Lately clouds from forest fires in the Western part of the United States have been drifting over the Eastern part, and beyond to Europe perhaps. They have made the sky very cloudy and the moon orange at night. I went to Sayen House and Gardens in Hamilton, NJ to see whether there were flowers to photograph. In one corner of the gardens I found the pond murky looking. The photos I took of the pond surface and some plants growing in the water looked like black and white photos. I converted them to monochrome images which do not appear too different from their color originals.
Following is my translation of a short story published in 1934. It was written by a famous Vietnamese author, Trần Khánh Giư using the pen name of Khái Hưng. He and Nhất Linh (see Shadow in the Mist) were the two founders of the Self Reliance Literary Group (Tự Lực Văn Đoàn).
“You Must Live” (“Anh Phải Sống”) is the first of 13 short stories written by these two authors. It was published in 1934. At the end of World War II, Khái Hưng was arrested by the Vietnamese Communists and executed in 1947.
One summer afternoon on the dike at Yên Phụ.
The Red River was rising and flowing so strongly that it was threatening a small island in the middle of it. Tree trunks and desiccated branches collected from upstream forests were carried by its reddish current. They looked like a never-ending convoy of small boats traveling at top speed toward some unknown destination.
Standing on the dike, mason Thức eyed those pieces of wood, a wishful expression on his face. He turned to his wife and stared at her with an unspoken question. She gazed at the river, inspected the sky, then sighed:
“The wind is too strong, and those dark clouds on the horizon are growing fast. Dear, it will rain soon!”
He also let out a sigh, and began ambling away. Abruptly he stopped and asked her:
“Did you cook yet?”
She answered sadly:
“Yes, but there is only enough for the two older kids to eat this evening.”
The couple looked at each other in silence. Then something seemed to mesmerize them, forcing them to turn toward the river. In the middle of the river, pieces of firewood were drifting steadily downstream.
The husband smiled oddly and said:
The wife shook her head but did not say a word. He asked:
“Did you go see Mrs. Ký yet?”
“How did that turn out?”
“Useless. She said she will only give us money when we collect that floating firewood and bring it to her. She will lend us nothing before that.”
“Is that so?”
Those words were as solid as the firm taps he made with a trowel on the bricks of a wall he was building. Willing himself to do some superhuman act, Thức turned to his wife:
“Go home and take care of our boy Bò.”
“He has big sister Nhớn and small sister Bé looking after him.”
“Dear, it’d better if you went home. Nhớn is barely five, how can she take care of the two younger ones?”
“I’ll go home then … But you should too. What are you standing around here for?”
“It’s all right. You first, I’ll go later.”
Mason Thức’s wife went obediently back to the village of Yên Phụ.
Seeing their low house, dark and damp, mason Thức’s wife thought about their poverty and felt despondent.
All three of her children were on the bare wooden bed, crying and clamoring for their mother. The little boy, Bò, was wailing, wanting to be fed. Since noon he had not had anything in his stomach.
Big sister Nhớn had not succeeded in calming him and was constantly telling small sister Bé:
“Run out to find mother and tell her to come home and feed him.”
However, Bé refused to go and laid on the bed crying and cursing.
Mason Thức’s wife ran to her son and picked him up, soothing him with words:
“I am sorry! I was out for too long and I let my baby go hungry, I let my baby cry.”
She sat on the bed to feed him. The boy began suckling. But he soon gave up and let go of his mother’s nipple because she had no milk for him. He wailed louder than before.
Thức’s wife sighed, her large black eyes filling with tears. She stood up and walked around singing softly to lull him to sleep.
“I am sorry! I had nothing to eat, and I have no more milk for my baby.”
Eventually, exhausted by his efforts, he fell asleep. The mother told the two girls to go out of the house to let their brother sleep.
She sat down and thought about her life. Her simple peasant mind could not dream or arrange her memories in any order. The things she remembered appeared chaotically, like people and objects on a photograph. One thing she did remember very clearly was that she had never had a moment of leisure, one moment during which she could enjoy happiness like rich people did.
When she was twelve or thirteen, Lạc began working as a mason helper. Her life went on, day after day, month after month, year after year.
At the age of seventeen, she and Thức worked together, he as a roofer and she his helper. They exchanged pleasantries now and then. They fell in love. They got married.
