Friday, June 23, 2017

My First Month

 Ah, my first month with a cell phone.  It has come to this, after four years of ranting against cell phone addiction, invasions of privacy, the dumbing down of culture, etc., etc.  Have I sold out?  Well, here's the story - the shorter version.  I was due to take off alone on a 5,000-mile drive to Pittsburgh, PA, and back, on May 20.  Family prevailed on me to get a cell phone for emergency contact.  I knew I wouldn't have any emergencies, but what the heck!  Started with a TracFone.  Terrible experience.  Returned it, and fought for days to get my refund.  Then, took the plunge and got the latest iPhone 7.  Sold largely on the basis of the superior camera.  Keep in mind, I already owned a Nikon DSLR with 24-MP resolution.  The phone sports 12 MP - impressive technology, I'll admit.  The lens is so tiny I had trouble remembering where it was located, as a few of the following photos will make clear.  So, here I present my first ever Cell Phone Photo (above).  If I were to frame it for a gallery, I'd title it ODD-ometer.
 My second photo might have been a total accident as I tried out the various "buttons" which were really not buttons at all but places on a screen with varying sensitivity to my touch.  I started off feeling like I had the sensitivity of a retired heavyweight boxer whose hands had become fleshy hammers, not the tools of a concert pianist.  My goal for this phone, at first, was to check out its potential to enhance my nature photography.
 My first "nature" photo was taken next to a service station, probably near Sydney, Nebraska.  Sorry, Sydney, but you could not pay me enough to live there.  Anyway, on my way through Wyoming, I often wondered, while zipping along at 75 mph before experiencing a blizzard between Laramie and Cheyenne, what were those large clusters of bright yellow flowers along the roadside.  In Sydney, I found out...
 On closer inspection, the flowers seemed to be either Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) of Groundsel (Senecio sp.), or some other close relative of such.
Not much nature is easy to observe from I-80 in Nebraska, and I had a schedule to keep.  Some day, I might have the time and inclination to wander around Nebraska, off the freeways, and discover what Nebraskans love about it.  Meanwhile, it represents to me 440 miles of corn.  I know there are good bookstores and coffeeshops in Lincoln, but on this trip I had no time to spare so I flew on by and got a little excited about crossing the Mississippi at Quad Cities.
 
 When I got to Pittsburgh, with further help from my daughter Hyla (My initial instruction was provided by my wife and youngest son in Quincy.), what will likely be my most frequent use of the phone became apparent.  A convenient way to visually record stuff I want to remember later or serve as beginnings of investigations into nature, literature, and who knows what else?  A visual notebook for someone who has a modicum of artistic ability but is not good at quick sketches.   The above photo is of the back of a great book by Lynda Barry at my daughter's house.  I've been intrigued by Barry's books for several years, especially one titled Syllabus.  This one had a quote on the back cover that I could not resist: "Welcome to writing the unthinkable!"  That's one of my goals. :)
Anyway, as soon as I got to Quincy I ordered a copy.  It has arrived and I love it.
 Naturally, I had to discover the infamous Selfie.  As mentioned above, I still have trouble remembering where the ridiculously tiny lens is.  The lens on my Nikon probably weighs more than this entire phone! So, here's me and Hyla, probably laughing at my cell phone ineptitude.  She was very patient though.  Despite my conviction that photos from my Nikon are far superior to anything I can get with this phone, in the coming days, I will share a few other Pittsburgh memories that I captured in the phone.
 Back in Quincy, on one of my first nature wanderings with phone and without Nikon, I went up to Butterfly Valley to show around a new friend from France.  I thought I'd put the camera to a test and catch a few shots of the McCloskey's Violet. Same as with my Nikon, white flowers usually result in a lot of "noise."  I like this composition, but not the clarity.  Click on the photo to better see its poor quality.  Or not.
 I did have the phone with me during a tragic event involving nature.  My son Ryan saw this coming and I did not.  I ran over a Gopher Snake that was crossing the road.  I stopped to memorialize the event, but the damage is not apparent here.  The snake perished, and I felt terrible, while at the same time feeling the usual thrill at having seen one at all. So, the Gopher Snake will play a role in the promised, but not yet composed, post on the theme of Threats: Rational and Irrational.
 Last, two more pleasant memories from Pittsburgh.  My daughter lives on the East End of Pittsburgh, a neighborhood with lots of pleasant people.  I was impressed by the abundance of these signs in the neighborhood and wish that the sentiment expressed would grow in the USA.  I fear the opposite is happening.
Last, a photo Hyla took with her phone and emailed to me after I returned to Quincy.  Carnegie-Mellon is her alma mater for her MFA degree, and she gave me a tour of their excellent museums.  The dinosaur collection is amazing, one of the best in the world.  Also impressive were displays of art and minerals, and the architecture of the place.  So, here's to my getting better at phone photography, but still leaning on my Nikon.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Swallowed-Tail?

 When I first came upon this butterfly in the same patch of Daisies where I'd been photographing spiders for over a week, I thought it was a Pale Swallowtail.  But, I decided to wait a while for it to come around the flower so I could get a full view of its back.
 After four or five minutes went by, I saw just a little movement.  A colleague stopped to say Hello and ask what I was doing.  I said "waiting for this butterfly to come around to the front of the flower.  As she left, she said "Good luck with that," probably not believing it would happen.  I waited at least five more minutes; then it happened.  I'm glad I waited.  It turned out to be a closely=related new species, A Pale Swallowed-tail. :)

A Mint


 A nice sight along the path leading up to the office is an abundance of fresh-blooming Mint.  It might be Horsemint.  It doesn't smell at all like Mint Tea or Mint-flavored chewing gum.  More like dry hay.  But the flowers are just as elegant as any of the mints when viewed close up.
 Two features of the mint family, Lamiaceae, that are easy to recognize are the square stem and the position of the leaves along the stem opposite each other rather than alternating.

Threats, Part 1

 As I began my walk up the path to the office, I spotted the Goldenrod Crab Spider that has occupied this flower for nearly two weeks.  Contrary to the popular image of spiders - always frantically running around trying to attack things, especially people - she mainly sits still all day and waits for delicious meals to land right in front of her.  Most of the time these insects have come to feed off the flower.  Sometimes, depending on the background, the spider herself is mistaken for a flower.  Some insects who don't feed off this particular type of flower might stop for a brief rest, or a drink of morning dew.  This morning was the second time I've caught this particular spider in the act of taking a meal.  This time it was a rather small fly.  The above photo approximates my first view.  Then I moved in for close-ups, and that did not distract the spider at all.
 Click on each photo for closer and closer views.  In the last one, my lens was only around 6 inches from the spider.  If I looked like a bird, she probably would have quickly disappeared below the surface of the flower or rode a quickly spun strong of web to the ground.  I've seen them do this with or without bringing along the partly-eaten meal.
I appreciate a few friends who find this spider beautiful.  She's absolutely no threat to humans.  More on the topic of threats later today.

Another side trip.

 After loading up rotten firewood and palettes, as mentioned in my previous post, I needed to seek some shade and a drink of water.  I usually keep my camera handy when dealing with my woodpile.  So far I've missed a few Alligator Lizards and various speedy beetles, but I stumbled across this patch of blooming thistles in the shade of a Douglas-fir.  What I thought was a very fat insect turned out on closer inspection to be a mating pair.  Click on the photo for confirmation.
Just a few seconds after taking the first photo, a third beetle showed up.  Turns out it was another male who managed to chase off the one in the first photo.  This was one of those times I wished I had video skills.  Hard to capture the interesting battle that ensued in a series of still photos, so I've just posted these two.  Your imagination can fill in the blanks.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Splitting Wood During a Heat Wave

 It's past my bedtime, and still very hot, so I'm postponing until tomorrow my promised message about "threats: rational and irrational."  Meanwhile, here are some photos I took yesterday which will also be explained tomorrow.  Supposed to be even hotter tomorrow, so I'll try to get this accomplished early. :)
It's now "tomorrow."  I was splitting firewood and discarding older, rotten firewood and palettes, also old and rotten, that I've used to keep the firewood off the ground.  In the top photo you see one of these palettes.  I barely noticed a couple of white spots before tossing the palette further into the bed of my truck.  As sweaty and tired as I was, I couldn't resist taking a closer look (above and below).  Voila!  The Bird's Nest Fungus.  Click on each photo for closer looks.  I've discussed the interesting life cycle of this fungus in earlier blogs, and usually mention them every year when they show up in season.  Google this fungus and see what happens when a raindrop lands in the little cups, mostly 1/4" or so in diameter.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A most intriguing spider

 Yesterday morning, I took a photo of this same spider with my cell phone.  It was in the process of draining the insides of a fly.  I walked up to my office and worked for a couple of hours then returned by the same route.  The spider was still there, but with a larger abdomen.  The drained skin of the fly was probably on the ground below in step toward becoming part of the soil.  I still don't know how to get photos from my phone into my computer, so maybe when I get some help, you'll see those photos at a later date.  Meanwhile, when I approached the same Daisy this morning, there she was, waiting for another meal.  As I approached with my larger DSLR camera, she spread her forelegs in a combat pose (above).  That was short lived (below) as she sought to hide on the underside of the flower.
 I tipped the stem to get another look, and...
 ...she did not panic.  Just held fast.  Sometimes they'll quickly drop to the ground on a single thread they seem to spin with amazing speed and ease.
I was asked last night if these are poisonous.  YES.  All spiders are poisonous, but none around this area are menacing to humans unless they are very careless.  Some spiders cannot penetrate human skin, so they don't even try.  Some can give a healthy bite (oxymoron?), but are not even close to deadly.  Then the bite of some, like the Black Widow, can make a person pretty sick, and rarely result in death.  Very rarely!  Your chances of getting shot by a fellow human are much, much greater.  Also, if you learn a little about where Black Widows are found, you can be careful to not poke around where the chances of being bitten are higher.  AS you can see above, my fingers re quite close to the spider.  No worries!
Last night's presentations at camp included comments and questions about bears, rattlesnakes, and other possible animal threats to humans.  My next post will include my views about THREATS: RATIONAL and IRRATIONAL.  For the most part, it's the animals that should be frightened, not us.