Saturday, November 8, 2008

Simple Things

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I wouldn’t mind having a great deal of money to spend on luxuries—mostly the portion I spent on myself would go to camera equipment, but I find great pleasure in simple things. Long ago, The Husband learned that when we took walks together, we often came home with bundles of fascinating twigs, pieces of bark dropped by the trail, berries, grasses, interesting rocks, bouquets of “weeds”, or pine cones.

Did you know that unused file cabinet drawers make excellent storage places for dozens and dozens of pine cones? Yes. It’s the perfect solution when you run out of baskets or space on the mantel. To The Husband’s bewilderment, I probably have one of the finest collections of pine cones on the west coast. You just never know when you will want another and different size pine cone to add to a display.

Our latest collectible item is feathers. With all the beautiful hawks and a number of other birds here, it’s no surprise that we sometimes find a feather near the trail. The Husband, is always the one who spots the prize and, for my tastes, the gift ranks right up there with those pricey roses.

Recently, I mentioned that some days I may be just innocently passing through a room on my way to take care of some honorable chore—you know taking care of business, and bam! Suddenly, I’m reaching for a camera because the light is sweet—or just because I have found such pleasure in one of the simple things in our home, and for no real reason I want to record what I see.

Simple things for simple minds, I suppose.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Big Sky Country

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I love seeing a great expanse of sky—blue sky, purple sky, pink sky, yellow sky, cloudy sky, rainy sky, starry sky, dark sky, bright sky, even gray sky—any type of sky. The first time I visited New York City—having traveled there from central Texas where the horizons are low, low, low—I felt imprisoned in those canyons of skyscrapers. I couldn’t imagine how humans could survive, much less thrive, when they could see only occasional glimpses of a postage stamp-sized sky.

Now I have discovered photography and when I review any two or three folders of my pictures, I am reminded that I will never outgrow my fondness for big open skies stretching over me. One of the major reasons that I am confident of making a happy transition to life in Bear Valley Springs is the abundance of sky.

I enjoyed learning that when the Bear Valley Springs development was first set up as a vacation retreat in the 1970’s, the first choice for a name was, Big Sky. Unfortunately, before that was made official, Montana was given its nickname and that’s how we came to be Bear Valley Springs. As much as I would love to have a wonderful trophy shot of one of California’s brown bears, I haven’t seen any bears here. And, that’s just dandy with me. But, on a daily basis, I look up at the vast sky stretching from low horizon to low horizon and I drink in the beauty of it.

Undoubtedly, my blog will be regularly punctuated with pictures of big sky.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Feathering My Nest

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For the last few days, I have had to spend portions of each day being Susie Homemaker. This has put a serious crimp in my photography time, but those boxes don't seem to be motivated to unpack themselves. Soon those stacks of full boxes will progress from being mildly embarrassing to humiliating.

Furthermore, the mess of cardboard boxes reminds me of the chaos in my photography work flow. I am coming to grips with the desperate need for improvement in that department. Because I get interested in a couple of new shots, I rush past all the steps I know I should follow. Sometimes I don't batch rename, but plunge into processing one shot that offers some promise. Most often, before I come close to naming, ranking, keywording, and backing up a shoot I have grabbed that card again to rush outside for a few more shots. It doesn't take long for that to produce a real tangle of unmarked shots that will be nearly impossible to find later.

Between the chaos in my file system and the cardboard boxes, I have a great deal of clean-up work ahead of me. But, then today while in the midst of organizing a section of files, I made a trip to the kitchen for a glass of water and lo, and behold, before I knew what hit me, I had a camera in my hand. I hope I'm not going to need an exorcism for these demons that take over my body!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Kreativ Blogger Award

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The latest talk in the corner of the blogosphere that I frequent is The Kreativ Blogger Award. Andreas Manessinger offers a description of the award and the spirit in which it is passed along. If you haven't already, visit Andreas' site. Be prepared to be stunned by his beautiful work.

Late Tuesday, I learned that Paul Lester has passed the torch to six more bloggers, including yours truly.
I am honored and delighted.

Now, it’s my turn to list six things that make me happy and then list six bloggers who deserve the award. What? Only six things that make me happy?
Okay, here are six of the many things:

- My husband’s smile.

- Learning something new.

- Watching the light of discovery go on in someone else's eyes.

- Sunrises and sunsets. (That only counts as one. Really, check the rules.)

- Long walks with lots of stops for taking pictures.

