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January 31, 2008

I got to take a hike around Springbrook this afternoon (one of the nature centers I work at, occasionally) after helping teach 73 seventh graders how to make fires in the woods. Everyone is expected to make a full recovery.
Actually it wasn't too bad, it was cold, but if there's fire-building involved, who better to enlist than a seventh grader, really.
So after standing around for a few hours I figured I had better stretch my legs and get my core temp back up, I decided to walk some paths I never seem to walk, and follow the frozen canal to the marsh for a change of scenery. In taking one of these weird little turnouts that the path system there has, I came across these in the swamp scrub and thought, wow, Tamaracks! I didn't know we had Tamaracks in our bog (they're usually more of a northern, wet bog, cedar, pine sort of tree):

Then after getting closer I noticed the buds (cones?) had this white fuzz coming out of them and if you crushed them slightly, it looked a little like cattail fuzz. And there were leaves on the red stalks. Tamarack is a conifer, pine with needles, not leaves. Not a Tamarack. So after spending an hour tonight web-searching for fuzzy cones (it's actually a math term) I still can't figure out what it is. I hate posting stuff like this because I'm supposed to be Joe Naturalist and know every rock, plant, bug, bird and bit of hair that is in Minnesota, and I get stumped (if you'll pardon the expression) all the time.
So I'm going back to more thoughoughly smoke my clothes again tomorrow, and I will have to acquesce and ask the 'masters' at the NC and be ready with a quick , "I knew it!" at the right time.
On the hike along the brook near the spring that is our park 's namesake, I heard a tapping, tapping. Since there were no windowsills I figured it couldn't be a raven, and by the velocity of the blows it had to be a pretty good-sized woodpecker. I was hoping for a Pilated, as I have been trying for two years to get a decent picture of one in the wild, but no soap.
But I like all woodpeckers, if only for the fact you can blow away any kid's mind with the fact, "The woodpecker's tongue is sooooooo long, it actually wraps around their brain to cushion it from the impact of pecking on a tree!"
Anyway this is a Red-bellied woodpecker, and I know, I know, it has a red head and a white breast.
You can see why it's easy to get confused about this whole naturalist thing.
So, keep your eyes open, your lens caps off, and spend some time outside while it's still there. Happy February! It's almost time to look for Punxsutawney Phil.

January 30, 2008

An evening visit downstream of the Ford Plant, at the mouth of Minnehaha Creek where it joins the Mississippi River. The river is open in spots, sort of styrofoam ice in others, and hoarfrost and chandelier ice in still others. I walked across the mouth of the creek with my camera attached to the tripod, and when I turned around Happy the Dog was looking dishevelled and crawling on the bank saying, "I ain't gonna cross it." The styro ice sounded REALLY hollow, but strong, (in my opinion anyway) but he was having no part of it. So I shot a couple and crossed back so we could go around. The windchill today is still in the -15 range, but cabin fever has got the better of me and I just had to get out. Everything was fine except my nose and fingers which is standard procedure below +40 anyway.
This is an OLD Ford plant and the reason they chose this location originally was because of the pure white sand in the area, which they used to make windshields back in the day. Of course the bonus hydroelectric power didn't hurt either. Now there is talk of closing the plant down (they make Ranger trucks, and only Ranger trucks) and no one knows what to do with the toxic waste, beautiful river overlook, and large prime real estate in a nice neighborhood.
The Ford Bridge, the Ford Plant, and Lock & Dam #2 on the Mississippi River.

January 29, 2008

Ginkgo, oh Ginkgo, come blow your horn. Since the windchill is tipping -35 and headed for -43, I thought this might be a good evening to try some light box shots with a single flash. In trying to find out what species this is, I found that Gingkos are considered "Living Fossils: as they occupy a single class and order of taxonomy and the genus Ginkgo and is the only living species within this group. Ginkgoales are not known to exist in the fossil record after the Pliocene period. Not only that, they are hardy trees well suited for urban areas. So much so that on August 6, 1945 the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and later after the plants and trees in the area around the epicentre were examined, among the survivors were four Ginkgo biloba trees. They were situated within 1300 meters of the blast center and appeared to bud after the blast without major deformations, and are still alive today.
Therefore the Ginkgo is regarded as the 'bearer of hope'.

