Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Interesting things that come "across my radar"

You can probably say I am an internet junkie.

I read lots of things from many places on the internet.

I start my day usually checking out my new email and the Discussion Forum and the Photos of the Day at The Digital Image Cafe. I've made lots of friends there and I enjoy seeing the beautiful photographs each morning as well as to see if there is any photography information I would find useful.

I have set up a My Yahoo page that gives me lots of different news headlines that I can click on for more details. I read news articles, editorials, and entertainment articles (I"m tired of hearing about the celebrities whose lives are so messed up right now - the names change, but the disfunctional lifestyles go on and on and on.) Sometimes I look at the Austin American Statesman. Today I looked at one of the editorials and I wrote a letter to the editor. My first draft was twice the size limit, so I just sent the first part.

Lately I've been reading Yellowstone.net and The Yellowstone Newspaper to make Yellowstone still feel real when we are so far way. I am fascinated with the story of Hollywood Star, the bear that has been relocated twice now. The last time they took her 100 miles away and she still came back to the Fishing Bridge area. Apparently she has moved over to Pelican Valley. There are several photos of her on the postiing. She is a beautiful bear. I sure hope that she stays in Pelican Valley and away from people, so they don't have to kill her.

I also read several blogs. Some of them are friends and family. I love hearing what's going on in their lives. I started reading two blogs after attending the Festival of the Cranes at the Bosque del Apache NWR. Julie Zickefoose and her husband, Bill Thompson (Bill of the Birds). His article today was about pigeons in the Los Angeles area. I have to agree that putting birth control in their food supplies can certainly have unintended consequences - not only to raptors that feed on them, but also to other birds that may also ingest the drugs. On the other hand, pigeons tend to over populate in metropolitan areas (as do grackles.)

From the Yellowstone Newspaper I chased this link to The Yellowstone Spectator. It dovetails with Bill of the Bird's comments about how small things can affect other things. Who would have thought that the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone would increase the growth of aspen groves and provide better habitat for beavers? By the way, my beaver photos were the beaver that lives in the lodge he pictured.

I also chased this link from the Casper Star Tribune. This fits in with some research I did on the regrowth of trees in Yellowstone after the 1988 fires. I had to figure out how white pines were related to lodgepole pines. I'm interested in lodge pole pines because they need fire to open their cones for the seeds to germinate. They are also under attack all over the western United States from pine bark beetles. I wonder what the landscapes are going to look like with so much of the forest dead. And due to fire danger, so much of the dead wood will be logged, that the mountains will have a very different look.

I'm interested in lots of different things and my web surfing shows it. While sometimes my time might be more productively spent doing other things, I sure do learn a lot as I chase the different threads.

Getting Off!

What a challenge it can be when it is time to leave again. This time we were home three weeks. That is a long time if you are on a vacation, but it is really short when you come home and try to get caught up after having been gone awhile. I kept making lists of things that needed to be done, knowing I was writing down more things than I could possibly accomplish in the short time I was going to be home.

I had some things that I tried to finish up . . . Laundry- not only the clothes for the trip, but I was successful in leaving the clothes hamper fairly empty. We'll have clean clothes at home when we get back next week. Mail - have I said how much I dislike mail. Junk mail -blah! I'm not good at throwing away those catalogues or the magazines that I want to read, but don't seem to get around to. Plus there are business papers to file, bills to pay, etc. I tend to sort by sitting on the living room floor. I usually don't finish in one day, so then I have other stuff to do and it sits there a few days. For three or four days my to do list said get those papers off the floor. I was determined today to make sure the important stuff went with us so I could finish processing. And yes, my file boxes went with us. I could tell by Henry's voice when I pointed to those, "We're taking these???" that he was hoping this was a short enough trip that they could stay home. But I will spend some time on this trip on the odd pieces of paperwork I didn't finish such as balancing checkbooks, etc.

Poor Henry, we brought in a lot of stuff from the RV so we could clean it good before we took it in for its safety inspection and so it would be ready for this trip. We're really starting out with it cleaner than normal. And to clean it, you have to bring a lot of stuff in. I debated about which camera equipment to bring, but there are photo opportunities around St. Louis - so it all went back out. We had already driven halfway out the drive when I realized the tripods had not gotten loaded. And then there are the computer hard drives that hold my photos. I've got submissions that I didn't finish, so they needed to come as well as my large monitor. And, every now and then I get a request for a photo while we're traveling - so the 10 hard drives come with us.

I have two different friends in two different hospitals - so part of my day was spent checking on them and updating other friends on how they were doing.

And I wanted to leave the kitchen without dirty dishes or old fruit that would attract fruit flies and gnats while we were gone. I'm not a great housekeeper, and I did not leave everything the way I dream about, but several things at least got a lick and a promise today.

Henry is always ready to go before I am, but I am so grateful that he patiently loads the stuff in the RV that I drag out to the living room as packed and ready to go. And one of the last things to get packed is my computer. Because to give myself little breaks as I'm chugging along- I check email, read news things, a little solitaire to destress (yes, that one's probably a bad habit).

Today when we finally drove out the drive way, we still had one more errand - pick up my newly printed business cards. It took a couple of years, but I was almost out of them. I ordered them Thursday. They weren't quite ready when I called, but when they realized I was going out of town, they finished cutting them and stayed until we got there. Thank you, MinuteMan Press. And they even made sure I knew they had moved to a new location.

Whew! I'm done. We're on the road. We'll get to see Thomas briefly. My body is achy and tired. First on my agenda - a short nap in the front seat as Henry drives us down the road!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Prayer Requests

As one marches through life's journey through time, the road leads us many places. We can't stop the march, we pass minute to minute, day to day, month to month, and year to year. While my memory of where I put something in the last day or two may be quite unreliable, I have many childhood memories. It is hard for me to realize that those memories are of life in the 1950's.
I'm the same person, I still look at the world through the same eyes, I still enjoy many of the same things. I still have a sense of adventure - wanting to see new things, meet new people, go new places. But . . . reality . . . I AM getting older. I don't move as fast, I get tired easily, my knees periodically protest my activities.

