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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Serene is sure a feeling that can escape us when we’ve got a lot on our plate. And lately, this photo is what’s been bringing me back to some semblance of serene.

Beautiful orcas in a sea of calm. I feel like perhaps they are dreaming. Diving, resting and just breathing in the night air. The last few weeks have been far too busy with one thing or another and although I know – we all do – that from time to time, it’s just how life is, I found myself longing for a touch of the serenity I see in this photo. I found myself wishing I could weave among them as kin where they would welcome me, not be afraid, and just share with me whatever they know and feel in the moment captured above.

“They were watching, out there past men’s knowing, where stars are drowning and whales ferry their vast souls through the black and seamless sea.”
~ Cormac McCarthy

But this period of so much going on has had its up-side, too.  I have been on a real reading tear, loving diving into one book after another, middle grade, adult, picture books, no matter. Perhaps these books have all given me the respite I needed, new places to go, people to know, situations that grabbed my attention and heightened sensation. What a rich world books bring us.

OK, change of plans. I’ll sit on an outcropping of rocks next to the orcas, they with their dreams, me with my book, one in spirit under a full moon. Join me?

 

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At the end of my street is the river … the moody, enchanting, ever-changing Delaware. Sometimes she is soft and shy and all wintery gauze. Though I haven’t in a while, I can go over the broken tracks, down an incline, across a small plateau where someone builds fires, and touch her. Yes, I see this river as female, though I cannot tell you why. Sometimes I take her presence for granted, yet I never forget she is there.

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Lately I’ve been thinking. Oh, about so many things. The words of others drift through my head. These are the words I want to share with you today. I may have done so before; if I have, they are no less true.

“You were born with potential. 
You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. 
You were born with wings. 
You are not meant for crawling, so don’t. 
You have wings. 
Learn to use them and fly.”

~ Rumi

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northernhawkowl-jbalsam2I found myself really looking at a stunning calendar photograph of this Northern Hawk Owl for the month of November. I am the recipient of a large number of calendars each year, some from organizations I support, and others that are cold mailings from like-minded organizations. I have several of them posted around my home, not to remind me of the date but to enjoy the beauty of nature and animals, changing every month.

As December approached, and a new bird would arrive, I started to play with the idea of doing a watercolor of this owl. She is clothed in multiple shades of browns with large white flecks on her dark wings and a cap that looks like it has been dusted with freshly fallen snow. But ahh .. there has been a bit of a drought in these parts in terms of my drawing, so rather than tackle something I haven’t done in ages, why not do something I really enjoy, simple black ink. And so I drew.

Perhaps most surprising as I hunched over my desk, was that Jazzy, who normally would be meowing up a storm demanding dinner at that precise time, was utterly quiet. It was as if she knew this was something even she hadn’t seen in a while, and best not to disturb a woman at her work.

We never know what will inspire us. I, myself, was surprised that this owl had been calling out to be drawn for days. What I do know, is that when we’re inspired, it’s good to listen.

 

 

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It’s always a bit of a surprise when the clock turns back to “regular” time and it starts getting dark earlier. We know it’s coming and why, but it’s never fails to be an adjustment. It seems the most clear demarcation of the end of all things blooming and the deepest step towards winter.

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I was determined to give my camera and myself a little exercise Sunday, but was not prepared for the sun already setting lower at 2:30 in the afternoon. The sky was alternately blustery grey, bright blue, or streaked with layered clouds. You can see the Delaware River in the background as I walked parallel to it heading north. The tracks once connected all of the river towns on the Jersey side, and I hear rumors from time to time of their being restored.

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It’s funny how you can pass the same thing so many times and yet not truly notice it. These old doors belong to a 2-story stone garage. What’s interesting is the structure is completely made of stone and mortar except for over the doors, where it appears to be made of odd, stone-like shapes of brick. It’s most unusual and makes me wonder what purpose this was once used for. The space is big enough to have housed at least one horse stall, but it seems more suited as a garage. The style of stonework is really quite old.

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Lately I find myself noticing all kinds of textures. The worn paint and the rusted hinges enchanted me. I think I could have taken dozens of photographs of just the front of this structure, maybe even of the doors themselves.

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The front, looking up. I love the stone windowsill and the wooden lintel. Someone has been keeping up with the concrete repair around the stone and brickwork.

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The sky was such a changing mix of things, but the river seemed moody and sullen. No lovers tarried on the bridge this afternoon.

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Skies looked brighter in the east. A few lone hangers-on from some type of shrub waved in the breeze. Orange leaves drifted down, speckling a surprisingly still verdant lawn.

