Cape Otway Lighthouse

August 30th, 2015

Cape Otway Lighthouse

The Cape Otway Light Station might not be the most significant lighthouse in Australia, but its up there.  Cape Otway is the southernmost tip of eastern Australia, forming the northern boundary of the Bass Straight, a relatively narrow sea channel between Tasmania and mainland Australia that becomes even narrow between the cape and King Island. After several sailing vessels managed to get all the way from England to Australia, only to wreck along the rocky and windy southern shore of Victoria, the British government began building lighthouses.   The one at Cape Otway was built between 1846 and 1848.


Most of the walls, including the steps, are of masonry construction, with the carefully curved and fitted exterior stones cut nearby.

Platform Support

The topmost part of the lighthouse, along with the mechanisms, was provided in pre-fab form from England.  A large cast iron funnel, with a stack on top, provides the support for the rotating light mechanism on the level above.

Iron Eye

A metal rod (no, I don’t know what it is for) is contained within the cast iron tube, connecting the mechanism at the top of the lightstation with the cast iron eye set in the floor, beneath the winding staircase.

Cast iron steps

The steps leading up to the working level of the light house are made from cast iron, as are the railings, posts, the platform underneath the light mechanism, and apparently, the domed roof of the station.

Fresnel Lens

A rotating Fresnel lens, which was originally powered by a weight-enabled clockwork mechanism that had to be rewound by the keepers every day, was eventually electrified.


A wooden ladder leads from the cast iron grating immediately underneath the rotating lens mechanism, enabling the keepers to maintain the interior of the dome and the lighting mechanism. Like the ladder in a library, this ladder can be repositioned around the interior of the lightstation dome, hooking onto cast iron bars above the lens unit.

Elizabeth on the observation platform

The exterior of the light station has a platform, completely surrounding the station, made from cast iron.

Exterior catwalk

A secondary, and much more precarious platform, also made from cast iron, was used to maintain the exterior of the lighthouse, and presumably, to wash the salt spray off the windows.

New Lighthouse

The Cape Otway Lightstation was Australia’s longest serving lighthouse when it was finally deactivated in 1994, after almost a century and a half of service. The replacement is a surprisingly small construction, visible above from the lighthouse platform.

Ashes to Ashes

August 18th, 2015


Death is of course, a natural outcome of life, but the death of an entire species is more than sad, it is tragic and unrecoverable. In a few short years, the damage brought about by the rapid incursion of the invasive Emerald Ash Borer has had a devastating impact on the flatlands along the low end of our property, as Coshocton County joins the rest of Ohio, mourning  the apparent loss of yet another prominent tree species.


Although not one of our property’s more prominent tree species, the swampy area across our northern face is dominated by small and bushy Alder trees, and dozens of tall Ash trees that grew up after farming ceased, some time in the mid 20th century.   Seemingly healthy just two years ago, signs of significant woodpecker activity were apparent last summer, suggesting an unusual insect infestation. In January, it was easy to see how pockmarked many of the ash trees had become, from the woodpeckers trying to extract the fat juicy larvae, and the worms boring back out of the tree to mate and infect the neighboring Ashes.


The exterior of an infected ash tree fails to make clear the degree to which the borers crisscross the living wood layers immediately underneath the bark.  The effect is the same as girdling the tree, cutting off the flow of sap and nutrients to the tree’s canopy, which usually dies within a few years


Although they appeared fully leafed out last year, the ash trees lining our township road now appear mostly dead, with only a few scraggly outbreaks of leafs in the crowns, and an almost poodlelike outbreak of leaves around the trunk and lower limbs, as the trees desperately try to spread a few leaves in the summer sun. The smaller ash trees in the interior, feet wet in vernal pools, have already died (camera right, above).  Only a couple of the ash trees seem to have a full canopy this summer (camera center shows an ash tree in front in lighter green, with a darker green hickory behind it, flanked by dead and dying ash).  


