And then there were three

Late winter storm in the woods, Sudbury, MA. (c) DE Wolf 2018.

Today is third nor’easter in two weeks, and this is the biggest. We are expecting something like 18″ of the white fluff. The quality of snow lies in its ability to obscure all blemish and to coat everything in a virgin white, enrobing the bride of the forest. In that regard, it is an obscuring of sight. Less appreciated is the way that, in the absence of wind, it obscures sound. The other night there was the sound of pelting rain. This was followed by the peels of the thunder snow. And then there was silence, utter and complete silence. When I looked out the window, all was white, reborn in pure crystalline form.

The image of Figure 1, I captured by sticking only my head and camera out into the maelstrom. Or as W.C. Fields said in the 1933 movie  “The Fatal Glass of Beer.”

“It ain’t a fit place out for man or beast.”

Canon T2i with EF70-200mm f/4L USM lens at 75 mm, ISO 1600, Aperture Priority AE Mode, 1/4000th sec at f/9.0 with -1 exposure compensation.

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

March nor’ester

Figure 1 – Nor’easter March 8, 2018. (c) DE Wolf 2018

Well, it is March and we have had our second nor’easter along the East Coast. My office is closed. The Town has asked me to stay off the road. I went downstairs to get coffee and snapped this photograph of my birdfeeder. March storms tend to come with this dangerous coating of the tree limbs.

Why do we call it a nor’easter, instead of a northeaster? Is it a reversion of some kind to a seafaring past, genes that most of us don’t have? It is a strange point of being a New Englander that this kind of wild weather soaks our brains and we are driven to affect a nautical tongue. “At matie! dars a mightie rough wind outa the nord. Lower ye missan mast! Batten down the hatches. Ay!” 

This weekend will come the time change.

“We loiter in winter while it is already spring.”

Henry David Thoreau

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

Reassuring moments in physics #6

Figure1 – Convection, IPhone photograph. (c) DE Wolf, 2018.

The other day I was microwaving asparagus. It was a modest act, to be sure. But physics dwells within the seemingly mundane. The asparagus was placed in a bit of water and covered with pats of butter. Water! Butter! You may anticipate where all this is going. Because, later when I went to clean the ceramic dish, I found that the water had all evaporated and the  swells of molten butter congealed, freezing in time and space the convective thermal forces at work.

Now the miscibility of oils and water have been well exploited in, for instance, the decorative marbling of old book papers. But convection, that’s a beautiful phenomenon, so often neglected. We see convective cells in our morning coffee, but barely pause before we drink it up. We take convection for granted.  A young women anxious to attract a certain classmate wears a special perfume. If she were dependent on diffusion in air, well.. Let me just say we or she would still be waiting. It is through convection, thermally driven airflows that she works her magic.  The whole perfume industry is based on this simple fact. And most importantly, beneath our feet, deeper than the solid lithosphere, seethes the molten magma, heated (are you ready for this?) by the power of radioactive decay. The lithosphere floats on this molten sea, and convective flows move the continents. This is the famous continental drift of tectonic theory. There are granites on Cape Ann in Massachusetts that can be matched to other stones in Africa.

So I guess that the morale the story is that next time you see the swirls in your coffee cup, you should marvel at what a powerful force convection is.

And yes, of course, I have a quote for you

“The earth holds a silver treasure, cupped between ocean bed and tenting sky. Forever the heavens spend it, in the showers that refresh our temperate lands, the torrents that sluice the tropics. Every suckling root absorbs it, the very soil drains it down; the rivers run unceasing to the sea, the mountains yield it endlessly… Yet none is lost; in vast convection our water is returned, from soil to sky, and sky to soil, and back gain, to fall as pure as blessing. There was never less; there could never be more. A mighty mercy on which life depends, for all its glittering shifts, water is constant.”
 A Cup of Sky (1950)
Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

In Shelley’s Mirror

Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Figure 1 – The Mirror. (c) G Sluder 2018.

