Saturday, July 30, 2011


We had a dandy thunderstorm yesterday, about 6:30 p.m. I'd noticed a sudden early darkening outside, and soon afterwards, as rumbles and mutterings approached from the west, felt cooler air coming in through the kitchen window's screen—damp air that carried the unmistakable scent of earth and leaves and grass…and rain.

When I heard the first thrum of oversized drops on the leaves of the sycamores which shelter the kitchen side of the cottage, I stopped my supper preparations and went into the great room. There I grabbed a chair from the dinning table, opened the front door which leads to the side deck and has a good view of the river a few yards beyond, and placed the chair in the opened doorway—a front-row seat on the action.

And action I got! One of those violent clash-of-the-gods summer storms my Uncle Raymond used to call a "frog choker," where the sky goes black, thunder cracks and booms deafeningly, the earth trembles, lightening emblazons the sky, and the heavens seem to have their underbelly ripped open as torrents gush from above in tropical fury. At times the nearby island was invisible, lost behind sheets of rain, which pelted though the trees in a steady roar.  Wonderfully awesome!

After perhaps three-quarters of an hour the storm moved on. We needed that rain, having endured nearly three weeks of baking heat—though its relief was probably rather localized since the river, so far as I can tell, didn't rise more than an inch. Still, it made for good sleeping, plus I won't have to water the flowers today.

There's also a slight possibility of another shower this morning. I hope, since we're predicted to be heading back to days in the 90˚s for the foreseeable future. I'd like at least a few more hours of cooler weather. And I may get my wish because it's been overcast since daylight. Yet a few minutes ago a goldfinch, as gleaming yellow as any portending sun, lit briefly on a stem near the deck. If Mr. Goldfinch had his way, I suspect summer and its accompanying heat would last forever. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


There are few truly absolute rules in photography. For example…does a photo always have to be in sharp focus to be acceptable? Or, on occasion, can a blurred image actually prove a usable depiction?

I'd say the in-focus, non-blurred pix is usually the best, though not always—a hedging-the-bet answer, for sure. But the truth is, this is one of those arguments that must be judged from a point of personal preference, and on an individual image basis. What works for me might not be to your liking, and vice versa. There's also the element of technical proficiency vs. artistic rendering—as well as plain old dumb luck.

The latter is the truth behind the photo of the (I think) dark-phase female tiger swallowtail above. It was a windy morning on the little bit of prairie up the road. The tall grasses and bright wildflowers were swaying like ballroom dancers at a summer fête. And the butterflies were flapping and flitting about, sipping from a purple coneflower here and a spray of bee balm there, in constant battle with the gusty breeze, always on the move, always in motion; moving targets, every last colorful one of 'em. 

I didn't mean to make the shot you see…it just came out this way. But I like it. In fact, it may be my favorite of the lot from that morning's shooting. I'll post some of the others over the next few days. But right now, I'd like to hear your comments…does a photo have to be sharp, or can blurry be beautiful?

Sunday, July 24, 2011


For some reason, a gang of grackles decided to invade the canna lilies this morning. While I'm no fan of these ruffians…they are quite striking. Here are a few shots I made before chasing them away.

Quite the profile, eh? Note the oversized, saber-like beak, which these 
nasty-tempered birds quickly use on any and all who get in their way.

A fantail spread from a bird who thinks it's hidden. 

The not-hidden-as-well-as-it-thought grackle giving me the evil eye.

Its cover blown, the grackle begins to protest…

A protest that continues…

…from low…

…and high…

…until we establish who's the bigger, badder bird.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


As butterfly history in North America goes, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail sports the most distinguished record—or at least the oldest—being the first New World species depicted by an artist. In 1587, John White, an English painter, and then a member Sir Walter Raleigh's third expedition—and subsequently, the only surviving member of the ill-fated "Lost Colony"—drew an illustration he entitled "Mamankanois," which is believed to be the local Indian word for butterfly.

Nowadays, the big yellow butterflies are common almost everywhere, easily one of the most familiar and recognizable species around. Or they are if you find one willing to fly low and sit still. I often see Tiger Swallowtails flitting high in the sky, well above the tops of the towering sycamores which line the riverbanks. And even when one does decide to come down and check things out closer to ground level, they often seem highly skittish and unsettled, flapping from one flower to another, overly wary of my presence and spooking long before I can get into camera range. The other day I chased one around the yard for half an hour and never managed a single exposure. 

Then again, butterflies, like all living things, are individuals—and you occasionally find one that doesn't seem to mind being stalked by a harmless photographer. That's the case with the Tiger Swallowtail seen here, which showed up late in the day, in the still-sweltering heat, just as I made ready to water the plants. From coneflower to coneflower, the swallowtail flew, sampling nectar from each and every pinkish bloom. 

For a few minutes there in the sweet gloaming, with the river purling soft in my ear, I followed the ethereal golden creature on its supping rounds…and somehow forgot all about being hot.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I almost hate to run yesterday's shot of a scarlet pygmy buzzard…aka, cardinal. Almost. But then, being the fellow who buys all those bags of sunflower seeds, why can't I poke a bit of fun at one of my favorite freeloading birds? 

We all tend to take ourselves too seriously sometimes—both redbirds and redbird watchers. I say life is better faced with a no-holds-barred sense of humor.

Besides, I've had my own share of less than flattering photos taken. Snaps I'd like to obliterate forever from the public record. Moreover, in a few days hence, this cocky old redbird will again be fully feathered out, struttin' his stuff and no longer mortified by his bald pate—and I'll have to go back to ridiculing the squirrels.

Monday, July 18, 2011


My mother, and most of the folks I grew up around, always called them Blue Sailors—though Dad, the botanist, would occasionally add that the more common name for the rather scraggly wayside plant with the cheery blue blooms was chicory. By either designation, it was a familiar plant, appearing along the shoulder of the road, on the sides of the shortcut path across the junkyard wasteland where Old Man Gardner parked his wrecked and rusting cars, and in the sunny, hard-packed corner behind the garden.

One thing my father pointed out me about chicory was how the flowers, one of the first to open with dawn's new light, were also likely to be closed up tight by noon—though on cloudy days, the blooms might remain open all day…or not open at all. 

Uncle Howard, whose travels occasionally took him to New Orleans, would sometimes bring back cans of chicory-laced coffee. Chicory roots, roasted and ground, are added to to the coffee as a flavor enhancer. In fact, during times when coffee has been in short supply, or simply too expensive to afford, ground chicory has regularly been wholly substituted for coffee.       

Like so many everyday things, plebeian chicory is often given no more than a passing glance. And yet, when you examine the sky-blue daisy-like flower up close, they are simply exquisite. For some reason, the darker blue stamens always remind me of candles on a cake. Come to think of it, a country byway blue-spattered on either side by dense swathes of chicory blooms, is one of summer's most delightful visual celebrations.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Just after dawn, as Moon-the-Dog and I were making our joint reconnoiter of the yard and riverbank, I happened to spot this tiny ruby-throated hummingbird tucked away beneath an umbrella of canna lily leaves, no more than two feet above the ground, on a handy bergamot stem perch.

It's not the greatest photo…I had to crank the ISO up a couple of stops and try and hold the 450mm lens steady at a 90th of a second in order to manage the shot. I've also lightened the resulting image overall, just to keep it from being a dim, green-tinged silhouette—though I hope I've retained the sense of dark mystery of the little bird's hidden shelter.

Hummers are often the first birds we see in the morning, beginning their countless trips to the nectar feeders when it's yet so dark that you sometimes can't spot them sipping their sweet breakfast, and only realize they were there when they go whirring away. Perhaps that's what this hummer was doing, resting between feeder forays.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I'm sure everyone knows that old saying…When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

That's what Myladylove and I have been doing the past three days. No, not making lemonade, but making the best of an unexpected situation. Making actual lemonade would have been impossible because we didn't have ice—and we didn't have ice because we've been without electric power.

Monday evening, after a day when the heat index soared to 120˚F, a thunderstorm came rumbling and flashing in from the southwest. Frankly, we welcomed the prospects of a dose of cooling rain. Earlier that afternoon, beaten by the sweltering heat, I'd temporarily given up on my chaise lounge building project and sent Myladlove a rare text: I'm drowning in sweat! 

Now, our light dinner meal over and sweet relief on the way, we sat on the deck in the gathering twilight and watched the front appear over the hill. Thunder boomed and lightening flashed. The wind picked up, tossing and shaking the tops of the big sycamores. A kingfisher hurtled downriver, giving us a sharp squawk as it passed. The air cooled considerably and felt suddenly damp.

When the first fat raindrops began pelting the water, we retreated inside. The rain became a downpour, falling so fast and furious that sometimes you could barely make out the island across from the cottage. The thunder and lightening were almost continuous. Then the power went—ker-poof!. Lights, fans, refrigerator, water pump, computer. "Uh-oh," I said, somehow pessimistically knowing this would prove more than a brief service interruption. "We're going to be camping tonight—maybe longer."

There are times I'd rather be wrong than right. As it turned out, the storm put over 60,000 area homes in the dark, not to mention the toppled trees and roofs that went sailing away. As of this Wednesday noontime, 10,000 or so houses were still without electricity and the power company was handing out free ice so that folks might not lose all their cold-storage foods. 

Mylady and I have both spent much of our lives living out of tents and wilderness cabins where amenities are few and rustic. I broke out the necessary camping gear. We cooked on the portable propane stove, used flashlights, candles, oil lamps and a lantern for light. We always keep plenty of bottled water on hand, including a dozen gallon jugs. (The nearby river would furnish the water to solve such matters as flushing the toilet.)  Luckily, I didn't have a column or article deadline looming. Myladylove used the outage (no blow dryer) as an excuse for a hot-weather haircut. I read a couple of good mysteries. And so, for us, these few days without electricity have been little more than an inconvenience, maybe even one of those impromptu little adventures that, in retrospect, we've rather enjoyed

Of course, Moon-the-Dog, who missed sleeping in front of the floor fan, probably would not agree.

*   *   *

FYI: The tiger lilies, which I photographed yesterday, are in one of the beds. Myladylove is rather proud of them—her mother gave her the plants, which she carted home following her last visit to east-Tennessee; this is the first time they've bloomed. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I've been busy as a bee lately. Not just regular, everyday busy…BUSY! Actually, Myladylove and I have both been busy. Over the recent Independence Day holiday, when she had three days in a row off, we worked in the yard from just after breakfast until supper time at dusk, with only a short break for lunch and maybe a glass of iced tea every now and then to help us survive in the mid-80s heat. 

Before this shared time off, I'd been working all-day hours alone in the yard for much of the week prior—planting the last of those forty-odd flowers and bushes I recently bought. This necessitated building several new beds. In addition, various plants got moved around. 

Then, during the long Fourth-of-July weekend, I borrowed a neighbor's pole saw/lopper and Myladylove and I got heavily into trimming and eliminating limbs, trees, bushes, and vines. The first real barbering we'd given the place since we moved here. I'd guess we easily lopped and sawed off fifty wheelbarrow's worth of brush and branches. Things look a lot better.

Since the holiday ended, I've been finishing up the yard work—well, it's never really finished, but I've been trying to finish what was started—writing several articles and a couple of columns, and doing some chores inside the house. Other than during my work hours at the word processor, I've barely logged onto the Internet.

I'd like to say the busy days have ended—but they haven't. I have lumber recently purchased and leaning again an outside wall with which I intend to build outdoor furniture, including a couple of chaise lounges, three or four small tables, a bench or two, and who knows what else? In other words, my work is definitely cut out and waiting. Plus there's a stone pathway to finally complete. And more new planting beds to construct. Not to mention that I have a doctor's appointment a couple of hours from now (just my regular semi-annual checkup) and a Community Health Center Board of Directors meeting to attend this evening. Sometime in-between, I need to spend serious time in the grocery store because Mother Hubbard's cupboard is looking mighty bare…and with all the work yet to do, we definitely gotta eat!

Nope, a busy bee has nothing on me!