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A Quiet Dawn

Friday, September 28, 2018


It's been so wicked cloudy in the last few weeks that, when there is a sunrise, I go for it. I want to see that light spread across the sky and land, across the houses and barns and the backs of black cattle. I want to see it light up the ponds, make sky-holes of them. I keep checking the sky as 7 AM approaches. If there are breaks in the clouds, I know I may have a show to enjoy.

I remember going to Sanibel Island and Siesta Key in Florida and being completely charmed by the fact that sunrise and sunset are community events. People deliberately take time out of their day to go witness what, for them and for me, are miraculous, if daily, events. They lug lawnchairs to the beach and sit and watch.

Rarely content to sit, I like moving around under a beginning sky. The turn of the seasons, and the prospect of a long, mostly dreary cloud-socked MOV** winter,  pushes me to savor what I'm given. Don't get me wrong: clouds are among my favorite things. But I like to see light play on them, so a few breaks in the cover are what I'm after.

 Very funny story...Facebook discussion revealed many are wondering what an MOV winter is. Harma pointed out that the Google is no help; tells you it stands for MOV (metal oxide varistor, a type of movie file). The other thing Urban Dictionary will tell you MOV is an abbreviation for mother***** aaaaaaaaaccck! These winters get me down but not that much! Anyway, sorry to be obtuse. Or even obliquely profane, which I try not to be, at least here in my shiny blog living room. I briefly considered defining the acronym as I wrote this post, then thought, ahh, people can Google that if they don't know what MOV means...well...back to our originally scheduled programming.

Some sunrises are a slow bleed of color into a pure blue sky. Those are fine, too. Rare, and fine.

I hurried to see the sun peek over the hills. These heifers are always curious about me, as young things are.

The sun lights the side of a barn, and teases a pond out of a dark hollow. The pond gazes up at the sky. That's all it can see.

A Rose of Sharon bush has thrown its seeds and become a wild hedge of them, in particolors of pink, red and white. I just finished shearing my beautiful Satin series "Bluebird" before the 1.2 million seed pods it has set are able to dry out, burst open, and shake their progeny all over my flower beds. The things you don't think about when you're smitten with a Rose of Sharon at the nursery! I've learned through hard experience to do this. If I don't, I get to pull 1.2 million woody seedlings the next fall.

Phoebe came back from a run asking about these flowers she'd seen back in August. She's the reason I headed out the ridge in this unaccustomed direction. I don't know why I get so set in my ways, and only run the paths I'm accustomed to. But I'm glad I followed her lead, this time and so many others. 

 A new mother comes to the fence to tell me her calf is off-limits. She lowers her head and tosses it in an unmistakable threat. It's awfully late for a wee calf. He'd better eat up, put some weight and hair on before the winds turn biting cold.

Another look at this lovely scene, the one that got me hooked. This time, there's no drama in the sky, just the slow bleed of color that I love as well. A few starlings on the wire, singing their wandering song of fall.

Further on, I hear something like a lion roaring, and I realize it's an Angus bull, calling to his herd. 
Some young heifers have been moved across the road, to fresh pastures, and probably to be out of his...sphere of influence, and he doesn't like it one bit. Turn your sound up, and see if his low moans  transport you to the veldt.


I turn for home with the sun high in the September sky.
 By the time I'm done watching the cattle and headed back, the barn with the star on it looks like this:

I chug along, headed to the drawing table to get to work.

In the field along my road, I see a sign of the times. All its leaves have fallen, and the milkweed is letting go.

Out, With the Sunrise

Wednesday, September 26, 2018



 It's hard to get a complete sentence written in September. I have to start well before it gets light. Because as soon as the light starts to rise, I'm running back and forth to the east-facing front door, looking to see if there's a sunrise happening. Luckily my hormones, such as they are, are perfectly in tune with my need to see the sun rise. I wake up well before the birds do and lie there thinking, waiting for the first faint traces of light to appear in the east. I consider it a great personal victory when I wake up after the light starts. Good going, Zick! You got six hours! For awhile there I was running on three to no more than five hours a night, a prisoner of my over-charged brain. I decided that, in prehistoric times, women my age must have been drafted for the wee-hours shift, stoking the fire and watching for the cave bear, while everyone else slept. It's a bore.

