the early-morning freshet, was intently fishing the shallows on the island side of the channel. The mass of wild grapevine I allow to trail over the rail was green and lovely in the backlight of the now-lowering sun. Everything was lush today. And I feel lush, myself.
* * * * *
[Faithful readers…you’ll notice some changes today in the “Riverdaze…” layout. A bit of tweaking in colors and background; a new header, including a different great blue heron header shot. (Same series as the old heron, taken just a few minutes earlier, in the riffle near the cottage…just a different, less “busy” pose.) I’m not big on change, except for a reason—and the reason here is that I was trying to make it cleaner in design, and most importantly, easier to read. I hope I’ve succeeded…but that’s where I need your help and input. Tell me what you think. Like? Don’t like? Doesn’t matter one way or the other? Let me know.]

Monday, June 8, 2009


A few minutes ago I was busy taking a close-up shot of the minute blooms on a magenta spirea when this colorful insect appeared in my viewfinder—giving me a momentary start. The black-and-yellow fly was no more than a quarter-inch in length. Its eyes were prominent and bulging, a deep burgundy. Wings were clear, the abdomen flattened. As I watched, the tiny fly—using its two front legs—grasped one of the flower’s hair-like stamen filaments which it then bent towards its mouth. I couldn’t tell for sure, but it appeared the fly was eating pollen or something off the anther’s tip. At first I thought the creature was some sort of bee. Later, when I looked it up in my copy of The Audubon Society’s Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders, I narrowed it down to a species of hover fly—which further research convinced me was probably Toxomerus geminatus. Some texts call these insects syrphid flies, or “flower flies.” The latter name is pretty logical since the little flies are most often found on flowers where they feed on nectar. That’s what the fly was doing when it seemed to nibble at the stamen tip—drinking nectar. Hover flies (they do “hover” over the flowers—hence their alternate name) are totally harmless, being unable to either bite or sting. Interestingly, the larva of these hover flies feed on aphids; my Audubon guide says hover fly larva are probably as important as ladybug beetles when it comes to controlling aphid populations. The adult flies are quite beneficial to farmers as crop pollinators. Even when observing the minuscule, it’s never wise to judge something on looks alone! There's also a profound truth to the notion that the closer you look, the more you see. Yet so often we fail to look at things unless they're big or bright or bold. Thus we look only at birds and blooms and gaudy sunsets…and in doing so we miss the wonder and beauty of the diminutive. We gaze at a tree and overlook the splendor of its leaves. We recognize the magnificence of a sweeping beach, but never see the exquisite details in its grains of sand. I was focused on the flowers—and almost missed the dainty elegance of the little hover fly. I guess we all need the occasional reminder.

Friday, June 5, 2009


In case you’re not familiar with fishing paraphernalia…a bobber is a small float an angler clips to the line to suspend his baited hook at a desired depth. Bobbers come in different shapes and sizes. While some are fashioned from cork, balsawood, even porcupine quill, most are round and made of plastic. Red-over-white is the traditional color scheme. Fishermen are forever losing bobbers. Their hook snags in a log, fouls among rocks, catches on underwater weeds—or perhaps gets entangled in the rusting hulk of a ’59 Chevy someone ditched in the creek decades ago. When the angler yanks too hard trying to pull things free, the line breaks. He loses not only his hook and sinker, but also his bobber—which may stay attached to the lost portion of fishing line, visibly marking the spot of the mishap; alternately, the bobber may slip off the line and go drifting away, across the lake or pond, downstream if set free on a creek or river. I always think these little lost bobbers look rather forlorn, like tiny round red-and-white clad workers suddenly let go of their jobs—a bit lost and at odds as to their future place and worth. As a kid I used to collect lost bobbers. When my father and I went fishing, I’d try and rescue any bobbers I found along the stream or lake. If we were in a boat, Dad—catering to my concerns, and being something of a bobber-liberator himself—would row me close enough that I could lean over the bow and grab my prize. I kept my found bobbers in the basement, clipped to a long length of old flyline tacked between ceiling joists above the workbench. My colorful collection took up several feet and easily numbered in the hundreds—though both Dad and I both plucked bobbers from the string whenever we needed a few for our tackle boxes. A lost bobber still strikes me as a bit pathetic, floating there, unused, unloved, as if waiting for the right soft-hearted fool to come along. There’s no fool like an old fool. I’m still goofily sentimental about some pretty weird things, and I’ll still take the time and effort to retrieve a lost bobber if I can mange to do so without too much fuss. The bobber in the photo must have known my leanings, understood—as much as an inanimate object can understand—that I would welcome it, pluck it from the river, clean and dry it, and provide safe haven in a corner of my tackle box. That’s why is came to me—bobbing through the riffle…bobbing over the foot-high drop-off…bobbing along the edge of the current swirling below and into the eddy where I stood with my camera—motioning, encouraging, applauding its progress and good sense. And after taking its picture…picking it up and welcoming it home.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


