Categories
outdoors Photography Plants

Meets the eye

Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful day, almost 70 degrees. There was a breeze, but it was warm and gentle and one could go about with a light jacket and feel just right.

I hadn’t been up to Shaw in a long time because of the road construction on I-44. The state is adding an extra lane all the way to Gray Summit, and in the process the lanes are narrow and the road surface uneven. The speed limit is supposed to be 50, but I’ve yet to see anyone follow this. Well, other than myself. A Ford Focus handles beautifully on country roads, gravel, in the city and what not, but it does not do well on uneven roads.

At Shaw I debated on taking the forest path to the wet land, or the country road behind the back. I had my iPod in its new heavy duty Belkin leather case, and it was fun just walking along the road, listening to Bond; taking the ear buds out from time to time to listen to the wind through the trees and the birds singing.

I also took along my camera because, though Shaw is in the middle of its dormant stage, you never know when something will pop up that might be fun to photograph. Such was the case yesterday when I came across piles of cut Eastern redcedar.

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Eastern redcedar is really a juniper tree, but it still has a beautiful grain and smell. The photography gave me an excuse to get close to the wood and breath in the scent. I noticed that the trees must have been fresh cut, as they were still ‘bleeding’ from the cuts.

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A couple of folks came along and seemed dismayed to see what looked like healthy young trees cut down. After all, this is a Nature Center, what could be more natural than trees? Especially when the Center replaces the stands of trees with what looked like fields of weed. However, this effort is part of the the ongoing effort to remove invasive species all across the park; restoring native wetland and prairie, as well as stands of hickory and oak, which are more natural for this area.

Environments are delicate, and the health of a particular environment is not necessarily obvious in the eye of the beholder. Though a vast empty prairie may look like ruin, and a forest of cedar look richly healthy, the opposite can be and often is in true–prairies are alive with many species of plants and animals that may be difficult to spot, while eastern redcedar forests may contain just that: big redcedar trees and nothing else.

At one time, Shaw was prairie and wetland, but people came along and plowed it under into farmland. When the farms were abandoned and the ground lay fallow, rather than be reclaimed by what was natural wildflowers and grasses, seeds contained in berries eaten by birds made their way to the fertile ground and honeysuckle and eastern redcedar thrived. Unfortunately, redcedar needles contain a high level of acidity, unpalatable to other plants. Both species choke out others by overrunning the ground as well as providing a canopy preventing young plants from getting enough sun.

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Like many other areas in the Midwest, work is underway to pull up these invasive plants, and replant native species in their place. Until this is finished, every winter the park is a mass of pulled and destroyed honeysuckle vine and redcedar trees in addition to the marks of controlled burns.

I left the road half way around to take the forest path past the prairie. The park had added a new bench overlooking the hills in a nice place to sit and enjoy the view of the grassland and the sod house on the hill.

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I liked the inscription on the bench: He was in love with this world.

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Categories
Photography Weather

Whirling away

The robins were by yesterday, in their annual migration. I grabbed a few photos, which I’ll scatter about this writing.

We were hit, or I should say, sideswiped by a tornado Sunday night. It wasn’t a surprise: we had tornado watches all night, and you could see the storm coming toward us on the radar. Still, we’ve had warnings before and not much has happened, so I went to bed about ten on Sunday after taking two nighttime Tylenol to help me sleep.

The Berries are mine. Mine.

Peek At You

I lay in bed, half asleep listening to the wind and rain, when I noticed that the sound was getting louder and more steady. People have said that tornadoes sound like trains, but I didn’t get that impression. The sound was unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and as it got closer, I grew more alarmed until I jumped out of bed and opened the curtain. Outside was rain and hail and wind whipping all about in a chaotic fashion. When one of the lamp posts fell over, I grabbed my robe and called out to my roommate that we were getting hit by a tornado.

Pretty Girl

He was still up, watching weather on television and assured me that this wasn’t a tornado — they had turned off the tornado warning just a few minutes before. It was just a strong wind is all. I stood in the hall, robe clutched around me and listened, and as suddenly as the wind had started, it was gone. He went back to bed; I went back to bed.

Bright Eyes

Strong wind my butt. The next morning I took my roomie into work, and we passed the Wal-Mart near our home and saw large signs tossed about, one half driven into a dirt bank; steel fences twisted into pretzels; electric poles snapped like toothpicks. It was an F0 tornado, with winds of 70 miles per hour. It had skipped about, snapping large trees into pieces and damaging several houses, as well as creating the damage to the shopping area. It was just a baby twister, and luckily no one was hurt.

