Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Hand of Time

It's Halloween.

I love Halloween. Particularly this one. The sky is overcast, the wind is blowing and the leaves are dancing around. Halloween always has a surreal feel to me, like we're celebrating something that goes beyond memory at a time when the world around me seems so much more crisp and alive.

Jack o'Lanterns are lit. There's a Ghost Hunters marathon on the tube. Most importantly, there are two bowls of candy by the door.

I'm all for Trick or Treating. Mom made some awesome costumes for us as kids and I think everyone should be able to safely send their kids around the block a time or two to load up on treats. It's a harmless tradition that gave me many happy memories as a kid. Once upon a time our street was pretty heavily toured by the local Trick or Treaters. It trailed off a bit the last few years due to the awesome haunted house the Clifton Forge Police Department ran, but I'm hoping that it will pick back up.

The photo I'm posting tonight is accidentally appropriate. I took it a while back when I was playing around with my macro lens with the clock on the mantel as my subject. Since I don't really have any Halloween photos I was looking for something different and landed on this one. And it's also a reminder that we're supposed to set our clocks back tonight and savor that extra hour of sleep. So cool.

So, yes, it's late fall, it's house is back in one piece and I have books to read...

Life is good.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Is It Christmas Yet?

Is it Christmas yet?

I know I'm skipping ahead a bit. Believe me, I won't forget about Halloween or Thanksgiving. I'm all for sending strange kids home to their parents with bags full of sugar. And I certainly won't miss either of the Thanksgiving meals that I'm fortunate enough to attend, in addition to the excellent Canadian Thanksgiving I had a few weeks back.

But I'm looking forward to Christmas. To decorations. To food. To family. To going outside, bundled up against the pure, cold air to shovel snow. There is no more magical time than Christmas and I can't wait for it to get here.

You may think I'm crazy, but it was basketball that sparked my longing tonight. Once upon a time, basketball was my game. I enjoy watching football, but there was a time that I ate, slept and dreamed basketball when I wasn't playing it. And when I played it, I was good at it. I'm not bragging, it's just the way it was.

For various reasons I never played on my middle or high school teams. But I played in every pick up game, every gym class and every Saturday at the Y that I could managed. When I was at Sharon Elementary, I played and I was good then, too. I remember games on Saturday vividly. I loved the home games the most, not because there was a home crowd but because it was close to my home. I'd go to the gym, play my butt off and then come home where I would be given a glass of cold Kool-Aid, relax on the reclining couch and watch Loony Tunes. Life was perfect. During the evenings, it got better.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in what I call the NBA's "Age of Heroes". Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Chris Mullen...the list goes on. I remember the Bulls beating Portland and Clyde the Glide Drexler for the NBA title. I remember begging my parents to hurry back home from Roanoke because the Lakers were playing and I wanted to see Magic. I can name every member of the original Dream Team and can remember watching them take home Olympic Gold. The Bulls went 72-10 before my eyes. I learned how to do a crossover dribble by reading an article in NBA Inside Stuff in which Tim Hardaway, back in his Golden State Warrior days, diagrammed it step for step. I've yet to see a coach teach it correctly or a player do it correctly in the leagues around here since.

The games on Christmas Day were special. These were the big match ups, usually the Lakers taking on Houston or the Bulls and the Knicks, something like that. They decorated the scoreboard on the screen with Christmas garland and had ornaments hanging off the clocks. I'd rush to open my presents, play with them for a while and enjoy seeing my grandparents when they visited and then hoped that I could steal the television to watch the games. Back then, the Super Bowl was in January and Christmas seemed to mark the point when the major networks switched from covering football to basketball.

I was flipping through the channels earlier and the Bulls were taking on the Spurs. It was the first time in years I'd been able to watch a pro game in not turn it off in disgust at what the league had become. The Age of Heroes gave way to a stretch when only Kobe and Shaq seemed to dominate and the league was filled with players there for money and prestige rather than the love of the game. Don't misunderstand me. I know my heroes made millions playing the game they love. But look deeper. They played for the love of the game, for sport and for the win and they gave me heroes to look up to on the hardwood.

