Favorite Place

The subject of this week’s challenge  is an easy one for me to tackle, and obvious to folks who know me.  You will find me any free weekend exploring some section of the 184.5 mile long C&O Canal towpath.  Last weekend took us to a section near Point of Rocks for our Sunday walk.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe branches of the sycamore tree stand out in winter.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are the locks and lockhouses,

Lockhouse for Landers Lock

the aqueducts,

Catoctin Aqueduct

and the Potomac river (which looked especially blue that morning).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mergansers come around only in winter.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bridge at Point of Rocks looked stunning in the morning lightOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and this almost looks like a piece of art when the endorphins are flowing on a lovely morning like the one we we had!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Bluebird in the Backyard

This is a good time of year to look out of the windows of the house and observe the little birds that fly around our home. The absence of leaves on the trees gives you a clear view of birds like robins, sparrows, chickadee, cardinals, bluebirds, woodpeckers, bluejays, etc..  And many of birds seem to love the seeds on the crape myrtle right next to the deck.  You have to pay close attention.  The first thing that draws your attention is the chirping that you can hear outside even though all the doors and windows are closed.  Most of the birds tend to blend in with the rather grey background.  But those like the bright red cardinals and the bluejays do stand out.

I was having my tea one evening, looking out the back window, when I thought I saw a flash of blue.  I was not mistaken.  It was a bluebird.  In fact, there seemed to be a couple of them flying between the maple and the crape myrtle trees.  The birds are so small, you have to pay particular attention to track them.  Soon the bluebird flew out of sight.   But I had a certain feeling about it.  I went upstairs to retrieve my camera and put a zoom lens on it.

I could not see the birds when looking out of the different windows upstairs in the back of the house, but soon after I returned to the kitchen and the place I was having my tea, the bird returned to a branch on the crepe myrtle.  I was prepared this time.

The bird was facing the opposite direction.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn fact I got a good picture of its butt! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt seemed to sense my presence even though I was in the house and behind the window.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It slowly turned around and stared at me.  I grabbed the shot before it was too late.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt posed for me.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few seconds later it was gone.

I think it was a eastern bluebird, but somebody can correct me if I am wrong.

The Simple Algorithm That Ants Use to Build Bridges | Quanta Magazine

(Picture from Quanta Magazine. Credit – Vaishakh Manohar.)

via The Simple Algorithm That Ants Use to Build Bridges | Quanta Magazine

I first learned about how ants work in a cooperative manner in a book that my daughter had bought me for Christmas. The book was all about trails.  (She had figured out the perfect book for my interests!)   There is a chapter in this book about how trails historically came into being, and how these have, over time, led to our modern day system of roads, railroad tracks, and other connections for human travel.

Trails have existed for ages. The concept is not the creation of humans.  Animals of different kinds, using different skills, and for different purposes, have created trails.   There was, and still is, no real planning involved (the way humans would define it) in the creation of animal trails. It is all tied to their inbuilt instinct to survive and exist.

Ants have been creating trails for a long time.  The notable thing about the behavior of ants is that in spite of the fact that they do not have any significant level of individual intelligence, they show a great deal of collective or cooperative intelligence that lets them be effective in complex tasks.  (They do not even depend on the presence of an occasional “smart” ant that can serve as a leader.)  The book describes how their processes work for creating very efficient trails.  (There is even a kind of ant that is blind that is still very effective at this.)  Humans are now trying to understand if any of these processes are useful for our own existence.

Anyway, the article I have linked to is fascinating.  Make sure to watch the videos!

Out Of This World

This week’s photo challenge proved to be somewhat thought provoking for me.  I was not sure exactly how to approach it.  In the simplest sense, one is almost always trying to take outdoor pictures that are noteworthy and perhaps “out of the world”.  In another sense, one also tries to capture outdoor images with the camera that are unusual, and that may seem out of this world.  But nothing is really out of this world in the real sense, is it? How often does one take pictures out of this world? Does this picture of the moon and Venus qualify?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Looking through my archives, I realize that I have already posted a bunch of pictures in my blogs that could fit this theme – pictures of the skies and the earth that seem like they are not of this planet.  Here is one that might not have appeared before.  This was taken in the area of the Smoky Mountains. The planet is on fire in the morning light.  The town of Gatlinburg lies below us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All in all, it was tough figuring out what tack to take for this week’s challenge.   In the end I decided to go with pictures that could be considered out of this world to some people, but may be more commonplace to others in their own circumstances.  Here goes.

This is the fruit of Queen Anne’s Lace.  This wild plant is quite widespread close to where we live, but I am pretty sure it would seem to be something out of this world for some of the natives.IMG_2023I wonder how many people have taken the time to notice something as simple as what is seen in the picture below.  Even the simple things can seem out of this world once you open your eyes, and perhaps your imagination.IMG_9624And then there are things that could seem exotic to some of us but are not so unusual in other places.  I have already forgotten which part of the world this flower is originally from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWould something like this, a mud pool, be considered out of this world?  You can see them in New Zealand.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom this perspective it might be difficult to recognize that the picture below is that of the face of a snapping turtle.  Look at the eyes.  Isn’t this out of this world?  We actually came across this creature in the park not far from home.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Downgrading of Nature in a Dictionary

I was stunned when I first read about this. A note about what had happened was in a book that I have just finished about America’s National Parks.  I found confirmation of the facts on the Snopes website.

via Dictionary Drama

I felt a little better after getting a better context for the bigger picture.  Nevertheless,  I feel a little sad about this, and I would also argue that what is going on may not necessarily be a good thing. There are other more important people who also seem to feel the same way.

The Spider’s Web (8/19/2007)

Jeff French and I were lifting this ugly piece of furniture over the stairs at the entrance to the apartment building. It was an oddly shaped green table, with a backsplash and long legs, and it was also quite heavy and ungainly to carry. We were going to Apt 13 on the ground floor, but the brilliant designers of the particular apartment building had put in steps to first take you up about half-way to the next floor and then back down again to the level of the apartment. (The thinking process behind such a design is mind-boggling!) So, here we were lugging this monstrosity up the stairs – when the backsplash that I was holding on to (which I should not have been doing in the first place) separated from the table. I lost my grip and the table landed on the steps. Luckily it did not have too far to go. It hit my thigh as I fell back against the steps and sat down. Never mind – not much harm done other than a bruise and some soreness in the thigh.

We then somehow got this thing into the apartment and were greeted by the fellow who lived there. He seemed to be somewhat incoherent. He had bandages on this foot, had some trouble walking, and was apologizing profusely about not being able to help. Jeff thinks that the person was doing this because his pride had been hurt because he could not help, but I think that this dude was still drunk from the previous night (or maybe he also had something that morning). His wife kept telling him to get out of the way, but he kept on getting in the way, until he had to stop because of the pain.

The couple tells us that they want this huge table in their small kitchen. We manage to get it in there, but there is not enough room. When we finally get the table against the wall, we see that there is not enough space to open the door of the fridge completely. (The dude is going to have a hard time getting that beer from the back of the fridge!) There is nothing more to be done about it, and Jeff tells the guy not to call us later to take the table back. We then also deliver a computer table to the folks. We barely manage to get this other rather forgettable piece of furniture into the apartment, this time without it falling apart in our hands. The thing is very heavy because it is made of particle board, but unfortunately it is not very strong. I wonder how long the table will last. Fun times at the furniture program!

I was out in the back yard yesterday afternoon, standing on a ladder trying to take pictures of the beautiful white flowers on the Crape Myrtle tree,IMG_2146when I noticed the robin standing on the lawn.IMG_2136I got down from the ladder and tried to walk across to the other side of the bird to take its picture with the right lighting. But the bird did not cooperate. It kept moving in the same direction that I was moving in, parallel to me. Eventually I had to give up. It was when I looked back towards the deck that I noticed a nest under the deck, on top of one of the beams that held the deck up. I could see the tiny beaks of the babies facing upwards in the nest, as if expecting some food to be delivered.IMG_2140I was convinced that the bird I had encountered had in fact been trying to lead me away from the nest. Anyway, when I came back later the bird was in the nest trying to feed the young.IMG_2154Another robin was sitting on the neighbor’s fence with stuff in its mouth, but it flew away when it saw the humans. The first robin stayed put in the nest looking at me. It was not about the abandon its young that easily. Another cycle of life begins under the deck.

I have been trying to get some inspiration to write during the past few weeks, but all I see in front of me when I sit down in front of the computer has been a blank page. There are too many cobwebs in the mind, and it is difficult to escape the spider’s clutches. My mind is out of whack. Anyway, I did a run on the C&O Canal towpath from Brunswick to Harpers Ferry this morning in an effort to loosen some of the cobwebs. It was a cool cloudy morning, and it was positively cold on the bridge at Harpers Ferry with the wind blowing between the cliffs.IMG_2160The waters are low on the PotomacIMG_2161and there were a few intrepid folks who were making their way towards the middle of the river by trying to climb over the exposed rocks.

Much of the murky green water that is a fixture in this section of the canal is gone but not all of it. It is a good breeding ground for skeeters, but none bothered me during this run. (What in tarnation are skeeters, you ask? You will have to find out yourself.) I had company from the freight trains on the other side of the canal, including a monster train led by 5 or 6 diesel locomotives pulling more than 130 cars (yes, I stood there and tried to count them all!). I still feel a rush when one of these trains roars by blowing its horn, shaking the ground, and causing dry branches and other things to drop out of the trees. This is what you call POWER, baby! I managed to even get myself in position to take a picture of a locomotive rushing out of the tunnel at Harpers Ferry.IMG_2168OK, so I get my kicks out of some very simple and perhaps silly things! What is the harm? I need to get my laughs before the spider gets back….

The Morning Silence

The silence of the morning sneaks in through the windows of our home, temporary though it may be, in the woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt accompanies us during our morning walk through the estate.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe only sounds are those of the awakening birds.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe silence of the morning greets the awakening village.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt lights up the fields.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe silence of the morning is my company as I walk through the misty woods,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand as my four-footed companion happily keeps me company on the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe silence of the morning is a balm that soothes the soul.