Seven Reasons To Take The Nature Photography Challenge

 

Post your original nature photos seven days in a row, then tag others to do the same. These are the reasons I’m enjoying the challenge. What about you?img_8153

  1. You have photos in your camera (or phone) you haven’t even downloaded yet. You deserve a little time to look at those photos and assess what you have. I can almost guarantee you have some gems in there.
  2. You’ll enjoy a review of how much time you’ve spent observing the natural world. Yes, humans are natural, too, but there’s something ineffable about interacting with a tree that no human planted, or a bird who no one has tamed, or a mammal who’s nobody’s pet. Even urban wildernesses have these wild spaces and untamed creatures.
  3. You might get inspired to make some resolutions. I know I have. I resolve to get outside more next year, and to share my photos in a more timely manner, including on iNaturalist. (I spent a lot of time indoors this summer after giving birth… understandable, but still! Don’t want that to become the new norm.)
  4. You’ll learn about your photographic strengths and weaknesses, as well as your interests and habits. I discovered that my photos aren’t as in focus as I’d like, or I’m pushing the limits of my Canon PowerShot SX50 too far (or I need to read the manual)… I’ve discovered I could justify buying equipment to do macro photography, since I would actually use it. My photo cache shows the pattern clearly: I enjoy tiny details like the veins of leaves and the texture of a mushrooms.
  5. You’ll relive fun outdoor memories! And who knows better than you how much fun you had? I think the original idea was to post anything from the previous 12 months, but I’ve stretched that a little bit. You could also challenge yourself to post a photo from each current day. THAT would give you a lot to choose from for Field Notes Friday!
  6. You get to inspire your friends. Not only do people get to see the cool things you’ve seen, at the end of your week of photos you tag your friends to challenge and encourage them to do the same thing!
  7. You’ll flood social media with cool nature photos rather than (insert whatever current fad or trending topic is just. too. much.) I love going to Instagram because I have filled my Instagram feed with high quality nature photographers. I look at their photos and I breathe more calmly and feel my face relax. You can do that for others, whatever social media platforms you use. [I’ve been posting my photos on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Find me there!]

What reasons am I missing? Let me know!

Whatever inspires you to get out there, be observant, and commune with the wilds – just do it. Get out there. [And believe me, I will take my own advice!]

 

Step Closer

What draws you in, entices you to step closer?

There’s a Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica) in my neighborhood I’ve never, ever noticed before, and this Fall it’s multi-colored. I suspect, though I haven’t taken careful note, that Blackjack Oak  leaves usually turn paper bag brown like the leaves of Post Oaks (Quercus stellata), my favorite trees. But not this year, not in my neighborhood. There are delicate shades of turning in these remnants from ancient Cross Timbers forests.

This tree captured my attention so thoroughly on recent a drive home that I turned the car around, parked, and hopped out to get a photo.

And here’s the photo.

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This photo is an unpoetic, unskilled, simple copy of my view – what my eyes could take in. But it in no way captured what my mind focused on. The criss-crossing power (or telephone?) lines detract, the pavement dominates, and only the barest hint of color shimmers in the leaves. I was surprised with the result, and disappointed. So I stepped closer.

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The second photo is more like it – the pavement and power lines are relegated to the background where they belong, the azure sky frames much of the tree, and the color of the leaves is starting to tantalize. But I really, really wanted to capture that rare color, and I hadn’t yet. So I stepped closer.

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And, look! I got some color. There are golds in them thar leaves! But, I thought, the grandeur I see in this tree just isn’t showing. It looks the tree is pushing you away with a suddenly raised branch, or trying to distract you by dangling a confusing mass of leaves in your face. You can’t see the scale of the tree; the trunk looks scrawny. So I stepped closer.

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Now I looked up. The leaves were illuminated by the warm sunshine and contrasted with the dark bark (which I presume gives the tree its name). I wanted to scale the tree like a spirit squirrel and revel in the dappled light and lounge on the branch hammocks all day. But the picture didn’t quite portray that longing. So I stepped closer.

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This one. This one is framed like I wanted, and draws me upward into its branches. It makes me want to reach toward that rare gold which shines like a beacon above the darkness of the writhing, rippled bark. I had to hug the tree, lean against it to get this shot. I experimented with framing, with attempting to capture the fractal-lightning branches silhouetted against the sky.

There is a wildness in this untamed, untrimmed remnant of ancient Cross Timbers forest. Maybe that’s what drew me in after the splash of color caught my attention.

I had to get closer to capture the feeling that drew me in from afar.

If you want to see something better, step closer. If you want to understand something better, step closer. Of course, there’s a time to step back, and a time to step away. To everything there is a season. But right now, in life, there are a lot of things that puzzle me, and I’m choosing to step closer to get a better look.

