Icicles by sun and moon.

Took these shots up at the cabin this winter. Wish I’d had something more than a cellphone camera to take the night pic, this just doesn’t do it justice. The moonlight reflecting off the ice was…I don’t know. Sublime? Stirring anyway. In a very good way. I was spellbound by the fragile, unearthly beauty of it.

For what it’s worth…

icicles by dayicycles by night

In the comment section after my last post, a couple readers asked if I could explain what the “powerful reason to live” was that I came by during my last bout with suicidal ideation way back when. I did my best to explain it with words but there was just no way to describe it that was ever gonna work.

These pictures explain it better I think, especially the night one. The wonder I felt when I woke up and saw the beauty of moonlight reflecting off the ice was similar in some way to that unearthly light I experienced in the depths of my despair.

I think it was St. John of the Cross who said something like “…when I thought the dawn was forever lost I found Your love in the light of the stars.” I’ve also heard that in some ancient spiritual traditions it was believed that the insane were actually touched by something divine and therefore sacred. I relate to that. During that hour when the obsession to die had taken over, my thinking was clearly irrational and insane. And yet it was in that madness, experiencing things that my rational mind would never allow, that I was finally touched by something transcendent and radiant that helped me finally find an enduring reason to live.

On a side note, I really wish this ongoing conflict between science/medicine and religion/spirituality would stop and we could instead start openly exploring the places where they intersect, what they could heal together. Each field has such profound and life-nourishing tools at their disposal and I know, in my case, if it hadn’t been for the help I received from both it’s unlikely I’d still be alive.

Just imagine if their resources were pooled, what the synergy of that interaction might reveal. The thought takes my breath away.

The World is Golden

aspen-against-blue-sky-horizontal-yesThere’s a long, south facing hillside up in the Stanley valley, near Redfish Lake, which is covered with an equally long stand of aspen trees. There’s a trail that meanders along the base of the hillside for a few miles and I’ve always thought that hike would be spectacular in fall when the trees were in full color but for two decades I’ve missed it. Successful leaf peeping requires timing, luck, and motivation and for whatever reason I’ve never had all three in sync.

This year I finally hit it. I did a runaway up to the cabin for a couple days of Indian summer and struck gold. Turns out it wasn’t just the aspen. The whole valley was lit up. Golden. This time of year the light is thinner, slanted, as the sun retreats back towards the southern hemisphere and the way it reflected off the changing foliage of willows and dogwoods, aspens and dried grasses made the air itself glow. It was an extraordinary sensation.

Left to my own devices I would have parked my phone camera at home and just rambled around for two days soaking it in. I find a lens tends to get in between me and the full experience of a place. But I promised my mother-in-law I’d take pictures for her and it was not a promise to renege on. Marie lived up in that valley for twenty-five years, running the medical clinic as the first practicing nurse practitioner in the state of Idaho and ministering to the health needs of a rural population when no doctor was willing to go. She adored her life up there, loved it, but at 84 years old and losing her sight she’s given up the mountain mama existence and moved to the lowlands where more care is available. She never complains mind you, she’s an amazing woman that way, but I could hear the longing in the way she talked about her memories of the fall colors so I was hellbent and determined to at least capture some of it for her digitally.

These are the result.

Version 2Above is Fishhook Creek running through a large beaver engineered water system that spans the meadow with a couple of Sawtooth peaks behind.

fisher-creek-range-sunsetFoothills in front of the White Clouds mountain range during sunset. You can see pockets of color as the aspen are changing.

iron-in-river-rocksThis is a stone in Fishhook Creek full of iron, which gives it the orange-red color. (It’s an iron rich area.)

aspen-hillside-with-mountain-yesThis is a view of part of that long hillside I mentioned. The color just keeps going and going and going and going…

And finally…

illuminated-aspen-1Sunlight illuminating the leaves from behind. The photo doesn’t do it justice of course. The real effect was rather holy…another one of those moments out in the natural world when the impulse to fall on my knees and whisper thank you to whatever would listen almost got me. In the end I couldn’t do it in front of the Canadian hikers behind me but still, we were all pretty quiet and big eyed.

