The Burn Pile.

Are you a member of “the burn pile”?

Left discarded, burned, frozen, trampled, ignored, then snowed and rained on over multiple seasons you can still produce perfect fruit.

There is a lesson to learn from this pumpkin who despite all the odds decided life was worth continuing, set down roots, leafed out, flowered and successfully made another pumpkin. It didn’t have to.

That’s the story of being a member of “the burn pile”.

In our lives it’s not easy to do things well but it can be done in spite of the people, places and things that tried to keep us from doing it so well.

We did it well anyway.

Welcome aboard the burn pile.

Shenandoah

I’m lucky to live so close to the Shenandoah Valley. From my house to the middle of Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park may be 45 minutes of driving.

Mostly I’m out there on the weekend when I have time to waste driving around Virginia without worrying about work. When I do get there the views and quiet of the mountain is quite therapeutic. Most everyone slows down and just enjoys being out there.

Looking north towards Front Royal, Virginia.

Every part of the day in every different season will produce a different feel of the mountain. Some days I get to go out during the week when there are very few people there. In the winter it can be lightly traveled where it feels like you are the only one there.

Low Gap

This old tree has been standing at Little Devils Stairs as long as I have lived in Virginia. This rest stop will be much different without the tree there once it finally gives in to gravity.

Little Devils Stairs

The sunsets can be quite a site to behold as well. Never disappointing even if it doesn’t show up from behind the clouds like you were expecting.

Looking west towards Luray, Virginia from Hogback overlook
Looking west towards Luray, Virginia from Hogback overlook on a previous trip

It turns out I’m never the only person there at a sunset like this. It’s a busy time on the mountain as people take selfies and then go about their way. If you can wait 10 minutes after sunset you will be left on the mountain alone again.

It’s these times I enjoy most alone in this sacred place.

Gathering firewood.

There’s nothing nicer in the winter than sitting in front of a fireplace with a large supply of wood fuel.

A while back during a wind storm we had a locust tree blow down. It was a tall one at about 70 feet. When it came down it took down a bunch of other trees with it. These things are heavy!

Yesterday I went out to cut it in 6-10 foot sections where I can use my grapple to get them in a clearing where I can cut them into firewood sized chunks that can be split and stacked for the rest of the winter.

We use this firewood every day in the winter to keep our home warm. It is a nice source of renewable stored energy. When we use the fireplace it can be 10º outside and still be 75º inside.

We have a nice wood burning stove in our fireplace as an insert. Its a “reburner” which means it burns extra clean and put out almost no smoke from the chimney. And gets wicked hot.

The first step in getting a bunch of firewood is gathering all the wood into one location. The next step, which I’ll be doing today, is cutting, splitting and stacking it so we can have it dried out for the rest of the winter by the time we run out of what we already have.

Years ago I stopped buying pre-cut timber to burn in our fireplace and replace that wood with wood from our own property. We have plenty of wood here that falls on it’s own or a tree that dies that needs to be cut down. This also gives me an opportunity to clean out the underbrush as much as I can, trim the smaller trees, cut down all the vine that is so ugly and allow us to walk and enjoy the trees and wildlife that hangs around in them.

These days a truck load of timber can cost $600. That’s about a cord of wood. Its not much. Its a little work and time but I enjoy doing this.

I especially enjoy sitting in front of a blazing hot fireplace in the middle of winter around here.

Hunt like a Fox

Yesterday I witnessed Mongrel on a “hunting” exercise while I worked in my office. It happened kinda fast so I wasn’t able to pick up the actual event so you’ll have to take my word for it.

What I did do was grab my camera and head outside after he came back home from the hunt. This is how that went:

He is always so proud when he catches a mouse and brings it back home to the family. You’d think he would want to share it. But, no, he eats it all on his own.

Stingy black cat.

For a more complete story of my walks with Mongrel each day go to this link.

I hope you had a nice day today. If not, at least you are not a mouse.

Aquifers in the USA

I thought this was interesting.

Water is going to be a very big problem at some point in our history as humans. If it’s not already.

I had not seen a map like this before. The USGS put out a cool map with data on the USA aquifers. Click on the map for the PDF file that explains what the map means.

Principal aquifers of the United States (modified from Principal Aquifers, U.S. Geological Survey, 2003).

The areal and vertical location of the major aquifers is fundamental to the determination of groundwater availability for the Nation. An aquifer is a geologic formation, a group of formations, or a part of a formation that contains sufficient saturated permeable material to yield significant quantities of water to wells and springs.

A two-dimensional map representation of the principal aquifers of the Nation is shown below. The map, which is derived from the Ground Water Atlas of the United States, indicates the areal extent of the uppermost principal aquifers on a national scale. In this map, a principal aquifer is defined as a regionally extensive aquifer or aquifer system that has the potential to be used as a source of potable water. (For study or mapping purposes, aquifers are often combined into aquifer systems.)

More information on the USGS web page here. The book Water 4.0 is a good read on this topic.

Cygnus Launch

On Saturday November 2, 2019 NASA launched an Antares Rocket as a resupply mission to the International Space Station from the Wallops flight facility in Wallops, Virginia. Wallops is about 160 miles from my home.

Wallops is fun because I can see the rockets as they start to enter orbit once they get pretty high in the sky (like 80,000 – 100,000 feet). In the evenings it is very easy to spot them but hard to photo. This is my first attempt to see if I can see them during the day.

Friday night I did the research on when the launch was going to be performed. They had a 5 minute launch window to complete the launch. I really wanted to drive to Wallops for the launch but knew I would not have the time due to my work schedule. I’ll save that trip for another time. My mission this time was to see if I could actually see the rocket from my home and do my best to photo the rocket on the horizon.

The morning was very clear and cold but hazy. The sun was very bright making the haze even worth. I didnt think I’d be able to get a decent photo of the rocket. During the event I am listening to an Internet stream from NASA giving me details of the launch in progress. So I had a decent idea of when I might see the rocket.

I decided to use my drone to photo my “process” before and during the launch. It would also serve as a queue on where to sync up the video after the event. I start the video about 2 minutes before launch. Here is that video:

Looking through a 600 mm lens is like looking through a very powerful telescope which makes it quite hard to find your subject “randomly” when you are holding it in your hand looking through a tiny view finder window. You really have to focus. And then focusing on such a faint subject so far away takes a little skill. Even so I was quite surprised that I could seen the rocket so clearly once I locked on the image through the long lens. It wouldn’t last long. Maybe 30 seconds.

The photo I took looked pretty good. Until I got it on the computer I didnt realize that it was in perfect focus and you could see the engine firing through the smoke of the contrail.

Cygnus NG-12

It turns out that I have to wait until the rocket is just about done with its first stage burn at an altitude of about 100,000 feet before it comes into view. For future launches this is helpful to know. And now that I’ve seen many of these launches I know exactly where to look on the horizon.

It was fun to participate in the event even if it was from afar. We’ll get out there soon during one of the launches in the future. Hopefully to get photos that are a little closer.

Fall Motorcycle riding.

For the next month I’ll be out on my motorcycle enjoying the early fall season, change of colors and cooler weather. This week I was able to meet up with friends and coworkers and ride a little in North Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina.

My friend Joe took a photo of me taking a photo.
This was the photo I took. 50mm lens, bright light, underexposed then corrected for proper lighting.

The color and detail is just a tad different than an iPhone. No matter how the hype of the latest mobile phone cameras might be there will never match the clarity and color of a 50mm lens and some sort of professional camera behind it.

To get this shot I took 31 underexposed images in raw format. In post production I corrected for the low light and then stitched them together to make a single photo. Lately this is my go to panorama method. The 50mm lens has no round edges and the clarity is unbelievable.

An iPhone or similar lens can not “bokeh” an image by decreasing the f-stop which narrows the field of focus. They blur the background after the photo is taken but it look very fake and mechanical. Not smooth like only glass can do.

You can touch the images above to check out the detail.

John, Joe and the Three Amigos.
My Ducati could probably go forever. Me? I needed a break. This is at the end of our 370 mile day.
Picture in picture on a lunch break. 50mm, f2.8, 1/800th, ISO100.

I look forward the the trips coming up. It’s nice to ride this time of year.

Getting up early.

I’m not an early riser. I’m more likely to arrive at sunrise than start at sunrise.

When I do get up I’m likely either going to work to support my family or take a photo. If it’s to take a photo I generally take that photo and get back in bed.

Today was a little of both. I had to get up to go to get ready to travel and I wanted to take pictures of the foggy morning. When I got up I noticed the fog outside so I grabbed my drone for a very short flight towards the sun.

Sunrise September 22, 2019

From the ground I could see the warm color light coming through the fog layers. The layers were very thin and it was quite clear on top. The photo above is only cropped. I made no other edits to it. I shoot in “raw” even on my drone so this is a raw imaged converted to static jpeg. The original is quite amazing with crazy detail.

Another shot lower to the ground but still above the trees.

The weather around here has been cold with high humidity at night under high pressure so the sky has been clear, no rain and lots of fog in the morning.

Sunsets after a storm.

Lately it hasn’t rained much around here except for the occasional thunderstorm that rolls by. It has, however, been very humid especially in the evenings after the sun goes down.

We do get these crazy sunsets at night after a storm rolls through. The air is thick but calm. The cicada and other noise makers are out in earnest. We have two new hoot owls that make their noises right as the sun is going down.

When all this is going on it looks like this:

Sunset August 16, 2019.

This photo was taken by my DJI drone about 40 feet above my driveway just as the sun was setting behind the Appalachian trail.

I would say that a good 80% of the sunsets look like this when the sun is actually out. It’s either like this or completely clear.

This is my favorite time of the day. My work is done, the pressure is off, I can sit and relax and just enjoy where I am.

I love where I live. It’s been a long and winding road to enjoy these sunsets.

Very Large Grouper (Fish)

In the 1990’s we went on a vacation to Australia. During that trip we spent a few days offshore at the Great Barrier Reef. Most notable was at a place called Lizard Island. If you’ve not been to Lizard Island I highly recommend it. It’s pricey and very far away but you’ll never be quite the same when you get back.

But I digress …

During that trip we did a lot of snorkeling. The reef is so beautiful that you do not need to scuba to see the wildlife. On each one of our snorkel trips we encountered large schools of grouper fish that I estimated to be 1.5 to 2 times larger than my body. While they didn’t seem aggressive I mentioned back then it would likely not be a good idea to swim out where they were.

I would come back from this wonderful vacation and tell my friends stories of these large grouper that were twice my size and shape swimming in the Great Barrier Reef. They all looked at me like I was crazy. I don’t think anyone believed me. To this day, I think people thought I was making this shit up.

Yesterday I read this story about some sharks that were feeding on a dead swordfish at the bottom of the ocean off South Carolina during a diving expedition headed up by NOAA. They featured this video of the sharks feeding on the swordfish. Watch to the end … wait for it …

Go to this link if your browser does not support HTML5 video.

That grouper ate an entire shark!

Do you believe me now? This is the fish I saw.

If you happen to be snorkeling and see a giant grouper I’d treat it like the wild animal it is.

You can say I told you so. No bullshit.

Dive 07: “Shark Rock”

Photos and video were produced by NOAA.
Date: June 28, 2019
Location: Lat: 31.59517078°, Lon: -79.10225958°
Dive Depth Range: 446 – 454 meters (1,463 – 1,490 feet)

For the full web site story by NOAA go here

This is the location of the grouper. Don’t swim here! 🙂