Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Missed opportunities

A post about images without an image.

My bedroom window faces south. From my pillow I can look south-east and see the sunrise every morning. They are not always even interesting, but this morning there was the most amazing display of blueberry meringue and whipped cherry foam. Layers and twirled tubes and slabs of color that managed to be both intensely dense and delicately transparent at the same time. Yet still I lay abed and merely watched.

I'm used to missed opportunities when it comes to being behind the viewfinder. There have been so many! Alluring old buildings that cry out for the lens, are put off, and then torn down before a return engagement can be managed. People that need to be recorded that inconveniently die before the deed is done. The list goes on. Any photographer has such a list.

But I still didn't get up this morning, find a tripod, and venture out into the prairie cold to record blueberries and cherries. Lazy? Jaded? Unmotivated? None of those actually: just accustomed to passing opportunities and willing, this morning, to merely watch rather than participate more actively.

There never has been and never will be again another sunrise sky exactly like this morning's. Never. That is both the curse and blessing of landscape photography.

I can remember standing on a west-facing headland in Ireland, watching the sun move toward setting behind a cluster of islands. A little trawler, distant but perfectly backlit, moved from right to left in the sound between the mainland and the islands, returning to the harbor after a day's fishing. I was ready: 4x5 view camera leveled, framed, focused, locked down. Holder inserted, aperture adjusted, lens cocked, slide drawn. The perfect moment appeared. Click! But wait— this next one is better. Remove and reverse holder, cock shutter, draw slide. Click! I had four holders and went though all four as the trawler slowly chugged across the frame. Each better than the last, so I thought.

Of course, the ultimate flash of light, the perfect position of cloud, trawler, and wave came after the slide had been replaced on the exposed sheet in holder number four. That one, that missed one, could only be enjoyed, not recorded. My take from that encounter was excellent. But not perfect. Is there, in fact, ever a perfect one?

Sometimes we "miss" through inactivity, and sometimes through too much of it. Such is the life of a landscape photographer. The trick is having no regrets. Or at least very small ones.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pokin' up through

Melt. Freeze. Melt. Freeze. Seems to be the prairie winter two-step. Since Christmas we've had days in the 50's and days at -20. The vagaries of the High Plains are legendary and it doesn't matter what time of the year it is. When that sun peaks through on a south-facing slope it doesn't take long for ground to show. On the other hand, drifts on a north facing hillside can last well into June.

If you like variety in your weather menu then the High Plains is the place for you!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

They always know!

A package arrived the other day. I put it on the floor for the dogs to check out because I knew what it contained: a big supply of smoked cow hooves. Needless to say, they were very interested in that box.

They always, without fail, know when a package has something in it for them. And they get very enthusiastic when the UPS or FedEx truck rumbles over the auto-gate. Every package coming into the house has to go through Doggie Customs!

Dogs pretty much live in their noses. We have about six million smell-receptors, and dogs have 200 to 400-million. A smell-contest wouldn't be a fair fight.

I have no doubt that, if I hadn't retrieved the package and opened it up for them, they would have opened it themselves.

And who could have blamed them?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Oh, Jack!

Just the other day Jack had an "accident."

I noticed a fine spray of droplets on the carpet in the hall that lead to some more in the office. There was a minor spot, with lots of the same sprinkled drops at the door. Jack!

My approach to doggie discipline consists of a stern lecture, delivered with great exaggeration and much hand-wringing about how disappointed and betrayed I feel. I don't believe in physical punishment except where intra-sibling violence is involved. Anyway, I let him out quickly so he could "finish" with his little problem.

It was my fault, as such accidents usually are. He has been sterling about letting me know when he needs to go out and I think I got involved in something and failed to take his hints. From the sprinkle-patterns he had obviously been trying to hold it. But it would have been counter-productive to give him a pass on such a thing, even if it was my fault.

For quite a while he refused to come into the office. He would tip-toe down the hall and peer in as if to see if I were still mad at him but he wouldn't come in. I let it simmer for a while and then forgave him. He was very relieved. Of all the male puppies I have had, Jack is probably more concerned with what I think of him than any of the others have been at the age of six months. Part of that, I think, is a result of how early he came to live with us.

Plateaus, as I call them, are common with young dogs in my experience. They will be going along just fine and then they will have a relapse. Usually just one. As if they are testing whether what they think they understand is really what they should be doing. Seems to be a natural process in doggie brain development as I have observed the phenomenon is every dog I have lived with.

[Note: Jack is wearing his Tri-Tronics radio collar. I use it for field training and want him to become accustomed to wearing it before it is put in use. For weeks now he has been wearing it most of the day. When I put it on him in the morning, he gets a cookie. He has come to relish putting it on, rushing up and sitting as soon as I pick it up. I don't want him to associate the collar with the training regimen once it gets started. I think he believes it's his own special jewelry!]


My friends in Ireland have been sending me pictures of their recent "snow event." It very rarely snows in SW Ireland and when it does it lasts a very short time, hours usually. But this time they had closed roads, cars abandoned as well as wrecked, and the whole infrastructure discombulated in the extreme. But they treated it as a great adventure and got through it in good form.

They find it hard to believe that the High Plains faces an annual temperature range of from -30° to 110° F. Their usual range is something like 40° to 72°. But there is no Gulf Stream on the prairie.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Great Treat

O, the variable prairie!

After -20° yesterday morning, it gave us 52° this afternoon. The pups were overjoyed. We took a nice long walk and Mags even went along. She does not like really cold weather and doesn't like walking through lots of snow and ice. But it was downright balmy today and there were plenty enough clear-ground spots to keep her happy. I was even able to gather some kindling from under the cottonwoods and pull some wood out of the main woodpile to dry up on the deck.

Emma and Jack "hunted" the brushy fenceline behind the house, smiling all the time. The really cold, restrictive weather is hard on them but they are being much better about it than I have any right to expect.

A very pleasant afternoon all in all.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011



This is what we look like out here on 11 January 2011.

It was cold this morning, -4°, but not nearly as cold as it has been. We've had -12° with W/Cs into the -40s. That's cold. My mailbox is 70 yards from the house and on such a day the roundtrip brings on the distinctive tingle of incipient frostbite on exposed parts, of which there should be none.

If we ever get enough snow to cover over all the little sprigs of weeds and leave no bare ground whatsoever showing, then we are in big trouble. With the way the wind scours the country such a snow would mean twenty foot drifts. And a very long wait for mail or a trip to town.

There has been no such calamity for years. Back at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries they were fairly common. People could get fatally lost in white-out snowstorms, to be found later just a few yards from their house.

The appeal of this country to human beings is strange, and possibly even perverse as well.

"Please, sir— may I have some more?"

Jack likes to bring me Maggie's bowl after they are finished eating. I don't think he's really asking for more, since it's not his bowl. I think it's just a neat trick that he likes to show off. I take it and thank him, and that seems to satisfy him.

With all the other stuff he likes to bring me I'm thinking it could mean that I may have a retrieving pointer on my hands. I'm hoping.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Speed Goats

I encountered these citizens on a recent trip to town. This is the time of year they start to bunch up. Individual groups will gather together and I have seen as many as two-hundred in a single mob. They also seem a little less skittish as winter really sets in. Unlike deer, antelope don't seem comfortable around human habitations. So while I can have twenty or thirty mulies in the front yard I have never had an antelope come across the fence into the compound. But I almost never go to town without seeing several. And sometimes a great many of them.

Are we there yet?

No, children, we aren't to spring yet. Not for a while yet.

I knew when I got Jack at the very end of July, that he would be six months old at the end of December, and that I was most likely looking at the Winter from Hell. Being more or less confined over a long winter with a robust, healthy, energetic male Shorthair puppy is not a recipe for peace and sanity unless you're either Gandhi or totally comatose.

But the lad is surprising me. (A little!) I knock on wood as I write this, but he seems to be housebroken at this point. Actually comes to me and then runs to the door to go out. And he is learning about manners and protocols, becoming a wee bit less the Visigoth almost every day. At this point he is almost a semi-civilized Gaul.

Of course, he has his moments. LIke, enjoying picking up the water bowl and throwing the contents all over the floor. (SOLUTION: Never put more water in the bowl than needed at the time.) Or ripping the guts out of any dog bed he sees. (SOLUTION: Keep him away from Mags and Em's beds and give him a folded, hard, acrylic blanket in his crate.) Or raiding trash cans. (SOLUTION: Keep bathroom doors closed and put mousetraps on the lids of other cans.) Adapt and overcome!

It's actually not nearly as bad as I feared it might be. All in all, he's a pretty nice guy.

But he's bored.

Happy New Year!

I can't believe it's been almost a month since I've posted anything here. No excuse.

Anyway, I'll try to catch up a bit today. It's not like there's been anything earth-shaking going on: just a pretty typical (if late) High Plains winter. The dogs are afflicted with a low-grade cabin fever, but I can't do anything about that but get them out for a run whenever the weather allows. Doggy feet get frostbite, too.

So I'll try to put a few things up today so I don't feel like a total goof-off.