Recently a friend and I traveled to the Sandy Sanders’ Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in far western Oklahoma on a photo safari. It was following an unusually wet spring, following several years of exceptional drought. Besides being a fun outing to see how the water had risen in lakes and streams along the way, we were hoping for an explosion of wildflowers in bloom throughout the WMA. We also had the goal of staying late at Sandy Sanders’ and photographing the sunset.
As it turned out, it wasn’t a successful trip for fine art photography but it was hugely successful for a lot of fun and fellowship. Fine art photographers are by nature, and choice, loners, so when I can spend the day with a good friend and fellow photographer, it’s a day worth remembering.
We had a lot of fun in my FJ Cruiser driving through mud and water and over washed out roads throughout the deserted Sandy Sanders’ WMA and I learned some important things about using 4-wheel drive. These lessons may come in handy in the future; at least I’m hoping they do. We were the only sign of humanity all day long and the first to drive over some of the rough and rugged dirt roads since the last rain. We had a great time exploring and searching for opportunities that didn’t seem to be forthcoming and by sundown we had to choose the best of the worst. We never found what we were looking for, and that sometimes happens. The photo I took of my friend, above, is perhaps the best the picture I took all day. I know it will be the one I cherish and remember.
Nothing better to do on a dark rainy day than scan old negatives. I came across this one and thought I’d share. I took this picture on a camping trip in late autumn of 1977. The campsite is somewhere in the Davis area but the exact location has long slipped from memory.
I was young, dumb, and poor and the only camera I owned back then was a Nikkormat FTN with a 50mm f2 Nikkor H-C lens. The 50mm was the only lens I had at the time. In fact, it and the Nikkormat FTN were the only Nikon equipment I’ve ever owned. I still have them both. The film was Kodak “Pan-X Plus 125”. I never have used B/W much so this was a treat when I came across the negative.
I wish I still had that tent, too. It’s an 8×10 Coleman “American Heritage”. Having straight sides there really was a lot of room in it. I recall once, we had four cots setup inside. Speaking of cots, I have no explanation why my cot is outside; I can’t remember a thing. I wish I still had it because it would make a good cold weather tent for me. It’s canvas and because it didn’t have a rain fly, the windows on the side zipped up tight. It wouldn’t carry much of a load of snow, but it’d be warmer than the tent I have now.
Please excuse the scratches on the negative. Back then, I kept negatives in the original paper envelopes in which they were shipped from the labs. Again, I was young, dumb, and poor and didn’t preserve them properly. It was years later when I finally bought sleeves and began to keep my negatives in them. Of course, the damage was already done.
I went camping this past weekend. I needed to get away from people, get closer to myself and nature, and reconnect with my photography. The part about getting closer to nature and reconnecting with my photography was true enough, but getting away from people was anything but that! I think everyone who owned, or could borrow, a tent had the same idea and showed up at the same campground. Heck, some didn’t even have a tent. They slept in their car. It reminded me of camping at Catfish Bay, Lake Texoma over 40 years ago: leaving an overcrowded urban trailer park to stay in an even more overcrowded tent city. It was fun back then; it ain’t today! So my intention for a weekend of gritting my teeth through the pain in solitude while pursuing a great photograph was blown first rattle out of the box.
I still had the gritting and gnashing of teeth in response to pain, but I also had the irritation of people to deal with: people who don’t even bring a flashlight to camp, people who use charcoal lighter fluid to start a campfire, people who bring large screen TVs to keep their kids occupied, and a divorced dad trying to impress their kid and wind up being a total jerk. However, I was determined to put myself in the right place at the right time for the best opportunity to make a good image. Since I barely slept a wink, waiting for sunrise was not big deal, and after spending the afternoon observing the loonies around camp, it was real easy to leave camp early enough to be set up for sunset. All I really wanted was GOD to paint the sky in magic.
Last night was not good for sleep; It was not due to pain. I couldn’t sleep more than 45 minutes at a time. Every 45 minutes I would awaken, look at the clock, lie awake for 30 minutes and then sleep for another 45. Finally, at 4:30 AM, I arose, took a shower, shaved, drank a cup of “Taster’s Choice”, and drove to Walgreen’s to pick up some Q-Tips and coffee filters.
Back home I brewed a pot of coffee and ate a banana while thinking about what I was going to do this early in the morning. When the coffee was finished brewing and I had poured myself a cup, I went out into the backyard to hear the birds and enjoy my fresh brew. It was already light but it would be about 30 minutes before sunrise: not enough time to get anywhere for a sunrise photo. As I sat enjoying the cool morning air, I caught the scent of something sweet and fresh. I turned and spied the source, my honeysuckle vine in full bloom. The closer I got to it the stronger the wonderful aroma became. Standing beside this vine profuse with whiter and yellow flowers, my nose leading the way, I lowered my head into the thickness of the flowers and inhaled deeply: pure heaven.
I hadn’t tried the Manfrotto XPRO Geared 3-Way Pan/Tilt Head so I went back in the house to gather equipment to photograph this beautiful flower. For a lens I chose the Sigma 105mm EX 2.8 Macro. This is an old lens I’ve had for many years. It is not the newer DG model. With Sony Alpha a7r and tripod in hand, I sat up just inches away. Maneuvering to get just the composition I wanted was easy using the XPRO Geared Head. It was very responsive and smooth. I expecially like the fact it has three leveling bubbles. Added to the leveling bubble on the Manfrotto 55XPRO3 tripod, keeping everything in line was a breeze. When I began, the air was perfectly still and keeping focus was simple. However, this being Oklahoma, it wasn’t but a few minutes after sunrise before the air began to stir and the vines began to sway. A few more shots and I was done.
I don’t remember if there was a house standing on this place the first time I saw this barn; a stem-wall outlines the location. That was over 50 years ago, and the best my memory will serve, I don’t believe there was. That’s a long time for a farmhouse to be gone, even for Oklahoma. Most rotted away within the last fifty years, not the first fifty since settlers settled on this plot of prairie. This barn still stands though, a testimony to the fact barns are more useful than houses out here. Even so, there aren’t many of the old wooden barns around anymore. They aren’t used for storing hay, feed, shelter for livestock, or the imagination of children acting out adventures in imaginary lands: all replaced by round bales, metal equipment sheds, grocery stores, and video games.
I like this barn. There’s no telling when it last sheltered anything more than an owl and an assortment of rodents and vermin. I like this barn. It’s defined its own purpose. Hmm, I like this barn.
On clear nights the stars are always incredible at Sandy Sanders WMA! Somewhere around nine o’clock one night and before I got ready to cozy up in my sleeping bag, I ventured into the cold night air to admire the sparkling stars under a moonless and black dome. I was not disappointed. Even though January in Oklahoma is not the most favorable season to view the Milky Way, it could be seen faintly stretching northwest to southeast over my campsite. In fact the best view was behind my tent toward the northwest. It was very cold but the air was perfectly still. (On still nights Sandy Sanders can be sort of creepy because it’s so eerily quiet. The silence is broken only by the occasional coyote yelp.) Because my camera gear was locked inside my FJ, I knew condensation would not be a problem. I gathered my gear and set up to take a shot. A UCO candle lantern was burning and hanging from the top of the Big House Four tent from a loop creating a really nice yellow glow that helped to illuminate the rest of the campsite. Even though the Milky Way was faint, I still like the picture enough to use it as the background image of the menu on my blog. The two glows are the horizon are from Texola and Erick, small communities located 25 and 15 miles away as the crow flies.