Massive Coral Bleaching at Planet Rock

Posted in Under the Sea on March 7th, 2011 by MadDog
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On Saturday I had my last dive in Madang for several months. We went out to Planet Rock  in Astrolabe Bay.  I had not been there since October of last year. Fortunately I’m feeling much better than I was then. I distinctly remember feeling suicidal on that dive. Things are greatly improved since then. Life could get interesting, so I’m happy to stick around for a while. I still have important work which provides me with a living and I have many other good things in my life. I’m coming around. I’m on my way to adventure for several months starting in two more days. All this is good news.

What is definitely not good news is the massive coral bleaching that is happening all up and down the coast near Madang. I’m not an expert on anything, but I think that I can safely say that the episode is caused by the rise of local water temperature.

I can remember when the average water temperature on a dive to twenty metres was about 27 or 28 ° C. Now it is more like 30 or 31. This is certainly enough to trigger coral bleaching on a long-term basis. If bleaching episodes last long enough, the coral dies completely and the reef becomes broken rubble in short order. New coral growths have a hard time establishing themselves on rubble, because it is not a solid foundation. As soon as a new colony begins to grow, the bit of rubble is disturbed by wave action caused by storms and the colony is dislodged.

Here is a large plate coral which looks to me as if it will soon be rubble.

Nearly this entire colony is affected to some extent.

Here is a close up of another type of coral which will most likely not recover. It’s difficult to tell without specialised knowledge whether or not the coral polyps will survive. To me, it appears that these are empty shells.

It looks bad enough up close.

It looks even worse from a distance.

This patch of dead or dying coral is about a hundred metres long.

Here is another badly bleached area about fifty metres wide.

All around the top of the rock we saw hundreds of patches of bleached coral during a forty-five minute dive. I would say that this is an increase of about fifty times as much dying coral over any cases which I have seen before. It is very worrisome.

We did not spend the entire dive surveying dead coral. Rich Jones found this little octopus in a hole.

It is devilishly difficult to photograph something back in a hole. You simply cannot jam in enough light for a decent exposure back in the hole without overexposing the coral which is surrounding it. In the shot above you can see one of the legs and the eye.

The octopus had captured a shell occupied by a hermit crab and it was busy trying to extract it for lunch when we came along. I pulled the shell from its tentacles so get the picture above.

Then I was faced with an ethical dilemma. Do I turn the hermit crab back over to the tender mercies of the octopus to suffer its natural fate and allow the octopus to enjoy its rightful meal or do I carry the shell a few metres away and drop it, giving the hermit crab a new lease on life, but leaving the octopus hungry?

I decided to put things back the way we found them and let nature take its course.

But I did feel bad for the hermit crab.

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Get High on Dynamic Range – HDR

Posted in Photography Tricks on December 26th, 2010 by MadDog
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I’ve purposefully laid low during the Christmas holiday. I believe that this has been good for me. I know that some of my friends are concerned that I’m becoming a hermit, but that is not the case. In the last few months I’ve attempted to socialise normally, sometimes at the expense of my well being. Living in an atmosphere which relentlessly reminds me of my loss has not been easy. Normal social gatherings have been difficult.

Anyone who has suffered a loss of a spouse knows exactly what I’m talking about. Loneliness is intensified by being with loved ones who shared the life experience of knowing the person who once occupied the empty chair. One can feel very much alone even when surrounded by friends. At some point a decision must be made whether to continue to suffer that pain or to retreat for a while to allow strength to recover.

After the holidays I will begin to behave normally again. The time of relative solitude has been good for me. It’s allowed me to gather my wits and gain a fresh perspective. I’ll soon be starting a new year. Life will not be rosy. I don’t expect that. There could still be major setbacks. However, I have accomplished much. I’ve taken control of many aspects of my life with which I was formerly out of touch. I’ve renewed my faith and strengthened it. My plan for 2011 is to recover as much as possible of my life here in Madang and shape it into something which will allow me to be a full person again. There is much which I have left behind and more yet will have to be considered as to its usefulness to me in the future. However, I can see that my future, though seen through a glass darkly, has promise. It is a different promise from any which I formerly imagined. But, it is not dark of necessity. I do  have within my power, trusting in my faith, that I can make it bright if I take the right path.

