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Category Archives: Photo Stories

Riding the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

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The weather was cloudy and a bit foggy when we arrived in Bryson City, NC early in the AM to board the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad for a five-hour round trip into the Nantahala National Forest. My wife Barb and I, her brother Jerry and wife Mary Ann, along with 300 other passengers, lined up by the waiting 12-car train idling nearby.

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We were greeted by a very friendly and extremely knowledgeable staff which made our trip most enjoyable, learning about the history of the region along our way. Once seated, I immediately noticed the historic atmosphere of the passenger car in which we were seated. It’s too bad we can’t routinely travel in such a manner today.

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Views out of the seat windows were spectacular, as was the included lunch meal we had pre-ordered. The next photo is my sister-in-law Mary Ann enjoying the views and the second is my wife Barb enjoying her BBQ lunch while we rolled along.

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Having been a passenger on trains several times in my life I knew that if I went to the open area in between cars where they connected, I could lean out the window (safely obviously) to make some interesting photos of the train and the surrounding beauty of the region.

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The day after we’d completed our train ride, we drove elsewhere in the region to explore, and on the way back to our motel, we happened upon the train on it’s twice-daily journey, but this time we were across a fast-flowing river we’d been so close to the day prior. We stopped the car, and I got out to capture the following images. The last photo of the caboose at the end of the train is a fitting end to this brief story. It was, in short, a wonderful time together!

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Posted by on October 23, 2014 in Landscape, Photo Stories, Transportation

 

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Where are the People?

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It was a beautiful sunny day this Saturday past when I went to Fairy Stone State Park near our home in SW Virginia. It’s a very popular place because of its beautiful lake and surrounding hiking trails. Only non-motor powered water craft such as canoes and kayaks are allowed on the fishing and recreational lake, so it’s usually a relatively quiet location. That is when the swimming area is closed for the season as it was the day I was there. In the summer when it’s fully opened, the noise of joyful kids and others swimming and running about the sandy, man-made beach overwhelms your senses.

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As I approached the long boat dock with canoes lined up, I glanced out on the lake to see how many were out there exploring with happy paddlers on board. But, looking about I saw no one on the water; just these canoes lined up.

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But when I looked behind on the dock area I saw definite evidence that there were indeed canoeists out there, shoeless and probably a bit wet.

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Looking at the lake in front of me again, I saw no canoes on the water. But, that did not mean that they were not out there somewhere, probably in some remote cove looking for whatever nature had to offer them this day. I’ve paddled just about every foot of Fairy Stone Lake during the time we’ve lived here. It’s a wonderful place and the peace in spirit that results from just being there is something I will forever cherish.

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Posted by on September 22, 2014 in Landscape, Photo Stories

 

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Brown Water

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Most families have a humorous story to tell concerning events in which they were involved, some significant some not. Perhaps a few of these stories might even become a permanent part of family lore. When we lived in Stafford Virginia shortly after I retired from the Army, our grandkids were visiting and while there we had a severe thunderstorm with very heavy rain and winds. Thankfully there was no major impact on us, but that was not true for a lonely squirrel who had sought refuge in a high tree above fast flowing, muddy, brown-colored storm water in a ditch along the street by our house. Young granddaughter Jennifer and grandson Michael sat with me on the front porch watching the rain, wind, and muddy water flow past when a large blast of wind hit and the unsuspecting squirrel was blown from the tree in which it had sought cover. We stared as it flew through the air headed for the muddy drainage ditch. Thankfully for the wet and probably terrified small animal it missed the water, landed in the street and then took off running away to safer territory. That rather insignificant event generated much laughter between us at the time and it still causes us to remember, smile and laugh today years after. Besides the squirrel’s “adventure”, what’s become a part of our family lore is the brown water that flowed past us in the drainage ditch during the height of that storm. Today, when it’s raining hard wherever we are, perhaps separated by many miles, we can convey to each other the severity of any rain storm simply by saying, “Brown water.”

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2014 in Photo Stories

 

Farewell Old Friend

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Over the years I’ve said farewell to many pairs of running shoes, some with glee, others with sadness. When I first began running seriously while in the Army, my initial intent was to buy a not-so-expensive shoe (a step or two above “cheap”) and then use them until they almost fell apart. While I was attending a year-long senior military service college in the mid 1980’s I learned from a highly regarded running coach and advisor that such thriftiness regarding running shoes was, in fact, dumb. He asked me if my knees were hurting after I ran. I replied they did, and he looked at the well-worn heels of my shoes and told me that was the cause of my pain. At that point in my running life I set two future criteria for my shoes: 1. I’d buy a new pair at least every three-six months depending on miles logged; and 2. I’d spend what I could afford and get a highly rated shoe.

At first I tried different brands: Nike, Saucony, Brooks, Asics and New Balance. I never was a marathon or half-marathon length runner, but I was not a casual runner either. My goal was to run my pace (whatever that was on the day in question) and run as far as my mind and body told me to go, and to do so usually six days a week. When our Malamute dogs were with us, Nickie (first) ran me hard, and after he passed on Mystee did the same. In Germany Nickie never wanted to stop running and we often trooped off on the trails in the woods near our housing area for upwards to ten miles, with me hanging on dearly to his fully stretched out ten-foot long leash. Mystee being a gentle lady was a bit more conservative runner, but she had to have her daily jaunt regardless of the weather or how tired I was. During all of this I began to favor New Balance brand shoes, and finally settled on the Classic 990 series, which I used for a very long time. Then, as I aged, two things happened.

First, my knees began to tire so I started to mix my running with brisk walking. Then, as Mystee also got older we started to walk exclusively together normally around 2-3 miles, six days a week. Sadly, Mystee’s back legs and hips gave out and I was then alone every morning on my route, but with a new pair of New Balance 990’s on my feet every six months or so. More recently I had some serious health issues (cancer) which led me to undergo a bone marrow transplant with all the side effects that result from such things. For several months after the transplant I put on my New Balance shoes and wore them inside the house as I worked to regain my leg strength. Finally, I worked my way back to my normal outside neighborhood walking routine. Last winter I bought my last pair of New Balance shoes (shown above after my final walk with them). I decided last week it was time for a shoe change. I really hated to say farewell to my old friend New Balance, but I wanted something new, something that would cushion my feet, legs and knees better, while at the same time making me feel (and look) somewhat younger. So, after getting some advice from our youngest daughter and her husband (both marathon runners) I settled on a flashy pair of Asics Gel Nimbus 16.

With the help of the Good Lord and my body, I hope to be able to replace this new pair of Asics in six months of so, and then to do that again and again for many years to come. I will, however, always cherish the memories I have of all those New Balance shoes I owned and wore out. All those miles running and walking, during hot and cold weather, by myself and with friends or our dogs. Now, it’s time to make a new friend in Asics. Wish me well. Cheers!

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2014 in Photo Stories

 

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A Passionate Gardener

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It’s not a big backyard garden, and it’s certainly not one free of spring and summertime challenges; but, it’s unique in that it is the focus of our neighbor Al’s passionate work many days during the planting, growing and harvesting seasons. Al has taught high school Algebra and other math related subjects for almost 40 years in Virginia and North Carolina, so during the summer he has lots of time to spend with his garden, and fishing when the mood strikes. He’s from near Richmond, Virginia and is a Hokie (Graduate of Virginia Tech). His wife Nancy holds a degree from the University of Virginia. We could not have a nicer couple as our next door neighbors.

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This is Al–bit dirty and sweaty but that’s the way is is with a dedicated backyard gardener. Several years ago he asked me if we had any problem with him plowing up a portion of his yard adjacent to ours in order to make a garden. He said he was concerned that drainage might be a problem when it rained hard. Having spent my professional career in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers I assured Al it would not be a problem. He said “his” garden would be “our” garden in relation to being able to share a portion of the summertime harvest of such things as tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, beans, squash, lettuce, potatoes and mostly Blueberries which grow profusely in a row of large bushes along one side of the garden nearest our house. I helped him and his son put up the wire fence and posts around the garden, in order to keep the local deer herd and other pesky critters from sharing the bounty.

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Al’s not afraid to experiment, such as with his grape arbor shown below. He has grapes galore as you can see here, but soon he’ll begin a battle with birds to see who can get the ripe ones first. Same deal with the blueberries. Squirrels are an especially happy customer of Al’s backyard garden.

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Besides being passionate about his garden, he spends a lot of time with other handyman backyard yard projects. His bird bath and flower arrangement looks great and he maintains several Blue Bird houses around his yard that are annual home to several loyal residents. Blue Birds can do wonders keeping insect pests under control.

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I have to admit to chuckling from time to time during the summer as I watch Al battle weeds, critters, the heat and humidity, plus the need to pick and eat all he grows. I tried my hand several years in our backyard growing simple vegetables, but it did not take long for me to realize that I did not have the same level of “green-thumbness” Al has. Besides, I reasoned, Al offered to share his harvest and on his own could not eat all that was ready to pick. So, Al came over to our yard and helped me remove the fence I had placed around my garden, and I turned it all happily into grass. As I mentioned earlier, we could hardly find better next door neighbors than Al and Nancy. Sitting on my back porch from July through August, with Al’s Blueberries on my morning cereal is one benefit of that arrangement.

 

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Historic Hotel Roanoke

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The Hotel Roanoke was built in 1882 and became the SW Virginia city’s social center. Its original 34 rooms grew to 384 when, in 1989, it was donated to Virginia Tech and subsequently underwent a major renovation, to include the addition of a large Conference Center. The facility is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. I recently visited the hotel and made several images to show just how beautiful it is, and how much staying there can take one back in time. The hotel is located just a 5 minute walk from the center of the City of Roanoke, with all the attractions available there.

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Not Far Away

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Sometimes what you may be looking for may ultimately not be that far away. Like this photo for example. I had pulled my car off the road to make some photos recently and noted that I’d have to walk a bit to get to my destination, which was not a problem. But as I stepped out of the vehicle and looked down, this single, simple and beautiful white wild flower was right at my feet. I figured I’d not do much better than that image at that location so decided eventually to move on. Was it luck I spotted that flower? Maybe, however I like to think I was meant to find it. I recall a time several years ago when I went back to the small Missouri town where my grandparents are buried, and decided to visit their graves to pay my respects. I had no idea where their graves were located in the mid-size cemetery but figured I’d just walk around until I found their names on the grave stones. After an hour or so walking past grave after grave, I had not been successful in my search. I decided to walk back to my truck which I had originally parked just off the narrow road through the cemetery, get a bottle of water and then resume my search. I opened the door to my truck, got a bottle of water, closed the door and then turned around to walk back up the road. As I looked down adjacent to my truck, I spotted less than ten feet away the graves of both my grandparents. What made me stop my truck there to begin my search? Like with the flower I found recently on a photo road trip, I think I was destined to park there. God moves in mysterious ways some say, I for one!

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2014 in Flowers, Photo Stories

 

Window Shopping

I enjoy wandering our relatively small and somewhat struggling city center of Martinsville, VA adjacent to where we live, and making photos of items in store windows and store fronts. It’s interesting to note that Martinsville was, until the late 1980s, a primary “economic engine” for the Commonwealth of Virginia. With the demise of American manufacturing over the years, especially textiles and furniture, given that cheaper goods are available from off-shore resources, cities like ours have struggled. Many, like here, are seeking ways to make their business districts more vibrant and that brings out ingenuity of store owners to attract customers. But, economics and government policies are not my focus here, photos are. The main challenge faced when making photos through store window glass is the angle of the sun and reflections, much less dirty glass. So, picking the right time of day is important. Anyway, as I walk along, my eyes are always roving to see what I can find. Colors, shapes, interesting items, etc. Here are some examples I made recently.

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Not a Normal Tourist Location – Provideniya Russia

In far eastern Siberia in Russia a natural harbor located off the northern Bering Sea lies the City of Provideniya. During the Soviet Union era, this city and the area across the bay was home to a large military base, accessible only by water and air. The deep water port was established in 1938 and is only 200 air miles from Nome, Alaska. The Soviets were concerned with the possible threat posed to their northern territory by the United States and constructed a large number of block military-style buildings, a landing strip and harbor facilities all with supporting infrastructure to house almost 50,000 people. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the base was essentially abandoned, with now only a few thousand hearty people struggling to make a living in the City of Provideniya. In 2007, my wife and I were very fortunate to visit the city and surrounding area, as part of a two-week cruise of Alaska and the Bering Sea, aboard the 100-passenger cruise ship the Spirit of Oceanus.

As we cruised into bay, we saw the city in the far distance with a Russian maritime tug boat headed in our direction with a pilot on board. As we neared the city, we noted that a large painting of our ship had been located on the side of a  building, as welcome to the ONLY visiting annual cruise ship landing there at the time. We were told that the year prior to our visit in July, the bay was ice jammed making entry impossible. These visits ceased a few years after ours, as the cruise line stopped operating due to economic challenges. Thus, we were one of the last to visit this extremely remote location. Most of the remaining buildings were in disrepair and abandoned, especially in the military base portion across the bay from the city.

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There were indications in the harbor where we docked signifying the seafaring history of the area, and early one morning we were hailed by a passing Russian boat loaded with fishermen off to destinations unknown. I was interested in several “unique” sights we saw such as the Bus Stop sign along a very rugged, rocky unpaved city road, a “Fine Art Studio” sign on a multistory, freshly painted building used to house residents, with numerous electrical device antennas on the roof. Also interesting was the city cemetery on the outskirts of the residential area. We were told that Stalin had forbidden the use of any sort of religious crosses on grave sites, so what you see here was typical. Many graves had discarded household items around their perimeter. Bed frames for example.

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The people we saw and met were exceptionally friendly and we were treated to an hour-long cultural musical and dancing presentation with traditional Russian and native songs. In summary, we saw and photographed sights that only a few outsiders have experienced. We were indeed fortunate. I wonder what the city looks like today seven years after our visit.

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Visiting Dutch Harbor Alaska

I suppose when many people think of Dutch Harbor it’s because of it being famous for being the hub for King Crab fishing, as seen on the popular TV show, “Deadliest Catch.” Actually, it is located on Unalaska/Amaknak Island which are a part of the western portion of the Aleutian Island chain. For us sailing on a small cruise ship in 2007, it was the last place we stopped before heading into the center of the Bering Sea, and northward to Eastern Siberia. The Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor during World War Two and it later became a military base for U.S. forces. Today it has become the number one fishing port in the United States measured in pounds of fish processed and the total dollar value delivered.

Early morning as we approached Dutch Harbor, my spirits sunk because the location was pretty much fogged in, a common occurrence. However, the closer we came to docking, the weather improved considerably, making it possible for me to make a number of interesting photos, some of which are shown below. My favorite series of images relate to the old Russian Orthodox Church with its onion-shaped spires, the oldest such style church in North America. Near the church I wandered along a steep bright green hillside containing many Russian Orthodox grave sites with their unique crosses. The fields were full of various wild flowers, which became subjects for my camera. It was a grand day, and one we will never forget. Oh yes, our incredible “photographic weather” which followed us throughout our two-week exploration cruise was wonderful when we needed it, but as soon as we left Dutch Harbor, the fog rolled back in. The hands of God were on us travelers for sure.

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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Landscape, Photo Stories

 

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