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September 20, 2008 - When you can walk the length of this car hood, Grasshopper, you will have learned...

I was out with FMR at Sand Coulee (I always want to say the Sand Coulee Dam) the other day photographing their restoration project with a group of high school kids when I noticed this grasshopper on a hot car hood.
I'll have to remember that the next time I'm asked to do some product shots. Why bother setting up hours worth of lighting and backdrops, just drive out to the suburbs and put the thing on top of the car! Who knew?
I wonder if I can write off a car as a backdrop...

September 19, 2008 - Mood: Nebulous

Some months, the days just crawl by as if you were a crab spider in a Petri dish...

September 16, 2008 - An Almost Fall Colors Photo Hike

Tuesday evening at Springbrook I led a "Fall Colors Photo Hike."
That is to say it would have been if there were any. Well, actually there were the first inklings of iotas of shades of color in a few of the taller trees, but not what I would call "Official Fall Colors", nothing to write home about, as it were.
However, even without the vivid variegation iconically identified with autumn, the low angle of the sun and just the "quality of light" registers in your brain that it's not summer anymore. Well, it is, but for only a few more days. You know what I mean. Things are looking golden and the shadows are somehow "different." It's hard to put your finger on it.

Schlurrp. Just like eatin' spaghetti.

This "Sulphur Shelf" fungus was about as close to fall colors as we came. Which is pretty close, really. The thing was lit up like a traffic light.

You can tell it's an urban nature center when the ducks see you and come over. Will quack for food. I had one parent in a home-school class ask me what kind of bread they liked best. That's when I unfold my Henry Kissinger glasses and try to explain to them diplomatically that bread isn't actually a duck's native prey, that they might want to change something they thought was doing good since they were a kid and that in most places it's illegal to feed waterfowl. And I thought this would be a nice quiet career communing with nature. Ah well.
I think I see the colors changing, gotta go...

September 15, 2008 - The Stract and the Abstract

The Cecropia caterpillars are busy munching and making cocoons at Springbrook. I can hear them from across the room. Crunch, crunch, thwap. Oops, slipped. Munch, crunch. Ticka, tick, tick. (Pooped out a cellulose ball) Crunch, munch.

Hey, what's this? Can I eat it? Eh. Come on, feet.

Picasso's bicycle.

September 13th, 2008 - Even turtles get the blues

The Spiny Softshell was looking a little forlorn today, so we took on the task of a complete tank overhaul for her. Nothing like scrubbing the algae off a lot of rocks, pumps, lines, and walls to give you a little respect for what it takes to create an environment. I wasn't sure how I was going to move her as she is fragile and gets a little nippy when you try to pick her up (who wouldn't) until I got the idea to use a spaghetti colander. A stroke of inspiration. She fit right inside and it drained off water famously. I just had to convince her I wasn't going to the kitchen, and she settled right in.

I let the last of the newly hatched snappers go back to the creekbed where their eggs were found two weeks ago (BORN~FREE...!!!) This last one was a week late but went right to the water and hid in the reeds and shallows. He's got a nice fat yolk sack to dine on for a while. Good luck, little buddy. You'll be scaring kids in the springtime, I'm sure.

Meanwhile back in our neighborhood, there's just something about a Ginkgo tree... The leaf shape just breaks all the rules we know in Minnesota about leaves. It's non-native of course, but sometimes you need something way off the radar. I like it.

September 9th, 2008 - Metro Naturalists Class

On Monday, September 9th I went to Warner Nature Center at Marine-on-St. Croix, which is a bit like Avon-on-Trent but without all the sonnets, froofie collars and door-to-door personal care products.
The Minnesota Naturalist's Association puts on a Metro Training day every so often, featuring a local nature area or nature center. This time it was Warner's turn, and the topic d'jour: Fungi.