- Being the first one up in the morning and enjoying the solitude.

This is tough, because I just got started and I didn’t get to list: sunshine, finding a new friend, the sight of a horse running free, the feel of dog’s tongue when it licks your face, watching and listening to the Kern River tumbling down from the mountains, the comfort of my home with all my flea market treasures in place, or even the taste of chocolate. Oh, well.

Listing six bloggers who deserve special recognition was even trickier. First of all, Paul Lester has already listed many of my favorites and I can’t just copy his list. Besides, there are more names I would add. I don’t always leave comments at these blogs, but I aim to be better in the future. Because I am such a newbie at all this, I am regularly awed by the amount of time people are willing to spend sharing with others as well as the sheer volume of information and guidance made available. Sometimes, I still shake my head in wonder.

- Doug Stockdale at Singular Images. I began following Doug’s blog soon after I started blogging and have marveled at his productivity and evolution. He supplies information, inspiration, and personal reflection.

- Laurie Jackson at Capture This.
Laurie’s site has long been a favorite of mine. Her photos are gorgeous and full of all the feeling she has for her family and the world she sees.

- Niels Henriksen, My Camera World. Niels provides detailed posts packed with ideas and inspiration. His occasional travel photographs alone are a reason to stop by.

- Beau Harbin’s blog at Beau Harbin Photography.
I am enjoying following Beau’s journey and watching his photography grow. Meanwhile, his style has an ease and a wonderful down-home feeling that is irresistible to me. It’s obvious that he photographs with his heart.

- Mark S Johnson, recently of Radiant Vista, deserves kudos for his amazing output of information-packed tutorials. His CS3 tutorials saved my sanity.

- Sean McCormick at Neutral Hills Still will probably send me hate mail for putting him on this list. He is taking a short break at the moment to recover from some surgery and probably won’t be able to participate. Still, I couldn’t omit Sean. His blunt and passionate writing (occasional though it may be) fires me up, and his photographs are breathtaking.

It may not be within the spirit of the rules, but I have to list some folks that have already been named. (I am not certain whether the idea is to broaden the scope of the list and keep adding new recipients.) All these people are Kreativ Bloggers who have greatly influenced me and provide daily inspiration as well as guidance.

- Paul Lester (There is a reason his name keeps coming up on these lists.) When I spend time at Paul's site, I always feel as if I have sat down on a park bench beside him for a nice chat. And, after the visit, I'm a little wiser and I feel better about my day.

- Gordon McGregor Don’t let the sparse posts recently fool you. Gordon is normally prolific—sharing inspiration and information. I miss him when he’s quiet.

- Amy Sakurai defies a brutal schedule to create engaging work, delivered with an openness about the role of photography in her life.

- Mark Graf doesn’t post often enough for me, but that’s only because I enjoy so much everything he does post.

- Colin Jago is so smart he intimidates me a bit. Sometimes, I read his posts and it takes a while for my head to stop spinning. Still, early on—when I first discovered blogging, I devoured every word I could find on his site.

- Paul Butzi is, well, Paul Butzi. Paul’s site was the gateway, for me, to the blogosphere. Somehow, by incredible good fortune, I stumbled onto his site near the start, and a whole new world opened. I found many of the bloggers listed above through his site and still need my dose of Paul B. each day. His passion, knowledge, creativity, honesty, talent, and occasional delicious crankiness are all a source of joy. Besides, he brought us SoFoBoMo.

Thanks to all these creative and generous people, I learn something every day; and, I am constantly reminded that there are kind-hearted, creative, passionate people all over the world facing the same challenges and disappointments that we all confront.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Shooting More – Posting Less

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We are up here in the clouds today. It’s cold, windy, and—for much of the morning—visibility has been only a memory.

Many photographers thrive on rainy days and can’t wait to get out and about with their cameras. I tend to get reflective. That has always been my pattern. I’m sure it has to do with having lived, all my life, in sunny climes with long stretches of rain being an anomaly, rather than the norm. Raindrops on my window pane make me want to sit quietly—maybe with a hot drink, to contemplate the light filtering through the water while allowing my mind to wander aimlessly about—picking up and discarding random threads of thought that meander into focus.

This morning I have been thinking about where I am with photography (as well as the election—well, who hasn’t been thinking about the latter.) Lately, I have been taking more pictures than I ever have. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t have my camera out and working, and could post a photo-a-day with only rare lapses. Yet, I am posting a smaller and smaller percentage of my shots. It’s partly about distractions and finding time to put up posts, but mostly it’s about my dissatisfaction with what I produce. Yes, I am slowly improving technically. I have fewer shots that are woefully under or over-exposed. My horizon lines are more consistently straight. Even though my progress is slow and frustrating, I see some small improvement in compositions. The problem is that my technical skills grow at a pace that lags woefully behind that of my ambitions. Shots that I would have happily posted even six months ago dishearten me now.

My choice is to continue posting images that I am not happy with, because I refuse to give myself permission to hide and wait, until I am ready before I post my photos. I know well that dark side of my nature—the part of me that wants to wait until I have something that I'm proud of, before I make it public. From the beginning, the reason for this blog was to thwart that dark side. Posting in spite of my disappointments with what I have shot is a form of discipline for me. It motivates me to take a closer look at the shots I take and short-circuits the impulse to dump the entire card in disgust and disappointment. Looking at the shots and forcing myself to choose the best of the sorry lot encourages me to acknowledge my small steps forward and that motivates me to keep trying.

Fortunately for me, while my resolve to persevere waivers, it shows no signs of a full breakdown. Continuing to post pictures that clearly reveal my work-in-progress standing is making me stronger.

Comfort Brownies

No, I am not harking back to the care-free days of Kodak Brownies along with freedom from Adobe programs, color-management nightmares, un-calibrated monitors, and the release (every six months—or so it seems) of new cameras designed to produce irresistible gear-lust.

For way too many hours, we were without Internet service, and this development got me concerned about my addiction. I felt completely lost—being out of touch. It got so bad I baked a batch of gluten-free brownies. One needs some sort of comfort when enduring such dire circumstances.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Kid and Me

While I am not at all sad and feel quite optimistic about the big change that The Husband and I have made, saying the last goodbye to our house in Los Angeles brought twinges of nostalgia for the past. To further complicate matters, Paul Lester recently posted a photo that captures beautifully the relationship between a man and his dog. The photo started me missing animals I have loved. That twinge of nostalgia brought to mind other stories I haven't told.

Someday I may tell you about Kid Karrouf, the beautiful gray Arabian gelding I owned years ago. (That old photo above is the Kid, as you have probably guessed.) Perhaps I will tell you how he floated over the ground in long, beautiful strides and how he did flying lead changes that could take your breath away. (It might take some time to explain flying lead changes, but for now trust me—it’s an impressive feat when executed flawlessly.)

There are many stories about Rufus, as he was nicknamed by one of his previous owners. (On the strange coincidence front, Rufus happened to be the name of my first sort-of serious boyfriend—at least I thought it was sort of serious when I was seven! Rufus, the boyfriend that is, gave me beautiful statues of horses because he knew the way straight to my heart. Moreover, while we are on strange coincidences, the previous owner who gave Karrouf his nickname was, like me, named, Anita. Life is full of oddities like that.)

And when I tell you some of those stories, I will most certainly include a few about the horse who loved to leap sideways while traveling down the trail. One second Karrouf would be directly under you, trotting easily, and the next second he was a couple of feet to the left—or the right. There was no predicting which. And, how he loved doing 180 degree spins. Once in a while—rarely, but still...he would buck—a small buck, but still a buck—just because it felt so darned good. Believe me when I tell you these are not desirable in a steady mount. You didn't dare let your mind wander when you rode Rufus, because he frequently checked to make certain you were paying attention. Much of the time, he was a rock. But, he was full of energy and surprises. You never got bored riding Kid Karrouf.

I rode once in a very small local horse show (Karrouf was show material—I wasn’t), and when a jumbo paper cup blew into the ring and headed straight for the horse that some days loved to spook at his own shadow, my heart leaped into my mouth. I prepared for the volcanic eruption. My show career was about to end and it hadn't even begun. Karrouf didn't even flick an ear. I was certain he had suddenly been struck blind. The truth was simple. Rufus was at work, you see, and he understood that show business was serious business.

Once after a long rainy spell had finally ended—a spell that included several days of mostly sheets of rain and acres of mud, with no blue skies for days, the sun returned and the husband and I took advantage of an opportunity to spend quality time on our horses. Finally, a wonderful evening for riding in the hills. We took off from the stable on a long route, one that took us over a seldom-traveled fire road that was ideal for an exhilarating gallop. Karrouf loved stretching out to run. And, for me, sitting atop eight hundred pounds of muscle, thundering along on a hillside trail with the wind in my face and the sound of four hooves pounding the dirt was most of my childhood fantasies rolled into a handful of glorious moments. After the excitement, we walked a while, then trotted briskly—relishing the freedom and companionship. It was a picture-perfect ride, until we came to some rough terrain.