We've just passed the autumnal equinox, and the shortening days are already working their magic on us all, whether we know it or not. Those of us prone to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) go into compensatory mode. For me, that includes eating every dang carb that isn't tied down. I eat like a bear on its way to the den, grabbing as I go. I can't get enough. My pituitary is hellbent on ensuring that I have a nice reserve of belly fat to get me through the long, cold winter. I drive myself nuts this time of year. Apples and honey. Cereal. Bread. Crackers. Nocturnal ice cream. Aack! I have to quit! I'm telling myself that I'll clean up the carbs that are here and not buy any more. Time to switch to the high-fiber rye "crackers" that taste like pasteboard. No more Triscuit and peanut butter honey toast for you, Brenda Bear.

The weather hasn't been helping. We're completely saturated in southeast Ohio, with inches of rain each day lately. There's another downpour going on now. I'm growing everything hydroponically, whether I want to or not. It's all relative, of course, and there's nothing to complain about here, compared to the cataclysm happening in North Carolina. My heart's in my throat for everyone as the flood continues.

You'd think that running would help, and it does, but mostly with the mental state. I can't keep up with my appetite. But I figure if I cover some ground, I can burn some of it off. And man, do I see the sights. Running gets my head on straight. And how could I miss all this?

On this morning of September 19, the sky was iffy. I had an even chance of getting drenched. Which means that I took a Ziploc in my pocket for my phone, because you can't wear a raincoat running. The only thing that can't get wet is my phone!

I'll show you what I mean by "iffy." Panning left of the sunrise, there was a good shelf of rainclouds. I was planning to run right toward them.

There was a hopeful tinge of pink in the storm clouds, though, which gave me heart.

Here's a little video of the conditions as I started my two-mile run out from home. Leaving the sunrise behind, heading off into the mists of the unknown.


I decided to go for it. The clouds would be awesome, and worth getting wet for. And right off the bat, they were!

 I ran under the shelf and got to watch the sunrise behind me. The mists were still rising on the far hills.

I hope you'll click on the photos themselves, to get a larger version and more detail.

One of those rare times when plastic-wrapped haybales help the composition. They do smell pretty good as they ferment away inside.

I like to imagine this little cowshed is a writer's retreat. I imagine getting up and brewing myself a cup of tea so I can watch the sunrise  and think up the next transcendent essay I'm going to write. Isn't that what happens in writer's retreats?

It's probably full of busted tools and cobwebs, like my head. 

While you're admiring the pond, don't miss the cow on the ridge. Click on the photo to see her.  


I see things as I go, things you'd never see from a car. 

Not-so-lucky rabbit's foot. 

And an unlucky red eft who never had anyone to pick him up and carry him across.

I've found seven wooly bears this season, and ALL of them have been almost solid RED. You know what that means, right? Mild winter coming.
Being a Science Chimp, I couldn't help but wonder if the extreme heat wave that consumed most of September had something to do with their coloration. We were in the upper 80's and 90's for a couple of weeks. It was disgusting. And these caterpillars were growing up then, and red radiates more heat than black, so maybe their color has more to do with the conditions in which they emerged and grew than any prognosticating ability.

But maybe not.  We shall see!
It says, "BROMELAIN." Or CROATAN. You pick.
Speaking of prognosticating, here's a bit of folklore from the southern woodlands where persimmons grow. There's said to be a shape in the persimmon seed that foretells the kind of winter we'll have. You look for a knife, a spoon, or a fork.
A knife portends cutting icy winds.
A fork foretells light fluffy snow and a mild winter.
Watch out for the spoon: that means heavy wet snow.

  First, you've got to find a persimmon. Easier said than done this year. Ours fell almost two months early, fully ripe, and the possums got all but two of them. I was caught flat-footed. Dang it!! So much for the folk wisdom that they need a frost to be edible. Opportunities lost. I've never seen the persimmons fall in September, but this is an atypical year for lots of things.

