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Lupines. May 31, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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The lupine fields up in Hawley have come and gone, their transient blossoms buffeted by wind and beaten down by storms.  I saw them nearly  there, then went back with my camera to find them past their prime.

Still, I set up beneath threatening skies to shoot a few images before the heavens opened up, and just barely made it, though I spent a good while mopping things dry when I got back to the car.

These images are a bit rough; the light was low and the breeze had picked up in anticipation of the coming deluge, so I shot fast and low, bringing up the exposure in post-processing and losing the presence of a well-taken photograph.

Lupines in a Hawley meadow:

…along a country lane:

…and this shot, just as the skies opened up, of daisy fleabane peeking out from beneath sensitive ferns in the lupine patch:

The vibrance of the ferns was eye-catching, and the sky dramatic, even if the conditions were sub-optimal.

Oh well.  The blooms are past their peak, and my next opportunity will have a different calendar year attached to it.  But for now, these shots will have to do.

Thanks to Elliot for his contortions on short notice; he tilted and swung like a champion, and then sat patiently as I applied a variety of hand held graduated filters to tame the sky.



Arch Guitar. May 31, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in music.
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At Northanpton’s Tuesday Market this past week I was delighted to find that they had entertainment.  Not John and Mary singing folks songs, but Peter Blanchette playing his own creation, the Arch Guitar.

Now, if you’ve been reading for any while you know I’m an old softy, so I’ll just admit to crying in public.  This was some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard, and certainly the most beautiful music I’ve heard from three feet away.

Mr. Blanchette is world renowned, and on the brink of flying off to Europe for another widely anticipated tour.  And if you’re selling out classical guitar venues in Spain, you might just be considered to have made it.

I asked permission, then stepped around the bowl where people were dropping change and dollar bills to get these shots:

This creation of his, the Arch Guitar, is the sweetest monster I’ve ever seen, with eleven strings and a fretboard you could launch planes off of:

This man is a genius, pure and simple.  Know his face:

…and, if you have three minutes, hear his genius:

I spent longer than this dialing in these photos, but given the entertainment, I wasn’t in a hurry.

Again, Elliot delivered, hand-held and unfiltered.

Great good luck to Peter on his upcoming tour.

And thanks to Elliot for his hard work, and to YOU, my readers, for humoring my divergences into things which are hard to categorize.


Tubers! May 31, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, Dinner with TCR, Politics and Society.
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This past Tuesday afternoon I stopped in at the Tuesday Market, a farmers’ market downtown in the little Massachusetts city of Northampton.  It’s in a cobbled courtyard behind Thorne’s Market, and it hosts a dozen farms/farmers proffering their produce and plants.  I threw Elliot on the box and went to see what might be seen.

It was cool, very much like so many other farmers’ markets I’ve been to in these parts, but perhaps a bit more up-scale – not the vendors, as they’re all of the earth, but the shoppers.  They were decidedly more urbane than most I’ve seen at these things, with clean-faced children named Dakota and Montana and Leaf.  I spied a beautiful little three year old angel with green eyes and vibrant red curls sipping a fruit smoothee and asked her parents if I might photographer her.  They proudly said “yes,” but Step Two was asking her,  and she said “no.”

So you get tubers.

Beets, carrots, radishes red and white:

Sweet, organic and ripe with the love of the gardener.

Elliot liked the beets, and demanded that I take one more shot at a 6 degree swing:

…canted to 2 and 8 o’clock.  I’m satisfied with the result.

Both of these shots are from Elliot, hand-held and unfiltered.  I’m liking E as a candid lens, though I usually shoot him on a tripod, and frequently with hand-held filters.

This market delivered a surprise which I’ll probably post next!

Lady’s Slippers! May 31, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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OK, we’re back to the woodland flowers.  There’s a good deal of overlap, you know.

I went up to High Ledges in Shelburne to look for Ladies’ Slippers, common enough in these parts if you’re looking for the (ubiquitous) pink ones.  But I was hoping, for the third year in a row, to find the much rarer yellow variety, closely related yet significantly different in both color and form.

Near the overlook, mountain laurels were just starting to pop:

…and red columbines sprung from a cleft in an old stone wall:

And then, along side the trail running above the ledges, there were… Lady’s Slippers!

