Winter Blues

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February – the shortest month of the year. However, while we are in the midst of it, it seems to be never ending, lingering on and on, day after gloomy day.  Why is that?  Have we forgotten that daylight can extend past 5 pm?  Or maybe all those seed catalogs that begin arriving in the mail and piling up on the kitchen table make us grow ever more impatient for spring as they taunt us with their glossy rainbows of flowers, fruits and vegetables.  IMG_1091Reminding us that there are colors other than brown and gray, that the sun can warm the earth enough for green stuff to once again emerge from the currently frozen, barren soil.  Whatever causes this annoying phenomenon, I have long ago gotten in the habit of planning in advance for this end of winter funk.  Some time in the fall we make plans for a late winter weekend retreat. Not to a sunny tropical destination but to someplace semi-local where we can reaffirm our appreciation for the changing seasons and the beauty that can still be found even in the gloominess of winter’s final months.

This year the destination was the newly constructed lodge at Echo Bluff state park in Eminence, Missouri.  The park is in a beautiful area right in the middle of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and the Mark Twain National Forest.  Needless to say, we were very excited to get out in the fresh air and do some hiking and sightseeing.

When we arrived at the lodge, we were greeted by the little band of wild horses that like to hang around the park.  I have heard these horses are descendants of once domesticated farm animals that were set free during the Great Depression.  They are now protected by law and are maintained by a local organization to prevent the herds from getting larger than 50 animals.  When this happens, some of the them are caught so they can be tamed and put up for adoption by local residents, where they rejoin their domestic ancestors.  I suppose you could argue that these creatures are really more “feral” then “wild”, but nonetheless there is something rather romantic and nostalgic about the notion of horses roaming freely throughout the countryside.  Yet, the bond that was broken nearly 100 years ago may not be quite so fragile and some of these animals still seem to trust us silly humans, at least a little bit.  I watched as they approached a group of people starting a campfire and was, of course, inspired to attempt a connection of my own. Collage I must admit they look a lot more impressive from a distance.  Up close you can see the ravages of surviving in this mountainous Missouri terrain.  Their manes and tails are tangled up with burs and leaves and they look like they could really use a full-blown spa day, complete with mani-pedi – unshod horses tend to have some pretty gnarly nails.  With freezing rain and ice predicted for the following evening, I couldn’t help but wonder where these poor creatures slept at night.

We were quite a bit luckier, we knew exactly where we would be sleeping.  The lodge is a gorgeous newIMG_0932 log and stone structure, cozy and warm with a giant fireplace in a two-story great room and amazing views of its namesake bluff and Sinking Creek. Our room was on the second floor, overlooking the bluff and creek.  Despite the impending winter storm, it was an unusually warm evening, so we sat on our little balcony, adult beverage in hand and enjoyed the view as the sun slowly sank in the sky and the horses meandered down the creek, wandering off into the night to wherever it is they go.

The next morning was exploration time and we needed to get an early start so we could be back at the lodge before the inclement weather hit.  Sometimes the best trips are the ones with no set plans – you just tend to go wherever the road leads.  This trip was no exception to that rule.  We started off in the general direction of Rocky Falls for no other reason than I saw a sign and it sounded interesting.  Along the way, we saw another sign for Alley Spring.  This I had heard of, so we decided to take a brief detour and check it out.  All I can say about this place is “WOW”!  It was like standing in the middle of a picture Mill 2(s)postcard.  It was so amazingly beautiful.  You don’t realize how color blind the winter gloom can make you until your eyes are once again acquainted with blue water and green plants. This has got to be the most colorful place that Missouri has to offer in these dark, dank months.  A bright red mill, reflected in a pool of naturally blue spring water with lush green plants!  There was even a slight mist floating just above the water. It was simply jaw dropping and pictures cannot do it justice.  I would love to come back here in the fall to see how the autumn color enhances it even further.

Mill 5(s)In the winter, daylight is a limited commodity, so we were forced to press on in our unscripted agenda and continue to Rocky Falls.  At this point, we realized we were truly “off the grid” because we had lost cell phone coverage and I had to rummage through the litter in the glove box and dust off the paper map of Missouri.  This moment always makes me a little elated.  I just love having to unfold that darn map and not have to rely on Siri to get us lost. Our misdirection now depended on my navigational prowess and the cartographical accuracy of Rand-McNally. Onward to Rocky Falls!

