Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Adventure

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Back in July my neighbor, Mary Jane, turned 99. Her friends and neighbors pondered about what to give her. Last year we bought her an air conditioner, the year before a new TV, the year before that a digital antenna. She lives simply in a country cottage on dozens of acres with just the basics – electricity, TV, her cats, and some pet raccoons – and at this date she still lives without running water. Typically we buy her something that will make her life easier. The air conditioner was a tough one to get her to accept, but during this years drought she has fessed up to appreciating it more that she had imagined she would.

This year we decided to send Mary Jane on an adventure. We pooled our funds and decided to buy her an all-day train trip. Mary Jane’s father was a telegrapher at the local train depot at the turn of the 20th century and her stories of childhood are filled with tales of train rides and the adventures that comes with them.

Twice a year the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad makes an all-day run from Seligman, Missouri to Van Buren, Arkansas. You meet at dawn in Seligman, which is nothing more that a few business and civic buildings.

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They don’t have a depot there anymore so you board at the end of a path through the woods…

Our conductor met us at the edge of the woods.

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There was no hiding his excitement about the Hogs’ chances later in the day!

This is the Dining Car – there are a few options but we decided to go first class! This car dates from the 1940s. There are Coach and Club cars that are about 100 years old. If you want to have a more authentic train man’s experience the Caboose is available too – it’s a restored B&O caboose with no heat or air conditioning included.

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Roomy and nicely appointed.

We settled in and the Conductor and his crew gave us hot coffee and danish. Mary Jane had a cup of coffee before as we pulled out of Seligman.

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Our party consisted of myself, Mary Jane, Barbara, and Sondra – both of whom are long time friends. They have known Mary Jane for years.

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I first met Sondra at Mary Jane’s 90th birthday, she does historical drama – she studies a woman from history and creates a script to convey history in a very believable way. That night she was dressed as Mary Jane’s aunt Meg – I remember she never broke character and I got a better sense of Meg hearing the stories in the first person.

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We had barely started down the tracks when Mary Jane rotated her chair away from us – her plan was to watch every bit of the trip facing forward – up on the East side, back on the West.

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We picked up the caboose at Springdale Arkansas. The neat thing about this excursion is that they hitch and unhitched cars. You get to see first hand the process and shuffling it takes to run the line. The dining car started on the back of the train. Before it was over we would be on the front. Here the family who has booked the caboose waits with anticipation to move into their new digs.

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The conductor turned off the parlor lights as we approached the Winslow Tunnel – the kids in the car squealed as the tunnel lights wizzed by in the windows.

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Next the conductor let us know that he would be able to take a few of us out onto the platform as we crossed the tressels. I jumped at the chance, knowing that this is a view Mary Jane could not get from inside the car.

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As I stepped towards the door I spotted the car brake – these details were really everywhere in the car.

I got out on the platform and leaned over the side to shoot ahead – I grabbed a bit of color and prepared for the tressel coming up.

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You can see the drop off in this shot.

Here’s a shot of the tressel and the hollow below.

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Those are treetops below us!

Another angle…

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Looking through the rails below us.

The caboose has a cupola on top….

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Makes a great platform for photography opportunities.

I moved to the other side of the platform as I felt the train curving to the left.

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Again I hung out over the side of the platform to get a shot of the entire train.

As I stepped back into the dining car I stopped to capture one if those lovely details…

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The brass hardware on the outside of the car.

After a gorgeous trip through the Boston Mountains we arrived in Van Buren, Arkansas. We had lunch, pie, and wandered through a street fair. I set out to shoot a few of the railroad’s details as we relaxed and waited for the train to return to take us home.

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Crossing

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Van Buren reflected in the crossing light.

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Station signal

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Loose nail (as tempting as this one was, I did not pick it up. No nails from this RR in my collection – I swear)

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The switch

While I continued shooting Barbara and Mary Jane looked at my photos on my iPad.

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Mary Jane is actually pretty adroit at working the iPad. She found a few she liked.

I thought this fella was pretty charming. Even at his age he was playing “engineer” for the day.

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If I was being honest I’d have to confess to carrying a pocket watch and wearing Union Pacific earrings. I almost put on my striped overalls that morning – good for him, he had the nerve to go there:)

We heard the train whistle in the distance…

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Mary Jane was ready to roll!

Our trained had departed after dropping us off at the station and returned to Springdale to for another run while we enjoyed the afternoon in Van Buren. The trained pulled into the station, dropped off the passengers, dropped the caboose, transferred it to the opposite side, and shifted the engine back to the front.

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Here we get a view of the engine operating as a switch engine.

The light had begun to change…

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Here’s a view of the dining car ceiling fans in the afternoon light.

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Barbara settled back in for the return trip.

Mary Jane found a seat…

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She explained how the switching process worked…

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And turned her gaze forward to take in all the sites on the voyage home.

On the trip home some passengers in our car had a birthday celebration for a family member complete with cake. The children insisted on singing to Mary Jane too…

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The conductor joined in…

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The whole car sang along…

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And Mary Jane ate cake.

She called me first thing this morning to reminisce about her favorite parts of the day. The weather, the cake, beans and cornbread for lunch, friends, photos, the whole day. She said it was just perfect.

Leaf Peeking at Sweet Spring

Fall color is starting to pop and I got a chance to shoot a bit before dark the last two nights. I headed to one of my favorite spots in Eureka Springs – Sweet Spring.

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Eureka is the town that water built and it has dozens of free flowing springs that attracted Victorian types to come to find healing in the waters. In the 1880s the City created reservations that basically created a protective area around each spring, essentially they created dozens of small jewel-box parks.

Many of the springs on the west side of town have formal stonework surrounds and Sweet Spring is essentially a spiral staircase that goes down into the ground. It has amazing color on the hill above.

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I shot these all within 30 minutes of sunset.

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This was taken with a fish-eye from down inside the stairwell.

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Vines over the wall

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Maples on the hillside

One of my favorite things to do in the fall is to just shoot leaves without any particular thought – I let myself get very right-brained – I hunt shapes and colors while shooting fast. I let my eye just find things without looking for them. It’s very different from shooting wildlife, it’s more organic – it’s more satisfying. I can get lost shooting leaves…

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Yellow

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Red

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Orange

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Gold

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Green

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For my friends in Canada

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On my way out I had to shoot this morning glory.

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My favorite leaf shot of the evening.

Ending the week shooting leaves is good for my soul. Autumn is here!

It has begun…

After a long summer’s drought the forecast is for COLOR!

It’s just starting, here and there, but it’s coming. I was driving home about 10 days ago and saw my first glimpse – Virginia Creeper wrapped around the trunk of a dead oak. I parked the jeep and hiked into the woods to get a look. Mosquitos everywhere and too much glare, still I found some color on the forest floor where some of the creeper had fallen

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Last Saturday I got a chance to walk around my property, there are some volunteer trees – not sure what kind, but they showed the first color. These are in a space I quit mowing about 5 years ago – birds nest in them in the summer and they show great color in the fall.

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On Sunday I got just a small peek at the color to come in the Boxley Valley where I shoot elk. Not great shots, we were in a hurry and I shot these from the car.
Maples.

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Sassafras.

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The days are getting shorter so it’s almost impossible to shoot after work. I look forward to those crips autumn weekends where I can get lost in the leaves.

What’s the color like where you are?

A Color Study of Jazz

The community I live in has festivals most weekends from April through October. It’s a way of drawing tourists to out tiny Victorian village. I usually stay far away unless the festival is about art or antique cars – ¬†or unless there is a parade, then I’m there:)

A few weeks ago it was the Jazz Festival. I had just returned home from a business trip and was thinking about what I could photograph on the weekend when I contacted my pal Judy. She asked if I was interested in going to a jazz concert at the Auditorium. I don’t know much about jazz beyond music appreciation classes in school and what I have seen on Treme, but it sounded like a good time to hang out so I decided to go. To tell the truth I thought about backing out all day, but I knew Judy really wanted to go.

The artist was Delfeayo Marsalis, I recognized the last name from his brother who used to be on the Tonight Show. I decided to take just my camera body and my portrait lens, I wanted something fast so I would not need to flash. I was glad to see that we were in the front row to the left – perfect spot to shoot or get close to the stage.

I took a few shots and was intrigued by the color – the lights were casting purple and yellow hues on the musicians and their instruments. I loved the colors and how they seemed to express the coolness and crispness of the sounds of the trombone.

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About midway through the concert I decided to try the grainy film filter on my camera – just experimenting. There want a lot of light so I focused on trying to bring out just a bit of the mid tones. What I ended up with was something with a feeling of chiaroscuro. Highs and lows – a lot like the music.

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What I discovered is that I like jazz, I liked it enough to put the camera down and just take it in. I even recognized Brer Rabbit on an episode of Treme.

Paparazzi

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Dang! Surrounded! You watch that one and I’ll watch this one…

 

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Whew! Just a camera. Hey, make sure to get my good side…

 

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I hate it, they all show up with their cameras when my antlers look a mess…

 

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Can’t you leave us to eat our breakfast in peace?

 

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OK – a couple of poses and that’s it!

 

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Don’t get my double chin…

George

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This is George – at least that’s what we call him. My friend Judy and I first met him last year. About 10 in the morning we spotted him laying down in the grass by the creek in the meadow. We left to grab breakfast and returned about an hour later to find him still lying down.

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Secretly I wondered if he was OK, he was the only elk we had gotten very close to that morning so I hoped I was just a worrywart. We scouted the rest of the valley, took some snaps and decided to check on him before we headed home. To our surprise, he was up and eating. Perhaps he was just lazy and decided to sleep in.

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We noticed he was a bit odd looking, his rack didn’t have the same bold shape, he was noticeably sway-backed, and he was even knocked-kneed. He did seem pretty unaffected by our presence and looked up at us several times. He was kind of like that sad ugly puppy at the pound, everything about him was wrong, but I kinda wanted to take him home.

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Let me state for the record that I am no expert in elk development, George could have just been at that awkward stage, maybe going through puberty. I just don’t know. It does seem to me that he was off alone and didn’t carry himself like the other young bulls.

This year when I went to the valley for the first time I told Judy that I had seen George. She didn’t believe me until she saw my photos of him. He was in the same meadow eating in the same spot as though he hadn’t moved in almost a year. He might have another spike or two on his rack, but he was still our George.

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This week we saw our old friend again in the same meadow – he had moved about 100 yards north because it appeared that a farmer had mowed his favorite spot. We found him up early, grazing near the mist over the creek.

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I worked my way around the edge of the meadow for a better shot, maybe something that would show off part of the old barn in the background when I saw that George was not alone…

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George is almost always alone in the meadow, unlike the other bachelors he doesn’t seem to have a pal to hang out with. His friend in the trees seems to be taking a keen interest in George.

Of course his interest may have been purely in the trees. I wonder what kind of trees those are?

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George and his neighbor got back to the business of grazing…

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Grazing and watching…

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I kind of liked the idea that the big guy stayed in the distance and let George take center stage.

George fascinates me. He’s not so majestic or graceful, he’s kind of crooked – kind of like me. Maybe that’s his appeal – in a species that’s so extraordinary, he’s not. He’s just George and that’s pretty special.

Look Me in the Eye

I had an artist reception a couple of months ago and someone asked me what inspires me.

I know what I like to shoot, what draws my eye – but the things that inspire me are connections. It doesn’t matter if I’m shooting my Grandpa’s car keys, an antique car, a famous place, or an ostrich – I’m looking to make it personal. I’m looking for the shot that connects the viewer with the subject. Sometimes I succeed – sometimes, not so much. Connection is always the goal for me.

