One year in the backyard, part II
And the snow fell
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
It's about 10:30 a.m. I have the day off. But I've been working my butt off. Around 7:30 I shot photos in the near dawn because the 8 or so inches of heavy, wet, system snow that fell overnight has weighed down trees, power lines and anything else it's resting on.
The winds are supposed to pick up and that would blow the snow off the trees and, considering the weight, could lead to power outages and trees falling. Our power has blinked several times this morning already, and there' s next to no wind.
I'll keep this short for now. Most of the two hours-plus outside I've already logged were spent clearing snow. This stuff weighs a ton and blowing it slow going. Area schools are closed. (www.ludingtondailynews.com) and the National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning -- something we really don't see often here. (http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?site=grr&zmx=1&zmy=1&map.x=83&map.y=33)
We'll see what happens. This afternoon I hope to snowshoe a trail around the yard preparing for cross-country skiing in the coming days.
I'm sure many are complaining about this storm. Hey, it's Michigan in winter. I wouldn't want it any other way. It's quiet, it's pretty and it's packing a lot of moisture from the oceans more than a thousand miles away. That's needed to keep our lakes and rivers full of clean, fresh water.
And there's nothing like a walk in the woods, a snowshoe or a cross-country ski run to enjoy the day.
5 p.m. -- Snow fell most of the day. We're approaching the one foot mark now. Winds are picking up. Roads are terrible. Power has blinked on and off, but stayed on.
The National Weather Service blizzard warning remains in effect: Here's their current forecast for us.
"Tonight: Snow showers and widespread blowing snow. Low around 18. Windy, with a west northwest wind between 30 and 39 mph, with gusts as high as 50 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of around 2 inches."
Well, we'll see. Off to blow snow, then clean up and go to a charity auction that's still on.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
All the talk today was of the coming storm. The watch was changed to a warning and predictions fluctuated wildly -- from a few inches of snow to a couple feet of snow by Friday.
I've learned to wait, prepare and go on with life.
At noon, it was sunny and calm. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Until one noticed the bird traffic. Birds were everywhere, awaiting their turn at the feeders. Chickadees, tufted titmice, nuthatches, ladder-back woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, finches, a cardinal and mourning doves all came by and large numbers while I attempt to make some photographs before my turn at my feeding station and a return to work.
The ground even today was covered with about two inches of snow. There's still feed to be found and the birds can still reach it, but I imagine it takes more work when trying to find beneath snow almost as deep as some of them are standing up.
But I also have long wondered if birds have a sense of a coming storm, a sense they need to feed because it could be a while before they will be able to do so again.
I think it was the arrival of the cardinal shortly after noon that made me wonder. Cardinals tend to feed at my feeders at dawn and dusk and they've been scarce for a long time.
For a cardinal to join the flight patterns and take a turn at the feeder then might me nothing, or it might mean something more than it was hungry.
I was mesmerized by how quickly the birds come and go. They rarely sit long in branches nearby. They flit here, fly in to the feeder, flit out. Sometimes different species arrive at once, There are plenty of stations for multiple birds to eat simultaneously, but it seems like three or four is the maximum most of the time.
Finches sometimes will cover a feeder, but the other birds seem to try to avoid being in a crowd.
Sometime this winter when I have an afternoon to spend at leisure, I'll set up a blind right next to the feeders so I can closely watch they're activities. Today they let me set up shop about 10-15 feet away but they were a bit skittish about it.
I'll try to practice patience. That seems required when attempting such close observation.
It's late now. The storm has arrived. It's snowing heavily. It began around 9 p.m. as I worked on Christmas lights around the house. I don't do an elaborate display, but the coming weeks are dark. Most passers-by on the road only see the backside of the house, now that the leaves are down. In summer the trees pretty much hide the house entirely.
It's become a tradition for me to do a display on the back deck for the enjoyment of passersby, and now the subdivision across the creek. We don't see much of each other in summer, but with the leaves down, I can see the lights of a few houses.
So this is my little friendly gesture to add a little light to their world for the next few weeks. It has a benefit for me, too, of making it easier to ski at night, and it's looking like I might get that chance soon.
Winter storm watch
Monday, December 7, 2009
Sixty-eight years ago the Japanese bombed the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Today, the backyard is the opposite of what that day must have been like. It's peaceful, serene, quiet to the point of almost silent.
We had over an inch of snow last night, not a large amount, but it seriously transformed the yard and the area into a wintry scene. Tonight we sit under a storm watch that is predicting serious snow starting tomorrow night and continuing through Thursday.
Will it happen? It seems possible, but the forecast has many worried and fretting.
That seems a waste of energy to me. I walked around the yard a bit today, mainly photographing scenes of a season in transition. There's one abstract of snow-covered steps. (One of my daughters has suggested I shoot more abstracts.) Two are images of scenes most easily seen in light snow: bird tracks and the tunneling of a vole.
I enjoy finding such signs around the yard. I can't do anything about the approaching storm except to prepare for it. I brought in wood enough to keep the wood stove in the basement in fuel through Friday. I fed the birds and filled a large platform feeder and a larger regular feeder for the first time since last winter.
I shoveled a bit of snow from places I don't want a big build up.
And I enjoyed the quiet as the dusk fell gray, like a wall of silence.
Is it the calm before the storm?
Snow in the swamp
Sunday, December 6, 2009
The swamp and creek look different in a light snow. The appearance of firm ground can be deceiving. But also, freshets where groundwater oozes from the banks and Earth are easier to see when a light snow is on the ground.
Those places where the warmer groundwater reaches the surface melt the snow and define watery spots.
Two in particular caught my eye today. The first was at meander in the creek upstream from the culvert work and the "improvements" the road commission infected the creek with.
The bend I've looked at frequently. I also knew there was a feeder freshet that left the ground soupy adjacent to the bend. Walk with care, is my motto.
In the snow, however, the wetness from the intersection of the freshet and the bend created the impression of pop-art rendering of Michigan's mitten-like Lower Peninsula, complete with a "thumb" in the proper place. If you're from Michigan you know where The Thumb is. It's at the far eastern side of the state and the area between the thumb and the rest of the mitten is Saginaw Bay. The bend in my creek -- though I don't own the creek -- reminded me of the Michigan mitten so today, at least, I called it Michigan bend.
Up the creek another 75 feet another freshet leaked from the ground, melting the snow along its channel that is normally covered with the ferns and other vegetation of the ground adjacent to it.
In recent weeks, I had noted it because I'd step into. I started looking for it before getting slopped with swamp muck by stepping where I shouldn't. I came to realize this freshet flowed to the creek along a route parallel to it for about 40-50 before the water seeps back into the ground -- unless a rainstorm or snowmelt flooded the area, which happens sometimes.
Today, the mostly unseen water left a blackish gray blot on the light snow cover in the rest of the bottomland swamp. It's as if the water was the stylus of an Etch-A-Sketch erasing the snow to form an outline of its presence.
But just because there's snow over ground in the bottomland, there's no guarantee the ground is thicker than condensed cream of mushroom soup before milk or water is added. I sloshed through a couple areas where the snow-covered "ground" oozed over my foot faster than I could say, oops.
I really enjoy the creek and swamp in winter. The creek rarely freezes -- though this year, having been widened, slowed and made shallower, more of it might.
A snow like what fell Saturday often makes for good tracking. Today, I only found squirrel tracks and one set of fresh deer tracks. Maybe I was out too early -- or maybe deer aren't moving yet because of the pressure of the recently-completed firearm deer season.
In the coming months, as more snow falls, we'll see -- and the swamp will be a good place to explore. Plus, in winter, there's no mosquitoes.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
By mid-morning it was snowing heavily. The dusting of Friday was being overwhelmed by a real, though small, snowfall.
