Jan 022017
 

A spring pool along the Santa Fe River in north-central Florida holds the blue of sky and the green of water plants.

In Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia, it is another in a string of gray days of intermittent rain, drizzle, and fog.  My sunroom (not quite an apt name) is flooded again; it was built on the original concrete slab patio of the house, and has considerable issues with drainage.  I find solace in knowing that our drought of many months may indeed be at an end.

Meanwhile, on screen, I find a delight in returning to this blog, like meeting up with a long-lost friend and picking up where I had left off.  I have photos a-plenty to bide my time these next couple of months, until I leave for Australia.  On less foreboding days, I hope to make a few ventures into the woods.  I still walk Piney Woods Church Road, though now once again it is nearly always with dogs in tow.  Since two years ago, my days have been eroded, my precious moments lost to additional teaching responsibilities (not necessarily unpleasant, but frequent and insistent).  This year, I will strive to reclaim them; I have embarked on an eight-week course of mindfulness meditation, I have two daily readers for pondering (more about them in a future post), and of course there is the time I will devote (apt word, that) to daily entries here.

Meanwhile, I share with you this photograph from along the Santa Fe River, near Fort White, Florida, from early December, 2016.  A side-channel of the river led to this spring-fed pool, where aquatic plants flourished.  The blend of blues and greens brought longed-for color to the grays and browns of the winter woods.

Jan 012017
 

A green anole greets me on a walk near Fort White, Florida, mid-December, 2016.

With this post, I at long last resume Commonplace Nature.  There is a delightful symmetry to this event.  After my last entry exactly two years ago, my wife and I traveled south, to Florida, and ultimately to the Keys.  While staying in Everglades City, a town perched on the northwestern edge of the glades, I received a call from a former Montessori colleague from my earliest days in Georgia, asking if I might be willing to jump back into teaching after years away, taking over a class of half a dozen 4th graders after their former teacher’s abrupt departure.  I dove into the heart of the whirlwind:  somehow, despite a heavy teaching load at multiple universities, I balanced that with working in the classroom every day — and even starting down the road to Elementary 2 teacher certification.  Then, a year later (and again on vacation in Florida — I start to see a pattern here), I sat in an unfinished wooden gazebo beside a dying 1980s shopping mall, and had my final interview for a full-time teaching position at Ashford University.  Again my life abruptly changed; I transitioned as gracefully as a I could from the elementary classroom into a full-time job as course lead for an introductory environmental science general education course.  Two months in, I discovered that the class was on the docket for revision, almost immediately.  I shepherded it through, did myriad other teaching tasks, and returned again with my wife to the Florida Keys, two Decembers later.  This time, thankfully, nobody called me.

Throughout all this time, my thoughts have rarely left this blog.  What I thought would be a sabbatical from photography and writing has become, instead, two full years.  I have grown rusty with my Olympus 4/3 camera, though I have gone so far as to purchase Lightroom and I have plans this year to begin capturing raw images.  Meanwhile, I discovered the charming simplicity of my iPhone camera (a blessing, one of many, of my new life at Ashford University).  I have added a Ztylus Revolver, a device which makes the iPhone look like a conventional camera, adding a circular polarizer, fisheye lens, and macro lens.  Equipped with this, I have taken and uploaded various photos on Facebook, but never to the blog.  I wasn’t ready yet.

Now, at last, I am.  My dream of another yearlong project, though, is still on hold.  Escaping every day for new photos simply is not possible now, though I have every intention of posting something every day (though not the 19th of March; see below).  I have quite a few iPhone photos to share from my last year, and that will probably occupy most of January and February.  Many of the images are from the Atlanta Botanical Gardens; for a time, my wife volunteered there, and I would serve as driver, savoring the morning hours to roam with my iPhone camera in hand, finding inspiration among the foliage.  In-between, I hope to take an occasional outing to a local park to enjoy the bare bones of winter.  And then, in March, I set off for Australia — my first time there in 25 years.  I will spend about 6 weeks Down Under, partly in Tasmania, partly roaming the Outback and the coast south of Sydney.  And this blog will accompany my journey, celebrating the not-quite-so commonplace (for me, at least).  I hope that you, dear reader, will join me, too.  My journey takes me, for the first time in decades, across the International Date Line; I leave Atlanta on March 18th, and arrive in Sydney (and from there, fly to Hobart) on March 20th.  The 19th of March will not exist for me, so I apologize in advance for not posting on that day.  I return Stateside on the first of May.

Come summer, who knows?  I had plans to spend a year documenting Cochran Mill Park near my home, perhaps taking a few hikes every month (though probably not every day).  I might get that started at last.  But for now, a few weeks looking backward to begin the New Year…..

Dec 182014
 

As winter nears, many of the remaining leaves on the trees and shrubs along Piney Woods Church take on an increasingly weather-beaten appearance.  I am intrigued by the ones that carry so many scars — marks where they were chomped on, methodically chewed, shredded, and otherwise diminished.  The leaves that remain carry a rich array of stories inscribed in their uneven, discolored edges.

 

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Dec 152014
 

I was feeling a bit down and disconnected as I took my afternoon journey down Piney Woods Church Road.  My mood seeped nto this image and its title, I think.  There is a touch of melancholy to this image of a half-eaten pecan nut (left behind by a gray squirrel, no doubt), resting on a fencepost at the edge of a roadside horse pasture.  An old mule barn provides a blurry blue-gray geometric form in the background.

 

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Dec 032014
 

For the past few days, every time I have walked down Piney Woods Church Road, I have encountered orb spiders dutifully tending their webs.  I never see the same web or spider twice — each time, I discover a different one somewhere along the roadside.  All of them, though, are clearly the same spider species:  Larinia directa.  Today, for the first time, I was able to photograph a spider in her web from both sides, top and bottom.  It is an accomplishment about which I am quite proud, though mostly it was the luck of finding a spider whose web allowed fairly easy approach from both directions — from the roadside and from the roadside slope, looking back toward the road bed.

 

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Dec 032014
 

For all the insects and spiders I see on my walks, not to mention cows and horses, animals rarely appear in my photographs.  Bird close-ups require either incredible good luck or great patience, coupled with high-quality lenses with long focal lengths and large price tags.  For all that I am fond of herps — frogs and toads, turtles, snakes, lizards — I don’t think a single one has appeared in nearly a year’s worth of images.  Even the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), probably the most commonly-seen mammal along the road, has only made one appearance here.  On this mild December afternoon, though, I encountered a squirrel hard at work rooting around in the leaves just beyond the horse pasture fence.  Usually, by the time I see a squirrel it is beating a hasty retreat across the grass and up a tree.  This time, though, I managed somehow to remain unnoticed while the squirrel spent several minutes poking around in the grass, occasionally uttering a low clucking sound.  I got as near as I could, fearful that I would be betrayed by a thick layer of crisp and crunchy leaves.  Finally, the squirrel followed a scent (or maybe just an inclination) up into a drainage pipe across the road, whose entrance was practically under my feet.  Before he (or she) disappeared, I took quite a few photos despite having only a mid-focal-length lens; these two are my favorites.

 

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Dec 012014
 

It was a balmy day along Piney Woods Church Road, with temperatures nudging into the upper 60s.  I searched for the same spider I had seen yesterday, but found another one — much larger than the first — instead.  This lovely orbweaver rested calmly at the center of her (most likely a she) web, not even fazed when I brought my camera lens close.  This is her underside; efforts to photograph her top side were largely foiled by the locations of nearby loblolly pines.  I saw lots of other small insects darting about, so clearly a food source was readily available.  Still, I was surprised to see spiders active after our hard frost of a week or so ago, when nighttime temperatures plunged into the lower 20s.

I have since learned that this spider is Larinia directa, a species common to the lower South. It is not mentioned in my guide to Spiders of the Carolinas, suggesting that it is not common there.  I am not surprised by this, given that the spider is still active so late in the autumn.

 

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Nov 302014
 

I find leaves endlessly captivating this time of year along Piney Woods Church Road.  And endlessly available, too.  So their images keep turning up here on this blog. It hasn’t rained in quite a few days, so water droplets are out of the question.  And insects and other invertebrates have largely gone into hiding these past several weeks.  I was surprised to find a lone orb spider a couple of centimeters across on its web this afternoon, but it scurried away before I could capture a good photograph.  Still, as a bit of diversion from all the leaves, I add it to my post as well, converted to black and white with a dark blue filter.

 

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Nov 262014
 

I paused on my walk down Piney Woods Church Road late this afternoon to notice a silken cocoon that was attached to the side of a greenbrier stem.  I photographed it in the waning light, trusting that identification would be relatively easy back home.  After thumbing through various field guides and looking at many photographs online, I finally found a tentative match:  the six-spot Burnet moth, Zygaena filipendulae.  Alas, this moth is found in Britain and continental Europe, not in North America.  Its closest Georgia relative is the Grapeleaf Skeletonizer (Harrisina americana), a common crop pest and certainly a possibility.  However, this caterpillar evidently spins a cocoon among the fallen leaves at the base of its host plants, rather than along a stem.  I could not locate any photographs of its cocoon, so I still think it is a possibility.  I suppose I will have to wait until spring and see what emerges.

 

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Nov 212014
 

Along the side of Piney Woods Church Road earlier today, near the intersection with Hutcheson Ferry, I came upon this deer head.  Enough antler was left to identify the species, and several teeth remained, as well.   Not much skin, and a notable absence of a body.  I might speculate as to how it arrived there to greet a passing traveler, but I honestly do not know.

 

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