Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Yellowstone - Day 2

As we started our rounds yesterday, we had cloudy weather with occasional snow and sleet. The gray sky made landscape photos difficult, leaving me uninspired. So far the bears we'd seen had been either disappearing artists or in dark lighting. I was also fighting the issue of a photographic axiom, "Don't put your tripod in the prints of someone elses." Yellowstone is so photographed, how am I going to make unique magic photos here.

While I did not take photos of every highlight yesterday, the highlights were:

Bald eagle nest with eaglets and one of the eagles hunting and hovering over the river
Finding the larger buffalo herds with calves
Coyote den in the rocks
Grizzly bear near the campsite

The coyote den was already packed with photographers with their huge lenses. Talk about a wildlife jam when we first arrived. There was one lady in a car trying to get through who got so upset . . . she starting beeping her horn and yelling. For crying out loud, this was not a moose, elk, or bear jam . . . didn't she know how rare it is to see baby coyotes? After the first toot, I told her tersely, "Don't honk your horn." And it really did not take her that long to wait through the slow line of cars.

I had grabbled my 100-400 because it was easier to get to in a hurry, but I quickly went over to the jeep and got the big Sigma out. Unfortunately, i had forgotten to change my setting from manual back to autofocus. Plus I had to wait patiently as the non photographers moved to get a good spot. But the jackpot for me was when the mother coyote came back. While she did not go to the den with all the photographers there, she did show herself several times as she kept trying to get back to the den. I haven't decided whether to post these or not as they ARE competition quality.

We're going to get out early, and that den is high on my list for the day.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Yellowstone - 1st 24 hours

We drove into the Teton area last night. It seemed a good omen that as we were driving up the road that would drop us into the Teton Mountain area we saw our first grizzly. While I did not get a great shot, I did catch it as it stood up and popped up its head over the willows to check on the people that were trying to watch it.

As I was working on paying this month's bills, we saw a coyote run along the road right near the camper. On our first loop near Obsedian Cliff we saw a mother grizzly bear and her cub near the road. She saw us about the same time we saw her and herded her cub up the side of the mountain and then walked in sight just above the road for a little while. Great sighting, but no time to get a good photograph. After she headed up she was always pretty hidden in the trees. Just up the road, there was a coyote running along the road, with a car right behind it, with a lady hanging out the window with her small point and shoot camera trying to get a photo. (Yes, I hang out the windows and doors of my car sometimes trying to get a shot.) Once again, it happened too fast to get a photo.

We could see clouds moving in from the northeast, blocking out the last evening sun. Sure looked more like snow than rain, and the temperature was right for snow.

As we headed east from Mammoth just near Tower Falls, we saw a black bear foraging. It was on Henry's side and this time we did get a shot. I quickly handed him the camera with whatever lens was on it (it was my landscape lens) after making a quick adjustment to shutterspeed to get something fast enough for a handheld shot.

We passed a sandhill crane sitting on her nest on a small island in one of the ponds. I passed on trying to get her picture because the light levels were low. I figured that she was likely to still be there at a better time of day on another pass through the loop.

The clouds were still coming in, the sun was probably down, but we still had some light. We saw a car facing in the same direction we were traveling but on the wrong side of the road. It must be a good wildlife sighting and it was. A black bear foraging along the creek working its way upstream, oblivious to the human watchers above. I dug out the 100-400 to get started. But as I realized that I would have more opportunities as it went upstream, I asked Henry to get the big lens out and ready. Now I knew light wasn't great. I already had the ISO at 1600. I would not be getting quality images. But the photo fever was on me . . . I fought with the big lens tripod, I hastened up the hill hauling lens, camera and tripod headless of whether I was getting winded or not. And I kept trying to get a keeper shot of that bear. Light was so bad it wouldn't auto focus, so I switched on manual. And I enjoyed watching that bear scratch himself against a tree (turns out that is marking behavior for bears). The light was getting worse, so I finally just enjoyed watching the bear as it continued upstream. The first photos of him are the best, none is competition quality. But this is part of the Yellowstone experience, rounding the bend and having a wonderful wildlife encounter.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Making the Rounds

When I am at a National Wildlife Refuge, I drive the roads looking for wildlife. I try to get there as close to dawn as possible and scan for wildlife. I also like to make loops in the late afternoon around sunset. At any given refuge, I'll drive the auto loops over and over scanning for wildlife. By doing this, I learn where to expect to find certain animals. At Arapaho NWR, we saw a beaver several times as it swam in a pond near some tall grass. We knew the phalaropes, avocets, and yellowheaded blackbirds hung around one very shallow water area. There was even a place on the highway where we regularly spotted a golden eagle. While on one level it sounds repetitious - driving the same road over and over and over, sometimes it pays off. While the prairie dogs and ground squirrels were easy to find and photograph, we only saw the weasel on that one loup. Our last loop gave us a sighting of a badger. (I've only seen a badger twice in the wild - this was the second time.)

Sometimes you get to see some interesting behaviors. We see a lot of Canada geese. Usually they swim with their neck and head held high. However, on one of our loops we saw them swimming stealth style. Two geese (presumably male and female) were swimming in a pond with their goslings. The adults had their head and neck held closely to the water, it looked uncomfortable. But it also gave me the impression they were trying to "sneak" across the pond. From a human view, they were quite visible, but perhaps the lower profile might keep them less visible to one of their enemies.

All together we counted about 40 species of birds and mammals. Some we only saw once on different loops - such as what I think was a peregrin falcon, the willet, and the badger. But making the loops over and over, at different times of day increases what you will see.

American Avocet
Horned lark
Ruddy duck
some kind of woodpecker or sapsuckeer
Mourning dove
Pied billed grebe
Yellow headed blackbird - male and female
Brown headed cowbird
Redwing blackbird - male and female
Mallard - male and female
Northern shoveler
Canada geese & goslings
Lesser scaup
mountain bluebird - near nesting box
Western meadowlark
Gadwall - male and female
Golden eagle
Swainson's hawk
Peregrin Falcon (distant)
Eared grebe
Brewer's Blackbird
Western grebe
Wilson's phalarope
Cinamon teal - male and female
Blue winged teal - male and female
Marsh wren
White pelican
Black crowned night heron

White tailed Prairie dog
Wyoming ground squirrel (Richardson's)
Long tailed weasel
white tailed jackrabbit

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The weasel - another view

To see a different viewpoint with the weasel and the prairie dogs, check out Henry's blog.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The weasel vs the Prairie Dogs (and Ground Squirrels)

We've spent the last couple of days at Walden, Colorado to visit the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge. Today we got out close to dawn and started making our rounds. We had just done some bird photographs and had gone back where we had seen some baby prairie dogs. I had dug out the big lens and was trying to catch the babies. I think we've been seeing two species burrowing near each other - the white tailed prairie dog and the Wyoming ground squirrel.

I was keeping my eyes peeled, when I realized that the head I was seeing poking up was NOT a ground squirrel or prairie dog. Nope, it looked predator, moved like a predator, yep, it was a predator. I'm not always immediate with my ID on small predators . . . we don't have many black footed ferrets, weasels, mink, ermine, etc near Hutto. Another photographer drove up and asked if we had a weasel . . . my answer: I think so.

After the fact, I've looked it up, it is a long tailed weasel.

But for the next hour Henry and I and the other photographer and his wife watched that weasel go after the babies. He was fast - he darted here, darted there. We'd see him bring dead baby after dead baby back to his den. I think we counted at least 5 babies that he killed.

We watched the ground squirrels chase the weasel away from their den. I watched two ground squirrels almost run into and fight each other when they were both on the trail of the weasel. At one point I saw a prairie dog bounce up in the air - the weasel was there as were some adult ground squirrels.

We watched and heard the larger prairie dogs note the weasel and give the classic barking alarm. We heard the smaller ground squirrels also shout out a higher pitched alarm.

But that weasel could outrun and outthink the prairie dogs and ground squirrels. While they were giving chase, he was sneaking around and heading back to their dens. He was not worried about the humans that were trying to watch his every move - he would cross the road right in front of us.

Some of the mother ground squirrels would look for their lost babies or they would start calling.

It was an amazing sequence to watch, but sad at the same time. Yes, I did enjoy watching how efficiently the weasel provided food for her family, but I also grieved for the cute babies that will never grow up.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Baby Coyotes

We'd been having snow showers for a day or two, but on Wednesday afternoon, the snow flakes became bigger and it began accumulating. We woke Thursday to a snow covered wonderland.

