FerrarisSatelliet

In December 1995, my wife and I bought a 2,794 square metres* building plot on Heuvelstraat (Hill Street) in Moerbeke, a formerly independent municipality, now part of Geraardsbergen or Grammont (Belgium). The house that we built occupies roughly 170 square metres. This site is all about the biodiversity of the remaining 26 ares.

* This site consistently uses the metric system that is standard in all but a few countries. If you are baffled by it, just do what the rest of us do when confronted with inches, feet, square feet, acres and what have you: ignore the units or use one of the many free online resources, such as this one, to convert them to units you are familiar with.
Welcome to Heuvelstraat!

Heuvelstraat connects Moerbeke with Overboelare, another part of Geraardsbergen. On the 1777 Ferraris Map the road is already clearly discernible. The railway to the north of Heuvelstraat is the most striking new element. Inaugurated in 1867, it connects the city of Geraardsbergen with Enghien. For many years local miners used a path along the tracks to walk to Viane-Moerbeke station. From there they took the train to the coalmines of the Borinage. The mines are closed now, but the station is still there. Every weekday hundreds of commuters take the train to Brussels. Until a few years ago, my wife is one of them. Today, Mijnwerkersstraat (Miners Street) is a narrow walk and cycle path, running along the back of our garden. The station is only a five-minute walk away. Unlike the other stations on the line, it is smack in the village centre.


Ribbon development: urban planning mismanagement

Heuvelstraat does not escape the pernicious consequences of the short-sighted Belgian and Flemish planning policies of the previous century. Instead of developing and expanding village and town centres, most new houses are built along the age-old connecting roads. The advent of the car stimulates and accelerates this woeful trend. The satellite view of Heuvelstraat speaks volumes. The only large gap in the ribbon of buildings is right in front of our home. Consequently, we
enjoy a beautiful view of the valley of the Mark, a tributary of the Dender. Current planning policies of both the Flemish Region and the city of Geraardsbergen prohibit filling the gap. We keep our fingers crossed!
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Borders: out of the box


Downriver, the Mark follows the border between the provinces of East Flanders and Hainaut. This is also the border between the Flemish and the Walloon Region and the notorious Belgian language boundary. A twenty-minute walk from our place and suddenly everyone speaks French.
C'est magnifique! The valley contains De Rietbeemd, an 80 hectares natural reserve on both sides of the language boundary, managed by both regions. Simple comme bonjour.


Biodiversity: in words and images

This site maps life in the garden at 37 Heuvelstraat and will always remain a work in progress. I welcome all comments, remarks and suggestions. That's what the
Guestbook is for!

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What went before

In 1997, after we move to Moerbeke, I plan to identify and photograph all animal and plant species I can find in the garden. Someday, that is, because the garden is little more than a paradise for moles, grazed by some sheep. Besides, my experience with photography is limited to shooting holiday and family snapshots. I take them with a Minolta Riva Zoom 105EX, an analogue compact camera. In 2004, we finally purchase a Canon Digital IXUS 400, our very first digital camera. It's perfect for snapshots of Stijn and Naomi, our grandchildren. But it's useless for my plan to document biodiversity in the garden. I don't have the time for it anyway. It'll have to wait until I'm retired.


It's all my wife's fault!

New Year's Eve 2006. At the stroke of twelve, it's also our daughter Marijke's birthday. That year, we celebrate both her birthday and the New Year at Koen and Begga's place, our son and daughter-in-law. My New Year's present from my wife turns out to be a Canon EOS 400D, a digital single-lens reflex camera. Terrific, though somewhat intimidating. I've never handled an SLR before. "If you wait until you're retired, nothing will ever come of it", says Marleen. She's right, of course. I immerse myself in the world of SLR cameras, lenses, RAW files and software for the management and editing of digital photographs. It doesn't take me long to find out that the kit lens of my camera, the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5–5.6, is not suited for shooting birds or insects. For my birthday, Marleen and the kids give me the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM, a reasonably priced telephoto zoom lens. Great! That year, experimenting with my new lens, I take hundreds of photographs. But the results are disappointing. Only a dozen or so photos are worth keeping. I lose heart. For weeks on end, the camera just sits in its case. I need help. Searching the Internet for information, I happen upon the forum of Eos Digitaal, a Dutch site for Canon photographers. By the end of March 2008, I post a few of my best photos. Experienced forum members ruthlessly slate all of them. But they also give good advice and tips. I listen, learn and regularly post new attempts. The quality of my photographs noticeably improves. When less than one year later I post this picture of our cock, it already wins more applause than criticism. We have lift off.


