Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Should it ever stop raining...

My plan is to pack a bag with cheese, some lovely fresh berries, challah bread, a good-sized grubby blanket, a book, a large container of bubble mix, and a bubble wand and head to somewhere that I can feel the sun on my face.

Who knows what'll happen next.

What's your plan?

Monday, March 29, 2010


by Hugh MacLeod, shared under Creative Commons license.

I get these great cartoons via email each morning; some days they're sweet like this one, but more often they're irreverent in a way that tickles the creative part of my spirit.

You can see more of Hugh's artwork, read his blog and sign up for his daily comic at

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Yes, you.

You there...

(not you guys, of course, or you)

But you... yes you, looking over my shoulder as I write.

(and you too, faraway, but not invisible)

You think you know me? You think what I write here is the truth of me? The truth of us?


I can be anything... go anywhere... do anything... be anyone, here.

How would you know otherwise, really?

I can write any story, create any truth...

You'll believe what you want... read your own truth into whatever I write, but know this:

I write with the knowledge of you, there, always.

What you create from my stories is your truth, not mine... a mirror of what's inside you.

You've a very convenient window into what you imagine to be my world, but this is not my world. This is a story I tell to entertain myself.

Sometimes I write to entertain you... or to annoy you, maybe, just a little.


(Of course you know that, right?)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Russell is a plant geek that works for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and while not technically a total stranger to me, I couldn't resist this photo of him in his element.

This photo is #5 in my 100 strangers project. Find out more about the project and see pictures taken by other photographers at Flickr 100 Strangers or www.100Strangers.com

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pine Lizard

The swift and secretive fence lizard is said to be very common in the Pines, but this is the first one I've ever managed to see...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

For the wayfarer

You have to kind of wonder when, on a trip for the earliest blooming flower in the Pine Barrens, you step out of the car to find most everyone on their knees in the sand, peering into the vegetation with hand lenses or macro lenses.

What the heck?

I wondered just what bag of goods the Pinelands Preservation Alliance (via MevetS) had sold me on this trip... as if the setting on a bombing range weren't crazy enough!

These tiny plants and their diminutive *flowers* were our focus.

My focus on them was never very good, by the way, because they're so darn tiny!

Broom Crowberry is a very special plant, not only because it's among the earliest of bloomers, but also because it's quite rare outside of the pine plains habitat. Plant geeks seem to love it, despite its drab appearance. I was sort of less-than-excited about it cause I wanted SPRING! and PINK! and FLASHY! but whatever.

This attitude is probably exactly why I need to go on these trips... don't you think?


I love the Pine Barrens, but its beauty is very subtle. It doesn't give away its treasures easily, I know. You have to drive and then hike past thousands of pitch pines and scrub oaks, get lost countless times on sugar sand roads that all look the same, sweat and freeze and question your sanity and then, maybe, she shows you something wonderful for your efforts.

Where it grows well, Broom Crowberry grows in great mats across the sand... it likes to be out in the open under the sun and flourishes, according to plant geeks who study these things, in areas of disturbance... hence our visit to the bombing range (and the area near some power lines where these photos were taken). Like so many Pine Barrens endemics, it's well-adapted to fire... in areas that aren't regularly burned (or bombed!) it's shaded out by tall trees or shrubs.

We learned that botanists (among them Alexander Wilson of ornithological fame) traveled from Philadelphia to the Pinelands to find these plants and Thoreau described Broom Crowberry as "a soft, springy bed for the wayfarer".



Monday, March 22, 2010

Mortal injury may result

Of all the crazy places I've been birding... sewerage treatment facilities, nuclear power plants, landfills... this takes the cake, I think.


And mostly we were looking for wildflowers.

(And not ever in the target range, at least I don't think so!)

Photo from the
Warren Grove Gunnery Range in the heart of the pygmy pine forest of the NJ Pine Barrens.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Flying weather

Happy Spring!

The really nice breezes blow through my body and into my soul. ~Astrid Alauda

There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of wind. ~Annie Dillard

Forget not that the earth likes to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. ~Kahlil Gibran

I listen to the wind, the wind of my soul. ~Cat Stevens

The sky and the strong wind have moved the spirit inside me till I am carried away trembling with joy. ~ Uvavnuk

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

We are from

A couple years ago now (!) I invited my brothers to write a "Where I'm From" essay as a way to explore the story of our growing up together...

I'd treasured what they'd written and held the essays close to my heart, but never felt quite satisfied enough with my own version of our story to publish it here. I'm still not, really, but thought I'd share anyway; mostly because their stories make me smile today...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From Kevin, the eldest:

I am from Mexican dinners, from Cadillac and Lucky Strike.

I am from the typical 1950's urban sprawl home on a postage stamp property, cut from the fabric of a long gone family farm.

I am from the fuzz of a dandelion, the wind; not always litely blowing me through life.

I am from sauerkraut and pork chops and stomping feet, from Neil and Claire and VonOesen and Whary.

