a photoblog of God's handiwork.

Archive for January, 2012

A Break in Winter’s Monotony

I just wrapped up a 9-day business road trip, covering parts of seven states.  The weather was generally foul while driving, and my schedule was rather full when I wasn’t.  Given this situation, camera time was pretty limited.  During a deadhead cruise from central Iowa to the Denver, Colorado area, I made a pitstop at Amana, Iowa to return some phone calls and answer several emails.  That day, and the previous three, had been cloudy and foggy, so I had little hope of doing any meaningful photography.  However, as I was hunting for a WiFi connection to hijack in Amana, the clouds broke and the sun shone brightly.  Just as quickly as the sunlight appeared, birds were suddenly flitting around in the trees next to my parked pickup.  I captured the Cardinal and Blue Jay during the short period of sunshine.

On the second to last day of the trip, I made a detour to Barr Lake State Park in Colorado.  I have visited this park in the past, finding it a convenient place to take a couple hour break and an opportunity to stretch my legs around the perimeter of the lake.  On previous visits here, I have found the Northern Flickers tend to be unafraid of me, making great photography subjects.  Almost immediately a Flicker appeared in the trees and allowed me to get several shots off before he became bored with me.  There were also a number of House Finches foraging through the brush, offering yet another photographic target.

Photography is my relief valve; a way for me to clear my head and recharge myself so that I can meet the next challenge.  Knowing my schedule was going to limit my hobby-time, I prayed for some opportunity to capture something unique during this journey…as our Lord promises, my prayer was answered!  “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Luke 11:9


Winter Returns!

At least briefly, more typical winter weather has returned to the northwest US.  Driving home from Seattle, WA, I didn’t find very many photographic opportunities good enough to make me want to brave the elements.  However, I did take a short detour to see if the resident Bighorn Sheep at Bonner, Montana were active, and sure enough, there were a few out braving the snow.  The ongoing snow and the distance between me and sheep prevented getting super clear images, but that was the reality of the day!  There were three rams traveling through at least a foot of snow as they traversed the steep side of the mountain adjacent to the Blackfoot River.

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Living Off The Land

Along my travels over the last couple weeks I ran across a number of old, abandoned homes. Many likely date back nearly a hundred years, and some may have been original homesteads when the country was settled. I was able to photograph a few of these, but all have some artifacts that tend to detract from the true rustic value of these finds. Additionally, each of these were located in relatively remote areas, so I wasn’t able to learn their specific history. However, from my knowledge of each locale, a little common sense, and perhaps a dash of artistic license, I will do my best to spin a good yarn. Each of the images is a result of HDR processing, which involves combining several exposures of the same frame in order to maximize the dynamic color range available.

Homestead near Gordon, Nebraska

The country around Gordon, Nebraska is a blend of farm and grass land, and most of the early settlers would have had some livestock, but really invested in turning the soil to produce grain crops. Relatively shallow water is in abundance through the region, courtesy of the Ogallala Aquifer, and to this day is commonly conveyed above ground by windmills. This old home is located atop a hill in the midst of corn fields that are grazed by cattle after harvest. While the home is no longer lived in, a relatively new windmill pumps water for the livestock.

Mining Camp at Sand Coulee, Montana

Several hundred miles to the northwest lies the small community of Sand Coulee, Montana. In the late 1800’s, Sand Coulee was probably a vibrant mining town, extracting coal from the earth to fuel the Great Northern Railway as it connected passengers and goods between Minneapolis-St Paul and the Pacific Northwest. Remnants of the gulch’s heyday remain, including the tell-tale signs of leached mine tailings by the bright orange coloration of the creek, dilapidated mine entrances, and a few old shacks that served as homes, stores or offices. During this era, many of the miners lived in tents or hastily build shelters to provide some protection from the fierce winter weather. So, while we might look at this and think it a tiny, cold shack, it may have actually been one of the nicer homes in Sand Coulee for a time. While it may have been a grand structure at the time, it is highly doubtful it sported such a nice roof – wood shakes or grass thatching would have been most common.

Sarpy Creek Homestead

Southeast of Hysham, Montana, the county highway follows the path of Sarpy Creek as it meanders through a valley surrounded by timber and rugged grassland. Out here among the rattlesnakes in the hunting ground of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribes, was no place for the faint of heart. Far from the comforts and conveniences available in town, hard living made the Sarpy Creek settlers a tough lot. This homestead was likely established in the early 1900’s, but the adjacent power pole probably didn’t arrive for another 20 or 30 years. The working corrals were conveniently located immediately adjacent to the house, perhaps as a security measure to protect livestock from marauding Indians looking to feed their families during the long, cold winter.

