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Look up and Around, Birds, Birds, Birds

When we look up into the branches of the trees on property we see birds. They’re also on the ground, in the shrubs, sitting on  the sturdy stems of prairie plants. We garden for birds, providing food, natural shelter, and running water. They come to us for meals, to train their fledglings, and to bathe. This time of year, even natural enemies set aside their differences. Our stream will have three or four bird species bathing together. In spring, they defend their territory, and only hang with their own kind. It’s like school kids, the 3rd graders don’t get to play with the middle schoolers. Now, the field is open to all.

 

 

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge:Look UP

Charly Makray-Rice Photography @ Viewbug

Looking Up

When I was a child, full of exuberance and heady ideas and more than one shattered dream, my tiny Hungarian grandmother sat me on a painted kitchen chair and said in her heavily accented English, “When you’re feeling down, remember take time to look up, and when you’re feeling good, remember take time to look down”. Being born a city child, her words didn’t make much sense at the time. All I saw looking down were discarded cigarette butts, wads of chewing gum, and fly-blown doggie doo. The only thing I noticed when I looked up was my playmate’s mother framed in the second story window. Grandma was usually a wise woman, but in this looking request I really doubted her judgement.

It’s been over forty years since my grandmother passed away, and almost as long since I moved to rural Wisconsin. Back then, I didn’t know anything about country living, I just knew I couldn’t live another day in Chicago. There had to be a better way to live, but rural life often proved difficult. Low wages, few job choices, and frequent unemployment plagued me for several years. Being often unemployed left me a great deal of time to wander the woods beyond my tiny home, seeking solace in the quiet trees.

Depressed and frightened about my future, I listened to my grandmother’s voice as it echoed deep within my anxiety-ridden brain, “look up! ” Following its command, I saw two red- tailed hawks circling the air above me. I watched them glide along the thermals, spiraling ever smaller, finally becoming an infinitesimal speck gobbled by the greedy sunlight. My spirit soaring, I whispered to the sky my thanks to grandma.

I dallied away another day slowly driving along a narrow highway which cut through the swampy backwaters of Wisconsin’s cranberry bogs. As faster traffic whipped around me my little voice again whispered, “look!” In a long dead tree, like harbingers of better days, perched two magnificent bald eagles, sunlight shimmering on the ruffled feathers of their regal white crowns. I slowed my car, spellbound by their beauty, and I knew then that I would never again be alone, someone or something wonderful was always going to be with me.

Today,I knew what my grandmother had been asking of me. In good times or in bad, ahead of place and time, her wisdom was now appropriate in my life. With her unseen guidance I had discovered my first pale, blushing, wild rose hidden deep within spring’s new grass, within two inches of being crushed by my heavily booted foot. Later that morning, just beyond my own pointing nose, I watched a waif-like ruby-throated hummingbird flitting outside the kitchen window.

In August of my first year of discovery, perhaps drawn by the bright polish on my toenails, a monarch butterfly rested on my big toe for over an hour. Was I a rest stop on his long flight to Mexico, I wondered? By October, sitting lotus style in a late mown field, I had learned to hold my breath in gleeful anticipation of nature’s surprises. A chipmunk fearlessly scampered over and stood up to its full six-inch length. Was it issuing a challenge by coming so close, or was I in the path of his lair and he had simply not been paying attention to his surroundings. It didn’t matter, I was his audience, and he was my personal entertainment. If only I could only have read his mouse-like mind, this brave six inch black-nosed Schwarzenegger wanna-be.

One afternoon, a confused nuthatch flew down and actually perched for a brief moment on my shoulder, until my expelled breath blew him away. Several times, a field mouse has scampered across my living room rug and paused while I knelt to stroke its tiny back. It has happened so many times through the years and yet I still have no answer for it. They seem to be waiting patiently, pink nose scenting the air, while I slowly rise, grab a can, scoop them up and return them, unharmed to the yard. I like to think they know I’m here to help. I haven’t the heart to kill a mouse after stroking its back.

