My favorite photos from this year feature more birds than dogs, surprisingly, and more dogs than people, not surprisingly. The picture above, a wild brook trout being released into the cold, winter waters of Cedar Run in Shenandoah National Park early this year, is my favorite. Holding a slippery trout in one hand while operating a DSLR with the other is a low percentage proposition. But luck is a big part of photography. At least it is in my photography. The best of the rest of 2012 are below, in no particular order.
This misty photo of the so called Platform was one of the most popular images I shared on facebook this year. In fact, a few friends now have the print hanging in their homes, which is a great honor to me. This grownup tree fort is one of my very favorite places, a sanctuary in the truest sense of the word.
I chased this impossibly vibrant sunrise around for a half hour before work one morning, looking for an interesting foreground to silhouette against it. When I came across this tree with a group of black vultures perched in it, I hurried to get this shot as the fleeting, red was fading with each passing moment.
The blog post that featured photos from the falconry event I attended was featured on the WordPress ‘Freshly Pressed’ page, an incredible honor that brought many new viewers to this blog. Welcome and thank you to those who still follow from first seeing it there.
We are lucky enough to see bald eagles regularly where we live, but they are hard to get good pictures of without a zoom lens. I got lucky as I had borrowed a nice lens from a friend and had it when this eagle came around. Taken from our back yard in Virginia, that is the town of Brunswick, Maryland across the river in the background. I’m happy to report that my wife got me a 75-300 lens for Christmas! So look for more eagles and other wildlife pics in the future!
A brown thrasher sits on her nest protected by the thorns of a lemon tree at Rose River Farm in Madison County, Virginia.
I wrote a blog post I’m pretty proud of about the space shuttle Discovery and what it meant to be present for this historic event. You can read that post here.
Oddly, my favorite photo from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum shows neither water, nor a boat.
This is one of those technically flawed, lucky shots that turned out nicely. I was unaware as I was composing the photo in the viewfinder, that the balcony rail was aligned with the line in the background where the snowy foreground meets the woods. The result is an interesting effect, I think. I’m surprised at how many of my favorite shots came on less than pleasant weather days.
These amazing miniature donkeys are hard to photograph in the same way puppies are: They are affectionate and curious about the camera, so by the time you get down to their level, they’re in your face wondering what you’re doing and if you have any treats.
The Virginia State Police would surely be alarmed to know how many photos I have tried to take of my dogs in the rear view mirror. This is a challenge while parked, never mind while driving. But I love this one of Finn and remember exactly the day I took it because that’s my 3-weight Scott fly rod in the rack. We were on our way to the Rapidan.
I love this photo of Winnie, taken on a summer kayak outing. You’ve seen a cropped version of it before, it serves as the masthead image for this blog, but I thought the entire image warranted extra mention here.
My first, hopefully of many, trip to Yellowstone National Park was a life changing event. It is an extraordinary, magical place I will never forget, and a place I will long to return to more each day until I drive through its gates again.
2012 had a few amazing lightning shows. I was lucky enough to capture this strike from our deck. The rain had stopped but the lightning continued for more than an hour, the perfect opportunity to try to capture it.
My friend Anna and I stood in the bitter cold trying to capture a meteor from the Geminid shower in December. This was one of the brightest of the night.
Driving on a Montana highway, when we saw this amazing old car with a tree growing out of the roof, my friend Joel turned the car around so I could get some pictures of it.
Another accidental photo I ended up liking. While fishing for smallmouth, I wasn’t paying attention to my camera settings. I had it set on macro, so it kept trying to zoom in and focus closely. I couldn’t get a shot of the entire fish, but I love the textures of the fish and water here.
It was hard to choose one photo from Slough Creek in Yellowstone. Simply the most beautiful place I have ever had the honor of being. We hiked in about six miles to get there, and the moment we arrived, I was sad at the thought of having to leave it later.
