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Whitewater! July 27, 2012

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When water is released through the Dryway section of the Deerfield River in the Northern Berkshires of Massachusetts, people come from all over the East Coast to play.

It’s not that it’s the biggest or most spectacular whitewater in the East; rather, this is a Class 3/4 river run, challenging enough to entice experts, but not beyond paddlers of moderate abilities.

Plus, it runs through one of the least despoiled river valleys in the Northeast, where one can paddle or float for miles without seeing a single house:

This is a rapid through a narrowing, where the water drops over boulders, forms “holes” and piles up in “standing waves” which look stationary even as water rushes through them.  They’re ideal for experts to play in, and negotiable for reasonably competent paddlers.

There are several rafting companies operating here which allow folks who don’t have skills or knowledge to experience the river, but this post will highlight the other boaters, the ones whose skill and strength and spine gets them through.

There are kayakers, “K-1” paddlers, who can be spotted by their double-bladed paddles:

K-2 boaters do the same in pairs:

Kayakers paddle in a seated position with their legs out in front of them, though that’s not apparent to the casual observer.

Then there are “C-1” paddlers, in solo closed canoes:

They use a standard single-blade paddle and work twice as hard as the kayakers.  “Twice the man, half the paddle,” they’re fond of saying.  🙂

Canoeists kneel with their feet under them, and have a minimal seat to settle onto when they like.  It’s an ideal set-up for little guys like me; I can kneel up to see over upcoming waves, whereas if I’m sitting on the bottom of the boat, I have at least a foot less height and a LOT less sight distance, which makes navigation much more difficult.

There are also some open canoes which run rivers of this grade, though you won’t see birch-bark canoes or your father’s aluminum Grumman.  Rather, they’re high-tech fiberglass or plastic models, with every unoccupied cubic inch filled with inflatable floatation devices:

I’d say, “That’s a MAN’s boat,”  except that women can and do paddle them as well:

That’s a rotary injection molded model, and though I’m sure that woman can paddle circles around me in it, I prefer the aesthetics of the more classical designs:

Full Gnarlz indeed!  😆

There were also a few inflatable catamarans, like this one paddled by a mixed gender team:

…and a few crazy people paddling those new-fangled stand-up boats, sort of a cross between a canoe and a surfboard, but I was too busy laughing at their swan-dive demises to take a decent photo!

Competent paddlers find a way to thread rapids like this and get to the bottom in one piece; folks with higher skill levels will “eddy out” at every opportunity, then turn upstream and play, paddling against the current to the crest of a standing wave and surfing its upstream side:

Sometimes they’d get eaten and flushed, and roll up downstream; sometimes they’d drive forward into the trough, lean forward to bury their bow and do numerous cart-wheels, then resume surfing – amazing!!!

So here’s the part where I try to get you to hold your breath:

How’d I do?  😆

Well, you can breath now – they mostly  all popped up and paddled away…

I’ll leave you with these last few photos:

…I have a fireworks display to shoot tonight, and I’ve got camera prep and dinner still to do!

Buh-bye.

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Truck Patch. July 26, 2012

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A commercial lily farm in South Deerfield:

Courtesy of Elliot, my TS-E II Canon L-series tilt-shift friend, and a hand-held 2-stop graduated filter.

That is all.  😉

This Year’s Garden! July 26, 2012

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Gardening this year has been an uphill struggle; The Ladies built raised beds last year, which has helped tremendously by containing the produce and excluding the weeds, but the lack of rain has necessitated putting a chunk of each day into keeping my efforts from turning to dust.

So Tuesday’s rain was a great relief, and the garden rejoiced:

The watering system I rigged up sat blissfully idle today.  Thank You, Father Sky.

Our garden is a mix of what we planted and the “volunteers” which appeared as a result of last year’s reseeding (we’re going with a no-till model, and just being grateful when Free Stuff shows up!  🙂 )

Among the volunteers are carrots (which provided nice white flowers but no carrots to speak of,) onions, garlic, leeks, some kind of vining things which might or might not be pumpkins (half the fun is the expectant waiting,) and two little trees in the mid-ground which I think are apricots – again, time will tell!  😆

So far we’ve harvested and enjoyed rhubarb, asparagus, lettuce, radishes, snow peas, beans (green, yellow and purple,) squash (summer, delicata and zucchini,) purple potatoes (more volunteers!) cucumbers, broccoli, kale and rainbow chard – I’m growing leaves!!