In November the Aurora Borealis finger-paints the midnight sky in sometimes soft, sometimes garish palettes, but they are no competition for the artistry of the dying storms of summer afternoons which dilute the colors of the setting sun into pale watercolor washes that eventually slide beneath the western horizon, pulling down a curtain of stars to twinkle till dawn.

Winter nature throws her heavy snows over the pine trees, draping laden boughs like melted candle-wax hardened over a raffia-wrapped Chianti bottle. With great snow-quilts she hushes the countryside for sleep. On rare December winter mornings following a foggy evening, I’ve found hoar-frost hugging bare twigs of willow and dead blades of goldenrod like silvered pipe-cleaners in the crisp bright air of mid-morning, stalagmite branches of tall trees held aloft like glistening fingers covered in diamond rings, teasing the value of the mere turquoise gem of the morning sky.

By choice, or by chance, country dwellers do have an advantage over city dwellers. When I take the time to look up and look down, there is usually something very beautiful awaiting my senses. Although grandmother is gone her wisdom and her priceless legacy lives on. She knew that the world was a sometimes difficult, but always beautiful place to be, if only we would all take a little extra time to look up and to look down.

Originally published in The Inditer.com c.1998. The Inditer was one of the first online ezines, long before blogs, newspapers, and what we now know as everyday life on the web. The entire collection of tne The Inditer is archived in the Library and Archives of Canada

Charly Makray-Rice Photography – Viewbug.com

 

Daily Post Photo Challenge: Looking Up

 

Gallery

Sweet Earth Awakens & Crazed Creativity

We live adjacent to a shrub carr, a wetland edged by red-twig dogwood. Half our back yard is planted in mid-western prairie plants and grasses. Another portion is a rock garden and water feature for the birds to enjoy. The first happy signal everything is going to be okay, after a winter’s slumber underneath layers of oak leaves and pine needles, are the budding trees we planted. Apples we never manage, crab apples and cherries for the birds. Almost everything that grows here ends up in front of my cameras.

This time of year, my favorite toy is is my old Olympus E510. It has a lot of mileage on it. A couple of years ago, I started playing with old film lenses on my camera. I fell in love with the crazy blown out bokeh of a cheap vintage Russian Pentacon 100/2.8 that I always shoot wide open. I know there are others out there that make wonderful bubble effects, but they don’t fit my budget right now. One of these days, I’ll have to try this switched to the camera on B & W mode.

 

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth

Bless this Mess or Landscaping Naturelle

I can’t see the forest for the trees, or the springs for the sedges. I need to go close and deep to my subjects. These are my landscapes. In nature, nothing is tidy. Nature is messy; erratic, bent, broken, fallen, wet, dead, dry, or sometimes flooded. For that reason you won’t find manicured lawns and long picturesque driveways in my work. Mother Nature abhors a vacuum (cleaner if you will). She’s a slob, a slacker, she works on her own schedule. My hope is to catch some trace of the goodness she left behind. Like a treasure hunter picking through the remnants of a pack rat

Enjoy what I find. Thanks for stopping by the Road Less Paved. I’ve enjoyed your visit.

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WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge:Landscape

An Improbable Scale

One misplaced finger on the keyboard and an entire prelude, poof. Of course, I have no notes. Muse, where art thou?

Of course, unbelievable, incredible, farfetched on a grand scale. Nothing could top the cake, plant the flag on the mountain peak, or jump the puddle, on a more absurd beginning than this.

Kickstarting my muse is akin to getting the polka band in tune, and the residents of Bogside Senior Living Center onto the floor to jig with Stadler and Waldorf.

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Scale gives photographic material an acceptable variation of density.  This image is a layered composite of four different photos; Birch bark and a layer each of a leaf of Shagbark Hickory, Quaking Aspen, and the top one, I really have no idea.  If anyone recognizes it, please let me know.

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I recently discovered our bog is actually a ‘Shrub Carr’. There are several types of wetlands. A bog has a layer of peat moss covering the bottom layer of soil. We lack that. We do have Red Twig Dogwood, small willows, various ferns, (a bracken or bract, something which resembles a fish scale in texture), sedges, and later in summer wetland wildflowers. The image above is two layers, each a couple of different ferns, Sensitive and Ostrich (my best guess). Dang, I missed the leaf shadow in the lower right corner. Oh, well, as a friend accidentally embroidered, “nobody’s pecfect”!

These are the improbable components in the scale of my life. Not likely to cause a major eruption on Facebook or other social media. I’ve been playing around with On One Perfect Photo Suite again, and recently added Topaz Labs ReStyle and Detail 3 to my collection. Still a seeker, more aha that’s interesting than oh my so boring again.

Thanks again for stopping The Less Paved. Let me know what you think of my experiments. If you’re playing as well I’d like to hear about your work.

 Weekly Photo Challenge:Scale

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Travelling the Express Route on The Road Less Paved

Sitting in the bog in back of my house. My ass is wet, it’s cold but not freezing. I’ve just learned that deer leave an amazing amount of poop in the woods. They must back up and, like dump trucks, use the same site every morning. I know there’s a joke about bear business in the woods, if anyone knows one about the common whitetail deer let me know. I managed to avoid all mountains before I sat.

I’m trying out my second new camera of the year. I sent the first back. I learned the problem with manufacturers stuffing ever-increasing pixels onto compressed sensors. On a full size screen it looks like a toss-up between finger painting, and an old chipped mosaic tile floor. I had better results fifteen years ago when cameras only had 5 to 7 pixels.

I didn’t get everything I wanted. The high hopes for a respectable point and shoot went out the window. The only cameras that serve my nitpicky needs are still well over a thousand dollars. Not in this lifetime. I ended up with a Nikon D3200. I bought a camera bag that looks like a big tote bag, so it will serve to tuck and go, point and shoot.

These are first shots out of the new toy. I’m processing with Photoshop, OnOne Perfect Photo Suite 8.1, and trying out a couple of the Topaz plug-ins. I’d like to try more, but my laptop crashes when it tries to open them. Thanks MS for making crappy onboard graphics processors that won’t talk to programs.

I’m certainly happy to have an entire day to spend expressing myself – breaking out of the mold and moving in the direction I want to go. Thanks for stopping by the road. Please leave word on what you think of expressions.

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge:Express Yourself

 

John Muir and the Three Little Where’s or Which Prairie When

Cuppants (Silphium perfoliatum) flow into a sea of yellow Anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora), and orange coneflowers (Rudbeckia fulgida).

Cuppants (Silphium perfoliatum) flow into a sea of yellow Anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora), and orange coneflowers (Rudbeckia fulgida).

Once upon a time, there was a tall man named John Muir.  He went for a walk through a prairie.  Pretty soon, he came upon a small familiar looking lake. He whistled and, when no one answered, he sat down.

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At the lake in the meadow, he spied three murky views into the future.  John was a quirky curious fellow.  He stared as the first hazy image became clearer.

Seedheads of Black-eyed Susans

Seedheads of Black-eyed Susans

“This image picture is so wrong!” he exclaimed. “Tis a very cold semblance to what I remember.”

Now on his knees, he gazed as the second vision cleared.

Tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum)

Tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum)

“This landscape is too contrived!” he said. “Nothing looks familiar to me.”

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As the last swirl in the lake became clear he exclaimed,  “Ah, this view is just right!”

Queen Anne's Lace - pre-bloom

Queen Anne’s Lace – pre-bloom

He happily sat back, crossed his hands behind his head, and recalled his boyhood.

Black-eyed Susan - skeletal remant of July

Black-eyed Susan – skeletal remnant of July

After seeing the three visions John was feeling a wee little sleepy.  Shuffling off to a hillside where he saw three trees, he leaned against the first tree to rest.

Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot) - after the bloom has faded

Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot) – after the bloom has faded

“This tree is too hard!” he exclaimed.

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So he leaned against the second tree.

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“This tree is too small!” he growled.

Prairie Cinquefoil

Prairie Cinquefoil

He chose the third tree, a young Bur oak, where he sighed and fell into a deep slumber while listened to the rustling dried leaves, sounding like far off tinkling of bells in a Buddhist temple.

Ratibida pinnata (Yellow Coneflower)

Ratibida pinnata (Yellow Coneflower)

As he was sleeping, three organization leaders came to discuss how to revive the worked-out land on which he slept.

Wind painting the Little Bluestem -Schizachyrium scoparium grass on the tall grass prairie

Wind painting the Little Bluestem -Schizachyrium scoparium grass on the tall grass prairie

Papa bear, who owned the largest portion of the land, decided it would be seventy-five percent native wild flowers, with a smidgen of sedges, and a portion of four native grasses, keeping the upland hardwoods, and a plan to open walking paths. This would become the John Muir County Park.

Wind painting with Big Bluestem grass, staple of the tall grass prairie

Wind painting with Big Bluestem grass, staple of the tall grass prairie

Mama bear, who owned the original homestead, the actual site of the Muir family house over looking the lake (NOTE: Private property no public access) felt the original prairie land would have been mostly grass with a smidgen of prairie flowers. They have maintained their property as predominately short grass prairie with appropriate prairie plants. I think John would easily recognize his front yard.

Wind painting the sedges and various grasses of the tall grass prairie

Wind painting the sedges and various grasses of the tall grass prairie

The federal government’s taken half the Muir family’s original homestead property and turned it into a tall grass prairie. Severed as cleanly by Wisconsin’s Marquette County Highway F, the Fox River National Wildlife Refuge, is a gem of a prairie reconstruction. Don’t visit Muir County Park and not cross the road to stand amid the waving grasses of a different kind of reconstructed environment.

Wind painting the tall grass prairie ...

Wind painting the tall grass prairie …

On a windy day you’ll understand why pioneer ancestors referred to their wagons as ‘prairie schooners’. The wind tosses waves of color, sunlight foams, and textures flow across my vision. Is it wind blowing past my ear or faint murmurs as John Muir and his boyhood friends scurry toward the distant river.

Wind painting a close in view of the neon, late August colors, of Big Bluestem prairie grass.

Wind painting a close in view of the neon, late August colors, of Big Bluestem prairie grass.

Would John Muir recognize any of the three landscapes? Which would look the most familiar to him? If an award were given for best adaptation, which of the three would receive it? I know which I prefer, and I know which I like least. Not that I would exclude any from my visits or my camera. All have something to discover, to teach, to preserve. Which to consider correct, I’ll leave for wiser minds than mine.

Wind painting the tall grass prairie dominated by Big bluestem, Turkeyfoot,  Indiangrass [Sorghastrum nutans], Switchgrass [Panicum virgatum], and Little Bluestem [Schizachyrium scoparium]), and lively yellow of Solidago speciosa (Showy Goldenrod).

Wind painting the tall grass prairie dominated by Big bluestem, Turkeyfoot, Indiangrass [Sorghastrum nutans], Switchgrass [Panicum virgatum], and Little Bluestem [Schizachyrium scoparium]), and lively yellow of Solidago speciosa (Showy Goldenrod).

(Unfortunately, I haven’t visited the private property – original home site in over ten years, so I have no current photos or permissions to post. You’ll have to trust me … it’s spectacular.)For information on where location and travel to Wisconsin’s John Muir country visit http://www.marquettenow.com/bike4trail.php

all photography copyrighted, all rights reserved, Charly Makray-Rice 2014