National Dog Day – 2016

Today is National Dog Day, a time to honor dogs, present and past, and all they bring to our lives.  This dog is Cheri, a Miniature (half-way between a toy and a standard) Poodle, who lived from 1963-1973.My beautiful picture  She just may be the best dog ever to share my life, but probably did not get the acclaim she really deserved because in that era, she shared the household with Mike and Pat, two truly beautiful matching black and white English Springer Spaniels.  Because “the boys” were flashy pheasant hunting machines and certified characters of the first degree, their adventures and misadventures (twice they “eloped” for two weeks but made it back home hungry but otherwise undaunted) simply got more play than Cheri’s marvelous temperament and sterling behavior.
Cheri was calm, loyal, affectionate, absolutely obedient and blindingly intelligent.  She had the house to herself, dog-wise, for the first half of her life, and then had to make room for newborn daughter, Kristi.  That can be a recipe for trouble, but Cheri never, ever growled or snapped at Kris, even when the little girl started toddling, more than once bumping into Cheri, or at least requiring hasty evasive action.

Cheri was truly a remarkable dog and only one of the many who have added so much to my world and whom I have loved and was loved by in return.  Over a lifetime, I’ve raised dogs, trained dogs, shown dogs, hunted with dogs and field trialed dogs.  Decades ago, I remember a (I believe) National Geographic television special on the history of dogs that included a line talking about the bond that develops between a puppy and a boy or girl “when each discovers that the other is somehow like themselves.”  You probably have to grow up with a dog – which I did with my Cocker Spaniel, Taffy – to fully understand how you indeed come to inhabit the same world as a child with a devoted dog as a constant, loving companion.

I once read an author who discussed dogs’ “tragically short lives,” and that’s one of the reasons why these days no dog shares our household (other than occasionally my stepson Nick’s bouncy little “cocktail” dogs, Leia and Sara).  Personally, I have reached the point where I don’t want to tell another dog a final goodbye.  I recall a few years ago, in a magazine devoted to hunting dogs, a piece about the owner who realizing it was time for his devoted dog to trade this world for the next, took the euthanized animal to one of their favorite hunting fields and buried him beside a little stream.  In recounting his walk back to the road and his car, he stated, “For just an instant, you think you hear the whistle of the Master, calling His dog home.”

And in the last analysis, that’s how it is with dogs.  In reality, they are all His dogs, sent to this world to grace our lives for the time we get to love and care for them, before they go home.  Once, in a philosophical discussion with a pastor friend of mine, the cleric asked me if I thought dogs go to heaven.  My answer:  How could it be heaven without dogs?

Just What Are You Trying to Say, Anyway?

Back in the spring of 2008, when I was just beginning to get back into “serious” photography, I signed up for and attended a Popular Photography workshop in Durango, Colorado.  I’ve loved Colorado since I was a little boy and we would visit my Denver-based uncle and aunt at their rustic cabin at Eldora in the Front Range.  So when the chance came along to combine my growing renewed interest in clicking the shutter with the opportunity for some quality instruction in one of Colorado’s premier locations, I jumped at it.

The instructors for the workshop were Beth Wald and Tom Bol, both of them very successful photographers with perennial National Geographic contributor Wald perhaps outranking Bol, at least a bit.  But they both did a great job, and the workshop was a fun and valuable experience, the value of which, to me, was probably enhanced because it came at just the right time in my development as a digital – as opposed to film – photographer.

There was one incident, however, during the time we were all together that I found kind of frustrating, involving a photo I essentially “grab-shot” at the gift shop and restaurant at Mesa Verde National Landmark.  At noon, the line for the cafeteria Mesa Verde Weaversnaked directly past an elderly Native American woman who was weaving what appeared to be a rug on a wooden loom.  I had stowed my equipment, except for my camera, but asked politely if I could photograph her and she agreed. All the while this was going on, the line was moving, so I had to work fast or lose my place and go to the back.  I raised my D300 with the on-camera flash popped up and took one shot, which when I looked at it later, I really liked.  It showed the wonderful cragginess of the woman’s skin, her colorful native dress and displayed to an extent the process in which she was engaged.

At the end of the day, we were to show to one of the instructors what we considered to be our best work that day. This day I was assigned to Tom Bol and showed him the weaver photo along with a couple of other so-so pictures.  I noted for him that the weaver photo was purely a grab shot…an opportunity that fleetingly presented itself that I – well – grabbed.  After briefly criticizing the harsh light from the on-camera flash, he asked me, “What are you trying to say with this photo?”