And we have flowers interspersed, some (such as the marigolds and aliums) as companion planting for pest control, and some just for eye-candy.  Glads:

…and zinnias:

The rain really freshened them up, and they were a joy to photograph:

We’ll have sunflowers later on, but right now they’re just buds:

We’ve been sharing our bounty with a fat little woodchuck (she and I have a love/hate relationship,) but there’s still as much as  I can eat and more.

Thank you Mother Earth; Thank you Father Sky.

Green River Festival: The Sunday / Bum’s Rush Edition! July 26, 2012

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This isn’t going to do the great musicians at Sunday’s event justice, but I’m falling behind in my other obligations, so it will be what it is.

The day started off with a misty 5:30am sunrise:

Eric played the bagpipes, the balloons went up, and then I took a nap in the shade of my car.

Hey, two and a half hours of sleep just hadn’t recharged me from Saturday.

I woke an hour or so later to the sound checks happening at both the upper and lower stages.  This sound crew was good,  and put a lot of time and effort into getting it right:

Thanks, guys!

By noon the line at the gate stretched way away around the parking lots, with people of all ages enduring the heat to get a good spot:

At least there was a breeze!

Promptly at noon (Saturday had been delayed a bit,) the gates opened and the masses streamed in.  They were barely getting seated when the music began with one man and a guitar.  If anyone expected this to be a throw-away opening act, they were soon to be wonderfully disappointed; Martin Simpson played and sang passionately and powerfully, turning his beautiful acoustic guitar into what sounded like a whole band, with luscious bass notes and complex chording underlaying spectacular slide playing:

I’m embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t familiar with his music, but his blend of traditional and original British folk gems blew me away, and I’m certain I wasn’t alone in feeling that way!

OK, next (“Bum’s Rush,” remember?) came Elizabeth Cook, trilling deceptively pretty country songs in a Dolly Parton voice (though without the accessories:)

I say “deceptively pretty” because she wasted no time getting down and dirty, making it clear that an unfaithful man had better not be her  unfaithful man, and standing up for the “fairer sex” with songs like, “Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be a Woman.”  The ladies loved it and sang along, while their hubbies mouthed the words and looked a wee bit nervous…

Anyway, she was great fun, but I missed the end of her act, instead heading  down to the lower stage to catch a bit of local wonders Darlingside,  a Valley quintet including mandolin, fiddle, guitar, electric cello and drums:

I’m glad to have caught them; their interplay was brilliant, creating an uncategorizable blend of folk, rock and classical elements with a great energy:

Nice stuff, and as they’re local, I hope to hear them again soon!

Onward and upward:

At the main stage, local legend Chris Smither was just getting started, playing with his band The Motivators (he’s usually a solo act, doing commendable percussion with his feet!)  Chris’ is an act you shouldn’t miss if he comes your way:

Amazing guitar playing, distinctive vocals and the ability to turn a phrase in a way which is at once unique and shockingly true – no cliches here, just honest answers to questions you didn’t know to ask!

His band was new to me, except for guitar virtuoso David Goodrich, who had impressed me at a previous show:

It was all good, melding bluesey tunes with beautiful vocal harmonies and an impish sense of humor.  Kudos, Mr. Smither!  🙂

The Meat of the Sunday Meal came next…

Richard Thompson!

Holy Cow.

I mean, Holy Cow!

If you never heard one man play three guitar parts while singing his black heart out, you should have been there.   This guy’s been doing what he does for a very long time, and it shows – exquisitely crafted stories of being wrong and losing love and ruining his life, told with burning pathos, powered by this One Man Guitar Army:

If a lifetime of hard living, serious addictions and losing the love of his life have tempered his abilities, I can’t imagine to what heights he might have soared with his full faculties.

