White-Winged Crossbills Being Wild Way Up in a Pine Tree

I found them at the rotunda nestled in a large stand of pine trees (Ella Sharp Park in Jackson, Michigan). They were at the top of the trees where the cones were. The female has a dirty yellow color.

Fai Chan

A lot of things are coming together in my life – seem like coincidences but maybe not. As I was thinking about the Lens-Artist Photo Challenge: Wildlife Close to Home, I thought about going back into files and finding wildlife photos from my drives through the Florida Everglades (close to my home there), or maybe looking for those wildlife photos I took in my Michigan back yard. Obviously I wasn’t enthused enough to do it.

Jim and I were watching the birds at the birdfeeders one day and he started talking about Crossbills and wondered if they ever come to feeders. He didn’t do any research because he knew who to ask – our card playing buddy Fia Chan who is a bird photographer extraordinaire. We played cards with Fia this week and Jim asked him about the bird and Fia had a photo on his cell phone along with an interesting story about how he took the photograph. He said they are very small birds and he needed his really, really, really long lens. He indicated that they are three or four inches long and the pine trees were huge 50 years ago when I took our kids sledding at the rotunda.

Several time over the many years that we have known the Chans I have suggested that he start a blog focused primarily on birding and bird photography. Every time he said no, he didn’t have the time and was concerned about his writing. This week when we were playing cards and Fia was my partner I suggested it again and told him I would edit his writing or even be a ghost writer. He smiled big and took me up on the offer. His writing is good, he can do it and he is smart – with lots of information to share about technique, bird characteristics and environment. He sent me an e-mail with more photos of the White-winged Crossbill and wrote this paragraph:

I thank you for offering to help me create and maintain a blog of bird pictures.  After 12 years, I am slowly losing interest in taking bird pictures.  Maybe I am getting lazy as I grow older.  I somehow have to rekindle my earlier enthusiasm and Jean (his wife) is going to help me. We are thinking of going to the Sault to look for overwintering snowy owls, pine grosbeaks, etc., boreal birds earlier next year.  We also are planning to go to Iowa to shoot bald eagles in mid-February. Fai Chan, November, 2022

I seem to be in the same spot as Fai. I just don’t seem to have the energy to go out and take photos even though I’ve seen hundreds of interesting potentials to explore with a camera as we traveled around our dot on the map. I also haven’t had to energy or enthusiasm to do many posts during the past year or so – and it seems to be getting worst. Maybe Fia and I can help each other regain our excitement and passion for going out to find new subjects to capture with our lenses. And I decided this morning that introducing you to Fia Chan and his wonderful bird photographs would be a good entry for this week’s challenge.

Fai and his wife have traveled long distances to find birds he would like to photograph for his massive collection. He has enough outstanding photographs to last him a lifetime, but I am sure once he starts he will want some new ones to show you and they will be out in the field again.

Thank you, Fai, for introducing us to the wildlife that is so high up in the pine trees that we would never have found them. When Fai starts posting I will make sure to provide a link so you can welcome him into our blogging community.

Just a Little Time Outside

Haven’t been out for many walks lately as I have been consumed by choosing products for our Florida rebuild after the storm surge. I also made the decision (in one of my less sane moments) to make quilted Christmas gifts for all family members that will gather at our house this year. I did however walk down our short drive to take some photos of the gorgeous Maple tree in the side yard when it was at its most colorful.

The leaves have since fallen and we have what seems like an early snow on the ground. It was challenging for Jim to get the leaves raked and I stopped myself from helping because the raking and bending would have inflamed the arthritis in my lower back. Our son came to help with the second raking but there were still leaves that hadn’t fallen. Then we got the best help of all – we had a couple of days of very strong winds – like rattle the rafters strong – and we looked out and all the rest of the leaves were gone. We smiled big. It seems like one of the greatest challenges of reaching old age is to recognize that we can no longer do many of the things we used to do and to (gasp) let someone help us when we can do it perfectly well ourselves.

