A Word About One of MY Favorite Slithery Things




DSCN4240 This is the charming reptile that sent little girls screaming and mothers clinging to their youngsters. It looks suspiciously like a rattlesnake. It fact it is an enemy of rattlesnakes because it eats them. It also eats rodents, which is undoubtedly its best characteristic. This lovely specimen is probably lucky that I herded it away and over the bank toward the lake before someone with a shovel saw him.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the much unheralded and rather unattractively named Gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer). It also comes in six sub-species and a much darker color called the Bull snake. ‘Gopher’ is understandable. It eats them, but I seriously doubt if one could unhinge it’s jaw and swallow a bull. If a person believed that, he would be the one swallowing the ‘bull.’

Aside from being one of the most beautiful snakes, it is also a talented mimic. When threatened a Gopher snake will coil like a rattler, make a rattling sound and flatten it’s head into a triangular shape appearing much like a pit viper.

Learn to identify this and other beneficial species so they are not mistakenly destroyed by someone thinking they are dangerous rattlesnakes. Do not be fooled by the diamonds. If that does not sound like good advice ask most any woman about being fooled by diamonds.

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“It’s Miller Time” With a Big Twist


So what do you think; beer or fish?DSCN4066

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Which Road to a Better Camping Experience

Which Road?DSCN3773DSCN3784

(Not too hard and not too soft)

A guy once asked me of all the states I have been in, which is my favorite. Without missing a beat I answered “euphoria.” Ah, those were the days. Never mind. The truth; it is an unanswerable question for me. I could take any state and winnow down everything good and make it sound like a paradise. Yes, even New Jersey. Actually, I like New Jersey, especially the Pine Barrens with their occult urban legends. So, let us look at one decisive factor, camping. Now I can offer a realistic opinion.

The answer may surprise you. After decades of camping in all 47 states…, oh yeah, there are 50 now. I am really old. Anyway, my many experiences have led me to the state I am now roaming around, New Mexico. You are either squinting or shaking your head, unless you have been here. I admit, I thought the same thing, ‘what the heck is in New Mexico?’ Several past articles have featured New Mexico, but in the last year a new perspective has arisen. Much of it is a function of age. These days I am looking for a bit more comfort than I was in my thirties. Still, a concrete paved RV park is not for me. One might say that I am between a tent and a soft place. Thus, discovering New Mexico State Parks has been a great boon.

One thing that was totally unexpected is lakes. This is the desert southwest. Does that sound like lake country to you? Me neither. Not only are there several beautiful lakes in New Mexico, but you can choose from several camping environments, something to suit almost everyone. Almost? There are no spas, five-star restaurants or golf courses. True, many sites will accommodate a forty-five footer with four slide-outs, but that is trumped by the fact that one may have to set one’s pedicured piggies on desert sand. Not to mention – oh but I will – that there is no dog walking service for Fluffykins and if she is allowed to wander about she may very well be eaten or end up with a nose the size of a Buick after being bitten by a rattlesnake.

So, let us take a look at Elephant Butte Lake, one of New Mexico’s State Parks and the premier park in the south. Campsites are large and level with a cabana or sheltered patio, a picnic table, fire ring and barbeque grill, plus electric and water hookups. Unlike a true RV park the natural environment has been well maintained. Flora flourishes and animals such as Gambel’s quail, cottontail and jackrabbits, songbirds and lizards are frequent visitors to every campsite. One of my favorites, coyotes will sing you to sleep most every night, which is why their scientific name Canis latrans means ‘song dog.’ They are also what will eat little Fluffykins. Worth noting is that all desert areas are home to poisonous snakes, scorpions and some menacing looking arachnids that will spike anyone’s phobia. Also, on the list of things that bite, are a single bobcat and mountain lion that inhabit almost every desert area depending upon food availability, which also includes Fluffykins. Perhaps by now you have gotten the ‘hint’ that little dogs should be kept close.

