Sunday, February 28, 2010

Springtime S.O.S.

Last day of February, 32 degrees and snow on the ground.
The air is crisp and clean -
sound travels far.

The birds sing a song in Morse code.
Nuthatches, drumming woodpeckers, chipping titmice and chickadees -
they provide the dots,
While the plaintive "coo's" of the Mourning Doves simulate the dashes.

They heard my S.O.S message: "Tired of winter. Stop."

Their reply:
"Spring is coming. Stop.
Be patient. Stop.
Keep feeding us. Don't stop."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Beep, beep - Toot, toot

I got a very surprising email the other day. It was from a nice lady I don't know, and she told me that my blog had been included on some list. What list? A list of 50 Amazing Nature Photography Bloggers. Say whaaaa? Heather of the Hills is included among a list of top-notch nature photo bloggers, many of which I follow regularly and admire greatly. So yeah, I'm tooting my own horn a little bit here. Thanks for allowing me to do so. (Many thanks go to Emma for including me in the list. I am so honored and grateful!)

This photo was enhanced quite a bit in Picasa. In the original, the clouds had just the slightest tint of pink to them, so I decided to accentuate that a bit. I also kicked up the contrast and brought out the shadows to make the trees "pop" better against the snow.

By the way, we got even more snow this weekend. It's almost March, and we still have snow. I can't believe it. Oh well. I'm just quietly biding my time until spring, eagerly awaiting the return of the Eastern Phoebe to our woods and the bloom of the Mayapple "forest".

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ice: An Intimate Portrait

Two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom,
multiplied by millions and frozen -
fused together to create a masterpiece.

Sheets, diamonds, bubbles,
Edgy and fluid, jagged and round -
shape shifter.

Flowing, rippling, dripping -
Pulsing, breathing, living.
Water drops like heart beats.

Thawing and freezing,
Expand and contract.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Up close with the ice

A visit to any of the parks in the Hocking Hills region never fails to fill me with a sense of awe and reverence, no matter what the season. There's magic in them hills, I tell ya. Thus, it was no surprise that I was immediately taken in by the sight and feeling of the gigantic ice formation at Ash Cave.

The vast array of color and texture present within the formation was absolutely mind boggling.

Some images had to be converted into monochrome to really show off the texture.

In addition to the icy star of the show, there were some other nice things that caught my attention. The underground runoff from the ice mountain flows into a rippling creek, partly visible here.

Cone from an Eastern Hemlock

My first species ID puzzle of the year. I was very surprised to look down and see this bug actively walking about on the snow. I actually saw this same type of bug the next day at home, flying about, even. I've tried to identify it using my Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, but no luck yet. I'll keep trying though.

In case you didn't know what you're getting into here, it's icy here!

Don't worry, though, because I came prepared. My winter boots have absolutely NO traction (right Meg?), and I've taken a couple of spills due to this fact. Luckily I have a pair of Yaktrax, which give me great traction on the ice. Caution is still necessary, of course, but I would not have been able to take many of these ice photos without the help of these nifty little helpers.

The temperatures have risen and stayed above freezing for the last several days, so much of the ice and snow around the house and around town has melted. But I'm not done with the ice yet.

To see a special surprise that I found while taking these photos, please visit my photo blog.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Icy Ash Cave

This weekend Dave and I drove up to Ash Cave in the Hocking Hills. We went in hopes of seeing a monstrous ice formation.

Admittedly, this formation is pretty large. But we've seen it even bigger in past years, so we were a teeny bit disappointed.

This little guy next to the ice mound gives you some idea of perspective.

And here's Dave looking up at the falling water that is contributing to this mound.

A good number of folks were out on this fine weekend to enjoy the warmer temperatures and, for the first time in several weeks, no snowfall!

Stay tuned for more images and musings on this icy spectacle.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love is...

Love is...

A pair of Red-bellied woodpeckers at the feeders this weekend (male at left, female at right)


I have also seen a pair of male and female Northern Flickers (yellow-shafted variety) in the yard this weekend, which is a huge treat because they don't visit our woods very often. Another pair of note is a male and female Eastern Towhee.

Love is...

The color red

Love is...

"My" Carolina Wren pair, both sharing bites from a homemade suet block. These two stole my heart this morning. (Sorry for the poor picture quality.)

While I have no evidence that any of the above-mentioned couples are mating pairs, the fact that I see them only in pairs (i.e. no 3rd wheel bird of the same species) makes me awfully suspicious that they are mated pairs. I can hope, right?

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The other side of the snow story

In my last post, I waxed poetic about how beautiful the snowy landscape is. I'm a romantic at heart, so it's by instinct that I choose to write first and foremost about the lovely views presented by a snow storm. But I have a practical side, too, and am not immune to the down sides of such a weather event. It's not all about Snowflake Fairies and enchanted forests here, you know.

