Saturday, October 31, 2009


Bat off the balcony…uh, deck.
I like to try different things photographically. I also tend to get on a kick, shooting the same sorts of things—bugs, wildflowers, water reflections—for a certain period. Sometimes I play little creative photo games. Using only a single lens during a walk. Seeing how many things I can photograph in a given area, even while standing in one place.
Late this summer—between the last couple of weeks of August and the first week of September—I went through what you might call my Bat Period. I blame Richard, of AT THE WATER, for this particular monomania.
Richard, you see, had posted a bat photo on his blog some months earlier. He noted how the posted shot was the best he'd managed so far, seeing as how bats were such difficult photo subjects. I remembered this later on when I was trying to think of a new challenge. I can do that, I thought to myself.
Now I want to make something perfectly clear—this was not an idea of I can do that BETTER THAN RICHARD! I wasn't making it a contest or competition. No notion of one-upmanship factored in. I simply knew it was something I could try because I happened to have a handy supply of bats. Ample available targets, so to speak.
Double-click and you might be able to see the mayfly the bat is about to nab.
Most evenings during the summer, insects of one sort or another appear over the Cottage Pool, which is the large hole of water just below the riffle and directly beyond the front deck. These insects, which include mayflies, caddis flies, midges, and who knows what else (though not mosquitoes, since there is a slow current through the pool) naturally attract bats just awaked from their daytime naps. Moreover, when the bats get to chasing bugs—at the height of what I think of as the nightly feeding frenzy—they often pass within a few feet of the overlooking deck…sometimes so close you can feel the wind off their fast-flapping wings. At a given time there might be twenty-five to seventy-five bats in a high-speed swirl, darting, twisting, executing the most incredible aerial maneuvers you've ever seen—all within fifty feet or less of where you stand.
Sounded like some easy shooting. (Okay, Richard, go ahead and laugh. How was I to know?)
Here's the deal: I knew I wasn't properly equipped, photographically, to make great images of flying bats. I also knew I didn't have the funds to go out and buy the right gear. So I used my trusty Nikon D-70 (a measly 6 megapixal DSLR), an 18-70mm zoom, and the camera's built-in flash. I knew the fast-flying bats and the light—from dusk until full dark—precluded relying on auto-focus, so I switched the camera to manual and pre-focused at a distance of 15 feet. The exposure was set to "auto."
The sun went down. A few bugs fluttered over the water. Swallows appeared and began zipping after the insects. Twilight deepened. Suddenly a fluttering bat joined the swallows; then two bats…five…a dozen. All at once the birds were gone and the air was filled with uncountable bats. A whirlwind of bats! I began firing at any bat within the focus zone. Things got a little crazy—then they got a lot crazy. I became preternaturally excited. There's a possibility I drooled. Once or twice I believe I might have levitated. Somewhere in this bat-shooting feverishness, I had to change memory cards. Then I had to change batteries.
After about half an hour, things eventually slowed. Fewer insects were hatching from the pool or ovipositing eggs into it. The number of dipping, diving, fast-flying bats decreased—and finally disappeared altogether. I was sweating, shaking, and had to sit down a minute before coming inside to upload my images and check the results.
It turned out I'd taken nearly four hundred exposures! Of these, fewer than half contained a bat or any part of a bat in the frame. In the majority of the others, the bat was either too far away (I'd set my zoom to about a 35mm focal length) or too close—like under a yard!—or was unrecognizable as being a living creature, let alone a bat, because of the way it had twisted in midair while scarfing up its latest victim. I had maybe a half-dozen shots of bats, lousy shots each and every one…and they followed the rest into the trash.
Comin' at ya! Again, the target bug is visible in the lower center.
Hummmmm…Richard wasn't kidding about bats being difficult. Okay, I'd do better next time.
Evening two was pretty much a repeat of evening one—same number of shots exposed, with only one or two marginal bats pix for my efforts. I'd still had a near heart-attack during the height of the feeding/shooting frenzy. But the one improvement was that my percentages of bats in the frame was higher—they weren't better images, but at least I'd managed to catch the target more often.
Evening three…well, let's not talk about evening three. Or evening four. Or evening five. I tried various focal length settings, from full wide angle to full zoom; pre-focused closer in and farther out; shot on "aperture-priority" setting, and "sports" setting. The bats outdid them all. None of my fancy camera tricks worked. I still hadn't made a single image worth keeping. A future of heavy alcohol consumption and living out of a shopping cart was starting to seem attractive—anything which didn't involve attempting to photograph bats.
About this time the twilight bat circus began to diminish. Summer was waning. Fewer insects were hatching or laying eggs—and thus fewer bats were starting their after-dark mealtime at the pool. The feeding frenzy dwindled from more than half an hour to fewer than twenty minutes…then fifteen…then ten. It ended after the first week of September.
By then I'd managed to get to where I was shooting far less often, but almost every frame contained a bat…and a fair percentage were mediocre to acceptable—the best typical of those with this post. I never did get that one knock-your-socks-off bat image. But I know it is possible because I came close a time or two with a perfectly-exposed, perfectly focused bat image that filled the frame…except not all the frame, because a wing or half the body was outside the image area. Those little suckers fly fast! Next summer, I'll begin my bat photographing with the start of the pool insect/bat season. And sooner or later, the odds will fall in my favor. (Even a blind hog finds the occasional acorn.)
So that's my going-batty Halloween tale…of photo lust and near madness and not much blood except for that one time when I got mad and kicked at a pile of leaves on the deck, missed, and banged my shin on the edge of the step—
We'll not talk about that, either.
Thanks, Richard….

