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Small Stuff #28: Pure Michigan January 29, 2010

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Small stuff that I am grateful for today: a reminder from my Aunt Joyce at the amazing beauty of my home state of Michigan. Seriously, ya gotta check out this site…

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jensenl/visuals/album/michigan/

Small Stuff #13: Angels and Angles January 14, 2010

Posted by dianehuhn in Photography, Ramblings.
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Small stuff that I am grateful for today: winter shadows.

For some reason, I was seriously in munch mode all morning so when lunch time rolled around I decided to forgo yet another granola bar and take a quick stroll through the cemetary instead. We seem to have started to snap out of our unusual cold snap and while it’s still a tad chilly, the sun was out and the sky was about as clear and blue as it could be. It was a perfect recipe for those long winter shadows I find so pleasing. And, well, I like cemetaries, old ones at least. I know some people don’t care to venture in unless they have to, but I enjoy cemetaries on many different levels.

I was History major in college and well, a stroll through a cemetary is like a stroll through the past. There are reminders of wars and epidemics and the fact that each of us is going to be history one day and the fact that even if we live a hundred years our lives are but a mere blip in the history of the universe.

I also like wandering and wondering. Who was Leodile Chauvin? Why did she die at the age of 40 (my current age) in January 1919? Was she the victim of the flu pandemic that started in 1918 and lasted in to 1920? Or was she perhaps the victim of an accident? Or did she die in childbirth? A quick search on the interweb indicates that a woman who was a native of Chauvin whose mother’s name was Leodile Chauvin died at the age of 87 in 2006 so the timing could indicate such a tragedy. But who knows? Well, someone out there probably knows. It’s entirely possible that somebody I know knows the story or someone I know knows someone who knows the story. Not that I’m saying that I really want to know the story, but it’s just interesting to think about. 

I also enjoy cemetaries for all of their kind of solid clear-cut angles. They just seem like a perfect winter shadow showcase. And now I am starting to get hungry again, so I guess I’ll just leave you with a brief showcase of shadows.

 

For more Angels and Angles photos, click here.

Small Stuff #9: Clasp the Crag with Crooked Hands January 10, 2010

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Small stuff #9 that I am grateful for today: a brief, but beautiful, encounter with the most majestic of birds. Managed to snap the shutter a few times with equally horrible results.

Bonus: The above picture and the six additional really bad bald eagle pics I took today are not contained in phase one of the “Pictures I Like More Than Others I’ve Taken” folder that I finished this morning. When I started this little project, the original title for the collection was “Pictures That Don’t Suck As Much As Other Pictures I’ve Taken”. But I decided to change that title since a lot of my choices ended up not being necessarily aesthetically pleasing photographs for others, but emotionally pleasing photographs to me for one reason or another. If you’ve tuned in to my adventures from time to time, many of these will look familiar since it kind of makes sense that I tend to post pictures here that I like more than others, but there’s a handful of “never before released” scenes as well.

Long Days of Travel Brought Me From My Home… November 28, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Louisiana Wildlife, Photography, Travels.
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After my thoroughly informative and enjoyable trek through the world of Tabasco, it was time to head for the main attraction in my book–Jungle Gardens! I was a bit bummed that the sun had not decided to arrive while I was inside, but hey, it wasn’t raining so I decided I couldn’t complain too much.

So I headed back down the secondary gravel path to the main gravel path and hung a left, pulled in to the visitors center to pay my entrance fee and get my map to this 250-acre garden paradise. And not only did I not just get handed a map, I got a full blow-by-blow description of what awaited me around each bend by the most lovely and informative park attendant you could ask for. When I mentioned that this was my first trip to the island, Nonny grabbed her red pen and started circling and x-ing and drawing arrows to every little “must see” spot complete with reports on the wildlife she’d seen earlier that morning.  I haven’t seen that many red marks on a piece of paper since I got the first draft of my senior thesis paper back from Dr. Sipher at SUNY, Cortland. But while I wasn’t too excited about those red marks, I was practically drooling over these.

So armed with my map, I headed for the car and vowed to stop back with my report. I barely made it to the first corner before I had to pull over and grab the camera. I mean, could you ask for a more inviting path?

E.A. McIlhenny, son of the famed Tabasco genius Edmund McIlhenny, was the visionary behind this one of a kind treasure. An ardent naturalist and conservationist, McIlhenny was dismayed that the snowy egret had been driven almost to the brink of extinction by plume hunters supplying the feathered hat industry in the late 1800s. In an effort to save these graceful creatures, he gathered up the remaining seven left on the island, and built them a large cage over a pond. He also once built a cage for some nutria that he imported to the island, but that’s a whole different story that maybe we’ll save for another day.

Anyway, at the beginning of the next migratory season, he destroyed the cages, let them head south, and hoped for their return in the spring. And return they did, with friends in tow.

Now this guy really probably shouldn’t be here at this time of year, but Nonny seems to think he probably lost his mate round these parts and is waiting for her return. Oh, just break my heart why don’t you. But he was good for a bit of comic relief to cheer me up from that sad thought.

Another of my egret friends dropped by for a spell. He was a bit shy at first…

…but soon decided I was just another harmless Yankee with a camera.

You know, these guys are so graceful in profile, but pretty darn hard to take seriously when you meet them face to face.

Geez, I could have hung out in this spot all day, but I’d barely made it a half mile on the four mile path and I was itching to see what was waiting for me around the next bend. Oh man, doesn’t that look like an inviting spot for a picnic on a lazy summer day? Well, as long as no uninvited guests stop by.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, but ah yes, I had to take this one.

And I suspect that road is the one more traveled since it brought me to this.

I mean, are you kidding me? How did this get here?

And what a view.

Ok, must come back on a sunny spring day when the azaleas and the camellias and the irises are in all their glory and the 100,000 birds have returned from their winter vacation to enjoy this amazing Louisiana treasure. I guess we’ll just have to see if I can wait that long, but sure enjoyed a sneak peek. Hmmmm…where to next? So many choices. So little time.

Buddah Speaks
Peacefully I rest
Upon this lagoon’s bank
As pale green bamboo’s
Sway above my throne.
Clouds of blossoms
Soften the sifted light
Falling golden and misty
through the boughs above.
Long days of travel
Brought me from my home,
Yet I have known no hour of calmer rest
My thoughts are like
The swaying bamboos’ crest
waved to and fro
Above the rippling stream
Clear and blue
As from a glorious dream
–EA McIlhenny

Back to our Regularly Scheduled Programming November 27, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Photography, Travels.
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Hope y’all had a great T-Day. I certainly did. And yes, there was a bottle of Tabasco on the table. And yes, I splashed a good dose of it on my perfectly cooked turkey.

Alright, where were we? Ah yes, our lovely tour guide arrived right on schedule and in we went. We learned that Avery Island sits atop an enormous monolith of one of the three-count ’em, three-basic ingredients used by Edmund McIlhenny to make his first batch of pepper sauce in 1866. As any good Tabasco-loving fool can tell ya, you’re not going to find anything in that famous little bottle but red pepper, salt and vinegar. Can’t get more pure than that.

So as you might have guessed, that enormous monolith is a massive salt dome. And when I say massive, I mean massive. This thing is taller than Mount Everest my friends, but only about 152 feet of it rises above sea level which accounts for about the only hill I think I’ve driven up during my tour of duty in south Louisiana. The rest of it descends for some eight miles underground. Holy moly! Talk about a journey to the center of the earth.

Alright, so how do you make three simple ingredients so tasty? Well, pick a peck of perfect peppers by paw first. And be sure to use the “la petit baton rouge” (aka “the little red stick” painted the precise color of the perfect pepper) to determine which peck of perfect peppers to pick or the fruits of your labor will be rejected by the designated McIlhenny descendant in charge of the metal cash box.

Next, get you some of that perfect Avery Island salt and toss it on that perfect peck of peppers and start mixing and mashing. Store the mash in a white oak barrel recycled from the Jack Daniels Distillery. But be sure to drill a hole in the top so the thing doesn’t explode and throw some more of that Avery Island salt on top of the lid and watch it harden like cement.

After a quick three years, pop the lid. Dump the mash in to a blending vat. Add some stong, distilled, all natural white vinegar. Stir it for five minutes each hour. Strain off the seeds. And viola, a recipe for success.

Alrighty then. There you have it. Be sure to make a stop at the Country Store after your informative tour for anything and everything Tabasco including a free sample of Tabasco ice cream. And no, I’m sad to say that I did not partake. It was ten in the morning and well, no kind of ice cream sounds appetizing to me at that time of day although I’m sure it’s an interesting experience.

Next stop…Jungle Gardens! AMAZING!!! Stay tuned to read about my adventures with the birds, the bees, the flowers and Buddha. What the what? How did this end up in southern Louisiana?

As Hot As You Like It November 25, 2009

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As I saw the sign for LA-329 and headed south, I started to get excited at the prospect of visiting an island and happy that I was not going to be planting marsh grass upon it. Yes, folks, if you haven’t guessed by now, my destination was the famed Avery Island–home of a Louisiana concoction that has graced tables around the world since 1868. Tabasco that is, red gold, Louisiana tea.

Yep, it was my day to be a tourist, although, honestly, I kind of feel like a tourist everyday in Louisiana. And truth be told, I like it that way. I really don’t know what the future holds, or how long I’ll be a resident of this Sportsman Paradise, but I sincerely hope I never lose my sense of wonder and appreciation for the treasures my adopted home so graciously and generously offers up to us around each bend in the bayou and each curve in the river and each fork in the road.

Relieved that the persistent mist had given up on trying to dampen my day, it was still pretty downright gray, so when I saw this sign I decided to hang a left and spend a little time indoors hoping the sun would decide to arrive in the interim.

The first tour of day was about 20 minutes out, so I decided to take a quick stroll around the grounds and got a chuckle out of this piece of artwork. Legend has it that when the reds are a-swarming and a-schooling, they’ll bite on just about anything you throw at ’em, including jalapeno peppers as Captain Todd Casey demonstrated in an infamous YouTube video that made the rounds to the in-boxes of most Gulf Coast fisherman a while back. Check it out.  Some say it’s a hoax, but looks real enough to me and I’ve been on a few of those fishing trips when every cast either nets you a red, loses you a red or snaps your line. Talk about some fun!

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. I learned that Tabasco is the official pepper sauce to royalty and if you’ve ever sampled English fare, it’s not hard to imagine that they probably forego the standard two ounce bottles and opt for gallon jugs with which to stock their pantry.

And check out that crock! Wouldn’t mind having me one of those in the kitchen filled to the brim with that mouth-watering delight, the smell of which was in the air and most assuredly making my mouth water. Hey, is anyone looking? Maybe I could nonchalantly back the car up here and pop the trunk. Darn, how come I didn’t bring the truck?

Alright, let’s avoid temptation and a sure-fire way to land myself in the Iberia Parish Correctional Facility and head inside to learn a bit of history and the culinary genius behind this masterpiece.

As I waited for our guide to arrive, I met a lovely couple from down my way. They had made the trip from Lafourche Parish with two of their young grandchildren in tow to learn, to appreciate, and to savor all that Louisiana has to offer. While the young grand-daughter tried diligently to wrap her arms around an eight foot bottle of McIlhenny’s best which just wasn’t going to happen unless she spontaneously turned in to Stretch Armstrong, the young grandson explored an interactive map designating the some 130 countries to which Tabasco is shipped. I learned that the wife was originally from my beloved home state of Michigan. And I stumbled around for something pleasant to say when she responded to my question of “Oh, really. What part?” “Oh, yeah, Flint. Well, um, Flint is ni.., I mean, Flint, yeah, it’s pret…Really, Flint. No kidding. How long you been in Louisiana?” Hoping she’d say that she’d been here long enough to have escaped the devastation that has besieged the hardworking citizens of the town that General Motors forgot.

And just in time to save me from my mouth, our lovely guide appeared right on schedule. And unfortunately my scheduled blog time has come to an end for this morning. But y’all come back tomorrow so I can continue to share the oh so many treasures of Avery Island with you.

If Birds Could Talk: The Great Egret November 21, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Louisiana Wildlife, Photography.
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Back by popular demand. Well, maybe not by demand. And I’m not exactly sure how popular the first two installments in this series were, but I enjoy these so just humor me, alright? Alight.

Back off buddy! That’s my crab.

Ok, ok, you can have it. Holy crap, how did this happen?

Ahhh! Come on. Leave me alone, would ya? I said you could have it.

Rahhhhh! I’m a Ningagret baby!

Dude! This guy has some serious issues.

Whew! I think I lost him. I’ll just go over to the other side of the canal if that will make you happy.

Oh my gosh! Are you kidding me? Fine. I’ll just hang with my friends the pelicans.

What the what? Come on people, can’t we all just get along?

Please don’t bite me. Please don’t bit me. Really, I’m just passing through to somewhere more peaceful. Please don’t bit me.

Ahhhh….that’s more like it. Wide open sky. Smell that beautiful marsh air. Now that’s what I’m talking bout, baby.

Lord have mercy! Am I on fire? Seriously, this is just not my day.

Night Heron Blues November 20, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Louisiana Wildlife, Photography.
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So a couple of yellow-crowned night-herons (nyctanassa violacea) have been chilling lately in one of my favorite spots out in the marsh. As you know, I really do dig those big birds of south Louisiana. I guess, however, that I’d classify the night heron as more of a medium bird in stature when compared to some of my other larger friends like the pelican or the great blue heron or the great egret or a whole host of other more typical winged creatures down the bayou this time of year. But it’s smaller size certainly doesn’t diminish my fascination with it.

Some locals refer to this magificant bird as gros-bec (pronounced as grow-beck) which basically translates as “big beak” due to it’s shorter, thicker and very powerful bill.

As you might have guessed from it’s name, the night heron is pretty much a nocturnal hunter which makes it a little tougher to photograph. They also seem to be a more rare to see than other herons such as the great blue or the little blue. During my travels, I guess I’d say I see night herons as often as I see green herons, which, well, isn’t super often. So it’s a bit of a treat for me to great up close and personal with these guys.

But, like I said, they tend to feed early in the morning and later in the evening when the light for snapping a great shot is a bit more of a challenge. And I also find myself tending to lower my camera when they’re around to just sort of drink them in with all of their surroundings.

The night heron tends to feed on crustaceans, mollusks, frogs and insects. They usually wait in ambush mode at the water’s edge or stalk their prey when it’s dinner time. And when they’re ready to attack, attack they do.

Their favorite bayou delight is the crawfish, but hey, it isn’t crawfish season so I guess a little crab is a mighty tasty alternative.

And they definitely don’t seem to play around with their food too long.

This guy seemed to swallow his meal whole in twenty seconds flat.

And as the sun began to set quickly as it seems to do down the bayou at this time of year, it was time to bid adieu to my medium-sized bird friend and hope for another chance encounter sometime soon. I just really like this bird. He’s just got this Joe-cool, rebel without a cause look and feel to him…kind of the James Dean of south Louisiana birds…like if he were a person, you’d see him riding down some lonesome highway on a vintage Indian with the wind in his yellow crowned feathers.

What’s in a Number? November 17, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Bayou Life, Louisiana Wildlife, Photography, Ramblings.
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So in my last post, I basically let the entire world know (well, maybe not the entire world, maybe more like 5 people) that I just turned 40. And the other night the Momster called to wish me a happy birthday and was like, “I read on that Blue Dog thing (ok, Mom, it’s called a blog) that you are lamenting your age.” And well, that’s not really it at all. It’s really more like, “What? Are we sure about this math? Hold on a sec. 2009 minus 1969 equals…wait, let me try this with a calculator. Ok, then. 2-0-0-9 minus 1-9-6-9. Hmmm…that’s weird. I guess it does equal 40. Or maybe this is just some kind of new fangled math. Yes, yes, that must be it.”

And again, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m upset about this or something. I mean, I’m not having a mid-life crisis or anything. It’s just kind of weird, you know? Like…ok, hmmm…strange how that time thing works isn’t it? I mean, when I was a youngster, I pretty much figured I’d never make it past 30 so I think I kind of had my mid-life crisis at 15. And I’m sure the Momster will attest to that. Why I thought I wouldn’t make it past thirty is a tad fuzzy now, but I remember hanging out with my high school friends (who are now 40 or quickly approaching it which totally does not seem right either) trying to get someone to buy us alcohol (ok, Mom, just pretend you didn’t read that) and talking about Y-2-K although no one called it that at the time. It was just like, “oh my gosh, how weird is it going to be on December 31, 1999? Hey, we should all make a pact to get together for that New Year’s in New York City or something. That would be rad! We’ll party like it’s 1999!”

But honestly, I don’t remember exactly where I was or what I did on that New Year’s Eve, but I do remember getting up on January 1, 2000 and being glad that my alarm clock still worked and the TV stations were still on the air and my computer booted up just fine and there wasn’t some kind of “The Day After” landscape out my window. Not that I thought that was going to happen, but hey, no one knew for sure right?

Anyway, I guess I don’t have any new wisdom to share or insights in to the meaning of it all. I’m just thinking it’s time to enjoy another beautiful south Louisiana day and share a few pics of mullet flying through the air in all their majesty. What do you think? Isn’t that what it’s really about? Just enjoying where you are and who you’re with (but don’t take for granted that they’re going to be there tomorrow) and giving yourself a little challenge to be a better person than the day before? Not sure, but it works for me.

So…I’ve challenged myself to learn a little bit about the behavior of the mullet (from the family mugilidae). And let’s just say that they are a strange kind of bird in the world of south Louisiana fish. They seem to be best known for their jumping behavior although, honestly, nobody seems to have any definitive answers as to why they jump so much. Some say they jump to avoid predators. Others to say it’s to get rid of parasites. Who knows? But what I do know is that they jump a lot and they jump quickly and it’s not so easy to catch them in mid-jump with a camera. Most of the time, try as you might, you end up with something like this…

or this…

But with a little practice, you start to learn that mullet are kind of predictable. They typically jump about 3-4 times in a row. But if they flutter a little on that first jump, they probably won’t jump again right away. But if they fly out of the water on that first jump, you can sort of figure out where to aim the camera for the second, third, and if you’re lucky, fourth jumps. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to grab a good shot. Most of time you (well, me) get something like this…

Oh geez, I think that’s a fish. What is that? So, you just sit and wait and tune in your ears and eyes and try your luck again. Jump, click. Damn. Jump, click. Damn. Ok, well at least you can tell it’s a fish that time. Ooh, cool, he’s upside down.

Alright, let’s try again. And again. And again. Yes, definitely got him that time. Well, maybe not. But better.

Ok, come on guys. I’m getting tired and now the mosquitos are descending. Give me a break will ya? Alright, a little better. But could you jump a little straighter next time?

Ok, one more time and I’m outta here. Where is that bug spray?

Alright, my little flying fish friends, that’s gonna have to do it for today. We’ll try this again some other time. If I don’t get out of here soon, I’m going to be one giant mosquito bite. Oh, that’s a beautiful south Louisiana sunset. Click. Ahhh…thank’s buddy.

If Birds Could Talk: The Pelican Briefs November 3, 2009

Posted by dianehuhn in Louisiana Wildlife, Photography.
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Hey fellas! Long time no see. How you doing?DSC_9763

Hey baby. Is that a fish in your pouch, or are you just glad to see me?

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Oh my gosh! Something just touched my foot! Can’t we just find a nice sit-down buffet someplace?

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So Boudreaux and Thibodaux walk in to this bar…Oh man, not this one again.

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Rahhhhhhhhhhhh!

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Oh no! Tooooo fast! Fore!!!

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Whew! I meant to do that the whole time.

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Come to papa!

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Score!

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Now that’s what I’m talkin’ bout, baby!

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Come on fellas. Leave some for the rest of us. No one likes a fish hog.

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