Here’s for you, Marie. Thanks.

The Camera Phone and the Dilettante Photographer: Part 2

In Part 1 I think I mentioned that I’m a little fixated on skyscapes. (I’d probably be fixated on starscapes, too, but night photography requires a level of skill that is clearly, judging from the deplorable quality of my photos, lacking.)

Most of the great skyscape photo opportunities I get are from the front deck of the hubster’s family’s cabin in Stanley, Idaho. It’s a breathtaking view and, as far as results are concerned, highly ego inflating. You can’t take a bad picture from the place, you just can’t. I challenge anyone to try. It’s a favorite playground for the Northwest weather gods who are forever romping around, rolling in from one end of the valley or the other, or spilling over and between the mountain peaks, or rising up from the early dawn river as fog, or shooting down between a crack in dark clouds as ethereal, roving spotlights. It’s amazing and kind of spellbinding. The first time I ever visited the cabin I just sat at the front window staring outside for three days. (It was also the first time I ever met the hubster’s family who, fortunately, forgave me. They’re pretty proud of the place.)Carpe Musings

Shaw mesa winter storm lighting

Version 2

Shaw mesa dramatic storm front copyTired yet? But I have so many more. Sigh.

These last two were taken by the hubster. The first is morning fog filling up the deep valley between the mesa we perch on and the mountain range on the other side:View this morning B copyAnd the last is…well, we have no idea what this is. It’s a phenomenon we’ve only ever seen up at the cabin this once. It was a column of light that shot up unexpectedly from the setting sun. It was HUGE. The photo doesn’t capture that part. And most odd, lasting about two minutes from the time we first saw it.Morning light column over Sawtooths copySorry for the enormous size of the photograph. WordPress changed the download media feature while I was gone and I haven’t figured out how to resize yet. As mentioned…dilettante. 

The only other time I’ve seen this column of light was on the morning Obama came to Boise to speak while campaigning for his first election. It shot up into the sky from behind the Boise mountains directly over the Taco Bell Arena where he was scheduled in an hour’s time and, between you and me, I think it was an expression of total Idaho flabbergast. A Democratic presidential candidate campaigning here? It was as astounding as if a migrating flamingo had been blown off course and landed in one of the ponds over in Katherine Albertson Park. Even the sky was surprised at such a turn of events and it shot up a great big exclamation point of light before it remembered itself and regained its poise.

I would love to know what causes it though. Any ideas?

copyright 2016 Dia Osborn

The camera phone and the dilettante photographer – Part I

I come from a long line of woman photographers, one of whom was even talented enough to earn money at it around the turn of the last century. (That would be great great Grandma Atta, who was also an avid fisherwoman with scoliosis who used her crutches to swing over streams and keep her hems dry, and who also, BTW, divorced a difficult husband in an age when that just wasn’t done and raised three girls on her own. I would love, love, love to have known this woman but must settle for her genes instead.)

And while the family photographic enthusiasm has continued unabated through the generations, the skill seems to have peaked with Atta so that the ratio of good pictures to bad has steadily fallen. Which is a bummer for me and my brother since we’re the family photo archivists who have to store the vast cache of pictures and slides for their historical value, no matter how bad they are.

How many sunsets, Grandma? Really?

Fortunately for the children that will follow me, though, things have gone digital and it’s now easy-peasey to delete the hundreds of bad photos I have to take in order to get one that’s at least semi-interesting. And since, like my mothers before me, I favor taking pictures of landscapes and objects rather than living, breathing family members (reducing the genealogical value to pretty much zero), it’ll also be easy-peasey for said daughters to store everything on a single thumbdrive that can then be easily overlooked in a box and accidentally tossed without every having to feel guilty about it the way that I have.

I’m a big, big fan of digital.

Anyway, I’ve been collecting a variety of snapshots on my camera phone for a while now and lately wondering what, oh what, to do with them? Then, today, I found a blog post on the site of one of my favorite bloggers, Coming to terms with my iPhone – Part I over at Rangewriter – What Comes Next?and suddenly I remembered that I, too, have a blog! Cobwebby with neglect, true, but still, a blog. So I, too, can post my photographs online where they’ll be stored…nay, immortalized…forever and ever, despite any deplorable lapse in appreciation or taste on the part of my careless, self-absorbed, future daughters.

(Then again, is a little bit of guilt really so bad?)

So here’s one taken late last winter when the water levels in Lucky Peak reservoir were still quite low.

Lucky Peak Beached boat

Whoops. Did somebody forget something?

And then here’s another shot of Lucky Peak reservoir on a weathery sort of day, also last winter. (Where my grandmother loved sunsets, I love blustery skyscapes…which also all tend to look the same after awhile, as you’ll probably notice in future posts. Consider this a disclaimer.)

Lucky Peak dramatic lighting

copyright Dia Osborn 2015

Editor’s note: I got a photographic editing suggestion from Rangewriter (who’s a serious photographer BTW)!! Time to step up my game a little and try something new.  Here’s the beached boat again only with a little less sand to cross to get to it. Easier. (Like feet, like eyes I guess. Makes sense.)

Lucky Peak Beached boat

A helpful greeting for a rough day…

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The girls next door lose their tennis balls over the fence all the time, which Dane the mangy rescue mutt then chews into uselessness. This cheerful bit of mastication greeted me this morning when I opened the drapes.

His name is Claude and he presents me with a little study on the qualities of absurd happiness. I’m growing attached.

copyright Dia Osborn 2014

Morningful

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Early morning isn’t usually my time of day but I couldn’t sleep. My god it’s beautiful. I feel like I just went on vacation to some unexpected paradise with slanting fresh light and brave song birds and a sweet kind of stillness that’s so different from the deep silence of night. I think I love this, too.

Good morning world!

How Trees Treat Their Dead (Among Other Things)

Tree anthropologists everywhere have wet dreams about this kind of luck.  Last weekend I received a coveted invitation to visit a little known tree community in the White Clouds mountain range of central Idaho and, needless to say, jumped at the chance.  The day was a perfect storm of ideal conditions…calm weather, crystal clear skies, total solitude, and unprecedented access.  The following is the photo/documentary report I’ve submitted to The Boston Journal Of Arborealogy.

My primary focus as a tree anthropologist has been the study of funereal practices among high altitude trees of the North American mountain west and while, admittedly, most of the tall timber rites I’ve observed wouldn’t translate well for human adoption, there are a few elements that might help inform our primarily human-centric views on death and dying.

ARBOREAL RESPECT FOR THE DEAD

The first and most obvious difference between tree and human treatment of the dead is that trees make no effort whatsoever to hide theirs.  It’s truly striking.  For instance take a look at this photo of a recently deceased elder who clearly held great stature among the local community.

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Even more surprising is the fact that, during the rapid years of its pine beetle fueled decline, this giant was apparently not only allowed but encouraged to display that, too, for the entire community.  (Note the willow shrubs and young Ponderosa pines posted to stand guard in the foreground…one of the many indicators that this tree was highly regarded in life and remains so in death.  Immediately below is a photo of another highly regarded dead tree with posted willow shrub guards.  Note the surviving spouse standing alongside in this example.)

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INTERMARRIAGE

Next, I was given a brief introduction to the following “Jack Spratt could eat no fat, His wife could eat no lean” looking couple but was not allowed to ask questions.  I believe the loss was still fresh.  Jack’s wife seemed to be fairly distraught, entangling her lower branches with his now bare and drooping ones.

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Evidently, there’s some sensitivity surrounding the fact that this was an interspecies marriage but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why.  While intermarriage between a variety of evergreen species is widely accepted, intermarriage between evergreens and deciduous species is less so.  (Obviously this places Aspen, as the only deciduous trees in the area, at a decided disadvantage.)  I couldn’t discern whether this taboo arises from the lack of any possibility for cross pollination or from the wide difference in life expectancies.  Individual Aspen don’t live nearly as long as, for instance, Douglas Fir or Lodgepole Pine, so the tragic outcome displayed above is inevitable.

ARBOREAL PLAY

Moving on.  As an interesting and little known aside, I wanted to mention that trees can also be surprisingly playful.  When the ones in the picture below saw me angling for a photograph of the mountain range behind them, they began mischievously crowding together to block the shot in a well-known tree version of the game “Peek-a-boo.”

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At first it was just irritating, but that was before I noticed the unconscious, aesthetic instinct that appears to be common among high altitude trees.  I was amazed to discover that no matter how they blocked the view, this little gang o’ green left just enough of the mountain range exposed behind them to reveal a scene of subtle but unmistakable beauty and, once I let go of my preconceived notions of the shot, we had a lot of fun.  Trees are natural hams and will usually hold a pose for as long as you need.  Here’s another group of adolescents playing the same game:

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It’s a strange fact that even dead trees sometimes enjoy a good game of “Peek-a-boo”, only their ability to effectively block whatever’s behind them is understandably compromised.  I’m happy to announce however, that their innate aesthetic sense is not.  Please note the two examples below:

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I was amused to find some of the native shrubs in the area attempting to mimic the game, but of course they lack the necessary height for effective play.  Thus, I finally managed to capture the original mountain photograph I was after here:

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ARBOREAL PARENTING AND PROGENY

High altitude trees of the mountain west are widely recognized as devoted parents and the ones in this region are no different.  Here’s a photo of one of their young taken while visiting a community daycare center.

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Tree youth are granted considerably more freedom than their human counterparts, largely because saplings are more sedentary.  Not that the dangers they face are any less, but at least they can’t wander off looking for trouble.

Tree seeds, on the other hand, are wildly mobile.  Seedhood is well known as the most unpredictable phase of all tree life, with the popular-but-dangerous game “Grow Where You Fall” observed worldwide and across most tree species.  Every mature, seed-bearing tree in this region has grisly stories to tell of tiny seeds leaping from their branches to be swept away by wind gusts, and indeed the infant mortality rate among emerging seedlings is upwards of 99%.

Staggering, I know.  How tree parents bear those kinds of losses is beyond me.  Perhaps it’s their longer perspective, the same thing that anchors and steadies them through the cyclic punishment of winter storms and icy nights.  I often wonder if their epic suffering is what ultimately helps them exude the sense of serenity that mountain trees are so famous for.  There’s no way to know of course, but I myself have learned a great deal about endurance by hanging around under their branches.

THE “SHORT DEATH”

Unlike humans, trees experience both what is known as a “short” death and a “long death.”  Short death is actually just a hibernation of sorts and can be triggered by failing light, winter cold, or drought.  It’s most familiar display happens among deciduous trees whom, at the first sign of winter, drop all their leaves and fall asleep where they stand in a kind of narcoleptic response to the stress.

Needless to say leaves everywhere hate the practice and in some regions have attempted to unionize to prevent it, but so far without success.  The unfortunate little fellow pictured below managed to cling to his twig longer than most but I’m afraid February finally claimed even him.

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ASPEN

Now…throwing all scientific objectivity aside for a moment…I must say I found the Aspen in the area to be a delight beyond anything even I had hoped for.  As a succession species their position in the larger community is not enviable, and yet somehow, despite widespread marginalization, they still maintain a childlike openness.  Like everyone else, I was raised on charming tales of the mysterious attraction Aspen trees so often display for humans but still, the actual experience of having a circle of these white-barked beauties gather to peer down at me in unabashed curiosity was a thrill I will never forget.

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ASPEN “PEEK-A-BOO”

Of course Aspen love to play “Peek-a-boo” as much as other species, but they’ve learned how to model a unique, winter “slow death” style that’s become quite a draw for photographers.  I’ve included two of my own modest examples below:

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But if you want to see a couple of spectacular photographs that draw from the lesser known but even more beautiful “Block the Peek Completely” style, try here and here.

A RARE LACK OF INHIBITION

While Aspen are universally friendly, individually they’re quite shy preferring to cluster in groups.  This is due in large part to the fact that each copse, however large, shares a single root system.  However, you can still occasionally find a rare exhibitionist such as the nubile example below:

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Breathtaking.

SOME PHENOMENA RARELY CAPTURED ON FILM

The existence of animales non evidens (or Invisible Ones) is a subject hotly debated among arborealogists and not likely to be settled anytime soon.  Much like Big Foot and the Spanish chupacabra, most reports originate from sightings of their tracks, but unlike their larger counterparts, animales non evidens themselves are truly indiscernible to the naked eye.  In addition, their tracks can only be seen in winter as their body mass is apparently too insubstantial to imprint on anything heavier than snow, making them that much harder to detect.

High altitude tree communities universally report a close and symbiotic relationship with non evidens and in fact assign them an almost revered status.  Indeed, Invisible Ones are said to play an important role in all arboreal funeral rites as they are essential to the slow decomposition process that breaks down a dead tree to its original elements…a final state that is the closest approximation trees have to an afterlife.  I was assured by several of the Aspen I spoke with that the tiny tracks in the photograph below were indeed left by non evidens.  I submit them here for review and discussion.

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I was understandably excited by the find and immediately commenced a search for more tracks.  At first I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I discovered those shown below, but the Aspen just chuckled and told me they were from a rabbit.

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Unlike human grieving, the stage of arboreal death where loss is experienced most keenly is not when a tree initially dies, but when its desiccated trunk finally falls to the ground.  In a forest situation it’s not uncommon for surrounding trees to actually catch a swaying companion in their branches and hold them there for months…sometimes years…before allowing their final collapse.

This practice is called suspension and is particularly important to high altitude Aspen since 1) they invariably grow in close copses and 2) they’re subject to such a brief lifespan.  There’s an esoteric but widely held belief in this region that suspension somehow extends an Aspen’s life and indeed, it’s considered a “bad death” if any tree makes its final fall without the lingering support of community.  One copse of Aspen allowed me to take the photo below and I cannot overstate the generosity of their permission.  As you can see, these trees were devastated by grief, the two on the left even going so far as to experience a “sympathy death.”

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ARBOREAL BELIEF SYSTEMS

The spiritual meaning that high altitude trees assign to dying and death are notoriously difficult to translate but perhaps the easiest explanation is that death is regarded more in the light of an act of generosity than in the human sense of tragic loss.  I suspect much of this comes from the paucity of local resources and the corresponding limit to the number of trees the region can support.

Seen in this context the death of a tree holds a double gift: Not only does it free up the resources it would otherwise consume, but it also eventually contributes the nutrients contained in its own structure back to the surrounding community through slow composting.  For this reason dying is considered to be an honored…even sacred…act, which is perhaps why they make no effort to disguise or hide it.

All the trees I spoke with seemed confused by the human concepts of “God” and “heaven,” primarily because they can’t seem to distinguish between “this” and “other” worlds.   However, there is a transcendental element to their beliefs.  They actually have three words for “life” (all of which are lovely, melodious sounds made by wind moving through leaves or needles.)

1) The first word roughly translates to mean biological life.

2) The second is closer to the human idea of energy, while

3) The third simply has no equivalent.  Trees describe it as a sound they can all make…even dead trees…in response to a feeling of supreme content.  It’s inaudible to the human ear but is often felt on a tactile level, like the rumbling of a distant waterfall, or the ground vibration of a running herd, or the distant growl of an airliner flying at 30,000 feet.  Predictably, the larger the tree, the stronger the sound/vibration they emit.

When humans do report an experience of this arboreal call, it’s usually described in terms of beauty rather than sound.  Who hasn’t seen a person standing and staring, bemused and mouth agape, at some spreading tree specimen the beauty of which temporarily incapacitates them?  Indeed, I’ve occasionally seen entire groups held spellbound by the same effect. (Nature photographers seem to be particularly susceptible.)

Older reports all indicate that the sound deepens when emanating from a dead tree…magnified a hundred fold in fact…but, while I’ve often longed to hear it myself, the opportunity to do so is almost nonexistent in areas where human and tree communities overlap.  This is due to the human custom of immediately cutting down any tree that appears to be dying or dead.

However, I’m delighted to announce I finally heard it on this trip.  Twice no less.

