An Observation: Nature Walkin’

It’s easy to take natural beauty for granted. As a photographer, however, I am always looking for a unique angle. Most of my photography comes from Arkansas, and The Natural State truly lives up to its nickname. The choices in a single setting are just as varied as the state’s geography itself. What kind of story do I want to tell with the picture? How can I frame this differently? Am I missing something?

Speaking of “missing something”…we go nature walkin’ ’round these here parts. The “g” on the end of the traditional pronunciation of “walking” is unnecessary in Arkansas. I guess it’s in the spirit of the pronunciation of the state name itself. You know…you drop the last letter when you say “Arkansas.” However, don’t you DARE try to spell it without the “s.” When it happens, it’s not pretty.

As seen in New Mexic.

Batesville, Arkansas is a very picturesque community. The historic homes downtown are postcard-perfect in many ways. The churches are equally as fascinating.

Late afternoon in September. Ahh.

Oh, and I did mention nature, so I suppose I should show you some nature. Batesville is situated along the White River–an excellent photography location for all of you shutterbugs out there.

Nice September day along the White River at Batesville, Arkansas.
Looking towards the bridge along the White River at Batesville, Arkansas.

Guess what?!? It’s also possible to find natural beauty in an urban setting, and a quick trip across the state line to Tennessee can offer up some great opportunities. The clouds in these photographs created some great backdrops for photography along the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee.

Isolated storms, the bridge, a barge, and the Mississippi River. If you turn to your right from this vantage point, you’re looking directly into downtown Memphis.
Towering clouds over the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee.

Of course, if you’re interested in really getting close to nature (in a controlled-ish sense), you should give a drive-thru safari a try. Yes, you can pay to let animals stick their tongues out at you as you cruise at a steady five miles-per-hour. But, the photography is fun…as long as the animals don’t try to eat your camera. I caught up with this rather tall giraffe in Alamo, Tennessee at the Tennessee Safari Park.

Oh, you makin’ fun of me? Well…you’re too tall. So haha. Enjoy getting rained on before anyone else does.

I suppose the drive-thru safari is more like nature drivin’, to be specific. Where are some of your favorite nature photography locations? Leave a comment!

A Slump: The Never-Ending Winter

It seems that every time we think warmer weather is on its way this year, we have ourselves a few tornadoes and then go right back into the deep freeze.

Snowfall in April was a dead giveaway that winter likes it here and doesn’t really want to leave, despite the fact that most of us have made it quite clear that it has overstayed its welcome and it should just look for other places to hang out because we would like to move forward into the next season that will give us at least a brief period of time to enjoy outdoor activities between the “freezing-to-death” months and the “I’m-melting-melting” months. (Whew. I should try to punctuate more often.)

April 7, 2018 in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Ugh.

To top it all off, I’m all about some nature photography. I really, really, REALLY like to capture each of the four seasons that Arkansas supposedly gets to experience annually. Every time I think I’ll have a spare Saturday to go forth and look for pretty spring trees, I end up at home…under a blanket…looking at the clouds outside and expecting the poor little flowers to wither any day now. Or, I’m huddled in a closet as the tornado sirens scream at the neighborhood. But, I’m still trying to find photography opportunities.

I’m too scared to chase the storms while they’re heading towards me, so I get in the car afterwards and follow them. Yep, I’m a chicken.

We have had some short windows of time when the conditions were good for springy, flowery photography, however.

Yes, black and white can work for spring photography. (This print is now for sale in my Etsy shop, MeticulousObserver.)
See?
These little guys are trying to make spring happen.
Okay, so…I cheated and went south and out of the state for this one. You do what you have to do to look for good spring photography opportunities.

Any suggestions on where I should go for upcoming photography excursions? (By the way, I don’t limit myself to Arkansas at all. However, if you suggest Hawaii, I suggest that you might need to help out with those expenses…)

An Observation: Nice Ice

I believe I’ve made my feelings about winter very apparent.

In case you missed it, here’s a summary:

I HATE WINTER!

winter GIF
I’m pretty sure that guy does, too.

With that being said, you have to look for the silver lining in all situations. Occasionally, our trees quite literally have that silver lining.

No one in northern Arkansas will ever forget the Great Freezing Rain Power Outage Ice Storm of Misery (2009 Edition). Not only were the trees, power lines, elevated surfaces, inanimate objects, cars, grass, leaves, houses, (yeah, you get the picture) and lawn furniture coated with a thick, shiny sheet of ice, the frozen precipitation caused infrastructure chaos that left many, many people without power for several weeks.