This post was inspired by Becky’s November Squares theme Walking Squares. It’s a nice theme, Becky.

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow…”

Saturday evening I was doing a little clean-up in the kitchen and watching the clouds roll across the sky. I leaned over to get a better look towards the northeast and there it was – the end of a rainbow. It has been a long time since I’ve seen one that was as brilliant so I grabbed my camera and ran out the front door in my slippers.

It was a surprise rainbow because we had a very cloudy and gusty windy day. For over 24 hours the wind had been howling through the white pine, and the newly bared branches of the deciduous trees were whipping around and singing deep mournful songs. The wind sounds were unsettling. We very seldom get wind from due East and today the wind blew from the southwest, but whipped around the house and onto my east facing front porch to knocked on the windows of my reading room. We had gotten some rain in the past hour but the clouds were blocking the sunset so the rainbow was a big surprise. It seems strange to write it but I really needed this rainbow – without knowing I needed it.

It has been a very difficult month. The backside of Hurricane Ian combined with a super-high tide deposited a couple of feet of water inside our condo in Florida. Nasty brackish water contaminated with raw sewage. Things are working themselves out and we are fortunate on so many counts. The flood insurance carried by the condo association (FEMA insurance) was on site as soon as the water went out with the tide. They wanted to get a mold mitigator in immediately at their expense so mold wouldn’t form and migrate to the upper units which would lead to the city condemning each two-unit building. We had to go to Florida immediately but not until they told us we could get to the condo and it was safe. We were told the mold people were coming right away so we had to get anything we could salvage from the dumpster out of the unit and moved someplace else. We decided to drive because we knew it would be impossible to get a rental – and when we talked with our neighbor we learned that the Ft. Meyers airport was closed. Another neighbor flew into Ft. Lauderdale, was able to get a car and hotel room there and drove across the state every day. A neighbor with a second floor condo said we could stay there because one of them was receiving radiation treatment in Missouri and wouldn’t be going to Florida this year.

Our task was overwhelming. I didn’t fully comprehend how it felt to sit down on a chair and feel the dampness wick through my clothes, to open the bottom drawers of dressers and have the drawer fronts come off, and to work in sewage. I wasn’t prepared for having to make thousands of decisions about what couldn’t be kept, what maybe could be kept with washing, what wasn’t worth keeping, and what should be kept. I remember picking up an open box of Q-tips from an above-water-line drawer and thinking “those can be saved.” And then I pitched them because they didn’t have enough value to take to Michigan and back. Did I say our condo stank?

There was, of course, a boil water warning. Not a problem because we were eating in restaurants (that had a shortage of food) and drinking bottled water. But silly me! Our friend’s condo was our clean space, our comfort zone, our safe place. It never registered that the water I used to take pills and brush my teeth was that same water that went to our contaminated condo. Both of us got a bit of intestinal upset, but not enough to keep us from traveling north. We only wanted to stay three nights. Jim said he didn’t want to see our things taken out to the dumpster.

Yes, seeing the rainbow in Michigan after experiencing the aftermath of flooding was very welcome. I could hear Judy Garland singing, “Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high…” And I remembered the Christian Biblical story of Noah and the flood and the rainbow as a promise that God would never send a flood to destroy the world again. I didn’t miss the irony that we, the inhabitants of our world, are the ones who, through past and present actions, are causing the global warming and resulting extreme natural disasters. The greed and over consumption of developed countries could cause the destruction of our world this time, not God. I can hear my mother saying, “You made your bed, now you have to lie in it.”

Lens-Artist Challenge: Going Urban

An urban photography outing is best begun in a coffee shop. I love this shot of Emily – don’t you think it looks like a double exposure?

