Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Hawk Cafeteria

While out walking today, I cut through the woods in the back end of Morton Park. I was walking up the path when wings passed over me, and when I looked up I saw a juvenile Redtailed Hawk carrying his lunch (a mouse).

So, after having picked up his meal at the steam table, he looks for a free table.

Ah, there we go! A nice table well out of the traffic flow. Time to chow down.

What's your hurry? Don't rush me, I'm almost done, and then you can clean the table!

Ah! The portrait of a satisfied customer!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, March 29, 2009


"How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean." – Arthur C. Clarke

Land's End - The view off the end of Ledge Rd.

Tidal Pool - Along the Cliff Walk

Waves - Rolling in to Bailey's Beach

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Scenes from the Macro-World - Spring In Miniature

These flowers were growing in crannies in a stone wall along Memorial Blvd.; I put the camera in macro mode and fired away. These two shots are the best from the bunch. The pink flowers are Heal All and the white flowers are Mouse-Eared Chickweed.

Other signs of Spring seen today: The above shots were taken yesterday (Friday). Today while out for a walk down by Gooseneck Cove I saw and or heard some more Springlike things that were outside camera range. I saw my first Great egret way far off over the mudflats off Ocean Drive. At the corner of Ocean Drive and Hazard Rd. I first heard, and then saw, a small flock of Goldfinches. And in the swamp next to Salt Marsh House I heard my first Spring Peepers of the year. Must be Spring!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Theme Thursday -Mineral

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Music video: "Earth Dreaming, Part 1" by Steve Roach

Photograph © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Guilty Pleasure

Now I know most of you see me as a sophisticated, cultured man about town, a worldly-wise bon vivant and raconteur. I listen to Bach and Brahms, Basie and Ellington, Gershwin and Bernstein; I sit in on Irish music sessions, I try to make it to both the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals every year; I like the movies of Jim Jarmusch and Wim Wenders; I can be found in art galleries and museums admiring the old masters and gazing with curiosity and appreciation at the newest contemporary works. So...

What do I listen to when nobody else is around? Who do I listen to in the earphones so the people in hearing distance can't figure out what I'm playing?

Yup! The boys from Rockford, IL - Cheap Trick! I can't help myself; they're a hoot to watch live onstage, the musicians are well-trained professionals, and their sense of humor allows them to not take themselves so deadly seriously as so many other top bands do. When I heard "Surrender" on a jukebox back in the late '70s, I was hooked, and I've been listening to them ever since. So please be patient while I indulge in some of my "good time" music.

This playlist is just two songs: the album version of "Surrender" and the live at Budokan version of "I Want You to Want Me", among their more iconic songs.

Oh yes, and I have two YouTube videos for you to watch, too. The first is another of the songs that say Cheap Trick loud and clear: "Dream Police", live at Chicagofest in 1981. Oh yeah, and Rick shows off his chops and three of his vintage electric guitars.

And the second is a song that's not written by anybody in the band, but that they've made their own with their own unique, quirky interpretation: Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame", here live in Sydney, Australia in 1988:

So laugh at me all you want, but I'll bet your feet were tapping and your head was bopping while the music played. Yeeeeeaaaaahhhhh, you can't fool me! And if you want to check up on Cheap Trick, maybe check out the tour schedule (you know you want to go!), look at more videos, look at Rick's fantastic guitar collection and Tom's 8- and 12-string basses, then you should go visit their website. Don't worry, I won't tell anybody!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, March 23, 2009


This is the best of last week's photos; I was in the Common Burying Ground on my way to do a harbor walk from the Newport Bridge on the north end down to the south end at King Park. There was a Crow striking a very Poe pose on a gravestone, but I only got one (very out-of-focus) shot before the Crow lifted off. By very good fortune, I got a shot of him flying off, and I think it's a better shot than any one I would have gotten with him posing on the stone.

Then a few days later I had no new photos, so I started playing with things in Photoshop, and I decided to see what I could do with this one. A little playing in the "Dry Brush" filter resulted in the following:

Huh! I think I like it better than the original photograph! I know, I have way too much time on my hands.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bach Birthday Bash

"When I hear Mozart, I understand what it is to be a human being; when I hear Beethoven, I understand what it is to be Beethoven; but when I listen to Bach, I understand what it is to be the universe." – Douglas Adams

Today is Johann Sebastian Bach's 324th birthday. Organist, composer, church music director. The man who gathered all the different stylistic strands of the Baroque period and wove them together to bring about the maturity of the music, the "Golden Age of Baroque Music", as it were. And the man who set the standards for Western art music which stand even to this day. The rules of composition, things like harmonic relationships, counterpoint, and tonal center, were all set and standardized by J.S. Bach and are still the standard today, even if it's a standard against which we rebel.

