Thursday, September 29, 2011


Each morning I look out, staring into the darkness, checking for movement…expecting, wondering, hoping

A single question is uppermost in my mind: Is today the day?

I try to not be too discouraged by the empty moments. It is, after all a bit early. 

Cold, too—48˚F according to the big thermometer just beyond the breakfast table window. That's getting down there. And the weather oracles are calling for a low of 38˚F tomorrow night, which has to be the—

Wait! What's that? A tiny moving shape among the shadows. Yes! The rubythroats are still here…at least one, though who knows for how long. Tomorrow is the last day of September. The weather has been rainy, windy, and decidedly cool for the past week. Surely the little hummingbird now sipping from the feeder is one of the few lingerers remaining. 

The earth turns, time moves on, summer has given way to autumn which is following the endless circular path toward winter, a new year, another spring. So it has been; so it will be. To everything there is a season.

Nevertheless, I am blessed. Today I still have hummingbirds!

Monday, September 26, 2011


Old field asters near the river. I took this photo a dew days ago. 

It is dim and damp out, thanks to a heavy overcast and intermittent showers—some of them heavy—which began with a thunderstorm about 3:30 a.m. Additional rain is pretty much the outlook for the remainder of today. The same pattern is expected to last throughout Wednesday. The river is already up by several feet, and will likely continue to rise for awhile—the first round of high water we've had in months. Not that I expect it to become worrisome.

I'm still stiff and sore and gimping around to the point of near-incapacity from working on our woodpile most of Saturday, plus what litte we could manage yesterday. That's about par for my decrepit back…after just one day of mediocre work, I need several days of recovery before I can again walk upright without pain, or lift anything heavier than a cup of coffee. If I were a horse, someone would have shot me long ago and hauled my sorry carcass off to the fertilizer factory. 
•  •  •
Yesterday morning, my daughter, son-in-law, fellow-father-in-law, along with a family friend and her twin daughters, were all on the way to church when they were T-boned by an elderly driver trying to make a left turn. The impact spun them around, popped the side-panel airbags, front and rear, and did significant damage to my daughter's new Honda Accord. However, God was watching over everything, protecting, guiding, minimizing, caring. Other than a few bumps and a bad scare, everyone—including the other driver—was unharmed. Cars can be repaired or replaced; family and friends are precious beyond words and irreplaceable. I'm grateful the auto's safety systems worked, glad that no one was injured, and more than anything, thankful to God for His countless blessings.   

Friday, September 23, 2011


On the way back from the eye doc's yesterday, I stopped at a little prairie patch up the road, where I made this photo of a southbound monarch nectaring atop a goldenrod.  

Whoopee! Autumn is officially here and summer but a receding memory. Still, truth be told, the new season could have done a bit better with its premiere—a bit of blue sky, some sunshine, maybe a nice little breeze to rustle the drying leaves and blow the last wisps of the previous three months well away.

Instead, the temperature is currently 53˚F; it has been raining since just after midnight; and the morning sky didn't so much embrace the dawn as it did turn—reluctantly and by only a few degrees—from soppy black to a dingy gray the shade of an old wool sock. 

Not the finest fall debut I've ever witnessed. But I'll take it and be glad, for I know better days are a'comin'. 


Thursday, September 22, 2011


Today is the last day of summer…and as if the season were trying to atone for its excessive weeks of sweltering heat, it has served up a parting gift of bright sunshine and refreshing cool temperatures. I'll take both, thank you very much, and consider this temporary reprieve from yesterday's prediction of continued showers a sort of peace offering until next year.

At a glance, you might not notice we're on the cusp of seasonal change. The vegetation along the river is still mostly green. You have to search for any leaf sporting a hint of color. But a close look reveals an overall rustiness to the landscape, a weary yellowing, like a tired carnival troupe at the end of long tour. Summer has lost its vibrant shine, time moves on, autumn's golden flames are starting to glow.     

The weatherman still calls for rain tomorrow, which means it's not likely I'll be able to get out and about and welcome autumn with a long ramble afield. So, after my morning appointment at the eye doctor's, I think I'm going to jump the gun and do my seasonal-hello amble early. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


It's raining here today—heavily at times. Tuesday's jade-green river is now brown and already a foot higher than it was yesterday. It will doubtless continue to rise throughout the day and night. 

According to the weatherman, the rest of the week and the weekend will see more of the same. I've decided this calls for a big pot of chicken and vegetable soup, and plan to settle in and relax for the duration. With the cooler temps, I'm thinking Myladylove and I can have a hearthfire this evening.

Frankly, I'm good with the above scenario…or at least until the grub runs low, my supply of mysteries from the library need exchanging, and the lack of outdoor time starts threatening to give me a case of the heebie-jeebies. But the great blue heron who usually hangs around the Cottage Pool is bummed. When I looked out the window a few minutes ago, the big bird had sought a perch on the stump-end of a bankside log, back in the edge of the island's woods and some distance from the water. In the dim light he looked waterlogged and out-of-sorts, like any sustenance angler, underwhelmed by the prospects of having to fish the higher, muddy water for his supper.

I suppose I could offer to share my soup…

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


It happens to all of us every now and then…the seasons surprise you with an unexpected change and you get caught without quite having your new wardrobe fully put together.

At least I think that's the case with this male cardinal I saw in a hackberry tree near the cottage recently. Either that, or else he's just a fashion disaster when it comes to coordinating his outfit. A ragtag redneck redbird. 

Monday, September 19, 2011


Yesterday morning, life-giving mug of coffee in hand, I stepped onto the deck for my usual look-about. The sky overhead was a radiant azure, with faint daubs of gossamer white clouds to the west. A waning quarter moon traced its arcing path toward the horizon. These next few nights will be the final appearances for this year's version of that fabled Harvest Moon; our next full moon, which will occur on October 11, will be the almost equally storied Hunter's Moon.

Time moves steadily on. Just like the river, which last Friday did its astonishing overnight color switch, turning from opaque brown to bright green. This annual phenomenon—so dramatic it's nothing short of natural magic—happens at that point when summer is transitioning onto autumn. The weather cools into the mid-50s for several nights in a row with a concurrent drop in water temperatures. 

I've never seen any mention of this sudden "greening" of a stream in anything I've read, so I'm not sure exactly what's going on to cause such an abrupt color change. My best guess is that the water's heretofore impenetrable shade of gray-brown—which, if you didn't know better, might be mistaken for being muddy—is due to some species of algae that's been thriving in the stream's nutritious summer warmth. Then, as the water begins to cool, a critical point is reached which triggers a widespread die-off—like a group of houseplants you forgot to take indoors at night succumbing to frost. That would explain why one day the river is instantaneously a delightful luminous chartreuse—a green so impossible it looks unnatural, as if the water had been colored with dye. 

Too, I've noted the peak of this brilliant crazy green lasts only a few hours. By the following day, the color has toned down considerably. This may indicate the glowing temporary green is the color of the dying algae rather than of completely dead plants, and might explain why the green continues to gradually fade over the next couple of months. By mid-November, and on through the heart of winter, the river's clarity is pristine—a colorless mirror which can look blue or gray, gold or black, pink, orange, turquoise or purple, depending on the sky and angle of light.

Today is cloudy with sprinkles. So…no waning Harvest Moon in the morning sky. But the river, now the color of old jade, is whispering the news of seasonal change.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Today is cloudy and rather bracing, 49˚F at the moment with a predicted high of 65˚. Yesterday was gorgeously blue, not a cloud in the sky, though even cooler—taking until late afternoon to rise above the 60˚F mark. None of which is offered by way of complaint.

When there's dew on the grass and a nip in the air, I feel grandly alive. While the world along the river remains dressed in summer's green, a close look reveals things are yellowing and somewhat tattered, like an old dress worn and washed too many times, before getting hung in the back of the closet. There's no doubt a corner has been turned. Personally, I welcome this seasonal change. I'll be glad to see the leaves begin donning their patchwork colors, glad to spend some days rambling about in fields rich with goldenrods and purple asters where I always feel like I'm walking through an antiquarian tapestry…glad to shiver when I first step outside, take a deep breath, and feel my blood zing.

