Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Winter Flowering: Pink Dawn Viburnum

My three Pink Dawn Viburnums (Viburnum x bodnantense 'Pink Dawn') started to bud on December 24, 2013, but didn't get around to letting a flower peak through until mid-February. 

I figured I'd write a blog about them as soon as I had a range of photos, but what to write? I researched (Googled and went through all my books) trying to find something odd or interesting or, at least, oddly interesting, but no luck. 

  Early to flower, light fragrance, zones 5-7, 8 or 9--depending on the source--nice fall color, cross between V. farreri and V. grandiflorum, etc. Fine, all fine, but why post photos and info when the info was everywhere? This isn't what I wanted my blog to be.

As I was doing the dishes today, I realized what I could say (this sort of thing always seems to happen when I'm washing the dishes or in the shower. Something about water? Difficulty in holding a pen and dousing a notepad suggests inspiration?) And what I could say is the following:

I love to walk into mature gardens filled with open flowers. All those shapes and all that color is just one enormous, loud "Hi there!" All those "faces" are like friends of-the-moment, made at an especially fun party. The kind of effortless, immediate camaraderie that feels like an unexpected gift.
Yeah.  Well.  I love those moments, I do.  But there's something in me--as mostly a Macro photographer--that needs to plan, work ( and suffer ) for longer, perhaps deeper relationships.  I like to take time, get as close as possible to individual plants, destroy my knees, and photograph that conversation.

 So these photos, taken from early bud to last sagging flowers, reflect my relationship with my Pink Dawns over these last few months. 

The buds, with all their fuzzy bits and pink bits and green bits, intrigued and excited me at first.  It was hard to tell what would unfold where.  But the weeks went on and on and my impatience and frustration grew.  Would they never open?  Would they just dry up and just fall off in the cold?

Then one morning in February when I walked out into the garden for a bud-check, the fuzzy bits had peeled back and the pink bits had pushed out and open.  Just a few, but enough to give me hope (and a few shots).

However, not longer after, we got slammed by 18 inches of snow (see my March 3rd post for what that looked like).  I couldn't even locate the plants much less the fragile blooms.

But when the snow finally melted and the sun came back, the flowers quickly multiplied, with the wind rarely letting them hold still long enough for decent shots! 


When the little trumpet blooms were so much paler than the buds it all seemed pointless, until they multiplied and scented the air (if you stuck your nose right into them--easy enough to do when you're on your knees, inches from them). And lastly--at this point--all the buds opened to a sigh and a sag. All that effort. Surely it was worth it.
But don't get me wrong. In the right mood, I can definitely enjoy a big, crazy party with lots of superficial relationships!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Snow Days

Eighteen inches.  It snowed eighteen inches in one day.  Now some of you are rolling your eyes and laughing at this.  Some of you see eighteen inches of snow in two hours.  Some of you only see snow when you watch the Winter Olympics (and why are YOU watching winter sports you’d never participate in since you are without anything deserving the name "winter"?  Yes, this former Californian has become a winter-snob).  However, SOME of us aren’t used to eighteen inches of snow in one day.

Nor are we accustomed to having the ground so saturated and the temperature so consistently below freezing that our gardens are hidden from view, and our snow-heavy trees are bent so far over they look ironically like arbors at Santa’s Village.

 I turn around just in time to see the Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars menace our house with their white bulk.  They fill the air with groans and sudden cracks as another limb breaks from the trunk and crashes to the ground.

But when it just barely started to warm up, when the sun burned through the iron-grey skies for just a few hours, something lovely happened.  First, a few large mounds of snow slid off a branch of one of our towering trees and crashed to the ground with sparks of snow-bits leaping into the air.  Then another.  And then another.  They had held on through the snow-weight and cold.  Now, the newly released branches sprang back up into place, animating the frozen forest. So magical.  Then so many that it seemed like arboreal slapstick.  Alas, no photos.  Too busy watching and laughing.

 Then the ice in the pond began to break up and recede, and a few ducks attempted a swim.  Soon, I think, it might be spring.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sheeple and Their People

"Sheeple" is how our good friends, Yvonne and Doug, refer to their resident flock. They have personalities, moods, rather expressive faces. And, when they vocalize, they are amazingly loud. Who knew? 
Not long after lambing, 2012

When I was a child, I'd dreamed of roaming green hillsides, frolicking with goats and lambs. But Los Angeles didn't offer any such landscape. It was the stuff of story-books.

So was winter. But here I am in my Muck Boots and thick jacket against the chill in the barn at their Spinners Eden Farm ( ), watching Doug shear some very pregnant ewes and Yvonne pick through the fleece. She's a spinner/weaver/knitter, and, at first, they'd planned to raise a "spinner's flock" with a few angora goats, alpacas, and sheep for Yvonne's own personal use.  She found that she especially loved spinning wool from CVM (California Variegated Mutant) /Romeldale sheep ( ), so that's the breed they raise.  

She writes, " Then friends started asking about buying fleece.  I didn't think I'd ever have that much.  We had our first lambs, Adonis, Bacchus, & Athena.  The next year, we cross bred the two rams with the ewes, bought two more champion blacks & a white at Black Sheep Gathering. . . so our flock grew from four sheep to seven, to ten, to . . . 38 right now."  

