Wild Dave and I arrived back in Junction at the Texas Tech Campus May 11, 2011 to prepare for yet another year of concentrated photography work during the Texas Tech Intersession period. Weather and land conditions appeared to be somewhat dismal but I had seen it worse, perhaps in 2001, so we were not daunted by the lack of potential flowering subjects and low water levels in the water ways.
Students began arriving on the afternoon of the 12th with Dave and I ready for our first class after dinner that evening. The class consisted of the usual % of gals to guys at 70/30 and all were excited to get started. Wild Dave’s and my introductory instruction period lasted for about 2.5 hours followed by comments regarding the next days shoot. The Junction Odyssey was about to begin!!
Over the ensuing two weeks our class evolved from a collective group of strangers to a tribe of twelve members with the goal of exploring the limits of our creative talents through the photographic medium. After over 1,500 miles of travel and visiting some 15 or so locations that are truly the crown jewels of photographic subjects in that region of the state, Junction 2011 ended as yet another successful adventure and learning experience. Late nights on the road, daily field trips and much time spent wading and shooting the riparian areas along water courses resulted in the class collecting many GB’s of images for review and personal files. Hard work and a close camaraderie created a common bond that is rare in today’s fast paced college environment.
Over the past twelve years I have had the opportunity to meet and become friends with many good and talented people. Most have been Red Raiders but too I have been honored with the presence of some hailing from Texas A&M, Texas State University, OSU and other great institutions of higher learning. All expressed their satisfaction from having had the class and I will remember each and every one with fondness.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all students who have come into my life over the past 12 years, both on the main Texas Tech campus and at Junction. Our brief time together has enriched my own life story and I hope you all feel the same. I wish each and every one a life of prosperity and happiness that you desire.
During the course of our lives we sometimes meet a person or people who are “somebody”, and will make a lasting impression on careers if not the direction and or longevity of a life. That impression may take many forms, two of which might be financial or from the standpoint of enlightenment or simple friendship. From both a professional and personal standpoint I have been over blessed with this phenomenon and have lead a much richer life because of it.
Many years ago I had the blessing of meeting Bill Shearer of Shearer Publishing in Fredricksburg, Texas. Bill was a energetic and intelligent man in his early 40’s who wanted to publish a book with me on the rivers of Texas. With this idea in mind he suggested that I get to know an author and personal friend of his by the name of John Graves, a fellow outdoor aficionado, history buff and author of the Texas classic read, “Goodbye to a River”. I agreed and on a summer evening on the banks of the James River near Mason, Texas I met Mr. Graves for the first time. Because of my own passion for history and adventure John and I hit it off in a big way and developed a lasting friendship that exists to this day. Before the “Rivers” concept could develop to fruition our friend Bill Shearer passed away at too early an age and planning on the rivers book ceased for several years to come.
Susan Ebert, former editor of Texas Parks and Wildlife and publisher of Texas Parks and Wildlife Publishing Partners approached me in the late 1990’s about a book project and we decided to revive the “Texas Rivers” concept for future publication. This began my memorable odyssey of crisscrossing our Texas and spending many weeks over a three year period with a Texas gentleman, dear friend and iconic author in John Graves.
Our game plan was simple in that I would go first and explore the river of choice, finding contacts and locations of interest. John would then be summoned and we would rendezvous for another week or so of interviews and to finish up the images. We would continue this routine for the ensuing 3 years and I personally totaled a cumulative distance of 36,000 miles in the process of shooting photos.
Once we had decided on the six target rivers I selected the Canadian as our first choice primarily because that river is one of my favorites in the entire state. From the zero degree winter weather along its meandering prairie course to the steamy Big Thicket along the Neches we walked, rode, flew and sometimes boated our way into the history and lifeway along each one. Crouched in the rocky grottos along the sinewy Pecos canyon lands we pondered the life and death of the ancient ones and
then reveled in the quiet beauty of the Sabinal and Llano. And the history of the Clear Fork of the Brazos stimulated our imagination with facts about the Comanche Moon and the inevitable Indian raids that occurred in a lull of frontier settlement during the Civil War.