The next time you want to step closer, will you?

 

These photos were taken with my husband’s iPhone 6 and are completely unedited. If I learn photo editing it will be to help my photos better convey the feelings of longing and appreciation each subject inspires in me.

Field Notes Friday: Outdoor Meditation

Yes, I still do #FieldNotesFriday, and so should you! As my parents would say, “It’s good for what ails ya.” This entry is an example of exactly that: reflective time outdoors calming the mind. Lately for Field Notes Friday I’ve been posting photographs to my other social media sites (Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr), but today I’m sharing a nature-focused entry from my personal journal.

Thursday.

I have a beautiful view. Yes, the soundscape is urban – traffic, landfill trucks, buzzing power lines overhead – but at least the trees & grasses are rustling & there are crickets chirping. The sun & clouds tousle over who will win the day. The dragonflies hunt. Sagan is asleep in the carseat, which I’m leaned against as I face out the car door, East, toward water towers & buildings far away on the horizon, but forest & field between them & me. And power lines & their obligate gangly structures. Trees rustle. Leaves turn color. Grass bows. A fly searches.

It’s hard to make sense of the events of the past few weeks, some of which I share with the nation & world & some for which only a few close to me have endured. I seek solace in these moments, but I’m not open to it – not yet. Right now I feel raw & negative & aimless. I need to settle my mind with some meditation! That will help me sort out what needs doing, & appreciate the beauty before me, rolling toward me like the moments of life. I can either appreciate the moments, the view, the sounds, the smell, the sensations — or I will miss the whole thing.

After I wrote the above, I put on my headphones and listened to this guided meditation: Sam Harris Guided Meditation With Atmospheric Music

This was my view. Not the Grand Canyon, but it did the trick. I needed a long vista, both physically and mentally. img_7957

This is the original handwritten entry…img_7967 …and a detail from the page which reflects my mental state, not what I was seeing.img_7967

You should also think on paper and with your camera, and share with the rest of the online nature community! Here’s how to #FieldNotesFriday.

A Naturalist Looks at Pregnancy

Hello again. It’s been a while.

I’ve been reminded by my fellow interpreters at the latest NAI Region 6 conference that it’s time to break the silence; it’s time to post my own #FieldNotesFridays again, and get back to regular writing and online publishing. So I thank them and you for the encouragement, and the patience, as I gathered myself over the last months.

You helped me through a dark time, when I felt ecologically estranged and depressed. I can’t say I’m through that stage, but I can say that hearing from you, learning that I wasn’t alone, meant a lot to me and helped me see light at the end of the tunnel. I feel closer to our in-person and online naturalist community since sharing how I felt and learning how you feel. You were with me on that journey, and now I’d like to share another journey with you.

The driving factor in my life right now, the inescapable and obvious-even-to-others fact: I’m pregnant.

I’ve wanted to share the steps and moments with you all the way. I’m fascinated by the biology of pregnancy and excited to be ‘attempting’ our first child.

For example, I wanted to post around week 6 that – eww – my ‘baby’ still looks like a deformed tadpole and – fascinating! – has gill arches which will someday turn into a jaw, inner ear bones, and more. (More on the evolution of those homologous arches in Your Inner Fish – and hey, there’s a companion TV series on PBS we should watch)

And I wanted to post on week 23 that – strange – our kiddo might survive out of the womb with modern medical technology, but still has translucent skin, so would look like a baby-shaped bundle of blood vessels for a while.

And in week 31, I was excited to learn that our little human’s cortex was furrowing into a more spacious place for cognition.

At least, these were the developments we assumed were taking place, if everything was going well.

And that’s what stopped me cold. Once we got pregnant (and it seemed to take a long time, although I know it’s taken others longer, and some are heart-broken that they can’t get pregnant), I was quickly reminded of the social taboos of sharing your news “too early.” Too early – in the first three months! – because of the danger of miscarriage. Miscarriages are strikingly common. 50% of fertilized eggs are spontaneously aborted, and 10-20% beyond that are also miscarried (this doesn’t even count stillbirths, the term used after week 20). Those are sobering odds.

As a friend studying sonography(?) said, when you learn about all that can go wrong, it seems amazing that humans can procreate at all.

I’ve been… scared.

I’ve been scared of what can go wrong – not that I wasn’t previously aware of these possibilities, but now I am keenly aware of them, and they’re personal. If we lose this child I know I will go through a period of doubting myself, questioning anything I might have done wrong, and having a hard time forgiving myself.

And if, medicine forbid, I contract Zika virus… well, there’s a whole new worry for pregnant women. (More on the CDC’s suggestions for pregnant women avoiding mosquitoes and Zika here).

