Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

Backroads

Backroads
Kentucky Backroads Wheat Stubble

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Campfires I Have Known - Part2

Here is Part two of a story taken from the archives of stories I've written over the years.  I suppose it fits well into the category of "Beyond the Campfire".  
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I'll never forget the soggy fire my long time friend Rocky and I attempted to nurse into life back in our college days.  We thought we knew all there was to know about the outdoors...we didn't. We were home for the summer and apparently had nothing else better to do, so we put together a spur-of-the-moment trout fishing trip over to the Illinois River below Tenkiller Dam not far from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where we were attending college.  What we lacked in actual experience we made up in enthusiasm.  We piled close to three tons of camping gear...2.9 tons of which we didn't need...into the back of his old VW he had converted into a dune buggy.  Dune buggies were pretty cool back then.  Of the 0.1 tons of gear we did need, almost none of it was food...we were going to be real pioneers and live off the land by catching trout and cooking them over a campfire.  We actually did catch some fish, but mother nature did not cooperate with us and a steady rain fell the entire trip.  We soon discovered that the old Coleman stove we brought along no longer worked...or more than likely we didn't know how to make it work.  So...we set about building a campfire...with now very soggy wood.

About all we could accomplish to that effect was a smoldering mass of wet smoke which did little to warm our cold hands much less provide enough heat to cook a fish.  Our filleting skills were also somewhat lacking and the soggy mixture of cornmeal and assorted fish parts fell well short of winning any gourmet cooking awards.  Even so, at least it kept us from starving...but just barely.  Had some other campers not taken pitty on us and loaned us a working Coleman stove, we certainly would have had a most memorable outing.  As it turned out...we still get a big chuckle about that experience even today.  Oddly enough...it was the campfire...or maybe the lack there of...that helped to create that memory.

Our skills at building campfires improved over the years...but we still had our share of shriveled tennis shoes, holes burned into tent fabric, and choking lungs filled with smoke.  One of the first float trips we made on the Buffalo River in northwestern Arkansas could be classified as the "no sleep float trip from hell."  One of our troop...who had been invited by one of our regulars...had without a doubt the worst case of snoring I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing.  Now I've heard some pretty good snoring over the years...even contribute my own style to this serenade...but, I've never heard such vile noises come out of a sleeping person ever...I never knew such noises could come out of a sleeping person.  Now, it's not all that unusual for someone to snore a bit when you get four to six guys together on a camping trip...it's somewhat expected and no one seems to be bothered by it...too much.  But, on this single occasion the snoring exploits of our guest not only kept all of us awake...but we had campers thirty yards away complain the next morning about the hideous and foul noises.  Cotton in the ears...nothing could muffle the thunderous rumble. Only two people got any sleep that 3-day weekend...the culprit...and Ralph who was able to disconnect his hearing aid and slept in silent bliss each night.  The rest of us suffered unmercifully.

I'll never forget the puffy eyed look of our crew as we all stood around the campfire each morning.  Never had coffee smelled so good nor offered more relief than on those mornings..that was the most memorable campfire we've ever had if not the most miserable.  Oddly enough, our guest turned out to be one fine camp cook...so when meal time came...all was temporarily forgiven.

The Buffalo River has been the focal point of many such campfires creating an array of unique evenings and images of smoke drifting across the campsites on cold mornings.  The aroma of coffee brewing and bacon sizzling on an open fire becomes an historical point of reference for each of those adventures.  Who could forget the sound and fragrance of freshly caught fish frying over a hot bed of coals as evening approaches...or the sound of the whip-o-will as smoke from the fire drifts low over the camp.  One of my favorite things to do after a campfire meal is to sit back and look up at the stars which are unfiltered by city lights and hear the crackle and feel the heat radiating from the hot coals.  These are memories that can only be experienced around a campfire.  When the stars come out...lost in another world...there is something magical about the fire.  They bring comfort...a sense of home yet a feeling of distance...and generates an enduring legacy that
remains vivid well after the amber coals have cooled.