Next is one of my favorite creeping plants, the seed pod of the Wild Cucumber vine. Tho probably not the most ecologically friendly specimen, it is very unique in that when it dries out, being still on the vine in the fall, the tapered end of the seed pod (shown) which can be nearly translucent at this point, literally expodes in the sun and curls back, dropping the (usually three) bean-like seeds to the wind. Inside the pod is a open-weave fibrous clothlike material that looks exactly like the mantle in a Coleman gas camping lantern. When dry, there is probably no better tinder to start your fire from: whether you be flint, match, or lighter.
Lastly, the insect world serves up some pretty unusual treats and the Cicada is one.
That ubiquitous microminiature chainsaw buzzing coming from trees and the ground in late summer is known by all, but often mistaken for frogs (frogs mating calls are in the spring.) The strange (to some people anyway, entymologists are a different breed) thing is, the cicadas that we know and er, love actually molt and leave their body shells behind, a perfect duplicate including legs, goggles, abdomen, the works. After tunneling out of the ground, they grab on to something they can dig their claws into, like our wooden mailbox post:

Then weasel and wrench themselves out of their exoskeletons, usually causing a slit to open down the back, like a fine evening dress, leaving it still clamped on to the mailbox post for eternity. Then it's Graduation Day!Today I am an adult! No more wimpy underclass nymph jokes for me! Ha, ha!
I say cicada, you say cicaeta, let's crush the thing with a big fat pataeta!

January 28, 2008

The "Princess Depot" served trains that brought people "all the way from the city" to experience Minnehaha Falls and the Longfellow Gardens, which was a wild animal zoo and park in the 1920's. Not only were wild animals such as tigers, bears and snakes kept here, but a unique garden was attempted containing all the trees and foliage mentioned in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's works, on the grounds alongside a complete replica of his original custom built house in Massachusetts.

Over near the Falls, "Wizard's Beard" hangs from the eaves of the Pergola, dry as a tumbleweed during the winter. The floodlights of the falls ravine and from the Minnehaha Pavillion backlight it with an unearthly glow.

January 27, 2008

Speaking of water towers, THIS is a water tower. When your water is guarded by eagles and helmeted dudes with big swords, you KNOW it is safe.
It's the Washburn water tower in the Tanglewood neighborhood of Minneapolis. Originally built in 1893 to provide water for the Washburn Memorial Orphan Asylum, it was rebuilt in 1932 from a design by an architect, sculptor, and engineer that lived in the neighborhood.
It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is recognized by the Society for Classy Treatment of Water.

January 26, 2008

Shar and Happy approach what is known in local lore as "The Witches Hat."
It was a water tower built in 1913 and decommissioned in 1952, occupying the "highest land form in Minneapolis", which is now a park. The tower itself was designed by a Norweigan architect who was plagued by trolls.
The oak-studded hill in Prospect Park on which it stands affords a somewhat industrial western skyline vista, looking towards downtown Minneapolis and the Mississippi River.

January 26, 2008

A winter sunset snared by the oak trees on the banks of the Mississippi.

With a thousand eyes, the river looked at him, with green ones, with white ones, with crystal ones, with sky-blue ones. How did he love this water, how did it delight him, how grateful was he to it! In his heart he heard the voice talking, which was newly awaking, and it told him:
Love this water! Stay near it! Learn from it! Oh yes, he wanted to learn from it, he wanted to listen to it. He who would understand this water and its secrets, so it seemed to him, would also understand many other things, many secrets, all secrets.
But out of all secrets of the river, he today only saw one, this one touched his soul. He saw: this water ran and ran, incessantly it ran, and was nevertheless always there, was always an at all times the same and yet new in every moment! Great be he who would grasp this, understand this! He understood and grasped it not, only felt some idea of it stirring, a distant memory, divine voices.

Hermann Hesse » Siddhartha » Chapter 9

January 25, 2008

Night Of The Strange Colors
Some meteorological, astrological or extremely wiggy situation was causing our sky to be a subtle orangy, sepia tone. Maybe it was the extremely low cloud cover or an aurora borealis event (highly unlikely but not impossible) or our "warm-up" from below zero to +20, but whatever the case, a time-exposure on the camera concentrated the effect and squished it into an intensified gravure.

Then over at the Falls it looked like the pastel aisle at Target. With the creamy birds egg sherbet of the ice flow blending into the melon of the mercury-vapor lights, it didn't really need an orange sky wash, but it makes for a nice parfait. But what do you do for curtains?

Staying with a muted palette, this is the view from the cockpit of a 1965 Plymouth Barracuda. I'm not that big on cars but we happened to be at a car dealer making a deal with the devil or his ilk and you couldn't help but notice the Barracuda. Why can't we just get a car this color anymore instead of something that looks like bruised meat with a color name that didn't exist in the last model year?
Not brown, not gold, not pretentious, just an honorable earthy color with a contrasting interior. As opposed to, say, our white Buick station wagon with the fake wood side panels (i.e. faded brown woodgrain contact paper) with chrome trim of course, accented (?) with a (prepare for gagging) Royal Blue interior. They had to put wire wheel covers on it to draw the attention off of the color scheme and keep your head from reflexively shaking, no, no, no.

And can we please go back to naming cars after fish?

January 24, 2008

I've always maintained that having a clean, well-organized workbench promotes a safer, more enjoyable hobby experience.
You just can't beat Whole Foods for esthetically pleasing mangoes.Sharon driving with what seems to be a bit of static outside of the car.
Oh here's the source. Someone left the Christmas tree lights on in January.
Pearl prepares to melt my camera lens with her laserbeam stare.

January 23, 2008

Hello, me pretties...

A crow gives me the fearless, questioning eye while devouring a nut.

Happy is happy in his new jacket.

What's this???
The Pillsbury Dough-Boy fell from a great height and crashed thru the ice?!
Um, no.
Actually just a dough-boy shaped spring seeping some very fresh, clean spring water near Minnehaha creek. So clean in fact, that it seems to be growing watercress in below zero January in Minnesota.
Will wonders never crease? I hope not.

January 22, 2008 - Evening Edition

Big news: the world IS actually flat, and ends where the darkness begins.
They're like lemmings! Lemmings! I told them not to do it but they would have none of it!

January 22, 2008

Hey, it's going to be a golden day. Just don't put your lips on anything, the wind chill is 12 below. I just happened to be out cursing the large metal tripod under my arm as the sun was coming up, so I thought I'd take a pic. Maybe next time, I'll actually use it.

The flip side.

January 21, 2008 - Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Day

The enigmatic, ephemeral excitation of effervescence enveloping eggs of the expectantly hard-boiled sort.

January 20, 2008

"I know if I could just blow this cheeseball dog and pony show, I could make it in New York!"
Life inside the Frog Dome is not all science and education for our friend the Gray Tree Frog. He has aspirations. I wonder if the members of Biosphere ever felt like this...

January 20, 2008

The colder it is, the bolder the deer become about getting food.
This guy is cleaning out the bird feeder, virtually unconcerned that I am standing behind a glass wall five feet away snapping pictures and firing my flash. His stalwart example has just drawn two more of his brethren to the trough. I guess I can't blame them tho. It's about 0 degrees F with a windchill in the minus teens and the deer are having a hard time walking on the crust of the "bulletproof" snow that is left. It's a 'get it when you can' world for them.

January 19, 2008

Well, it's not any warmer than yesterday (actually colder) but my ire and blood pressure are up, so it seems warmer.
For this is the "kind of stuff that really grates my cheese..." As you can see in the photo below, the cold weather didn't dissuade the local vandals from tagging our waterfall ice with spray paint overnight.

Not that anybody can tell what it even says, which seems like a fitting twist of fate to an already meaningless act of vandalism. You know, I don't remember ever being at an age when I thought something like this was cool. If they are rebelling against their stupid world, it seems like they have just done more to add to it.

On the flip side, there is a special tree not far from the falls we call "the Elf Door," because someone installed a hinged wooden door into an old dead hollow oak tree. We've watched it morph over time, kids have put stickers on it, and woodpeckers have pecked it. It begs to be opened tho. Sometimes when you open it there are alms: candy, money, flowers, coffee club cards, Alcoholics Anonymous chits, Christmas decorations, wind-up toys, action figures, Buddha sculptures, plastic spiders, gum wrappers, junk and detritus.
Even tho the cold was punishing my fingers and nose today, I felt that since we were so close to it, I had better check in as it has been awhile.
Nothing elaborate there today, just a pencil and scraps of paper. People had left their best wishes and positive thoughts, joking comments and doodles since October of last year. I wasn't sure what to write so I penciled a simple Namaste and the date. (Namaste can mean many things, from Sanskrit literally it means, "I bow to you, " but in global discourse, many things.
My favorite is probably, "I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells, I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace, When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are One."

Please don't spray paint my universe's waterfall.

January 18, 2008

Ahh... minus 8 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of minus 17.
The kind of cold that begins to live as it's own entity. You bump into it when you open the door going out of your nice warm house, and it spanks your nose. You pull your hood down closer instinctively, quicken your pace, explore your pockets for a spot that should be warmer, but isn't.
Soon you are like a deep-sea diver, breathing some sort of air that's foreign to you and only retaining the ability to view what's in front of your narrow mask. You can't hear save for periodic abatement of the howling wind.
You know your time is short in this odd environment. Soon the river ice will be groaning. The trees may split with a pop. The sun seems so bright, but is so paradoxically cold. It makes no sense.
You house sweats thru it's windows and paints from the soul.
This is frost.
It can be a realist in one window, and impressionist in another.
A surrealist with a little help.

Embrace the cold.

