Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Saying goodbye to my best friend

We gathered Oct. 6 to honor Padme at this trail overlook above Puget Sound.
Named for a Star Wars character with the look of a wolf being, we're sure that part of Padme’s heritage was Australian shepherd, which was her mama's breed. Her papa was much larger than an Aussie, which usually top out at about 40-45 pounds. Kids we met on our daily walks would ask if she was a wolf. “Maybe,” I’d say, then try to get her to howl for effect.
We had regular pack howl-ins until the past year.

Padme is a Sanskrit word that means lotus and is part of a Buddhist mantra – om mani padme hum – meaning the jewel is in the lotus.

The lotus flower is sacred in Buddhism. From Buddhists.com: The lotus flower represents one symbol of fortune in Buddhism. It grows in muddy water, and it is this environment that gives forth the flower’s first and most literal meaning: rising and blooming above the murk to achieve enlightenment. The second meaning, which is related to the first, is purification. It resembles the purifying of the spirit, which is born into murkiness. The third meaning refers to faithfulness. Those who are working to rise above the muddy waters will need to be faithful followers.

My intuitive friends often remarked that Padme was my “familiar,” literally an animal that we have a magical connection with. We certainly had an intuitive connection, which was comforting when it was time to let her go. She told me it was time. She also told me that she would stay here if I really needed her to.  

Saint Helens Cats

Padme was as tall as a retriever and about 70 pounds at her largest. She was 50 pounds at the last. She had an incredible sense of humor, even as we were saying goodbye with our vet (the fabulous Dr. Alena Cowell at Hawks Prairie Veterinary Hospital). Sean was telling Padme that he was sorry he was cross with her when she just wanted to play. She had been lying on the floor, exhausted, but lifted up her head and looked at him quizzically. I laughed and said to her, “Your litter mate just never accepted he was just that - your litter mate.” She looked at me, sighed, and put her head down again.

About Saint Helens Cats: What if the clouded leopards at Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma had magical powers? And what if they escaped to conjure up an eruption at Mount Saint Helens? It could happen (at least according to Padme the Wonderdog).

When I would get engrossed in a writing or design project on the computer in my office, Padme would bring me a ball or another toy over and over. I would unconsciously throw it, and she would bring it back. When it was clear to her that I wasn’t truly engaged in the game, she’d add interesting subplots – drop it in the trashcan, then bark for me to get it. Sometimes she’d drop it in her water bowl, then splash all the water out until she could get it.  

Padme the Wonderdog crossed the rainbow bridge September 6, 2013, at the ripe old age of 14 and a half. We invited friends to gather with us on October 6, to remember her and spread her ashes off the trail by our house above Puget Sound – one of her very favorite walks. Dear human and dog friends shared our sadness at her passing and gratitude to have spent time with this sweet soul. Our friend Mikel was kind enough to pull us together to hear a short eulogy, which he crafted from some favorite poems. 

Then back to our Irish wake, and comfort foods that were Padme’s favorite human foods: mac & cheese, chicken pot pie, shepherd’s pie. We had warm blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream, another Padme favorite. She didn’t particularly like sitting for almost an hour while I picked blackberries in the woods near our house. Or the countless visits to see what changes were happening at my favorite eagle's nest. But she did. And got a spoonful of ice cream every night to make her arthritis medicine a little sweeter. 

Bisbee Blue visiting Padme's ofrenda.
My son and I created a Mexican-style ofrenda which is a traditional remembrance of loved ones who have passed on. Ofrenda means offering in Spanish and consists of photographs, small personal items, favorite foods, candles, and flowers. Ofrendas are a custom during Dias de los muertos. Day(s) of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico and throughout Latin America on November 1 and 2, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Check out the Dia de los Muertos celebration at Tacoma Art Museum

Our new kitten (3 months old) immediately took up residence on the ofrenda table. She couldn’t figure out how to eat the dog biscuits, so I put a few kitty treats in the bowl.
Photographed on a woofie walk.

My sweet Padme was with me when I photographed most of the beautiful flora and fauna I’ve been blessed to experience. Many of those were taken with one hand while she attempted to drag me away – anywhere but staying still. “Hold still! Hold still! HOLD IT!” * click *  

From Mikel’s eulogy: I couldn’t have asked for a better friend, and we’ve shared our journey to the very end.

I miss you so very much, Padme my sweet wonderdog. I’m comforted in the belief that we will meet again when I too cross the rainbow bridge.

Dona nobis pacem.




Friday, July 26, 2013

Eagle ground school

All flight training starts with ground school where the flyer learns the instruments and methods needed to stay aloft. And, of course, learns how to safely land. Eagle flight training is no different. Baby eagles just out of their down, start practicing first with wing flapping. Later they hop on a branch in the nest, then pounce on pretend prey - or sometimes what's left from the meal his parents brought. They spend a good bit of time "branching" which involves flapping wings and attempting to gain some lift. Then actually jumping from branch to branch, using their wings to keep them from falling off the branches.

This year's offspring seems to be a late starter. In the past week when I've visited the nest, he would flap about the nest a bit, then sit. And sit. Occasionally he'd throw his head back and snap his beak without making a sound. Maybe a yawn from being so bored. Last year's brood fledged a week earlier than this little one. Maybe with more than one in the next, they torment each other so much that they have to fly to get away from one another.

Last night, I witnessed something new. The baby was very interested in what was going on above him. I turned around and saw papa eagle about 50 feet up flying in circles - not over the nest but near it, so the baby could see and react. React he did - with a flurry of wing stretches and flapping, then hopping and catching a bit of air under his wings. This was clearly eagle ground school in action.

Then something surprising happened. A juvenile eagle, maybe two years old, also did some flight maneuvers close to the nest. This juvenile had to be kin. The baby eagle seemed to be showing off to the older bird (perhaps a sibling from last year or the year before). And the older juvenile didn't look like he was going to land anywhere near the nest. A month ago, the parents wouldn't have tolerated any raptor - even kin - anywhere near the nest.

Just as quickly and silently as the two eagles had arrived, they disappeared from the area. The baby settled back into sitting and looking around the area. I'm excited to see what happens next - maybe fledging soon! Then it will be practicing takeoffs and landings, short flights and balancing on unfamiliar branches.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The art of photography

My first sale - while setting up the night before the festival.

I just finished up a picture-perfect weekend at the Gig Harbor Summer Art Festival. The weather was fabulous, the visitors friendly, and more than a few people were actually buying artwork. I did "okay," which means that I didn't sell as much as I thought I would but I sold enough to pay for the booth fee ($250) plus about half of the cost of getting ready for the show. I'll call it breaking even, if I manage to sell more at the two other events I'm scheduled to do this summer and fall.

This is my first outdoor arts festival in about five years. After the last one, I announced that I was done with this business of sitting in a tent for 10+ hours a day, listening to people talk about how they could get that shot if they had the expensive camera equipment that I have. Or, worse, that they got the exact shot only it was still in their cell phone camera. I'm savvy enough to recognize that someone is not going to buy art they think they (or their kids) can do themselves. But do people really think that if they just buy a 400mm lens that they'll get shots like these? Apparently the answer is yes.

The jeweler in the booth next to mine overheard a visitor say something about all the eagles that are around his house and said, "yes, but look at how well trained the ones Kate photographs are. That one just held still for her." Wildlife photography is a relatively new area for me. I've been a photographer for 40 years. Wildlife began capturing my interest about 10 years ago. And it ain't easy. I have spent hundreds of hours photographing eagles over the past three years and several hundred more hours photographing hummingbirds. I've been known to spend most of Saturday morning photographing birds. Wildlife photography is not unlike hunting. You may spend hours – or days – waiting and watching, getting nothing except cramps in your hands and knees.

People were fascinated by the metal prints (shown above) but not enough to buy. Every one of them has fingerprints on them, because people had to touch them to see that they were actually metal. I sold one – to an art museum docent. If I charged a dollar for every person who asked where I had the metal prints done, I'd have a nice start on a new collection of metal prints. One man asked if I'd be willing to order metal prints of his work for him. I said I could but that he needed to be sure that the images were very high resolution, such as 300 dpi. I told him that a typical file size for a 16x20" image was about 50 megabytes. I could tell he had no idea what I was talking about. In his mind, he had photographs equally as good as mine. And they might just be fabulous on a small screen.

"Metamorphosis" photo illustration
Visitors were also fascinated by my photo illustration "Metamorphosis." It's a large image, roughly 2 by 4 feet, with an equally large-ish price. I had several conversations with visitors about the image which consists of images of a tree in spring and winter. I photographed the spring scene at tulip fields in Skagit County and the fall scene at St. Martin's University in Lacey, WA. Most of the visitors really loved the image, except for one woman (apparently an artist) who exclaimed that the image was "incongruent" and that I should start over to "get it right."

I had several revelations over the weekend, including a direction I want to move in my photographic work. It makes me sad that all of the years that photographers have worked to have photography recognized as an art form are now going backwards. Like the independently owned photography store that's disappearing, professional photography is changing rapidly along with changing technology. Anybody with a good eye can be a photographer - even a professional photographer.

At the same time, I encountered two disturbing beliefs that people (including artists) have. I was asked several times if I "manipulate" my images. My answer: I don't know any photographer who doesn't. I used to spend hours in the darkroom, getting images right. They were certainly manipulated with different papers, exposure times, and sometimes retouching. Now I spend hours in a "lightroom" getting images right. My "Metamorphosis" image represents at least 10 hours of work, not including traveling to locations and photographing them. I photographed the tree on the right for at least an hour, trying to freeze the leaves as they fell from the tree. I shoot all images in "raw" format, which means you can't just use them right out of the camera. The advantage of shooting raw format is that the sensor records everything. So the image needs to be adjusted (manipulated?) for color and light balance, and sharpness. Just like in the darkroom, some areas might need to be lightened or darkened.

"Photoshopping" is the new term for retouching - making someone thinner, less wrinkled, or even a different color. It's the new "airbrushing" that retouchers used up until the mid-1980s. Is it "cheating" or somehow dishonest to make adjustments? I think not. Photoshop is a poweful tool designed to coax detail that your eye sees but sometimes the camera doesn't. I explained that to two visitors who wanted to know if I printed photographs right out of the camera, with no editing. I really enjoy photo illustration and all of my images that are combinations of elements are clearly identified as "photo illustrations" or "digital paintings."

The other disturbing belief – and this often comes from painters – is that if you send your work to a professional printer (which I do for any image over 11x14"), that it's somehow no longer fine art. Never mind that most painters exhibiting at art festivals reproduce their paintings as "giclée" images. Giclée is a fancy art word for "digitally printed image." Basically the painting is photographed, then printed exactly the same way any digital image is printed. I doubt that painters are burning the midnight ink cranking out dozens of images on a large-format printer in their studio. Most of the painters at this show have at least a few of their paintings reproduced as digital images. One of my artist visitors actually asked me how my work could be considered art if I sent it to a printer.

I hope all of this doesn't sound cranky. All in all, I met some wonderful people, had some colorful and stimulating conversations, and even got my ego stroked frequently. At the same time, it bothers me when someone who picked up a camera six years ago and has never used anything but the automatic settings on the camera is now asking me a thousand questions about getting into the business. I've devoted many years to studying, making mistakes, and improving my art. My preferred art medium is photography. It's not the camera that makes a photographic artist any more than a handmade brush makes a good painter.

Now it's time to go check on the eagle's nest and see if the baby's ready for first flight – or is already out of the nest.

Stay tuned....

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Eagles are landing in Gig Harbor

Eagles, hummingbirds, and lots more will be at the Gig Harbor Art Festival this weekend. Hope you can catch it!


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Magical Supermoon

What makes a "supermoon" different than other full moons is that it appears to be much larger and brighter. In western Washington state, however, the weather can be "iffy" in June. Last night was no different. Moonrise was 8:25 p.m. PDT but it took a good half hour or so for the moon to rise above the clouds that were at the horizon.

Catching the moon sans clouds took more than an hour. It doesn't get fully dark here on the summer solstice until after 10 p.m., so I was lucky to get definition in both the moon and the foreground. The cloud effect on the surrounding mountains made waiting for the moon to appear a magical experience. Mauve puffs drift and shape-shift across the face of The Mountain (as folks here like to call the 14,000-plus feet high peak) to the east.

To the west are the Olympic Mountains. Sunsets are often breathtaking with Mt. Olympus taking center stage.

It was a super evening for viewing a supermoon. For more views of these beautiful mountains, visit my Mountains Gallery. I will be posting a moon gallery in the near future. For now, though, you can see the 2013 calendar Something About the Moon for some of the many images I've captured.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Flashy blackbird

Red-winged blackbirds are one of the most abundant birds in the United States, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Watching their territorial strutting, singing, and chasing intruders is fascinating this time of year.

The males, like many in the animal world, are the colorful ones. The females look a little like a large sparrow. This guy has claimed the storm water pond near my home as his own. He takes on all comers - even crows and the occasional great blue heron that wings in. His buddies seem to show up from nowhere to help chase off an intruder. I haven't seen a female or nest but I think I know where it is. In another week or so, there should be a baby or two around.

When Padme the wonderdog and I skirt the fence surrounding the pond, he hops from fence post to fence post about 10 feet from us. Occasionally flying to the tallest part of a street tree, then soaring across the pond to strut and sing for the ladies from the far side of the golden pond. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mama eagle's mini me

It's not easy to see what's going on in the nest from 100 yards away. I can see mama clearly but baby blends in with the nest. My camera exposes for baby and the nest, so many of these images appear rough. In film terms, we'd call it "grainy." Not really pixelated but these images look better smaller. In the next image, my camera exposed just for mama, and the result is less grainy.

I'm usually shooting about 7 p.m., which is when I can usually catch more before-bedtime feeding and flying. And maybe a little snuggling with mama, as much as we can say the eagles snuggle. It's hard to imagine that the little guy will be as big as mama in about six weeks. The last two broods have fledged (flown from the next for the first time) in mid-to-late July. I'm not seeing evidence of a second eaglet but I didn't last year until a couple of weeks before first flight.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Mama and baby eagle

I still think there's more than one baby in my favorite eagle's nest. If you look right below mama, there's a grayish-black blob that could be a head. This first image was taken just about a minute before the second.

This is when I wish I had just a little longer telephoto. These eagles are the main reason I bought a 100-400 mm lens last year. That's really the largest lens that you can hand-hold without a tripod, although I try to use a tripod most of the time when I'm photographing wildlife. The nest is at least 100 yards from where I'm photographing. And it's almost always very dark. Even with sunshine bathing the nest, like it is here, the image isn't quite sharp.
I really love this one, sharp or not-so-sharp.

 You can see that baby has just about lost all of his fluff. By this time next month, he'll be getting ready to take his first flight - and become a fledgling.

As baby sauntered off for a nap, mama had a chat with papa who was on watch at the top of the tall tree next to the nest tree. Another day in the life of an extraordinary eagle clan. Be sure to check out my Talons Gallery for new work I'm adding. Let me know if there are others you'd like to see in print. I'll be exhibiting in Gig Harbor, Tumwater, and Olympia this summer and fall. For the Birds & the Trees exhibit schedule.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Eagle baby

Eaglet - 6-2-2013

I'm not sure yet whether there's more than one youngster in our favorite eagle's nest. I looked at photos from the same time last year and we didn't see a second eaglet until a a couple of weeks before both fledged. A bald eagle's nest is massive and this one is so well hidden that one baby could be on the far side of the nest or just out of view.

Mama and papa take turns watching over the nest. This year the pair seems to be contending with a steady stream of unwanted visiting clan. A couple of days ago, Papa made it very clear to a soaring pair of bald eagles that they needed to move their fun elsewhere.

Eaglet 6-4-2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

Eagle laughter

 Mama and papa are spending a bit more time out of the nest, taking a break from their youngster or youngsters. So far, I've only seen one fuzzy head but there could be one or two more on the other side of their massive aerie.

One or more of last year's brood have been stopping by to visit - a mixed blessing for the eagle parents. They present a united front to protect this year's brood until they can protect themselves.

These two are incredibly well matched. They are as one. And they truly enjoy each other. This past weekend, I met one of the neighbors whose house backs onto the nesting area. He told me the nest has been there as long as he's lived there - since 2002. That makes this pair 15-16 years old or more. He also told me that they often see other adults and juveniles in and around the nest area, during the fall and winter, when nesting season is done. A further indication that we live among a cohesive clan of multiple related families.

We watched the nest for awhile and both said as one: "it is truly a blessing to have an eagle's nest here." Amen.