In January of 1983, the Washington Redskins met their rival Dallas Cowboys at RFK Stadium for the NFC Championship game. At stake was a trip to Super Bowl XVII and the biggest notch in the rivalry belt to date. Before kickoff, fans shook the stadium with the chant, “We Want Dallas!” Washington won the game, and went on to win the Super Bowl. The next decade saw quite a bit of success for both teams, as they sustained a generally high level of play. Skins fans my age refer to that ten year span starting with the 1982 season, the Glory Days.
Since then, Washington has seen a steady and sustained decline, winning the NFC East title just once since 1991 (1999). And while the rivalry with the Cowboys lived on, it surely lost its luster after years and years of seasons ranging from mediocre to flat out failures. But through it all, through countless personnel debacles, through dozens of quarterbacks, a revolving door of coaches and no real kicker since Mark Mosely, I remained a Redskins fan. And like all Redskins fans, there is hope in the off season. Whether we would mortgage the future to pay cash for a has-been, or let Vinnie Cerrato choose draft picks like he’s playing in a low stakes fantasy football league, there was always hope. The games, after all, had not yet been played. Who’s to say what can happen? Maybe Jim Zorn will be a great coach! Maybe Albert Haynesworth will work hard! Maybe picking two tight ends with your first two draft picks will sound smart come September!
This past off season brought more than the usual dose of optimism though, with the decision to secure the 2nd pick in the draft and use it to get Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. By all accounts he was the real deal, and our future was looking bright. This, everyone was saying, is a young man you can build a team around. An unexpected surprise later round draft pick running back Alfred Morris, and the addition of rookie kicker Kai Forbath had fans thinking the future was not only bright, but that maybe the future was actually here.
When this season’s schedule came out, before RG3 ever took his first snap in practice, I saw that last game of the year — a December 30th matchup against the Dallas Cowboys at home — and thought, how great would it be if that game actually meant something. And now, thanks to a gritty team effort that has put together six straight wins, our wish is coming true. It has all come down to this: When the Skins meet the Cowboys in Washington this Sunday, the winner will come away with the NFC East crown and a trip to the playoffs.
My wife Sandy commented earlier this season as some friends and I suffered over a particularly unjust and painful Redskins loss, “I don’t know how you do it. Why do you torture yourself like that?” It’s a fine question and not an easy one to answer. But for me it comes down to Moments. High highs are not attainable without the risk of low lows. You can spend decades not caring all that much about your team, and if they come through with a big moment at the right time you will cheer and be happy. Or you can sweat and curse and pull your hair out, you can ruin your mood from Monday to Wednesday most weeks in the fall and winter. But then when the Moment comes, you own a piece of it. You’re a part of it. There are moments like this one that I will never forget. John Riggins, my favorite player of all time, rumbling 43 yards on 4th and 1 to secure the Super Bowl win and his place in history as Super Bowl MVP. That was thirty years ago and I can’t think of a Redskins Moment since then that I enjoy as much.
I love RG3, he is my favorite player since Riggo. And he will produce breathtaking moments for this team hopefully for years to come. But for there to be a truly huge moment, there needs first to be a huge stage. Well now the stage is set. The NFL saw the enormity of it all and moved the game from 1:00 pm to prime time, 8:20 pm. I will be in the stands with tens of thousands of people who will all be hoarse on Monday. The stadium will rock with the chant, “We Want Dallas!” And if we come away with a win, it will be a moment that everyone there in that stadium, with frozen toes and fading voices, will be a part of. It will be a moment we will never forget.
I heard a story of a kicker, I actually think it was a Cowboys kicker, who was struggling and had missed a couple short ones in a game. The special teams coach said on a subsequent drive, “how do you feel?” He told the coach, to be honest, he didn’t feel very confident. The kicker was fired on the spot. A player has to want the ball when the pressure’s on. And as a Skins fan, you have to want to play the Cowboys in the last game for the NFC East title. Securing a wildcard spot two weeks ago would have been nice, yeah. But sometimes you have to push all your chips to the center of the table, embrace that feeling in the pit of your stomach and ignore the pounding in your chest. Someone will go home heartbroken Sunday night. I hope it’s the Cowboys. But if it’s us, I will remember that the Moments will happen for us, that things are turning around for us and we’ll have more and more chances like this, and that maybe the Glory Days aren’t just something old guys talk about at barbecues. Maybe, just maybe, these are our new Glory Days.
