Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to observe it close up. 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 of photography 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.

The Dark Horse Region

The Dark Horse Region
A View into the center of the Milky Way

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Getting the Shot

I’ve said a time or two that I’d rather be good than lucky.  Although luck certainly plays a role in capturing some amazing photo’s, combining the technical with a willingness to do what it takes to capture great moments will produce far more opportunities for great shots than simply relying on luck.

Getting the shot requires one to use a combination of four things: 

Technical Understanding of the Photographic Process
Look Beyond the Obvious
Anticipate the Potential
Being There When the Light is Right.

Getting all four to coincide with each other…well, sometimes that requires a bit of luck at the very least, perseverance most certainly…and not necessarily in the same order every time. 

Let’s talk about those four things as they pertain to a couple of selected images.  Take for instance this shot of the dragonfly…a Carolina Saddleback to be specific…First of all the technical understanding involved required several things to make it happen including knowing how the camera was going to react to the light.  Notice the background…it is rather dark in nature and even though our subject is well lit, that dark background will throw off the camera’s metering.  I shoot most often using Matrix or Wide Area metering where the camera looks at the full spectrum of light in the view in deciding what exposure it wants to use.  The camera will want to average the light it meters and set an exposure based on that average, so the dark background would cause the subject to be overexposed and blown out.  Knowing this, I used the cameras +/- exposure compensation feature to tell the camera to react the way I wanted it to…not the way it wanted to…and set the exposure to -.7.  I also set the aperture to as large of an opening as the zoom lens would allow for the focal length that I was using, f/6.3…this allowed me to control the depth of field and keep it relatively tight, and the background soft.

In order to get this shot I also had to look beyond the obvious…it would be a common technique to simply point the camera at the dragonfly and snap away without taking into context the background until a shot happened to capture my subject, provided I could catch it standing still long enough to do so.  The point here is to think in terms of how best to isolate the subject, and that required thinking through the problem.  First of all, I simply sat down on the edge of the pond and waited to see what would happen.  Chasing dragonflies is all but impossible to do, as they flitter so fast, you really can’t hope to catch them…but they do tend to fly in patterns I noticed.  As I watched all the activity flying around me, this one guy kept returning over and over to the same spot…a broken branch sticking out of the water.  He would light for a second or two then take off again…then repeat the process over and over every few minutes…and that brings us to anticipating the potential.  After a few minutes, I realized that was the best way to catch this guy, so I sat up my camera on a tripod…zoomed in as tightly as I could, pre-focusing on the end of the branch.  Using a cable release, I was able to fire off several quick shots each time he landed, eventually getting this one best shot.

But…that is not all.  How did I know where to place the tripod?  First of all, I wanted to isolate the subject so I selected a location that offered a dark background at some distance from the subject to allow for blurring…and also offered a good source of backlighting to bring out the translucent nature of the wings.  That required having the right kind of light…or at least using the light that was available to its best opportunity.

For the photograph of the canoe at first light I used a similar thought process, but approached it using different techniques.  First of all, let’s talk about what it took to set up this shot…or anticipate the potential. Shanty Hollow Lake has become one of my favorite photo places as it provides a range of opportunities that differ from day to day and season to season.  Having made numerous just-for-fun excursions there, I quickly recognized the photographic potential with the calm waters and foggy conditions being a common occurrence especially before sunrise during the late summer and early fall seasons.  Sunrise was around 6:00 A.M. at the time, and I wanted to be in position well before that time.  It required that I rise around 4:00 A.M. and make the 40 minute drive, then off load my canoe and gear, and make the paddle to the upper end, about a 20 minute trip by water.  That put me on location a good half hour or more before sunrise…but even at that early time, there is significant light on the horizon…which is what I was wanting.  The fog on the water began to lift and as the sun progressed closer to breaking free of the ridge to the east, that fog began to glow and was perfectly reflected on the mirrored surface of the water.  My anticipation paid off, as I was there at the optimum time, being there when the light was right…lost a bit of sleep as a result…but, well worth the price.

But, to take the shot required understanding the technical nature of the situation.  I had to make the shot by hand as shooting from the tripod would not be practical from the inside of a canoe.  Using a wide angle lens, I set the aperture at f/5.6…which allowed just enough depth of field ( I focused on the front of the canoe) to keep everything pretty much in focus for the wide angle lens focal length, but also allowed for a fast enough shutter speed 1/125 at ISO 100 in the available light to keep from blurring the image with handshake.  I used 0 +/- compensation as I wanted to capture enough light to show detail in the canoe and still grab the boldness of the light on the water without blowing it out. 

Zero compensation pushed the exposure toward the middle range allowing for the detail to be captured in both the bright area and the darker canoe interior.  Here is where the looking beyond the obvious came into play.  I had to be careful not to allow the sunrise cliche to influence my shot so much that it dominated the composition, but I also wanted to show the boldness of the moment, plus it was important to include enough of the canoe to make it appear to be gliding toward the morning.  That is why I tilted the camera angle down and placed the horizon very high in the composition.  Centering the canoe was a matter of simply looking for reference points in the view finder and lining them up.  The canoe in essence became the main subject of the composition, and the reflection of the glowing fog became the symbolic reference to greeting the new dawn.

So you see…taking a great photo is more than simply pointing and shooting…or even being lucky…it takes a degree of technical understanding, looking beyond the obvious, anticipating the potential, and being there when the light is right…combined with a bit of perseverance…you might be surprised at what you can accomplish.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A View Through the Lens - A Life Lesson

It's been a while since I have written a View thru the Lens article...with the Christmas season upon us, I'd like to share a few thoughts.


Nature provides us with a connection to a lost time of innocence...a place to rediscover youthful simply ponder...and when the best of what creation offers presents itself to us, it is not so much the person today who is is that child who never stopped believing in the dreams he dared to dream.

Over the years too many things tended to prevent the adventures dreamed from my youthful imagination an avenue into reality. Over time, other priorities took root and eventually choked off the life giving source of adventurous-desire that ultimately could only sustain them for so long.  The more deeply rooted life priorities became, the more those youthful dreams faded into vague memories of times past.

I suppose that is why I stubbornly cling to memories of adventures that actually did become a reality, for they in some small way, helped to satisfy the depth of the dreams of my youth.  Even then in those early days, I somehow knew most would never come true, but dreamed anyway.  It is not unlike the tired old axiom:  It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.  If it is indeed better to have dreamed and lost those dreams than to never have dreamed at all...then I am truly a blessed individual.

Over time we all are presented with windows of opportunity.  Unfortunately, by the time we are mature enough to recognize the significance of those opened windows, they have long since closed.  It most certainly seems true that...Youth is wasted on the young.

We live in a marvelous technological age, but I can not help but wonder at what cost.  Too many kids spend too many hours sitting in front of a screen playing some kind of virtual game or staring at a hand held electronic contraption, and never take time to explore that big beautiful world out there that is full of reality. I find myself too often doing similar things.

Maybe it is because I have grown older that I have started to reflect more on the lost opportunities I allowed to fade away...never to be explored...whose windows of opportunity closed long ago, and I have realized that there was probably a reason for the way things turned out, and that is encouraging.

I have discovered just how easy it is to become complacent or maybe even aggravated at the world situation where too many people are caught up in pushing ideology and not enough are seeking out truth.  It would be nice if just for once every nation could work together for the betterment of those around them instead of seeking out only what they can get out of a situation.

Wishful thinking? the present world situation anyway, but I prefer to think more Optimistically...instead of what might have been...I think about what could be. Whether you believe in the True Meaning of Christmas or not, the truth of the baby Jesus and the Christmas story and what it meant to the world is the only thing that offers a real solution to that question...not so much about what could be...but what will be someday.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Took a Hike One Day...

