Monday, August 31, 2009

Benches by Renoir

They are just ordinary benches, used by Bernheim visitors who are waiting for their friends and family to finish in the restrooms. People who are tired and hot after a hike in the woods plop down on them with a groan of relief to have a seat in the shade. Grandparents listen and smile while grandchildren shout to hear their echoes in the concrete silos housing the vending machines.
From a distance, the benches look like they are painted a pale green, which has faded and peeled from exposure to the weather. The ecologically minded might guess the benches to be made from recycled milk jugs. It sounds like something Bernheim might do. As you come nearer, however, the green appears to be made of small splotches in at least 50 different shades of green, gray and brown, applied by an Impressionist painter. The lifeless bench has become a living thing now. It's been adopted and absorbed by the many small flat lichens in green and grey.
Although the lichens are worn away by human seats and hands and cares, they don't give up. Lichens quietly fill in the sides of the seat slats where no human can touch them. Eventually, more complex lichens establish a foothold in a secluded spot near the edge of the bench, curling like layers of pale green lace. At times, the lichens sprout what appears to be spiny needles along their edges. What small predator might hunt these lichens causing them to develop such a defense?
Did Renoir imagine such things when he created are in splotches of paint? If the lichens were removed, would the bench still exist? There is a world of life in the slats of a plain bench, beyond what we can imagine. My soul is enriched by knowing of it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

State Fair Memories

Even as newlyweds, some 35 years ago, Dick and I went to the Kentucky State Fair every year. As with most repeated activities, we developed a list of exhibits and shows we liked to visit. We haven't been to the fair for several years now, but yesterday was Dick's birthday and I was scheduled to work the Raptor Rehab booth, so we put on our walking shoes and headed for the fair first thing in the morning. As we searched for a place to park on the grounds, I recalled my father-in-law's determination to find a space close to the building, no matter what the parking attendants said!
Some things never change at the Fair, thank goodness. Freddie Farm Bureau has greeted visitors to the Kentucky State Fair and Exposition center since the Fair moved there in 1956. Small children are mystified when he speaks to them and asks them questions. Of course, we fair-wise parents know there is a man by a window watching and acting as Freddie's voice. Check out the Fair's blog for a day-by-day trip to the Fair!
As we entered Freedom Hall, the sounds of organ music announced the World's Championship Horse Show. My father-in-law had prime seats in the front row, and this was absolute heaven for a horse-crazy kid from Ohio. Green sawdust, organ music playing in time to the gait of the horses, attendees dressed to the teeth and whooping for their favorites, puffs of talcum powder sprayed by trainers to make the horses prick their ears up as the judge walked by... I admit, I got a little choked up seeing the whole thing again. After years of just watching the show, my daughter and I started showing Saddlebreds ourselves, and it was even more fun watching our friends and our favorites horses in the ring. We were never good enough for this quality show, but it was great fun. Plaques in the hallway honored the World Grand Champions over the years. I still get goosebumps remembering the battles between Imperator and Sky Watch in the 5-Gaited Championship!
Behind the show arena, the equine ambulance waited, just in case a horse was injured.

If you have never been to a Saddlebred Horse show, here's your chance. These are 5-Gaited horses doing the rack, a gait that has to be taught, as opposed to the walk, trot and canter, which they do naturally.
The West wing always houses the livestock, but unfortunately, we hit the turnover day. All the milk cows were gone and the stalls were cleaned and empty, waiting for the beef cattle to arrive. Likewise, we missed the chickens, ducks and rabbits, but a few 4-H'ers were preparing their sheep for judging.
Once a sheep has been clipped and bathed for judging, you certainly don't want them rolling around to get dirty again. Here is the latest in fair fashion for your high-class sheep!
Next, we visited the FFA exhibits, followed by fruits and vegetables. One lucky person set a new state fair record for their pumpkin--929.5 pounds. I can't imagine how they got it out of the field, loaded in a truck and safely placed inside the building without cracking it open!
The fairgrounds cover 520 acres, and has 1,200,000 square feet of air conditioned comfort for exhibitors and visitors. Not everything is inside though, such as this new Jump! dog show. Lou Mack finds most of his dogs at animal shelters, and made a great pitch for adopting dogs from shelters. His dogs really love chasing frizbees and leaping over 20 feet into a pool. They were the smart ones since they got to cool of while the rest of us just sweated!
People expect certain competitions at the Fair, such as quilts, cakes, tropical fish and wood crafts. The quilts were all beautiful. If I worked that hard on a quilt, I would be devastated if it didn't win anything at all. We saw many gorgeous works which were just as good as the ribbon winners, in my opinion. The photographs were the same. That's why I don't even consider entering anything at the fair. I do feel sorry for the judges though, having to choose only a few items from all the beautiful entries. The Kentucky State Fair has a competition that is surely unique though... the Ugly Lamp. A local restaurant sponsors this, inspired by their decor of old ugly tables, chairs, and salt shakers, many of which I remember from my own grandmother's house! I guess Ugly as well as Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cloud Races

We are on a mid-week mini-vacation at Rough River Dam State Park, an easy drive from home. A leisurely afternoon at the pool led me to engage in the sport of cloud racing. This is a dry county, so no, I was not seeing any sort of "pink" elephants, but I found an elephant cloud leading the pre-race parade.

