Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Florida: Soundscapes, Cellphones and Misunderstood Silence
“Silence is the think tank of the soul.”
Water moccasin. Its name sounds like assassin. A snake to fear.
Yet this one was not moving. Curled on a stump next to the boardwalk, under a canopy of cypress, oak and pine, the serpent's stillness was a mystery. Perhaps it was shedding, sloughing its skin. One thing was clear: this silent snake was not a threat. It was quiet, and was surrounded by the consonant soundscape of the Six Mile Cypress Slough.
A slough is a place of soft, muddy ground. This one has a boardwalk over the swamp that winds through the forest. A red-bellied woodpecker, upside down, drills into a tree: Chirrr (pause)... chirrr (pause, pause, pause)... chirrrrr. As it calls, the bird's tail vibrates. Its beak moves so fast while pecking, 7 meters per second against the wood, that its head accelerates to 1,000 G's. To grasp this force and speed, a comparison helps: a dragster going from 0 to 100 in under a second only accelerates about 6 G's. The slough's canopy shelters many birds with a range of skills.
A purple gallinule walks on water, hunting in the lilies of Otter pond. Its blue, red and white colors stand out from the green lily pads. Legs dancing, the gallinule flips lily pads around like a wind surfer changing sail direction.
Taking a cue from the gallinule, Otter Pond gradually changes hues. As afternoon flows into sundown, the sky's colors grace the pond. Cottony-textured clouds, reflected, drift amid the lily pads. The blue water darkens, its surface rippled here and there by rising fish. Otter Pond's onlookers are without words. We are awakened by these rippling waters.
A little green heron calls softly. A black crested anhinga takes off. Wing beats caress the hush. If we practice our capacity to listen to her closely, the forest will expand our spirit.
A band of pink appears on the horizon above Alligator Lake. White ibis glide across the lake like airborne angels as they join the flock. They flap, stall and grip the tree branches. The water surface on Alligator Lake is still. Then, the hush is broken by a discordant racket: shotgunning cameras, a child's sulking and a ringing cell phone.
This cacophony consumes the silence, so I turn away. Walking the boardwalk, I pass by a quote attached to the railing. It is a thought Henry David Thoreau wrote long ago: “In human intercourse the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.”
Take The Stairs
Take The Stairs
Today, January 12th, is National Take The Stairs day. Travelling, I take the stairs twice. First, I climb the stairs because it's good exercise for the legs and lungs. Then, I take the stairs through photographs, to portray a sense of place and express how I feel in that place.
Junkanoo in The Bahamas
Cowbells clang. Drums keep a steady salvo. Whistles 'fweet'. Trombones and tubas join in the parade. In time with these throbbing musical rhythms, fancy dancers wave their arms and twirl. I gesture with the camera, smile and move in close.
Tonight is Junkanoo. The parade dances through Governour's Harbor, on the island of Eleuthera. On Eleuthera, in Nassau and other islands, Junkanoo Festivals reflect the heart of Bahamian culture.
Governour's Harbor has a group called the Harbor Boys. They kindly shared their skills and told me they begin making costumes and floats a year in advance. The Harbor Boys compete with visiting groups across Eleuthera island such as the Savannah Sound Lucayans, Harbour Island’s Barracks Hill Warriors, New Vision from Rock Sound.
TIPS: 1. Before photographing kids in public, I always ask parents for permission first. 2. Try to go to Junkanoo parades in person, even if you have to wait awhile. During our current 2022 covid pandemic, there will be virtual events online, but wait until you can be there on the street, to feel the beat and soak up the spirit!
TODAY: NATIONAL ARGYLE DAY
Today, January 8th, is National Argyle Day. In Scotland, the tartan patterns of overlapping diamond motifs have a long and colorful past. We drove from Edinburgh to Skye in search of our AirBnB. The journey across Skye took us back into Scottish history, In city and in rural Scotland, we saw people wearing argyle patterns. Arriving at our lodging, I came across one of Scotland's great mysteries, the Appin Murder, about the assassination of Colin Roy Campbell. This tale is one of power, politics and murder, and it was the source for Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel. There is tartan mentioned in Stevenson's book as well.
