Saturday, February 28, 2009

Times change

I bought my first professional cameras in 1967: a pair of black Nikon F's without on-board meters. They were followed by a growing assortment of prime lenses and my first Leica, an M3, in 1970. In the years that followed the Nikon and Leica families grew, augmented by a state-of-art photolab with several enlargers, one of which a motorized 4x5.

Who could have predicted what would happen? Who could have known that those first gimmicky digital image-toys would come to dominate photography so quickly, and so completely? Certainly not me.

Times do change. Like a packrat I moved my darkroom equipment out here with me. It now sits, still packed, in the shop building behind the house. My Leicas and Nikons are also lovingly packed away "just in case." I haven't made a conventional (silver based) photograph or print in several years. Except for the large-format stuff, that is. I still have undying affection and loyalty to the rigors and rewards of 4x5 work. Nothing can quite replace the rewarding meditative experience of crawling under that black cloth and fiddling with a colorful upside-down image on a bright groundglass. And the prints from it— oh, yes, the amazing prints!

But most of my work now originates in a late-model digital SLR camera and comes out of a medium-large format archival giclée printer (upscale ink jet to plainspeakers!). A very different way of working, for sure, but it's the image that matters, after all. It's a different way of working, but in its own way just as satisfying as the old darkroom route, without the drudgery.

Times change, for sure, even if tradition dies hard.

Photo: At work with a classic wooden 4x5 on a medieval monastic ruin in an Irish pasture...


Porcupines come through the place from time to time, but it's been a while since I've seen one. They seem to have gotten the idea than they are not very welcome. But the other day I found a dead one among the hay bales, evidently shot by the rancher. I flipped it up into the jumble of bales to keep the dogs away from it.

Our first experience with one here was a mite prickly. Emma came back to the front door with her nose full of quills. I wrestled her down and used a pair of kelly forceps to remove them, without much cooperation from her I might add. Once that was done I put her inside, grabbed a shootin' iron, and went searching. No luck at all. Figuring that maybe Emma had learned her lesson I let her out and she took me right to the tree the perps were using as a hideout. I put her back inside so they wouldn't fall on her and then did the deed.

It was a mom with her little-one (see pic). I felt bad about it but it had to be done. More than a few dogs have met with a bad end because of them. And although they seem to be innocuous critters they are extremely destructive. Anything with salt or a salt-derivative on it is fair game to them: corral posts, porch railings, shovel handles. If you or a critter has touched it, they want to eat it. They have amazingly efficient teeth and can make short work of a canoe paddle, for example. I have photos of aluminum signs chewed all to pieces by them. Folks have discovered their tires chewed all to hell as well.

They are definitely in the varmint category out here. I don't like killing anything that's truly inoffensive. Unfortunately, that's not the whole story with porkies.

The Indians used to refrain from killing them because if a man were lost or injured and on his own it would be easy to catch and kill one for emergency vittles. Cleaning them might be another story, however.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Being too aware

I wonder if I am too aware of the craziness of our world today.

I don't have TV, by choice, but I do of course have the internet and satellite radio. During the campaign (two years?) I kept up pretty much with what was going on with satellite radio and XM's POTUS channel. Lots of coverage. Maybe too much.

I think of myself as one of those "responsible citizens": I pay my taxes (on time!), I vote in every election even though it's 37 miles to my polling place, and I try to stay current on what is going on in the world. I even write letters to pols, papers, and magazines— not that it does any good. But that's not the point. The point is to take part.

Well, that's not true. To make a difference is the point. The only point. And I feel, for the first time in my life, that trying to make a difference may be pointless in these times in which we live. The message is not lost on me that my opinions and standards, admittedly somewhat traditional, are not welcome in today's so-called market place of ideas. They are... outmoded.

So I wonder why I don't just divest myself of that "making a difference" gene and deal with my life just exactly as it is here in my extremely remote (some would desolate) homestead and let the damn crazy world roll by in its handbasket without me, thankyouverymuch.

Hamlet asks his friend Horatio to "absent [himself] from felicity awhile" in order to tell the world of his tragic end. Well, I'm getting pretty tired of the absence of felicity in public affairs lately and am starting to wonder if those medieval Irish hermits who went off into the green wilderness didn't have the right idea after all.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Rhino Day

No pics from today, but here is one from a couple of years ago when we still had our beloved Murphy with us. He was certain that the Rhino was all his...

Yesterday it was 72° here, and today it was 65. Very strange, but I'm not complaining. Neither were the dogs. We hadn't had the UTV out of the shop for a couple of weeks and today I started it up and the dogs and I did some work around the place with it, toting and lugging stuff here and there.

Both the Shorthair and the Boston love "their" Rhino. The Boston sits up front in the right-hand seat and Emma jumps in the back to ride. No matter if I'm going to move it only a few feet— they have to jump aboard and go along or they feel deprived.

Dogs smile. They really do. And if I want to make mine smile all I have to do is fire up our Rhino.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Weeds Have Ears

This morning as the dogs and I went out to the mailbox I noticed deer-ears in the tall weeds round the hay bales. She didn't move as we went out and then came back. I took the dogs in and got a camera and walked back. She was still there and showed no signs of alarm. I made a couple of frames and then left her in peace. Mulies are not like whitetails. There is no way a whitetail would have put up with having us within 35 yards like that. I was a little worried about her, thinking that maybe she was injured. I went out later in the day to find where she had been lying but could find so no evidence of injury, assuming there would have been some which isn't necessarily the case. Later still I saw a group of four at about 300 yards and they were handily sailing over a fence and heading for the mountain behind the house. If she was in that group she's doing fine.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blub! Blub! Blub!

That's the sound made when you rapidly flip a finger across your lips while blowing out. There should be one of those silly emoti-whatsits (maybe complete with sound) for that particular frustration-inspired emotion.

I've been doing a lot of that over the past week. New software for website building and a sortofa-kinda deadline will do that to you. But today I had a break-through of sorts and managed to get half a dozen check-pages up on my site in a blind folder so they aren't publicly available but can be evaluated for function and esthetics. A great relief.

I can only hope that things will go more smoothly from now on and that I can get the newly revised website up in a week or so.

If not, there will be a lot more blub-blub-blub going on around here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Oz: City on the Hill

While I was rambling about in NI I was driving along a lovely little country lane and came around a corner to find myself face to face with a Brit patrol on foot in full kit. They were, as is said, "heavily armed," but polite if hyper-wary. I had already been "covered" by the turret man of an armored car with his HMG and so was appropriately circumspect about the encounter. Hands in sight and all that.

A few miles down the road I came into a section that gave me a good view of one of the most notorious British "hillside fortresses" in NI. I don't know what the official army name for it was, but locally it was known simply as Mullaghmor.

I stopped my little car to look at it. They had removed all vegetation immediately below it and it gave the impression of a medieval castle with modern amenities such as a forest of aerials and what appeared to be radar dishes as well. Can't be sure about that.

Then, while I was glassing them with my little binocs I had the sudden icy realization that they were doing the same to me from those dark tinted windows so far above me. I snapped a quick picture (above) and drove on, gratefully unpursued by Flying Monkeys or armored Land Rovers.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

In the Occupied Counties

In '99 I was invited by the Brit government tourist authority to come to Northern Ireland to attend a series of travel development meetings. Hard to turn that one down as they were paying air both ways, hotel, and all expenses, including a train ticket to get me to Dublin for my next commitment. I had been considering developing a trip up into Occupied Ireland for some time and so the offer appealed me to me. I went.

But things weren't altogether smooth in the Six Counties at that time and since Americans tend to be pretty wimpy travelers I shelved the plans for trip development. Politics smoothed out a bit and the following year I decided the time was right and so planned a reccy trip up there again, right after one of my regular Irish (Republic) trips. I had a great time. The people were terrific, most of them, but there was a terrible tension in the air, despite the peace having held for a good while.

Unfortunately, the first night I was in Belfast I heard a dull roar that shook the windows in my room and I knew there would be no trip that year. The bombing started again. The next night a journalist was killed in Armagh and I knew there would be no use in planning a trip for that year.

But I stayed in the country and wandered around, as I like to do. The picture above was taken in South Armagh, an IRA stronghold and not a place to be spouting Brit sentiments, which I don't anyway. But it really brought home the tense, jittery mood of the place. The feel of NI was so different from the Republic. Edgy, fearful, dark.

To date I have not done a group trip to Occupied Ireland. But maybe someday.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Kids and dogs

Today I have spent hours combing through various large hard drives gathering images of Ireland for my website re-do. In the course of that rummaging I have found bits and pieces of text, often about animals. This one, from before my move to my current location, brought back some good memories of a dear friend who died summer before last. I'll have more to say about him at some point. Meanwhile, here's that other little piece...

The other day I was taking one of my dogs for a walk. About a mile from the house, as we passed a big playground at a park, a little boy of about eight came running up to us and asked if he could pet my dog. I said of course he could. My dog is a big fellow and very imposing looking. Most folks don't want much to do with him unless they get to know him, in which case they find out he's a creampuff and a lover. This little boy had no fear at all, even though the dog is big enough to look him right in the eye, and when I said he could pet him he dove in and gave the dog a big hug around the head. Normally I wouldn't advise that kind of behavior around any strange dog, especially not around such a big fellow. But I knew my dog and I knew it would be all right. Mr. Dog responded to the assault with an equally vicious and determined tongue-bath on the boy's face and neck. It was love at first sight. The kid said he had had a dog, but his dad had given it away because it was "too much trouble." They played for a while and the kid was thrilled when he discovered that my dog will sit, down, stay, stand, come, and heel on command. Poor dog! Nothing would do but the kid put him through his paces for the next few minutes. They both seemed to love it. But about that time we heard someone calling from the parking area and the kid said he had to go. As he ran off he turned back and yelled a goodbye to my dog-- but not to me!

Boys and dogs. What a combination!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spam! Spam! Spammety! Spam!

Many long years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we had not yet learned to hate and distrust every politician that drew breath, I was a callow youth in graduate school. Stipends were low and money was short. So I ate Spam. That...stuff...that comes in a can. The label on the can calls it "luncheon meat" and that seems to imply that it can be eaten cold. I may have been poor but I wasn't stupid, so I always cooked it up in a pan. Cooked it "well done" in fact. I did not then and do not now want to know exactly what is in the stuff, but "well done" certainly seemed to me to be the only way to go.

Time passed and money flowed somewhat more freely and the Days of Spam mercifully receded into memory. But then about a month ago I read an article reviewing some of the newer gourmet restaurants around the country. One creative young chef had begun to serve his discerning clientele, of all things, Spam. Sliced thin and grilled until crisp it was going over quite well apparently.

So when I next found myself in my usual grocery store I did something I once swore I would never do again: I put a can or two of Spam in my cart. (They even have flavors of the stuff now, like "Hickory Smoked.")

The secret to making Spam palatable, for me at least, is to slice it thin (no thicker than thick-cut bacon) and grill it on an iron skillet until it is crisp-- also like bacon. Then place it on a paper towel and blot the excess grease away. I almost refused to believe it: It was good. It was tasty, bacony, and not the least bit unpleasant. Savory, even. Oh, sure, it's not on the preferred list for a sensible diet, but as an occasional breakfast item I have done the unthinkable and started stocking it for the pantry. It has a shelf-life of a little over two years and that's a kind of bonus in these times I suppose.

So Spam is back on my pantry list after an absence of many years. I don't know whether that is a step forward or backward. Now I'm wondering how some crispy, crumbled bits would do in a spaghetti sauce...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My deer are back

My mulies are wanderers. They'll spend time here and then go walkabout for a couple of weeks. There are plenty of abandoned ranch-steads with trees and an infinite number of relatively sheltered south-facing hillsides for them to enjoy on sunny days. They seemed to hole-up on my place during most of the muzzleloader season and then just drifted off.

On the way to town the other day I saw two of the late fawns that had been on my place with their mom and a sibling (triplets) along the road, as if lost. I kind of worried about that family as I couldn't see hide nor hair of mom and the other baby.

But early this morning the whole extended family was back. As I came awake and looked out my bedroom window I could see them milling about out front. And there in the middle of the bunch was mom and the three babes. I say 'babes,' but they are probably about seventy-five or eighty pounds each now.

Nice to have them back for a few days before they get the wanderlust and go off to make their rounds again.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Great Spirit Smiles

68° today. Sun. No wind to speak of at all.

I spent the early morning in the office, toiling away at HTML and suchlike from 6 to 11. But the afternoon beckoned most beckoningly and I had to respond.

The pups and I walked, enjoyed the balmy respite, and played out front for a while. Then I put them in and walked the perimeter with my .257 Roberts, keeping an eye out for the 'ote that's been hanging around and leaving challenge-crap in various spots out back. No sightings to report, but wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't watching me the whole time.

Later I brought out the Kimber with the .22 conversion unit and punched some paper for the first time in a while. Wasn't too discouraged, considering all the off-time.

These days just bliss me out. I sat on the front porch steps for the longest time, Miss Mags tucked up under my legs like she likes to get, also watching the prairie and the sky. The sun baking us both. Getting cooler now as dusk approaches. It will be a glorious red sunset tonight, which I will not miss.

Life is good.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Vanishing Snow

Released myself from my self-imposed office confinement long enough to venture to town for a haircut, a burger, some diesel fuel, and a few rudimentary groceries. It was a brilliant day, in the low 50s, and with a bright sun bearing down.

The snow, which has had us in a hard grip for quite a while, has succumbed to the warmer temps and that wonderful sun. Pockets remain on the north slope of hills and will for a long time yet. But for now we can see grass, enjoy daylight 'til after 5PM, and hope for spring.

There'll be plenty more winter yet ahead, and more than enough snow to replace what we've lost, but it's nice to get a break.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sequestered & Bamboozled

The view from my bedroom in one of the houses I stay in when I am in Ireland.

For twenty years I have guided small groups of interested travelers to the west coast Gaeltachts (Irish-speaking regions) of Ireland where we explore the history, archeology, music, poetry, and the general culture of one of the world's oldest and most fascinating cultures.

When I moved to my present location I took a sabbatical from all that in order to settle myself in my new environment. Now I am turning to "Irish planning" once more, a big part of which involves reviving my moribund website which, to my shame, is way, way out of date. To do this I have purchased new web-design software and am now trying to learn how to use it. Why it has to be so complex I do not know, but it is what it is.

I have scheduled this whole week to shut myself in the office and get this project done! In the years I have been working with computers I have faced many "insoluble problems" which have all been ultimately solved with time and patience. This will be no different, but it sure is daunting to be faced with what seems to be an insurmountable obstacle. I always try to remind myself: This too shall pass.

And now, back to work.