Saturday, July 10, 2021

Art I'm Making: Macro Photography

I've recently become interested in local insects more than in the past because of a couple of gigs doing bird surveys on private property in the county where, in both cases, the people asking me to catalog the birds present are interested in everything—birds, wildflowers, insects. 

Photographing insects with the same long telephoto lens I use to photograph birds actually works quite well, but I thought it time to get a dedicated macro lens. Olympus makes a very highly rated macro lens (60mm, f2.8) that I was able to find fairly inexpensively used. I've only been able to go on a few outings with this new lens, but, so far, it's proved hit or miss. The extremely shallow depth of field makes it a challenge to get anything in focus—particularly critters that don't hold still. 

So far, I've had the best luck (and a great deal of luck seems to be required) with the most common of insects—honeybees and house flies. I'm hoping to capture something a little more exotic before too long. (Click on the image for a larger view.)

Serendipitous Art: Yellow Curb Paint and Exposed Aggregate (July 10, 2021)

Old paint and a strip of exposed aggregate at the curb today caught my eye. Unintended art. 

Click on the image for a larger view.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Art I'm Making: Catching Up on Posting Collage Work

What with the pandemic and all, I have been working making art only sporadically and have been even more uneven in posting the work that I have done. The last piece I posted was done in August, 2020, the fourth of the only six pieces I did last year. Here are the other two from last year. 

Above is Untitled Collage No. 224 (Santa Rosa). September 15, 2020. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size 12.0 x 12.6cm (4.7 x 5.0 inches). Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse. 

Below is Untitled Collage No. 225 (Santa Rosa). October 15, 2020. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size 6.4 x 6.1cm (2.5 x 2.4 inches). Matted to 8 x 10 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse. 

Click on the images for a larger view. For more of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website.  


Saturday, July 3, 2021

Books I'm Reading: On Foot to the Golden Horn

My son and I walked together to school almost every day when he was young, a distance of about a mile. The sidewalks were generally empty.  Families that lived a block or two away from the school drove their kids. To the average American (at least here in Santa Rosa, California) walking is not terribly popular. Author Jason Godwin, his girlfriend, and another friend (who drops out along the way) resolved to walk a much greater distance, about 2,400 miles, from Gdansk, in Poland, to Istanbul. According to Google Maps, you can make the trip by car in a little over 23 hours if you don't bother to stop. Godwin and his girlfriend took about six months to cover the distance on foot.

They decided to take this journey in 1990, shortly after the Soviet Union fell apart. Many advised them not to go or offered them only half-hearted encouragement along with vague warnings. But go they did. They slept in haystacks, churches, the homes of strangers, and dismal hotels in some of the poorest parts of Europe, where time seems to have passed more slowly than elsewhere in the world. They are met sometimes with indifference or incredulity, sometimes with hostility, but most often with surprisingly generous hospitality.  

Godwin's On Foot to the Golden Horn (Picador, 1993) is a dreamy travelogue written in evocative prose that seemed worth the time it took to read, although I was never entirely sure of the motive that prompted the adventure and the end seemed a bit anti-climactic; Istanbul was the end-point of the trip, but the story ends just as the travelers arrive there. Godwin's mystery series, featuring the eunuch Yashim as the detective, are more informative about the city itself—or at least about Istanbul as it once was. 

Wines I'm Making: 2020 Cabernet Finally Racked—Smoke Taint Gone?

For many reasons that I need not enumerate, 2020 was a challenging year. On the wine front, wildfires that left our little vineyard covered in ash and shrouded for several days in dense smoke, were the primary challenge. Many local commercial vineyards chose to abandon their grapes on the vine when testing suggested wine made from them would be tainted.

I don't understand the chemistry exactly, but it appears that grapes absorb smoke through their skins (and more easily the closer the smoke exposure is to harvest). That exposure can lead to the presence in the grapes (and any wine made from them) of volatile phenols that we perceive as off flavors and scents (I understand the main culprits are free guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol). 

I went ahead and harvested our grapes and made wine from them. The Sangiovese, as usual, I made into rosé, thinking that the short time rosé wines spend on the skins during the winemaking process would reduce any smoke effects. The resulting wine is a bit more pungent than usual, but quite drinkable. The Cabernet, on the other hand, smelled funky from the outset and sampling the young wine suggested it was beyond hope. As a result, I neglected it. I couldn't quite bring myself to dump it out, although I had resolved to do just that. Time went on. It sat in its containers, on the lees, until last week without racking. Normally it would have been racked into clean containers, treated lightly with sulfites, and I would have added oak staves sometime around December or January, after malolactic fermentation finished. 