A WRONG TURN
Driving to our lodging, we took a wrong turn before we finally locate Ballachulish House Bothy in Glencoe. A Bothy is a seasonal worker's lodging. This delay worked in our favor because there was a break in the damp weather as we arrived. Driving a rented Mercedes up the driveway which paralleled the creek, a rainbow appeared as the wind abated.
We parked the car by the storm-swollen creek. Our warmly-dressed host came out to greet us, and led us inside the 19th century, white, rectangular, stone and slate abode. Described as a self-catering bed-and-breakfast, its exterior doors were a distinctive vivid blue. Inside, on the mantle above the fireplace, rested a complete set of Robert Louis Stevenson's novels. The book Kidnapped was in the middle of the three-foot wide stack about halfway between The Hair Trunk and Saint Ives. As the wind howled around Ballachulish house that night, I turned the pages. Kidnapped is a famous fictional tale, set around historical Scottish events and real historical characters. Its main character is David Balfour, a 17-year-old seeking an inheritance from his uncle. Alan Breck Stewart is David's companion in the novel. Kidnapped's central theme is the concept of justice, the imperfections of the justice system and the lack of a universal definition of justice.
MURDER AND HANGING OF JAMES OF THE GLEN
Our Ballachulish guesthouse, built in 1640, was famous for its connection to the Appin Murder, the last great Scottish mystery. Colin Campbell of Glenure, called The Red Fox, was shot in the back near Appin, Scotland. He was a government employee under the Hanoverian King George II, the 5th Great Grandfather of Elizabeth II. The Kings men took land from Jacobite clans and arrested Seaumas a’ Ghlinne, or James of the Glen, the Steward of Appin, a quiet, educated man. James was arrested, imprisoned and hanged for the murder of The Red Fox.
James' trial was a mockery; from the start there was no doubt about its outcome. Witnesses were bullied and bribed. Presiding was the Lord Justice General, Archibald Campbell, Duke of Argyll. The Campbells were Hanoverians, like the King. They wanted to clear as many Stewarts off their land as quickly as possible. James of the Glen (James Stewart) was found guilty, not of having committed the murder but of being a member of the conspiracy to commit it. James of the Glen was hanged on 8 November 1752 on a gibbet above the narrows at Ballachulish. Since that day, many believe that an innocent man was cynically hanged for political reasons.
HOW IT GOT KIDNAPPED
The historical mystery of the murder inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Kidnapped. In Stevenson's novel, the action takes place at a time when wearing argyle Tartan was against the law. In his story, Stevenson introduces the fictional character of young David Balfour, who witnesses the murder. Although David Balfour flees with Alan Breck, he suspects him of the killing even, initially, by Balfour. The pair's adventures on the run in the Scottish Highlands create the famous tale.
HE TARTANS OF KIDNAPPED
Here's the thing about argyle. Tartan is a woven material, generally of wool, having stripes of different colors and varying in breadth. Kilt patterns represent the Clan. There are tartans for regions and districts in Scotland, such as Argyllshire in Western Scotland. Argyll is also a surname, and the family tartan was first recorded in 1819. In Scotland, the tartan you wear in battle is a code of honor.
THE JOURNEY CONTINUED
Leaving Glen Coe to explore other regions on the Isle of Skye, I pondered on the time that has passed since the Appin Murder. The injustice of the case, and the drama of Kidnapped, still stay with me. I think of English write and poet D.H. Lawrence, who worte: Ethics and equity and the principles of justice do not change with the calendar."
1. Ballachulish Guest House Bothy AirBnB
2. Kidnapped, Disney 1960 Film
The sun cast shadows from the lattice of roof beams. They danced across the West wall inside the abandoned Bahamas church. The shadows vanished as high clouds floated overhead, and then returned again. Between the arched doorway and the windows, the dancing shadows were lively. At times, it seemed the wall itself was still, and my thoughts were dancing.
Photographing inside this old Anglican church, I wanted to portray its textures and forms. Later, I learned more of its history. When I met him in Old Bight, Reverend Father Eric A. Miller told me there were 11 Anglican churches on Cat Island, five of which had fallen into disuse from population and economic changes. The Parish Church of Saint Savior in New Bight, pictured here, was one of these five. Watching rays of light and shadows move across Saint Savior's concrete wall, I slowed down to steady my mind and enjoy the warm Cat Island sun. It was January 21st, 2018.
Vivid green hues emerged from outside the windows. Their shutters were broken, perhaps blasted by one of the hurricanes that blasted Cat Island in years past. Through the broken shutters, vines were growing in. Eventually, I thought, natures tendrils will cover these aging church walls. There were two ancient, timeless Gods at work here: Nature and Faith.
We worship two Gods of photography as well: Speed and Sharpness. The God of Speed is worshiped in camera ads and in photo club chats. The God of Sharpness demands our obedience. These two false Gods dominate popular photography.
If we worship these Gods blindly without a healthy skepticism, we demolish creativity. Sharpness and Speed are only passing clouds. I believe they do not embody the nature, or the true faith of photography. Change and growth are truths in photography. Photograph is a language, and language changes over time.
Like vines, new ideas grow in through the windows of our mind. Creative seeing begins when we are open to new growth, and question outdated ideas. Like abandoning a building that no longer serves us, we can let go of the false gods of speed and sharpness, that we worship today. They are dogma, not truth.
"When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow." ~ Anais Nin
“Like a lighthouse beam, focused yet illuminating all horizons,
our slow photography process is bright, outwardly directed
and keeps our journey on a steady course.”
7 Point Slow Photography Manifesto
1. Slow photography is a way of thinking. Our photographs become meaningful when we see what others see but visualize them uniquely. Doing slow photography, we do not need any special gear, camera, lens or filter.
2. Let the scene's meaning emerge gradually. Our brain's visual system requires time to slow down and compose in context. A camera may have a light speed computer, but in the human brain, thought takes time.
3. Slow photographers practice compassionate ethics. We try to make our moves and actions compassionate and "full of mind." We avoid putting others, animals, nature
or ourselves at risk.
4. Sit down, be quiet, take a visual inventory.
5. Go back again, and photograph again. The meaning of a place, and your place in it, will deepen over repeated visits.
6. A slow photographer visits fewer places but lets each one fill her vision.
She stays longer, explores one area and its residents, and then recharges her mind. Sleep is essential to make creative work. A well-rested photographer makes better images than a hyper-caffeinated one. Don't run on fumes.
7. If circumstances make us rush, we pause. Speed kills. Don't chase your subject; return to it. Find where no tripod holes have been, stay still, listen, watch.
Note: This declaration and viewpoint are my opinion and perspective only,
not intended as facts or advice.
Here's The Thing:
The main exposure modes on our cameras are not always practical for fast changing lighting situations. Above, sunlight on the bald eagle dimmed behind fog, and I was photographing from a moving boat. If I had to change my ISO, I would have missed getting this photograph. I set a fast shutter speed to ensure a sharp image, and even when the light changed, the shutter speed and aperture did not, as the ISO changed automatically.
We may need to get creative with subject focus, depth, blurring motion and over or under exposure by using selected apertures and specific shutter speeds. The camera modes of Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual (PASM) are usually used with a set ISO. But AUTO-ISO is a more forgiving and flexible choice for wildlife photography.
You will get better exposures by learning to combine Auto ISO with Manual Mode, so you can set specific shutter speeds and apertures.
HOW TO SET AUTO ISO Combined with Manual Exposure Mode (M) :
Setting the three elements of exposure (shutter, aperture, and ISO), we lock in two of them and then change the third element to let it “float.” For instance, in Manual Mode, choose your F-stop (aperture) first. It won't change. You could set F/2.8, for instance. Then, dial in your creative Shutter Speed. I like to use 1/2000th and faster for sport and nature. Remember, in the camera's Manual Mode, a shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second appears as 4000. For example, for the parasailing image below, I used a telephoto lens and set a fast 1/4000th of a second, and an F/5.6 Aperture to ensure I could hold the heavy lens steady for a sharp photograph. The ISO was set to AUTO ISO.
Your camera's Menu will have an Auto ISO setting. Let's see how to set Manual and AUTO ISO on a mirrorless camera.
EXAMPLES: Setting Manual Mode and Auto ISO with a mirrorless camera. First, an example from Nikon. Then, a mention of the Canon (R3) mirrorless Auto ISO.
Easy Steps to Set Auto ISO:
START STEP #1: Look in your camera menu, and find AUTO ISO. Nikon, for example, calls this ISO Sensitivity Settings. Almost all camera makers now offer this feature in the menu. Auto ISO can be fine-tuned for maximum or minimum sensitivity. Newest camera models allow fine tuning for flash pictures as well.
Set the maximum Auto ISO sensitivity that you will accept. This is subjective because the number you choose affects the amount of noise and grain you’ll see – and can live within your photographs. Since I have my maximum ISO set to ISO 6400 as a maximum value, that means my camera will not shoot at ISO 12,500 or higher ISO numbers until I adjust Maximum ISO.
STEP #2: Next, set the lowest or minimum ISO you want in your camera ISO settings menu. Pick the lowest ISO the camera has, like ISO 25, 50 or 100. If set to 100, the camera will not use a lower setting like ISO 50.
FINISH #3: Last, set the minimum (slowest) shutter speed that you want the shutter to be faster than. This might range, for instance, from 1/250th of a second for nature shots on a tripod to 1/8000th of a second for sports or fast-action imagery. When you set 1/250th of a second, the camera will not use shutter speeds slower than this speed, and will only shoot 1/250th, 1/500th, 1/1000th and faster.
MORE ON CANON MIRRORLESS: Canon makes it easy to set AUTO ISO. For the R3 mirrorless camera: there are 3 steps:
What Does it Mean? Better Exposures and Ergonomics:
Using AUTO ISO means the camera changes (floats) the ISO to get the exposure correct even when light, camera F/stop and other conditions vary. For example, when you photograph in fog or dim conditions in the winter, AUTO ISO adjusts the sensitivity of the sensor. The ISO might change, automatically, to ISO 2000 as it did for the photograph of a shearwater above. If I had chosen Aperture Priority for the shearwater, the picture might have had motion blur from the camera automatically using a slower shutter speed. Manually setting a fast Shutter Speed of 1/8000th ensured the image would be sharp with no motion blur.
MANUAL EXPOSURE MODE:
Using your camera's AUTO-ISO feature in combination with Manual (M) exposure mode, you can smoothly and quickly make changes to your exposure settings. How? Simply by adjusting a single dial with your index finger or thumb. Whether you change shutter speed, or F/Stop with your hands, your eyes are still focused on the subject through the viewfinder. We need to learn to use Manual Exposure Mode so that using it becomes second nature, and this comes with practice. With Manual, what you set is what you get. Turn your Mode Dial to M for Manual. Let’s say you are in low light. Pick a shutter speed of 1/60th with Optical Stabilization (OS) or Vibration Reduction (VR), and set your aperture to F/2.8. You control both the aperture and the shutter when you choose Manual exposure mode.
IN THE CAMERA:
Modern digital cameras have the ability to combine AUTO ISO with Manual Exposure Mode, but check your menu for AUTO ISO. Here are two examples, and your camera may be set up similarly. In a Nikon DSLR, Nikon's ISO setting is in the Shooting Menu. On a Canon 5D, the AUTO ISO can be changed with the Info Button on the back of the camera.
Why Use AUTO-ISO Plus Manual?
Setting Auto ISO and Manual Mode together frees your attention and lets you operate the controls smoothly. Canon, Nikon, Leica, Fuji, Sony and other makers let you first set Auto-ISO, then easily change shutter and aperture with just a single dial in front or behind the shutter release button. For creative compositions, it helps to focus your attention and keep your eyes in the finder. Without taking your eye from the viewfinder, you can easily rotate the dial to move from 1/125th of a second to 1/4000th of a second. Or, you can quickly change your aperture for more depth of field.
Delightfully, AUTO-ISO + M lets you choose shutter to control motion, AND set an F-stop to control creative depth of field, with the camera automatically on a range of ISO values you’ve set up in its menu. AUTO ISO plus M is the most flexible of all exposure modes. Dialing in AUTO-ISO plus Manual exposure mode works well for wildlife photography of birds landing, mammals on the run, and large fast wildlife in changing conditions. Why? You are concentrating on the subject and not fiddling around with exposure modes. As we saw above, Shutter Priority mode is an effective choice to control motion within the frame. Slow shutter speeds allow motion blurs. Fast shutter speeds let us stop action, as with birds in flight. As you know, Aperture Priority is a way to control the plane of focus and depth of field. Therefore, setting your camera for Auto-ISO + Manual gives the advantages of controlling depth of field and stop-motion control for sharpness or motion blur.
Better Ergonomics and Exposures:
Using your camera's AUTO-ISO feature in combination with Manual (M) exposure mode, you can smoothly and quickly make changes to your exposure settings. How? Simply by adjusting a single dial with your index finger or thumb as in the image above where the command dial on a Canon camera body is turned to change any setting from exposure compensation, to F/stop or even Shutter Speed. When you change settings with a single index finger, you can keep your eyes focused on the subject through the viewfinder, and this gives DSLR's and mirrorless cameras a big advantage over cell phone cameras, by the way.
What Does It Mean?:
When you set AUTO ISO, this means your camera changes (floats) the ISO to get the exposure correct even when the light, subject motion, F/stop and other settings vary or change. For example, when you photograph in a dim room with a digital camera, and then go outside in the bright sun, AUTO ISO adjusts the sensitivity of the sensor. The ISO might change, automatically, from ISO 2000 inside to ISO 200 outside.
Modern digital cameras have the ability to combine AUTO ISO with Manual Exposure Mode, but check your menu for AUTO ISO. We need to learn to use Manual Exposure Mode so that using it becomes second nature, and this comes with practice. With Manual, what you set is what you get. Turn your Mode Dial to M for Manual. Let’s say you are in low light. Pick a shutter speed of 1/60th with Optical Stabilization (OS) or Vibration Reduction (VR), and set your aperture to F/2.8. You are in control of both the aperture and the shutter when you choose Manual exposure mode. If you have not used Manual Mode, grab your digital camera now and go practice!
Advantages For Photographing With AUTO ISO Combined with Manual Exposure Mode:
1. You can keep your eyes in the viewfinder.
2. You can get sharper photographs. Blurred photographs happen at times when the camera chooses too slow a shutter speed. This can happen with Aperture Mode (A). When photographing wildlife with a long focal length telephoto lens like 400 or longer, and the light changes, the shutter speed will slow down in Aperture Priority Mode.
3. You can get more depth in your photographs. WIth AUTO ISO and Manua, you can set small F-stops like F/11 or F/16. (Yes, there is diffraction, but the newest mirroless cameras as of 2022 have diffraction control) . This lets you be creative with getting deeper Depth of Field and varying the bokeh or the quality of the blurred areas around the subject. Or, should you desire a shallow plane of focus, dial in a wider aperture like F/2 and F/1.4 and set the lowest ISO possible when photographing still subjects.
For instance, photographing for blurred background for a perched bird, I open the F-stop to f/2.8 or f/4, which is near the widest lens opening. Then, I use the lowest possible ISO (50, 100, 200, or whatever is native to the camera) when I want to reduce noise in the image file. The payoff is efficiency: there’s no time spent searching the camera’s menu or fiddling with buttons.
The Grateful Dark
My husband and I have a small dog. From eyebrows to tail she is black, but has some brown on her ribs, and her underbelly is mink white. Sanding on her hind legs, she's just tall enough to lick my face when I bend from the waist. Until she begins to hunt, that is. Then, she pumps herself up like a wave rolling ashore. When I took her out walking at 6 am one Sunday morning, I was relieved she was not swallowed.
Dodging potholes, we crossed the parkway. The light on a metal lamp post glowed orange behind us, its dim light outshone by the line of walkway lights ahead. Mist hung over the pond, and at the edge of the water, given a lack of rain, mud was exposed. Shanti strained at her leash. She hunted in silence, sniffing, and wanting to reach the water's edge: "let me go, I smell, I can smell something in those reeds just out there, let me go Dad!" Thankful for her yaplessness, I held the leash but let her out just to its end.
She ran down toward the water. Inhaling the pond decay aromas, I thought back to one early morning on our live aboard catamaran, when I was pumping out the starboard head. It had been a month since our last septic tank pumpout. I opened the wrong valve and many days worth of well-you can geysered up and, unlike in Yellowstone, unfaithfully landed on the bathroom floor and walls. As the memory tapered off, I glanced ahead at the dog, grateful that this pond's odors were almost pleasant in comparison.
The dog was on point.
Peering ahead of her in the near dark, I saw why Shanti had paused. Just a few dog lengths from the muddy bank, two motionless vertical slits hung side by side just above the water, their hue a deeper red than the carroty colors of the lamplight behind us. The slits flickered in the lambent lights along the trail. Althought song birds were warming up their tunes in the damp Florida air, I heard only a fast thumping sound in my ribs. I looked at the dog. Shanti was still, snuffing the darkness, mouth agape, her back legs splayed apart as if her rear was a divining rod.
Dawn brighted. Scales appeared around the eye slits: two eyes, bright, hovering. The ridges on the tail's surface were the texture of a cheese grater. I wondered if Shanti heard me scream, though I thought I heard myself whisper “Back, get back Shanti.” I heard a splash. Perhaps it was a turtle, diving. Shanti knew better.
As the pond's surface began mirroring the coral-colored cirrus clouds above, the two slits became four. In the growing light of daybreak I thanked my dog for her clever nose. I was thankful for the alligator. Thank you, alligator, for not breaking my family apart.
Dragonflies: Thriving on Vision
1. Wear purple or blue clothing to photograph dragonflies.
2. To put six to nine feet between my lens and a dragonfly, I use a telephoto of 400 to 500 mm focal length, and place an extension tube between camera and lens.
Dragonflies and damselflies are colorful, active hunters. They depend on their vision to fly, hunt, and thrive. Dragonflies possess a finely tuned visual system with globe-like, genetically evolved eyes that empower them to catch their prey, and see a variety of light wavelengths, in ways that are quite beyond our vision.
We learned in school that our vision works with red, green and blue sensitive cells. We may know that our vision also depends on the chemistry of our three visual opsins, or our eyes light- sensitive proteins. For instance, the first half hour after you walk into a dark cave, your eyes adapt, using an opsin called rhodopsin, a light sensitive chemical that improves your night vision to let you see detail.
Enter the dragonfly. It has evolved a wider range of vision. One study of 12 dragonfly species genetics found that each one has 11 to 33 different visual opsins, thanks to dynamic gene multiplication (Ryo Tahashi et al, Proceedings National Academy of Sciences, USA, 2015 Mar 17; 112-11). Tahashi and colleagues found the evolution of the diverse opsin genes in dragonflies is relevant to their ecology. In the daytime, brightly-colored male dragonflies make a territory at an open space around riverside, pond, forest edge, or tree canopy. There, they patrol. With flight faster than we can see, they defend the territory against other males. They attempt to mate with females.
True dragonflies, but not damselflies, tend to have a twilight flight just before and after sunset. At that time, they dine. They pursue mosquitos, midges, flies and other insects that emerge after sundown. Thus, we can thank the over 1500 species of dragonflies for ridding us of numerous biting bugs.
Wear darker blue or purple clothes and skip the bright colored fabrics, when you try to get close to a dragonfly. Dragonflies have a dorsal visual system and a ventral visual system that are sensitive to different color wavelengths and their visual system, in general, is more sensitive to the 500 to 700 nanometer wavelengths, and somewhat less tuned to the 300-500 nanometer wavelengths, those of dark blue and purple.