Thursday, July 21, 2011

July in the Garden & Belgian Independence

Ahhh July, the hottest of months... let the dog days begin! My dad decided to start a vegetable garden this spring for the first time and I was thrilled to be around to help a bit. He built raised beds, brought in some top soil to suffice until our own table scraps had composted enough to use, and planted some seeds that we ordered from FEDCO. We now have a garden full of golden chard, dill, sugar snap peas, zucchini, beets, nasturtiums, basil, chives, cucumbers, and onions!

Looking down into our beautiful Golden Chard
In the evening the other day, the light was just right for taking photos of some of the flowers that are in bloom. It's been a while since I have spent a summer in the eastern US. It's different from the west but beautiful. I love the colors of the warm months, the wafts of sweet nectar from the lilies, the buzz of bees, the feel of the wind gently caressing your skin.

Some sunflowers that my mom bought at the farmers' market
Stargazer Lilies brightening up the lovely late afternoon
Hydrangeas beginning to bloom and turn pink
Oh and in case there are any Belgians reading this... Happy Independence Day! Today marks the 180th anniversary of Belgium's independence from the Netherlands. Although this was actually declared in October of the 1830, they celebrate July 21st 1831 because that is the day their first king, Leopold I, took his oath. Considering how unethical, greedy, and corrupt a lot of kings are, if you read about them, Leopold actually seems like he was a pretty cool individual. He even tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to regulate female and child labor, which I give him props for. That is pretty progressive considering this was the late 1800's!

I am always fascinated with people who have interesting lives and Leopold's childhood intrigues me because when he was only 5 years old he was appointed a Colonel in the Russian Guard! I just cannot imagine how something like that would actually manifest itself. I mean, how much can you expect from a 5 year old? I wish there could be 100 versions of myself that lived in different time periods, in different social circumstances, in different parts of the world, so I could truly have a better understanding of other people's lives and perspectives!

A portrait of Leopold I by George Dawe

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Back in NY & My First Doggy C-Section!

You're going to have to give me some artistic license to change the format of how I've been writing. I would like at some point to fill in the gaps in the rest of my trip but I will do so as they come up in my exploration of other things. Sometimes life throws you curve balls and the nice outlined plan you had for yourself doesn't quite work anymore. I hope you will just take my word for it and have a little faith that I can still entertain you with my witty humor and amusing anecdotes! ;)

So, I'm back on Long Island for the foreseeable future. I'm working at Harborside Veterinary Hospital ( and loving it as always. If they (and my family) would just relocate to Montana everything would be perfect and I wouldn't have to fret over where in the USA I'm going to live! I'm working on it... wish me luck, lol.

One cool thing that I have experienced since my return home this past spring was witnessing my first canine cesarean section! A long haired chihuahua was giving birth but the first puppy was breached so she had to come down so we could get the babies out of her. What an amazing experience. I have never seen a birth of any kind before and it's quite amazing to watch an animal take its first breaths of air. As soon as the puppies were out of the mother we had to cup them in our palms and swing them downward to expel all of the fluid out of their lungs and sinuses. I had to watch a few times before doing it myself because I was so afraid I was going to hurt them! They were so tiny but to get all of the fluid out of them you really have to swing with force. It's one of those things you get used to I suppose. There are a lot of things like that in this job! Luckily, I was able to document the puppies' cuteness after their airways were cleared.

They are so small!
 And even more luckily a few weeks later the owner brought the puppies back for a check-up while I was working so I was able to get a follow up photo! Even though they are chihuahuas, which I do not normally love, they are pretty adorable! But man, look at that difference!

They are so much bigger just several weeks later!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day 28: Joshua Tree NP is AMAZING

We woke up at the crack of dawn in the parking lot of the hotel who last night had generously hosted us, as well as they could have without their knowledge, that is. We made a quick stop to let Hanz romp around a bit and then scurried out of 29 Palms and towards the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park.

I found this sweet artwork adorning the back of a building in 29 Palms.
I was really looking forward to visiting Joshua Tree National Park. For some reason I associated it with Ansel Adams' photography which I really enjoy, even though I don't think he took more than couple pictures there.

It was not long before we had reached the park entrance. I was thrilled to note that there was no other car or human being in sight. That has been my number one issue with visiting the National Parks- there are way too many people! I mean, I live in Montana for a reason, I don't really enjoy being around too many people while I'm doing any kind of recreation like hiking, birding, canoeing, etc. Plus there is the fact that when there are a lot of people around your chances of seeing wildlife are much slimmer. Of course, it's not a very fair complaint because the very things that draw me to the Parks are what draw the millions of other visitors. It's just really too bad that we have so little "wilderness" that we now have an expanding population having to share the little that is left of the vast wilderness that once covered this nation.

When I got out of the car to take a picture of the Welcome to Joshua Tree National Park sign I got distracted by a roadrunner running across the road! I had never seen one before and I was very impressed with how fast he scurried around. I later talked to a park ranger who was telling me how aggressive they are in conjunction with being fast and how that has caused some panic for visitor's who have been admiring a lizard only to see the roadrunner scurry over and swiftly gobble it up!

The desert is amazing to me because it seems to shift between ecosystems in a fairly rapid way. The northern part of Joshua Tree is in the Mojave Desert while the southern half is considered part of the Colorado Desert and there is a marked difference between the two. The park's namesake comes from the Joshua Tree which is only seen in the Mojave desert section of the park. The Mojave in general has more layering and variability in the height and color of its plants while the Colorado Desert tends to only have low growing and sparse vegetation. I tended to find the Mojave more visually appealing and it also seemed to have more animal life, maybe because it has more diversity. At least that is what I gathered from my experiences in the two deserts within the park.

The Mojave Desert section of Joshua Tree National Park
Me posing with a really cool cactus in the Mojave Desert section of  Joshua Tree National Park
As soon as we entered the park we started seeing really interesting plants and animals. Literally every time we stopped the car and were quiet for a moment we would notice some kind of wildlife. After seeing the roadrunner we saw Gambel's quails, a jackrabbit and a couple kangaroo rats. Don't let the "rat" in this animal's name scare you off, it's not a rat or a mouse; it's in the heteromyidae family and its closest relative is the pocket gopher! Of course it was impossible for me to get any of my own photographs because everything scurries around in the desert and hides in the low-lying brush. So you will just have to visit so you can experience it for yourself!

Photo of Kangaroo Rat courtesy of the NPS/ Patrick Myers
Unfortunately we had decided to do Joshua Tree in a day so that we could get to the ranch that same night but SPOILER ALERT: we would end up going back for an overnight over a month later. :)

We barely saw any cars in the whole park, which was nice; we could take our time and not feel hurried. There is a road that takes you from the northern tip of the park all the way to the south and back into civilization, which we took. The park is a good size, being almost 800,000 acres in total with more than half of it being back-country access only. I would have liked the chance to explore the back country a bit but again, because of the sheer volume of visitors that come to the park, no dogs are allowed on trails.

Along the road we took towards the south there were interpretive signs every so often that gave more information about the plans, animals and geology of the area. We had to stop near one that was next to huge and magnificent rocks. Tyler being a bit of a compulsive climber took to them immediately. I stayed on the ground, where it was safe, and took pictures!

Tyler is the dot on top of the huge rocks in Joshua Tree NP
I have found out some fascinating information about the plant and animals in this park. One example is the park's namesake, the Joshua Tree, which got its name from a group of Mormon settlers who crossed this area in the mid-1800's. They thought its branches looked like they were reaching up to the sky to pray, much like Joshua in the bible, and so it was named. 

The Joshua Tree is the main indicator for the Mojave Desert region and is actually endemic to the southwestern United States, meaning that is the only place in the whole world where it is found. It has a critical symbiotic relationship with the yucca moth which is the only pollinator of the yucca tree's blossoms. The moth collects the pollen as sustenance for her offspring and in doing so taps some into the funnel-shaped pistol. The moth lays her eggs at the base of the pistol so as her eggs hatch they can eat some of the seeds that have grown because the mother fertilized the plant. When the new moths leave the plant there are still plenty of seeds that can scatter and turn into new Joshua trees! 

Nature is Brilliant.

For More Information:

Forest Service: Yucca brevifolia (Joshua Tree):

Joshua Tree National Park (NPS)

NPS Kangaroo Rat Fact Sheet

Monday, January 10, 2011

Explanation of Purpose and Format

I wanted to post this entry to explain the format of my blog because it has experienced changes since I have arrived in New York. I started out on the journey in September, writing every day and posting almost as often. Quickly I got behind on my postings because with travelling and doing so much I didn't have enough time to post every day and I didn't have access to internet that often. I have been slowly posting the entries that I wrote every day, doing research on the areas that I visited, and selecting photographs to enrich the quality of the overall blog entries and to supplement the text.

Now that I am in New York and taking a break from travelling for over a month I have found myself wanting to write about my life at home. So I have been alternately posting journal entries from the days on the road and musings on life in New York and all the things that entertain my thoughts while I am home.

