Summer Pleasures – Watching Hummingbirds

One of summer’s greatest pleasures for me is sitting on my porch that has transformed into a jungle of house plants now outside for the season, potted plants waiting for a forever-spot somewhere in my landscape, and vines and grasses stretching towards the sun. There are wind chimes catching the slightest breeze, and a hummingbird feeder.
This summer, more hummingbirds have come to our feeder than ever before. Sometimes there are so many of them that they sound like an old-fashioned army of propeller airplanes roaring over our heads.
Every once in a while one of them sits still and watches the action, like this male ruby-throated hummingbird:

Hummingbird on hosta flower

Hummingbird on hosta flower

Once the hummers take flight, they move so fast that my camera can only capture them in blurry mode. I still like the images, especially when they show off their acrobatic moves (they can fly backwards!), and the way they use their wing and tail feathers to control speed and motion.
These are ruby-throated hummingbirds. Only the males have a red throat. As you can see in some of the pictures, they are territorial and try to chase their competitors away using their wings and beaks. (Click on any picture to enlarge)

For my earlier posts on hummingbirds, check Avian Jewels, Hummingbird Ballet and Hummingbird Rescue. They are fascinating little creatures!

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Woman In Red

This young woman in her shimmering red summer dress caught my eye. She was waiting outside a restaurant looking out on the lake, probably waiting for whoever was neglectful enough to leave her waiting. It does not make a good impression when you leave a woman waiting, especially not one as attractive and well-dressed as this one.

Woman in red dress

Woman in red dress

The Sunday Stills Challenge this week is “Red.”

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Half Adventure, Half Terror

In the last three weeks, I was able to visit an unusual and fascinating natural area in West Virginia three times – Cranberry Glades in the Monongahela National Forest.  The swampy bogs in this area host a variety of wildflowers including native orchids.

The first visit involved an indoor slideshow of native orchids at the nearby Nature Center, followed by a guided tour through the bogs.  There was only one problem – it rained so much that I didn’t dare take my camera along.  The boardwalk was under water in some places.  Still, it was quite magical walking through this area in the rain.  Water all around us, gurgling, splashing, dripping…

Yew Creek

Lush, green vegetation was sprinkled with lavender orchids, yellow swamp candle flowers, tall, delicate meadow rue, a profusion of white-creamy elderberry flowers, and bright red bee balm.

Since I couldn’t take any pictures, I returned by myself a few days later, during the first break in the rain.  I arrived at 10 in the morning, the first car in the parking area.  The half-mile long circular boardwalk was dry by now and made it easy to explore different sections of the bog – a wide open area and a bog forest.  After a while, I could hear more cars arriving and other people on the boardwalk behind me.  So I felt quite safe even though I was by myself.

Cranberry Glades BogOther segments of the boardwalk were partially covered with large ferns giving it an almost tropical feel.

fern-lined board walkHere is a selection of the wildflowers I found that day:

My third visit happened just a few days ago. I was on my way home from a business trip and was so close to the bogs that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop by, if only for a short visit. It was already after 5 pm when I arrived at the parking area. There were no other people around, no other cars. I knew the park office would be closed by now.
It occurred to me that being here all alone probably was not a good idea. What if my car got stolen (signs warned that there were “common thieves” around and to not leave any valuables in the car)? I had no cell phone reception and did not even have any hiking shoes with me, only my street shoes.
Putting my cautious mind on hold, I grabbed my camera and entered the bog forest. It was almost eerily quiet this time, very little bird song and just a few insect sounds. I noticed that all of my senses were immediately on high alert. Today was different.

I found a few turtlehead flowers

Turtlehead

and an Ebony Jewelwing dragonfly sporting delicate black wings and an iridescent green body:

Ebony jewelwing dragonfly

The bog forest opened into a clearing

boardwalk in open area

This was where I heard a loud snorting sound coming from behind some tall shrubs:

bog with tall trees

(The picture of this very area was taken on my previous visit as I had no more desire to take pictures in this tense moment).

I stopped to look wondering whether it was a deer. I heard movement from a large animal body behind those bushes. Then I saw a flash of black fur – definitely not a deer!
By now, I had turned around to get back to my car. I knew I shouldn’t run so I walked steady and fast, my heart beating even faster. I was strangely clear-headed, not panicked at all. That was a bear warning me to not come any closer. Was he coming after me? I kept looking over my shoulders keenly aware that I had nothing except my camera to defend myself with – hardly an effective weapon against a bear.

I was very relieved when I stepped out of that bog forest, saw my car, and found my keys in my pants pocket.

Sanctuary from the wild forces of nature!

I will be back – but not alone. I suppose I have to be grateful to that bear for teaching me an important lesson.

For more info on the Cranberry Glades area: http://www.pocahontascountywv.com/cranberry-glades-nature-center

The Weekly Photo Challenge is: Half and Half.

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Where Land Meets Water

Sometimes, the edges between land and water are well-defined.
Sometimes, the boundary line between two dichotomies is easily defined.
Here is water – fluid, wet, flowing. And here is land – dry, static, still.
Things can be that clear, and that simple.

But what happens, when the lines get blurred?

Buffalo Lake

When one blends into the other, without a clear and distinct boundary?
When one reflects the other; when someone holds a mirror up to us?
What do we perceive? What are we willing to see?
Are we able to blend dichotomies, live beyond either-or, give up our need for certainty and definition?
Walk in the beauty of oneness?

Ailsa’s Travel Theme this week: Where Land Meets Water.

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Independence

As the US is celebrating its Independence Day, I have been mulling over the theme of independence.  I’ve never really cared for Fourth of July cook-outs with nitrite-laced hot dogs and salty potato chips.  I do enjoy fireworks, especially when I still lived in the Washington DC area.  The Fourth of July fireworks on the National Mall are spectacular.

However, for this discussion, I am more interested in personal independence.

TattooThe dictionary defines independence as freedom from others’ influence, control or determination.   Another word that seems closely interlinked with independence is self-reliance – the ability to rely on one’s own judgment and abilities.

goneFrom the time I was a child, the struggle to be my own person and make my own decisions has been pervasive in my life.  First, there was the Catholic priest who punished me for exercising my free will to not attend student mass.  I couldn’t wait to turn 12 years old to drop religion class – which I did happily.  It took me many years before I was interested in looking at anything religious again.  But then I got to choose what I studied and how deeply I studied.

everyone into the waterAt the Gymnasium (university-track middle and high school), I was lucky to have Herr Schmitz as my teacher.  He told me much later, when I was an adult, that his mission was to teach us how to be critical, how to question authority, and how to think deeply.  We read both Hitler and Karl Marx in his class.  I am forever grateful for his Socratic questions and impenetrable half-smiles which often exasperated us.  I learned to forge my already independent mind into a formidable and highly useful tool (and, sometimes, weapon).

spider webAs a teenager, I struggled against my parents’ ideas of what I should do to earn a living.  I neither followed my mother’s advice to become a secretary nor my father’s demands to become a multilingual tour guide.  Somehow, I managed to move out when I was 17 and pursue my own path.  I became the first person in my extended family to ever study at the university level and the only one (so far) to earn a doctorate.  It helped that I was intellectually curious and enjoyed studying; but I was also determined to achieve financial independence as a woman.  Education was the essential tool to achieve that goal.

multi-faceted allium blossomMoving from Germany to the US as a young woman and being married at the time to a man from a different culture and race made me keenly aware of the influences of culture, race, and class.  I was usually the one person in class who asked about cross-cultural applications of concepts.  On top of that, I was a fierce feminist.  One of my psychology professors actually wrote to a famous feminist therapy professional because he did not know the answers to my questions!  I was often surprised when other students complained about a teacher after class but then never took the next step to discuss their issues directly with the professor.  What good is a critical, independent mind if you don’t follow up with actions that will change what you are unhappy with?

I had stood up to my priest, my parents, my teachers, and a culture that did not welcome me as part of an interracial couple.  I was independent, smart, angry, and fearless – and undoubtedly intimidating to many people.  But I also met a few people who took me under their wings and supported me.  Without them, I might have been forced to make much greater compromises.

While I have mellowed considerably since my early 20s, I still have a fiercely independent streak.    I can see through mass media indoctrination, advertising, fashion prescriptions, peer manipulations, and cultural and gender expectations…. and I haven’t had a boss in a long time.

However, independent thinking and living has its consequences and compromises as well.  Friends/acquaintances who are intimidated by my strong opinions or other manifestations of free thinking often fade away.  I feel lonely for my “tribe,” knowing full well that being part of a localized tribe would significantly diminish my personal independence.  My tribal members are scattered across the globe but thinking about them makes me feel grateful for their existence and the work they are doing in this complicated world of ours.

follow the leaderI am happy to have found my soulmate who is not threatened by my high level of independence. I am (mostly) willing to make the compromises that are necessary to be in an inter-dependent marriage.  It does take some juggling and jostling at times.

Partners

Partners

I realize that there are families and societies where an individual’s need for and assertion of high levels of independence can lead to ostracism, or worse.  I am lucky to live in an environment where I can pretty much get away with being who I want and need to be, although it doesn’t make me the most popular girl in town.  I also have the privilege of being white in a country that still struggles with institutionalized racism.

butterfly on thistleWhat about you?  How do you (or don’t you) get your needs for independence met?  What sacrifices do you make to keep the peace in your family or community?  What do you wish you could do or be if you were truly independent?

Ailsa’s Travel Theme this week is “Independence.”

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