Reverie is the Sunday of the Mind

IMG_4263.jpgAs many of us are chilled just now by a “deep freeze,” I thought our cold folks–as well as those in warmer climes–might wish to sit a bit in the “green lap of nature”:

We should be better Christians if we were more alone; we should do more if we attempted less, and spent more time in retirement, and quiet waiting upon God. The world is too much with us; we are afflicted with the idea that we are doing nothing unless we are fussily running to and fro; we do not believe in “the calm retreat, the silent shade.” As a people, we are of a very practical turn of mind; “we believe,” as someone has said, “in having all our irons in the fire, and consider the time not spent between the anvil and the fire as lost, or much the same as lost.” Yet no time is more profitably spent than that which is set apart for quiet musing, for talking with God, for looking up to Heaven. We cannot have too many of these open spaces in life, hours in which the soul is left accessible to any sweet thought or influence it may please God to send.

The Grass is Always Greener“Reverie,” it has been said, “is the Sunday of the mind.” Let us often in these days give our mind a “Sunday,” in which it will do no manner of work but simply lie still, and look upward, and spread itself out before the Lord like Gideon’s fleece, to be soaked and moistened with the dews of Heaven. Let there be intervals when we shall do nothing, think nothing, plan nothing, but just lay ourselves on the green lap of nature and “rest awhile.”

Time so spent is not lost time. The fisherman cannot be said to be losing time when he is mending his nets, nor the mower when he takes a few minutes to sharpen his scythe at the top of the ridge. City men cannot do better than follow the example of Isaac, and, as often as they can, get away from the fret and fever of life into fields. Wearied with the heat and din, the noise and bustle, communion with nature is very grateful; it will have a calming, healing influence. A walk through the fields, a saunter by the seashore or across the daisy-sprinkled meadows, will purge your life from sordidness, and make the heart beat with new joy and hope.

“The little cares that fretted me, I lost them yesterday. . . Out in the fields with God.”

On the Quiet Side of the Tetons

From Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman. Photos by D.F.G. Hailson.

We are the Swampians

The chickee hut that sits just outside our door.
The chickee hut that sits just outside our door.

I apologize for the long break since my last post. In the interim, we moved from Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, where I’d been serving as an instructor/guide with the Grand Canyon Field Institute, to Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. We’ve settled in to our spot in the rear of the property at the Big Cypress Gallery and I’m now spending my days exploring, photographing, writing, and working in the gallery of Clyde Butcher, who’s been called “the Ansel Adams of the Everglades.” I’ve launched a new photography website (www.dfghailsonphotography.com) and am trying to learn all I can about gallery work while we’re here in the middle of the preserve. If time allows and I can come up to speed, I’ll also be leading tromps through (what can be) waist high swamp prairies, sloughs and strands.

Gene and I had struggled with whether to accept this gig as we were enjoying our lives in Arizona. But…we were moved to the decision to move through a conversation with Rader, one of the rangers at the Canyon. He’d just returned from Big Cypress and insisted we needed to head for Florida. He described the Western Everglades as pristine, with clouds of birds. So here we are.

Took me a few moments to notice this Green Heron in a canal across from the gallery. The larger herons stand prominently in the open parts of wetlands while these smaller relatives tend to be found at the edges, concealed in vegetation.
Took me a few moments to notice this Green Heron in a canal across from the gallery. The larger herons stand prominently in the open parts of wetlands while these smaller relatives tend to be found at the edges, concealed in vegetation.

To catch you up a bit, I’ll share just a few vignettes from recent days:

American AlligatorBack from my first Swamp Walk. We saw a gator before we stepped in to the swamp but, once in–through the wet prairie where one finds 700-900 year old dwarf cypress (yes, there is a prairie in the swamp) through the slough through the strand–we saw no scary predators. We did see bromeliads and orchids, cypress knees, pickerel weed, native and invasive snails, red-tailed hawks AND a Great Egret that came very near and circled around us. I took photographs but didn’t use my own equipment; instead, I had a friend’s waterproof camera. I enjoyed the experience. After some more training and time in the swamp, it looks like I might just embrace the idea of being a swamp guide.

