Thursday, December 24, 2009

Woods and views: photos from late November

A long-belated post with some images from late November, starting with this rather aggressive looking bloom on our Christmas cactus, looking like a bright red bird of prey in our kitchen window.

Around Thanksgiving we took a brief trip to Blowing Rock, renting a cabin on a long ridge just south of town with a walk to a great view overlooking the Globe valley. Asta strolls down the rock face in the first photo, then becomes very interested in something in the woods in the second.

On the day we left the Globe valley was filled with fog, and you can see Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountain jutting above the low-lying cloud.

I spent some time walking around in the woods (no surprise there), taking these photos of the forest floor, complete with glassy trash:

Random mossy things on the forest floor

Bottom of a wet leaf

Buried bottle, bottom side up, ensconced in leaves

Fuzzy plant

Saturday, November 7, 2009

NovPhotos: Day 6: Jesus in the waning light

Statuary of Jesus and lambs in the Sunrise cemetery in Fairlawn, Virginia. Taken at sunset.

Friday, November 6, 2009

NovPhotos: Day 5: Dawn and Dusk

Dawn, a few minutes before sunrise, from our backyard

Dusk, a few minutes after sunset, from our front yard

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NovPhotos: Day 4 - Morning light after a hard frost

A hard frost and a bright sunny morning led to these photos.

A raspberry leaf.

Frost on an oak leaf

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

NovPhotos: Day 3 - Misty New River, with Geese

As I drove into Radford this morning I could see mist rising above New River.  I drove down to the river and found these geese hanging out on both ends of the island that's just behind the Radford University campus.

Monday, November 2, 2009

NovPhotos: Day 2 - Bou on the sofa

Bou sleeping on the couch cushions, with morning light behind her. Canvas looks and other treatments added in Photoshop.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NovPhotos: November Photo Project: Day 1

NovPhotos is my winter project to post photos 5-7 times per week throughout November, more or less. 

Here's the first round, starting with a view of Catawba Valley from Blacksburg taken on Halloween. The clouds were zipping across the sky yesterday morning as a front came through, and sunlight was peeking through. Here it covers the mountain at valley's end:

Some residual kitchen window Halloween decorations, plus our oddly spotted, bright orange/yellow mini pumpkin:

Same view, only focusing on the Christmas cactus that's thinking about blooming. Seasons change, ya' know:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wither goest thou, "Indian summer"?

It’s been a pleasant Indian summer, with the temperature reaching summer-like peaks last weekend in Blackburg. This is a much-beloved mid-season, a time when waning warm fall days stand in sharp contrast to impending cold weather. Whiffs of the immediate past pleasantly cloud the knowledge that it's going to get really cold, and not too long from now. It's heady stuff for writers and poets.

All this got me thinking about the origins of this peculiar term - "Indian summer." When and where did it creep into our language? Opinions abound, and the research is less than definitive, but here’s a bit of what I’ve found, interspersed with some fall photos.

A branch over Bass Lake, near Blowing Rock, NC.
According to Charles Cutler, in his O Brave New Words!: Native American Loanwords in Current English, the term “Indian summer” is one of the many 18th Century “Indianisms” European settlers inserted into the burgeoning American version of the English language. Many of these nascent words and terms that were creeping into that odd beast we call American English were martial in nature (warpath, war club, war dances), reflecting, no doubt, the Native Americans' ongoing response to European provocations. In this light, Cutler believes that “Indian summer" was dubbed “one of the gentlest” of Native-American influenced terms. Cutler also noted that this period of mild autumnal weather was known in Europe by many other names, including St. Martin’s Day, Old Wives’ summer, and All-Hallow summer. The English language, like the settlers themselves, seemed eager to adapt, assimilate, and conquer.

Cutler continues: Several theories seek to explain the substitution of Indian summer in U.S. usage. In 1832, the Boston Transcript suggested that the name arose because this time of year occurs when "Indians break up their village communities, and go to the interior to prepare for their winter hunting." Some people more romantically derive the name from the similarity of the season's haze to the smoke from Indian fires. Others offer the explanation that Indians forewarned whites about the short-lived respite before winter or suggest simply that Indian summer is most noticeable in regions once inhabited by Indians.

The maple next door. A nice one.
Meteorologists, not surprisingly, have also weighed in. William Deedler of the National Weather Services states that Indian summer is generally considered a "period of considerably above normal temperatures, accompanied by dry and hazy conditions ushered in on a south or southwesterly breeze." Many consider that these conditions must occur after one hard freeze.

Candles on the deck catching the late afternoon sun.
One of the earliest descriptions of Indian summer comes from Francis Parkman, who wrote in "History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac" (1851):

...then succeeded that gentler season which bears among us the name of the Indian summer; when a light haze rests upon the moving landscape, and the many-colored woods seem wrapped in the thin drapery of a veil; when the air is mild and calm as that of early June, and at evening the sun goes down amid a warm, voluptuous beauty, that may well outrival the softest tints of Italy. But through all the still and breathless afternoon, the leaves have fallen fast in the woods, like flakes of snow, and everything betokens that the last melancholy change is at hand.

But not all sources cite Native Americans as the inspiration for the term. Some look - aghast - to British interactions with the subcontinent of India itself. Several scholars think the term comes from the nautical lexicon of British sailing ships trading with India. In a 1923 article in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Robert de C. Ward reports that "under the Regulations of the British Board of Trade one of the load-lines on ships bears the initial letters 'I. S.,' this indicating the maximum depth to which vessels can be loaded for voyages during the 'Indian summer,' which means the fine weather season in the Indian seas." India Pale Ale, anyone?
Henry David Thoreau praised fall foliage in his essay "Autumnal Tints," first published in The Atlantic Monthly in October 1962. He describes the purple grasses, leaves, elms, oaks, and various maples. Of the red maple he says  "all the sunny warmth of the season, the Indian summer, seems to be absorbed in their leaves."

