The Old Man and the Barn

The barn was on the property when he purchased the place, its age uncertain. The skin was ponderosa pine, and given that many ponderosas in northern Colorado could be 200 years old when cut and milled, the total age of the barn might have been in centuries.  It was a two-horse structure, with stables and corrals and feed and tack rooms, lantern-lit in their early days, all covered by a tin roof.  A mid-septuagenarian, he was increasingly drawn to old things because they revived memories of his past and there were parallels in their accommodation of time.  The barn was no exception; it had endured and been scarred by extremes of high country weather, and past owners had deployed numerous patches and repairs. Yet there was a beauty in the rustic, home-made parts and gnarled wood with its curving and cracked grain, stains, and knots and knot holes, both patched and unpatched.  In color and composition it all added up to the slow acquisition of character as well as a metaphor for his own aging processes. He and the barn were fellow time travelers, and he visited often. The barn was a living thing in a sense, aging with the elements, and offering insights to those willing to be close and quiet.

The barn, a colorful structure of unknown age.

The barn, a colorful structure of unknown age.

Warts and spots?.

Warts and spots?.

A hinge joint, broken and repaired.

A hinge joint, broken and repaired.

Home-forged and rusted but still functional.

Home-forged and rusted but still functional.

Overseer?

Overseer?

Patched!.

Patched!.

Weather-worn arm..

Weather-worn arm..

Tack room lighting.

Tack room lighting.

Until One Has Loved An Animal....

Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. - Anatole France

Parts of my soul, whatever that is, may be unawakened but not because I haven’t loved an animal. There are times when I could rightly be accused of being a misanthrope, but other than pythons in the everglades I hold no ill feelings toward animals. My dog is in another category altogether though, and I’ll leave it at that. Perhaps the expressions of dog and man shown below will help to illustrate my point.

There are many people walking around Fearrington Village with their dogs, leash in one hand and plastic bags in the other, but this pair was different. I watched them for a couple of days and saw that they were “regulars” in both time and place. He sat on Nana’s bench under the ancient white oak tree with his gray-muzzled friend lying on the ground nearby. So, camera in hand, I asked yesterday if he would allow me to photograph them, and he graciously complied. He was standing when I approached, and upon accepting my request, he walked to the bench, his friend wobbling by his side, and they both settled into relaxation. This is the first image in the series, processed in a vintage format. The combined expressions of man and dog was such that I found him again this morning - with his wife and canine companion - and gave him a large print of the portrait. He was pleased to have their companionship recorded.

I titled it “Old Friends”.

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Horizons

Somehow, the clouds over the horizon here in northern Colorado opened yesterday morning, allowing a relatively narrow beam from the rising sun to illuminate the clouds beyond that opening. The phenomenon lasted only a few minutes, never to be seen again. I hope you enjoy this recording of it.

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Autumn Aspens

The arrival of autumn usually brings two colorful tree images to mind, the Appalachians and New England with their brilliant maples. and the Rocky Mountains and their aspens groves, usually bright yellow, sometimes reddish orange. However, the Front Range of Colorado was unusually warm and dry this past summer, so the fall colors around us have been muted. Nevertheless, there was fog in the area a few days ago, and we decided to go aspen hunting, knowing that fog usually presents imaging opportunities like none other. We rode a loop from our house along County Road 68C and then the Manhattan Road to Red Feather Lakes and back home. For the unfamiliar, CR68C and Manhattan are unpaved, sometimes very bumpy, sometimes muddy. Mud was the feature of the day.

Suggestion: these images are better observed on a larger screen rather than a telephone.

The first image was captured on private property along the south side of CR68C where I was shooting over an ancient barbed wire fence. The ground here was moist, so the tree colors are typical aspen. Hints of fog can be seen in the background through the trees. The tall grass and the heart pine gate and fence posts, bolstered by lodge pole struts are remnants of earlier times when the property owner probably had or allowed cattle or horses to graze the area.

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The second scene was captured alongside the Manhattan Road on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The dominant trees are evergreens with aspen groves scattered about. When the aspens have shed most of their leaves, but not all, their white trunks and remaining yellow leaves are spectacular against the dark green fir and spruce trees. Again, there is a hint of background fog.

