Seasons

A bird house in winter (Portland, ME)
Even though snow is deep in some parts of the country, the groundhog says that spring is just around the corner. A bird house in winter (Portland, ME) photo by author

Seasons, A WordPress Daily Post Participation

Seasons come and go. This applies to all animals, not just the ones that have two legs and dwell in houses.

Seasons

Two Offbeat American Holidays…..Back To Back

A Super Bowl stadium collaged with two images depicting Groundhog Day
A Super Bowl stadium collaged with two images depicting Groundhog Day

Winter

Winter is 13 weeks long….and depending where you live – this can be a short 13 weeks or a very long thirteen weeks. Also part of the equation is whether you enjoy outdoor winter sports……or not. For an avid skier, a warm winter with no snow can make for a very long winter and an economically bad season, as well, especially…. if he or she happens to be employed with the ski industry. However, for the most of the rest of us, it is a long ways from the winter solstice to the spring equinox. Perhaps, this explains why there are so many joyous holiday within this time period. Without Christmas, New Years Day, Valentines Day and St. Patrick’s Day, this quarter of the year would be a whole lot, less bearable.

Midwinter

Strangely enough,  two of our most offbeat holidays occur right at the midwinter mark. In fact, this year they fall on consecutive days. If you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Super Bowl Sunday and Groundhogs Day, which just happen to respectively occur on the first and second day of February. The combination of the two just might maks for a great way to revel in the fact that winter is half over.

Bad Year For the NFL

A recent news story about the jurors in the Aaron Hernandez trial illustrates just how low the NFL has fallen during the current season. Judy Garsh, judge for the Hernandez trial, has ruled that the jurors can watch the Super Bowl, only if the name of Aaron Hernandez is not mentioned. And, if one of the newscasters has a slip of the tongue, then the unlucky viewers will  have to turn the game off. Now that’s bizarre. Combine this situation with all the sex abuse allegations and the recent deflate-gate controversy surrounding the Patriots victory over the Colts and it becomes quite clear that the NFL commissioners (and many fans as well) with have very good reason to celebrate Groundhogs Day on Monday. Yeah!!!! the season’s finally over.

A Cult Movie Accents an Offbeat Holiday

Look through the comedy section of any movie DVD store (or online site) and you will see hundreds of listings with catchy titles that fail to deliver. Strangely enough, one of the perennial favorites is Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. When first released in 19992, the movie was well received and got favorable reviews. Since then the film has grown in stature, so that nowadays, the popular fantasy fare is consistently listed as one of the top ten comedies and sometimes even included as one of the ten best films ever. So if you have yet to see this film, you might want to give it a viewing. And if one of the announcers slips up and mentions Aaron Hernandez’s name, you can show solidarity with the 18 jurors and turn off the sports contest and put on the groundhog movie.

Stolen Stories

illustration by Henry Kane of North country canoeist
illustration by Henry Kane of North country canoeist

Before the Internet

Before the internet came rolling around way back when, books were an important way of discovering strange worlds that were unknown to us in our day-to-day routines, which most of us lead. And as you go further back in time, before the TV network news, movies and the color photographs, you might find that the written word had an added importance in telling people about the strange worlds that existed across the seven seas and into the interior of some of the most isolated spots on the planet. Our world would have been a whole lot poorer, if it wasn’t for the likes of such writers as Jonathon Swift, Jules Vernes, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Shelley or William Shakespeare.

Cache Lake Country

For me, one of the most vivid books of my youth was Cache Lake Country, which was written by John J. Rowlands and illustrated by Henry B. Kane. I grew up in central Maryland where the winters were not so severe and not all too long. So to read about two men who spent an entire year in the North Woods of Ontario, Canada was spell-bounding to say the least. The most fascinating part of their tale was their life on snowshoes, which lasted approximately from December till April. The fact that no photographs are part of this book, only adds to the mystique of time and place, even though the manuscript was published in 1947, when cameras were well in fashion.

Stolen Stories

When I wrote Le Loup de Garou (see previous post), I borrowed from two parts of the Cache Lake book. One part of the short story is influenced by the account of a real-life lumberjack, who gets turned around on one of the coldest nights of the winter and spends most of the night outdoors attempting to gain his bearings. Finally, he comes across a lighted cabin, but not before developing a minor case of frostbite. And then there is the title, which comes from a French-Canadian legend in regards to a wolf-man type of creature that haunts the North Woods at night. So there it is in a nutshell, on how to be influenced by real life experiences, even though they might only appear in book form.

Cache lake woodlore as illustrated by Henry Kane
Cache lake woodlore as illustrated by Henry Kane

First Snow Hits Santa Fe

First Snow In Santa Fe
These sculptures on Canyon Road in Santa Fe receive a small dusting from the snow that fell last Saturday night, photo by author

Warm Autumn

The unusually warm autumn temperatures that we have been experiencing in the nation’s highest state capitol abruptly came to an end last weekend, when temperatures took a big plunge and little white flakes of frozen precipitation came floating down from the sky. The snow soon melted, but early birds, who were up and about on Sunday were witnesses to a visual treat – a dusting of snow.

light snow in Santa Fe
Light snow and cold temperatures make for bas relief images all across town, photo by author

Bas Relief

The cold crisp mountain air combined with early morning lighting conditions created ideal conditions for creating photographic images that looked with bas relief prints. Here, dry powdery snow on top of a blacktop parking lot created these striking results.

Graphic design in the snow
A dusting of snow had an intriguing effect to these words that were applied to the road surface with white paint, photo by author

Wintertime Graphic Design

The snowfall created strange visual effects to letters and words painted to the asphalt road surfaces.

abstract art in the snow
This manhole cover takes on a whole new appearance after the overnight snow fall, photo by author

Abstract Art In the Snow

Many of the NY abstract painters of the post war (WWII) era, enjoyed working in black and white and shades of gray that fell in between. This snowfall gave me a chance to make an image that resembled an early Pousette-Dart painting.

Sculpture on Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico
This cool cat is one of the many sculptures that can be found along Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico

On Canyon Road

Santa Fe is one of those scenic western towns that has seen an explosion of art galleries within its city limits and much of this displayed art can be found on the trendy Canyon Road.. Canyon Road is a long winding narrow lane that is filled numerous art galleries and studio spaces. The outdoor sculpture made for an interesting artistic element amidst the freshly fallen snow.

Snow On Spanish Moss

Snow on Spanish Moss
Snow on Spanish Moss

Here’s a rare sight, snow-draped Spanish moss hanging from a live oak tree. This picture was taken in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, which can be found in the northeastern portion of the Palmetto State. Snow in this neck of the woods is not common but does occur from time to time. The snowstorm that rolled in late last night continued well into the daytime hours, depositing almost eight inches in the process.  This winter is turning out to particularly snowy one, a situation that was enjoyed by all the kids in town.

The snow storm kept everybody at home today (snowplows do exist but their use is reserved for keeping the main highways clear. Most town residents stay home and wait for the white stuff to melt, as the city has no money or vehicles to clear the roads. The kids seemed to particularly enjoy the reprieve for readin, writin and rithmetic as they got to slide down the few hills. One of the best hills is right outside the house where I am staying . It has been busy all day with youngsters who sometimes have to use their imagination to find something smooth enough to transport them down the hill.

The birds don’t particularly like the snow, but they come to the collection of bird feeders that I set out to feed them. Quite a few different species come to munch on the suet and seeds that get left out outdoors. Juncos are abundant as are the white-crowned sparrows. Chickadees, nuthatches and an occasional towhee can also be seen. There are also a couple of pairs of cardinals that can be seen. One of the males is pictured in the next picture.

Cardinal in Winter
Cardinal in Winter

Tonight the snow has changed to freezing rain, so who knows what tomorrow may bring. If the ice is thick enough, the kids just might another day off from school. And since the daytime temperatures are forecast to be only in the 30’s, the ice and snow might remain in place for a few days. No problem for me as the long as the electricity stays on, for I can stay at home and write.

Hope this winter finds all readers doing well.

Best of luck.

South Carolina Snowman
South Carolina Snowman

Groundhog’s Day In Maine (today the green grass is visible everywhere)

the groundhog
Closeup Groundhog (Marmota monax) by Eiffelle courtesy Wikipedia

Today in Maine the sun came out and shown brightly for the whole day, but the temperatures remained just a few degrees below freezing. Just about everywhere the grass is visible, a rarity for this part of the country at any time in February. Two weeks ago we had a good snow cover, but a heavy came and washed most of the white stuff away. Snow can be found only in the piles that the snowplow drivers left behind and on the lee side of buildings, where a few shady spots remain.

However, there must be something to that old folktale, for we are forecast to receive some snow tomorrow evening (not much, but it’s still snow), more possibilities on Saturday (but according to our illustrious weatherman that one is suppose to be a near miss), but the weather service is watching a developing storm for early next week. All proof that the lowly woodchuck knows more than we give him (or her ) credit.

Actually, Groundhog’s Day has grown in popularity, as of late. (I think the movie might have something to do with that), for now the participants in Punxsatwney, PA number near in the tens of thousands. Punsatawney Phil is the name of the rodent in Pennsylvania, but he is not alone for groundhogs all across America and Canada have decided to join Phil.

There is quite a list and here are some of the more interesting names. They include Sir Walter Wally from Raleigh, NC, French Creek Freddie from French Creek, WV, General Beauregard Lee from Snellville, GA, Staten Island Chuck from Staten Island, NY, Octoraro Orphie from Quarryville, PA and Spanish Joe from Spanish, Ontario, just to name a few. So far none of the female half of the population has been bestowed with such an honor, but I’m sure that day is coming soon.

Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania
Punxsatawney Phil on Groundhog's Day 2005, photo by Aaron Silver coutesy of Wikipedia Commons

One interesting note is that this day follows at the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox, a date that was important to both the Christian and pagan cultures of Northern Europe.

For the Christmas the day is called Candlemas, a feast day that is connected to the Purification of the Virgin and the end of the epiphany season.

To the pagans the halfway point marks Imbolc, and it is celebrated with bonfires.

So happy Groundhog’s Day everyone and if you haven’t got anything better to do you can rent the movie. It’s a classic.

Winter In The Soul, A Cool Appraisal of Scandinavian Crime Fiction

Charles River
looking towards towards Cambridge, winter on the Charles River

“It is a world of bleak twilights and tortured souls. A world of cold dawns and dour sleuths. A world of frozen lakes and repressed detectives.”        Julia Keller of the Chicago Tribune.

So writes Julia Keller in a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, as she shares some thoughts  on the rise of the popular genre, most obvious by the rapid success of  Stieg Larsson’s trilogy and subsequent movie deals both in Europe and America.

There is an interesting blog located right here on wordpress that is solely devoted to the subject of Scandinavian Crime Fiction. This would include any writer from the nations of Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. There are as many as a dozen names, few of which would ring a bell with American readers or the American public. You can go to this blog and find out who is publishing what and where. Also you will find some interesting  comments and insights on why this part of the world has become the hotbed of the genre, because the perceived image of Scandinavia is that this is a place where a crime fiction writer would fine little inspiration because the murder rate s so low. But just like crossing a frozen lake on a cold winter’s day, there may be more trouble ahead than one realizes for there may be a current underneath the ice or a spring creating a thin spot; and if you fall through the ice in the middle of February in Northern Sweden you chances of survival are grim.

winter light
snow and shadows

But just as northern Minnesota was a great setting for a murder mystery in the film Fargo, so has Scandinavia merged to provide the setting for quite a few murder mysteries.  Although not really known as a crime fiction writer, Peter Hoeg may have set the scene for the emergence of this popular genre with his murder mystery Smyla’s Sense of Snow. He may have also opened the door to the reality the life in Scandinavia may be overrated a bit, for there are real conflicts between industrialization and the search for a comfortable life, a point that is very well underscored at least in the film.

So on these long January nights, while your curled up on the sofa next to the warm glow of a wood fire in the fireplace, you might want to pick on of the many offerings that are now being translated into English. But don’t forget that this part of the world has a summer time also and one with very long days and short nights; so short that in some places the sun only sets for a few hours each night during late June, when the summer solstice occurs.

As a subtle reminder of the summer warmth here is a picture of a fence that borders a park in Copenhagen, Denmark. The fence has been painting with all kinds of colorful and joyous animals. Of particular note is that the park is located just across the street from Christiana, an unique part of the city that was taken over and homesteaded by hippies in the 1970’s.

So long forom the snow-covered rocky coat of Maine,

Truly,

Everett Autumn

forest graffitti
animal graffitti in Copenhagen, Denmark

Winter Lights

Christmas lights, Portland, Maine
downtown Christmas lights in Portland, Maine

The solstice has now passed and the days are getting longer, but the thermometer is dropping, as the New Year quickly approaches.

What better time to walk around in the freezing cold and photograph some of the seasonal creations that are on display in this northern city, where hours of actual daylight dips below ten hours.

Perhaps this explains why some of the older cultures resorted to building large bonfires to light up the winter night sky.

Nowadays, in the modern era we have the electricity to do the chore for us.

Here in Portland the popular thing to do is to decorate the tress or buildings with balls of lights. It really does look quite splendid in the long winter sky, but I have noticed that the lighting displays have become increasing thinner as the nation struggles throught he darkness of lean economic times.

Tree with lights
tree with lights in Deering Park in Portland Maine

Here is another picture taken from the city park with a hint of afterglow in the night sky. This concept of hanging lights on trees is quite unique to my eyes and quite wonderful as well.

And finally one more picture of some lights on a tree along with the moon in the night sky which is close to full.

Such is the wonder of the new digital technology, which allows me to go out and take the night picture with a hand held Kodak digital camera, come home and slide the SD card into the slot on my computer and post this picture just hours after it was taken. Best wishes and a Happy New Year, Everett Autumn

Christmas-lights-and-moon
Christmas lights covering a tree accented by the moon

Christmas Music 2009: Gordon Matthew Sumner vs. Robert Allen Zimmerman

Winter landscape
Winter landscape - credit; ImagesFromBulgaria.com

Have you wondered what kind of weirdo would go out and actually pay good money for Christmas music by over the hill “Rock and Roll Stars”. I never have, for all I had to do, was look in the mirror to get the answer to such a ridiculous question like that.

This year I have made two yuletide purchases of seasonal music and I thought I would share my results with you. The recording artists involved might surprise you, for they are our own homegrown, Bob Dylan, who hails from that marvelous winter wonderland Mecca, called Minnesota; and on the other hand is a man, who calls himself, Sting and is originally from Newcastle, an English city located just south of the Scottish Borderlands and the English-Scottish border. The two recordings are called, “Christmas from the Heart” (by Dylan) and “If On a Winter’s Night” (by Sting).

First, a few words about Mr. Dylan and his first Christmas offering, “Christmas from the Heart”, which can be purchased in two versions. One is the straight CD, and the second version includes four Christmas Cards, for which you have to pay an extra ten dollars. Here is the album cover for “from the Heart”, which kind of looks like an old Christmas card.

Heart_dylan_lp
album cover for Christmas For the Heart

My guess is that  if you purchase the CD that includes the X-mas cards, this is the image that you will receive. Enough for the visuals, but what about the music. When asked by Bill Flanagan of the Street News Service, why he recorded an album of traditional Christmas songs in such a straightforward manner, Bob replied, “There wasn’t any other way to play it. These songs are part of my life, just like folk songs. You have to play them straight, too.” And perhaps that is the best intro one can give for the somber collection of Christmas tunes that includes such classics as “Little Drummer Boy”, “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. For a surprisingly, honest rendition of some seasonal classic give this album a try. You’ll like it.

And now on to Sting, who has released his own eclectic recording of music that is more closely tied to theme of winter than that of Christmas. Still many of his songs embrace the Christian theme, as well as the seasonal handle. My favorite song of the album is titled, “Cherry Tree Carol”, a charming medieval tale of how Joseph is requested by the Virgin Mary to gather cherries for the oncoming winter.

Overall Stings musical effort warms your heart, as easily as a mid-January fire burning in a brick-hearth fireplace. Sting, who describes winter as his favorite of the four seasons, says this about the winter season. “Winter is the season of ghosts and ghosts, if they can be said to reside anywhere, reside here in the season of frosts and in these long hours of darkness.”

album cover from "If on a Winter's Night".

So, hopefully your bills are all paid, your woodshed is full of firewood, so you can light up a flame in the fireplace and enjoy the warmth of crackling timbers during the cold of a winter’s night. That’s the atmosphere you will find, when you play this music.

First Snowfall

December snow Shadows
Shadows from a December snowfall

Our first snowfall arrived Saturday night and when I awoke on Sunday morning Mother Nature had left us with several inches of the white stuff. It pretty much covered everything and since the sun came out bright and shiny on the day after, I ventured out with my little compact digital camera to see what I could do with the shadows. Here are the results.

Photographing freshly-fallen snow on a sunny day can be a daunting task, if you don’t take some time to access the overall conditions and study the lighting when can be quite intense in contrast. Often it is better to make pictures in the early morning light or late afternoon, when the sun is not so intense.

For an interesting picture it is nifty idea to study the shadows and let the long black lines that go zigzagging across the white surface be the main compositional element of your picture.

Walking around your local neighborhood or even your backyard can be a lot of fun, even after a small snowfall. Here is what i shot on our first snow event of the year, which left us with a few inches here in Portland, Maine. All in all it was a relaxing diversion from my writing.

December Snow Shadow
First Snowfall Leaves Portland Area Covered In White
December snow Shadow
Shadows in the snow