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

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Winter Woods

I am often struck by the seasonal colors that nature chooses to share with our senses. No single season is better than another in that regard, just different. Some may prefer the colors of summer, or spring, and of course fall, but for some reason the colors of winter tend to get overlooked.  

I enjoy hiking in the winter woods and I am fortunate to have several locations nearby where I can do so. Each location retains its own flavor and atmosphere but it is the season itself that imparts that special feeling one experiences when exploring this moment of nature.

The colors are soft, often a blend of gray and shades of brown. Light from an overcast sky filters through the canopy of trees filling the woods with a soft glow that appears to engulf everything with a constant all encompassing light. There are virtually no shadows, just subtle variations in textures and tones. Light from a blue sky day on the other hand penetrates at sharp angles deeply into the woods and creates an atmosphere of harsh and brilliant colors. 
 I much prefer to hike through the woods on an overcast day. The color of the woods is transformed into a single hue that appears as a homogenized brown where greens, grays and pale yellows provide highlights and accents. The song of a small creek performs a constant symphony as it adds sparkle and life to an otherwise silent woods. Depending on the weather, across the ground dried leaves crunch and crackle, or are soft and silent, and the aroma of fresh earth fills the air. Throw in a blanket of snow and the woods takes on an entirely different feel and look.


The winter woods can provides a welcome relief from the pressures of life and soothes the soul so completely that all the anxiety and stress we force ourselves to endure seem ever more insignificant. The colors of winter are soft and reflective like the soothing words of a poetic lullaby. We only have to find time to seek out their curative words.



Friday, December 27, 2013

Capturing Rural Kentucky

Rural Kentucky just may be one of the most enduring charms that reflect the nature of this state. There are so many variations on that theme a photographer could spend a lifetime chasing all them. Travel down almost any back road and before long one of those iconic scenes rolls into view. Time it with the best light or seasonal conditions and a wonderful opportunity to capture something amazing will make your time out and about well worth the effort. 

About a month ago I managed to rediscover an area located just a few minutes drive from my home. How and why I managed to pass up this location over the years I can only wonder, but it did not take long to see the merits of the scenic value that presented itself. 

Capturing Rural Kentucky requires a rustic artist mentality. The photo mechanics are the same, but visualizing the shot first is most important. Oddly enough, I tend to look at rural Kentucky from a black and white perspective. The captured images may be in color and have their own strengths and impact, to truly capture that nostalgic sense of what the area holds, you have to look beyond the distraction of color, and see it as a black and white image. 

The sky is most important and in most cases needs some kind of texture and of course clouds are what provide that texture. A flat gray sky by itself is rather…well flat and gray and provides little impact to the scene in most instances. That can be overcome by using the values of other elements in the scene to fill in the sky. By changing your camera angle to fill the sky with a tree or a grain silo or something different can break up the bland nature of a gray sky. Another trick is to keep the sky element to a minimum by cropping the shot to create a suedo-panaramic effect. This technique can produce a wonderfully nostalgic look to you shots.   

If by chance you have clouds…and almost any kind of clouds with texture will work…you now have an opportunity to include the sky as part of the rustic scene. By using a polarizer filter you not only reduce glare, but darken the sky to add a dramatic look that can enhance the effect of the shot.  

When thinking in black and white, I often think in terms of sepia tone or at least something in that regard to give the image an old time look. Often what appears like an ordinary rural scene that we simply ignore most of the time can be transformed into a throw back rustic style image that carries an amazing amount of charm. 

Rural Kentucky is one of those almost never ending supply of photo opportunity that those of us living here should take more advantage of. With a simple change of light, season, time of day, or camera angle, one location can be captured in multiple ways…all of them exhibiting a unique flavor of Kentucky. 


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cleaning Out the Tackle Box

About this time of year cabin fever noticeably sets in. Here in Kentucky anyway winters tend to be rather gloomy and overcast much of the time and this season has certainly lived up to those expectations. Got to watching a fishing show over the weekend and that prompted me to want to clean out my tackle box which over the years has become an annual event whether it needs it or not. Doing so brings back many memories as I elevate each lure out of its holding slot.
Last season I did very little fishing. Seemed circumstances and other priorities interfered with my ability to get out much. About the only outing I made was a five day float fishing trip down Arkansas’ Buffalo River. During that adventure I managed to lose my favorite fishing rod and ruin a camera after taking an unexpected spill…but that’s another story. Oddly enough, that spill came back to haunt me as I started to clean out my tackle box the other night.
Guess I forgot to dump all of the water out the box after that spill and many of my old time favorite lures succumb to the effect of being submerged for an extended time. Paint peeled off…hooks rusted and corroded. Man it was a mess. As much as I hated to do it I had to throw out six or seven of my favorite lures, but did manage to salvage two or three others by replacing their corroded hooks. I also pricked my fingers several times during the process…hope my tetanus shots are up to date.
For many years I've understood that there is more to fishing than catching fish. Usually, I will only fish once with someone who does not understand that age old axiom. Once is all it takes to realize that someone doesn’t understand what that means. There was a time some years ago when I went fishing with a co-worker. He complained the whole time about how slow it was catching fish. Gripe, gripe, gripe…for four or five hours that’s about all I heard. He was constantly snagging his lure on something and that would initiate another tyrade of complaints and gripes. I must say I've had better company fishing alone than on that trip. To me, it was a glorious day just getting away and enjoying being out. I never went fishing with that guy again. Cleaning out the tackle box involves more than simply rearranging the lures…sometimes you have to rearrange your priorities and maybe even who you spend fishing time with.
There is a new movie about to open soon about my old pal Walter Mitty. He and I have a lot in common actually...well...maybe not a lot but certainly his and my tendencies to day dream are rather similar. I found myself daydreaming the other night as I cleaned out that old tacklebox. It's funny how an old stinky and beatup lure can transport one back to another place and time. Guess maybe that is why I spend time sorting and resorting old wornout fishing's good therapy for the soul, only now I must again find time to generate new memories...there have been too few of them as of late.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Red Letter Days - Time Capsules

Deep into the winter, teaser days always arrive to announce the approach of spring. Every season I anticipated its coming as I understood that upon its arrival, warm days of fishing awaited. I can remember almost every day I have spent casting a line. They became time capsules stored safely inside a vaulted memory waiting for an appointed moment to be reopened and examined for their contents.  

That first day of the season was treated with deliberate fanfare. The night before was the best as time was spent sorting through the cluttered tackle box arranging and re-arranging the lures according to size, then color, then back to size and color. New line spooled onto the fishing reel and a fresh drop of oil and reel grease was applied to the gears then worked in with a few spins of the handle. A few days before, another coat of varnish was applied to the wooden paddles and the canoe was staged ready to be loaded.

Sleep became a rare commodity leading up to that first outing of the season and when that first morning finally arrived I was up earlier than anticipated loading the canoe…testing the tie downs for tightness. Fishing rod and tackle box along with paddles and a snack were stowed.

The air is always better early before the sun comes up. On that first outing the cool air of late winter still lingered across morning, but early on the Oklahoma wind would remain subdued. Off loading the canoe retained its own sound and if I listen long enough today I can still hear its rumble as it slid off the canoe rack. That first moment when the paddle met the water marked the event as having finally arrived.

A few moments later, the bale of the spinning reel was opened with its distinctive clinck and that first cast was made with rusty technique…another clinck and the slow retrieval produced the most anticipated moment of the day. Sometimes that first cast would produce a strike and how fun that was to experience, but it didn’t matter if one the first cast or twenty or thirty later, for just being there is what counted most.

Many fishing trips began in such a way, all were unique and generated their own sense of moment, but a few stood out as true red-letter days. One such day occurred as Ralph and I managed to find time away from work on the same day and made the thirty minute drive to Old Beggs Lake. It was a bit later in the season well into the spring and the trees were by this time full with healthy green leaves and the air was warm but not hot. The Oklahoma wind more often than not would blow you off the water in a canoe, but on this morning it remained just gentle enough to cause a steady ripple to ride across the surface.

As we drifted along a grassy lined bank I tied on a yellow and green Rebel Minnow and started catching and releasing bass from ten to twelve inches long on a regular basis mixed with an occasional larger one. Ralph, a few weeks before had found hung in a tree limb a similar lure with the same color pattern and switched over. In short order we both began to get regular hits. We would drift to the end of the bank then paddle back up wind and start the process over and with each pass the bass would attack our lures. On one occasion Ralph cast a few inches too far and hung his lure on the edge of the grass at which he began to flip his rod trying to pull it loose. If I had not seen it happen I would not have believed it, but just as his lure came loose a good sized bass leaped out of the water and grabbed it in mid-air a few inches about the surface. Those are what time capsule moments are made of.

It was the best day for bass I’ve ever experienced. What made it even better is that it became one of those time capsule entries that defined a single day in an iconic way of life.

Time Capsule entries are more often than not, simple events that by themselves carry little significant impact at the time they happened. Collectively, they combine to become a greater measure of a person’s life. These are entries that often remain dormant for many years until something triggers their memory back to life.  I am continually amazed at how often the least significant of events grow in their importance through time…an annuity of memories in a way…one that compounds in value the longer they remain stored. They only become a reality if one chooses to pursue them in the first place as an often repeated word…an action…an aroma or sound…the feel of the wind, whatever their significance, they become automatically data-banked in the capsules of time.



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Echo's Thru the Hills - Part 2

The legacy of a life is best measured by the impact it has on those who knew that life. My brother Ken passed away almost two weeks ago now and a few days later as his family and friends paid tribute, the echo's from his life became evident by the number of people who were there.

As difficult as it is to know that he is no longer with us, we can find comfort in understanding that the echo's from his life are the kind that do not fade, but are carried forward with us through our lives. We can clearly hear them when we gaze upon the lives of those who were the most important to him; his family.

