Friday, May 15, 2009

All the Time in the World

"Unlike a watch, which marks off how much time has gone and how much remains, the sound of the bells ringing the quarters had seemed to say, 'Stop. Think. This is here. This is now.' In my previous life there had never been enough time: time was always running out. But in the garden, where I was acutely aware of the passage of time -- the changing light as the hours of the day passed by, the shifting pattern of the seasons as the years passed by -- there was paradoxically the feeling of having all the time in the world, of hours and days stretching and expanding into a shimmering pool of now."

-- Katherine Swift, The Moreville Hours: The Story of a Garden.

I read about this book on Cornflower, and Elly gave it to me as a birthday present.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Immense Cosmos

Given the overwhelming vastness and miraculous nature of our universe, a natural tendency is to retreat into our socially constructed existence here on earth -- a thin slice of reality that we can more readily comprehend because we are the primary architects of the cities and factories that now dominate our lives. Yet by ignoring the larger universe in which we are immersed -- by concentrating our attention on the engaging and demanding social reality -- we easily forget that it is the immense cosmos that is our true home. We live almost completely immersed in a socially constructed reality that so fully absorbs our energy and attention that virtually none remains to experience the wonder of our existence. The tragedy of modern industrial societies is the superficiality that they project (and that we accept) as the norm for human affairs. We unconsciously trivialize the human experiment with shallow pursuits of money and social status that mask the magnificence of what it means to be a human being.

-- Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity, pp. 115-16 (revised edition, c1993).

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Backyard Bird List Hits 50

Yesterday afternoon was a wonderful time for bird watching in the Miles backyard. The pine siskins hung out all afternoon, mixing it up with the house finches. I counted 7 siskins at one point. One of our favorite sparrows, White-Crowned, put in an appearance for the first time this spring, a black-capped chickadee came by to visit, the first we've seen in months. And, most fun of all, a white-breasted nuthatch chose to visit our peanut feeder when I was sitting about 8 feet away reading a book. I didn't have the camera so I couldn't get a picture but it is the first white-breasted nuthatch we've seen in our yard. And that brings our backyard bird list to 50. Here is a picture I took yesterday of a white-crowned sparrow.

Our first Peony blossom opened this morning. We have nine large peony bushes in our front yard, a mixture of white, pink, and a reddish-purple. We'll have huge peony bouquets for the next few weeks and our house will be redolent with their fragrance.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Pine Siskins and House Finches

I saw both pine siskins and house finches on one of our feeders this afternoon and took the opportunity to get pictures of them. Since the birds look somewhat a like, it is interesting to see them together. The bird on the right side of the feeder is a female house finch. The other three are pine siskins. You can see that they are smaller and that the house finch's tail is longer. The siskin's markings are more vivid, too, but that is not as easily seen in this image.

The birds on the right in this image are house finches (top female, lower bird male) and the bird on the left side of the feeder is a pine siskin. Here the difference in their beaks is obvious -- the finches have much thicker and more powerful beaks. Also, this is about the best picture I have gotten showing the yellow covert markings on a pine siskin's tail.

It doesn't require a really expensive camera to get interesting and attractive photographs of birds. More important is to understand how to use your camera effectively, get in close to your subjects, and keep your eyes open for good image opportunities. These latter two items are easier to accomplish in your own yard than anywhere else because you needn't dedicate large amounts of time solely to the project and you can control feeder positions and attract birds to good spots for pictures.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Clay-Colored Sparrow

We added another bird to our backyard list (and our life list) yesterday -- a Clay-Colored Sparrow. According to Sibley, these birds often intermingle with chipping sparrows, whom they resemble somewhat. The facial markings easily distinguish them from the latter, at least during the spring when they are breeding. These are migratory birds in our area, nesting in the far northern US and in Canada. Chipping sparrows nest across the US, including in Missouri.

Elly had just returned from her trip to Phoenix, and we were enjoying a glass of wine at our kitchen table when this little bird showed up. I didn't have enough light to get a great picture because it was cloudy and the bird was a bit farther away on our driveway. This was the best shot I managed. The "clay" markings were a beautifully delicate bluish-gray color. This visitor brings our backyard list to 49.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Pine Siskins!

