After posting an image of the snout of a combine one reader said that she looked forward to seeing more of the machine. Although I can’t present a combine set to harvest a corn crop, I can show you what the business end of a working soy bean head looks like. I have already reported that the bean harvest began at Wayne’s over the weekend and it was there that I was able to capture these views of a John Deere 7720 Titan II. It has a turbocharged diesel engine that puts out 145 horsepower to drive the 20,000 pound machine. Although a combine is a pretty large and formidable piece of farm equipment, its principles of operation are straightforward. If you look closely at the first image, down at ground level, you will see the metal fingers of the cutter bar. Once the bean stalks are cut by the reciprocating blade, the crop is delivered to the auger by the sweeping motion of the reel. A rapidly moving belt then delivers the plants deep into the combine where they are threshed to separate the grain from the remainder. The former is stored in a bin, and off-loaded periodically, while the latter is discharged back onto the field. It all sounds pretty simple but to walk around a combine such as this is to be overwhelmed by an array of very heavy drive belts, pulleys, chains, sprockets, shafts, motors, hydraulic hoses, and cables. It always amazes me that the darn things actually work … and work, they do.

POSTSCRIPT: My good friend Maurice, at Duck? Starfish? But … 23? passed the following along for my appreciation. I responded that Joanna and I watched, and listen, smiled, laughed, and then smiled a bit more. Thanks Maurice.

Primary panes

We attended another sheep-to-shawl meeting over the weekend. The plan was to spin enough weft to weave a scarf as a trial for the state championship scheduled for January. I always bring along my camera to keep busy while Joanna practices with the team, so I was off to explore. Wayne’s family was well into the bean harvest with 70 acres taken in on Saturday, leaving 20 more to bring in when the meeting was done. The corn would follow. I walked about and eyed the photographic potential of the combine, tractors, wagons, elevators, and grain bins. Nothing caught my fancy. I walked among the sheep, chickens, and bales of haylage. I walked the corn fields and what remained of the beans. Then I noticed that one of the barn windows was missing and the one immediately adjacent looked different somehow. I walked over and discovered an entire frame of colorful panes – how wonderful. I wanted to shoot inside-side-out, so I lifted the latch to one of the small doors, ducked, and stepped inside. The wind was howling but the air was still enough with the door closed. Cobwebs told of the tumult just outside. A space about 20 foot square had been walled off with chicken wire clear to the ceiling. I recall that Wayne housed meat birds here at a time when he was having particular difficulties with varmints. The space was now being used to store poultry equipment, bee hive bodies and supers, a variety of waterers, a few fleeces, and a bit of straw. I walked carefully. When I turned toward the door my eyes were greeted by a most beautiful display of color. I worked hard to steady myself as I stood atop a bale, the strings of which weren’t all that tight. The flakes separated under my weight. Standing on two bales worked better. I could see the farmhouse and summer kitchen through the panes and worked to nestle them, frame them, within the established geometry of the window. Although I didn’t look as closely as I might, I noticed that the panes had texture like that of drawn antique glass. The colors had the same effect, to my eye, as the sepia tones of very old photos. When combined with the texture, I saw age through the panes. It was as if I was looking at the homestead through the lens of time. Having taken what I thought was the shot I got down off my perch and made my way back out into the wind and sunshine, glad for having had a little glimpse at the past.



The title of today’s contribution reminds me of a post of more than two years ago and entitled Snood \ˈsnüd\. A snood is what we call the prominent, fleshy, appendage which dangles from between and just below the eyes of a Tom turkey. Today I’ve got something very different. The snout you see here is one of many pointed tips at the front end of a corn head of a combine. Two successive snouts form the wide base of a triangle which narrows toward the gathering chains of the head. Although I view HDR photos as having been something of a phase for me, I do appreciate one from time-to-time. This image was processed using a technique called tone mapping which approximates the feel of HDR with a single photo. The processing gives the image more depth, clarify, and drama. In any case I like the effect.


Primum non nocere

If you read last Thursday’s post you may be interested to know that the ewes that left the farm have settled in nicely at their new digs. Joanna and I are pleased that this nonrandom assortment of genes, as manifest in the fleece and conformational characters of these particular animals, has been preserved and that it is now under the care of such good people. The shepherd who now watches over the ewes appreciates Shetlands for their unique qualities. She is a spinner with interests in many-things-fiber. When she arrived at Pairodox we had all the ewes penned for her to examine. She looked, touched, looked again, and asked many good questions. After she departed, Joanna turned to me and said, She selected all of our best ewes! We are glad, for it demonstrates that, even at her young age, this woman knows her stuff.

