Wednesday, December 28, 2016


In Autumn the late-blooming Asters mark the boundary between forest and field. In the tag end of December all that's left are brown husks. They may be without the white and yellow decoration, but there is an austere beauty to these husks of Calico Asters along the Dykeman Walking Trail.

© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

Merry Christmas to all my family and friends!

In this time of trouble, division, and strife, keep in mind the person whose birth is being celebrated today came to be known as the Prince of Peace. And peace is certainly the theme of this post today. As I usually do, I'll pay tribute to the Christmas Truce of 1914, when soldiers on all sides of WWI pur aside their weapons and came together in No Man's Land to celebrate Christmas together, by posting John McCutcheon's classic "Christmas in the Trenches". And this year I'll add "Let There Be Peace on Earth". Keep peace!

© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Feast of Lights

Kindle the taper like the steadfast star
Ablaze on evening's forehead o'er the earth,
And add each night a lustre till afar
An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.
Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Blow the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn;
Chant psalms of victory till the heart takes fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new born.
– Emma Lazarus, The Feast of Lights 

Chanukah starts this evening at sunset, and to all my Jewish friends (and new additions to the family) I send a hearty chad sameach! Here's some music to celebrate with - Peter Yarrow's "Light One Candle"; the late, great Theo Bikel singing "Chanukah, Oh Chanukah", and a much beloved classic by the poet Bialik, "Lich'vod Hachanukkah". Enjoy!

Prose text © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Winter Solstice 2016

O Winter! ruler of the inverted year, . . .
I crown thee king of intimate delights,
Fireside enjoyments, home-born happiness,
And all the comforts that the lowly roof
Of undisturb'd Retirement, and the hours
Of long uninterrupted evening, know.
William Cowper

A Joyous Yule to all my family and friends!

© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Ice Storm

I love Winter. I love snow and bracing temperatures and fires in the fireplace and hot chocolate. Unfortunately we're getting hit with the ugly side of Winter - sleet and freezing rain. Really, Mama Gaia, there's no excuse for this mess less than a week away from the Winter Solstice!

© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

December Color - Paper Birches

Despite the fallen leaves, there's still a lot of color in the December landscape. There are several Paper Birches in the Dykeman Spring wetland area, and my eyes are always drawn to them when I walk through. And particularly this time of the year, when the white of their trunks contrasts with the gray of the other trees and the red of the Barberries and the Asian Bittersweet berries. They seem to anchor the scene with their stark whiteness; the rest of the landscape focuses around them, and the picture is complete.

© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

First Snow!

We got this Winter's first snow this morning! Not much, just barely a dusting, but there were snowflakes in the air and I needed to get out in it and into the woods to welcome the Winter.

Entering the Dykeman Spring Nature Park on the Dykeman Walking Trail
Following the trail through the wetland
A slight dusting of snow along the trail
Where the trail runs beside the creek
The bog pond next to the north duck pond is frozen
Following the Dykeman Walking Trail back out of the park
© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Random Shots

Out doing errands this morning, I dropped by the Dykeman Spring Nature Park. We had some rain overnight, and a lot of the twigs and branches in the park still had droplets clinging to them. There were also some other things that caught my eye on my way through the park.

Rain droplets in the Dykeman Spring wetland
More droplets
I found this feral cat stalking along the Dykeman Walking Trail
Multiflora Rose hips in the Dykeman Spring wetland
© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, December 05, 2016

Yesterday's Walk in Black & White

As I said in yesterday's blog post, I had set out to do a black & white photo shoot but got attracted to the subtle colors revealed by the subdued lighting. But four of those photos also worked well in black & white, so here they are.

Branch Creek at King St.
A Dykeman Spring wetland scene with Purple Martin house
The creek in the park seen from the red bridge
My favorite corner of the north duck pond
© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Perfect Light

This morning the quality of light was perfect. A total overcast, but it wasn't dark, it was what I'd call subdued. And in that subdued light every nuance of color and texture was visible, nothing drowned out by too much shadow or too much light. I found myself totally caught up in what I was seeing in the camera's viewfinder. I had gone out with the intent of shooting in black and white, but I was too entranced by the subtle colors I was seeing. I did process the shots in b&w, and I'll post the ones that worked tomorrow. But today is a day for reveling in the subtlety of subdued light. Enjoy!

Branch Creek at King St.
A section of the Dykeman Walking Trail
The Dykeman Spring wetland, with Purple Martin House
The creek from the red bridge
My favorite view of the north duck pond
© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Burd Run

I went up to the Burd Run streambed restoration area this morning. The water level is down some, but the area is looking healthy nonetheless. Leafless trees and shrubs have their own kind of beauty; I hope I've captured that beauty here.

Looking down the creek floodplain
Burd Run in the restoration area
Another view of the creek; you can see how low the water level is. It was a very dry Summer and Autumn!
A stairway of Shelf Fungus climbing the tree
A feral cat stalking prey
© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Bleak December

December begins today, the first day of meteorological Winter. The leaves are all down; the bare deciduous trees contrast with the deep green of the Spruces and Firs in the woods. And the turbulent gray skies form the perfect dreary backdrop for the inherent bleakness of early Winter. Now we wait for snow.

© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent Begins - "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland"

Martin Luther (left) and Johann Sebastian Bach (right)
As my friends on Facebook know, I post a Bach liturgical cantata on my timeline every Sunday morning, following the Lutheran liturgical calendar (the calendar with its associated cantatas can be found here). Well, today is the first Sunday in Advent, and Papa Johann composed three cantatas for that Sunday in the course of his career: BWV 61, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (1714); BWV 62, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (1724); and BWV 36, Schwingt freudig euch empor (1731). And all three share a common element - Martin Luther's Advent hymn Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (gee, how did you guess?). BWV 36 uses the hymn in the second movement, as a soprano/alto duet. But BWV 61 and 62 are chorale cantatas and the hymn is the major element in both.

So what is it about this hymn of Luther's that made it so important? Luther wrote the words, based on St. Ambrose's Veni redemptor gentium, in 1524 and set it to an old Gregorian tune. Because the first Sunday in Advent is the "New Year's Day" of the liturgical calendar, and because Luther created this hymn specifically for that event, it became the preeminent musical piece marking the beginning of the church year in Protestant churches for centuries. Here, take a listen to the hymn in its pre-Bach form.

This kind of hymn is called a chorale. A chorale is a melody to which a hymn is sung by a congregation in a German Protestant Church service. The typical four-part setting of a chorale, in which the sopranos (and the congregation) sing the melody along with three lower voices, is known as a chorale harmonization. The performance above by the Jena Boy's Choir follows that structure, although there's no congregation to sing the melody with the sopranos.

Bach used the chorale harmonization structure of this hymn as the basis from which he built his chorale cantata setting. Interestingly enough, in BWV 61 he plays with this, setting what would normally be the opening chorus as a chorale fantasia in the style of a French overture, which follows the sequence slow – fast (fugue) – slow. If the congregation was starting to nod off, that opening chorus was going to wake them right up! Here's the complete BWV 61, starting with that chorale fantasia. This is the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists (on authentic period instruments) directed by the great Sir John Eliot Gardiner; I'm a sucker for Gardiner's work, so naturally this is my favorite performance of this piece.

In BWV 62 Bach stuck with the familiar chorale cantata structure, so the congregation would have understood what they were listening to. This is the grand chorale cantata that he was working his way up to after the experimentation of 10 years before, and grand it is! The opening chorus charges right off in typical Bach style and sets the tone for the rest of the cantata. It's quite a ride! Here's one of my favorite performances, from the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman, considered one of the premier interpreters of Bach's orchestral music.

So there you have it, a look at the hymn that starts off the Lutheran liturgical year and its evolution through the centuries, especially in the masterful hands of the great Johann Sebastian Bach. All songs should have such a stellar history!

Text © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sight and Sound - November

"The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees."
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o'er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load."
-   William Blake, To Autumn

Photo © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving Morning at Sunset Rocks

As has become the family tradition, we went for a hike up on South Mountain on Thanksgiving morning. This year we went to Sunset Rocks, between the Appalachian Trail and Pine Grove Furnace State Park. No great, mountain-filled vistas from the top, this time; there are too many trees at the top to get a clear view. But there are plenty of lichen-covered rock outcrops among the pines to give a closer scenic view. And of course rocks are for scrambling over, as you'll see from some of the pictures. Put on your hiking boots and grab your walking stick, we're about to head up the mountain!

At the trailhead getting ready to go up

The trail is very steep and very rocky

Rock outcrops like this are the main feature of this area 

As I said, there are too many trees to get a good distance view

Scrambling over the rocks to get to the top

The crew resting at the top

Heading back down the mountain

© 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger