Saturday, May 7, 2016

First Taste of Spring

It was a beautiful early spring day and it was my day off. I was looking forward to visiting a couple of friends, taking a few pictures, enjoying some truck stop food, browsing a second hand store or two, maybe even taking a short hike in the hills. But it was the first really nice day that I had free, and there were things to do around the house. Garage needed tidying up, plants needed to be tended, grass was tall enough for a first cutting. You get the idea. So I was feeling a little sorry for myself about all the work I had to do instead of being out having fun. Then, at some point, I realized the work I was doing was good work. Apparently I had forgotten that taking care of plants and flowers was fun. And it felt good to see the results of my efforts. Even the Spring Quartz we planted on the patio a few years ago was still looking shiny and healthy.


Now I figured it was time for a different kind of fun. It was time to wake up the Ol' F6 from a long hibernation. That turned out to be easier said than done. The battery was weak, and because the bike is not fuel injected, too many cranks caused it to run all the way down. A few jolts from the jumper cables brought it back to life and I roared off...around the block. At least it was a ride, even if it was short and quick. I still had a few things to do at home, and then it would be dinner time, so I could see my chances for a longer more fulfilling ride slipping away. However, after I finally settled in to doing nothing at about 7:30, I started thinking about going for an evening ride. It wasn't that late, and still warm outside. Why not? I extended an invitation to my favorite passenger and was promptly turned down, which was probably wise on her part due to the unpredictability of the duration and distance of my impromptu spur of the moment motorcycle sojourns. It was a little before 8 when I took off for the Canyon. It was nearly dark by the time I stopped. The blue tint of dusk created an interesting scene before darkness took over. 


When night falls in the Black Hills, it falls hard. A few minutes later it was completely dark. I walked a short distance into the trees and sat down on a rock. Then I just listened. The loud roar and crackle from those Cobra pipes I had been hearing for the past 15 miles had already faded away. Now there was only silence, interrupted occasionally by a passing car or the rustle of branches on trees above and behind me. I love it at night up there. My imagination can sometimes cause it to be a little a scary, though, as thoughts creep into my head about who or what may be lurking close by. But I guess that's part of the mystery and thrill of it. 
As it turns out, nobody got me. After a period of time...could have been minutes or could have been hours...I powered up and headed home. The crisp air and smell of new grass along the road filled my senses, and it tasted good. This is why I love to ride, and hope to do it a lot more this year. Just might need to get up a little earlier to make sure my work is done first. If it's good work.

 Roger O'Dea     5/06/2016




Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Kind Eye

Beyond the glamour, bright lights, big crowds and all the commotion of Las Vegas, it's still a place where I'm always able to find some measure of inspiration or enlightenment. A recent trip for business was no exception. I was lucky to be there at the same time a very special show was going on at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. "Icons of the 20th Century" features the incredible photography of Yousef Karsh. I was only vaguely familiar with his work, but the moment I saw the promotional information I knew instantly that I had to go. The poster featured a photograph of Audrey Hepburn. It's one you've probably seen in a book, on the Internet or any number of other places it has popped up on occasion.
I've always liked this picture, but seeing the original up close in person was truly special. It's hard to find words to describe how I felt seeing this, and all the others, so I'm not going to try. I will just say that once in a very blue moon I have the privilege of viewing art that not only is visually stunning but causes an emotional reaction. This was one of those times.
Here's another example of how his photographs can stir up an emotional reaction -
How can anyone look at this picture and not feel something? It's a great example of Karsh's capacity for empathy, which was likely the result of him spending time getting to know his subject before making the photograph. It has been said he had a keen sense of the inner life of others. I believe that to be true. You can see it in every portrait. 
I also noticed that every one of his portraits is composed perfectly. Every pose, every background, as well as the lighting, is exactly right for each particular person. Every. Single. One. It's proof of just how good he was. Take a look at this one of Frank Lloyd Wright, father of "organic architecture" and considered by many to be the greatest American architect of all time -

See what I mean? And here's one more example - 


Who else could this be, other than Muhammad Ali? Composition, light and technique...perfect.

I read an essay on the website Photographyconcentrate.com by Stephanie Simpson that provides an excellent perspective on Karsh's work. She wrote, "Karsh gained a reputation for having a kind eye. He watched carefully for moments of real emotion in his subjects. As soon as they appeared, snap! He pressed the shutter release without warning. No heads up, no countdown from three. Any moment was fair game." 

Hunter S. Thompson wrote about "the right kind of eyes" in (coincidentally) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But this is different. This is about a "kind eye." What a compliment it would be if ever someone said that about me! Maybe, if I ever can produce a portrait of someone with the same empathy as seen in these, that might happen. Maybe. 


