Kids and ghosts

four year old me

The house was old. It was large by most standards—to a child of four or five, it was enormous. A large front porch braced the entry, protecting an oversized door. Heavy and thick, it swung smooth and noiseless on large, well-oiled hinges. A massive spring bumper checked the fluid momentum.

Nearly everyone paused at the first step inside. The eddies of air from the arc of the door settled. A long stairway, straight without any landing or turns, confronted you, commanding your attention and directed your eye upward to a small bright window on the second floor.

Our family moved to this great beast of a house when I was four. It seemed an amazing place, in the middle of ten acres of walnut trees, and that a family as poor as ours could live in a place so large. It was owned by my father’s boss, a rich man with many properties. I assume now he needed people on the place to keep his tax liabilities within the rules by declaring it as a working farm.

We didn’t work it, though—laborers came once a year to clear the huge trees of nuts-those we didn’t claim for ourselves. We ate a lot of nuts, true, but to a child in southern California, walnuts were the perfect substitute for snowballs. Forts were built, ammunition stored, battles fought, won and lost as the missiles found home and raised plump red welts. There was then a general truce in the mad rush to the cooling water faucet near the back door.

My parents were divorced—a small anomaly at that time in our Catholic community. We went to the parochial school tuition free—another emotional hurdle as the children in our respective classes inexplicably found out, and pressed their advantage. It was, though, without knowing to compare, a happy enough time for us all.

Except for the ghosts.

The kids slept upstairs. It seemed an incredible journey to get to the second story. The tall, tall ceilings on the first floor pushed the second floor skyward. We shared bedrooms at times, and other times not as there were plenty for all. I declared my independence at five and claimed a room of my own. It was a long narrow room with two dormer wings on either side of the door. A lone window at the end overlooked the front of the house and a busy intersection in the distance.

And, as experienced by younger brothers throughout time, it didn’t take long for the wiser, more experienced siblings to inform me of my peril. “That room’s haunted. You’re gonna die.” “Yeah, says you,” my only retort, but inside I could feel my vital organs liquefying. “You watch out tonight, we’ll come in when the sun’s up and pick up the bloody pieces.”

Generally, summer nights are unfair for the younger ones. “Go to bed,” is simply wrong before the last traces of color are erased from the sky. This time though, there were no complaints. I had to plan my defense. The door was wedged open—an army man sacrificed bent double for the cause. Sheets were untucked for an easier escape. Closets were double-checked. Even the walls were tapped and prodded to check for secret entrances, exits and passageways. Finally, and while it was still barely light out, the underside of the bed was swept clear with a purloined flashlight.

Everything was secure. But the fear was there, my pulse rhythmically clicking in an eardrum worn fragile by repeated infections. It was a loud and unsettling noise—heard throughout the house. I started as first one, then another brother shouted his final goodbye from down the hall.

Obviously, I couldn’t sleep.

The darkness outside came slowly. The dusk was further along inside. The feeble light from my bedside Howdy Doody lamp lit the bed and little else. The flashlight worked fine, but a dread of an ill timed and critical battery failure kept it off.

The first star clicked on in the little window and I was ready: “Starbright, starlight, first star I see tonight…” A prayer to some other god, the god of first-star-wishing-supplicant must surely be overlooked by our most catholic and ferocious Father in such a desperate time. We’re talking ghosts here afterall. Who knows from where the protection can come? As such, all the saints I could recall and any other deity, orthodox or not, were summoned into service, including Buffalo Bob, Engineer Bill and Captain Kangaroo.

Time passed. And then something had moved by the door—I was sure I saw something. It was late enough in my vigil to sense my solitude. Everyone else was asleep. I wanted to call out, to summon a brother or even my mom, but surely a call would create a focus of attention where I least wanted it. Maybe if I was still and quiet enough, not even a ghost would see me.

There it was again! The faintest light moved across the door, from one dormer to the other. “Oh Lord, I’ll always be good—I promise.” I hoped there would be time later to atone for the lie. There was nothing, then, for the longest time. Maybe the nuns were right, perhaps guardian angels and supplications work as predicted.

But no, I was alone and the ghosts came back. They moved from side to side, sometimes one way, sometimes the other.

And there the memory of that night ends. I’m here, so obviously I survived. I suppose fear gave way to sleep eventually, but I must have spent a long time under the covers before the mercy of it arrived.

It wasn’t until I was in college that it all finally made sense. A book—title and author long forgotten—described the ghost fears of a young girl. The poor girl didn’t know how or why the ghosts appeared because the author was omniscient and cruel and didn’t let her know right away. The ephemeral spirits, the phosphorus images scanning the wall from one corner to another, came from headlights. Cars would pass outside, sometimes turning at a nearby intersection and cast their beams through windows and curtains propelling the limned spirits—uncaring drivers unknowingly reducing untold numbers of children to jelly.

Edit to One

A short narrative of thoughts on photography

Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias. Larger view here

A cold front blew in. It’s not uncommon to get freezing weather in March in north Texas, but we’re closer to the inevitable descent to Hades than we are to the outdoor air conditioning we enjoy in the too-short winter season. 

I had arranged with a local friend to meet with her for a photo shoot. Even though it was below freezing and the wind was blowing she suggested we gather ourselves and our gear to meet at a trailhead for the Trinity Trails system in Fort Worth. She had participated in the Cowtown 10k the previous week and on that same part of the trail was delighted to discover a nesting site for Great Blue Herons. The big birds, with a wingspan of six feet, and standing nearly four feet tall, are supposed to be good luck when you happen to see one. I was all for it. Plus, she is fun to hang out with.