Luckily, Winter 2018 hasn’t shown off in that manner…yet. (Let’s hope it doesn’t. Do you hear that, Winter 2018? That’s not a challenge. Just don’t do it.) However, the silver lining has been quite attractive for photographers like myself. (Well, to the extent that photographers like me can stand to be out in the cold long enough to capture the images.)

Pretty scenery…I was able to stop my teeth from chattering long enough to hold the camera still.

I call this phenomenon “Nice Ice.” It’s the kind of ice that doesn’t stick around long enough to do any actual damage. It stays off the roads and only accumulates enough in the trees to produce good photography.

The only problem was the wind. I had to find the light and take the photos quickly before the branches moved, and, more importantly, before my fingers froze solid.

“Nice Ice” is rare around here, but it can make winter slightly more tolerable by providing something to look at other than bare branches and gray.

Oh…and photography.

Lots of photography.

Sometimes, they even throw in a nice sunset for you.

Here’s one.
Here’s another one.

Nice.

An Observation: Winter Isn’t My Favorite

I’ve tried. I’ve given this winter thing a few decades to show me its redeeming qualities, and I just don’t like it.

Maybe some of it has to do with where I live. In Arkansas, “hot” and “humid” go together like peanut butter and jelly. “Cold” and “icy” aren’t typical words in the local vernacular. However, I live in the northeastern part of the state, where we can generally expect a little more winter than our friends in L.A. (That’s “Lower Arkansas,” for the uninitiated.)

“Oh, but I’d rather be cold than hot. You can always put on more layers.”

Every time I hear that argument, I want to scream.

A Christmas Story GIF
More layers. Right. Good idea.

Most of the time, when I add layers, I end up sweating while at least one of my extremities is still numb.

I will admit that the first day the weatherman mentions the word “snow,” I get a little bit excited. (That’s “SNOW.” NOT “flurries.” When I hear the word “flurries,” I get about as excited as I do when he says the word “sprinkles.” You only need to mention “sprinkles” if you’re bringing me a cake. Otherwise, it’s insignificant to my outdoor plans.)

In Arkansas, though, it’s the reaction of the masses that gets amusing. See, I was always taught that you’d want non-perishable items around the kitchen if you were facing a disaster of epic proportions (see also: 12 whole hours of being snowed in…with “snowed in” defined as .025 inches of slush). When the disaster is looming, though, it’s the bread and milk aisles that are wiped clean before everyone settles in to hold down the fort. Because you know you’re not going anywhere for at least three or four days. Because snow is slick.

“Y’all just don’t know how to drive on that stuff.”

Image result for driving on snot and ice
Uhh…yeah, well, I guess that’s a valuable lesson, too.

True. But…most of the time we don’t get actual “snow.” We almost always get some kind of mix, usually starting out with a glaze of freezing rain. Sometimes, it’s exclusively freezing rain, which is a total mess. If we get a layer of snow on top, at least it’s prettier to look at while we’re sitting inside waiting for the power to come back on.

(I’ll admit…it’s good for a laugh sometimes. Our friends to the north definitely have a sense of humor about it.)

And, on occasion, when we’re not iced or snowed in, you can find a few little gems here and there.

I wasn’t going to go through an entire post about winter without at least one original photograph. A little bluebird. (Awwwwwww.)

Most of the time, though, we look at bare branches and gray skies for a couple of months.

Typical winter view. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So, if I had to rank my favorite seasons in order, it would probably look like this:

1. Spring, Summer, Fall

 

 

4. Winter.

Sorry, winter. You had your chance. Be sure to pick up all of your icicles when you leave.

A Vacation and a Camera: The Rule of Thirds, Part HOME

In the interest of not having to do any more math, I’m going to use this post to wrap up my Road-Trip-a-Palooza Adventure Quest 2017.

Just in case you’re late to this here party, I started out in Arkansas, drove from one end of Tennessee to the other, twisted and turned through portions of North Carolina, drove across South Carolina and stopped for a spell in Charleston, then took myself down the coastline through Georgia to Vero Beach, Florida. (You go, girl.)

Now I had to get myself home.

I’ll admit, though, it was tough to leave the photography opportunities…

McKee Botanical Gardens...beautiful!
I love Spanish moss…

I decided that the best way to do this was the more direct route, so I set out for Atlanta on Day One of the return trip (which was actually Day Sixseven-ish of the total days on vacation? I think? Math…help me out, here.).

The Florida Turnpike. From what I understand, the sections I traveled have the some of the longest expressway distances between exits in the country. (My bladder agreed.) You find fun wherever you can on long drives. So, naturally, I chuckled when I got on the turnpike at a little place called Yeehaw Junction.

The theme for this blog post is "Interesting Road Signs."
The theme for this blog post is “Interesting Road Signs.”