We Want DALLAS!!
Watercolor artist Carole Pivarnik has created a fun, beautiful book of dog portraits, each accompanied with a haiku, “What dogs really think, in 17 sassy syllables.” The book is called Doggitude, and I welcome my readers to visit the web site here.
I am especially excited about it because one of the portraits included in the book is of my one and only Winnie! And in honor of Winnie’s inclusion in this lovely book, I am giving away a copy signed by the artist/author! Five syllables, seven, then five again. Comment on this post with a haiku, and I will randomly pick a winner from those who commented and send a copy of Doggitude your way!
Below are some ‘in progress’ photos of Carole’s wonderful painting of Winnie. I couldn’t be happier with how this portrait turned out!
Here is the model,
Posing with me and her book,
Which someone will win!
Comment in the form of a haiku by the end of the year and you could win a book!
UPDATE! Four people entered with a haiku, so I had Winnie choose the winner using the scientific Equidistant Milkbone Randomizer method. Congratulations to Christine! Email me your address to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks everyone, and Happy New Year!
When the peak of the Geminid Meteor Shower coincides with a new moon and absolutely clear skies, it’s worth making the effort to at least get out and see them even if it does fall on the coldest night of the year. But I also wanted to photograph them, so I recruited a friend, Anna of AKG Inspiration to attempt it with me. Anna is a great photographer, and we’ve been talking a lot about wanting to try more night photography. She invited a friend and fellow photographer Nicole, and the three of us set up in a wide open field near my house.
I was using a wide angle lens I borrowed from a friend, but beyond that my preparation consisted of making sure I had some Sam Adams Winter Lager on hand. I didn’t know what I was doing. I tried a lot of different settings, but always came back to about the same configuration: 400 ISO, 2.8 f-stop (wide open for this lens), and between 20 and 30 second exposures.
Over the course of three or four hours, this shower produced hundreds of meteors in all areas of the sky, ranging from very faint, fleeting streaks to extremely bright fireballs that spanned huge swaths of the night sky. But because they were all around us, it was difficult to capture them with the camera! Some of the ones I did catch were much brighter than they showed on the image, it was hard to balance the ISO sensitivity with the exposure time, and I’m still not sure what the best formula is.
While I was dressed very warmly (and never even broke out the hand warmers), it was so cold that my beer was freezing faster than I could drink it. And, um, I can drink fast. And toward the end, the cameras, tripods and lenses became covered with frost — that is ultimately why we had to pack it up still hours before the predicted ‘peak’ of the shower.
But on a night like that, even with a great celestial show going on, the key ingredient was to have friends there. It would have been too easy to half-ass it. But planning it with someone else forced me to dress for the long haul, to move to a wide open location to shoot, to really put in the effort to try to capture these little grains of space dust burning up in our atmosphere. And while one good thing to come out of it is the special image at the top of this post, the true reward was to have put myself in a position to stare at the sky in these perfect conditions for hours, and to be treated to the most amazing meteor show I’ve ever seen. I saw more meteors last night than I have my entire life combined, and I’ll never forget it.
My deer season began about a week ago when, while hunting on my property I slipped, fell and slid on my ass down an embankment of jagged shale. The slide, which took place as I was stealthily working my way down to a well traveled deer path behind my house, took long enough for me to go through every curse word in my extensive list and part way through the list a second time. When gravity was done with me, I sat on the ground amid crumbles of shale trickling down the embankment around me, and had two immediate concerns: My rifle, and my ass. The rifle, a Winchester Model 70 I purchased after last season and had brought into the woods for the very first time, was slung over my shoulder behind me when I fell. Miraculously, it was not scratched (although the scope was scuffed pretty badly). My ass, I could tell by the excruciating, take-your-breath-away pain, was not as lucky.