 

Falls 2(s)Rocky Falls was pretty much just that, a rocky waterfall.  There was indeed water and rocks and a fall, but it wasn’t running at full strength. Probably much more impressive in the spring when there’s a little more water.  We had a short amount of time between other visitors to get in a few pictures, but when a camo-attired horde came roaring up on a dozen or so ATV’s we figured that signaled the end of this particular photo shoot.

Just like that, it was back to the beloved paper map to see what other natural wonders this area had up its sleeve.  And there on the map, highlighted and bolded in blue as a “point of interest”, was Blue Spring.  What could that be? It must be worth checking out if it was truly a point of interest.  So off we drove in search of a blue spring, curving and winding through the back roads of rural Missouri. It was somewhere along this route that I learned how you know when you have actually reached Rural Missouri – it’s the moment when you see a dead, rotting coyote carcass impaled on fence post as a warning to all his pack mates and kin to stay the F*** out of Rural Missouri. Yikes…Doubt there are many PETA sympathizers in these parts.  

Blue Spring is another of Missouri’s natural wonders that lives up to its name by virtue of being both blue and a spring. In my experience, many of the springs in Missouri are blue, so what makes this one different?  Well the signage is happy to tell you!  This is the deepest spring in Missouri (over 300 feet), it IMG_1012.jpgis so blue that the native Americans called it the “Spring of the Summer Sky” and it discharges 90 million gallons of water a day!  It truly is quite an amazing shade of blue.  Blue Springs 2(s)On this, the grayest of all winter days, it was the bluest of any spring that has ever sprung.  The water is so clear, you can peer straight down into its azure depths, where the blueness seems to increase the deeper you try to stare. Even the fish shimmer like sapphires as they dart about in their beautiful little basin of blue.  Definitely another awe-inspiring photo destination to add to the lineup for the Eminence area.Blue Springs 4(s)

Time always seems to fly when you’re having fun. With no cell phone coverage, an outdated map of Missouri and inclement weather on the radar it was time to follow the trail of dead coyotes back to the sanctuary of the lodge where a special Valentines Day dinner was being prepared.

Later in the evening, after enjoying an overabundance of filet mignon, lobster tail and decadent desserts, we hunkered down by the massive stone fireplace to ride out the storm. As the ice began to tap against the windows, we reflected on the adventures of the day and how, with all the stunning and colorful natural wonders that this beautiful place had to offer, we had gained a whole new perspective on the concept of “winter blues.”

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In Search of Autumn

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September 22 marked the autumnal equinox, the start of my favorite time of year. The time when the days get shorter, the nights get longer and fall officially begins – apple picking, harvest moons, a slight chill in the air – what a great time to be alive!  Time to pull out the sweaters, carve pumpkins and snuggle up to the campfire in the evenings.  It’s a time of transition from the long, fast paced days of summer to the slower, simpler days of winter.  It’s a feast for the eyes, as nature partakes in her most dazzling display of the year.  The lush greens of summer are cast off in brilliant hues of gold, orange and red. Leaving behind the bare bones of winter, the remnants of God’s creation settling in for a long rest beneath a blanket of white, gathering strength for revival in the spring.  It’s the natural order of things, the way things should be.

Deer 3-1(s).jpgSo, as in years past, I eagerly awaited autumn. I spent all of October waiting.  At first I waited quite patiently, then I began to worry. November was approaching and still no fall. It wasn’t long before panic set in and I began searching in vain. I looked in all the usual places I look when something is misplaced – the back of the junk drawer, the top shelf in the hall closet, the bottom of my purse.  But all I found were rolls of scotch tape, a 2012 Cabela’s catalog and my spare car key.  Where the heck was autumn?  What happened to the chilly air, the brilliant hues and the crisp fall apples?  I trudged through my typical fall routine in hopes of finding it somewhere along the way – walks in the woods, apple picking, unpacking my winter wardrobe, a hayride to the pumpkin patch – but it was nowhere to be found.  The woods were still green, the apples were bland, the sweaters were too warm and the pumpkins on my porch had not suffered through a single frost.

NY 4(s).jpgFinally, when November arrived there was no time left, the leaves simply had to come off the trees. And off they came, so quickly that I almost missed it. Sometime in the beginning of November, in the blink of an eye, the leaves changed color, dropped to the ground and that was it – it was over.

