Frozen Flora – the Season of the Frost Flower

The hills of the Ozarks are a wet place. Rain water becomes spring water or ground water as it passes through our limestone karst topography. As it gets colder out the bluffs leach out this water in the form of icicles. On the ground below the bluffs the water trapped inside the stalks of tall plants expands. This ice takes on amazing forms – frost flowers appear at the bases of these plants. They appear on mornings where the temps are below freezing and disappear as the temperature rises.

It’s been unseasonably cold for a few days. I have been lighting a fire most evenings to warm up the old Stonehouse. This kind of sustained cold is more common in January or February. This morning when I took a look at the forecast I thought that even though it’s a couple of months early, the conditions were right. I packed up my macro lens and hit the highway. I had to slog through some semi frozen mud, but is it was worth it. Fields and fields of frosty blossoms.

I used a macro light on the super close-ups and a flash on a couple of shots. I wish I had taken the tripod, but the white light of an overcast day let me shoot fast enough to get away without it.

Click through and get a sense of the flower and the intricate shapes that make them up. I’m off to the kitchen to make some hot apple cider. Stay warm.

Naked Ladies in the Rain

Don’t be silly, I’m not THAT kind of photographer.

Naked ladies are a much-loved variety of Amaryllis that bloom in the first week of August. They have no leaves to cover them – hence, they are naked. Some people call them surprise lilies. My neighbor Mary Jane introduced them to me several years ago when she called me to come over to her place and to bring my camera. The lovely pink and yellow flowers stood towering over the dead leaves in her woods. I go back every year and take photos of them. I prefer to shoot macro and explore the parts of the flower. The stamens are really stunning and the buds are such a great color too.

This year I lucked out. We have been getting an unusual amount of rain so it was the perfect opportunity to indulge in my love of raindrops. I took my new weather sealed macro lens out into the woods and braved the storm.

It’s that color so late in the summer, I think that intrigues me. Without leaves to hide them, the naked ladies are all about color. Those, the blackberry lilies,  and the crepe myrtles are the last blast of summer color. The ladies will be here for a week or two, and then anticipation for fall color takes root in me. For now, I’ll just enjoy them while they linger.

Life Lessons From Mary Jane

Today is my friend’s birthday – it’s not just any birthday, today Mary Jane turns 100! I have known her for over a decade, and have learned so much from her about life and what really matters. Today I thought I would share some of the things I have learned from her with you.
This is Mary Jane on the last day of her first century.

This is Mary Jane on the last day of her first century.

The land matters.
One of the first things I learned about Mary Jane was that her family had once owned a great deal of land. She inherited land from her parents, and in the 1950s sold a section to a developer. Today that section is a golf course community with over 1500 residents. Listening to her talk about the land, I don’t hear regret in her voice, I hear astonishment that those who purchased it did not value the caves, the dogwood forests, the springs. One day we were driving on that land and she asked what I thought it would take to buy it all back and tear it all down. She said she liked it better when it was wild.
Mary Jane - queen of the woods - seated on her throne with her scepter.

Mary Jane – queen of the woods – seated on her throne with her scepter.

It’s easy to talk about land preservation, but Mary Jane has actually done it. She has placed the entire hollow between her home and the development into a land trust -157 acres that will never be developed, land rich with springs, and caves, and wildlife. A hollow that has never seen a permanent structure apart from the rock formations it contains, the land is filled with amazing creatures like flying squirrels, tortoises, deer, and even the occasional big cat. This land is an amazing gift to her community and to the future.
A 93-year-old Mary Jane blazes a path through the hollow.

A 93-year-old Mary Jane blazes a path through the hollow.

Recently a major electric company announced plans to take a high voltage line across the southern end of the hollow. They want to cut a swath 156 feet wide, install 150 foot tall towers, and permanently treat the land with dangerous herbicides. Our small county has been pulling together to oppose the project. Mary Jane was one of the first in line to speak at a public hearing about the project. Although she is not comfortable speaking to a crowd and didn’t have sufficient light to read her notes she told the judge about rare cave fish, springs, and wonders at risk. It was moving to hear her, and to know that her greatest wish is for that land to forever stay as it is today, wild.
Here Mary Jane reviews the scope of the Oak Hill Wildlife Preserve Land Trust with a surveyor.

Here Mary Jane reviews the scope of the Oak Hill Wildlife Preserve Land Trust with a surveyor.

