Friday, July 13, 2007

Western Salsify

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It looks a bit like a gigantic dandelion, with the "poofball" as my kids called it up to three inches across. Also called Western Goat's Beard, Wild Oysterplant, Yellow Salsify, Yellow Goat's Beard, Meadow Goat's Beard, Goat's Beard, Goatsbeard, Common Salsify, or Salsify, its European kin, Tragopogon porrifolius, makes an edible root eaten for its mild oyster-like taste.

This plant was new to me in the late 70s, an invasive from Europe, first spreading in the western states, and this past weekend, found everywhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

My kids loved this plant--one we really had to look for back then. If you take a single "parachute" from the head and remove the long stalk and seed at the bottom of it, the top pappus bristle "sail" is so buoyant it will hang in the air like a strange sea creature suspended in a clear ocean, even on a windless afternoon. They would chase it across the pasture until it vanished into the inverted depths of the ocean of mountain air.

Larger image of Tragopogon dubius is here.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Black Velvet Or Backlight

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This tall wraithe of a forest wildflower is Black Cohosh. Like so many other wildflowers that are many times taller than wide, it's a hard one to show off in the best light. Unless, of course, you seek and find the best light.

And that is not all that hard to do along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the morning hours before 10 or afternoon after 3 in the summertime. Shafts of light slanting through the forest selectively illuminate your subject against the black velvet backdrop of unlit shadow, eliminating the busy, distracting blobs of shape and color that leave the eye searching for the picture.

You may have heard of Black Cohosh, if not as a wildflower, as a medication recently in use to treat menopausal symptoms. See this Mayo Clinic report on Black Cohosh. I suppose the drug companies accept wild-collected stock, but haven't heard of people collecting it for cash like they do Galax, Running Cedar, Ginseng and such. I'll have to explore that issue. There's sure plenty of it in the rich woods along the ridges here'bouts.

The larger image does a better job of showing this plant off at its best.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Light and Air

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Rude awakening. I sat down at the computer at the usual 4:00 ready to blog my little heart out--so much to show and tell, and just as I was stretching my fingers like a concert pianist before a big recital, an alarm popped up reminding me I have an 8:00 meeting in Floyd this morning. And another, that I have three uncompleted patient evaluations from work to complete before I leave for my meeting. I shoulda stood in bed.

I'd like to ramble in my usual effusive way about this shot taken yesterday within easy ear shot of the Wine Down The Music Trail event just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. But I don't have the luxury of that much time.

Suffice it to say, I risked poison ivy and had the parkway ranger stop and investigate the strange man hunkered down at the edge of the woods, just where the afternoon sunlight gave way to the afternoon shadow.

Take a look at the larger image (different specimen/composition) hand-held (Nikon D200 with 18-200 VR lens) with the wind blowing. It's a wonder you can see any detail at all.

The plant: perhaps more about that tomorrow.

NOTE: Unplanted Gardens Gallery is up, but rather empty. Anyone?

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Bloomery Part TWO

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Well I can't complain about not getting the word out. Thanks again to Glenn for the Insta-lanche of more than 2500 visits yesterday in response to his post about the Unplanted Gardens idea. From those visitors, not so many pix, and maybe that's a good thing.

Were there dozens, I'd be up to my elbows in alligators keeping track of who sent what where and from where. Per somebody's suggestion, it would be better to have an external site to which folks could upload and provide their own links, comments, and locality data. Don't know exactly where that would be that would allow some moderation of images, as inappropriate stuff (nice pix, just not on target) would be sure to crop up. Ideas?

The tiny gallery to date is here.

Thanks to Sissy Willis for her initial suggestions for getting the word out. She links a blog post to her Unplanted Garden image.

Paul Morris sent a gallery-full, and I chose just one, location unknown but very nice.

Good to meet photographer Don Giannatti, who posted the bloomery link on his blog and also steered me (and all us photogs) to his Lighting Essentials--looks like a great site for photographers who want to "learn how to light like a pro."

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Friday, July 06, 2007

America's Roadside Bloomery

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I had a thought after I posted this image of Black Eyed Susans (and other flowers) taken yesterday on a Floyd County roadside. Here it is:

It would be neat for contributors from all over the country to offer their images to an aggregate gallery called Unplanted Gardens: America's Roadside Bloomery.

All images would include in their composition a road of some kind, just to place it, and then the wildflowers that grow there unplanted. Hiway department wildflower beds don't count.

Each image should be 72 dpi, max size of 800 pixels on the largest side. Information should minimally include the location, if possible some ID on the flowers, and any other pertinent or interesting information.

If you would like to accept this assignment, send them to me at -- fred1st over at gmail -- with Unplanted Garden in the subject line. I will upload them to a public gallery on Smugmug. I'll collect these through October (there are lots of fall asters, Joe Pye Weed, Iron Weed, etc.) If at least thirty are received, we'll go farther.

We'll vote and there will be a first, second and third prize--some combination of the book (Slow Road Home), the two sets of photo note cards, and screen saver images for your computer.

Please forward this pleasant "assignment" to your photog friends. The more, the better. I will set up the gallery with this image soon, and it will be ready for your submission.

Here's the 800 pixel version of the image above.

Now. Get out there while the flowers bloom. And stay out of traffic!

UPDATE: And speaking of traffice. "AMERICA'S ROADSIDE BLOOMERY, a call to action for photographers. Cool" -- kindly posted by Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit Saturday morning. Now you peepers send in those pix! Deadline: 15th of October for submitting, voting completed October 31 and prizes awarded.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

June Moon

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It was all the more impressive because we had not expected it, and saw it all at once just as it was half-way up over the horizon. As you've heard me say, a far horizon is not one of our ameneties tucked down in the valley as we are.

We had been out for a rare night on the town and dropped by to visits friends for coffee. And from their place perched wonderfully on a hill with a commanding view during the day came their equally awesome night view.

I pulled out the camera. There was no time for the tripod. Have you ever watched the moon relative to the horizon or trees or buildings and seen how FAST it moves under magnification! So while this is the absolute best shot in the world, it serves as reminder of the moment, and I don't think it's terribly bad for a handheld shot (at 200mm with the repaired lens!)

But why did it seem so huge (not to mention ORANGE)? We're not sure. But NASA has some ideas. This info might come in handy when your children put you on the spot to explain why the moon is swollen.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Morning Meadow

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She scolds me when I don't stay in lock step on our ramble around the walking loop. But how could I leave such glorious light to bloom unseen? I had to stay behind. This was one of those times when light makes the image, the image in a sense is of the light and certain objects--a half dozen Black-eyed Susans that didn't fall in the pasture mowing--just happen to fall in those misty shafts. Larger image here.

I'll have more images from this same morning of light. But before I forget...

This weekend: busy busy busy! July 7 and 8, Saturday and Sunday, marks two nearby events. The first, the Wine Down the Music Trail festival at the Floyd Fest grounds. We're going on Saturday afternoon.

And nearby, just off the Parkway beyond Mabry Mill is the Crafts in the Meadow Festival at Mountain Meadow Farm and Craft Market, where the motto is "Uniting Southwestern Virginia's Artisans and Craftsmen With Local Heritage Farmers to Preserve the Traditions of Days Gone By."

And on Sunday, along with a half-dozen other authors, I'll be sitting in a lawn chair behind a stack of signed books, fanning myself under the book tent in the heat of the day--there to serve the literature-hungry throngs clamboring for something to read. They'll especially be looking for locally-written slice-of-life memoirish works from Floyd County. Right?

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Evolving

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I have never been able to figure out this chicken-and-egg relationship between an insect with mouthparts, behaviors and life cycles that are exquisitely adapted to a specific plant species and the plant's perfect accommodation to and absolute dependence on those same insect adaptations for its survival. This relationship is often given as the textbook example of co-evolution.

The insect: the Yucca Moth. The plant, what we call Spanish Bayonet, Yucca filamentosa. You can read more about the biology of this relationship here (note the my Natural History page!). The plant from which this photo was taken is just beyond our front porch. We think the species name is based on the word YUK because they are taking over a half acre of pasture down where Goose and Nameless Creeks meet.

And more evolution: I think I have come upon the narrative thread, purpose and theme of a future book that will be a full color nature-related work. I can't tell you too much about it just yet (for both reasons of it's present state of immaturity and because I need a certain degree of nondisclosure to protect the concept). But it seems like one of those AHA! coming-together moments. It will likely take two years to carry to print. But at least I have the sense just now that even though there is not much forward motion in this long journey, the destination is known.

And if this project reaches the conclusion I hope, it will represent the co-evolutionary end point that brings together my long-standing love of light seen through the lens of a camera, my equally enduring compulsion to connect the sense and senses of field-trippers in nature, and my relatively new passion for writing about the images from such personal field trips just out our door.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Orange on Orange

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Well, the day lilies are in full and glorious bloom, so that means that the road crews will be along with their mowers to cut them down at their peak of blossom as usual. Maybe this year they'll take my suggestion and put this road on their list for a couple of weeks later in July so the lilies could know their glory days and not be brought low while in their prime.

But honestly, our 4 mile gravel road, like others in the county, show signs of budget cuts for roadway maintenance. Branches hang so low over our road that when they're wet, they drag along the top of the car when we pass by. The place is kinda looking neglected.

There's one spot on the high side where a tree fell across the road a month ago. Somebody cut just enough of the branches out of the top so folks can get past, but just barely. In times past, VDOT would have been on that in a day or so. We haven't seen them out this way in the month since the tree fell.

So. Today the orange day lilies that have escaped from cultivation from the more numerous homesteads that once inhabited this valley add color to every blind curve and hillside along Goose Creek. Occasionally, they come adorned with color-coordinated accessories like this Fritillary.

Click here for larger image.

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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Morning Walk | Venus Looking Glass?

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I think I'm in the right genus, but haven't keyed it to species yet. Those curved anthers should make it relatively easy to distinguish from its kin. UPDATE: Thanks to Rurality for the dope slap and correct ID: American Bellflower.

I had to shoot with the lens at 200mm because these were blooming up a steep shale bank at the end of the valley. The dynamic range from lightest to darkest was too great for the medium to capture so the highlights are blown; would have been a good time to take RAW and use Photomatix to balance light against shadow. But I was too lazy to think through this.

I love bringing images back and posting them while they are still "warm" from the field, though it's not quite as much fun having to upload blog-size and enlarged versions to Photobucket as it would be if I had a permanent place for them. Maybe this will happen soon. Sigh.

Larger images is here.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Shorts: Almost July

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You can see a larger image different view of this shot of a busy barn swallow bringing food to at least two hungry mouths I could see inside. She returned about once a minute with her catch (that sometimes got away before the gaping mouths could take it) so I had several opportunities to catch her on the wing.

* That's My Name Too (three! four!) There is a Goose Creek in South Carolina, and they have a press--which is how it happened to come up in a Google search for the name of my little business, Goose Creek Press. Apparently, more goes on there than in our rural backwater. I give you exhibit A. It involved Rev. Jesse Jackson, who apparently stopped by for a photo-op.

* I'm tinkering with some new sites for the book. If you enter slowroadhome.com or goosecreekpress.com in your web address, you'll go to my newly-redirected site at wetpaint.com. It's very easy to use and change. Stop by, poke around, let me know what you think. I haven't settled yet, and haven't invested anything here but a little time.

* But then yesterday I rediscovered Terapad, where I'd already set up an account back in January and then forgotten about it. It is feature rich, but as far as I can figure out, lacks an easy way to get from the edit page back to the page that's been edited.

* Almost, but not quite. I just couldn't make myself enter the medical quagmire that is health care in America. Yeah, we have insurance. But I will do anything to keep from being jerked around by Southern Health. So I'm looking at something other than straight glucosamine for my crummy wrists and thumbs. Anybody know anything about Osteo-Biflex? It's "special" ingredient is Frankensense. Seems to be something to it as an anti-inflammatory, with a history of use that goes way back.

* Carry me back. The Kingston Trio sings Four Strong Winds. So clean-cut and earnest, the crowd so polite and engaged. Sorry: the good ol' days.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Field Guide to Light

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That title contains some essence of what I'd like any potential photography book to be about. In some cases, the actual subject of a photo would be of most interest. But more often than not, it would be about the magic of a lighting moment--the light itself, the thousand different species of light--that come and go in this single small cleft of landscape and span of sky through four seasons.

This grassy composition lies just beyond the maple tree seen here earlier this week. Both scenes become worthy of the time to capture them photographically because they both benefit from the very same early morning light, shifted so far south along the ridge in the summer months that the sun's rays drop just there, just then.

I could create my own private Stonehengian calendar: a shaft of light at nine o'clock in the morning on the first day of summer will spill through the cleft in the maple trunk and strike the earth exactly here, the pasture grasses from must that angle. I could place a permanent marker on the spot to honor the light, the day, the year, the lifetime it marks.

And so it is for all the light that comes to Goose Creek. It is predictable, and it is so very transient and unique to each given moment and place in time.

To be honest, this shot of the grasses came from this day last June. This year, in the very same spot, the pasture has been cut and is only a foot tall now. But I know what I would have seen on this date in that exact place at 9 am when the sun came over the ridge so predictably. Except this June 28 is cloudy; the sky is flat-gray and somber with a thin fog lying over the stubble of pasture grass--its own kind of special light.

Click for a larger image.

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Beauty Upon Beauty: Not

Black Vulture Glamour Shot spotted on the same country road from whence the chickory flower pictures came earlier in the week.

I rounded a bend, and greeting me were three black vultures on three consecutive fence posts. Only one remained by the time I stopped the car in the middle of the untraveled gravel road, pulled the camera from the car seat to my eye, and pressed the shutter.

This one is nicely vignetted by a luxurious growth--of poison ivy.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

AC: Made in the Shade

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This is the time of year that even in the mountains, the heat enters into the conversation along with the details of the last thunderstorm that hit one neighborhood but didn't shed a drop on the next.

Folks sometimes want to know if we have air conditioning here in the old house.

Heck no. We heat with wood. We cool with it, too.

Five large maples constitute our summer cooling. The largest is the one in the front yard off the porch; it still has the remains of two-by-four steps that once gave somebody's children access to the thick fork of branches that shelter the road.

Two maples are above Goose Creek along the road, blocking our southern windows both from the hottest part of the day and from a full view of the pasture, May til November.

The fourth maple is to our west, between the branch that runs beside the house and the driveway. We'd really suffer the late afternoon sun for a while before it dropped below the high horizon well before the rest of the county experienced the same some hours later.

The fifth maple, to the northwest beside the shed, is the only one we could lose and not be hotter for it.

This picture (larger image) of a single shaft of light, a tiny packet of solor photons, makes me appreciate how many more of these light-to-heat rays don't reach the house in the summer months, thanks to our solar-powered organic air-conditioning system of maple trees.

They'll have their work cut out for them today. And the floor fans and ceiling fans may see their first action before dark.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Insert Image Here

Barn on Daniels Run -- a Foggy Day in June

I am a man without a country--well, a man without an ftp folder for his photos, anyway. That's just about as sad. But Ellis Island is appearing over the horizon. I'll have my new citizenship papers soon, and you'll see the snapshots. Again.

For now, I'll just send you from this colorless, imageless post to SmugMug for your Blue Ridge view for Tuesday.

As it turns out, I did have my camera in the car with me that day, even though I'd only been going to town for a morning meeting on a drizzly-foggy summer day. Fat chance I'd actually take any pictures, I thought, but it's a cinch I wouldn't come home with any if I left the camera bag at home.

Just as I was ready to take the last turn towards the house, I noticed the fog rising fast over the crest of the hill and headed our way. If I went another couple hundred yards farther up Daniels Run, I might be able to stop and look back and catch just enough fog for a photographic backdrop before it obscured any potential subject I might find.

I ended up with several nice perspectives of this old barn before the fog engulfed it, and was glad I'd given my camera a ride to town and back.

Moral: it's better to pack it and not need it than to need it and not have it. That applies to umbrellas, extra cash--and cameras.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Slow Roads Are Hard to Find

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It's surprising, even with the miles of back roads and gravel roads and side roads in Floyd County how hard it is to pull over when you spot a photo-worthy composition. There's somebody behind you; it's a quarter mile to a place to pull off, and that is across from somebody's house, but far enough away. But their dogs spot you and set up a fuss. And you move on.

I'm hoping to do a better job this year of documenting the passage of time measured in roadside wildflowers (and the insects that visit them) so finding those marginal places for this purpose is high on my list.

And I did find such a place, not very far from home--a mile or more of gravel road that winds down past a sheltered farm surrounded by rising, rounded pastures. A small sign near the road give the name of the owner and his wife. There's nobody there. Seeing the name, I remembered: I visited this elderly farmer at the suggestion of a local minister. He has stories to tell, the minister told me. He's quite ill, staying at his sons, and would love to talk--especially since his wife died a few months back. I recorded about 15 minutes of our conversation from his bedside, and never did anything more with it. Now I've been reminded, I just might.

This very common roadside "weed" pictured here is chickory, Chichorium intybus. It's a pretty little thing, but not easy to photograph to show it off at its best. Chichory is a relative of endive and radicchio, and I'm surprised I never experimented with its edible parts--with the exception of imbibing it this very moment as an adulterant of the Luisianne coffee in my cup.

Note: this image hosted at Photobucket, as my server priviledges are in limbo as I make the switch soon to Wordpress and a new stall for this pony.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Forficula auricularia

Nature landscape photography digital virginia blue ridge Fred First Floyd Parkway
Ah, what's in a name? In this case, more beauty to the ear perhaps than the named is to the eye.

But contrary to a long history of misinformation, the earwig does NOT burrow into the ear of someone asleep and burrow into their brain. Hardly ever. Though I met someone in town yesterday who might have been a victim.

I tend to think of these creatures as "coffeewigs" because that's often where I see them--around the sink, often under the coffee pot on first lifting it for the emergency cup of morning alertness.

Pictured here on the buds of some nearby milkweed, they do no harm. Their "pinchers" or cerci are rather puny, and though theoretically they can defend themselves with them, they aren't much defense against a broom and a dustpan. (They do, however, emit a strong iodine odor if picked up and lifted to the nose.

What! You haven't snorted an earwig? Well you certainly have lived a sheltered life!

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Local Color

Floyd Country Store Friday Night Jamoboree, Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
First, before I forget, there might be just the exactly right person for this responsibility out there in the blogging readership (or among Google vagabonds who vastly outnumber regulars these days):

There is a need for a volunteer to staff the desk at the Rocky Knob visitors center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Man, what a great, COOL, and beautiful place to spend one's days, chatting with the wide variety of folks who pass along the nation's longest state park.

Find out more about it here.

Hmmm. I must have had a second point in mind. Wonder what it was? Let's see.

I never mentioned that this past Sunday, we visited Haven's Chapel Methodist Church, right up at the intersection of Goose Creek and Daniel's Run. We didn't have time to get to our regular Presby church over in Blacksburg and back before the John McCutcheon Concert in Roanoke later that afernoon. (And seems I never blogged that either! Man, am I slipping!) Haven's Chapel reminded us powerfully of Berea Christian Church, whose cemetery our property on Greasy Creek in Wythe County bordered. On Sunday, we met quite a few of our neighbors and learned some local history of the houses and families along our road.

And thirdly...well, I'm sure something in the realm of "local color" will come along to fill this in. I'm stopping by the Farm Store (never posted any pix from there yet) and to town for some computer geekiness and lunch. So, third time's charm. More, later.

Image, a local Floyd County resident presides from upstairs (over what used to be Momma Lazardo's) as the new facade of the Country Store is completed, and ready for the official grand (re)opening on Saturday! (You may have seen this particular two-dimensional resident propped on stage at the "old" country store.)

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Uptown, Downtown

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
If you're headed to Floyd this weekend, be prepared to not be the only one.

This may well be the buzziest couple of days all summer long--or at least the first of what promises to be a lot of summer days when cars pile up behind the one traffic light in town.

Ann's scooping ice cream from two til five for the Partnership for Floyd, so I know I'll be wandering around with my camera slung across my neck. Looks like fun.

If you're wondering what's coming up in the weeks ahead in Floyd County and the Greater Floyd area, there's good news: Check out this CALENDAR OF EVENTS which I will certainly put in my sidebar, once the new WordPress blog is ready to go. But here's what appears on the near horizon.



22 Special Grand Re-Opening Weekend of Concerts
The newly renovated Floyd Country Store will celebrate with a spectacular Friday Night Jamboree with Special Guests Olen Gardner & Friends at 6:30 p.m., Wayne Henderson and Friends at 7:30 p.m. and The Looping Brothers at 8 p.m. It's a night not to miss! The Floyd Country Store is just south of the stoplight on State Road 8 near the crossroads with Route 221.
For more information: www.floydcountrystore.com or

23 Ice Cream Social
Citizens of Floyd are invited to a free Ice Cream Social to Discuss Developments in Downtown Floyd. From 2:00-5:00 PM at the Sun Music Hall Floyd's Town Manager and members of the Partnership for Floyd will be available with information about Community Development seeking input from our Floyd County residents. See our web site for more details http://partnershipforfloyd.blogspot.com/

23 Saturday Night Re-Opening Concert at the Floyd Country Store
The newly renovated Floyd Country Store will celebrate with a Grand Re-Opening Concert featuring Jimmy Costa, Tina Liza Jones and Rounder Recording Artists, King Wilkie. 7:30 p.m. The Floyd Country Store is just south of the stoplight on State Road 8 near the crossroads with Route 221.
For more information: www.floydcountrystore.com or Learn more about the performers at www.dipconcerts.com.

23 A Play Called "Cotton Patch"
The Greatest Story ever Retold is a musical of the Gospel of Matthew and is set in contemporary Georgia. The music and lyrics are the final works of Harry Chapin and the storyline is based on the book by Tom Key and Russ Treyz. Sponsored by Friends of the Oak Grove Pavilion. 7:30 p.m. Rain or shine. Admission is free but a freewill donation is encouraged at intermission. More than $40,000 has been raised for local charities over the years. Oak Grove Pavilion is a gorgeous, covered pavilion in back of Zion Lutheran Church at 635 Needmore Lane NE, Floyd.
For more information: www.floydlutherans.org

This picture of Mac and Jenny Traynham came from Saturday's Oak Grove Pavilion event.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Persistance

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
From the pasture, looking back across the ribbon of creek below the road to the house, is an odd monument: steps to nowhere.

Unless I tell it, stories will be made up centuries hence as to what the original purpose of those steps was, way back in those primative times at the turn of the last millenium. The house will be gone; the concrete steps tipping into Goose Creek will persist, though they too will ultimately vanish, grit and grain at a time, eroding their way as all things finally do, to the ocean sediments. Ashes to ashes, concrete to dust.

It's not that much of a tale really, but it is true, a solid fact, so better than the lore that might grow to say that this aggregate of rock and concrete washed downstream in a flood, or perhaps there was a great explosion that hurled the steps from higher up the bank from that flat place where it looks as if there might have, at one time, have been a house. In fact, that seems certain. Someone with a metal detector many, many years ago found an embossed metal placard on that knoll that clearly stated "Here's Home".

Well, there was a time it was not our home. Yet. We had begun to make it so, but eight years ago today, in June of 1999, the work had only just begun. One of the first things that needed doing was to remove the broken-down front porch that was not the original. It had been rather poorly constructed since the house was built, and it covered the entire southern face of the house. The approach to the old porch was this solid mass of concrete, four steps fixed in a form. My suspicion is that this was a federal assistance work, since we had similar replacement steps installed at the first house we owned, and whatever federal agency held part of the mortgage wanted to update their investments with such things as PERMANENT entry steps.

But they had to go. So before I left for work, I was talking with the backhoe boys about what was to be done with the mass of artificial stone. They had brought a jackhammer for the purpose and planned to break up the chunk of rock, and would need to put the rubble somewhere.

"Might go down along the creek below that maple where the stream is cutting into the bank. I want to protect that tree; it's part of our air-conditioning" I told them.

When I returned home that afternoon, I was mortified to find that they had been able to get the whole lump into the bucket of the backhoe, and yup, they put it right where I wanted those busted-up chunks of rock to go. And there they sit to this day.

However, Goose Creek pulls away the ground from under the old steps as the level of the stream bed falls. At first, in their new place overlooking the creek, the surface of the steps was horizontal. I used to sit on them in the shade of the maple and watch the minnows play in the creek below. Now, they're pitched steeply toward the water, gravity being a patient force, pulling every mass inexorably toward the center of the earth.

One day, maybe in our lifetimes, after a summer hurricane, the whole five ton lump of rock will tumble upside-down into the creek. The smart thing then would be to have the same guys come with the same jack hammer and bust up the intact mass and push the pieces back into the creek bank. But you know, I'd almost be tempted to leave the thing intact. Think of the creative stories it would inspire!

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Dark Beauty

wildflower mullein chrysanthemum nature photography landscapes virginia
Out the kitchen window one dark, drizzly and overcast day, the hillside behind the house was glowing with white against the dark forest. I went out between showers to explore, finding this odd natural composition that juxtaposed light and color against the dark, soft leaves of a mullein plant gone by.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Valley View

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
There's a mall in Roanoke by that name: Valley View. And sure enough, you can turn 'round in the parking lot and in every direction find higher ground, the irregular ridges that rim the Roanoke Valley. Though it has grown busy and cluttered with "development", the Roanoke Valley still seems a sheltering kind of place whose ring of mountains connects even the shopper or traveler with the landscape.

A flatter cityscape would remain more generic, less placed, devoid of the personality and landmarks that let a Roanoker orient by the distinctive skyline: Tinker mountain to the north, Poor Mountain west, the ridges the Parkway follows south, and Catawba Mountain north. It is a valley large enough to feel both spacious and sheltering.

I forget sometimes, almost eight years now living down along Goose Creek, how much I enjoy the expanse of sky, of cloudscapes, of distant vistas enjoyed from places higher and more open than the confines of our narrow cleft of valley. I would have wanted to see more of this thunderhead that boiled over Franklin County yesterday afternoon.

From our deck of the cabin on Walnut Knob where we lived before we moved to this spot in '99, we would have had the wide-screen OmniMax view, 180 degrees of piedmont from box seats a thousand feet above the plain, and a sky full of roiling wet-pink cumulus, performing for free.

But we have to take the peeks at that larger world from the oval of clearing above our pasture. And most times, it is quite enough.

Click the image above for more details of the clouds.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Wake-up Call

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If Thoreau is right, then Ann and I sorta slept through yesterday. We both almost missed our anniversary. Again.

She called at noon yesterday, 37 years later, having just remembered why June 11 should mean something to us. She said she'd bring pizza (when was the last time we had pizza since the kids left home?) and I should put the bottle of champagne somebody left here two or three New Year's Eves ago in the fridge.

Home from work, she lofted the flat pizza box high overhead as she walked up the gravel drive with the dog dancing circles around her on his hind legs.

We put two slices each in a tupperware container, grabbed two glasses (made by Colleen's son, our favorites) and the chilled bottle of bubbly and walked down the "New Road" to the two white-webbed chairs you saw from a winter picture during an ice storm. They've been waiting for us.

We pulled the chairs into the clearing. We watched the sun go down, listened to the night noises, shook our heads how long, how very long it's been. And started number 38.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind

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It was exactly the kind of morning I dread: no traction, no resolution in sight, damned if I do or if I don't. The issue, to upgrade my internet security / antivirus software (PC-Cillin 2007) before the deadline a week off--to suffer the ills I know, or change to something else entirely. The pros just about exactly equaled the cons, and I could not for the life of me decide.

But in the end, given the bad consumer reviews of my current program, I decided for a change despite the negatives--like the fact that I have to buy separate licenses for laptop and desktop. But wait: there's a competitive upgrade, $25 off. All I do is send in my original install disk of PC-Cillin 2005. Hmmm. Now where have I seen that lately?

But it wasn't in any of the obvious places, and yet I had a clear image of it in my mind. Where the heck could I put my hands on it, now that I had committed to Kaspersky Internet Security 6?

Aha! I remembered: it's tied out on the garden fence, one of a dozen sparkling, twirling CDs blowing in the morning breeze, software defense turned gardening offense.

I think they'll take it for the rebate, even though it has a little hole drilled in it for the fishing line. Ya think?

Image: Sensitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis, so named for its susceptibility to the first frost of fall, and somewhat unusual in that its pinnae are lobed lightly but not dissected like the more lacy ferns. I think the term is "once-pinnately divided".fff

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

DiMorphism

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
Alternate title: Fly United

Notice how very different these lovely paramours are as they face to opposite poles in this most intimate of moments.

He, the smaller, has much the bigger eyes proprotionally. His visual world through green eyes, then, is likely far different from hers through blue. Things invisible to her he sees with greatest clarity--a matter of survival, or aesthetics perhaps.

She had sent me off on an urgent errand: retrieve the dog who was running off down the road. I shrugged on my boots in grumbling obedience, and tromped down the front steps, leash in hand.

But wait! Check out these ziggy flies! I called back, running inside for my camera.

He's running down the road, you idiot!

Yeah, but look carefully how different these beauties are. It's called dimorphism, I explained to her. She harrumphed in disgust.

I rest my case.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Everything is Coming Up Roses. Mostly.

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Yes, I'm aware these are not roses, from another plant family entirely--the Asteraceae, in fact--and our pasture and forest margins are full of them. These white Chrysanthemums are mostly concealed in dense buds yet, but any day now, they will burst out like floral popcorn, white dotting the swaying grasses.

What a bucolic and romantic backdrop. You can almost see two figures, a man and woman, young, in fin-de-siecle dress, bounding in slow motion towards each other through the field of daisies. And at last they meet in the middle, and I wake up, and its just two pre-elderly types in rubber boots wearily walking the dog after a day of work.

They're not roses, but my blogging life has taken a turn for the better--with my decision to not dig the blogger hole any deeper; and with the kind collaboration of my present friend and server host and my future (and also past) friend and server host. I'm a fortunate man to be in such good hands.

They cannot, however, push me up the Wordpress learning curve. I'll have to do that on my own over the next couple of months. So, once the move is made (in the next week or so) there will still be occasional (or frequent) rearrangements, outages and the like. But that's okay. I'm hoping this reorganization will correct some of the weird things that have prevented FFF from being accessible, findable, visible, and rss readable for far too long.

So any WordPressorians out there willing to lend a hand, I'll be calling on you!

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Quiet Places of the Heart

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Dew beads up on Solomon's Seal leaves along Nameless Creek, May 2007

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Beauty, Truth. Truth, Beauty | Part Three

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Closer. Closer. Closest.

Parts one, two and three bring us to the truth, you might say, of this vagabond beauty, wild Forget-Me-Not discovered along Nameless Creek this week.

And I will confess, until now I had missed the lesson, knowing only this plant family, with its uncoiling blossoms, pleased me. The AHA! comes from slowing down enough to see the pattern: the grand design in the apparent chaos of rampant growth. This plant displays the Golden Mean, Beauty manifesting Truth.

There is so much to say in this, more than I can find words for before first light on a busy day. But in the end, the lesson from this small flower and a thousand thousand other tiny teachers will be something like this: we need to move from anesthetic knowledge back toward aesthetic wisdom. Truth is more to be found in Beauty than in Efficiency, more needed to save our world than Power or the Knowledge of least things.

Make a point of finding one thing beautiful today.

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty, -- that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." ~ John Keats

"Sweet is the lore which Nature brings; Our meddling intellect misshapes the beauteous forms of things: We murder to dissect." ~ William Wordsworth

"God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please, you can never have both." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Like a Weed: Forget-Me-Not Part Two

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A closer look at our discovery (Part One) reveals the details of this sea of tiny blue flowers, details easily missed from a distance to those too busy for a bugs-eye view. It means getting down on your knees in the wet sand--a small price to pay for such a visual memory.

And among the details of form and color in this closer view of Myosotis scorpiodes is the inflorescence type. A flowering plant's "inflorescence" is the way it holds its flowers on the main and secondary stems. (Great page about flower types is at Wayne's World) This flower (and in fact the flower family to which it belongs) is characterized by this unusual type of flower growth form called a helicoid or scorpoid cyme. (More about that tomorrow in Part Three.) Getting an uncluttered shot to show this took some doing, so I'm especially pleased with this shot.

What I wasn't pleased to learn, however, is that this plant is considered an INVASIVE, primarily of wetlands. As a plant brought here (for aesthetic reasons, most likely) and escaped from cultivation, it spreads readily in places like our sandy creek. Ann spotted it yesterday downstream on her drive to town.

Next Thursday I'll be participating in (and photographing and writing about) a workday on the Blue Ridge Parkway to remove invasives from a parkway wetland area near the VA-NC line. More about that then, of course.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Forget me Not -- Part One

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On a sandy spit of temporary island heaped up in last winter's storms, blooming in profusion between foot-wide rivulets of Nameless Creek, we discovered a sea of pale blue flowers. (You can see a bit of red barn roof in the background.)

While we had never seen this plant before on our place, I recognized it, drawing from some seldom-visited recess of plant-taxonomic memory, as a member of the Borage Family, characterized by just the kind of infloresence--or flower-growth arrangement--as we saw here in miniature. Lovely, and all the more so for being so unexpected a find on a routine walk: forget-me-not, Mysotis scorpiodes.

But more about this plant tomorrow and Friday.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Riffles

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
Some times, some moments, this place, these times are so beautiful, achingly so, that it doesn't seem real. Often those fleeting instants have to do with flowing water--such a blessing in its music, its purity, the magic of its genesis out of oceans, rains, underground rivers.

When I slow down enough to listen, I hear voices there, laughter mostly, but have not learned the language. Not yet.

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Wild Life Alert

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When we see the dog stand up suddenly from the porch with his eyes focused intently across the pasture, we know it is far more likely we have four-legged than two-legged visitors--usually deer--and at times, he won't even bother to challenge them.

But when we see the dog stand up suddenly and look straight up into the maple tree just beyond the mailbox, our guests are certainly not deer.

While our arboreal drop-ins are most usually squirrels or chipmunks, this time we looked out the window just as Tsuga was about to get a mouthful of raccoon tail.

And here is where our marital dimorphism (a subject for later this week) cut in: she grabbed the rifle, I grabbed the camera.

"It might be rabid!" she warned.

"He seems healthy enough to me" I hollered back, as I chased the uncooperative bandit back and forth from one side of the crotch of the tree to the other. "Hold still and smile" I pleaded.

Finally, he tired of our game, and backed down the tree, down into and along side of Goose Creek, minding his own business, and disappeared.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Seldom Scene

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I have a few *pterible images from that Blue Ridge Parkway meadow full of ferns I discovered a couple of weeks back, and will post one or two of my favorites.

As with wildflowers, the first blooms (as if ferns had them) are most attractive. Ferns, in addition to their lacy leafery, often have this seldom-seen "fertile" stage, as in this Cinnamon Fern, when they are busily producing spores by the millions for dispersal in the wind.

As I'm sure you remember from biology class, those spores, against all odds finding favorable soil, can produce a gametophyte, a little heart-shaped leaf that will produce either an egg, or a flagellated, swimming sperm.

Given the necessary film of water between the two (understand why there are no desert ferns?) the multi-tailed sperm swim to the egg along a chemical gradient (they "smell" the egg, in a sense) and voila! a fertilized egg (the sporophyte phase in this "alternation of generations") begins to elongate into what will become a fern frond--either a "sterile" leaf-only frond, or one these fancy feather-duster-looking arrangments (or some variation on the theme generally not as gawdy as this) that is "fertile" and spore-bearing.

Now. You may expect a pop test on this at our next meeting. Do your homework.

*Pteridology is the study of ferns, so if I'm having a pterible day, it means I'm seeing lots of them!

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Parkway Wildflowers

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I caught a flash of orange-red out of the corner of my eye, off in a morning meadow beside the Blue Ridge Parkway. "California poppy escaped from cultivation" I thought, but pulled off the shoulder anyway, because these small but colorful flowers were nicely backlit against dark morning shadows in stark contrast to the plant's brilliance.

But as I walked closer through the damp grasses and ferns, I could tell this was not poppy, but Indian Paintbrush--an uncommon wildflower in my experience. Here they pose along with Golden Alexander.

The botanically-best thing about the Parkway is that there is almost always a place you can pull over, get out and explore.

And almost anywhere you do that, if you take your time and wander off into the woods, you'll find something of interest.

But remember: the Blue Ridge Parkway, while it is the nation's LONGEST national park, it is in many places only a hundred yards wide, and then, you're on private property. So go with this thought in mind.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Summer Stock. Woodstock. Photo Stock

What do I know about image sales? Not nearly as much as I hope to after a few months growing a portfolio over at Lucky Oliver. What! You never heard of LO?

Swing over and take a look, including a visit to the blog where the "grand scheme" marketing plan unfolds. Or start from the Main Page, the Big Top of this carnival of imagery and community.

I'm pleased that I deal with people--folks like Jill yesterday who repeatedly looked at an image I was trying to submit unsuccessfully and guided me along through a string of immediate email replies until I got it right. I now have my first three images accepted, and hope for a few dozen more over the next few weeks.

The other thing I appreciate at Lucky Oliver is that the story of the image is given considerable emphasis. There's more going on here than a simple repository of pix. It's early yet, but I'm impressed with the feel of the place, and hope you'll help spread the word. Heck, maybe toss your three in the ring and see if you win a Cupie Doll. Step right up! Roll up those shirt sleeves, and test your luck and skills, bucko!

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Ant Ecology | Old Dog, New Tricks

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I love that nature is an inexhaustible source of solace, beauty and education for me--and that it is so easy to approach in our chosen location and style of living here in Floyd County.

And I love the fact that I can still share my discoveries of aesthetic or natural history interest with "field trippers" from around the world who share the journey with me through the weblog.

I'd rather you have been there to see it, but next best thing, I can show and tell.

I remember being told in my Pteridology summer course at Mt. Lake Biological Station (back in the Pleistocene era) that Bracken Fern (pictured here) was perhaps the most world-wide of plants, found on every continent. So, it has been around for some while, and done quite well for itself. I wondered back then what made it so successful. Now, I have one clue towards an answer.

Every Braken fiddlehead in the sandy meadow along the Blue Ridge Parkway earlier this week had one or more Carpenter Ants stationed on its three-part unfurling frond. This certainly was more than a random search for food or mates, I figured, and when I got home, I looked it up.

Take a look at the right-hand image. See the wet black spot near the spot where the three prongs of the fern leaf come together? It looks rather like the eye of this otherworldly bird-like creature.

It is a NECTARY, not unlike what many flowers offer their insect visitors. Except, of course in this case, there are no flowers. The ant gets a sweet treat. It seems what the fern gets is protection from other predatory insects while it is in this tender, vulnerable stage.

In our meadow over where Nameless and Goose Creeks come together, there are NO ants on the mature fronds of Bracken Fern. By then, the plant is tough and able to take care of itself. Maybe this association accounts for some of the success of this worldwide fern.

So whaddaya know. The old biology watcher has learned something new about this amazing world--a living planet that has been equipped to take care of itself so very well in such interesting, cooperative ways.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Burning Bush | Flame Azalea

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Flame Azalea | Rhododendron calendulaceum | acid soil loving shrub of the southern Appalachians

I had what I would call a successful day in "the field" with the camera the other day--a wonderful couple of hours devoted to stopping whenever, where ever and for how ever long I wanted along the Blue Ridge Parkway to photograph whatever struck my fancy.

My chief objective was to bring back some Flame Azalea pix, but they aren't the easiest flowers in the world to photograph, as I could have better explained to my friend Dennis, on whose porch my parkway excursion for the morning ended.

