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Sunday, January 31, 2016


It's Sunday. That means I'm supposed to have a post up, and I don't, as yet. So I need to write something.  I've been viewing my blogstats with interest lately, trying to figure out who reads this blog, and what brings people to it.  

Read it and laugh, weep, or snort. People are out there Googling "bad owl" and Lord knows what. And that brings them to my blog. Not, I hope, to stay, or comment. I remind myself that many people use the Google for things other than determining the incubation period of a tinamou or the average weight of a rock hyrax.

I remind myself that it's a weird world out there. And then return to my clean little enclave in the Appalachian foothills, because who needs to be reminded what a weird world cyberspace can be, full of creepy people? I much prefer the real world, the one peopled with ones I love and trust.

The thing I'm trying to do, as spring comes on, is to get out in the sunrise. It's easier to do when sunrise is around 7:30, instead of 5! I can put a few thousands steps on the ol' Fitbit that way, too. So when I go for my run in the afternoon, I've got a leg up.

What a Fitbit Charge looks like after 13 months strapped to my wrist. They're gonna need a bigger boat. Fitbit, let me know when you figure out the "durability" thing. Might want to ask what African researchers use on radiocollars for honey badgers.

Chet is not entirely behind this new dawnseeking regime.  He huddles deep under fleece and down and ignores all the usual signals and sounds such as my putting on socks and lacing on hiking boots, the sounds that used to revv his little engine, and waits to be told to get up. I have to uncover him, kiss him on his jellybean nose, and tell him to come with me.

 He is becoming a creature of comforts. I understand, but do not approve, and I don't care how old 11 is in human years. 
In sloth is the path to decay. Get up, little black pup.

We get out before it's really light. You can see by the set of his ears he's wishing he were still under the covers. 

He keeps casting glances back down the driveway, and then lays his ears back and starts for home.
I call him back. None of that nonsense, Chet. Besides. There's no one else up to let you back in. You'd stand there and shiver by the back door and no one would be the wiser. Hyah, Bake! Come on.

I look at the tracks of our fun--the sled tracks Liam and I made when the big snow hit last week. Far to the left of this shot, you can see a single thin track Liam made when, on an impulse, he took the sled down the steepest part of The Bowl yesterday. The snow was melted and slick as snot. He said he was hurtling down, going too fast to bail, and saw a bunch of bushes racing toward him. 

He thought, "Oh, that's good, the shrubbery will break my fall."

That's when Liam found out that every hayfield around here is bordered on all sides by multiflora and black raspberry. No exceptions. He was impaled in a million tiny places, but all right. That's why there's only one track off to the left. 

I gaze upon The Three Graces, Second String. Three tulip trees who've grown up together, and were, for whatever reason, spared the saw. I don't know why farmers sometimes leave these sentinels standing. I'm just glad some of them do. 

The glory of the morning spread over the eastern sky. 

 Bill came out and lent Chet his fleece. It was a warm morning, but the small black dog was shivering dramatically as he longed for a warm bed and a cave of covers. The shivering stopped. Besides. It was 55 degrees!

I don't forget for a moment how lucky I am to be able to walk out my front door and stand under a silent sky to witness these things: enormous clouds that move over in utter silence. I stand beneath the moving sky and wonder how that can be. And remember that water vapor, no matter how spectacularly lit or monumental, makes no noise. Clouds are just water vapor. So how can I love them so? It's all in the way they're lit. It's all about the light, friends. 

Painting and photography is all about light. Not a lot more.

One could do worse than become a collector of sunrises. They're harder to get than sunsets; less likely to be colorful, at least in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

Sunsets are easier, but no less magnificent for it.

I post in the Cloud Appreciation Society's Facebook group. I try to use my cloud collector's jargon correctly. All I could come up with for these was "mammatusy fringes." 

This is what was going on just to the west (right) of the above shot.

Riches! Tune into the sky show and you will never be bored. 
There's almost always something good on.

The Dassie Man

Thursday, January 28, 2016


It was only right, in a place as magical as Hermanus, South Africa, that something strange and wonderful should happen.  After all, there were ice plants glowing magenta, surf crashing, and southern right whales lolling peacefully just offshore. Any place you can watch whales from solid ground is a very special place.

 There were turrets and fairy castles of stone making a city for hyraxes.

Hold that pose, little one. It's the perfect postcard. This shot made me laugh, reminded me of the rock squirrel who welcomed me to the Grand Canyon last July. 

Same concept, different continent and order of animal...

And the hyraxes, or dassies as they're called, scampered back and forth between grazing grounds and rock fastnesses, making tourists pause and smile.

Yes, there was magic on the salty breeze.

I'd never seen a hyrax before this trip, but it was my first to the Cape Region. Taxonomists don't really know what to do with this little package of weird. By its dentition and skeletal structure, we've figured out that its closest living relatives are elephants and manatees. That alone is enough to fold me in a pretzel upon first seeing one. And the rock hyrax more than lived up to its advance billing. 

Put a trunk on him. Or flippers. Just imagine. Look how he's grazed the crap out of everything that isn't taken over by ice plant. It looks like he got a bit of leaf, ptoo!! Ice plant tastes pretty bitter, being a halophilic, or salt-loving, plant. There. There's your botany nerd Word of the Day.

So I'm watching the hyraxes when this colorfully dressed man picks his way out into the city of dassies. I'm taken by how wonderful he looks in his bright colors in that surreal landscape when he 
pulls out a bag of carrots and sits down on the rock next to the communal dassie latrine. All that pale tan stuff is dassie pellets. Yow.

 The dassies know him, and it's clear they are happy to see him.

Before long he has a good crowd. He's calling them kind of the way you'd call chickens, with a repetitive sound. The dassies are scampering from all over their little rock metropolis. For some reason he's tossing the carrots right into the latrine. Not something I would do, but the dung being sun-dried, perhaps it's innocuous. The dassies look fat and healthy, and they're herbivores, after all...their droppings aren't so noxious.

I am consumed with curiosity about this man, and his relationship with the hyraxes. I consider for a long time whether to approach him. I want the story so long has he been feeding them? Does he know them individually? Does he come here every day?  How come you throw the carrots right in their poop? I can't help it...I always want more story.

So I climb down until I'm within earshot and do the old super-awkward,  hesitant, "Excuse me, sir. May I ask you a question?"

And get no response. Hmm. Maybe he doesn't hear well. I try again, a bit louder. Awkward!

Still no response. He doesn't even register being spoken to.

At this point I have to consider three distinct possibilities.

1. He's deaf.

2. He speaks only Afrikaans and doesn't want to engage me in English.

3. This is his church, and he's just here to commune with animals. He doesn't come here to talk to curious tourists.

I know when to fold 'em. I shut the hell up, back off, and capture one of my favorite images of the whole trip. 

Just a guy and his friends. Perhaps his best friends. It's not mine to know. At peace, in this magical place of turrets,  real-life gnomes, and landgoing manatees. 

                      And who am I to disturb this communion of souls? Leave him alone, Zick. 
                                                               Leave room for mystery.

I'm going back to South Africa in September 2016. Wanna come along? Click here for details.

Snowmageddon Gallery

Monday, January 25, 2016

The present: that seductive, smooth-talking diversion, has impinged itself on me once again. 
We have had Snowmageddon in southeast Ohio, winged by the great winter storm Jonas as he waddled east, hunkered down over West Virginia and Virginia, and buried us all. We got a mere 18" to WV and northern VA's 3' or more. Still, it was a lot of snow for us.

It was beautifully powdery, and it fell right off the tree limbs to the forest floor, and no trees fell across lines, and nobody lost power. It was a New Year's miracle! And to Liam's delight he got Friday AND Monday off school!  

I have lived here in Appalachian Ohio since 1992 and have formed a rock-solid Pavlovian association with BIG SNOW and NO POWER FOR DAYS. So I looked at the weather map, saw the giant blue blob headed our way, and started cleaning the house. I figured I'd do all the things I couldn't do anymore when we lost power. Use the lights, the washer, dryer, dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, that kind of thing. It wasn't "if" we were going to lose power, it was just "when." And we never did lose power.
But I kept at it. Two full days it took me, which is pathetic, but I truly hate cleaning. This is a big house and I move very slowly because I find it all so stultifying. I used to clean once a week when the kids were small. I felt like I had to, but I still don't know how I did it. The difference between 40's and 50's, I guess. Now, I'd far rather write or paint or read or run, and nobody else seems to care, so why should I? But with decreasing frequency I still pull myself together to do it, even as I begrudge the time it takes. Time is my favorite thing, the most precious resource. 

It wasn't so bad, though, because as I cleaned I watched the snow piling up outside, and I felt enormously thankful to be safe and warm and snowed in with Liam. Just grateful to have such a nice roof over our heads, to have a house to clean at all.  We had plenty of food because my inner squirrel had been stockpiling for days before the storm hit. I'd laid in all the bird feed we could need, too, and the first day of the storm I made a quadruple batch of Zick Dough Improved, so we were good.

On the morning of January 24 I finally suited up and headed out to catch some hoarfrost atop the snow. Oh boy oh boy! 

That Japanese maple, once a potted bonsai, is becoming a major landscape force. Big enough to sit under, big enough to walk under, big enough to have chipping sparrows and cardinals nest in it. Ahh. Such a good tree. 

Still feeling appreciative, I walked around to see the once-tiny birds-nest blue spruce I moved from Maryland to Ohio in 1992. Oh my. 

And better yet, two very small crape myrtles in the foreground, come up from seed or root, I know not which, from a beautiful shrub that was killed in the horrid winter of 2013. They came up out of nowhere after two years without a sign of life from the shrub's stump. And bloomed this past summer of 2015. And were true to the original, a rich magenta. HOORAY! May they make it through this winter.

A deer, looking for birdseed. Those thin legs move pretty well through snow. I'd have thought they'd yard up in this much snow, but the meadow was laced with their tracks. I think the fact that the snow was so powdery encouraged them to move about. It's crusty snow deer hate, punching through it with their hooves, the crust cutting their legs.

I purely hated to walk on that clean white sheet in the meadow, but I had to, if I was going to get any photos.

Looking at the junco and sparrow tracks, it suddenly hit me that deep snow actually helps them forage.

For instead of the seedheads being high above their heads, forcing them to jump and flutter, the seeds are right at their level. The birds are 18 inches higher on the surface of that snow, and can simply hop from seed cluster to seed cluster. Beautiful! I loved that revelation, that thought that juncos actually like a deep snow. That it makes finding food easier for them. No wonder we call them snowbirds.

So busy, the tracks of their industry everywhere in the meadow. 

The bluebird box with its baffle was steaming in the sun as the hoarfrost burned off.  It looked eerily like a man with a derby on, breathing. I tried to capture the misty exhalation with two cameras and couldn't. But oh, it was cool. 

I like this shot, for the elements it shows--housing for birds and for us, a baffle to protect against snakes and raccoons; a Virginia pine left just because it was beautiful; my meandering path. At this point I'm tired. Slogging through knee-high snow is work!

Under the same pretty pine. Yes, red is the right color for that house. And I can pretend it's an old barn. Especially when I don't feel like cleaning. Har.

At this point, I'm sufficiently snowblind that I can barely tell what I'm shooting. Which makes for some interesting pictures.

The lacework and tracery of frost and grass and stem and shadow has me in its thrall. 

I turn the camera toward myself and the sun. I can't even see it, the sun is so bright. I'm all warmed up, and have been shedding clothes all the way out the path. No hat, no gloves needed when you're wading through deep snow. A mile walked this way is probably worth three on pavement, from a cardiac standpoint.

No Bacon chaser with me. He wouldn't be caught dead in 18" of snow.

My photos get odder and odder. I can't see what I'm doing very well, but I'm fascinated by the light, and I keep facing into it, like a moth.

This could be another planet...

A junco's snowball, growing a crust of hoarfrost.

Probably time to head toward the house. And when I turn my back to the sun, the blue sky and shadows jump out at me. Oh my! what I've been missing!

And when I got home, Chet Baker, who does not gladly suffer deep snow, came out to run the rat maze I had shoveled him all over the yard. I made little alleys to his favorite spots--the compost pit, the spruces, the feeders, the greenhouse.  I made sure they all connected, and all led to the front door. He came out of the woods so proud of himself, and considerably lighter. It had been a day and a half. It was time.

O noble doggeh o' mine!

Hyrax Heaven: Hermanus, South Africa

Saturday, January 23, 2016


Another Carpobrotus. What a lovely thing, and each flower three inches or more across! They're really best photographed from a near-prone position. I was happy to get the blue mountain in the background. It wasn't long before my friends on the trip started getting on the down-lo to photograph flowers, too. 

Rock hyrax takes a break.

If this doesn't look like vacation, nothing does. We were in Hermanus, South Africa, world famous for having some of the best whale watching in the world--from shore! 
Not being much for big seas, I was extremely grateful to be ogling lolling (oglalling?) southern right whales and Bryde's whales from the security of seaside cliffs and highways. I kept having to pinch myself, because I have come to associate whalewatching with wondering when (not if) I'm going to puke.

Just fine with me, not to be on a pitching deck while training my binocs on blowholes.  And to have these adorable mammalian proto-sirenians lollygagging on the cliffs within arm's length. 

Please notice softpaddy toebeans. I wanted to scoop up a hyrax and blow a raspberry on its tummy. I'd been away from Chet Baker too long. I probably would have gotten beaten to pieces, if I'd been able to catch one. But man. These little butterbeans are dang cute. 

I do believe I'd come out the worse for it if I grabbed aholt of one. When I look at this photo it's not that hard to imagine that they're related to elephants. Just elongate that snoot, give him some flappy ears, and upsize him about 1,000 times.

This looked very much like the lemon crispum scented geraniums I used to grow.  It was so cool to see old friends and acquaintances in the wildflowers.  Something had to be familiar here!

  In addition to grazing on the daisies, the hyraxes, or dassies as they're called locally, clamber over the cliffs, sampling tastes of the smorgasbord of flowers and plants South Africa lays out before them. 

At Hermanus, they're quite acclimated to the crowds who come to ogle the whales.

They quickly scamper to the safety of their rock outcrops if anything seems fishy.

Drinking from a rainwater pool. I like how dassies take life: slowly and with evident relish.  With lots of extreme lounging. 

I loved this surprise group of preening larids!

You might need to click on the photo to embiggen it. 

In this assemblage, from left, are Hartlaub's gulls (white heads); Sandwich terns; a gray-headed gull (center); greater crested or swift terns; and a few common terns. Nice! especially since larids can be a bit scarce along the South African coast. 

I never quite got used to speckled pigeons. They are just too snazzy with their red Amelia Earhart aviatrix goggles. 

 These two visions of loveliness repaired to the communal hyrax latrine to pick about for seeds amidst the dung. Pigeons will be pigeons, no matter how lovely.

That latrine, oddly enough, was soon to become a nexus of cool...stay tuned!

I'm going back to South Africa in September 2016. Wanna come along? Click here for details.

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