Tag Archives: Photography

Mother’s Day Hike | Ryerson’s Woods

by Melanie and Jim

After our early morning breakfast, we drove across town to Ryerson’s Woods. It was acquired by Iowa City in 1985. The park has about 50 acres and includes less than a mile of trails. Last time we visited was in mosquito season. We got a short distance into the trees and ran back to the car with several bites each. This time there were no mosquitoes.

We met two men and their dogs who were on the way out. The men were chatty. One dog reminded us of the Good Dog, Carl. The children’s book series about Carl is wonderful. We saw only two other people from afar.

There is a bit of up and down in the park, but the trail is well maintained with mulch under foot. Clean-up of fallen trees needs to be done in a few places, but the path was only blocked in one spot, and we climbed over easily.

As the park name implies, it is a wooded site. The ground vegetation struggles in many places to capture sunlight. Even so, it is lush and dense with green, as well as with wildflowers.

We saw a lot of Jack-in-the-pulpit Arisaema triphyllum plants in many different sizes. Most were about a foot tall. There were a few two feet tall and shaded a red color.

Show me more…

Praying Mantis | Babies Hatch

A spirea bush in front of the house had two praying mantis egg cases attached to twigs. We first noticed them last fall. Each warm day this spring we checked to see if the young were hatching. It finally happened. They were about 1 cm (<1/2 in) long. They sat for a while to dry and firm up their exoskeleton.

Soon after that they scurried along the twigs and leaves for cover. This one stopped long enough to look back at us before it disappeared. More about the mantis in an earlier post when one of last year’s brood looked into our front window.

“Acorns Were Good Until Bread Was Found”

by Jim and Melanie

An English proverb attributed to Francis Bacon, we didn’t expect to see this example. Jim baked Irish soda bread a few days ago. We had a soup party over the weekend since then. You know, it was super bowl weekend. Friends brought delicious bread and biscuits. Jim’s soda bread sat forlornly on the counter getting hard and sullen from lack of attention. Today was the final straw. It proved dry and inedible.

Jim tossed it out the window toward bird feeders to see what would happen. There it sat for an hour as we worked quietly on other things. The silence was broken when Melanie yelled out “Look up in the tree! A squirrel has the bread.”

breadsquirrel1

breadsquirrel2

breadsquirrel3

Scotland | Barge Trip Continuing To Banavie

by Jim and Melanie

2016_0906barge4_01

On September 3 we began our week-long trip on the Fingal of Caledonia, one of two barges owned by Caledonian Discovery. Each day the barge averaged about 10 miles of progress. To read about our first few days, read here and here.

Loch Oich

On the fourth day we left Loch Ness at Fort Augustus, traveling through 4 or 5 miles of canal to Loch Oich, the smallest of the three lochs (lakes) in the glen. Some passengers including Jim biked to Cullochy Lock, which provides entry into Loch Oich. He was able to easily stay ahead of Fingal as evidenced in this video. On the way he encountered a startlingly large slug and a slow worm, which is not a worm or a snake, but a legless lizard.

A surprise treat was mooring up with the Fingal’s sister ship, the Ros Crana. While the two barges were linked, passengers on both were able to step aboard the other. I think everyone decided their own accommodations and crew were best. We also took on some canoes and exchanged other equipment and supplies.

A different treat awaited us in the afternoon, when we visited a hotel for cream tea. Those of us unused to the ritual of tea needed “cream tea” demonstrated. (That is, the two of us!) It is tea accompanied by a scone or treat with clotted cream and jam. The photo below shows the tables set for 6 passengers. If you look closely through the window, you can see the Fingal in the bay.

2016_0906barge4_31

 And On To Laggan Locks

Drenching rain swept the next morning. As the clouds lifted some, we passengers chose our activities. We decided to walk to Laggan Locks at the south end of Loch Oich. Clad in rain gear we set off, encountering several northbound hikers with fully loaded packs. On the way we passed antique train cars, waiting for use within a historical restoration project. By the time we reached the locks and the Fingal, the rain had ceased. Docked across from the barge was the Eagle.

The Eagle is a Dutch barge built in 1926. It was used as a troop carrier in World War II and is armour plated. It weighs about 200 tons. After the war, it was used as a sugar beat mover. After being decommissioned, she was brought over to Scotland and placed on the Caledonian Canal here at Laggan locks and converted into the Eagle Bar and Restaurant. Periodically, it must be moved. Then, it is allowed back to this same spot.

2016_0907barge5_01

In the afternoon the sky was clear. Captain Adam suggested canoeing. He and Chef Kevin prepared canoes and the small motorboat as passengers donned flotation devices. We headed north a ways before boarding the canoes. None of us had recent experience with them, but we soon found our rhythm.

After dinner, we all headed to the Eagle for a drink. Jim went back again later to see if Susie our hiking guide could help him remove a small tick embedded in his ankle. She did so. He found another on his waist next day. Once home, the family doctor did a Lyme test and got a negative result.

The Final Dinner 

On the last full day, the Fingal anchored in a small bay. All passengers but Melanie hiked the Dark Mile, crossed World War II commando training grounds and the great Cameron estate. A small museum and ice cream shop enticed some in. On the last part of the outing, Melanie met them at tiny mission church on the estate.

Our final evening’s wonderful dinner included chicken stuffed with haggis and vegetarian haggis. The crew were dressed smartly in their finest kilts. A highlight before eating was the Address to a Haggis by Robert Burns.

Coming to Banavie

The next morning broke quite rainy. We had about 7 miles to go in order to reach our final destination at Banavie. Two passengers chose to walk along the tow path. Jim and another passenger chose to ride bicycles. They suited up with rain gear and set out. It gradually quit raining. Jim recorded this short video along the way.

Neptune’s Staircase in Banavie

The longest set of canal locks in Britain consists of these 8 locks to raise or lower boats 64 feet (20 m) in about 90 minutes. They were built between 1803 and 1822. Three operators can coordinate to run the lock gates on a schedule. From this point, the waters gradually open to the southwest and into the Atlantic Ocean.

2016_0909barge7_05

The view looking up the 8 locks of Neptune’s Staircase. Our barge did not descend.

Fort William

We stayed in the town of Fort William for two more nights before continuing to Edinburgh by train. The town population is around 10,000 and is a short distance from Banavie. Fort William serves as the southern entrance to the Caledonian Canal, a skiing center in the winter, and as the gateway to hiking the Great Glen Way as well as to Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles at 1345 m (4414 ft).

2016_0910ftwilliam_06

We continued our trip with time in Edinburgh and a three-day whisky tour in Speyside. (We’ll share some about those, as well.) But none of it dimmed our enjoyment of the week on the Fingal, the funny and interesting passengers, and the skilled and generous crew.

Scotland | Barge Trip on Loch Ness

by Jim and Melanie

2016_0904barge2_27

On September 3 we began our trip on the Fingal of Caledonia, one of two barges owned by Caledonian Discovery. Each day the barge averaged about 10 miles of progress. The first day it was about 6 miles. We moored that night north of the entrance into Loch Ness. Next morning we were underway before breakfast.

 

After dinner every evening, the activities director outlined the options for the next day. Our cruise was focused on hill hiking. Mountains rise up on either side of the lochs and canal, while foot paths line most of the way. Passengers could hike, bike, or walk, depending on the weather and their preferences. The activities director led the most challenging of those options, and those who chose otherwise were on their own.

Our intention when we booked the trip was to hike as much as possible. However Jim injured a knee in May and Melanie did in early August, leaving her unable to trek very far. Below we’ll share a few pictures of our outings, as well as some of the vast beauty of the Great Glen.

Foyers Falls

Loch Ness is approximately 23 miles long. Our progress on Day 2 would take us about halfway, to the town of Foyers. On the north side of the loch is a peak that two adventurous passengers chose to hike, led by Steve. On the south side is a less challenging choice, a beautiful waterfall tucked within woods, which we opted for. Roundtrip of our outing was about 3 miles. Part of the journey was on paved roads, and part was on maintained hiking trail.

 

Captain Adam checked the water traffic from our Foyers mooring. Could there be pirates?

 

Later that afternoon, Jim posed for a photo. What’s that behind you, Jim??

2016_0904barge2_23

 

Fort Augustus

2016_0905barge3_02After mooring at Foyers overnight, we proceeded to the locks at Fort Augustus. Jim steered us toward our destination for part of the way. Steering was a challenge for a couple of reasons. It was windy. And, the barge was built in the 1920s. The steering mechanism was via chains and gears. It had a lot of slack. It took more than a full turn left or right to engage the chain and gears to get a response from the rudder. Jim handled the challenge well. He is a former farm boy.

As we neared Fort Augustus, Captain Adam took over the wheel for the final approach to the locks. Moving a 180 ton vessel into and through is a delicate job. Not one for an amateur.

Fort Augustus is a small village on the south end of Loch Ness, with a population of about 650. From the looks of the main street, most of them are involved with the tourist trade.

After passing through the locks, all passengers and a new crew member, Susie, hiked to another waterfall. We enjoyed an ancient cemetery, some tree covered lanes, a boggy patch, ferns, and pushed through shoulder-high bracken on the way. Round trip mileage was about 5 miles.

 

At the end of our busy day, Chef Kevin served another delicious dinner, which we all enjoyed. What kinds of meals did he fix? Salmon, venison stew, curried chicken, and haggis-stuffed chicken, to name some of the dinners. And there were always vegetarian options. Breakfasts were wonderful, too!

2016_0905barge3_21

Chef Kevin preparing dinner

The next day we continued our journey through canal to Loch Oich. Come back next time for more of our adventures.

Walk Before the Morning Rain

by Melanie and Jim

We left the house in a hurry this morning after checking radar. Showers were headed our way, and we wanted to stretch our legs without getting too wet. As I write this, the radar shows it is raining here now. However, the sidewalk is not even damp. I guess that is one more example of why you shouldn’t believe everything you see online.

When we walk, our attention is usually quite mixed. Sometimes we chew over world problems, sometimes personal ones. The “personal” ones often have to do with our children. Parenting adults is hard! They have a whole range of issues we’ve otherwise moved past. We also enjoy the noises outside. Humming crickets and locusts, peeping frogs, and various bird songs capture our notice. Today we heard catbirds, bluejays and cardinals, chickadees, and a flicker or two, among others. We watch for daddy longlegs, small snakes, and the occasional chipmunk crossing the pavement. And we enjoy the wildflowers.

A few weeks ago, there were dozens of wildflower species blooming along trails, railroad tracks, and streets. Now there are fewer, but those left are some of my favorites. Though the Queen Anne’s Lace has faded, goldenrod is coming on with bright yellow brushes. Jewelweeds still display their brilliant orange drops. Cattails stand proud and tall, and the few thistles allowed to grow wild are bursting with their lavender-colored blooms.

Before we left this morning I insisted we bring a camera, something we rarely do. Jim captured the shots below.