Groups of pink ones graced the forest floor with their showy blooms and deep, lush foliage:

These are our most common local orchids, Cypripedium acaule :

Their distinctive pink labellum  opens with a slit down the front:

…which, it turns out, is a distinctive feature of C. acaule.   (Most lady slippers open with a rounder hole at the top of the lip.)  It’s also worth noting that the two lateral petals are fairly straight and flat, like little knives.

I spent an hour wandering the trails, looking for the elusive yellow lady slipper, Cypripedium parviflorum.  This plant is also called C. pubescens  and was formerly conflated with the Eurasian C. calceolus.   (No, I don’t know stuff, and yes, I Wiki’d it.)

Finally, as I was about to give up and go home disappointed, a flash of yellow forty feet off the trail caught my eye, and… there it was:

…my first yellow!

The structural differences were noteworthy – the lateral petals were wonderfully twisted, the sepal on top was all fancy (Ah must say! ) and the pouch opened with a round hole at the top rather than the frontal slit of the local pink variety.

There were two plants here, only one of which had the flower attached to its single stalk, which is extremely unfortunate – the flower MUST cycle through and wither on the stem for the plant to return next season.  I say it’s unfortunate because lady slippers seldom reproduce in the wild, but live a very long time if undisturbed.  Many are thought to be older than the trees surrounding them!

Well, there it is.  Now that I know where to look I’ll start a bit earlier next year and hope for more, but for now, we only get one.



Spring Into Summer! May 30, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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Spring’s wildflowers are the little ones which appear in the woods before the leaves unfurl and block the direct sunlight which fuels them.  They’re beautiful but transient, and I love them.

But they’re seen in the larger context as the opening act for the Girls of Summer, the wildflowers which bloom in the full light of roadsides and meadows.  In general, these are larger, heartier plants with showier blossoms, and these are what will anchor my photography for the next good while.

We’ll start with a roadside bloom of Ragged robin and buttercups along the side of route 8A in Hawley:

This might not show too well at blog-size, but it’s what my travels this day yielded.

Courtesy of Elliot, whose tilt of about three degrees gave me both the foreground and the skyline on a breezy afternoon.

The Cooper-Jones Band. May 30, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in music.
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I had the pleasure to see the Cooper-Jones Band this past weekend, and was totally wowed.

This is a local group which rightfully ought to have a wider audience, both because of their component parts and their whole.

Leading the charge on guitar:

…and tearing it up on vocals, Brian J:

At his elbow, also smokin’ the strings and wailing on vocals, Mark S.:

Stroking a stack of keyboards…

Paul R, multi-keyboardist and vocalist:

Any tree stands or falls on the strength of it roots, and in this case the roots run deep – Bob M, a practitioner of Bass-as-Lead, meaning to say that he goes far beyond the minimum necessary to lay down a floor, and paints the walls as well:

…and keeping it all on the clock:

…drummer Greg T kept the train rolling while singing his share of leads:

This is a fine local band which ought be heard by more people, so if you’re in the area, watch for them.  I understand they’ll be at the  Iron Horse in Northampton on June 7th.  I hope to be there!

All of these shots are from Ziggy, my Sigma 50mm lens which  I got for macro photography (it lets me get within an inch of my subjects, and is fast,) but now serves me well as an indoor low-light lens.

Not Bluebirds, But Tree Swallows.* May 29, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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Here are two tree swallows* living in proximal boxes along the road up in Hawley.

Wary watching:

…and indignance as a mother shields her home from the prying eyes of a drive-by shooter:

…um, that would be me.  Sorry, girl.

Carry on…

* Thanks to commenter Fran for correcting me, as I had originally assumed they were bluebirds!

Irises On The Bridge. May 28, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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It happens that as I write this the irises on Shelburne Falls’ Bridge of Flowers are blooming spectacularly.  If you’re in the area, take a little time to visit.

If you’re not  in the area, consider taking a little time to see what I saw on a recent visit.  I know, you can’t smell them (they’re glorious!) or feel the wind against your cheek, or see the smiles of old folks with walkers or little children pointing with chubby fingers, but at least you can share in the beauty which envelopes us here this time of year.

