Looking out together

Today was World Series day here in NJ: when we crazy birders attempt to see as many species as possible to raise money for conservation. We had a great day, but I was at it from 5:30 this morning until 9 tonight and I’m just too pooped to think straight. That’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

It’s also a year today since Cricket passed away and I thought I’d share again this favorite pic of she and Boomer. Last year this time was sad for me; it’s nice now to see Boomer happy and laying about with a new bunny friend the way he used to with Cricket.

Anyway… the pillow calls…

Picniking with lily of the valley

You all know that I love to play with my photos… a couple times people have asked what editing tricks I use. I’ve been hesitant to share any techniques because, well… I just play around with Photoshop until I find something that I like. Let’s face it: Photoshop is cost-prohibitive and really-frickin’-complicated, so I don’t see the point in trying to explain the little bit that I’ve figured out.

At any rate, just today I came across a free site that offers many similar effects without the multiple steps that I normally resort to and even some that I hadn’t been able to figure out on my own with Photoshop. It’s free and painless with Picnik. Have a look at what I was able to do in just a couple minutes with this shot of a lily of the valley from my garden; I must have taken 3 dozen pics, none of which I was happy with:

Auto-fixed for color

Vignetting effect to add focus; an improvement I think.

Holga-ish; I love this and know it would involve multiple steps in Photoshop. This is my favorite of the lot and perfect for the subject-matter.

Inverted lomo-ish effect; certainly different!

Focal black and white + focal soften; there’s potential in this effect, but this isn’t the right photo for it, I don’t think.

Have some fun… share the results… get creative with your pics!

Savage springtime

Every so often I like to play with a translation project I first started in college. Back then I was overly careful, I think, to stick closely to the original text. With multiple revisions and the fact that no one is grading me on this (!) I let myself have a bit more fun with the text at each visit. Others, from the same book and author, Ana Maria Matute, are here and here and here.

I don’t know who called springtime sweet. I remember running towards the forest, my brothers and I and our friends, barely smelling in the air its peculiar, unmistakable odor. We carried large Hazelwood sticks to open a path through the leaves; leaves as large as the palms of our hands. There was a narrow and shady path above the forest where a thick jungle of wildflowers bloomed. Tightly packed, tall among the shadows, grew these plants that reached as high as our chests and got tangled around our arms and legs. Our knees got wet, our feet were drowned in the caked-up mud, and I even seemed able to touch the moist, hot air.

The leaves of the wildflowers were an angry green and were bound together with tiny crystals of a recent snowfall. I liked to put them close to my cheek, like the hand of a friend. The flower was white and sinister, poisonous according to the shepherds; the tips of the petals stained scarlet like fingers soaked in blood. Because of our childish fanfare, we liked to bring the blossoms close to our lips and say,

“I’ll bite it!”

There was always some little one that ended up shouting while the bigger kids waited secretly, cruelly, fearing and wishing in our hearts for some strange and sudden death; needless and terrible in the middle of the overcast morning in the forest. There while the insects and the golden bees buzzed and you could hear the river at the base of the big gully, with the beetles flickering their mulberry wings against the metallic silver of their shells, among the high grasses on the path. The babysitter said that the most beautiful wildflowers held a mysterious poison for princes and stray children in the center of their suspiciously white petals. They shined like stars among the greenish-blue of the thick leaves, their surface polished and the underside dull like the skin of a peach. Someone – the country people, the shepherds, the servants, all the people of the world taught us to sing:

“Beautiful wildflower
Deceive me, so white
Princess… “

I don’t remember how that little song ended, but I do know that it carried within a desire that was both sweet and painful. We went along singing it, shoulder to shoulder or in a line, as we emerged from the leaves and the giant ferns. Between the buzzing of the mosquitoes and the strange calls of birds, we asked, without understanding why,

“Deceive me…”

One day I got lost among the wildflowers. I don’t know that I was truly lost, but what is certain is that I was stretched out on the ground, almost buried among the wide leaves, the earth underneath my back drenched with water, little tiny stones digging into my shoulders and waist; very close to my eyes and lips was the poison of the evil princess flower. There was a dream in the thick air, in the shade of that blinding green. Up above, from time to time among the beech tree leaves, the sun appeared like gold, a true gold like a trophy. It took them a while to find me and once they did, they punished me. Later, they thought I was sick. I don’t know if I was, but I got a dose of the poison, the intense wildflower poison, and it rang in my ears for a long time like a bee.

