Monday, August 29, 2011

Tropical Storm Irene

How does one photograph the wind? I made several attempts yesterday, even braving a mile walk through a spruce woods to the most exposed point on the island in an effort to obtain a photographic record of my first tropical storm in Maine. (I also had tired of sitting inside with no electricity, holding my book to the window where shadows from the wind-whipped maple flickered on the page.) I could barely stand in the wind blowing the sea into the ledges even at low tide. That's why the horizon is tilted.

Sea spray misted the camera lens and my hair and face. I laughed, drunk on the wildness of the day. Later, my husband’s friend the lobsterman, hearing of my adventure, said, “That was stupid.” Was it? I’d rather inhale a storm than sit inside meditating on our dependence on electricity.

It was hard to hold the lightweight point-and-shoot steady.  It was also hard to pose steady.

How does one photograph the wind? Messenger from another world, visible only by its effects. Grasses bend in the winds coming across open water.

Most seagulls evacuated to the golf course.

The wind pushed though the trees all day, flipping the leaves inside out. The oak below has stood with its brothers and sisters exposed to the east wind on a bank above the bay for well over a hundred years. How many storms has it withstood?

At the cottage, the only damage was to these black-eyed susans, stems bent by the wind, but petals intact and merrily gold. Conveniently, the flowers lean to face the front porch where I sit.

We read last night after dinner by the light of three taper candles. I was almost disappointed when the power came back on. The rain ceased. The wind stopped blowing. We awoke to clear sky, sun and views of islands rising from calm blue water. New Englanders say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”

Below, are photos taking yesterday and today near high tide at the East End Point. 

The goldenrod and sumacs are browned, presumably from salt spray.

By local standards, the storm was a non-event. Islanders say many winter nor'easters bring winds and waves wilder than we saw yesterday. It takes a lot to impress a Mainer. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Calm Before the Hurricane

We escaped from the hot South to a Maine island that is now caught up in the excitement of an anticipated hurricane. I had one criterion for this to be a successful vacation - any weather is acceptable except temperatures above 90 degrees. Yesterday was sunny and calm, with barely a ripple on Casco Bay.

We explored favorite spots on the island. At Deer Point we stood on the ledges as the tide came in, looking southeast into the Gulf of Maine.

At the boatyard, men were busy hauling boats out of the water before the hurricane hits.

The island is accessible only by boat. The main work on the island is lobster fishing. 

We walked through the woods and along a rocky beach to a friend's house for dinner.

They served lobsters and sweet corn.

White birches are silhouetted in the fading light.

Goldenrod blooms along the shore, one of the early signs of fall.

We may lose power for a few days if the hurricane predictions aren't overblown. I have to admit that I'm more excited than scared of the storm, and look forward to some opportunities for photography.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I woke this morning sleepily conscious of something different. A cool breeze was blowing through the window. For days I have been planning to write about heat. Relentless heat. Sticky heat. Air so thick it is almost a physical barrier, making one move slowly. For a month I have spent almost all my time indoors, deprived of nature. The heat makes me dream of Maine, where we go tomorrow. Cool sea breezes, salt air, the scent of balsam fir on a shaded woodland path. Piles of blankets. Sweatshirts! Skies that are clear blue, not white with heat and ozone.

My poor garden lies abandoned, a sea of wilting green. Here's how it looks this August.

I used to think the garden's appearance in August reflected badly on me as a gardener. But I notice most gardens around town look the same. Too many days of 90-degree plus heat and summer dryness for plants to do much more than survive.

Here's the same garden in May.

I grew up in Michigan. Each year by mid-February we became restless after months of snow and cloudy skies and cold. During the school's mid-winter break, everyone took off for Florida, desperate for warmth and sunshine.  In the South, I have the opposite experience. Each August I become crazed with the desire to go North, tired of hiding from the noonday sun and the mosquitoes that make the cooler morning and evening hours intolerable.

To Maine!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Whoo Hoo Hoo Hoo!

Sometimes on a still night when the window is open, we are startled awake with a booming call.


We have lived in our wooded neighborhood in Chapel Hill for eight years, but it was not until two days ago that my husband finally caught a glimpse of the barred owl. Some say the owl's call sounds like "who cooks for you all." I disagree. The barred owl is not saying anything so mundane. His hooting is terrifying, other-worldly, a scream in the night. 

Sometime after 6 p.m., my husband saw a large bird in an apparent struggle on the ground under the neighbor's trellis. The owl then flew, clutching a small animal, into a pine tree. Since the owl's back was turned, he whistled to make it turn around. The owl's eyes are uncanny, I think. I can't stop looking into them.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Goldfinch on Coneflower

How many birds dance on the head of a coneflower? 
Only one that I've seen - the American goldfinch.

The male goldfinch, dressed in his brightest summer yellow, goes to some trouble to get the coneflower seeds.  He clings to the stem, digging deep into the head with his beak, while the stem sways with his weight.

The goldfinch moves from side to side of the flower, intently focused on getting to the seeds, and digging, digging with his beak. Perhaps this is why coneflowers look so ragged this time of year?

The goldfinch then moves to the patch where beebalm and coneflowers intermingle.  I admit that the seedheads are not attractive to a conventional gardener. But they provide food for birds - and also are sources of seedlings (free plants!). This is a reason I don't deadhead until early spring.

After much swaying on the stem and contorting his head, the goldfinch looks at the photographer.

Not to be outdone, the ruby-throated hummingbird shows up to feed on potted impatiens.

Some days I have waited for hours with the camera for birds to appear in a particular spot. Today, I expected to have no time to watch nature because I am crashing on a deadline for my thesis proposal. But I happened to be walking by the window, saw the goldfinch outside, and one thing led to another. 
A small grace. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Canticle of the Sun

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; 

in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
 through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
 for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin! 

Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord,
and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.

-St. Francis of Assisi