What does the Fox Say?

One of my favorite things about life in the Ozarks are the random encounters with wildlife. These encounters happen often up on my mountain – songbirds, squirrels, hawks, and deer all circle around the Stonehouse, careful to steer clear of the patrolling terriers in the lawn. A few years ago we had bear sightings up the road. I spotted a black mountain lion passing through one time. These occurrences are alway magical, but not unexpected anymore.

My friend Candy lives about a mile and a half from me on a golf course community called Holiday Island. You may have seen Eric Estrada pitching lots on late night infomercials a few years back. It’s beautiful spot carved out of the wilds of the Ozarks – but it’s considerably less wild than my mountain. They have restaurants, grocery stores, and a club house. One night Candy and I were driving from her house to mine. We were passing the clubhouse when we spotted some visitors. There on the parking lot next to the putting green were three little faces looking back at us. Candy maneuvered the car to give me some light while I took photos with my flash – oddly enough they were not at all bothered by the car, the flash, or me. At one point I was shooting two of them grooming each other when I glanced back and caught sight of the third one sneaking up behind me. Their curiosity overwhelmed any fear they had.

Their manner reminded me a lot of my shy pup Kirby. They were cautious but curious. I almost wanted to just sit on the ground and let them come to me – but we were in the middle of a street in the dark in the middle of the night. After about 20 minutes they tired of us and moved on across the putting green. Something more interesting awaited them in the dark of the golf course.

Since that night I have seen them several times. I spent some time with them at the bank parking lot one evening, but without Candy there to point the car headlights at them I didn’t have enough light to photograph them. I saw them sleeping in a driveway the other day – soaking up the last of the warmth of our Indian Summer.

 

The Second Rule of Photography

If the first rule of photography is to always have your camera with you, then the second rule must be about light. Light is everything to a photographer, without it there is no color, without enough of it you lose detail and sharpness.

Of course you can add light by using a flash, but that can create other issues – it can add too much light or create unwanted reflections. It’s essential to make some shots, but I wouldn’t use it just because your camera has one.

There is one kind of light that is almost magical – it is warm and soft and almost without glare. It’s that lovely light at the beginning or at the very end of the day – the golden hour. I’m not a morning person, so I prefer that soft light that starts about a half hour before the sun sets.

Over the course of the last week I have been practicing shooting sunsets at a local lookout point. On the way I travel through a residential neighborhood where the deer feed in the hollows and lots between houses. I find these local whitetails to be lovely and curious creatures. They are all about their dining, but any noise or movement from me gets them to look up at me. Sometimes they hold their gaze for several shots. They rarely flee.

Click through to see how expressive these whitetail can be:

After my first shot at these deer I began to give myself 10-15 minutes on my way to the lookout and I am never disappointed in these characters. In truth, it’s the light that makes these shots so intimate, you get a sense of the golden glow in their eyes, they emerge from the noisy backgrounds because there is enough light to get good focus. The details are mostly sharp because there is enough light for my camera to do the job I want it to do.

Shutterbug Notes:

I have found that your vehicle can be a good blind sometimes. Animals are often less threatened by a big box than they are of you approaching in spots where there is no place for cover. I have found that deer and antelope are naturally curious so sometimes a little movement makes them make eye contact with you – waving a bandana out the window or making clicking noises will often do the trick. When I do approach on foot I always respect the lines they set – if they huff or raise their tails I stop moving towards them. I want them to be curious and not frightened of me. 

I’m Over the Moon

Last week's just past full moon

Last week’s just past full moon – I’m over the moon about the response to the eff stop.

I don’t typically write posts about my blog, I kinda prefer to write about photography or to at least put images into some type of context. I hope you’ll forgive me this one time, and I’ll do my best to make this post at least partly about images and context.

Christmas Rose

A rose by any other name…It’s been sweet getting to know so many of you through the blogosphere.

I wrote my first post on this blog on May 20th of last year. I had just come home from an epic vacation and had tons of photos. I thought it was the perfect time to start a blog, I only opened a WordPress account to follow my brother’s blog and he kept leaving me spam-like comments on my empty blog, so I thought if I wrote something I would at least have one reader. I thought it would be fun to share photos and a bit of humor with him in the format he was communicating in. The next day I wrote my second post with an eye towards complete silliness. I had read no tutorials and had not even read any blogs except for my brother’s – heck, I didn’t even know what the Reader was. I did everything wrong. I used too many tags, I didn’t check my spelling, I used over 50 photos – in retrospect that post was a mess. About an hour later I got a nice email from WordPress about my post being “pressed” or something, how nice of them to let me know my post was live. I had no idea what that email was, I tossed it. I went to work the next day and casually commented to a coworker at lunch that I was getting a lot of email from my blog – how cool, I had heard from my brother that the WordPress platform was easier to connect on – it must be working. I noticed a lot of the comments offered congrats, how friendly – something about Freshly Pressed or FP’d, so I sent my brother a text:

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I clearly was clueless.

After texting Max, I googled Freshly Pressed and found this – there’s my photograph of a yonng elk in the top right corner:

Ahhhh - so that's what all the fuss was about.

Ahhhh – so that’s what all the fuss was about.

That day I had over 2000 hits – on a blog that was 2 days old. Of course I did nothing right at this point either. I was a bit shy about replying to comments. I accidentally replied to spam and not to real people – I was moderating a dozen comments at a time without even knowing what “moderating” was. I should have had the courtesy to reply to every comment, I was a bit reserved about entering into conversations – I didn’t really know what to say. I was afraid to empty my email in-box for fear of losing something I was supposed to keep up with. My post stayed on that front page for over a week. It was a wild ride.

I've been overwhelmed by my instant audience for my work - I appreciate you all.

I’ve been overwhelmed by my instant audience for my work – I appreciate you all.

Over the next few weeks I read a lot about how to manage a blog and have always wished I had done a better job of it from the start, by now I was embarrassed to reply (silly, I know) If I failed to respond to you, and you stuck around, I really appreciate it. I was a complete novice. I would be another month and another text conversation with my brother before I was keyed in to what the Reader was – it was only then that I really began to interact with other blogs. Another month passed before I wrote an “About” page.

This is my shy pup, Kirby.  He's timid about new things, al lot like me at the start of this process.

This is my shy pup, Kirby. He’s timid about new things, a lot like me at the start of this process.

A little over 140 posts later and I am really enjoying the interaction. I studied photography in college and have gotten more serious in the last few years. I have been diligently shooting almost every day for about the last 5 years so I have lots of images to work with and it’s been great talking about my work with you.

It's been a treat to introduce you to people like Mary Jane - a 99-year-old hiker through this blog.

It’s been a treat to introduce you to people like Mary Jane – a 99-year-old hiker through this blog.

This blog has helped me to organize my work, it’s given me focus. It’s allowed me to introduce you to my amazing 99-year-old neighbor, a herd of deer, a tougher-than-nails goldfinch, and a hummingbird who enjoys the rain.

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Bee-lieve me, I have enjoyed sharing my work and getting to know you.

The interaction is something I never anticipated and it has been really rewarding – it has pushed me to try new things. Last fall I read a post about NaNoWriMo, it got me thinking and it challenged me. Back in May when I pushed “publish” the first time, who would have believed that I would take on a writing challenge and that I would have 50,000 words in me? I started a second blog, The King of Isabelle Avenue, to post excerpts from my memoir on. It’s been a rich experience with just a few followers, but it has been more rewarding than I could ever have imagined.

The King of Isabelle Avenue has let me introduce you to my family and their history -   this picture of a hat with a wedding in the background is a more recent part of that history.

The King of Isabelle Avenue has let me introduce you to my family and their history – this picture of a hat with a wedding in the background is a more recent part of that history.

I have gotten into a rhythm – a couple of photo posts a week and a King of Isabelle post every 10 days or so. Initially I would look at my more recent photos and see if I could find a common theme and sometimes that worked out pretty well, gradually I moved more towards shooting something with a post in mind, occasionally I did a little of both.

Photography is about more than mechanics - it's about a point of view - I'm grateful to share my point of view with you.

Photography is about more than mechanics – it’s about a point of view. I hope to find unique points of view to share with you.

More recently I have worried about keeping things fresh. I challenged myself to shoot birds last year and I have posted dozens of times on the topic. I wondered if you would tire of my obsession with cardinals. Still, my favorite posts are those that feel like serendipity – when something just comes together.

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Trying new things and sharing them with you has made me a better photographer.

That happened again a couple of weeks ago. I was supposed to have a working lunch but the other party cancelled. I grabbed my keys and headed to my car to run grab some fast food. I stood in the parking lot and it hit me, I didn’t want junk food – I turned around and decided to see if I could kick out a post in the 20 minutes I had left of my lunch hour. I started to write a post I was going to call “Deer on Pine Mountain”. As I started to tell my story the title sounded stupid and boring. I took the post in a different direction and wrote this story about my encounter with an old friend on the mountain. When I hit publish I knew I had shared an experience that was special to me, if no one else. Less than an hour later I got that email – this time I did have a clue about what it meant to be Freshly Pressed.

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No need to text Max this time…

The last couple of weeks have been wonderful – I have enjoyed meeting new people and have done my best to interact with everyone who took the time to comment – even if it was in another language. I saw my friend on the mountain again last night – I hope to share more stories of my white nosed friend with you as the weather warms up.

To those of you who started the conversation with me – Honie, Paula, Michelle, Elyse, Jackie, and Diana – you got me going, you found me before I figured out how to find you, you showed me the ropes. Thanks so much! (Seriously – check out their blogs!)

The bottom line is this – I was incredibly lucky right out of the shoot. I am grateful to those who followed from that early post, and to those who have joined the party in the last few weeks – now that I have written that obligatory Freshly Pressed post, I will get back to taking photos and telling stories. I am checking out the blogs of everyone who commented or followed – it’s taking some time, but I am finding some amazing new blogs to follow.

I’ll sign off for now – there are photos out there to be taken – this shutterbug is ready for another adventure!

Does the Friendliness Gene Exist?

Last Summer I wrote about a pair of whitetail fawns growing up in the field beyond the local Elks Lodge. The Lodge sits on one side of a hollow at the base of Pine Mountain, my house is at the top of the mountain,  and my road meanders down the side opposite from the Lodge. There is a large whitetail herd and it’s not uncommon to see the same deer at any spot along the mountain.

This is a shot of the friendly fawn from last summer.

This is a shot of the friendly fawn from last summer.

Over the years I have photographed a doe that is easily recognized by a thin white strip on just above her black nose. She is friendly and curious about me and tolerates me approaching her to take photos. I respect her space and back off if she shows any sign of concern. Last year she had two fawns – one with a black nose and one with a white stripe that had a wide spot in the center. Like it’s momma, the one with the white stripe had no concern about my presence and was actually very curious.

This shot gives a clearer picture of the marking in the fawn's nose.

This shot gives a clearer picture of the marking in the fawn’s nose.

That original doe was one of triplets and was the only one with the white mark. Her sister still stays close and is not at all friendly. She starts snorting almost as soon as I leave my jeep. That friendly doe has had two sets of twins and only one of those has a white stripe and only that one is really friendly like she is. The others have been very cautious and quick to run off. Last year I was lucky to get so close to the friendly fawn on several occasions.

The tail tucked and low like this indicates no sense of alarm. Whitetails use their tails like flags when alarmed - the rest of the herd can spot them in the woods when the have it raised so the white hairs show.

The tail tucked and low like this indicates no sense of alarm. Whitetail use their tails like flags when alarmed – the rest of the herd can spot them in the woods when the have it raised so the white hairs show.

I watched a documentary about the domestication of wolves – the forefathers of dogs. Humans and wolves have always interacted – wolves feeding off of livestock or the trash of people. In a pack of wolves there is usually one or two who are bolder around humans. These wolves are the ones who make friends with humans and by doing so they can secure food and comfort for the pack – they are like ambassadors. Scientists have found that these dogs share a genetic marker and they call it the friendliness gene. This marker is also found in domesticated dogs today.

Not that this has anything to do with whitetail deer, but it got me thinking about why some deer are curious and some are flighty. The deer have no need to befriend me for food. I do find it an interesting coincidence that all of the deer in our small herd who are comfortable and even curious about me and my camera seem to have a similar white stripe on their nose – is it nature or nurture? Does the original doe’s boldness embolden some of her fawns?

Notice how the doe has no concern or alarm, she even turns her back on me when her fawn is nearby.

Notice how the doe has no concern or alarm, she even turns her back on me when her fawn is nearby.

Of course winter comes and the whitetail move deep into the hollow. I put my thoughts about this friendly trait away for winter. The deer stay away from the field once hunting season opens and have yet to make an appearance there this year. I have seen a couple on the roadside running into the woods, so they are on the move.

A couple of days ago I saw a deer ahead of me on the road. It didn’t bolt – it just looked my way and walked leisurely into the woods. I pulled up along side and it looked over its shoulder at me…

Unconcerned with me or my noisy jeep, this yearling looked at me.

Unconcerned with me or my noisy jeep, this yearling looked at me.

I stayed in the jeep – opened the passenger window and snapped a few shots. I was taken aback by how long the young whitetail looked at me and at its calm demeanor. And then I saw it…

20130321-121924.jpgThis was not any yearling, this was my friendly fawn. No wonder it showed no concern for me, it knows me. It survived the winter in the hollow and is now roaming over the hills.

It’s nice to catch up with old friends.

Oh Deer!

I have been especially technically challenged this week. I attempted to reblog this post from my memoir project, The King of Isabelle Avenue. I posted it and noticed that shortly afterward the reader just showed a very blurry photo of my Gravitar. So I deleted it and tried to reblog, and of course, you cannot do that.

20130215-160312.jpgSo I if you’re curious about our mining adventures in Nevada in the 60s, click the link above – this excerpt has lots of silliness, and adventure, and some poop…

20130215-160345.jpgIf you are not at all curious or have already read about the poop, you can just stay here and look at the deer I saw on the way home from the fish hatchery the other day…

20130215-155814.jpgIf you’ve seen enough deer or hate to click links, feel free to stop reading now and go back to whatever you were doing. I think I’m gonna grab a snack.

Growing up at the Elk’s Lodge

I live about a mile from the local Elk’s Lodge. The lodge sits across the road from a wide open meadow that ends in thick woods. To the east a subdivision runs almost across the meadow. It’s a spot that local white tail deer like to feed. I started taking snaps of the herd about 3 years ago. The first year there were 3 fawns – triplets. I would drive through the meadow on the way home hoping to see them. I noticed on fawn with a small white band just above her nose – she seemed more laid back than the others. She looked me in the eye, she kept grazing if I started to walk towards her with the camera. I named her Doe.

The next year she was back – all grown up. I could recognize her by her calm demeanor and that fine white line just above the black of her nose. When the other deer would turn and run into the woods, she would stay behind and watch me. I made sure to give her some space. I got a few nice snaps, but the distance was just too great.

This spring I upgraded my camera body and the AF is significantly better. My friend is also more comfortable with me. About a month ago I saw her with her own twins – as usual she was not disturbed by my presence…

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I got very close to the three of them and shot for about 20 minutes. I noticed that one twin, the one grazing, takes after mom. No concern for my presence. The other one is more vigilant. It trusts it’s mom, but is not comfortable grazing around me…

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Being respectful of the more cautious twin I stepped back a few feet. When I did the clam twin moved towards me…

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She gave me a nice pose and I noticed something about her – she has the same white stripe on her nose as her mother…

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After a few minutes she licked her chops and turned to leave, not in panic, but to look for a better spot to feed…

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Last week I cruised by the meadow and saw some deer over near the housing development. I drove over to an empty cul-de-sac and saw that it was Doe and her family. She was a ways off by the treeline, but the twins were pretty close to the road. Not wanting to block them from crossing the road to join their mother I got out of my Jeep and approached them from the far side. My laid back friend turned to check me out – she’s growing so fast…

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Her more cautious twin looks me over, but he seems to have a more worried expression.

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The worrywart crossed the road and joined mom. My chill girl shot me a profile shot.

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She’s not worried in the least because Daddy’s home!

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Caption This

In my day job I design t-shirts. Sounds easy, right? Combine something funny or witty with some ink and cotton and “viola” – best seller! Not.

Over the years I have found ways to get my creative juices flowing. One of my favorite things to do is to look at random images and make up captions for them. Bonus points for sarcasm or irony – anything goes. After a day of shooting I will sort my photos and pull aside the ones that make me smile. I can’t take credit for all of these, I have friends who play along. Do you have a great caption for any of these? Share away, maybe I’ll make you a t-shirt!

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Dude! What happened to your ears??

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You look a little fuzzy to me…

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Wink!

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Does this make my butt look big?

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Duck. Duck. Moose.

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It’s your nickel.

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The beginning of the Zombie Apacalypse.

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Where does the seed come out of this thing?

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Habaneros?!?

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Hangover

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Wisdom teef

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Man, you gotta get your head on straight.

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Blue Steel

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Back off!!

Your turn – caption this…

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