Countless stories of embellished adventures we have told over the years while sitting around the campfire...hunting and fishing adventures...and more often than not...mis-adventures are recounted again and again.  It's one of the best uses of a campfire...they just seem to go together.

In more recent times I constructed a campfire area on the backside of our yard.  We live in the country and our yard is a long and skinny yard so the fire pit is situated a good hundred yards from the house.  We're surrounded by cornfields and wooded areas.  On occasion we venture out there and sit in the swing that I built and watch the fire run through its life cycle.  I enjoy adding logs to the fire and watch it flare up.  On those cool fall or spring nights...it's quite relaxing to sit out there and just talk about this and that and listen to the coyotes yipping and yelpping at dusk. My wife Kris and I certainly enjoy sharing those moments.

Wilderness may disappear in time...I pray that never happens...but the priceless images of those campfires will never be lost. I am certainly fortunate to have visited such moments...I plan on visiting many more.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Campfires I have Known - Part One - The back yard.

Here's part one of another story taken from the archives of stories I've written over the years.  I suppose it fits well into the category of "Beyond the Campfire".  It's a bit too long to make into one story so I will break it up into two parts.
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The ethics of backcountry travel in today's wilderness often dictates an absence of a real campfire, but, there are still places where the warmth of that enduring symbol can still be felt on those cold starlit evenings.  A campfire adds that unique touch and helps to create a bonding with the outdoor experience...especially within the domain of the night.  They are like snow crystals in that no two of them are ever alike.  I guess that is what is so endearing about them.  Each one develop their own personality and become the personification of that particular outdoor adventure.  The aroma of the burning wood...the heat generated by the amber coals...the soft glow and dancing shadows created by the flames can transform even the most cold of nights into a memory that will last long after the coals are extinguished.

I have known many campfires over the years and have watched them grow from a tiny infant flame into a roaring fire casting an hypnotic glow across the camping site.  Not all the fires were equal...some were downright inferior..but each of them contributed to the pleasure of their respective moment in time.

My first experience with campfires and camping out in general occurred in my grandparents backyard in the small town of Wister, Oklahoma.  The stately old house in which they lived for almost 70 years was situated at the top of a knoll not far from what was downtown.  The yard was over an acre or so in size and was covered with old stately oak and elm trees.  (The elms have probably fallen victim to that nasty Dutch Elm disease by now I'm sure).  In that backyard stood an old well with a crudely built covering.  On those hot and muggy summer days so prevalent in that part of the country, my grandmother would draw three or four loads of the crystal clear ice cold water and place a watermelon or two in it to cool them down.

One summer when I was about 9 years old, my dad purchased an old army surplus canvas pup tent for us kids to use and with that simple piece of outdoor gear I lived dozens of adventures within the shadow of that old well.  My grandmother would allow me to build a small campfire in the dirt...as long as I was careful.  There was no shortage of wood as the old oak and elm trees constantly shed dry branches at the slightest breeze.  She would give me a blanket or two and along with an old army cot that barely fit inside the tent, I would sleep out under the stars...not more than twenty feet from her back door.  She'd take a peak out the window as night came just to make sure I was alright.

The highlight came the next morning when I would rekindle the campfire...grab a couple of eggs and some bacon from the frig and cook breakfast.  My grandmother would always offer to make breakfast...but I insisted on doing it myself cooking on the open fire.  It was great fun...and a wonderful learning experience for an 8 or 9 year old boy.

Those campfires were my pride and joy.  I actually felt like I was living an adventure as grand and exciting as Lewis and Clark.  That old tent eventually rotted away and was discarded but the memories of sleeping out on those hot summer nights...and those first campfires set in motion a lifetime of outdoor discoveries.  They added a sense of realism to a small boy's imagination.  I'll never forget those days, and all the campfires since then had their roots planted during those summer nights.

