Saturday, September 25, 2010

Far Away Something White Flashed Across the Deep, Dark Woods

Far Away Something White Flashed Across the Deep, Dark Woods
Went for a late afternoon walk around Stricker's Pond. A blustery wind was blowing in a cold front, and there was a sunset so lurid you wondered if Krakatoa had erupted again. Once the sun dropped below the trees, twilight fell quickly. Darkness approached, broken only by this magical flash of white.

Friday, September 24, 2010

That's not a dust speck. It's a hot air balloon.

That's Not a Dust Spot, It's a Balloon
Sometimes you're concentrating so much on the ostensible subject matter of a photo that you miss other elements altogether. Sometimes what you miss is a streetlight sprouting from the top of someone's head. Sometimes it's more interesting. I was going back through thumbnails of photos I took a few days ago, when it seemed to me that was a strange-looking dust spot at the top of the frame. Closer inspection showed it wasn't a dust spot at all, but a hot air balloon instead. I was so focused on the heron that I completely missed it when I snapped the shutter. Another reason it doesn't hurt to look back at old images with a fresh eye now and then.

Calling the bluff of candidates claiming business experience proves they know how to create jobs

One of the strangest things about this weird and depressing campaign season has been the way Republican candidates are presenting their business credentials as proof they know how to create jobs.

In California, Barbara Boxer is being challenged by Carly Fiorina, whose tenure as CEO of HP was a disaster -- both for workers whose jobs were outsourced, and for the company itself. Here in Wisconsin, Russ Feingold is in a tight race to retain his Senate seat against businessman Ron Johnson, and Johnson currently has a lead in some polls -- though not if weighted for likely voters. It's a story line that's being repeated all over the country.

American business has been cutting back, retrenching, outsourcing its way to profitability for years now, and the American middle class has been paying the price. Now voters are being asked to see the people who were part of the problem as part of the solution. Voters are smarter than that.

But to get their votes Democrats need to stop taking them for granted. They need to step up to the plate and be more aggressive. This Barbara Boxer spot is a good start. Russ, are you watching?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stuck In Traffic Pondering Madison's Use of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Dollars

Stuck In Traffic Pondering Madison's Use of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Dollars
In a moment of inattention while running errands this afternoon, I absent-mindedly let myself be funneled into the flow of traffic heading west on University Ave., which has been torn up for construction all summer. Supposedly, it will be finished sometime next month. Until then traffic conditions vary from backed-up to gridlock. I had plenty of time to ponder the signage documenting the use of the federal stimulus dollars, which -- as you can see -- funded more than half of this infrastructure project, which the sign notes, "is being done sooner and with LESS reliance on Local Property Taxes."

University Avenue certainly needed the work, local construction workers needed the work, and it's nice local property taxpayers caught a bit of a break. But the project is also a highly visible reminder of how public works spending has changed since the Great Depression. Back then, University Ave. would have been crawling with men with picks and shovels and wheelbarrows. A lot of infrastructure that, though in disrepair, still serves us today was practically built by hand as part of the public works programs of the Thirties. Today, even when we're trying to create jobs, people are just too expensive to put to work that way -- most of the work is done by machines, with humans either operating them or playing a supporting role. The jobs are more skilled and much better paid, but there are fewer of them. One man with a Bobcat replaces many men with shovels and wheelbarrows, and the big Cats practically replace a small army of workers.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I fell on my butt in the mud and all I have to show for it is this stupid picture of four birds

Four Herons in a Tree
When I have a camera in my hand, nothing will keep me from getting the shot, but it doesn't always turn out.

What happened was that we were walking around Stricker's Pond, that wonderful watering hole for migrating waterfowl on Madison's far west side, and I saw the Great Egret perched on a tree limb on the far side. I had photographed it the other day and wanted to try again, but I only had my point-and-shoot, and the bird was just a little white speck in the distance, almost as if I had imagined it.

As we walked around the pond I saw it was still there and idly fantasized sneaking up on it through the dense woods between the path and the pond. At the closest point to the bird, the path came within about 30 yards of the bird. If only there were a way through, but I didn't know of any other path.

Then suddenly something that looked like a path turned into the woods toward the pond. T and M were up ahead, and without a word I veered off -- I figured I'd just walk up to the edge of the pond, get as close as I could with my inadequate camera and then hurry back. But the path soon disappeared.

Determined, I pushed on, picking my way as quietly as I could through the underbrush. I got near the water's edge, and I could see the heron. There was a lot of foliage between it and me, but maybe if I crept a little closer I could get it. Then all too noisily in the stillness, a twig snapped underfoot, the heron took flight and was gone -- a succession of blurry white specks against the sky in the series of shots I clicked off. Nothing. Nada.

Then I saw the four herons on the tree limbs in front of me. There was no way to frame them without foliage being in the way, and they were still too far away. But what the heck -- I had come this far. It was like a consolation prize. I clicked off some frames and hoped one would be reasonably sharp.

Then I hurried to catch up with my party. The trouble was, the path was now more nonexistent than ever. I looked around and picked what seemed to be the best way through the underbrush. A fallen tree limb blocked the way, I raised my left leg to climb over it, rested my weight on it for an instant -- and it broke under me. I fell on my butt in thick, black marshy mud, and my momentum carried me onto my back so I lay there with my feet pointed straight up. I lay there silently. wiggling my toes at the sky and assessing the damage (there was none, just a sore wrist that got better in a day -- mud is forgiving that way). At the moment that I was making like a silent, upended turtle, T and M were retracing their steps back along the main path just a few feet away, wondering how I had vanished into thin air.

I picked myself up and looked at the dense underbrush. I had no idea how I had made my way in here. For a moment I felt really disoriented, experiencing just a small shiver of what someone really lost in the woods must feel. Then common sense returned and I pushed through the thicket toward the path a few feet away. As I reached the path my phone rang, and the three of us were soon reunited.

Not much of an adventure, and I feel kind of silly. And all I have to show for it is this stupid picture of four birds in a tree that would be practically invisible if I didn't highlight them. That's the way it goes some days.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Instant nostalgia: It's not even over yet, and already summer is turning into just a memory

It's Not Even Over Yet, and Summer Is Already Turning Into a Memory
Summer isn't even over until Wednesday, but already summer is taking on the nostalgic hues of memory -- especially with the unseasonably autumnal weather we've been having. The swan boats have returned from their summer quarters in Vilas Park and returned to their winter home at Wingra Boats in Wingra Park. Soon they'll go into hibernation until spring. Until then, all they can do is store up the memories of summer on Lake Wingra.

It's Not Even Over Yet, and Summer Is Already Turning Into a MemoryHow quickly it all goes away. Since Labor Day, Wingra Boats has only been open weekends, and only through the end of this month. After that, all these colorful boats go into storage. The wooden piers will come down, with only scattered posts left in the water. All too soon, they'll stick out of the ice as mute reminders of what once was. Ice fishers and -- if ice conditions are right -- ice boaters will take over the lake. But meanwhile, Wingra Boats really knows how to see summer out with a flourish. On Friday, Sept. 24, they'll have an end-of-season potluck, followed by the last Moonlight Paddle from 7:30-9:00. (Details at the link.)