A Chapter Ends

Chapter ending Sunset
“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
― Frank Herbert

A Chapter Ends, A Story Doesn’t

Every day’s sunset is a chapter ending.  Only one will be the final chapter.  The late Galen Rowell, a renowned landscape photographer said, “You only get one sunrise and one sunset a day, and you only get so many days on the planet. A good photographer does the math and doesn’t waste either.”

I don’t want to go.  I just don’t feel like it.  It’s August in Oklahoma and it’s HOT!  I hibernate through summer.  Out-of-doors for me is fall through late spring, not summer.  Anyway, I step outside and look up.  I see a sky cluttered with 18% grey tone clouds.  I see plenty of blue patches, some large enough to sew a pair of pants.  I see sunlight, bright spot light beams pouring through spaces in between.  That’s enough for me.  That’s all it takes.  In fifteen minutes I’m behind the wheel in FJ and heading out.

I’m trying to get out of Lawton the quickest and safest way I can but also keeping an eye on the rapidly changing sky and its affect on the landscape.  If you’re a landscape photographer, being familiar with the surrounding landscape is a plus.  Options for possible spots to set up are running through my mind like a slide show.  It’s still early, so I’m not feeling any urgency about the approaching end of day.  On a hunch, I drive to the farthest away point first.  Along the way I pass other promising spots.  If my hunch doesn’t pay off I can backtrack.  Now, I’m starting to feel the excitement.

Arriving, I start down a trail with only my hiking staff, scouting the area unburdened by camera gear.  All’s quiet except for the crickets.  The grass is green and tall—unusual for August.  We’ve had some rain.  I haven’t gone far until I encounter three bull bison grazing on the move, about forty yards away.  They’re in single file.  A strikingly handsome, fully mature bull leads a young adult and a half-grown one with half-sized horns.  A fourth bison, this one old and alone is dusting himself in a wallow about fifty yards farther still.  I catch the lead bull’s attention.  He stops.  I stop.  He stares.  I stare.  He wins; I move first.  I go south.  He goes north.  The other two follow.  The old bull stays in the wallow doing his thing.  I’m doing mine.  We understand each other.

I top a hill that affords good viewpoints to the south and west.  I tarry for a time, taking pictures in my mind, first here, then there.  Soon, it’s time to trek back to FJ and gear up.  When I return, fully equipped and ready for business, there’s not much time left before I find out if my hunch is right.  Elk are bugling in the hills to the north,  behind me in the east, a pack of coyotes yelp the muster call for their nightly hunt.  A dark and foreboding storm is approaching from the south and the sun is sinking slowly toward the horizon in the west.  I hear faint rumblings of thunder.  The storm’s a long ways off, but there’s still no color in the west, either.  Will the storm get here first?  I wait.

Soon, the weakening but still arrogant August sun shouts across Buffalo Gap with the last shout of a softer, but still strong voice.  From my place atop a boulder pile I’m ready — click, click, click.  The light doesn’t last—clouds on the horizon.  I climb down.  It’s ramp-up time; time to move; the game is under foot.  It’s turning into a contest.  Who will win:  clouds, darkness, or me?

Earlier scouting is paying off.  I move to the first position, set up a level tripod, expose, compose, focus: click, click, click.  Break down, move to second position and repeat:  set up, expose, compose, focus:  click, click, click.  Break down, move and repeat:  click, click, click.  Break down and move again:  same thing.  By now, I’m hearing nothing, I’m feeling nothing, I’m seeing nothing except this SUNSET vanishing right before my eyes.  Now I’m heading toward what I know will be my last stand, my final chance to capture the picture already forming in my mind’s eye.  I’m all adrenaline.  Don’t trip, don’t stumble, don’t fall!  Not now!

I see it.  The tree.  My already rapidly firing heart jumps at the sight.  I might make it.  I might actually get there in time.  Suddenly, I’m there.  I know the routine.  My eyes are focused, shooting data to my brain at the speed of light.  I’ve got this.  I’ve got this!  My hands are moving in the dark, they know where their supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing.  Level tripod, mount camera, expose, compose, focus:  click, click, click.  Again: click, click, click.  One more time:  click, click, click.  Done!  Relief!  Sigh—relax—breathe—sigh again—wipe sweat off brow and out of eyes; It’s still August.  Pack it up and head home.

It’s dark.  Crickets, elk, and coyotes return to the night.  Where’s the trail?  Who cares, make a new one I’m unstoppable!  Oh wait, uh, where are those bulls, now?  Hmm?

A chapter ends…the story doesn’t.  Tomorrow there’s another sunset.

Carl Ray

 

Fish, Friends, and Photography

SunsetSomeone told me years ago, “If you want to catch a lot of fish, you have to go fishing a lot.”  That’s true for the most part, unless you have friends that call to tell you when the fish are biting.  It’s also true for landscape photography.  It’s a good thing I have a few good friends.

The great landscape photographer, Galen Rowell, said, “There are only a certain number of sunrises and sunsets in a person’s life.  A good landscape photographer understands this.”  His words haunt me because there are too many I never see.  Now for real, not every sunrise or sunset contributes to the making of a good image.  Good ones don’t always happen just like fish aren’t always biting.  In truth, I miss too many of the good ones.  And my friends let me know when I do; “Oh, did you see the sunrise this morning?; Wow, I hope you got that sunset last night. It was fantastic!”  I love my friends!  They are few, but they are special!

Yesterday evening, I’m doing nothing in particular when one of these good friends calls me up.  The conversation begins like this:

“Hello”

“Well, I’m going to tell you right now, I can’t go.  I hate it, but I’m just not able to go.  I’m on my way to Elgin to meet family for supper.  But there are some clouds out here that look like they might make for a pretty good sunset.  You ought to go if you can.  If you get something good, send it to me.”

Well, what do you do?  Good friends hold you accountable.  I grabbed my bag, pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge and I’m out the door.  And, as it turned out it was pretty good and I had a great time just being out there.  Yes, the catch isn’t big enough for a company fish fry, but it’s big enough to keep.  I sent it to my friend earlier this morning.

Fish, Friends, and Photography?  I need all three, and sometimes, it takes all three.

Carl Ray

Some Things Change and Some Things Don’t

Seasons Change
Seasons Change and Buffalo Roam

Change Is In the Air

Seasons change.  Leaves appear on the trees and buffalo roam across pastures grazing on the fresh, sweet, green grass of spring.

Change has been my middle-name over the past several years:  both knees and a hip totally replaced and a shoulder awaiting it’s turn, a marriage that lasted forty years ended, a 27 year professional career turned upside-down and inside-out,  retirement, and for the first time in my life, living alone.  Seasons change.  The climate changes, slowly.  The weather changes, sometimes hourly.  Governments change, sometimes quicker than the weather.  Some mountains are growing, others are weathering away.  Landfills of garbage are becoming mountains.  Wilderness areas are shrinking.  America is changing.  Society is changing.  Culture is changing.  Change!  Change!  Change!  It’s happening all around us at ever increasing, spinning, dizzying speeds!  “Stop the world, I want to get off!”  Is there anything that doesn’t change?  Yes, Clara, yes there is!

GOD doesn’t change.  Jesus Christ doesn’t change.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t change.  It’s a fact.  It’s true.  Believe it.  He’s still where he’s always been.  He’s not lost.  He’s right where you left him.  Take his hand, it’ll be okay.  He won’t change on you.  He’s GOD!

Must I Photograph?

Dutch Iris - Iris Hollandica
In My Garden

Recently the question came to my attention, “Would you still be a photographer if no one would ever see your photographs?”  This got me thinking; Would I continue to do photography without any input, of any kind, from even a single person.  Hmm!  I first thought about when and how I became interested in photography. As a child, I was fascinated by mom’s Kodak Brownie Hawkeye whenever she said, “Let me get a picture.”  The camera held my attention more than any posing instructions that followed.  Later, I’d sneak her Kodak out of the closet and take pictures.  She started hiding it; film and developing was expensive.  In the 5th  grade I sold magazine subscriptions to get a Brownie Starmite.  I didn’t have any money to buy film so I didn’t do much photography.  On my 16th  birthday, I got a Polaroid 210.  I had a job working for my dad in construction and could buy the film packs; I became a photographer.  From that time on I have always taken pictures. If making money through photography is the “line in the sand” for determining if someone is a photographer or not, then I’m on the wrong side of the line.  But the question isn’t about that.  The question is if I will continue to photograph life, as I see it, even if no one but me will ever see them.  Absolutely I will!  As long as I have a functioning camera I will take pictures that others have the opportunity to see, and yet, may never see.  Should the time come, as it has in the past, when I don’t have a functioning camera, the shutter in my mind will still click whenever I “see” the shot.  And most certainly, should my eyes become darkened, the light of imagination will brighten the viewfinder of my mind and the shutter will still click.  I am a photographer!

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2015 Mayor’s Blues Ball

Kalo – Blues tinged rock music - electric and sexy
Kalo performs at the “2015 Blues Ball”, Medicine Park, OK

The 2015 edition of the Mayor’s Blues Ball is now recent history.  Also recent are  memories of the hundreds of melodies heard, coupled with amazing images seen through the viewfinder of my camera (photos soon to be posted in gallery).  The past three evenings have been spent in stifling humidity of unseasonable heat in Medicine Park, OK.  The 2015 edition of the Mayor’s Blues Ball marks the ninth year for this festival.  I haven’t attended all nine, but me and my camera have attended several, sometimes with a friend, often alone.  That’s how much I love this music festival.  It is my favorite of the major annual musical events at Medicine Park:  “Park Stomp”, “Mayor’s Red Dirt Ball”, “Mayor’s Blues Ball”, “Native American Flute Festival and Art Walk”.  It’s like homemade ice cream; it’s hard to beat for a treat.

And this year’s Mayor’s Blues Ball served up a special treat for me.  The official photographer for past events was unable, due to a need to address his personal health, to photograph the 2015 Mayor’s Blues Ball (my prayers are lifted for my friend’s speedy and full recovery).  I was honored and blessed to be able to act as this year’s official photographer and to be included on the 2015 Mayor’s Blues Ball T-shirt as a Silver Sponsor (Okie Dokie Photography).  This year’s Mayor’s Blues Ball was dedicated to the late, great BB King!  An image of the gifted hands of “The King” picking his legendary “Lucille” graces the front of the shirt.  It’s a double-treat for Okie Dokie Photography to be included in the sponsor’s listed on the back.  From beginning to end, each of the performers honored and paid tribute to this great blues giant!  Each of the three nights of the festival was filled with musical tributes to BB King, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, and others; even heard some ZZ Top.

The best thing about being the “official” photographer was the additional license it gave me.  Really, I’ve never let not being “official” deter me from taking as much license as I wanted.  Those who know me best know my motto, “Walk in like you own the place and you’re supposed to be there”.  But, respect for others create boundaries I don’t cross without permission:  going on stage, mingling back stage, making special lighting requests, etc.  However, being official erases those boundaries.  This additional freedom being new to me, I was shy, at first.  As the weekend progressed my boldness grew and I began to expand onto this enlarged playing field.  New areas were open for exploration, and explore I did.  I also wore my sixty-four year old butt out.  It was hot, hot, hot, and the humidity was high, high, high!  That meant I sweat, sweat, sweated!  But I loved, loved, loved it!  Kudos to Dwight Cope and all the other “Parkies” for making this year’s 2015 Mayor’s Blues Ball the best ever!  As Chant said last night, “When Jerry Smith (bass player) and I played the very first Mayor’s Blues Ball nine years ago, we performed on a flatbed trailer.  Look how far this event has come!  We love coming to Medicine Park and the Mayor’s Blues Ball, and hope you keep inviting us back.”  I second that!!

(photos from 2015 Mayor’s Blues Ball soon to be posted in gallery)

 

 

Retirement: Do Dreams Die There?

Retirement:  You’re Never Too Old

Do dreams die in retirement?  Retirement should be the gateway to new beginnings.  I recently turned sixty-four.  For me, sixty-five has always been the passage-of-rite to retirement much like sixteen was the passage-of-rite to independence when I acquired a driver’s license and could suddenly drive legally.  I always figured I’d be wealthy by the time I turned 65, and wouldn’t be concerned about having enough money to live comfortably for the remainder of my life.  At about 50, I began to worry ’cause, up to that point I didn’t have a clear retirement plan and was relying solely on the plan offered through my employer, a state agency where I had been employed the previous ten years, or so.  Well, there was also Social Security.  It was then I took serious stock of what life would be like after retirement.

The first thing I did was take advantage of our employer sponsored investment program.  We designate a certain amount to be deducted from our paycheck and used to purchase stock in mutual funds of our choice.  As it’s turned out that was a pretty wise thing to do as my investments have done well.  The only downside at this point is the meager amount, because of my financial responsibilities, I’ve been able to allocate for this purpose.  I knew by age fifty-five, this retirement planning was going to fall short and there was more I needed to do.  It became pretty obvious I was going to need to be able to earn some money to supplement everything else so there’d be enough to support my standard of living at its current level.  I knew I didn’t want to work for someone else and I also knew I did not want to continue in my current job past the time I would be eligible for full Social Security benefits.  That pretty much meant I was going to have to earn money working for myself.  So, what were my options.

Well, having learned the carpenter/construction business growing up and earning a living in the field as an adult for over ten years, being a handyman was one option.  I had a lot of tools already that would allow me to complete a goodly number of jobs.  But, you know what, I saw this as not much different from working for someone else and already I was aware of the pitfalls of working for the public.  What other option would I have?  I have always loved photography!  I took pictures as a child, sneaking my mother’s Kodak box camera out and using up her precious film.  She soon hid it from me.  By sixteen I began buying my own cameras and film.  In my early twenties, and soon after marriage, I got a job in a photography studio in OKC.  I learned weddings, some portraiture, and some darkroom skills.  My love for photography never stopped even though my growth and development in the art almost ceased as I became a father, changed to another career, and put aside my wants for the wants and needs of others.  However, in 1999, my father passed away and left me just enough money to buy a new camera, a Minolta 800si and a few other accessories.  Over the next several years, my financial picture improved and I was able to purchase a few more lenses, a flash, and some filters.  So, by the time I was at the point of considering options for earning money after retirement, pursuing becoming a fine art photographer was not out of the question.  I still had over a decade left in my current career until retirement and this would allow me to grow slowly and cheaply and to be earning some money before retirement.  So that’s just what I would do.  I would become a fine art photographer.  This was my new retirement plan.  So, you ask, “How’s it been going?”

Well, this may not have been such a good plan, yet.  Retirement may be a lot farther away than I had hoped!  There is one thing for sure, though; I am not giving up.  More on that next time.

 

 

Time to Stop Planning and Start Doing

cre_150602_02582_3_4_es-1A couple dozen times a year for over a decade I have driven passed this elm tree, and the farmer’s field in which it’s stood for several decades.  I have driven by during different seasons, with different sunrises and sunsets in the background, different crops growing in the field, different weather conditions, e.g., rain, snow, drought, different times of the day, in different moods, and for different reasons.  Visions of a hundred different images have popped-up in my head, but I never stopped to capture any of them on film or sensor.  This time was no different.  I didn’t stop in passing.  No, on this particular morning, this was my destination, and perhaps my destiny.

Before retiring to bed the night before this was taken, I spoke to myself and said, “If you wake up on your own, not alarm clock assisted, anytime between 4:00 AM and 4:30 AM, you are going to get out of bed and drive to this elm tree in the hope of capturing an image worth the trouble”.  When I finally crawled into bed, my camera gear was loaded and ready to go.  What I was going to wear was already laid out.  The coffee maker was filled with coffee makings and waiting only to have the start button pushed at whatever time I should walk into the kitchen.  Yep, you can guess what happened; Yes, it really did!

Sixty minutes, three gallons gasoline, and $6.50 in tolls later, I found myself pulling off the turnpike, driving across the right-of-way, and parking alongside the fence separating the farmer’s private land from the public’s “hurry up and get their toll road.  Yes, I finally did it!  I’m glad I did it!

What…are you…waiting on?  Hmm?  Stop planning and go do it!  You’ll be glad you did.

Best of the Day

Waylen Knapp - Photographer
Sunset at Sandy Sanders’ WMA

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.

Fresh Start

Sunrise behind Mt. Scott
Longhorn cattle graze as sun rises over Mt. Scott.

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.

Sweet Morning Smells

Honeysuckle Flower
“Honeysuckle growing on a honeysuckle vine”, Bill Haley

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.