By now everyone who checks in here from time to time must be downright sick of seeing this damn windpump. I can only plead that it is in my "front yard" (285 yards away) and I can't help photographing it in the myriad different lights that play upon it. I guess it's a compulsion. Wouldn't doubt that this is the most photographed High Plains windpump to ever squeak in a brisk westerly.
God bless Aermotors, wherever they are. They are the lifeblood of the plains.
Well, not everybody asked for it. But BobF said a recent pic of Jack afield would make a good oil. So I whipped out my pallette, squirted some oil paints on it, found my mink-hair brushes, and dashed off a quickee. Enjoy, Bob.
Last week I had to take Jack to the vet for his routine rabies shot. None of the other dogs needed anything so he and I made the trip alone. Our regular vet is 80 miles away. There is one closer, only 35 miles, but I like the regular vet to see the dogs regularly. I also like the dogs to see the vet! For the most part they enjoy their trips to see him, and the great staff that pampers them and makes them feel special. Despite their nervousness their tails are always going a mile a minute.
I live at just about the mid-point of a north-south one-lane road (called a "two-track") that runs between two east-west secondary roads 70 miles apart. Well, actually I live two miles off to one side of that road and not on it. As we returned from the vet I could see a storm developing to the south, and could watch it move from east to west. There were a few lightning strikes, but not many. At the point I took the snapshot above we were yet about ten miles from home, but we managed to make it before the brunt of the storm hit. In the end it didn't amount to much at our place and all we got was a nice little spate of welcome rain. Most of it was well south of us.
By the way, I noticed the other day that our two track, which is about half paved and half dirt, does not even appear on the official state highway map. That's OK by me.
The other day we had a wonderful golden sunset. This is common this time of year. But it is a fleeting thing, gone in a minute or less. I sometimes see a really fine one, but by the time I get the camera it is gone. But that's what a photographer does: chases light, light that is never the same again and when it passes it is gone forever. Photography means "light writing." I like the Irish better: griangrafadoireacht, "the craft of sun-writing."
This is a good time of year for sin-writers. If they are quick enough!
These cool mornings, with a bit of chill in the air, energize Jack like nothing else can. He won't take no for answer and I almost always succumb to his entreaties and take him, and me, for a nice long ramble. There's nothing quite like being afield with a good dog— and friend— like Jack. He could do this sort of thing, inside our wire, on his own. There's plenty of ground to explore there. But NO, he has to have me come along, too. He's almost like a little kid: "Come and watch how good I hunt!"
So I go, and watch, and am pleased and energized myself.
How fitting that August's first post here should include a juicy, sweet, vine-ripened tomato. As usual they are late here compared to other parts of the country. I've only been enjoying them for about a week now. For the second year I am growing them in big "cow tubs" and the results are much better this year than last. Slowly, slowly, I get the hang of it. And the results are sweet indeed!
I went to a junior rodeo on Sunday. These events are always emotional for me because I am filled with admiration for the kids who participate— and Sunday had a ton of 'em.
I thought it would be a small event, due to its location, but the place was humming with kids of all ages on horseback zipping up and down in the parking area and having a great time. When I say "all ages" I mean it. Kids of three and four on ponies and even some on full size horses, with the stirrups hitched up as high as they could go. And in most cases adult supervision nowhere in sight.
The toughness of these kids always impresses me. They don't quit either. That young wrangler above, about eleven, in the steer rasslin' drew a critter that outweighed him by at least 150 pounds and could drag him anywhere it wanted to without breaking a sweat. But the kid hung on, never gave up, and eventually got it down by some unaccountable miracle. The thing is he never quit. "Aw, this is too HARD!" Nope. Even though his time was way, way out of the running he hung in and got it done.
And they were just about all like that, in all the events, boys and girls alike. Had me thinking we'd be better than just fine as a country if all our kids were like this. But they aren't, and there just isn't enough of them to go around. And that's a pity.
Reality in photography is mostly subjective. When someone views a photograph they make their own reality, as the photograph itself has none.
It is often said that “the camera never lies.” Actually, a camera can do nothing BUT lie. Everything it produces is a lie of one sort or another. The traditional camera’s product is a two-dimensional miniature rendition of full-sized subject matter. Sometimes the rendition is monochrome. If in color, it is only a very limited, distorted imitation of the colors its user saw.
Quite a few of my photographs in the last several years have been pushing the reality envelope. Back in the Olden Times I had experimented with many techniques for altering or enhancing an image: selenium, copper, and gold toning, split toning, masked effects, and many other ways to tweak an otherwise “straight” photograph. Looking back over the history of the craft I was in some pretty good company. But of course that didn’t stop the critics who never seemed to tire of pointing out that I was polluting the so-called purity of photography. I suppose purity, like realism, is in the eyes of the beholder.