"What difference does it make if the wind is blowing?" he wanted to know.

While there are several issues photographically, I suppose the greatest challenge with this particular flowering shrub is the depth of an individual flower, what with the three inch exserted stamens; and the globular, one in every direction way the flowers are arranged in the flower cluster, adding the challenge of additional depth--up to maybe six inches across.

Another complicating factor is that it is often difficult to find a cluster or group of clusters in good light, not bobbing in the wind, where ALL the flowers are in bud or flower, without a few brown and droopy spent flowers spoiling the prime-of-life composition.

Set this whole mess of orange or yellow waving along all axes in a 10 mph wind, and it makes for no small task on a cloudy day to get an image in focus without cranking the ISO up into the grainy range (>400 max).

So, here's one of just a couple (true color, actually DEsaturated a bit) with the 18-80 Nikkor and D200. The 18-200 mm lens won't be back from Nikon for at least another week. (Man, I sure am glad somebody talked me into keeping the backup lens!)

Aren't we blessed in these gentle mountains to have Flame Azalea as a common roadside shrub?

There is another fact about this plant I hope to tell, but that will require yet another arduous morning out on the Parkway with my camera. Well, darn. Somebody's gotta do it!

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Spring in Passing

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
The solution to finding the spring we missed while out West: go HIGH young man, go HIGH. (Well, forget the young part.)

The Blue Ridge Parkway is lush with spring wildflowers along its 3000 foot plus ridges, and it took great will power (I caved a couple of times) to keep my appointment at Mabry Mill and Chateau Morrisette yesterday afternoon. Oooh! Black Cohosh, Fire Pink, Pink Geranium. Interrupted Fern--so much more a blur as I sped along to my appointed tasks.

I did pull off a couple of times and wandered down into the woods. I caught myself just before I got down on my knees in my dress pants to get a better view of this patch of Lily of the Valley. I intend to go back right away. The Flame Azalea is almost in full bloom.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Where in the World | Dakota, May 2007

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There's too much cooking this morning to trickle out the Dakota images one at a time. While I don't expect many (especially on a Friday) to take the time to click through 13 images in the gallery, you might want to see the first 4 or 5 of the Badlands.

Serving Suggestion: Here's the first image in "large" format. Scroll down if your monitor doesn't show the caption. Then hit the RIGHT ARROW key to move to the next image.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Some Slow Road!

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
Quite frankly, I'm a little overwhelmed this morning. Some of that is jet lag. Yes, I know it's only two time zones difference between Goose Creek and South Dakota, but for us home bodies habituated to the cycles in our little valley and regimented strictly by its rhythms, it doesn't take more than two time zones to throw us off balance.

And of course, there's the inevitable catching up, confronting the cost of one's time away from home measured in calls to make, bills to pay, deadlines to meet and impending calendar events. What WILL I do for the paper this time? I had hoped to bring back something from the trip, but started following a line of thought down a rabbit trail and couldn't bring him back around for a shot. I thought I'd discover the point of what I was writing after I got into it, but it didn't happen. Doh.

And I have 150 shots from the trip to sort through (deleting 3/4 I expect) but I really shouldn't work on that (or be typing a blog post for that matter) until I work my way down through the piles all the way to the actual surface of my desk and get some of these to-dos checked off.

But I allowed myself a few Photoshop moments over my third cup of coffee to merge the very first four images from our brief Badlands visit. What you can't tell from this picture (click to enlarge) is that the wind was blowing at 35-40 mph. My daughter has one in her camera of me leaning 45 degrees attempting to walk back to the car where everybody but the idiot photographer was sheltering from the wind chill factor!

I'll hope to get up a little gallery of Dakota pix, but it won't be today. I'm too frantic in my semi-retired slow-lane task-oriented hyper-responsible state of mind to do much more fun stuff. Unless, of course, I reward myself late morning with just one more peek at the badlands pix. There is one panorama I'm really looking forward to working on, and may pay my buddy Doug to print out on his MegaMammoth Epson Billboard-capable printer.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Jack or Jill in the Pulpit


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This odd spring of early warmth followed by a return to winter seems to have been to the advantage of some, the detriment of other wildflowers and trees.

Jack here is doing rather well down along Nameless Creek, the "spathe and spadix" of the odd flower coming up conspicuously before the taller three-parted leaves unfurl to shade the sex-conflicted plant. Seems I remember it starts out as Jack and in later years, becomes Jill--depending on which parts of the central shaft develops.

While I've been places that had both, our place lacks the green striped variety and we have exclusively the maroon striped, more showy version I like better anyway. I'll be lying face down in the meadow again soon, though this shot will do for starters. I'd like one with a bit more mystery and GeorgiaOkeefe-ness to it eventually--to bring out the dark sexy side of this lovely form.

And by the way, while you may be tempted to cook up a mess of "Indian Turnips" as the plant is also called, don't.

It's stem and root contains calcium oxalate crystals that will lodge in your lips, mouth and throat like so many tiny needles. How do I know the sensation? Well, there's another story.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Giant Chickweed

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They grow close enough to the ground on short stems, and so even in the bluster yesterday, I could get a shot of chickweed--perhaps the most common and this year most successful spring wildflower. Most chickweed species are, well, weeds.

These particular little plants used to make for a nice field trip object lesson.

"How many petals?" I'd ask. "Ten" they'd say. And I'd pull off one of the five tiny V shaped petals to show them you have to investigate before you answer based on what seems to be true. Then I'd stuff the specimen in my mouth, chew and swallow. (As my ol' buddy Euell Gibbons used to say, "many parts are edible.")

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Fertile Fern Fronds

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Were I still teaching, or if I thought there were blog readers who cared to know the minutiae of pteridophyte reproductive biology, I'd launch into a soliloquy about Interrupted Fern, the structure and function of sporangia, and the place of ferns in the history of land plants.

But suffice it to say that today's post is lifted to the page simply because I like the title. Try saying it real fast followed immediately by the name of this blog.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fido Fiddlehead

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Dog-gone dog. Ann always insists that I take Tsuga along as a photographer's companion.

And she's right: the dog is wonderful help if I need a distracting patch of buff-colored fur in my otherwise muted-shadow background; if I need my legged or leafy subject crushed by a size 12 dog paw just seconds before snapping the shutter; or if I need my ears licked while lying prone, defenseless against dog tongues, holding the camera with both hands in the most awkward of positions.

Yeah. Every photographer needs one of these along.

But that was then. This is now, and I'm off for a full day seminar (the first continuing ed for this PT license period) in Roanoke: a program called Memory, Aging and Sleep. I only hope I can stay away through the most of it. And remember what I heard when I get home. Sigh. I hope they have wireless from the meeting room.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Carrion Without Me

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A favorite warm-weather passtime of which I am only mildly apologetic: lying on my back on sidewalk of warm pavers outside the back door, trying to comprehend where in the world I am; where in the universe, where in time. And why.

Almost always overhead, soaring birds on warm thermals trace spirographic arcs through my vision and my thoughts, lifting me up out of our valley to gain perspective, often to look back down through keen avian eyes at the sprawling man, arms outstretched--a tiny squinting crucifix, searching Heaven for Truth and Beauty.

Sometimes, from this supine perspective, the performances of bird with bird, birds with the very air, are so impressive I have to stifle applause. And only rarely do I have my camera beside me. Yesterday was one of those days. And no, this is not an altered image; it took almost 30 minutes for the right combination of heavenly and earthly body to get a shot.

Vultures get some coverage here rather often, starting early in the blog five years ago. Here's one Fragments piece in praise of "buzzards".

Elsewhere in the world of lenses: you'll laugh. Especially if you're a serious bird watcher and maybe even have your own pair of Swarovski (at $600 plus) you won't believe what I ordered yesterday. A pair of $16 binocs. Binolux Rubber Armored.

My mom had a pair that someone had given her. She wouldn't part with them, even though she only watches cardinals in her bird bath on the porch of her apartment, and my heavier, better quality pair would have been a great exchange.

Cheap. Shirt pocket. Free shipping. They should be here in time for our trip to South Dakota.

(And this image, shamelessly photoshopped, to imagine life above the clouds.)

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Virginia Bluebells

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I hoping for at least five "keeper" images of spring wildflowers for a possible future note card set. So far, it's been slow to happen, first with the early warmth the first of March followed by the rapid return to winter in April.

These Virginia Bluebells are tamed wildflowers; we transplanted them from their original hillside home over on Walnut Knob. And wish we'd brought a dozen more, if only for this one week in spring when the magenta and cyan buds become pale blue and pink bell-shaped blossoms before being eaten by the deer.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Fancy Frustrating Ferns

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"God made ferns to show what he could do with a leaf" said Thoreau.

And I'm convinced God also designed them so that no one could ever do them justice by means of a photograph. You have to be there, close to the earth, sitting on a fallen log at the edge of the wet meadow, to full appreciate them.

Early on as they first emerge and uncoil in their singular fiddlehead fashion, they hide among the jumble of leaf litter and fallen branches from spring's last ice storm, camouflaged among the distracting flotsam of the forest floor. You'll not likely find that one composition in all the forest where two or three tiny fiddleheads of Christmas Fern stand in the same plane, illumined against a black backdrop of shadow.

Later on, the Royal Fern and Cinnamon Ferns will shoot up in a matter of days to a ridiculous ratio of height to width so that you see them whole only from fifteen feet away or more, and lose all their divinely-inspired fanciness of detail. They are creatures you have to see complete and in place to imbibe their intricate beauties.

But I'm going to keep trying with my lens. So expect more less-than-heavenly fern pix in the next two weeks--if I'm not embarrassed to show you--and maybe if the gods smile, I'll finally get a fern portrait I'm happy with.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Evening Out

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If you get a chance to hear this duo in your area, make the effort. We first heard the smooth "retro-folk" sound of Rebecca Hall and husband Ken Anderson four or five years ago, when we bought their first two CDs. Those disks have gone on to become family favorites, and we're looking forward to CD #3 that is in the works, release expected this summer.

Sorry this image is a little dark and grainy, but I sort of like the simplicity of light against dark--and the tip hat on the stool. I'm still learning my way around the D200, and didn't know how to get it to move to an ISO of 3200. But I do now.

After Oddfellas and the duet and great meal with friends, we visited the Contra Dance at Winter Sun briefly. I had a book to pass on to a friend from Wythe County who lives near and occasionally hangs out with an author whose name you'd recognize. Her mystical awe of nature and light had an important influence on me long before I had the first idea I'd ever find words to describe similar experiences. Could be she'll actually thumb through it. I tried to imagine that, and wondered what piece in the book I might hope she'd settle on, one that she would perhaps read and find herself saying YES! as I did so many times when reading her books as far back as the seventies.

Lastly, from our Be Careful What You Wish For Department--I have an iPod! You'll remember my wishing and washing about this a month or two ago. And as recently as my B'ham trip last week, I considered stopping by Radio Shack to actually talk with somebody about a 4GB Nano, but talked myself out of it (from a frugality point of view). And lo, Saturday morning, Ann picked up an insured package from the Check Post Office: a silver 4GB Nano iPod (plus auto accessory kit) from my blog-reading daughter in South Dakota! How cool is that!?

Having lost ALL my music from my hard drive recently, I had no songs to upload. But as fate would have it, that very day, we received a couple of copies of our friends, the Wolfe Brothers' new CD, Old Virginia Hills, in the mail. (Go here and listen to sound clips from a former Wolfe Brothers album that we've enjoyed, and you will too!)

Now that new album currently represents 100% of the music uploaded to my shiny new iPod--a kind of music-genre purity I'm sure it will soon lose, when I get around to burning 40 or 50 of the lost albums back to the hard drive. Meanwhile, I'm not finding much in the way of free audiobooks for the iPod, though I did download a couple of Sherlock Holmes books and various other moldy-oldey public domain books I can listen to while I work cleaning up the dregs of winter out the back door. Suggestions?

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Fragments / Friday the 13th

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This isn't much of a picture--the first, I thought, of what would become a series of images of the "million points of light" that the blooming spicebush offer along Nameless Creek. The several hard freezes of the past week put an end to those ideas, and it looks like this is the only reminder I'll have of the short-lived life of Lindera benzoin in the spring of 2007.

BAMA BOUND ~ I just returned from a few days in the Heart of Dixie--a pleasant trip for this time of year, as 'bama was experiencing the same return to coolness that we were here in southwest Virginia, though to a much lesser degree. And the pollen season had mostly passed by the time I arrived last Sunday to spend some time in my home town with my mom. Wednesday afternoon, tornado sirens woke us from an afternoon nap--one went north of Birmingham towards Gadsden, another south towards Alex City. That weather feature I don't miss about Alabama.

BOOKS on TAPE ~ Well on CD, actually. A very thoughtful patient made a special trip back to the clinic last Thursday to bring me BLINK: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. This was the first audiobook I've ever listened to, and it was great--both the book and the concept. I wonder if Gladwell's first book, TIPPING POINT, is available in the same format?

BOOKS in BAMA ~ While back in Birmingham for my birthday visit with mom, I spoke to the seniors group at her church--about a hundred folks--for a luncheon meeting. This might have been most pressure I've been under to do well--in my little dog and pony show before folks mom would see week after week. But seeing as how the book tied back to B'ham, it was easy to find a few pieces from Slow Road Home that "worked" for this setting. The nice man, after reading my bio, introduced me as "Floyd First." I thought that might make a nice local bumper sticker. I hated to correct him.

