Late last week, after days of snow and freezing temperatures, we finally had a much needed thaw. But before the thaw began, I took a Friday morning walk out to Jackson Lake, a spot I have visited often in the past year. I hadn’t planned to go, but something in the light, and in the scent of the air, told me I had to. I grabbed my camera and monopod, and hurried through the woods behind our house. I am so very glad I did.
The trees around the lake were rimed with frost, and a mist drifted through the surrounding forest and across the water’s surface, lending a ghostly cast to the entire scene. I was in photographer’s heaven. I took a lot of photos, some okay, some pretty memorable. Here are a couple of the best.
I don’t expect that we’re quite done with winter here on the Cumberland Plateau. But this past week had a springlike feel, and it may be that magically frosty mornings like this one are finished, at least for a number of months. I suppose we’ll see.
I wish you a magical weekend. Stay safe. Be kind to one another.
This has been an unusual winter for us. We’ve had several snowfalls, none of them huge, but almost all of them significant enough to turn our pretty little town into a wonderland. This past weekend was no exception. A snowfall Saturday night into Sunday morning frosted tree limbs and houses, and then lasted for a couple of days before melting away.
The first morning, Nancy and I got up early and walked around our neighborhood, enjoying the fresh snow. The second morning dawned sunny and cold, but warmed quickly. As I took my walk on our rails-to-trails path, a fine mist seeped into the forest, hazing the sun and lending a mystical quality to the light and shadows.
These are just a few of the images I captured on those morning walks. I hope you enjoy them. We have more snow in our forecast, so maybe I’ll have more images for you next week.
Have a safe, wonderful weekend. Be kind to one another.
I took this photo back around Christmas, while on a photo walk with my wonderful friend, John Willis. Like me, he is an avid amateur photographer, and he gets out on photo walks almost daily. Before our walk, he had told me that for a period of a few weeks around the Winter Solstice, in late afternoon, the trees and angled sunlight and reflections at Lake Cheston, in our little town, created a striking pattern of striated light and shadow.
As you can see, the man is true to his word.
Today is my mother’s birthday. She would be 99, if she was still with us. She would have loved this photo and would have been fascinated by the light at the lake that day. She was a photographer, too. Mostly, she liked to take pictures while traveling with my father. And travel they did. To Rome and Paris, to Egypt and Israel, to Peru and the Canadian Rockies and all over the Western U.S.
She was curious and lettered, a voracious reader, a lover of all the arts. But there was nothing she loved more than family, than spoiling her grandchildren and catching up with her own kids. She would have had all kinds of questions about this photo — about the place and the light and my friend. And from there she would have had questions about the town, the university, and Nancy’s place in it. And the girls and what they were doing, and my latest book and my next project.
In my mind, I often carry on long conversations with both her and my Dad. And so, with your permission, I will end this short piece, and spend some time conversing with my the memory of my mother.
A week ago this morning, we woke up to a few inches of fresh snow. Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but for us, down here in Tennessee, snow is a too-rare treat. Even when we do get a nice snowfall, it usually vanishes within a day or so. Not this time. It fell wet and fluffy, and then dropping temperatures solidified it. We had snow on the trees for days. It was glorious — a welcome distraction from less savory goings-on in Washington.
These photos are from that first beautiful morning. The water shot is of a small shed on the property of a neighbor. I’ve actually always thought the structure was a bit of an eyesore, but on this day, in the snow and mist, it added a nice touch to my photo.
The two trail photos are from the rails-to-trails path where I take my morning walks. You’ll notice that there are two sets of footprints in the photos, one on the right side, heading away from me, and one on the left, harder to see, coming toward me. Those are Nancy’s. She had gone running on the trail about an hour before I took my walk. We were the only people to brave the trail that morning.
Wishing you a wonderful weekend filled with beauty and peace.
At long last, 2020 is in the world’s rearview mirror, and good riddance. We have a couple of weeks of craziness to get through, and a pandemic to beat back. But I enter this new year optimistic, for our planet, for our nation, for my friends and colleagues, for my family and me. Maybe that makes me naïve. So be it. I spent too much of 2020 anticipating the worst, and making myself miserable in the process. I choose not to do that again.
And so I share with you this image, captured last week during a lovely photo walk I took with a dear friend. I came back with several good pictures, but this one spoke to me. We are, I believe, crossing to a new normal that will be different from what we have known, but tempered and — dare I hope — better for what we have learned.
I wish you a wonderful New Year. May you find light in unexpected places, clarity in reflection, and joy in the simple beauty of the world around us.