When I mention to my parents that I'm excited about a potentially snowy forecast, they think I'm a little crazy. I can't blame them, really. I don't have a sidewalk to worry about clearing like they do. But I do have a crazy steep driveway with a switchback that can be treacherous or even impassable if it's too slushy or icy, even with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. Also, living on rural back roads means that the township street-cleaning crews will get to you... eventually. Just don't expect clear roads when you leave for work in the morning. And let's not forget the joyful exercise of clearing snow and ice from your vehicle if you happen to not have a garage in which to house it. Oh yes, and frozen locks and doors on the cars, too - that's always fun.

Then there's the matter of storm damage to trees, power lines, and homes. Icy and/or windy conditions add to the potential for disaster. When the howling wind wakes me up in the middle of the night, I set a battery-powered backup alarm clock in case the plugged-in version loses juice. This could happen any time of year, actually, but it seems a more likely possibility when ice- or snow-weighted branches are tossing around in the breezes, poised to bring down a power line at any moment.

With any major snow storm comes inconveniences, such as closed schools (although that's no inconvenience to the students!), closed businesses, delayed or canceled flights, the aforementioned lack of electricity. In general, things just don't flow as smoothly as we are used to them flowing, and in this face-paced, give-it-to-me-now world of ours... well, stuttering steps and hiccups in the system tend to make people cranky.

Oh, and did I mention the cold? When the temps hover around freezing and the wind doesn't blow, it's not so bad. But the one-two punch of cold and windy - well, honestly, I'm tired of it. I'm tired of dressing in layers. Every. Single. Day. (My office is a little on the cold side.) I'm tired of walking around outside like some mechanical penguin, taking steps that are shorter than usual because I'm trying not to fall on the ice. And don't get me started on the constant "hat hair."

What about the animals? I always feel bad for the cows and horses that we drive past each day on our way to work, standing there chewing their cud while snow accumulates on their backs. I can see some of the barns that would house them if they chose to get in from the weather, but they remain outside, so they must not mind it much. If only I had such thick skin (or hair). I'm sure many wild creatures are equipped to handle the extremes of the seasons, but when things get too extreme, some will perish. I heard on the radio just this morning about manatees and alligators that have died in parts of Florida because the warm water they inhabit got too cold during a visit from Jack Frost in January.

Ultimately, it's such harsh extremes in weather (not just snow, but earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc.) that remind us that we do not have as much control over things as we think we have. The weather is one of the most tangible reminders of the power and presence of nature in our lives. And even though it can cause inconvenience, loss and tragedy, its beauty remains undeniable. That's the part I can't ignore.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Exploring a winterscape

The storm is over, but it left a snowy wonderland in its wake. Looking out upon it all, a strange, disjointed mix of emotion is conjured - at once beautiful and oppressive, light and dark, ethereal and lonely. It is a soul-stirring scene, portrayed almost as if it were a dream.

Enchanted Forest

Everyone is all dressed in white. I almost expect to see the Ice Queen emerge from the forest, making a grand entrance from one of the many openings created by the bowed trees. She has opted to send the Snowflake Fairies in her place instead. The tiniest flakes are falling - drifting lazily, effortlessly - touching down in silence. They glide in on graceful wings, each different from the last, their uniqueness making them all the more beautiful.

The Snowflake Fairies

The forest looks alternately enchanted and eerie. The trees are arched in unnatural positions, some bent almost in half, and seem unsure whether to welcome you with their outstretched arms or whether to warn you that they could snap without warning under the strain. The clogged branches limit visibility from our house to the road. They even limit visibility of the sky. It's a unique feeling, having the trees bearing down on you in this way - a feeling that would likely be unwelcome to a claustrophobe. The beech and oak trees weep the most, their stubbornly leafed branches draping gracefully toward the ground. Most are resilient and will spring back when the thaw begins. Others, though, especially the fragile Redbuds, may not fare as well.

Trees bend down to block out the sky

What must the birds think of all this... mess? One might think that the drooping branches would interfere with their flight patterns, but apparently they do not. Even though I cannot spot them from afar as easily as usual, they seem to have no trouble navigating this modified landscape. Their focus is singular: food. Or more broadly defined: survival. They have no storm team forecasters in their midst (that we know of), so they have to get as much nourishment as they can find as quickly as possible. For all they know, the seed and suet will run out tomorrow and the snow could be around for an eternity, so eat up!


The landscape is monochrome, painted in shades of white and gray. Cloud-filled skies, dark and dreary, offer an odd contrast to the brightly flocked trees. The trunks and branches of the shrubs and trees offer welcome breaks of color amidst the sea of white. As one approaches the flora, hints of other colors become apparent. Vibrant moss, lichen and fungi remind us that, despite the seemingly void feeling of this bleak winterscape, things are very much alive. And very much beautiful.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Snow Dog

Our dog Emmett is a Husky mix, so hanging out in the snow is second nature to him. He politely accepted my offer to snap some pictures of him while he enjoyed laying in the snow this weekend.

Isn't he so handsome?

He's an outside dog 99.9% of the time, but he got himself good and wet this weekend, and seeing how the temperature isn't going to get above freezing in the next few days, we thought he'd like to have the icicles thawed off of his fur at some point. So, he's sitting at my feet right now, curled up in front of the wood stove. After several hours inside, he's almost dry. But all this heat... it's making him sleepy. Me too, dude. Bed time!