Over the past year, I have made a number of panorama images by stitching together several frames. If they are included in a regular post, they don’t show very well because the width is restricted by the sidebar. In order to display them in a better format, I’ve created a new Panorama Gallery, under the Before the Mountains gallery. While they still don’t show as wide as I’d like them to, I think this is the best I can do for now. If you click on the images, you will view them in a larger format. Presently there are six panoramic images, including the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, Zion National Park in Utah, Red Mountain near Dubois, Wyoming, and three from last summer’s trip to Ireland; The Burren, rural countryside from County Cork, and suburban view along the western reach of the Ring of Kerry.
More photographs should be added to the gallery in the near future, and I hope you enjoy the residents.
Today marks the end of the first full year of regularly blogging on His Creation. As I look back at the posts over the last twelve months, I find it exciting to re-visit the places I’ve been and the sights I’ve seen. I’ve been blessed with some really wonderful opportunities, and am looking forward to more in 2012.
My review of the posts and albums did make me aware that I never was able to work a number of 2011 images into the blog. As much as possible, I try to post images fairly close in time to when they were made, so if I don’t get some “leftover” images from 2011 posted now, they may never make it (or I might be tempted to cheat and use them next year). So, in order to start 2012 with a clean slate of photos, I am posting a number of ’11 images that I want to share with you. It is my hope that you enjoy them as much as I have. May you be blessed by our Maker in the coming year!
In January I traveled a big circle, from Montana to California to Washington state, and then back to Montana. Because this was a business trip, and due to a lot of wet and snowy weather along the way, I wasn’t able to work in a lot of camera time. However, I did make the most of a few opportunities. I found the Hooded Merganser in a creek along Interstate 5 in western Oregon. This is the first time I have ever seen this unique looking bird, and he didn’t allow me much time to capture very many images. At the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington, I found the Great Blue Heron enjoying a short respite from the rain. The young Bighorn Sheep was along Highway 200, near Bonner, MT. He is from one of several Bighorn “flocks” in the northern Rockies that has been heavily impacted by losses due to pneumonia in the past few years.
During the month of April I drove to Phoenix, and made a few detours along the way that yielded some fun images. The bulk of photos from this trip were previously posted in The Rejoicing Desert gallery, but I think these are at least as entertaining. American Kestrels seem to be everywhere I travel, but they are very aloof and rarely let me get close enough to get decent shots of them. Perhaps it was the freezing weather in the mountains of southern Utah that slowed down the reaction time of this guy, but I was able to get surprisingly close to capture this image. While in the Phoenix area, I spent some time at Papago Park and the Gilbert Riparian Preserve and got some unique bird captures. I had never seen Great-tailed Grackles before this, but I found them to be pretty comical. This fellow was enjoying a bath in a stream at Papago Park. The gosling (Canada Goose) and the Great Egret were taken at Gilbert. The snow finally stopped and the sun came out for a short period at Bryce Canyon National Park, allowing me to get an expansive landscape shot that I really like. For all the miles I drove on the trip, the only traffic jam I encountered was a three American Bison stack-up in Yellowstone National Park.
I normally see a lot of hawks and eagles throughout the year, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Ferruginous Hawk prior to sighting this one nesting on a farm south of Chester, MT. I tried to follow up a few weeks later in hopes of getting more pictures, but the hawk had abandoned the nest and was not to be found. On a trip through Wyoming, I caught the Great Horned Owl at Wilkins State Park, along the North Platte River. As much as I tried to get an unobstructed view, the owl kept finding landing perches that partially camouflaged his view – this is the best I came away with. Wood chips were flying when the Downy Woodpecker was concentrated on boring through a tree along the Musselshell River about a week before it reached historically disastrous flood stage. Escaping high water along the Missouri River in Great Falls, MT, this squirrel peered down at me from the safety of Cottonwood branches well above my head.
Summer brought even more extensive travel, both domestic and foreign. The Cedar Waxwing photos I took in Washington still rank as some of my all-time favorites, simply because this was the first time I had seen this species, and I find them to be an awesome creation. The post, Winning the Prize, better explains my excitement over this bird. At the same place I also found the Vesper Sparrow, which looks to me like he used a little too much mousse on his head feathers! In the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks I stumbled upon a group of Bighorn Sheep, and caught this fellow climbing the rocks to get away from all the people below. The Yellowstone River was running at a near historic high level when I took this shot just below the Lower Falls in YNP. And in Grand Teton National Park, it still looked like Spring, with plentiful green grass and a lot of snow on the Tetons.
I just had to slip in a few more shots from my Ireland trip, each of which are the result of a little more post-processing work than I normally employ. Nevertheless, the results better reflect how the scenes actually looked at that time. The first is the cloister of Quin Friary. The caretaker of the friary told us that the purpose of the cloister was to catch the sunlight, which was relected into the surrounding archways. The interior halls were painted white, so the effect was significant illumination, allowing the friars ample visibility to write and study, yet be protected from the rain that is so common in the country. The second image is a old farmhouse that seems to have a story to tell. It has obviously been around for a long time, and I believe it was still lived in at the time the picture was taken. Despite the unkempt appearance of the dwelling, it is situated in a beautiful and fertile setting, making the house all the more attractive itself. And finally, a long exposure shot of the bridge over River Sullane in Macroom. Above the bridge, the top of Macroom Castle is partially visible. And, just in case the writing on the tank isn’t legible, that is an advertisement for Murphy’s Ale, an obvious competitor to Guinness. I only partook of Guinness during my visit; perhaps I will have to try Murphy’s when I return!
We finally made it to the final series to end this year. On Veteran’s Day I stopped at the Black Hills National Cemetery for a few moments of remembrance and took a few pictures while I was there. Being my first-ever visit to a military cemetery, I was taken aback with emotion as I considered the struggle, pain and sacrifice that so many have made, in order that we may live free. There is no way that a photograph could ever convey the feeling of being there, but I hope these couple shots are deemed a worthy effort to honor those that served. The price that our veterans have paid, and are paying, is something we should consider everyday. It seems appropriate that Mt. Rushmore is located nearby, a monument to some of the men who were instrumental in the establishment of our country and who helped it grow through it’s adolescence. Wrapping up this post and 2011 is a fall sunset over the Rocky Mountains. Had I a little more time, I would have stopped and set up a tripod to catch the beautiful colors in the clouds. However, the sun was descending rapidly and I was traveling Interstate 90 at 75 mph, with no place to safely stop. The result isn’t bad, considering I side-armed the camera out the window of a moving vehicle (not a recommended practice).
“For whatever is born of God, overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” 1John 5:4
A number of theories exist over the origin of the Celtic cross. The most likely explanation is that the design represents a cross adorned with a victor’s wreath, which was stamped on the back of a gold coin, called the Liudhard medalet, from Canterbury, England around 590 BC. It is speculated that this medallion was worn to proclaim a person’s conversion to Christianity. Indeed, the faith of a new believer is a victory worthy of celebration. Moreover, it is an event to be proclaimed and shared wherever we go, and in all we do. One’s faith in Jesus Christ is a mighty victory over evil, and it is celebrated by our Lord in Heaven, as He welcomes us into His loving arms.
It is about time to wrap up discussion on my Ireland trip, so this will be my final post focused on the subject. My “victories” in Ireland pale against coming to Christ, but the many things I was able to see and experience offered me a number of reasons to celebrate. As mentioned in a previous post, visiting Ireland has been a nearly lifelong dream, so just being there was pretty darn amazing. Beyond the landscapes, castles, and all the other things a person normally would expect to find there, some of the best things were not really anticipated.
Before we headed “across the pond,” Leah suggested we look into catching a glimpse of the Quiet Man Bridge. This small bridge served as a prop for John Wayne in one of the early scenes of the movie, The Quiet Man, in which Maureen O’Hara co-starred. I am not a person that generally holds movie stars in any special regard, but I have to admit that John Wayne has always been my favorite. And The Quiet Man is a fun show that our family has watched a number of times. So with seeing the bridge in mind, we scheduled a night at a Bed & Breakfast in Oughterard, only a short distance away from the bridge.
The Cliffs of Moher are a popular tourist destination, which normally would make me want to avoid them! After all, they’re just cliffs along the coast, how different could they be? Well, they are actually very spectacular when you see them up close, and I am very glad we took the time to do so. In fact, they are so spectacular that at the time of our visit there was a campaign in progress to get them voted as one of the seven natural wonders of the Europe. These nearly vertical cliffs rise from a measly 390 feet above sea level at their point, up to 702 feet near O’Brien’s Lookout, not far from where I took the photo below. Just to get a little perspective on the size of these cliffs, if you look closely, you will see a few people walking along the top edge of them on the left side of the image.
As impressive as the many sights were, I think the people and culture I encountered had the greatest impact on me. Over the 7 days in the country, I never met anyone that wasn’t polite or helpful. Most evenings I had supper in pubs, yet I never ran across loud, obnoxious drunkards. It took me awhile to competently drive on the left side of the road, and in the meanwhile I made several rookie mistakes that created hazards, or at least impediments, for other drivers, but I never was the recipient of any reaction remotely close to the road rage that is so prevalent in the states. As a whole, the culture with which I interacted seemed to be comprised of regular, unpretentious folks that couldn’t have been more hospitable. I may never have the pleasure of returning to Ireland, but I will always remember how welcome I felt as a visitor to their remarkable land.
“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.)
“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!
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.
“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.
- Country Diary: The Burren, Ireland (guardian.co.uk)
- Seeing the Burren and heading to Ennis – Ennis, Ireland (travelpod.com)
“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.
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.