Moss neatly tucked into bark

Moss neatly tucked into bark

One of the things that always fascinates me is moss growing on tree bark.  This particular image was taken of a spot of particularly “tall” moss growing on some extremely rough bark.  I don’t know what kind of tree it is, nor do I know what kind of moss it is, but I had fun shooting it.

The thing is, it doesn’t quite translate in the image.  I considered shooting from an angle that’s parallel to the tree trunk to get something more interesting.  However, the bark would have blocked the view of the moss had I done that.

I like the relationship of the moss and the bark.  The moss has found its way into the cracks and crevices and filled a gap in the surface of the tree.  I don’t know if the moss benefits the tree in any way or if this is a one-way relationship.

According to eHow (of which I am somewhat skeptical in general, but the tiny bit of information about mosses on trees seems like it might be correct), mosses are considered epiphytic plants.  According to Merriam-Webster, an epiphyte is a plant that obtains its nutrients and water from the air and rain, but lives on another plant.  This seems to support eHow’s claim that most mosses are harmless to the trees they grow on.  It also seems they do not benefit the tree, but who knows, maybe we just haven’t discovered how yet?

But, this view of the relationship suggests mosses are squatters.  I am somewhat envious of this way of life.  Tiny moss spores float on the breeze, land in a nice, moist crevice protected from the sun, sprout and flourish.  They are off the grid.  They produce their own food through photosynthesis.  They collect moisture and the tiny bit of sun they need from their perch.

I imagine the tree bark makes an appealing location because of the moisture it collects and the shade the tree provides, but imagine the view!  As a tiny little plant, the view of the park before it must seem as impressive as a view of the Grand Canyon to us.  Granted, it might be better enjoyed if the moss actually had eyes.  But, how do we know the moss doesn’t have it’s own way of appreciating the view?

Some birds use moss in their nests.  At least, I think that’s true.  I was thinking of hummingbirds, but they actually use lichens woven together with spider webs, not moss.

A quick google turned up about 9 types of birds that use moss to line their nests, including the Robin.  So, there you have it.  The moss grows on the trees, the birds gather the moss to line their nests, probably contributing to propagation of the moss.  Birds benefit trees by eating insects off of them, spreading their seeds, and fertilizing them.  Therefore, moss benefits trees by attracting birds.  It’s an indirect symbiotic relationship.


Native Grass

Grass seed heads on a dead leaf

Grass seed heads on a dead leaf

When Tisen and I walk the park, we pass an area planted with grasses that are apparently native to Tennessee.  I don’t know if they grow in Ohio–I don’t recognize them.

They grow in tall bunches and produce lovely seed heads that look decorative from late summer all the way through winter.  In the spring, the park landscape crew clears out the dead grass and they grow fresh green sprouts and start all over again.

Tisen is fond of these grasses.  They have the obvious attraction of providing a place to leave his scent that’s fairly high off the ground.  This, however, creates a problem related to the second reason Tisen is fond of these grasses:  he likes to scratch himself by throwing his body against them and/or swaying his rear end back and forth under their curving stems in a weird sort of move that makes one wonder exactly what his intentions are.

Now, the problem is in that he’s rubbing himself against the very same grasses he has previously . . . uh . . . watered.  Fortunately, he has the wisdom not to water and rub in the same place.  He wants to leave his scent behind, not carry it off on himself.  However, as I mentioned, we walk the park 3 times a day.  He doesn’t really keep track of where he “watered” on the previous walk.  As such, we sometimes return from walks with a slightly smelly dog, but at least not a wet one.

In any case, a handful of seed heads from these grasses had fallen onto the sidewalk.  Since those still attached to the grass were blowing around a rates of speed that just weren’t going to work for a macro shot, I set up my tripod and camera so the lens was pointed down and directly over the seed heads on the sidewalk.  No sooner than I got completely set up, my four-legged photographer’s assistant decided to stand on my subject.

So, for this particular shot, I arranged the seed heads.  I picked up one strip of seed heads along with a dark brown dead leaf and laid them down on the sidewalk where Tisen wouldn’t step on them.

They look better against the dark brown leaf than they would have on the gray sidewalk, so I guess Tisen really was assisting.  At least he didn’t eat them.