Friday, October 30, 2009


One of the "buzzard trees" across from the cottage.
One morning soon, I'll look out one of the living room's river-view windows, and the tops of the big sycamores on the island across from the cottage will be empty. The last of the resident turkey vultures, with whom I share this stretch of stream for most of the year, will have packed up and departed for milder climes. I'll be buzzardless until next March.
When I moved here four summers ago, I didn't know one of the riverbank's bonus features was a clan of turkey vultures who roost nightly in the trees directly across the channel. I also didn't know I'd come to so enjoy their habits and company.
Turkey vultures are one of two vulture species in Ohio, the other being the black vulture, which is similar in appearance in overall shape, but a bit smaller and has a dark, rather than a red, turkey-like head. Another difference between the two is that black vultures hunt by sight, while turkey vultures find their meals of the recently deceased via their keen sense of smell—one of the few birds to possess such a highly developed ability of odor detection. A big turkey vulture has a wingspan of six feet and weighs upwards of 6 pounds. Their lifespan in the wild can exceed 16 years, and at least one captive bird passed the 33-year mark. They lack a voice box, so the only sounds they utter are hisses and grunts.
Lazing around, taking some sun, discussing breakfast.
There's simply no charitable way to put this…as looks go, turkey vultures are ugly. Not "cute" ugly, just plain old whupped-with-an-ugly-stick ugly.
But only on the ground. Put a turkey vulture in the air and there's no bird more capable and beautiful in flight. The blue sky was made for the soaring turkey vulture. To watch them tilt and turn, wheel and dip, almost never flapping their wings, yet holding aloft with grace and elegance and absolute mastery of form, it makes you believe bird and sky are nothing short of complementary elements, each created to showcase the other.
I can't begin to tell you how many hours I spend each year just watching those buzzards fly—riding the wind as if it were their's alone. More than any other bird I know, turkey vultures seem to delight in flying, to take great pleasure in their prowess—to experience a sheer joy while ignoring gravity.
Time and again I've observed them coming home in the afternoon. They appear high, little more than dark dihedral smudges against the bright sky canopy. Sometimes they wheel outward in great loops, spiraling, lifting, then swooping down—coming closer and closer to their roost trees. Before settling, they might make make only a single low pass, barely clearing the treetops, or they might elect to make several. They then often land and sit on a limb for while, only to abruptly leap back into the air and swoop and soar a bit more before sitting down again. They seem to take turns doing this—three or four or a dozen birds in the nearby air at once, circling, showing off, landing…to be replaced by other birds who do the same thing; trading moves like teenagers on skateboards: Look at me! Bet you can't do this! Oh, yeah…just watch!
Masters of the sky…
Buzzards are not early risers. They hang around the roost tree until midmorning, perhaps spreading their wings and catching a few rays of sun. When the spirit finally moves them to get their feathered butts in gear and head out to reconnoiter a bite of brunch, they take off in twos and threes—though if the weather is rainy, they might hunker down for most of the day. In the afternoon, several hours before sunset, they begin returning. Definitely not workaholics.
The first year I lived here, when the buzzards and I were just getting acquainted, I kept trying to estimate their numbers. Have you ever tried to count turkey vultures on the wing—coming, going, circling, soaring, swooping, constantly trading places? Or for that matter, buzzards finally settled in on their evening roost—dark shapes, like some sort of feathered fruit, glimpsed here and there within the dense cover of leaves and limbs?
Here's the one-word answer: impossible. My best count—what I, toward the end of that first season, figured to be a pretty good guesstimate—was somewhere between fifteen and twenty-five birds. Then autumn's leaves began to fall. Talk about surprise! The count rose from twenty-five to thirty, then forty, then fifty. Down the leaves came, up the count went. Sixty, seventy, ninety…a hundred! My Lord, just how many turkey vultures were sitting over there in the denuding sycamores? I hadn't been harboring a clan, I'd been harboring a legion!
The final tally, taken on the last morning before their disappearance, was 177 turkey vultures! And I'd be willing to bet that even with most of the leaves down, I still missed a few birds—possibly more than a few.
Home before the storm.
Alas, it's again getting to be about that time of year. Too soon my beloved buzzards will up and depart. It's like losing a bunch of old friends without getting to see them off and wish them well on their journey. I'll miss them every day until they return.
And the trees and skies along the river will be palpably empty, diminished by their absence.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


