Thursday, July 30, 2009


One of the things I’m occasionally asked by visitors to the riverbank is: “You got a lot of snakes around?”
Most of the time, it’s a good bet the questioner lives in the city—or if they’re daring, and have in their own way given in to the pioneer spirit, in one of those well-manicured suburban developments with sidewalks and grass and the odd miniature tree your average countryman might consider a bush. Sure, their development may be located less than a half-mile beyond the last strip-mall, in what was once a corn or soybean field—but they consider themselves homesteaders surviving on the edge of civilization. Why, they'll report, proud of their ability to weather hardship, they have to actually get in their Beemer and drive to the nearest Starbucks!
These folks, bless their trembling souls, view my riverside home as they might a rough compound on the banks of the Amazon. The thicket of greenery along the water and the tall trees poking high into a smog-free sky is, to them, a jungle. And like any good jungle remembered from reruns of the old black-and-white Tarzan movies they watched as a kid, the dark tangles of willow and hackberry and sycamore must doubtless be crammed with slithering serpents.
Well…no. Sorry to disappoint. But we riverbankers are no more overrun with snakes than we are with frogs and toads and turtles. I do see a snake from time to time—perhaps a small garter snake in the yard, or a water snake near or in the stream. And that’s about the extent of such encounters; I don’t wade through masses of writhing snakes to check the mailbox.
Regarding water snakes, there are two species found hereabouts. The northern water snake, Nerodia sipedon, is generally the most common species seen along local lakeshores and streams. Yet I almost never find one on my section of water. Instead, I’m more apt to see a queen snake, Regina septemvittata, a fairly uncommon member of the water snake family.
Queen snakes, in spite of their name, are water snakes—though they’re far prettier than their plebian northern cousins. Neither snake is poisonous. But the northern water snake is unquestionably more cantankerous and aggressive—quick to make a threatening strike at your boot toe or reaching hand, and ready to bite if you pick them up carelessly. If that’s not enough, they’ll reiterate their hostility by releasing a squirt of malodorous feces and back it up with a shot of stinky musk from their anal gland.
The shyer queen snake, in contrast, is rather docile. You can usually capture one quite easily—though the double dose of foul smelling s
cent remains a possibility.
Queen snakes seldom grow larger than a couple of feet. They hunt by smell rather than heat detection or sight, and often capture their prey under water. They feed almost exclusively on aquatic fare—minnows, tadpoles, frogs, snails—though the bulk of their diet is newly molted crayfish, what a bait fishermen calls a “soft craw.” For this reason—because crayfish are found only in clean, unpolluted rivers and creeks—queen snakes are a good indicator species of a stream’s high water quality.
I sometimes watch a queen snake hunting around the edge of the big pool in front of the cottage. The snake will swim from rock-to-rock, then dive and investigate underwater, resurface, and repeat a time or two before moving to another location.
The other day I noted several clumps of midges milling about on a small section of slowly-backswirling water. Minnows would regularly dart up and nab a bug off the surface. All the while, a queen snake kept surfacing and diving through this same area, presumably feeding on the minnows working the midges.
The queen snakes in the photos (there are two different snakes) regularly sun themselves on the rails of the narrow deck which spans the width of the cottage and overlooks the river. I’ve allowed a wild grape vine to grow all over the water side of this deck, climbing through the lattice so it now drapes from the handrail to the edge of the water, a dozen feet below, like a thick green curtain. One day last week, I counted three queen snakes…uh…hanging around.
This is typical queen snake behavior. Queen snakes like to bask on a limb or root above the water, and usually drop off immediately at any nearby movement or the first hint of danger. However, with my deck snakes, I’ve found that if I’m careful, I can move freely around without causing them alarm.
Incidentally, this deck—while thirty feet long—is only about six feet wide. In case you’re wondering, I’ve never seen one of these queen snakes any closer to the cottage walls than this six-foot distance; they’re remain discreetly on the water side.
I suppose for most readers, this sounds like too many snakes too close to the house. But I don’t mind them being around. They’re perfectly harmless (unless you’re a soft craw) and no trouble. That’s sufficient to make them good neighbors, in my book. Plus I like the fact they keep reminding me that my beloved river is healthy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Weaver of Grass recently suggested in her blog a meme for today whose theme was “inspiration.” Yesterday, in the comments section of this blog, she extended a direct invitation to join in.
So, rather late, but for what it’s worth, here goes…
One of my dictionaries defines “inspiration” thusly: The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative; a person or thing that stimulates in this way.
I’m not trying to be facetious when I say my inspiration comes from life—from parents and family and all their history, from the time and milieu in which I was raised, the people I’ve met and the things I’ve done, and all those experiences—good and bad—which have happened to me and around, gave me shape, tempered my mettle along the way. All of it has furnished impetus for inspiration.
There have been numerous models, many examples, various muses; I’ve found influences in every direction. Reasons beyond naming; countless epiphanies. Inspiration in abundance.
Moreover, I don’t believe any of us ever lack for inspiration; what’s tough to come by, sometimes, is insight. Where’s the inspiration in pain and suffering? In a personal illness or the death of a friend? Suppose you lose your job or your marriage breaks apart…how can that be inspiring? Is failure inspiring?
As it happens, that same dictionary also gives a second definition for “inspiration”: The drawing in of breath; inhalation; part of the respiration process.
Of course this definition refers to the purely physiological; part of the biological functioning of a living organism. It has nothing to do with that interior spark that motivates and inspires us, thereby causing a person to feel and act…to create.
Or does it?
There’s another aspect to inspiration that deals with the divinity of its nature and provenance. The notion that inspiration stems from a divine source.
Life is such a precious gift. There is beauty all around—in nature and in people. Everywhere, inspiration. The worst moments of my life have always also contained a blessing…though it took me years to realize this fact. Divine grace? I believe so.
Where do I find inspiration? I find it in the recognition of beauty, the joy of wonder; the little adventures of everyday life. There is inspiration in a fresh-baked loaf of bread on the counter. In the handshake of a friend. In the glowing swirls of orange and turquoise, purple and gold, in a sunset sky. In my old dog leaning companionably against my leg. In the dawn proclamations of a singing wren. In a narrow footpath twisting through a summer woods.
My inspiration comes from loving and being loved…and from sharing. Nothing is more inspiring than sharing. That’s why I write and take photos—to share. You, dear readers, are inspiration personified; the very essence of the word.
With every breath, I’m inspired.

