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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ultracool, an ultralight, and here I am with my camera on my lap

     It's not exactly the Wild Blue Yonder (more of a Flat Grey Yonder), but I was lucky to catch this ultralight plane taking off this morning. 

     Not to get into a Talmudic discussion of the tension between random decision-making (aka dumb luck), fate, free will, "the Big Guy in the Sky" and item 724 in the coach's Book of 1,000 Motivational Mantras ("we make our own luck"), but this shot was a result of all of those, minus the Big Guy in the Sky. I figure he's got enough on his mind to care about what road I take to work and whether I have the right lens on my camera.

    I've passed this little hangar and grass strip many times -- for you locals, it's on Old 210 between Liberty and Mo' City -- but this was the first time I saw a plane beginning to taxi. I sped up (he was idling at one end of the runway), picked a spot, lowered the window and focused on space. Once the plane crossed it, I panned long enough for three shots.
    To glance over that Talmudic discussion mentioned previously, let's just say I hadn't been on Old 210 in a while and I like the opportunities there for photos and peaceful, largely uninhabited country. So I turned off and hooked into "New" 210 where the old road ends. Sadly, I never got to drive the full length of the old route (it hooked into Missouri City's main drag, which pretty much consists now of a post office, a church and old brick buildings that once were stores).

      It's another one of those "move the road, kill a town" stories you hear so much about. When I see that "road closed" sign where Old 210 ends, I feel a combination of nostalgia and melancholy for what once was -- and curiosity about what life was like then and what was in those old stores that are now boarded up.

     I'm sure there'll be more here later about my fascination with airplanes. I figure it was all those World War II movies I watched growing up. 


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Janet Aldrich's windmill and a donkey named Merlin

     Janet Aldrich has a windmill on her quarter horse farm in Elkhorn that I admire each time I drive by on the way to work. The windmill sits behind a corral facing the road and I wonder each time I pass what a good perspective would be for a photo. 

     Being windmill-, animal- and sunrise/sunset-obsessive, I imagine a photo with horses in the corral, the barn and windmill behind them and a brilliantly colored sky in the background. 

     Well it seems Janet is also a windmill aficionado and a photographer with a good eye. When I interviewed her and her husband Ben for the newspaper, we talked a bit about her windmill, as well as her beautiful quarter horses and Merlin, a donkey who each December is the star of a living nativity down the road. 

     Janet's photo is posted here, as is my shot of Merlin and one of Janet with some of her horses (and Merlin, of course). For now, I'll drive by and wonder about my own shot of the Aldrich windmill. 

     But I won't forget Merlin and how he nudges people for a little scratch behind the ears. And what ears they are! The consistency is something between a letter opener and thick plastic.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Never too early to get geared up for the Mushroom Festival

     I was kind in the dumps today when I ran across a couple of photos from the Mushroom Festival, Richmond, Missouri's tribute to, well, morel mushrooms, big beards, tacky sunglasses and a 3 1/2-hour procession of Shriner's parade vehicles. I exaggerate, of course, but the fella above just inspires that kind of excess.
     There's some argument over Richmond actually being THE Mushroom Capital of the World, but no one really takes that stuff seriously. I mean, it could just as well be the Bob Ford Capital of the World and the festival would feature cowardly impersonators sneakin' up behind Jesse James and pumpin' him dead while he dusts a picture of a racehorse. 

     After listening to the complete audio book "The Assassination of Jesse James by that Coward Robert Ford," I've come to the conclusion that Jesse a) wanted to die; b) wanted to see exactly how much of a coward Bob was. Either way, he got what he wanted, however briefly. That's Bob's picture with the gun he used to shoot Jesse day-ed (the gun was said to be a gift from JJ).

     For the complete audio-visual-verbal blogging experience, click on the link below to hear Robber's Cave, my mostly fictional song about how Robert Ford witnessed the James Gang's 1867 bank robbery in Richmond. To hear tell it, this is where the 6-year-old Ford began to idolize Jesse and learned all about Robber's Cave, a real place, from his momma.