Roger O'Dea   4-13-2016



Friday, March 11, 2016

Badlands

About 40 miles south of Rapid City, South Dakota is the town of Scenic. It's not really a town any more. Never was much of a town to begin with. I remember something about a church organization from the Philippines buying the town and land about five years ago, but there are no signs of development or new activity of any kind. Now you'll only see a few abandoned buildings and a small newer metal building with one gas pump out front and a tiny post office. There's one trailer house that looks like someone could be living in it, but mostly Scenic is just somewhere you drive through on your way to somewhere else. Like me, on my way to that little corner of the Badlands a mile or so to the south. Except I did stop. I was drawn in by a dilapidated structure that was once doing business as the Longhorn Saloon. The skulls in various stages of decay and bleached white by many years in the sun were the first things I noticed. Then I saw the words "Indians Allowed." I don't know if someone was trying to be funny, or if it is real evidence of the racist history surrounding that area which includes the Pine Ridge reservation. Of course I had a couple of cameras along including a digital SLR and a trusty old Polaroid loaded with black and white film. I chose the Polaroid for this shot.






































The photo is not sharp. Kind of blurry. Absent of color or any attractive characteristics. Much like the place is in real life. 
Traveling a little further down the road my view changed completely. The landscape was still quite stark, but now in a very visually pleasing way. After turning off the highway and driving down a narrow dirt road for a couple of miles, I soon began a climb that took me to the very top of the plateau. It was worth a few white knuckle moments as I was eventually greeted with this view -


Amazing. I could see for miles and miles in every direction. I took in every detail. The
subdued colors of the panorama were in striking contrast to the bright blue of the sky and whitest whites of the clouds. Time passed quickly up there, unlike what was to be the case a short while later. I traveled back down the road to where the land flattened out into pure prairie. 


After parking my vehicle I hiked to the base of an outcropping carved by water and wind over millions of years. But today there was only a very light wind as I started my walk and it had completely disappeared by the time I stopped and sat down in a grotto where erosion had made a perfect resting place. There was no wind here. Not even a slight breeze. It was perfectly still. And quiet. Incredibly quiet. A total absence of sound, nearly to the point of being unnatural. Time also stood still. In all of my adventures in nature I don't recall feeling quite like this. Even in my beloved Black Hills, and Spearfish Canyon in particular, there have been times, mostly nights, when it was almost as quiet. But even then the stars were sometimes so bright you could hear them shining. That might be the case at this spot I found in the Badlands, too. But, at that moment, on that day, there was only quiet. 
It's interesting that when I started out from home that morning I was intending to head up into the Hills. But, as fate would have it, I turned left instead of right at just the precise moment. And, as Robert Frost said, "...that has made all the difference."


Roger O'Dea       3/11/2016

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Experiment

Day 1
My favorite gifts to receive are books. Well, books and records. Both are personal and the giver has chosen that particular gift because of some intimate or specific thing they know about you. In this case the gift is a book titled The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.



I am taking it seriously and doing the exercises. Most of them anyway. But now I've come to the assignment of "reading deprivation." No, it doesn't involve reading about deprivation. It involves depriving oneself of reading. For a week! Here's a passage that explains the theory;
It is a paradox that by emptying our lives of distractions we are actually filling the well. Without distractions we are once again thrust into the sensory world. With no newspaper to shield us, a train becomes a viewing gallery. With no novel to sink into an evening becomes a vast savanna in which furniture - and other assumptions - get rearranged. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own.
I guess that makes some sense, and I trust the author so I am going to try it. It's not going to be easy. At home I always have a book within arm's reach. And I like checking the newspaper websites in the morning to see what's going on. It is now the evening of day one and I must admit I cheated a couple of times by checking the internet for the latest about the Broncos and the Panthers, Bernie and Donald, and all that bad weather out east. Of course, I do need to read as part of my job... so that I won't count.  And it should be noted a small victory has already been won in that I have not picked up a tattered old copy of In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan which has been staring at me from the bookshelf every day now for about a week. It's one I re-read every winter, and have been thinking lately it's time once again. But I must resist. For at least this week. It was my first big test on my first day of this experiment. I wouldn't give myself an  A or probably even a B, but I passed. That means I didn't fail so I will call it a good start.

Day 2
Day off, with a lot of running around to do, so it was pretty easy to resist reading. That is until I went into the book store. New releases. Recommended reading. Bestsellers. Classics. Staff picks. Bargain books. Books all around me! I realized I couldn't leave there without something in my hands. I reached out and took something off the shelf. It wasn't a book, though. It was this ---


A jigsaw puzzle. I haven't worked on one of these in years. And Kris has been wanting to get one for a while. It was the perfect solution. I resisted the call of the wild book...and kept my record intact of never leaving a bookstore empty handed.