Mr. Graves no longer travels due to age issues but each time I pass through the regions visited in our past I think of him and our time crisscrossing the greatest state. Enjoy these images from a special time and in special places.
Over the past 30 years of working behind a camera I have had a few opportunities that offered up the possibility for some incredible if not one in a life time photo opportunities. In reviewing each instance I have concluded that a common denominator in each case was the element of surprise. I never planned the shot so I had to be flexible by evaluating the situation instantly and reacting accordingly. Secondly, having the correct equipment at hand and being fluent in its use to achieve the desired image on an instants notice was essential.
I recall an incident a few years ago that brings to mind how important it is for the serious photographer to always be vigilant in case the one of a kind photo op occurs. I was driving in the Davis mountains on my way up to the McDonald Observatory area when I noticed an unusual form some eleven feet up in a flowering Agave plant. Upon looking more carefully I was amazed to see a beautiful grey fox perched in the flowering head while seeming to be eating flying insects which were swarming about the flowers. From my past experience as a professional predator hunter I knew that an abrupt slowing of the engine RPM would alert the fox and result in a lost opportunity.
Thus I continued driving up the mountain until I was out of sight of the creature before pulling over to a safe spot off of the highway. Grabbing my Canon 500mm F4.5L lens with a Canon F1N I quickly climbed up the slope and into the brush where I could evaluate the situation. I could see that the fox was still busy devouring flying insects and looking in the opposite direction so I made a quick decision to dash across an exposed area and thereby cut the distance between the subject and my camera by half. In this case a tripod was useless due to a need for mobility and flexibility.
As the fox looked away I leaped forward and covered the exposed ground in short order, dropping to my knee at the predetermined point and quickly focused on the foxes head. Just as I affixed my focus on the critters eye, it pinpointed my position and I knew only a second or two remained before he escaped. After firing two frames the animal leaped from the agave and scurried into the scrub brush. I had been so intent on getting the photo that I did not have to think about the unusual incident I had just seen. In walking back to the pickup I gradually began to realize just what a treasured moment I had witnessed.
On another trip I was traveling through the Texas Panhandle one cold, blustery winter day when I stopped along the highway to shoot an image of some snow cover beneath a line of old trees. As I pulled the Pelican case filled with Hasselblad equipment to the back of the pickup I looked to the northeast and was startled at what I saw. Running directly toward me was a female antelope that was being chased by a coyote. It was a run to the death and I wanted that photo badly so I shoved the Hasselblad back in place and pulled out a Lietz Telyt 400mm lens with a Nikon camera body attached.
Exactly like the fox encounter, this was an incident that required flexibility with no time for setting up a tripod. Turning quickly toward the incoming action I set my exposure and then concentrated on effectively panning the action as the two passed by me less than a hundred yards distance. I exposed perhaps five images before the two creatures passed out of sight over the hill. Once again it was a case of being ready with the right equipment when the unexpected happened.
Preparation and fluency in the use of needed equipment is essential for those shooters bent on catching that ephemeral moment that may never pass our way again.
A few summers ago I took some time to drive out to the old home place where I grew up during the 50’s and 60’s. Lots of memories accompany me with every visit so each trip is a “grounding” of sorts. I think we all need that from time to time, or at least I do.
On one particular trip in early summer I noticed a small critter scurrying through the parched grass a short distance away and after closer inspection I recognized a little Mexican ground squirrel quite busy looking for some grub to store in his burrow. Being somewhat familiar with the habits of these little boogers I quietly approached with my camera and shot some images. Seeming to be somewhat unafraid of my 6 ft frame towering nearby, it was clear that I should take advantage of his acceptance of me and plan a routine pilgrimage to solidify our symbiotic friendship.
As the visits became routine “Fat Earl” and I became pals and he trusted my being near him at all times. I would often find him/her seeds to eat and occasionally an insect for dessert, an added morsel he seemed to relish.
Over the course of the summer I took over a thousand photos of Fat Earl doing what ground squirrels do. Then one day I drove up and something was different. Earl did not come running when I exited the pickup. An ominous void troubled me as I approached his burrow, a feeling that perhaps all was over for the little dude. After several minutes of imitating his call, a whistle that always brought a response, I knew that our time together was over.
I never knew for certain what happened to Fat Earl but suspect he was a casualty of the age old law in nature that has defined wildness since time immortal. Perhaps a coyote, bobcat or more likely a winged predator took the little guy. Although I was saddened at this loss, I understood. It is the way of life on the wild side. Adios Fat Earl…I will not forget you.
The black-tailed jack rabbit, (Lepus californicus) , is a creature that defined some of the memories I have retained from growing up on a ranch in the Texas rolling plains. As a small boy riding over the badlands along the Brazos river I never tired of seeing these fleet footed creatures dash suddenly from their hiding place and scurry off into the distance, always with their head held high and maintaining that gallop so defining of this wild hare of the rolling plains.
A few years ago I was driving out near our old home place and noticed an incredible number of adult jackrabbits lounging around on the buffalo and arrow grass flats. Taking my camera along on later trips I soon gained the confidence of almost every rabbit occupying a small sector of the pasture and was soon walking around them shooting photos as they ate, slept, and lounged. All summer I returned from time to time and visited with my big eared friends, eager to see if perhaps I could gain more insight into the lifeway of this iconic creature.
By winter they had almost all dispersed from the area and I was left alone with only my memories of Sue, Jack and a host of other wild hares whose names I have now forgotten.
Enjoy these intimate moments shared with me by a pair of black-tailed jackrabbits in their natural environment in the rolling plains of Texas.
All photogs who have been in the business of toting a camera for many years can recall our most memorable images and, for the most part, minute details regarding each. In 1978 I was aspiring to be a magazine shooter and busied myself with exposing images of anything interesting that might cross my path. On an early spring day I noticed a pair of roadrunners using the same general route in their travels, each one appearing frequently enough to arouse my suspicion that a nest might be nearby.
Being interested in wildlife behavior I began carefully observing the birds and finally discovered that they had a nest in a mesquite tree near our barn and only a short distance from our home. I realized that a good opportunity for some unusual photos was at hand so began to methodically work the two birds until they became accustomed to my presence, even allowing me to walk with them as they hunted lizards and grasshoppers around the pasture.
In those days color images of great quality were exposed on the time honored Kodachrome transparencies, a film destined to become a household name after the release of Paul Simon’s song of the same name in the early 1970’s.
Every photographer carried a few rolls of Kodachrome 25 or 64 in his or her pocket and marveled at the rich colors rendered therein. On one particular day I ventured out to the roadrunners nest with one roll of film and observed the male bird approaching the nest with a beautiful collared lizard. With only a frame or two left on my last roll of “chrome” and the evening light casting its finest color at the end of the day I was frantic to get a least one image that might put me in the pages of a magazine and perhaps launch my career as a real “shooter”.
Intercepting the bird as he made his way back to the nest I dropped to the ground, lying flat on my belly, and quickly focused the lens as the bird hesitated for a moment. With time for only one shot before he scampered away in the brush I had an apprehensive wait of an entire week before finding out if my exposure was correct and if I had achieved the critical focus needed to make the photo a winner. As I opened the little yellow box, one of thousands that I opened in the years to come, I was elated to see the exact image peering back at me that I had seen a week before! What an experience to remember!
Canon F1 and a Canon 200mm F2.8 lens. Kodachrome 64 at 125th of a second at F2.8. Was published in National Wildlife magazine about one year later.