It was nearing sunset and I was preparing to take my leave, offering the many slow and formal farewells that are such an integral part of arboreal etiquette.  It was during the last round of “boughing” (a kind of upper limb waving that frankly, looks ridiculous on a human being, but is pure ballet when performed by a tree) that I felt the first sound begin to resonate in my chest.  It happened while “boughing” to the cluster pictured below:

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I have to say, I now understand on a visceral level why trees regard the sound with the reverence they do.  It’s moving, heartbreaking, and deeply disorienting…suggestive of something ancient and vast…and in a strange way it really does evoke an unusually strong impression of life itself, even though it’s emanating from something that has died.  Indeed, the overall effect was one of sensory awareness heightened to an almost ecstatic degree, like the best imaginable blend of heartfelt prayer, smooth opiates, and skinny dipping.

I finally managed to reorient myself with some effort and took my leave, retracing my tracks on the long trudge home.

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The second sound came as I was nearing the top of a ridge and looked up to find this magnificent dead elder standing sentinel there:

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There followed an undetermined lapse of time where I was held, frozen and slack jawed, by the unearthly sound it generated (evidently in response to the coming sunset.  Trees and sunsets share a long, almost legendary history widely chronicled in their mythologies.)  Fortunately, I was finally recalled to myself by the increasing cold and I managed to salvage enough presence of mind to get this one, rare shot before the sun disappeared and the light was entirely lost.

The whole experience was extraordinary, even more so because the vibration continued resonating in my chest for a long time after the original sound itself had faded.  It lasted the entire time it took me to retrace my steps back to the cabin and only ended completely once I stepped inside and closed the door.

The next event I’m scheduled to attend is The Rocky Mountain Clonal Conference (hosted jointly by the Utah Quaking Aspens and Snake River Shrub Sumacs) followed by The Prometheus Scholarship Awards (named for the famous 5,000 year old Bristlecone Pine cut down by a U.S. Forest Service Service graduate in 1964.)  These scholarships are given out every hundred years or so to the most promising crop of young saplings collecting folklore and songs from our oldest surviving trees.  I will of course only be able to attend the opening ceremony as the entire conference lasts about seventeen years.

And lastly, for any readers who actually made it all the way to the end of this silly, fantastical report…you, too, are hereby awarded an honorary Prometheus Award for your extravagant disregard as to the value of human time.  Bravo.  (You have permission to download the following logo and display it prominently on any blog, website, or letterhead you choose.)

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copyright (especially the award) Dia Osborn 2013

 

Earthporn (My new favorite word)

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I just heard this term today from my daughter-in-all-but-law and had to laugh.  It’s so true!  The best of “nature” photography really is like porn.  I can lose myself for hours on the National Geographic website or Hubble or Nature’s Best Photography, hungrily staring at these beautiful objects of desire that I then can’t stop thinking about afterwards.

sZSdtcFThese three photos are from a photography website called Imgur that has an entire section devoted to Earthporn.  (I could lose weeks of my life on this site.  Weeks.)  For anyone else who’s helplessly in love with this planet (or who’s just watched the news, or overheard an argument about politics, or hung up on yet one more telemarketer) I highly recommend it.  It makes you forget everything and feel good again…

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…just like porn.

Sparkles and Shadows

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Happy New Year!

First, an update.  My blog is falling apart.  I upgraded last summer to a level way beyond my expertise and now less and less is working with each successive update.  I finally gave up this morning and stuffed an S.O.S. in a bottle for WordPress support staff in the desperate hope they can help me return to my old blog domain.

Please Wizards…I want to go home.   I just want to go home.  (Click heels together three times and repeat.)

Hopefully things will improve soon and I’ll be able to comment on other people’s blogs again!  In the meantime, please keep your toes, eyes, and fingers crossed for me.

On another topic, the hubster and I ran away to the mountains again for the week between Christmas and New Years and spent our afternoons briskly snowshoeing.  I brought my trusty camera phone with me to take pictures but soon abandoned the attempt because it was such a pain to stop, sink my poles, remove my gloves, unzip my jacket and then my pocket, take out the phone with frozen, clumsy fingers, find the camera app, take a picture, then do all the above again in reverse.  Every time.  We were getting nowhere really fast.

Here are the ones I did get.  Nothing that truly captures the beauty of the place (I’m no photographer) but enough to hint.  A high settled in while we were up there so conditions were crystal clear and brutally cold…great for sparkles and shadows.

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And, as always, the view out the front door of the cabin.  (Sorry, but I just never get tired of this shot.)

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Here’s to the challenges and adventures of the coming year!  Good luck to us all.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

Me in the morning…


grumpy bird

Someone sent me an email FULL of stunning bird photography like this with nary a credit given to any of them.  Drives me absolutely nuts that I can’t tell you who took this beauty but whoever you are…you’re brilliant.  Brilliant.  Please…if anyone knows, tell me so I can give credit where due.

Wildfire: ‘Tis The Season

Photo shot from the bedroom window.

We just got back from a quickie vacation up to the cabin where we went kayaking for two days and did a thirteen mile hike up to a stunning alpine lake in between.  The hike was a huge, HUGE triumph for me.  I haven’t been up to this particular lake in about eight years because I got too fat and waddling over that much rocky trail made parts of my feet go numb.

Enter Weight Watchers and minus fifty pounds later…voila!  I made it….easily…and hiked all the way around the lake to boot.  I became surprisingly emotional on the return trip, fighting back tears when it hit me that my hiking days weren’t over after all.  I’d been schooling myself to let Alice Lake…and all the other beautiful, beloved wilderness places more than, say, three miles out…go, but it turns out I don’t have to now.  Not yet anyway.

Fat is evil.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am to get it off again.

Summer in Idaho is wildfire season, every year, as it is in most of the western states.  Fire is actually an ancient and integral part of the ecosystem out here but for about a century’s worth of forest management policy that fact was poorly understood.  Enter Smokey the Bear and the motto he tried to get us all to live by:

ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT FOREST FIRES!

But those days are gone and now the common practice is to allow wildfires to go ahead and burn in areas where they’re not threatening structures, roads, or lives.  They often burn in remote areas for months on end until the first snowfall finally comes to put them out, with the forest service keeping an eye on them all the while, only stepping in to herd them a little if they start heading in a wayward direction.

Two days before we arrived up at the cabin the Halstead wildfire flared up and grew really fast.  A cold front blew in Thursday evening and the winds that came with it were  strong enough to increase the fire by 75% overnight.  This is what it looked like from the town of Stanley on Sunday.

Wildfires tend to inhale during the day as temperatures heat up and you’ll often see this kind of mushroom shaped cloud forming above the areas where they’re burning the hottest.  Wildfires can also generate their own winds and the big ones create firestorms that are incredibly dangerous for firefighters.  The Halstead Fire is one of those, which is part of the reason why they’re just letting it burn.  Last I heard it had grown to about 22,000 acres or so, fueled by all the dry, brittle pine trees that have been killed off by the pine beetle infestation.

Here are a couple more shots I took as we were leaving Stanley to come back to Boise this afternoon.  (The straps are tie-downs for the kayaks on the roof of the car.  Sorry.  I know they’re annoying.)

And here’s a view from the side.  This fire stretches over a lot of ground:

And below is part of the fire camp where headquarters have been set up for this particular wildfire.  Each one gets its own local base of operations.

A couple hours of driving later and we just happened to stumble across the next wildfire that was started last night.  While the Halstead Fire was started by lightning, the Springs Fire (below) was human caused which is always disheartening.  It seems to be burning near a local hot springs (locally known as the skinny dipper’s hot springs) that attracts a lot of people year round.  Maybe one of them got stupid.  It’s not that hard to do when things get this hot and dry.

This fire is really close to the highway so traffic through the burn area was closed down to one lane.  Here we are below in a line of cars waiting for our turn to drive through.  You can see smoke from the fire up on the hill straight ahead.

As we were waiting one of the helicopters fighting the fire flew almost directly over our heads, banked sharply in a U-turn, then flew down to the river just below us and scooped up some water in the bucket dangling underneath it.

It was outrageously cool to watch.

And this is what the approach to the fire looked like once we started moving again:

We passed the turn-out on the side of the highway where all the skinny dippers usually park only to find it now filled with emergency and fire fighting vehicles. (Photo below.)  You can also see the helicopter again, in the center of the photo, flying near the fire.  Look at the bucket.  Tiny, no?  It gives you an idea of what an enormous task it is to try and contain these things.

Here are the rest of the pics I took as we drove through.  I was pretty much just continuously snapping pics on my old, old cellphone so they’re not great.  But hopefully it’ll give you an idea.

And of course, no discussion of wildfire would be complete without some kind of reference to climate change.  Long-time fire fighters were among the earliest converts to the notion that things are heating up, mainly because they see it up close and personal every year.  The fires are getting bigger and burning hotter, regularly doing more damage and claiming more lives than they did in years past, and the brave people out there who are roping and riding these things in order to try and protect the rest of us are at greater and greater risk.

I’m not sure where it’s all headed but we’re certainly living in the middle of a big paradigm change.  It would be great if everyone could be more careful anyway.  Here are a couple of pointers if you’re headed out to recreate in a dry area:

  • Don’t drive over tall, dry vegetation.  The underside of a vehicle gets very hot and will ignite it.
  • If you smoke use a can with some water in it for an ashtray and put the spent match in there, too.  If it’s windy, then please just don’t.
  • Keep fireworks on the pavement in front of your house.  Don’t take them out into the countryside.
  • Sparks from chainsaws, welding torches, and other equipment are dangerous.  Fires get started that way every year.
  • And then there are campfires which should never, ever be left unattended:  1) use a fire ring.  2) have water and a shovel handy. 3) Don’t drop a match on the ground until it’s cold.  4)  To put it out, pour water on the fire and stir until all the materials are cold to the bare touch, including any roots that might be running through the fire ring.  (Fire can travel along roots and pop up in a completely different area.)  5) Obey any and all campfire bans.  They’re issued when the risk of wildfire gets too high.

Be safe and enjoy!

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Starling Murmuration: Sometimes, Someone Gets Lucky and Then Shares

This brief footage is absolutely extraordinary.  I’ve seen small flocks of starlings doing this before but nothing like this.

The murmuration begins at around 26 seconds but I was also fascinated by the fact that these two women are canoeing in the weather and through the terrain that they are.  I’ve almost always experienced the most wonder and awe…seen the most unusual, even miraculous, things…when I’m out in inclement weather, or twilight or dark, or intense cold, or in other conditions that keep most people away.

I’m not sure why that is actually.  Kind of curious.

Anyway, if you have two minutes, watch and marvel.  It’s truly something to behold.

Another Break: Delightful Snowflakes

Okay.  I needed a break from advance directives and just found a good one:

A friend sent me a link to Have A Beauty Filled Day, a blog full of photographs and insights…two of my favorite things.  Christine Young, the author/photographer, takes her inspiration not only from the natural world, but often from the tiny natural world…which I particularly adore.

Here are a couple pics taken (with permission and a link) from a post entitled Flaky:

There are more photos.  This is only an appetite whetter.

(Also, for anyone wondering, this is what magic used to look like before it was roped and domesticated by Merlin, Houdini, Penn and Teller, and the rest of those guys.  Hard to recognize, no?  I think it’s the simplicity of it that fools most people.  There was often simple magic happening around dying people, too, which is perhaps why I recognize it.)

Check out the blog if you get a chance.  It’s a delight.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Welcome 2012!

Happy New Year everyone!  It’s sunny, clear, and quiet today.

A perfect beginning.

Here’s a fabulous photo taken live last night from a boat in San Francisco Bay, by friend-more-like-a-daughter-really, Kit Prud’homme, who lives out in the Bay Area.  She took a series of shots that are pretty spectacular and well worth a peek if you get a chance.  (They’re a lot bigger on her site.)

Whatever “success” may mean to each, here’s wishing us all a successful next year!

copyright Dia Osborn 2011