Tag Archives: nature

Thanks – You Are Steller!

  
Just a quick post to say thank you all for your support for my recent post about my favorite mobile storytelling app Steller. My Steller story “Pow Wow” has received over 24k page views and yesterday it reached the #2 position of Most Viewed on Steller.

Now let’s see if it’s possible to double that! https://steller.co/s/5EeDxX32fH6

If you have already had the chance to view “Pow Wow,” here is a link to check out my latest, “Timber Men.” https://steller.co/s/5FwPcK3KhyH

 

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Favorite Mobile Photo Apps – Camera+ for Macro Shots

I love macro photography. It forces me to slow down and find the astounding beauty in the small things. Details and activity that aren’t always apparent to the naked eye become revealed when shooting macro. 

In the past, the majority of my macro photographs have been taken with my DSLR and a special 90mm macro lens. This setup requires patience and a good tripod to capture the images I desire since the camera and lens combination are heavy and a bit bulky. 

On my most recent sojourn into the woods, I decided to forego my DSLR and shoot exclusively with my iPhone6. I had planned to focus on landscapes, wildlife, and documentary work at a Pow Wow I would attend. This was a partial experiment in minimizing as well as a true test of the capabilities of my iPhone.

While wandering the property one day and shooting landscapes I noticed a beautiful Dragonfly sitting on a leaf. I wished at that moment that I had my DSLR macro setup with me. I played with one of my go-to camera apps and zoomed in on the insect but the quality of a straight zoom wasn’t as sharp nor as close as I desired for the beautiful detail of the Dragonfly. Then I remembered a recent post someone made on Facebook about the Camera+ app and its macro option. I opened the app, chose the macro option and was immediately amazed at how close I was able to zoom in on the bug and the sharpness of detail it provided. Additionally, there was great DOF and even some Bokeh or lens flare effect in certain lighting conditions.

The downfall of using an app for macro with the iPhone and no lens attachment is the lack of extreme sharpness. The fact you are using digital zoom causes the focus to fall off a bit and throws in some pixelation. Printing out macro photos in large scale with this technique would not provide you with the best quality. However, smaller prints and posting digital images can offer some very compelling imagery.

Below are a few screenshots of the app and its macro mode followed by a series of images I shot at the cabin.

**This screenshot is of an Iris through the Normal mode of Camera+. Even in this straight shot there is some nice depth of field and Bokeh in the background.**

  
**When you click on the “+” symbol to the right of the shutter buttonthe menu including the mode buttons appear.**

  
**When you click on the Macro button, the app zooms in on your subject. Note the “Stabilizer” button. I played around with this feature but do not recommend using it in Macro mode especially if you are trying to capture something that may move out of your frame quickly like an insect. When you have the Stabilizer on it won’t allow you to take a shot until the camera is very still (the shutter button turns red when not stable, yellow when you are getting closer, and green when stable and you can take the shot). This would be a great feature when you have your iPhone secured to a tripod and are shooting something that won’t fly away from you like a flower, but I found it frustrating to use when stabilizing by hand and attempting to get off a quick shot before my subject buzzed away into the sunset.

  
**Once you take your first shot in Macro mode, a zoom slider appears to your right which will allow you to get even closer to your subject. The photo below is of the Iris in Macro mode with 3x magnification. What appeared with my naked eye to be a discolored spot on the drying flower petal turned out to be revealed as an interesting little striped bug when I shot in Macro mode. (These screenshots are not the sharpest of images because it is pretty difficult to hold the phone steady when trying to simultaneously click the power button and the shutter to capture the image on screen, but you get the idea, right?)

  
Below are several of the macro shots I captured with this app while at the little cabin in the woods.

  A bee collects pollen on a wildflower. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. 

 Tiny Spiky Galls created by Wasps surround the stem of a Wild Rose. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.

 A Dragonfly suns itself on a Thimbleberry leaf. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.

Overall I believe the Camera+ Macro feature is a great one especially for the photographer who doesn’t want to spend a lot of money and time on expensive cameras and macro lense setups. The downside is the falloff you receive when using digital zoom as opposed to shooting with a sharp add on lens with optical zoom. Rumors have it that the next iteration of the iPhone (iPhone 6S) will have a dual lens array which means it will have optical zoom built-in. Now that will be a killer combination with any macro app.

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


The Lure of Minimizing and Living Off-Grid

  ** Pole Barn. North Idaho. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

I have always felt I would make the perfect Hermit. I love spending time alone and one of my favorite places to spend that time is lost somewhere in the forest. The noise and activity of the city excites me for short spells but grates on my nerves and makes me long for a quiet space after a day or so. 

As a child I grew up in a small community surrounded by beautiful and dramatic mountain ranges. The outdoor life was all I knew. I spent my summers hiking, climbing and backpacking through forests on the Western slope of the Sierra Nevada and my winters snowshoeing, ice skating and skiing in the backcountry. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t dream of someday living in a log cabin surrounded by pines and wildlife. My interaction with nature was the best part of my childhood and became my savior during moments of stress.

