Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The race is on!

Our plentiful spring moisture has brought with it an explosion of weed and grass growth here on the High Plains. Weeds and grasses apparently disagree about the region being "desolate and inhospitable." As a photographer I like weeds— their variety, their colors, their beautiful shapes. As a gardener (even of a very minor sort) I consider them my enemies and spend more time than I would wish assassinating them with every means at my disposal.

But that's just part of the life here. As is the onslaught of the 'hoppers, which haven't yet made their appearance. Something else to look forward to in the struggle to get a few peppers and tomatoes out of the ground.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Immersed in time

One of my greatest pleasures in Ireland, as I have already mentioned here, is to walk into the many ruins of very early monastic settlements. The area is just full of them, some of them reputed to be pre-Patrician. (It is a myth that Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland. There was already a sizable Christian community here when he arrived, around 432AD.)

Most of these sites simply sit isolated in farmers' fields. Left as if the inhabitants had gone off for a visit and never returned. Some are merely scattered stones. Others show the remnants of buildings: primitive churches called oratories, hut sites, and always, always, the graveyards.

Headstones, of course, were not used. But the sites are most usually marked by a collection of white quartz stones. Sometimes, as pictured above, they will be marked by an imposing cross-stone which is most probably adorning the resting place of an important abbot or perhaps the original founder of the site.

Of all the many aspects of these sites, the thing I value most about them is their solitary nature, their aloneness. In all the years I have been visiting them, and adding more to the list of favorites, I have never seen anyone else visit them. Never had to share them. Tourists never come, which is a good thing. They probably wouldn't enjoy them that much. Just a pile of old rocks. And hard to find. That's the best part: they are hard to find. But once found they give back, in special ways.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Renewing an old friendship

For a project I am working on I needed to be able to digitize 20-year-old 4x5 negatives and transparencies made with a view camera. The available gear is catching up to the needs of photo-workers who don't care to sink $50,000 into a drum scanner, and I finally found a flatbed scanner that will give me what I need from my old large-format negatives. It's not the ne plus ultra, but I am sufficiently impressed to be happy to have it in my tool-kit.

The photo above is a much reduced web version of a scan from a 4x5 transparency. The original scan file, of about 8x10" size is over 30Mb. Definitely not for blogs!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dogs that look up

I just recently became aware that there was a controversy (minor to be sure) about whether or not dogs can look up. Silly. Of course they can look up. Who asked that question anyway? Obviously someone who doesn't know beans about dogs.

But there is a kernel of interest in the question. It may have originated in the observation that dogs seldom look up, and some may never do it at all. I have always felt that looking up was a sign of intelligence in a dog. It's also a matter of expectation: A squirrel dog relies on his nose but he also uses his eyes to scan limbs. The picture above is Jack watching some blackbirds fly over him. Murphy, my gone-but-not-forgotten Rottie, used to watch contrails.

Of course, he was the contemplative sort and would have snorted in derision if any of the clueless had asked him "Do you dogs ever look up?"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Real power!

What's real power? Krugerrands buried under the henhouse? Microsoft stock? A friend in Congress?

Nope. It's wood left over from winter, all cut up and ready for next winter.

Be-withs and Maybe-laters

Jack is a Be-with. If I leave the room he has to get up and come along. If I go to the door to the outside, front or back, he's right there with a "Where we going now?" look on his face. If I go to the truck to get something he wants me to open the door to the doggie section so he can get in. When I'm finished with what I am doing, maybe in only two minutes or less, he is happy to get out and go to our next destination with me.

Maggie, on the other hand, is a Maybe-later. If I leave the room (unless it is approaching eaty-time) she will stay wherever she is, thankyouverymuch. Usually that's on the couch in the front room. If I go to the front door and ask her if she wants to go out I will most often get a "Maybe later" and if I am lucky a yawn will go along with that.

Emma is an opportunistic blend of the two. She has an uncanny sense of when I am going to do "something interesting," like go out for a walk or go to the shop for some more or less mundane project or errand and give her some mouse-hunting time. She picks and chooses, according to her whim and interest of the moment. Coat, hat, gun will always get her immediate and enthusiastic attention, but she will flat refuse to go out if it's raining. Fortunately she has an excellent bladder.

The one thing they are all Be-withs for is the Rhino, our UTV. If it's parked out front and it looks like that's where I'm headed then all three will be standing expectantly at the front door. If I go to the shop without them to fire it up and pull it around front, I will hear the chorus of frantic "Eee-eee-eees!" and see the noses pressed up against the glass of the front storm door or the window over the couch. (I'm a major consumer of Windex.) If I open the door the Be-withs are in it in a half second and there is nothing I can do but take them for a spin, however brief. No Maybe-laters in this crowd!

Monday, May 23, 2011

And the beat goes on...

"Neighbors" out here is a relative term. I have some I consider neighbors that live 60 miles away. We are already pretty darn sparse and in the last six months I have lost three families of them. The most distant one was about 12 miles away, the closest about 4 miles.

That's the theme out here: Folks sell out and leave and the Big Boys keep getting bigger and bigger. The end result though is yet another homestead empty and rotting and no more kids playing in the yard.

The house in the picture above has been vacant a long, long time. No barn? No outbuildings? No. Once a place is abandoned those are bought up and moved. So we have a lot of just plain isolated houses sitting forlornly on the prairie and waiting for... nothing at all. I guess it's called progress.

Plenty of rain

I came home to a very wet prairie and the rain has kept up over the last few days. In a lull on Friday and Saturday I did manage to mow the hayfield that my front so-called yard had become in my absence. But we are still forecast for rain almost every day until the end of the week. The wetland to the east is as full as I have ever seen it.

Ranchers are happy about the moisture, and the good grass that is all around us now. If the season emulates the last couple of years, the rains will taper off into June and by mid-July we will back in a dry season.

Meanwhile, the High Plains may not have "forty shades of green," but at least a dozen or so.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Reunion

I was asked about the reunion with my doggies on my return from three weeks in Ireland.

Jack was the first one I picked up. He was at bird-dog school. When I arrived the trainer had him ready to go in the special dog trailer he uses to take dogs to hunting and training venues. When he let him out Jack gave me a very brief acknowledgment and immediately began to check out nearby brush and hedgerows. Not a very heart-warming response. But after a few minutes he came back to the truck and let me know he really, really wanted to get in. I opened the rear door (it's a crew-cab with the rear seats kept flat) and he flew in with a big smile. (Yes, dogs smile. They really do.) I leaned in to remove a couple of items in his way and he gave me a barrage of enthusiastically slurpy kisses. I felt better.

Two hundred miles north was the ranch where Emma (GSP #1) and Mags (Boston Terrier) were staying with friends. This was a different story entirely. They were inside when I arrived and when the wife opened the door they were all over me. Emma began her high-pitched "Eee-eee-eee!" song, which she also uses when she sees a pheasant or grouse in the yard. She also did her best to climb up on my shoulders while washing my face at the same time.

Meanwhile, Maggie was doing her jumpy-thing. She throws herself straight up into the air and can just about reach chest height on me. She wanted me to pick her up and when I did she gave me another face washing. This was more like it. I let Jack out of the truck and the three of them had their own little reunion which they apparently found completely satisfactory. That they like each other as much as they do is very pleasing to me.

Dogs are adaptable. They do what they have to do, but they have definite preferences. They got good care at both places, but they made their preferences very plain. Emma was almost frantic to get into the truck and Mags was right behind her.

Sixty miles later we pulled onto our buffalo path that we humorously call a "road" and all three woke up from their travel-naps and wanted me to roll down the rear windows so they could do some big-time sniffing and savoring s we got closer and closer to the home-place.

I pulled the truck up close to the front deck to unload all the various and sundries and let them out. The GSPs dashed off to check out the place, the brush-piles, the perimeter, and all the other spots that are special to them. What did Mags want? She wanted in the house, where she immediately went to the couch by the front window and did a long series of her silly little headstands, reveling in... home.

That first night home they slept from 8 PM to 9 AM the next morning. I had to wake them up and practically throw them out the door to do their morning bizness. I gave them a snack when they came back in and they promptly returned to bed for another three hour snooze.

They are home. They are happy. Me, too.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Coming home

As I made my way along on my 460-mile "collection route" to gather up my pups after my three-week sojourn in Ireland I found myself in weather that out-Irished the Ould Sod! Low, clinging clouds, temps in the mid-40s (F), intermittent showers from "soft" to violent. Had I been asleep with someone else driving and they woke me to tell me we were in the wilds of deepest Connemara I would have believed them for a few seconds. The illusion was shattered however when passing thru a hamlet with a tall, be-Stetsoned figure complete with spurred tall-boys, chaps, and a friendly wave.

It's good to be home. Good to be back with the dawgz again. It's all good.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Another new chum...

The other day I walked into a remote medieval monastic site and as I passed a farmhouse this fella jumped the fence and came along with me. Actually showed me the best path up to the place. I just happened to have some dog biscuits back at the car so he got his reward on the way back, then jumped the fence again and went home. I think I'll leave the trousers I was wearing unwashed to give my dogs back home a treat.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My new friend

Meet "#32." I'm sure she has another name but she didn't tell me what it was. Very occasionally you will come upon a former "bottle baby" in a flock of sheep. While the others are fleeing like the almost wild animals they are, a bottle-fed orphan will seek you out and follow you around. This one kept me company for quite a while, traipsing along with me like a dog. Unfortunately, all I had to give her was a few pats on the head.

A dirty job...

...but someone has to do it!

I've been spending most of my days here tracking down some old haunts from years past: thousand-year-old monastic ruins. Most of them lie in farmer's fields and These are the places that tourists never get to see because for the most part their "guides" don't even know they are there. They are silent and solitary reminders of a long-dead past.

But help is at hand!

But seriously, in Ireland you are never very far from a friendly pub. And on a nippy, wet afternoon it's very likely to have a turf fire in the fireplace. A quiet pint and a pleasantly fragrant peat fire is the perfect solace for a "soft day" afield.

The weather is "variable"...

I've been here two weeks now with another week to go. As they like to say here the weather has been "variable." This means it can be like the picture above or it can be lashing rain and pushing a gale above Force 6. But, of course, that's part of the charm of western Ireland. That's the story anyway.