17jan ~ Sea Lettuce (Ulva sp.)

I’m still mining bypassed PixList images, even with the beautiful snow outside. This one from 2010.  It is one of the species of sea lettuce in the genus Ulva—species identification requires cellular details. It was taken at Acadia National Park, where in 2010, we spent some time at the tide-pools, and this caught my eye .

UlvaIt is a green alga that lives in almost any kind of sea water from mildly saline, to full marine levels and it is distributed worldwide.

Of course it lives by photosyntheses, and I’m assuming the bubbles are mostly oxygen, released as a product of that process.  The release of oxygen is tough to photograph.  We don’t see any hint of it in the leaves that surround us, we just have to take the word of people who measure it.  It is the most critical process in the world, and it excludes the photographer, being colorless and odorless (referring to oxygen).  This is a way to see it—to make the invisible visible.  Naturally the distribution from oak leaves would be different if we could see it.

 This is compositionally strong, it seems to me.  It conveys a sense of motion pretty well, for a static object, and I want to lean to the right if I look at it too long.

I wonder what I’d have written about it back in 2010.

10jan ~ Yellow Cockle + speculation

January 10, 2022 ~ Yellow Cockle and speculation

I keep a file of images that I prepared for the PixList, but that got bypassed as other images seemed more timely—or more interesting, so I think this is a new picture, even though it is was originally prepared for March of 2012.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m doing pictures with repeating elements.  I find those appealing, so I’m guessing you do too.  The source is work done in the 19070s by Gerda Smets who studied alpha brain waves in people presented with a series of computer generated figures.  Apparently the alpha waves become sharply desynchronized when the elements of the figures have a repetitiveness of 20%.  That was called “psychological arousal” but now it falls under the heading of “aesthetic arousal” which seems to me a more specific kind of arousal. I referred to this phenomenon two weeks ago. E.O. Wilson interpreted Smet’s work for me in Consilience where he says this pattern seems to be innate. That 20% figure doesn’t mean much to me, but he says it is about the level of repetitiveness in Chinese pictographic characters.  It suggests the eye-catching value of written words beginning with cuneiform writing.

This subject is way beyond my areas of expertise, but it is pregnant with ideas.  Psychological arousal is of particular interest to me, because a photographer wants to create images that are “stimulating” and quite possibly, that means that they desynchronizes] the alpha waves of the viewer. I find myself drawn to repeating patterns like this one and last week’s wood grain.  I can imagine that the “hunter’s trance” that Wilson talks about is partly a search for patterns that are largely confined to plants and animals—food.  It would account for that particular quirk in humans and likely for any searching animal.  I’ve adopted the idea that this is just one of the tools of composition for which I can imagine a selective advantage and I can suspect that other compositional rules likely do as well.  I have no evidence for this but it is a working hypothesis that I am still trying to explore.

But back to the cockle, you’ve got to wonder how the two halves, growing separately but in touch with each other, fit together so precisely, without the help of an orthodontist.

01jan ~ Some years are good ones…some not so much

About 30 years ago, we happened by a small houses that was being torn down not far from campus.  There were stacks of tongue and groove pine that had been used as sheathing —that went out when plywood came in.  I bought a bunch of it for almost nothing and we’ve used it for distressed paneling in some of our rooms.  Here is are two of those boards, freshly cut, that are bound for a small bench top, in their next life.

The house must have dated to the 1920’s or even before, and I was struck by the density of the boards. That density shows here in the growth rings that vary in spacing to report their good and bad seasons.  The wood is almost certainly Short-leaf Pine, the only pine native to Missouri, that was abundant in the Ozarks, and now mostly gone.  So that is probably it was harvested.  The extreme density of this wood is the result of slow growth, shown by closely spaced annual rings.  Likely this tree was old growth pine.

The boards are 3/4 inch think and less that 2 inches of width can be seen here. That’s translates into 28 years for the tree to increase its radius by an inch.  That’s 0.9 mm per year.  Recently acquired 2×4’s –no longer Shortleaf Pine, grew an inch in 5 or 6 years.  That about 5 times faster

They don’t make wood like they used to.

27dec ~ Dust jackets

I’ll leave the book banter after today, but it has been such an intense learning experience, about how things are done.  My Galapagos book was done conventionally so that all of the publishing and distribution details were handled by the University of Mo Press. This time around—self publishing— I made decisions that I’d no idea needed to be made, even though the Press will handle the distribution details for me.  Here’s a photographable f’rinstance.

