Speaking of Nature: Indulging in eye candy: Finally, after such a long wait, it’s beginning to look like spring is here

Almost small enough to overlook, bluets are worth the effort to find. Look for them in short grass at the side of the road, in cemeteries, and in lawns.

Almost small enough to overlook, bluets are worth the effort to find. Look for them in short grass at the side of the road, in cemeteries, and in lawns. PHOTO BY BILL DANIELSON


For the Gazette

Published: 04-16-2024 12:16 PM

I have just about reached the end of my patience with the winter of 2024. I realize that this may sound a bit strange, especially because we are now in the beginning of spring, but those of us who bore the brunt of the April snowstorm may sympathize with me just a bit. Even though the winter of 2023-24 was largely free of snow, it was still winter. Then, just as we thought we were to be delivered from the dark and the gloom, Nature sends a not-so-hilarious April Fools joke in the form of snow. Grrr!

Thus, it was with the greatest joy that I returned home from work last week to find temperatures in the 70s and the sounds of the season seemingly orchestrated by Spring herself. At one moment, as twilight had fallen over the land, I heard a Wild Turkey calling, a Great Horned Owl hooting, Mourning Doves, American Robins and Canada Geese cooing, singing and honking, and even the sounds of Spring Peepers and the season’s first Wood Frogs singing in the deepening darkness. It was one of those magical evenings, but it was amplified by the contrast of a warm, life-filled evening juxtaposed so closely with a blizzard the previous week.

The next morning I heard the unmistakable rhythm of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s territorial drumming and I just about jumped out of my own skin with joy. I still haven’t heard an American Woodcock yet, nor has the Eastern Phoebe made its much-anticipated appearance hear in my high-elevation yard, but I feel that these things are imminent and I can barely suppress my excitement. Finally, after such a long wait, things are starting to fall into place.

That being said, I am now desperate for a change of scenery. The dull brown of the lawn is slowly being replaced by a deepening green, but it is not enough. The dull brown of the forest beyond my meadow is starting to show hints of red as the maple trees begin to flower, but it is not enough. I need to see some new colors and in an act of the purest sort of self-indulgence, I am forcing the issue by sharing one of my favorite photographs of all time: a close-up of a natural bouquet of Bluets (Houstonia caerulea).

Native to eastern North America, from Newfoundland to Wisconsin and then south from Florida to Louisiana, the Bluet is a magical little plant with flowers that are absolutely gorgeous. The only thing that might interfere with your enjoyment of these beautiful blossoms is the fact that they are so small. Each flower measures only 0.4 inches in diameter and you really need to get close to them in order to see all of the luscious details.

The story of my collection of this particular image is rather hilarious, so I share it with you now. It was 1999 and I was working for the Massachusetts State Parks at Skinner State Park in South Hadley. I was on my way to the Ranger Station one morning when I happened to catch sight of a carpet of pale blue flowers by the side of the road. Knowing that this would make a nice addition to a slideshow that I was preparing, I decided to stop and see what I could see.

I had recently purchased a 105mm macro lens and was enjoying the new world of close-up photography that it allowed. Tiny details that had previously gone unrecorded were now front and center in every photo that I took. The only issue (again) was the fact that the flowers were so small and so low to the ground. My solution was simple. Lay down in the grass and take a photo parallel with the ground at the flowers’ level.

So, after I pulled over to the side of the road and turned my hazard lights on, I got down on my stomach and started exploring the collection of flowers in front of me. I was looking for one view where the frame would be filled with flowers, but only one of them would be in focus. So I methodically worked my way across the area in front of me, changing my focus point and looking for the perfect shot. This was so long ago that I was using slide film, so I didn’t have the luxury of taking a hundred photos and sorting through them later.

The image that I share with you today was one of my attempts to capture the details in the carpet of Bluets and I think it did the job nicely. Using a very shallow depth of field, I managed to focus on the stamens of one flower, while I left the background and foreground blurry. I particularly like the fact that there are a few “sharp” edges on almost every flower, but that the majority of the photo is out of focus.

The amusing part of this story is the fact that at one point, while I was concentrating on the flowers, another motorist stopped and asked if I was okay. From his perspective it might have looked like I was injured and lying on the ground after some sort of accident. I have a feeling that he didn’t see the camera in my hands until he had already stopped to check on me. I lifted my head and smiled as I laughed and thanked him for his concern. I said that I was just taking photos and the motorist accepted my explanation with a somewhat puzzled and dubious look on his face. It was only a week later that I received my slides in the mail and realized that I had been successful. All these years later, I look at this photo and think of nothing but a warm sunny day in the spring and a carpet of fresh flowers before me.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 26 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.