I've been meaning to post about this for a few weeks. Elly and I spotted our first Pine Siskins on Tuesday, April 21, on the new spiral feeder we put up this spring. We have heard of them, but have never actually seen any. A pair showed up while we were sipping coffee and tea at the breakfast table. (I'm the tea drinker.)

We knew immediately what they were. Superficially, they look a little like female house finches. But they are smaller, their markings are much more vivid, their beaks are thinner and more pointy, and their tales are shorter. The yellow markings on the wings and tails are quite subtle -- at least in the ones we have seen, a dozen or more over the past few weeks. They mostly all have fairly obvious supercillium markings, as well.

Mark at Backyard Bird thinks a large group of them wintered over in the Ozarks due to the harsh conditions further north. Now they are heading to their spring breeding locations.

It is fun to identify a bird you haven't seen before, and even more fun to be able to do it in your own backyard. We've also seen many kinglets and brown creepers, lots and lots of chipping sparrows, even flocks of them moving through our neighborhood, and a few Yellow-Rumped warblers (the Myrtle variety). Our backyard bird count now stands at 48. :-)

I took this picture of a saucy white-throated sparrow the same morning the Pine Siskins showed up.

Kindle 2.0

I finally gave into temptation and got a Kindle 2.0. A friend had accidentally ordered two of them, and offered to sell me the spare rather than ship it back to Amazon so I didn't have to order one and wait for it. I've had it for some weeks now. I didn't have a cover for it, initially, but got worried that it might be scratched or damaged and after looking over the various cover options, decided the synthetic covers didn't look functional and went with the standard leather cover. We don't do much leather in our household -- no furniture, coats, etc. But some of our shoes are leather, and some of our dog leads. I would have gone with a synthetic or fabric option if a decent one had been available.

Elly was not enthusiastic about it, initially. I think she was worried I would be ordering books from Amazon every time she turned around. I guess a lot of people have been doing that, judging from Amazon's stock price. But I assured her I am much more interested in older, out-of-print books from places like Project Gutenberg. So far, I have only ordered one book from Amazon -- the Kindle 2.0 Cookbook. It explains how to do lots of things with the Kindle that are not covered in the manual. And that only cost $4.

I've loaded about 50 different books on the reader, lots of John Burroughs, E.F. Benson ghost stories, Willa Cather, Jules Verne, William James, and the like. A friend sent me a paper he had written on mysticism. It was a Word document. Amazon has a nifty service that converts standard document formats, like Word, into the Kindle format. You can even have it done for free if you download the converted document to your computer (instead of having Amazon send it to your Kindle directly) and then use the USB cable to load it on your Kindle. The Word conversion works exceptionally well, converting note numbers to hyperlinks, and doing all sorts of nifty things like that.

I have been extremely pleased with the reader. It is fun to read with, especially in bed, because it is thin and light and the page turning mechanism is super ergonomic. I have heard some users don't like the short pause when changing pages, but I think that is ridiculous. I mean it takes about an instant. Easier than turning the page in a book, honestly. The ability to highlight passages and add notes is wonderful. Also being able to do full text searches. You can go for weeks without recharging if you switch the wireless mode off. The Wireless feature consumes a lot of power if you leave it on, and you have to recharge every few days. Since I download Project Gutenberg books to my computer, and then put them on the Kindle with the USB cable, I rarely ever need wireless connectivity and leave it off most of the time.

My one complaint is that I wish there were a way to organize books in the Kindle so that I could arrange them in groups. Everything just goes into the main list in whatever order it likes. It is easy enough to locate whatever book you want with search and filter features, so the objection is a minor one.

I've been reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and have been loving it. It will be the first book I finish on the Kindle reader. I've meant to read it for years.

Is the Kindle the future of reading? Nope! I'm amused be predictions that print books are going to go the way of the Dodo. Print books that were made over 500 years ago are still readable today. Think about it. Paper book-making is a sustainable technology that does not have to rely on petroleum. Kindle readers are just the opposite. Moreover, electronic files that were made only 20 years ago now can't be read because the technology used for them is obsolete. My prediction is that paper books will still be read when Kindle readers have gone the way of the Dodo.

In the meantime, though, I'm going to enjoy mine.