     This, of course, was well before the Mushroom Capital of the World was named and the the Mushroom Festivals began, but not before the first morel sprouted in Ray County. That predates about everything, including Adam and Eve.
     Link to Robber's Cave, by David Knopf

Thursday, August 25, 2011

On Tree Farm Road and Highway 10, a fire truck, sunrise and weeds aplenty; the Humvee will have to wait for another day

     I've already got poison ivy from a mowing mishap, so I wasn't about to wander into a dark, weedy field in my shorts to get a photo of that Humvee-style army truck I've been plotting to shoot at sunrise. The day will come when I'm in jeans and boots and am willing to risk nothing more serious than stepping on a snake or twisting my ankle to get the shot.

     The fire truck here's in the same field and I was able to take it from the road; I don't know the story behind it, but I'll bet someone in Ray County does. It appears to be a fire tank truck (the lettering Truck 6 is visible in one photo) and it makes an interesting enough silhouette when framed by willowy weeds and the orange sky.

     I haven't yet mastered my camera, nor have I spent enough time with the instruction book to fully understand the settings. Still, I was reasonably satisfied with the exposure I picked, but then when I crouched down to get a low shot I created more shadows, which told the flash to pop up (even at 1600 ASA). I hate it when that happens. My camera must've been in the gifted program.

     Anyway, the flash produced the photo where the weeds are greener and the truck's fire-engine red. I didn't plan this, so I believe the result can be described as serendipity or fortuitousness. Dumb luck works fine, too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where's Gary Larson now that we need him, part 2.

Francine, If I've told you once I've told you a thousand times, the butt follows the head, the butt FOLLOWS the head.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Passin' Bill's Bargain Town in Wood Heights, Mo., I'm Free at Last, Lord, I'm Free at Last ...

The crack commuter knows not to daydream. Drift off once to that uptempo Commander Cody song you loved back in the late Sixties and the small-town gendarme can ruin your day with an $82 speeding ticket. As we like to say down at the News Bunker, that won't make Momma happy.

Plus, who wants to waste the mental energy you spend trying to defend your screw-up by blaming it on the small-town cop? 

So far, so good ticket-wise during the Magic Commute. I don't want to jinx myself, but I'm careful, use cruise control and am a card-carrying member of the get-good-gas-mileage club. So I've managed to pay attention and not get a ticket in a while.

There is Speeder's Significance to the photo above. Aside from the pretty sunrise and rolling hills, the location marks the end of the 45 mph speed limit through Wood Heights, a town wedged between Excelsior (Sellser) Springs and Elkhorn. I go through there often and know when to slow down and when I can resume 55 to 60 and go, "Free at last, Lord, I'm free at last!"

I've heard there was a time when the Wood Heights constable was like a hawk at a mouse convention. But times are tough, and if there's at least one upside to the recession (in addition to the prevalence of dollar menus at fast-food restaurants), it's that little towns can't afford a full-time policeman, if any at all.

That''s apparently the case in Mosby, which was once speed-trap hell. Even Pleasant Valley, the Speeding Ticket Capital of Clay County, seems to have trimmed its elite force of Gotcha Gendarmes.

In Wood Heights, there is at least a minimal police presence. I see the unmarked maroon Crown Vic lurking in the shadows every once in a while, but mostly it's parked at city hall. The whereabouts don't make a big difference to me. My philosophy is to make staying within the speed limit a habit. I don't like surprises and I like my music, so I have to keep tabs on the daydreaming.

When I hear "Six Days on the Road" the lyric that's most relevant for me is the part about "there's a speed zone ahead on the right." I let people who like those $82 tickets put the pedal to the metal. I don't care if there's no cop in sight.

Try this on for size, but keep your speed down:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sometimes the story writes itself; other times we rely on a hunch or just make it up

     When I stopped to take photos of the white barn by the road (previous blog post), I looked to the left and noticed this horse showing heightened interest in something in the pasture. 

     There's an adage of basketball refereeing that I apply to photography: Look off the ball. Just as there may be a foul occurring away from the player who has the ball, there could well be a good photo to the left or right -- one you hadn't planned to shoot but was ripe for the pickin' (a legal pick, of course, to continue the basketball analogy).

     When I spotted the small stable to the left of the big white barn, my first thought was that the fog might create an interesting photo. What happened, though, was that the brown horse in the photos above was fixated on another horse (or horses) out in the field. At that point, I assumed he was restrained and the others were grazing freely. 

     "Hey," the brown horse said, "no fair! I want to play, too" (insert disgruntled whinnying noise here). 

     If you look at the second photo in the sequence there's a brown and white horse in the distance that I'd wager horse No. 1 wished he could go a-wanderin' with.

     Of course, I couldn't interview the horse, so I can only conjecture that this was what was motivating his elevated alertness. And at 6:30 in the morning, I wasn't about to ask the owner for her take on the situation.

     In my travels, I've noticed how much time horses spend foraging, staring lazily into the distance or sleeping while standing (a skill I've yet to master but someday hope to). They're fairly sedentary most of the time (things pick up a bit around Kentucky Derby time).

     So does it matter if the brown horse was actually fenced in? A scientist would say yes; a letter-of-the-law Bible thumper would say yes; a news reporter would join them. Actually, the Bible thumper might say it was God's plan for the horse to FEEL fenced in, but that's a topic for another day.

     Your creative blogger, your imaginative, freewheeling commuter, however, he or she could be just as comfortable going with a made-up version of the story -- in this case one based on a strong hunch.

     So I'd have to say the "Hey, I wanna play, too" scenario is not just plausible, but a convincing version of the truth. As they teach referees, step back, take in a broad field of vision, call what you see and, right or wrong, sell your call. I saw this horse very interested in what the other horse was doing. If I were the horse and felt the same way, wouldn't I gallop off and join him if I could?

     Case closed, horse fenced in. That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it. Since there's no instant replay in photo-blogging, all decisions of the referee are final.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Not to beat a dead horse ... or any horse for that matter ... but for the sake of your well-being, take time to stop

     My frustration with not having time to turn off the road and explore things I'm curious about has started to pay dividends. At the rate I'm going, I'll soon have a Web site (, be selling bumper stickers (Stop the Car, Fool! Life Is Short!) and organizing a support group for commuters on tight schedules. 

     Flights of fancy aside, the white barn and the "Eggs $2.00 Doz." sign above and left are real-life landmarks in Elkhorn, Mo., a community with a K-8 school, farms and a business that's no longer open (Elkhorn Rustics) that I can only guess was once an antique-collectibles store.
     What it really was doesn't really matter. What makes a difference for me is how I've internalized these places and my related commuting frustration in a song ("Turn Off My Phone"). I've been working on recording it as money will allow and, if I were a well-to-do techno wiz, I'd be able to post it here along with the photos and lyrics (below) for a true multi-media, cross-marketeering, triple-threat, lollapalooza of an experience. For now, we'll just have to settle for two out of three. Who knows, maybe the lyrics and photos will spark your imagination or be relevant to something you've experienced.

Turn Off My Phone   2011

I found myself wondering
What I’d do if I were free
Something simple
Maybe buy some eggs*
At the white barn by the road

Turn off, take off my shoes
Watch the horses grazing there
Drive forever
Or ‘till the road ends
Whichever comes last

I could drive down Tree Farm Road
Just to see where it goes
Stop at the Elkhorn store
Find out what it once was
Marvel at the hills
Lit by the sunrise
Get down on my knees
Smell the earth
Lie on my back
Turn off my phone

I run with my head down
From here to there
Then back again
Always wonderin’
Too busy to stop
Put off some things I want

Little Egypt Road
Someday I’ll know what is there
Once a town
Now a ghost
Across the tracks in nothing flat

I could drive down Tree Farm Road
Just to see where it goes
Stop at the Elkhorn store
Find out what it once was
Marvel at the hills
Soft lit by the sunrise
Get down on my knees
Smell the earth
Lie on my back
Turn off my phone
Get down on my knees
Smell the earth
Lie on my back
Turn off my phone
When I’m free
I won’t need one any more

* I did finally find occasion to stop and buy a dozen eggs. They were on the small side, so the person who raises the hens gave me 18 for the price of 12. Cooked up, they're delicious and far yellower than mass-produced grocery eggs. Someday, more about the white barn by the road.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Once-in-a-lifetime shot ... he gets it off before the buzzer ... it's ... a ... real ... brick

     When I saw the traffic light was red and the sun an unimpeded orange ball, my antennae went up. I figured I'd have time for a couple decent shots. As cliched as it may be, I'm a sucker for silhouetted tree shots and one was approaching on the right.

     I'm as far from a techno wiz as William Bendix was on "The Life of Riley," so all I did was guess on how to set the camera. Since I'd be shooting directly into the sun, I figured I'd adjust it for bright sun (one of the general settings), shoot at maybe 400 ASA and let the blurry photo chips fall where they would.

     And fall they did

     In self-defense, I only had time for one shot (the light changed when I pulled up) and it was on a busy road where lolly-gagging as I would to photograph a Show-Me State donkey on a little two-lane road wasn't possible. Speaking of mules, I was also driving myself to get to work by 7, deadline-day start time at the News Bunker.

     Part of the problem with the photo is the random focus. Had I focused on the tree, it would've been a better shot. Had I focused on the sky near the sun, it might've been passable. Had I focused on the sun (and known what I was doing to compensate for the intense light), it would've been even bester!
     But with a single shot and little time to make those kind of decisions, I shot into the void and got a blurry picture. One thing I can say: there was nothing staged about it. It's natural blurry void photography at its sub-finest!

    But wait, there was a bonus! Call it A Silver Lining Moment. When I began to click the shutter, the pea-shooter flash on my Olympus popped up and fired when the shot was taken. The flash clearly reflected off the pick-up truck in front of me, part of it making its presence known in the driver's rear-view mirror. I saw the driver turn his head toward the mirror and accelerate slowly, thinking that he'd tripped an evil traffic cam. 

     Even if he hadn't done anything wrong (which he didn't), when something like that happens the tendency is to think the worst of yourself. It's a byproduct of primordial guilt. Who knows, maybe the driver was Jewish, maybe Catholic. I'm guessing that he'll be looking in his mailbox for a traffic summons in the next 10 days to two weeks.

    I know I would.

    On balance, my ill-conceived photo wasn't what I wanted, but I was still compensated. For one moment, I had the force of traffic-camera intimidation in my hands.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Having survived Rayville, dysfunctional democracy, evil cultists and tolerance only for ignorance, it was on the Main Street Salon, a cut-a-thon for Alzheimers and a moment with Alexander Doniphan

Alexander Doniphan Elementary School In Liberty, Mo., home of the Dolphins.

      A lot of shit's gone down since my wife, daughter and I moved to Liberty, Mo., from Oklahoma in 1990. And I'm not just talking sanitary sewers.
     I started work at the Liberty Tribune ("the oldest continuously publishing newspaper west of the Mississippi that pays minimal wages"), Marieta worked at a shoe store and eventually got a librarian's job she still has (and loves), we lived in a duplex that shook when a train went by and we moved into our own house.
     It turned out the house was in the attendance area for Doniphan Elementary, which we later learned was adjectivized by the word "Alexander".
     As an old Jew might say, "I don't know from Alexander Doniphan." Oh yeah, I am an old Jew. I didn't know from AD. All I knew was that my daughter, Sarah, was a true blue Doniphan Dolphin. I recently bought her a thrift-shop t-shirt to that effect.
     A little later, one of those local historians we all find so easy to ignore started going on and on about the actual Alexander Doniphan. They were naming a highway after him, Missouri 152 to be precise. There was all the usual hullabaloo about A. Doniphan, which I still managed to ignore. 
     That's not to say I wasn't proud of my daughter or didn't love her school. It was small, personal and so comfortable. I still see her principal from time to time and we say hello to each other. We run into a couple of her teachers and they remember her, her name and her curly hair. Teachers are like that, and it's a very good thing.
     But no one could get through to me on the fellow for whom the school was named. That was until the newspaper industry started going south (I believe we're in central Argentina now and moving rapidly) and I wound up at the newspaper in Richmond, Mo. It turns out that Doniphan lived there for a time, practiced law there and even died there (he's buried in Liberty, Home of the Dolphins).
     People in Richmond love their war heroes, any war hero. They also love soldiers in general, dead or alive, famous or forgotten, those who made the ultimate sacrifice, as well as those who stuck out their enlistment long enough to get out alive and enjoy the benefits.
    Doniphan was a war hero (that's him to the left; read the plaque that accompanies this post), so he's beloved in Richmond. Apparently, he was a pretty good lawyer, too, which paid the bills. It also allowed him to rub elbows with influential politicians, including Missouri's governor.
    I won't bore you with the details, but Doniphan was the state's go-to man when Mormons settled in Missouri and met with prejudice in Jackson, Clay, Caldwell, Ray, Daviess and Carroll counties. He was instrumental first in establishing what for a time was a haven for the Mormons (their own county, Caldwell, carved from the then-sprawling Ray County).
     The Mormons thrived there for a while, but things went downhill quickly. In 1838, the Mormon War erupted, setting the stage for Doniphan to be a hero again. This time, it wasn't for his exploits in battle, but his strength of character. It was AD who refused an order to execute Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders:

(General) Lucas tried Joseph Smith Jr. and other Mormon leaders by court martial on November 1, the evening of the surrender. After the court martial, he ordered General Alexander William Doniphan:

You will take Joseph Smith and the other prisoners into the public square of Far West and shoot them at 9 o'clock tomorrow morning.[95]

Doniphan refused to obey the order, replying:

It is cold-blooded murder. I will not obey your order. My brigade shall march for Liberty to-morrow morning, at 8 o'clock, and if you execute those men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God![96] (Passage quoted from Learn more there about the Mormon War and Alexander Doniphan's role.)
     Today, when I was walking back to the office from an assignment (a photo at a hair salon holding a fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Memory Walk), I passed the Alexander Doniphan monument in front of Ray County Courthouse. You'll notice that the plaque honors his war record, not his depth of character. There's no mention there of his refusal to execute a group of people who were simply different in their beliefs and practices. 
     That says a lot about our culture's values; war gallantry matters, depth of character is secondary. But thanks to my time in Richmond I know why my daughter's school was named Alexander Doniphan Elementary, why a highway carries his name and why that local historian I ignored was trying to get my attention years ago. Dolphins rule!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Big assignment tomorrow in the land of the Hatfields, McCoys and, some allege, religious cultists

     As a journalist, it would be inappropriate for me to comment in detail about how I view my assignment in the morning. 

     I'm headed to the Village Of Rayville, a burg that's been beset by political feuding, accusations of a religious cult (that's an alleged cultist's church, left), small-town he said/she said gossip, a petition drive to disincorporate, a state audit, the probable closing of the post office (that's it below, right) and, most recently, a proposed village ordinance to impose a per-head fee on animals that people keep inside the city limits. We're talking cows, goats, chickens, etc.that aren't fenced or properly restrained. One of the figures I've heard tossed around is $250 a head, which is a chunk of change in New York City, not to mention Rayville, pop. 204.

     The problem I foresee is that the people I usually rely on to get reliable information -- the city clerk,  village trustees, a public safety official etc. -- are either as involved in the mudslinging as the alleged religious cultists or their position doesn't exist at all (Rayville can't afford a police officer, last I heard). I don't think there's a public record/meeting minutes that can be relied on, so I'll have to go with the flow tomorrow morning and just report what I hear.

     I am relieved that one of the county commissioners has been asked to attend, too. He's down to earth and not part of the feud. The last trustees meeting Rayville held actually was called off before it began because of name-calling, shouting and, I believe, some physical contact of a reprehensible and uncivilized nature. 

     That being the case, I plan to sit close to the door and possibly behind the county commissioner, who is built like a solid pulling guard. I'm not a coward, but I do have a lick or two of common sense and the desire for self-preservation. If there's any gunfire, I'm out the door, never to return.

     I'm just hoping someone shows the wisdom of the owl (below) and not the he-and-she gunfighters. The owl, the cowpoke and his ridin' partner were photographed in Rayville early last year.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Everyone's got a blog, an old tractor or truck out back – or all of the above

     My wife tells me that everyone has a blog, and since there are only so many hours in the day, I shouldn't expect all of civilization, or at least what's left of it, to read mine.

    That, my friends, is one tough pill to swallow. But I haven't yet resorted to photos of scantily clad women, babies or fluffy little dogs to entice people to follow The Magic Commute. But I do figure a photo of a tractor, truck or old car every now and then will in no way compromise my dignity or make it appear that I'm groveling for readership, which of course I am.
     I heard someone mention this week that they knew a farmer who has every tractor he's ever owned out in the pasture. You can imagine all the memories attached to each one – the crops harvested, hours spent in the sun (once-upon-a-time tractors had awnings, if any cover at all, and no air-conditioning), the chemicals and toxic fumes inhaled. Actually, they couldn't smell any worse than when farmers walked behind mules and horses, now can they?
     Some vehicles get parked – the pole truck pictured below may be an example – with the owner's best intentions of rebuilding the engine, overhauling the transmission or slapping a new set of tires on it. Maybe Junior, the future farmer who becomes an accountant, will drive it someday.

     The key word is "someday". Sometimes it happens; most of the time it doesn't. The trucks become scenery, which I certainly appreciate even if the local codes officer considers them an unbearable nuisance.
     I have to think a vehicle parked out back is a whole lot better than a discarded stove, dishwasher or velour couch on the front porch. You have to have standards, you know?

     It wasn't too long ago that I interviewed a young demolition derby driver whose grandfather helped him get his '77 Chevy Impala started and ready to play big-boy bumper cars. The car had been his mother's and then his aunt's, and then it sat for a while, only to find new purpose later in life. Talk about late bloomers.

     These things happen all the time, but they never have a chance if a property's all spiffyed up and the old vehicle's hauled off as scrap iron. Plus, it disturbs the natural order of nature. Where would snakes sleep were there are no old Farmalls, International Harvesters or Deeres parked in the pasture?


Budget cuts are one thing, but a man's gotta eat

"Budget cuts, smudget cuts. When's that lousy Department of Conservation going to put some damn fish in this lake? 
A man's gotta eat."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Parallel images, milk and white chocolate, and Maud's had it with Manny

"Manny, how many times do I have to tell you to cut out that Ebony and Ivory crap? You're such a joker. Stand up straight and take your head off that fence post. This could wind up on someone's Facebook page."

Where's Gary Larson now that we need him? Found this on the far side of West 112th Street near St. Cloud Road in Ray County

Not being especially quick-witted, all Arnie "Boo" Angus could do was stick out his tongue at the gawking stranger who stopped to stare at him and his daffy sidekick.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

There are times when techno tricks can improve a blah photo and times when the blah's good enough

     It's easy to mistake being prolific for being good. I take a lot of pictures, some every day, probably 95 percent of which are candidates for the trash. Sometimes the light's not the best, your settings could be better, you rush (who me?), your composition is stereotyped or routine etc. It happens, I'm guessing, to everyone.

     I worked up this photo today, not because it's an especially good photo, but because I'm fixated on windmills. They're kind of the cell towers of yesteryear – tall landmarks on the horizon that provided a service to civilization (some might vociferously debate that about cell phones). I didn't know a year ago what windmills did; now I do and I'm still fascinated by their simple prairie beauty, their functionality and nostalgic value.

