Friday, December 28, 2012

Not Quite Sunrise

I had a vague idea that I would get up this morning and head over to Hammonasset State Park for a sunrise walk with the dogs. The new camera is so much more sensitive to different kinds of light that I really wanted to see what the results would be.

However, I utterly failed to get out of bed anywhere near sunrise, so I had to settle for taking the dogs there late morning, after their 6 month checkups at the vet.

I also met up with Jeremy for part of the walk, and we went out the "nature trail" all the way to where it ends, overlooking a marsh plain.

Here's Comet in front of those same rocks.

Afterwards, I went over to the Supply Ponds because the dogs needed a good rinse, and there's no fresh, clear water for them to dunk themselves in at Hammonasset.

Monday, December 24, 2012

After the Frost

Just over two months ago, I snapped a picture of these woods from this very spot, and I ruminated on Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" because the woods were so yellow then.

Now, after the first frost, I returned with the dogs, for a little Christmas Eve celebratory hike while Andy was working.

But it wasn't all landscapes and ruminations. We were out in the woods for quite a while, so I had plenty of time to keep working on my skills with my new camera. I got a lot better at using the autofocus on a charging dog, and I did some experimenting with shutter speed and  some auto-exposure settings to try to get bright, golden glow on the running dogs.

I used center-weighted exposure values and a center-biased autofocus, so I had to center the moving dog in frame each time. However, the new camera picks up a lot more light (a full frame sensor) and a lot more data (higher resolution sensor), so the options for cropping are more varied.

It can be difficult to catch a dark gold dog when the light isn't shining from behind the photographer. You tend to get underexposed, dark regions without detail on the dog himself, while the surrounding the landscape is properly exposed.

I've been working on using that less-than-ideal light to give the dogs a fringe of gold while keeping the dog himself properly exposed and letting the background get washed out a bit. I got a couple of good ones.

I have no shame about posing dogs for a photo, but this time, Comet posed himself. He ran up ahead, jumped up on that rock, and stood like a proud lion while I fiddled with camera settings.

The new camera also lets you use an iPhone as a remote. it shows you what the camera sees right on the iPhone screen and lets you trigger the shutter and even change a couple of settings. So I set up a teeny tripod on a rock and posed us. You can actually see the phone in my left hand as I trigger the shutter.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Crisper Autumn Photo

After several years of having it on the what-if section of my budget spreadsheet, I finally went out and bought myself a new camera. I had originally intended to take one big step up in terms of features, but I ended up deciding on a camera that's a whole quantum leap from my hand-me-down Canon XTi.

I got a Canon 6D, which is a brand-spanking new model with some really interesting features, most notably a full-frame sensor. What that means in practice is a lot more sensitivity in different light conditions and a lot more flexibility in shooting.

It also takes much crisper photos at much higher resolutions, so that even heavily cropped images like this one stay pretty sharp looking.

I didn't just buy a new camera body. Because it's a full frame camera, it won't take my old 18-55mm lens. So I got an EF 24-105mm lens, which is a huge step up in the quality of glass from the old 18-55.

I'm still getting the hang of the new features. Some of the old features are stumping me because they've been relocated. The new layout of buttons and settings is definitely superior to the old, but I don't know where everything is yet. I'm particularly struggling with what's different about action shooting. I haven't quite mastered using autofocus on a moving target.

Nonetheless, the flexibility is extraordinary in terms of what you can do with troublesome lighting. I deliberately backlit the dogs with the sunset here, and I think I ended up with a nice dramatic shot with really cool colors.

I even tried my hand at creating an HDR (high dynamic range) shot. You take a series of shots very quickly across a range of exposure levels. Then, the computer (I used Photoshop) puts them together, using the higher exposure information for the darker areas and the lower exposure information for the brighter areas.

This shot isn't really a wonderful job of it, partly because it's not meant for moving subjects (since panting dogs move slightly from shot to shot, no matter how fast your shutter is), and partly because I have no idea what I'm doing.

The dogs are infinitely patient about posing for me, which I truly appreciate, since I feel like I'm imposing on human hiking buddies when I stop so often to set up shots and mess with camera settings, so I look forward to getting the hang of the new hardware with my two favorite models.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lush, All Grown Up

This weekend I went up to the dog shows at the Eastern States Exposition. There's a huge set of conformation shows and also a ton of agility and obedience competition. I went up partly to enjoy the dog shows and to take some notes on agility, but I also went up because Jill's Lush was doing so well in conformation.

I was already making a "brag" ad for Lush to run in the Golden Retriever News since she got her Championship and her Grand Championship at a very young age, so it was nice to see her shown in person.

Jill and I also went to our old standby, West Thompson, for a hike after the shows. I didn't get any particularly good pictures of the six dogs (Finn, Tally, Copley, Lush, Comet, and Jax) while we were hiking, but I did get a nice one of my boys because I got to the trailhead ahead of Jill and had a moment to take a couple of pictures of two dogs who really, really didn't want to wait to start the hike.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bluff Head

Today, Jeremy and I continued our exploration of Guilford Land Trust land by heading up to Bluff Head. I realized that I'd actually been up here more than a dog's age ago with my old friend Jill, but I wasn't sure until we reached the part of the path that goes along the edge of the cliffs.

Comet and Jax were a bit too eager about roughhousing close to the edge while Jeremy and I were taking a break, so they had to practice down stays a little ways back.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Before the Frost

When you read the words of Frost's poem, you think at first that he's taking a bit more poetic license than he really is. Some woods really do turn yellow during some weeks of some years. By calling the woods yellow, he's calling us to a more specific place and a more specific time than you might think at first.

There was a moment in which the roads diverged, and Frost, pulling a Frost, grabs it with "yellow." I might have written a whole paragraph about the way your feet disturb leaves and the prickly dusty smell of it in that particular part of fall when it's mild and dry. Frost just says "a yellow wood" and makes you imagine it yourself again each year.

But the wood's only yellow here and there where the soil's right and the trees are young. Some places it's evergreen with white pine, and the needles cover the forest floor. And other places there are meadows turning sere with brightly colored reds and oranges at their borders.

What Frost doesn't say is that the roads diverge again and again, some in the yellow woods, some where the milkweed has burst and thrown its seeds in the wind, and some where the dogs kick up the decaying leaves and pick the muddier path for you.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Stealthy Cervids and Gymnast Canids

Since we both had Columbus Day off, I went over with Jeremy to the Jared Eliot Preserve in Guilford. Before we had even gotten down the gravel track to the parking area, we saw three deer. One was cooperative enough to wait while I reached back for my camera bag, got out my camera, changed lenses, opened the window, and took a series of pictures.

I think she was only this cooperative because she was relatively certain that we didn't see her through the brush. Clearly she doesn't know about manual focus.

I didn't actually take any pictures at the preserve itself because the dogs were so muddy, but I stopped at the local dog-friendly park afterwards. There were no other dogs there to play with, so I amused myself by throwing a tennis ball high in the air and then trying to get the camera up in time to snap a few shots of the dogs making catches.

The lighting wasn't consistently bright enough for fast shutter speeds, so I only got a couple of good action shots.

I did, however, get the great shot below. Comet misjudged the ball slightly and tried to recover in midair. To his credit, despite the fact that he landed on his back, my next shot shows him holding the ball.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

On the Sound, But No Fury

It might be September, but there's still a healthy chunk of summer left. Ever since my attempt to go around Falkner Island was cut short, I've been wanting to go back out and actually go around the island at my own pace.

So today, despite a steady breeze and some significant chop, I went out and circled the island. I even tried to check in on Facebook, but despite the fact that I had adequate reception on my phone, Facebook didn't have Falkner as a place I could check in, and it wouldn't let me add it. Oh well.

The terns have mostly moved on. I only saw one, and he was no longer in breeding plumage. Aside from a handful of cormorants, the island was totally quiet.

A little ways away from the island, though, it's not so quiet. These actually go, "bing, bong, bing bong" incessantly, just like in movies. They're also a whole lot larger than you might think.

I know that it's probably not that amazing to anybody else, but I still admire whoever thought up an external clapper powered by the movement of the ocean.

Friday, August 17, 2012

4802, Round Three

We've tried to make hiking Moosilauke a tradition, but we haven't been able to make it every single year. The last time we went was back in 2009, but we've been running and hiking a ton more this year, so it was only natural for us to get our butts up the mountain this year.