 

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snr-5-1sI managed to catch some of it in bits and pieces, here and there.  A brief corridor of gold on a highway in upstate New York.  A hike through our Missouri woods where a few brilliant embers still burned in the red of the Sumac leaves and an occasional white tail deer rooted around in the leaf litter, their coats thickening for the colder months ahead. In a last-ditch effort to seek out the remnants of fleeting fall colors, we took a trip down to southern Missouri and bid adieu to the final shades of autumn that were taking refuge in the Mingo swamp.

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As autumn breathes her last breath of globally warmed air, I’m left feeling a little bewildered and out of sorts.  I feel as if I have been cheated out of one of my most beloved childhood memories.  I’m left pining for the autumns of my youth.  The tastes and smells of Octobers past flood my mind – Taffy apples, pumpkin seeds, bags of Halloween candy, the pungent aroma of fallen leaves trapped and suspended in time on some long-lost breeze that has been stilled by the melancholy within my very soul.  When I close my eyes, I can still imagine myself in my old neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, brightly colored leaves raked into perfect piles, prime for jumping; walking to school under a canopy of yellow and red, crushing the newly fallen leaves under my worn out Keds, my breath fogging up in the frosty morning air while friends intently discuss the most prosperous trick-or-treating route for the coming Halloween.

With a heavy heart, I continue to mourn my lost autumn. As I slowly progress through the five stages of grief, I look out my dining room window to see the final shreds of harvest gold whisked away on the southern breeze.  While I let the healing process begin, I softly recite one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost..

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Nothing Gold Can Stay

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Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

-Robert Frost

    “Stay gold Ponyboy. Stay gold.”

S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders

 

Free to Bee You and Me

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Tapping away at my keyboard without a window in sight, I become oblivious to the passage of the sun across the sky.  The only glimmer of hope lies in the hint of sunlight peeking through the small skylight behind me.  So I wander out into the little hallway constructed of 4-foot-high partitions, peer up through the little porthole and there it is – a beautiful IMG_3954.JPGsunny day in Rochester, NY. I long to stop and stand there, basking in the refracted rays of the sun, soaking up some of that essential vitamin D. But the rational being in me doesn’t want to look like too much of an idiot and thoughts of a bottle of Copper Tone, a Pina Colada and a beach chair are gone just as quickly as they came. Like a dutiful little drone, I shuffle on back to my own desk, suffered to toiling away in this bleak “Dickensian” environment for another 8-10 hours.

As the workday wears on, daydreams become inevitable and my mind begins to drift away to a day last week when once agabutterfly-7sin the weather was beautiful, sunny and warm – the only difference was that this was the weekend and it belonged to me.   I was putzing around in my backyard surrounded by the golden summer sunshine; happily pruning shrubs and pulling weeds in my newly planted butterfly garden.  Of course it didn’t take very long for me to get distracted from this work, too.  In my own defense, it’s hard not to be distracted when dazzling displays of color are flying all around you.  There were actual butterflies in my butterfly garden! I immediately traded in my pruning shears for my macro lens and disappeared into my happy place.

Intently photographing all the little critters that were buzzing and flying around me – big fuzzy bees were bee-2lumbering from flower to flower, their legs coated with yellow pollen, gathering as much as possible to join the other drones stashing it away into the hundreds of little octagonal cubicles that make up their hive.  They were so focused on their work that they barely noticed me fearlessly getting within a couple inches of them.  I hadn’t forgotten about the butterflies; they were just much harder to capture.  Flitting around carelessly from flower to flower, opening and closing their gossamer wings, relishing the nectar without a care in the world.  No hive to return to, no queen to bow down to, no honey to prepare.  Like colorful gypsy caravans, their free-spirits drifting along on the vagabond breeze – the only thing to prepare for is a long winter vacation to a warmer climate.

butterfly-3-1sAs far as the flowers were concerned, the bee and butterfly were accomplishing the same task, bubutterfly-6st their approaches couldn’t be more different. I was struck by the dichotomy of lifestyle in such close proximity.  Does the bee ever get jealous of the butterfly? Does he ever wish he could kick the honey habit, channel his inner snowbird and fly south for the winter? And what about the butterfly? Are there any practically minded, homebody butterflies who wish they could just store up some pollen, get a Netflix subscription and tough out the winter at home on the couch instead of traveling thousands of miles on fragile little wings?

Bee 2(s)Such are the lives of these little creatures – stuck in the one circumstance they are born into.  Each performing a specific role, day in and day out.  The bee is much like the weekday worker in all of us.  Chained to the workaday world and seemingly never ending tasks.  The butterfly is the weekend warrior.  Dashing from one adventure to the next, spontaneously moving about her day with no plans or commitments.  Each one enjoying a simple serendipity; an easy, uncomplicated lifestyle. Innately knowing who they are and what they were born to do.   

As I think about them going about their day, haplessly content in their own fragile little kingdom, I realize that the advantage we possess is the power to choose. It is the gift of free will that makes us capable of guiding our own destiny.  We possess the freedom to be our own unique selves, to be both a butterfly and a bee and whatever else we choose to be. This is the miracle that makes us – us.

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Twilight at Tower Rock

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As if a fun filled day of hiking and picnicking near Cape Girardeau wasn’t enough, we decided we still needed one more adventure. So we took a chance and raced against daylight to try and reach Tower Rock by sunset.  Due to lack of GPS coverage and shoddy cartographical skills, my surefire shortcut turned into a dead end and we were forced to take the road more traveled as we scrambled to beat the onset of nightfall.

Turning off the main highway, racing headlong down gravel roads, daylight waning alongside us, we talked about abandoning the whole idea and just heading for home. But after coming this far, turning back was not an option – it couldn’t be too much farther, could it?  As the sun dipped deeper on the horizon, we were forced to come to grips with the fact that darkness was descending faster than we could cover ground.

As the last of the sunlight leached from the sky, we pulled in alongside the river, finally arriving at Tower Rock. Gazing out at the Mississippi as the night enfolded around us, a beautifully bright moon shone above.  Instead of sunset, I got moon glow.

The most cherished moments in life are often unforeseen, so I grabbed my camera and stepped out into the darkness.

To commemorate my lost sunset, I channeled my inner fourth grader and composed a little Haiku.

 

Reckless toward sunset

August embers burn to ash

Sapphire curtains close

Back to Basics vs the Power of Progress

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It seems that nowadays many of us are trying to simplify our lives.  Downsizing, going green, eating organic – in general trying to get back to our roots, live naturally and have less of a negative impact on this beautiful planet we call home.  I applaud all of this awareness and back to nature stuff.  What I don’t get is the irony of how photography seems to have gone in the opposite direction.  With digital cameras and computer programs, the ability to manipulate and alter photos has gone a little crazy.  From landscapes that have an eerie ethereal glow to overly processed images pushed to the point of breakage and beyond, people seem to have gotten a little carried away. Bigger, brighter and bolder obviously must be better. 

With all of this post processing craziness, I started to wonder how my photography stacked up.  Was I out of control as well?  I try my best not to over process my images, but us humans seem to be attracted to bright shiny things.

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This whole thought process brought about an idea for a new project.  I thought it might be fun to get some film and see just how different the results would be when compared to my normal routine of post-processing digital images.  Just how far have I strayed from the basics? So I headed to the upstairs closet to dig out and dust off my old 35mm camera and then to the camera store for batteries and film. 

ha ha tonka 1(s)Once I heard the snap of the shutter and whirl of the film advancing, it brought back so many good memories I couldn’t help but smile to myself. But it also brought back memories of just how limiting it is to shoot with film.  I can store hundreds of images on my SD card, but there are only 24 exposures per roll of film.  We really had to think about what we were shooting back in the day.  Luckily I had my digital camera along for the ride to pick up the slack. 

In the end, I shot two rolls of film at two separate state parks, for a whopping total of 48 shots. After finding out that local drug stores no longer return your negatives, I made my way back to the camera store for development. Here’s the kicker, I paid $12 for 4 rolls of color film, and it cost $18/roll to get prints, negatives and a cd.  Now I feel much more justified having bought a pricey digital camera.  It basically pays for itself since you no longer have the ongoing expense of film and developing.  IMG_3271