When I changed over from film to digital I became aware that the ante on image manipulation had been upped considerably. I was a slow process for me. The one dominant means for photographic manipulation was complex and almost too feature-rich for any one person to ever “master.” Lately, there are alternatives but nothing out there allows the worker to get easy, quick results— no matter what the ads say. The recipes for images that I liked were never off the shelf, never easy or straight-forward. Achieving a successful result involved long experimentation and complex combinations of effects and procedures— and far more failures than successes.
Why bother? Most of the time I don’t. But sometimes I want “something more,” or maybe something less. I want something that cuts to the chase, so to speak. It might be degrees of abstraction, fiddling with color, or messing with light intensity. It could be anything. Or nothing— just a whim. When people ask I sometimes take the humorous way out and tell them that at my age I find reality highly overrated. Well, MAYBE I am being humorous.
There is an anecdote about Picasso being criticized about the distortions of his artwork. He asked the questioner is he was married, to which the man replied that he was. Picasso then asked him if he had a picture of his wife in his wallet. Why, yes, the man responded and produced the picture. “Lovely,” said Picasso, “but how can you have a relationship with such a tiny woman?”
Effects in manipulated images can be difficult to see in small sizes. Clicking on the image will enlarge it.
These are indeed the halcyon days on the High Plains. High banks of fluffy clouds, cool breezes, and a rich carpet of prairie wildflowers.
Mornings are a pure delight, cool and bright. The mid-days can be uncomfortably hot from about ten on, but the late afternoons and the pre-dusk evenings are a return of the comfort of the mornings. As dusk gathers I am usually on the front deck, in my camp-style recliner, watching the dogs play and enjoying the cool breeze and the slowly dying light.
Emma, the old girl, enjoys loafing in a patch of cool sand. That she has excavated it directly on the path to the deck doesn't bother me. Visitors can go around. Mags usually stays close and is most often actually up on the deck with me, stretched out on a strip of indoor/outdoor carpet I put down for them. Jack is usually much too busy for relaxation to take hold. After all, there are brush piles to inspect, tall grassy areas to explore, and the "little woods" behind the house to check out for treasures and adventures. Now that all my plants are in large cow-tubs, he is even welcome to patrol the garden and has learned to open the gate on his own.
The only down-side is the prevalence of ferocious thunderstorms in the late afternoon and the possibility of tornadoes. But that goes with the territory.
Friday my neighbor moved the main herd from one 15,000 acre range to another of about the same size. I tagged along just for the fun of it. It was an easy job since the oldsters pretty much knew where they were going. I also think they wanted a crack at the nice, untried grass on that side. It's interesting to watch their millennia-old habits come to the fore. The bulls naturally gravitated to the front, flanks and rear of the herd and stayed there. Some of the newborns had to run for quite a few miles and were tuckered by the end of the drive. Watching 6000+ of these very large critters move so easily across the Plains is a great sight. One I never get tired of. But it's still hard to imagine millions in a single herd.
Late this morning, as I sat on the deck reading a newspaper, Emma began to bark insistently. At first I thought it might be the UPS man coming down the road. But she kept it up and I could see there was no one on the road. I looked over the deck to where she stood, only about five feet away and right away saw the problem. A large bull snake was in the front dog pen, coiled up against a tree truck and ready to fight my noisy Shorthair.
This is itself was strange, as usually Em will just dive right in, oblivious to bites, and terminate a snake with extreme prejudice. But this time she was standing off and barking. I didn't want her to kill it, so I started down the steps to close the pen gate so she couldn't get at it. Just as I expected she would as soon as she saw me coming she lunged at the visitor to grab him. I had already figured out some time ago that she is far more ruthless with snakes if I am close by. Her protective instinct is flattering but a little too destructive for my taste. This time I managed to call her off and made her keep her distance while I swung the gate closed. She continued to bark but obeyed when I called her inside.
Jack was there the whole time, standing shoulder to shoulder with her but not barking or lunging at the snake. He was very interested in Mr Slithers, but wasn't making any moves toward it. I like this aspect of Jack's personality: He is by no means timid, but rather he is careful and thoughtful about interlopers and "strange things," without the instinct to dive straight in that has made Emma such a consummate murderer of reptiles and assorted other critters. Jack watches, circles, ponders, and as likely as not comes to get me. "Come see what I found!"
When I went back outside, the snake was gone. This is not the first time I have seen him on the place, so I'm hoping that maybe Em is mellowing in her old age.
For those who might not know... A bull snake (Pituophis melanoleucus sayi) is a non-poisonous snake that is a great exterminator of rodents. For that reason alone I like to have them around, but in general am not a snake fan at all.
In just a few short weeks we have gone from High Plains Desert to High Plains Jungle. The rains have brought back the grasses (and weeds!) with a vigorous vegetable vengeance.
In July and August and early September I mowed my out-front 1/3 acre of grass (as I call it) once. So far since the post-winter growth has started I am on my fifth cutting. It can look like the end of the world, but with a few drops of rain it springs to life. Surely one of the great strengths of this environment over the centuries.
Stephen Crane (author of The Red Badge of Courage) has a poem...
A man said to the universe: "Sir, I exist!" "However," replied the universe, "The fact has not created in me "A sense of obligation."
A visitor once remarked to me that "This is the most God-forsaken place I ever saw or heard of!" I told him that God didn't forsake it. He saved it for himself.
And we are now in the season that makes this "desolate, God-forsaken place" a paradise-garden of great beauty. This is the prairie rose (Rosa blanda), just one of many lovely spring flowering plants on the High Plains. We only look God-forsaken and desolate to those who are poor lookers.
Yesterday I had to do a long-distance errand and had to pass through the bison herd, which had just been brought into this particular "pasture." (Somehow when a pasture gets to be 12,000 acres it ought to have some other name!) There were 5-6,000 of them, what with the new calves, so they wouldn't fit into a single frame. Both young and old were enjoying the new growth of grass, thanks to some nice recent rains we have been getting.
I was hesitant about adding a third dog, but considering Emma's age it was the right time to bring him on. Today, I am glad I didn't listen my Sensible Self and went ahead and brought him into the family. He has been a blessing from the first day.
I've never had a dog -- and I've had quite a few -- that matured so quickly or bonded with me so completely. He's one of those so-called Once-in-a-Lifetime dogs that I have been fortunate enough to have had more than one of. His even temperament, sweetness, intelligence, passion for work, and good sense of humor has endeared him to everyone who has come to know him.
So here's to you, buddy. Happy birthday and many, many happy returns!
The "transition seasons" on the High Plains are wonderful times for sky-watchers. The sky-ground temperature differentials create some awesome displays that bring real meaning to the old Indian saying "Only earth and sky last forever."
Of course, it can also bring a bit of "sky terror" as unpleasant visitors sometimes drop out of those aerial displays. My friends in Oklahoma have had it real bad. So far where I am (knock on wood) we have been lucky, despite lots of activity and some heart-in-mouth moments.
But the last few days have been about as close to perfect as I could imagine. Temps in the 70s, brilliant sun, little wind. Hard to beat it when it's like that. Makes up for a lot.
Wonderful, green, tall, wind-flowing grass. It's looking good in areas that haven't been grazed. In grazed areas it is much slower coming along. But it is coming along, thanks to the rains we have been having. Unfortunately, along with the rains have come tornadoes and ferocious thunder storms with high winds and large hail. But seeing the plains green again is a real tonic after the Sahara-like summer of 2012.
It's round-up and branding season again. It's a good time to see what life is like here on the High Plains, and have some fun at it, too.
I enjoy the sights and sounds of these days. Neighbors and friends gather to help with the work, and then to share a "feed" and good conversation. It's hard, dangerous work but it's gone at with skill and enthusiasm. It's considered a good day if no one gets hurt and the work gets done with cool efficiency. Funny, but at these events there is hardly ever any direction given by the hosting rancher. He doesn't have to. Everybody just swings in and does what needs to be done. No questions asked.
These round-ups and brandings are indeed hard work for all, but they are also the social events of the year.
That was a popular Confederate marching song. There are several more verses.
I am partial to salted-in-the-shell peanuts and I brought a few pounds of them back on my latest supply run. The dogs share my interest in goober peas. Actually, that is an understatement. They are passionate about them!I can't sit on the deck and have a few without the "peanut gallery showing up and wanting their fair share. I'm aware of the cautions about nuts for dogs, but a normal shucking session doesn't give them more than about a half dozen each— while I struggle to get a few for myself! (I've experimented with just giving them the peanuts in the shell. They will crush the shells and extract the nuts, but they would rather I do that for them.)
By the way, a shelled peanut is about the only comestible that changes Mag's usual exaggerated food-caution. If I offer her a morsel of steak, she will sniff it and inspect it for a second or two before taking it. And there will be the same ritual for the second, third, and fourth helping. But a peanut she snags without delay, inspection, or suspicion. Goodness, how delicious!
The buffalo are well into their calving season. These little guys can run within scant minutes of birth. Great fun watching them enjoy their new environment. Moms and Pops are extremely vigilant at this time and it pays to keep your distance. They are not normally aggressive, but this time of year they can get very cranky and are picky about the company they keep.
The First of May and what do we wake up to? Four inches on the ground and still coming down right briskly. The day before had been shirt-sleeve weather. That's the High Plains for you. And this might not be the last one either.
The fire that almost burned me out last August swept across a swath about twenty miles long before it got to me. This is a view of what it left behind. Nothing. Hardly a blade of grass in sight, and it goes for miles. Even with a wet spring and summer it will take ten to fifteen years for this part of the range recover. Maybe longer. Meanwhile, the sand is moving, moving. In places it will cover the road in a year or two. This may seem like tough, hardy, robust country and in many ways it is. But it's also as fragile as tundra.
A few days ago I noticed that the dogs were very interested in something over behind some big bales. I was unhappy to find it was a dead muley doe. It looked like an older deer and there were no signs of anything but a natural death. The coyotes had already been at her pretty good and the dogs found the whole thing fascinating— even Mags, the Boston. (It isn't polite anymore to call her a "Boston Terrorist.") I hooked it up to the Rhino and we towed it out on the prairie. I haven't checked, but I'm sure that by now (two days later) there is nothing left. Coyotes are fast and thorough workers.
One of my neighbors also has a Shorthair and he and his and Jack and I spent last Sunday tramping the hills and doing a little bird hunting. It's very pleasant to have 90,000 acres all to yourself. There were plenty of birds. One rise had at least fifty birds and most of them appeared to be roosters. The dogs had a wonderful day and it was great fun to watch their pleasure and enthusiasm.
A very welcome thaw over the last couple of days. Almost a heat wave compared to what we have been having. 35° at 10 a.m. is a gift indeed. Today it pushed up toward the mid-50s by noon with wonderful sun and balmy breezes. The dogs were over the moon with happiness. I could hardly get Jack to come inside all day.
We usually have a False Spring in January. Sometimes it lasts a week or more. According to the weather boffins this one is supposed to come and go for a while. As long as it stays within reach that’s OK by me.
Jack and Emma don't take No for an answer when it comes to the afternoon ramble. We GO, and that's all there is to it. Mags, however, has been begging off in the intense cold we have had lately. She has no tolerance for it, and more than once I have had to carry her back to the house when she bit off more than she could chew in her "go with" enthusiasm. She's a pathetic sight hobbling along on what she claims to be frozen tootises.
If you click on the picture of Jack and Em it will enlarge and you can see the deer up on the mountain, watching our progress down below. The dogs more or less ignore them, even when they're in the yard. They do not chase them, and I'm glad I never had to break them of that bad habit.
I guess that's what some folks would call where I live: "the unpopulated zone." But that just applies to people. Otherwise, there's nothing unpopulated about it.
I had to go to town on some errands y'day, something I rarely do, and on the way home I saw the scenes above. The mulies, 16 of them, are clustered near an old ghost town about three crow-fly miles from me. The antelope were a couple miles north of that point.
I glassed the deer to see if any of them were from my bunch that hangs around the house. None were that I could tell. That's probably because when I got home I found my nine all hunkered down on the front yard. The antelope bunch was one pod of a large herd of about a hundred that split up as my truck got near. They are lots spookier and more skittish than the mulies.
Sub-zero almost every night. Even Action Jackson doesn't want to stay out for very long. We still get our daily ramble but lately they have been very short indeed. We're do for a False Spring and it could come at any time for all of me. -16° gets old mighty quick.
Yesterday when we went out for our ramble (the same day we discovered the GHO), the dogs had been very antsy about getting out of the house and went right to the old shop/garage that is close to the house. Later I discovered the reason. I saw a shape against the dying light and when I went around to the other side I found a cat up in the shop 'attic' watching me through the copious spaces in the ramshackle old building's shake roof.
It didn't seem particularly alarmed and I chatted at it for a few minutes. I'm not really keen on having cats around, but if they are pulling their end and stay out of the way of the dogs (and do not use the garden as a sandbox) I try to be tolerant. I have no idea where they come from, but they rarely stay long. Eventually the coyotes get them.
By the way, that old dilapidated, dirt-floor shop building, about 15x20', is said to have been the first building on the place. The original homesteaders lived in it for the first two years while they were proving up the place. So says their grandson. This would have been about 1913. Those would have been some hard, hard winters.
Every day in the mid-afternoon, the dogs and I go for a ramble. There are days when, frankly, I would rather not, but Jack demands it and the others follow his lead. On every walk there is something going on. The other day I discovered that jack rabbits had moved into the bale area east of the house. They've never been around this close before. That same day I discovered we have a Bald Eagle hanging around. On another day I had to shoot a porcupine to keep the dogs quilless. Then there was the coyote confronted at a distance of six feet. Always something interesting going on.
Today it was a young Great Horned Owl sitting in one of the cottonwoods. Most of the older GHOs won't sit still for me and the dogs being too close to them, but this citizen just sat there as if he figured we were no threat at all. Quite small, too, so I figured it for a newcomer. As long as they behave they are welcome.
Afterwards the dogs discovered a stray cat in the old garage. Another visitor. Are we popular, or what?