Monday, July 27, 2009


The road I live on parallels the river and dead-ends about a quarter-mile upstream from the cottage. The blacktop climbs slowly between my turnoff and the turnaround at the end, following along almost at the top of a steep bank which runs up from the river. The stream is about a hundred feet from the road and anywhere from thirty to fifty feet below, depending on where you are along this road.
There are a dozen or so houses scattered along both sides of the road for the first half of this distance. The rest of the paved road to the turnaround makes its way through a old, second-growth woods on the side away from the water, and big sycamores and mixed hardwoods on the river side—many of which sit at the water level so you’re actually looking down or at eye-level with their crowns. Most of the road—and especially this latter section—runs through deep shade.
Few vehicles disturb the peace—neighbors coming or going, the occasional delivery van, the occasional driver who makes a miscue looking for a shortcut. Otherwise the road is quiet except for birds and the background hum of distant traffic. A good place for a morning walk with the dog.
Lately, the shady bank on the roadside away from the river has sported a profusion of dainty blooms of Nodding Onion. The pinkish clusters look like they might be exploding—each tiny flower with its yellow-tipped stamen, seems to spray out from the center. The whole is affixed to the tip of a leafless green stem shaped like a shepherd's crook. Much to Moon-the-Dog’s annoyance, I’ve insisted on slowing our walks to a series of stuttering pauses, to better examine these one-to-two-foot-tall plants…and the closer I’ve looked, the more I’ve come to admire their distinctive, drooped–over clusters of delicate but exquisite flowers, which give the plant its name.
Nodding Onion, Allium cernuum, is also sometimes called Lady’s Leek. It is an Ohio native plant, said to be found on scattered sites throughout the state, though not listed on the USDA’s database as occurring in my county. I doubt I’m the first to find it here, but it probably is mildly uncommon.
During their great expedition, however, Lewis and Clark apparently stumbled on an island in the upper Missouri covered in nodding onion. In their journal report for 1805, they wrote: “Here we found great quantities of a small wild onion about the size of a musket-ball, crisp and as well flavoured as any of our garden onions; the seed is just ripening, and as the plant bears a large quantity to the square foot, and stands the riguors of climate, it will no doubt be an acquisition to settlers. From this production we called it Onion Island.”
It is also said that the city of Chicago gets its name from the Algonquin Indian name for this plant, chigagou.
Nodding Onion has only grass-like basal leaves. The clusters of flowers, properly called umbels, are said to range in shades from white to a rose-magenta, though all the ones along this bank are pale to medium pinks. The bloom period is from now through August.
As some of these plants are growing right at the edge of the roadway, I plan on digging up a few of the bulbs, as well as collecting seed later on, and seeing if I can get a start in my yard. I might even try and handful in a soup or stew.
In the meantime, I’ll keep irritating dog with my regular pauses.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Several days ago, while working on a walkway project around the cottage, I flipped over a slab of cut limestone and found this rather formidable-looking fellow happily ensconced underneath. I expect we were each momentarily nonplused by the sudden sight of the other—though any temporary confusion was quickly supplanted by our respective quick actions…the big beetle began a clambering retreat, whereupon I promptly reached down and plucked him up, temporarily thwarting his escape.