In this urbane springtime, behind the mud walls of the gardens, perhaps a fleeting scent blooms on the wind, like a seed. This is no longer the savage springtime. No longer does it feign that unbearably beautiful and sweet poison, no longer does it sweetly ask, “Deceive me…”

The photo is not an evil princess flower (g) … just a windflower from the garden.

Beach plum bliss

I went for a walk over the dunes at Sandy Hook again this morning. Through the holly forest and into the locust grove to look for spring migrants. Then I headed to the shoreline, turned right at the surf and retraced my steps through the dunes and sat to savor the blooming beach plums and flirt with sunburn. Then back to the bay to watch the osprey pair and be greeted by a pair of willets.

The beach was still winter-empty, but for the birders and a dandelion yellow kite invisibly anchored among a small group of school kids. Twin Lights lies behind towards home and ahead in the haze is the NYC skyline. All around me are the beach plums, humming with happy carpenter bees. The harsh calls of common terns compete with the laughing gulls and the throaty noise of brant lingering on the bay. There are hawks overhead and the rumor of a phalarope on the salt pond at the end of the fisherman’s trail. There’s only an hour or so before I need to think about getting to work to see clients and decide I’d rather spend it here in the dunes instead of chasing some bird I’d hardly recognize without my scope and a field guide. It feels today like spring is edging closer to summer and I have my ritual visit with the beach plums to attend to. There’ll be time for chasing birds another day; now I just want to sit and admire the way they ornament an otherwise still mostly barren wash of dunes… and the sun, I want to feel the sun work its magic on me.

Wandering for spring migrants

Ever been followed through the woods by a nuthatch? This little guy followed along, tree to tree, flew directly at our heads, as if he thought there might be peanuts in our pockets. Funny! Especially hilarious is that Mike at 10,000 birds had the same experience last year! Have to wonder if this isn’t the same crazy bird. There were some 23 species of warblers at Garret Mountain on Saturday, but all I got was this lousy pic of a cute nuthatch… story of my life. Garret is generally a magical place on a spring day and I’ve never had a bad visit. The only disappointment this time was with the weather… gray and rainy and foggy… but the birds were dripping from the trees. We could easily have chosen any oak tree at random and spent the day beneath it. As it was, it was difficult to know where to focus the binoculars… difficult to focus on any one birdsong… difficult to not be distracted by what might be ahead in that other oak tree.

Focusing the camera lens was just as difficult. The good birds were too high up in that awful diffused light of a foggy day and were too busy feeding and flying about and chasing one another for any pics. This Canada Goose with its goslings was forced into a photo op… hissing all the way.

Most frustrating were the warbling vireos singing everywhere, none willing to come into view. It felt silly to chase such a plain-looking bird, but that song was maddening. Spring Beauties made a pretty carpet on the forest floor, dogwoods were blooming, and this maple had its keys hung out on display. Anyone have a guess at which maple this is?

One spurge of many

I’m pretty sure this is some variety of spurge (Euphorbia) – maybe Seaside Spurge? – since it grows everywhere in the dunes at the beach? Puzzling through the thousands of spurges just tries my patience way too much.


The early flies seem to appreciate it, whatever its name is. I do, too, for the bit of color before there’s anything else to draw my eye. (Even if it is yellow!)

Whatever… it’s Friday!

This photo of a Quaker style bedroom from the mansion at Walnford was taken a while ago; I’d meant to get back there this spring to search for wildflowers along the creek and in the surrounding woods, but haven’t made it there yet. The bluebells are probably just about done already and any trips to the woods now will be focused on birds rather than wildflowers. At any rate, I love this photo for its peaceful feel.

My *birding* this week has been sadly limited. Limited to a few minutes in the driveway as I leave for work and then whatever new birds I hear on the walk from the parking lot into the office. House wrens are back for a week or so now, but they’re not singing non-stop just yet here at home. This week I heard the first sweet song of a Baltimore Oriole and this morning there was a Catbird mewing from the evergreens near where I park. No yellow warblers yet or vireos which seems late to me. Probably I haven’t been paying enough attention.

I’m so glad to see an end to this week! I had such a horrible day at work yesterday and then today was such a nice day, thank heavens! I wish there were some way to balance out the bad with the good, some way to keep my client’s problems from becoming my problems, some way to keep it all on more of an even keel. I’ll figure that out in time, I suppose. That or I’ll have a nervous breakdown first!

Whatever. It’s the weekend and I’m glad for it. So… tell me your plans… Birds? Garden? Naps?

May Day

There was a time when May Day meant sentiment. It was preceded by a busy week when young fingers were weaving baskets and small cornucopias out of colored paper. Between spells of basketmaking, scouting expeditions were made to the woods and fields, to see how the season went with wild flowers. And at least one trip was made to the candy store.

On April’s last day, as late as possible, the scouting expeditions were followed up. Purple violets, preferably those big, dark, long-stemmed ones which grow at the edge of the swamp, were picked. Dogtooth violets were gathered. and windflowers, if any were to be found. Spring beauties were sought, and Dutchman’s breeches. And the most delicate of young fern fronds were gathered for garnish. All were carried home in the dusk and stowed carefully in cups and glasses of water.

May Day morning called for early rising. In the bottom of the basket or cornucopia were put a few jelly beans left over from Easter, a few gumdrops, and at least one heart-shaped wafer candy printed with coy words of affection. Then the flowers were added till the basket brimmed with beauty. And at last, before breakfast if possible, the trip was made to Her house, where the basket was hung on the doorknob. The bell was rung and the basketer ran like mad, to hide around the corner until She came and found the tribute.

That was May Day, in the morning, when there was sentiment in the date. The candy might be cheap, the flowers somewhat wilted; but the sentiment was real. What ever happened to it, anyway?” –Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons

The closest I’ve ever been to finding a May Day basket outside my door was the year I had my 2nd graders make them for the other teachers at our school. Paper plates, tissue paper flowers and gumdrops… and a school full of happy smiling teachers at the start of the day.

Does anyone still make May Day baskets? Anyone remember them? Stories please!

A rabbit’s literary tastes

It’s finally occured to me that I have a live-in solution to my book overcrowding issues; what I’ve heretofore seen as a necessary nuisance of having two free-roaming rabbits might be better viewed as an opportunity to discover the unknown literary tastes of rabbits. Or I could just continue to make available those books I no longer have a use for as a substitute for fresh (and expensive) timothy hay. Anything on the bottom shelf and within reach is fair game for their *reading* pleasure. Recycling in its simplest form!

Book or newspaper eating is far from unheard of with rabbits. Their teeth are open-rooted and grow continuously, hence their need for chewables. I buy them willow and apple sticks and give them bits of wood to chew to save the baseboards, but their preference is for my wicker porch furniture and those books stored down low.

I amuse myself with pondering their choices. For most of the winter they worked on a favorite book by illustrator Marjolein Bastin – a hardcover book, I can imagine the satisfaction of sinking one’s teeth into it. Every morning there was less of it for me to replace on the shelf. By winter’s end the cover and binding were gone; their interest in the loose pages has waned and this week they’ve found a new favorite by John Irving. Unfortunately it’s one I haven’t read yet.

I’m thinking I should replace that one and some of the others on the bottom shelf with something more bunny-appropriate and worthy of recycling:

A Taste For Rabbit

Disapproving Rabbits

Rabbit Language or “Are You Going to Eat That?”

Strange Curves, Counting Rabbits, & Other Mathematical Explorations

Rabbit Stew

Raising Rabbits For Fur, Meat And Profit

Any other suggestions for books a rabbit might love to eat?