Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Birthday Ballard Park!

I looked at my morning email today and found the latest Friends of Ballard Park newsletter, and what do I learn but that today - October 30 - is Ballard Park's birthday. On October 30, 1990 Carol C. Ballard deeded 13 acres to the city of Newport to be used to preserve the natural habitat and provide a place for educational and cultural activities. The rest is history.

Any of you who read this blog and/or read my stuff on regularly have seen Ballard Park in all four seasons, in panorama, and up close. It and the adjoining Gooseneck Cove are my spiritual home, and I spend a lot of time and take a lot of pictures down there. In response to learning that today was its 19th birthday, I grabbed the camera and walked all the trails, taking pictures the whole time, and put the whole thing together in a slide-show video. This is my birthday present to Ballard Park. Enjoy!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Theme Thursday - Samhain, the Original Halloween

Samhain (pronounced SAH-wen) was the Celtic New Year, signifying the end of the growing season and the "death" of the earth until it would be reborn in the Spring. Death as a natural part of the cycle of life is the central theme of Samhain and is at the root of all the symbolism in the holiday. The celebration of Samhain was such a major part of culture in the British Isles and parts of northern Europe that the Church appropriated and "Christianized" it, thus creating All Hallows Eve, which with the passage of time became "Halloween". With the reemergence of ecologically inclined earth-based spirituality, Samhain has been gradually coming back to some importance. And yes, I'm one of those people who celebrates Samhain rather than Halloween.

As I said above, Samhain is all about the recognition of death as a natural part of the cycle of life. Seasonally, it represents the "death" of the earth. The final harvest of the last of the crops - mostly gourds and root crops like beets and turnips - took place now. Many of the fruits set to dry to last the Winter - raisins and sultanas from grapes, figs, prunes from plums, etc. - are ready now, and many baked goods that use these are baked, like barmbrack (Irish: Báirín Breac), which is a Halloween staple in Ireland, where symbolic objects like pennies and rings are baked in the bread for children to find as prizes. Livestock is also slaughtered now to provide meat for the Winter and to thin out the herd so that it, too, can survive the "dead" months.

Another aspect of the death theme of Samhain is the belief that the border between the physical and spiritual worlds is at its weakest now. This has both positive and negative aspects. The negative aspect is the possibility that spirits with evil intent can roam the world of the living at will and spread panic. The tradition of carving gourds (although it was originally turnips that were hollowed out and carved) with diabolical faces and lit from within by candles came from this; the intent was to scare off the evil spirits.

The positive aspect of this weakened border is the possibility of communication with loved ones who have passed on. Seances are often held during Samhain, and tributes to those who have passed during the preceding year. The most beloved of these tributes is the Dumb Feast or Dumb Supper, where the table is set for both the living and the dead, with pictures and personal objects of the deceased placed at their place at the table, and the favorite foods of the deceased served at the meal. The meal is eaten in silence, which is only broken at the end of the meal when a toast is made to the deceased and stories from their lives told. The meal starts out solemnly and ends up in joy.

I love Samhain, possibly because I also love Autumn and Samhain is the very essence of an autumnal celebration. You all know my fascination with cemeteries and stonecarving, and it's usually around Samhain that I do a lot of visiting and taking pictures in Newport's historic boneyards. All in all, it's a lovely season for me, and a nostalgic one, too.

The colonial era Easton family cemetery in Autumn

Ah, now we come to the videos. One of my "traditions" this time of year is to listen to Camille Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre, an orchestral tone poem describing Death pulling out his fiddle on All Souls Night (Halloween) and leading the dead in a dance that lasts until the rooster crows, when the dead sadly go back to their graves after a lovely evening of fun. I found this great video on YouTube, a PBS animation from the 1980s illustrating the music. It's great!

I also tend to listen to the music of Loreena McKennitt this time of year; there's just something so autumnal both about her music and about her personality. And being the autumnal type that I am, I gravitated to her the first time I heard her music! She's written what I think is one of the best Samhain songs ever, "All Souls Night" from the 1991 CD The Visit. This video of the song comes from her 2006 concert at the Alhambra in Spain.

As an added treat today, another song from that concert in the Alhambra. It has nothing to do with Samhain, I just like it. It's her song "Santiago", and in this live version she and the band just cut loose! She dances around with her accordion and kicks up her heels, and fiddler Hugh Marsh plays like a man possessed. So you can leave my party to go visit the other Theme Thursday parties dancing. Enjoy!

