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Tiny Marvels

Black-chinned Hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri, in Arizona.

Such amazing beauty can be found in tiny marvels all around us – bugs, bees, butterflies, caterpillars, hummingbirds – an almost endless list of small miracles asking us to slow down and really see the details. Really seeing those details is often much easier with the aid of “vision helpers” like microscopes, binoculars, and cameras.

Hummingbirds are a good example of the difference a camera can make. While their fascinating behavior is a treat even to the unaided eye, to really see the marvelous colors and patterns of a hummingbird requires lots of the right kind of light. To paraphrase a Wikipedia explanation: while some hummingbird colors are the result of pigmentation, the feathers of many species have cells with a prism-like structure. Light that hits these cells is broken apart; some wavelengths are reinforced and others are reduced. The resulting colors are intense and vivid, but, unlike pigmented colors, can be seen only when the light hits the feathers at precisely the right angle.

In my recent trip to Arizona (the one where we photographed the bats), I had the opportunity to make use of a wonderful setup for capturing hummingbirds with just the right lighting. Wow! The little Broad-billed male that just seemed a dull green perched on the tree branch is now a brilliant mix of iridescent greens, blues, and reds – and one more tribute to the magic all around us.

Broad-billed Hummingbird, Cynanthus latirostris, feeding at Mexican Bird of Paradise flowers, Caesalpinia mexicana.

Broad-billed Hummingbird, Cynanthus latirostris, in Arizona.

Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, in Arizona.

Broad-billed Hummingbird, Cynanthus latirostris, in Arizona.

Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, feeding at nectar flowers.

Black-chinned Hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri, on yellow Cat’s Claw flower, Macfadyena unguis-cati, in Arizona.

Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, and Black-chinned Hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri, feeding on nectar from Honeysuckle flower.

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Going a little “batty” in this one

Bat at night diving to pond to get a drink of water.

What an amazing photo weekend! I just got back from a short photo trip with Kathy Adams Clark, a wonderful and talented professional photographer who has been both mentor and friend for many years. She took our small group of photographers to a small, seemingly nondescript ranch in the southern Arizona desert, where we found ourselves really going “batty” with the exciting opportunity to photograph bats at night as they swooped into a small pond to get a drink of water. (We also photographed hummingbirds, but that is a subject for another post).

The setup for the bats was technically amazing, with laser beams tripping flashes as the bats dived to the water, and the resulting photos were a nature photographer’s delight. The education about bats, so often feared unjustly, and their important place in nature was equally valuable.

However, as is so often the case with photography trips, I came away with much more than interesting photos and a greater understanding of bats. The camaraderie of friends (new and old) with a common passion, together with the shared excitement and awe at the quiet secrets of the natural world we so often take for granted, once again offered a powerful, felt-in-the-heart reminder that we and all of nature are all somehow connected.

Pallid Bat, Antrozous pallidus, at night diving to pond to get a drink of water.

Pallid Bat, Antrozous pallidus, at night diving to pond to get a drink of water.

Bat at night diving to pond to get a drink of water.

Bat at night diving to pond to get a drink of water.

Bat at night diving to pond to get a drink of water.

Three bats at night diving to pond to get a drink of water. Triple Exposure.

Bat at night diving to pond to get a drink of water.

Bat at night diving to pond to get a drink of water.

Nectar feeding bat, the endangered Lesser Long-nosed bat, Leptonycteris yerbabuenae, feeding on nectar at night in Arizona.

Pallid Bat getting a drink at night

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Taking Time to Smell the Roses

Triumph Tulip ASAHI in Keukenhof Gardens in South Holland, The Netherlands.

In our photographic travels, we often focus on gardens and flowers: Keukenhof Gardens in Holland, Butchart Gardens in British Columbia, Callaway Gardens in Georgia, Bellingrath Gardens in Alabama, and hundreds more wonderful oases of beauty and timeless moments. These are the places we revisit again and again, reveling in the opportunity, at this late stage in our lives, to truly “stop and smell the roses.” Capturing the photo is important to us, but just being there with all senses present, is far more important. My husband calls the flowers and gardens “eye candy,” and I am reminded of a poem I wrote not long before I turned 70.

  TRANSITIONS

When I was new to life and greening still

I was too busy growing up to live,

no time for scent of rose or daffodil.

The future filled my thoughts, accusative

of any moment passed without a plan

for hastening transition of my state

from childhood to adult Utopian,

when I would have real cause to celebrate.

Now I am old, arthritic in my knees,

and wrinkles seam the fabric of my face.

I play with clay, I tease with similes

and wonder at the miracles I trace.

      In precious days, as present slips to past,

      I laugh to find I am a child at last.

Azalea Overlook Garden at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia.

Garden scene with Muscari, Daffodils, and Tulips at Keukenhof Gardens in South Holland in The Netherlands.

Antique Rose with spider in Rose Emporium Gardens near Independence, Texas.

Dahlia in Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

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Happy 93rd Birthday to Mattie!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM.  Thanks for the gift your life is and has always been to us.

Though this is a blog featuring travel, photography, and sometimes a bit of poetry, I have to take time today to congratulate (and thank) my mother, who is a major source of my love of travel and my appreciation of the beauty that surrounds us.  I did not always fully understand the gifts my mother offered. Yes, she was, and is, a good hard-working woman who fed us well (too well), kept us clean, made sure we went to school, and taught us to be good citizens and treat people with respect. Raised in poverty herself (as one of 14 children), a sharecropper’s child, she showed her love through her work: cleaning, cooking, sewing, gardening – all of the woman skills she learned from her own mother. A “down-to-earth” woman, I’ve heard her called.