So it was the nostalgia of basketball that sent me digging for this pic. It's about two years old, taken shortly after the first real snowfall of the year that December. There's a Christmas tree lot that sets up across the street from the Wendy's in Covington. The bare bulbs over the trees always remind me of the Christmas tree lot from A Charlie Brown Christmas, but that's another post. The Good Lord looks out for children and photographers, so thankfully he takes care of me on both fronts. That day He gave me a fresh blanket of snow on a tree lot that was mostly undisturbed. As an employee of the local paper then, weather didn't affect whether or not we came in. You went, rain or shine, snow or ice. So I was able to get out and get the photo that has since became one of my favorites ever since. Looking at it reminds me of everything I love about Christmas, about basketball in days gone past, about picking out the crookedest Christmas tree on the lot with Horton and a thousand other things I cherish about my life.

Photography, just like writing, is at its best when it gets to the truth of things. This photo reaches to the truth of who I am perhaps more than any other I've taken. You may not see it, but for me this simple black and white shot has countless memories attached to it, some that even surprise me at times.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dream Lake

What you're seeing here is Dream Lake in Luray Caverns. Believe it or not, that's actually a really, really shallow and small lake of water on the bottom half. It moves so slowly and is so free of imperfections that it creates a perfect mirror image of what is above it. The mirror image is so perfect that I had to be told that it was water before I realized it.

Luray Caverns are the biggest caverns on the East Coast and Bethany and I took a little overnight vacation there over the summer. I was never much on caverns before, but these caverns are most definitely worth your time and expense. Shooting inside the caverns was a challenge, since there's obviously no natural light down there and what light there is is artificial. I took a lot of shots and had no idea whether or not they would turn out when I got them on the big screen. I was fortunate to have spent much of my early photography career shooting football games at night and attempting astrophotography. Without that knowledge in my background, I doubt that I would have succeeded. I've got more than a few shots from here that haven't seen the light of day, so I'll be posting them up on the blog soon.

On an unrelated note, we finally have the floor completely down in the house. The contractors are coming back Monday morning to finish some trim work and do a little painting, but it's down to the minor details. As much as I wish the whole process would go faster, I understand that it takes time to get the insurance lined up and then the work itself just takes time to do, just like surveying. I've got nothing but good things to say about the service I've been provided so far and nothing but compliments on the quality of work they've done. I'll still be looking forward to having it all finished, though.

Tomorrow brings some senior portraits and then a trip through a corn maze in Union, West Virginia. It'll be nice to get away and relax a little bit before a hectic week sets in again on Monday. I'm hoping my weekends will start getting a little freer and I can spend some quality Sunday afternoon time in front of my flat screen with a little high definition NFL football action.

For now, some popcorn and an episode or two of Bones awaits.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Final Fall Pic and New Floors!

We've finally got some flooring down! These things take time, I know, but it seems like forever when you've got nothing but concrete beneath your feet. But the laminate is down, the trim work will be finished on Friday and we're finally able to put the house back into some semblance of normal. We've got two rooms to paint that we hope to finish off before next weekend and then we'll have everything settled in for the holidays.

To completely change the subject, this should be the last of my Roaring Run pictures for a while. There are others in the file from last week, but I've worn the creek out on the ol' blog and I think I'll start looking for a wider range of subjects now that we're pretty much passing the peak of the autumn showcase of leaves.

I have a folder of untouched, unposted pics I'll start with the next blog update, including some from a little vacation Bethany and I took to Luray Caverns. Those pictures haven't really seen the light of day since the summer because we've been buried under a mountain of wedding photographs and it's time they get a little fresh air.

Speaking of fresh air, tomorrow brings a trip to Rockbridge County to do a little surveying work before heading back home to have a portrait session for a two-month-old. A subject that young will be new territory for me, but not Bethany as she was trained for this during her stint at Olan Mills.

My reading slump is about to end as well. I haven't been hitting the pages too much since finishing The Eagle, but my next David Liss novel, The Coffee Trader, (which I picked up for a penny) will be here soon and a trip to Roanoke should snag me a couple of Trek novels as well as the long awaited next volume in the late Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. It was a tragedy indeed that Mr. Jordan died of a rare blood disease before he could finish writing the series he started decades ago. Fortunately, he left a great deal of notes and basically handpicked his successor to finish the final volume, which has been split into three books due to length. While Robert Jordan is definitely missed in the world of epic fantasy literature, I cheer that his series will not be left unfinished and his legacy incomplete.