Next, you've got to open a persimmon seed. Far easier said than done. They're small, slippery and hard as marble. The first time I tried it with my X-Acto knife, I cut a finger and thumb, and I'm still enjoying those nice gouges, every time I reach for a pinch of salt as I cook. I was determined to see the mysterious formation, though, so I set to paring away the brown seed coat and the rock-hard cotyledon. I could see the little piece of silverware formed by the embryo (the epicotyl), though, and that kept me going. Finally I got it pared down enough to see that I had a spork.

So I figure the winter will be somewhere in between nasty and nice.  Just like a spork. Not a good spoon, not a good fork. Just a spork. Sporky often describes our winters in southeast Ohio. If you're curious about the other shapes and want to know more, this is a good link from the University of Missouri.   (where my brilliant, funny maternal uncle Robert Ruigh taught Tudor history!)

Onward! Mist was rising in the far hollers, and goldenrod lit the foreground.

I came upon the beautiful farm of my friends. Phoebe and McKenzie were good friends all through school. Now McKenzie is working on her masters in speech pathology at Kent State, and Phoebe's teaching school in the Canary Islands. Shaking my head in slow wonder. I remember them giggling at the dinner table together.

It was this morning that the clouds and the light and the silver maple leaves and the barn with the star on it aligned perfectly. Click on this one and run through them all, because this is the scene that started it all, got me heading northeast, toward the high ridge with the skies.

We'll come back to this beautiful farm in the next couple of posts.

September's Silent Parade

Sunday, September 23, 2018


 As I write, Sept. 21, the ruby-throated hummingbirds are still here, just a couple juveniles still hanging around and bickering. I love them so. And through the birches and flower gardens, fall warblers are sifting through in earnest. I must glance up from my drafting board 200 times a day, and I'm nearly always rewarded by the trembling leaves that mean a warbler is plucking aphids off their undersurfaces.

My birches are loaded with little green aphids, candy to migrant warblers and hummingbirds, too. Of course, I'm glued to the windows, my big lens slishing away.

The magnolia warbler has a pretty yellow rump in all plumages. 

We're firmly on the fall migration route for Cape May warblers, but they're rare as hen's teeth in spring. Go figure.  This is a nice adult male, still showing his golden side neck and strong tiger stripes.

Who's that?

One of my favorite fall migrants (and breeders) is the ovenbird, a warbler that looks like a thrush. That shoe-button eye, with the surprised ring around it; those heavy droozly stripes down the belly--I just love these neat little forest dwellers.

All that would be great, but the burnt orange crown stripe is too much.

And the ovenbird walks. One shell-pink foot is placed daintily in front of the other. They walk along long branches, mincing delicately. The head bobs slightly, like a chicken's. I love everything about ovenbirds, except their tendency to crash into glass windows in fall. For them, and for so many others, I put netting over my windows.

 The resident rubythroats, making the rounds of my flowers. They won't be here much longer.  I said when I put the oversized geranium "Happy Thought Red" out in May that it would never be so beautiful again. Boy, was that the truth. The gray squirrels have chewed the crap out of it; the sun has baked its beautiful chartreuse leaves, but it gamely throws out scarlet flowers for the hummingbirds to sip. No worries. I have two tiny babies to go in the greenhouse, and they'll be big and beautiful by next spring.

Salvia guaranitica "Black and Blue" is a favorite. As often as not, the dainty flowers will drop when they're probed.

Most of my out-the-studio window photos feature sweet birds on the colorful tomato cages I use to support my taller flowers.
This is a juvenile song sparrow, impersonating a Lincoln's sparrow, with its finely penciled breast streaking.

A young Tennessee warbler briefly got itself trapped behind the netting that keeps my huge studio windows safe for migrant birds. It was a thrill to see it so close.  Birds are never trapped for long, since the netting is stretched on a PVC frame that stands almost a foot out from the window, and they have only to go up, down or sideways to get out. To learn more about this miraculous life-saver, go read my article, "A Solution to Window Strikes,"  here.