We see them in the life of Brian his son who learned how to persevere through difficult challenges through his example. We see them in his daughter Michelle who blossomed into a beautiful young lady and who carries a quiet confidence as a testament to his gentle nature. We see them when we look into the eyes of Logan his grandson, for through those windows we can see the legacy of a life that is now entrusted within him, and we see them in the ball of energy that is Makenzie, his granddaughter who expresses a radiance of life that reflects all the goodness that was his.

We see the evidence of them by the number of friends and coworkers who came to honor this family.

Most of all we see them in Jennifer, his beloved wife who faced down life challenges standing by his side. She knows first hand the quiet strength that was his, and it is this strength that will sustain her through these first days of grief.

You see, even though he is no longer physically with us, if we listen through the silence we will hear his voice of encouragement, for he is all around us because of the shared lives of those he knew. Goodness always trumps sadness, and as for me, I chose to remember the goodness that was my brother and refuse to allow the sadness of his passing to burden my soul. For those who knew him, we all know that he is certainly in a better place and as long as we cling to that knowledge we will find the comfort he would wish for us.

The last day before returning to Kentucky, I made time to visit again the rolling prairies of the Tallgrass Region. It is a good place to reflect. A beautiful cobalt blue sky broken by wispy winter clouds encapsulated the now winter brown landscape. As I sat atop a grassy knoll and listened to the Oklahoma wind as it swept through the grass...I heard an echo that reverberated through my memories as a reminder of what once was, what is now, and what will be someday. It was an echo from my brother's gentle nature that said all is well and that he is doing just fine now. These are echo's from his life that will not just follow us, but that will walk ahead of us...we harbor them in our hearts and in our memories where they are safely kept for when we need them.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Echo's Through the Hills

This week my brother Ken passed away rather unexpectedly. I've still not come to grips with the situation and struggle at times to place context within the moment. I keep remembering the many hours of fishing we did together, not nearly as many as there should have been though, even so those memories reverberate like echos through the hills of time. It has caused me to reflect even more deeply about those fleeting shout-out moments of my own life that generated meaningful echos that follow me across time. In the near future after I have had time to shake off the impact of this week, I will write another Part 2 to this story about his echos of life. For now, I'd like to share a few of the more memorable ones that I've experienced with my own family.
I can still hear the echoes that return through the hills, echoes that speak of those days when I could hardly wait to return to the outdoors. Sometimes I hear them when reminded by a sound, or an aroma, or something I see. They still float across the hills of my imagination having been launched by adventure episodes so enduring their memories still resonate like the perpetual flow of a timeless waterfall.
Echoes like the warning chatter of a gray squirrel shouted from atop the tall hickory tree when I took my two young boys on their first squirrel hunt. I hear it now, echoing back from the past haunting me as to why I did not take them more often. It was a simple memory made during a simpler time, one I relish more than they can ever know, more than I ever knew…until the echo returned one day. The rattle of the BB’s in my youngest son’s Red Ryder…not quite old enough to handle a real gun. The reflected light dancing off the oiled barrel of the old single shot 22 caliber rifle my older son so carefully cradled across his chest as we hiked across the dew moistened field, it is as fresh today as on that morning. I hear the faint rebound of the moment as it calls back to me.
I hear the anguished cries of my younger son when he discovered that I and his brother had left him behind for a camping trip. He didn’t understand…I didn’t understand how important it was for him to go with us…and this echo still breaks my heart today when I allow it to resound through the hills of my most difficult memories. We tried to make it up to him after we returned and to his credit, his loving heart responded with joy and excitement and all was forgiven – by him – but I have yet to forgive myself for leaving him that day. It’s an echo whose resonance has never faded and I still fight to keep that heavy lump from my chest when it pays a return visit.

The Oklahoma wind carries many a visual echo across the prairie, echoes that travel great time distances and never grow faint. I stand on a high knoll surrounded by nothing but a sea of grass that rolls to the horizon and beyond…the largest remnant of Tallgrass Prairie that remains. The wind whispers its greeting, ‘Come, join me and rest as I speak of times past…’ and I do, and I find a God measured peace and rest.
Echoes are often best heard during the silence…I rest upon the ancient prairie ground and allow the wind to transport away the scars of having not allowed myself more time to experience such moments. And only after the sun creates another legendary end of the day, do I reluctantly leave that refuge. These are the silent echoes that are locked into the desires of men, silent echoes that define who we are.

The Pacific Ocean rolls ever onward and crashes against the Oregon beach. I feel the buffeting wind against my face and inhale the fresh aroma of the sea as I stand alone amongst the miles of tangled driftwood. An overcast sky is suspended low and I raise the collar of my field jacket to block the chill. At home I feel here, in a strange way, far from the prairies of the native land of my birth, I understood that as foreign as this place was for my senses, I knew I belong there…then. I am a part of this echo, one as vivid as the beams of light that arched across the sand dunes from the lighthouse high on the ridge. It is an ancient place with a rich history, a place that echoes its story forward to another time.
Echoes through the hills are made only from living forward, yet there will come a time when those harbingers from the past catch up to us, to reveal new meaningful purpose to why those  adventures were important. By living forward each day, new meaningful echoes will follow you into your future. 


