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November 30th, 2008 - Icing on the creek

This is before our couple of inches of snow last night. It looks like I used a star-filter, but it's a result of the little camera's spiral-shaped iris. I set it at f5.6 and guessed at the exposure time. Lucky for me, it's pretty forgiving.

Today, snow.
I like this black & white from the camera thing. I can have my program mode set up for B & W and auto for color. The dinge of the light today had me thinking in B & W anyway. November is Minnesota's cloudiest month, Sharon says. 
Hello, December!

November 24th, 2008 - Up Nord Edition dere hey

Howziss for da Dream Job of da century er what:

The DNR is looking for assistance with:

Can ya bleevit?  I'm goin ta clean da cans outta my shack dere now hey.
I'm postin' dat link to the whole ting but doan go takin' my spot now, eh?
Or I'll hafta clock ya a good one.

The newest DNR volunteer opportunities are now posted on our website.
Dis's greeate. I tought it was goin ta be a bad win-ter, but no.

November 24th, 2008 - Non-sacrilegious Edition

I suppose I had better watch that, after all, we are dealing with the serpent here.

These are "Eastern Timber Rattlesnakes" or Crotalus horridus. They are very much alive and come from some small areas in South Eastern Minnesota, where they are native. If I had told you exactly where they came from I would have to "terminate you without prejudice", or at least pull your tongue out. The MNDNR is NOT big on telling people their location, for two reasons; there is a large poaching contingent out there that preys on this animal to provide "pets" for a black-market trade, (there was a bounty on them until 1989) and skins and rattles for wannabe cool biker-types. Another contingent of the population that feels they must kill ANY rattlesnake, ANY animal looking like a rattlesnake, ANY animal imitating a rattlesnake, ANY baby-rattles rolling down a hill, etc.  It's sad.
They are on the Minnesota Threatened and Protected Species List, and exist in very small numbers, after being nearly wiped out completely a couple years ago.
So how did I get this close to Rattlesnakes in Minnesota? Well, one of the keynote speakers (Jim Gerholdt) that presented at our MNA (Minnesota Master Naturalist) Convention this last weekend is an authority on venomous snakes, and brought a few of his to display and demonstrate how to handle them.
They definitely have a different look than the other snakes we normally see: they have a large, knobby, triangular head, a large mouth slit that you tell tell will open VERY wide so that ground squirrel can slide right on down there. They have vertical pupils, prominent nostrils, and large (for their head size) sensing pits. 

They also have body scales that are "keeled", as you can see if you look closely at the above photo, there are raised lines dividing each of the body scales in sort of a coffee-bean effect. 
And they have a rattle, or a bud if they are young, at the end of their tail which gives it a truncated look, instead of the tapered and pointed tail sported by of 90% of our native snakes.
Jim pointed out some interesting facts while he was showing them off, they have multiple sets of venomous fangs, which swing-down from their normally folded-up position inside the mouth. 
If they break a set off while trying to wrestle something big and inject it, the next set swings down to take over right behind the first. They also have another set to back-up after that.
Jim said he has had one close-call in his 30 yrs. of wrangling rattlers, which led to a "dry-bite" or feigned bite where the snake doesn't want to lose it's venom for some pitiful self-defence misunderstanding. He said the real danger once came from a snake that had it's head lopped-off along the highway in California. The headless body continued to strike. And conversely, disembodied rattler heads have been known to strike for many minutes after their own disconnection.  Hmmm. This sounds vaguely familiar.

November 24, 2008 - Cheesy Diety

"This product is meant for educational purposes only.
Any resemblance to a young James Brolin, 
Michael Landon, or mullet-cut non-celebrity, living, dead or 
immortal, is purely coincidental.
Void where prohibited. Use only as directed. 
No other warranty is expressed nor 
Do not use while operating a motor vehicle or 
heavy equipment. 
May be too intense for some viewers. 
For religious use only.
If condition persists, consult your physician.  
Subject to change without notice. 
Simulated picture. Breaking seal constitutes 
acceptance of agreement. 
As seen on TV. One size fits all.  Contains a 
substaintial amount of non-tobacco ingredients. 
Not affiliated with the American Red Cross.  
Not responsible for direct, indirect, incidental 
or consequential damages resulting 
from any defect, error or failure to perform. 
At participating locations only.
Not the Beatles. Substantial penalty for early 
withdrawal. Avoid contact with skin. 
Sanitized for your protection. 
Sign here without admitting guilt. 
Slightly higher west of the Mississippi.  
Employees and their families are not eligible. 
Contestants have been briefed on some of 
the questions before the show.  
Limited time offer, call now to insure prompt 
You must be present to win. 
Use only in well-ventilated area.   
Keep away from fire or flame. 
Replace with same type.  Approved for veterans. 
Some equipment shown is optional.  
Price does not include taxes. No Canadian coins. 
Not recommended for young children. 
Reproduction strictly prohibited.  
No alcohol, dogs, or horses. 
This notice supersedes all previous notices."