A typical blue iris, in typical splendor:

These are no less amazing because of their ubiquity, and each one I passed called me to smother my face in its beauty:

Even the standard Blue Flags courted the affections of their neighbors, like this rose bud which couldn’t resist sneaking a kiss:

And there are irises of many colors besides blue, such as this tangerine beauty:

…and these virginal white lovelies:

…and their little tenants, bees and bugs and beetles:

Of course there are a lot of other flowers in bloom on The Bridge, but I’ll leave them for another post.

This one’s for the irises.


Prepping For The Transit Of Venus. May 26, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, Love and Death.
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On the evening of June 5th (here in the Western hemisphere) Venus will “transit” the sun, that is, pass in front of it from our perspective here on Earth.

It turns out that, because the Earth and Venus orbit the sun in slightly different planes, this is a rare event.  Transits occur in pairs, eight years apart… and separated from the next pair of transits by 105 years.

So if you missed the 2004 transit (as I did,) this is your last chance, unless you expect to live another 105 years.

And as I personally am skeptical about my chances of still being here at the ripe old age of 163, I’m going to try to see this coming transit.

Weather permitting, of course.  A cloudy evening could render all of this moot.  But hey, if it’s clear and I miss it because I thought it might be cloudy, the joke’s on me, right?  I mean, the only real guarantee of failure is the failure to try.

So here’s the gig thus far:

Looking at the sun, whether it’s fully exposed, transited by a planet, or eclipsed by the moon, will do substantial (and possibly catastrophic) damage to one’s eyes.  We’re constantly implored to observe our frequent Lunar eclipses only with proper eye protection or appropriate projection techniques.  The same applies to ANY solar observation.  Inexpensive eclipse glasses can be bought online.  If you’re just gonna look, PLEASE, take at least this precaution.

Now, photographing  the sun is another whole ball of wax.  Pointing any camera directly at the sun will yield nothing good, and in the case of a digital camera like mine, will fry the sensor.  With my Canon 5D Mark II, that’s a $3000 mistake.

And I don’t happen to have a spare $3000 kicking around at the moment.

So a very specific filter is in order – a Solar filter.

While a piece of #16 welder’s glass (if you could find it) might be duct-taped to the objective end of a camera lens, the result would be an unnaturally green image, coupled with the possibility that one’s Rube Goldberg contraption would fall apart in use, frying the sensor and possibly blinding the operator.

This, to me, sounds like a non-starter.

So a while back I did the (physically if not fiscally) prudent thing and ordered a real Solar filter from Orion Telescopes.  It was relatively inexpensive as filters go, though far from free.  And it renders the sun in hues of red and orange, rather than the sickly green afforded by welders’ glass.

Still, I’ve been reticent to try it.  My 5D is my future, and without a real income, destroying it isn’t an option.

So this evening I took advantage of several concurrent Mitigating Circumstances to get brave and shoot the sun – a gathering of thin, high clouds and a scrim of trees right here in my front yard.

The filter fitted nicely over Gizmo’s objective end, and with Liveview (mirror lock-up/LCD display) in play, I panned the sky for my prey, then focused on the intervening trees to get this shot:

I know, I’m skirting the issue, dodging the bullet, approaching this project with my tail between my legs.  But in this case I don’t see the advantage of boldness; I’m not willing to trash my 5D to prove my manhood.

The next step in this process, as I envision it, is to photograph some subtle, low-light scenes and try to determine if my sensor has been affected in any way.  Then it’ll be on to photograph a less obscured sun and repeat the evaluation.

With any luck I’ll have allayed my fears and learned enough about this set-up to be ready to photograph the Transit on June 5th.

A Hummingbird. May 24, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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I wasn’t satisfied with last evening’s photo of a hummingbird in our dooryard.  It was dark and slow, due largely to the waning light of evening.

So today I set up again on the porch, expecting our hummingbird to make frequent visits in somewhat better light.

I’m still not satisfied with what I came away with, but it’s a step in the right direction:

That second one is my favorite, as it speaks to the joy of drinking nectar right from the blossom.

I’ll keep trying to get these right, and hope that you’ll keep rooting for me to succeed.