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Refuge on a Country Road

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Messing about with the world's greatest point and shoot: the Canon G-11 (now G-12, but who's counting?)

Above: Low Contrast setting, which opens up the shadows, and below, Normal Setting.

The shadows on the old barns are so deep that Low Contrast works to open them up and show more detail, which I like. Especially if I ever intend to paint these scenes.
 Boy, could I see a watercolor of this scene.  Here's the Normal Contrast setting.

 And here's Low Contrast. See how the detail pops out? It lets me see what's going on in the darkest darks on the bank and barn.  So I can use both shots as reference.


I hold the Canon G-11 an inch or so from the rusted hinge and shoot away, marveling at the razor-sharp detail it captures. From landscapes to macro views of wood and hinges, this little workhorse does it all. And on Automatic setting, it decides when I've gone all macro on it, and adjusts accordingly. It's like there's a little brain in there.

I keep walking and shoot back at the old barn before it disappears. I won't see it bathed in such beauty for another year.

How I wish I could conjure these leaves, this sky, for today, when the clouds hang low and weepy. But we've busied ourselves readying the yard for winter birds who will help keep our spirits up when the cold clamps down. Bill built a brushpile to shelter them from the wind and snow, and we put up three more feeders and scattered corn and seed all over the yard. A little thank-you note showed up--the first fox sparrow of fall, scratching about under the brand-new brushpile!

I'm always impressed by the haunting quality of sepiatone photos. In one push of a button, we rocket back 200 years...
and the best part is when you select an effect, such as sepiatone, from the Canon G-11 menu, it shows you what your photo will look like on the screen before you take it! I think back on the days of film, when such options were in post-processing only, when everything was a crapshoot and an expensive one at that, and can only marvel. I've been set free by the digital age. At least in a photographic sense.

Here we are on Tobacco Road.

with our antique barns and little antique doggeh. For a painter, these photos are very useful--they allow me to see relative values of dark and light without the confusion of hue.

I've photographed this little sign dozens of times, with its buckshot holes and its stenciled letters.

Let's get a closeup of those holes.

So many compositions in one small area of an old tired barn. I find such freedom in composing with a camera; it is so effortless compared to composing with a pencil, which I do all day these days. But I'm whistling down the wire on my new book, counting down the paintings left to do. Imagine having almost 160 works of art to do, and finally being down in the 30's. That feels good. Almost as good as walking slowly up Dean's Fork with your best dog.

Who's your best dog?

                                                                     You, Chet Baker. You.

The Roof Makes the Barn

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Everyone should have a Dean's Fork. Everyone should have a place they can go that makes their cares melt away. It doesn't have to be Club Med; it doesn't have to be far-flung and exotic, although I think a lot of folks believe it does to truly be a getaway. Getaways are all in the mind. Heck, everything's all in the mind. Contentment, dissatisfaction; rapture or torture; they all live in our heads together, and it's our choice which to access, which to entertain.

Being a simple person, I am able to find my getaway on a dirt road in Southeast Ohio. I love all our dirt roads, but I love this one best of all. There's only one occupied house along it, and the owner's only there on some weekends--it's his getaway, too.

 I often take the kids, but sometimes I just take Chet. He ranges far ahead of me, but he stops and checks to make sure I'm coming along, and he often races back just to give me a kiss. The best kind of companion, he is.

 There is something to be said for perennially cheery and energetic companions. It's nice to walk with someone who's thrilled to go along. Boston terriers do "thrilled" better than almost anybody. I love his little white Michael Jackson glove in this photo, the glimmering gold of autumn's last leaves beckoning beyond.

 The shadows paint tiger stripes on the road. I never walk Dean's Fork without wishing it were ten times its 2.5 mile length.

 Beeches turn yellow before they go gold.

And after the gold, parchment tan, and the leaves hang frozen, curled, stopped in motion. I love that about beech leaves.

We hurry a little, headed toward our favorite part.  I'm playing with camera settings on my beloved super-deluxe point and shoot Canon G-11--above, normal contrast; below, low contrast. It's interesting to change the apparent weather with a push of a button.

It's so picturesque I can barely stand it. I want to stand in the road, throw my arms out and yell AHHHHHH!! but I might scare the wildlife.

 The barns, coming into view. Magic, mystery, old stories not yet told. I finally met the owner of this farm on my last walk--what a charming man. 74. Still wrangling cattle. Must ask him some questions about this homestead. We were too busy getting acquainted in that visit. I was so happy to meet him, to see the unseen hands behind this achingly beautiful farmstead. I had known it would be someone like this.