Manhattan.jpg

The final scene came from our back yard aspen grove adjacent to the road. I had envisioned a completely different shot when I stepped out of the car, but it just wasn’t there. So in turning in a different direction to return to the car I looked back, and there “it” was. It’s the same with hiking; stop periodically and turn around to observe that which you have just passed. You will invariably see something you missed in passing. This is perhaps my favorite of these three photographs. The first two have main subjects with fog in their backgrounds, but it’s all just “there”. The subject is more diffuse in the third, but the shapes and the colors lead or move one’s eye into the scene, So for me, it’s a most dynamic image of the group. It was that fading edge that led to the capture.

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The autumn snowfall began a few days after these images were captured.

Bosler

I’m dreaming of a trailer

In Bosler Wyoming

With tires on the roof dear

And you by my side.

…. From the song, “Bosler” by Jalan Crossland

With all due respect to Mr. Crossland, nobody, but nobody, seems to want to go to Bosler, Wyoming. There isn’t an intact trailer in the town, and no real streets for kids to play in as implied in his song. But his near-comical lyrics about a lonesome city apartment dweller longing for the open plains of Wyoming are an allegorical feast that says much about the spirit of the West. There are times when I feel that way myself.

Bosler was once a cattle town with a railroad mail stop, post office, stores, a school and the usual church. There was even a four-room motel, unplumbed of course, but with “Men” and “Women” privies. The urge to use one of those “facilities” in a wind-blown January night must have been intense. Or perhaps bed pans were available. Bosler remained a colorful pass through as long as US 287 was the main route from Laramie to Jackson, but Mr. Eisenhower’s interstate system nailed Bosler’s coffin shut. So now it looks like Jeffrey City, a once-thriving uranium-mining town a bit further along 287, and other ghost towns in Wyoming. The famous Virginian Hotel, or what’s left of it, is in the crossroad of Medicine Bow, a few miles north of Bosler. And Como Bluff, known for its big dinosaur fossils, is nearby.

(Note: The following images were processed in a style discussed in my earlier blog post, “Jack Spencer”.)

The truck is doing what most vehicles do in Bosler, passing through without slowing. The four small buildings on the right are the remains of the “motel”.

The truck is doing what most vehicles do in Bosler, passing through without slowing. The four small buildings on the right are the remains of the “motel”.

As with the rest of Bosler, the “consolidated” school is abandoned; its windows broken, the classrooms wrecked, and the campus is a sea of prairie grass.

The Bosler Consolidated School sits starkly empty on the plains on the north side of town. There are miles of open space between the school and the distant Laramie Range forming the horizon. There’s a road over there in the distance, where cars are mere specks.

The Bosler Consolidated School sits starkly empty on the plains on the north side of town. There are miles of open space between the school and the distant Laramie Range forming the horizon. There’s a road over there in the distance, where cars are mere specks.

There are more antelope carcasses than people in Bosler, although that statement would be true if there was only one dead antelope beside the road. Nobody but photographers drops their speed while driving through, and a 40 mph antelope can’t compete with a 70 mph vehicle. Speaking of which, dead vehicles abound too, some in the open, others behind a decrepit wood fence. There is also a house west of the railroad whose yard is crammed with junk vehicles, including old school buses. The accumulation of unusable stuff must say something about our insecurities, or maybe we’re just pack rats.

Bosler’s graveyard of the rusted automobile.

Bosler’s graveyard of the rusted automobile.

The last business in Bosler was Doc’s Western Village. Like the fenced-in junk yard a few yards down the road, there is still stuff inside the old store. Somebody is paying a utility bill for it as indicated by a drop cord coming from a side door to an old “motor home” parked to the right of this image. The strange sound of music, the only sound in Bosler other than the wind, an occasional Union Pacific train, and the whining of car and truck tires on the highway, was emanating from that old camper, but I saw no one. An eerie feeling if one thinks about the possibility of an armed crank sleeping off a hangover in that contraption! I moved about quietly. Back to my story, there’s not even a Dollar General in Bosler, and Dollar General goes to places where Wal Mart won’t go. As Jalan Crossland’s song says, “In Bosler Wyoming there ain’t much to buy”.

Doc’s Western Village, now deceased.

Doc’s Western Village, now deceased.

So, as the sun began its descent behind the Snowy Range, I got into my car, pulled out on US 287, and headed southward to Laramie, wondering about what I had seen and sensed, while the never-ceasing wind and the prairie grass continued their slow reclamation of Bosler.

Thanks, Mr. Crossland, for reminding us that we can dream.

The Home Place

Built in 1914 by my grandparents, Joseph Thomas and Lilliebelle Brinn, this house was not only a home; it was a center of farm operations, and during my early years, Miss Belle, as she was known, was the CEO.  My grandfather, whose middle name my brother Nate carries, died in 1934, leaving the farming operation to Miss Belle and two of their sons, my father and his brother.  She died in 1955, and after the later passing of her immediate heirs, the farm and this house were sold to the town of Hertford.

The original house had a rear-attached kitchen with a wood-burning cook stove.  I remember it being used to feed the folks who helped with the annual "hog killing", a multi-day event in January, back in the era of cold winters.  Unfortunately, I don't know the fate of that lovely old stove.  By the time I came along, another room in the main part of the house had been renovated as a kitchen - with electric appliances.  The high-ceiling rooms were heated with large Duo-Therm kerosene burners that vented through the chimneys.

Brinn Home Place

Brinn Home Place

As with many other farms of the early-to-mid twentieth century there was a bell perched atop a 20-foot pole outside the old kitchen with a long rope attached to the porch.  The bell rocked on a gimbal as the rope was pulled, swinging the clapper against the bell and signaling dinner time or Miss Belle's need of assistance.  The bell, its ring dimmed by time and rust, was saved by my mother who passed it on to our cousin, Jean Carr and her husband Paul. They intended to attach it to an even older family home they were renovating in the Durant’s Neck area of Perquimans County; however, their plans changed, and they donated the bell to the Museum of the Albemarle where it now resides as a small bit of the region’s history.

Behind the house were a few peach trees, a former tool shop, a chicken house and pen, a smoke house, a storage building and a vehicle shelter.  Miss Belle fed her chickens daily, carrying a bucket of feed in the crook of her frail arm well into her seventies.  Amongst that brood of Dominickers and Rhode Island Reds she had one big rooster that would attack small boys!  A truly evil bird!  I recall the use of the smoke house with its permeating odor of salt-cured, smoked hams and shoulders.  And there was lard/box lye soap in the storage building.  Real soap, not your present-day smell-good body wash concoctions in last-until-the-sun-explodes plastic containers.  Stuff that left rings in the bath tub!

I spent a few summer hours in the front porch rocking chairs with my grandmother, "May" as I called her for now-unknown reasons, watching the song birds nest and raise their young in the adjacent shrubbery.  Her beaten biscuits were a treat when we delivered the Sunday newspaper to her and she read the comics to me.  During weekday afternoons she listened to Paul Harvey's news and soap operas on her radio in the room behind the right-side window in the photograph.  I slept on a down mattress in that house, listening to rain falling on the metal roof.  It's all gone now, the house probably being beyond repair if nothing has been done to it since I last saw it in 2015.  So, while my memories are good ones, my regrets are few.  Modernization and maintenance of such a structure would be beyond the means of most folks.  Commercial office space perhaps but, again, renovation would be prohibitive for anyone's bottom line.  

In the end we're left with the hard fact that time grinds inexorably onward, and everything, including this house, flits in and out, in and out.  Generations and their memories come and go, serve and leave, like the momentary lantern flashes of the evening fireflies in the grass around this once-magnificent old home.  So, as Mr. Burns, cigar in hand, famously said to Ms. Burns, "Say 'Goodnight', Gracie!"

Jack Spencer

I recently came across the fine art photographer Jack Spencer and his book "This Land".  Scanning the book's images I was initially not enthused; they were in a pictorial style - heavy and often dark, with exaggerated, faded colors.  However, the interview of Spencer by the historian Jon Meacham was revelatory for my understanding of his work and stirred my interest in what he was saying photographically as well as the applicability of the "look" to digital images.  While featuring few people, "This Land" showed both the beauty of America and Spencer's disdain for its jingoistic, shiny object-chasing society following 911 and our needless invasion of Iraq.  He was clearly following his creative muse with an emotional impetus.  When in another presentation he quoted from one of his (and my) favorite misanthropes, Edward Abbey, he had me.  Spencer melded emotion and expressive art for me in a way that no one else has.  Not all of his images appeal to me, but I think that's his point and the point of good art.

As stated above, Spencer's work harkens back to pictorialism, when photographers created images more akin to paintings by using soft focus, smeared lenses or other chicanery.  The limited glass plate and film emulsions and processing chemicals of that early era also contributed to the look. Spencer stressed his prints with scratches and caustic substances.  Some early pictorialist work was excellent e.g., Leonard Missonne; others not so much, but the proponents of "straight photography", Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and others eventually forced them out of favor.  However, some of pictorialism's "look" is still available today with digital technics, a "look" I will be pursuing as my own dark, creative muse, whom I call Miss Ann Thrope, nudges me - along with the morning news - in that direction.   Other contemporary photographic artists have explored this genre, so my effort is not unique.  It's not the stuff of 500px, Instagram or Facebook, but I only have to please my wife, my dog and myself!  Anyone else is frosting on the cake!

The following images are a result of attempts at achieving a pictorialist effect by digital means.  They have all been slightly blurred, toned, textured, bordered and vignetted, and they are all in my "Pictorialism" gallery which will be growing as I find more suitable images.

Sunset On Fading America

Sunset On Fading America

ParvinLakeFog.jpg

Lone Goose on Parvin Lake

Sign in the Window

Sign in the Window

Places of Respite

Lily Tomlin is alleged to have said, "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up.”  Ms. Tomlin was correct; in fact, my cynicism is near exhaustion.  In a time when the cacaphonic noise of the day offers little more than profits for the makers of blood pressure statins, when the prattle approaches stacatto noise quality, all ramping up my sense of incredulity over our present collective state, an escape, even a brief one, is in order.  Within my walls, Bach, Chopin, Schumann, Saint Saens and like artistic company are diversions.  Outside, Nature offers a calming sundry of colors, especially green, and and perhaps even moving water. Both, I think, indicate the value of the arts and a presence in the natural world (and both when they can be combined) as placidity for the soul.  I hope that you who are similarly affected by the days' insanity and inanity have similar means of finding respite.  Best wishes.

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Lightning From the Deck

I've been away awhile, about two months, away from camera, computer and anything photographic.  In that time we cleaned out our original home of 43 years and sold it, finally leaving it June 30.  The accumulations over those years were staggering although some of it came from deceased relatives that was to be dealt with "later", and we all know when later happens. It's when your kids tell you that they don't want the stuff you kept for them.  I'm now convinced that attics and garages are the result of Satan's intrusion into the field of architecture.  Holee mackerel!  But a simple truth in all of this chaos was that every doo-dad, every trinket, every stick of furniture and cooking utensil, and every item of clothing must be dealt with someday by someone.  So be kind to your kids, or leave it all to a reprobate cousin that you despise.

Back to the important stuff, there was some discussion of prairie storms on Facebook when I went into domestic seclusion/delusion, and it brought to mind some of the distant summer thunderstorms that we watched from our deck in Colorado.  Those storms weren't the big dramatic super cells firing off lightning bolts as shown in the prairie scenes; rather, they were big fluffy clouds with internal electrical activity.  The clouds would simply "light up" like giant fireflies!  What a sight!  So, without more useless chatter, I'll let this photograph, which as captured looking southward over the Poudre Canyon, illustrate the phenomenon for me. I didn't crop, so there's too much dead space as well as some noise, but I'm not trying to push this off as art work; it's simply an image of late evening cloud lightning.

CloudLightning.jpg

The Goalie

I originally posted this article on my other website at the time of the last Olympiad but had the good sense to save it before leaving that host.  Therefore, you will note that some of the content may be dated.  Nevertheless, Sawyer, with the avid support of his parents Ethan and Laura, remains a dedicated soccer aficionado and player.  One reason for re-posting this piece is the possibility that Sawyer's professional friend, Kareem Moses, who now plays in Finland will have the opportunity to see it.  The included image now hangs on Sawyer's bedroom wall.


To say that our grandson, Sawyer, loves soccer is a big understatement.  His school attire consists of indoor soccer shoes, high socks and shirts emblazoned with names like Neymar or Messi.  Unlike many youngsters his age, his X-box and iPad run soccer simulations rather than blasters.  He attends practices, camps, professional games and watches matches on TV.  At times, his leisure books are soccer equipment catalogues.  Don't get the wrong idea about him though; at age nine, his math homework has him working with Fibonacci numbers which he understands - better than I.

So, here in the Olympic season, I will use Sawyer's dedication to illustrate a point.  I captured several dozen images of him in a recent scrimmage game, and when I asked him to identify his favorite, he chose this one.  A great choice as you will see.

Sawyer.jpg

Here, as the goalie, he's moving to block a kick.  The ball is blurred and partially hidden from us, the viewers, but Sawyer has a laser focus on it as is evident in his expression.  His coaches, viewers on the sidelines, team mates and opponents were focused with anticipation on Sawyer.  Note number 21's anxious stance.  All of the accumulated data from coaching, practicing, conditioning, observing and love of the game were aligned on his synapses, and with it he reacted and moved with precision.  Did he block the kick?  I won't say.  This post is not about whether Sawyer blocked the kick; that's irrelevant. The post is about his total effort, the effort that the olympians and others make in their/our sacrifices to achieve.  His cousins, Connor and Collin, put forth this effort to beat the swimmer's clock.  It was a great moment to watch.  It was Sawyer's moment. The supreme moment of the athlete, no matter the age or the game.  It was fantastic!

Jewels Under Foot

Sometimes, deep down in the unkempt maze of grass, clover and other ground cover that we may mindlessly meander across, there may be  jewels as lovely as any that man has cut and polished.  They come in an array of sizes, all rounded, arriving with the coolness of mists and fogs and leaving with the warmth of sunlight.  Out-of-sight, minuscule and transient, they are enjoyed only by getting down amongst them, really close, "in the weeds" so to speak.  But a few minutes of bending, kneeling or even lying prone at their level brings about a peaceful, mindful sense - as wondrous as marveling at a huge, ancient oak tree, but on different scale.  Passersby might think you're wacko lying there in the morning grass, but they're transient too. 

Somewhere Between Awe and Anxiety

The open prairies of the West can be an invitation to meditative solitude for those who like to gaze to the uninterrupted and distant horizon, the boundary between earth and sky.  Many, including yours truly, find comfort in such places.  That doesn't mean that I envy the rugged ways of the ranchers who live out here; however, I do envy their daily presence in this environment.  Many is the time in my present world of horn-blowing tail-pipe sniffers that my mind wanders to the open prairies and their sagebrush, antelope and swooping harriers, or even a sight seen by few humans, the murmuration of a flock of Franklin's gulls.  But the prairies aren't for everyone; I've known urbanites who were frightened by the emptiness, the absence of lights and cars, especially at night when the only lights were stars or a few distant ranch house beacons.

There is, however, a special awareness of place for anyone when a summer storm sweeps across the plains. The fast-moving clouds roll, reshape and send tentacles earthward as if stroking the ground with rain before morphing back into shapeless darkness. The Norseman, Thor, might hurl a lighting bolt or two as he rides along in the atmospheric rodeo.  All is good as long as the ominous forms remain afar, between observer and horizon.  But when the air pressure drops and the wind gains momentum, one's sense changes from awe to anxiety, especially if shelter isn't close by.  As the creator of this image, I can attest to the feeling that comes from having no refuge in the face of such power.  And I've sat on my porch during a hurricane!  Not the same!  An approaching prairie storm is a very different situation for a lone person in the open, but even with the anxiety and sense of isolation, it's still an awesome sight!

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A Short Comment on Privacy Limits

Snark warning, not intended to offend.

Morning privacy perimeter in North Carolina...

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Morning privacy perimeter in Colorado.  Any questions?