Sunday, June 29, 2008

Viewpoint

We have a friend who is an artist. We've always known that's what she does. She teaches art in a local high school. This week an exhibit of her work opened in the Pyro Gallery, on old West Main Street in Louisville, and we went, simply because she is a friend. I now know that Debra Lott is an Artist.

Appropriately, she calls the exhibit Viewpoint. For the Elderly Women Series, she went to a nursing home and painted portraits of some of the elderly women there, thus making them immortal. Debbie does not try to hide the wrinkles and arthritis. They all have silver hair. You know they have faced struggles all their lives. But their faces, particularly the eyes, reveal the young girl living in the old body. The canvases are larger than life - 48x72 inches in one instance. Thus the woman becomes larger than life as well. We tend to look past or over old women, especially in a nursing home. Now we must look at them, and it is truly an emotional experience.

This woman is named Ora, and she attended the opening in a wheelchair. She was missing some teeth, and didn't speak loud enough to be heard without bending over, but this was important to her. In her portrait, you see that little girl Ora probably did things she was told not to. She probably liked to tease her brothers and sisters. I went to talk to her, and she said she started to cry when she saw these portraits, because she saw her mother in them. Notice, she didn't see herself, who is still a young girl inside. The old woman must be her mother. It made me tear up too, thinking that all of us are young girls and our mothers at the same time, deep down inside.

After the exhibit, Dick and I went to a downtown restaurant and sat out in the courtyard, since it was a nice evening. A jazz trio began to play. Since the exhibit put me in a philosophical mood, I noticed the ages of the musicians. Two men were clearly in their upper 60's, and the third in his 50's. We wondered if they are full-time musicians somewhere else, and just take the restaurant gig because it gives them a chance to play the music they enjoy. They made it look so effortless. I remember taking band in 5th grade, trying to play my father's old clarinet. I simply couldn't make the connection between the dots on the page and where to put my fingers, so finally gave it up. I enjoy music, and sing tolerably well, but I really admire the people who learn how to play music, or paint a portrait. I say I'm important to these artists, because I'm the audience who appreciates them. I suspect, though, that real artists would play or draw or perform whether I'm there or not. Something in them makes it an important part of their lives.

When you were a child, I asked Dick, what did you say if someone asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? He knew he wanted to do something with writing. And he always enjoyed acting, performing. Going to law school and becoming a trial attorney was the perfect way to combine those ambitions. I, on the other hand, never really had a goal like that. At most, I liked being outside in nature, although my family remembers me as the horse-crazy kid. Well, I spent 10 years as an adult learning to ride and show saddlebred horses. Now, I volunteer at the Falls and spend lots of time in nature. Looks like I've achieved my goal too, in a round-about way. It all depends on your Viewpoint.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Summer at the Falls

Summer at the Falls of the Ohio. Giant puffy clouds fill the horizon when storms threaten.
Both Black and Turkey Vultures congregate on the fossil beds, cleaning up the carp bodies. The carp leaped around like salmon last week, but cannot swim past the dam, so the Vultures feast at this time of year. They soar at eye level along the deck.

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An unfamiliar fungus grows on a tree. I call it red velvet tree fungus, because that's what it looked and felt like.

Kayakers test their skill and muscles against the river. Idiots on Ski-Doos look for sudden death. The water pours out from the dam. One big wave would be enough to tip over a Ski-Doo trying to power upstream. Kaykers respect the river and know it is a personal contest when they enter the water. People with power toys think they can overcome the power of the river. They will find they are wrong.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wordless Wander

Footprints wander
Across the sand
Run to safety
Search for food
Rest from long flight
I wonder....

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Vineyard

Many farmers in Kentucky are abandoning tobacco as a staple crop. Some turn to vegetables, or just raise cattle. Hay is so high priced this year, I'm sure those who can get in an extra cutting of hay will do so. Kentucky has long has a reputation as a producer of bourbon whisky, but in the 1800's it was well known for wine as well. More modern farmers are turning to wine making as their primary activity. In addition to planting and tending the vines, gathering the grapes, and bottling the wine, they have learned about the entertainment function of wine making.