To take one step down in comfort, toward a real camping experience, there are campsites with the same lay-out, but no hookups. Some are not in the main campground loops and have a much more appealing view. These sites have water, but electric is up to you (I strongly suggest solar power). You are almost in real camping mode now, but wait, there’s more.DSCN3889

Unlike most other states New Mexico allows campers to get right into the heart of it by camping in outback areas where you might not see another person for a week, or on the lake or river shore. Most of these areas are accessible by RV, though the road might look a little more like a cow path than super-highway. Fortunately, most of these roads are short. There is nothing at the camp area unless you take it with you. This is as close to ‘real’ camping as it gets in an RV. This is where the dirt road meets the water. This is my haven of happiness.DSCN3885

In a world where some people attempt to remove any and all dangers and uncertainties from life; this is not the place for them to go. Every year RVs get stuck in or swallowed up by sand, or end up playing “Yellow Submarine” in the lake due to windstorm micro-bursts or ‘captain’s error.’ At the high mountain lakes, like Eagle Nest, black bears forage along the shore. But the most horrifying sight of all; the creatures that will make you shudder are commonly found running loose; they are children. Not yours; yours are perfect angels, but everyone else’s. Case in point, I was sitting serenely in camp one day when a boy stopped with his dog to let it pee on my kayak while he watched and giggled. His camp was about 300 yards away, but he seemed to think he had to come all the way to mine for his pooch to pee. Now, this might be a useful parenting tip. Without raising my voice I looked straight at him and grimly stated, “That was a bad thing to do. You must be rather disappointing to your parents.” Five minutes later he returned to apologize. I smiled and told him I must have been wrong because taking such responsibility would certainly make his parents proud.

Whether in a comfy camp close to others and every amenity offered or in a remote camp by the lakeshore with only yourself to rely on, or somewhere in between, the most wonderful thing about the New Mexico State Parks system is that you get to decide. You have options. Camping should be about fun. And who knows better than you what is fun? So, on your next outdoor adventure; which road will you take?




Sidebar on safety: If you are not accustomed to driving on unpaved desert roads here are a few safety tips. Guys, this is when you hand it to your wife to read because safety tips are somewhat like driving directions to a man. 1) Learn to recognize solid ground. If it looks soft don’t chance it, get out and walk the road until you are satisfied it will hold your vehicle. This is mostly a function of experience. Tire tracks made by previous vehicles will be where the ground is most compacted and safe. On a desert flat that appears solid, yet sort of crusty, look for small holes in the ground. Prairie dogs are one of the cutest desert critters, but their underground condos are very extensive and a heavy vehicle can drop right through a prairie dog’s ceiling and totally ruin their lunch. The ground close to sage, creosote or most desert bushes is usually soft, partly due to the myriad of small animals that live under them. 2) Do not travel these roads at night. If you just thought, ‘why?’ I would suggest you always stay on the pavement. 3) Have a roadside assistance policy that is upgraded to include RVs. 4) Getting ‘stuck’ is a relative term. Just because your RV spins a little does not mean it is truly stuck. First, as soon as you hear/feel tires spinning take your foot off the gas pedal. Do not try rocking back-and-forth or powering out, you will dig a very deep hole. Well, the frame will limit the depth. The shallowest rut is the easiest to get out of without assistance. Also, do not dig unless have always wanted to visit China and speak a smattering of Mandarin. There is a trick we desert rats know, which I will let you in on. Starting at the front of the drive (usually rear) wheels, scrape a ramp sloping gradually forward on both sides. Now gently, so not to deform the ramp, sprinkle water over it. This might need to be done a couple times, slightly packing the ramp in between. Be patient. The wet ramps will harden. While they harden collect brush (be careful of snakes) to cover the ramps. That will make them even stronger and add traction. Now slowly drive out of the mess you got yourself into. Of course there is an alternative. Jump out of the RV in a rage, cuss, throw your keys and call for roadside assistance. If you choose that method do not forget to have them send a locksmith because you are never going to find those keys.DSCN3723DSCN3793DSCN3851DSCN3854

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Out of the Past – genetic memory

Out of the Past
(Some thoughts on genetic memory. Flat Earthers and anti-science adherents might want a stiff drink before continuing)

Insects have long fascinated me with their demonstrations of intelligence. How is it that a fly seems aware of the swatter in one’s hand, or the occupation of both hands preventing a swat? If our elected officials displayed such intelligence something might get done in the Senate. How do ants know how to perform their specific jobs without formal training classes? We rarely see one walking across a college campus with its nose in a Chemistry textbook. And yet, it is adept at the formulation and use of formic acid. A bee colony is a very complex community. Hives are designed and constructed with incredible acumen to the point of bee-coming architectural marvels. So how do we acknowledge this? Simply by saying, ‘It’s nature.’ That may be enough understanding for some people, but although I have never bought a National Inquirer I have an inquiring mind that wants to know.
Some time ago a now famous experiment was done with flatworms. Scientific nomenclature has been abandoned here in the interest of global understanding, i.e. simplicity. The flatworms were trained using, I believe, starvation techniques to navigate a simple maze. Sort of ‘learn where the food is or become fertilizer.’ Perhaps a bit of fun for the researchers, though less so for the worms. But the experiment did result in a very interesting finding, genetic memory. This next part may be a little distasteful, especially if you have just finished a slice of pizza. The educated flatworms were then ground up and fed to an uneducated group of the same species. Sorry, sometimes science is not appetizing, except to the well-fed worms of course. The amazing result was that the uneducated flatworms could navigate the maze as easily as their last meal did, only without a trial-and-error learning period. They had genetically absorbed, sopped-up as it were, the knowledge of their predecessors.
Although this seems to be a fairly clear-cut paradigm, many people continue to disbelieve in genetic memory, much as they disbelieve in global warming, human rights and the existence of dinosaurs. Yet they still manager to breathe in a rhythmic manner and feed themselves, which I find even more astonishing.
But now let us explore this extraordinary function of amino acid alchemy (genetics) in more biologically advanced creatures. If insects and planarians (flatworms) can do it, why not …, let us say dogs.
Something tells me you are way ahead of me on this one. How does one explain the ‘instinct’ of a sheep herding or cattle herding dog to do its basic job without training. Notice ‘basic.’ Although the dog will not respond to specific commands by its handler, it will perform the herding and/or guarding function even as a puppy.
A ‘cutting horse’ that has been bred through a line of ‘cutters’ will set you on an E-ride if ridden into a coral with a calf, even having no formal training in the past.
My personal experience with both cattle herding dogs and cutting horses exhibits this completely.
And now on to one of my favorite animals of amazing instinct, the pussy cat. Big or small they are all marvels of intelligence, beauty and grace. A simple furry pull-toy dragged, almost silently, by a sleeping tabby will instantly cause Miss Puss to leap into action and attack the toy with a vicious accuracy unparalleled by any other creature in your living room. With the exception of Grandma ‘resting her eyes’ when a pot boils over. This attack-and-kill instinct is even observable in young kittens. With no mother present to act as teacher the cat is a born survivor. With a mother to teach the finer arts of stalking and killing a cat becomes the master it’s domain. The genetic demand for this behavior is so strong that many a bicyclist or jogger has become an unwitting target simply by passing an unseen mountain lion on a forest trail.
By now you must be wondering how this phenomena might relate to humans; to you in particular perhaps. If you go to a ‘past life’ therapist, or crystal ball gazing granny she will undoubtedly tell you that you have memories of past lives. In your past life you can choose from being such high dignitaries as Cleopatra, Napoleon, Richard the Lionheart, Joan of Arc or a number of other favorites. It is amazing that no one is ever told they were a scullery maid or stable groom. Past life regression and genetic memory are totally unrelated, much like comic book heroes and (real life hero) American soldiers.
Let us all share a moment for those who did not return.

Thank you.
The subject of genetic memory in humans is a hotly contested one. In Jean Aul’s wonderful book “Clan of the Cave Bear” genetic memory is used to explain how the Neanderthal learned to survive. It was a theory, and a very good one, especially for a work of fiction.
In fact, the Neanderthal had a high sloping forehead, thus limiting cranial space for a frontal lobe. This is where imagination and creative thought take place. Without a fully developed frontal lobe problem solving and invention are seriously inhibited. The individual lacks imagination and their personality falls flat. The famed ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ operation of times past was used to control mental patients who were a bit overactive by detaching the frontal lobe rendering it useless. That elicited a comic to comment, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than to have a frontal lobotomy.” I agree.
On the other hand, the occipital lobe of the Neanderthal brain was quite large. Guess what happens there. You are so right, memory. Did you remember that from biology class? It is very true and quite possibly speaks to the idea that the Neanderthal lived more on ‘instinct’ than invention. This could also, in part, account for their demise, while the Cro-Magnon (with a large frontal lobe) who lived at the same time flourished and continued.
Think about things in your life that have evoked unexplained feelings, preferences or abilities. There have been many in mine. Since childhood I have loved the smell and feel of wool, felt a serious romantic attraction to mist and fog, as well as to women of strong character. As I got older I learned that most of my heritage is Celtic, explaining each of these things, if I had ever lived in Wales, which I have not. So how is it that these foreign traits of my ancestors are natural to me?
If you consider your life from the outside looking in, try to discover how your ancestry relates to who you are now. You might be surprised, and you might find the answer to a question or two that has eluded all rational thought. Happy hunting, for yourself.

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That’s Not Santa on the Roof – An odd leak repair that might help you

(A Drop of Help with a Leaking RV Roof)

When I woke up and walked to the living area of the coach there was a ladder that looked suspiciously like mine just outside the window. Then there was the sound of something obviously bigger than a squirrel walking around on the roof. Well, it was not a squirrel and it was not Santa, it was my friend Fred. He was looking for the leak.
July is monsoon season in the southwest and there had been a torrential downpour on the previous day. Personally, I like the rainy season. It adds character to the otherwise practically perfect sunny, summer days. Weather with attitude, I call it. Unfortunately my RV now had attitude all over the furniture and floor. It was the thing almost all RVers deal with sooner or later, the dreaded roof leak.
One might think a leak would be relatively easy to find. Surely there must be a seam cracked open or a nice big hole. Let me ask you, when in your life did fate ever act in such a congenial manner? Yeah, mine either. Fred reported that there were no cracks or holes and he was coming down, so I steadied the ladder and guided his foot to the top step. No, I am not the over-cautious sort; Fred drinks a little. Though, in his defense, I will say that he was not ‘in his cups’ that early in the morning.
Being the fine friend he is, Fred took off for the hardware store and returned with caulk. Back up on the roof he began caulking everything that did not move and a slow-moving insect or two. Why am I not doing this? I am such a good friend that I did not want to spoil Fred’s fun.
There was still nothing visible that could have caused such a leak. This was not a simple, singular trickle of water down a wall or a little drip from around a light fixture. Water had poured in from everywhere, almost as if there was no roof at all. Hyperbole aside, it was a darn big leak.
Now, here is where we all get to learn something. That leak was not coming from a crack, hole, seam, gap or crevice. Upon removing the air conditioner shroud to look around the base something incredible happened; the air conditioner moved, just slightly, but it moved. From underneath I removed the air conditioner cover and there was the culprit, plain and ugly as an unglazed donut when you really wanted a cinnamon swirl. The air conditioner hold-downs had vibrated loose creating a seal separation and causing water to run the entire length of the roof, between it and the ceiling. The repair was a simple matter of repositioning and tightening the hold-downs.
The moral of the story – you should have figured it out, but I will tell you anyway – is that if your RV roof starts leaking from every direction, do not panic; check the air conditioner mounting. If you have a leak, it will hopefully be this easy and you will find it before your friend ends up with caulk all over his jeans, hair and just a little in the right ear.

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What Geese Can Teach Us


The goose family just came to visit at my Storrie Lake camp in New Mexico. The youngsters are getting color and markings. They’re almost ready to go out on their own now. Several families have united, allowing the goslings to swim together without adult presence. The adults watch from the shore. They are good parents.
When I feed scraps of bread to the family the gander stands guard, not eating. The rest eat their fill while he keeps watch. Finally, when all are sated he eats from what is left while the female watches. Then he leads them into the lake, having done his job as patriarch, the proud father leading his family home. Watching them elicits a sort of comfort in nature; that the simplest forms of life will continue to survive in the simplest ways.
Henri David Thoreau wrote this advice which should inspire people to think, especially those who call themselves ‘green,’ “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” Consider it. Our complicated lives can be our own stumbling blocks. How is your life made better by complicating it?
Recently Dr. Oz has been advocating the ‘Paleo Diet.’ Is it complicated? No. It is a concept of returning to what nature provided so humans could evolve, growing stronger, healthier and smarter.
Medical doctors and scientists know that nature is our mother because we are part of her. We are all natural beings. We are made of Earth materials, risen from the dirt as it were. Do you really understand that? Do you really know who and what we are?
No matter what form of life you encounter it is in some way related to you. By now most everyone has heard the phrase “carbon based life form.” That simply means that all life on planet Earth is composed of carbon chain molecules. All life. That means spiders, squirrels, ants, chiggers, slugs, mosquitoes, polar bears and humans. We are all related to one extent or another. That encompasses all the faunal components, but what about the flora?
Trees, bushes, weeds and even lichens are composed of carbon molecules, too. They are of nature and have evolved (naturally changing to better suit their environment) just as every form of life has.
Many years ago it occurred to me that Buddhists have a pretty cool thing going by respecting all life and not limiting that reverence to humans alone. They have a sense of being part of nature that seems to escape many modern peoples. Being ‘one with nature’ is a serious spiritual journey for them. The Navajo (Dine`) share many of their beliefs and adulations for nature, which is one reason I so admire both cultures.
There is a common anecdote about a Buddhist who walked up to a hot dog vender and said, “Make me one with everything.” A Buddhist friend told me that and I find it cleverly amusing.
The point is that we need to live ‘with’ nature rather than ‘against’ nature as has been the case for centuries. Think about it like this; would you purposely flood, burn or otherwise destroy the house in which you live? Would you poison your pets, fresh water source or children? Would you pump sewage into your backyard and throw trash out of the windows? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, please do us all a favor and leave the planet.
This planet is our home. The intimate little neighborhoods we live in used to be our entire world. Times have changed and so has the size of our world influence. What we do in our daily lives now has global impact. What we do in nature seals our fate. The world of the future does not have to be a land of stark devastation, starvation and violence as depicted in grim futuristic movies. The really sad, and scary, thing is that it can be. But the choice is not ours alone; Mother Nature will decide, as always, if we are worthy of survival. It might be advisable to stay on her good side.
And what is it we can learn from geese? For one thing, that a simple life full of love is a good life. John Lennon sang, “All we need is love,” but maybe a little swimming and flying with nature would make it even better. And second, we need to care about and take care of each other. Lending a hand to make someone else’s life easier, whether it be a parent, spouse, child, friend or perhaps someone you do not even know is about the best way possible to lift your own spirits make you feel truly alive. If skin color, age, gender or religion matters when someone needs you, trust me, you are the one who is really in need of help.

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Tales of Old


A Little Nutty and Funny, But True


Over the years I have collected stories, anecdotes and various bits of ‘knowledge’ passed on by elders who apparently thought I was stupid enough to believe their pickle barrel nonsense. Now it is my pleasure to pass a few of these pearls of wisdom on to you. If you find yourself willing to believe any of this please put $1 hundred in an envelope, send it to me and I will bestow upon you the blessing of the Great Googa Mooga.

In the desert southwest the most venomous reptile is the Mojave rattler. It’s unique venom is a deadly combination of hemotoxin and neurotoxin. The most interesting advice for one bitten by this snake came from a leathery old man dressed like a cowboy, missing a few front teeth and having only one good eye. He said, “If ya git yerself bit by one o’ them varmints, sit down on a big rock, crack a cold beer and drink it. By the time you’re done drinkin’ that beer, you’ll be dead.”

Another old desert rat (a common moniker out here) offered this advice to women who are afraid of bats getting in their hair. “When bats fly around you,” he said, “cover your head with your shirt and hum a tune as loud as you can until the bats leave.” First off, a bat cannot hear you hum and secondly, I suspect that the real attraction here is getting the woman to take off her shirt. It is actually quite surprising how many old time remedies involve a woman removing an article of clothing.

In the case of a Horny toad (actually a Horned lizard) crossing your path, you will have a day of bad luck for every horn on it’s back unless you kiss the first person (hopefully of the opposite sex) you see. So who is the real Horny toad here?

To catch a Jackrabbit, rub sage all over your body so the rabbit can neither see nor smell you. Then sit by the rabbit hole until he comes out and grab him by the ears. Meanwhile, inside the rabbit hole the father rabbit is saying, “There’s some big doofass who smells like sage sitting by the door. Junior, go see what he wants, will you?”

It seems that the cure for the common cold, which has eluded doctors for decades, is simply a matter of mixing the proper ingredients in a large tin coffee cup. They are: 4 juniper berries, a healthy sprinkle of dried jalapeño pepper, a crushed clove of fresh garlic and one ounce of lime juice vigorously mixed and then covered with enough sippin’ whiskey to fill the cup. Two points; no one will catch the cold from you because they will not be able to get close enough and after drinking this concoction you will hardly care whether you have a cold or not.

To cure a hangover, probably from drinking the cold cure concoction, lie on your back with 3 large round stones taken from a dry wash resting on your forehead. If you lie there long enough your hangover will be old news, probably by the time someone cures cancer.

In Ireland it is said that a leprechaun has a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Not to be outdone, desert folks say a magic burro will lead you to a rich gold vein if you kiss it on the nose and whisper in its ear “Magic burro, brave and bold, lead me to your vein of gold.” If it kicks and/or bites you, you probably have the wrong burro, and there is a good chance it is pissed-off.

There are six species of Cholla cacti. One is the Teddy Bear Cholla, named for its soft, furry covering of spines and shape that is similar to a teddy bear (with much imagination). It is also called the Jumping cactus because some believe that if you get too close it will jump and stick it’s barbed spines in you, leaving them to be extracted. Note the word ‘barbed.’ It may not actually jump, but close encounters of the spine kind are a prickly pain to remove.

I saved the best for last because this one just might be true. In the distant past a vulture-like bird of incredible size has been reported in southwest Arizona. It is supposed to be large enough to carry off dogs and small children. Claims have been made, but no proof has come to light. It should first be mentioned that a true vulture would not attack live animals. On the other hand, Native Americans and several others have reported seeing the bird and witnessing it’s attack on living creatures. I never gave much credence to the stories until I actually saw what may have been that very species of ‘mythical’ bird. Lacking a camera on that day I have no proof either, but what I saw was an amazingly large black and gray bird resembling a cross between a Condor and a Vulture. It soared low overhead casting a shadow so large that at first I thought it might be a sail plane. Upon looking up I saw the largest bird I have ever seen, clearly three to four times the size of a large Turkey vulture. Not many things stun me in the wild. That bird left me standing wide-eyed, slack-jawed and shivering with excitement.

If you have ever asked yourself in wonder if creatures like Sasquatch, Big Bay Tie or even dragons could actually exist, remember that the great cities of Troy and Jericho were considered mythical until uncovered by archaeologists. The Coy-wolf of New England was only recently discovered and studied living in city neighborhoods, unobserved by most residents. A few unusual creatures, biologic anomalies as it were, could easily hide close enough to almost anyone’s house to watch them every day, without ever being noticed. Maybe the family dog is not always barking at ‘nothing,’ and just maybe that shadow you thought you saw in the bushes was not your imagination.

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A World Without Vultures


(A sudden, not too pretty, glance within ourselves)

Most people look at the Turkey vulture as a disgusting, rotten flesh eating, ugly scavenger. They only eat from dead carcasses and I doubt you will ever see one in a bikini gracing the “Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition.” For one thing, they weigh too much. But there is a beauty to them that few see, and have you ever thought about the positive effects they have on our lives?

Vultures consume a large amount of rotting flesh that would otherwise be lying around just waiting to decompose. As that animal, let us say a road-killed skunk decomposes, its festering, decaying, putrefied flesh attracts insects and parasites. Bottle flies are among the first to inhabit, feed and lay eggs in the decaying mess, and don’t we love them? Larva appears in short order right along with stench and disease carrying microbes.

An even more immediate concern comes much closer to home. It is the effect they may have on children. What if, while running and playing an innocent game of Tag little ‘Mary’ falls into a nice gooey opossum carcass? The darling child certainly cannot be allowed back into the house without a proper hosing-down.

Returning to the dead skunk scenario; have you ever gotten a big wet kiss from the family dog and wondered what in the world could make his breath so nauseating? It just could be that he found the dead skunk before the road kill removal guy. And that guy, the one you forbid your daughter to date, does not seem like such a loser now, does he?

You see, in one way or another almost everything has an effect on one, or perhaps a dozen other things. It might not be immediately visible or comprehensible, but one dead skunk can mess up your whole day in any manner of ways.

A lot of people are equally as important doing jobs some consider undesirable.  Maybe they are not too pretty, and maybe their menial jobs are looked down upon, but without them we might be up to our stylish Gap jean covered knees in opossum goo.

In a fast food restaurant I recently watched a young woman cleaning tables and food trays that had been left in a mess by patrons. Her hair was disheveled, she wore no make-up, her left arm and hand suffered from partial paralysis and she walked with an uneasy gait. She went about her work humming softly to herself and when I caught her eye she smiled graciously.

How many people do we encounter every day that are responsible for keeping us out of the opossum goo? Some collect garbage, others clean public restrooms, many take care of the scenic parks we relax in and even more maintain our water treatment plants and sewer systems. These are not lesser people, they are essential people. We should look at them with one thought, gratitude and understand that a world without them would be a smelly, gooey place.

For minimum wage the young woman in the restaurant was happily cleaning up the refuse of hundreds of people every day, many of whom would flippantly dismiss her as being of lesser social value, and yet I believe she was the most beautiful person I saw all day.

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Hello Friends



There are times when a new blog post will not come up for a week or two and then several will come up together. I will explain. Unlike many bloggers who are a stationary fixture in their social environment I am constantly on the road. Some of those roads are not close enough to civilization to get Wifi. These days most people have a hard time understanding how anyone could be more than a mile from a shopping mall, major metropolis or Starbucks. Let me assure you, America still has a lot of wide open spaces and on some of it the buffalo still roam, and so do I. I enjoy Starbucks as much as the next guy; I just like strong, cowboy coffee over an open fire better.

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            After spending most of my life with a camera in my hand (teaching & shooting) it seemed a cruel trick when digital cameras came on the market. There was no film to develop and no more lab work, which was very disheartening. It seemed that everything was headed toward ‘point-n-shoot.’ Oh, but everything got so much better, and a lot of the creative techniques used with film cameras easily translated into digital. So, let me explain five simple tricks that you will enjoy.

1)     When shooting with film one of our key watchwords was ‘saturation.’ It applied to color as well as black & white. It means deepening the colors and tones for a rich, vibrant effect. With film it was done by changing the film speed or shooting over or under the meter reading by a certain percentage, which was a little different for each film, but not now. All we have to do now to increase color saturation for those deep reds and vibrant blues is adjust the exposure compensation. It may be different from one camera to another, but the process is the same. It might be in ‘menu’ or on a multi-function button on the camera body marked with a plus and minus sign. Push the button. A vertical scale will appear on the screen. Using the function button (round, moves in all four directions with ‘ok’ in the center if it’s a Nikon) you can move the center line on the scale up or down. For more color saturation move it down one click. Find a colorful scene and try the shot. Now try the same shot after moving the line down two clicks. This technique will work differently depending upon the make of the camera and the type of scene. I could explain the variations in light metering and types of scenes and how to deal with them if I really wanted to bore you stiff. Just experiment. You get instant results with zero film cost.

2)     Showing motion in a photo makes it jump right out, or ‘pop’ as we would say. The motion of a stream is a very popular scene because of its fantasy-like beauty. It may appear cottony or soft and wispy. The way to do it is simple. You have to slow down the camera’s shutter speed by fooling it, since it is automatic. Put the camera in a shooting mode that allows ISO (film sensitivity) to be adjusted and put set it on the lowest number. On mine that is 80 ISO. This works best early or late when shadows are deep and light has faded. Use a tripod. The camera will automatically slow the exposure (shutter speed) down. Look at the exposure reading. If it is 1/15 sec or less you will see wonderful results. Try not to fall in the river, but if you do, and can tap the shutter button just as you go in you will have one for the Christmas cards.

3)     This one I encountered yesterday when a guy was trying to photograph his girlfriend against a gorgeous red streaked sunset. He complained that when she was in focus and looked good the background was washed out and when the background looked good she was way too dark. There is a simple solution. Flip up the flash, set it on ‘manual’ and back away from the subject about ten feet. This is called ‘fill flash.’Use the zoom to frame the shot. Point the camera at the background and lock that meter setting. This is usually done by depressing the shutter release button about half-way or until you feel resistance. Holding the button to maintain the exposure for the background, frame the shot properly and take the picture. If the subject is too bright, take another step back. If the subject is too dark, take a step forward. Reshoot until you get it right, and that’s an order.

4)     Close-up (macro) shots of flowers are always a favorite. Unfortunately, Mother Nature can blow your aster off just as you are trying to shoot it. Even a slight movement will ruin the shot. Go back to #3 and flip up that flash. A typical flash fires at 1/50,000th second. It will stop the motion. Use a low ISO setting and a tripod.

5)     Photographing anything high up in the air is tricky, but once more I have the right trick, and once again the automatic camera has to be fooled. Simply lock the exposure (as in #3) on a close object of about the same reflectance and in the same light intensity as the subject. Here is an example. The subject is an airplane. Use a car close to you with light colored paint sitting in full sun like the plane. Lock the meter setting on the car hood. Do not worry about focus. Set the camera on ‘landscape’ or ‘scenic’ mode and the focus will be automatically set to ∞ (infinity). That is as far as you can see and then some.

Now go take some really good pictures.

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