Friday, June 30, 2006

Moving Day

Sometimes, I sneak up on an event. Life can be uncertain, and we've had trips we planned that either did not happen or did not happen as we planned. This year life has been more difficult to predict - what with Henry's dad's ill health, my daughter's wedding, etc. So, for several reasons, I had not actually booked our accommodations for the convention. Sometimes, we leave our RV and stay at the convention hotel. Sometimes, we park the RV at the hotel. Sometimes we stay at an RV park and commute. Our next event is Westercon over the fourth of July weekend. Organized people would have made sure they had reservations. Campland on the Bay was booked up over the fourth from the first part of our stay. I was hoping for a cancellation. But after we arrived for our stay I realized that was unlikely so I called around and ended up booking us at an RV park supposedly in El Cajon.

As it became time to leave Campland, I found I had mixed emotions. I'm sure it was a zoo over the fourth - tons of people, packed - it is a popular place. But we spent 9 nights there - it had become a little like home. Our second spot had us overlooking one of the "parks". This was a very family oriented campground - lots of people of various income levels - tents to high end RV's. I enjoyed watching the families having fun together. Plus we were right next to the bay, close driving distance to the ocean.

Our new campground turned out to be 25 or so miles east - I think I saw an elevation marker of 1000 feet on the highway on the way here. Need I say - it is HOT during the day here. It is a much smaller and quieter place. Note to self: when they warn you about ants: BELIEVE THEM! Henry has done a commendable job putting the comet around the tires. We never got the Vaseline for the electric cord - we probably should have. He has sprayed every ant trail both inside and outside the RV. I sleep most of the night without ants crawling on me. At least they are not the dreaded fire ants!

Thursday, June 29, 2006


We went to one of the "restaurants" at the park for lunch. The day was hot, not much breeze going through the seating area. A lady across from us was being treated for heat exhaustion - first by her husband, later by the park medic. The rangers came to check on the situation. We watched them box her lunch and she was taken in the medic's vehicle for further treatment. We were doing OK . . . . . we were drinking lots of water, we had our hats . . . . but we knew we were tired, we knew we were underpowered . . . yes, it was HOT - Texas hot. We had gotten a feel for what the Wildlife park was like. I genuinely hope to come back. Future ideas - bring the RV - escape during the heat of the day to the air conditioning, nap, and return for the late afternoon and evening happenings at the park. The photography trip and the overnight at the park are on my list. But this time, the wise thing was that we had seen the highlights. Tomorrow was moving day, and Saturday was the convention. We walked through the aviary near the exit and called it a day.

Zoos vs Wildlife refuges

I've gone to the raptor programs at the Arizona Desert Museum in Tucson. These are educational in showing the birds in their native terrain doing natural behaviors. Each bird had probably 10 minutes to demonstrate what he could do. The show here at the Wild Animal Park started with a series of birds - some exotic, some native, running full speed through the "stage" area. Our hostess was a knowledgeable lady, but there was definitely a show-biz feel.

I thoroughly enjoyed the flight of the peregrin falcon (I've photographed them elsewhere at raptor programs), the macaws, the incredible parrot mimic and the other birds in the show. And on another day, I might plan to go to all the shows to see the different birds that perform each time. But it definitely had more of a feel of a performance -staged area, large stadium seating, even a trained mouse running behind the hostess done with humor as its goal.

I really want to praise the San Diego zoo. It is truly a world class facility. It has the research and medical personel, buildings, and equipment to save species on the brink of extinction. My first view of a condor was at this zoo. It is still a great place to take your children for them to experience animals whose natural homes are far across the sea. I really appreciate the conservation emphasis and education throughout the park. But it does have the feel of a theme park - like Sea World or Six Flags with animals as the theme.

Henry and I have been visiting both national parks and national wildlife refuges over the last few years. Seeing wild animals in their natural environment, learning when and where to find them, rising at dawn on bitter cold mornings, and staying out till sunset, have definitely spoiled us. Because of some types of wildlife shots, I still plan to visit the zoos both in the Texas area and elsewhere. I've gotten wonderful hummingbird shots and raptor shots at the Desert museum. But the thrill of catching a glimpse of an animal showing up where you expected it to be is a much more profound experience than seeing an animal in a realistic confined area. Children usually do not have the patience to wait for the animals in the wild - the zoo is great for them. But, I'll keep heading out the wildlife refuges, knowing that zoo photography is challenging in its own way, just as is finding animals in the wild in photogenic locations and lighting.

The Gorillas

I could tell that while the zoo would be open until 9:00 p.m. Henry and I were not going to make it for an entire day. The gorillas were my next stop. To my delight, I found an open space - NO GLASS where I could sit, observe, and photograph. This exhibit was the highlight of my day. Once again the value of patient observation paid off. At first, the gorillas that were out, sat conspicuously with their backs toward us. Polite behavior-gorilla style. It is a social no-no among gorillas to stare. I had my camera with my 100-400 lens set up on the tripod. Yes, I had to dodge groups of day camps and child care facilities that would stand right in front of me. But I began to have a feel for what to look for.

