Friday, November 07, 2008

Sandhill Cranes study Lake Wingra as twilight falls

Born to be one with the sky, these magnificent creatures walk with graceful, hesitant awkwardness when they are earthbound. I felt lucky to see them on Madison's lake Wingra recently. I had walked down to Wingra Park to shoot some photos of the sun setting on the lake. Standing on the pier at the boat landing, I looked west and saw two specks I thought might be cranes standing in the water a few hundred yards away.

Sandhills2-smClassic photographer's dilemma -- I only had a point and shoot with a very short zoom with me. Try to go closer with the camera I had, or hurry home to get the DSLR with the telephoto but risk having them fly away? I opted for the bird(s) in hand and hurried off through the woods along the shore. When I got closer, I shot what I could, but the pictures were just pathetic reminders of what I missed by not having a longer lens. I raced home, got the telephoto, and raced back -- but they were gone. Or so it seemed. Just as I was about to turn around, these two beauties walked out from the brush along the shore, where they had apparently taken refuge from a passing boat. I started clicking away. At one point, while its mate groomed itself, the other crane turned and seemed to be staring directly at me. Must have heard the shutter. I was afraid they would fly away, but it seemed to conclude I was harmless. Maybe it was used to being photographed.

SandhillsTwilight-smFor a long time they both stood there gazing at the lake as the pink light darkened to violet and night prepared to fall. They might have been meditating or praying. It was a deeply moving moment, a momentary bond with these magnificent creatures whose species has been on this planet far longer than humans -- a living link to the time of the dinosaurs.

They won't be here long. They'll be flying south in a migration that's now 60 million years old. Their migration featured prominently a couple of years ago in Richard Powers' novel The Echo Maker. I loved this passage from his description of the migration:
They converge on the river at winter's end as they have for eons, carpeting the wetlands. In this light, something saurian still clings to them: the oldest flying things on earth, one stutter step away from pterodactyls. As darkness falls for real, it's a beginner's world again, the same evening as that day sixty million years ago when this migration began.
Unlike many other migrating species, Sandhill Cranes find their way not by magnetic fields, not by celestial navigation, but by memorizing landmarks -- a memory so accurate that it guides a pair back to exactly the same nest in the arctic tundra where they hatch their young, year after year, and within months begin teaching them the same route.

Maybe that's what this pair was doing when they stared at the lake so intently: Memorizing every detail, so they can find it again the next time they pass through.

(Click on photos to enlarge in Flickr. Click on All Sizes tab in Flickr to enlarge further.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The day after: It's a long road to a better future, but at least now there's hope

The Road to a Better Future Is Long, but at Least There's Hope
Early November around here is usually brutal for anyone who is affected by the seasons. Late autumn can steal your soul. The days are shorter, Daylight Time is over, and darkness comes like a surprise. And then the weather starts to turn. The earlier golden days are replaced by endless weeks filled with cold winds, joyless clouds and unending darkness. Frequent rains rip the leaves from the trees and rob them of their color. What a background for a presidential election.

Eight years ago, it was a nightmare. The weather started to turn on election day, and for weeks after that the darkness continued unbroken as events unfolded in Florida and Washington. Between the election and the day the Supreme Court ruled for Bush, the sun never came out -- or so it seems now, although I suppose there were days when it did. It was the death of hope. The heavens seemed to mock the very idea of hope. The same dark cycle played out more quickly four years ago. When the country was offered a choice between light and darkness, we once again found ourselves collectively sidetracked into the dark side.

It's different now. This year we had a pleasant autumn that continued, unseasonably warm, right through the election. It's only a matter of time before we catch up to the calendar and the season turns miserable again. But it's different now -- the cold and wet and darkness won't be reinforcing a deeper sense of hopelessness. This isn't 2000. It isn't 2004. It's 2008, Barack and Michelle Obama are headed for the White House, and there's a new sense of hope to warm our souls during the dark days. (And lots of hard work.)

Watching history unfold last night in Chicago's Grant Park -- and around the world

Screen Shot of Jesse Jackson on Election Night in Grant Park
What an extraordinary day, and what an extraordinary night at Grant Park in Chicago. I was listening to John Lewis on NBC, reflecting on four decades of change since Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968, recalling the sacrifices of so many people that helped make this historic election possible. The camera cut to this shot of Jesse Jackson in that amazing Grant Park crowd with tears in his eyes. They kept Jackson on screen so long I had a chance to grab my camera and take a quick photo. I don't know if he was able to hear the words of Lewis, or whether he was simply lost in his own parallel thoughts about the long march from the side of MLK to watching the acceptance speech of President-Elect Obama. An incredible moment.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The right to vote is under attack. It's time to fight back.

The Right to Vote Is Under Attack. It's Time to Fight Back.
We often take our right to vote for granted, but in reality it's as fragile as a flower, as vulnerable as an autumn leaf. A stiff wind can blow it away. A heel can grind it into the dust. A heavy rain can flush it down the drain. Thanks to the so-called anti-fraud measures in the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the votes of all too many poor people, minorities and older voters are being suppressed:
It's happening again. For six years, the Democratic Party has been snoozing through a quiet, brilliantly executed Republican operation to block, stop and purge voters by the millions. As New Mexico voting rights attorney John Boyd put it, "I don't think the Democrats get it. All these new rules and games are turning voting into an obstacle course that could flip the vote to the GOP in half a dozen states."

Karl Rove once said, "We have elections like those run in countries where the guys in charge are, you know, colonels in mirrored glasses." He wasn't complaining; he was boasting. -- Greg Palast,
That's why it's so important to vote today if you haven't already. When enough people turn out, their votes can't all be suppressed. Vote as if your life depends on it. It does.

Monday, November 03, 2008

This was once the West Mifflin St. McDonald's on Madison's Capitol Square

This Was Once a McDonald's
How to overcome the accumulated bad karma of all those burgers? Start out with great design. This is Sucré -- what Madison Magazine calls "a patisserie by day, dessert lounge by night."

Did you set your clock back yesterday?

Did You Set Your Clock Back Yesterday?
If not, you'll be like this light on Sunday afternoon -- early for everything. One of the things I enjoy about the return to Standard Time is checking out streetlights and other lighting fixtures on Sunday afternoon. The ones controlled by light sensors behave normally, but the ones on timers invariably turn on early because nobody comes in on a weekend to reset them.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

2008 Freakfest in black and white

2008 Freakfest in Black and White
We had dinner downtown and then observed the passing parade for a while from behind the snow fences on the periphery near the Square, far from the bright stadium lighting on lower State Street. Nothing but those awful sodium vapor lights with their garish color that nothing can get rid of. Black and white looks a lot better.

2008 Freakfest in Black and WhiteThe weather was unusually warm and pleasant for this time of year, which probably contributed to the relaxed, casual atmosphere, along with a light, professional law enforcement presence -- apparently without the help of the gentleman on the right. There were far fewer arrests than last year. For the third year in a row, fencing off State Street for Freakfest and charging admission seem to have been successful in curbing the unruly behavior and property damage that marked previous Halloween weekend observances on State Street. All in all, a pretty good night. More photos in my Flickr set.