Bach composed for every combination of musical resources available in his time: solo instrument, keyboard (harpsichord and organ), small chamber ensemble, orchestra and chorus with soloists. Personally, I think Bach's greatest writing was for full choral ensemble, orchestra and chorus. His masses, oratorios, cantatas, the two Passions (St. Matthew and St. John), all just soar into the heavens. Indeed, the St. Matthew Passion set the standard for future ensemble composition, and he set that standard very, very high. Mozart's Requiem gets close, as does Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. I think only Brahms' Ein Deutsche Requiem actually reaches that high standard. This is music at its holiest - not in the religious sense, but in the sense of lifting us up, transcending human limitations and carrying us into the cosmos. This was what Douglas Adams meant when he said that Bach's music makes us understand what it is to be the universe.

So in celebration of J.S. Bach's birthday, I give you this chorale from the St. Matthew Passion - "Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder" (We sit with tears falling).

Happy Birthday, Maestro Bach! May your music last as long as there are ears to hear it.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, March 20, 2009

Welcome Spring - Jump!

Vernal Equinox, March 20, 2009, 11:44 UT

So let's celebrate, with arguably one of the best Rock bands in history playing one of their signature songs - Van Halen playing "Jump!" live in Toronto in 1995. Have you ever been in a club, or even at a Van Halen concert, and watched the crowd when that opening synth riff hits? Yup; everybody automatically starts hopping! This song is all about sheer joy, and you just can't help but JUMP!

Photograph © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Theme Thursday - Vegetable

"I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a rose of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green." ~Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mosses from and Old Manse

Music: "The Garden Song" by David Mallett

Photograph © 2005 & 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ghosts of Newport Past - Irish Spirits in Newport

[I published this article on Gather.com last September. I've edited a little to fit Blogger and to fill in some extra information I've come across since then.]

In honor of St. Patrick's Day I'm going to take you on a tour of the two Irish immigrant cemeteries in Newport. The Irish first came to Newport in the 1820s, as laborers building fort Adams and as miners in the coal mines (long ago played out) in Portsmouth on the north end of the island.

The first Catholic parish in Newport was St. Joseph's, located at the corner of Barney and Mt. Vernon Streets. Let the plaque at the cemetery on that spot tell the story:

The cemetery, which was located behind the wooden church, is the oldest Irish cemetery in Newport. By the time I'd come to Newport in 1974 this cemetery had almost literally disappeared. My girlfriend at the time lived right across Mt. Vernon St. from it, and we never knew it was there. The stones had all fallen flat and the grass had grown over them. Nancy and I used to picnic on the vacant lot without ever knowing tha Newport's oldest Irish cemetery was under us.

In the 1990s a young man on his way to earning the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts learned of the cemetery and adopted it as his community service project required for the rank. He gathered a team, and they cleaned the lot, found the stones and started work on returning the cemetery to a more respectable presence. Many of the stones had to be repaired, and local agencies donated the materials and work to create the fence around the cemetery. The current St. Mary's Parish commissioned the Irish Cross which became the centerpiece of the plot. And here's how it looks today:

And here are some of the stones in the cemetery:

This stone is very poignant - the infant children of John and Margaret Calahan, who only lived to 10 and 15 months.

These stones are very much like Quaker stones - very simple. They're adorned with symbols and have actual inscriptions on them, which the Quaker stones didn't have, but there's a simplicity to the carving. These were the working poor, and they had no money for fancy stones. In most cases the parish paid for the stones and their carving.

In the late 1840s the potato blight hit Ireland, and the resulting famine brought great waves of Irish immigrants to the US, and Newport was where a great many of them came. By this time there were two parishes in Newport, St. Mary's (now on Spring St.) and St. Joseph's. It had been part of the Diocese of Boston but had been transferred to the Diocese of Hartford, as Boston had more than enough new parishoners to take care of, while Hartford a few in comparison. From 1850 to 1856 the Bishop of the Diocese of Hartford was Bernard O'Reilley, and his brother - Msgr. William O'Reilly - was his Vicar General for all of Rhode Island.

Of course, with this new influx of Irish immigrants, the cemetery on Barney St. would no longer suffice, and a new plot of land was purchased on Warner St. at Kingston Ave. The cemetery today is known as St. Mary's Cemetery:

By now the Irish were well established in Newport, and as you can see the gravestones are much richer and there are many actual monuments.

