Retrospective thirty (August 2014)

Given the way in which blogs are presented, I am convinced that posts which reside more than a scroll or two behind the most recent are doomed to languish and be forgotten. Because I believe there is value in looking at contributions from days, weeks, and even months ago, I present a gallery of images presented during August of 2014. Hovering an image will reveal its title. Clicking one will take you to a carousel view and you can either move through the collection or click the links to read each post in its original form. This is the thirtieth in my series of retrospectives. If you missed any of them you can find them all by clicking Retrospective in the tag cloud in the sidebar.

Tug of war

I walked the stream, all the time wondering about the thickness of the ice. It seemed sufficient at the edge, less so a foot or two out, and there was none in the middle of the waterway. More than once my careless steps liberated large blocks from their moorings to be drawn away by the flow. Most of the ice was rough-edged, with little elaboration. The weather had been mild and most all of the delicate crystals which had formed several weeks ago were gone. Perhaps a few remained? I walked slowly, as if shopping for a trinket. I stopped. Compared. Judged. And considered.

As the water surged from below, it pressed against the underside of the ice. When the water fell, I could see through thinner spots, that some clung to form a continuous sheet. Most of this retreated into the torrent save a small cadre of tenuous drops. Large ones bulged and elongated under the influence of gravity, eventually giving way. Smaller ones moved nervously, chaotically. When one of these, by chance, met another, the pair would coalesce to form a drop large enough, with mass enough, such that gravity could now win what had been a tug of war with the adhesive forces of unknowable numbers of hydrogen bonds. Each would then dissolve into the darkness. Numbers dwindling, like so many candles, extinguished by a strengthening breeze. With the next surge, however, another cohort would appear to dance briefly and then disappear.


Crimson muse

I walked the pond and remembered that Joanna had discovered a patch of Cranberry there last autumn. Although it is forage for many others, there were berries enough for sauce to accompany our meal at Thanksgiving. I could see a number of crimson leaves poking above the accumulated snow. How pretty they were, nestled in a shallow pocket and surrounded by uncomfortable looking crystals.

If asked to compare the colors of winter to those of other seasons, I believe that most of us would be quick to discount them as drab, monochromatic. I disagree. Having said that, I hasten to observe that although there is an abundance of color in the winter landscape, it is shy and does not shout its whereabouts. Because winter color presents on a somewhat different scale, one must be especially observant.

Lovely leaves. The blush of color provides a vibrant reminder that life abounds. Even in the cold of winter. It reminds me how tenacious life is. The distilled interaction of genome and the environment ensures the efficiency of the species. Each is well prepared, not tenuous. For, if it were not so, surely some other form would have taken its place.


Unplanned and highly contingent

The last time I was out with the camera my subjects were some unusual ice formations and, when I wrote about them, I elected not to offer a mechanism for their development. I will correct that, now. The days which preceded the day on which the photos were taken were quite cold, and the intervening nights were even colder. Average temperatures for the three days before I recorded the images ranged below zero. Winds during the period were calm and precipitation came as 0.05″ of snow. I think it is fair to say that the days preceding the day the images were taken were very cold, still, and dry and I would argue that the co-occurrence of these conditions lead to the fortuitous formation of the intricate ice patterns. Let’s take January 1 as the start date for a thought experiment. I can add an end date as well, since we had very moderate temperatures and 0.5″ of rain on January 10. So, on January 1 the water in our stream was at a particular level. Because it was quite cold, ice crystals began to form at nucleation sites at the interface between air and water. Once crystals began to grow, they continued to do so by accretion. Now, imagine that the water in the run drops just a bit, especially during the day when perhaps some evaporation may occur and when, at the same time, liquid water is drawn deeper into the soil by a range of biological activities. With the water level just a bit lower, ice crystals will continue to accumulate, but lower down. Because the level of water in the stream drops only slowly, the successive icy plateaus can be smoothly connected. Eventually the elaborate pattern emerges. By the tenth of the month everything is erased by rising temperatures and falling rain. As I’ve said, just the right conditions were necessary for these patterns to occur and, as I walked the run yesterday, nothing like the formations I saw two weeks ago, were in evidence. Soon after I posted the ice images, I responded to a comment made by Shoreacres  with the following,  “This is taken from Richard Dawkins (The Blind Watchmaker) … If you walk up and down a pebbly beach, you will notice that the pebbles are not arranged at random. The smaller pebbles typically tend to be found in segregated zones running along the length of the beach, the larger ones in different zones or stripes. The pebbles have been sorted, arranged, selected. A tribe living near the shore might wonder at this evidence of sorting or arrangement in the world, and might develop a myth to account for it, perhaps attributing it to a Great Spirit in the sky with a tidy mind and a sense of order. We might give a superior smile at such a superstitious notion, and explain that the arranging was really done by the blind forces of physics, in this case the action of waves. The waves have no purposes and no intentions, no tidy mind, no mind at all. They just energetically throw the pebbles around, and big pebbles and small pebbles respond differently to this treatment so they end up at different levels of the beach. A small amount of order has come out of disorder, and no mind planned it. I like this description of how order may arise from disorder and play games with our [mostly visual] senses.” To close, let me point out another series of concentric rings, this time as they were observed on a Bracket Fungus, just yesterday. The cause of the repeated sequence you see is no more due to happenstance than is the rising and setting of the sun. These are annual growth rings and, like those that may be observed in a felled tree,  represent alternating periods of rapid (light bands) and of slower growth (darker bands) of the individual. So, what’s the point of all of this? Just that, as organisms, we are programmed to see and to react to patterns in our environment. Some of nature’s patterns occur entirely by happenstance while others occur for reasons which are just the opposite. How’s one to know? By learning to read nature, that’s how.


