Archive for the ‘Hollow Pleasures: weekending in the country’ Category

Frozen Falls Frustrate Fotography

Monday, February 15th, 2016

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Enjoying the constantly shifting patterns of water, rock, and ice, is one of the special pleasures of living within 5 minutes hike of several hundred feet of a stair stepping sandstone falls.   Sometimes I visit the falls several days in a row. I always see something different as winter works its magic on sedimentary stone, but I continue to struggle to share the beauty and wonder of my favorite part of our property.

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If the falls have any potential as a landscape shot, I really haven’t figured out how to depict it. The base of the falls remains a beautiful and mysterious spot, but my attempts to capture the totality of the thing are insipid and uninspired. Framing out 10 foot long sections that have interesting angles helps, but still doesn’t result in a picture that I would want to hang on my wall.

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I’ve decided that the trick the trick to compelling photos of our falls is to move in closer, finding the small compelling dramas of ice and ever-eroding sandstone.  Are those flows of water, or icicles? Aren’t icicles just flows of water that are trapped in a different time stream?  As the photographer can manipulate the experience of time, so does the nature’s cycle of freezing and thawing manipulate the experience of water.

Iceticles

Sometimes spraying water freezes into hanging globules that I call isticles. Chains of moss anchor these frozen chunks of water until the next thaw. A little more than an inch in length, its almost impossible to capture sharp images of such small objects without using a tripod.

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The steps and landings comprising the most interesting part of our falls are cramped and awkward places to work, making it difficult to hand hold a camera, and often impossible to setup a tripod.  Sometimes I use a monopod, and I take a lot of shots, hoping the camera will be still enough to capture the textures of ice and stone.  Wavy ice of varying thicknesses creates a focusing challenge that is only partially compensated for by small apertures.

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The water continues to flow, even when its below freezing, and you can almost see the stalactites and stalagmites forming before your eyes.

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Sometimes the spray and overflow coat the surface of a sandstone boulder, the pinched and dimpled ice trapping moss, air bubbles and sediment, making a marbled pattern. Placing the camera within a few short inches of the surface provides a random abstract of green and brown swirls.

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A dedicated macro lens allows me to get even closer to a congealed horizontal pool, a higher level of magnification providing a totally different abstract of sharp angles and jagged crystalline lines.

Everybody Loves a Beaver Pond

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

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We didn’t realize how much natural activity a beaver pond attracts until we set up an automated game camera alongside the beaver dam. Besides the beavers and bobcats, we captured a variety of birds and beasts.

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The wood ducks have been especially enthusiastic visitors, paddling around the deep water behind the dam, and dabbling around the shallow water along the face of the dam.  The blue heron has appeared multiple times, mostly hunting on the downstream side of the dam, but sometimes alongside the dam and at least once, jumping into the pond in water up to his waist.

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During the day, squirrels and chipmunks use the damn as a bridge to an opposite shore that otherwise is inconvenient or impossible for them to visit.

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We’ve seen a lot of raccoons on the game cam, or more likely, a lot shots of the same one. He regularly crossed the first dam multiple times a night, and it didn’t take him long to find the new dam.

Busy Beavers

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

When the beaver dam first appeared, one of our neighbors said that if we knocked a hole in it and waited, we’d soon see some beavers. We had the patience to try that—once.  Then we came up with the idea of using the game camera to find out when they were active, and what they were up to. It took a couple weeks of experimentation to figure out where to put the automated camera and how to use it. Our initial results came up with just about everything but a beaver, including the surprising appearance of a bobcat.  The stills from the game camera confirmed that our beaver were entirely nocturnal, so we decided to set the camera in video mode and enjoy the beavers from the comfort of indoors.

 

This short video contains the best of several weeks worth of observation.  Over that period of time, the dam became at least a foot taller, and probably several feet wider, creating a pool that was at least 4 feet deep in places.  The beaver pond became a popular hangout for wood ducks, a heron, and served as a bridge for squirrels, chipmunks, and at least one very fat raccoon.  The dam also was totally incompatible with local agriculture, blocking the drainage from several hundred acres of farmland.  The dam would have to come down, and last Friday, it did.  However, the beaver are still at work, now on a new dam, and I’ve reset the game camera to see what they do.

Bobcats and Beavers

Saturday, November 7th, 2015

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After a couple of fruitless attempts at catching our busy beavers with the game camera, Kirk and I about fell over when we swapped memory cards, checked the previous nights images, and found that a bobcat had strolled past the breach we’d made in the left side of the dam.

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The game camera did not get any shots of the beavers repairing the dam (see the breach visible just above the bobcat in the shots above), but when the bobcat returned 5 hours later, the breach had mostly been repaired.

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What’s especially interesting about the second series of bobcat shots is that it also captured the beaver. Note the white dot in the dark water just to the left of the tall upright branch above. That’s the infrared light of the game camera reflecting off the eye of a beaver swimming towards the bobcat.

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16 seconds after the bobcat walks away from the game camera’s field of view, the swimming beaver reaches the shore where the bobcat had been standing. In the shots below, you can see the beaver’s eyes swimming back to the right.

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An hour later, a raccoon made the first of two appearances, but we didn’t see any more evidence of beaver or bobcat.

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Ashes to Ashes

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

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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.

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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.

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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

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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).  

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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Springing Into Summer

Saturday, 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.

Bluets

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.