Saturday, April 30, 2011


Who says trees aren't colorful in the spring? 

I found this little swamp maple seedling (at least I think that's what it is, though I'm really just guessing and will welcome any correction) when I spotted the bright orangy-red amongst the otherwise vernal greenery and dead-leaf tans of the wooded hillside. Closer investigation revealed this festive little fellow—as dressed up as any maple in autumn. 

While my botany is pretty shaky, I'd guess the coloration is simply due to a temporary lack of chlorophyll in the just-unfurled leaves. Leaves always sport those bright colors we ooh and ahh over in the fall—it's just that the color remains hidden during the spring and summer months, masked by the overpowering green of the chlorophyll.

If you sort of look at the leaves overall arrangement, I think it looks like a scarlet-orange bat spreading its wings. (Okay, you might need to sort of squint, and put your imagination in free-spool.) At the very least, the little seedling seems to saying, "Where's my green!"   


Friday, April 29, 2011


Beauty can sometime be found in the most unexpected places.

Yesterday evening at twilight, just as the sun was about to disappear behind the higher skyline to the west, I stepped out from the great room onto the narrow deck which runs across the end of the cottage. As you can see, this deck directly faces the river—though usually, when the stream is at normal pool, the river level is ten feet or so down. Now, of course, it is high from all the rain we've had these last couple of weeks. And yes, that water is as close as it appears—about 6 inches below the bottom edge of the deck's 2x12 stringers…and under it, in case you're wondering.

Scary? No, not any more. I've learned this is the usual rise-level after a few days of heavy rains. At this point I have about another 12 inches before it tops the bank and comes into the yard, and 18 or so additional inches of leeway until the water would actually be level with the doorsill and about to get into the house. Somehow I knew, before these rains even began, that the river would treat us right—and I trusted that intuition. I don't want to make too much of this, but it was a gut feeling that should have been unreasonable given the dire forecasts, yet one I believed with a trust beyond mere wishful thinking. 

Anyway…what you see here is the river in front of the cottage, the pool and big riffle—now deep underwater—which appears in many posted photos, and the island across from the house—also mostly underwater. 

While an expanse of high, muddy floodwater might not usually be photogenic, the portion where the golden light of the setting sun smears across the fast-moving surface was—or at least seemed so to me.

What do you say? Hidden beauty, or ugly old floodwater?

Thursday, April 28, 2011


I spent all of yesterday writing a couple of deadlined columns and keeping an eye on the storm situation. Except for a few 90-second trips onto the deck to check on the river level, I never went outside. Nevertheless, I managed to log, and even photograph, a new bird to the list of riverbank visitors.

Ohio has six year-around resident species of woodpeckers—pileated, red-headed, yellow-shafted flicker, red-bellied, downy, and hairy. (Arguably, you could also include the yellow-bellied sapsucker, though most of these birds simply pass through during migration to their breeding grounds in northern deciduous forests. Only a handful hang around for nesting, and almost never in this southwestern corner of the state—though a few might overwinter hereabouts. The state's Division of Wildlife lists the bird as "endangered.")

Of the half-dozen species, all but one, the red-headed, are common year-around visitors along the riverbank. In fact, I see the other five woodpeckers almost daily. However, until yesterday, since moving to this riverside cottage almost seven years ago, I'd never spotted a single red-headed woodpecker in the trees along the stream, or hanging around any of the seed or suet feeders—though they're not particularly uncommon throughout the rural farmlands a few miles to the west. So I was momentarily flabbergasted when I looked out my workroom window and saw this handsome red-headed woodpecker investigating the box elder near the front door. It was drizzling at the time, the light dim, and I had to shoot at an oblique angle through a glass that badly needs cleaning, hand-holding my 70-300mm zoom—so the photo isn't all that good. But a moment after I recorded this image, the bird flew off across the river to the island, and that was the end of my photo-op. I'm glad I got what I did.

That makes it a banner bird week here…first, my annual grosbeak showed up (here) for a good long look, and yesterday a red-headed woodpecker. Wow! 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


My neighbor has an apple tree that grows on our mutual property line near the drive. By most standards, as apple trees go, this one is a rather poor example…though not through any fault or neglect on Everett's part; he simply acquired the medium-sized tree when he purchased the wedge of land. A tree of uncertain origin and heritage—perhaps wild—it was thoughtlessly planted in partial shade, on a steep, eroding bank. While it annually sets quite a number of fruits, only a very few apples manage to mature, thanks to the ranks of gourmandizing squirrels whose den is in the hollow of the huge sycamore a few yards away. And though I'm one of those wild-foraging apple junkies who almost never finds an apple he dislikes, on several occasions I've tried one of the dozen or so of this tree's apples that somehow survives predations—and the plain truth is, the tree's apples taste bad.

However, every April, this lowly apple tree finds its moment of breathtaking glory—responding to the ancient calling of increasing sunlight, feeling the pulse of rising sap, it bursts out with fragrant blooms worthy of anyone's attention.

Yesterday evening the showers let up for awhile. During the sort of gloaming period before too-dark twilight, I made a series of photos of the apple tree's blooms. The more I composed and shot, the more I became entranced by the subtle charm of the pink-and-white flowers with their delicate yellow stamens. Later, after I'd uploaded the images onto the computer where a single blossom covered the entire screen, I was even more astounded by their incredible splendor.   

I think we all have a tendency to overlook too many of those natural delights which are regularly placed smack under our noses. We do this, I suspect, because we're conditioned to desire the spectacular, typically expecting to be wowed, thinking we must be treated to a "big show," a sight so awesome we oooh and ahhh in giddy wonder afterwards. What we thus fail to see and appreciate is the breathtaking beauty in the smaller things, the astonishing comeliness in the commonplace.

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps that is true in certain cases. An apple tree in bloom is the most commonplace of sights come spring. But look close—there's nothing ordinary about those familiar blooms. In the end, it doesn't matter what the tree's apples taste like…the fact is, our lives can never be overfilled with beauty.


Monday, April 25, 2011


A rather bedraggled squirrel—doubtless the very vandal who gnawed through my feeder lines last week—uses his bushy tail for an umbrella while he sits in the box elder where the well-stocked feeders once hung, and hungrily contemplates the error of his ways.    

Rain, rain, rain, heavy rain, possibly sunny, rain, rain. That's the weather prediction for the next seven days. Only worth quacking about if you're a duck. Otherwise, not exactly the sort of forecast that makes you want to bound out of bed in the morning.

Of course it rained this morning and afternoon. Most of the time not very hard, just passing bands of showers. The sun even popped out for a microsecond here and there. But after a week of similar weather already, we're getting decidedly soggy here on the riverbank. The river is up, but only a little since yesterday evening—when it was still up, but down from yesterday morning. That might only make sense to another riverbanker. During long periods of daily, or near-daily showers, the river level yo-yos by the hour—up, down, up, down, up, up, up, down, down, up. We seasoned water rats have established our personal river-level markers by which we watch to keep tabs on where we're at and which direction things are going. A glance is all it takes.   

At the moment I'm looking at a male downy woodpecker who's decided to join the chickadees and finches and eat sunflower seeds from the feeder hanging under the eave beyond my writing-room window. The poor little bird looks as though he's been whirled around in a blender—feathers either matted or sticking out every which way, like a punk-rock teenager with access to a new jar of hair gel. 

A few minutes ago a female rose-breasted grosbeak flew in for a meal. Grosbeaks are quite rare here along the river. I'm lucky if I see more than a couple per year. So on this rainy Monday, I may have just received my annual grosbeak allotment. 

Okay. I'll take that as a compensation gift for the lousy weather.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Today's glorious sunrise lights another Easter morning, shining triumphantly on the most holy and important day in all Christendom. Without Easter, Christianity would be just another fairytale, an old narrative about a poor carpenter's son who grew up to preach a gospel of love for all mankind. A teacher and healer who was nailed to a cross, tortured unto death, and whose body was then prepared for burial and placed in a borrowed tomb, where the entrance was sealed by a great stone.

End of story…? No! On the third day the stone was rolled away! Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ from the tomb, the conquering of life over death. Easter is God's promise fulfilled, sealed in blood, extended through grace. And regardless of the weather, Easter is the most beautiful and joyous day of the year. 

He is risen! 

He is risen, indeed!

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 22, 2011


It is cool. damp, overcast, and raining lightly, with more and heavier rain predicted for this afternoon, as well as tonight, through the weekend, and at least the first couple of days next week. Some of it, they warn, will be quite heavy. Not the news a riverbank dweller likes to hear—especially since it rained earlier in the week and the river's level has already risen to within a couple of feet of the top of the bank. 

However, for whatever reason I'm not much worried. The predicted scenario doesn't seem quite right to indicate real trouble ahead—not like it did back in March. Call it faith. But the truth is, I simply don't feel the bad vibes; I trust this old river.

I did duck outside long enough to make a quick shot of these droplet-covered tulips. There must be half-a-hundred or more tulips now in bloom, in magentas, pinks, and yellows. Every fall we put out a few bulbs, but we need to mix in more colors—reds from crimson to burgundy, and those that are all but purple, various whites, and oranges the rich color of a robin's breast. A whole artist's palette of tulips to fortify the fading daffodils. 

Over the last two days, the nefarious squirrels have gnawed through the ropes suspending  one of the big seed feeders, and the wire suet block holder—thereby sending both crashing to the ground. I've temporarily sat the fallen seed feeder atop a stump, where it has been generally commandeered by the bushy-tailed perpetrators, to the consternation of the titmice and chickadees. But the suet feeder is empty, which has the various woodpeckers in a tizzy. My guilt at this neglect—not to mention the nasty looks I imagine I'm being given by the downies and nuthatches—has about reached the stage where I'm going to have to figure our how to reaffix it somewhere else for the time being. 

This is the third time in less than a month the same seed-feeder's rope has been cut. Vandals exhibiting a pattern of criminal behavior. I'm getting tired of restringing. So I expect one of the chores I'm going to have to accomplish between rains is to replace every feeder rope with chain, which means a trip to the hardware store—and I might as well add ones for the hummingbird feeders which I'll put out in the next week or so. This also means dragging out my ladder, though I don't think it's long enough to reach one of the limbs I want to use. 

Or…I could simply cook up a big pot of burgoo—squirrel being the stew's chief ingredient. Then I could just redo the feeders using more rope. 


Wednesday, April 20, 2011


When are spring flowers not flowers? 

When they're not blooms, but rather buds. Or more specifically in this case, the leaf buds of an Ohio buckeye tree and a box elder.

A week or so ago, during the time when about all I could manage was an occasional short-term gimp around the yard, I made several photos of just-opened leaf buds on a Ohio buckeye tree. The medium-sized tree grows up by the road at the top of the steep bank, and is so surrounded by other trees that I didn't even notice it the first year I moved here. 

I think the buckeye's terminal buds—its now peeled back yellowish outer layer of protective scales, tipped with rusty-orange, which covered everything while the bud was dormant over the winter, and the still tightly furled green leaves—are as pretty as any wildflower.

The box elder—one of many, big and small, on the property—grows a few yards away from the buckeye. Its axillary bud clusters, a contrasting Christmasy mix of red-and-green against a clear-blue April sky, are nothing short of spectacular. Don't you agree they'd give any spring ephemeral a run for its money? Of course the deep-red color of the brand new leaves will only remain red for a brief period before turning vernal green.

Blooms? Buds? Who cares? Both are part of spring's magical beauty.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Yellow throats and butter butts. Sounds kinda kinky, huh? Like somebody has been having a bit too much personal fun among the dairy products. 

Relax…what we're dealing with here is warbler-speak.

Spring is not only wildflower time in southwest-Ohio, it's also when the colorful squads of tiny warblers arrive hereabouts as they migrate northward to their summer nesting ranges. Slim-bodied birds, most the size of chickadees, but with longer beaks—dressed in all sorts of patches and patterns of yellow, gray, slate blue, black, white, brown, orange—striped and non-striped. And of course, most males and females of each species sport different looks.  

Breathtaking, confusing troupes of feathered rainbows, flitting about the treetops, their often musical calls ringing through the greening vernal woods. At once both a birder's delight and bane, if you're the sort who insists on putting a name to things and checking off those little boxes on your life list. Personally, I'm content to remain happily bewildered, capable of identifying some of the warblers I see and hear, and delighted just as much by those that leave me baffled.

Here along the river, I saw my first warbler of the season a couple of weeks ago—a so-called "butter butt," or as it's more rightly known, a yellow-rumped warbler. As if warbles weren't perplexing enough, this particular species comes in two variations—the "Myrtle" and the "Audubon's." The former is the one most often seen in the eastern U.S. and the latter mostly confined to the western states. Occasionally, though, one decides to go visiting and fly with his non-majority kin. Not often; what the bird guides refer to as a "casual" visitor. But I saw an Audubon's Yellow-Rumped here a couple of years ago and it mystified me no end until the obvious eventually penetrated. 

Unfortunately, the recent butter-butt (a Myrtle variation) didn't hang around long enough for me to make a photo. But another bird I did manage to photograph—albeit not too well—was a yellow-throated warbler—a bird with a noted preference for sycamores and riverine woodlands.

Warblers are mostly insect eaters, and therefore not much interested in hanging around the feeders with the titmice and goldfinches. But this bright little yellow-throat kept making regular passes at the suet block, though it had to contend with downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers who viewed such behavior as tantamount to thievery by a gaudy-dressed interloper.

Rain is predicted for today and tomorrow, and Friday through at least the weekend. So Thursday will likely be my only chance to get into the bigger woods up the road and better assess the local warbler situation. They're small, quick, and not easy to photograph…but I want to see if I can't add a few warbler portraits to my files.


Monday, April 18, 2011


When we think of spring, the first color that color that comes to mind is green. Chlorophyll green. Green in a a thousand-and-one shades. Vernal green. 

Spring is the green season, sure enough…and green is the dominate, eye-enriching seasonal hue everywhere you look. But green isn't the only color game in town.

There's the pink of spring beauties in the woods…

The gold of forsythia along the drive…

A purple clump of violets beside the walk…

White dutchman's breeches nodding in the wind…

Sky-blue bluebells down by the river…

And jaunty ol' yellow dandelions just waiting to be picked for a mess of salad greens.

Spring is indeed green in more greens than there are names for all the color's variations…but spring is also every other shade of the rainbow, and then some! Plus it's also delicious!

Saturday, April 16, 2011


There's fog along the river this morning—not a lot, but enough to make everything soft and indistinct. The vernal world seen through a misty veil. The forecast says a fifty percent chance of rain. Seeing as how there was a light shower moving through when I got up several hours ago, I say it's already one-hundred percent, though the weather pundits declare such matters in mysterious ways, bending words and definitions into meanings I've yet to figure out. 

Tomorrow is supposed to be partially sunny, then showers for the all of next week. The wildflowers and burgeoning greenery, certainly the toads, peepers and their kin now calling from the bogs and backwaters, will doubtless appreciate the long drink. Personally, I wish it would hold off a bit as I'm just now easing back into the swing of things, outdoorwise. After more than a month of severe pain that ratcheted up and down by the hour, wrecking my sleep and ability to rest, turned typical two-hour writing stints into all-day ordeals, and worst of all, kept me from getting out and about to explore the wondrous progression of my favorite of all seasons—and the reason I finally had to take a hiatus from blogging—finally…finally!…I seem to be getting better. 