Summer is my least favorite of the seasons. With me, a little goes a long way. This time around it's been too hot, too dry, for too long, a guest that's already overstayed its welcome. We'll have another torrid encounter next year. But for now… 

Adios and fare-thee-well!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


A gauze of diaphanous fog hangs over the cottage pool this morning, softening the light, blurring the edges of distant objects. In what might be a natural paradox, the illumination seems both muted and more luminous, a silvery incandescence, glowing quietly, making the familiar island twenty yards away seem deliciously mysterious. From the island's downstream end comes the quick loud yelps of a pileated woodpecker, sounding a bit on the frantically manic side.

Though the sun hasn't yet cleared the tops of the sycamores along the river's eastern banks, the cedar waxwings are already busy swooping and diving over the water, working the moist air like flycatchers. There must be a dozen of them taking turns at whatever insects are available. Such behavior on the part of the waxwings is always a sure indicator that summer is drawing to a close. Between flights, the sleek waxwings with their yellow-tipped tails—as if the very ends of the feathers had been recently dipped in a bucket of paint—rest on an outmost limb of a streamside hackberry, box elder, or sycamore—watching, waiting, until time for their next swift flight. 

A couple hours from now, I have to take Myladylove to the hospital for a bit of minor outpatient surgery. A short trip, since, as the crow flies, the hospital is no more 1500–2000 yards from here…across the stream, across a wide expanse of parkland, up a hill, and at the far side of a parking lot beyond. Close, yet except for a bit of distant tile rooftop we can just glimpse when the leaves are gone, you'd never guess such a facility was nearby. Of course we'll have to drive downstream to the bridge, then back up the highway on the other side; three minutes door-to-door.

The rest of the afternoon will be spent taking care of my recovering "patient." Which comes down to feeding her whatever she feels like eating, letting her sleep as much as she wants, and putting her in full charge of the TV remote. Moon-the-Dog will do her part, too…though I'll probably have to referee a disagreement or two between them over what programs to watch.

Monday, September 12, 2011


A spider…its web…a bit of morning sun. Simplicity itself, yet the result is more than a mere tableau of exquisite natural beauty. It is a message, a proclamation that while much is wrong out there, beyond the meadows and woods, across the stream—some good things remain. 

The sun still shines. A red-tailed hawk again circles high in a clear blue sky. And a mossy-backed old snapping turtle, the diameter of a dinner plate, paddles slowly around the pool, looking for a bit of sunlight on a rock or log so he can clamber up and warm himself for an hour or two. 

The earth endures.         

A few feet from where I stand the river mumbles in ancient tongue as it slips across the rocky riffle—sparkling, swirling, inscrutable, untiringly finding its way along the sycamore-lined path leading to the sea. As always, I wish I were going along, a fellow sojourner sharing the journey. Oh, to have the carefree ambitions of a river. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

I don't, alas…and wishing and dreaming won't ever make it so. But I have the moment, and whatever my remaining allotment of time which lies beyond. Plus I have the river and birds and that cantankerous old snapper that's still searching for his warming spot—and I have the spider and web and sunlight shining through. 

I take heart. A day which begins in such beauty and telluric augury is never all bad.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Where were you when…

On this sad anniversary—a day of barbarous infamy, but also of incredible courage, when the worst and best of humankind was witnessed worldwide—the question will be asked repeatedly. I was in the home my father built, the place where I grew up, taking care of my 90-year old mother. The gal who is now Myladylove called: "A jetliner crashed into the World Trade Center," she said—then, "Oh my God! Another one just hit the other tower!"

For the next several hours, no one understood fully what was going on. We simply watched—Mom and I, and the neighbors who came by, in case we hadn't yet gotten the news…and stayed a few minutes or an hour to watch the drama with us. The images were there, on live television, delivered by shocked and mystified and often near-broken reporters; history being wrought before our stunned eyes. Death and destruction none of us could have imagined a few hours beforehand. News of another plane down in Pennsylvania. And a fourth jet which had slammed into the Pentagon. One of the greatest cities on earth brought to its knees. Buildings so tall they once soared into the clouds collapsing while we watched. People running for their lives…others jumping to their death. Flames. Dust. Smoke. Terror. Panic. What was happening! And why? WHY!

The answers, when they eventually came, were worse than we would, on that first 9-11 morning, have imagined. But one thing I did realize as that horrific event unfolded…the United States of America, and probably the civilized world, would never again be the same.

A few days later I sent in a postscript to run with my Sunday outdoor column. The original column was about a day spent floating and fishing on a certain river—the same river, as it happens, on whose banks I now live. I initially intended to pull that piece from the newspaper. Who would want to read about fishing in the wake of such tragedy—a tragedy still very much ongoing as rescue workers dug frantically through rubble in search of living victims. Surely everyone hadn't perished!

Instead, I wrote a postscript.

For what it is worth, here's that addendum:

*   *   *
My column was written just before Tuesday’s terrorist attacks began in New York City and Washington D.C., and the hijacked airliner which crashed in Pennsylvania. In the aftermath of such a horrific national tragedy, any recounting of a day spent float-fishing a local river seems banal, a frivolous recitation of a mundane outing.

And so it is.

Yet that's not to say such commonplace diversions are without significance or value. Outdoor recreation, like organized sports, music, and arts, are pastimes which enrich our lives in ways beyond necessity, and will forever remain one of the greatest, most cherished rewards available to those living in a free society.

It’s also one of the things terrorists hate most about America and the American way of life, this notion of individual freedom. The idea that folks such as you and I might—without governmental permission—simply drive into the country and float down a rural stream purely for fun.

Since Tuesday’s terrorist strikes, I’ve often found myself worrying about future implications. What have I—what have we all—lost?Like most of my neighbors, I spent many hours following the attacks glued to my television—appalled by what I was witnessing, sickened by its ruthlessness, furiously angry at its barbaric perpetrators. There was a very real sense of personal violation. And doubtless a measure of our national innocence fell along with those two tall buildings.

But I haven’t lost my sense of wonder regarding the natural world. What’s more, I intend to exercise my personal freedom by rambling woods and waters whenever possible.

Terrorists can only win what we’re willing to surrender—and I’m not giving an inch.

In that context, I sincerely hope this outdoor column will find some small merit.


Saturday, September 10, 2011


Even after the dark-purple berries have fallen off or been eaten by birds, sunlight shining through the empty pinkish-purple raceme of a pokeweed stalk is still lovely. 

Isn't it amazing how even a small amount of sunlight can improve our attitude? 

That was certainly the case with me yesterday when, after a week's worth of dark, dismal, dank, dreary, drizzly and depressing days, the sun came shining through the streamside sycamores, bouncing off their white trunks, sparkling in the riffles, filling the pool near the cottage with golden light. In no time at all my spirits soared.

Moon-the-Dog and I quickly headed outside. Ruby-throated hummingbirds were zooming everywhere, squeaking like mice as they chased and defended their presumed feeder rights. Carolina wrens, as brightly energized as if you'd plugged them into a 220 line, were singing at the top of their lungs from midst of the cedar thickets. Even the zinnias alongside the walk—beaten flat by last weekend's storm—seemed to be doing their best to rise toward the vertical.     

I don't even care that today's weather forecast calls for clouds and afternoon showers. I've had my needed sunlight fix. The glass is half full and I'm good to go from now until the equinox. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Today is dark, dank, dreary, drizzly, and depressing. Yesterday was equally dark, dank, dreary, drizzly, and depressing. Moreover, according to the National Weather Service, tomorrow and Saturday are both predicted to be—you guessed it!—dark, dank, dreary, drizzly, and depressing.

On top of which—the insipid icing on the cake—is the temperature, 57˚F at the moment, which is decidedly cool after last week's mid-90s.

The odd thing is, I usually like such dark, dank, dreary, drizzly, and depressing days. Moody, gray, wet, chilly weather somehow rouses my old Druidic roots, speaks to something ancient in the DNA…sets my blood to humming. Energized, I work like gangbusters—faster, better, longer. I can get more done on such a day than I typically manage in a week.

Not yesterday, or today—and probably not tomorrow or the next. What I feel like doing is building a small hearthfire, putting on a supply of CDs, something dense and somber, and with a pot of coffee to hand, curling up and reading a few of the old tales by, say, one of the Russian classicists—Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov—or maybe some of the great old atmospheric stories by Clark Russell.

That's what I'd like to do.

Instead, I'll make a pot of vegetable soup, bake some banana bread, do whatever laundry awaits in the various baskets, make another heroic effort to straighten things in my work room. Mindless domestic busywork. Tasks to occupy the hands and keep me from wasting time for no good reason other than a weather-induced funk.

