Handsome fella

March 31, 2016

Handsome fella

Snowstorm – Springtime in the Rockies

March 23, 2016

Wind carving

Fourteen inches of snow fell today in Cheyenne.  The wind was blowing 30 miles an hour.  The wind carves at its own desire.

The party’s over…

March 15, 2016

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So long – for a little while

March 14, 2016

I started to write this post a few days ago and got sidetracked.  I have come to a decision that I have had bottled up for a while,. one which doesn’t have any immediate resolution but offers great opportunity.

I have said in the past that I have a book in me, like pretty much everyone else who has ever written a thought on paper, real or digital.

I have given this a great deal of thought, and determined that I cannot both blog and write a book at the same time.  Since I have blogged, but not written a book, it’s time for the latter to consume my efforts.

Hence the picture below.  The title of the book is “The Buffalo Hunter.”  It will be a collection of a dozen short stories, some of which got their origin in this blog.  The intention is to illustrate it with my photos, giving me the incentive to keep shooting.

Funny, but in a week without posting, I haven’t really shot much, either.  In working through challenges, my camera has been absent from my daily routine.  I really miss it, and will pick it up again in the next day or so.  I have a shoot for work coming up in a couple days, but the artist in me is screaming at being bottled up.

I’ll share some shots as I go along, and maybe post some things from the book-work-in-progress, too.  There won’t be a daily post anymore, at least for a little while, and I figure to have the book finished this fall.

Published? That, dear reader, is a different story.

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After Lunch

March 3, 2016

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Jerry sat down at the end of the bench, glad to be off his feet for a while.  He just sat there for what seemed like hours, but in reality was just a few minutes.  He was tired and hungry, but for now he was warm.

The wind had, finally, stopped blowing.  Jerry had never been to Cheyenne before, but he had heard about it in some of the camps along the way.  Every person he met had told him about the wind, and that he had to do all he could to stay out of it.  He spent the last couple nights under a bridge not too far from the rail yards. He liked it there because he could hop a train in a hurry if he had to, but most of all because it was out of the wind.

Today it was different. The wind had stopped, the temperature was in the 60s, and he was sitting on this bench across from the courthouse with the warm sun in his face, and a bag lunch right next to him.  He reached into the brown paper bag and rummaged around a bit until he found the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he was looking for.

He unwrapped the sandwich in the slow and deliberate manner of someone who knew he had a great prize and didn’t want to hurry it along, knowing that once it was over there would be little left to lo look forward to.  At last unwrapped, he took a minute to examine the bread, white as snow with a light brown crust, the soft and smooth texture making him recall school lunches when he was a child.  As he took that first bite, he let the sweet and salty taste of the peanut butter and grape jelly roll around in his mouth like a sommelier determining the best wine for that evening’s fare.

While he was savoring the sticky sweet sensation of the layers between the bread, a man clearly 20 years older than Jerry’s 35 sat down on the other end of the bench, leaned back and let out a sigh.  Jerry didn’t pay much attention to the other man, aside from the curious nature of his decision to sit next to Jerry.

Jerry had always been a conscientious dresser and almost compulsively clean.  When he joined the Marines, he learned that it wasn’t always possible to shower every day, and bathrooms were not always available when nature called.  Now he was anything but clean, and a shower was a once-in-a-while thing, taken when it was too cold to sleep outside and he was forced into a shelter.  When he sat on a bench in the middle of the day, people went out of their way to not sit next to him.  The stranger didn’t seem to care.

The stranger wore a suit and tie.  His white shirt glistened like the bread of Jerry’s sandwich, while the top button on his shirt was undone and the tie was askew of the collar and pulled down a bit to relieve some of its inherent tension.  He left his coat on, even though it was quite warm and the coat was a liability at this point, the reason for damp underarms and dark sweat spots where the stranger’s stomach rolled up a little towards the sky.  He wasn’t fat by any means, but he was obviously well-fed and not close to appearing malnourished.