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The sun cast long shadows as I continued to walk. So many beautiful old trees in this area, not cut or abolished as you see in so many of the newly developed tracts. Here trees have their place and are appreciated for their beauty, their shade, and for the part they play in creating a place people like for its coziness and charm. I could walk – and take photographs – all day.

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Among the many wonders of nature, I find camouflage one of the most fascinating. Below are photographs of owls who quite literally disappear into the trees behind them. If viewed from enough of a distance, it is practically impossible to even see them.

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If you can find the owl easily, move further away from your computer/device until it is hard to spot her, and then view the rest.

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I cannot take credit for these wonderful photos; they were sent to me in an e-mail and were collected, I assume, from around the web with no photographer given credit. I just prepped them for my blog, hoping you would appreciate them as much as I. Whoever the photographers are, thank you for sharing these amazing images online.

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We live in an amazing world. Sometimes it’s easy to see just how amazing it is.
Sometimes we have to look just a little harder.

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As snowstorm Jonas dragged on and the snow continued to fall – heavy and then heavier – it was impossible to not start having concerns about the power going out. Thankfully, our area of the state came through A-OK. We did, however, get very high amounts of snow, lots of high winds and drifting. My driveway ranged from 24″ – 30″, and created the ghost that once used to be my car.

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What a relief when everything was finally shoveled and pathways cleared. I can’t help but wonder if these huge mounds of snow won’t be with us til Spring. Here’s hoping you weathered the storm okay, and life is returning to non-shoveling activities!

 

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MacounOnPlate2One would always hope that we have reasons to love where we live. As mentioned in previous posts, living in my county in New Jersey provides such simple joys in its natural beauty all year long. Similarly, I love living in the Northeast where we have the largest concentration of deciduous trees, giving us the fabulous Fall colors we love, and four distinct seasons as well. But there’s another simple pleasure …

Apples. We have apples. Beautiful red, gold, green and blushing apples. And farmstands aplenty selling them right from their own orchards. Pictured here is the apple that rose in ranks to my favorite eating apple, the Macoun. Before I’d moved to this side of the state nearly 20 years ago, I’d never heard of it, and up to that point my favorites had been Macintosh and Granny Smith. I loved the tart- sweet flavor of them both, but the Macoun topped all. It has a very specific appearance in contrast to MelicksCider2other apples, a grey “bloom” which you can see in the photo. (One might think it needs a washing, but that is the apple coloration.)

About a mile down the road from where I lived in Pattenburg was Tradition Farms. They had a small farm stand which sold produce from early summer right through Thanksgiving, and it was there I discovered the delicious Macoun. And along with that, their own apple cider which amazingly enough, tasted different each week because the farmer was pressing different apples depending upon what was ripening. I drank a lot of cider during the time I lived there! In addition to that, the farmer offered – and still does – a chart with all the varieties he grows, 32 in all, and their taste, what they’re best for, (eating, pie, sauce, salad), and what time they’d be ripening and at the stand. Want some Ida Reds for pie? Come in late September. Some Gold Rush for applesauce? They’re in in late October.

Pictured in this post are Macouns and cider from another nearby farm, Melick’s, practically an institution in this county. Their cider is also delicious and featured not only at their farm in Oldwick, but also in many local supermarkets.

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We are all fortunate to have such little pleasures around us, whether they be apples or anything that reminds us that the simplest things in life can also be an abundance of riches.

 

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I could use a vacation about now. How about you? I don’t see one on the horizon for awhile, so I guess I’ll be content with the occasional day trip and travels with authors who take me places I’ve never been and/or long to be.

 

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The Outermost House is a narrative about the year Henry Beston spent on Cape Cod in 1925. His intention was to spend two weeks, but “The fortnight ending, I lingered on, and as the year lengthened into autumn, the beauty and mystery of this earth and outer sea so possessed and held me that I could not go.”

OutermostHouse-HBeston2I visited Cape Cod several times when I was younger, and I loved it. Even though I grew up with fairly easy access to the many beautiful shore spots in New Jersey, there was something different about Cape Cod … even the air. A vacation for me could easily be living near the ocean, sitting peacefully, maybe reading, maybe just watching the tides. The ocean is immensely restorative – her rhythms, her colors, her moods. Nothing really needs to be said when you sit by her side. But I would like the option to enjoy this as a relatively solitary activity most of the time, i.e., not accompanied by the noise, activity and intrusion of beachgoers. And so I will be turning back the clock and enjoying the unspoiled magnificence of nature in this spot on Cape Cod.