It's hard to tell if clouds are moving, and in which direction. The closer ones seemed to speed by, while the ones farther away stood still. Two light poles at the pool make the start and finish lines on my cloud race track. Granted, this sport will never replace the Kentucky Derby for most racing fans. As you try to watch the racers, they tend to change shapes mid-heat and you are never sure if you are watching the same cloud or not! It's hard to award Wind, Place or Blow to clouds when they don't wear numbers! Finally, these clouds were overshadowed by an incoming weather front, and the race was called on account of rain.

Earlier in the day, we took a pontoon boat ride around the 5,000 acre lake, which twists and turns along the old river course. Cliff Swallows built nests in the cliffs resembling brown jugs. No babies left in mid-August, of course.

It was exciting to see a Bald Eagle on a lake this small. The park staff says there were three pairs this year. Kingfishers and Great Blue Herons joined the resident flock of Canada Geese in our avian escort for the morning.

There is no fishing allowed from the marina itself, of course, so enormous carp swim around hoping for a handout. This turtle would pop his head up for a minute, and when he thought someone was looking, quickly submerged again. When the threatening rain petered out, we went canoeing at sunset and saw a red fox, which was more rare to us than the eagle!

The Kentucky State Fair starts tomorrow, and I'll be there several days assisting at the Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky, Inc., booth. I've started volunteering there and I love it so far. Got to handle my first Great Horned Owls for their meds last week. Go for the drumsticks, John said. But when it was time to work with the Screech Owl, I quickly learned that they don't have any drumsticks to grab!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Proud Pseudo-Mama

I feel like a proud Mama, showing off the pictures of the wonderful things her baby does, which no other baby in the world has ever done before. Sorry about being obsessed with the Cooper's Hawk fledglings. At least one of my babies is successfully hunting! At first I wasn't sure if this was an adult or one of the babies. She looks so competent. Just catch the bird and perch in the pine tree for a leisurely lunch. No fuss! The eye color indicates this is one of the fledglings to me. Do the adults lose that red coloring after the breeding season is over? One of the other fledglings landed on a nearby branch, whistling and begging for a handout. This one just ignored the noise, and didn't even try to mantle her catch and protect it from sibling thievery. How's that for confidence!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Juvie Coops

Our juvenile Cooper's Hawks are doing quite well. They fly easily from tree to nearby tree now. This one even perched on our swing for a while, giving me an outstanding photo op! Look at his eye. The mature Cooper's Hawk has a red eye. An immature that is perhaps a year or two old has a yellow eye. And this fledgling has grey eyes.

Their mother taught them that cleanliness is important if you want to fly, so preening is their primary activity when perched in a tree.

Those rotten Blue Jays follow them all day. Even though they don't hunt yet, you always know they are around because of the ruckus the Jays make. Just because Jays have blue feathers, they think they are the Hawk Police!

What are you doing down there?

Does Mom have some lunch ready for us?

1,2,3... Ready or not, here I come!

This time I'm really going to fly off this branch...

Ah, the shade feels wonderful. I need to practice my stalking.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Backyard Summer Daze

As we slide into August, it's hard to believe we've been in summer at all. This is the first July that we have not exceeded 90 degrees even once all month! When I was a kid, we had the entire month of August as vacation from school. Someone said our children in Jefferson County, KY, start back to school in only two weeks. How time flies! What's happening in the Dennis backyard? Take a look.....
The Cooper's Hawks nesting in the pine tree next door are doing well. Their two babies are just about ready to fledge. They have most of their primary feathers, and jump from branch to branch, flapping their wings actively. When Mom flies in with a bite to eat, they whistle, so I know to take a look. Their nest is situated for privacy, and can only be seen from my driveway, with the scope pointing straight up in the air for a good view! Sometimes they look down at me, wondering what in the world that strange being is doing down there. Can you see two young birds in the first picture? I hope I get to see them fly before they leave the neighborhood.
The butterfly garden is at its peak. A Red Admiral came by this week, for a butterfly lifer.
Monarch butterflies are supposed to like milkweed in particular. We have three different varieties, but I seem them most often on the butterfly bushes. I'll keep an eye on the milkweed for eggs or caterpillars though.
Butterfly gardens attract insects other than butterflies in great numbers. This large bee-like insect is actually a Nessus moth. I saw Clearwing moths last summer, a similar looking insect. These moths flap their wings to hover, like bees, and they resemble huge bees more than anything.
I never realized that bees come in so many sizes and varieties. I think this is a Carpenter bee - one of the bumble bee species. It's at least an inch long with a shiny black abdomen. Large bees, small bees, wasps that look like bees...maybe next year I will invest some time becoming more familiar with them since so many come to visit our garden.
The grass that grows in the yard gets chopped off before it can reproduce, but this dwarf Fountain Grass is going to seed now. How delicate the seed heads are! I'll have to look for any birds that might eat the seeds.
I never know if we have one hummer, or more than one little female coming to sip from the Cardinal flower. I have not seen a single male all summer though.
You'll just have to imagine the Gold Finches on these Black-eyed Susans. By the time I get the camera, they fly away. I guess this is called "virtual birding."
I love sitting on our screened porch. It protects me from mosquitos, while I keep an eye on anything that flies in the yard. And, yes, the creek we installed is still babbling away!