Friday, June 29, 2012


This morning's upstream-from-the-cottage view. The water is at least a foot below its usual level.

Hot! That's the outlook at least through the middle of next week…and possibly forever. Temperatures in the upper-90s˚F and a heat index of over 100˚F. That's in the 37˚C range for you Celsius folks. And the fact that we might see a few light showers over the next couple of days only means the tropical humidity will be adding to our misery with sticky clothing and sweat running everywhere.

If I wanted to live where I could stew in my own juices on a daily basis, I'd move to Florida.

The river in front of the cottage is in sad shape—lower than I've ever seen it and looking disconsolate as it trickles through the riffle, whose stones, baked pale in the relentless sun, are eerily reminiscent of the whitened, long-fallen skeleton of some great desert beast. The pace of the current has slowed to a crawl. I haven't seen a heron or kingfisher in days, and even the turtles have been absent from their basking rocks.

I'm watering the plants every other day—a good, long soaking—and still they're drooping. Even the prairie patch up the road looks dry and listless, lacking the usual animated fluttering of butterflies checking out the coneflowers and bergamot.

Seeing as how this is only the end of June, you have to wonder what July and August have in store…

Thursday, June 28, 2012


When you look into the cup of a flower head or rolled leaf, you never know what you'll see looking back. Most often it's one of the crab spiders, as many members of this species prefer to do their ambush hunting from the concealment of a bloom's shadowy interior.

Sometimes, though, you get a surprise…as I did when I peered into the unopened umbel of Queen Anne's Lace and found this critter staring up in what appears to be somewhat embarrassed perplexity. In fact, we were both confused—I first thought it was some type of tick, but quickly realized it was two legs shy of being a member of the eight-legged arachnid class. Hmmmm?

The day was hot and there were lots of bug-eating birds about. I didn't want to disturb my bright-orange find from it's protective hidy-hole. So I don't have a solid ID to pass along. My best guess is that it may be some type of shield bug. But if anyone knows better, feel free to pass such info along.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


In Ohio, the Least Skipper is aptly named, as it's the smallest of the skipper species in the state. This individual—which I found in on a small milkweed bloom amongst some thick grass at the edge of a marsh near the cottage—probably didn't measure an inch across its opened wingspan. Really a tiny skipper, though like a true jewel, stunning in spite of its size.

Least Skippers (Ancyloxpha numitor) are typically found in the sunny grasses around marshes and fens, swamps, bogs, wet meadows and damp swales, and along the grass borders of ditches, creeks, and ponds. They are weak fliers and seldom fly high, typically a couple of feet above the ground, and often only inches—erratically  wending their fluttering way between the stems—and are thus easily overlooked. 

Members of the grass skipper subfamily, Hesperiinae, Least Skippers often perch with their forewings and hindwings cocked at different angles, reminding me of those fighter jets you see on aircraft carriers sitting with upfolded wings. When their wings are opened, they show a dark-brown margin, which is usually wider in the female. I believe the Least Skipper in the photo is a male. Really a very pretty little butterfly.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Whether you call it Chicory, Blue Sailor, or one of at least a half-dozen alternate common names—or maybe know it by its scientific name, Cichorium intybus—surely you'll agree this ubiquitous plant is as pretty as anything from the garden. Tall enough to get noticed, with bright daisylike flowers up to a couple inches across and blue as a summer sky. Just seeing a clump beside a country road immediately lifts my spirits. 

Yes, the plant has a long, long history of use medicinally, in dye-making, and as forage for livestock. In the kitchen you can use various parts in all sorts of dishes, including the dried, ground root as an additive—or even substitute—to coffee. And no, it's naturalized rather than a native…like me, a fellow citizen descended from immigrant stock. 

But I say forget all that. Just take the time to give the blooms a slow, close look. Isn't it dazzling! And isn't that reason aplenty to welcome this delightful plant to the summer landscape? After all, a wildflower doesn't have to be rare to be beautiful.

Friday, June 22, 2012


I found this Ruby-Throated Hummingbird investigating a patch of Bee Balm late yesterday evening. The sun was sinking and already behind the green wall of sycamores covering the island to the west across the river from the cottage. Because of the dim, fading light, I had no choice but to crank my camera's ISO way up—so the image is noticeably noisy. Plus I just missed getting all the zooming little hummer's left wingtip in the frame. Not a technically good photo.

But like the previous post's dragonfly shot, there's nevertheless something about this image I like…maybe the way the tiny bird almost seems to be watching me from the corner of it's eye. I can understand that—if I noticed such a hulking fellow stalking me, I'd keep a wary eye on him, too.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Let me start off by admitting I'm not generally a fan of photographs incorporating various sorts of lens flare, or ghosting, as part of the finished image. I know, however, some folks do like this effect, and am also aware there are any number of genuinely excellent photographers who often purposely strive to shoot with the notion of capturing such elements in their photos. 

What can I say? Tastes vary. Different strokes for different folks. 

But for me, such technical aberrations border too much on the Pseudo-Artsy School of Design. Like that latest attempt at creating art by Yoko Ono, which—I kid you not!—is simply three piles of dirt on a floor. Come on—really? Art? Of course Yoko also once exhibited another bit of "art" in which viewers had to climb a ladder in order to read the word "Yes" she'd painted in tiny letters on the ceiling. Yoko claimed divine inspiration for that one…though I say more like cosmic ego and perhaps a bit of residual LSD still banging around in her system from days basking in the shadow of John Lennon. 

So how do I square such an admittedly prejudiced stance with the photo above? 

Alas, I don't. Moreover, such a glaring character inconsistency rather worries me that I may be going soft in my dotage. What's next…developing a fondness for Rap music and skim milk? 

The fact is, I tried to throw the image away several times—but kept compulsively retrieving it from the trash because…well, because I liked the way the ghostly little blobs of flared light seemed to compliment the ethereal nature of the male Widow Skimmer perched on a weed stem. And you know the worst part? I'm not even ashamed of myself!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Yeah, I know they're just thistles. And like all thistles, they're armed with an array of sharp, prickly spikes just waiting to give you a jab in the netherparts should you get careless. What's more, I know these particular thistles aren't even native-born citizens, but merely naturalized immigrants, brought in to beautify early gardens—whereupon, like so many of their ilk, they subsequently escaped into the wild and began cavorting across the countryside. Shucks, I even know many consider them botanical criminals on the lam, noxious weeds with no redeeming value, best dealt with by immediate eradication upon sight.

Everyone has a right to their opinion. But I do wonder what the birds and bees and butterflies and bugs would have to say about the matter. What would all those creeping, crawling, flying, slithering creatures who choose to regularly visit and dine upon—even make their home within—actually think? More than a few of these aforementioned seem genuinely pleased to have the plant around. Would the errant-but-pretty, and possibly tasty, Nodding Thistle, Carduus nutans—the "carduus" is Latin for thistle and the "nutans" comes from the Latin for drooping or nodding—be ranked high on their hit list?

Hmmm? You know, I truly have my doubts.

I certainly find the plant worthwhile. I like the spectacularly tall stem, the robust leaves, and the magenta-pink blooms which form over their green-and-purple reflexed bracts, and even the flower's snazzy powder-blue pollen…and I really, really like the heady-sweet musky fragrance which gives the plant its other common name, Musk Thistle.

Nope, I don't much care about its foreign pedigree. Or the fact it decided to eschew confinement to go roaming over yonder hill. I simply can't bring myself to bad-mouth this renegade thistle. Think what you will, I find this sweet-scented porcupine more beauty than beast.

Friday, June 15, 2012


Powdered Dancer, female

Ebony Jewelwing, American Rubyspot, Blue-Fronted Dancer, Rainbow Bluet, Citrine Forktail, Southern Spreadwing…even if you knew nothing else about these delicate, slender-bodied cousins of the dragonfly, you'd have to love damselflies for their poetic names alone. Of course, they're also wonderfully colored and breathtakingly lovely, winged treasures sufficient to brighten any day by lifting you heart with delight.  

Blue-Fronted Dancer, female

Powdered Dancer, female

For the past couple of days, during odd moments between various work projects, I've been taking short breaks to try and capture images of a few of the dozen or more species zipping and darting around the yard. No easy task, frankly—at least not in such an off-the-cuff manner.

Blue-Tipped Dancer, female (?)
Powdered Dancer, female

Damselflies have excellent eyesight. Astonishing, really—far better than most animals or humans, with superior acuity, capable of seeing in nearly every direction simultaneously, and including layers of color and ultraviolet undetectable to people. That—along with the ability to fly at blazing speeds, forwards, backwards, sideways, to hover, or shift directions in a flash—is what makes them such awesome and efficient aerial predators.

Blue-Tipped Dancer, male
Blue-Ringed Dancer, female (?)
Powdered Dancer, female

The unfortunate part from the photographer's perspective is that some damselflies are quite skittish, easily spooked and impossible to sneak up on—which can be both daunting and frustrating enough if you have hours to spend stalking your quarry, but when you're just taking a brief interlude between work sessions, so hopeless it borders on the absurd. In spite of which, I've managed a few reasonable images of a few tolerant individuals. And I'm still trying. But so far, the majority of available damselfly species have eluded my lens. Which is still fun, albeit in a crazy sorta way.  

