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August 26th, 2008 - The Night Shift

I think she likes me.
I've been working the evening shift at Springbrook Nature Center these days, 4:30 - 9 PM, and it definitely is different than working the day shift.
I do a lot more animal care, and they seem to be getting used to me. Gardy the Garter snake (q.v.) has to be taken out of her cage to set it up for feeding, so you take out her water dish, tree, and reptile cave and put down artificial turf so that she doesn't pickup any wood chips in her food. You have to find some place to put her while this is going on, so I find it's easier to hold her or put her on my shoulder. Last night she started exploring and went up thru my hat adjuster in the back and over the top so she could ride around with a grip on something. But of course she doesn't stop there...
We feed her minnows and worms mostly, but the last few times I've had a hard time getting her interested in them, until I picked up a tip from the MNHerp Society. I used to think it was strange that snakes even eat fish, but it's probably her preferred food here. I've seen Garters swim up out of the marsh onto land and go hunting too. I guess all snakes can swim, some just like it more. Snakes have two (sometimes three (!)) lungs, but one is sort of atrophied. Some herpetologists think the atrophied lung acts as an air bladder so they can keep their balance in the water.
Anyway, the tip was simple: put the live minnows in a clear dish. She definitely was more interested right away, seeing what was going on in there. Then she has this long hunting ritual she has to go thru, surrounding the dish and making sure everything checks out. Reptile brain. They say it like it's a bad thing.
Then it was time to go out and sweep for insects to feed the frogs. Last night I went around "the back" of the NC, this picture is out beyond the birdfeeders, an unusual perspective. Deer were crashing thru the woods, they don't see much human activity back there after dark. I've been sweeping twice lately, once to try and get some bigger stuff for the boys in the Frog Dome, and once for littler bugs for the tykes in the terrabox. I've been trying different locations with different plants and am getting better at predicting what I'll get in the net. I learned the hard way to stay away from the Trumpet Vine or I'll end up with bees. I still get them once in a while tho. It sucks trying to weed them out of the frog dome without letting everything else out, but I can't feel good about leaving them in with the frogs. It's barely organized chaos trying to get the bugs from the net into either the dome or the plastic box. You put a few dozen insects into a 1 sq. foot space with six frogs and things start hoppin'! Frogs are jumping, crashing into each other, claiming the same bug, their tongues flying out, bugs are buzzing around trying to find out which way is up and half of them are probably trying to eat each other. It's like a skunk on a hockey rink.
Shhh. Frogs are sleeping. Dreaming froggie dreams.
I just noticed the Cecropia caterpillar has blue suede shoes. Put your hands togetha for some fresh cherry branches, yeayuh!

August 21st, 2008 - Oneth by Land, Many Moreth by Canal

That blind lady is going to walk right into the canal! Why don't all those people stop her!
Sorry, couldn't resist.
Last Sunday I sold Peace Garden cards at the Como Park Japanese Gardens Lantern Lighting ceremony in St. Paul.
Greatly assisted by my lovely wife Sharon, (she set the show up for me and tended it while I entertained 12 four-year-olds having their birthday party at Springbrook Nature Center... I thought it WAS a nice touch that the birthday girl's favorite gift was "Butterfly Barbie" and was flying her around the Nature Center) anyway she saved my butt as I flailed and navigated my way to our kiosk after driving thru the streets of St.Paul ("...designed by a drunken Irishman", as our former governor and pro wrestler has quoted them) and walked into the gaping maw that was Como park, replete with zoo, conservatory, golf course, ball fields, canal, merry-go-round and labyrinth.

There were quite a few people there, and it was beautiful once I got settled in and I stopped hyperventilating.
The Conservatory was looking spiffy as ever,
with these awesome GIANT lily-pad / tortilla-warmers floating all over the place.
Talk about solar-collectors.
The gig went pretty well, I sold a few individual cards and sets and managed to snap these pics as I was rushing to find the car so that the rest of the Peace Garden committee folks could pack up before dark. I wish I could have had more time to dedicate to decent tripod work of the floating candles, lighting and crowds. Everyone that had a Kimono wore it to the show and those that didn't flew whichever flag they were into that day. It was multi-color cosmo.