Tisen is actually a very good assistant.  Most of the time.  He patiently waits while I shoot.  He usually doesn’t walk on the subject unless it’s for a good reason.  And, he makes me feel perfectly safe walking around a park late on a winter afternoon carrying my equipment.

To tell the truth, I’ve always thought my gear would make a pretty good weapon in a worst case scenario, but I feel like I won’t have to risk damaging my camera with Tisen around.  Although, I’m not sure how seriously people take him as a protector when he’s carrying his yellow duck in his mouth.

The Seed Pod

Seed Pod

Seed Pod

One of the unintended consequences of shooting macro is what might be called “everything is interesting syndrome.”  This happens when you suddenly realize you can take a picture of something miniature and see it in striking detail.  The fascination with just seeing that detail for the first time makes everything interesting.

Of course, setting up for a macro shot takes quite a bit of time.  At least, for me it does.  First, there’s spreading out the trash bag to have a dry spot to kneel on.  Second there’s the positioning of the tripod to get the lens at the optimal distance from the subject.  This is the part that seems to take me the longest.  Then there’s the realization that the subject you’re trying to shoot is hopelessly blowing in the wind and you could kneel there taking shots for hours and not one of them will be in focus.  This leads to trying to find a new subject that is not blowing in said wind.

That’s pretty much how I ended up shooting seed pods.  They were laying in various places on the ground near the yellow berries in yesterday’s post.  While not very colorful, there’s something hopeful about a seed pod–especially in late January.  I also liked the pattern of brown spots where the seeds caused the pod to bulge.  It doesn’t quite look natural to me, yet every seed pod had that same pattern.

I can’t explain why I like this photo.  It’s not particularly artistic.  It has no striking colors.  I like the framing less than I thought I did when I took it.  The only explanation I can come up with is the aspect of revelation.

The revelation of information I didn’t have before I stuck my lens about an inch from this seed pod and created an image of it.  The subtle stripes of light orange amongst the brown.  The almost black spots speckling the length of the pod.  The brown, dried “string” running around the outside of the pod.  The dipping surface of the pod that then swells again over the hidden seeds.

All of this detail suddenly visible when I couldn’t see it before–not with the naked eye, not with my glasses, not even looking through my lens.  Only seeing the image exposed the mysteries of the seed pod to me.

So, it is not the photo that I love.  It is the experience of having discovered something new to me.  The experience of uncloaking a simple seed pod is not unlike discovering a magnolia warbler for the first time.

It was a bird that had probably been within sight hundreds of times in my life but until the fateful day it perched on a branch outside my office window, I had no idea it existed.  Granted, the Magnolia Warbler is quite a bit more colorful than a seed pod.  But, the seed pod is far more cooperative when it comes to shooting–even with the wind.

Yellow Berries

A slightly squished pair of leftover berries

A slightly squished pair of leftover berries

Sometimes I get into a rut.  A rut of not really feeling like shooting.  These are the times when having a commitment to post daily drives me to dig deep and find the energy to go shoot.

Today was one of those days.  I had a long list of things I wanted to get done.  But after spending nearly 3 hours on the first item on the list and failing to get it done, I really just wanted to take a nap.  I decided to give myself a half an hour to lie on the couch before heading out to pursue 4 shooting “assignments” I’d come up for myself.

I like to turn the TV on when I nap on a Sunday afternoon.  I don’t know why. Two things went disastrously wrong with this plan:  1)  My feet were cold; I can’t sleep when my feet are cold.  2)  While I was not sleeping, I got interested in the movie that was on.

So, instead of taking a short nap, I laid on the couch until late afternoon.  I almost didn’t manage to get myself out the door at all.  After all, it was gloomy, gray, and cold out there.  I was tired and, at last, my feet were warm.  But, Pat got motivated to go work for a bit, so I thought I could at least get motivated to do something fun.

I realized I was not going to get to all four of my photographic assignments, however.  I opted to take Tisen with me and do the most convenient of the four.  That was to shoot water droplets.

I have to admit I knew this was a long shot.  4:30 in the afternoon is not prime time for water droplets.  But, given that it was gray, gloomy, and cold, I thought maybe, just maybe, all those wonderful water droplets on the grass in the morning would still be there.

They weren’t.  As soon as I walked outside and felt the wind, I knew there would be no water droplet shots today.  But, having outfitted my camera with my 100mm macro lens attached to 3 extension tubes to maximize close-up focusing, I figured I might as well look for something interesting to shoot in lieu of water droplets.

I found the berries above looking bright and cheerful on such a drab day.  In real life, they’re less than a ½ inch in diameter.  I walked by them every day, 3x a day without really noticing until I went looking for something small to shoot.

That’s one of the things I love about shooting macro–I suddenly see things I completely filtered out.  It’s like someone handed me a new pair of glasses and the world came into sharp focus.

Speaking of sharp focus, I experimented with using a higher ISO setting and a very small aperture to try to maximize the depth of field, one of the challenges of macro shooting.  I think it helped.

Berry starting to get a few sunken spots

Berry starting to get a few sunken spots

Cherokee Removal

Wide view of map of the removal routes of the Cherokee

Wide view of map of the removal routes of the Cherokee

The Hiwassee Refuge, like many natural areas in the vicinity of Chattanooga, was once part of the Trail of Tears.  As such, it includes the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park.  This park honor the Cherokee and memorializes those who died during their passage from Blythe’s Ferry or the after-math of living in a much harsher climate.

Looking at the routes from Chattanooga

Looking at the routes from Chattanooga

The memorial includes a map of the routes the Cherokee took to get to Oklahoma where they were given land in the form of a reservation.  It’s hard to imagine making one’s way from this part of Tennessee all the way to Oklahoma by foot–especially when there were no direct routes.

The road from the Memorial to the Overlook

The road from the Memorial to the Overlook

I try to imagine what it would be like to have someone tell me that I was no longer to live in my home and if I didn’t relocate to some reservation some 800 miles away (by highway today), I would be removed forcibly by the military.  It’s not the kind of thing one associates with being an American.

We like to think we are the land of the free.  As a culture, we believe we have the right to the pursuit of happiness.  It’s hard to understand that the Cherokee were seen as hostile non-American inhabitants who were preventing progress.  Those were different times.

View from the Overlook at Cherokee Removal Memorial Park

View from the Overlook at Cherokee Removal Memorial Park

In the US today, we allow people to establish their own religions, create their own communities, and even exempt them from US laws that apply to other US citizens (for example, the Amish are exempt from registering for being drafted into the military; many groups are exempt from federal taxation).  I guess our willingness to allow these divergent views is based largely on whether these groups are perceived as a threat.

TOS volunteer with a scope on a Bald Eagle Nest

TOS volunteer with a scope on a Bald Eagle Nest

The Cherokee, who supported the British during the American revolution and periodically raided settlers’ establishments after, were perceived as a threat.  Yet, we were the foreigners at that time and we wanted what they had.  It didn’t really occur to people that perhaps it wasn’t right to take over land and displace the people who were living there.

I guess we came by our desire to conquer new lands honestly.  After all, our ancestors were Europeans who had a long history of seeking new land and taking over wherever they went.  If I recall my Western Civilizations history correctly, there were centuries of people committing genocide to claim new territories.

Another view from the overlook

Another view from the overlook

Unfortunately, it took a couple of world wars to figure out that when we try to destroy other cultures, it only leads to more pain.

The accessible walkway up to the overlook

The accessible walkway up to the overlook

Yet, maybe this lesson isn’t over.  I think of the contentious issue of illegal immigrants and the challenges people who wish to move to the US now face.  It’s as if we have become the Cherokee–we have a lifestyle and we want to maintain it.  We perceive newcomers to our land as a potential threat to that lifestyle.  I suppose the Cherokee were not the first to claim the land–and we probably won’t be the last.

How to tell when your sensor is covered in dust (taken with Pat's camera)

How to tell when your sensor is covered in dust (taken with Pat’s camera)

Home Again

There's a Golden Eagle perched in the Sycamore, but it was only visible through a scope

There’s a Golden Eagle perched in the Sycamore, but it was only visible through a scope

Perhaps you didn’t notice, but I was out of town for the past 3 days.  It was a work thing.  So, yes, another post with photos from the Sandhill Crane Festival.  While I would like to have lots of cool pictures from the Atlanta Marquis Hotel (where I did not get to stay because it was full by the time travel approval came through, but I did spend at least 12 hours a day there), it just wasn’t a good time to be lugging around my giant camera and tripod.

Adult Bald Eagle

Adult Bald Eagle

In fact, it wasn’t a good time to do anything.  Had I not been staying 2 blocks away, I might not have seen daylight for 3 days.  Several of us commented that we felt like we were in Vegas–no sense of time, confined to a conference center all day, moving from room to room, meeting to meeting, session to session, the only things missing were gambling and booze.

I did get to go out to dinner with some of the folks I work with whom I rarely get to see in person, which was great fun.  But, of course, it was well after dark (and even after bedtime the second night) by the time we went to dinner.

Adult Bald Eagle a little closer

Adult Bald Eagle a little closer

If you have never been to the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, it’s worth seeing. In fact, I need to plan a weekend in Atlanta that includes shooting the lobby.  I shot the Marquis lobby many years ago with my old PowerShot G3 and no tripod.  I would love to see what I could get with my current camera on a tripod.  If you want to see what it looks like, here’s the post with the old photos.

The thing about going to work events is that it sounds like fun, and some of it is fun, but it’s really tiring.  Pat and Tisen delivered me to Atlanta on Monday night.  We stayed in a La Quinta hotel a few miles North of the Marquis.  This is because La Quinta allows dogs.  They don’t even charge extra.

Three cranes circling the refuge

Three cranes circling the refuge

However, La Quinta is not in the best of locations and they don’t have the most comfortable of beds.  So, I started my 3 days already tired and slept less and worse the next two nights alone in a hotel around the corner from the Marquis.   Between limited sleep, walking around all day, eating crap, and being on my best behavior from 7AM to 11PM for 3 days, I’m pretty darn beat.

I think it’s probably the being on my best behavior part that’s so darn tiring–it’s be so much easier to just be myself.

Clearing the tree

Clearing the tree

The saving grace was that I was only a 2-hour drive away and in the same time zone.  Given that many of my colleagues were there from Europe and a few from Asia, I didn’t really feel like I could complain.  I’m feeling ready to go to bed (and to perhaps stay there through the weekend) none-the-less.


Looking across the lake

Distant Bugles

Flying in front of reflected trees

Flying in front of reflected trees

When we went to the Sandhill Crane Festival, we noticed some things about the cranes.  First, they are noisy.  They seem to spend a lot of time flying around, forming groups, calling to each other and circling.

It’s kind of like watching marching band practice when the band hasn’t been training together very long.  They seem uncertain about how to line up, who’s in the lead, or where they’re going.

They bugle their unique call endlessly.  It can be heard for miles.

Synchronized flapping

Synchronized flapping

Their call is somewhat reminiscent of the sound my brother used to make when he’d sneaked up on me and was trying to terrify me.  My husband thinks it sounds more like a loud turkey, but he never heard my brother.

A “heard” (yes, it’s a pun) of cranes grazed in the grasses across the refuge from us.  The one bad thing about the Hiwassee Refuge and the Sandhill Crane Festival is that the birds are mostly very far away.  I know this is best, especially when there’s a crowd.  After all, the idea of a refuge is to give wildlife a place to be wildlife without being harassed or stressed by the presence of humans.  But, it does make it difficult to get good photos.  If it weren’t for the circling cranes who seemed to want to check us out, I wouldn’t have gotten much detail at all (see previous posts to see these photos).

You can probably tell we were far away from the group of cranes on the ground from this photo:

The "heard"

The “heard”


But it might not be obvious just how far away that really is–I shot it at 400mm.  In fact, almost all of my shots (except those with a long line of cranes flying) posted over the last several days were shot at 400mm.   Mind you, the Sandhill Crane is the largest bird found in Tennessee.  They are up to 4’ tall and have a wingspan of up to 90” (that’s 7.5’).  These are big birds.  And I was shooting with as long a lens as I can afford.  The only answer is to get closer.

Of course, not during the festival.  There are two ways to get closer to the birds.  They both involve getting on the water.  One is to go kayaking–Outdoor Chattanooga offers an annual kayaking tour in the refuge in December.  We did that last year.  It was pretty tough to get good pictures from the kayak.  Plus, we weren’t allowed in the area with the densest population of cranes.  Thankfully for the birds (but not my photos), the wildlife folks take protecting these birds seriously.


The other way is to take a Blue Moon cruise through the refuge.  This might be the best option for photographic opportunities.  We’ll have to see if we can work that into our schedule.  Worst case, there are soon going to be a couple of unreleasable cranes at the Chattanooga Nature Center.  I ought to be able to get a close-up.


Tree tops reflected in water below group of cranes

Choosing Lessons

Reflected cranes at Hiwasee Refuge

Reflected cranes at Hiwasee Refuge

What does it look like to be a whole-hearted person (to borrow Brene Brown’s term)?  Do whole-hearted people rage against the unfairness of life from time to time?  Do they experience inexplicable irritation or anger?

Brene talks a lot about practice.  Not about being perfect, but about embracing imperfection and learning to correct mistakes where you can and trying again.  I kind of feel that’s what my life has been like.  Trying to take a lesson from a situation and then going out there and trying again.

This circling pair just kept going around and around

This circling pair just kept going around and around

The part I struggle with is repeating the same lesson over and over without seeming to grasp it.

I recently told a good friend a story about choosing the lesson we take.

I was keeping emails.  Neatly filed in organized folders with the thought I might need to produce one someday.  On the rare occasions I needed an old email, I had it.  No matter if it was from 3 years ago.  I had it.  Never mind it might take me an hour to find it–I had it!  And that felt like a triumph somehow.

I wonder what compels a Sandhill Crane to fly in endless circles?

I wonder what compels a Sandhill Crane to fly in endless circles?

Then, my mail file got too big and started having problems.  I had to clean out a bunch of old emails.  As soon as I did, someone needed something from 2 years earlier.  I no longer had the email.

I turned to my office mate (who was and is also one of my best friends) and said, “It just figures.  A day after I finally get rid of an old email, someone needs it.  No wonder I never want to get rid of email!”

She either didn’t hear exactly what I said or chose to ignore it.  Her response was, “Yeah, all this time keeping track of all that junk and when you don’t have it, it turns out not to be a big deal.”

Perhaps they're practicing getting their wing flaps in sync?

Perhaps they’re practicing getting their wing flaps in sync?

She was right.  It really wasn’t a big deal, I just thought it was.  This is a great example of choosing the lesson.  Without thinking about it, the lesson I was going to take was “I can never, ever, ever get rid of another email because I never know when I’ll need it.”

My friend reframed the experience to the exact opposite.  Had she not said that, I never would have realized I could choose which lesson I took from the experience.

I can’t say I’ve gotten over email hoarding, but when I do purge, I do it without guilt or fear now.  Although, I still probably keep more than I should.

Reflections melting away in the ripples

Reflections melting away in the ripples

Perhaps what I need is to have a committee of friends help me figure out what the possible lessons are I can take from the more challenging events in life that shake me to my core.  Perhaps where I fall short is not in failing to learn “the” lesson but on thinking there’s only one possible lesson to learn and missing the one that works for me.

Life Lesson Selection.  How’s that for a committee name?

Lost in the reflections from the trees

Lost in the reflections from the trees

Balancing Act

"Keep going, come on!  Pick up the pace!  We're going to catch them!"

“Keep going, come on! Pick up the pace! We’re going to catch them!”

I’ve been thinking about the feeling that there are things I have to do.  I find myself wondering if there is a way to bring the joy I feel when I do the things I want to do to the things I think I have to do.

After all, do I really have to do anything?

"Let's go!  Let's go!  Let's go!  We're getting there!"

“Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go! We’re getting there!”

Yes, I have to eat.  Yes, I have to drink (at least water).  And, yes, I have to sleep.  I enjoy all of those things none-the-less.  For example, I can eat just to fill my belly, grabbing whatever happens to be convenient and edible (which I still enjoy, truth be told) or I can make a really delicious and nutritious meal that makes me feel cared for and grateful.

Similarly, I can drag myself off to bed far too late and flop myself between the sheets feeling like I wasted another day.  Or, I can be aware of when I’m getting sleeping, decide I need to rest and enjoy sliding into bed, allowing myself to sink into the mattress with a feeling of bliss.

"We're going the wrong way!  We're never going to catch them now!"

“We’re going the wrong way! We’re never going to catch them now!”