Familiar Bluet, male
Blue-Fronted Dancer, male
Blue-Fronted Dancer, female
Powdered-Dancer, female

Note: My damselfly identification skills are, at best, shaky. If you see I've made a mistake, please feel free to set me straight. I can use all the help I can get.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


The Horse Nettle—or more formally, Carolina Horsenettle, Solanum carolinense—was first described by Eighteenth Century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus…and perhaps that's where its nomenclature troubles began.

You see, first off it isn't a nettle. Yes, it has nettle-like spines along the leaves and stem—sharp spines that can pierce the skin, break off in your flesh, and cause a nasty little infection. At the least they can jab and poke and irritate your hide. Still, it's not a nettle, but rather a member of the nightshade family. 

Okay, so what do we think of first when the word nightshade is mentioned? Poison! You betcha! As in Poison Nightshade, Bitter Nightshade, Belladonna, and a host of similar evil-sounding plants, dark and mysterious, that often figure in the plots of old whodunits. One nibble and the poor soul instantly begins clutching their throat, foaming at the mouth, to quickly keel over twitching and jerking, like a cockroach given a healthy squirt of Raid!

Of course, we forget that tomatoes, potatoes, most sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, and dozens of delicious and "good for you" foods, common on every dinner table, are also members of the nightshade family.

However, I digress. Horse Nettle—which is also written as one word, horsenettle, or hyphenated, horse-nettle, depending on the text—is NOT something you want to nibble, because it is poisonous. This is due to the presence of solanine, a toxic alkaloid. The amount of toxicity depends on the plant's age and the part you eat. Some texts say the small, yellow, tomato-like fruits the plant produces are not poisonous, or are only mildly poisonous. I say mildly poisonous is like mildly dead—both to be avoided. By we humans as well as horses, which therefore offers not a clue why the "horse" reference ended up in the name. 

Besides being a nightshade and not a nettle, and having nothing to do with horses, Horse Nettles sport some rather interesting—possibly bizarre—common names…Sand Briar, Radical Weed, Bull Nettle, Wild Tomato, and my three absolute favorites, Tread-Softly, Devil's Tomato, and Apple of Sodom.

Well, I suppose we all have our quirks. And aside from being poison, prickly, misnamed, and possessing a host of funky nicknames, the Horse Nettle boasts a pretty and only slightly weird, little flower. I photographed this one this morning while poking around a nearby field.


Saturday, June 9, 2012


This hasn't been the best of years for common Orange Day-lilies. Clumps of the ubiquitous, flame-colored blooms are staples of the late-spring, early-summer landscape hereabouts—growing beside urban streets, suburban roadways, and the edges of most rural byways, in ditches and lanes, waste corners, alleys…whole thickets of them, everywhere. For a few weeks when they're at their peak, it's almost impossible to travel a quarter-mile without seeing a few clumps. 

But while they're out and abundant—and have been for a couple of weeks—this spring they're not so prolific, so lavish, so profligate; they're there, but they're not teeming

At least to my eye. Patches are sparse; a desk-sized assemblage might have a dozen blooms at any one time instead of the usual fifty. Moreover, I think the flowers themselves look a bit on the faded, slightly withered side—not quite so lush.

Maybe it's the dry spring. We didn't receive nearly the rain we usually get in April and May—and June is so far following suit. Or perhaps the earliness of the season—the lack of any real winter, or the fact that this is the warmest spring on record. We've had several 90-plus degree days in May, and many that exceeded 80, and it's not yet officially summer!

The lily in the photo is growing at the top of my driveway, opposite the main clump and part of a scattering of plants I found when clearing a portion of the jungle of honeysuckle from the steep, deeply-shaded bank. Though I've been watering regularly, the flower still looks a little parched, a little faded, and a little curled along the edges…as if this has been a rather trying spring. But at the same time, there seems apparent something of the weary victor in the way the lily leans into the light, as if enduring the struggle makes the blue skies and sunshine all the sweeter.

Well, I know how that feels…


Thursday, June 7, 2012


I don't believe I've ever thought of any butterfly as being "pugnacious." Yet that's exactly how the Ohio Division of Wildlife's handy little field guide, Butterflies and Skippers of Ohio, characterizes the Hackberry Emperor—"very active and pugnacious." 