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Henry Beston and The Outermost House actually came to my attention at least 15 years ago through a magnificent quote from his book:

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

And that’s another reason I’m joining Henry in Cape Cod.

 

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You may know from watching nature shows that there is something in the animal world called symbiosis or mutualism. What it means is that two unlikely creatures form alliances for their mutual benefit. I will offer a few examples with stunning photographs from Wikipedia and then my own humble example.

Perhaps the most well-known example of symbiosis in the animal world – only because there have been so many photographs circulated about it – is that of the clownfish and the anemone.

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The charming little clownfish seems to be one of the only, if not the only, sea creature that is immune to the anemone’s sting. That works out perfectly. The clownfish has a place of safety to which he can swim when predators pursue, and in turn, brings dinner right to the anemone.

Then we have cleaner shrimp. These slender, delicate shrimp perform an important function for a variety of sea-dwellers from groupers to anemones to eels, as we see below.

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Here a cleaner shrimp does a tidy-up on the mouth of a moray eel. The benefit to the eel is that of a good dental/oral cleaning as bacteria is removed from its mouth. For the shrimp, who is a scavenger, a meal on the go.

Not all examples of symbiosis are under water. For example, oxpeckers are birds that often co-habit with zebras, (and other large mammals), for mutual advantage. The oxpeckers eat lice and ticks from the zebras’ coats and help the zebras by screaming when predators are nearby. Crocodiles and plovers co-exist with the plovers popping right into the crocodile’s mouth. Once again, in exchange for a good dental cleaning, the croc allows the plover whatever morsels he can find.

And then we come to my personal example:

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A cat and a car. Perhaps the most mysterious and least understood, (to the average passerby), of symbiotic relationships, there are even tertiary benefits in this relationship – to me!

Pumpkin, my buddy from next door, likes to take his nap in the shade of my bumper. The hotter it gets, the deeper in the cool shade he lies. The benefit to Pumpkin is obvious, but what about the car?

Two stories came to my attention awhile back. My neighbor across the street found one day that his truck wouldn’t start. It was taken by flatbed to his mechanic who found that a goodly number of field mice had set up housekeeping in his engine and chewed through all the wires. So bad was it, that it couldn’t be repaired. It was either a new engine in the truck or a new truck. The neighbor across the street on his other side was driving to work when her car simply stopped running. She coasted to the side of the road, was taken by flatbed to her mechanic, who found that a goodly number of field mice had set up housekeeping in her engine and chewed through her wires as well. Luckily, her car could be repaired.

Getting my drift? So while I am always aghast to see the occasional mauled mouse that Pumpkin, (or his cohort Cloudy, my other buddy from next door), leaves lying about, I also know his presence is keeping my engine intact. Which means I get to drive knowing my wires are not chewed through, both cats get shade and bottomless bowls of food and water on my back porch, and we all get some cuddling and hanging-out time.

Beats eating ticks and lice or screaming at the approach of predators, eh?

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Those of you who stop by with any regularity often see at least one photo of the stash I garner after the Annual Library Sale. Not this year, but I did bring home some wonderful selections, adult, MG and YA, which were accompanied by another bunch of tantalizing books which my Library Sale Buddy offered me. (She opened her trunk like she had hot merchandise in there – dozens of books she’d read over the year, and was offering to me and other friends. It was pretty funny.)

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A few days ago, I was ready to dive in to one of those picks and chose a book by John Irving, Cider House Rules. I’d seen the movie years ago, which was fabulous, but as I CloseToFamous-JoanBauer2began the book, it didn’t seem right. I wanted something that would feed my creative self, the me that wants to work on my Middle Grade novel. I put it back on the shelf and drew out the Joan Bauer MG novel I’d picked up, Close to Famous.

I like Bauer’s style – her characters are believable, palpable people you might know or like to get to know. No high drama, but real life in a compelling way. This would both feed my creative self and provide an enjoyable read.

 

For those of us who create, who aspire to bring something new and of value into the world, feeding that part of ourselves is so important. I know, for myself, it can also get sorely neglected when life’s demands are peaking, and Creative Me can get tossed into a corner like a shucked-off backpack, full as it is of wondrous things.

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What writer isn’t enriched by reading, what artist by looking at art that inspires? Imagine a baker who doesn’t sample fabulous cupcakes, tasting every nuance of flavor, checking the texture for mouthfeel – how could she possibly produce truly delicious cupcakes herself without knowing what really good cupcakes taste like? It’s no different with us.

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Another way to feed our creative selves is to get out in nature — take a walk, take a drive to a nearby park, sit in your garden, watch a bird, a bee, a squirrel. Nothing fancy. Let the wonders of nature inspire you, help you feel at peace, connected. In that serenity, our creativity can come out to play.

I took the photos you see here on a recent walk – blue sky, sunny day – reminded me of the me that longs to create despite the daily demands of life. It was like a cupcake for my creative soul.

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Take a little time for yourself, especially when you most think you have none. Treat yourself to a creative cupcake. Add extra sprinkles; be inspired.

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The morning skies were overcast, and the roads were fairly quiet. So I brought along my camera on my trip to the supermarket. The photos below were taken on an approximate 5 minute stretch of my 20-25 minute return trip from food shopping.

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Fields have been tilled and planted. Set far back
from the road, a horse farm.

When I first moved out to this beautiful side of the state, I learned from my neighbors/soon-to-be-friends that we “transplants” were not always welcome here. Of course I asked why. I was shocked by their answer. “Because,” they told me, “no sooner do people move out here than they want a supermarket down the road and a 7-11 on the corner, a MacDonald’s in walking distance, etc. etc., just like they had back in the burbs.”

Needless to say, this made no sense to me either. Why would you move out to the country and want to change it? I very soon adopted their attitude. Don’t like it here? Go back to where you came from. Because here … is gorgeous. As is.

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There are plenty of woodsy roads to be found.

I was enamored of this county the moment I moved out here. The more I drove around and saw, the more I loved it. It is truly the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived.

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Approaching the upcoming curve, I always get excited for what’s to come.

Driving the backroads – passing farms and wide open land, seeing horses, cows, goats and sheep living the life they deserve, through densely forested areas, over burbling creeks, watching crops grow – I just can’t wipe this idiot grin off my face.

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It’s a huge farm with Beltie, (and some Hereford), cattle/cows.

With no one else behind me, I pulled over and took a few shots of the farm across the road, always one of the highlights of my ride. There are numerous large pastures and upon them graze what are known as “Belties” – officially, Belted Galloways.

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Belted Galloways are a heritage breed of beef cattle originating from Galloway in southwestern Scotland. They are known
to be a very hardy breed, originating from the 1700’s.

When I first saw these cows, maybe 15 years ago, I nearly went off the road.  I was utterly transfixed by their markings. It’s no surprise that people, including breeders, sometimes refer to them as Oreo-cookie cows.

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A young Beltie. “I can get that itch if I just stretch far enough.”

At some point, I would like to contact the farm owner and ask if I might go out into the fields with the cows and really do an expansive photo shoot. Cows are such wonderful, sweet and curious animals. However, the bulls out there might not take kindly to me among them, farmer-escorted or not. (Not to mention this might be a major inconvenience for the farmer.) But I can assure you I would be in heaven, just hanging out in their midst and photographing them.

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It’s still spring, and the foliage you see is actually just beginning to bloom.

The next leg of the ride on this particular road has multiple sharp curves heading downhill, banks of trees ascending steeply on either side, until you are essentially in a gorge, but alas, there’s no opportunity to stop for a photograph. When summer is full blown, it’s a riot of dense green – trees, foliage and lots of moss. It reminds me of the parts of New Zealand where they filmed Lord of the Rings.

If I can see such beauty as this in just a tiny part of my ride home from the supermarket, why would I want one on the corner?

Don’t like it here? Let me help you pack!

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BaldEagle-Headshot2Each year, a pair of nesting Bald Eagles builds their nest on the Duke Farms Estate, and lay their eggs. This alone, is wonderful, but the entire process is caught live on the Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

Bald Eagles had become nearly extinct in New Jersey thanks to the excessive use of DDT, but they are slowly on the rebound, and this pair can be counted on to lay 2 or 3 eggs each spring. Through the eagle cam, you can watch the baby chicks and their doting parents high up in the tree. The first egg was laid on February 17, and the second of the two eggs hatched March 30. You can catch these youngsters as of this date in their pale baby feathers, then watch them grow right through fledging from the nest.

At times, there’s not much to watch on the eagle cam, but at other times, you have the opportunity of watching either or both of the parents bringing in food and feeding their chicks, moving around the nest, and the youngsters trying out their wings. In addition, there are weekly updates on the family as well as photos showing what you may have missed.

It’s a rare opportunity to get a peek at nature, so enjoy the Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

p.s. In reading more of the post notes, I see that one of the eagles hatched in the Duke Farms nest in 2009 was identified 150 miles away in Connecticut, where he had mated with a female, and fledged two chicks in 2014; the pair has nested again this year.

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