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As I was going through my photos again from last week I came upon this image of an Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) that I had spotted at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I already posted another shot of this dragonfly species from that day, but I like this shot even more, because it shows some of the details of the leaves on which the little red dragonfly was perched. I think the leaves help to give a better sense of the environment and emphasize the “autumn” in the name of the species.

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Ring-necked Ducks

At this time of the year several species of ducks migrate into my area and take up residence for the winter. One of the most distinctive species is the Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), especially the male. Even from a distance you can notice the oddly peaked head and when you move in closer you can see the multi-colored bill and the bright yellow eyes if it is a male. As is most often the case with birds, the females are less colorful in appearance, though, as you can see from the final photo, they are quite beautiful.

I spotted a small flock of these ducks yesterday in a nearby suburban manmade pond where I have seen then annually for at least the last five years. Although Ring-necked Ducks are diving ducks, they don’t seem to require really deep water.

So where is the ring around the neck? According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “This bird’s common name (and its scientific name “collaris,” too) refer to the Ring-necked Duck’s hard-to-see chestnut collar on its black neck. It’s not a good field mark to use for identifying the bird, but it jumped out to the nineteenth century biologists that described the species using dead specimens.”

 

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Kinglet and poison ivy

I was shocked the first time that a friend identified little white-colored berries like those in these photos as poison ivy berries. I had no idea that poison ivy plants produced berries and, upon learning that they did, I assumed they must be poisonous. I was both right and wrong. These little berries are definitely poisonous for humans, but they are an important food source for many birds during the winter. It is amazing to me how birds that eat almost exclusively bugs during the warm months can switch to a plant-based diet in the winter, but it helps to ensure their survivability.

Last week I spotted this Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) as it poked about among several clusters of poison ivy berries. The kinglet was in constant motion and was mostly in the shadows, but I was able to capture these images. I like the way that you can see some of the details of the vines wrapped around the branches and the way that the distant branches provide some shadowy forms in the background.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

I spent some of my favorite moments during my recent trip to Paris exploring again the Rodin Museum and its wonderful outdoor sculpture garden. There is something really special about seeing sculptures outdoors, where the time of day, the season, and the weather can make them come alive in new ways that are not possible in the controlled confines of an indoor museum.

When I travelled to Washington D.C. on Saturday, one of my goals was to see some of the Rodin sculptures that I recalled were in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. The garden is sunken slightly below ground level and as I descended I immediately spotted the large sculpture known as The Burghers of Calais (Les Bourgeois de Calais). This multi-person sculpture is very well-known and I had seen another casting of it recently in Paris. (According to French law, there can be only 12 original castings of a Rodin sculpture, and both the one that I saw in Paris and this one are original castings.)

I couldn’t remember the story behind the sculpture, so I turned to Wikipedia. From a factual perspective, the sculpture commemorates an event during the Hundred Years’ War, when Calais, a French port on the English Channel, was under siege by the English for about eleven months. As you study the faces and the postures of the men in the sculpture, you realize that it is much more than a monument to a historical event.

According to Wikipedia, “Edward, the king of England, offered to spare the people of the city if six of its leaders would surrender themselves to him, presumably to be executed. Edward demanded that they walk out wearing nooses around their necks, and carrying the keys to the city and the castle. One of the wealthiest of the town leaders, Eustache de Saint Pierre, volunteered first and five other burghers joined with him. Saint Pierre led this envoy of volunteers to the city gates. It was this moment, and the poignant mix of defeat, heroic self-sacrifice, and willingness to face imminent death that Rodin captured in his sculpture.”

The sculpture in the second image is known simply as The Walking Man (L’homme qui marche). I am amazed at Rodin’s skill in capturing a sense of movement in such an incomplete figure. For me, it’s like a three-dimensional sketch that has come to life.

The final Rodin sculpture that I wanted to highlight is known as the Crouching Woman (also known as Lust). I find the pose of the woman to be intriguing and the Rodin Museum, which has a terracotta version of the sculpture, asserts that it “looks like a compact block with limbs gathered together and pressed tightly against the torso. This block-like sculpture reflects Rodin’s aesthetic analysis of Michelangelo’s sculpture: it is a work that, to quote the great Italian artist, could roll down a hill without breaking.”

These Rodin sculptures remind me of Paris, but in a greater sense, they highlight my heightened appreciation for the work of artists. Sometimes artists capture beauty and other times they create beauty (and often they do both at the same time). What is beauty? That will have to be the subject of a separate blog someday.

 

Burghers of Calais

The Walking Man

Crouching Woman

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Landscape photography has always been problematic for me—it often feel like I am taking a photo without a real subject. I spend most of my time in photography trying to fill the frame with a single subject using telephoto or macro lenses, so it is hard to pull back and see the proverbial “big picture.” Sure, I realize that the actual landscape is the subject, but I have trouble “seeing” wide in my mind as I think composing a shot.

My experience in Paris changed my perspective a bit, because I took a lot of wide and even ultra-wide panoramic shots there. So last week when returned to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is located less than 20 miles (32 km) from where I live, I consciously thought about capturing some of the different types of environments there.

The first shot shows one of the streams that flows through the refuge. I can often find herons, ducks, and occasionally deer along the edges of the stream. The stream is affected by tidal surges coming from the Potomac River and in this image the water level causes me to think that it was low tide.