And in my little world, no set of autumn photos would be complete without some of Asta frolicking. Here's her enjoying a warm Indian summer afternoon, oblivious to any silly essays. Locked in the moment. Put that camera down and throw the tennis ball.

Asta takes a final sniff from our wildflower patch before the first freeze.

And goes dashing off toward the tennis ball.

In Blacksburg, the forecast is calling for highs in the 60's through the end of October. As Emily Dickinson said, the skies will put on "the old sophistries of June." Enjoy it you can; I know I will.


These are the days when birds come back,
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look. 

These are the days when skies put on
The old, old sophistries of June, -
A blue and gold mistake. 

Oh, fraud that cannot cheat the bee,
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief, 

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear,
And softly through the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf! 

Oh, sacrament of summer days,
Oh, last communion in the haze,
Permit a child to join, 

Thy sacred emblems to partake,
Thy consecrated bread to break,
Taste thine immortal wine!

-Emily Dickinson

Sources: O Brave New Words!: Native American Loanwords in Current English
by Charles L. Cutler, 1994.

Henry David Thoreau, "Autumnal Tints," The Atlantic Monthly, October 1862, published on the American Transcendentalism Web.

"The 'Indian Summer' as a Characteristic Weather Type of the Eastern United States", by
Robert de C. Ward, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 62, No. 2 (1923)

"Just what is Indian summer...." by William R. Deedler, National Weather Service. NWS website. (1996)

A note on citation style: this is formatted however I please, thank you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Caswell Beach - September 2009

We spent the week of Labor Day at Caswell Beach, NC, on the eastern end of Oak Island, a barrier island just south of the mouth of Cape Fear River. Oak Island is an old, familiar place for us. We've been going there as long as I can remember going to the beach, my grandfather having built a cottage on Oak Island in 1960. Mostly unmarred by high-rise condos, hotels, and bars, it's a quiet beach where it's easy to relax, which is pretty much all we did the entire week. These photos document that trip.

The first day or so was rainy and cool, forcing us to don raingear for beach walks. Still, the beach has a unique beauty when it's gray and overcast:

By Tuesday the rain had ended, and we enjoyed partly sunny skies (as the more upbeat weatherpeople phrase it) for the rest of the week. Looking north from the beach in front of our cottage late in the afternoon shows the Oak Island Lighthouse on the left. To the right, across the mouth of Cape Fear River, is Bald Head Island, where an older lighthouse ("Old Baldy") still stands. Old Baldy was operational from 1817 until the Oak Island Lighthouse was built in 1958.

Below is the Google maps satellite image of our little stretch of Caswell Beach. We stayed in the second cottage from the right. Zoom out and you can see Caswell Beach, Cape Fear River, and Bald Head Island. Note how Caswell Beach is south facing.
Back on the ground, here's the view looking out our back door.

Zoom in a bit and you'll see our festive beach umbrella, with Barrie actively engaging in beach-inspired relaxation.

The beach umbrella was our second effort at shade. Our first attempt was a nylon tripod structure we dubbed the "shade shack" (yep, to the tune of the B52's "Love Shack"). We set it up early in the week, and it did great until the wind picked up, when, as you might guess, the whole shack shimmied and fell down. Bad design. So we went the traditional, multi-hued beach umbrella route and it was a great success. But here's the view from under the shade shack:

Asta, our main mutt, and Bou, our backup utility beagle, had a great time at the beach, after a bit of acclimating. They loved to sit and stare out the screen door at the many other dogs that were at the beach.

And here they are hanging out with Barrie on the beach. The myriad of changing smells is a beagle's paradise, as Bou cheerfully demonstrates.

A few obligatory beach-level shots:

Scurrying bird tracks
Shell and sand. Itty-bitty grains. Lots of them.
A mess of stuff. Pine needles, fishing line, seaweed.
We drove over to Southport for lunch and to check out art galleries early in the week. We ate at a dockside place called Fishy Fishy Cafe, and the main entrance was blocked by water in the road during high tide. Here's a few images from our visit to this lovely harbor town:

Gadzooks! Could it be sharks attacking the stars and stripes?
Fishmongering for the gated-community set.
Extras assembling for a casting call for a remake of The Birds.
On the western end of Oak Island is Long Beach, where my grandfather built this cottage in 1960. The last time I saw it was 7 or 8 years ago, after several hurricanes had stripped the beach away, torn out all the plumbing and powerlines, and left it a box on stilts, looking for all the world like it would fall into the surf. Much to my amazement, they've pumped up sand from the river basin and rebuilt the dunes! And Daddy John's cottage still stands. That's it on the far right, shabby but respectable.

Every May sea turtles come up on the beaches of Oak Island and lay their eggs. I've been fortunate to witness this a few times, and it's quite a sight. Caswell Beach is a sea turtle sanctuary and has an active Sea Turtle Watch. This nest was near our cottage:

The nest below was down the beach a bit, and the Sea Turtle Watch has installed long borders on the nest below to guide the newly-hatched turtles back to the beach. You can check out an active record of this season's nest activity on this website.

As mentioned, Caswell Beach faces south, so the sun sets over the water, which is atypical for Atlantic beaches. Here's a few sunset shots, the first with Barrie walking Bou:

Good bye!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Blacksburg sunset, July 2009

The evening after huge thunderstorms rolled through brought this sunset:

You can just barely see the sun through the trees on Brush Mountain.
Looking east revealed this beautiful cloud, with distant thunder rumbling.
Dusk in the New River Valley.