Friday, September 30, 2005

Waiting for Light


Predawn fog Posted by Picasa
"We've got the Milky Way. And earthshine to die for."

Mary knows this but she steps out onto the porch anyway. She'd already seen them -- Milky Way, scimitar moon, bright red bead of Mars -- as she stood on the driveway just a few minutes earlier with the paper tucked under her arm, her long neck craned. At 5:30 in the morning her relentless metabolism has driven her toward food. I'd awakened to the strong, sweet tang of onions....

I would take my nap later, after she had gone back to bed. After a while I pad outside again, this time with the camera, to see what if anything I can accomplish without a tripod since the one for our telescope is not compatible. Until I have enough light, I lean as securely as I can against stable objects and hold my breath, listening to the lazy whirr of glacial shutter speed.

It's no use. My heart still beats, vibrating me.

The moon continues to inch away from the predawn east. In about two minutes from my earthbound perspective it has moved the distance of its own diameter on its slow climb up the sky. Yellow streetlamps glow. Dark clots of trees begin to gain murky definition.

Then I see the fog, which adds smoky softness and a natural blur to an image rendered less than crisp by the limitations of body and machine. Technical difficulties imitate life.


Posted by Picasa
The dark makes me cautious as I round the house barefoot, keeping to the cement walkway -- likely the fire ants are asleep but I take no chances beyond being unshod. Spiderweb filaments try to catch me, clinging to my arm as I round corners. A large flying insect buzzes first one ear and then the other and takes off, then returns: My spot. Go away. After a while I do.

The light increases; I take more pictures of the moon. It still blurs, flitting around the viewfinder, a moth unwilling to be trapped.


Posted by Picasa
When I next look down at the portulaca they are just beginning to open, squinting in a flash photo, still hugging their petals to themselves. Sleepy children. The white one dares to peek at the bedside clock, in this case the brightening blue overhead, anticipating its golden alarm of sun.

I make my way carefully to the front of the house. Even barefoot I can and have accidentally crushed snails; now I want to take a portrait of one. I marvel at their unhurried progress, eyestalks wavering with inquisitive grace in the thick air. Their luscious slickness.

I search in vain for one of the ubiquitous white snails out of its shell but instead encounter
, for the first time since we arrived here, a brown beauty with perhaps 7mm-diameter housing. Its movements are almost imperceptible. I pop up the flash.


Posted by Picasa
Two of my favorite movies include snails. In the opening of Silent Running, Joan Baez sings "Rejoice in the Sun" as a snail journeys through foliage, filling the screen. (Peter Schickele, of "PDQ Bach" fame, had composed the film score in a decidedly different style than what marks his hilarious send-ups of classical music. And I believe the Star Wars character R2D2 owes its existence at least in part to the drones Huey, Dewey, and Louie from this years-earlier film.)

The other movie, Microcosmos, is filmed entirely from "bugs'-eye view." In one scene two burgundy snails mate, accompanied by opera. For me it is one of the most ecstatic moments in a movie that holds me spellbound every time I watch it.

The sky continues to brighten, the sun just short of breaching the horizon. At last I can catch the floating crescent with a minimum of blur, though its earthshine has been washed out. Back at my computer I cheat, running time backwards as I deepen the digital sky. I fiddle with color balance until I can tease out what seems to be a hint of craters by the terminator, the threshold between light and dark.


Posted by Picasa
The lack of earthshine unmasks my ruse. Perhaps it's time to get a tripod.


Posted by Picasa
(This image, captured from Calculatorcat.com, shows the moon's phase about 7 hours after I took the above photo. Sunrise occurred at 7:22 AM, about 79-1/2 hours before New Moon, which will also herald Rosh Hashanah.)

After-post addendum: I've learned that this New Moon will also mark the beginning of Ramadan.


Click here for more!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Canteloupe For Brains!


Posted by Picasa
Mary has big plans for this thing. I asked her what they were, because it's been sitting in the fridge for months....

Turns out, she said, that early fall is a good time to plant squash seeds down here. (Okay, she said September, which means our window of opportunity is closing fast. But we also have a bag of several-year-old canteloupe seeds transported from Massachusetts, destined to be experimental subjects.)

Squash loves to hybridize, and our community garden up north was a haven for oddities. We saved seeds from canteloupe, zucchini, and acorn squash, then let them all do whatever came naturally. Pretty soon our dinner table included zukalopes and cantechinis -- and the acorn squash addition gave us what we simply called "green footballs."

It's hard to think of this as autumn when temperatures still meander into the 90s and we have two months of hurricane season left. But the signs are everywhere because almost everything is going to seed and our color scheme has begun to switch over from green to brown.


Posted by Picasa
I photographed this right where I found it in the street, around the corner from the post office. Sycamore, I think. If I really work at it, I can span my hand across a major tenth (an octave plus two notes) on a piano keyboard -- or the width of this leaf.


Posted by Picasa
We don't keep a lawn but have a mixture of purposefully-planted trees and shrubs along with some volunteers, plus whatever weeds will hold the soil in place and not be a nuisance. This dandelion lives (and hopes to pass on its genes) in the front yard, a couple of steps away from a pair of crape myrtle trees.


Posted by Picasa
When in full bloom the myrtles produce large clusters of blossoms, earning them the nickname "Southern lilac." But I find a kind of beauty in their shriveling, too.


Posted by Picasa
I have never seen magnolia trees as big up north as they are down here. They are towers with enormous, intoxicating white blossoms. I found these aged, emptying seed pods equally entrancing. They live around the corner and down the block.


Posted by Picasa
The church near the post office has a lovely cactus garden that includes this fruiting saguaro.


Posted by Picasa
On the other hand, our neighbor's oranges have yet to ripen.


Posted by Picasa
I planted this loquat in our yard in the spring of last year. It hasn't fruited yet, but this is the first time I've seen these seed pods.


Posted by Picasa
As soon as we moved down here I discovered tiny white snails (about 5mm across) all over the yard. When we take in the trash can after only a few hours, we check it carefully for any hangers-on. We step carefully along our front walkway so as not to inadvertently crush them.


Posted by Picasa
I thought these flowering dog fennel made an interesting "gateway" to whatever mysteries lie beyond. (Okay, it's more dog fennel, not so big a mystery. But still.) These flourish around the corner from the post office.

The One That Got Away: The church with the cactus garden is being re-roofed. On Monday Mary and I walked together around dusk, and on our approach I saw one of the workers straighten up from his task, rising from the roof barechested, muscled, and tanned. Towering clouds backdropped him, shadowed in purple and glowing a dusky pink. Between him and the roof a breeze lifted and waved the American flag, enough for me to see the top half or so.

All those elements together made for a really choice shot but I balked -- one, because if the guy saw me taking his picture he might throw a hammer at me or something; and two, because he was moving and I'd have to wait to see if he got into position again, standing and staring at him from across the street. The next day the roof was piled with sacks of I know not what, which would obscure any similar view, and those clouds were gone.

If I ever get that chance again, I might be braver....


Click here for more!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Bouquet


Posted by Picasa
I couldn't have done this one without the cats....

Three of the seven photos used in this collage appear in Magic Lens. One that wasn't, a shot of collected, shed cat fur from Daisy and Red (I use the fur in mixed media pieces), serves as backdrop for the blossoms and filaments. Other pictures not previously posted include yellow wildflowers found on a grassy median, and our white portulaca on the back porch. The filaments come chiefly from the lefthand Spanish moss, while the frame uses the righthand shot.


Posted by Picasa
The yellow flowers blend two color alterations. Darkening the original shot had made the seed pods almost black -- so I lightened them in a second copy and replaced just the pod tops in the collage.



Click here for more!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Magic Lens


Honeysuckle Berries Posted by Picasa

A new digital camera opens my eyes even further....

Unselfconscious Wings has gone over well with my friend who had inspired it, so that makes me happy. I've also brought a few collage files to the printer, who did a great job enlarging a sample.

But upgrading to a new and better digital camera has had me going Holy Moly. Today marked its maiden voyage on my post office walk. I'm still learning how to use it, but its zoom capability and finer detail take me well beyond the Argus. Everything here was shot in the space of a couple of hours.


Posted by Picasa

These sea oats catch my eye every time I walk to the printer. My Argus can get a half-decent shot of them, and of the Spanish moss below, but not with as much detail as this -- and I've compressed the photos here to a small fraction of their original size (each is under 100K).



Posted by Picasa

Posted by Picasa

Posted by Picasa
One of our local crows on a rooftop. I am discovering the joy of having a telephoto lens.


Posted by Picasa
A shy Gulf Fritillary blurs behind dried grasses and emptied seed pods. Butterflies and dragonflies have proven to be the most elusive so far.


Posted by Picasa
Found this hibiscus at the local strip mall.


Posted by Picasa
Not everyone adores love bugs as I do. They're not harmful, except maybe when too many of them splat into radiator grilles in flagrante delicto muerte. They swarm in May and September; these were two of numerous happy couples at the mall. After coming across so many in mid-mate, I feel bad every time I see a singleton. I hear sad country lonesome cowboy music, picture the poor thing drowning its sorrows in some seedy bug bar.


Posted by Picasa
I was thrilled to find this mantid above me at the post office. Praying mantises were childhood friends of mine until they vanished from Brooklyn. This is the first one I've seen up close and personal in at least 35 years.


Posted by Picasa
This damselfly was also hanging out at the mall.


Posted by Picasa
I believe this is a skink. Small, adorable lizards scamper everywhere here.


Posted by Picasa
This polyphemus (giant silk) moth has a wing span of at least 5 and more likely closer to 6 inches. It stopped traffic at the mall and blew me away. It didn't open its wings, but you can get a good view of that here.


Posted by Picasa
Closer to home -- one of the local gardeners gave us some portulaca, which belongs to the purslane family. We've been growing it on the back porch.


Posted by Picasa
We had this trumpet honeysuckle planted in our front yard shortly after we moved in. If I am very, very lucky, I might some day snap a shot of the hummingbirds who visit it.


Posted by Picasa
This bird's nest is inside our hedge, which is a melange of holly, azalea, and volunteer trees thanks to seeds dropped by visitors. Our first summer here, the hedge became home to a brood of mockingbirds -- though I'm not sure whom this belongs to. Back in Cambridge I once found a bird's nest fallen from the tree and marveled at how it retained and concentrated my body heat as I held it in my hands.


Posted by Picasa
This small, now empty wasp nest (mud dauber, I think) remains glued to one of our window screens.



Click here for more!