Bejeweled

 

Last Sunday, I made a first visit to Brazos Bend, a highly regarded state park known for alligators, a multitude of hiking and biking trails, and star parties at the George Observatory.

I was less interested in the alligators than in reports that alligator flag, a plant I’d seen only once, could be found there. In the end, I found the plant, but I found much more, including lotuses.

Among the day’s delights, I found this feather. Despite its watery environment — so different from Georgia O’Keeffe’s beloved Southwest — it reminded me of such paintings as White Feather 1941, one of her many studies of feathers, rocks, and leaves.

I found my feather, with its jewel-like droplet of water, interesting. As O’Keeffe herself once said, “Interest is the most important thing in life; happiness is temporary, but interest is continuous.”

 

Comments always are welcome.

76 thoughts on “Bejeweled

    1. That made me smile — thanks! I tried this both horizontally and vertically, and decided to show it vertically; it seemed to emphasize the lines of the feather, and draw more attention to the little ‘jewel.’

  1. Linda, as many times as you’ve visited the Nash Prairie, I’m surprised this is your first stop by Brazos Bend. It’s always been a favorite stop of mine, photographically speaking.

    1. That makes sense, given that you’re closer to both places. For some reason, Brazos Bend always has felt farther away than it actually is. Of course, after Nash led to Brazoria, and then to San Bernard, those spots, plus my new east Texas favorites, began filling up my time pretty substantially.

      But I finally had a reason to go, and I’m glad I did. I’ve only seen Elm Lake, but there are a lot of trails that look interesting — in cooler weather.

  2. I’ve always enjoyed the sight of a feather dropped about anywhere I guess. Very evocative somehow. I have to confess that I once saw a Great Blue Heron lift off and when I walked to the spot where it had been, there was a feather. I was delighted with it and sent it to my granddaughter for a gift as I knew she loved natural things and I thought it was fate that the heron left me that feather. Later on it occurred to me I ought to look up whether it was ok I kept it. Much to my disappointment it is not legal to keep a found Great Blue heron feather along with some other species. I understand the reasons though and no longer pick up bird feathers. But I do photograph them sometimes as you have here. My one exception is if I see gull feathers at the beach I might pick up an interesting one. And, I did keep a black vulture feather I found awhile back. Probably should sterilize that one.

    One of my favourite feather pictures was of a gull feather which fell onto a weathered wooden plank on the jetty opposite Hillsboro Lighthouse…loved the contrast of textures. Left it there for others to enjoy.

    1. Your thoughts about sterilizing the vulture feather made me laugh. I’m seeing black-crowned night heron feathers everywhere just now. They disappeared for a time, but now they’re back in their accustomed trees, and they clearly spend a lot of time preening.

      A friend and I have wondered for years why we never see cardinal feathers. You’d think, as many cardinals as there are, that an occasional feather would fall, but we’ve not had any luck with those yet. The one feather I’ve kept is a wild turkey feather from the Konza prairie in Kansas. One of the docents spotted it the day he gave me a tour, and it’s one of my favorite souvenirs from the trip.

      This photo made me think of the series of still lifes you were working with for a while. I think the combination of the natural object with the dark background that brought them to mind. Have you done any more of those recently?

      1. I have not worked on anything new in a few months I guess as life and energy lapses have just gotten in the way a bit. Maybe a dash of laziness in the recipe too!! I keep composing things in my head in the way of still lifes though and will apply some of that soon. Maybe its the summer heat has me sapped. LOL!! Excuses excuses, eh??!! Just as hot in Texas and you’ve been busy exploring despite that fact.

        Looks like this coming weekend may bring some soggy weather our way and yours too. Seems like the Gulf may have a storm and the one headed our way looks like it could stay a bit west or who knows. Hope it is an uneventful as the last bringing only free water for my new sod.

        Be well, be safe and no storms too!!

    1. It seemed to me more waterlogged than fluffy, but at least it still was afloat, and eye catching. Once a feather’s no longer on its bird, what more could it wish for?

  3. You have a truly poetic outlook on life, Linda. I have found many feathers as you might imagine, and I try to identify the species and figure out whether it is a primary, secondary, tail etc. I have to learn to not be so utilitarian and absorb the context and the beauty of it all. It is always a pleasure to hear what you have to say.

    1. Those are kind words, David. Thank you. There are different ways of knowing, of course, and they’re meant to complement one another. Your comment brought to mind one of my favorite passages from John Burroughs’s essay, “Science and Literature”:

      “There is no literature or art without love and contemplation. We can make literature out of science only when we descend upon it with love, or with some degree of emotional enjoyment. Honey is the nectar plus the bee, and a poem, or other work of art, is fact and observation plus the man.

      Our best growth is attained when we match knowledge with love, insight with reverence, understanding with sympathy and enjoyment; else the machine becomes more and more, and the man less and less.”

    1. I suppose each of us has our own way — or ways — of seeing the world and relating to it. I used to be much more driven and goal-oriented, especially in my earlier years, but now I take the Bear Who Went Over the Mountain as my model. I like to go out and see what I can see, and I’m getting really good at shilly-shallying: just looking around. It’s great fun.

    1. I’ll say this, Tina. Feathers are much easier to photograph when they’re no longer on an active bird! This turned out better than I’d expected, partly because the camera picked up more detail than my eye could see under the surface of the water.

      1. Haha–so true! It’s really a great shot. I was doing some cleanup in the garden today, saw a couple of feathers and thought to myself: “Could I possibly get as interesting a shot as LInda did with her feather?” “Nah!” is what I decided!

      2. Exactly! When I read him the title I wasn’t actually sure which part of bejewelled you meant, the droplet above or the diamond sparkles below? A Lovely Feather in such a complex environment.

        1. Thanks — it sure is pretty, isn’t it? I’m a little amused at myself. I’ve spent a lot of time looking for ‘perfect’ feathers, but this ‘imperfect’ one ended up being the one that made the striking image. Live and learn.

    1. It’s especially nice because the plant growth gives the water some texture. The fact that so many fish and alligators were lurking around gave me a bit of a pause. I hope the egret’s feather was a result of preening, and not a token of an unfortunate encounter.

  4. That is drop dead gorgeous. (O’Keeffe-ish, definietly – but also so much like still life scenes by the great Dutch master painters – tone, detail, and subject matter.) One for your coffee table book that should be done.

    Impressed you managed the heat – even in the shade, swamps and wetlands are bakers.
    It’s a great park – but as usual, virus or no virus, I’m not an August person…I’ll venture out maybe after Labor Day.(like it will be cooler then…hopefully this cluster of storms edging into the Gulf will bring us some wind, clouds for shade, and just enough but not too much rain. Getting’ busy out there…end of Sept can’t come soon enough.)

    1. Actually, it would be better to say I survived the heat. I knew that the flower I was looking for was somewhere around that lake, but of course it had to be almost exactly at the halfway point of the trail. Going back or going forward were going to yield the same result, and the second half of the hike wasn’t quite as pleasant. I’m glad I found the feather near the beginning of the trail; at the end, I might not have noticed it.

      One of my friends did some still life photography akin to those Dutch masters: objects from nature, dark backgrounds, and so on. I thought about her images when I saw this one on the computer. I knew I wanted a photo when I saw the feather floating on the lake, but I didn’t realize what it would turn into.

  5. The way you’ve positioned it, the background looks like stars and cosmic clouds to me. Very fitting. Was it deliberate or am I seeing something you’re not?

    1. It wasn’t deliberate at all. When I took the photo, I wasn’t aware of all the detail visible beneath the camera. I only saw the dark background, and the presence of what I took to be algae. It was only after I saw the image later that the details emerged, much to my pleasure.

    1. Funny, how a feather that would be judged ‘imperfect’ in so many ways could lead you to call it a perfect image. Obviously, perfection’s more complicated that ‘unblemished’ or ‘undamaged’!

    1. Since this was my first trip to the place, I had no idea how the light would play, or where the best spots for photos would be. I was lucky that I found this early in the visit, when the sun was somewhat lower, providing sparkles rather than glare. I didn’t see the droplet at the time, and that’s just another bit of proof that in-camera deletion of images never is a good idea.

  6. I had the same immediate thought as Val. It looks as though the feather is floating above some vast nebula, having separated from creation itself. This is a marvelous piece of photographic art that most anyone with a sense of wonder would appreciate.

    1. Val’s mention of stars and cosmic clouds didn’t trigger quite the same response as ‘nebula.’ Now, I see it. Perhaps I should have titled it “2020: A Space Odyssey.”

      It pleases me beyond words that you’d describe this as photographic art. For a while, I was most consumed with getting sharp, in-focus images, and in documenting what I see. There’s not a thing wrong with that, but I’m increasingly looking for subjects that have the potential to be ‘something more,’ and I really felt like this one qualified. I’m glad you saw it that way, too.

      1. I am by nature a natural history photographer but have learned to practice, when I can, Minor White’s advice to photograph “what else it is”. Or in other words, the Pareidolia that you so often suggest in your interpretation of my images. I am glad that you are looking for more from your images too.I think you might want to find something on one of your walls that can go into storage and hang this beauty to enjoy daily. I like yours better, but it does bring to mind this and this also.

        1. The combination of algae and frost is remarkable — I really do need to roam your archives one of these days. In truth, it wouldn’t hurt me to roam my own. Every now and then I look at a title and think, “What in the world was that about?”

          As for hanging this — or any of my photos — I’ve never been inclined toward it. I’m not sure why. As crazy as it sounds, it’s as though looking again and again at a bit of the past isn’t as appealing as seeing what’s next. That’s one reason sharing the photos on a blog is pleasing. I can post, and then move on. Or something!

          1. I understand that in a way. I do not mind seeing old work on the wall. But where I share your take is while shooting. I generally only think about the last shot and then what will be next. Quite often I don’t even remember what I did first and second and so on during a particular outing. Sometimes I surprise myself once the card is downloaded.

  7. That’s a good quotation by O’Keeffe. Her painting of the white feather is also new to me. I keep seeing the lower part as the back of a hunched-over person. Coincidentally, I photographed some feathers yesterday and today.

    1. I wasn’t familiar with the O’Keeffe painting until I saw it at The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art at Crystal Bridges. The painting’s one reason I decided to show the feather vertically rather than horizontally, as I first photographed it.

      Your imaginary hunched-over person could have been me, bending over the observation platform railing to take the photo. Feathers are a fine subject; I hope you were as pleased with your recent photos as I was with this one.

      1. How interesting that you hunched over like my imaginary person.

        Feathers are a fine subject, indeed. Always experimenting, I portrayed some in ways that I ended up liking. One or more may get shown eventually.

  8. I read something today about feathers, that they grow from follicles like our hair does only while our follicles only produce one thing, one type of cell that makes that human hair strand where a follicle for a feather makes all the different ‘cells’ (for lack of the proper term) that produce that part of the feather…quill, each strand of the feather, where they join, as the quill tapers and all in the right order to end up with a feather compared to a human hair which is all the same from tip to scalp. and that each follicle on a bird is programed for that particular type of feather in that particular spot on the bird. mind blowing really.

    1. Of course I thought of your feathers when I saw this one. That’s interesting information about how feathers form, too. It’s easy enough to notice the different kinds of feathers — small and downy, larger and smooth — and draw some conclusions. A wing feather’s easy to recognize, for example. But I’d never thought about how those different feathers are formed. It is amazing, and makes a feather even easier to appreciate.

  9. I think that saying was the result of some hard-earned lessons for Georgia O’ O’Keeffe. Stieglitz didn’t give her much happiness, at least not in the long run. And her interest certainly resulted in some amazing creations.

    1. O’Keeffe and Stieglitz certainly could have posted “It’s complicated” if Facebook had been around during their time. Still, this quotation’s more art oriented, related to matters of vision and openness to the natural world. I first found it at an exhibition of her work at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art . The curators had interspersed quotations from her writings among the paintings. I particularly liked a shortened version of this quotation — “Interest is continuous” — as well as two others: “Take time to look,” and “I still like the way I see things best.”

    1. I liked it even better when I finally took a look at it on the computer, Laurie. I didn’t see the water droplet at the time, or really appreciate the feather’s curve. I’m so glad it pleased you.

  10. Your elegant portrayal of the fine feather not only enhances its own natural beauty, but also elevates the watery background with its otherwise rather-ordinary tones to its own new level of abstract interest. I love the references to cosmic clouds and a nebula.

    1. I can’t believe I didn’t see the nebula until Steve mentioned it. That’s one good reason to share photos that appeal to us; there’s often something we miss, and the contributions of others can sharpen our vision.

  11. Isn’t BBSP a paradise? I’m glad you found the flag, but better, you found a feather. Looks like the most of a breeding plume off a Snowy Egret. Difficult to imagine that only a hundred years ago, a bird might have lost his life so that that ONE feather could bejewel a hat. Beautiful composure. Simple. Elegant. Best where it lies!

    1. Some feathers can be plucked from the water unscathed, but this wouldn’t have been one. Out of the water, it would have been a soggy mess; better to leave it where it was for someone else to notice. I was sure it was egret, and thought it might have been from a Snowy because of the size.

      It wasn’t until last night that I read that Elm Lake’s considered one of the best birding spots at BBSP. I’ll certainly be returning. In fact, I’m thinking that this weekend might be a good idea — at least as far as the lotus are concerned. I suspect they wouldn’t fare too well if our lurking tropical system rolls over the top of them.

    1. It’s odd — BBSP always has felt far, far away. It is farther than Brazoria, and equally as far as San Bernard: at least, time-wise. I suspect traffic’s as much in play as actual miles. At any rate, I finally found the best route to take, and I’m looking forward to heading back.

  12. This shot is almost too perfect, Linda! It looks very much as if you’d used a dropper to squeeze one perfect water drop on that feather and spread its “fronds” out to better portray the detail. Lovely find — did you learn what variety of bird it came from, too?

    1. It’s an egret feather, though I keep vacillating between a snowy egret and a great egret. Another reader suggested it might be a breeding plume: a bit of fancy feathering designed to attract the eye of a lady egret.

      I didn’t see the drop of water until I’d come home and put the photo up on the computer. That happens so often. Little insects lurking inside flowers are especially common. It’s like a treasure hunt, even after the photo’s taken.

    1. Me, too — but I’m equally glad I found the lotuses that were growing there, and was able to photograph the most amusing nature sight I’ve ever seen. I’ll be post it here shortly — you’ll know when it shows up!

  13. I like the way it’s all “frondy” at the top. I wonder who lost it — an egret of some kind, maybe? Such an interesting contrast between the dark ground and the white feather, and those jewel-like drops of water. Is it the time of year yet when winter plumage is coming in, I wonder, or is that later than now.

    1. Yes, it’s clearly from an egret, although I’m not sure whether it’s a snowy or a great. Another reader suggested it’s a breeding plume, which makes sense. Once the season’s over, they’re no longer needed, and when I watch them preening, the feathers that get pulled out usually are relatively small and more downy. I ‘think’ the gaining and losing of breeding colors and feathers is more typical than gaining a winter coat, like deer or squirrels.

    1. It’s not only the stereotypically ‘pretty’ that can be eye-catching. And more often than not, it’s the details that count — like your Callie’s calico ears, the single droplet of water atop the feather turned out to be ‘pretty’ special!

  14. That photo made me smile. I was just thinking about Georgia O’Keefe today because a colleague is going up to Lake George. Interest is indeed key and the interest in seeing things is paramount. James Agee said something like “I know of less than a dozen alive whose eyes I would trust as I trust my own” and I think it’s because so many people don’t look.

    1. There’s no question that learning how to see is a skill many don’t recognize, or take time to develop. Several quotations from O’Keeffe were interspersed with her paintings in an exhibition I visited a few years ago and I brought back two of them in the form of refrigerator magnets. One says, “Take time to look,” and the other declares (with typical O’Keeffe-ian insouciance): “I still like the way I see things best.”

    1. What beautiful music. I remember you mentioning her before, and I’m glad you did again. Like the simplicity of the feather, the simplicity of the music’s a wonderful antidote to our current swirling chaos: meteorological and otherwise.

  15. This is a beautiful picture – the nebula & stars ideas are spot on, and a single, mussed-up feather becomes an exotic creature, traveling through space. Feathers are one of things found in nature, one of a million I guess, but way up the list, that wow me, definitely continuously interesting. (I won’t even mention my other thought, when I saw the feather and what looked like glitter – that a burlesque show fan dancer had wandered over from the star party at the observatory! How do I know about such things? My granddad and his wild tales of a misspent youth!)
    Really cool shot, Linda, congrats!

    1. You know, it’s funny — the more I look at the photo, the more I like it. For one thing, I see more in it now that I’ve read the comments, especially about the nebulae and your burlesque dancer.

      It’s ironic that one of the most famous burlesque dancers was named Blaze Starr. We could play six degrees of separation with that one. Blaze had an affair with Louisiana Governor Earl Long, who came along after his brother Huey was assassinated — and my great-aunt Fannie was in the Louisiana Capitol the day the assassination took place. For some reason that tickles me — not unlike a feather!

    1. I happened to be in the very spot where I saw the feather yesterday afternoon. It was gone, of course. Not only tempus fugits — so do photographic opportunities.

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