Why we are here:

Our signature Bible passage, the prologue to John's Gospel, tells us that Jesus (the Logos) is God and Creator and that He came in the flesh (sarx) to redeem His fallen, sin-cursed creation—and especially those He chose to believe in Him.

Here in Bios & Logos we have some fun examining small corners of the creation to show how great a Creator Jesus is—and our need for Him as Redeemer. Soli Deo Gloria.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

What happened to November?

November seems to have slipped by without comment. Other projects intervened. But maybe December will be different--but then there is Christmas and other matters...
Meanwhile, the above illustrations are presented without comment--none needed. I think you will see the connection. (Click 'em to enlarge 'em)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Late bloomers and multicolored fruit

(Today's photos appear at the bottom. Scroll down to see them.)

Mid-October isn’t a season of riotous color in the meadow and woodland. It should be, with autumn leaves ablaze. But due to the "unusual" weather the trees are being conservative so far. So we have to be satisfied with a sparkle here and a glint there, mostly in flowers and fruits. The Evening Primrose persists in showing off, while little white unidentifiable (at least by me) asters hang on. But where flowers fail, the fruits of various plants offer some color, some vibrant, others subtle.

Fruits designed to attract birds as their seed dispersal agents are usually colorful, while wind-dispersed seeds tend toward brown. Why should they spend energy producing colorful pigments? Wind is blind. So apples, moonseeds and rose hips do serious organic chemistry, while Japanese Knotweed, Milkweed and Joe-Pye-weed just stick with brown or white. They pour their energy into making wings, parachutes and other paraphernalia that catch the wind and carry their babies (seeds) far and wide.

If you want to enter into a whole new world, that of botanical terminology (not recommended for the faint of heart), take a look at the classification of fruits. Is it fleshy or dry? Dehiscent or indehiscent? A pome, drupe, berry, hesperidium, pepo, multiple, aggregate, capsule, pod, achene, samara? And on it goes, all to the delight (or possibly despair) of every botany student.

But why should we worry about the technical jargon? The birds don’t care—they just eat. And the wind doesn’t care—it just wafts. So if the intricacies interest you, indulge yourself. Just don’t let the daedal lexicon interfere with your appreciation of the Creator’s wonderful engineering that enables the integration of all living elements of the biosphere, as well as wind, water and soil, into a system that keeps going and going, season after season, year after year.

Even as we appreciate the complexities and mechanisms of the biosphere, we must not fall into one or both of two traps: naturalism and/or deism. Not only is the living world inexplicable without the existence of an Intelligent Designer; it is also unthinkable that it is self-sustaining.(
Genesis 1 : Colossians 1:15-17).

(Click on the pictures to enjoy larger views)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Autumn Asteraceae—E Pluribus Unum

In spring, it’s the fleabanes; in summer Black-eyed Susan shows her smiling face, along with Oxeye Daisy, Sunflower and Oxeye (False Sunflower). But in late summer and autumn, the Coneflowers, Asters and Goldenrods take over the meadow.

They are all members of the Family Asteraceae, formerly called Compositae, the second- most abundant of all plant families, with well over 20,000 species in some 1,100 genera. Only the Orchid Family is larger, with more than 25,000 described species.

As you can see, some composites look like daisies while others don’t. The Mistflower, Joe-Pye Weed and Boneset in the previous essay and the Goldenrods shown here certainly don’t. The feature that puts all these beauties in the same family is the habit of arranging their flowers in “heads,” often consisting of more than one form. In the daisies, this is particularly noticeable. The “petals” of a daisy (or aster) are actually individual flowers, each with a petal and male or female parts—while the central disk is composed of a tightly packed bunch of florets that look entirely different than the ray flowers.

That is why I like to call the Asteraceae the “E Pluribus Unum”—“From the many, one” family. They pack a lot of flowers together in an arrangement that is designed to attract pollinators—which, besides offering beauty for human admirers, is the sole purpose of any entomophilous (insect-pollinated) bloom. Attract them with form and color; reward them with nectar and pollen; get your pollen transferred in the process. Great engineering! “E Pluribus Unum” has worked for over 200 years for our great country and for much longer for the Family Asteraceae!

