I know who stole the Christmas tree ornaments…

but can you tell me who was the thief of time?

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decorations for his tree

And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Fifty two weeks of blogging. Fifty two weeks to link images and words. Fifty two weeks of growth and direction.

When I started this project I wasn’t sure how it would look or where it would take me. I worried that it would become a self-imposed “assignment” that would loom like a dark cloud over my week-end.

The time has literally flown by though and this has become an enjoyable part of my week. Much to my surprise I have never had to struggle through the writing of the post and as an added bonus, I have a lot more clarity on my own direction.

It brings me great pleasure to see people from around the world taking a few minutes out of their day to see what images and words I have shared. Time is in short supply for most of us and I wanted to take a moment to thank those of you who have signed up to follow my blog, comment, or just drop in from time to time.

For me this has been a valuable lesson in not having expectations but just going forward and letting things unfold. Do it for yourself first! I know that I harp constantly on creativity and how important is it to feed it but for those of you who struggle with it, I swear that if you make a commitment to yourself to feed your art on a daily basis you will have more inspiration and ideas than you will know what to do with!

Merry Christmas, may the season bring you joy and inspiration and time with those you love… two-legged or four!

In this month of excess…

don’t forget to check in with yourself…and get committed!

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If you deny yourself commitment, what can you do with your life?

Harvey Fierstein

December is my month for reflection; to think back on the year and to consider the next. It is also a month of excess and pressure that flies along at such a pace that if we aren’t careful, we can be left feeling depressed, out of sorts, and like we have missed something.

For me it is a time to set goals and to put those things into play before the end of the year so that when the first of January rolls around I already have a head start. Such has been the case with my first year of blogging.

My goal was to post a weekly post and on that first day as I sat down in front of my blank screen I began to wonder just what I had gotten myself into. Like most other things though if you commit to it, it has a way of finding its own path. For me, because I see my world in images first that seemed to be a natural starting point…the image. Once I had that in place, each week seemed to just write itself.

This has been the second of such challenges that I have set for myself and both times the rewards have been unexpected and far more than I had hoped for. The first of these challenges was to post an image every day with the requirement that the image had to be taken on that very day. I was introduced to this site that had its start in Scotland by a dear South African friend, an immensely talented photographer and painter whom I had met many years ago while spending time in Africa. I posted for two straight years and not only learned far more about the art of photography but I learned about myself and how I see the world around me.

A more in-depth look at some of my images took this further yet and now as I sit ready to hit the publish button on my 51st post, I feel a sense of confidence and even more importantly self that I earned by making a commitment to myself and my art.

So what are you waiting for? There’s no better time to get off of the sofa and follow a dream!

Dreams of a powder day…

are never far away as the season slowly kicks off.

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Keep your face always towards sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.

Walt Whitman

Images like this bring back memories of the most blissful of days. Gliding slowly uphill, keeping a close eye out for fresh powder, pristine and as yet unblemished by those who worship at the church of the chair.

Some may say the idolatry is blasphemous but for one who pays homage to snow in all of its forms I can only say “How much closer to God can you be?” On this day I can recall the silence, it was a day of such bountiful beauty that the spoken word seemed intrusive. It was a day for silence broken only by the whir of the chairlift and the hiss of the board as it slid its way through the fresh snow.

Children of the snow…church of the chair and as a good friend would tell me “When it’s this deep, keep your tip up!”

As she disappeared down through the trees following a line spotted from the chair, I can still hear her laughter pealing like church bells through the silence…

A winter throwdown…

on the still life I’ve presented.

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Frost is the most sophisticated of poets.

Peter Davison

I love to play outside in freezing temperatures; single digits or gentle climbs into the teens will get me up early every time!

When hoar-frost and rime are not readily available, when the patterns on my windshield seem a little haphazard, when snowflakes have become uncooperative, that’s the time when I set up my own winter scenes and wait for Mother Nature to bring it!

It’s a challenging dance. Everything has to be lined up just so; very cold, no wind, superb light, and preferably a blanket of snow.