"What's in a name?” wondered Juliet, in Shakespeare's lyrical tale of star-crossed lovers. Indeed. Names carry in them identity, even respect. But would we take the time to look if the plant in question was small, usually referred to as a weed, and bore the rather off-putting name “fleabane?” That’s what the lovely little wildflower in the photo is—fleabane. More specifically, Erigeron annuus, which those of us who prefer to use names we can pronounce know as Daisy Fleabane, Sweet Scabious, or Lace Buttons. The plant in the picture is currently blooming in a tangled corner of my side yard. The largest flower head shown is barely a half-inch across. Fleabanes are composites, members of the Asteraceae (Aster) family. According to some texts, the Genus name, “Erigeron,” stems from the Greek words meaning "early" and "old man," which allude to the plant's tendency to blossom in late spring and to form fuzzy white seed heads while still producing new flowers. The Species name, “annuus,” indicates it blooms annually. In the old days, folks believed you could dry the flowers, crush them into a fine powder, and sprinkle the powder about on bedding and such to repel fleas. Some writers say it was smoke from burning the powder that did the repelling. Neither method seems to stand the test of scientific scrutiny. “That which we call a rose,” fair Juliet went on to say, “by any other name would smell as sweet." Also true. Except fragrance often catches us unaware. But to truly see a plant, you must first look—and the diminutive fleabane is regularly overlooked, or given a cursory glance and relegated to immediate ignoring if perceived as a weed…not to mention forthcoming death-by-mowing if it’s found in the yard. Yet the Daisy Fleabane is pretty enough that it deserves more frequent and closer notice. The delicate flowers can be anywhere from white to pink to purple or even bluish. Most of the ones in my yard are white and tinged with pink on the outer portion of their rays. I protect my daisy fleabanes through their blooming cycle, allowing them to do their thing, so that I can look forward to enjoying them again next year. And I try and protect those that grow in the yards of neighbors who tend toward playing a bit too loose with their power trimmers by pointing out the flowers and employing what I think is their most endearing alias—Lace Buttons. I’ve found that citing a cute name will often earn a reprieve from even the most clean-lawn hardliner. So “what’s in a name?” Well, death if you’re considered expendable. And a glimpse of jewel-like beauty for those who take time to consider the treasure at their feet.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Let me begin by apologizing to my fellow arachnophobics… Forgive my photographic abruptness. I’m sorry if you’ve just spilled hot coffee in your lap or nearly shorted out your pacemaker. The eight-legged, hairy-limbed beastie gave me a fright, too—especially since I apparently picked it up with one of the chunks of firewood I loaded into the wheelbarrow. Trust me, the adrenaline jolt that hit my system when I looked down and saw the thing baring its fangs a few inches from my gloved hand, wreaked temporary havoc throughout my body—zapping voltage all the way to my DNA. I did not scream. It is unseemly for bulky, grown men to scream upon encountering itsy-bitsy chelicerate arthropods. Even when they’re not so itsy-bitsy. No, I merely stepped back rather hurriedly. That whole-body gesture which possibly resembled a shudder was due to the chill of the shadows. What might have been mistaken for a fit was just this naturalist’s sudden uncontrollable outbreak of intense emotion caused by unexpected delight at having stumbled upon another interesting creature to photograph and write about for my legion of faithful blog readers. I do not advocate nor subscribe to the notion that the only good spider is a dead spider…although this courtesy of allotted life does not extend within the precincts of my cottage walls; inside my house, all creeping, crawling, and otherwise lurking spiders will be summarily dispatched with extreme prejudice. The means of their demise might be flyswatter, hairspray squirt, vacuum cleaner, or 12-gauge…whatever seems appropriate at the time. I will whack, stomp, or blast with glee—and I don’t care if the principal character in Charlotte’s Web was your great-great-grandmother. But, I digress… The arachnid in the wheelbarrow was probably a wolf spider—a member of Lycosidae family. (Know you enemy, I always say.) The family name comes from the Greek for wolf, which describes this species hunting habits—lone, fast-moving predators that often chase their prey down, though some wolf spiders hide and wait for something to come along worth pouncing upon. Wolf spiders are found everywhere—in woods and fields, and among piles of firewood needing to be stacked. Many wolf spiders—perhaps even most—are not large enough to be terrifying except to those who simply can’t contain themselves over anything with eight legs. A few wolf spiders, however, are the stuff of nightmares. This particular wolfie had a body a bit over an inch in length; it’s leg-tip to leg-tip length came close to spanning four inches. From my adrenaline-overdosed perspective, it appeared to be only slightly smaller than a German shepherd. Nevertheless, in the name of good blogging, I dashed inside, grabbed my Nikon, returned and made its portrait. Then I tipped the wheelbarrow over and gently deposited the little horror onto the gravel…and threatened to run over it with my pickup if it even waved one hairy leg in the direction of the cottage. (It’s a big truck and I felt reasonably safe in being able to make good on this threat without damaging my vehicle.) The spider and I parted company. Woodstacking has temporarily ground to a halt…just long enough, you understand, for me to write and post this piece. FEAR WAS NOT INVOLVED! * * * * * [Identity correction: Reader "Deerfriend" has graciously set me straight on the actual species of spider in the photo—it's a brownish-gray fishing spider rather than a wolf spider. In my reply to him I said, in part: I'm certain you've got it right, and that the spider in the photo is a brownish-gray fishing spider and not a wolf spider. I've actually been doubtful of my own identification all along. Before writing the piece I went through my own various fields guides, plus spent a long time online. I guess I was leaning more toward a species of thin-legged wolf spider—but only because I initially thought "wolf spider" and thereafter failed to pay sufficient attention to the materials at hand. The misleading power of presumption.… The rub is that my own copy of the Audubon Society's Field Guide to INSECTS & SPIDERS was still on my desk, right beside my keyboard, when I read your comment. The answer at my fingertips, literally, and me too dumb to notice. Ha! Fishing spiders are common here along the river. I see them almost every day during warm weather. But they are not the same species—rather they're mostly gray (no brown) have a longer legs-to-body ratio, are marked differently with a different shaped body, and have a flatter stance. Plus I never see them more than a yard or two from the water's edge. I hereby thank Deerfriend again for correcting me on this matter.]