"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Pink on Blue (and Black)

From “Prunus (Rosaceae)” in Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants In Your Garden by Noel Kingsbury:

Prunus (Greek for “plum”) is a woody genus of around 430 species, found throughout the temperate zones of the northern hemisphere. Including some key sources of fruit and nuts — almonds, cherries, peaches, plums, apricots — the trees often combine beautiful flowers with productivity. Fossils of well-preserved Prunus flowers found in Washington State date back to the early Eocene (around 50 million years ago); the genus is thought to have evolved some 10 to 15 million years earlier, during the Paleocene….

“A very large number of other
Prunus species are in cultivation, including ornamental varieties of species normally grown for fruit production…. Many of these are of eastern Asian origin and were introduced to the West during the late-19th- and early-20th-century period of intensive Asian plant hunting….”

From The Reason For Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann:

“Floral preferences vary widely between countries, cultures, and different historical periods…. If we travel to Japan, we find floral arrangements incorporating moss pinks among European favorites such as tulips, roses, and lavender. Japanese parks showcase the traditional sakura cherry (Prunus serrulata)…. The Japanese enjoy their centuries-old pastime of flower viewing and picnicking (called hanami) under blooming cherry trees. Spring cherry blossoms are the most popular, but the people of Japan know that every season brings blossoms worthy of admiration.”


Some of the earliest spring — or pre-spring! — color in my neighborhood (aside from daffodil yellow; see February Daffodils and Plum Blossoms) appears on various fruit trees that show off their flashy shades of pink from mid- to late-February and continue through March and early April. While it can be a challenge to identify these trees by name, most of the early bloomers are in the Prunus genus, which includes cherry, plum, and almond trees, among others. I think the tree featured in the photos below is a Japanese cherry tree, and it’s pretty much true that wherever I look, I see these clumps of pink mixed among with the gray branches of other trees that won’t leaf-out for a few more weeks.

On a clear day, the pink looks nice against sky blue… but it also looks good if I remove the backgrounds and paint them black (as I did in the last gallery). Either way, it’s fun to stand at the base of these trees and aim a zoom lens up to get a closer look, while some of the tiniest bee pollinators zip from bloom to bloom, as little bits of pink fall to the ground and the tree seems to change its size, shape, and color even as you stand there.

Thanks for taking a look!

February Daffodils and Plum Blossoms

From Beautiful at All Seasons: Southern Gardening and Beyond by Elizabeth Lawrence:

“There are daffodils in February, or even in January on rare occasions when the little early trumpet or ‘February Gold’ show a flower or two; the various kinds bloom on until the middle of April or later.”

From The Reason For Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann:

“In China, favorite garden flowers are treasured for their symbolic meanings in art, literature, and society…. Flowering plums represent happiness and friendships.”


Below are some photos of a small batch of late winter, early spring, mid-February daffodils (most found in the sun but shielded from cold breezes by nearby tree trunks), and some flowers on a blossoming plum tree.

Thanks for taking a look!

Afternoon Visit with a Red-Tailed Hawk

From Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram:

“[The] shadows of late afternoon are very different from those of early morning; the mood, the mode of awareness, the qualities imparted are richly different…. The silence is deeper, fuller…. The trunks and the cliffs are darkening, the needles losing their distinctness…. The myriad flows between insects and grass, between soil and stone, hawk and water and cliff, seem to be dissipating — the reciprocities and negotiations between neighbors all gradually subsiding….

“We participate in this encompassing awareness with the whole of our body, as other animals participate in it with theirs, the snow leopard with its tensed muscles and the hawk with its splayed wing feathers. Every creature here inhabits and moves through the same field of mountains and melting ice, imbibing the same air, the same boulder-strewn awareness. Yet each animal filters this awareness with its particular senses, its access to the whole limited by the arrangement of its limbs and the specific style of its pleasures, by the way it obtains nourishment and the way it avoids becoming food for others. Each creature — two-leggeds included — has only a restricted access to the mystery of the real….

