Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Rock Bound Coast of Maine

For almost as long as I have lived here in western Maine, I have also made junkets over to the coast in order to enjoy the scenery and to photograph it.  As I explored over the decades, I found myself drawn back time and again to one particular fishing village: Stonington.   It lies on the outer end of Deer Isle and is a true fishing village with hardly a pleasure boat to be seen in the substantial harbor.  There are, however, about a hundred lobster boats that ply the waters around Stonington and I enjoy being at harbor's edge at first light, when the engines are coughing to life and the waterfolk are beginning their day.

Here are some photos that I took this visit. I think you can see that this place is somewhat timeless in that these images could be from any of the last five or more decades.  Some of these will become paintings, with changes, but, I also like them just as they are.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ahhhhhh......there she is.

This morning we passed the Swainson's Thrush's nest, as usual.  The dogs rushed right on by, Emmy passing literally within 18 inches of it.  And, as I approached I slowed, camera in hand, and took three pictures just after I had passed.  She sat there motionless as I zoomed in on her, confident that she was safe. 

But, I wanted you to see who laid those stunning turquoise eggs, and is now sitting on them with the patience of a monk in an abbey.

One of these mornings very soon, I will find that she has hatched them, and at that point I will use another trail for a few weeks.  But, in the meantime, here she is in all her quiet and ever so subtle beauty.

You DO see her, right?

  Well, here's some help for you.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I was wrong.....it was a Swainson's Thrush.

Well, I have egg on my face, but, Abby would tell you that I often do....right after breakfast.  Fact is, I was wrong in identifying the bird whose nest I saw as a Wood Thrush.  This morning I approached the nest site from the downhill direction, which would allow me to get eyes on without getting too very close. I asked--okay, I demanded--that the dogs hang back as I crept forward.

As I squinted through the binoculars I could hardly make out the nest opening because a largish dead beech leaf had been pulled in front of it.  Finally, I was able to make out a shiny little eye, and then the rest of her came into focus.  She was greyer, with a hint of olive, not reddish as I had previously thought....but, my only glimpse of her had been fleeting.

I motioned the dogs past the nest, still clueless it was right there, and walked slowly past it myself.  She  was holding tight, not moving a feather, and damn-near invisible even from a distance of four feet.  But, I could see her clearly enough to know that she was indeed a Swainson's Thrush.

It hardly matters, really.  She is also jewel-like and perfect. Her call which you can access by clicking on the above title is very similar, but I did want to be absolutely correct.....lest I lead you astray, eh.

Here is an example of perfection for you.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Deep Woods

The term 'deep woods' might be used to connote a wilderness where civilization is remote, and you have the feeling that you are really in a wild place.  In this case I am using it to refer to the feeling that has come over the forest where I walk daily, now that the canopy has filled in with new leaves and the light is a soft-green, with dappled sunlight being the exception instead of the rule as it is during the 'leafless' months. Now, when I let the dogs out of my car, I also put my sunglasses on the passenger seat, and have a feeling that we are 'diving in'.

The leaves are still the brighter and yellower green of spring, but now they are fully leafed out and serve to filter the light that reaches the forest floor. As I stood this morning with a camera on a tripod, hoping to catch a glimpse of the aforementioned Wood Thrush, I began to notice that all around me were little vignettes of the forest and so I began snapping them using a long telephoto.

The effect that one gets when using a long lens at a low aperture setting, i.e. wide open--wherein the background remains out of focus--has a name, from Japanese, 'bokeh', and it can often result in fetchingly soft designs in the overall frame that add a supporting rather than distracting effect to the subject that is in focus. I have come to think of images such as the ones here as Koans, or Haiku and they have a simplicity and a grace about them that I find very appealing.

The Wood Thrush....jewel of the woods.

As my son, Sam, and I were walking a trail in the woods yesterday, a  small brown bird suddenly burst seemingly right out of the leaves almost at our feet and flew up to a branch on a nearby tree. Sam looked at the spot she'd taken off from and there, nestled tightly in the leaves, beautifully framed by a tiny spruce, and some baby beech seedlings was a nest.  In the nest were two very blue-green eggs.  We quietly walked on by, but only after I took a couple of frames of the nest.

When I looked to identify the bird, it became clear that we'd just had a close encounter of the Wood Thrush kind.  Today, when I approached the same spot, I peeked and saw that there are now three eggs.  They are a darker and more vibrant blue-green than Robin's eggs, a bird that most don't realize is also one of the Thrushes.  Just click on the title above and it is a link (To Cornell's Ornithology Lab...a superb resource for anyone interested in birds, btw)  where you can click on a button and hear the melodious call of the Wood Thrush and I am guessing you will say: "Oh, THAT'S what that bird is."  Because--if you have spent any time in the hardwood forests of North America--it will sound very familiar.

Here is yet another member of the forest fauna that relies on superb camouflage to survive.  Today, when I approached her nest, this thrush held tight until I was just a few feet away and she was utterly invisible.  My ''bird dogs" have gone right on by about once a day for as long as her nest has been there, a testament to how perfectly she is situated.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Greens of Spring

Well, we were poking along, making our merry way into an earlier than usual spring.....and it just suddenly burst forth onto the land.  In a matter of two days the landscape has totally transformed itself, and I have never--in over 30 years in Maine--seen it happen this quickly.  POOF!!!! It was almost as if all the plants and trees received the same e-mail from Mother Nature: "It's TIME."

One aspect of it has not changed, however: the greens of spring are as vibrant and fresh as they have always been.  The chloroplasts in the leaves are present and beginning to do their assigned task of performing photosynthesis, but the other parts of the leaves haven't had any time to mature, so the leaves are as thin and fragile to the touch as a latex membrane, like that of a surgical glove, almost not there, and very vulnerable.  As the days pass the leaves will firm up and in a month or so they will have the deeper and cooler greens of summer in place. For reasons I don't fully comprehend myself, I refer to these as 'iron greens'; they just seem hard and inpenetrable in comparison to the tender warm greens of spring.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Death of Honor.......What ever happened to Bushido?

The vessel seen here is the Nisshin Maru, an 8000 ton Japanese whaling factory ship.  In view of the immediately preceeding post, I have to stop and wonder how it ever came to be.  In a country that supposedly places a premium on maintaining a strict code of honor, Bushido, the core of the Samurai way of being, here you have a ship that represents the most disgusting and massive hypocrisy that one can imagine.

You see, the "RESEARCH" painted on her side in large white letters is a bold-faced LIE.  It is a cynical dodge that supposedly allows them to kill thousands of whales each year. Due to a loop-hole in the regulations put forward by the International Whaling Commission, any country can take whales for the purpose of scientific research.  Well, the Japanese interpret this to mean that they can kill thousands upon thousands each year, and the meat ends-up, you guessed it, on Japanese sushi plates, even in school lunches and in DOG FOOD.  In all the years that they have been perpetrating this monstrous lie, and are supported by the Japanese government in doing so, only one brief research paper has been written, and it said, basically, that some whales eat fish......ya think?

In the moment pictured above, the Nisshin Maru was churning towards the Sea Shepherd ship, the Farley Mowat, threatening to ram her and turning away only at the last moment. Paul Watson and his merry band of volunteers and shipmates have become a constant thorn in the side of the Japanese whalers as they attempt to go about their bloody harvest. In fact, they have succeeded in preventing the whale pirates from filling their quotas each year, since about 2005.

If you want to see a film documenting the struggle to protect the whales, I highly recommend "A Pirate for the Sea", which came out in 2008.  I must warn you once again, however, that it will infuriate you.  The idea that a country can simply ignore international laws and do what they want in their pursuit of greed is simply one more example of how far we have gone down the road to a society completely bereft of honor.

BTW: www.seasheperd.org  They could use your help if you care to give it.  The whales would appreciate it.

What is art....Japanese Sword Guards

The age of the Samurai ended formally in 1868, but the code of the Samurai, Bushido, and the spirit of that path has never really left for some Japanese.  During that time the art of sword-making and all the attendant accessories was elevated to an astonishing level. Some would claim that it was never equalled in any other culture, but I suggest that they visit some museums and look at the swords and sword fittings that came out of Europe, especially Toledo in Spain, during the centuries in which the sword was the primary weapon of that culture. 

Where the Japanese craftsmen excelled in terms of sheer creativity was in the making of Tsuba, the more or less circular guards that were fitted onto the blade to keep the users hand back on the handle and to fend off possible blows by the opponent's blade.  Seen here are two examples that give you just the merest hint of what they were capable of.

I once saw a photo of a Tsuba that was in a Sotheby's auction catalog.  It was called, "The Foxes' Wedding", and the base metal was a dark brown patinated copper. Along one side, arranged in a descending curve was a series of inlays.  They were done in Shakudo, which is a copper and gold alloy that patinates to a rich dark purple-black, and it was a procession of little animals, all dressed in Samurai armor and kimono, making their way through the dark....holding little lanterns aloft.  The lanterns were tiny 24kt gold beads. 

I was so entranced by this that I studied it at some length.  The scope of the creator's imagination, the attention to detail and the perfection of craftsmanship were all simply astonishing to me. If you seek out images of Tsuba, using, of course, your ol' buddy, Google, you will find an almost endless collection of possibilities, and I believe you will ultimately agree with my own sense that this is yet one more form of truly FINE ART.