It appeared early in the fall, on one of our first frosty mornings. There it lay on the rails-to-trails path: a lone glove. It looked new then, a recent purchase perhaps. Surely someone would be missing it. This is a small town, and as one who walks the trail pretty much daily, I can tell you that I pass the same people regularly. I had no doubt that the glove would be reclaimed within a day or two. The weather was clear and would be for several days to come. I thought nothing of leaving the glove where it lay. Others seemed to take the same approach.
After a week, it was still there.
We had a couple of days of rain, and the glove got soaked. But no one claimed it, and my fellow walkers and I continued to pass it by.
Then, finally, one of us took pity on the poor thing. Clearly it belonged to someone, so this charitable soul didn’t take it away or dispose of it. But rather than leave it on the path, wet, half covered with fallen leaves and pine needles, this person slipped it onto the branch of a sapling.
At that point, though, the fingers of the glove looked…well, normal. Only over time, with storms and cold and wind and, no doubt, a bit of human manipulation, have they taken on their current Vulcan look. At this point, I expect, the glove is a permanent fixture along the trail. It is part of the landscape, offering wishes for long life and prosperity to all who pass.
Live long and prosper, friends. And have a great weekend.
It first appeared sometime this past summer. It hadn’t been there, and then, suddenly, it was.
Initially, I have to admit, I resented it. I like our views of the little pond near our house. I like to get photos that have no manmade objects in them, and this bench sat right in the middle of the south shoreline of the pond.
But as the summer progressed and turned to fall, I warmed to the bench. For one thing, it’s simple, tasteful. It meshes nicely with the scenery. More important, it was placed in what is, unarguably, a lovely place to sit and ponder and enjoy the beauty of our neighborhood. As my emotions became ever more roiled during the course of the fall, I took to sitting on the bench more and more. It became a refuge of a sort.
I don’t know who put it there. I have an idea, but I’m not certain, and I haven’t had the opportunity it ask. It is there now. Really, nothing else matters.
Except this: Its placement, in a location that makes it available to all, was far from the intrusion I first thought it might be. It was, and continues to be, a gift, anonymous and generous. It was an act of kindness in the midst of a year during which we have needed such things desperately. So, to whoever put it there, thank you.
Wishing you all a wonderful weekend. Stay safe, be kind to one another.
We live atop the Cumberland Plateau, about 1000 feet up from what we call the valley, but what is actually just…NOT the plateau. During the summer, that elevation change, though not huge, helps to keep temperatures in our little college town on the cool side. If the valley is at ninety-five degrees, we might only reach high eighties. Believe me, it makes a difference.
The same dynamic that keeps us comfortable in warmer months, brings us colder temperatures, a bit more snow, and a good deal of fog when fall and winter roll around. Quite often, after a front moves through, our little town will be socked in for days at a time. Fog is a thing here. You can buy “Fog Happens” t-shirts at the college bookstore. People here tell stories of driving through the fog with their car doors open, so that they can look down and keep track of the lines on the road. I’ve never done that, but I have driven past our street because I couldn’t see the intersection. When I reach the highway near our house, I sometimes have to turn off the radio and lower the windows so that I can listen for oncoming traffic. Checking only by sight just won’t cut it.
I’ve shared with you other photos from the rails-to-trails path I walk most mornings. This one I took at the end of last week on a cold, foggy morning — no doubt the first many in the coming months.
Wishing you a wonderful, safe weekend. Be kind to one another.
Fall foliage is well past peak color here on the Cumberland Plateau, as it is in most parts of the country. But there are still vivid splashes of red and yellow clinging to branches. This Red Maple, a species also known around here as Swamp Maple, is close to our home. It caught Nancy’s eye last weekend on one of our walks, and I went back out the next day to snap a photo or twelve. It was breezy, so several of the images were blurred, but the setting sun was angling through the forest, gilding the leaves’ edges.
It has been a fraught week. Too many people are getting sick. Too many people are dying. And Washington is consumed with a dispute over an election that was won more than a week ago. It’s tragic and depressing and utterly infuriating. But there is still beauty in the world. It’s a little harder to spot right now, but it remains. I promise.
Now, as much as ever, I beg you to be safe, to take care of yourselves and your loved ones, to be kind to one another. We’ll get through this. A better day is coming.
Earlier this year, in the midst of spring bird migration, I wrote about my lifelong love of birding. I shared with you what birding has meant to me over the course of my life, and at the end I made a half-hearted attempt to encourage those interested to start birdwatching.