Monday, December 20, 2010

When Nature Wins

It is said that a photograph is worth a thousand words...maybe so...but there are some moments that even a photograph is unable to capture. I wrote this story about thirteen years ago and it still is one of my favorites and it continually generates memories that could never be reproduced photographically.  It's about a spectacular event that occurred almost twenty years ago...an event that changed my perspective on a lot of things...I have no photos of that day...just a verbal description from the heart of what I experienced...I hope once you read this you will understand the impact of the moment.  
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Never again would a sunrise simply be a sunrise.  It would be a unique moment of time and place forever bound and tested against that morning...forever etched as a defining principle of what an outdoor experience should be.

When I stepped out of the warm cab of my truck and into the chill of that pre-dawn morning air, little did I suspect that this day would be unique.  The air was light and crisp and well below the point of being cold and I shivered as I looked toward the still dark sky across which spread the silvery haze of the Milky Way.  I was to meet an old friend here on the northwest side of Canton Lake, in northwestern Oklahoma, for some late season goose hunting.  Forewarned of his late arrival, I set about performing the well rehearsed motions of suiting up getting ready for the day's hunt.  During previous outings we had noticed that a few hundred Canada Geese followed a predictable pattern each morning and afternoon.  If they continued using that pattern we hoped to ambush one or two as they flew low over a spit of land that extended a couple hundred yards into the lake.  The cover was good there with a cluster of knurled willow trees on the point and copious amounts of tall grass around the perimeter.  The lake was low that season so the walk in was easy.

A thin layer of ice along the shallows crunched under foot as I trudged along the edge of the peninsula.  I carried no decoys, for we planned on remaining mobile and adapting to the movements of the geese when the opportunity presented itself.  I settled in amongst the willow trees and leaned back into a comfortable position long before the first vestiges of daylight became apparent.  There was a calming silence that pervaded over the lake...no wind...no sound...only the soft rush of condensed breath set aglow by the starlit sky.

Time slowed under the canopy of that cold and dark morning.  I felt small and insignificant sitting there alone.  A slight sense of melancholy drifted over me born from a fatigue that hovered like a fog around my eyes. After several minutes passed, just above the horizon across the far side of the lake a faint glow became evident...a glow so pale as to be almost imperceptible...yet distinct and recognizable as the first sign of the approaching dawn.

Somewhere across the lake a group of mallards stirred and their chatter echoed across the silent waters.  Overhead a flight of buffleheads whistled by winging from my left to right and then circled behind me disappearing into the void.  More flights followed.  A group of teal then pintail and more mallards whipped by...their beating wings whistling as they ripped through the crisp morning air.  Unseen high overhead the haunting chattel of sandhill cranes added to the symphony that was now being orchestrated across the lake.

With each passing moment a new sound and activity of waterfowl was brought into the realm of that once still morning.  Slowly...as in unison with the stirrings of the wildlife on and around the lake, the glow over the horizon changed texture and intensity.

A layer of thin clouds that drifted low on the horizon began to glow with a deliberate shimmer celebrated with layers of pastel blues and pinks intermixed with streaks of orange and red.  The sunrise scene that was unfolding was perfectly imprinted on the mirrored surface of the lake.

A flight of hooded mergansers swooped in and sat down less than twenty yards in front of me.  Their distinctive profiles a silhouette against the ever growing intensity of the breaking dawn.  I was spell bound.  I leaned my shotgun against the willow tree...and simply watched.

The once star-studded sky began to lighten and one by one each of those bright points of light began to dim...blink one final time...and disappear.  By this time multitudes of waterfowl were stirring...darting in front of, behind, and all around me.  I couldn't believe what was unfolding.  It was like an image taken from an artists canvas...yet no words...no photograph...no imagination could capture the majesty of this morning.  The combined effects of the sunrise...its reflection on the calm waters of the lake...the chaotic movements of countless waterfowl could not have been choreographed more splendidly than the spontaneous explosion of time and place presenting themselves across this...the best of nature's theaters.

Across the lake on the horizon, what had began as a faint whimper of light had now progressed to a bold, new amber glow.  Jets of red and orange ripped through and danced across the low clouds.  The lake and sky were ablaze.  Thousands of ducks and many geese flew here and there in confused contrast against the unfolding serenity of that magnificent morning.

