Announcement !

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It’s that time of year again here at The Institute, Christmas time, when we send out our roving reporters to find out what the flora and fauna are doing over the holidays. This year we find that we don’t have any roving reporters to send out and rove because the reporters we sent roving last year haven’t come back yet. We thought at least a couple of them would make it back and although it’s only been a year, I’m beginning to think we may have lost them. You know what that means. The Director, in the form of yours truly, will have to go in their place and do a job of work.

I know there was a lot of discontent amongst the troops after the Pulitzers were given out this year and we were ignored yet AGAIN! by the establishment press but that’s no reason to not only go AWOL, but to stay that way. That’ s like AWOL and a half, or AWOL². But as they say in show business, damn it to hell those rat bast…, I mean, the Blog must go on, and so it will. It may be a little more disjointed than usual, perhaps some days where there won’t be any posting at all, but one way or the other we’ll try our mediocre best.

Because I’m going to have to go out and actually work that means I won’t be here to wish you all the very Merriest of Christmas’s and the Happiest of New Years. The plan is to be back right after the 1st of the year but that depends on whether or not any trouble happens, and since we don’t seem to be able to walk across the street without trouble happening that may be a crap shoot. But we’ll try.

So again, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Sincerely, The Director.

 

 

Bryce Canyon Forest

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I’ve been meaning to show you the forest at Bryce Canyon National Park for a long time. It won’t take very long because this is it. Yup, all of it. 10 trees. And three of them are dead. You would think with all the taxes we pay to maintain our national parks that they could afford a few more trees. Jeez, Home Depot and Wal-Mart have sales all the time. In fact Home Depot has a Black Hills Spruce Evergreen in its own pot for 7.97, and a Cleveland Select Pear tree for 89.98, and a one quart Canadian Hemlock Christmas tree for 6 bucks on sale. Even Lowes has a 3-gal Southern Magnolia that will grow to 80′ for 24.95 and it comes with a three-year guarantee.

I mean, this is just embarrassing. To have one of our showpiece National parks with its own National forest and it only has 10 trees. You have got to be kidding. I guarantee if you go to Russia right this minute and look at their biggest National park, Siberia, they have over a gazillion billion quadrillion trees. They have so many they cut them down just for fun. They have a whole village called Bogorodskoe, I am not making this up, devoted to making wooden toys out of trees for like the last 600 years and they’re nowhere close to running out of trees. You’d have a hard time making a good supply of toothpicks out of our 10 trees.

OK, I didn’t mean to go off like that, it’s just whenever I see injustice I have to stand up and call a Ponderosa a Ponderosa. This is a national embarrassment and no one seems to be concerned about it. And to make matters worse, as if that could happen, I’ve been told that the big timber companies are lobbying Washington right now to log in Bryce Canyon. That’s right, to log in Bryce canyon. They feel with the price of lumber being what it is they can go in there with their big logging trucks and bulldozers and their hairy lumberjacks with their gang-saws and lunch buckets and take out those 10 trees and make a profit. Well I don’t know if that scares you, it scares the hell out of me.

We don’t even have any owls, spotted or otherwise, that like to live in these trees here in Bryce because they are too far apart. Owls want togetherness and neighbors to hoot at. So if those timber companies win we don’t even have an excuse to try and save those trees. I’m glad I got a picture of the forest when I did. Who knows how long it will be before there won’t be even those 10 trees to photograph. If things keep heading this way before you know it we’ll be friends with the Cubans again. No, that’s probably going too far, I mean, that could never happen.

Wish I had better news folk, but we call them like we see ’em here at The Institute. If this makes you mad go to Home Depot or Lowes and buy a tree. Any kind of tree. Ship it to Bryce and say “Plant it.” maybe they’ll get the message. We can’t let those ex-commies have all the glory. Let’s make America great again.

 

What To Watch For In Yellowstone

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So many of you when you’re walking through Yellowstone, are looking down at your feet aren’t you? I know you do, don’t deny it, I see you. You’re probably looking for snakes, right? Well there are very few snakes in Yellowstone. Hardly any. And the few that are there are more worried about being stepped on by a buffalo then they are by you. So they hide. Snakes are good hiders. You’re not going to see one.

What you really should be worried about is bears. Bears in trees to be more specific. Because they get in them. You should be looking up, way up, that’s where the bears are. They go up there for a lot of reasons. They like it up there, they did it when they were kids and it feels good, there’s stuff to eat if they get in the right tree, pine cones, bugs, leaves sometimes, and many times they’ve made friends with some birds and they go up just to visit. Usually bears go in trees for simple pleasant reasons.

But sometimes, and you can never tell when, you’ll find that there are bears up there that aren’t up there for altruistic reasons. They are ones that have gone up there for all the wrong reasons. These are the ones that had trouble in school, ran with the wrong crowd, started smoking and drinking at an early age, probably were promiscuous, had problems with abandonment issues, always blaming everything on their moms who left them when they were two. We call them “Bad Bears”. These are the one you should watch out for, why you should be looking up instead of walking around staring at your feet.