But as I go along with this journey through time, I've watched good things, bad things, sad things, happy things - life is a mix of sweet, sour, salty, bitter events going on around us.

RIght now, I've got several friends and family who are going through rough patches in time - cancer, hospital stays, respiratory or cardiac issues, early Alzenheimers, difficulties with grown children, money problems and just the routine issues of getting old.

Two close friends are in the hospital today, another close friend lost her uncle last night after losing her mom a couple of months ago, two other friends have recently been diagnosed with cancer, . . .

We're scheduled to leave town in the morning. I won't be here to give moral support up close and personal to the friends in the hospitals and their families. This grieves me a little. But I have called and emailed others who would want to know, and I have included requests for their prayers. I will try to keep up with how both of these friends are doing. I am grateful for how easy it is to get in touch with people with cell phones no matter where we are traveling in the States.

I am so glad that God, our Father, cares for us. I am so glad we can go before Him and bring Him our concerns, our worry, our anxiety, and our fears. I know that in his own amazing way, each one of these people will feel His presence in their lives.

I suspect that many of you have things going on in your life, or in the lives of your friends and family. So . . . as you finish reading this blog, send up a request to God to be active in all the lives represented by the readers here. Know that as you are praying for people here, others are praying for you and your difficulties, illnesses, and life challenges.

When you finish, remember Phillipians 4 Rejoice in the Lord aways, I will say it again, Rejoice! . . . Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. . . And the God of peace will be with you.

I am praying in special ways for my friends tonight - and I'm praying for you that this Phillipians scripture will come alive for you when you read it today, and that God will meet your special needs in a very special way.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Henry's Book, Emperor Dad

It's official, Henry's book, Emperor Dad, is a reality. We have our intial copies to take to the North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFIC) in St. Louis this week.

Needless to say, we're very excited.

For those of you that may want a copy, the link above takes you to one of several places it can be ordered.

If you live in the Austin area, we will have copies available for purchase as well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Animals in the News

I found these two very different animal stories worth noting.

Oscar, the Cat

But in the news this week was this amazing cat who lives in a nursing home. He somehow senses when one of the patients is nearing death and spends time with them during their final hours. He is so accurate that the staff now notes where he is and notifies the family members that they should come.

Jake, the rescue dog
Also in the news this week was Jake, one of the dogs that worked as one of the 9/11 search and rescue dogs at the World Trade Center Site. At 12, he was an old dog who had lived a good life. But he, like many other rescue dogs, worked hard to find survivors. He deserves a "Job Well Done."

Animals can do amazing things. I know that I've read that dogs can detect certain human illnesses presumably by their sense of smell. A quick Google search found these older articles.

USA Weekend, "The Sick Sense"

Great Plains Assistance Dogs, Emergency Medical Response Dog Training

I am very grateful that God gave us animals to love. But I also have a sense of wonder as science learns more about what special talents animals have.

Yellowstone's Coyote Babies

We discovered (with many other people) the coyote babies early during our visit to the park. While the coyote puppies in Rocky Mountain were a long distance away, the babies near the Gibbon River were very near the road. So needless to say, I was excited.

The first day we saw them, the park service had not put up the cones and signs, so the line of people was on the same side of the road as the den. I pulled out the big lens and tripod started out on one end of the line. As people moved on to other sights, I worked my way closer into the line of photographers for my shots of the coyote pups.

Everyone was quiet, orderly and respectful of the den and the pups.

We could see the mother come down the cliff, but she would not come on to the den. The lighting was bright, but I felt like I got some dramatic shots of her. But I was worried when she finally headed off to the river behind us to hunt without having fed the pups. So I packed up for the day, planning to come back, figuring I did not need to be adding to her anxiety.

We got out early the next morning and this den was my first stop. There were already a few people lined up, but I felt like I was positioned well enough. All seemed quiet, when all of a sudden from the grassy area above the den by the cliff, mother coyote stood up, stretched, and headed down to the puppies. When she got to the den the puppies streamed out to greet her . . . and to get that most important meal of the day, breakfast.

I went back a number of times while we were in Yellowstone. Some days we would go by and I would see the horde of people and we would just keep on going. Other times we would come by when the pups were in the den and there weren't that many people. I would get set up and wait.

I set up for photography about 6 different times and took over 680 photos. Most of the are more memory photos. The ones in the blog are probably the best ones. I'm thinking about doing another blog about the challenges in taking these kinds of shots. I've posted these photos on my website on the Yellowstone Coyote Webpage . You can see larger views of these photos by clicking on the thumbnails at the site. I'll be posting more as I have time to work them.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Planning for Africa

The trip to Africa feels more and more real as each day passes. We are not quite a month away from departure.

As we were planning this trip, my good friend, Linda reminded me that we would need shots. So before we even had our flights booked we went to the Austin Diagnostic Center Travel Clinic. We did not have a firm itinerary at the time, just a general idea of which countries we would be visiting. Our initial list included South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, and Botswana. After checking their information, we got pills to take to prevent typhoid, shots against two kinds of hepatitis, meningococcal vaccines, polio and influenza. Henry needed a new tetanus-diptheria shot - mine was current. We also were given information to be thinking about in terms of malaria prevention.

We went back this week to get the booster shot for the hepatitis A&B. We'll need to go back in December to finish that series. We've also gotten our prescriptions for malaria (malarone) and traveler's diarrhea. We also picked up their Travel kit which has single dosages for a variety of common over the counter meds and first aid treatments - including throw away thermometers. While I hope we won't need any of it, it will be good to have it with us.

We booked our flight back in early May - utilizing air miles that I had built up on one of my credit cards. While it did not fully pay for the trip, it really cut the cost of the airfare. We will be getting up VERY early as our flight leaves at 7:00 in the morning. Since we are international travelers, I figure we need to try to be at the airport by 5:00. We're thinking about getting one of the shuttle vans to pick us up.

