Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sunday Stroll

On Sunday, I went for a hike for a couple of hours in the Manassas Battlefields. Once again, I seemed to have the quietness to myself as I didn't pass another walker the whole time I was there. Why don't more people make use of the beautiful scenic surroundings we have in this area? I can't believe they'd rather be shopping at the mall or closed in a black cinema on such a bright sunny day. Not that I was complaining as I set off at a brisk pace, it meant that I would be more likely to see more of the natural inhabitants without scores of other humans invading their peace. I was making a conscious effort to dull my footsteps by walking on the grassy verges of the tracks rather than crunching on the gravel when a cricket whizzed past my nose and landed at my feet.
While I was bending down to take his photo before he bounced off again, I noticed some other insects as shown below. Initially their bright hues alarmed me but as I tried to keep up with their rapid erratic movements, my fascination with them overcame my fear. They were very pretty, about an inch long, and as I looked closer, I saw they were furry which invited me to stroke them. I'm glad I didn't as when I looked them up on the internet at home, I discovered that they are from the Velvet Ant family. These critters shown are female wingless wasps; the males have black wings. They are commonly known as 'cow killers' because they have a nasty sting. Hmm...
I left them alone to their scurrying back and forth, concentrating on finding something less intimidating to photograph. I found some pretty flowers....

...and a music tree.

Not really sure why someone would hang CDs in a tree, but it made an interesting image. Maybe someone thought it would be a step up from a wind chime?

I also found this gorgeous feather which now sits in a glass goblet at home with a tail feather from a cockerel. I believe this is from a wild turkey, is about 6 inches long and the photo shows how the light reflected different colors from the vane of the feather when turned in the light.

This Great Spangled Fritillary was holding on for life atop some thistles. It was getting quite windy and at times she was bent over at 90 degrees trying to keep her footing.

This last photo was of a fallen conifer that was laying across the path. The demise of the tree had stripped all color from its branches and cones and seeing this photo, it seems hard to believe that it was a hot sunny summer day. It evoked feelings of Christmas and winter, not so far away now.
After only about 5 miles, I retreated to the cool AC of Colin the Cavalier. I'd been scratching continuously all the time as I'd forgotten my bug spray, and was in need of a cool shower and some aloe.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Scrapbooking Saturday

Back in May, Lori and I had a fabulous trip to Vegas where we crammed into 4 days what most people would do in a week or more. We wanted to preserve our memories and decided to each build a scrapbook of the occasion. I had created a previous scrapbook on a car journey from Arizona to Virginia and the album had cost me around $400 to complete. Because Lori and I knew our Vegas books would be in a similar price range, if not more, we decided to get together once a month or so and spend a day scrapping and/or shopping together for supplies.
Today we spent 9 hours working on them and each created just 3 pages, one of which we're each holding in the above photo. You have to understand that we're not regular scrappers. Most scrapbooks comprise of an album with plastic sleeves into which a decorated page is placed. I've seen some beautiful layouts in magazines and at shows, but we both felt that they were a little 'flat' and therefore we are creating 'touchy feely' albums. We won't insert our pages into sleeves because our pages are built to create textures so you can touch everything. We use literally anything that can be stuck down on a page that isn't too heavy, be it plastic, metal, glass, wood, fabric, anything. The pages are then mounted onto firm acetate, the holes reinforced with eyelets and homemade paper dividers placed between each page to protect the contents.

This is a close up of Lori's page using embellishments, ribbon and brads with flocked and glitter paper. Why should that be contained behind plastic when as soon as you see it you want to touch it?
Admittedly, 9 hours is a long time to spend creating just 3 pages each but 1.5 hours was first spent shopping with lots of 'oohs' and 'aahs' in AC Moore's and a bill of $50 each. Then when sitting at the table, up to another hour is spent unpacking and carefully placing everything away in it's appropriate folder/container, followed by careful selection of a base sheet and trying to color coordinate. Admittedly, some of this time is spent staring into space, scratching one's head, shuffling paper, or just looking blankly at eachother until a flow is established.