A previous life

This collection coalesced as a page presented here some time ago and, although I cannot now remember why, I removed it from view. It shows the evolution of, and day-to-day activities that were, Pairodox Farm during its years of greatest agricultural production and prosperity. Given the subject of my last post, you may find this one of some interest. I’m neither philosopher nor existentialist. Having said that, I find it interesting that my own reactions to the collection are of two sorts. The first is appreciation. I think it is fair to say that I often suffer from what I have heard called The Red Herring Complex. This is when one considers themselves unworthy of achievement because of perceived shortcomings. My antidote for this unfortunate malady is to consider the many accomplishments won at the farm during our tenure. From our very first day there, we all became students and, as a family, learned together. By reading and trying it ourselves. By making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, and trying again. By being inquisitive and by asking questions. Fans of Jon Heder (as Napoleon Dynamite) will know the importance of a rich skill set and because of the farm, that skill set runs deeply among us. For that, I am appreciative. If these sentiments describe what was sweet about farm life, the second of the two felt emotions is more poignant. It’s not the unfortunate outcomes, for those were as much a part of learning as the successes. No, it is the realization that all of the accomplishment is past. I am no longer faced with the daily, oftentimes hourly, task of having to put things right. Joanna would disagree and argue that our new life is full of new challenges. Those of your who have followed this blog may remember that I very much enjoy Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn. This classic has much to say and what has always resonated so well within me is the idea that change, and especially our capacity to both anticipate and to then realize change, is important. One wonders whether the urn, the walls of which are adorned with images depicting acts of pursuit and anticipation, represents a paradise in which pleasure may be forever anticipated, or a torment in which it may never be realized? Surely there is excitement in anticipation, but there is nothing in life so very sweet as experience. And, then we move on.

A farm, a fence post, and a few spent walnuts

This image was recorded in May and is one of the last taken at the farm. Perhaps showing it to you, along with a bit of prose, will be good for me? I’m in an unusual place, you see. We left the farm in August and, save the fact that it is currently without a family to take our place, it hasn’t been much on my mind. Perhaps I’ve come to terms with leaving. Perhaps I haven’t begun to do so? We worked the farm all the years the girls were growing up. I was about to say we left behind memories, but that is not the case for we all take with us many fond memories of life there. So how does one say goodbye to such a life? To such a place? I don’t know. Perhaps telling stories will help?Lunch

The image shows the top of a wooden fence post. Construction of pasture fences began at the farm in 1995, occurred in stages as we increased the number of animals we had, and ended no less than a decade later. One of the things I have always liked about learning to do things, like build livestock fence, is the joy of coming to know the tricks that allow you to do things more efficiently and effectively.Spring I want to tell you about one trick I learned about building a high-tensile fence. But before I do, let me hint at an even earlier lesson I learned as a fence builder. Consider how you might install a fixed loop onto one or the other end of this heavy compression spring. A spring such as this is used, at the beginning and end of long stretches of wire, to maintain tension and to allow the fence to absorb impact, such as may be experienced when an animal or farm implement pushes up against it. A solution to this problem eluded me for a time (weeks, if we’re being honest) and the dilemma presented itself like one of those Tavern Puzzles one often sees. I eventually stumbled upon the solution to my spring-problem in one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that-earlier moments. I won’t give away the answer but there’s a hint here if you care to know it. So, the trick to building a high-tensile fence is to use massive posts for ends and for corners, and to bury them as deeply as you can. This is because the individual wires which make up the fence are under more than 250 pounds of tension. Most livestock enclosures are of the 8-wire-type and pressure at the corners is enormous. To be sure that the wires remain tight, you have to ensure that end and corner posts don’t move. Using massive posts to anchor your fence goes a long way to keeping those elements in place and under tension for very long periods of time. A friend down the road raises bucking bulls, has appropriate fences to do so, and has amassed a supply of gently-used telephone poles. These could be cut into pieces and then used as line and corner posts. He was always willing to part with as many as I needed but never passed up an opportunity to joke a bit by asking what sort of sheep was it that I was raising such that fencing them required such strong and sturdy anchors. He knew that Joanna and I raised Shetland sheep and that stout fences were not so much intended to keep our animals in as they were to keep other animals, including predatory ones, out. Nonetheless, he would ask every time we met. Anyway, I was doing chores one morning in May when I noticed the spoils of a meal taken by one of our local squirrels. The remains lay atop a corner fence post. I like the image for its colorful mosaic of lichen and for the look of the shell fragments, reminding me of scattered bits of a puzzle waiting to be pieced together.

Crystal islet

Here’s another icy image. It was taken taken just moments before the few I posted the other day. This one differs in that the icy surface is clear, rather than frosted. I wish I knew more about conditions under which ice forms in these different ways. In any event, it was Joanna who liked this unusual growth of crystals. I like the palette of muted color in the back. It’s easy to convince yourself that the little cluster formed directly on top of the leaves. If you look closely, however, you will see that it is above them, and grew on top of the overlying ice sheet (also a clustering of crystals). I wonder if, what looks like a seed embedded near the center of the crystal, provided the nucleation site for its formation? If so, why didn’t crystals form around a similar seed to the right?

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