At that point, much to the captured bug’s displeasure, I took a moment to better examine my prize.

The beetle was almost two inches long and nearly as broad as my thumb. When I placed him on the top of the flipped-over stone, he reared up, spreading his sharp-tipped mandibles wide like a steel trap, and looked ready and willing to fight, capable of holding his own. I had to chuckle at his menacing-bug chutzpah!

What I’d caught myself was a fine example of a male stag beetle—a reddish-brown stag beetle, to be more precise, Lucanus capreolu. The second largest species of stag beetle in Ohio; only the aptly-named elephant stag beetle is larger.
Some texts alternately list this as a common stag beetle, or for obvious reasons, a pinching beetle. The texts also state that in spite of the dangerous-looking mandibles, any delivered nip to, say, a fingertip, is mild, not at all painful. Uh-huh. I suspect too many days spent prattling about a lab with all manner of weird bugs for company might turn an otherwise perfectly decent entomologist into something of a practical joker, and have so far avoided personal research in verifying this no-pain claim. You, however, may believe those researchers and test your faith by offering up whatever body part you wish. Let me know how it goes…
Stag beetles are so named because the large, opposing vice-grip-like mandibles are reminiscent of the antlers on deer or stags. Like deer, male stag beetles also employ their “antlers” as weapons when fighting other males for mating privileges. Incidentally, the mandibles on female stag beetles are much smaller.
Stag beetles are slow-moving herbivores. They’re believed to feed on tree sap and perhaps aphid “honey-dew,” as well as leaves, though not much is actually known about the adult’s feeding habits. They are not harmful to plants or people (not counting how that fingertip in the mandibles might feel) and are more common than you might think, though are mostly seen at night after being attracted to some sort of light. Captive stag beetles—they can be kept as “pets” and can live a couple of years—are happy sipping sugar water like you’d use to fill a hummingbird feeder.
After a brief photo session I allowed my beetle to amble his own way and find a new hideout. But you might as well be forewarned…making his portrait has set me off on a phase of bug photography that has me collecting images almost every day. No doubt we’ll have another insect post in the near future…but, I promise, no spiders; I do have some restraint.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Thunderbird over the riverbank!
It has been a noisy weekend here on the riverbank—not because of the loud-mouthed blue jays who screeched for no reason other than to keep the squirrels nervous with their racket, or the subsequently agitated gray squirrels who decided to counteract by scolding everything that moved.
Nope, that’s just the usual uproar and clamor—one you become oddly inured to when living amongst critters who seem to believe solitude merely exists for them to shatter.
The sound I’m referring to was of F-16s passing directly over the river and cottage. And not just any F-16s, either, but the beautiful red, white, and blue jet fighters of the precision demonstration squadron of the United States Air Force—the world-famous Thunderbirds.
Even the bluejays and squirrels appeared impressed to the point of being rendered uncharacteristically speechless by the thunder of a low-altitude flyover. Though traveling at throttled-back sub-supersonic speeds, the zooming jets still scream and shake the earth with their roaring engines. I’m impressed and rendered proudly speechless myself.
The Thunderbirds were in town to wow the crowds at the local air show. They regularly perform at this event, and I’ve enjoyed watching them do their breathtaking tight formations and mind-boggling displays of the aircraft’s flight capabilities for years. But it’s a special treat to have them buzzing over your yard.
Of course we riverbankers have our own air squadron—though ours lack the fancy paint scheme and instead come dressed in black feathers. The turkey vultures of the Riverbank Soaring and Scavenging Unit might not be able to fly upside-down in formation, but they could certainly teach those Thunderbird pilots a thing or two about making short work of roadkill.
A Riverbank Soaring and Scavenging Unit member shows his stuff.
And once they're in the air, the laid-back buzzards have no more need to flap their wings to stay aloft than do the Fighting Falcon aircraft flown by the Thunderbirds. Though the big birds can’t match the speed of the jets, they regularly glide through the heavy woods covering their island roost, dodging limbs and trunks, and never do more than tilt and swoop; let’s see the flyboys match those low-speed maneuvers!
The thundering Thunderbirds repeatedly flashed directly over the tops of the big sycamores in which the vultures like to huddle to spend their nights. Moreover, though the squadron’s part in the air show took place at 3:30 each afternoon, on both Saturday and Sunday many buzzards were already on the roost, having come home early due to cloudy weather and the possibility of rain. Vultures prefer to sit out storms in the comfort of home, and come winging back to their cosy leaf-covered retreat whenever the weather seems threatening.
You have to wonder what those amazing birds thought of the screaming and equally amazing jets so close overhead. Yet the witnessing turkey vultures didn’t seem perturbed or alarmed. More than once, at the same moment a jet flashed loudly nearby, I noticed one of the big birds sailing along, just above the treetops as it came in for a landing. The bird never gave the aircraft a second glance.
Thunderbird flashes over as a buzzard lands in the treetop.
(Double-click to expand and look in the tree just left of center.)
This morning, the sun is bright. The buzzards have been off their roost for hours and are by now are doubtless somewhere feasting on whatever free eats the night provided. The Thunderbirds have been long gone since yesterday. I haven’t heard a single blue jay or squirrel.
I don't think I like all this sudden silence.

Friday, July 17, 2009


I have chickadee issues.
That’s right…problems with chickadees. Little gray-and-white birds with black caps that call out their name incessantly in case you need reminding, hang upside-down from branches while they look you in the eye, and eat your sunflower seeds from sunup ‘til sundown with the jaunty confidence that as soon as they’ve polished off the current 50-pound bag of free eats, you’ll happily dash away to the feed store and purchase another for their continued dining pleasure.
It doesn’t help that they’ve speculated correctly and have you pegged to rights. Or that you both know it.
Neither is it something a riverbank blogger likes to admit to his readership—not when he’s spent all these posts trying to convince them of his vast and consummate outdoor skills, his mystical oneness with nature, and the fact he possesses a disposition so wise and gentle and forgiving that he’s the one and only Protestant on St. Francis of Assisi’s speed dial, the guy the old monk regularly defers to for a quick consultation on wildlife matters.
Nevertheless…I have chickadee issues.
My vexation with these cheery little grub-munchers is where they’ve lately decided to do their eating…which happens to be while perched upon a certain small dead limb of my box elder tree. Yes, the limb is near the feeder—I’d estimate perhaps three yards as the chickadee flies, and quite handy to the wire basket holding the snacks. The problem is, this convenient limb is located almost directly above my deckside rocker. The place where I like to sit, have a snack of my own, and watch the river roll along while various feathered residents eat, sing, and have a merry old time in the nearby bushes and trees.
Now, the chickadees bring their chosen seed to this convenient limb above and just to the left of my chair, they peck the seed open and extract the meat, and the hulls of the seed fall onto the deck. Pitter patter, pitter patter, pitter patter. Messy, really messy. But that’s not the worst—the worst, and I’ll try and be delicate here, is that chickadees aren’t house broken, or tree broken. So they sit comfortably a few feet above my head, eat like gangbusters, throw their empties every which way and poop…and poop…and poop.
What goes in comes out, a pound’s worth of seeds daily or more, and most of it comes out to fall— gravity seldom taking a holiday—right by where I sit. Not directly on my rocker, but mighty, mighty close.
It didn’t used to be this way. The chickadees and I had an understanding. I would buy the seeds, put them in the basket feeder, hang the feeder where they had a nice big box elder tree with thousands of potential perching limbs; they'd eat and throw their leftover seed hulls wherever, and poop—anywhere except smack over my deck.
Thus it has heretofore been, until a couple of weeks ago…and thus it must become once more.
I’m getting tired of sweeping and hosing off the deck. I’m not relocating my rocking chair. And I don’t particularly want to saw off the suddenly-convenient limb.
So I’m issuing fair warning to all offending chickadees…cease and desist forthwith, or I will comb the Internet for chickadee recipes. And don’t bank on help from on high, either. Should St. Francis try and intervene on your behalf, I’ll see his number on caller I.D. and refuse to answer.
Sit somewhere else or suffer the consequences!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


What does it take to frame a day? To establish a certain tone or mood, affecting all that follows, if only in a minor way?
For me, it can be the simple glory of a shaft of golden sunlight pouring through the sycamores. The ringing hoot of a distant barred owl. Milkweed’s sweet scent carried on a July breeze.
Sometimes this setting-up occurs in a moment—within the fleeting space of an event so ephemeral and otherwise insignificant, it could almost be mistaken for a leftover fragment of dream. Something imagined, seen or experienced only in the interior world of the mind’s eye.
When determining which side of the fantasy-reality fence to place such a transitory moment, it often helps considerably to have a photograph. Unless you believe in psychokinetic photography, a photo in hand means you can trust your memory: you saw what you thought you saw; what you remember happening did happen.
A few minutes ago I was sitting on my deck-side bench, taking a bit of sun and nursing a post-noon cup of coffee. The river chuckled along a few yards away—still muddy from Saturday’s rain, though now back to nearly normal pool.
Something fluttered nearby.
When I looked, I saw a female cardinal sitting less than a yard away. The bird was perched on a limestone block left over from a small project yesterday. So close I could have reached out and touched her.
She seemed unafraid, and gave me a quick, quizzical eye. Then, as if to say Hey, how do you like my hairdo? the cardinal raised her crest. I couldn’t help but grin at her punk rocker look.
Was this a feathered chimera or a corporeal cardinal? A spirit entity or real gal redbird trying to charm me where I sat?
Without moving anything except a fingertip, I pressed the shutter on the camera in my lap, which happened to be pointed in the right direction; auto-focus and auto-exposure, along with pure luck, did the rest. The lens was cranked out to wide-angle, so I had to spin and crop the image.
The bird remained a moment more…just long enough to smooth everything back in place. Then she looked around, glanced up at me again, and flew away. I felt the air moved by her wings on my wrist.
Say what you will, blame it on male ego, but I think that little redbird was flirting with me. If so, I'm flattered. A cute coquette always trumps caffeine for making a guy's day!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Sometimes the light comes Pouring over the horizon, Thick and yellow as juice From a fresh squeezed orange. Other mornings its hesitates As if unsure of its way, Wondering about its welcome And waiting for some final signal. Today it arrived in radiant blast A sudden headlong dazzle That pierced and conquered In swift, triumphant brilliance. The coming of the light Is as old as time and creation. Let there be light, said God, And the new light was good. So why should I be surprised By an event that occurs regularly, Once every twenty-four hours? Why does the light melt my heart? Yet am I always gobsmacked, Overcome with joy and wonder By this good new light, Thankful to find its blessing.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Rain here along the river since mid-morning. Now, four hours beyond noon, the showers are showing signs of letting up.
At it’s peak, the sky grew thick with low clouds the color of old campfire ashes. During those times it was very dark outside. You would almost have needed a flashlight to negotiate your way around the yard beneath the thickly-leaved sycamores and box elders.
Every so often, though, the light grew brighter. The view through the window changed from a landscape in charcoal to one of glowing greens as the illumination increased. Then the process would reverse, the light again dimming.
I noticed how the rain followed this light-dark cycle, decreasing as the light diminished, increasing when it came up. Why, I wondered? What was the connection? The pattern seemed odd, almost counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t it rain hardest during the darkest time?
On reflection, I decide it made sense—the darkest minutes would be those when a new band of showers was just moving in…a black, slow-moving freight train dragging its rain caboose behind. The mini-front’s dark line passes overhead and continues, the train huffing on, and the bulk of the showers come pattering through the leaves.
Anyway, that was my line of reasoning. I could easily be wrong as my practical weather savvy is best left to sticking my hand out, palm up, and proclaiming it to be raining should I feel a telltale wetness.
Every so often thunder rumbled. Not ear-splitting crashes; more the rolling reverberations of distant wagons crossing a wooden bridge. Alternately, there were times when the thunder sound was low and vaguely ominous, a soft warning, like a surely old dog who doesn’t really want to trouble himself to get up from the porch and bite you, but doesn’t want to be taken for granted, either.
Sometimes the rain turned into brief downpours, mini-monsoons that fell so furiously the raindrop curtain partially obscured the woods on the island across from the cottage. However, even when the rain was roaring through the leaves, I could also pick out the chirps and whistled song snatches from various birds.
When I opened the side door and began scanning the nearby trees, I spotted at least a dozen birds huddled patiently among the sheltering leaves. Chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, finches, titmice, a red-bellied woodpecker, nuthatches—they were all there, and whenever the downpour slackened, however briefly, they resumed feeding. Even the hummingbirds kept up their nectar sipping during the lesser showers.
Will, the grand-dog—a welcome house guest while my daughter and son-in-law are in Africa—didn’t seem to mind the rain; his business foray appeared unhurried. Moon, on the other hand, was having nothing to do with stepping outside during a shower. She gave a cursory glance through the open door, saw the water pouring off the eaves, looked back at me to see if I was kidding, and returned to her cozy bed, exercising the female prerogative to wait until drier conditions prevailed. Moon doesn’t accept a wetting without protest.
I’m glad for the rain. The river was looking a bit low. The flowers certainly needed a drink. And, of course, it’s been four or five days since I mowed the yard…can’t let that delightful chore lapse.
All in all, a day of showers isn’t an altogether bad way to spend a Saturday.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


