Frozen Dinner

I’ve had a miserable week.

Monday morning started with a flat tire on the Jeep. From the time I texted work to let them know I would be late, I have felt like I have been chasing my schedule to catch up.

Tuesday the temps dropped 40 degrees and we got a couple of inches of much needed rain. I met a friend for dinner and we marveled that the storm could seem so intense. I arrived home to find a foot of water in my cellar. I turned off the breaker for the outlets down there and used a broom handle to unplug the dehumidifier that was now under water just in case.

Wednesday I scrambled to find a plumber to root out the cellar drain. It took me all day to find someone who would return my call. I met him at my house and he took one look at the cellar and said he could not work from inside the house with standing. I showed him the end of the drain in the woods some 200 feet from the house. It was brutally cold outside – the windchill was about 12 degrees, but soon my problems would be over…or so I thought. After 45 minutes the plumber called me outside. There would be no opening the drain, the drain was collapsed about 100 feet up the line.

As he put together a list and a schedule that would include a backhoe and about a mile of pipe I started to zone. When I check out like this, the best thing I can do is shoot. It was a cold grey soggy day, no color to be seen. I spotted my platter feeders. They were completely iced over. As I shot I consciously decided to not focus on the birdseed below the surface, I focused on the ice.

I was surprised by the depth…

20130131-223602.jpgThe seeds below the surface seemed to be saturated in color…

20130131-223641.jpgThe ice almost magnifies the seeds below…

20130131-223659.jpgHow hungry would a cardinal need to be to try to get at these…

20130131-223733.jpgI’ve been filling a chipped mosaic birdbath with food, I like the color for photographs…

20130131-223810.jpgBut now it takes on a more painterly look…

20130131-223936.jpgThe mix of colors taking me to a warmer place.

The plumber came over and gave me a puzzled look and then dove into the details. There would be no draining the basement. I called a friend with a shop-vac and we hauled about 150 gallons up the stairs five gallons at a time. The water level dropped an inch. We gave up and called it a night.

Today I looked for a sump pump and finally found one late this afternoon. After work I put on my new rain boots and headed down into the cellar/wading pool. I got everything set up and discovered that all my garden hoses are frozen solid, just like the birdseed in those feeders.

Tomorrow at lunch I will buy an unfrozen hose and this week will finally come to a close. Once I empty the cellar I will take an ice pic to my bird feeders.

If this goes on another day perhaps I will open an underground ice skating rink.

The third annual Pops Memorial Candle Shoot was held this weekend. Here’s an update to the classic candle shoot I wrote about a while back.

The King of Isabelle Avenue

I mentioned in my post The Candle Shoot that I host a memorial Candle Shoot in Pop’s honor every year on the Saturday closest to his birthday. This year as in the two previous we were blessed with wonderful and unseasonably warm weather, almost like Pops was watching over us.

This year, my God-brother Jot (I don’t even know if that is a real term or not, but we have used it since Jot was born) joined us – it was great to have someone else there who knew Pops. When Jot talks about the old days he refers to Bruce, his father, as “Dad’ – my  father, his Godfather, is “Pops”. Pops gave Jot his very first gun, a Remington .22 rifle, when he was a youngster. They were fixtures in each other’s lives even though they lived in different states. When Jot’s father passed away, Pops hopped in…

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Getting Back to My Photographic Roots

I come from a long line of shutterbugs. If you have ever checked out my memoir blog, The King of Isabelle Avenue you may have noticed a treasure trove of family snapshots.

It all started with my great-great-grandparents. Their Daguerrotype portraits hang on the wall of my living room in heavy carved frames. They are formal poses, each in their Sunday best. It must have been a special occasion to sit for a photograph. They likely could not imagine owning a camera of their own.

This would all change a generation later. My great-grandmother Rilla was a Cherokee Indian born in the 19th century who seemed driven to document her family’s daily life with a simple Kodak Brownie – maybe a Six – it was basically a simple box with a vertical and a horizontal viewfinder, a crank and a shutter release. The camera is long gone, but thankfully the photos remain.

20130125-201402.jpgMy Grandmother took after her mother and went through a series of Brownies when she was first married. This one was one of hers, I love that she sprung for the flash version. I love that she was confident enough to go for it. I still struggle with flash photography.

20130125-201419.jpgMy brother has another of her Brownies, a Bullet and it looks just like this one, he shot with it until film was no longer readily available. It was so simple, look through the viewfinder, frame it, click the shutter, advance the film, repeat. The functionality was basically unchanged from the box made a couple of decades earlier. Anyone could do it. These cameras made photography available to the masses and changed the way families recorded their personal histories.

20130125-202012.jpgBy the late 40’s it was time to upgrade to a Kodak Tourist, a bellows camera. This camera gave Grandma the ability to move the lens away from the film allowing for focusing and some modest zooming. It also allowed for the changing of the aperture, the fastest stop was a dismal 12.5, no wonder they pushed an enormous flash kit on her. Many wonderful shots of my father’s childhood were shot with this Tourist.

20130125-201515.jpgThe Tourist featured a T.B.I. Shutter – Time, Bulb, and Instant – so much more sophisticated than the simple Brownies, but so many more possibilities. I use the Bulb setting on my DSLR when I shoot the moon. The operating principles remain unchanged.

20130125-201527.jpgBy now Grandpa was becoming more and more interested in photography, and he was a man who would save up to buy a more expensive item if there was a difference in quality. The Agfa was definitely a step up. All the features of the Tourist with a distance ring for accurate focusing.

20130125-201540.jpgThis baby featured a more sophisticated bellows and the ability to stop all the way down to 6.3. Interior shots would be possible with decent light. You could play with the depth of field with this baby.

20130125-201552.jpgThe surface of the Agfa was like a tightly woven fabric, even after 65 years it still feels right in your hands.

20130125-201606.jpgThe mechanisms are sturdy and still operate smoothly today. This is a camera that I would love to shoot if I could find the film. I would love to see what this glass could do.

20130125-201613.jpgBy the mid 50s Grandpa was drawn by the lure of instant photography. His Polaroid Land Camera came with all the bells and whistles. He would shoot thousands of images with this beast. It was simpler that the Tourist or the Agfa – fewer shutter options, no specific aperture settings, tons of accessories. Basically you set the camera for indoors or outdoors, focus using the bellows mechanism, and click – then the magic happens. You time the developing time and peel apart the negative and the photographic paper to see a photo in under a minute.

20130125-201637.jpgI remember the wonder of it all when Grandpa would count down the seconds and peel the layers – he would let me squeegee the surface with the swab that stopped the process and sealed the photos surface. Polaroids were not just black and whites, they were wonderful vivid saturated color images.

20130125-201648.jpgMy father didn’t have a great interest in photography, but while he was stationed in Okinawa, he bought the family’s first Japanese-made camera – a Minolta Model P pocket camera. It’s very small, but unlike the 110s from the 1970s it has lots of controls. You can select the aperture and it opens up to 3.5, pretty fast for a little camera. It’s shutter is crisp even after all these years. Pops told me it was a spy camera when I was still young enough to believe those things.

My mother had a real interest in photography, she was blind in one eye, but her good eye was a really good eye. She started with an instamatic, but soon discovered manual photography. She came across an old Rolleiflex. This one isn’t hers but the Rollei changed very little in function over the years. The format is called a TLR – twin lens reflex. The top lens is the one you look through from above, the lower lens is the “taking” lens.

20130125-201658.jpgOne year we all pitched in and bought mom a 35mm for her birthday and she moved on, but she taught me to use the Rollei when I was about 15 years old. I loved the prismatic viewfinder. The controls were simple – aperture, shutter, focus – click and shoot. The crank was so elegant. The feel of shooting felt so natural, odd for a huge rectangular cube.

20130125-201705.jpgIn college I shot the Rollei – black and whites that I developed myself. Grandpa let me set up the closet in his den to transfer the film into the developing cannisters, then he let me develop the negatives in his kitchen. I would use the exposure units on campus to make prints.

20130125-201722.jpgI also picked up an Olympus OM along the way. I fell in love with the Oly and still shoot them today. My digital Olympus OMD is easily adapted to use all of my OM lenses from the 70s and 80s. I like the challenge and the control of using vintage glass.