Heretofore I've managed—by gritting my teeth and popping pain pills, and usually sweating bullets as I tried to keep my mind focused on the task at hand—to keep up on meetings, work, doctor appointments, and necessary errands. With only a couple of exceptions, I mostly pulled it off…though just barely. But attempting any fun things beyond an expedition to the rocking chair on the deck or the side yard flower beds, was out of the question. Yesterday, however, I was able to get out and poke along one of my favorite nearby trails, enjoy the wildflowers, make a handful of photos. I didn't have the energy for more than an hour, but at this point I'll take whatever I can get—and the best part is that I didn't pay an excruciating penalty afterwards.

I've missed posting, missed your comments and conversation—missed sharing my little corner of the world during this most glorious time of year. Consider this my foggy morning return…and yeah, it sounds like the title of a bluegrass tune. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Yesterday's stiff breezes that caused the yellow daffodils on the hill to nod, and kept the wind chimes under the eaves ringing, settled after the arrival of dusk. It was still and almost silent when I took Moon-the-Dog out at bedtime last night. The only sound was the sibilant whisper of the river hurrying along. Unusual, because when the river's at normal level, water dashing and sloshing through the big riffle in front of the cottage produces a constant dull roar—a sort of friendly white noise that is both soothing and reassuring. A lack of sound means the water is high, as is indeed the case after heavy rains on Monday. High enough to cause the stream to lose its voice, though this time around not high enough to be worrisome.   

Overhead, stars glittered in the clear night sky. In the west, glimpsed through a lacework of sycamore branches, a sliver of moon rode the obsidian darkness like a platinum canoe. 

•   •   •

This morning it is cloudy once again, very dark off to the west-southwest, and at the moment looks like it could rain. The forecast, however, claims no rain and calls for partly sunny with a high of 63˚F, plus a repeat of yesterday's gusty winds. But I'm skeptical. I'd hoped to spend at least a couple of hours poking about a nearby woods in search of wildflowers to photograph. The reduced light is no problem for getting good images—in fact, I'd rather shoot under an overcast rather than bright sunlight; though breezy conditions make macro photography of spring's delicate blooms frustrating. But I'm not especially keen on getting wet, or slogging through mud afterwards—and that's not even the worst of it since wildflower shots regularly require a kneeling or flat-of-the-belly angle. 

Sooooo…I suppose I'll wait and see what the weather does later on before deciding what I'm going to do. Yet I'm well aware that a dozen years ago I'd have gone anyway, regardless of the prospects of rain or the possibility I'd have to wallow around in the cold mud for my shots. But today, I'm just not in the mood for such messy and uncomfortable semi-amphibious photography. Doubtless another sign I'm turning into an old wuss.     

Friday, April 1, 2011


April made her grand entrance under a blue-sky canopy amid a wealth of sunshine—slipping in like a shining-faced ingénue in a diaphanous green gown. 

When April arrives there’s no doubt the seasonal corner has been turned, no question that spring has come with irrefutable certainty. Every soft breeze is laden with the unmistakable message—a vernal richness of leavened earth and quickened sap. The heady air carries the fecund energy of woods and wetlands, streams and meadows miraculously rejuvenated by warming sun. Each drawn breath seems sweetened by the burgeoning season. 

Spring ephemerals are starting to bloom—delicate flowers in pastel shades straight from a childhood Easter basket. 

Buds have appeared on almost every woody plant, from lilacs to maples, honeysuckle to hackberry. Forsythia blooms gleam their gold. Grass glows in brilliant emerald, while willows turn an electric yellow, as if taking a direct charge from the midday sun. Soon many of those buds will flower, while others—tiny, tight curls of new leaves—will unfurl and grow rapidly, almost before our eyes. The distant view through a woods will foreshorten as the field-of-view closes in, drawn into an ever-smaller circle. 

April brings resurrection—stirring life that reawakens, emerges, renews, begins. The revivifying earth is thus a verification of hope and a symbol of promise that seeds our belief in a truth eternal. 

What a lovely, wonderful, glorious day to be an April fool!