28nov ~ Looking close(ly)

All images can be seen in a larger size by double clicking on them.

I was making some binding straps for a packet of note cards, and I needed an image from Rocky Mountain National Park.  I picked this one, taken nearly 20 years ago, isolated the coyote from a grassy background, reduced it to about 3/4 inch high,  put it in place on the strap. Done.

But in the process of doing that, I happened on a full screen image like the one above—almost abstract but not quite.  I spent a little time enjoying it and thought I’d send it to all of you.  It has shed not only the grasses, but the iconic coyote body shape, and as crops often do, it isolates the core impact of the photograph.

If you are looking at it on a smart phone screen you probably won’t get the full effect, but with an image size of say. twelve inches, it becomes a different experience.

Pixelated, only 48 squares (each with lots of identical pixels) make up the eye that still projects the intensity of a predator. That is reinforced by the hint of a mouth—that peripheral line of dark blue pixels in the lower right corner—that you might or might not have recognized without the image of the whole critter to act as a “key” to the map.  Once you see it for what it is, it’s hard to set it aside.  Maybe it is the connection between seeking and eating…

It strikes me as ironic that the only real warmth in the picture comes from the predator’s eye.  It’s all the more striking because it floats in a sea of cold tones—blues and violets.  A blue coyote?  Well, no, but it was barely sunrise when the photo was taken and there was a little snow on the ground, so there was a lot of blue, fill light.  That I don’t find it particularly distracting in the first image.

21nov ~   Lotus “flower”, start to finish.

I think we hold too narrow a view of plant reproduction—too narrow a concept of “flower.”   We focus on the fertilizable unit in the reproductive sequence which is made attractive to—marketed to— its pollinators.  And by coincidence, to us.  We treat fertilization as the end of the story when really it is the beginning.   A flower is the maiden of the archetypical forms maiden/mother/crone. These three forms are recognized as the Triple Goddess in pagan religions, a new term for me.

I was drawn to this line of thinking recently as we watched the end game of the American Lotus flower, the closing acts, seen below, and remembering the lotus flowers posted earlier.So here’s the sequence on the cheap with 3 links to previous postings from last year, (4 images.)

Aug. 2, 2021 ~   Lotus bud (pre-reproductive)

Aug. 9, 2021 ~   Lotus flower (Maiden)

Aug. 16, 2021 ~ Lotus flower (Mother;  young and older; scroll down to the second image)

To complete the trajectory, I’ve added two recent photos beginning with this 16-eyed crone with 14 perfectly adorable kids and two that are questionable.  

I suppose the boundary between mother and crone is a large gray area, but I’ve identified this a crone because while the seeds haven’t left home yet, their nurturing is complete—they rattle around in her, inside their chambers, indicating that no umbilical connection remains, however they retain their original orientation, so that the now obsolete stigmas are still in their original positions.  They are maturing while the shriveling of their container (the crone) advances enough to allow them to escape as her head bows as the stem that holds her upright, curls just below the flowering head—what you would see as her neck.

On complete maturation, as the crone bows out, her head faces down and the seeds are released and dropped into the water.  One of these last two seeds—the one nearest the center— has, in the course of its movements, been jiggled around so that it now rests upside down in its chamber and shows its shriveled bellybutton—where the seed was connected to the flower’s receptacle.  

14nov ~ Warm colors and textured surfaces

We have lots of trees and it’s been a really windy fall so they pile up against the house, especially in any pockets where the wind can swirl. One of those is our north porch, and the steps are entirely covered by a bank of leaves… almost.  I was in the midst of a project in flagrante delicto—meaning “caught in the act” (without reference to any particular act)—and not interested in making the stairs safe just then, so I paid attention to the exposed bits of stair tread as I took the stairs. This one caught my eye because it was looking back at me, and that led me to notice the leaves that were everywhere, as well as on the porch and steps. And to look at them—to notice them, and I was taken by the rich warm colors.

Looking at these leaves on the computer screen, I was struck by their diversity.  Given the position of the stairs and the kinds of trees nearby, I assumed they were from oak trees.  But the crinkled one that bends over the eye like a shaggy eyebrow, turns out to the last leaflet on the compound leaf of a Bitternut Hickory.  Below the eye, hovering over the next stair tread, the one with three diverging veins is a Sycamore leaf.  The light, angular one in the upper left corner is Washington Hawthorn, and the last participant in this little 2-dimensional diorama, its tip poking the eye in its exact center, is an elm leaf.  The rest are oak—Red Oak.