But then again, the stories he wrings from his bones and serves up with a twinkle of wry humor might not come out the way they do, and his loss is our great gain:

The crowd ate it up, roaring for more, singing along  and pushing him to a brief encore (my throat still hurts!)  😉

By the time Mr. Thompson had had his way with us, we were all exhausted and hungry; pity the poor Winter Pills, who played next to a sea of people who tried to be enthusiastic, but really needed a breather.  A lot of people took this opportunity to avail themselves of the excellent (and groovy) food vendors:

That shot taken before the gates opened; after Richard Thompson I couldn’t get near it!

Sunday was a fail for me getting to all of the bands, all of the time, so I’ll just apologize to Lee Fields, C. J. Chenier, Gordon Gano, Brown Bird, and all of the fine acts in the Meltdown Tent.  After Saturday’s marathon and the 4am start, I just wanted to kick back a bit and enjoy some of this great music.

The crowd got revved up again for Rubblebucket, a really strong jam/funk outfit from Brooklyn, New York.  Their sound merges the jam-band energy of Phish with a spectacularly fine horn and horn-bop duo who traded their ‘bones for vocal renditions of great horn arrangements; they chased one of the most unique guitar players I’ve ever had the pleasure of heaingr all over the musical map, and provided pumping lyrical counterpoints to the astonishing high-energy vocals of singer Kalmia Traver:

Set this all to challenging and totally atypical rhythms, fill the spaces with effervescent synth and stir, or rather dance yourself into a frenzy.  My face hurt from smiling, they were that good!

…But sadly, they were a nightmare to photograph from out in the audience – between their frenetic movements and the streamers blowing from every mic stand, auto focus was out of the question, and the shallow depth of field on my 400mm lens was far from optimal for the job.  Sorry folks.

The show wrapped up with Ozomatli, an LA band known for powering dance raves through the roof of any room.  They had a head start with this fired-up audience, and even though their urban funk sensibilities aren’t our usual hill-town fare, they totally nailed it, with a line-up of four drummer/percussionists:

(…that one’s for the Ladies 😉 )

…powering another killer horn section and fabulous guitar player to rave speed and beyond.

I did my usual vanishing act when they started to peak, choosing once again to hit the road before it got choked to a standstill by thousands of wired drivers all trying to be the first out of the lot.

So that’s it, folks.  Two days of great music and food, a beautiful balloon ride, and four posts worth of typos which I’ll find long after you do!  I’m not proof-reading anything  tonight – my “bum’s rush” wrap-up has taken me ’till 1:30 am!

We Interrupt This Festival Program… July 24, 2012

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…to bring you a weather report:

It rained today.

That might not sound like Breaking News, but really, we hadn’t had any significant rain here for over a month.  The lawn is light brown and crunches to dust when it’s walked on; crops which aren’t irrigated are withering and dying in the fields.

This dry spell has meant that I spend about two hours a day spot-watering our garden, and have thus far  saved it from ruin at the expense of having to shut off the well pump when I hear the well (it’s right next to the garden) gurgling ineffectually.

I know, “water is precious, how dare you use so much of it like that!”

Here’s how:  eating is precious too, and THIS IS HOW I GET TO EAT.  I’m a starving photographer, remember?

And along with today’s copious rain came a nice bonus – the brown, dusty landscape was washed clean, and as mists rose from the grateful fields, I got out my camera and took a short ride.

Right outside the door, the Phlox looked more vibrant:

…but sunset was approaching as the storm receded eastward, and I wanted to get to a place where the Deerfield river was more open to the road, so I fired up my chariot and headed out.

I got to where I was heading just as God smiled down on our little berg:

I got down to the water’s edge to catch this reflection:

The light faded quickly, but not before a line of clouds lit up most wonderfully:

It was a nice end to a weather event we’d been needing badly.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Green River BALLOON Festival! (Part 3) July 24, 2012

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When the Green River Festival began 26 years ago, it was largely a hot-air ballooning event with a few musical acts hired to entertain those gathered to see that spectacle.

Sadly, by this year’s event, the balloons seem to be little more than an afterthought.

That’s not to say anything less than respectful about the event as a music festival, but rather to lament the diminution of the magic which is evoked when one sees these beautiful behemoths floating incongruously off into the blue July sky.

I made it part of my mission to document this year’s ballooning, at the cost of missing some of the music; hey, there’s only one of me!

Anyway, the balloonists pull into town on Saturday afternoon, staking out their staging turf in the lower field, waiting for the air to cool and thicken, and for the evening breezes to (hopefully) begin to stir.