I probably looked like a total amateur stepping out of my car at the service plazas with my toll ticket in my hand. I refused to let go of it. For starters, it said “Yeehaw Junction,” and I was still getting a kick out of that. (Yep, I’m from Arkansas, the land that gave us towns named Turkey Scratch and Possum Grape…but I still got a kick out of Yeehaw Junction.) Secondly, I didn’t want to pay any more than I had to at the tollbooths. If it was in my hand, I wasn’t losing it. Case closed. (For the record, I didn’t lose it. You go, girl.)

I made it through Florida by the noon hour, and I pulled off the now-interstate for another scrumptious highway hamburger in Georgia. The conversation at the drive-thru windows made me believe that I was being mistaken for someone else.

Drive-Thru Conversations:

First Window: That’ll be $7.05.

Me: (Handing over crisp ten-dollar bill.) Here’s a ten.

First Window: Here’s your change…and your Coke. Thank you. See you tomorrow.

Me: Thank you…o…kay…

Second Window: (Server hands me my bag-o-burger-and-fries.) Here you go, ma’am. Thank you. See you tomorrow.

Me: (Quizzical look on face.) Thank you?

(I didn’t see them tomorrow. I know that has to be part of their training, but it still threw me for a loop. Very friendly, though.)

Moving on…

Georgia. Lots of Georgia. Warm. Very warm.

Signs. Fun signs.

See, I'd always been told that the TV lawyer's name was Perry MASON.
I’d always been told that the TV lawyer’s name was Perry MASON. Oh, well.

I mentioned that it was warm, very warm in Georgia. Indeed, the temperature had risen quite a bit during the day and when I was about forty miles outside of Atlanta…on a Thursday afternoon at RUSH HOUR, my tire light came on. I did what any independent, skilled traveler would have done.

I called my mommy.

The car hadn’t been doing anything funny (as far as I could tell…with the exception of the navigation system misinterpreting practically everything I said). As we talked, I formulated my plan for when I stopped at the hotel. I knew I’d be able to make it that far since I couldn’t really spot any significant problem. As luck would have it, my hotel was situated on a road lined with every single car dealership you can imagine, and I was informed that the hot weather had indeed been the culprit behind the lighting of the tire light. Disaster averted.

So, I stopped in Atlanta, had dinner, went swimming, fell asleep, woke up, and fed my inner news nerd before heading home. I’ve been to Atlanta in the past, but there was one place I’d never been and I had to see it:

Breaking News...I found a parking spot in downtown Atlanta!
Breaking News…I found a parking spot in downtown Atlanta and I only circled the block once!

After a morning of some tourist-type stuff in Atlanta, I headed back to my regularly scheduled time zone, meandering my way through Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. I regret that I did not devote more time on this part of the drive to photography, but I was really starting to get exhausted and ready to be home.

My first and only layer of windshield bugs piled up on the very last hour of the trip. It was then that I knew I was home.

Thus ended Road-Trip-a-Palooza Adventure Quest 2017. Whew.

*For a transcript of this adventure, please send…oh, wait. This is the transcript. Never mind.

A View: All This Nature

The Natural State really lives up to its name. We have no shortage of stunning views and opportunities for immersion in the outdoors. I recently had the chance to take a brief evening trip up to a place I’ve enjoyed many times over the years.

Petit Jean Mountain is a highly unique geographic feature of the Arkansas landscape. My little car had a few Casey Junior “I-Think-I-Can” moments as it chugged its way up the twisting road (even though I wasn’t pulling several cars full of elephants…it’s a steep highway and the horses under the hood probably would have been terribly winded trying to hike it, much less approach the speed limit…but I digress…).

She'll be coming 'round the mountain...together, now!
She’ll be coming ’round the mountain…all together, now!

I’m always impressed with the views from atop Petit Jean. Even a cloudy or hazy or BLAZING HOT day is worth the trip. (For the record, it was a hazy, BLAZING HOT day.) I’ll admit, while I knew I was unprepared to do any serious hiking, I was also unprepared just to simply walk around in the heat. It was a last-minute decision to actually make the little road trip, and I ran off without my water bottle. By the time I made it to the lodge, I parked and went directly towards the vending machines. As luck would have it, the machine spent a lot of time spinning its wheels only to tell me that everything was sold out. Fortunately, it refunded my paper money–in the form of quarters and nickels–and I went into the lodge to buy a bottle of ice cold water with change (my apologies to the clerk).

If I hadn't been so thirsty, I might not have stuck around too long to capture this photo. Thank you, Arkansas humidity!
If I hadn’t been so thirsty, I might not have stuck around the lodge long enough to capture this photo. Thank you, Arkansas humidity!

