A Good Person

This is a picture from Patchaug.  The man's house in this story is to the right of this picture, out of the frame, and the waterfalls are behind me.

I went to Patchaug State Forest on the way to work on the boat this week.  I went in the back way.  There was a big marsh with many birds, and two waterfalls, and bridges over the falls. There was a parking lot next to a little cottage.  The cottage was modest but nicely kept. There were signs of careful attention, and of the particular French Canadian esthetic that came with the workers who once filled the textile mills in Eastern Connecticut.  Everything was clean and freshly painted.  Every leaf and blade of grass was in its place.   There was a lighthouse, about five feet tall, with pilings and real dock lines neatly wrapped around them.  On the pilings were wooden pelicans.  There was a black metal eagle over the garage, and four large concrete lions were sitting on their haunches, guarding the sidewalk that led to the front door.

I got out of the car and I thought that Wilson and Molly would stay with me, so I was organizing my cameras and lenses.  I looked up in time to see the dogs scampering straight to the man’s front door.  He was there with his little grand-daughter.  I hurried toward the dogs, but the man called out, “Don’t worry!  Don’t worry.”  I knew I was in the wrong, but the man’s kindness made me more willing to admit it.  I said, “I should have been paying closer attention.”  He said, “They’re wonderful.  This one is older isn’t he?”  I said, “You have a beautiful spot here.  You’re very kind about the dogs.”  To aerate the point, Wilson chose that moment to pee on the man’s perfect shrubs.  I said, “I’m sorry.”  He said, “They have to do that, you know.”

So I left the man, liking him so much that I wanted to buy the house next door or buy him a house on Block Island so that I could have him for a neighbor, and I thought about the times when it is very important to fight for something and times when it is not important at all.

I have never gotten a bird landing quite from this perspective.  I didn't realize how the feathers in his chest spread out and flatten to slow him down.

I went off to see the birds, and I love the earliest days of spring, when the birds are full of electric energy.  I saw this big guy coming in for a carrier landing. 

I liked the simplicity of this one, especially the little grasses, the texture on the bird's wings and their reflections in the water.

I used my telephoto and got a few more pictures of birds, but then I decided to use my close-up lens, because there were these leaves.   I love these also, these remnants that have stayed through a brutal winter, getting thinner and more transparent, but still holding on.   All this fragile strength, all this staying to the very end with the light coming through, all the beautiful ways in which the beating they have taken has changed them, this is what I wanted to show you.

I can’t show this in a picture but I want you to know that these narrow leaves were trembling, almost vibrating in the breeze.

And then I got interested in the waterfall.  It was yellowy brown from all the tannins, from decaying leaves in the water.  I take so many pictures of the ocean, and I’m not used to water this color.  I considered making black and white pictures, but then I thought, “This is the clear, clean color of a living system.   How can I think that’s not good?”  In any case, I thought it would be interesting… I never get this close to crashing water, not with my camera in my hand.  Here was my chance to see what was happening right inside.  I set the shutter speed to 1/2500th of a second, just to see what that would do, and then I switched to much longer exposures. 

Here's the waterfall, looking across the marsh to the forest.  Those two legs are part of the bridge.

Here's a close up, with me just inches from the water.  The shutter speed is 1/2500th of a second.

This shutter speed is 1/15th of a second.

I realize that living next to the state forest the way he does, that man must get a lot of people, right there next to his yard.  Some of them might not be watching their dogs the way they should, and some of them might leave litter, or misbehave in other ways, and it would be reasonable to expect the he would have gotten a perfectly justifiable attitude about it by now.  He could have put “no trespassing” signs all over the place.  But he didn’t.  Not at all.  In fact, I get the feeling he enjoyed seeing us. 

I’m still thinking about him, because he made me see how it was in this particular case, how it can be when someone decides they can just relax about something.   I took a nice picture from across the pond, with the light on the water, and his yard and his lions and his pretty house.  I thought I’d print it for him and drop it off some time, to thank him.

My beautiful trouble makers.

The Edges of Spring

These pictures were taken in late March last year on the ponds and puddles at the fish hatchery.  I'm showing them to you so that you will know that it was just as cold and frozen at this exact time last year, and also because I'm hoping that if winter thinks we've paid enough attention to her beauty, she might feel better about moving on. 

I'm back on the mainland and will be here until Easter.  I'm sanding the teak on our sailboat (the Hans Christian, the SV Grace).  Sad to say, she's on the market.  We're trading into a grandparent boat, a trawler where our grandchildren and nieces and nephews can come and swim off the back and where we can sit in the shade.  In any case, I'll be sanding almost every day that it's not raining. 

I've been working night and day on my e-book, and now I'm showing it to all the little kids I know.  Then, I've just got to work out ISBN numbers and upload it into the correct formats for Kindles and iPads and other devices, and then it will be ready to go.  (Just in time.  It's a book about snow.)  It's good, after such intensity, to be on the boat and think of nothing but the motion of scraping and sanding all that beautiful wood. 

The urge to work on teak trim (or "bright work" as they say,) has come upon me, but it doesn't come upon me often enough.  If it did, I wouldn't have so much to do right now.  It's a nice time at the marina however, not too many people, so that Molly and Wilson can hang out on the dock with me, and once or twice a day someone can come by and talk, first to Wilson and Molly, and then to me. 

So Bill and I have finally admitted that we are not going to cross the Pacific Ocean in our sailboat.  We're going to stay a little closer to home and family and it's lucky that there is quite a lot to see right here.

Swans

I went out to Sachem Pond on the first warm day I can remember.   There was a new stretch of open water.  And the swans were doing something I'd never seen.  They were sailing.  They let the wind fill their feathers and push them along.  They put their beaks down.  I'm not sure if they were filtering water, or if it was part of the game.  They must have been using their feet as well because there was a sort of bobbing motion, bow to stern.  

I've watched the swans all winter and fretted over their situation.  It's been so cold, and I've wondered how they were managing.  It looked like they were containing themselves, holding on.  But this day was different.  They'd sail for a while and it seemed like they were doing it just for fun, and suddenly, they'd  fight and scatter everywhere, and then they'd go back to sailing again.

I went back two days later.  It was windy and much colder.  The swans flew to the lee of the sand dunes by the North Light, trading the large open water by the parking lot for the chance to be out of the wind.  They stayed and I stayed also.  They faced the wind and rested.  Then, they began their beautiful mating dance.

And every so often they poked a neighbor. 

When I'm out with the birds, I try to be patient.   I copy them as they stay and stay, because I realize that being in nature in their way must create a state of mind.   I stay with it sometimes, and sometimes I fidget and hum and talk to myself, because they are ready to wait forever, because they out wait me every time.

I like to do this.  It gives me a sense of who I am.   I don't have to think.  It's not a concept.  My skin knows.   And then I run home to make myself warm.  I'm glad I can do that, and I never forget that they can't.  But I don't want to be so secure with my layers of safety and comfort that I forget that I'm also a creature on the earth.

The sun came out and I felt it warm on my face and the swans immediately flew to the less protected, bigger water. 

It took several shots because the swans were all jumbled together, but here they finally separated.

Here are some of them landing.  I think there were two more, out of frame.  You can see Corn Neck Road at the east edge of Sachem Pond in this picture.

So it's been a good chance for pictures.   I love this time of year, especially because of the birds, because of the new warmth and their relief and stirring and energy. 

And soon, life will make its move.  Soon, they'll be mating and life will weave its way through them into the particular pattern of new swans.  The babies will ride on their backs in the room created by their feathers.  I would love to go with them.  That must be something.

So look, I thought it was cool the way the swan's wing and this wave taken near the parking lot for North Light mirrored each other.  They were taken the same day.  You know that place, where the waves curve around?