*****

Chatted with a woman the other day who had just come in from a swamp walk and had spent a couple of overnights in Big Cypress. She told me she was now a “swamp girl” evidenced, she said (with great gusto and great joy), by the fact that she hadn’t combed her hair in four days. I’ve been wondering ever since why she decided to share that with me…Hmmm? Anyone have a mirror?

*****

Ochopee Post OfficeBrought the Christmas cards to the Ochopee Post Office for mailing this afternoon and got chatting with Postmistress Shannon, who, for the last nine years, has been holding down the fort here. Seems she was having a problem with her Pitney Bowes postage machine. A snake, apparently looking for a warm place to sleep on a recent chilly night, had gotten itself caught in the slot where the postage sheets are printed. The poor thing was dead and Shannon was waiting for her snake guy to come extricate it. She’s also been having trouble with curly-tailed lizards that are pooping on her shelves. Just another day in the country’s smallest post office!

*****

Shawn, a neighbor and fellow member of the swamp crew, who is also known as Murf, has introduced me to a new word: “Swampian.” My theme song is now “We are the Swampians” sung to a tune popularized by Queen. Hope you’ll give the new photography website a look see and hope you’ll also look for me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/dfghailsonphotography and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/dfghailsonphotography).

Skunk Ape Sign at BCG

The End of Night? From The Starry, Starry Night to the Overpowering Street Light

Grand Canyon National Park Star Party. NPS Photo.
Grand Canyon National Park Star Party. NPS Photo.

For nearly a year now, I’ve had the privilege of living and working in Grand Canyon National Park. In late June, I was among some 1,100 attendees participating in one of the four nights of the 24th annual Grand Canyon Star Party. Astronomers from across the country, operating nearly 50 telescopes that were set up behind the Visitors’ Center, invited folks to get a glimpse of the planets in our own solar system as well as nebulae and star clusters sitting millions upon millions of light years distant from us.

The evening took me back to my childhood in Massachusetts where I spent many, many nights out under the stars looking up at a resplendent Milky Way. I am heartbroken to note that, if I were to return to the town of my birth today, it’s more than unlikely that I would catch even a fleeting glimpse of that Milky Way. Eight out of ten Americans today won’t ever live where they can see their own galaxy, their own solar system. More than two-thirds of Americans and Europeans no longer experience real night—that is, real darkness—and nearly all of us in the world live in areas considered polluted by light.

16131044In Episode 31 of On the Road with Mac and Molly, I chat with Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night, about the disintegration of what is natural into what is artificial. In this critically important book, Paul opens our eyes to how much we lose cooped up, as we are, under a perpetual glare.

At one point in the book, Bogard tells of a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York where, he suggests, one can see “real darkness.” There, he notes, fifty million people each year pass by a painting of “a small, dark town, a few yellow-orange gaslights in house windows, under a giant swirling and waving blue-green sky.” In The Starry Night, painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1889, we see our world “before night had been pushed back to the forest and the seas, from back when sleepy towns slept without streetlights.” The Starry Night is “an imagined sky inspired by a real sky much darker than the towns we live in today.”

The Starry, Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889.
The Starry, Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889.

In a letter from the summer of 1888, Van Gogh described the night sky he saw overhead during a visit to a French beach: “The deep blue sky was flecked with clouds of a deeper blue than the fundamental blue of intense cobalt, and others of a clearer blue, like the blue whiteness of the Milky Way. In the blue depth the very stars were sparkling, greenish, yellow, white, pink, more brilliant, more sparkling gemlike than at home—even in Paris: opals you might call them, emeralds, lapis lazuli, rubies, sapphires.”

Street Light, Giacomo Balla, 1909.
Street Light, Giacomo Balla, 1909.

For most of us today, when we can see stars, most of these appear to be white so the idea that stars come in different colors seems wildly impossible. But, Bogard insists that if one were to “gaze long enough in a place dark enough that stars stand in clear three-dimensional beauty,” one would “spot flashes of red, green, yellow, orange and blue.” When Bogard made the visit to MoMA, he was in search of not only The Starry Night but also Giacomo Balla’s Street Light, a painting, dated 1909, that is so little known that the museum doesn’t even keep it on display. While Van Gogh’s painting depicts, what Bogard calls, “old night,” Balla’s is a painting of “night from now on.” Bogard notes: “In both paintings, the moon lives in the upper right corner, and for Van Gogh, the moon is a throbbing yellow presence pulsing with natural light. But for Balla, the moon has become a little biscuit wafer hanging on for dear life, overwhelmed by the electric streetlight. And that, in fact, was Balla’s purpose. “Let’s kill the Moonlight!” was the rallying cry from Balla’s fellow Italian futurist, Filippo Marinetti. These futurists believed in noise and speed and light—human light, modern light, electric light. What use could we now have of something so yesterday as the moon?”

Paul Bogard
Paul Bogard

In his book and in Episode 31 of On the Road, we travel with Bogard around the globe to find night where it still lives…showing exactly what we’ve lost, what we have left and what we might hope to regain. We hear how the loss of night is not only a loss of beauty above us. More light at night does not, as some insist, ensure greater safety and security; properly designed light at night does. Exposure to artificial light at night has been cited as a factor in health concerns ranging from poor sleep to cancer. Light pollution is also threatening the health of the world’s ecosystems as everything from reproduction cycles to migration patterns are adversely affected by artificial light at night. But there is hope. Light pollution is one kind of pollution we can readily fix. And, as the jacket cover of the book proclaims: Bogard’s “panoramic tour of the night, from its brightest spots to the darkest skies we have left gives us every reason to flip the switch—tonight.”

Here’s a link to the show: http://www.petliferadio.com/ontheroadep31.html and a link to a short clip of Paul Bogard introducing the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkIdOqu53XA.

Interviewing Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night

I’m looking forward, with great excitement, to next Monday’s interview with Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night. The cover of his book notes that: “A brilliantly starry night is one of nature’s most thrilling wonders. Yet in our world of nights as bright as day, most of us no longer experience true darkness. Exposure to artificial night at light has been cited as a factor in health concerns ranging from poor sleep to cancer. And eight out of ten Americans born today won’t ever live where they can see the Milky Way.”

Natural patterns of darkness are as important as the light of day to the functioning of ecosystems. With at least 30 percent of all vertebrates and more than 60 percent of all invertebrates worldwide nocturnal, and with many of the rest crepuscular (active at twilight), the implications are enormous. While most of us are inside and asleep, outside the night world is wide awake with matings, pollinations, and feeding–in short, the basic happenings that keep world biodiversity alive. Light pollution threatens this biodiversity.

I’ll be chatting with Paul about the search for natural darkness in an age of artificial light and will be posting an article on this site about this critically important book. I’ll also let you know when this On the Road with Mac and Molly episode is available for listening on Pet Life Radio (www.petliferadio.com).

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Praise God All You Shining Stars and Great Sea Creatures

800px-Humpback_Whale_underwater_shotLouie Giglio’s Mashup of Stars and Whales Praising God…click on the YouTube link and stay with the video all the way through. It will minister to you in the depths of your soul.

Psalm 148:

Praise the Lord from the heavens;

praise Him in the heights above.

Praise Him, all His angels;

praise Him, all His heavenly hosts.

Praise Him, sun and moon;

praise Him, all you shining stars.

Praise Him, you highest heavens

and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,

for at His command they were created,

and He established them for ever and ever—

He issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,

you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,

lightning and hail, snow and clouds,

stormy winds that do His bidding,

you mountains and all hills,

fruit trees and all cedars,

wild animals and all cattle,

small creatures and flying birds,

kings of the earth and all nations,

you princes and all rulers on earth,

young men and women,

old men and children.

Pulsar photograph by NASA; Humpback Whale photograph by NOAA.