This is a side view of a stack of 320 dust covers.  They don’t have books to cover—something like toys without children to belong to.  The edge view is that part of the jacket that with the Red-Wing display (from the back of the book) which you will recognize if you have a copy.  The stack is really heavy—25 pounds of slippery and slidey sheets.  Why, you might ask, do I have such a thing?

The Distribution Agreement call for extra dust jackets, so that the vulnerable jackets can be replaced if damaged, and returned books can be refitted as necessary.  The press suggested 10% extra dust jackets.  That’s 150 for my 1,500 books (40 for me and 110 to go on to the warehouse).  Why, you might ask, do I have 320 of them?  I don’t know.

From this photograph the stack looks banded, like a snake or a caterpillar.  E.O. Wilson describes that response as “psychological arousal” and it appears to be innate.  Photographers call it “interesting” and it figures into which pictures we choose to take.

20dec ~ Solstice in the Brawley Creek valley

Tomorrow is the solstice.  Of course the sun sets at its earliest at the winter solstice, but it also sets at a different place on the horizon—just about here.  Approximate day length doesn’t change much in the weeks before and after the solstice, so we have this lovely spectacle to enjoy for a while longer, a little after 5pm

During the Summer and Early Fall the sun sets much further to the right (north) behind the trees to the right.  The branches are dense, of course, but they are also made opaque by an abundance of leaves, so this scene is a seasonal treat, as much as the flowering of Common Milkweeds.

The colors seen in real life are more intense than anything that can appear on a screen. 

16dec ~ What we’ve been doing…

No more wrinkled and subtly colored leaves for a while…  in fact all of the following pictures are a one time diversion from my usual fare of natural curiosities and beautiful things.

I passed up my Monday posting because I was busy.  My part of the book order arrived on a palette that weighed nearly a ton.  The bulk of them are at the U. of Chicago Distribution Center.  I moved the books into the truck and them moved them all a second time into the shop which has become some composite of a Brawley Creek Fulfillment Center and Santa’s Workshop.

This is what 400 books look like, 7 books to a box, stacked in two rows.  The front row needed to be in the mails ASAP, and we trucked the last of them to the Post Office Wednesday. 

It was quite an operation.  This is me, daunted with the already assembled and addressed boxes, receipts paired with books, and withlists of which inscriptions go into which books.  I’d like to think there were no mistakes, but if there were some I’ll be happy to fix them.  This isn’t all of them books and boxes—not even half—just the ones that could be safely stacked that high.

Gina helped me with the boxes, we played Christmas Carols and other joyous music, and had a wonderful time working together—so much of the long work of writing and editing the book was solitary, so this was a real treat for me.  Gina was an excellent final editor (any flaws that remain are the sole responsibility of the author), a prominent force in the cover design, she took some of the photos in the book, and called my attention to many others.  She also tolerated my preoccupation with the book for lo these many years.  Not all of that would fit in the dedication.

Now the first 125 or so are in the mail and some of them have already reached their destination as people report in.

I’ve still got about 275 books.  Having served family and friends, which includes many of you on the PixList, who have encouraged me and enlightened me over these years.  Of course it will be available from other sources as well—through the University of Missouri Press, Amazon, and other major book sellers, but it pleases me to make it available at this reduced price for my peeps.

Next week — Monday I suppose— I’ll return to my usual fare.  Have a great holiday.

06dec ~  All leaves are created unequal


The manuscript that left Brawley Creek as binary code will return as finished book tomorrow.  I should begin fulfilling orders on Wednesday.  I’ve always thought of Brawley Creek as a place of fulfillment, but not in quite this way.

The early morning sun does wonders for textures, and it also highlights the ice crystals of a proper frost.  That shows to good effect on the backside of this Sycamore leaf, which is built very differently from a Tulip Tree leaf.  Both serve the same function, and both are canopy trees, but the Sycamore leaf is stiff and dry, even before it leaves the tree — cardboard-like, which I guess should be no surprise because it is not very far from that product, but it is brittle and crumples to fragments in the hand.  The Tulip Tree leaf on the other hand is more like limp lettuce.  I wonder how that serves their different ecological niches.

Like everything else, looking close takes us into a different world— the surface texture of the leaf looks like leather; and the forest of ice crystals, use the hair along the midrib as a nuclei for their formation, and it has grown up overnight.

November 29, 2021 ~  Rummaging through the litter 

This is the underside of one of those Tulip Tree leaves.  I know…(sigh)… another leaf picture… and I’ll have another next week.  But while rummaging through the litter of my recollections is about tiny birds and how they manage to feed themselves in the winter, and also because I can get lost in these mesmerizing patterns of the decaying leaves with their subtle shadings.  I decided this was worth another go.

The key character in this  image is the tiny exoskeleton near the top of the mid-vein.  I didn’t know it was there until I got this image on the screen.  You’re looking at 75 mm of mid-vein (± 3 inches).  On my screen that’s about 1.5 times life-size.  I think the exoskeleton was left by one of the hoppers of which there are many– leafhoppers, planthopper, froghopper, grass hoppers.  The hind legs (in this case the hindmost legs) make it look like it must have come from a tiny frog which is also a hopper…well, more of a leaper.  I’d like to think it was left by a leafhopper because…well… it is on a leaf.  There is a certain logic to the idea, and besides I think it probably is one of those.  A closer look is provided by a major enlargement of the first image.  It reveals some camera motion but it will serve to bring us into the appropriate scale.

It shows a shed skin that appears frog-like because the abdominal segments are missing, but even with those sections restored, it’s body would only be 3 mm long, including the legs.  That’s 1/8th of an inch.  It’s a very small tidbit.

So where’s the tiny bird in all of this?  Brown Creepers, who have recently returned to us, are the tiny bird I have in mind.  Brown Creepers weigh ~ 8 grams. The maximum prey size they can take is 3 mm–a size that has stuck in my mind, amid the other litter.  But they make a living through the stresses of winter by working cervices in the bark of mature trees, and capturing food items this size and smaller.  Chickadees (at 11 grams) have much the same kind of challenge, but instead of looking in the bark crevices of mature tree trunks, they look between the bud scales at the tips of twigs and surface irregularities of those tiny twigs.

This little discarded skin allows us a glimpse into a world that surrounds us completely, but it is a world of which we are barely aware, because all of it takes place on a different scale, a scale barely within our ability to notice. 

22nov ~ Tulip tree leaves

The reason for the tree’s name requires no comment I suppose, but its presence here at Brawley Creek does.  It is a tree of the Eastern forest, and occurs naturally in Missouri only in the Bootheel.

I’ve always admired the tree but wouldn’t have chosen to plant it here as non-native to this area, but I’ve made exceptions before.  I was offered two bare-root seedlings and stuck them near one of the trails on the flood plain, with an eye to moving them somewhere else if they survived.

It is one of the fastest growing trees in North America and with only moderate procrastination, they soon reached the canopy, only to die during one of our summer droughts, demonstrating why they are not here naturally.  But they were not quite dead, and they sent up sucker shoots from the roots and now there are multiple trunks that are approaching the canopy again—awaiting the next drought, I suppose.

That’s why they are here at Brawley Creek, but they are here on this blog, because the colors of their decomposition are beautiful, and the form that takes is clearly defined by blocks of cells derived by from sub units of the leaf that previously appeared identical and now are dying at different rates.  It calls for an explanation, and I wish I had one.  

I don’t, but I happen upon a quote this week from Quinn Long, the Director of Conservation of the Missouri section of The Nature Conservancy, that I wish I’d said first.  He certainly speaks for me and I’m sure for many, if not all of you. “I realized from an early age that immersion in nature provided an unparalleled sense of wonder and tranquility.”  Bingo.

15nov~ Leaf  drops and droppings

That’s why they call it fall, I’d guess. This is the morning after our first frost (Nov. 3) and as is often the case, the still night air that permitted the frost, let the leaves drop pretty much straight down.  This is the drop zone of a Bitternut Hickory (Carya cordiformis) a congeneric of Pecans (Carya illinoinensis—which I apparently have been misspelling for the last 50 years or so—leaving out the middle “n”.)  Unfortunately, the Bitternut is something of a black sheep in the taste department.    I don’t find a lot of use for a wide-angle view, but sometimes it allows a novel perspective.

We don’t often see such an organized drop.  This one is noticeable only because it spread itself out on graveled areas and a trampled area of lawn. The other hundreds of Bitternut trees we have around must have had the same drop, but we can’t see it because their leaves disappeared into brush or tall grass.

Those walnut drippings include a growth inhibitor – juglone – that can inhibit plant respiration, and reduce the ability to take water and nutrients from the soil.  The symptoms include stunting, yellowing, wilting, and death.  Only some species are affected, so that our Walnut rich floodplain is a select club, mostly tolerant species. We’ve lots of Buckbrush, Virginia Creeper, and Grapes, and Gooseberry…I wonder what we don’t have?   Where to find a flood plain without Walnuts….