Thursday, September 6, 2018

I want to be like Georgia O'Keeffe

I want to live alone in the desert
I want to be like Georgia O'Keefe
I want to live on the Upper East Side
And never go down in the street

Splendid Isolation
I don't need no one
Splendid Isolation


These are lyrics from the song Splendid Isolation by Warren Zevon.

There's something about this picture that I took yesterday that reminds me a bit of Georgia O'Keeffe's art:


It's part of the "Mocha Moon" Hibiscus, a very large and stunningly beautiful flower.  I've been driving by this medium-sized shrub every day for the past month or two, and yesterday I finally stopped to take a picture of it.

I rotated the image a bit to angle the pistil in the right direction, and I used the "golden spiral" as my cropping template.

Return of the King

For several decades, the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) has been steadily declining in number to the point where it was flirting with endangered status.

This year, for the first time in many years, I have been able to catch the monarch in its various guises.  Close to where I work near the riverfront, there was a stand of milkweed growing in front of the Table 9 restaurant.  Until recently, at least, whoever tended the flowers planted there had ignored the patch of milkweeds growing among the planted flowers.

From an ecological standpoint, its amazing what is drawn to the milkweed.  Below, you can see the business end of the caterpillar munching down among what look to be aphids. 


This shot is actually upside-down from the actual orientation.  It just looked too odd when looking at it that way.

In recent weeks, a new generation of monarch eggs had hatched, and I could see about a dozen or so caterpillars munching away.  Suddenly, however, it looked as if someone might have sprayed herbicide on the milkweed plants, because they all withered almost over night.   I feared for the caterpillars.

Fortunately, it looks like the majority have survived.  Most of the chrysalises that I saw were hanging from the concrete window sill in front of Table 9.  Nice, but not a pretty picture.  One caterpillar, however, ventured up into a stand of Chinese silver grass.


I'd actually shot this chrysalis over several days, experimenting with exposures.  The shot above, while looking like a nighttime picture, was taken in morning light.  I used a ring flash and stopped the aperture way down to get this shot.  Unlike the other shots in natural light, this one succeeded admirably in reproducing the stunning golden beads that form a crescent near the top.

I hope I'll be able to catch these pupae as they are close to hatching.   But for now I'll take you back in time to show you the "mother."  I caught this one on the exact same plant that the caterpillar was on in the first picture.  Although I couldn't see the egg, it looks like she's depositing one on the underside of the leaf.


Here's one back from July 31st, sucking on a milkweed flower:


Cheap thrills for nerd boy.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Long Ago and Far Away

Back in the late 60s, my photography was limited to a cheap Polaroid Model 20 "Swinger."   Its $19.95 price tag in the 60s is equivalent to $155 in 2017.  This was the first Polaroid "roll film" to develop outside the camera.  I remember having to use a smelly little fixer wand to smear some sort of preservative across the black & white shots.  Now, in 2018, I'm finding a lot of nasty little sepia streaks on the snapshots where I missed applying the fixer.

Since there was no date on the film, I can only guess at the year that this shot was taken.  My guess is that it's from 1969, when I was still living downtown in the village of Bath, NY.  A year or two later, my family moved up to the top of Mossy Bank, where we had built a ranch-style house on land originally belonging to my grandfather, John (Ivan) Rusak.


You can see my nerdy self, holding a rock hammer.  The hammer is a hint that I was a high school freshman at the time, because that's the year that I took earth science.  There are a couple of other Polaroid shots waiting to dry below my butt.

I'm on the cliff face below the overlook at Mossy Bank park, sitting in front of a small cave that used to be visible from the village below.  I'm not sure if that little cave is still there any more.

The band of softer rock behind me was a bed of fossil calamite casts, which have a vertical ribbing and a bamboo-like appearance.  As fossils go, these were pretty boring, but if you wanted to find any, this was the place to look.

By the way, the man-size granite boulder on the Mossy Bank Park web page...
used to be at the pond across the road from my house.  It looks like they've engraved it and moved it up to the park, itself.  It's a glacial erratic, rolled and rounded by a continental glacier that swept over the area, probably during the last ice age.  That cliff where I sat for the picture was also created when a glacier plowed up against it.

I'm still an earth science nerd.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Good Angels/Bad Angels

I was a "volunteer" for Team Connect, which helps incoming students get connected to basic IT services on moving-in day last Saturday.

I surreptitiously snapped this picture of my co-worker, Andrew Ballard, from my iPad.  I liked the positioning of the background people behind his shoulders.  They look like they're whispering in his ears.


Variation on a theme:


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What is in a name?

My lunchtime activity consisted of a quick walk down part of the rail trail near my workplace.  I wanted to try out the photostacking portion of my digital camera's Magic Lantern software.
I was using a monopod, but there was no breeze today, so I got a nice sequence of eight shots of a Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris).


The focus stacking worked out pretty well, as you can see in the above composite shot.

This pretty little relative of the snapdragon is an invasive species in North America.  It's quite successful around here, because it thrives in disturbed land.  And West Virginia is a pretty disturbed land.

The flowers are largely closed off by the underlip of the plant, so it takes a strong insect like a determined bee or a bumblebee to pry its way into it.

Because of its widespread range and its long history as an herbal, the Linaria vulgaris has a long list of aliases:

  • brideweed
  • bridewort
  • butter and eggs
  • butter haycocks
  • bread and butter 
  • bunny haycocks (ok, what are haycocks?)
  • bunny mouths 
  • calf's snout 
  • Continental weed
  • dead men's bones 
  • devil's flax 
  • devil's flower 
  • doggies 
  • dragon bushes 
  • eggs and bacon  
  • eggs and butter 
  • false flax 
  • flaxweed 
  • fluellen 
  • gallweed 
  • gallwort
  • impudent lawyer (is that a great name, or what?)
  • Jacob's ladder
  • lion's mouth 
  • monkey flower  
  • North American ramsted
  • rabbit flower 
  • rancid 
  • ransted 
  • snapdragon 
  • wild flax 
  • wild snapdragon 
  • wild tobacco
  • yellow rod
  • yellow toadflax
Haycock, I just learned, is the name of a small conical haystack, usually only three or four feet in diameter and six or so feet high.
Now, don't tell me that you didn't learn something today.

If you want to surf the web some more, by all means check out Haycocks No.09.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Back in Black (and White & Yellow)

It has been years since I've seen a Monarch Butterfly up close.  This long dry spell was broken a couple of days ago, when I snapped this shot in front of Table 9, which is adjacent to the Rail Trail.


Although slightly out-of-focus, this is an interesting shot with a little photobomber bee coming in from the left, and a red milkweed beetle hiding among the flowers on the right.

By some estimates, the population of these butterflies has decreased by 90% in the past couple of decades.  These once-common butterflies became victims to their unusual lifestyle, which involves a yearly migration to overwinter in Florida and Mexico.  Theories for their swift decline include habitat loss due to herbicide use, loss during migration, predators, and parasites.  Maybe it was a perfect storm including all of the above.

This morning, while waiting for my bagel and coffee order at the River Birch Cafe, I stepped outside to revisit the same patch of milkweeds where I had seen the butterfly.   I didn't see any signs of my friend, but I found something just as good:  a sign that the circle of life was still turning.


This is literally the first Monarch Butterfly caterpillar that I've seen in more than a decade!  From the looks of the size of this munchkin, it won't be long before it's ready to metamorphose.

Here's to hoping that they manage to survive the sixth great extinction!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Life on Clay Street

This poor building.   In recent years, it's housed a Tex-Mex restaurant, an American-style chop house, a Lebanese bistro, and god knows what else.   Today, it's a pricey place called Morgantown Flour and Feed (lets see how long this link lasts).


The notable thing about this is the signage, which pays homage to the utilitarian past of this building.
The original Morgantown Flour & Feed Co. sign above the second floor has gotten a fresh coat of paint.  I can make out only the major part of the remainder, which reads "Gold Medal Flour."

Built between 1904 and 1906, it was originally the Kincaid and Arnett Feed and Flour Building.   If you really want to delve into the early details of this building, you should check out the National Register of Historic Places form (PDF). 

The warehouse and wholesale business area was once known as Durbannah, named for F.M. Durbin, who first developed this area in the 1840s.