Monthly Archives: July 2011

Misery on a Grand Scale: The Drought of today and Yesteryear

Droughts have been a nemesis to all living things even before documented history. The great millennium drought of 6,000 years ago wrought untold misery to life in the plains of mid America and is actually documented in geological strata at the Lubbock Lake State Park where ancient people lived beside this isolated oasis for generations and survived the great dust storms and dryness of some 1,000 years.

A dreaded dust storm boils off of the Llano Estacado and eastward down Highway 82 in the late 1990's. Canon F1N and Canon 14mm f2.8 Lens.

My dad and mom related stories of the dust bowl years and the suffering endured by the masses who lived on the ranches and farms that were located in the “belt of misery” during that time. Stock tanks going dry and the act of killing emaciated cattle defined those times and I have always prayed we will never have to endure them again.
Although not an ancient soul by definition, I am old enough to recall some of the times during the drought of the 50’s after our family had been on the old League ranch for only 3 years. The wind was atrocious and even at the young age of 5 years I still recall one particular day when conditions were absolutely abysmal.
The Benjamin ISD school bus made its daily trip to the ranch to pick up my sister, then eight years of age, both in the morning and again in the evening. On one particular afternoon a terrible dust storm had blown in and my dad decided to drive out to the highway to meet the school bus to minimize the dirt road travel for the kids on board. I wanted to go so he relented and we drove the mile long trip to the highway. I recall even today, 55 years later, the ferocious wind and dirt reduced visibility to zero and dad could not see past the front of his pickup. That was a long time ago but the memory of those dismal conditions are imprinted in my mind for a lifetime.

Sand dune growing across the road in Knox County. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 17mm f4.0L Tilt Shift lens.

In the late 1990’s we had to endure yet another drought with minimal rainfall and dreadful dust conditions. My sons, Pate and Hunter, were teenagers at the time and we lived in the old jail together with no air conditioning. With the doors always left open to ensure a cool night breeze coming through, the dust inside the house was but a little less than what could be seen on the outside! When the drought of the 90’s finally broke I hoped above hope that I would never have to endure another episode of such dry and dismal conditions. Much to my dismay, the worst drought in a century has settled over our Texas and has proven to be more dreadful than any of the 20th century.

Another morning of misery in the hot summer of late the 1990's. A vehicle rolls westward with the scorching sun rising to the east. Canon F1N and Canon 500mm f4.5L lens.

Again I try to think positively and know that in time it will end and perhaps we will never have to endure this level of misery again…at least not in my lifetime. Although I can use the terrible conditions to my advantage and photographically document the misery of it all, I feel for the ranchers and farmers who have to face the critical problem of evaporating stock tank water and unavailability of adequate forage for their livestock. The threat of wildfire every day compounds the stress that they feel and it is a heavy burden to bear.
Call it a celebration of sort but with each “greatest of” in our lives it deserves at least some recognition of sorts either through images or the written word. The following images show conditions of our late 20th century and early 21st century droughts that I have created over the years. For the sake of all living things, I hope we do not have to endure these conditions ever again. Like through the study of history, we should not forget the lessons we can learn through these trying times of the past.

A benign summer storm teases the plains with cool wind and a dismal cloud of blinding dust (1990's). Canon EOS 1N and Canon 70-200 f2.8L lens.
A dust devil dances beneath a scalding summer sky in Knox County, Texas (1990's). Canon F1N and Canon 20-35mm f3.5L lens.
Turtle tracks leave a dying wetland in Knox County. Canon F1N and Canon 20-35mm f3.5L lens.
Where water used to be. Hasselbald 501 and Distagon 50mm lens.
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Shooting The West

I love photographing our Texas but sometimes the call to go elsewhere is inevitable.
My wife and I recently spent a week in the Laramie mountains outside of Douglas, Wyoming working on a book project for a very prominent rancher and equine advocate. Unlike current conditions in Texas, the region had received moisture and the country nothing less than heavenly! I am all Texan but must admit this ranch is AWESOME with the people therein on the same level. We will be shooting on and off in this region for something over a year. One of those photography jobs that is good for the soul!
A big land with enormous skies and some great light to boot! Indeed it was so refreshing to see a country so lush and green! Hope you enjoy!

Wooden fence in the foothills at sunset. Canon 5D Mark II with Canon 17mm F4.0L Tilt Shift at ISO 100.

 

Last light of day in a big country. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200 F2.8L. ISO 100.

 

Big sky country. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105 F4.0L lens. ISO 100.

 

Hay production is maximized with irrigation in the valleys along the North Platte River. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200 F2.8L lens. ISO 100.

 

Last check on the herd. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200 F2.8L lens. ISO 100.

 

Great blood line in the horse herd. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200 F2.8L lens. ISO 100.

 

Some of the best Red Angus cattle in the country. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200 F2.8L lens. ISO 100.

 

Thunder across the sage brush hills. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 70-200 F2.8L lens. ISO 400.

 

A little country school that has seen too many wild Wyoming winters. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 17mm F4.0L Tilt Shift lens. ISO 50.
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The Catalyst of a Career

 

I would venture to say that many people might be able to recall a defining moment that signified the beginning of a life long hobby or even a career. It might have been the actions of an unknown person or perhaps a friend that initiated the drive to continue on to achieve a dream. Everyone will have a different story without doubt.
I vividly recall the day when my life’s compass was set on the course that I now know and ironically it was July 4, 1976.
I had just “fallen off of the wagon” and borrowed $900.00 from the bank to buy the hottest lens that Canon offered its wildlife and sports photography aficionados. The 500mm F5.6 Flourite lens was rather new and offered the quality of color and sharpness that I thought I needed, even at this rather undeveloped stage in my life. Standing at the back door of the house where I resided in Benjamin and with the new lens attached to an early model Canon F1 camera, I had the combo pointed at the sky but through a maze of limbs in a mesquite tree. Suddenly, from out of the sweltering summer blue sky came a female scissor-tail flycatcher carrying a twig and landed upon a limb and in my field of view. Focusing the camera on the feisty little bird I was amazed to see yet another bird of the same species come into view. To my amazement the second flycatcher came directly at the already landed bird, a natural history behavioral trait that I knew was a prelude to the mating process. I realized instantly that I was about to be witness to an intimate moment between these two fantastic little song birds so in one fast motion I recomposed the image and had time for only one image. A winner it was and within a few months adorned the back cover of the Texas Ornithological Bulletin. Not a paying gig but that did not matter. The mold was set and I recognized the path that lay before me. Yes, July 4th does indeed have a special meaning for me…in more ways than one.

Happy Independence Day to all and God Bless America and God Bless Texas!!

My first published image that was exposed on July 4, 1976. Canon F1 and Canon 500mm F5.6 Flourite lens on a Lietz tripod. Kodachrome 64 film.
July 4, 2011. Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105 F4.0L lens handheld. 50 ISO.
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