November 19, 2008 - Role Reversal

From the tiniest acorn a mighty oak doth grow, and from the mighty oak, 
a bunch of teensy-tiny mushrooms. 
Nature is so good at paradox.

Big sky at the Refuge.

November 18th, 2008 - Painting with a Camera

On the order of artsy-fartsy oil painting stuff, I came across this image of mine while digging thru some old (last month, heh) images.
This is one of those times when I'm glad I did what I always tell everyone else to do in photography, and that's to JUST TAKE THE PICTURE.
Even if you have no faith whatsoever that it's going to work out, be a good exposure, or want to trouble yourself to push the shutter button (oh, woe, photography can be SUCH a demanding chore sometimes, maybe Andy Warhol was right), I took the damn picture anyway.
And I got something I didn't expect. This sketchy, painting/image that I probably couldn't duplicate with a thousand monkeys pushing a thousand shutter buttons, and I LIKE it.
It was a windy, cloudy, late in the afternoon October 17th, I stopped while I was walking down the stairs by Longfellow Gardens and looked over my shoulder instead of in front of me for a change, and took a chance.
Take a chance today.

November 17th, 2008 - Color me monochromatic...

Yesterday my wife Sharon introduced me to a favorite hiking spot of hers, near Chaska where she used to work. It is actually one of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge units (where I often lead hikes) near the Minnesota River, but just one that I had never been to for some reason.
We packed up Happy the Dog and our day packs and trundled off in that direction, checking the weather radar and land-based navigation to best avoid the omniscient and ever-present HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTION that is a part of daily life here in Minnesota.
There used to be a joke that there are only two seasons in Minnesota: Winter and Road Construction. That joke was only funny to someone outside of MN back when it was invented, now it's just plain ludicrous because the construction season stretches all year round. 
Not that I'm knocking the much needed projects, no bridges to nowhere here. It just never goes away. 
I was driving thru Richfield the other day and my detour crossed another detour which crossed another detour. I now understand wormholes a lot better than when Stephen Hawking explained them.
Anyway where we ended up is called "Louisville Swamp", a lackluster title for a very beautiful area. There are miles of hiking trails thru this prairie / oak savannah / marsh / lakes topography, with very old granite poking up in spots and lots of old oak trees and transitional grasslands.

My first impression of the terrain and the very Novemberish day got me thinking of something I had wanted to try on a photohike lately, and that was to set my digital camera up as "monochrome", or black & white only and try to think in black & white. I thought it would be a good exercise as it forces you to consider contrast and composition a little differently, and definitely makes you be careful with your exposure metering, especially if you shoot with a tight center-spot or weighted center-spot as I normally do.
As always with digital it was cool to be able to see the results right away, altho as always it's really hard to make judgements off of the camera display. The telling thing for me were the histogram displays. You can really see the distribution of luminance more graphically and it made a lot more sense to me than when judging color images from the histogram.

At one point early in the hike, we came upon this pond (lake really) covered with THOUSANDS of swans, geese, and ducks. Shar asked me how many I thought there were, and I was dumbfounded to even guess. I know real birders are good at judging how much territory they are looking at and estimating how many birds per square yard or whatever, but I was overwhelmed. 
They just kept taking off in squadrons and there was literally a roar every time a new group took off just from their wings, which overpowered even the honking of all those in the water and already in flight. It was amazing.
The rocks were very cool too, I called them "Quarry Stones" because they looked like one long chunk that had been cracked to pieces.
Lots of grasses and oaks. The clouds always looked ominous, but it never really seemed likeit would rain, there were actually patches of blue at times. As I say, very Novembery.

Happy had a good time once we got away from civilization a bit and he could focus on all the smells and gopher diggings, of which there were also very many. 
In all, it was a nice outing and a stop for coffee in Chaska on the way home put the cap on it.
I really liked the "monochrome experiment". I will have to do a monochrome-themed digital photohike with the group one of these days to see what everyone comes up with.
Contrary to what Paul Simon says, everything doesn't look worse in black & white.

