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engineering imitating nature

this sheet of ice along the shore of sucker creek had originally frozen tight to the water beneath it, but then it underwent a funny freeze-thaw cycle, that must have involved water droplets forming on the underside of the ice when the weather warmed, then freezing in droplet form, which served as the places where subsequent water droplets chose to drip when the temperature warmed again. on a related topic, which you will not perhaps perceive immediately as related, there is a french cookware company called staub, which is a slightly nerdier version of le creuset. on the underside of the beautifully engineered lids of staub sauce pans and dutch ovens, there are little rounded bumps called “basting spikes,” which focus the condensation from cooking, and drip that moisture evenly back onto the dish that is being cooked. so when i say that my eleven year old son, who is a budding gourmand, took one look at this sheet of ice, and said, “hey, that looks like a staub cocotte,” you will know just how weird, and just how correct, his observation was. i make no apologies, but don’t tell his grandparents.

ice formed at the edge of a creek when temps hovered around freezing

sucker creek, saint paul, minnesota

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  1. margie says:

    that brought a big smile to my face

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in between

i’ve been feeling a little like this cottonwood lately, hanging out there between earth and sky, between water and land, between fall and winter, between minnesota and france, between still blog and, well, whatever will come after still blog. i like the creative tension that comes with being somewhere in transition between certainties, but it’s tiring. i’m getting ready to be a fish, not a frog, an oak not a cottonwood, a blade of grass, not a reed. but not quite yet.

cottonwood tree branches hanging over a snow covered lake

sucker lake, saint paul, minnesota

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  1. Celia says:

    For some reason your post today reminded me of That Tree. You might enjoy the daily photos of a lonely bur oak. http://thattree.net

  2. Celia says:

    You’re most welcome! Enjoy!

  3. margie says:

    so much beautiful imagery

  4. Sandy says:

    Does this mean you won’t be doing the STILL blog next year? Oh, I hope I’m wrong!

    • Hi Sandy,
      You are so sweet! Your comment put a smile on my face.
      Don’t worry, I will be doing STILL. Probably one more year.
      And then I don’t anticipate that I’ll be stopping so much as evolving it into something new.
      Thank you so much for your support and encouragement!
      xo Mary Jo

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just when i thought i was stumped

i was already starting to feel that sinking sensation that all the interesting seasonal colors, whether flora or fauna, had either migrated south or been killed by the cold and snow, and that i might be stuck photographing twigs and stems until april. then a cooperative beaver felled a good sized aspen on one of my favorite walks, and i was reminded of all the beloved species who will spend these next few months here with me, rather than shooting their mouths off down in the gulf of mexico.

recently beaver-gnawed polar stump

sucker lake regional trail, saint paul, minnesota

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knowing your place

my husband (@sjrhoffman) is writing a book about a place we love, a tiny village in southwest france, which prompts us to do a lot of talking. the interesting thing is that the more we talk about that mediterranean place we have fallen in love with, the more we end up talking about what it means to be from this other northern place where we were born, and which we also love. if i had to pick the three defining native objects from our village in languedoc france, i think they would include a chardon (thistle), an olive leaf, and a grape vine tendril. today, i tried to choose which three objects would define this minnesota home that i haven’t chosen so much as it has chosen me. as of today,  they are a cedar branch, birch bark, and woodpecker feathers. (i reserve the right to change my mind about any or all of these tomorrow.) what three things define your “place?”

cedar and cedar berries, woodpecker feather, birch bark

shoreview, minnesota

comments
  1. Yes, the olive leaf would define my place too, of course, as well as wild fennel, and thyme. But I’m sure you knew.
    PS : my place being not downtown Montpellier, for these references, of course. Otherwise that’d be : London planes, European nettle tree, and pigeons … ;-)

  2. Holly says:

    Wow! What would it be here in Waco? The nandina and pecan trees are everywhere. And in this season, living, as we do, under a steel roof which happens to be under a huge red oak, I would have to say the acorn. They keep clattering out a darling din as we are reading our books.

