Sunday, July 23, 2017

Happy Fourth of July

(I know, I know...I'm a little late with this one, but we've been busy.)

We almost always spend the Fourth of July at the farm…because we love being there, and because Kota gets terribly anxious when she hears fireworks.  There are plenty of poppers in our neighborhood near Volente, but none on Goat Hill.  This year was no exception.  We arrived on the first and spent time with Allan and Jef and the McElhaney family.  Jamey and Laura twirled each other into falling-down dizziness on the sack swing.

And Lulu and Clover hung out with their cousins.

We had a smoked pork butt feast with Cousins Kathy and Eric and topped it off with fresh figs poached in balsamic vinegar over Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla.  (I know, it doesn’t sound all that appetizing, but just try it.  You'll like it.)  The dogs got bone treats.

Cousin Kaia showed off her squirrel-chasing, tree-climbing skills,

and Radius and Savvy enjoyed some fresh grass after their ride.

All in all, it was a wonderful Fourth of July!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Wiley Coyote x 2

There is seldom a dull moment at the farm.  When we arrived a week ago, the rain gauge was brim-full…showing 5 1/2 inches had fallen since our last trip.  Then, last Friday night it rained another inch.  We are awash and aslosh!  The cows and calves are happy.

When we went for our walk on Saturday morning, Red Cow’s heifer calf was having a mid-morning snack.

B1’s calf was getting a bath, which she apparently enjoyed immensely.

On Saturday afternoon, Brian, Debi and Granddog Louie arrived for their first look at the place since we did the prescribed burn in February.  

Everything looks very different.  There are seeps and springs where lush grasses now grow, and we have an abundance of wildflowers.  

The dogs are once again outfitted in their T-shirts to keep at least some of the spear grass and “beggar lice” out of their coats.

My brother and his family took on the project of sorting and organizing the many projectile points, arrowheads and stone tools that have been picked up on the place over the years (mostly by our parents and our Aunt Frankie and Uncle Watt).

A couple of months ago, Brian Jameson and Carol Macaulay-Jameson, archeologists familiar with this area, looked through our collection, and recommended that we try to organize and identify them.  They said some of the points were several thousand years old, evidence of continued habitation by native peoples throughout our county’s history and before.  While Noah and Rachel played a serious game of cards, Allan and my niece, Erin Carmody, worked hard to sort and catalog the collection.  This will allow us to preserve it for kids and grandkids, and it won’t be just a bunch of projectile points and stone tools.  There will be a real connection to the farm we all call home.

I had a delightful surprise on Tuesday morning.  I had gone out just at sunup to photograph the meadow below our house.  I noticed movement a couple of hundred yards away and thought it might be a deer or turkey.  As I quietly watched, I saw something very unusual.  A pair of coyotes made their way across the pasture, apparently unaware of me or Colt who was dozing a few feet away.  These images are certainly not wall-hangers, and normally I wouldn’t use them.  However, I can’t resist showing you how perfectly the coyotes blend into the tall grasses, and how comfortable they were within sight of the house, even if they didn’t know I was watching.

For several minutes the smaller of the two hunted for mice or grasshoppers in the tall grass.  She would crouch quietly, then spring with paws together and front legs extended in an attempt to catch her prey.  I didn’t see her eat anything, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.  After several minutes, the two of them loped up the hill, then melted away into the brush.

We know coyotes live on the farm.  We hear them from time to time, and see their scat.  However, I can probably count on one hand the times I have seen one of them.  This chance to watch them in their daily routine was a real treat, and one I hope will be repeated…maybe if I get up early enough.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mission Cube Challenge at the Capitol

The Texas State Capitol is a great place to spend an hour or so…with or without a camera.  And, it’s been too long since I spent some focused time photographing something other than dogs, wildflowers or baby calves.  So, when Precision Camera announced an upcoming "Mission Cube Challenge" in cooperation with Canon USA and “adventurers and photo takers the New Darlings,”  I was game to sign up. 

Precision Camera and Video is Austin's first-class, full-service, one-stop-shopping location for all things photographic.  Founded in 1976 by Jerry and Rosemary Sullivan, it grew from a spare-bedroom camera repair operation to the largest camera store in Texas.  Precision personnel, especially Sales Associate Robert Backman, have answered my questions (and taken my money!) on numerous occasions, and have given me outstanding service and photo products.   

A group of 40 or so of us arrived on Saturday morning, and were issued loaner Canon EOS M5 or M6 cameras with our choice of lenses.  The M6 I used is one of Canon’s new mirrorless cameras…this version had a viewfinder as well as an LED screen.  I prefer a viewfinder to the rear screen, which is the only option on the M5.  I chose the 14-150mm zoom lens (28-300 35mm equivalent), which is my go-to lens on the Olympus OM-D EM-1 I currently shoot.  The cameras are very similar, but the Canon is newer, and has more bells and whistles and a very intuitive menu system.  It was a pleasure to shoot.

We met our photo challenge leaders, and were issued “mission cubes” which contained the themes for the images we would shoot.  Our choices were:  “reflections,” “fine lines” and “green.”  We were told we could submit one image that represented one of the themes…or if we could manage it, an image that represented two, or even three of them.  Then the fun began.

We were bused downtown to the Capitol and fanned out like a swarm of bees in search of flowers.  I decided to focus on the “fine lines” theme, and shot a number of images outside on the Capitol grounds.  

The beautiful architectural details outside, including the impressive Texas Peace Officers' Memorial, provided lots of options.