I did mention it was dark, dank, dreary, drizzly, and depressing…right?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Looking upriver this morning, with swathes of blue sky overhead and golden sunlight sparkling in the riffles, you wouldn't imagine the weather-related holiday weekend we've experienced…well, not unless you've recently been through your own ordeal following Hurricane Irene. 

Now, I'm definitely not saying our few days of unpleasantness has been anything to compare to the misery and trauma the folks in New Jersey or Vermont dealt with—and for that matter, are dealing with still. Nope, by their standards, we got off light. More messy inconvenience than tribulation. 

Still, in the case of Irene's path up the New England coast, those residents had ample warning, realized it was on the way. Like Sherman's march across Georgia, the arrival was not unexpected. 

We, on the other hand, were abruptly mugged. Blindsided by a storm whose winds and their sudden destruction were totally unforeseen. 

There was no sense of dire anticipation Saturday evening. Weather predictions were routine—just a standard late-summer thunderstorm. A bit of wind, perhaps heavy rains in a few areas, lots of flash-and-boom theatrics. But nothing really to worry about. 

Myladylove and I got home just before 11:00 p.m. from an enjoyable evening of celebrating recent birthdays—my daughter's and also that of my fellow-father-in-law's. It was raining during our half-hour homeward drive, with accompanying thunder and lightening. Nothing more. A mile from the house we had to detour around and come in using another road because of two trees which had fallen across the road and power lines. We wondered if our electric service might also have been knocked out…but, no, reaching the cottage we found the lights still working, though the Internet was down. Outside, the storm continued. 

For a while we stood by the big window overlooking the river, and with the deck spotlights on, watched sheets of rain falling on the nearby the pool and riffle. 

Just after midnight, as we were readying for bed, the power went off. A minute later the winds cranked up to a wild roar, lashing through the trees in the yard and on the island across from the cottage. I heard a series of warning cracks a few seconds before a loud snap and subsequent thudding crash. "That was close," I said. 

I got up, found a flashlight, dug a rain parka from the closet, and went outside for a look. The wind had taken down the upper half of the big box elder adjacent to the side deck, near the front door. Luckily the portion that fell toppled away from the house. I checked all around the cottage, but except for that one major section and the usual trimming assortment of small limbs and leaflet branches, saw no other damage. 

Nor was there anything to add to the list when I made a better review by daylight the following morning, except that my zinnias had been flattened, along with most of the flowers—though I'm hoping most will rise again given time and sunlight. Such plants are surprisingly resilient. 

It drizzled much of the day, so we spent Sunday mostly indoors. I made coffee and tea and cooked our meals on the camp stove. We had plenty of bottled water for drinking and cooking, and a rain-barrel full of water for flushing…plus the river, if needed. We read, listened to weather reports on the battery radio, Myladylove strung chunks of turquoise into a necklace and earring set, and when evening came and still no power, we lit candles and oil lamps and had our supper by cozy light. 

Other than lack of a hot shower, not a bad day at all. 

Monday, still no power, cloudy-but-dry, we spent several hours cleaning up the yard. Thanks to help from Mike, one of my good neighbors across the road, the box elder got sawn into firewood lengths. The yard was raked of leaves, limbs wheelbarrowed to the brush pile. 

Except for the pile of new firewood yet to be stacked, and the odd slant of sunlight now shining through the new opening in the treeline, things are pretty much back to normal. The power came back on in late afternoon, the Internet sometime during the night. 

From what I've since been able to gather…in the storm's aftermath, 35,000 area residents were also left without power. Trees and power poles fell like matchsticks all over the place, closing roads, damaging houses and cars. 

We were actually lucky. Another neighbor, Bob, who lives in the house up the road from Mike, lost several trees, one of which fell on his neighbor's house and car, and flattened a shed. And residents up and down the nearby roads suffered similar damage. 

The storm also brought with it a change in weather. Though today began sunny, it is now clouding up and may even rain before it is done. Rain is also predicted for the rest of the week. 

Too, on Saturday, before the storm came through, we set a record high for that date of 97˚F; this morning, it was 51˚F, with a predicted high of 61˚F; I don't think Sunday or Monday made it above of the 60s, either. 