I went out about 10 a.m. to find photos in the midst of the mini-storm. It was mellow, with little wind. Just heavy snow coming at a slight slant out of the west. Snow piled on me and the camera as I looked for scenes to photograph.
And while it is quiet, if you listen closely you can hear the rattle of the snow against dry leaves. The leaves beneath the snow are both dry and frozen dry with moisture turned to ice. So walking is noisy. Little is stirring as the snow falls A few mourning doves were at the feeder. A lone hawk winged by just south of the creek, but it wasn't making its hunting call.
I enjoy the time outside, then get to work making sure the snow blower is ready to go in case the snow doesn't let up. By 11:30 it has all but stopped. Accumulation is about an inch. It's enough to cover the woods, the yard, the roofs, vehicles and roads. It looks like winter.
But it isn't enough for skiing.
Later, when we went to Ludington we ran out of the snow by the time we hit the lakeshore a mile away. In the evening we headed north to Manistee for their Victorian Sleighbell Parade. The snow cover was almost non-existent on the north side of Upper Hamlin Lake. Apparently a little band of snow fell on Hamlin. Such are the vagaries of snow along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. But more about that as winter progresses. Today it was noteworthy enough, the first measurable snow of this winter fell on the yard.
Feels like winter
Friday, December 4, 2009
Most of the snow went south of us burying the Muskegon and Grand Rapids area. The ground here is white -- barely. But the cold is sinking in. The ground is hard with frost, though not deep yet. Shapes and impressions in the soil that a few days ago seemed soft and temporary are not frozen hard.
The last of the green plants are drooping, except for some ferns in the swamp where the warmth of the groundwater oozing out is keeping the ground soft, despite the snow and cold.
Lilies of the Valley berries I've been watching turned to wrinkled, rotten raisins overnight.
Fall has 17 more days on the calendar, but it today, more than any day yet this season, it feels like winter.
A dusting of snow
Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009
Didn't spend much time in the yard today. A short while after lunch after the first flurries of the day fell. By the time I returned from work and functions after it, it was quite dark out. The yard was covered with a trace of snow. The moon was trying to break through the clouds. But the world was quite quiet. Few cars. Few sounds. Little moving except the clouds passing overhead.
Heavier snow is predicted for overnight, but right now that looks unlikely based on conditions outdoors.
So near, so far
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I was up after midnight today so I went out and photographed the moon after the haze that created the halo in Tuesday's photo had cleared.
The features of the moon were much more pronounced. It's light streamed down casting long shadows. On one hand, the moon is a feature I see out my front door. You might, too.
On the other hand, it is, on average, 238,857 miles away. So near, so far away.
The moon has long caught our imagination. It affects our earth by affecting tides. Can't say I believe werewolves or vampires, but I know many people who enjoy being out on a full moon night. I'm one of them. Whether kayaking, cross-country skiing, enjoying a campfire, or a walk on a beach, the light of the full moon casts our Earth in a slightly different light, though it's source is the same: our sun, only bounced back to us.
I realized as much as I enjoy loony activities under the full moon, I really don't know that much about it. A little research tonight helps me explain what one looks at in the picture.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, online,http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic-art/391266/19095/The-familiar-near-side-of-Earths-Moon-photographed-on-December, the light areas are eroded highlands, older and more scarred from the events of time. The darker areas are the plains of the moon, also called maria or seas, though they're basalt left behind by massive lava flows. They're younger land forms and less eroded.
The following description from the encyclopedia accompanied a photo almost the exact same as mine. Here's what you are seeing, according to Encyclopedia Britannica:
"Among the maria are (left to right) the crescent-shaped Oceanus Procellarum near the left limb, the large, almost perfectly circular Mare Imbrium, or Imbrium Basin (with the crater Copernicus a bright dot at its lower margin), Mare Serenitatis immediately to the right of Imbrium, Mare Tranquillitatis to the lower right of Serenitatis, and Mare Crisium, isolated near the right limb. Another bright crater, Tycho, stands out at the bottom left of the image."
Another resource in layman's terms can be found at http://www.synapses.co.uk/astro/moon3.html. The article, The Lunar Landscape by Dr. Jamie Love, --actually part of a lesson.
And here area couple random facts:
Time it takes the moon to orbit the Earth: 27.3217 days
Temperature range: from about 224 degrees in the day to -128 degrees at night, -- though the extremes are even hotter and colder, respectively.
And wherever you are reading this, know while this is something I see in my backyard, it's something we all share, no matter how near or far.
December 1, 2009
Instead of being among the darkest days of the year, thanks to a full moon overnight, by 1:30 a.m. when clouds had cleared early this morning one could see in the woods for more than 100 yards. The moon set around 6 a.m. and the dawn broke around 7:30 a.m. beginning a day that was sunglasses bright, unusual for early December. And by 5 p.m. a large, full moon was rising in the northeast.
I was in town shopping, saw it and rushed home. Clouds arrived about that time obscuring the moon as the sun set.
About 6 p.m., the clouds cleared and through midnight the moon moved across the sky, sometimes partially obscured by clouds, sometimes with thin clouds passing in front of it creating a rainbow-hued halo. The moonlight again lighted the yard.
What a bright day to begin the darkest month of the year, December.
At noon, I walked to the creek and made a series of pictures. The one of the highlighted oak leaf standing on end amidst other dead leaves, but alive with light, caught my eye and made me smile.
At the feeder, the chipmunks or squirrels have discovered the pumpkins and are beginning to gnaw on the larger, partially rotten one. We'll see how much they'll eat.
And with southern winds again bringing warmth to the area, winter seems a distant concept today, despite snow being forecast for Thursday.
I won't say it won't happen, but today, it's easy just to amble around the yard enjoying a late fall reprieve.
Kind of brightens one's spirits, too.
A matter of light
Monday, November 30, 2009
When I left for work this morning at dusk, I shot a picture of a gray, cloudy sky, uncertain if I'd make it home in time to see anything different.
But at high noon I arrived home for lunch. My reward was a few minutes of bright light, blue sky, and long shadows. I shot quickly keying on the tree shadows. High noon isn't often considered the prime time for photography, but the light was right and that, after all, is a major element in making photos. The bright light highlighted the green moss which just this weekend I completed clearing leaves from. The blue sky added another color. The shadows of the trees mimic the darkness of their trunks.
High noon was perfect, today.
The time of year, late fall with winter approaching, means the sun is low in the southern sky, thus casting long shadows to the north at midday.
The other quality I was seeking in a photo today, fails to come through in these images unless you're familiar with cold in the north. That is, the picture "looks" warm, though the temperature was in the mid-30s, far chillier than recent days. Clear days in late fall, winter and early spring often bring cold since there is no cloud cover to hold in warmth radiating from the earth.
Overnight, a mix of rain and sleet threatened to whiten the ground, but failed to do so. The breaks in the cloud today brought cheery light during what are often the darkest weeks of the year. By 5:30 p.m. it was cloudy, dark, windy and cold.
I was glad all over again for the few minutes of bright light at noon.
Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009
Acorns caught my eye today. While many residents report few acorns this year, our oaks provided a plentiful crop. They're pretty much all down now, as our the leaves. On at least one tree I see the caps of acorns still suspended at the tops of trees, but the nut is gone.
The chipmunks and squirrels have been feasting on them. For months I've found evidence of their dining. The chipmunks, in particular, seem to like to take their acorn to a step on the deck or some other platform where they grab it in their front paws while squatting on their hind end. Then they consume it. Kind of remains me of how humans take on an ear of roasted corn -- both hands holding the prize, all attention on eating until the selected specimen is consumed.