Here is our table of moldy booty collected on the field trip. 52 species of fungus, lichens and molds. Everyone was incredibly excited. And who wouldn't be?! Only 1, 948,000 more species and we'll have the whole set.
Of course, there are a great percentage of species that haven't been identified yet, and many that can't be decided whether to put them into animal, plant, or fungus kingdoms because their characteristics cross over the three so variably. Fungus is weird.
It can't photosynthesize like plants, but it is said that fungus is one of the largest contributors of carbon released into Earth's atmosphere. It's also a major decomposer of cellulose, which makes up 90% of our soil biomass.
Most of it is underground, with large fungal masses stretching for up to 10 sq, kilometers having been found in Oregon and other states. Some of it has been dated as being 8500 years old!
When they asked if we had any questions, I asked, "If you have a fungus that is 8500 years old, how do you know it's dead?"
The answer had something to do with counting rings of growth, but I've heard that some types can become completely dessicated, then rehydrate and after quite some time, COME BACK TO LIFE. Or I guess they were always living and showed MORE signs of life. Or something. This is where it gets a little weird: laying down the ground rules about what is life, what is a living organism. We can't even decide if it's animal, vegetable, or mineral, how can we be expected to answer the ultimate question? Only the fungus knows.

My favorite place at Warner is the bog. There is a narrow boardwalk stretching across an incredible wet bog with amazing smells, plants, animals, and fungi of all shapes and sizes. I was thinking I could crawl across the boardwalk on my hands and knees and probably not see the same thing twice. Probably an exaggeration, but the more you look, the more you see. And the SMALLER you look, the more you see. It's like being shrunken and dropped into a terrarium.

At the surface their are the ferns, Jewelweed, mesic prairie plants, and explosive balls of cotton grass.
As you move in closer, the wetness and color become more intense and as the plant and insect life changes, and it becomes a new world, at a whole new scale. I'd like to have one of those surgical cameras on a fiber-optic gooseneck and take it on a micro-hike around the inner neighborhood of the bog.

There were tons of Pitcher plants, all vying for the uninitiated insects looking for a nice long tubby.

Cotton grass has many faces. And hairstyles.

One of the funky funky fungus we came across. Kind of a neon confetti type of thing.
The aquariums at Warner were also top-notch. They even have a short-nosed Gar. The long-nosed Gar couldn't turn around in the tank, evidently.

September 10th, 2008 - Doctor Downtown

I took the train downtown to my doctor place and brought along the 'little camera.' (Canon G2 PowerShot, 4 Mp). After some tests and procedures, they happened to find my brain crumpled up and accidentally thrown into a corner of my cranium, so I figured since I was downtown anyway I would hoof it over to my regular camera store. It's West Photo (you know the one, on the east side of town...) I needed to pick up some cleaning materials for the CCD sensor on the Nikon. On the way, the 3rd Avenue Bridge was looking resplendent in the morning light, and the wind was blowing me out of my Smartwools but it made for a nice pattern and reflections off the river chop. I braced off of the Hennipen Bridge for some frames looking south, down the Mississip.

I have always liked this building, which is now the IMG Building, I think it belonged to some other insurance mogul before that. It's hard to tell scale, but down by the two white globe lights in the lower left corner is a guy with a white hat, bending over. It is TALL. I remember the first time I saw it on a bike ride downtown in the 80's. The effervescing fountain in the front had been the victim of a capful of dishsoap, making an enormous towering mountain of suds.
This incongruous scene was made even more so by the lineup of people across the top walkway of the Mill City Museum, evidentially on a field trip. I tried to get them to do the wave but they were above that.
I will be back down there again in two weeks, if not sooner. I'm starting to recognize the commuter crowd at my train stop already. Scary.

September 9, 2008 - Your Primary Directive: Vote

Semiautonomous dog unit #A-2303 in alacritous pursuit of anal-activated olfactory response in said similar units, Sunday.

Pog Dark, profile.
Proving grounds for all iterations, combinations, ectomorphic variations of said semiautonomous units.

Pog Dark, vector.
In a Big Country, Dreams Stay With You.

Snake Doctor, w/reciept.

September 5th, 2008 - HA HA! Wait. What...?

Man, this world has a lot more fluorescent lights than I thought it would...

I was working the evening shift at Springbrook last night when Siah came running into the animal room like an expectant father with a box of cigars.
"We've got baby snapping turtles hatching in the incubator, I saw one out of the corner of my eye while I was typing at my computer!" he exuberates. "I'm going to take some pictures!" he blurts, like the sixty-year-old little kid he is. To which my first response was, "How did we get turtles to hatch out of snake eggs?!!?" (Turns out we had snapper eggs in there too, I'm always the last to know anything around there)

So I grabbed my little camera and we hustled back up to his office to see a few miracles.