The above image is a close up of my page, showing eyelets, embellishments, brads and decorated acetate.
So far, we've only created about 9 pages each for our albums which will include a total of 24 pages, so we still have many more hours of work left yet, but it's great fun and very satisfying to review our efforts at the end of each session. Scrap on, sister, scrap on!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bay of Lillies

Today is a vactaion day so the weather being beautiful, I threw the kayak on top of the car and headed for Quantico Bay. Actually that wasn't much of an exaggeration about the throwing as with all the exercise I've been getting lately, my arms are now a lot stronger than they were a couple of months ago when I would struggle and huff and puff trying to get the boat above my shoulders!
Quantico is a marine base where you're IDed on entry and have to know where on the base you're going. The soldier had asked my intention upon entry and I hoped I could remember the higgledy piggledy way to the bay without having to ask directions. I got to the ramp without a hitch and was glad to put into the cool water. Already, at 10:00am, the heat was intense.

I paddled the perimeter of the bay and have to admit to being a little disappointed with the views compared to other places I have kayaked. But the blue herons and ospreys were in abundance and I could've sworn I spotted a couple of bald eagles. I noticed ahead that there seemed to be a lot of whitish coloring amongst the weeds and assumed it was the undersides of the leaves catching the sunlight as there was a brisk breeze on the water. As I got closer, my indifference turned to delight as I realized I was heading towards thousands of lillies. It seemed like miles of them, as far as the eye could see, and they weren't white, but a pale yellow.

I slowly worked my way amongst them, pulled the paddle out of the water and settled down to have lunch between the pads and blooms. Dragonflies were whisking and skimming over the 2ft leaves and I spent a lot of time investigating these large pads. They were very leathery to the touch and could surprisingly take a lot of pressure when I pushed down on them. I had always doubted that a large frog could actually sit on one of these and now I know that it definitely could. They also resisted the water so if I flicked handfuls of water on them, it stayed in droplets and flashed across the pads like sparkling globules of mercury. I could've sat there for hours playing!

I carried on slowly through the lillies, stopping often to just sit and look. It was amazing seeing so many of these and being able to be surrounded by them rather than looking at them from the bank was a bonus. After I'd had my fill, I headed around the rest of the bay and made my way back to the ramp. Not a boring paddle after all!

Incidentally, these photos were taken on my iphone because guess what, I had no camera card again. I don't need to say where it was, do I?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Savage Mill, MD

On Sunday, I excitedly met up for the first time with a group I'd recently joined which was involved in urban exploration. This involves exploring abandoned buildings usually of an industrial nature for the purpose of photography. Admittance may not be strictly legal, but these groups pride themselves on leaving no evidence of them having been there unlike vandals who enjoy trashing an empty place. Urban explorers investigate these buildings for the purpose of art.

The building we visited was Savage Mill in Maryland which is actually accessible to the public. We spent a couple of hours exploring and taking artistic photos, and listening to one guy who seemed to know how every single piece of industrial equipment worked. He was amazing and earned my immediate respect.

On this trip we also had a reporter from the Washington Post as our group is the only urban exploration group in DC, MD or VA. He was busy taking video and photo footage as well as chatting to many of us. His enthusiasm for the group was genuine which relieved me as I was in fear of us being regarded as 'a little out there'! I have to admit that my first impression of the group fitted that label, but that image soon disintegrated once I'd listened to them talking for a while.

After Savage Mill, we headed for a nearby bar having lost a few of our group who must have retained a similar first impression of the group. We spent the next hour or so getting to know eachother and then our organizer suggested another trip to an abandoned childrens' mental hospital nearby. Off we all went with our trusty WP reporter in tow. It was all very exciting as obviously we weren't going to go in the front gate which was guarded. I have to admit a twinge of disappointment when we simply walked through a wooded area to enter the grounds. I have to admit I had hoped for some scaling of walls or maybe some crawling under razor wire!

Once inside I forgot my silly expectations and was awed to be in such a cool place, literally. It was dark and a little chilly in areas and the rooms which hadn't demolished by vandals held an ambience of awe. Most of the building had been vandalized but each of the room's purpose was still evident.

In some areas, we had to find our way around with flashlights and we were instructed to do all of our searching with a partner in case of accidents. Most of us were taking photos, some with small compacts, some with monster DSLRs, and a few who gained my admiration, were using 35m SLR cameras. Some had even been discussing medium format cameras. These guys were serious in their art.
The photos above and below were my favorites, and I was really pleased with how most of mine turned out. I loved taking these kind of images, and the group were all happy to share locations they preferred as well as respecting someone's need to take a 5 minute exposure in the dark.