Take care with water.
When I first moved into my house, Mary Jane dropped by while I was having a new dishwasher installed. She saw that and asked me why I would ever want one. To her this was like throwing water over the side of the hollow. You see, when she lived in this house they had a “windless” pump, basically it’s a pump that you crank by hand to bring water up the mountain from the spring below in the hollow. There was no tap to turn on, water was work. Until a few years ago Mary Jane still carried her drinking and washing water from a cistern at a local Grange hall. She was the last resident still using it when they suspended the water testing. Last year she finally installed a cistern and a pump at her home so she can use rainwater for non-drinking uses. She still carries her drinking water each week from a neighbor’s well. She’s spent a century knowing the value of water. Throwing it down the drain seems such a waste.
Mary Jane on the land above her springs.

Mary Jane on the land above her springs.

Enjoy the flowers.
You should never mow down flowers, not even wildflowers. Mary Jane’s lawn is not a lawn at all, it’s a field of wildflowers that she selectively mows after the blossoms are gone. It’s been a challenge for those who help with the lawn to know what is a flower and what is a weed. In the back she lets the sweet rocket grow so that the swallowtails can feed on the nectar. It creates a solid field of color about four feet tall. Recently she had the area alongside her driveway mowed, but she made sure that they left the blackberry lilies – she told me that she knew I would want to take pictures of them. For the last few years I have had a “garden fairy” – mysteriously flowers show up in places where Mary Jane has told me that they would grow well. Irises, daffodils, hyacinths, lilies – all planted in areas like the dip where a cistern used to be or along the patio. I’ve got a 100-year-old friend with a green thumb, so I’m pretty sure the mystery is solved.
A tiger swallowtail lights on the sweet rocket behind Mary Jane's house.

A tiger swallowtail lights on the sweet rocket behind Mary Jane’s house.

Several years ago Mary Jane asked if I would like to go on a hike with her. She told me she’d like to go into the hollow to show me something – she took me down to the bottom where there was a horseshoe-shaped waterfall. I thought that was the destination, but it was just a stop along the way. We bushwhacked up the other side of the hollow, she climbed up that hillside so nimbly – and she took me to a barren spot. The power company had clear-cut a 30-foot-wide power line easement and she had been able to see the bare spot from the other side of the hollow. She took several envelopes out of her pocket and told me to open them – they were filled with seeds that she had gathered from wildflowers. We scattered them all over the right-of-way. Thistles, sweet rocket, matrimonial vine – she envisioned that spot alive and brimming with color again. All it took was an afternoon and a few miles up and down the hollow to reclaim a spot in the woods that only she knew about.
Mary Jane is a firm believer in flower power.

Mary Jane is a firm believer in flower power.

Be kind to animals.
Mary Jane keeps a photo of a raccoon pinned up on her living room wall. It’s one of the many coons she has fed over the years. I’ve seen her feed them peanut butter sandwiches by hand. Most evenings they come to her door looking for dinner. Before she stopped driving I saw her parked on a pull-out next to a creek. I pulled over to see if she was ok, she was fine, she was just relocating a king snake that made its way into her house. She didn’t want her cats to harm it. Recently she called me, terribly concerned over a wren that had been hurt at her house. We wrapped it up and put it in a kennel cage and headed out to meet a wildlife rehabber. It didn’t survive the trip, and Mary Jane couldn’t bring herself to speak on the ride home. I sometimes look on her in awe for the childlike way she approaches and treasures wildlife, whether it’s a bug, or a snake, or a rabbit.
One of Mary Jane's many forest friends.

One of Mary Jane’s many forest friends.

Walk.
When Mary Jane’s last car threw a rod I offered to help her find a replacement. She told me that she was pretty sure that this was a sign from God that it was time for her to stop driving. She could be seen walking the mile between her house and the grocery a couple of times a week – even in the heat of summer she would rarely accept a ride. She would make a day of it – walking, visiting, shopping, and walking back home. She told me once that she believed the secret to staying flexible and strong was walking. The first time I hiked with her she was 89 and we did 5 miles in the hollow. Today her vision keeps her from walking as much, but she recently told me her greatest pleasure in life has been to walk upon the earth. I think she’s on to something.
On this day we set out to find Mary Jane's great uncle's homestead in a neighboring hollow. Her memory was amazing - we put in several miles that day and she was able to crawl over logs to cross the creek.

