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Posts Tagged ‘iPhone 11’

Early yesterday morning, my car’s windshield was covered with starbursts of frost. As I sat in the driver’s seat, I had this magical view of the Christmas lights on my neighbor’s house. I captured the moment with my iPhone—then I cleared the windshield.

Today is the day of the solstice, the day that some of us in the Northern Hemisphere count as the first day of winter. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, “It’s the astronomical moment when the Sun reaches the Tropic of Capricorn, we have our shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere in terms of daylight.” Like much of the United States, we are in for a spell of frigid weather, though I doubt that we will see any snow before Christmas.

It felt appropriate to mark this day with this frosty image. I was preparing to head out to my favorite Wildlife Refuge yesterday morning when I took this shot and will be featuring some of the birds that I encountered once I have finished reviewing my shots.

frost

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am now safely back in Virginia after my 1534 mile (2468 km) drive home from Texas. My time in Texas was wonderful, especially the wedding that I attended, but unfortunately I contracted COVID shortly thereafter. As a result, I extended my time in Texas by several days as I recovered from my symptoms that were mercifully mild and short in duration. In addition to the initial two Pfizer shots, I have had three booster shots, including the new “bivalent” version, which I believe helped to mitigate the effect of the virus.

Thankfully I was not alone and was dogsitting for the happy couple’s two delightful dogs, who helped to keep me company during my five day isolation. I love the long shadows of the early morning and late afternoon and captured this first image one morning when I was walking Oscar, their English Spaniel—this is my favorite kind of “selfie” shot. Freckles, their Cocker Spaniel, requires shorter walks because of an injury and was waiting our return at home, where I captured the second image. As was the case with treats, I decided that I had better give the two dogs equal treatment in this blog posting. 🙂

For the record, a photo of Freckles first appeared in the blog in February 2013, when she was only a year old, in a posting entitled “Dogsitting on a Saturday night.” The couple adopted Oscar, who is also about ten years old, two years ago and this is his first appearance in the blog.

I will probably be taking it a bit easy for the next week or so, but I am sure that I will find some interesting recent photos of my adventures in nature to share with you all.

Oscar

Freckles

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Thursday I visited Shenandoah National Park with a friend and we drove a section of Skyline Drive to see the colorful fall foliage. I love the patchwork pattern of colors that we observed on the slopes of the  mountains. The predominant color seemed to be a bright rusty orange, with only small patches of bright yellow and red. In some directions, the sky was hazy, so the successive layers of mountains gradually faded out, as you can see in the final photo.

My blog posting schedule will be a little erratic during the next two to three weeks. I will be driving from Virginia to Texas for a wedding and don’t expect that I will be doing any posting on the days when I will be traveling. I hope that I will be able to do a few postings while I am in Texas—I will be just outside of Austin for about a week or maybe a little longer.

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Usually when I am taking a photograph, I have a specific subject. Sometimes, though, I try to capture something that is harder to describe, like the effects of light or of an atmospheric condition.

Last Monday I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in the early morning and was fascinated by the mist hanging over the water that was gradually starting to dissipate as the sun rose higher in the sky. I really like the way that the first image turned out when I pointed my camera towards the water and the land forms in the distance.

Looking in another direction, I saw some Canada Geese, most of which appear to be sleeping and were partially shrouded by the mist. In the distance I could see a bit of fall color, which was reflected in the water.

Turning to the land, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful rays of early morning light that were piercing through the foliage and the mist. It was tough to capture the effect, but hopefully the final photo gives you a sense of what I was seeing and feeling.

These are definitely not the typical kinds of photos that I take, but I was inspired by the conditions of the moment to try some different approaches and am content with the results.

misty morning

misty morning

misty morning

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I stumbled upon a pair of Eastern Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis). Their bodies were intertwined and were undulating. Now I do not know much about the mating practices of snakes, but I assume that was what they were doing.

I got down really low to take the first shot, which gives a close-up view of the head of one of the snakes that appears to be smiling—I believe that this one, which is clearly the smaller of the two, is the male snake.

According to an article by Sue Pike, “Garter snakes bear live young instead of laying eggs. In fact, in most live-bearing snakes, the females are considerably larger than the males. Since a larger female can carry more babies, and larger litter size mean a greater chance of survival for some of the offspring; natural selection will favor larger females. Females also tend to be more bulky and less active than males since they need to conserve their energy for reproduction. Males tend to be skinnier, more active and smaller than the females because, in the wild, their excess energy is used to chase females.”

The second shot shows the bodies of the two snakes when I came upon them—they look almost like they were braided together. I encourage you to click on the image to get a closer look at the beautiful patterns on the bodies of these snakes.