  3. Charo says:

    En mi region, La Mancha, tambien es olivos, viñedos y cardos, pero tambien es trigo y sobretodo sus bellas encinas

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{blank} is in the details

i had an ex-coworker who loved to say “the devil’s in the details”.  i have always liked the expression, so i googled it just now, and learned that there are numerous variations:  god is in the details, excellence is in the details, design is in the details, a man’s life is in the details. all of which arrive at the same conclusion: the little things matter. each of the tiny dried flowers above, a little larger than a good-sized grain of sand, fed dozens of bees and wasps during its fierce, showy, self-involved little time in the spotlight.

winter weed detail

grass lake trail, saint paul, minnesota

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  1. Charo says:

    …Al fin la tristeza es la muerte lenta de las simples cosas… Chavela Vargas, las simples cosas

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it’s all relative

my friend kristin joined me on my walk yesterday.  i arrived with clipper and basket in hand, and announced that we were snipping the tips of any interesting weeds or twigs as we walked. she’s a good friend, so she simply nodded, turned and started gathering as we walked and talked. it was a balmy zero degrees celsius, so our walk stretched out for longer than usual. we talked about STILL and about how the same trail is never the same two days in a row. by july standards, our trail was barren and spare. but by february standards, there was an almost suffocating abundance. despite the snow cover, all the grass and flower stems were still visible. and full of variety. by february all those stems will be buried beneath two feet of snow. and only the bare tree branches will be visible.  STILL has taught me many things. not the least of which is the relativity of abundance.

an abundance of december stems

grass lake trail, saint paul, minnesota

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  1. margie says:

    i really love this

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left in passing

we just had a snow two days ago, and the woods are already full of long skeins of tracks. when i discovered these scots pine seeds fluttering out of one of my pine cones, i decided they looked like deer tracks. probably a yearling doe.

scots pine cone seeds

minnesota

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freebie

i spend a lot of time choosing which photos to post, based on whether i can achieve an acceptable white background, without either burning out the white colors, or ending up with an uninteresting blanket of medium gray. sometimes, though, on an overcast day in the northern hemisphere, hours after a freshly fallen snow, mother nature decides to make things easy.

oak leaves in snow

grass lake trail, saint paul, minnesota

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  1. I love how the leaves are disappearing under the snow

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festoon

i intended to create a subtly holiday-ish swagged garland out of my pinecone collection for the second day of december. but my son took one look and declared that it looked like a head-on shot of an owl in flight, to which my husband replied, no way dude, it’s totally the mandibles of a stag beetle. my daughter is out of the house tonight, taking a test prep class, meaning the estrogen factor stands no chance in this environment against the testosterone factor. and so there you have it. please enjoy this head-on shot of an owl in flight, or possibly the mandibles of a stag beetle, depending on who wins the wrestling match between my fifth grade boy and my adult boy.

pinecone collection

mostly from minnesota and southern france, with a few from california

comments
  1. Carol Sommers says:

    Beautiful, to me it looks like a horse collar. I love it

  2. Charo says:

    Preciosa foto, sin duda.

  3. Jenn says:

    I, on the other hand, see one of Cher’s headdresses circa 1979. Minus the sequins. Talk about estrogen!

  4. Either way, it’s beautiful !!! ox

  5. betsy caldwell says:

    Knitted winter hat.

  6. Sandy says:

    Definitely the headdress of the conifer princess!

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terms of the agreement

hello december. i look forward to spending your 31 days focused on such things as the tips of cedar trees and the very early decay of crabapples. i promise to drink lots of early morning tea, and build lots of late afternoon fires. i promise i will not set foot in a shopping mall, or complain at any time in public or in private about the holiday season. in exchange, i expect you to keep things reasonable on your end, with wind chills above zero most days, so i can walk with my dog and celebrate your austere beauty in this blog. deal?

cedar tips and winter crab apples

saint paul, minnesota

comments
  1. Dede says:

    Love your attitude!

  2. Carol Sommers says:

    I’m with you all the way. Happy December !

  3. papelhilo says:

    wow ! everyday I admire your pictures silently, but today I must say it : this-is-beautiful !!

  4. margie says:

    i do love the month of december

  5. LW says:

    Wonderfully said and wonderfully displayed!

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