7:00 A.M. Leave Austin
11:14 A.M. Arrive Dulles, Washington DC
5:26 P.M.Leave Washington DC
2:35 P.M. Arrive Johansburg, South Africa
5:00 P.M. Leave Johansburg
7:10 P.M. Arrive Cape Town, South Africa

If my calculations are accurate, we will be on a plane 14 hours from Washington to Johansburg. Because of the expensive camera equipment - somehow, we've got to carry that on. This will be interesting.

We have one day to explore Cape Town. Unless I get more sleep on the plane than I expect, jet lag is very likely to be an issue. I still need to book two nights in a Cape Town hotel. From something Henry sent me, I think I'm going to try for the hotel that is near the airport, because our flight Thursday leaves at 8:00 in the morning.

We will be flying to Namibia, Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. We'll take another flight to Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge. When I first saw the information, I knew this had to be on the list. For one thing, I've written a desert book and this is the oldest desert in the world. It also has the highest dunes. It also looks to be very luxurious. We'll have two nights here.

From there, we'll go to Wolwedans Dune Camp. This will be much more rustic. We will be staying in tents, but they describe beds in the tents. They also mention that this is for the younger and more adventurous traveler. Hum . . . . younger -no . . . . adventurous-yes. Two nights here right in the dunes.

Back to the airport at Windhoek to catch a plane to Lusaka, the capital and largest city in Zambia. I still need to book a hotel for our one night there.

We'll fly out Tuesday, September 4th, to Mfuwe, where we will be staying for four nights at the Luangwa River Lodge. We will be exploring the South Luangwa National Park.

From there, we'll fly to Livingstone, Zambia home for Victoria Falls.

We'll be spending two nights at the Chobe Game Lodge. We'll be visiting Chobe National Park in Botswana.

We then spend two nights at Chobe Savannah Lodge.

We'll come back and spend a couple of days in Livingstone at
Chanter's Lodge. I've heard Livingstone is a charming town, so I'm hoping to rest a little and take a few photographs.

From there, we are looking forward to spending a week or so with our friends, David and Linda Gregersen at the Namwianga Mission.

We'll fly from Livingstone back to Cape Town on Monday, September 24th. We'll leave Africa on September 25th arriving back in Austin, September 26th around 11:00 in the morning.

I suspect we'll spend the next few days sleeping.

I'm looking forward to the adventure!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Yellowstone's Great Horned Owl Babies

It really pays to network at Yellowstone. I got in the habit of chatting with the people around me when we were stopped either viewing or photographing. I would not have seen the two sets of great horned owl babies if kind people had not told me where to look.

One of the nests was too far to photograph, but easy to spot. From the parking lot of Tower Falls, there was a dead, broken tree trunk. WIth either binoculars or a good scope, you could see the two babies sitting at the top of the broken tree in the empty cavity. Each time we stopped at the store for a snack or cold drinks, we would look for them. By the end of our stay, I suspect they had fledged.

The second nest was near Mammoth-easy to find from the information other visitors gave me.

The first day I went to check out the nest and try to photograph the owl family, the sun's angle was working against me. To get the owls properly exposed, the sky was totally blown out. I could tell I was getting memory photos rather than photos I could use.

Since we were staying at Fishing Bridge, the drive to Mammoth is about an hour and a half. I determined to set the alarm and get over there hoping that morning light would help me get some good shots. Poor Henry, I had him out of bed before dawn. While we passed up some interesting things, I just had to make a beeline for those owls.

We got over there between 7:00 and 8:00 and yes, the lighting was better. The first challenge: mother owl was sitting on one branch, the babies below . . . but they all kept looking different directions. Plus mother owl really wanted to sleep, she must have been out hunting all night. The other challenge - depth of field. I'm down on the ground with my big lens pointed up at a pretty steep angle. The three birds are not on the same plane of focus. When the sun is out I can do a higher f/stop to get a deeper depth of field. But mom moved while I was shooting and when the sun was out, she was in the shade. I did have a convenient cloud that gave me the lighting for the photos that seem to have "worked."

The other exciting thing that morning. These owl babies were ready to fledge. I may have gotten to see the first flight from the nesting tree to the tree next to it. Only one of the babies was brave enough to make the leap. But it was fun to watch. And getting to watch the interaction between the siblings when it returned was amazing as well.

Due to the crop factor to get the owls close in the frame, I don't know whether these will be high enough quality for large prints, but it sure was fun getting to see these owl babies.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

In Memory

Sometimes events happen very quickly. I've had a pretty good day today - I got up really early, did my "morning things," sat on the porch, had lunch with my friend, Bettye, ran a couple of errands, etc. I'd had a pretty good day. I knew I needed to get back to my exercise program at Curves. I went in, started my workout . . . made it about 1/3 of the way around the circuit . . . and then . . . I saw the sign . . . the memorial fund for Julie . . .

My heart cried, "OH NO!" Julie is young, vibrant, cheerful . . . How can she be gone? Now I understood Michelle's face. She's lost her sister.

Now, I like all the people who work at my Curves. They are each unique, wonderful individuals. I would be this bummed if it had been any of them. But . . . but . . . I have good memories of Julie.

She always greeted me cheerfully and took a genuine interest in me and my daughter. She always wore a big smile. I enjoyed hearing about her kids and their activities.

Death . . .

I'm human. I don't like death . . . .

As Christians we know that death is just a pathway to a new life. Jesus told his disciples he was going to build mansions for them. Revelations tells us about the beauty of heaven. I Thessalonians 4 tells us "We believe that Jesus died and rose and again. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him . . . . we will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air."

I believe in the resurrection . . . I believe in life after death . . . I believe that those who have died go on to a better place because of Jesus love, his death, and resurrection.

But . . .

For those of us left behind, we celebrate a life, we celebrate God's love . . . but we also grieve the loss of someone we know, someone we love, someone we will miss. We cry with the closest family friends, because we know how deep their pain is at the loss of a loved one. And when someone young dies, there is the additional grief at a life cut short - a different feeling from when an older person dies who has lived a long and full life. We grieve for what might have been.

For me, I have this death echoes. Henry's parents are aging, my parents and grandparents are already dead. And I have a close friend battling cancer. Death is too near . . .

God gave us a strong desire to live - we fight for our lives . . . but in the end . . . we will all meet death . . . .

And somehow through it all . . . God is truly good. In ways that I cannot explain or even understand, he comforts those who are grieving. If we are looking . . . he sends us something to be grateful for every day.

Join me in prayer for Julie's family - her husband, her children, her parents, her sister, her extended family and friends. It has been a month since she departed this earth, but her family is still hurting. May they feel God's love, comfort, and presence each day!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Yellowstone's Small Mammals

When visiting Yellowstone, it is easy to get caught up in all the large animals - the bison, the elk, the deer, the bears, etc. Those are pretty easy to spot and they are fun to watch. But Yellowstone is filled with small mammals. Some of these small mammals require "luck" to get to see them.

We saw Mr. Beaver one afternoon when we were driving through Lamar Valley. I called out "Beaver." Henry turned around and parked at a nearby pullout. I was sure the beaver would immediately dive under the water and that would be that.

But to my surprise he swam through his channel, cut down a branch and came back to eat.

It was amazing how fast he devoured every leaf on that branch. Only then did he swim back to his house. Although we looked for him every time we drove by his home, I never saw him again. Henry did see him one day when he was doing a bicycle ride.

Throughout the park Uinta ground squirrels chatter behind the sage from their burrows. While they sound like high pitched birds, they are actually calling out warnings to the rest of their family. They were on my list of animals I was hoping to photograph. One day when we had driven up the road to the Slough Creek Campground, I spotted one on a large boulder. It left, but I went ahead and got out my big lens and tripod hoping that this rock was a place where it spent a lot of time. My patience was soon rewarded. From the photos, I can tell this one was female. She stood on her rock and sang with all her heart and body.

But in reality she was warning the rest of the ground squirrels that there was a predator nearby - me. Bravely she held her post. Occasionally she would stop her call and glare at me.

By the way, Uinta ground squirrels estivate. When the weather gets hot, they go back underground and sleep until the weather cools off in the fall. They are only active a few months a year.

We had been seeing marmots on occasion. Marmots love the big rock piles left by the glaciers. We had seen one near Floating Island Lake and we had seen another on the road between Tower and Roosevelt. The one at Floating Island Lake was too far away to get a good photograph. And the other disappeared immediately as we drove by. My opportunity came when we were stopped and set up by the red tail hawk nest. There was a marmot that came out to check on us.

At first he would check us out and then scamper to the safety of his home. We were chatting with another photographer - and the marmot began to feel more comfortable. He kept coming closer and closer in his search for food. Since I wanted marmot photos, I began to move around with the camera and big lens hoping to get some good shots. Fortunately for me, the marmot just went about doing his marmot thing - and I got some good shots. He finally retreated back to his home, but he came back on the rock occasionally to keep checking on us.

Years ago when my children were little and we were visiting Yellowstone, I saw my first muskrat on the Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley. While I've seen a few muskrats elsewhere, I'm still thrilled when I get to see another one.

On this trip on one of our almost daily runs through Hayden valley, I saw a water mammal and, of course, hollered, "Stop!" Henry made a quick U-turn. I guessed pretty fast that this was a muskrat instead of a beaver. We quickly dug out the big lens and tripod. Fortunately, this little fellow swam around long enough for me to get off a few shots.

Of course, the animals are more interested in doing their thing than in me getting a good shot. One of the shots gave me a clear view of his body, but not a good view of his face and eye. Naturally, the one that gave me good eye contact had blurry foreground grass. While I've seen wolf photos that have the same issues - blurred foreground, sharp wolf- competitions frown on that blurry foreground.

I played around a little tonight to see if I could salvage that shot. First, I cropped so that I could get just the muskrat and a few of the ripples around him. Then I carefully starting cloning out the remaining blurred green grass. At one point, I tried one more crop . . . I'm not sure this will be a saleable shot . . . but it is MY best muskrat shot!

I had planned to make the hike up to Trout Lake to see the river otters there. I was disappointed when I learned that the fishing coyote had killed them. I've heard since that there is one otter left up there, but I gave up on the long uphill hike when I realized I had missed the otters. But one evening when we were going through Hayden Valley I did get a chance to see a river otter at Yellowstone. For the first time in a long time there is a river otter at Otter Creek in Hayden Valley. We saw a bunch of people looking at the water. Naturally I got out and hustled over. Not knowing what it was, I only took the 100-400 lens. I had a pretty steep trail to get to the water level, so it's probably just as well. But I was thrilled to get my first look at a river otter in the wild. He stayed under the bridge. Occasionally he would swim over . . . get a good look at us and immediately dive. There were too many people in his space so eventually he moved on over to the river.

While I did not get great shots . . . I at least got something. River otters are part of the marten family - not rodents like beavers and muskrats. Instead of grass, twigs, and trees, river otters mostly eat fish. But they also eat crustaceans, some amphibians, reptiles, and occasional bird or insects.

To see larger versions of these photos, check out my Yellowstone's Small Mammals webpage.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Visit Yellowstone via YouTube and MySpace

We did not do video while at Yellowstone. But here are some video clips I've seen that I think are worth watching. The first ones are just fun - and make you feel like you are there. The last ones are good warnings as to what these wonderful wild beasts are capable of.

You can search both of these sites using Yellowstone and/or Yellowstone and the animal of your choice. Great way to spend some spare time.

Fishing Coyote

Coyotes of Gibbon

Coyotes of Gibbon 2

Coyotes of Gibbon 3

Coyotes of Gibbon 4

Grizzly at Swan Lake Flats

Grizzly attacks car This one has profanity - but it is a good object lesson in why you need to keep your distance from bears.

Be wary of elk as well. This one also has profanity - but elk can charge people as well.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Yellowstone's Grizzlies - Photography Ethics

This year's trip to Yellowstone provided amazing bear viewing - both grizzlies and black bears. There were several days when we saw at least 8 bears. I had not given it much thought until someone mentioned how many bears they had seen that day. I added up in my mind - mother grizzly and cub-Hayden Valley, mother grizzly and 2 cubs- Mount Washburn, black bear near Pebble Creek campground, mother black bear and 3 cubs on the mountain . . . yep - we had seen a bunch of bears as well.

As I've mentioned before, I found trying to capture the wonder and marvel of the bears to be challenging. For one thing - you never have any control over where the bear is. Sometimes the bear is that small speck on the distant slope. Sometimes the bear is right below you near the road. Sometimes you are the first one on the scene and have opportunites for a good angle. Sometimes you can make a good guess as to where the bear is headed and move ahead and have a good position as it wanders by. Sometimes all the other photographers have already found the bear and there is no place for you to set your camera gear up. Sometimes you luck into a good parking place and can wait and see what the bear is going to do. Sometimes you have good lighting (rare)-most of the time you are fighting direct sunlight or evening shade.

But occasionally you get lucky. You are close enough to the bear to get a full frame shot (from the relative protection of proximity to your car). Bears are in constant motion- so some shots are going to be motion blurred - that's a given. Bear is more interesting in grubbing than posing for you - you don't always get his or her most photogenic side. You DON'T want to make noise to get his attention. You wouldn't like it if he decided you were a better meal.

But out of all my bear shots - it is the bear's eyes that are one of my biggest frustrations. Out of hundreds of shots, in only one do you get a very good look at the eyes. (And that one the rest of the bear was motion blurred.) And in animal photography, getting the eye clear, crisp, and with a catchlight makes the difference between a ho hum shot and a winning excellent shot. With some animal shots, I can take what the camera captured and work some photoshop magic with levels, dodging and burning, and sharpening to make the eye look "natural" and give that wonderful eye contact with the animal. I don't have an ethical problem with that, because I'm taking what is really the eye and just bringing out the details. With my bear photos that was not possible. Between camera angle issues, the bear's thick eyelashes, and the lighting - there was no detail there to do anything with. During the trip, there was not time to work many of the photos. So I am just now doing some of the post processing. I've got someone potentially interested in some of the grizzly shots for a print to hang on a wall. So I worked on them last night. I started playing with the eyes.

I used a New Layer>Overlay> Overlay neutral color 50%. I've learned that I can add just a dab of color to the dodge and burn process - so I chose a color for the brush that was in the brown tones - giving some color to the eyes. Then I used black for the brush and added a pupil. Then I went to the original layer and added a spot of white for the catchlight that brings life to the eye. Sometimes I slightly darkened the edges of the eye to add definition. On the close ups of the mother grizzly, I now have eye contact.

Even though the eye is a small part of the overall photo - this small change is enough to make it ineligible for some of the major wildlife competitions and for some nature magazines. Where ever I submit any of these shots, I will make sure the editor knows the changes I have made.




And by the way, on the grizzly at the top of this post, I did additional "repair work." This grizzly was injured over a year ago. While he could use both paws to dig for grubs, he walked using one paw and one elbow - painfully and arthritically. He also had a big scar on his face. For a print to hang on someone's wall, I did "plastic surgery" or "skin grafts" on his cheek. The photo is more likely to find a place on a decorative wall without the ugly scar. However, once again, if I market this image, I'll be honest to the editors as to what I've done. They can decide whether a scarred bear or an artistic rendition of a bear best suits their needs.

I've posted what I think are my best grizzly shots at my website.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


With all the travel this year, we have not made it to very many movies. Top on our list showing right now was Ratatouille by Disney and Pixar. WOW! We really enjoyed this one. For one thing, it is set in Paris. We've been lucky to have visited Paris a couple of times. Henry loves movies set in Paris, because he really loves Paris. Films with Paris as the backdrop allow us to visit again in our imagination. I really like how they pictured the Eiffel Tower dominating the skyline. While it is exaggerated a little, the Eiffel Tower really does dominate the Paris landscape. I hate the copy in Las Vegas, Nevada because it appears so small next to the surrounding hotels - so unlike the real one. As we watched the film, I could picture the locations in Paris that the animators had so skillfully portrayed.

The storyline is precious. I love leaving a film that has filled my time with laughter and joy. The characters really come alive and the comedy is wonderful.

While there was an undercurrent that could be perceived as political (the relationship between most rats and most humans), the ending made me wish that human conflicts could be solved as easily.

While made for the children's audience, this film has a sophisticated enough story line and beautiful graphics that will keep the adults in the audience charmed.

Go see it!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Remembering Lady Bird

Back in the '70's Henry worked in the radio and television world as a radio engineer. When we first married, one of his jobs was with KTBC TV - one of the stations that the Johnson family owned. He got to meet President Johnson once. Later he worked for KTBC radio that later became KLBJ radio as chief engineer. Twice during that time, we attended parties that the Johnsons threw for their employees on one of their properties near the famous ranch.

The first was in the summer, but the property was built around a grove of trees. The house had been designed in two sections to take advantage of prevailing wind to channel a breeze. The south side overlooked the Pedernales River.

Lady BIrd was an incredible hostess. Everyone was greeted with her charming smile. Everything you needed from food, drink, seating was there. The bathrooms had beautiful flowered, folded paper hand towels.

The second party was a Christmas event, held at the same place. There was an outdoor fireplace with a roaring fire - that veranda was just as pleasant on a cold winter night as it had been on a hot summer day. We sang Christmas carols accompanied by Lucy on the piano.

Two different days, two different events, thiry years ago, indelibly marked in my memory.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Braggin' Rights - Christian's Art

My sister-in-law sent out an email today. Her granddaughter, Christian, made the Amarillo Globe News, the Amarillo newspaper today.

I have to pass along the article - 'cause we're proud of Christian as well. At 19, she is entering her second year at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She helped paint her first horse with Mary and painted her first business mural while she was still in high school. She designed and painted her brother's room.

Her work is bold and beautiful. I know she will have a wonderful successful career with her incredible art.