We had to be careful walking in some areas as there was a lot of dropped plaster with smashed containers on the floors and we were almost certainly treading amongst many environmently unfriendly products.

The above photo was admittedly staged but made a wonderful image, albeit a little sad.
We finished our inspection of the buildings just before sundown and carefully made our way back to the cars. It was an enthralling day and I'm anxious to go on another adventure with the group, hopefully sporting a group t-shirt with "Yay, Asbestos!" on the back!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay

Today a group of us kayaked from Quantico across the Potomac to Mallows Bay where the hulks of wooden steamships commissioned to help allies in WWI lie. They weren't completed in time so never set sail, and the government ordered that once the metal had been salvaged they were to be burnt. They lie now mostly underwater with only the tops of the hulls & thousands of large bolts poking above the water line. Only accessible by kayak, they now provide a reef for wildlife.
Doubleclick on image below to enlarge.

We crossed the Potomac in good conditions but winds blew us downriver slightly so the crossing was about 3 miles. Everyone had slinky touring kayaks which cut through the waves but my little Perception bobbed up and down like a rubber duck. Undaunted I paddled furiously to keep up. The photo below shows the distant shore that we were heading to.

Once we reached the other side, we rested on the beach and surveyed the scene. Some of us paddled slowly round the wrecks taking in the enormity of this ship graveyard.

We then paddled down to this ferry, Accomac, also abandoned in the bay.

We moored up and climbed aboard.

The bundle of twigs in the background is an osprey nest with the skull of a very large fish inside.

This is looking from the ferry over to some of the graveyard.

We then paddled down to this bay which I think was dried out so the ships could be brought in and stripped of any metal. There were other ship skeletons lying here too.

Paddling back to Quantico was choppier on the return and our total mileage was 8.5 miles, most of it open water. It had been a wonderful adventure and the bay was now silent again. Thus sleeps the largest shipwreck fleet in the western hemisphere, and possibly the world.

A Weekend with The Lukestar

On Saturday, 9th, I had my first outing alone with Luke, the son of very good friends. My boss had a luau party, ideal for kids, and I wanted to take The Lukestar. His parents and I had helped prepare for the big day by talking about it weeks prior to the event. The day I picked him up, he declared as we were about to leave that he didn't want to go after all, as Jim and I led him sceptically to the car. The booster seat was positioned and Luke reluctantly climbed in with constant complaints. Jim eyed me sympathetically as he strapped him in, I started the engine and we were off. Darting many looks into my rear view mirror, Luke looked resigned to the ordeal and then promptly fell asleep.

We arrived at the party and immediately Luke headed for the playground. For someone who didn't want to attend the party, he managed to do a very good impression of a person who was enjoying himself. He rode every ride in the playground, swam in the pool, played ball in the pool, went down the water slide, played table tennis, looked for lizards with some other boys, back to the playground for more rides and games with other kids and finished the day by making me promise I'd take him again, and declaring he'd had 'very much fun'!
The following day was his 4th birthday party. What a busy guy!

He'd made me promise to get him an ambulance months before, but not any ambulance. It had to be a Sterling ambulance with green paint. Anxious to please I purchased an ambulance online and then meticulously masked out areas to spray paint over the existing yellow. I won't get any jobs spray painting peoples' cars, but I don't think he noticed the flaws! Happy Birthday Luke!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Paddle Part II

Back to Pohick Bay after checking I had a memory card in my camera, doublechecking as I locked the front door and triplechecking once I was in the car. A quick glance also to the roof to make sure the kayak was there! Once again, the forecast was stormy but I wasn't listening.
I couldn't believe my luck when I got to the park to find no-one else was there. No-one at all. No cars, no jet skis, not even a fisherman. I had the whole bay to myself.
Paddling slowly towards the weeds, I noticed the ospreys were circling and crying out. The blue herons and egrets were plentiful again, but this time, I got pictures!