The sky is a blanket of pale gray clouds. After two days of brilliant blue, the overcast seems darker than it is, a pall slipped over the landscape. And yet…this shadowless veil has the counter-intuitive effect of making colors richer, more saturated, as if the gain had been increased by giving the color-intensity knob a hefty clockwise crank.
As is my normal routine, I began the morning well before daylight—sitting at my desk with a mug of steaming coffee, peering into the thick blackness beyond the study window and waiting for the river to slowly appear like a ghostly vein below the sub-dermal layer of darkness. This will be the last week of Daylight Savings Time. Good riddance! Enough with governmental meddling! Allow the time to be what it is, what feels "natural."
Sure, I understand this system of measurement is something devised by man, invented for our comfort and convenience. Night and day divided into twenty-four one-hour increments, themselves each divided into sixty minutes, with another sub-division of minutes into sixty seconds. One turn of the earth all chopped up into neat little pieces. As if such a formal imposition might really matter.
The relationship seems more natural to me if the pattern of light and dark is allowed to mirror the rhythm of the seasons as I first encountered them. The sudden relocation of dusk and dawn when Daylight Savings Time takes over in the spring, and departs in the fall, does nothing for me except muck up my prototype rhythm of season and time so deeply ingrained from childhood. Back then, October daylight arrived an hour earlier; so did dusk. That still feels natural to me. So I say again…good riddance!
Unfortunately, I don't think I can blame the behavior of my adopted ducks on time-change. Whatever form of alarm clock ducks employ for their morning wake-up, it is simply set to early. As in too-dark-to-see early. Not that darkness hampers their feeding capabilities. Maybe ducks have built in thermal imaging…or are hiding little pairs of night-vision goggles under their wings. Whatever. When they decide it's time for breakfast—which happened about 6:21 EDST this morning—they paddle up from their usual night berth a hundred yards downstream, dock themselves just off my riverbank steps and within easy corn-tossing range of the front deck, and quack loud enough to wake the dead…or any sleeping neighbors for blocks around.
This is not, I must reemphasize, a standard mild-mannered park-pond duck quack. We're talking QUACK! QUACK! QUACK! Part Canada goose, part trumpeter swan, with bit of air-horn from those clown cars at the circus. Loud. Obnoxious. Bleating. Demanding. FEED US! FEED US! FEED US!
Naturally, I dash out and sling them their measure of cracked corn forthwith, before anyone starts shooting. A slave to ducks. What an ignominious position for a dignified nature scribbler, and proof once again that no good deed goes unpunished…
Long after my panhandling waterfowl have breakfasted, morning arrives—not via light flooding over the eastern horizon, but by light which simply sneaks in here, there, and everywhere, like mildew in a closet, until there comes a moment when you realize you can see shape and color. I pluck the camera from the desk and step outside, careful to remain hidden from the ducks' view.
The river is beautiful in the soft light—water the color of dark jade, bankside vegetation a study in gold and orange, tan and russet, yellow, green, and some small plant upstream that shows a dark shade of ox-blood Cabernet. A lone turkey vulture wings slowly overhead.
I love days such as this, love their cloistered feel, love the way some hues are muted and others seem to glow as if lit by an inner light. Life is so wondrous, so lovely…so precious. No day should ever be wasted.
"Com'on, ducks," I said, loud enough so's the paddling pair on the nearby pool could hear my voice. I stepped out from behind the tree and headed toward the corn bin. "Com'on and have a second helping!"

Sunday, October 25, 2009


The river this morning…
It is chilly along the river today—just now, a few minutes past noon, making it above fifty degrees. The weatherman claims we'll mange sixty, but I'm not convinced given his recent track record. At least it is not raining, as it has been for the past few days.
Yesterday a friend came by in and we went out for a couple of hours on a photo excursion. The temperature had been dropping all morning, plus there was intermittent drizzle, and when he got here after a morning at the office, he was already cold, having not left home before his half-day's work with sufficient outerwear. I loaned him an extra insulated field coat and even with that, he never quite got thawed out.
But we made some nice photos, I think—in spite of the cold, damp, dimness.
Today there's sun…so maybe the weatherman's prediction will prove true after all. I hope so. But if not, there's a nice fire crackling on the hearth, plus I've just taken a couple of loaves of pumpkin-spiced carrot and walnut bread from the oven. In a few minutes I'll cut a few slices from one of the still-warm loaves, top with a bit of the cream cheese maple-syrup, cinnamon spread I mixed up last evening for a different bread we had with our late supper, and then I'll sit before the fire awhile with a cup of coffee and my bread.
The yard is full of leaves, most of which fell on Friday during the rain and wind. Eventually they'll get raked into narrow rows and gone over a few passes with the lawnmower. Then, mixed with a bit of topsoil, I'll deploy the excellent mulch around plants and beds.
Some leaves still remain, and they're heartbreakingly beautiful lit by the strong sunlight. The river pours along like molten jade. It is a good day here…or it would be except that yesterday morning a man I knew and liked died suddenly. He'd gone into the laundry room to retrieve some towels from the dryer. His wife heard him fall. He was probably gone when he hit the floor.
Too young to die, being in his fifties. Which, of course, is not true. Young or old, right or poor. Such details are meaningless. We never know when and where death will find us. But it always does, and we always must go.
Walt was a good and decent man. Kind, generous, thoughtful. This world would be a far better place if there were more like him around. Men who think of others before themselves. Men who greet you with a word and smile. Alas, there's now one fewer…
I usually try and answer all post comments on the day they're received. Yesterday I failed, and I apologize. But after my photographer friend left, and the night closed in, I simply couldn't write. I hope that's okay, hope you understand, will overlook and forgive my lapse.
Last night all I could do was sit quietly before the fire….

Friday, October 23, 2009


I've long had a thing for yellow maples. This love affair began with big maple which stood by the back gate of a house where I used to live. A beautifully shaped tree, about 35-feet tall with a rounded crown—dense limbed, and more spread out than those of a typical maple. Every October that maple decked out in the most intensely yellow-gold leaves of any tree I've ever seen.
A few days after it colored up, there'd be a solid carpet of those magnificent leaves on the ground, though the bulk of its bright leaf-treasure still remained up in the tree. I can't begin to tell you how much I looked forward to this precise autumn moment—how I longed for those maple leaves to turn yellow-gold and begin to fall.
More than simple desire or anticipation, it was a yearning, an ache which never really left my psyche, but simply lay dormant from winter through spring, stirring like a waking beast sometime in mid-summer when heat smothered the land and cicadas ratcheted incessantly. The trigger was likely some internal awareness that time was indeed on the move, that in spite of current appearances, a point now not too unthinkably distant down the road would be reached; the seasons would turn again…and it would then be autumn and time for the maple by the gate to turn yellow-gold.
From that instant of realization onward I could scarcely contain my impatience.
When the joyous day finally did arrive—when the gate-maple's leaves turned brilliant yellow-gold with a good scattering on the ground—that magical conjunction meant I could now participate in an event of singular, soul-cleansing magnificence.
I would make my way under the tree, quietly, reverently…and simply stand.
A yellow-gold carpet lay at my feet and covered the ground all about. A yellow-gold domed ceiling began just above my head and extended, layer-upon-layer, blotting out sky and sun. Moreover, many sweeping branches connected high and low with a yellow-gold curtain.
The effect was of being suspended in a yellow-gold world—bathed, immersed, drenched in this single vibrating color. Every dark granule was instantly swept from the deepest recesses of my heart. I was transported, filled with what I can only describe as a holy illumination…as if God had momentarily opened Heaven's door and allowed a rapturous light to stream forth.
Regardless of whether it was cloudy or sunny—morning, midday, or late-afternoon—the world beneath that maple was always glowing. A light which you could feel, which poured over and around and into your being…a light which felt alive.
How do you explain such a thing? To tell others of this is to expose yourself to certain ridicule. And yet it is true. Crazy as it sounds…true.
Since moving away from the house with that wonderful maple by the gate, I've been searching for another tree to take its place. We're talking a couple of decades. If I had the time, I'd try to plant and grow one here beside the river—except logic and the actuarial tables says that's not an option. So the best I can do is take to the woods and explore, amble along various forest trails each October and hope.
And sometimes I do come close to finding another yellow-gold tree that shines all the way into my heart. A maple that uplifts me whenever I stand beneath its October-clad branches. Trees along the trail where I made the photos for this post seemed promising. So did several other individual maples I admired and photographed recently. Close, but not quite imbued with that ability to transform me with their light.
Yet I'm not discouraged in my search. Some day I'll find my elusive maple. For I know with a faith founded on fact that such trees do indeed exist. I sincerely believe that somewhere out there, there's a yellow-gold maple, waiting…just for me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


This upriver shot is for the benefit of Weaver of Grass (see favorite blogs list) who asked, when I posted a similar shot a couple of weeks back (here), if I would take a photo of the same view once autumn's color had progressed. I don't know if today was the peak of the color here along the river—but it's surely close to that point.
I took the stream photo this morning, when I went out to make a shot of the island-roosting turkey vultures sitting and sunning in one of the big sycamores across from the cottage. I probably should have waited until the sun was higher, which would have made the scene less contrasty. As you can see, though, while there is a lot of yellow and rusty gold showing in the riverbanks vegetation, there aren't any reds. That's the usual case with reparian woodlands hereabouts, especially once the Virginia creeper vines have lost their twining scarlet leaves; most maples and such are on slightly higher ground.
Should the color hang around a bit longer and possibly increase, or if I manage a better upstream photo, I'll stick that one up on a future post. In the meantime…this is the upstream view from Riversong Cottage. (Yes, the buzzards are all looking downstream. There's just no accounting for taste in scenery…even among birds. Also, notice the bird in the lower left corner with his wings spread—taking some sun before the morning's flight.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I never quite know what will appear beyond my writing-room window. Usually it's a gray squirrel or Carolina wren, sometime a groundhog or Canada goose.
Today it was a Cooper's hawk. I was busy answering a comment from yesterday's post when a passing shadow caused me to glance up from the keyboard. (Yes, that's right—I'm not a touch typist, so I look at the keyboard and not the screen when I'm typing.)
Anyway, sitting on the ground just beyond the glass was a Cooper's hawk…and like all Cooper's hawks at all times, this one was on high alert—swiveling its head this way and that, looking, staring, scrutinizing. To say a hawk is watchful is like saying the Ohio is a big river—an understatement in the extreme. Hawks are so nervously quick in their sharp-eyed vigilance that they can see everything in every direction at practically at the same time. A hawk is like an all-seeing-eye with feathers and talons.
Like most wild creatures, of course, a hawk is first staying alert to any potential danger to itself. Not that much is going to manage to sneak up and nab a Cooper's hawk. (Although last winter I did watch a small housecat, who should have known better, ambush a Cooper's hawk who was busy ambushing a titmouse. Cat and hawk engaged in a brief but lively tussle—a rolling ball of fur and feathers that whirled dervish-like about the yard for maybe ten seconds, and ended when centrifugal force sort of spat each opponent in opposite directions. The hawk was highly miffed and the cat was embarrassed; the titmouse escaped unscathed.)
This hawk was mostly looking for any movement which might have indicated the makin's of a quick supper. Perhaps a tasty dove. Although it was facing, and often staring at, the stones of the cottage, which were only inches away—so maybe the intended meal had been a mouse or chipmunk.
The hawk was standing no more than five feet away—measured from my nose to his beak. Luckily the camera was on the desk beside the computer. It was late, 5:42 p.m. which is only a couple of minutes from official sunset—though the sun was already below the river corridor's west bank treeline. I knew the bird wouldn't linger long, so there was no time to check or change ISO, shutter speed, or aperture setting; I focused as best I could through the window's glass, fired off several shots…and hoped. According to their exposure data, the 8 shots were all done within the same minute. Then I did what I could in iPhoto to make up for the lack of light.
Incidentally, that dark blur in the lower righthand area is a cactus which sits on the inside window ledge; the lighter blur in the middle shot is a pencil holder on my desk corner.
As expected, the Cooper's hawk didn't stay outside my window for long. That minute during which I made the photos was easily the full extent of the visit—though my guess is that it took up perhaps half that amount of time. Dash in, look around…come up empty…and hurry off to better hunting.
I was just lucky to have witnessed the stopover.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Have you ever wondered whether it's some sort of cosmic joke that busy Mondays are often the prettiest days of the week?
It certainly seemed that way to me today, as I've necessarily spent practically all of it either at the desk or running errands…and of course, the weather was simply gorgeous. A couples of hours ago, however—between trips to the post office, library, and grocery—I grabbed the camera and spent a few minutes making photos. Man does not live by responsibility alone…
What drove me over the edge, or in this case, compelled me into a brief photo binge, was nothing more than a couple of views—but oh, my, what views! Spectacular even by autumn-dress standards, though I admit I may be a bit prejudiced.
The first view is of my road, about 500 yards from the cottage. My section, being on the dead-end portion, is paved but narrower, and lacks even a hint of a center divider line or guardrails along the top of the bank overlooking the river. It's also less traveled, and equally wooded. Alas, while there are plenty of leaves hereabouts, most are yellowish-brown or brownish yellow…except for those still green, or greenish-yellowish-brownish. The reason being there are lots of sycamores, hackberries, and boxelders along here, but precious few maples.
On the other hand, the second view is of the river looking immediately downstream from the cottage, which is pretty much a mix of the same three species of trees. Yup, those yellowish-brownish-greenish leaves look mighty lovely given a bit of warm evening light. Or maybe it just my prejudice showing.
Enjoy the views!

Friday, October 16, 2009


There's a pond up the road from here—an elongated bit of water, curved on one end into a shape resembling a fish hook. The "hook"segment is quite narrow, and surround by scrub woods. There are trees also growing right down to the water along one side of the pond's "shank" portion—though the opposite shore is mucky and shallow, with a wide band that can be either wet or dry, depending on recent rains; beyond this marshy flat, a low, wooded hill rises.
The pond doesn't see many visitors. It's a fair walk in from the road and there's no easy, distinct path. You have to know the pond is there and want to go; most folks don't. Which suits me just fine. I like the forsaken places.

Such neglect pleases the various waterfowl, too—the ducks and geese who regularly raise young here in the spring, and like to feed and loaf here the remainder of the year…at least when the water is open. Herons stalk the shallows. I've see the occasional kingfisher, and once, more than a decade ago, an osprey. And of course there's also the usual Ohio compliment of muskrats, mink, turtles, snakes, frogs, dragonflies, and birds of all sorts, from waders to warblers to woodpeckers. Whitetail deer, as well. And coyotes, raccoons, and possums, seeing as how we're making a list. But I, and maybe one or two like-minded human ramblers, are probably the rarest critters to amble the pond's parameter.

Soon after breakfast, I stole a few minutes from pressing work to make a quick check on the pond. The morning was dark and damp, 38F chilly degrees. The surrounding color wasn't as advanced as I'd expected—though another few days will doubtless make a big difference. When I visited a week ago the landscape was still practically all green.
For whatever reason there wasn't much in the way of wildlife to be seen. At least not by me today. No ducks or geese on the water, or great blue herons to squawk and startle from their fishing. Just a swath of dark water, a yellow-gold hillside, and an October sky the color of old pewter.
I did manage a few quick shots. I'm sure I could have found a lot of other things if I hadn't been so rushed. Making photos, like a lot of good and pleasurable things in life, is mostly a matter of persistence and patience. I can generally muster both. Unfortunately for me this morning, I just didn't have time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


It's been a cold, damp, cold, dark, cold, rainy day here along the river.
Cold, too.
There's an old country saying that autumn goes slipping down the river. The truth of this was visibly evident every time the wind blew, which instantly sent a pile of lemon-yellow boxelder leaves pouring onto the water, as if some profligate pirate were suddenly seized by the desire to hurl away a fortune in gold doubloons.
The newly-freed boxelder leaves would join the occasional maple, hackberry, and sycamore, all of them in their various hues bobbing along upon the slow-moving current like autumnal confetti. This wasn't the main leaf-fall that gives the season its name—but a good precursor of things to come…and possibly sooner than we expect if the weather continues to deteriorate.
I did mention it was cold, right?
Okay, so maybe you folks in Canada and Minnesota and North Dakota don't consider 43F degrees cold. Well, neither do we Ohioans, usually. But confound it, it sure felt cold here today. I huddled at my desk, electric heater on HIGH, yet shivering still, chilled to the bones and feeling a lot like Bob Cratchit trying to keep warm with a single lump of coal in Scrooge's counting house.
The cold—or more likely the steady light drizzle—discourage feeder visitors, too. Only the chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice seemed unaffected. The squirrels stayed inside their snug hollow in the big sycamore near the drive. With the bunch of 'em nestled cozily together, all in their nice fur robes, I bet they were toasty.
I wasn't. I was COLD!
Just before the rain came I went out and tossed the ducks a second scoop of cracked corn. I'd given them one early on, soon after daylight, in hopes of keeping them from quacking like dependent fools and waking the neighbors. A duck could get shot for such behavior hereabouts.
Have to told you I've been feeding those two white ducks who came floating dowstream like wandering featherdusters a couple of months back? [post]
Well, I have, and I can assure you that while ducks may not be the smartest birds to ever waddle up from the sandbar, they're easily the loudest. And like any good bum on the lam, they never forget the source of a free meal. All I have to do is step out onto the deck, say "Hey, ducks!" in anything above a whisper, and they come bleating and quacking from a hundred yards away, like sheep with outboard motors strapped to their butts. I swear they displace wakes that threaten to wash out the bank!
Anyway, the winds blew, the leaves came sifting onto the water, and a portion of autumn went slipping down the river…apparently taking every BTU of available heat with it. But the ducks stayed. And the rains came.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


