For some months now, this svelte black cat has visited our yard every few days, roaming about and poking into all the crannies. At times, she sits looking longingly at birds in the trees. When they’re on the ground, she stalks them.

Several weeks ago, I chanced to see her pounce and kill a mourning dove that was eating dropped seeds below a bird feeder. She poked at the dead bird several times with her paw, as if surprised at what she had done, and looked nervously from side to side, as if half-expecting retribution.

Then she turned and left, disinterested, leaving the carcass for me to bury. A cat-fancier friend tells me the fact that she didn’t eat the dove, along with her glossy coat and healthy appearance, makes clear that she has a home and is well fed.

This photo was shot through window and screen, which imparted a diffuse glow. That plus the low sunlight reflecting from her eyes, gives our huntress an air of ghostly menace.

This photo was taken on October 24 at 11:36 am.

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I could claim hours of patient waiting, or lightning-fast reflexes that let me trip the shutter at just the right moment. None of that would be true; these photos are the result of dumb luck!

A large number of migrating ruddy ducks have stopped by this year, and have stayed longer than usual, no doubt due to the warm winter. Several of these tiny ducks had ventured closer than usual to shore. It was an opportunity too good to miss. I opened my window slowly to avoid startling them — they’re always skittish — and started shooting. Suddenly, a Great Blue Heron flew across my field of view. Reflexly, I swung the camera up and kept clicking. (Incidentally, I looked up “reflexly;” it is a word and I have used it correctly. “Reflexively” means something entirely different)

These are small images, admittedly, as the heron was far away, but they do suggest the power and grace of this great bird aloft. A Great Blue in flight — at last — captured on November 20, 2011.

Related post: Great Blue Soaring.

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What does this swan have to do with graceful writing? She is a “pen,” a female swan (the male is a “cob”), and is simply resting a leg, as some swans are wont to do.

Recently, a famous blogger responded to a complaint that he begins sentences with “And” and “But.” Readers rushed to his defense, agreeing the practice is acceptable. Here I dissent, mildly.

You can write clear, interesting, even memorable prose without beginning your sentences with the coordinating conjunctions, “And” or “But.”

In discussions of good writing, too much is made of “informality” and “conversational tone.” Frankly, I’m not sure what those words mean. Too often they are used to justify bad grammar and the weak writing that follows from it.

Graceful writing demands rigor, that you say precisely what you mean — but that is a necessary, not sufficient condition.

My preferred guide is William Strunk’s famous little book, The Elements of Style. His often quoted summation is this:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Graceful writing meets this test, and goes beyond it. Grace in language not only is an end itself, but also heightens our perceptions, helping the writer to convey the most intimate or weighty thoughts, and the reader fully to absorb them.

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Crescent Moon

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In the quiet hour before dawn, there are stirrings about the pond. Leaves fall silently past our window. The visiting flock of ruddy ducks, roused from their slumber, gather quietly in a round, restless formation, for what I imagine to be their morning head count. A crescent moon slowly tops the high ridge along the eastern shore.

This is a “waning crescent moon,” photographed on October 25th at 6:23 am. Just seven percent of the disk is illuminated by the direct rays of the sun. The rest is faintly lit by reflected light from earth’s day side, and appears as a lighter gray against a dark gray sky. Such a view of the moon is known as “the new moon in the arms of the old” (or in the case of a waxing crescent moon, “the old moon in the arms of the new.”)

Peering closely, I can just see the fabled maria or “seas” in the soft gray area. As the moon climbed higher, that soft gray merged into the inky blackness of the night sky. There were no stars visible when I took this photo.

The next two nights, October 26th and 27th, were host to a “dark moon,” and the night after that, October 28th, a “waxing crescent moon” — similar to the “waning,” but with the crescent on the right side of the orb. As it turned out, the 26th and 27th were overcast, and no observation was possible in any case.

(If interested, you can view the moon phases for any month and year at Moon Phase Calendar, and see an illustrated explanation at Understanding the Moon Phases.)

A neighbor tells me that Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, begins on the darkest night of October (on the western calendar). Also called Deepavali, it is among the greatest of Hindu festivals, and celebrates the new year on the lunar calendar.

You may notice a little pixelization at the tips of the crescent; that’s normal at this scale. If you click on the photo, a larger, cleaner image will appear.

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How grand! Another magnificent dawn! This makes two in as many days. In years past, I had come to expect such elaborate displays in frigid December, not in mild October.

Why so early this year? Mere chance, or climate change? Or did I miss them previously behind the now departed Box Elder?

Yesterday, I held the camera by hand, always risky, but did manage to get several, good, sharp images. This time, I didn’t take any chances. I mounted the camera on a tripod, and used the remote release, avoiding any possibility of camera shake. I shot forty frames in as many minutes — but, as so often happens, the first was the best. With each passing minute, the sky lightened and the soft, ephemeral colors became less intense.

See related posts: Vapor Trails at Dawn, Orange Dawn. Click image to enlarge it, and browser’s back arrow to close. Comments are welcome.

 


A large Box Elder standing at the water’s edge blew over during Tropical Storm Irene. It had outgrown its roots. Like an enormous square sail of centuries past, it caught the wind and pulled its own roots out of the ground. At no small cost we had it removed.

No one likes to lose a tree, but frankly, I never liked this one; it was ungraceful and blocked the view. On hot days I miss the shade, but — ah — the view!

What you see is my new vista at first light, recorded at 7:10 am on October 11, 2011.

See related posts: Pearly Dawn, Orange Dawn. Click image to enlarge it, and browser’s back arrow to close. Comments are welcome.