On this day we set out to find Mary Jane’s great uncle’s homestead in a neighboring hollow. Her memory was amazing – we put in several miles that day and she was able to crawl over logs to cross the creek.

Stay connected.
Mary Jane has a network of caring cousins and a couple of grown great-grandchildren. Sadly, she lost her only child a few years ago. She has lots of friends and continues to make new ones. At 100, most of her friends are younger than she is! In the 1970s a group of young people settled into the hollow – she allowed many of them to stay in what is now my house, others camped deep in the hollow or slept on her porch as payment for helping out around the place. This area is filled with people who came to the Ozarks in that era and stayed – many of whom bought or traded for land from her. As twenty-somethings she was the one older person who put a roof over their heads and was a part of their circle. I have seen photos of her at weddings at my place, in a field filled with flower children, Mary Jane could be seen in a smart polyester dress she made herself holding her patent leather pocket-book. Today the tables are turned and they take care of her. They drive her to the laundromat or grocery store, they help with her water, they care for her animals if she is sick. Mary Jane has a family – but she also has this family, her “Hippie Family” as she described them to me once. She looks at them as the children and grandchildren she never had. They are integral to her daily life. Thinking in those terms, Mary Jane is like family to me too.
Last years birthday celebration took up over half the restaurant - people who stay connected to Mary Jane.

Last years birthday celebration took up over half the restaurant – people who stay connected to Mary Jane.

Time matters.
I never manage to just pop in to Mary Jane’s place, I’m always there a minimum of an hour or two – we have spent hours listening to bird calls on my iPhone or looking at old photos. She tells me the most amazing stories and I get a bit more of a window into her life. She listens to my life stories with wonder about the lands west of the Rockies. Sometimes we will spend a whole day out on an adventure – a trip to a museum or just a country drive. She has a goal to drive on every road in Carroll County, I think she may have already covered them all, but she enjoys showing me the hidden treasures that you often find down a dirt road.
A conversation with Mary Jane

A conversation with Mary Jane

Yesterday I stopped by to see Mary Jane, we almost always connect on the weekends. If I haven’t heard from her I will pop by in the afternoons. We are having a big celebration for her next week, but I wondered what her plans were for today – THE day.  She told me she had no plans and that she would love to have dinner with me, but more importantly she would like to spend time with me – she wants me to stay and visit. You know, I want that too.
Mary Jane blows out the candles on her 99th birthday surrounded by family and friends.

Mary Jane blows out the candles on her 99th birthday surrounded by family and friends.

Next week Mary Jane will show up at her favorite restaurant filled to overflowing with her family, friends and neighbors. Tonight we’ll have dinner and good conversation. Maybe I’ll learn something new.

The first of many

I don’t typically post multiple times a day, but this is important. Today on the way home I saw it. It was there in the woods waiting for me…

The first of many…

Today the first dogwood made it’s appearance in the woods. Spring is officially here.

Carry on.

Holy Macro!

I have been out taking a very close look and am happy to report that spring is springing. It’s not busting out all over yet, but if you look close, very close – it’s all there to see.

Yesterday after work I took a walk with my macro lens. It’s a Leica 45mm f2.8 so I can shoot in overcast conditions or in low light – that pretty much describes the conditions. I love the tonality of evening shots – past the golden hour, but early enough to keep the ISO and noise at low levels.

The remains of our glorious autumn are still around. I snapped this by accident, I was not even planning a shot - stupid trigger finger. Sometimes a great lens makes a decent shot out of a misfire.

The remains of our glorious autumn are still around. I snapped this by accident, I was not even planning a shot – stupid trigger finger. Sometimes a great lens makes a decent shot out of a misfire.

I was beginning to despair. The heat last year did so much damage and until yesterday I saw no buds. They are higher up, I'm hoping they fill in. These are edible and quite tasty in a salad.

I was beginning to despair. The heat last year did so much damage and until yesterday I saw no buds. They are higher up, I’m hoping they fill in. These are edible and quite tasty in a salad.

I don't know what these are called by my "lawn" is full of them. This shot focuses on the center of the plant.

I don’t know what these are called by my “lawn” is full of them. This shot focuses on the center of the plant…

...while this shot focuses on the outer blossoms.

…while this shot focuses on the outer blossoms.

These flowers appear to float in the woods. They are about a half-inch across...