Photos & text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger
PS - I just uploaded my latest offering to my storefront: On a Cold Winter's Night - Images of Yule, a photographic celebration of the Winter Solstice holidays. Please check it out! And while you're there, check out the calendars I've put together as well. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On the Way to the Grocery Store

I had some minor grocery shopping to do today, and as usual I took the scenic route, which includes some nice houses, tree-shaded lanes, and Easton's Beach and the cliff Walk. Today was heavily overcast, and by the time I got home it had started to rain, so there was some gloom. But I love that kind of gloom - it makes Fall colors stand out and does cool things to the ocean and the critters who hang out around it. In any case, here are four photos that stand out from the bunch I took today.

This house is on the corner of Kay St. and Rhode Island Ave. Yes, somebody really did build a house that looks like an English castle. This is the north wing of the house, which has always reminded me of some of the residence halls at Oxford University. Must be the brick and the ivy, plus the interesting hanging turret. I keep expecting to see a scout in tweeds carrying a breakfast tray pass by on that porch, heading for the door and the waiting student within.

Next stop - Easton's Beach. It was halfway between high and low tides, so there was still a nice wide stretch of beach and lots of space for birds to hang out on. There were Laughing Gulls and their reflections to shoot again today, but there were also a bunch of Sanderlings - small Sandpipers - scurrying around ahead of the waves.

The next shot I took was of the Easton family's family cemetery, but that's for my Theme Thursday post, so you'll have to wait a couple of days to see it. Meanwhile, walking up Weaver Ave. making a beeline for the grocery store, I saw this Gray Squirrel and his glorious backdrop and just had to stop and admire.

This is why even if I actually had a car and a driver's license I'd still walk to the grocery store (or the library, or wherever); look at what I'd miss if I was tooling along in a vehicle rather than walking along!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Autumn in Full Swing

Down on Gooseneck Cove Fall colors are reflecting in the water and lighting the place up. I managed to get some pictures of that today, as well as the multicolored leaves on one of the trails in Ballard Park. Things are getting very colorful around here!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sight & Sound - A Gray Day

I grabbed the opportunity to take a scenic walk late this morning after seeing a large gap between clots of rain on the weather radar. It was still overcast but not raining. I walked Easton's Beach and a short section of the Cliff Walk before heading for the library. I was rewarded with two shots - Laughing Gulls on the beach and the gray, gray seas breaking on the rocks below Forty Steps.

Music: "The Far Shore" by A Produce, from his 1995 CD White Sands

Photos & text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, October 23, 2009

Raise the Song of Harvest Home

Pumpkin displays from Trinity Church's "Pumpkin Patch" sale, Newport, RI

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin...
(from "Come Ye Thankful People Come" by Henry Alford, 1844)

"Come Ye Thankful People Come" performed by the Presbyterian College music department

"Come Ye Thankful People Come" performed by the North Guilford Congregational Church Bell Choir

Photos © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Theme Thursday - Traffic

I had to think about this one to come up with a different angle. I don't normally take pictures of motor vehicles, so I missed out on the chance to show shots of America's Cup Blvd. and Thames St. turned into a parking lot on Folk Fest and Jazz Fest weekends. And now, it being the off-season, our streets are relatively clear and there's no real traffic here. So, what to do? During my running errands yesterday, an idea hit me.

The Common Burying Ground, the colonial-era cemetery I love to hang out in and admire the stones, has actual named (though unpaved) lanes - Dyer Ave., Clarke Ave., Holmes Ave., and Easton Ave. Heh, heh! Can you imagine a new-to-the-job postman trying to deliver a mis-addressed letter to an address on one of these lanes? Anyhow, as you can see from the picture below, we don't get many traffic jams at the corner of Clarke and Easton!

[Note: Yeah, that is a little traffic out on the street in the background - cars on America's Cup waiting at the light to turn onto Farewell St.]

This week's videos aren't nearly so clever. In fact, the choices were probably glaringly obvious. But hey, with "traffic" as the weekly theme, what can you do? Anyhow, the first choice here is my man Jimi playing "Crosstown Traffic". Tire tracks all across you're back baby!

I know, I know, there's gonna be a ton of Traffic (the band) videos today. We really should have emailed Steve Winwood, Dave Mason, Jim Capaldi, and Chris Woods to invite them to join in the Theme Thursday fun! In any case, I decided to post two, count 'em TWO, Traffic songs today. The first is the "official" 1994 video of "Here Comes a Man", featuring a walk-on appearance by blues legend Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, one of Winwood's personal heroes. This was part of one of their reunion forays.

The other Traffic video is a Traffic song, but performed by somebody else who did a better job and made it famous. I'm talkin' Joe Cocker's funky, soulful version of "Feelin' Alright", in this video from the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. Enjoy!