I gingerly limped around the woods until dark, but there were no deer to be found. I’m sure my earlier ‘stealth’ sent any deer in the area into the next county. I tried again the next day, and the next, and was starting to feel like that nice deer wasn’t going to come this season. But I have venison recipes I want to try. I bought two extra trays for my dehydrator and ordered four new flavors of jerky seasoning. I needed a deer.
Every evening this time of year, like clockwork right before dusk, between 7 and 12 small deer enter our front paddock nearest our barn, and work their way down the hill where they graze until dark. I’ve watched them for weeks and rarely have seen a medium sized deer, let alone a large one. But I wanted meat in the freezer, so I decided to take out the biggest of the small ones. Last night I took the Model 70 to the far corner of the paddock, hid behind a pine tree and waited.
Right on schedule, they arrived. A few about the size of my dog, Finn, came first. Then some others followed. Darkness was falling, but there were a few still on the far side of the fence I couldn’t get a good look at, even through the scope. I thought one might be larger than the others, so I put the scope on her and waited till I could get a good look. I had just about decided she was the one, when I heard a truck coming down our driveway. Hay delivery. It was almost dark so I had to either take the shot, or wait for another day. I took the shot.
The hay arrived, the deer left, and after an extensive search for any sign of a hit, I determined I just plain missed. As I put the Model 70 back in the safe I looked at that scuffed scope and wondered if maybe the fall knocked it out of alignment. I would have to sight that in before I brought it out again.
This morning, I reluctantly took a backward glance in the mirror to ass-ess the damage from the other day. A shocking, dark, multi-colored bruise had taken over the entire surface of my butt cheek. And every time I sit down I am reminded of my less than successful attempts to stock my freezer with venison. So when I got home from work this evening and saw a couple good sized doe in the paddock, I went to the safe, reached past the Model 70 with the suspect scope, and grabbed my Winchester Model 94. My father’s rifle. Short and thin and heavy, this rifle feels good in my hands. I fed two 30-30 rounds into the loading gate, eased the hammer down and walked outside to the paddock. Five deer had worked their way down the hill, about 75 yards away. They saw me and heard the dogs in the yard but they see people and hear dogs all the time. They were far enough away they were not concerned with me.
Seventy five yards out, with dusk rapidly thickening, I chose the largest deer at the base of the hill. I pulled the hammer back, leveled the sights on her front shoulder, breathed, and squeezed the trigger. With a flash of orange from the end of the muzzle the shot rang out, echoed and faded. As the smoke cleared, the four non target deer bolted toward the woods beyond the fence, and my doe just stood there.
Have you seen movies where someone gets shot and stands there for a moment, before crumpling to the ground in a delayed heap? Yeah, me too. Anyway, after a few seconds, the doe, unscathed, turned to follow the others. But they don’t call it Winchester Repeating Arms for nothing. Sights still leveled on the doe, I pushed the lever forward and heard the hollow, metallic ting as the spent shell ejected and flipped end over end past my right ear. The second round slipped into the chamber as I brought the lever back and my finger found the trigger again with ease. Swinging right to left, the gun felt light and comfortable in my hands. This is a fun rifle to shoot. I squeezed the trigger again. I felt certain this shot was on target.
I didn’t have to wait for the smoke to clear this time. In the dark shadows of the treeline I saw her healthy, white tail bounding innocently through the dense brush. Three shots at two deer in two days, each bullet whistling by their target by a safe and unknown margin. My freezer remains empty, but as I wiped down the Winchester tonight I had to smile. I’ll be glad to get that scope on the bolt action Model 70 sighted in again, Lord knows my eyes need a scope. But it was fun as hell to shoot that old ’94 tonight.