It is evening here. The sun is slipping behind the sycamores lining the opposite bank of my modest river. The light is falling, softening, becoming less contrasty as it changes to a glowing golden green.

I’ve spent most of the day indoors, working, peering out longingly through the window near my desk at the moving water, sunlight sparkling on the pools, watching squirrels bound around the yard and hummingbirds hover and sip homemade nectar from the feeders. Occasionally something would startle one of the great blue herons wading the shallows, and the big bird would lift with a squawk and go flapping off, following the river.

When the burden of my necessary imprisonment became overpowering, I would pause in my typing to go outside for a break—sit in the hot sun, walk around the yard or along the riverbank, check out flowers or trees. The dogs appreciated a brief outing, too.

Now, desk work completed, as the day draws to a close and the pace of life along the riverbank has already slowed with the fading light, I’m going to head outside again and relax there until dark.

Usually I sit in my rocker on the deck, where I can watch the big pool in front of the cottage and the steep riffle just upstream. This evening, however, I plan to take my ease from the bench at the top of the little knoll—a couple hundred feet from the house, at the property’s downstream corner.

The bench sits on a little grassy patch shaded by a clump of large sycamores and a fair tangle of various volunteer seedlings I’ve allowed to grow, which serve to shield the spot until it’s almost hidden from view from the water. An intimate green pocket—like a secret room—from which I can see out without passersby being about to see in. I can observe everything from heron to muskrats, wading fishermen to passing canoeists and kayakers.

Along with the bench, there’s a chiminea up here, too—one of those cast-iron outdoor fireplaces my son-in-law’s father gave us for Christmas a couple of years ago. On cool autumn evenings it’s nice to build a stick fire, scoot the bench close, and bask in the little stove’s radiant heat as colored leaves rattle earthwards, owls hoot from the darkness, and a big harvest moon goes rolling across the sky.

Of course, seeing as how this is July, I’m not planning on lighting a fire in the chiminea this evening.

Instead, I’ll kick back on my bench, sip whatever it is I’ve brought along, and watch all the interesting delight the evening holds. Swallows working the air above the pool? Ducks winging hurriedly upstream, low to water, their quick wingbeats making a silky scratching sound? A smallmouth feeding above the riffle? A whitetail deer slipping like a pale shadow along the path which borders the edge of the island across the narrow channel?

Only time will tell…and right now, while the light is still good, it’s time for me to take my bench seat and enjoy the show.

[This is for Raph, of Raph's Ramblings, whom I promised some time ago that I'd do a posting about my bench.]

