Thursday, May 31, 2007

"Travelogue: Elk Mountain, WY/SD border

(click photos to enlarge)

Welcome to Elk Mountain, overlooking Highway 16 between Jewel Cave National Monument, SD, and Newcastle, WY.

In 2001, lightning-induced fire ravaged this state-straddling mountain, an area that is no stranger to fire danger. A long winding road leads from the valley to the top of this broad, linear summit, which has an active fire tower at the northern terminus.

While there is obviously new life re-establishing itself, it's one of those places you might decide to pass on, given the lack of aesthetics from the charred vertical matchsticks...

...and yet, there is the occasional pocket where the fire 'jumped' and spared the vegetation, as well. No, this is not one of those classic picturesque destinations that is a "must see", but I'm a firm believer that wherever you are, there are treasures to be long as you are open to finding them.

What large boulder formations were there are still full of interest beckoning to be explored, and home to various plants in the nooks and crannies as well as protective shelters for insects and small mammals.

Compared to the rest of this region, which lies in the extreme southwest corner of the Black Hills Complex, the surrounding landscape is all appearances it looks gently rolling, although upon closer inspection there are myriad vegetated canyons and 'draws' worth exploring and driving ('nuther travelogue for another day).

And so I began to look closer at little parts of the picture...the flowers having a hay-day in all the sunshine they now enjoy...

...watching an unidentified butterly (Brush-footed species?) relax a moment...

...catching a grasshopper before it makes a leap many times it's body length...

One of the more relaxing aspects for me was that I had it all to myself while I was there. Did climb the fire tower and speak to the ranger on duty (where I captured some of the vistas like the one below); otherwise, it was another day of relaxation, exploration...and wonderment.


NOTE: Come back tomorrow for a look at a strange centuries-old annual tradition from across The Pond that took place just a few days ago...a case study in how to jeopardize your body's health!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Once In A Blue Moon..."

According to the old adage, if a situation or event seldom or rarely occurs, it is said to happen "once in a blue moon." But what is a 'blue moon' to begin with? At least in current usage, it refers to a second full moon within a given calendar month. At 9:04 PM EDT tomorrow, Thursday May 31, we'll have our second full moon this May, thus a 'blue moon'.

Is it really blue? No. Through recorded history there have been all sorts of moon colors reported (along with sun colors, sky colors, etc.) as a result of cataclysmic events such as large-scale volcanic eruptions (Krakatoa, Mount St, Helens, etc.), massive dust storms, or expansive fires...but tomorrow's blue moon will look like any other: gorgeous.

How rare are they? They're not. In fact, they happen more than you think. On average there is a blue moon every 32 months, but they happen irregularly, the best way to put it. In January and March of 1999, there were 2 blue moons in that 3-month stretch, which is more rare as that happens maybe 4 times a century.

Are there are any months where a blue moon has never been recorded? Since there is about a 29.5 day span between full moon phases, blue moons are impossible in like thinking but flipping the coin over, February is also the only month that can have no full moon whatsoever.

With all that said, time to back up the bus...the above definition is actually a misinterpretation of the much earlier usage of the term 'blue moon' from the 19th century...before the mid part of the 20th century, a 'blue moon' was the third moon in a four-moon season, which normally would have 3 full moons. By that definition, statistical occurrences change, article I read put it in proper perspective, though, as people dickered over proper usage of the term:
the modern (mis)interpretation is like a genie that has gotten out of its bottle.

Marvel at the moonshadows, y'all!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"On The Outside Looking In..."

"Mother Nature is wonderful.
She gives us twelve years
to develop a love for
our children before
turning them into

- Eugene Bertin

No, I've never sired offspring, but I've been around enough to have a pretty good idea of a lot that is involved...and I'm sure that 'idea' is woefully short of the actual mark. Still, couldn't help but to chuckle at the above quote...

This past weekend I attended a wedding where I didn't really know anyone directly...while the bride's family had hired a photographer for the wedding, they were aware that I, too, used to shoot weddings, and asked if I wouldn't mind shooting some fill-in candids, or something to that effect. It was an odd situation, to be sure, and because it was a 'loose' arrangement (and pro bono), I didn't kill myself getting a few good shots.

