Cook’s View and The Scholar

J. Clayton Bright The Scholar and Cooks View
J. Clayton Bright The Scholar and Cooks View

Cook’s View and The Scholar: two works of art, different genres, which I completed this year, are on display at SomervilleManning’s temporary exhibit space at the Hardcastle Gallery: 5714 Kennett Pike in Centreville, DE, 19807.

Happy Mother’s Day

Maternity Ward
Maternity Ward

This image was a bit of a reach for my lens but I could not resist making the effort. The marsh adjacent to our pond is a preferred nesting spot every spring. Yesterday there were three guys just hanging out while their ladies were incubating the eggs. The scene reminded me of a maternity ward 50 years ago when husbands where not allowed to participate.

Red-winged Blackbirds a week later

Blackbird2 Bright

One week later I saw three Red-winged Blackbirds, but heard a total five staking claims to the same territory, where only two were competing before. This week their scarlet epaulets were on full display, whereas last week only the yellow chevrons were showing.

Announcing Spring

Spring singing

This image is from last Saturday when I was on the morning exercise with the beagles and house dogs. If you carefully follow the top of the near fence line, you will come to a Red Winged Blackbird sitting on a post. If the image has not been too compressed you should be able to enlarge it enough to make out the yellow chevron of its wing epaulet. With the coming of spring (and the breeding season) the males regain their epaulets, which are not in evidence while they are flocked together during the winter.

      There was also a male on the other side of the road, which I could not see, but each was claiming its territory with song. They are the first ones I have heard staking claims this year. Their optimism about spring was not dampened by the morning dusting of snow.


Winter tree Bright 3
Winter Tree Bright

Despite not having much color, this image catches the eye. It is a very good example of the adage: “Color gets the credit, but value does the work.”

The importance of value (light and dark) is something we tend to forget about, given the ubiquity of highly saturated color photographs.  Yet it is the foundation of a good image. We just tend not to recognize value’s importance. One of my favorite examples of value is Unkoku Tōgan’s (1547-1618) ink on paper, Descending Geese.  He depicted a flock of geese coming in for a landing next to their compatriots on a sand bar. Here, value first directs you to the subject, then softening, creates both place and depth.
Unkoku Togan 1
Unkoku Togan Descending Geese


Snowdrops in December

I took this photo on December 15 just outside my studio. Yes, a snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) blooming in mid-December. It is not unusual for this to happen on the south facing bank in January, but unprecedented in December. A January warm spell can both cause snowdrops to bloom and be warm enough to tempt me outside to paint them.

These snowdrops have me wondering – were they inspired to break dormancy by lengthening nights or did the November cold snap give them enough chill hours (hours of coldness) for them to believe spring was here when daytime temperatures rose into the 50’s and 60’s for a few days in December.        

I always marvel that when some snowdrops do jump the gun on the start of spring how they can survive the following snow and cold which makes very clear their optimism was misplaced.

Storm-Driven Oak Leaves

storm driven oak leaves

During my regular morning walk with the beagles, sometimes the rawest weather rewards me the most for being out. In this case rain squalls were sweeping across the valley below, pushed by a wind that was gusting to 30 mph. What looks likes birds fleeing before the wind were the last of the leaves being stripped from an oak tree. Oaks and beeches can hang on to their spent leaves until spring when the replacements push the old out of the way. Nonetheless, thiswind was stripping hilltop oak bare.

Like a flock of small birds, the leaves darted about the sky even as they move in a single general direction. Those that hit the ground flitting along, sometimes rising back into the sky. They brought to mind a belief from childhood – if you put salt on a bird’s tail, it would not be able to fly away and then you could catch it.

The groundling leaves reminded me of how birds used to stay just ahead of us kids when we tried the salt method. They always flitted along just out of reach, sometimes rising to land a little farther on. In this case, I was trying to catch some of the leaves so I could identify the type of oak trying so hard to retain its leaves. It was a probably a black oak (quarus velutina). But someone more of an expert than myself would need to sort out some of the oaks by their leaves alone, because the leaves from the wild seldom match the ones in leaf identification books.

All Herefords in a field look the same until you really get to know the herd.

Mutinus elegans

Mutinus elegans JCBright
Mutinus elegans JCBright

I have walked the same field almost daily for over thirty years and never noticed this fungus although I am sure it has always been there. Mutinus elegans did not recently hop off a shipping pallet from Asia – it was first recorded in Virginia in the 1600’s. I need to be more observant since its bold red, a strong contrast with the grass, makes it hard to miss.

Once tuned in I found several more. They first appear as slightly smaller than a golf ball bubble in tan. They hold hard at that point until the autumn rains and the temperature are to their liking.  Then stand back. These fungi grow to their full height (about 3 inches) in less than 2 days.  Within a few days they start to wither, fall over and totally disappear.

What looks like it might be a red leaf caught in the grass, is in fact a sweet sticky mass containing spores. Insects are attracted by the sweetness, at which point the spores tag along for rides to points unknown. 

Cyclamen in the Japanese Garden

cyclamen Japanese water garden Bright 1
Cyclamen in Japanese water garden – J. Clayton Bright

There is one section of our Japanese water garden that is barren and dry-looking throughout the summer. Then, in autumn, rains start and the first flowers of the hardy cyclamen (cyclamen hederifolium) appear, followed shortly by their leaves. They linger on for weeks giving the garden one last moment of glory.

Somebody occasionally snacks on a flower head. The browsers, I suspect, are mice, but they never seem to make a habit of it. Since each plant has enough flowers to be able to spare a few, there is no cause for concern. Besides the loss gives the cyclamen patch a feeling of naturalism, which is not altogether bad.  The cyclamens are at the garden’s edge where plants are not as controlled, so a little blending helps the transition.


Clayton Tom and Walter Moving The 10 ft Kick
Clayton,Tom and Walter Moving The 10 ft Kick

Loading the bottom 2/3 of the 10 foot Kick for its trip to the mold maker required teamwork. Tom and Walter already proved their teamwork skills this fall, when they helped rescue flood victims trapped outside their car, just before it was swept away.  Here they are at work again, showing that their teamwork has other uses. Thank you, Walter and Tom!