Happy New Year!!

From Billy and the Minpins by Roald Dahl:

“No child has ever had such an exciting young life as Little Billy, and no child has ever kept such a huge secret so faithfully. He never told a soul about the Minpins. 

“I myself have been very careful not to tell you where they live, and I am not about to tell you now. But if by some extraordinary chance you should one day wander into a forest and catch a glimpse of a Minpin, then hold your breath and thank your lucky stars because up to now, so far as I know, no one excepting Little Billy has ever seen one. 

“Watch the birds as they fly above your heads and, who knows, you might well spy a tiny creature riding high on the back of a swallow or a raven.

“Watch the robin especially because it always flies low, and you might see a nervous young Minpin perched on the feathers having its first flying lesson. 

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places….” 



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Walk, Work, Discover: Hydrangeas in Winter

From “The Walker’s Waking Dreams — Rousseau” in A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros:

Rousseau claimed to be incapable of thinking properly, of composing, creating or finding inspiration except when walking…. It was during long walks that the ideas would come, on the road that sentences would spring to his lips, as a light punctuation of the movement; it was paths that stimulated his imagination….

“Walk, work, discover…. Trampling the earth with his heavy shoes, disappearing into the brush, wandering among ancient trees. 

“Alone, and surrounded — or rather filled — with the quiet murmur of animals and trees, the sigh of wind through the leaves, the rattle and creak of branches. Alone, and fulfilled. Because now he could breathe, breathe and surrender to a well-being slow as a forest path, without any thrill of pleasure but absolutely peaceful. A lukewarm happiness, persistent as a monotonous day: happiness just to be there, to feel the rays of a winter sun on his face and hear the muffled creaking of the forest.”

I’ve been prowling my neighborhood, hunting for splashes of winter color. I’ve ended out with a large, slightly unwieldy batch of photos that I’m organizing into a half dozen galleries, that I’ll be working on and posting over the next week or so. Unlike summer and spring here in the southeast, green no longer dominates the scenes that become my photographs. Where green is present, it’s typically found in hardy grasses; or more commonly, among the ivy varieties whose color shifts from deep green to a shadow-filled version, where aqua or blue are emphasized by seasonal changes and the softer light of a winter sun. Backgrounds, especially, transition toward muted gray, chocolatey brown, and pastel variations of yellow, orange, and gold. My eye moves toward the surprising shapes and textures of plants in their dormant stages, and how those forms stand out as abstractions of their growing season versions.

The two galleries below include images of hydrangeas — bits of hydrangeas — that I found shaded by the trees of Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. The first gallery features those where pink and red was still present on the leaves, after their fall turn and while still barely attached to their stems. The white filaments on some of the leaves — a form of mold or fungus — presented some interesting (that is, frustrating) challenges for the photographer because their contrast with the red shades created a difficult-to-overcome sense that they were out of focus … fuzzy, that is. To (attempt to) improve their appearance, I used radial filters in Lightroom individually over each of the leaves, reducing whites, highlights, and saturation then adding a bit of texture and sharpening to emphasize the veins in the leaves over the cottony fungus.

Except for the last photo below, this second gallery shows side-by-side pairs of the same clumps of spent flower clusters, framed differently. I did very little post-processing on these nine images, mainly some brightness and shadow changes to soften and darken the backgrounds and emphasize the remnants of the buds — which through the zoom lens looked almost like they were suspended in mid-air, held up as they were by tiny threads. Our eyes tend to pass over sights like this; but zoom and macro lenses provide a view of the world that our unaided sight typically misses.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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A Dog, a Koala Bear, a Dodo Bird, and a Ladybug

From Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz:

“Part of normal human development is the refinement of sensory sensitivity: specifically, learning to notice less than we are able to. The world is awash in details of color, form, space, sound, texture, smell, but we can’t function if we perceive everything at once. So our sensory systems, concerned for our survival, organize to heighten attention to those things that are essential to our existence. The rest of the details are trifles to us, smoothed over, or missed altogether. 

“But the world still holds those details. The dog senses the world at a different granularity. The dog’s sensory ability is sufficiently different to allow him to attend to the parts of the visual world we gloss over; to the elements of a scent we cannot detect; to sounds we have dismissed as irrelevant. Neither does he see or hear everything, but what he notices includes what we do not. With less ability to see a wide range of colors, for instance, dogs have a much greater sensitivity to contrasts in brightness…. Without speech, they are more attuned to the prosody in our sentences, to tension in our voice, to the exuberance of an exclamation point and the vehemence of capital letters. They are alert to sudden contrasts in speaking: a yell, a single word, even a protracted silence. 