But part of being a naturalist, and therefore being scientifically aware, is not only recognizing possibilities, but recognizing probabilities. I’m not likely to contract Zika; there fewer than 20 cases in Texas so far (or were when I first drafted this in March), and all but one them is from travel. (One is from sexual contact, a transmission method more likely than originally thought – again, see the CDC’s recommendations.) Even if I do contract Zika, studies in Brazil show that only about 30% of fetuses are adversely affected*. (Right, I know… who wants to be in that 30%? Who wants to take those odds on their future kid? But my point is I’m more likely to experience complications from not taking my vitamins and from gaining too much weight.)

The fear has a positive side: I didn’t realize how much I would care about our first child surviving. I didn’t have any concept how much I would want this pregnancy to come to fruition, how much I would anticipate meeting our son, giving him all the chances I’ve had in life, and hopefully more.

So maybe now that I’ve shared my fears I can share the joy more readily. I’ve come far enough to be facing the very real, highly likely possibility that this pregnancy will be successful, that little Sagan Shane will enter the wider world healthy and ready to learn, and I’ll have a whole new set of possibilities to worry about and come to peace with.

Here I am, just another primate procreating… but to me, this journey is sacred. I have a support network of family and friends, I chose to be pregnant and chose a loving partner with whom to raise a family, and I recognize, because I’m aware of the biological process, that this is a precious, dangerous, treacherous, joyous, once-in-his-lifetime journey.

I look forward to sharing the rest of the journey with you.

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Pregnant naturalists can still hit the trails! Here I am bumpin’ out in the wilds of Village Creek State Park in March (left) and the LLELA Nature Preserve in February (right).

*Please note: this figure is from a newspaper article I read in March 2016. I need to find the article and link to it; I apologize for not having the source available at the time of publication. Til I can provide a source, take this figure with a grain of salt (healthy skepticism), just like I hope you treat every unsupported claim.

How a Nature Interpreter Knows it’s Spring

…Because it’s busy as a beehive! If you’ve been with me on this journey for the last few years, you know I crave feeling attuned to the seasons, and want my job to reflect seasonality.

And it does. Spring is when suddenly everyone (“and their dog” as locals say) becomes aware that there are things to see and do outside of those climate-controlled spaces. The phone rings off the hook with questions about programs and trails (and sometimes found baby animals), program numbers sky rocket, and down time is a thing of the past and won’t be part of the present again till sometime in July, when the heat beats even hardy outdoor-folk into retreat (or at least into siesta schedule, a good adaptation in Texas).
Add to the Spring busy-ness a little El Niño weather-related excitement (like the most rain we’ve seen in 5 years), and trail conditions and mosquito populations and river levels and potential program cancellations and rescheduling make for one busy nature-centered job.

And I love it all. I love the rain. I love the highly seasonal level of activity. I love the uncertainty of whether the weather will favor a program at a particular time. I love people remembering that there’s a whole world outside their doors. As a sweet young person said on one of my recent guided hikes, “This is like the real, REAL world!”

Yes, these flowers and leaves and bugs and mud and tracks and that breeze – this is all the REAL real world. Nobody filmed it or animated it or coded it or photoshopped it to impress you more. It’s just beautiful and wonderful, and I’m so glad to have the occasional person like you who is open to it, aware of it.

Of course I didn’t tell her all that. I just let her soak it in, and I soaked in her wonder.

This is what it’s all about.

Field Notes Friday 0036: Signs of Spring

Just a quick note today. Others have joyfully pointed out Trout Lilies and Spring Herald (or Elbow Bush) to me this week. But the King of Spring this week is a magnificent, stately elm tree (also pointed out to me – where has my head been??) that stood stately by the Green Dragon Trail at LLELA. Look at those buds/blooms!

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Field Notes Friday 0034: The Appearance of Destruction

Shocking as scenes after a fire may be, some fires are “good” (meaning they’re an essential part of some ecosystems). In a controlled burn, one of many goals is to burn often enough that raging, far-ranging fires aren’t a possibility in the future.

I imagine in the past, the swath of land a herd of thousands of bison had tread and munched might serve as a natural fire break – not enough fuel for the fire to continue. (I don’t have a source on that; just imagining.) In modern controlled/prescribed burns, at least the ones I’ve participated in, mow lines, water sprayers, and backfires do the job.

Here’s a before and after shot:

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It looks shocking. Like the land is devastated.

But it’s not. The fire burned through quickly and made way for native prairie species while making it harder for invasive woody species to encroach.

I hope to return and show a different “after” photo: one that’s full of the green and gold and reds of life, sprung anew from the ashes.

I’m posting this as part of my pledge that I will make it easier for myself to participate in Field Notes Friday. I’m taking my own advice: keep it simple! Just a photo and some thoughts are plenty.

Here’s a link to the photo and thoughts I shared on Facebook. I hope you’ll join me there as well as on WordPress (…and iNaturalist… And Instagram…)

Field Notes Friday 0033: A Realization and Encouragement

This realization has already helped me, and may help you. So of course, I want to share.

Bird banding log

Bird banding log and restored savannah behind it

It started to dawn on me when I listened to Dr. Jim Bednarz speak to the Dallas Audubon Society this month. He detailed his research in the Galapagos, an exotic location I’d be honored just to visit. He focused on the Galapagos hawk and its unusual polyandrous breeding arrangement, including what evolutionary pressures could lead to such an arrangement and how the size of male harems affects each individual’s fitness (survival and reproduction).

Dr. Bednarz did a stellar job making his research come alive; striking photos and interesting anecdotes wrapped around the scientific steps of creating a hypothesis, gathering data, celebrating being wrong and revising hypotheses… and gathering more data. Data, data, data. As the photos flashed before my eyes, I saw similarities with another study I’m occasionally able to participate in (and which Dr. Bednarz consistently does): the Winter Sparrow Site Fidelity Study at LLELA. In the Galapagos, the researchers caught, banded, measured, measured, and measured the hawks again. Data. And the researchers returned, year after year. I think the study spanned 6-8 years. Data, and more data, and details, and time.

And at LLELA, I’ve felt the excitement of flushing sparrows toward mist nets in the prairie, the pressure of writing data for multiple birds simultaneously, as well as the monotony of making the rounds to find empty nets. I’ve seen the enlivened team when there are multiple catches, and disappointed participants when the ‘pickins are slim’. And I realize: a successful researcher is tenacious. There is a process. There are steps. There is information to be gathered, there are good days and bad days, and one must persevere.

I’ve long admired the brilliant insight of naturalists like Darwin and Wallace, the adventurings and pluck of Mireya Mayor, and the discoveries and positive influence of Jane Goodall. But all I’ve gotten to see or study are the highlights of their lives: the big ideas, the results of their influence, the excitement and danger of travel… the director’s cut, really. I forget that there were hours spent with a magnifying lens or microscope, crawling at (truly) a snail’s pace on hands and knees to get a closer look at something, hours poring over books and maps. Hours of journal time, noting the tiniest changes in the subject. Hours of staring at the subject. Hours, probably, of recording seemingly unimportant numbers. Data.

So I revisited the sparrow study and took this photo.

And in my journal, I wrote:

MAYBE

SCIENCE

is a slow process

made of tiny mundane steps

leading to short, rare bursts of insight.

I need to adjust my desires and expectations.

I find this new perspective uplifting and affirming. The little moments you and I spend in detail work, perhaps feeling like we’re making no progress or not contributing to humanity’s knowledge, all add up. Keep on keepin’ on.

KeepOnTruckin

For more info about Field Notes Friday and how you can participate: http://bit.ly/FieldNotesFriday

Please join me on Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, and iNaturalist. Let’s keep in touch!

Field Notes Friday 0030: Monarch Day!

It was a day of Monarchs! I’ve never seen a migration like this… or rather, I never knew to look up at the right time before.

The actual journal page is below, but I know how my handwriting is, even when I do my best to slow down and smooth out the curves… so here’s the transcript/translation:

Social media CAN be used to reconnect people with their nature! Before I got out of bed (it was SO COLD this morning! We slept with the windows open and it dipped into the upper 40s), I checked Facebook. Both Suzanne & Michelle had commented on monarchs flying through their backyards/are (in Fort Worth). So I kept my eyes open [throughout the day], and HOLY COW! As I approached LLELA, I saw ever-thickening numbers – at first I was delighted with one, but then 15 in as many minutes… and this gave way to 150 in an hour and I lost count! They seem to be using the area just South of the dam as a highway, flying East to West. The only two or three times I saw them deviate was when a couple circled each other or a dragonfly chased one. (about 2.5 / min or 5 every 2 min)

There is something sacred and special about feeling a part of something as epic as this journey of thousands of miles. To be witness – to be graced with a canopy of monarchs – to see beauty and fragility but know it belies strength and tenacity – to finally be awake and aware enough to see how grand nature’s stories are – I am honored to be this awake, and indebted to those who have made the invisible visible by studying this incredible… being.

Monarch Day

Dad got to see it, too – he surprised me and showed up to see what the Dutch Oven Club is all about. Then we walked to the Homestead. SEeing monarchs, and honey locust, and a few other items of interest caused him to say ‘now I remember what I enjoyed so much about Lufkin.’ His family used to visit the grandparents every summer, I think.