Photo and text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Little of This and a Little of That

Here are two shots, one taken yesterday and one taken today, just to get them up before Theme Thursday. I like them enough that I don't want them rattling around on my hard drive doing nothing. The first shot is of a Question Mark butterfly taken yesterday in Ballard Park. I had taken a lot of shots of the fall colors around Gooseneck Cove, but didn't like any of them enough to publish. But this butterfly settled down right in front of me on one of the trails in Ballard Park and seemed to say: "You want a photo shoot? Well, here I am!"

The second shot was taken today on my way home from the grocery store. I had an idea about tomorrow's "Traffic" theme that required a to visit the Common Burying Ground (all will be explained tomorrow) and while looking for a spot from which to take the shot for tomorrow's post, my eye was caught by these two gorgeous examples of colonial-era stone carving. Naturally, I had to get this shot.

Oh yeah, and for all of you who have requested, despite my warnings, that I provide a video clip of me playing my dulcimer... I tried. My still camera will take videos, and so I set up and played to it. Unfortunately, it won't transfer to my computer. I've tried everything, but the video file won't move from the camera to the computer, even using the software Canon provides specifically for that purpose. So for the time being you're just going to have to live with not listening to me noodle meditatively on the dulcimer.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, October 19, 2009

Scenes from the Macro-World - Dulcimer

Yesterday you saw a picture of me playing my mountain dulcimer. Did I convey how much I love that dulcimer in the post? Let's put it this way - in that old clichéd question "If your house was on fire and you could only save one thing, what would it be?" my answer is always gonna be the dulcimer. It's handcrafted, it's beautiful, and it has a beautiful voice. I bought it from Folkcraft Instruments in 1989; it's in their CSH line, with a Northern Cherry body and a Western Red Cedar soundboard. They still sell it; here's the listing. It's a beautiful piece of craftsmanship!

So after I got done posing with the guitar and the dulcimer yesterday, I took some close-ups of the dulcimer itself, so you'll all get a chance to look at the beautiful grain and maybe get an idea of the silky feel of the wood. Enjoy!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rainy Day Amusement

Here it is Sunday, my usual day to hike down around Ballard Park and Gooseneck Cove, and it's pouring rain, windy, and temps in the mid 40s (F, which would be roughly 7º - 8º C). Obviously, the hike is off. So I've been trying finding things to keep me amused.

Indoor photography won out (of course!). I decided to drag out the guitar and the dulcimer, drape a cloth backdrop across my media center (so the background wouldn't be distractingly busy), and get to work. Some poses with each instrument, adjusting to keep everything in the frame while keeping unwanted objects out, lighting, etc. (no flash; between my glasses and the polished surfaces of the instruments, there were just too many reflective surfaces). By the end of the shoot I had a couple of shots I figured would work.

In Photoshop I picked the best shot with each instrument, tweaked lighting and focus, and then also created a black & white version of each as well. Here are all four shots.

[A note on the instruments - The guitar is an off-the-shelf Yamaha that I've beaten into submission in the course of about 20 years, so that it plays the way I want it to. The dulcimer is something special, a handmade CSH series teardrop made by Folkcraft Instruments on 10/31/1989; it sounds as beautiful as it looks.]

PS - In case anybody's wondering... I was playing a four-bar blues on the guitar, and "Norwegian Wood" on the dulcimer.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, October 16, 2009


It's Friday, and it sounds like a lot of people in my own little blogging circle have had a stressful week. I stumbled across this video (PZ Myers featured it on his Pharyngula blog last night) by a cinematographer named Jon Rawlinson, who hails from Vancouver, BC. It's a tank in the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium called Kuroshio Sea, the second largest aquarium tank in the world. The music is "Please Don't Go" by Barcelona.

I just thought this was so relaxing, and the perfect thing to decompress from a stressful week with. PZ suggested that the Aquarium folks ought to just aim a camera at the tank and film until they have enough to fill a DVD, and then sell the thing; they'd make millions! Way better than that aquarium screensaver.

And since Baino seems to have had one of those weeks, and it's her birthday to boot, consider this a birthday present, luv! Many happy returns, and have fun at your secret breakfast.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day & Theme Thursday - Climate Change

This week Theme Thursday has coincided with Blog Action Day, and so the organizers of Theme Thursday decided to adopt this year's Blog Action Day focus as this week's theme - climate change. You can visit the Blog Action Day website to find more posts on climate change by clicking the logo to the left. And you can visit more climate change posts from the Theme Thursday gang by clicking here.