These are the bears that will suddenly but unexpectedly drop out of trees and eat your lunch. Don’t scoff, it could happen and it does. I have a hat that is full of bite marks from bears dropping out of trees and being upset that I don’t carry a lunch, take it out on me and my hat by biting it until it is almost ruint, and it’s a Tilley. It was expensive.

So I’m hoping you’ll take my warning seriously, I know many of you won’t, thinking this is just me pulling your leg, but don’t come whining around here when a bears drops out of a tree and does something mean to you. I tried to warn you. For those of you who are serious and pay attention to warnings, like those really annoying ones from Public Radio where that obnoxious horn bellows at you and they say “This is a test, if a real catastrophe had happened you’d of kissed your butt goodbye way before this message was over….” etc., then you’ll take heed and will make an effort to walk around looking up in the trees instead of at your feet.

You need to watch for those the signs that say “Be Bear Aware!” they didn’t just put them there for your amusement. They’re there for the same reason that deer crossing signs are where they are.  A deer has been killed there and they figure it will happen again. So if you see one those “Be Bear Aware!” signs stop immediately, and look up even if there’s no trees around, it’s good practice. Many times you’ll be glad you did. Just be careful you don’t trip over that snake laying there across the path.

 

High Winds and Misdemeanors

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When most people think of Monument Valley they see it in their mind’s eye as the place where they take those beautiful calendar pictures of the rugged reddish buttes and mesas jutting up into nearly cloudless, cobalt blue skies, or where the shots of the wide vistas often shown in the old John Wayne movies like Stage Coach, The Searchers and Fort Apache, to name just a few, were taken. There is a peace and serenity within these views that makes you feel a quietude so vast and deep, it resonates with its silence, while the distances and depth in the images show the vast panoramas of the Southwest.

But the valley has another face that is rarely shown in those images. That’s when the hot, sand-laden winds come blowing up out of the South to race through the valley blasting their names on the sides of the monoliths that mark the valley floor. This morning the sun has just risen and is shining through the sand cloud as it begins it journey. Soon even the largest of the sandstone formations will be just a pale shadow within the depths of the wind-driven storm as the grains of sand are picked up, to gather and join and rise into a huge moving cloud that obliterates the view of everything in its path.

This is a time when man and beast alike hunker down, staying out of the sandstorm’s blistering winds and the sting of the sand against their exposed skin until the storm runs its course. Today it looks like this could build into a big one. The horses will turn their rear ends into the wind, put their heads down, and wait it out huddled together for protection. The sheep make their way to the sheltered areas at the base of the huge rock formations to be out of the brunt of the wind, and the wild things each have their own ways to stay alive.  People, well people do what ever they feel like doing. The smart ones stay home though.

Even the photographers get it and seeing the magnitude of the storm stay out of weather. But not before they grab a few shots of this different look of Monument valley.

The 8th Day

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I don’t know about you but I’m bored with the same seven days of the week. We are stuck in such a rut. Monday starts the week, we trek on thru to Wednesday, Hump day, then drag on to Friday, which we screw off on as much as possible because it’s the start of the weekend, and then we have Saturday and Sunday. These are days that are supposed to be ours. Days we don’t have to work because they’re supposed to be our break so we can have fun or lay around in our bathrobes all day if we want.

But not only do we have to work on Saturday mostly, some of us have to work on Sunday too. There it is, the weekend shot to hell. What kind of break is that? A bad one, that’s what. So I’m proposing the addition of another day, the 8th day, and it would be called Lugusday after the Celtic god of the arts and magic and all things interesting. It would be slotted in right between Saturday and Sunday and it would give us that extra break we’ve been needing for a long time.

What’s to keep them from making us work on the new day too, you might ask? Well  primarily Lugus. He knows all the gods that are still around like Odin, Rhadamanthus, Persephone and Oizys for starters and believe me you don’t want to mess around with that crowd. So if your boss says “Well… I sorta need you to work this weekend, okay?” you can relax because as soon as Lugus hears about it, somebody’s going to get a visit they won’t like very much, and that somebody won’t be you, you know what I mean?

But the coolest thing about the 8th day is, because it is Lugus’ day and he’s in charge of the arts and magic, that means you get to go and see and do whatever you want on that day. Let’s say you’re sitting home and there’s nothing good on the box, your team didn’t make the playoffs and you’re sort of at loose ends, you can simply say, “Hey! I wonder what is going on at The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” and poof your butt is right there, like in the image above. Seeing it, feeling it, being a part of it. Word of caution though, dress warm before you say it out loud because it happens fast and if you’re not prepared you’ll be standing there in your tighty-whities freezing your you-know-what off. Course you can always immediately say “Hey! I wonder what’s happening in Bora Bora” and the problems solved.

There it is, the 8th day, Whataya think? You want it? Think it’ll work? I do. In fact I’m in Jamaica-mon, sitting on the beach with my toes in the warm sand watching the waves roll in as I write this. So if your heart is pure and you’ve done something good this week just say “Hey! I wonder what……” and take off, eh. See you on Monday.

 

 

Firehole Gold

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Every once in a while when conditions are perfect there is a phenomenon that occurs along the Firehole river. It is a rare event and only a privileged few have had the opportunity to see it.

As you might know, or are soon to learn, there is gold in the rivers of the west. In some of them more than others but every river has its share. The gold is in the form of almost microscopic flakes with the particles being small enough and light enough that they can be suspended in the water and carried downstream. Now you can walk up to the river anytime of day and scoop up a handful of water and you won’t see this gold, but it is there, its visibility is only brought out under certain circumstances.

The Firehole river that runs through Yellowstone National Park through valleys and meadows, past thermal geysers, along the highway where you and I can see it, is one of the most heavily laden gold-bearing rivers in the west. Where the source of this gold originates is still under speculation. Some say it is pumped up from a huge deposit underground by the many geysers that line the river. The scalding hot water softens the gold and in so doing causes the minute flakes to break off and rush to the surface to be swept down stream by the rivers flow.

Others say that there was once an enormous deposit of gold miles wide and dozens, if not hundreds of feet deep up north a ways, simply lying on the surface of the ground until a glacier came through and pulverized it, using its tremendous mass and weight to grind the chunks and nugget’s of gold the size of houses into the flakes we see in the river today.

Whatever its origin the gold is there and it will occasionally display itself when the conditions are perfect and the necessary components are all optimally aligned. There is a place along the river’s length that provides these needs exactly. It is a flat portion of the river’s bank that acts as a giant pan, where the water will flow over the many rough-edged pebbles and sift it self out of the rivers flow, much like a gold miner panning for gold will do, and briefly deposit itself just under the river’s surface, building up and up until the millions of flakes become visible as a solid sheet of gold only a fraction of an inch thick but thick enough that it can be seen.

This seems to occur near sunset as the sun must be low enough that its glancing rays can reflect the gold beneath the water’s surface. The heat of the dying rays of the setting sun are just the right temperature to cause the flakes to momentarily adhere to each other, forming what looks to be a solid sheet of gold. There can’t be any wind as the agitation of the water’s surface will break up the sheet and cause the flakes to simply continue on downstream. And one of the most important conditions is that you have to be there to see it.

You might think, Gold! let’s go get it. But it doesn’t work that way. The flakes are really too small to be filtered out of the water and although gold is still the most valuable object we can get our hands on, there is one thing even more valuable. And that is the fleeting beauty created by this rare interaction of the sunset, the extraordinary land the river runs through and your participation in the experience. You will spend the gold and it will be gone but the memory of this sight will live in your heart forever.

Posted and filed under “Things that are true, kind of”.

Animal Portraits – Bull Elk

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Today is Back to Basics Friday where we trek back into the archives and dig through our dusty collection of old photos to find one of our crumpled up, dog-eared images from the heady days of yester-year. Back when our cameras were full of fresh unused pixels and the sight of a gorgeous 6 point bull elk at the height of the rut was supercharged with excitement. Lets bring it out and dust it off and see how it stands up to scrutiny today.

It was a cold damp morning in late September in Yellowstone. The overnight rains were just tapering off along the Madison river, the mist was subsiding and the sun was trying mightily but unsuccessfully to brighten up the day and burn off the chill. You could walk through the wet grass and never make a sound other than the soft squelching of your boots as you moved across the saturated meadow. The bull was fixated at the sight of a rival that had just entered his space and he bugled his warning in a raging bellow as we crept up on him. Normally he never would have allowed anyone this close and would either have charged or run away but this was the rut and his attention was fixed solely on the interloper. He had his cows bunched up close and wasn’t even allowing them to go down to the river to drink. They were nervous with their heads up and watching the new bull approach, this years calves hugging tight to their sides. The answering challenge from the other bull had him mesmerized. The entire situation was super-charged with emotion and you could feel the tension in the air as a tangible thing.

A moment like this, when you are out amongst Nature, doesn’t stay static. It’s fluid and dynamic, changing second by second. In an instant this bull will decide whether to charge and fight or drive his cows to a different part of his territory where he can better defend them. As a photographer this the point where you too have a decision to make.

Watching  the situation develop do you take the shot now or wait for the next scene to unfold. Is this the point where you back up and remove yourself as the activity has become too frenzied and there is a risk of being drawn in and becoming a participant rather than a spectator, or do you stay and get that one last close-up. As you can see the decision was made to stay and take that last close-up. The next instant he had charged off to confront his rival. The moment was over.

It is amazing how much memory is attached to these photos. After taking thousands upon thousands of shots as you look at them you can remember the smallest detail of each event. What things smelled like, how the air felt, what sounds were being made. Where you were, whether you were scared or incredibly excited or both, to be involved with real life on this level. It all comes back in a rush. And that’s what wildlife photography is, a rush. It happens while you’re involved in it and later as you review it by seeing your images again.

Next time on Back to Basics Friday we’ll see what else is back there in the archives and what other memories can be dredged up. After all there are as many stories as there are images and they’re all meant to be shared.