Tuesday, July 31, 2012


“…and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and mourners go about the streets:”
— Ecclesiastes 12:5 

Grasshoppers hereabouts have not become burdens. But my creative desire has temporarily failed and there is mourning in the streets…or at least along this portion of the road where I live. Yesterday afternoon our neighbor Bob was found dead in his home. He was, I'm told, only 49 years old, and had appeared to be in good health.

Everyone is shocked, our hearts are heavy and aching. It was so sudden and unexpected it still seems unreal, and is hard to accept. Bob was good guy and a fine neighbor. A bachelor who liked to ride his motorcycle on the weekends, he was a smart and technically savvy guru with the local cable company. Quiet, friendly, always willing to help. 

When we arrived here a few years ago, Bob—whose house was directly across the street, and thus our closest neighbor—was one of the first to introduce himself. In fact, as we soon came to realize, perhaps the greatest blessing of our move here to this riverbank cottage were the wonderful neighbors who so genuinely and warmly accepted us into their fold. Bob, Mike and his wife (their's is the next house up from Bob's), and Everett (whose property adjoins mine, his house being across from Mike's) are the sort of neighbors you hope and pray for when moving into a new place; real treasures.

We all now mourn. I need to write a column and get it off, but can't manage to concentrate on work. As poet Edmund Spenser said: "…when the hart is ill assayde, How can Bagpipe, or ioynts be well apayd?" 

I'm simply too sad and upset, incapable for the time being of dredging up meaningful words and stringing them into competent sentences. Just as I'm obviously unable to say things clearly in this post; I know I'm not conveying what I feel, the sense of sorrow and loss, or even making an attempt to come to grips with the unfathomable mystery of such an event. When death enters our midst, I guess we're always left temporarily broken and stunned. I am, anyway.

Bob is already deeply and truly missed. By all of us. It was a privilege and pleasure to have him for my neighbor. And he will not be forgotten.

May his soul rest in peace.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


lurk |lərk|
verb [ intrans. ]
(of a person or animal) be or remain hidden so as to wait in ambush for someone or something : a ruthless killer still lurked in the darkness.
• (of an unpleasant quality) be present in a latent or barely discernible state, although still presenting a threat : fear lurks beneath the surface.

*   *   *

I think the dictionary's definition pretty much says it all…except for a maybe few provenance details re. each image.

The shot of the lurking crab spider was made a week or so ago in my backyard patch of purple coneflowers. To my mind, the sneaky arachnid appears to be assessing the odds of perpetrating a successful malevolent act upon the unidentified skipper.

The snap of the equally sinister and scheming soft-shelled turtle came from the pool in front of the cottage two days ago. This cunning predator lurks both deep and shallow—directly on bottom in a good imitation of an alge-green stone, and cruising just under the surface, like Bruce-the-shark in Jaws. Here, it's grab a gulp of air and a quick up-periscope look to see if there might be a tasty duckling paddling about in unsuspecting bliss nearby.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


We received some much-needed rain here yesterday morning. An hour of so's worth of thunderstorms which, once or twice—albeit only briefly—produced what could rightly could be called downpours. We've had a couple of other recent showers so insubstantial as to barely fit the definition, with little effect to the landscape. But this one was sufficient to inspire the brown-yellow grass to wake up and show a bit of green. Many of my flowers now look perkier, too. 

While the amount of rain was still not enough to cause more than an inch of rise in the river or create a discernable change in its color, the herons, kingfishers, blue-winged teal, and other denizens all seem to be enjoying themselves. It also must have encouraged the various sunfish and minnows to move from their refuge depths in the deepest pools back into the shallows. 

In mid-afternoon I watched a great blue heron stalk the water's edge across from the cottage. In twenty minutes the ol' feathered angler nailed four or five small fish—each of which was quickly dispatched and swallowed. 

What a difference a good shower makes to a parched land. The grass turns green again, flowers and shrubs revive and rally, and a great blue heron garners an easy meal.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Whether it's because of weeks of record heat, or due to one of the worst droughts in decades—there's a brilliant patch of yellow-gold gleaming amid the clump of green water willow upstream. The color appeared about the first of the month and has been spreading daily. I find it both eye-catching and unsettling. 

Could this, in fact, be a precursor to autumn? 

More to the point, isn't this way too early, with July not yet ended, to ruminate on such dubious thoughts? 

Maybe. On the one hand, I've had enough of this baking and thirsting to do me for a lifetime. I don't like hot weather—and I'm especially not thrilled to be sweltering day and night for weeks on end. I don't enjoy observing flowers and shrubs wither and succumbed, or the lawn turn to bedstraw. And I truly hate seeing my beloved river so desperately shriveled—like watching an old friend with a fatal disease waste away. 

Yet neither do I like the notion that another summer is winding down. While summer is my least favorite of the seasons, intimations of its approaching boundary whispers a soft reminder of time's relentless passage, a subtle evocation of sand pouring through an hourglass. Which prompts the sagacious afterthought that the span of a man—like that of a season—is ultimately finite. 

Meanwhile, the golden patch grows…and amid my watching, I wonder.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


No, you're right—this isn't a good photo of either a ruby-throat or Oswego tea. The hummingbird is facing away from the camera so not much detail is visible, and the flower head is wilted, drying and in sad shape. 

But there's far more revealed here than you might first realize, because it's an image of the moment. Not in the usual photographic sense. But of the here-and-now, a portrayal of certain time and specific place; a depiction of an instant this morning when—amidst possibly the longest period ever recorded of such relentless heat and drought in this corner of Ohio—a tiny, hungry bird, looking for any sip of nectar it could find, made a sad, meticulous investigation through a faded patch of bergamot.

Watching was enough to break your heart…

Sunday, July 15, 2012


The other evening, while watching an episode from one of Michael Wood's splendid historical documentaries, an old friend suddenly popped briefly onto the screen. Teasel!

While the image lasted only a second, there was no mistaking this familiar plant, which has also long been one of my favorite photo subjects. Nor was its appearance in the rural landscape on a show about English society in the least surprising, seeing as how teasels were introduced into North America during the 1700s by European settlers, who employed the prickly seed heads to card or "tease" wool in preparation to spinning.

In spite of its spiny appearance, teasel isn't a thistle. Here in southwestern Ohio we have at least two species of teasel—Common Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum, pictured above, and Cut-Leaved Teasel, Dipsacus lancinatus, which has white rather than lavender flowers. Some folks view teasel as just another invasive to be disparaged and eradicated. I've watched too many goldfinches feeding delightedly on its seeds to share this hardline sentiment. Besides, it's beauty ought to account for something…the world can always use more beauty.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Widow Skimmer, male

When you're a photographer looking for sheer eye-stopping color, dragonflies and damselflies will easily rival anything in nature. Even the most impressive panoply of birds or butterflies can't out-dazzle these large flying insects. By last count, Ohio has some 164 species of Odonata. For the past few weeks I've been fiddling around trying to capture images of a few—mostly while skulking about a pond and meadow just up the road. I thought you might enjoy seeing a handful of my favorite shots. 

Eastern Pondhawk, female

I'm no expert when it comes to identifying these lovely creatures. Quite honestly, I'm not even a semi-competent amateur. Nor do I (yet!) have a good field guide to help me fumble along. The best i.d. resource I possess is Dragonflies of Ohio, a PDF publication from the Ohio's Division of Wildlife. That said, I'm pretty confident for the identifications given…though if I'm wrong, please don't hesitate to say so. The identity of two of the dragonflies pictured remains a vexing mystery—despite my best efforts to figure them out. If perchance you know what they are, I'd really appreciate the help.

Calico Pennant, male
Eastern Pondhawk, male

Halloween Pennant, female

Unknown (found in deep shade away from water)

Widow Skimmer, male
Eastern Amberwing, male

Eastern Pondhawk, female

Unknown (perched on stick floating in pond)

Halloween Pennant, male

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Note—this is merely a simple statement of fact, purely an observation, and most definitely not a complaint…but it just took me an hour to finish my light lunch because of the goldfinches. They were working a patch of mixed coneflowers and what's left to the Oswego tea located about 20 yards from the deck. I constantly had to put my food down in favor of the binoculars. Sometimes, having just taken bite, I got so engrossed I forgot to chew.

What can I say—I just love goldfinches! Love their color, their acrobatic feeding behavior, and their constant musical chatter. How can you not? By any standards they're just gorgeous. Especially the males, with their brilliant yellow bodies, black caps, and shiny black wings with white trim. 

If they were uncommon, they'd be a prize eagerly sought by birders across the nation. Yet the fact they're widespread and easy to locate makes them no less delightful. Life's riches are found in the ordinary. And in the end, I guess that's what so attracts me…for watching a handful of goldfinches is finding a bird treasure in your own backyard.

Monday, July 9, 2012


I made the above butterfly photo just before noon yesterday. At the time the temperature was already 90˚F. Being your basic dyed-in-the-wool boreal strain of Homo sapiens, I was already long out of my temperature comfort zone. My photo subject, however—a female cabbage white butterfly—seemed to be flitting quite energetically through a patch of white coneflowers.

Today's predicted high is 87˚F with low to mid-80s expected for the remainder of the week…plus the even better news that nighttime lows will be in the 60s˚! Night temperatures in the this range, plus the fans, nicely cools cottage—and the 17-thick stone walls retains and keeps the interior cool throughout the day. In fact, last night's brief temperature low of 68˚F has already kept the interior temp down by about 10˚ so far today…and a cooler bottom number tonight and throughout the nights ahead will probably expand that to more like a 15˚ variation.

Hooray! Heat relief. Suppose we could even have snow?

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Speak not, whisper not,
Here bloweth thyme and bergamot…
—Walter de la Mare

The other day I spent a couple of hours poking around a field lush with wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa. It was a hot day, with sweltering temperatures already in the low-90s˚F and heading for 102˚F. 

Yet even in the midst of this heat wave there was activity. A few redwings feeding their fledged young and giving me a harsh scolding whenever I veered too close; various butterflies fluttering hither and yon; and bees of all sorts and sizes—though mostly bumblebees—avidly working the sprawling mint patch of lavender blooms for the sweet nectar.

I could hear their sound whenever I stopped to listen, a soft, eager hum of busy, widespread joy. Moreover, the still air was heavy with the plant's distinctive sweet-citrus perfume—sharp, heady, and somehow delightfully old-fashioned. Just by walking a few steps, the disturbance of my passage released additional, even stronger waves of the wonderful scent. 

No wonder bees adore the stuff!

Wild bergamot is often called "bee balm." There's a red-bloomed version known as "Oswego tea." In fact, there are about fifteen species of bergamots in North America, in all sorts of colors. Most that I know smell quite similar to one another. Hummingbirds are especially fond of the big red-flowered varieties.

My mother used to have huge stands of lavender wild bergamot planted alongside the steps leading up to the front porch. She seldom cut it back so the long stems with their heavy blooms would drape over the step edges. Whenever you made your way up to the door, you couldn't help but give the plant a brush and release a dose of mint-tangy scent…and the fragrance that would linger on your clothing for hours afterwards.

Maybe that's why bergamot is one of my favorite summer blooms.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


I awoke today at first-light. For a while I lingered in bed, enjoying the cool air coming through the screen and listening to the regular staccato drumming of a downy woodpecker. The sound seemed to be coming from the island just across from the cottage.

The local woodpeckers have been doing a lot of such drumming lately. More than usual for this time of year—almost as if it were still early spring and the quick hammered bursts were intended to establish territories and advertise for a mate. Why? I have no idea. And maybe it's only my imagination or perhaps a faulty memory that makes me think the drumming this time around is more frequent than normal. But if I'm correct, then I don't know what to make of such atypical behavior—if anything. 

Paying attention to the natural world is a lot like digging a hole—the deeper you go, the more you uncover. You expand the volume of your ignorance exponentially. There's always more and more to learn. 

One thing I do know on this first day of July…we were very fortunate when we came home following Friday evening's violent storms and found our power out, that first of all, we didn't also find a half-dozen trees down in the yard—or worse!—and second and most important, that our power was restored during the night. Very, very fortunate, indeed. 

On this second day after the storm, with temperatures across the nation expected to hit record highs—in many places well over 100˚F every day for at least the next week—literally millions of folks, nearly 200,000 in my county alone, are still without power—and may so be for days yet to come. No fans, no air conditioners, no cell phones or land lines, or T.V. or radio other than battery-powered, so no way to hear news and service updates, no way to cook, no way to keep food from spoiling in refrigerators and freezers unless you can manage to find and afford to buy multiple bags of ice, no illumination in their homes after dark except flashlights and lanterns—no way to do so many things we take for granted in the course of modern life. Old folks, those who are sick or infirm, people who need to dress up and go to work…there's going to be many who'll suffer, and considerably more who will be seriously inconvenienced.

I may not know why the woodpecker drums, but I know we've been mightily blessed because we're unharmed, as are all our friends and family, we still have a roof over our heads, plenty of food, and electricity to power our fans so we can stay comfortably cool as the heat index climbs. I only wish everyone who's hurting today were also instead in similar shape.