I smelled and tasted it last week for the first time in a couple of months, still intending to dump it. Surprisingly, it smells and tastes quite normal now. The taint appears to be gone. Anecdotal evidence is all over the place. I've heard stories about this happening (the taint disappearing) but also stories about taint suddenly appearing in a wine that at first seemed unaffected. Who knows? Anyway, I decided to rack it, sulfite it, add oak staves, and let it go to completion. I'll check it again at the next racking. If it seems stable, I'll bottle it sometime in the autumn and we'll see how it holds up. Eleven gallons of Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc are now resting in the garage. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Serendipitous Art: Peeling Blue Paint

Peeling paint, in layers, on the side of a building
looked like art to me. Unintended art. 

Click on the image for a larger view. For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.  

Wines I'm Making: Grapes Dusted with Sulfur

In the past week, I've dusted our little vineyard with sulfur as a preventative against mildew later in the season. I waited too long, as usual. The first application is best done when the shoots are about six inches long, but many were already two to three times that length. I think the plants will be fine though, as they're getting much more light and air than in the recent past, as my neighbor has removed a number of small trees behind the vineyard that were creating shade. Also, I've switched to dusting with powdered sulfur rather than suspending the powder in water and spraying the vines, which seems to cover better and to be more effective. It's also much easier to do. 

I'm hoping that wildfires won't be an issue this year, but the winter of 2020-2021 was one of the driest on record. While that is good for suppressing mildew, it doesn't bode well for fires in the area. 

In the entryway to the house, 12 gallons of Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc from 2020 still sits, neglected, in large glass containers. I had given up on it. It had an off smell and taste caused by the smoke and the ash that dusted the vines at the end of the season. After doing some research, I decided the only way to save it might be to have it distilled into brandy, but the companies I called said the smallest batch they do is 200 gallons. I had given up on it but had been able to bring myself to dump it out. And so it has been sitting and still it sits. But, yesterday, I tasted it it for the first time in a couple of months (it should have been racked and sulfited already many weeks ago), and, strangely, the taint seems to be gone..... Perhaps it will be worth taking to completion after all?

Miscellaneous: Bees Again

Having lost our bees again over the summer of 2020, I was trying to decide whether to buy new bees this spring while hoping a swarm would move in on its own back in April, and a swarm did, in fact, find one of our two empty hives and take up residence. So, we have bees again. For the past ten years or so, it's been hard to keep a hive going. This is the third or fourth year that bees have moved in on their own. At first, they look strong, but they seem to lose energy and focus and over the summer the colony fails. We haven't harvested honey since 2013. 

I'm hoping for the best this year. So far, the bees seem happy. They are bringing in nectar and pollen from the sea of flowers blooming in the garden, which is near its spring peak. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Wines I'm Making: Shoot Thinning 2021

Working on shoot thinning in the vineyard this week. It's a bit overdue. It's easier to do when the shoots are shorter than they already are, but it's not too late. Next chore will be to dust the shoots with sulfur, which prevents mildew later in the season. I'm hoping that this year smoke from wildfires won't taint the wine, making all the work a waste. I've had to pour out the entirety of the Cabernet from 2020. Only the 2020 rosé (which we make from our Sangiovese grapes) proved drinkable. In the photo, the row of vines in the foreground has been thinned, the row behind will get thinned tomorrow. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms—Bosc pear, flowering crabapple

Spring is here. I've been lazy about keeping track of what's started to bloom in the garden this year, but note here that the flowering crabapple toward the back of the house (above) and the Bosc pear at the front of the house (below) both started blooming in the past couple of days, on March 28 to be exact. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Books I'm Reading: Hogarth: A Life and a World

Jenny Uglow's biography of William HogarthHogarth: A Life and a World (1997, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux)—is a big, heavy book that took me a long time to finish, reading in spurts, but I eventually did finish it and I'm glad I plowed through it it to the end. It revealed to me how ignorant I was about Hogarth and that I had conflated in my mind some of the work of Hogarth with that of French artist Honoré Daumier. I feel straightened out now. 

The book was slow going in large part because of the extraordinary detail it goes into about Hogarth the man, his work, his milieu, and the London that was the backdrop to his life, including a great deal about the politics of the day—a subject I always find hard to follow and retain. 

I had always thought of Hogarth (or my Hogarth/Daumier person?) as a printmaker and satirist. Perhaps the greatest revelation reading Hogarth was the realization that Hogarth was a fine painter, and rather more down to Earth than the best-known painters of the generation that followed him—Gainesborough and Reynolds—who always strike me as being somewhat too refined (a matter of taste, of course). I had never really thought about how Hogarth worked, but I suspect, if asked, I would have assumed his famous prints were conceived as prints, engraved from sketches, but it seems that Hogarth in most cases did full-blown oil paintings of the subjects that became his prints and that the prints were engravings of the paintings, often cut by Hogarth himself, who got his start apprenticed to an engraver (although as he got older and busier, some of his work was engraved for him by others). 

