Night Time Renaissance

Bright moon, pink clouds, twilight sky--but too much wind

Bright moon, pink clouds, twilight sky–but too much wind

Sometimes at night the clouds lay low over the city and reflect back the light from the street lights below, luminous against the twilight blue sky.  Usually, the phenomena of having low-lying clouds with a clear sky above is accompanied by wind.

If there is no wind, the clouds don’t break up.  They lie like a blanket, impenetrable, creating only a haze of light that just isn’t as interesting as on windy nights.  On this particular night, not only was the wind blowing hard with the clouds breaking up nicely, but the moon was bobbing and weaving amongst the blowing clouds.

For this special effect, the assistance of Tisen was required--a surprise pull on the leash captured Tisen's own form of art

For this special effect, the assistance of Tisen was required–a surprise pull on the leash captured Tisen’s own form of art

Who could resist trying to get a photo of that?  Of course, Tisen also needed to go out, so being the multi-tasker that I am, I hung my DSLR around my neck and put Tisen’s collar around his.

While I always take my iPhone with me when I wander around Renaissance park, I had no intention of using it tonight.  The iPhone is a light hog, like all digital cameras with tiny sensors.  Getting a night time image with an iPhone isn’t something I’ve figured out how to do and this wasn’t going to be the night I tried again.

Shot while swaying with a post I was trying to lean on for stability

Shot while swaying with a post I was trying to lean on for stability

I’m glad I didn’t bother trying with the iPhone.  With my DSLR set on ISO 10,000, I was still shooting at shutter speeds over 3 seconds long.  This is because I was being greedy.  I wanted lots of depth of field, which meant sacrificing light to get it.

This may not have been the best decision.  Armed with my camera and with my tripod tucked neatly in the closet back at home, I was buffeted about in the wind like a human sail.  I tried leaning against a light pole and discovered the light pole was also blowing in the wind.  We swayed together as I contemplated the hopelessness of getting a good shot in these conditions.

Closer to still, if only the clouds would have paused

Closer to still, if only the clouds would have paused

I remembered some of the lessons I learned about wind from hang gliding.  First and foremost, it cycles.  If you stand still and pay attention, you’ll feel it start to ease up until it will suddenly drop and be still.  Sometimes this lasts only a split second.  Sometimes it lasts several seconds.  I needed 3 second windows of calm to get any sharp photos.

To make matters more difficult, the wind tossing the clouds was blowing at a much steadier pace, keeping the clouds blowing across my frame during the exposure.  Even the plants in the foreground weren’t settling down when the breeze would briefly die.  Everything was in motion.  There were to be no sharp shots that night.

This is my favorite--the effect of the wind blowing everything in the long exposure reminds me of an impressionist painting

This is my favorite–the effect of the wind blowing everything in the long exposure reminds me of an impressionist painting

Tisen was happy to return to the indoors–the wind was cold and Tisen’s leg is sore.  He has created yet another hot spot because of his allergies.  We are treating it topically for the time being in the hope of avoiding more steroids.  The pink self-sticking tape was hard to resist–he looks so cute in pink.

Tisen spent most of the day napping--he managed to wake up long enough to yawn mid-day

Tisen spent most of the day napping–he managed to wake up long enough to yawn mid-day

I got one pose out of him before he went back to sleep

I got one pose out of him before he went back to sleep

 

The Easy Way to Point Park

View from canon in Point Park

View from canon in Point Park

My plan was to walk from Cravens House to Sunset Rock to Point Park and then back to Craven’s house.  This would be more like a loop vs just an out and back.  Since both Sunset Rock and Point Park are 1 1/2 miles from Cravens House, the math in my head indicated we’d be walking 3 miles regardless of whether we did the loop or the out and back.

I forgot about the part between Sunset Rock and Point Park.  Turns out that’s something like an extra mile.  While I wouldn’t have minded the extra mile, the rest of the crowd turned against me.  Pat completely over-ruled any consideration of walking to Point Park.

Making our way back down the trail

Making our way back down the trail

When we got to the point in the trail where we had to pick between walking back towards Cravens House or up to Point Park, Pat asked if we were going to Point Park.  We were all surprised.  Then, he clarified that he was asking if we wanted to drive up to Point Park after we got back to Craven’s House, not if we wanted to walk to Point Park.

Oh well.

On the way back to Craven’s House, the trail did a switch-back near the top of the cliff and then passed below Sunset Rock.  When we were at the top, we passed a group of young adults who had hung camping hammocks between some trees that hung over the edge of the cliff.

Two hammocks visible from the trail below the cliff

Two hammocks visible from the trail below the cliff

We took some photos for them with their iPhones as we went by.  I attempted to get a shot for me as well, but I had one of my typical moments where I believed I had my camera set on aperture priority and didn’t worry about checking the exposure.  Several minutes later, when we were well down the trail, I took a peak and discovered my shot was a giant black rectangle.

When we passed underneath, I managed to get a shot of the two visible hammocks from below.  It looked a lot scarier when we were looking down from the top.  All I could think to myself was, “I don’t care how strong those hammocks are, how can they know the trees will hold?”  After all, the trees were right on the side of the cliff with very little place to grip with their roots.  I had visions of them toppling over and dragging the hammocks with the young campers with them.

Tisen making sure I'm coming along

Tisen making sure I’m coming along

For the record, we have seen nothing on the news about any hikers who fell from Sunset Rock, so I think they were OK.

We made it back down the trail, past the square tree branch, off the cliff, and back to Cravens House.

While we did make it up to Point Park (via automobile), we made only a quick jaunt around the asphalt path and skipped the off-road trail out to the point.  I felt like we short-changed my brother and sister-in-law, but they plan to come back.

My brother and sister-in-law posing being the wheel of a canon at Point Park

My brother and sister-in-law posing being the wheel of a canon at Point Park

Walk to Sunset

Sunset Rock Hipstamatic Style

Sunset Rock Hipstamatic Style

In the effort to entertain my brother and sister-in-law, I came up with the following itinerary:

  1. Have them assist in a birds of prey program at a local festival.
  2. Take them to lunch at a famous barbecue on a hill with goats.
  3. Haul them up to Lookout mountain and take them hiking for a couple of hours.
  4. Drag them out for Mexican-fusion at favorite taco spot.
  5. Give them a tour of husband’s workshop.

We are now on #3.  Hauling said brother and sister-in-law up to Lookout Mountain for a relatively short, easy hike.

Sunset Rock via DSLR

Sunset Rock via DSLR

One of my favorite short, easy hikes on Lookout is the hike from Craven’s House to Sunset Rock.  There are many routes to choose from so it’s easy to make the hike as short as 3 miles or as long as 10, depending on how long you want to be out.  Regardless of which route you choose, the scenery on Lookout and the views from the overlooks are always fantastic.

Our fearless hiking crew

Our fearless hiking crew

The rock formations on Lookout are amazing in and of themselves.  The sandstone (or maybe limestone?) splits, drops, careens, and leans in ways that make you feel like you’re doing something really dangerous by walking on stone that might fall off the side of the mountain at any moment.  If the trail were along the creek with the same rock formations, it wouldn’t be quite as adventurous, but it would still be beautiful.

Chunks of ice remind us it's only spring on the calendar

Chunks of ice remind us it’s only spring on the calendar

Water runs between the rocks from time to time.  We were surprised on this early spring day to discover chunks of ice lingering in one microscopic waterfall.  Just another reminder that only the humans around here are convinced it’s supposed to be spring.

Even the mushrooms look like they are winterized

Even the mushrooms look like they are winterized

Tisen enjoys this hike, too.  He likes to linger behind, sniffing, and then dart back in front.  Sometimes, he stops to check on me if I’m hanging back.  I’m not sure if he’s worried I’m going to fall off a cliff (a reasonably probable occurrence) or if he thinks I might sneak off and disappear to some new life that doesn’t include him.  He really doesn’t have to worry about the latter–I’m not anxious to find out what life will feel like without him.

Tisen checking on Mommy

Tisen checking on Mommy

We made it to Sunset Rock in tact, although Tisen scared me to the point that I yelled at him when he got so close to the edge that I really thought he was going to lift his leg and immediately topple down the cliff.  I called him three times and when he ignored me, I panicked and yelled his name at the kind of volume that echoed off the surrounding cliff sides.  He looked up at me, surprised and sheepish.  I couldn’t remember having ever raised my voice at him before; I felt a little foolish.

View of the valley from Sunset Rock

View of the valley from Sunset Rock

The view from Sunset Rock is not actually better than the view from Point Park, but making the hike through the woods and up the mountain makes it feel so much better.

Baaa

Seriously--is there anything cuter?

Seriously–is there anything cuter?

Having spent the morning assisting at a birds of prey program at the Little Owl Festival at Audubon Acres, next on the agenda was lunch.  There are certain places that people who come to visit Chattanooga want to go.

Pat’s sister wanted to check out the Hair of the Dog Pub downtown.  My original sister-in-law came with a recommendation for Sugar’s Barbecue.  We decided on the “Q with a View” location of Sugar’s.  Not only does it offer great food and scenery, but there are also goats.  It’s a place we like to take visitors.

Mama was unperturbed by my presence and concentrated on what she was chewing

Mama was unperturbed by my presence and concentrated on what she was chewing

In case you are worried, no goat meat appears on the menu at Sugar’s.  I don’t know exactly why they have goats, but I like to think it’s for keeping the grass on the hillside trim.

Sugar’s has good barbecue.  We particularly like their brisket.  It’s extremely tender, falling apart when we pick at it.  I also love their macaroni and cheese.  And their mayonnaise-based coleslaw, which barely seems like it has mayo in it at all.  And their banana pudding is hard to resist.  I suppose it will come as no surprise if I mention I gained a pound or two in the day and a half my brother and sister-in-law visited?

Frolicking kids on the patio

Frolicking kids on the patio

After ordering and getting a tutorial on the various sauces Sugar’s offers (something I can never keep track of, except that there are 3 that are tomato based and 3 that are vinegar based), I slipped out to see the goats while we waited on the food.

The goats are divided into two areas.  One is along the hillside and has a series of footpaths that only goats could possibly navigate.  It’s like goat heaven.  Except perhaps for the poop.

Kids or puppies?

Kids or puppies?

The other area is in the middle of a lovely patio with picnic tables that are undoubtedly occupied during the months when it’s dry, sunny, and pleasantly warm without being too hot.  We have never been to Sugar’s during the kind of weather conditions that would encourage people to sit out on the patio.

The center of the patio is fenced in, forming a good-sized yard where several goats are usually hanging out, hoping for a handout.  On this day, three kids were hanging out with two moms.  They were irresistible.

Naw . . . they're not related

Naw . . . they’re not related

There really aren’t many things cuter than baby <fill in the blank>.  Baby birds, baby people, baby dogs, baby sheep . . . you name it.  They’re cute.  Goats are particularly cute babies.  Perhaps it’s their giant, floppy ears that seem so disproportional to their tiny heads.  Or maybe it’s that they look so innocent while their elders always seem to look like they’re up to something.

Front and back

Front and back

Whatever it is, I enjoyed getting some shots of the goats.  So much so, I couldn’t resist taking a few shots with the Hipstamatic app on my iPhone, too.  Funny how quickly a modern goat can be transported back in time.

Looking historical

Looking historical

Chatter

Jerry, an Eastern Screech Owl, Hipstamatized

Jerry, an Eastern Screech Owl, Hipstamatized

After spending a good hour or so entertaining a small crowd at the Little Owl Festival, the crowd began to thin out.  A handful or so hung around, petting Jerry the Screech Owl and asking the questions that didn’t get answered during the program.  A few stragglers wandered over in time to get a chance to see the birds.

In this moment of relative quiet, Paul with Artie, I with Gilbert, and Megan with Jerry lined up for a photo op.  We lined up in this order because Artie has a way of making Jerry nervous–in the wild, Jerry would be prey for Artie.

Gilbert suddenly started a shrill alarm call, looking around frantically.  One of the remaining fans spotted a Coopers Hawk in the woods.  It took several minutes of pointing and moving about for the half dozen or so humans hanging about to spot the hawk.  Gilbert had spotted his mortal enemy without so much as turning his head.  I remain bewildered as to how he noticed the hawk slip into the woods 500 yards away.

At the same time, Gilbert doesn’t have the same reaction to a Barred Owl sitting 3 feet away.  With me and Gilbert between Jerry, a tiny Screech Owl, and Artie, all would have been quiet were it not for the Coopers Hawk in the woods.

Lining up so Jerry can't see Artie

Lining up so Jerry can’t see Artie

Pat managed to get a series of shots in any case.  In the meantime, the last remnants of the crowd faded off to the next act, leaving us to pack up the birds and call it a day.  Pat and Dale had a face-off with the cameras before we went our separate ways.

Dale wins in the camera battle with her polka-dotted case

Dale wins in the camera battle with her polka-dotted case

I walked across the field back to our car feeling high.  I stopped to visit with the Audubon folks at the tent selling tickets and couldn’t stop smiling about how much fun it had been to share the birds with the audience.  I think they might have been jealous.

We loaded into the mini-van and headed down the road talking about where we should have lunch.  As we rounded a curve through the wooded neighborhood that surrounds Audubon Acres, we spotted a huge flock of wild turkeys, with what appeared to be a dozen toms strutting about displaying their plumage, competing for the attention of the hens.

I, of course, called to Pat to stop the van as I grabbed the camera, hopped out of the car, and tried my best to get a shot without scaring them off.  Wild turkeys are not very cooperative, I’ve found.  They look perfectly content to hang out in the open like they own the world and there are no predators they have to worry about until the moment someone shows up with a camera.  Then they seem to rapidly disappear.

My 24-70mm lens was no match for the distance the turkeys were able to cover in the time it took me to get lined up.  But, we enjoyed their show none-the-less.

Wild turkey toms doing their best to attract a mate

Wild turkey toms doing their best to attract a mate

 

Cayce Rocks the House

Cayce follows Dale around much like a faithful dog

Cayce follows Dale around much like a faithful dog

Cayce is my favorite vulture.  Is it normal to have a favorite vulture?

Normal or not, I suspect anyone who has ever met Cayce falls into the same camp–Cayce is their favorite vulture.  Of course, for most people, there’s a high probability that Cayce is the only vulture they’ve ever seen (or at least realized they’ve seen).

Cayce hops to my glove in exchange for a piece of beef

Cayce hops to my glove in exchange for a piece of beef

This reminds me of when Pat and I went on a tour of Taliesin West (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Arizona-based school of architecture) and the tour guide told us that on almost every tour someone says, “Frank Lloyd Wright is my favorite architect.”  He said he always has to stop himself from asking who their second-favorite architect is–he’s pretty sure most people who say this can’t name a second architect.

Sometimes Cayce prefers to hop from glove to ground, run, and then hop up to the next glove--it's pretty funny the way she hops

Sometimes Cayce prefers to hop from glove to ground, run, and then hop up to the next glove–it’s pretty funny the way she hops

Like Wright, Cayce has the advantage that vultures (and apparently architects) don’t usually become household names.  However, unlike the stories we heard about Wright, Cayce has an irresistible personality.

Dale spends a few minutes setting the stage by telling the audience about vultures, their role in preventing the spread of disease and their importance to the environment.  Then she explains how Cayce was erroneously rescued and became a human imprint.

The young lady celebrated her birthday holding a vulture

The young lady celebrated her birthday holding a vulture

When everyone is wondering what it’s going to be like to see a Black Vulture up close, Dale calls “Here’s Cayce!”  and I open Cayce’s travel crate.  Cayce comes charging out and starts looking around like she’s trying to get oriented.  I toss a small piece of beef towards the center of the circle formed by the audience and Cayce runs front and center.  Once she sees Dale, she is good to go.

Cayce heads back to my glove having just passed over the heads of the surprised audience

Cayce heads back to my glove having just passed over the heads of the surprised audience

As Dale continues to tell the small audience about Cayce, she walks along the circle of spectators with Cayce following at her heels.  It’s pretty clear that Cayce would follow Dale anywhere.

Usually, when the birds are going to fly during a program, they get their breakfast during the show, flying for their meal.  This both keeps them properly fed and motivated to fly.  However, on this day, Dale forgot and fed Cayce her full breakfast.  Often, a bird of prey won’t fly if it isn’t hungry–after all, their instinct is to expend energy flying purely for the purpose of seeking food.

Fortunately for us, Cayce loves to please a crowd.  In spite of her full stomach, she launched perfectly several times, buzzing the heads of the audience.  Everyone ducked as Cayce barely clearer their foreheads–her feathers brushed back the hair of one taller gentleman.  This is always a crowd pleaser.

The second time Cayce buzzes the audience, they are a little better prepared and start to duck early

The second time Cayce buzzes the audience, they are a little better prepared and start to duck early

One of the reasons an unreleasable vulture makes a great entertainer is because, unlike Cayce’s raptor relatives, vultures don’t have talons.  Their feet more closely resemble a large chicken’s, making close fly-by’s much safer.

Of course, we humans would be happier if Cayce could live out her life in the wild.  But I doubt Cayce agrees–after all, she returned to humans after being released several times.  I think she found her calling.

Cayce comes in for a surprisingly gentle landing

Cayce comes in for a surprisingly gentle landing

 

*Photography credit goes to Pat, my wonderful husband who took all shots of the birds of prey program.

Family Act

Posing for Granma's Camera

Posing for Granma’s Camera

Sometimes I think I’m a bit odd.  Maybe just slightly kooky, a little nerdy, maybe even a bit eccentric.  Then, every once in a while, I discover how truly normal I am.  It’s almost disappointing, really.

For example, I thought maybe getting so excited about spending time with the wonderful birds of SOAR that it evoked childhood memories of the night before Christmas might be unusual.

Paul introduces Artie to one of the younger audience members

Paul introduces Artie to one of the younger audience members

But what I’ve learned is that it’s not unusual at all to grin ear-to-ear when encountering wildlife up close.  In fact, I believe every person I’ve seen attend any birds of prey program has responded with a similar grin.  It really comes as no surprise that my brother and sister-in-law, joining us for the weekend, also exhibited the same jaw-cramping grin while helping out with an intimate show at the Little Owl Festival here in Chattanooga this weekend.

Megan holds Jerry up for all to see

Megan holds Jerry up for all to see

The rain started early, turning into a light drizzle by the time we arrived at Audubon Acres for the festival.  The organizers were fairly certain it was going to be dry for the duration of the festival.  We were a bit nervous.  But, we chose a back corner of the meadow, as far from the train tracks as possible, and started setting up.

We waited to start the program until after the civil war re-enactor had fired his musket a few times.  Thankfully, one of the event planners thought to warn us so we left the birds in their carriers until after the smoke from the gun shots had cleared.

This birthday girl got quite a treat petting Jerry

This birthday girl got quite a treat petting Jerry

Once things had settled down, the small crowd that had braved the early weather headed our way and we got ready to start the show.  We had a small enough group to have them in a circle around us, which allowed everyone to get a front-row view of each bird, with time to pause for photos.

Megan was walking with Jerry, a Screech Owl, who was the only bird there that could be touched.  Megan got the added pleasure of seeing children’s faces as they touch an owl for the first time in their lives.  It’s a look that makes me smile so hard, my TMJ issues kick in and cause stabbing pain in my face.  It’s worth it.

Seeing my brother with Artie makes me smile, too.  I asked him what was going on in this image:

Paul trying to read Artie's mind

Paul trying to read Artie’s mind

He said, “He was looking at me.”  The angle makes it a little hard to tell, but my brother is still grinning ear-to-ear.  I kind of get the feeling that if Artie could grin, he would be, too.

By the way, I should mention that today’s photos are all by my favorite guest photographer, my husband.  I put my camera on Automatic and handed it to him.  Although I had to crop quite a bit because I should have put a longer lens on the camera, he did a fabulous job in a difficult shooting situation.

Paul squats to let the shortest audience members get a good look at Artie

Paul squats to let the shortest audience members get a good look at Artie