(Please double click.)
I like clutter…at least a bit of it, anyway.
Pristine rooms makes me nervous. Chairs and couch just so. Magazines squared in a stack on the table. Matching lamps and throw pillows. Art hung at prescribed gallery level on the walls, placed to "come off" an object such as a vase stand and centered to the millimeter. The effect is like a photo set for an interior design publication—too orderly to be comfortable, so overly-organized that relaxation is impossible.
Do real people actually live in such dehumanized, sanitized spaces? Or is this simply a dead giveaway that any inhabitants are aliens?
Rest assured—you'll have no such worries when you visit me. Oh, the place is clean. And I have couches and chairs and tables. The throw pillows match, but only because they came with the couch—though I have a couple more with a Navajo motif which my daughter made, plus one with a moose. Two of the lamps match and two don't. There's some art on the wall, paintings and prints I like, and because I have lots of walls there's lots of art…and more to come, too, when I finally dig it out from boxes in closets and attic. Some of things you'll see will be personal, unique, quirky. Books—well, there are always stacks of books around, and books on the shelves. And CDs by the hundreds in baskets. And did I mention stuff? What sort of stuff? Well, stuff, as in stuff! Rocks and pieces of driftwood and a railroad spike from a old ghost-town tunnel (a supposedly haunted tunnel, by the way.) Also a china cabinet with it's own stuff inside. Candles and candle holders on mantles and ledges and tables and atop the big chest of drawers by the front door. Several of Moon's chew toys scattered about the floor. And I must not overlook my Steinway piano.
I'm probably forgetting things, too. Even though this is a big room we're talking about, there are a lot of things in it…and it looks lived in and reflects the lives and interest of those who live here. And, yes indeed, it is always a bit cluttered. But you can come in, sit before the fire, kick back, sprawl if you're inclined, have a glass of something and a snack to nibble on while we talk.
The charitable might call such an overall style "eclectic." A little of this, a bit of that—yet all somehow working in a cohesive manner and mix. Homey , pleasant, cozy, friendly, comfortable.
If we've built the hearthfire a bit too ambitiously, or it's unseasonably warm outside, we'll open the sliding door and you'll be able to hear the river whispering along, smell the scent of autumn's damp leaves, and perhaps hear a few birds or insects. This river is, as you probably know, literally within spitting distance of the cottage. (Yes, you can if you wish…though mind the swirling air currents.) And I ought to warn you there's a slight chance the open door will provide egress for a bug or arachnid or—if recent past experience is a reliable indicator—possibly a salamander. Moon will deter the mice and raccoons.
The Anti-Clutter League would be appalled! Martha Stewart might cancel my subscription—though I suspect Ms. Martha is a bit more down-to-earth than we give her credit for; any rich lady/businesswoman who takes a probably undeserved prison sentence over unseemly whining and endless legal shenanigans is, in my book, practical, courageous, and classy. At any rate, a bit of clutter in a home is a good thing.
And in may particular case, this good things extends out the doors and up the drive. The river deck is a bit cluttered, and the side deck, too. So is the yard. There are leaves down, though not yet many; the grass could probably use a final cutting; the marigolds need deadheading. But, hey—this is autumn and autumn is nature's season of clutter. Which is probably why I like it so much; autumn fits my style…a bit frayed and tattered, too much stuff in too little space—but lovely and endearing in its disarray.
A comfortable place to ramble the hours away. Autumn's splendid clutter!