This is the first year I took the time to watch the process literally unfold:

The spread-out balloons are attached to their baskets, then partially filled with large fans.  The field becomes a rippling sea of color:

Ground crews pull fabric outward as the envelope inflates:

…button up baffles and attach tag lines:

When the balloons are inflated enough, propane burners are fired up.  It’s a dramatic moment – here pilot/owner Jonathan Niccum fires up Day Dreamer:

…and the field comes alive with the magic!

Pilots and riders pile in, the engines fire again, and up they go!  Some stick around, giving “tethered” rides for small money:

..while others cast off their lines and float elegantly away, going wherever the winds take them:

But don’t cry, Dorothy – they’ll be back before nightfall.  After all, they wouldn’t want to miss the 9pm Balloon Glow!

It’s beautiful, and gets a lot of “Ooohs” and “Aaaahs” from the appreciative crowd.

The next morning is another opportunity for sailing off into the dawn air.  Local piper Eric Goodchild set the mood as the sun breached the horizon:

…and the process begins again, crews and pilots working, watching the weather, wishing for just a wee bit of wind.  Balloon Coordinator and Master Pilot Paul Sena went about his work efficiently, the result of many years of honing his skills:

…hooking up tanks, testing his engine:

When the whole thing came together, lightly dancing on the dewy grass, Paul smiled and called to me, “Hop in!”
I didn’t make him say it twice!!   🙂

…and we were off!

Children ran to pick up a shower of Worthington Ballooning business cards (that be Paul’s gig) as we gained altitude, chasing the early departed:

…chased by those just cutting themselves loose:

What an amazing experience it was to be floating soundlessly, watching the Earth recede, rising over the valley farms:

…floating past forests and fields:

…surrounded by beauty:

Paul’s piloting was masterful as he checked the altimeter with each puff of breeze, mapping the varying air currents in his mind, then rising or falling to catch a breeze going his way:

There’s a quiet camaraderie among the folks who float over the dawning day, a shared peace tempered with the cautions which accompany any such endeavors, and I was thankful to be sharing it:

Paul “boxed” the valley, moving around the area at different heights, taking cues about wind direction from our fellow travelers as I marveled at the broad horizon:

…and then gently descended to the festival grounds, landing (with a helping tug from his ground crew) right where he wanted to be for the final photo-op of our flight:

After the work of packing the balloons away, the pilots and crew assembled in the First Aid tent to carry on an age-old tradition, sharing a bottle of Champagne with the land-owners where you happen to come down:

…which, they gleefully noted, was US!  😆

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.  Thanks to Jonathan Niccum for putting in a good word with Paul, to Paul Sena of Worthington Ballooning for his generosity and skill, to Joe for hopping out and giving us that last bit of momentum to enable the spiffy parking job…

…start ckickin’ them heels together, Joe…

…and to my Sweet Sixteen, my Canon 16-35mm L-Series lens for delivering the goods.

Next up, if I can stand another day of sitting in front of my ‘puterbox: Sunday’s musical line-up.  I promise to be brief, on account MY BUTT IS GETTING SORE!!!  😉

Green River Festival 2012, Part 2. July 24, 2012

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The music at the GRF just kept going, with three stages crankin’ it out the whole time.  I ran like a mad fool to cover it all, but largely settled on the main stage performers to put these posts together.

After Lake Street Drive had mopped the lawn with us, JD McPherson had the unenviable job of getting us all back down to earth, then launching us back into the stratosphere.

Which he did, with passion and conviction, and we loved it:

He was accompanied by a wild bassist who slapped the piss out of his tool and really made the act special:

Cool to the Nth Degree:

Nice stuff.  If you see the name at a local venue, GO.  That is all.

Up stage, Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires changed the pace,  lending a Funkin’ Soul vibe which sat precipitously near the edge of the pseudo-eclectic palettes of the hill-towners who made up the bulk of the audience:

He totally nailed what he was here to hammer, and if the post of Hardest Working Man In Show Business is open (and it currently is,) Mr Bradley has my vote.  Dance moves, mic-tricks and a deeply passionate delivery bowled me and a lot of other folks over:

It was obvious that he’d had a big bowl of James Brown for breakfast, and we appreciated that, but it was a big stretch from the banjo and mandolin meat and potatoes which have traditionally adorned our Green River table.  Perhaps a gig at The Calvin would deliver an audience which had come for just that, and they wouldn’t have to switch gears to be on his page.

