Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I've featured several images from my artist friend who manipulates digital images. "woodSnow" (above) is her latest. My friend sees purple in many places I don't. Her paintings are full of unexpected purples, violets, and deep blues. I think that artists see the world in a different way from us mere mortals.

The image of the tree laden with snow that appears on my blog banner is another of her images.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ozark Winter

Since we're still pretty much buried in icy, thick, treacherous snow that makes visiting my local natural areas challenging, I thought I'd share excerpts from a letter I received from my best friend, a professional gardener and naturalist who lives in extreme northeast Oklahoma on the edge of the Ozarks.
As it was, I didn't work outside today; I cheated. I suited up warm and walked to yonder pond I've known since age 11. Ilex decidua (possomhaw to the laity) still in good berry, possibly thanks to having each its vigilant sassy mockingbird.
The sun had gone under but an entire large field of little blustem, redgold ripe, was a vision nonetheless. A Great Horned Owl was commenting softly in the forest fence that runs along the far west side of the pasture. Those woods have grown into such a fearsome tangle I no longer go to the pond that was my wildest haunt in the 1950s. Hackberry Pond I called it on acount of the massive old tree, lightning-struck picturesque and incredibly still alive the last time I checked a couple of years back...
On the airport side of the road leading downtown, the city does more and more building. Just this last year, they destroyed the last bit of quasi-original prairie.

Young Victoria

When we went to see The Hurt Locker on Saturday, the theater showed a preview of Young Victoria, which inspired us to return on Sunday afternoon. The story starts during Victoria's childhood in Kensington Palace. Her education is in the hands of her mother, the German-born Duchess of Kent, and her conniving and arrogant secretary Sir John Conroy. The young princess lives isolated from everything and everyone, especially from her father’s family.

Being the heiress of the throne of England and underage, there are many who would wish to control her. For example, Victoria is required to walk down staircases holding onto the hand of an adult just in case someone would try to push her down the stairs--at 18 years old in her own house! Conroy tries to force her to name her mother Regent so that he can rule through the duchess. But Victoria, much more determined and perceptive than he thought, refuses and distances herself from her mother. Leopold I, King of Belgium and uncle of the young woman, also tries to influence her and his approach proves to be much more effective: Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg is sent to England as a candidate for marriage. He is serious and cultivated, and is sure they would have nothing in common. It doesn’t take long to see these two understand each other very well. The chess game between them is a lovely and telling scene.


The following years as a queen, Victoria tries to educate herself to the tasks and duties expected from a sovereign guided by the scheming but oh-so-charming Lord Melbourne. Some of her choices and inexperience have dreadful consequences.

Emily Blunt is a talented actress but her good looks don’t help her portray the small and energetic queen in the most faithful manner. While considered pretty in her younger years, Victoria was never a beauty. Instead,Victoria impressed her subjects with her radiant personality and her wit.

The real jewel of this movie is, without any doubt, Rupert Friend. I wasn’t a fan of him after seeing him as George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice (2005), but here he has the chance to shine! Intelligent, passionate and with an unshaken common sense, he is the perfect co-sovereign, even if he has some tendencies to control his wife.

The same can be said about actor Mark Strong and his Sir John Conroy. He brought all the aggressiveness and lust for power of Conroy, adding a hint of madness and even some fear towards the end.


Overall, this is a charming story with a lovely photography, gorgeous costumes and excellent performances that certainly would charm any period drama fan. There are some historical inaccuracies like the scene when Prince Albert saves the queen and is shot (actually nobody was hurt and the Prince didn't tried to save anybody’s life), but these changes only add more drama to the plot without actually spoiling the story.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Hurt Locker

Jeremy Renner as James in The Hurt Locker

In anticipation of the Academy Awards next Sunday, The Hurt Locker has reappeared on my local repertory film screen. I didn't see the film during its original release last year, but the critics all raved about it since, so I decided to take in a matinee on Saturday. I'm glad that I did.

There's not much of a story. Three members of Bravo Company, responsible for defusing bombs in Iraq in 2004, have 39 days left in their deployment. In the opening scene, the senior bomb tech is killed, and is quickly replaced by a seasoned veteran, James, played by Jeremy Renner. (He's a great actor with a lot of sex appeal, too. He starred in the short-lived offbeat cop drama on ABC last year, The Unusuals.) James is a hothead and an adrenaline junkie who always puts up a macho front--and the work truly does exhilarate him--but it also tears him apart inside.

The film is great because it explores the emotional toll that the life-and-death combat duty takes on the three lead characters. It's intense, but definitely one of the best films of 2009.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Today, Wednesday, February 17, 2010, one full week after the third--and most horrendous--of the Mid-Atlantic winter storms of winter 2009-10, we still have some snow clinging to branches, though it's looking increasingly ragged with each passing day. This morning, on my way to work, the dawn sky's color was reflected vividly in snow perched high on a sweetgum tree. It almost looked like the snow had been set aglow by embers.

