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At The Rowe Fen. June 13, 2012

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Up in Rowe, MA sits a fen, or basic pH bog, which hosts many hundreds of Northern Pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea.)   I’ve been there uncounted times over the past years to photograph them, with varying degrees of success.

Well, you know, one doesn’t improve by being satisfied with where one’s at.

So today I went back, arriving in late afternoon to find wonderful light slanting through the treetops.

Blue Flag irises separate the fen from the gravel road, and though they were nearly gone by, they were still worthy of a photo:

There’s an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail lighting on the iris just left of center, though it’s hard to see at this size.

In the grass at the fen’s edge, I got this shot of a sluggish butterfly, which looks something like a black Swallowtail, though it’s wings lack the definitive posterior points:

That could be a sign of old age or disease, as the wings tend to deteriorate with age.

The Northern Pitchers were gorgeous in the warm afternoon light, glowing as though illuminated from within:

Their totally unique flowers were red as roses and ripe with last night’s rain:

Before packing up my kit, I got all Artsy-Fartsy and took a couple of 1 second panning shots, hoping for something impressionistic.  While the results of this sort of experimentation aren’t that predictable to me, they were close to what I’d hoped for:


The first shot in this post is from Elliot, the rest are from Gizmo with a 2X Tele-Extender, giving an effective focal length of 800mm, albeit without auto focus or image stabilization.  I used Live View/mirror lock-up and a two second delay to get steady shots.

Up next:  some animal shots, which have been piling up embarrassingly in my to-post pile.

Falling Waters. June 13, 2012

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This afternoon on my way up to a fen in Rowe, I stopped along route 8A to take this photo of a spillway at the head of Pelham Brook:

As I readied to clean up what I thought were sensor spots in the sky of this photo, I discovered that they were actually dragonflies hunting at the dam’s lip, so I left them.  🙂

This is a hand-held shot taken with Ziggy, my Sigma 50mm lens, which I mostly reserve for macro shots because it focuses down to about one inch.

Perhaps I ought to reassess that call.

Peonies! June 11, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.

My dooryard keeps coming up with new marvels, some of which are fleeting.

Peonies are lovely, but don’t survive a moderate rain.  So the logical thing to do, as I see it, is to pick them before the rain hits.

A bunch on my butcher block:

…and one in the yard:

These lovely blooms peel away in uncountable layers from a tight ball in their center, eventually revealing their sexy bits for pollination.

I wasted my youth denigrating peonies for their weak necks, but as a weak-necked oldster, I now get  them.

Northfield, MA June 8, 2012

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A corn field in Northfield, with the Connecticut river at my back:

That’s gonna be a lot of corn.

I wonder where it’s bound.

Taken this afternoon under indeterminate heavens.  By way of Elliot, with perhaps a degree and a half of tilt, with a hand-held filter to bring the sky into range.

Another Valley Shot. June 8, 2012

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…of a field in Hadley.  The support structure for the tobacco shading is in place, though I’m not sure what’s been planted here.

Still, the skies are dramatic, so I pull over and take this shot:

Thanks to Elliot, with perhaps 1-1/2 degrees of tilt, a hand-held 3-stop reverse ND grad by Singh-Ray, and a foreground boost from Photoshop’s camera raw fill-light function.

Truck Patch. June 7, 2012

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On my way home from a photographic art showing in Amherst, the brooding skies cried out for a photograph.  I took rural roads home and drove slowly, looking for a foreground to pair the clouds with.

I settled on a farm field in Sunderland, planted with cabbages and corn:

Another one from Elliot.

The Transit Of Venus. June 6, 2012

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Today was supposed to be the last Solar transit of Venus, i.e. its passage between us and the Sun, for 105 years.

The next such transit will occur when I’m 163 years old, and I might not be looking, so I was sorely disappointed to find the day heavily overcast with intermittent heavy rain.

Oh, well.  I had bought the necessary filter to protect my camera and keep me from going blind, but the weather is the weather, and there’s no getting around that.

So instead of sitting home sulking, I went down to Northampton for the Tuesday Market and brought Musician Extraordinaire Peter Blanchette a present – a print of a photo I’d taken a week earlier.  He seemed genuinely pleased, and I was delighted by his reaction.

I bought some home-grown shitakes and headed home through the gathering gloom, then the intermittent rain, lamenting the lost opportunity for a celestial feast.

At home, I unloaded some groceries and fired up the ‘puterbox, forlornly checking the weather.  As I pulled up a graphic map of the next six hours, I saw…

…a hole in the cloud cover moving down from the North.

Shit!   A potential opening, and me sitting here at my computer!

I threw everything I thought I might need back in the car and sped southwestward toward the high meadows of Windsor, hoping my path would somehow intersect the parting of the clouds.

I got there just as the sun waxed and waned through an impending thinning of the clouds.  Setting up Gizmo and his 2X tele-extender, I noticed a knot of Cedar waxwings on a tree a hundred yards to the southeast, doubtless anticipating one last blast of sunlight before the clouds regrouped and left them cold:

They were well over a hundred yards away, but with 800mm of lens and a stiff crop, this is what I got.

I threw on my Orion Solar Filter, and suddenly the daylight became night.

To the West, the sun was showing itself through substantial clouds:

True Solar filters have a believable reddish hue, whereas welder’s glass makes viewing safe but imparts a vivid green cast to viewing.  Between the preferred fiery cast and the fact that Solar filters are made to lock firmly onto the end of a telescope (or long lens,) I was glad to have the Orion in my kit.

As the clouds thinned, I captured this image of Venus piercing the margin of the sun:

…along with a dozen or so sunspots visible at this magnification/resolution.

I was thrilled!  My expectations, dashed an hour earlier, were being exceeded by this small meteorological miracle.

The clouds wafted by in thicker and thinner bands as the sun slunk toward the horizon, and I took well over a hundred photographs, tweaking the focus and exposure in an effort to bring something worthwhile home from this last-in-a-lifetime event.

Another shot through clouds:

…here with Venus totally committed to the Sun’s disk.

I shot skads, but culled the lot down so as not to bore you.

A few more of the ones I saved:

…and finally, Sol sinking into a sea of obscurity, still early in Venus’ transit but approaching sunset here on the East coast:

The sunspots and clouds added a lot to these shots, and were accidents well outside of my doing.  But I planned ahead and drove fast and worked hard for these images, so I’m grateful for the happy accidents which augment them.

Thank you, Father Sky.

Mood Indigo. June 5, 2012

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Well, naked bear encounters hardly comprising a full day’s activity, I eventually did what needed doing around the house (including putting my pants on) and headed out to do the extra-domicular things.  You know, food shopping, banking, job hunting, and taking photos of whatever looked interesting.

As it happened, the weather sucked for kite flying and sun bathing, but for photography, not so much.  I like the tumultuous skies and brooding atmosphere of intermittent storms, so I wasn’t complaining.

My errands took me to Hadley and Northampton, so I scoped out the farmlands down along the Connecticut river.  The crops were just coming up there – tiny corn rows, truck patches of beets and cabbage in their nascent forms, and potatoes.

Potatoes seem to be the commercially viable alternative to tobacco, which used to rule this fertile valley.  We grew legendary tobacco here, used to roll the finest Cuban cigars, big fat consistent leaves perfect for wrappers.  The flood plains of the Connecticut are littered with tobacco barns, now either re-purposed or falling into disrepair.

Here’s a shot from this evening, of a ‘tater field and tobacco barns in Hatfield, with the farm road’s edge swathed in a tangle of cow vetch and bladder campion:

Regulars here will recognize Elliot’s hand, with a crisp foreground leading the eye to a reasonably sharp horizon.  Thanks, Kid.  You’re the best.

And again, I hand held a three stop reverse graduated ND filter to bring the sky into balance with the darker foreground.

If this technical stuff bores those of you who don’t work at photography as I do, please forgive me, but putting words to it helps me to clarify my process in the same way that writing ideas into an essay exposes truths and fallacies.


Visitors In The Garden. June 4, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, Love and Death.
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So, picture this:

It’s morning, and I’m trying to soldier through getting a pot of coffee going.  I fill the drip machine, grind the beans, hit the button and set to doing the few dishes left from last night.  I’m generally good about not going to bed with anything in the sink, but sometimes I get lazy.

So the coffee is brewing and I’m swabbing at a bowl, praying for the hot water to kick in – it takes forever for the Sacred Elixer to get to this particular faucet.  I’m butt-naked, except for a knitted hat and down booties… hey, it’s cold  in here, we’re out of oil and the wood stove is down for the season…

OK, maybe you should stop “picturing” right about here.  We don’t want any accidents in the home, and we know they’re epidemic.

So anyway, I’m spacing out and gazing out at the western yard when suddenly my attention is drawn to a pair of giant black canon balls wobbling through our lily patch, rolling lazily around the asparagus and emerging at the edge of our garden as… BEARS!!   Two big bears, hip-high to me, though one’s slightly larger than the other.

I snap to attention (HEY!  I told  you that you could stop “picturing” now!)  Two bears, siblings I assume, walking side by each, walking right into my garden.  My Garden!!!

I briefly consider running out the back shop door to yell at them and scare them away, then realize that they might see Naked-Sausage-Waving-Thing differently, and I recalibrate.

So, being me, I grab my camera, then gasp in despair – I’ve still got Elliot on the box from yesterday, a wide-angle lens at 24mm, totally wrong for zooming in on this scene.

Oh well.  If one doesn’t anticipate the shot, one doesn’t get the shot, except when dumb luck intervenes.

And being a believer in Dumb Luck (and lacking options,) I started snapping away through the streaked kitchen window.

Now Elliot is sweet, I love him.  He’s my main photographic squeeze, separating my art from most of the rest of what I see being produced locally.

But a wildlife lens  he ain’t.  Forget the zoom to move in on skittish beasts, never mind the image stabilization, don’t even ask for auto-focus – it ain’t happening.

So what you see here is a crop from the least bad of half a dozen shots I took, scanning a big wide field, manually focusing on a tiny bit of it, and squeezing off a 1/8 second shot without image stabilization:

Bruno and Ursa confer as to whether they should grub around in this little thing I call a garden or just move along.

In the end, they snuffled at the compost, munched my biggest sunflower (it was a foot tall, and I bet it was great!) and bumbled around, plowing their snouts through the wet grass in search of only they knew what, and disappeared around the corner of the house.  I went to far side, camera in hand, waiting for them to emerge, but they didn’t.  Probably headed up into the woods.

So there it is, my Close Encounters of the Furred Kind moment.

At least I had the good sense not to offer them sausage.

Lost And Found. June 4, 2012

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The Deerfield river is widely known as a great trout fishing venue.  It’s fast and cold and relatively clean in the reaches here and above, and has rebounded from it’s Irene Make-Over with astonishing speed.  The section immediately above Charlemont is a catch-and-release area, no bait-fishermen please, and as such is a popular float-fishing destination for several fly-fishing outfitters.

The cardinal rule of Catch-and-Release is DO NO HARM so that returned fish survive and thrive.

So it’s a little bit karmic that this trebble-hook spinner, decidedly not  kind to fish (and frequently fatal) was lost among the logs and rocks just above town:

I hope it was his last one, and that its parting ended someone’s day of fun.

This is from Elliot, tripod-mounted within a foot of the rocks (yes, I was lying down on the job!)  Eight degrees of tilt, with a hand-held reverse-graduated ND filter.

TMI for most of you, but food for “inquiring minds…”