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Category Archives: Photo Stories

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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Part 2 – Stepping into the Past

In my last post I presented several photographs I made at Madison Dry Goods store in Madison, NC. I mentioned that the owner of the store had gathered a number of antiques which he placed in the upstairs portion of the building, which once was a part of the Sterling Hotel. The hotel operated from 1908 to the 1920s, and had 16 rooms, a lobby and a downstairs cafe (now a part of the dry goods store). The intent of the “museum” setting is to offer the visitor a glimpse of what it might have been like when the hotel was operational, by displaying numerous items commonly found at that time. I noted that the rooms were quite small compared to those found today, but then there were much less demands for “comfort” when traveling back in the early 20th Century. A clean bed and a place to wash up and keep warm in cool weather was a main priority.

From a photographers standpoint I captured three images which I really liked for the “look” I saw. The “red lamp” in the brick-walled room, for example, and the image looking out the curtained window to buildings in the back of the hotel were two scenes I really liked. Lastly, I wanted to make an image of the old stairs leading to the rooms above to remind me of the many travelers which had gone up and down those well-worn steps to and from their rooms. It was all a rather enjoyable experience being at such an interesting place. I trust you will enjoy seeing what I saw.

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Stepping into the Past

Once again, I found a new and very unique photo opportunity in a location I have visited many times before. Madison, NC. It’s a small town located just south of the Virginia State line in the Piedmont Region, and was once a hub for the tobacco trade. Today, many stores remain open and owners work to restore a look of “history” as well as a uniqueness in the manner in which they present their products. Madison, unlike some other small towns in this area which I have visited and photographed many times, retains a vibrancy which attracts local citizens and visitors like me.

I parked and began to wander around a street looking for photo scenes that caught my eye. I liked the two flags, for example, which I saw in front of Madison Dry Goods, so I made a photo and then moved on. Returning later to my car, the owner of the dry goods store (Richard) stepped out of the front door and introduced himself, asking if I was enjoying myself making photos, and would I like to come inside to see what he had to offer. Wow, am I glad I accepted his kind and sincere offer! What follows are several images of the inside of his store. It is literally chocked full of things which many photographers love to see. On top of that, he has restored a portion of the building to the 1905 hotel it once was. In the restoration he has placed numerous original antiques all designed to give the visitor a feel for what it would have been like staying at the hotel. But, I want to save that portion of my photo presentation to a follow-on post.

One thing about living where we do in this region of the United States which I enjoy is the friendliness and hospitality of the small town “folks” we interact with, who are more than willing to become “friends’ no matter the length of time of the interaction. If you are interested, I recommend checking out Madison Dry Goods web site. Very interesting indeed.

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Up Close with Brown Bears

Before our 2007 trip to Alaska, my wife Barb and I had been there together on two other occasions. We saw lots of wildlife, including black and brown bears, but never really up close. With our 100-passenger cruise ship anchored in a sheltered bay in Katmai National Park, we formed into small groups and boarded Zodiac inflatable boats with outboard motor, and with a guide at the tiller, off we went to see what we could find over several hours of riding slowly and as silently as we could along the shoreline with lots of undersea vegetation exposed. We were, in my opinion lucky to have an extremely capable guide who knew where to look. And what we saw caused our jaws to drop open in awe, and camera shutters began clicking excitedly. We were required to stay about fifty yards away from any bears we saw, and to be as inconspicuous as possible. Some like me had 300mm telephoto lens attached so we were able to get in much closer visually than the fifty yard limit. Our guide told us about a passenger he had on another cruise who had a habit of whistling to get a bear’s attention so it would look into the camera lens. After he did it twice, the guide told him once more and he’d be banned from further excursions. So, we were being exceptionally quiet.

As we floated along we began to see bear after bear, feeding and otherwise browsing around the intertidal zone. There were two mother bears with cub and I was able to capture several very nice images of them. Then there was the “sleeping bear” we snuck up on. What a scene! In fact it was so good, I had the photo enlarged professionally and framed and it is now hanging over the head of my bed. While the photo opportunities came one after another, we eventually began to find fewer bears. But we did spot an Eagle sitting along the shoreline. And then I spotted a young brown bear walking down the shoreline toward the Eagle. My heart raced and I prayed the Eagle would not fly away. Thankfully, the majestic bird sat solidly as the large brown bear walked by. It was an incredible photo opportunity and something I will always remember.

In summary, that day seeing so many brown bears in Katmai was a distinct highlight of our two week trip But, there’s more to show you so stay tuned for the next installment.

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Posted by on January 31, 2014 in Animals, Landscape, Photo Stories

 

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Shoreline Beauty in Katmai

Katmai National Park and Preserve is a United States National Park and Preserve in southern Alaska, notable for its brown bears. In 2007, my wife Barb and I were visitors there aboard a small, approximately 100 passenger cruise ship and were simply overcome by the beauty we saw from the deck of our ship as we cruised along the shoreline, getting ready to anchor in a sheltered cove, where we were to load in small groups of six into Zodiac rubber inflatable boats, to quietly ride along large sections of the shore, seeking to find as many brown bears as we could, and whatever else came our way. I will save the “bear story” to my follow-on post, but here I wanted to give you a feel for the beautiful landscape which spread before our eyes. The day did not begin on a hopeful note, for when I stepped onto the small patio outside our cabin right after I got up from my bed I saw low, gray clouds and dull-colored water. But, as we got closer to shore, and the sun began to rise, it all turned perfect. Simply perfect! As the day began, a float plane landed and tied up next to the ship, with a National Park representative who would serve as the ship’s guide and “pilot” to escort us through the pristine and protected region. I was lucky to have my camera ready when the plane made a low pass overhead.

Note: You can see the tan colored remains of volcanic ash covering large sections of the open slopes of many high mountains. There are numerous dormant volcanoes in this area, thus its name “The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.”

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Posted by on January 29, 2014 in Landscape, Photo Stories

 

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