As Jerry chewed his sandwich, he looked in his brown paper bag and found a small bag of potato chips, a bottle of water and a banana.  Where was the cookie? He had heard from the others in the camp that this church put cookies in the lunch bags, but it was nowhere to be found in this bag.  Jerry had a sweet tooth, and he really wanted the cookie to finish off this lunch.

After he had given up hope of finding the cookie, he said “Damn” just loud enough for his bench-mate to hear him, which gained his attention.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine” said Jerry.  “Just no cookie.  First time that’s ever happened to me.  I guess I could go back and ask for one, but I don’t want to get up from here.”

The stranger looked at Jerry for a few seconds, then averted his gaze and looked at the building across the street.

“Cookie, huh?  I’m a pie man myself.  Love them. Any kind.  Apple, cherry, blueberry, mincemeat, rhubarb – every one of them is better than the other.  My wife – greatest pie maker ever.  Wish I had some right now, because watching you eat is making me crave a big slice of her apple pie with some ice cream on top, dripping down the warm sides of the pie, mixing with the apples and the sweet sauce in between two layers of the finest and lightest pie crusts this side of heaven.  Sure wish I had some.”

Jerry didn’t respond right away, but finished his sandwich and took a drink of water.  Then he said “Pie does sound good.  Lots better than those cookies they give us. “

The stranger turned his gaze away from Jerry, looking blankly at the big Federal building across the way.  While he was looking, he asked Jerry why he was eating his lunch on the bench, and asking where he got it.  He explained the whole thing to the stranger, letting him know that there was more if he wanted to get a sack lunch himself.  The stranger thanks Jerry for the information, but declined to the offer.

“I’ve already eaten, thanks.  I had some lunch sitting at my desk.”

Jerry then asked the stranger his name, to which he answered “Mike.”

“Where do you work, Mike?

“In the courthouse across the street.  I’m a lawyer. I work for the Federal government.  I usually eat at my desk and then come over here and sit on this bench and think.”

“What do you think about?”

“Mostly my wife.  32 years together before she died last year.  She worked at a bank down the street and we would meet here on sunny days.  She’d pack a lunch for both of us, I’d get us some coffee and we’d sit here and talk about our kids, our grandchildren, what we were going to do when we retired in a few years.  One day she found a lump where it shouldn’t be, and just like that she was gone.  I still can’t get past the fact that she’s not here sitting next to me.  It’s the loneliest, saddest feeling I’ve ever had.”

Jerry didn’t say anything.  It’s not that he didn’t care, he just didn’t know what to say.

Mike broke the silence. “Sorry to spill so much of my personal life on your lunch.  It just bubbled up.  I don’t even know your name and I’ve just told you the most important thing in my life. So now you tell me – what’s your name? How did you end up here?”

Jerry thought about it for a minute, then began his answer.

“Jerry. My name’s Jerry.  I sat here because I have found out that when I sit in front of a church the cops don’t bother me, don’t hassle me about what I’m doing and where I got the food.  Just cause a guy hasn’t shaved in a while, and his clothes aren’t spotless, they think they can push me off and make me leave town just by making things rough on me.

“I never thought I would be that guy in the dirty clothes eating a free lunch from a church.  I was a sergeant in the Marines.  Fought in Iraq 3 times, Afghanistan 4.  That last tour in Afghanistan – I saw things no man should ever see.  My best friend was with me on patrol when suddenly an RPG came out of nowhere and hit him.  He was there one second, and gone the next.  I couldn’t hear anything from the explosion, and I got knocked over by the impact. Shrapnel buried in my arms, legs, face.  I spent three months in a hospital in Germany recovering.  Came back to the States and could not go back to where I was before I left.  Now I sleep outside, by myself.  I come to places like this when I get hungry or cold.”

Now it was Mike’s turn to be quiet.  After a full 5 minutes of silence, he turned to Jerry and said:

“Jerry, do you like pie?”

“Yeah. Been a long time since I had any. “

“Since you didn’t get a cookie in your lunch, how about you and me go get some pie?”

Jerry took his empty brown sack, placed it in the trash can next to the bench, and left with Mike to get some pie.

School Days

March 2, 2016

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I went to school today.

Today is the birthday of Dr. Seuss, and the kids at St. Mary’s school were celebrating by having celebrities read the good doctor’s books to them.  It was quite a bit of fun, and the celebrities included some politicians, clergy, military leaders, firefighters and police officers.  I was not a celebrity.

My job today was to take pictures.  You can only imagine the photo target rich environment of an elementary school with adorable children sitting on a floor having “Horton Hears a Hoo” read to them by the Mayor of Cheyenne.  It really was enjoyable to see it, and the readers were having a great time doing it.

St. Mary’s school is what brought us to Cheyenne 32 years ago.  I came here to teach at the school after numerous unsuccessful attempts at finding a teaching job somewhere in the Intermountain West.  It was, in retrospect, obviously the work of the Holy Spirit that brought us here, because at the time I applied I was not practicing my faith, and the thought of teaching at a Catholic school was not what I had in mind.  Nonetheless, Sherry encouraged me to apply, and so I did.

I got a phone from Sr. Rosemary Hollerich, the principal, a few weeks after sending in the application .  She told me on the phone that I could come for the interview if I wanted, at my expense, and no guarantee of a job.  We were living in Wisconsin at the time and so lonely for the West (we had lived in Montana for three years prior to moving back to Wisconsin) that we packed a few things, put our then 7-month old daughter into our truck and drove 1,000 miles for a job interview at a place I didn’t want to work.

Funny how things work out, because it was the perfect move.  We had 8 periods in a day, and I had 7 different classes to prepare.  In addition, I was an assistant football coach and sometimes drove the bus.  Catholic schools are known for not being able to pay their teachers as much as their public school counterparts, and so I worked for starvation wages for the whole time I taught at St. Mary’s.

In spite of all that, we made some lifelong friends of the students and their parents.  St. Mary’s was a big family, and we were embraced as family from the start.  While the money situation was difficult, there was an abundance of love and support for us.   I also came back to my faith, which has proven to be the single biggest benefit to having taught at the school.

This St. Mary’s school where the books were read is not the one where I taught.  My school was knocked down a few years ago and is now a State of Wyoming parking lot. Today’s school is several blocks away from the old one, and represents a $14 million commitment of the people of St. Mary’s Cathedral to educate their children in a Catholic environment.  Hence the “Faith” photo above, sitting in front of the Dr. Seuss inspired artwork – One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. You can’t put that sign in a public school.

The delightful painting is outside a classroom, brightening the hallway with those cheery-faced children playing in the grass.  It’s indicative of the atmosphere at the school, which is full of love and joy.

It was fun being back today.  St. Mary’s school has been a part of my life for the last 32 years, and I would expect it to be a part of my life for the rest of my life.

Cold and gray

March 1, 2016
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No sign of spring

Today was a day that needed some sunshine, but the weather was no help.

Ever have one of those days that just seemed gray and gloomy from the start?  Today, dear reader, was such a day for yours truly.

I must tell you, first and foremost, that there was no event in my life that gave cause to such as state of being.  No, I am enormously blessed to have a loving family, a devoted wife, and a most amazing job that is truly a vocation.  Yet when I opened my eyes this morning, things were most definitely gray.

I wish I could pinpoint why this happened, but there is no rhyme or reason to it.  The weather was deceptively abrasive, because looking out the window before leaving for work gave all the appearance of a warm sunny day. Alas, twas not to be.  I am convinced that some days are just like that, gray and cloudy in the soul, and after a good night of sleep, I will feel better in the morning.

Thanks be to God for his many gifts, including the gift of feeling gray.  The grey skies and dark, leafless branches above hold great potential.  A few weeks from now, as they awaken from their good night’s sleep, the boughs will grow heavy with leaves and spring will once again present itself to us.  It is natural, and right, and it never fails us.  As I look forward to the green of new life in the trees, so I look forward to the new spirit in me.

Most of all, though, I look forward to the life that sprung forth from the tomb all those years ago, that life that still guides and loves us today.  In you, Lord, is our hope, and our hope is not in vain.

Goodnight, dear reader.  I await the sun, and the Son.

Risen

February 29, 2016
MX Peacekeeper Missile

MX Peacekeeper Missile

This is the MX Peacekeeper missile, an easily recognizable landmark at the entrance to FE Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne.  This particular model is no longer armed, having been deactivated through various treaties between the US and  Russia.  Thanks be to God that this weapon was never used in war, as it would have had a devastating effect on the world.  It carried ten warheads, each of them independently targeted, and could hit its intended targets within 100 yards even when fired from 10,000 miles away.  Fifty of these missiles were buried in bunkers around Cheyenne, making us a big, fat target for Russian missiles.

But I don’t want to write about the MX missile.

I saw the movie “Risen” the other day.  This film is about a Roman Tribune and his search for the corpse of the crucified Jesus.  The Tribune’s name is Clavius, and he is a Roman soldier through and through.  His boss is Pontius Pilate. Yes, that Pontius Pilate.  Pilate is deeply concerned that the Jews will steal the body of Jesus from his tomb, claim he has been resurrected, and cause all manner of trouble for Pilate as they rally the followers of Jesus in rebellion against the Romans.  By the way, the Emperor is on his way to Jerusalem from Rome, and Pilate doesn’t want any problems.  He tells Clavius, a seasoned warrior, to fix it.

Clavius, faithful soldier and good politician that he is, sets about to protect the corpse of Jesus by sealing the tomb and placing Roman guards at the entrance.  We know how this part of the story ends, and, while the guards don’t let anybody inside the tomb, nobody said anything about keeping Jesus from going outside.  In the morning on the third day, the body of Jesus is gone, the guards are in deep trouble, and Clavius now has to find the body of Jesus.

Clavius needs some help.  Earlier, in a conversation with Pilate, like two workers chatting at the water cooler, Pilate states that he prays to Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom.  He then asks Clavius to which God he prays, and Clavius responds with the obvious answer, Mars, the god of war.

Mars was who Clavius sought for help in his search. After several ghastly but failed attempts at finding the surely-decaying corpse of the Nazarene, Clavius goes off towards an indentation in a wall where there is a lit candle and a small sculpture of Mars, where he prays to the war god.  This was one of the most personally compelling scenes in the entire movie.  The camera shot of Mars was from directly above the face of the statue as it was pointed up, holding a sword and a shield.  It didn’t look all that different from any Roman soldier,  actually.  But Mars looked small, pitiful and entirely helpless.  Clavius was praying to a piece of stone, an impotent figure that would do him no good.

Which brings us to the MX missile.  This is our modern Mars.  We pray to the threat of unimaginable violence and destruction in the hopes that we can prevent unimaginable violence and destruction.  Clavius paid tribute to Mars by leaving coins in front of the statue’s feet.  We pay tribute in the billions of dollars thrown at the feet of our weapons.  Clavius prayed to an empty figure, one that could do nothing to help him in his search for Jesus.  We pray to our weapons, glorifying them and their use, painting heroic pictures of muscle-bound men wielding them in an attempt to destroy the enemy.  It doesn’t appear that we are much different today than Clavius was 2,000 years ago.

Clavius’ appeals to Mars got him no closer to Jesus.  Our appeals to our weapons don’t get us closer to Jesus, either.  And if we aren’t getting closer to him, it seems to me  that we are really moving farther and farther away from him.

I am no idealist, thinking we can just throw all these things away and all will be peaceful and quiet.  There are those in other places in the world that don’t like those of us in the US, and they are itching to do us great harm.  It seems to me that we – the human race “we” – have really blown it with the instructions Jesus gave us.  At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus, just before ascending to the Father, tells the Apostles “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  

That’s a pretty clear message of what we are supposed to do.  It doesn’t say anything about using our scarce resources to build weapons that can kill hundreds of millions of people, unleash forces so destructive that nothing can survive, or pay enormous tribute to our modern Mars.  Yet that’s what we do.  Our world sees far too much anger, violence and death due to our worship of Mars, in spite of the fact that we were clearly shown the way to peace.

