Monday, December 24, 2012

Lights, Camera, Action

My, but it's been a long time since I posted anything. An onslaught of dreadful weather and various camera and computer issues have resulted in a lack of creativity and source material. I mean, who wants to look at something as exciting as pictures of my houseplants, since that's about the only foliage that is readily available to photograph. There have been some winged visitors on the deck polishing off the stale pretzels left out for them, but the rain has a tendency to turn them (the pretzels, not the birds) into an unrecognizable mush that even crows turn their beaks up at in haughty refusal. 
All that to say I've missed writing and having something to write about. Which leads me to Christmas. I'm not crazy about winter, but I love Christmas. And for whatever reason, Christmas needs to be at a cold time of year (believe me, I went through a number of warm Christmases growing up in New Mexico and it's not the same). Maybe it's so we can enjoy those sweaters we all get as gifts, or because hot chocolate, old movies, and a roaring fire just don't seem quite right when it's 80 outside and the air conditioner is running to offset the above-mentioned roaring fire. I also love the decorations (as evidenced by the amount currently stored under my bed).                    

One of the methods of decorating I love the best is the use of light. Be it candles, lighted tree toppers, trees festooned with lights, or houses lit up with anything from one to countless strands, light is everywhere. Whatever the technical or historical reason behind it, couldn't there also be a secondary reason, an echo of something found in Scripture? 

I know the popular theory of the past few decades has been that the 25th was borrowed from a pagan
celebration of the winter solstice and Jesus wasn't born in December.  But what if He was? I heard a sermon recently where it was pointed out that the date of Christ's birth was set at December 25 in the second century, soon after the church began, whereas the idea of it being a ripped off pagan holiday came over 1,000 years later. Some researchers say that the celebration of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun was started after Roman Christians had already recognized that date as Jesus' birthday. 

Other articles place the birth of  Christ by figuring out when Zechariah would have served in the temple and subsequently using the birth of John the Baptist to calculate when Jesus was born. Some articles say sheep would never have been on the hillsides in the winter and other articles say they would. Be that as it may, my favorite argument has to do with the solstice itself. It's almost so obvious, it's easy to miss. It goes like this: 
One day it's the darkest, shortest day of the year, and soon after, the Light of the World is born.  

Not too long ago I was walking along the beach with a friend and we were watching the sunlight dance across the water. The topic of Christmas lights came up and she made a comment about how entrancing it was to watch them and maybe that was what Christmas was all about. I didn't realize at the time how right she was. Christmas is about light, it's about the Light that was born for the salvation of all mankind. Merry Christmas, everyone.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Hamsters vs. Horses

"I'll buy you a hamster!" I could hardly believe that phrase had come out of my mom's mouth. She despised rodents of any kind (even the cute ones) so what could have caused this change of heart? Possibly the fact that my horse, Trooper, had just thrown my nine-year old self off his back and then spent the next few minutes careening around the arena at speeds he probably hadn't reached since he was on the track, if even then.
Trooper was a usually mild-mannered, elderly Quarter Horse who preferred to spend his time watching the cars go by and mentally plotting his escape from the horse lot. He managed several outings, usually just as we were sitting down to Sunday dinner. His timing was nothing if not impeccable. I started riding at age eight, after a brief and best forgotten stint as a ballerina (I still don't like to wear pink) and after being headed off at the pass by my mom when I wanted to do gymnastics. Too dangerous she said, obviously horses were much safer. After a while of learning the basics, it was time to start going over fences. I had been practicing "horse" training at home with my dog. Pup was my constant companion after a visit to the dog pound when I was in preschool. Her mother was part Basset Hound and her father must have been Australian Shepherd. She was an odd amalgamation of Australian Shepherd coat and eyes on a Basset Hound body.

ph-13642 Whatever the combination, she was the best dog a kid could have. She would do anything for animal crackers, and I must say, she had great form over fences. We thought of sending this picture into a horse magazine I subscribed to. It had a column where a well-known trainer would critique pictures of  riders, but he didn't seem the type that would have a sense of humor so we never sent it. These beams were a good five feet apart, not bad for a dog with stubby little legs.

ph-13701I learned a lot of life lessons during the time I was riding. Things like hard work, putting the comforts of others (the horses) above your own, how to work with different personalities (equine and human) and to never, ever wear a white shirt around a horse because he will invariably blow his nose as you go by. My parents were right there with me all the time. I think being a horse show parent is just as much work, if not more, as being the rider. Dad was often roped into working the gate or being on jump crew, while mom went around with a rag wiping the dust off of everyone's boots or putting oil on the horses hooves.  Besides the local shows, we also made a number of trips to Albuquerque for the larger shows that would last for two weeks. We made a lot of great friends, and great memories, during those days. This blog is a bit different, but I came across a copy of Trooper's Quarter Horse registration papers recently and it brought back a lot of memories. That and this weekend has been so wet I didn't dare take the camera out, and I refuse to buy it any rain gear, at least for now.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Road Taken

DSCN7822-110912DSCN7675-110912DSCN7746-110912Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, oh wait, someone else already thought of that opening line. I had to memorize Frost's poem in sixth or seventh grade (I had the same English teacher both years so it's hard to remember exactly when) and every Fall those opening lines come to mind. It is very easy to find roads winding off and disappearing into a haze of yellow this time of year. But in a few weeks even that haze will be gone, and only the evergreens will be providing color along the roadside. Instead of the road dividing, as in Frost's poem, here there's always another bend to take, the yellow dividing line becoming camouflaged with the leaves. The trick is get the picture before the car(s) come roaring around the bend. Most of them are not thinking about Robert Frost or the leaves swishing under the tires but instead are focused on where they're going and how fast they can get there. I'm sure there were several drivers who thought I was taking their picture as they came around the curve, like some incognito law enforcement officer with a high tech radar gun disguised to look like a harmless Nikon camera. I stood in the cold for quite some time waiting for the single car that kept going by (I swear it was the same one each time) to get out of the frame, all the while expecting to hear police sirens no doubt responding to a report that a suspicious character was standing around staring into the distance. Then again, the red trees along the road made a sight worth staring at. But not all cars are photographic interlopers. I was so glad my camera was out when this truck came by. Instead of muttering under my breath as in the prior instances, this was one vehicle I was glad to see.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bring on the Rain

It could be argued that there are only two seasons in Oregon: the rainy season and summer. That's a bit of an overstatement, but as we enter into the rainy season it struck me that a bit more creativity will be needed in finding things to take pictures of. After all, while it may not be possible to ever get enough photos of Mt. Hood in all its summer splendor, the same can not be said for a wet sidewalk. I wonder if it wasn't something like a watery reflection that gave CS Lewis some inspiration for The Magician's Nephew (if I've got my Narnia trivia right, that is). There are all kinds of alternative realities out there, most of them just happen to last only as long as the puddle they're contained in. Sidewalks aren't the only place to find other universes staring back at you. A lot of the office buildings near where I work are rather space agey in their interior design (I swear the designer of a certain block of office buildings spent way too much time watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine), but the outside does a great job of reflecting the trees that dot the parking lot. Just think of the white stripe as the Star Trek touch. Sometimes it just depends on where you stand. At a workshop I went to a few weeks ago, the instructor talked about seeing the world as an ant, a dog, or a bird. She wasn't advocating running around in costumes as if caught in a Halloween time warp, but just to think about how those three creatures see the world. The shot above isn't exactly from an ant's point of view, more like a Chihuahua. Below is a Golden Retriever's view on the world.

