I had a doctor’s appointment this morning and didn’t get to work until about 11:30. As I turned into the parking lot, I glanced to my right and sitting on a fallen tree limb was this hawk. I pulled into the space facing the bird but my camera was in the trunk and I knew if I opened my door, the bird would fly off. There is a small opening in the middle of the back seat that lets me get into the trunk, however, and I very quietly lowered my seat, reached through and got my camera. I took the first photo through the windscreen, which turned out reasonably well. I then lowered my window and leaned out and was able to get a few photos before he (or she) flew off into the woods. I believe it’s a Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) rather than a sharp-shinned (Accipiter striatus), based on its size. Interestingly, both species are reverse size dimorphic, that is, the females are larger than the males.
I’ve been busy with my reading list lately, getting through some books that I’ve been meaning to read for a while now. I started reading Anna Karenin, by Leo Tolstoy, just before Christmas and finished it in early January. I enjoyed it quite a bit, although some of the characters were more likeable than others. After that I tackled The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It isn’t an easy book to read but I think it’s an important book, all the more so as we have politicians who clearly admire the Soviet Union at or near the top of a presidential race. This is only the first of three volumes and I have put off volume two for a little while, but it’s waiting for me when I can handle it. I took a little break by reading Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh, which is an enjoyable book and justly popular. I’m currently working my way into Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, which looks to be a bit harder and will certainly take me into February.
Cathy and I happened to be in my old neighborhood this afternoon and for the first time since my mom sold the house and moved out we drove past the house I grew up in. It looks basically the same, with the obvious exception to the purple shutters. That certainly is eye catching. The wreaths are nice, as well. They’ve painted the woodwork around the windows and the front door, which is definitely a good thing. The shrubbery was all trimmed heavily before the house went on the market and looks different to what I’m used to, but that was us, not them. Hopefully they are enjoying the house.
The local family got together this evening for Chinese New Year. Tsai-Hong and Iris picked up food from two different places and we had a wonderful meal. Of course, being with family is the best part of an evening like this and I try not to let the occasion pass without taking at least a few photographs. With two grand-nephews to photograph, I try to balance them out, posting first one and then the other. The last photo I posted was of both of them but I think it’s Silas’s turn. This is a pretty nice photo, in any case.
Chinese New Year was often a fun time when I was a kid. We’d go downtown and watch the parade on H Street and then have a Chinese meal in one of the restaurants in the area. We went there once with Dorothy and my parents in 2009. The parade and meal were nice but they never set off the long string of fire crackers that are such fun for kids (of all ages) because the fire marshal suspected a gas leak somewhere nearby. As disappointed as I was, I suppose I’d have been more disappointed has they been lit and there was a gas leak that caused an explosion.
We don’t actually know his precise birth (or hatch) date, but when we got him in October, 1986, we were told he was nine months old. So, we assume his birth date is January, 1986. That makes him 34 this month. Parrots live a good, long while and he wouldn’t be considered an old bird yet. Perhaps middle aged. He seems to be healthy enough. His beak and nails need trimming and he really doesn’t get as much exercise as would probably be good for him. Nevertheless, we’ve managed to keep him around for more than 33 years, so we must be doing something right. Solomon, despite the wisdom implied by his name, is not much of a sage. He says a few things and those a bit poorly. He can make a pretty good racket, when he wants to, however.
Cathy’s grandmother lived in Peru for more than 20 years, running the guest house in Lima for the Summer Institute of Linguistics. She sent and brought home many things over the years, from birds, reptiles, and small mammals to arts and crafts. One thing she brought for Cathy was this Peruvian harp. The harp, in one form or another, has existed as an instrument for more than 5,000 years. They were introduced into South America by the Spanish in the 16th century and have integrated into Andean culture. The Peruvian or Andean harp has a fairly large soundboard.
This one is not in playable condition, due to a large crack in the neck. I’d be very nervous about tightening the strings enough that they could be played. There is also a long crack in the soundboard, between two pieces of wood. Whether or not it can be repaired adequately is an open question. We certainly don’t know. Dorothy asked her college piano teacher if he would be interested in having the harp and he said he would, so today it left with Dorothy for New England and its new home. I took a bunch of pictures of it before loading it in her van.
There was frost on the ground and on the car this morning and I thought the ice crystals were pretty enough that I took the time to get a few pictures before heading off to work. These are on the roof of the car and are so delicate. I started the car so it would be a little warmed up by the time I got in, then put my bag in the trunk and took a handful of photos of ice crystals. I realized after taking them that the camera was set to manual mode because I had taken flash photos most recently. Fortunately they were pretty close to a proper exposure, so that worked out well.
Dorothy’s friend, Jackson, came to dinner this evening. He graduated from college along with Dorothy and got a job in New York. That’s great, of course, although living in New York isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. He’s traveled a bit and was here last week on business. Dorothy had dinner with him then and invited him to dinner this week, when he was in town again. Although he’s living in Queens, he’s commuting most weekends back to the Boston area to see his fiancée. She’s living near their alma mater and working in Cambridge.
After dinner (a Thai curry) I asked Jackson if I could take his picture for my photo of the day. He agreed and this is, I think, the best of them. I took some with him smiling and they are good, too, but I like this one. He’s hoping to be able to transfer to a Boston office this summer. Then, he and Megan are planning a September wedding. He brought an invitation from her to Dorothy to be bridesmaid.
Cathy and I have not had Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday for many years. The company where we work has decided that starting this year, we will be honoring the day and so, for the first time in many years, we were off work for that today. We wanted to do something outdoors and talked through a lot of options. Then Dorothy suggested we go to “the island with the box with the hand sticking out of the top.” When I was young, we went to this island in our little jon boat (there was no bridge or causeway in the mid 1960s). In the center of the island was a huge wooden box with a brass hand sticking out of the top of it. We know the proper name for the island, of course, but we still refer to it, and now Dorothy does, too, in this somewhat more colorful manner. Our friends Bob and Maureen joined us for the outing and we had a lovely time on a lovely day.
It was a lovely but chilly day today and Cathy and I decided to take an outing to Blockhouse Point on the Potomac between Pennyfield Lock downstream and Violettes Lock just below Seneca Creek at the C&O Canal Dam. Dorothy met us there and we had a nice walk in the woods out to the point. The sun was setting as we got to the point above the river and the tops of the trees on the Virginia site were beautifully lit by the setting sun. This shot, though the trees, was taken from the high ground of Blockhouse Point and if we stayed ten or fifteen minutes longer, it would have been dark by the time we got back to our cars. It was a really nice walk and one we’ll want to repeat in the spring and when we have more time before sunset.
In addition to the Ranunculus that Dorothy bought for our dining room table, she got some pussy willow stems. Pussy willow is the a common name for various Salix species and Salix discolor in particular, referring to their furry catkins, as seen in this photo. These plants are dioecious, meaning the male and female catkins are on separate plants. In general, it’s the male catkins that are used ornamentally as they are generally the more attractive of the two. They are very soft, like a kitten’s paw.
Winter is, in general, a good time of year for bringing flowers into the home. The outdoors is much more monochrome in the winter, with browns and grey predominating. So, adding a little bit of color to the dining room table it a real plus. One nice thing about pussy willows is they last a good, long while in a vase with water. They make you think of spring, which is still a little ways off in mid-January. So, if you’re feeling the winter-time blues, grab yourself a bunch of pearly grey pussy willow stems and brighten up your day.
While she was in Alaska from July to December, Dorothy got a job at a florist shop. She’s been exposed to flowers and plants to one degree or another all her life, having been dragged to various botanical gardens and arboreta. More recently she has come to appreciate them more than she did as a child. Nevertheless, her time at the florist has served to increase her love of flowers. This is a Ranunculus asiaticus, the Persian buttercup, and Dorothy brought home a bouquet of them for the dining room table. They are quite beautiful and I love the many overlapping petals of the deep crimson blooms.
I went out into the empty lot next door to my office this afternoon. It was a cool, breezy, but sunny day and it was really nice to be outside. Before going next door, I walked down to the pond between my building and the next, on the other side from the empty lot, and I took a few pictures of reflections on the water, but they aren’t really anything to speak of. In the empty lot, I took some pictures of sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) leaves with the sun shining strongly on them. They have a lovely texture and color. In the end, though, I decided to go with these bramble thorns. The genus Rubus contains the blackberries, raspberries, and all the related species. In addition to their generally wonderful fruits, they often have pretty stems, leaves, and thorns.
We started working on a puzzle this evening. Cathy had pulled one out to work on over the Christmas break and we finished that in reasonably short order. That one had 500 pieces and was a pretty straightforward task. I bought this one as a Christmas present for Cathy and it promises to be a bit more challenging. It has a scene from Venice, Italy and is cut up into 1,000 pieces. Until the puzzle is nearly done, that’s too big for our card table so I brought up a four foot square piece of wood and put that on top of the table. That’s just about enough room to get all the pieces laid out in a single layer and turned right side up with enough extra space to start putting the sides together.
I happened to read something recently that compared some task with trying to do a puzzle without the aid of the photo on the box. That made me laugh, because that’s the rule in our house. Looking at the box is considered cheating so once a puzzle is put out, the box is put away and not looked at again until it’s all done. You don’t have to follow that rule, if you’d rather not, but that’s the way we work things.
There are places where English ivy (Hedera helix) looks really nice. It’s also a very good ground cover for many situations. Nevertheless, I’m not a huge fan. In a city, where it can perhaps be contained reasonably well by paving, etc., it’s suitable. In the suburbs and rural areas it can really be an annoyance. This ivy is growing up a tree near my office and you can see how it grips its host. It will grow up into the tallest trees and eventually strangle them. It also covers the ground so completely that in often chokes out less aggressive plants (and there are only a few more aggressive). We’ve done our best to eliminate it from our yard and with a small patch that seems to reappear occasionally, we’ve succeeded. But we remain on DEFCON 3 or higher.
We have a small porcelain dish with a beautiful, dried flower decoration on the bottom. The dish is heart shaped with a ruffled edge and the decoration is beautiful, in my mind. The interesting thing is that when we got the dish, it had no decoration in it but was a simple, ivory color. The decoration shown here is actually real, dried flowers that were in the dish with a little water. The water evaporated and the flowers and their stems adhered to the bottom of the dish. They are, I assume, quite fragile and could be cleaned out very easily. Nevertheless, I think they’re lovely and thought they deserved a photo. Sometimes it’s hard to improve on reality.
Cathy, Dorothy, and I went to Great Falls today, along with half of the county population. It wasn’t really as bad as that but there were quite a few folks there. Also, the National Park Service, in their wisdom, has not only quadrupled the entrance fee to $20 per vehicle, but they no longer accept what is otherwise considered “legal tender for all deebts, public and private.” This, of course, slows entrance to the park considerably,
It was a lovely, cool, sunny day and we enjoyed walking about 4.5 miles round trip down the C&O Canal past Widewater to the Angler’s Bridge. I took quite a few photographs, including a good number of a great blue heron. We also saw ducks and cormorants and a belted kingfisher. This photo is of reflections in the canal of rocks and trees on the far bank and I really like it’s abstract quality. Dorothy said it reminds her of works by Chuck Close, and I certainly see the similarities.
We had a family dinner night this evening, with carry-out from The Big Greek Cafe, one of our favorites. They boys were in top form. First, they both got behind the curtains and then jumped out to surprise us and laugh. Late we asked them to climb up on a chair together. As is usual when trying to photograph youngsters, it was hard to get them both smiling and looking at the camera at the same time. Nevertheless, there were quite a few that turned out well and I think their parents will enjoy them all. This is my personal favorite, although I liked others pretty well, too.
Today I’ afraid it’s going to be another “I have to find something to photograph” type day. At a little after 10:00 PM, I picked up my camera and starting looking around for things to photograph. Dorothy asked me to document the various pieces of the large nativity scene that’s set up on the piano and I did that, but I’ve posted a photo of that already, so I didn’t want to repeat it, even from a different angle. I photographed this little pecking chicken toy that’s been out since Cathy’s brother and nephew were here, so that’s what you get.
Last week Dorothy bought some white tulips and had them in a vase in her room. Before going away for the long weekend she moved them down to the dining room table, so we got to enjoy them while she was gone. They are well past their prime now but I took pictures of them in their wilted state this evening. In this particular vase and with the diffuse lighting I used, this reminds me of a still life painting and I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. I have a photograph from 2010 of roses in a vase that also reminds me of a still life and that one may be one of the best photos I’ve ever taken, certainly in the top 100 (not that I’ve ever actually graded them like that). This one isn’t quite up to that standard but I’m still pretty happy with it. I really wish I could paint. Not that I’ve ever really tried, but it’s a lot of work and without a lot of practice, it’s just not going to happen. There are a couple folks I knew in my high school days who are professional artists and I love seeing their work.