That motto on our coinage and a big plant family also remind me of an even more significant “composite”—the Trinity. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s only a faint reminder, a grossly inadequte analogy. There is no way that packing a bunch of flowers together in one head is in any way comparable to “packing” three Persons together into One Godhead! But perhaps the Creator, living as three Persons in one Being from all eternity, thought that designing the daisies as composites might just give us a tiny glimpse of His nature and of the glory only He rightly deserves. We need reminding every day!

E Pluribus Unum
Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Scientific names never change! Oh, really?

Mistflower, Joe-Pye Weed and Boneset. Two of the three have had their names changed. (Click on the pictures to enjoy larger views.)

Some scientific names for plants just roll off your tongue: Eupatorium perfoliatum (Boneset), Liriodendron tulipifera (Tuliptree), Liquidambar styraciflua (Sweetgum)!

Some may disagree about the pronounce-ability of scientific names, but we are not allowed to disagree about their importance. Common names are famously ambiguous and confusing; Latin names standardize the identities of species, pinning them down once and for all—supposedly.

Not so fast. Botanists in particular like to argue and nit pick. They’ll stick their noses and hand lenses into the private parts of flowers and find minute differences. And then they’ll go to meddling with classifications that have been around for years. Such is the case with the Genus Eupatorium.

Eupatorium used to include some of my favorite plants. Then some overzealous botanists looked really closely at the stigmas (pollen-receiving structures) and saw some distinctions. So in their little nit-picking minds they determined to split up the genus and cause no little amount of confusion—especially to amateurs like me! And so a lot of Eupatoria (?) in good standing were kicked out of the genus and got harder-to-pronounce names.

For instance, the Joe-Pye Weeds went from Eupatorium to Eupatoriadelphus or Eutrochium. White Snakeroot, formerly Eupatorium rugosum, lost both Genus and species names, becoming Ageratina altissima. Pink Thoroughwort went from the easily pronounced Eupatorium incarnata to Fleischmannia incarnata. (sounds like a bit of egotism by Mr. Fleischmann to me!) And Mistflower joined the Genus Conoclinium.

But our first-mentioned species, Boneset, with its roll-off-the-tongue Latin name, Eupatorium perfoliatum, has withstood the botanists' snooping and stands unchanged—at least for the present!

It just goes to show how temporary things can be in this sin-cursed world. Even science changes day-by-day and year-by-year. Today’s science textbooks are outdated tomorrow. But God’s inspired Word never changes, never fails and always accomplishes His purposes. Here is a little Bible Study to meditate upon:
(I Peter 1: 24-25); (Hebrews 4:12-13) (Psalm 139 -- All of it!) . These passages comfort and challenge me every time I dare meditate on them!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

When it comes to classifying skippers—I usually skip it!

(Click on pictures to enlarge)

In addition to colorful Lepidopterans like Monarchs and Sulphurs, the Skippers are working the Celery Farm flowers in late September.

What can we say about Skippers? First, they are almost moth-like, with rather furry bodies. But they have typical matchstick antennae, rather than the feathery antennae characteristic of moths. Second, they are almost all some shade of brown, with various patterns of other shades of brown in their wings. Third, they have big brown eyes. So they are nice butterflies—if you like brown.

When it comes to classifying Skippers, things get tricky, unless your eyes are particularly sensitive to shades of brown—and you have the patience to study closely the characteristics of the nearly 100 species listed in the National Audubon Field Guide to Butterflies. In that volume, Skippers are divided into the “Folded-wing Skippers” and the “Spread-winged Skippers”, classified by how they hold their wings when at rest. Our examples are obviously of the “folded-wing” variety.

Other than wing position, the pattern of spots becomes crucial and challenging, particularly to my patience! I’ll put up with just so much nit-picking between and among species; then I become what is called in the field of taxonomy, a “lumper” and readily leave the fine distinctions to experts who have devoted their lives to such things. There is a relatively new science called “Baraminology” (derived from the Hebrew and Greek: “study of created kinds”). From the creation standpoint, all Skippers—and perhaps all butterflies—are derived from a common created kind. That’s a perfect excuse for a lazy taxonomist like me to give up on distinguishing between look-alikes.

A recent identification at the Celery Farm of a “Sachem” (a species of Skipper) must have been by one of those experts, or just a good guesser. Staring at a photo didn’t convince me one way or another.

As to our examples, I’ll call the one on the right the Yellow Patch Skipper (formerly known as Peck’s Skipper) and let an expert help me with the other.

Unfortunately, we can all too easily get locked into the box of taxonomy and nomenclature (no offense to Carolus Linnaeus, who thought up the whole thing) and forget about the incredible engineering that went into the design of all aspects of the anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and molecular biology of every insect. Lying beneath the surface of the skipper’s brown eyes and brown body is a marvelous array of nano-technology that would have blown Charles Darwin’s mind. The human eye almost made him doubt his own theory; one look at an electron micrograph of even one of an insect’s cells would surely have finished the job—and we might have been spared the distraction of almost 150 years of less-than-useful speculation about the origin and diversification of life and could have made more progress in real science’s solving of the real problems facing this sin-cursed world.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Migrating Monarchs

It’s now past mid-September, so the Monarchs are on the move south. They are slurping up the nectar from whatever plants are still in bloom. And, thanks to the faithful ladies who tend the Celery Farm’s Butterfly Garden, there is lots of nectar left to slurp. Mist Flower and Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) provide nourishment during a refueling stop for the Monarchs along the long route from New England to Mexico or southern Florida. (Monarchs west of the Rockies prefer southern California as their winter destination.) Here is a migration map.

So this week’s photos (Click on them to enjoy larger views) feature the travelers on each of the above-mentioned plants. I especially like the mirror image Monarch effect on the Buddleia (I took about a dozen shots of that flitting pair—this was the only successful one).

By this time (more than a week later) these Monarchs have flown well to the south and have been replaced by others in the still flourishing garden—the Mist Flower is at its blooming peak as I write this.

All migration is an incredible phenomenon when you think about it. Most often we think of birds flying thousands of miles, guided by Earth’s magnetic field, the stars and factors yet to be determined, often for the first time in their lives. Just recently, a Bar-Tailed Godwit won the distance record—an electronically tagged bird flew 7150 miles non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand!
Here is an account of the feat.

As amazing as bird migration is, butterfly migration seems all the more phenomenal. These half-ounce invertebrates, flapping chitinous wings, have never before been to their wintering grounds. They are the last hatch of the summer, the great-great grandchildren of the Monarchs that flew north in spring. And, although they look the same as earlier summer generations, their bodies and behavior are different. They have entered a condition called diapause and won’t mate until next spring. They store fat in their abdomens and may actually gain weight during their 3000-mile migration. And their destination is not only the same general area used by their now dead great-great grandparents, but sometimes the same tree! Even my recently acquired GPS unit can’t do that for me!

Darwinian evolutionists can’t say much about this phenomenon (they try, but they just sputter or make up stories). But the Creator is using all this as a loud and clear message and warning: “I did it and there is no excuse for not believing that I have made it all. So make this the first step toward discovering an even better thing that I’ve done—sending my Son to save sinners. Now go to my Written Word and find Him!”
Click here for the ugly truth and here for the good news.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Early and Late Summer Favorites

(Click on the images to enlarge)
I suppose we shouldn’t play favorites with God’s creations, but I guess it’s only natural. Come on—equal appreciation for ragweed and rose? After all, rose equals beauty; ragweed equals hay fever.

But I digress, even before I get started. This week’s photos are of two beauties, neither of which has a chance of producing pollen allergies, since both are entomophilous (insect-pollinated) and don’t produce dusty pollen that is likely to get into your nose. So you can examine them closely—no need for Alavert.

It’s easy to see why I’ve chosen these two as examples of early and late summer bloomers. They are rather petite but unusual and exquisite in their own ways. The yellow flowers are of the Moth Mullein, which blooms in late June. The purplish-blue spikes belong to the Great Lobelia, still blooming in early September.

Moth Mullein, as you can see, like its much taller cousin the Common Mullein, bears its blooms on a single stalk and opens its flowers only one or a few at a time. But it’s worth the effort to stoop down (the stalk is only about a foot or two tall) and get a close look at its unique flower and its leathery buds. Moth Mullein, as far as I know, is not pollinated by moths. It got its name from someone who imagined that its red, feathery stamens looked like the antennae of a moth—took a lot of imagination, I would say. But it makes for a strikingly beautiful little flower.

The Great Lobelia, so called because it is larger than most others of its Genus, gets my vote as favorite late summer bloomer because of its stripy, spiky buds, its groovy stalk and its intense purplish-blue, interestingly shaped flowers. It stands out because there is usually nothing of its color or form in its immediate neighborhood.

Last year I saw only one or a few of each of these plants at the Celery Farm. This year they popped up in greater numbers in more different areas, giving more opportunities for photography. That was fortunate, because my failure rate in photographing small flowers is rather high!