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From bad to worse!

Meanwhile, Marleen's bought me a macro lens: the EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM. I also register on the forum of Belgiumdigital and every now and then post some photos there too. Eventually, a good fifty of my 2008 photos turn out to be worth keeping. But then things speed up. By the end of 2009, I already have photographs of several dozens of garden species that would not look out of place in any nature magazine. Most are pictures of insects, spiders and other small fry. When I purchase a 24-inch iMac, I also buy Aperture to manage my photos and Photoshop Elements to edit them. A Time Capsule takes care of automatic backups, while my very first colour printer, the PIXMA MP980, allows me to make quality prints. This opens up new prospects. At the beginning of 2010, I decide to create a kind of coffee table book: Een tuin vol leven… (A garden teeming with life…). Using Aperture, it takes me a couple of weeks to put it together. It comprises 76 pages, 253 photos and a handful of short, accompanying texts. I leave a bound copy on – where else? – the coffee table for neighbours, friends and acquaintances to browse. Very convenient, since I no longer have to explain why I'm so often seen lying flat on my belly in the garden, my Canon at the ready. The overall response is positive. The photos are appreciated. "Did you really take all of those in your garden?" I'm flattered, but amazed by the amazement. Even relatively large species, such as the long-tailed tit and the rose chafer, appear to be little known, obscure creatures. I just don't get it. We are dazzled by Sir David Attenborough's documentaries or whatever's on the National Geographic Channel, but blatantly blind to what's right in front of our noses. Then again, wouldn't most of us much rather visit a foreign museum than a local one?


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Watch the birdie!

My camera no longer scares me. I control it as well as Maradonna used to control a soccer ball. I do realize, however, that the quality I aim for is beyond the reach of my telephoto zoom lens. If only I had the EF 100-400mm 4.5-5.6 L IS USM! But it's far too expensive. Finally, after months of shilly-shallying, my wife settles the matter. She's very good at that. On New Year's Eve 2009, exactly three years after she's presented me with a digital SLR camera, Marleen gives me the telephoto zoom lens of my dreams. It exceeds all expectations. In every way, my very first attempts are superior to the best shots I've taken with my old EF 70-300mm. I'm determined to spend my winters adding new species to Een tuin vol leven… and replacing photos that are just not up to my new standards. It's immediately clear that next to none of my old bird photographs will survive. I'm looking forward to it, but not without some healthy apprehension. It's a lot of work and retirement is still many years away…

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Photos that tell a story

Now that I'm completely at ease with my camera, I want to take photographs that are more than pretty portraits. Photos that tell a story. A picture says more than a thousand words, but a word of explanation can be helpful, as demonstrated by the accompanying texts I write for my picture book Een tuin vol leven… What's more, the combination image / text unites my new passion for nature photography with my old passion for language. On 25 July 2010, using the nickname Niwrad – read it backwards and you know the name of my greatest hero – I post the topic Foto's met een verhaal (Photos that tell a story) on Eos Digitaal. The response to both the photos and the accompanying texts is complimentary. Ten days later, I post a second episode. It meets with approval too, just like the third, fourth, fifth and sixth episodes that follow quickly. Some forum members are of the opinion that I should write a book. My vanity is flattered, but I'm far too level-headed to believe the world's anticipating a book like that. Only when Jo Jennekens, a Dutch biology teacher from Kunrade (Zuid-Limburg) with a passion for wild flowers and a corresponding aversion to the word 'weed', states in his comment on the seventh episode that I should seek a publisher, am I having second thoughts. Could it be I am being too modest?


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The most suitable medium

A book is out of the question. I probably wouldn't find a publisher and I'm just not vain or ambitious enough to self-publish. What's more, books with lots of photos are very expensive. It's quite simple: Would I buy a pricey publication of my illustrated stories myself? The answer to that question is empathically no. For some years, however, I've been contemplating the possibility to create a website about biodiversity in the garden. As a matter of fact, from the very start the way I manage my photos in Aperture with
keywords and captions is geared to it. Wouldn't it be a great idea to integrate my illustrated stories in that project? These days, a website is undoubtedly the appropriate medium for a combination of photography and text. It allows changing, replacing or adding information quickly and without any hassle. And it's free. Everyone who has access to a multimedia computer and an Internet connection can visit the site. Later, publishing an English version would instantly increase my target group of 23 million Dutch-speaking people with billions of potential readers. I fret, ponder and struggle with al kinds of tricky questions. Where do I start? Do I design and develop the site myself or do I only deliver content? Should I purchase my own server or select a website hosting provider? To what extent do I allow visitors to respond and how exactly does that work? And why does milk reach the boiling point the second you're distracted?

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Weaving for beginners

A long, long time ago – after animals stopped talking but before people started chatting – I teach myself HTML 2.0. Looks like fun and maybe one day it'll come in handy. Eventually, one day turns out to be over 15 years and several versions later. But times have changed and so has the way websites are made. I scour the World Wide Web, searching for answers and solutions. That's how I happen upon RapidWeaver, a wysiwyg web design application for Mac OSX that uses templates. I fool around with a demo version for a couple of weeks, register on the community forum and finally decide to buy the software. The alternative, Dreamweaver, is six times as expensive and probably six times as hard to learn as well. Later, maybe.


My own domain

I consider the possibility of using a Mac mini as a server, but ultimately get a 123-webhost hosting package. I reserve 1,000 MB of server space. That should do for now. Of course, I also register a domain name. Flouting all the rules, I decide that from now on my home address will also be my web address. Heuvelstraat37.be is born. All but sexy, clever, imaginative or 'search-word rich', marred by two numerals and hard to remember. No doubt one day I'll regret it.


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Green soap

News, Guestbook, Animals, Plants and Fungi: The first five main sections of the navigation menu speak for themselves. The News page, really a blog of some sort, is simply the home page. This is where you find the latest news about the site and life in the garden. The section Garden Soap presents a series of illustrated stories. Every episode comprises some seven photographs and accompanying texts. The first seven episodes are greatly modified and elaborated versions of the series Foto's met een verhaal I previously posted on the forum of Eos Digitaal. The illustrated stories allow me to delve deeper into all kinds of topics related to nature photography and the central theme of the site: biodiversity in the garden at 37 Heuvelstraat in Moerbeke (Geraardsbergen).

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Epilogue

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New macro lens

On New Year's Eve 2010, my wife gives me a new macro lens. Yes, she spoils me. It concerns the recently released Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM. It takes some getting used to, but the quality of the photos is so much better that I never use my old lens anymore. What's next? Probably a better camera, but for the moment I'm still quite happy with my over five years old EOS 400D. I'm not a professional photographer, after all, and all but an equipment maniac. Is there really nothing on my wish list? Well, a solid tripod and a small camouflage tent would be nice. I want to apply myself to photographing birdlife in the garden and most species are very shy. To be continued!
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Proudly presenting: 37 Heuvelstraat!

Since the end of June 2016, an English version of the site is online. Many thanks to my American Facebook friend
Jane Frankel for proofreading an revising my translations. Except for some minor details, mainly concerning language issues, the Dutch and English versions are identical. The top-leveldomain of the English site is .eu, the TLD of the European Union. The rest of the domain name and the name of the site reflect the usual formatting of home addresses in English: house number followed by street name. To swiftly switch between both versions, simply click the flag icon or the link on top of each page.

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Geraardsbergen, 7 November 2010.
Latest revision: 20 June 2016.