     This photo (the first one, above) had a green cast that I could reduce with the magic potion of Photoshop but couldn't quite turn into something I liked. The composition was OK, there was a windmill, silos and corn, so I persevered for the sake of the content. 

     Converting a so-so color shot into black and white can cure a host of ills. First I did that (see photo No. 2) and thought I was on the right track, just not really pleased. The next step was to take the photo out of Photoshop and dump it back into iPhoto, a simpler manipulation tool for techno nimrods of my bumbling caliber. 

     I clicked on "effects" – kind of the wah-wah pedal/fuzz tone of photo processing – and tried sepia first, but still wasn't satisfied. I then clicked on "antique",upped the contrast and brightness a bit and was reasonably pleased (see No. 3 above). This isn't quite rocket science (or photo science), but more like a kid pushing buttons on something he doesn't quite understand.

    Think of the green version as Robert Johnson with an acoustic guitar, No. 2 Eric Clapton and No. 3 Jimi Hendrix, with a wah-wah and distortion booster, respectively. Looking back, I'd have to say I'd stick with the Robert Johnson, blemishes and all.

Monday, August 8, 2011

And then there was one ... pigeon

     There's a beautiful Victorian house (left) at the corner of Camden and Lexington streets in Richmond that I've stopped to photograph before when the light was strong and shadows were contrasty. 

     Today, as I pulled up to the stop sign and crept a bit into the intersection to see if traffic was coming, I noticed the ornate brick chimney on the side of the same house. It hadn't previously caught my attention.

     I grabbed the camera, made some quick settings and checking the rear-view mirror to make sure I wasn't holding up traffic (fortunately, there's not much of that in the Mushroom Capital of the World, except during morel-hunting season, Spartan football games and funerals.)

     I decided it wasn't the best idea to shoot a photo under duress and pulled through the intersection, parked and got out of the car. That's when I spotted a pigeon happily roosted on the roof peak. I was able to take a few shots without Mr. Walter Pigeon flying off. 
     I would be lacking in my duty as a conscientious reporter if I didn't mention that Richmond (at least the courthouse square area near where the Richmond News is) is also the Pigeon Capital, if not of the world, then of Missouri. 

     Pigeons like it here so much that city fathers once organized a pigeon shoot and invited the locals to bring shotguns and hunting rifles to the courtroom roof and have at the plump birds. This is a true story, at least according to the official history of Ray County.

     In a purely digital sense, today I did what Ray Countians do: I shot a pigeon. But thanks to the Digital Age, there were no casualties and no feathers flew.

Friday, August 5, 2011

If you can't stop, catalog; if you've taken it before, take it again in a different light

     If this looks familiar, well, you've been paying attention! It's a garage and silos at the intersection of Missouri 210 and Highway N, just west of the Ray County line. 

     There's an earlier photo here of the garage alone with the sky going, "Look at me, look at me, look at me!" kind of like a 3-year-old on a swing with parents watching. Today's picture a bit more subtle, but that morning cloud line's as straight as a shaved neck in a 1950s barber shop. The gun-metal gray was especially appropriate because my companion this morning was the audio book "The Assassination Of Jesse James By That Coward Robert Ford."

     What I've learned is since it's not always possible to stop, the obsessive photographer needs to catalog locations for future shots. There's no guarantee you'll see the same thing again, but something close is certainly possible, as are almost infinite variations. 

     With this garage, it's not so much the particular day and lighting that caught me, but the composition of the silos, garage, cornfield -- even the electric line and poles (typically the curse of a good photo). Maybe it's the sagging line that I like (smaller photo), or the birds merrily roosted on the straighter one. Either way, for me the setting's a keeper. 

     This morning I was on the way to do an interview and take photos at Dear Elementary in Richmond. I pulled over, opened the window and took a few shots from inside the car. (Hence the expression "hit-and-run photo".) 

     So adios muchachos, that's it for now from Dave's Photography 101 -- a course with no tests, grades or credits. You can even keep your cell phone on during class.

     Check the Richmond News for other photos. You can e-mail me ( if you'd like high-resolution versions of any of my before- and after-work photos.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What, you think it's easy being me?

There was a little respite from the heat today, but the skeeterfest on this poor cow's snout was good reason not to be in a celebrating mood. There's even one of the little buggers on the tip of his tongue. 

And we thought we had it hard! If this cow could talk, I have an inkling he would've had plenty to complain about. And I would've listened.

I took a couple of shots of him while driving to a lunch break/siesta at Ray County Lake, east of Richmond, Mo. I have to say I felt bad for him. He and other members of the herd know enough to keep as cool as they can by grazing in the shade along the road. But when they've had all they can take -- how would you like to be a cow when it's 107 degrees -- they walk right into the creek that runs through their field.

Good Morning, Good Morning

Nothing to say but that's OK ... good morning, good morning.

Punctuality won this morning. Took this shot from the car. Label it "Sunrise Over Excelsior Springs". Kind of exotic if you ask me. Not quite "Moon Over Miami," but, after all, this is Missouri and I have a job.

FYI: Thanks to permission from the Richmond News, I have a twice-monthly column being published by The Kansas City Star, my former employer. The first one ran Tuesday. You can find it at: Back to my mole-whacking ways.

The photo that ran with the column is several years old. I don't believe I've worn a tie since it was taken, no longer have a goatee (I was advised they are seriously a style faux pas) and have even less hair now. I do sport a couple of Wild West sideburns, however, named Romeo and Juliet.

You've got to love the name of this font ... Trebuchet. Repeat after me boys and girls, trey-boo-shay. 'ave a good one, mes ami.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Nature's a Moving Target; Shoot Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

     I used to umpire baseball, an avocation that strongly encourages decisiveness. Good umpires are taught to pause a second to process what they've seen before emphatically signaling their decisions.
     Those who waver are lost. They become targets of abuse from baseball players, coaches and fans, all of whom aren't known for their empathy and level-headed civility.
     I thought umpiring required split-second action, but it's kids' play compared to photographing nature. The basic law is this: What you see now won't be what you see later. Clouds, the sun, birds, shadows etc. are constantly moving, so the photo you see at 7 a.m. probably won't be there at 7:01. A version of it maybe, just not the industrial-strength highlight you saw 60 seconds earlier.
     I took the river-bottom route to work today and saw a cloud that had nestled between a valley and a warehouse. The sun was just at the right angle and a line of heavy-duty utility poles ran through the low-lying cloud. Potentially, a very cool photo, but I hesitated, drove by and lost it.
     I'm not really sure how the terms "obsessive" and "compulsive" differ in meaning, but I have one or both and don't easily give up on things, even lost causes. So I pulled my camera out of the bag and made the basic settings, certain that I'd see another well-lit, low-lying cloud.
     It didn't happen. What I did find was the top photo, a grain-storage building framed by a cloud, soybeans and a hill (most likely a bluff from a previous Missouri River channel). It's not a bad photo, just not as good as the one I didn't pump out (that's an umpiring reference to a called third strike, a big moment for "blue").
     The shot of the river-bottom farm (above, left) that's framed by some lacy roadside foliage was born of the same photographic regret. A nice enough shot; just not the big prize!
     The silver lining to the "shoot now, forever hold your peace" manifesto is this: just because you missed a photo once, doesn't mean something as good or better won't pop up again. The idea is to be ready when it does. It's not a bad idea, either, to put it all in perspective. Missing a photo isn't the end of the world.
     In one respect, there isn't much of a parallel between missing a photographic moment and umpiring. In baseball, when you kick a call it's kicked forever – and no one forgives you. You stand out there and take the abuse in front of everyone. In photography, it's more of a private thing. No one yells at you but yourself. Hey shutterbug, get your head in the game!