Then...like when a conductor raises his baton...a momentary hush fell over the morning and all was mostly very still.  A moment later the sky filled with brilliant light as the sun thrust its burning globe above the horizon...the silence was then ripped apart when thousands more waterfowl exploded into flight...their squawks and chattering filled the silence...their motion across the blazing sky, their reflections moving across the lake added depth and perspective to the morning.

At that moment I realized something unique was unfolding not only around me...but within me as well.  Never before had it become so evident.  From all the years of hunting and fishing...from all the priceless moments spent outdoors...a moment like this was the moment I was seeking.  To witness that incomprehensible complexity of nature played out amongst the indescribable simplicity of a magnificent sunrise...to truly understand for the first time that I was a part of God's creation given the privilege to witness and enjoy the splendid array of what life in him has to offer.  This was what it was all about. Far too many times the most important things in life had been lost in the vacuum of time and place. Never again would that happen.  Never again would a sunrise simply be a sunrise.  It would be a unique moment of time and place forever bound and tested against that morning...forever etched as a defining principle of what a relationship with God is all about. Few images can stir the soul like witnessing God's creative hand as it unfolds across his natural palette.  Every morning...every new dawn...is a unique creation there for the taking...there for all to share.  It;s just a matter being still long enough to not just view it...but to experience it.

My partner eventually arrived and was able to witnessed the last moments of what I had been privileged to observe from its beginning. By the time the sun had fully risen the explosion of activity subsided.  In spite of observing, and maybe because of, all the activity, and not without trying...we failed to bring home any game on that day...even so, it was a fitting end to a perfect, unforgettable day afield.  Somehow it seemed appropriate that nature...so elegantly endowed...so perfectly displayed as was the intent of its creator...would win on this day.

Keith

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Epilog:  This story brings back many wonderful memories from times past.  My friend Ralph who met me up there that day has passed on now...his memory as well as countless memories spent afield with him and others have not been lost.  This one single morning may indeed have been the most spectacular.  That is why I chose to write it down because of the special nature of the event.


With the Christmas season upon us...I hope we all take time to remember not only friends and family...but more importantly the true meaning of the season.  That day afield changed my perspective on a lot of things not the least of which was my personal relationship Christ.  I began to understand more fully the significance of his life and how insignificant my life is without that relationship.  I am forever grateful for that one single moment afield when he spoke to me in such a spectacular way.  Maybe that is why I spend so much time now trying to photograph his creation...maybe someday he will offer again another one of those unforgettable mornings when time and place converge into a single moment of visual splendor.


Thank you allowing me to share this special moment in time.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sandhills in the Snow

Sandhill Cranes are an ancient migratory bird with fossil records going way back.  I first encountered them during a late season waterfowl hunt on Oklahoma's Canton Lake in the northwestern part of the state.  All morning long I kept hearing some gosh awful chattering noise and couldn't figure out what it was.  The hunting was slow so my partner and I started investigating what that noise was.

The lake was very low that season with large mudflats being exposed.  Across the lake about a quarter mile away we spied a great spiral of large birds circling and settling onto the mudflats.  There were thousands of them.  We had no idea what they were.  Using my canoe, we paddled across the lake and pulled ashore a few hundred yards down from where the birds were settling.  Using the high grass as cover I worked my way as close as I could and eventually moved to point only yards away from the outer edge of where the birds were settling. The noise was tremendous and I was forever fascinated by these magnificent birds as I sat there and watched them circle high about and settle onto the mudflats in front of me.

