Tuesday, February 24, 2009

SOMETIMES THE SKY'S JUST WORTH WATCHING








I imagine that there are a lot of strangers that look at me like I'm crazy. I will be walking along and all of a sudden I'll look up because either a bird or a piece of sky has caught my attention. Well today was no different. The sky went through some interesting changes late this afternoon. In the space of less than an hour, there were more odd cloud formations than I could count, and then a fiery finish!

Part of enjoying the urban wild is taking the time to observe the nature that surrounds us always, even if we think we are in the city. It's evenings like these that are worth stopping to look.

Speaking of which, tonight I plan to look for Comet Lulin in the night sky, which is supposed to be visible with 10 x 50 binoculars (which I have, mounted on a tripod) in the S-SE sky near the planet Jupiter. Hope I spot it--this is a once in a lifetime comet and won't ever be back this way.



Monday, February 23, 2009

COOPER’S HAWK ON A CLOUDY MORNING

Strange clouds have covered the skies for the past three days. A subtropical system has brought odd wrinkled and puckered clouds, along with high humidity. Occasional fat drops fall, but not for long and only enough to wet the sidewalks.

This morning when I went out to get the paper something large caught my eye in the big sycamore behind the house: a big Cooper’s Hawk! At first it was just hunkered down facing away from me on an upper branch...

Then the hawk called loudly: kak-kak-kak-kak-kak-kak--and hopped up to the very topmost branch. It was now facing in my direction, just as the sun started to emerge from behind the bank of clouds...

...and then the sun poked through enough to light up its breast with a bright, rusty glow—what a magnificent sight!

When I left for work at 7:10, the hawk was still in the tree and the clouds had eclipsed the sunrise. As I was pulling out of the drive, I saw two crows swoop down on the hawk and chase it off. The poor hawk has a tough time of it in our neighborhood, as there is a HUGE flock of them that claim this area as theirs. But the hawk persists, and I have seen him many times lately.

 I look forward to seeing his stately and majestic form in the tree again soon…this is the 'urban wild' that most people miss because they don't take the time to look!


Sunday, February 15, 2009

H. P. Lovecraft & The Great Outdoors


Howard Phillips Lovecraft
(Linoleum block print by Linda Navroth)


Lovecraft's favorite 'sitting rock' at Quinsnicket Lake



Another view of the 'sitting rock' at far end of lake



Quinsnicket Lake through the trees



Forest path in Quinsnicket Woods
Many know H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) as a writer of weird stories, mainly published by pulp magazines such as Weird Tales and Amazing Stories. But what is not more generally known is that the man spent a great deal of time walking around various parks and tracts of woods near his home in Providence, RI.
One place that was a special favorite was Quinsnicket Woods, which was approx. 10 miles slightly northwest of Providence. Lovecraft would take a bus as far as the line went near to it, and walked the rest of the way. He thus would spend many hours sitting on a rock outcropping at the far end of Quinsnicket Lake, composing endless letters to his friends and acquaintances.
In 1929, in a letter to fellow weird writer Clark Ashton Smith (who lived in northern California) he wrote:

“I envy you the springtime which has visited your region so much sooner than it visits New England. We are still viewing brown earth, matted leaves, & bare boughs, though for the past week & a half it has been astonishingly mild for the season. The other day I took the first woodland outing of the season; carrying my reading & writing along as I do in summer, & spending the afternoon atop the great lakeside rock in the Quinsnicket region—a favorite haunt of mine. There were still patches of snow on the shady slopes, & the ice of the ponds was still unmelted; but brooks were running genially & noisily, and a haze of awakening lay upon all the hills & upland meadows. There is a curious magic in a New England spring even before the visual scene takes on beauty. It always makes me regret my lack of poetic powers.”

He also used such trips to 'soak up atmosphere' as he liked to refer to it, letting himself absorb and feel the eeriness of lonely places and taking in the sweeping view of his beloved Providence from some of the higher elevations.
Sunset was a favored time to take in such views and his letters are peppered with eloquent descriptions of the blazing sunsets and the impressions that they made upon him. He would sometimes use these impressions and others from his outdoor rambles in his fiction:

“I was far from home, and the spell of the eastern sea was upon me. In the twilight I heard it pounding on the rocks, and I knew it lay just over the hill where the twisting willows writhed against the clearing sky and the first stars of evening…I pushed on through the shallow, new-fallen snow along the road that soared lonely up to where Aldebaran twinkled among the trees…” [The Festival]

“One early morning in August Olney set out to find a path to the inaccessible pinnacle. He worked northwest along pleasant back roads, past Hooper’s Pond and the old brick powder-house to where the pastures slope up to the ridge able the Miskatonic and give a lovely vista of Arkham’s white Georgian steeples across leagues of river and meadow. Here he found a shady road to Arkham, but no trail at all in the seaward direction he wished. Woods and fields crowded up to the high bank of the river’s mouth, and bore not a sign of man’s presence; not even a stone wall or a straying cow, but only the tall grass and giant trees and tangles of briars that the first Indian might have seen.” [The Strange High House in the Mist]

Lovecraft’s astute observation while going about his walks in the countryside or as he watched fiery sunsets at evening lent credibility and genuineness to his stories that could not have been accomplished any other way. Presented below are a few examples of lush descriptions of landscapes and times of day, which I have found particularly indicative of Lovecraft’s powers of observation. His meticulous treatment of landscape in setting the mood for his stories is one of the hallmarks of his brand of weird tale. Although he was not the first to do so (Hawthorne preceded him), he took it to a new level, sometimes imbuing the natural world with human-like characteristics.

