a photoblog of God's handiwork.

Archive for August, 2011

Leaving the Nest

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth.”  3 John 1:4

Its just a part of family life…children grow up and leave home as they embark on their next journey.  Some thirty years ago, when I left home for college, I don’t remember wondering about the impact of my departure on my parent’s lives.  But now the tables are turned as I see my own children stretching their wings, readying themselves to launch from the family nest.  Will I miss them?  You bet I will!  Am I happy for them?  Absolutely – I am ecstatic about what their lives will become.  While I know they will encounter challenges and setbacks, they will also be offered opportunities to fill their lives with meaning and purpose.  Because they walk in Christ’s truth, I couldn’t be happier for them or more confident that they can make the right decisions and choices.

In reality, comparing kids leaving home to birds leaving a nest is not a very good analogy.  A young finch gets a few lessons in flying and foraging for food, maybe even some experience evading predators – but when he finally sets his wings to the air and takes off, he no longer has his parents to help when unknown dangers approach.  On the other hand, our children can continue to seek advice and counsel from my wife and me, and we probably have a few nuggets of wisdom and experience left to share with them.  Even better, they have a direct line of communication with the Wonderful Counselor – who also happens to be our Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace!  Pretty good resume for a personal adviser, wouldn’t you agree?  So long as they continue to walk in His truth, their lives will be grand!

Ireland: The Wild Side

“I know all the birds of the mountains; and the wild beasts of the field are Mine.” Psalms 50:11

My primary photographic passion is capturing wildlife images.  Throughout my week in Ireland I took over 1000 shots, but most of them were landscapes, ancient ruins, foliage and general cultural interest scenes.  If I suffered any disappointment in my trip, it would be the lack of wildlife photographs taken.  But then, that’s just one more reason to return another time!  I spent a considerable amount of time in The Burren, along the fringe of the Connemara and in Killarney National Park, but can’t say that I saw a tremendous wildlife population.  However, I was generally moving along at a pretty good pace, so I didn’t give them a lot of time to show themselves!  The highlight was seeing Red Deer in Killarney National Park, just across from the entrance to the Muckross House.  It seems that the deer herd was subject to some management by the park, as some of the bucks were ear tagged and a group of bucks, does and fawns appeared to be accustomed to human presence.  The size, build and antlers of these deer looked like something in between the deer and elk we have here in the Rocky Mountains.

Everywhere I traveled in Ireland seemed to have a fair number of what I originally thought were crows, but near the end of my trip I noticed some distinct differences between these birds and the crows back home.  After looking them up in an online reference, I came to know these ever-present birds as Rooks.  Their face is bald and their feathers have a blueish hue, but they are still as noisy and competitive as crows.  After leaving Bunratty Castle on my last day in the country, I walked by what I figured to be a Rook on the wall beside me.  As I was focusing the camera on him, I noticed he lacked the bald face and his eyes were a pale blue.  I snapped a few shots of this smaller black bird, and later identified him as a Jackdaw.

At a small park on the edge of Lough Rae, I was able to get some images of birds scavenging the shallows near the shore.  Several pairs of Mute Swans were trolling along with their adolescent brood.  While not necessarily ugly, these youngsters still had a ways to go before they possessed the elegance and beauty of their parents.  Black-headed Gulls were out in force along the shore, and were quick to join any other bird that found prey or morsels thrown from the children in the park.  I saw a lot of these small gulls, but have to admit that I never saw one that actually had a black head!  Some birds seem to be everywhere, and European Starlings were a pretty common sight in the country.  The male starling was standing watch from a rock protruding through the surface of the water.  He would often darts over to the gulls when they were eating, in hopes of picking up a few crumbs, and then return to his guardpost on the water.

Around Moll’s Gap, on the Ring of Kerry, we stopped to take in the surrounding landscape.  While Leah and I were surveying the country, a Pied Wagtail entertained us with some amazing acrobatics while hunting for flying insects.  Initially Leah thought this little bird was going crazy with his odd in-flight antics.  It wasn’t until I showed her the image on the LCD of my camera, that we both realized that there was method to his apparent madness – he caught himself a good sized bug, that we hadn’t noticed.  The wagtails were fairly common in many of the places we toured.

On my solo trek down to the Atlantic coast at Cobh Harbour, I wandered along the waters edge and came upon a Little Egret patiently working the muddy bottoms for a meal.  The water was too murky for him to hunt by sight, so he would use one foot to tap the mud until he felt movement, then, in an instant, he would secure the prey with his bill.  I am not sure what he was eating, but in the accompanying image you can see it is stuck in his throat!  He had to cough it up several times before it finally went down.  Near my vantage point on the shore, another Pied Wagtail and a juvenile European Starling provided me additional targets to shoot.

(You can click on any of the pictures in this post to view them in a larger format.)

In The Garden

I will be forever in awe at the variety, detail and beauty of God’s many creations. Some of the most obvious examples to many of us are the flowers that adorn virtually every land across the globe. While in Ireland, we took a short photo-tour of the gardens at the Muckross House in Killarney National Park. While the house was itself was very impressive, and has a storied past that included a visit by Queen Victoria, the gardens and arboretum at the premises are outstanding. I have no idea how many people are employed to maintain the grounds, but it must be a small army of very talented folks. This first slideshow shows some of the many plant species we photographed there. (If you mouse over the slideshow, you can control the movement from one image to the next.)

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Near the end of my week-long stay in Ireland, I traveled to the south coast village of Cobh. Along the way I spent a couple hours at the Botanical Garden in Fota. The foliage displays at Fota are very extensive and offer a tremendous variety of plants between the garden-proper and the arboretum. Looking back, I wish I would have taken the time to jot down the names of several of the flowers, but I guess not having that information gives me one more reason to return!

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.


And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.


I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.


Little Miss Sat-Nav

“A man’s steps are of the Lord; How then can a man understand his own way?” Proverbs 20:24

I spend a lot of time traveling to and through places I’ve never been, and I am fairly adept at reaching destinations without too much trouble. Often I will glance at a map to make sure I know where I’m going and how to get there. However, I have learned that there are times when a GPS can be a handy tool. Upon landing at the airport in Shannon, Ireland, we proceeded to the car rental counter and the clerk suggested I include a Garmin “Sat-Nav” with my rental. My daughter, Leah, and I had plans to visit a number of sites in the southwest quarter of Ireland – places in a country neither of us had previously visited – so I quickly agreed to rent the Sat-Nav. With said Sat-Nav in hand, we headed out the doors to our traveling partner for the week, a Peugeot 207. The local time was 8:00 am, and we had the whole day to work our way toward the village of Blarney, where we had B&B reservations for the evening. This was only a 110 km trip, or 68 miles to us Yanks, so we had plenty of time for side excursions along the way. We intended to see a few sites along the route and spend the afternoon touring Blarney Castle – and potentially kiss the Blarney Stone. At least that was the plan…

I took a few minutes to familiarize myself with the car, getting comfortable sitting on the wrong, I mean right, side. The car was equipped with a manual transmission, so I worked the shift lever through the pattern a few times, adjusted the mirrors, turned on the headlights and started reciting what became my mantra for the week; “drive on the left, drive on the left, drive on the left…” Leah set our destination in the GPS, and with a direct, British female accent, the Sat-Nav launched us on our adventure.

We had only tracked a few miles, er, kilometers, south on the motorway (think interstate, Yanks) when we saw a sign for the exit to Bunratty Castle. Wow, we had been in Ireland less than an hour and we would see our first castle! We exited left and quickly found ourselves in the village of Bunratty. While not necessarily heavy, there was a fair amount of traffic and we had a drizzling rain to contend with and cars seemed to be parked at random throughout the village. With the numerous distractions, I found it necessary to recite my mantra a few more times; drive on the left, drive on the left, drive on the left. We (mostly Leah, because I was too focused on driving on the left) searched for the castle, but didn’t see it. So we did the next best thing to do when you don’t want to park, we selected what appeared to be the biggest road and followed it.

Well, the road looked big when we started, but it quickly narrowed to what I would normally consider a goat trail. But hey, our car was small and as we shortly found ourselves out of the village and in the rural countryside I figured there wouldn’t be much traffic to contend with. Wrong! When we met the first car coming towards us, two things came to my mind: 1) drive on the left, and 2) there isn’t enough room for us to pass. I am now convinced that the driver of every car we met on that first day must have thought I was the biggest road hog in Ireland! After a little practice and experience I learned that if I moved far enough to the left to hear the brush scraping along the side of the car, we could pass an oncoming car without stopping! And I took out full insurance on the car, so I didn’t really care if EuropCar had to re-paint the passenger side after a week of sideswiping the roadside foliage!

We left the village of Bunratty without ever catching a glimpse of the castle, but very soon we found ourselves at the driveway to Knappogee Castle, so we motored our way to the mostly vacant parking lot. We found an older man who had the appearance of a gardener, and he informed us that a film crew was shooting in the castle, so we would need to return another day for a tour. He allowed us to take a few pictures before he escorted us down the driveway to close the gate. Who needs a GPS when you can wander around and discover great finds like this? So we continued down the road in a direction that my internal compass told me was essentially parallel with the motorway toward Blarney. Soon we spotted the ruins of what appeared to be an old church and cemetery on the outskirts of a very small village. We parked the car and hiked a couple hundred metres (kind of like yards, Yanks) to the site. As Leah and I were wandering around the locked up Quin Abbey, we noticed a man arrive and unlock the gate for visitors to enter.

Other than a gardener mowing the grass between gravestones, Leah and I were the only other people there. Entering the Abbey, we were quickly greeted by the caretaker, who began telling us about the history of the site, which was really a Friary (spelled Priory, in Ireland). He probably spent the better part of an hour sharing the history and answering questions before he turned us loose to investigate on our own. The fellow did a great job of helping understand things that we would be seeing at other locations through the week, and we were grateful for that. When we had finished our tour, we checked in with him again to ask a few final questions and bid him farewell. Then he asked where we were headed.

“Well, we are on our way to Blarney,” I replied. Knowing that we had just flown into Shannon that morning, he looked at me with a deep concern, and asked, “how did you get here?” So we explained that we tried to see Bunratty Castle, couldn’t find it, and ended up here. Shaking his head, he pulled an atlas from his office and showed us that instead of being south of Shannon and on our way toward Blarney, we had actually worked our way up to a point northwest of Shannon. At that point he gave us some advice for our travels: 1) use the Sat-Nav, 2) if I find that other cars aren’t passing me, I need to pull over and let them by, and 3) he had me study the Ireland road system on his atlas. He explained that the roads colored blue were large motorways, recommending I use them whenever available. Then he pointed out that the green roads are main routes and we should use them when there aren’t any blue motorways. Finally, he pointed out the remaining roads – the white roads. “Stay off the white roads,” he said, “because God only knows where you will end up if you take the white roads.” After ending up in Quin, while on my way to Blarney from Shannon, this man had zero confidence in my navigation abilities, and did all but blurt it out!

Drive on the left?

To a large degree, we followed his advice. We used the Sat-Nav and kept an eye on traffic stacking up behind me, allowing them to pass when I was able. Unfortunately we soon learned that the British wench in our Sat-Nav must have been having tea when she should have attended the roadway update sessions. Recent road and motorway construction had been completed in counties we traveled, but old lady Sat-Nav was oblivious to their existence. At first we found this frustrating, as she would send us on what seemed to be wild goose chases as she led us to locations different from our destinations. But she did seem to have an aversion to the white roads. Over time, Leah paid more attention to our soon to be worn out map than to the Sat-Nav lady, calling her bluff and setting us back on course. Pulling out her 3G equipped Kindle, she Googled our way across the Emerald Isle, and became my Little Miss Sat-Nav. She took us on the coastal route to the Cliffs of Moher, navigated us around the Ring of Kerry, and pulled up a little online information and history along the way. And, unlike the old lady, Little Miss Sat-Nav became very good at reminding me of my mantra; “Left, Papa, drive on the left!” However, she was unable to deter me from taking the white roads! If only God knew where we’d end up, we knew we were in good hands as we meandered through the country on the narrowest roads we’ve ever seen. It was there that we could catch a glimpse of the real Ireland – places that, until then, only existed in our imaginations. With the Lord guiding our path, we didn’t really need to know the route.

Color Me Shamrock-Green!

“Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; Sing praises on the harp to our God, Who covers the heavens with clouds, Who prepares rain for the earth, Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.” Psalms 147:7-8

The Psalmist, it seems, could have easily been in Ireland when he wrote these words of thanksgiving.  Most everyone has a mental picture of the country’s verdant, green landscapes, but they are so much greener than the mind imagines.  Unfortunately the camera didn’t do justice to this wonderland.  The island’s nickname, the Emerald Isle, is indeed appropriate!  The timing of our trip landed us at the perfect time to appreciate the beauty of the land.  Most of the southwest portion of the country is made up of small farms, yet larger, more extensive range sheep and cattle outfits were resident in the mountainous regions.

One of the uniquely picturesque areas we wandered through is known as The Burren, a term derived from the Gaelic word boirreann, meaning “rocky place.”  Aptly named, The Burren region is known for its limestone terrain.  Some of the mountains are seemingly solid limestone, and outcroppings of limestone meander through the valleys.  Yet, between the flows of stone, strong pasture grasses flourish in the soil.  The wash of stone has been the source material for fences which traverse thousands of miles and have survived centuries of use.

Between the mountains, the rolling landscape is dominated by farms with small pastures of cattle, sheep, hay and grain.  The image above shows one of the larger herds of dairy cattle we saw through our week-long adventure.  On the steep, rocky mountain slopes, flocks of sheep are very common.  At a  point along the Ring of Kerry, near Moll’s Gap, we stopped to photograph the landscape and sheep.  The thumbnail images below share those views, as well as the Gap of Dunloe passing through the mountains on the distant horizon.  Click on the thumbnails for a larger view.

Everywhere we traveled, the vistas were stunning and the people were friendly.  I can’t remember a time or place when I felt so at home in a place so foreign to me.  Singing praises of thanksgiving to the Lord came naturally to me in this land.  Even in the popular, tourist-infested locales, the pace of life was laid back and inviting…well, except for the roadways!  But then, that is the subject of a future post.

Exploring the Past on the Emerald Isle

“The Stone which the builders rejected has become the chief Cornerstone.”  Psalms 118:22

In most respects, I am generally an America-snob.  The good old USA provides more than a lifetime of wonder and beauty of God’s creation to explore and appreciate, and I take every opportunity available to do so.  However, there have always been a few other countries on my wishlist to visit – but never thought I would have the chance.  Recently my youngest daughter asked me if I would accompany her to Ireland, as she was headed there to do some missionary work.  Ireland?  Really?  Oh, twist my arm just a little more!  It took me very little time to agree to go with her to visit a place that has long intrigued me.  So this post, as well as several subsequent posts, will be about my week-long adventure to the Emerald Isle.

Here in the states our history is relatively short when it comes to exploring our past.  Yet in Ireland, the historical record remains evident in the many ruins of castles, forts, abbeys and churches, spanning many hundreds of years.  The majority of those structures were built with stones; an abundant building material available across much of the island.  There were obviously many skilled stone masons in the days of old that designed and built amazing edifices for protective, religious and memorial purposes.  As has been the practice for centuries, each building began with the placement of a carefully selected cornerstone that would provide stability and longevity for the entire project.  Yet, over the years, through acts of war and battered by weather, all the structures have deteriorated to varying states of ruin.  These master craftsmen did the best job they could, but the fruits of their labor were temporal.

Just as the stone masons of old, we need to carefully select the cornerstone that we fashion our lives around.  Worldly objects will only serve as temporary foundations, and will crumble over time.  On the other hand, we can choose Christ as the Cornerstone to our lives.  Building our lives around Him provides an us an eternal future in a mansion within His kingdom.  This future is evidenced in Ephesians 2:19-22;  “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

During our Irish adventure, we visited a number of castles and religious sites.  The slideshow below includes Dunguiare Castle, Bunratty Castle and the Macroom Castle, most of which have been at least partially restored.  We also spent some time at Quin Abbey (which was really a friary) and then I took a trip down to Cobh Harbor on the south coast where I found the relatively new St Coleman’s Cathedral.

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Upcoming posts will share some views of the Irish countryside, experiences driving on the wrong – I mean left – side of the road, and some of the foliage and wildlife of the country.