I took time to capture some of the beauty of the snow covered mountains, but my primary destination was the coyote den. This was my last morning here. I wondered if the pups would show up better against the snow.

When I got to the parking lot, all I could see were the elk in the distance in the willow thickets lining the river. But I knew to wait patiently. Before too long, I saw a coyote moving fast. He was coming my way, but I was not set up. Although I quickly got my big tripod and lens out, that photo opportunity was gone before I was set up. I could tell he was out hunting for breakfast. I wondered how long it would be before he or one of the other coyotes came back to the den. While you could see the small brown dome above the snow around it, it looked quiet and deserted. I wondered how long I would have to wait to see the activity around the den. I waited. I talked to people who stopped in the parking lot. One had seen the coyotes down the valley. She waited for a while, but gave up and went on. I talked to the docent about the big horn sheep that had been seen around the lakes. I waited . . . Patience IS sometimes rewarded. I saw the coyote returning. It was interesting to see the magpies and ravens start showing up around the den even before the coyote was close. The coyote headed straight for the den. Right before it got to the den, I saw it regurgitate - I'd been expecting that. Even though the birds tried to hang around to get a morsel from this feeding, the coyotes kept chasing them away.

The puppies did not come out until the coyote was right in front of the den. However, you could tell by their reaction and behavior that he had brought them food. No nursing behavior, so this must have been one of the male adults.

The puppies were happy to be outside. They romped around in the snow and tried to play with the adult who was also carefully standing watch.

It wasn't long before one of the other adults showed up.

The puppies clustered around mom to nurse.

While these are not competition quality shots, even with my 300-800m lens and a 2X teleconverter, this family is too far away to get what I call great shots. Each of these has been cropped so that the den and family are more prominent in the frame.

But even if the image quality is not what I would prefer, I'm still proud of these shots. They tell the story of a morning at the den. Before this trip I had never seen coyote puppies, much less seen the inner workings of a coyote family group.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time observing this coyote family. I hope you enjoy seeing these intimate family shots.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Elk vs the coyotes

We're up in Rocky Mountain National Park. We've been watching a coyote family now for several days. Today I went into a different area, Upper Beaver Meadows. I've been expecting to see coyotes in more than one area of the park and I was not disappointed. But I'm finding the coyotes when I see the elk start to behave differently. Several times now, I've seen the elk aggressively chasing coyotes. The Beaver Meadow area coyote very slowly left the scene after being chased out of the willow area by the elk herd.

Today we had snow. I had gone over to the Beaver Meadow area to find a vantage point to get photos of the mountains hidden by the snow clouds. But after I had gotten a few of those, I was ready to head over to the Sheep Lake area and check on "my" coyote family.

I checked the den area - no kits out, but there was mother coyote all curled up in a slightly protected area not far from her den. While she would look up every now and then, she stayed hunkered down as the snow showers came through. It was only a little bush or a little mound of ground that protected her from the wind. But all curled up she looked snug and warm. I kept looking for the other adult coyotes, but for a while I did not see them.

Then, I noticed the elk acting funny again . . . sure enough the elk were chasing the darker coyote. He found a spot to hide in the short willows and the elk went back to grazing.

I could see the snow coming in from the west. The valley west of Sheep Lake was totally whited out for a while. As the snow began to die down, things were quiet so I headed up to Endovalley. The elk were plentiful near the road. There was some accumulation of snow on the pine trees, the willows, and the aspens. I made my way back and all of a sudden I could see the sun lighting up the clouds in the valley behind me. That had to be a photo. I hurried back to the main road and back to Sheep Lake. I'm not sure those photos are great, but the most exciting part of my day was just about to begin.

When I got back to the Sheep Lakes area, I saw the elk at it again. They were in hot pursuit of another coyote, the dark one. The race was on. They also found the mother - so both coyotes were on the run. They were running north and away from their den, and the elk were intent on chasing them away from their area. The coyotes split up, but the elk were not deceived. They had lured most of the elk away from the den. But one elk stayed and nosed around the den. She wasn't eating, she was intently sniffing. But she finally moved away. I saw the mother begin to double back toward the den. Most of the elk were still intent on the darker coyote. Then all of a sudden there were three coyotes at the den, the elk were in pursuit, the kits were piling out of the den. Somehow, the other two coyotes managed to lure the elk after them. Mother and babies had feeding and play time. Two wandered a good distance from the den. After the other kits were back in the den, mother coyote seemed to round up the wandering babies . . . and soon all the kits were back in their snug home ready for the cold night.

Now, for several hours, I had not seen the babies. How does mother coyote teach them to stay in the den, even when she is not there? Or was one of the coyotes in the den with the babies keeping them company? I did not see where the third coyote came from.

In other seasons of the year, the elk have not been concerned about the coyotes. But it is almost time for the elk to start dropping their foals. Must be their mother instinct, trying to chase the coyotes away from the areas where they will be hiding the fawns.

It was a fascinating drama. Hope I can watch more of it tomorrow. And I wish the den was closer to an area where I could get better photographs.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Rocky Mountain Coyotes

While I love getting to go and explore new places, I also enjoy going back to the special places we've found. One of the advantages of going back to photograph familiar areas is that you have a better idea where to find your subjects. Once you've seen an animal in one location, you know you are likely to see it there again.

We've visited Rocky Mountain National Park several times over the last few years. Because we have regularly seen coyotes in one of the valleys, I usually try to spend time there waiting. The first morning I headed over there, I was rewarded by seeing two coyotes immediately. They were getting ready to cross the road, so after taking what shots I could, I moved on to a parking area which hopefully would be in the path they were heading. Waiting and being patient are a necessary part of being a nature photographer. I could see the coyote on the far side of the valley near the small willows along the stream. Still too far away to get great photos, but fun to watch. I was in no hurry to move.

At one point, I got to watch and hear him howl. I could hear other coyotes join the song. One was visible some distance away.

Before long, he started heading in my direction. I tried to position myself so that if he did continue in my direction I would have the best angle available. To my delight, he continued across the valley and I was able to get some full frame photos of him.

The sun was at the wrong angle to get photo competition quality shots. But I still try, because sometimes these shots can work. And by taking the shots even when things are not perfect, it prepares me for those times when the lighting conditions do cooperate.

We came back in the evening to watch for the coyotes again. I was watching one down in the valley, when someone told me there were kits. I grabbed the big tripod and lens and trotted off to get as close as the park rules would allow. They are definitely in the distance and in the evening lighting, the photos did not come out very well. At the distance without binoculars or big camera lens, they look like little dots cavorting around their parents. When an elk came near to investigate, the kits quickly scurried back into their den. I knew we had to come back in the morning.

We got up near sunrise, not perfectly, but good enough. We easily found one of the coyotes laying in the brush. We kept an eye on the den. Suddenly I realized there was a kit in the valley nursing on the coyote I'd been watching. I need to change the gender to she!

She picked it up in her mouth and trotted back over to the den. The other kits rapidly ran out and seemed to greet her with joy. It was definitely breakfast time.

We continued to watch, and I kept taking pictures, knowing they were too far away to get the details I wanted. I had brought my teleconverters hoping. While they did help, I had to use manual focus which is not ideal.

When the docents arrived to man the kiosk, we learned that the coyote family has three adults in addition to the kits. That is what we had been seeing. The mother and dad and one of the kits from the year before to help with feeding.

As we were watching, the dad came over and the kits were all over him in greeting.

At one point in the morning, there was still another reunion. We were watching 6 coyotes romp and roll and greet each other.

These coyotes really blend in with their surroundings. We've learned to look for motion, as that is what gives them away. Of course, we find some coyote shaped stumps and bushes, but they don't move. And now, I know what a coyote den looks like. I think of all the people who pass by this area without seeing the coyotes or the kits because they don't take time to wait or they don't get there early in the morning, or they don't know how to spot them. It is so much fun to watch the coyotes interact with one another and hunt - I'm glad that over time we've learned to see them.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Colorado Christian Writer's Conference

I'm sitting on the porch of my room at the YMCA of the Rockies. The sky is blue, a soft blue. The birds are singing. I watch them flit from one perch to another sometimes doing aerial acrobatics as they chase each other through the sky. The mountains are beautiful this morning-the rich greens of the pines and the rugged snow capped peaks.

I tend to wake early and this is the first morning that I've had to spend quietly on the porch. The other mornings I had a devotional with other writers that started the day as part of the conference. The lessons were wonderful and inspiring. But today is MINE. I'm getting to reflect on my last three days and I am so grateful to God. I've had the opportunity to learn more about pitching my writing work to editors. I've actually talked with editors about my work. And thanks be to God, I found them receptive.

For any of these opportunities to bear fruit, I must follow through and finish the tasks. I've got to look over my manuscript one last time. While I thought I had all the little details (spelling, grammar, etc) taken care of, my last reading found some new things. I want to listen to the CD I purchased of the session about what a proposal should look like. I have a proposal, but I want it to be the best I can make it.

I have an opportunity to submit an e-book about a subject I am well qualified to write. My brain has already been active and my notes are ready to start.

And I have an opportunity to write a short article to submit to Pray magazine. I talked with the editor and my article is not one that has been done before in their magazine.

The morning is quiet . . . People are beginning to stir - heading for breakfast, loading their cars. We'll head over to the campground. I don't have to leave the mountains yet. Over the next week, I'll get up early for my photography and then spend my afternoon following through, finishing the tasks set before me, and then finishing my day back in nature with my camera.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Marketing Yourself

I will try to post more about the great continuing sessions on the art of promoting yourself. In many ways I think this is the most difficult part of being a successful writer. Publishing is a business. While Christian publishing houses exist to produce books and magazines that will help people grow closer to the Lord, they also must follow market economics in order to have the money to stay in business. If you are fortunate enough to get a book published, a first time writer is going to have to be active in marketing the book.

Part of that will be fun. It has been a long time ambition for me to become a Christian motivational or retreat speaker. One reason that I started writing the book was that I believed that getting a book out would give me exposure to people who might (just might) want to hear me. I've always tried to give God the credit - so many of my Bible lessons had new thoughts come through my brain and out my lips that were not part of my original preparation.

I went to a class that was media preparation - what to do when you get the opportunity to do a TV or radio interview. Instead of the fifteen minutes I had with the editor and the agent, the assignment was to do your pitch for yourself and your book in three minutes. Now those of you that know me well know that I am notoriously long winded. Since I still have friends, I guess they think I'm worth it. But . . . with the exhiliarating exhaustion of all the events, the preparation for the actual pitch's my practice TV interview did not get my best efforts. Yup, I bombed that exercise. I was thrown by one of the questions (and a reasonable one it was) and then found it hard to get the interview back on MY track for it. Since I'd had two appointments that I was pleased with . . . I can't feel too bad. But . . . if I do get a book published, I will HAVE to get more training in these quick "soundbites."

I can see another potential spiritual pitfall. And my scripture reading tonight was so appropriate. To get a book or magazine article published, you have to have confidence in your work, you have to write it, you have to be brave enough to submit it, you must be willing to face rejection, you must present yourself as an "expert" on your subject. If you get published, hopefully you will have people that like your work, praise you, and give you the credit for your talent and your efforts. I can see a lot of ways that pride can enter the equation. I think that God wants us to be happy with who we are - his creation. And I think a small amount of pride in our accomplishments is good. But the temptation arises when we lose track of who gave us the opportunties and talents.

My first verse in my Bible reading tonight:
Psalm 115:1
" Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness."

My prayer: Lord if I should be fortunate enough to get my books and work published, let me NEVER forget who made it all possible. Let me never get puffed up with pride. Let me keep my focus on God and his agenda.

Colorado Christian Writer's Conference - Pitching my Work

Ordinarily when I go to big events, I try to stop each evening and post the highlights of the day. I like to pass on a few of the things that have been the most helpful. I'm finding that there has been so much good information and inspiration that I am having trouble trying to condense it into a reasonable sized blog. So I think I'll just post the things that have been the most important to me.

One of the early bird workshops that was very beneficial to me was Kathryn Mackel's, "Practice Your Pitch." She taught us what a pitch to an editor or agent should look like and let us practice. I found that invaluable when I actually did my interviews.

In the one on one appointments, you have 15 minutes to "pitch" your idea or book to an editor or agent. I confess that in the couple of days before the conference, I had gotten a little nervous. While I've done photo portfolio reviews, that is a little different. In a portfolio review, you are actually showing potential buyers or editors your work. An book editor or agent can't read your book in fifteen minutes.