Snowy Day

I went out from Scotch to Mansion Beach and back again during the last big snow storm.  Wilson and Molly as you will see, were happy about it.  I loved the quiet and the way the snow made a blanket on everything, even on the sand, right up to the water.  I also loved the way the dense falling snow obscured my sight.  The beach will be covered in people and color and heat and action soon enough, but on this snowy day, I could only see the suggestions of things - just some shapes and shadows and the falling snow and the softest light.  I thought I would let the pictures stand for themselves, and let you enjoy them in peace except to tell you two things:  I am working on making these and other images into a children's E-book.  I hope to have it done in a few weeks.  And also, it should come with a warning because the early indication from children who have been kind enough to read it for me, is that it makes them want to get a puppy.

I Like Light

When I go out to take pictures, I’m sometimes on a mission… I want to find the owl again or find another wave… but I’m always looking for light.  That’s what started me as a photographer… the clean green light inside the ocean.  But even in childhood, my earliest memories always included light.  There was light on the apple blossoms when I sat in my tree fort, light in shafts full of dust when we played in the hay in the barn, light on my bedroom ceiling when a car went by, even light in a glass of water.  I couldn’t get over that.  How could anything be almost invisible if I could touch it… feel it…hold it in my hand?

Light draws me to it.  I think it’s human instinct.  Light, illumination… those words mean truth to us.  I’m not like Wilson and Molly, my golden retrievers who sit facing the wind with their noses upturned together, reading the news of the day and building their world around what they smell.  I’m a person.  I know the world through light.

We specialize in sight, or more precisely, in daytime sight, with eyes that see color and look forward and rotate in their sockets. We are unlike owls, with their widely spaced, unmovable eyes.  They have to turn their whole heads to see anything, but they gain spectacular depth and nighttime vision.  (Their eyes weigh as much as our own.  This is so interesting when you think of our relative size and of all the elegant economies built into owls for flight.    And I might as well say, since I’m already digressing, that eyes are never made hollow like feathers and bones.  Even cameras and lenses are hollow, but all eyes are wet and full and heavy to carry, especially for owls.)   

Photography is just a modern way to assist us in a most instinctive and ancient form of perception… It can help us pay attention.   It can give us a way to connect to what’s real. It can help us see faster or slower, or closer or farther away, and that can surprise us, the way we were surprised by everything as children.  It can move us into wonder.

So there I was, back on the path to Mansion Beach again, taking pictures in the same place again, like I’ve done a hundred times.  (There was a black and white picture a couple of posts back… these are the same trees… just made different by the different light.)  I looked for light in the ice that was coating the branches and in the snow that had come down wet and refrozen.  I removed the UV filters on my lenses.  I left the lenses unprotected.  I wanted the light unfiltered. 

And then of course I took my pictures home. That’s was another chance… a really good chance to live with what I’d seen…to take the time I needed to let it soak in, to catch up with how it was out there.

Words are like wind, churning up waves in a train that continues even when I’ve stopped writing.  I think of something else and then I run back and change things around and then I do it again.  And it’s not just the words but the rhythms beneath them, that start roaming around in my head.

Pictures put me in a different mind.  I don’t cogitate the way I do with writing.   I feel more certain and settled.  I don’t build things bean by bean.   The whole thing is altogether.   I know what to do just by knowing.  It’s closer to the core.

When my thoughts get overcrowded, I look at my pictures or I stop and look out the window.   I run my attention out through my eyes.  Then my brain starts getting some room to breathe; my mind starts feeling a bit more smooth and clean.

I want to try to bring vision and words together…to be instinctive and simple.  I want to say what I know when I’m only looking.  And what the owl knows and what Wilson and Molly also know, despite our different ways.  I want to say it in the present tense, for how it is right now.

There is light here.  I like it.  I’ll stay.

In a Small World

It was ten degrees Fahrenheit this morning, which was warm compared to the mainland, and it was up from zero yesterday.  My intrepid friend Lisa has just come indoors.  She's been outside skiing for hours.

I thought I would go out today and similarly impress you but we just came back to the island yesterday.  We had a snowy, slippery drive from upstate New York - plus, we still have colds.  So I decided to work from my warm house instead.

I took this picture of a milkweed seed pod at the Fish Hatchery in Central Village, Connecticut, and it was in the blog, back in the hard-to-remember-warmth of November.   I have wanted to look at it more closely for some time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been zooming in.  It has been a revealing process.  I've looked closer and closer...and with time,  a different world has impressed itself upon me.

First, I cropped the picture one way and then I cropped it another and couldn't make up my mind, and then I cropped it a little bit more and it seemed like a whole new picture.  I told myself (and this is the only way I could get myself to commit), that I could keep all the versions and show you as many as I wanted. 

 

 

 

 

It became a game of balance.  I noticed what was interesting and what I didn't see before.  I wondered what the "truth" of this seedpod might be.  How could I demonstrate the significance of its particular life?  Would the best information be in the whole thing altogether or in the intimacy of one small part?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I kept looking... and I actually started to worry a little bit.  I liked this little plant, and it started to bother me that it is out there right now where it's so terribly cold. 

Then I thought about the seeds... I was there when they opened and went everywhere.  So it was easy for me to picture them tucked in each space between the grasses, blanketed in snow. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the Fish Hatchery the way it is now.  All the plants and grasses are done with everything, stripped of everything, down to their winter forms.  I like it that the seeds are waiting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here is picture at the Fish Hatchery after the blizzard last year.  The milkweed pods are mingled in with the grasses at the left of the picture and there are more in the fields beyond the trees in the distance.  I did stomp around in the cold and in three feet of snow to get this picture.  The frozen fog was clearing, and light and color were coming back to the sky and to the land. 

(This is actually a panorama... It's a lot of pictures stitched together.  So I could print this picture very large... the size of a wall.  I can't make it big enough on this page for you to really see it, but if you click on it, it will show up in its own box and it will be a little bit bigger.)

By the way, you might like to know that the first thing I did when I got home was fill the bird feeders, and because we have no squirrels on the island, scatter the food on the snow. 

It has been so cold... so ridiculously, bitterly cold... so many storms one after another... so much wind.  Only two birds came last night and I called my friend Edie who is an expert on birds.  I said, "Do you think they're all dead?"  She said, "No, they're just discouraged by the fact you haven't been feeding them while you were away.  They'll be back tomorrow."  And she was right.  They were here today, in force. Healthy and quick.  Hungry and busy.   I really can't imagine how they stay alive out there but I like to think that when I got closer to my picture today I got closer to the way they see the world.

Wilson and Molly and the Wind

I went out to the southwest corner of the island, looking for open space.  I had an ideal in mind...  wind and only wind, a sense of isolation, desolation even... no person and no creature... nothing but emptiness... all the way to Antarctica. 

I didn't get that.  I got Wilson and Molly, out and about for the first time after the blizzard.  Like cats on a keyboard, they wanted to be exactly where I was putting my attention.  They stayed in front of the camera, inserted themselves everywhere. 

I walked up the hill toward the stone wall... got beyond the dogs and their infernal footprints... got a cleaner shot... more like the ones I had planned.  

Wind and Snow.  I love it that the wind makes patterns in the snow just like it does on the ocean.  You know how the Polynesians can read the waves...find islands from thousands miles away?  Well look at the little grasses and the "wind shadows" they made.. 

Then I walked further and found the shapes the wind had made when it blew against and through the wall. 

Windbreak

 

I love this shot.  I love the barely perceptible patterns in the snow, the delicate colors at the beginning of sunset.

Wilson and Molly were right behind me...snuffelling their noses into the snow, grabbing each others' collars, rolling on their backs, wiggling their legs in the air.  So I'm not saying this image isn't true... it's just that it's not all there was in the landscape.

Some people say that there should always be a "heartbeat" in a picture.  Some animal or person... a way to relate the picture to another living thing.  But there is always a heartbeat - whether it is explicitly in the picture or not.  There is always the person behind the camera, and then, later on, there is someone looking at the picture, hopefully feeling that she or he can be part of it as well. 

I like to show the one thing I loved the most at the time I was taking the picture.  I like tokeep the extra things out of the way.  I find, after many years of living with my pictures, that I do better with the pictures that only say one thing.  A story telling picture..."Here's the church and here's the steeple... open the doors and see all the people." gets used up.  I think I know the story already and so I stop looking.  A picture that gives one thing... some light, some power, some feeling... I can live with that for a long time. 