Around the yard, partially-consumed acorns or the shells of consumed ones are found in strange places. Today I found them on tree stumps, in little hollows or depressions in trees, on the ground of course, and in the earlier mentioned deck steps.
Still, there are thousands more in the yard. I know that because I spent the afternoon moving the last of the leaves and the acorns to the edge of the yard.
Some years, the deer will find them in spring. So far the deer haven't seemed to eat many in the yard.
That likely will change as the winter approaches and, presumably, eventually arrives.
So today, hat's off to the humble acorn -- kind of the corn of the woods for many a creature.
On borrowed time
Sunday, November 22, 2009
The fog arrived about sunrise turning the woods a bit eerie for a short while. It was just cold enough, just long enough to begin to frost, but not long enough to get a thick coat of hoar frost. Tonight, as I write this shortly before midnight having worked late, I drove home through fog and noticed pines already coated in white hoarfrost. It could be pretty Monday morning.
I found a feather on a bit of wintergreen. Other little feathers were nearby. Coincidence? Did something get plucked from a branch by a hawk or some other predator? I couldn't say for certain. Sometimes the signs of prey taking a bird are very clear. This wasn't so definitive.
Spent much of another beautiful, warm and clear day as I did Saturday -- stocking up on firewood and finishing raking the lower yard. With my wife's help that chore is mostly done. If it snows soon, I won't worry about what's left behind.
This evening the crescent moon again commanded attention. It doesn't rise very high in the south. It doesn't break the tree line. But it's pretty. When I pulled into the dark parking lot at work, the moon looked as if it had a nose like one saw in the children's books.
I didn't see a cow jumping over it, though -- just a ring around it.
Snow is in the forecast for later this week. Our mild, mid-November Indian summer -- if that is what it is -- is unlikely to last long.
We're on borrowed time. Sometimes it's the best kind of time.
Saturday, November 29, 2009
A hard frost and freeze overnight hinted at a cold, crisp late autumn day.
Pretty light in the morning gave way about 10 to clouds. As I walked the yard about then, kicking myself for not going out a bit earlier before the clouds arrived, I figured it would be cold all day. It had that feel.
Then about noon the clouds started to break up. A light breeze, faint but real, started from the south. It would never become windy, but the warm southern flow of air chased away the cold and the clouds.
By mid-afternoon I shed my coat as I worked to put away my small fishing boat for the winter. The relative warmth was an unexpected pleasure. The boat chore led me to open the loft door on the shed in search of a motor mount I haven't used in years. The little Johnson 6-horse needs some work over winter, so I wanted to remove it before backing the boat into the shed. On the trailer, it just barely fits with not even an inch to spare. I have to slightly cock the boat at an angle to close the shed doors.
Upon opening the loft door, I got a surprise. A giant hornet's nest was suspended from the door and was built into stacks of wood in the loft. I tore the nest free of the stacked wood when opening the door.
Here's what I learned tonight about hornets nests, thanks to the Iowa State University, Department of Entomology, web site, http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/iiin/bhornets.html.
"The Bald-faced Hornet is a social wasp found in the familiar large, gray, paper nests attached to a tree branch, shrub, utility pole or house. The paper-like nests are made of chewed wood fiber mixed with saliva. Hornet nests are frequently displayed in nature centers, schools, and natural history museums. They can also be displayed in the home as a conversation piece! Below are answers to the most common questions about displaying a hornets nest.
“How is the nest collected? The easiest method of collecting a nest is to wait until after the hornets have abandoned the nest in the fall (after the first hard freeze or by late October). Hornet nests are annual; they last one summer and all occupants freeze or die of old age in the fall. ..."
The site goes on to discuss how to collect and preserve a hornet's nest ... and suggests one wait until late fall or winter because collecting in summer can prove painful, if not extremely careful.
My nest appears abandoned. I will remove it when it gets real cold.
We have no shortage of bees and yellowjackets and wasps, but I hadn't noticed the hornets despite using the shed frequently. I guess I'm luck I didn't pop open the loft door on a hot summer's day. That might have proved disastrous.
Later, as I went out to the road to retrieve the day's mail, I heard crows to the north making a fuss. Often crows will harass predator birds such us eagles or hawks. This time they were working in a group bothering one of the neighborhood hawks hunting the subdivision to the north. The hawks like the subdivision because it is far more open than the rest of the woods. They must do OK hunting there, as they frequently can be seen circling its perimeter.
I haven't noticed the crows paying them much mind before. Though the crows seem to have moved closer to our place this year, so perhaps I just haven't witnessed the confrontations when the crows dallied at a greater distance.
If you want to spot an eagle or a raptor and see or hear particularly animated crows diving and pecking at a bird, look carefully at the bird being bullied. It just might be a raptor.
The day ended with a fine sunset, ribbons of red clouds floating north and east in the deep blue sky. A white, nearly-full moon rose before dusk and hung low in the southern sky, not breaking the treeline. It was a fine end to a fine day, thanks to a southern wind.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Thanksgiving has come and gone. We were out of town, so the yard was on its own. From the look of buckets sitting around, it rained a bit since we left Tuesday night.
I moved the pumpkins from the front porch to beneath the bird feeders. Will squirrels or deer or something eat them? We'll see.
A walk down to the creek late this afternoon under cold, gray skies that hinted of winter -- we drove through snow last night in Lake and Osceola counties to the east of us. It stopped mostly at the Mason County line, though one car at home had a bit of snow on its windshield when we arrived. By morning it melted.
Back at the creek, the reflection of a bare tree caught my eye. As I composed the photo I noticed one major flaw -- a discarded plastic bag was half-covered by silt.
Plastic bags and fast food wrappers are among the most common trash I pick up along our roadside -- that and discarded pop, beer and booze bottles.
Relatively few people litter, I suppose. But those that do can trash up an area. The bag in the creek was a good example. It's just a bag, right? But it grates at one who doesn't want it there, especially in a photograph. After I made a few images with the bag in place, I grabbed a long stick and fished the bag out of the creek. I made a few more images. The lack of the bag improves the scene.
The curse of living on a paved highway, is a steady crop of crap in the form of litter -- some purposely tossed, some carelessly allowed to blow away. I don't mind policing the edge of the road and picking it up; rather I'm troubled by the people who think so little of the world around them just to toss their litter to leave it trash up a scene, or for others to pick up after them.
Bagging your own trash for proper disposal seems not that much to ask.
Quiet ... for now
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
A stillness over the yard could be the proverbial quiet before the storm. The air hints of rain. The clouds more than hint, they portend or promise precipitation.
The muted colors, muted sound amplify the sense of waiting for something, in this case a change in the weather. Rain, spitting snow and freezing temperatures are forecast to be moving in. Squirrels and chipmunks are feeding furiously ... do they feel the change, too?
I've spent several of the past days in part collecting and restocking firewood. While it's been mild for November, it was a cold early fall. We started the woodstove early this season, before fall arrived. We'd burn through a lot of wood. A neighbor's offer to collect already cut, partially seasoned oak was too much to ignore. Now I'm sore from hauling and stacking five loads of wood. But the payoff is not having to scrimp. I have plenty for the coming months and am probably collecting for winter 2010-11.
When the winter storms howl, I'll be ready. But it's quiet for now.
Monday, November 22, 2009
I was wrong about the hoarfrost. It was just so still that the dew was clinging to the pines. Clouds moved in overnight and the temperature never got to freezing. On the way to work in the dawn light under overcast skies, the same pines were still white with the dew. Most everything else seemed gray. It's as if the clouds sucked all the vibrancy out of the land.
At lunch, as I wondered what to photograph in the grayness, I noticed a woodpecker -- a male hairy woodpecker more specifically -- perching at the suet feeder. He'd take an occasional peck at the suet but mostly he sat, cocked his head this way or that way, and sat some more. And he is fat.
After about 10 minutes of this, a red-bellied woodpecker came along and drove him away. I happened not to be ready with the camera when the red bellied arrived and bullied the hairy away.
The red-bellied's head provided the brightest dash of color in the yard. It soon flew off and the feeders remained empty until my leaving.
According to the Cornell University Birds of North America web site, http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna, which contains a wealth of information about birds, the hairy woodpecker is the most widely spread woodpecker in North America.
Picoides villosus apparently drums in late winter and early spring and the Cornell site said on a calm day that can be heard for quite a distance.
While we live nearly in the middle of the hairy woodpecker's range, we're at the northern edge of the red-bellied's range. They're a frequent visitor to our yard which makes sense. According to Cornell they like woods dominated by pine or hardwoods and the Melanerpes carolinus
will eat mast -- acorns and such -- of which we have a plentiful supply in our oak woods.
For the next few months, feeding and watching birds is a daily activity here. They add color, activity and noise to a woods that, once snow falls, can be quiet.
Today was one of those days. The hairy and the red-bellied woodpeckers trumped the gray. Hurray!
'Smoke' in the woods?
Saturday, November 21, 2009
The morning broke with sunshine. Looking out the windows while still in bed I thought I saw smoke in the woods. I figured smoke from the neighbor's outdoor wood furnace was being caught by a layer of cold air and forced along the floor of the woods.
Once up, I noticed the smoke out another window. I thought it was odd. I figured my neighbor to the west was burning leaves again.
After fixing coffee -- but before having a cup (the first in days due illness) -- it struck me that wasn't smoke, it was fog. The woods took on an aspect of the Smoky Mountains. That thought chase me outdoors throwing my Carhartt coat over my pajamas to seek a photo. I felt as stupid as I looked, but I realized the "smoke" was dissipating and with it, the eerie scene.
I quickly composed and bracketed a series of exposures looking southeast into the woods and the 9 a.m. sun. But the magic was gone. I had squandered an unusual fog and light mixture.
I worked on a few other compositions, completing the one of the oak opening. Then I went inside.
The oak, maple and beech woods here in the transition zone of Michigan to the north country is a handsome woods. It's not as breathtaking as some. It's not as dark and ominous as certain pine-dominated woods.
It's airy, open, especially now with leaves mostly off. It's an easy and enjoyable woods to ski through in winter. And animals pass through it grazing at leisure.
About an hour later as I enjoyed a second cup of coffee -- it's a wonderful beverage on a cool morning -- I noticed a doe and two yearling deer move into the yard. I hadn't seen much of them since beginning this project in summer.
The doe spent most of the time staring at the house. I had the radio on to a public radio jazz show and it was also on in the attached garage. I figured that was what the deer was hearing.
But I'm not certain. Light was pouring in the windows and when we moved, the deer became more nervous. Could she see us through the window? Can't say for sure. But I moved stealthily, grabbed another camera, affixed the 200 mm telephoto lens and moved close to the window to photograph the deer from inside the house. The photos aren't bad, but they lose a bit of crispness shooting through a window and storm window.
So I quietly snuck out the front door to shoot without the glass. All three deer came to attention staring at me. I made a few images. The sound of the shutter, the sight of me pointing something at them was all it took for the deer to hightail it back into the woods.
It's the final day of the first week of the 15-day firearm deer season in Michigan. The deer took off on a line straight towards another neighbor's deer blind. No shots followed.
For that I was happy. I'm sure he'll get a deer -- I just didn't want my spooked visitors to pay a dear price for not trusting me and my camera.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Another nice day in the mid-50s. We're getting spoiled now. Even a snow-lover like me can't complain about a day like today. Soon enough winter will descend. Soon enough daylight will be in name more than quantity or quality.
Upon arriving home at lunch squirrels were all over the yard. Some were below the bird feeders cleaning up what the birds wasted. One black squirrel was on the deck checking for seed in various places include a flower pot. Several were scurrying around the edges of the yard, scampering up trees as I walked to the creek.
And they weren't alone. The chipmunks were out, too. Running around the yard popping up and running back into their burrow entrances. They've been busy this fall. I have noticed several new burrow holes excavated when the leaves were down. I could probably play nine holes of golf using their entrances as the nine holes -- as long as I didn't want my golf balls back.
Both are interesting creatures. They found the easy food source. I'm sure they know it's somehow connected to the humans at the location. Unlike city squirrels, these ones scatter if I look there way. I have no interest in taming them or feeding them from hand. It's just as well as they maintain a healthy fear of man.
I smile as they scold me from perches around the yard as I move about. I ignore the scolding. Being a newspaper editor, I'm use to hearing that kind of banter directed my way.
Down at the creek, water bugs were still out in force. I'm not sure they're striders. They look more beetle-like and I don't notice legs, just the hard shell of a body. Striders seem to be mostly legs with a near-invisible body. I'll have to do some homework, but it's late tonight and I'm still recuperating from the flu.
But it was a fine day and the inner kid within wanted to play in the yard like the squirrels and the chipmunks. They're life gets harder once winter descends. Today, they're life looked like a romp in a park -- a park still full of acorns.
A green day
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Another mild day that beckons one outdoors. Alas, I spent it inside laid low by illness.
At times I'd watch the squirrels and chipmunks play and eat. I'd watch the birds. Mourning doves are returning to the feeder in increasing numbers. When I walk the path to the creek I again scare up ones resting along the edge of the swamp. They had mostly disappeared during the culvert building project this past spring.
At times I'd watch the play of light on trees. Even from indoors it was easy to tell it was calm out and mild.
And, following the light rain, the portions of the yard I had finished raking exposing the moss that has been buried beneath leaves for weeks again took on a nice, green hue. It matched how I felt.
Thus went the day.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
A beautiful day from the start, but clouds moved in late and rain is forecast as a possibility tonight. I'd hope to finish raking leaves after work. Instead, about noon a nausea came upon me. I went home, piled wood into the wood stove, piled blankets on top of me and slept for three hours. The day flew by ... and I'm hoping it didn't bring a flu bug, though I don't know what else it would be. So yard time was a minimum. I snuck outside after the nap to bring more wood in. It was 54 degrees and sunny -- an unusually fine day for November, but then it was back in to the chair by the stove. More wood on the fire. More blankets on me. More sleep.
I think it's calling again.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Every day that it is sunny and clear is a bonus now. Today was a big bonus. Clear from first light, frost whitened the roof and the vehicles and ringed leaves on the ground in crystals.
By noon, when I returned home, it was refreshingly bright. I looked down the hill from the walk into the garage. At first I noticed the tall oak's shadow stretched to the creek area. Then I noticed my shadow was quite long, too, probably 30 feet or more. The light and perspective lengthened my legs disproportionately. It made me laugh. I had to photograph it. The low sunlight at noon this time of year caused the shadows to be so long. In summer at noon, the sun would be high overhead and shadows would be short and lighting often unappealing. High noon today wasn't so high, but it was fetching in its own way.
It kind was a reminder that even in nature, everything doesn't have to be serious, and, at times, one should lighten up and enjoy.
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A shot in the woods
Monday, November 16, 2009
As I sauntered around the yard this noon looking for a photo, the sound of rifle shots in the woods to the north rang out. It's the firearm deer season in Michigan and many in my neck of the woods hunt deer. Having been gone on Sunday until late, these were the first deer rifle reports I've heard, other than some sighting in shooting last week.
The first guns I hear in autumn are of the duck hunters on Hamlin Lake. The cluster of shots, the direction from which they come and the time of season and day give them away.