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Red-Letter Days - Canoe Fishing

I found it intriguing to watch as the operator of a large, late model bass boat zipped full speed from one side of the cove to the other. With each stop he might have stayed two or three minutes, maybe five at most, before he fired up the hundred-fifty plus horsepower outboard motor and flew back across the two hundred yard wide stretch of open water. He was fishing, that I could determine, but he seemed so impatient that I would venture a guess that he did not catch anything, at least I never saw him pull anything in. He appeared more intent in speeding around for the sake of speeding around than anything else. In contrast to his neurotic boating behavior, I drifted along with the gentle breeze in my light weight canoe and managed to catch several scrappy bass during that same stretch of time. After maybe thirty minutes of changing locations, out of frustration I would imagine, he finally fired up the over-powered vessel and zoomed away throwing out a giant rooster-tail behind his boat having never caught a single fish from that twenty-thousand dollar fishing rig.
Bass boats are marvelous contraptions with all of their high tech gear and comfortable seats and powerful motors. Flying off down a lake at sixty miles per hour certainly would provide a thrilling adventure for most anyone, but, I don’t know, they seem like an overly expensive and cumbersome way to go fishing. Oddly enough, even if I could afford one, I wouldn’t buy one. Maybe it’s just my temperament, but I prefer slower paced, smaller water, style of fishing and there is no better way to pursue those desires than fishing from a canoe.
I was first introduced to this unique way of fishing probably close to forty years ago now when my old friend Ralph took me with him in his venerable seventeen foot, Grumman aluminum canoe. Even then that old canoe had seen better days, but it was practically indestructible. It no longer had much shine to it and there were so many dents scatter down its length it looked like something from a demolition derby. But, it was stable and solid, and except for a popped rivet or two, it didn’t leak too much.
I was immediately struck by the simplicity of the craft and its closeness to the surface of the water provided a unique perspective to the environment. It was a simple matter to reach down and pluck a bass out of the water by hand. I don’t remember how many fish we hooked that day, but by the time we pulled out I was hooked on canoe fishing. Before long I was able to purchase my own second hand one, a Coleman, not exactly top of the line, but functional and after all, it was only meant as a temporary solution until I could afford to buy a real canoe.  

What I discovered was that temporary solutions tend to turn into permanent ones for those of us who must function within limited resources. Actually I used that canoe for a couple of years then sold it and ended up purchasing another slightly newer Coleman. It was the second one that proved to be long-lived and I drug that vessel all over the place and eventually wore it out.

It wasn’t much of a canoe by the standards of modern designs, but it served its purpose and provided countless hours of great fishing and floating. My good friend Rocky eventually purchased his own Coleman a few years later and so our fleet of low riders began to grow. Another fishing buddy Curt did the same and before long my brother did as well. Between the five of us we had five canoes, a collection of fifteen and seventeen foot models. We looked rather rag-tag at times, but we didn’t care, the results far out-weighed the lack of finesse. Rocky eventually stumbled into a bargain and was able to purchase a somewhat heavily used, but still functional Old Town Tripper. It provided an immediate and much needed upgrade to the quality of our fleet.
Old Beggs Lake, an old impoundment built back in the late 1920’s that sprawled for about twenty acres, became our favorite rendezvous as it was close and not heavily used. A number of good sized wall hanger bass greeted us on occasion along with smaller ones too numerous to count, but what was most important was the time spent getting away. It was a great place to be alone with your thoughts. 
March 12th 1978 was a Beggs Lake red-letter day, the day I felt like I had graduated to become a real fisherman. Spring came early that season after an unusually difficult, cold and snowy winter. The first breath of the new season embraced the landscape and the first signs of green were beginning to appear. I left early that morning and arrived just after sunup after having been greeted by the pastel and bold explosions of sunrise.

The air was cool at first and a light jacket was in order, but grew warmer as the morning progressed. The first hour or so I managed to catch a couple small ten inch bass along with a bluegill or two. It felt good to once again feel the tug on the fishing line. Eventually, I drifted over near where a large tree limb had blown down during the winter and extended well out into the water from the grassy edge. I was using a mid-sized, black and yellow spinner bait and cast the line next to the exposed branches.
Upon the first couple retrieval cranks the line grew heavy and I thought it had hung up on a hidden limb. When I pulled on the rod, what was on the other end pulled back and I realized that a fat bass was attached. The light weight rod bent almost double with line peeling off the spool and the gears of the spinning reel screamed in protest. It took a few moments but I managed to pull the big ole gal alongside the canoe and lifted her into the air. That’s one of the great pleasures of canoe fishing, being so close down to the action, seeing, hearing, and in some cases tasting the result of the spoils. She went about four and half pounds.  In hindsight I should have released her, but I strung her up for safe keeping and let her swim alongside the canoe.
Two casts later I tossed my line along the other side of the downed limb more toward a small inlet. I barely started the retrieval when the line grew heavy again…another larger bass had grabbed hold and the fight was on. I thought for sure my line or the rod would break, but both of them held and I again lifted another trophy into the air. This one went closer to five pounds. A red letter day for sure. Later, when I showed my catch to my old friend Ralph, a grin arched across his face as wide as those fish were long, exposing his tobacco stained teeth.
“Boy, boy,” he kept saying over and over. “When are we going?”
We were on the water that next Saturday morning before I had to go to work.
Canoe fishing became a part of me after that, and continued to provide an important outlet during sometimes difficult and challenging times. Not sure what I would have done had I not been able to pursue life through that avenue. Important life lessons were learned through the venue of fishing and Old Beggs Lake is where I learned an important axiom; there is more to fishing than catching fish.
Many years later after countless miles of use, I retired the old Coleman before moving to Kentucky and a new life. Once established in the new home and job, I was able to purchase a real canoe, an Old Town Camper model, and she is a beauty. I never realized just how much difference there could be until I first pushed off the bank in the new Old Town and began to paddle across the calm waters of a mirrored surface lake. She glides like being on angel’s wings and has a look about her that defines the classic profile of what a canoe should be.


Nothing could ever replace the icon of time of Old Beggs Lake and the memories made there, but I have found another location that is somewhat larger and maybe a little tougher to fish, but in its own right it is a perfect spot for canoe fishing. It’s called Shanty Hollow, but that is another story I’ll share another time.
For now I am encouraged to remember old times from the past. Oddly enough, there are days I feel like I’ve lost my identity. Circumstances often prevent me from getting out as much as I would like, either that, or I’m just getting older and find it more difficult to do so. It is a shame really to allow such things to happen. Yet on those days when I can drift on silent canoe wings, I remember once again why those days were so important. I am haunted by those memories and long to discover them anew. 


Friday, November 8, 2013

Red Letter Days - A New Series

From the beginning Beyond the Campfire has concentrated on photography as was its intent, but I also wanted it to become a combination outdoor adventure / photography blog.  The adventure part has become the lesser of the two and somewhat in my defense for various reasons I just don’t get out as much as I used to.
As I have taken time away from the blogging world I’ve been able to reflect on seasons past, friends and special moments and began to realize that collectively I have garnered many Red-Letter days through the years. Some years ago before I understood what blogging was all about I built a website called ‘Oklahoma Backcountry’. It no longer exists, but I still have copies of the adventure stories I shared through its venue.
As I thought about how to proceed with Beyond the Campfire I realized there was a treasure trove of  red letter days many of them focused around friends some of whom are no longer with us. I am so glad I put into writing those stories for as I re-read through many of them I was taken back to possibly some of the best days I can remember.
So starting this month, I will be re-sharing those old stories along with new ones to try and balance the adventure portion of Beyond the Campfire against the photography aspect of the blog. A spattering of images, snap shots really, taken during those amazing days will be included. None of them warrant any kind of quality merit, but in their own way they are priceless keep sakes of those bygone days and serve to accent just how important they were.
Please share with me memories from the past as I begin this amazing discovery of renewal.
Zippo Lighter Moments
It is a subtle noise, more of a clink and less of a clunk, but distinctive and recognizable well beyond what its simple action might otherwise dictate. A simple flicking of the shiny cover with an upward motion of the thumb activates the signature sound; clink, then a pause followed by a flick-zip that generates a stream of sparks to ignite the flame whose lighter fluid aroma drifts with the wind. 
I hadn’t heard the clink of a Zippo lighter for many years until recently, and when I did I immediately knew what it was. Upon its activation I was in a moment taken back to another time more years ago than I care to admit to. My mind jumped from scene to scene as the ghost reels of times past flickered across the faded screen stretched across my imagination. Each scene played out in perfect harmony as the sound of that old Zippo lighter stamped into existence dormant long-to-come moments waiting for a trigger to resurrect them back to life.
I can’t rightly say when I first heard a Zippo lighter sound but I can remember clearly the cold air and pipe tobacco aroma associated with the use of one. My old friend Ralph as he was accustomed to doing, would flick his lighter, fire it up, and light his pipe blowing short puffs of smoke until the bowl would glow crimson red. Then he would again clink it closed.  The sweet fragrance of the pipe tobacco would softly fill the air.  
I didn’t know it at the time but those obscure moments became set in my mind by the actions and sound of him using that old Zippo. If I recall correctly he inherited the lighter from his dad so it already had a long history to it and by default those moments became part of my history. He used the pipe and the Zippo just about every place he managed to find himself, but my memories are locked more onto the hunting and fishing adventures we shared together. You see Ralph was somewhat, maybe even considerably older than the rest of us, a mentor of sorts although he would never have admitted to it. In spite of his age we the younger had a hard time keeping up with him.  

It didn’t matter how cold it was, if there was a duck hunt to be had, he’d be there. Those were the most memorable Zippo moments. We would arrive at our destination and as we scurried around trying to get rigged, he would calmly repack his pipe, flick the lighter open and fire it off. I can hear it now as clearly as then…clink…zip...puff and puff, the blue smoke wafting in the winter pre-dawn air set aglow by star light. He did it so often we hardly paid attention to it…then. It was just part of what he did and we got used to it. 

Sharing a canoe with Ralph was a fine pleasure that all of us relished. His pipe and Zippo lighter were always there for every fishing trip. What greater joy could there be than to see the sky glow before daybreak, hear the whine of fishing line as it twirled toward a rendezvous with a summer morning bass, and hear his Zippo clink and the subtle puffing of a lit pipe. Everything seemed to fit perfectly in sync; time, place, emotion, and moment. Our times together in a canoe were the best of times and when we were able to combine that pastime with a camping trip, they became the better of times. A hypnotic campfire that spoke of times past, old adventure stories told and retold, hilarious and near disastrous at times brought us to joyous tears. Then without fanfare almost unheard in the background against the clutter of the evening chatter there would come that clink…followed by the scent of pipe tobacco. 
Sometimes he would be in the middle of telling a story when he’d light up. The clink became a pause and each pause added to the impact of the telling part. He’d hold the pipe in one hand and wave it with some kind of animated gesturing as he elaborated on his story. Sometimes he’d simply let the pipe hang from one side of his jaw and then he would talk through it. His stories would often run a long time, he could take a two minute story and turn it into a full length adventure, and inevitably his pipe would go out…then we’d hear another clink, another pause as he reignited the tobacco...then the story continued.
We enjoyed many rendezvous’ across years of building a reserve of memories that served us well. As Ralph aged he approached another rendezvous with life that collided with Multiple Myloma. In spite of his condition he continued to fish and get out as much as he could until he could no longer do so. His Zippo and pipe were there with him along the way, and when he passed he left behind a legacy of living that words can never fully define.  
What I understand now that I did not then, is that we need to have those Zippo Lighter moments for no other reason than to lock into place what it means to be a friend. Even though he was not actively trying to teach such admirable traits, he did manage to get the point across to us without even knowing it. Yet, Ralph was more than a friend, more than a mentor he was a maker of timeless memories and the clink of that old lighter became the stamp of approval that solidified the texture and flavor of those adventures.   
I harbor few regrets, but when I recently heard again the clink of a Zippo lighter, I realized that my life since Ralph left us has exhibited far too few of those moments. I do treasure the small number that were made and can only hope that a simple sound coming from a classic lighter will stir within me not only more self awareness but a greater desire to become a maker of timeless memories. And even though I do not smoke, I purchased a shiny new Zippo lighter today. On those melancholy days when my mind is set adrift and I forget why I enjoyed going on those adventures, I’ll flick the lid to hear that clink and use it as a reminder.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Taking some time off

I will be taking some time off from the blogging world...around a month or so, but I'll be back sometime in late November...See ya then!



Saturday, October 5, 2013

Creating Photographs From the Heart

(Sorry...I just haven't taken time to post anything here's a repost from a couple years ago.)

A number of years had passed since I last watched that movie, but recently I sat through another viewing and remembered it being as entertaining and revealing as the first time. Some of you may have seen it...Mr. Holland's Opus...a story about a musician who temporarily falls back on his teaching degree until he can start composing his great American Symphony full time. He ends up teaching for 30 years and during that time is transformed and changes the lives of hundreds of students. One of those students was a young lady who struggled with learning how to play the clarinet...hard as she tried...she just could not grasp what it took to master that instrument. Then one day Mr. Holland asked her what she liked best about herself when she looked into a mirror...her answer was her bright red hair as it reminded her dad of the sunset. Mr. Holland then told her to play the sunset...and removed the sheet music that had become the crutch that held her back. Within moments, her playing was transformed into something that can only come from the heart.

Too often I fail to capture the photographs I feel in my heart...probably because I too rely too much on crutches that actually hold me back more than help. Oddly enough, I discovered almost by accident what makes a great photo...and it's probably not what you might think. The crutches we use result from too much worrying about the mechanics of the camera and not thinking enough about why we are there...what are we looking for...what is that inside of us that we know is there...but struggle to give it give it a voice.

You see, photography is so much like music, that we too often fail to recognize it. Photograph the music in your heart...might be somewhat of an unorthodox way of approaching the craft...but thinking in those terms just might be the catalyst that propels your photography to a new level. Light is the mood generating notes of photography...but music becomes the melody of that light...and all photographic moments carry with it a silent musical score that photographers can feel from within.

Each photographic moment carries with it a different melody...unique in strength and power. You know it when you see it...because you don't really see it experience it internally. A photographic moment that sings or fills the air with symphonic crescendo's...will in due course generate a photograph that carries a sense of orchestration...that is where the mood and atmosphere comes from.

Photography, if you stop and think about it, does closely parallel the mood generating effects of a great musical score. Tapping into that power and searching for light that is filled with a great'll know it when it just have to give that silent music from within a visual voice.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Insights: The Soft Light Before Sunrise

When the gray of winter arrives and frost settles across the land, I often reflect on the warmer days of summer’s past.  There are but a few true iconic moments I can remember, moments that stirred my soul into greater understanding - none more prominent - none more lasting - than times spent floating above the mirrored waters of a gentle lake . . . in the soft light before sunrise.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Insights: A Pure and Perfect Light

A thought crossed my mind the other day, one that carried a profound image across its depth. As I played with the idea the basic concept behind it revealed a deeper meaning that I had never before realized.

You see, in photography we often use filters to change the light into a form we want it to become. Sometimes we darken it, somtimes we shift the color cast, sometimes we ruin it, but overall, attaching a filter to our lense allows us to use light in a different manner than its original strength would otherwise provide. We may believe what we've done creates an improvement, but more often than not what we have accomplished is to distort the light so that it no longer retains its natural look.

As I thought about it, I realized that we do the same kind of thing with the light of God. We mistakenly want to place filters between ourselves and his light so we can change it into what we want it to become instead of simply using the natural purity and truth of what it represents. Doing so never improves it, it only serves to create a distorted image that limits our ability to enjoy it as it was intended; a pure and perfect light.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Insights: Moments of the Heart

Moments of the Heart are what I call them - moments of time and place blended in such a way as to carve new meaning into a faded identity. It is during those times I am most at home - most in tune with who I am.  As I drift alone on silent waters and experience a new day come to life - I find myself no longer attached to the past - I discover something new - something remarkable - for as surely as the sun will rise - I rise with it…suspended above boundaries of light.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Insights: Like a Son and a Dad

(...An excerpt from a letter to my son...)

Mistakes are what God allows us to make so we can learn from them. Our mistakes are not what hold us down. It is how we choose to react to them that determine what they mean in our lives.  If we allow them to fester, they never heal – they only serve to destroy everything that is good.

God creates a path – a series of paths really – for us to choose from, but even the best of paths are filled with dangers.  He allows us to make our own choices, but he desires to walk with us on whatever path we choose.  It is what we do as we travel along that path that reflect who we are.  We can choose to allow pot holes and difficult terrain to slow our progress, to make us angry, frustrated, and distant, bitter or apathetic.  We can allow trials and tribulations to fill our lives with uncertainty and fear, or, we can see them as humbling challenges. When we fall, we can choose to extend our right hand toward our heavenly father to lift us – help us rest – so he can place us safely on his shoulders to carry us across that difficult ground. Once across the gauntlet, He will set us upon that path again and place his hand on our shoulder to guide us through more difficult circumstances. Like the good father he is, he will challenge us to face our fears –show us where we went wrong and then point the way back to safety.  He allows us to reap the rewards and setbacks of our decisions.  Yet, He will embolden us to persevere through whatever comes our way.  He touches our hearts with compassion and fills it with confidence, and most importantly, he helps us discover what the love of a father really means.

 He will do this even for Daddy’s who made too many mistakes with their own sons. Amid the chaos, He provides clarity about knowing the distinction between going it alone - and reaching for his strength.  This realization comes from a heart that has shared such moments with him – like a son and his dad – which is like it should be…

Monday, August 26, 2013

Insights - From the Prairie

A new series starts today. I call it Insights. 

In the half-light of pre-dawn, a shrouding haze subdued the warmth of the rising sun as I stood on a prairie knoll.  Surrounding me were miles of Oklahoma’s Tallgrass Prairie. The Oklahoma wind, already sweeping across the land, gently whispered to me and I felt at once lonesome and at peace.  Within A moment the sun burned through the haze and cast a golden glow across the prairie, and what was once trapped in darkness...became light.

Too often we allow distractions to darken our perspectives like the dim ambient light I encountered during this prairie moment. A time eventually comes when we must stand exposed on the grassy knoll of truth about God’s word.  When we do, then his words will clear the haze from our lives and his love will whisper gently to us...and renew our lonesome spirit.           

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Cropping for Impact

Sometimes I take a picture understanding that I will more than likely crop it down to create a new image out of it. Usually it is because I do not have the correct lens available or something is just a bit too far away and I have to settle.

Cropping does not require any kind of advanced understanding of techniques, it is more a matter of being able to identify the photograph within the photograph, then removing all the distractions. Here's an example. The top image was the original. It's okay, but to my eye the photograph in the photograph fell upon the middle leaf (bottom photo). There was just a bit too much stuff in the original.

Here's another example. In this case the main attraction was just too far away. As a result it was pretty well lost in all the clutter surrounding it, but by cropping in very tight, the main subject now becomes the main subject. Things to avoid though are unseen distractions that can foul up a shot. In this case a stem from another plant intersects the image from top to bottom creating somewhat of a distraction.

Anyway, don't be afraid to crop your images. Many times if you look for the image within the image, you'll become better equipped to see the shot in the field before you even take it.


Friday, August 9, 2013

The Art of Seeing

I read a story once about how Ansel Adams was setting up one of his famous photographs while others were watching. He noticed something out of place in the view and walked a few yards into the scene and broke off a dead limb hanging from a tree. He supposedly said something to the effect, “That limb doesn’t belong in my photograph.”

Most of us probably would never have seen the obtrusive limb much less taken the time to remove it. But, with his trained eye, he was able to identify what was out of place and took measures to remedy the situation. It was a perfect example that defines the art of seeing.

In photography the art of seeing is one of the most important elements in composition. It’s not so much a matter of recognizing an obviously beautiful scene it is recognizing beauty within the marginal scene that is difficult.

A few years ago I snapped a rather quick photograph of some water plants rising out of the edge of a small lake. A soft greenish reflection spread across the surface of the lake around the plants that created a nice mood generating moment. I really didn’t think too much about it, I just quickly framed it and fired off a couple quick shots. In that same kind of molded moment, I snapped another similar image where the reflected light on the surface cast a yellowish glow amongst a tangle of tree limbs that had fallen into the water. Again, I didn’t think too much about it, just snapped a couple of quick shots.

Some weeks later someone was watching a video I made about that lake that included those two images and she commented, “How did you see that…how did you know that a few plants and some tree limbs would make such good photographs…I would have never seen that nor even thought about looking for something like that.”

 I found it difficult to answer the questions…and it came out something like this, “I just saw it…it was instinct.” Actually I did not think the images were all that great, but they were nice examples of seeing photographically.

As I began to reflect on how I managed to take those two photos I tried to think through the process of what I did. The first thing I remember is seeing the reflected light on the surface of the water. Then I saw the structure around it. By using a long lens, and panning across the surface of the lake looking in the direction of the plants and tree limbs, I was able to isolate those ordinary subjects against some exceptional light. When my eye saw the moment…I fired off the shots. It was that simple.

How I actually saw the moment(s) came from countless thousands of failed photographs trying to accomplish the same thing. All of those failures have contributed to improving the art of seeing to the point that it becomes almost instinctive. You just know it when you see it. The moments were not obvious…it required looking beyond the obvious and seeing what is not always easily seen.

Many times we allow the big picture to get in the way. The big picture represents the obvious, the subtle reflections and the tangles represent the not so obvious. Being able to do so takes practice and a willingness to break away from our preconceived ways of always wanting to do the same old thing the same old way.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Kentucky's Tallgrass Prairie

I would suspect that most people rarely associate Kentucky with Tallgrass Prairie. I'm originally from the
prairie lands and must admit when I discovered that where I live now was once part of an isolated, yet significant segment of the tallgrass prairie region I was surprised. This area today is mostly farm country and from what  I can tell it is prime farm country. But that farming history has its roots embedded in the once ancient and diverse tallgrass prairies that covered this part of Kentucky.

Today only remnants of Kentucky's prairie remains scattered here and there along old fencerows, railroads, fallow fields, and stretching beside the banks of small streams. The story is much the same across what was at one time perhaps the largest ecosystem in North America.  Once covering over 400,000 square miles from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, the Tallgrass Prairie (not to be confused with the more westerly short grass prairies) stretched virtually unimpeded through the heartland of a nation. It was characterized by multiple species of grasses that could stand as tall as a man and supported a myriad of

wildlife including millions of the magnificent American Bison, or buffalo as most people call them. Today almost 99 percent of it has vanished having been turned into the breadbasket of the world. The only locations where horizon to horizon vistas of original tallgrass prairie can be found is in Kansas and Oklahoma.

Kentucky's tallgrass region was an isolated area that stretched like a long sideways comma from the western tip of the state across the south central portion. It covered thousands of acres, prime country that the first settlers turned into wheat and corn, soy and tobacco. It still clings to life along the already mentioned isolated remnant locations, yet what can be found still retains that nostalgic connection to a time when the land was wild.

Efforts have been made to restore portions of Kentucky's prairie. Halls Prairie near Auburn is a small patch of about 100 acres of restored tallgrass prairie. There is also a small patch near Barren River lake. Kentucky's prairie never existed on the large scale that could be found across the plains. It was mostly open fields and patches scattered between wooded areas and along stream banks. Yet collectively it amounted to a significant area that retained it own unique diversity.

Near my home is a fallow field that displays an element of tallgrass mystery.

It is about twenty acres or so, yet within that twenty acres can be found the color and variety of wild prairie. Left alone, it will grow to as high as my shoulders in places. There are prairie flowers in abundance in this small patch. Far from providing that sense of openness that one might expect, it is typical of what Kentucky's prairie lands were like. Please enjoy these few moments exploring Kentucky's Tallgrass Prairie.