Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Frost aster, so named because it is one of the last plants to remain in flower—even surviving through multiple light frosts. Because of this tenacity, it's an important source of pre-winter food for various insects, including wasps and bees.   

On the face of it, dew is nothing more than water droplets formed by atmospheric moisture condensing on various surfaces as they lose heat. Dew occurs when moisture forms at a rate faster than it can evaporate. Should the temperature fall below a certain point, the dew becomes frost.

A few minutes after my arrival, the morning's dew had all but disappeared from this clump of big bluestem—though you can see a few droplets on the seeds and stems, one nicely sunlit.

Autumn is the year's best time for dew formation. In turn, it's one of my favorite times for making photos, because a bit of dew on the even the most mundane, commonplace object—such as grass stems or strands of a spider's web—is at once dressed with a sparkling touch of jeweled magic.

Tiny dew droplets strung like transparent pearls along the fine strands of a diminutive web. 

A morning walk through an old field, along the edge of a wood or stream, will afford a thousand possible images to record. Of course, given the ephemeral nature of dew, your photographic time is fleeting and seldom endures long enough for you to barely scratch the surface of available possibilities.

Sunlight shining through dew-cloaked Indian grass almost looks like frost. 

That was the case this morning…I only had about fifteen minutes in which to snap away like mad before the rising sun raised the dew point, and the tiny droplets which had enacted their transformation on the everyday, suddenly evaporated into thin air.  

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I'm always of two minds regarding change…on the one hand I like new new places, new vistas, new objects and experiences; while at the same time I find great comfort and reassurance in the tried-and-true, the familiar and routine, the honorably worn.

A fine line sometimes, and not always clearly apparent. Which is why I can occasionally dither ridiculously over some of the most inconsequential matters.

Perhaps you noticed today's edition of Riverdaze looks slightly different. I hope you also noticed it doesn't look too different. For some time, I've been thinking of giving the site a complete makeover—a fundamental transformation geared to take advantage of many of the new design features and options Blogger has lately made available. I had in mind an entirely new look. And then the other, resistant, side of my thinking kicked in—the part that appreciates the well-established and accustomed—and I ended up performing more of a tweak than a serious change.

I hope you like the slightly new look and don't find it too jarring. I certainly hope it doesn't cause any viewing problems. Perhaps the biggest improvement is that I can now post photos a bit larger. I'll also be trying a few other changes during the weeks ahead. If you don't like something, if it doesn't work, say so. You are my always welcomed guests here at the riverbank, and I want you to be comfortable and enjoy your visits.

Friday, September 24, 2010


By the calendar it's autumn…though the temperature feels more like summer. Still, in spite of this seeming inconsistency, time and season move inexorably along a pathway written in the stars, responding to the simple mechanics of orbit and tilt.

Today I find myself feeling much like this New England Aster—faded and more than a bit worn, with no edge that isn't noticeably ragged. I'd like nothing better than to spend the morning sitting on the deck watching the river—such as remains of it after our prolonged drought—slip gently downstream. Alas, I have another appointment at the optometrist's, a stop afterwards at the grocery, and an article to write and send in once I get back home. And after that…well, let's just say my dance card is full for the afternoon.

That's really not a complaint. I like staying busy; appreciate having work; and have great hopes that this time the vision problems I've been having since spring will be corrected with the new lenses I'm to pick up.

Sill, I'd like to just kick back, play hooky from responsibility, and join this old wildflower in the meadow for a long day's bask in the sun…

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The latter half of this summer has been hot and dry…
as you can tell by the bare-bones look of the riffle in front,
and looking upstream, of the cottage.
Normally, there'd be enough water coming down
between the rocks for a good canoeist to negotiate
from top to bottom and never drag or bump a single stone.
Let the seasonal celebration begin! Autumn is here and summer has gone on a nine-month hiatus. Hooray!
Yeah, yeah, I hear those mutterings from you astronomical nitpickers with framed star charts on the wall and a Celestron Edge 1400 HD as the optical centerpiece of your backyard observatory. I do know the seasonal switch isn't technically official until that precise moment when the sun crosses the celestial equator, which occurs at 11:09 p.m. EDT. But I say one should never become such a stickler for details that you mess up a good excuse for a party…and who wants to have a FALL IS HERE fête after dark? Nope, you gotta give a little slack occasionally. Autumn does arrive today. Let's not get bogged down by the practically trivial.
Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way…
Earlier this morning, camera in hand, I took a quick saunter around the cottage and along the riverbank. I thought I'd share a few quick snaps.
Autumn may begin with an astronomical event…
but visual autumn begins with a single colored leaf.
Thanks entirely to morning sunlight rather than colored leaves,
the Cottage Pool appears decidedly autumnish—don't you think?
Of course a well-dressed finch simply has to pick up the theme.
Same pool, moments later, different angle—
but that single sycamore leaf says change is afoot.
Morning light through a box elder leaf,
which shows a bit of foretelling rust.
A great blue heron caught in the act of fishing near the deck.
Purple coneflower seed heads. Time to collect them, pull them
apart, allow the seeds to dry indoors for a few days
then bag half for spring potted starts and winter sow the rest in a new bed.
Bankside looking upstream.
"No, you don't see me…I'm hidden, just a knot on the limb
and most definitely not a squirrel. Really!"
A new plant I was recently given which which shall remain nameless,
because I've forgotten what it's called.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Sycamores across from the cottage.

Well, it looks as though I've survived another summer. As I said before, summer is my least favorite of the seasons—though there are many things about summer I like. The heat is my biggest grip. Anything above 75˚F is too hot for my boreal tastes.

As if to rub itself in my face on this final day of the season, today's afternoon temperature is predicted to hit a high of 90˚F. I say that's a decided lack of good manners, like a guest who cleans out your refrigerator before departing. But I'll endure such childish games and say good riddance—autumn will be here tomorrow and with it the finest weather along with some of the prettiest scenery of the entire year.

This is also the last day of Myladylove's 10-day vacation. On the agenda is a trip to the doctor for her annual checkup, lunch somewhere on the far side of town, a possible run to check out a new outlet mall, and a visit to the Ikea store near Cincinnati.

I once asked a friend about his recent vacation. He's one of those extreme sports outdoor types whose idea of a good time is kayaking some ugly piece of jungle whitewater, or climbing the most challenging rock face of a soaring mountain where a single misstep would send him plunging over a sheer, 1000-foot drop-off. So I wasn't too surprised by his answer.

"There were moments when I honestly didn't think I'd survive," he said.

"Did you encounter troubles trekking across some foreign wasteland? Or have a close call cave diving in the tropics?" I asked, ready to be regaled by his latest adventure.

"Nahhh," he said, looking a little sheepish. "Nothing like that. It was my wife and her chore list. She was relentless …dang near worked me to death!"

Our recent attempt at vacation has given new insight to my friend's explanation.

The problem is that we didn't take a real vacation. When Myladylove's time-off date rolled around, she wasn't feeling good because of an upper respiratory and sinus infection, which caused concurrent inner-ear problems. I'm still having vision difficulties because of the contact lens issues. Moreover, at the time her vacation began, Myladylove's sister, who lives in east-Tennessee, was in the hospital with the potential for things to take a serious turn, necessitating that we'd have to head south.

So we made a command decision and elected to forgo our planned wilderness campout for several shorter excursions—plus a day here and there at home to laze by the riverside and watch autumn come slipping in. Unfortunately, this latter notion kept getting interrupted by Myladylove's inability to sit idle when she could be working on something. Naturally, since it was a joint vacation, all work projects were expected to be addressed through dual labor.

Things reached the point where, not only was my own survival in question, but hers as well, and I found it necessary to lay down the law over breakfast yesterday morning: "From now on, you're going to rest!" I said. "It isn't negotiable, and will be enforced even if I have to drag you off to a lake for a picnic and duct tape you into your chaise longue! And quit grinning at me like that—I'm not kidding!"

So yesterday we lazed around for two or three hours. I shot a few photos around the cottage. Myladylove made a turquoise, red jasper, and silver necklace. Then we ran around to various stores, did a few necessary errands, and got back home just as the sun was going down. But we didn't once pick up a shovel or pick-axe, load a single boulder into the wheelbarrow, or rake even a cubic yard of gravel. And who knows…we might even manage another two-hour sit-down late this afternoon!

The sky's the limit on this last day of summer AND vacation!