The Capitol sits on four blocks designated as Capitol Square in 1839.  The first Capitol building on this site was completed in 1853, but burned in 1881.  The current Capitol building, constructed of sunset red granite, was completed in 1888.  Topped by the zinc Goddess of Liberty statue, it measured over 566 feet by 288 feet and cost more than $3.7 to build.  From the terrazzo floor to the star 281 feet above in the dome, which was installed in 1958, it is a beautiful structure.

After 45 minutes or so outside, I decided to cool off and explore the photo options inside the Capitol itself.  There are more beautiful architectural details inside, 

including a dizzying look up into the rotunda.  

There are also impressive views looking down from the three balconies the public can access.  

Unfortunately, for "accessibility and safety reasons," the dome is not open to the public.  That nice zoom lend did, however, give me a pretty good look at the spiral staircase accessing the very top.

Some of my favorite shots were of the frosted glass panels in the interior doors.  The light streaming through from outside made for some interesting effects.

The outing truly qualified as an adventure.  On the way back, the bus broke down and stranded us under Hwy I-35. 

(Turns out, even that isn't a bad place for a photo op.)

Learning that the bus being sent to rescue us was at least 30 minutes or more away, a dozen or so of us opted to walk the mile or so from the bus back to Precision Camera.  It was sunny and hot, but with a nice breeze, thank goodness.  We made it back before the replacement bus and had first pick of the yummy Schlotzsky’s sandwiches and cookies waiting for us.  While we munched our lunches, our chosen images (one per participant) were printed and judged. We even got to keep the SanDisk 16 GB SD cards with all our images!  Thank you, Canon!

This was my favorite image, and it was chosen for a fourth-place prize in the photo challenge.  I didn't get first place, which was a new Canon M5 kit, but that's OK.  I had a great time.

Thanks, Canon, Precision Camera and Video and New Darlings for a most enjoyable Saturday.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The East Jetty Ballet

Several weeks ago John’s mother moved from her home into a senior living center.  We spent most of last week in the Texas Coast community of Lake Jackson getting ready for an estate sale and preparing her house to go on the market.  While there, we got our exercise a couple of mornings walking the East Jetty, located in nearby Surfside at Surfside Jetty Park.  

On one side of the park are beach homes, but very little beach these days.  “Improvements” to the shoreline over the last 100+ years, including building the jetties and the rerouting of the Brazos River to a site several miles down the coast, have unfortunately resulted in less and less sand being deposited along the shoreline.  The result…an ever-shrinking beach.

Across the channel is the West Jetty, and in the distance cargo ships and chemical plants.

The park is located in Brazoria County near the mouth of the Brazos River along what was “the most important harborage during the time Texas was a republic.”  The settlement, which would later be known as Velasco or Old Velasco, was the site where the schooner Lively landed in 1821 with thirty-eight men who would become the first of Stephen F. Austin’s colonists.  In 1831, Mexico, fearing annexation of Texas by the United States, passed a law halting legal immigration by Americans and established Fort Velasco as a customs port of entry.  

Now known as Surfside or Surfside Beach, the area was the site of the Battle of Velasco in June of 1832, a prelude to the Texas Revolution, as well as the signing of the Treaties of Velasco in 1836.  It also served as a temporary capital of the Republic of Texas while David G. Burnet was interim president.

Just outside the park is the site of historic Fort Velasco, and the park area includes the site of the Velasco Town Battery, which dated to before the 1860s.  The battery, which included an emplacement with two brass cannon, was turned over to the Confederacy in 1861.  During the Civil War, the port of Velasco was fortified by Confederate troops and eight gun batteries.  Over the years, the fort was abandoned and later demolished so only the pages of history testify to its existence. 

The East and West Jetties were originally built in 1881, and have been extended and improved over the years.   The East Jetty is now some 6/10 of a mile long, and provides a great place for fishing, bird watching, getting in your morning miles, and especially people-watching.

I like to call what we saw The East Jetty Ballet.  Lining both sides of the jetty from end to end are the fishermen and fisherwomen…

their children and grandchildren…

parents and grandparents…

and all the accoutrements of serious, all-day fishing.

Many people were fishing with shrimp.

Several were gracefully (and occasionally not so gracefully) throwing cast nets to catch their own bait, possibly shrimp, or more likely the small mullet that were schooling along both sides of the jetty.

If you look closely, you can see their little fishy eyes.

As there is action along the jetty, the person with the fish on-line has the right-of-way.  Everyone moves out of the way, lifting their rods in unison to allow access as the big fish makes a run along the jetty with the fisherman struggling to keep up.  

And when the fish reverses course, the action continues...just in the opposite direction.


Until the fish is caught!

And when someone needs to reset a line, there is a three-steps-back, three-steps-forward routine, followed by a mighty heave of the heavy pole as adjacent fishermen move gracefully out of the way and passers-by dodge and weave to avoid the swinging bait.  You can’t choreograph something like that.

This fellow had a fish on his line, but had a "That's why they call it fishing instead of shopping" attitude when he lost it

Following our walk on the jetty, we stopped at the nearby Seahorse Restaurant and Bar for a glass of tea.  The big, shady deck has a nice view of the beach where seahorse and fish sculptures overlook the water.  

Brown pelicans sailed overhead in an aerial ballet.  

And from the deck, we watched another kind of ballet…

…it was entertaining, but not as graceful as the one on the jetty.

What a great way to spend the morning!