The tide was in making a lot more of the bay accessible; I was spoilt for choice. An osprey flew over me clutching a fish almost as big as himself, an easy catch as the fish were jumping all around delighting in the lack of hooks and reels. I leisurely pushed my way upstream stopping to take photos and just to enjoy the silent solitude. Even the mosquitoes had decided to stay at home, only dragonflies and butterflies represented the insect world today.

Stopping for lunch was heaven. I rested the kayak on top of a submerged log and just leaned back with my feet over the edge happily munching as I surveyed my domain, and fed small fishes below with breadcrumbs.
After paddling up and then down the creek, I decided to head for the tree I'd visited before in the hope that I might see my green heron friend again. The tide was much higher than last time and the place had lost a little of its secretive charm from before but I still approached optimistically. I silently glided under the tree and waited patiently. 10 minutes later, nothing, not a peep from anyone. Just as I was about to give up and leave, a pretty golden bird, a prothonotary warbler hopped across the boughs. Like the green heron, he studied me as he flitted from branch to branch. Pleased to have met one resident, I started heading back towards the open water.

As I rounded a small island, I saw the ospreys' nest above and could hear a commotion from across the water. I headed towards it and saw ahead of me 3 ospreys on a hunter's hideout. It looked like the 2 parents and a fledgling. They seemed to be having quite an argument with the racket they were making and weren't taking much notice as I slowly paddled towards them. I managed to get some wonderful photos and couldn't believe my luck as I got closer and closer to them.

The shot below was the 'piece de resistance' for me. By now, I had got as close as I could without scaring them, and then one of the parents turned and looked me right in the eye. I clicked and then slowly backed off, giving them the respect they deserved. I think I was smiling all the way back to the shore.
Back at the beach, the park was still deserted. I'm sure my car had been the only one there all afternoon. Amazing, that being in the suburbs and so close to Washington D.C.,with such a dense population surrounding me, I had enjoyed the privilege of having such a beautiful location and experience all to myself.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

An Afternoon Paddle

On Saturday afternoon, I had a couple of hours to put the kayak on the water for the first time this year. I hurriedly drove to Pohick Bay ignoring the radio's constant bleating about serious thunderstorms approaching and our region being on a storm watch until 8:00pm. I put in about 3:30 into a low tide and paddled furiously through weed until I was out of earshot of jet skis and power boats that were screaming errantly around in circles but thankfully weren't allowed in the 'nature' area. I knew I had escaped that noisy society once the air was still and looking up I saw 4 ospreys meandering back and forth across the water looking for an easy dinner below. The water was alive with fish jumping and bubbles from the weed bursting on the surface. Mayflies and dragon flies skimmed back and forth and the only fishermen were a dozen or so egrets and blue herons patiently standing in the shallows waiting for a juicy fish to swim by.
I let the kayak drift to a halt and leaned back to have a drink of water and take some photos. Oh calamity! I had the camera but the card was back in my laptop at home. I refused to let this dampen my mood as I knew I'd be back here again on Tuesday with a friend who equally enjoyed this escape from civilization. I sat back, dunking my feet in the tepid water and just enjoyed the scenery for a while before resuming my paddle. A little further on I discovered a 'pathway' through the weeds that led to a tree overhanging the water. I slowly worked my way through and then again stopped to survey the surroundings. Immediately I found myself staring almost face to face with a green heron. He was sitting on a branch with his crested head craned forward to get a better look and we just checked eachother out for a few moments before he hopped further along the branch to get closer. How I wished I could teleport my memory card! I would've had a perfect picture. He just gawped while I talked to him; words I won't put down here, but my friends know how I talk to animals!

He hung around for about 10 minutes and we were joined by a couple of red-winged blackbirds who were scratching and 'clicking' amongst the weeds. Then a zebra swallowtail butterfly floated past my face and flitted through the branches. My little heron friend paid no attention but after a few more minutes he tired of my attention and hopped off towards the bank.

The blackbirds continued their hunt and after watching them and countless metallic blue dragonflies alighting on the water, I slowly turned around and headed back to the deeper water.
Thunder was rumbling now despite the sun still shining brightly but I could see deep black clouds looming in the distance. I headed back to the shore and once in the car, realized I'd been on the water for 2 1/2 hours. I managed to get back home only 10 minutes before the heavens opened and the winds tore around the buildings.
A great afternoon, and I will have my own pictures of the water to put up here after Tuesday.