Reader and renowned microscopist, Kip Sluder, sent me the wonderful image  of Figure 1 yesterday to share with the Hati and Skoll community. Vainly I draw the conclusion that my readers discouraged by my paucity of posts have taken matters into their own hands. First, the artist’s statement

Intuitively the scene appealed at some unspoken level.  The mixed perspectives had mystery to them – perhaps I was Alice contemplating the draw of the world on the other side of the looking glass – but one coming from a looking glass with a tilt incongruent with the order of the building around it.  For me good photographs are often a vessel into which one puts a bit of oneself – the intent of the photographer is of course interesting but not necessarily where the action is.

And I would agree that this is exactly the appeal of the image. The mirror is tilted in a very strange way. It seems to float. It is unclear what exactly holds it in place. It doesn’t quite seem possible that that much grandeur and complexity, a scene worthy of Piranesi, lies just above the stairs. Our eyes dart in all directs trying to make sense of what we see.

And as for Alice – it is worth remembering that the full title is not “Through the Looking-Glass” but rather “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found there.” The mirror and going through is only the first part of the magic, what is on the other side is the rest.

“In a Wonderland they lie, Dreaming as the days go by, Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream- Lingering in the golden gleam- Life, what is it but a dream?”

Lewis Carrol, Through the Looking-Glass

Posted in Reviews and Critiques

“The beast from the east”

I thought that I would go simple today and share this link with everyone. The “Beast from the East” has brought a snowstorm to Rome and photographers have had a field day. There are some wonderful gems here.

It is such a rare event that I cannot find a decent quote to memorialize the event. Snow is magic and Rome is magic.

“Rome was a poem pressed into service as a city.”

Anatole Broyard

Posted in Reviews and Critiques

Water, air, and ice

Figure 1 – Water, air, and ice on the pond, Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, Maynard, MA, February 24, 2018. (c) DE Wolf 2018.

There seems to be an infinite variety of form for snow and ice. This derives principally from the complex “phase behavior” of water. That is a long story, but basically the point is that if you apply pressure to ice, it does not stay solid, rather it becomes a liquid and if you’re not careful you slip and fall. Dry ice, frozen carbon dioxide, does not do this. It stays solid and you cannot ice-skate on dry ice. The second factor is the one of history. The natural world has a tendency to change and not remain static. Hence, the ice you see and photograph is like a recording of all that it has been, a serial reflecting the vagaries and changes of weather.

In the context I came upon this ice, mixed with air and water, on a shallow part of the pond on Saturday afternoon. In nature structure arises out of chaos and reflects and copies the funadament structure of the building block molecules.

“Ice contains no future , just the past, sealed away. As if they’re alive, everything in the world is sealed up inside, clear and distinct. Ice can preserve all kinds of things that way- cleanly, clearly. That’s the essence of ice, the role it plays.”

Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

Canon T2i with EF70-200mm f/4L USM lens at 75 mm, ISO 1600, Aperture Priority AE Mode, 1/400th sec at f/11 with +1/3 exposure compensation.

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

A renewing walk in the woods

Figure 1 – Winter pastels on the pond, Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, Maynard, MA, February 24, 2018. (c) DE Wolf 2018

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
John Muir”


It has been an unusually warm February here in the Northeast. We say that knowing full-well that it is no longer a random February thaw, but rather the effect of global warming. And this sends a chill through our hearts.

Just the same, I felt on this fifty-six F degree February day that it was high time to renew myself as Ayesha in the Pillar of Fire. So I heeded John Muir’s words and headed off into woods once more.

There was no snow and barely any ice, just mud. The skies were very overcast; so in essence, I surrendered myself to the glorious gloom and photographically to a very flat light.

Water, air, and Earth, they are the three essential elements of the woods. And in winter the color is there. It is just subdued and beautifully pastel. I found that when I went to photograph the perfect symmetry of denuded branches piercing the pond, the curves of the shrubs perfectly mirrored by their reflections in the water. I was surprised by the color in the frame and looked back at the original to see if it was real. It was. Winter had just tricked me into believing that the world was monochrome. It never is.