  The wool makes them look twice as big as they are, even the pregnant ones!


 Bliss, below, clearly would have preferred some other activity, but she remained pretty calm with the process.



To the left, poor Holly looks like she exploded!

Raising sheep was not their first profession.  I asked Doug, an Ob/Gyn, if he'd ever imagined himself doing this; he just laughed and shook his head, before answering "No." But he's as passionate about these lovely, funny creatures as he is about medicine.  Just ask him what he learns from living with them; but pull up a chair and plan to stay awhile.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lens Upgrade Hell

My walk-around lens (Canon EF-S 17-85mm) choked. On vacation, where it was the only lens I had with me (i.e. "walk-around") it was giving me error messages rather than showing me the image (that it sometimes took anyway) telling me that I needed to clean the contacts. I cleaned them and it continued to choke.

taken just outside of Kelowna, BC, in-between chokes
According to my new, internet lens-buddies, this was a not uncommon occurrence with this lens. And I had my choice of what to do about it: 1) I could send it to Canon, who would charge me more than the lens was worth to fix it; OR 2) I could buy what may-or-may-not be the device that needs fixing on e-bay, buy the tools required to swap out said device, watch videos that purport to demonstrate how to swap out said device that may-or-may-not be the culprit, and then attempt to fix it myself; OR 3) I could take this opportunity to sell the lens (the glass is perfect) and buy an upgrade.

Door number 3.

And thus I embarked on the search for what that upgrade may be. Anyone of you who has ever tried to find the perfect walk-around lens knows that I had just entered the deranged realm of the astigmatic brain and the pixilated gaze. FOR WEEKS!

It was so simple when I was about to purchase my first DSLR. Then it was just a matter of asking for advice on one photo forum and taking what seemed to be the most sensible suggestion. It was the right choice for six years.

Ah, but now that I know more (or just think I do) and am familiar with more sites that are supposed to help me make an informed decision, I spent weeks narrowing my choices down and then rented the two top contenders based on quality and my checkbook. And then went over the same ground that had led me to these two lenses again and again.

The sites that talk about and/or demonstrate lens image quality are wonderful tools and will drive you to drink (or to substantially increased drinking).

The Optometrist Approach: Which is better, number one or number two? The people who go to the enormous trouble of taking lenses through all of their settings with some sort of image quality chart (a popular one shown below as rendered by Stephen H. Westin here: are doing us all an enormous favor. 

 These tests do reveal a lot.  And, after overuse, can reveal one to be obsessive/compulsive and in need of glasses. AND, some of us then feel the need to reproduce (very badly) what these experts have already done. Over and over. And then one comes to the conclusion that nothing looks clear, just more or less clear. 

--Seriously though (for a minute), I really do recommend taking a look at this excellent site for one of the easiest to use tools where you can plug in two different lenses, match f/stops and cameras and compare the results. Just don't drive yourself nuts with it: 
Pause for my kind of clarity with my trusty macro lens.
Hamamelis × intermedia 'Jelena' blooming right now

Now if you want to take this sort of thing further--and who wouldn't?--there's a subset to the Optometrist approach some have called:

Pixel-Peeping. One wants a sharp lens. Yes one does. But it would seem that there's sharp and then there's SharpIf I'd wanted 
Sharp, I should have been willing to spend multiple-times more money on "L" glass--professional grade for full-frame Canon cameras. But mine is not full-frame, and I am far from professional. To peep at pixels then is to compare relative lack of perfections but not to achieve perfection. One throws images up on a computer screen, enlarges a portion of an image until all one sees are pixels or just short of that, and then gazes at relative soft edges.

However, is this how one actually looks at photographs? No. I know this. I don't even print my images, so they remain computer-screen sized which makes most decent shots look like they were chiseled by fairy hands. Ah but I know those pixels are there, lazily spilling out over their borders. It maddens me. And yet I have little choice. Better not to look. Though I do.  

And then when I have thoroughly driven myself and my spouse crazy, I turn to the only people left who can stand to work these questions even further into the ground:

Internet Forum Opinions or Seeking Swarm Intelligence: Oh god, this is the worst. Why would I seek the opinions of strangers? And why would their opinions matter unless they owned both lenses? And why would they own both lenses? 
Actually, what they hate helps more. Loving a lens just means you haven't found it to get in the way of your photograph. It hasn't frustrated you or ruined a shot for you. Looking at your photos tells me nothing other than your skills or lack thereof as a photographer. I don't really care. But if you tell me that you dislike the soft edges this lens always delivers or that you find the focus ring to be sticky, that tells me something useful.
And yet what I really want is for someone to tell me I'm making the right choice. sigh

I did make a choice and am satisfied with it. So now there's just the drumming of fingers until UPS arrives with my new lens. Just in time for several weeks of rain.

