Who spiked my punch?

It’s December 22nd, and I’m still buying and wrapping presents and trying to find the stockings to hang by the chimney with care.

I feel a little like this:

possibly the home of Clark Griswold’s other cousin?

There’s so much going on, just where do you focus?

And after periods of trying to whittle down my holiday to-do list, I … crash. Sort of like this:

Christmas afternoon 2009: Rex, at 14 weeks old, was a Christmas present

Only today it’s me instead of Betsy on the couch, and Rex now wears an ugly Christmas sweater. It’s the only thing he’ll wear. Ever.

When things get a little out of sorts for me, I often look to nature and/or photographs I took in New Mexico, particularly those showing the seasonal migration of sandhill cranes to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

In doing that this week, something occurred to me. I’ve never shown you images of these amazing birds in flight! And I have hundreds, maybe thousands, of them!

So here’s one of my favorite bird-in-flight images.

seasonal migration of Sandhill Cranes to New Mexico

Do you know what’s so great about this photograph? It’s that the birds separated out for me. That’s what you want when photographing flying birds. You don’t want them to overlap. Well, there’s that and a pleasing flight pattern. It really can be quite challenging …

Well, I really should get back to my to-do list. Thank you for following my blog.

Oh, and I almost forgot, from me and all those gentle giants out there in New Mexico, Season’s Greetings everyone!!!

when that inner voice might just be a “Godwink”

Let’s be clear.  I am neither a bird watcher nor a bird photographer but …

In December 2015 I went with the American Nature Photography Workshops to Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico to photograph the annual winter migration of sandhill cranes, snow geese, and other water fowl.

I got some nice photographs from the workshop

 

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yet my general takeaway was that this kind of bird photography, at least with the equipment I brought, is kind of difficult.  Aside from the technical challenges of shooting flying birds very far away in low light, it’s not like you can say, “hey birds, would you mind separating a bit more in your flight so you don’t overlap with one another?”  You just have to take what you get and hope for the best.

I stayed in the area an extra day after the workshop ended and returned to Bosque the next afternoon to photograph a cool tree we had driven by. That tree just happened to be close to a bird viewing platform.

Our workshop leaders had done an excellent job in scouting the birds’ favorite places and behaviors before we arrived.  It’s just that the birds didn’t always cooperate.  I remember standing in the dark one very early morning waiting to capture the epic lift off and landing at sunrise.  We knew exactly when and where the takeoff should occur and we were ready, but I don’t know … we saw a lot of birds flying far in the distance in front of us, but the whole thing just didn’t really materialize, at least not in my camera.

So on my extra day, I photographed the cool tree and then drove to the viewing platform we had never visited and that’s when everything became a little more memorable.

I could hear the birds in the distance and as they got closer and louder I began seeing their approach. It wasn’t long before I realized OMG – this is the lift off and landing our leaders had wanted us to see – and they are landing – swarms of them – directly in front of me.  It was like nothing I’ve ever seen or likely will ever see again.  Think 1,000+ birds  – many of them 5′ tall and with a 4-6′ wingspan in diameter – all swarming down to the water directly in front of you. It was loud, chaotic, and lasted for maybe 15-20 minutes or so.  I didn’t really feel I was in harm’s way as the viewing platform was pretty well protected, but I did feel a little bit like I had crossed the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds into Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.

With the low light and all the flurry of the backlit birds flying in I decided to take some video – that way I also would be able to record the cacophony of loud bird sounds. I also just stood for minutes at a time and marveled.

As the sun began to set and the birds began to settle in for the evening, I started photographing again.  You can maybe get a sense of the serenity that replaced the previous chaos by looking at the top photo above. Really, the quiet beauty and serenity before me then was just as or maybe more powerful than the chaotic, frenzied landings that had preceded it.  The whole thing was just extraordinary.

So in these past two weeks we’ve seen Harvey flood Houston and eastern Texas, an earthquake destroy parts of Mexico, wildfires spread through the Pacific Northwest, and Hurricane Irma level the Florida Keys, flood many other areas, and leave millions without power. Against this backdrop, we learned that Equifax has been hacked leaving millions of Americans a good bit more vulnerable and, on a personal note, the hard drive on my computer crashed.  In a big way. With unrecoverable data.

Not the best of times.

You know what though?  Some inner voice or perhaps a “Godwink” (defined by Squire Rushnell as a “a message of reassurance from God” www.whengodwinks.com) kept pulling me back last week to the serene sunset photo of the sandhill cranes above.  So I’d see some heart-wrenching pictures from Harvey and then for some reason, maybe later that day, I’d find myself pulling up the sandhill cranes photograph and feeling a little better. It brought anxious me back down a notch or two.

After viewing the photo from time to time for a few days, I think the larger message of the Bosque sandhill cranes experience finally sunk in.  The sunset photo wasn’t just to calm me, it was to help me understand the bigger picture of these past two weeks, that being:

  • there will always be natural forces much bigger than any of us;
  • despite our best efforts, we cannot control them or even accurately predict what will happen;
  • there are patterns of behavior in nature — sandhill crane migrations and hurricane seasons – that will come and go;
  • accept this fact and stop worrying – God is in control;
  • there is typically a beautiful moment that follows chaos and uncertainty — a gorgeous sunset or people coming together to help others in need; and
  • God is always there to guide and comfort us, maybe even sending a “Godwink” along the way.

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I’m glad I had the opportunity to go to Bosque Del Apache.  Thanks for letting me share this bit of self-reflection with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy 101st birthday to the National Park Service!

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It’s possible Don and I are National Park Service (NPS) junkies.  We’ve spent a lot of time visiting national parks.

I used to think it was Don’s endearing Clark Griswold-ish dad qualities that landed us summer after summer in a national park.  For example … after Scott’s college graduation in 2015, do you know what we did?  A 4,320 mile road trip to visit six national parks.  Not kidding.  With a teenager and a Millennial in the car.  I still remember the kids and me trying to persuade Don before leaving that maybe you’ve planned too much this time, dear.  But Don persisted, and we did it, and we loved it. Since then I’ve taken several trips on my own (you can draw your own conclusions on that), and now I’ve grown to realize it’s not just Don who loves the parks. We both do.

So let’s take a look at a sampling of park offerings.

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These photographs were taken in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.  The Smokies are the most visited national park. Last fall wildfires swept through and claimed 14 lives and more than 26 square miles. The good news?  The sites you see above were not affected and the park is still thriving. This is a great place to take your family.

Next …

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These photographs were taken at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.  The NPS website describes White Sands as “like no place on earth.” I went with a photography group.  The temperatures can be extreme and it’s easy to get lost.  You can take your family, but if you’re going for photography, expect to hike pretty far in. People and animals leave footprints and trails everywhere.

If I had more time and/or a quicker system to retrieve archived photographs, I’d show you Arlington Cemetery or Ellis Island or the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to make the point that the NPS not only oversees parks with great natural beauty, but also man-made sites that honor and preserve America’s cultural heritage.  You want to experience something so moving you’ll never forget?  Visit Arlington Cemetery on a day when a horse-drawn carriage brings in a fallen soldier to rest.  Oh the power of quiet, respect, dignity, and grace …

Well, with the NPS celebrating its 101st birthday this week, it’s a good time to review some quick fun facts:

  • Did you know there’s a national park in every state?
  • and if you’re aged 62 or over, the cost of the lifetime senior pass increases from $10 to $80 tomorrow?
  • and 4th graders receive free admittance?
  • and so do current members of the military and their dependents?

So many opportunities!

I hope you can visit one of the parks this year.  I’ll be the first to admit that food and lodging can sometimes be challenging, but it’s only a temporary challenge.  The memories you come home with will last a lifetime.

For more information, please visit https://www.nps.gov.