Coal and sadness

Prayer, from the Undiscovery Channel on Vimeo. Music traditional Tuvan, performed by Ay-Kherel.

A fervent wish: that the water in this ephemeral pond last long enough for the wood frog tadpoles to complete their metamorphosis this year. When I walked up there this afternoon, I found just two egg masses, anchored to sticks near the center of the pond. Many of last autumn’s leaves floating just under the surface had turned green again, thanks to a fresh bloom of algae. I suppose you could take that as a sign of hope if you wanted to.

wood frog eggs
Click photo to see the full-size image at Visual Soma

As of this morning, the “pond” down in the corner of the field has a single egg mass, and wood frog mating activity seems to be over for the year, so the resident newt will probably make short work of those tadpoles. I have serious doubts about the long-term survival of our wood frog population in Plummer’s Hollow.


Speaking of hope — or the lack thereof — somehow I’ve managed to avoid saying anything about the famous people who have driven past the mountain in recent days: NPR’s Linda Wertheimer, Senator Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton. It was fascinating that Wertheimer discovered outspoken social conservatives whose views just happened to confirm outsiders’ preconceptions of this part of Pennsylvania… in a local Baptist church. I gritted my teeth to read of Obama’s vocal support for “clean coal” (an oxymoron, since there’s no clean way to extract it) and wind turbines everywhere (the ecological costs of which would outweigh the benefits here in the east, according to a report from the National Academies of Science last year). In fairness, the Clintons also support these environmental shell games.

As far as I know, Jon Stewart hasn’t swung through western Pennsylvania recently, but he must’ve been here at some point, because his one-liner on April 1 captured the essence of the region as well as anything can:

This area best known for its chief exports, coal and sadness.

It is perhaps a measure of his greatness as a comedian that he managed to turn that into a laugh line.

Compton tortoise shell

A very tattered question mark Compton tortoise shell butterfly landed on the trail ahead of me as I made my way back to the house.

UPDATED 4/11 to correct the butterfly I.D., thanks to tigerbeetlefreak on Flickr. (See the Massachusetts Butterfly Club page for a side-by-side comparison with other brushfoots.)

Updated 4/9 with a couple more sentences and links on our all-too-brief brush with greatness.


  1. … the resident newt will probably make short work of those tadpoles. I have serious doubts about the long-term survival of our wood frog population in Plummer’s Hollow.

    Ecology can be a bitch sometimes. Is there somewhere else that you could move the newt to?


  2. Mary – Yes, sorry; I forgot to identify it. I’ll add a line to the caption here in a second. It’s Ay-Kherel, “Morgul” (Prayer), off their Music of Tuva CD from ARC Music.

    Thanks, marja-leena!

    David – Possibly. But we’re pretty strict non-interventionists here, aside from the occasional targeted removal of exotics. Ecological fundamentalists, almost. If the wood frog population were in any serious trouble globally or regionally, of course, we might change our tune.


  3. I love that butterfly so artfully displaying its weathered form on the complementary weathered wood.


  4. That butterfly is quite beautiful. I’d love to know to what effect you used layers. Maybe a before and after photo would show the differences.

    Our tree frogs sang around the pond for just a few nights. Then silence. I don’t know how our frog population is faring.

    In Washington, it’s trees and sadness.


  5. Coal and sadness. It’s spring once again, a time to get outside and run machinery.


  6. dave…LOVE the Tuvan soundtrack with the occasional watery make such brilliant little combos!


  7. Apropos of nothing, I broke out my bike for the spring today, and way rewarded by a couple of “wildlife” sightings in and around my local mall/asphalt desert.

    First there were about a half-dozen geese hanging out on and around various buildings, just chatting with each other, then later I spotted what I think was a groundhog. (At a guess, 15-20 pounds of scampering brown critter.) Its presumed lair is a tangle of brush adjacent to both a K-mart parking lot and a major highway. Since I also found an ex-squirrel in the parking lot, that gives me mixed feelings…..

    I got some photos of the geese, but I didn’t get too close. I wasn’t worried about scaring them off, so much as ticking them off. Those are big birds! (Somebody else buzzed them on his bike without incident, but that’s his business.) The groundhog disappeared too quick for me to pull my camera.

    Ironically, I haven’t seen diddly-squat on my local hiking trail — barely any birds, even. But I’ve snagged a bunch of wild garlic!


  8. robin andrea – Some of the layers includes an equalization, a Gaussian blur, and a sharpening via the poster edges effect. Just for you, I’ve temporarily uploaded the unprocessed photo. Please let me know when you’ve seen it so I can take it down.

    Bill – Yes, here too.

    quiet regular – Hey, I’m glad you thought so.

    David – If I can shoot a good video of a groundhog, I know at least one reader of this blog who will be ecstatic… and I’d probably be pretty pleased myself. They’re actually quite wary up here.

    In general, I think bicycles or very quiet cars afford more wildlife sitings than walking, because you’re on top of the critters before they know it. Of course, sitting still is by far the best way to see stuff, but few of us make the time for that.

    Wild garlic is pretty tasty for a week or two before it gets too rangey. I should harvest some myself.


  9. The effects are very subtle and beautiful. I’ve never used layers, but will have to give it a try. Thank you so much for showing me the original.


  10. I thought you used the Sharpen filter. You have such great photos by themselves, I hesitate to give even the softest of negativas, but edges seem rather too crisp and the blacks in the crackling too apparent (though I never saw the original like Andrea). I totally agree Obama needs redirecting on his “clean” coal posture.


  11. I love the photo of the butterfly (question mark butterfly? Is it related to frittilaries?), but I agree with Allan, the sharpening does seem a little hard. I’d like to suggest that when you sharpen you lower the radius to 0.2 pixels, raise the amount to 250 % and sharpen the image twice. That way you don’t get any harsh white edges. (technique learned from Pete at Pohanginapete) I also use a much more involved technique that I wrote a tutorial for on my site.

    Not to criticize your photo! It could be just the way you wanted it. If so, please forgive the intrusion!


  12. sarah – Good point.

    robin – Glad you like it, but I’m not sure about “subtle” – I tend to agree with Allan and miguel.

    Allan and miguel – Thanks for the critiques – always appreciated! – and for these very helpful tips on how to get rid of that annoying white outline. This was actually a fairly quick and dirty job, because I didn’t think a whole lot of the photo as a composition at first. It’s kind of growing on me now, though, so maybe I’ll give it another shot.


  13. In answer to Miguel, it’s not a fritillary, it’s in the brushfoot family.
    It also seems to have had some close calls with birds.


  14. And it turns out it’s actually not a question mark, but another brushfoot called Compton tortoise shell (see correction in text). Shows what I know!


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