There were two Herefords still in the pasture on my last walk. One wouldn't come in with the rest when he came to take them to their winter quarters, so he had to leave another behind to keep her company. He said he'd get them eventually.

 I watched him working a huge baler off his trailer hitch and marveled at the things country people do by themselves. He'd get it in the barn and later onto his tractor alone, just one man, outweighed by his equipment as a mouse is outweighed by an elephant. I feebly mimic his resourcefulness when I wrassle my canoe and cargo carrier onto my car by myself. But the canoe weighs 26 pounds; the carrier weighs 70. It felt so odd to walk away and leave him to it, but I would only be a hindrance to his Sunday afternoon chore.

     It was not a drop-jaw fall, but it stunned me nonetheless. These heart-lifting leaves have all fallen; everything here is in shades of unrelieved gray and brown now. November has clamped down and December looms. Today, tiny flakes drift by the window, making me oddly reluctant to take my morning run.

I made hundreds of images while the leaves were still on the trees, and I'm glad I did, for I can visit them whenever I want, to remember the fleeting beauty of autumn, the kind of beauty that makes me fling my arms out and my head back and spin slowly in a circle.                                                                          

  This ancient slate roof is holding up well, and that's why the barn is still standing. The roof makes the barn, as my Dad always said. I need to build a good roof over myself for the days the rain comes down. Having a place like this stashed away, a place I can go to soak up its quiet is one way to do that. For the human heart, too, the roof makes the barn.

Thanksgiving Turkey Story

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

This afternoon, my turkey piece appears on the NPR home page. I'd sure appreciate it if you'd visit, comment, and hit "Recommend." You can send a small but significant vote for natural history content on NPR.

 It started at dawn, this strange birdcall, circling all around our yard, seemingly nowhere and everywhere at once. Peep, peep-peep. Peep, peep-peep. I’d never heard it before. With 184 species thus far found on our sanctuary in Appalachian Ohio, there aren’t many birdcalls I can’t identify right off the bat. By noon, I was determined to chase it down.  It didn’t take long. Two downy chicks the size of soda cans came stepping out the woods when they heard our voices. Wild turkeys, five days old, honey gold and mottled brown, their round heads turning this way and that as they peeped. They were lost, and looking for their mother.

 Turkey chicks don’t linger in the nest.  As soon as they’re dry from hatching, they’re walking behind their mother, picking up their own food. But turkey broods can be large, and chicks can get split off from the bunch. 
 I let them wander around the yard for another hour or two, the very picture of vulnerability. Lacking a mother, they’d approach any slowly walking entity and follow behind. Their lives depended on it. Finally I sighed, bent down and scooped them up, installing them in a pet carrier. I would take them on a turkey hunt.
 Plunging through briars and nettles, pet carrier under my arm, I walked slowly through woods, sunny openings and raspberry patches, listening for the thunder of wings, a whine, cluck or putt—anything at all. The poults shrilled from their carrier, calling Mom! Mom! Mom! I found a molted turkey feather, shining bronze in the green, but that was it. After two hours, I accepted defeat. I set up a heat lamp to warm them, and watched them tie into a big dish of mealworms. When their crops were full, silence reigned for a few minutes. And the peeping started again.

 Lost baby chickens peep. Lost baby turkeys HOLLER. Peep peep-peep! Peep peep-peep! PEEP PEEP-PEEP!! They were distressed, running back and forth. I sat down next to them and instinctively gathered them to my chest. The shrilling calls turned to soft purrs. Little heads drooped, eyes closing. I felt my heart lift, flutter and settle over them. I walked into the living room. “Pick out a good movie, kids. You have a job to do. These baby turkeys need a good cuddle and a long nap.”  I handed each one a turkey and pondered what to do.

Even looking at this heart-melting scene, I felt the devil’s pitchfork behind me. You can’t fool around with baby turkeys, because unlike the songbirds I usually raise, they rapidly imprint on their caretakers and get to thinking they’re people. And come next spring, you might have a hen turkey flopping down in front of you with her tail raised in invitation, or (much worse) an 18-pound gobbler trying to mate with your head.
 I hit the Internet. The Southeast Ohio Poultry Breeder’s Association website produced a helpful woman with a phone number for a man who raises heirloom bronze-colored turkeys not 15 miles away from me. I called his cellphone, finally connecting about four hours and 2,500 loud, shrill peeps later. He was willing to take our orphans. The foster mother wouldn’t be a wild turkey, but she would be a turkey, the right size, color and shape, and best of all there would be other poults who would teach them to eat and drink.  With luck, they could eventually be released to search out their own kind in the surrounding forest. The kids and I fed them once more and piled in the car to deliver them to their savior.
 I got home after dark, thankful for the Internet, thankful for poultry fanciers, tender children and a day well and oddly spent.