The sky this time of year can do some great things for pictures. Sometimes the clouds roll across the sky and
the sun makes a surprise entrance only to retreat into the background, rather like someone who bursts into a room in the middle of a deep conversation and blushingly makes their way to the nearest exit. A few days ago, a fog crept into the morning sunrise. It took only about seven minutes for it to totally cover the trees beneath me as I waited for the sun to come up over Mt. Hood. There's something so beautiful yet mysterious about fog. Maybe it's all those Sherlock Holmes stories I read as a kid (Hound of the Baskerville's anyone?). This weekend I spent a wonderful morning outside in the rain. There's nothing to describe running when it's about 55 degrees out and the rain is gently falling. There are a number of wooded trails on this route and I love to stop in the middle of the forest while a mist moves along the path and the sound of the water overhead drips off the leaves. I'm sure this statement will come back to haunt me around January, but on days like that I really don't mind that it will be raining for another five or six months.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rain and/or Shine

 Fall and spring are the times of year when you never know what to wear. Just because the ark floated by your window does not mean that in 10 minutes the sun will not be shining. Add the appropriate temperature adjustments for both rain and shine and it's easy to see how you could walk out of the house with a wardrobe trunk that would make any Vaudeville performer proud. Yesterday's sunrise was as unpredictable as the weather. I left the house and drove to a nearby area where a house is being built. The backyard looks onto both the lake of Lake Oswego with Mt. Hood vying for attention in the background. Even more importantly, no trees obstruct the view, and a tree free view is difficult to come by. The only problem was that, unbeknownst to me, the workmen also had Saturday hours. Silly me to think I'd have that view all to myself at 7:00 on a Saturday morning. The view was actually rather disappointing because of all the clouds, and after sinking in the mud for a few minutes, I drove home. However, as I pulled into the apartment complex, there was a glorious light coming from the east. So, back to the old standby viewing area, complete with obstructing trees, to get a few shots before it was too late. It started raining on the way home, which set the tone for the rest of the day. The target walking area for Saturday was the St. John's Bridge in northwest Portland, and then on to Sauvie Island. The St. John's Bridge is a suspension bridge built in the late 1920's. It's Gothic spires easily make it one of Portland's most recognizable landmarks. Up to now I've only admired it from a distance but had yet to photograph it. Portland's skyline is easily visible

from St. John's with the Steel Bridge in the foreground. The clouds really put on a good show yesterday, in between rainstorms that is. The goal was to walk from Cathedral Park, across the bridge, and to Sauvie Island. It didn't look that far on Google, no more than a few miles or so. As I walked along Highway 30 (in the bike lane, not to worry), I got out my GPS to see how much farther there was to go. Imagine my surprise when it said nine miles. Hmm, a twenty-mile round trip wasn't quite what I had in mind. I turned around and headed back to the car with the newly formulated Plan B on the agenda: drive to the park and ride at Sauvie Island and walk the two miles to the Pumpkin Patch. That turned out to be a good plan because coming over the hills to the west were dark clouds and with them some pretty serious rain drops. I was very happy not to be walking along the road with all those cars splashing me. It had mostly quit by the time I got to the island (and I must have had a bad address because it would have only been about 14 miles, which wouldn't have been too bad). Sauvie Island is an agricultural area connected to the mainland by a bridge with a colorful orange arch. It's known for its wildlife refuge as well as pumpkin picking places (say that three times fast), and I'm sure most of the residents dread the month of October as all the city folk come zipping along the narrow two-lane road to tromp around in the mud, buy produce, and get lost in the corn maze. It's a lovely area though and one I should visit in the summer when Mt. Hood is out. I was last at Sauvie Island two years ago on a beautiful, warm October day and the traffic was literally at a standstill. I
made much better time walking (one particularly burly man in a big pickup asked me if this was the way to the Pumpkin Patch, I hope he didn't think it was a bar). But this year because of the iffy weather, traffic zoomed by, totally oblivious to all the beautiful things to look at. The Pumpkin Patch itself, is a rather commercialized outfit with the corn maze, a big barn to buy produce in, complete with shopping carts, an area for kids to pet farm animals, and of course, pumpkins.

The actual walk to get there is more the purpose for the trip than the Pumpkin Patch itself. After looking around and tromping through the muddy parking lot to find the exit, it was time to head back home. The rain had ended by this time and it was a beautiful walk back with the sun shining full on the trees with the dark gray clouds behind them. I hope the people who drove by yesterday took a moment to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Enter the Gray

The inevitable finally happened, the blue skies disappeared behind a wall of gray clouds and the sun became a distant memory. Okay, that's a very melodramatic way of saying it's going to be raining for a while and there's not much that can be done about it. I went to a photography workshop yesterday afternoon, and one of the things the instructor said to do was embrace the overcast sky and the lighting it affords. That sounds potentially soggy to me, given those gray skies' penchant for moisture, but she does have a point. If you can't make the sun shine, you might as well get used to it. Given the looming clouds, this morning's sunrise wasn't really on my radar. However, when I looked out the window it was obvious there was more going on than expected. The autumn trees peeping up from below added some welcome spots of color, and I was glad I had dashed out of the house in my rather unkempt state to capture the show. What a great way to start a morning. After church and lunch, it was time for that favorite activity of grocery shopping. I am hard pressed to think of a chore I dislike more than spending money on stuff that I then have to figure out what to do with, cook, freeze, etc. To make it a little more entertaining, I decided to go for a walk in the local area and see if there was anything interesting in the neighborhood. 
Fall and spring are great times to find colorful patches in yards, even if the skies are gray.
This particular "patch" was kind of hard to miss. From the sign on the driver's side door, it was somebody's swap meet treasure. I'm just curious if the wife was as excited as the husband over this rare find.  A little farther down the road there was what appeared to be an abandoned orchard, with neglected apples drooping over the post and wire fence. Next to that was a peaceful trickle of water (for now, soon it's likely to be a raging torrent), and alongside that was a stately willow tree. I went back the same way I  had gone because quite often you miss something the first time around, as was the case today. I saw bright orange blobs out of the corner of my eye and realized a pumpkin patch, in various stages of being harvested, was growing behind someone's house. You never know what you're liable to find growing, grazing, or clucking in various parts of Portland.

This next story has nothing to do with any of the pictures, and in fact there are no pictures to go with it but I'll see what I can do with words. Yesterday was the last weekend for the local farmers' market, which is always a sad occasion because it seems to add a note of finality to summer's end. I was walking up the street carrying a load of corn and green beans and realized I would go right past the strawberry bushes that are planted alongside the road. Surprisingly, there were still a number of green berries and new blooms to be seen. Farther down the road was an elderly man with a gapped-tooth grin and absent-minded professor hair. I've only seen snippets of Back to the Future, but just envision Christopher Lloyd at this point. He called me up to where he was sitting amongst the strawberry plants trimming the extra long runners. Seemingly oblivious to the soggy ground he sat on, he introduced himself as Roger and held out a gloved and rather grimy finger for me to shake, reminiscent of a pinky swear. He then gave me several of the plant cuttings as well as instructions on how to plant them. I thanked him and said goodbye. As I walked on, Roger's voice followed me as he continued singing a little tune, with strawberries apparently being the main subject. Considering the condition of those plants, they obviously enjoy Roger's singing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On the Way to the Dance

This past weekend it was time to once again pile into the car with a group of friends and take off for another Scottish Country Dance event. This time the road led to central Oregon and the Bend Workshop and Ball (which is actually held in Redmond, but that's another story). It was decided that we would stop outside of Redmond at Smith Rock, Oregon's version of Colorado's Garden of the Gods, although Smith Rock has the added beauty of the Crooked River flowing along the trail. We pried ourselves out of the car (six people in a van is fine but after awhile rigor mortis starts to set in). We all trooped down a rather steepish trail to a bridge that went across the river and the rest of the hike. On the other side of the bridge, the trail split three ways, to the left or right was a trail around the base of the rocks or in the middle was the trail that went up to the top. At this point we split into two groups, the flatlanders and the climbers. The trail started off at a reasonable incline with steps appearing every now and then, lots and lots of steps.  It was rather disconcerting at first to realize we weren't yet even with the parking lot, but after awhile we regained the altitude we had lost when going down the first part of the trail. After about 3/4 of a mile, we were at the top and enjoying the view. While walking along the top, we passed another hiker who told us of a different way down. We continued on the trail, and soon it was beginning to curve sharply downwards. Before heading to Smith Rock, I had read about a formation called monkey face. After hiking to the top and not seeing it, I figured it must be in another part of the park. Then all of a sudden it
dawned on me that the tall spire right in front of my eyes had a rather simian appearance. I found out later that when you see it from the right angle, it looks even more like a monkey, but a happy one as opposed to this face that looks like it's about to eat the mountain. We made our way down, soon we were walking along the banks of the river. The temperature was perfect and it was a wonderfully pleasant place to
be at that point. Real life was only a distant memory, at least for a little while. We continued along the trail where the sound of crickets or some other once familiar insect made a noise I know I've heard before and always associate with peaceful summer evenings. The river turned back toward the way we'd come and as we came around the corner, we were greeted by a sight of towering rocks reflecting in the water below. The exposure was a little tricky with the sun and shade vying for attention but this shot turned out reasonably well considering the circumstances. Soon, we met up with the others who had been walking along the river and made our way up the hill to the parking lot. I'm not much of a math person (as in not at all) but great friends, beautiful surroundings, and some free time add up to a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Trip to Ancient Egypt via Seattle

Last May I was in Seattle and saw the ads for the upcoming exhibit of some of the treasures from King Tut's tomb as well as other artifacts from ancient Egypt. It sounded interesting at the time, but it wasn't until a month or so later that it occurred to me that I should take advantage of this opportunity. Talk about a delayed reaction! My parents recently moved to the Portland area and they were also interested in going, which was good because their car is an automatic transmission and for anyone who has visited Seattle you know that driving a stick shift on some of those hills in downtown is not for the faint of heart. We started off early in the morning to avoid all the football fans going up for the Ducks/Cougars game. All tickets are for a scheduled time during the day and our time slot was 11:30. Every 15 minutes the staff would let another wave of people into the exhibit. After we had parked and walked around a bit, we still had about 45 minutes to wait before we could go in. We wandered over to the tropical butterfly house, not sure if you had to have tickets for that or not, but figured it would be easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Inside was an 80-degree tropical garden with fluttering butterflies everywhere you looked. They seemed to pose for photos before heading off to the next destination. It was pure photographic heaven because whenever I try to get butterfly pictures in the "wild" it is so frustrating as they go meandering off across a busy street or into someone's backyard.
Finally, it was 11:30 and we were ready to go inside. All the visitors were herded into a room to watch a short clip on Egypt and then they turned us loose into the 10 galleries. There was about 100 of us and there were still people from the previous time slot in the first gallery.  The photo on the left is of the first statue we saw as we entered the doors. I didn't take pictures of all the names of the pharaohs because I knew I'd have a hard time remembering which name went with which picture. There were familiar names, such as Hapshepsut, Nofret, and Ramses as well as others I'd not heard of. Probably my favorite piece was the  statue of King Tut. The statue ends just above the knees but was at one time 17 feet tall and was one of a pair. It seemed to be displayed at its original height and the two statues must have been very impressive when they were first erected. Even though it's now broken in places, this surviving statue is still quite remarkable. Across the room from Tut was his father Akhenaten. He had the most distinctive face of all the statues. I was impressed that they all looked different and very lifelike. The eyes really did almost follow you around the room. The jewelry was amazing. Several of the earrings absolutely made my ears hurt they were so large and heavy looking. The necklaces looked a bit more manageable, that is if you didn't mind walking around stooped over. They certainly weren't something you would forget to take off before going to sleep, for a jog, or a swim in the Nile with the crocodiles.

The lighting inside was less than ideal for pictures and I almost laughed as I tried to figure out what buttons I was punching on the audio guide. It would have been helpful if they glowed like a cell phone keypad. But maybe the idea of 75 or so glowing listening guides would have ruined the atmosphere. In  between galleries, huge black and white pictures from the original discovery were hanging on the wall. It helped to give viewers an idea of what it must have been like to have discovered such a remarkable treasure. 

Once we were back outside and in view of the Space Needle, I felt like I'd just been in a time warp. That was even more apparent when looking overhead as a plane flew by pulling a long banner with a marriage proposal on it. Somehow, I don't think they proposed like that in Tut's day.