In 1927 and 1928 Lovecraft made two trips to visit Vrest Orton in Vermont. His experiences in and around the Brattleboro area gave him much raw material from which he spun this tale of the bizarre happenings at the Akeley farmhouse in "The Whisperer in Darkness." This story is perhaps most unique for its lengthy, detailed descriptions of rural southern Vermont, details which he did not lavish on his other stories. Perhaps he was impressed by the immense age of the Vermont land, much as I myself was on my visits to the state. There is something truly spooky and foreboding about the land there and it takes little imagination to see or feel all manner of strange things.

“The nearness and intimacy of the dwarfed, domed hills now became veritably breath-taking. Their steepness and abruptness were even greater than I had imagined from hearsay, and suggested nothing in common with the prosaic objective world we know. The dense, unvisited woods on those inaccessible slopes seemed to harbour alien and incredible things, and I felt that the very outline of the hills themselves held some strange and aeon-forgotten meaning, as if they were vast hieroglyphs left by a rumored titan race whose glories live in only rare, deep dreams.” [The Whisperer in Darkness]

Lovecraft, who possessed a sensitive nature, must have been particularly attuned to the ‘vibe’ and ‘residual energy’ that lingers in remote places that see few human visitors. That he actively sought those places out to experience, then use as an element of his fiction was a touch of brilliance and shows his determination to stand out as a writer.


[written while listening to vintage Elton John, of all people--notably "Madman Across the Water."]

Saturday, February 7, 2009

THE MANY FACES OF LADY MOON

A panorama of images taken this evening as the Moon wove in and out of clouds. We had a wonderful drenching shower this afternoon. It started with hail, then heavy rain, topped off with a rainbow. And the sun was shining the whole time.

These images sent me digging through my photo archives to pull out all my favorite moon shots from the past year, which show the many faces that Lady Moon puts on during her transits across the sky each month:

A thin crescent at dawn...

Nearly half, again at dawn (taken in Bothell, WA)

A nice crescent, topped by a rosy jet trail

Another crescent, taken from the roof at school

The recent conjunction of the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter--quite a sight!

Full-face, surrounded by a light haze of fog

Waxing gibbous, showing off her seas and craters
 
A lurid, setting Moon, obscured by fog

A half Moon, obscured by clouds

I love watching the Moon. And when one makes it more of a routine, one sees a lot more, too. Like the first tiny cuticle of the crescent after she emerges from her dark phase and the ominous waning gibbous after her full flush.

This year I bought the Lunaria calendar, which has the Moon's phases for each day, the astrological transits, and other interesting aspects. If you are inclined, you can find them here:

From the back of the calendar:
"The Lunaria is the perfect instrument to help us to realize the powerful effects that the moon, planets and seasons have on us. More aware, we can increase our ability to consider our actions, understand our emotions and plan for the future."

For instance, when the panorama of Moon photos was taken, the Moon was moving out of Cancer and into Leo. For a gardener, this would mean the we were moving from "a fruitful time to a barren one. It will, however, be a good time for pest control! On an emotional level, Cancer is a time of heaviness and sensitivity, while Leo is a time of joyful appreciation of the day, and bold self-confidence." (quote from the calendar).

Whatever your religious or spiritual inclination, the forces of the Moon and other planets exerted on our Earth cannot be denied. The gravitational force of the Moon in particular causes sap in trees to rise and the tides of the sea to ebb and flow.

In general, I just find it rewarding to watch Lady Moon's performance upon the stage of night, observing her changes of costume for each act during the month.

[written while listening to some vintage Rolling Stones, in particular, 2,000 Light Years from Home]

Monday, February 2, 2009

BACKYARD BIRDING


House Sparrows, House Finches feasting at the feeder. The White-crowned Sparrows foraged on the ground below--a lot less crowded!


American Goldfinches vie for position on a 4-port feeder. A House Finch kept butting in, but the goldies were pretty persistant.



Female American Goldfinch.



Male American Goldfinch

Sometimes good birding can be had right in one's own backyard. Saturday morning Paula and I birded her yard and were amazed at all the birds jamming the feeders. Our list from the morning:
  • American Goldfinch (a flock of at least 40 altogether)
  • House Finch
  • House Sparrow
  • Anna's Hummingbird
  • Scrub Jay
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Red-tailed Hawk (soaring overhead)
  • American Crow
Later on we headed to Whitney Canyon (taking along her year-old puppy, Cinnamon, on her first hike) and saw even more birds:
  • Western Meadowlark (flock of about 30)
  • Band-tailed Pigeon (flock of about 40)
  • Common Raven
  • Red-tailed Hawk (soaring overhead)
  • Oak Titmouse (heard several calling)
  • California Quail (heard calling up in hills)
  • Scrub Jay
  • Acorn Woodpecker


I sat for a while in a beautiful oak grove, listening for sounds. The longer I sat there, themore I heard and saw. I heard quail calling from the hills and Acron Woodpeckers drumming. While focused on all that, another unexpected sound startled me. It was sort of like a whoosh of water--a real unusual sound. It turned out to be a large flock of Band-tailed Pigeons that had been flushed from their roost. I've seen these birds before, but never in such numbers.

Up the trail a ways I caught up with Paula and Cinnamon, who had found the skeletal remains of a deer. No doubt a meal from a mountain lion and a reminder that we could all be food for some predator while out for a walk. I took a few photos of the skeleton, but they weren't very pretty so I did not post them.

On the way back Cinnamon got to see her first cottontail rabbit--I think it was about the same size as her!