I am from the "last to arrive" and "last to leave" family.

I am from "be careful crossing Middle Road" and "Don't let a stranger buy you a Coke".

I am from a Protestant upbringing, but with keeping an open mind and finding my own way to the truth in life.

I'm from Jersey City, Mom's Lasagna on Christmas Day and Dad's antipasto on Christmas Eve.

From brother Neil opening ALL the presents on Christmas morning before everybody woke up, the other brother who broke everybody's toys on Christmas and the Holly Hobby House debacle.

I am from family albums filled with pictures of days gone by, faces almost forgotten, slices of memories, stored in boxes, waiting to be divided on some future free weekend.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From Brian, the middle child and family poet:

I am from the dirt field where we grew up as kids, from Band-Aids on so many skinned knees with wet shoes and soiled socks so often left in the downstairs foyer.

I am from that big house facing the field, where from our picture window you would show us the seasons as they changed from brown to green to gold to white, never far from its delights, if only to pick flowers next spring so as to surprise you.

I am from the Black-Eyed Susan daisies that grew so wonderfully there, unbothered by the wind, and that sturdy mulberry tree by the jumping fence behind Wolfkind’s, whose fruits always littered the ground with their sweet exhuberance and so stained our hands and lips with their purple goodness.

I am from Friday night fish stick dinners and the strength that was brought to bear in the face of incredible sadness, from Dad, from Grandma VonOesen, from Old Man Wheary.

I am from the solid determination of good Pennsylvania stock and from the hardiness of the anthracite coal our family toiled for so long to bring to light.

I’m that child you told to “sit up straight at the table and mind your manners,” so that Mom and Dad could brag to us and the rest of the family at holidays that they were never embarrassed to take us kids out to a fancy restaurant for dinner.

I am from that busy corner’s stick-built church where Dad was an elder on Sundays and us kids the freest of spirits along for the joyous ride to the corner sweet shop after Sunday School to pick out our favorite chocolate-covered treats. “Remember not to eat it before breakfast,” Mom always said. I am the one who usually could never quite wait.

I'm from a family from Shamokin Pennsylvania and from those Jersey City ballfields we mused about as kids from the raised highway as we passed by them on our way to Aunt Letha and Uncle Doc’s apartment in New York City for Thanksgiving, or Easter, and from Mom’s special lasagna and tomato sauce on Christmas Day and that chilled chocolate pudding we so loved from the icebox in those fancy crystal cups.

I am from the son of a son of an adopted boy who grew up strong and proud as the result of a shared love and kindness the Whary family gave, and from a man whose only son would attend school only to the second grade, but who would grow up to be a power engineer, role model and generous friend to so many people.

I’m from that white-haired Shamokin man whose youngest grandson’s persistence and drive for the better things in life would finally allow him to announce the coveted role of senior electrical engineer to his congratulatory wife at home.

I am the one you see in those black and white pictures from Gerald Square and Washington Park at Easter… the one in that fancy blue baby carriage that carried all us kids just the same, so snug and warm in our new outfits that Mom picked out with so much love and faith for our family’s bright future together.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From me, the baby girl:

I am from paper-bag lunches, Scooter Pies and tea with Grandma.

I’m from the house on the corner with the weedy front lawn, a parade of Cadillacs in the driveway and pots banging from the stoop at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

I am from firethorn, spirea and quack grass. A neighborhood creek to play in, lounge chair forts at the pool club and ice-cold plums at the beach. A lonely dog staked out back and the shadow of a tall weeping willow.

I’m all legs, blue eyes and skin that freckles in the sun. From the radioman and the roof-model, Neil and Claire and others a part of the past now, too.

I am from late nights at the kitchen table, the coffee always on, talking long into the night. A daydreamer and a dawdler.

From the family that eats together stays together. From little pots that have big ears. From God’s eyes and the healing power of pyramid water. The temple on Osborne and Vacation Bible School at the church on the corner. From children are to be seen and not heard.

I am from the water’s edge and the dour faces of Pennsylvania coal mine country. I’ve never stopped looking back. Forever landlocked within my own body, I lose myself when far from the coast for too long.

From Uncle Doc who peppered his beer and ground his teeth and never spoke Spanish after Franco. From Grandpa with his cigars and baseball games on the radio in the parlor.

From a battered box of costume jewelry and a closet full of my mother's clothes that I’ll never grow into. The baby girl, the tattletale, the spoiled one. I'm from the stories I heard, but never loved until they stopped being told.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

What's most interesting to me, I think, are the things we each choose to claim...

Anyway... the template is
here... give it a try, share your story.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hope, muted

Winter just got a little sand-colored, orange-legged, breast-banded stake driven through its icy heart.*

I made my March pilgrimage this weekend to greet the newly-arrived Piping Plover at Sandy Hook, where it felt very gray and wet and winter-like, but hopeful, still. Woodcock are next, if it'll ever stop raining and blowing!

*C. Vogel, quoted without permission from Jersey Birds, on his find of a Piping Plover at Cape May yesterday.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

We nearly froze, but...

A poor photo of a lovely group of people...

Monmouth County Audubon Society sponsors free monthly walks, regardless of the weather.


This day, early last month, we nearly froze to death at Sandy Hook, but saw Long-Tailed Ducks, Common Eiders, lots of Harbor Seals basking in the sun, and an Iceland Gull.

I've been responsible for planning these field trips for a couple years now and so have developed a sense of who our customers are... mostly beginners and plenty of kids dragged outdoors by their parents... plus there's Marty.


Marty (pictured far right, smiling) is a regular on our field trips, yet I've never seen him at any of our monthly meetings... curious, that.

Our next scheduled outing is
Saturday, March 28th at Monmouth Battlefield State Park (Marty will be there, I'm sure!)... after that it's Saturday, April 17th, again at Sandy Hook for Osprey, Piping Plovers and other early migrants...

We'd love to have you!

Monday, March 08, 2010


Mostly it's quiet here as I wait for signs of Spring...

but there's been Red-Wings and Grackles the last few days...

(still no Phoebe or Plover)

but I've not been properly out, yet...


Winter ducks seem mostly gone from the places I know...

Instead there's this:

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. ~Charles Dickens

There were a couple minutes at lunch when I closed my eyes and imagined it July. That felt nice (and especially warm!)

I'm still waiting for a day to inspire Spring-fever in me...

Friday, March 05, 2010

March means...

Everything has its season, but no season is without color and life, wonder and surprise. He who would know the world of which he is a part must know the way the January wind shapes a snowdrift as well as the ecstasy with which an oriole greets the June dawn.
--Hal Borland

A chance at
Skunk cabbage and, with luck, Hepatica.
That first Phoebe.
Pussy willows.
Grackles and Red-wing blackbirds.
The sun streaming through the bedroom window again when I wake up.
Piping plovers!
Returning Osprey!
Girl Scout cookies.

What are you looking forward to as Winter ends?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Ever wonder?


*spotted at SHBO which now has their own FaceBook page! Why not become a fan and encourage Pete and Scott as they enter the 21st century of birding!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


More from the flower show in Philly:

Playing with focus

Playing with color

Playing with both = MAGIC

I do a lot of playing with my camera and I make a lot of mistakes... probably those two necessarily go together. Once in a while though, something cool happens, as if by magic.

I know... the key to making that magic happen all the time is understanding and actually applying the science behind photography.

I'm only just learning to use the camera outside the comfort of automatic mode... I like portrait mode best, for its shallow depth of field, but the challenges of working outside of automatic, with aperture priority, sometimes feel too much like a math test that I forgot to study for and I just want to make a pretty picture, you know?


Add to the equation the vagaries of ISO and shutter speeds and trying to take pictures of things with wings and BLECH!! Any sense of creativity and fun is lost for me. I guess I'm mostly interested in the magic, when it happens... the mystery of the process makes photography very compelling (and intimidating!) for me.

So anyway, a little at a time I'm forcing myself to use what I understand about f-stops and all that crap... and I'm deleting dozens and dozens of photos as I learn, but celebrating the magic when it happens.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

About the flower display, called Global Terrain, the artist's statement reads: "
The way land and sea are represented and form the texture of maps -- inspired this unique display. Multiple vases and arrangements of thistle, delphinium, baby’s breath, trachilium and other plant varieties are used to replicate the look and feel of these three-dimensional depictions of the world."

I've only focused on a couple small parts of the display here... but
Steve has a pic of the overall effect... it was really breathtaking, yet sadly difficult to photograph well, I think.

Monday, March 01, 2010

A couple reasons to see St Marks NWR

Reason #1: There was a blizzard raging back home in NJ when I took this pic of the lighthouse at St. Marks... I was barefoot with my toes in the muck.


Reason #2: More Redheads than a person could easily count. Jay from birdJam (Hi Jay!) has been talking up St. Marks for ages, but I hardly believed anyplace could have better ducks than NJ. Granted, there wasn't the variety that I'm spoiled with in NJ, but I didn't have to freeze my butt off to see these ducks, either.

There is something very magical about seeing "winter ducks" with tree swallows twittering low above their heads.


Reason #3: Purple Martins in February!

I've hardly seen a Purple Martin sit still, let alone bask on the blacktop for warmth... they all looked pretty miserable because it was so cold for a Florida winter.

Reason #4: Alligators... alligator awareness must be a learned habit. I had to keep reminding myself of their possibility... I'm pretty sure the gators at St Marks serve as an efficient population control for all the Coots that winter there.


Reason #5: Palm tree-inspired views... every so often a small squadron of Brown Pelicans would interrupt the horizon and my daydreaming. White Ibis and Tri-Colored Herons were a treat, too.

Reason #6: St. Marks is just a beautiful place, especially so in mid-winter at sunset.

I wrote more about my visit to the refuge
here and here and here and here.