Through a dear friend I got an offer of a small photographic shoot for Coatwatcher’s Hotel here in Madang. I was happy for the work, though it was not an easy job. As I was working on the images I experienced a sudden geek attack and decided to devote a post to the technique involved. Sudden geek attacks cannot be ignored.

Here in this image you can see the problem. This is a shot of the hotel dining room looking out over Astrolabe Bay:

As you will note, it’s not very exciting or aesthetically appealing. In fact, it’s downright ugly. What’s the problem? Well, the problem is that a lot of light is in the wrong places. This is a typical back-lit image. The camera cannot cope with the huge dynamic range of light levels varying from very bright to very dim. Our eyes adjust constantly to allow us to take in this range of brightness levels. Viewing this scene, you would be perfectly able to see all of the dark areas. As your eyes rise to the bright light outside, your eyes will compensate automatically. No camera can do this.

So, how can a photographer without complex and expensive lighting equipment take a decent photograph of this scene? A fantastic trick became available to photographers with the dawn of the digital age of cameras and powerful computer processors which can do the maths. It’s called High Dynamic Range Photography. In theory, it’s pretty simple. Anybody with a decent camera and a computer can do it. I wrote a post on HDR a couple of years ago.

The first image was what one might call a “normal” photograph. I simply set my Canon G11 on an automatic setting and took the shot. The result is miserable. However, what if we could take several shots, adjusting the camera for each level of brightness, and combine the best exposed portion of each frame into one image? That is exactly what HDR photography is all about.

I first set my camera to get a well correctly exposed image of the outside area including the sky and water of Astrolabe Bay. It’s even worse. The inside is completely black:

Next, I took another exposure with the camera set to capture the dark levels inside the dining room:

That’s just as bad, except that you can now see the areas of the image which were nearly black. However, the outside area is completely washed out. I had my camera mounted on a tripod for these three shots. It’s important that the camera does not change angle or distance to the subject. The software needs details of the images to remain in the same position on the frames so that it can match the images up perfectly before it begins the task of selecting the best exposed areas of each image to combing in the final HDR shot.

Then, using the Merge to HDR image of Photoshop, I combined the three images to produce this one:

This is a perfectly useable image for the calendar which the client wanted to produce. I’ll now collect my pay.

It is a characteristic of HDR photography that most images appear a little strange to our eyes. We are not used to seeing such a compression of dynamic range. It really looks more like a painting than a photograph. However, for the client’s purpose, it was the only way to get the shot.

Just for fun, I set up my tripod in my bedroom and took three shots of my little corner office. This is the underexposed shot:

I won’t bore you with the overexposed shot or the auto setting shot. That would be tedious.

This is the combination of the three images:Certainly, I could have used flash to capture the same image, but that would give the shot that flashy, unreal effect which I don’t like. The colour tones are rather sickly, because of the colour of the cloth on my curtains. I didn’t bother to correct it. I wanted it to look exactly the way my eyes see it. I’m going to change to white curtains!

One does not absolutely have to use a tripod, given reasonably steady hands and firmly planted feet. I took a stroll up at Nob Nob mountain the other day with a friend. I’ll have some nice nature shots from that visit in the next few days. They sky was cloudy and the light was miserable, not what you want for landscape photography. I shot two images. This one is correctly exposed for the dark foreground vegetation:

This one is exposed for the sky:

Even with only two exposures Photoshop did a credible job of producing a useable image:

It’s not going to win any contests, but it’s a nice picture. You might note some funny colour fringes around one of the clouds at the upper right. It’s an artefact of the merging process. I didn’t bother to correct it, because it’s a good example of some of the problems which can crop up out of the blue, so to speak.

If you would like to see more examples of HDR photography, try here and here. Some of these I like and some I very much do not  like. Certainly, HDR has a place as an artistic tool. However, if taken to extreme, it gets tiresome very quickly. So many shots look like cheap posters.

Okay, now I’m going to make some cheesy, cheap poster shots. I can hardly wait.

