Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Pathways to Brown

With thanks to Carla Mattioli and Ron Straka.

Brown is the most fascinating and least popular color. The best way to enjoy it is to surrender into its universe of variations. Of course being a bit recessive brown benefits from extroverts like yellow.

Why shouldn't brown be as warmly regarded as any other color? Part of its problem is associative: brown indicates that green things, the upside of organic life, have expired.

Associations aside, a clear-eyed look at a brown leaf may find it more beautiful and interesting than its recent prominence in green.

When plant leaves cease their production of chlorophyll their green coloration reduces or ends. Yellow and red pigments that have been masked by chlorophyll's vitality may briefly come to prominence (fall coloration), along with new, temporary purplish pigments associated with completion of the leaf's biologic role. This purplish surge generates the exuberant part of the autumn brown landscape. The recessive part comes not from living tissues but from the celluloid structures within leaves and other parts of the plant, that eventually crumble to humus.

When brown sings it receives respected names from the world of fashion: beige, taupe, mocha, cinnamon, écru. Many of the favored names come from animals that adopt brown protectively.

Brown is the color that plant life takes in consolidation for solemn, enduring functions like wood. But it is also the color of decay and mud and excrement, stuff under foot, the devolved color of humus, the reduction of the organic rainbow. After brown comes black: darkness, the end of the life force.

You can begin taking delight in brown by mixing any primary color with its complement. Pick a point on this color wheel and combine it with the hue that waits diametrically opposite on a line through the center of the wheel. In a wet paint exercise you'd concoct one of the infinite shades of brown as you vary the proportions of the three primaries, along with white and black.

Most of the browns you'll encounter on a walk in the vegetative world are warm browns from the yellow-red side of the spectrum tinged with a little blue. Blue itself is relatively rare in nature except in the sky (and its reflection in water), so we seldom see the cooler browns deriving from blue, except in certain flowers. Painters, decorators, and fashion designers can use mineral-based (inorganic) blue pigments to explore the realms of brown as the iris does. Iris, the goddess of the rainbow.

On another pathway to brown at Halibut Point, light mixes reflected yellows and reds onto the blue surfaces of water where it is admired by people of many hues.

In its full range the color brown adorns the diverse vitality of life.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Gratified Eye

It being a decelerating time of year, my eye searches for satisfactions apart from the gaudier flashes of autumn. The weather has been balmy enough for shirtsleeves but the luxuriance of summer has trailed off from song to hum.

Common Cattail
Recreationally speaking  the expanses of Halibut Point invite a ramble. But aesthetically speaking my eyes want small scenes they can absorb as pictures.  

New England Aster
Often it's the light and the setting that distinguish a visual event. Asters billowing around the moors and meadows need the grace of an overhead cloud and a 'nocturnal'  background to emphasize their full purplessence. The gold disc at each star's center ignites its complementary color in the petals.

Orange Sulphur butterfly, Small White Aster
On the other hand this butterfly's yellows and oranges blend ingratiatingly with the flowers. The colors harmonize, the patterns contrast.

Gray Hairstreak butterfly, Showy Goldenrod 
Brassy yellow pulls me into this scene, the orange spot rivets my eye, but the muted green-blacks sustain the picture and the intricate grays provide a field for lingering.

Ruby Meadowhawk
In a few sheltered nooks the buzzing and darting of summer holds on. At this point in the year the late-rising low-angled sunlight empowers these glades only from midmorning to midafternoon. Shifting shafts of light dazzle the perches of dragonflies.

Juniper berries (Eastern Red Cedar) and Virginia Creeper
Out on the headlands premonitions of Christmas pop up here and there. Big vivid swatches are settled by the breadth of the landscape. This red vignette is moderated by complementary greens and ice-cool berries. 

Catbrier, the toughest plant of all, concludes its expansionist season with colorful as well as territorial mastery.

The catbrier's complex of hues extends through the mineral and vegetative realms. They glow brighter between the blues of sky and water in mutual amplification.

At the end of the day the terrestrial palette goes to black under a pastel salute from the sky.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Cameo Appearances

Gifted with flight, birds move adaptively around the world. The Great Urgency brings many species to pass through Halibut Point during their seasonal migrations. This week I've begun to notice brief visitors that I haven't seen here since spring or early summer. Some of these are juveniles heading south with an inborn compass and not yet at the full magnificence of plumage that we will enjoy when they return with mating ambitions.