The weather was a bit iffy, so we blasted up and down the mountain in 3 1/2 hours in order to beat the afternoon thunderstorms.

As we've gotten more fit, we've been able to keep up with the dogs better. A year ago, we'd have taken a lot longer than 3 1/2 hours for a 7+ mile hike with almost 2500 feet of ascent and descent. This isn't the first time this summer we've defeated the Golden Retrievers, and it won't be the last.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Black Cap Round Two

We actually made it up Black Cap twice this week. My sister wanted to hike it with her family, and it's definitely a kid-friendly hike despite its fairly step ascent of about 600 feet in about 1.1 miles. We spent a little longer at the top this time, since the clear day made for some great photos.

Comet and Jax had a great time looking for mud and other fun stuff to sniff while we sat and enjoyed the view.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Killing Time with a Killer View

We've been up Black Cap before. It has a great view for an easy hike, plus the added bonus of having a trailhead at the top of a windy road that's super fun to drive in my MINI.

We added a few days to our vacation by renting a teeny cottage for a couple of days before our lakehouse rental started. We decided to leave early and then killed some time by hiking before checkin at the little cottage. Jax and Comet were more than happy to be rewarded with a big hike after such a long drive.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I've ruminated before on my mixed feelings about zoos. Though that was over four years ago, I still have the same mix of interest and moral confusion when I go to one. Today, I took our niece and nephew to the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, and we really had a lovely time, despite being caught in a cloudburst at one point.

They have visiting tortoises on loan for the summer.

My telephoto lens got a big sploosh of a raindrop right on the filter just after this picture, and I wasn't equipped to dry it properly, so this was the last good shot of the day. This Sandhill Crane was in a small enclosure in between the River Otters and some alligators. He doesn't seem unhappy, and as I've mentioned before, I think zoos probably do a lot more good than harm because of their role in conservation and education, but it's still sad to see a majestic bird behind chain-link.

It's also not too hard to see the dinosaur ancestors when you take a really close look at a large avian. In fact, for whatever reason, I see a lot more dinosaur in the crane than I do in the tortoise.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Homework Helper

In an apparent attempt not to be outdone by Comet's watchfulness yesterday, Jax decided to help our niece Cally get her reading done by taking a nap all pressed up against her. Considering the fact that she read for about twenty minutes straight without any prompting from me, I think he did a pretty good job.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Standing Guard

As our nephew Kiefer takes his nap, Comet has alternately lain in front of the couch and stood at attention like this. I'm not quite sure what's going through his head at moments like these, but it's not too big a stretch to anthropomorphize that he's somehow intentionally standing guard over the little one. I've learned not to underestimate how much he understands.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Footstep Lore

Sometimes I think about moving to other places in the country. Connecticut isn't the only place where teachers are valued and great food rubs shoulders with great art and great countryside, and a new state or a new country would be a great adventure.

But I've invested over a decade in learning the little ins and outs of its trails and galleries, and I know at least three places to get the best curry you've ever had. I also know there's probably another 95% of Connecticut I haven't even begun to learn about. So the idea of picking up roots and putting them down again somewhere else to start over isn't intimidating so much in the threat of newness as it is in the thought of leaving behind so much accumulated lore and so many footsteps in so many lovely, hidden little places within places.

I know where this brook flows, and I know the cool breeze that drifts up it. I know the dusty smell of New England summer that dry pine needles make when the light warms them and the smell of living stinking rot when a dog's paw turns the old layered leaves at the water's edge. I know good friends and good dogs and the trail to take with them when the sun shines. It's a wealth whose currency is time, so I think I'll wander the nearby trails for a while yet.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Circumnavigating Manhattan

Manhattan might not, at first blush, seem like an obvious place to go sea kayaking, but about nine years ago, my friend Charlie and I circumnavigated the island as part of a guided trip.

He invited me out to try it again this year, so I got in my car at 5AM this morning and drove down to Liberty State Park in NJ. There's something to be said for an adventure that starts with a sunrise in your rearview.
The trip ended up being about 34 statute miles (~30 NM). We crossed Upper Bay just south of the Statue of Liberty, and then went up the east side of the island on the East River. By using the tides, you can then head up the Harlem River while it's still reversing and then cross above the north end of the island to the Hudson as the tides start to flow out again. The timing is precise, but if you get it right, the current does some of the work of paddling the 34 miles.

I didn't think my phone's battery would hold up for 10 hours of running a GPS tracker, so I had to reconstruct the route afterwards.

Below is the view from south of Liberty Island, right at the trip's outset. You can see the new tower at One World Trade Center being built on the right.
It's a whole other city from the water. Familiar buildings take on a new character. While the angle from the water does change your relationship with the architecture, part of the difference is that you're still in a huge city, but your separation from it is a world away from the crowded loneliness of the sidewalk.

Even buildings less famous than the UN headquarters take on a new character.

Sights like this are oddly beautiful, though smokestacks and rotting trains are sort of a sad testament to what we leave behind when we're not using it anymore.

Charlie told me the history of High Bridge as we came up on it. It was finished in 1848 as part of an aqueduct system, and that aqueduct is largely credited with helping the city expand its population by providing clean, consistent access to water.

The masonry arches to the right are what remains of the original bridge, since some of the masonry arches were demolished and replaced by a single, longer steel arch in 1928. The result is a hybrid of two eras of engineering.

Not long after we rounded the top of the island and popped out on the Hudson River, we approached the George Washington Bridge, which I had driven over about seven hours earlier on my way down to Liberty State Park.

When you use the bridge in your car, you get very little sense of its engineering. When you use the lower level, you're essentially in a tunnel with open sides, and even when you use the upper level, there's no real spot that provides a vantage of the bridge itself. When you go under the bridge, however, you get a whole new look at it.

This is a neat photo, but it really gives you absolutely no idea of the scale of the bridge. It almost looks like a toy until you realize that the little red building at the bottom of the bridge is a lighthouse, not a fire hydrant.

Further down the Hudson is another major New York landmark, the Riverside Church. Like the others, the perspective you get when you stand on the street and look is worlds away from what you see when you're sitting in a little boat on the water.

A little ways after the church, the onshore breeze picked up into a steady wind. Between the current downstream and the breeze upstream, the chop got pretty bad, so I had to put the good camera away. We also had to dodge a full-sized Norwegian cruise ship and all the other water traffic you find at the bottom of the Hudson. We had to cross from the Manhattan side to the New Jersey side around Chelsea, and in the shelter of a pier, I was able to get my last good shot of the day, of the group with the skyline in the background. That tower at One World Trade Center is going to be one big building when it's done.

The trip took close to ten hours total, and I was only out of my boat a total of three times during the whole endeavor. So when we finally got back to Liberty State Park around 6PM, I was really ready to stretch my legs and drive back to Connecticut.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What a Thousand Terns Sound Like

Falkner Island is about four miles off the shore of Guilford. I had heard there was a big nesting colony of Roseate Terns there. Since I'm having such a hard time differentiating between Roseate, Common, and Forster's while they're all in summer breeding plumage, I thought it would be neat to go look at Tern central station so I could get a sense of direct comparisons between different species.

While four miles of open water is a bit of an intimidating stretch to take on solo, I threw caution into the onshore breeze and headed straight for it. A little less than an hour later, I came up on Falkner and its lighthouse. For the last mile of the approach, Terns were constantly headed out over my head and back with fish in their beaks, presumably fishing to feed their fledglings.

As I got closer and closer, I started to hear a strange roar. The water was choppy and there was a strong wind, so I couldn't make out what it was at first, but as I drew close, I realized it was the sound of an unbelievable number of terns all calling at once.

There are thousands of terns on that island, presumably from at least two, maybe three species, all taking off, landing, calling, chiding, swerving, and bothering each other in close quarters. The sound is amazingly loud and utterly unique.

I was planning on circling the island, rather than landing, and then heading back, since I've heard that you're supposed to avoid making landfall in order to protect the terns' nesting area. However, just as I pulled level with the eastern shore and snapped these shots, I heard a rumble of thunder. I had been watching the radar maps on my phone periodically, but while the big storm fifty miles southwest of me wasn't moving much, a new one began to form a few miles north of the Guilford shore. I had already cut it far to close, so I turned around and paddled an exhausting four mile sprint back to shore. I started seeing lightning strikes several miles north just before I got out of the water, which meant I had miscalculated and was well outside the realm of safety and good judgment, but I did get off the water well before any storm clouds actually came over.