From World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil:

“If hawks are circling around us, does that mean they think one of us might be good to hunt?”

Just before the sun went down a couple of days ago, I had let my dog in the house from his afternoon squirrel-chasing session when I saw my second hawk this winter. The first one — see Dog in Ivy, Hawk in Tree — was at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens, high up in an oak tree — but this time was different. While it won’t be apparent from the photos below, the branch on which this red-tailed hawk perched is only about five feet from the ground. I took the photos from various distances with a zoom lens; by the time I got the closest, the hawk stayed put while I continued shooting from about ten feet away.

I puzzled for a while about why it stayed so still and so close to the ground, then heard a lot of rustling from the tops of the tall pine trees that border the northwest side of my back yard. Fluttering atop the pines I saw an enormous owl, flying from branch to branch, eyeing the hawk. I never could get a clear shot of the owl, yet my wandering around the yard to try didn’t concern the hawk — who apparently concluded (correctly!) that I was less of a threat than the owl; plus, I don’t have wings. The owl — owls hunt hawks, but opportunistically, perhaps somewhat lazily — gave up after about thirty minutes, yet still the hawk didn’t move, only turning its head occasionally to see what I was doing. Cautious about its predator, this hawk.

Encounters with wildlife are fascinating: I kept wondering what it was thinking, how close it would let me get, and what it might do when it decided I was invading its personal hawk-space. Check the look in its eyes in the last two images: when I realized I might be pushing my luck, I backed off a little lest I ended out with talons in my scalp. Still it stayed for a long time — until the sun had set — after the owl had gone, while I put down the camera and just strolled nearby and watched.

I could have kept watching until darkness fell fully, but thought it was time to end our encounter and keep the hawk and my dog from crossing paths… so I pretended to be a fox… and it (laughed hysterically and) flew away.


Thanks for taking a look!

Winter Crocuses and a Daffodil; Red Leaves and Buds; Some Things From Around the House, with Faces

From 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells:

“Crocuses flower about Valentine’s Day, just when we need a reminder that winter is over and we really do love one another after all. ‘Krokos’ was the Greek name for the autumn-flowering saffron crocus, which has been cultivated from antiquity, but which hardly anyone grows today. The nicest legend about its origin is of Zeus and Hera making love so passionately that the heat of their ardor made the bank on which they lay burst open with crocuses.

“The first spring crocuses were sent to England from France by Jean Robin, curator of the Jardin du Roi in Paris. John Gerard’s famous Herball describes the ‘wilde or Spring Saffron’ as a novelty compared to the ‘best-knowne’ saffron. Saffron crocuses are pale purple, and Gerard talks about the new colors of white and a ‘perfect shining yellow colour, seeming a far off to be a hot glowing cole of fire.’

Saffron was always a valuable crop. Measured ounce for ounce it was often more valuable than gold; it takes four thousand stigmas to make just one ounce of saffron. In the Middle Ages it was sometimes used instead of real gold leaf to illuminate missals. The rich used it for flavoring food (the poor had to make do with calendula petals), and it was also thought to be ‘good for the head.'”

Photographically speaking, my February image-making is off to a pretty slow start, with the weather not cooperating with my plans to wander the neighborhood camera-in-hand. I’ll admit to some rare days of actual boredom last week, while rainstorms from the same weather system that dropped tons of snow farther north continued for several days, followed by freezy-breezy afternoons with very little sunlight and temperatures barely creeping into the thirties. Me and my camera don’t mind the cold that much; but all that rain dampened the enthusiasm right out of us.

Granted I could have done productive indoor-stuff like my income taxes or organizing some cabinets and closets or getting a jump on spring cleaning … but, nah, instead I read a bunch of online articles about taking pictures of ordinary things at home, and armed with new knowledge decided on a photo-shoot with an indoor theme: Things Around the House with Faces. There are surprisingly large numbers of things with faces around my house, but, alas, I even got a little restless about that and stopped after five photos (or maybe I’m just saving some subjects for the next week of soaking rain).

Here they are, five face-based photos, irreverently captioned.