I highly recommend “Risen.”  It is well written and superbly acted.  I was emotionally overcome in one scene in particular, which I won’t tell you about for fear of spoiling it for you.  There were not any surprises regarding the whereabouts of the corpse of Jesus, because there was no corpse.  In order to have a corpse, there must be a death – without a Resurrection.

I am thankful that the MX missile is now standing harmless at the entrance to the Base.  Would that the rest of the weapons that threaten our world become museum pieces as well.

 

 

February 28, 2016
Waterfall

Waterfall

We visited our daughter today.  She lives in northern Colorado with her husband and two sons on the ranch her in-laws own.  It’s a beautiful place, and I always take my camera with me.  Most of the time I just take pictures of our grandsons, because they are just so darn cute.  Occasionally I like to wander around and take photos of the animals that call the place home.

Today I took a bunch of pictures of the grandsons, which I shared in Facebook.  As we came across the last cattle guard before the ranch buildings, I noticed a little waterfall in the creek that runs nearby.  That was my target.

If, dear reader, you are a photographer, here are the details of this shot.  ISO 100, f22, 70mm, 0.3 seconds.  I tried to do a longer exposure to get the water softer, but it was taken almost at noon and the sky was clear and sunny, causing a whiteout when I looked at the shot.  I did not have a filter with me, so I was left to my own devices, hence the tiny f stop and the 0.3 exposure.  Any longer and I got a blown out picture.

This creek is no more than a few feet wide here, and to get to this little waterfall I walked through the water.

If, dear reader, you don’t care about those things, that’s OK.  This is a beautiful little spot in the shade that just a few weeks ago was all ice.  At that time it was precarious to walk across, and it was best left alone.

When the mountain snows melt in June, this little creek turns into a raging torrent.  The place where I took this shot today will likely be under 6 feet of water at that time, whereas today it was just a couple inches deep. When I walked through the water, it never reached the laces of my boots.

I like the serenity of this moment.  Coupled with seeing our daughter and her family, this was a wonderful day.  I hope you like the waterfall.

Sunset

February 27, 2016
Sunset over the Laramie Range

Sunset over the Laramie Range

Again, my search for the “perfect” sunset.

Sherry and I had a visit from our daughter Brianna and her family this afternoon, and as they were getting ready to leave I was noticing the clouds building a little to the west.  This looks like a good night to shoot a sunset, I thought. After our visitors drove away from the house, I asked Sherry if she would go west with me to shoot the sunset, and, to my delight, she said she would.

I grabbed my camera and my tripod and we piled into the car and headed off into the sunset.  With around 60,000 people, Cheyenne is the largest city in Wyoming, and is the closest thing we have to an urban area. Yet just a few miles west, the land opens up and antelope outnumber the people.  That was where I wanted to go, to catch the clouds and the color as the sun dips behind the horizon.

When we finally stopped, we were at about 8,000 feet in elevation and leaning into a stout 40 mph wind.  With the rays of the sun now almost parallel to the ground, there wasn’t much warmth to be had to ward off the cold of the wind.  I climbed out of the car, leaving Sherry inside with the heater running, and went to seek the colors.

It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly things shift.  The sun seems to take forever to get to the horizon, followed by a 5 minute light show, and then that’s it – all done.  As a photographer, the challenge is to catch the light in the right place and the right time.  Tonight I got close, but the real colors were somewhere else.

The true joy and beauty of the night, however, was sitting next to me in the car.  Having Sherry along with me was just wonderful, and I think we may have discovered a new activity to share.  She wants me to teach her about photography, and I want to teach her.  Her enthusiasm can lead to all manner of excursions, and we can share so very much on these outings as we seek photographic opportunities.

I’m afraid I fell short of finding the perfect sunset again.  But I had the perfect companion with me, and after almost 36 years into my relationship with Sherry, that’s sure a nice feeling.


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