It should be fairly easy to distinguish the two types of entries:

The Travel Adventure entries include the Day number in their title. There's a journal for every day we have been away from home in Missoula, MT. (Ex- "Day 24: Alligator Rodeo, UFOs & Canoeing Down Sand Dunes:"

The present-day musings are more simply titled (Ex- "Merry Christmas!"

I hope that has cleared up any confusion that any of you might have experienced. I hope you are all off to a good start in this new year!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The First of the Year (1/1/11)

Today I had more of that marvelous toast with orange marmalade along with my morning tea. My water cup was resting on the table in the dining room, directly in the path of the sunlight that was streaming in from our south-facing window. I looked down, mid conversation with my mom and distractedly forgot what I was saying as I looked for my camera. The light was hitting the glass perfectly so as to splay the bits of orange, yellow and red glass that patterned the outside, across the table.

I have really enjoyed being quieter at moments and just looking at the world. Sometimes we overlook the absolute beauty in the simplest of things because we are used to them or maybe because we haven't ever seen them for what they really are. Shadows are, in my opinion, a spectacular example of just that. So often we look at the more solid form of something and don't even notice the shapes that shadows take on under different conditions. Once you open your eyes to the beauty in the everyday things that you overlook you see more of it. Just as I was done photographing this water glass my gaze grazed over the floor as I turned to leave the room and I realized the shadow of the stool was so brilliantly contrasted in comparison to the type of shadow and refraction involved with the glass. The colors of the light wood floor and the dark, almost opaque shadow of the dark wood stool made for beautiful composition.

I have re-discovered my love of photography this past year with a renewed passion.

After breakfast and my impromptu photo session, my parents and I went for a hike in Stony Brook at the Avalon Preserve. When we first arrived I was surprised to see the pond literally swarming with waterfowl, but with very little diversity! There were hundreds of birds but they were mostly mallards, Canada geese, and a couple dozen pigeons. People must feed them from the street-side path because that was where they were most densely gathered.

It was certainly loud with all the squawking and honking going on, especially when the Canada geese decided to take off in a large gaggle to some unknown destination.

We took the trail up to the labyrinth, which was not able to be seen because the snow had covered up the winding pathways to the center. We saw a statue though, that was built onto a boulder that was pretty cool.

The statue at the site of the labyrinth at Avalon Park and Preserve in Stony Brook.
We took a snow-covered trail that wound another 2 and a half miles through the woods before ending back up at the pond. This time, as we walked on the boardwalk we saw a miniature snowman that someone had built just off the trail. It stood at around 9 inches tall but was very nicely put together. I had to get down close and take a picture of it. I instantly liked whoever did this.

The mini snowman at Avalon Preserve.

New Year's Eve- Tasty Food, A Wintry Walk & A Man with True Grit

On the eve of the new year I enjoyed some hearty bread with orange marmalade and a great cup of Irish Breakfast tea; a great way to start the day!

In the afternoon I went to Caumsett State Park in Lloyd Harbor with my dad so we could stretch our legs a bit. It was a beautiful and surprisingly mild day. I started out with a bunch of layers but before we had left our car in the parking lot I had taken a couple layers off. It was very relaxing to walk around and feel the cool air on my face, look for animal tracks in the snow, and as is always the case when I return to the island, see people I know. I love deciduous forests in the wintertime when there is snow; their bare branches contrast starkly with the sky and the snow. It is easy scenery for beautiful photographs.

This state park was originally a huge estate purchased in the early 1920's by Marshall Field III, an investment banker with family money. The land had been called Caumsett by the Matinecock Indians, which means, place by a sharp rock.

Later that night I went with my family to see True Grit. I love western films and I love the Coen brothers so I had high expectations for their newest film but I ended up being a bit disappointed. Jeff Bridges' character was great and so was Matt Damon's but the pace of the story and how it was presented just didn't really do it for me.

2010 had a bunch of great movies though, the ones I would especially recommend are:
-Green Zone
-The Millenium Trilogy films (I saw the first two, which are great- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire- but am holding off on seeing the third film, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, until I am done with the book).
-Black Swan (incredibly terrifying and disturbing but undeniably brilliant)
-Robin Hood
-Shutter Island

Leonardo DiCaprio has always been a great actor but I feel like he just keeps getting better. I know a film with him in it will be good, just like I know one with Nicholas Cage in it is going to be terrible!

More information:
Caumsett State Park

Marshall Field III