STEP-IT-UP ~ Don't forget on April 14 to join in for Step It Up Day 2007 in an event near you. Are you satisfied with the pace of politically-expedient change proposed for America's rollback on CO2 emissions? I'm not. Cut Carbon by 80% by 2050 is the more aggressive timetable proposed by this movement. Make your voice heard on this issue, even as we feel our way toward making this massive change in business-as-usual. These are critical times, folks.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Where Trees Have Faces

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Next time granddaughter Abby comes to visit, there will be a surprise waiting for her on a new trail recently created through the Enchanted Woods. It is a trail made solely (well not solely) so that we can pass by this ancient cedar that Ann discovered on a steep hillside we never visited.

She became so fond of this tree she gave it a name (Isabella--why, you'd have to ask her; and she would likely say "it just looked like an Isabella). And she gave it ('scuse me, HER) a face.

So we'll pass on, Isabella's face will persist. And centuries hence, an entire folk explanation will spring up for the discovery of a woodlands race that worshipped trees on a steep hillside overlooking what one man long ago called Nameless Creek. What must they have been like, they'll wonder.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Solved!

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Maybe: the matter of keeping note card packages sealed (as per your vote a few weeks back) and still letting folks know what's in each pack of five cards.

I am printing two sets of five thumbnails on a single photopaper card the size of the finished notecards. I'll be able to display this "thumbnail sketch" of the two pack contents on the display rack or nearby on the counter. That'll work for now.

In the long run, I'm looking at a dozen sets. We'll worry about the logistics of that when the time comes.

Here's the Note Cards page where you can click for the larger image that includes all ten cards in the first two sets: Floyd County Set #1 and Blue Ridge Parkway Set #.

I'll be picking up the Parkway cards this afternoon, but it will be a week before I can send them out if you send requests by email (see sidebar email link). Order info is on the webpage.

UPDATE: Saturday, April 7 ~ I picked the Parkway cards up yesterday, and if you liked the first batch, these are even better! I am pleased. I expect them to go quickly. I think the next batch of cards will be five that come specifically from Slow Road Home, with the relevant quotes (for Ann's Falls, Winter Walk, Home Economics, etc) on the back of the card. That combination would make a nice gift set, don't you think? (And I'll keep this post up top for a few days during which I'll be posting lite.)

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

High Places

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Fred "Walter Mitty" the blogger pretends to be places he's not. Wandering through his digital scrap book, he goes far afield in his head, even while the rains pour down and cold winds cut like a knife, and he sits behind his desk, not far from the cheery fire in the woodstove.

Here's one I found going back to a Parkway excursion a month or more ago. I had passed over it in Photoshop when working on that folder of images, since my main purpose that day was to document infrastructure decline in the National Park. Of course, some of the pix that came home were of scenes and landscapes for their own sake, this being one of them.

There is something about tree silhouttes that intrigues me. One future note cards set, I hope, will be of trees through the seasons: maybe a winter set, and another with them in leaf in spring or fall.

Speaking of note cards, the Parkway cards I wrote about a few weeks back have been delayed by some printer-color problems at the shop. They've had to replace a part or two, and that has delayed the availability of the cards by a couple of weeks. Best laid plans (of mice and men...)

Which reminds me: last night--no mousey noises. Bar Bait. Thanks for the tip, y'all.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Bloodroot

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It's happening, as it always does, too quickly. Every drive down the lane shows something else already gone by as Spring rushes through on its way to summer. Already, these bloodroot photographed a few days ago along the roadside near home have dropped their petals; the oddly-lobed and distinctive sheathing leaf that belongs one per plant will now begin to swell, growing six inches across by the middle of May.

The red-sapped rhizome that gives this plant one of its common names contains some caustic substances (perhaps accounting for the native American use of this plant as a emetic.) They also are said to have used the "blood" as a war paint or skin "tattoo".

I used to demonstrate this on field trips by digging a bloodroot rhizome, breaking it in two to show the oozing red interior (I once had a student become faint from seeing this gore) and paint a red-orange stripe across my forehead. Very dramatic. Very stupid, I've learned since.

The sap contains the toxin sanguinarine. Recently, some ill-advised breast cancer patients used bloodroot sap topically, and developed disfiguring skin lesions.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about bloodroot is a feature it shares with two other very early-blooming plants, Dutchman's Breeches, and Trillium. They all exhibit myrmecochory and produce elaiosomes.

What? These aren't familiar words? Don't you just love botanists for the way they wield Latin and Greek to their advantage and the obfuscation of others?

Very simply, these plants produce a little nutrition treat called an ELAIOSOME attached to their tiny seeds. These are "intentionally" attractive to ants, who gather the seeds, feed the treat to their young, then dispose of the actual living seed in their nutrient rich frass, or waste bin.

In a week or so, I'll see if I can show you a closeup of a dissected Bloodroot seedpod and enlarged leaf to compare to the tiny leaf wrapped now around just the base of the single flower.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Mayberry, Maybury, Maybrey, Mabry

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I get google visits from searches for the popular tourist stop along the parkway that is just barely in Floyd County. I've seen searches with all these spellings.

By most accounts, it is the most photographed single feature along the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. From this weekend on til it closes in early November, the parking lot there will be full most weekends--especially Sunday afternoons when we get Carolina heat refugees, probably starting even sooner than usual this very warm year.

Everybody knows how to find it. Not many know how to spell it.

It's Mabry--named after a prominent mill proprietor and his wife by that last name (Ed and Mintoria "Lizzie" Mabry, both born in 1867.)

I became immersed in the Mabry story just about exactly three years ago, "on assignment" for my friend, Elizabeth Hunter, for a story she was doing for Blue Ridge Country Magazine. She needed high resolution photographs of the little white church, Concord Primitive Baptist, where the Mabrys attended; pictures of their tombstones a couple of miles from the mill; and any local color I could scare up to accompany a possible sidebar for the magazine.

My D70 was backordered, and on its way from Thailand. Doug Thompson took pity on me and graciously let me borrow his Nikon D100 for the two days it took going back and forth between Goose Creek and Meadows of Dan to get the shots I needed.

I did get the story, the images, the good memories--and I learned the correct spelling for Mabry Mill at Milepost 176, which by the way, is owned and managed by a resort company in Arizona and NOT the National Park Service.

Here's a link to my post from back in April 2004. And here's a little gallery of a few images from that memorable adventure.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Leaving the Best: Sustainable Forestry

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I'm sorry not to have been able to write at greater length about Jason Rutledge and Healing Harvest Forestry Foundation. A few more images of his demonstration last Saturday in nearby Copper Hill can be found here.

Suffice it to say, Jason is an early ambassador and elder statesman of forestry stewardship. He and his son, Jagger (who you can see in the gallery image cutting up the tulip poplar he just dropped) are engaged in a work of love (the profit is small and hard to come by, especially in a day of declining timber values.) And both are as articulate about their purpose, methods and goals as you'd ever expect to find coming from a suit and tie, much less from the garb of a woodsman in the backwaters of Virginia forests.

What Healing Harvest sees perhaps most clearly is there is more to the forest than the trees. In the end, it is the "environmental services" of the forest--its carbon sequestration, cooling effect, energy conversion and especially water resource impact--that makes our woods so valuable to us. To US, not just the small landowner who thinks in terms of his acres during his day.

But then, Jason can also convince you that it makes sense now and in pennies to consider leaving your woods better and better with each sucessive, selective, low-impact, worst-first cutting.

In this demonstration, Jagger Rutledge used a "Swede cut" to drop a tulip poplar 31" across at breast height. (The area it grew in is destined to become a pond). He estimated the tree was about 80 years old. The 8-foot section that was cut from the trunk of the tree weighed approximately 2200 pounds. And the Rutledges' team of Suffolks moved it away as if it were made of balsam wood, leaving no dozed road, no collateral tree damage--just a scuff in the leaf litter in the process.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Silage

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Gary Boyd guessed correctly right off the bat: the boy's been around (country places).

Last week after having a blogger's lunch (Doug Thompson and Colleen Redman, who joined us accidentally for coffee) I stopped by the Jacksonville Center to explore the possibilities of my Note Cards being made available in the Retail Store there.

I spotted a familiar personality disappearing into the door of the old concrete silo--a prominent feature about which there has been talk for years: how can we use the structure (deemed to be sound from an engineering point of view) to best advantage?

Suzy Nees had just finished "decorating" the entry way and the silo interior. This involved removing considerable pigeon guano and spider webs, and them spreading bamboo canes and leaves around the perimeter of the great tube's interior mossy floor: in a few days, the silo would become a music studio.

I went by on Saturday and sure enough, a sign on the door said "do not enter: recording in progress". I'll let you know more when I find out WHO and WHAT about the music.

So, what you see when looking straight up is very like another planet: Planet Floyd, I suppose. And thanks to Suzy for snapping this picture of Fred, who seems to be suggesting that things are looking up in town these days. If you stop in town, be sure and visit the Jacksonville Center's retail shops, exhibits and galleries.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Behind the Veil

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I pulled into the parking spot at the Floyd Library yesterday, and the crows in the walnut tree stayed put.

City crows, I thought, with the notion that our Goose Creek crows spook at the slightest hint of human activity. From two hundred yards into the pasture they will take flight when I crack the front door open. But these City Birds are used to commotion and noise--maybe even follow it, since where there's city life, there might be the scraps of a tossed hamburger. Or road kill.

I reached reflexively for my camera, even at the time thinking "common crows: not much of a picture."

And yet, I'm rarely this close for so long, so I trained the lens on the nearest one of three, and hoped I'd see something image-worthy. But the one I focused on wouldn't even face me. All I could shoot was bird booty, and I was about to put the camera back in the bag and go check out a book.

Then, this bird turned his head over his shoulder and looked directly at me, with some apparent disdain, I might add.

And as if to say "I ain't puttin' on a show here, bubba" he fanned out his primaries like a cape, spread his tail feathers, and disappeared from view behind a screen of blue-black. And the show was over. And this was the show!

What wonderful control for each individual feather had this common blackbird--moving each independently as he preened feather by feather. I'd never before thought of feathers as anything but passive, and yet here was a dexterity of control not unlike the way I move my own fingers just so, mind over matter.

But then, it should come as no great surprise that to perform the aerobatic maneuvers we see in our distant crows against the sky takes precise adjustment second by second in the spread, pitch and camber of individual feathers. But this was the first time I'd really watched it happen in this crow so uncommonly close out my window, perfectly at rest, and disappearing briefly from view behind a living fan of feathers.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tiny Floyd: Among the Giants

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Who'da thunk it: Floyd, one of the Ten Top Southern American Cities. (click picture for larger image)

I got notice of this a couple of weeks back before it was public and current in Salon Magazine. I still can't find a link to the article or image, so if you do, please sent it along.

Whoa! Check out the top picture--from our very own Buffalo Mountain, taken by our very own Weird Uncle Fred of Fragments from You-Know-Where. We just don't know WHY. Apparently, one of the travel writers that passed through the county last year was smitten by the Floyd Effect.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Blue Ridge Parkway Notecards Set #1

Be among the first to see the FIVE cards that were voted to the top by readers of Fragments from Floyd and Nameless Creek.

Thanks for your suggestions, and I hope many of you will want multiple sets of these note cards to use for yourself and to give as gifts.

I expect to have these available to shipping and placing on shelves locally by the first week of April. Please email me (see sidebar) to get your name on the list for first mailing. Please leave shipping information.

Sets will be $10 for five cards and envelopes plus $1 per set for shipping. You can make checks payable to Goose Creek Press. See mailing address at the bottom of this page. (Virginia residents please at state tax of $0.50 per set to keep the governor happy.)

I'll post this link to the Parkway Cards on the sidebar for future reference. But don't delay! Order now while supplies last.

(UPDATE: I have replaced #2 with the Pilot Mountain image on recommendation of one who knows Parkway consumers better than I do. I discovered I couldn't please everybody, but since these will be somewhat targeted toward Parkway travelers, I figured I'd listen to someone representing that population. I'll modify the thumbnails page to reflect the changes--soon.)

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Fools Names and Fools Faces

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
It was not hard to find evidence of Blue Ridge Parkway decline a few weeks back when I went looking for it for the purposes of a Parkway newsletter. Damage from the vagaries of weather--like the two ice storms we've had in the last month--one can to some degree overlook as "acts of God." But the saddest evidence of Parkway decline and abuse was this: graffiti at Rakes Mill Pond dam.

There is, after all, scant risk of being caught by a Park Ranger while in the act. Far too few have far too much territory to patrol to be any kind of threat to vandals and lowlifes with spray paint like Jody.

Do you suppose that people like this carry cases of black spray paint in the trunks of their rust- infested, Bondo-colored vehicles just in case they get the opportunity to become immortalized on an overpass, or even better, at a frequently visited and beautiful place in a national park?

Do you suppose that for Jody this was an act of rebellion, of machismo, or of sheer indifferent disregard that there might be anyone else in the world beside him (or her, as the case may be)?

I sympathize with graffiti in public places to the same extent that I appreciate people rolling down their windows and throwing the remnants of their Happy Meals along our road.

There are just aspects to the human condition and perspective that I simply do not understand. Carrying spray paint for Jody's purposes is certainly well outside my frame of reference. I can only imagine with some satisfaction that, while the park rangers won't catch him, someone else with a badge eventually will.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Parkway Note Cards

You can start with this one, then click through to number six. Clicking the X at the top of the screen will carry you to the front page and thumbnails for the Parkway Cards gallery. Placing your cursor on each image will remind you of the title of the image.

I'm ready to have another set of note cards printed, five to a set, like last time. Trouble is, I have six images in the folder, and one of them has to go. Can you help me decide?

Deselect ONE, and email or send a comment with your choice, and thanks in advance for your contribution!

And if want to be put on the list for first orders, be sure your email is in your comment, or send me that info to my email addy. Cost will be $10 per set plus $1 postage set, ten cards and envelops. Each card will include the caption text you see in the gallery (or something similar). More, soon.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Somewhere. In a dream...

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Blue Ridge Parkway, Milepost 152, on the windy afternoon of March 7, 2007

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Art at the Park(way)

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I'm still scattered this morning, awash in things undone yesterday in preparation for Thursday's morning-to-midnight busy-ness.

Looking back over Wednesday's Parkway excursion, the thumbnail of this unworked image popped out, and though I should have been taking care of book keeping and contacts updates from the community college last night, I got lost in Photoshop instead..and finding you a link to the image that tells that this is not just another pretty place along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I actually stopped here to see if I could get a shot of a perfectly symmetrically split pine tree growing in the pasture off-image to the left. It obviously split when young, and both halves of this mature tree are growing at about a 30 degree angle, forming a dark V against the woods and sky behind. But there wasn't enough light for that image after all. But lo and behold, there was Donna and Rick's place begging to be photographed.

At about milepost 155 is the home and pottery studio of two of Floyd County's top-tier potters, Donna Polseno and Rick Hensley. To drive past, you'd never know what art lies inside this unassuming and bucolic farmhouse setting. Take a look at a piece from a 2005 issue of Ceramics Monthly with images of their work, and a nice review of their methods and its meaning.

This is just one example of Floyd County's decentralized arts and crafts, which I think is a wonderful idea--at least for the potential customers. Not only do you get to see and purchase high quality, locally produced art, but you get to traverse some delightful countryside getting there. And there's always plenty of free parking--except during the 16 Hands Tour, coming up in May.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Windswept

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For three hours, the wind scoured my skin, abraded my eyeballs, pushed, shoved and bullied me. But then, what did I expect on the Parkway in March. But was it worth it? Depends on your yardstick.

I'd offered to try to get some pictures for the editor of Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway High Vistas newsletter. The cover article in the upcoming issue will be on the sorry financial plight of the national parks, the Parkway in particular, of course. Did I have any pictures of picnic grounds, visitors centers and such in my archives? she asked, and the answer was no.

But this seemed like a good excuse to have the beautiful road pretty much all to myself. Did I get what she needed? I'm not at all certain. This weekend, maybe I'll show you one or two I think might be useful for her purpose. Did I have a good time on my little solo "assignment" before meeting in town at 6 at Jeannie Oneal's to talk about the Floyd Writers Room at the new motel? You bet!

This image doesn't do justice to the size of the trees, their windswept austerity, or the steepness of the slope where they grow across from the Rocky Knob campground (which, by the way, remains severely cluttered with ice-storm damage--branches everywhere--a real bonanza for the first campfire builders!)

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Mountain Stage

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I found this view of the newly-expanded Floyd Country Store that I brought home a few weeks back. You know, I think this is one of those things that, no matter how big you build it, it will fill to capacity.

But the scale of it seems about right. And so many things are better in the new version of the Country Store--not the least of which is the lighting. But then, no great surprise here: the store's owner, Woody Crenshaw, owns Crenshaw Lighting. And he is a photographer and knows how difficult it was to get anything like a usable shot with the old lighting.

I think Ann works Friday evening. Maybe, if there's enough left of me after work, I'll head to town and see what's happening "of an evening" in Greater Downtown Floyd. Ah, soon with warmer weather, the music will spill over onto the street, and the 2007 Music Season will have officially arrived.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Ermine and Black Velvet

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Here, for certain on this first day of March, is yesterday's last frost of February.

So maybe I was premature with Wednesday's posting of what I described as the last of cold-weather aesthetics. We're not there yet.

But the dog brought home a wet but otherwise uninjured baby box turtle the size of a silver dollar yesterday. Even the cold-blooded among us are sensing the worst of the season has passed.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Barn Red

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This shot of crystal branches against the barn roof might just be my last of the frozen months (he said, with mock confidence.)

The jonquils are poking up through the sodden ground beside the house where the top few inches of solid soil is finally on a slow, prolonged thaw toward spring.

Spicebush is dotted now with barely-swollen buds, visible in the early morning light that spills over the ridge about 8:45 now with the longer days. A month further along, it's wispy, lemon-yellow blossoms will be so abundant along Nameless Creek that it will seem like a golden fog in the coldest part of the valley along the old rock wall.

Skunks are active again--a sure sign of warmer weather ahead. Unfortunately, their early emergence from hibernation is evidenced by those places where they didn't make it across the road to their girlfriend's house.

And where will I migrate now that winter is almost past? What will blossom from the dormancy of short days? What will grow from fallow hours of contemplation, from the season of mindfully tending the wood stove to hold back the cold, once that cast-iron beast is put to rest?

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

P1nk Fl@yd

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
I wish my hands hadn't gone numb so quickly Friday night. I'd have loved to hung out on the corner of Locust and Main on the Courthouse lawn and fiddled with the camera under unique lighting conditions.

I'm still far down the learning curve on the Nikon D200, especially for night photograhy, motion photography and am still learning what the vibration reduction will do for the 18-200mm lens.

Even so, I was pleased enough with the way this shot turned out, especially as I only came away with a half dozen before I went stiff with cold.

(I disguised the name of this post a bit so I don't get disappointed music fans coming here down a Google wrong turn. Also, I'd hate Adsense to head off in the direction of advertising grunge music on Fragments from Floyd. Ya know?)

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Floyd Friday Nights

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Last Friday night was my first time in the "improved" Country Store, and I was pleased.

Much of the character (including the hornets nest hanging from the ceiling) remained. The same folks--the regulars--were there predictably attired and in their usual places with usual partners on the dance floor.

There's just more room now. Better lighting. A significantly revamped sound system. And air conditioning when 200 dancing bodies send the temps soaring. Lots more shelf space, waiting to be filled with local offerings. An active soda fountain. And soon, open beyond Friday nights.

I was pleased during my short stay at the store to be able to congratulate Woody Crenshaw, owner and renovator of the store, a man who must be very gratified to see the task completed.

I'll be pleased to offer Slow Road Home in the book section at the Country Store, and hope a new population of visiting readers will discover it there in the "heart of town" over the coming months.

And I'll be back--for more pictures!



Where in the world do your blog vistors come from? And why? How many of them do you know? Does it matter that visits are almost entirely anonymous? These are questions I'm pondering on Nameless Creek this morning.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cruelty Jokes

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
1) These two lawn chairs beckon you to come sit and relax--in the cold slush.

2) Yesterday's warmth was to make us let our winter-guard down, only to follow up with another winter event overnight. Ann: pack your bags, girl.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Ann's Falls in February

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
Click image to enlarge
For those of you who have read Slow Road Home, this is Ann's Falls spoken of in the book.

For those of you who haven't read Slow Road Home, what are you waiting for!

SHE drug me up the hillside last week, insisting it would be worth my time. (But then, she'll say anything to entice me out for a walk.) But she was right. I have some other pix of the ropes we've tied between trees on the way up that enable us to get to the falls--a handhold necessary even when there hasn't been a winter storm and long, hard freeze.

It's some rugged terrain, but once we get there, we're always glad we made the effort.

Sadly, the falls are likely to become inaccessible one of these days. Several large (and of course, dead or dying) hemlocks at the rim of the falls will someday rot, and the tops, or the entire tree, will fall across the trail and the little trickle below. Then it will be decades before another photographer can get a clean view and appreciate the scene we were greeted with the other day.

Perhaps it's worthy of note and relevant to this prediction that the sinuous tree trunk lying across the near foreground of this image is that of an American Chestnut, another species that belonged in the southern forest--once--but succumbed to a blight.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Clyne Angle's Store

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
I feel certain that, while I'm not able to find anything on the web, there is plenty of information about Clyne Angle's Store at the Floyd County Historical Society.

Mrs. Angle still lives in the house across the road, there at the intersection of Shawsville Pike and Daniels Run, and there is a commemorative plaque to Mr. Angle embedded in a stone marker. I don't think I have any photos of it, but wish I did. It's text would shed some light on this image, and on the old Post Office (Floyd County's first, I think I remember) and a building that was active during the Civil War.

You can see the small, green sign in the window that locates the store in the community of SIMPSONS, now not much more than an intersection of two roads. This was once a thriving farming community. A steep mountain path, and later a motor road, was constructed by hand to allow mail delivery and commerce between Simpsons and the similarly active community down the mountain in Goose Creek.

That old road follows along the descending waters of Nameless Creek, and ends up at our barn. We walk it every day--another place in our valley that harbors "good ghosts" as I say.

I'd be interested if there are any readers who have knowledge, stories or recollections of Simpsons or Clyne Angles Store. Please offer comments or emails to share.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Let There Be Light

Tourism in Floyd County, Southwest Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains
You can't know (well, some of you certainly can) how good it was to get the power back Friday night.

Sitting down the next morning with a cup of hot coffee to the bright, responsive monitor, keyboard, desk lamp; the whirr of the computer, the tick of the wood stove. Ah, life was good.

And to sweeten the return to the normalcy we've grown so dependent on, on our Saturday morning of restored power, a fleeting pink-orange sunrise.

So even though it was 10 degrees and I was only in robe and slippers, I rushed out with the tripod, fumbled with frozen fingers to set the mirror-lockup, exposure and focus, and clicked a few reminders of the times.

There's the stuff from the freezer in an ice chest on the back porch where it stayed frozen solid, no problems there. And the blue kerosene container. But the most meaningful feature of the photo to me is the tiny glow of the computer monitor you can see through the window.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Warm Home in a Cold World

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains / by Fred First
My mother rubs my face in snows when I lament our winter woes.

"You should never have left Alabama" she scolds me, never having quite gotten over the fact that we were meant to live among mountains and not in the deep, sultry south.

But there was never any doubt about it. My first hint of my calling was at a wildflower event in the Great Smoky Mountains back in grad school at Auburn. There was something in the air--a pheromone of ancient granite, perhaps--that pulled us north.

And it is the Blue Ridge Mountains more than the Ridge and Valley (the setting of nearby Wytheville where we spent 12 years) that seems offer the strongest pull to home.

In winter, the weather is both hostile and beautiful. And we feel very much at home surrounded by it all.

(Do click on the image above for a larger look. Landscapes like this lose so much in a teeny view.)

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Out of the Cold

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
Well, not quite. Ann left to spend yet another night at the workplace so she'd be sure and be able to open up the pharmacy at 6:00 this morning. We've had just enough accumulating snow showers and strong winds to make driving--especially in the dark--something to be avoided.

But this week's weather promises the possibilities of a return, perhaps briefly, to some low 50's temps, which will fell positively balmy.

And how happy I am that I took the time to stop for these frozen creek pictures, because the warm rain before the last ice storm sent muddy water onto the white surface of the creek, and its transient beauty was lost. Once again, as if I needed it, I'm reminded of how fleeting each moment's light truly is. Note to self: be inclined to stop and smell the roses--or capture the moment to digital film; and indelible memory.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Study in Winter #2

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
My fingers are cold. The house cooled off quite a bit yesterday with neither of us here, and when I got home just before dark, the house was sullen and empty looking and somehow I knew we didn't have power back.

I quickly refilled the Aladdin lamp, built a fire in the wood stove, and promptly picked up the phone to call AEP and get the latest dismal projection. And just then there was a whirring noise behind me. I had to stop and think what I was hearing--the sound I've cast a pox on so many times in our otherwise quiet home--the refrigerator motor running again!

This great reawakening was short-lived, however, though I did my part by not rushing in and turning everything ON. But lots of folks must have. Power came. And it went. But several cycles later, about 7:00, it came on for good.

But there is such a thing as too much light. Dimness covers a multitude of sins: the mess the house has become in the absence of vacuum cleaner, adequate light, and with attention turned to more immediate survival matters is now all too apparent, even two hours before first light.

So when Ann (who got home from work at 1:00) wakes up, I can tell you that vacuum we missed so much will be in MY hands for a good bit of the later morning hours. I feel some serious honey-do catching up coming my way. But at least we can do it with POWER!

And, although I grumbled about a possible AEP conspiracy and general ineptitude in our little sufferings, my hat's off to those men who worked in icy, bitter, windy cold to restore power to "5000 households" in Floyd County alone. We appreciate your sacrifice and efforts on our behalf!

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fragments Births Second Blog!

Overflow, I guess you could call it.

Turns out, there's more junk than will fit in the closet of Fragments from Floyd.
Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
Actually, had I not needed to experiment with "new blogger" to help a friend set up his blog over the past couple of weeks, I doubt I ever would have felt the need for an "alter-blog".

But that's what I've got, and it's called Nameless Creek.

I confess, I like the ease of modifying the template without hacking code, though you can still get to the html of the template if you're a mind to.

Please stop by.

And notice--in a bit of a divergence from FFF--there are three AUDIO files within the first half dozen posts. So click away, and turn up your speakers.

And don't fail to note there are sponsored links over at Nameless Creek--an annex to the meager income that results from same on FFF. We appreciate your patronage, and check back here from time to time (I'm likely to point you in this direction) and see what shape it takes over the coming months.

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Study in Winter #1

Country Scenics from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
The way ice grows in Goose Creek fascinates me, and I'm sorry I haven't chronicled the process over the past month. Still, where we live gets too much southern exposure. It isn't nearly as good an ice garden as down the road a mile or so where the perpetual shade of the hills spawns crop after crop of ice every night.

And I'd have missed the opportunity to show you three shots from yesterday if I hadn't agreed to carry one of Ann's care packages to the kids over to the Check post office. I waited until there was at least a little light striking the valley flanks before leaving, and on the way home, risked limb and equipment and slid my boots down into the creek bed and onto the ice for views east and west along Goose Creek in its winter garb.

You can just see the road in the distance.

Meanwhile, today, an ice storm looms west just off the radar, just far enough away that I'm not going to know what to do about trying to get to the clinic this morning. Getting there, I can do. Getting home as conditions worsen over the day, not so sure. Gonna be one of those days.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Winter Lights

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
My hope was to get to the back of the valley (the "Nameless Creek Gorge" I call it) before the sun disappeared behind the steep west ridge. I didn't make it in time.

By the time I reached my destination at 3:00, the lighting along the creek was already flat shadow. But walking back home--sad to have waited too long to get the shot I had in mind--I turned around and saw this dazzling last light behind me, a single shaft reaching the valley floor just seconds before the sun dropped away from our holler for another day.

This is another example of light looking for a subject to draw the eye. For me, the sparkle of the pines and the way the light of the snow draws the eye into the mysterious darkness is enough. The image embodies the feel of the moment, and such pictures are more for the photographer than for his audience.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

A New Perspective

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
I don't have many photos of this place where Goose Creek and Nameless Creek come together. And yet, this is one of my favorite places on our land, visually, even though it is very near the road. (You can just see the barn roof near the upper edge of the scene. I'm literally hanging from a tree trunk to get this picture from the top of a rock bluff. You see what risks I take for you, blog readers!)

But more than what meets the eye, the whole notion of convergence, of flowing together to make a larger stream--of water, of experience or of thought--is somehow central to this process of becoming and belonging.

Convergence, a coming together. The making of wholes from fragments. There is something in this.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Nature Imitates Art

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
I rushed frantically to reach the high clearing for a shot of the late afternoon light through a blue fog that lift out of the valley. That, I thought, was my reason to be there.

With great purpose and focus, I rushed from my car at a favorite Parkway overlook, and while stumbling through the windswept forest with tripod and camera bag headed toward the open pasture views of a fog-pale distant landscape, I was struck by the beauty of the autumn woods that I was hurrying through.

But it struck me: if it was the magic of light I was after, why, here it was, just at my feet.

I stopped and spent a precious few minutes there before rushing to the last of the light at the clearing. And in the end, it was these shots of windblown ferns in their last grand display of fall that pleased me most from that afternoon excursion.

Here again at the end of their season of life as at their beginnings, these hayscented ferns have taken on a pleasing translucence. Tattered by the wind, cinnamon and pale green against the dark shadows of gnarled, windpruned treetrunks, there was a kind of magic in the light.

And once home, yes, I've added to the fantasy story-book magic by applying my brushes--Photoshop--because this reminds me of the art in the nature we would otherwise rush past. This is the way I remember the moment; this is what I want others to feel when they share it with me.

But the true art comes, as it has for centuries, from those who use real pens, pencils and brushes and palettes to create solely by their imaginations those "effects" I can only bring about by clicking the right buttons. Those artists saw the same magic, and made it real by the power of their eye, heart and hand.

So I consider it the sincerest form of flattery that I imitate artists, as artists draw their vision from landscapes that wait for us to notice.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

This is only a test

Banjo, guitar, fiddle and mandolin / Floyd County music / Southwest Virginia

Here's a shot from the house concert--toward the end, when the hosts are up front playing a tune or two with the featured artists-friends they hosted for the evening.

I've been trying to share my ignorance with Mac there with the banjo. He and his wife and singing partner are wanting to get another album out and also to set up a simple web presence for their music appearances, CDs and such.

So here I've uploaded directly from Picasa --which I will recommend he download, as the price is right. We'll set him up blog, and maybe a wiki through pbwiki.com to refer to in his sidebar for pages about their albums, maybe some background on their music interests and backgrounds, and as a place to upload some music clips.

So this, dear folks, is just a test. You can see the back of Ann's head there next the chair vacated by the photographer. There are far more people behind me than in front of me. The place was packed. And a nightmare for photography what with only the table lamp. This was shot at ISO of 3200 with the D200--grainy, but heck--we got the shot!
Posted by Picasa

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Frozen February

January Barn / Southwest Virginia / Floyd County / Blue Ridge Mountains Travel
Yes, here is the same old barn, fixed in place for a hundred years, and different in every season.

Especially on freezing days when even creek motion fixed and solid as ice, there is an immutability about this place, a stillness though polar winds whip the bare branches of beech and oak.

This deep freeze is a final drawing in, a last hibernation, a false sleep. Buds swell unseen. Cells divide hidden in wombs of bracts and scales, ready with promise and latent with the translucent color of spring leaves and petals.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Mountain Music

Mountain Music: Digital Photography from Floyd County, Virginia by Fred First
It's a fur piece from Goose Creek to Ferny Creek--a good two-thirds the length of Floyd County. But for a house concert like last night, it is worth the drive.

Some faces were familiar: characters from around town, friends of the hosts, and some folks we'd met before only at previous gatherings like this, and in this house. And there are always a few initiates, first-timers who appreciate old-time traditional Appalachian mountain music on the close and personal stage in someone's livingroom.

We're hoping before the summer is over to host a house concert here, in the AnnEx. Or heck, maybe we'll just take the lawn chairs out under the stars along the banks of Goose Creek and let'er rip.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Friday Shorts

Old Orchard on Blue Ridge Parkway / Digital Photo / Fred First / Floyd County, Virginia<br />
Blog to Book ~ It's a natural progression, and likely to become increasingly common. Take a look at this long list of entries (including Slow Road Home, of course) for the LuLu Blooker Award. Top prize: $10 thousand!

No Fair Peeking ~ When something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Peekvid.com would show me full episodes of X-files to my hearts content. I'd so far seen only the pilot, saving these for special occasions. Man, I missed Maulder and Scully! But no. Peekvid got busted, I heard as I left the house Wednesday morning, for pirating copyrighted material. It sure was love while it lasted. (Star Trek Enterprise has survived so far!)

Ad (non)Sense ~ Well so far, I'm unimpressed with context-driven ads. I thought Google's mentation was a bit quicker than to saturate my sidebar with ads for Colorado condos. But then, it IS winter so it got that part right. And heck, it's only been four days. And I'd best hush. Your visits to ad sponsors is making a difference in the bottom line here at chez Goose Creek, and much appreciated.

Slow Road Scan ~ I debated the matter, did some reading, and in the end, decided to let Google Books scan mine. It will also be available as an eBook. Some day. The process is taking a while. So far, this place holder is up. I'll let you know when it is finally birthed.

Size Does Matter ~ 120 Gigabytes seemed far more than I'd ever need four years ago when I got the Dell XPS. But then, file size max was 2mb. Now Nikon RAW files are 16mb, plus all the copies and versions that come from some of them. So a Lacie 500 Gig external is on the way. I can do a total backup and still have years worth of space for pix (he said). Memory is cheap, some of these photos are personally priceless, so I'm over the guilt of the expense. Think of it as insurance.

Jamboree Remake ~ Tonight is the first night of the rest of our lives in Floyd, Virginia: the Country Store has been face-lifted and expanded, and reopens tonight! Welcome back to the Friday Night Jamboree in downtown Floyd, Virginia! (See Doug Thompson's post about it.) I know I'll be whupped from work, but the winter storm that we expected only grazed us, so roads should be passable. See you there!

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Nature, Music and Dry Feet

Beaver Dam at Blue Ridge Music Center near Galax / Digital Photo / Fred First / Floyd County, Virginia
I have some of the usual pics of "man pointing to concrete abutments for the future bridge." Functional photos; predictable but not very interesting.

Whatever photo goes with the piece will be reduced to something like 2" x 2.5" max.

If this one will work, I like the fact that it shows the Music Center (Museum), the proximity to nature (a recently-constructed beaver dam and pond) and the stream that will need a bridge crossing so that the trails (more than 6 miles hand constructed by the local Trails club) can be officially opened to the public.

You can see a few more shots from yesterday's excursion in this little Picasa gallery.

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Plants and Music

Wildflower Galax / Digital Photo / Fred First / Floyd County, Virginia<br />
I'd be interested to know how many people recognize this common Appalachian plant in winter. It doesn't always turn such a nice red color. I think it may tend to do this more in sunny places, and it often grows under Rhododendron in the thickest of shadows. But red or green, in parts of the Southern Mountain forest, it is being gathered in quantity--poached, if you will--and sold on the "green market" to florists shops.

The common name for this plant is based on the latin word for MILK. There are cosmic applications of this term as well, and the name makes sense should you find a thick carpet of this plant in flower in summer: it's white spikes give the rocky hillsides a milky appearance.

Who will be the first to give this plant its proper common name?

Hint: the nearest town to the Blue Ridge Music Center at Milepost 213 is named after this plant.

On the interpretive signs that someday will be placed along the trails at Fishers Peak, the hope is to tie the plant's natural or cultural history back in some way to the traditional music. Was it named in a song? Was it used to make instruments or used to treat an illness named in a mountain tune?

Come back later. I'll have a shot from yesterday's visit to the Music Center. You can let me know if you think it will work for the upcoming newsletter. More about that directly.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Least First Blush of Spring

Forest Morning / Digital Photo / Fred First / Floyd County, Virginia
I'll have Ann's usual schedule today: up and outta here by quarter til six, off in the dark cold. Destination: WXBX in Wytheville, our hometown for twelve years, and the setting for more than a few of the pieces in Roads Remembered section of Slow Road Home. I'll be done with that live interview by 7:30, and hope to find the choicest local Greasy Spoon Diner for hot coffee served in an infinitely-refillable heavy white mug, bacon and eggs, toast and jelly, and a good magazine.

Then by no later than 9, I'll need to be back on the road to I-77 south to the Parkway and 13 miles west to the Blue Ridge Music Center. The local trail club (chapter of Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway) have constructed several miles of trail, but until there are two footbridges in place (30' x 4') the trails can't be opened to the public. I'm hoping to write a bit about the current needs, in hopes that private, corporate or government funds will be forthcoming.

From there, I'll find Chapters, the local bookstore in downtown Galax and see if I can leave a few books shelved there. And finally, I hope to meet up with a couple of folks who were part of our Wytheville gang back when. They owned the bookstore on Main Street, a favorite gathering place, until B decided in his early thirties that he wanted a life change. He left for medical school when I left Wytheville for PT school. Chances are, he'll be too busy seeing patients to do more than chat briefly on the phone. But it will be good to renew old friendships.

The picture above, from last week--a grab shot on the return leg of our morning walk. I want another shot at it, next time in RAW, on the tripod, and with the 80-200 lens. Man, I'm a sucker for backlighting! And here is where we'll see the very first hints of spring: in the tinge of color that comes to the tips of twigs well before the weather warms. Against the dark blue of morning shadow, every trace of color shows up! And look at how different in form these two clusters of trees are--something you'd easily miss in even lighting.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Fragments Forgotten

Milepost 166 / Digital Photo / Fred First / Floyd County, Virginia
You're right: this is NOT a recent photo. And yes, I have some current photos I intend to post later this week, but they just might be mixed in with some found yesterday in the archives that never saw the light of day when they were current. Why now, you ask? Picasa, he says.

I have a friend who recently purchased a Canon XT1 (probably far more camera than he'll ever use). He told me the other day how exasperated he is with the overkill of Photoshop Elements that came with the camera. He basically wants to point and shoot and send email pix to his kids. "Why are the pictures so darned huge? I don't want them any bigger than the screen!" I didn't even bother explaining.

I told him that the next time I was over, I'd install a more elemental program for doing minor edits and making his pix files smaller for email. (I had Irfanview in mind) and that's when I revisited Picasa for my friend, but ended up installing it on my machine--a couple of years since uninstalling the beta that did not meet my needs.

There have been many improvements since beta. The program will view Nikon Camera RAW format now. It gives me more options about how I sort my "slides". It has nice visual tools that make it easier and more enjoyable to browse the 15,000 digital photographs in MyPictures.

And that's how I stumbled upon the scenery you see here--and a couple of others from the Way Back Machine I might post in coming days and weeks. And I have to admit: letting the images drive the emails will increase the number of emailed pix leaving Goose Creek. Heck, even a pharmacist can do it!

Be sure and click the small picture to see the larger one. Landscapes just don't survive being squished into a 450-pixel-wide spot!

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Treacherous Travels

Mountain Stream in Winter / Digital Photo / Fred First / Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia
The dog barked his "people" bark--different from his squirrel or deer bark: more urgent with overtones of anticipation. His assumption seems always to be that humans are coming here to admire him.

This particular visitor yesterday around noon was a stranger--very young, very cold and very careless about the roads he chose to travel in his jeep for a Sunday afternoon joy ride. Said jeep was now only partially on the ice-covered bobsled run that is Goose Creek a hundred feet higher and west of here. One back tire hung in the air, off the cold shoulder of our steep, northy not-for-winter road. Could I please come with some chains and my truck and pull him to safety?

Well no, son, sit down by the fire here. Sounds to me like you need something with a lot of weight and a lot more traction than my small Dodge Dakota truck will get you. I'll call 911. The sheriff's office will know of a garage that is on call over the weekends. Might need two trucks: one uphill to anchor the front end while another tries to pull your back wheel back up onto the road.

Three hours later, the boy and his father (they live in Shawsville) stopped by to thank me for what little help I offered. And I resisted the fatherly lecture, shuddering to think how, if that tree hadn't been there, that man's son could have been down in that creek bed upside down in his mangled vehicle overnight before anybody else was foolhardy enough to take the winter road less traveled.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Being There

Buffalo Mountain from the Blue Ridge Parkway / Digital Photo / Fred First / Floyd County, Virginia<br />
I'm feeling a bit of grief over taking the path of greatest comfort on Thursday instead of suffering to get the shot. The place my tripod should have been was the spot from which this image was taken back in October. However, on this particular January day--when I was interviewing the Park District Supervisor nearby--the winds were spitting snow sideways and the chill factor was near zero.

In the distance, even from the Park Service office, you could see several distinct snow squalls in the distance, the soft slant of snow a gunpowder blue against steel gray mountains. Patches of sunlight broke through here and there.

But the wind was so fierce, I could barely open the car door. A tripod would have been useless without a cinder block strapped to the central post.

And yet, I should have driven to the half mile to Saddle Gap overlook and sat in the car and at least watched the weather play out from that high place, even if I couldn't bring home the imagery in the camera.

I shouldn't let the technology drive the experience. Sometimes, the higher priority needs to be the being there. No pen. No computer. No camera. Just vision. And imagination. And memory. (Click for larger size picture)

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Friday Shorts

image copyright Fred First
* Coldest day of the year so far, but a dry cold, and though I will have to start warming up the car at 7 to get to work by 8, I think I'll get there just fine. I left the house yesterday in a blizzard, gambling that it was just a brief, intense snow shower. Five minutes later, I was driving in sunshine under a cobalt blue sky.

* I have been approved for Google AdSense, and still undecided what to do. Would be nice to recoup at least the cost of the monthly DSL by some (hopefully tasteful and unobtrusive) ads on the periphery of the blog page. I've resisted going this route now for almost five years (anniversary of FFF actually in March) and can cancel out after a few months if it isn't an acceptable fit. This, just in the way letting you know the blog may change in subtle ways soon. Or not. We'll see.

* Hey man, why don't we get wasted and do an interpretive dance of protein synthesis? Maybe only a biologist would get such a kick from this YouTube presentation of a noble laureate in a tighty whitey dress shirt and thin seventies-type tie narrate as several hundred UCDavis college students play the role of messenger RNA, ribosomes and such. What a hoot (at least for me.)

* And here are two images that I found worth a look: a bike "eaten" by a tree (thanks Pablo) and something in our child rearing years I neglected to ever do with duct tape.

* The image above--which has absolutely nothing to do with any of the above topics--was taken a few days ago from the logging road that winds through the steep immature pine forest behind the house. Now this would be a great place to use that panorama function with the camera. And if this isn't done in the near future, there will be no view from back there. The pines are quickly filling in the vistas, as I describe in Slow Road Home in the piece called "Succession".

Now, I better go put on my Friday shorts (and don't forget the pants!) and get to work.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Snow Business

image copyright Fred First
I have an excuse to venture up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway today, threatened snow notwithstanding. I've happily volunteered to do some writing for High Vistas, the newsletter for the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and have a meeting with a Park Service spokesperson regarding the need for a couple of foot bridges at Fishers Peak--over near the Blue Ridge Music Center.

I'll be heading over there next week (again, weather permitting) for some pictures and heck--maybe a hike and my first tour of the Music Center, scheduled to open for regular performances again in June. By then, and by donation or other funding, hopefully the trails will have bridges and boardwalks. Stay tuned. And why not join the Friends in their effort to keep the Parkway beautiful, safe, and well maintained--a national treasure to be proud of!

The strange image above is the result of some rainy-day doodling: a panorama taken from the parkway and cubed, then turned into a "planet". Fun, if weird! You might see more of these. Rainy-snowy days ahead.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ice Flow

Winter Photography / Digital Photo / Fred First / Southwest Virginia
I'm thinking maybe this will be a good day for some creek ice pictures. At least that possibility sweetens the knowledge that I have to taxi some packages down our luge-run road and up and over to the Check Post Office later this morning. I'll carry the tripod and camera bag with me, just in case.

Here's one I grabbed the other day, and was especially happy about, seeing it "developed" later, inside on the computer monitor. What excited me was the fact that it was taken hand held at 1/15th of a second and is a sharp as I could want. I set shutter priority at that speed hoping to get some motion blur in the water (1/4th a second would have been better in that regard) while possibly not losing too much quality to camera shake. The 18-200mm Nikon VR lens seems to have done its work!

This shot, full res, makes a dandy desktop picture! Tell you what, if you'd like to use it, click this link to open the file (800k) and right click to "save as desktop image". At least that should work in Windows. Let me know if it looks okay on your monitor, and if not, in future I can tweak resolution and aspect ratio, maybe, to improve things. (This is a limited time file; I'll probably remove it from the server in a few days.)

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Ice Embryos: Where Snowmen are Born

Beautiful Winter Photography / Digital Photo / Fred First / Floyd County, Virginia
It was no secret that she was as much interested in getting the husband out for a walk as in getting the photographer to the scene of a potential winter image. The physical investment would no doubt be greater than the photographic reward: her sighting of "weird" ice formations happened to be at the base of Ann's Falls--a "trail" supplemented in two places with ropes to make it under the best of conditions both possible and somewhat safe.

Covered by an inch of sleet, my Muck Boots might as well have been snowboards--a fact that became more evident on our way DOWN this same trail after snagging a few shots.

But she was right: these were odd little hummocks of clarified ice, more or less regularly spaced in the splash zone of our little hidden waterfall.

Two years ago (or was it three?) she discovered the falls and "improved" the trail to them. It is still a special place. But I'll be darned, it's a sure thing that if she hadn't drug me up there under the pretense of a potential photograph, I'd have been content to let this snowman nursery come and go unseen.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Digging the Same Hole Deeper

Country Farmhouse /Digital Photo / Fred First / Appalachian Mountains of Virginia
I quoted an oriental-seeming proverb in Slow Road Home (or made it up, I can't remember which) that "wise man finding no treasure, does not keep digging in the same hole." Well, yes. And No.

In this place and time--Goose Creek, here, today, is treasure--of the senses, of personal meaning and belonging; treasure of comfort and beauty, and treasure in the riches of being able to share it with others through words and pictures. I haven't tired yet of writing about it, or in sharing the minutiae of day by day changes and discoveries in pictures of the same old barn, creeks, valley and woods. I seem inclined to keep on digging.

So any skills or tools I can acquire that help me go deeper in this same small place are welcomed and I hope will be put to good use with the light and time I'm given here.

One such tool, I read about a couple of years ago--an experimental technology that would take many photographs--not just three to five horizons side by side--and stitch them together seamlessly. That program, developed by a couple of young guys from UBC is called Autostitch, and it has recently been released in demo mode for free! Well hot dang Skippy! Often, a single shot of a scene through the lens of a camera is like viewing the Grand Canyon through a soda straw while the eye takes in so much more of the vista. Patching a dozen shots into one: there's got to be a time and place when this is just what's needed to best share the experience of being and seeing.

I only had about 30 minutes of light from the time I downloaded the Autostitch panorama software until full shadow, and ran outside with the camera to take six shots; three at the level of the road and house, and three up above of the treetops and forest above the house. This is the product--low res, not wonderful composition, but amazingly seamless and hands-free stitching. Tweaks are possible, and somewhat higher-resolutions as well. But for me, with most of my "finished products" going to the web and not to photopaper, this will be a great tool to help find more treasure in this deep valley.

You can read more about it here.

Addendum: I'm slipping. Missed a perfect opportunity for double entendre/word play by not calling this post "Digging the Same Whole Deeper". Shucks.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Winter Arrives on Goose Creek

Country Road in Winter / Digital Photo / Fred First / Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia
Ann just called from work and she arrived safely, even though the roads were already getting covered with snow on her way in at 5:30 this morning. It's getting home this afternoon that will be the greater concern.

It was hard to believe with yesterday's blue skies that things would change so drastically. Even the US weather radar didn't look so bad. While they still miss it with some frequency, the computer models for predicting weather a couple of days into the future are a far cry better than they used to be, and this info helped us to be prepared last night as we decided if Ann should spend the night at work (at the hospital) or would it be safe for her to wait until this morning.

Now, I'll have to keep a close eye as this system passes, hope VDOT updates their road conditions page frequently and accurately for our out-of-the-way part of the Roanoke District, and make the call about 4 this afternoon. It's always an embarrassment to say "you'd better stay put" based on available predictions and then have her stuck spending the night in a hospital bed when the bad weather goes north of south of us and she could have easily made it home.

This image is a grab shot a yellow labrador retriever and some unidentified woman (who will kill me for putting her picture here dressed in her winter garb) walking back toward the house. (The dog isn't usually leashed, but we heard other dogs barking not so far away, and didn't want to chase Tsuga up mountainsides.) Goose Creek is below the road to the right, the barn is just off the picture as the road disappears to the left.

Oh, and for your viewing pleasure on this bleak winter day, I recommend the Fragments Flickr Slide Show.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Narnia Country Morning

Virginia Valley farmland scene / Photography by Fred First

Frustration: frus┬Ětra┬Ětion (fru-stra'-shen) noun:
1. driving west to work watching a spectacular sunrise in your rearview mirror
2. arriving at work as the sky lights up the most beautiful sunrise and not having your camera with you
3. arriving at work just in time for the peak of the surise color, having your camera with you, and being battered by a 50 mph wind and fingers frozen by subzero chill factor to get a shot off before retreating indoors

This is my view from my windshield where I park at work, facing the east horizon of rolling valley farmland. Nevermind that the view just left is of bumper-to-bumper truck traffic on I-81. To the right, the sprawling expanse of Carilion New River Valley Medical Center. This is one of their Narniesque lamps that lights a seldom used paved path along the perimeter of their property.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday Fragments

image copyright Fred First
Yes, this is the same old apple tree that appeared a few days ago in a more artsy black and white impression. The lichens that decorate its dying branches give it a kind of surreal luminance and false life.

* We both had meetings last night. We didn't go. Within ten minutes, the walkway and the footbridge over the branch iced over about 7:00, and our decision to stay home from our 7:30 meetings in Floyd and Elliston was confirmed: they can meet without us. This morning, temps have risen and the threat of black ice is not zero but it is much lower than I'd feared. Ah yes, this is what winter travel feels like. I can't say I'm sorry it waited to visit until mid-January this year.

* I feel like I've recovered from a chronic illness. First, every time I'd close an Explorer (XP) window, MSIE7 would pop up. It was maddening. In the end, I disabled tabs in that browser, and that problem disappeared. Then (for the past two weeks) about once a minute, it was if I'd hit Alt-Tab, and in the middle of a browser session, the Excel spreadsheet I had been working on would pop up, then the Word document, then back to a different Firefox tab. It seemed possibly related to the browser, so I uninstalled FF 1.5, installed FF 2.0, and I have my computer back from the hijackers! (Sigh: the Tiny Url extension doesn't work in FF2.)

* With the above-mentioned problems, it made little difference to me that Citizens Internet had doubled the speed of our DSL (for the same price) on January 1. With my program switching problems and general sluggishness that went with it, my new 1.5Mbps connection made little difference. Now, we be jammin'!

* Okay. Excuse me but I need to cut this short. The dog has requested that I stop dawdling and finish the last few bites of cereal. (He can tell and only jumps up when the bowl makes sounds of a certain frequency as it approaches emptiness.) He never expects Ann's cereal bowl, but the spoonful of milk and single tiny fruit in my bowl seems to be his "raisin d'etre" (sic). So I shouldn't keep him waiting.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Marcescence

Nature photography / Blue Ridge Mountains / Virginia
I've posted before--several times, perhaps--about the leaves that persist on the trees into winter. Marcescence, we discovered this clinging to the twig is called.

Here are some more marcescent beech leaves taken last week--not exactly the image I was hoping for. The wind picked up and the sun disappeared from the time I left the house til I reached the logging road where I'd noticed a nice cluster of fading leaves begging to get their picture taken.

If I do the color-image book and include this passage, I'll need several shots to chose from. We'll toss this one into the mix, and hope to better it. But I'd best get the right shot soon, because it won't last forever:

"... This year's beech leaf may stay on the twig until next spring's tiny new leaf evicts it, finally, pushing it out and away, off into space, down to the black soil among the first of the spring mustards and violets."

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