Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sunrise / Sunset

This past weekend Mrs. Muse and I joined our friends and bandmates for several performances at the "Spring Fling", held at the Pioneer Settlement in Barberville, Florida. Barberville is a tiny town at the crossroads of US routes 40 and 17, about 20 miles west of Ormond Beach. The Pioneer Settlement is organized around the old Barberville School that graduated its last high school seniors in 1940, and operated

as an elementary school until the 1960s. We had an enjoyable weekend playing and listening to Florida Folk Music and renewing old friendships -- though lugging our instruments around in the 85 degree heat became a chore after awhile. In the spirit of the Pioneer Settlement, the stages at this event were totally acoustic. No electronic sound reinforcement other than the occasional battery-powered bass guitar amplifier. This is my favorite way to perform for small audiences of 20 to 100 people.

Most of the members of the Ashley Gang spent the weekend on the banks of the St. Johns River at Parramore's Fish Camp, near Astor Florida. Friday night found me down at the river shooting the sunset (looks almost African, doesn't it?) and Saturday morning found me up before the sun to catch the first light of day on the water -- complimented by a light mist on the surface as the nighttime coolness started to give way to the morning sun. Just another near-perfect Florida spring weekend...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Taking Wing

Happy Earth Day 2008!

One of the benefits of living in the deep south of the United States is the relatively early arrival of Spring. After a mild winter our lawns are green and our perennial gardens are already full of blossoms. Last Memorial Day weekend, we put in our first butterfly garden, using native nectar source flowers (several varieties of Lantana, varied colored pentas, and blue Porter Weed to name a few). Over the course of the last three weeks the lantana have really come into bloom -- bright yellows, oranges, reds and violets.

The butterflies took notice this weekend for the first time this spring. The first to arrive was the Gulf Fritillary (bottom photo), then the Spicebush Swallowtail (top photo). The fritillaries are very patient models, and seem to be quite comfortable around the local humans. The swallowtails on the other hand are all about motion and evasion -- very difficult to shoot one of these without seeing significant motion blur in their wings. Even the one shown here has a slight blur at a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second.

So here's my Earth Day suggestion. If each of us would simply take care of the little bits of land around us -- our yards, our porches, our condominium balconies, our urban alleyways -- we'd have quite a big impact on the state of our planet. Be resourceful, be environmentally-friendly, be generous, be part of the planet. Go pick up that piece of trash that's just sitting there. Plant a garden if you have the space. Plant a tree if you can. Put a flower box on you balcony. Give someone the gift of a tomato or pepper plant to grow on their stoop. Just look around you -- the beauty in life that you seek may well be just outside your door -- wherever that happens to be.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Nature Made Art

Louise was pleased that April had finally arrived and that Spring was full-speed ahead in north Florida. So pleased in fact, that she rushed back to the old house to make her best attempt to draw Arthur away from television (it was the Dodgers against the Braves, you see), and force him across the 300 feet of their backyard to the bluff. She loved the wild daisies that grew there on the top of that 30 foot high incline, dipping at something greater than a 45 degree angle into the currently high-tide, shore- hugging water of the St. Johns river. She particularly enjoyed the way the blossoms would move upon their spindly stems to stare face-first into the sun from sunrise in the east, to sunset in the west, backs turned to the old grove house while paying homage to the river and to the fading light.
Arthur's beloved Braves were up four to one late in the game, and so he agreed, with some reluctance, to leave the boys of summer behind for the flowers of spring. Arm-in-arm the two of them glided slowly across the yard to the edge of the bluff, and , each leaning on opposite ends of the bench put there by their grandchildren, admired their wildflower garden on the bluff.
"Look at those daisies, would ya, art? Happiest flowers ever made. Nature's artwork I'll say." Louise remarks.
"Wonder if that ol' gator'll be back this year." Arthur replies, "Sure keeps the neighborhood dogs under control".

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Riverwalk Reflections

Compulsion. It's not too strong a word in this case. Some days I simply feel compelled to shoot something. Anything. You never can tell what you might end up with when the simple, basic urge to create something strikes. 
So... it was a Friday evening after a long Monday to Friday grind and we decided to go somewhere that we usually might not for the sunset, and we ended up on Jacksonville's Southbank Riverwalk. The sun coming in from the west on the way down to the horizon, or MacClenny or Tallahassee or someplace. Too much sun, really. These days I prefer a little less light and a little more opportunity to open up the aperture or lengthen the exposure -- find the movement in the moment using a static medium.
Then we looked up. Then to the right. Then to the left, across to the north bank where there was live jazz drifting across from the landing. That big bright, sinking sun was reflecting off of the buildings, reflecting the buildings within the buildings, bouncing off of the river into a twentieth storey window on the southbank and sending it at the speed of light back across the river into the glass face of a tower over there. Even fully open at a thousandth of a second there was art to be found... A condominium tower reflected in the green glass of the Prudential Building...

Riverwalk Reflection I

The railroad bridge and the Acosta Bridge on-ramp reflected in the window of the Maritime Museum...
Riverwalk Reflection II

The Saint Johns River -- unquestionably the heart and soul of my creativity -- reflecting back the city that has grown up on its lowers banks...

Riverwalk Reflection III

I am drawn to this river, and the history and the living legacy it represents. Lured by its color and textures. Its exuberant energy dancing on a windy day. Its calm placid stillness on a spring dawn. Maybe something primal in  the attraction -- they say we are all drawn in one way or another to the water from which we, perhaps, arose. It certainly feels like home to me. Like something alive. Something worth protecting. A relationship that I cannot change or direct. Call it compulsion.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Award Winner at Two Weeks!

My thanks to Hootin' Anni, purveyor of the Over-50 Blogroll for awarding me the first Over-50 Outstanding Blog Award! I am humbled and honored, and mostly just surprised! So forgive me if I boast a little -- can't help it... proud to be over 50, proud to still be creating things that interest others, proud to part of the Bloggers Over-50 Blogroll...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Earth Week

Sunset On The St. Johns River, Riverdale, Florida

As we come up on another annual Earth Day it seems to me that many of us in the affluent first-world are starting to "get it". Maybe it was Al Gore and his "Inconvenient Truth". Maybe the price of fuel -- now over $3.30 for a gallon of regular gas here in north Florida. Maybe the fact that most of us are beginning to feel the impacts of climate change personally. Probably a combination of these and much more. Whatever the cause, it is clear that Green is "in". Good for us, as far as that goes. The problem is that far too few of us are really getting it. Just look around you at the trash along the highways (remember the weeping native-American commercial?), the plastic bottles and aluminum can dropped on the ground within arms reach of a trash container. I see our lack of awareness every time I go to the St. Johns River (several times weekly) in the detritus washed up on the banks. I see it in the over-sized SUVs that contain one driver and zero passengers on my daily commute. I see it in the effort of the counties of central Florida (read Orlando and environs) to suck hundreds of millions of gallons of water from the St. Johns every day to support the drinking and irrigation needs of the hideous and seemingly insatiable population growth of the area. These are just a few of the reasons that I volunteer for and financially support the St. Johns Riverkeeper organization. I want to be able to continue to photograph sunsets on a clean, healthy river. I want to continue to photograph Little Blue Herons like the one below in a sustainable urban riverine ecosystem.

Fisher at Dawn
Little Blue Heron, Fishing in a creek off of the St. Johns River on a foggy morning.

So, yes, we are becoming more aware, incrementally, slowly, some of us -- better than none of us, but not yet enough of us.

This Saturday, April 19th, I'll be joining other Riverkeeper volunteers at Alpine Groves Park in Switzerland (St. Johns County) Florida for the dual Earth Day celebration and William Bartram Birthday Bash. If you happen to be in the area that day, stop by, say hello, bring a camera if you have one, and bring an open mind. The future of my river -- the future of our planet depends on all of us becoming informed, caring stewards of the environment in which we, and our hiers must exist.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Old Hippies Never Die

Their tie dye just fades away. Then they buy new tie dye and move down here to Florida where they appear at the assortment of folk music festivals around the state. Some perform, some come to sit and listen. Many come to renew old friendships. I have to include myself among their number, proudly spending last weekend as both performer and listener at the Will McLean Festival outside of Dunnellon, on the banks of the Withlacoochee river.

Florida has a folk scene that is unique in it's depth and commitment. Commitment to preservation of the history, heritage and environment of our state. Florida folk artists create art that is about Florida. Florida places, Florida history, Florida people. It's an inspiration-rich environment And no, it's not simply a gang of old hippie-types and retired frustrated musician wannabees. We are doctors and lawyers, accountants and bricklayers, carpenters and roofers, professional musicians and kindergarten teachers, rednecks and researchers, crackers and cowboys. Natives ad refugees from Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, California and all points in-between. One thing we are not, however, is particularly diverse, ethnically. I'd like to see that evolve. The skin-tones of those involved is nearly exclusively white, and various shades of Florida tan. That said, this is a liberal and accepting group. Bring on a little Florida-inspired folk-rap / hip-folk and we'll be on the way...  So here's to the music makers, the painters, the weavers of palm-frond hats, the whip-crackers and the story-tellers. Keeping Florida traditions alive, one gathering at a time.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Weekend on the Withlacoochie

The Withlacoochee is one of the typical small Florida rivers (as if typical is ever an adequate term for any Florida river), that is part flow, part swamp, part tropical wildlife refuge, and part recreational retreat for residents and visitors. We spent yesterday along her banks about 5 miles west of the town of Dunnelllon at the Will McLean Music Festival, where, as previously reported here, my band was part of the lineup. While it was a day fill with music and the renewal of old and not-so-old friendships, I probably spent more time at the riverbank than around the festival stages. It was close enough that the sounds of the main stage drifted over on the strong breezes of the day, but not so close as to be drowned out by the music and the crowds. So it would seem appropriate that my first photo posted from the weekend is this mother osprey returning to her nest to feed the chick nestled inside (I only observed a single chick, thought there may have been more). The nest sits atop a man made roost support about twenty yards off-shore, constructed by driving a tall piling with a platform on top into the riverbed. Mom and Pop Osprey take care of the rest. The cloud cover along with the low eastern mid-morning light put the subject of this shot into partial silhouette and gives it an overall yellow cast -- but it is still one of my favorite shots from the weekend. More images and discussion of both the people and the wildlife from the weekend to come. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Music and More

Mrs. Muse and I will be in Dunnellon, Florida this weekend for the annual Will McLean Music Festival. This event, held this year on the banks for the Withlacoochie River, is named after Will McLean, Florida's "Black Hat Troubadour" who, before his death traveled the state preserving and promoting the Florida cultural and environmental heritage in song. The festival features Florida artists, performing songs and telling stories about our State. Our band, The Ashley Gang, will be on stage at 12:30 Saturday -- just in time to aid the digestion of the lunch-hour crowd.

The Florida folk music festival scene is amazingly diverse, colorful, stimulating and educational. Aging hippies, young hippies, well seasoned business people, yuppies, artisans and musicians of all sorts provide something for everyone with an interest in Florida history, it's people, culture and environment. WillFest is the first of the season, soon followed by the Spring Festival at the Barberville Pioneer Settlement in two weeks, the Gamble Rogers Music Festival in St. Augustine in Early May, and then the nation's longest running festival, the Florida Folk Festival at White Springs over Memorial Day weekend.

So this weekend will find us in Dunnellon with both guitar and camera in hand, hoping that the promised thunderstorms hold off just long enough. I'll try to post a few photos of the event on Sunday evening.


Today we are reminded that it is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Those of us in my generation will remember the day well. At 15 years of age I heard the news on a car radio on the return trip home from working on the stage crew of a local dance company in Westchester County, New York, where I grew up. Days like this, when we hear the old familiar voices on radio and TV bring those days back to mind like they had never left. They remind us of how far we have come, socially at least, as a nation -- and then how far we have yet to evolve. Remember today that while we in America are technically "free", that there are millions among us who are still captives of poverty, ignorance, prejudice, and systematic discrimination. Not everyone will have the opportunity to make it to the Mountain Top. It is my fervent hope that the time will come in the country when everyone truly is judged by the content of their character rather than the genetic heritage over which they (we) can never fully have control. I think that starts with each of us individually demonstrating the strength of character to accept individuals are they came into this world, without adding the weight of pre-judgement to their (our) struggle to succeed.

Have a peaceful weekend....

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Simple Gifts

I have learned (or am at least learning) the value of "the basics". Those natural elements around my life that can inspire, awe, or literally take my breath away. A widlflower, vivid in the spring coolness on a bluff above the St. Johns river. The amazing sweet smell of the blossoms that are just now falling from the branches of our navel orange tree. A quiet walk in the woods along the banks of the Brandywine after a long day of working away from home. A melody or a lyric that moves me, more and more these days found in the classical works of Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach and Mahler.

Yesterday was Wednesday, and Wednesday evenings we generally spend at home. Too tired after work to hit the road and needing to rest up for whatever Thursday brings. This week we decided on a change of pace and headed to the County Dock off of Mandarin Point on the St. Johns, just before sunset. With camera at hand, we were given the simple gift of this:

  • More is not always better
  • There is poetry in the sound of the river's flow
  • You can find great learning by observing in stillness.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

In The Beginning

Each journey begins with the first step. Walking on the moon. Walking off a cliff. Stretching out one's cognitive and scribing skills at my age by starting a blog...

My age? Fifty-five as of last week. About 30 years more advanced chronologically than most bloggers whose work I read regularly. But, that's what this is all about: proving (to no one but myself, really) that life, creativity, exploration and adventure all go on, and potentially get even better, at this point in one's life. So for this first brief foray into the blogosphere, a wee bit about me.

My name is Paul. I am married (to the same amazing woman for 32 years now), and we have 2 daughters and two grandsons. I work in the health care field, primarily in the area of human research ethics and regulation though I also engage in medical ethics work, and have been an administrator. I hold a Master of Science degree in health science administration. So that's "work" -- and while gratifying, fulfilling, enjoyable, valuable to society, and intellectually stimulating -- is not my "passion". My passions are art, primarily in the two forms that I personally create; music and photography, and conservation of the natural environment - principally Florida's natural heritage.

I end this first post with a small taste of my combined love of nature and photography. With no commitment to post regularly (time is still a precious comodity), but a promise to get to it when I can. Thanks for stopping by.