When Summer Changes To Fall

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With every major change of the seasons, Winter to Spring, Summer to Fall, the Canada geese would make their pilgrimages either North or South. To get there on time they would normally head in the intended direction when the weather was also starting to change. In the Spring the snow would still be lingering on the north slopes, and the back roads, unpaved as always, would be muddy tracks through the fields or trees. In the Fall the leaves would be well along, having changed color, drying out and wavering in the chilly wind, some having fallen already and crunching beneath my heavy boots.

My mind, sodden from the memory of the winter and the constancy of the cold, never quite believing that it would ever end, was hungry for the next signs promising the change and deliverance of the next season. When I thought I was at the end of my patience that’s when the Canada geese would appear. I would begin listening for them, impatient for their arrival, scanning the horizon for those first waves of V shaped formations, their strong wings powering their way towards me. I would listen harder and eventually I would be rewarded with the staccato cries of the geese calling from high up in the clouds. My ears catching every note as it sifted down through the grey misty haze and broke like sharp, crystal-edged flakes of sound around my soul. Each call a request, an invitation to join them, if only I weren’t locked tightly to the earth.

Take me with you, I would say to them quietly, take me with you. Often I would call it loudly up into the sky in a vain attempt to reach them, to make them see that I was trapped here and could not leave. I wanted desperately to join them, to go with them to those far off places, but they never paused in the steady rhythmic beating of their wings. If they saw or heard me they showed no sign of it, for I was not of them.

Year after year, season after season, it never failed to happen. When the first wings appeared out of the distance, impossibly high, looking like dotted lines drawn against the expanse of sky, their bodies just a dark silhouette, always, always when the first faint call reached out of the mist, the thought would jump unbidden into my mind. Look, I am here, take me along.

Heading north in the Spring and south in the Fall, stark against a deep blue sky, every feather outlined in perfect detail, or passing through clouds, their shapes becoming faint and opaque like shadows barely seen in the darkness. Their calls muffled, the size of their bodies getting ever smaller as I watched them recede into the distance, their calls fainter and fainter until they were gone and only an echo of them remained in my mind. Take me with you, I would say, and though I was forever rooted to the ground, I never ceased to ask.

Now years later I still find that catch in my throat as I stand here leaning against the door frame, my nose pressed tightly against the metal mesh inhaling the sharp metallic tang of cool fall air through the screen door. I’m waiting once again for the sound and sight of the high-flying geese heading South. I am here and the season is changing yet again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full Moon Over The Crow Camp

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This post has been moved to OpenChutes.com. All future postings of Powwows, Indian Relay Races, Rodeos and Rendezvous will be posted there from now on exclusively. So if you’re looking for new images and posts for all those events attended this year, plus all the old posts posted on BigShotsNow.com check out OpenChutes.com. See you there!

It was nearly midnight as I walked through the camp. It had been a long day. It was Crow Fair 2016 and as always it was spectacular. Starting early in the morning to photograph the staging of the parade, following and shooting the dance competitions, watching the evening performances, it was a day packed full of excitement. This was the last day and I was heading home in the morning.

It had been cloudy and although the sky was covered by those clouds, occasionally the full moon would show itself but never long enough to get a good shot of it. But as luck sometimes favors the photographer the clouds seemed to dissolve and there it was in all its glory, full and round and positioned exactly where it needed to be to make this image. I was given a present in the form of this last memory. Walking through the cool night, feeling the moonlight wash over me, hearing the sound of laughter, singing, people calling out to each other, this was the perfect ending to a summer-long trip along the Powwow trail.

I began the summer in late April with the opportunity to photograph the largest powwow in North America, the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Thousands of dancers, singers, drummers, participants, spectators, all brought together to celebrate their culture. This was spectacle at its grandest. At one point there were over 2800 dancers coming and going from the arena floor. This is like the Superbowl of powwows.

As the summer progressed I had the opportunity to attend powwows and meet people from nearly every tribe in the western part of the United States. There were Shoshone, Arapaho, Bannock, Cree, Chippewa, Blackfeet, Nez Perce, Sioux, Comanche, Apache, Navajo, Hopi, and many other tribes. There were people from the Cree And Chippewa tribes that came down from Canada to participate in the Chippewa/Cree powwow at Rocky Boy Montana. This event was held in the rolling hills of Northern Montana on a hillside where you could see for two days in any direction. No buildings in sight, nothing but the golden prairie stretching on for miles and miles. The sound of drums and singing and the people dancing carried on the wind for days. The reservation in nestled up against the Canadian border just east of Glacier National Park and it was one of the most natural, authentic places I had the good fortune to visit.

People from the various tribes in Washington and Oregon were at different events along the way. It was a chance to see their different regalia and styles of dancing. All were welcome and made to feel like part of the family. That’s what these gatherings felt like. Large family gatherings where you got to see cousins that you hadn’t seen in years. A place where acquaintances were made and spiritual ceremonies brought everyone close together. The sense of community was strong. It felt good to be there.

Over the course of the summer I took over 20,000 images, many were of the various rodeos that were part of the powwow, but never the less, I took a lot of photographs. Now that I am back at my studio I will begin the daunting task of processing these images and posting them on the site. Hopefully the wait hasn’t been too long for those wanting to see the shots of their powwows. Each event will have its images posted as I get to them. My apologies for the delay.

This has been an incredible summer and I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to observe, photograph, join in. I got to march in the Color Guard at the Western Shoshone/ Bannock Grand Entry where they celebrated the Vets that had served in all the wars. That was the first time in over 50 years that I have had the opportunity to participate in something like that and I will cherish the experience forever. But just as importantly it was the ability to be able to be a very small part in the total experience. Thank you one and all for making that experience possible for me.

As time goes on I will get the photographs you want to see posted. If you don’t see your event, don’t worry it’ll be there. Also please feel free to email me if you have any questions. Thanks for a great summer.

Chaco Canyon Redux

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As alert readers you may have noticed a decided lack of fresh new posts with their scintillating images and incredibly succinct prose lately. That’s because The Director here at The Institute said “OK, I’m taking a break. We have not been on one road trip this year and I’m tired of looking at all these Monet’s and Rembrandt’s here in The Institute’s main art gallery. I’m tired of looking at all these first editions in the Presidential library. You can only look up so many words in the Gutenberg Dictionary before it gets to be boring. I want to go out and experience life again amongst things and places that are real. That have relevance in the real world. “So fire up the Bokeh Maru. Load the stores. Find room for the interns and we leave at first light.” The Bokeh Maru as many of you know, is our smaller research vessel and is used primarily for our shorter excursions.

That was it. About a week or so ago we followed the moonlight down the mountain having rigged the Bokeh Maru for silent running so as to not disturb the neighbors and turned her bow South by Southwest. We had two main agendas to complete. First and foremost we were headed to the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend the largest gathering of Native American tribes in the United States and Canada for a weekend of dancing, competitions, fellowship and fun, (much more on that in future posts) and secondly, we needed to stop and revisit *Chaco Canyon Historical Park, one of the singularly magical places you can visit.

* http://www.bigshotsnow.com/life-and-other-things-of-interest/

* http://www.bigshotsnow.com/la-ventana-de-oro/

It was a brisk morning with the sun just rising and burning off the light fog that covered highway 287. The Bokeh Maru was in rare form wanting to run into the wind as she hadn’t had a real outing since last fall. It was a trial just holding her back to maintain the speed limit. It didn’t help that the interns were frisky as well and had taken to bouncing up and down in the back of the rig just aft of the head causing the Bokeh Maru to wallow and list and nearly raising the front wheels off the pavement. After several admonishments and stern warnings to cease that childish behavior we stopped, tied several of the ring leaders to the back bumper and set off down the road. The anguished cries and sweating faces pressed up against the rear window soon had the rest quieted down and our progress became smooth again.