Day 3
Uneventful. I peeked a couple of times. Once was when I noticed a headline in the local paper about a county commission meeting in which a large number of rural citizens turned out to protest a proposed public nuisance ordinance. Turns out that most county residents around here just don't want any part of such a thing, and apparently made their point in a rather loud manner with a certain amount of profanity thrown in for good measure. The ordinance was put aside with no further action planned. And no further reading was done by me.

Day 4
The irony has been noted. As a friend so keenly pointed out to me - this reading deprivation assignment came from a book. A book I had to read in order to find out about the assignment that instructed me to not read. I don't even know how to respond to that.

Day 5
I miss having a book to read. The internet, television and my phone are not acceptable substitutes. And an old favorite is still beckoning....



Day 6
Drove by the library today. Thought about stopping, but kept on driving.

Day 7 - Results and Conclusions
I can't say that by reading much less than I normally do resulted in any great new ideas or inspirations. I won't say it was a failure, however, as it did reinforce my belief in reading as an important part of my life. We didn't get started on that puzzle, but I had time to go a little deeper into my music collection and listen to some lost treasures. And something significant did occur. Last night I woke up from a deep sleep with a great idea for a photo project. It's perfect for me. I won't say now what it is, but I'm sure you will be seeing the results in the future. Was that related to this experiment? I supposed it could be. But it doesn't even matter. I'm still going to keep going with the lessons in the book. And as for right now...think I'll take that Brautigan book off the shelf...

Chapter 1 - In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar. I'll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant........"

Roger O'Dea       1/31/2016








Thursday, December 17, 2015

No More Bad Days

As I write this it's late on the night before the birthday that will see me entering my 61st year on this planet. No small feat, considering some of the things I've done, places I've been and predicaments I've gotten myself in to. Not to mention some dangerously crazy, wild, far out characters I've run with. Magnificent bastards every one of them. Not necessarily these guys...but the time is about right so maybe these guys -


But through it all...the teenage break-ups, car wrecks, sad days (even despair a time or two), some hard days and long nights, several broken bones and one heart attack...I'm still here. That makes me one lucky guy. And one very grateful guy. So I've made a decision to not have any more bad days. Now you may ask, "How's he gonna' do that? Everybody has a bad day now and then."  But I've realized it must surely be possible to find some good even in what might be considered a bad day. The day my heart attacked me was not a good day, but it caused me to give up some bad habits, appreciate life more and become much more active. The truth is I had become sort of lazy prior to that event. Not lazy about work. Just kind of lazy about life. Then there was the day my dad died. Certainly not a good day. But it was a good thing that his suffering was over and he could truly now rest in peace. Those are extreme examples to be sure. A bad day can simply mean you lost your keys, or your boss yelled at you at work, or your kids did something dumb. Or you did something dumb. Those are days when you can easily redirect your energy to make it a good day. You have spare keys or can have new ones made, you have a job, your kids are normal, and you have learned a lesson. See? It's not that hard. It's really just about being positive and gathering up good energy. I've been doing that for some time already. Turning 61 isn't going to make me stop. And I promise you will never hear me complain about having a bad day. I'm sure there will be days that aren't much fun, or that will test my resolve. But I believe we have the responsibility for making our own days. There should be no reason we can't make each one good in some way. I'm going to do it. Care to join me?



Roger O'Dea     12/17/2015
 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

High and Dry

Yes, I'm a little late with a new entry. But I have a good excuse. The lack of snow and warm temperatures have made it seem more like September than November and I was very busy squeezing every little last bit of outdoor activity into these final days of beautiful weather before winter wakes up and realizes it is way behind schedule. For example, last weekend's 60 degree temperatures allowed me to do something I can't usually do in November - go for a mountain bike ride and enjoy a slow meandering 19 mile drive on the backroads in the Bearlodge area of Wyoming.


Across the highway from the campground is a seldom used Black Hills National Forest trail. I'm surprised more hikers and bikers don't take advantage of it. The views overlooking the steep cliffs are awesome. Also, less than a mile down the trail there is an area where you will find a group of split rocks. The cracks are so smooth it's like someone took a giant axe and sliced the rocks almost evenly right down the middle. 

              
Nature offers up a lot of interesting shapes along this trail. Some of the old tree stumps have decayed into strange poses.

   

Having come this way, I found myself near enough to that strange little town of Alva to warrant another look for any proof that humans actually live there. If you've read my past comments you know that I have long suspected that no one really does live there, and the town is just a cover for some secret government underground installation. My evidence is that I can't recall ever seeing any people out and about in the many times I have driven through this "town." This is the scene that once again greeted me on my most recent visit - 



I don't remember that camper being there the last time I drove by, but it could just be a new prop. I did, however, notice something even more strange than usual this time. I pulled in to the Post Office parking lot and noticed a light on in a window. Upon closer examination I could see a popular dish washing product and a wind chime in the window as if it was someone's apartment. This was on a Sunday. So, why is there a light on in the Post Office on a Sunday? And why those other items? Who lives in a Post Office anyway? The mystery deepens.


It was getting late in the afternoon and I certainly did not want to get caught in that place after dark, so I headed back toward home. But wait. There was one more detour. I decided to take the back roads that meandered through the forest past an old favorite location from my younger days... Cook Lake. The campground is closed now due to mudslides and washouts, but I was filled with fun memories of camping there with friends all those years ago. One old road sign is still standing, although it looks like something you would see in one of those 80s horror movies with a title along the lines of "The Skinny Dip Massacre." 

If anybody is planning on making one of those movies I would grant permission to use the photo. Just let me know and I'll provide a high resolution copy. Photo credits would not be required if it's a low budget independent project. But if you get Jennifer Lawrence to star in it, well, then I might insist on at least a mention in those credits that roll at the end. Have your people call my people. Maybe we'll do lunch and work out the details.

Roger O'Dea        11/19/2015


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Free Games and A Free Spirit - Adventures In Las Vegas

This is not going to be about wild times in Vegas. It is, however, going to be about being in the wild in Vegas. Actually, about thirty minutes outside of Vegas. In Red Rock Canyon. That's where it gets really wild. Wild, as in Wilderness. On our recent trip to meet up with our son and his girlfriend for a last fling before winter sets in I took a morning off from the craziness of "the strip" and met up with my friend Sara who is from the Black Hills but now lives in a Las Vegas suburb. During all of my previous visits I had never been outside of the city. Not even to Hoover Dam, which is okay because I've never really wanted to go to Hoover Dam. I don't think they allow fishing from the observation areas, so there just isn't much to hold my interest. Standing on 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete is not my idea of a good time. Standing on red dirt in the desert is, and I have wanted to do that for some time but never made the effort. I had a feeling it would be great. It was. It was even better than great. Awesome, mystical, inspiring, calming. These are all words that come to mind. And it was more than that, but words can't do it justice. Certain feelings can't be described in words, especially when you're not accustomed to looking at a landscape like this -

My first clue that it was going to be a special hike came when, instead of following the wide well-groomed main trail, Sara climbed over the cable marking the boundary of the parking area and motioned me to follow her down a less traveled trail. It was an alternate take on the advantages of knowing a Las Vegas "insider." We hiked down into a draw and came upon a beautiful spring. The water was incredibly clear and the red dirt and rocks enhanced the visual experience. Around this time it started raining. Not a common occurrence in that area. Instead of running for cover we welcomed it with open arms and continued on ... across a formation Sara called "Jabba." You would understand completely if you were to see it. (I didn't take a lot of pictures because I had decided to look at everything mostly with my eyes rather than through a lens).  Then we wandered into a stand of small trees where we took cover and talked about things friends talk about. From there we climbed up into a small grotto for a brief rest, then as the rain let up we continued back down the trail, stopping for a moment to walk a large labyrinth, and finally we were back at the car. It was a good walk. I needed something like that, and left feeling better physically, mentally and spiritually. I plan on doing something like this again when we go back. It's a nice change from the lights and sounds and excitement of the city. Not that I don't enjoy that also. I do. It's fun, as long as you have the right mindset and stay in control. I mean, after all, they have Flintstones slot machines!
"BIG WIN" is overstating it slightly. In this case, anyway. But it's still kind of exciting. Especially when you win free games. 8 free games to be precise -
I've won more than 8 free games on other machines, but this one sure made a big deal out of it.  

There's also art and culture. The Conservatory at Bellagio has some incredible seasonal displays, some of which include giant scarecrows -
There are also museums and art galleries. The Museum of Fine Art, also at Bellagio, is where several years ago I first saw and was inspired by those famous Andy Warhol Polaroid photographs. 

And don't forget people watching. No better place to do that than on Las Vegas Boulevard. Of course, sometimes the people are also watching you. Some may even be on a mustache-themed scavenger hunt looking for someone with a mustache who is willing to pose for a picture. Someone like...me! 
Yes. Out of thousands of people in that area on that night they picked me. They never said if they were looking for the best, worst or most unusual mustache. So, I'm not sure if I should feel flattered or insulted. No matter. They were having fun, and brought me into it so I guess that's what counts. And mine is better than those fake ones. It is better...right?

It was a good trip. But it's always nice to come home. Especially when your home is someplace like this. Where there are still quiet places to hike, and clean clear streams to sit by and be still. And where it rains, sometimes even in late October. Oh. I should mention that right now on this night in late October...as I'm finishing this story...outside my open window...it's raining.  


Roger O'Dea        10/22/2015