I was quite taken aback and stammered something akin to “I guess I don’t know.”  There followed a lecture from Tom on the importance of A) knowing what you wanted to say, and B) saying it.  Reviewing it in my mind today, however, I’m sorry I didn’t say something closer to, “Not a darned thing,” which was the absolute truth.  As much as one gets that “saying” question – especially at workshops – I don’t know that I’ve ever made a photo that I wanted to “say” something other than, “Hey, take a look at this.  It’s (take your pick) beautiful, startling, heart-touching, curious, or interesting.” With interesting probably being the best of all. To me, a photo that is not at least a bit interesting is not worth shooting.  And the weaver at Mesa Verde was indeed interesting.

The reason I have not blogged on this previously is absolutely not because I can’t accept criticism.  I usually deserve it, and I can and do accept it.  But I’ve thought that perhaps I was the only photographer who thought like this when it comes to saying something with my photography.  Recently, however, in reading a biography of Dorothea Lange, I came across a quote from Jack Delano, himself a legendary photographer, musician, composer and author, who said, “I have always been motivated not by something inside me that needed to be expressed but rather by the wonder of something I see that I want to share with the rest of the world.

So there you go.  No more complicated than that, and the next time someone ventures to ask what I am trying to say with a photo, my answer will indeed be along the lines of, “Nothing really.”

The Space Shuttle Atlantis (Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-104) was launched for the first time on my birthday – October 3rd – 1985, but that’s not why it’s special.  It went into space a Atlantis-displayblogtotal of 33 times, but that’s not why it’s special, either.  It was the last manned space vehicle mission, probably in my lifetime, launched from Cape Canaveral on July 8, 2011, and I was there to see it along with my daughter and her family.  And that is why it is so very special.  I wear its mission patch on my leather bomber jacket, and it’s framed and matted photograph entitled “ONE LAST TIME: The Final Launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, July 11, 2011,” hangs in the entry way of our home.  I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not a great picture, but It was the last expression of the 30-year space shuttle program, which until it was struck by tragedy, we had come to view almost as routine as an airline flight.

As many are aware, my daughter Kristi, son-in-law Leo, and granddaughter Delaney live on Florida’s east coast about 50 miles due north of Canaveral.  And I’d seen launches before from that distance, the first one being a night launch back in the late-nineties.  From that far away, what you see is some flame at the time the rockets are ignited and liftoff, then a long, long contrail which follows the shuttle out of Earth’s atmosphere.  For that night launch, we simply went over to the beach, which is straight and un-obstructed all the way to Canaveral, and watched the fireworks.  One thing that you don’t hear on television, and I’ve never heard reported or commented on before, is the huge sonic boom as the ship leaves the earth’s atmosphere, generally out of sight by that time.

The second launch that I saw was also pretty exciting, coming on the Fourth of July, 2006, when Discovery was launched.STS-135_Patch_svg  That one came in the middle of the afternoon, and the kids by then had moved 15 miles up the coast from Ormond Beach to Palm Coast.  It was Leo’s idea – and a good one at that – for us to drive over to Flagler Beach, and time it so we would be at the top of the high bridge over the Intra-Coastal Waterway at the time of launch.  If you’ve never seen it, I should tell you that during a shuttle launch, and especially on a holiday, central east coast Florida essentially stops in place to watch the event.  That phenomenon seemed to completely un-nerve a young Flagler Beach policeman, who in driving across the bridge himself, thought that he could somehow throw a little weight around and get traffic moving again with the launch only a minute or two away.

He couldn’t, but he did stop to hassle me a bit as I stood leaning against Leo’s truck.  “That truck has to move,” he said.

“Okay,” I said.

“I said that truck has to move,” he said.  “Move that truck.”

“Not my truck,” I said.

“Don’t get smart with me,” he said, rather forcefully, actually.

At this point, I reviewed my situation and noted that I was on vacation and would be for another two weeks, so what would an afternoon visit to the Flagler Beach police station amount to?  So I stuck my head in the passenger window and said, “Let’s review who’s getting smart.  You said the truck had to be moved, and I acknowledged that and told you it’s not my truck, so who’s getting smart with whom?”