A quadrant of 18 inch diameter trees along the creek bank, apparently the mother trees that seeded our part of the valley, still looked healthy last January, but are now showing signs of woodpecker damage, and branches in the canopy are failing. It seems only a matter of a few short years before these lovely giants fade, too. 


The stark appearance of a leafless and dead tree jumps out of a forest of green trees. Even in the winter, there’s something different in the appearance of a dead and decaying tree, in comparison to one that is only taking a few months rest.  While 1-3% of forest trees die every year, the victim of disease, wind, and competition, in a short 13 years, millions of Americans ash trees have fallen to this latest scourge. The highways and country lanes of Franklin, Knox, and Licking counties between us and Columbus are punctuated by long lines of dead and struggling ash trees, and the roadsides in our neighborhood are beginning to show the inevitable results of a tree species that is helpless against a beetle that evolved on some other part of the planet.


Several of the ashes near the dying trees are showing no obvious signs of distress, but their near mortality seems inevitable.  Farther uphill, and a few hundred yards away from the flat area with the dying trees, several small stands of very tall ash seem to be thriving within a dense stand of maple and oak.  Some research indicates that EABs prefer trees in the open.  Heroic chemical action can sometimes save single trees in the city, but there are just too many trees to spray in a rural setting. Our choices are to harvest our trees, which are the classic wood used for baseball bats, or to leave them as woodpecker havens. In some ways, this latest tree die off parallels what happened 40-50 years ago, when Dutch Elm Disease spread across Ohio, destroying millions of beautiful fan shaped shade trees. When my parents’ bought the Hollow in the early 70s, there were many elm trees, dead, but still standing. A new generation of elm trees grew up from seed and sapling, with many of them reaching over 40 feet tall.  As many of the medium and small elms dotting the base of our pond’s dam began dying over the previous several years, I hadn’t recognized yet what was happening. It wasn’t until our largest, and most classically shaped elm (below) began losing its leaves that I understood that our region was being revisited by another round of elm disease, which is now taking advantage of the regrowth in our elm population.  This has killed a number of trees in the areas where we spend most of our time. 


Taking are required classes in forestry has been a great learning experience for me and Elizabeth, but we’ve also lost some of our blissful ignorance.  A growing variety of insects and diseases are threatening other species in Ohio.  In the 1970s, lovely white dogwoods covered our hillsides in the springtime, but now, I can almost count our dogwood trees on my fingers. While changes in the overall canopy, and a reduction in open space have reduced our dogwood habitat, its hard not to believe that Dogwood Anthracnose hasn’t played a role.   While it is still relatively rare, Oak Wilt would potentially be a huge impact on one of our most common and our most economically valuable trees.  I don’t find the walnut trees to be especially pretty to look at, but they have lovely and valuable wood, and most falls provide us with a large crop of inconvenient but tasty nuts.  Thousand Cankers Disease is not yet impacting Ohio walnuts, but the state foresters are on the lookout for it.  The Asian Long-Horned Beetle hasn’t made inroads into Ohio, yet, but could potentially destroy the hundreds of sugar and red maples on our property.  There doesn’t seem to be any specific disease impacting black cherries, which are a surprisingly short-lived tree, but there seem to be an exceptional number of our larger cherries that are sustaining heavy woodpecker damage, which indicates fatal levels of insect infestation, which probably also means fungus.

ase IMG_1457

Springing Into Summer

May 16th, 2015

Trillium Blossom

It isn’t so much that we had a long winter—it just arrived late, and stayed that way.  Winter didn’t really have much impact until the end of January, when a sudden drop to zero (Fahrenheit) created the most incredible hoar frost before finally freezing over our creek and pond.  Although we had some shirtsleeve days in March, we still had a frost in late April.

Spring Beauties

Over the last two weeks, a short spring has been pushed out the seasonal door by an impetuous summer, bringing temperatures in the mid-80s.  What was still an almost bare forest 2 weeks ago, with just the hint of arboreal color through flower and bud has now fully leafed out, with only the black locust yet to be heard from.


