Archive for December, 2015

New Year’s Eve

December 31, 2015
Brats and New Years

Brats and New Years

Somewhere in the hands, or basement, or files, or attic of one of my siblings is a picture of my Dad on New Year’s Day. Not so much unusual about that, but this one captured the essence of Dad on New Year’s Day.

He had this wild streak in him.  Well, wild for him at least. He would fire up this little charcoal grill in our backyard, which sat on a dilapidated old work bench outside next to the garage, and cook bratwurst. Before he lit the charcoal, he completed two vital actions: He brushed the snow off the workbench, and he made a martini for himself.

Perhaps my memory is a bit messy, but I remember him doing this on many New Year’s.  The picture I referred to has him standing in front of the little grill, martini in his mittened-hand, wearing a snowmobile jacket and a foot of snow on the workbench.  Oh, I almost forgot to mention, wearing a huge smile, too.

I decided it would be a fitting tribute to Dad to bring this memory to life, sans the martini.  There isn’t any snow on my grill because it sits under a covered patio, but there IS snow on the ground.  The temperature is about 12 degrees, and those are Wisconsin brats.

The brats on the grill have been parboiled in Pabst beer with a generous addition of sliced onions.  They go from the pot to the grill, where they get the nice coloring and a great flavor.  After the grilling, they get returned to the pot of beer and onions, where they can simmer for a whole day and only get better as time goes by.

I have had brats in Wyoming that go right from the package to the grill, and that just seems so wrong.  The beer and onions method is part of the birthright of Wisconsinites, and we get the recipe with our birth certificate.

Here’s to you, Dad.  Happy New Year!

The Future

December 30, 2015
Into the distance

Into the distance

In a little corner of Cheyenne that isn’t traveled much, there is a stack of preformed railroad tracks stacked up next to a main line.  They remind me of the preformed fence sections showcased at Home Depot. Dropping a 40 foot section of track in the right place would be considerably more difficult. an require a whole different set of equipment, than putting up an 8 foot section of cedar fence.

Railroad tracks as a symbol of the future are really cliche.  I hesitated to shoot these for that very reason, yet the more I look at them, the more it makes me ask myself some of those “future” questions.

Even the questions are cliche, and can seem an exercise in navel-gazing, especially when I place them in a public forum such as this.  Where am I going? What will I do? How will things turn out?  It’s a lot like gazing into the Magic 8 Ball and expecting an answer that really means something.

All those questions are about the unknown, and the only reason we ask them are because we want to know!  We have this insatiable thirst to know what will be. This makes no sense at all, as we cannot possibly know what will happen.  We can make educated guesses that are based on what has already happened, but even those are subject to a providential U-turn that defies explanation and rationality.

This has been the way of humanity forever.  There have always been people who want to know what will happen in the future, and also those who proclaim to have that knowledge.

Jesus, however,  tells us that that’s a pointless exercise.  In Matthew’s Gospel, he tells us all we need to know about this subject.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?o Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?   Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil. (Mt 6:24-27; 36)

That’s pretty good advice, to stop worrying about tomorrow.

The next time you look at a section of railroad tracks heading off into the distance, just ask what it took to put them there, and not what it means for your life.

Lily

December 29, 2015
Lily

Lily

This is Lily, a beast of noble character and marvelous lineage.  Once a wild animal, she was saved from roaming the western plains and a difficult life, usually combined with an early death, by the Kleinhans family, in-laws to my daughter Chandra.  Lily now leads a fairly pampered life, with a consistent source of food, a barn for when the weather gets bad, and a family that loves her in spite of the fact that she eats the cedar boards that make up the door of the barn.  She is friendly, but not too.  A little cautious, but she let me enter into her space to take this shot.

Donkeys really are noble creatures.  I can think of two occasions where donkeys were used to fulfill prophecies in the Bible.  On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem triumphantly upon a donkey.  The other is poignant today, as we just celebrated the feast of the Holy Innocents, for it was Joseph leading Mary and the infant Jesus, who were riding on a donkey, as they fled to Egypt to avoid the slaughter of male children as ordered by Herod.

Donkeys have been the butt of many jokes throughout the years.  We look upon them as a sort of second cousin once removed from the horse.  In truth, they are reliable, loyal, sure footed, brave, and generally friendly.  They have their irritating habits, like chewing apart barn doors, but they are really wonderful creatures.

It’s those two tasks mentioned above that make them stand out for me.  To think that these animals were entrusted with carrying our Lord to safety as a baby, and then to carry Him to triumph as an adult.  The donkeys in those stories served God unassumingly, with obedience, giving great care to their passengers.  In both cases, horses could have been the animal of choice.  It’s likely a horse would have taken the Holy Family to Egypt much faster than a donkey.  And just imagine Jesus riding into Jerusalem atop a great war horse and what that image might have done to the crowds.

Yet it was a donkey that carried Jesus both times.  A simple, loving, caring, careful and obedient donkey, serving God because that what he was made to do.

I believe we could learn a lot about humility and service from donkeys.

Lily truly is a noble creature, of high pedigree and vaunted status.  I’m honored that she gave me the chance to look in her eyes and capture a small sliver of that beauty and nobility.

Mordor

December 28, 2015
Mordor West

Mordor West

I always imagined that Mordor would look something like this.

The great war engines of Sauron would be belching forth fire and smoke, creating all manner of ill-will to be foisted upon men, elves, dwarves and hobbits, all with the intent of finding the One ring and taking it for himself.

The raw material of war would come from deep underground, the dwelling place of things that are best left un-named.  They would be pumped to the surface, forged in fires of unimaginable fury, then unleashed against the world in his quest for domination.

To discover that Mordor was just south of the Cheyenne city limits was quite a surprise.

Actually, this isn’t Mordor.  I know, for some of you that may be a disappointment.  But this is a place where things come from deep underground and are converted into fuel by chemical process and heat.  Just like Mordor.  We don’t get war engines from it, though, just gasoline.  This is Frontier refinery in Cheyenne.

Sherry and I first came to Cheyenne for a job interview for me on May 1, 1984.  I remember the date because it was our 2nd wedding anniversary.  As we entered Cheyenne via I-80 from the east, the very first landmark we spotted was the refinery.  It was belching smoke like this picture, and, on May 1st, it was snowing.

Now we both grew up in Wisconsin, home to much snow.  And we had lived for a few years in Livingston, Montana.  Also home to much snow.  Snow on May 1st was not new. But there was something foreboding and, frankly, depressing, about pulling into what might become our new home on a spring day that featured freezing temperatures, snow, wind and an oil refinery  that would serve as the defining image of Cheyenne.

I got the job and we moved here.  It turned out that Cheyenne really isn’t cold all the time, or snowy.  (The wind does always blow, however.) Frontier refinery does not dominate the landscape, either.  Rather, it sits on the edge of town providing jobs for hundreds of people and making fuel to power our vehicles.

Actually, Cheyenne is a pretty nice place and doesn’t look like Mordor at all.

I hate to break this to you, but Mordor does not really exist outside the confines of JRR Tolkien’s mind.  This shot of the refinery looks a lot more sinister than it really is, because it is actually pretty mundane.

A guy can still pretend, however.

December 27, 2015
Sunset on the high plains

Sunset on the high plains

It was cold, as in 12 degrees with a wind.

I wanted a classic shot of the sun going down behind the mountains, but try as I might, it just wasn’t there.  Then I turned around and saw that the high plains outside Cheyenne were taking on a color I had never before noticed.

It wasn’t that the sun was reflecting off anything, as the sky was barren of clouds.  It was just the color of the air had turned blue and pink, and the cold seemed to make the edges of the air sharp as a knife.

People from out of state come here for the mountains, specifically those in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  Those iconic places are incredible in their beauty, and it would be hard to be disappointed after seeing them.

Yet Wyoming is definitely NOT all mountains.  The area around Cheyenne is typical of much of our state in that it is a vast, treeless plain.  The plains are not what a lot of people would call beautiful, but I have grown to love them.

Fence posts are ubiquitous around here, and they are fraught with symbolism of the taming of the west. Fences may be able to keep the cows in, but they have never been able to stop the color that envelopes the plains.  They can’t stop the wind, either.

Or the cold.

Shadows

December 26, 2015
In the bleak midwinter

In the bleak midwinter

Winter light changes everything.

As the sun makes its way across the sky during December, we never really get that high-noon look of stark light and flat landscapes.  Winter has the advantage of light being at angles to everything, all day long.

I took a photography class with Dan Ballard a couple years ago. He’s an amazing photographer, and his workshop elevated my photography skills exponentially.

One thing I learned from Dan was the importance of light and perspective.  Our workshop took place in Jackson, Wyoming in June.  The light in June is the exact opposite of the light in December.  Long days, a high, unforgiving sun that washes out everything.

One of the other students in our class put his camera away after breakfast and didn’t get it out again until after dinner.  He wouldn’t shoot at all during the day, as he didn’t like the light at all.  Photography is, like painting, all about light.