Thanks so much for your support. Now go visit the story on the NPR page, leave a comment and hit Recommend!

House Finches Can Be Annoying

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Eastern bluebirds are water freaks. They will bathe in almost any weather, like their cousins the robins. I love how they look in late fall, with their fresh plumage showing a glaucous, frosty sheen.

We are not the only ones who find bluebirds beautiful. They have a hard time bathing alone. It seems all a bluebird has to do is plop into the water to find himself surrounded by sycophants and admirers of every stripe and wingbar. These, winter-plumaged American goldfinches, and a house finch.

I have been watching bluebirds since 1981, and I can tell you that house finches are unnaturally attracted to them. If a bluebird is around, a house finch will follow it and try to copy what it's doing.

I have no explanation for this behavior, other than that they just seem to like bluebirds. I had a captive house finch in the studio for nine years. He had a mirror he loved to look into. Then I cut out and plasticized a photo of a bluebird, and that finch slept next to it, pecked it gently until it wore to white.

This little male house finch is trying to be subtle, but he's creepin' on the bathing beauty.

He makes his move, front and center. Hi. Having a bath?

Yes, Mr. Observant, I am bathing, and I'd thank you to give me a little elbow room here. You house finches have not had an original thought in your lives.

What? What? I'm just watching you. I'm not hurting anything. Why so cross?

You are annoying. Please leave.

(finch takes the not-so-subtle hint)


Phew. Creeper! Back to my bath.

Chet Baker, Attack Terrier

Thursday, November 18, 2010


 It is a beautiful October Sunday. I have come to Dean's Fork to enjoy the leaves before the autumn storms take them all away. Already it is weathering up; there's a high haze in the sky. As Peter Kagan said, that's all right for autumn, but if I were in New England, I wouldn't take a boat out on the Sound with a sky like that. The wind is turning and the weather is coming.

Chet Baker trots before me as I walk and walk, feeling my old dogs, tension and unhappiness, slowly recede in the distance. I've parked at the bottom of the road and plan to walk a few miles to the top, where Bill will meet me. He comes down the road, sees us before we see him. We've each brought along a walkie-talkie but I have characteristically forgotten to turn mine on.

Chet Baker stops dead when he spots Bill. There is not supposed to be anyone else on this little-used track.

He studies the approaching form. Bill crouches slightly, assuming a menacing stance.

 Who is this person, coming on like this? I have someone behind me to protect.

Chet drops into stalk mode.

 The hair on Chet's spine stands up like velvet rubbed wrong. Bill stops and stares aggressively.

All right then. If you are here to hurt my Mether, you will have a fight on your hands, Mister. I do not recognize you. You look like Daddeh, but you do not act like him. It's on.

Chet Baker pours on the speed and closes the distance between himself and the intruder, growling low.

 Bill runs to meet him, growling back.

 The hair on Chet's back stands up in relief. He snarls and holds his ground as the angry, scary man comes on. He is small, but he is nobody's pushover.

Chet snarls and bounces up and down. He is standing as tall on his legs as he possibly can, all 26 pounds of him. This bad man is not going to get past him. He'll have to kill him first.



Daddeh! You fooled me good! Oh I am so relieved it is YOU! (see the tongue coming out in submission?)

Chet Baker, look at your back hair! It's standing straight up! You ferocious guard dog! (and now the Boston terrier smile spreads across his face).

Daddeh Daddeh Daddeh!!


Oh, boy. I am so embarrassed. He really had me going. He thinks it is funny and I think it is awful that he did that. I thought he was going to hurt Mether.

Hm hm hm.  What to tell Mether? I nearly attacked Daddeh. Hm hm. But he had it coming to him, didn't he? Hm.

hm hm hm.

METHER! Did you see what Daddeh did?? He is a big goofball!

No one will ever hurt you with me, Chet Baker, by your side. Now if I can just get my back hair to lay back down...

I had always wondered what Chet might do if we met someone with bad intentions on our many wanderings. Now I know. With every passing year, he is more useful, more additive, infinitely more precious to us. He is a gift, an amazement.

But he's nothing more than a good dog. And a good dog is all that: a gift.
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