November 15th, 2008 - Starry, starry mash-up

Before I explain a little about today's project, I have to allude to one of those weird little sychronicities that pop-up now and again. As you may or may not remember, one of the subjects in my last diatribe was the head of one Charlotte Corday, which was purported to show an "expression of unequivocal indignation" after being decapitated by the guillotine and her cheek being slapped as the executioner held it up for the crowd. 
Strangely enough, last night I was looking for a new "iGoogle" theme to put up on my page, searching for something by my favorite artists: Dali, Matisse, Van Gogh, Monet, and the like, and being a little disappointed that there wasn't even a Van Gogh background attempted yet.
Then I began thinking about this famous painting I remembered from High School history class (maybe the ONLY thing I got out of High School history class, except for a love of Lewis & Clark tales).
It was a painting of this guy that was stabbed in the bathtub, and I remember I was very taken with it as a student, I scanned it very closely and was very impressed and probably should have been listening to Mr. Verbos droning on about the French Revolution or some such rot, but I couldn't seem to keep my eyes off of it.
I kept thinking it was by Manet, and I was searching and Googling all over the web and nothing was coming up except grisly bathtub murders and stories about mummified bathtub victims in Phoenix. Finally after the right combination of enough descriptive keywords, I came up with it:

It's actually called "Death of Marat", painted by the artist Jacques-Louis David in 1794. It pretty much trashes the "Rule of Thirds", which I can appreiciate, plus has this incredible realism.
David was a close friend of Marat, as well as a strong supporter of Robespierre and the Jacobins to whom Marat was prominently associated. Marat was the writer of the radical newspaper L'Ami du peuple (The Friend of the People) with all this outspokenness happening during the "Reign of Terror" also known as the French Revolution.
Marat just happened to be stabbed on July 13 while writing in his bathtub by none other than our unshamefaced Charlotte Corday, who was a supporter of the more moderate Girondist faction. She came to Paris obsessed with the idea of killing the man she perceived as a "beast", in order to save France. She was able to approach him under the guise of "reporting traitors to the cause" of the Revolution. She just happened to forget to report herself evidently.
Later the artist David was also killed as a martyr for the cause on what was perceived as "a trumped-up charge" back then. Ah, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
My weirdness was that I had never heard of Charlotte Corday before yesterday, there she was again, the cause behind one of my favorite paintings.

This morning however it was all about Van Gogh, which went with the very melancholy Van Gogh-like weather we've been having lately. I started poking around and came up with public-domain copies of Starry Night (and yes, Don McLean DID write "Vincent - Starry, Starry Night" as a tribute to the Man) and a version of the same painting done later by Van Gogh in ink.
I liked both of them so much and wanted to see them both at the same time, so I cut the oil painting off at the skyline and shopped-in the resized pen & ink as the bottom. (Click for larger)
I also found an image of a VG's "Self-portrait with Hat" and morphed that into his moon in the upper-right corner. He's kind of scowling down at me as the Man in the Moon, which is probably fitting, as well as cursing me in Dutch and spitting all over the place. 
I like it. I wonder what Van Gogh would do if he had the tools we have. Maybe some day I'll do something with the other two parts or both of the drawings together. 
Adieu, Vincent. Thank you.

November 13, 2008 - Death, life after

And now a word or two about:
The word on a page seems to suck your eyeballs towards it.
Does mine anyway. Conjures up a lot of images pretty quickly.
There's something taboo about it: the word, the action, the reality of the whole thing. 
It's the ultimate threat. 
Skulls, crossbones, THIS could be YOU.
Oh, and to conserve space, we're leaving out the part about it NOT BEING QUICK. 

Death is so ordinary, so common, yet so unique. So inevitable, it's scary to think about.
It is to most people anyway, except maybe to those who think about it a lot, or those who think about it not at all. 
I love this quote from the Dalai Lama (H.H. the 14th): "For example, in my own daily practice, prayer, if I am leisurely, takes about four hours.  Quite long.  For the most part, I think my practice is reviewing: compassion, forgiveness, and, of course, shunyata.  Then, in my case, the tantric practices including visualization of death and rebirth.  In my daily practice, the deity mandala, deity yoga, and the visualization of death, rebirth, and intermediate state is done eight times.  So, eight times death is eight times rebirth. I am supposed to be preparing for my death. When actual death comes, whether I will succeed or not, still, I don't know."
I like that about the Dalai Lama - there is no candy-coating, no positive-spin for you just to be polite, just honest straight-talk. He shares the same unknowns as you do.
Generally taken as a pretty rational human being and he thinks about death for four hours a day, every day.
There are so many religious connotations to death because we've been exposed to so many, yet as in nature, there can be none at all. 
The Black Widow spider eats her mate after he helps her copulate for his last time. She senses he's too old to be of much service anymore, and, she eats him.
Good protein is hard to come by in the bug world, and hey well, there he is, kicking back, feebly smoking a ciggy.
Death happens to every living thing, from a single-celled bacteria to a sperm-whale, from a undeveloped infant to an aging genius, every day. Every moment probably. There is no escape and you probably wouldn't want there to be if you were around long enough, but still you have to deal with it. It's hard to feel comfortable with that much finality, that much loss, that much unknown.
How could you not think about it?
I've been to the psychologist and I really don't know what to say when they coyly ask you,
"Do you think about... death?"
Well there is a loaded question is there ever was one. 
"Death? Nope. Never have." You?
"Hell Yeah, I think about it! It's a pretty big question for a cognizant being, don't cha think!?!"
Geez, I outta get up and leave, and would if I wasn't paying them  $160 / hr. and had already spent $40.
Sometimes I think they ask you that hoping you'll blow them away with something profound. "Wow. That is SO true. Twelve years of college and I hadn't thought of that. Mind if I use it for my eleven o'clock? He's a real case."
But, and it's not like me to start a sentence with a conjunction, let alone two very often, - I digress. Actually what I was thinking about lately is not that whole afterlife thing. I've got plenty of opinions about that and it could take up volumes.
I really don't want to be a fly on the wall at my own funeral. My luck, I'd land on my own forehead, my cousin would swat me and knock the whole casket over and cause a huge scene. What I was thinking about, and for some reason obscure things have been coming to mind lately, (as you may have noticed) maybe it's due to this book I'm reading/listening to about a guy that's trying to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. This wasn't in THAT book, but I read it some time ago, and it blew me away (and kind of creeped me out at the same time), it's something more on the order of how long people STAY AWARE before they die.
In reading about the prolific use of the guillotine during the French Revolution, seems there was a buzz about whether the device was really "humane", as it was designed to be at the time, or if it was actually too quick with the blade that it left the victim (er, rather the victim's head) with the ability to remain alive for a duration of time after the "act". 
With previous methods of execution there was little concern about the suffering inflicted.
Except maybe if whether there was enough of it to deter the crowd from doing what the condemned did. 
As the guillotine was invented specifically to be "humane" however, the issue was seriously considered. The blade cuts quickly enough so that there is relatively little impact on the "brain pan", and perhaps less likelihood of immediate unconsciousness than with a more violent decapitation, or a long-drop hanging.
Audiences to guillotinings have told numerous stories of blinking eyelids, speaking, moving eyes, movement of the mouth, even the expression of "unequivocal indignation" on the face of one decapitated Charlotte Corday when her cheek was slapped as the executioner held her head up for the crowd after the blow. 
Anatomists and other scientists in several countries have tried to perform more definitive experiments on severed human heads as recently as 1956. Inevitably the evidence is only anecdotal.
What appears to be a head responding to the sound of its name, or to the pain of a pinprick, may be only random muscle twitching or automatic reflex action, with no awareness involved. It's hard to prove. At worst, it seems that the massive drop in cerebral blood pressure would cause a victim to lose consciousness in several seconds. 
The following report was written by a Dr. Beaurieux, who experimented with the head of a condemned prisoner by the name of Languille in the French Rev days.
"Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds. This phenomenon has been remarked by all those finding themselves in the same conditions as myself for observing what happens after the severing of the neck... I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: 'Languille!' I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions – I insist advisedly on this peculiarity – but with an even movement, quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts.
Next Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves. I was not, then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look without any expression, that can be observed any day in dying people to whom one speaks: I was dealing with undeniably living eyes which were looking at me. After several seconds, the eyelids closed again. It was at that point that I called out again and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time. Then there was a further closing of the eyelids, but now less complete.
I attempted the effect of a third call; there was no further movement – and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead."
The current medical consensus is that life does survive, for a period of roughly thirteen seconds, varying slightly depending on the victim's build, health and the immediate circumstances of the decapitation.
The simple act of removing a head from a body is not what kills the brain, rather, it is the lack of oxygen and other important chemicals provided in the bloodstream. To quote Dr. Ron Wright, "The 13 seconds is the amount of high energy phosphates that the cytochromes in the brain have to keep going without new oxygen and glucose". The precise post-execution lifespan will depend on how much oxygen, and other chemicals, were in the brain at the point of decapitation; however, eyes could certainly move and blink.
I'm sure for me, if I was asked what it was like after my head was in the basket, it would probably go something like this...
Reporter: "So, ah, Tim's head, what's it like right now...?"
Tim's head: "Wow. It is so, so, like... what's that word? You know. Umm, it's on the tip of my tongue. Damn, I think it starts with... "

November 11th, 2008 - The Fall the Falls Never Fell

Okay, here's something you don't see every day. Er, that is, you do see it every day, but it's weird when it's not there.
Our waterfall has no water and no fall.

The Song of Hiawatha is being sung with a dry, dessicated falsetto. Which doesn't make trochaic tetrameter any easier, lemme tell ya. Poor brave Hiawatha has to stumble over a bunch of dried up boulders and concrete blocks to rescue his chick Minnehaha from the raging trickle of beaver pee ambling over the ledge.
I hope Longfellow never had to see it this way or he would have moved his house.
Of course if he'd waited long enough he could have witnessed the impressive yet incredibly vain construction project that tapped a well over 700 feet deep slightly upstream from the falls so that the river could be "turned on" in case of low water for a certain 15 minute presidential visit in the 1930's.
Luckily we didn't have to resort to popping open the old well trick again: today brought rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow, not necessarily in that order.
The Falls is showing it's best face again, with a few icicles to frame it's beard and a hint of fall colored foliage frosted with slush.

"Okay Mack, he's gone, close 'er up. The Mayor needs his bath tonight!"

November 8th, 2008 - Sayonara Springbrook

[Japanese sayonara : thus if it be, indeed.]
Thus if it be, indeed. Time marches on. Well, my term was up on Halloween evening as the "Night Naturalist" at Springbrook. They don't have funding to keep an evening person on over the winter, so that was my last night with the animals.
I wish I could say the owl stopped by to see me off, but being stuffed, it wasn't a special trip for him. It was a bittersweet farewell tho, especially with the young toads and frogs, as we practically grew up together.

That was weird one day when one of the froggies got out of the terrarium and when I went to put him back in I found I had two frogs. I'm still not sure where the second one came from. Fission?
Not everyone was sad to see me go. 
"Tonight's the night we take over the world, Pinkie!"
"You say that every night Brain."
"Yeah, but tonight I really mean it!"

November 6th, 2008 - Golden Day at the Dog Park

We had another golden day at the Dog Park over the weekend. The leaves that are left on the trees are all pretty much golden, or yellow. I have an alternate theory tho, that there are so many golden labs and golden retrievers at the Dog Park that they cause a dominant color reflection and the whole place tends to glow that way.

Example being the irrepressible "Jake", our neighbor's dog. 

Granted, it doesn't explain this. But what does, really?

November 5th, 2008 - Remember, remember the fifth of November

Happy day-after-election-day, Guy Fawkes Day, and the 5th of November.
Flowers DO bloom in November, and they have their own set of colors, which can't be found in the Crayola box.

I went to the River Gorge "Prairie Bowl" (click above pic for larger panorama) after my reintroduction to yoga with Solveig yesterday, to pick up trash. I had done some restoration work there with FMR and wanted to get in a walk and feel like I was contributing something to the area while I mulled over my election day feelings. Plus there's something about picking up trash that slows you WAY down and focuses your attention on every little color and shadow, even more than going out with just photography in mind.
Amongst the heavy hitters by trashmass were the fireworks remnants (don't get me started, and sorry Guy Fawkes, but there were some monstrous rocket-launcher bricks, one looked like an old car battery), weighing-in next would be beer & liquor bottles, then your basic paper food packaging products. By frequency the leaders would have to be cig butts, and shards of broken glass and plastic. People sure don't mind carrying a lot of heavy crap somewhere to have a party with it if they can just kick it down the hill and walk away without a conscience. I'm not sure how they do that. Maybe the penalty for littering should be to have to wear it around your neck for a week. That would work doubly well for not picking up your dogshit. Hmmm.

Also in the "silver-lining" department, these fungi were having a grand time growing out of an old oak stump. What a bunch of rot, I say.

Instead of "laying three score barrels below", I think Guy Fawkes should have just put them in his hat. Maybe he already had the King's silverware in there. My kind of strange holiday. Let us not forget this thing that didn't happen. Eh, what?