Five years later, in their dilapidated home at the foot of the Yên Phụ dike, there was nothing that could be considered easy in the life of these two miserable people, their poverty worsening with the birth of three children in three years.
On top of that the times were hard, jobs were few and wages low. The couple struggled from one day to the next, never earning enough to feed their growing family.
Then mason Thức came up with a new way to earn a living. He borrowed money to buy a small woven bamboo boat. Every day, they took the boat out to the middle of the river to collect firewood to sell. Two months later, with their debt paid off, they were making enough money to live comfortably.
That is why this year, amid widespread poverty and hunger, the couple was looking toward the day when the river would be high again.
Yesterday, they saw that heaven had granted their wishes.
Lạc smiled and softly laid her baby down on his diaper. Silently, she stepped outside and began climbing the dike resolutely.
At the top of the dike, she did not see her husband anywhere.
The wind was roaring and the current was strong, flowing fast and noisy like a waterfall. Lạc lifted her yes to look at the sky: it was dark, black.
She stood thinking, her shirt flapping like those strong waves assailing the river bank. Then a sudden thought hit her. She panicked and ran to the side of the dike leading down to the river.
She arrived at the place where they had moored their woven boat. Lạc saw her husband making efforts to tighten the knots holding the bamboo slats together. She observed him silently and waited until he finished before stepping onto the boat and asked:
“Dear, where are you planning to go?”
Thức glared at his wife, shouting angrily:
“Why aren’t you staying home with the children?”
Frightened, she answered:
“They … are sleeping.”
“But what are you doing out here?”
“Where are you taking the boat?”
“Why do you ask? Go home!”
Lạc started to cry. Thức was moved.
“Why are you crying?”
“Because you are planning to go get firewood by yourself, without me.”
Thức was thinking and looking at the sky, the river. He told her:
“Dear, you can’t come along … It’s too dangerous!”
“Dangerous! Then it’s dangerous for both of us … I am not afraid, I know how to swim.”
Those words sounded cold, making Lạc shiver. The river continued flowing strongly while the sky was getting even darker. Thức asked:
They started taking the boat toward the middle of the river. He steered, she paddled. To fight against the current, he pointed the boat upstream. Still the boat drifted downstream, bobbling up and down, hidden at times by alluvial waves, then emerging again like a dried bamboo leaf on a pool of blood, a tiny mosquito drowning in a tube of lipstick.
Yet half an hour later they had reached the middle of the river. He held the rudder firmly while she collected the driftwood.
Not too long after, the boat was almost full and they prepared to return to the river bank. Rain started falling, followed by lightning which seemed to tear the clouds apart, while thunder threatened to blow up both heaven and earth.
The small bamboo boat filled with water and became heavier. They both paddled, but the current kept taking the boat along with it.
They shouted at the same time:
The boat sank. Their collected driftwood rejoined their former ranks and moved coldly forward, taking the overturned boat with it.
He asked his wife:
“Will you be able to swim to the river bank?”
“I can,” she asserted.
“Swim along with the current … Lean on the waves!”
“I can do it! Don’t worry!”
The heavy rain continued, accompanied by ferocious thunder and lightning. The two felt they were living on the border of some abyss. A moment later, seeing his wife weakening, Thức swam toward her and asked:
“How is it going?”
“I can do it! Don’t worry!”
As soon as she said that, her head sank in the water. She struggled tremendously to come up to the surface. He sped toward her. Then one arm holding her up, he swam with his other arm. She smiled and looked at him lovingly. He also smiled. Some time later, Thức shouted:
“I am tired, hang on to me and let me swim! I can’t hold on to you any longer.”
After a few more minutes, he was exhausted and his arms were beyond tiring. She asked him softly:
“Can you swim some more?”
“Don’t know. If it was just me, no problem.”
“I will detach myself so you can swim to the bank, all right?”
“No! We’ll die together.”
A short while later, although Lạc felt it was as long as a day, her husband asked:
“Lạc! Can you try to swim some more?”
“Nothing. Then we’ll both die.”
Lạc shuddered and said softly:
“Baby Bò! Nhớn! Bé! … No! … You must live!”
All of a sudden, Thức felt much lighter. She was no longer holding on to him. Lạc had thought about their children and had silently sunk to the bottom of the river, giving him enough strength to swim to the river bank.
Electric lights were shining brightly on the dike. The wind had died, the waves had calmed down. A man with a baby boy in his arms was sitting on the ground, crying. Two young girls stood on both sides of him. The family of mason Thức had come to the river to say farewell to the one who had sacrificed herself for her children. In the vast emptiness, the river kept flowing downstream, unconcerned.
Yesterday, the silence was deafening! The 17-year cicadas were gone, and so was the noise they made. In our local paper, high school students were promoting cicadas as food, deep-fried or what not. Claims were made that these insects do not harm anything, but one look at our backyard convinced me otherwise. Many trees have clumps of dead leaves, as seen in the following shot of this year’s Paw-paw fruit.
Paw-paw with dead leaves left behind by cicadas.
Meanwhile Zinnias have started to bloom after the spring flowers like peonies were done with putting on their show.
Night heron babies are not among the cutest by any stretch! They do grow up to be very handsome adults, and require a lot of feeding for that. That’s why their parents come back every year to the rookery which is surrounded in all directions by an ocean brimming with crustaceans and fish.
In a nearby nest, a Black-crowned Night Heron juvenile was going through the same hunger pains.
The Ocean City Welcome Center was built as part of the Route 52 bridge that connects Ocean City, NJ to Somers Point, NJ. The 2.74 mi (4.41 km) bridge was built between 2006 and 2012, at a cost of $400 million.
A few days ago, I walked down to the bottom of the bridge. From the Welcome Center sidewalk, one would look down on the rookery with many trees where the herons, egrets, ibises and other birds nested. Few birds, if any, were nesting at the bottom. Most photographers stay on the pedestrian walk above the rookery.
There were ducks and night herons swimming and drinking from small depressions where rain water had accumulated.
When the weather is nice, the bridge is a very active place. Thousands of cars cross it every day, as do pedestrians (walkers and joggers) and cyclists. There is also an area in the middle of the above photo which is reserved for people who want to fish from the ocean.
With bright sunshine, white clouds on blue sky, bearable temperatures, and a cool breeze from time to time, it was a perfect day for photography. There were already about a dozen photographers with their massive long lenses pointed at various points of the rookery.
Except for the sleepy night herons, the birds were very active, flying in and out of the trees every minute or so. I ended up taking many more pictures of birds in flight than I had planned.
Last year I missed going to the rookery right next to the Ocean City Welcome Center in Cape May County at the southern end of New Jersey. Three days ago, I went there in mid season. The rookery was filled with many birds, some I had never seen before.
The night herons have built nests, incubated their eggs and some were busy raising the young ones. There were probably some nests well hidden behind tree branches and leaves, with eggs that had not hatched yet.
The night herons, as their names imply, are most active after dusk when their eyes serve them well. During the day they appear somnolent, almost lethargic, which of course is good for photography as they can hold their poses for a long time.
These herons migrate long distances to their nesting grounds in New Jersey, and they do look impressive in flight.
The Knock Out rose was introduced in 1989 by William Radler. It rapidly became a favorite rose for many as it proved to be sturdy, disease resistant, and also beautiful. In 2004, Double Knockout came out and we have been growing it for the past decade. All our other roses died for one reason or another, but we have two bushes of Double Knockout which are thriving. Japanese Beetles love them as food , but one or two traps seem to take care of that every year. So, here is my entry to Cee’s CFCC: Flowers:
This spring has been marked by rain and cool temperatures, and has thus prolonged the Brood X cicada season. They will live on a few weeks longer so that they can finish their mating activities and make sure, before they die, to give the world another generation in 17 years. I started seeing them in mid May, and as of now they are still singing incessantly during the day, the noise managing to penetrate closed windows and doors. Hopefully, that will end in another two weeks or so.
Our streets are littered with cicada shells and messy carcasses after they’ve been run over by cars. Our walls are sometimes covered with long rows of full-fledged cicadas. Fortunately, they don’t seem to eat any plant as they only spend their time and energy mating. Here are two pictures of them taken yesterday.
Some flowers have thrived, such as the white Bleeding Hearts pictured below.
In our vegetable garden most seeds have taken longer to sprout, but the tomato plants, bought from a big box store, are flowering and doing well.
Finally, a picture of East Point Lighthouse taken from a different perspective. This is how most people will see it as they arrive on site.
Two days ago, the 2021 Horseshoe Crab season was at its peak with bright sunny skies during the day and a full moon at night. Horseshoe Crabs (which are not really crabs), came ashore and gathered along the geotubes in front of East Point Lighthouse. The females laid their eggs in the sand and the males attached to them tried their best to fertilize the eggs.
In late May of each year, similar mating scenes occur at many beaches in South Jersey, especially those fronting the Delaware Bay. Migratory birds swoop down to gorge themselves on the eggs. There seems to be enough eggs for such feasts. A female, which is usually 20-30% larger than a male, can produce as many as 120,000 eggs each season.
While I was photographing the above scene, a Bald Eagle flew overhead with a long fish, perhaps an eel, in its talons.
Not far from where I was, a Barn Swallow perched on an electric wire was looking at the scene and singing .
Six years ago, in 2015, I went to the East Point Lighthouse in Heislerville on the Delaware Bay coastline at the southern end of New Jersey. It is a small but working lighthouse which somehow survived Hurricane Sandy but was in danger of the next major storm as the sea continually eroded a sandy beach less than 100 ft (30 m) away.
Here are a couple of pictures taken in 2015.
Yesterday, I went back to see the lighthouse. Over the past several years, the Maurice River Historical Society which has managed the lighthouse since 1972, has done its best to restore the lighthouse. It definitely looks much improved from the outside.
To try and deal with the real danger of beach erosion and flooding, in 2019 the state of New Jersey spent $460,000 installing giant sandbags called geotubes on the beach near the lighthouse.
Critics say that the geotubes are not high enough to prevent waves at high tide from spilling over and flooding the lighthouse. In a major storm, all bets are off, and anything could happen.
In the meantime, New Jersey authorities and the Maurice River Historical Society are in a contract dispute, and the inside of the lighthouse is closed to all. Visitors could still come and walk around the beach to look at horseshoe crabs in their annual mating rituals.
2021 is the year when brood X of the 17-year cicada emerges from the ground to mate and procreate. A few weeks ago, I saw many small holes in our backyard and one corner near the woods had been turned over by some animals, perhaps red foxes, hunting cicadas for food. Not to worry, for billions of cicadas will emerge this year in North America. There will be plenty of them and enough will survive to give us their next generation.
This morning I went out with my camera to look for them. They were on tree trunks and branches, and on the grass. I had never seen so many!
Over the next few weeks, the cicadas will mate and the females will lay eggs on tree branches. Their mating calls is already starting to be a constant din that will annoy some people. Their eggs will hatch and cicada nymphs will fall to the ground and bury themselves there, eating sap from tree roots without damaging them.
On a recent visit to Sayen Gardens, I noticed several tall (30 ft or more) magnolia trees with white flowers shooting straight up to the sky. The tree is Magnolia Tripetala, also called Big Leaf Magnolia or Umbrella Magnolia, a native plant to the Appalachian mountains in the eastern United States , the Ozarks, and the Ouachita Mountains further West. Here is a monochrome shot of this magnolia.
On a sunny day, Sayen Gardens near our house displayed hundreds of deciduous Azalea bushes and small trees. Their colors were vibrant and sunlight was just about perfect in highlighting them.
This last one is a Columbine with colors rivaling those of the Azaleas.
Last Saturday was a very breezy and cold day, with wind chill temperatures below freezing. It was also low tide when the refuge did not offer its best views.
Most birds were sheltering from the wind and cold, although many Canada Geese were strolling around, showing off this year’s offspring. The Goslings were busy foraging and tasting food.
The Osprey nests were empty at first sight and, for a moment, I thought they had flown to warmer places. However, when looking again, I could see part of a head peeking out from one nest. A female Osprey was chirping, her head clearly visible as she scanned the sky for her mate. I decided to stop and wait, but kept my window closed because of the strong wind.
Suddenly I saw the male Osprey flying in with a fish in his talons. By the time I got the window rolled down and my camera out he was already landing on the female bird.
The next photos show the Osprey mating rituals which lasted less than a minute.