Another story-like end of the day drifted toward its conclusion as I watched from the top of Coneflower more episode counted among the countless end-of-the-day episodes one can discover on the prairie.  Why I was there finds its roots going back a good number of years, but simply stated, I was there because I took a hike one day.

Cone Flower Hill is not an official's simply what I call this rounded knoll with a rocky outcropping on top that sits a quarter mile or more off the gravel road that meanders through the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska, Oklahoma.  I found it a few years ago almost by accident while looking for a location to observe and photograph those amazing prairie sundowns.  It's not much of a hill really, but rises maybe something less than a hundred feet higher than the surrounding landscape.  Long flanks covered with thick prairie grass, cut by drainage and scarred by bison travel, characterize the climb to the top...a climb more difficult than it might seem at first.

Just north of the summit lies a large pond tucked into the recess of the rolling terrain.  Around it's perimeter grow acres of wildflowers including the Pale Purple Cone Flower...where the hill gets its name.  On the summit of the hill a rocky outcrop exposed to who knows how many years of weathering, provides a break on the smooth lines of the rolling hills.  It's a good place to just sit and feel the prairie wind in your face.

 It is one of the quietest places one can find, quiet in the sense there are few if any man-made noises that influence the atmosphere...just the dancing of the tall grasses and choreographed ballet of the cone flowers as they move in time with the whimsical undulations of the prairie wind. It is a natural musical of natures best assortment of players.

To the west the landscape changes as it breaks its rhythm from the slow rolls to rise abruptly toward mesa like outcroppings.  In all directions one is afforded an unobstructed view of this marvelous landscape broken only by distant indications of man's presence.

Why am I here...why do I return time and again?  I took a hike one day, and discovered a place for the heart that was mine alone...a place where ones inner strength is restored by the reflections of what once was...reflections of times past that remain unchanged.  I took a hike one day and rediscovered who I was.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What and Where verses Why - The Art of Writing and Photography

Although the craft of writing and the art of photography are different forms of communication, they both share a common objective; to move the reader or viewer toward a single purpose…to generate an emotional response.

Where writing uses words to construct images in the mind, photography uses light to build a story. Where brevity is desired in writing, photography also requires a simplification of the composition. Writers understand that by blending a unique style with their view of the world, they can often move their readers...An effective photograph stirs the emotions of the one viewing it to the point where they identify with the moment.

I would venture a guess that most writers write so they can share a part of themselves with others.  The same holds true with photographers…we like to share our vision of the world.  Doing so is natural…writers and photographers, like most creative people, tend to have a deep emotional bond to what they create.

One of the first ‘rules’ of writing is to simply write about what you know, so the things I write about tend to focus around the adventures I’ve experienced over the years often related to photography. Most of my stories are short essays that chronicle some significant event.  Whether remembering growing up hunting and fishing in Oklahoma, or the numerous adventures of my military days, or writing about a day spent photographing some of nature's most amazing moments...writing about those events often generate a therapeutic effect. 

As I begin to write…I simply write what first comes to mind. I don't worry so much about grammar and punctuation...that initial effort is used to build a basic composition that can then be molded into a finished story.  Often the finished product has little resemblance to the original text.  This is where writing techniques and photography techniques often merge. 

You see, as a photographer, I am rarely satisfied with a single image.  Often, to capture the image I am looking for requires continually looking at the problem from a different perspective.  Instead of always shooting from eye level…I often drop low…or move sideways…or search for more appealing light.  What I photograph matters little…it is how I build the composition that matters…how I use light to enhance the subjects shape, form, and textures. 

Writing is like that. It matters most how I build the story...not so much what I write about.  My first attempt is rarely a finished product.  Many times by taking a different approach…looking at the problem from a different angle, I begin to develop my original vision into a new idea that moves the story far greater in one direction or another than the original concept.

To me, writing and photography are natural extensions of themselves and I see each of them as an avenue that allows for an expression of ideas that go beyond simple words, or images. Writing is as much art as it is a craft.  Too many writers today I believe have lost that sense of art in their craft.  Pickup almost any outdoor magazine…family magazine…nature magazine…and what do you find? 

You’ll see titles like ‘Top Ten Places to Fish’…or ‘Best Vacation Getaways’…or ‘Great Recipes For The Summer Grilling Season’.  In my opinion, editors today emphasize way too much the ‘What and Where and even How’ at the expense of ‘Why’.  Visit the library sometime…they still do exist by the way…or use the modern equivalent and Google search on the internet to look up some of the old time outdoor writers like Ted Trueblood or Gordon Macquerrie and read some of their stories.  The emphasis 40, 50…60 years ago was on the ‘why’ and less on the ‘what and where’.  The craft of story telling was the heart of their technique…what they wrote about was how and why a particular adventure affected their lives…not so much on where to go and what to do when you get there.  It was their story telling that motivated readers like myself to create personal adventures of where and how.  Their words created visions of grand adventures that I could see...and then over time, photograph.

If I could challenge new writers today, I would challenge them to begin by writing about ‘why’ something was important…how it affected them emotionally…and shy away from too much of the what and where.  Use your intellect to find the words…but use your heart to build the story.  Don’t just tell about events…show why those events were important. As a photographer...every photograph I take is based on that concept of showing why that moment was important.  The light becomes the visual words used to accomplish the telling of the photographic story.

Everyone should develop their own style of writing and never attempt to copy another writer’s style.  The perspective captured by a former generation of writers is far different than our own and we can all discover how eloquent many of them time, you just might discover another way to express what is truly important in your life in such a way, that it affects the lives of those around you.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Bad Means Good...

For a photographer...bad weather usually means good shooting.  Now don't get me wrong, I shoot in all kinds of weather and lighting conditions, but some kinds of light are better than others for certain kinds of shots.  Today was a good example.  Three days ago it was bright and sunny and rather pleasant out for this time of year.  Being off for the holidays opened up an opportunity to sneak in a photo shoot so I headed over to Shanty Hollow to see if I could capture some early winter atmosphere shots around the falls for my long term project.  I managed to get a few shots in spite of the harsh lighting, and there was some water coming off the falls but nothing spectacular.  Overall the light just was not right.  The day was perfect, but not for shooting. Three days later, everything changed.  It started to rain and it rained rather hard for most of the night.  Monday morning it was ugly out...cold, rainy, overcast, and gray...a perfect day for a photo shoot. Combined with previous rains earlier in the week I figured there would be more water coming off the falls.

There are actually three or four falls around Shanty Hollow Lake...I've only found three...I hear there are others but I don't know where they are.  The three I know of are all on the same trail that leads to the main falls.  The other two only flow during times of prolonged rain like I had on this hike.  The main falls is roughly 60 feet or so high from it's highest point...with about a 50 foot drop from the edge of the bluff and except in mid summer and even early fall when it is dry, it will usually have some water flowing over it depending on rainfall amounts.

When I left around 8:00 am, it was still raining, but I was ready for that having packed rain gear for not only myself, but for the camera gear as well.  By the time I arrived about 40 minutes later, the rain had tapered off to a light sprinkle.

Overcast skies are best for photographing waterfalls.  The reason being is that you want soft diffused light at low intensity levels to allow for long exposures.  The soft light casts a smooth even light even through heavy cover and the long exposures allow for softening of the flowing waters.  The hike to the falls is moderately rough, a bit slippery when wet, but doable by most people.  It took about 20 maybe 25 minutes as I stopped a time or two along the way.  I wasn't disappointed...the falls was flowing as hard as I've ever seen it flow and it was generating a lot of energy.

I took several short video sequences and about a hundred still photos.  Wished I could have stayed all day, but by noon, I was beginning to get wet even with the rain gear and my camera gear was also getting a bit too wet for comfort so I packed it up and headed in.  On this particularly bad weather day, the photo shooting was pretty good as all the elements were there...light, drama, scenery, and me.

Here's a short video from the shoot.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Boys, Pocket Knives, Scars and Other Saga's of Growing Up

Seems there is a trend now days of people cutting themselves on purpose for whoever knows why.  I don't mean to sound insensitive or anything, but cutting myself growing up came natural to me...none of it was on just came with being a kid as part of growing up. Over the years I’ve managed to slash, smash, puncture, burn, scrape, cut, and split open various good layers of skin and other assorted body parts using a variety of sharp and blunt objects including but not exclusive to razor blades, broken glass, rusty nails, wire, hot coals, wooden splinters, metal splinters, various types of hammers, saws, thumbtacks, car doors, hot objects, briar patches, rocks, camera tripods, and lest we forget that staple of every young boy…the pocket knife.  Being right handed, my left hand has bore the brunt of that abuse and today I carry numerous scars as a result.  Each scar carries with it a gripping story of which over the years I have bored untold people to death telling and retelling of the ghastly details of how one scar or the other came into existence.   Now that I have raised your interest level, allow me  to fill you in on some of the more ghastly saga’s of these painful events before you move on to other less interesting agendas. 

Remember the days when you were a kid and you went through that phase of constructing model cars or airplanes?  Yeah…me too.  One of the more traumatic of the scars I received was the result of building a model car.  I was about eight maybe nine years old and was considered by many a veteran model car builder by then.  I was also considered a veteran at getting injured by then as well.  The two just seemed to go together…being eight or nine and getting injured that is.  Well, being the veteran model builder that I was, I decided to do an extra special job of putting this particular model together.  Most of the time I’d just twist off the plastic part from the assorted parts stick holder and squeeze out two or three times the amount of glue required and slap the part where it was suppose to go.  Never mind those annoying little plastic edges that remained where it broke off the stick…odds are it would not matter anyway once I blew up the model with a firecracker or cherry bomb. 

On this occasion, I decided I would actually try to put the model together according to the instructions and asked my mom for a razor blade.  Now…most ordinary mom’s troubles-a-brewing radar would start buzzing when their eight year old asked for a razor blade…but my mom was different.  I suppose her philosophy was …whatever he was going to do… it probably would not kill him…so she gave me one.  My intent was to use the razor to shave off all those annoying little flange’s that stuck out from where it broke off the parts stick.  What I managed to do was slice the end of my ring finger on the left hand clear to the bone. The first words out of my mouth were…you guessed it…’Mom!’

She coaxed me into the bathroom and started to clean and wrap it.  All went well until the floor slammed into the back pf my head. I woke up a few seconds later lying between the sink and the commode with my mom hovering over me yelling for my dad.  I suppose all that blood and the gaping end of my finger didn’t settle to well with my constitution.  Shortly thereafter the razorblade was confiscated not to be redistributed until I was around thirteen…at which time I promptly sliced open another part of my left hand.

Other than the occasional need for a tetanus booster shot I managed to survive several scaring events like slicing my hand open on the jagged edge of a broken bottle that was strategically placed in the sand at the local swimming hole, stepping on assorted rusty nails, smashing a thumb trying to hammer rusty nails, embedding various sizes of fishhooks into assorted body parts, or dripping melting plastic onto my barefoot while firebombing a fire ant mound using a burning plastic army soldier.  You can throw in a few hundred ant, tick, and chigger bites along with numerous wasp stings as well.  But to avoid boring you with those trivial incidents, let’s fast forward a few years toward some really gruesome and memorable skin slicing events.

When I was 12 years old, we lived in Delano, California and I attended the local junior high school seventh grade class.  The school building was fairly new at the time, single story modular in design with these cast iron hand crank windows that opened outward at a 90 degree angle from the outside wall.  On one memorable lunch period I was hanging out with a friend and we just happened to be sitting between some bushes that lined the area around the perimeter of the building.   Where we were sitting was also directly under one of those cast iron windows that just happened to be opened all the way out.  Two other friends came running by and yelled at us to join them for something obviously more important and fun than just sitting on the mulch.  We jumped to our feet…well, my friend jumped to his feet, I didn't quite make it all the way to my feet.  Seems the back corner of the top of my head managed to collide with the outer edge of that cast iron window frame that was sticking out.  Yeah…you’re right… it really hurt and I instinctively grabbed the top of my head.  My friend’s eyes grew about three times larger than normal as he sympathetically and very calmly yelled out, ‘Man…your heads bleeding all over the place!’

Sure enough I brought my hand down and it was covered with blood which started running down my face and neck and dripped off my ear.  Well, the nurse’s office was around the corner in the next building and so not knowing anything else better to do, we took off running in that direction.  When we came to the corner we simply cut across the grass as it was a short cut and reduced considerably the distance required to get there.  By this time I was getting somewhat light headed and didn’t feel too well.  We were about halfway across the grass and a few dozen yards from the nurse’s office, when the librarian stepped out of the library…which was next to the nurse’s office…and saw us cutting across the grass, a criminal offense that apparently carried some big time reprocussions for students that did such things. Schools back then seemed to frown on students running across grass...probably not so much to prevent us from exercising, but they figured if we were running it was probably because we had done something wrong and were trying to get away. She stopped us and started chewing us out for breaking the rules and told us to turn around and walk back to the sidewalk, stay on the sidewalk walking slowly all the way to the corner then proceed to where ever we were heading.

In our excitement, we both blurted out at the same time, ‘But (he’s/I’m) bleeding to death!’…which was quite obvious by this time as my face, neck, and shirt were covered in blood and I was turning quite pale as well.  She didn’t seem too concerned about my plight and ordered us to do what she said…which we, being from that generation that always obeyed their elders, obediently did. As a result, I almost didn’t make it to nurse’s office and had to stop a time or two because I felt like throwing up.  The librarian stood in a silent disgruntled stance the whole time, arms crossed with a stern expression on her face monitoring the situation to make sure we followed the rules all the way to the corner…the fact that I was about to pass out, was on the verge of hoarking up my recently eaten lunch, and was dripping blood all over the sidewalk had little if any influence on her determination to enforce school policy.

Having to backtrack like that almost tripled the distance and time required to reach the nurse’s office…but somehow I managed to make it without passing out and fortunately, the nurse was genuinely more sympathetic to my plight than the librarian was, and called my mom calmly telling her over the phone, 'Your son has split his head open and needs to have some stitches.'

It took a trip to the emergency room and indeed a few stitches to patch up the gash almost good as new.  I managed to get out of school for the rest of the day as a result.  The next day I was back at school romping and stomping like nothing had happened, although I became the center of attention at show and tell time as most of the kids had never actually seen real stitches before…at least not attached to someone’s head. By this time in my life I had already had various parts of my anatomy sewed up a few times and thought nothing of it.

Some 20 years later I retold this story to my dad…who happened to be a high school teacher himself at the time of the incident…and mentioned the part about how the librarian made us stop and backtrack in spite of the blood gushing from my head.  It’s not often I see my dad get angry, but he actually got angry upon hearing that and said he would have had that librarians job on the chopping block for having done such a fool thing.  Oh well…I lived through it none the worse for the wear, and managed to stay within the rules doing so...sort of.

By the time I was twenty six years old, I was a truly seasoned veteran at getting injured having perfected various techniques of self inflicted mayhem. By this time in my life I had spent four years in the military, was going back to college, and fishing had become a real pastime and I would take off as much as I could in pursuit of it. All three of those endeavors contributed to various other scars and scrapes…fishing being, if not the most hazardous then the most reoccurring, of the three.

As part of my fishing agenda, one thing I wanted to do was to use marker buoys so I could mark any submerged break lines where the big daddy’s hung out.  I was also very poor and consequently cheap and instead of coughing up the $3.95 it would take to purchase three or four of them, I decided I would make my own.  Seems there was this old plastic spool of $2.00 fishing line I had that was about four inches across and five inches deep.  It would make a perfect marker buoy…all I had to do was remove the old fishing line and attach some braided line with a weight…waahlah! 

