Aphrodite´s mercy

After the hailstorm Aphrodite showed her kindness. When we drove back along the coast, right at the place where according to the legends she had come ashore so long ago, she surprised us with a stunning sunset. Aphrodite’s rock, near Paphos, is a mythical place. It is said that if you swim around the rock, you will find true love. I’m afraid I only read that the next day…

Aphrodite’s rage

Was she angry? For three days already we were on the island and still had not visited her temple to pay her tribute. This was after all her island. Kronos, leader of the Titans, had castrated his tyrannical father Uranus and thrown his thingy in the sea. Then the water had started to fizz and out of the foam arose Aphrodite, goddess of love, sexuality, fertility and beauty.

On the way to her sanctuary we stopped at the remnants of the ancient city Koúrion. We barely had time to see it. Dark clouds descended from the Olympus, and a hailstorm came upon us so fiercely that it damaged the front window of our car. With the last hailstones still drumming on the car, we drove directly towards the holy temple of the Aphrodite near Paphos. Immediately her mood improved, for the dark clouds drifted to the sea and soon even the sun showed itself again.

Thousands of years ago this place had attracted people from all over the world: the Mediterranean sea with all its islands and many countries in Europe, the Middle-East and Africa. People attended ceremonies and made offerings. The Roman historian Tacitus described the altar and a sacred stone: “Blood may not be shed upon the altar, but offering is made only with prayers and pure fire. The altar is never wet by any rain, although it is in the open air. The representation of the goddess is not in human form, but it is a circular mass that is broader at the base and rises like a turning-post to a small circumference at the top. The reason for this is obscure.”

This was the very stone.

Aphrodite was also depicted in her human form. For the goddess of love and fertility and sexuality, an offer could be to sacrifice the own body as in ancient times, making love was seen as a sacred act.

This idea has roots that go back more than 7.000 years ago, to the Sumerian cult of Inanna. In Cyprus the first settlements dated from 3.300 year before Christ. In that time the Phoenician goddess of Astarte was worshipped, also a goddess of sexuality, fertility and war. In the Greek period, Astarte became Aphrodite, and the city of Paphos was known throughout the world for it’s parties, wine and prostitutes. The stone at this sanctuary never became Venus, as the Roman Emperor Theodosius I outlawed all pagan religions in the year 391 and the sanctuary of Aphrodite fell into ruins.

Partial eclipse of October 25, 2022

A few days ago I was on the ground with my nose in mushrooms. Today I looked up in the sky. I had completely forgotten about it: the partial eclipse. Fortunately a colleague sent a message: “It’s happening right now!”

I grabbed my camera and ran outside – just in time to see the moon at its maximum cover of one third of the sun.

Same picture twice, just a different crop.

Next show in the Netherlands is predicted in 2025. Already looking forward to it.

Magical mushroom shedding spores by night

I saw a group of fly agarics, very nice for a beautiful night portrait. But when I arrived at the site in the dark, they had disappeared, broken down. Maybe run over by dogs, maybe taken by passers-by, but gone.

Fortunately the flashlight showed a few nice specimens in a meadow along the path. I knelt in the grass, put the flashlight on the camera bag and started to set up my gear: small tripod under the camera, setting ISO / shutter speed / aperture, focus… and then I heard something buzzing and rustling in front of me.

“Must be a beetle!” I thought hopefully. It sounded like a big one. Also nice for a night photo!

The insect jumped to the light, and tried to sort of crawl into the flashlight.

Not a beetle, but a European hornet. Our largest native wasp, even larger than the so-called terror wasp, the Asian hornet. One of those whoppers that you can hear flying by like a helicopter. Immediately afterwards, a second one landed in the illuminated grass. That one also seemed very interested in the light.

European hornets are quite large in their own right, but I did not know that they grew even three times as large in the dark. And that each hornet split into several individuals during the night. That is to say, these two insects sounded like there were five or ten of them.

The first one became bored with the flashlight, and began to inspect my camera. The second one flew first to the light, then to my camera bag. I wondered how I could lie down and operate my gear without running the risk of accidentally grabbing an insect. And I wondered if these two would be the only ones. A memory came to mind: that time when I accidentally sat on the edge of a lake on top of a wasp’s nest in the ground, and after being stung twice in my leg had to run to avoid worse. And I remembered the articles I’d collected about dogs, hikers, and cyclists accidentally getting too close to a ground nest of European hornets and being attacked by an angry swarm. Then the first hornet decided to inspect me.

I turned off the light and took a little distance. And after a minute or so, when all movement and noise subsided, I carefully walked back to get my stuff and go home. No night photo of the fly agarics today.

I didn’t go back until two days later. And what I hoped for, succeeded this time: catching the spores being spread by the fly agaric. There is a lot of Photoshop in this photo, but the spores are really real! Wonderful to experience the magic of the forest this way.

I learned a few things. The fly agarics are always redder on the other side of the path. European hornets are three times larger at night than during the day, and split into several individuals at night. And for forest photography you sometimes need a little patience

Unknown territories (more ugly creatures)

So I went on this journey of discoveries. Into the unknown. Looking for flatworms…

You might think that in the Netherlands we know all about nature, and have discovered everything there is to be discovered. At least that was my assumption. But a few years ago two scientist went out to look for flatworms. Especially for the New Zealand flatworm (Arthurdendyus triangulatus – Nieuw Zeelandse landplatworm) that was put on the European Union list of invasive alien species in 2019 as it is a predator of earthworms – the worms that we need to create fertile soils. Those of you who read The Hitchhikers’ guide to the Galaxy will recognise it’s scientific name 😊. Anyhow, apparently these creatures are so unattractive, that no one ever bothered to look at them or report any findings. There are bird groups, insect huggers and botanical twitchers, but there is not one single flatworm – society.

Fortunately, they didn´t encounter any New Zealand flatworms. But just few visits to zoos, greenhouses, botanical gardens and city backyards resulted in a handful of new species, never before recorded in the Netherlands. If you want the full background, look here.

Nobody cares for flatworms. And I can’t  blame anyone. They look like their relatives, the leeches. And I really, really dislike leeches.

This weekend we did a search party in a butterfly garden. Turning pots and bricks to see what lives beneath. Perfect conditions for flatworms: humid, warm, organic material and lots of tiny creatures crawling in and on the soil. I was very proud to find two individuals of the yellow-striped terrestrial planarian (Caenoplana bicolor or Caenoplana variegata – Grote Australische geelstreep). As the name indicates, it is alien to Europe (look here). Alien, but no threat to biodiversity so not classified as ‘invasive’.

To ease your mind and make you sleep well, I’ll end this story with one of the butterflies of the garden. Sheer beauty.

Ugly little plant


It´s not what you see. It never is.
It´s what you think you see.
 
This is an ugly little plant. You might think it is nice, with delicate flowers, but that is because I´m a great photographer (– cough! –). It has been in our family for sixty years. It is tiny, with small leaves and even smaller flowers, and after flowering it shrivels, dies and disappears again.

And then after a short while, it comes back alive.
As long as I can remember it has been in our house. My father made a little note that lies besides it: “No one ever said: ‘What a nice little plant!’ We don’t think much of it either.”
 
But it’s not  about what we see with our eyes. It’s what we see with our minds. It is a sole survivor of the flowers arrangements of my parent’s wedding. If I look at it, I see my parents wedding pictures. Amsterdam, black and white, sunny day and everyone radiating from happiness! A strong little fellow. It survived my mother, and it will probably survive my father as well. Who knows, it might even survive me…
 
I secretly took a cutting of it, and grew it at home. It needs little care, just a little light and a little water – not too much! It keeps on growing, flowering, dying and rising up again.
Look really, really close, and see how beautiful these tiny flowers are!
 
I do think it is a nice little plant after all
 

Winds of change

Panta rhei. All is change. Somehow these words echoed around this week. Talking with a friend about the future of nature. Taking with elderly about getting old and seeing all that once was so familiar crumbling down. We tend to focus on what we lose during these changes, things we want to keep forever. But there is no forever.

At the age of seventeen, my friends and I went traveling by train for a month through Europe, all the way to Greece. So many precious memories! I still have a few pictures of us sleeping on the beach under the stars.

Last week we went out again, camping for the weekend at the island of Schiermonnikoog. Unfortunately on the way there we got into the worst traffic jam ever, due to a what can be described as no less than a small disaster in the regional power grid. Four hours delay – we missed our boat and we also missed the last boat of that night.

Great camping just under the green / white pole – a bit rocky though

No problem. Once again, we unrolled our sleeping bags (this time on the edge of a jetty) and slept under the stars.

The next day we took the first boat and laid down on the beach like forty-two years ago, under a clear blue sky. I felt 17 again – although swimming was a bit colder here.

The winds of change are blowing fiercely. Always. It might hurt sometimes, but there is and always will be beauty in the world. Like that stunning sunset that concluded our wonderful weekend. No Photoshop, no filters, no tricks. Just taken with the phone from the backseat of the car.

How to improvise in the dark

So I was in the UK this weekend, visiting my daughter. Thought it would be a good idea to enjoy the seaside and try to capture the Durdle Door rock formation with a milky way background. The weather forecast wasn´t great, but we went anyway.

At the beach I saw I had made a terrible mistake. I had taken a lightweight travel tripod from home, but at the last moment I had changed the head (the thingy that connects your tripod to the camera). I tried to assemble it, but it didn’t fit. Tripod and head were from different systems. You know that feeling when all the blood in your body seems to flush down through your toes into the sand?

There I was, thousands of kilometres flying and many hours driving from home, after sunset on a deserted beach. With just this one night, this one opportunity here. I owe my brave daughter a huge thanks that she insisted we stayed – even when it got dark and cold. And I improvised. Tried the limits of the equipment I had. For instance that 15 mm wide angle lens: Would it be possible to take pictures with a shutter speed of a whole second right out of the hand? I have shaky hands, and this lens did not have any shake reduction at all. But the wide angle saved me. You may be the judge; I think it’s good enough to present here.

The milky way was also shot out of the hand, lying down on the beach with the camera resting on the bag for support, With a full 5 seconds exposure. The result was far better than I expected.

Of course, I would have wanted pictures of the rock formation with a shutter speed of 30 seconds or more, to see details. And I would have loved to take the milky way with 20 or 30 seconds, to get more clear and profound details. And I would have wanted to use the auto – noise reduction of the camera. But it is what it is, and I am really happy with this no-tripod experiments.

The good news is: I have an incentive to once again visit this beautiful part of Dorset, with fairy tale like villages such as Lulworth and Corfe Castle village and Man O’War beach. And next time, with a complete and functional tripod.

And there’s nature back home

A little more nature here, but now from Netherlands. These pictures are taken during a work-visit to a nature reserve in the dunes. First the the tree frog – boomkikker above. Genetic research proved that this population originated somewhere in the Mediterranean. Probably deliberately released, which could lead to a loss of genetic diversity.

Azure bluet – azuurwaterjuffer. Common in this part of Europe.

Lots of marsh helleborine – moeraswespenorchis here. Quite rare in the Netherlands, but if the water quality is okay it can pop up with a lot of enthusiasm.

Grasshopper – but what species? I’m afraid I don’t know, so feel free to leave your guess.

Another grasshopper, the great green bush-cricket – grote groene sabelsprinkhaan.

Parnassia, one of my favorites. Used to be quite rare, but thanks to the efforts of nature conservation organizations they have returned. Every day, one stamen rises until all five of them are standing up.

Last one: the common midwife toad. Also alien to this area, so probably also deliberately released. This was a young one. It still has it’s tadpole tail.

Still too much…

Previous post I said: Thousands of pictures. Too much nature. I´ll keep it brief this time.

First of all, that blue dragonfly above. I’m not sure of the species, it might indeed just be ´Blue dragonfly´. Feel free to mention the name if you know it. Same for the yellow one below. If you know the species, let me know! Both of them were resting in a small nature reserve between Savannah and Beaufort.

What´s next? An encounter with a snake near Chattahoochee river. Common garter, friendly and not poisonous. So no worries.

Sand martin. Whole families were learning their offspring to fly and hunt for insects above the river.

Another bird, a killdeer (why that name?). Common kind of plover. Picture taken while canoeing – it’s really great to jump in a canoe on a sunny day!

This one was taken in the city of Atlanta, Memorial Park, a few months ago. Some kind of mushroom – tried to capture the lightness and luminousity of it.

Last one to close this series: the bamboo forest at the banks of the river.