As I look over what I have just written, I wonder how many readers will react to my concerns about the welfare of these animals as nothing more than needless worry over a bunch of sheep. I do not know why the concerns many of us show for our dogs and cats are not often extended to other highly domesticated animals such as sheep, goats, hogs, cattle, and poultry? Surely, along with plant crops, these organisms play important roles in the lives of the omnivores among us. But, why should the fact that these animals are raised to work, provide fiber, or as part of the food chain preclude thoughtful attitudes toward and humane treatment of them? Although I am not a full time farmer, I have been around farms, farmers, and livestock operations enough to know that many an attitude could use adjustment when it comes to the ways in which animals are housed and treated. Attitudes which we describe as speciesist may be characterized by the belief that the interests of one species trump those of another. Certainly our attitudes toward many other animals is speciesist in that we believe they serve us, and we manage them. I wonder why we, as humans, have adopted these attitudes and behaviors? Why are we so quick to dominate, control, and to utilize? Some would say, as the only truly sentient being cabable of higher-order thought, it is our obligation. I disagree. There is an enlightening discussion in Simon Conway Morris’ text, The Crucible of Creation, in which he considers the responsibilities of our species, Homo sapiens. His Devil’s Advocate position is that,  … by virtue of a cosmic accident, we, and we alone, have no choice but to take responsibility for our own destiny and mold it to our desire. On the other hand, he believes that, We do indeed have a choice, and we can exercise our free will. We might be a product of the biosphere, but it is one with which we are charged to exercise stewardship. So then what are our responsibilities, as perhaps one of a very few highly intelligent organisms on the planet? Is it our responsibility to exercise our libertarian rights and do what we may? Or, would it be better to recognize that we are but one of more than perhaps 10 million species that call this place home? I sometimes see humans as out of touch. Surely we have done some wonderful things; consider the machine with which I am communicating these thoughts to you. In another sense, however, I believe we are out of touch with our cosmic significance as seen against the backdrop of geologic time. The Earth has been here some 4.6 billion years while fossils of anatomically modern humans date to no more than 200,000 years ago. Homo sapiens has been here to experience just 0.004% of the full history of the planet. If you round that down to the nearest whole number, you get … zero. Poof! We’ve not even been here. So, tell me then, what do you make of our self-proclaimed superiority and preeminence? Let me close by translating, from the Latin, the title of this post; Primum non nocere. It means, First, do no harm. Its derivative practice of non-malfeasance is perhaps the central tenet of bioethical analysis. Rather than view the world from a position of arrogance, I suggest we adopt that middle road of conciliation. At the risk of coming across as an atavistic throwback to the 1960s, let me suggest that we work to live in peace and harmony with all living things. Let’s give it a try, and see how it goes.

Punkin’ chunkin’

We spent a couple of hours on Saturday morning at the Fourth Annual Howard Volunteer Fire Company Punkin’ Chunkin’. I discussed the same event and the three different sorts of catapults here in 2012 and again in 2013. The Trebuchet stores potential energy by raising a weight against the pull of gravity. When the weight is released, potential energy is transformed into kinetic energy which swings a massive arm, releasing the projectile. The Ballista works by storing potential energy in semi-rigid arms connected by ropes, much like a crossbow. My favorite catapult however is the Onaeger, or Torsion Catapult, shown in the first image. Imagine stretching a rubber band between two stationary pegs. Place a pencil between the lengths of rubber toward the middle of the span and wind the pencil around a few times. When you release the pencil the potential stored in the bands is released and the pencil will spin. The single torsion rope of the machine shown below was made of 1″ nylon and wrapped perhaps ten times between stationary posts. I was amazed that the projectile arm was twisted something less than 180° when the machine was ready for firing. I should mention that the members of Team Carbo, shown below, are the reigning World Champion Punkin’ Chunkers in the Torsion Division (their winning toss was measured at 3,105.34 feet). For the first time at this event, a compressed air canon was present. Team Sky Buster is currently ranked eleventh in the world in their division with a shot of 3,777.32 feet. My very particular reason for attending the Chunkin’ this year was to capture images which I wanted to try to stack, using a program called StarStaX, by Markus Enzweiler. This software is intended to be used to stack one hundred or more sequential images taken of the night sky to produce Star Trails. Although I haven’t yet tried my hand at this I thought the software might allow me to show the stages of a Punkin’ launch. The torsion catapult accelerated so quickly that its composite shot is composed of just four images.The second image of a trebuchet was constructed by stacking thirteen images. I liked the final product but wished that I could have selected just one of the thirteen to contribute the background information. As it is, the movements of four folks standing close to this catapult are distracting. The gentleman on the far right nodded his head during the sequence, the one to the far left took several steps forward. The gentleman who triggered the machine backed away from it after launch and I could not eliminate evidence of all of his movements from the final stack. I like the result anyway and especially enjoy the view of the punkin’ receding into the distance and over the lake. You may be interested to know that the burst rate of the D600 is 6 frames per second and that each shot was taken at 1/4000 of a second.

A nonrandon assortment of genes

Imagine you and your Upper Paleolithic family are walking through the woods and happen upon an abandoned litter of Grey Wolf pups (Canus lupus). Your kids instantly fall in love with the bunch and ask to bring the group home as pets. Being the good parent that you are, you acquiesce. Over the next few weeks, and as the pups grow and mature, it becomes clear that the kids have chosen favorites from among the group. The ones which are friendly, playful, and submissive are the ones the kids gravitate toward, while the ones which stand-off and are aggressive when approached are the ones your kids shy away from. Eventually, individuals belonging to the latter group wander back into the woods and two individuals belonging to the former group remain to become part of your family. Let’s assume these are male and female (and let’s ignore the potential influences of inbreeding). The two produce a large litter. Children from an adjacent encampment visit and ask whether they might have two of the pups as pets. You agree and they select what they believe to be the friendliest male and female, and off they go. These individuals have a litter and yet another group of kids asks about a pair, and so on. If the primary focus of selection remains friendly, playful, and submissive behavior, and if these traits are genetically controlled, then over time, the members of the growing canine population will become more friendly, more playful, and increasingly submissive. This tale is entirely hypothetical but it is exactly the way in which we believe groups of archaic Grey Wolves may have given rise to what we know today as the much beloved and highly domesticated dog, Canus lupus familiaris. This practice of artificial selection has been used by humans for millennia to improve the animals we raise for food, textiles, and for work. So, let’s talk about sheep, Ovis aries, and recognize the many breeds that have been developed by artificial selection and under the watchful eyes of human farmers. Joanna and I have raised Shetland Sheep since Pairodox was first established in 1989. Those of you who read this blog carefully may have picked up on a few words, phrases, or sentiments which have suggested that Joanna and I have made the decision to disperse our flock. To say that this decision has been difficult would be an understatement, for we have applied the tenets of artificial selection for more than two decades to produce the animals that now grace our pastures. I will not provide a detailed historical review but suffice it to say that our flock began with five unprepossessing animals. Now, more than four-hundred and thirty-six animals later, we care for a spinner’s flock of forty-four animals which, in my opinion, can hold its own in direct comparison with any and all registered Shetland Sheep in the country. The improvements in fleece color, crimp, and luster and in animal conformation and adherence to breed standard have resulted from a good genetic base, lots of naturally occurring variation, and a rigorous program of selection, breeding, and of culling. The dilemma Joanna and I face is how to reconcile doing the right thing with this highly nonrandom assortment of genes and parting with animals and characteristics we have known for such a long time. The Livestock Conservancy lists the Shetland as a recovering breed. Trying to find a willing and responsible someone with appropriate infrastructure to take on the entire group has proven difficult. What we have decided to do, and the strategy which has already been set in motion, is to identify a small number of folks willing to accept a handful of animals. This way our efforts are preserved and our animals will be distributed among a number of good homes. I suppose this is akin to not putting all of your eggs into one basket. The first animals to leave the farm will do so tomorrow. Wish Joanna and me luck in the aftermath of their departure. I took some ovine portraits this past weekend during a brief period of sunshine and blue sky, it rained buckets yesterday.

Chasing a rainbow, in reverse

I think that I am, in many ways, different from lots of folks. And I’m OK with that. When our kids were small they had t-shirts which showed a group of identically marked fish, all schooling in the same direction, and one very little fish, differently colored, swimming in the opposite direction. The shirt proclaimed, It’s OK to be different. I should have such a shirt. And, so it was, that I was washing the dishes after dinner this evening when I happened to look out the picture window to the north-west and saw that the setting sun was casting an eerie yellow light which illuminated the remaining clouds of a weather system which was moving quickly to the north. Joanna said, That’s pretty, why don’t you get your camera? I replied, What’s so pretty about a jaundiced, yellow, sky? I don’t know why, but I made my way back through the kitchen and on to the living room for a view in the other direction, to the south-east. I turned the corner and took in the view for perhaps less than a second, and ran upstairs to grab my camera. I was down the stairs, negotiated the hall, through the kitchen, and out the back door having switched on my camera and put on my shoes. I stopped, cranked my 24-70 all the way out, and took a look … damn … not wide enough. So I began to run down the driveway. After putting myself 100 yards further away from the beautiful, double, rainbow I brought the camera to my eye again … damn … the increased distance didn’t seem to make much of a difference. I turned and ran the remaining 900 yards to the very bottom of the drive, and brought the camera to my eye. Damn and blast … the view looked just as it had the first time I had checked, just outside my back door. Without attempting to figure out the physics of the situation, I dialed in the appropriate exposure, composed as well as I could and squeezed off four shots before the sun fell below the horizon behind me, putting an end to the show. I walked, dejected, and swearing, back to the house. My shoes were full of water and my pants were wet to the knee. Joanna greeted me at the back door and asked, Wad-ya get? I said, in as sarcastic a tone as I could muster, A nice fractional view of a rainbow. I learned two lessons this evening. 1) You should never, ever, try to photograph a rainbow without first grabbing the widest piece of glass you own. I have a 14-24 which would have been perfect for this shot, but I didn’t take the time to grab it out of my pack. Big, big, mistake. And, 2) One should never, ever, under any circumstance try to run away from a rainbow to gain a wider field of view, for it doesn’t seem to be possible. There are at least two followers out there who I know of who I hope will enlighten me as to why this may be so. Thanks in advance. POSTSCRIPT: If you are interested to know why the rainbow did not recede as I ran away from it, click the title to this post. Scroll down to read the superb explanation provided by Elke from Theory and Practice of Trying to Combine Just Anything. She has provided proof of what Joanna has always known to be true, and that is You can’t ever catch a rainbow.


%d bloggers like this: