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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Yes, I find crows magical, and I am a fan. Whoa, whoa! OK, all you farmers out there – I see you throwing your hands up in the air with a loud and unified “OY!” But hear me out. Let’s look at these magnificent creatures from three standpoints – science, myth and magic, and personal experience.

First a little science. Did you know that crows and ravens (same family) and macaws have the highest brain to skull ratio of any bird on the planet? In fact, their brain to skull ratio is higher than in humans! This in part accounts for their high intelligence, not to mention they have been on the planet for 60-65 million years.  Crows also have a skill accorded to one of the most intelligent mammals on earth, the great apes, i.e. they create and use tools. Crows also will gather around one of their own when it has died to try and determine the cause of its death. They will  learn the facial configuration of a mean human and teach all other crows to know it as such and avoid that human. When a crow leaves its flock and joins another, it immediately acquires their “dialect” by taking on the characteristics of the most popular crows in that flock. No intellectual slouches, these crows. Learn more about them.

The magic. When I designed my own website a number of years ago, I drew the header for it myself. The header featured none other than the crow, and I have utilized that symbol for my blogs. Why?

Because in certain cultures and mythology, the crow is believed to be the symbol of magic and creativity, something near and dear to every artist’s soul. In some cultures the crow has been the symbol of evil and/or death, juxtaposed against the white of the dove and purity. I don’t see life in black and white terms, and for all their brilliance, I like the crow’s mythology in Native American terms and Crow Medicine. As such, Crow is a guide on the path to spirituality and enlightenment and is the keeper of sacred law. It is said that Crow has known the darkness and when they appear in our lives, may be guides through our own darkness on the path to enlightenment. Granted, these may be mythological ideas, but it can be said that all religious/spiritual beliefs are mythology, just different. I am not arguing that point, just drawn to the many inspiring aspects of the beautiful and intelligent crow.

Personal experience. I have a very deep back porch, and during the day, next to my back door, is a bowl of water and dry food for my neighbor’s cat. I’m working at my computer when I hear a rather loud caw. “That sounds mighty close,” I think. I look out the back door, and there is a good-sized crow pilfering the dry food. She sees me and flies away. Not 10 minutes later, I hear the caw again. I appear and she flies away. Shortly thereafter, out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of black through the side door window. She has learned in only two incidents that her caw brings me to the door, and now flies in silently. Seeing me again, her next attempt was from a different angle that I could not easily see.

Another time, I hear muted crow noises and slip quietly and unseen to watch four of them on the porch. They are talking amongst themselves and jostling for position, pushing one another away from the cat food bowl. I take their verbiage to mean “Wait your turn” and “Get out of my way.”  It is likely a dominance issue. I knock on the window and they disappear, but I could have watched their antics for hours; they were quite amusing. Now, as a result of this, I have to bring in the dry food for a while.

Occasionally, I will see a crow on my walks or on the fence near the window where I work. I always say hello and am sometimes acknowledged with a look and a “caw”. When a crow -– or any animal – appears unexpectedly and/or repeatedly in my life, I may look into its possible meaning. In the case of a crow, I might be at a crossroads, looking for or ready for a change, and need to pull more on my own intuition. Even if that has nothing to do with the crow, when is it ever a bad idea?

One last thought .. there is so much amazing art regarding crows, among them gorgeous paintings by Susan Seddon-Boulet ( above left), but also in a favorite children’s book, Crow Call by Lois Lowry and revered illustrator, Bagram Ibatoulline.

The natural world is filled with wonder and beauty. Depending on the day, I could happily write about pangolins, pandas, or hammerhead sharks. Today, it’s crows.

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The Delaware River in her many moods extends a never-ending invitation to be photographed. Just three houses away, I’m able to easily see whatever weather-inspired beauty is happening on the river on any given day.

One of my favorite views is after rain or snow, when the fog in the area has cleared, and a cloud all her own has settled on the river.

I’d already started my work, but when I looked outside, I couldn’t resist, so slipped out with my camera down to the edge of the road.

There’s just such a moodiness at this time of year to how that cloud sits low, and the wintery colors are as rich in their own way as the green vibrancy of spring. If I were able, I could happily just pull up a chair and sit for hours.

This very old concrete structure had something to do with the railroad tracks and the trains that once ran here, I imagine. Oddly enough, I’ve never inspected it more closely, and today that ground was a field of mud beneath the leaf litter.

An ancient twisting tree of the sort that inhabits mysteries and horror stories. One of the joys of the winter months is in appreciating the skeletal silhouettes of so many different types of trees.

Rising from the misty shrouds is a ghostly white hotel on the far river bank in Pennsylvania, appearing to be much closer than it actually is.

On drier days, I can go over the tracks and much closer to the river’s edge, but the muddy ground was soaked, and on the bluff overlooking the river at this point, undoubtedly quite slippery. So I just counted myself lucky to live near such beauty, and returned, inspired, to my work

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As the summer has ambled on, turning gently into the 40’s and 50’s at night, certain of the flowers and shrubs begin to lose their color, their energy to stand tall, their vibrancy. Such is the case each year with the beautiful snowball hydrangeas (as I call them.) They produce huge balls of snow white flowers in the spring which turn to the softest lime green as summer glides through. In late August, the canes bend low to the ground, and the once white snowballs now begin to turn to rust and copper. This is what I observed in the garden that surrounds my back porch.

And then, about a week ago, a herald appeared – a new, small white snowball. The temperatures had not gotten warmer; in fact, cooler nights had arrived when it bloomed. I am enchanted. And somehow heartened, as if a messenger of hope had appeared in the midst of so much worldly turmoil. The leaves of this large plant are drooping, crumbling at the edges, yet bright and tall stands a youngster in their midst. So I thought to photograph this resistor of cold nights, this affirmer of life among his fellow snowballs, who slowly yield to the coming of fall.

The snowball hydrangeas look equally magnificent as they dress for fall, slipping gradually into their new and deep copper attire.

I am a believer in signs and synchronicity (which people often refer to as “coincidence” or “accidents”). I can’t be sure what message this lovely upstart is meant to bring, if any, but it brought me a renewed wonder in nature and her whims; a small feeling that anything is possible; and a smile every time I look at it. And that’s quite enough.

I did not go on my brief photographic venture alone. I was joined by Pumpkin, who lives next door, and who thought to also enjoy the simple wonders of a sunny morning.

 

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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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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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Back when I lived in the city, walking about Manhattan, there was a very good reason to look up. Gargoyles. Fabulous gargoyles. Bumping into people on the street, apologizing, face-to-the-sky, gargoyles. New York is full of them and they’re all over the place. However, this post is not about gargoyles … maybe someday … but another reason for looking up. Icicles.

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The recent 6 – 8″ of snow we had recently, followed by a drop to 4˚ at night, followed by a day of brilliant sunshine has these 2 and 3 foot daggers hanging off roofs everywhere. And although today was kind of cloudy, kind of sunny, I thought to photograph a few because I believe this is the last we’ll be seeing them until next winter.

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Neither the main roof nor those of the porches on this house have gutters, which may be why there are so many icicles, I’m not sure, but what I do know is that when you walk around certain parts of the house, you best be looking up and stepping lively. Periodically during the day, you can hear them crashing outside the windows, just waiting for an unsuspecting soul to walk by.

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Witness a few misses to the side of my house, the walkway where I come and go daily. Of course, there’s also a sheet of ice to navigate as well. Ahhhh – winter!

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Having taken that photo, I became more interested in the textures created by the ice and snow around the house, often so beautiful as to look like abstract art. I peered over my back porch railing where the ice was dripping into the snow. Icicles were breaking and melting around the hydrangea, as eager for spring as we, I suspect.

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And then, the last of the roses, encased in ice, also surrounded by broken icicles.

I could have gone around the whole property photographing these icy textures once I began, but such is not my day. These brightened my artistic soul, maybe yours, too.

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There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough to pay attention to the story.

~Linda Hogan

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“This is the season when growth in the garden, which has been gradual, now accelerates. Maybe today you’ll realize that remaining tight in the bud
is more painful than blossoming.”

~ Sarah Ban Breathnach

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Driving backroads out my way, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, is a visual feast, but more than that, it is something else. For me, it is nourishment for the soul.

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The views I find along my travels feed a part of me that treasures the beauty and peacefulness, and the best part about it is that wherever I go, there they are. The changing of the seasons only adds to the richness of it all.

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I wonder, to a fresh set of eyes, do these views appear boring? In our electronic age, where everything moves at the pace of a nanosecond, do they seem stilted or irrelevant? While I commit some of the images to my camera, I am snapping far many more and recording them in my memory. These simple views offset the pace and insistence of the many electronic communications and devices that make up the day.

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The wildness of nature or the orderliness of a farmer’s fields … it doesn’t matter … either conspires to awaken in me the knowing that whatever might be happening in life, there is still beauty in my surroundings. It’s in all our surroundings; we only need to stop and look, and take in the view.

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