Is it what we do that counts or how we do it?

Having a job means getting things done whether we want to do them or not.  Is it possible to learn to really enjoy what we do day-to-day?  I enjoy feeling like I can take complex problems and break them down to tasks that can be achieved.  I enjoy feeling like I came up with an idea that will work.  I enjoy feeling like I can bring my own unique contribution to the table.  Is that enough?

Realistically, it’s hard to enjoy every single thing that we do from the moment we get out of bed to the moment we retire.  I mean, can I really learn to take joy in taking out the trash?  How does the concept of “I am enough” apply when it comes to the mundane aspects of life?

"They're too far away.  Let's head back to the lake."

“They’re too far away. Let’s head back to the lake.”

I don’t think the implication is that we should set limits that say “I’m not going to take out the trash because it’s not a task I enjoy.”  After all, I do not enjoy having trash laying around my home.  I do enjoy having a house clean and orderly enough to look like it’s inhabited by humans.

Perhaps this is really another balance point.  Spending enough time on housework to feel comfortable in the space without doing things for the sake of what I think other people would think if they stopped by.  Is that enough?


“This looks familiar. How many times have we flown over this lake?

And how do I take the concept of enough to work?  It is impossible for me to ever do enough to feel like I’ve done everything I could do–there aren’t enough hours in the day.    I guess enough means finding the balance between feeling like I’ve made progress and allowing myself the time I need to do other things that are important to me.

Is “enough” just a new word for “balance”?

Off in the distance

Off in the distance

For the Joy of It

"Should we land?"  "Maybe."  "I need to know--I've got my landing gear down!"  "Well, I don't know . . ."

“Should we land?” “Maybe.” “I need to know–I’ve got my landing gear down!” “Well, I don’t know . . .”

I recently read “Daring Greatly,” which has led to the concept of “enough” reappearing in my life for yet another lesson since I haven’t internalized it.

It’s a hard concept.  It means acknowledging that we are flawed, incomplete, wrong, and sometimes downright ornery, and it’s enough.  It’s about knowing our limits, ending perfectionism, and focusing on the completeness of “enough” rather than on what we aren’t, what we haven’t gotten done, and what we don’t have.

"Naw--not yet.  Let's fly another circle."

“Naw–not yet. Let’s fly another circle.”

I’m not so good at enough.  People who know me well say things about me like, “she doesn’t do anything at less than 110%.”  I get obsessed.  I go all-in.  Then I get frustrated by my imperfection and usually move on.

I’m pretty good at balancing enough when it comes to time management skills.  It can be measured and monitored and limited in ways I understand well.

"Are you serious?  Now you decide!"

“Are you serious? Now you decide!”

Where I have more trouble with the concept of “enough” is figuring out when I’m doing something for the joy of it vs the desire to please.  I find that when I do things out of the desire to please, it ends up pleasing no one, least of all me.  Who wants to be around someone who is feeling resentful and put upon because they’re fulfilling an obligation they don’t feel up to fulfilling?

On the flip side, when I do something for the joy of doing it, the only pain I experience is cramping in my smile muscles.  There are certain things that just make me feel joyful.  Sharing something I love with someone else who’s interested is a biggie.  It’s the same experience as giving someone a really great gift–it just feels like I have the ability to make a difference when I can give someone else something they want–especially if they never knew they wanted it.

"Let's join that group!"

“Let’s join that group!”

This begs the question:  what is the difference between joyfully sharing something I love and getting joy from people enjoying it vs trying to please others?

Perhaps the difference is how vested I am in the others enjoying it?  Maybe there is only a hair-breadth’s difference between sharing my joy in something without needing someone else to approve vs feeling more or less lovable based on whether others approve or not?

After all, when someone is just sharing what they love without the expectation of reciprocation, it’s hard not to catch their joy.

If I do something purely out of joy, I can allow the space for someone not to be as excited as I am.  In allowing that space, it almost guarantees they will at least appreciate my joy if not experience their own.

If I do something because I think it will please someone, I need them to be pleased.  That need creates a sense of expectation that can cause push back or resistance–why should they be obligated?  It reduces the chances of pleasure all the way around.

I’m not sure I really understand this, but I think I’m making progress.

Soaring over the lake

“We’re never going to catch them now–More altitude!”