My favorite trail runs parallel to the waters of Occoquan Bay. Small birds hang around in the vegetation at water’s edge, water birds congregate in the deeper waters, and Bald Eagles can often be found in the trees overlooking this tails. During warmer weather, this trail is a great location in which to hunt for dragonflies.

Wide trails crisscross the refuge, which used to be a military installation. The trails are off limits to the vehicles except for official ones. I never know what I might see when I walk on these trails. On occasion I will stumble upon groups of wild turkeys, flocks of migrating birds, and turtles crossing the road.

I hope that you have enjoyed this brief overview of the environment in which I have been taking so many of the insect, bird, and animal shots featured on this blog. It is good to remind myself yet again that what is familiar to me is unusual and maybe even exotic to someone in another part of the country or of the world. So periodically I will try to mix in shots like these to make it easier for you as you accompany me on my journey into photography.

 

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

 

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Paris Portraits: Damien

Blogging helps to create communities. We are exposed to people from all around the world, some of whom may be like us, but many of whom are quite different. What is critical is that we interact with each other—we “like” and comment on the postings of others. All of this takes place in a virtual world and we develop relationships in that world. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could meet each other in person, in “real” life?

It may sound like the story line for a corny Hollywood movie, but an American photographer recently met an Irish poet in Paris, thanks to the efforts of a New Zealand blogger who had much earlier highlighted their respective blogs. As you might suspect, I am that photographer; Damien Donnelly of deuxiemepeaupoetry.com is that poet; and Liz Cowburn of exploringcolour.wordpress.com is that blogger.

Several days ago I said a few words about Damien when I re-blogged one of his postings with photos from our time inside the Grand Palais in Paris, so his name may sound familiar. When I first made plans to visit Paris, I thought there might be a chance that I could meet Damien, but what I did not realize at that time was that he was preparing to leave Paris. As it turned out, I made it to Paris before he left.

We agreed to meet for lunch. Have you ever met someone in person that you met initially on-line? Did you worry that the on-line “persona” would not mesh with reality? I really encourage you to read Damien’s poetry, which I previously characterized as “personal and universal,” and I can reassure you that he is just as thoughtful, introspective, and engaging in person. During our lunch together, we shared deeply details about our personal lives and our connection with Paris.

One of the things I remember best was Damien’s description of how long it took to reach the point when he felt comfortable telling people that he was a “poet.” You see, like many creative people, Damien has a full-time job and crafts his verbal art in the remaining time. Gradually, though, writing appears to have taken on a greater role in his life. As of a few day ago, he no longer has that full-time job and in a few more days he is leaving Paris.

Is he calling it quits? As the French would say, “au contraire”—Damien is in fact returning to Ireland to pursue a dream. You can read more about it in the “About Me” section of his website, but the essence is that he plans to find and renovate a property in Ireland that will serve as a writers’ retreat and bed-and-breakfast. Damien is also working on a novel and I believe more of his poetry is about to be published.

Why am I writing all of this? First of all, I want to let you all know how wonderful it is when the virtual world and the real world overlap—meeting and spending time with Damien was one of the highlights of my three weeks in Paris. I hope to have the chance to meet more of my readers whom I consider friends. Maybe New Zealand?

Secondly, I am personally inspired by someone who decides at age 44 to go all in on his passion, who has the courage to radically change the course of his life in pursuit of his creative vision.

Let me end with the words of a short poem that Damien posted a few days ago, part of a series of poems as he prepares to leave Paris. This one was entitled “Bookends; Timing is Everything.” (In order to get the full impact of the poem, you should click on the name of the poem which is a link to the original posting with Damien’s accompanying photograph and brief words of explanation.)

“Coming in

is easy.

Learning when to leave

is an art

not easily understood.”

Damien Donnelly

Damien in the Grand Palais

 

Damien Donnelly

Damien in the Grand Palais

 

Damien and Me

Damien and me after lunch.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

I have lived in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. for over 25 years. Like most people who live in the region, I rarely travel into the city except when I have guests. We tend to look a bit negatively at tourists, who impede our paths and generally get in the way as we rush about trying to get important things—primarily work—accomplished. It is a bit of a stereotype, but it does seem to be that most people in this area are very focused and driven.

As I continued to struggle to readapt to “normal” life after my glorious three weeks in Paris, I started to wonder how things would look differently if I approached Washington D.C. with the same sense of awe and enthusiasm that I felt for Paris. What if I stopped taking for granted all of the treasures our nation’s capital has to offer and looked at them with fresh eyes?

Saturday, I grabbed the camera gear and the raincoat that I used in Paris and rode into the city on the Metro system. I had a relaxing time visiting several of the Smithsonian museums, which all have no admission fee, so you don’t have to exhaust yourself trying to get your money’s worth. I may cover my museum experience in another posting.

What struck me the most during the day, however, was the view that greeted me when I walked out of the National Gallery of Art at closing time. It was starting to get dark and lights had come on, gently illuminating some of the buildings. As I looked to the left, I could see the U.S. Capitol Building, home of Congress, and to the right in the distance was the Washington Monument, with a part of the Lincoln Memorial visible behind it. Wow!

Now I realize that most people don’t have Washington D.C. in their backyard, but I encourage you to look afresh at the area in which you live. Imagine that you have traveled thousands of miles to see its unique beauties. For me, that change in attitude helped me to look beyond the familiar and better appreciate the beauty that was always there. I had always used that approach in my wildlife photography and only now realize how it can be broadened into so many other areas of my life.

U.S. Capitol

Washington Monument

U.S. Capitol

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.