Each of these structure served very important purposes. They offered protection from the elements, safety from wild animals and comfort after a long, hard day’s labor. Yet each has been abandoned and fallen into disrepair. We can only speculate about the lives of their former residents; were they beaten by drought? where did they go after the mine closed? did they survive Indian attack? There are many unknowns, but we can be fairly certain that the folks who built these homes, at least initially, had a lot of courage, stamina and faith. In a time like that, before all the modern comforts and conveniences we know today, I would imagine that folks relied on God and His Providence more extensively than we do today. It seems to me that the more “advanced” our culture becomes, we become further removed from Him that created us.


See the Wind!

With all the wind we’ve been having here in the north country, it is a good thing our snowfall is well below normal. The combination of normal snowfall and the winds of recent weeks would have resulted in spectacular drifting, which I am happy to not experience! Late yesterday afteroon I was on the outskirts of Billings and the wind was doing a pretty good job of keeping things stirred up in the valley. As I was driving in a westerly direction, I looked to the southwest of the Yellowstone Valley and saw that the wind was whipping up a lot of snow over the top of the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains. I felt the wind was a little too nasty to set up my tripod, so I hand-held the camera to get several exposures to merge for an HDR capture. As I was essentially shooting into the setting sun, an HDR composition allowed me to get an image that is close to what the scene actually looked like.

Like the wind, the presence of the Holy Spirit is invisible. A person cannot see it move or work. However, one can see the effect of what the Spirit does. One can see how it acts on things—just as the wind stirs up the settled snow. One cannot see the wind, but everyone has seen how it makes tree leaves and the branches sway or dust kick up from a dirt road. Often we see the impact of the wind, but not the wind itself. It is the same with the Spirit. The Spirit moves, and we then see the impact in people’s lives. People act and a work gets done. What we see is not the Spirit itself, but the Spirit’s fruit.

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8


Just Another Pretty Face?

Scottish Highland cattle are reportedly one of the oldest cattle breeds in the world, possibly dating back to the 6th century.  In their home country of Scotland, these cattle regularly face the brunt of North Atlantic storms and severe winter climate, making it a tough and hardy breed.  Here in the states they are most commonly viewed as a hobby breed.  With long, shaggy hair and long horns, they don’t fit the mold for typical cattle in the US landscape, but I enjoy seeing them scattered across my travels.  This photo was taken on a farm east of Billings, Montana, but our lack of winter may have her wishing for a haircut!

The Psalmist reminds us that we are only temporary stewards of the Lord’s many creations, “For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” Psalms 50:10


Lights in the Firmament

Our Montana winter has been pretty mild the past couple weeks, with relatively warm temperatures and clear skies.  The nice weather and a mostly full moon made for a rare winter photo op on Saturday night.  In order to keep track of the seasons, the Algonquin Indians assigned names to each month’s full moon, calling January’s event the Wolf Moon; because hungry wolf packs howled at night in the middle of winter.  Although it is present most nights, we rarely really consider the importance of this grand satellite. People and animals obviously benefit at times from the light reflected by the moon and back to the earth’s surface.  More importantly, because of gravitational forces, the moon actually helps stabilize Earth’s rotation.  And, of course, the moon plays a key role in the tidal activity of our oceans, thus stimulating sea life in the intertidal zone (between low and high tides), impacting water navigation, and even offering a source for energy generation.

Wolf Moon 01/07/2012

According to the Bible, the fourth day of creation was when the moon, sun and the stars were molded and placed by God’s hand.  And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth;” and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day. Genesis 1:14-19

Upon applying a little processing to this image, I became curious about some of the structures visible across the moon’s surface.  So, the second image includes names of several of the features of the moon.  Many of these are visible to the naked eye, so if you keep a few of these names in mind, you might be able to impress your friends with a little moon-trivia someday!  (If you click on the image, you will get a larger view and the labels will be more legible.)

Features of the Wolf Moon


Merlin; A Wizard, NOT!

I must have been near Camelot, because I found Merlin!

Merlin near Hemingford, Nebraska

My first post of 2012 features a first-time bird sighting for me. While traveling in Nebraska this week, I stopped along a shelterbelt on a rural road to take a break from driving and spotted what I thought was an American Kestrel. I fired away a series of photos, and it wasn’t until I downloaded them that evening that I realized my initial ID was incorrect. After researching the bird’s colors and markings, I learned that he is a Merlin, which is actually a small falcon. In some places they are nicknamed “pigeon hawks”, however they are not closely related to hawks. Merlins are fairly common in North America and Europe.

Merlin near Hemingford, Nebraska