The first tiger swallowtail appeared on May 1, and suddenly colorful butterflies are everywhere. The family of squirrel pups in the hollow log outside my office has left the nest, and the phoebes are feeding their squalling chicks in the muddy nest on the face of our porch.


November 16th, 2014


I’ve spent a lot of time around the Thames, but I never actually was in it.  Like many major cities, London was built close to the fall line, located relatively far inland, yet still experiencing significant tides. At low tide, the bed of the river is surprisingly accessible.


One sunny Sunday afternoon last September, Elizabeth and climbed down a stairway to look for Thames treasure. Lots of other people were taking advantage of the high sun and the low tide to build sand castles, walk along the beach, or just snooze.


The floor is mostly sand at  the outer edge, adjacent to the embankment walls.  Closer to the water, the floor is coarser, composed of natural and manmade pebbles. 


It was surprising how much much the riverbed varied across what would otherwise be a 15 minute stroll along the Thames Path on the South Bank.  Most of the natural pebbles were flint nodules, broken and smoothed, showing a variety of different colors. Some of them were sandstone and other conglomerates.  We found a lot of chalk, which comes with the flint, and Elizabeth even found a black pumice pebble. The Thames is an restless river that over the eons has brought a wide variety of river gravel from as fare away as Wales.


Natural items included oyster shells, crab claws, leaves, and twigs.  As we strolled downstream, we encountered areas with very different textures and colors.


The river bottom in some areas was characterized by ‘stones of manmade origin, mostly bricks, but we also found areas that had limestone building stones, usually broken, but with tool marks still clearly visible.

Star Works Glenboig Refractory Brick

One spot had a number of yellow refractory bricks from the Star Works in Glenboig (Scotland).


We found lots of manmade objects, mostly plastic pens, but also razors, sandals, insulators, wire, pottery, CO2 cartridges, plastic cutlery, plastic bracelets, can lids, lots of burnt wood, and lots of glass.


I don’t know that we found anything economically valuable, but it was a day that we treasure.


(NOTE: all of the photos in this blog entry, and the preceding entries from Amsterdam, were taken with the Cyber-shot Digital Camera RX100 III, a camera that fits in my jeans pocket.)

Dutch City Bikes

November 2nd, 2014


I’m endlessly fascinated by the bikes of Amsterdam, in all their volume and variety, colorful, but practical urban transportation.


Heavy and sturdy upright bikes with old fashioned handle bars and no top tube, they usually have a light and  are often equipped with a plastic milk crate style front basket.


The Dutch love their fully sprung, big ass saddles, often a leather Brooks saddle.


For obvious reasons, most Amsterdamers put a plastic cover over their saddle when leaving their bike parked outside.


Some of the bikes are dressed up with decorations on the bars, a quick way to add some class to a vehicle that might be on its third or fourth coat of paint.


With the purpose-built bike lots overflowing, bikes are parked everywhere, including alleys and bridges.


Some of these bikes are clearly not going anywhere soon, and are almost certainly abandoned, victims of theft, vandalism, or neglect.


The authorities periodically tag these derelict looking bikes, giving notice that they will be hauled to the bike pound unless moved within a few weeks.


Normally hosting about 12,000 bikes at a time, the Amsterdam Bike Processing Center (Fietsdepot) waits 3 months for individuals to claim their lost bikes, and then humanely disposes of them.

Bikes parked on Amsterdam bridge

Hopefully, some of these orphans are adopted, to return to the streets of Amsterdam.


October 4th, 2014


Until the Dutch introduced art that depicted real people doing real things in the 17th century, painting consisted of insipid religious topics with unearthly looking malproportioned people. I struggle to generate any enthusiasm for suffering saints, and precociously wise infants.

Helst: Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild in Celebration of the Treaty of Münster

I’ve been to Amsterdam multiple times during the last ten years, but its huge art museum was closed for an extensive renovation. After 10 years of interior and exterior upgrades, the Rijksmuseum reopened last year, and Elizabeth and I had a short afternoon to enjoy the paintings from the Dutch Golden Age.

 Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild in Celebration of the Treaty of Münster

My favorite was a very wide environmental portrait, with the equally wide title Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild in Celebration of the Treaty of Münster, painted by Bartholomeus van der Helst in 1648, it was one of several similar paintings we saw that had been commissioned by a town self-defense guild to hang on the wall of their club house.

 Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild in Celebration of the Treaty of Münster

These are clearly real people, with all their whiskers and warts, some staring directly at the camera, others chatting with each other, and some preoccupied with dinner. All the little details are fantastic, and its such a compelling tableau, I could stare at it for hours.

Rembrandt's The Night Watch

If you are going to spend a couple hours in a museum like this, you might as well take in a Rembrandt or two. His version of the club room wall poster, The Company of captain Frans Banning Cocq and lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out (more colloquially and conveniently referred to as The Night Watch) attracted huge crowds, but it wasn’t our favorite. Rembrandt isn’t necessarily…..a Rembrandt.

The Merry Drinker

Another one of my favorites was Frans Hals’ The Merry Drinker. A long string of somewhat dour but competent wedding portraits seem to have been his bread and butter, but he broke out with a series of genre paintings, many of them humorous.  Its as if Hals had attracted the militiaman’s attention and quickly snapped the shutter (about 1/800) while the subject was in mid motion and not yet fully posed. Tilting glass in one hand, apparently emphasizing a point in a bawdy joke with the other, and with a cheerful, slightly surprised expression on his face, the image oozes life.  The composition is actually quite sophisticated.  Shot from a low angle, with one hand holding down each lower corner, the arms lead up to the face, with his torso forming a triangle centered in the lower half of the painting.  An oval shape tops this triangle. The face is powerfully located at the crossing point of an X formed by diagonals connecting opposite corners.  He did a terrific job with foreshortening, gracefully handling the significant horizontal distance and perspective challenge of maintaining correct proportions between the Berkemeyer glass in the foreground, and the drinkholder’s face.  The awkward task of depicting the obscured left arm is deftly accomplished, and perfectly believable.

Still Life with Cheese

As a younger man, I was totally unimpressed by the idea of a still life, but at this point in my aesthetic evolution, I found many of the static depictions of natural and man made objects quite compelling.  Floris Claesz van Dijck’s Still Life with Cheese is a surprisingly interesting painting in which the painter demonstrates a phenomenal ability to depict shape and texture. Just as every decade draws me closer to the complex flavors of aged cheese and whisky, I find myself increasingly able to spend time relishing the subtleties of a skillfully executed painting of food or flower (and what better evidence for Divine Providence than the simultaneous existence of aged Dutch Beemster and single barrel American Bourbon?).

Pieter Claesz: Vanitas Still Life with the Spinario

Pieter Claesz could certainly paint food with the best of them, but I was more interested in his vanitas still life. These moody still lives wallowed in symbolism, warning the viewer of the transience of earthly existence.

Judith Leyster: The Serenade   Van Gogh self-portrait

Judith Leyster has been accused of being an imitator of Hals, but I thought her portrait of a lutist in The Serenade had a surprisingly modern composition.  Shot upwards and to the left from a very low angle, her off-center subject’s relatively small face is adventurously looking outside of the frame.  Like many of the paintings from this period, her subject’s nose has a bright highlight. In my own photographs, I tend to Photoshop that out, but I’m revisiting that idea.

We didn’t get much time to explore the rest of the museum, other than taking a brisk 1 hour tour that swung past an 1887 van Gogh. Its interesting that in this self portrait, he also depicted the subject from a low camera angle.  I thought it was a nice picture, but maybe a bit too heavily Photoshopped.

Beer in the Bar Biking Through The Rijksmuseum

While Elizabeth visited the shop, I found a table in the café at one end of the bright and open new Atrium, created by glassing over the original Courtyard.  Visible one level up and spanning the center of the Atrium is the Passage, an externally open corridor popular with cyclists, who could be seen speeding past on their evening commute.

Late afternoon on the Museumplein