We delayed our rendezvous until the next day, and Sunday started out freezing but turned into a gorgeous day with little wind. We didn’t have far to walk. Herons nest in colonies, sometimes more than a hundred pairs if the ecosystem can support them. This herony, as it’s called, was much smaller. There were a dozen or so nests at the tops of the pin oaks and cottonwoods. 

They’re not clever nest builders, instead opting for function over form in the large stick platforms. It’s amazing that the fledglings can maintain their balance on such a humble home, especially when the parents come to feed the huge babies and compete in the seemingly too small square footage.

Precarious platforms. You’ll have to view this in a larger size to see the five or six nests and that there are two herons in the shot. Two remained. Larger here. This shot is just after the hawk buzzed the nests. Most of the them took off and circled the herony, alighting again after a few moments.

The shot above was taken from a distance of about 100 yards to illustrate a couple of points. It’s not a terrific photo—but you can get an overall sense of what we came to see. The deciduous oaks had not yet leafed out, though there’s a pretty redbud in the lower left that has begun to bloom. The herons build their nests at the top of the trees for easier takeoffs and landings, especially when the foliage is complete, thus they’re somewhat vulnerable to predators as illustrated in the next two shots. 

You’d think that a bird that large, with an obvious deadly weapon in their dagger-like beak, wouldn’t have to worry about predators, but they do have to be careful. Red-tailed hawks are a particular menace. The hawks break the eggs and also raid nests for the chicks when the parents are away. 

Red-tailed hawk Buteo jamaicensis. Larger view here.

We saw this fellow strafe the nests. He flew well above the tree line, but once he hunched his shoulders and drew in his wings in that classic preparation for dive bombing, the herons also recognized that threat and they scattered. Two of the herons remained, which indicated that they were guarding their clutches of eggs. The hawk bumped the head of one heron, and simply flew off, unable to unseat the protective mother. 

A good lesson I’ve learned is a process called “Edit To One.” I think the process helps all photographers regardless of the skill or artistic level. In my previous post On Photography, I mentioned that we can never be that other person—that other photographer. And we shouldn’t try to be. In the same vein, the Edit to One lesson is all about comparing yourself to yourself.

This process applies to those occasions when we are “out on a shoot.” We have a project or destination in mind and we end up with a lot of photos within a fairly narrow time frame or subject matter. It occurs when you get back to the place where you can look at all the photos from that shoot.

Edit to One means that we must choose just one photo that is the best one in that project. It’s hard. Don’t ask anyone else what they think, because they don’t think like you do. The other person is not the one composing or framing or any of the other myriad choices you make. It’s you. Select just one photo. One. 

You might say to yourself, “Oh, but this one and this one are worthy of display, if not to the accolades of those who might view it, at least I like that one and that one and that one.” It’s hard to release your favorites into that category of “also ran.”

But really, there is always one photo that is just a little, or even much better than all the others in the shoot. On our Great Blue Heron excursion, I took 140 photos. That’s not really a lot. It would have been easy to take 500. Part of the result in this process is that you’re taking fewer photos. That’s ok. It means you’re making deliberative, thoughtful decisions. The one at the top of this post is the one I selected for my Edit To One choice.

The process is this: after you’ve selected that one photo, why did the others not make that coveted designation? What about each of those other shots, looking at them one by one, that made them fall short of the mark. Is the focus off just a bit? Could the composition have been better? Did you make the right choice on depth of field, f/stop, speed, ISO, light direction, etc., etc.

Here’s one that I liked a lot:

Larger here

It’s a nice shot. The framing and composition are what I wanted, and actually follows the Rule of Thirds in a way that is more than subliminally pleasing—there’s something about negative space that enhances the focal point even further. But there were some choices I could have made that would have made the picture just a little better. There’s a setting on the lens I was using, the Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 zoom with the TC1.7 telecoverter attached to get a little further reach. The actual focal length was 340mm. There’s a setting on the lens to allow for vibration reduction—VR—and it has a specific capability for panning. That means that it compensates when you have to move the camera and lens in either a horizontal or vertical pan and makes the image tack sharp if you’ve made the right decision on all the other variables. Taking photos of birds in flight is fairly difficult to get razor sharp focusing. And since I was using a monopod, it’s common practice to turn off the VR setting, that’s especially so if you’re using a tripod. When using a monopod or tripod the lens tries to compensate where none is needed and it actually makes for some fuzzy edges at times when VR is on and it’s not necessary. 

But in the excitement of having the heron fly near us, close enough to be able to get a decent shot, I just didn’t think to turn on the VR and then turn on Active VR, which is the setting that helps with panning. There’s also a setting on the camera body for Continuous Shooting, instead of Single. That setting allows for much more motion to be taking place and the computers inside the camera adjust to keep the main component in the framing choice always in focus.

What I learned from that is to try to be a bit more anticipatory. I need to look at the settings on the camera and on the lens given where I’m standing and what might reasonably be expected to happen. In the next photoshoot that is similar, I need to spend a few minutes preparing the camera, but also preparing my brain to accommodate those expectations.

The reason the image at the top of the post is the selected favorite can be summed up quickly. The heron’s serpentine neck is nicely spaced between the branches, which didn’t occur on the other shots that were similar. The focus is tack sharp. My stance location was good to get the light slanting in from the side to show off the shoulder and leg coloring. The bird’s head was positioned just right to see the rat tail plumes that come off the top. And finally, it shows a quirkiness of the bird’s morphology. The eyes are positioned on its head so that it can see forward and downward at the same time—I think that’s an evolution that enables better hunting results when they’re wading in creeks and swamps. All of those elements combined, and especially it being a well focused shot, to make it the Edit To One choice.

Here are three similar shots that were close, but didn’t make the top shot:

That’s it for this chapter in what might be a continuing series On Photography. The purpose of Edit To One is to get you thinking, and to get you thinking before you head out for the next shoot. If it means you take fewer photos, don’t worry. I think you’ll find that the ones you do take you’ll find that you’re happier with the results.

I’m sure when I’m out and about I’ll see or do something that will smack me in the head so that I’ll think “Oh, I need to explore this further” or it’s something that I can share. My inspiration for Edit To One comes from my most trusted resource on the web for photography—Thom Hogan. As far as I know, he coined the phrase, though he could have learned it from his mentor, the great wildlife and nature photographer Galen Rowell.

Before we leave the Great Blue Herons, here’s a link for you birders out there. John James Audubon illustrated the New World birds in his epic Birds of America. His rendition of the Great Blue can be found here. If you move your cursor over the image, you’ll see details that are just amazing. 

I did have another favorite, but it was not a heron shot. I included it in the Edit To One process, and I still think I made the right choice with the image at the top. Yeah, yeah, there’s some poetry.

weightless in wind
with no control
pierced by a thorn
body and soul
pining for winds
turmoiled increase 
captured beauty
awaits release
a freshened air
and off it goes
through new layers
the forest grows

all photos copyright © 2011 by barry b. doyle · all rights reserved

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The Traveling Man in Deep Ellum

Deep Ellum has seen both rise and fall—several times over. What began as a warehouse and factory area just east of downtown Dallas evolved into many different things—sometimes repeating previous incarnations.

It’s now a waning entertainment and arts district, having seen a night club and urban residence resurgence in the 90s that quickly devolved into incidents of street crime and a heavy handed police crackdown. The result is that there are now many storefronts vacant, and the real estate for lofts and apartments that were already overpriced are now empty and overpriced.

There remains pockets of activity. Monica’s Aca y Alla is still my favorite restaurant in all of Dallas. (I hate, though, that they’ve removed Enchiladas Angél from their menu, a delectable ambrosia of soft steamed red potato vegetarian enchiladas with a chipotle cream sauce.)

I don’t have a pic of my favorite now departed enchiladas, but the taco salad pictured above is wonderful. Not overlarge and laced with that same chipotle cream sauce.

Deep Ellum was originally settled as a “freedmen’s town” by former slaves after the Civil War. The central location has Elm Street running through it, hence the name of the area—it’s generally believed that Ellum was the local patois pronunciation of Elm. 

A 1905 map of Dallas. Deep Ellum is the northern and western part of Section 5. Note that the sinuous Trinity River at the western edge of downtown is now much further west, redirected in a levee public works project constructed in 1932 and 1960 as a response to the devastating floods experienced in 1908 (yes, most of the people affected by the floods were poor, so progress to prevent flooding was indeed slow). Map © 1905 by John F. Worley and currently in the public domain found here: History of Dallas.

There was a confluence of railway lines coming together in Deep Ellum including the Texas Interurban Railway Company, a passenger line which ran toward east Texas where King Cotton was farmed. Appropriately there was an early industrial site and factory for manufacturing cotton gins in the early days. And coincidentally, the Interurban saw it’s demise with the rise of the automobile. It’s believed that tracks were pulled up at the behest of the nascent industry in order to enhance sales of the soon to be ubiquitous horseless carriage. The coincidence becomes apparent with the establishment in 1913 of an assembly plant for the Ford Motor Company on Canton Street—four floors in a narrow low rise with huge elevators that connected the assembly lines. They built the Model T there. That building is now an upscale 90-unit loft condominium after a previous incarnation as the Adam Hat Company.

Good times and bad continued. By the 1920s the Deep Ellum area was a retail and entertainment mecca for the Black community. There were rows of pawn shops and mercantile retailers. Scattered among the cafes and domino parlors were 12 nightclubs. It soon became the destination for jazz and blues musicians and their patrons. Blind Lemon Jefferson, Sam “Lightnin’ ” Hopkins, Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter, Texas Bill Day, Lonnie Johnson, Little Hat Jones, Emma Wright, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Benny Moten began or furthered their careers in Deep Ellum. You could catch a performance by Robert Johnson when he came through town. It was a hopping, happening place.

Texas Bill Day wrote and performed a popular song of the time, Deep Ellum Blues.

Ellum Street’s paved in brass,
Main Street’s paved in gold. 
I’ve got a good girl lives on East Commerce
I wouldn’t mistreat to save nobody’s Soul.
These Ellum Street women, Billiken,
Do not mean you no good. 
If you want to make a good women,
Have to get on Haskell Avenue.

So after the manic Gen-X nightclub Deep Ellum era ran its course, the area has fallen on hard times once again. But there is some hope on the horizon, mainly fueled by the recently opened Green Line, the Light Rail extension that will range from far northwest Dallas and suburbs beyond, though downtown and then to Fair Park in southeast Dallas. The Light Rail is part of the DART system—Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

Before the economy tanked, and luckily for a pair of local artists, DART spent $1.3 million on a three part oversized whimsical sculpture series. The installations feature The Traveling Man, an homage to the early jazz roots and culture of the Deep Ellum area. 

The Traveling Man is 28 feet tall. He was conceived by the artistic geniuses Brandon Oldenburg at Real FX Creative Studios in collaboration with Brad Oldham. The story of is revealed in part here, as told to the Dallas Observer’s Robert Wilonsky.

The Story

Since 1884, when the first industrial business opened in Deep Ellum, the land has absorbed an overrun of business, great entrepreneurial ambitions and industrial parts, along with the next-to-arrive restaurants, art galleries, retailers, bars and visitors. Many feet, tires and tracks have packed the earth of Deep Ellum. It is the culmination of all these elements in this entertainment-district that was borne from an industrial heritage that provided the materials for creation of The Traveling Man.

The story goes that some time before 1900, an old steam train was buried near the intersection of what today is Main Street and Good Latimer. A majestic elm tree grew nearby in a grassy area, providing a shady spot for visitors to gather and shelter for many song birds. As the roots of the elm tree grew closer to the buried train, magic started to happen. The surrounding dirt, fertilized with all that is Deep Ellum, created a womb. The Traveling Man was conceived late one night when a splash of gin spilled onto the dirt reached the tip of the elm tree root that rested on the train – and his gestation is nearly complete. This incredible man will be born in the summer of 2009…

You can read the rest of the story on the Dallas Observer web site found hereand here.

Here’s the Traveling Man waiting for the train, playing with his banjo. He’s resting against part of the tunnel pictured at the top of this post, preserved as a legacy element hearkening back to that earlier time.

This is the first part of the series, and shows the Traveling Man’s birth, conceived from gin and elm tree roots fertilized by a long forgotten buried steam train. You’ll note that his “ears” are actually tuning pegs.

We can’t forget the Traveling Man’s companions, the birds that are part of the modern folklore story.

Me and the bird
Rain on the bird’s back

I love the Traveling Man, though there has been some local complaining about the art and the cost, I think it’s a wonderful addition to Deep Ellum. I also love the invented story of his birth and the tribute and homage paid to all that has passed before.

Here follows some other public art found in Deep Ellum. The street art on the walls is not nearly as well paid as what the artists got for The Traveling Man, but it all does add to the bohemian atmosphere. Of course, there are signs plastered everywhere reminding would be taggers that graffiti is prohibited. I’m assuming that the exterior wall art was commissioned and paid for—modestly.

This is a tribute to Blind Lemon, and shows the early railway being interrupted by the new automobile age. The artist is Brandon Oldenburg, of the same Traveling Man series. Note too, that there is a painted version of the later bird companion sculpture in the wall art.

Stevie Ray Vaughn?

Lisa Loeb on the left, a local Dallas high school graduate—The Hockaday School.
Norah Jones, graduated from the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts on the western edge of Deep Ellum. For you old-timers who don’t already know, she’s the daughter of Ravi Shankar.

Robert Johnson
Carter Albrect

John Lee Hooker
A fatal snack

Thanks so much for visiting. If I’m not back before Thanksgiving, I hope you all have a blessed time with family and friends. I’m thankful for my friends here among many other blessings. 

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Getting Over Myself

Caveat lector: This post was originally on the now defunct web ghost ship Open Salon, which was an adjunct site to The adjunct site no longer exists. OS was designed for bloggers and occasionally posts were ported to the mothership to become part of the online magazine.

NB: Some minor edits were made to clarify a syntax error or the like.


I offended a Dutch book editor.

Apparently, it’s an easy thing to do. I thought I was being thorough, but I guess I just needed to get over myself. I’m sure I still do.

I have a Flickr Pro account and have used that service for many years—for a variety of reasons. My account isn’t really divided into good and mundane, I keep regular blasé snapshots there side-by-side with my favorite images. Some images I’ve even sold for nice sums of money. I’ve also organized some images into sets, not really based on quality, but rather some connective theme.

Occasionally I’ll get a request from someone to use an image of mine. It happens a lot on Flickr. An online travel guide called has used several of my images. My bride and I were staying at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington in Pasadena when she served on the Board of Directors of ASAE. I took the opportunity to spend most of the day at the nearby Greene and Greene Gamble House, one of the best extant examples of an Arts and Craft home. Schmap thought the images would help promote their guide to Pasadena. I didn’t make any money off of them, it’s nice to have my name in the copyright in something like this—they’re a company I trust so I didn’t feel there was a need for a licensing fee.

I get an e-mail from Sarah, a book editor at Frame Magazine in the Netherlands. She wanted to use one of my Prada Marfa photos. 

Her English is perfect and it’s a very nice and polite letter. But I’m a bit suspicious, based on previous experiences on Flickr. I check out her account there, and all I see is a grey-head avatar much like we see when we’re looking at what we suspect is a troll account on twitter. She has no profile, no images of her own, no “favorite” images to see—nothing at all.

   sarah doesn’t have anything available to you.

Which means she’s a harvester. Which is ok, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. It just depends on how someone else’s images are used. I’m aware of copyright law, and I understand Fair Use as a means of using copyrighted materials. All of my images on Flickr are © All Rights Reserved. There are different categories of rights that you can assign to your images including various levels of Creative Commons. I keep mine reserved, just because it’s easier for me and many of them have registered copyrights. The registered copyrights allow for triple damages if used in commercial settings without permission or licensing. And now with my book due out in a month or so, there are some contractual issues with my publisher on some of my images. I have a service that notifies me if one of my images is used without attribution. Many have been taken, but it’s difficult and potentially expensive to file suit in a foreign country.

It was nice to get a polite message from Sarah, and I thought for a while before responding. She offered a copy of the book where the Prada Marfa shot would be placed in compensation for its use, which is kind of cool. But what she said next probably made the decision for me. “We don’t have a photography budget…” just didn’t ring true. It might be true, it simply didn’t sound right to me. For a book that will retail at 100 Euros, I think there is indeed a photography budget, apparently just not for me.

This has happened several times before. There was a science text book in Argentina and a marquee in the aviary in a zoo in Massachusetts that wanted one of my Fairy Bluebird images—among other offers from sundry harvesters. Promises were made. Promises that were not kept. 

Which resulted in me sending letters requesting removal of my images and including CC’ing my lawyer friend and consultant, a copyright lawyer in Connecticut. All of the offers and promises I’ve received on Flickr were nicely worded and polite. But they’ve all resulted in zip so far.

There are plenty of people who just don’t understand about copyrighted material (I’m not saying Sarah doesn’t understand, her request seemed legitimate in fact, I just wasn’t comfortable with her request based on my own past experience). A good example of an all too common attitude. 

I wrote Sarah back and, while not going into details about my history with such things, I politely declined. I said that my images are rights-managed as far as licensing is concerned and would be happy to discuss some modest terms with her if she changed her mind. It was a lengthier reply than was necessary, but I did want to explain my position. 

This is the reply I received:

Geez get over yourself. If you are not happy to have an image published then just say so.

She was offended by my considered response. She was upset that I had taken the time to explain my thoughts, all the while exempting her from any association with what had gone on before with those that had broken their promises.

I replied to her message:

Dear Sarah,
Thanks for your kind response. Many of my images are published and I’m quite happy about them.
Best wishes,
Barry B. Doyle

I know, it was a bit snarky—but just a bit.

By the way, the image at the top of this post is not the photo in question—this is one I haven’t posted to Flickr or to Open Salon. In fact, I don’t really know which photo she was referring to, as she didn’t specify which one she wanted to use.

And just for the record:

 The image at the top of this post is copyright © 2009 by barry b. doyle

• all rights reserved • 

 Oh, and my copyright lawyer friend said “Perfect reply on your part :)”

A Gift Received

Where do we go from here?

I haven’t done so in a while, but I am eager to get back on a William Least Heat-Moon Blue Highways solo photo road trip. The lonely roads evoke for me a continuous curiosity and the appreciation of sere beauty.

I’ve mostly been a destination driver for a good part of my driving life. I drove until I got to where I was going with the briefest stops for gas, bathrooms, food and a place to stay. It came late, but I was fortunate to discover it was always a good decision to head out with gear and food for what the back roads offer in that solo rambling all the while avoiding the Interstates. There was usually a general destination, but time and accuracy of the path was always subject to change. And It’s true there is often not much to see when amongst the triple piggyback semis on the freeways, and no easy way to pull off when something catches the eye.

The lonely roads allow for a saner speed, and contrapuntally to the fury of the freeway the big tell is when I’m on a blue highway when the merest glimpse of a thing is worth a second look. I actually stop, turn around and get back to that thing. Then there is contemplation, considering light and composition, suspending time without worry for a while to get a shot, a chance at landing a good photo.


This image, which I’ve titled in the caption, was an example of catching something out of my eye while traveling at a modest speed on a lonely road. It helped me slow down, stop, and turn around for a better and contemplative view. I opened the passenger door, and sat just looking at the scene. I wondered how it could be the thing it is, the separation.

The approach to Sierra Grande and the Raton-Clayton Field.

Capulin Volcano viewed from highway 64. A single lane road cut into the cone to reach the upper trailhead.

Looking down into the vent base. It’s a bit steeper than the photo suggests.


Steep trail in the morning. The asphalt trail helped, except when there’s ice 

This visit to Capulin, one of several, was near dawn on a cold October morning. The morning dew had frozen on the creosote and scrub oaks along the trail.


Scrub oak branches encased in ice.

It’s a beautiful day.

The region that encompasses northeastern New Mexico and a bit beyond is known as the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field. It’s not active, and hasn’t been for a long time. The early Raton Phase at the western edge of the Field was active from 9 to 3 million years ago. The Clayton Phase, at the eastern edge was active between 3 and 1 million years ago. The Capulin Phase began about 1 million years ago at the center of the Field. Capulin Volcano last erupted 60,000 years ago, when mammoths and giant bison still roamed the surrounding plains.

When you reach the first summit at the southeastern edge of the rim you’ll see something rare on the continent—a shield volcano. The most recognized shield volcano is the one that rises from the ocean floor to form the Big Island of Hawaii, ending at the twin peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.

A lateral view of the shield volcano Sierra Grande

A view to the west near the first summit on the Rim Trail with the photographer’s shadow in that ubiquitous pose.

A welcome resting spot with spectacular views. The bench is made from recyclable materials and they have the charred missing chunk in the visitors center at the entrance to the monument. It seems the metal support was irresistible to a passing thunderstorm and got hit by lightening.



The gift: In this small slice of time, it was lovely to see more ladybirds than could possibly be counted. Whether from cold or a migratory resting place, or for romance it was a great serendipitous moment. This is a clustered group of Two-Spotted Ladybug/Lady Beetle. Adalia bipunctata.

We have moments of serendipitous beauty at times. I love the gift from Kurt Vonnegut that we ought to stop when we find some epiphany and just say out loud, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

I’m passing the gift along. I hope you can say it too when the mood or scene strikes, with Kurt and me.

Incontinent Screaming

European Red Deer Cervus elaphus

I have a confession to make.

On the recent sojourn down to Austin to visit some friends, I left a couple of days early and planned to stop in a small town well south of Fort Wort. I wanted to take in a couple of the area attractions—the Dinosaur Valley State Park where you can see actual theropod and sauropod footprints embedded in the limestone and the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center where you can drive through 1800 acres and get up close and personal with fauna that don’t really belong there.

(You can see images of Glen Rose and the Dinosaur Valley State Park here. They are not really part of the confession.)

Ok, back to the story.