Monday, July 09, 2007


We got home yesterday evening. With all the rain, I've never seen Johnson grass as tall. We used to have a garden. I have not had one in many years, but where I enriched the soil for that garden, the Johnson grass hasn't given up. In one rectangular area the Johnson grass is solid, and it looks almost 5 feet tall.

When you've been gone several months, you come home to stacks of mail, an overgrown yard, birdseed shells all over the backporch, and empty bird feeders. When you are travelling, there are interesting things to see and do. Easy to be excited and keep going to see everything. When you get home, there can be a "let down." Your body knows it can finally rest.

I've learned to listen to my body. I kept today simple. I allowed myself to sleep late. I ate a nice lunch with my daughter. I got my "puppy fix" as her sweet dogs greeted me so excitedly. I went over to Wild Bird to get bird seed cylinders, loose seed, ad suet for the feeders.

Knowing my laptop was seriously in need of repair, Henry and I went to the Apple store to buy its replacement. We will be attempting to get a new hard drive for the old one, as I really don't want to take the new MacBook Pro to Africa. But I knew that photographically I would be stunted while we waited to ship off the old one. Plus each year brings newer and faster processors. I'll be curious over the next few days whether the new processor will speed up the time it takes to screen and process my photos.

And I allowed myself to "veg." I knew I was mentally tired today. So while Henry moved my data and programs from the old computer to the new one, I allowed myself to sit in my chair and watch some of the TV shows we missed.

Tomorrow I'll start work on things in earnest.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Fourth of July & Fireworks

During Henry's working years, we often chose to travel during the fourth of July holiday so we could have a longer vacation. I found that I enjoyed seeing fireworks in the various places we happened to be. So this year, I wanted to be settled somewhere to watch the fireworks. We chose Taos. When I checked into the RV park, the guy told me to bring my lawn chair over and join the group that would be watching them from the park. I did that, but there wasn't a large group. There was a teenage boy who described how he usually does his own fireworks - I ended up telling him he should be a pyro-technician (I think that's what the name is for the professionals who do fireworks.)

As I watched the fireworks, several thoughts went through my head. The fireworks are a celebration of our country's independence. We are a diverse nation where people from many nationalities live together. Just as humans do, our nation has its times of ups and downs. We are a nation of humans, so we are imperfect. Sometimes our national policies make me proud, other times they give me grief. But even today, there is much to be proud of. Americans are among the first to go in and help when another country has a disaster. Americans have long set aside areas of national parks, national forests, and national wildlife refuges to preserve our natural heritage. We've set up a social structure to try to help people who are in need. While it may be flawed, it does provide a safety net for people whose circumstances create difficulites. While we've made many mistakes in Iraq, one of our goals has been to help rebuild what the war destroyed in their country. Because we are imperfect humans, we will always have problems and issues. But I'm still proud to be an American. I appreciate living in a country where we can vote for people who will decide our nations policies. I appreciate the freedom we have - freedom to worship, freedom to speak our minds about our politicians, freedom to choose our careers, freedom to travel throughout our country, freedom to travel outside our country.

I think it is important for everyone to be proud of their country. July 4th gives Americans an opportunity to be grateful and celebrate their country. We saw part of the parade in Silverton. We've seen the parade at Breckenridge. We saw many cars, jeeps, and 4-wheelers flying American flags to celebrate this holiday. But I've also been blessed to have been in France twice on Bastille Day. The celebration at the Eiffel Tower was impressive. Not only were there fireworks, but there was music and a wonderful presentation on French history. We were at the Valley of the Volcanoes the first time we were there on Bastille Day. We could look across the broad valley and see the fireworks from so many small towns from our hotel that overlooked the valley. Living in Texas, we celebrate Cinco de Maya which is an important day in the history of Mexico. While not all governments are great and praiseworthy, I still think that we should be respectful of the people in all the countries of the world.

Memories of other fireworks surfaced as I watched the beautiful ones in Taos. One year I watched the fireworks in Malibu from a private beach. In Malibu they set up a series of barges along the coastline and people gather on the beaches to watch the fireworks and their reflections in the water. In Austin, the fireworks are accompanied by an orchestra concert held on the shores of Town Lake. In Breckenridge, there is a music event and then fireworks that light up the mountains. We've watched fireworks from the porch of a hotel in Dillon, a campground in Montana, a small town in Arizona as we drove down the road, the beach in San Diego . . . lots of fouth of July memories.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Buena Vista KOA Campground

We'd come the long way from Breckenridge. I'd hope to go up Mount Evans to get mountain goat photos. But the first day we went it was stormy and we'd already had a long day in Denver. This time we had the RV and we needed a place to stay. Unfortunately, the forest campground 3 miles up a twisty curvy dirt road was completely full. Henry also noted that there was a huge line of cars going toward Mount Evans. This was a Sunday and Mount Evans is close enough to Denver to make a good day trip.

So we decided to head over to some of my favorite areas from when I was a teenager - Buena Vista, Cottonwood Pass, St. Elmo, etc. I was hoping to stay at Cottonwood Lake and then make it up to the pass before sunset. I had forgotten that the Cottonwood Lake Campground is also three miles off the paved road. Poor Henry. When we got to the lake, I went ahead in the jeep. It was a weekend, yes, the campground was already full.

So, we headed back into Buena Vista to check on the commercial campgrounds. We ended up at the Buena Vista KOA Campground. It turned out to be a happy choice. Since it was Saturday night, they were serving Bar-b-que and then ice cream. They had a musician from Salida that was singing. There was a campfire for everyone to share. Later in the evening they had some customized vehicles doing rock climbing exhibitions. Big tires, roll bars, the works. There was a nice camaraderie and great atmosphere. We came in especially tired and there was something about the singing, the kids playing basketball, and the tranquility of the evening that was very restful. And all the staff were very friendly and cordial. Both mornings brought us back to the Cook Shack for breakfast sandwiches on English muffins. I almost forgot the view. We were located on one edge of the valley overlooking the collegiate peaks. In the mornings it was fun to watch the kids climb all over the rock formations.

While in many ways I like staying at the National forest campgrounds in the heart of the forest, the atmosphere at this campground was very relaxing and appealing. In looking it up for this post, I was not surprised to learn it had won the 2006 KOA President's Award.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Yellowstone's Visitors

The "Tourists"

In a sense we are all tourists at Yellowstone, but many of the visitors at Yellowstone are there for the very first time. Some have only a day, others have several days. They may arrive in their own cars, an RV or camper, or a big tour bus. They come from all over the world. I met people from France, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Germany. I heard many foreign languages I did not recognize. I saw several Japanese tour buses. They've all come to see the amazing wonders of Yellowstone - the thermal features, the wildlife, and the scenic grandeur.

For a first time tourist, they may only watch one geyser, Old Faithful. They ride the historic yellow buses. They ride horses on trails. They ride the stage coaches at Roosevelt. They create "jams" as they stop suddenly to view elk, buffalo or deer. They've come to enjoy the park as part of their yearly vacation.

The Geyser Gazers
There are people who are fascinated by the geysers. Many belong to the Geyser Observations and Study Organization (GOSA.) They spend their time in Yellowstone watching for the signs of an immenent eruption. Some will sit for hours observing the action of just one geyser. Their work has made predictions for the Great Fountain geyser more reliable. I always enjoy sitting near an experienced geyser gazer, because their information about what they're looking for before an eruption is always interesting.
Many of the geysers have a pattern that is fairly predictable. To best enjoy the geyser basin knowing when the geysers are likely to play and to plan your visit around the basin accordingly. I was hoping that information would be online, but for now you can check in with any visitor center and they can get you the current predictions. But in addition to the predicted time, each geyser has "tells." For many it is when the water starts running over the top of the cone in ever increasing volume. It is worth it to buy one of the geyser books to help you know when it is worth hanging around because this one is about to go off. However, there are generally geyser gazers hanging around as well as helpful rangers. You'll spot the geyser gazers because they are usually chatting about what stage the geyser is and which one they just saw.

The Wolf People
The wolf people have a special interest in seeing Yellowstone's wolves. They usually have very powerful scopes for seeing the wolf high on the mountain across the valley.

They rise before dawn and stake out their spot in the Lamar Valley near Soda Butte, the northern slope of Mount Washburn, or one of the overlooks at Hayden Valley. They often hike up the hill to get a better view across the valley. Picking their spot with care, they will sit for several hours scanning the valleys, treelines, and ridges for movement. While their first interest is wolves, they also spot the grizzlies as they go by. Many of them know the wolves as individuals by their coloration and where they are seen. Some spend a month or more here enjoying and studying the wolves. They are usually more than willing to help other people spot the wolves. Sometimes you get to look through their scope. You can find them at the overlooks with their big powerful scopes set up. It is interesting to listen to them talk among themselves. They are usually glad to give you information about the best places to spot the wolves right now.

The Bird People
While I have not spent as much time talking with them, I have seen them at Swan Lake Flats seeking out the sandhill cranes that are feeding there. I've seen one photographing a bluebird entering its nest in one of the signposts near the Roosevelt junction. I saw another one photographing a flicker on the road to the Lamar Valley. While a lot of attention is given to the larger animals in Yellowstone, there is an amazing number of birds. I spent a few days checking out all the birds I saw in the rivers and ponds. I thoroughly enjoyed the baby owls at Mammoth. By talking with the people around me, I learned about the baby owls at Tower, the great gray owl near Canyon, the peregrin falcon nest, the osprey nest and the red tailed hawk nest as well as the owl nest at Mammoth. In addition to the waterfowl and raptors, we've seen grouse, pine siskins, mountain bluebirds, stellar jays, clark's nutcracker, gray jays, violet green swallows.

The Young Families
You can find them everywhere. They are interested in everything. The kids usually have binoculars and are trying to watch the wildlife. The kids enjoy the chipmunks as much as the large animals. I love to watch the kids enjoy the animals they are seeing. Occasionally you see the normal family squabbles - "He hit me!" "No, you must put down the rock . . . what would happen if everyone took a rock home!"

The Fishermen
Yellowstone has always been known for its fishing. Fishing Bridge used to be the place to stand and catch the Yellowstone cuthroat trout. At the time people did not realize how much that was affecting the trout population. Today the numbers of cutthroat trout are way down. The non native lake trout are one of the issues impacting the native cutthroat. However, fishermen still flock to Yellowstone. To me it is a scenic sight watching the fly fishermen in the Firehole and Madison rivers. Some are dressed in traditional fly fishing garb - waders, vests and hat. Others fish from the banks. Some areas of the park are catch and release. But in Yellowstone Lake, you can keep the lake trout. In fact, you are required to kill any lake trout you catch. Yellowstone's Fishing Regulations are a important read. Most of the fly fisherman are catching and releasing. But reading the guidelines lets you know where you can fish and keep your fish for dinner. While we did not fish this trip, we have in prior trips. I admire the folks who are skilled fly fishermen. Our fishing experience in Yellowstone was that the fish were "experienced" and just swam around our lures (which were legal at the time.) As we left the park this year, they were taking a survey of those who had fished the park. I suspect that is part of the ongoing study of the fish populations in Yellowstone.

The Geologists
The world's largest supervolcano has left incredible rock formations. Rhyolite lava flows, obsidian cliffs, outcroppings of gneist and schist are only a few of the formations you can see. Glaciation has left wide valleys, glacial ponds, and huge boulders (erratics). College groups come to learn from the formations. Interested amateur geologists marvel at the cliffs neara Tower. Professional geologists are studying ongoing volcanic activity. Yellowstone is still active geologically. There are two areas of the park where the ground is rising from the volcanic activity. There are thousands of small quakes each year. The New Visitor Center at Canyon gives a great overview of the volcanic history of the park. You may not see the geologists at work, but they are busy trying to unravel the history of the eruptions. And they are interested in determining if Yellowstone will erupt again. The Park Service Website has some great information to help people appreciate the geology as they visit the park. YellowstoneNationalPark.com also has several pages devoted to the geology.

The Photographers

In Yellowstone, everyone is a photographer. While we were there, we saw everything from tiny point and shoot cameras to the professional video equipment from the BBC cameramen. The BBC is creating a documentary about the Seasons of Yellowstone. There were several different crews all with individual assignments. My understanding is they had local guides to help them find the wildlife activity such as a grizzly killing an elk calf, the otters fishing at Trout Lake, etc.

However, there were times that it was amazing to see the large number of big lenses lined up hoping for a great grizzly shot or a cute coyote puppy shot. I saw Thomas Mangelsen three different times - the first when I was trying to photograph the coyote puppies, the second early one morning near lake (the grizzly jam was breaking up when we arrived), and the third up on Mount Washington when I was also photographing the grizzly and her cubs. Dr. Vernon Eugene Grove introduced himself to me. He noticed my Texas license tag and struck up a conversation. His family ran the historic Grove Drug on 6th Street in Austin. His book, The Joy of Bird Photography was one of the first books I read as I was trying to photograph the birds on my pond a few years ago. He pointed out some other local professional photographers that were also trying to get their shots of the grizzly. We watched the redtail hawk nest with an amateur who was filming video (with a huge lens) for his own enjoyment.

I'll be watching to see Mangelsen's print releases next year. I'm very curious as to what he will capture because I know he spent more time on some of those same subjects I tried to photograph. I know I came away with some great shots, but I want to learn by watching what those other great photographers captured.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Tin Cup Pass and the Lost Wimberly Head

We've been in Colorado a week or so now. We're back in areas where I spent time as a teenager. I wanted to go over Cottonwood Pass near Buena Vista and then back over Tin Cup to the Chalk Creek area.

The drive up the Cottonwood Pass was beautiful and uneventful. We went over to Tincup and had lunch at Frenchy's Cafe named after a real person from the 1800's town. Hamburger was great!

We went to the top of Cumberland Pass. You really feel like you are on top of the world seeing the beautiful valley and the mountain peaks surrounding you. We came back to Tin Cup and started on the road to the pass. From Tin Cup to Mirror Lake the road was bumpy but not too bad. I marveled at the people who had taken their trailers and 5th wheels over it. Lots of places to camp - some "official" and some unofficial. The official campground is at Mirror Lake and would be a lovely place to stay sometime. But the road is too rough for us to want to take our 30 ft RV.

After Mirror Lake the road became very much a four wheel drive road. Much of the road was like going over cobblestones - VERY BUMPY. There were lots of areas where you had to go over large rocks or ride the edge with the jeep tilted uncomfortably. We've been over roads like this before. But I still have memories of losing the oil pan at Death Valley, so the big rocks were making me nervous. Plus we've been hearing noises this whole trip that sound suspiciously like suspension issues. I had NOT planned to take the jeep on this kind of road until we had this noise checked out. But on the other hand, this kind of road usually gets you to a beautiful place, and I've been to the top of TIn Cup Pass and I KNOW it is beautiful. So we carefully made our way up. I did hear one very metalic clank, but I assumed it was just a rock that was thrown up under the jeep.

My memory said that the eastern side of the pass was much smoother so I was looking forward to getting to the top and over to the easier passage. However, as we approached to top, we had someone warn us that the pass was closed by a big snowbank. We continued up and made it to the top of the pass. There were wildlfowers and it was beautiful.

As I was finishing up my photos, Henry came over to tell me my tripod was damaged. I looked at the one I was using trying to figure it out. Then he tells me the tripod head is gone. Sigh . . . that is a Wimberly head - current price $599 and I had the leveling base - another $179.00. The photos I was taking today would probably not cover the cost of replacing this equipment. I was hoping to take photos of the bighorn sheep I remember live in a pasture near Chalk Creek. While I can probably make the big lens work on the smaller tripod - it won't be as stable. Henry does not want this to ruin my day. I also remember that "clank" - it must have been when the head fell off.

Well, I guess it is a good thing that the pass is closed - we'll have to back track and perhaps we'll find the tripod head. As we drive along, Henry is both watching the road to navigate those treacherous rocks and to see the tripod. I'm looking out the side in case it rolled off the road into the sage. Out of the blue, a four wheeler passes us and asks if we had lost something. Turns out another four wheeler had found something that he thought was part of a bicycle rack. He was going to take it and turn it in at the "general store." I asked if he meant the store at TIn Cup. He looked puzzled and said he did not know. Well, I had a little hope. And that meant we did not have to watch the road so carefully searching for it. We asked a few four wheelers we saw if they were the ones who found it. No luck.

We got down into Tin Cup - good, the store's door is open. However, the guy outside says, "We're closed." We go ahead and ask about the tripod head. No, they don't have it, but the nice lady takes my name and phone number. She even let me get a couple of drinks and some ice cream. We hang around there for a little bit, hoping we beat the four wheeler down. But it is getting time to go on - so we head on down to Taylor Park. There is also a store there. I see someone being carried in - looks to me like an injured four wheeler - who is beginning to hyperventilate. They start asking for a paper bag. There are three clerks who all look busy. When I finally get to the counter, I tell my story and at first I get a blank response. But then . . . on the far side, another clerk holds up my tripod head! He tells me that the person who found it looked around to find all the parts. I want to thank the person who found it . . . but the clerk says he wouldn't remember him - not someone he knew. Silly, but I hug it close. I've used it to take so many of my favorite photos. It is a necessary and wonderful tool - something I thought was going to be lost forever - is now found.

To me, this is an example of humanity at its finest. While the finder thought it was part of a bike rack - it was an expensive piece of equipment. It could certainly have been sold on EBAY. But this was not only an honest person, but a thoughtful one as well. Knowing it looked important, he made sure he got all the pieces and turned it in in a place where it could be found.

Since I can't think this person myself, I can at least ask God to send him some special blessing. And, the best I can do, is to be sure I help some other stranger down the road.

P.S. The tripod and Wimberly head will NOT ride on the back of the jeep next time we do a jeep road!

P.P.S. The photo is straight out of camera. When I get home and get my photoshop installed again, I'll post a worked version.