As we face a New Year with unforeseen, formidable, and frankly-bizarre challenges, I find myself looking for hope—and distraction—in the world around me. With this thought foremost in mind, we are delighted to be able to go for a casual walk in a local park, and we did just that a little more than a week ago, to a parcel of land that’s known as Smiths Bush, and is a rare and precious local remnant of old-growth forest. Among the most impressive trees are the puriri (Vitex lucens). There is an unforgettable grove of them near the main entrance, but as we walked the entire circuit (both ways), I noticed, or more accurately imagined—for the first time—not one, but two(!) faces imbedded in one of these remarkable trees, very close to the boardwalk. I had passed this tree at least several dozen times before, but this time it spoke to me. The first that caught my eye was the gnome, with its long chin and beard, its high forehead, and its scrunched-up eyes and nose, as if it had just heard a really outrageous pun; the second was just above and to the right of it, seeming to look down on its neighbor with something akin to benevolent tolerance. Can you see them? And, if you can, what do you read in their expressions?
With this new year still in its diapers/nappies, I find myself reflecting back on this date in previous years, and this one, sixteen years ago, came to mind. We were happily ensconced in Omaha, Nebraska, and we had had a lovely all-day snowfall. I had just finished shoveling the driveway and took time to go back out again, at 20 minutes after midnight, to savor again the glow of our holiday decorations. I still miss our home of 18 memorable years there, but it’s history now, and we have moved on to wonderful new frontiers.
As we hunker down between Christmas and the start of the New Year here in New Zealand in the mild clutches of an unseasonably cold spell for this early summer, my thoughts drift back to when this date found us in winter while we were living in Nebraska. It was our tradition to hang strings of pine cones from the downspouts that flanked our front porch and, when the weather was right, meltwater from the roof would trickle down them and during the chill nights would freeze into icicles. There was a particularly good crop ten years ago, a section of which I caught with our big, beloved oak in the background. With this memory, here’s an end-of-the-year warm wish for a safe and healthy New Year.
It’s very rare for me to post a photo that’s not an original, but there are times when it seems appropriate. My blogging buddy Liz down in the South Island posted a photo (of her Nigel’s) on her site (here) back on December 3rd featuring what she called a “toast cloud.” She said that she’d not seen a cloud like this before, and neither had I. I was intrigued asked them if I could play with it a bit, and she and Nigel were happy to let me. She liked my result and kindly suggested that I offer it in a post of my own. So here ya go.
Two days ago I found that an old piece of childrens’ furniture that we keep in the back yard for the grandkids had suffered a fractured leg joint. After I’d taken it into my shed for repair, this large (body length 1.5 cm/0.6 inch) male bronze jumping spider boldly strutted into view from one of its crevices and asked for a portrait. We have several marigolds blooming in our vegetable garden, and this one seemed well-suited for the session. He was quite willing to spend enough time on it for me to get this shot before he jumped onto my hand, climbed my arm, and disappeared around to my back. Luckily, Squiddy was close at hand and able to help me put him right back where he’d come from in the garden.
I have just recently returned from a week’s excursion to the Taupo district for a week of companionship and fun with some fellow members of the North Shore Fly Fishers. I am a devoted advocate of the philosophy that the fishing is always good, regardless of the catching, as it’s all about making the time to be in a place that’s wild and clean and home to wonderful and wild creatures. We had a full spectrum of weather, from near-gale winds and rain to idyllic clear and calm spells. Lake Otamangakau (Oh-tah-mahng-AH-kow), which was our daily companion, is within sight of the three peaks in the National Park, and when the wind wafts over them, lenticular clouds downwind are a fairly common result. And, if you look closely, that whitish patch on the side of Mount Tongariro, in the lower-right third of the image, is steam escaping (constantly) from a live volcanic vent.
It has surely been quite a remarkable year and, in spite of a plethora of unexpected challenges along the way, well beyond our control, we still have so much to be thankful for. For the first time in nearly 40 years we were unable to spend our accustomed northern-hemisphere summer in the northern hemisphere; instead we stayed here in the southern one through the full New Zealand winter for the first time. Still, we are maintaining our traditions, and CD and I hosted a full-family feast. We combine Thanksgiving and Christmas into what we call Thanksmas. I get along very well with the local butcher, and he is able to procure a 4.5 kg (12.1 lb.) free-range turkey for us with about a week’s notice, and the one we had this year was the best ever. I spatchcocked (butterflied) it and grilled it on my Weber, and it was magnificent. Apart from the traditional time at our lake cabin in northern Minnesota, two other things that I’m missing on this occasion are the “wild” band of local turkeys that used to prowl our neighborhood when we lived in Nebraska and the magical and mystical migration of Canada geese. They would soar overhead in their chevron formations and their haunting calls would drift down, as dear to us as those of the loons on the lake outside our cabin. I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving and hope that you are concentrating on—and giving full thanks for—all of the many blessings that are yours.
Well, we’ve come a long way on my flashback report from our California road trip (CRT) six years ago. This date found us on our next-to-last day as we drove on the Interstate-80 highway from Elko, Nevada to Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was quite cold in Elko, a couple of degrees below freezing, with a dusting of new snow. We made no photo stops along the way, but I did make some hand-held shots from the moving car while CD was driving, and I also had a GoPro camera suction-cupped to the inside of the windshield and we turned the video on at the more interesting sections of country that we encountered along the way; I subsequently went through them all and harvested these single images from the sequences. We arrived in Cheyenne at 8:30 pm, having driven for 12½ hours and logging 667 miles (1,073 km), setting a new record for our trip. On the last day we smelled the barn and put the pedal to the metal and in seven hours drove the final 495 miles (797 km) across the rest of Wyoming and the whole width of Nebraska back to our Omaha home. Over the course of the past 18 days we had logged a grand total of 4,980 miles (8.015 km). And here ends my retro report. Thanks for coming along with us for this virtual ride!
We are nearly at the end of my recalling our California road trip from six years ago, but not much very exciting or worth reporting happened on this day, when we drove the 506 miles (814 km) from San Francisco to Elko, Nevada. I’ll have a few images from the next leg of the journey tomorrow, but for now I’d like to take a break and bring you one of the new iris that are just starting to bloom in our garden, with the start of summer only a week away.