On balance, while I wouldn't want to repeat such an impromptu indoor campout (I'll take a tent in the woods and the usual minimal accoutrements) every weekend, a reminder every so often of who's really in charge of things is probably a good for the ego. 

And if the damage isn't great, the lesson can even be fun.  

Friday, September 2, 2011


I found a queen snake in the grass a few minutes ago. On my way to turn on the watering hose at the wellhead, I looked down and there it was. Queen snakes don't get very large. A two-footer would (please excuse my silliness) be a king-sized queen. This one was about 18-inches long, still a good length for the species. 

The snake was about midways across an open but shady portion of the yard beyond the deck and downstream of the cottage. As it said, when I spotted it, the queen snake was smack in the middle of the grass patch, maybe a foot from my foot. I think we were both momentarily startled. Not that queen snakes are in the least threatening. On the contrary, they are quite docile natured. But having spent plenty of time in various parts of the country where snakes can be a problem, and being—I thought—accustomed to always watching my step, it's a shameful oversight to allow any snake-in-the-grass to get the drop on me—a blunder made all the more mortifying by the fact that what grass there was was short, sparse, dry, and struggling to survive in the near-100˚F heat. Which was why I intended to do some watering. That snake couldn't have been any more visible on the middle of the kitchen table. 

On the snake's part, I expect it was just hoping this large and obviously oblivious creature heading its way wouldn't trample it unintentionally.

The queen snake and I each remained calm. As I had my camera in hand (no, I don't water while toting my camera; I intended to place it out of harm's way atop the nearby picnic table) I made a shot, thinking I'd do a better job once I took care of that well valve. But when I got back, the snake was nowhere to be found. What I did find, however, about fifty feet away, was a second queen snake—this one no more than 6–8 inches long and the diameter of a pencil. A juvenile. 

Queen snakes are aquatic, spending almost the entirety of their lives in or close-to water, where their primary food source is crayfish. Yes, the river was no more than 35 feet away from where I found the bigger snake, and perhaps 60–70 feet distant from the second, smallest one. Still that's well beyond the bank, on very dry ground, in an environment totally different than their usual hunting bailiwick. Which, of course, begs the question…why? 

Two queen snakes in the yard, well away from water, is not coincidence but pattern. There's a reason I found them where I did. What is it? I have a theory—but I want to know. On the face of it, you might think such questions don't matter. Why care? Yet in the scheme of things, what does matter if not answers to such riddles? To not care is to find the message of earth and life—and ultimately, ourselves—inconsequential. Caring is what makes us human. Questions lead to answers, answers to knowledge, knowledge to understanding. 

I care to understand…and understand to care.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


For the past couple of weeks, whenever I've had a few minutes to spare—or didn't, but stole them anyway—I've been photographically stalking the ruby-throated hummingbirds which like to search for a sip of nectar among the zinnias. Hummers are challenging subjects, at least for me—zipping and zooming around like iridescent missiles, always alert and easily spooked, and most of the time perversely hovering for just a millisecond less than it takes me to get framed and focused.

My ratio of images made to images kept is deplorable. And realistically, most of the ones I do keep are only mediocre. My personal parameters are natural light, no flash, and no ISO higher than 800, though 200–400 is the goal. So far, maybe one out of every 100 images is good…not great, good. The encouraging part is that when I first began, it was more like one out of every 250; I'm obviously improving, albeit slowly. As I said, hummers are, for me, challenging.

Nevertheless, in some inexplicable way, I find this whole masochistic endeavor relaxing. 

One of the sulphur (orange?) butterflies, and a carpenter bee.
Between visiting hummers, I naturally take shots of whatever else I see lurking about the multicolored blooms—mostly butterflies and bees. So far, I must have recorded two or three dozen different creatures. And if I go back through my photo files to, say, late-June, when the first zinnia flowers appeared, I could probably add an additional dozen. No doubt I've missed far more species than I've recorded—especially the smaller stuff.

Iridescent green sweat bee, I think a syrphid fly, and an unknown wasp.
That's a lot of life for one small patch of flowers! Obviously, the bright colors help attract potential pollinators. It pays to advertise. But then, who doesn't like to make regular visits to a place serving good eats? Which is why I've come to think of my walkway blooms as The Zinnia Café. 

Green hopper.