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Chet Baker Goes to Town

Thursday, October 30, 2014


 Today was an exciting day. First off, I saw Mether gathering my bed (well, one of my three beds) and my blankies (some of them) and a chew toy. I stopped dead and asked her what she was doing.

"Chet Baker you are going to go see David and Mary Jane today!" she said.

I boinged straight up in the air! When she pulled out my collar and leash I almost fell over from joy! Because that means I am GOING SOMEWHERE. And I know that that somewhere is CAMP BAKER!! I never, ever wear a collar and I never, ever use a leash but she puts them in my travel bag just to fill it up.

We drove down Fourth Street and it was all aglow with orange and red leaves. We stopped at Edward Jones so Mether could do something with some small pieces of paper. 

Because I am an esteemed client there, I naturally took a seat to wait. Mether says there are only a couple of places in town that I can go and this is one of them because they know me there, and nobody gets excited when I am being myself. She always says I do not even have a concept of not being allowed on furniture. She apologizes for me, but it is not necessary. 

Everyone likes me. They do not think I am a heathen. They know I am a gentleman.

After I checked out all the offices, and found no one in them, I returned to the main desk. Then I checked out the window to see if anyone was out there. I couldn't see much.

I studied the nice lady at the reception desk. She looked like she was good for a bikkit.

So I went up and asked her if she had anything in those cabinets that might be for a gentleman. Or a dog.

Or someone who is both a dog and a gentleman.

She was busy making phone calls but amazingly she produced a jerky treat especially for dogs who are gentlemen. I knew she would!

It was quite delicious. Not as good as real bacon, however. It was imitation dog bacon. Too much smoke accent. 
But much better than a Milk-Bone which seems to be the default dog treat with delivery people.

Those I take politely. I walk around with them in my jowls for awhile, then bury them after the delivery truck drives away. I would not want to hurt their feelings but you might as well give me a piece of wood as  a Milk-Bone. I would have to be very hungry to eat those gritty things. 

This fake dog bacon I gratefully ate, and made a mental note to ask to be taken back to Edward Jones when Mether has some more small pieces of paper to write on and then dispose of.

We ran a few more errands. Mether was never gone for long, and I did not worry. Then we drove to St. Mary's, crossing the river into West By God Virginia, to find my David!!

He sat in Mether's car and talked with her for a long time. About me. I love when people do that. Finally he was ready to take me home. Because my family is going to see Phoebe in Maine for a few days. And I cannot go because Mether says dogs don't fly. I have to wait until Christmas to see her. 

Occasionally I lie on her bed and think about her. Mostly on rainy days.

David got out of Mether's car. He loaded my things into his truck. I got upset because I thought he was forgetting me! I jumped up and pressed my nose against the window. 

He came back for me!!

I took one last look at Mether and we drove away to their cabin in the woods, where Mary rubs my back and I sit on David's lap and he often gives me two dunners and the chiptymunks are all dumb! 

These Grand Ohio Skies

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


 My entire trip home from Ithaca, all nine hours of it, was a sky show such as I've rarely experienced. Since I've bewcome such an avid iPhone photographer, I truly believe I appreciate clouds more. It's sort of like hunters say they love and understand deer (or whatever they're stalking) more because they hunt them. I see a magnificent skyscape, and I start plotting how best to capture it and keep it for myself. I watch for breaks in the hills and powerlines, good places to pull off, clear spots in the traffic. I'm stalking these clouds.

As breathtaking as the skies were in New York, Ohio had her cloudscapes all dressed up and waiting in the wings. And out they danced, one after another.

I have an absolute thing for anvilhead cumulonimbus. I adore this shot, with Ohio's omnipresent and iconic orange barrels standing watch. Really, it's time to take them down. They're a summer thing. It's like the buzzards returning to Hinkley. Summer comes, and ODOT rolls out the orange barrels to squeeze our already narrow highway passages down to one lane and make us all slow down to 55. That, or get ticketed. Which we do, we do.

But it was to get even more surreal, when a car bombed my next shot of this incredible autumnal landscape. 

 I was pulled over, just shooting away at these perfect hills and this killer sky. I wondered about everyone else, hurtling along. Were they experiencing an advanced and heightened state of rapture as was I?

The particular strength of the iPhone camera is its ability not to be so overwhelmed by bright sky that the land color and detail is lost. I remember so clearly my disappointment with my early Canon film camera, and later my Rebel, for its one-or-the-other approach to sky and land. A professional photographer explained it this way: Either you take your exposure on the sky, and capture that, with the land going completely dark, or you expose on the land and lose the sky, all its whites blown out. Later, I got a Canon GS-11, followed by a GS-12, and it was obvious that Canon had been working on that particular problem. I'm a little chagrined to say that the iPhone has rendered my blocky little Canon GS obsolete. I can actually do more with the iPhone.  Somehow, the iPhone knows that I want to capture both land and sky in perfect exposure. Sure, I have to do a little fiddling sometimes in post processing, which I never had before digital cameras came along. I'll sometimes open up the shadows on the landscape in iPhoto, but I do precious little fiddling. The iPhone 4S camera captures it all. And I love it for that. That, and the fact that it's always with me. No moment, no vista, goes unrecorded. Yay.

I kept my eye on that anvilhead,  rolled on a little farther, and BOOM there was the dilapidated barn and silo just waiting for me. All I had to do was compose the shot. Holy cow. Yes. Ohio is beautiful. You coast-huggin' people ought to give it a chance.

This experience only reinforces my contention that making a habit of photography makes us much more sensitive to beauty. It turns us into artists and composers. More importantly, it turns us into true appreciators. And the best part is you don't have to have "talent." How many times have I heard, "Oh I wish I could paint like you. You're so talented." Well, having started out as a kid able only to scribble, I believe that talent is more or less equivalent to hard work, and yes, we have to work and study to learn how to paint. We can't just wish it into being. On the other hand, anybody can paint like this, because we all have eyes, and almost everybody reading this has a cameraphone these days.

There were some very special things happening with sunbeams, brilliant green hills, and dark clouds. I started shooting through the windshield as I often do when seeing something amazing.

Rolled down the window and went for the unencumbered shot.

And boom! there was a green hill, and a beam spotlighting it, pointing to I don't know what. I always love the dark clouds that cross white ones, the violet-purple ones marching along the horizon. It all makes me want to get out of the darn car and walk those hills. It also makes me want to paint them. I have a fantasy where I chuck it all and just start painting watercolor landscapes, using these ephemeral photos as inspiration. It's nice to have a pipe dream. It's cuddled up against the one about having a specialty mail-order greenhouse growing odd little plants that I love. I think the growing would be a lot more fun than the order fulfilling. Maybe I could grow them for someone else who had an established business.

Soon, I came to our exit (these were all taken along I-77 South in Ohio) and I raced along our ridge to catch the last sunlight on sugar maples.

It's all so ephemeral, so quickly gone. I have to roll around in it while it's here, this light, these leaves. 

I'm thankful for sugar maples and cerulean skies, for slanted evening sun, for whatever basket of beauty the day brings.

By the time we reached The Three Graces, the light was gone, gone like the moa is gone. Color drained out of the landscape. The Graces all decided to go with understated Homecoming gowns this year. They didn't want to upstage each other. Red Maple (left) took it easy, as did Sugar Maple (center). And even gaudy Tupelo (right) decided against flaming red, her usual choice.

Whatever they choose, they're perfect and always beautiful.

Montezuma Refuge in the Wind

Sunday, October 26, 2014


Ithaca was windy, skeins of Canada geese beating their way through the turbulent skies,

 ring-billed gulls blowing about like memo paper, lifting off

then landing again

but Montezuma Refuge was being beaten about the head by a gale. There's not much to stop the wind that far north along Lake Cayuga. Yes, I went into this pronouncing it Ky-Yoo-Ga. Say it "Kew-ga" and people will think you're a native. It was clear that it wasn't only my doofy pronunciation that made me stick out like a sore thumb. A woman in the natural foods co-op stopped dead, stared at me and commented on my all-over tan, which by my standards has faded completely away. Tan? What tan?
I realized that Ithacans are a pallid people, living as they do under a nearly year-round cloud cover. When the sun did come out they almost danced for joy. I thought about starting up a happy light/greenhouse business in this beautiful city, then decided it was a dream for another person. I do like it there, very much, but I think that longterm I'd be starved for sun.

Montezuma was sunny, thanks to the gale that blew the clouds away. The soup du jour was Pintail/Greenwing, served on a bed of organic duckweed. See the brilliant green speculum on the little duck on the left? This is three pintail hens and two green-winged teal.

Teal burst out of the water, straight up, mostly because they can. No pattering on the surface for them! These are all green-wings.

This teal's flying over one of the 61,000 muskrat lodges at Montezuma. Man, do they have the mushmice there.

I love this shot. You can see the duckweed clinging all over his bill and neck. I say "his" because he has a telltail line of bright chestnut-buff undertail coverts coming in, telling me he's a young drake, born this spring. Well, that's an interesting typo. Going to leave it. 

It's always fun to scan big flocks of Canada geese, looking for the oddballs. There were a few smaller, darker geese that were probably cackling geese from the Aleutian islands. 

There was an oddball, bigger than the rest, which looked to be a Canada x domestic greylag hybrid. See the flesh legs, orangeish bill and white chin patch, the bulky body and scaled gray flanks?

He is a mutt.

I scanned some more with my spotting scope, my appetite for the unusual whetted after having added vegetarian tuna to my life eat list. And I found another oddball goose.

It was of slender build, and had almost no white on it at all (don't be fooled by the undertail coverts of the Canada standing behind it). 

I was taken by the satiny dusky gray-brown plumage. What was this bird?

 It scratched and preened, and when it finally went to stretch and turned its head just so I caught the faintest outline of a chin strap.

I concluded that this was a melanistic Canada goose, lacking any white feathering. But a Canada goose. I hope some normally plumaged Canada finds it attractive. I certainly did. I showed it to a lovely gentleman working in the refuge visitor's center. We combed the books to make sure it wasn't some Eurasian stray, some charcoal bean goose or whatever. Nope. There's nothing out there without any white on it.

While there I noticed that they had The Bluebird Effect on their shelves for sale. That was really nice.

 Way up at the top of the refuge there's an impoundment with long fingers stretching into marshy fields. And here there were nine sandhill cranes hunkered down in the wind, too far away to photograph, but there, and we could make out their velvety red crowns in the scope. Here, too, were a pair of American avocets, well out of range, and a great blue heron lying on its belly to get out of the wind. Things I hadn't expected to see, things that made me smile. The colors alone made me smile

 as did the living leaves on this starling tree. The whole tree was singing, peals of squeals and whistles, the ever-changing evocative shortwave of Sturnus vulgaris.

Speaking of vulgar...I'm not sure how this bit of camp art has stood up to the strong feminist wind that blows through Ithaca. How bizarre. You see things...sometimes you never find out what they mean.

Along the Inland Sea

Thursday, October 23, 2014


 Writing from a hotel in Columbus, where I'm waiting to go on WOSU to do an hour of fun fundraising with my sweet dear friend Ann Fisher, who constantly amazes me with her grasp of diverse issues and ability to interview anyone in depth, fearlessly, smoothly and kindly. If you want to listen/watch, it's at this link.  If you've got good Net, which I don't, you can watch! Eee! Good thing I dressed in my best torn up top. At 18:14 I read a commentary about Fergus, the bird-eating bullfrog. Makes me realize how very much I miss radio, miss performing commentaries on All Things Considered. Ah well. We raised around $2,000 in an active hour of wheedling. I adore Ann Fisher and it's clear Columbus does too.

On my way into campus last night, a spirit tapped me on the shoulder and told me to scan the building tops. "There's something up there for you," he whispered. Sitting at the light, I looked up far to my left, thought I saw a remote camera. Or was it a juvenile peregrine, perched above the L in LIVE IT? B. A deep charcoal black dream of a bird, calmly preening where only I could see it. This is why we listen to the little voice, why we carry binoculars in the car, everywhere we go. Yes, it made my day. I parked at my hotel and ran the half-mile back to properly ogle it. Looked big. Probably a hen, born this year. In Columbus? Who could say? There is a nesting pair in town, but it's also time for dispersing juveniles to be finding new places to live, heading south. She seemed a little surprised that I noticed her, but it didn't stop her sorting through her fluffy pantaloons. Best I could do with my iPhone steadied on a trash can. Yes, sometimes I yearn for my telephoto, but I tend not to take it to cities. I ought to. Wildlife is everywhere, if you're watching.

But with this post we're back in Ithaca, where my friend Joyce, whom I met during Joy of Birding at Hog Island Audubon Camp, has kindly offered to take me on a guided tour of Montezuma NWR, up north at the head of Cayuga Lake. I jumped at the chance to spend a day birding on my busy trip.

We stopped by Ithaca's fabulous Green Star Co-op, where you can get everything from lentils and bran to vegan tuna toenails in bulk, and picked up some sammitches. I chose Vegetarian Tuna, not realizing that it had never so much as been waved in front of a fish. Maybe I thought that meant it was made from vegetarian tunas, who ate kelp or something. I guess I don't know what I was thinking. I had Montezuma brain. Turns out I had bought textured vegetable protein bathed in some kind of vegonnaise, masquerading as tuna. Got a couple of bites into it. Texture convincing. No tang o' the sea. I scratched my head and looked at the label again.

Hmmm. Something about vegetables being made to pretend to be other food. Nuhhh. I ate it anyway, and resolved to be a little more label-conscious next time. It wasn't so bad. Zick. You fool.

The day was so beautiful I settled back, burping vegan Tu-Nuh, and dove into the trees and sky.

Vineyards abounded.

You don't see sheep farms in Ohio.

The sheep looked like scattered boulders out there, and the sky looked like North Dakota.The wind roared like that too. I fell into a momentary reverie of prairie.

That's what I love about travel--the way it neatly excises you from whatever trench you're in and refreshes your outlook with a vista, a color wash, a bracing gust in your ear.

I felt blessed to be on this road on this day with Joyce, the woods coming into peak color.

We sped north to Montezuma, rolling along the edge of this huge inland sea.

And the grapevines turned yellow from the bottom up.

Cornell Plantations in the Rain

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Last week, I traveled to Ithaca, which is a solid nine hours from southeast Ohio. I haven't been home very much lately; seems like I'm always loading the car for the next thing. My last two trips were so close together I just kept the car loaded. Writing now from a hotel room in Columbus. Missing my bed and my boys and the time just to be with a hot cup of tea.

I had two talks to give, one on Monday night at the Lab of Ornithology, hosted by the Cayuga Bird Club. The auditorium, one end of which is wood paneled and decorated with oil paintings by Louis Fuertes, one of my favorite-ever bird painters, was full. So was my heart. I'd made the trip up two years ago, only to have Superstorm Sandy cut the turnout to about 15. This made up for that! I'm pretty sure the talk I gave was unlike any other given at the lab--a personal view of how birds inform and inhabit my spirituality. 

On Wednesday, I was to present "Personal Habitat" for the Elizabeth E. Rowley Lecture at Cornell Plantations. 
Part of my speaker's welcome was a tour of the Plantations gardens by Betty Rowley herself! 

The heavens opened on us as our tour began, but Betty was slickered and umbrellaed. I was wearing a brand new, untested Eddie Bauer ultralight windbreaker/slicker. Best to find out how it would perform in actual field conditions. 

These white pines were planted in 1912, the year my DOD was born. I couldn't believe a hurricane hadn't brought them down, and just as I was thinking that Betty said that these are all that remain of a much larger plantation, hurricanes having brought the rest down. 

Part of the fun of an arboretum or plantation is seeing plants and trees from all over the world. These are Japanese katsura trees, with their small round leaves like gold coins. 

I think I was most impressed with the "Bioswale," a water-purifying streambed designed and planted to take water runoff from the parking lot and sidewalks, purify it with roots and gravel, and send it into a nearby stream which feeds into Cayuga Lake. 

The young sugar maples were at peak color, and they just took my breath away with the golden katsura trees, asters and grasses interplanted.

I love the notion of putting plants' root systems to work in purifying runoff water. And they chose such gloriously colorful plants. I couldn't imagine the Bioswale being any more beautiful than it was at this moment, in this hard rain, and I was thankful to be there to behold these landscape architects' handiwork.

This plant is from Texas and it has "blue" in its name. How embarrassing. But I couldn't pull my little notebook out to write. It was raining too hard. 

I knew this one: castor bean. It was in a medicinal plant garden. Mmm. Love those leaves. Every placard had something about the plant's use or connection to literature. I could have strolled and read for hours.

A large and lovely catalpa tree dominated the decorative plant garden, which was adjacent to the herb/medicinal garden. 

A spectacular Viburnum in blazing fruit. 

It was obvious that a lot of thought had gone into creating a landscape that would change interest and color with the seasons. 

The Tropical garden still had banana trees out, but it was clear the landscape there would change radically with the first frost. These red coleus, for  instance, would liquefy...I was glad to see them before that happened. 

And still the rain came down. I spotted several Plantations employees, weeding and deadheading and cleaning the gardens even in the rain. With their hoods up, they looked like wraiths popping in and out of the vegetation. It reminded me that no garden stays this beautiful without constant maintenance.

I discovered rather quickly that my nice lightweight slicker had two seams in the armpits that admitted a steady trickle of cold water on either side. Said water ran down my flanks to my stomach, where it pooled above my belt and soaked me from armpit to waist. Meanwhile, the water was running off the hip-length slicker and onto my trousers, which were saturated by the end of the tour. I was every bit as soaked under my slicker as outside it. Altogether a highly unsatisfactory performance for outdoor gear. Which I bought at a factory outlet. The phrase "You get what you pay for" probably applies. To be fair, what tags were on it made no claims for water resistance. Not sure what it's good for--windbreaker? Who gets wind without rain?

This is going to sound a little strange, but one of the things I enjoyed most was the pavement beneath the trees in the parking lot. As the leaves fell, their tannins interacted with the concrete, creating dark


Under each katsura tree was a great dark print of hundreds of fallen leaves. The leaves had been raked away, but their round ganged imprints were still on the concrete.  I found it so beautiful, this unbidden art made by trees. I couldn't do it justice in photos. It was all the more beautiful because no one could have anticipated it would happen. Sonja, who took wonderful care of me throughout my stay, agreed. It was nice to find that others noticed and appreciated the tree art.

A drip on the chin of the Yarb Lady, much like the one hanging off mine. I spent the rest of the afternoon slowly drying out.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Building. Hmm. My friend Tim said it looked like it might rise up and stomp on cars. I agree. Kind of a lurky Transformer vibe to it.  Cornell's campus is a melting pot of architectural styles, that's for sure. Something like this arises, cheek to jowl with something like this.

Pretty sure this was a redtail, hangin' out on some ironwork high above Cayuga Lake.

I know for a fact this is a redtail nest stuffed in a light fixture, because Sonja told me it was featured on a Lab of O Webcam. The female's name is Big Red, the male is Ezra, if I remember correctly.

Oh look. It's starting to rain.

Hmm. Wonder how this slicker will do? I left my heavy-duty one home...

In the photo below, that's scaffolding on a cupola under repair, transforming it into a magic, temporary pagoda against the sky. A lovely sunset, just the Lord's way of saying sorry about the wet pants.

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