Wednesday, December 21, 2016


The winter solstice came early this morning. Now the days grow longer while winter's cold deepens. As people have for millennia, we hope the sun will finally chase away the chill and return us to verdant spring. Meanwhile, hold your loved ones tight and celebrate life and light.

Holly and Ice

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Landscapes of Southern Mexico

Recently this blog has strayed a bit from its theme of "looking at the natural world". Let's correct that: here are some landscapes.

Most of our time in Mexico was spent in cities, as you can see in the previous posts about windows and the Day of the Dead. But we also took some day trips outside of Oaxaca to see the ruins at Monte Alban and Mitla, crafts, markets, and the spectacular mineral deposits called Hierve el Agua. The entire region is set in rugged terrain of mountains and valleys, so even short trips afforded dramatic views.

Ruins at Monte Alban and Sierra Madre del Sur
Landscape near Teotitlán del Valle 
Hierve el Agua: Cascada Chica
Hierve el Agua: Cascada Grande

Hierve el Agua pool
Susan at Hierve el Agua

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Day of the Dead

Despite the name, this Mexican holiday occupies at least a week, considering all of the preparation. Stores, restaurants and homes put up paper cut-outs and skeleton-themed decorations. Families clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones. Special breads are baked. Temporary altars are assembled and adorned with candles, favorite foods of the deceased, photos, and marigolds...lots and lots of marigolds. We were told that Día de Muertos is the biggest holiday of the year, at least in Oaxaca.

On the night of October 31/November 1, we watched street celebrations before joining the thousands of families and tourists visiting cemeteries. Hundreds of vendors lined the streets leading to the cemeteries and many were having meals there (street food is a real thing in Oaxaca).

In contrast to the carnival atmosphere on the streets, the insides of the cemeteries were mostly calm and dark except for the myriad candles on the graves (although one large cemetery had a rock band at the entrance). Some of the families seemed cheerful and some somber. We'd been told that the occasion is generally a celebration of the imagined return of the loved ones, rather than a time for grief. In any case I was moved by the beauty and emotion of the graveyards. Graves from the most elaborate to the most humble were decorated.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Windows on Mexico

In our first extended trip to Mexico, we spent three weeks in Oaxaca, the capital and largest city in the state of the same name. Friends have raved about Oaxaca's culture, people, food and weather. They did not exaggerate; it is a remarkable and most agreeable place.

It is also a great place for photography. The city contains many buildings dating to early colonial times. Many are of stone and many others are adobe. Colors and textures abound. I found myself wandering the streets, shooting buildings, doorways and windows.

I was inspired to create a photomontage of some windows by a poster Susan purchased in Italy long ago, showing a number of windows from Tuscany. Here's my Oaxacan version.

We also went into the countryside, and it is also beautiful. There are crafts-persons weaving and embroidering, making pottery, and selling all types of produce in open air markets. And we were in town for Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. I'll add more images in a later posting.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Turn of the season

September 22, 2016 is the autumnal equinox. We are not unhappy to see summer's end this year, having lost one family member and one lifelong friend. Others we hold dear had challenges. Miserably hot weather and appalling politics weren't helpful.

But there have been reasons to celebrate, and the change of seasons brings pleasures forgotten over the past year. Colors shift, landscapes transform, and plants somehow remember to prepare for winter. The shifting sun brings that distinctive fall light. Mosquitoes go wherever they go, thank heavens. Big squashes and apples appear at the farmer's market tables (replacing those luscious August peaches, alas). Fall is a beautiful season, and we anticipate it with gratitude for nature's cycles.

October berries
In memory of Terry Ey and Rosemary Friend.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Happy Birthday

This week the National Park Service celebrated its one hundredth anniversary. Called "America's best idea" by Wallace Stegner (who attributed it to James Bryce), the national parks are splendid treasures belonging to all Americans. They are a tribute to the foresight of their many originators, and a lesson to all about what can be accomplished with vision, effort, and the will to create things of benefit to the public at large. May today's leaders be inspired to follow suit.

I'm lucky enough to live near the C&O Canal National Historical Park and have taken thousands of photos there. The image below is of a back channel of the Potomac River flowing through the area called Rocky Islands, from the vantage point of the canal towpath. This point is about 10 miles, as the crow flies, from the White House. The park extends along the canal into the District of Columbia and in the opposite direction to Cumberland, Maryland, a total distance of 185 miles. Whenever in the park I marvel at its beauty and its proximity to the Nation's Capital, and give thanks for the efforts of those (including Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas) who worked to preserve it as a park.

You needn't be a photographer to appreciate our national parks. Get out there and soak up some magnificence soon. 

Rocky Islands and channel, C&O Canal Park

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


We have had a very green year in 2016 around here. Adequate rainfall had a lot to do with it.

On a short trip to Virginia wine country outside Charlottesville we found a beautiful redbud outside our AirBnB (the very nice Gum Tree Lodge).

Redbud Leaves

We took a stroll around a large nursery nearby. They had a big inventory of just about everything, but what caught my eye were the poppies growing wild.

Wild Poppies

Back home the rain, a maturing garden and who-knows-what-else has us marveling at blossoms and pruning like never before. The flowering bush image in the previous post came from our front yard. We've also had a bumper crop of cone flowers (echinacea).

Cone Flowers (Echinacea)
I've updated my greeting card collection with some of these and other new images. Head over to the Greeting Card page to have a look.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Time Travel

I had fun yesterday using my old Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 (described in this post). The long focusing throw is very satisfying to use, and took me back to my early days in photography when the "normal" lens--and the only one I owned--was a 50mm. Auto focus was in the distant future (we didn't even have auto exposure, hard as it may be for millennials to believe) so making careful use of the viewfinder was the only way to get things in focus. 

The fifty looks peculiar, almost stunted, on the camera compared to my other lenses, but it is pleasingly lightweight. After all these years the focus and aperture controls still work smoothly. The images are nice too, if maybe not as painfully sharp as those from today's lenses. And I don't have another lens with an aperture below f/2.8 so it's nice to get reacquainted with shallow depth-of-field. 

(I don't know the name of this flowering bush; we've asked our friend and landscaper, who planted it last year, but his recall failed him uncharacteristically. If you know, please leave a comment and enlighten the rest of us.)

It might seem horse-and-buggy to a modern photographer, but I think it's fun to use this old piece of equipment. It probably gives my patience and attention to detail a little workout, and that's not a bad thing. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

New Zealand's South Island

Photography is a wonderful pastime. With a bit of equipment and free time you can explore and create worlds of entirely new images. Heck, you can create new images without setting foot outdoors, not to mention what you can do in software.

Landscape photography, on the other hand, pretty much requires getting out and going to the places you'd like to capture. If you can combine a love of landscape shooting with some wanderlust, you're a lucky shutterbug. I felt lucky indeed to spend time on New Zealand's South Island, more than 9,000 miles from home and surrounded by scenic riches.

South Island's western coast is marked by steep green hillsides and rocky outcrops. At Punakaiki are the Pancake Rocks, formed by the differential weathering and erosion of thinly layered limestone into stacks, blow holes and surge pools. 

West Coast of South Island

Pancake Rocks

Towers at Pancake Rocks
Near the coast in the Southern Alps is the Franz Josef Glacier. It has advanced and receded often in historical times but has been receding since 2008. It ends about 12 miles from the Tasman Sea. A hike up its rock-strewn valley was exhilarating and eye-opening.

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier terminus

Waiho River below glacier
Braided rivers are common in New Zealand. We saw them on the North and South Islands, and not just where glaciers are feeding them large amounts of sediment.

Waimakariri (?) River, a braided channel

Further inland is Queenstown on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, a big beautiful lake surrounded by striking mountains. 

Lake Wakatipu and Walter Peak, from Bob's Peak
Cecil Peak and Lake Wakatipu
And there's more: the fjord known as Milford Sound. It deserves it's own posting so I'll end this one here.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Landscapes of Central Australia

Central Australia is justifiably famous for its landscapes. We visited Alice Springs and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, located near the southern border of the Northern Territory. The area is very dry, not quite desert, but visually engaging with unique geology and complex ecology. Uluru (formerly called Ayers Rock) is likely the most photographed hill in Australia, if not the world. Throngs of tourists gather every evening and morning, as did we, to watch and record the changing light on the red rock. It is unique and spectacular.

Uluru, sunset
Uluru, sunrise
Famous Uluru overshadows an equally photogenic range of hills named Kata Tjuta. With strata less steeply tilted than Uluru (15 degrees versus almost 90 degrees) and composed of a coarse conglomerate instead of Uluru's arkose, Kata Tjuta presents a more rounded profile and more distinct segments. I found it gorgeous.

Kata Tjuta
It's a remarkable park that has such sights in rather close proximity, let alone the many significant cultural and biological features. No surprise that it is a World Heritage area.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta at sunrise
At Alice Springs Desert Park we watched a great bird show and also marveled at the ancient landscape.

Ridge, Alice Springs Desert Park

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Birds in Australia

Not being "birders" Susan and I just enjoyed seeing species we'd not seen before. These pictures come from Cleland Wildlife Park near Adelaide, the Alice Springs Desert Park (where trained birds take turns swooping through an open-air theater), a national park near Melbourne, and the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve. Apologies for not being able to identify each of these. If you know them, please add a comment. Thanks!


Rainbow Lorikeet
Australian Bustard

Barn Owl

Wedge-tailed Eagle


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sydney Opera House

If kangaroos and koala are the most recognizable fauna of Australia, surely the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge are that city's architectural icons. We first came upon the opera house after dark and were wowed. In the daylight it is equally stunning. I had planned to have a single post about art and architecture, but the opera house is too photogenic for that. It deserves its own post, and here it is.

There's so much to love about this building. Its site on a point of land in sparkling Sydney Harbor shows it off beautifully. The design is unlike anything else. I was surprised to learn that the distinctive curved forms are all segments of a sphere, the choice of which (according to the information video) greatly simplified design and construction. And the appearance of those shapes vary endlessly as the point of view changes. It is a masterpiece.

Sydney Opera House, from Sydney Harbor
Sydney Opera House, from Circular Quay

Detail of exterior, from east

Detail of exterior, from west

Interior detail of precast ribs and windows