The truth is, though, that’s a pretty heavy lift. I love birding and I’ve
been doing it long enough that I’m pretty good at it. But for most people, finding the time in their lives for a new hobby, one with a fairly steep learning curve, can seem a bit intimidating. Fortunately, this time of year there’s an easy way into the hobby, one that helps the birds AND offers hours of entertainment.
To quote from Mary Poppins, “Feed the birds!” (“Feed the birds and what have you got?! Fat birds!”)
With the arrival of fall, usually around mid-October here on the Cumberland Plateau, I put out our various bird feeders and fill them with sunflower seeds and suet blocks. I have several feeders mounted on poles in the back yard, and often within a few hours of putting out seed for the first time, my feeders become an all-they-can-eat buffet for titmice, chickadees, cardinals, woodpeckers, wrens, finches, sparrows, and others. From October until mid-spring, our yard is filled with birds darting to the feeders, taking a seed and flitting to a branch to break it open and have at the morsel inside.
You can find simple feeders in the garden sections of most home and hardware stores (Lowes has a decent selection) and even in the pet sections of most grocery stores. You can also find them online. Duncraft, Wild Birds Unlimited, Backyard Chirper, and BestNest.com all sell a wide variety. Some can be pretty pricey, but the truth is, the cheap ones often don’t last long. To my mind, the best feeders for those looking for something durable and low-maintenance are the No/No Steel Wire Mesh collapsible feeders. They hold black oil sunflower seed, which is popular with a wide variety of bird species, they’re tough (I have a couple and one is at least ten years old at this point) and won’t be chewed up and ruined by squirrels, and the larger ones hold a good amount of seed, so I only have to fill mine once a week or so.
I also have a small plastic satellite feeder (it is shaped like Saturn, with a small opening), which is nice because only small, acrobatic birds can access it. Due to its size, it runs out of food too quickly, but it attracts titmice, chickadees, finches, and nuthatches. Larger birds can’t perch on it.
And I have a hopper feeder which basically looks like a small house. It’s made of wood and has one big compartment that I fill weekly. The feeder is mounted on a pole, and I have modified it slightly since buying it. I removed the cheap plastic sides that held the seed in place, and in their place attached metal mesh — also known as hardware cloth. I used a staple gun to set the mesh in place. The result is a more durable feeder that holds slightly more than it would have otherwise.
This feeder attracts everything from the smallest species — chickadees, wrens, titmice, finches, and wrens — to larger birds like woodpeckers, Cardinals, and Blue Jays. In the spring I often get flocks of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks on the hopper feeder.
All my mounting poles are equipped with squirrel baffles, which do a decent, if not perfect, job of keeping the critters off the feeders. Don’t worry: the squirrels don’t starve. The dirty little secret of feeding our feathered friends is that birds are slobs. For every seed they get from a feeder, they often knock two or three to the ground. Squirrels get plenty of food just from the spillage, as do ground feeding birds like sparrows, juncos, and doves.
Finally, I also have a suet cage on one of my feeder poles. A suet cage is essentially a rectangular wire box that holds those suet cakes you can buy at grocery stores, hardware stores, and garden centers. The cakes are not perfect, but they’re cheap, they’re easy to load into the feeders, and the birds seem to like them. My brother, who lives far north of me, uses actual suet from the meat department of his grocery store. We can’t do that here in the Southeast. Even in winter, we have too many warmish days. The fat would turn rancid. The cakes are a good compromise. They attract a variety of woodpecker species (Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, even the large, crested Pileated Woodpeckers — think Woody Woodpecker) as well as nuthatches, wrens, and others.
I should also mention that starting in April and continuing throughout the spring and summer, Nancy puts out hummingbird feeders in her garden. This is a more work intensive endeavor than seed feeding. She blends water and refined sugar at a ratio of about 3 1/2 to 1, boils it to make it safe and to fully dissolve the sugar, and then lets it cool before filling the feeders. She has to do this three or four times a week, sometimes more. We go through a lot of sugar (we buy two kinds of sugar during the warm months — sugar for baking and such, and cheap, store-brand “bird sugar” for the feeders), but we usually have at least two pairs of hummingbirds breeding in the yard. At times, we’ll have as many as ten or fifteen birds fighting for access to the feeders.
For more information on feeding birds, please visit All About Birds, the website of Cornell University’s marvelous ornithology lab. They are a great resource and do wonderful work protecting birds.
I wrote about this today, because our feeders have been up for about two weeks and already I have derived so much pleasure from all the birds hanging around in our backyard. Putting out feeders is great way to start learning about birds — keep a pair of binoculars and a simple field guide handy, and you’ll soon be identifying all of your hungry visitors. And, of course, you’ll also be helping the birds endure the cold months.