Trees of Winter

On this beautiful summer evening when the temperature is 80 degrees F, the humidity is low, and I’m surrounded by lush green leaves on trees and flowers blooming in my garden, it seems really strange – almost surreal, to be posting photos of winter trees. I have posted the trees of summer and fall for Becky’s July TreeSquares, now I am ready to post winter’s trees.

I love trees in winter, how snow collects on branches creating a stark contrast of white and black and the long shadows cast by the de-robed skeleton of trunk and branches by the low winter sun. I have emotional memories from childhood of being fascinated by the flicker of tree shadows through the car window as we drove down winter roads, like a 16 mm film. I am still intrigued by this magic of sun and shadow.

I don’t have much time to enjoy the trees of winter now that we spend most of it in Florida where there aren’t many deciduous trees. One of those trees is the bald cypress that I enjoy when we drive down the few dirt roads in the Everglades.

Getting Away

Our B&B at Son Kul, Kyrgyzstan

This week I was once again thinking about getting away. Not going far, not getting away from people, just getting away from a few small worries and responsibilities that I’m carrying on my right shoulder, making it sag a little. Sometimes we get away for a few nights with our camping trailer and that will be happening in early August. I’m also planning a longer trip to northern New England in September but right now that is feeling more like a worry of planning than an excitement of “getting away.” Usually I get that feeling of wanting to ‘get away’ that doesn’t have a destination, that is a close cousin to wanting to ‘run away.’

Mountain Pass to Son Kul that almost wasn’t passable in early June.

When I saw this week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Getting Away I smiled, almost chuckled, because I think they read my mind – and maybe a few million other minds. I started thinking of all the little getting away trips, maybe even day trips, and thinking of all the “big” trips we have taken over the years. I even started looking at some of my photos but my spirit just couldn’t connect with my brain to bring on the excitement necessary to do the writing. This topic was too much fun to have it get delegated to my unfinished-posts-that-may-get-finished-before-I-die heap. During the past couple of weeks I have also been enjoying the photos I took in 2009 when I visited my daughter who was working in Kyrgyzstan. We took a private tour, with a Russian driver and a Kyrgyz guide, around the countryside, including going to Son Kul, a mountain top pasture and lake where farm families from the arid villages take their herds to graze in the summertime. This was a trip that was a whole different kind of “getting away.”

Taking herds over the mountain to highland pastures for summer grazing.
This truck is bringing another family, their yurts, and all they will need for the summer season.

The only infrastructure was two tire paths that were used only by the trucks that brought family members and their belongings up to their summer pastures. The only other vehicles were our van and a van of Swedish birders who went into the mountains during the day. Water was obtained from mountain streams and the lake, the only fuel would be dried dung from their livestock and a small amount of kerosene brought up from the village. There is no electricity or modern means of communication.

Neighbors communicating.

This is a place where getting away means getting away from all modern conveniences. These modern day nomads are there to maintain their livestock and care for their families – tourists are an aside that brings in a little cash but isn’t supported by an infrastructure. There are no gift shops, no grocery stores, no gas (petro) stations, no museums, no fudge shops, no tee-shirt shops. And no hotels or restaurants. We slept in a yurt that was like the one the family sleeps in and by chance (the birders didn’t want us to join them in the dining tent) we were invited to eat a simple supper and breakfast in the family’s living yurt.

The tour company had made reservations with a family for us to spend the night but when we arrived our tour guide couldn’t find them (did I mention there are no street signs or lot markers). They hadn’t arrived yet. Asermat (our guide) stopped at this site and asked if they could accommodate us and they graciously said yes, but the birders had the official reservation and they were there to talk birds, not socialize with unplanned guests.

Simple meal of soup and bread, with candy and cookies for dessert.
Ensuite, nomad style.

We walked here and there although the view was mostly the same. What I noticed was the silence – no motor noise, no mowers, no phones ringing and no wind blowing through trees or birds singing. Just a silence that somehow made the world seem larger than life. And I noticed how quickly I felt short of breath because of the altitude. As the sun descended behind the mountains and the temperature dropped we went to bed, with only the light of flashlights (torches) to help us navigate our bedtime activities of laying out bedding and deciding how much of our clothing we would keep on. We woke when light started coming through a small opening at the top of the yurt covered with thinner felted wool. That day it snowed.

Evening entertainment.

I wanted to know how they milked their mares so the next day our guide stopped at a group of yurts on the other side of the stream (no bridge) to ask who was milking mares. These were mares who were first-time mamas and they had just started milking them so all (horse and human) were skittish and it appeared to be a dangerous activity. They offered me the pail of fresh milk to try and I didn’t let this opportunity pass. It was very good.

Milking a mare.

This trip to Son Kul was much more than “getting away” to a different culture. It felt more like getting away to another world. You can read more post on my trip to Kyrgyzstan by scrolling to the bottom of this page, clicking on “choose category” and then click on Kyrgyzstan.

Black and White: A Learning Opportunity

I don’t convert many of my photo to black & white because I love color, but this one seems a natural for this week’s Lens-Artist Photography Challenge. What fun I had experimenting with different settings to make it just as I saw it, or thought it was, or what it should be. This week’s host, Anne, asked that we share our workflow so others may learn a tip or two. What fun.

This house was along an endless highway in South Dakota (photo taken in 2013) with nothing around it for miles. When I was cropping I was torn between wanting the house fairly large and close up and wanting to show the vastness of the landscape. This was the sweet spot between the two extremes. I shoot in color and converted the image to black & white in Adobe Lightroom (Version 4.0). I just read that shooting in color gives us a lot more data that increases tonal qualities when converted to B&W in Lightroom, as opposed to shooting in B&W.

The first thing I did was reduce the clarity just a little to give the house and ground a softer look – maybe a warn patina. Then I experimented with filters but they created too much contrast resulting in very dark house and ground, but I liked what the blue filter did to the clouds. I decided to not use a filter and try modifying the the blue/grey level in the color adjustments and found that worked really well. Decreasing blue/grey made the clouds warmer in contrast to the house and ground. I also used the graduated filter to decrease highlights in the clouds making them more pronounced. The corner in the center of the house was very dark, eliminating detail so I used the brush stroke on the plane facing right to lighten shadow tones while still leaving some shading.

I learn by playing with different sliders but didn’t keep any adjustments made after those I shared here. What fun to try lots of adjustments and then be able to go to history in the left column and go back to where I was most satisfied.

That is the technical aspects of this image, but what I keep thinking about is the history of this structure. It is a big house, was it a big family? Was it built in stages, with add-ons as the need for more space increased and the farm prospered? Why was it abandoned? I know there is a story hidden within these walls. The dark cloud overhead tells us that there were dark times within.

Falling of the Trees

This is my second post focused on trees during the four distinct seasons in the northern United States. The trees in summer and winter are pretty static – the deciduous trees are green leaved in summer and bare branched in winter. It is in spring and fall that the trees are in transition and change week by week, morphing into what they need to be in winter and summer.

Over the years we have vacationed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in late August and early September. By this time we are very tired of the steamy heat of summer, looking forward to the crisp cool air of fall and the vibrant colors of fall foliage. It is in northern Michigan that we see the first hints of fall color on a single branch of a tree. I look for these as we are traveling down wilderness roads.

The next step in this transition is the yellowing of leaves in the woodlands. This wooded site in Vermont was very familiar to my eyes looking towards fall.

Early September in Vermont

As the yellow leaves mature and start to drop, we begin to see hints of pale red and orange in the landscape.

Hidden Lake Gardens in southern Michigan.

Soon the oranges become dominate adding big splashes of color bordering the fields of corn that is turning golden and brown as it dries for harvesting.

Reflections in the mill pond close to our home.

Then the oranges and reds of the Maples intensify and the oaks start turning a dark red. My favorite scenes are combinations of evergreens and deciduous trees because the evergreens provide a resting spot for my eyes that are overwhelmed by the riot of color.

Of course there are trees that are doing things besides producing a wonderful color show. We have many apple orchards in our area of Michigan and a special fall treat is visiting an apple orchard for freshly picked apples that snap when bitten into.

And soon the leaves begin to fall…

Until they are all on the ground waiting ready to be collected so they don’t smother grass and perennial flowers beneath them.

The trees are left bare, with their wonderful skeletal structure exposed, indicating winter coming very soon after. But that will have to wait until the next post as part of Becky’s tree-square challenge for the month of July.

How Much Fun Are Eggs?

Our daughter drove up from southern Texas over the week-end with her car loaded with everything she needed for a month’s vacation with us – to escape the horrendous heat and to enjoy all that Michigan offers in midsummer. As I have been complaining about the heat, she has been countering with how beautiful the weather is; repeated several time a day as neither of us are tiring of our words.

Did I say her car was packed? She brought her sewing machine and bolts of fabric, her work computer so she could put out fires if needed, boxes of canning jars, remnants from her refrigerator, and eggs. Not just any eggs purchased from the local store. No, these were special eggs from Texas. The night before she left, her work colleague and friend, Claire, brought two dozen freshly laid eggs to Sharon’s home to bring to us. It was a very exciting gift, a total surprise and absolutely beautiful. Scroll back up and look at the colors. As soon as I looked at them I had to decide if I wanted to eat them or put them in a bowl as decoration in my kitchen.

I decided we would have fried eggs this morning and it was the first time in my life that I had to decide what color egg I wanted to eat. I chose white so I could keep the other colors a little longer (in the refrigerator in their cartons of course).

How beautiful are these eggs? You don’t have to answer because I already know the answer – and they tasted even better than their beauty in the frying pan. I was giddy when I sat down to our breakfast, with a chorus of bird-song, making sure I swiped every drop of yoke with my last corner of toast, in our three season room in the morning cool. What a grand morning it is.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Claire. What a special gift you gave us. Now I have to decide if we will have eggs tonight for supper or tomorrow for breakfast, or tomorrow for lunch, or…

Also, Claire, are these chicken eggs or goat eggs? Just kidding. If you are able to leave a comment, I would love to hear about the chickens who laid these eggs.