I arrived early at Fossil Rim—it wasn’t going to be busy on a weekday off-season, but I still wanted to be the first in and take my time going through the site. It’s a drive-through wildlife center. You get to drive with your windows down and see animals from around the world making their incongruous home in the northern part of Texas Hill Country. The people who run the place—the science side biologists and animal behaviorists—are famous for their work with rhinos and cheetahs in preserving the species and diversifying the bloodlines. The people handling the visitors are just ok, they seemed befuddled a bit at times, but thankfully once you pay your money and drive in through the first gate you don’t see many people at all.

You do have to listen to a long litany of things you can’t do before being allowed to proceed. It’s all common sense, but people generally are stupid and the good folk at the center don’t want to be constantly removing lifeless bodies from the horns and antlers of bothered animals. You can have your windows down, though there may be times you want to quickly raise them. You may not, however, under any circumstances, open your door, much less get out. Even if the ostrich has just snatched and made off with your favorite gimme cap, the one Uncle Rupert bought for you in Branson, Missouri and features a besequined image of Dolly Parton’s glandular amplitude on it. You start chasing that ostrich and you’re likely to get blindsided and impaled by a pissed off giant antelope of some sort.

About halfway through my drive I came up to a largish herd of Grant’s Zebras. There are no shortage of signs warning you not to feed the zebras as they tend to be a bit aggressive and have been known to bite the hand that feeds them. I was glad they were on the right side of my car as I was able to have a bit of protection. I rolled down the window on that side and was taking some shots of some individuals in the herd just a short distance away. I put the cam down on a little ledge on the passenger side that I made for when I’m on the road and turned back to the steering wheel to drive on to the next area.

I screamed like a little girl.

It changed mid-scream to a lower octave…I really bellowed in fear.

The European Red Deer pictured at the top of this post had silently come up to the driver side window. I had not heard a single sound, it was a stealthy approach. He had his face right inside the car, as far as his antlers would allow his snout and face in. Not a sound. No clicking of antlers on metal. His face filled my driver’s side space.

I screamed.

He didn’t even flinch.

It was like, “WTF man, I just want some food dude…shut up!”

He turned to leave, but not before giving me that look, “Whatev, bitch.”

My friend Deven, whose online avatar name is Tequila and Donuts, thinks I should do a video recreation of the screaming event for your enjoyment. No.

That’s it. The confession. I admit to nearly peeing my pants.


Now, here follows some images of a few of the other denizens of the wildlife park:

Southern White Rhino Ceratotherium simum simum

Yeah, that looks like an impaling horn alright. Make sure you indulge me and look at the details in a larger sized image found here. In the original size image at nearly 4,000 pixels wide, you can see the threads of keratin on his long horn. It is a large image, found here. God, I love this lens. It’s the estimable Nikkor pro AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED. It sure makes me look like a photographer.

Large and Original.

Grant’s Zebras Equus brutally


Reticulated or Somali Giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata

Ostrich Struthio camelus
Large version for feather details.

Emu Dromiceius novæhollandiæ
Large size to view the evil feathered dinosaur eyes.

Fallow Deer Dama dama

White-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus texanus

White-tailed buck

European Red Deer Cervus elaphus

Roan Hippotragus equinus

Black Buck Antilope cervicapra

Blue Wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus

Gemsbok Oryx gazella

Mountain Bongo Tragelaphus eurycerus

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Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus

Polygamy (of sorts)

Hey! what’s that noise?

[NB: This was originally posted some six years ago on the sister site of, a blogging venue no longer in the ether called Open Salon. This was when we lived at our previous abode.]

A knock on the door interrupted some busywork at my desk. I was paying bills, clearing my desk of once necessary detritus after all the Memorial Day family reunion duties. I found a couple of Netflix envelopes, but only one DVD. I burned the one available, but dared not enter the beautiful daughter’s room, the archaeological strata too daunting. I left a sticky note on her door.

We have a doorbell, an illuminated one, it’s not easy to miss. A knock usually means that someone wants to make a personal connection, offering something I can’t live without. I keep the blinds raised a bit so Popper can yell kitty expletives and throw gang signs to passing dogs. I bent over and saw black tennis shoes and bare ankles—the lower end of a typical uniform from a delivery person.

We have a lot of commerce coming and going out the door. I send images in sturdy envelopes to clients, I get supplies and occasional grownup toys so it’s not surprising to get an interruption. Nor is it unusual that I haven’t a clue what is arriving—every package is a surprise!

The FedEx guy needed a signature. Normally I hear a thud and rebound as the boxes are tossed onto the concrete porch. “I wonder what could be in there that could be so light and from overseas.” His comment caught me off-guard. He was snooping a bit, but not too successfully. The small box  had a label that said Made in Thailand, but the shipping address was from Kansas City, albeit from Belgium Avenue. Should I open it so he could have his curiosity sated? No, it was “Thanks, have a nice day—stay cool.”

It was one of those boxes that I had no clue about. With some help from Popper, I got it opened and was pleasantly surprised. I’ve recreated the sequence, sort of, below.

It’s not food, not interested.

Hmm…actually, that does look interesting.

Nice package…we’re both wondering what’s inside.

Oh! Oh, that will look so good on me!

What. Do. You. Mean It’s. Not. For. Me?

Hmmmpff! I’ll take care of her later.

Don’t even look at me.


Like a tribal chieftain, I’ve taken on an additional partner late in my life. It hasn’t seemed to upset the household dynamic too much. You may be aware that calicos are almost always female, and that they’re stubborn and usually monogamous. They pick a partner and remain a one-person cat. They don’t mind other people, especially with regard to food, but they let their preferences for companionship known. With the arrival of the heat in Hades/Dallas and the AC running most of the time, she makes sure that the heat transfer from my body to hers occurs all night long as she plasters herself to my side. It’s one of the services she expects from me in return for gracing us with her presence I suppose.

Oh, the gift.

It’s really, as you’ve guessed, for the true love of my life, young Popper notwithstanding. The bride is really fussy about presents, not that she’s not appreciative, but she doesn’t like the fuss. She’d prefer to go out and get what she wants herownself. It’s not that she doesn’t always like my stuff—which actually happens often enough—she’d rather skip the middleman.

But this is one of those times that I can’t let that laissez faire attitude trump what ought to be done.

We just celebrated our 30th anniversary this past May 23. It’s more than half my time on the planet, and certainly the best part of my life. My bride of 30 years is the best person I know and that by itself shows you how lucky I am, but it’s much more than that of course. More even than her loving me all these years—the vows in sickness and in health, the honor and support, all those things we said in 1981 that were not term- or time-limited—she has been the best person I could have ever wished for in sharing our lives together. We hope for many more.

The thirtieth anniversary is usually commemorated by pearls. I was happy to find something I liked from a vendor of Worldstock Fair Trade, made by artisans in third world countries. I hope she likes it too.

[And she did! No hand me downs for dear Popper.]

Wake me when you bring the catnip. You owe me.

Thank you dear for the love, for the years past and for those to come. I love you. You’ve always been the best thing in my life. xoxo

(I love you too Popper.)



This is one of my favorite photographs ever. Not just because of whatever merit it may have in composition or execution, but for what it represents. To me it is art—and I truly don’t mind if you disagree or think it’s banal. I think it’s as close a photograph I have that looks like a painting straight out of the camera. In fact, it is more than art for me, it is my youth, and a metaphor for longing.

The shot is a reflection of a La Jolla sunset not far from where I grew up on the coast north of San Diego. The window was part of a cabana next to a shuffleboard court in an otherwise idyllic setting. Look closer at the lower right hand corner of the window and you can see the reflection of a man in a hat walking along the cliffside path. The park is here in this Google map.

The image is from a time when my passion for photography was beginning, probably around 1968 or ’69 and long before many who would read this were even the idea of parents that are now my age or older. I was about 16 then, and happy enough to be in that time and place without really knowing how good it was.

It does take me back. I can’t count the hours I spent looking out to the horizon. There’s something about the inexorable presence of the ocean that makes it difficult to describe to those that haven’t spent years on the shore. If you look a little west by northwest, there really isn’t anything except the vast reach of the ocean between you and Japan. It’s as if you’re on a spaceship, with only that fragile metal skin that prevents your doom. I took a lot of sunset photographs. So many that I eventually burned a small hole in the fabric screen shutter in the camera. I got it repaired, and went right back to taking photos of sunsets.

But it’s true we can never go back. I don’t really want to actually, unless that miracle included going back in time with what’s in my head now. Even if I wanted to migrate back westward, it’s just not feasible now with the outrageous cost of living and overpopulation. You have to be a doctor or lawyer to live within 20 miles of the coast. My mom was worried to death in the early 60s at the prospect of coming up with a $125 a month mortgage payment for a $12,000 house that was three blocks from the beach. (My miracle time travel back to that age would include buying up lots and lots of real estate.)

I’ve been in Dallas now for nearly 30 years. I still don’t like it. It’s ok, but I’ve always had the impression that Dallas tries to present itself as something it’s not. And it’s not San Diego, which is ok. There are wonderful people here and I have a lovely life with an incomparable family.

[Note: We are now, since 4 years ago, in the mountains of Colorado on the Western Slope at some 8,000 feet above sea level.]

But back in the day I would go surfing or bodysurfing almost every day after school or after work. I could see the mountains on a clear day from my patio. There is no topography in Dallas and the nine-month long summers are brutal. That compromise however, giving up a semi-arid and temperate paradise, has given me more than I lost in the bargain. Some of you have seen this picture of my bride. The image doesn’t show all I’ve gained—it’s a gateway image; it represents just a small portion of what my good fortune entails and has been in our marriage of [now 35] years.




A note on the first image and camera: The Minolta SRT101 35mm SLR was a gift from my brother, purchased at a PX in Vietnam while he was serving there as an army grunt. The image was shot on 35mm Kodachrome 200. The slide was scanned with an Epson photo scanner as a 600 dpi TIFF which resulted in an image rendition of 5100 x 7779 pixels at 227 MB in size. You’re seeing a much reduced size image converted to .jpg here. Otherwise your web page might never load.

The image above of my bride was taken with a Nikon D300 with a 50mm lens at f/1.8 and 1/250 second aperture priority in RAW format. Original image is 2852 x 4303 pixels at 35 MB in size.

The title is a reference to an elegant German word that means more than mere nostalgia. The sense of the word is imbued with yearning, a longing for something lost, or not yet found. I read the word for the first time many years ago in the autobiography of C. S. Lewis Surprised by Joy. He was describing his conversion experience and was overcome suddenly by an intense longing while reading an epic verse retelling of the Wagnerian Opera—The Ring of the Niblung. It was a two volume edition illustrated by Arthur Rackham. In the second volume, titled Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods he came across the following image, and was struck with an overwhelming sense of sehnsucht.


I have that two volume set. It’s a beautiful work of art. I use the word occasionally in a secular way, probably the way it was intended. But I understand what Lewis meant.



Note: This was originally published in September 2008 at Open Salon in the early days of that artistic experiment. Sadly, Open Salon has vanished as a presence on the web, though bits of it still linger in searchable web archives..

Searching for Omar

Join me in a journey to the past—a hunt to solve some family mysteries.

Lough Erne.jpgLough Erne looking east from its western edge near where it changes to the River Erne. Some of you may know what a rare thing it is to have such beautiful weather in northwest Ireland. It seemed an existential metaphor, adding to the mystery of discovery.

(Caveat lector: This is a long post with many images and of course is mainly for the benefit of family and friends.)

It’s a complicated story that I found the Irish relatives so late in my life. I love my late father, but he was a bit of a scoundrel and my prodigal return to Eire was due in part to his life-long predisposition for dissembling. But that’s a story for another time.

He emigrated to the States from Ireland in 1951. And of his seven siblings, only Aunt Carmel now remains. Emigration can rip extended families apart; it can dim collective memories and render mute the narrative songs that span generations. Happily, there is still a large contingent of Dublin cousins who, along with my aunt, welcomed us with open arms and we quickly set about mending the family web.

Before leaving for the reunion we had already decided that we would take a side trip to Northern Ireland to track down another part of my family history. But it was the non-Irish side of the family, my English grandparents on my mother’s side, who had retired from London to an area near Belleek in County Fermanagh soon after World War II.

And we had clues! My mother had given me several small photo albums over the years. It was the style of the times to have these small albums as photography hobbyists were ubiquitous in the time between the wars. Maybe the cryptic hints in one of these albums would be enough to help us find that part of the family history. One possible tip in the album was the name Magheramenagh, but we had no idea what that meant. We found a map in a Dublin bookstore, and set out without a time table, which was just fine—we figured on just going to see what could be found.

Inherited clues.jpg


More clues.jpgFrom the top: My grandfather’s small photo album from 1948; inside the front cover; and a picture of the retirement cottage “Omar” with “A view from the lounge.” (Magheramenagh is pronounced Mah’-hera-me’-nah.)

My grandfather’s name was Oscar Marvyn Reed. He went by the self styled near-acronym Omar—and Omar was the name he gave to their little retirement cottage.

So a few days after all the meet and greets of long lost cousins, we rented a car and three of us set out from our cousin’s house in southwest Dublin—our two older kids decided to hang out in town with their first cousins twice removed.

The map was an ordinance survey map—similar to the USGS topo maps here in the States—and had quite a bit of detail. The clues in the photobook took us northwest, to the western edge of Ulster.

The map.jpgAnd there on the map was that lyrical name Magheramenagh and another clue—it was a castle “(in ruins).” You can find it at 97.7 x 59.2. The cottage Omar must be nearby.

There is a larger rendition of the map found here.

We rolled into Belleek and the first logical stop was the Visitors’ Centre. There we found Michelle. We showed her the album and explained our quest. It’s a sleeply little town and slow moving. The area is a mecca for salmon fishing and Belleek is world famous for the exquisite and beautiful Parian China still hand-crafted by local artisans. Its lacework and paper thin brilliantly translucent designs are beautiful.

Michelle was excited on our behalf, but could not recognize any of the pictures. She directed us to the nearby hotel where we booked to spend the night. Meanwhile, she said she would make some inquiries on our behalf. Shortly after settling in and trying to decide what to do next, she appeared and told us that her parents would be happy to help us and act as our guides.

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Our guides.jpgMichele at the visitors’ centre and her parents, Vincent and Rosemary.


And now.jpg
Then and now; the pottery works on the River Erne in Belleek in 1948 and at present.

Michele’s parents, Vincent and Rosemary, picked us up from the hotel and first showed us the Castle Magheramenagh. They dropped us off to explore the grounds and went off to arrange the rest of our discovery. They knew of my grandfather’s cottage, though it now had a different name, and knew the current occupants.



Through the wall.jpg

In Ruins.jpg

Erne View.jpgFrom the top: It was an impressive residence in 1897; the castle wall in ruins—the arched gate, now filled in, was the entrance and exit for horse-drawn carriages; our entry point, through a caretaker’s cottage that was built into the wall; and pictures of the ruins showing a brilliant day beyond.

Vincent and Rosemary gathered us up and said the current owners would be delighted to meet us.

Getting close.jpg

We were getting close. A tiny unused cottage marks the corner of the drive to the cottage Omar. As it turns out, Helen and Frank O’Shea lived in that abandoned cottage before buying the Omar from my grandmother a year after my grandather’s death in 1963.

A final look at

Helen and Frank.jpg

The hearth.jpg



Grandparents.jpgFrom the top: We found it! Thanks to Vincent and Rosemary. Omar is now known as Erne View; Helen and Frank; the hearth now; and Omar and Kathleen next to that same hearth.

They were delightful. We spent a lovely hour with Helen and Frank and then came the gifts. Helen disappeared for a moment and then came bearing two treasures found: a framed photograph of my aunt Joan left in the attic and a drawing of the cottage Omar my mother had made as a young woman that was then made into a Christmas card.

Treasure found.jpg

More treasure.jpg

We weren’t done; we had a further surprise. Vincent asked a question that I had not even considered. He heard that my grandfather had died in Belleek which then led to my grandmother selling and then returning to her family in England. “Was your grandfather Catholic or Church of Ireland?” He was not Catholic I replied. “Well, I may know where he’s buried. Let’s go find out.”

Slawin parish.jpg

The grave.jpg

OMAR (1).jpgFrom the top: The Church of Ireland chapel in Slawin parish, just across the Lough from Omar; my grandfather’s grave; the headstone reads OMAR In loving memory of Oscar Marvyn Reed who died 22nd June 1962 Aged 75 years.

OMAR.jpgOmar in 1953 next to the River Erne in Belleek

I offer again my sincere thanks to Michelle McCauley, Vincent and Rosemary McCauley and to Helen and Frank O’Shea.

If you made it this far—congratulations! I hope you enjoyed the journey with me and to the family mystery solved through help from new friends lovingly offered.


Well, plus a couple of non-landscapes.







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