The parts of a pitch look something like this:
Greeting, introduction, small talk, title of your book, what genre, summary of your book ( 3 or 4 sentences).

In my practice pitch, I forgot to give the title of my book (those stupid nerves.) But it was so good to actually walk through it with someone to firm up in my own mind what I needed to say.

From some of the other meetings, I learned the importance of your "Platform." There is a "Catch 22" here. It is beneficial to have a platform to get published . . . Getting published helps build your platform. While my platform is still a little small, I do have a history of teaching ladies' Bible classes using my own curriculim, , planning and speaking at women's retreats, and my training adults in Girl Scouts. With my photography, I have been building platflorm, buy building a reputation with my participation on the online contests, the museum exhibits, and my two publications in Texas Highways. Plus I'm working hard to enter the major photographic contests and submit my photos to magazines and photographic agencies.

I need to write and submit some smaller pieces for Christian magazines to help build my reputation as a writer.

Yes . . . I'm at the bottom rung of this ladder. But I am very pleased to report that when I actually did my one-on-one appointments, I was pleased. Yes, I was nervous, but I was able to make a creditable pitch. God has given me some opportunities. I am grateful.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Christian Writer's Conference -Arrival

Even though we were camped not far from the YMCA of the Rockies Location, I still had the raggedy beginning feel as I arrived for the conference. I had taken time to get out in the early morning sunshine and do a last run through Rocky Mountain National Park. I was fortunate to find 2 coyotes our for their morning hunt. I headed out to Endovalley to sit at a picnic table, hoping for bird photos. God provide a small gray squirrel. I had time to do my Bible time and prayer time in between trying to get photos of the squirrel as he rapidly ate the pinecones. I got back to the RV in time to do some last minute changes to my website in preparation for what I am hoping will be new visitors. It was time to check out of the campsite, so we drove over to the parking lot of a restaurant for me to do my shower and getting dressed. I was able to get to the conference center 1 1/2 hours before my first event. That gave me time to run around and figure out where everything was, to get checked in both to my room and to get my conference materials, to get my stuff to my room, and to be early for my first meeting. Even though i felt harried, I was actually early which felt good.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Rocky Mountain Wildlife

While we got out and about before sunrise today, the mountains were socked in with heavy clouds. The sun came out around noon and i went out knowing it was the wrong time of day for photography. I sat in the shade of a tree at Moraine Park and hoped for bluebirds (I had seen one when I parked the car - it was why I chose the spot I did.) I did see bluebird, but it was far enough away that my shot is only going to show this small patch of blue in a big photo. Naptime called and when I woke up the clouds were back. We drove out again for a couple of hours around sunset - lighting just was not good enough for photography but I did enjoy driving around, checking out birds with my binoculars and enjoying the peaceful pastoral setting of grazing elk in the meadows.

Wildlife list
Elk - hundreds
Black tail deer
Flicker (saw twice, but either not long enough or at wrong angle for full identification)
Mountain bluebird - possibly a couple of baby bluebirds as well
Yellow rumped warbler???? - too much yellow, but otherwise this seems most likely candidate
Brewers Blackbird
Redwing blackbird, male and female
European Starling
ground squirrel
prairie dogs
Pinyon Jay???? Looked too dark to be mountain bluebird plus breast was dark blue - flew into Ponderosa Pine tree
ruby throated hummingbird

Monday, May 14, 2007

Rocky Mountain National Park

We arrived at Rocky Mountain National Park this afternoon. It was cloudy when we came in, but the road (36) into Estes Park had beautiful wildflowers growing from the crevaces in the rock walls and in the soft dirt near the road. 36 is narrow and winding - no need to even think about trying to stop in the RV for photographs. My thought was that I bet some of these same flowers will be blooming in the park.

We got setled in our campsite inside the park - Morraine Park - where large numbers of elk hang out. I'm trying to be wise, we're tired, it is rainy, I've got a great view out my window. I should wait until in the morning to start my photography.

I can see the elk in the meadow and there were even one group that came in fairly close to the campground. I expect more to come through later. The lighting keeps changing.

It got very dark, and then the clouds above the mountains were a dark, dark gray, and then suddenly things brightened up and the sun came out briefly. Since it was trying to sprinkle on us, I kept looking for the rainbow. I told Henry, "If I see a rainbow, I'm outta here." But I don't have all my camera batteries charged, I don't have all the memory cards cleared off . . . I will have all day tomorrow, and Wednesday morning. And, we can come back after the Writer's Conference.

I can hear the wind rustling, almost roaring through the ponderosa pine branches. There is the hint of thunder.

Henry notes that a group of elk have come in even closer.

I hear the tiny chatter of a small bird in the distance. The motor home sways gentle in the breeze. The grazing elk - what a tranquil sight!

Even though it is cold outside, I want the window open. I want to hear the thunder, I want to savor the rushing wind as it caresses my face, I want to experience all the wonder of this time and place.

Mother's Day

I look back on my first "Mother's Day" when Thomas was a baby. Henry and baby Thomas brought me to a Mexican restaurant for a wonderful Mother's Day brunch. I don't remember making a lot over Mother's Day growing up, but my parents were divorced. To make Mother's Day and Father's Day special, it is really up to the opposite parent. In our family, Father's Day fell during the Camp Blue Haven session, so I am sad that Father's Day got neglected during those camp years.

But I think that honoring days like these are important. In the Old Testament, God set aside certain times and days of the year in order that his people would remember. While today, some of these special days seem filled with commercial opportunities for companies like Hallmark, jewelers, and department stores, the meaning behind Mother's Day and Father's Day is still important.

We were with Henry's mom this year for Mother's Day. The preacher at their church brought out both the historical aspects of Mtoher's Day and the reality that not everyone has a good relationship with their moms. Linda Gregersen's blog talks about the grief of watching a large number of African babies, toddlers, and young people who will never know a mother's touch and the mothers who did not live to enjoy their children.

Mothers rock the cradle, change the diapers, feed always hungry stomachs, kiss the hurts, cheer the team, and slowly but surely work themselves out of a job. While my mom was in many ways a difficult person, she was also very dear to me. And I was fortunate, my relationship with her got easier in her later years. My mother-in-law has always been such a sweet dear person. Up until the needs of her aging husband and her own physical issues slowed her down, she was active at church, going to Ladies' Bible class, helping in any way she could. We've been lucky to spend more time with them these last couple of years. They are infinitely precious and we treasure the time we have left with them.

My "Mother's Day" was precious this year. We joined my sister-in-law, Mary and her husband for hamburgers with his mom and their children and their families on Saturday night. I got some good photos of my mother and father in law both Saturday night and Sunday. We made good memories this weekend.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


I'm blessed to be part of the Melton family. We had a Mother's Day get together at my sister-in-laws house this evening. It was such a blessing to sit on her back patio, visiting with my nieces and their husbands, catching up on what is going on with them and their families. While Henry's parents did not get to stay long, they were there - I got photos that I'm trying to transfer while I write this blog - so I can leave copies for both sisters.

The love, the laughter, the fellowship . . . what a great way to end our time in Amarillo.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Important Dates

I don't know about you, but I'm always missing birthdays. They sneak up on me. I realize I've missed them a couple of days after the fact.

I've tried several systems. I had a calendar program once that was supposed to give me an "alert." It worked the first year, but it did not repeat. I had a Franklin Covey yearly planner. I wrote down all the birthdays on it. But that has to be repeated every year.

My mother-in-law has a special birthday book with a lot of important family dates as well as birthdays in it. It has birthdays, anniversaries, and even date of death recorded. I'd gone through that book before and entered the information into my planner. But then when I'd replace the planner pages for the next year, I would forget or not have time to enter all the dates again.

We're in Amarillo right now and I decided to try my ICal. I spent a couple of hours entering all the data. Marking the birthdays and anniversaries to repeat yearly. I have not yet gone back in to set the alarms for all of the living people's birthdays. Plus I need to go in and add some of my friends to this calendar.

I found out that I can export the ICal in a format to set up a Google calendar. I then set it up to share this calendar with other family members. I'll be adding the events that we will be going to.

I have not figured out how to synchronize the ICal and the Google calendars - so I guess for now I'll just post in both places. But I also found out that I can "publish" my ICal.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


From my "Grace Notes" by Alexandra Stoddard, today's topic was change.