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Of Turbans and Alien Writing

Posted in Under the Sea on October 24th, 2010 by MadDog
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It’s high time that I got back to being a little silly. I miss it. I’ve been far to serious lately. It’s easy to point out to people who are having problems that they might feel better if they would lighten up a little. It’s a bit harder to take the advice if the roles are reversed. Anyway, I know that I need to get some whimsy back into my thinking. Maybe it will leave less room for the too serious stuff to rumbling around in my skull.

Although another Saturday has now passed, these shots are from Planet Rock a week ago yesterday. I haven’t gotten around to looking at the shots at Magic Passage from yesterday’s dive.

The water was very greenish from the layer of brackish water washed out into Astrolabe Bay from the Golgol River. In this “dark reef” style image, I left the green uncorrected, so that you can see what it looked like to me:

It’s a colour that most people don’t expect to see in a marine underwater image. The greenish glow of the light also subdues many of the warmer colours and gives the reef a sickly look.

I’m always raving about spirals in the undersea environment and in nature in general. It seems to be a very useful growth pattern:

Here you can see the very prominent spiral shape in this rapidly growing hard coral. This is an exceptionally nice crop. The image was taken from about five metres shooting straight down. The area you see is about six metres wide.

I enjoy shooting gimpy starfish. It is amazing how many starfish are missing legs, or even more:

Most species of starfish can easily regenerate a severed leg. In fact, if the severed leg is spat out by a fish, as is often the case, the leg will grow new legs and create an entrie new starfish from only the leg. You can see an example of that here.

Getting back to spirals for a moment, Here is an empty house. The critter who lived in it has expired:

I think that it is very likely that a hermit crab which has outgrown it’s apartment will move into this more spacious accommodation soon.

We see the spiral again in this Cat’s Eye Turban Shell (Turbo petholatus). This poor creature was the victim of break and enter. There are a variety of marine creatures which possess the capability of breaking open tough shells such as this to get to the tasty meal inside:

If you try to break a Turban Shell, you can appreciate the power it takes to do so. They are very hard. It would take a few hammer blows to do this kind of damage.

The Turbans are marine snails, so it’s not surprising that the shells look exactly like land snails. However, the marine environment requires heavy-duty protection against predators. To block the most obvious route of entry, the snail produces a door or operculum,  to protect itself.

Opercula are very common in marine snails. The are less often found in species of freshwater snails and only a few land snails have them. The shot above shows some Cat’s Eye Turban Shells and the associated opercula. You can see where the name “Cat’s Eye” came from. The spiral shape is present not only in the shell, but also the opercula. As you can see, there are many different colours and surface textures. These are from my collection.

Okay, I suppose that you are wondering when the silliness would make its entrance into the scene. Well, I am forever on the look-out for aliens. I confess that I have never seen one, but that means nothing. Perhaps they do not wish to be seen.  However, to the astute and careful, dare I say enthusiastic observer, evidence of them is everywhere. One simply has to have the proper perspective.You may care to scoff. Do so if you wish. Nevertheless, I’ll use the favourite argument of UFOlogists, quacks, conspiracy theorists, Discovery Channel pseudo-science and all others who wish to convince others of their ideas despite the lack of genuine evidence. No reputable authority has yet proven that this is not alien writing.

Therefore, it must be true, eh?

By the way, it says, “Live long and prosper.” In Vulcan it would be, “Dif-tor heh smusma”.

UPDATE: Reader Pvaldes points out that if you tilt your head very hard to the left so it is nearly horizontal and examine the Alien Writing image you will be able to read the message. It clearly says, “Hi” (or maybe “Hy”). You can read his remarks in the comments section.

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Dubious Art

Posted in Photography Tricks on July 11th, 2010 by MadDog
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Having been simultaneously inspired, challenged and somewhat chagrined by my post a couple of day ago on the sublimely eccentric and sophisticatedly earthy art of Lindsay Smith, I decided to blow away an entire morning when I should have been doing something else, namely making some money, creating. If that sentence is not complex and grammatically dimwitted enough for you, then hang around for a while and I will probably come up with something even more opaque.

Every shot in this post is a radical modification of an image which has been sitting among tens of thousands for years, some for decades. Every one except this one: For some inexplicable reason, as I wandered aimlessly around in our front yard this morning, I became mesmerised by the left headlamp of our new Nissan Navara. It is our first new car in nearly twelve years, so we are still somewhat excited about it. It’s the cheap kind with wind-up windows and no electronic gee-gaws such as central locking. You don’t want that kind of stuff here. If it breaks, it stays broke.

When I got the image up in Photoshop, I began to see its possibilities. How bizarre could I possibly make an ordinary automobile headlamp appear? I began to think of the way it might be portrayed in some stylised automotive catalogue. What I wanted was how it might look on acid or some similarly perception distorting substance. Because it has now become art, I have titled it Headlamp of our new Nissan Navara.  I am such a wordsmith.

This one is derived from an old shot and is titled Woman in Canoe on Astrolabe Bay:

Again, with the clever titles. It get worse. Hang around. Some of these you may need to click to enlarge to get the full impact of my efforts to bamboozle you.

Yeah, now this one is a oldie. I entered this one in an art show a long time ago and actually sold a one-off original print for K200. I think that it was the first image that I ever mane any money from:

It’s title is Sunset Watercolour II.  Catchy, eh?

Back in the days of burning rubber, a fine mist of vapourised castor oil in the air, hot tarmac and icy Chablis we called the driver’s compartment of a sports car The Cockpit. It was so very, very English. Here is the arted-up cockpit of our 1973 Triumph Spitfire 1500 which sits immaculately restored and carefully wrapped in a garage in Indianapolis, Indiana waiting for someone to make me a reasonable offer for a car which is rapidly approaching the priceless category. Would you like to buy it?

I mean the car, not the picture, which is titled Spitfire Cockpit.  I wonder how many disappointing Google hits I’ll get on this one.

The dashboard or fascia, as we called it back then, is Brazilian Rosewood, handcrafted over a period of several days by none other than me. Hah, you thought all I can do is take pictures and spew drivel, eh? I got the shot on our first digital camera, a one-point-something megapixel Minolta of some kind. I’m sure that it’s moudlering away in a drawer somewhere.

These are our orange lilies, which will be familiar, if not boring, to regular readers. They are decked out here for a night at the disco:

That’s the Photoshop Poster Edges filter, if you’re interested. It’s one of my favourites. The title is Edgy Orange Lilies.  Better?

Here is an old shot of the fabulous Australian harmonicist and singer Harper at a performance years ago at The Slippery Noodle in Indianapolis, Indiana:

The title is, a little obviously, Harper.  I got the shot from a stairway above the back room venue in the area of the building which used to be a brothel. It is the oldest continuously operating tavern in the State of Indiana and now operates one of the best blues clubs it has ever been my pleasure to patronise. I always hit it a couple of times whenever I’m in Indy.  The cover charge is cheap. The food and drink is also blue-collar priced and surprisingly delicious. The amazing thing about the place is that it has three venues for bands in the same building. If you don’t like one, you can pick up and move to another. The only problem is that it is sometimes packed. It used to be a mob hangout. There are several spots where there are bullet holes in the walls.

Just to show you how civilised and cultured I am, here is a plate of fruit at a vineyard near Vienna. It’s been given the artsy treatment also:It is delightfully and playfully titled Vienna Vineyard Fruit.  I sincerely hope to get back to Vienna someday. It’s one of my favourite cities. Summertime is splendid. I don’t even want to think about winter there. It would be as bad as Indianapolis, from whence I escaped. The shot above has been “posterised” a bit to give it a more painterly look. Posterisation is simply a fancy term for reducing the available colours in an image.

If none of that is quirky enough for you, then I shall deliver the coup de grâce.

This is my left bicep, at the healthy diameter which it once was at the time I was getting my Dancing Dolphins  tattoo, which you see here partially completed:

I decided . . . no, I fell upon the idea of doing it in monochrome . . . okay, duochrome.

Okay, that’s enough nonsense for one day. I’m getting dizzy.

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Sunshine and Orchids

Posted in Mixed Nuts on May 11th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today I shall begin with the beginning and end with the end and skip all of the boring stuff in the middle. I’m talking about my work day, of course. I usually awake between 05:00 and 05:30 and try to get the computer turned on and start working before Eunie rises at 06:00 for her breakfast and an hour of reading. I have to keep running to the front door if there is anything interesting developing in the sky to catch the ten minute window for a decent sunrise.

This morning the sky looked chaotic. I was hoping it was not a portent of the day to come:I had a little hurry-up in the house to catch up with Eunie, who was eager to get into town for her aquarobics on a sunny morning.

I did have to pause in the front yard for this image of Kar Kar Island  sticking its dangerous head up over the horizon. I hope this baby never blows:Nothing untoward happened on the way to town, no drunks staggering out in front of the car, nobody throwing rocks at our new Nissan Navara (more to come on that later).

I had to turn off on Coronation Drive for a quick shot over Astrolabe Bay  including Coconut Point:It seems that the sky was out to impress me. It was doing a fairly good job.

Just before the Coastwatchers Monument, I got another blast of beauty:Okay, now I was set for the day. Time to focus on work for a while.

Now I skip over the boring part.

Since Eunie is helping out at the Madang Lodge and Restaurant for a while, we needed to stop there for a while on the way home. I always take advantage of this time to browse on the orchids. They are delicious:

The ones above remind me of the mating displays of some of the birds of paradise. They spread their wings and vibrate their tails. Hey, that just gave me an idea for a new dance craze. “Yeah, baby! Do da Bird o’ Paradise! Spread yo’ wings an’ vibrate yo’ tail!” Never mind. It’s nearly noon. My blood sugar is getting low. I feel dizzy.

This one is called, “Come on, Baby. Let’s do the Twist”:No, that won’t work. Somebody already took that one, Chubby Checker, to be exact.

This is the kind that we would buy for the girls when I was in high-school if we wanted to encourage them to feel generous after the dance:Which was always!  Dweebs and nerds bought wrist corsages for their dates, because they were too shy to pin one on the bosom.

I preferred the full-pinning ceremony.

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Madang – The View from Heaven

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on April 29th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today is my day to try to catch up. I’m behind in some paying work as well as still behind here on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  Today is the first day in a week on which I’ll be posting the same day as the post date. Not that it makes much difference to anyone but me. I hate getting behind in my work, because I am fundamentally extremely lazy. It’s all too easy for me to start thinking that I just don’t have enough time, so there are some things to which I’ll never attend. Then I have to be honest with myself and think of how many hours a week I spend staring at TV. I’ve come to think of this as a complete waste of time. Frankly, if I really want down time, I’d rather read. TV is the lazy person’s amusement. It requires absolutely no effort and little imagination. I simply don’t want to spend my life that way any more.

So, with the sermon out of the way, let’s have a look at this morning’s sunrise:Not bad, but not great, either. Maybe I’m getting a little to demanding. After you’ve seen a few thousand here, it’s easy to get picky.

As the title suggests, we’re having aerial shots today courtesy of Sir Peter Barter with whom I hurled through the atmosphere for almost three hours on Tuesday. His Robertson R-11 is a beautiful little machine. I can only imagine what a dream it is to fly. Here is a lovely shot of my home town, Madang:As you can see, the bulk of the town is on a peninsula. To the left (east) is Astrolabe Bay  and to the right is Madang Harbour.

Here is another shot looking north. You can see part of Madang Town and the North Coast:The chain of islands stretching to the horizon is where we do most of our diving.

This a very nice angle from which to view the entire Madang Coast:Madang is on the left. The large island is Kranket,  followed by Leper Island, Little Pig Island  and Pig Island.  These are all local contemporary names, except for Kranket Island,  which is traditional. The others have different names on the nautical charts.

This image covers pretty much the same area, except that you are looking east out over Astrolabe Bay:The fuzzy blue area under the clouds to the right is the mighty Finisterre Mountains. 

I got some very nice shots of some of our favourite dive sites. This is Magic Passage  in the centre and the southern tip of Leper Island  on the right:Kranket Island  is on the left. This is easily the best aerial view that I’ve seen of Magic Passage.

This shot shows an easy month’s worth of daily dives. At the far left is Little Pig Island  with The Eel Garden  to its right. The large mass is Pig Island  with superb diving all around the ocean side. At the bottom is Barracuda Point:

Up the right side clear to the edge of the image is all wonderful diving. The gap in the barrier reef near the top is Rasch Passage,  an excellent dive.

That’s my back yard from the air.

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Aqua Sea – Willow Tree

Posted in Mixed Nuts on March 10th, 2010 by MadDog
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Yesterday afternoon, when we left work we went over to the docks to pick up our friend, Jo Noble. She is the Steward on a giant super-yacht which is temporarily stuck in Madang awaiting repairs. We had her over for dinner and a “movie night”. Such is what passes for entertainment in Madang. We like it. Although I miss the big city attractions of restaurants, movie theaters, museums, clubs and the like, the simple pleasures of visiting with friends in our homes keeps us more in tune with each other. Relationships are closer, stronger, less concerning events and venues and more about the real things in life.

Anyway, on the way around coronation drive we all simultaneously noticed that there was a remarkable scene before us. I had to stop the car to record the moment. In nearly thirty years of driving past this spot, I’ve never seen such an odd juxtaposition of hues. Honestly, I did not fiddle with this. Other than balancing the tones so that is shows up on the black background it’s pretty much the way it appeared to us:First, the sun was over my right shoulder low in the sky, taking on the winelight colour of the tropical afternoon. The rest of the sky behind me was intense blue, making the storm clouds over the Finisterre Mountains  reflect that blueness back at us. There was also a large amount of fresh, cloudy water from the Gol Gol River  over Astrolabe Bay.  The sunlight was shining intensely there, but not directly on the storm clouds. This gave the water an aqua tint that contrasted strongly with the clouds and turned upside down the normal bright-sky, dark-water combination which we expect.

All of that fiddle-faddle of explaining it sounds stupid to me now. It dropped our jaws. No need to explain it.

This morning’s sunrise was extravagant:As I was moping around the garden for lens fodder, I was amused by the tiny sheep moving around in a little mob in the sky. I took a picture of them.

A few minutes later I heard the wimpy whine of one of Air Niugini’s Fokker F-100 jet-powered gooney-birds coming in over the  main wharf on final approach:I was a pilot for a long time, but I never got used to that term. It always gave me a vague sensation that I was nudging too close to a prediction.

PILOT: Uhhhh Tower, Gold Three-Four on final approach to One-Two.

TOWER: Confirm that, Gold Three-Four on final approach to One-Two.

PILOT: Uhhhh roger tower, this is my final approach . . . ever.

TOWER: Uhhhh Gold Three-Four, say again last.

PILOT: Tower, you got wax in your ears? I said this is my  final approach. I don’t plan on doing any others after this one.

TOWER: Uhhhh . . . mmmmm . .  Gold Three-Four, is it your intention to land?

PILOT: Uhhhh . . . Tower, Gold Three-Four . . . I haven’t decided yet, I’m just approaching for now. But this is the last time.

Well, you get the drift.

As I panned madly, blurring the trees below to keep the sharp eye of the lens on the aircraft, I was still wondering:As it turned out, it did land. This time. Every time I get on an airplane, I think to myself, “What? Are you meshuga?”

On to simpler, less transcendental things . . . like grasshoppers:This was my morning grasshopper. I sometimes don’t even bother to photograph them; it so often leads to a pointless chase around the garden. This one, however seemed to want, need to be imaged. It may have low self-esteem issues.

This is my poor, poor willow tree which simply won’t grow. I’ve been feeding it, mulching it, trimming back dead whips, talking to it in gentle tones of encouragement and tenderly stroking its leaves for three years now. It’s the only willow tree that I’ve ever seen in Papua New Guinea and I have no idea where Juli, our haus meri  got it:

I love willow trees. I had one in my back yard as a child. It was my place of escape. I escaped a lot. I built a house in it. I would have preferred to live there, if I were allowed. I would also like to have had a bicycle, if it were allowed. Too dangerous!  No wonder I’m now a mad man. Poor me.

Jesus wept. So do willows.

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