She was not a philosopher, did not write poetry or have long discussions with us about the meaning of life. She just lived life.  For me, as a child with a serious philosophical bent (who did write poetry), I confess that she seemed to be limited in some way, missing something I thought was important.  Now, as an old woman myself, I can only marvel at my own limited vision. I would not change who I am or who she is one bit, but I would dearly love to have more of her everyday courage and grit. She has the ability to just get up in the morning and do all that one can do, with joy for the privilege of doing it, no matter the pains she experiences or the losses of her life.

I may write some poetry, but her life is poetry itself.

Mattie dressed for a party

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ALASKA – Understanding why my mother loves Alaska!

Last year I posted a short tribute to my mother’s love of Alaska (and her love of travel in general). At 92, she was in the midst of her latest trip to Alaska (her 13th or 14th trip to Alaska, I think). She has family, nephews, that live there, and they have so many times graciously invited her to spend the summer months with them in their incredibly beautiful state. That last trip was a tough one, as she developed a severe attack of pancreatitis, which almost took her life. It was a long summer after we managed to get her back home to the Houston area – with months of hospitals, surgeries, and lots of pain and struggle. She lost 40 pounds and we all thought we were saying goodbye – but it is not wise to give up on a woman with real grit, which she has in abundance. She has now regained 30 of those pounds and is out raking leaves and mowing grass, getting ready to celebrate her 93rd birthday in a few weeks.

I think I’ve found a word for the connection my mother feels with Alaska (never having lived there herself) – “grit.” There is that incredible beauty, of course, that draws all of us tourists who go there in the late spring or summer. But the most amazing thing about Alaska (and the northern parts of Canada) is the “grit” of the people who live there year round. My mother’s sister and her husband raised their family there, and the tales of the dark and cold of winter bring images hard to visualize for a denizen of the southern states. They are “don’t give up” people, hardy and determined in the face of challenges I find hard to imagine. That has always been my mother – a woman who just keeps putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what challenges she faces. She would have been the same had she lived in Alaska like her sister, just doing what had to be done.

So for my mother and all those hardy souls everywhere who teach us about courage and strength and everyday “grit” – they deserve to enjoy the gleaming snow on our continent’s tallest peaks and the wildness of an untamed part of the world – a harsh land that lifts the heart and soul of anyone who loves both the majesty and the endurance of nature.

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POETRY

Waterlily and Bee at Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

 

To dance in frozen motion

To shear apart whatever clings

To spin a filament of prose distilled

is poetry.

To open doors of perception

To be earth’s awareness of itself

To see the world as it is and is not

is poetry.

To paint pastel Unicorns and laughing Macaws

To sing the wonder of sound and time and space

To mock the grim humor of rushing to no place

is poetry.

To capture the easy wind’s soft sound

To hear the bird chatter of little rivers

To love Love for its own sake

is poetry.

To swim in a shoreless ocean

To stir memories of midnight fears

To taste the stinging brine of healing tears

is poetry.

To forge a new link in a chain of faith

To tug on the future and halo the past

To filibuster for the love of square circles

is poetry.

To fan phoenix-flames in a bed of ash

To find the rainbow in a waterfall

To feel the soul that shares us all

is poetry.

(Poem by Janice Braud)

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WINGS

Laughing Gulls, Larus atricilla, flying above the Galveston ferry, looking for handouts from passengers.

I was very young when I first imagined I could fly

Just 4 or 5 I think, and very confused

About those grown-up boundaries dividing

Dreams and fantasy from cold reality.

By day I’d lie in grassy fields and watch a fearless

Blue Jay harass a stalking cat, then safely leap aloft

And flap his wings in disgust.

By night, I dreamed of leaping off a tall building,

Flapping my arms so fast and furious that I would

Slowly rise and fly beside a flock of honking geese

Making their way to some far away wonderland called Canada.

I loved the raucous calls of black-faced Laughing Gulls

Darting and wheeling above the Galveston ferry, intercepting

Bread crumbs in mid-air. I longed to fly with them,

And was always convinced I could have had not my mother’s voice

Held me tethered here below.

For many of my adult years, I was that grown-up voice, splashing

The cold water of reality on any dreams and fantasies that dared

To breach grown-up defenses.

But finally, in old age, I am a child again, free to dream,

Free to fly any way I can.

When I stand on a mountainside in Ecuador at 13000 feet, breathing

Cold, thin air as Sword-billed hummingbirds and Booted Racket-tails

Vibrate the mist around me —

When I tiptoe through a swamp in Florida to watch a Great Blue Heron

In breeding plumage fishing to feed his mate —

When I sit in a blind in North Carolina in November,

Chilled in the frosty 26 degree morning air, and find myself thrilled

At the antics of Eastern Bluebirds, Red-bellied Woodpeckers

And Carolina Wrens cavorting on pumpkins and competing for grub worms

Against a backdrop of yellow gold and rusty red leaves —

Then I understand that I can fly, that the birds and butterflies and landscapes

I pursue have taught me how to live my dreams, lifting my spirit higher

Than my highest flight when I was only five.

(Poem by Janice Braud)