I just never know what I'm going to see, so I keep looking. Who's that on the hanging basket hook? I knew right away, because there isn't another species that has yellow (instead of white) tail spots. It's a yellow warbler!

and a very, very beautiful one. An immature yellow warbler in September is such a lovely bird, the bright yellow washed with grass-green. Yellow suffuses everything: its eye ring, tail spots, legs, feet, even its bill. It's like it drank sunshine.

 Fuchsia "Trandshen Bonnstadt" is the flower that it's inspecting.  I really think the spelling is wrong, if it's German, but that's how it was spelled on the Glasshouse Works label when I bought my tiny plant years ago.  Probably ought to be spelled Trandschen Bonstedt, but I can't find any other source for it than Glasshouse Works, and that's how they spell it. Still available from Glasshouse works, too!

Needless to say, I take cuttings of this miraculous tropical plant and carry it over in the greenhouse all winter. I'm petrified of losing it; it's such a cheery, free blooming soul and it roots from cuttings in water! Hummingbirds love it and they look fabulous prospecting those clusters of pink.  I have four-foot tall plants blooming their heads off, planted right in the garden soil, right now. The rabbits leave it mostly alone. Miracle. Anything the nipping, chomping, chewing animals allow to live is a pure miracle to me.

As a bonus, you can see the bird screen with its gray PVC frame over my studio windows. It's nicely unobtrusive, but highly effective. Those windows are doing a great job of pretending to be limitless sky. They need a screen, and they have one.

The warbler was pretty sure there should be something edible in that pretty flower. So it diddled with it for awhile, trying to see if it would produce something nice.

What a breathtakingly beautiful little bird.  Every feather is unworn and new, immaculately fringed and bordered, since this bird, who was born this spring, has just molted into a fresh suit of feathers for the long trip south.

The yellow warbler is just a part of the silent parade going on outside, all through September. Get out there! The trees are dripping with warblers. Blackburnians running into bay-breasts; black-throated blues and Cape Mays; yellows and yellowthroats and Tennessees, blackpolls and hoodeds, all coming through now in southeast Ohio. It's the greatest show on earth, and it's perfectly silent.

Keep looking up.

Bokeh Bird

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


This female ruby-throated hummingbird is sitting on one of the little shish kebab skewers that I provide for my clients. My clients being the gazillion birds who frequent my yard, who I'm trying constantly to please in creative ways. I've stuck the bamboo skewers, which are exactly the right gauge for tiny hummingbird feet, into the links of the chain holding up one of my hanging baskets. The skewers are almost never without a perching client, because they're close to the feeders and just right for fussy hummer feet.

I haven't known the term "bokeh" for too long. It sounds a bit like a Chet Baker word, doesn't it? It's Japanese, and it refers to the gorgeous thing that happens when the background of a shot goes all blurry and nice. What's behind this bird is my barn-red house siding with a blooming Achimenes "Pink Nighty" in a hanging basket. Wooo. That is some off-the charts nice bokeh. Especially the little dark patch framing the bird.

As soon as I saw her there on the skewer, with the flowers behind her, I knew I had a killer photo op. She was scratching away at her neck and head.

 You'd think a hummingbird's scratching foot would be lightning fast, but it isn't at all. She's got to bring that tiny leg up and over her big long wing, and that's really awkward. So she scratches very slowly.

Then she looks at her foot as if wondering how it got there, up over her wing, and how she's going to get it back where it belongs.

At length, she does, and she rests for a few moments.

Then it's time to scratch the other side of her face. You really must click on this one to embiggen it. Then you can see them all larger.

Because she is a hummingbird, there is always an argument in the offing. She cusses at an incoming bird

and sizes up her opponent. A second later, she shot straight up into the air in pursuit, and my precious moments with her were over.

I'm ridiculously attached to the few remaining hummingbirds in my gardens. I want them to stay forever. They won't, of course, but until they go, they'll get their portraits made. September is the month when the hummingbirds leave. Seems everyone leaves in September. But that also means everyone is passing through in September, and I get to photograph the parade!
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