Problem was, not only was I poor and cheap, I was also impatient and instead of taking the time to manually unroll the three or four hundred yards of monofilament, I decided I would simply cut it off.  Thus I pulled out the razor sharp Buck hunting knife I kept around for such occasions.  I held the spool in my soon to be unfortunate left hand spreading the fingers across one of the rounded ends and inserted the knife blade under the line on the other end…gave it a bit of push…and waahlah!  I managed to drive the end of the blade clean into the fleshy part of my hand that stretches between the index finger and the thumb.  Of course the first thing I did was stare at it in disbelief and what I saw was a gaping slice about an inch wide and two inches deep.  Just before the gash filled with blood, I noticed the bone being exposed in various locations along the slice.  The second thing I did was fill the air with various phrases and explicative’s that would have embarrassed the most hardened sailor…of which I used to be one thus I was well versed in that particular type of vocabulary.  That incident resulted in another emergency room visit…that cost considerably more than the $3.95 it would have cost to buy the marker buoys.

Speaking of sailor language…that brings up another…I promise the last…incident that generated another bout of colorful vocabulary.  During the four years I was in the U.S. Coast Guard I spent the majority of that time at the Umpqua River Lifeboat Station in Winchester Bay, Oregon as part of a search and rescue team.  We operated two of the venerable 44 foot motor lifeboats…CG44303 and CG44331…two of the best surf boats ever to grace the Pacific.  It was during my last summer at the unit at the time when hundreds of pleasure boaters, trailer sailors we called them, would invade this quiet little coastal community and mix with the couple dozen commercial and charter rigs that operated out of the harbor year round. 

On this particular day, the weather was moderate but overcast, and we had several hundred boats that had crossed the bar all hoping to tie into the salmon that migrated along these waters.  I along with two other crewmen were on a routine bar-patrol aboard the CG44331 when we received a call from the station indicating that someone had suffered a heart attack aboard the fishing vessel Poky…a twenty-five maybe thirty foot double ender that had a long history of being old. 

We jumped into action and started to track them down amongst all the other traffic out that day.  After several minutes we found them and pulled alongside.  It was my duty to board the other vessel and checkout the situation.  I found an older man well into his 70’s who was unconscious and not breathing…and three other adults and one child on the boat.  The deck space was very cramped so I instructed a young man onboard to help me reposition the victim so we could begin CPR.  It took a few seconds to make the adjustment and as I stood up to reposition myself so I could start CPR, a large swell rolled the boat to port (that’s to the left) and I almost lost my balance.  Instinctively I reached up and grabbed the nearest thing I could to keep from falling over the side…unfortunately it turned out to be the extremely hot exposed engine exhaust pipe that extended straight up from the engine cowling.  Not being familiar with the vessel, I didn’t realize what I was doing until it was too late.

My right hand was severely burned and the skin smoked as the hot metal seared the flesh.  I cried out from the pain using various sailor-language explicative’s (I’m not particularly proud of that fact…but it happened).  I grabbed my hand which had curled inward from the shock of the burn…all but useless.  From all the times I’ve injured myself, never had I experienced such a painful situation.  I looked with shocked eyes into the fearful eyes of the other passengers and none of them knew what to do…they were depending on me to take control of the situation.  The 331 had moved off and was positioned ahead of us. In spite of the pain, I began CPR as best as I could…eventually after about 15 minutes, we transferred the victim onto the CG44331 which was a faster boat and headed back into the harbor. Even so, it took close to another fifteen minutes to make it back in, all the while myself and one of the other crewmen on the 331 performed CPR.

An ambulance awaited us…I went with the ambulance to the emergency room and assisted the EMT on the way.  Once there and under a doctor’s care, the old man began to breathe on his own.  After all the excitement had died down my burned hand was eventually treated, and although it took several weeks, it healed completely with no scarring.  Myself and the other two crewmen on the 331 that day were credited with sustaining the life of this man until professional medical help could be implemented.  We received commendations for our efforts.  Unfortunately, a few days later the old man suffered another setback and did not make it…one in a series of setbacks he had apparently suffered over the last few years of his life.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is this.   Growing up and suffering through various cuts, scrapes and burns, proved valuable lessons as I learned how to deal with the negative effects and keep going.  As a result, when faced with a very traumatic and difficult situation I was able to shake off the shock suffered from a damaging and painful burn, and focus on what had to be done.  It became the defining moment of my young adult life.  Growing up experiencing such traumatic things like getting cut tended to toughen that accident prone young boy, and in the long run…it paid off when it counted the most.  So a word of wisdom to all you young parents out there…especially those with boys…let them suffer a scrape or two as they grow up…it will help them learn how to deal with difficult and even painful situations…they will be better for it when they get older. A great Christmas present for any boy is to receive a pocket knife from his dad…when they eventually cut themselves for the first time using it, well…that’s one of life’s little pleasures to know that your son is taking his first steps toward becoming a man.

As I have grown older, I’ve mostly, but not entirely, managed to replace cutting, stabbing, and burning myself...with slipping, tripping and falling off things… especially ladders.  I have become quite adept at doing so scoring in the high 9’s and sometimes even perfect 10’s as I perform those acrobatic maneuvers with grace and style…but that’s another gripping saga better saved for another time.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

For the Fun of it...

I take my photography way too seriously at times...concentrating so much on what I'm doing, that I don't always simply enjoy being there.  It's a bad habit to fall into.  Looking back over the tens of thousands of images I've captured over the years, the ones that hold the most importance are the ones I took when I was simply having fun doing what I was doing.

I've had a number of occasions over the years to talk about photography to not only groups of people but individuals.  One question that comes up quite often is...'How many good ones do you normally get on a photo shoot?'  At one time I tried to come up with some kind of profound words of wisdom on the subject and most of the time tended to say all the wrong things..."10 out of a hundred maybe...2 or 3 normally...depends on how many shots I take..." when in reality the way I should answer is like this..."It really doesn't matter as long as I get the shot or shots I wanted and had fun doing it."

Photography should be exactly that...a way to have fun and express that creative instinct we all have.  I've often had the desire to actually make a living at photography. Many people have indicated that might be a good idea and that I should pursue it.  But, when I think about it, trying to make a living at it just might be the wrong way to go about it, for then it becomes a job filled with all the job-like responsibilities and problems.  I'd think that would remove all the fun out of it.  I'd rather keep on doing what I'm doing...earning a little here and there...but having fun at it and taking joy and excitement in seeing for the first time that new amazing moment of light come to life as captured through the lens.

I suppose if I were to provide a bit of insight for new photographers on how to improve their photography...the best advise I could offer is to simply encourage them to approach their photography from the concept of simply having fun with it.  Not to get all caught up in the whistles and bells and technical jargon that goes along with it.  All that stuff will come in time if one continues to read and learn about the craft...but, it is far more important to begin at the beginning...and simply have fun learning about a fascinating hobby.  You might be amazed at just how amazing your pictures will turnout.  Always remember...there is no such thing as a bad photograph as long as you like enjoy!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Top Ten Murphy's Law's of Photography

It happened again recently...there it absolutely amazing photographic moment...the light was right...the angle was right...the composition elements were all there...everything was present except my camera.  It was safe at home, and I missed a great opportunity for a potentially amazing photograph.  That got me to thinking about how that always seems to happen to me...sometimes I wonder if Father Murphy of Murphy's Law fame takes entirely too much delight in my I thought I'd write out a list of the top ten Murphy's Law's of Photography so I'd know better myself what to look for and expect next time.

Murphy's Photography Law number one:  Read the opening paragraph...nuff said.

Murphy's Photography Law number two:  An early rise, an hour's drive, great sunrise...dead batteries in the camera...and you forgot to recharge the spare from the last time it was used.

Murphy's Photography Law number three:  If the shot calls for a zoom will have a wide angle lens on the camera...if it calls for a wide angle lens, you will have a zoom lens attached.

Murphy's Photography Law number four:  If you need calm winds for a reflection shot, it will be windy.

Murphy's Photography Law number five:  Great view...amazing landscape...beautiful scenery...and a power line runs through it.

Murphy's Photography Law number six:  You wait and wait for that final few minutes before sundown to capture that anticipated sunset...and it never develops because overcast settles in...two minutes after you pack up and leave, the sun breaks free and lights up the horizon with a fire red sky.

Murphy's Photography Law number seven:  For three weeks in a row you've been seeing geese and ducks settle into the fields you drive past every morning.  The one day you get up early and are there ready to photograph them they don't show.

Murphy's Photography Law number eight:  When you want bright and cheery skies, or fluffy white cloud skies, or drama in the clouds, you'll get dull gray flat skies.

Murphy's Photography Law number nine:  You plan vacation time for a year in advance to capture those amazing fall colors...only this year you are either a week to late or a week to early than the peak.
Murphy's Photography Law number nine-A:  The fall colors are absolutely amazing, and you plan for a Saturday morning photo shoot.  That night a storm blows in and by the next morning almost all the leaves are on the ground.

Murphy's Photography Law number ten:  That amazingly dramatic photograph you worked for years to find and capture is entered into the local state fair photography contest expecting at least a blue ribbon and the winner selected goes to a snap shot of some toddler sitting on potty training pot. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

" third general order is..."

With Friday being veterans day, I'd like to express my gratitude to all our veterans past and present for their courage and commitment.  Thirty seven years ago I found myself beginning one of the grandest adventures of my life....the first nine weeks were spent at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Alameda, California...boot camp.  Hope you enjoy this nostalgic look back...


Boot camp for recruits often becomes that first time in a young mans life when he realizes the world no longer revolves solely around him.  In fact, it may very well be the first time most of the kids who experience it actually experience someone yelling and holding them accountable for what they do or don’t do.  It’s where a sheet tucked too loosely can illicit an irrational violent reaction from the stone faced company commander whose responsibility it is to turn these peach-fuzz young pups into confident and capable young Coasties. 

                “Why is he yelling at me,” goes through your mind over and over as you vainly try to maintain a sense of calm in the midst of the chaos being thrown at, and spit upon, your person by this hard core individual whose life history in the Guard is probably longer than you are old. 

                Somehow or another we survived…most of us that is and in the end, we began to understand what all the toughness was all about.  We still didn’t exactly enjoy it…anyone who says they did is telling a whopper of whale story.  It wasn’t supposed to be pleasant.  It was supposed to toughen your character and create fear and panic inside of you under controlled conditions so when you really did face something to be fearful of or panic for, you would be better able to handle it.

                I do remember those nine weeks beginning in September 1973…oh to well…almost too well really…with a certain degree of fondness…I didn’t say nostalgia.  There wasn’t much to become nostalgic about as part of Company Alpha 93 at the Alameda Training Center.

                We were certainly a rag-tag bunch of knuckle-heads.  I’ve never seen the likes of it before or since.  The oldest guy in our outfit, of around forty recruits, was about twenty-four.  I had just turned twenty-one with three years of college behind me and I quickly began wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into.  The two of us had been around the ropes a time or two, or so we thought, but almost everyone else was right out of high school and very wet behind the ears which by the way, became very prominent appendages once they shaved off our hair.  Afterwards we all became a bunch of knuckle headed skinheads who barely knew our left foot from our right foot.  This fact was much to the chagrin of our company commander who had to teach us how to march and perform close order drill and the manual of arms.  I figure we must have done thirty or forty thousand pushups and ran seven or eight hundred miles as a result during those nine weeks because someone forgot which was his right or left foot.  We were the original ‘Crank Kings’ as our plight became common knowledge that spread throughout the other companies in which we endured our incarceration.  Drills were the bane of our crew.  We must have messed up fourteen eleven times everyday…with the usual consequences…down and give me twenty-five you scumbags! 

                We were the last company if I remember correctly to receive a full issue of the old Donald Duck uniform…dress blues…undress blues…whites…Dixie Cup hats…the entire array of the old wool and cotton uniform wardrobe.  After us, from what I heard anyway, every other company only received a partial issue of the old stuff until the Coast Guard transitioned to the new blazer type of uniform.

                I was given the role of company yeoman and was held responsible to make sure all of our laundry was bundled and turned in at Gus’s place.  We veterans of that era surly remember Gus (I won’t use the name we actually called him as it not printable but it refers to the how much we were…uh… lets just leave it at that).  The first time I was suppose to take our bundled laundry in, for some dumb reason…I didn’t.  Our company commander wasn’t too happy about it either and I got an ear full and had to run all the way back to the barracks while the rest of the company stood at attention until I got back with all the bundled laundry.  It was quite heavy and took three of us to tote it all.  I never let that happen again.
I also had the misfortune of reporting to the officer of the day every Monday morning to endure an audit of our company books.  I was dutifully told to make sure the coffee was ready before the OD arrived or he’d be in a grumpy mood and start looking for discrepancies that weren’t there.  On that first meeting, being that I had never made coffee before as I wasn’t a coffee drinker handicapped me tremendously, so my first attempt at using the stagnant water that dribbled from the outside water hose as the liquid and adding enough coffee grains that thickened the concoction to approximately the texture of pancake batter elicited a rather strangled, choking response in the OD.  I really do believe his socks rolled up and down a couple of times when he took that first gulp.  I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or fear for my life, but the sneer across my face just couldn’t be hidden.  After tossing a disgusted look in my direction, he took pity on me and even laughed himself after he dumped the contents into the sink.  I received my first lesson on how to make a decent cup of coffee.  My books were perfectly in sync on that first occasion, and we got along just fine after that.  Never once did he find or even look for any discrepancies in my accounting skills, but he did tend to take a closer look at and a smaller first sip from the coffee I made each time.

I’ve long forgotten how to recite them now, but those eleven general orders we were suppose to know more often than not we didn’t.  It only took one time to get the message across that we better know them.  During our first inspection, this one poor sap just got raked over the coals for stuttering and stammering through a series of recital attempts.  It wasn’t pretty.  That evening and for several evening thereafter I drilled myself on not just knowing them in order, but front wards, backwards, and inside out.  The diligence paid off.

Several weeks into our nine week incarceration we were finally beginning to get into a routine and most of us had learned our left foot from our right foot by then and could march and turn with a reasonable degree of accuracy.  At least anyway, we weren’t doing nearly as many punitive adjustment exercises as a result.  Fridays were inspection day and we scrambled around preparing ourselves and help each other get suited up.  One thing we had to do was lace up these white leggings which had to be lined up a certain way.  It was impossible to do it yourself, so two people would lift you up onto a table and then commence to lace up the leggings for you…and then you returned the favor.  We also had to wear these wide white belts with brass buttons and they had to be snow white and spit polished or else.  Well, while I was helping lace up some leggings for one of the guys, I tossed my immaculate belt across my rack so it wouldn’t get soiled and where I could quickly pick it up on the way out to line up.  We finished lacing the last of the leggings and we had at best one minute to assemble outside.  I waddled over to my rack, so as not to break the crease in my inspection shoes or mess up the leggings, to get my belt and discovered that it was gone.  Some lowdown had swiped it for his own use as it was pristine in nature…I worked hard on that belt.  But, I had no option but to grab a spare belt out of the box we kept in a closet.  To say this belt was filthy would be an understatement.  I was out of time though, and slapped it on hoping that the Brass Head making the inspection wouldn’t notice.

He noticed.  For several minutes I became the brunt of every kind of foul comment that could spit out of the foul mouth of an inspection day Brass Head.  In his eyes I was the most worthless scumbag that ever disgraced the grinder.  He yanked my belt from around my waist and threw on the ground then kicked it three or four times about ten yards each time ranting and raving and in general having a hussy fit.  Then he stood nose to nose with me…yeah…really nose to nose.  I was too scared to notice just how bad his breath was, but I was prepared for what I knew was to come.  Over the next three or four minutes he drilled me on every one of the eleven general orders…inside out…and right side up…making me repeat over and over several of them.  With each vile command of ‘What is your third or fourth or ninth general order,’ I without hesitation blared back in his face as loud as I could, word for word every one of them…never missing beat.

‘Sir…my third general order is…blah…blah…blah’.
‘Sir…my sixth general order is…blah…blah…blah’.
And so it went on and on.

I don’t know if he simply got tired of trying to break me, or if he was simply impressed that I wouldn’t break, but he finally backed off grumbling all the while about how disgusting I was then stepped on to the next poor sap who by now was trembling in his spit shined shoes.  As my company commander passed by me, he hesitated for a few seconds and looked me straight in the eye with an odd smirk on his face.  He ever so slightly shook his head in disgust…and winked.  It was his way of saying…well done.  He knew I had endured a tough moment and stymied our inspector’s attempts at breaking me.  And, the belt thing…he knew something was not right for that to happen…and was probably relieved that I didn’t complain or blame the situation on one of my crewmates which would have gotten the whole unit in trouble.  I never did find out who took my belt…but I did let it be known afterwards that I took one for the company because of it and it wasn’t going to happen again…if you get my drift.  I never had another issue with it.

Every morning we lined up on the grinder before breakfast for our morning workout.  Oscar (Honor Guard) Company was always first out and had to lead the battalion out onto the grinder…they had to …or else.  We determined to beat them one morning and everyone got up and ready before reveille and lined up outside before Oscar Company ever began stirring.  When the time came, we burst out ahead of them in perfect unison marking time with…’Up we got good and ready…Today we beat…Oscar Come pany’!  It was great…as the cocky, great and powerful Oscar Company Honor Guard…got bested by lowly Alpha 93.  They got in some kind of trouble…and so did we as we weren’t suppose to do that…make Oscar look bad.

Somewhere along those nine weeks…the rag-tag group of kids that made up Alpha 93…became men.  We became so good at close order drill that in our sixth week we were allowed to march in a parade in Hayward along with Oscar Company and all of the honor guard units of the other military branches…Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines…and us.

By the way…Oscar Company were the best of the best often out performing even the U.S. Marines Honor Gurad at functions like this, and for us to be selected from all the other companies to join them, well…it was quite an honor.  How fun it was to have all the young ladies lining the streets waving and making all kinds of comments about our manhood…I think we marched about as well as we ever had…our heads held a bit higher…our lines and steps a bit crisper as a result.  We were good, and we knew it and for the first time felt we had finally arrived.  Our company commander chided us afterwards at just how crooked our lines were and how we were out of step and we looked awful…yeah...yeah...yeah…we knew better.  Afterwards he let have run of the town for a few hours before we had to load the bus for our re-incarceration, but we darn well better show up sober...most of us did.  We were like school kids let out for summer break.

Perez was his name…one of the characters from our company who had a voice like an angle…but who looked tougher than Joe Lewis.  He became the one single voice of our weekly graduation ceremonies.  ‘Battalion…’ he would sing out in such a powerful…angelic voice as all the various companies snapped to attention.  Man…he was great at the role…but almost didn’t graduate himself because he couldn’t swim a lick.  Jumping from the tall tower into the deep end of the pool was just too much for him.  During our final swim test, he froze on the edge of the tower as the swimming instructor yelled obscenities at him about coming up there and throwing him off if he didn’t jump.  It took several minutes and more obscenities, but he finally took the plunge screaming all the way down and hit the water hard with both arms outstretched to his side…whack!  After thrashing around attempting to get oriented and gasping for air, he finally made it to the side of the pool…and passed his swim test...and graduated.

My memory fails me, but our recruit company commander’s name leaves me.  That’s what happens after thirty-seven years, but he was a character in his own right.  Often during meal time, with the radio blaring in the background he would step on stage and put on a show miming the words to the best of Motown, songs like ‘Tears of Clown’, ‘My Girl’…spinning and do-wopping like a pro.  It was great fun and broke much of the tension we often had to endure.

 I was lucky being the company yeoman as I didn’t have go through KP week, instead I and a couple others got to lounge around the barracks that week doing some cleaning and relaxing and taking care of administrative stuff that I was suppose to take care of.  We took full advantage of it mostly reading and napping.  Even so, our barracks floor did have an inspection surface that was checked every Friday.  Myself and a couple of other guys spent that week polishing and buffing that surface until it shined like a mirror, then roped it off so no one could walk across it.  Come our next inspection, the comment we receive from the inspection Brass Head was...’that’s the best I’ve ever seen...’  You could ice skate on that surface.

Firefighting school was the highlight of boot camp.  For a full week we were indoctrinated in the methods of preventing and fighting fires onboard ship.  I’ll never forget the first time we lined up to fight the training fire inside the mockup ship interior concrete building.  I was lead on one of the three hoses.  When the instructors fired off the electrically ignited fire and those flames shot ten feet like a blow torch out those hatches, all of us looked at each other with this…’we gotta go in there’ fear across our faces.  The instructor shouted at me to charge the hose, at which point I popped the handle upright…a second later the instructor yelled at me to shut it down.  I didn’t understand why.  A moment later our backup hose went in ahead of us and everyone was yelling at me at what happened.  I shrugged my shoulders, then, another instructor came over and told me to replace the nozzle.  It seems the nozzle had malfunctioned and the spray attachment had blown completely off generating a sluggish blob of water that would not fight any fire much less what we were supposed to fight.  It took a minute or so to replace the nozzle, and by then the first team came out.  A few minutes later it was our turn again and in we went facing that wall of flame not knowing for sure what we were doing.  It was amazing how the high pressure spray simply shoved the flame back inside and in unison with the other hose teams we isolated and extinguished the fire in quick order.  When we first went inside, we were scared to death.  When we came out, we could conquer anything.

Those nine weeks of boot camp were the worst and best nine weeks of my life.  Nothing before or since can compare.  We saw ourselves evolve from fuzz faced cherubs who didn’t know up from down or left from right, into confident young men ready for our duty stations wherever they may be.  We still had a lot to learn…more challenges to face…but it was in boot camp where we learned how to face those challenges and understand that we were capable of doing more than we thought we could.  The undisciplined long haired kids all of us were became well groomed, strong and confident.  Some of us lost weight and gained endurance…some of us gained weight and strength.  The scared unsure faces we had on the first day of fire fighting school…became self-confident destroyers of smoke and flames.  In the end, I received one of the best honors that can be bestowed on a fellow crewmate in boot camp…Alpha 93 voted me ‘Best Shipmate’ and unknown to me at the time, I received the honor during our graduation ceremonies.  

All of us received a score during our nine weeks that determined our selection number when it came time to choose our next duty assignment from the selection billets.  I was number six out of 40 on the list. The guy who had the number one overall score received the highest score up to that time ever assigned to a recruit coming through Alameda.  Three of those ahead of me already had schools assigned, so I ended up with the number three pick out of forty.  Umpqua River Lifeboat Station at Winchester Bay, Oregon was my selection.  It was to eventually lead to the defining moment of my Coast Guard career with grand adventures that still affect my life today...adventures where the tough discipline that was imparted during boot camp proved its worth.  

 From the unsettled often awkward and stumbling group known as Alpha 93, we became one of the most decorated and successful companies ever to come through the Alameda Training Center. Our company banner was festooned with ribbons and awards.  Some of the highest scores ever recorded for personal achievement were recorded by Alpha 93.  From there we spread out across the country and served with distinction. We were no longer individual knuckleheads…we were Alpha 93…we were the best…we knew our eleven general orders, and they served us well.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Good-bye Sadie

Some years ago I told of a story about a heartbreaking experience with a new pup I had just purchased who died three days later from the Parvo Virus.  It was a gut wrenching time difficult to endure, but because of that experience I became a better person with a kinder heart.