He landed a short distance away, watching her for a few minutes before flying off again, perhaps to find for more fish for her.
The Eastern Bluebird couple is well established near the birdhouse they have adopted for this year. The one they used last year remains empty at the moment, until some other bird moves in. The male still comes to our bay window once in a while to peck at his mirror rival! Otherwise, it is a slow wait until the eggs are hatched and incubation begins.
Of the two, the male seems to be very active defending their space.
The intruders are other birds that perch on the magnolia branch waiting their turn at the bird feeder. Some are quite handsome, like this House Finch below.
The Eastern Bluebird couple have returned and are busy rebuilding their nest inside a birdhouse that I cleaned up a few weeks ago. It stands right next to a small magnolia tree with yellow flowers.
I took these photos through our bay window only about four feet from the birdhouse. The male Bluebird kept coming to the window ledge and knocking on the glass with its beak throughout the day. I wonder if that was because he saw his reflection and thought he had a rival!
Every spring the daffodils and flowering trees around us, magnolias, Bradford Pear, and several fruit trees, put on a spectacular display of flowers. That is until we are hit with a late frost, but so far that hasn’t happened, fingers crossed.
Tulips will come later in a few more weeks.
Yesterday our local temperature climbed to 80°F (26.67°C), the highest ever recorded for March 26th. Any snow still on the ground has already melted a few days earlier, and the crocus flowers wasted no time in coming up and bearing vibrant flowers. Here are some shots of those at the front of our driveway.
Last week the refuge conducted controlled burning of areas around the marshes to get rid of some invasive plants. That cleared quite a few of the bushes while leaving blackened spots where green shoots have already managed to come up. Hopefully they are not those pesky weeds that were supposed to burn.
There was a male Red-winged Blackbird singing gleefully in a reedy area. I tried to follow it for a few minutes as it switched spots before finally finding a suitable perch and belted its song, spreading and puffing its feathers to impress potential mates.
Tuesday I went to the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge to find it closed because they were conducting controlled burns of invasive plants along the marsh edges. Rather than going home, I drove one more hour to get to the Cape May Lighthouse at the southern tip of New Jersey.
I walked down to the beach and saw a strange bunker, a World War II relic slowly being reclaimed by the ocean.
The bunker was used to defend against a possible German invasion! It had four 155 mm artillery pieces which had never been fired and were removed many years ago.
Nearby there were several small ponds where swans and various ducks were swimming and feeding.
Sparrows and one Northern Mockingbird kept flying around me as if wanting their pictures taken.
There were several bushes of holly laden with gloriously red berries.
The colorful Northern Shovelers are one of the more common ducks throughout the world. During the winter at the refuge, there are at least several hundreds of them foraging for food in the marshes with their typically long bills (2.5 inches or 6.35 cm).
In the US, during duck hunting season, an average of 700,000 Northern Shovelers are brought down each year! Yet, they are not on the endangered species list. Here are some recent photos of them at the refuge.
A young squirrel was looking hungrily at our squirrel-proof birdfeeder.
At the refuge, a Turkey Vulture was flying in the clear blue sky.
After a while, it landed not too far away and I drove there to shoot many photos of it. It is not the best looking bird but it is probably the best scavenger, cleaning up the countryside of road kills and dead animals that it sees or smells from high above.
As I write this, snow is falling steadily outside, with as much as 9 inches (about 23 cm) expected, and another snowstorm is forecasted for this weekend.
Recently, I saw the following Bluebird at the refuge. It came back too early and looked disappointed at the cold and bleakness of winter.
Nearby, a Great Blue Heron who did not migrate offered some advice.
Winter Wonderland at its best!
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A few weeks ago I had the fortune of spending a week or so in Bryce Canyon National Park as a winter storm passed through and transformed the magical landscape into a pure Winter Wonderland. I’d been waiting to spend some time there and hoping to catch a good storm but this year has largely been mild in SW Utah. Finally, a series of storms promised fresh snow and it coincided with my available time. Two separate storms followed by blue skies passed through during my time there and I had a chance to hike during and after these storms among the hoodoos. The days blurred together as each day was a little better than the last.
Bryce Canyon in the Winter is really a magical place, particularly after a storm. The landscape itself is overwhelming and strange when it’s clear of snow…
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