As I walked further along, I was saddened to find a crushed turtle. I was depressed to think that this was the work of some sadistic person, who didn’t possess respect for nature. But then I realized that in all likelihood the turtle had when captured by some raptor bird and dropped to the Earth below to crack it open. This seemed, perhaps, a more acceptable scenario. For animals the woods are ultimately unforgiving.

“There is no such things as magic, though there is such a thing as knowledge of the hidden ways of Nature.”
  H. Rider Haggard, She

Canon T2i with EF70-200mm f/4L USM lens at 200mm, ISO 1600, Aperture Priority AE Mode, 1/160th sec, at f/9.0 with -2/3 exposure compensation.

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

Animal Faces #10 – “Zadie”

Figure 1 – Animal Faces #10 – Zadie. (c) DE Wolf 2018.

Apologies to my readers for being off the radar screen for a while. This past weekend my friend, “Zadie,” graciously posed for her portrait for my Animal Faces Series, and the result is shown in Figure 1. Some have said that this is a portrait of “my grand puppy.” To this I must reply that “I ain’t no grandfather to no dog.” Still Zadie is the sweetest thing. A statement my cat insists on protesting.

As is most often the case, I have used my IPhone 6.0 to capture her eyes and the soul within. The Iphone is ever so wonderful for this kind of intimate closeup.

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

Wild turkey tracks in the snow

Figure 1 – Wild turkey tracks in the freshly-fallen snow, Jan. 30, 2018, Wilmington, MA.  IPhone 6 photograph. (c) DE Wolf 2018.

It is winter and yet we torture ourselves with daily walks. It is as if to harden ourselves and is reminiscent of “The Siege of Leningrad,” “The Retreat of Napoleon’s Army of the Republic,” and “Scott’s March to the South Pole.” Hmm, none of those worked out so well in the end.

I was delighted this morning during my morning walk to come across these wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, tracks in the newly fallen snow – accentuated here by the pavement below. When I was in graduate school in upstate New York the turkey was a rare bird, and the joke was that the hunting season was so short so as to protect “the stupid birds.” I do not call birds stupid anymore and respect enormously the evolutionary endurance of these “dinosaurs.” In Massachusetts they disappeared 160 years ago and the state brought them back. So now they are everywhere.

You may have heard that Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be the national bird. Apparently this is not true. In a letter to his daughter Franklin objected to the Bald Eagle and commented that the bird on seal looked more like a wild turkey than an Eagle.

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

Much more turkey lore relates to its consumption on American Thanksgiving, and there is decent evidence that the wild form was served at the First Thanksgiving. But it did not become the modern stable of Thanksgiving until way into the 19th century. Although and significantly another Revolutionary Luminary, Alexander Hamilton did say, or is reported to have said that:

“No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.”

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

The Blue Jay Legend

Figure 1 – Blue Jay, Jan 13, 2018, Sudbury, MA. (c) DE Wolf 2018

Figure 1 is a Eastern Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata,  laughing at me this week in the snow. The native American blue jay spirit was in many ways akin to the Norse God Loki. He was the joker, always making trouble, always the trickster.

There is a Chinook Legend called Blue Jay Takes a Wife., in which Blue Jay is told to choose a wife among the dead and then spends time trying to resurrect her. When he finally succeeds the father of his bride demands that he cut off his beautiful hair as a gift for his new in-laws. Blue Jay refuses. Instead he turns back into a bird and flies back to the land of the dead and his bride drops dead. It is a story of failed resurrection – unlike the Legend of the Buffalo Dance. The Trickster’s magic is not strong enough.

In the summer Massachusetts is a bit of a playground. The old legends are muffled out by modernity. But in winter the old stories are carried by harsh winds. The birds, magical and real, struggle as they have for thousands of year. The spirits of the first peoples echo everywhere for anyone who cares to listen.

Canon T2i with EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens at 310 mm, ISO 800, Aperture Priority AE Mode 1/200th sec at f/7.1 with +2/3 exposure compensation.

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings