Sunday, October 31, 2010

Show Time

The November Group Show at Main Street Artists Gallery in Quincy opens Thursday, November 4, and runs through the month of November, open Thursdays through Sundays. Each of the 30-plus members may display up to three pieces during the month, then three new ones in December. The above images are among the ones I've chosen to exhibit during this holiday season. If you see a theme here, it's arachnophilia.
Gallery members include several other photographers, many painters, sculptors, fine woodworkers and other media. Quite an assortment of talent in this little outpost called Quincy. Check us out at 436 Main Street, downtown Quincy.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Spirit of Halloween

Yesterday I needed to take some photos of our school's Fall Fest, a celebration of science and math as well as the season. I'm not a natural when it comes to photographing people, so I was out of my element all day long. That is, except when distracted by nature. Heading today's photos is one of my son's seasonal science experiment, the vomiting pumpkin. Fun. Although I'd rather make a pie. Then, forever distracted from my duties by the natural surroundings, I was scanning the ridge between Mt. Hough and Argentine Peak when I spotted a controlled burn. Nice fall scene. I wished I was up there. Then, I took a break with a couple of little kids in the school garden looking for bugs. Found an earthworm and an earwig. Finally, back to the pavement where the annual egg-drop contest was going on, and I photographed a nice maple leaf. All the while, I was daydreaming about people who photograph people for a living and probably consider the bugs that I photograph distractions. I think I got some good pictures, even though I was not at the top of my game. I'll need a warm, sunny day with bugs to get back into my groove. Not many more chances before winter. Plenty of time to write from memory though.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Stopping By An Orchard

I drive by the Dawn Community Center a couple of times every week, and I enjoy the setting - apple orchard, blackberries, California Black Oak, Big Leaf Maple, all surrounded by Pine and Fir forest. I seldom stop once the blackberries are gone. But yesterday, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a large area of bright red behind the first couple of rows of apple trees. I knew it wasn't fire, but I wondered if there was a tree species I had never noticed before, perhaps an exotic maple. I made a U-turn and wandered into the orchard. Turns out it was an apple tree! The only one that had turned red while all the others were still green. I wonder why? Also, I came across a lone asparagus that had gone to seed. Quite beautiful. A seldom-seen sight, I imagine. The berries are poisonous, although the shoots in springtime are one of my favorite veggies. Last, I noticed an apple tree that had hundreds of woodpecker holes and a hollow that looked like the classic owl or raccoon hideout of childrens' story books. It was getting rather warm that afternoon, and if I had more time I would have looked around for bugs. They'll all be underground for the winter soon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Designed? Not.

On this frosty morning, the last thing I thought I'd do is get out the camera. However, on the way to work I heard my son in the back seat marveling at the patterns of frost on the car window. When we pulled up in front of Pap's donuts and my favorite, bright red oak trees were also coated with frost, I just had to get some photos. Then, when I got to work, I was struck by the beautiful frost patterns in the lawn. So, it looks like I may be a winter photographer this year after all.
The patterns in the car window, which grow and change while you watch, are better understood from the perspective of fractal geometry. The properties of water near the freezing point can result in crystal formation in patterns that are fundamentally quite simple but give the illusion of complexity. No designer needed. Same with DNA. The end result may seem so complex as to require a designer. That just begs the question, though. Whence the designer? Enough thinking already. They're just beautiful!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My H. L. Mencken Streak

Today's photos have nothing [or almost nothing] to do with the text, but I figure every post should have at least one picture. I'm going to start with two quotes out of context. The first was on the Awesome Autumn blog produced by the Plumas Visitors Bureau. "Did you know there's [sic] nine ways to get to/from Plumas County?" Having just finished teaching my math class, I'm thinking, "I beg to differ; there are an infinite number of ways to come and go from the county." Picky, picky, eh? THere is a point to my comment, though. The quote implies that "leaf peepers" are going to come to the county on one of the 9 paved roads - Highway 70 (both ends) and Highway 89 (also both ends) probably bring the most traffic. Then there's Highway 36, Highway 32, the Quincy-LaPorte Road, and there's your nine. But, what about the vulture pictured above? He was photographed near the county line. What about the Johnsville-LaPorte Road (unpaved) and the many US Forest Service Roads on which one can enter the county? What about the Pacific Crest Trail. Anyway, as a naturalist, I try to get off the paved roads as much as possible, and, for me, trails or even bushwhacking are preferable to driving.
My other out-of-context quote is from "Biophilia," by Edward O. Wilson. It's "The naturalist is a civilized hunter. He goes alone into a field or woodland and closes his mind to everything but that time and place, so that life around him presses in on all the senses and small details grow in significance." It's the "civilized hunter" part that caught my attention. Is that an oxymoron? I think my H. L. Mencken streak started early. In 6th grade I won a poster contest sponsored by the Massachusetts SPCA. The theme was "Shoot with a Camera." How prescient! I did a painting of a fellow (me?) in a forest "shooting" a picture of a deer. And, that's how my morning began today, over 50 years later (see previous post). Have a nice day.

Food for Thought

I arrived at my Greenville office this cold, foggy morning, to be greeted by a trio of deer on the front lawn beneath an old apple tree. The office is on Crescent Street, the only state highway through town and usually quite busy. My van and camera interrupted the deer's repast and they dodged cars and trucks to get back to the Wolf Creek bottomlands across the highway. This stirred my memory of reading several years ago that the annual road kill of deer in California exceeds the number bagged by hunters. I don't know if that's an annual truism, but apparently it was true around the time I read it. The number was in the hundreds of thousands. Here I stood, having startled the deer, hoping I would not witness a road kill. Then my mind raced to a little book I have at home that is both sad and hilarious, "Flattened Fauna." It's a kind of mock/serious field guide to animals one might find flattened in the road. The text for each such animal is accompanied by a black, silhouette of such an animal as it might look when flattened by a vehicle. Kind of reminded me of scenes from Roadrunner cartoons, also both sad and hilarious. I've never seen a fox chase a roadrunner, but I have often seen roadrunners chasing lizards, and I always felt sorry for the lizard. Oh, well, something's got to be the top carnivore, and in "civilized" places, i guess it's us. This little incident also reminded me of times I've encountered deer in the wilderness while accompanied by students. Some of them, usually boys, reflexively raised their arms in mock rifle shooting position and made a kapow sound, while others, usually girls, held out a hand as if it were holding a morsel of food that the deer might consider approaching. These students probably imagined petting the deer, even though the result of an approach might be a couple of front hooves planted in their chest. I guess the proximity of this morning scene to a busy highway has caused me to think too much. If I had encountered the deer in the woods, I probably would have enjoyed the sight, taken a few pictures if I could, and not thought much, if any, about the fact that most of my species are carnivores.

Monday, October 25, 2010


When I studied zoology, too many years ago, Evo-Devo had not emerged as a separate field of investigation. At least I never heard about it. It's a cute abbreviation for Evolutionary-Developmental Biology. One of its recent stars is Professor Sean B. Carroll. He is doing exciting work and has written several books that can be understood by people who remember their high school biology. A question that comes up constantly is: How does a cell, or a part of an organism "decide" to become something different? Put in perhaps a better way: How does a branch of an oak tree "decide" to produce a leaf or an acorn in a particular spot? In animal development: How does an early embryo consisting of say 128 or 256 identical cells begin to differentiate, that is, develop a head here, an arm there, and perhaps a tail somewhere else? If I've aroused your curiosity, check out a book by Carroll whose title quotes a line from Darwin, "Endless Forms Most Beautiful." Meanwhile, when I'm not in the mood to digest the technically difficult stuff, I still get a great deal of pleasure from just looking at acorns and leaves on an oak tree. I hope you do, too.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fallen Foliage

I couldn't help myself. My first thought upon waking on a rainy morning was "no photography today." Then I looked out the windows facing my deck and saw a great assortment of maple and oak leaves and Ponderosa Pine needles. Decided to walk out there bent over to protect my camera from the rain and get a few photos. Difficult lighting with light bouncing off wet surfaces, but the scene captured me for a while. A friend and fellow naturalist Rex Burris e-mailed me with the question "are the leaf colors at peak?" since he's contemplating a photo trip up this way. I answered that we might not have a real peak this year. The unusual sequence of rain and temperature patterns seem to have made for a very uneven and unpredictable [although I did predict this in an early September post!] season for viewing fall colors. Some species of maple have turned bright red and are already losing leaves while just a few blocks away the same species of trees is still green. Some maples are turning yellow then falling, skipping the red period altogether. Along Highway 89, north of Quincy, there are some great splashes of Bigleaf Maple turned yellow, California Black Oak turned yellow and orange with occasional patches of red, and some dogwoods have turned bright red. However, as I said to Rex, the sequence of events is rather uneven and I find myself not so much longing for colorful panoramas as looking for spectacular individual leaves. And if you scroll back through the past month or so on this blog, you'll see many of my findings. Every fall has its interesting phenomena whether or not we have a great season for bright colors. My passion as a naturalist is to find these interesting things and alert others to them. One of my role models is Rex. He has been doing this for many years. Among my other heroes in this occupation are the late Aldo Leopold and the very much alive E. O. Wilson whose book "Naturalist" I just finished last night. Very inspiring. Makes me want to waterproof my camera or get one of the those waterproof notebooks and a Rapidograph pen with India ink and head back outside right away.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Meme that Won't Go Away!

Commemorating the absurd, I'm wishing my viewers a Happy Creation Day. Bishop Ussher, after much "study," concluded that the Creation, i. e., Earth, the Heavens, etc., etc., began on this day, October 23, 6,013 years ago in 4,004 BCE. It's interesting, and a bit frightening to me, that some people viewing my photos can be moved to agree with Ussher and praise their god for getting it all started, while others have their realization of an ancient Earth and the process of evolution reinforced. The difference in these two world views is more than a back story of next week's elections. The consequences of absorbing this meme [check the Wickipedia article if you're not familiar with the term, or read Richard Dawkins] can be seen around the world in how people are divided by religion and willing to kill in order to perpetuate their version of truth.
So, I am not really wishing you Happy Creation Day, but simply wishing you a happy day and hoping that viewing these photos contributes to your enjoyment of the drama we are all a part of. The above photos were taken in the vicinity of Snake Lake, around 4 miles west of Quincy as the Raven flies.

I Can't Believe I Did This!

I'm usually a bit cynical about folks who try to enjoy nature from inside their cars. This morning, due to the rain and a few other considerations, I decided to do some drawing and painting and take a break from photography. But then I needed something at the grocery store and I couldn't resist putting my camera in the car. Then it really started to pour. My meandering route to Safeway took me by my favorite trees at this time of year, and, yes, I took all these photos from the front seat. Sorry. Anyway, from top to bottom, the locations are 1.) Main Street, Quincy, in front of the courthouse. The red and yellow leaves are on Sweet Gum, AKA Liquidamber 2.) Leaves on the ground beneath Sierrosmith's tree on the corner of Lee Way and West High St., 3.) the tree from which the above leaves fell, 4.) Cousin of above tree, this one at corner of Buchanan and Jackson. 5.) and 6.) Oak in front of Papa's Donuts in East Quincy, and Mountain Ash on Coburn, above Boyle. Enjoy the neighborhood color, but bring a raincoat and get out of your car. I will next time - promise!