Here are some shots I’ve taken this year where the subject has chosen to make a connection with me. It always amazes me when this happens. If you’ve ever tried to get a decent shot of your dog, you know how hard it can be. It’s nothing you can plan for, but when it happens…

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These may not be my best shots, but they are my some of best experiences shooting. Having a wild animal pause and look you in the eye is pretty amazing even if you don’t have a camera with you. I’ve noticed that so many animals are curious, maybe as curious as I am about them.

The Zebra – the Epitome of Graphic Design

I’ve always seen the zebra as the epitome of graphic design – it has all the elements – line value, diagonals, white space…

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I was a Fine Art major in college. My emphasis was on life drawing. We would spend hours doing “contour drawings” where we would draw to actual contours of a model, never lifting the pencil from the paper. The idea was that when completed the dimensional shape would be evident in your drawing. Sometimes it was successful, sometimes not so much.

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I experimented with sumi brushes making the lines thick and thin in order to show depth along with contour and I was a bit more successful with that method in creating something that was closer to being art and not just an exercise.

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None of my experiments even approached the success of the lines of the Zebra – curving over the curved parts, widening over the wider parts – unfurling like the waves of a striped flag in the breeze.

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It’s the ultimate use of negative space – show just the white on black and it’s all there, show the reverse and its design is just as successful.

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How amazing is it that these stripes serve as camouflage in an environment made up of golds and browns. A brown and gold striped horse on the African plains would have been just as successful, yet this bold design works just fine in the presence of color blind predators.

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Super-clean lines, completely functional design, bold styling – just perfect.

These Grant’s Zebras are a part of the herd living at the Promised Land Zoo just north of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Are There Fallow Deer in the Promised Land?

Yesterday on a lark I decided to visit a local attraction called the Promised Land Zoo. I live near a tourist destination and its surrounded by attractions. Having grown up in the ultimate tourist destination, Las Vegas, I’m typically skeptical of attractions – but this one did not disappoint. It had a sweet petting zoo at the entrance followed by a driving tour that covered over 100 acres. Hundreds of animals graze in the open fields of the meadows below the highway entrance. I was especially taken with the fallow deer.

Fallow deer are native to Eurasia and have been exported to every continent with the exception of Antarctica. They are relatively small – except for the older bucks they are about the size of a large goat.

There are 4 varieties of fallow deer. This guy is one of the common variety. He approached the driver’s side of my jeep, looked me in the eye…

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Then bowed and raised his head up high.

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He bowed and raised his head over and over until we moved on.

It is said that the Romans imported fallow deer to Europe and the Normans brought them to Britain.

These are the menil variety, they have spots like the fawns of the American whitetail all summer long no matter their age. The white spots mimic the play of light through the trees in the woods. These make up the largest portion of the herd at the zoo.

These young fawns seemed to have a natural curiosity about the jeep. They did not rush over towards the jeep, but they did start wandering my way each time I stopped the vehicle.

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The young bucks have simple spikes for the first couple of years.

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After their third year they develop palmate antlers similar to those on caribou.

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All of the adult males seem to have this same curved neck that resembles an Adam’s apple.

There are historic herds of fallow deer in Sweden that date back to the 1600’s.

This buck is of the menalistic variety. He approached the passenger side eagerly. He stopped short about 6 feet from the jeep and started to throw poses my way.

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The approach…

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The stare down…

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The profile…

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Turning on the charm.

The fourth variety is leucistic – a white variety that is not albino.

Seeing this buck lying on the grass it occurred to me that these deer look like something out of a renaissance etching or coat of arms. They are small and approachable, but they are almost regal. Large piercing eyes, huge antlers, and a dramatic and curvy shape. To my American eye they seem just a bit exotic.

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I read last night that they are easily tamed…

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Driving through this herd I would not call them tame, but they are quite curious…

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I was in their territory, so they walked over to check me out…

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And calmly looked me over.

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There is something sweet about their nature. They don’t seem to be on alert like the local white tails.

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This is a nursing fawn in the petting area. She is bottle fed and is incredibly tame….

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When she grows up she will rejoin the herd in the Promised Land.