By that point, Kris, who was observing all of this, was quite convinced that I would be going straight to jail, but the kid simply grunted and moved onto the next car, which would have been about number 28 in a one hundred vehicle line on the bridge.  But before he could get snarky with anyone else, there it was: the flame and contrail heading northeast out over the Atlantic against a crystal clear blue sky on the Nation’s birthday.  And I’ll never forget that.

As memorable as it was, however, that experience couldn’t begin to match the final launch of Atlantis and almost certainly the final manned U. S. space shot in my lifetime.

We got up reasonably early that morning to head down to the Canaveral Shore National Seacoast, determined to get as close to the launch site as possible.  That turned out to be somewhere between two and three miles on a fairly crowded beach.  Not close enough to seen Atlantis on the ground, but plenty close to see ignition, liftoff, and to track the shuttle vehicle as it headed out to sea on an almost due westerly heading.  The only question that morning was whether the launch would take place at all.  It had originally been scheduled to go the day before, but something – weather or a technical glitch – called for the launch to be scrubbed.  The problem the next day was the weather itself, which was windy, cloudy and overcast…just inside the ceiling and visibility minimums that NASA demands.  And if it couldn’t go this day, it would then be some weeks before the involved astronomical window would open again.

I set up a tripod holding a Nikon body and a 600mm lens with a 1.4 tele-converter.  Leo had his compact shortwave, AM/FM radio tuned to Mission Control and was reporting to us – and a group of listening others – on the countdown.  It soon became apparent that this launch crew were more than a little determined to fly that day.  There was a hold at nine minutes for the weather parameters to be specifically assured.  Finally, they were verified as not that great, but “an acceptable risk.”  The countdown was resumed at nine minutes and ran smoothly until halted at thirty-one seconds, announced as due to a “failure.”  The failure was that the computer would not confirm that the service arm, which swings away from the ship just prior to launch, had been fully retracted, though anyone watching could see that it had.  That was confirmed by “camera 64” and the launch commander announced “Press on.”  Yeah, these guys were going to get it done and get it done today.

And they did.  It was estimated that over two million people watched Atlantis depart the earth’s atmosphere that day.  Arial photos showed I-95 as a parking lot with cars stopped in all six lanes, as well as parked catch-as-catch-can on the shoulders and filling the medians.  Because of low-lying cloud scud, the shuttle disappeared from view almost immediately after being launched, but then topped out of the overcast, heading straight out to sea.  It remained visible for a long, long time and finally after having disappeared, let us know she had left the surly bonds of earth with the expected sonic boom.  It was truly an experience of a lifetime shared with three of the four humans I love the most.

Because traffic was a crawl all up and down that section of the coast that day, we stopped for pancakes, to let it clear out a bit and talk over the experience.  Something that you just knew without asking, would never be forgotten in any detail.

I’m never confused that Americans live in the greatest nation on earth, although I’ve never been much of a flag waiver…something I got from my Dad who believed that an excess of nationalism can lead to war, and has.  That said, the final launch of Atlantis that day touched me very deeply, and just reading about it can cause me to have to rub something that somehow gets in my eye.

And Atlantis was special.  As noted earlier, she made thirty-three trips into space with never a hitch.  She held the record for the shortest time between missions, once having been turned around and sent back into space in a period of forty-five days.  She was supposed to have been relegated to a “parts hulk” several years before her actual retirement, but with the loss of two of the other craft in the program, her life was extended until we completely stopped going into space.  In a way they saved the best for last.  And at the end of Atlantis’ useful life and the shuttle program itself, she came home.  Though earlier slated to wind up as a static display at a park or airport somewhere, in actuality, Atlantis has been put on permanent display at the NASA museum at Cape Canaveral.

One day – maybe on my trip to see the Kids this spring, I need to make a run down there to see her up close and personal.  I’ll have to remember to take along some Kleenex.

Cranes in Flight

If in Nebraska you are a runner, sooner or later you have to run the Lincoln marathon.  If you are a cyclist, you eventually have to prove that by undertaking and completing BRAN, the Bicycle Ride across Nebraska, which I’m proud to say I did a number of years and several pounds ago.

And if you consider yourself a wildlife photographer – and especially if you want others to do so – sooner or later you have to turn your skills to photographing Sandhill Cranes during their annual visit to the Cornhusker State.

Over a half-million Sandhill Cranes drop in here every March, as they have been doing for millennia.  They’ve wintered south of here and come spring, they leave on their journey as far north as the Arctic Circle to mate, nest, and raise their young.  On their way back south, in the autumn, Nebraska will only be flyover country, as they have no real reason to spend time here on that journey.

The reason they hang around, in the Central Platte Valley, for a month or so in the spring is because Nebraska is and has been for thousands of years a staging area for them.  They stop in here to put on 30% of their body weight and gain strength for the long flight north.  One political wag once suggested in a public hearing, at the Nebraska Legislature, that the cranes are like state senators: they come to town early in the year; put on 30% of their body weight; and, then leave in late spring.

Regardless, the cranes put on a great show for us while they are in residence here.  At night, they are at roost on sandbars and in the shallows of the Platte River, as a protection against predators.  In a river as broad as the Platte, coyotes, foxes and others who might wish to help themselves to a crane meal can’t get close enough to them un-observed to get the job done.  That’s one of the reasons why it’s important to regulate the flows in the Platte to maintain a broad, braided channel, as so many others – people like Tom Mangelsen and Michael Forsberg – have pointed out repeatedly.

Roosting cranes are interesting, but what will really get your attention is when they leave the river in the morning and when they return in the evening.  At those times, the birds can virtually darken the sky, and the noise of their call is almost as loud as a rock concert…something that has to be seen to be believed.

It’s also difficult-off-toward-impossible to photograph.  In the morning, the cranes begin to lift off fifteen to twenty minutes before sunrise, and once there is enough light for a reasonable exposure, they’ve cleared out, headed toward corn and bean fields to spend their day cleaning up what the combines missed or spilled last fall.  And, they’ll return to the river and their roost in the evening, but again, the really massive fly-in, takes place in the minutes after sunset, when picture taking light has pretty much faded.

Photographing cranes in the mid-day fields is also a difficult challenge.  They are not an especially colorful bird, and spring being spring in Nebraska, frequently overcast skies don’t light them up sufficiently for a photo to capture what beauty they do possess.  Also, Nebraska is one of the few states not to have a hunting season on Sandhill Cranes (we did once, but somebody finally realized it was costing our state a load of visitor dollars, plus cranes are, I am told, perfectly dreadful to eat) which makes them extremely wary.  They light in the fields well back from the roads, and if you are going to picture them, you have to have some really big glass, which comes with its own challenges, only one of them being cost.

I’ve been after a great crane photo for about a decade now and have yet to shoot one that really knocks me out, though the one we are putting up on the web site today certainly pleases me, for a combination of reasons.  It was taken standing in the middle of a gravel road, of cranes headed to join colleagues feeding out in a nearby corn field.  Flying birds, of whatever kind, I think are hard to photograph, the major challenge being to get them sharp. They are moving, and assuming you are using a big lens, you could well be shooting them with a shallow depth of field, and those two things along with getting them in a decent composition, is kind of like rubbing your stomach and patting your head.

Cranes in Flight

Cranes in Flight

I was helped in capturing this particular photograph by a well-known professional photographer by the name of Jim Zuckerman.  Jim publishes an electronic magazine that I subscribe to, and ironically, this month’s issue features an article on photographing flying birds.  As it happened, I read the article yesterday morning just before heading out to the Kearney area to take crane pictures.  Jim’s instructions on camera settings were something I’d never tried, but boy, did they work.  What Jim’s method boils down to (and it may be quite common, but I’d never heard of it personally) is to set the camera mode to manual, the shutter speed to 1/2500 or 1/3200 to stop the bird’s motion, the aperture to f/8 to give a reasonable depth of field, and then set the ISO to automatic to get the exposure correct.

So I did it just that way, using my new Sigma 150-600mm with the Sigma 1.4 extender, and voila! Flying cranes, and they are tack sharp.  In shooting these photos, I was especially pleased with the Sigma lens over the Nikon 600mm which it replaced.  I find that it performs just as well – or at least well enough – that I’ll never tell the difference, and it can be handheld, as it was here.  Thank you Sigma.

Now, Jim, if you have any spare ideas about shooting Crane portraits, please bring ‘em on.

Here We Go Again

PolarBearWhen Cindy and I returned from Africa a couple of years ago, I just kind of assumed – and told folks – that I envisioned one more big adventure, and that would be going into the far north to photograph polar bears. It seemed to kind of fill out the trilogy that began with the Alaskan trip – to photograph Alaskan grizzlies – in 201l, and would pretty much take care of my wildlife photography bucket list. Plus, they’re a magnificent animal but one that is in real trouble. Like with all the really cool animals, it seems, if you want to see them in the wild, best be doing it.

But at some point, there was an outbreak of common sense, when I looked at what a polar bear trip would cost, and I decided to abandon the idea. And because my role at the firm will take on a different cast next year, I began to cast about for an alternative venture to send me into my new professional life fully sated.

But actually? None came. Oh, you can drive a de-tuned Indy car three laps at the Speedway for a thousand dollars, and I’d love to, but at 150 mph, it’d be over pretty quick. I thought of going back to Silver Salmon Creek, Alaska, which is totally isolated and we enjoyed it so much, but we’d be going back, and I want to go forward with this undertaking.

Then I got to re-examining some of the research I did on polar bear tours and realized that some of the prices at least, were in Canadian dollars, which makes them about a third less expensive in U.S. currency. And from there, I undertook a whole new assessment of the issue and finally have decided that we can indeed visit the Polar Bears in northern Ontario…I’ll just need to live one less year!

Like with Africa, there are three levels of polar bear adventures, and all of them run out of Churchill, Manitoba, way up on Hudson Bay. The most elaborate ones take you from Churchill by bush plane out to rustic themed lodges surrounded by bear-proof fencing. And like we did at Silver Salmon Creek, you walk out over the tundra – or ride in a four-wheeler towed cart – to where the bears are and get close-but-not-too-close and photograph them.

The lowest level consists of a family that already had a restaurant in Churchill and decided to add a lodge, buy a tundra vehicle and get into the bear tour business. If the choice were to go with them or stay home, I’d agree to go with these guys in a nano-second, but their reviews weren’t quite as good, and they don’t guarantee you’ll see bears.

But as with Africa, there is a middle ground. It’s anything but cheap, but to me makes the most sense for all but the rich and aimless. And that’s what I chose, and I expect that – just like it did in Africa – it will be ideal. In this option, we’ll be staying in Churchill but heading out two days and one evening on a tundra rover, which would be like a school bus on massive doses of steroids. Each of the ten tires on the thing stand at least as tall as I am. There’s an open viewing platform at the rear, everyone gets a window seat (and the windows open easily for photography) there’s a bathroom on board, as well as capacities for cooking and eating. The agent assured me it’s a rough rider, but ideal to go looking for bears in. And, they guarantee you’ll find them!

Some other appealing things about this trip are that they meet you in Winnipeg the evening of your arrival for a dinner and introductory briefing and the next morning fly you to Churchill on a chartered aircraft (which sounds like a Dash-8), as opposed to mailing you a hotel voucher and a ticket on a local service airline. Also, they have available for clients’ use, parkas and boots suitable to the polar climate. So it costs a little – actually a fair amount – more, but we’ll only be doing this once, and we’ll remember the adventure long after we’ve forgotten what it cost.

The trip itself comes in November. That seems a long way off, but I’m sure the calendar will surprise us with how quickly gateway day gets here. The preparations for this trip won’t be nearly so extensive as they were for Africa, especially as you don’t need any specific inoculations to go to Canada…apparently no malaria or yellow fever up there!

From here I only see one problem: The walls of our home and at Jensen♦Rogert are so full of framed photos of lions, leopard, elephant, grizzly bears and wild dogs, that I’m not just too sure where the white bears will go. But I’d bet we’ll find some spaces.

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Cordova, Nebraska

Cordova is a small community (about 150 residents) – and a Danish stronghold – some 45 miles west of Lincoln in the southwest corner of Seward County.  Both of my parents grew up in and around Cordova and are buried there along with my paternal grandparents, various aunts, uncles, and cousins.

CordovaOurSaviorsLutheranChurch-blogNow, I’ll be the first to admit that there’s nothing special about either Our Savior’s or the photo, which could essentially be duplicated in communities all over Nebraska.  But it’s special to me, and here’s why.

Up until about a half-century ago, 150 population Cordova actually had three Lutheran churches.  The Missouri Synod of course had their church, while the other two were part of either the “United” synod or the “American” synod.  (You have to be a cradle Lutheran to understand the division, so just don’t try)  In any case, the two congregations were known around Cordova as the “Sad Danes” and the “Happy Danes,” though about fifty years ago now, after the several national synods had merged, the Cordova congregations also got together and built one handsome new church.

During all the years preceding merger, however, Our Savior’s fell in the “Happy” category, and it was my Father’s family’s church.

Over a decade ago, when emptying out my Mom’s condo, I came to realize just how much that truly meant.  In the cleaning out process, I ran across both my paternal and maternal grandmothers’ bibles.  My Grandmother Heers’ (my mother’s mother) bible was in pretty good shape.  My Grandmother Jensen’s bible was literally falling apart.  That book had been carried and read through a lifetime, and folded in it was my grandmother’s newspaper obituary.

Sophia Jergensen (her maiden name) was born in the latter part of the nineteenth century.  She was baptized at Our Savior’s.  A few years later, as an adolescent, she was confirmed into the Lutheran faith at Our Savior’s.  (A family photo from that period shows her to be both slender and pretty)  Not too many years later, she was married to John Jensen II at Our Savior’s, and I’d bet almost anything that they originally met there.  Unfortunately, John died of a heart defect (which I’m sure they could repair today) in the early 1920’s at the age of 47, leaving Sophia with five children, and though she didn’t know it at the time, a sixth on the way.  John was of course buried from Our Savior’s.  All of Sophia’s six children were confirmed at Our Savior’s, and most of them were married there, including my parents.

And finally, in 1948, Sophia – a brittle diabetic most of her adult life – was herself buried from Our Savior’s, a sad day I clearly remember.

Reading that life record of a woman I knew as an even tempered, loving, humorous individual – and a Dane and a Lutheran to her very core – I was struck by how much Cordova’s Our Savior’s Lutheran Church was a critical fixture in her life and her family’s.  Everything important, whether good or sad, seemed to happen or find expression there, and her simple lifelong faith was so very much a part of her nature and being.

Today, memories of Sophia – Sophie – Jensen fade just as Our Savior’s sinks disused into the ground around it.  But as I hope the photo might convey, more than enough of each remain for them to live inside me, today and always.

The Real King of Rock ‘n Roll

Last week at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame awards, one of the presenters spoke reverently of Elvis Presley as the man who “started the whole thing.” That’s impressive, and think how impressive it would be if it were actually true.

Though the Wright Brothers were the first persons to fly a powered airplane in the U.S.A., and Henry Ford the first to sell automobiles at a price that almost everyone could afford, you don’t ever hear either of them being credited with being the inventor of the car or the airplane. That’s because at the time that Ford and the Wrights accomplished admittedly signal achievements in the development of powered automobiles and powered flight, there were individuals and groups all over the world working on exactly the same technologies. Figuring out who was actually the very first person to drive a car or fly an airplane would be impossible and probably doesn’t really make much difference. It’s the same with rock ‘n roll.

If we have to identify who “started the whole thing” most folks who were alive at the time would point to Bill Haley of the group Bill Haley and the Comets. I so vividly remember sitting in the long ago razed Lincoln Theater on a summer afternoon in 1955 ready to see the movie, “The Blackboard Jungle.” Suddenly, the black screen came to light with that driving opening, “One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock rock”. I’d never heard music like that before, and for me and millions of other kids looking for a musical alternative to Perry Como, the world of music changed forever, just like that. And Rock Around the Clock made it to number one on the pop charts a full year before Elvis got there with “Heartbreak Hotel,” the number that introduced him to kids everywhere.

But like with Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers, when Bill Haley and the Comets changed their name from Bill Haley and the Saddlemen and fused rhythm and blues (which in much of the south was still known as “race music”) with country western or western swing (if you prefer) to come up with rockabilly or rock ‘n roll, there were other folks out there who were also working on the same venue, including Elvis, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, and Jerry Lee Lewis to name but a few.

They all had their breakthrough hits, and Elvis ultimately would become a bigger star and major figure in American music than Haley or any of the rest. But Rock Around the Clock’s nationwide exposure in Blackboard Jungle gave it the instant and universal national recognition that took it right to the top of the pop charts, made it the anthem for a fifties generation, and brought rock ‘n roll into the mainstream of American culture.

Haley, who had a more-or-less chronic problem with alcohol, died relatively young, and to the end of his life argued that it was he, and not Elvis, who had “started the whole thing.” And if it came down to just the two of them, he was right.

V.E. Day Memories

Our Flag-blogSeventy years ago today the unspeakable evil that was Nazi Germany signed a surrender document to the Allied Powers, the U.S., Great Britain, and the U.S.S.R. It was a complete and total surrender, exactly as the Allies had established as an unconditional demand.

I was five years old, and I remember it well.

When I tell people that, I can tell that they wonder about the ability of a then-small boy to recall in any detail an event like this, but that is because you had not lived the total of your conscious existence with “the war” as a major factor in your life.  You had not watched your mother, upon emptying a can of any foodstuff, take both ends out of it and stomp it flat on the floor of the kitchen. The “scrap drive” would later pick it and its cousins up to support the war effort.

You didn’t live in a family that owned a car that was seldom driven due to the fact that you couldn’t get gas or tires for it without ration stamps.  You didn’t hear your mother complain about the proprietor of the neighborhood grocery because she had observed him selling rationed items to certain customers but claiming not have them for sale to others…including her. You weren’t told again, and again, and again, that you could not have, say, a pedal car because they were not available because of “the war.”  You didn’t routinely get around on public transportation.  You didn’t have the experience – which was marvelous – of riding the bus downtown to meet your father when the shift let out at Western Electric (where National Research is now), have dinner across the street at the YMCA cafeteria – which was a great place to eat in that era – take in a movie, and then ride the bus home as a family.

You didn’t watch your father leave for a winter in Chicago being trained for the Western Electric position and coming home to a little boy who had faced a very robust case of the measles while his dad – who was always the chief caregiver in any illness – was away, because of the war.

And you didn’t watch your favorite older cousin come home from the Pacific, rope thin, malarial, and shell shocked, breaking down in sobs as he related the kamikaze caused death of a favorite chaplain.  I remember my mother weeping after he left that evening.

So the surrender really was a big deal…a huge deal in fact.  Huge enough that my father got out the car that was almost never driven to join a community-wide, multi-directional motorcade of honking vehicles, trailing streamers.  We didn’t have any streamers, but there were always old newspapers or candy wrappers on the floor of my dad’s car, and I fashioned some foot-long “streamers” from those, to be trailed from the rear windows of our sedan.   And my dad, who was normally not given to nonsense steadily honked our horn along with the rest of the town.

Seventy years ago – a lifetime, and yet so perfectly remembered.  Remembered not as a hardship – though there were plenty of those and forever heartaches for families who sent a son, husband, or brother off to the fighting, never to come home again.

And yet, when I look back on it, it doesn’t stand as a sad time.  We played soldiers a lot.  I shared the joy of having my older cousins come home on leave…always arriving by train in the middle of the night, to be there in the morning when I woke up.  And how I loved and admired them.  We were a close family, and I was a well-loved and treasured child, and while the war was a monstrous inconvenience occasioning significant sacrifice, my parents – and just about everyone else – were glad to do that.  On every day, to live a life intended to hurry “the surrender.”  And when it came, it was everything.  Absolutely everything.

When my dad came home from his time in Chicago, he brought for my mother a genuine leather wallet/purse specially constructed for ration stamps and tokens.  I found it a few years ago when I prepared her condo for sale after she had been admitted to a nursing home.  It still had some stamps and tokens in it…items she had on V.E. Day – when we got the car out and honked the horn – and would never need again.

What I know is they – and not just the soldiers – were absolutely the greatest American generation.  Believe it.

Beyond the Sea

Having spent my entire life out here on the Great Plains, I was 19 before I ever laid eyes on the ocean…any ocean.  That summer, after July 4th, two buddies and I drove out to California with the intent of getting hired on at the then-new Disneyland for the balance of the summer.  And we did, joining some high school friends who had gone out earlier and were ensconced in an apartment across the freeway in Anaheim.

Because we had hardly any money, we drove more-or-less straight though and arrived late in the afternoon, to take a nap while our friends put in their evening shift at the park.  Then, a sizeable group of us headed down to Laguna to a very hip coffee house for a cursory introduction to life in a beach town.  Between espressos, one of my friends and I walked down the block for my first look at the ocean.  The surf was pretty high that dark night, and the sheer power of it visually knocked me flat.  When the friend asked if I wanted to go down the long flight of cliff-side board steps to the beach, I demurred, but the next day, after visiting the park and getting menial employment, we again headed for Laguna and got seriously acquainted with the Pacific.

That was a lifetime ago, but I’ve never lost my fascination for the sea, and whenever I’m around it, the ocean sort of takes over my visual life.  Whatever else is going on, I keep going back for another look.  The darn thing is so vast that I just can’t turn away from it in my imagination.

Since the kids moved from Colorado to Florida almost two decades ago now, I have had plenty of chances to be around, in, and on the Atlantic.  Their first years in Ormond Beach, their house was a couple of blocks from the beach, and after Delaney came along, when I’d go down for an extended visit, I’d lodge in a funky cottage right on the shore, where I’d fall asleep and wake up to the sound of the surf…assuming there was one that day.

Flagler Beach Morning

Flagler Beach Morning

I’ve asked Kris if she ever just gets used to having the ocean at hand – if it ever becomes routine – and she says definitely not.  I liken this to the way those of us who spin in the orbit of the Nebraska State Capitol feel about that magnificent building.  It’s right outside my office window, and I have it in view whenever I’m in my office, but it never fails to fascinate.  I never walk in the door to the place without, at some level of consciousness, thinking/feeling “unbelievable.”

The kids now have moved up the coast a few miles to Palm Coast and also moved inland about five miles from Flagler Beach.  And I love to drive over there and just gaze out to sea and think that if you took off from there in a straight line east, several thousand miles later, you’d land approximately at Morocco.  Think Casa Blanca.

And I just can’t get over that…and never will.

Saying a Few Words for Think Tank Photo

I’m pleased to have been selected as a representative for Think Tank Photo, whose products I use and enthusiastically recommend.  If you order a Think Tank camera backpack using the link below, you’ll receive one of their popular AppHouse 8 or AppHouse 10 tablet cases for free.  And any order of $50 or more will get you a free gift and me a very modest percentage of the amount of that sale.

The reason I’m doing this – and trust me, I am not planning on taking any photo trips with the proceeds from this arrangement – is that I have been so thoroughly impressed and very well satisfied with Thank Tank over the past three years.

I have two of their equipment bags, the Airport Security roller bag, which went to Alaska with Cindy and me three summers ago, and the Airport Essentials backpack, which accompanied us to Africa in 2013.  Both of these great bags were purchased from Amazon, and I subsequently gave each of them a glowing review, which they very much deserved.

The Airport Essentials was purchased specifically because it will hold a ton of gear and will fit in the overhead of any “regional jet,” on which we flew the first and the last legs of our African adventure. The bag’s size notwithstanding, it carries two Nikon bodies, four lenses, and assorted accouterments, did not require three men and a strong boy to lift, and has a security cable that can be locked around any convenient object, like an airport bench, making it impossible to snatch and run with.  While it’s not a good idea to go and leave any kind of bag or container un-attended (unless you don’t mind if airport security seizes and blows it up for you), we spent most of a day in Heathrow, and it was comforting to know that I could relax and even doze off without worrying about getting to the bush with nothing more than a camera phone.

The Airport Security also has the cable arrangement.  It will fit in the overhead of a “real” airplane, but if you fill it up, you might need help in getting it up there.  Since getting the Airport Essential, I don’t use the Security for commercial travel, but do use it every time I’m traveling by car, truck, or Jeep.  It won’t hold each and every piece of gear I own, but it’ll come darn close.  Using it, with its padded dividers, keeps gear organized and protected in one place, obviating the need to go through several cases or duffels looking for your favorite lens.

One other Think Tank item that I really can’t say enough about is their cable organizer and carrying case, which I believe now comes in two models.  When I first saw this item cataloged, I tended to view it as overkill, but broke down and ordered it when I finally beheld all of the cables, chargers, batteries, etc. we would be taking to Africa with us.  This case is not that large but had room for all of that stuff in three compartments which, again, made it easier to locate the battery or battery charger I was looking for amidst all of those that made the trip with us. One especially nice feature of this little case is that its lid is clear vinyl, allowing TSA to see what’s in there – if they decide to take an interest – without ever opening it up and stirring its contents into a rat’s nest.  Not that they ever would, mind you.

So that’s my story on Think Tank, and I’m sticking to it.  Use the link below to review and/or to order for yourself any of the fine items they inventory.