The very active part I wholeheartedly agree on—having chased the fellow whose portrait appears above around the yard for some half hour before he deigned to park momentarily in the grass, wings opened, long enough for me to focus and snap. 

As their name implies, Hackberry Emperors (Asterocampa celtis) are seldom found far from their namesake host tree. And since hackberry trees mainly occur along streams and adjacent moist bottoms, as well as overgrown field borders and the succession edges of drier woodlands, they're one of the more common species here along the riverbank. While the caterpillars feed on the various species of hackberry trees, the adult butterflies prefer sap, rotting fruit, carrion, and dung. Mummmmm! They're also fond of lighting on your arm and lapping up sweat salts. Double-mummmmm

I'm still not sure about that pugnacious business. But I am certain this friendly and seemingly curious butterfly is a subtle beauty, understated but classy, lively, and one of my favorites.

Friday, June 1, 2012


Yesterday was the last day of May—the final day of the last full month of spring, and the birthday of my maternal grandfather, Fred R. Williams, born in 1879. When I was growing up, Grandpa and Grandma lived just up street, having moved there from their farm in the hills of eastern Kentucky at the start of World War II. 

When Grandpa and Grandma first got married, they lived in a log cabin in a remote and rugged holler called Bear Branch, so named because not too many years earlier, a very large black bear had been killed nearby. That's the way they name things thereabouts—either after the first family to settle the spot, a distinctive natural feature, or some noteworthy event. Thus you have such places as Oil Springs, Split-Rock Gap, Copperhead Ridge, Paw Paw Bottom, Panther Steep, Rockhouse, Sassafras Creek, Elk Creek, Paint Creek, Salt Branch, Indian Holler, Pound Mill Branch. Wonderful names—vivid, descriptive, historical, indigenous. 

My Uncle Don was born in that hewn log cabin—though he was preceded by a boy, and a year later, a girl, both either stillborn or living only a few hours. Grandpa, a carpenter, built their caskets. Later, Grandpa and Grandma bought a rugged and only partially cleared tract of land a mile or so away, which they—along with their growing family—sustenance farmed for the next four decades. Grandpa also kept up his carpentry, building all sorts of things for himself and his neighbors, from wagons and barns, to houses and caskets. 

He could do finer work, too—making toolboxes, cases for clocks, and wooden spoons. I've watched him split a length of hickory, rough out a blank for an axe handle with a drawknife, pocket knife, and spokeshave, finish silky smooth with pieces of broken glass and scouring reeds instead of sandpaper, ending with a rubbed-in coat of linseed oil. The whole business took less than an hour and looked as good as anything sold in a hardware store. 

Grandpa Williams was sturdy-but-lean, tall, and stood ramrod straight. His hair was thick and coal black, though in his last years it changed to a silver-white. In the old black and white photos, Grandpa often looks stern, serious, but in truth he was neither—though he wasn't a noisy laugh-a-minute, practical-joking cut-up like everyone on Grandma's side of the family…and I suspect he was sorely tried on more than one occasion seeing as how every one of his offspring, at least to some degree, inherited Grandma's fun-loving, laugh-at-anything disposition. But Grandpa had his moments, too, and wasn't above joining in on the teasing and tomfoolery. He was always coming up with some new name to annoy me with, usually a two-parter—Jim-Tom, Dick-Ike, Rosco-John, Bill-Peter—though it never much worked, because I loved him too dearly and answered cheerfully to whatever he invented.

I never knew my paternal grandparents. But I got to be around Grandma and Grandpa Williams for nearly twenty years—and I treasure that time as one of the most wonderful blessings of my life. They both taught me many things. Most of all, they gave me a sense of roots, of heritage, of being born into a world with personal, blood-bought history. 

Grandpa's stories weren't just tales…they were my stories. I thought about some of them yesterday as I ambled around an old field making photos—including the one of the bumble-bee on the clover. Family stories of those who fought in the Civil War, and Revolutionary War; of coming down the Wilderness Road with Daniel Boone; stories of specters and haints; of big snakes, bear hunts, panthers, wildcats, wolves and elk and buffalo; of hills and cliffs and caves, rock-houses and bubbling springs; of murder and bloodshed; of a lost silver mine; of Jenny Wiley, who lived near an ancestor, and how she was infamously kidnapped by the Shawnee, though later escaped.

I wish I could hear them all again. Alas, I can only replay them in my head, though in Grandpa's slow, rich voice, with his hand gestures and facial expressions, and the gleaming intensity of his brown eyes…my mother's eyes, my eyes. 

Happy Birthday, Grandpa. I love you and miss you, but I'll never forget.