When we moved to Kentucky a few years ago, I discovered that a large flight of Greater Sandhills migrate through the state and often winter over not far from my home.  The last three seasons I've made an effort to photograph these birds and last year we had a larger than normal snow.  What great fun it was tracking these birds in the snow and then being able to photograph them.  Turned out to be more difficult than I thought, but I eventually managed to discover an area that a large number were using and there was good cover around the parameter offering an effective vantage point from which to photograph.

video

All in all, these ancient birds offer one of the best opportunities for nature / wildlife photography.  Check out the my Facebook video about these fascinating birds:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thru the Lens - A Life Lesson

Christmas used to be my favorite time of year...oh it still is in many regards...but it's different now.  My perspective has changed a lot over the years.  I do miss the days when my boys were little and the excitement in their eyes on Christmas Eve was always fun to watch.  They could hardly stand it and would barely sleep that night.  We missed a lot sleep as a result too with them getting up way too early on Christmas Day.  Some of the most memorable photos we have were taken on Christmas morning...most of them with a simple disposable camera.  Oddly enough, those little cameras were a great learning tool.

About the only thing you can control on one of those things is the composition.  For many years that was the only kind of camera I could afford to shoot.  As a result I learned a great deal about how to compose a picture.  My zoom lens were my legs...my perspectives included just about everything I could see...the results were far better than such an inexpensive devise should create.  By waiting for the right moment it was amazing how through the simple lens of those little box camera's memories were made and captured.

I suppose there is a lesson somewhere in there...probably many of them...but the one lesson that comes to mind revolves around Christmas and the simplicity of those little cameras.  Now days, we too often rely on and believe in the big expensive cameras and tech gear...when more often than not...we can learn more from the simple application of the basics.  That  is what Christmas is all about...the simple basics...when Jesus came as a baby in simple surroundings and lived a simple life...but, through that simple life, the world was changed.  Today, I can't imagine Christmas being anything more than that.  How often do we get caught up in the glitter and tinsel of the season and forget about what its all about. We always tried to incorporate into Christmas the simple true story and meaning of the season when our boys were little...and oddly enough, I think those memories may be the most vivid of all those seasons.

Maybe we should go back to the basics more often..we might be surprised what we could learn...and the results would far outweigh anything we could conjure up on our own.  Christ's life in us is a lot like using those simple cameras.  It's all a matter of looking for the light, then letting his simple message create something wonderful in us. As simple as those cameras were, they captured unforgettable moments.  As simple as the Christmas story is...it's meaning and impact should always provide an unforgettable measure of life to all of us.

That is this weeks Thru the Lens life lesson.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

That One Defining Moment

I've missed more great photographs than I've ever come close to making.  Maybe one percent of what I take could be considered pretty good...the other 99 percent was practice.  Even so, I am always on the look out for that one defining shot...the single moment in time where everything falls into place...when location, light, preparation, and opportunity all come together and I succeed in capturing that one defining moment.  It hasn't happened yet...but I keep trying...keep looking.

Many years ago I witnessed such a moment...all the elements were there...except I wasn't prepared.  On this occasion I was driving south along Oklahoma's I-75 and was a few miles south of Henryetta.  A big spring storm was brewing...dark clouds...distant thunder.  It was late in the afternoon not far from sundown.  The dark cloud spread out above me and was threatening the entire region, but off to the west there was a break in the clouds low on the horizon.

There was plenty of lightning, but not the normal cloud to ground type...the lighting was spreading out across the sky from cloud to cloud in a web-like manner like electric fingers extending in all directions.  There was very little flashing...just a slow expansion of electric tentacles that moved across the sky.  As I topped a hill the view changed to where I could see a valley off to the west and at the same time the sun popped below that break in the clouds.  Everything lit up in an expanding warm light...yet the lightning continued to flash across the clouds.  For a few moments...that may have been one of the most remarkable sights I've ever witnessed....and I had not a camera of any type with me.  That may have been the first time I've ever wished I had a quality camera and knew how to use it...but it wasn't to be. I've never seen anything that remotely came close to that moment.

Another time probably around summer, 1975, I found myself visiting Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.  An absolutely remarkable place.  I spent pretty much the entire day there making a couple loops around the rim drive, photographing ever nook and corner of the view I could find.  I've never seen such blue water or blue sky.  As I was leaving it was right at sundown and the entire region was enveloped in a red glow.  The surrounding mountains were layered in purple and the sky was on fire and spread out from horizon to horizon.  I was at the right place, at the right time, under the right circumstances...but I had no film left in my camera.  All I could do was stop..get out of my vehicle...and watch one of the most spectacular endings to a day I've ever seen...and was unable to take a single photograph of the moment.  All that remains of both of these moments are the memories stored in my mind.