The complexity of the prints is extraordinary and because so much of the detail refers to contemporary events and people, a good portion of their meaning is likely lost on most modern viewers without some kind of annotation, and Uglow provides that, bringing each of the major works to life, pointing out the significance of the smallest details. 

She fleshes out Hogarth, the man, too—as the painter and famed satirical printmaker he became—but also as a supporter of native British artists facing what he thought was too much fuss over artists from the continent working in Britain, as a champion of the rights of engravers (he was in large part responsible for legislation that helped protect engravers from piracy), and as a philanthropist (he was very much involved in the founding of London's first institution to protect abandoned babies, which, shockingly, Uglow points out, were common at the time, often left by the side of the road or somewhere equally exposed, to die. The book's subtitle—A Life and a World—is apt. Recommended as a portrait of a man, of a great city, and of a bygone age.

Plants I'm growing: First blooms—Species tulips (March 20, 2021)

I planted a variety of species tulips (as opposed to the more common hybrid tulips) in the garden many years ago now—maybe nine of ten years ago. I planted hundreds. They were beautiful and, apparently, delicious. I large fraction of them disappeared into the gullets of a local colony of ground squirrels (since departed). Others gradually stopped blooming after a year or two, as tulips often do (while daffodils seem immortal). One species, Tulipa bakeri, has proven the most robust. These (those that remain) still come up  year after year. The first buds opened this year on March 20. 

It is from species like these that what most people think of as tulips today were developed. Tulips are native to places like Turkey and the countries of the Caucasus region. This is a variety called "Lilac Wonder." Tulipa bakeri bloomed in the garden on March 5 in 2009 and on March 16 in 2010 (although I seem to have two contradictory dates for 2010--also February 24), on March 14 in 2011, on March 4 in 2012, on February 25 in 2013, on March 6 in 2014, on February 20 in 2015, on March 9 in 2018, and on March 16 in 2019, so this is toward the late end of the range I've noted over the years, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Rain: A little more rain

Since last reporting, we have had rain on and off, mostly recently yesterday, March 14. We've had 1.70 inches of new rain. That brings our total for the 2020-2021 rain year to 12.00 inches--still very, very low. By this time of year, normal rainfall is usually about 30 inches. Rain is in the forecast again for later this week. We'll see....

[Since writing the above, we've had an additional 0.7 niches or rain, bringing our total for the current rain year to 12.70 inches. The above still applies. We have had very little rain this year. This is the lowest level of rain we've had in the 20 years I've lived in Santa Rosa.]

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Art I'm Making: Recent work—Untitled Collage No. 223 (Santa Rosa)

Some newish work: This is Untitled Collage No. 223 (Santa Rosa), completed last summer—August 18, 2020, to be exact. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size 20.4 x 25.5cm (8.0 x 10.0 inches). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse. 

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Rain: A little more rain in early February

In the past week, we had some rain again—a total of 1.15 inches of new precipitation. That brings our total for the current rain year (ending September 30, 2021) to 10.30 inches. By this time of year we should have had well over twice that much. This remains the driest winter I've experienced in the 20 years I've lived in Santa Rosa. 

Wines I'm Making: Vines Pruned (February 15, 2021)

Yesterday and the day before, I pruned the 34 vines in our little backyard vineyard. It takes only a couple of hours, but I often put it off more than perhaps I should. Typically the cuts ooze sap because the ground is already warming by the time I get around to the chore, particularly in recent years as our winters have become less severe. Waiting doesn't seem to make any difference, though. There will be nothing to do in the vineyard now until the vines start pushing out new shoots and the shoots need thinning. Here's to hoping for a good harvest this coming season—and a harvest not impacted by wildfires. 

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Wines I'm Making: Labels on the 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc

Finally got around to designing labels for our 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc from the backyard vines. Made about 53 bottles last year. Quality excellent—which is good because the 2020 wine remains doubtful (because of the smoke from the wildfires last summer). 

For those who don't know, "Clos du Val" is a well known winery in the Napa Valley, but, more importantly, it is also the name of a Premier Cru plot in Auxey-Duresses, one of my favorite little Burgundy villages. As my last name is Talcroft, I called our "winery" "Clos du Tal" as a pun on Clos du Val. This is appropriate, though, as the French word "clos" refers to a walled vineyard (our word "cloister" has the same root) and our little vineyard is behind a stone wall. I call the vineyard "Stone's Throw Vineyard" as the vines are a stone's throw from the house.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Plants I'm Growing: First blooms—Yellow Daffodils, Rhododendron "Noyo Dream"

It's been warm lately for January here, but plants in the garden are starting to bloom pretty much on schedule—that is, in line with their typical bloom times. The first flowers on the Rhododendron "Noyo Dream" in the side yard opened on February 1. The first of the yellow daffodils in the front garden started to bloom on February 4. 

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Rain: End of January Rain

In the past few days, we've had some more rain, although today, January 31 was clear and sunny. Since last reporting, we've had 2.65 inches of new precipitation at my location in northeast Santa Rosa. That brings are total for the 2020-2021 rain year to 8.20 inches--still about ten inches below normal for this time of year. Rain is forecast for tomorrow and the day after (February 1-2). Let it rain, let it rain, let in rain.

[Edit: More rain did come. We've had an additional 0.95 inches since the above was written, bringing our total so far to 9.15 inches. Every bit helps, but we remain further behind normal than I've ever seen before. At this point in the season, we should have had more than twice that amount.]

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Wines I'm Making: 2020 Sangiovese Rosé Labeled


Finally got around to making labels for our 2020 rosé of Sangiovese. The grapes at harvest were dusted with ash from the wildfires in August and again late in September. I was concerned about the possibility of smoke taint, but the wine seems to be fine. I lightly rinsed the grapes before crushing and pressing them and they spent only a short time on the skins.

I've heard, however, that smoke taint can develop over a few months, but I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful also that our Cabernet grapes from 2020 will not have been tainted, but we won't know for sure until next autumn when it comes time to bottle that wine (so far, it tastes fine). Next winemaking chore will be pruning the vines. I also want to post an image of our 2019 Cabernet, which I've just labeled. 

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms—White Flowering Plum

I've been lazy so far this year about recording the first blooms of the year in the garden, but I did note the date the white flowering plum in the side yard starting blooming—January 14. Although this tree began blooming on December 30 one year, it normally starts blooming around the second week of January. January 14 is a typical date. 

Elsewhere in the garden, miniature cyclamen (Cyclamen coum) and camellias are in bloom, as are a smattering of other winter-blooming flowers (candytuft and mustard mostly). Daffodils are on the way. Spring will not be too far away, but much-needed rain forecast in the coming days will slow things down a bit. Looking forward to the rain. The more the better. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Art I'm Making: Recent (sort of) Work

It's already early 2021 and I’ve not posted any art work to this blog since June of last year. I've not been entirely idle, but I have been working at a very slow pace recently, having finished a total of only six pieces last year and I've posted only three of those pieces so far. In an attempt to start catching up, I post two pieces from July last year.

Below is Untitled Collage No. 221 (Santa Rosa). July 16, 2020. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, graphite, collage. Image size: 34.4 x 25.3cm (13.5 x 9.3 inches). Matted to 24 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on reverse.

Above is Untitled Collage No. 222 (Santa Rosa). July 18, 2020. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 10.7 x 14.3cm (4.2 x 5.6 inches). Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on reverse.

Click on the images for larger views. For more of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website. 


Monday, January 11, 2021

Rain: A Little More (January 10, 2021)

Since last reporting, we've had a little more rain—1.30 inches to be exact. That brings our total for the 2020-2021 rain year (which runs through September 30, 2021) to 5.55 inches. As I keep saying, anything is better than nothing, but we're still far below normal for this time of year. Average rainfall for January 10 is approaching 15 inches. No new rain in the forecast at the moment.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Birds I'm Watching: 2020 Audubon Christmas Counts

Again this year (2020) I participated in a couple of Audubon Christmas bird counts. The groups I birded with covered the Spring Lake and Lake Ralphine area in Santa Rosa on December 20 and the Barnett Valley Rd./Jonive Rd. area, near Sebastopol, on December 27. Didn't see any rarities, but had four Hooded Mergansers on the Martindale Ranch pond on December 27, saw all three local nuthatch species that day, and also all the local woodpeckers (Downy, Hairy, Nuttall's, Pileated, Flicker, and Red-breasted Sapsucker). The weather held both days despite a forecast of (much needed) rain. Pictured is a Cedar Waxwing photographed on December 20.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Rain: More Rain (December 12-January 2, 2020)

A little rain overnight on the 11th and this morning has added 0.40 inches to our total for the 2020-2021 rain year. That total still stands at only 2.0 inches. Normal rainfall by December 12 is four to five times that. We will be seeing serious drought conditions in the coming year if we don't start getting some good storms soon. Some new rain is forecast for tomorrow morning, but we're unlikely to get the 6-8 inches we would need to catch up. 

[Edit: Additional rain has added another 0.45 inches to the total. So, as of December 15, we have had 2.45 inches or rain this rain year at my location in Northeast Santa Rosa--seriously below normal.]

[Edit: More rain on the night of the 16th and into the morning of 17th added 0.70 inches of new participation. That brings the total so far for the year to 3.15 inches. Still way below normal, but, every little bit helps.]

[Another update:] Rain subsequently added 1.2 inches to our total, bringing the total as of January 2 to 4.35 inches at my location---still woefully low. Normal rainfall by this time in the year is a little over 14 inches, so we're about 10 inches below normal. More rain is forecast for this week. We'll see.]

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Miscellaneous: The 2020 Presidential Election

I just don't get it. There is no evidence there was widespread fraud in the election, no credible evidence of significant lost votes, stolen votes, or altered votes. There were, by all accounts, more safeguards in place this time than there were four years ago, no dispute about vote numbers anywhere except where Mr. Trump feels he should have won. The Georgia vote has been counted THREE times, some of the Michigan vote and the Wisconsin vote counted TWICE with no significant change in the totals. There were Democratic losses in the house and elsewhere, despite the supposed ability of somebody, somewhere to steal a presidential election (somehow, it's always only Mr. Trump who is the victim).

Mr. Trump is a documented liar, a documented narcissist, a documented con artist. These are facts, well known and accepted for decades based on his record of business failures and fraud in the real estate and casino businesses in New York and elsewhere and on the way he has treated the people he has worked with and who have worked for him. This is not news. He's behaved this way for decades.

People complain about how the media are always attacking him, always going after him, never giving him a break. Do they not stop to think that he attracts this relentless negative attention because he is a relentless transgressor? How many times do you have to see the same behavior repeated to accept that there is a pattern there? That is not entirely a rhetorical question; I wish I understood why people are willing to forgive him over and over and over and over and over again despite the obvious.

People still believe his lies about the election having been somehow anything but an honest loss. There's no mystery here, no conspiracy. More Americans voted for Joe Biden where it counted than voted for Donald Trump. It's that simple. If nothing else, it should make people suspicious that suddenly Fox News became evil in the eyes of the president the moment it contradicted him.

I really do not understand why people believe anything he says—why they persist in taking him at his word. I really do not understand. I wish I could understand. But I can't.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Serendipitous Art: Silver Bubbles (December 6, 2020)

Bubbles forming
 on the bottom of a dark pan set on the stove to boil. Looked like art to me. Serendipitous Art. 

Click on the image for a larger view. For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Miscellaneous: Home-baked sourdough bread

When I was in high school, oh so long ago now, I used to bake bread quite often. Loved doing it. Had a great recipe for a Swedish limpa bread (light rye) that was sometimes our daily bread and another for a delicious oatmeal bread. But I haven't baked bread in years. During the pandemic, we've been trading garden-grown greens with a friend for sourdough loaves. After months of doing this, I asked for some starter and yesterday tried baking a loaf--my first attempt at sourdough, never having done sourdough back in high school. Even though I mixed up the order of doing things to some extent, it worked. Behold! My first loaf.

I used this recipe, which is quite easy to follow, but you have to first make starter or get someone to give you some. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Rain: First real rain of the season (November 2020)

Last Thursday, November 12 we had a little rain--about 0.4 inches--but yesterday (November 17) and today we've had a decent downpour. It finally feels like fire danger is over for the year after an evacuation in August (much earlier than usual--because of fires started by lightning in many parts of the state in the absence of rain) and then fire scares again in October. 

The last rain we had was on May 13, in the 2019-2020 rain year. This new rain is the first of the 2020-2021 rain year, which goes from October 1, 2020 to September 30 2021. So far there is 1.20 inches of new rain in the rain gauge, bringing our total to 1.60 inches (way below normal for this point in the year), but it looks like there will be at least a little more rain today.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Birds I'm Watching: Bald Eagle at Howarth Park, Santa Rosa

Out for a walk this morning looking for birds. Not enough birds and far too many people walking, running, and biking without masks. Along the trail several people volunteered that they had seen a Bald Eagle earlier in the day near the lake by the parking lot I had parked in. As I rounded a corner near the spot he was supposed have been, there was no bird. Then someone said he'd flown away down the edge of the lake not long before, where I spotted him in the distance. Shortly afterward, he flew in much closer. I spent about 45 minutes getting some decent photos. First time seeing a Bald Eagle in Sonoma County, CA, which is about the southern edge of the Bald Eagle's historical range.


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