That said, there is also a danger in reaching too far....getting all self-conscious and making everything too controlled and planned and precious, as if reality isn't good enough. 

Another view with colors from the setting sun.

More of the story.

It's so close to the Winter Solstice, the sun is setting almost as far to the south as it can at this latitude.  Montauk Point on Long Island is to the west.  It's there on the horizon.  And to the south, there is nothing until Antarctica, just like I said.  Well, nothing, except for Burmuda and of course except for Wilson and Molly, and their footprints...A little less perfection...a little more completion...a little more about all of the life that was there that evening.

Merry Christmas

I put a bird feeder by our kitchen and I sit with the window open, trying to catch them in flight.  It's tricky because those little buggers fly by at 50 miles an hour.  Sometimes I can get them as they are flying toward me...that gives me an extra second.  And sometimes, as in this case, I get lucky when a bird decides to fly after I've already started to take the shot.

They make the softest, fluttering sound.  I love this.  It's right up there with an infant's breath when I hold him against my shoulder, and of course it's up with the sound of snow falling, or the sound of the ocean at flat calm.  That sounds like nothing or sometimes it sounds like shhhhh or zzzzz as the water moves with the current, folding down, zipping itself along the shore.  Here on the island, especially in winter, you can hear the smallest things.

There are eleven birds in this picture, I think.  I was hoping for a twelfth bird of Christmas, but as far as I can tell, it's eleven.  And here is a closer shot of just one bird.  He looks small enough, and I can tell you from experience, if you held him, he would seem smaller still.  Him with his hollow bones, so strong and light and graceful for flight, and his pat-of-butter sized body, and the downy fluff that triples his size and weighs about as much as the air.  He is outlandishly red (and he's more skittish than chicadees on account of it) and when the wind blows you can see he's grey underneath.  He has a wildly beating molecule for a heart.  He's such a small, so easily freezable person but he flies out there, sleeps out there, stays out there.  That gets me.   Week after week, through the whole winter, he matches his tiny body to our vast, unstoppable, cold ocean wind, and lives.

May you have a Merry Christmas in the company of loved ones, and I hope you stay out of the wind.  And I hope you have a moment to hear the smallest sounds of the great wild winter and may you easily return to the warmth of your sheltering home.

 A sturdy fellow.

A sturdy fellow.

Seeing More

Tiny berries in the woods at my sister and brother-in-law's (Amy and Stan's) farm last week.

In November, the bushes in the forest behind my sister and brother-in-law's farm turn a wonderful color.  I don't want to say they are pink.... they are deeper than pink, I feel, but softer than red.  In any case, I go back every year to take their pictures, and try to do them justice.  Here on the left are leaves from one of those bushes and up top are its berries.  The berries were so tiny I almost didn't see them.  I took their picture with a macro (close up, magnifying) lens.

And here is a bit of the forest.  It's my ongoing quest to take pictures that make "sense" of the tangles in nature.  They don't after all, cooperate in arranging  themselves for a photo.  I crawled over a wall and around a few obstructions until I could find an open space to stand. Then I could show the chaos and complexity I love, let the colored leaves and the silver twigs weave through, and still have the trunks of the trees for a little sense of balance.

Here is a rich orange leaf. 

I think before I started with photography I still would have loved this forest.  I would have exclaimed at the colored bushes and that would have been the end of it.  I wouldn't have seen all the different worlds... not the just the worlds in these four pictures but more I didn't even show you.  The worlds in tree bark, mosses, a carpet of leaves, the stones, the roots of trees.  Looking through a camera has trained my sight.  It has taught me how to notice - see the colors, spend some time, look in many directions.  It has helped me see each little thing as something in itself, and then see everything together.  It's helped me especially, to look for light.  These have become my habits of seeing whether I have a camera with me or not.  Sometimes it's not so much that I'm looking for something as much as it comes to me.   I can't walk with anyone without interrupting our conversation many times:  Look at that... no look at that!