This year I have saved you the pain of stooping—just enjoy the pictures (be sure to click on them to get larger views). But next year, if you happen to see one or both of these plants, why not stoop—and experience the real thing? Remember, no Alavert needed, but maybe some Tylenol for the back. :-) Some day soon, there will be no need for allergy or pain medications, when The Savior returns and restores His very good creation—but even better!
(Romans 8:18-23) (Revelation 21:1-5)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) jumps the gun!

(Click photos to enlarge)
These photos were shot in late August, and the Red Maples were already showing their impatience for fall to arrive, well before any other species were even thinking red, much less displaying the anthocyanins (reds and blues), carotenoids (orange) and tannins (brown) that produce our autumn displays of color.

All those fancy terms represent fancy organic molecules that plants make by fancy (complex) chemical processes—which goes to show that plants are indeed fancy (complex) and aren’t simple in any sense. Plants make these pigments for
various reasons, some of which are obvious and some still vaguely understood. Chlorophyll (green) is intimately involved with food making (photosynthesis), but what about the red, yellow and orange colors? What roles do they play? Some act as light antennas, shuffling important wavelengths to chlorophyll for higher efficiency in food production.

Our Red Maple leaves produce red pigment in spring, summer and fall, mostly for protection against excess light, visible and ultraviolet. Tender emerging leaves are particularly vulnerable to radiation, and the red anthocyanins serve same purpose as the sun block we slather on (or should) before our beach or birding treks.

Summer may bring new growth, again starting out red; and soil mineral deficiencies can also elicit color changes (a possible cause of our maples' premature color change).

It is in autumn, of course, when we usually think of color change. Some pigments are present all along and are revealed as chlorophyll breaks down in autumn in the trees’ preparation for “senescence,” during which important molecules are shipped out of soon-departing leaves to be conserved in trunks or roots.

But leaves once again manufacture anthocyanins for protection, this time from another danger—oxidation. As chloroplasts are disassembled, chlorophyll is set free and becomes a potentially dangerous oxidizer and destroyer of other valuable molecules. Anthocyanins act as anti-oxidants, tying up “free radicals” and saving the important stuff from destruction. That’s why an apple (skin) a day keeps the doctor away from US and why we are encouraged to eat all sorts of red and purple-skinned fruits so that free radicals don’t destroy OUR valuable molecules.

So as we look at these “fall preview” photos and look forward to our annual colorful display, we should remember several things:

*Plants are fantastically complex organisms and undeniable examples of intelligent design, not the result of mindless chance.
*Fall color is a blessing not enjoyed in all areas of the world, so be thankful for this treat.
*Eat your fresh colorful fruit (or take supplements made from them).
*Thank God for His wonderful handiwork—and especially for His great plan of redemption, by which He is able to save us from the "free radicals" of our sin.

p.s. There is another possible explanation for the premature blush of our Red Maple foliage: some passerby thoughtlessly called these trees “Swamp Maples.” Embarrassment and outrage stimulate the production of anthocyanins. :-)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cedar Flyswallows?

I don’t feel a bit guilty about abusing the name of the Cedar Waxwing, whose wings never seemed very waxy to me. My new moniker for this classy bird is based on its behavior that many have noticed at the Celery Farm over the past couple of weeks.

The usual image of the Waxwing is of a flock of them rabidly devouring berries from a tree or shrub. But since there are few berries of any sort around during late summer, what’s a waxwing to do but to take advantage of an alternate—and protein-rich—source of calories: insects.

Hence we get the unusual scene of Waxwings perched on high branches over Lake Appert, periodically dashing out to catch tiny flying insects and returning to their perches to wait, briefly, for more entomophagous opportunities. Some even swoop downward and over the water surface. So we have these berry eaters acting more like flycatcher/swallow hybrids—hence my silly but hopefully forgivable re-naming of the species.

While the Waxwings take advantage of the abundance of summer insects, visitors to Warden’s Watch at the Celery Farm have the opportunity of seeing these birds closer than usual as they perch on bare branches within ten feet of the platform and carry on their feeding behavior for minutes or hours at a time. And what an opportunity for photography, even for folks without super-long telephoto lenses!

Watching the “flyswallows” in action brought several words to mind: beauty, adaptability, design. Beauty? Just look at the photos, which don’t do justice to the real thing (but click on them to enlarge them anyway). Adaptability? Plucking berries may be easier, but these creatures have been given the ability to take advantage of a completely different diet when necessary for survival. And design? It is evident in every detail of bird anatomy, from feathers, hollow bones and neuromuscular control that enable flight—to eyes that can see miniscule insects from several yards away (I couldn’t see even one of the insects the birds were flying after.)

Perhaps a fourth word comes to mind: intelligence. The term “birdbrain” should be deleted from our vocabulary. I can’t attest to the IQ of the Cedar Waxwing, but recent work with crows shows some amazing mental abilities. An experiment was designed in which a crow had to retrieve a short stick to get at a longer stick with which to retrieve a piece of food—and the bird figured it out on the first try, never having seen the equipment. Please, none of this “birds are evolved from dinosaurs” stuff. But then again, maybe dinosaurs were smart, too. The Designer of both birds and dinosaurs knows.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Lunar Wipeout--and Mine!

I would have posted this earlier, but after getting up at 5 to view and photograph this lunar eclipse, I wiped out and went back to bed. Unfortunately, cloud cover "eclipsed" the most spectacular part of the eclipse, when the Earth's shadow completely covers the Moon and it appears as a big navel orange in the sky.

Many articles and books have been written about our amazing satellite and how it's just big enough and just close enough to make our tides just good enough. It's only a tip of the proverbial iceberg of the "Anthropic Principle" which says there are so many parameters and measurements about our solar system--and the galaxy--and the universe--that are "just so" so as to make life possible on Earth. All by chance? No way! I enjoy reading Kipling's "Just So" stories, but our Creator wrote bigger and better.

Now how about a little hike down by the banks of the great gray green greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees...but enough of Kipling, how about this for a taste of reality.

For another Moon-related post, click here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Controversial Cormorants

While scanning through folders of old photos, I happened upon this one, one of my favorite Double-crested Cormorant images. Then, in the Science Section of the New York Times, appeared this article about the fascinating and somewhat controversial species. (Unfortunately, the financially strapped NY Times has archived the article and wants money if you want to view it.)

In past years, we could always expect to see one or more “cormies” perched on branches or platforms on Lake Appert, drying their wings in preparation for their next dive and fishing expedition. This year, for some reason unknown to me, I have seen very few “devil birds” on any of my visits.

After reading the Times article and other pieces about the ecological, aesthetical and commercial problems that overpopulations of cormorants have caused in various regions, we might be thankful for the limited numbers that visit the Celery Farm. Even a moderate population of these ravenous gobblers might fish out the lake, leaving slim pickings for egrets, herons and ospreys--and stinking up the place in the process.

As with all things ecological, healthy disagreement and argument abound. Stewardship and management of complex ecosystems is no simple matter. Fixing one thing without breaking something else or upsetting various groups of people (hunters, fishermen, bird lovers, conservationists, property owners) makes for decision-making headaches. Add in government bureaucracy and things start to look like the dodder in my previous post.

Here is an interesting point-counterpoint discussion between a fisherman and an environmental lawyer concerning the cormorant situation in the Great Lakes. One side’s argument looks good until we read the opposing view. That’s the way it is in all debates. (Proverbs 18:17) ;

What amazes me is that there is so much concern at every level of government and by a plethora of private organizations—concern about individual species and biodiversity and the environment in general. Thousands of people and uncounted millions of dollars are involved in solving environmental problems and in saving endangered species. What motivates governments, organizations and individuals to put out so much money and effort in these causes? Motives range from purely selfish to somewhat altruistic.
The biblical mandate is clear, but our fallen human nature has caused us to fail to fulfill it for thousands of years. We are thankful for those who try, whatever their motives.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Dodder That Ate the Celery Farm

Click on the pictures to enlarge them.
It seems to be everywhere, spreading its orange, spaghetti-like stems over any plant it wants to. And stems it is; there are no leaves; there is no chlorophyll—and therefore there is no photosynthesis. So when it comes to food, the Dodder has to get it from a plant that IS green and CAN make food by photosynthesis.

Here’s how it works. Dodder grows from seeds. Its tiny seedlings grope about, sniffing the air for chemicals emitted from nearby greenery. When they come in contact with a likely host plant, they quickly grow around its stems and soon penetrate them with specialized roots called haustoria. The haustoria enter the vascular tissue (veins) of the host and absorb food, water and minerals to nourish the Dodder. The original root of the Dodder disintegrates, leaving it completely dependent on the host plant.

As you can see, it’s a very successful way of life. The Dodder quickly grows, spreads to other plants and even produces flowers, which in turn produce a lot of seeds for the next growing season.

With more and more growing at the Celery Farm each year, one wonders how much of an ecological problem it might get to be. Time will tell. No use trying to eradicate the stuff. The seeds can last in the ground for up to seventy years, so they say.

Dodder, AKA “devil’s guts” (and a whole bunch of other names people have given it over the years), is a true parasite, drawing not just water and minerals, but ready-made carbohydrates from its host plant. I don’t know how much damage it does to the host, but it surely can’t help.

Parasitism is one form of symbiosis. The more friendly kind is called mutualism, in which each partner in the relationship contributes something good. Such is the case in those crusty things called lichens, in which the fungus partner soaks up water and the alga partner makes food, so that the lichen can grow on a bare rock. Parasitism is all take and no give. We don’t admire it in humans and it surely was not a part of God’s original “very good” creation.

The Fall brought about ugliness in every aspect of the cosmos. We can’t wait ‘til He fixes it.
Reflect upon the situation here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Insect Wings--Making Order(s) out of chaos

Click on each picture to see a large version. Then click your browser back arrow to come back here.

I seem to be mentioning insects and their wings frequently these days, mainly because I have been able to grab a few fairly decent shots of them this summer. Why do I find insect wings so fascinating? After all, they are merely dead sheets of chitin, varied in texture and color and sometimes covered with minute scales. But just contemplating how these precisely designed structures develop in the pupa stage or the nerves and muscles that produce their precise movements for flight should arouse a sense of wonder in us all.

Aside from that, the wings are the features by which insects are classified into major groups called Orders. That makes it easier for us amateurs to at least tell a fly from a beetle or a grasshopper from a dragonfly. And while most of us are inclined to call any insect a bug, the true entomologist would cluck his tongue and shake his finger, insisting that only members of the Order Hemiptera should be called bugs—and that their wings can identify them easily.

So take a look at the photos and notice the differences in the wings of various Orders. But please note: I have put the photos in random order and have left it up to you to match them up. Good luck!

Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) scale-covered wings (strikingly colored in this Eastern Black Swallowtail.)

Coleoptera (beetles) one pair of shell-like wings and a pair of membranous flight wings, which you see when ladybug (sorry, lady beetle) flies away home

Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, etc.) two pairs of membranous wings hooked together so that they act as one

Diptera (flies) one pair of membranous flight wings and a second pair that is reduced to small knobs and used like gyroscopes (You can't see them in this photo.)

Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) two pairs of similar membranous wings

Hemiptera (true bugs) forewings are half leathery and half membranous, giving a flat-backed appearance with a distinctive shield pattern

Even if you just want to enjoy the pictures, be sure to give credit (and honor) to the One who created these miniature marvels! (His name isn't Darwin.) Promise? I knew you would.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fishing and Hunting at the Celery Farm

Two old pros enjoy the quiet of Lake Appert while waiting for the appearance of something special to photograph.

Bioman photographs a wide-angle scene looking out from the Butterfly Garden, while another photographer looks into the garden for a flower or insect closeup.

One of Bioman's favorite Canada Goose portraits.

(Click the images to enlarge.)

The Celery Farm Natural Area is a great place for fishing—but only if you’re a heron, egret or osprey. No hooks, lines or sinkers are allowed, no matter what humans buy them. But you will see plenty of hunting going on—for subjects to photograph. Besides birding, photography is probably the next most popular Celery Farm sport.

Especially if there is a special attraction, like last year’s Mute Swan family or a rare bird appearance, like that of the Eurasian Widgeon or LeConte’s Sparrow, photogs will gather like flies to fill multi-gigabyte memory cards with untold thousands of images and to compare notes on camera models, lenses and tripods. Occasionally there is an appearance of one of the rarest of species: a film photography purist carrying his classic N series Nikon.

Even without a star attraction, in a place like the Celery Farm there is always some new image to capture. Light changes constantly; plants go through their growing cycles; birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects appear out of nowhere to offer surprise photographic opportunities. Even if you have photographed a Canada Goose a million times (as I seem to have) there is always a slightly different pose, lighting situation or swimming or flight pattern to make for a one-of-a-kind image. (The one shown here is one of my favorites.)

The motivation for doing nature photography is unique to every photographer. For me, it boils down to revealing the Creator’s skill in designing the structure and function of His creatures to survive and beautify the landscape even in His fallen, cursed cosmos, perhaps in a way never seen in quite the same way before. Did He foresee the coming of photographic equipment and techniques that could do this? Of course! Omniscience, omnipotence and pre-ordination are awesome things to contemplate! Soli Deo Gloria.

For a look back at an earlier entry about Celery Farm photography, look here.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

White Pines, Hemlocks and Memories

What a day! Today was Staff Alumni Day at the scout camp where I worked fifty years ago. The weather was ideal, so I decided to drive the 75 miles to the beautiful Catskill Mountains to see how the camp had changed—or not. And believe it or not, it has changed very little. They have maintained the rustic, unspoiled atmosphere that makes the place so special. Some buildings have been added, but most of the old ones are hanging in nicely.

The manmade elements brought back fond memories, but it was the natural beauty that blew me away. White pines, mature when I saw them fifty years ago, have grown huge and have stayed healthy. Hemlocks, seemingly unaffected by the Woolly Adelgid that has decimated hemlocks in our area, dominate the forest, along with lichen-covered Chestnut Oaks. Add a tumbling waterfall, towering cliffs and ethereal Wood Thrush call floating out of pure silence—but words fail! Just enjoy the pictures (Click on them to enjoy them more.)

And did I mention the clouds?! (Psalm 19:1)
Fifty years away—how stupid! I shall return.

By the way, the totem pole is a replacement for a somewhat more massive one that was carved using hand axes fifty years ago. The original gradually deteriorated, and efforts at restoration failed. A pair of the colorful new totems grace the front of the dining hall.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Insect Metamorphosis: words fail (but I’ll try)

It’s next to impossible to believe that this Tiger Swallowtail (Click photo to enlarge) looked like this as little as two weeks ago! Ugly greenish brown with a bulging thorax trying to look like a big, scary head, with two false eyes to frighten away just about anyone. Having true thoracic legs that are tiny and useless, the caterpillar uses stumpy abdominal “prolegs” to navigate on the leaves on which it feeds, using chewing mouthparts.

After feeding and undergoing several molts, the caterpillar pupates and becomes
even uglier. And considering what happens inside this chrysalis in a couple of weeks (or over winter), it is no wonder that caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis is so often used as an illustration of magical transformation or miracle.

Inside that look-dead chrysalis, seeming chaos reigns. Most body structures disintegrate and their cells dissolve into an amorphous soup. The only signs of organization appear as several groups of cells called imaginal disks. They “know” what they are to become and go about the business of growing, migrating, and taking shape as totally different body parts than those of the larva. From these microscopic blobs develop compound eyes, siphoning, soda straw mouthparts, antennae, legs, new digestive system, reproductive system—and most remarkably, those magnificent, multi-colored scale-covered wings!

All this brand new structure must be perfectly packaged and able to break out of the tough chrysalis at the proper time. The wings must form perfectly folded so they can “hang dry” wrinkle free in several hours after the adult emerges. The wings, after all, are passive, chitinous structures that will be operated in precise manner by muscles within the thorax.

So far we have reflected upon things cellular and morphological (structural). If we were to delve into the molecular, the amazement would multiply. Every cell, tissue and organ of our insect is made of and is controlled by thousands of different chemical compounds, many consisting of hundreds or thousands of atoms in precise configurations: enzymes, hormones, molecular motors, pumps, structural proteins, as well as the chitin (say Kite-in), which is a cellulose-like polysaccharide with nitrogen-containing side groups—but now we’re just bloviating!

The point is that insects—and all living organisms, whether considered “primitive” or “advanced,” are complex beyond imagination and so information-packed that, knowing what we know today, it is inconceivable that they have just “evolved” by chance mutations and natural selection, no matter how much time the processes are given. In fact, in regard to insects in particular, Sir Fred Hoyle, Nobel Prize-winning astronomer, came to the conclusion that insects are so weird that they could not possibly have evolved on Earth—they must have arrived as spores from space. Now THAT’S weird.
Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule, even proposed the theory of "directed panspermia" to explain the origin of ALL life on Earth. That's even weirder!

We have gone way too long. But I would refer you here for edification and warning. Enjoy the beauty of a fluttering butterfly, but don’t get to idolizing it, ya’ hear!