The unseasonable warm weather is gone now–swept away by this last storm of too long a year of storms–and it’s very cold. I don’t mind so much when I get a visit from my robins.

A Shy Bird

Categories
Photography Travel

Clark Fork

My mother is anxious for me to see all of the beautiful places she’s discovered. By the time I return home, I’ll be ready for a good long rest, tweaking the A-listers and writing code.

Today I headed the opposite direction and drove just out to Clark Folk about 29 miles away. Unfortunately, the day was so beautiful that I ended up following dirt roads hither and yon. What’s the good of having a rental car if one doesn’t make full use of it?

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In the town of Clark Fork, I passed a little gift shop and didn’t pay it much attention until I noticed that the sign that said they sold marbles. Marbles? I pulled in and spent a wonderful hour looking through the shop at all the odds and ends, including marbles and antique bikes, and talking with the owner. I took photos of her store, and she gave me several sample marbles, imprinted with logos with cute little wood stands. I asked about the hand crafted marbles, and she picked out one of her favorite marbles and brought it and me out into the sun so I could see it. It was called “Fire and Ice”.

Did I buy it, of course I bought it. Fire and Ice, how could I not buy it. My excuse is that it’s my birthday next week, but I needed the color; I would have bought it even if I didn’t have a handy excuse. And no, my plane ticket is purchased, so I won’t be forced to hitchhike home.

But no more cute little gift shops.

Categories
Just Shelley Photography Places

Nostalgia: Reversed

Nostalgia doesn’t fit a reverse chronological format, so I’ll refrain from indulging in sweet stories of pig-tailed cherubs wearing gingham, skipping about in the late afternoon sun. I did enjoy my trip to my hometown after these many years, but it didn’t seem all that much different than the towns I visited in Missouri, or Vermont, or Arizona, or any other of the states in which I’ve lived. My mom enjoyed the photos I brought back, though, so that’s a goodness.

Kettle Falls hasn’t changed much. Any new development tends to be along the highway rather than through main street. The only change was the addition of a median with trees down the street. Oh, and to shame big city libraries, this little town’s tiny little library offers free wireless.

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The old grocery store was still standing but, like most of the businesses, closed. I spent many a penny on candy in that store during its time. When I was about a year old, my mother had gone into the store leaving my brother and me in the car outside. My brother released the brake on the car and managed to hit another car before we stopped.

Hodgkiss Grocery Store

The old Assembly of God church I attended is now painted a bright blue and is a union hall; I imagine the union workers are timber company employees. Timber is still the big trade item in the area, though the old saw mills are gone and the new ones burn ‘cleaner’. Not so clean, though; I saw too many dead fir trees, most likely killed by acid rain.

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When I lived in town, I and a friend used to climb Gold Hill, which formed one side of the main bypass highway. In my mind, I remembered it as steep and rather expected it to be less rather than more. However, my childhood memories do not lead me false–it is a steep hill, and a tough climb. Yesterday, I could barely climb the road much less the hill.

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And Ralph’s is still Ralph’s. Every town has a Ralph’s, and while Ralph’s lives, the town still exists. If you grew up in a town like my hometown, you know what I mean.

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In the country outside of town, the road to my old house hasn’t changed much. A few more homes, but the area is part of the Colville National Forest system, which has kept growth down. I stopped at the old bridge crossing the Colville river as it made it’s way to the Roosevelt. This is about two miles from my old home, and hasn’t changed even a little in 40 years.

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I followed the old dirt road below our old house, where I spent most of my time growing up. How odd to see the land more wild than when I was a kid. Along the sandy shore next to the Roosevelt lake, I noted footprints: skunk, deer, and dog. It was the dog that sent me back to my car: dog prints without a matching human are never a good sign.

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I almost passed the house I lived in until I was nine. My old science teacher bought it from us, and his widow still lives there. Sometime in the last few decades, they moved the driveway from the right side of the house to the left, took out the fruit trees, and cleared the forest behind the garage. It’s the same garage I almost burned down when I played with matches as a kid. I’d post a photo, but it’s a garage and posting a photo of a garage exceeds acceptable sentimentality. So I’ll just post a photo of the house, instead.

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There was an nice looking, sightly older man mowing the lawn when I pulled up, and I asked him if I could take photos of the house, as I used to live there once. I identified myself and he offered to get his mom, but I didn’t want to disturb her. When he said ‘mother’, I asked him if he was my brother’s friend Mike, astonished to see the mature man where last I’d seen a teenager. He was visiting from his home in Hawaii, of all places. He was one of the many Mikes that were all of an age (it was an uncommonly popular name). Odd thing is, all the Mikes that moved away, lived, all the Mikes that stayed, died before 25.

I missed getting a picture of the sign leading into the town– Kettle Falls: 1255 friendly people and one grouch. Oh, in case you’re wondering, yes, I’m sure I’m related to the grouch.

It was interesting seeing the place, but I felt no connection with the area. As they say, you can’t go home again.

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Categories
Just Shelley Photography

From a Train Window

Spending two days on a train is an interesting experience, one that could be improved by spending the extra money for a sleeper. No matter how comfortable the coach chairs are, they are not conducive to sleep.

I had a chance to see Illinois’ fall colors on the trip from St. Louis to Chicago. It was a lovely day and the view was wonderful. It was during this portion of the trip that I found out train personnel are very strict regarding baggage. One mentioned weighing my pullman bag until he hefted and then said it would be fine. Note: if you travel by train, don’t fudge your baggage; not when fuel is so costly and the railroads are barely scraping by. If the bag was overweight, I don’t know if the attendant would have started chucking my clothes out the window.

I spent four hours in Chicago waiting my next train. A red cap at Union Station helped me get my bags to lockers, and then retrieved me and the baggage for the next trip. If you ever need a red cap at Union Station in Chicago, I recommend Phil.

Baggage checked, I had three hours to look around, and it was a perfect fall day: cool, sunny, colorful. I had a marvelous time walking up and down canal street. At one point I passed a bunch of trailers for a movie, but I couldn’t see anyone about.

Back at the train station, I decided to go into the large, open room called the Great Room, but it was blocked off. The Clint Eastwood WWII movie, Flags of our Fathers, was being filmed in Chicago, including scenes at the train station. The Great Room had been re-decorated until it resembled its 1940’s self, which was a kick to look at. The security guards were very nice, answering my questions, and letting me take photos from the doorway. I didn’t see anyone in period clothing, so assumed they were probably on break. Too bad — would have liked to have seen Eastwood.

Highlights and not so high, lights of the trip:

Good: Having a chance to spend a few hours with the friendly folk in Chicago–not to mention seeing that great downtown.

Good: Spending 1/2 hour waiting for a train with about 30 Amish people. I shamelessly listened in as one group of Amish ran into another group of Amish and exchanged details of their lives. Some English was used.

Bad: Finding out that the Amish are suspicious of outsiders and not particularly friendly.

Good: Train was half empty so I had my two seats to myself.

Bad: When you’re a tad over 5’11”, you cannot fold yourself into two train seats. No, no, not even when you do that.

Good: The homemade beef pot pie in the dining room was excellent.

Bad: Being seated with three complete strangers in close quarters in the dining car. More, three strangers who look aghast at you when you order a beer for dinner.

Good: The old cars dumped down hills here and there. You wouldn’t think junk could be beautiful, but it is. Especially the rusted out Model T laying on the hillside in North Dakota.

Bad: Seeing so many small, deserted towns along the way, as corporations buy out small farmers and ranchers. One town was completely empty, but strikingly preserved except for the grass growing along the street, and a couple of range cows grazing along it.

Bad: Not having enough time to get the camera ready when an exceptionally fascinating view comes along, such as the abandoned town, the Model T, and the wolf in Montana.

Good: Having a chance to see the abandoned town, the Model T, and the wolf, regardless of getting a picture or not.

Good: Being able to walk about, stretch, gaze out the window.

Good: The sound, the motion, the feel of being on a train. It is unique.

Bad: One train attendant who was rather offensive with the pretty, young women.

Good: The train conductor who helped me off with my bags at Sandpoint. He answered all my train questions with enthusiasm and delight. It is rare to meet someone so completely and absolutely in love with their work.

Good: Having so much to see that you never get bored.

Best moment: The pass coming from Glacier, Montana to Sandpoint, is completely dark — you can’t see a thing. I was half asleep and reading when I noticed a ghostly blue light around the track ahead of us. Through the fog, a phosphorescent glow silhouetted several train cars lying scattered about, up the hill, down a cliff, in a scene that looked straight out of The Shining. I asked the conductor about the lights and he said the cars were from a derailed train carrying grain and hadn’t been recovered yet. According to him, a train derails at least once a year in that same location; the lights placed around the cars were to keep away the bears and the moose, attracted to the wet and fermenting corn. The bears would eat the corn, and then pass out on the tracks.

Flags of our Fathers

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