Saturday, January 11, 2014

Perspective - October 2013

Welcome to the October edition of the Down The Pond blog. What a glorious October it has been! Great weather to do two of my favorite things - walk in the woods and take photos.  It has been dry - less than an inch of the expected 4 inches of rain fell in October (source: So dry that I venture down to shore that used to be water, shooting past spontaneous tiny islands and rocks and mudflats that used to be water too. It's strange seeing things from down low. And strange from up high too, thanks to a couple of trips up to the top of Horn Pond Mountain, where I gazed onto a tiny pond that looked at once familiar and foreign from above. Sometimes I think the pond chooses and guides me to my writings for the month, and this month its winding trails have led me to the perfect topic: Perspective.  

Several online dictionaries define perspective in terms of both a physical and metaphorical 'point of view', and I have been playing with both senses of the word this month. I scrunch down on my haunches or stand up on a bench to see how the tree or the lagoon or the light on the water changes. I try to consider the drought from the point of view of the heron or the coots or the amphibians losing their insulating blanket or me as a photographer or me as someone who loves the pond.  So many different ways of looking at the same thing! From a "critter perspective", lowered water level in the lagoon concentrates the fish there making it easier for the heron and other birds to get a meal. But it also makes the birds more vulnerable, and perhaps disrupts the hibernation of any amphibians that might be in the mud. From a photographer's point of view, it is so exciting to both be able to shoot from new vantage points and also to see some of the lay of the land under the water.  It's like I am the little boy in the children's book  "The Five Chinese Brothers" (Claire Huchet Bishop, 1938),  who got to see the all the treasures of the ocean floor while one of the brothers sucked the sea into his mouth. I don't blame the kid for being so fascinated that he forgot to get out in time.  For us it is not so much treasures as trash that is revealed, but still it is just so interesting to see the rocks and the slope of the land beneath the lagoon.  


Of course, normal water levels or not, it seems that I get a new perspective of the pond every time I go down there. People sometimes ask me if I get bored, shooting the same small scratch of wood and water and dirt day after day. But many of us have seen that the pond is ever changing: waters rise and fall, for a moment a red oak leaf is caught just so in bare twigs, one morning the fog makes the fishermen look a bit spooky. Taking photos there is like writing the pond's biography. In a way perhaps it's like writing my own biography too as a developing photographer. Heck, hopefully I'm getting better at this stuff - learning new techniques, seeing new things and capturing them in a different way - so in some way the photos chronicle my evolution as well as the pond's. 


Some of the new techniques I've been learning have helped me see things differently at the pond too. High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography techniques makes it possible to capture images comprised of widely varying tones: using HDR I have been able to capture scenes I would not have considered before. The full moon shot in this month's closing photo is an HDR: admittedly it's a bit rough and 'chunky', but overall I'm still pleased with the result. Actually can't take much credit for the photo, since I used some photoshop presets to combine the images. However I *did* drag myself out of a nice warm bed on a freezing cold and dark pre-dawn morning, nearly turning into a popsicle while getting some quick exposure-bracketed shots that combined to form the HDR moonset. So OK I'm proud of myself for that anyways! :) Another new technique I've been trying out is the popular 'pleasing blurs' effect in landscape photography.   The jury is still out and possibly deadlocked as to whether I will EVER be satisfied with a blurred image, but it's something I will continue to play with. What I can say for sure is that both of these techniques have fattened up my 'photography toolkit' (always a good thing!) and have helped me see possibilities in images at the pond that I never had considered before.

OK, time for my bird report with a perspective bent! You'll probably be happy to know I am continuing my love affair with the geese. I know I know some of you are groaning because you have a different view of these birds. "Pooping machines" you're probably thinking. I do realize that if I was a golfer or played soccer and had to constantly avoid or slip over or slide in gross green goose poop I probably would not be as enamored of those creatures as I am. But without that gross green goose poop we wouldn't get to see the geese flying against a perfect autumn, or feel their faint blessing when they flew over our heads on the causeway (and hopefully didn't poop on us)! I have also been enjoying the influx of swans on the pond. Yes, I realize they are an introduced species, and yes I wonder about their effect on our native species, but I believe at this point are here to stay.  The heron has been about too and because of the low water levels had been more easily photographed. And one day down at Lion's Park there was such a raucous gathering of grackles that I was transfixed for several minutes. The trees were alive with their calls and flapping until they got some unknown signal and took off in a great group. It was truly an awesome thing to experience, the iridescence and squawking and mass exodus of the grackles. With mixed feelings I bid them a fond farewell until the spring! 

Of course as usual my thoughts of the pond are mixed up in other parts of my life, so I have been thinking about perspective this month when not behind the camera as well. I have been noticing that sometimes it's hard to know if a perspective reflects reality or even what reality is. Of course sometimes it's not hard. From the top of Horn Pond Mountain, it appears that I could traverse a beautiful carpet of fall treetops to get to the Pru, but I won't be strapping on my splinter-proof sandals any time soon! Sometimes though things are less clear cut, and my perspective on things can change quickly. During the days I was writing this I had an accident and hurt my right index finger pretty badly. I saw how my perspective morphed quickly over time. I went from the perspective of a disgruntled do-er (this is soooo inconvenient and I am putting myself sooooo far behind) to the perspective of a worried do-er (wow this looks bad, am I gonna lose any functionality long term?) to the perspective of a grateful do-er (Phew! A month or so of non-doing and I should be OK). How could I go from frustrated and mad, to scared, to grateful in the span of 48 hours? All based on the same factual event??  Perspective!  Ultimately I ended up with a perspective that serves me very well I think: given an event, better to end up grateful than to be worried or frustrated. So for me the trick is to find the vantage point that serves me the best in all aspects of my life. Hopefully without having to do injury to myself to get to it! ;)

So there is my admittedly rambling post on perspective (and no I can't blame the pain killers for that!). This post was delayed, and the next couple of posts will probably be short and delayed, as both writing and photography (hey that's my shutter finger!) will be difficult for the near future. I still have the perspective "Hey my adorably cute (well not so cute right now) finger, which I love more than ever, should be a fully functional finger in a month or two!", so I think I am doing well in that regard. Lately though it has been a bit more challenging to find a healthy perspective on a few wee other things in my life - so as usual I have work to do, trudging up and down those mental mountains to find the perfect vantage point from which to view a situation, and pulling different techniques out of my 'life toolkit' to provide me with different ways of seeing. So until next time, wishing you (and me too!) facility with playing with perspective, and wisdom in choosing the viewpoints which will serve us best. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Songs Without Words - September 2013

For this month I thought I would give you (and myself!) a break from my monthly rants, and just show you a few photos. Isn't that good? :)  I was pretty busy in September with various non-Pond photographic pursuits (some of which will hopefully make me a better Pond photographer) and honestly I didn't have the 'fire in the belly' that I usually have when posting time rolled around. What felt right was just to give you a hint of our September pond, so I decided to go with my gut. I hope you like these!




As you can see, we were graced with a beautiful September! I am already planning a full rant for October, so please stay tuned. :) 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Cycle of Life - August 2013

Many folks will remember August 2013 as a welcome change from the intense heat and humidity of July. There was an ease to the month down the pond: many young birds had grown through the vulnerable nestling period into fledglings, flowers were fast turning to berries, and the water lilies down back made our pond seem as still and serene as a painting. Most folks will remember August that way.

Many of you know that during August I lost my beloved Lucy, an18 year old bichon frise, who was my dear friend and constant companion for 12 years. She was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, with a sweet and comic and feisty spirit that shone out of her. So for me this month will never mean the fine weather, nor the almost imperceptible shift in the arc the pond travels as we head towards September.  To me August 2013 will always mark the end of a long and beautiful friendship, the end of my time (for now) as a dog owner and care-giver, and the end of what I declared early on this year would be a "Lucy summer".  Over the spring Lucy had been having more and more problems, and I sensed that our time together was growing short. So for the summer I decided that I would cut back on much-needed major yard projects, nonessential chores, and long nights at the computer. Instead Lucy and I lounged on the steps after work, we took slow ambles into "her" garden, we sprawled on the sofa and watched TV,  I sang to her and told her what a beautiful and good dog she was.  I spoiled her as much as possible - anything she would eat that would not harm her I would give her, including half of my breakfast if she was in the mood. She got to sleep where ever she wanted (even on a pillow under the dog mom's nightstand), the A/C was on whenever I think it would make her more comfortable (which meant most of July).  My life revolved around her and her schedule: she was my little white sun.  I took even more photos of her but never could seem to do her justice, she was like a flickering flame. She and her sister Annie changed my life forever when they arrived, and with Lucy's passing (Annie died  back in 2011) my life has changed forever again.

Watching a loved one failing (whether two legged or four) is never easy, but I managed to mostly stay present with her this summer. When Annie was dying a few years ago I learned from an article how  'anticipatory grieving' can rob us of precious moments with our failing loved ones before they had even passed on. So this summer, although I got upset with Lucy's alarming lab reports or when she had spells of not eating, I tried to balance that with staying present to the time I still had with her. Sometimes I would talk to her, letting her know that when it was her time, that was OK, I would help her feel better as much as I could but when it was her time, I understood.

Toward the end it was hard. Sitting on the floor with her, trying in vain to coax her to eat one of the 5 cans of dog food (or steak, or pizza, or eggs) I was trying that day. Despairing when she started to refuse even her favorite special treats. Staying up long nights with her when she was agitated, and carrying her up and down the stairs as her back legs got unstable. My wonderful vet and I were running out of ways to help her feel better and we both knew it. 

Down the pond I saw many predators in early August. To my mind, the pond was being kind, reminding me that death is part of the cycle of life. Frank Waters speaks of it in The Man Who Killed The Deer:

"We know that we are all one life on the same Mother Earth, beneath the same plains of the sky. But we also know that one life must give way to another so that the one great life of all may continue unbroken". 

We all are part of that circle. Like it or not. So the fierce heron caught a mouse, the osprey flew with a fish in its talons, the black crowned night heron narrowly missed a big meal. And Lucy's ashes, and Annie's and mine, some day will mingle with the muck of the pond, providing nutrients for the plants, to feed the fish, and to nourish the heron, the osprey and other pond life.

That day, we sat on the couch and I  told her how so many people loved her, and me most of all. I sang her songs to her. People heard the news and stopped by. Two close friends accompanied us.  My vet was as skilled and kind as always and Lucy's end was quick and painless and released her from suffering.  Aaron had told me that he would mind my Annie in Heaven for me, and now Lucy has joined her sister under the watchful eye of my dear friend, until at some point I will join them. I know atheists are probably not supposed to believe in Heaven but if there is any sort of Heaven, I'm sure that dogs are there.

Lucy does visit now and again - my little white sun has become my little white ghost. She waits patiently behind me while I'm immersed in work at my desk, surprising me with her quick disappearance just as a I turn around. She cautions me to step lightly and shuffle a bit if I get up during the night in case she's sleeping by the bed. She reminds me that I have been away almost too long and it's time to come home and let her out. She lies beside me on the couch  and rests her little head on my thigh as I fall asleep reading, but as my hand glides down to pat her she slips away.  Is it a merciful part of mourning, that we don't lose the loved one all at once, but little by little,  in increments over time? The turning of the wheel until loss is a fine and uniform dust that we breathe until every cell knows what happened. Lots of love. Lots of cells. It will take time.

I console myself that so many things I had worried about and tried to protect her from her whole life did not happen. My little pup did not suffer a long and painful death. She never got lost and scared and torn apart by coyotes or hit by a car. She lived a good and long and from what I could see a happy life.  It was my honor and  privilege to be her guardian angel. We all need them, and some of you reading this have strapped on your wings for me, both during Lucy's illness and afterwards. Down the pond my angels are there too, wingless and winged, and continue to help carry me through. All you morning dog walkers who cried with me and related your own stories remind me that we all go through loss. The wise Brene Brown says that the realization and reminders that others have survived a similar suffering produces a certain kind of  'resilience' that helps one process life's challenges, so your morning-fresh faces continue to help me through. 

The second part of August I did walk the pond, but honestly most of what I remember is feeling numb and lost with a big bag of rocks in my stomach.  But my photo files rekindle memories: the slant of the late summer sun, the long lasting Queen Anne's Lace like kaleidoscopes of stars on spindly stalks. And I remember the pond carrying on with its story in a more hopeful way - the big group of adolescent waxwings that took up residence on the causeway during the second part of August,  the fledgling goldfinches posed on the late summer flowers, the cygnet gliding between his powerful parents. Death is part of the cycle of life, but so is birth and each being's precious slice of survival.

Lucy was a big part of my life and was the best part of my life. Now I am like a tightrope walker who lost half her balance stick, and for a while I will be awkward and shaky ( I know some of you have seen this), as I find a new balance point. And I will find it for, although Lucy was the best thing in my life, there are other good things: friends call, music plays, there is joy in movement, and comfort in memory. Down the pond, little by little I start to take joy again in what I see. The heron guards sleeping ducks in the early light. The pond reflects the water station in the setting sun. In the January blog I wrote "And when bad things do happen, perhaps during those sad times the pond can console us with its constancy inside the promise of something new, around the bend, when we are ready."  And so it does. Beauty waits around the corner, and starts to peek out of the shadows, as I am ready.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Heart of Summer - July 2013

“Miserable!” replied Aaron emphatically,  as I followed him into his office one glorious summer afternoon. But by now I was used to our annual ritual: as the summer finally arrived with her beautiful hot and sunny days, Aaron would bemoan the miserable weather and his resulting miserable self. I would playfully scold him for “dissing” my favorite season, and insinuate that maybe he not only resembled Santa but might in fact BE Santa, since he seemed happiest when the wind howled and the snow blew across a frozen February wasteland. Generally we would end up with either Aaron dolefully counting on his fingers the months until winter returned, or me trying to cheer him up with a weak "I heard that it might be in the 70’s and rainy next week".  All of this was done with a good bit of posturing and good humor, for although Aaron really was miserable in the heat, he was also wise enough to know to be grateful for every day, hot or not.

When I mentioned in last month’s blog that we each have our preferences for the months and seasons I was thinking of  Aaron, the first of a few folks I have met in my life who did not ache for the ease and possibility of the long summer days. According to, 26 days in July hit at least 80 degrees F, and 12 of those days were above 90 degrees. No place for Santa or even someone who resembled Santa. Aaron’s antipathy towards the heat of  July 2013 would only have been matched by his exuberance over the ridiculous snowfall and cold of February 2013. And really, to be honest with you (though mock pride would prevent me from ever admitting this to Aaron), July 2013 was a little too hot even for me.  Sometimes on the hottest days it felt as if I was slowly floating around the pond, conserving movement, carried along by updrafts from the hot asphalt on the causeway like one of the nearly motionless turkey vultures soaring above. I saw many new faces in my morning walks, as regular walkers moved to an earlier shift to escape the worst of the day's heat. Even so I think we all looked like glistening and slightly wilted ghosts as we made our way through the thick air. The wisest of the pond's visitors perhaps took to the water, getting a whiff of the coolness on the long fetch from the Scalley Dam to Willow Island.

It seemed to me that the pond’s bird and animal life lay low in July as well. The normally cosmopolitan causeway was eerily silent on the hottest days. Oftentimes I would stroll the pond and not even take my camera out, as the birds seemed to be elsewhere, perhaps wisely shading themselves under the nearly spent summer rose bushes, or hiding in the cool grasses which had sprung up so high along the Lagoon. Of course while the fauna made itself scarce, the flora continued its silent summer explosion.The heat, rain and humidity encouraged a lush green carpet in  the pine grove near Lion's Park, mushrooms sprung up along the trails down back, Queen Ann's Lace sparkled in the morning light and the chicory bloomed, filling in the spaces left by fading early summer flowers.


Of course every flower has its season to bloom, and every plant and animal has its favorite habitat. And although houses and clothes enable us humans to survive pretty much anywhere, each of us I think has a natural inclination. I am like a hosta, seemingly dead in the ground until spring, then leaping up with great gusto, blooming in the heart of the summer, and then disappearing into to the ground again at the first sign of frost! Or maybe a ruby-throated hummingbird, fueled by the flowers of the New England summer, but fleeing to the tropics (I wish!) before September's end. And Aaron? Well maybe he would be a lichen in the shadow of a glacier, or more likely a magnificient polar bear, taking a liesurely swim in the icy Arctic Ocean. It's kind of fun to think about - I wonder what plant or animal fits your inclination. 

OK, now for the bird report. As I said, I think our avian friends were laying rather low this month, but a few decided to pose now and then. The stately heron competed with human anglers for prime fishing spots, and occasionally graced the Foley Beach area in the early morning. The impossibly iridescent grackle, the now fully yellow goldfinch, and the shy common flicker were all about. One day a surprisingly curious male cardinal eyed me from the pine grove way down back. Of course that didn’t last long, but I managed to snap a shot or 2 before he remembered that Mrs. Cardinal is generally the bold one in the duo. And I am glad to report that our resident cygnet still survives as of the end of July, looking more and more like his proud parents every day. Finally, on a hot and sultry morning a Great Horned Owl appeared in a tree near the far end of the causeway. I hadn't seen an owl in several months here, and usually see them more during the winter. But there he was, conveniently posed for a silhouette, for the most part ignoring the brave little birds that swooped at him.

One day, not long before our time together ended, Aaron sat down at the piano and declared that he had finally discovered the thing that would make the summer bearable. Aaron was known for his insights and my ears perked up in anticipation of yet another pearl of wisdom. After a suitably dramatic pause, he announced that the antidote to his summer agony, the cure for his summer doldrums was….Watermelon. Not daily uninterrupted playing of Hanon #1-60. Not the teachings of the Dali Lama. Not an hour of meditation a day. Watermelon. Aaron decided that to survive the summer he needed to find something suitably wonderful to focus on in the face of those [his adjectives here] miserable, hot, stifling, unbearable days.  Surprising to me as it was, Aaron labored long and hard to think of 'something summer' that he could choose to love sufficiently to create a potent balm/antidote to his dismay.  In the hottest days when he was feeling glum he would focus on watermelon and maybe even indulge in some and be glad for it! He then went on to pointedly suggest that perhaps I too should use this method to make the months of that [my adjectives here] frozen, desolate, dark, inconvenient, nose reddening, finger numbing season at the other end of the calendar just a little bit more bearable. I could not imagine anything but promised I would try, as strange non-musical homework assignments like this in the past had brought me many rewards (more on that in another entry). Of course I could add many many things to my dear friend's list of summer blessings: the fledgling robin, the first summer zucchini, paddling to Willow Island on a sleeping pond, the sultry summer sunsets from Foley Beach. But Aaron showed me that  each of us has to find our own good thing,  and each of us has to take advantage of that good thing - be it  watermelon or paddling or snowshoeing or whatever it is - so we don't feel cheated when the season ends. Until next time, hoping you can find, focus on and enjoy something that makes you happy, in every season of the year.  :)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Abundance - June 2013

June at the pond.  Even if your head was bowed to miss the nearly constant ricochet of birds and the almost perceptibly growing grasses, still you would be intoxicated by the constantly changing perfumes of the blooming native shrubs and flowers. Even if your plugged-with-your-latest-shuffle ears were not startled by the fwap-fwap-fwap of the swan’s take off or enchanted by the oriole’s sweet song, still you would feel the press of the summer noons or the caress of the sunset's softest breezes. June was a feast for all the senses to savor (ok you sticklers, imagine the sweet dew on your tongue from a freshly plucked honeysuckle if you must).

It was a wet month. The Scalley Dam gushed and the pond nearly invaded the fisherman’s clearing on the causeway at times.  We had at least one heat wave, and several um, half way around the pond downpours (why does that always happen)! I was going to say that we had at least one rainbow, but as I thought about it I recall the rainbows shone at the very end of May (after I had completed the May blog posting). In passing I’ll mention that on one of the rainbow nights I came down Arlington Road from Pleasant Street and was startled by the base of a huge rainbow to the Southeast. A pillar of fire disappearing way beyond Foley Beach. Yes yes of course I had a camera with me, but by the time I pulled over and found a good vantage point, I was too late to photograph. But not too late to witness. :)

It was a month of flowers. The northern catalpa dropped her beautiful white orchid-like flowers along the causeway and at the cut-through from the Sturgis Street parking lot to Arlington Road. The spiderwort with her lance-like leaves and delicate 3 petal purple flowers graced the causeway. I’m no plant geek, so many of the other flowers in my June photo files are unknown to me. If my research is correct however, walking around the lagoon you would see rambler roses, yellow iris, common choke cherry, and many others, on and on. And as one species faded, it seemed that two others were just starting to bloom.  So on the solstice the summer arrived all dressed up and ready to go, with Queen Anne’s lace making an entrance just in time to crown her. 

It was also a month of birds. My June photo files are overflowing with baby birds, fowl and otherwise. I spent many a morning watching a troupe of geese that has taken to congregating in Ice House Park on Sturgis street. I think the gaggle is wise to rest there: true the occasional uncontrolled dog might be deadly, but I suspect some other predators would avoid such a heavy human traffic areaAs the month progressed, many of the goslings morphed from fuzzy yellow-gray babies into still-peeping miniature replicas of their vigilant parents.  
Sets of mother and skittering baby ducks, who always seem to be smiling for the camera, were scattered all over the pond in June, from the area near the water treatment plant, to the lagoon, to way down back near where the swans were nesting. I never tire of seeing the alert mother watching over a pile of ducklings resting on a bank, or leading the procession across the water to their next food or shelter. Make way for ducklings!  It intrigues me that,  in contrast to geese and swans, only the mother duck raises a brood. It seems amazing that any of the little ones survive without 2 parents to help protect them, and yet obviously they do! I have seen new broods of ducklings on the pond as late as the fourth of July and certainly would welcome the chance to photograph more newborns this year.

Many other bird families called the pond home in June. Babies urgently calling to be fed until their parents either arrive or sound an alarm call, and parent birds rushing back and forth, often with their mouths full of luscious bugs and berries, for their families. I saw this very patient fuzzy headed Grackle fledgling on the causeway one morning, squawking for his breakfast!  

I have kept tabs, as many have, on the swan family, with 3 cygnets, way down back.  I will phrase my monthly update in an optimistic way by reporting that one of the cygnets still survived as of the end of June. It is a tough life for a swan after all, so it is something of a miracle that one has made it this far. Every day is a blessing.  On a late June morning I saw that the family had migrated to the lagoon and, as I watched, Mr. Swan checked out the causeway.  He always surprises me with his height when he ventures onto the land. And he appears more clumsy but is no less imposing than he is on the water. After a little reconnaissance, he led his family overland to the main pond, joining 5 or 6 other swans who have (to my delight) recently arrived on the main part of the pond. Of course they can be kind of territorial and hissy occasionally, but still I am always awed by their beauty. There is nothing quite like the sight of a big male with his 'sails up', using the wind to carry him so regally across the water, or the incredible sight and sound of wings hitting the water as they take off and the viz-viz-viz as they pass overhead. 

Other creatures joined in the June parade in force. The colorful painted turtle, the ever curious chipmunk, an abundance of bunnies, and of course a lot of people too! More bikers, walkers, runners, folks pushing baby carriages out enjoying the glorious long days. In addition, the Woburn Lion’s Club did a great job providing a festive atmosphere and fun activities for their third annual Horn Pond Day ( Nature cooperated too, providing a beautiful sunny summer day for the event. 

Finally, I'm excited to report glimpses of our too infrequent visitor, the beautiful and sleek cedar waxwing. The second time I saw them this month it appeared they were gathering twigs, so perhaps they will stay awhile. :) 

So there you have it, the June report. The procession of abundance this month was incredible: different weather, plants, birds, wildlife. Seeing the waxwings again (which I haven't seen since the winter) got me to reflect also on the other months here at the pond. My first post (Gratitude - Nov.2012) also included a waxwing photo and story and, in re-reading that post, I was happy to find a sense of abundance there too, on the cold doorstep of winter. I understandably went on and on in this post about June's over-the-top sensory feast, and the ever-changing abundance of plant and animal life: but November had the eagle, the fledgling waxwings, the bones of trees, and the glistening frost. Each month has her own particular charms, and we all have our preferences (more on that in my next blog post) and that is fine too. These days for example I'm particularly happy to NOT be wearing 2 pairs of pants, yards of strategically layered fabrics, boots, silk glove liners, hand warmers, a purple face mask, and a knit hat over my baseball cap! And happy that I can still find my way around the pond in the orange light of an 8pm sunset. Best I figure to just enjoy this parade of gifts, to appreciate each one as it passes and be grateful, knowing there are always more to come. So these days I throw on my sneakers, sling on my pack, and lope down the hill in the easy sunshine to a green pond, and into the open arms of sweet summer.  I hope you can too. :)