07nov ~ Squatter

This was taken in July in Grand Marais, MN.  With an iPhone.  It was taken in nesting colony of Ring-billed Gulls, who find the flat, gravel-covered roofs of the commercial buildings in that little downtown area a great place to rear their nestlings—only avian predators to worry about.

When the chicks are old enough to fly, or at least to plummet slowly, they move down from the penthouses to mix with the common folk, where they can find scraps of food to tide them over between feedings from their parents, who watch over them, from streetlights and roof edges, like white-vested lifeguards.  Plus, they don’t require a lot of entertainment beyond watching people and traffic.

So this chick, with a few tufts of his spotted down plumage still visible on the back of his head, is not resting on the Canadian Shield, but on the concrete at the edge of a parking lot in front of the Food Co-op.  He didn’t mind me approaching to about 3 feet to get this picture, but the lifeguard was getting a little antsy.

This chick is not the homeliest I’ve seen.  I think Egrets take that prize, Still, its hard to envision him as a competent adult in immaculate white—but it going to take him 3 years to get there.

31oct  ~ After the harvest

We don’t have fall colors here at the edge of the Ozarks, that people would drive hundreds of miles to see.  But it is well worth a drive of a couple of miles to the western edge of the modest ridge that separates the Brawley Creek and Post Oak Drainages, which at this point is forested. It’s a grand sweep of horizon, not much of a ridge and certainly not a mountain, but our home is over the mountain and through the woods about two miles from this point.

The colors are subdued but incredibly rich, earth tones that I find the prefect prelude to the winter’s rest.  The corn is gone, but the rich color, remains, a perfect counterpoint to the colors of the tree line.  None of it would be so powerful without the warm sun and the threatening sky from a storm moving away from us.

A  closer view of the tree line is better suited to the size restrictions on online posts.  It was taken with an iPhone and its resolution leaves a lot to be desired, but it does bring the mix of colors to our attention, and it will help you to put mentally combine the two images.

24oct ~ I don’t understand.

We were sitting on the deck looking up at the trees overhead and the stark branches of the walnut caught my eye.  We’d had the first, hard freeze a few days earlier.  Some pictures appeal with a flood of color. Some with repetitive shapes.  Some are just, “Huh.”  This one is like that. 

The central tree is a Black Walnut.  On the lower right, the dark orange leaves that look pixellated are Sycamore, except for that little dark plume that runs parallel to and just above the walnut’s trunk.  That’s a Hackberry, its remaining leaves appearing freeze-dried.  The trees on the left, still appear fully leafed.  Mostly those are Bur Oak but the yellow leaves in the lower left quadrant are Red Oak.  Five species, all of them have reached the canopy, which in tree society is seen as wildly successful, and all look healthy.  

With leaves being the energy machine of plants, you’d think all trees would keep them as long as possible.  Who couldn’t benefit from more energy? And the solar collectors are already in place and functioning. 

But they don’t.  Honey Locusts start dropping their leaflets about the first of July, walnuts begins dropping theirs about late August while they are still provisioning their large seeds.  Our mulberries dropped theirs en masse with that hard freeze. The Red Oaks have withdrawn their chlorophyll revealing the yellow pigments that will be discarded with the leaves, but the Burr Oak’s keep working (apparently) even after the freeze. Huh.

17oct ~ An open and shut case.

Two views of an upside-down butterfly who consistently opened his wings, paused, and then closed them. He is one of the two species that I think of as the punctuation butterflies.

This is the Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis.) It’s sibling species—not shown here—is the Comma (Polygonia c-album), less common here.  Both are named for a tiny silver mark in the center of the hind wing (underside). Hanging upside-down on a leaf, this punctuation looks more like a semi-colon—it is tiny, but it can be seen at the boundary between the light and dark gray bands on the underside of the hind wing. It is not a common font, but it will pass for a question mark.  I would have rotated the picture, but his hanging upside down is a part of his dead leaf persona. 

The Question Mark feeds primarily on Elm and Hackberry of which we have an abundance (also on nettles & hops).

The Coma, feeds primarily on nettles & hops—we have little of either—(also on Elm and hackberry).  This explains not only why Question Marks are so common here, but it also suggests a route to their splitting into two species from their common ancestor. 

There are two broods per year, he is one of the fall brood, recognizable by the violet fringes on the wings. They colors appear worn, but then the picture was taken in early October and he’d better be sheltered tonight for our first hard freeze at 22°. As one of the fall brood, this guy will overwinter by hibernating, mate in the spring, and produce the spring brood.  Some of them migrate, I’m told, but either way, this one will produce a spring brood, if they survive.

10oct ~The little beetle

Take a look at this little beetle that wandered onto my set while I was filming, and found himself precisely in the focal plane.  He is a Cerambycid (Longhorn Beetles) a family with over 35,000 species.  I know 25 or 30 species that it isn’t, but I haven’t been able to get anywhere with it.

Looking at him enlarged, he becomes a subject rather than a distraction. I didn’t give any dimensions last week, the image didn’t call for it.  But I think this one does. Measuring a 3-dimensional objects from a 2-dimensional image is questionable, but the estimates are still meaningful approximations. According to the Flora of Missouri, the lower lip of Blue Sage petals is about 20mm (± 3/4”) wide.  That  makes the beetle in real life, about 2mm long (± 1/8”).   And just to take it to extremes, his legs are about 125 microns in diameter (0.125mm).  By way of comparison, a human egg is about 100 microns in diameter, a dimension that is considered the limit of resolution of the unaided human eye.

How in the world does such a thin, hollow tube (the exoskeleton of his leg) hold the paired muscles that operate the multi-segmented feet?

Living in this beetle’s scale would be a whole world that is barely resolvable to us. What a spectacular view he must have from that cushy blue cloud that is both vast and edible.

03oct ~ Blue Sage

October 3, 2022 ~ Blue sage

A few years ago, this flower turned up along the ridge trail—the closest thing to a hill-top prairie that we have.  It stands just off the trail, and 4’ tall.  It is a Blue sage, Salvia azurea, a perennial that is now in bloom again for about its 4th year.  It is one of the few truly blue flowers we have (not bluish-purple like Chicory) and it really stands out against a yellowing background. It is a mint.

When I learned what it was a sage, I thought, OK, I can see the grayish-green color of the flowering head, which is unusual and not too far from the only sage I new, which was Sagebrush.  But it has bothered me for a few years. I knew Salvia only as the crimson-flowering, spiky bedding plant that we no longer attempt in our flower beds because the squirrels destroy it in a matter of days.  That red salvia is from Brazil.

Sagebrush (Artemisia) is in a different family altogether, (Asterace.)  Its closely related to Wormwood (also Artemisia), originally from the middle east and referred to in the bible, mot notably in Revelations.

This is entirely out of my range of expertise, but I found this on Wikipedia. and I do like connecting information from different sources.

“Due to the Ukrainian word for Artemisia vulgaris being chernobyl, many have used the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 as definitive proof that the prophecy in the Book of Revelation is correct.The verses referring to a “star falling down and turning the waters bitter” are interpreted as the radioactive fallout from the disaster poisoning the environment around Chernobyl, leaving it uninhabitable.”

So when one smudges with sage smoke, what kind of sage is it?   It is White Sage (Salvia apiana) a close kin to ours, and it looks very much like it except the flowers are white. 

The demand for sage sold for “smudging”, has made it very scarce and the intermountain Native Americans, who have used it as a sacred plant for centuries, now find their sources stripped by commercial interests.

You just never know what will turn up down the rabbit hole.

September 26, 2022 ~ Upside down

This is a Bur Cucumber (Sicyos angulatus.)  The plant is an annual—growing from a seed only a little over a 1/4” long, every year.  That means that, like any annual, the whole body of the plant is generated from that seed beginning that germinated in April.  This photo was taken on the equinox so its been growing for 5 months.

This vine is remarkable in the way it has sought the sun.  It began climbing the trunk of a dead White Pine on the edge of the driveway. It—I’ll call it the up-strand—got up to about 20’ and sent out an ill-fated side shoot along a broken branch that was tilted downward. When the vine reached the end of the branch, it kept on growing, like the coyote chasing the roadrunner well past the edge of the cliff.  Eventually it could no longer support its own weight and began to hang, growing straight down for another 20’.  That about 40’ for vine.  The up-strand is visible in the upper right corner of the frame with brown, shriveled leaves, and the down-strand is the subject of this photograph.

I’ve walked past it for a month or so, and just a few days ago it struck me that the leaves of a down-growing vine ought to be upside down, but as you can see, they were not.  A close look tells the story.

This is a node that produced one of those leaves.  The leaf’s stem (petiole) began on the left side of the vine, but that is the dark side, so it took a hard right, so that the leaf would face into the open area.  But then  it twisted the petiole a full 180° so that the leaf’s upper (adaxial) surface faces up, as it was designed to do, and the lower (abaxial) surface, that carries all those stomata, faces down like it is supposed to.

The two thin projections (to the left) from that same node are tendrils that never reached a target.