Helleww...? I dhist banged my egg thooth on dhis thing an it cwacked open, I hope dhat's OK?

Phew! Finally! Kinda 'close' in there if ya know what I mean!

Mmmm. Salted nutroll! Get off my head. Me next. What is happening? Mom? Dad? Give me something to imprint on!

Siah, Siah, How doth your garden grow?
More as it develops. Maybe snakes out of turtle eggs?

September 4th, 2008 - Two Steps Back

Back on August 9th, our last DigitalNature hike was a "Glow in the Dark" hike at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center Trails. Dusting off some pixels here reminded me that I hadn't posted anything from that eerie night.
It was a half-moon affair, the wind had finally dried out slightly from it's usual Dog-days swelter, but was still fervent and rocking the tripods, even at 8 PM. Insects chirped and buzzed, the cows from the sheep farm (!) up the hill had a poker game or something noisy going on.
The sunset over the marsh next to Long Meadow reminded me somewhat creepily of the moors in central UK, and the occasional deer and beaver scampering thru the woods always kept our heads snapping up. Whuzzat?
One triumph this time: we saw fireflies! Finally, finally, on a GITD hike we saw fireflies. If there are any bright specs on the pics that look like I didn't clean my equipment, they are probably fireflies.

It might look like a Hot Wheels track, but it's actually a Cyalume lightstick orbiting on a string from my tripod. This experiment had potential, but as soon as the bugs noticed we had lights and were holding them with our bare hands, they were all over us like a cheap mattress. We might have to revisit these ideas in a controlled environment.
Part of my UV rock collection and fluorescein dye bottle experiment.
Everyone definitely had a good time, and the amazing thing was, no one of the twelve brave souls in attendance had even been to the Refuge before. Bonus!
We will try to out-spook this hike again on October 26th, next time at Black Dog Park.
Sounds spooky already.

September 2nd, 2008 - Post Labor Day Reflections from Coon Rapids Dam

Shar and I decided to celebrate our 9th anniversary with an evening trip to the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park, (both sides) and send-off Labor day 2008.
It was a family scene everywhere you looked, lots of fishing, grilling, rock-skipping, and milking out the last eeks of summer vacation while the sun waned on a windy, hot & humid day.
The osprey was tending her nesting pole in the evening sun, and the evening sun was deciding which side of the reservoir to call west.
Along the railing of the dam, each little window of the fence over the water had it's own nursery web spider busily weaving a web to troll the wind for some late season gnat's, flies and mosquitoes. It was a balancing act for them to walk the tightrope in the strong wind and be knitting multiple strands at the same time.
I guess all those eyes do come in handy at times.
In all it was a nice night's walk-about. I think we all felt a sense of "closure" and a slight turn of the seasonal wheel. Autumn Equinox is on the radar...

September 1st, 2008 - Happy September!

Ahh, September. From the Latin "September," the seventh month,"septem," meaning seven. Okay, it's the ninth month, but we had already chiseled all those stones, so let's just not say anything, okay?

Pearl, I know we play up our differences around the house, but since we're behind this plant and no one can see us I would just like to say I really respect the way you crap wherever you want and ignore commands from everybody. You're my role model, babe. (wink, wink) Okay cheez-it, here comes the stinky one with the flashing light and tube that he's always pointing at everything...
Heh, heh, heh, wait till they get a load of the way I chewed thru the DSL line... Down with The System, stick it to The Man, man.

And in this month's Faberge spotlight, it is virtually impossible to tell our exquisite mechanized self-blooming ornamental flower-egg from the real thing. Unlike the real thing though, you'll be able to relive it's precious blossoming moments, again and again. Order now and receive a FREE 24 carat gold electroplate style wind-up key, and terracotta pottery village delivered personally to you until infinity, directly from the Franklin Mint. Shipping charges extra.
Right eye, what do you report? Nothing much going on here, hot pavement, with a bunch of grass beyond that. What you got Lefty? Well, there is some enormous creature pointing a tube with a piece of glass at the end of it at us and it appears to be getting closer. Whaddya think Righty, should we get the heck out of here? Whyn't ya give it a sec buddy, I thought I saw that hot damselfly with the brown hairs sticking out of her face go by, headed for the pop can. Shuh! Sounds better than this sci-fi movie, Dude. Let's mosey. Right on chum, after you. No after you. No, I insist...