It’s really a balancing act. First orchestrating the placement of the bubble and then should that be successful you have only seconds to get the shot before any number of catastrophes can occur. Focus is often challenging and ever-changing.

Sometimes I think that the shot that would be the one would be the shot of me taking the shot!

When it all comes together though, it is breathtaking to watch. Each time I am amazed at how the frost patterns bloom and grow on the substrate that I’ve provided. Sometimes floral in their design, other times fern-like. Sometimes hard and directional yet other times faint and tentative.

When asked how do you do that I am often at a bit of a loss to explain. It’s a dance really and for the best results one really does need a willing partner.

Cue music…

You’ll never hear the words…

I hate winter come out of my mouth.

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Winter is not a season, it’s a celebration.

Anamika Mishra

We were hit hard with a winter storm this past week; one that communities south of us are still recovering from.

I am happy to be sitting at my desk with the power restored after a few days without. It makes one feel grateful and appreciative for all that we do have. We were warm and toasty, aided by our wood stove. We weren’t hungry. We had candles and flashlights and we were together as a family.

Winter brings these kinds of storms that depending on the timing, can wreak havoc in the Northern climes but you won’t hear me complain.

Winter also brings a beauty with it that is varied and intricate. Always changing the landscape and added a layer of simplicity as it gently blankets the debris left behind in the fall.

With it comes the freezing temperatures that paint everything from trees to windshields with frost; when the sun makes its way up, the world then sparkles as it hits these formations.

When temperatures warm up it creates the perfect atmosphere for snow making. Snow can be clumpy and fast building and at other times precise and crystalline in its structure. Those are the ones that I love to capture, each one unique. One has to work fast though to capture these before they drift away.

One of my favorite times is when I wake up to a world filled with hoar frost which is formed at temperatures below freezing by the direct condensation of water vapor to ice. These structures are amazing and can be tiny or quite large in formation. They remind me of frozen feathers and if you walk through them you can hear a tinkling sound.

I don’t hate winter, I relish the beauty that it will bring to the landscape and the photo opportunities that come with it.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

A hint of frost…

on a winter morning.

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Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.

Pablo Picasso

My morning started out with listening to Whiter Shade of Pale; a song that never fails to bring back an abundance of good memories. It also is the song that springs to mind when I am photographing winter scenes.

I love this time of year and find myself working in tandem with mother nature as she throws down the most exquisite frost patterns and formations. There is a fragility to these scenes with conditions changing rapidly and if one blinks…the moment could be lost forever. I find it to be quite a work-out to do justice to what my eyes are seeing especially with light playing such a role in these images. There is never a better time to move around and look from all angles before capturing the moment.

This is a magical time of year when everything is not yet covered in a blanket of snow so fall colors can still blend with the wintry mood and have one last showing.

It is the perfect time to pull out that macro lens and search for the most intimate of landscapes…but bundle up because baby it’s cold outside.

An added note…

As I proof read this prior to publishing, the word fragility leaps off of the page as news begins to filter through about the attacks in Paris. My heart goes out to the people of France.

 

As I begin a new equine series…

I felt like I was looking into the souls of these beautiful horses.

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The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to pursue a series that has long been on my mind…photographing horses. It’s one of those win-win situations where even if the reason why I am shooting this doesn’t pan out; I’ll still be fulfilling a personal dream.

Like many little girls, I was obsessed with horses and pretended that my mustang bicycle was the most wonderful, surefooted steed that ever was. I believe that I might still love to ride a bicycle today if I could once again conjure up those daydreams!

Today I was surrounded by the gentlest herd of horses that I have had the pleasure to meet. Their docility and expressions of affection were at first a little unnerving but quickly grew into one of those moments that I will remember with a smile.

They were an inquisitive lot, nibbling on my camera pack and at my hair. Each one wanting it to be their turn as I focused the lens on another. This was a preliminary shoot to get a feel for what might work for a series of monochromatic shots but for today I chose to leave this shot in color. It had a softness to it that just seemed to capture the mood and as I shot it I felt that little shiver of excitement that I get when my camera becomes my paintbrush.

When that happens I know that I’m on the right track and I can’t wait for the next session…

My name is Sheryl: I paint with my camera.

In a perfect world, getting a dog…

would be a commitment that would last for the lifetime of that dog and not just until it was no longer convenient…or… why I buy from a breeder.

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The chief ingredients in the composition of those qualities that gain esteem and praise, are good nature, truth, good sense, and good breeding.

Joseph Addison

I can’t tell you how many times I get a look of disgust from people upon finding out that my puppy did not come from the shelter but that I in fact waited over a year for him to be born and that was after I had done my research and chosen a breeder who was breeding the lines that I was looking for and doing the appropriate genetic testing for hereditary conditions. Even more appalling…this is NOT the first time that I have done this nor will it be the last. On each occasion I have received exactly what I was looking for at the time.

Do I not feel guilt when thinking about the dogs already born who are looking for their forever homes? Of course I do.  Perhaps the guilty feelings come from my compassion for all animals and if I walked into a shelter would I be likely to come out empty-handed? No, how could you look into those eyes and not want to make their world better?

I do however have strong feelings about the need to preserve breeds that have been in existence for decades and in some cases, centuries. Breeds that have been developed to serve a myriad of purposes ranging from home and livestock guardian, search and rescue, hunting, companion dog, and like my current breed, all-purpose dog just to name a few.

Take the bloodhound for example. After completing my own personal training and being certified by the National Association of Search and Rescue I was ready to find my partner to work with on our team. We did not have any bloodhounds currently working tracking/trailing so I searched high and low for a conformationally correct bloodhound. They are scenting marvels with every part of them designed to fulfill a specific purpose. The neck must be long enough to comfortably reach the ground, the ears are designed to waft scent towards the nose, the skin must be loose in order to slip through underbrush more easily, the drool helps to rehydrate the scent and that nose! A human’s nasal cavity is about one and a half inches square while the bloodhound’s comes in at roughly twenty-two and a half square inches. Their testimony is admissible with proper training documentation, in a court of law. From clear across the country I bought a puppy from a Chief of Corrections, a breeder who knew from many years experience exactly the dog that I would require to do the job that she would be trained for. She was utterly fabulous and at the age of 10 months was running 24 hour aged tracks at a flat-out run during a law enforcement training seminar.

For me this is just one experience among many and one excellent breeder among many that I have met. Are all breeders good? Certainly not but this is where doing your homework comes in. It’s been my experience that the breeders who are doing it right, are not making money off of their litters. They are testing for genetic inheritable problems and like the breeder above, working towards producing excellent dogs that are a credit to the breed and this does not come about by cutting corners. Does this guarantee that I will not go through the heartbreak of any health-related issue, certainly not, but it gives me a known starting point. I filled out a lengthy questionnaire before I was even “allowed” to make a deposit on my current dog. My buyers contract was several pages long. Am I happy with him? I am thrilled, he is exactly what I was looking for. Will I show him? More than likely but only if he also enjoys the process. Will he be first and foremost a family member? Absolutely. Another wonderful thing are the friendships that have developed with these breeders who actually care about what happens to their dogs and what they accomplish in their lifetimes. They are an endless source of information and insight on the breeds.

These days when confronted by someone who is appalled that I did not go to the shelter for my dog, I ask a question of them.

Do you have children? If the answer is yes, I then ask why they did not adopt a child who needed a home instead of having one or more of their own. More than 250,000 children enter the foster care system in the US every year. Not adopting a child who needs a home is readily forgiven but with rescue organizations being very PC, not adopting a dog from the shelter and buying from a good breeder somehow makes you a bad person.

I think that we all should be allowed to choose who we live with without criticism or judgement. When adding to my “family” I owe it to those that are part of it already to choose someone who will be the right fit.  I hope that the small time breeder, who goes that extra mile to produce purebred dogs with not only the traits that we have come to expect from that breed, but also ones sound in body and temperament, will be allowed to continue producing dogs of merit and will not be legislated into the ground.

I think that our efforts would be better served attempting to weed out puppy mills as I believe these to be the source of many shelter dogs. These poor animals are treated very poorly as breeding stock and no thought goes into producing sound dogs. As a contrast to my puppy, their first very formative weeks of life are not filled with excellent care, appropriate socializing and the astute observations of the breeder to match puppy and future owner. The uneducated, perhaps soft-hearted buyer then comes along and finds that he has a nightmare on his hands and the dog is turned into the shelter for aggression, destructive behaviors, and a host of other potentially avoidable traits. Ahead of him then lies a long road to try to “fix” these issues so that he may one day become adoptable.

That’s not the life that I would choose for any dog and when I look into the eyes of my puppy, I think he knows that he’s one of the lucky ones to have come from a good breeder.

Update: There remains a huge difference between puppy mills and responsible breeders. The responsible breeders that I know rarely come out ahead monetarily when having a litter. I will never condone having a litter of puppies for any reason other than a strong belief that a sounder dog can be produced. Going one step further, I believe that my next dog will come from a shelter.

 

A “pawsitive” few weeks…

in the press for my breed!

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Fall in love with a dog, and in many ways you enter a new orbit, a universe that features not just new colors but new rituals, new rules, a new way of experiencing attachment.

Caroline Knapp

As a lover of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed my spirits have been buoyed the last few weeks by the press sharing some of the wonderful deeds with these dogs in the starring role. So often it seems that they only make the news when something horrendous happens and sadly I’ve often found the breed in question to not even be the SBT.

The AKC has this to say about the breed “the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is known for its character of fearlessness and loyalty. This coupled with its affection for its friends, its off-duty quietness and trustworthy stability, make it first and foremost an all-purpose dog. The breed is naturally muscular and may appear intimidating; however, because of their natural fondness for people, most Staffords are temperamentally ill-suited for guard or attack dog training.”

In Gloucester, United Kingdom,  police Stafford Stella won at the Animal Hero Awards in London for her role in finding 25,000 pounds stolen in a heist. She was a rescue dog fortunate to have had someone take the time to see her potential.

In Sydney, Australia, family pet Stafford Leala is credited with saving her two year old charge after he fell into the water and was drowning. When attempts to rescue him failed she went and got the father who performed CPR for half an hour until help arrived. The boy is making an excellent recovery.

We are quick to judge a book by its cover and often without all of the information that should be required before making that judgement. We rail against that same act when it comes to skin color so why not when it comes to our furred friends?

Sharing your life with a dog brings untold rewards and it is my opinion that when it comes to bad deeds performed by dogs we need to look at the other end of the leash. 

Fall colors are peaking…

and what did I love?

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I think style is just the end result of personal experience. It would be problematic for me to photograph in another style. I’m drawn to places and subject matter that have personal connections for me and I photograph in a way that seems right. Where does it all come from, who knows?

Michael Kenna

On a fabulous fall day with near perfect temperatures it seemed like the ideal time to criss-cross the county and photograph some beautiful fall color. The aspens glowed a brilliant yellow against the evergreens and wild turkey and deer added that pastoral feeling to the landscape.

I’ve been doing a lot of night photography of late and more often than not for me, those final images remain in color. Deep blues, purples, and pops of color from a handheld torch that I like to call my paintbrush. I suppose it would only be natural that I would slip back into my comfort zone of monochromatic landscapes.

Today we found vibrant yellows, deep oranges, and glowing pinks but what did I like the best at the end of the day? A backlit water scene that with its trees and stark remains of a bridge were reminiscent of our lengthy and punishing fire season.

Without the distraction of color I find these scenes to be so much more tranquil and meditative. My eyes are drawn to the patterns and nuances of the shading. Michael Kenna’s work is simply brilliant and his observation of photographing in a way that seems right is exactly what I strive to do.

Developing personal style in photography or other mediums I think just comes with time. I can remember early on sitting on the floor and with my eyes closed trying to change lenses and dial in particular settings. This learning to do things by feel and knowing which way the dials worked to make changes in my settings has held me in good stead for night photography. Once the tools were learned it seemed easier to play with the camera and capture the images that seemed right to me.

How well do you know your camera? Turn the lights out and see!