April 2006


In last night’s post about newts, I mentioned seeing hobblebush in bloom at the Horatio Colony Preserve here in Keene. Here’s a close-up of those hobblebush blossoms in case you’re not familiar with the species. Gardeners might recognize it as a variety of viburnum, and anyone in New Hampshire would recognize it as another welcome sign of spring. If hobblebush is blooming, can black flies be far behind?

Quick–can you spot not one but two red-spotted newts in this picture of the leafy muck near the shore of Goose Pond? In case you need some help, here’s a cropped, color-adjusted version of the above photo. Can you see the newts?

Adult red-spotted newts aren’t nearly as eye-catching as their bright red, terrestrial juveniles, known as red efts. Adult newts are aquatic and seldom seen, blending into their preferred habitat of mucky, leaf-littered pond water.

Here’s an even closer look at one of two red-spotted newts I saw sporting in the shallows at Goose Pond earlier this week. For months now, locals here in the Granite State have been following the ongoing story of a group of third- and fourth-graders from Harrisville–a tiny town not far from Keene–who have successfully lobbied the New Hampshire state legislature to make pumpkins the official state fruit. But despite all the pumpkin publicity, I’d guess many New Hampshire citizens have no idea that the red-spotted newt is the state’s official amphibian. Whereas pumpkins are large and easy to spot, adult newts are tiny and difficult to see: the only reason I spotted these two newts was they were swimming like minnows, and I took a closer look (thinking they were tadpoles) after seeing legs extending from their seemingly fishy sides.

You might think me a fruit for rejoicing over newts…but these aquatic creatures are yet another sign of spring in the Granite State. Some vernal sights are showy: there’s no missing, for instance, the hobblebush I saw blooming in the moist woods at the Horatio Colony Preserve this morning. While both flowers and fruit go out of their way, it seems, to be noticed, newts swim silently in dark, shady places. It’s good to know that in the privacy of an incognito existence, olive-green amphibians are right now busying themselves with making orange-red babies, their status as official amphibians secure as long as another crop of adults survives to swim and another batch of juveniles grows to crawl.

Currently infamous for a certain plagiarizing sophomore, Harvard University is typically famous for the prestige and accomplishments of both its graduates and faculty, of which I am neither. You don’t have to be Harvard material, though, to appreciate the leafy plants that put the “ivy” in “Ivy League”: plants that are greening up nicely these days.

Several weekends ago, after having taken a stroll at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, MA, I zipped into Harvard Square to collect a gaggle of teenagers–friends of A’s daughters, none of them as famous/infamous as Kaavya Viswanathan–to chauffeur them back to A’s house. I figure any woman who agrees to host a sleep-over of some half-dozen reuniting teenagers deserves a little transportational help if not a medal and stone plaque in Harvard Yard.

While waiting to meet A and those teenagers over the best iced chocolate in town, I took a late afternoon stroll down the hallowed streets of Harvard Square, admiring the spring scene engendered by recently opened magnolia and crabapple blossoms.

I might not be Harvard material, but even I recognize a lovely sight when I see one.

Reggie atop Beech Hill

On a mild and gloriously sunny April day, the view from the top of Beech Hill is enough to awe even a scatter-brained dog. I don’t know what caught Reggie’s attention yesterday as we took our requisite laundry-day walk up Beech Hill during the half hour or so between Wash and Dry, but whatever it was held his rapt regard for several minutes: eternity in terms of doggy attention spans.

Reggie with bellwort

Unfortunately, Reggie’s contemplative admiration of the April landscape does not extend to an appreciation for botanizing. Yesterday the sunny side of Beech Hill was strewn with early spring flowers, including the first bellwort of the season. Bemused to find Mom kneeling on the ground trying to photograph a plant, Reg ran toward and nearly over said plant, nearly trampling us both in his enthusiasm: “Whatcha looking at, Mom?” Fortunately, Reg didn’t paw or pee on either bellwort or Mom in the process…but the encounter did allow me to snap a lovely macro shot of bellwort backdropped by blurry dog.

Luckily, I got other, better photos of the April wildflowers atop Beech Hill, which I’m saving for a future post. In the meantime, here’s a shot of the scene that held Reggie rapt for an eternity in terms of doggy attention spans. (Click on the image for an enlarged view.)

Panorama overlooking Keene

    Click here to see my lasting posting on Area 603, a single shot of downtown Keene on a clear blue day.

As if it weren’t bad enough that I carry my camera everywhere, I’ve now begun taking my camera with me when I let the dog out for his morning sniff-n-pee.

Understand that when I take Reggie into my unfenced backyard each morning, I’m sporting slippers and a shocking case of bedhead, having thrown a jacket over my pajama top and replaced pajama bottoms with jeans. And yet this morning in such a disheveled state of dishabille, I had enough awake brain cells to realize that the maples were unfurling leaves and blossoms alongside the flowering forsythias, an eminently bloggable moment. Although I might sleep, apparently the urge to blog does not.

I’m sure I was a curious sight to my neighbors as they warmed cars to go to work while I shuffled about in my slippers. The Army used to boast in television ads that they “did more before 9 am than most people do all day,” and I guess I can proclaim something similar, having shot the equivalent of a roll of film before breakfast, all in the comfy confines of my own backyard.

If any of my neighbors keeps a blog, I’m sure pictures of my slippered, bedheaded, half-asleep form will be appearing presently. But when you consider I waited an entire winter to see maple blossoms, can you blame my curious behavior?

Chilly April bridal shoot

The problem with getting married outside in New England in April is you never know what sort of weather surprise Mother Nature will throw at you. After a week of sunny days and summer-like temperatures, Saturday was brisk, cloudy, and threatening rain. Like April brides who wouldn’t be daunted by mere weather, Leslee and I remained faithful to our plan for a Saturday day-trip to Boston where we browsed the galleries on Newbury Street and took a quick, chilly jaunt through the Public Garden. This time of year, the Public Garden is green and tulip-studded, perfect in pictures. But if you’re a bride in a strapless dress on a 40-degree and overcast day, you’re blushing from cold, not modesty.

Leslee’s posted some lovely pictures of a springy Saturday in the park, and here’s a glimpse of the Boston skyline as seen from the greening Garden. Is it any wonder that folks stroll, take pictures, and get married here even on cold and overcast April Saturdays? (Click here for a larger version.)

Public Garden in spring

Goose Pond, Keene, NH

Just in time for spring, there’s an almost-new blog here in New Hampshire. Area 603 takes its name from the single telephone area code that covers the entire Granite State. (To put things in perspective, Massachusetts has nine area codes, several of which are devoted to the Boston metropolitan area alone.) Although New Hampshire might not have enough phone numbers to justify more than one area code, we do have enough resident writers and bloggers to keep a community blog populated with posts. Do click over to check out my first Area 603 post here, and feel free to click back often.

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Golden, which sent me searching through my photo archives for images of last year’s autumn splendor. Last October was so rainy here in Keene, we all but entirely missed out on the most brilliant reds and oranges, instead being treated to an abundance of gold leaves that fell from sodden trees faster than rain-soaked homeowners could rake them.

In parts of Massachusetts that were spared the worst of our October floods, this wealth of fallen gold provided for some pretty pictures…

…but here in Keene, the seemingly ever-constant rain (and an early snow or too) in October made for problematic picture-taking.

Nowadays here in Keene, the residential landscape is made golden by daffodils and forsythia, the flowering of which has precisely corresponded with the emergence of springtime roofers laying new shingles against rainy days to come.

In case you happened to have lost a silver ankh pendant while walking at Goose Pond here in Keene, rest assured that someone found it and placed it atop a budding branch for you find.

Although I myself didn’t find any ankhs underfoot during this morning’s dogwalk, I did find other signs of life. The spring’s first fiddleheads have begun to unfurl, but you have to keep your head down to see them poking through this year’s mud and last year’s leaf litter. Luckily, I’m no longer a literal bird-watcher, preferring instead to leave my binoculars at home while letting my ears, not eyes, do my birding for me. Listening to spring birds singing from invisible perches overhead leaves you with your eyes free to look down, scouring the forest duff for flora rather than fauna. As moving targets, birds are hard to spot: I never saw much less watched the kinglets, phoebes, or woodpeckers that were making their auditory presence known this morning, but I trust my ears they were there. Plants, on the other hand, stand still long enough for you to notice, approach, and take pictures, plant-watching being infinitely easier than bird-watching.

Quite predictably, this morning I spotted the year’s first trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) at Goose Pond, just like last year: now as then, my backyard violets are blooming as are my neighbors’ forsythias, as predictable as clockwork. In these days after Easter, I’m cheered by a resurrection more regular than any presaged by cross or ankh: year after year, plants spring back from winters that threaten to crush even indominable New England spirits.

Now that new leaves are unfolding like pairs of praying hands, it seems that winter is truly over. For two more weeks, we here in New Hampshire will experience muddy days and dogs, chilly nights and mornings, and a blissful interim existence before the black-flies hatch in May. Has spring similarly arrived in your neck of the woods, and if so, have you found it?

Saturday was a perfect day for a stroll at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park…but it wasn’t the outdoor art that inspired me to drive from Keene, NH to Lincoln, MA. Instead, I drove down to the DeCordova to check out the final weekend of James Surls: The Splendora Years, 19771997.

When Leslee emailed me a link to Ana’s review of this exhibit, I’d never even heard of James Surls. But his website (especially the section devoted to wood sculptures) looked intriguing, and I knew that any excuse to visit the DeCordova is a fine excuse, especially on a mild spring day.

For all my shutter-bugging outside the DeCordova, photography is disallowed inside. So I arrived at the Surls exhibit prepared to do what I usually do inside museums where photography is prohibited, which is to try my best to pretend I’m an art student, camping out in front of a work or two with pencil and Moleskine sketchbook for some low-tech image-grabbing. (Click on any of today’s images for a larger version.)

I’ll be the first to admit I love the ease with which I can snap photos with my digicam…but when I can’t rely on the quick-fix of technology, I like drawing pictures the old fashioned way, too. I don’t consider myself much of a photographer, and I’m even less skilled with sketchbook and pencil…but there’s something delightfully low-tech and even playful about going to a Museum and trying to draw the artworks you see.

With a digicam, you can quickly capture any- and everything around you: snap, snap, snap. With sketchbook and pencil, you have to decide which work you want to focus on, and you have to spend a lot of time really looking at it. When I snap photos of sculptures, I appreciate angle, perspective, and form…but when I draw sculptures, I become much more intimately aware of the precise space the shape inhabits as well as subtle nuances of light, color, and texture.

This being said, what I think I noticed most as I stood sketching inside the DeCordova Museum on Saturday was how little time most folks spend simply stopping to look at art. During the 45 minutes or so I took to scribble these three drawings, some half dozen clusters of museum goers strolled into and then out of the gallery were I’d stationed myself…and each group spent less than five minutes total wandering a spacious room filled with odd and intriguing art.

I guess in an era of Fast Food, we crave Fast Art as well. I can understand the impulse driving someone to breeze through an indoor gallery quickly in order to spend more time outside on a sunny Saturday…but the folks in the sculpture park weren’t spending much time stopping, and no one outside was sketching. Perhaps Slow Art is as rare and precious as Slow Food, and maybe all of the proverbial tortoises among us are destined to get run over, sketchbooks in hand, by digicam and cellphone-wielding hares. As for me, I’m not ready to slow down completely…but occasionally, it’s fun to enjoy art the old-fashioned way, with nothing more than paper, wood, and graphite to mediate your experience.

    Yes, it’s true: the Big Man in that final picture is endowed with an erect wooden member that looks suspiciously similar to one of the gnome-like things I’d blogged from Ikea last March. The title of Surls’ sculpture, Big Man Going to the Arms Race, suggests that military bravado is ultimately about body parts other than ARMS.

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