These flowers appear to float in the woods. They are about a half-inch across…

...and resemble very tiny roses. These are tough to shoot because the are on very thin branches that move with any breeze.

…and resemble very tiny roses. These are tough to shoot because the are on very thin branches that move with any breeze.

This inch-long bundle of feathers is suspended over a limb on the lilacs...

This inch-long bundle of feathers is suspended over a limb on the lilacs…

...another view of the debris from the impact - the breeze makes the lower portion blend together.

…another view of the debris from the impact – the breeze makes the lower portion blend together.

This is a hole in a large rock I have on the patio - it fills with rainwater and the birds drink from this crystalline cavity.

This is a hole in a large rock I have on the patio – it fills with rainwater and the birds drink from this crystalline cavity.

Springtime is about exploration and discovery for me. It’s the perfect time to take that macro lens out for a walk.

It’s a Small, Small World

Early spring in the Ozarks is a mixed bag. Soon the hills will erupt in color, but not just yet. The trees are still bare but budding. Sometimes if you want to see what’s going on you have to get closer – much closer.

I have been getting up close and personal with nature – collecting shots with my Leica Macro lens. Sometimes when you get close you see beauty or complexity in the most mundane things. Color emerges, structure is revealed, discoveries are made.

The dandelion is far more complex that it appears from the seat of my mower deck. The center is almost crystalline

The dandelion is far more complex that it appears from the seat of my mower deck. The center is almost crystalline.

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These cover the fields all over this area – they look like a floating purple cloud from a distance. Up close they are more leaves than flowers, but those flowers are so delicate – less than an eighth of an inch across.

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I love johnny-jump-ups, and these remind me of those but much, much smaller. This tiny violet is less than a half-inch across.

From eye level this looks like moss on a rock. When you get down to ground level it is much more complex than expected.

From eye level this looks like moss on a rock. When you get down to ground level it is much more complex than expected.

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These hyacinths are at the end of their cycle. They mysteriously appeared a couple of years ago after my neighbor encouraged me to plant bulbs in the remains of an old cistern.

I don't know what these are, but they look a lot like some I have seen in my neighbor's flower beds. They are new this year. Thank you garden fairy!

I don’t know what these are, but they look a lot like some I have seen in my neighbor’s flower beds. They are new this year. Thank you garden fairy!

 

Here's a closer shot of that blue flower - there is so much structure to these flowers when you get close.

Here’s a closer shot of that blue flower – there is so much structure to these flowers when you get close.

I think this is some form of bluet - it measures about a quarter inch across.

I think this is some form of bluets – it measures about a quarter-inch across.

I'm pretty sure this is southern bluet. Tiny and white.

I’m pretty sure this is southern bluets. Tiny and white.

Is this the face of an owl? Nah, it's just the shell of a black walnut - it was probably a winter  meal for a squirrel

Is this the skull of an owl? Nah, it’s just the shell of a black walnut – it was probably a winter meal for a squirrel.

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The field around the Stone House is a mix of blue grass, clover, and low ground cover like this. An inch-long feather rests atop the ground cover.

I don't know what this is, but it is very tiny - smaller than a head of a pencil. It is so small that it's color is not even visible until you get very close to the ground.

I don’t know what this is, but it is very tiny – smaller than a head of a pencil. It is so small that its color is not even visible until you get very close to the ground.

I see these every year, they are low - under the grass. This one seems to have extra petals.

I see these every year, they are low – under the grass. This one seems to have extra petals. I love its star-shaped foliage.

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This is ice – water frozen in the bird bath.

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Daffodil buds emerging.

Water condensing inside the stalk of a daffodil.

Water condensing inside the stalk of a daffodil.

Getting these shots required me to get down in the dirt and undergrowth. Getting closer is not always easy, but is usually worth it.

These are a Few of My Favorite Things

You know the song.

Since Thanksgiving you’ve heard it a hundred times. Listening to the lyrics it’s not explicitly about Christmas, but it is from a movie we watch during the holidays. The list in the song is not my list. I’m not big on whiskers – I prefer the rest of the kitten. I don’t think I need mittens when using a kettle – it’s all a bit disjointed. Lyrically it’s genius – in practical use it’s not my cup of tea.

So what would my list be? I decided for my 100th post to share the list of things that inspire me behind the lens.

Raindrops on…

Anything.

Naked Lady in the rain

Naked Lady in the rain.

You can see my house inverted in this raindrop

You can see my house inverted in this raindrop.

A newly opened dogwood drenched in the rain

A newly opened dogwood drenched in the rain.

Lilac buds shining after a shower

Lilac buds shining after a shower.

I love redbuds - the first color of spring

I love redbuds – the first color of spring.

I’m not so much into bright copper kettles, but I am fascinated with…

Rust.

This is the rust and patina on my copper fire pit.

This is the rust and patina on my copper fire pit.

This hay rake was in my woods when I bought the house - every surface is beautifully rusted.

This hay rake was in my woods when I bought the house – every surface is beautifully rusted.

This padlock was on the jail in Midas Nevada. The lock spoke to me more than the shack it was attached to.

This padlock was on the jail in Midas Nevada. The lock spoke to me more than the shack it was attached to.

I don’t even know what schnitzel is – it sounds odd to me. I know it’s odd to love…

Dandelions.

I like the delicate structure and I like to find a way to look at them in new ways

I like the delicate structure and I like to find a way to look at them in new ways.

The structure of the actual flower is pretty amazing even before it goes to seed.

The structure of the actual flower is pretty amazing even before it goes to seed.

The substructure is so intricate. I shot this with a manual macro lens from the 70s.

The substructure is so intricate. I shot this with a manual macro lens from the 70s.

I grew up in the desert so the idea of sleigh bells is foreign to me, but door bells make me think of home. I have a strong bent towards…

Sentiment and Kitsch.

I love kitsch and I love it unusual places. I have had lawn flamingoes in the front lawn of every home I have ever owned.

I love kitsch and I love it unusual places. I have had lawn flamingoes in the front lawn of every home I have ever owned.

Keys

These are my Grandpa’s keys. I love shooting things that belonged to someone special.

Purple Glass

My Grandma taught me about purple glass, I love to shoot things that are transparent and have color.

Apricot Pit

My great-grandfather carved this out of a peach pit. I love the surfaces of handmade things like this.

Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes. I like snow, but not so much for its photographic opportunities. I prefer…

Spring Flowers

First color on the ground often before the grass starts to green up.

Crocus – the first color on the ground, often before the grass starts to green up.

Cherry Blossoms open skyward

Cherry Blossoms opening skyward captivate me.

Daffodils have amazing color before we even notice them

Daffodils have amazing color before we even notice them.

Lilacs open as the sun hits them - here for too brief a time.

Lilacs open as the sun hits them – here for too brief a time.

My garden fairy planted a few of these a couple of years ago in a spot were there was once a cistern. I love them.

Hyacinths – My garden fairy planted a few of these a couple of years ago in a spot were there was once a cistern. I love them.

Cream colored ponies and dogs biting. I’m not too far off here.  I love the company of…

Dogs.

Sunshine is my Goldendoodle. He’s a lovely goofball and is a bit camera-shy, I like to catch him when he is unaware of me.

These are my brother’s pointers – I shot this one Christmas when Vegas had a rare snow. I loved the sheer joy the pups exuded as they ran in the frosted desert.

These are my two female terriers. They hate each other’s guts unless they are sleeping – they are precious when they sleep.

This is a pup I met on a trip – I love that he was interested in my camera. Curiosity is a favorite thing to capture in an animal.

Zipper was my first Kayak dog – he was so relaxed on the water.

Brown paper packages, blue satin sashes, silver white winters – there’s a lot of color in this song. I love color and am drawn to vivid colors. One color draws me more than all the others.

I shoot anything that is…

Orange.

The color of this car drew me to it - hundreds of cars and this was my favorite.

The color of this car drew me to it – hundreds of cars and this was my favorite.

I'm pretty sure I chose this hard drive for that orange bumper.

I’m pretty sure I chose this hard drive for that orange bumper.

In the shop where I work I see lots of color, but this set of mixers caused me to go get my camera.

In the shop where I work I see lots of color, but this set of mixers caused me to go get my camera.

These Tiger Lilies grow wild around the Ozarks. I have them pretty thick in the springs right at the edge of the woods

These Tiger Lilies grow wild around the Ozarks. I have them pretty thick in the spring – right at the edge of the woods.

This sunset was so vivid that I missed an appointment when I stopped to shoot it.

This sunset was so vivid that I missed an appointment when I stopped to shoot it.

Now that winter is here and it’s a grey day, I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so … bad.