August 20th, 2008 - Exploding Flowers

The ornamental flowers at the Longfellow Gardens are exploding into full bloom these days. Using all of the 24 million color pixels at my disposal still doesn't do them justice.
I haven't seen any hummingbirds as yet, but the bluebirds are still check in, before flying off into the void beyond the prairie. No, I didn't PhotoShop that.
The pathways are all cleared and ready for the hummingbird races.
I planted this! (Well, most of it) Hey, what can I say, my gardens look great. When someone else takes care of them.
The Rattlesnake Master is fully spherical and doing a great job. Not a rattlesnake in sight.

The rockets are on the launch pad.

These mystical darksider flowers are pretty weird. They absorb light like a black hole, then look artificial when you finally adjust it to show the details. Spooky.
It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's a Minnesota Giant Wasp! Run!
Having a little trouble retracting the landing gear.

August 19th, 2008 - Pull Your Zoom

Back when I was in "The Chronic Pain Program," (I think they called it that because they thought we were all a bunch of hypocondriacal whiners, WE were the chronic pains) I had a Russian physical therapist that sounded a lot like "Natasha Fatale" of Bullwinkle & Rocky fame. One of her many buzzphrases came about when she was trying to get you to sit or stand up straight, she would say, "Now yhoo are da leetle mahrionette boy. You hyave da lettle strreeng coming frhum da top of your head. To sit up strhaight, you pool dat strreeng. Pool yhoar streeng! Pool yhoar streeng!"
So now when I tell anyone to pull anything, I have to fight the urge to tell them to 'Pool yhoar ______'.
I'm not sure why going to the dog-park lends itself so well to shooting pull-zooms (Pool yhoar zzoom!), but for me it does. Where we usually go is out by the airport, there are large open spaces with dogs running around and a nice westerly opening to the sunset, with a lot of room to play, just like for the dogs.
So I find myself doing pull or push-zooms of the dogs chasing balls, or people walking or running a lot.
A pull-zoom is a photographic effect created when you set your shutter speed fairly low, maybe 1/20th sec. or less, I usually use shutter-priority, but sometimes manual mode or experiment with other modes.
Then with the camera strapped so you can't drop it, you find your subject and zoom the lens all the way out. You can put manual focus on infinity or let it auto-focus, experiment with this later. Then with one hand holding the camera body with your finger on the shutter button and one hand on the zoom-ring of the lens, you push the shutter and simultaneously crank the zoom ring in towards you so that the lens zooms in over it's entire range during the time the shutter is closing. All while holding the camera pointed at the subject.

Sometimes if the shutter speed is high, you'll get just a little bit of pullidge around the subject, and the subject will be pretty well focused and stopped, giving just a hint of motion.
Sometimes if you hit it right you will get a cool freeze-motion effect, with the subject blurred but recognizable in the frame, usually the center. This was a popular shot for drag-racing pictures in the 1970's.
Then the last time we were at the DP, I thought, why do I never shoot sunsets with a pull-zoom? So I tried it and got this cool "hyper-space" effect by putting the sun behind the tree.

By lengthening the shutter speed a little I got "The Burning Bush."
By zooming-in all the way on the subject and pushing the zoom out, you get the opposite motion, "the push-zoom." Depending on how shaky you are, the shutter speed, which way you pull or push, length of lens, amount of light, etc., you get too many variables to predict. I like stuff like that!
Try it, it's fun! Pool yhoar zooom!
When you get good at that, try it on "Night Mode". That's where your camera takes a flash picture then shoots an exposure off of the metering of available light. Experimental opportunities abound...

August 11th, 2008 - Dayo de Mondo

Ah, August Monday. Pretty flowers, dusty drought-ravaged ground, pollen, microscopic bacteria, blue fibers, viruses, for me it all adds up to an allergic, itchy, jittery, stuffed up start to the day. Schwoo... (sucking sound) Caff! caff! cough! Itch, scratch. Quiver, scratch.
I believe that long before the world fries due to someone intentionally or accidentally pushing the button for The Big One, or shrivels from excessive Catastrophic Global Climate Change, we will all succumb to Global Allergy Syndrome (GAS). This manifests itself as an allergy to everything. The only solution will be to become "The Boy in the Bubble" or take the Space Elevator up to total deep space vacuum and find some peace where there's no microbes, overuse of cologne, anti-bacterial soaps, latex, animal dander, shellfish, dust mites, ragweed, sinus pressure, ChemLawn, not to mention the added vaso-constriction of bass-booming cars, train bells, airplane noise or motion-sensing vocalizing toys. Just the balmy absolute-zero zephyrs of the solar winds. My luck the snowbirds that live in the space trash trailer-park down the way enjoy solar wind chimes, and tacky dark-matter ornaments for their "yard."
I guess I'll just have to buck up, quit whining and enjoy my mom's flowers while I have the chance. Nice Asiatic Lilly, there Ma.
Definitely worth a little itching and sneezing.

While in Ashland recently, I couldn't pass up documenting this well-named bicycle, the "Break-Point, Aluminum Series". Usually they come with a warning sticker that says, "Not for jumping." My friend Karl, owner of the bike shop up there used to sell a bumpersticker that read: If Huffy built an airplane, would you fly in it?

This is my school. Beaser School. Home to the idiom, "Beaser-wheezer, lemon-squeezer, stick your head in an ice-cream freezer." My grade school from 4th to 6th grades to be more exact. It was also the school my grandmother attended kindergarten in. My grandmother died in the seventies at about 80 years of age. It's low-rent housing now. The coolest thing was (besides the bats in the belfry and the attic covered with eons of graffiti) that the silo-shaped tube on the side was actually a fire-escape for all three floors. Inside was a spiral slide, polished to a gleaming silver from years of kids butts sliding down it. Fire drill was chaos. I think I only got to slide it twice. The lower floors went first, and in theory they were outside and out of the way before the third floor started sliding, but it never quite worked out that way. Usually there was a screaming, crying, laughing pile-up four kids deep at the bottom. Finally they locked the doors for good, much to the dismay of all us 3rd graders. It was the end of an era.
I wish I would have asked my grandma if she sang the lemon-squeezer song when she went there...

Down the alley from my mom's house, the blue chicory plants grow. Kind of a cool plant, with the petals looking like they have been trimmed with pinking-shears. Usually you will see chicory growing out in the prairie, but this one is "out back by the trash cans" of some houses down the block.
I think I used to mow one of those yards for money to buy a chemistry set come to think of it. Some say you can make a decent "coffee-substitute" out of chicory roots. Just the mention of it would get my dad sticking his tongue out and making a face, saying "he had so much of that during the depression, he didn't care if he EVER saw one of those plants again!"
It's probably a good thing he's not around to see the alley now, because it has the most chicory I've ever seen in one place!

August 8th, 2008 - That's 080808 You Know

Wowser. Kind of fell off the edge of the round Earth there for a spell, so much for the regular postings. It all started around the middle of July when I went up to Ely and the Boundary Waters for a weeklong workshop, then came back to sub for some folks at Springbrook, shoot the Friends of the Mississippi River Canoe & Bike Event, act as interpretive canoe naturalist on Hamline College's teacher's workshop back on the Mississippi at the beginning of the week, then road trip with Sharon up to the hinterlands of Ashland, WI. to celebrate my Mom's birthday last weekend. In all, I've popped off several thousand frames on the Nikon and spent most of this week getting things cropped, edited and posted to SmugMug.
Ashland has always got such nice sunsets, that's one thing I miss about living on the "Big Lake". Our horizon here in Minneapolis is usually cluttered or reduced by something.
Of course Lake Superior isn't always warm cookies and milk, (annual storms on Lake Superior regularly record wave heights of over 20 feet and waves well over 30 feet have been recorded) but when it's good, it's good. Superior you might say. Or, you might not. Actually "le lac supérieur" means "The Upper Lake", as it lies north of Lake Huron, so no pun for you.
Ashland only views a bay of the "Gichigami" (meaning Big Water in Ojibwe) or "Gitchee Gummi", as Longfellow hacked it over in print. Wad. You're such a tool. Anyway, it's the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and is the world's third-largest freshwater lake by volume altho it's pretty low right now. Ashland borders "Chequamegon Bay" (pronounced, "sha-wahma-gann", as the chief said when he dipped his toe into it in the summer) on its south side, the name comes from the Ojibwe name "Zhaagawaamikong", "sand bar place".

The sand bars make for good swimming if you enjoy 40 degree water. At least there are very few rocks, leeches and no salt. Actually, if the winds and current are in your favor the shallows over the sand bars can heat up to bathwater warm. More the exception than the rule tho. When your lips are purple, it's time to go to Dairy Queen.