But once firearm deer season begins, the shooting increases in intensity. Some years I can hear shooting from all quadrants in the woods on an opening day, if it's on a weekend.
I just finished an older book, "Unexpected Treasure," by Hope Sawyer Buyukmihci, published in 1968 in which the author tells the story of her dream turned into reality to build a 250-acre wildlife refuge in a marshy area New Jersey. Times were different then and most people viewed animals as either something for food, sport or to be gotten rid of as some sort of pest.
The author took a contrary view and viewed hunting as evil.
Like many beliefs, the truth is probably in the middle. Hunters kill deer and ducks and other wildlife, sometimes wrongly to the brink of extermination. But often, hunting becomes the tool to replace other predators lost due to earlier actions of man either in killing animals or, as often as not, destroying their habitat.
Whitetail deer have proven extremely adaptable. They're smarter than some people think. They learn where they are not hunted, set up home and multiply. And multiply. And multiply. Without human predation, they become bolder. My friends who live at the edge of Ludington where hunting is banned, see more deer -- and experience more bold deer than we do.
Compare them to deer here. It's the exception that the deer here don't bolt at the sight -- or sound or smell -- of a human. I've had the rare stare-downs with deer across the yard, usually in spring when hunger drives them out of the woods to the open edges where vegetation first reappears. Eventually, they'll snort and turn and leave -- even if I'd prefer they didn't for a few minutes.
At night, however, and during mid-day when we're working the deer will come through the yard eating whatever suits them: acorns, brush, hostas and other garden plants and flowers.
The hunters keep the deer's numbers in check, though I won't defend the action of slobs who just kill a deer and take only its antlers, or tenderloins. However those who, like the native Americans, use the meat and respect the animal are OK by me. For without hunting, deer numbers would ultimately be kept in check by nature through disease or tough winters. Both are uglier than hunting.
That said, I wear hunter orange even in my yard during the firearms season. It's better to be safe than to become a target. I'll be glad when the season is over and one can once again roam the woods and fields of Michigan not worrying if a trigger-happy hunter is willing to shoot first and make sure of his target later.
And rather than gunshots, I prefer the sound I heard around 7:30 tonight when I was bringing in firewood. the sky was pitch black. Stars were coming out. A flight of Canada geese winged by along the creek. I couldn't see them. They were mostly quiet for geese, but geese honk and their quiet honking gave away their general flight path -- coming from the east where the farms are just now harvesting fields of corn. They were headed most likely to Hamlin Lake to spend the night in the shallows. Or so it seemed to me on a night when hunting for the day, by law, should have ended.
A different light
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Some animals can see well at night. What looks black to us, to them is discernible.
This photo is a 30 second time exposure of the front yard about 10:30 p.m. lighted by a small spotlight.
I wonder if, to the animals that see well in the dark, scenes look like this to them -- rich in depth and detail where our eyes wouldn't see the yard so bright just under the light.
As they say, it's something to think about.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Spent the weekend in the Upper Peninsula. Warm for mid-November here. Kayaked on this part of the Shelldrake River at sunset.
Friday, November 13, 2009
When I awoke in the dark around 5 this morning, I noticed a crescent moon hanging in the sky. I figured, when I actually got out of bed an hour later, I'd photograph it for the day.
Instead a different celestial show caught my eye: dawn.
The color started to leak into the sky in the east with little hint of the glory that would come a bit later.
Around 7:15-20, I was eating a bowl of oatmeal and again looked to the east hoping to see deer.
Instead, I saw a sky in magenta, blue and a shade of white. Two days earlier I would have called it an American sky, or a patriotic sky.
Instead, it was one of the nicer dawns I've been able to see at home this fall.
I set down the oatmeal, grabbed the camera and tripod and shot from my front porch.
The colors intensified for a few moments, which is when I made the picture you see. Then just as quickly the colors faded to a yellowish white, a precursor to sunrise which I saw later on the road over Lincoln Lake near the city of Ludington where I work.
Sunrises over lakes can be magnificent to behold, but today's dawn in the woods was even better.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
In the J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy masterpiece, Lord of the Rings, among the many wondrous creatures are Ents -- tree herders. Tree-like in appearance, ancient, wise and slow to move, the Ents take care of the trees and eventually play a role in defending Middle Earth when the wizard Saruman, once their friend, turns to evil.
The forests would be a better place if Ents were real. One almost wouldn't be surprised to see an Ent walk out of some woods. Trees, to be sure, at times seem to have personalities. Beech trees, with their smooth bark, often exhibit interesting patterns. Today, the one mix of marks on the bark reminded me of a face. It would be a young Ent, if it were such a creature.
But the face I see in this tree isn't smiling. It looks a bit unhappy. Perhaps the fact its nose once was a living branch upset it.
Sure, I know. It's just a tree, not a man or an Ent. Sure it isn't.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Veterans here had a beautiful day to remember fallen comrades, reconnect with fellow members of the armed services in that unique brotherhood and now sisterhood, and accept thanks from grateful citizens.
It started crisp and cold -- about 20 degrees. A lone deer could be seen in the front yard shortly after dawn, before the sun was up. It was skittish and didn't stay long. I couldn't tell if it was a doe or a buck and it was too far back to photograph. But I enjoyed seeing it. In a few days they'll head for wherever they hide as the firearms deer season will open Sunday. I've not yet seen for sure the buck working in the swamp below. I might never see it. So many neighbors hunt, it will have to be careful and lucky to make it through the coming hunting season.
Frost coated some plants, car windows and some downed leaves in the yard this morning. Still, the woods provided some cover. Driving to work open yards were white with frost. Fog rose from lakes, warm by comparison to the cold air.
There was really nothing to complain about, weather-wise. The birds hungrily wiped out the feed in the feeders. More are returning. Chickadees are now abundant. Some were squabbling with titmice at noon -- something I've not seen before.
This evening, I got stuck at work and watched a gorgeous sunset out of the one window in the LDN newsroom.
By the time I got home it was pitch black and the stars were shining brightly. An arm of the Milky Way is readily apparent.
A clear sky in a free land on Veterans Day. Hope the veterans enjoyed it.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
A pretty day. Not much wind. Not too cold. Not too dark. Not too bright.
Not much grabbed my attention as ambled around in the early afternoon.
Nothing "spoke" to me. Often, when I walk and look and listen, the subject for a day presents itself. Sometimes I know before I head out in the yard what I'll be looking for. Other times, such as today, even as I looked I couldn't "see" it for the day.
Not that I was stressing. I enjoyed the walk. I found a few potential subjects for future days when the light is right.
But in the end, the woods, the creek, the swamp, the yard mostly kept as quiet as the wind. So I looked to the mums. The morning frosts are getting to them finally. It won't be long until they've died off since frost is ahead in the coming days, too.
One thing that did grab me was the reflection of the trees on the somewhat shiny bumper of my Chevy Colorado pickup truck. It's a humble vehicle, low in machismo, but it gets the variety of jobs I need it to do done.
Today it did one more job: It framed and presented the main photo of the day.
Even in the calm, if one keeps calm, something will present itself.
Blues in the night
Monday, November 9, 2009
The heat of Sunday -- an all-time record high for the day -- has moderated and a more seasonable, though still warm mid-50s held forth. Meetings -- the bane around the neck of managers everywhere including me -- delayed me at work until after sunset. This could be a recurring problem in the coming weeks until the day's light lengthens again in January. For now it's only going to get worse before it gets better.
But I noticed the clarity of the sky and the faint hint of daylight still hanging in the twilight shortly after 6 p.m. when I got home and grabbed the camera and tripod.
I enjoy looking at the silhouette the trees, now void of leaves, make against the sky. In a few months it will seem like forever since I saw leaves, but this week it's still new. And, because we are so covered with trees, fall allows us to see more of the sky again and that's especially interesting at night.
The time exposures of about 6 to 13 seconds captured the remaining light and started to let the stars that were just appearing also to show through. I sometimes liken photography to painting with light, and tonight was one such time.
Blues in the night, sometimes can feed your soul.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Officially the thermometer at Mason County Airport topped out at 68 degrees this afternoon. The thermometer in the yard on the garage read 79 degrees, though it was in the sun.
Anyway you measure it, today was warm, sunny, calm -- a real treat after a chilly, wet October.
After watching blue jays hit the suet at the bird feeder like a troop of hungry teens at a buffet, I returned to the task of cleaning leaves. It was so calm, I burned more of the driveway leaves today during the day. Most are gone now. I will turn my attention to the upper and lower yards later this week.
The weather caused me to head for a late afternoon kayak at the North Bayou of Hamlin Lake, maybe a mile from here as the crow flies.
A crow might have noticed the sundogs around 5 p.m. -- if crows can see such rainbow like phenomena in the sky. I'll have to check that out.
About 15 to 20 minutes later, the sun fell behind the trees at Ludington State Park on the west side of the lake. I sat in my kayak on the unseasonably calm water of the lake and watched it fade away. The twilight was even more beautiful than the sunset.
Watching the play of light on a lake is one of those special experiences that I can't do in the backyard. Our yard, as wonderful as it is, cheats us out of the best of the sunsets. This area has made top ten lists from homemakers magazines to Playboy for the beauty of our sunsets over Lake Michigan.
Tonight was one of those gorgeous gems that makes living here a treat.
Smoke in the air
Saturday, November 7, 2009
A beautiful day, today was. Temperatures were in the high 50s. It was sunny, with a lot less wind than predicted.
I started the morning enjoying the shadows of the day -- a day that would find me napping on the hammock watching hawks hunt, kayaking on Hamlin Lake which is being allowed to lower to its winter level and burning leaves.
All over Hamlin Township today the clear sky had to compete with smoke from people burning leaves. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has for the past few years tried to convince people not to burn leaves. They suggest composting them, both to keep smoke out of the environment and because the leaves, if left to compost, turn into soil, a precious commodity.
Generally I mulch, rake and compost our leaves. It's truly amazing how a giant pile of mulched leaves, mixed in with some dirt from the compost pile, a year from now will basically be reduced to soil. The compost pile stands about 2- to 3-feet high with dirt. By the end of next week it will be five feet high and at least that much around with mulched leaves. Elsewhere in the woods, I'll fill holes as noted before, or pour mulched leaves into erosion-prone areas to protect the soil.
But I'm no saint. I burn the leaves that fall on our driveway. There's not a lot of them, in comparison to what has fallen in the yard, but they still make for a good fire.
I burn them partially out of practicality -- eventually even I tire of the mulch, rake, haul and dump process. I burn them partially out of nostalgia. As a kid, our suburb 's ditched streets in fall were little rivers of fire. Everyone raked their leaves to the ditches, then burned them.
Fire is an amazing force. It's fun to watch, if it is under control and posing no danger. So burning leaves from the driveway once or twice a fall, reminds me or my youth, saves me some hauling and allows me to enjoy a campfire of sorts. I only burn on calm nights. It's safer and watching the flames then is more enjoyable.
Tonight I burned after kayaking for 75-90 minutes. There was a bit of stiff breeze on Hamlin Lake, but the paddling was fine. I only got a little wet from waves coming back.
So by the time I got home, a warm fire was desirable. I burned leaves for about an hour. It warmed me up. I enjoyed again the smell of burning leaves and watching the flames, and I slightly lessened the mulching work that lies ahead.
And, as a bonus, on this moonless early night, the sky was black and the stars thick with an arm of the Milky Way pouring across the sky above me.
The day has left me sleepy and relaxed. Not bad for November 7.
The battle begins
Friday, November 6, 2009
I began trying to conquer the fallen leaves this afternoon. On a breezy, warming afternoon after walking around the yard looking for something exciting — more buck rub signs, a few small wildflowers so far surviving another morning freeze, more squirrels — it struck me it was time to do battle with the leaves.
They cover the yard in layers, with the bottom layer being wet and all but glued to the ground. My technique with so many leaves to clear is to engage machinery.
I use a mulching lawnmower to reduce the volume so I don’t have hills of rotting leaves all over the yard all year.
Instead, the mulcher reduces them to a fraction of the volume they’d be otherwise. Then I rake them to the edges of the woods, cart many to the compost pile, cart others to holes in the woods that over time the rotting leaves may help level.
And I don’t mind wind. Once the yard is cleared this way, the wind often can keep it clear. I only did the side and immediate back yard today — and didn’t complete clearing the mulched leaves.
But it’s a start. With luck and a lot of effort the job could be mostly done by the end of the weekend.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
The stillness was loud in its quietness this evening. There was no air moving. It was cold, crisp and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot were loud.
A beautiful day morphed into evening with a dash of color at sunset and then again late at twilight, just before the stars came out.
To the west, the bare trees stand so thick they still blot out most of the light as the sun falls below the tree line.
Late, a couple ribbons of pink criss-crossed the sky. They caught my eye. Pink is a color not often associated with stark, harsh and cold scenes. Pin seems a warmish color, like that of healthy skin on a comfortable day.
But the pink was fading into the night. After another difficult day of work, though, the quiet and the hint of color were a tonic that eased my spirit. That is the real beauty of the yard, of nature, of listening points. They can displace the nose of conflict, the din of distress and distractions. They can help one center down, relax and enjoy a simple beauty.
On this day, this project proved therapeutic. I needed the Rx.
It's where you look that matters
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Most of the yard is brown with leaves down and colors draining from them by the day. But if you look closely there are signs that not all has gone dormant.
Down in the swamp adjacent to the creek a few small ferns are bright green, healthy and appearing as if it was midsummer rather than mid-fall. One surmises the water-soaked soil is warmer than the ambient air on some days and nights. Does that prolong the growing season in fall just as it did delay it in winter? The area is one of the last to lose snow in spring. It seems likely it has a microclimate of its own with a slightly retarded schedule behind the rest of the yard.
The fern's greenness is made all the more striking by the ebony black of the unnatural looking stump next to it. The stump looks molten. Moist it resonates in its blackness/
Nearby, in the creek, most of the leaves are gone or caught in small blockages caused by downed trees or limbs. Others sit on the bottom where they are being silted in. It's clear one of the goals of The Big Ugly was to slow the creek's flow so it would deposit its silt before reaching Hamlin Lake. That seems, perhaps noble, but the creek regains its velocity 100 feet downstream. As water gains velocity, its capacity to carry sediment increases and as it works its mucky banks that speed translates into an increased ability erode. I wonder if it really is carrying any less sediment by the time it goes through the 1/4 to 1/2 mile of swamp before entering the Middle Bayou -- and that's as the crow flies. The serpentine creek probably, if straightened, has twice that much channel. No, I'm not sure they did the lake any favors --- I know the reconfiguring of the creek at the crossing harmed the qualities of the creek that I valued. Its beauty is diminished, as is its richness. It's been reduced to a sediment trap by those who didn't look closely and didn't value qualities it had.
Looking closely at the world around us can introduce us to life where we didn't expect to find it. The green fern in mid-autumn is a reminder of that truth.
Still standing, still blooming
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
The snow didn't fall, though the temperatures did.
Instead, skies were mostly clear and the blue skies contrasted with the brown landscape. It's definitely late fall now, in terms of leaves. The color season is gone.
Now it's time for leaf raking, stacking firewood, buttoning up the house before winter hits and enjoying every moment of sunshine and daylight one can because both are often in short supply in the coming weeks.
In the yard I was immediately drawn to the flower bed that overlooks the backyard. In it the mums are still blooming. Brenda informs me they are the "November" flower. The trees are mostly denuded of leaves. Other plants mostly succumbed to frost, but chrysanthemums are still blooming adding dashes of domestic orange, yellows and red to the brown sea of fallen leaves.
Today in the sunshine, they look absolutely cheerful. The color and brightness defy the calendar. It's pure November, yet it's brightly so.
Despite the massive seasonal die-off around them, the mums are still standing, still blooming. Survivors in a world where winter will win -- eventually.
November 2, 2009
Arrived home about 9 p.m. The feared early darkness for tonight was defeated by a brilliant full moon in a clear sky that cast moonshadows throughout the woods. I could see all corners of my entire yard easily by the light of the moon.
The first photo of the moon was shot in the driveway looking southeast above and through trees. The second photo was shot, basically turning around, and shooting towards the north. The moon shot was about 1/250th of a second exposure while the yard shot was closer to 13 second exposure making it look brighter than it really was. But to make the photo there had to be a lot of light, and that is what this shows.
On nights like I think of the writings of Sigurd Olson, who seemed to enjoy a good full moon as a way to catch a special window on the natural world. He'd go to great lengths hiking, paddling or skiing to a spot he enjoyed in full moonlight. More people should learn the joy of doing just that.
On nights like this I also have a song running in my head. Yup, the VanMorrison classic, "Moonshadow," plays relentlessly while I'm out doing whatever. Had I arrived home earlier tonight, I probably would have raked leaves by moonlight. That's the best way to enjoy the chore that I've found, but alas it got too late.
The forecasters are calling for snowshowers to move in tonight and stick with us for the next few days. Well, it is November in Michigan. Tonight I could care less, being warmed inside by the light of the moon and the play in the yard of the moonshadows.
Sidetrip, Whitefish Bay
November 1, 2009
On a trip to the U.P. where I photographed some favorite haunts at twilight, just after moonrise. Here's looking at Canada from near our UP cabin on a Whitefish Bay. The red lights mark individual wind turbines in a large wind farm north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Daylight Savings Time ended this morning at 2 a.m. It's going to get dark early from now on.
October 31, 2009
Winds blew all night. A planned midnight photo of the moon with a rainbow-like halo that it was sporting around it at 10 last night had to be given up as thick clouds blotted it out when the clock passed the midnight hour.
All night the now nearly-naked trees blew with that slightly harsher sound now that the leaves were mostly gone. Dawn awoke with a cold front arriving. The temperature had dropped. Spitting rain was making it a bit chilly out.
So for this Halloween the picture is of glory gone; denuded trees and a promise of cold and winter arriving soon. That will frighten some. To me, it's just another wonderful season.
A witching wind
October 30, 2009
About 3 inches of rain fell since early this morning. But now, late on Devil's Night, but this evening that seems long ago on a day that became more remarkable for temperatures that reached a balmy 64 degrees and winds gusting to 37 mph. Could a witch with a tailwind scream through the skies tonight!
That kind of rain followed by that kind of wind meant leaves fell by the wheelbarrow full. The yard is a mass of deep brown, wet leaves. If it hadn't rained so much, this kind of wind some years has done a favor and blown most of the leaves into the woods or piled them into windrows, knee-deep with leave while leaving large areas of the yard free of leaves.
Not this time. Everything is covered with a thick, wet mat of leaves.
Nothing I can do about it tonight. I'll continue to enjoy the warmth. And maybe, a friendly witch will ride by, twitch her nose, and make the leaves fly into the woods.'
I can always hope.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
People were giddy with the thought of temperatures near 60 today, and the temperatures approached that mark. Yet, for those casually venturing outdoors it didn't seem that warm.
Perhaps the overcast that returned chilled the inner soul a bit. It didn't look warm, so how could it feel warm?
The reds have all but disappeared entirely from the yard. Many trees are bare. Beech cling to ever deeper burnt umber colored leaves. Squirrels are beginning to scour beneath the feeders, the McDonald's drive-ins of the nature world. There are scads of acorns about. Nothing need be hungry right now.
The light tonight was drab by 6 p.m., almost gone by 7. Late autumn arrives with the time change from Eastern Daylight Savings Time to Eastern Standard Time Sunday at 2 a.m. Clocks fall back, so we gain an hour of sleep, but in essence lose an hour of daylight after work. I wish they'd just leave the clocks on Daylight Savings Time.
Next week, if the weather is cooperative, I'll have to begin mulching and removing leaves. It will be a massive job this year. Lots of twigs, sticks and acorns mixed in.
But the time has come. Most leaves on the ground now are brown. They've lost their color. It's time to remove them so the yard doesn't return to a woods' floor.
Maybe we're not done with days in the high 50s. But soon we could be. By November, snow often falls in this part of Michigan.
Warmth then will have a whole new relative meaning.
Of mice and men (and women)
October 28, 2009
A disclaimer: The photos today are only partially natural. The mice are real and from the property. What you see is what they were doing when photographed. But how they came to be photographed on the nicest autumn evening in many weeks is a story of itself.
When we moved to the woods in 2000, I decided if animals and insects stay outside the house, the attached garage and the storage shed, I'd leave them alone. They were free to do their thing, just don't invade my buildings.
Over the years at other places we've battled with bats -- and you have to remove them any way possible or their numbers can multiply -- and ants and, yes, fleas (we've long had pets) and, of course, mice.
The worse were the bats in our first house, an older three-story structure in Morenci, Michigan, that bats loved. I got pretty good with a tennis racket. I closed up as many entry spots as possible, thinning their population but we never eradicated them from the house.
Ants go with sandy soil such as here. Terro works well and has kept them down and mostly absent from the house. They eat the stuff and take it back to their nest, killing the entire nest. I'm no Saint Francis, apparently.
Fleas we haven't had to deal with in years. The new worm and flea prevention meds from vets work and is worth the investment.
Mice, well, we live in the woods. Some years we have them, some years we don't. We know they're all around the yard in the wood piles and nooks and crannies that make good homes for them. Outside, I lose no sleep if the cat or a hawk or an owl get a mouse. That's the way of the natural world.
Inside, I try to trap them using the old-fashioned spring traps and they work well. When we see signs of a mouse, a week or so of setting traps usually does the job. But mice reproduce in numbers, frequency and quickness that even rabbits would find amazing.
So the cute young mouse you see in some of the pictures today and the cute adult mouse were caught by Brenda in our garage today. She saw them once and they ran. (They're capable of speeds of 8 mph which is pretty good for such a small thing.) The second time she saw them she was able to drop an empty coffee can over them and thus imprison them.
That was brave for her. She too often acts as a stereotype when it comes to critters where they don't belong and screams. The capture took place in early afternoon. I didn't arrive home for hours later. I told her I'd set up the camera and she could free the mice in the yard as I photographed their escape.
All went as planned, but the mice didn't try to escape. They were very lethargic and immediately tried to lick moisture from the leaves on the ground. The baby first crawled under leaves and stuck its head out a few inches away from what we presume was its mother. The mother hardly could walk. I presume they got into some mouse poison and were in the early stages of that kind of death.
I can't say I'm sorry they ate the bait in the garage; I put it out when I realized something was cleaning up any spilled bird seed. It had to be either a mouse or a chipmunk. Both can do damage, especially chipmunks. Remember the deal: Stay outside and live free; come inside and chance death. Cruel? To some. To me it's only practical.
Watching them not run, however, is a bit sad. They're cute in so many ways. The youngster eventually sought out the mother and groomed her and tried to get her to let him/her nurse. The mother was disinterested.
Later, after the photography was done and we realized these weren't going far, Brenda transferred them to a hollow log. We walked the yard for a while. When we returned, they were gone. Brenda said she could see them inside the log. Will they live?
I'm guessing not, but maybe.
Meanwhile, if you want to learn about the common house mouse, which these seemed likely to be, check out the following informative Web site:
A break in the clouds
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
After leaving for work in a mist, heading outside at noon brought a delightful surprise: The sun, which we hadn't seen for days, was blazing in the sky. Literally it made my eyes hurt, and that's not been a problem for a while.
I headed home thinking of where to shoot a sunny scene. But wispy clouds moved in dulling the light about the time I arrived home. Ate lunch and headed out when the clouds broke. But time was limited. I focused on leaves covered with droplets of water that were casting shadows. Shadows were something I hadn't seen in days, either.
I worked late, and while I drove home in the sunshine, upon arriving at home and heading into the driveway which goes up over a small rise than down twice as far, it was clear the sun had dropped to the treeline already and there would be little direct sun in the yard.
Heading out with the camera I hit the button to open the main garage door since it was nice out. As I walked out, I saw several deer heading into the woods, frightened by the noise. I quickly set up the camera on the tripod and began to focus on an area of the woods that the deer likely would pass through that gave me a photographic lane. Of course, just before I was ready to shoot, the deer passed through. I waited for awhile, then decided to move to another lane figuring the deer might pass to the south. As I lifted the camera, four or five deer I hadn't seen ran through the passage I had just vacated.
Drats, foiled again.
So I wandered around the yard, seeking a sunny sort of scene Eventually I ended up at the creek where I discovered a new buck run on the little trail I share with deer. I missed the photos I wanted today. But I didn't feel too bad. It was a nice, dry evening ... something that's been hard to come by in this drizzly, cloudy October.
More of the same
Monday, October 26, 2009
Drizzly, darkish and just another day in one of the grayest Octobers in recent memory in Ludington, Michigan. It's as if the weather caught the state's economic cold and can't shake it.
It's not that there's all that much rain. Trace amounts are falling. Added up it equals a wet woods, squishy low spots saturated with accumulated water, and a feeling of mid-winter sun deprivation in what is often one of the most glorious months of the year here.
The moisture does make the colors glow and throb. The sheen of water captures what little light there is and brightens the leaves. They contrast with dark, wet trunks in a most pleasing way.
But one gets wet out soaking up the wet splendor/
Again, today the beeches are striking. Some are green, some yellow, some a rich brown. It's their turn to change and they can be found in all parts of their progression to autumn and winter near-nakedness. Some leaves will cling on the beech trees throughout winter, dropping off only in late February or early March. If, like last year, I'm still cross-country skiing. When the beech leaves fall to the snow where they seem to collect in the track left by the skiers, it's a sure sign winter is waning.
But today they are glistening in the rain. A beech beauty found in the woods of Northern Michigan.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
A half moon hangs in the sky tonight. Driving home from town we encountered a black cat on a street in town, a doe on the side of the highway and a possum in the middle of another road.
The roads are dry, the woods are still damp so is that driving the animals out into the open? Could be.
Today, squirrels, chipmunks and birds kept busy in the damp yard. Everything was wet. At some point last night clouds moved in. We had attended a fine concert by singer-songwriter Alice Peacock at nearby West Shore Community College Saturday night, about seven miles east of here. When we came out about 10 p.m. the sky was clear, the car was beginning to frost and it appeared a cold clear night was ahead.
Instead by morning it was gray and wet again, threatening rain that didn't arrive, but also keeping a layer of moisture on everything. The air, like the ground must be saturated.
As I sought photographic subjects, details proved telling today. Autumn olive and mapleleaf viburnum (thanks Dave D., for helping with the identification) still had berries that stood out amidst the orange hues of the woods. A downspout pipe from Lincoln Road extruded a pile of compressed leaves like a giant toothpaste tube. A solo print of a small deer could be seen in the sand at creekside telling of a nocturnal crossing. A lone yellow maple leaf was caught on a stick in the creek.
These were the things that caught my eye today. Each a little story in itself. The berries offer promise of food for the birds as the chill increases. The toothpaste pile of leaves are a clue as to how much detritus is being deposited basically directly into the creek -- despite the road commission claiming the tubes were supposed to do just the opposite and allow the water to be filtered. Well, the leaves overnight stopped short of the creek. But in a day or two either more rain runoff or wind will move them into the creek.
The deer print is a reminder that though I don't often see the deer, they pass through the yard nightly and often during the day when I'm not there.
The leaf is a reminder of an old children's book that told the story of a trip to the sea by a little birchbark canoe set free in the Great Lakes Basin. In theory, that little leaf hung up on a branch in the creek could get free and float into Hamlin Lake and from there into the Sable River, make it over the dam and into Lake Michigan and possibly get carried by south winds to the Straits of Mackinaw where it could get caught in currents taking it to Lake Huron, out the St. Clair River, pass through Lake St. Clair into the Detroit River. If it somehow still held up from there it could enter Lake Erie drop over Niagara Falls into Lake Ontario and exit into the St. Lawrence River and the St. Lawrence Seaway and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. The little leaf will probably prove too fragile to make that entire journey, especially since it got hung up in my tiny creek.
But it's a reminder of how so much in the world is tied together. From my backyard, there is a continuous water route to the Atlantic Ocean. That's something to mull over.
Not so mellow yellow
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Talk around town is just how cold and wet this fall has been. It's not been an easy one for many to enjoy. It seems to want to keep people at an arm's length -- and it is succeeding to keep many indoors.
Not me. I moseyed around in the raw morning. The breeze was already up. The temperature is on its way down. The 50s of Friday are going to be a memory, forecasters say.
Initially this morning I was trying to find green vegetation to photograph. There are still beeches with some green leaves. Autumn olive is hanging in there, much of it green. It seems the more under the canopy the trees or bushes are, the more likely they're showing some green. Why? I can only presume they've been protected from the frost. Or it just might be happenstance.
Even the yellow leaves are now almost all showing at least little dots or spots of brown. that will be the final color of the season: brown.
Today there is still a lot of yellow, sot that's what we'll celebrate in photos: yellow maples, yellow-leaved beeches and leaves morphing from yellow to brown. Soon the woods will look like the scene from the Mama's and the Papa's song, "California Dreaming:" "All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray ..."
Not yet though, not today. Yellow is having its time in the Michigan woods.
A fall Friday
Friday, October 23, 2009
It's been a blustery day. Chill winds have whip-sawed trees and knocked off more leaves which fall to the rain-sodden ground where the glom together like poorly cooked pasta.
The wind is chilly. So is the rain. Forecasts aren't all that much better, though Sunday may be drier.
Beauty is everywhere, but so few slow down to appreciate. It's hard to get past the cold and wet and the wind.
I walked the yard before eating lunch. Most of it is covered in leaves. Many are browning beyond the color stage. Many act as little basins pooling water in their bowls created by slightly raised edges on the leaves.
Leaves cling to everything. So that is provides the subject for today's photos -- clinging leaves. Soon they'll be gone and trees will be bare, the yard cleared and all that will be seen are remnant oak and beech leaves that will hang on through winter make a brittle clatter in the even-colder winds to come.
So, as water soaks into my pants, my hair and coats my camera, I soak up these late vestiges of color. And I inhale the smell of wet fall leaves. It's a scent that takes me back to my childhood in the suburbs where weather like this didn't keep us in. There was football to play in neighborhood yards as we dreamed of NFL glory none of us would ever achieve. But the memory of the smell of wet leaves remains. It smells as good today as it did then.
Even in a cold rain.
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