As I was making a little video of the two snakes, they were joined by a third garter snake. This snake, which I think is another male, slithered along the entire length of the intertwined bodies, looking for an opening. Somehow I thought the new snake would be more aggressive, but he was actually quite gentle. He ended up with his body stretched out as part of the intricate braid.

I have embedded the one-minute-long YouTube video at the end of this posting. In the video you can see the undulating bodies of the two snakes and the arrival and subsequent actions of the third snake. If you cannot see the embedded video, you can use this link  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgKIKLVeOVg) to access it directly on YouTube.

mating garter snakes

mating garter snakes

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Yesterday afternoon at Potomac Episcopal, a loose confederation of four local Episcopal churches that has worshipped together since the start of the pandemic, we had a special Blessing of the Animals service in celebration of The Feast of Francis of Assisi. We held the service indoors in the parish hall at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, one of the four churches, because of the rain caused by the remnants of hurricane Ian.

There were about 25 dogs and two cats that participated in the service. Participants also brought photos of pets and representations of pets that could not be present (including a parrot and some aquatic turtles) as well as mementos of pets who have died during the past year.

These are a few of the many photos that I took during the event that we uploaded to a Shutterfly website for viewing by all participant. Although we did not have music, we had a chorus of dogs barking throughout the short service, as you can hear in a video clip that I recorded. I have embedded at the end of this posting the YouTube version of that eight minute video that includes prayers and readings in celebration of the animals. It can also be found by clicking this link.

One of my favorite parts of the service was entitled “Litany of Thanks for Animals in the Life Cycle of Earth,” the text of which I have included below.

“We thank you, Lord, for the gift of animals in our lives. We thank you for animals that comfort us, delight us and give us companionship. We thank you for dogs and cats, birds and hamsters, guinea pigs and fish.

We thank you, Lord for the gift of animals.

We also thank you, Lord, for animals that give us wool and feathers to keep us warm. We thank you for the animals that give us milk, cheese and eggs to help us grow and keep us healthy. We thank you for horses, donkeys and oxen that work hard on farms throughout the world.

We thank you, Lord for the gift of animals.

We thank you, Lord, for animals that eat plants and fertilize the soil, making it richer and more fertile for new growth and new life. We give thanks for the gift of insects, bees, and butterflies, who pollinate fruit and vegetable plants for us to eat and flowers to give us joy.

We thank you, Lord for the gift of animals.

We thank you, Lord, for being our Good Shepherd, for seeking us when we are lost, for showing us water to quench our thirst, and for leading us to green pastures. Help us to share our blessings with others and to help others have clean water and green pastures to feed and nourish their families, too. In Christ’s name,

Amen.

Blessing of the Animals

Blessing of the Animals

Blessing of the Animals

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As many of you probably realize, I generally do not spend much time photographing landscapes and focus primarily on insects, in the warmer months, and birds, in the colder months. This past Wednesday, however, I was absolutely captivated by the clouds and tried to capture them in both landscape and seascape images at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I used my Canon 7D for the first two images and shot the panorama in the final shot with my iPhone 11.

As I look at these images, I can’t help but think that I should keep my eyes open more often for opportunities to take landscape shots. Last year I managed to capture some of the fall foliage in Virginia when I traveled to Shenandoah National Park and I may try to do so again later this month. There is a chance, though, that I will miss the peak color, because I will be driving to Austin, Texas near the end of the month for a wedding.

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Throughout most of the summer I have seen very few large butterflies. Recently, though, I have been seeing them in greater numbers. I do not know if this is somehow linked to the blooming of the thistle plants, but I have spotted numerous butterflies in patches of this plant during recent visits to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Last week I spotted this beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) high atop a plant and I captured the first image with the sky in the background. The second image is linked to a short video I captured yesterday of a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Most of the time I tend to associate Monarchs with milkweed, but this one sure seemed to be enjoying the thistle flower. Before long, it should begin its migration and perhaps this was part of the fueling process.

I am still experimenting with taking short videos with my iPhone and once again posted the video to YouTube. I have started a little channel on YouTube and have already posted a number of short clips, primarily of butterflies, bison, and butterflies, some of them with music tracks as accompaniment—I inserted some copyright free piano music, for example, in the Monarch video below. I have also experimented with some slightly longer compilations of clips with voiceover narration. Check out my channel Mike Powell if you are at all curious to see and hear what I have done so far.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I am still learning to take videos with my iPhone 11. During my recent road trip, I convinced myself that it could be used with large subjects like bison and wild horses. I wasn’t sure, however, if it could be used effectively with the small subjects that I enjoy photographing.

Yesterday I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my favorite local wildlife photography spot, and kept my iPhone in my front pants pocket—normally I keep it in my backpack, which it is much less accessible. I was still using my Canon 7D with the Tamron 18-400mm zoom lens most of the time, but I made a conscious effort to look for subjects that I could also film with my iPhone.

I was astonished when I encountered a relatively cooperative Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). Normally these butterflies are extremely skittish and it is a challenge to get a photo of one, even with a long telephoto lens. How could I make a video of one when I would have to be really close to it?

The first video, which is hosted in YouTube, is a short clip I was able to capture of a Zebra Swallowtail. I added a piano track as accompaniment to enhance the experience.

The second video features an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) feeding on a colorful thistle plant. This video was a bit easier to capture, because the butterfly was perched much higher and was really preoccupied. I was therefore able to frame the video much better. Once again I added piano music to the video, using the copyright free music available in the YouTube Studio.

As I mentioned in a previous posting, I have chosen to embed YouTube links to the videos rather than place them directly in my blog, where they would count against the blog’s data limits. In order to have an image appear for this posting in the Reader section of WordPress, I have reprised an image of a Zebra Swallowtail that was in a May 2022 posting.

I am having fun playing with videos and think they give a slightly different perspective to my normal blog postings.  What do you think? Do you enjoy these kinds of short video clips?

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you shoot selfies? Generally I am not a fan of selfies, at least not in the way that some people use (and overuse) them on social media—I am not that much in love with my own face. Still, I am not totally against them. I remember times in the past, when I was shooting with a film camera, when I would ask someone to take a picture of me in front of some well-known site or monument.

When I do want to insert myself into the frame, I try to do so in a creative way. When I was recently in the badlands of North Dakota, for example, I decided I wanted to try to create a selfie that conveyed a “bad boy” vibe. I really am a nice guy, so I wasn’t sure that I could pull off the look and was pleasantly surprised with the result. Some of my friends say the shot makes me look like I had just stepped off of a Harley.

I love to take photos just after sunrise and just before sunset when the sun is so low that it creates elongated shadows of me that are perhaps my favorite type of selfie, a selfie without a face. They always remind me of the famous sculptures of Alberto Giacometti, like Walking Man. I took the second photo with my iPhone in the early morning of 28 July as I stared out at the vast expanse of North Dakota badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The final photo is an unusual kind of selfie, a selfie without a face or a body. My orange KIA Soul is a representation of me, a kind of symbolic representation of who I am. I sometimes describe my car as practical, economical, and a little quirky, descriptors that apply equally well to me.

bad boy in badlands

elongated shadow

KIA Soul

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I tell people that I camped for several nights at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota during my recently completed road trip, they have widely varying mental pictures about what that looked like. Some imagine that I was towing a recreational vehicle (RV) filled with all of the comforts of home and that I used hookups for electricity and water.

The truth, though, was that my form of camping was more akin to backpacking than to RV life. I carried with me a very small tent that I have owned for more than 30 years and more or less slept on the ground. I initially used the tent when I did some bike camping when I was stationed in South Korea in the late 1980’s during my service in the US Army. Before I left for my trip, I practiced setting the tent up in front of my house to reacquaint myself with it and to make sure I still had all of the component pieces.

Cottonwood Campground lies within the confines of the South Unit of this national park—there are two parts of the park that are separated by 75 miles (120 km)—and has relatively primitive campsites. RV’s are permitted, but most of the sites are pretty small and there are no hookups. Seasonally there are flush toilets available, a welcome surprise for me, and vault toilets during the off-season. There are no showers, but potable water is available. Because I have the lifetime Senior National Parks Pass, I had to pay only $7.00 per night for my site and I stayed two nights each time that I was there.

Half of the sites are by reservation while all remaining sites are first come, first served. I showed up without reservations on both my westward and eastward legs of the trip and was able to find a site both times without problem in the tenting area of the campground. In fact, I stayed in the exact same spot each time. I liked this spot because it was at the end of a row of spots, so I had a neighbor on only one side.

The first photo shows my view looking out from inside of my tent, with some buttes visible in the distance. The second image gives you a better view of the tent itself. It is taller at the front and has a vestibule area where I could store some gear. Importantly, there is netting to help keep the bugs out. I was not bothered by mosquitos, but there were a lot of grasshoppers and some flies from time to time.

The third shot shows the rest of my site that included a picnic table and a grill. In the photo you can see that I had a small cooler and I also had a water jug that held six gallons (23 liters)—many parts of the United States had been experiencing heat waves and I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of water in case I was stranded. You can also see my orange KIA Soul. I think that this was the only KIA Soul that I spotted when driving through North Dakota and Montana—most of the local folks seemed to be driving pickup trucks or large SUV’s.

I did not have a proper sleeping mat, but used a thick yoga mat, which did provide some cushioning from the hard ground. I had a blanket, sheet and pillow with me too and a sleeping bag. I did not think that I would need the sleeping bag, but the first night that I camped out, temperatures dropped to 44 degrees (7 degrees C), and I was able to snuggle up inside the sleeping bag.

In terms of cooking, I used a little camp stove with a propane/butane canister. The fourth photo shows my little setup as I boiled water to make instant oatmeal and instant coffee for breakfast one morning. I also had several boxes of granola bars on which I snacked throughout the day.

The final two photos shows views from the campsite. On the morning when it was cold, fog and mist were hanging over the Little Missouri River, which flowed very close to our location, and the surrounding area. The final shots shows the glow of the moon, which was almost full, just before it rose over the buttes in the distance. The lights in the right hand side of the image came from a row of cars that were heading in the direction of the park’s exit.

I hope you enjoyed my little tour of my modest camping setup. When I began my trip, I had no specific plans for camping, but brought along the gear so that I could do so if the right situation presented itself. I was really happy to find this gem of a National Park and would gladly return there in the future.

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What is the best way to convey a sense of the massive expanse of the badlands in North Dakota? That was the dilemma that faced me last week as I stood at the Skyline Vista observation point in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Would a single photo suffice? What about a panorama shot? Perhaps a video might work?

An informational sign at Skyline Vista noted that, “They may look like mountains, but landforms in the badlands are buttes. Mountains form when land is thrust upwards. This process has not taken place in the badlands. Buttes form as erosion removes surrounding material. Rainwater, creeks, and the river are constantly eroding the badlands, leaving behind fantastically shaped buttes.”

My initial instincts pushed me to try a couple of traditional approaches. In the first image, I composed a shot with the flowers in the foreground to add some visual interest, rather then focusing attention simply on the buttes. In the second image, I tried to use the curving highway as a compositional element.

I then switched to considering methods that took advantage of the capabilities of the iPhone 11 with which I was shooting at that moment. I used the iPhone’s pano mode to create the third image and really liked the wide view that it provided of the badlands. In my final attempt, I filmed a short video in which I panned across the horizon, holding my phone vertically that I posted to YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/shorts/mTxPxVPlQVE) and have embedded below. The video provides an even wider view than the panoramic shot.

Is there a “best” way to show this rugged landscape? I would be hard pressed to say that any of the methods that I used was the “best”—each shows a slightly difference sense of what it was like for me to be at that observation point. Many of the other people that I observed simply took a single shot and returned to their cars and drove away. I personally think it is much more enjoyable to “work” a subject and look for creative ways to capture its beauty.

Skyline Vista

Skyline Vista

Skyline Vista

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Until quite recently, I had never tried to create videos with my iPhone and still have not tried to do so with my DSLR camera. I guess that I am a little old-fashioned and think of a phone as primarily a device for making phone calls and a camera as a device for taking still photos. I am gradually changing to using my phone for texting and during my recently completed road trip, I played around with taking short videos with my iPhone. Maybe it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.

The change was prompted in part by the fact that I had to radically change my shooting habits when visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. I camped out at the park for two nights when I was headed westward towards Seattle and another two nights on my return trip eastward to Virginia. At that park, I got used to seeing large creatures like American Bison (Bison bison) at close-range and photographing them from inside my car. Suddenly it dawned on me that videos would be an effective way of capturing some of that action. In addition to bison, I also had several encounters with wild horses that I was able to document in videos.

As you probably noticed, the first image is not a video—I inserted it so that an image would show up as a thumbnail in the “Reader” feed for those who view my postings in that way. The still photo shows a large bull moving down the recently repaved roads of the park. At that time they had not yet painted lines on the road, so I had to pay a lot of attention while driving, given that many of the roads were full of curves and and in some cases there were steep drop-offs. I do not think that the bison cared about the lack of lines—as far as I was concerned, they owned the roads and always had right-of-way.

The first video shows one of the huge male bisons that I encountered on the roads at the national park. I was safely inside of my car when I took this video, though I must confess that this bull bison looked to be almost as big as my KIA Soul and may have outweighed it.

The second and third videos show bands of wild horses that I encountered at separate locations in the park. I was particularly impressed by the beauty of these horses and it was cool to capture them in action.

I was not sure how to present videos here in WordPress, but I think it works to post them to YouTube first and then to embed a link to that posting here. In this way, the videos do not count against my data allowance on my WordPress plan.

I definitely need to improve on my skills as a videographer, but I am happy with these initial results. The sound quality is still a problem, because it was often windy and the video also includes some extraneous conversation. I may have to learn to do voiceovers for the videos or to add some music to them.

So what do you think? These little clips are definitely a change from my normal content, but I thought it would be a fun way to share some of my experiences more directly with all of you. As you probably noticed, the first image is not a video—I inserted it so that an image would show up as a thumbnail in the “Reader” feed for those who view my postings in that way.

American Bison

Here is the YouTube link for the first video.

Here is the YouTube link for the second video.

Here is the YouTube link for the final video.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I don’t take selfies very often, but decided to make an exception on Saturday when I was seated on Dege Peak (elevation 6982 ft (2128 m)) with Mount Rainier prominently behind me. I must confess, though, that I started my hike at 6100 feet (1859 m), so it is not all that impressive, though my iPhone indicates that I climbed the equivalent of 54 floors that day.

On previous visits to Mount Rainier, I have always entered at the Nisqually entrance that allows you to go as far as the Paradise Visitor Center, which is located at an elevation of 5400 ft (1645 m). It is the most easily accessible entrance and is therefore crowded most of the time.

During Saturday’s trip, I entered the park via the Sunrise entrance, which is located 60 miles (97 km) from the Nisqually entrance. The Sunrise entrance is open only from the beginning of July, when the snow is finally cleared, to early September. The Sunrise visitor center, located at an elevation of 6400 feet (1950 m), is the highest point you can access by car in the park.

I never did make it to the visitor center parking lot, which was crowded. Instead I stopped at a parking area at 6100 feet (1859 m) and hiked along the Sourdough Ridge Trail that took me up even higher than the visitor center. The views were spectacular and I was alone most of the time.

The second image shows one of those amazing views of Mount Rainier from that trail. I felt like I was looking straight across at the snow-covered mountain, although in actuality the peak of Mt Rainier was much higher at an elevation of 14,411 ft (4392 m).

I captured the final image of Sunrise Lake by looking back in the direction that I had hiked. The beautiful little lake was located just below Sunrise Point, where my car was parked.

Mt Rainier

Mt Rainier

 

Sunrise Lake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I visited Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State. The namesake mountain is one of the most prominent features of the park and it is a real challenge trying to figure out a creative way to capture the beauty of the snow-covered mountain.

Different vantage points and different altitudes give you different views of the mountain. I also played around a bit with aspect ratios too.

I was particularly delighted to see that some of the wildflowers were still in bloom and the first photo is one of my favorites. I worked hard to frame the composition with the flowers in the foreground. The fact that all three of these photos were taken with my iPhone 11 meant that almost the entire image in focus. It would have been a bit of a challenge to get that kind of depth of field with my DSLR.

I took the second shot from much lower on the mountain. I love the way that the image is almost abstract, reduced to shapes of the mountain and the trees.

The final image is a panoramic-type shot, which somehow seems suitable for the sweeping mountain views. It is a cropped version of a “normal” photo in which I tried to emphasize the mountains—too much of the original image was taken up by sky.

I may have some more images of Mount Rainier to share with you when I go through my images from my DSLR, but I have to say that I am more than happy with these images from my iPhone.

Mt Rainier

Mt Rainier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This past Thursday I was privileged to attend an exhibition/demonstration “From Conflict to Creativity” that featured amazing works of art by military veterans. The event was held in Washington D.C. in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. I managed to capture a few images of the buildings’s Great Hall with my iPhone as I passed through it on the way to the event room.

There was so much color and pattern and detail everywhere in the Great Hall that I felt almost overwhelmed. One of my favorite elements was the skylights in the ceiling that I have shown in the second image—I love stained glass windows. The final photo shows a painting called Melpomene by Edward Emerson Simmons.

“When its doors opened to the public in 1897, the Library of Congress represented an unparalleled national achievement, the “largest, costliest, and safest” library in the world. Its elaborately decorated interior, embellished by works of art from nearly fifty American painters and sculptors, linked the United States to classical traditions of learning and simultaneously flexed American cultural and technological muscle.” If you want additional information on the art and architecture of this Great Hall, check out this link on the Library of Congress website, the source of the quotation that I used to begin this paragraph.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The sun rose really early last weekend when I visited Northfield Mount Hermon School (NMH) in Gill, Massachusetts for my 50th Reunion—officially dawn was at 0439 hours and sunrise was at 0514 hours. The rising sun woke me up in the dormitory room in which I was sleeping and I went for a walk on the beautiful campus of this private boarding college preparatory school where I spent the final there years of high school.

The sunlight was soft and beautiful as I looked to the east, where thick fog was visible over the waters of the Connecticut River. I took the first photo below with my Canon SL2 DSLR and a 10-18mm wide-angle zoom lens and the other two photos using the panoramic features of my iPhone 11. The effects of the two cameras were a bit different, but I like the way that I was able to capture a sense of the beauty and tranquility of the early morning moments—it was a wonderful way to start the day.

Northfield Mt Hermon

Northfield Mt Hermon

 

Northfield Mt Hermon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Normally you cannot gain access to the inside of a Mormon Temple if you are not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When one is built, open houses are held for a period of time and them the temple is dedicated and access is thereafter limited. The Mormon Temple in Washington D.C. has been under renovation the last four years and for the first time in almost 50 years, open house tours are  being offered there until 11 June. The Temple is scheduled to be rededicated on 14 August 2022.

Yesterday I had the chance to visit this amazing structure. It is the the third largest Mormon temple in the world (behind the temples in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles) with an interior space of 160,000 square feet (14864 square meters) and is the tallest at 288 feet (88 meters) at its highest point, the spire with a golden Angel Moroni with a trumpet, shown in the third photo below. There are six spires covered in 24 carat gold and the building is encased in white Alabama marble.

During our tour we visited six of the seven floors of the temple including the Baptistry (for ancestors), the Brides Room, Instruction Rooms, the Celestial Room, and the Sealing Rooms. The interiors are elegantly furnished and decorated, combining beauty with function. We were not permitted to take photos within the Temple, but there are number of videos on line showing the Washington D.C. Temple, including this one put out by the Mormon Church Newsroom that chronicles the renovation and shows the new interior.

There were lots of friendly volunteers throughout the Temple to help direct visitors and to answer any questions that we had. A lot of information about the Temple, including galleries of photos and historical information, can be found at the dctemple.org website. Although some of my personal beliefs are at odds with the teachings of the Mormon Church, I think that it is valuable to learn more about about others and to seek to understand more deeply what they believe—too often we rely on half-truths and falsehoods when looking at “others.”

 

Mormon Temple

Mormon Temple

Mormon Temple

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I set aside my camera for the most part this past weekend and enjoyed the company of others at Shrine Mont, a retreat center in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia, a welcome respite from the restrictions of the past two years. From time to time I would pull out my cell phone and capture a moment, but the most significant memories of the retreat are embedded in my heart and in my head.

There are lots of small cabins and other buildings scattered throughout the large property that encompasses over 1100 acres of forest, but the building that attracts your eye first is the massive Virginia House, shown in the second photo below. The Virginia House was formerly known as the Orkney Springs Hotel. It was built in 1873 and restored in 1987. At approximately 96,000 square feet, it is believed to be the largest wooden structure in Virginia.

On Sunday we participated in worship at the open-air Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration that serves as the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, shown in the third photo below. The Shrine was built from 1924 to 1925 in the space of a natural amphitheater and includes a bell tower, a sacristy, a shrine crossing, choir and clergy stalls, a pulpit, a font and a lectern. Each of its stones was pulled by horse or rolled by local people from the mountain that embraces it, according to Wikipedia, and the baptismal font was originally a dugout stone used by Indians to grind corn.

As I was sitting in the outdoor pews during the church service, I happened to glance to the side and caught sight of a dozen or so Pink Lady’s Slipper orchids in bloom at the edge of the forest. Earlier that morning I had traipsed through the mud in search of some of these flowers that one of my fellow retreat members had spotted the previous day, and here there was an even greater abundance in plain sight. I was delighted to share my find with others when the service ended and it turned out that many of them had never seen a Lady’s Slipper in the wild or had not seen one since they were children.

Shrine Mont

Shrine Mont

Shrine Mont

Pink Lady's Slipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have spent so much of my life living in cities and suburbs that this rural post office that I spotted this past weekend in Orkney Springs, Virginia seemed quaint and old-fashioned. According to the information that I could find on the internet, the population of this village is somewhere between 9 and 34 inhabitants. My only regret is that I was I was not able to visit the post office while it was open.

There are so many things I like about the scene that I was able to capture, from the vintage Coke signs to the bright orange folding chair on the porch.

orkney springs

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Orchids are rare and beautiful and it is amazing to find them growing in the wild. Last Thursday I went on a hike in a hilly forested area of Prince William County in Virginia. It was cool and overcast, less than idea circumstances for finding the dragonflies that I was seeking. After coming up empty-handed at my favorite dragonfly spots, I decided to switch to Plan B.

I vaguely remembered where in previous years I had seen some Pink Lady’s Slippers (Cypripedium acaule), a beautiful wild orchid that is native to North America, and decided to go off on a quest to find these treasures. I noticed that a lot of trees had fallen over the past year. Although workers at this national park had cleared the trails themselves, the limbs from the fallen trees obstructed my view in my target areas.

Orchids are pretty fragile and require specific habitats and I was worried that those habitats might have been damaged or destroyed. I walked very slowly, scanning the forest floor for hints of red or pink, wondering if I had come too early or too late. Eventually I found one small patch and then a second one a bit later (as shown in the final photo).

Pink Lady’s Slippers are sometimes called “moccasin flowers.” According to the New England Today website, “Native American folklore tells the story of a young maiden who ran barefoot in the snow in search of medicine to save her tribe, but was found collapsed on the way back from her mission with swollen, frozen feet. As a result, beautiful lady slipper flowers then grew where her feet had been as a reminder of her bravery.”