"Behind seeming permanence lies constant flux. Heraclitus

You are changing and everyone around you is changing. THe rate of change differs, accept that.


Back when I first married, I remember my mother-in-law talking about change. Her youngest two children married within 6 weeks of each other. Her father died right after the second wedding. It was not too long after that her mother-in-law moved in with them. She said that one thing about life was that things were always changing. You go from childhood, get married, have children, children grow up, you have grandchildren, friends and family die.

Being in Amarillo, I can look back and see how many things have changed since I got married and left home 36 years ago. We used to come to Amarillo and it took a full two days of making the rounds to see all the family. My grandparents were alive, Henry's grandmothers were alive, we had Henry's aunt and uncle to visit. While many of that set are gone, we have new ones to take their place. My nieces both have husbands and children now. My children are grown with households of their own.

While I'm still Mary Ann, I'm probably a different Mary Ann than I was all those years ago. I have wonderful memories not only of my family that are now gone, but also of the trips we took, the activities of my children. When I was a young adult, I taught children at every church we attended. While I have taught children at Brentwood, most of my teaching has been geared to adult women. I'm still active physically, but some things are harder due to injuries from the past. I still get where I want to go, I still hike, but I'm a lot slower than I once was.

My perspective on life is different. My those parents of those babies look young, but I was that young, once. The senior citizens don't look nearly as old . . . I see the changes in my friend's faces, especially ones I have not seen in a while. Aging is no respecter of persons. We march through life, we unsucessfully try to drag our feet and slow the aging process down. We exercise, we watch our diets, we work puzzles . . . all in hopes of keeping our bodies and minds fit in our "old age."

But, old age sneaks up on us. My inlaws marvel sometimes about having lived as long as they have. Time goes by quickly.

Change is part of life. Nothing is constant. No . . . that is not quite true. God is constant. And he walks with us throughout all the changes - both good and bad - that come as we go through our lives.

Ecclesiastes talks about there being a time for everything under heaven. Change is one of those constants. Sometimes it is good - like the Texas weather, if you don't like it, wait awhile and it will change.

Sometimes we need to accept the inevitable changes, sometimes we need to fight them. And yes, we need wisdom to know when to accept and when to fight.

But, when change is inevitable, embrace it, accept it, and find ways to rejoice in it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

This morning as I looked out the RV window, I noticed a couple of birds coming out of the brush. One was staying very close to the other one . . . and then all of a sudden I realized I was seeing a mother curve billed thrasher and her baby! Needless to say I was excited! I had not unpacked the camera gear yet, so in order not to startle the birds, I asked Henry to get my camera . . . and the green camera backpack. i could not move fast enough fearing they would leave abruptly. Quickly I threw on the 100-400 lens. I grabbed a compact flash card, checked the battery strength and changed batteries. Knowing it was cloudy, i set the ISO to 1000. And then I started photographing through the front window of the RV.

While I never had the camera angle that I had with the binoculars, I was able to get a few shots. I kept hoping to get the shot I'd seen with the baby facing me with that wide open begging mouth. This baby bird was behaving like the finch babies I saw last summer. It would crouch down, flutter its wings, and open its mouth wide to beg mom for food.

Hope you enjoy the photos of this sweet baby!

Yard men and Western kingbirds

Since I've set up bird feeders at Evelyn and Gene's house, I've moved one of their chairs to be my "viewing" spot. I was planning to end my day watching the evening visitors. Before I got out there, we heard Sissy barking at the fence. The long awaited yard men were here to do the mowing and trimming. I went ahead and move to the chair. I figured that I would not see many birds at the feeder until the loud mowing was done . . . and, indeed, this was the case. But I was treated to an amazing display of sight and sound as about a dozen kingbirds flew all around the trees in the yard. They were very chattery. Some were territorial chasing others away. But they kept moving all around the trees and singing up a storm. I noticed that when the mowers moved to the back are of the yard down by the lake, the kingbirds left. It was only later that I realized that my kingbird visitors were in the yard to take advantage of any insects disturbed by the mowing. After the kingbirds left, I stayed in my chair and was rewarded by seeing a male house finch and a black crested titmouse.