I don’t subscribe to the theory of no shooting in the middle of the day, as I think there are plenty of things to shoot even at mid day.  Granted, mid day comes earlier in December than in June, but the idea is the same.

Shadows become prominent features this time of year.  After a healthy snowfall last night, the land turned predominantly white, save for the shadows.  Watching them move over the course of the day is a real treat, moving left to right as I look out the front of my house.

The hedges which separate our home from the one next to us are the last to lose their leaves in the fall.  By December, they are just sticks coming out of the ground.  Several years ago, they were the haven for a flock of chickadees that would feed at our neighbors across the street, as they had an industrial sized bird feeder.  They would get their fill, then high-tail it across the street to our bushes and hide out.  It was quite the sight watching a hundred small birds fly as if by command from their yard to ours.

Today the light turned the sticks to shadow-casters.  Dark is the absence of light, and the light disappeared behind the sticks, giving depth and texture to the otherwise monochrome surface of the snow.

Winter light really does change things.

Christmas is NOT magical

December 25, 2015

(Be sure to read the whole way down.  Lots of pictures here.)

I went to Midnight Mass last night at the Cathedral of St. Mary in Cheyenne.  It’s our home parish, and I don’t normally go to this Mass on Christmas as it is just too late, and I am too old. But this night was different, as I wanted to capture the images of Christmas Mass and share them with you.

Angel

The Cathedral was all dressed up for Christmas, a true miracle of light in the midst of the darkness.  As I wandered around before Mass, I found lots of small spaces that contained great surprises. HP9A0314-2 HP9A0308-2 HP9A0306-2 HP9A0462-2 HP9A0428-2

Angels were everywhere!  But what else would expect on a night like this.

 Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

All dressed up

All dressed up

Raising our prayers to heaven

Raising our prayers to heaven

It has become cliche to describe Christmas as magical.  That would be so very, very wrong, though, as magic has nothing to do with it.

The birth of Jesus was real.

Magic is illusion.

Jesus is truly the son of God, consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Magic implies fooling people.

Christmas is telling the truth.

Magic is performed for our entertainment.

Christmas is given to us for our salvation.

Magic is an empty promise, shallow trickery.

Christmas is the fulfillment of a promise.

Merry Christmas.  May God bless us all.

 

 

It’s time

December 24, 2015

The birth of our Lord is moments away. The anticipation is great, and the world awaits his coming. The infant Jesus, the savior of the world, will be placed in a crib in a manger while the angels sing Glory to God in the highest.

A blessed Christmas to all.

 

December 23, 2015
Almost there

Almost there

While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Waiting … waiting … waiting.

December 22, 2015
Useful tool

Useful tool

 

If you live in Wyoming long enough, you will eventually have a story to tell about getting stranded by roads closing due to snow.  If you drive between Cheyenne and Laramie with any kind of frequency, you will, at some time, end up in the city that is not yours.

It’s the way of the world here.  In 2009, I had a permit to hunt bison on the elk refuge in Jackson. This is a coveted license, and I made trips to Jackson from Cheyenne every month from August through January to chase these critters.  Suffice to say that it’s a lot harder than one might think.  I was going to drive to Jackson on Christmas day that year, but a snow storm closed all roads leading out of Cheyenne.  All of them. There was no way out, even fro bison hunters.

On another occasion, Sherry and I went to Laramie to attend a banquet where Chandra was being recognized for helping to build a school in Guatemala.

We had a nice dinner and enjoyed the program.  After a couple hours of having a good time, we walked outside to find a foot of fresh snow and notice that the road to Cheyenne was closed.  We got a room in the hotel where the banquet had been, went to Wal Mart for some essentials, and then went to our room for an unexpected overnight stay.

The road did not open until mid afternoon the next day. When we finally did get going, it was apparent that they should have remained closed.  High winds, blowing snow, almost no visibility and icy roads created a harrowing ride.

But we made it.

We also discovered the true heroes of Wyoming’s highways in the winter.  Driving right ahead of us was a snow plow, the brave driver shooting plumes of snow off the road, risking his own well being so we could get home.

This is a brand new plow blade.  Resting just inside the fence of the Wyoming Department of Transportation storage lot in Cheyenne, I am certain in will be put to use this winter.

It’s easy to curse the snow plows as they scatter salt and sand, or slow traffic, or spray snow so that it’s hard to see.  But I think those drivers are incredible, and I am so very grateful to them for the work they do.

I set out tonight to shoot the sunset, but this snowplow blade presented itself instead.  I think it, and, more importantly, the people who drive the trucks on which these hang, are a far more interesting photo than just another sunset.  They are the reason we can get home in the winter.


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