20130125-201747.jpgI’ve decided that I want to get back to basics. I recently picked up this pristine 1953 Retina on eBay. It shoots 35mm and is the final stage between the bellows style cameras and the SLR. It has a small bellows and the lens stops all the way down to 2 – pretty fast for it’s era. The controls are all in German, so learning to use it will be a challenge. A challenge is what I’m looking for.

20130125-201756.jpgEvery month I plan to shoot a roll of film and have it developed. I have already shot a roll through the Rollei and should be able to pick it up next week. Shooting a TLR again was so much fun. My Rollei dated from 1936 and I’m dying to see how they came out. The camera hadn’t been tested – mechanically everything worked so I am optimistic.

20130125-201951.jpgMy hope is that by shooting film I will slow down a bit and put more thought into what I am shooting, that the limitation of 12 shots will make me focus, that relying on a mechanical camera will make me get more out of my digital bells and whistles. I will still be shooting my digital every day. But I will take the time to slow down, even if it is for just 12 shots. Living in a rural area, I will likely have to wait as long as my Great-grandma Rilla did to see the results, and I think that’s a good thing. Right now I feel like a kid waiting for Santa. I think I’ll like getting back to my roots.

Shoot Out in Texas

I am a fan of photographers.

I am inspired to see how someone else looks at a place, or an object, or a person. I enjoy the comradery of seeing my fellow photogs out in the trenches at a parade, in the field with the elk, or out chasing the fall colors. One of my favorite things to do is to have a “shoot out” – shoot a photo of a fellow photog shooting a photo of me shooting them.

Your camera is an extension of your eye, or is it your arm? Whatever. It has to come between you and whatever it is that you’re shooting. In my book, a portrait of a photog requires a camera somewhere in the frame.

Last spring I shot the Artrageous Parade with my pal Judy. After the festivities I asked for a shoot out…20130124-104337.jpgNote her concentration and the delicate way she operates the zoom, she’s closing in on me. Judy has a love for shooting, and a love of life. She can tell a story better than just about anyone I know and her photos are full of insight – Judy shoots thoughtfully, capturing the light at just the right moment.20130123-211132.jpgShe seems to have caught me growling. That’s what she gets for insisting I not cover my face with my camera. When I know I’m shooting outdoors I wear my Transitions Aviators – I can mash the eye cup all over those huge lenses. I must not have noticed the lack of sunshine, since I’m sporting the huge rectangular hood. I used exactly one lens that day, so of course I carried 4. That Domke Bag is classic though…

This is my sister-in-law Karen in the Observation Car of the California Zephyr. We shot constantly for 3000 miles last spring. We shot elk, marmots, prairie dogs, and each other.

20130124-110911.jpg I like Karen’s grip, it’s almost like the camera was made to fit in her hands, corners covered with fingers free so that she can still zoom. Karen always seems to hold her camera so level, she studies shots carefully. It shows in how she holds onto the camera and how she has all the controls completely in within reach.

This is Chip – an amazing local photog who has self-published the definitive work on the area in and around Eureka Springs. 20130123-211222.jpgOn this day Chip was shooting for the local paper, the Lovely County Citizen. He was shooting me, covering my show last summer. Chip is not only one of the most talented photogs I know, he also shows so much grace covering silly things like my show or a parade. You might see his work in galleries, and you might see him covering a traffic jam. He does it all and does it all well – and he does it with one kick-ass Nikon. That sucker is the most amazing camera I have ever seen. Great photography may not be about the camera, but rocking a D4 can’t hurt…

Just last weekend I had the opportunity for a shoot out in Texas…20130123-211243.jpgI met Honie Briggs!! This is a shot of Honie shooting me. I was in town for a trade show and I read her awards post – she shared her position on crazy Dallas Freeway Onramps – Seriously, no one does an awards post like Honie. I left a comment about having driven on one that day. She emailed me and asked if I had time to meet – it was awesome to meet her and her Loyal Follower…20130123-211313.jpgHere is Honie’s shot of me shooting her, she did a better job with the light inside this amazing Italian market. I was using my Leica portrait lens, I had hoped to shoot my reflection in her filter, but that prime doesn’t focus close enough. A couple of times we snapped at the same instant and all I got was flash, those shots look a bit like an alien with a huge glowing eyeball, nothing at all like Honie…20130123-211345.jpgAnd one more shot of Honie shooting me. Nice form – nice gear. Honie takes wonderful shots of nature and flowers, I love her classic car shots too. Truly a renaissance woman here.

My quick trip to Texas gave me the chance to meet on of my favorite bloggers in person. 20130123-230717.jpgShe was a warm, thoughtful, and funny in person as she is here in the blogosphere!

This is a story about my father and how his views changed over the years. There’s always hope…

The King of Isabelle Avenue

I hadn’t planned on writing a post about race, but as I perused Facebook this morning and saw all the MLK quotes and memes. It made me think about what my experiences in the 60s and 70s, the attitudes I heard growing up, and how things changed over the years.

Remember the show “All in the Family”? That was our house – my Pop was a younger version of Archie Bunker. He also had a ridiculous chair that no one else was permitted to sit in.

When first I started school I remember picking up that he did not care for me to have friends who looked different from me. My very first school friend was a girl named Frances who was from Mexico and spoke no English. We communicated by drawing pictures and walked home from school together every day. She lived on the next block over. Pops made…

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Lucky Shot

I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record. I’m a huge advocate of taking your camera with you…everywhere.

I drag mine through airports, take it on business trips, pack it into work everyday, and throw it in the jeep when I head to the grocery store. You just never know when you might get lucky and get a shot that teaches you something that you never knew.

You might learn that…

20130119-110855.jpg…There’s something hiding in the tall grass…

20130119-111019.jpg…Marmots have buck teeth…

20130119-111035.jpg…Some chickens can bend metal with just the power of their minds…

20130119-111047.jpg…Prairie dogs love to play tiny green harmonicas…

20130119-111058.jpg…African parrots not only copy voices, they do movie impressions too – this Linda Blair from the Exorcist…

20130119-111137.jpg…Woodpeckers have really long tongues…

20130119-111154.jpg…Hummingbird tongues are even longer…

20130119-111214.jpg…Squirrels like to sit on tiny benches…

20130119-111228.jpg…Canaries can be wistful…

20130119-111301.jpg…Deer can be kind if vain…

20130119-111314.jpg…Titmice like to hang out…

20130119-111340.jpg…Someone is watching you…

20130119-111408.jpg…Chickadees can be intimidating…

It’s great to tell stories about the wonderful things you see every day, but a picture says so much better!

Frosty Gaze

This morning’s frost caught my eye, so while waiting for my Jeep to warm up enough to defrost the windshield I decided to get out my camera. My Leica macro lens was calling to me. Since I’m surrounded by woods, I made my way down my drive to the road – it was a little like driving in braille. The sunlight at the road made it all worth the risk.

I found the frost to be filled with images that were almost familiar…

Curved tracings - facing straight ahead down the road

Curved Tracings

The payoff, sunrise out my driver's side window.

Driver’s Side Sunrise

Shot skyward - right out front

Blue Sky

A sweet spot in the sunrise

Frosty Feathers

The bulk of my windshield looked just like lace

Lace Curtains

Star towards the sky

Blue Star

Skyward on the sunrise side

Sunrise Dragon

Wisps in the sunrise

Pine Boughs in the Morning Light

A Heart of Glass

A Heart of Glass

This is exactly why I take my camera everywhere I go – you never know what wonders you will encounter doing the most mundane things like warming up the car.

Chilly Day at the Buffet

Yesterday I arrived home from a business trip. I was a cold and dreary day. When I got home I loved on my pups, refilled the bird feeders, and read the mail from the last few days. I built a fire and settled in for a cozy afternoon watching movies with a lap full of happy dogs.

I have a crepe myrtle right next to the house and I can see a glimpse of it through a window right next to the TV. I was distracted from my movie by moving branches and a flash of red…

20130113-191459.jpg I don’t typically shoot through a window, but he was so stinking close, I had to give it a shot. I was less than six feet away. I had to focus manually because of the branches in front of him. He looked over and spotted me in the living room and took off.

I decided to gear up and give the feeder a shot. Overcast skies make for nice detail with no glare. It was only 25 degrees so I put on some long johns and Carharts and took my place on the mud porch and waited to see who might show up.

I was delighted to capture a bird fight dominated by a tough little fellow, you can read about him by clicking goldfinch. Happily, there were many more visitors to the buffet, most of them with better manners than a goldfinch.

The female red-bellied woodpecker came by for lunch when the light was absolutely perfect.







Despite the rowdy behavior of one male goldfinch, most of the boys were well behaved at their fillet feeder on the buffet line.


The male downy woodpecker stopped by for a bite. These guys are always just a bit overdressed for brunch.



The buffet has been honored to welcome some winter visitors!
Dark Headed Juncos – they mostly eat off the floor, but occasionally they show up on the mezzanine.


20130113-200348.jpgAnd although I wish he would have sat for a better shot, this White Throated Sparrow has been foraging in the lower levels with the other newcomers. He seems to be alone so far, his peeps seem to be a bit late for their reservation at the buffet – rest assured we will hold their table.


I was inspired to check in with my guests at the buffet because of the appearance of one of my snobbier and more elusive guests. It turns out he was not alone – he had friends looking over the joint. From top…


20130113-201819.jpgTo bottom…




Even with the welcoming atmosphere of the buffet, some of the cards preferred to keep watch from above. One stood lookout from the west…



20130113-202214.jpgWhile the other kept watch from the east…


20130113-202305.jpgAs snobby as these cards are, you’d think that they’d be better tippers.

All-in-all not bad for a chilly Saturday service.

You Have No Idea Who You’re Messing With

If I were to ask you what kind of bird is the toughest, the most intimidating – what would you say?

Eagle? Falcon? Hawk?

Sorry, here at the Stone House, those wimps don’t even come close.

Not the best photos, but I think it’s clear that the badass of the buffet is…

The Goldfinch!

This feeder is MINE!

Back OFF!

Outta here!

And don’t even think of coming back!

Urban Birding & Wildlife – Las Vegas Style

On my recent trip to my hometown of Las Vegas I was astounded by the variety of wildlife that I encountered. Since I have been focusing on shooting birds and other wildlife for the last year, I thought I would take the opportunity to shoot some of the strange and wonderful species found in the western desert.

I stopped in at Floyd Lamb State Park.

Tangent – you might wonder who Floyd Lamb was. He was the brother of Ralph Lamb, who has become a household name in the US since the premier of the show Vegas last fall. If you watch the show you probably know that Ralph’s TV brother’s name is Jack – me thinks Ralph didn’t want to share the spotlight – that’s OK because Floyd has an awesome park named after him – kinda trumps a TV crime drama if you ask me. End of Tangent.

Back to Floyd’s park – so many birds…

This guy is a white crowned sparrow – I saw these all around Las Vegas…

So much flashier that my Ozark sparrows…

But then again it is Vegas.

In a nearby bush I spotted a thrush. Not common in the desert…

I bet he was probably just visiting.

Over at Floyd’s pond I was overrun by mud hens, or coots as some call them.

Their feet aren’t exactly webbed…

Still they work pretty well for swimming…

And they do the job on land pretty well too.

I noticed some larger birds diving into the pond and coming up with fish…

I spotted a few of them bracing themselves from the wind up in a tree. These are crested cormorants – juveniles so they don’t have crests yet…

Their green eyes were pretty striking…

And they can scoop up a pretty sizable fish with those bills…

These guys have huge webbed feet with wicked looking talons.

From Floyd Lamb Park I moved a bit closer to home. I get shots of birds at my house all the time, I should be able to get some good shots at my brothers house…

First I was attacked by this wild creature…

I stepped back as it assumed a defensive posture between me and the Christmas tree…

He puffed himself up to make it clear that it was NOT OK for me to pass…

The scariest thing about this wild beast was not it’s impressive beak, it was its eardrum shattering voice. After a while the Christmas spirit took over and he permitted me to enter the living room.

Not all the wildlife at the homestead was so aggressive….

Some of the beasts were almost serene…


Zen like…

Some beasts were a symphony in color…

I found it hard to imagine a beast more colorful…

He brings to mind an explosion at a crayon factory…

All the best colors mixing together.

This creature made me think of a dingy mop…

Aglow in the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree.

The last creature I encountered was very unusual…

Her eyes appeared to be a bit in front of her nose…

And she had a fierce anger, she tore into the closet…

And made off with her prey. To the victor go the spoils, no wire hangers for this fearsome beast!

I am glad to be back home in the safety of the woods where I am not accosted by scary beasts that screech in the night or steal my hangers, by my, what an adventure it was.