Saturday, September 11, 2010


At first I thought the movement was merely a leaf blown around the corner by an errant breeze.
We were sitting on the side deck where we'd just finished a late lunch. The morning had been spent working on a walkway—digging hard-packed earth, placing stones, shoveling gravel. Now, well-fed and warmed by sunshine sparkling off the nearby water, we were reluctant to give up the comfort of our rockers when giving in to the urge for a siesta seemed the more fitting notion.
That's when the brownish motion caught my eye. I shifted languidly for a better look. Not a leaf, but a toad!
"We have a visitor," I said to Myladylove.
She looked my way, saw I was focused on something not too far beyond her bare right foot…and in true woods-savvy survivalist country-girl mode, bounded from her chair without further ado.
"Whaaaat!" she blurted on the way up.
I grinned and pointed—and before she'd quite resolved onto the target, the toad made a couple of quick hops in her general direction. This naturally prompted an additional evasive reaction on Myladylove's part—a rearward leap that attained both height and distance and was impressive enough that Moon the dog arose groggily from her slumbers, looking to bark or bite as the situation required.
The toad hopped again. "Shoot!," said Myladylove, "It's just a plain ol' toad!" Whereupon she whirled and glared. "Why'd you scare me!"
Eventually, both dog and woman got resettled. The toad continued to hop and sit, working its way along the side of the cottage where the wooden deck meets the building's limestone walls. Obviously it was lunchtime for other riverbankers, as well.
Every so often the toad's hunting paid off. While we watched the lumpish stalker found several ants, a spider, two beetles, and a fat black cricket. The toad would spot a potential target, perhaps cock it's head for a better look, sneak close (yes, sneak—in a sort of scooting, scrunching fumble that couldn't rightly be called a hop) and after a moment's additional scrutiny…zap would go the sticky tongue and whatever it was simply disappeared in a gulp.
"That's really cool!" Myladylove said.
And so I went on a quick bug prowl of my own through the yard, turned over a few stones, and came back with a variety of tasty treats for Mr. Toad—who was more than happy to zap/gulp everything I tossed his way. Myladylove laughed with delight. I told her about the huge toad that lived near the back porch of the house where I grew up, and how on summer evenings I'd catch lightening bugs, stick them on the end of a broomstraw, and feed them one-by-one to the warty-looking fist-sized amphibian.
"Those swallowed fireflies continued to flash, and that ol' toad's belly glowed like a flickering nightlight," I said.
We watched and fed our deckside toad for another half hour. We'd left the door to the cottage open so Moon could trek back and forth to her water bowl as needed…and the toad seemed to feel any interior privileges extended to him, as well. The surprisingly nimble critter hopped onto the raised sill, then over the threshold. At which point, apparently liking what he saw of the great room, he took off for possible post-lunch quarters under the couch or maybe the piano. I nabbed him on the run (hop?) and patiently carried him back outside. After a stern admonition to mind his manners, I deposited the toad on the deck beyond the opened door.
The funny thing is, the first ejection didn't work, and neither did the second. The toad would hop along the wall a foot or two in the direction I'd pointed him, then turn around and hop back to the doorway—where it was again up and over and into the cottage. By the third time of capturing and carrying my uninvited guest back outside, I was beginning to feel like a harried bouncer at a rural bar.
"That's one determined toad," Myladylove said, getting up to take the dishes inside before we resumed our walk-building labors. "Don't you let that toad get in the house," she added, giving me the sort of look which said she fully believed I might actually be capable of such negligence.
This time I deposited the obstinate toad at the far end of the deck, twenty feet from the open door. "Now go your way and sin no more," I told him. "I'm almost sorry I helped gather your lunch." Then I went back to the front door, reached around to the inside corner where I keep a rigged ultralight spinning rod standing at the ready, and quickly made my way down the adjacent steps to the edge of the river, looking to get in a few casts for smallmouth bass before my coworker's return.
I'd managed precious few tosses when Myladylove reappeared. "Where's that toad?" she demanded.
I looked toward the end of the deck. No toad. I looked along the limestone wall beyond. No toad there, either—though the planting bed which extends all the way to the rear of the building is chocked full of of mulch, any brownish-gray lump of which could have been the errant toad.
"Dunno exactly," I said, trying to work out the odds of a half-lie versus admitting the truth. "He was hopping toward the rear of the house last I saw of him."
"Uh-huh," said Myladylove in a tone dripping with disbelief. She picked up a shovel, hefted it as if checking for balance and aerodynamics during a roundhouse swing. "You'd just better hope so, Buster."
Then she tossed me the shovel. "Let's get back to work. You dig."