  
Oft-times childhood dreams are cast aside for adult realities. I grew up, went away to college, and landed out in the “big world” far away from my small town hamlet. Over time I took on my big city persona and began to lose touch with nature. While swept up in that grown up life of making lots of money in order to buy lots of unnecessary “things,” I was haunted by an empty feeling deep inside my gut. Everything I was doing, every hat I wore, every role I played, felt wrong. All I could think about was sitting on the porch of that log cabin somewhere in the woods where I could breathe the earth back into my soul. 

  
I am not the only one who has felt this way. More people have begun to heed the lure of homesteading or living off-grid and have made the bold decision to quit their corporate jobs, sell most of their belongings, and move their families onto their little patch of paradise far from the noise of the city life. I can’t think of a healthier way to exist than that of the Homesteader. To reconnect with nature, grow your own organic food, and live off the land is to me the ultimate existance. And this is exactly what we are going to do in the not too distant future. 

  
The wheels were set in motion when we recently purchased a small log cabin on ten beautiful timbered acres in North Idaho. Over the next several years we will work to downsize or minimize our belongings; in other words let go of the “things” that don’t bring us joy in life. We will spend most of our upcoming vacation time enjoying and preparing the cabin for our eventual move. The cabin is not completely off-grid in the sense it is connected to the power grid, however it sits two miles from the nearest paved road, draws water from a well with a spring as a secondary source, and can only be accessed by skis, snowshoes, or a snowmobile in the thick of Winter and a 4-wheel-drive Quad or knee-high mud boots during the sloppy Spring thaw.

  
What was once a dream has now become a tangible reality and it brings such peace and joy to my heart to know it is there waiting for our ultimate arrival. We leave a week from today to pay our little piece of paradise a sixteen day visit. I can’t wait to sit on the porch swing and breathe in the beauty of the woods while dreaming of the day I will never have to leave there.

  


Birch Bark – The Gifts of a Fallen Tree

  
I adore Birch trees. The light coloring of the Western Paper Birch with its unique peeling bark and lenticels catch my eye immediately when wandering the forest. Their foliage turns a brilliant yellow during the Fall and the leaves make a beautiful rustling sound in the wind. These trees can grow up to 70 feet tall and 1-2 feet in diameter over 80+ years. 

The Native Americans utilized the Birch tree for a number of things. They used the outer bark for the skin of their canoes and to cover their wigwams. They made bark containers for collection and storage of food as well as for cooking. The wood of the Birch was used to make musical instruments, toys for children, and hunting and fishing gear. The bark was also woven into baskets and incorporated into their beadwork. 

  
Birch bark can be used for tinder to start a fire (even when it’s wet), as paper to write on, and can be woven into a hat or a pair of shoes if you find yourself lost in the forest. The sap from the Birch tree can be made into wine or beer and the leaves and inner bark can be turned into a detoxing tea or medicinal cream for issues with the skin.

It is never a good idea to peel the bark from a live, standing Birch. It can leave the tree vulnerable and sometimes it will die, especially if some of the protective inner bark is cut and removed during the process. It is best to remove bark from a fallen tree. Where there are Birch trees there are usually several that have fallen due to disease, high winds, or snow load. Occassionally a larger Birch may become a hazard tree and segments begin breaking off of the top and falling onto whatever is below. If the hazard tree is near a home or building or in an area with a frequently travelled trail, then it should be removed. 

While on our recent trip to North Idaho, a large Birch needed to be felled since it was close to a cabin and had lost several feet from its top, most likely due to disease.

  
As much as I do not like to see trees cut down for the purpose of encroaching on the forest for development, I do understand certain trees need to be removed when they become a hazard to people and other things in their surroundings. 

Although no longer standing, this lovely tree still had many gifts to give. We decided to collect the bark to use it for jewelry and other crafts. The trunk will be cut into slices to create beautiful side tables for the cabin and the main log will be milled into lumber for later use. Some of the smaller sections will be used to heat the cabin and the rest will decay over time on the forest floor to provide shelter to small animals and insects and nutrition for new seedlings to grow.

Below is a series of photographs illustrating the process we used for the Birch bark removal. You can use a carpet knife to score the section of bark you want to remove then use the same knife to carefully pull away the edges from the inner bark. Once the outer bark begins to release, slowly peel the sheet from the log. Store the sheets flat or use water and a heat gun later to flatten any curled pieces. And of course remember to thank the tree for its beautiful gifts :).

   
               

Here are two examples of pieces of jewelry I have made from this bark over the past few days.

The first is a necklace where I used pieces of bark that had lichen growing on them and incorporated it with earth-toned beads and silver wire.

  
The second is a pair of earrings I am still designing that mixes bark with metal and alcohol inks.

  

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Lost in the Woods

  

I just spent ten glorious days “lost” in the woods of North Idaho. This was my first vacation in over two years since dealing with West Nile Virus and then treatment for skin cancer. It felt so good to get far away from the house that had become my hermit’s cave and sanctuary during my illness and treatment. The beauty that surrounded me in Idaho seemed magnified tenfold and I couldn’t stop exclaiming “It’s so pretty here!” As those who have read my book “Zen in the Garden” know, I have always found peace and healing through nature. Following my recent struggles, that desire to reconnect with the earth for a bit of healing has been foremost on my mind.

  

It was so nice to sit in a quiet place void of the noise pollution of an urban environment for hours at a time. The sound of birdsong and of the wind as it rustled through the pines created the perfect symphony for my tired soul. Each day I could feel my body relax even more than the day before as the stressors of everyday life became nothing more than a fading shadow inside my reawakened mind. I felt present. Mindful. Embraced by what truly matters in this life. I felt alive and happy as I touched the earth and opened my eyes to its simple yet elegant gifts.

  

As we wandered the woods that surrounded our little log cabin I knew without a doubt that this was where I belonged. It all seemed so familiar to me. It was as if a piece of myself had spent my entire life wandering under that beautiful, peaceful canopy while the other parts had struggled to exist in the chaos of a world quite foreign to my soul. My childhood was spent in an environment similar to this place but I chose to leave it at the age of 18 to pursue a college degree and make my way out in the “real” world. That world has proven to be both rewarding and cruel. I have often felt myself struggle to fit in when my heart keeps telling me to run back into the woods where I belong.

  

This trip into the woods healed me in more ways than I can explain with words. It brought me peace and it brought me hope. It provided me with a renewed sense of motivation. The wheels are now in motion to make my way back into the woods for good where I can embrace nature for the remainder of my life. No matter how long it takes to reach that goal, I now know it is going to happen. I can’t wait…

  

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Zen Moment 4 – The Wisdom of Trees

  

I have been a tree lover since I was a child. During summer vacations we spent hours building tree forts in the field behind our housing tract with scavanged boards and nails from a construction site. The trees were a combination of old gnarly Oaks and towering Cottonwoods that offered much needed shade to a herd of cattle and a few horses that grazed in the field.

The tree fort was my favorite place to sit and daydream. It also served as my escape from a not so pretty home life. I remember the feeling of freedom it gave me to sit up high, lost in the cover of this massive tree. I felt safe and protected by its branches. If I sat still long enough I could hear what sounded like a chorus of ancient voices drifting through the leaves as they rustled in the wind. 

Trees are truly amazing gifts of nature. I have often pondered the thought of their longevity and wished they could tell us the stories of all they have seen over time. Some have been silent witnesses to centuries of history. Others, like the Ancient Bristlecones, have been on this earth for more than 5,000 years. Oh the tales they could tell.

Trees provide shelter and shade for birds and mammals. They help to cool the earth, remove particulates, and provide oxygen for us to breathe. Studies show that hospital patients who are in rooms with a view of trees heal faster than patients who don’t. Also, communities that lack trees have a higher crime rate than those that have them.

I proudly consider myself a “tree hugger” yet I do have a balanced understanding of the need for a percentage of trees to be cut and utilized for human needs. But I become saddened at the thought of our rainforests being decimated with abandon and cringe when I hear about large trees being removed for a development in my city.

If only the trees could impart on us the wisdom they have absorbed over time. Maybe we would understand the need to treat nature and other human beings with more kindness.

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Zen Moment 3 – Connecting With the Gifts That Nature Gives Us

  

** Raccoon wading through the wetlands, Yolo Wildlife Area, Davis, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

“When you touch one thing with deep awareness, you touch everything.” – Lao Tzu

I am constantly surprised by nature’s little gifts. A few days ago I went on a walk at the Yolo Wildlife Area and chose to head up the gravel road I have walked dozens of times. There are wetlands that hug each side of this road and it provides a great view of a wide variety of waterfowl and shorebirds.

It was a typical Spring morning where I spotted and photographed Egrets, Blue Heron, American Coot, Mallards, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shovelers, Ibis, Stilts, and Avocets. I walked and stopped every now and then to capture another photo and marveled at the chorus of birdsong and the beauty of this oasis so close to the city where I live. I felt grounded and thankful that I was able to begin my day in such a wonderful way. 

While lost in the moment, I caught a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned towards a tall Thistle plant on the edge of the water and was amazed to see a Raccoon slip into the water and begin to wade towards a small island of reeds. In all my trips out there I have never come across a Raccoon, especially not in daylight since they are nocturnal creatures by nature. 

I stood there amazed at the scene as it unfolded before me. The Raccoon was equally amazed to see me standing there and for a moment we held a silent vigil as our eyes locked on to the other. I raised my camera slowly and took a few photographs and video of this amazing creature and tried to reassure it through my relaxed demeanor that I meant it no harm.

My original intent that morning was to get some exercise in with a nice brisk walk, alas, the Universe had a different plan for me. This unexpected gift found me standing there for a good hour just watching and waiting as the Raccoon waded from island to island and searched the reeds for Crawdads to eat. Every time it would finish its search it would peek out at me from between the reeds then enter the water and make its way towards the next island.

The entire time I stood there watching I felt a smile spread wide across my face. There was nothing else but me, the Raccoon, a Hallelujah chorus of birdsong, and my giant smile. Any stress I felt at the start of that morning was dissipated. It was exactly how nature intended it to be. The two of us, lost in the moment of our surprising communion as we danced our pas de deux to the music of this magical Universe.

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **