Life, Photography

Sparks Well

SparksWell Sign

Deep in the southern Idaho desert, twenty miles from anything, lie the ruins of an old homestead called Sparks Well.  I had heard of the place but, finding the area grottos and caves more inviting, never ventured any farther.  Then about a month ago my youngest brother showed me pictures of the site and a story plot came to mind.  Wanting to explore my idea further, I persuaded him to take me out there.  We made the trek a couple of weeks ago, navigating the bone-shaking trail through dust and heat across the Great Rift in the Craters of the Moon national monument.  As we traveled I had to wonder why anyone would want to live in such a godforsaken place.  Wild, windswept, and sunbaked, mercilessly hot during summer and bitterly cold in winter, this is no place for the timid.  The treacherous terrain would humble even the proudest.

SW SouthButteSW Brushy Expanse

At last we arrived.  I found the place intriguing and a little spooky.  Only the crumbling walls of two lava rock buildings remain, surrounded by rusty remnants of bygone days.  I wished they could talk.  Imagine the stories they might tell!  My fertile imagination kicked into high gear as story ideas grew.

SW FrontEntrance of House

SW RockWall Brush Grass

SW Back Wall Windows

I walked through the front door, ducking under a tall sagebrush as I entered the house.  Mounds of earth, a beam that must have supported the roof, and a few tin cans littered the ground.  The wall above separated this room from what appeared to be an addition to the house; little of that part remained.

Leaving the house, I walked to the west end of the site where, ravaged by time and bullets, this burning barrel kept a silent watch.

SW Trash Barrel

These items, forlorn and forgotten, lay scattered around the broken walls.  Whatever happened to the people living here?  The plot thickens!

SW Unknown

SW Stove

SW Rusty Cans

SW Debris

SW Cans Junk

SW Bedsprings

 

This type of place fascinates me!  I tried finding some history on Sparks and his well, but my search yielded little.  Apparently, in 1937 well drillers found gold-bearing gravel some 800 feet down.  Local legend holds that Sparks’ son was lowered into the shaft in a barrel.  Tragically, something gave and the barrel plunged to the bottom.  He was brought up alive but died on the way to town.


SW WellCasing

This is Sparks Well.  Rocks tossed down its shaft echo eerily as they fall.  I found a YouTube post that nails it perfectly.  Click here to listen.

The ideas are coming fast and furious, and hopefully I can pull the story together in the next few months.  Stay tuned!

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Photography

Blue Moon Photo Fun

Yesterday we enjoyed a beautiful evening.  I took advantage of July’s blue moon and the discovery of my camera’s zoom function to snap over 70 photographs of a breathtaking moonrise.  Experimenting with and without the flash and adjusting the zoom I got some interesting shots, the best of which are posted below..

I got outside as the full moon appeared over the horizon.  It lifted off the hilltop, leaving a shimmering wake as it glided skyward behind a flat gray cloud..

1 LargeMoon Windmill Elevator

2 OrangeMoon Cloud (7)

A wispy cloud lent the appearance of a polar cap that melted into shadow as the moon continued its ascent.

3 OrangeMoon Cloud Cap (1)

4 Shaded Moon (1)

Illuminating clouds and windmill.  (This windmill, incidentally, stands on a hill about five miles away.)

5 Moon with Aura  Windmill

Orange at first, the moon’s color changed to yellow with the height.

6 Yellow Moon (4)

7 Yellow Moon (5)

This shot, taken through evergreen foliage, has a surreal look..

8 Surreal (2)

I adjusted the zoom and got these tranquil shots.

9 Small Moon

10 MoonOverElevator (1)

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Photography

To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade

Flowers

Amid my various writing projects I’ve been out taking pictures.  Some turn out good, some not so good, and some are flat-out awful.  I have to admit that, as a photographer, I still have an amateur mindset.  I point and shoot without much thought to staging or even to what I’m actually shooting.  The evening sun lends golden hues to the distant hills–beautiful, I think as I point and shoot.  The finished product, however, shows none of the detail visible to my naked eye and I bemoan the fact that I can’t replace my camera’s lens with a high-powered zoom.

Then last week I discovered, quite by accident that my camera, a Canon PowerShot S3 IS, has a digital zoom when, while photographing windmills, my shot went from this:

Windmills (1)

To THIS:

  Windmills (2)

Same shot, same angle. . .but I accidently pressed or turned something, which brings out another glaring mark of an amateur:  READ THE OWNER’S MANUAL!

While my S3 IS has been discontinued, I think it is still a pretty good camera.  A lot of my close-ups, like the one below, would stay in focus if I used a tripod:

Onion

I love moonrises but have never been able to get a really good shot.  This is one of my better shots, but it looks grainy, almost like it was taken through a screen:

Full Moon Rising

I had not yet discovered my camera’s digital zoom when I took this.  I’ll engage that feature during the next full moon and see if that helps.  In the meantime, I need to learn about shutter speeds and filters, among other things.  I also wonder–and I welcome feedback on this–as to whether there is any benefit to purchasing a camera with interchangeable lenses.  Some that I have looked at include:  Canon Powershot SX530 HSCanon EOS Rebel T5; Nikon D3200 CMOS DSLR.

Before tackling anything more involved, however, I intend to read the manual for my current camera and find out just what it can do.   It may just surprise me.

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Life

Elegy to a Changing World

Windmills (16)

I remember when the land was free and unfettered,
When uncluttered earth rose up to kiss the boundless sky.
Fields of grain rode the swells
And swirled around verdant islands tucked into the hillsides.
Summer winds played, unharnessed and untamed, over open slopes
And carelessly cast themselves off the mountaintops into space.

I remember when, once upon a time,
I found solace among these hills and fields and sky.
The air smelled fresh and sweet,
“Civilization” lay miles behind,
Simplicity ruled,
And I could breathe.

Now “progress” and “technology” blot the terrain,
And the land I once called home deems me a trespasser,
Warning me away with signs that proclaim I am no longer welcome.
If only I could edit these behemoths off the landscape as out of a picture. . .
But such power eludes me, and I can only look on as, mute and defiant, they stand,
Their proud blades raking the sky.

I remember when. . .and I weep.

 Windmills (1)

© KoppingAnAttitude, 2015  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from the author is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given.

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Food

Purslane – Bane or Boon

Purslane (9)

Among numerous other blessings, my new home provides a bountiful garden.  The taste of store-bought vegetables can’t begin to compete with that of home-grown, in my opinion.  Whether roasted, steamed, or just plain raw, home-grown veggies possess a flavorful sweetness sadly lacking in supermarket fare.  I actually enjoy eating them.  That says a lot, considering I’m one of those nutritional heretics who believes that chocolate, salt, sugar, and grease compose the basic food groups.  Well, since I’ve so eagerly partaken, I thought it only right to help maintain this treasure.  Early this week I offered to help with the weeding.  I’ve always loved gardening and this would afford a welcome break from writing and a chance to putter around a bit, play with the cat, and commune with nature; and even though a week had passed since its last weeding, the garden appeared relatively clean.  How hard could it be?  I would probably spend most of the time with the cat.

Day before yesterday dawned bright and clear.  I went out early to beat the heat and, trowel in hand, set to work.  Things started out easy enough: a handful of lamb’s quarters and infant tumbleweeds here and there.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.  And THEN—I saw the flat fleshy green doilies strewn about between two corn rows.  Inwardly I groaned.  I’d encountered this stuff before: Purslane!  The evil weed that spontaneously oozes from the ground.  If pulled and left laying with the roots down, those roots drill their way back in; if the roots point skyward, the plant simply shoots new ones out its top and keeps going.  Ack!

Mom came over with a number of grocery bags and we stuffed a half dozen with the loathsome invaders.  The sun grew hot.  The purslane grew fatter.  I wrapped a wad of tendrils around my hand, yanked it out, and shoved it into a bag.  Aliens must have planted this stuff to choke out mankind so they could take over the world!  I finally concluded that the only way to eradicate this bane of my existence was to turn it into a money crop somehow and then watch it shrivel and die.  The heat intensified.  I hallucinated about building a still and making bootleg purslane moonshine or drying it out and smoking it.  I remembered reading somewhere that people eat this stuff and, since it had grown too hot to work anyway, decided to put my trowel away and do some research.

What I found intrigued me.  This crisp succulent is not only edible, but packed with vitamins A, C, and E, along with omega-3 fatty acids.  (A shortage of omega-3’s has been linked to such illnesses as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.)  Purslane also supplies several B-complex vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, and carotenoids) and minerals such as iron, magnesium, manganese, calcium, potassium, and zinc.  It contains a high level of pectin, known to lower cholesterol.  Purslane contains oxalic acid (as do spinach and other leafy greens), which may crystallize as oxalate stones in the urinary tracts of people prone to stones; otherwise, this noxious weed is actually a superfood.  So. . .if you can’t beat it, eat it!  Initially, though, the thought made me cringe.  Surely, I thought, only a domesticated variety would be fit for human consumption—not that untamed mat growing along the driveway.  And yet. . .Well, I decided to give it a shot and began searching for recipes.  A Tomato, Cucumber, Purslane Salad on simplyrecipes.com caught my eye.  Basically you chop a tomato and a large cucumber (after peeling the cucumber and discarding the seeds).  Chop ½ cup wild purslane leaves, add a minced, seeded jalapeno chili pepper, then toss together with 2-3 tblsp. lemon juice and salt to taste.  I omitted the chili pepper, added a couple of tsp. minced fresh onion, and used only 1 tblsp. lemon juice.  The result?  A truly savory and attractive salad I expect to enjoy many times throughout the summer.

Several sites describe the taste of purslane as sour and salty, or as lemony followed by a peppery kick.  I thought it tasted pretty much like any other salad green, although I would probably liken it more to spinach.  At any rate, this recipe is a keeper, and this little experiment proved you can’t judge a book by its cover.  Purslane has suffered a bad rep and, of course, not everyone will like it; I, however, intend to incorporate purslane into my vegetable repertoire.  It grows without any human effort; simply wait for it to appear and then leave it alone until you’re ready to eat!

Here are links to the sites from which I gleaned my information:  Purslane Nutrition Facts; Power-Packed PurslaneEat the Invaders.  These are just a few.  There are loads of other sites offering facts, humor, trivia, and recipes.  So why not give purslane a try?

© KoppingAnAttitude, 2015  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from the author is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given.

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Life

Sweet Freedom and Wide Open Spaces

Pink and Purple Sky

June 30 has come and gone.  I’ve settled into my new place and celebrated my first week of “retirement.”  I must admit to an initial feeling of trepidation about not having a “real” job anymore.  Strangely, after years of wishing myself out of that rut, I felt like a fish running out of water as the day approached when fate would suddenly thrust me out.  But on the 30th, as I walked–no, skipped–out of the corporate world for the last time into the sunshine, relief vanquished fear.  Finally, free to pursue my dreams unhindered, I could breathe again.  I headed my truck down a highway shimmering with summer heat, embracing the spacious countryside as the city with its endless construction, congestion, and road rage melted into memory behind me.

Now, instead of buildings I see rolling hills; instead of traffic, I hear lilting birdsong or the wind whispering through the trees.  I share my new home with an affectionate long-haired tom cat and two black rabbits.  For now I have no desire to go anywhere else.  It’s wonderful just to savor these beautiful surroundings, ride my bike in the hills, write my books, and take photographs.  A whole new world with new adventures has opened up.  I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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Photography

Photo Crawl

Featured Photo

The other day I enjoyed one of my favorite pastimes at one of my favorite places: a photo crawl through Boise’s Katherine Albertson park.  Here photo ops abound with unlimited scenes to delight the senses at every turn, and for two hours I snapped merrily away.  I was especially pleased to find, along with the usual ducks and geese, two rabbits and a squirrel that allowed me close enough for a photograph before scampering into the trees.  Normally I am pretty happy with the results.  This day’s batch, however, left me somewhat chagrined.  Some shots were good, some merely satisfactory, while still others show a definite need for more than a point-and-shoot camera.

For general landscape shots and certain close-ups, my point-and-shoot worked fine.

1 The Road Less Traveled

2 Pond Mirroring Trees

3 Live Tree Alongside Dead One

4 Daisy closeup

The following two are fair, but I wished I could have zoomed in on the fountain and geese.  However, I couldn’t get any closer without ending up in the drink.

5 Fountain

6 Geese Swimming

The details in these flowers hardly show at all.  For the first photo I could probably have achieved good results using a mini tripod, but the lily pad required a stronger lens—or hip boots so I could wade out to it.

7 Carpet of Yellow Flowers

8 Lily Pads

My wildlife shots proved especially disappointing.  They require a telephoto lens, since woodland critters rarely let you very close.  A fellow shutterbug using a camera with one of the most impressive lenses I had ever seen showed me a shot of a blue heron taken from across the pond.  With this lens he had been able to zoom in for a beautifully-detailed head shot. Even the bird’s eye color showed distinctly.

Mine. . .well; this is a shot of some geese feeding, but they hardly show up at all and are indistinguishable as geese.  (They’re the white splotches near the center.)

9 Geese Feeding on Pond

Likewise the rabbits.  You can see one in the first photo, just left of the tree, if you look closely.  The second was feeding in the grass, but unless you know where to look for him, you would never find him.

10 Rabbit

His head is underneath the double arrows.  My naked eye saw him clearly but you don’t see him in the photo unless you get within a couple of inches from it.

11 CloseUp Rabbit

This little fellow might have turned out better had I used the flash; however, I was too preoccupied with getting the shot before he took off and never thought of it.  (It’s a squirrel, by the way, and if you get up close to the second photo you can see he’s looking around the tree as if asking, “Wanna fight?”.)

12 Squirrel 1

13 Squirrel 2

There is actually a turtle sunning itself on this rock.  Sadly, even the rock doesn’t show up that well.

14 Turtle on Rock

Conclusion:  In order to expand my photography skills, I need to make some equipment upgrades (along with staging my shots a little better!).  I had hoped I needed only to buy a different lens; but my Canon’s lens is fixed, and I cannot remove it without destroying the camera.  I have since come across another camera I am seriously considering.  One thing I find interesting is that, whenever I tell another photographer I wished I had a decent camera, they usually cast a rueful look at their own and answer, “So do I.”  I guess we see flaws in our own work that no one else does.  But the more I pursue this hobby, the more I love it!  It affords hours of pleasure and, I think, that is all that really matters.

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Life

Random Acts of Kindness

  • Random Acts

Something happened today I have never experienced before.  It left me reeling—not from shock, horror, or pain but with a genuine warmth I’ve not felt in a while.  No, I didn’t meet Mr. Right.  But the incident’s impact, if nurtured and shared, could prove just as long-lasting and perhaps more fulfilling. It all started out routinely enough.  I ran to U-Haul for one last box and then pulled in behind a white pickup truck at a McDonald’s drive-thru to grab some lunch.  Listening to the radio while mulling over what still needs doing before the movers show up next week, I didn’t notice much else.  Pack this box. . .call the utilities. . .clean, clean, clean!  Now, what have I forgotten?  Meanwhile, the line inched forward.  I fumbled through my purse, finally pulling out a wrinkled ten-dollar bill as I reached the pick-up window.  The clerk appeared with my food but waved the money aside.  “You’re fine.  The guy ahead of you paid for your lunch.” “What?”  The hand holding the crumpled sawbuck still hung out the window. “You don’t owe anything.  The guy in that white pickup paid for your lunch.” I stared, dumbfounded.  “Why?” I blurted finally. The clerk shrugged.  “I dunno.  Guess he just wanted to make your day better.” Even then it didn’t quite register.  I stared after the departing truck and offered a hesitant wave as it turned onto the street and disappeared into the traffic.  “My goodness.  That’s never happened before.” Feeling strangely light, I thanked the clerk, took my lunch, and drove away.  The upcoming move had me stressed to some degree but not overly burdened; nevertheless, that gentleman’s kindly act seemed to lift a weight off my shoulders.  I wished I could have thanked him properly.  He probably hadn’t seen my wave.  At least, I decided, I could pass his generosity along.  My face relaxed into a broad smile as I drove to Dutch Brothers for an iced tea. Nick, the barista, greeted me with his usual grin and a hearty, “How ya doin’?” “Great!  But you’re not going to believe this.  I still don’t,” I answered. Nick’s smile never waned as I poured out my tale.  “Actually,” he said, “I hear of that happening quite often.  A guy even did that for me once, and last week the paper had an article about a mom who takes her kids to a drive-in and tells them, ‘How about we do something nice for that man (or that lady) behind us?  Let’s buy them lunch.’  And she does.” Wow!  What an example to set for your children! As we talked, a woman pulled up to the opposite window.  I gestured toward her.  “Know what?  I’m going to share that guy’s good deed and buy her drink.  I think that’s the best way to thank him.” Nick agreed.  Crossing to the other window, he took her order and brought me the bill.  I paid and then, tea in hand, headed back to the office.  I felt really good.  As I drove, however, I got to thinking.  No stranger had ever bought me lunch before, but several have done thoughtful little things over the years, like opening doors when I’m struggling with a package, holding the elevator, or offering a compliment or cheery greeting.  While they might not seem significant, such small acts uplift the other person’s spirits.  These simple courtesies tell a person, “You matter.” Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me.  Having grown up in a Christian home I had heard those words of Jesus many times; yet how often have I withheld common courtesy because I am having a bad day and can’t (or won’t) look beyond my own issues, or because I am just plain Kopping an attitude?  Maybe I can’t afford to buy everyone lunch, but I can certainly extend kindness.  I can say by my words and deeds, “You matter.”  In that light I’ve decided to make the following my daily prayer:  “Lord, help me treat others the way I would like to be treated, regardless of how I am treated in return.  Help me to look for at least one opportunity for an act of kindness today.”  And by living that way, mightn’t I make someone else’s day just a little bit better?

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Nature, Photography

A Scenic Afternoon Along the River

It has been a hectic three weeks!  Moving day is barely a month away.  Deciding what to keep and what to toss, packing, and tying up loose ends amid the last gasps of my dying programming career have left little time for much else.  I tried sneaking in a bicycle ride here and there, but two weeks of gloomy skies and stormy weather put a damper on that—literally.  However, Sunday afternoon the sun broke through.  I felt as though let out of a cage!  Grabbing my camera, I headed for the greenbelt.

Normally I would have taken my bike; but I hadn’t photographed this stretch before and the thought of simply ambling along a river trail appealed to me.  I never expected anything extraordinary.  More than likely these photos would resemble others taken around town; then again, a photograph might reveal an image unnoticed when the picture was snapped.  Not that I believe in ghosts.  Factors such as light, vegetation, clouds, and shadows can produce such illusions.  I love when that happens!

Several yards down the trail a web of stark branches snaked above the surrounding foliage, weaving curious patterns against the sky, and a brown trunk bearing a single hole stood boldly against a backdrop of filmy foliage.

1 Gnarly Branches Against Cloud (2)

2 Gnarly Branches Against Cloud

3 Hole in Trunk

These limbs appear almost charred:

4 Thicket Against Cloud

Farther down, one poor tree doubled over in agony.  I discovered why as I circled around.

5 SplitTrunk BowedBranch

6 Split Trunk

A cascade of wild roses spills over the wall:

7 Wild Roses

The dense thickets obscuring the river finally parted, affording this placid view:

8 River

This footbridge surprised me, for it seemingly leads nowhere:

9 InvitingBridge EtherealLight

But it indeed has a destination!  Camouflaged amid the thick foliage is part of a house.  Can you see it?

10 House Amid Thicket

Bonus question:  Do you see a man’s face in this photo below the bird’s nest?

11 BirdNest

I’ve considered having a contest but have no idea what to offer as a prize, although I intend to give it some serious thought.  (But for those who might be thinking a Porsche, a Jaguar, or a million bucks, forget it—it ain’t happening!)

Wishing you all a great week!

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