Of Mice and Ringtails

Deer Mouse. Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Deer Mouse. Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about having been visited by a deer mouse. The little one  had taken up residence under our refrigerator and had demonstrated extraordinary boldness, approaching me  one morning again and again. Until…

Mac and Molly, our two Old English Sheepdogs emerged from the bedroom, raced toward me and tussled to capture the “prize” that had positioned itself under a stool on which I was seated. The mouse escaped and I am delighted to report it hasn’t been seen since. There’s no evidence of its presence anywhere in the RV and it hasn’t peeked out at me from any possible ports. Mac and Molly, it would seem, scared the daylights out of the mouse. I am relieved this is so but we do remain on guard. Deer mice are found throughout this region and have been identified as carriers of the hantavirus which is conveyed to humans through contact with the animals’ feces and urine. The first sign of infection is a fever that appears within 7-10 days of contact. I’ve learned that two persons had been infected with the virus here at the canyon. One died.

Around the same time of my deer mouse encounter, I discovered that a ringtail (the state mammal of Arizona) had shown up at Kolb Studio. A woman first alerted me to having seen it peering out of a dormer window. A humane trap was set out for it in the attic and, one morning, the young ringtail (which seemed quite docile and curious) was taken out and released at Desert View.

A River of Fog Fills the Grand Canyon

The day started with a white-out with the canyon completely obscured from view. Then, in–what seemed to be just moments–the fog dropped and settled below the rim. As noted on Twisted Sifter: “The phenomenon is known as ‘temperature inversion’ where warm air acts as a lid to seal cool air near the ground, trapping fog in the canyon and preventing it from rising. According to the National Weather Service, the atmosphere’s temperature profile is most prone to inversion during the winter, when long nights allow for air near the Earth’s surface to become unusually cold.”

Some of the best photographs of the inversion were taken by Park Ranger Erin Whittaker and are found here: http://www.twistedsifter.com/2013/12/grand-canyon-floor-filled-with-fog-november-2013/.

Another fascinating phenomenon made possible by this weather event was the Brocken Spectre with Glory which my husband experienced. With bright sunshine behind him, his shadow was projected onto the fog and a rainbow encircled his shadow. Neither Gene nor I had our cameras with us so we were unable to record what happened but a friend at the canyon (Mike Buchheit) did capture his own experience of this. His photo can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/grandcanyonassoc.

Another experience of the Brocken Spectre with Glory in another part of the world is depicted in the featured photograph (details below):

Glory with Brocken Spectre created by the author’s shadow on a rising cloud at a South ridge of Peak Korzhenvskaya during a summit day on August 14th, 2006, classic route from Moskvina glacier. Part of a photo collection of Pamir 2006 expedition led by Dmitry Shapovalov.

Held Hostage and then. . .

I’m still struggling to overcome the Internet connectivity issues here at Grand Canyon that have prevented me from posting on this blog in recent weeks. I have hundreds of photographs to share and have been working on stories about the geological features, wildlife, hiking trails, and human history of this Natural Wonder of the World. This has been just one of the “hostage” situations in which I’ve been involved in recent days.

The bull elk that held us hostage while he had a snack outside our RV door.
The bull elk that held us hostage while he had a snack outside our RV door.

On Halloween, an 800-pound 12-point bull elk kept us captive in our truck for a half hour while he munched on the vegetation just outside our RV door. It’s wise to give these guys a wide berth (150 feet or better) at any time of year but especially during rutting season (which is now) when they’re more aggressive and protecting their cows and calves.

After this bull had his fill of the fare he found on offer in our lot, he sauntered off into the woods and we were finally able to bring our own groceries into our living quarters. Each night, as we walk Mac and Molly (our two Old English Sheepdogs), we look up to see a splendid display of the Milky Way and, as we go, we listen for the bugling of the elk.

Deer Mouse. Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Deer Mouse. Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This morning, a deer mouse, that’s taken up residence under our refrigerator, startled me with its boldness. He?/she? peeked out from its hiding place, ducked back, but then emerged into plain view and inched towards me. I warned: “uh-uh, too close,” and it returned to its hiding place. Only moments later, however, it RAN towards me until I, again and more forcefully this time, told it to back off. We played this game for a few minutes until Mac and Molly entered the picture. They came racing toward me from the bedroom and started tussling under me, competing for “the prize” that had, apparently, snuck under my seat. The mouse escaped and hasn’t been seen since. Mac has positioned himself at the base of the refrigerator and Molly hasn’t left my side. Knowing my M&M are on guard  freed me the rest of the day to focus on writing.