Sunday, July 5, 2009


When I set out to do a blog, I really had no idea what I was getting into…though I don’t mean that the way it sounds. What I do mean is that I had no idea of the pleasure I’d receive from writing about and sharing my unremarkable riverbank life. I love to share, to give, to make others happy. The revelation of one of life’s greatest secrets is when you learn that no matter how much you put out, when done in the right spirit, you’ll always be rewarded many times over. So the writing and photos here are done as much for me as you…though my gratification often comes subsequent to the posting, when you let me know what you think via a comment. Another revelation—and of even more importance to me—has been the blogs I’ve discovered. And to me, they aren’t just blogs, but places where friends reside—little online windows into their world and life. Reading and commenting is like sitting across the table at a shared meal, having a few moments of conversation. Maybe this comes from the culture in which I was raised—one where friends and neighbors and family thought nothing of dropping in on one another for a visit. No invitation was ever necessary. If you could stay an hour, fine; if you only had five minutes to hang around, say hello, make a comment or two, that was also okay. The welcome mat was always out, the screen door unlocked. If it happened to be mealtime, an extra plate would be put on the table and a chair and space provided. Many of my favorite blogs are like that—warm and open, friendly, homey. A place where you don’t feel out of place dropping by, and always leave feeling better for the visit. Wanda’s “Moments of Mine” blog is one of those spots. A kindred soul and fellow Buckeye, who delights in sharing the wonders and blessing and joys of her life. Her blog is a premier example of what a blog should be, and how good and comfortable such quality turns out. Not just words and photos, mind you, but spirit…Wanda has a heart for people and knows how to make you feel at home. This morning, when I logged on to her blog, I found she’d presented me—that is to say, Riverdaze…—with an award. I’m honored and more than a bit humbled. I will add it to my layout with pride, and take great pleasure in it because of who gave it to me. Thank you, Wanda…you have made my day!

Friday, July 3, 2009


“What are you doing?” the woman said, not impolitely. She’d walked over from a narrow path through the half-acre patch of mostly weeds to see what I was photographing. “See for yourself,” I said, pointing. My camera sat atop a sturdy tripod. I’ve added foam padding to the outer tube of each leg, which makes the weight more comfortable when carried atop a shoulder. It also makes them look rather odd, like fat aluminum hotdogs in camouflage buns, since I’ve wrapped each of the three legs with camo duct tape—a bit tattered now after a few months of field work. I saw the woman hesitate, thoughtfully eyeing the setup, and perhaps wondering what such a ratty, makeshift affair said about the trustworthiness of its owner, before bending to peer through the viewfinder. “Oh, my,” she said after a moment. She glanced over her shoulder at me, smiled, then bent for a second, longer look. Then she raised and looked at the small clump of purple coneflower, at which my zoom lens was aimed. The coneflower blooms were just starting, though most were yet in the greenish stage. A few were opened and showed light petals; fewer still had more than a hint of the purple-pink yet to come, or the distinctive rearward thrust of the petals which give the plant its name. I’d focused on a single blossom—one of only two or three showing color. I thought it looked pretty nice, filling the frame, with the dark-shadowed woods blurred in the background, which made the bright but still-immature flower “pop.” Good images often depend on isolation and contrast. “That’s really nice,” the woman said, “but…”—she looked at the clump of conflowers, then at me and smiled apologetically—“…but why did you choose the imperfect one?” Ahh-h-h. I might have known. She was dressed more for a patio than a path—shorts and a tank top, spotless white sneakers now sprinkled with weed seeds and bits of vegetation from her brief foray into the off-trail wilds. Her bare legs and arms were tanned—but bore no old scratches or still-bleeding recent lacerations, so brush busting wasn’t in the usual cards. She did have a nice pair of expensive binoculars around her neck, and a little shoulder bag that might have held a field guide to birds or plants, though I thought it just as likely the book could be a compact dissertation on the wines and cheeses of France, in case her morning amble provoked a sudden desire for a glass of Pinot gris and a bite of brie. I tried to be charitable. “That one seemed to work best in the frame,” I said, “with the light and all.” “Oh,” she said, and looked at my setup again. We chatted amicably for a few minutes. I removed the camera from the tripod and, shielding the viewing screen with my hand to make it easier to see, showed her several of the wildflower shots I’d taken earlier—of course choosing only those which showed the most exemplar perfection. As we talked I couldn’t help but notice her perfect teeth, perfect nails, perfect hair, perfect eyes, perfect makeup…all perfect, perfect, perfect. She doubtless lived in a perfect house on a perfect street. “Thank you,” she said, when leaving, favoring me with a perfect smile. “You take lovely photos. Maybe you’ll find a better coneflower to photograph.” I nodded and thought how small and dull a world it will be when imperfection is no longer to be found, let alone appreciated. When dogs no longer pee on the living room floor. Or you can’t wear a ragged old sweatshirt to the grocery. Or an old man with ill-combed hair and liver spots on his wrists, shuffling along behind a walker with scuffy tennis balls on the legs, is not welcomed at a fancy restaurant because he’s not…perfect. What fun is perfect? Where’s the room for growth or improvement? A smart woman would know there’s mystery and allure in imperfection, endearment, too. As hard as the concept may be to grasp, it is possible to be too flawless! Of course, I say all this, not from the rarified air of that ultimate perfect peak, but from the knee-deep bog of pure commonness—proletarian, unrefined, dinged and dinted, whose imperfections were many to start with and have only multiplied over the years. I like my cheddar sharp and have actually drank and enjoyed wine dispensed from a box. In all my travels, I’ve dined in only two restaurants deemed perfect enough to have been awarded three Michelin stars…but I’ve eaten in country cafés all over the land where the food, if less fancy, was just as tasty. The most interesting and wonderful people I ever met were invariably imperfect—often to degrees nigh unimaginable. Yes, that purple coneflower bloom was rather tatty. Several of its drooping petals had been chewed on, its color was not yet prime, and it tended to lean from the weight of its exuberance. I can understand that, uh, perfectly—my exuberance has caused me to lean, my color is less than prime, I’ve been chewed on a bit…and I droop. But I’d rather live in the thick of life than to sit safe and perfect at the edge. As a friend of mine likes to say, “If you ain’t makin’ a mess purty regular, you shor nuf ain’t havin’ fun!” Amen and amen! I say perfect is long overrated as either an ideal or aiming point. Viva imperfection!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


It has been a cool, overcast afternoon here along the river. The weather prognosticators guessed a high of 70 degrees for today, and have steadfastly stuck to their optimistic prediction. So far, my bankside thermometer hasn’t made it past the 66 degree mark. Inside the cottage, it remains a decidedly chilly 62 degrees—which is what probably prompted me to make a pot of beef and noodles for supper; I’m thinking of cornbread to round the meal out. I’ve also been debating a hearthfire later this evening. What’s more, it’s cool coming upon the heels of cool, since yesterday’s weather was much the same. While I’ll take cool weather over hot any day, this isn’t my idea of early July or summer in Ohio. Not the usual fare. And the interesting thing is, I just received an email from my daughter who’s in Swaziland, Africa, where she reports the weather there is also in the mid-60s—much cooler than anyone expected, including folks who’ve spent years in the area. I think the lower temperatures have the birds a bit confused, as well. They’ve been busy at the feeders all day—fighting and squabbling for perching room, as intent on their eating as if they expected a snow storm to come pushing down from Canada. Even the red-bellied woodpeckers have been going at the sunflower seeds hot and heavy, more so than any day since mid-May. A light-to-medium overcast is actually the best of all photo lighting conditions for most outdoor subjects. It’s particularly good for things such as landscapes (sans-sky), wildflowers, and birds or animals if you’re not trying to “stop” action. The soft light eliminates harsh shadows and makes colors appear “saturated.” It’s great for flattering portraits, too. However, today’s heavy overcast seemed too dim for my photo plans of doing some shooting at a pocket prairie up the road. So I postponed my plans until a brighter day and decided to stay home and work on things that needed working on. A good decision, I suspect, since the light was still too dim when I kept trying to sneak up on a great blue heron late this afternoon. And before you ask, no, taking heron shots isn’t my idea of working—although as I skulked along, from sycamore to sycamore, attempting to get close without spooking the wading bird, trying to steady my handheld zoom lens against the boles of trees…and knowing immediately every time the shutter released that I’d likely failed to capture any usable image—at that moment I might have indeed claimed it was getting to be an effort awfully close to work. But, I admit, I was just a tad frustrated. And kinda chilled, too. Because the day was cool, the light was poor, I couldn’t get my shot, plus the bird was getting nervous and— And then—well, then I remembered how, no more than a week ago, when it was 91 degrees out, I’d whined and complained about sweating and being soooo-o-o hot! So, least you think I’m an ungrateful wuss (I am a wuss, but I don’t want you to think that) I hereby state I’m not whining or complaining one iota! Nope, I’m perfectly happy if summer highs never break the 80 degree mark. I’ll build fires, cook hearty food, keep the birds well fed, and gladly exchange shorts and tees for long pants and flannel shirts. I won’t say a word about losing my tan or having to wait an extra month for sweet corn to ripen. I would, however, appreciate just a teensy bit more sunlight…