January 17, 2008

Time for an inside shot. So to speak. Let's see, this half-skull has the eye sockets facing relatively forward, that's a usually a sign of a predator or scavanger. Sockets for four incisors up front and maybe two bigger canines behind those, yet also a pretty good installment of molars in the back.
All in all a pretty nice selection of teeth. Who does that sound like?
Sorry, not human with that tiny little dome, short rostrum (forehead) and long snout that probably would have a better sense of smell than us anyway.
No, this cute little bugger is probably climbing out of your sewer grate right now, and heading straight for your garbage can with the most appealing smell. That would be the species Procyon lotor, the common North American raccoon. (lotor from Latin, "washer") This one is pretty small, maybe a youngster that didn't make it very far.
I ended up putting all the built-in diffusion on my only flash and setting it on a shelf facing up with a hardware store dust mask over it. Then I set the skull on that, put a white card behind it and ended up at 1/200th sec. @ f32, ISO 200.

January 16, 2008

It's another one of those super gloomy, murky cold-ass winter days today in Minneapolis, but this coneflower is getting a second chance as a flower, of sorts. The birds ate away half of the cone and left sort of a daisy in its place.
They must know how much to eat and how much to leave to insure next year's crop.

January 16, 2008

Looks like its time to send in the reliever and get the catcher a new head.
Evidently they put the short guy in to create a tiny strike zone and it was too much for our starter, the fireballing right-hander. Maybe we can toboggan him back to the training room and make something else out of him.

When I first saw this scene it looked like the Midwest's version of Stonehenge. Then I realized it was the remnants of a complete baseball game of snowmen. Must have been a spring training game. Nice job neighborhood kids! Hats off!

January 15, 2008

The lifeguard chair at Lake Nokomis waits for summer as the snowfences marking the annual ice harvest glow in the distance.
That's right, we grow ice up here. Then we sell it to Iowa. Heh heh. No, actually we build fantastic sculptures and castles and call it a Winter Carnival so it doesn't sound like such a cold thing to go to and stand around outside in the winter.

January 15, 2008

A lone skier braves the windchill along Minnehaha Parkway.

January 15, 2008

Ice, blue ice.

Out of the past, and on to my finger

I came across this picture the other day and it brought back some memories of a bizarre day.
One windy March day I was walking back home from the restaurant on the corner with my friend Kaas, we were about to cross paths with this couple walking a baby stroller when they stopped a few feet in front of us and seemed to be fascinated by something on the handle of the stroller.
As we walked up they said, "Hey, check out this crazy bird that just landed on the stroller! It won't get off!" So we all looked at this little bird that was hopping back and forth along the stroller handle, peeping and looking around at all of us and the baby. Finally they shook the stroller handle and the bird flew off. We walked back to the house going, 'that was weird', we wondered if it was tame and got away from someone, etc., but it looked like a wild bird, small and brown with yellow markings and a dash of red.
I wasn't doing my naturalist thing at the time and didn't know birds very well. At first I thought it was some sort of cardinal as it had that similar cowl-like feather thing on the back of it's head.
So no big deal, we went in the house, played some CD's and looked at some websites. Then about 45 minutes later we went back outside and were sitting around in lawn chairs when this same bird flies up and lands on the handle of the Weber kettle! Definitely the same bird. So I put my finger out like a perch and it hopped right up there and started hopping and peeping up and down my finger and arm. I told Kaas to please cautiously get up and get the camera and a bowl of birdseed, all the while she was getting them the little bird was peeping at me and hopping around, pausing intermittently to pick up a twig or a seed then hopping to the ground or on my jeans. She put out the bowl of seeds and the bird jumped right in and started chowing down and peeping while we snapped a few pictures. Then it hopped back up on me again and at one point pulled out a few whiskers while on it's way up to grab some bits of seed from my hair. (It was really windy that day, stuff was blowing all over the place. We initially thought that the bird stopped the stroller because it was too tired to fly in the strong unceasing wind)
So all in all, the bird hung out with us for 20 or 30 minutes , then flew off heading southwest. I found out from a co-worker that it was a Cedar Waxwing. His book said that they usually travel in small flocks and don't usually stray from the flock, that they are migratory and travel along waterways for food. (At that time I was living about 100 yards from a creek that runs through the city.)
Later I was telling one of my neighbors about the bird and she said she had seen it too, that it had landed on her back while she was raking the yard and rode around with her for about 10 minutes. That was so cool. I was kind of hoping it would stay around and come out when it saw me out in the yard, and I'd have a bird friend, but I have never seen it again since that day...

January 14, 2008

A rather hypnotic snapping turtle checks me out from the tank at Lebanon Hills Nature Center, Eagan, MN.

Pucker up, Sonny.
Oh come on, just a peck?

January 13, 2008

Ahh the cold, sometimes cruel Minnesota sunset. Kinda funny how the sun is actually closer to the earth during our winter months. Yeah, kinda funny.