Of course, with it being the summer tourist season, I wasn’t the only person sightseeing–far from it. When I reached the overlook, a few other cars pulled into the parking lot, including a family of awestruck adults and two very bored small children. I can only assume that the kids were suffering from acute electronics withdrawal…a common syndrome these days.

Lost Phone Meme
This is just an assumption…but the struggle is real.

The parents were gazing down across the breathtaking landscape, taking in the view. The kids were less than impressed.

The conversation cracked me up.

Kid No. 1: “Why did Petit Jean wanna come all the way up here?”

Mom: Silence…snaps photo of river.

Kid No. 2: “Moooooom! Why did Petit Jean want to come all the way up here?”

Mom: “I don’t know. Maybe she liked it here.”

Kid No. 1: “What are we doing all the way up here?”

Dad: “We’re looking at all this nature.”

I suppressed my laughter, spent a few more minutes looking at “all this nature,” and rolled back down the mountain, becoming a mere speck on the landscape to the spectators on top of Petit Jean.

(A boring little speck, I’m sure…)

An Observation: The Writing On The Wall

Yesterday, I took a little day trip up to one of my favorite places in the world. I doubt I would have known it was going to be one of my favorite places in the world had my mom not landed a job in the community the summer before my sophomore year of college.

I hesitate to use phrases such as “nestled deep within the Arkansas Ozarks” or “gem hidden away among the mountains,” because it might imply that I’d been reading a book of cliches. You can try to paint the picture in words of the feeling of the place…but I’ve yet to find the proper words that capture it all. (And I like to think I’m pretty good with words, darn it.)

Little Red Cow Shoals May 2016 Watermark
I suppose this will do for now.

The town is Heber Springs, Arkansas. As I mentioned, my mom took a job in Heber Springs several years back. While she no longer lives there, the place stayed with me after years of spending some of my weekends and a couple of summers in her little house near Greers Ferry Lake.

And her little house is where this story is set.

Sure, I could take you out into nature and let you explore the Little Red River…or Sugarloaf Mountain (whichever Sugarloaf Mountain you choose–yes, there are two)…but I’d have to start using cliches, and I try my best to avoid cliches like the plague.

Her little red house on the lake was, in a word, cute. Walt Disney couldn’t have come up with a more idyllic setting, where deer would walk up to the front yard and look directly at you as you glare at them for eating the pears from the pear tree (no, I’m not bitter about that).

It was a split-level house with a bedroom at the top of the stairs. Mom decided this would be my bedroom when I came to visit. The crow’s nest. The walls were painted a faded yellow and the windows offered a view of dense forest in the sparsely-populated neighborhood. It’s exactly the kind of view I needed after staring at dorm room cinder blocks for weeks on end.

The view from my dorm room did encourage creativity in Christmas decor, however.
The view from my dorm room did encourage creativity in my Christmas decor, however.

I’d been going up to the little red house for about two years when I discovered something…an accidental discovery.

I was up in the crow’s nest reading one evening when the last light bulb on the overhead light went out. (I’ve always been lazy about changing light bulbs. They all have to burn out before I’ll take action. I’m short and I don’t like heights. So there.) Well, don’t you know, we were out of light bulbs and it was too late to go to the store, so I turned on the lamp next to my bed. I never used that lamp; it served more of a decorative purpose than that of functional illumination.

I wish I had thought to turn it on much sooner after I looked up at the wall.

The previous owners of the house had teenagers when they moved. The light from the lamp climbed up the wall at just the right angle to see that their kids had used their fingers to write their names into the yellow paint as it had dried.

The names were surrounded and enclosed by a finger-painted heart.

My mouth dropped open as I marveled at my discovery…my own little domestic version of cave paintings.

I turned off the lamp. The names disappeared in the darkness.

I turned the lamp back on again and saw much more than names on a wall. I saw a glimpse into a family’s history–of people I had never met and will probably never meet.

I reached up and traced the outlines with my own fingers and smiled. I envisioned the memories they had made as I made memories of my own going up to visit that little red house for seven years.

Memories like walking into that bedroom as four people had hidden out in closets and under the bed trying to scare me.

Of trying unsuccessfully to walk down the steep driveway after a massive Christmas ice storm.

Of casting a fishing lure clean off the end of my line and out into the middle of the lake when I realized I had not tied the knot tight enough.

We tried to start a little tradition of our own when Mom installed a storm cellar. Every time we were forced to run to the “‘fraidy hole” out to hide from the weather, we took a permanent marker and etched a tally mark on the concrete wall.

Unfortunately, the humidity decided the marker wasn’t so permanent after all.

The memories are pretty permanent, though…even if we didn’t leave actual writing on the wall.