With that said, I have to pass along some snaps of this cool little dude...I don't know him, and I don't even know his name, but I know he's about 3 years old and full of non-stop personality and energy, and lives in Florida. I know his dad is on a Navy ship somewhere in the world, and that his mom with him had lots of tatoos. Whose idea it was to not only give him a mohawk but to also dye it orange is something I never discovered...or really needed to. He was one precocious little bugger in spite of it.

So I got to people watch. With my bigger digital SLR I have a 35mm-350mm zoom that allows me to get up close and personal from a pretty good distance (digital format factor makes it a 560mm zoom)...and so I couldn't help but watch this little thespian from afar as he prepared to walk down the aisle. Oops, forgot to add that he was the ring bearer for this wedding, too...

Needless to say, he was the star of the wedding for the most part. For all of his prancing and personality before the wedding, when it came time to line up, well...he started a very different tune. The chin went down...he began to shuffle his feet...he raised his right hand and pretended to rub his right eye as he and his flower girl began their procession...and it only deepened on all fronts, all to the oohs and aaahs of the attendees. Once up front he proceeded to hit the deck and amuse himself looking back at everyone. Oh yeah, a wedding went on behind him.

And so the interesting afternoon and evening fared on. The outdoor setting was lovely, with a fountain right in the middle of where everyone was sitting. The day before someone had taken some magnolia blossoms and floated them in the fountain, for a pseudo-lilly effect...worked pretty well. While I was seated waiting for the show to get on the road, I couldn't help but shoot between the heads of those in front of me and get some artsy pics of those blooms floating in the spray. And so I leave you with a really cool pic that draws me to look at it again and again...I ran it through a simple filter in Photoshop called "accented edges" and created this painting-esque shot from my photograph, which was otherwise unaltered. Goes to show that there is always something to be seen and appreciated at every turn...

(remember, you can click on any picture to enlarge it)

Monday, May 28, 2007


Earlier I wrote about the legendary giant Georgia hog supposedly shot a few years ago and buried. Because of minimal documentation, National Geographic exhumed the hulking carcass of what was quickly labeled "Hogzilla", with a movie currently in the works. They should have waited a little bit longer...

It took place a solid 3 weeks ago...on May 3rd, young, innocent Jamison Stone, just 11 years old, and "packing (serious) heat" with a .50-caliber pistol, was trouncing through a commercial game preserve with his father and 2 guides...where, after a 3 hour chase and 9 confirmed 'hits' by the lad (always protected by the guides' high-powered rifles), "Hogzilla II" was downed near Delta, Alabama, dwarfing the original Hogzilla by, well, a lot. This swarthy swine tipped the scales at just over 1,050 pounds and was well over 9-feet long...and by modest calculations will yield about 700 pounds of southern-style eatin'. Not real anxious to go traipsin' through the Deep South 'tulips' anytime soon, myself...

And so I went about my business, buying a brace of value-priced squeaky toys at a local grocery store...FYI, my brother and his wife threaten to name their soon-to-be-born twins Floyd and Eunice, so I thusly named this plushy pair and took their pic for prosperity's sake, since I was in the middle of photographing some new flutes anyway...

And then it happened...without warning, under the full hot sun of the day...birds chirping, neighbors planting...there was a sudden rush of confusion and motion, and as I scrambled away to safety I got only a r
ough picture of what legends refer to as...."DOGZILLA!"

There are simply no safe corners in this world, not any more. Floyd quickly joined the legion of homeless squeakerless toys, and I knew him for only mere moments...Eunice was spared, for now...but for how long, I can only seriously doubt...


And so I hope you, at least, are enjoying your Memorial Day, which many have off as a holiday (hey, the weather must go on...). June comes in this Friday, which ushers in the official Atlantic hurricane season...and heaven knows we sorely need appreciable rain here in the Caroli
nas. Ever so slight chances for thunderstorms crop up Friday through the weekend, but there is little on the immediate horizon to dismantle this overwhelming pattern of high pressure. **SIGH** Just beware of watering holes if you have to resort visiting them...

* * *

For those who have fallen for our freedom over the many years, we thank you...

Friday, May 25, 2007

"I Think I'll "Pass" Today..."

My interest in big band and early jazz music took a rocket ride when I was in high school. There weren't and aren't many teenagers who can rattle on about Fletcher Henderson, or sing most of the lyrics to anything by Louis Jordan (with or without his Tympany Five), or who had a collection of 'vinyl' covering big bands from the late 1920s through the early was an era of beautiful melodies and complex, tight harmonies that drew me to it like a moth to a flame. Still does, too.

I went to a boarding school for my last 3 years of high school, Woodberry Forest School in north-central excellent preparatory school on (then) 1400 acres of historic rolling farmland near Orange, Virginia. While we had regular Saturday morning classes, there was always a multi-hour break until my football game, or track meet, etc....and I soon discovered (and spent many hours listening to) a public radio station out of Warrenton, Virginia, specializing in Big Band sounds late Saturday morning through noon...I listened enough to learn a lot in those 3 years...too, weekdays I got to hear commentary from that classic of classic radio voices Earl Nightengale...just great memories.

And so it was that in checking out a YouTube video I was led into a couple of 'should hear' videos by another legend I'd gotten to know through that station: Joe Pass. His "Virtuoso" series he compiled on the Pablo Records label were aptly named...he was nothing less than a master of the jazz guitar. As you'll hear, his unique style of playing became his trademark. However, it was a tough road to get to his lofty seat...

Born in 1929, picking up his first guitar at 9, then doing gigs at age 14...not too long after that he was playing with Charlie Barnett and other Big Band notables...but his rise to stardom took a sharp detour in the 50's, basically, thanks to drug addiction and trouble with the law. It was a deep hole that took many years to effectively pull out of, but he did, and with panache. He did away with his purposefully broken pics and went to a nailess fingering style that allowed for his runs and chordings to be like that of melted butter. As of May 23rd two days ago, he's been gone for 13 years...but his legend lives on.

I think you'll like these two video links...remember, when you click on a link it goes from this page to that CAN use the right mouse button and click, selecting "open link in new window" so you can remain on this page. That way you can let the music run in the background (you don't necessarily have to watch the video part) while you do other things on your computer. Enjoy and feel free to "Pass" it along!

Joe Pass solo, beginning with "Ain't Misbehavin'"

Joe Pass and Ella Fitzgerald...nothing but free-form scat singing and jazz guitar!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Travelogue: "It's a Dog's Life..."

While out in Rapid City, SD, I discovered they had a few off-leash dog parks...and I visited Braeburn Park along Rapid Creek with a daily vengeance. Suffice it to say my (then) 2 pups demanded nothing less. Interestingly, the old open field area, now mowed, was once a little community with houses and a small motel. What happened? The great Rapid City flood of June 9-10, 1972, where 238 died in the raging floodwaters. A monstrous thunderstorm complex sat virtually motionless for a number of hours over the edge of the Black Hills; 15 inches of rain fell in just 6 hours around Nemo...and the ensuing wall of water rushing downhill was nothing less than catastrophic.

(One of many post-flood scenes in Rapid City)

(Rapid Creek today, at Braeburn Park)

Instead of rebuilding the area, they enacted codes to prevent residential re-development in flood prone areas...hence the formation of places like Braeburn Dog Park....even today there are some stone steps and pieces of concrete foundations there serving as a reminder of that fateful day...and so, with it now being a leash-free dog park, I thought I'd honor some of the 4-legged 'regulars' who helped make that place what it is today,and made any given day a whole lot don't have to know them to appreciate their Souls...

There is something to be said for letting dogs run free together...they develop an amazing social order and behavior, and the sense of 'community' and interrelatedness at that park was profound. If you got there early enough in the morning (i.e. slightly before sunrise, you might be lucky enough to share the park with some Bighorn rams or Mule Deer...that is, until the pups saw them, too. Ducks swimming in the creek's eddies, osprey and eagles flying up and down the creek looking for an easy trout...wildflowers, in season...just a magical peaceful place, the kind we could all use in this rat-race of a life many of us live in. So here's my toast to our 4-legged companions, many of whom we have adopted, and three cheers for the Tao they give us in abundance!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Hurricane Outlook: 2007"

No surprise, here. NOAA just released their 2007 hurricane forecast which calls for above-average hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin.

While you can correctly assume that the basis for this forecast is based upon complicated calculations and assessments, let me boil it down in layman's terms to the crux of the situation, which should be in stark contrast to the (thankfully) dud 2006 hurricane season.

Let's start with the very basics...general starter conditions for hurricane formation are warm sea surface temperatures (SST) above 80 degrees, nice large domes of high pressure under which hurricanes not only form but are better protected, the absence of strong upper level jetstream activity through the favored formation zones, and a latitudinal position of at least 10 degrees so the Coriolis Effect can do its thing in assisting overall rotation. Plenty more, of course, but those elements are key foundations.

2006. The aggressive forecast was based on a weakening El Nino pattern that would allow increased hurricane formation...but it stayed around months longer (and stronger) than NOAA's modeling had suggested. El Nino patterns, in short, bring increased water temperatures in the eastern Pacific, which induces storm developments, which shifts jet stream strong El Nino years, southern California gets pummeled by storms, with heavy amounts of moisture moving inland to Mexico and the US border area, and drier conditions in the east. In 2006 there was a noticeable west to east sub-tropical jetstream that screamed eastward through the Caribbean...if you remember, many hurricanes that formed were turned north into the Atlantic before ever coming close to the US mainland...we were well protected.

That upper level wind structure is absent, now...whether we are seeing the antithesis form in a La Nina pattern, or just a neutralizing of the El Nino, it's a bit of a moot point for now. Southern Atlantic water temperatures are already warm. We're already seeing a dry pattern here in the Southeast with strong areas of high pressure along the eastern seaboard as well as the Atlantic.

Too, we not only stay alert to conditions in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, but far across the Atlantic to the African coast, which is an important breeding ground for potential hurricane systems. If Siskel and Ebert were to grade this years 'movie' release by "Atlantic Motion Pictures", they would say it enlisted all the good elements and character development for a strong story line...and a BIG "two thumbs up!"

I think we all cringe at any hurricane hitting populations...damage to the Gulf oil platforms will truly exacerbate our fuel prices, and should this forecast pan out, we will be forced to do some serious 'reckoning' on many fronts. New Orleans has been shabbily shored up and is set for another disaster should a big hurricane come in at just the right angle. Our National Guard forces are stretched and strapped thanks to the Middle East Theater. Lots of potential monkey wrenches...serious monkey wrenches...await us, I'm afraid.

Now, on the count of three, let's sing the famous Seven Dwarfs' song....

"I owe, I owe,
It's off to work I go..."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Here We Go Again..."

Every so often (well, OK, all too often), I get ye ol' mass forwarded email that has some story or message that is often not true...and I've discussed how you can begin to verify the truth of something by doing a little digging at or , though I dare say the average person is too lazy to do so. Most stories are innocuous if not annoying...but then and again you get the malicious ones that, of surprise to NO one, pop up in politically charged times.

I think the upcoming presidential election qualifies per the above. And the one I got yesterday was from an acquaintance who forwarded the worst type of message: one of boldfaced lies that are meant to harm a candidate for no other reason than irrational fear and a sick sense of self-righteous religiosity. I wanted to fire back my salvo of disgust to his email of Barrack Obama being of secretive militant Muslim upbringing and other pathetic assertions proven false time and again...but I had to trust that anyone who gets that tripe trashes it...he didn't, though...and worse yet, he spammed it out to others. People like doing that when it fits their personal/religious agenda...and you'd think the pursuit of Truth would be paramount to someone so pious as he (take my word for it)...time to move on to neater stuff...

This past weekend while staying at mom's after the Saturday art show, I was walking around the house looking at all the wonderful work they'd done to the garden areas, etc...and then I ran right up on something I'd totally forgotten mom mentioned a while back: they have a white squirrel. Sure as shootin' (except there was no real shootin' as I did not have my camera), there it was in front of me, 12 feet away...but I quickly realized it wasn't albino, which has the pinkish color cast and red eyes in the animal kingdom. This one was snow white with deep indigo eyes, and an ever so thinnish smoky colored line down its spine. Here's your new word for today if you've not run across it before: Leucism

(leucistic Ball Python)

My first encounter with a leucistic animal was when, on behalf of the Nature Conservancy, I visited a Valdosta State professor and professional herpetologist in south Georgia many moons ago. A charming elderly couple they were, and I was warmly invited into their cozy Victorian style living room and offered tea...while all around me were no less than 50 glass cages with rare and odd snakes he was studying. If it sounds like a bizarre scene, it was all that and more, trust me. After our discussions of Nature Conservancy business, he began to show me a little of what he was currently researching...and one of his specimens he pulled out was a leucistic milk snake (appropriate for the medium, eh?)...absolutely snow white, with indigo eyes so deep as to appear black. It was on loan to him for genetic research, one of only 6 people supposedly cleared to work with it.

Speaking of mom and her resident leucistic squirrel, she had also put up a hummingbird feeder a few weeks ago but had no takers or even seen one...shortly after seeing the squirrel, I saw several hummers flitting around her late-blooming Gumpo azaleas that survived the late freeze. I rehung the feeder in a more favorable location so that they would be more likely to find the feeder. Hummingbirds are cute and fascinating to watch...and can be bold little buggers, too!

I made a special flute (pictured) in African Satinwood and Redwood Burl caps to which I added a hummer inlay in their honor last year...I used Malachite, Pink Coral, and crushed Abalone in the design. The beak on the hummer block was a little longer but, alas, such is a design not user-friendly with putting into a polarfleece bag!

Time for me to get rollin'...have a good 'un everybody!

Monday, May 21, 2007

"A little of this, a little of that..."

Traveling is always an adventure with's never "did I forget anything?"; rather, it's always a "what did I forget this time?" I imagine many of you can relate...and so it was I dusted off the art show cobwebs and loaded the car for a one-day art show in the quaint mountain town of Saluda, NC just off I-26.

(downtown Saluda, NC)

The trip was smooth and in early enough to unload and 'set-up shop' before most of the other vendors...I ended up forgetting two small support arms for the front shade flap, but given my booth's space north-facing direction with a cinderblock wall on my southside, didn't figure that was any great shakes. Looked like I was in pretty good shape with the supplies, all things considered...

Except for one small detail, especially useful when traveling good distances and 'on the hoof' for a couple of became apparent that what did not jump in my pocket (which meant I laid it on some counter in haste of being distracted to do something else), I forgot to bring my cell phone. One big, loud Homer Simpson "D'OH!" on 3, everybody....

The morning was especially chilly at 43 degrees...while many of the booths warmed quickly with sun, several of us were in this protected deep shape up against a cinderblock wall of a store, which added to the length of the sustained chill a couple of hours beyond what everyone else experienced. Let me be the first to tell you Native Style flutes can be temporarily cantankerous in such temperatures, so I was glad the crowds waited a little while to pick up; by then the flutes had acclimated and were back on pitch. Nice day complaints. One big "D'OH!" but no complaints.

(Ye Ol' Ugly Boy Flutes with giant Kokopellis guarding the flutes)


Wouldn't we all get along better if things in this world didn't get so dad-gum political? Ego, self-pride, and self-righteousness sure have ways of mussing up the works most times. My hope and prayer is that one by one EVERYbody starts basing their decisions on what is for the best for all of society, not just a favored group or particular belief...

I've read most of the public details, but still not seeing this issue as one way or of the big articles in Sunday's paper announced the sudden departure (resignations) of two top-level administrators in the National Weather Service (NWS), overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). David Johnson, Director, and John Jones, Deputy Director, announced their resignations Friday to their staff, one day after sharp public criticsm from Bill Proensa, Director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

At the crux of the deserved denouncement was a $700,000 budget cut for operations and research at NHC flying in the face of some $4 million appropriated for advertising and promoting its 200th anniversary (the government disagrees with that number). The resignations did not mention Proenza's comments. There is much more to the story, to be fair...accusations of some NOAA officials trying to bring the NWS and NHC and other subsidiaries more firmly under NOAA's direct control, funding, and influence, to help brand NOAA as one big entity instead of the perception of being spread out in various niches. You can read more about it HERE...lots of intricate detail for "Enquiring" minds...

It's a knife that cuts both directions, in terms of future competitive funding among other things. Little things like Bush's proposed budget which provides NO funding for hurricane research without there's a brilliant idea...and when you put these representative numbers up against the hundreds of millions we're sending to Afghanistan alone, you can't help but wonder what's going to happen as we continue to erode our Nation's own foundation through neglect, benign or otherwise. Something seems very wrong in Denmark, and it goes far, far beyond this NOAA issue.