The ground was uneven—drop offs galore and boulders everywhere. At that juncture, I wasn't excited about The Husband's choice for our route. Still, I didn't want to be a girl about it, so I didn't say a word. But after a few yards, I dismounted to lead my horse through a particularly ugly patch. It seemed like a good idea, at the time. Unfortunately, I forgot to allow for the interaction between my leather-soled boots and wet, muddy boulders. I slipped. I fell. I landed under my horse. I yelped in pain. I felt like a fool. I tried to get out from under Karrouf (looking straight up at a horse's belly was not high on my list of favorite viewpoints) and discovered that, sure enough, not everything was working properly.

Meanwhile, Karrouf stood like a rock. I screamed at the top of my lungs to The Husband, who was, by then, quite a bit ahead of us—having been smart enough to trust his horse to get him over the rough footing. “The Rock” remained steady, in spite of being splayed out awkwardly with his front legs a good foot higher than his hind legs and a moaning human under his belly. Horses are not fond of this sort of arrangement. A horse normally gravitates toward solid, even footing. And, mostly, horses are not crazy about having a human lying on the ground beneath them—especially if said human is alternating peculiar groaning sounds with urgent shrieks for help. Typically, in that situation, horses prefer to move aside, perhaps look for something to eat, or, at worst, head for home without you. An unwelcome image flashed through my mind: Karrouf leaping forward, going for level ground, and my head directly in line with a back hoof. I tried to wriggle from under him to get on my feet, but couldn’t seem to make any progress. The boulders beneath me were treacherously slippery. Besides, the pain only diminished when I was very, very still.

Eventually, The Husband heard the cries for help, returned, and began helping me to get out from under my horse—and vertical. The part that wasn’t working was my right shoulder. It had obviously been the landing point when I fell. Sure enough, in the collision between shoulder and boulder, the boulder was the clear winner. The shoulder had snapped. As the sun was setting, The Husband succeeded in extricating me (I'm afraid I was little, if any, help), and next we set about getting me up on my horse. I just wasn't up for hiking back—the stable was much too far away. Besides, by then, I wanted no part of my leather-soled boots and those rocks that seemed now to stretch forever before me. We had to get me in that saddle.

Now I am not a big person, but hoisting a one-armed woman up to a horse's back isn't easy. I had little experience accomplishing the task with one arm dangling, useless beside me. While The Husband did the pushing and lifting, I did as much as I could with one leg in the stirrup and one on the ground, but neither leg seemed to be functioning up to par. Meanwhile, throughout all the grunting and false starts made to get me high enough to throw the right leg over my horse's back, Karrouf, The Rock, remained fixed to his uneven perch—his shoulders uphill, haunches below. So far, so good. No dancing, no flinching, no looking for a level spot. He was a statue.

Finally, The Husband and I got me in position, and I was in the saddle. We headed home as the the light faded from the sky. I was aware of every step as the two bones that had moments before formed a working shoulder rubbed against one another. It crossed my mind that as I sat on the gray Arabian who loved to scare himself with tales of monsters lurking along the trail at night, it was quickly getting quite dark and chilly, besides. Through a kind of fog, as shock began to set in, I wondered if I could stay on should Karrouf spook at a shadow—just to see if I was paying attention. Since I rode an English saddle, there was no saddle horn to grab with the one working hand and by then my legs had turned to jelly. I had no option but to trust my horse.

So, we made our way with The Husband in the lead, frequently throwing encouragement over his shoulder. I sat perched atop my horse, shivering and gritting my teeth, while the reins hung loose. As the darkness closed in on the moonless night, I must have been more like a sack of potatoes on Karrouf's back than a rider. When our dismal little parade came to the first stand of trees alongside the trail, I mentally braced. You may not know what my Arabian knew, but he was well aware that vampires loooove hiding among the branches of trees. I think I muttered something to him through chattering teeth, and without one muscle in his back so much as twitching, The Rock, who had become mobile immediately upon command to move, plodded on. Steadily and sure-footedly, he strode past those trees and dozens more during the mile or two home. There were no vampire tales that night. Kid Karrouf was at work.