Last evening, for example, our Sunday School class made the drive to New Castle, Ky, and the Smith-Berry Vineyard and Winery, for a delightful evening of wine tasting, Bluegrass music, great food, an art exhibit, and (ta-daa) birding! Dick and I were the only ones who appreciated the birding, I'm afraid. A big tobacco barn has been turned into the catering center/bandstand and dance floor. We brought chairs and an appetite, while listening to Hog Operation - how's that for a Bluegrass band name! I don't care for red wines, usually, but continue the search for one sweet enough for my palate, and Smith-Berry has a sweet red wine called Flat Rock Red. I recommend it.

I did not take binoculars and camera, planning to just enjoy our friends and the music, without thinking about birds. Dick still had his equipment in the car, thank goodness. Between sets, we walked down into the vineyards, just to enjoy the evening. The Tree Swallows swooped around, then landed on the wires supporting the vines. They must have been either exhausted or tame, as they sat and let us walk fairly close before taking wing again. I was delighted, since I have been unable to get any photos of the Swallows at the Falls. They were joined by Eastern Kingbirds and several Meadowlarks. At one point, I thought I even saw a Horned Lark! We got Dick's camera from the car, and went back for some great swallow photos and a movie. Another wine tasting/birding trip is called for, since I did not get to try any of the white wines. Nor did we see any hawks, who should have been patrolling these open grassy fields. AND, the nearby barn missing half a roof looks like a fine place for an owl or two to establish residence.

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Sunset happens every day. But sometimes, you enjoy one more than others. It's a matter of being in the right place at the right time, like so much else in life.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Break in the Weather

I don't really intend to be the Weather Person in these posts, but to a birder, the weather can be important. Either it's lousy, and neither I nor the birds want to be out in it if we can avoid it, or it's turned wonderful, and I can't wait to get outside. Today, the weather is terrific, comfortable in both temperature and humidity after a long spell of hot and humid.

Looks like a great evening for some spur of the moment birding at Garvin Brown Preserve. Birders say it's a large open meadow tucked between the Ohio River and some of the most expensive real estate in the county. A farmer would say it's a big empty field full of weeds. In any event, it's a good place to view all the meadow birds you miss when walking in the woods.

My favorite meadow bird is, of course, the Meadowlark and tonight we hit the jackpot. I have been known to annoy people in my car by driving with the windows down when in farm country, just to listen for Meadowlarks. Tonight, we heard them here and there, and kept hoping we would find one up close. Well, close enough to capture with my lens, then zoom with Photoshop anyway. You can go blind trying to bird at sunset, but this guy just sat on his perch in the next field, about 40-50 yards away, and sang his heart out, with his yellow breast shining as bright as the setting sun. In concentrating on the Meadowlark, I did not see this other bird flying over. We noted the lack of raptors in this field. On closer examination, though, I think it is more likely to be a Barn Swallow, since a lot of them were flying around.

Our other jackpot birds for the evening included an Orchard Oriole, Purple Martin, Tree and Barn Swallows, Cedar Waxwings, and an American Kestral. One more photo gave me two for the money tonight. This cute Song Sparrow and a little lady bug. Looks like he's thinking about lady bug for dessert, doesn't it? I'd love to photograph Swallows on the wing, but just can't see them, find them in the lens and focus before they have moved out of sight. Since I still have the day job, I don't get to go birding often during the week, but it felt like a weekend tonight!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Wordless Wonders

We bloggers like to write and comment on life when no one can interrupt or contradict what we say. I admit it! Lately, I've seen posts on other blogs where only a picture is posted. Commentary and wonder at it is left to the viewer's imagination. My friend, Bob Lenning from Bernheim, identified this dragonfly as a female Common Whitetail. The name doesn't change my wonder at the fine, delicate details of this beautiful insect.

As an exercise in self-discipline, I'm going to give it a try. Sometimes we need to stop gathering information, "facts", and just appreciate life for what it is.
The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Sculpture in the Dell

No matter how long you live in a community, there are always new things to learn about and new fun places to go. Yew Dell Gardens, in nearby Crestwood, KY, is such a place. The private home of Theodore Klein, noted gardener and artist, has been developed into an outstanding botanical garden, mixing giant old pine and oak trees, pathways lined with elegant holly trees, and multitudes of flowering and non-flowering garden plants. For amateurs like us, everything is labeled. Although we probably won't be able to afford any of the art, we did get some ideas for other things to put in our yard when the landscapers clear out the area under the pine trees. I'd like to look for some old millstones and plant ferns, some different hostas, and maybe impatiens for color.

Tonight is the opening of Sculpture in the Dell, featuring local artists of many types. To me, the most impressive pieces were the large limestone sculptures and fountains placed throughout the grounds. Every time I turned in another direction, I saw more sculptures I hadn't noticed before. In addition to the art, and the opportunity to actually meet the artists, we ran into several friends from the area we hadn't seen for many years, as well as new friends and fellow volunteer naturalists.

The first one here is called Transition Bird. I can see the bird at the top, but never did decide what it was transitioning from. The face in anguish is called Overcoming Oppression, and the artist notes "This piece is about pushing past our self-imposed limitations." The green Cornacopia is "about our blossoming in the abundance of the universal Life Force. What are we harvesting?" Meg White created both Overcoming Oppression and Cougar, shown here. I asked if anyone ever told her that women can't do sculpture, especially in limestone. She chuckled and said that people sometimes confused her work with Don Lawler, a friend and fellow stone worker. However, she uses all the heavy duty stone working tools, and showed us the muscles from it! As both a strong and expressive woman, she works on the details of the cougar fur as it crouches beneath a ledge. The entire work shows some of the rough markings where the stone was quarried out initially as well. Very unusual. I enjoyed hearing the artist's interpretations of their own work.

The Cicadas are back - not quite the force we had in Louisville a few years ago, in my opinion- but enough in Yew Dell to make quite a racket. Two people at Indiana University, in Bloomington, created a movie in 2004 documenting the cicadas and won an award for it. Entitled "Return of the 17-Year Cicada", I expected the kind of monster movie spoof that college students might create. Instead, I found a very well done, serious movie about the life cycle of this insect, and recommend it to anyone reading this blog. In the meantime, here are some pictures of the case left by the nymph after leaving its underground home, and the adults, along with my own movie.
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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Summer Evening Birding

Summertime, and the birding is easy. Berries ripening And the Bluebird's so blue.
Birding is especially easy when you go to a new nature preserve (well, new to me at least) with the Beckham Bird Club. We had our annual summer picnic at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve in Goshen, KY, beneath the shade of a maple tree that must have been at least 200 years old, everyone agreed. The breeze made the temperature perfect , and the birds flew right up to us. Next to our picnic area was a half dead tree - bare branches at the top and live ones at the bottom. Before we finished eating, in that tree alone we saw a Mocking Bird going for a singing endurance record, a Cooper's Hawk, and Starlings, while Bluebirds, Swallows and Robins circled overhead. After our hike, we returned to find Cedar Waxwings on the dead branches, more Starlings and Mocking Birds, and a Chipping Sparrow. Just stand in the yard, lift your binoculars, and turn in a slow circle. It's that easy!

The Cooper's Hawk soared against the cotton candy clouds. Then, chased by smaller birds with an attitude, it landed in the dead treetop, undismayed by the delay in supper. Scan the sky above, then scan the ground below. It's a Hawk's life. The hunt goes on.

Even birds must want a breath of fresh air, and a bird's eye view of the scenery once in a while. Instead of hiding in the branches, two incredibly bird birds came out into the open. It's a wonder the camera found their blue against the blue summer sky. An Indigo Bunting and an Eastern Bluebird posed for us. Several Blue Jays flew past, but none landed in the treetops for easy viewing. A Phoebe and an Eastern Towhee chose to remain in the brush, hiding and hopping around to stymie my attempts to get a good photograph once again.

Not be outdone by the blue birds, a Red Bellied Woodpecker showed off his red head and shining ladder back feathers in the evening sun, while a Cardinal made a distant spot of crimson among the green leaves. Tavia Cathcart, the new director at Creasey Mahan, joined our fun, and Dick knows her from Bernheim. I hope we can have many more pleasant hikes with her, so I can pump her for information on flowers and trees. Welcome Tavia!