Another macro lens shot while I'm waiting.
Dwarf Maiden Grass
Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio'

Thursday, November 7, 2013


There are lots of spider webs around here. I mean LOTS of them. The delivery woman carries a stick to slash through the tangle strung across the porch so she can bring packages to the front door without having to worry about arachnids crawling through her hair. There's one that's been dangling in front of our kitchen window for months (spider not delivery woman). It occasionally catches a fly and consumes it while I'm stuffing a chicken. And Bailey sometimes trails the remnants of a web as he dashes in to escape what stays caught on his ears and tail. They are everywhere.

And they're beautiful in their delicacy, the way the light breaks across the drops of water caught on the strands and splits into colors, the way strings of those drops drape like ropes of pearls: Nature's Flapper necklace.

But without the moisture, when the filaments double back on themselves, they make the flowers look unkempt, fussing up the smooth petals, contorting the leaves by pulling at the surface, and dulling the colors of the plant until, perhaps, we no longer see the plant at all.  

I think this might have been a red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), but now it just looks like the armature for a spider's nervous breakdown, strung with illogical knots and aborted strands headed nowhere.

If I'd never seen this plant before, what would I look at first?  Would it be the damage, the web?  Would I dismiss the plant and move on to something else?  Would I even recognize what it used to be and still was?

Which brings me to a minor health event. While waiting for my sutures to come out this past week, I wondered, "Is this the way I'll see my face:  pulled and lined and dulled like a web-twisted plant? The doctor will see the quality of his work; the scar has a beauty for him. He knows what he accomplished, and my face becomes for him another creation, another success. 

But I will see how it pinches and slices what was once (relatively) smooth. I imagine how others will stare, caught by the web the scar presents, no longer seeing me as I was.

Before I got my stitches out, it was difficult to see beyond the green/blue Frankenstein sutures. I'm not prone to body art, so accentuating the twisted tissue into a kind of face-painting didn't do too much for me--hell, I don't even have pierced ears.  And, believe me,  I know the main thing is that the cancer is gone. I know others who have battled (won and lost) far more formidable opponents than mine. 
All the same, I was afraid of what I'd see and of ceasing to be who I am in the eyes of others. 

 And then the stitches came out.  I have a scar, a canal arcing down from my left eye and then branching out into two short red streams.  It's not at all as bad as I'd feared.  And though I notice eyes darting to it, lingering just a moment longer than a heartbeat, they return to my eyes and nothing has changed.
Campanula punctata 'Cherry Bells'

The spiders are still active in the garden.  But the flowers that have continued through Autumn don't seem much bothered by them.  The Campanula on the right barely tolerates the cobwebs that attempt to anchor themselves to its petals.  The color alone almost burns through the lacing.

And the spider silks pulling at the Anemone bud below aren't going to keep it from flowering. 


Thursday, September 5, 2013

We're Still Here

I just watched a video of Elaine Stritch singing "I'm Still Here" from Stephen Sondheim's Follies. Even though she spends part of the time forgetting, trying to remember, and then struggling to hear her accompanist singing out the words to the song, she brings down the house (which includes President and Michelle Obama). How much more perfect could it be? Before beginning, Stritch bemoans the fact that she's heard women in their 60s, their 50s, and even one in her 40s doing this number. But, to her mind, you've got to be at least 80-something to really mean it.

So why begin my blog post with this? The song is swimming around in my head now. I usually hate it when I get an earworm, but this is different. It's comforting somehow. First of all, it's Sondheim, and I adore his work. But second, the guts and the promise of the song gives me courage (as well as a few laughs).  And--you knew I'd get there eventually--it's so like a garden. 

Haven't you had a plant that keeps coming back, year after unlikely year? You try to help it through tender youth, forget to cover it for its first winter, perhaps it stays dormant (perhaps dead) the next year, but then doubles its original size the following year? 

It does well; you ignore it in favor of other, newer, showier garden purchases. But it flourishes anyway. Then you notice it's wilting; you over-water it, and now it's turning black. You nearly dig it up before it infects its neighbors but you forget (lots of forgetting in gardening). And it comes back stronger the next year, and you don't remember that it nearly died. It makes it through weather, drought, flood, several presidential administrations, general neglect, and YOU. And it's still here.

There are those spots where someone some time ago thought a plant might look good.  She watered it for a season, then tired of the maintenance. Other projects took precedence, maybe someone else bought the property and the plant was part of the package, no more to the new owner than the paint on the walls or the rusting bench. But it survived.

Fresh paint and a pair of Adirondack chairs revive an old house in St. John's, Newfoundland. But those neglected, stunted shrubs look like they're simply hanging on out of a kind of botanical perversity.  They don't really "belong" anymore, but they're still there.

I'm a long(ish) ways from 80. But there are times when I feel like this lone, lopsided apple, hanging on towards the end of the season. 

Other times, this one-eyed Eastern Screech Owl (I think it's a Screech Owl) reminds me a little too much of how my body can restrict and even fail me.  Yet I love how thoroughly pissed off he seems.

But most of the time, I like to imagine that I'm a lot like these beach grasses:  tough enough to withstand weather, isolation, neglect, and time, at least while there is still time.

Or the biker. 

   (The biker is waiting for a ferry, but that's just a tad TOO symbolic, don't you think?)

 Watch Elaine Stritch singing "I'm Still Here" here: