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Where We Live by John Silveira and Richard Blunt. Photos and commentary from Oregon and New England.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Archive for January, 2013


Boston Public Garden–An annual family visit to Mrs Mallard and her Ducklings

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Public Garden – The Original Plan

This is a draft of the original  plan for development of the Boston Public Garden. With the exception of some minor changes made to the Duck Pond over the years, this original plan remains relatively unchanged. In the lower right hand corner of the of the picture is the Beacon street/Charles street gate Mrs Mallard and her ducklings are just a few yards inside this gate on the left.


In Colonial times the 24 acres of sculpture, fountains, elaborate flower beds, and notable trees known, world wide, as the Boston Public Garden, was a malodorous salt marsh, and sewage dumping ground known as Round Marsh. In 1837 the city of Boston leased this patch of uninviting ground to a  group headed by Horace Gray, a wealthy Boston business man, and avid gardener. Gray petitioned the City for permission to transform the site into a this country’s first botanical garden. The  petition quickly became a political football and was kicked back and forth between the Garden proprietors and the City Council for nearly 20 years. It is recorded that private investors and city politicians wanted to carve the land into house lots. In 1856 the state intervened and appointed a legislative commission to resolve the dispute. The Public Garden act, a bill that proposed the land be devoted, forever, to public use and no other building other than a city hall be erected on it, unless it would support the Garden’s  horticultural purpose.   Before the bill could become law it had to be ratified by the citizens of Boston. So, the Act was submitted to Boston voters on April 26, 1856, and was passed by a margin of sixty to one. This was a mandate from the citizens of Boston binding city government to maintain the Garden as a botanical park—forever.

The final design of the Garden was done by George Meacham, a local architect. His plan was the only landscape design submitted in a blind competition conducted by the city. As the winner, Meacham was paid 100 dollars for his effort.  The various paths and flower beds were laid out by James Slade (Boston City Engineer) and the city forester, John Galvin. They also erected statues, and fountains at selected locations around the gardens. The first was a statue of Edward Everett Hale, son of Nathan Hail, best known for his Civil War novel “Man Without a Country.” On July 3, 1869 a bronze equestrian statue of George Washington was unveiled. This was a proud event for the city. A poor boy from Charlestown had sculpted the statue, the Boston Masons had constructed and raised the granite base, and a Boston foundry had performed the bronze casting of this magnificent work. Today it is acknowledged one of the finest equestrian statues in America.

Photo visits for Public Garden and the Boston Common are on  my schedule for early spring.   Botanical gardens are best photographed in the spring and summer when their flower plantings and trees are in glorious bloom, and the sun is shining. This gray, overcast,  morning was not going to reward me with that kind of setting. This visit is the Blunt family yearly pilgrimage to spend some time with my wife’s family–Mrs Mallard and her eight ducklings. We do this every year in rain, snow, or national disaster. From here we also planned to visit a long time friend and Backwoods Home associate, Ollie Del Signore for lunch. Finally, we would return our son, Michael to Salem State University for his final semester before he graduates.

Fascination with Mrs Mallard began long before my wife and I met. On her third birthday, Tricia’s grandmother gave her a copy of Robert McCloskey’s popular children’s book, Make Way For Ducklings. Published in 1941, the book tells the story of a pair of Mallard ducks who raised a family on an island in the middle of a pond at the Public Garden. Like most Bostonians, the various parks the Emerald Necklace are among our favorite places to visit. The Public Garden with its famous Swan boats, and bronze statues of Mrs Mallard quickly became Tricia’s favorite, and remains so today. Our first visit to this popular exhibit was shortly after it was set in place, in 1987.

 As we approached the Garden, Tricia, spotted  a young family crossing the foot bridge that spans the pond were the Swan boats are kept.”Let’s park the car and follow them,” she said. “They may be going to visit Mrs Mallard also.” I parked the car, grabbed my camera. and off we went to visit this famous duck family.

The Foot Bridge

Designed by Boston architect William Preston, this bridge was originally designed and built as a suspension bridge. Completed in 1867, the bridge was considered somewhat overbuilt by many Bostonians. The often referred to as “the smallest suspension bridge in the world. As reinforcements and repairs were made over the years, the Foot Bridge was transformed, and is now technically a girder bridge. The remaining spider-web cables are decorations. When we got to this point, the young family were leaving the bridge and heading for the Swan Boat docking area to feed a small flock of ducks that winter over on the pond.


The Book

Tricia, was given a copy of this popular book, by her grandmother on her third birthday. Since then the book has become a must have for every child born into her family. The book pictured below was given to my daughter Sarah on her first birthday by my wife’s mother and father. Over the past 25 years, a hard copy of this book  has been given to all of her nieces, nephews, grand nieces and nephews, and our sons Jason and Michael. Not counting children born into other families, my last count was twenty copies.

IMG_1249 copy copy

The Lagoon (Duck Pond)

Lagoon is a modern name. Many Bostonians still call it “The Duck Pond.” The pond’s original design called for a fountain in the middle, on the Boylston St side, and a point projecting from the Charles Street side. Both have disappeared over the years. This artificial pond was completed in the summer of 1861. It is about 4 feet deep with a clay base covered with gravel. It is interesting to note that pond still retains a relationship with it’s tidal origins. The water level rises and falls slightly, but noticeably, with the tides. The pond is drained and refilled twice a year with water from the Boston municipal system.


Mrs Mallard and her most Devoted Admirers.

Created by renowned sculptor, Nancy Schon  and placed along the path between the Duck Pond and the Beacon-Charles gate, this group of duckling statues has been a continuing success, and a special attraction for children. In 1991, Barbara Bush gave a duplicate of this sculpture to Raisa Gorbachev as a part of the START treaty. Scenes like the one pictured below are a, year around, daily event at this exhibit.

Meet Colby and Cooper

The two, Mrs Mallard, admirers in this photo are Tricia’s grandnephews. The little guy hugging Mrs Mallard is Colby, the oldest They are the sons of Tricia’s niece, Jennifer. The boys and their mother have their own copies of Make Way For Ducklings.  If you look closely at the love on Colby’s face you will understand why our family tradition will live on for many years.

High Five Mom.

Colby and Cooper 495

Pictured below is the seven Mrs Mallard admirers that we followed into the Garden. This scene is repeated over and over every day, by many families with children . Often, it is difficult to tell who is having the most fun, the kids of the adults.

Mrs Mallard

After spending an hour playing with Mrs Mallard and her ducklings, these children convinced the parents to take them to the boat landing to feed some real ducks


Equestrian Bronze Of George Washington by Thomas Ball


Bronze of Edward Everett Hale by Bela Lyon Pratt 


The Bottom Line.

The plantings and the statuary, in the Boston Public Garden, evoke a Victorian heritage. But the outstanding character for this garden, and the other parks in the Emerald Necklace is “public.” Their public character is not merely in their accessibility, but in the extraordinary role that Bostonians and the residents of surrounding towns play in their protection and preservation.


Western red-tailed hawk…I think

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

First, let me apologize for several previous posts where the images are small, though they blow up to full size if you click on them. WordPress changed their format and I couldn’t find the new way to upload them, so I went with what had. As I find time, I’ll correct the images. Still, if you go back to them and click on the small images, you’ll see the full-sized images.

I’m having trouble identifying the bird I have here. I’ve gone through three bird books and I think it’s a western red-tailed hawk. My friend, Sammi Craig, who’s another photographer, told me her boyfriend can probably identify it. But I’m not going to wait. If you can identify it, let me know.

I spotted it while I was with my friend, Christine Mack, in Hunters Creek. (Christine now manages a Facebook page for me where I’m promoting my apocalyptic ice age novel, Danielle Kidnapped.) She was driving and actually saw the bird first and pulled over so I could get out of the car and get some photos. I mentioned to her that I expected it to fly before I could get a shot off. I’ve found it all but impossible to get close to most of the raptors, but this bird surprised me because even when I got out of the car if sat on the rock, sunning itself, though it kept a wary eye on me. So, I snapped away.

I made one big mistake: I kept the aperture at 5.6, the widest aperture I can get with my Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens.

J.R. Robinson, the proprietor of Picture This, a frame/print shop and photo/art gallery, here in Gold Beach, had counseled me to use a tripod and to use higher f-stops. Well, I thought that with the time and motions I needed to set the tripod up, I’d have scared the bird away, so I passed on that. However, though I could have changed the f-stop, I didn’t. I now wish I had.

The higher f-stop number creates a greater depth-of-field—which means the greater depth of focus. As you can see, sometimes the focus wasn’t perfect, so the bird was a little fuzzy even when it was sitting still because the autofocus was zeroed on something in the background, and when it flew it was often at the edge of the depth of field so I was losing focus there, too. The higher f-stop number will expand that depth of field. The trade-off will be higher ISO numbers, but the Canon 5D Mark III should handle those just fine.

Throughout the photo session, the bird didn’t seem overtly scared of us or my car, so I got several photos before it decided to fly away.

Christine and I are going to make future trips to Hunter Creek in hopes of getting more and better photos of the birds there.

I believe this is a western red-tailed hawk, but the images I found in the three books I got from the library only

I believe this is a western red-tailed hawk, but the images I found in the three books I got from the library don’t look quite like it. Does anybody know, for sure? He (she?) didn’t fly away, as most raptors do when I get close, but he kept an eye on me.

Shutter speed 1/400     f-stop 5.6     ISO 200     focal length 400mm


G83C8865 cropped for blog

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 5.6     ISO 640     focal length 400mm


G83C8876 cropped for blog

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 5.6     ISO 2500     focal length 400mm


I don't know if it was becoming skittish or just changing position because it didn't fly far.

I don’t know if it was becoming skittish or just changing position because it didn’t fly far.

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 5.6     ISO 2500     focal length 400mm


You can see, because I used a shallow depth-of-field, the hawk isn't quite in focus.

You can see, because I used a shallow depth-of-field, the hawk isn’t quite in focus.

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 5.6     ISO 2000     focal length 400mm


It landed here, about sixty feet away from where it had taken off from. It still kept at least one eye in my direction.

It landed here, about sixty feet away from where it had taken off from. It still kept at least one eye in my direction.

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 5.6     ISO 3200     focal length 400mm


And this was how it left — coming right at me.

And this was how it left — coming right at me.

Shutter speed 1/1000     f-stop 5.6     ISO 4000     focal length 400mm


Christmas Day Snow in the Farmington Valley

Monday, January 7th, 2013

When nature is kind to us living in the Farmington Valley, it announces itself in late December with a gentle snow fall.  Well, this year, so far, we are experiencing a textbook winter. In fact, most of New England woke up  Christmas morning to discover, on average, three inches of snow on the ground. Two days later we were gifted with several more inches. Christmas day snow for southern New England is not as common as we would like it to be. When it does snow, we do our best to take advantage of this rare happening. The last significant snow on Christmas day, that I can remember, was the winter of 2004. That storm deposited seven inches of snow in the Farmington valley. Sever other states including: Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, North and South Carolina, and most of New England also woke up to a White Christmas.

Since I have no photos of the 2004 storm, I decided to get out and visit some of my favorite places to photograph this Christmas Day event .

The River

The following three photos were taken near my favorite trout fishing spots on the Farmington River




The Tower

Unfortunately, I was not able to get up to the Heublein Tower, because of the snow, and had to be content with a shot from the valley.


Kolp Gardens

To the local farmers an early winter snow fall represents more than a scenic view. I also provides a protective blanket for the fall cover crop of winter rye.  This vital crop keeps the the soil in place when the Valley is assaulted by frequent high winds from the northeast  during the winter, and drenching rain in the early spring. This early snow cover will ensure a productive warm weather growing season.



The High School

This hillside will remain busy as long as there is snow on the ground.


Stone Will at The Hill-stead Museum


A winter view of the Lourdes Of Litchfield grotto.






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