There are sure to be a lot of very informative posts today about climate change, complete with lots of charts and evidential pictures and links to academic papers and journal articles detailing findings on the subject. There are also sure to be lots of motivational posts urging you to get involved, who to talk to, which government officials to contact, which legislators to write to to convince them to institute measures to solve the problem. But this post isn't one of those.

I'm not a writer, I'm a photographer. I can't write you an informative article on the subject, nor can I write a motivational post to get you all pumped up and ready to go out there and get things done. Even as a photographer I'm limited; I can't afford to go up to the Arctic areas and show you evidence of the polar ice cap melting, or Polar Bears wandering around because the ice they used to hunt on isn't there any more. What I can do is show you what there is to lose in the area where I live, in Newport, RI. Much of what makes this place the unique area it is would be lost forever under water if the warming continues and the world's ice continues to melt. So let me show you.

Gooseneck Cove's valuable salt marsh wetland would disappear, and there would no longer be a place for Herons and Egrets and Ibises and Double-crested Cormorants to nest and breed.

We would lose our beautiful coastline. These rocks where this young lady spent a beautiful September afternoon painting would be well below the low tide level if the polar cap melting continues.

And Tern Rock in Gooseneck Cove, where Common Terns have established an annual breeding colony and where, later in the season, Double-crested Cormorants rest between dives into the water after food, would be entirely submerged.

There's more, but I think you get the idea. There's a lot to lose.

As is my custom on Theme Thursday, I have a video for you. I went cruising on YouTube looking for pertinent music/image combinations, and found some nice candidates: a version of John Prine's "Paradise" with pictures of what coal mining has done to the Appalachian Mountain area; a version of Pink Floyd's "Breathe In the Air" with pictures of air pollution, its causes and effects; and more. But one video touched my heart, and is closest to the theme I've struck here - flooding. This is a video of the damage Hurricane Katrina did 4 years ago set to Peter Gabriel's "Here Comes the Flood". The intensity of both Summer and Winter storms is attributable to the warming of the Earth and the melting of the world's ice caps. We're creating a wetter world, and the results are disastrous.

And that's my perspective on climate change.

Photos & text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Some Leftovers from Last Week

I had some pictures taken last Thursday that I never got to use, so I thought they'd make a good bridge today between yesterday's Willow Manor Ball and tomorrow's Theme Thursday. Just two shots from down on Gooseneck Cove - a Great Egret scooping up lunch (yeah, that little bit of silver in its beak is a fish) and some American Black Ducks, the first of a coming Winter wave. Enjoy!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shall We Dance?

So... Willow has been busy the last few weeks handing out invitations to all and sundry to the Second Annual Willow Manor Ball, and she spent the last week getting Willow Manor ready for the onslaught. Naturally, seeing who else was coming and realizing that this was the social event of the year here on Blogger, I just had to come. Finding a date was going to be a problem, though, as it seems that all the available women seemed to be being scooped up by the other male bloggers. I had to get creative.

I asked Gomez Addams if he could spare Morticia for a day, but he threatened to challenge me to a duel, and my swordsmanship is a little rusty. Frankenstein's monster wasn't going to rent out his bride, either. And Vlad's three captive females don't even look at anybody but Vlad these days, so no luck there, either. So I thumbed hastily through my little black book. Gee, how did so many women get married to someone else after I dated them? But wait, all is not lost. Here's one nobody in his right mind would marry. I was in luck! I called her, and she accepted without hesitation. After all, nobody who's anybody is going to miss Willow's ball! So Here I am on my way to the ball with - Cruella de Vil. That's her below on the left. And that's me on the right; I saw a potential client I've been working on for a couple of weeks, and decided this party was a good time , since he seemed to be all loose and suggestible, to sign over his soul once and for all. The picture's not in the best focus because Cruella was whacking me with her purse for leaving her to work on my night off.

We motored to the ball in my 1929 canary yellow Auburn Boat-tailed Roadster.

When we got there it was pretty obvious that the party was in full swing. Man, that joint was jumpin'!

Everybody was dancing up a storm, and then the Silver Fox and Catherine Zeta-Jones cleared the floor for their number. When they were done, Cruella and I decided it was time for us to put on a little show as well. Halfway through the rest of the crowd got into the spirit of the thing and joined in. What a scene that was!

I certainly hope everyone else has as wonderful a time as Cruella and I had. Thanks, Willow!

Monday, October 12, 2009


Meaning I found an abundance of photogenic material today, and since it's Columbus Day I figured I'd say it in Italian. Heh, heh! Especially since I was avoiding the Columbus Day parade, Newport's annual celebration of all things Italian. Not that I have anything against Italians; it's just that I really don't do parades, and will go out of my way to avoid them.

Today was a great day to be down at Ballard Park and Gooseneck Cove. My aim in going down there was to get autumn-themed photos for the current Snap Happy theme on Well, I got 'em, and I had some great visitors to add to the collection as well.

So first off I wandered the trails in Ballard Park to get some nice Autumn-colored leaves, and in this I succeeded.

And then, coming down the Southwest Trail from the Valley Trail, I rounded a slow bend and came face-to-face with this young White-tailed buck cropping the grass on the trail.

We stared at each other for a while, then he cropped a little more, then he did some ear scratching, and I figured it was time to move on. He took the hint and moved off ahead of me, and we both wound up in the quarry, where he slipped into the woods on the other side and left me to my own devices.

Around the edges of the quarry, and especially up near the Vernal Pond, there are lots of Swamp Aster patches growing. Swamp Aster is strictly a Fall flower, so I wanted to get some for the Snap Happy theme. To my great delight, as I approached one patch I noticed this Bumblebee, made sluggish by the suddenly-cold air (we got down near 40º F/4º C last night, and when I was taking these pictures it was still only around 50º F/10º C), hanging on to one of the Aster blooms.

And of course I needed to get a shot of a whole patch of the Swamp Asters.

Out the Hazard Rd. entrance and down the road to Gooseneck Cove and the salt marsh, I came across a bunch of Great Egrets and two juvenile Snowy Egrets poking about in the low tide water and mud flats. I ignored them, seeing how many shots of these guys I already have. But down the road a little and on the other side, I found this beautiful Great Blue Heron fishing out in the water.

And just beyond the Heron was my perfect landscape shot of early Fall foliage on Gooseneck Cove.

On my way back to town I decided to cut through Ballard Park again, and found one more shot of Fall-colored leaves.

Wasn't that a great hike?

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, October 11, 2009

In a Different Direction

On my Sunday hikes I usually go down to Ballard Park and Gooseneck Cove, and then depending on weather and other considerations I might go on to Brenton Point. But today I went in the opposite direction. I had some errands in the north end of town, and it would have been a major pain to go hiking around the southernmost points of town only to have to go all the way up in the other direction. So I decided to hike around the cemeteries on Farewell St. (Common Burying Ground, Braman Cemetery, North Cemetery) and up the railroad tracks. I was hoping to get some typically Fall-ish shots, but Fall comes late here by the sea, plus it was a very bright day, which caused two of the shots I was especially aiming for in the way of Fall color not to work out because of the harsh lighting. Oh well...

On my way to the railroad tracks I passed by the "Governors Cemetery", where several colonial governors are buried. I didn't really stop to photograph here, but Peter Easton's stone sort of jumped out at me while I was walking by on the sidewalk outside the cemetery wall. Who am I to ignore a call like that?

Walking through the Common Burying Ground on my way back home I noticed this remarkable stone from 1716. I'd never really noticed it before, I think because the stones in this row face away from the cemetery lane that passes through this section. Today for some reason I just decided to walk around the front of the stones, and got this surprise - a stone whose epitaph is all in Latin. It's the only one I've ever seen in Newport. I have no idea who Jacob Meinzeis was, but apparently he was educated and erudite. My Latin has rusted a good deal through disuse, but one thing stands out; he was a Scot (Scoto Britannus), which leads me to think that the stone carver couldn't spell, and the man's name is Jacob Menzies (Menzies being a Scottish clan).

While on the railroad tracks I got lots of pictures which either didn't work because of the harsh lighting, or just didn't look the way I'd seen them in person when I got home and downloaded them to the computer. Some things just don't translate well as photographs, I've learned. But I did manage to get this shots of an American Copper butterfly casting its shadow on the stones beside the tracks.

Tomorrow, being the Columbus Day holiday, I'll do my usual Sunday hike, so you all won't be without your weekly dose of woodland paths, meadows, and salt marsh. Until then!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Down to Ochre Point

Today started out overcast and gloomy, with little schpritzes every now and then. But I went down to the Cliff Walk anyhow; I like the ocean when it gets moody in Autumn's unsettled weather. There was some surf, and the surfers were out, but the only shots I got that had any of the kind of drama I want in my surfing photos were two shots of the waves whacking people. Heh, heh! More dramatic was the action of the waves on the rocks, so there are two nice shots of that phenomenon, too. And to round it all out, a shot of how dramatic the sky was looking when I was down there. Yup, drama was everywhere today down at Ochre Point.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger
Don't forget to check out my new post on the Just A Song blog - "What a Wonderful World", featuring both Louis Armstong's original version and Eva Cassidy's beautiful cover version.