There were two "caves" and several gorillas would come and go. Two silverback males came out. I waited, watched, and hoped for photographic opportunities. They came. A female came and sat within my photographic range - shaded, no major light issues. I got a few profile shots where I will attempt to combine two shots so that both the background has detail and the gorilla has detail, one of the problems of shooting at mid-day with full sun and shadows.

Then the fun really began! Two young gorillas began a wrestling match! What a joy to watch as they chased each other, leg wrestled, mock bit each other. These are the kind of action shots that I see that win and place in the major contests. Due to the lighting, I was shooting with a higher ISO than is my first choice. But my initial screening gives me hope that I have some useable shots. I stayed until it was time for the bird show.

San Diego Wildlife Park

Never having made it to the larger San Diego Wild Animal Park - it was on my list. It was Henry's last day of freedom before moving day and his final preparations for the con. I gave him every opportunity to back out, but he was interested. I definitely debated leaving the camera gear behind and just going out to enjoy the park. Wisely, Henry encouraged me to go ahead and bring it. He started the day carrying my tripod. I'm trying very hard to carry my own gear - even the heavy lens and tripod. I do go out on excursions without Henry - I need to be able to manipulate my own equipment. By making it a practice to carry my own stuff around, I feel like I am building endurance for those days when I have to hike and haul it.

The Wildlife Park is 25-30 miles north of San Diego - off I-15. We left earlier than the day before, but it is far enough from the coast that it was already hot. Walking on concrete walkways the day before left my calves stiff and uncooperative.

I headed us toward the Wgasa Bush Line Railway system. Well, it looks like a rail, but there is only one rail - like those car rides that you "control", but it keeps you on the track. Thankfully there was not a long line and we got on quickly. As I read the literature, I had noted that you can Sleepover at the zoo.

We passed close to the safari tents - yes, they appealed to me. Yes they are tents, but they have decent enough looking beds. The sitting area around the tents overlooks the large animal enclosures. You would go to bed and wake up hearing these magnificent animals. Because of the proximity of the Kilimanjaro Safari walk, I'm wondering if you are allowed to take the walk in the early morning when the animals are more active. As we went around the park on the rail - I could see the tracks where the Photo Caravan Safari takes you. That also would be on my list if I get to come back. While you are standing the entire time, you are actually with the animals. Some great photo opportunities!

This photo is an overview from the rail. You can see the safari tents in the distance and the track for the Photo Caravan Safari. I enjoyed the train ride, but the large paddocks seem to be in the process of being redone. Some areas had large areas of bare dirt that was being shaped for future grass. They told us that they are also redoing the routing of the "train." We were on the original track. They are expanding it into two routes and will eventually pull up the rail route we were on.

It was impressive to see a number of rhinos soaking themselves in their ponds. They are planning to preserve the California wildlands and native grasses and trees on the hills - so there is probably a limited amount of future development for more large enclosures. We were too far away from most of the large animals - and the animals we passed more closely were more in fenced enclosures. Not great for photography.

The brochures and signs touted this open area as a trip to Africa. Hum . . . . yes, the animals are right, but the vegetation and terrain don't match my inner view of Africa. With friends living in Africa right now, a real visit to Africa (Zambia to be precise) is in my dreaming process. With God's provision, I hope to make it there sometime in the next couple of years - both to teach ladies' Bible class (with a translator) and to take some genuine African wildlife photos.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Koalas - and other Australian marsupials

When I brought Thomas to this zoo as a small child, San Diego was the only place to see Koala bears. I remember seeing one - in his tree sound asleep. The breeding program must be working well. There were four sleeping koalas in their trees and four more sleeping on treelike platforms behind glass. There was also a ever so cute marsupial with her baby looking out of his pouch. The setting and background will prevent this photo from winning a prize . . . but the shots are keepers - CUTE baby!

The bus guide told us that koalas sleep all day because their primary food, eucalyptus leaves are toxic. They need to rest to be able to tolerate the toxins. Hum . . . . . I'm having trouble getting my brain wrapped around the idea that the only thing they eat is also poisonous. Once again, I'm hanging around, this time not only because I'm tired and moving isn't fun, but because I'm interested in the animals here. I'm rewarded when one of the outdoor koalas rouses and begins to forage on the convenient eucalyptus leaves around him. A faint familiar eucalyptus aroma brushes the air.

I'm even lucky enough to catch a shot of one of the indoor koalas in the one second his eyes are open. Background - what background - it is a beige wall - he is on a platform - nothing natural. Maybe someday, I'll attempt a digital art piece with this shot of a koala that appears awake and alert.

The Polar Bears

Our legs were getting tired and sore. (yes . . . I've said that before - forgive the whining - sometimes I don't think we act grown up when we are hot, tired and sore.) The camera equipment felt like it had gained 30 pounds. But we kept going. Back at the bottom we waited for our first express bus ride back up.

I noticed a blue heron - certainly a visitor to the zoo, also - in a favorable spot to photograph. One of the shots of him is one of the best of the day. Our next stop was near a dipping dots salesman. Super cold, especially delicious, they provided energy to walk slightly up hill to the polar bears.

Earlier in the day we had seen two of the polar bears from the bus - frolicking in the water. By late afternoon, one of them was sound asleep by the wall - our vantage point showed us his huge feet. But I did get a few shots from his buddy. But I had just moved my camera, when the hidden treat was found. Not great shots, but better than some others during the day.

Decision time - climb up the short hill to catch the bus - or go down the longer way. Down - no brainer.

The Hippo

I knew that coming from Hutto, Texas, home of the Hutto Hippos, that my trip to the zoo would be incomplete without seeing the hippos. We had found the cute pygmy hippos. But I wanted to see the full sized ones. I was not confident that I would get a great hippo shot, but I knew I wanted to see them. The hippos have a nice glassed viewing area. But what is special is that you can view the hippo underwater. Now, being tired, we sat and watched the hippo - certainly not his most attractive end . . . . He was asleep, non moving. But the advantages of hanging around an animal worked in our favor. Without warning, he turned around, and swam off to the other end of his pond. This was a marvel to behold. He makes his way through the water like a giant blimp - half walk, half swim, fully submerged locomotion. His movement was remarkably graceful - a slow motion dance. We were lucky enough to watch him sail through the water twice. Didn't I say we were tired . . . . . we hung around a little longer and were rewarded as he hauled himself out of the water. When the hippo is resting with only the top of his head out of the water, you really don't get the full image of how huge he is. When he was totally out of the water, he is a huge rolly polly blob. However, knowing my hippo triva, while he was moving slowly and cumbersomely today, I know that he is actually capable of fast locomotion on ground. These gentle looking giants can be quite fierce. And, amazingly, my underwater-through the glass shot came out better than I expected.

The Aviary

We went through several of the aviaries. They are lovely places to spend time, complete with waterfalls and RAIN! I was in place to take some bird shots when to my surprise the rain came! My first thought was that it would be quick, but then I realized here was my expensive camera in a full rain! I stepped back. But I did manage an interesting bird shot with real rain for an effect.

It was afternoon, still hot, and we were tired. So we spent some time in one of the aviaries. I noticed that most people stroll through, glance around, and leave. While you do see some of the birds that way, I have found that if you linger, standing or sitting quietly, the birds come out and reveal themselves. Some come out of curiosity, to check you out. Others are just doing their bird thing, looking for dinner. Spending time just waiting will reward you with birds you might not have seen. I even got to see the birds "find" the dead mice left for their dinner.

My photography did not seem to be going well. In the aviary, the lighting differences from the sunlit areas to the shadow were too much for the digital camera's range. My goal was not memory snapshots of the zoo animals, rather competitive artistic shots. My gut feel was that I should shift my mental goal from getting great award winning shots to just enjoying my visit to the zoo.

The Baby Flamingos

One of my first stops was to check out the baby flamingos. I had never seen these before. I was most surprised when I saw one of these white fully creatures SWIM over the deeper water and then wade onto the bank. I am more familiar with herons, egrets, and cranes. They have wading feet with three large toes. I had always assumed that flamingos with their long legs were wading creatures. But after watching this swimming baby, I took note of the flamingo feet - they're WEBBED! Now I still believe flamingos spend more time wading than swimming with those incredibly long legs. But I think I'm going to do some research, because the babies certainly swim. Of course, early afternoon sun was too bright for great white fluffy flamingo baby shots.

After stopping for lunch, I was now going out to explore at the worst time of day for photography, a recipe for frustration. We headed for the primates. It was fun to watch the mom's and babies. But besides the lighting issues, glass and wire enclosures made photography futile.

One of my last stops when we left for the day was to check out the baby flamingos again. MUCH better lighting.

San Diego Zoo - Starting the Day

I had learned from my first visit to the San Diego Zoo twenty years ago that a ride on the bus tour is the best place to start. This zoo is a large zoo built on hills. Even able-bodied people need to use strategy to most efficiently explore this place. They have escalators and an express bus that will take you from the bottom of the central valley back up to the top. The goal is to walk down and ride up. Plus the bus gives you an overview of what the zoo has, where the different animals are, and how to get to the areas you are most interested in. We were lucky - the size of the waiting area tells me that sometimes one has a long wait. Our wait was short. The buses are double deckers with the outside viewing on top. Naturally I wanted to be on the top for a better view. The waiting area for the outside is a little deceptive - there is another waiting area above - so once you get to climb the stairs you have one more wait. The buses arrive fairly quickly - maybe 5-15 minutes apart.

The seats on the top of the bus were tight quarters for full sized people loaded with tripod, camera vest, camera with long lens, etc. But we managed. While we were waiting, I cleaned the outside of my lens - something I am doing regularly these days in the futile hope of preventing dust spots and fuzz in my shots. The only photo I was tempted to take on the ride was when we passed the giraffes. The lens would not focus . was cloudy . . . I thought it was the young boy. But I kept checking and he really was not in the frame. Hum . . . . . I looked at the lens. ARGHHHHH! There was condensation on the INSIDE of the lens. Visions of a frustrating day immediately ran through my mind. Thankfully, Henry noted that it WAS diminishing. By the time we were off the bus, my lens was still clean and the condensation was gone. Now to begin our exploration!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Whale Watching

I love to go whale watching. Just getting out on the ocean on the boat feeds my spirit. I am lucky in that I am not really affected by motion sickness. So once I get settled in my spot, I enjoy the gentle motion as the boat rides the swells.