If only George R.R. Martin would hurry it along with his next novel, all would be right with the world.

For now, I think I'm going to enjoy a rare evening on the couch with my wife watching Ghost Hunters on SyFy before calling it an evening.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wallpaper and Tails

When I become President of this Great Nation I'm going to issue an executive order outlawing the use of wallpaper. I hate that stuff. Putting it up or stripping it off, it doesn't matter to me. One task is as onerous as the other.

Remodeling on our ol' house continues as we're finally getting floors down to replace those ruined by the Great Water Heater Flood of '09. Surprisingly, the walls have to be repainted as well and that, of course, creates the opportunity for change. I'm all for change, particularly when someone else has to make it happen and I get to come home and it's done. Unfortunately, it's not completely going to work that way. We're repainting the bathroom, a bedroom, moving my library and painting another half of a bedroom. I'm excited about what the finished product is going to look like, but this is one process I don't enjoy.

Hagy's Photography is continuing to expand and I expect to purchase our first set of studio lights at lunch time today. We're booking into 2009 and are doing well with that. Right now we have a backlog of photos to process between a wedding and engagement shoot and that stack is getting deeper even as we try to cut it down.

The reading and writing, much to my dislike, is taking a backseat to remodeling and photography. We've got a January deadline for getting The Sixth Sword on the shelf, thanks to Uncle Sam calling my coauthor to duty in southern Iraq. It'll be a push to meet that. The writing is done, except for a few tweaks, but the proofing and polishing will take a little time. These next couple of months are filled with holidays and an anniversary and other pressing engagements, so it will have to get squeezed in the cracks somehow.

Fortunately, I was able to spend some time in the Great Outdoors before all of this broke loose and I'm still able to post images from last Friday's trip. I spent a lot of my early photography career trying to make motion blurs. When I started, I didn't even know what you called them or how to do them, but I wanted to. When I finally learned enough to purchase that priceless ND400 filter I was able to start making the images I wanted. Once I learned the trick to it, I then ran around to every moving body of water I could find and started shooting ripples and rapids just to see what they would look like without any attempt at composing anything artistic. It left me with only one real wall-hanger of a shot from those days and it can still be found on Outdoor Photographer's web site.

The photo you see above is a bit of a throwback to those days. I shot it because I liked the background of the solid rock of the base of the cliff against the foreground of the rocks in the river. When I first saw it on the big screen, it didn't make me overjoyed with wonder until I saw the tail streaming toward me. I kept the photo because of it. When you're standing there, all you can see is the barest hint of a ripple arcing out toward you. There are no rocks jutting up from the bottom to create any white water along that arc. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised at finding that "tail" so prominently displayed in this long exposure photograph. I held on to it for that reason alone.

It just goes to show that you never know what you may see when you frame the world with a camera.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Stirring Kool Aid

Kool Aid should be stirred with a wooden spoon. Not plastic, but definitely wooden. I'm a firm believer in that. Somewhere along the line I saw Mom stir Kool Aid with a wooden spoon, and that's just how it should be done.

Yes, yes I know that's completely random. But these dark and wet fall days make me want to putter around in the kitchen and I made Kool Aid a few minutes ago and had to dig around to find my wooden spoon and thought I'd share that little truism with my readers. Here in a bit we're going to roast some chicken...

But enough about food (at least for now) and let's talk about these photos. The one at the top is another from yesterday's adventures. It's actually at the very bottom of the falls. For those of you who haven't Roaring Run, the main falls are a slide-type of falls that cascade down a large, rounded boulder and slide down other large stones. The water falls into bigger pools that flatten out and then drop into other cascades for six or seven hundred feet along the stream. The neat thing, to me, about this bottom cascade is that it's the first time I've seen the swirl of the current show up in a photograph I've made. It happens a great deal at waterfalls, but it's the first I've ever captured the phenomena.

The second photo is taken above the main falls. It's a bit of a climb and the trail turns into a narrow path over some extremely rocky ground. I've heard rumors of more cascades farther up and since it is National Forest land I hope to hike up there one afternoon before the winter weather really sets in.

You may have read in the last blog about the challenge that Roaring Run presents in finding something new with every visit. I've yet to make a trip out there and not find something new I haven't shot before. I'm starting to wonder how much I miss in my everyday world because I'm not looking for it.

At Roaring Run I take the time to look for something different. At work, I'm paying close attention to the land around me in search for markers to indicated property corners and lines. But how much am I missing with the rest of my time? In school they teach us about all the great explorers, Columbus, Magellan, Erickson...and with today's mapping technology it seems at first glance that there's nothing left to discover here on Earth.

I think I've come around to a different view. Instead of looking for things on the grand scale, I've decided to look smaller. I'm looking for the trees that are pretty that I haven't seen before, the new author I've never heard of, a road never taken before, that sort of thing. I love a good story and I think I'll find quite a few new ones along those overlooked trails.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hindsight Is f/22

They say hindsight is 20/20. In this case it's f/22 at about two minutes.

I spent the day wandering around with a good friend of mine from West Virginia. We hit a few photo hot spots and spent most of the afternoon walking along one of my favorite places, Roaring Run Creek. It's rare that I'm making landscape images with someone, but he's a fellow photographer and can appreciate the time and effort it takes to make a quality image along a creek like this.

Roaring Run Creek presents a particular challenge to me in that every time that I visit I have to look for something I haven't seen before to shoot. Well, the second photo was taken just below the main falls. O.C. had the prime spot at that moment for shooting the major falls, which have never been my favorite subject on the creek. So naturally, I started looking for something I haven't done before.

The first photo is of the first really big cascade on the creek and I've only shot it once, years ago when I first got my camera and didn't know what I was doing. This time around I was more prepared and snagged this photo with my ND400 happily attached. The second photo, however, has a much more interesting story behind it.

I found that little gem doing something I rarely ever do...looking downstream. Typically with motion blurs along a creek I'm shooting upstream and my favorite angle is one that makes it look as if the water is flowing directly toward and under the camera. Sometimes I even set my tripod up in the creek itself. So as I walk along, I'm always looking upstream at for my next shot.

So I'm standing there, thinking, and I said to myself, I said "Self, why don't you see what's behind you?" Carefully turning around, I discover that some large boulders have cause the stream to fork and then slam back into one stream at pretty odd angles at a respectable rate of speed. The collision resulted in a rolling, bubbling mass of water that asked me to take its picture. Naturally, I obliged, perching my camera on some slick stones and set to work.

And it makes me think...if history is destined to repeat itself, then how often does it repeat itself simply because we don't take the time to look downstream at what's passed before? Every day is a blessing and a lesson wrapped into one. I do my best to learn something new every single day. It doesn't always happen because, like everyone else, there are days when I'm just trying to keep my head above the water. Generally, however, I can look back at those days and find some lesson in them when I'm farther removed from the stress of the situation.

Having a camera in my hand frees up my mind to think. I never quite know where those thoughts will take me, but it's generally a fun ride. I've learned that Pocahontas had it right in the Disney movie when she said that "You can't step in the same river twice..." Not only can you not step in the same river twice, you can't photograph the same one either. Chances are, the lessons you learn from it won't be the same either.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thoughts on Arthurian Legend

The title of this post may sound boring and I understand that. But I just finished The Eagle, the concluding volume of Jack Whyte's Camulod Chronicles.

It's been a while since the ending of a book, and indeed, a series, affected me this deeply. I've never ready anything that had such a sadly happy ending. It wasn't what I expected it to be at all. True, throughout the series Whyte has taken pains to show how the legend of King Arthur may have grown out of historical fact and was exaggerated and twisted into myth over the years. Even still, Whyte paints an ending for Arthur that's brutally tragic.

Yet, even after receiving a wound from which he would never fully recover, Arthur still has enough of the character that made him the King of Britain to see to the welfare of his closest friend, Lancelot and wife, Guinevere, by sending them away to safety in Gaul. There was no betrayal, merely the crumbling of a dream against forces too large to fought with any hope of victory. Whyte leaves Arthur's death in battle to imagination and rumor and the dream of a united Britain falls with Arthur.

Though the story was told from Lancelot's view, I tried to put myself in Arthur's shoes. I can't imagine watching everything in life I worked to build crumbling around me and not having the strength to put things back to rights. I can't imagine the frustration and anger that must accompany knowing that raising my sword against it will be a final act of defiance rather than the stroke of victory. I can't even contemplate what it must feel like to send my wife off to safety with my best and most trusted friend, knowing in my heart she'll never return because it I can't make it safe for her to.


I have an easier time imagining Lancelot's feelings, though I've never seen anything on this scale. To honor his friend's last wishes instead of fighting along side him, no matter how futile the struggle, would be a hard burden to bear for any man. To always be plagued by the lack of knowing how Arthur met his end and wondering if there was anyway he would have met a difference in that final struggle. I never felt more sympathy for Lancelot than when he weeps at hearing the news of Arthur's death through dozens of rumors. Barred from the battle by his king's own wishes and forever damned to live with having outlived the king he was supposed to die to protect.

The things Lancelot did for Arthur (in Whyte's legend) were done out of love for a brother and friend, love that was extended to Guinevere platonically until after Arthur's death. The Book of John, Chapter 15, Verse 13, tells us that there is no greater love than that of a man who will lay down his life for his friends. I've always taken that to mean the sacrifice of dying in place of someone, or dying to save someone. Whyte makes me look at it in an entirely new light.

Is it any different for a man to live his life for someone as opposed to die for someone? I think that's what Whyte's Lancelot did for Arthur, living for him instead of dying for him. Still, it's a heavy burden either way. Whyte captured it perfectly with the final line of the series, written by Lancelot himself, the last of Arthur's Knights Companion still alive.

"I miss them all."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rainy Days

Ah, finally a little time to blog again.

It's been a busy few weeks, obviously, since I haven't had the time post anything since September. The good news is that the contractors are well on their way to getting the new floor down and the house put back together after the great Water Heater Flood of '09. Hagy's Photography's schedule is rapidly filling up with weddings and a couple of simple portrait thats are keeping us hopping, so there hasn't been a great deal of time for leisurely pursuits.

Patrick and I did make some pretty sweet kabobs Saturday evening that are worthy of note and we'll probably make again someday, only next time we'll have a clue what we're doing.

We're getting the first glimpse of winter here in western Virginia. The trees all say its fall, but the cold temperatures and colder rain speak more of Old Man Winter. The high today didn't break 45 and there's been a steady, chilling rain falling since late this morning. The forecast is warning of the first wintry mix of the season, so it may be a long winter.

But before we bid farewell to fall there's still plenty of photo opportunities left out there. In fact, I plan on visiting Roaring Run at least two more times before winter really sets in, the first of these trips Friday. I went last week, which was when I made the image posted above, and focused specifically on the area above the restricted fishing line. I also climbed above the main falls and went up the creek a ways, a photograph I'm saving for the next post.

I discovered another cascade worthy of photographing and I'm told there's another one beyond that. Last Friday I was pushing the limits of light and had to leave so I could see my way out, so hopefully in the next two weeks I'll be hiking farther than I've been before along Roaring Run Creek.

Been working on Bob Seger's Against the Wind for the past two days. It isn't too hard to play, but switching in and out of a barred Bminor is giving me some trouble. I'm also playing it against the CD and learning to sing with it too. That may be harder than anything else, but oh well. It will all come with time.

Now that the fourth season of Bones is finally out on DVD we try to squeeze in at least an episode a night. I've been hard pressed to find another show that well written with character interplay that complex and well done. The acting is excellent and they're living up to the story lines they are being given. I'm pretty excited about seeing where it all goes.

I'm also finally getting around to reading The Eagle, the last of Jack Whyte's Camulod Chronicles. I love historical novels and this series details Arthur's Camelot the way it may really have been as a group of former Roman citizens try to survive the fall of the Roman Empire in Britain. Whyte does an excellent job in grounding Arthurian legend in historical fact and it's an excellent read. There are moments in these novels that will give you goosebumps.

Work continues on Blood and Steel and The Crownless King and now also The Sixth Sword. I'm aiming for a Christmas release of The Crownless King and hopefully a January release of The Sixth Sword. Soon after, work will begin on The Sea of Souls and I would think that by this time next year I'll have Blood and Steel out as well. All these writing projects going at once is pretty exciting, though two of them are in the painful revision stage that seems to drag on and on.

And speaking of those revisions, I'd better get to work.

Until next time...