Charles Bradley deserves that, and I’m going to lobby for it.

A bit later, The Sweetback Sisters wowed the crowd with a more locally bred mix of electric and acoustic guitar and fiddle:

They kicked butt, with a set of blazing instrumentals and knee-weakening vocal harmonies:

I caught a number of excellent acts on the camera which I’m going to gloss over; sorry, folks, you were all excellent, but time is money (or, in my case, sleep) and you’ll have to come back to get your 15 minutes.

Far above the level of neglectable, however, was the Rebirth Brass Band, a NOLA  outfit with creds that would choke this post.  Suffice it to say that they’re widely recognized as being at the top of the Brass Band parade, and did themselves proud in our humble venue:

Outside the tent, the festival undulated onward, with a beautiful woman flowing her hoop in a heart-stopping, slow-motion vision:

Really, this was mesmerizing, like watching water flow.

And on the little slope above the lower stage, a chubby puppy rolled down through the crisping grass with glee:

It was a warm and fuzzy afternoon, but the evening was about to get hotter…

Los Lobos took the main stage, and blew the doors off the half-their-age acts which had wowed us up to this point:

The band was cooking, and put a big check-mark in the Dust-Farters’ column.  Kids, DON’T try this ’till you hit 50, or you might hurt yourselves!

Guitar player Cesar Rosas owned the day, nonchalantly laying down riffs which would have given a younger man a hernia:

Sax and keyboard player Steve Berlin played the field of his many talents:

…and leading the way, frontman/guitarist and vocalist extraordinaire David Hidalgo schooled the world in How It’s Done when you’ve done it for decades.  Here he cranks out Kiko and the Lavender Moon,  perhaps the most magically soulful song to reach the broader masses in decades:

The rest of the band was spectacular in their contributions, and I’m passing them by at my moral peril.  Every one of them was excellent beyond measure.

But I’m NOT moving on without offering kudos to their drummer, who closed the set with one of the most amazing drum solos I’ve seen in four decades of paying attention:

I was knocked down on my knees.  Thank you, gentlemen.

The night ended with a Guthrie Family Reunion, on the precise 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birth.

It’s hard to quantify what Woody Guthrie means to America.  His take on the world was so clear-eyed, his words so incisive, that he might never be equaled as an observer of What America Is.

And his son Arlo gets that.  He’s the living incarnation of hid Dad’s legacy, as well as being an artist in his own right, who deserves to be viewed not in the shadow of his father, but in the light of his own creative muses.

Arlo Guthrie, closing the show on Saturday night:

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t stay for all of Arlo’s set; I needed to get out of the traffic and into bed in order to be back at this venue before 5am.

But that’s another post.

Green River Festival 2012, Part 1. July 20, 2012

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Whoa.  This is going to be a monumental set of posts, with photos culled from nearly a thousand shots taken.

I know, this is a cross I constructed for myself to carry, but the opportunity to try lots of photographic ideas and techniques made me run my ass off for two days, elbowing old ladies out of the way and kneeing little children to get to the money-shots…

…well, almost.

The Green River Festival began as a balloon festival with a little music, and has evolved into one of the Northeast’s premier summer music festivals, with hot air balloons as an aside.

To balloonists, this is a palpable loss.

But if you love live music, this event is still worthy of a spot on your calendar, and I’d like to suggest that you look forward to 2013 – my 2012 “early-bird” tickets cost me $60 for the weekend, compared to the at-the-gate price of $75/day.

Well, this year there was WAY too much music and humanity to document in a single post, so I’ll expect to spread it out over three or four posts.

Saturday kicked off with folks setting up camp down by the stage:

…and the opening act of Sarah Lee Guthrie, totally winning over a crowd who came for the headliners:

This past Saturday was Woodie Guthrie’s 100th birthday anniversary, and his son Arlo would close this day’s events with a Guthrie Family Reunion, including grand-daughter Sarah Lee.

At any rate, Sarah Lee was excellent, and easy on the eyes as well:

She’d later return for the evening’s Main Event with her Dad Arlo:

…but that was much later.

Next up was Pokey Lafarge and the South City Three, a roots music outfit which slipped the novelty noose with virtuosic playing, fun material and a compelling delivery:

…not to mention the best pompadour I’ve seen since they took Pee Wee away in cuffs:

Pokey gave it his all:

…as did his harmonica/washboard player:

They took the crowd back to the ’50s Midwest, which seemed appropriate for the Guthrie theme, and the audience loved it:

Next up was the David Wax Museum, another mix of Americana and modern sass.  David played the pants off of a ukulale and a little acoustic guitar and sang with conviction:

…assisted by a helluva fiddle player:

…who also stroked the jawbone of an ass to spectacular effect.

*ahem*

…and a concertina (I think) player who had it happenin’:

I’m going to apologize right here for not getting the bass player, who hung back in the shadows, and the drummer, who was buried behind his cymbals.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

At any rate, they rocked the crowd, which was by now stretching off into the distance:

There was a lot going on here – three stages of music, arts and crafts vendors, children’s activities, and great food prepared by a slew of excellent local restaurants.

And Hula Hooping provided by Shenandoah, a local woman who teaches the art:

If you’ve never considered hooping to be an “art,” you should see what she does with that lucky thing.

(‘Scuse me while I open a couple of windows…)

…ok, where was I?

Oh, yeah, at the Green River Festival!  🙂

The next performers on the Main Stage were Lake Street Dive, a quartet with its genesis at the New England Conservatory of Music, where trumpeter Mike “McDuck” Olson assembled the line-up and declared them A Band, then spent the next several years searching for their present sound:

I didn’t make the journey with them, but if this is the destination, I have to believe it was well worth the wait.

Mr. McDuck also played commendable electric guitar, but spent the great majority of the set on trumpet:

…which totally blew me away.  Thanks, Mike.

Drummer Mike Calabrese made magic with a simple kit, never standing out but always standing in, singing and playing with a level of class which denied the band’s simple structure:

Layer onto that the extraordinary upright bass playing and wonderful vocal harmonies of Bridget Kearney:

…and something quite unexpected happened – the nimble bass, sensual trumpet and two harmonizing voices created a richly textured tapestry onto which was laid the powerfully evocative vocals of Ms. Rachael Price:

Oh.  My.  God.

I can’t remember when I was last so blown away by a singer, one who knew just how to fondle a ballad, then send a soul song soaring!  If you’ve never heard the name, join the club, but expect to hear it more in the future.

Plus, she’s got that, how you say, look:

Between the 90 degree heat and the hormones, I was, well…smitten.

People, Hot Tip of the Whole Post: LAKE STREET DIVE.

All of this was happening on the Main Stage, with two other stages honking simultaneously, and I haven’t even got to the Big Names!  Obviously, I’ll need to move it along if you’re ever going to hear the whole tale.

I’ll try.

But it was all so good…

😉

*A photographers’ note:

In the past I’ve liked the stage-side look of photos taken looking up at musicians with a 50mm or shorter lense; they have an immediacy which curls a viewer’s fingers around the lip of the stage.  But they aren’t always flattering to the performers, especially if big hips and a tiny head aren’t what you’re gunning for.

So this time ’round I spent a lot less time lying on the ground amidst stomping dancers (though you’ll probably see a few of those) and a lot more time backed off, with my 400mm Gizmo on a mono-pod, sometimes with a 2X tele-extender.  The results are most apparent in the face-shots, which I’m seeing as both intimate and artsy.

I hope you’ll agree.

😉

A Blue View. July 13, 2012

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The Bridge in blue:

…well, blue-ish.   It certainly ain’t red.

A wasp on Blue Sapphire Sea Holly.

And these tall white things, unlabeled and so anonymous to me:

…and that’s it for my tour of the Bridge, and of the color wheel.

G’night.

The Bridge In Yellow. July 13, 2012

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Continuing along the color wheel, here are a few shots of the gloriously yellow blooms on Shelburne Falls’ Bridge of Flowers:

That last shot looks here as it did there – surreal.  It’d make a passable wallpaper.  😉