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Pokeweed raceme stalk, upon which
the white flowers, and later
the purple berries, grow.
Myladylove says I'm too easily distracted by beauty.
River rock near cottage.
Generally when she says this, she does so with an affectionate, if somewhat resigned, smile. The comment usually comes when we're working on some small task outside, and I've just happened to glance around and noticed a bird or bug, or a particular cast of fleeting light upon a bit of riverside landscape…and decide to make a dash for the camera.
Hummingbird on canna lily.
(Pix NOT take through window this time!)
Should her long-suffering indulgence of my photo-fickle ways have temporarily worn a bit thin—sometimes the case when we've been working together several hours and I've spotted a dozen or more subjects requiring my immediate photographic attention—I can usually get back in her good graces by replying: "I am indeed distracted by beauty…which is why I'm always so attracted to you!"
Cabbage white butterfly on sedum.
(Yes, she knows what I'm glibly up to—but I say it with such honest sincerity that she just can't help succumbing. The truth shall set you free…)
Some sort of bee or fly on a fancy marigold.
(No, I didn't key it down…my laziness gene got the better of me.)
Yard chores and a graveled walkway were the outdoor work which occupied us throughout most of the recent extended holiday weekend and Myladylove's subsequent day off. For once the weather cooperated; fair skies and cooler temperatures made our sweat-heavy labor, uh, less sweatily laborious. That same nice weather also provided ample impromptu photo ops…and concurrently revealed the genuine depth of Myladylove's devotion to her hopelessly incorrigible mate.
Young goldfinch on another canna lily…
again, shot plein-air and
not poached through the study window.
What you see here are the results of those recent brief desertions.
Silver-spotted skipper, looking a bit worse for wear,
on another sedum.
Beauty is always worth pausing to savor…
Bluejay feather on hackberry stump.
…even Myladylove agrees!
Morning glories by the back door.

Friday, September 3, 2010


It has been a while since the sun disappeared over the western horizon. I've watched the sky above the tops of the tall sycamores lining the river's far bank change through the usual cycle of ever-darkening blues—azure, sapphire, cerulean, cobalt, indigo. Its present hue is a deep navy with hints of purple. A lovely rich color, mysterious and vaguely familiar—the exact same shade, I realize, as that great oceanic river of the Gulf Stream that sweeps northward along the Atlantic coast, and which I once crossed through between Florida and Cuba.
In time, all color will disappear and the sky will become merely a lighter darkness within a field of black. But for now, there's still that fathomless blue above the trees—and a movement which catches my eye. Swallow? Nighthawk? No, the fluttering is hurried, distinctive…bat!
Moments later there are two, then five or six—fluttering, spiraling, twisting, turning, tumbling, dipping, diving, even flying upside down. Quick, erratic, moving so fast it's often hard for the eye to follow. Watching them, I could see how the world's best aeronautical engineers might simply end up weeping. Nothing they might imagine—never mind design—will ever fly half so well. Bats aren't simply the masters of the air, they seem to control the physics of flight, bend the rules to suite their needs, defy gravity.
The pool below the rapids, and directly in front of the cottage, is rich in aquatic insects—mayflies, midges, caddis, etc. Many of these "bugs" hatch at night, often at twilight. Thus it's a popular feeding spot for all manner of birds—and once the sun sets, bats. On a good, bug-rich evening, I'll have 20-50 bats feeding fast and furious over the pool, routinely zipping within a yard or less of where I stand on the deck overlooking the water. Sometimes a bat will pass so close to my face that I can feel their wake against my cheek. The wild show lasts perhaps 30 minutes before the bats move their mealtime madness elsewhere.
If I were a better naturalist, I'd be able to tell you the species of bats which visit. I'm convinced, given a noticeable difference in sizes, flying patterns, and feeding styles, that there are at least two different species involved, maybe three. But in fact, I'm perfectly content to watch and simply be awed by them…though lately I've been trying to capture a few images.
Should you ever be in the market for a photographic challenge, you need look no farther than the nearest bat colony. I'm pretty sure that expression about being "driven batty" was originally coined for and applied to those poor souls who tried taking their photos—photos of the bats, I mean, not of the frustrated photographers. Trying to photograph feeding bats can turn a teetotaler into a rum-swilling derelict. Those of a nervous disposition are apt to wind up needing years of deep analysis and subsequent therapy. I wouldn't suggest it as a shared spousal activity, either, because of the likelihood of ending up spouseless.
Yes, given the right equipment, the task would be far easier. I don't have the right equipment. All I'm using is my old Nikon D-70 and its built-in flash, with an 18-70 mm zoom. Autofocus doesn't work on high-speed targets flying through the darkness. Moreover, I'm still having trouble with my eyesight—not that anyone is capable of manually focusing on a feeding bat. I simply pre-focus at about six feet and fire away. Human reflexes being what they are (mine, anyway) I manage to catch something about 70 percent of the time—most of which proves to be a bat wingtip way over on the edge of the frame, or maybe a blurry blob fairly well centered. About one in twenty images will be okay, and about one in fifty of those slightly better than okay.
I still haven't managed what I consider a dandy bat shot; so far, this is the best of the lot.