Opposite the sweetgum tree, a Canadian hemlock with branches similarly cloaked in snow, seemed lit from within as well.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Red-tailed Hawk Relishes a Catch

A friend of mine who is a good nature photographer usually lugs around a top-of-the-line Nikon photographic outfit during his walks in the natural area we both frequent. This Christmas, he purchased a new Canon S90 pocket camera and seems to have abandoned his Nikon albatross. In any case, he was making images of the native grasslands in the natural area (before the grasslands were buried under the two feet of snow we have blanketing the ground now) when he came across a Red-tailed Hawk with a fresh catch.
The handsome bird must have been really hungry, because my friend reported that it did not take flight upon realizing that a human was approaching. Instead, it rather nonchalantly allowed him to get close enough to get these images while it enjoyed its meal.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Following the Water

Often on impulse, I walk out by myself:
Magnificent scenes, I alone know;
Walk to the source of the stream
And sit down to watch the clouds rise.

Wang Wei

Somehow, I missed the fact that David Carroll, author of one of my very favorite books, A Swampwalker's Journal, published a new compendium of essays in 2009, Following the Water: A Hydromancer's Notebook.

Carroll, who won a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award in 2006 for his work as a writer, artist, and naturalist has assembled a series of reflections on the watery natural world near his home in New Hampshire. The essays document Carroll's expeditions into a complex wetland ecosystem, and are arranged to coincide with the seasons. The book's namesake essay is the longest and occupies nearly a quarter of the book; most of the rest are far shorter--sometimes only one or two pages.

The book is intensely personal and introspective, perhaps even more so than Carroll's earlier works. I also found it to be touched by more sadness. His laments about the diminution of the natural world by human activity and population growth are more explicit and disheartening than the asides that he included in previous books. Nevertheless, Carroll writes elegantly and lyrically, and he transported me into the heart of the alder carrs and vernal pools he knows so well. No fan of Carroll's--or any Northeast naturalist--should miss this book.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow Totem

Snow Totem

When an old Virginia pine died in the natural area I visit most frequently, management decided to leave the snag standing but to lop off most of the branches to prevent them from falling onto visitors as the tree decomposed. They left the sturdiest parts of the branches as perches for raptors (which, alas, never seem to be used). More than once, the snag has struck me as a kind of natural totem.
I guess I should have brought in my birdhouse in the fall.

We got 16-1/2 inches of snow from the last storm (Friday night, February 5, until about 3 p.m. on Saturday, February 6)...
Garden art

...and now, there's a second storm churning up the Mid-Atlantic coast and poised to strike tonight with 6-12 more inches forecast.
At the end of the first storm

If this second storm delivers, this will be the snowiest winter on record in our area.

Friday, February 5, 2010

STREB in Performance

"Airlines" from Elizabeth Streb's Brave

Although we had ticket's to the STREB's newest work called Brave on Saturday evening, an impending snowstorm along the East Coast led us to exchange our tickets for last night's performance (February 4). What a show!

Not exactly dance, and not exactly Cirque du Soleil, Elizabeth Streb (who was awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Award in 1997) calls her company's performances Extreme Action Events. We were treated to 10 such Action Events last night executed by eight incredibly athletic Actioneers.

Some of the Actioneers

The best Action Events included "Polar Wander"during which the Actioneers interacted with an I-beam suspended mid-length from a steel cable and set awhirl, "Airlines" in which the Actioneers slam danced on a two-part concentrically-arranged circular stage that rotated in opposite directions, and the finale, "Super Position," that included a finely-balanced hamster wheel for playful adults. I'm sure I would have killed myself if I had tried it, but the Actioneers made the movement look so effortless and fun.

"Super Position"

There were only two klinkers out of the ten Action Events: "Falling" in which the Actioneers fell face first from increasingly greater heights onto thick foam pads (intimidating but not inspired), and "Robot" in which choreographer Streb accompanied a foot-tall robot onto stage while the robot executed some amazingly complex movements (unfortunately, the robot kept tipping over on its back).
This has been the finest series of dance performances I have had the opportunity to enjoy in the ten years that we've had this subscription series. I hope the rest of the season will be comparable.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The World, Flocked

Awoke to an inch of light snow this morning. It must have been gentle, because everything was flocked in white.

This Japanese maple tree's red buds and tawny twigs made a nice contrast to the snow.

Unlike last night's light snow, a real nor'easter is forecast for this weekend that could bring us 6 to 10 inches on Saturday.