As I did a bit more research I learned more about this delightful flowers, including the specific requirements for them to grow that include a particular type of fungus. According to the U.S. Forest Service, “In order to survive and reproduce, pink lady’s slipper interacts with a fungus in the soil from the Rhizoctonia genus. Generally, orchid seeds do not have food supplies inside them like most other kinds of seeds. Pink lady’s slipper seeds require threads of the fungus to break open the seed and attach them to it. The fungus will pass on food and nutrients to the pink lady’s slipper seed. When the lady’s slipper plant is older and producing most of its own nutrients, the fungus will extract nutrients from the orchid roots. This mutually beneficial relationship between the orchid and the fungus is known as “symbiosis” and is typical of almost all orchid species.”

In a recent posting about Bleeding Hearts, I commented that I really liked heart-shaped flowers. At that time I was referring to the stylized shape that we associate with love. In the case of these Lady’s Slippers, I have always found that they look like actual human hearts, at least as I have seen them in movies that included open-heart surgery. Wow!

Depending on your angle of view, I also find that Pink Lady’s Slippers look like angels. I have tried to show you what I mean in the second photo, in which I have focused on a single flower. Do you see the hovering angel?

The final photo is one that I snapped with my iPhone. It gives you a sense of the habitat in which I found these beautiful little flowers. I feel blessed to have found them again this year and hope to see them again in future springs. According to the U.S. Forest Service article cited above, Pink’s Lady Slippers can live to be twenty years old or more.

Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady's Slipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was dogsitting for some friends this past weekend, so I did not have a chance to go out into the wild with my camera. So I decided to try to capture some images of Apollo, my weekend companion. Apollo was adopted from a shelter and is still a bit anxious and a little hyper, so I decided that it would be less disruptive for me to come into his environment than for him to come into mine.

In the first image, I captured one of the rare moments when Apollo, who I believe is some variety of collie, was relaxing. Most of the time he was really alert, as you can see in the second image. His favorite spot was in front of a sliding glass door that allowed him to keep a close eye on activity in the back yard. When we went outside, he seemed to think that it was one of his responsibilities to chase away any birds that dared to perch on the ground.

Over the course of our time together, Apollo warmed up more and more, though he does not appear to be a snuggling kind of dog. On Sunday morning, though, he curled up on one end of the sofa as I participated in a virtual church service while seated at the opposite end. I really like dogs and my time with Apollo was a welcome change to my pandemic routine—a different kind of encounter with wildlife.

Apollo

Apollo

Apollo

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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It has been several months since I last saw a dragonfly and I will have to wait for a couple more months before they reappear in my area. As many of you know, dragonflies are one of my favorite subjects to photograph—there is something almost magical about these beautiful aerial acrobats.

As I was shoveling snow after a recent storm, I glanced over at the front yard of my townhouse and was struck by the beautiful patina of the dragonflies that are part of a lawn sprinkler.

The metal dragonflies reminded me of the beauty that is to come, of the new life that will burst forth when spring arrives. Those thoughts filled me with hope and happiness and help to sustain me through the often bleak days of the winter.

dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been several years since we had a substantial snowfall in our area. Last winter we had a total accumulation of 5.4 inches (14 cm) of snow and the year before that we had a total of only 0.6 inches (15 mm). This storm started as rain at night and then turned into a steady snowfall of wet snow throughout the morning and early afternoon. One of my neighbors measured the total amount of snow we received at 10 inches (25 cm).

Not surprisingly, schools were closed for the day as were the federal and local governments—the road crews in this area are simply not equipped to removed this large a quantity of snow. Eventually people emerged from their cozy homes to dig themselves out. I live in densely-packed a townhouse community and one of our biggest challenges when it snows is finding a place to pile the snow.

About half of the cars in the neighborhood are now cleared and the roads have been plowed—the first photo shows my little KIA Soul with its blanket of snow that I have removed. However, temperatures overnight dipped to 19 degrees (minus 7 degrees C) and the roads are an icy mess this morning. Schools have another snow day and recovery will continue.

Unlike in some areas, we were fortunate not to lose power. However, the weight of the heavy snow caused numerous tree branches to fall—several large branches from pine trees fell into my back yard, but did not cause any damage. Additional, a large pine tree toppled over behind my townhouse as shown in the final photo. Luckily it fell away from the houses and managed not to hit any fences or cars, though it is now blocking a sidewalk.

I think I am going to stay put most of today and not venture out on the icy roads with my car. The temperatures are forecast to rise to the freezing point around noon and I may try to venture out with my camera and see if any of the neighborhood wildlife creatures are active. I’m be careful, though, because I am very conscious of the fact that the winter snow can be dangerous as well as being beautiful.

snow

snow

snow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, but it definitely will not happen here in Northern Virginia where I live. High temperatures today are forecast to reach 67 degrees (19 degrees C), which is quite a bit warmer than normal for this time of the year, and we are much more likely to see rain than snow this day.

In order to put folks into more of a traditional Christmas spirit (at least those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere), I thought I would post a few snowy images from my visit in late November to Mount Rainier National Park in the state of Washington.

Merry Christmas to all of you who are celebrating today and best wishes to all for a happy and healthy new year.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Friday I visited the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, an amazing spot located eight miles (13 km) east of Olympia, Washington. The wildlife refuge is home to the Nisqually River Delta, which has the unique status as Washington’s largest relatively undisturbed estuary. The confluence of the freshwater Nisqually River and the saltwater south Puget Sound has created a variety of unique environments, each rich in nutrients and natural resources for the local wildlife. The delta provides habitats for more than 300 different species of fish and wildlife, according to Wikipedia.

One of the coolest features of the refuge is the mile-long (1.6 km) Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk that extends into the mudflats and marshes. I was able to observe all kinds of waterfowl from the boardwalk, although the water level was so low that most of them were too far away to photograph. I focused most of my photographic efforts on trying to get wide angle shots with my iPhone, including the panorama shot that I included as a final photo.

The brochure for the wildlife refuge included a quotation by Victor B. Scheffer, scholar and author, that really struck me. “Any meeting of a river and a sea is a place of change…It will be proof of our ability to survive…if we learn to respect wild places like the Nisqually Delta, to trust them for their naturalness, and to love them for their power to move us.”

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I experienced so much natural beauty in the mountains, the water, and the forest during my recent visit to the state of Washington, that it is hard to imagine that anything manmade could compete with it. However, the Deception Pass Bridge in Oak Harbor is so striking that its scenic beauty is undeniable—my first glimpse of it literally caused me to stop in my tracks and marvel at it with eyes wide open.

The first photo shows the Deception Pass span, but there is actually a smaller span over Canoe Pass that you cross first when coming from the north, as you can see in the second image. In between the two spans is a small island known as Pass Island.

The bridge was completed in 1935, according to Wikipedia. The Canoe Pass arch spans 511 ft (156 m) and the Deception Pass arch spans 976 ft (297 m). Overall the roadway is approximately 180 feet (55 m) above the water, depending on the tide.

Deception Pass Bridge

Deception Pass Bridge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As part of a day trip earlier this week, I drove through part of the Quinault Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula of the state of Washington. It was amazing to see so many large fir trees surrounded by green ferns, moss, and other vegetation—everything was so green.

I was thrilled when I spotted a large waterfall amidst all of this lush greenery. I could not see the actual source of the water, but it was flowing quite strongly.

It was a real contrast to the mountain waterfalls that I had seen the previous day on Mt. Rainier. The mountain waterfall scene seemed full of sharp edges and contrast, while the rain forest waterfall scene was soft and a bit dream-like.

rain forest waterfall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I probably should have looked at the weather forecast yesterday before I set off on a drive to the Olympic Peninsula. I wanted to see some of the beaches on the Pacific Ocean Coast and drive through the Olympic National Forest.

It was raining when I started driving and it rained the entire day. I probably should have checked road distances too, because my little day trip turned out to be a surprising 448 miles (721 km) in length.

That being said, it was a beautiful drive on roads through spectacular forests of fir trees, through quaint small towns, and occasionally alongside the ocean or one of several large lakes.

I did manage to walk along for a short time along one of the beaches that was accessible from a parking area. I bundled up in my rain parka and braved the elements, sometimes trying to hold onto an umbrella, and took these shots with my iPhone.

The ocean was wild and wonderful in its rugged beauty and I did my best to capture a sense of the location. The first and second shots show my view as I looked down the beach in one direction and then in the other.

The rocks in the water really captured my attention and I spent most of my time trying to capture their interactions with the crashing waves.

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I grew up in the suburbs, so farm animals still seem “exotic” to me and are fun to photograph. During my visit to Washington state, I have enjoyed observing the five chickens and one duck that my son Josh and his wife keep in a pen in their large back yard.

It was especially fun to watch them yesterday when the birds were free to explore the entire fenced yard while Josh cleaned their pen. I was initially concerned that the dogs would chase after the chickens, but they seemed fine together, though we did keep an eye on them to make sure there were no problems.

poultry

poultry

duck

chicken

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Several nights this week I have been experiencing a three dog night. No, I have not been having flashbacks to the 1960’s rock band, but have been sharing my bed with the three dogs of my son Josh and his wife Lexy—Astro, Pippin, and Katie.

I have also included some other shots of the three dogs. They are full of energy and personality and love to follow us around and curl up with us when we are seated on the couch.

three dogs

three dogs

three dogs

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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