This week my family had to face another difficult situation with a pet.  Our sweet and even-tempered Sadie...a predominantly golden retriever and chow mix had to be put down.  To this day we're not for sure how old she was as we didn't bring her into our home until she was at least two maybe three years old...but she must have been at least fifteen.

We rescued her from People and Pets when my boys were quite young...Christopher was maybe three or four and Tim was nine or ten.  She took to our home right away and on the first night she picked up a package of unopened treats and carried it into the living room to let us know she would like to have one.  I knew right away she was a smart dog.

Never once did she ever show any aggression...always happy...always loving and excited to see us and to greet new strangers who might drop by.  She had this odd sort of snarly smile she always showed when she greeted someone.  That smile became her signature expression that everyone commented of many she had.

When we moved to Kentucky eight years ago, her life changed a lot as we moved to the country where she could roam freely.  It took her a little while to get use to it, but over time she adapted and her temperament changed some...not quite as hyper...more laid back.  Most of the time she simply stayed on the porch occasionally barking at passing farm equipment that made too much noise.  She seemed to take great joy in barking at trucks towing a trailer for some reason...I never could figure out why she did that.

Our neighbor has two dogs. a much younger half wild black female Lab who tends to cause more trouble than any single dog should...but she and Sadie seemed to get along pretty well.  Bella developed a bad tendency to chase cars there for a while, and one day a few years back when Sadie still had the energy to do so she decided she would start chasing cars too.  Seemed like a good thing to do I suppose to a dog.  I yelled at her numerous times to no avail until one day she took off after a car coming in one direction and didn't see another car coming from the other direction and was rolled  under the full length of the second car.  Boy, did she ever yelp...thought we had lost her for sure...but by some miracle she only sustained some bruises..and a short lived limp...oh...and by the way...she never chased another car after that.

I guess the favorite thing she liked to do was run with me when I hiked out to the pond on the back of the field behind the house.  She always took off way out front and ran at full throttle.  In the fall and winter we would sometimes bust a covey of quail and she'd get all excited...but she enjoyed chasing rabbits the most.  I always knew when she was onto one because she'd start in with this high pitched half bark half yelp.  She never caught one, but she sure liked to chase after them.

For all those years she seemed just fine...strong and healthy and full of life, but last spring she showed a noticeable slowing down...seemed to want to lay around more...didn't run as hard on our pond walks...seemed to always end up walking the last couple hundred yards home.  She didn't appear to be sick or anything, just tired.  As the next few months passed, she slowed more and more...stopped eating as much and began to lose that healthy muscular fit body she had.  She became more and more lethargic and had trouble walking on slick surfaces like the wood floors and climbing the stairs to the deck.  A few weeks ago she followed us out to the pond on what proved to be her last trip out there.  She almost didn't make it back and spent the rest of the day just laying around and when we called her, she would just look up at us.

Over the next few days she got to where she could barely walk at all...she stopped eating and rapidly lost weight.  Her once strong body became thin and emaciated.  When we looked into her eyes we knew that age was catching up to her and it was just a matter of time.  By this time Sadie couldn't even stand and refused to eat.

As hard as it was, we knew the right thing to do was to let her go and not prolong the inevitable.  I was okay with that...until we actually took her to the vet.  My wife Kris started blubbering when the veterinarian shaved Sadie's front paw to expose the vein for the injection that would put her down. That blasted old lump returned to my throat again when she did that.  As I wrote years ago about the loss of that other little pup...I realized once again that over the years I had become more softhearted than I wanted to admit to...but that's okay.  For to look at ones self through the eyes of a trusting pet that retained complete and total trust in you to the very end...well, I can't help but somehow feel like I betrayed that trust by having to end her life the way we did.  I suppose that is what makes me feel sad the most...but I know it was the best thing for her.  She deserved more out of life than what was happening to her.

We buried Sadie outback in an area near where she always enjoyed sitting in the shade.  Its a nice place surround by a small white picket fence facing toward the fields where she lived out her favorite activities.  Yeah...we're gonna miss that old dog...but I suppose the world was a better place for having her in it while she only regret is...I wish I would have been as good of an owner as she was a pet...and I hope I have become a better person for having had her around, this newly rediscovered old softhearted heart of mine thinks so anyway.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Late Start

Saturday morning I slept in longer than I had planned...when I finally did crawl out of bed the sun had already broke free bright and clear and was climbing higher in the sky rapidly leaving behind the best light of the day.  A quick glance out the window and I realized I had made a big mistake.  The remnants of the first heavy frost still clung to the grass and fields and the warming rays of the sun was beginning to melt it off. With that melting a misty haze hovered over the fields.  I grabbed my tripod and camera stuff and headed out the door without even brushing my teeth.

As I headed over to an area that I thought might provide for some nice morning fall images, I began to realize that I had allowed too much daylight to buffer my intent from what I was going to be able to actually accomplish.  A couple of quick shots later I abandoned the notion of achieving anything of quality from that location and began to think of how I might be able to salvage the morning with the later start and brighter harsher light.  As I was driving down a back road I passed by a fence row that caused me to slam on my brakes and turn around.  A beautifully back lit maple tree was overhanging a fence and in the background stood a barn situated slightly below a roll in the terrain.  Even with the bright sky, there was enough haze and color to create a very nice composition.  The trick was to eliminate the harsh 'white sky' or as much of it as I could and still capture the essence of the moment.  Using the over hanging tree I moved to the left enough to allow the overhang to cover most of the sky...bent little lower to position the barn and snapped the shot.

A little later I was driving along Old Scottsville road...a familiar scenic avenue not far from my house...and remembered a location I had photographed previously with similar lighting.  What I discovered was a perfect blend of color, composition, and atmosphere and spent the next 15 maybe 20 minutes there shooting the scene.

That got me to thinking about how a person can use harsh light to their advantage...what are some of the techniques a person could use to take advantage of less than perfect light.  One thing I always preach in any kind of photographic techniques workshop I may be involved in is to avoid the 'White Sky' syndrome.  A white sky in and of itself is generally less appealing than one of those blue bird skies with fluffy white clouds floating across it.  White skies are caused by several things...primarily hazy conditions or very thin clouds that are enough to obscure the blue, but not enough to filter the harshness of the light.  The angle of the sun also comes into play.  White skies can really create havoc in a photograph...but all is not lost if one simply takes notice of the situation and uses it to their advantage.

On this particular day, what I had working for me was the rising mist generated by the evaporating frost.  As the morning began to warm up, the mist lifted higher and began to filter through the trees. But the mist also contributed to the white sky effect. One technique I use on white sky days is to eliminate as much of the sky as I can and still retain a sense of mood.  Take the fence row shot for example.  By using the overhanging limbs and positioning myself where I was facing toward the light, the bright light actually illuminated the translucent nature of the fall leaves...and I was able to hide most of the sky.  It's not imperative to hide all of the white sky...just most of it so that the brightness of the sky doesn't overwhelm the shot...but adds to the mood and flavor of the composition.

Later, as the sun actually rose way higher than what generally creates good light...I used the same technique to capture the moment.  The location provided for the rising mist and also provided enough cover to almost completely hide the sky...but the brightness of the sky also back lit the scene in such a way as to generate not only amazing color, but infiltrating rays of light that highlighted the mist.  The combination provided for an amazing opportunity...all I had to do was get into the right position and frame the right composition.