I've been lucky to go on whale watching expeditions many places. My first experience seeing whales in the wild was on the ferry ride from Prince Rupert, British Columbia to Juneau, Alaska in July of 1991. We woke up one morning to an orca breaching near the ferry. Everyone on the sleeping deck hoped out of their sleeping bags and rushed to the side to watch. On the ride to Glacier Bay we saw minke whales feeding near the shoreline. On our return to the marina, there was a humpback and calf that stayed in the bay until the big cruise ship's entrance chased them away. It was an incredible experience as we were close enough to hear the spouts. They surfaced and breached.

We went whale watching again in Maine in October 2003. We had a very capable and informative interpreter, but we were at the end of whale season - the humpbacks had moved south. But we got to see some remote lookout stations on small rock outcrops in the Atlantic and seals sunning themselves. However, we were heading south, so we took another tour out of Provincetown, Massachusetts. The humpbacks were in a feeding frenzy preparing for their migration to warm waters. Apparently they don't eat while they're in the tropics, so they must feast before they leave the feeding grounds. We got to see the feeding bubbles that the whales create to push their food to the surface. Using my Canon digital and 100-400mm lens, I got some wonderful photos.

In California, I've had several opportunities - both directly on the shore and with several boat runs. One evening when I was at Point Dume for sunset photos, a California Gray whale appeared right off the beach. My photos are not great . . . . but I did get several head shots. We've taken whale trips off Long Beach and San Diego to watch the migrating gray whales. No great shots, but I still enjoyed getting out in the water, watching for the spouts off in the distance.

Two years ago, Debra and I took the blue whale watching cruise from Ventura to see the blue whales. Our first sightings looked like small metal submarines floating in the distance. Our captain did a good job getting as close as the law allows. And one whale surfaced right in front of the boat - giving both himself and us a startled moment.

This trip we took the same trip hoping that Henry would get to see the blues. And with my new, bigger lens I was hoping for some good shots. I chose to limit the photographic equipment. The big Sigma 300-800 mm lens with its huge tripod is a big load. Plus I wanted to have the computer along to keep the camera cards free for pleny of photos. Knowing that it took awhile to get to the viewing area, I started the trip inside - unusual for me. I had anchored the tripod to stake my spot at the front of the upper deck. When I went up with the big lens to get set up, the swells were significant. Here we were with my expensive lens struggling to keep our footing. Part of me was thinking - what am I doing?????? Maybe this isn't such a great idea???? But Henry helped me get the lens on the tripod. He was concerned that the tripod was not stable. I made a few adjustments, but I knew due to space restriction, I would have to count on the bunjee cords to keep the tripod as steady as possible and in its place. I was planning on a fast shutter speed. Once I got everything in place, I began to relax. The front upper deck had a nice place to lean in an almost sitting position with a convenient rail. I kept the camera's strap around my neck (although wondering if that was a great idea - if the camera and lens came loose, my neck was probably not strong enough for the load.) But I felt safer feeling like I had a handle on the camera and lens. Later in the day, I was more confident of my set up, but no so confident as to leave it unattended.

This was the first whale trip of the summer season. The blue whales are late arrivals this year - none had been sighted thus far. But each whale excursion offers unique viewing opportunities. I knew that we would see dolphins, but we saw three different species - common dolphin, pacific white sided dolphins, and Dall's porpoises. Some of the young ones were swimming in sync with their moms. What I was NOT expecting was the number of sea lions we saw. Sea lions and dolphins are so much fun to watch because they are so playful. The dolphins enjoy surfing the wake behind the boat. Their curiosity brings them right up next to the boat. One set of dolphins kept swimming right under the front of the boat;. I kept expecting one of them to get hit as they kept trying to surface right under the hull. The sea lions also seemed drawn to the boat. They would surf the waves, do acrobatic arched leaps over the waves, sun their fins to warm up, and "hide" in the kelp beds.

Near the Channel Island National Park is one of the richest feeding grounds. The whale watching was excellent for us. While the blues were still in route for their summer feeding, the humpbacks were plentiful. Our first sighting was a mother and calf. We waited patiently for them to resurface after their deep dives. We even got a head view as the whale was lunge feeding. I was not in position for a photo, but I was lucky enough to see it. For several hours we cruised and the whales kept appearing. One whale was having fun flicking his tail creating large splashes. While I was not not quick enough to catch the tail motion, I did get on of fhe mighty splashes. It is especially fun when the captain says this is a behavior he hasn't seen before. Later in the afternoon the whales came closer to the boat. While there are limits on how close the captain can direct his boat near the whales, the whales can choose to come closer. We got an excellent show sometime with three or four whales spouting simultaneously. From some of my shots with two whales together, I suspect we had several mother and calf pairs.

This whale trip concludes with a visit to the island of Santa Cruz. Cruising past the coves with the various boats anchored certainly creates the desire to spend time exploring these islands.

To see some photos from this trip, visit my website . Henry also posted some of his photos on his blog .

Whale Photography

1. You are totally dependent on what the whales choose to do. You'll probably get some good tail shots, spouts, and dorsal fin shots - anything else - and you're REALLY lucky!

2. You're on a moving boat - level horizons - forget about it! That is what Photoshop is for. (Well, in reality, I do pay attention, and do slip the lens around on its mount to "try" to get a level horizong, but the boat is moving in all directions - it is futile to expect every shot to be level.)

3. You have a very short window between seeing the whale surfacing, locking your focus and getting your shot. The humpbacks in Massachusetts were easy because of the way they were feeding. You would see the feeding bubble and know you were going to get a head shot. One of my tricks for getting focus quickly is to focus on the ocean ahead of me regularly so if a whale shows, I'm already close to having the focus. Whle I've also tried to focus in as the boat races to get close to spounting whales, that also is fairly futile- the boat is usually moving too fast to get a good focus lock..

4. Shoot shutter priority, but continually check your histogram, because the lighting changes and sometimes you need more exposure others less - fully automatic won't work. Because, the boat and the whale are in motion, the spot you are focusing and metering on can change from shot to shot causing some shots to be better exposed than others.

5. Whale watching tours generally operate on their timetable. The one out of Ventura leaves at 9:00, but it takes an hour or more to reach the feeding grounds. While it is possible to charter boats, that is usually too expensive for my budget. Therefore, you are usually shooting outside the optimum time of day. My cloudy day actually worked in my favor this time. While the photos are colorless for the most part, naturally black and white, the exposure was much easier. The humpbacks were black, with only the barnacles on the tales showing color. The seals' and the sea kelp also provided color against the gray sky and water. But it also had less light than on a sunny day during optimum shooting times.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

La Piedra Beach

Malibu has three "hidden" beaches. They are hidden because the PCH goes above the cliff rather than at ocean level here. While there are road signs marking the entrance, you really cant' see the beauty from the road. These small scenic beaches are part of California's state park system. And there are "trails" that lead from the top of the cliff down to the bottom. The largest is El Matador Beach . The path is steep but there are several long sets of stairs that make it relatively easy to get down to the ocean level.

El Pescador has two trails leading to it - one is very manicured and smooth, I suspect it goes up to one of the exclusive houses at the top of the cliff. The other has some "steps" created by landscaping timbers and sand, uneven, but helpful in getting to the beach. I went down there one day this week. There was a family having a picnic at one of the spots I was hoping for. But I moved further down the beach. I spent some time here last summer and was hoping to recreate some shots I took with the water rushing around the rocks. Naturally, I was hoping to improve both with my better camera and the knowledge of what I should have done better last year. A lone surfer came out to catch the last waves of the day.

La Piedra is the middle beach. I first visited La Piedra in November 04. I went by myself with the jeep. I don't think I was actually on the main trail at first, because it was very steep and not well marked. But I slid my way along. As I got closer to the beach I remember using the sit method where I sit on a rock and slide my feet down rather than trying to use it as a "step."

The tide was out revealing kelp filled tide pools. I waded out carefully and took my shots. There was another photographer. When darkness fell, I asked him if he would hang around until I made it up. He was gracious and stayed behind me all the way up. I'm sure I slowed him down because I was heavier then and out of shape. I could make it up, but I had to stop and catch my breath. He waited patiently. I was grateful because if I had fallen or slipped, there was someone who could call 911.

This year I wanted to go back again. Henry came with me, but stayed at the jeep working on his writing. I tried to make sure I was going down the main pathway. The path is narrow and steep. Small lizards would scamper into the waist high vegetation lining the path. One seemed curious and stayed to watch me pass. The rains over the last few years have eroded the path creating a small 8-12 inch gully in the middle. In one area they have tried to stem this erosion by placing leaves and branches. I was not too sure about walking on it, but I made my way carefully through and kept on going down.

I must confess that I am much more confident going uphill. Yes, I get winded going uphill, but I trust my footing better. Goind downhill, I fight several fears: Perhaps I will fall forward tumbling out of control down the trail. My foot might slide out from underneath me - either causing an abrupt and painful seating or an unplanned gymnastic split. (And I was NEVER good at doing the splits.) So while I do not let this fear keep me from steep trails, I work my way slowly and painstakingly to reach my destination. It always takes me a long time to get to the bottom.

Despite my struggles going downhill, it was a pleasant hike - the canyon is pretty, the sea was a beautiful blue ahead of me, and I could hear the roar ofthe surf. But when I reached the beach area, the surf was coming all the way to the cliff. What beach????? As I surveyed the scene, I noted the huge swarm of flies feeding on a dark blob on the rock. There was no safe place to stand at water level. No way to get down between arrival of the waves at the base of the rocks where I was standing. Even if I could get down to the beach level, there were only a few areas where the surf did not reach. To add to the danger was a huge tree complete with branches being tossed to and fro in the surf. It was slowly working its way in my direction. Hum . . . . I felt dismay. The only place to be was to sit on these stairlike rocks among the thousands of flies. This long, treacherous walk seemed pointless. But, now that I was here, I was determined to see what I could get. I found a place to sit on a narrow ledge of rock. I set up my tripod - all the legs were at a different length on different rocks. Fortunately, the flies were more interested in the food on the rock near me (whatever it was) rather than me. Only the largest waves or a few of my movements caused them to swarm. The waves lapped at the rocks two feet below my feet. Most of the time I was high enough to stay dry. A couple of large waves sprayed me lightly over the course of the evening.

I found myself glad to be down here, enjoying the roar of the surf and the loud crackling as the water rushed over the rocks on its way back to the sea. A unique sound, rather hollow, snapping, popping, roar as the water rushes around the individual rocks forcing its way down the slope in a glorious rip tide. Rejecting the temptation to just give up and go back to the car, I started trying to find my photos.

Certainly, the water was dancing over the rocks. I tried to capture that motion as a silky smooth blur leaving the rocks sharp, but defining the motion and current of the waves. I tried to capture the roar of water over those rocks. I felt that the large tree was a distraction to the beauty of the coast on my left (although in retrospect, I should have photographed it as a curiosity). The panoramic landscapes did not seem to be artistic enough. But the movement of the water around the rocks - yes that was where the art would be found if at all this night.

As I began to shoot, I quickly realized I was making my usual "mistakes." Getting the proper exposure is always a challenge to me. For shooting water, I set the aperture and try to guess where I want the meter to read to set the shutterspeed.Even with these "auto-like" settings, I am adjusting the dials for either more or less exposure depending on the situation. Areas with a lot of white need greater exposure because the brightness "tricks" the meter into under exposing. Black or dark objects need less. I set the aperture small to get a deep depth of field. That will naturally slow the shutterspeed to get the blurring of the water that is a popular photographic style right now. Common wisdom says to shoot as bright as possible without blowing the highlights. Easier said than done. And, even when successful, it seems that those shots look over exposed to me. Plus, when shooting either aperture priority or shutter priority, a slight variation as to which spot is metered will produce dramatically different results. I do check the histograms regularly, but I often find that I've just shot a sequence of shots that might have been usuable if the exposure had been better. Fortunately, RAW processing saves some of those shots for me.

By the time I've shot my five 1-gig cards, the sun is down and it is truly time to go back. It is easier going back up, but I still found myself scrambling up a few of the steeper rock areas. A few stops to catch my breath and I am finally up at the top, very tired. Looking through the shots in the back of the camera (chimping) leaves me thinking I sure did not get much tonight.

Back at the RV and in front of the computer, I realize that I did get some interesting shots tonight. Prize winning . . . way too soon to tell. In this part of a trip, I'm taking photos faster than I can process them to see what the final result will be. I'm way too tired and sore tonight to fully appreciate anything. But I can go to bed knowing that at least a few of them show promise.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Mission Accomplished

I've done it . . . . I've submitted my proposal to Evangelical Christian Publisher's Association's First Edition Manuscript Service . I first started preparing this proposal last June. Life events - spending time with Debra in California before she moved home, Thomas' house fire, Gene's illness, photography events as well as ordinary life chores kept my attention pulled away from my writing projects. For my next book, I must manage to get it written and submitted over a much shorter span of time.

But, today, I am rejoicing. I have completed the proposal. It takes the payment about a week to process. But, at that point, it will be up to God to provide a publisher. I ask those of you who read my blog to lift your voice with mine in prayer for this project. My hope is that this book with be an encouragement for people who are going through difficult times in their lives. For that to happen, it must get published.

So . . . . it is now in God's hands.

Emotional Responses

Malibu is another area that has the feel of home for me. I was looking forward to visiting my favorite places in this area. So I was totally unprepared to get hit emotionally as we hit the PCH at Santa Monica. Debra lived out here for three years. I had so much fun as she called me to check on how soon we would arrive, as she showed me her favorite places, and as we did fun things together. While I know God's plan for her is back in Texas with Jonathan, there was a missing person out here. I found myself remembering picking her up at a bus stop just outside Pepperdine, the visits to the English tea room, the walks at Michael Landon park . . . . . good times, sad times . . . . . I was not expecting to tear up as we drove into Malibu.

Life on the Road

Well, it has been a busy week. We left home a week ago. Mundane life things must go on. I balanced checkbooks and paid monthly bills while on the road. That task will need to be done again in a few days - as I was behind schedule due to the wedding and other activities.

I was pleased that I had an opportunity to stop in at the Tucson Mountain Park and continue my water fountain series there. I got a new set of species and their behavior at the water fountain. I also was able to get some shots that the editor at BIrder's World was interested in - the view of the water fountain and its surroundings. On my to do list is to send an updated submission to him. Driving into the Gilbert Ray campground had the feel of coming "home." I felt energized and alive. I have many places that feel like home to me!

In San Diego we stayed at a campground near the wedding site. It was a large campground located right on Mission Bay. We chose a simple site with just water and electricity - so we were out in the back forty so to speak. Martha and I visited the "beach" there a couple of times and enjoyed the pool and hot tub. A visit to the mall provided a dress for me to wear to the wedding.

Our nephew, Jon Melton, had a beautiful wedding. There is a conference center at the marina with many rooms and outdoor areas perfect for weddings. Later in the evening I talked with an employee there - turns out there were ten weddings that day - several going on in different areas at the same time as the one we were attending. It is fun to watch a bride and groom enjoy their wedding.

We joined Roger and Linda for services at the Seminole Church of Christ near the university. We had called our great nephew, Blake, a Marine stationed at Camp Pembleton in hopes of getting together with him. He joined us for a nice family gathering with Roger, Linda, Jaycob, Martha, Henry and I at a restaurant near the marina. It was good to see him well and safe after his two tours in Iraq.

Then it was time to pack up and head to the Los Angeles area to visit more with our nephew David.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Difficult First Step

In addition to regular reading from my "One Year Bible", I've been reading Grace Notes by Alexandra Stoddard. The June 12th reading from Grace Notes really hit home with me.


Excerpt from "Grace Notes"

" Ah, but in such matters, it is only the first step that is difficult." Madame du Deffand

Perfectionists have the hardest time with beginings because they are waiting for the perfect moment, which never comes. Hours, days, weeks, and years slip by. Realize that the best time is when you take that first step. Take courage.

The first step has already been taken because you have gathered information and materials. Kandinsky didn't like to face a blank canvas so he put a little dot on the top and then relaxed and began to paint. Where are you going to put your symbolic dot today and take that first step.


I have a written manuscript for a Christian Bible study for women. I started this book and wrote most of it four years ago. Granted it took several months to do the bulk of the writing. I printed review copies and circulated them among women I respect. Then I reworked the entire book. Last year I removed one chapter and added a new one. I lack very little to have a completed, polished book. Last summer I even began a proposal to submit to First Edition Manuscript Service. I completed all but one portion of the proposal. But "life" kept getting in the way. It seems as though everytime I get close to completing this work - other less important, but more urgent things steal my time. But wanting to submit a "perfect", saleable book also weighs on my mind.

My reading from "Grace Notes" is an encouragement to just call my book "finished." Yesterday I worked on the last portion of the proposal. Today mundane things (like broken gray water tanks, checkbooks that needed balancing so I could pay the monthly bills, and a one night stay at one of my favorite desert campgrounds) kept me away from that completion.

But I need to look at that Grace Note page everyday until I get my book proposal submitted. Alexandra Stoddard's theme definitely hit home to me. If I wait for a perfect product, I'll never reach my goal. I need to take the next step - submission for publication. But if God really wants this book published (and I have faith that this is the case) - my job is to write the book and submit it - His job is to send a publisher so other people can read it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Our First Adventure

Well . . . . we have a history of "adventures." I really was not expecting this trip to be an exception.

Just outside the city limits of Odessa, we heard a loud pop, and then the unmistakable sound of tread thumping against the underside of the RV. By the time we pulled over, the thumping had stopped. A perusal of the tires did not reveal a problem. So . . . . we moved up a little - and after a few seconds the thumping started again. This inspection revealed a tire stripped of its thread. However, it was one of a pair of tires on each back axle - on the inside . . . . Now, if one must lose a tire - how much more best case can you get -a redundant tire, total control of the car, and the capability to drive yourself to get it changed. The later is important as it is not recommended to change RV tires yourself.

We pulled out our handy dandy internet capable cell phones and looked up the location of truck tire places in Odessa. But we saw a Western Auto in route. Now I have not seen many Western Auto stores recently. This one looked like it had big truck bays. I went in. The store was pretty empty. Two men were behind the counter. I go over, tell them about our blown tire, and ask if they have RV truck tires. They ask me what size. Now that is a reasonable question . . . . and yes, I probably should have looked at the tire size BEFORE I went into the store. But in my experience, at tire stores, they usually come out and check out the tire and "wait" on you. Now, because I know that the founder of Western Auto is also the founder of Pepperdine Univeristy, part of me wanted to buy my tires there. But part of me deplores the disappearance of sales people that are helpful. We ended up buying six tires - six truck tires. But not at Western Auto.

At the next place, they were more than willing to wait on us, noticing immediately that our front tire had a major crack (reinforcing my belief that all tires should be replaced.) However, they only had five tires . . . .

Third stop, the one I had originally chosen from the Yahoo yellow pages, had six matching tires, cheerfully waited on us, and we are now on our way.

However, this story would be incomplete without a mention of God's provision and protection here. The blowout occurred within a few miles of where the tires could be purchased. We were able to drive to get the tires replaced rather than calling AAA. But first and foremost, it was the rear tire that blew - not the front tire. We thought back to when we had last purchased tires - turns out it was almost four years ago, and probably 40,000 to 50,000 miles back. Whiile the tread on the tires was still good, RV tires age. I feel very protected, and very grateful that we did not have the tire problems while crossing the vast areas of West Texas where there are not tire stores nearby and where we did not have to wait for the AAA tow truck people to come and rescue us. And we did not have a tire failure accident losing control of our vehicle.

Yes . . . God IS good!

Monday, June 12, 2006

On the road again!

Well - we did it - we got off this afternoon.

If someone were watching us - it would be a comedic site - here am I lugging out all this stuff . . . . . papers to file, boxes with files in them, camera gear (TONS of camera gear), clothing, towels, shoes (I must be insane - I brought most of my shoes - but couldn't find my newest pair) , computer equipment, photography DVD's . . . . did I say the kitchen sink - no . . . we already have one of those in the RV! I must have told Henry three or four times - well I've got it all - then to remember something else I wanted to bring.

And then . . . . there are the instructions for whoever is house sitting - this time Jonathan and Debra . . . . I haven't emailed them . . . yet.

But, I did get my last swim, hot tub, swim again, before showering and getting on the road. And one of the nice things . . . once we actually drive off, and get on the highway - I can relax. If I forgot something truly major - I can either buy it . . . or get the kids to ship it. We're off on a new adventure . . . . and I am ready for it.

California - here we come!

On the road again!

Well - we did it - we got off this afternoon.

If someone were watching us - it would be a comedic site - here am I lugging out all this stuff . . . . . papers to file, boxes with files in them, camera gear (TONS of camera gear), clothing, towels, shoes (I must be insane - I brought most of my shoes - but couldn't find my newest pair) , computer equipment, photography DVD's . . . . did I say the kitchen sink - no . . . we already have one of those in the RV! I must have told Henry three or four times - well I've got it all - then to remember something else I wanted to bring.

And then . . . . there are the instructions for whoever is house sitting - this time Jonathan and Debra . . . . I haven't emailed them . . . yet.

But, I did get my last swim, hot tub, swim again, before showering and getting on the road. And one of the nice things . . . once we actually drive off, and get on the highway - I can relax. If I forgot something truly major - I can either buy it . . . or get the kids to ship it. We're off on a new adventure . . . . and I am ready for it.

California - here we come!

Getting off!

Today is the day we need to leave on our California trip. My sister in law is going with us. I told her yesterday that getting off on a trip with the Meltons is a little chaotic. Needing that rest time has left me with many things that need to be done before we can pull out of the driveway. Some of them I will take with me, but that requires making sure I have everything. Today will be a rush around day. I have to call the air conditioner repair people because (of course it would happen right now) the air conditioner is creating a pond in my hallway. My son in law has agreed to be on hand if they can't get out today - thank goodness his job is flexible! I'm leaving a couple of other tasks for them regarding their horse. I did most of the laundry yesterday (including those extra towels used to soak up water in the hallway).

The nice thing about getting off on a trip - I usually get the adrenalin and motivation to get some things done that have been put off because other events had priority. If we truly get off today, I will need to let some of those "urgent" things wait till we get home next month.

As per my pattern, I woke up early today, knowing how much I need to get done before we leave.

With a couple of exceptions, we do always get off. Poor Henry - he is ALWAYS ready to go before I get my stuff done. I'm glad he is a patient man who has learned to go with the flow.

The Tortoise and the Hare

I really enjoyed the wedding - it was a happy, happy day. The first few days after the wedding were some finishing up things - returning tuxedo's, picking up Jonathan's truck, getting to see the wedding photos, etc. But I was definitely tired, happily tired, but tired - both mentally and physically.

I had a week between the wedding and Girl Scout Day Camp. The weekend before the wedding I got a call from Vicky. Her craft person had bailed on her two weeks before camp. Since I had been the director of that camp, I knew how vital it is to have sufficient adults. Both the state health department and the Girl Scouts require a ratio of adults to kids. Plus crafts are usually labor intensive - it was a week that I was "available" - so I said yes. (However, since I was asked before the wedding - I put in the proviso that all I could do was to show up - none of the shopping, etc) This year the craft adult had it easy - I had a wonderful older girl worker - all I had to do was sit back and watch her do the work. The crafts were simple - and I really enjoyed seeing the camp continue. I got to meet the new Membership Development Executive for the area - and I have to say she is wonderful - she also worked the entire week of camp. The downside - it was the hottest week of the year - temperature over 100. All but one day I came home wiped out, crashing to a sound sleep.

I learned several years ago that I am likely an adult with attention deficit disorder. I question the use of the word disorder here, because I find that it gives me many advantages. I have a high native energy (even at 54), I am great at multi tasking, and when the energy level is at its peak, I can get a lot of stuff done. I find adrenalin to be a good thing - most of the time. However, it makes certain kinds of organization much more difficult.

I have also figured out that there is more to that tortoise and hare story than the moral implies - you know - the slow but sure wins the race part. I have learned that there are really two (probably more than two) types of people - the tortoises and the hares. The tortoises are very good at planning things ahead and they slowly but surely and steadily accomplish what they need to do. The hares are good at planning things at the last minute, working on five major projects at one time, and are likely to procrastinate. I find that I am a hare - and in learning to work within that framework - I find that I am glad to be a hare. The years that I was camp director at Day Camp - I could pull it off whether I had enough worker bees or not. A friend of mine and I pulled off a women's retreat with about 6 weeks of planning and work. There ARE advantages in being the hare.

However, the down side - after a big event with lots of energy and effort, the hare must rest. And resting does NOT feel productive - it is depressive. But with God's help, I have learned to ride the tides of high energy efforts and the rest needed afterward. I can truly say - it is OK to be the hare. My moral to the time honored fable - know yourself, figure out if you are the tortoise or the hare - and work within your own personality type to accomplish the tasks God sets before you.