That one defining moment is an elusive dream that maybe someday I'll be able to capture.  My eye is always on that search...and as I mentioned before I still continue to miss great photo ops simply because of a lack of readiness.  One of my favorite locations to photograph is Oklahoma's Tallgrass Prairie.  If there is any location that will offer such a defining moment that is unique to photography, it must be this place.  I can visualize what it must look like...that one moment...but time and circumstance has yet to provide it.

That one defining moment may never happen...but I'll continue to search for it and even though I'd rather be good than lucky...maybe a little luck will come my way and I'll stumble onto a magical moment of light and actually have my camera in hand.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Gift of Small Pleasures

With the Christmas Season upon us, I like to share a story I wrote back in 2004.  It explains a lot of why I enjoy getting outdoors and why I love to photograph those moments.  It's about how small pleasures of fishing from a canoe often become wonderful gifts.

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It's when the cool air of morning hovers over the quiet hours is when I feel most at home, most in tune with where I am. Before the rays of daylight evaporate the darkness, while the last remnants of pre-dawn cling to life and the fatigue continues to invade my eyes is when I realize just how important are moments like this spent casting a line.  It is the last calm before the day, the last silence of morning that awakens me.  More often than they should, moments like these slip away unnoticed, and it is not until I look back and reflect on the experience is my heart warmed by the experience.  My thoughts often drift affectionately to what was there, to the emotion of the moment, as I was suspended on the glide of my canoe toward a rendezvous of time and place.  It is good for the soul to do such things, reflect on days afield, for it is during those time the small pleasures of life become a gift.

Maybe it is the sweet tone of the paddle keeping time with the swirls and eddies created as the wooden blade presses against the water I enjoy the most...and least...as muscles not recently used are again called into service.  That silent motion of the paddle as it is carefully raised at the end of each stroke and caressed into place for the next...the obedient turn of the bow as a gentle brace is applied to position that first cast are such things from which I seldom tire.  That first cast of the morning, during the stillness, when your heartbeat is heard as well as felt...when the only sound is the muffled twirl of the line rolling from your reel create the most enduring images.  That is when the anticipation is highest.  Each cast becomes a special memory harboring its own significance...its own connection to the gift.

Solitude and calmness of spirit is what I seek while fishing and few things offer a better blend of events to fulfill those ideals.  Long ago I learned an old axiom: There is more to fishing than catching a fish.  Over the years I've grown to appreciate that idea more.  The slow and simple method of wading a creek or fishing some secluded cove or drifting down a back country stream embraces the essence of those words.

Often, the trials of making a living create a delinquency from the pursuit of those desires, but in retrospect, those gaps generate even more small pleasures on the few occasions I do get out.

It matters little what season reflection on fishing occurs...for each season brings its own character into the realm of simple pleasures.  But, late in spring when the contrasts of weather are blending into the early days of summer, time for creating a reflection is prime.  When the hot days of summer are extinguished by the arrival of fall, and when the chill of winter invades the hemisphere, thoughts of fishing succumb to the inevitable.  Even so, during the depths of the coldest months...I often reflect on those moments spent casting a line under the spell of the mornings of summer.  There is comfort in revisiting those days, even if only in thought...for when the frost on the canoe glisten's in the half light of a winter's morning, I know life granted me another season, and once again soon, I shall suspend myself above the trials of living, and seek the gift of small pleasures.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Take a Closer Look

Not to long ago I was able to touch a part of the finer things in life one fall morning by participating in three of my five favorite things to do; float with my canoe down a backwoods stream; do a little fishing; and photograph nature.  It was a beautiful fall morning and in time I stowed the fishing rod and began to wade through the cool stream waters with tripod and camera in hand.

As light filtered through the canopy of trees my eye drifted away from the stream and into the woods.  It was there I discovered a dwelling of nature where time, place, and light converged.  On any other morning this area is just a group of trees, but on this morning, it became a woods enchanted with life and mystery.

There was an old tree trunk that long ago fell from its heights into the creek.  Now, years later, it was covered with lichen and moss, it became a wonderful backdrop for a nature photographer. A spider web was caught by a beam of sunlight and remnants of the morning haze was set aglow as the beams of light drifted through the trees.

Nature has a subtle way of demonstrating its unique qualities.  That old trunk now in its final stages of life exhibited a gracefulness and dignity only nature can command.  Maybe we could learn something from such things...that in all stages of life, there is beauty and wonder, grace and dignity, if only we could step away from our narrow world views and look at things from a different perspective.

Being a photographer is all about looking for light...but its more than that...it's also about looking for and finding unique opportunities from ordinary situations....about discovering wonder and simplicity in the midst of chaos.  It is during those transitional times when the light changes that the most magic light occurs.  Timing is the key...willingness to observe is the mechanism...being there to capture the moment is the reward.

The diversity of nature may surprise us if we stop and observe closely enough.  Photography presents us with opportunities to witness more closely subtle events that we more often than not simply overlook.  Things we take for granted take on a new life when viewed from the perspective of a photographers eye.  A thistle is just another field plant until the light catches it just right and one takes a closer look.  Often, all it takes is a simple perspective shift to reveal hidden beauty...even in a weed.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Too Close Encounter

About five or six years ago I started seriously photographing Oklahoma's Tallgrass Prairie preserve.  It's an amazing landscape full of not just scenic bounty, but a rich, diverse history as well.  It's 38,000 acres is the largest protected area of original tallgrass prairie that remains.

The best way to photograph this area is to observe it up close...to explore the hidden arroyo's and fields of wildflowers away from the gravel access road.  By hiking into the interior, a whole new world is opened.  It's during those times the song of the prairie becomes vivid and real.  I've taken thousands of photo's there...sat for hours under the shade of an isolated red cedar tree...simply listened to the wind and the sounds of the open range.  It's an amazing experience.

On one such excursion, I experienced something that was not only amazing...but a bit unnerving.  I had hiked a mile or so into an area where an arroyo  cuts through the rolling hills.  I spent most of the morning in there photographing this and that, but mostly just enjoying being out.  By late morning it started to warm up so I worked my way out of there.  I had to climb up the long face of a shallow hill and as I moved around to the south side I discovered that a herd of about 100 or so bison had wandered between me and my Jeep effectively blocking my way out.

It was not a good idea to attempt passing through the herd so I backtracked a ways and stepped down into a dry creek bed.  Using the creek bed I figured I would just circle around and come out a bit further north then cut over to the road.  After walking several hundred yards I stepped out of the creek bed.  My view was limited while down in there so I didn't see that the northern flank of the bison herd was still blocking my route...as were two rather large bison bulls.  They were about 50 maybe 60 yards away.

Well..I sort of spooked them...if there is such a thing as spooking twin 2000 pound bison bulls...and they took offense to me being there.  I may have spooked them, but I certainly didn't intimidate them as they began to snort and act all agitated.  Normally they are rather docile...but these two guys wanted to express their displeasure about my presence personally.

I tried to slowly back away and reenter the creek bed, but before I could do so the two bulls busted and they started running...accompanied by the rest of the assorted 100 or so others in their company...right at me.  All I had to hide behind was a rather flimsy camera tripod...which wasn't much comfort.  For a few seconds I simply stood there...well...actually there wasn't much else I could have done short of running...and I wsn't going to outrun those guys...but fortunately, the entire herd veered away after 25 or 30 yards and ran off in the opposite direction.

I moved on down the creek bed another hundred yards or so then worked my way back to the road and eventually to my Jeep.  Those two bulls never took their eyes off me...nor I them.  I must admit though...it was an exhilarating experience to be so close to such wild, powerful, and magnificent creatures.  I took not a single photograph of the entire event...I was a bit preoccupied trying to avoid becoming a permanent addition to the Tallgrass Prairie landscape.