Getting a later start can often present challenging lighting conditions.  Understanding what those conditions are and then looking for ways to use them to your advantage can have amazing's just a matter recognizing what makes for a great photograph.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

True Temper

Last time I was there, there wasn't much left of the old part of town.  What wasn't boarded up was bulldozed down or burned into rubble.  A few cars from time to time did trickled through carrying their occupants to some other location.  Most were probably oblivious to the history here and rarely noticed the weathered and mostly faded advertisement for 'Big Chief' writing tablets on the side of one of the still standing old red brick buildings.  The rusted Judy's Drug Store sign still hung above the now boarded entrance and swung with an irritating screech in the hot summer breeze.  About the only businesses still operating were the bank and post office...the latter appearing almost new compared to the other redbrick shells.  Even so, it was at least 40 years old itself.  The former still operated from the same location on the corner for more than 80 years now I'd guess.  Somehow, they had managed to keep the doors open in spite of the economic situation.

Once a thriving but small community, its heyday peaked during the 1950's after the war.  Then the first flood came...actually the second flood...the first having occurred well back in the late 1920's.  A few businesses precariously clung to life after that, and the heart of the small town eventually began to recover, but the unmistakable signs of old age and downward trends had already infiltrated into the community...few saw or understood what was happening.  The flood of '61  shoved the little town toward its deathbed, but somehow it survived...and began to recover...until the flood of '66 gave it massive heart failure.  The high water mark eight feet high is still visible on some of the older buildings.

A year or so later, a new highway extension diverted what traffic came through town to bypass it on the north side.  Many of the remaining businesses simply closed...a few moved to a location along the new section of highway.  In a way the new highway gave the town a second chance and a new heart...but it wasn't the same town...nor the same heart.  It was never the same after the last flood.  The Mayberry like charm that was Wister, Oklahoma washed away with the brown receding waters that took it's soul.

The summer of 1963 was the last summer of what I remember as the old Wister...a Wister that retained its connection to the simpler days of the past, yet was faced with changing times in a modern era.  It was one where the recovery from the '61 flood was almost complete and a normal life was once again beginning to stir.  It was the summer I remember the most...the last real summer of my youth where the essence of what this little community was...still least in my heart.  It was the summer where my grandparents business...a dry goods store...came back to life and began to function again as it had in the past.

It was the summer I received my first real fishing rod and reel...a True Temper blue fiberglass rod with a True Temper bait casting reel attached complete with a few dozen yards of braided fishing line.  With that rod and reel combo, I began to truly explore for the first time, the intrinsic values only discovered in the sport of fishing.

My friend Geary, the grandson of my grandmother's neighbor Ruth, would also spend a lot of time during the summer in Wister.  More often than not we'd get into some kind of mischief that would cause both our grandmothers to grimace in disbelief and often sternly declare..."...Lands sake...what were you two boys thinking?"

I suppose we heard those words more often than we should have...usually during the times his or my grandmother would be applying a paste of baking soda to the multiple bee stings we had received after attacking a wasp nest with squirt guns and fly swatters.  I'm not so sure why we ever did such fool things...but it seemed like a good idea at the time. began to have a greater appeal...certainly less painful appeal anyway..and we'd ride our bikes up to Hammond's pond and use the old row boat to get out to the middle...where the big ones were...or we'd head over to Caston Creek and turn rocks to find crawdads or set out minnow traps for bait.  His grandfather kept a compost pile behind his house and we'd dig around in it and find a can full of worms for bait...threw a couple of bobbers along with a few hooks and split shot in a sack...and head out.  It was great fun and we actually caught a few fish.  My old Uncle Manly, my grandmothers brother-in-law who was well into his 70's at the time, would take us out to another pond and let us do some crappie fishing.

It was that season we purchased our first 'bass plugs'...mine was a black and white Lazy Ike.  I kept the plug for many years and caught many fish on it too...then retired it for fear of losing it.  Made a mistake a few years back and used it on a float trip only to lose it when the line snapped after hooking a nice smallmouth bass.

One time we hounded his grandmother to take out to the spillway below Wister Lake dam.  She did...dropped us off and left us there pretty much all day.  Our tackle box consisted of that same old paper sack with a few hooks and sinkers.  He brought along a homemade dip net he had made out of an old screen door.  With that net we'd lower in into the shallows and wait for bait fish to swim back in then slowly raise it trapping a few each time.  Before long we had a dozen or so bait fish we had tossed in the old beat up minnow bucket his grandfather let us use.

They were not running too much water that day through the gates, so there was a narrow long island that jutted above the water.  Out in front of it was good fast moving water.  Near one end was some older man fishing.  He had a big tackle box and a couple rods and reels and look the part of a real fisherman.  We felt almost silly with our paper sack and cheap equipment.  Even so, I tied on a large hook and attached a large sinker a couple feet above the hook.  Grabbed one of minnows, and hooked him in the tail and heaved that old True Temper as hard as I could.  The line landed near the middle of the current and the sinker began to bounce and roll across the bottom.  Not sure how long it took or how many tries it took, but I do know we caught several large Buffalo, or Drum...not sure which...standing on that strip of gravel and shale.  My first one was the largest single fish I have ever caught.  Considered trash fish...but man did they ever fight.

The line bounced around and then appeared to get hung.  I gave it a couple of hard jerks and the rod bent almost double.  Geary asked if I had one on...I said no...I'm hung...but my rod kept bouncing and jerking.  After a moment or two I realized I wasn't hung, I had hooked a big one...and man was it ever a fight.  That old True Temper reel didn't have a strong enough drag and that large fish in that strong current simple spun almost all of my line out.  I literally could not pull that fish in.  Geary ended up grabbing the fishing line and pulled it in by hand as I took up the slack...he then simply drug it up onto the bank.  That older man just down from us couldn't believe his eyes...the best I can remember, I don't recall he ever caught anything as we caught several through the afternoon.

And such was the summer of '63.  As time went on, we spent less and less time during the summer there as my family moved around and settled in another community.  During that time, that old True Temper rod and reel provided a young boy with a tool that all but changed the way he viewed the world.  Where once play was the main emphasis of my day...the opening up of the world of fishing through that rod and reel refocused my thoughts and began a life long love affair with a grand adventure.

Although I was unaware of it at the time...over the years I've been able to more clearly grasp the significance of those years.  When I am drifting in my canoe during the pre-dawn light...casting a line toward imagined encounters with a rising fish...when I reflect on the moment seeking to discover deeper meaning from why I enjoy such is not the older man I have become that does these things, it is the young boy who spent those days exploring the world in and around that little Oklahoma town...building confidence...developing strength of character through trial and error...that does those things.

Experiences such as those generate unspoken words that attache themselves to our young minds as we grow older...words that echo across time attached to is those words that still encourage me...words that carry with them reminders of how those years provided a True Tempering in my youth that only now is becoming evident.  Oddly enough, I hear them more clearly today...silent words that only a young boy hears...words that allow one to laugh a misadventures...wonder about grand adventures...and grasp the significance of events long faded from most memories, but words that still reside fresh in the recesses of my heart.

My grandparents retired shortly after the flood of '66...their long run of operating a business that over time saw fewer and fewer returns eventually gave way to the inevitable.  They are now long ago gone and missed and over the years...their stately old house where my grandmother lived for close to 70 years was sold. I lost contact with my summertime friend...even so, I thank God for having experienced such things in my life...simple things, like an old True Temper fishing rod and reel.

The old town of Wister has, in recent times, seen a small resurgence of sorts, as its larger neighbor Poteau, a few miles up the road has grown and many people have moved to Wister as part of that growth. A new generation with new ideas and trials now occupy the community...a new business started up in the same building my grandparents used all those years...the owner somehow contacted me a couple years ago and asked for some old photos of those years...I sent him several copies. The years and summers I spent growing up in that little town became the most important years of my life.  That old town in its own right has earned the right to say with a degree of pride that it has endured difficult times and shown a level of True Temper...the memories of those days certainly prove so anyway.