Jim and I don’t do a lot of urban time because it isn’t his favorite place to be – especially big cities. Consequently urban photography is a new challenge every time I take my camera to a city. This trip was an exciting challenge because I drove to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2016 to meet up with my granddaughter, Emily, who was about to start her senior year of high school. She had taken a photography class so we thought it would be great fun to do some urban photography.

Grand Rapids is a medium-large city – second to Detroit in Michigan. We decided to focus on the Grand River area that runs through the city on its way to Lake Michigan – about 30 minutes to the west.

Grand Rapid’s culture has been influenced by Dutch Reformed Religion, furniture making, Amway, and Lake Michigan. It is also the home of the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum that had opened just a couple of months before we were there.

This sounds like a trick puzzle after 58 years. The explanation is that Ford was appointed vice-president by Richard Nixon after Spiro Agnew was convicted of tax evasion. Then Richard Nixon resigned just before his impeachment for his role in breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters (Watergate), making Gerald Ford president. Ford did run for president in the next election but lost, probably because he pardoned Nixon, which was an unpopular decision.

Like every photographer, Emily took a few minutes retreat to check if her photos were as she wanted them to be.

I started this blog last Saturday thinking I would be one of the first to post. Well it didn’t happen and this week’s Lens-Artist Challenge is posted by Tina with the topic being Opposites. I will get right on that one and include a link. There should be some fun entries for that one. If you want to see other posts on Urban Environments you can follow this link.

Thinking About Photography (and Aging)

I watched a video this week and the two photographers, Ian Plant and Colleen Miniuk, talked about how, from their perspective, there are no rules in photography (the example they used was the rule of thirds for composition). They believe that the primary goal of photography is to make an esthetically pleasing image, one that is beautiful and tells a story. As I have been thinking about this, it seems like the only story I can tell with integrity is my story. I may tell you that I am working to capture the essence of the Naples Botanical Garden, but what I think this really means is that I am working to show you how I perceive the Garden, how it impacts me, what I find beautiful as I walk down the many paths every week during our winter stay. How the Garden touches my soul.

Of course some of my photography is simply recording “what is” in the few seconds it takes to push the shutter. I have a lot of those photos in my files that help me compensate for my poor memory. The featured photo for today’s post doesn’t fit into that category, however. I took it several years ago and I remember being pulled into the color and the lighting. It spoke to me of the beauty of nature as it matures. I found this photo again this week and I believe it is even more reflective of what I am trying to get my brain around in the learning journey of being old.

This photo reflects how my story was unfolding then; and how my story continues to mature today. I am reading a book by Parker Palmer, one of my favorite non-fiction writers, entitled On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, & Getting Old. This is a book of essays he wrote to help him gain an understanding of his own aging, and I am experiencing the joy of seeing myself in most of what he has written. The most important reading in my life has been when the writing is helping me know more about the person who I am within the context of life, and when I read with courage I discover the person I am really meant to be. These frequently haven’t been the same, but that is another post.

This post is about realizing that my story is a beautiful story. It is a story of pain and pleasure, anger and forgiveness, falling down and getting back up, missed opportunities and exciting success, great loves and painful losses, arrogance and humility. As I sit with my laptop on my lap and my fingers on the keys, I pause my writing, close my eyes, and think about all that has happened before. I come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t change a thing – nothing. My life isn’t like a book that I can go back and edit, delete some parts that I am embarrassed by or make me cry when I think about them. I can’t rip those pages out and burn them, have the brain cells that hold the memories electrocuted. No, all those experiences are written in my history with permanent ink and they make my story what it is.

My life is a beautiful story. If I truly embrace my life story as beautiful, it seems logical that I will be better able to recognize all of life’s stories as they unfold before me and, if my camera is with me, will be able to capture the beauty of life’s joy and suffering, life and death. Yes, I can express my life story, our life story, with my photographic images and it seems I will be successful with a few that will be beautiful.

I burst into laughter with the realization that these high ideals would best be achieved if I were living in a 25 year old body. But my current favorite motto comes to mind – it is what it is.