Our first stop was Chaco. Chaco is a place every human being should visit once in their lives. Not all of you at once of course, but make sure you do it. Check with your neighbors so you don’t all cram in there at the same time. It ought to be in the top ten of your bucket list. Above is an image from Pueblo Bonito, one of the main building sites in the park, there are many more of course, but Pueblo Bonito is the largest building constructed by the ancient ones and feels like it has the most magic.

You can enter into the ruins and wander and sometimes crawl through the small openings from one room into another. Touching the cool walls deep in the recesses of the palace, calling it a palace is no exaggeration by the way, feeling the reflections of past lives pass by you, listening to the quiet that is so deep and profound until the wind finds its way through the passages, rubbing against the cool stone walls to finally brush up against your face, is an experience that cannot be duplicated. TV and movies just don’t cut it, you need to be there. Occasionally you will hear a raven call as it flies high up against the cliff face that stands behind the building it’s plaintive squawking filtering down upon you. This is a special, special place and the feeling you have is not unlike entering a cathedral, the same feeling of exhilaration and profound peace is there.

It was at Chaco that several of our interns wandered off into the desert in search of whatever was in their minds at the time. This happens. We start off with a dozen or so interns and as the trip progresses there is a certain attrition and we come back with fewer if any when the trip is over. That’s why we always take more with us than we need. One word of caution to the potential visitor to the park. You must want, really want, to get there as the last 16 miles of dirt roads will test your resolve. Anything over ten miles an hour will have a disastrous effect on your vehicle. The Bokeh Maru made it without mishap but it let its displeasure be known to us by showing everyone all the new squeaks and rattles and fallen off bits that it incurred during the trip there.

After Chaco we returned to roads that had blacktop and concrete on them and things got easy again. We arrived at the Gathering of Nations without further mishap and although we had been told it was big, we were unprepared for the enormity that greeted us. It was held in the West Pies arena in Albuquerque and the word was thousands upon thousands of visitors attended it. This was probably an understatement as it felt like a lot more. There were over 2800 registered dancers and competitors alone registered for the show. It is almost beyond words to describe the cacophony of color and sound and whirling bodies and drums and singers that assaulted your senses in a good way when you walked into the arena. This was a huge event and we’ll be posting images from it for some time trying to give you some feeling for how it felt to be there.

This is where we lost the rest of our interns. There were only seven or eight left by that point anyway. We should have known better. It was just too overwhelming an event to thrust these young minds into. Occasionally we would see one of our interns out in the middle of the arena floor dancing with abandonment, eyes rolled up into their heads, oblivious to the modern world, then they would be lost in the swirling crowds of dancers on the floor and that would be our last glimpse of them. We were sorry to lose them of course but it did improve the Bokeh Maru’s gas mileage on the trip home.

Soon, as our processing department catches up on the several thousand images taken while we were there we will begin posting them for you viewing pleasure. As always it feels good to make it back to The Institute unscathed, or perhaps just a little scathed. Everything connected to The Institute’s grounds survived our absence and we’re beginning to regroup and prepare for the next excursion. The summer is filled with exciting events to attend and we’ve scheduled many of them. Stayed tuned for details of our travels and adventures. Maybe we’ll see you out there.

 

 

Unexpected Views

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Just North of Mexican Hat, Utah as you travel Hwy163 to where it joins with Hwy 261 the San Juan river makes a mighty bend in its generally East to West flow. It flows past the town of Bluff on the East and makes it way in a serpentine fashion westward where it meets the Colorado river and finally dumps into Lake Powell.

The junction of the two highways is just a place in the road where you decide if you want to turn left on Hwy 261 and head on up to Moki Dugway and Muley Point or stay on 163 until you finally get back to Bluff. Lots of times as you’re traveling from one incredibly scenic spot to another you get into traveling mode. As there may be 100 or so miles between places you want to see you put yourself in autopilot and head down the road at the most prudent speed you can tolerate and watch the mile markers tick off  the miles. After all you can’t be late for something spectacular.

The roadside scenery, as incredible as it is, becomes a blurred streak outside your windows and it isn’t until you check back in to reality and find that you have to stop to make a decision about which route you need to take or let the dog out to take a whiz, that you begin to notice your surroundings again.

That’s when you realize that everywhere you look is an unexpected view. If these particular hills have a name, we’ve unofficially named them the Zig-Zag mountains, it’s  not on a sign anywhere. We looked. That doesn’t lessen their scenic quality one little bit. What it does though is make you want to retrace your path to see what else you missed while you were speeding along getting to some place else where there might be scenery. That’s the one huge problem in traveling through the Southwest, there are unexpected views all over the place. Next trip will be to see all the unexpected places instead of racing to see the expected ones.

 

 

Thunder In The Valley

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This is Monument valley. The same Monument valley John Wayne road thru in Stagecoach and many other films. Usually when you see pictures of the valley it’s under bright sun and clear skies, with the buttes in stark relief against the sky, hardly a cloud to be seen, the timeless desert shot from countless calendars. But that’s not always the case as can be seen in the image above.

Monument valley averages around 7″ of rain a year and as we drove towards the entrance in this storm it looked like it was getting all 7″ at once. If you ‘re from the Midwest or the northern tier of the our country you are used to seeing rain storms that last all day or longer sometimes. That’s usually not how our western storms go. With few exceptions our storms race in with an unconstrained fury and drop all of its moisture in a hurry. Our storms don’t fool around. The energy builds up over the mountains, the clouds grow into the very upper reaches of the sky then all hell  breaks loose. Rain, hail, sometimes even snow if you’re real lucky, and wind to blow your lawn chairs into New Mexico.

This storm has just about completed its job as you can see by the sun trying to break through the clouds, yet it is still raining hard enough on the highway that the windshield wipers are having trouble handling it. When a storm like this happens you just wait it out. The ground is going to be saturated and you want to stay way clear of any arroyos or small ditches, even low depressions in the highway as all that water has to go somewhere and it all doesn’t soak into the ground. It moves through the area with enough force to wash away cars and trucks as it they were rubber ducks and it happens real fast.

The roads in the valley are unpaved and made up of a combination of clay, decomposed sandstone, some gravel and that combination, when water is added to it, turns into an adhesive mixture that will coat your tires and fill up your wheel wells until you cannot turn your steering wheel. Besides having the adhesive strength of gorilla glue it turns into a cement-like substance that nearly has to be jack hammered out when it sets up. The general rule of thumb is, don’t drive on those roads until they’ve had a chance to dry out some.

This shot was taken during April in the mid-afternoon and the next morning you could drive the roads with no problems, in fact in some areas you could raise dust as you drove. That is if you didn’t make the mistake of parking in some low area where water runs through. If you did you’re probably in Lake Powell right now. Things happen quickly out here and you need to pay strict attention to your surroundings, but that’s just part of the drama of the West. Some folks thrive on it.

Out Of The Blue

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Tundra swans are not your usual kind of Swan. You rarely find then gracing a pond in city park. These are truly wild swans and they come and go from wild places where human don’t often go. They are not especially rare or even uncommon as they are seen often during their migration times. But when you first see one in the pale winter light of a December morning, emerging from the water to stand quietly and let the soft light fall on its body, they seem like the rarest of the rare. A jewel the likes of which could overshadow the most beautiful pearl with their soft luster.

Swans have a natural grace that is apparent whenever you see one but wild swans have an aura about them that their nearly domesticated sisters who reside in our ponds lack. Even when standing in repose like this one, there is a sense of majesty about them. A regal-ness, if you will, that comes from being free and living their lives as nature intended, with no clipped wings to keep them prisoner, or tricked into staying bound to us by being fed foods they can’t always find in the wild. These are the birds that when they fly over us calling to each other, their bills pointing straight into the wind, their wings beating with a strong steady rhythm and you’re sure they are going someplace wondrous, that makes one say “Take me with you. Take me along.”

Try as we might we cannot accompany them. We have to settle for the special moments when we encounter them and they approach out of the blue. We can send our thoughts with them for a safe journey and hopes for a good life and we can let our hearts say “Take me along. Take me with you.” but we are bound here. That’s the difference between us and the wild things. We may take trips and visit exotic places but we will never be truly wild. That is left to beings like the Tundra swan and others that can take flight and go where they wish. One is happy for them, but there is still that thought, how marvelous it would be if we could go too.

Anasazi Garden

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When many people think of the desert the first image that comes to mind is the Great Sahara desert, or perhaps the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, or the Great Sand Dunes of the Southwestern United states, or even your back yard if you don’t water it. A place barren and inhospitable to life. A place where nothing grows and you dare not venture far from water lest you perish. Which is a pretty easy thing to do if you’re standing out there in the noon day sun with no hat, which we would hasten to add you shouldn’t do, even if you are English and that comes natural to you. We’ve noticed that whenever we’re trapped in the desert and near death we always have a vision of Joe Cocker in his bright red English soldiers jacket singing “With a Little Help From My Friends” marching on before us. This always saves us and we make it back to civilization in one piece, thirsty but alive, but then we’re experts and trained for this kind of thing. But that’s just us, your mileage may vary.

But if you are somewhere like Johns canyon, Utah and its early morning you’ll see something entirely different. A desert garden literally brimming with life. It may be different than what you’re used to thinking of how a garden should be, but then you’re in a different place than you would normally be. As you journey through the canyons you will see small gardens tucked away in every nook and cranny, one after the other until you realize that this is a veritable oasis in the middle of a desolate land.

We are always struck by how similar in feel these desert gardens are to Japanese gardens, which couldn’t be more opposite in nature. The Japanese garden being lush and green with carefully manicured plants, with small trickling streams feeding into water-lily filled ponds, compared to this dry desert garden with its carefully chosen plants, tucked in amongst the boulders, placed just so to take advantage of what ever moisture may be sent its way. The color palette of this garden with its earth tones and giant boulders selected for their color and texture and positioned to fill the space but not overwhelm it is the same in feel if not color, as you find in the perfect temple gardens of Kyoto.

Sometimes we think, that is the experts in our botanical department who are paid to think about these things, think, that there must have been an early visitation to this land by wandering Samurai gardeners who traveled the world spreading their knowledge of how to make a perfect garden where one couldn’t possibly be, teaching people like the Anasazi how to have beauty in their lives in an inhospitable place. A group of Ninja gardening warriors, as it were, dedicated to creating beauty in even the most unreceptive, belligerent landscapes. Or not. But it’s as good a reason as any for the gardens being there.

Our First-strike gardeners here at *The Institute’s World-wide Center for Horticultural Research and truck farm have been collecting gardens just like this one and transporting them root and twig, back to our Botanical center completely intact, where our own hybrid gardeners keep and protect them for posterity. We have gardens similar in size and scope to this one that we have found throughout the world and brought back here to the Institute for safe keeping and our own personal viewing pleasure. Sometimes we let the public view them but not very often. You actually have to have some kind of pull to get in. If you’re interested write us and include your bio and an 11,000 word essay on why we should even let you in the front door and we’ll get back to you if you qualify. Thank you in advance for your interest.

* Note: For those of you unfamiliar with The Institute and what it does, please see the page labeled The Institute on the Menu Bar above. That should explain everything. You shouldn’t have one single question remaining regarding The Institute after reading it. None. For those of you favored few who already know about the Institute, Nevermind. Return to your daily activities. Thank you for your support.