“As with us, the dog’s sensory system is attuned to novelty. Our attention focuses on a new odor, a novel sound; dogs, with a wider range of things they smell and hear, can seem to be constantly at attention…. [A] city can be an explosion of small details writ large in the dog’s mind: a cacophony of the everyday that we have learned to ignore. We know what a car door slamming sounds like, and unless listening for just that sound, city dwellers tend to not even hear the symphony of slams playing on the street. For a dog, though, it may be a new sound each time it happens….

“They pay attention to the slivers of time between our blinks, the complement of what we see,,,, Human habits that we ignore — tapping our fingers, cracking our ankles, coughing politely, shifting our weight — dogs notice. A shuffle in a seat — it may foretell rising! A scootch forward in the chair — surely something is happening! Scratching an itch, shaking your head: the mundane is electric…. Details become more meaningful when they are not swallowed up in the concerns of the everyday….”

“Happiness is novelty — new toys, new treats — in a safe, well-known place…. the new requires attention and prompts activity.”

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Know, and Smell by Alexandra Horowitz is an excellent romp through the sensory lives of dogs. I’ve featured quotes from another book by Horowitz — On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation — here a few times, and while that book includes some references to observation from both a human’s and dog’s point of view, Inside of a Dog dives deeply into the minds of dogs and how they experience the world, especially the relationships between human-world and dog-world.

If you have a dog, like dogs, or are interested in animals generally, Inside of a Dog will change how you see them. The book contrasts human senses with dog senses, developing a perspective that shifts between how we, as humans, understand the world primarily in verbal, linguistic means to how dogs and other animals perceive it in non-linguistic terms. For animals, the world is primarily one of contrasts, colors, motion, sounds, and smells, all processed cognitively not as words but as (what we would call) images, yet there lives are still ripe with various forms of non-verbal communication along with active imaginations, creativity in play, and integration of new experiences and feelings. If you are a photographer, you may already tend to see the world in snapshots and images; yet consider, if you can, how your awareness of your surroundings would be altered if imagery without words was your primary means of experiencing the world around you.

As the quotes at the top represent, novelty is a big deal for dogs; something new generates an immediate, intense interest. My dog Lobo got three new toys for Christmas (two from me, a koala bear and a dodo bird), and one from a friend (the ladybug), all of which were coveted before I even got the tags cut off. He’s developed a very clear expectation that boxes (“whatever those are”) contains toys (“we know toys!”), and tried — despite his small size and the improbability of success — to snatch the box containing the ladybug off my dining room table, giving me that special canine side-eye look when I hid the box in a cabinet. The novelty wears off quickly, of course, replaced in a few hours with proximity (the nearest toy gets nabbed at the start of a sprint through the house), or maybe a combination of smell and a bit of possessiveness (the last one the human touched becomes the most important one), and many of them get rides in the jaws at some point every day….


… And then … he rests, for a few minutes, anyway…. 🙂


Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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Merry Christmas!

From “A Christmas Carol” in A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens:

“‘It’s Christmas Day!’ said Scrooge to himself. ‘I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night…. I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!…’

“He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him….

“He had no further intercourse with Spirits … and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one!”


Below I’ve accumulated all the holiday photo galleries from the past ten days … a seasonal spectacle of color and light! Click the links atop each gallery if you would like to see the original posts and the quotations I selected to go with them.

Thanks for reading, and taking a look … and:

Merry Christmas to all!


Ten Days To Christmas: Peace


Nine Days To Christmas: Two Santas and Three Snowmen


Eight Days To Christmas: Tiny Baubles


Seven Days To Christmas: Red and Green


Six Days To Christmas: Silver and Gold


Five Days To Christmas: The Bright Lights Are Coming From Inside The House!!


Four Days To Christmas: Winter Solstice


Three Days To Christmas: Angels, as the Dog Watches Over Them


Two Days To Christmas: Light the World


One Day To Christmas: Happy Christmas Eve!


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One Day To Christmas: Happy Christmas Eve!

From “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” in Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience, by Shaun Usher:

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished. 

“Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there….

“Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.”

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