Waiting for the Train

In the wilds of Alaska, it’s not always a simple matter to “get there.” A primary mode of transportation is via small “bush” and other forms of private aircraft. There are roads for vehicular traffic, but depending on where you’re headed there may be none. Then there’s my favorite form of transportation, Alaska Railroad. Major cities such as Anchorage and Fairbanks have large passenger depots, but at many locations, such as Girdwood where I was, with our daughter and grandson, it’s a “depot” in name only. Take a look and I think you’ll get the idea.

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Right on time, the trains Conductor stepped off, checked our tickets, and helped us climb aboard, and we were underway in less than five minutes. My main point here is to note that Alaska Rail stops at many locations much more remote than Girdwood. That says a lot about just how “frontier-like” Alaska is compared to much of the rest of the United States.

Appalachian Life

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I’m fortunate to live in the foothills of the scenic Appalachian Mountains … Virginia and North Carolina variety. For this photo presentation I took two original color images I made last month and processed each to give them an “antique” look, as if I was looking at an old film photo taken long ago. As I travel about this region I always look for signs from the past. Such as the railroad line above, and even more so the cabin located on a stream bank below. That photo depicts the true character of the mountains I love to experience.

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A Blue Ridge Discovery

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I’m thankful living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where in an hour’s drive I can be standing where I made this photo.  If you’re wondering why they are called “Blue Ridge” mountains this image might help. It’s all about the haze on the horizon, some natural some manmade. Today, I’m just a “looker”a short walk away from my car parked off the road, with camera in hand, clicking away. But, there was a time still fresh in my memory when I’d park my car, toss a daypack on and head right down the middle of this location, following marked trails, to experience the joy of discovery. In these high mountains above 3000 feet, hidden in  hollows, there is remarkably well preserved evidence left by those hearty folk who once lived in the wilderness.

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I’d like to say I hiked to this rustic old cabin on a hillside but I didn’t. I spotted it in the woods as I was driving along a narrow mountain road. But, it fits my story, so bear with me. When I discover places like this, either on foot or via car, I always take a few minutes to wonder who lived there and when. I can easily visualize a hound dog barking at me if  I wandered too close. I can see an old woman sitting in the open front door waving at me to come share a cup of coffee, or a biscuit left over from breakfast. It’s easy to get caught up with these type thoughts. In today’s world, many of our poorest city folk live better than did those in remote Blue Ridge Mountain valleys. Every day back then must have been a struggle.  Hunting game from sunrise to sunset, miles away from home. Finding and gathering scarce wild edible plants. Carrying water from nearby streams, and chopping seemingly endless amounts of firewood. So, when I find a place like this I’m thankful for the many blessings we have today.  Still, it would have been an experience I’d love to have had, living in the wilderness back then. Actually, via books I read every day, and through the lens of my camera, I do live that way … in my mind. That’s pretty special.

My Passion

It’s good being older and retired professionally. But, not necessarily enjoyable. Things get in the way. Health issues, lack of resources (like time), and simple laziness. Also, while carrying around an aging body, regardless of the positive motivation provided by health trackers such as Fitbit, we realize we’re just getting old and no matter what we do, our legs ain’t gonna function as they once did. I’ve learned a good way to make things better, however, no matter how creaky old my body is. I’ve found one thing to keep me fresh and motivated every day. It’s photography.

During a second professional career I had to learn how to become a good photographer. I had to learn how to use top level cameras and computer software such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and Lightroom. I worked hard and became pretty good, even if I do brag a bit. It was all fun, and I gained a lot of satisfaction when people responded favorably to my graphic design and photo compositions. Over the years I sought better tools and techniques to improve my work. I was quick to upgrade software to the latest version, quick to buy a newer and “better” camera, and spent many hours engaging in online discussion groups seeking the views of others similarly motivated. Slowly I became a “gear freak” and for instance would order a new camera bag right away after reading an enthusiastic review. There always seemed to be an illusive “something” out there I needed, but hadn’t yet clearly defined.

The ultimate result of all my activity back then turned out to be a storage closet full of items either obsolete or no longer used. I never sell anything “old” because I’m a sentimental collector. I’ve gifted some of my old gear to family and friends, but now most sit stored away in their original packaging. That doesn’t mean I’m no longer making photos and sharing them with others. On the contrary, I’m more active photographically today than I was then. The difference is I no longer yearn for a new or  better camera. I have two I’m pleased to say I use daily. What brand/model they are isn’t important, but I’ll say they are fairly small, light, and exceptionally good. My point is that I’ve personally experienced a span of time when we went largely from Nikon or Canon film SLR cameras and professional level lens, to digital models with excellent lens, to lighter and equally good mirrorless cameras with their own smaller lens. Now, we have crazy good “phone” cameras perhaps better in some situations than any of the above. And then there’s the software involved. It’s an “App” world now and I’m thankful for it. I said farewell to Adobe many years ago. You were great for a time and I relied on your products every day. Now, you are no longer relevant. I’ve found much better (for me) computer, tablet and smartphone programs  that get the job done faster, more enjoyably and easier than I could have imagined just a few years ago.

It’s great being fully retired and able to spend most of my time out looking for photo opportunities rather than messing with them digitally, hour after hour, to give me just the “right” look. My stuff winds up only on my Photoblog, and if people don’t like what they see that’s fine with me. I’m no longer getting paid for what I do. But the deal is, I’m feeding my passion and that’s all I seek.

Closed for the Winter

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A very popular location in SW Virginia at which to enjoy yourself is Fairy Stone State Park, with it’s swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing lake, plus many amenities designed especially for younger children. Now, it’s closed for the winter. Heavy rains have muddied the normally clear blue, spring-fed water, while fallen leaves and other debris have cluttered usually clean, white sandy beaches.

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During warm summer days, there would be rental kayaks and canoes lined up along this shoreline, with fees being paid in the shed in the background. A different summer scene would be present below, with more rental boats lined up.

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Fishing in the lake, both from shore (below) and on the water, is very popular; however, in the midst of winter, the lake is mostly deserted. Pedal boats are currently stored under picnic shelters, waiting to again be put in the water in just a few more months.

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Also sitting idle are gymnastic facilities designed for young children. I’ve been there in the midst of summer and this specific place is packed with shouting, suntanned kids, while nearby parents watch happily.

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Distinct contrasts between seasons in many locations all across northern regions of America may appear rather sad and drab when not snow-covered. I don’t look at it that way at all. It’s just a promise of what lies ahead.

Thinking Different in 2017

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I listened to a talk recently that discussed how “what we think”, can define “who we are.” If for example, in 2016 we awoke every day worrying about a problem or situation in our lives we had to face that day, and let that define how the day went, we’d walk around sorta miserable all the time. If we continued that thought process day after day in 2016, by the end of the year there might be a good chance that pattern of thinking would carry over into 2017. Unless we change the way we think. Such as looking at each day as an opportunity to conquer some challenge, meet some goal, do good things for others, or being truly thankful for all the great things in our lives. If we think that way in 2017, even though in reality we still have all the same challenges we had in 2016 (maybe more), perhaps our attitude about ourselves and others in 2017 will be significantly better. I choose to think differently. Happy New Year.

Walking with Grandsons

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Few things make me happier these days, than being able to enjoy times together with family. Daughter Amy is visiting now with her two sons Stephen (right) and Daniel (left). Today, they went with me on a nice walk in the woods near our home, along the Smith River. As we walked and talked, my camera eye spotted lots of interesting colors and patterns you can see below. The trail we walked along the river reminded me of all the interesting sights these two young men will see during their walk down the path they are on, so long as they look around the next bend and experience unknown adventures. Shorty, Stephen will be in the U.S. Coast Guard, and Daniel will enter Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. Exciting times for sure for these two guys, and I’m vary thankful to have spent time with them today “in the woods.”

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Rustic is Good

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I made this photo a few days ago, and it represents a specific photo subject I enjoy very much: rustic building windows and doors. It’s the wooden texture, reflections in the old glass, peeling paint, and thoughts about what sort of things lie behind, that get to me … every time. While I was making this photo, an old man came driving onto the property I was on, illegally I might add because there were “No Trespassing” signs in view. However, a metal farm gate was open, and I’d been to this old house several times before. I figured better to ask forgiveness rather than permission. Anyway, the man was a farm hand, carrying items out from behind the house. I explained what I was doing and he welcomed me to stay as long as I liked. Maybe it was my rural SW Virginia accent that did the trick, or the US Coast Guard hat I was wearing. We chatted a bit about the old home, which he said was built in the 1870s, and had been enlarged over the years. He said folks had lived there well into the 20th Century. It was indeed rustic. The foothills of the Blue Ridge where we live sure do have character. Like this rustic old house, and the nice old man I ran into that day.

Fitness is Good

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Our daughter Amy teaches 3rd Grade students in North Carolina. She’s also been trained in various aspects of “physical fitness”, and plans to obtain her professional certification in that regard. Being retired military, I understand what fitness is all about. When Amy’s son Stephen decided he wanted to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard, Amy took it on her own to help get him ready for the rigors of Boot Camp. Her youngest son, Daniel shown below to the left is a natural athlete himself, so he’s sort of along for the ride, and when called upon may serve as a “demonstrator.” He did just that showing Amy how to walk the parallel bars at an Army Corps of Engineers built and managed “Fitness Trail” near where I live. While Stephen and Amy “sweated it up” jogging in-between fitness stations, Daniel and I walked ahead to recon the difficulties that they’d see, and Daniel noting how he’d done a lot of these rigorous exercises when he was playing high school football in Texas before they moved to North Carolina. Like my title says, “fitness is good.”

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A Walk in the Woods and Fields of Henry County, VA

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It was a nice day, sunny and cool, so I decided to take a stroll at a nearby recreational center, that has lots of fields, walking paths, a nearby river and many other attractions that for me from time to time spell “camera and exercise time.” Like I do whenever I go on a photo road trip alone in my car, I had no exact idea that day where I might go, so I just let my feet lead the way.

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As I wandered in an area I’d not been before, I saw this interesting scene, and positioned myself so as to use the small drainage ditch to lead the viewers eye into the photo. Afterwards, I saw another interesting sight; a lone tree in the field, with colorful leaves barely hanging on.

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Walking along, I eventually came to a familiar wooded trail that wound its way along a small river. I especially like making photos when the leaves are gone from trees.

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And then I saw one tree that had lots of leaves remaining.

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As I neared the end of my walk that day, I saw a familiar sight I’d photographed before (below), and the colors made me want another. It was a good day all in all.

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