Sunset Off The Mesa

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After a long day spent following in the ancients’ footsteps going from one major house to another it was time to go home. Or in this case head the Bokeh Maru down from the tabletop towards the next destination. One to be decided tomorrow after a good nights sleep.

The main houses of Mesa Verde are located on a tabletop Mesa twenty miles from the highway. Drive up a very windy road with all the switchbacks you could possibly want and after gaining over 2000′ from the valley floor to the top you’re there. I’ll go into the various houses at a later date due to time constraints but right now it’s time to go home. It’s sunset and as you descend you can look out to the east just like the old ones probably did and watch the mountains across the valley turn purple.

Right now though it’s time to watch the road. It’s a long way down and no guard rails. More to come.

 

Sunrise On The Dunes

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Yesterday was a travel day so there was no post. I arrived at Great Sand Dunes National Park late in the evening and parked in the pines and spent the night listening to the wind blow across the dunes and waiting for sunrise.

This is an experiment in posting so the images are from my iPad and posted through the connection at McD’s. Don’t know how they’ll turn out but then this is an adventure remember? So far things seem to be working if I keep everything short. Also that limits the number of quarter pounders I can scarf down. More to come.

Cold Beauty

 

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This is Bryce canyon. I’ve chosen this picture because I’m trying to psych myself up for the upcoming winter. To ready myself for facing those cold, cold mornings. Sort of like those really goofy guys that belong to Polar bear clubs that cut holes in the ice so they can jump in and see if the shock doesn’t kill them. Or like those misguided souls who walk into a Cowboy bar in, say, Thermopolis or Sheridan and yell “The NRA sucks! All guns should be banned! and, You bastards killed Bambi!” at the top of their lungs. If you’re going to do something like that and I equate standing out in sub-zero weather for hours to get to that one moment when the light is perfect so you can get the shot, very much like The Cowboy bar scenario in terms of pain suffered. You have to prepare for stuff like that.

You might be thinking “Well that’s a little extreme.” but then you hadn’t been standing out there since about 5:30 that morning in below zero cold, hopping back and forth from one foot to another, wishing you had worn two sets of insulated Sorrels and stuffed foot warmers in them to boot. And you’d already gone through both thermos’ of hot tea and the sun wasn’t even up yet. That’s like an average morning in the photo business in the winter. You may call it extreme, we just call it Wednesday.

Also what made matters worse was the sunrise was a little late that morning. Apparently it was so cold that the grease in the bearings of the axis that supports the earth had jellied due to the freezing, tortuous temperature and retarded the spin of the earth, which caused the slower rotation, hence the later sunrise. That’s what they told me at the Ranger Station anyway. I believed them, they’re rangers for cripes sake, they can’t lie. The reason didn’t matter, the cold did.

That’s why I’m starting early this year and getting myself ready for those mornings when I know what I’m going to face, and how much it is going to suck, and yet I have to do it anyway. That’s the code of the shooter, “Never miss the shot because you’re a wimp.” You have to be true to yourself even if the world thinks you’re stupid. Even if you think you’re stupid. Wake up, put on every piece of clothing you’ve brought, even the nine pair of underwear, and get out there and face the day. Cold, wind, misery, frozen fingers, doesn’t matter. Just protect your camera and get the shot. Now you can call yourself a photographer.

 

Please Bear With Us…

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Please bear with a moment. Our weather controlling machine here at The Institute is on the fritz. This is a highly tuned, delicate mechanism that requires the steady hand of a highly trained professional brain surgeon to adjust it. Now some doofus intern with all the finesse of a nine pound sledge hammer, has pulled the knob off the dial that regulates the timing of the weather phase changes of major seasonal transitions. In other words the part that controls how fast we go from “My what a wonderful day.” to “Holy Cripes!  What the ….?” is out of whack. There are a lot of dials on this machine, some more important than others. Why this doorknob of an intern had to screw around with this one is unknown at this time but what is known is, this is why we use interns for mountain lion bait.

What does this means to you, you ask? Well it means that although this weekend was like a visit to Tahiti weather-wise, today is more like “Who’s doing that to that pooch?” as it applies to “where’s our nice day?” The dial that the knob is missing from isn’t just any old dial. It carefully regulates how quickly or slowly we go from good weather to bad by limiting how fast the needle on the dial can move. If it moves fast the weather changes according. If it moves slow we get to keep the weather we like longer. It should act kind of like the way the needle on your barometer moves, really slowly without any jerkiness or big jumps from one point to another. This is controlled by how tight you screw the knob down against the face of the dial. After finding the setting for nice weather, you carefully screw down the knob locking it in until you decide to change it.

Our head meteorologist Dr. Sunny Day, a recent graduate from UC Santa Cruz and designer of our exclusive but patented Weather Controller™ machine, home of the NCAA Div III “Banana Slugs’ (Go Slugs!), and former cheer leader is well grounded with a background of Pilates, Total Body Toning, Hatha Yoga, Sunrise PranaKriya, Foam Rolling and Tabata jam. Not to mention, Bikini Tying, Tanning, and her personal favorite, Belly Dance: both beginner and Intermediate courses. During her heavy load of classes she also had the opportunity to audit some meteorology classes, such as “The barometer: What it means to our weather. 101”  “That Dial: Its brass needle and its relationship to all those funny numbers. 102” (requires completing “The Barometer: What it means to weather 101.”) plus numerous other courses designed to give you a background in Meteorology. We were like totally stoked that she chose to work here at The Institute and cannot wait until she gets back from her sabbatical in the Polynesian islands. Unfortunately her absence is why we got the weather bollixed up.

Yesterday as you all know was a day of sunshine, light breezes, fluffy clouds and generally a sense of well-being, as if Indian Summer could last forever. But today after our doofus intern decided to crank the knob so hard it came off in his hand, locking the weather on stun, we have cold blowing wind, dark but ominous clouds, a general feeling of dread and the real possibility that he has royally screwed up our weather until further notice or at least until Dr. Day gets back, as she is the one who designed the machine and is the only one qualified to complete maintenance and repairs on it.

Today we had planned to run a picture of friendly weather with trees changing color and puppies, yes, real puppies gamboling in the meadow below The Institute’s headquarters. But that plan is shot all to hell now. So instead we’re bringing you color and lots of it from deep underground at Antelope Canyon in Arizona. Perhaps this peppy image will make up for having to dig your down clothing out of storage again. I mean it’s all we can do until Sunny, I mean Dr. Day gets back. So, Sorry. Anyway try and enjoy the provided image. It at least has warm colors in it.

 

Wind In The Aspen

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The fall colors are slowly disappearing. While there are pockets of trees that haven’t finished displaying yet and some are even still covered with green leaves, they are mostly over at the higher elevations. The wind and storms have taken their toll and many of the aspens are nearly completely bare.

This is the time of year when we begin to see large flocks of Stellar’s jays. We see them throughout  the summer but usually only single birds or the occasional pair that have chosen to nest nearby. But as the leaves fall so do the pine cones and that’s when these guys come in droves to make hay, or pine seeds, while the sun shines.

There is a special joy in walking through an aspen grove, scuffling the fallen leaves with your feet, listening to the satisfying crunch of the dry leaves beneath your boots as you move through the trees. With the wind blowing through the branches and tearing loose those last remaining leaves, they cascade through the air and if you’re lucky flutter and swirl around you as they make their final journey downwards towards their winter resting place. It’s like being inside a snow globe only with yellow and golden aspen leaves instead of snowflakes.

The Stellar’s have joined up into good-sized flocks and are industriously filling themselves up with pine seeds and other things they like to eat at this time of year. Their raucous calls fill the grove with sound as they tell each other bird things while they are feeding. It must be a rich language as where one was feeding alone, after calling, there will suddenly be five or ten of them gathered around it sharing the bounty.

They are somewhat skittish and although they might occasionally approach you they rarely let you approach them, flying up into the trees at the slightest movement towards them. You’ll probably be treated to a hail of calls from them which are surely Stellar’s jay profanity. They all sound like they may be from New York city.

These moments of walking and watching and experiencing this fall phenomenon are fleeting and somewhat bittersweet as you know they will soon be over. It’s the same feeling you get when you see an old dog with a grayed muzzle and faltering steps, You are witness to a change of the seasons, sad yet beautiful. Enjoy it while it’s there.

A Night in Cape Disappointment

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As usual every Friday we try and present you with some weekend options. Sometimes it’s a fun suggestion like “OK, let’s go to Mars and stay in a Wickiup.” Other times it may be a more cautionary suggestion as in ” Listen, Really, Don’t eat that worm in the bottom of that bottle.” Or simply something along the lines of “Hey Bozo, Get off that couch and go do something. Whataya doing hanging around the house..” but we always try and help you get through the weekend..

Today we’d like to offer you the option of taking a nice quiet couple of days to yourself or with any one you may choose to share it with, so fire up the Gulfstream G600 and head for the Washington Coast. When you get there head for Cape Disappointment State park ( note: Call ahead to see if their jet pads are available. They fill up fast on the weekends.) and get ready for one of the most relaxing times you can have. Only a small dune separates you from one of the largest oceans on earth but don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of space to call your own while you’re there.

If your concierge is worth his salt he’ll have your Lamborghini Urus SUV waiting at your campsite for a little moonlight off-roading. Imagine the relaxation you and that special person will feel as you move down the shore line at a stately 170 mph., racing along the edge of the sea with your moon roof open, chasing the glint of the last rays of the sunset as it sparkles and highlights the outlines of the incoming waves. You could be scattering the seabirds with the wild abandon you haven’t felt since you last schussed down the east side of Everest.

While you were out chasing the stars your porters, another service provided by your campsite hosts, have been erecting your luxury, Ralph Loren outfitted Teepee, imported directly from the Crow Nation in Montana. Rest those weary bones after a scrumptious meal of the finest fresh caught sea food money can buy. Then recline on your double-king size bed complete with freshly tanned Elk skin throws while you watch the game on your 105″ thin-screen TV.

But before you turn in, make sure you head for the beach to gaze upon a very, very special treat. Your campsite hosts have fired up their art deco completely retro-fitted lighthouse with the magic spinning glass beacon, which casts its beams of boat-saving light out across your very own ocean, just as in the days of yore. All of this just for your viewing pleasure. What could be more romantic than that?

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Well there you have it. It’s all there, waiting for you right now, all you have to do is throw a few things in the bag and hit the steps. Don’t be a couch lizard this weekend when you can go out, have some fun, spend that IRA that has just sitting there waiting for some attention, and have a nice little weekend. What are you waiting for?

Old Friends

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Note to Readers: This is a long post so you might want to find a time when you can sit and have a cup of tea or a glass of wine, to read it at your leisure. And maybe even have a few moments to reflect on some of your old friends, human or otherwise. I believe you can tell how good a friend is or was by how clear their memory is for you at any given time. If that memory is crystal clear and as sharp as a ginzu then that is a very old friend and one to be cherished for as long as you’re able. This is a tale of my old friend. Yours may vary.

I was thinking about old friends lately. I was thinking about how few of them a person really has. And how hard it is to replace them when they’re gone. I’m not talking about new friends or acquaintances, as much as you enjoy their friendship and companionship, I’m talking about those friends that you’ve had for more years than you care to put a number on. The ones you may not have spoken to in weeks or months or even in some cases years but when you do it’s like “Hey, What are you doing? ” and the conversation is off and running like you had spoken to them earlier this morning. How it feels good just to hear their voice. I think if the truth were known not many of us have very many friends like that.

Sometimes, or many times as the case may be, that old friend isn’t even human. I had one like that. In fact I still do, he’s just not with us any more. His name was Bill and when I first met him he was about the size of a toaster. He was half Aussie, half Golden Retriever and half human. He looked like a golden retriever but had the blue eyes and coloring of an Aussie. That is, a bright blue-gray coat with black spots. He looked like Dr. Seuss designed him. I got him from some people I had met who had gotten rid of all the puppies in the litter but Bill, who was returned to them by his new owners because he ate too much. I know, how could a little puppy, even a big little puppy, eat too much.

From the beginning Bill was my dog. Other people could feed him, rub him between his ears, play with him, he’d even lick their face occasionally, but when everything was said and done he was mine. We were bonded and it was for life. Anyone who has ever experienced this bond, attachment, love, call it what you will, knows exactly what I’m talking about. Those of you who haven’t I hope that someday you will.

For all the years I had him, unless I was physically gone, I was never out of his sight. He would lie so that I could be seen and if I got up to go to another room it wouldn’t be long until I’d hear him quietly get up and move so he could see me again.

There were several things Bill loved beyond price, or even dog food. One would be to go along and ride with me in the truck. It didn’t matter if I only backed down the driveway and up again he had to be along. In fact sometimes I would do that if we hadn’t been somewhere in a while. He seemed to need it. I had an old blue dodge pickup I called the Enola Gay and it belonged more to Bill than it did me. If I didn’t leave the door open so he could get in and sit he would lie moaning next to it until I couldn’t stand it anymore and go open it for him.

One day I had gone into town to pick something up and Bill was with me. All the windows were down as it was hot and the Enola Gay didn’t have air conditioning. I had to nip in and get my stuff. So Bill had to stay there in the truck. This was before the days when it was a felony to leave an animal in the car alone. I was gone a few minutes and when I got back there was a very irate woman standing there berating me for leaving Bill in that hot truck. I listened to her tirade for a while then opened the door and told her to try and get him out. It was the only time I ever saw Bill growl at anybody.

The Enola Gay was Bill’s second home. He rode in the front seat and it was his spot. When someone else was sitting there he was incensed. In fact sulky would be a better word. It was the first time I learned that dogs could be passive aggressive. There would be many a nasty glance thrown at the interloper and Bill would position himself in the backseat so his head was just over the passenger’s shoulder and drool. He never drooled otherwise. Sit in his place and you were going to pay the price.

Bill was a very intelligent dog, but like all intelligent beings he had his flaws. As much as he loved riding in the Enola Gay he never quite got the hang of the whole balancing thing, like when to lean and which direction to do it in as we would go around a corner. He’d always lean the wrong way and lose his balance and tip over and fall on the floor and have to scramble up on the seat again. After this happened he would steadily look out the side window as if he had meant to do that all along. He could affect an air of damaged dignity that was amazing to behold.

The other thing would be, he’d smack his nose on the dashboard whenever I’d have to make a quick stop and given the way I drive, that was fairly often. He would hold me directly responsible after that happened. I would get the look first, then the silent treatment, and if I’d try and make it up to him by patting him he’d shrug it off like “Don’t touch me. You’re a stupid driver.”

We finally worked through the whole riding in the truck thing, by my teaching him how to lean in the corners so he didn’t make a fool of himself. It was pretty simple after I figured it out. All I had to do was reach over and put my hand on his side of the direction we were turning and he’d lean into it, So if we were going to make a right hand turn I’d put my hand onto his right side as we were turning into the corner and he’d lean into it and we’d make it through the corner without him falling all over and looking dumb. The moment he got that and saw how it worked he was insufferable. It was all “Hey turn the corner! ” ” Come on, Do it again.” and “Look at me. I can survive your driving.” and “Yeah, I’m cool.”

The other thing with the nose smacking was even easier to fix once we got into this training thing. He seemed to know when we were in a training situation and figured stuff out quicker each time. A simple pushing down on his head while yelling “Down!” as I panic stopped and soon whenever he felt the brakes go on he’d crouch down with head between his paws like someone was going to hit him with a baseball bat and when I started going again he get up and rather disdainfully look at me, as if to say “Where the hell did you learn to drive” The “dumbass” was understood.

Bill seemed to love words. He had an amazing vocabulary. He could distinguish between words like “Ball” and “Bowl”. If you asked him to get one or the other he would always bring you the one you asked for. Except if he didn’t understand you. Once I had a cold or something and in a gravelly muffled tone said “Bill, Go get your bowl.” and he brought back his ball. I said “No not your ball, your bowl.” and still not quite getting it he went over to where his bowl was, set his ball down, looked at me as if he were considering what my problem was, picked up his ball again, put it in the bowl bringing both back to me. He got an extra portion of dog gruel for that one.

We were living in and old Victorian at the time and went to a lot of home shows and garden shows and stuff like that. If you’ve been to those you know you acquire a lot of brochures and things to bring home and immediately throw out. You could have thrown it out as you left the building but apparently it’s important you bring that stuff home to throw out. But while you’re there you need something to carry all of that crap in. There was always somebody giving out bags but you had to trade your name, address and phone number to get one. So I’d always sign us up as Bill DeDog. It wasn’t long before the calls started coming in. “Can we speak to Mr. DeDog please?” “Sorry he can’t talk to you right now.” “Well can we call back at a more convenient time” “Sure, anytime”. “That was for you” I’d tell him. It always seemed to please him.

What he really liked though was the mailman, or more specifically, mail time. Our mail was delivered to the door then, so the bell would ring and Bill and I would race to the door for the mail. Normally we’d get a stack of mail that would choke a horse and I’d stand there and sort through it, giving Bill the pieces that were addressed to him. This was always a very serious time. I’d show it to him and point out where it was addressed to him and he’d patiently wait until I finally gave it to him. You don’t screw around with the mail, this was a big deal for him. I’d take a piece and say “this one’s for you.” and he’d carefully take it in his mouth and carry it back to his bed and put it on the pile that was his mail. If there was a big heavy flyer he’d sometimes carry it around for a long time. He’d rarely get it soggy even if he held it until he’d thoroughly crushed it in two.

Bill left me in the spring of the year. We were just beginning to build our dream home in the mountains and I was looking forward to having Bill on the jobsite as the resident “Jobsite Dog”, a title I knew he would love to have. He was so vain. Having the acreage to run around on wouldn’t hurt either. But it wasn’t to be. Bill had a tumor and it wasn’t long before the trips to the vet got closer together and lasted longer and longer, and then came a moment when the worst decision I ever had to make was made. And that was that.

I buried Bill up at the house on the side of the hill where he could look out at the plains and be close. It was at the foot of a big rock formation that we named Picnic Rock. That was where we’d go and plan how the house was going to be, have a picnic, and Bill would join me afterwards on the rocks while I smoked a cigar and he watched the birds fly by. Today nearly twenty years after he’s gone, his bowl, the same one he brought his ball to me in, is still sitting on the cairn over his grave. I go there every so often, not so much any more, because for some reason it’s still so hard to think about him, or more clearly, his loss. Maybe that’s just a function of old age but my old friend is still very close to me. I knew someone once who said to me that there should be a law where your pets had to live as long as you did. I would like to see that one passed.

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Bill and his person. Picnic Rock circa 1994