Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Lone Sentinel

Supply-run today, the first in over two months. On the way back I spotted this gentleman, keeping watch on the trail into my place.

I'm getting addicted to taking pictures through the windshield while moving. You see the darndest things!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jack. Again. (Get used to it.)

The other day the pups and I did a lot of walking on the place, checking everything out. If there's a high point, Jack likes to take it and do his King-of-the-World thing. He climbed up on the dirt backstop to one of my shooting ranges and when I said "Jack!" gave me this shot. I can see "adult" in it and I like what I see.

It captures his basic nature. He is definitely a spicy meatball, but good-hearted, robust, and a great deal of fun to have around.


This morning I was out with the dogs and decided to go into the garden to empty the rain-gauge so it wouldn't freeze and shatter. What to my wondering eyes should appear...?

My fence is four feet and has always been more than adequate in the past, perhaps because the garden is so close to the house. It now appears there is a wise-guy in the mix. Maybe two or three.

No question of raising the fence. Once a deer knows he wants to be somewhere he's not 'posed to be an eight-footer will be required and that might not even work. I'll just have to be a little more vigilant. Fortunately, past experience has shown me that when the garden is producing the deer are off someplace else. May it stay that way!


If I'm working in the office and Emma thinks I may be overlooking her culinary needs, she will stand in the doorway, quietly and patiently, until I look up and then she will dash into the kitchen and stand by the pantry door, where the dog food is kept.

She's always been a great fan of quality eats. I let that slip up on me recently. But I noticed that Emma was getting a little "flat-backed" and put both Emma and Mags on a gentle diet. Last week we went to the vets and he commented that Emma's last recorded weight was 73 pounds and this time was 59. Wow! Did I ever screw up. (Mags was 28/20.) They both look better and I suspect they feel better. I am totally against overweight dogs and feel guilty about my dereliction.

Emma has adjusted well, except at dinnertime, when I am sure she thinks she is being abused. She has a very good tummy-clock, but it's often a wee bit fast.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Barbarian

Jack is 4 months, 1 week, and 2 days old today and weighs 36 pounds. He is almost infallible about coming on command, sits when told, and is doing pretty well on "waiting" to be released to eat when I put his bowl down in front of him. He and Emma spend a lot of time "hunting" together: checking out brushpiles, treelines, hedgerows, that sort of thing. He has always been very interested in what she was doing and now he can easily keep up and that attention toward her and her methods has increased about four-fold. I'll have to wait until he gets his adult teeth to start him on retrieving, but he is already very good about bringing me stuff and putting it down when I tell him to. Well, most of the time anyway.

If you could walk in the field with a pair of eager bird-dogs and not feel the pure, unadulterated joy radiating from them, then you have no soul. To me, they are a constant delight.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Working Kit

In the Old Days my working travel kit was made up from three Nikons and three Leicas. Nowadays my old friends live in an equipment cabinet and my daily image-making tools are all digital. Sic transit gloria.

I use two Canon SLRs that are extremely capable instruments, but are also big, heavy, and require a take-along camera bag for lens, batteries, filters, and all the other stuff that I feel I might need when I use them.

But my ideas about working kit are slowly morphing into something very different. On my latest trip to Ireland I took along my biggest and heaviest Canon, with a couple of lenses, plus a little Panasonic Lumix point-and-shoot. Admittedly it's a point-and-shoot with a Leica-designed lens, which really does make a difference. I found myself making the majority of the images I shot on that trip with the Lumix, while the Canon SLR waited in the camera bag (usually back in the car).

One of the people on my trip had a little Sony pocket-camera that I was much impressed by. Instead of the shutter-like lens protector, which I distrust, it had a sliding panel that both protected the lens and turned the camera on and off when slid up and down. I was so impressed with it that I ordered one of my own as soon as I got home. (Actually, I ordered it on-line while I was still in Ireland.)

The Sony I bought is slightly different from the one that inspired the purchase. I went with a "ruggedized" version that is water- and temperature-proof and drop-damage-resistant as well. It is so small that it fits easily and comfortably in a shirt pocket or a front pants pocket. Since it arrived I have carried it with me in a pocket at almost all times.

In the interests of my newly evolving working kit I also bought an upgraded Lumix. This one has a fast f/2.0 Summicron Leica-designed lens that covers a range of 24-90mm (in 35mm equivalencies) and takes a removable viewfinder so that I can use it at eye-level just like a "real camera." I've never taken to the arms-length LCD screens, although I use them out of necessity.

The Sony and the second Lumix will make up my new travel kit, with the first Lumix as a back-up. All three cameras together weigh a pound and a half: the body alone (with no lens attached) for my Canon weighs two pounds.

There must be a trade-off, and there is. I'm giving up long telephoto capability and also losing some megapixels. But both the Sony clam-shell and the Lumix are capable of making 12x16" images and the Leica-lensed Lumix can give the larger Canon a run for its money. Pixel count is only part of the story of digital image quality.

At any rate I now have a working travel-kit that will fit in my pockets and do a lot better than a merely good job on about 95% of the pictures I want to make. In the event that I feel I must make a long-lens shot I can always sacrifice a little absolute quality and make use the digital zoom feature that reaches out to about 500mm in old-time 35mm terms. On this last trip I found no use for such a lens.

I'll try to get some pictures of this kit soon.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Up on the mountain

You'll seldom roam the high country in western Ireland for very long without meeting a "hill maggot." Not a very flattering nickname, but when you see them from afar, clustered on a green slope, they do kind of look that way.

Most are wild, wary, and stay well away from you. Give a whistle and they will start looking for your dog and edging even further away from you.

Occasionally, however, one will approach you and even allow you to touch her. It's a sure thing that she was an "orphan" and hand-reared by some farmer's kids. The others will just stare at her, as if to say "Are you crazy? Get back over here where you belong!"

Somehow they just seem to make an Irish mountain landscape complete.

Fall is here on the High Plains

Nippy nights and frosty mornings bring thoughts of the woodpile.

If so much depends on the little red wheelbarrow, as we have been told, how much more depends on the red-headed axes, big and small.

A well-stacked and cured woodpile is power.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

An early Christian site

I've been doing small-group cultural travel in the Irish Gaeltachts (Irish-speaking regions) for a long time. And when I'm not with a group I'm rambling around the countryside looking for sites and just plaining enjoying the place. As a result of twenty-some years of that I have become intimately familiar with an area that is rich with archeological and historical treasures.

Among my favorite sites is one of the many that tourists will never see. From one little road (bohareen) you turn off on another, and then finally yet another after passing through a tiny three or four house village, or baile. Then you hike across a farmer's field, watching out for his bull as you go. Finally you come to a slightly raised embankment which, if you climb it, you can see is part of a more or less circular enclosure. You have found a very early monastic settlement. Against one bank of the enclosure, hidden among bracken and wild rose bushes, is a small stone holy water fount. Above it sits a vertical cross-inscribed stone. (Local legend has it the roses cannot be transplanted, as they will grow nowhere else but this little enclosure.)

The site is clearly pre-Viking as it is very close to the sea. After 850AD when the Northmen began their raids along the western Irish coast no one would have built so close to a landing place. Local legend has it that the site antedates Patrick, and is surely one of the earliest Christian sites I have ever visited, perhaps dating to before 400AD.

I've included a picture with the inscribed cross emphasized so it may be located by the viewer.

The fields of the west

The field systems of western Ireland are ancient. They are almost always surrounded by a stone wall that has become covered with sod over the centuries so that they look more like grassy humps than walls.

The average farm size for Ireland is between forty and fifty acres. In the west country it is unusual if a farm's total acreage is contiguous. A farmer may have a field here, one there, and still another in a different location. It is a system they have become accustomed to over the passage of time. Fields are used for the grazing of sheep and cattle. Except for silage, and little of that, there is virtually no cropland in western Ireland.

The fields, their shapes and walls, are reminders of the age of the countryside and the traditional lifestyle and culture that created them.

These cool mornings

Lately the days have continued to rise into the 70s and 80s, but the mornings are in the 40s or even the high 30s. These cool mornings are driving Emma crazy-mad to get outside and look for stuff to hunt. Yesterday I took all three pups for a ramble and she set up on a point on something in some thick brush in a tree-line behind the house. I figured it was a bunny so I released her and she did a beauty of a jump-pounce and out popped a rabbit that took off across the prairie. She just stood and watched it go, with no desire to chase a mere rabbit. Emma is craving birds: large birds that are noisy when they burst out of cover.

The Voyager's Mountain

Mount Brandon is the second highest mountain in Ireland at 3123 feet. (Carantouhill in Magillicuddy's Reeks near Killarney is the highest at 3414 feet.)

Brandon is usually wreathed with cloud and when the cloud falls low on the slopes it's hard to believe there is even a mountain there at all. But on some days the clouds and fog dissipate and Brandon shows itself in all its glory. There is a tiny, ancient chapel at the top named for Saint Brendan, and it is said that he fasted and prayed up there for many days before he set out on his voyage to the west in the Sixth Century.

St. Brendan's day is celebrated on the 16th of May. Local folk, and many others, climb the mountain that day in honor and remembrance of The Voyager. A minor distinction for yours truly is that he was the very last person to climb the mountain to the top in 1999. If you accept the fact that 1999 was the last year of the 20th century then my place is history is assured! Well, maybe. Anyway, it was a good hike and a brilliant way to get some first-rate exercise.