After a couple days, I returned to the camera store to pick up my prize.  Mixed emotions ran through my mind as I contemplated the feeling of holding the unknown in my hand, anxious to open up those envelopes of never before seen prints.  The excitement, the apprehension – was it worth all the time, effort and money?  I hurried to the car and began shuffling through the photos.  There they were in all their glory … and really not half bad.  I went home, pulled up my previously edited digital images and compared them to the prints.  I was pleased to see that they were actually pretty similar.  Nothing crazy or weird, no overly sharpened “HDR’ishness” or exceedingly saturated bluer than blue skies.  I believe I can rest assured that I haven’t fallen victim to the curse of the Photoshop generation.  My images still resembled photographs!creek film and digital 1.jpg

 

ha ha tonka 3(s).jpgAs much as there will always be a special place in my heart for the joy of shooting film, I realized I had learned another important lesson. Going back to basics does not always go hand in hand with going green, or saving green for that matter.  Aside from the obvious toll on your wallet, old school photography also involves harsh chemicals and by products that need to be safely disposed of.  Digital photography has none of these adverse side effects.  Now I know I can remain true to my photography roots without poisoning the earth in the process.  Despite all the hi-tech bells and whistles, digital photography and online editing are definitely the greener alternative. 

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In all my attempts to live a more natural and simple life, I have to remind myself from time to time that less is more. Just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I should; the most important part of any endeavor is knowing when it’s time to stop. Even a painter knows when he has added the last brush stroke.  After all, nature is the ultimate artist; she should be celebrated and revered for all her perfect imperfections.

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Note:  All landscape photos were taken with Fuji 400 speed color film and retouching was limited to the adjustments available in a darkroom setting only.

 

 

 

Celebrate the Little Things

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There’s a great big world out there. So many beautiful and exciting things to see and experience – awe-inspiring landscapes, exotic animals, amazing feats of architecture – the list goes on and on.  But sometimes the most interesting things can be found right outside our own door.  When we walk outside we step over, around and into a much smaller world.  A world that creeps, crawls and buzzes right beneath our noses, inhabited by creatures so tiny we hardly even notice their presence.  This is the wonderful world of bugs.  Where everything is on a scale so disproportionate from ours that we are reminded of classic old horror movies like The Incredible Shrinking Man or Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

 

Little bug 1(s).jpgI never paid much attention to these little guys before, unless I was scratching at their bites, being annoyed by their buzzes or trying to outrun their stingers.  Then I got a macro lens.  The idea was to do super close up shots of pretty things, like flowers.  As I started playing around with it, I was trying to focus on the cutest tiniest little flower ever, when suddenly an even tinier bug crawled up and sat down right on top of the flower.  It was amazing to see something so tiny, so close up.

And thus began my new obsession – actively seeking out bugs all over my backyard and everywhere else I went. There were so many things I never noticed before, like the tiny black hairs on a fly’s back or the aphids the size of a pin head all over my purple cone flowers.

Up close they really weren’t as ugly or icky as I once thought them to be.  Some are dazzling and colorful, some are soft and fuzzy and others are so fragile and delicate it’s hard to imagine they are really alive.

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Dragonfly 1-1(s)For the past couple weeks, I have been learning to look more closely at their delicate little world. At first glance they seemed so much different from us, but are they really? Just like us they eat, sleep, multiply and eventually die. They are such an important part of the circle of life. They pollinate our gardens, fertilize the soil and provide food for the animals that we eat. We simply cannot survive without them.

Lady Bug 1(s)So the next time you walk out your door, take a few minutes to look more closely at the world that surrounds you.  Stop and smell the flowers, breathe in the fresh air and remember to be thankful for the little things in life.

 

–          A life is never so precious as when you hold it in the palm of your hand.

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The Cost of Captivity

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Zoos have come a long way from the days of barred cages housing large predators relentlessly pacing back and forth, monkeys swinging from metal trapezes and hippos standing in dirty concrete pools.  Zoos today make an earnest attempt at developing a more natural habitat for their charges.  However, they are pretty much limited to their own environment and confines.  It’s quite hard to recreate an Lion 4(s)African savanna or the Arctic tundra in the center of a Midwestern city. But try they must. Polar Bear 1(s) The animals are there and there’s nowhere else for most of them to go.  Like it or not, these animals have been born and bred in captivity for generations and would not stand a chance among their unfettered counterparts in the wild. 

YBird 1(s).jpget some of these animals do serve a purpose.  In this world there are species on the verge of extinction through no fault of their own. Many animals are still hunted and killed for nothing more than a body part coveted as a souvenir or trophy, or simply because they are considered to be a nuisance.  While people are becoming more aware and more humane, the poachers and the black markets still exist for a few of the more unenlightened, cruel and disgraceful members of our species.  For those of us who do care, these animals can be studied and bred in captivity in the hope that someday, in a more perfect world, they will be free to live their lives as nature intended and not be subject to the risk of being penned up or shot down. 

As controversial as they may be, our zoos remain a staple fixture in most large cities – a popular tourist Gorilla 5(s).jpgattraction and a typical family haunt during summer vacations.  A couple weeks ago, we made a trip to the St. Louis zoo to observe and photograph some of the animals in residence there.  This is one of the zoos that is constantly trying to improve the habitats and make the animals feel at least a little more at home.  In general, I like to spend some time observing each animal and trying to capture their activities Prairie Dog 2(s).jpgand emotions. Since it was spring and many of the birds were actively breeding, my main focus this time was going to be the free flight bird house.  However, the bird house is in the back of the zoo and I had to walk past many exhibits to get there and I got a little side tracked along the way, mostly by gorillas, flamingos and prairie dogs.

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After I returned home and started looking through the images, I noticed a common theme among the expressions on the animals faces.  When you take a closer look, you can tell they know something is Egret 5-1(s).jpgamiss; something is not quite right.  Call it melancholy, homesickness or the internal realization of a grave injustice.  This world that they were born into is not the one where they belong. They sense the limitations of their confines, the inability to choose their own mates, hunt their own food and keep a safe distance from predators – namely humans.  Some seem angry, some look sad or confused and others seem to be pleading with their eyes for a reprieve.  Their freedom has been sacrificed for our Saturday afternoon enjoyment.

Egret 3-1(s)Why should the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness be limited to human beings alone?  Shouldn’t these rights be extended to all of the earth’s creatures?  It seems to me that in our own pursuits there are many ways in which we have taken it upon ourselves to surrender these rights on their behalf.  For those of us who recognize the injustice, there are still many others who prefer to put their efforts into justifying and rationalizing their own selfish behavior.  Nevertheless, there will come a time in the future when the earth as a whole will have to pay the cost of captivity.

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The Eyes Have It

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Animals are really not so different from us. They think and feel, love and hate, rejoice in happiness and suffer in sorrow.  They communicate with us in an unspoken language.  Anyone who has ever had a pet would agree.  One look into a soulful pair of eyes and you know there’s more behind them than the instinct to pee on your newly planted garden or scratch the stuffing out of your favorite living room chair.

sheep 1-2Although photographing animals can be difficult, it also can be very rewarding. We have all seen those portraits of animals that make you stop dead in your tracks and say “Wow!” Something is so compelling that you just can’t take your eyes away. And often, it’s the eyes that draw us in. If we are given the opportunity to look into their eyes, we can begin to see the very essence of their soul.  There’s no underlying agenda, no lies or deceit; they live the most basic of lives.

Of course, pets are the most obvious victims for our cameras. They live in our homes, we hang with them every day and they will succumb to just about any torture we can put them through for no more than a cookie and a pat on the head. So we force them to pose, do tricks, sit still and stop drooling just so we can post their pictures on our Facebook page and show them off to all our friends.  Because, let’s face it, every pet parent believes their furry little ball of fluffy love is the cutest of them all.

But what about animals who aren’t domesticated? It’s hard to get up close and personal with creatures that we are not on a first name basis with.  Even when we encounter them in zoos, sanctuaries and wildlife parks where we can get a little closDeer 3-3(s)er than we would in the wild, how do we know what they are thinking and feeling?  Whenever we have our cameras out, we spend more time studying our subject waiting for the right moment. We are still, we are quiet, we let our guard down and maybe, just for an instant, our eyes meet and there’s a mutual sense of kinship and respect.   All it takes is the release of the shutter at just the right moment, a fraction of a second, and with luck we will capture their unique inner beauty.

As humans, we are really not so different from other animals. On the outside we appear to be much more complicated, yet once you strip away all the baggage we carry around – our daily routine of errands and chores, the possessions and status symbols we work so hard to achieve, the amount of stress it all creates – beneath all the things we define ourselves by, we too are made of flesh and blood. But without our fancy gadgets and our trendy clothes to hide behind, how will we know what to think of one another, what each one of us is really all about?  The answer is easy, it lies within us all – it is the unencumbered beauty, the reflection of our soul, which can be found simply by looking into each other’s eyes.

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Gone Fishin’

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Somehow I have managed to survive on this planet for over half of a century never having known the thrill of catching a fish.  It’s not for a lack of trying or an aversion to worms.  I’ve sat in a boat and drank beer with the best of them, yet for reasons unknown the fish always seem to bypass my hook and move on to the next. 

But this past weekend I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to get schooled by some expert anglerHeron 6(s)s.  As is usual, instead of taking notes I took pictures.  These fishermen don’t need a trolling motor, spinners, lures or flies.  They rely solely on their long legs, keen eye and quick reflexes.  Without the aid of a tackle box or a trip to Bass Pro Shop, they pluck fish out of the water as Heron 5(s).jpgeasily as I pluck Doritos out of a bag. 

 

I’ve witnessed Great Blue Herons at work in the past, but what made this occasion so special is that it’s spring.  Usually they are pretty solitary birds, preferring to be loners and not share their fishing grounds with others.  However, in the spring a young man’s fancy tends to turn to thoughts of love, and his affairs are governed more by his heart than by his hunger.

Although Herons don’t normally mate for life, they do stay with one mate throughout the breeding season.  For the better part of the year it’s a little difficult to tell the males from the females, but during this season it’s the males turn to shine.  Whole flocks gather in groups at the local fishing hole and the menfolk do their best to impress the ladies – who in general, tend to remain rather aloof and indifferent to the whole display. 

 

At this pond there was one gentleman who was definitely the big man on campus.  With his chest puffed up and his long colorful plumage tousling about in the spring breeze, he strutted across the water like an avian Mick Jagger.  Surely, this guy could have his choice of all the lovely ladies, and he did seem to be intent on wooing one in particular.  However, she seemed more interested in catching fish than in courting.  I’m not sure if she was being coy and playing hard to get or maybe she was just hungry.  Most likely, it’s all part of the game of love. Yet even with moves like Jagger, she remained unimpressed by all his obvious charm and charisma. 

Collage 1(s0

The fishing and the flirting continued on throughout the evening.  At one point some Egrets stopped by to check out the local fishing scene, but they were soon carefully escorted from this exclusive club by a couple of male Herons on bouncer duty. 

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Before long, the sun started to drift lower on the horizon.  One by one the Herons retreated from the Heron 3(s)pond, flying back to their nests to contemplate and strategize their next maneuvers in the courtship dance. We decided it was time for us to fly, too.  But, like the Herons and the sportsmen, we’ll soon be back to try our luck at the fishing hole. Although I plan on getting my catch of the day with the snap of a shutter rather than the cast of a pole. Forever in pursuit of the one that got away.

 FOTD38C

 

 

Spring Fever

Female Cardinal 3-1(s)

We finally made it. After a long and arduous winter, today was the first day of spring! So I sprang out of bed this morning and made my way to the window, only to be shocked when I realized that we had not sprung ahead at all.  Instead we had taken a giant step backward – right back into winter. There was at least an inch of snow on the ground and it was still coming down fast – those giant “hamster” sized snowflakes that are so infamous here in St. Louis. 

Cardinals 1(s)My beautiful Magnolia tree had been in full bloom and now its fragile flowers were drooping under a layer of sloppy wet snow.  The Bradford pears, daffodils, forsythias and pussy willows – blooming much too early than seemed necBlue Jay 2-1(s)essary – here they were, now trying to hold up under the weight of a fresh coating of heavy spring snow.   With plans of doing yard work this afternoon, I too was feeling a little under the weather. 

 

 

As I looked out into the backyard, I noticed that the local bird population wasn’t being deterred from their daily routine.  I have to admit, the late season snow was really quite lovely. The birds were all decked out in their spring plumage. With the backdrop of the gray mottled skies and the tree branches outlined in white, they appeared more vibrant than ever.  I quickly grabbed my camera and started snapping away.  These beautiful and lively birds are definitely the harbingers of spring, despite the onslaught of winter’s brief, but hopefully, final assault. 

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The snow had ended by lunchtime and was all melted by mid-afternoon. However, I still didn’t manage to get any yard work done. On the upside, I did manage to get some pretty nice bird shots. So I believe the snow had its advantages and I know there will always be plenty of time for pruning and planting in the months to come. After all, as a little bird once told me – hope springs eternal!