Victorian Angel Knocker on a Yellow Wall
Between Two Framed Pictures in a Hallway on a Rainy Day

The Rare Golden Bibliocorn

Watchmen Understudy, At Rest, Between Takes

Frog King Au Naturel (NSFW! … oh, sorry, too late!)

Lizard and Pestle

When the weather finally cleared and the temperatures modulated, I got to go outdoors again (which is where I belong, dammit!) for one of my color-hunting excursions. Despite much of the landscape steeped in brown, gray, and monochrome, I found these tiny crocuses sneaking out of the ground…

… and converted three of their photos to black-backgrounders…

… and stumbled across this sole daffodil seeking sunlight from behind a concrete barrier…

… found these bright red leaves of unknown botanical lineage…

… and surprised myself by getting decent photos of these tiny red buds from twenty feet away with a 300-millimeter zoom setting.

There were a few other plants just barely in bloom — those photos I’m still working on — which I’ll finish up and post over the next few days.

Thanks for taking a look!

Winter Color at January’s End (2 of 2)

From “Nature” in The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“[The] simple perception of natural forms is a delight. The influence of the forms and actions in nature is so needful to man, that, in its lowest functions, it seems to lie on the confines of commodity and beauty. To the body and mind which have been cramped by noxious work or company, nature is medicinal and restores their tone….

“[Nature] satisfies by its loveliness, and without any mixture of corporeal benefit. I see the spectacle of morning from the hilltop over against my house, from daybreak to sunrise, with emotions which an angel might share….

“Not less excellent, except for our less susceptibility in the afternoon, was the charm, last evening, of a January sunset. The western clouds divided and subdivided themselves into pink flakes modulated with tints of unspeakable softness, and the air had so much life and sweetness that it was a pain to come within doors…. The leafless trees become spires of flame in the sunset, with the blue east for their background, and the stars of the dead calices of flowers, and every withered stem and stubble rimed with frost, contribute something to the mute music.”

“The simple perception of natural forms is a delight.” — very true, isn’t it? This is, I think, one of the main reasons I return again and again to photographing plants, flowers, and trees: these subjects give back so much in terms of contemplation of their shapes and colors, and the acts of searching, finding, and photographing them always puts me in a kind of creative flow that pretty much blots out anything else going on or on my mind. And there’s something else that I didn’t appreciate until I spent so much time over the past few years learning post-processing tools like Lightroom: at their best, such tools not only extend the creative act but also enhance the experience of studying natural forms in close-up detail.

It’s not unusual for me to return from a photoshoot with three hundred photographs, and — since my general rule is to expect to keep only about ten percent of what I shoot — the work (it’s not really work) of whittling down to thirty or forty images means I spend a lot of time examining structure, noticing how light strikes different shapes, textures, and colors, and figuring out which ones will satisfy me the most as I alter them in development. One of the most time-consuming post-processing tasks — spot removal — often feels like drudgery but can still be fascinating as I try to match patterns and colors from one section of a leaf, petal, or branch to another, while reducing the appearance of damage or blight.

For this post, I picked five photos from the previous post (see Winter Color at January’s End (1 of 2)), and created three variations. For the first gallery below, I painted the backgrounds black (as I often do); then, for the second gallery, converted those same photos to black-and-white (with a bit of silver-blue toning). For the third gallery, I took the five color photos from the first gallery and created soft, glowy versions — for no reason other than I wanted to see if I could use Lightroom’s local adjustments (mainly radial filters in this case) to create effects similar to the soft-focus filters available in the Nik Collection. The results were perhaps not unsuccessful! 🙂

The last photo is of an airplane and its contrail — and came about when I was experimenting with the 100-300mm lens I wrote about previously, just taking pictures of clouds on a blue-sky winter day. It was the only one that I liked and kept; all the rest were blurry since I wasn’t used to the lens yet. If the image looks a little mottled to you (since WordPress reduces the overall quality when resizing thumbnails for galleries), try this full-sized version where the sky should be a nice, smooth light blue.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Bye January!