Something is Running and It’s not Me

Long-term weather forecasts can be useful but they are subject to change and not always accurate. A predicted period of snow showers followed by a slight warm-up can become 10 days of ice, snow and arctic winds followed by a drastic melt-down and, before you know it, the scramble is on. In this case, the scramble is up and down and across the slopes of Bobo’s Mountain, driving taps into every available maple tree before the sap starts running in earnest.

Making Tracks

Making Tracks

By mid-afternoon, sap was dripping from freshly drilled holes before spiles could be driven and drop lines hooked up. Licking a tree is not something normally done in polite company, but up on the hill, where nobody can see, why not? Faintly sweet and tasting of forest, those first drips are an elixir, pushing aside visions of snow drifts and cold, replacing them with thoughts of mud, hot fires and steam.

Across the Brook

Across the Brook

With all hands on deck, the last tap went in yesterday afternoon and the collection tank began to fill. Some of those hands, though, are a little worse for the wear, scraped by rough bark and sliced by sharp bits, all in pursuit of syrup.

Professional Hand Models, Bobo's Mountain Style

Professional Hand Models, Bobo’s Mountain Style

Today, the arch will be fired up to boil the first run of sap on Bobo’s Mountain, giving sore muscles and busted knuckles a break and allowing those hands to experience burns and scalds instead.

Bring on the mud!

 

Categories: Rural Life, Winter, Maple Syrup | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A New Gallery and Tips for Photographing Snowflakes

One in a Gazillion

One in a Gazillion

Embrace, endure, or leave. Those are pretty much the choices when it comes to winter in Vermont. It is not uncommon for those who stay to find themselves wavering between the first two choices, while those who left are content to look at the pictures.

Drifting Among the Drifts

Drifting Among the Drifts

That’s a lot of snowflakes and, like my daddy always said, “When life gives you lemons, shut up and eat your lemons,” although in this case it’s snowflakes, not lemons.

Group shots of snowflakes can be tricky, especially on a sunny afternoon, but individual portraits are more interesting. The most famous snowflake photographer of all has to be Wilson A. “Snowflake” Bentley, a resourceful farmer from Jericho, VT, who became the first person to photograph a single snow crystal in 1885.

Photography has come a long way since Snowflake Bentley hooked up a microscope to his big bellows camera and exposed individual glass plates. Gear was just part of the equation, though. Snowflakes are small, fragile, and temporary, so conditions and technique were also important. They still are, no matter what kind of rig you use. With almost as many camera variations as there are snowflakes in my dooryard, I’ll leave that part up to you. Getting those snowflakes in front of your lens, keeping them there, and having a chance at a decent photo is what this post is about.

Scroll down for more, or just skip it by clicking the photo below to view the new Snowflake Gallery at Nonesuch Mountain Images. Clicking any snowflake photo on this page will take you there.

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

(I just said this isn’t about the gear but, for the record, I’m using an Olympus TG-4. More on that at the end of this post.)

Snowflake Photo Tips:

Go outside! Snowflakes don’t conveniently stick to window glass very often. You need to go to them. Even if it’s just to the porch, deck or balcony, embrace winter and spend some time outdoors. Give yourself plenty of room to work; taking pictures of such tiny things requires a surprising amount of elbow room!

→ I am not your mother but, for goodness sake, dress warmly! Even if you’re just on the porch, deck or balcony, plan on spending a little time out there. Besides, going back and forth, in and out, opening and closing the door all the time because you got cold is just going to get you yelled at.

→ Choose a calm part of the storm. Snowflakes are fragile and break against each other in the wind. They are also easier to catch when they’re not travelling horizontally. Set up out of any breezes to keep your subjects from blowing away and under cover to prevent too much of a good thing from gathering while you shoot.

→ If the snowfall is due to advancing warm air, the best snowflakes will probably fall during the first part of the storm, before a “wintry mix” sets in. If a cold front is sweeping through, the end of the storm may be best, but I take samples throughout the day because the conditions that form snowflakes are found thousands of feet up and even miles away.

→ Choose a background. You can wander around, looking for snowflakes where they land and taking what you get, or you can give them something to land on that you can control. Some people use a piece of cloth or even a coat sleeve but I find the textures and loose fibers distracting. A DSLR allows you to fine-tune the focus but compact cameras that have limited focus control or rely on auto-focus are just as likely to focus on the cloth as the snowflake. Cloth also wicks moisture and snowflakes can get sucked in and distorted.

More power to those who use cloth but, as a nod to Snowflake Bentley, I prefer a flat black background and use a piece of acrylic plexiglass sprayed with flat black stove paint (he used wax, I believe). With seven wood stoves to take care of, I’ve always got a can or two hanging around. Experimenting with other colors might be interesting, as long as they are not glossy and don’t add unwanted reflections.

Clear Plexiglass, Painted Flat Black

Clear Plexiglass, Painted Flat Black

Working on the porch or just inside the barn, I hold the plexiglass out and collect a dusting of flakes. A few seconds is usually enough to collect a dozen or more specimens. A wipe with a cold, soft cloth clears the surface for another round.

→ Whatever you choose to use as a background, it must be cold and so must whatever you set it on! I keep my plexiglass on the porch and put the table I use out there ahead of time, so it has a chance to become the same temperature as the outside air. A micro-fiber cloth is good for wiping away water drops from any melting.

→ I also bring my cameras out, in their bags or cases, and allow them to come to temperature gradually while I set up. Sudden temperature changes are not good! Keep bags and cases outside with you.

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

→ With a sampling of snowflakes on my background, I bring it under cover and set it on a wobbly old table sturdy flat surface. At the magnification needed for snowflakes, the tiniest tremor will register as a catastrophic earthquake. An ill-timed cough and passage of the town snow plow are just two of my excuses.

→ A steady background serves no purpose if the camera moves, so use a tripod and your camera’s built-in timer if you don’t have a remote trigger. Pressing the shutter button causes movement and using the timer will allow the shivers to pass. When using a tripod, turn Image Stabilization off because that sensor, ironically, causes movement.

A GorillaPod® or similar small unit can be used for compact cameras but, when it comes to snowflakes, the sturdier the better.

The Sturdier The Better!

The Sturdier The Better!

→ Snowflakes gather, refract and reflect more light than you might expect and I haven’t found a need for supplemental lighting, as long as I’m using a tripod. To avoid the noisy images I get at high ISO settings, I use ISO 100 or 200. I don’t have aperture control in macro settings, which would be more for light than depth of field in these close quarters, so I deal with it later, in processing. DSLR users can tweak away to their heart’s content, but it doesn’t matter what kind of camera or settings you use if things aren’t steady!

→ Working so closely, a single breath can obliterate your subject if you don’t pay attention. It’s also easy to accidentally fog a lens. Hold your breath or turn your head!

→ Once you’ve collected some images or just had enough of the cold, put that cold camera into its cold bag or case and zip it up before you bring it in. Some say to wrap the camera in a plastic bag first but, whether you do or don’t, leave your camera in its bag or case for longer than you think necessary, allowing it to warm up slowly and avoid condensation inside.

(Go take a hot bath, have a cup of tea or do something else while you wait. Maybe read a couple of posts from the archives of The View from Fish in a Barrel Pond, like Vermont Hand Crafted Tenkara Rods or The One About Poop )

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

→ I use Light Room for processing but I would never attempt to tell anyone else how to use it. I don’t do much more than adjust exposure and contrast, but because I’m shooting in color, I do get some purple fringe and odd prism effects that I either worry about or not. How you process images is up to you, just like which camera you use and how you use it. Have fun!

A broken glass plate or bad exposure cost Snowflake Bentley both his egg money and the time he lost, but digital technology allows us to capture and delete images immediately and at will, using devices that fit in the palms of our hands.  He created 5,000 snowflake images over the course of his lifetime, painstakingly composed with a jury-rigged contraption and developed by himself, in his own lab, which is about 10,000 fewer pictures than today’s average American takes of themselves in a year.

No matter how they are photographed, snowflakes remain fascinating, intricate, beautiful and, of course, unique. It’s easier than ever to create images of snowflakes but the underlying principle is the same now as it was 100+ years ago:

Keep yourself warm and keep everything else cold and steady.

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

Snowflake, Nonesuch Mountain Images

Why an Olympus TG-4?

Last year I found myself needing a new water-proof compact camera for knocking about and wanting a macro lens for my Canon DSLR. My budget wouldn’t allow both but the search led me to some reviews of the new Olympus Tough TG-4, which spoke highly of its macro capabilities and showed some of what it could do. It is also shock-proof, water-proof and cold-rated to 14°F (-10°C). It does in-camera focus-stacking in macro mode, live composites for nighttime photos and star trails, and it also has time-lapse and super slo-mo video capabilities.

I like mine very much and you can visit the Olympus Tough TG-4 web site by clicking this link. 

Categories: Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

An Idea That Will Revolutionize Fly Fishing

Having at least a rudimentary command of fly fishing skills and knowledge, I have spent the last ten years in close observation and study of anglers and their ilk. One conclusion I have reached is that a vital segment of the fly fishing community remains chronically under-served. I aim to correct that situation and I do not want you to miss out on this Important Investment Opportunity!

According to this article by Kirk Deeter on Field & Stream‘s Fly Talk blog, the American Fly Fishing Trade Association estimates that, in the U.S. alone, close to 4.5 million of us fly fish at least once a year. As Kirk points out, some sources put the number higher, some lower, and some prefer to look at only those who are regular consumers of fly fishing products. With estimates as high as 10 million and as low as 1.5 million, we’ll stick with 4.5 million as a conservative average.

Obviously, a certain percentage of us fish more than just once or twice a season, in a wide range of weather and other conditions, and manage to have a fine time doing so. We find the time we spend outside, doing something we love, to be an invigorating balm for our souls.

But what about those others, the ones who don’t fish much at all because to do so would mean actually getting outside? The ones who constantly find it too hot, too cold, too rainy, or too windy. The ones who say they’d like to feel they were part of something larger than themselves, if only it weren’t made up of so many things smaller than themselves, like black flies and mosquitoes, spiders and mice. The ones who react with anger at otters and loons, and at the end of the day knock baby birds from their nests for pooping on the porch.

I have seen far too many fly fishing experiences absolutely, completely ruined by the great outdoors. Making allowances for, among other things, the fact that some anglers will struggle on their own for a week, or that an entire camp can be demoralized in a weekend, my observations lead me to believe that at least 25% of all fly fishers would fish a lot more if they didn’t have to do it outdoors.

Over a million anglers, for whom the traditional fly fishing experience holds little charm? Sounds to me like Oppotunity knocking and that’s why, working closely with the same folks who brought you Vermont Hand Crafted Tenkara Rods and our famous gear-for-guides Angler Management Device, I am pleased and proud to invite you in on the ground floor of our latest concept, Gordon’s Getaway Club®, the ultimate fly fishing destination for anglers who “expect less from Nature”™. Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing, Humor | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Spreading Something Other Than Ugly

An inquiry regarding a mayfly photo last summer triggered a furious search, which is ongoing. The photo in question resides among some 10,000+ images I’ve taken over the past few years, which someone is finally taking the time to catalog, tag and edit. At least a thousand pictures weren’t worth any words at all, other than “delete” because they were so hopeless but, even at my most ruthless, thousands more have thus far been spared.

That particular mayfly hasn’t been cataloged yet but many others have been and it’s only a matter of time before I find it again. After all, what good is a photo if you can’t find it? And what good are hundreds of others if no one is going to see them?

The answer, of course, is that they are no good at all.

I could dole them out, one at a time, on a blog that is updated sporadically at best, but that would take years; I could post them here in big batches, sure to overwhelm while serving no particular purpose; I could just leave them where they are, the way they are, and do nothing at all.

Or, I could spend some frigid mornings and long, dark winter nights building a place to hold some of the best pictures I’ve got, where anyone and everyone can see them, any time they want.

A place like Nonesuch Mountain Images.

Five galleries are up, with additional images and galleries to come. All images are copyrighted. Larger (printable) file sizes are available for purchase as licensed digital downloads for personal or professional use.

You might notice there are no (visible) identifiers or watermarks displayed. Heck, there’s even a little button to click if you want to share them with someone else. Please do. There is plenty of ugliness in the world so why not spread a little something else? Just remember they’re mine and at least link back or give credit where credit is due, please.

Clicking a photo below will whisk you away to that photo’s gallery page at

Nonesuch Mountain Images

How about a gallery of mayflies (which will always be one image short until I find the one that started all this)?

Sulphur Dun, Nonesuch Mountain Images

Maybe some loons?

Loon Looking Silly, Nonesuch Mountain Images

Dragonflies and Damselflies are always interesting…

Green Darner, Nonesuch Mountain Images

There will be additions, but here are some of the rare and more unusual wild flowers I come across:

Purple Fringed Orchid, Nonesuch Mountain Images

Purple Fringed Orchid, Nonesuch Mountain Images

It won’t be long before the sap starts to run and the arches are fired-up for another sugaring season. More pictures! More syrup!

Late-Day Steam, Nonesuch Mountain Images

Late-Day Steam, Nonesuch Mountain Images

It used to be called “shameless self-promotion” but it’s called “branding” now, I guess. Nobody’s offered to cough up 17-million dollars to put my name on their building yet, so words and pictures are about all I’ve got.

Enjoy.

Categories: +Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hoar Frost

Sometimes, even winter holds its breath and, in the cold stillness of a winter night, water vapor changes from gas to solid on contact with chilled surfaces, constructing crystal matrices resembling feathers that last until the sun hits them or somebody coughs.

The adjective “hoary” is sometimes defined as “gray or white, as with age, and in some cases worthy of veneration”. It can also mean “old, overused and trite” but with frost it supposedly refers to the appearance of an old man’s beard.

Old and overused, maybe, but trite?

Old and overused, maybe, but trite?

Tomorrow will have one minute more light than today, and when tomorrow becomes yesterday there will be one minute more as we begin tilting slowly back toward the sun. Meanwhile, it is winter, and even winter can hold its breath.

Yukon Jack, “The Black Sheep of Canadian Liquors” and purported to be the regimental liqueur of the South Alberta Light Horse regiment of the Canadian Army, claims a “taste born of hoary nights…” which probably means it was too dang cold out to go find some better whiskey, so someone mixed what they had with some honey in an old turpentine barrel and hoped for the best.

Something else born of hoary nights is the poetry of Robert Service. There are worse ways to spend the next nine minutes of your life than watching this video recitation of “The Cremation of Sam McGee”:

Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Little Snowflakes

Months of quarrels and quandaries, intrigue and innuendo, distractions, misdirection and outright prevarication finally came to an end and I found myself, one November morning, strangely relieved it was over yet wondering what the heck had just happened. It seemed surreal and nearly beyond belief, but once sober enough for thoughtful reflection, I knew it was very real, indeed, believe it or not.

The adrenaline wore off, shock set in, and I had to sit in order to contemplate the new, horrible, sad reality.

That’s right, friends, another season had come and gone here at Fish in a Barrel Pond.

Fish in a Barrel Pond

Fish in a Barrel Pond

The banshees of winter wail outside the door, the lake froze-over three weeks ago, and anything stuck to the ground now is stuck until spring. The camps are again empty and quiet, smelling only of cold air and anti-freeze in the drain traps. A little happy dance has been done, a nap has been took, and as I catch up on my reading I can’t help but notice that this job, once more, failed to make any major publication’s list of “Best Fly Fishing Jobs!” Continue reading

Categories: Humor, nature, politics, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Book Review: By a Thread

Most of us would have a hard time naming a dozen influential fly tiers of any gender. Erin Block has done that (and then some) in her book, By a Thread, and it just so happens that the tiers she names are all women, which is fortunate, given the book’s subtitle, A Retrospective on Women and Fly Tying.

Well-researched, By a Thread is more than a list. With her amiable story-telling style, Erin introduces readers to a number of women who have had a lasting, if somewhat unrecognized, influence on the way flies are tied and even on the way we fish. From some of the most familiar names in the business, to the anonymous tiers of today, working in places where trout are but an abstraction and the concept of fishing for fun is unheard of, By a Thread weaves them all tightly into the tapestry of fly fishing history.

The opening chapter, on Juliana Berners, fly fishing’s legendary matriarch, was an eye-opener. Within the context of Dame Juliana’s time, Erin tells why the treatise attributed to her was written in the first place and gives us an idea of her persistence and adaptability but, personally, if both my father and step-father had been executed by one king, I would have got me to a nunnery long before my friend, the Duke of York, died fighting for another at Agincourt.

Mary Orvis knew one man’s Grizzly King is another man’s Ferguson and liked to dance. Carrie Frost started tying flies at her parents’ kitchen table and created an enterprise that at one point turned out ten million flies a year — all tied by women. She also owned a car but couldn’t drive.

Elsie Darbee tied her own flies and caught fish where others walked away skunked. She raised her own hackle, breeding for elusive true dun and, if anything from Sparse Grey Hackle is to be believed, she defended her birds fiercely, once stepping into the dark with a rifle and returning with “almost 80 pounds of dead coon”.

Sara Jane McBride more or less just disappeared, Carrie Stevens followed a whim and broke a record and, today, women like Cathy Beck, Sharon Wright and April Vokey share their passion and artistry, skills and knowledge with new generations of fly fishers. Some of the names in By a Thread may be familiar, others are more obscure, but there is no doubting the contributions of each of the women profiled in its pages. Erin Block tells their stories in an engaging style that not only makes them even more interesting but also quite human, like the rest of us.

Just as each and every woman in this book would be right at home on anyone’s list of influential fly tiers, By a Thread: A Retrospective on Women and Fly Tying would be right at home on any angler’s book shelf.

(By a Thread: A Retrospective on Women and Fly Tying, 6×9 softcover, 182 total pages, B&W illustrations, available from the publisher, Whitefish Press.)

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Fly Fishing, Product and Gear Reviews | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

From Other Places, Taking American Jobs!

The following item is the result of recent conversations with local activists. Some did not wish to be identified, fearing reprisals for not being “politically correct enough.” A few, however, agreed to be photographed in order to illustrate their plight. We ask that their privacy be respected and remind readers that, while the statements made and opinions expressed by these brave workers do not necessarily reflect the views of the management here at Fish in a Barrel Pond, their patriotism can’t be denied.

“I don’t want to sound racist or nothin’,” said an activist we’ll call ‘Roy’, “but they all look the same to me! It ain’t right.”

“Yeah,” added ‘Myra’, “especially when they’re all in a big group outside the store, practically begging to go home with people. It’s creepy.”

“Just look at ’em!” said Roy. “I think they’re into drugs, too!”

We Know Why They're Smiling

Why Are They All Smiling Like That?

Continue reading

Categories: Humor, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Unpredictable Hatch

There is comfort in knowing that, just before dusk of a mid-June evening, mayflies will emerge above the silt flats off Exile Island. For twenty minutes, it’s the closest to a sure thing we’ve got around here, at least when it comes to fishing. Hatches come off, not quite like clockwork, but with enough reliability that some anglers are confident enough to head over early to sit and wait for the show to start.

Once the heat of summer sets in and the “major” hatches end, it gets trickier, but one can still find certain places at certain times to pick up a few fish rising to one thing or another (as in “you’ve got one thing and they want another“).

The majority of flies flung upon and into Fish in a Barrel Pond represent life forms that originate or live in its water. The places they live are places where fish congregate. Find those places and another part of the puzzle falls into place.

My favorite hatch is not really a hatch at all. It involves insects that are desperately trying to avoid the water in the first place, and conditions must be perfect, so it happens only as the result of tragic accidents.

Winged Ant

Winged Ant

Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Angler’s Guide to Bar Glasses and Beer Goggles

For some, alcohol is an important part of the overall fishing camp experience, and I often find myself being reminded of the need for proper glassware to more fully realize the potential enjoyment of the finer things in life. More than once I’ve heard, “Why are there no glasses for red wine? These are all for white!”

Only once have I replied to an indignant angler, “Drink your Merlot from a mug like a man!”

I shouldn’t have. She was offended, and with good reason, of course. Any fool would have known she was drinking a bold Cabernet. Continue reading

Categories: Humor | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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