Out of this group of 'cameo appearances' the phoebe, kingfisher and oriole may actually have nested locally. If so they melted inconspicuously into the woodlands after the boisterous days of courtship and parenting. Whether a return or an emergence their presence re-animates the landscape after a quiescent few months.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Belted Kingfisher

Eastern Phoebe

Swamp Sparrow

Baltimore Oriole

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Northern Flicker

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Heart of the Deal

(caroming from Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal)

The outgoing tide reveals a nice opportunity on the Atlantic Seaboard.

A man seizes the moment behind the plume (look closely.)

He advances decisively without losing his shirt or his hat.

He surmounts the subordinated sea and stands, casting for big fish.

An occasional distraction whips up on the other side of the aisle but he locks to his base.

He disdains fake news and summons alternative facts.

He presides over a reality show in the center of make-believe.

An impertinent drama swirls around his feet.

He narrows his eyes and blames the swamp.

Then climate change breaks over paradise.

Tidal rhythms dampen the negotiations.

An ancient calculus re-asserts the Heart of the Deal.

A play of pride and peril clears the resilient stage.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tide Pool Tapestries

Ruddy Turnstone
Shorebirds drew me down to the edge of the sea when the tidbits they hunted were revealed in the receding tide. Whether I found birds or not their realm itself began to captivate my expectation of photographic novelties.

I have generally favored high tides because they smooth over the messy, slippery zone and bring the ocean to fullness. The outgoing tide seemed a concession, a retreat. Then I began to notice in detail its endless inventions through the rocks. Tumbling or tranquil, it masters the ceremonies of water.

The subsiding tide pools into stillness leaving miniature lakes to reflect the sky and the  terrain.

It strands mussels and barnacles which encapsulate enough water to stay hydrated until the next inundation. Their contrasting shapes and colors and gloss present treasure-hunting possibilities in my low-tide rambles.

Versatile plants adapt to the rhythms of the tidal zone, to the crush of waves and to alternating immersions in water. Their configurations look as varied as creatures out of the Lucasfilm studio in as many shades of green.

When the water recedes seaweed must withstand rapidly changing moisture and temperature and salinity. It dries out in calligraphic lines.

Occasionally circumstances favor shallow microcosms where life carries on in patterns we're tempted to call design, except that they precede art.

Least Sandpiper
John Steinbeck wrote in The Log from the Sea of Cortez, "It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool."

The ocean begins to return among the ridges, valleys and plateaus of the shoreline. It is a time to enjoy the coordinated subtleties of brown and blue. The water ripples and froths in response to lunar gravity from a quarter of a million miles away. The rocks have the look of an impatient herd waiting to be submerged again.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Plump, On Stilts

Semipalmated Plover
It takes a unique physique to make a living on the intertidal zone of Halibut Point. You have to wade in where possible, and dash out where necessary.

Ruddy Turnstone
The larger rhythms of the shoreline present foraging opportunities with the outgoing tide. Every moment on the ocean's rim balances opportunity with vigilance.

During spring and fall migrating visitors from the sandpiper family stop at, or fly over Halibut Point. 

Least Sandpiper
Least Sandpipers have been on the prowl in tide pools for several weeks. Who can say whether this fellow has stayed in residence, or is part of a succession?

Stilt legs and a long beak suit him perfectly to harvesting the niche.

Semipalmated Sandpiper (L) and Least Sandpiper (R)
Individuals of similar species keeping close company provide an identification laboratory for outdoorsmen building their field skills.

Semipalmated Sandpiper and juvenile Spotted Sandpiper
No one would confuse these two birds. But this juvenile Spotted Sandpiper doesn't have spots yet, making it look a lot like a Solitary Sandpiper.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpipers are the only members of the clan to nest in this area, and the only one to come to the fresh-water quarries on Halibut Point. Most shorebirds pass through in the spring en route to Arctic breeding grounds. Adults start arriving here by mid July, through September, on their way to South America.

Ruddy Turnstone
One elegant sandpiper relative has been in residence on the shoreline since early August. This pair of Ruddy Turnstones joined the Semipalmated and Spotted Sandpipers at a promising hunting ground.
Ruddy Turnstone, breeding plumage
The turnstones--named for their hunting method on a pebble beach--found shrimp-like prey in the seaweed.
Ruddy Turnstone, juvenile plumage
This juvenile turnstone was happy to pick through a crab carcass demolished by a gull. The adults had already headed south. Young ones find their way to the wintering grounds unaccompanied by the adults. Some species migrate seasonally from the Arctic all the way to Tierra del Fuego, a distance of 10,000 or more miles. Plumping up in advance stores energy for the flight.
Purple Sandpipers
Purple sandpipers will come down to Halibut Point from their high-Arctic tundra breeding grounds to take up the northernmost winter residence of any shorebird. Their plump bodies will get thermal as well as other tests from the elements.

Purple Sandpipers