This triple cross caught my eye; the three Adams sisters.

And this stone for John and Esther Eagan has a feature, shared with many other Irish gravestones, that I found fascinating, the inclusion of the interred's birth parish and county in Ireland.

The showpiece of the cemetery is Msgr. William O'Reilley's monument. There are no dates, just the spire and its carved ornaments, and his name. For being the Vicar General of Rhode Island he's unusually undocumented. He was Vicar General under his brother, bishop Bernard O'Reilley, was interim administrator for the whole Diocese of Hartford on his brother's death at sea in 1856 (Bernard had gone to Ireland to recruit priests) until the appointment of Bishop McFarland in 1858, and remained Bishop McFarland's Vicar General for Rhode Island. But there's no record of him after that; he's not mentioned at all in the records of the creation of the Diocese of Providence under Bishop Hendricken. But he certainly has an impressive monument in the St. Mary's Cemetery.

There are Irish graves in many of the other cemeteries in Newport, but these two are the only specifically Irish Catholic plots in the city. As such they serve as monuments to the Irish presence in Newport.

© 2008 & 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

And a St. Patrick's Day treat!

St. Patrick's Day is never complete without music and dancing, so here's a great video of The Chieftains with the Corrs, dancers, and even some Henson-style big puppets in a wild Irish whoopdedoo that only Paddy and the boys can pull off with such energy and panache!

Monday, March 16, 2009

There's Just One Problem With Crows...

[Note: I published this today on Gather.com as a response in kind to some friends who are involved in a humor-writing exercise.]

I'm not a writer; I came to Gather to share my photography and learn some more about how to take better pictures. So I'm not involved with the Writing Essentials programs, and specifically, I'm not involved with Dame Ruth's Mirthday Monday humor exercises. But a lot of my friends are, and I've been chuckling over the responses to this week's assignment of writing about what makes you angry. It reminded me of a comment I posted on an article by Ina as to why it wasn't a good idea to make her yard a place for Crows to hang out in so that they'd chase away her Hawks. I didn't do that subject nearly enough justice. I'm here today to rectify that.

Now don't get me wrong. I love Crows. Crows are Nature's born comedians; I can't watch them do their thing without cracking up. Crow is one of my totems; I hang out with Crows, we have animated conversations, and we even play together at times. Crows are my buddies, my psychic twins. But I would never, ever invite Crows to make my home theirs. Why is that, you ask? Ah! Time for another Nature lesson.

Crows roost at night. Not as individuals or as little Crow nuclear families, stopping at the nearest tree to rest for the night. Oh no, they roost en masse, all the Crows in a particular territory, all in one place. We're not talking flocks here, we're talking hordes. We're talking "the buffalo blanketed the Great Plains before the coming of the white man" sized populations, literally thousands settling in the trees of one block, maybe two. They descend like an invading army. They are an invading army.

They're noisy. They settle into the trees in the target area around sunset and get to squabbling, fussing, telling jokes and passing them up and down the line, laughing, cursing, and just generally being vocal. And being loud about being vocal. And even after they settle down and drift off to sleep, there are still some holding late-night conversations. Even the sleeping ones make noise all through the night, chortling and chuckling in their sleep, whoofing, sneezing, burping, cutting Crow-farts. A roosting horde of Crows is never silent. And then, about an hour before sunrise, they wake up and hold morning services, chanting to the Crow God, in unison, back and forth, call and response, this group over here taking a chorus, then that group over there. This goes on for an hour, before sunrise, while you're still trying to grab that last little bit of sleep. and at sunrise they scatter to the four winds, yelling and chattering all the way.

Roosting Crows are messy. When they settle onto their branches they start preening. En masse. This lets drop a veritable blizzard of worn out feathers, down, seed husks (food spillage; these guys are really sloppy eaters), dead skin, and Crow dandruff. Unhygenic and indescribably disgusting Crow byproducts fall from the trees in drifts to settle on your lawn, your garden, your outdoor furniture, your house, and your car.

But it gets even worse. Because, you see, Crows crap. All night long. Also on your lawn, your garden, your outdoor furniture, your house, and your car. Unfortunately, not only is this unhygenic and disgustingly filthy, but Crow crap is the most corrosive bodily fluid known to science. It eats the paint right off your car, your house, your nice black wrought iron garden furniture. It'll permanently stain (as in being burnt on) any wooden surfaces like picnic tables, park benches, and cedar shingles. It eats vegetation and renders yard and garden soil acidic, making it unable to support growing organisms.

I've seen whole neighborhoods totally devastated. A one-night stay is disastrous; if they settle in for a week, the place looks like the countryside around the Somme after the invading German armies successfully bombed the allies out of their trenches - burnt tree trunks, shells of houses, cows and sheep feet up in the fields. Its not a pretty sight.

You can take preventative measures. Here in Newport various institutions have installed sound systems which play a "birds in distress" soundtrack here and there in the city, which they turn on about an hour before sunset and play until about an hour after that event. The soundtrack is comprised of clips of various birds screaming in terror, or screaming while being eaten. This gives the impression that this is a very unfriendly environment for birds, and the Crows go look for a less stressful area to sleep. But this is only done around the public parks (so that you'll actually want to sit on the park benches) and various churches and other public venues. If you live back in the residential neighborhoods, you have to fend for yourself. Good luck!

So my advice is - no matter how much the sight of Hawks dining on songbirds offends your sensibilities, DO NOT invite the Crows in to drive them off. The resulting devastation will ruin your life, leave your neighbors in an uproar, and cause your property values to plummet. You'll be the most hated person in your town or city for having opened that particular door. You may even end up swinging from a lamppost. It's not worth it!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Sunday Ramble

A nice, diffused-light day today. It was overcast when I set out and gradually cleared throughout the day. Just the kind of light I love to shoot in - no harsh, bright light and strong contrast, which brings out more detail and color in the subject. I took a lot of "hmmmm, let's see what this will do" shots today, and none of them worked. Oh well. I did get three I thought good enough to share.

More signs of Spring: the Pussy Willows are starting to sprout catkins. I saw these alongside the road on Ruggles Ave. and ended up having to tramp through some brambles to get a good macro shot of these.

I caught these Mute Swans in mid-preen out on Gooseneck Cove at low tide. This is one of those instances when I took a lot of shots trying to get a decent pose. I was trying to get a shot with both of them having the curved neck. Out of close to 15 shots, this was the only one that fit what I wanted.

Finally, I took this shot looking north up Gooseneck Cove from Ocean Drive. A nice long-focus shot looking over a sinuously curving and recurving stretch of water.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, March 14, 2009

All the little birdies go "tweet, tweet, tweet..."

I went down to the Cliff Walk today to see what was going on in the coastal world. Mostly what was going on was Song Sparrows. The Cliff Walk is the hang-out for Song Sparrows in Newport, and starting in mid-March the air is full of their song. They perch on anything - fences, tree limbs, Beach Rose bushes, you name it - and let loose. It never ceases to amaze me that all the joggers hit the Cliff Walk in the Spring and Summer with the ear buds of their iPods firmly plugged in their ears. For Pete's sake unplug and listen to some real music! Anyhow, I got lots of shots of Song Sparrows today, and these are the two best.

At the south end of the Cliff Walk is Bailey's Beach, 2/3 belonging to a private, very exclusive beach club called the Spouting Rock Association, and 1/3 a public beach which we all call "Reject Beach." I couldn't help taking a picture of the cove the beach sits on; look at that blue! My goodness, it almost looks tropical. Heh, heh! I wouldn't jump in, though; the air temperature was around 42ºF/5ºC, and the water temp was 38ºF/3ºC.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, March 13, 2009

Back to Birds

So, after all the four-legged creatures yesterday, we're back to birds today. I was out walking today and took 49 pictures altogether, and three made the final cut. Which is about par for the course. I took about 10 shots of a Belted Kingfisher down on Hazard Rd., but none of them worked. Also some Mallards on Gooseneck Cove off Hazard Rd., but none of the shots were particularly interesting, and besides, I think I've inflicted enough ducks on you. On the way back into town, though, I got lucky. On Ledge Rd. I heard a familiar whistled here, here, here, and sure enough. looking up I spied a Tufted Titmouse hopping about high up in a tree. So I pulled out my telephoto lens and got to work. I got 4 or 5 shots before he took off, and two of them were pretty good, so I've included them both below. After that, going up Bellevue Ave. I spied a Crow pulling bits off a broken tree branch, so I stopped to watch a shoot pictures. He'd pull some, then look at me and converse some, then go back to pulling. I took a bunch of shots, but the one below is the best.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Theme Thursday - Animal

Heh, heh! I just know you guys are expecting more birds from me! Nope! I actually do have pictures of critters other than birds, and today is the perfect excuse to share them here. It's a nice mix of domestic and wild creatures, I think.

This Llama lives on the Hammersmith Farm in Newport. Hammersmith is an extension of the Swiss Village Farm Foundation, which gathers, protects, and preserves heritage breeds of farm animals. The llamas actually serve a purpose beyond preservation - they protect the sheep and goats from coyotes. They have quite a kick, and no self-respecting coyote will be dumb enough to mess with that!

This Shetland pony is part of a herd on Hammersmith Farm. When these cute little buggers wander up to the stone fence, traffic stops on Harrison Ave.; everybody pulls over to come pet the little cuties. But... DO NOT FEED THEM! The SVF Foundation is very strict about this. But petting is fine. This little guy wasn't gonna let me stop. That look is one of reproach because I stopped petting to take pictures.

Yes, friends and neighbors, Eeyore is alive and well on Hammersmith Farm. This fella wasn't much bigger than the Shetlands.

This young White-Tailed Deer was wandering around in the salt marsh on Gooseneck Cove last Summer. When I first saw him, he was trying to play with a Great Egret, who was really annoyed at being interrupted while poking around for a meal on the mud flats. When the Egret finally flew away, the deer noticed me and got curious. Not curious enough to come too close (I still had to get this shot with the telephoto), but certainly curious enough to walk back and forth to eye me from several different angles. This was a yearling, so I may have been his first experience with a human, hence the cautious curiosity.

And finally, we have this Green Frog in one of the swamp pools in the Audubon Center in Bristol, RI. I was hiking on the East Bay Bike Path last September, and the path passes through the Audubon Center. I always stop at this point and go walk down their boardwalk into the center of the salt marsh, but this pool lies along the bike path, and I kept hearing the short, characteristic bark of these frogs, so I went looking. And there it was, posing for a shot!

And to wind up this little Theme Thursday excursion, I'll continue my habit of adding a YouTube video. This week it's the adorable Miss Shirley Temple singing "Animal Crackers In My Soup" from the movie Curly Top.

Photography © 2007 & 2008 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Playing On a Rainy Day

It was raining today. I went out to do some errands, but it wasn't a good day to hang around outside taking pictures, so I came right home after the errands were run. But I didn't neglect the camera. I decided to play with food instead. I set up a still life with the veggies I bought yesterday, and are at this very moment simmering on my stove in a nice tomato sauce. This was the result:

Of course, me being me, I couldn't just leave it at that. I did some playing in Photoshop and got creative. I ended up with this faux painting:

There you have it, some rainy day amusement!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Glimpses of Spring

I know a lot of people have had their flowers blooming for a bit now and have been flooding the blogosphere with celebrations of Spring. But here on the New England coast Spring comes a bit more slowly and a little later. The ocean holds the heat of the Summer and keeps us a bit warmer in the Winter than those farther inland (and so often when it snows in Providence and Boston, we get rain here in Newport), but by this time of year the ocean has cooled down considerably (water temperature today is 39º F/4º C) and successfully holds off the onset of Spring. Of course, this is why we're a Summer resort - that slow-to-warm-up ocean keeps us cooler in the Summer and brings us all those poor, urban escapees from the city heat.

But we are finally getting some signs of Spring, and I found some on the way to the grocery store this afternoon.

One of the definitive signs of Spring coming around here is the return of certain migratory birds, and the House Finch is one of them. I saw my first House Finch of the year today on Rhode Island Ave.

Of course, we have Cardinals all year long, but now the males are singing their vast song repertoire instead of the short, shrill chip, chip they scold us with in the Winter months. This one sang to me for quite a bit, and stayed right there in his tree, determined not to be chased from his territory.

The early Narcissi are starting to come up, most notably the Crocuses, but here I found the Crocuses scattered among some early Snow Drops.

But the surest sign of all that Spring is just around the corner, for me, is the blooming of the Witch Hazels in a garden along Old Beach Rd. Technically, Witch Hazel is supposed to bloom in October, but these always bloom in late February and early March every year. Most of the trees bloom yellow, as in the shot below, but they have one tree that blooms red, seen to the right here.

Ayuh! Spring is right around the corner. I'll miss Winter, and all my exotic Winter waterfowl who will be leaving soon. But Spring means that all the Egrets and Herons and Ibises will be coming back, and the Ospreys will be building their new nest on the broadcast tower at Toppa Field and in the trees and platforms in and around the salt marshes in the south end of town. So I'm finally getting ready to let go of Winter and welcome Spring.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger