Sunday, April 29, 2007

Balloon Glow

Derby Festival is the two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, and in Louisville, everything is a race. Runners run the Mini-Marathon. All's fair in love and steamboat racing in the Great Steamboat Race. Waiters and waitresses compete over an obstacle course to spill the least amount of wine in the Run for the Rose, while students lure their whiskered steeds with Cheerios to win the Run for the Rodents. The Great Balloon Race is a hare and hound competition hosting 51 hot air balloons this year, whose pilots try to judge the speed and wind direction aloft to follow the hare balloon and drop a bag of Bluegrass grass seed in a designated spot.
Since I am not fond of fighting through large crowds, I've never been a great participant in the Derby Festival, but this year I made an exception and had a terrific time at the Balloon Glow. On the evening before the Great Balloon Race, all the competitors bring their balloons to the Fairgrounds (the starting point for the race the next morning) where they fire up their burners and fill the balloons with enough hot air to inflate, while not actually taking off the ground. When the sun sets, these balloons rise up like brightly colored mushrooms in the night. The Oldies radio station provided music that I actually knew, and many of the pilots would light up in time with the music. My son came along, and I think he was amazed at how excited I got. We talked to a man trying to hold his balloon on the field with a rope. He said he was "walking the balloon," and it pulled him around just like an exuberant dog. Extra police are posted on the Interstate to keep traffic moving along.
I'm taking a photography class now, and decided to make the Balloon Glow the site for my class homework of taking pictures of people. There were many others with their good cameras, and even more people trying to record the moment with their cell phone cameras. I think mine came out better, of course. This may have been the first year to help for this youngster, as he struggled to keep the mouth open while hot air blew into it. By 10:00, the Energizer batteries had run down, and this small balloon fan was ready to take a rest.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Surprise Switch of Seasons

March went out like a lamb, and the temperatures rose to shorts and t-shirt levels by April 1. Mother Nature took out her palette of pale spring greens and started to color the trees with miniature leaves and dangling catkins. The flowering ornamentals rapidly swelled and prepared to bloom now that Spring was here. Then on Wednesday, a storm front swept through and the temperatures plummeted back below freezing overnight. Today is Easter Sunday, and although ladies wore their pastel Spring outfits, a winter coat and gloves hung in the church vestibule for each of them.
Dick and I decided to take a trip to Bernheim for some birding before the leaves became too thick to see well. We dressed in long johns, gloves and hats, as we did last January for the Eagles trip, so it wasn't uncomfortable. Spring, however, had definitely retreated. Some trees starting to leaf out now bore only limp frozen little leaflets from their branches. The green seemed to have crawled back inside the branches to stay warm. The Canopy Walk, a 75 foot pier into the sea of tree tops, was deserted by both man and bird. By the way, it did sway when we walked on it, I noticed.
A walk down the Rock Run trail was much more encouraging though. The trail goes down one side of the creek and back up the other. The upper part of the creek was dry, but then the bed filled with water from a spring bursting forth beneath the rocks and singing gaily as it moved downstream. Other smaller springs crept down the hills from the rock layers as well, dry above, and running water below. In fact, many of these small springs were frozen into icicles hanging down the sides of the overhanging cliffs. (click on the picture to watch the drops falling). We don't think much about how water erodes the rocks and shapes the landscape. In this steep creek valley, the evidence is overwhelming, from the overhanging limestone shelves, to the smoothly rounded shale pebbles.
We saw some early wildflowers blooming, such as phlox, rue anemone and tiny, tiny bluets. The hillsides were covered with Trout Lily leaves and on one side we thought they had not yet bloomed, while the other side gave evidence of faded flowers, so we never were sure. We agreed that you would have to come to the same place every other day to be assured of seeing all the wildflowers of the season. Fortunately, Bernheim places helpful markers with pictures of the common flowers along the trail. We were amazed at the varieties of moss growing from the rocks, and the small flowers growing among the mosses. The old fern fronds looked pretty frozen, but the new ones poked their fiddleheads through the leaves. By summer, the ferns and moss will be dominant, as the wildflowers die back when the trees shade the valley too much for them to compete.
After a quick lunch in the car, where it was warm, we moved down to Nevin Lake and enjoyed the Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, and Purple Martins swooping down to the lake's surface to grab an insect without getting wet themselves. A Song Sparrow fluffed his feathers to stay warm, but kindly posed to have his picture taken, while a Carolina Wren serenaded us. I suppose throwing your head back must make the song louder somehow! The Visitors Center held a surprise too. Dick's picture is featured in an invitation for everyone to volunteer at Bernheim! Of course, he's the best advertising that can be had....